Hurrr…. urrrrgghhhhh…. chomp chomp chomp….

I could, if I really wanted to, write this whole thing in zombie speak (is that even a thing?), though everyone would probably hate me.  So, here’s a english translated zombie speak version of the review.  Or something.

World War Z is a surprisingly solid film, which is unexpected given how maligned the production was, especially with the refilming of the entire last third of the film.  It hits all the right beats, sometimes in a mechanical way, sometimes really well.  The movie starts in Philadelphia, where shit gets insane really quick.  The entire eastern seaboard falls, as well as other major urban areas where it is easy to transmit an airborne disease.  This is essentially SARS or H1N1 actualized, spreading nonstop around the globe in a matter of days or weeks.

The changes to the zombies for this film were curious.  It’s fast zombies all the way, though there’s no eating.  It’s bite and move on to the next victim.  I’m curious if this was done to at least have a better rating and a bigger possible audience (the film exploded to $200 million budget with the refilmed shots), to get better returns.  If that’s the case, then it worked, at least with an opening weekend that far surpassed studio expectations.

The zombies were ill defined at times though, between reacting to sound, but also with what they did in the third act.  The sequence in the plane, as well as the revelation of what ended up working to stop them, kind of clashed together.  That said, the element introduced in the third act was original and interesting.  It may not have been the best idea (again, going back to how ill defined the zombies were) but it worked for the film.

The non-zombie characters were good.  Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane turns into an everyman of sorts by the end, but he’s still a pretty good character.  He has his family, and his concern will always be on his family, even when he heads out to find answers about the zombies.  Mireille Enos plays Karin Lane, Gerry’s wife, and while she doesn’t do too much (she stays with the kids while Gerry is off globe trotting), she isn’t a waste.  Other characters act their parts (the Secretary General, the US Navy people, etc), though special kudos to Daniella Kertesz as Segen, who, even after surviving a zombie bite, is an absolute badass and one of the better written female characters to show up this summer[1][2].

One thing about the final third of the film: the tonal shift is intense.  The film starts huge (running through the streets of Philadelphia and Newark) and stays huge into Jerusalem, then quiets down a lot in the WHO building.  It’s not a bad thing, honestly, and probably the best part of the film (though trying to find where anything is at in the zombie-infested wing of the building detracts from that some).

So like I said, an unexpectedly solid film.  Check it out.

[1] Speaking of which, what a fucking cesspool of poorly written female characters this summer season.  It’s ranged from good-ish at best (Iron Man 3 with Pepper Potts; Man of Steel with Lois Lane, at least the first half of the film) to downright awful (Star Trek Into Darkness with Carol Marcus and, at times, Lt Uhura; Now You See Me with whoever Melanie Laurent played).  There was an NPR article that showed up a couple weeks ago that discussed the lack of female leads so far this summer (in fact, the first major wide release targeting females specifically finally comes out this weekend with the Heat).  It’s been a boys club through and through.

[1b] Also, yes, I’m going to try and see Francis Ha soon.

[2] That said, yes, Segen doesn’t say much.  I think a lot as to do with the actual acting beyond speaking (and that the character is a member of the Israeli army), and that’s what probably got me with her performance.

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Welcome to the end of the world, and endless laughing pains.

This is the End is a disaster comedy (is that a new category now? disaster comedy?) starring a whole bunch of people playing themselves (well, there’s the primary cast (Rogen, Franco, Hill, Baruchel, McBride, and Robinson) and then a bunch of other people (Watson, Cera, Segel, Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, and many more) and then a few hilarious cameos (…, …, what, see this film okay?!)) when the world goes to shit.  The primary cast hole up in Franco’s house, keeping a (bad) eye on food supplies, filming sequels to films they’ve starred in, and trying to stay alive long enough for help to come.

It’s not perfect by any means.  It goes from set piece to set piece looking for something for the guys to do, and at two hours is almost entirely too long.  It makes up for it though with each set piece being genuinely funny.  Some of them were really good: coked out Michael Cera was classic, the Pineapple Express sequel was great, the Emma Watson bit worked (which could have been a disaster but was pretty damn funny), the Franco/McBride masturbation argument was fantastic, and the brief cameos at the end were insane and worth it.

The primary cast were all really good, and, in a way, playing really dickish versions of themselves.  Franco and Hill especially, though Hill was more of a diva than anything else, but it still worked.  Or are they just like that in real life?

What probably helped the film a lot was using the book of Revelations as its apocalyptic backdrop and just ran it to its logical (or illogical) end.  I haven’t read Revelations (though I probably should at some point), but my understanding of it is that it’s genuinely fucked up, and the movie plays with how fucked up that book is.  Once the survivors know what to do at towards the end (how to escape hell on earth), they try to be good, and all of them with hilarious results.

This movie is hilarious from start to finish.  Definitely see it.

Bitter Orange is the first film from graphic novelist Hope Larson.  Set in the 1920s, it stars Brie Larson (from Scott Pilgrim) as a career driven woman in Hollywood.  It also stars James Urbaniak and Brendan Hines.  This short film is really great, with sharp, snappy dialogue and an excellent color scheme (the scene in the orange grove is fantastic).  It was a bold decision to set her first film as a period piece, but Larson pulls it off wonderfully.

Here is the short film:

And, here’s a recent interview Larson did about the making of the short film:

http://badassdigest.com/2013/06/17/hope-larson-talks-about-her-new-short-film-bitter-orange/

Hopefully she’ll make more films in the future.  For the time being, I really should go and pick up her graphic novels.

Superman is back, and he’s doing… okay-ish?

[Pre-review note: I’m going to make it sound like people shouldn’t see this film.  I want people to see this film, like all films.  I want to hear/read what different people say about it, and see if there’s anything I missed, anything that needs to be expanded upon, and anything that can be agreed upon.  Besides, I’m just one guy with an opinion, right?]

This is definitely a curious film, curious in that it does certain things right and certain things poorly.  There are things I liked a lot in the film, and there are things that I found problematic and rather disturbing, and, being a Superman film, left me wondering why they did those things (and also left them unanswered).  There will be some spoiler discussion below, but I’ll also make sure to point out the big spoiler moment when I get to it.

So what does this film do right?  Let’s start with the origin, which was a very good decision to do, since the character hasn’t been updated for the big screen in years (Superman Returns connected itself to the Donner/Reeves universe), and, just as important, the push by Warner Bros to do a connected universe of films, ala Marvel and the Avengers.  It established the destruction of Krypton, Kal-el as the natural born savior of the Kryptonian race, and General Zod as the bad guy.  There were a couple cool elements established as well and in pre-release: Kryptonians, as a matter of population control, began artificially creating children for specific roles (military, scientist, etc), and, NO KRYPTON CRYSTALS.  Getting rid of that got rid of Superman’s Achilles heel, especially when the only people he fights in this film are superpowered beings like himself.

The visuals in this film were amazing.  Synder has always been a great visual director, between 300 and Watchmen (haven’t seen Legends of the Guardians or Sucker Punch, but both, again, looked really good), and he continues that here.  This is probably the best looking film to come out this year so far.  Actually, if you want a taste of what the film looks like, here’s the last trailer for the film, sponsered by Nokia:

The score was unbelievably awesome.  Hans Zimmer went all out, and it clicked with everything that was happening in the film.  It is just huge and sweeping and I want to own it.  It’s that good (actually, the Nokia trailer has a great bit of the soundtrack attached to it).

Of the performances, Russell Crowe as Jor-el was good.  Michael Shannon as General Zod was amazing (he just steals everything he’s in, doesn’t he?).  He has this simmering boil sitting just beneath the surface that’s ready to explode without warning.  Amy Adams was good with what she had as Lois Lane (note: she’s completely wasted in the second half of the film), and Henry Cavill, as the new Clark Kent/Kal-el/Superman was good, showing a decent amount of charisma and actually showing a strong bit of emotion with the character (something that Brandon Routh’s lacked).  Though there were problems that I doubt he could have rectified.

Which is what makes this film curious: what went wrong?  Let’s start with the big guy himself.  Superman’s arc is… rather flat.  It exhibits all the traits of the “rising to the call” hero trope, but there’s no drama or conflict to it.  He doesn’t refuse the call at all: instead, he realizes that it’s what he was born to do and just does it[1].  It’s honestly a weird thing to do, and because of the lack of conflict, it makes the character surprisingly flat.  To be honest, Superman has always been a kind of flat character, since he’s rather over powered at times and can take on anything while having a straight moral compass (always do good, don’t hurt anyone, etc).  It just doesn’t resonate like it should[2].

The film itself coasts along a lot.  This feels very Nolan-esque in a way, where we’re constantly given information while everything is continually happening, but without an internal conflict from Superman, there’s nothing that really propels the film forward.  It just does: Superman finds a ship with a suit, Zod shows up, fighty fight fight.  The end.

Speaking of fighty fight fight, the last hour was extremely boring at times.  Zod shows up, and then the action starts, first in Smallville, and then in Metropolis.  The best part of it was probably the split action sequence, when Superman was taking on the World Engine while humanity was trying to destroy Zod’s ship in Metropolis.  It is a well executed sequence.  Everything else though?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I got rather bored with people punching each other repeatedly, throwing each other into buildings, into cars, into trains, throwing trains on people, etc.  The movie was long (150 minutes about?), and it felt long.

And then there was the violence and destruction, which bordered on, and probably surpassed gratuitous[3].  I can understand the World Engine bit, especially with it destroying downtown Metropolis (thought it was still over the top).  What I don’t get was everything else: how casual it was for the super people to get thrown around into buildings and cars without repercussion (though, who would stop them?), including Superman?  Even in his last fight with Zod?  He’s actively participating in destroying Metropolis, even the parts that weren’t destroyed!

*MASSIVE SPOILERS COMING*

What bothered me the most though was the end to the Zod fight and its lack of resolution.  Superman killed Zod.  He had to.  Understood.  And then he screams his frustration.  Again, understood.  And then… that’s it?  Next time we see him, he’s chastising the general for spying on him (and destroys a drone like it’s no big deal)?  He’s talking to his mom about finding a job?  Shouldn’t he take a moment to resolve never to kill again unless necessary?  Shouldn’t humanity realize that they have a huge problem on their hands with a guy whole could blow up a building with a sneeze? The last ten minutes fails on so many levels simply because it doesn’t resolve anything surrounding both Superman killing Zod and humanity’s reaction to so much death and destruction.  It’s honestly confounding.

Furthermore, is this the Superman that they want to do for the 21st century? A super being that doesn’t deal with the repercussions of having tens of thousands of people killed? Of having people hide, then having a superpeople fight in your hometown instead of forcing the fight into the surrounding farmland? It’s the weirdest thing to see, having Superman’s morality clicked off while he’s fighting people and allowing everything to be destroyed around him. If there were something else done, like Zod and his super friends tossing random civilians up in the sky and having Superman go and catch them (exposing a key weakness and using it against him), then there wouldn’t be this discussion. The only time he cares, apparently, is when Lois Lane falls from the sky (twice), and when Zod’s about to vaporize a family at a train station. It’s hardly enough.

*MASSIVE SPOILERS ENDING*

This whole thing is confounding.  Again, there were good things.  There were not so good things.  I wanted this film to be great, and with the promo material they had, they sold it as great.  In the end though, it’s okay-ish to good-ish, and not the great film I think Warner Bros wanted or believed they had.  There is a sequel coming, so we’ll see if there’s any improvement coming down the line (and hopefully explore some of the problems discussed in the preceeding spoiler section).  As it stands, it’s an okay-ish film with some good parts and some rather problematic parts.

[1] Having said that, it’s better than Green Lantern, where Hal just spends most of the movie moping and whining before actually saying that he should go and save the day.  Ugh, why did this film have to ruin Ryan Reynolds for me?

[2] Maybe the conflict was “you can’t save everyone” from his father?  I dunno.  It’s honestly really weird how this call to action was set up, and I doubt I can explain it properly without breaking my brain.  If someone can explain to me what the call to action was, I’ll be thankful to them.

[3] I’m curious if Snyder went “well, I didn’t have enough death and destruction in Watchmen, so let’s multiply that by a lot!” because it definitely feels like he did.

I was going to make a magician joke, but that wouldn’t be good.  Much like this movie.

I will say, it does have the occasional fun times scattered throughout.  This is such a weirdly constructed film though.  It’s also a very dumb film, and one I can’t really recommend (unless you’re looking for a Saturday morning getaway, then by all means, enjoy).

Where to begin?  It has a overly long prologue introducing our main characters, of which all you really need to remember is what their specialty is.  Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is the illusionist, Henley Reeves (Fisher) is the escape artist, Jack Wilder (Franco, Dave) is the pick pocket, and Merritt McKinney (Harrison) is the mentalist.  The four of them are brought together to perform a massive show as the Four Horsemen, backed by Arthur Tressler (Caine), a guy with a lot of money.  Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) is a guy who knows the tricks of the show.  Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is the FBI agent assigned to bring down the magicians (it’s a caper film, plus a couple other things), and Alma Vargas (Laurent) is the Interpol agent sent to help with the case.  Cue magic acts, chases, and so many twists and turns, including one barely hinted at at all and emphasized by the mentalist character at the end with “We didn’t see that one coming!” because no one did.

It’s also an exasperating film at times too.  The structure is weird: there’s a massive magic trick, and then there’s the long exposition about said magic trick (the Vegas set occupies a lot of said exposition); rinse and repeat.  The film slows to a crawl when it’s just talk and flashbacks and reveals.  There’s no sense of flow or tension here.  The FBI are so thoroughly inept in this film, which I’m sure it could be handily explained away with the final reveal but it’s frustrating when they just can’t do anything of any worth.  It’s like Keystone cops on steroids.  And don’t get me started on the non-character that was Agent Vargas, who gets thoroughly insulted multiple times by Rhodes and still finds time to fall in love with him by the end.

There’s also the CGI usage in the film, and while it’s not exasperating, its usage almost throws the film into fantasy.  The Vegas set piece, for example, has Reeves pulling out curtains from her sleeves before revealing a really large contraption in the middle of their stage.  The New Orleans set and the New York City set has these odd CGI things as well.  There are plenty of practical stuff, which is good, but all magic in general has a grounding in reality, not matter how outlandish the trick is.  The CGI makes some of these things impossible.

So no, this really isn’t a good at all.  The characters are one-dimension, the structure is not good, and the endless twists and red herrings are too much.  It’s occasionally fun, but I can’t recommend a film that’s “occasionally fun”.