Saturday, June 22, 2013

World War Z

Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Monster's Ball) directs Brad Pitt in the curious zombie plague film World War Z, in which Pitt plays a former United Nation's investigator, Gerry Lane, who is drafted by  a desperate U.N. undersecretary (Fana Mokoena) to find the source of a global infection that is turning the world's population into the raging, ravenous undead. Little time is spent on back story (no reason is given for the outbreak), and the little we know about Pitt and his devotion to his wife (Mierielle Enos) and two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) is relayed in the first five minutes of the film. It's this devotion that leads him to sign onto what appears to be a suicide mission because the zombies swarm like ants and the gestation period for "turning" after being bitten is about 12 seconds. Lane leaves his family in the care of the U.N. on a battle ship that has been re-purposed as a refuge for unbitten essential  personnel and heads to Korea then Israel chasing leads. Each stop introduces new perils, and Forster stages several mesmerizing scenes that are much tamer than the standard zombie attack fare on The Walking Dead or any other recent zombie flick. For me, the film's most horrifying visual elements are the scenes of the armies of the undead clawing and crawling over one another to get to fresh flesh. Unfortunately, the movie's solemn and polemical final reel was strangely pessimistic and generally disappointing. Recommended for fans of the genre and though not overly bloody or graphic it's way too intense for young children.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel

Zack Snyder's Man of Steel has the grunge-gladiator feel of his earlier film 300 (2006) but with the disorienting visual distortion of that movie and that of his later graphic novel adaptation Watchmen (2009) amped up to a mind-numbing degree. This bombastic and unrelenting picture is both exhausting and too often uninteresting, mainly because the characters are one-dimensional and the battles are unending. Snyder fills the screen of this retelling of the Superman story with cold reptilian images (from the delivery room to space ships to body armor), erupting terrain, and crumbling massive structures of stone and steel. Every time you look up something is coming down. Snyder recounts the story of Clark Kent / Kal-El (The Immortal's Henry Cavill) unconventionally (no doubt the contribution of co-writer Christopher Nolan), weaving together flashbacks from the boy Clark's school days with the implosion of his home planet Krypton and the battle of his heroic father, Jor-El, (Russell Crowe) to save his son and, perhaps, the Kryptonian people. Jor-El is opposed by rebel General Zod (a scenery gobbling Michael Shannon [who is actually a personal favorite of mine]) and Zod's foxy enforcer Faora-Ul (the Germanic beauty Antje Traue). Once baby Kal-El arrives on Earth he is found and nurtured in the American heartland by Jonathan and Martha Kent  (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). It is when the story returns to Kansas that it becomes much more involving; both Costner and Lane add emotional resonance to a film that sorely needs it. Clark's romance with the daring though shockingly unprincipled Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane was D.O.A. for me, however. Recommended.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This Is The End

Evan Golderg and Seth Rogen tag-teamed their directorial debut, This Is The End, a film that could charitably be described as a comic morality tale of celebrity set against the biblical apocalypse. However, it is more accurately described as a self-referential and vulgar bromantic project that stars Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Chris Robinson, Danny McBride, all of whom appear as themselves, and a dozen tag-alongs who have appeared in the films of chief merry prankster Judd Apatow. It's self-referential and profane and hilarious. It's Goldberg's and Rogen's private party that we've been invited to attend (preferably sans panties) and at which Satan makes a few full-frontal appearances. Recommended but decidedly not for children or sensitive (sensible?) adults, for that matter.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fast and Furious 6

Justin Lin's Fast & Furious 6 has an engineer's sensibility about it,  that is to say, it's technically precise and highly functional but is not necessarily arftul -- which will no doubt be fine with the franchises's fan boys and girls.. Lin, who directed the lethargic Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2009) and the infinitely more entertaining Fast Five (2011) has assembled more than a dozen brilliantly choreographed battles, auto v. auto and human v. human, that are a film editors dream (or nightmare).  Lin -- like the film's team of souped-up racing car vigilantes led by Vin Diesel's Dom and Paul Walker's Brian -- has a need for speed but little patience, apparently, for coherent narrative and emotional weight. In this outing, Dom and Brian and their motley but colorful crew of speed demons are recruited by federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) to help capture a high-performance auto freak (Luke Evans) who wants to nab a military computer chip that could wreak havoc on us decent folk. The chase takes the team from Russia to England and then to Spain;  the speed and material destruction (though, apparently, relatively little loss of life) increases exponentially with each new location. The film is capped with a vehicle v. aircraft chase on a NATO airbase that has a runway that must be 30 miles long. It's all deafening nonsense but is enormously entertaining and, in the end, delivers a fairly conventional message: keep your word, don't abandon your family (broadly defined) and drink Corona. Recommended.


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