Movie Review ~ World War Z

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The Facts:

Synopsis: United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Fana Mokoena, Moritz Bleibtreu, Ruth Negga

Director: Marc Foster

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: So far 2013 has been a very good year for zombies.  With the continued success of The Walking Dead on television, the February release of the surprisingly great “zom-com” Warm Bodies, and now the pulse-quickening epic World War Z…it’s not a bad time to crave brains.  I have to admit that with each new trailer for World War Z I grew less interested…mostly because it seemed like a run-of-the mill summer blockbuster that would open big and disappear within a few weeks.  So you can imagine my surprise when ten minutes in I was white knuckling it in my seat, barely able to catch a breath.

Many felt that Max Brooks’s 2006 novel, written as an oral history, would have been better suited for a television series/mini-series and not as a multi-million dollar picture starting one of the biggest A-listers out there.  Those same people should enjoy a nice meal of their own words because the novel has been brought to life in slick fashion that never feels like its cheating on the source material.  The film opens big and for the next two hours rarely lets the audience come up for air as we are taken along for the globe-hopping, zombie killing ride.

Pitt (The Counselor) is a retired investigator for the United Nations living a seemingly peaceful life with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters.  As they get ready to start their day we can hear in the background news reports of virus outbreaks in other cities but given that it’s not in their neck of the woods the family pays no attention.  Soon they are packed up and heading out for their day when traffic jams put them in the center of madness as the entire city population starts to become infected around them.

Calling on his old contacts, Pitt eventually gets his family to safety but is then tapped to lead the investigation to find the origin of the outbreak.  This takes him away from his loved ones and into a mystery that moves him from one end of the globe to another…this is one guy who has a full passport by the time the credits roll.  Part of the fun of the film is following Pitt from as he country hops because you never know who he’ll meet or who will survive.  There are plenty of surprises in the movie, not the least is that Pitt is still a proven star who can easily navigate a picture filled with international actors and accents.

Thought Pitt is the star of the show, director Marc Foster (bouncing back nicely from the dreary Bond entry Quantum of Solace) spreads the love globally employing many new faces to fill the roles of people Pitt encounters in his journey.  Enos is so brilliant on TV in The Killing and though she starts strong her character is unfortunately eventually relegated to shouting Pitt’s name in the phone as the time between their connections grows longer.  James Badge Dale is an actor that seems to pop up a lot lately (he’s also in The Lone Ranger) and he’s put to good, albeit brief use, as part of the puzzle Pitt must solve to save the human race.  Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz is a force to be reckoned with too as a solider that accompanies Pitt on a most harrowing airline ride.

Then there’s the zombies.  Not merely brain dead shufflers, these zombies take a page from Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie classic 28 Days Later… and sprint after their prey.  Moving so fast amps up the adrenaline yet it doesn’t overwhelm the bottom line and the film takes care to explain behavior of the zombies/infected in a way that seems fresh and unexpected.  Even a sequence set in a sterile lab late in the film has little frenzied action at all and still manages to make the sweat bead up on your forehead.

These little character moments (from the living and the infected) do not go unnoticed and that’s what winds up setting World War Z apart from similar films.  It’s a brisk popcorn adventure that keeps trucking along with such expediency that you’ll probably be a little exhausted by the time the lights come up.  Yet even with its fast pace I left feeling that the movie had earned its quieter moments and called upon its actors in the right way to give solid performances.  One of the best films of the summer, it’s a movie that I feel will warrant repeated viewings alongside other zombie classics that came before it.

Movie Review ~ The Lone Ranger (2013)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Gore Verbinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I made the mistake of reading too many early reviews of this update on the classic character featured first on the radio, then in a run of popular films in the 50’s, and finally on television.  Words like disastrous and failure were touted loud and clear and maybe that’s why I wound up like the film far more than I thought I would.  Does the film have its problems?  Oh yes.  Did it wind up being a total bomb for Walt Disney Studios?  Oh yes.  Is the film as bad as knife wielding critics would have you believe?  No, not by a long shot.

It’s probably safe to say that the deck was stacked against this from the start.  While The Lone Ranger has been a popular icon of American culture since his debut, there has been an inescapable cloud hanging over the franchise when looked at from a modern day perspective.  Simply put, there are some serious un-PC stereotypes going on and even dismissing these incidents as a product of the time in which the episodes were shot can’t fully exonerate those involved.  So the film had to find a way to parlay the relationship between John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger) and Native American Tonto into something more than a master/servant sort of relationship.

The casting of Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows) as Tonto didn’t start things off so well.  Though Depp has claimed to have Native American heritage, there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Depp, known for his broadly sketched characters, was cast in a role that already had studio heads sweating.  To the credit of Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio there are strides taken to make Tonto his own man.  Given a back-story, motivations of his own, and ample screen time, the character becomes more central and fleshed out than the title character…so much so that it can feel like overcompensation.  Depp bookends the story under some quite impressive old age make-up and at times I totally forgot the actor was there.

Even though they spend the large majority of the film squabbling, Depp and star Armie Hammer (Mirror, Mirror) have a nice rapport and it’s their eventual team spirit camaraderie that gives the film some much needed steam as it trudges ever closer to its too long two and a half hour running length.

Working with Depp for the third time, Verbinski makes a case for the resurrection of the Western though there are perhaps one too many sweaty bearded men on hand and audiences may feel they need nametags to keep everyone straight.  It’s an efficient if overproduced picture that, while never boring, does meander through its middle section while Tonto and Reid find some footing in their growing friendship.

Though the film markets Helena Bonham Carter (Les Misérables) as a supporting player she’s a glorified cameo with quite limited screen time.  She makes the most of it though in a role that has one or two tricks waiting to be discovered.  William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) is a wonderful character actor equally at home in good or bad roles.  He’s a real bad guy here and the performance would be a highlight…if the appalling decision to give him a cleft palate hadn’t been employed.  It’s pretty much an unforgivable move in my book.  Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina) is memorable as Reid’s sister-in-law who finds herself and her son in trouble when a greedy landowner (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins) sets his sights on her and her property.

Halfway through The Lone Ranger I couldn’t help but think of 2012’s John Carter, another mega flop from Walt Disney Studios that I found to be unfairly maligned by critics.  Both films have handsome production values and maybe overreach and oversell in their attempt to make a proper adventure epic.  I feel both films got a bum rap and it’s up to audiences to make the final call

The Silver Bullet ~ The Congress

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Synopsis: An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn’t consider.

Release Date:  TBA 2013

Thoughts: I’ve always found Robin Wright to be one of the more interesting actresses working in Hollywood.  Since her film debut in 1987 with The Princess Bride, Wright (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has amassed a diverse roster of roles that thankfully never allowed her to fit into a certain niche market.  She seems to take on characters that speak to her heart rather than her pocketbook and her latest film looks to be a wonderfully bizarre meta experience.  Adapted from Stainslav Lem’s 1971 darkly humorous sci-fi yarn, Wright is playing a version of herself: an aging actress that has chosen family over fame tempted to make a comeback.  How she does it and what it entails provide the framework for a piece that I hope follows through on its promises to ask a lot of questions about celebrity, culture, and how much of oneself those that achieve fame actually have to give over to the public.