World War Z: Dead on Target

Brad and familyorld-War-Z-screenshot-12Apparently we have Brad Pitt to thank for “World War Z”, a refreshingly well-done blockbuster. Seems that the initial cut was so bad that Brad insisted that the last fourty minutes be entirely re-written and reshot. In so doing, he not only saved the world from zombies, he also saved the movie.

For it’s the last fourty minutes that actually made the movie – helped lift it away from the formulaic climax of all these mindless blockbusters, all of whom are marching to the cacophonously loud beat of the same drummer: see how much you can destroy and how spectacular you can make the explosions. In these last fourty minutes we find Brad, a retired UN investigator, stealthily creeping through the well lit corridors of a WHO lab complex, in search of the critical serum. It’s quiet (the zombies are alerted by noises) and there’s a real spine-tingling, hushed suspense. Imagine, “suspense” in a blockbuster these days?

The first eighty minutes of WWZ aren’t bad either.

For one thing, it’s refreshing to have a flesh and blood human with an ordinary family at the center of the action. Unlike Tony Stark or the annoyingly undynamic duo, Will and Jaden Smith (his character in the After Earth dud is called Cypher Raige. Really?) or the man of lead, oops, steel or the soon to be released Wolverine, Brad’s character, Gerry Lane, is an ordinary dad who makes pancakes. He’s not actually all that ordinary, since he is of course, Brad Pitt. Nevertheless, the main point is that director Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace”) has tried to invest Max Brooks’ weird zombie world novel with people we might actually want to identify with. And these days, when the quality bar is set so low, that’s a big deal.

The movie follows Gerry’s harrowing attempts to track down the source of an anti-dote to the fast spreading zombie plague. The zombies – now that Hollywood has allowed them to run like bats out of hell, instead of the sluggish Thriller version of them – attack in frenzied hordes and Forster has peppered his movie with some thrilling moments: there’s a zombie outbreak on a plane, where, there really isn’t much place to run; we see an enclosed Israel smugly celebrating its cleverness, when its un-breachable wall is breached and vast armies of the undead burst into screaming, scrambling panicked humanity. These scenes of mayhem and terror are balanced with smaller, quieter, more human moments as Gerry tries to keep in touch with his wife (Mireille Enos of “the Killing” and “Gangster Squad”) via a battery-challenged cell phone.


Buff, shaggy, hirsute Gerry is counterbalanced and assisted by an almost bald, diminutive Israeli soldier, Segen, Daniella Kertesz, of whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of in the future.


Again, in contrast to the thuggishness of Man of Steel, After Earth etc, it’s Gerry’s detective work and deductive skills (rather than sheer muscle and big weaponry) that leads him to finding the solution to the problem.

There’s one other important added value feature of this movie. It’s actually quite short (115 minutes v 130 minutes for Iron Man 3; 145 minutes for Man of Steel and 125 minutes for Oblivion).

Short and sweet and worth the money.

So now we ordinary, presumably living, movie-goes have to deal with three types of undying. There’s the undead – zombies, who we’ll be seeing more of in “The World’s End”, vampires, who we recently encountered in “Byzantium” (and of course “Twilight”) and there are immortals (Superman, Hancock, Wolverine and others).

This world is getting to be a very crowded place



The Alternative Guide To The Universe: Weird and wonderful


“When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,

Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;

And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,

Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art ?”

There is an absolutely fascinating exhibition now on at the Hayward, home of fascinating exhibitions. This one is called “the Alternative Guide to the Universe”. It features a number of works (sculpture, video, photos, paintings, scribblings…often all at the same time) that can only be described as totally weird, bizarre, other-worldly. One review described the exhibition as “celebrating the undiscovered, the undefinable and the unclassifiable”

The exhibits are the works of fringe, mainly self-taught artists (many of whom I think have but a fragile toe hold on reality). These outsider artists are unlicensed architects, visionaries, bogus physicists, photographers and robot tinkerers: obsessives all.

Here are some of the exhibits that visionary curator, Ralph Rugoff has on display:

Jean Perdrizet has created a machine and a language (Sideral Esperanto) which helps him to communicate with the dead


Alfred Jensen’s works seek to channel and leverage the potential offered by combining Goethe’s analysis of prismatic light, Mayan beliefs in magic with numbers theory, into a sort of holistic rethinking of the universe.

Alfred jensen

Using scrap metal, sewing machine parts and steel wire, Beijing farmer Wu Yulu has built a number of robots, the one in the exhibition was developed apparently to chase people and clutch at their clothes. Fortunately he – it?- was sleeping when I was there.

Wu Yulu

Congolese Bodys Isek Kingeles is one of many of the artists on display who have re-imagined what architecture could look like in his vision of Utopia. The proto-models bear no relationship with anything ever seen, or even physically possible for that matter.


Morton Bartlett has made a number of anatomically correct half scale mannequins, which he has dressed and photographed in a creepy voyeuristic way, making you wonder whether pedophilia extends to images of the inanimate.


Paul Laffoley’s mandala-like creations represent detailed diagrams and drawings of imagined objects and realities; they evoke altered time states.

Paul Laffoley

All art, in its need to shrug off the warping influence of society (how others see things), is essentially existentialist. This exhibition takes this thought to the Nth degree. For here we see not how artists interpret reality – be that external or internal reality – but the creation of entirely separate realities, unmoored by anything we might remotely consider to be everyday.

The aptly named exhibition is really a journey into the minds and psyches of a group of creators who, I suspect, would by many standards, be considered absolutely barmy. So, whist on the one hand, you have to simply submit yourself, judgment-free, into their gravity-free worlds; on the other, you have to wonder whether there’s ever any possibility of a Joycean epiphany to be had from all this.

In the end, visionary art (Blake? Chagall? Yeats?) has the potential and the power to blow away the cobwebs that form from the encrustations of daily life…and lead us to re-evaluations and startling out-of-body (in the sense of seeing the world through the lens of the artist) re-appraisals of reality. But you wonder whether this work, though fascinating has the potential to lead you anywhere further than the gasping encounter with wildly off-kilter consciousnesses.

Thus defined, it’s an exhibition of “things”, of obsessive visions. You feel that you’re intruding on someone’s private conversation with a deviant universe.

But is it art?

What is quite clear, is that these items are all expressions of absolute, unqualified honesty. The megalopolises shown, the frenzied, neurotic, jibberish-like markings that seek to supposedly describe the activities of protons and electrons, the meandering lines and squiggles that filigree their canvases… are all cynicism-free, passionate attempts to describe, frame and plumb ideas of the meaning of the life and the meaning of our lives in a larger cosmos.

And that kind of commitedness, that almost primitive desire to tell a story, to recast a creation mythology, to deliver whole narratives in every frame, lift the works beyond the artless eruptions of neurosis to an interesting dimension of art. Art without artifice. Before the Greeks came along to create our modern sensibility and understanding of art – a representation of some form of reality, abstract or mimetic – what we now admire so much in Museums weren’t representations of reality but tangible manifestations of worship and wonder. The stone statue of Isis wasn’t a stone statue, it WAS Isis. So too, you feel that the objects in this exhibition aren’t visions of an alternative universe; to their creators, they’re its manifestation.

And, hey, that’s art.




matt-damon-and-michael-douglas-get-intimate-and-fight-in-behind-the-candelabra“BEHIND THE CANDELABRA”, Steve Soderbergh’s latest and (he says) last movie, is a biopic lite version of Liberace’s relationship with a young hunk, Scott Thorson. It follows their love life from Liberace’s first, flirtatious look of lust to his gaunt, AID’s corrupted death. We see Scott morph from a gauche, star-struck, love-besotted Adonis to an embittered, drugged out, washed-up wreck.

This is a move that comes with a huge wake of surrounding publicity: here are two of our most macho movie stars – Michael Douglas, recently returning to the screen after fighting stage four cancer, and Matt, Jason Bourne, Damon – making out convincingly on an oversized, plump-pillowed, satin-sheeted bed. Here is a movie that the self professed most fearless country in the world was too scared to air publicly (probably a good move as – judging from the audiences here in London – more people may have seen it on HBO). Here is a movie that seems to have garnered near universal praise from its recent premier at Cannes.

And was it all worth the fuss?

On the whole, definitely.

“…Candelabra” is an almost old fashioned outlet for a galaxy of stars turning in some stellar performances. We expect much of Matt; and he doesn’t disappoint. When we first meet him, the astonishing team of make-up artists Soderbergh has at his disposal (Kate Biscoe, BAFTA nominee for movies such as “Iron Man 3”. “Argo” and “Contagion” and heading a crew of twenty nine), ensures that he make a convincing eighteen year old. Damon, with blonde ‘big hair’, comes across as an absolute naïf – just the right kind of target for Douglas’ predatory, reptilian Liberace.


Michael Douglas himself gives us an uber camp Liberace, a man who, what with his glittering, fur swaddled flamboyance and his face lifts and wigs, has not only mastered his public image, but, even in private, has become it. This is not so much image management, it’s image dominance ! At one point, Liberace, sneaking a kiss with Scott in a public place tells him, “people see what they want to see”. Liberace knows exactly what he wants people – his fans, Scott, his queue of young lovers – to see.

Clearly people saw the rhinestones but never saw, could not imagine, that they showcased a randy, rapacious (homo) sexuality. Scott saw a glamorous, tender, generous lover, not the controlling egomaniac who even had his (Scott’s) face surgically altered to more closely resemble his own.

For at its heart, this is a story about self-deception. Liberace, seemingly just an overly sensitive, gregarious old queen, cultivates this harmless image to be able to insinuate himself into his willingly deceived fans, followers and fellaties.

Scott’s slow, reluctant acceptance that he’s been seduced away – from his foster parents, from a career he might have pursued, from actually earning his own money – drives him into drugs, paranoia and self-contempt (“I don’t even have my own face” he moans at one stage). There’s no deceiving himself though when the bubble bursts and this no longer beautiful man is heaved out onto the road and into the real world.

And even as we are repulsed by Scott’s physical and mental degeneration, Liberace remains unchanging. What with the wig and the face lifts, here is a man who seems to exist outside the pull of time. Douglas’ Liberace is a man who manages pretty much the same vocal inflection and emotional response for everything – from his mother’s death to his seduction of the many pretty boys around him. So it’s a shock when, seeing him through Scott’s eyes, we first see him without the wig – it’s a crack in his perfectly coiffured public image (he tells Scott that should be die, Scott’s first job would be to glue the wig on. Even in death the image must remain secure). And in the end, AIDS, the illness so beyond the control of this controlling man, reveals him for what he really is: an old, bald man, rotten to the core.

Douglas and Damon are at the center of the movie – it revolves entirely around them. But (and not unlike so many of Soderbergh’s movies) they’re surrounded by a who’s who of familiar faces: Dan Aykroyd is Liberace’s long-suffering, unsmiling agent, Seymour Heller, who tries even in Liberace’s death to protect the pianist’s public deception of his sexuality and project the image he’d so assiduously cultivated. Rob Lowe (where’s he been?) is a leering, creepy, predatory plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz, the source of Scott’s drug habit.

RobDebbie Reynolds makes a nice guest appearance as Frances – Liberace’s domineering mother.


And Paul Reiser comes in briefly as Scott’s Cassandra-esque attorney.

“Behind the Candelabra” doesn’t have the kind of resonance of some of Soderbergh’s other movies (“Side Effects”, “Contagion”), but it is certainly the work of a fine craftsman with a sure eye and a steady hand






NEIL JORDAN’S “BYZANTIUM” is his latest vampire movie. You may remember his first one: the gothic, homoerotic melodrama, “Interview with the Vampire”, featuring a blonde pompadoured Tom Cruise with the hots on Brad Pitt. At least there was some prescience on display. This new one is a deadly earnest, sometimes riveting, oftimes grindingly slow revisitation of the essential vampire trope: everlasting love.

But this is no “Twilight”. Jordan labours, as he is wont to do (remember “The Crying Game”), with themes of identity and belonging. With whom can a young vampire identify, if there are none others of its kind to identify with? It’s the sort of angst with with I’m sure we can all identify.

As the story begins, we are introduced to Eleanor (the ethereal, Pre-raphaelite looking Saorise Ronan who was such a presence as the young child in “Atonement”). She’s a sweet two hundred, sixteen year old and is torn between her need to tell her story – and establish to the world just who she is and the past from which she has emerged – and her duty to keeping her identity secret. So we see her writing it all down, only to tear the pages out and scatter them to the wind. It’s not an unlikely scenario for any sixteen year old, unsure of her place in a confusing world, in this vampiric coming of age tale. (Except she’s really two hundred years old. You think she’s have figured that out by now. Hasn’t she seen “Groundhog Day”?)

Her mother, Clara (a stunning, breast-baring Gemma Arterton – of “Quantum of Solace” – who really puts the vamp in vampire), is a whore, doomed to prostitution and an early consumptive death. Like Fantine without the songs. But unlike Fantine, she steals “the map” which leads her to the source of immortality and the lust for blood. Jordan’s quick pass at Clara’s own history and her drift into prostitution is entirely nonsensical, but it’s his handy plot device to serve up his secondary theme of the nature of love. “Byzantium” offers us the full panorama: her whorish, ‘commercial love’ is juxtaposed with her deeper maternal love (the former, she assures us, in service of the latter) and her daughter’s budding romantic love; the movie ends on a note of the eternal love the storyline drifts toward.

In a sense then, this is really a retelling of “Love Actually”, but without the fangs, and, you know, the heads being sawn off, the rivers turning into blood and the resurrection in a cave. Hmm, now where have I heard about that one?

But, identity will out, and not even vampires can escape their pasts, however troubling. Driven by the blush of sixteen year old romance, Eleanor completes the story of her and her mother’s past and gives it to her enamorata (a whimpish, dying Caleb Jones). The offer of her story to the boy is her offer of herself to another. He of course betrays her secret, and shows the story to his school teacher (channeling the plot of “In the House”) who, duh, thinks she’s, shall we say, batty.

Alas, the revelation of self comes with consequences, which in this case, are dire. It’s tough being a vampire. And when her story is read out by these uncomprehending muggles (an un-Rev like Tom Hollander), all hell breaks loose. But in a restrained, artistic way. This, we must remember is no B movie. It’s Neil Jordan. Maybe his next movie will be better.

And get my book: