June 20, 2013
This weekend at the movies, there’s something for everyone, with a broad spectrum of subjects and targeted audiences in the offing. Zombies are bringing about the apocalypse in director Marc Forster’s World War Z, starring Brad Pitt. Monsters University is a new release by the magicians over at Pixar who seem able, metaphorically speaking, to pull a cute cartoon rabbit from what seems like a very empty hat. Much Ado About Nothing is Joss Whedon’s vanity project where all the Whedon-kids put on a show in the barn (or more accurately, his house in Hollywood), and darned if his post-Avengers fame isn’t being put to the great Bard’s benefiting use here. Read on to find something new and exciting to see the first weekend of summer….
WORLD WAR Z:
Before you even consider seeing World War Z, you must erase all you know about the extremely popular novel by Max Brooks from your brain. Make it as vegetables to a zombie: immaterial and of no relation to the experience at hand… Can you approach seeing it as someone just hungering for the raw meat that is a tasty and suspenseful action movie you can sink your teeth into, where zombies figure? Moviegoers should run, not shamble, towards the nearest multiplex. You may ask why, when you might have heard so much bad press about it…
There have been a myriad of issues in getting this film to the screen. The near complete jettison of Max Brooks’ cult beloved book, the seemingly endless reshoots, the growing rift between Forster and Pitt, and the more than year long delay in its release, should telegraph an apocalypse not only onscreen but at the box office. As a critic, we are meant to ignore all that information, which is hard to do, especially as Cinema Siren is such a huge fan of the original novel. And yet… chalk it up to sheer force of will on the part of Brad Pitt and other diehard folk involved, World War Z has emerged as an extremely entertaining, thoroughly engaging flick that deserves an audience, and will even garner long term fans. Whatever its long pre-release history, many who enjoy action adventures as well as zombie movie aficionados will find World War Z engrossing entertainment.
The story concerns United Nations ex-employee Gerry Lane, who has to leave his wife and kids and re-enter the fray as requested by his ex-boss, when what looks like zombies start killing everyone in the world within a matter of hours, causing whole nations to topple. These are the fast-turning, fast running “viral” zombies (think 28 Days Later, not Night of the Living Dead). That alone will turn off some zombie purists, who will say they aren’t real zombies*, although expert Doug Winter will tell you raptor zombies are nothing new, and were used in Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City in 1980. Lane is tasked with accompanying a virologist and keeping him safe in his search for a cure or finding a way of effectively halting the end of civilization. Only good family men need apply: In exchange for risking his life, his wife and children will be offered asylum on a virus free aircraft carrier. Lane accepts. Thusly ensues a frantic trek around the world to find answers and save the world.
Pitt is the only bone fide A-list actor in World War Z, and yet the supporting roles are all memorably performed, although none have nearly as much screen time. The Killing’s Mireille Enos’ portrayal of Karin, Gerry’s wife, will continue her propel her to the top of the Hollywood food chain, though she isn’t seen nearly enough in the film. She is featured most in the first scenes filmed in urban landscape, which set the tone for the rest of the action. The biggest stand out is Daniella Kertesz in her first big screen appearance as Segen, an Isreali soldier that proves her mettle.
The weaknesses, given how connected we remain with the protagonist, are nothing that destroy forward momentum. The story is somewhat one-dimensional. But given the apocalyptic threat, it’s no wonder our hero is single minded. The characterizations also suffer in maintaining consistent suspense and excitement. Since no one faults Fast and Furious 6 for that weakness, why quibble here?
The best quality of World War Z is it is consistently more action and less horror, allowing for potentially wider viewership, and that action is represented in diverse set pieces that keep the audience’s attention. No sooner have they gotten used to frenetic city chaos, the story is moved to a more claustrophobic environment, or a seemingly expansive rural exterior. Death lurks around every corner, and much as we know little more than the tenacity, passion to survive, and desire to be reunited with friends and family, we still come to care whether the cast succeeds, not least because the fate of the world depends on it.
All in all, I’d wager most reading this, even dissenters, will be happily surprised and temporarily transfixed by World War Z. It deserves your support. Would Cinema Siren guide you into a nest of the undead without good reason? Eat up. This is one zombie action thriller that will fill you up and leave you hungry for more.
They’re back! Sort of…actually it is the long awaited prequel of Pixar’s highly inventive and successful feature, Monsters Inc. It is perfectly timed for those summer vacations with the little ones, who have vivid imaginations, and little fear of things that might pop out from under their beds at night.
Fans of Monsters Inc. know superstar scarers and BFFs Mike and Sully, but how did they get to be tops at on the scare floor of the company that keeps the city of Monstropolis powered? They started out at Monsters University, where they were anything but friends. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi return as vocal talent, and are joined by Helen Mirren, Sean Hayes, and Dave Foley among others, to tell the story of how they became friends.
This is no groundbreaker. Think of it as Revenge of the Nerds in cartoon fur. It is the kid friendly equivalent of a frat comedy, albeit with the genuine heart of a coming of age buddy pic. There are the inevitable mistakes made, as life lessons are learned, the requisite college bully (Verse-alert! He’s played by Nathan Fillion!), and the tried and true plot where one plucky weakest link leads the underdogs in training toward their goal of lasting college glory.
Still, the heart wins. And this well defined, charming collection of misfit monsters will keep you entertained, amused, and audiences will be cheering them to victory for all of the hour and forty seven minutes. It also has the subversive willingness to say not everyone who wants something can always have it, no matter how hard they try. That’s fearless territory for a cartoon.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING:
Fans of all things Joss Whedon clap a collective huzzah at Much Ado About Nothing being released in Washington area this weekend. Never one to rest on his top box office laurels, risk taker Joss the boss has created a black and white guerrilla film featuring iambic pentameter. Whether a Shakespeare, romance, or sparkling indie or just all around movie fan, this film tomfoolery of his turns out to be good for us all.
For those of you less Shakespeare savvy, the story centers around two couples, Beatrice and Benedict, played by Whedon alums Amy Acker and Alex Denisof, and Hero and Claudio, who are the object of an evil plot for break up that goes even more horribly wrong than expected. Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kranz and newcomer Jillian Morgese play the potentially star-crossed ingenues. In fact, almost all involved in this project except Morgese and the formidable Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, have been associated long term, on or off screen, with Joss Whedon.
Firefly cult hero, Nathan Fillion, must be included, and this of course means he is in no less than two releases this weekend. Cue the collective geek out! It would be less impressive if his lovable buffoon Dogberry wasn’t such a scene stealer. He’s a moron just trying to get his man.
The screen, however, belongs to Acker and Denisof. Acker is luminous and tack-sharp, a poignant balance of bile and earning. Denisof has his own blend of numbed chosen cluelessness and contemptuous flippancy. They both portray a hidden but too thinly veiled heartbreak.
This Much Ado interpretation is couched in a gin and chardonnay-soaked weekend at a business mogul’s compound (famously filmed at Joss Whedon’s own house in only 12 days). It is the darkest version ever placed onscreen, making it arguable the most faithful interpretation, as the story borders on tragedy several times. Whedon sees this and builds his version accordingly… as Shakespeare intended. On the surface it is all wit and sass, but Much Ado is a story with a poignancy centered on loss and shifting loyalties that make it far deeper than it seems, and the actors show the appropriately layered nuances. Spoken as written, the barbs fling, and yes, they are as funny now as in the 1590s. Now as then, especially between Beatrice and Benedict, there is pain in most every ping.
If you’ve seen this Shakespeare before, you know if all is well that ends well, but those who don’t know the outcome will have to see it. Playing in fewer area theaters, it is worth the trip. It is the thinking man or woman’s movie choice for celebrating the summer solstice.