Laserblast: The Paramount Vault – Science Fiction & Horror on YouTube

Parmount Pictures recently created a new YouTube channel, The Paramount Vault, which streams free films from the studio’s library. Along with clips from classic titles, there are approximately 150 full length movies. Of course, these are not premium titles but lower end stuff for which services such as Netflix might not be inclined to pay licensing fees. However, there are some horror and science fiction films that might be of interest to cult movie enthusiasts and completists: THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, THE SPACE CHILDREN, CONQUEST OF SPACE, THE DEADLY BEES, CRACK IN THE WORLD, BENEATH, THE SENDER, etc.
The Paramount Vault divides its titles into playlists. You can find science fiction films here and horror films here.
Films worth checking out include I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (an tense little thriller despite the title); THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (a gore-filled sequel to the cult original); IN DREAMS (Neil Jordan’s psychic thriller); and SHANKS (an oddity starring mime Marcel Marceau). And of course fans of ’80s cheese from Cannon Films should get a kick out of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.
Note: The Paramount Vault YouTube channel is not to be confused with the Paramount Pictures YouTube channel. The former is a library of archival titles; the latter offers trailer and promotional videos for Paramount’s upcoming releases.

World War Z sequel hopes boosted by box office

WWZ poster helicopterHollywood Reporter tells us that Paramount Pictures is reactivating their plan to turn WORLD WAR Z into a franchise, thanks to the strong box office opening: $66-million domestically and over $111-million worldwide. WORLD WAR Z had been conceived as the first entry in a trilogy, but after post-production trouble, the studio and the filmmakers had backed off making any promises for sequels. That changed as soon as the film earned star Brad Pitt his biggest opening weekend box office ever.
The rocky road from script to screen, including expensive additional shooting, suggested that WORLD WAR Z might emerge as an epic failure; instead, the film has been embraced by critics and audiences. The mix of male and female viewers is almost equal, and two-thirds of ticket-buyers have been over 25; in short, WORLD WAR Z is reaching viewers who do not necessarily go to zombie movies.
The Hollywood Reporter article offers no details on where the franchise will go, noting only that “Paramount actively will turn to developing a sequel.” While promoting WORLD WAR Z’s opening, Pitt (who is also a producer) noted that the film had only scratched the surface of Max Brooks’s novel, suggesting that future films would delve deeper into the source material

War War Z: review

WORLD-WAR-Z-PosterThe familiar zombie routine has never been realized on such an epic scale, but that is the film’s only claim to novelty.

WORLD WAR Z is not merely a movie about zombies; it is a bit of a zombie itself: shot and re-shot, cut to pieces, bloody and battered, it nevertheless refuses to die, staggering to the finish line and beyond with remarkable resiliency, though bearing only a superficial similarity to its former self, its higher brain functions faded. Which is to say that, in spite of extensive rewriting, re-shooting, and re-editing, the finished film does not resemble a Frankenstein-monster stitched together from disparate pieces. It looks like a healthy human being – until you get up close and stare into the empty eyes, devoid of personality, and realize that its movements are the force of habit, not spontaneous actions initiated by intelligent thought. Fortunately, the familiar zombie routine has its appeal, and never before has it been realized on such epic scale. Big-budget horror blockbusters are few and far between; therein lies the film’s only claim to novelty. If worldwide mayhem, wrapped up in a globe-trotting thriller scenario, is enough to animate your interest, WORLD WAR Z is not a bad way to kill a couple hours.
After a moment of domestic calm before the storm, introducing us to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family, WORLD WAR Z quickly dives into the zombie apocalypse with an outbreak, with effectively convincing chaos spilling onto city streets with alarming speed. Gerry turns out to be a former U.N. investigator, with experience getting in and out of hot spots around the globe; he is pressed back into service in exchange for room and board for his family aboard a battleship, safe from the death and destruction on shore. With the countdown to human extinction ticking, the goal is to trace the viral outbreak to its source in the hope of finding a cure. This proves to be easier said than done, with most of the world in flames, able to offer assistance but no useful answers.

Who cares if all these people die, as long as I get the wife and kids to safety?
Who cares if all these people die, as long as I get the wife and kids to safety?

The first weird thing you notice about WORLD WAR Z is that, despite the impressive long shots with virtual armies of the living dead overwhelming helpless victims, the film as a whole never truly captures a sense of impending doom as well as its own trailer. What should be the motivating force behind the narrative is instead soft-pedaled – not eclipsed but definitely subordinated to what really matters: family values. Gerry, you see, is less interested in saving the world than in saving his family – a point emphasized when he refuses the mission, changing his mind only when the military commander informs him that there is no room for non-essential personnel aboard ship (translation: if he doesn’t go, he and his family will be kicked off).
Consequently, Gerry’s quest is less about completing his mission than it is about getting back to the wife and kids. Which might be okay if they were not such a generic, forgettable lot. The cutaways to the wife and kids awaiting Gerry’s return, and the occasional phone call, are meant to lend an emotional foundation to the story; instead, they are mere distractions. You get the feeling that, as far as the filmmakers are concerned, the world can go to hell as long as the family is reunited at the end. It’s not exactly the best way to generate a sense of apocalyptic horror.
The thrills in World War Z are more action-packed than horrifying.
The thrills in World War Z are more action-packed than horrifying.

Horror of any sort is in relatively short supply, perhaps due to the studio-mandated PG-13 rating, which leaves the film not only bloodless but generally scare-less. Producer-star Pitt reportedly wanted to push the rating to the limit, but there is little evidence of this on screen, although there is a nice decisive moment when his character (bloodlessly) severs a victim’s hand to prevent infection from spreading.
There are plenty of thrills, but for the most part they are presented in the action idiom, with chase, gunshots, and explosions that keep you on the edge of your seat but seldom have you squirming with dread. The exception is an expertly staged, extended set-piece near the end, in which Gerry and a few others must negotiate the corridors of a World Health Organization building, relying on stealth to prevent detection by the roaming zombies. Director Marc Forster (who helmed the excellent STRANGER THAN FICTION and the not so excellent QUANTUM OF SOLACE) does his best work here; the 3D imagery (a post-production conversion that looks great throughout) seems to put you inside the hallways, shoulder to shoulder with the humans, so close you almost feel as if the zombies could reach out and grab you (though, sadly, such a nifty 3D shot as an arm shooting out of the screen is never attempted).
Zombies pile up like insects, climbing a fortress wall.
Zombies pile up like insects, climbing a fortress wall.

The zombies themselves are a not particularly imaginative variation on the creatures we have been seeing on screen for decades. There is a certain spastic nature to their movements that is unnerving, and some of the makeups are good, though not particularly innovative. As in 28 DAYS LATER (2002), they are victims of a virus, and they run like Olympic sprinters. This made more sense in the previous film, in which the zombies were not really zombies at all but living humans infected with a “rage virus.” Here, we have humans who die within seconds but remain healthy enough to outrun the living, swarm up walls like overactive insects, and overwhelm well-equipped soldiers.
Speaking of the living dead, the characters seldom do. There is some initial scoffing at the use of the word “zombie,” and Gerry later asks someone how Jerusalem managed to prepare for the zombie menace that no one else believed was coming. But no one even tries to come to grips with what must be a tremendous psychological shock, a complete overturning of our fundamental reality – the inviolable demarcation between the living and the dead. Beside a brief snippet on the soundtrack, there is no “end of times” rhetoric, no reference to the religious implications of the resurrection of the dead, no acknowledgement that the threat being faced is not merely a rampaging virus but something totally unprecedented in human history.
Sure, the enemy is the living dead - but who cares?
Sure, the enemy is the living dead - but who cares?

Consequently, the metaphorical force of the zombie is diminished. The walking dead have stood for conformity, consumerism, slavery, and many other concepts; here, they are just really fast dangerous people who are very hard to kill. (Yes, a bullet to the brain will do the trick, just as in George A. Romero’s films). Apparently, Pitt’s original intent was to examine sociopolitical ideas (what would this outbreak do to society? which countries would fare best), but that got lost in the effort to create a blockbuster that would launch an action-oriented franchise.
This leads to the inevitable open ending, primed for sequels – though not quite as blatantly open and unsatisfying as the director’s cut is reported to have been. The post-production revisions reunited Gerry with his family and deleted a major battle sequence in Russian, which showed the protagonist morphing from Everyman to Action Hero.* You have to admire the filmmakers for switching to a more small-scale, suspenseful conclusion, although this winds up feeling rather anti-climactic (Pitt’s closing narration tells us it’s not the end, or even the beginning of the end, just the end of this movie, with more expected to follow).
Should there be more? The productions values and the star performance, the lavish locations and epic scale – all show signs of potential, even if that potential was hampered by a studio eager for a family-friendly blockbuster rather than a horrifying vision of the apocalypse. Hopefully, a sequel could explore some ideas left unrealized here. Perhaps we should be grateful that Gerry gets back with his family at the end of WORLD WAR Z – a plot thread left dangling in the first director’s cut – at least that will not be the basis for a sequel.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the film’s one interesting concept: The Tenth Man, which is basically a variation on the Devil’s Advocate. This idea is offered up as the explanation for why Israel was prepared for the zombie onslaught: after decades of dismissing early warning signs, the country adopted the concept of “The Tenth Man”: if ten people hear the same evidence, and nine of them come to the same conclusion, the tenth is obligated to assume the opposite is correct, and explore the possibility rigorously. Fortunately for Israel, the Tenth Man was able to prove the truth of the zombie threat in time to make preparations.
On the CFQ Review scale of zero to five stars, a moderate non-recommendation, though there are redeeming features

  • In case you have not kept up with WORLD WAR Z’s production saga, you can learn a little bit here. Essentially, the ending of the director’s cut pleased no one, so Damon Lindelof was brought in to revamp the conclusion; he and Drew Goddard wrote 60 new pages that changed not only the ending, but also most of the film’s second half – basically, everything after Gerry leaves Jerusalem, including the in-flight zombie attack.

World War Z wallpaperWORLD WAR Z (Paramount Pictures: July 21, 2013). Rated PG-13. 116 minutes. Directed by Marc Forster. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski; screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof; based on the novel by Max Brooks. Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Elyes Gabel, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga.

Dark Skies: Review

Dark_Skies_PosterDARK SKIES proves once again (as if any proof were necessary) that Blumhouse Productions has codified its horror template to the point that their films are the cinematic equivalent of blues music: the lyrics may change, but not the subject matter or tone; and regardless of the writers and performers, you will hear the same 12-bar chord progression, hitting the same beats, with approximately the same musical arrangements. In this case, the innovation lies in the switch from unseen supernatural forces to unseen alien invaders; otherwise, the song remains the same.
In case you did not know it, the nuclear family is disintegrating. Mom and Dad cannot support their family’s suburban lifestyle. They argue – maybe not about money, but they argue because of money – or, more precisely, the lack of it. In fact, they are so busy arguing that they do not realize the greater threat lurking in the shadows of their home. Their children try to tell them, but hey – they’re just kids, and what do they know anyway? So the parents don’t listen; they just focus on financial problems, not realizing that even if Mom sells the property she is trying to unload, or if Dad gets the new job for which he has applied, that’s not going to solve the real problem.
I am of course talking about DARK SKIES here, but with a few changes the above paragraph could apply equally well to SINISTER or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, both of which revolved around monsters attempting – successfully, as it turned out – to snatch children right out from under Mom and Dad’s nose.
Fortunately, the parents in DARK SKIES are not quite as absurdly oblivious as the clueless couple in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. They actually figure out something is wrong and consult a self-styled expert (J.K.  Simmons, filling in for Vincent D’Onofrio, who performed similar service in SINISTER). Based on what they learn, they even try to do something about the problem, which generates a third act that almost resembles a legitimate piece of storytelling.
It’s nice to see DARK SKIES abandon the “Ignorant Plot” that fueled its immediate predecessors (in which ignorant characters wandered around for 90 minutes, seldom if ever getting a read on what was after them), but it is all for naught, since the conclusion is predetermined. (If that sounds like a spoiler, don’t blame me: DARK SKIES’ poster spells it out: “Once you’ve been chose, you belong to them.”)
As if sensing that predictability is a problem, writer-director Scott Stewart tosses in a last-minute – well, “surprise” would be too strong a word, as would “twist,” so let’s say “shift” – regarding the identity of the victim being targeted. This does not change the outcome in any meaningful way, nor does it lend any kind of dramatic frisson; it merely provides an illusion of the unexpected, a pretense toward actual plotting – as opposed to simply filling in the same old template.
I get the impression that Stewart intended a little bit more. Early scenes of the children’s pet lizard hints at some kind of foreshadowing – the aliens look down on us as we look down on animals – but nothing comes of the idea. The attempt to weave the alien scenario into the family drama suggests an attempt to provide a darker alternative to M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS (which is echoed and quoted in several ways), but we never truly identify with the storytelling as anything more than an excuse to stitch together the scares, and any attempt at a dramatic resolution is short-circuited by the de rigueur denouement.

An alien makes a shadowy appearance behind Keri Russell.
An alien makes a shadowy appearance behind Keri Russell.

If you are a fan of previous horror films from Blumhouse Productions, you will probably enjoy the same old song one more time. The cast of non-stars do a decent job of portraying everyday people. As usual, the slow build-up of suspense is carefully calculated, and the creepy set pieces are effectively handled. If only the scenario could weave a more convincing plot thread, there might be a real movie here. (In one of the scripts more amusing moments of lip-service, the inexplicable – and frankly pointless – scare tactics of the aliens are rationalized by the claim that the invaders are exploiting our fears, for reasons unknown – presumably, it’s some kind of psychological behavioral experiment?)
I feel a bit treacherous for shedding so much negative light on DARK SKIES. After all, Blumhouse Productions strives to craft horror films that rely on subtlety rather than shocks, on atmosphere rather than action. Their commodity is rare in today’s cinematic marketplace, so they deserve recognition for proving that this approach can sell tickets, but as the lackluster debut of DARK SKIES shows ($8.9-million for a sixth-place opening weekend) Blumhouse needs to infuse its formula with a little more variety and creativity.
DARK SKIES (February 22, 2013). Written and directed by Scott Stewart. PG-13. In widescreen and Dolby Digital. Produced by Blumhouse Productions. Distributed by Paramount Pictures. Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L. J. Benet.

Star Trek Into Darkness in theatres May 17

Paramount Pictures offers the next installment in the rebooted mission of the Starship Enterprise and her crew.  J.J. Abrams is back in the director’s chair, working from a script by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof, based on the original concept by Gene Roddenberry. Chris Pine is James T. Kirk; Zachary Quinto is Spock; and Karl Urban is Dr. McCoy, with Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho filling out the crew. Alice Eve shows up as Dr. Carol Marcus, and Bruce Greenwood is back as Christopher Pike. The story pits the Federation against an overwhelming force threatening obliteration.
U.S. Theatrical Release: May 17.

'STAR TREK: Into Darkness' trailer

Japanese version with extra footage, via JoBlo’s youtube page.

“In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes STAR TREK Into Darkness.
When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.
With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.”

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Click to Enlarge

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller.

Directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay byAlex Kurtzman , Roberto Orci , and Damon Lindelof.
Due out May 17th, 2013 from Bad Robot Productions and Paramount.  

'Star Trek 2' Fight Scene — BTS Clip

Splash News got this Behind the Scenes footage of Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) against SHERLOCK’s Benedict Cumberbatch in a fight sequence for Paramount’s STAR TREK sequel.
Director JJ Abrams was on hand guidng the actors through their movements, and though a stuntman for Quinto was on set, it looked as if the actor was doing the bulk of the work.
Probably any shot with the character being knocked down was doubled, as insurance companies are naturally disinclined to allow stars to take actual falls. 
StarTrek_Uhura_BCAn eariler leaked photo indicates that Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is in on the action as well—perhaps with a better idea for subduing the seemingly Vulcan Nerve Pinch-resistant Cumberbatch.

Trek 2 Villain? Elementary…

Cumberlach_cropVariety reports that Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC TV series SHERLOCK, has been chosen to play the villain in STAR TREK 2.
The unknown role, rumored by some media sources to be the TV/Movie genetic superman Khan Noonian Singh, was originally offered to Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro and Paramount could not come to terms, however, so the search went on.
STAR TREK 2 is set to begin production this month.
Cumberbatch will also be joining his TV Watson Martin Freeman in THE HOBBIT, providing motion capture and voices for the dragon Smaug and “the Necromancer”, assumed to be the  dark wizard Sauron.

'Dark Knight Rises' Promo—Go or No?

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Click to Enlarge

AMC Theaters’ website seemed to confirm that there would indeed be a  six-minute prologue for Warner Brothers Pictures THE DARK KNIGHT RISES shown before  Paramount Pictures’ early IMAX release of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL on December 16th.  
However, this apparent confirmation of the internet rumor was quickly taken down from the website, with an advisory that Warner Brothers be contacted for information regarding THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
What’s the real story? Stay tuned…

'Micronauts' Gets Writers

Deadline  reports that Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (ZOMBIELAND) will


write the screenplay to bring MICRONAUTS to the screen for Paramount Pictures and JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions.
Currently owned by Hasbro, the Micronauts were orginally brought to the U.S. by the Mego Corporation in 1976,   adapting the Microman toy line created by Takaraare, a  Japanese toy company later taken over by TOMY.
The Micronauts became a Marvel Comic in 1977, and in later years other companies such as Image Comics had short runs with the characters.
Interestingly, some of the Marvel-created comic book characters were used in other titles, with their Micronauts connection unmentioned.