Monday, June 24, 2013

World War Z

I took my game studio to see World War Z this week, and we found it it be a solid flick. The pacing is pretty spot on, the tension doesn't let up, there are multiple instances of clever early set-up of mechanics that will matter later in the film, and for the most part, they avoid overly telegraphing events in the film.

I really enjoyed the fleshed-out family relationship Brad Pitt has with his wife and two daughters (Mireille EnosSterling Jerins, and Abigail Hargrove). There is some great stuff there creating a broader avenue for acting, higher stakes and tension in the film, and makes the film matter more at a cost and consequence level.

On the one hand, I'm hopeful this adds to the appeal of the film for those of us that have matured on genre and non-genre films, and now have kids of our own. On the other hand, I worry the familial stuff won't resonate with the stereotypical "unmarried male with no kids" demographic -- "I liked the film, but that family stuff really got in the way of the action."

The other reason the film resonated so well with me is I think expectations for the film were justifiably low.

Let's face it -- the project had a troubled history. Some of that was rights issues, and some of that is due to re-writes and re-shoots to an already-finished, supposed-to-be-holiday 2012 tentpole movie, that was so bad it needed to be moved into summer of the following year. That creates justifiable concern around the quality of a movie -- last-minute re-shoots and moving to another distribution window (or direct-to-DVD) rarely bodes well for a project.

Thankfully, World War Z survives all of that, and is a better film because of it.

Another challenge for a film like this is zombies certainly aren't passé, and since they're part of the cultural conscious, it can be tough to do something interesting with them. Without giving things away, there's a good advancement of the 28 Days / Later "fast zombie" contributions to the mythos that are well-executed, and really add to the tension and terror in the movie. And it holds onto the "shambling zombie" memes in a clever way.

Now, to be frank, in some ways, expectations for the film were unjustifiably low. A lot of that is due to a weird societal "Brad Pitt hate" -- which is stupid. Hate him because he looks amazing? Go deal with your insecurities and sense of entitlement ("he looks handsome and I don't so I hate him") elsewhere.

I was talking to a guy who "hates" Brad Pitt, and I asked him if he liked him in any of his films. He told me that while he hates him, he found him "amazing" in Inglourious Basterds, Snatch, Fight ClubTwelve Monkeys, and Se7en. That's a long list of likes for an actor this guy hates. (Personally, I find him a pretty inspiring actor for me to emulate.)

It's important to understand the movie is far different from the Max Brooks's World War Z book -- And that's fine.

I'm one of those "I want different expressions of property in different mediums" -- So as long as a treatment doesn't do things that violate core pillars of the franchise -- so what?

Sure, I have minor quibbles with the film. I'm a bit familiar with CDC and WHO practices, and even if you're not, there are some obvious efficiencies taken in the story, with some obvious artificial conveniences. The pacing is compelling enough, though, that many of these inefficiencies are only noticeable in hindsight -- a pretty good sign for a story.

Overall, World War Z (the movie) holds onto core tenets of the book, gives viewers a good (and accessible) genre-treatment, tremendously balances the expected and additional tropes around zombies, and wraps it all in a well-acted, well-executed package.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Man of Steel

I find Man of Steel to be a great, true-to-the-franchise revamp of the caped blue boy scout's movie persona.

Superman is a tough character to pull off. How do you make a god-like super being "believably unbelievably powerful" and not boring?

One piece of it is getting an actor that can pull it off.

Henry Cavill? Check. And for so many reasons.

Whether he does "as good as" or "a better job than" Christopher Reeve is academic. For many of us, "Christopher Reeve is Superman" is a reality, but that doesn't box out other people in the role. Superman and Superman II will always hold a special, carved-out and long-held place in my heart. That doesn't mean people like Cavill, Tim Daly, or even Brandon Routh don't get some space, too.

There's a visual aesthetic to Superman. There's a tapered look in everything from the "S" symbol on the chest of the hero to ... the hero's chest itself. Physically, Henry Cavill looks like Supes.

Fortunately, he acts like it, too. Cavill pulls off the conflicted, gradually informed Last Son of Krypton, pragmatically informed Only Son of Pa and Ma Kent, and adopted son to the People of Earth. That's a lot of layering for any role.

And having producer Christopher Nolan, director Zack Snyder, and writer David S. Goyer certainly pulls the package together nicely.

I actually like the gradual ties back to Clark Kent's childhood upbringing. With very true-to-real-life elementary, middle and high school, and young adult life happenings under the tutelage of Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent and Diane Lane's Martha Kent (both are stellar portrayals). The asynchronous flashbacks -- which differ from the Richard Donner, serial childhood -- have the dual purpose of breaking up the narrative into non-boring chunks, and makes the childhood recaps more relevant to the matter at hand. I think they also resonate with people raising kids as best they can, not trying to do everything for them, and knowing we can't protect them from or prepare them for everything.

"Superman as a badass" is pulled off really well. The sheer power and destruction of some the fight scenes show the untapped power of the hero -- but also highlight one of my criticisms of the film.

"Realistically", there is no way there could be the level of destruction shown in the film without massive, massive loss of human life. Given how counter this would be to the core of the character (and that core exemplified in this treatment of him), it definitely breaks the fourth wall a bit. The recent DC Animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, actually does a good job of showing what a disregard for casualties would look like.

To be honest, I was geek-terrified for this film. Not because I was worried it would suck -- Despite a recent, decently long track record of good comic book films, I live in a place where I expect them to suck (and films like Green Lantern don't help my genre PTSD).

No, what I worried about was jacking with the core of the character. I heard complaints that Donner's 1978 Superman "was for a time", and "too patriotic and 'America and apple pie'." I was worried we'd get a darker-for-the-sake-of-darker, "we are the world", being-patriotic-is-being-insular garbage layer on top of the film.

Fortunately, not so much. And definitely not enough to pollute the film.

Other criticisms include a bit of disjointedness in the flow. This may be a casualty of wanting to get slot certain moments in, or a lack of fluidity in editing (which, to my mind, is one of the hardest parts of movie making).

The other criticisms I have are inconsistencies that I shouldn't mention, because they create spoilers. Let's just say they revolve around Superman having spent a lifetime soaking up our yellow sun's radiation, so he should have a lifetime of difference in strength and attributes, based on that.

There's also a bit much of "Cavill cacophony". He yells. Emotionally. A lot. Christopher Reeve yells once in 1978's Superman, and it is powerful, bone-chilling, and believable. I unintentionally chortled at the third Man of Steel yop.

But these are all minor quibbles. The movie is great fun as a summer action flick, a comic-book genre film, and for this comic book afficianado. It pushes the franchise forward on new legs (better, I'd argue, than DC's "New 52" reboot), and I'm looking forward to the announced Man of Steel 2.

(And a quick aside in support of the last reboot, Superman Returns. While that film had its issues, it was intentionally -- In Bryan Singer's own words -- a kind of "love letter" to the Richard Donner films, and what they meant to Singer in his life at that time. Looked through that lens, the film holds up a lot better, and in a lot of way excuses "Routh's portrayal of Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent playing Superman".)

(And an aside aside: Patriotism is not passé. Pride and accountability in values is not insular. Both of those attitudes from faux global elitists is a prime contributor to the decline of our society. Face.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Is The End

Yes, I saw This is The End. Yes, I really liked it. It's hilarious, so wrong, has nuggets of awesome, and is overall entertaining.

I judge movies like this by how long friends and stand in a parking lot laughing and recounting stuff in the movie. We were there for a while.

This is another of those tough movies to talk about without giving something away, but suffice it to say, it's a bunch of actors playing versions of themselves, in a humorous, very graphic, post-apocalyptic comedy horror movie. If you don't know a lot of the reveals, I recommend seeing the film without even looking at the IMDb -- Because the cast list itself will give away key gags in the flick.

"Main" characters are James FrancoJonah HillSeth RogenJay BaruchelDanny McBride, and Craig Robinson, but there's a potpourri of actors and actresses playing skews of themselves, to hilarious effect. I'm impressed actors can be so confident to put portrayals of themselves like this out there, because without the perceptual armor of a character out there, it feels like they're taking more of a risk with their identity.

Sounds vague and weird, and you have to see the film to get it. Especially scenes like Michael Cera's.

This is The End is a crass, over-the-line flick. And not "regular" over-the-line, but pole-vault over the line, do a little bit of naked tea-bagging, then streak back and forth over the line while laughing at things you shouldn't laugh at.

("Shouldn't" being totally subjective.)

The film's taken some flack for being "sacrilegious". And it's not easy to say it is or it isn't. Yep, there's some stuff here I could totally see people justified as saying, "You really shouldn't play with that".

On the other hand, there's some "good theology" here, and it's not buried that deep. Again, I can't say too much without giving things away, but it does some interesting stuff dealing with right versus wrong, superficial relationships, the true measure of the heart, and other stuff.

If you can't handle movies poking fun at things you're deeply, spiritually attached to, I don't recommend it. But if you're more wired along the lines of an ongoing challenge of the stuff you believe in, This is The End might be an unexpected foil for that.