“WORLD WAR Z” (2013) Review

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“WORLD WAR Z” (2013) Review

I might as well state it outright. I am not a fan of horror movies. Actually, I hate them. I had once considered ignoring“THE MUMMY”, Stephen Sommer’s 1999 remake of an old Boris Karloff film, until my sister convinced me that it was more of an adventure flick than a horror film. But my dislike of horror films remained intact when I first learned of the new Brad Pitt movie, “WORLD WAR Z”

Barely based upon Max Brooks’ 2006 novel, “WORLD WAR Z” is an apocalyptic tale about a former a former United Nations investigator who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie-like pandemic. The movie starts in Philadelphia, where Gerry Lane and his family are stuck in heavy traffic in Philadelphia, while they listen to a radio report of a rabies outbreak that has spread all over the world. Following a series of explosions, the Lanes are attacked by zombies. Those bitten are transformed into zombies after 12 seconds. While the attacks continue, the Lanes narrowly escape to an apartment complex and seek refuge with another family to wait for extraction by a helicopter sent by Gerry’s former UN colleague, the Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni. After a brief struggle in which Gerry is almost infected, the family reaches the helicopter and is taken to a U.S. Navy vessel off the coast of New York City. There, a team of analysts and military personnel analyze the zombie virus outbreak. A virologist name Dr. Andrew Fassbach suggests that they need to find the origin of the zombie plague in order for a vaccine to be developed. Because of his expertise as a former UN investigator, Gerry is tasked – actually blackmailed by a high-ranking Naval officer – with helping Dr. Fassback to find the source of the zombie virus.

Considering my initial declaration of my dislike toward horror films, one would probably speculate on why I went to see“WORLD WAR Z” in the first place. Like 1999’s “THE MUMMY”, the movie seemed more like an adventure film than a horror flick – especially since the plot required a worldwide apocalypse and a great deal of traveling for the main character. And if I must brutally honest, cast members such as Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale and Matthew Fox were the deciding factor. I could never envision any of them in a typical horror film and assumed there must be more to “WORLD WAR Z” than a bunch of shuffling zombies in a darkened room. To my utter relief, my assumptions proved to be right.

Max Brooks’ novel focused upon a collection of individual accounts about a zombie pandemic and war that had just ended after a decade. The producers; writers J. Michael Straczynski and Michael Carnahan; and screenwriters Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof decided that Brooks’ story structure would not sustain a viable movie. Instead, they changed the story’s structure to make it more action oriented tale that centered around a main character. Aside from a few quibbles about the plot, I had no problems with this decision. “WORLD WAR Z” still proved to be an exciting and rather frightening tale that provided plenty of family drama, action and a great deal of traveling. In one way, “WORLD WAR Z” reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, “CONTAGION” – but with some horror and traveling thrown into it.

There were certain action scenes that I found particularly exciting and are particular favorites of mine. Two of these scenes feature escape – namely the Lanes’ rescue by a team of Navy SEALs from a New Jersey apartment building rooftop and Gerry’s escape from Tel Aviv with an Israeli soldier named Segen. I found two scenes – the Lanes’ search for sanctuary at the New Jersey apartment building; and Lane and Segen’s attempt to get their hands on a pathogen for a cure at a World Heath’s Organization (W.H.O.) in Wales – particularly spine-tingling. Almost nerve wracking. But the movie also featured a few excellent dramatic scenes. Among my favorites include Umutoni and Captain Mullenaro’s successful attempt to convince Lane to search for the zombie virus’ origins; Lane’s good-byes to his wife Karin and their daughter; Lane and Army Captain Speke’s conversation with a former CIA operative, who led the former to Israel; and Lane’s initial meeting with a grieving WHO medical researcher.

Although I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z”, I must admit that I had a few problems with some of plot. I was annoyed that either the screenwriters or director Marc Forster failed to do a proper setup of the story’s main narrative – namely the zombie virus. The movie featured a montage of news reports during the opening credits and a few television and radio reports before the Lane family found themselves overwhelmed by the zombie outbreak on the streets of Philadelphia – some five to ten minutes after the movie began. I was also disappointed that the movie’s plot dropped Lane’s search for the zombie pandemic’s origins and instead solely focused on finding a cure during the last 30 to 40 minutes. So, although the W.H.O. managed to develop a vaccine to prevent the rest of the world’s population from getting infected, the movie ended with no knowledge of the pandemic’s origins. Just a outbreak of military hostilities against the zombies. I found all of this somewhat unsatisfying. 

However, I did not find the performances unsatisfying. Once again, Brad Pitt proved that he could be a satisfying action hero and dramatic actor all rolled into one, thanks to his first-rate performance as former U.N. investigator, Gerry Lane. Mireille Enos’ portrayal of Lane’s wife Karin struck me as perfectly poignant and emotional, as she struggled to keep her family together during Gerry’s absence. I have never heard of Fana Mokoena before this movie. But I must admit that I found his performance as the compassionate, yet professional U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni very impressive. I hope that “WORLD WAR Z” will make Daniella Kertesz a star. I was very impressed by her performance as Lane’s Israeli companion, “Segen”.

“WORLD WAR Z” also featured some excellent performances from cast members who made brief appearances. One of them came from David Andrews, who gave an intense portrayal of the U.S. Navy captain that convinced Lane to search for the zombie pandemic’s origins. David Morse was equally intense and rather humorous as a traitorous ex-CIA agent, who provided Lane with information that led the latter to Israel. James Badge Dale, who seemed to be having a banner year in 2013, was even more witty as U.S. Army Ranger Captain Speke, who was in charge of a base in South Korea. Ludi Boeken gave a solid performance as a Mossad official responsible for preparing Israel’s pre-emptive defences. Peter Capaldi’s performance as a W.H.O. researcher also struck me as very solid and at times, rather witty. Matthew Fox reminded me just how very effect he could be in action films in his very brief role as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who saves the Lanes from a zombie attack on the rooftop of the New Jersey apartment building. But the one cameo appearance that really impressed me came from Pierfrancesco Favino, who gave a poignant and intense performance as a W.H.O. researcher, who reminded Lane that the latter was not the only one who suffered from separation family members.

Yes, I had a few problems with the plot for “WORLD WAR Z”. I wish the screenwriters had put more detail in the zombie pandemic’s setup. And I was disappointed that the search for the pandemic’s origins had been dropped. But overall, I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z” very much, despite it being a movie about zombies. Overall, Marc Forster did an excellent job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by fine performances from a skillful cast led by Brad Pitt. But do not expect me to become a fan of zombie stories in films and television in the future.

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Ten “Points” Commentary

 

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Ten “Points” Commentary

”BAND OF BROTHERS” finally came to an end in this tenth episode that featured Easy Company’s experiences as part of the U.S. Army of occupation, following Germany’s surrender in Europe. This marked the third episode that featured Richard Winters as the central character and the second with his narration. 

Told in flashback via Winters’ narration, ”Points” opened in July 1945, with Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) enjoying a morning swim in an Austrian lake, while being watched by his best friend, Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston). After the two friends spend a few minutes looking at regimental photos, Winters recalls the experiences of Easy Company during the last days of the war in Europe and their role as part of an occupational force. Two months earlier, the company manages to capture Eagle’s Nest, Adolf Hitler’s high mountain chalet in Berchtesgaden. Following Easy Company’s capture of Berchtesgaden, they receive news of Germany’s surrender to the Allied Forces. Easy’s remaining stay in Germany does not last long. They, and the rest of 2nd Battalion, are sent to Austria as part of the U.S. Army’s occupational force. Easy Company battled boredom, various departures, the death of Private John Janovec (Tom Hardy) in a jeep accident, the shooting of Sergeant Chuck Grant (Nolan Hemmings) by a drunken American soldier, and a mixture of anticipation and anxiety over the possibility of being shipped to the Pacific. The miniseries ended with a visit by a recovered Lynn “Buck” Compton (Neal McDonough) and the revelations of the men’s post-war lives.

”Points” proved to be a mildly interesting episode about what it was like for World War II veterans to serve as part of an occupational force in Europe, following Germany’s defeat. Many of the incidents featured in the last paragraph certainly prevented the episode from becoming dull. And thanks to Erik Jendresen and Erik Bork’s screenplay, along with Mikael Salomon’s direction; ”Points” provided other interesting scenes. One featured a tense scene that saw Joe Liebgott (Ross McCall), David Webster (Eion Bailey) and Wayne A. “Skinny” Sisk (Philip Barrantini) assigned to capture a Nazi war criminal. Private Janovec’s conversation with a German veteran at a road checkpoint provided a good deal of subtle humor for me. Another humorous scene featured Winters and Nixon’s encounter with a still resentful Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer), who proved to be very reluctant to salute the now higher ranked Winters. One scene that really grabbed my attention featured most of the 506th regimental officers watching a newsreel about the fierce Battle of Okinawa in Japan. Not only did that scene remind viewers the fate that Easy Company had managed to evade with the surrender of Japan, it also proved to be an unintentional foreshadow to Spielberg and Hanks’ World War II follow-up, ”THE PACIFIC”.

Once again, Damian Lewis gave a subtle, yet exceptional performance as the miniseries’ leading character, Richard Winters. But I was also impressed by Matthew Settle’s fierce portrayal of a frustrated and somewhat tense Ronald Spiers, who struggled to keep Easy Company together, despite their travails as part of an occupying force. And I was pleasantly surprised by Peter Youngblood Hills’ poignant performance in a scene that featured Darrell C. “Shifty” Powers’ private farewell to Winters.

I do have one major complaint about ”Points”. I did not care for the fact that miniseries did not reveal the post-war fates of “all” of the surviving members of Easy Company. The only characters whose lives we learned about were most of those seen in Austria, at the end of the episode . . . but not all. The episode never revealed what happened to Edward “Babe” Heffron or Donald Malarkey, who were also in Austria, by the end of the miniseries. And viewers never learned of the post-war fates of veterans such as William “Bill” Guarnere, Walter “Smokey” Gordon, Joe Toye, Roy Cobb, Les Hashley, Antonio Garcia, and yes . . . even Herbert Sobel.

Despite my major disappointment over how the episode ended, I still enjoyed ”Points”. I would never consider it to be one of my favorite episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. But it did not put me to sleep. However, it still managed to be a satisfying end to the saga.

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003) Review

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003) Review

There are times when it seems to me that the third entry in the “TERMINATOR” franchise is regarded as nothing more than an afterthought with the fans. Whereas the first two movies are regarded as masterpieces and the fourth movie is regarded as a showpiece for actor Sam Worthington and the scene for star Christian Bale’s behind-the-camera rant.

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” is set at least a decade after the events of the 1991 movie. John Connor, now a young man around twenty, has been off the grid for a few years, drifting from one area to another, while taking on the occasional odd job. Because of this, Skynet – the self-aware, artificially intelligent system that became humanity’s enemy – has been unable to locate him during this time period. Instead, Skynet focuses its attention upon John’s future lieutenants, including a young veterinarian assistant named Kate Brewster. Skynet sends a more sophisticated cyborg assassin named T-X back to the early 21st century to kill Kate and John’s other lieutenants. Unbeknownst to Skynet, the Resistance sends back another reprogrammed T-850 Terminator cyborg to the same era to assist John and Katherine . . . and keep them alive.

”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” pretty much followed the same formula that dominated the first two films. In all three movies, Skynet sends a cyborg back to the past to prevent John Connor from becoming the Resistance’s future leader. And in the second and third movies, the Resistance sends a reprogrammed cyborg to save John. But there are some minor differences in this third film. One, ”TERMINATOR 3” marked the first time that James Cameron did not participate in the production of one of the franchise’s film. And two, this movie also marked the first time that Sarah Connor was not a major character. Due to Cameron’s lack of participation in the film and because Jonathan Mostow was hired to direct, ”TERMINATOR 3” has not been highly regarded by film critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, this movie did a lot better overseas than it did in the U.S.

I can see how this film had acquired such a lackluster reputation after viewing the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. The movie’s early period seemed filled with scenes that struck me as sophomoric and cheap. John Connor struck me as a melancholic slacker for whom I found difficult to harbor any symphathy, let alone interest. The arrivals of both the T-850 and the T-X came off as rather silly. The T-850 arrived at a stripper bar for women, where he stole some clothes from an effeminate male stripper. And after killing a woman and stealing her clothes and car, the T-X encountered a cop and resorted to inflating her cleavage in order to distract him. Mind you, the scene featuring the T-850 at the stripper bar struck me as mildly amusing. But I was not amused by watching the T-X inflate her bust in order to vamp a cop. It was ridiculous and slightly insulting. After saving Kate from the T-X, the T-850 and John get involved in an over-the-top car chase that featured a loud and aggressive truck driver that struck me as more obnoxious than funny. However, once the car chase ended, Mostow’s direction, along with John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s screenplay, elevated ”TERMINATOR 3” into something truly worthwhile.

The T-850 led both John and Sarah to a cemetery, where they found a cache of weapons that had been stored by Sarah Connor. Audiences also learned that poor Sarah had contracted leukemia before succumbing rather quickly. The T-850 also revealed that Judgment Day – originally thought to commence on August 29, 1997 – was scheduled to begin within a few hours (on July 24, 2004). Apparently, the U.S. Air Force took control of Cyberdyne Systems and the Skynet project, following the events in ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY”. And the Skynet project is being headed by Kate’s father, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster. Not only did the cast’s performance improved greatly following the movie’s Act I, the movie’s plot acquired a sense of both urgency and pathos, as John, Kate and T-850 raced to prevent Judgment Day. Their efforts led to an exciting, yet horrifying bloodbath initiated by the T-X at Cyberdyne System’s new location, and a few tragic moments that allowed ”TERMINATOR 3” to have the best – in my opinion – ending in the entire franchise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to portray the new T-850 cyborg sent to protect John Connor and Kate Brewster. I was amazed to see that he managed to create a second new twist on the T-850 character. In ”THE TERMINATOR”, his cyborg was nothing more than a relentless killing machine. In the 1991 movie, his T-850 seemed childishly thrilled by the slang and rituals taught to him by a young John Connor. But his T-850 in ”TERMINATOR 3” is not the same being that John knew as a boy. Schwarzenegger’s T-850 is a no-nonsense mentor who is exasperated by John and Kate’s unwillingness to consider the possibility that there are some events in time that one cannot change. I had feared that this new T-850 would be a rehash of the one featured in”TERMINATOR 2” and was happily surprised that it did not.

As I had stated earlier in this review, I was not impressed by the early portrayal of John Connor in this movie. I could blame actor Nick Stahl, but I now realize that the lackluster quality of the character is not his fault. He was simply doing his job and portraying John as the script demanded. I understand John’s mental ennui, considering his situation. But it bored me. Thankfully, the revelation of a possible new Judgment Day lit a fire under John and Stahl did a superb job in infusing all of the fire and desperation into his character. And by the end of the film, he gave what I believe was possible the finest moment in the entire movie – let alone in the entire franchise – when his character learned a powerful lesson. I am also grateful that Stahl managed to create a strong screen chemistry with Claire Danes. The latter portrayed Kate Brewster, the feisty veterinarian assistant, who finds herself swept up the chaos caused by the two time traveling cyborgs and the threat to humanity’s future. She was very skillful in conveying Kate’s outrage and confusion over the events that threatened to overtake her. At one point in the film, John compared Kate to his late mother. Personally, I never saw the resemblance. Although Kate seemed as strong-willed as Sarah Connor, I got the impression that she was a different character altogether. Although emotional, Danes’ Kate seemed more level-headed . . . and a lot saner.

There were other performances that impressed me. It was nice to see Earl Boen again, who reprised his role as the criminal psychologist, Dr. Peter Silberman, for the second time. He had a rather nice scene in which his Dr. Silberman tried to comfort Kate after she has witnessed the acts of the T-X. And for once, he seemed to consider that what he had witnessed in the past might be real. Dave Andrews gave a solid performance as Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, Kate’s father. Thanks to Andrews’ performance, one could see from whom Kate had inherited her level-headed personality. And he also managed to skillfully convey a sense of horror over the implications of Skynet’s threat to humanity. I have noticed that the more dangerous the cyborg in this franchise, the smaller it seemed to be. The cyborgs have ranged from the tall and hulking body-builder Schwartzenegger, to the slim and athletic looking Robert Patrick in the second film, to the very feminine Kristanna Loken. And thanks to her performance, Loken managed to convey all of the menace and danger of a relentless killer with very few lines, just as effectively as Schwartzenegger and Patrick before her.

I realize that ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” will never overcome its low reputation with many film critics and movie fans. All one has to do is watch the first fifteen to twenty mintues and be tempted to watch another movie . . . or walk out of the movie theater. I know I was tempted to do the latter, when I first saw this film. But once ”TERMINATOR 3” got past that silly nonsense; it turned out to be an exciting movie with an ending filled with a level of pathos that the other three movies never reached. In the end, I believe it was worthwhile.