June 21st, 2013 — Coming this Weekend.

Hello again, my geeky friends. We are almost at the end of June and at the half-way point of Summer. So far it has been a pretty good year for genre fans and as a self-professed geek, I have been happy with both the big tent-pole blockbusters (Iron Man 3, Fast and Furious 6 and Man of Steel) and the smaller, out of the way films (The Purge, Go, Goa Gone) that have hit the big screen so far. There have only been a couple of high-profile misfires (The Great Gatsby, After Earth) and even those weren’t bad enough to be really good.

This weekend looks to have a little something for everyone. One long-delayed film, One sequel no one was asking for, and one film where the little Granger girl goes bad.

 

WORLD WAR Z   (PG-13  116 Minutes)

This film has been a huge question mark for quite a while. Almost before the novel came out in 2006 there was a bidding war over the film rights for the inevitable big screen film. What was interesting about this bidding war was who was on either side of it. On one side was Brad Pitt and his Plan b productions. On the other, Leonardo DiCaprio and his production company. It was unheard of that two of the biggest names in Hollywood would be trying to buy the film rights to a Zombie novel.

The novel by Max Brooks was very good. It was a unique take on the zombie apocalypse story, which even in 2006 had begun to show age marks around the edges. It was the oral history of the zombie war. It was a novel that was told in interview style by the people who had fought the war in different parts of the world. It started from the end of the war, which we had won, and was like an after-action report. This angle in itself was a new twist. We had only ever seen these kinds of stories told from the perspective of it being the end of the world and there was nothing left except the worst of humanity (the George Romero version) or as a lark, where the action in contained to one small area and that area usually gets nuked by the end. (the Dan O’Bannon, Return of the living dead version)

This was a new way into the zombie story and in telling it like a Ken Burns documentary on PBS, it gave us something that was brand new to the genre…hope.

Something else that the book was: unwatchable as a film. Having read the book when it was released, I can tell you in no uncertain terms. The book, as good as it is, would be pure death on-screen. By having the characters tell their story in turn, it would rob the film of the one thing a horror film has to have: Suspense. By virtue of them telling the story, it is a good bet that they made it through whatever it is they’re telling us about. That works fine on the page, but on-screen it is a different ballgame. So there was no way the book in that form was going to make it intact to the screen. Believe me, the film you saw in your head as you were reading the Battle of Yonkers sequence of the book was infinitely better that any version of it that would have made it to the screen.

By now, the problems that have plagued this film are well-known. After completing principal photography, the director Marc Foster star and producer Brad Pitt and the studio watched a rough-cut of the film and realized that they had a massive problem. The entire 3rd act of the film, or the final 40 minutes, just didn’t work. The studio had set out to make the first of a planned trilogy (every film in Hollywood has to be part of a trilogy, whether it needs to be or not….I’m looking at you, Hangover 2 and 3) and with that goal in mind, had devised a massive battle to close out the film. The problem was, the battle was so big that Pitt’s character and his whole arc of getting back to his family, got lost and seemed to just fade away.

Instead of just hoping for the best and releasing what they had, the studio actually decided to double-down and try to fix the problems. They brought in Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard who re-wrote the last act of the film, the director and star re-united with a smaller cast and re-shot the final 40 minutes of the film. This added an additional 25-40 million dollars to what was already the most expensive zombie film ever made. That in turn forced the studio to insist on a more accessible PG-13 rating, which will annoy people like myself.

The resulting film, which by now bares little resemblance to the novel on which it is based, has been screening over the last few weeks and the response has been mixed. Most reviews have said that while it is in no way a complete disaster, it does seem a bit tame after cutting edge zombie fare like The Walking Dead, which is a tv show.

I saw the last full hour of the film tonight and I think the new ending works fine. It is a nice change of pace after the non-stop mayhem that comes in the first 90 minutes. I did find something interesting though. The way the zombie virus is spread and how it works in this film is very reminiscent of the zombie-like behavior of the infected in Stephen King’s 2007 novel Cell. The way the infected seem to work as a hive-mind and swarm over the landscape and look like insects as they crawl over each other….that is right out of King’s book.

There might be a lawsuit in the future if this film is a hit. If it dies at the box-office, no one will care enough to file a claim. I am interested to see if they put at least some of the deleted 3rd act on the Blu-ray.

Opens in 2D, RealD 3D and Digital 3D starting Tonight at 10pm.

 

MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY   (G  110 Minutes)

I love Pixar films. I Love them. I think they capture the magic that Disney films used to own the patent on, but lost the formula to somewhere in the mid 90’s. I used to think that Pixar could do no wrong. Lets do a head-count shall we? Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, UP, Wall-E (which I think is the 2nd best film of 2008, period.) and Toy Story 3 which might have been the best of the three films and hit those of up of a certain age like a gut-punch that had us bawling like children by the last scene.

Yes, there have been a few mis-steps along the way but by and large, they have had an almost fairy tale run with feature films. I enjoyed the original Monsters Inc. when it came out in 2001, but aside from taking my Mom to see it when it was re-released in December, it’s not a film I have felt the need to see again. Yes, I enjoyed it and upon seeing it again, and it actually held up a little better than I remembered but all in all, this was not a film that needed a sequel.

I tend to agree with those who say that Pixar is better served when they are doing original stories. It is true that even then, sometimes things don’t go so well even with original stories. I am in total agreement that the person who thought up and then committed to paper the idea for Cars should be fired and banned from the film world forever. Or at least sent to work with Tyler Perry where their brilliant ideas can be put to better use. Cars 2 is too painful to even talk about. I have flashbacks to the horror of those films. It makes me weep and need to hug a puppy. Seriously, they are bad.

Still, if we are going to have to endure a sequel to a film, I guess there are worse films they could have chosen than this. Billy Crystal and John Goodman have a good chemistry together and they imbue their characters with a sweet charm. I do find the idea of a prequel an interesting way to go with this story, although given how the first film ends, it would be hard to do a direct sequel, I guess.

I guess it will depend on which Pixar we are getting here. If it’s the tone-deaf and watered down version then we might have a Cars 2 situation on our hands, but if its The Incredibles version then we could be in for a treat. The original did have some rather subversive humor in places so seeing these characters in college could be a kick.

Either way, this is as close as Hollywood gets to an absolute sure-thing. It will make a truck load of money.

Open Friday in 2D, RealD 3D and Disney Digital 3D.

 

THE BLING RING    (R  91 Minutes)

Emma Watson continues her journey from Hermione Granger to grown-up movie star in this film, based of the weird true story of a group of fame obsessed teenagers in Los Angeles who used the internet and gossip websites to track when stars would be out of their houses and out-of-town. They used this information to break in and rob their idols of cash, clothes and jewelry.

The stunning miss Watson aside, my interest in this film is primarily its director, Sofia Coppola. In addition to being the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, she is also a great filmmaker in her own right. From her first film, The Virgin Suicides in 1999, through her break-through hit Lost in Translation in 2003 through her last film, 2010’s Somewhere, she has always made interesting films that usually have a distinct point of view.

Sometimes that point of view is easy to understand at first sight (Lost in Translation) and other times, it takes a few viewings for it to become clear. Somewhere, for instance, is a film that irritated me on first viewing. It seemed bored with itself and it felt like nothing at all happened for the majority of the running-time. I re-visited the film a couple of years ago though and I found myself getting pulled into the rhythms of the film. It has become my favorite film of hers.

I am very interested to see how this film plays out. Based on early reviews, it is a film that divides audiences, which is what can be said about all of her films. I would say that if you are feeling blockbustered out for the moment and are looking for something a bit different, then give this film a chance. You may not love it, but based on her past work, it will be a unique film and one that will elicit a reaction.

That is, for me, the best kind of film.

Opens Friday Everywhere.

 

Finally, a brief word about Much Ado About Nothing, director Joss Whedon’s modern-day re-telling of the classic Shakespeare story. I talked about it a few weeks back and lamented the fact that it wasn’t out yet in the Charlotte area. I can say with much pleasure that this is no longer true.

The film begins an exclusive engagement at Regal Manor Twin downtown on Friday.

I will be there for the first show on Friday at 2:15. Hope to see you there.

Until next time, Keep the projector threaded.

 

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