Film Reviews – “World War Z” (Director: Marc Forster) and “Spike Island” (Director: Mat Whitecross)

Last night, I decided to use a free evening to watch two films at my local multiplex and I couldn’t have picked two more different films if I tried.

 

World War Z

Based on the novel by Max Brooks, “World War Z” follows the story of Gerry Lane, a former UN troubleshooter, who is pressed into investigating a worldwide zombie pandemic which threatens to destroy all life on Earth.

Out of the two films I saw yesterday, this was the least satisfying.  I haven’t read the original novel, but I believe there are differences between the film and the source material.

Director Marc Forster, who has films such as “Finding Neverland”, “Monster’s Ball” and “Quantum Of Solace” within his resume, has helmed a film that has the feeling more of a computer game than a film.  Granted, the visuals in certain sequences are well constructed, such as the Lane family’s escape from Philadelphia and the zombie invasion of Jerusalem, but there isn’t any real shocks or jeopardy to drive the visuals.  Strangely enough, for a zombie flick there isn’t any real horror aspect to it – there’s more horror in “Warm Bodies” and certainly more in “Shaun Of The Dead” which is my personal favourite zombie flick.

The main character of the film is Gerry, portrayed by Brad Pitt.  Not much detail is given about Gerry’s background apart from the fact that he’s a family man and that he has worked for the United Nations in some of the world’s most notorious hotspots.

This lack of character detail means that Pitt doesn’t get much to work with, which is a shame because he can deliver great performances when the material is there.  Unfortunately, try as he may, the performance of Gerry is little more than that of a man who simply wanders from one disaster location to another.

Main cast support is given by Mireille Enos who portrays Gerry’s wife Karen in a stereotypical “wife who waits” performance, Sterling Jerins and Abigail Lane in the roles of Gerry and Karen’s children, Fana Mokoena in the role of the UN Deputy Secretary Thierry Umutoni, Peter Capaldi and Pierfrancisco Favino as two W.H.O. doctors based in Cardiff, and Daniella Kertesz in the role of Segen, Gerry’s military bodyguard in Jerusalem.

Whilst the ideas are there – a man who is seeking to save the world on the basis that if he doesn’t his family will lose their protective safe haven, the execution is somewhat lacking as there is no real emotional punch for the viewer to invest in the story and the film falls back on relying on the special effects.

Okay as a one off film, but it doesn’t stand up to repeated viewing.

“Spike Island” is set in Manchester, 1990.  The jeans were baggier, bucket hats were the in fashion and bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were leading the way in the “Madchester” music scene.   Inspired by their heroes is young, up and coming band “Shadow Castre”, five teenagers who want to break into the music industry and see The Stone Roses at their iconic gig at Spike Island.

This film has been billed within the British press as “The Inbetweeners” set in the “Madchester” music scene, but I feel that this tag does the film a disservice as the script for “Spike Island”, written by Chris Coghill who also portrays Uncle Harry, is a story about five young men who are looking to make their mark in the world whilst dealing with their own personal problems at home and the period in their lives where friendships drift apart.  That said, the story uses the 1990 time period well with director Mat Whitecross bringing together the music, the colourful visuals and strong storytelling.

The main cast is made up the five male leads who portray “Shadow Castre” in Elliot Tittensor in the role of “Tits”, Nico Mirallegro as “Dodge”, Jordan Murphy as “Zippy”, Adam Long as “Little Gaz” and Oliver Heald as “Penfold”, alongside Emilia Clarke in the role of love interest Sally.  All of the leads work well alongside each other as they portray not only the public image of these characters when it comes to band practice, school and visits to the pub, but their private sides where there are more real problems including issues such as terminal illness, acting as a child carer and mental health.

However, it’s Elliot Tittensor who is the centre of the cast, and rightly so, as he cleverly juggles the three interrelated storylines with the “a” storyline of Shadow Castre’s attempts to get into a The Stone Roses’ gig subtly working alongside his “b” storyline of trying to be the responsible son who also wants to make his own way in the face of his father’s terminal illness and the “c” storyline of his burgeoning romance with Sally.  He manages to portray “Tits”‘s swagger and cockyness in a fashion that doesn’t come over as obnoxious and imbuing the character with a sensitivity which balances this cockyness.

There is a comedy element that runs throughout this film, particularly in the band’s various efforts to get into the gig and the film’s opening sequence which tips its hat to The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album, but the comedy isn’t all big, belly laughs with regular chuckles throughout.

Although there are scenes of a sexual nature, alongside a lot of swearing and some drug usage, “Spike Island” is a film that is as colourful as the band that inspires it and is a snapshot of defining era in British music and of the lives of teenagers where the things that matter in childhood aren’t necessarily those that matter in adulthood.

A well crafted British film.

World War Z: 2.5/5

Spike Island: 4/5

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