World War Z

So I am used to zombie movies that function in a slightly different way, that being said, this film works pretty darn well. There were stories about behind the scene problems and re-shoots on the movie. Originally this was to have been released last Christmas. The CGI Zombie attack clips on the walls surrounding Jerusalem seemed to undermine the idea of the film, making it look a little odd.. In the end those film clips make up a small portion of the movie and they work well enough to give us the idea of how a massive group of infected /dead people could suddenly be a threat rather than something to just be avoided. The script problems don’t seem to have effected the tension level and the PG-13 rating is not as off putting for a horror action film as I thought it might be. This is definitely not a gore movie but it is a tight action film that provides plenty of suspense and enough creepiness to keep the average film goer satisfied for it’s running time.

It is probably fortunate that I am unfamiliar with the source material. Everyone who has read it says it would be impossible to make as a single film, so clearly there has to be a simplification and an “inspired by” qualification of the movie. The zombies here are much like the infected humans in the “28 Days/28 Weeks” mode, they are Fast and Furious (although they don’t steal cars or look like Vin Diesel, OK, some of them do). In most of the zombie films I’ve seen, the survivors try to hunker down and ride it out. They are subject to stress and fear and it is usually the internal strife that causes the drama in the film. Ultimately, they have to escape or fight and some live but most die. There never seems to be much hope for the world after the whole thing starts. In this story, we see the outbreak take over very rapidly. I still have some questions about how that could be the case when most of the incubation time takes a few minutes. I’m not sure who boarded all those zombies on flights, but I guess the airlines were desperate enough that as long as a person was ticketed they could get on a plane, in spite of wanting to bite everyone else in line.. TSA is once again shown not to be very effective. The logic aside, when the big cities start to see the spread of the infection and the rapid growth of the dead population it is pretty scary.

Brad Pitt is the hero of our story. He is a U.N. Health Specialist. It is never quite clear what his specialty is or why his assistance is so necessary that a special operation is arranged to save him and his family. The family set up is solid and the outbreak is handled smashingly well. The opening act of the movie pulls us in quickly and those other pesky questions seem irrelevant. There are three pretty effective chase sequences that feel very intense. The first one features a series of car crashes that are realistic, sudden and perfectly imaginable in the circumstances. Along the way, the family picks up a boy that they take on responsibility for as one of their own. All of this mostly moves to the background once the second act commences. The second act consists of a series of chases and attacks in a variety of situations. Some of them are simple and one of them is very elaborate. The influence Pitt’s character has seems to be substantial even in the parts of the world that are cut off or over run. It does seem at times as if the story gives him cache when it is convenient and none when it suits the story for dramatic purpose. This is not a story of survivors holding out against the oncoming hordes, it is a globetrotting race against time and every stop features some new wrinkle to the plot.

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of chases and escapes and attacks. It may seem a bit repetitive after a while. Each one is staged differently so they don’t seem too recycled, but there is only so much you can draw out of the concept.  The attack on the plane was one of the most innovative and the result does stretch credulity quite a bit. Still it gets us to the third act where we begin to see some plot ideas from earlier in the movie begin to gel. The film seems set up to allow the story to continue, so don’t be too surprised that the zombies are not wiped out and a cure does not seem likely. The trick here is a little bit different and I thought it made the movie work a little better in the end. The action in this act is a lot more direct and visible since it is contained in a well lit location and we have clear objectives that are being pursued. If this was the section of material that had to be re-written, then they did a solid job making it work in terms of drama and action.

Pitt was the only recognizable actor in the cast so that must be where the money went (OK, David Morse is in it for about 80 seconds but his exposition was so vague that it did not matter ). Everyone else was just fine but only one other character is given a chance to shine a little bit in the movie. The Israeli soldier Segan is just as tough as Pitt’s character and doesn’t have any back story, but she manages to broaden our interest in the rest of humanity by her willingness to fight on despite a dramatic turn of events. You can see that this is a big movie, there are cities being torn apart and naval ships put at the disposal of some of the survivors. Plane crashes and nuclear explosions seem to occur every few minutes and the production design was usually convincing. It’s a crackerjack entertainment that has some big gaps in it’s plotting but it overcomes those weaknesses with some effective tension and suspense sequences. I still think I will be heading over to my son in-law Drew’s house when the Zombie Apocalypse shows up. He is better armed than Brad Pitt is and I think our chances would be stronger in the long run. Besides if Brad shows up, we’ll know where all the zombies are, right behind him.

Monsters University

After the debacle that was “Cars 2” it would be understandable that Pixar fans would be concerned about an unnecessary sequel to a fantastic original film. While the sequel route worked with “Toy Story”, it certainly did not feel like there was more follow up story for Monsters Inc. Fortunately, instead of inventing a new challenge for the characters in the original film, they have chosen to visit their roots and explore the characters from an historical perspective. This preserves the world in which we first met Sully and Mike but it allows us to see them from a different perspective. I think it was a wise choice. While “Monsters University” lacks some of the dynamic story telling and emotional heft of the first movie, the prequel wisely sticks to character development and humor. The plot is less important than the jokes and the personalities of our two friends and assorted other characters.

Billy Crystal puts so much into the character of Mike Wazowski, that he feels new and fresh despite the fact that we already have one movie story behind us (or is it in front of us?). Mike seems to be the smart kid with big ambitions who just seems to not quite fit in. We get to see where his dream comes from and how he doggedly pursues it. Along the way, some old rivalries and new friendships are started. College is the place where people go to reinvent themselves and Mike has every intention of doing just that. He longs to be a “Scarer” at Monsters Inc., and excels at his academics at the same time that he continues to struggle with his place in the school. John Goodman is back and he plays it more like a second fiddle this time. It is Mike’s story, and although he has important story moments, the plot ultimately depends on Mike. This is where the characters meet and it is great to see how they manage to become friends in spite of some of the things thast seperate them in the beginning.

While it is not quite “Animal House” the story does center on the antics of a group of outsiders trying to fight the powers that be. The humor is closer to “revenge of the Nerds” with little touches of the Disney/Pixar magic thrown in. The tables set up in the quad that solicit the freshman to join a club or activity are very funny. There is a reference to some of the usual college traditions, like football chants and good luck touching of school icons. Anyone who has gone to a college that has a real campus life will recognize the stereotypes and the obligatory processes that student struggle with. Most of them are handled hilariously here. Early efforts in the classroom fall away to the usual Fraternity hijinks that make a movie like this work. Imagine trying to establish a coll persona and having your Mom pop up to take your picture. 

Once again the animation is top notch but there was nothing spectacular in the vision of the movie that draws attention to itself. The challenges that the competing fraternities and sororities have to go thru are all similar to something that might be done in the non-monster world. The main differences were not the ideas but the fact that the participants were monsters. There are some funny bits based on the idea that the monsters will have an allergic reaction to some of the obstacles or that there is a massive monster librarian. To me the thing that was most effective about the animation was how much emotion they could get onto the face of a one eyed creature. Mike is very expressive despite having half the tools and none of the unique characteristics of the other creatures. There are plenty of nods to the original film along the way and everything seems to fit together pretty well.

I was a little surprised at how the major conflict at the end was resolved. There is a consequence to trying to take a shortcut and Mike and Sully both learn that, but they learn it cheerfully. The end credits contain a series of visuals that bridge the story and turn what might have been a disappointment into a triumph. Also, there is a stinger joke and if you leave before the credits are done you are going to miss a pretty good laugh. Monsters University is not an instant classic like “Ratatouille” or “Up” or and of the “Toy Story” movies, but it is an immensely charming entertainment that has clever humor and is integrated well with characters that we already know.

As always, a Pixar feature is accompanied by a short that has plenty of whimsy and charm. It is not laugh out loud funny as some of the older Pixar shorts are. This one tells a sweet little story about two umbrellas that catch each others eye and the struggle they go through to meet. It is five minutes of mild pleasure that looks like it mixes computer animation with actual footage of the real world (although I simply think that is the excellence of the Pixar design fooling us).

The Bling Ring

There is not any mistaking that this is a Sophia Coppola film. I have seen a couple of the pictures she has made in the past and this movie has several of those elements to it. There are long passages without anything other than the location audio track, there are incessant contemporary music cues to highlight anything dramatic and there are a couple of shots done from a detached distance that emphasis how much outside of the story we viewers are despite the close up and the intimate moments. I’m not saying it does not work but I am saying that she has developed a style and a set of habits that is noticeable.   If any of those things irritate you about her films, this will not be the movie to change that, if you like the hip outsider detachment thing, than this film will be all up in you.

The story is based on the real events that took place a few short years ago here in Lotus (LaLa) land. High school students with no sense of identity other than those achieved from a designer purse or jewelry, go a bit overboard with their celebrity style obsessions and begin stealing from the icons that they worship. These kids come from privileged but not wealthy backgrounds. Their families all appear to be absent or excessively obtuse as to their real persona.  It would seem that every trendy club in the city was willing to have them come in and to serve them whatever booze they requested, despite the fact that none of them look older than 15 or 16. The film ends up trying to be a criticism of the absent or negligent parenting they receive, the consumerist culture and the society that values such empty “things” such as designer shoes. Coppala wants to have it both ways, the kids are corrupt and soulless and that is largely because celebrities are the exact same way.

The audience is given a view into a lifestyle that is pretty much what the media spends time purporting to be important. The one guy in the group is as obsessed with style as are the girls. Later, another guy enters into the burglaries but we know so little about him and why he is there that he is almost invisible. These characters agonize over what clothes match and which club is the most socially hip. From the beginning, the guy is drawn in by their friendship based on his need to belong. One of the very first things that should have been a warning to him is that his new best friend is a soul sucking kleptomaniac, who takes him walking down the streets of their own neighborhood, looking for unlocked cars that they can steal from. It’s a short step from that to entering homes that are either unlocked or for which the keys are so badly hidden that there might as well be a sign that says, “Bored, Insolent Youth Enter Here.” They treat their escapades as if it were a shopping spree, but it is not just clothes they take and they don’t just take them for trophies. Valuables that can be sold and especially cash are the targets that get the most praise from each other. The idea that this was just hero worship gone awry can be quickly dismissed.

What should not be dismissed is the result that seems to condemn all of society to self inflicted oblivion. The punishments that are meted out for thefts in excess of 3 million dollars worth of goods is laughable. I took some satisfaction when the cops showed up and presented warrants and hauled the kids off, but that was stemmed substantially by the light handed treatment that follows.  The character played by Emma Watson is given such a light sentence and it results in the kind of admiration and attention that these characters would want that it makes me worry for our future. The fact that the story is then turned into a movie is also almost as disturbing. The film does not try to make heroes out of the kids, but idiots out there will do so because the over the top party lifestyle will seem appealing. Drinking, drugs, hot dance routines, media attention and then being the subject of a movie, it’s easily enough to make the dim bulbs that occupy much of the modern media world feel like they could be next. Take the plot from “Scream 4”, take out the murder and replace with theft and you have a real world nightmare of a story.


Look, the movie is very well made. The soundtrack is populated with music that worships impersonal sex and objectification and money. It is shot to make the kids lives look amazing as they spend the money, live the glamorous life and suffer minimal consequences as a result. It even has Emma Watson, “the” hot girl of the moment (she lampoons herself in last week’s “This is the End”), performing on Paris Hilton’s stripper pole in her homes club room. Maybe there were just too many sequences of beautiful people doing horrible things and enjoying it for my taste. It never seems to be the position of the film maker that this is OK. Just because Orlando Bloom has a half dozen Rolex’s does not mean he deserves to be stolen from. Yet the depiction makes it seem like the crimes are minor and the consequences even more so. The detachment of the observers extends to all parts of the story. If everyone is a victim and everyone is an idiot, why should we care? There are important themes in the story, but every time one of them  starts to rear it’s head, another conflicting view comes along to undermine the point. I hope the kids are all good actors because if they bear any resemblance to the fashion zombies in this movie, I have to pity us all.

Kubrick Day at KAMAD

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has had a featured exhibition of Stanley Kubrick material and unfortunately it ends this coming week. I’ve been meaning to get to it for several months and of course I waited until the last week of the exhibit, but I did manage to get over there and had an amazing time looking at artifacts from all of the Kubrick films and some other projects as well.

The entry had a series of film sections from his major motion pictures, with some words from artists, critics and Kubrick himself. We scrolled through the dozen or so bits in about twenty minutes and then made our way into the entry hall which features a number of cameras and movie posters. I of course would be happy to have this wall to display in my home.

There was a room dedicated to his work as a very young photographer, primarily for Look Magazine. Several shots were on display that featured Hollywood connections and there were scrap books of magazine articles featuring photos he had taken. The first photo that he received a professional credit and payment for was a shot of a sad faced news vendor, as he looks over the headlines on the papers announcing the death of FDR. There was also an elaborate set of materials that he had put together for an abandinde project on the Ghettos of Poland from the time of Nazi occupation. The amount of work he put in to simply move on was incredible.

The gallery did not seem to be organized in any chronological fashion, it did seem to flow very smoothy through all of the film projects although some clearly received more attention than others. The section on his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut” felt to be the slimmest, although reading his words and looking at the background material, I think i might appreciate the film more the next time I see it.

High on the wall was the helmet worn by Private Joker in “Full Metal Jacket”. There was also a model helicopter that had been used in the production. Each section had elaborate versions of the script with Kubrick’s very detailed notes on everything in the scene. His planning was clearly meticulous. The history of each production was described, especially interesting was the display of some of the original source material. In the case of this film, there was a paperback version of the novel that started Kubrick on the movie. 
The exhibit was not thin but it was less in the works from the 1950s. His two collaborations with Kirk Douglas had large photos and detailed shooting material. “Paths of Glory” is probably the first of his masterpieces and the themes were nicely described by the curators of the exhibit. “Spartacus” was not his project, in fact he came on after shooting had started and the first director had been dismissed. Kubrick added some much needed battle scenes and the sequence where the Romans watch Douglas and Woody Strode fight for their pleasure and they can hardly be bothered to pay attention, was clearly a Kubrick shot. We see the battle from over the shoulders of the viewers as they chat and gossip. It looks like a view from a window with people sitting on a couch in front of the frame. It was the only film he made where he did not have total control over the picture and he viewed it as something of a disappointment.
Lovers of Horror would have enjoyed the way the axes were displayed from “The Shining”. They were basically buried into the wall as if Jack Torrance had just tried to take us out. The dresses from the two little girls were hung up next to each other, just as if we were Danny and came up on them on our tricycle. There were some interesting letters from Saul Bass, who was pitching advertising ideas and poster artwork. While Bass was enthusiastic, we can see Kubrick’s notes on each sketch and he did not like any of them. There was also a model of the maze from the end of the film and a description of how it was shot. The highlight of that room however had to be the typewriter that was actually used in the film and contained the page with the script that clearly gives away the insanity that has taken over Jack Torrance.

There were two long rooms displaying material from Barry Lyndon, including costumes and the evolution of the script. The other element of the second room was the amazing collection of material that Kubrick had put together to create a film about Napoleon. It may well be the greatest movie never made. I know that the work was immense, he had his own card catalog drawers for the reference works he had accumulated.

There was a small alcove room that was playing a series of film clips and highlighting the music that was used in the films. It was a little claustrophobic, and while it was interesting, I did not stay through the whole loop . To gain entry to that room, one had to move through the section that featured material from “A Clockwork Orange”. There was a series of newspaper articles about a British man who had modeled his behavior on the droogs from this film. Kubrick had defended the movie vigorously from criticism over the violence, but after the events that occurred in the real world he held the movie out of circulation in Great Britain for many years after. In another display, one shelf over were all the mock up newspapers from the film, covering “Alex” and his trials and subsequent rehabilitation. It was an interesting contrast to see the two sets of news right next to each other.

The details of the shoot were highlighted by a series of pictures from the set from the attack on the couple by Ale and his gang. The music sequence from this film that I did watch in the side room featured the treatment which of course involved the score by Beethoven.

I can’t quite remember which section featured the discussion of “red” in Kubrick films. The color has a distinctive role to play in the films, and the significance was indicated by a series of shots from the various films that showed how the color was being used. The clothes that are cut off of the victim in Clockwork and the blood on the wall behind Private Pyle are two of the examples.

There was a passageway from the Clockwork Orange displays to the Barry Lyndon rooms that featured the film A.I., which Kubrick had long planned and then passed off to his friend Steven Spielberg. The drawings that went into the visualization of the movie clearly illustrate why he took so long to get the film started. He was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision. Most of the drawings were from the 1980s and the film did not get made until after Kubrick’s death in 1999. It was released in 2001.

To the right here is a close up of a miniature set reproduction of the War Room from Dr. Strangelove. It looks amazing and you should know that the chairs around the table are about the size of a paperclip. The screens in the display were actual scenes on display from the screens in the movie. The technical material here was the most involved in the exhibit. Cameras and lenses and small script elements made up most of the display. It was on one end of the entry gallery and right next to it was the material on Lolita. There were a number of photos frames of Sue Lyon in costume and on the set. They were all in color and a magnifying glass on a fixed rail allowed the viewer to scroll down the line examining them in much the way a director or photographer like Kubrick might have in making tiny decisions about costumes, make-up, props and lighting.

Friday night, I re-watched 2001:A Space Odyssey in anticipation of the trip to the LACMA. I was sure glad I did because the highlight of the exhibit for me was the material presented on what I think is his greatest film and certainly my favorite Kubrick film. There were two sections of space devoted to the 1968 epic, it included a replica model of Discovery hanging from the ceiling as well as costumes and masks worn by the performers in the “Dawn of Man” sequence. In the center of the first room were pieces of furniture found on the orbiting space station visited by Heywood Floyd on his way up to the Moon.

There was an interesting discussion of how futurists and designers from a number of big companies contributed suggestions to make the vision more real. I find it interesting that at least two of those companies, Bell Telephone and Pan Am, no longer exist and did not make it to 2001. Frank and Dave do seem to be absorbed in their i-pads while on Discovery, so it is not clear to me why IBM did not hit that technology before Apple did. There was a film clip that I saw on some other material explaining the process by which the circular section of Discovery was rotated to produce the effect of the astronauts walking in a vertical circle at times. The actual helmet used by Dave Bowman was on display and it had an interesting front projection display to put the actor in the helmet along with some of the visual effects from the film.

The most startlingly beautiful thing I saw in the whole exhibit was a miniature reproduction of “God’s” white room from the end of the film. This model was suspended above the crowds heads, thus requiring us to look up to see it and leaving many patrons in slack jawed awe as they stared into space.  The Monolith is clearly visible in the center of the room It was a very dramatic piece of design for the curators of this project, and I was lucky that it was among the final things I came across.

I don’t know if this exhibit is touring, if you see it in your local museum be4 sure to take the time to visit. Anyone who admires the work of one of the greatest film directors of all time will feel privileged to have spend even a small amount of time in the shadows of his genius. I know that is how I feel.

This is the End

I must begin with a confession. I have never been a pot smoker, I am not a drinker, I feel self conscious about the use of foul language and mocking religion seems to be a bad thing from my point of view. Having said that, this movie plays on all of those concepts and it is pretty damn funny, even to someone like me who generally does not “party” like all the actors being portrayed here. I know enough about Hollywood and how it works and while I don’t follow any scandal sites, I do have a average persons knowledge of some of the characters here. If seeing Michael Cera mock the degree to which he is despised, or Seth Rogan re-evaluate some of the choices he made sounds funny to you, this is the flavor you are looking for.

There is a simple concept behind the movie, what would the end of the world be like for a bunch of pot addled Hollywood types? If the Apocalypse is anything like the Bible forecasts, it is not going to go well for most of them. This is a combination of religious philosophy and bomb shelter mentality. Ideas that were explored on the Twilight Zone fifty years ago are revisited here with the added twist that most of the characters don’t have much moral fortitude to begin with. Some thoughtful moments of human wisdom are combined with desperation to survive and the result is hilarious. As the characters begin to subvert their friendships, exploit each others weaknesses and look for redemption at the same time, they explore what is truly funny about being molested by demons or consumed by the fires of hell. Let me assure you it is damn profane.

All of these actors come from a school of humor that basically puts no limits on the kinds of things a person can say about another person, even if the end of times is not present. They s@*t talk each other and say the most vile things when they are simply high, it is not that much worse when all hell breaks loose, except that now we can add on violence and screaming and the kinds of slapstick that might seem pointlessly childish without the story set up.I don’t get the feeling that many of them are acting, they seem to be themselves. That does not mean that they are the way they are portrayed in the story, but that they speak in their normal rhythms and pitches, they have the same vocal qualities that go along with being a member of the group. James Franco is an enthusiastic head case, Seth Rogan is a cool dude who is a little too needy, Jay Barucel is an awkward outsider who fits in the group but is not sure why, Jonah Hill is the nice guy who could just be faking it, Craig Robinson is funny but a little insecure and Danny McBride is the cocky self centered egoist without a real sense of worth. I said all of that in the politest way possible, they will say the same things in the most horrifyingly honest way you can imagine and you will probably be like Seth when the tigers showed up in “Gladiator”.

There are dozens of cameo appearances by stars great and small. TV personalities seem doomed to die early and movie co-stars get slightly bigger exits. I’d have to see it again to see what happened with a couple of the personalities that are at the party at Franco’s house when things start going wrong. There are also some late surprises that are worth a giggle and a guffaw or two. I would consider seeing a couple of the film projects that get some time in the movie. There is a sequence where Franco and Rogan talk about a sequel to “Pineapple Express”. Neither of them has any idea of what the story should be but they are high and in love with the idea. This movie was probably written the same way. No one knows what it is all supposed to be about, but there has to be some funny material here and they will just run with it.

“This is the End” is another in a long line of films made by these actors over the last ten years or so. Clearly they feel some degree of friendship for each other, these movies are not star turns, they are joke fests. It seems no one wants to be left out even if they end up looking like a douche. It is an acquired taste and I cannot recommend it to everyone, but if you have a high tolerance for dope humor, gross out comedy, silly situations and have enjoyed any of these performers in the last few years, you’ll probably like this movie. My biggest laugh was based on the amount of blood that gets sloshed out of a severed head. If that does not sound funny to you, stay away. If you are under thirty, a pot smoker or just have a twisted sense of humor, go for it. The worst that can happen is that you are damned to hell.