Tag Archives: Maggie

A review of “Extinction” (2015)

I’d give “Extinction” (2015) a 6 out of 10; it’s a fairly average postapocalyptic horror movie.  And that’s kind of sad, as it seemed to have the ingredients for a great one.

We open with a delightfully scary nocturnal ambush on two school buses crowded with fleeing refugees.  The scene isn’t perfect.  (The soldiers here are both too stoical and too stupid.)  But it’s effective thanks to its claustrophobic setup.  The assailants actually aren’t zombies or “undead” — they’re vicious, fast-moving mutants that are far more interesting.  (Their monsteryness is contagious and catches quickly, a la 2002’s “28 Days Later.”  This predictably spells disaster for the busses’ passengers.)  The animalistic albino baddies actually reminded me a lot of the creatures from “Mutants” (2009).

Then we jump ahead nine years, where two men and a nine-year-old girl suspect that they are the last of the world’s survivors.  But three people are enough for conflict, human nature being what it is.  There is a creatively conceived and fresh idea for a particularly dark end-of-the-world drama.  Jeffrey Donovan and Matthew Fox are both very good; yet the incredibly talented young Quinn McColgan outshines them both.  (Seriously, that little girl is off the hook.  Her performance might be the best thing about the film.)  The makeup effects for the monsters (here only referred to as “they” or “them”) are surprisingly fantastic for what seems like a low-budget film.  And you can tell that a nice amount of thought went into this movie, even if its understanding of Darwin is a little puzzling.  (Why would blindness be an adaptive trait for the monsters?)

I’m just not sure why this movie didn’t work so well for me.  Its formula sure as hell worked for “28 Days Later” and “Maggie” (2015).

Here’s what I think the problem was — the conflict between the two men was a plot that just never advanced.  One hates the other.  We eventually find out why, and it’s a compelling plot point, rendered fairly well in flashback.  But … it’s a static situation that just doesn’t proceed anywhere.  I actually got bored.

The monsters often did little to advance the tension.  They are usually offscreen, absent entirely, or even (in much of the movie’s beginning) presumed extinct.  My attention really did wander.

Finally, the extremely cheesy musical score detracted greatly from the tension that the movie does manage to establish.  This horror movie sounded like a Lifetime Channel movie-of-the-week.  That is not a good thing.  If only those violin players had been victims of the initial apocalypse.

Oh, well.  This is still a fairly good end-of-the-world tale.  And the creepy-crawlies were nice, when we got to see them.

extinction art

My buddy Len met Max Brooks at Phoenix Comicon!!!

At this point, I more or less consider my college alum Len Ornstein as an official correspondent for this blog, even though I hesitate to guess if he’d even care for such a distinction.  Just about anything you see here that is newsworthy or current owes to Len’s helpful vigilance and his e-mails.  (Recall, please, that I recently provided a helpful review of Season 1 of “The X Files.”  Also, I haven’t been able to watch “Gotham” or “Daredevil” because I am lately getting too into “The Lone Gunmen” from 2001.  Seriously.)

Anyway, Len attended the Phoenix Comicon this past weekend, and helpfully shared the experience with those less cool.  And he was fortunate enough to meet the one and only MAX BROOKS.  You guys know that Brooks is the author of the seminal, maybe even genre-redefining zombie apocalypse novel, “World War Z.”  (And if you don’t know that, then get off my blog and go read about Louisa May Alcott or something.)  Brooks is pictured at left below, Len is at right.

I am such a fan of the book that I’ve read it at least three times.  It was like George A. Romero meets Tom Clancy, and it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.  Its predecessor (and de facto prologue, I’d suggest) was “The Zombie Survival Guide.”

Len says that Brooks talked about the widespread criticism of the putative film “adaptation” of “World War Z,” namely how it had nothing in common with his book (although Brooks also did say it was entertaining and lucrative).  The author said he couldn’t really claim that Hollywood butchered his novel, because so little of the novel had been used.  After he sold the rights, he had no creative input for it.

I humbly opine that the movie gets just a little too much bad press.  Visit any Internet message boards about it, and you might get the impression that its more commonly accepted title is “The Brad Pitt Zombie Movie That Sucked.”  I myself am a die-hard fan of the original book, but I still loved the movie.

It wasn’t a Romero film, and it wasn’t “The Walking Dead.”   (And it certainly wasn’t the book.)  But … that’s just fine, in my opinion.  It was different.  It was a bangin’, epic, global monster war movie with some amazing action set pieces.  I think the siege of the walled Jerusalem (a subplot that actually WAS from the book), was alone well worth the price of a ticket.  Not every zombie movie has to have the same tone and narrative as Romero’s work or Robert Kirkman’s work.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent “Maggie” film showed us, for example, that very different zombie movies can still be incredibly good.

My only real criticism of the “World War Z” movie was that its plot resolution seemed … pretty damned risky.  Isn’t there a pretty obvious danger connected with the defense employed by Pitt’s character?  Maybe I missed something.

Thanks for checking in with us, Len!!


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Can a zombie movie be an Oscar contender? (A review of “Maggie.”)

I’m not even sure how to describe what I just saw.

It was a zombie movie.  It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a gentle, mild mannered father.  There is virtually no action.  It’s actually slow.  We see precisely three zombies, by my count, and one of those appears only in quick flashbacks.  Schwarzenegger doesn’t even raise his voice, much less raise hell.  Where I come from, that’s what we call “ALL OF THE INGREDIENTS FOR A BAD MOVIE.”

But “Maggie” (2015) was simply FANTASTIC.  It’s expertly made, and is like no other “zombie movie” I’ve ever seen before.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.  It … actually isn’t really a horror movie, but rather a very, very dark family drama, cleverly housed inside a horror sub-genre. The movie is about terminal illness, and not monsters.

Schwarzenegger hands in a nuanced, understated but still quite touching performance.  He was perfect — I never knew he had it in him.  I KNOW he is the actor here; I recognize his face and read his name in the credits.  But I still have a hard time believing that this is the same man that starred in “The Running Man” (1987).  (Okay, cheap shot.)  Abigail Breslin was also perfect as the afflicted daughter.  And Bryce Romero was terrific in a supporting role.  They’re great young actors; Hollywood seems to be producing more of them these days.

Wait … is that kid’s last name actually “Romero?”  That’s SO meta.

The actor portraying Maggie’s primary care physician (is it Wayne Pere?) gave a great performance — he’s right on par with Schwarzenegger here.

And John Scott’s script is superb.  I love the way he crafts characters against stereotype — we have doctors who are neither omnipotent saints nor detached jerks.  The popular kids at school sweetly welcome their infected friends along on a night out, instead of ostracizing them.  An overzealous Jerk Cop character wants to round up all the infected without prejudice and quarantine them right away.  But, by the end of the movie, moral ambiguity suggests that he’s … probably right.

This movie falls just short of perfection with a few forgivable flaws:

1)  Its plot setup is ridiculous.  The government institutes quarantines for infected people, yet … politely allows people to return home for a few weeks until they are definitely dangerous?  And they then return voluntarily to quarantine after a phone call, even after it becomes well known that the quarantines are hellish places to die?  I’m … pretty sure no quarantine in history has ever worked like that.  Consider the recent Ebola outbreak, and how the quite healthy and asymptomatic Doctors Without Borders’ volunteers were sequestered immediately.  Maggie’s release to her home was quite obviously an overly convenient plot device.

2)  Whoever performed the radio voiceover in the opening scene really dropped the ball.  They needed a reshoot or a better actor.

3)  I honestly think a lot of horror fans will be disappointed with this.  Was it really necessary to include almost no action?  I personally feel that “28 Days Later” (2002) was a moving, touching, richly thematic film.  (It’s a favorite.)  Yet it still served up some racing, screaming hordes of “infected” that were goddam terrifying.  If “Maggie” had just one action set piece, it would have broader appeal.  And it would break up the movie’s slow pace.  A movie like this doesn’t have to be ABOUT exploding zombie heads, but … it wouldn’t hurt to include just one, just for fun.

4)  By the end, it is possible that the film pushes the drama just a little too far, depending on your taste.  By the time the “Mama’s garden” scene occurs toward the end, you might begin to wish the movie just reaches its conclusion.

Still, this is a great flick.  See it.  Tonight.