World War Z -2013-

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Directed by Marc Forster. 116 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen for free at AMC Promenade 16)

Considering that its production was plagued with more clusterfucks than Heaven’s Gate, I’m struck that World War Z is anywhere near as good as it is. The movie isn’t great, and there’s plenty for zombie nerds to nitpick, but it’s a solid, genuinely creepy afternoon diversion.

Brad Pitt reminds us that he’s the most consistently good American A-list actor of his generation. Nic Cage and Tom Cruise have had higher peaks in their filmography, but at this point, they’re just too goddamn distracting onscreen (especially Cage). Pitt, on the other hand, can still disappear into a believable everyman as he demonstrated in The Tree of Life a couple of years back. Pitt’s protagonist in WWZ isn’t the most interesting character, but he’s sufficient. Plus, his wife (Mireille Enos of Big Love and The Killing) actually looks within his age range.

The main attraction here is the situation, not the character. The first two acts do a great job of showing civilization collapse in a matter of hours. Pitt goes from Philadelphia (why do zombie movies always start in Pennsylvania?) to Newark (which doesn’t look much worse than it does in real life) to the Korean Peninsula (the North Korean solution to the zombie problem is eerily plausible) to Jerusalem (where the Israelis are putting their 65 years of constant vigilance to good use). For a relatively short film, Marc Forster and his army of screenwriters did a bang-up job of showing the global scale of the outbreak.

The third act, unfortunately, reeks of oh-shit-how-do-we-finish-thisness. After having relative success by keeping the chaos in large environments, the film confines itself to the Hive of Resident Evil. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’s a big (although not unexpected) bummer.

Some folks might piss and moan over the lack of gore (a PG-13 film about humanity’s violent end does seem a tad odd), but I got used to it. Also, why should gore be the fulcrum on which a zombie flick balances? George A. Romero has made three super-gory films since 2005, and they all suck. I actually found the absence of F-bombs to be the worst consequence of WWZ’s rating. Come on, now – people would be cussing up a fuckin’ storm in this kind of setting.

– Aside: Did anyone notice the implication that Israel’s downfall comes, in part, from being peaceful and diplomatic toward their Palestinian and Arab neighbors?

– Aside: David Morse is onscreen for maybe two minutes, but he absolutely steals this movie. You can also catch Morse and Pitt in 12 Monkeys, another apocalypse thriller.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-06-26)

A Hijacking -2013-

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Directed by Tobias Lindholm. 99 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Seen Laemmle’s Royal Theater)

 Danish screenwriter Tobias Lindholm’s first time directing on his own is impressive – he clearly learned a thing or two in his years working with Thomas Vinterberg, possibly the most talented living filmmaker in Northern Europe. A Hijacking could have easily fallen into “Die Hard on a boat” á la Under Siege, but Lindholm portrays the events in a much more realistic, agonizing manner.

 The brilliance of the film is in the way it shows the drama unfolding within two completely different settings. The condition of the seized ship deteriorates as days turn to weeks and the crew fears that each moment will be their last. On the other side of the planet, the CEO of the shipping company and his advisors play a lethal chess game with the pirates’ negotiator, trying to come to a final agreement. Søren Malling stands out as Peter, the firm’s CEO – he has spent a life-long career negotiating with other corporations, but all of his experience is rendered useless once the high-stakes bargaining with the pirates commences. His character spends the movie walking a fine line between treating his ship and crew as expendable commodities, and falling prey to the pirates in his eagerness to help his employees.

 – Aside: This is a good film to bring your lame friends who don’t like foreign films, since more than half of the dialogue is in English.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-06-24)

Monsters Inc -2001-

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Original poster by the very talented Tony Enriquez. I didn’t use his permission, so show him some love and click here to visit his site.

Directed by Pete Docter w/ David Silverman and Lee Unkrich. 92 mins.

Worth my time? Yes, but better-suited for kids. (Watched on DVD)

I hadn’t watched this movie since Saddam Hussein was alive, so I decided to give it another run-through in preparation for the upcoming prequel, Monsters University. It falls squarely in the middle of the Pixar filmography bell curve – not Ratatouille amazing, but not Cars bad either.

Monsters, Inc. succeeds where most of its animated peers stumble in that the world feels like more than just a stage for a story to unfold. The protagonists are fantastical, but they have rounded personalities and a clear connection to the world we know (as was the case in the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug’s Life, Wall-E, etc). Cars lacked any internal logic to its setting (why the fuck are there ergonomic machines in a world with no animal life?), and the movie was stillborn as a result. Conversely, this movie takes a common myth of the Western world (monsters in the closet) and builds a novel theory to explain it.

I wish the filmmakers had put in the same time and effort to craft the plot. Its uneven pacing and weak sense of urgency, combined with the ready-for-merchandising character design, leads me to believe that Pixar intended to market this movie to kids even more so than their usual fare. Also, I can’t understand why the villain’s scheme was a villainous scheme. I mean, I understand the conflict once he goes after Mike (an occasionally funny, mostly annoying Billy Crystal) and Sulley (a great John Goodman, per usual) after they find out his scheme. But why did the baddies feel the need to hide the scheme in the first place?

“Because the scheme would have resulted in the kidnapping/death of countless children!”

Why the fuck should we expect Mike, Sulley, or anyone else at Monsters, Inc. to give a shit about kidnapping children? They scare children for a fucking living.

Their job is rooted in fear.

Their economy is dependent on fear.

The lifeblood of their entire goddamn world is FEAR.

Oh shit, I didn’t even pick up on that subtext until just now. The plot’s still underwhelming, though.

– Aside: I appreciate that the name of the sushi restaurant is Harryhausen’s, named after the king of animated monsters.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-06-18)

Man of Steel -2013-

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Directed by Zack Snyder. 143 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen with a friend at Arclight Hollywood)

Man of Steel doesn’t have exceptionally lofty aspirations… and I couldn’t be happier.

Keep in mind, the last two times Snyder tried to tell complicated stories, we got the lame Watchmen and the horrible Sucker Punch. The narrative and dialogue are a couple notches below what fans may come to expect from screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, but I applaud them for keeping the director in mind. They’ve fed Snyder exactly as much as he could chew.

Henry Cavill is the best screen Superman yet. I thought Christopher Reeve was charming back in the day (and Donner’s original Superman remains my franchise favorite), but I’m glad his cheesy quips have been left in the past. For the first time, a movie had me not only wondering, “Is Superman going to save the day (of course he is)?” but more importantly, “Is Superman going to be okay?” This task is easier said than done since Kal-El is pretty much indestructible. However, Goyer and Nolan have fleshed him out as somewhat of a neurotic, extraterrestrial Bruce Wayne, complete with lotsa mommy and daddy issues. It’s as deep a character study as we could ever reasonably expect from Snyder.

Aside from an inconsistent performance by Amy Adams (who’s still a step up from Kate Bosworth), the rest of the cast does a great job. It’s always nice to see Kevin Costner remind us that he’s a solid actor, particularly in a post-Waterworld-Postman world (eew, too many posts and worlds). Michael Shannon occasionally hams it up as Zod, but he’s a good choice for the villain overall, and more believable than either his characters in Revolutionary Road or Boardwalk Empire. Plus, Russell Crowe turns in a much more involved Jor-El performance than Marlon Brando – probably at a fraction of his fee, too.

It bears repeating that Man of Steel is no game-changer, and my enjoyment of the film was most likely amplified by the soft bigotry of low expectations. Haters will find plenty of blatant product-placement and Christ allegories to nitpick. Still, it beats the pants off of summer fare like Furious 6, Iron Man 3, and even Star Trek Into Darkness.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-06-14)

Modern Whistleblowers — A Campaign to Raise Funds for the ACLU

I’m launching a charitable campaign, and I am looking to raise awareness of this project. I am asking for your help in boosting its exposure. At the core of the campaign is a T-shirt I have designed, pictured below:
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The graphic is inspired by the courage of Edward Snowden, those who have preceded him (I chose Daniel Ellsberg, Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, and Bradley Manning), and hopefully, those who will follow in their footsteps. The shirt is available for just $20.00 and can be reserved through Teespring.
http://teespring.com/snowden

I will donate proceeds of a successful campaign to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Any way that you can promote the project – through print, blogging, social media, word of mouth – would be very helpful. I need to acquire at least 200 T-shirt reservations by JULY 1ST for the campaign to succeed (Teespring works like Kickstarter for shirts). If it fails, no shirts are printed, and the backers don’t pay anything. If we make or exceed our goal, we can raise thousands of dollars for a cause that I believe is becoming more urgent with each passing day.

Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, socialists, and everyone in between benefit from selfless acts of people like Snowden. Successfully producing these T-shirts will be a stylish way to make a substantial contribution to a group that defends not only those in the public spotlight, but everyday people like us.

The sole purpose of the campaign is fundraising. I have no formal affiliation with any corporate entity, nonprofit, or political action committee. But the ACLU has been working tirelessly since its founding nearly a century ago, and we all live in a better country because of it. I hope to give something back to them while acknowledging just a few of the many Americans who have put themselves on the line to inform and protect their fellow citizens.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

– Patrick Owens

After Earth -2013-

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As opposed to what, leaving Earth for no reason whatsoever?

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. 100 mins.

 Worth my time? Aw, hell naw! (Seen with a friend at United Artists Berkeley 7)

 Hey team, sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. Moreover, I’m sorry that my latest review is for After Earth. I don’t need to tell you not to see it – you’re all big boys and girls with the gift of common sense. However, I must uphold my pledge to write about every movie I see from here to eternity, and I’ma uphold that promise. Even when it stings me to do so.

 Despite being a terrible movie, After Earth is important because it damn near proves that Will Smith has the largest ego in Hollywood. The film is a $130 million bonding and trust-building exercise between him and his son, Jaden. Whatever happened to falling backward into your partner’s arms while your eyes are shut? Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, and Lars von Trier look like Jesuit monks relative to this vanity project. This is the most shallow, self-promoting piece of cinematic shit since Demi Moore starred in The Scarlet Letter.

 Shyamalan continues his perfect streak of making each of his films worse than the last. It’s an impressive accomplishment when you remember that his previous movie was The Last Airbender. If you think Shyamalan sucks at directing his own stories, wait until you see him as a mercenary with no interest in the material. Nothing, nothing in After Earth has even a hint of inspiration of excitement. Rarely does one get the chance to see a director give less than a single fuck.

 Will Smith is an undeniably talented actor and can be a powerful screen presence, but he spends the entire movie loafing around and mumbling as if he’s Syd Barrett circa 1983. His son is far worse: Never before have I wanted a character to suffer an agonizing death like I wanted for Jaden’s whiny teenybopper. The kid simply can’t act, and his weird quasi-British accent doesn’t help a bit. I think it was intentional, but my friend thinks it’s due to a speech impediment. If anyone can clear up this disagreement, please leave a comment.

 Aside: Why does this movie take place on Earth? It could take place on any hostile planet. You wouldn’t know it was Earth unless they told you.

 Aside: Where in the world do evergreen forests, tropical rainforests, volcanoes, seashore, baboons, vultures, and antelope coexist within a span of only 100 miles?

 Aside: Why didn’t they just have a second fuckin’ bubble?

 Aside: The Ursa creatures plagiarize the Cloverfield monster pretty shamelessly.

 Aside: How could every creature have evolved to kill humans when there haven’t been humans on Earth for a millennium? I’m pretty sure whales aren’t born people-killers.

Aside: Apparently, there are no guns in the future. Or something.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-06-07)