(On Cable TV, February 2019) Medium-low budget films about the zombie apocalypse are a dime a dozen these days, and Patient Zero doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the undead pack even when it pretends that’s not really a zombie story. This is one of those films that posits that the humans are the real enemy, and the inevitable degradation of the bunker environment feels like another retread of Romero’s Day of the Dead. Struggling with having anything to say, Patient Zero hovers around I am Legend thematic concerns without quite making the leap into the advantages of the replacement solution. I’ll be honest: Most of my motivation in watching the film was in seeing another role for Natalie Dormer, and while she does make for a fine leading couple along with Matt Smith, it’s really Stanley Tucci who steals the show, no doubt relishing the opportunity to play a ripped zombie leader and earn some muscular action antagonist credentials. The script is where the problems start: In trying to show a world where zombies are creating their own language, the film barely creates the scaffolding of an intriguing premise (is it a new or modified language? Does it lead to a distinct culture? How much of it is different from human?) before giving up and wallowing into the clichés of the genre. Of course, there’s a trigger-happy colonel who relishes shooting nearly every promising character, existing solely for making things more difficult. Of course, there’s a quasi-magical antidote-from-Patient-Zero nonsense, something that even the film doesn’t believe even if its (so-called smart) characters do. A better screenwriter would have been able to do better, but I’m not sure that the end result would have been much improved considering the uninspired direction from Stefan Ruzowitzky. From its very dull generic beginning to a disappointing Adam-and-Eve conclusion, Patient Zero constantly threatens to become better without never actually doing so. Some of the action sequences almost work well, but they’re not enough. I strongly suspect that the film was abandoned by its studio: Shot in 2015 with then-popular actors, the film was ultimately dumped without fanfare in 2018 almost as if they wanted to wash their hands off the result and let it fade among so many other similar movies.
(Netflix Streaming, October 2014) The root of the problems with Mockingjay 1 (or Hunger Games 3a) is the business decision, well before the movie had started shooting, that the third volume in adapting Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy was to be split in two separate movies. While there is some justification to the split (the book itself does feel as if it has separate halves), it means that this first half isn’t much more than seeing the lead character mope around despondently for a full hour and a half, with much repetitive material thrown in, over and over again. The pacing isn’t just off: it’s the entire point of the film that’s dulled by this decision. Fortunately, Jennifer Lawrence continues to be better than the material she gets: even a relatively low point like Mockingjay 1 showcases how much the series relies on her performance. It’s not as if the other actors stand there doing nothing (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s pretty good as a manipulator working against his former masters and Natalie Dormer gets a meatier part than usual here), but she remains the foundation on which the series is built. While there’s something encouraging to be said about the film’s production values, its jaundiced view of revolutions and the vulgarized exposition of propaganda techniques, Mockingjay 1 isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch – and if the producers stick to the book, Part 2 won’t be a bag of happy puppies either. But then again, I’m comfortably older than the target audience for this trilogy. At least it’s a bit better than most of its emulators have managed to be so far.