The Zombie War

World War Z is what happens when a zombie outbreak reaches a global scale. Zombie media was practically inescapable in the 2010’s. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when World War Z became the highest grossing zombie movie of all time. It’s both rated PG-13 and feels more like an action movie. I liked the movie alright, but I am curious to read the 2006 book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Apparently, World War Z is one of the most unfaithful book to movie adaptations of all time.

The book reads more like a United Nations report with interviews from survivors of the zombie war. While the movie doesn’t lose its geopolitical commentary, it’s not as overt as originally intended. Though there are still plenty of uncomfortable parallels to the modern day pandemic. Zombies seem to appear out of nowhere, but some countries already knew. These zombies are fast, resourceful, and multiple by the thousands. Box-office draw Brad Pitt is thrown into the action as a former UN agent with a family to protect.

With his wife and daughters safely in military custody, Gerry Lane stumbles from country to country searching for answers and a possible cure. The most intense set pieces are a horde of zombies scaling a wall in Jerusalem and an outbreak happening on a plane. It’s almost enough to make up for the anticlimactic ending. Although it is unique to have illness be the cure, several rewrites and production problems couldn’t pull it off. World War Z is more brainless action than intelligent thriller.

World War Z

Zombies scale a wall

The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

Epic doesn’t quite live up to its title. In fact, it kind of faded into obscurity. I applaud Blue Sky Animation for taking risks, but it’s difficult not to compare Epic to similar environmental movies like FernGully or Avatar. Ice Age & Robots director Chris Wedge originally pitched the idea to Pixar before it returned to his founding company. Epic is very similar to the DreamWorks film Rise of the Guardians. Both are loosely based on William Joyce children’s books dedicated to his late daughter Mary Katherine. The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs was similarly given a super generic movie title. Epic could literally refer to anything. It tells the story of a miniature society of Leafmen who protect the forest from the blight infesting Boggans.

Although we’ve heard this kind of story dozens of times before, the computer animation is breathtaking. Everything from the tallest tree to the smallest insect feels realistic in this microscopic world. The animation is so good that it doesn’t really matter how basic most of the characters are. Amanda Seyfried voices M.K., the blank slate protagonist thrust into a fantastical world. Jason Sudeikis voices her kooky scientist father devoted to finding the leafmen. The Leafmen are your standard duty-bound soldiers. Josh Hutcherson is the hotshot rulebreaker Nod and Colin Farrell is his mostly serious mentor Ronin.

Aziz Ansari & Chris O’Dowd are the mostly funny comic relief slug & snail duo Mub & Grub. The Boggins are your average horde of mindless monsters. Christoph Waltz is the guy you call for an evil villain like Mandrake. Epic isn’t a musical, but there are at least three major singers in the cast. Pitbull is a gangster toad, Steven Tyler is an all-knowing glowworm, and Queen B Beyoncé is the literal Queen of the forest Tara. She also provided the song “Rise Up.” When M.K. is shrunk, she’s entrusted with a pod that will ensure the forest’s survival. If nothing else, the battles are epic and so is the world it takes place in. Epic is an admirable FernGully for the next generation.

9. Epic

M.K. protects the pod with Mub

Free Your Mind

The Matrix Resurrections is a major glitch in the Matrix. The Matrix is an action sci-fi masterpiece, The Matrix Reloaded is hit or miss, and The Matrix Revolutions is a complete mess. Even though the trilogy was completed 18 years ago, Warner Bros. continued to pester the Wachowskis about making a 4th installment. They always said no, but all that changed when they lost their parents. Lana Wachowski became the sole director who wanted to resurrect Neo and Trinity. Nothing will ever top the original, but the “White Rabbit” trailer seemed promising. I was wrong of course. Resurrections is a little better than the 3rd installment, except it has the same problems as both Reloaded and Revolutions. It’s overly long, talk heavy, and so boring at times I nearly fell asleep. Not that another Matrix movie isn’t just as relevant as it was back then (especially in the age of the Pandemic). The greatest crime is a serious lack of boundary pushing action. Even the weaker Matrix movies had stand out set pieces that used “bullet time” in an inventive way. Resurrections is just repetitive and awkward.

Neo is plugged back into the Matrix as video game developer Thomas Anderson who literally designed the Matrix trilogy. The other movies had humor, but Resurrections is way too meta and on the nose. We’re constantly reminded about the trilogy through archive footage and callbacks. Keanu Reeves’ popularity only grew in the years since The Matrix. While he does feel like Neo, I really wish he didn’t look like John Wick. Having both 4th installments released on the same day would’ve been cool nonetheless. Neo is force fed blue pills and manipulated by his therapist played by an over-the-top Neil Patrick Harris. Trinity is also stuck in the Matrix with no memory of who she is. Carrie-Anne Moss was more relevant on TV and in video games, but I’m glad Trinity was finally given the respect she deserved. In some ways, Resurrections is a better love story than an action movie.

Machines are given unusual redesigns, some characters return, but most are recast. Only sequel actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson return as Niobe and the Merovingian respectively. Sati, the Indian girl from Revolutions is recast with Priyanka Chopra. That’s not as uncomfortable as Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving being replaced by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff respectively. The explanation is that these are rebooted versions of Morpheus and Agent Smith, but both performances are overly eccentric. Even Jessica Henwick’s blue haired white rabbit sporting Bugs feels like a discount Trinity. Resurrections knowingly checks off all the boxes from the original. Neo is unplugged, practices kung fu, and fights a bunch of agents. Neo being unable to fly is insulting, but I’m not sure why he practically uses the force. The twist didn’t surprise me too much. The Matrix Resurrections is a red pill I never needed to take.

The Matrix Resurrections

Neo saves Trinity

Preceded by: The Matrix Revolutions

Santa with a Shotgun

Fatman is a mixed bag. I’m not a big fan of R rated Christmas movies, but Fatman captured my attention the moment I saw the trailer. The trailer seems like just another Mel Gibson action movie. Until he’s revealed to be the one and only Santa Claus. The concept alone was enough to make me laugh, but Fatman is sadly a case of the trailer being better than the movie. Although the trailer makes it feel like a black comedy, those moments are few and far between.

Fatman takes itself very seriously. Mel Gibson is 100% committed to playing a hardened gun-toting Chris Cringle who lost his Christmas spirit. He has the beard and the belly, but this Santa isn’t very jolly. Yet he does genuinely care for the children who lost their way. This version of Mrs. Claus is a black English woman named Ruth who supports Chris through all his troubles. Santa’s Workshop is ran more like a business that has financial problems. Giving Santa no choice but to accept a military contract to build weapons.

As gritty as everything is, Santa’s reindeer are still present and elves are every bit the candy craving pointy eared little people they always are. Most naughty words are reserved for the Skinny Man and it only gets bloody near the end. The main conflict is a particularly naughty kid calling a hitman to off Santa when he gets a lump of coal for Christmas. Walton Goggins tries a lot harder than he needs to and manages to find the humor in this crazy situation. Fatman falls short of being entirely naughty or nice.

Fatman

Chris Cringle takes aim

It’s a Small World After All

Around the World in 80 Days (2004) is given the Disney treatment. In the way that it’s one of their live action efforts from the 2000’s that bombed at the box office. Any work by Jules Verne is worthy of attention, but I think Disney overestimated their young demographic’s interest in the story. Since I watched the remake several years before the 1956 original, I don’t hold much animosity towards it. The heavily comedic approach is amusing and the martial arts action is fun. Around the World in 80 Days (2004) is intentionally historically inaccurate with an updated spin on characters and events from the book.

British comedian Steve Coogan plays a refined inventor version of Phileas Fogg. The wager to travel around the world in 80 days is more so about scientific recognition than money. Which is why Jim Broadbent’s Lord Kelvin is a villain who scoffs at his work. Jackie Chan steals the show with his fighting style and comedic chops. His version of Passepartout is Chinese, a reluctant valet, and fleeing the police with a precious artifact that belongs to his people. It’s more character development, but it does complicate the simple story with Chinese henchmen lead by a female warlord.

The Indian princess is also replaced by the more fleshed out French artist Monique Laroche played by Cécile de France. Inspector Fix is still around, but he’s more of a bumbling idiot. Aside from the movie exclusive travel by hot air balloon, the main similarity to the original are the cameos from several well known celebrities. I’ll admit my primary reason for seeing the remake was to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in his final substantial film appearance after becoming the Governator. Around the World in 80 Days (2004) may have gotten more Razzie attention, but it’s harmless enough with a few bright ideas.

Around the World in 80 Days 2004

Phileas Fogg, Passepartout, and Monique Laroche travel by hot air balloon

Remake of: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Hang On

Cliffhanger is basically “Die Hard on a mountain.” A totally radical idea for the totally radical 90’s. I wasn’t surprised to learn a mountain climber came up with the concept. Sylvester Stallone struggled in the early 90’s, but Cliffhanger was just the moderate success he needed. Just a cheesy action flick with a suspension of disbelief the size of a mountain. Stallone plays fearless rescue ranger Gabe Walker. A man haunted by the one mountain climber he couldn’t save. The opening fall is actually more upsetting than I was expecting.

Gabe comes out of retirement John McClane style in a desperate fight for survival. He’s joined by Janine Turner as his rescue ranger girlfriend and supported by Michael Rooker as the rescue ranger who blames him for his girlfriend’s death. I had no idea Stallone and Rooker worked together before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Cliffhanger starts out relatively tame, then gets very profane and violent when the bad guys enter the picture. John Lithgow plays obvious Hans Gruber stand-in Eric Qualen.

While putting on a ridiculous British accent, Qualen leads a rough gang of thieves who systematically rob a plane for the U.S. Treasury. They all search for three suitcases containing money that they lose in the mountain. Walker and his crew take out each sadistic criminal one by one. I had no idea how an action movie could be set on the side of a cliff, but it’s not too over-the-top. Even in the end when Walker and Qualen face off on a falling helicopter. Cliffhanger hangs on long enough to make an impression.

Cliffhanger

Gabe Walker hangs on

A Spy without Form

Invisible Agent is a mandatory war picture that Universal monster movies couldn’t ignore. Much like the presumably non-canon The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent also experiments with genres. It’s the standard invisible man formula given to an agent in World War II. I never knew the film existed since it’s so far removed from the rest of the franchise. Even though it follows Frank Griffin Jr. under the assumed name Frank Raymond. His father’s invisibility serum is sought by both the Allied Forces and the Axis Powers.

Since an invisible agent spying on enemies could be enough to win the war. Jon Hall is a relatively charismatic invisible lead. Frank only agrees to help the Allies under the condition that he carries out the mission himself. The special effects will always be impressive no matter how repetitive they get. Frank’s visible look uses cold cream instead of bandages. Cedric Hardwicke and the always creepy Peter Lorre elevate their standard roles as Nazi general Conrad Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito respectively.

Other Nazis like J. Edward Bromberg’s Karl Heiser are appropriately made to look like fools. Though the wartime action doesn’t always blend with the humorous tone. Although she hated the part, Ilona Massey isn’t the usual screaming damsel. Maria Sorenson is a German double agent that Frank falls for. Actual German Albert Bassermann is another ally who assists Frank in his mission. Frank never goes insane and saves the American people without being seen. Invisible Agent delivers what it promises.

19. Invisible Agent

The Invisible Agent battles the Nazis

Preceded by: The Invisible Woman & Followed by: The Invisible Man’s Revenge

Neither Silent, Nor Deadly

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a blatant disregard for everything the silent ninja stands for. After the unexpected success of Bumblebee, a Snake Eyes prequel didn’t sound like a bad idea from Hasbro. He is the most popular G.I. Joe character after all. The problem is the franchise never having a strong foundation. However bad they may be, at least Transformers is relatively consistent. G.I. Joe only has 2 loosely connected live-action movies. Rather than follow a mysterious badass silent ninja with a cool black outfit, this Snake Eyes gladly shows his face, won’t shut up, and only wears his iconic suit for 24 seconds at the very end. Only true G.I. Joe fans will understand how wrong that is. It’s one of many reasons I think the movie bombed. The Pandemic notwithstanding.

Snake Eyes answers so many questions that nobody asked. His name came from a pair of dice, he learned to fight in a Japanese ninja clan, and no explanation is given for any of his other defining traits. Even though Ray Park was a perfectly capable martial artist, Henry Golding was probably cast to keep the cast mostly Asian. Most cast members are also martial artists. Even though director Robert Schwentke settles for intense shaky cam action. Making all ninja fights feel generic no matter who performs them. Snake Eyes is kind of a jerk with no personality seeking revenge for his father. G.I. Joe and Cobra Command practically come out of nowhere with only a handful of members present.

Storm Shadow is equally misused with Andrew Koji looking like a complete pushover named Tommy. He’s the heir to the Arashikage clan who’s more friend than foe. Until he randomly calls himself Storm Shadow at the very end. Baroness is a lot better with the appropriately foreign Úrsula Corberó in the part. A red haired Samara Weaving is also perfect as Scarlett, but she feels just as wasted in such a small part. Way more attention is given to original female ninja/love interest Akiko. Raid star Iko Uwais and 300 star Peter Mensah are present as Hard Master and Blind Master respectively, but their tests feel basic. Snakes Eyes must take a bowl of water, have a vision, and survive a pit of giant CGI snakes. The latter test embraces the supernatural element of the toy franchise. Yet a forgettable villain stealing a magical explosive jewel still comes out of nowhere. By the time Snake Eyes gains his ninja suit, I honestly felt nothing for what that meant. Snake Eyes is a reboot, a spin-off, and an origin story that nobody asked for.

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes gears up

The Chase Continues

French Connection II kept the train going a little longer. After the success of The Godfather Part II, a sequel to Best Picture winner The French Connection seemed like a good idea. Even though I never heard of it beforehand. It’s a strong follow up, but it does take away from the ambiguity of the first film’s ending. New York police officer Popeye Doyle never caught his French assailant Alain Charnier.

French Connection II continues the chase and gives Gene Hackman more time to shine in his Oscar winning role. Directing reigns were handed over to John Frankenheimer, while Roy Schneider was too busy making Jaws. Popeye is now all by himself in Marseille, France. He deals with the language barrier, has trouble ordering drinks, fails to pick up French women, and can’t carry a gun. All while attempting to work with the French police department in order to catch his Frog.

Fernando Rey is the only other returning cast member. Charnier is still a sophisticated drug trafficker who proves increasingly difficult to catch. The pacing is a lot slower with more time dedicated to Popeye being forced into a heroin addiction. It’s only after he gets clean that Popeye becomes the violent cop in desperate pursuit again. The sequel ends with a decent chase from the streets to a rail bus. Popeye loses Charnier once more on a yacht, but I knew they wouldn’t end another movie without a resolution. French Connection II offers closure to an already perfect crime thriller.

French Connection II

Popeye Doyle gives chase

Preceded by: The French Connection

Missing the Train

The French Connection changed the rules in Hollywood. Considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, The French Connection feels realistic with documentary style filmmaking, flawed protagonists, and a real life drug smuggling case at the center. Based on a 1969 book about two police detectives involved in the titular case. Before The Exorcist, Superman, or Jaws, director William Friedkin and stars Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider hit the mean streets of New York. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is an iconic police officer distinguished by his pork pie hat. Even his entrance dressed as Santa Claus is iconic.

Popeye Doyle isn’t exactly a crooked cop, but he does drink, sleep around, disobey orders, and show many racist tendencies. Seeing him shakedown a bar full of narcotics is when I knew he meant business. Popeyes actually got its name from Doyle. Although he faced stiff competition, Hackman was the best casting choice. Just as good is Schneider as his more cautious partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo. Together they perform stakeouts in order to track a drug smuggling ring with a French connection. I don’t always understand police procedurals, but I gathered that it was all about stopping the flow of heroin into the U.S. Alain Charnier is a dapper French criminal with multiple hitmen under his thumb.

The French Connection is best known for its exciting chase scenes. Popeye pursuing Charnier in a subway is tense, but it’s a later car chase that really steals the show. Popeye in a civilian car pursuing a sniper on a train concludes with an exhausted Doyle shooting the assailant in the back. His almost obsessive need to catch the criminal ends on a suitably ambiguous note where the chase never truly ends. The French Connection is a Best Picture winner I knew I had to prioritize. No matter how many cop movies I’ve seen. It also won Best Director, Actor, Screenplay, Film Editing, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, and Sound. The French Connection marked a welcomed shift towards realism at the Academy Awards.

The French Connection

Popeye Doyle waves

Followed by: French Connection II