“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.

“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (2013) Review

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“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (2013) Review

The subject of WikiLeaks has been something of an conundrum for me. I have been aware of the series of news stories about the website and its founder and spokesperson, Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg. But I must be honest . . . my thoughts on the whole matter tend to disappear at least a few minutes after hearing or reading about it. So when news of a film about WikiLeaks was announced, I found myself surprised by the online reaction to the news. 

“THE FIFTH ESTATE” drew its title from a term that describes a group that operates outside of the society’s normal groups, especially one that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those others. A “fifth estate” is strongly associated with journalists and media outlets viewed outside of or in opposition to the mainstream media or official press. This term could easily describe WikiLeaks, the Internet website and organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. The movie, which is directed by Bill Condon, is based upon Domscheit-Berg’s book “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and“WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Both were published in 2011. The movie follows the association between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, from their 2007 meeting at the Computer Chaos Club in Berlin to their estrangement over the Afghan War Logs. Judging from the movie’s source of material, it is easy to see that the story is mainly told from Domscheit-Berg’s point of view.

Is it a good movie? Many critics and filmgoers seem to believe otherwise. They directed their negative criticism toward Josh Singer’s screenplay and Bill Condon’s direction. In fact, many also believe it was a mistake for the movie to be told either from Domscheit-Berg’s point of view or those in the U.S. intelligence service. I now feel they were right in regard to the movie’s points-of-view. After all Assange proved to be the movie’s main topic in the end. I now feel that “THE FIFTH ESTATE” would have benefited from balanced viewpoints of both Domscheit-Berg and Assange. There were a few other aspects of “THE FIFTH ESTATE” I found a little troubling. There were moments when I could not ascertain some of the dialogue. I do not if this was due to the movie theater’s sound system or the performances in the film. “THE FIFTH ESTATE” also featured a set – an office space filled with desks – that served as a visual metaphor of the WikiLeaks website. Honestly, I found this so-called metaphor rather irrelevant and ham-fisted.

However, “THE FIFTH ESTATE” had its good points. I thought Bill Condon’s direction of the film to be solid and well-paced. He was ably assisted by Tobias Schliessler’s sharp cinematography and Virginia Katz’s skillful editing. Condon also did an excellent job of injecting suspension in a tale that focused on the Internet. I feel that he and screenwriter Josh Singer were right to include the consequences of the Afghan War Logs exposure in a few sequences featuring a Libyan doctor with political ties named Tarek Haliseh, who served as an informant for U.S. intelligence. Despite the film’s failure to focus some of its story from Assange’s viewpoint, I must admit that I found the movie’s plot very interesting. Thanks to“THE FIFTH ESTATE”, I managed to maintain my interest in WikiLeaks a lot longer than ten minutes or less. 

I cannot deny that “THE FIFTH ESTATE” greatly benefited from a talented cast. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a very interesting performance as colorful creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. I have no idea if the latter was satisfied with Cumberbatch. And there is a good chance (or not) that the characterization was off. If it was off, then one must place the blame on Singer’s screenplay, not Cumberbatch’s skillful performance. A less skillful actor could have easily been overshadowed by Cumberbatch’s performance. Fortunately, Daniel Brühl was talented enough to make Daniel Domscheit-Berg a fascinating character in his own right – especially in scenes that conveyed the latter’s frustrations with the Assange character. A third performance that caught my eye came from David Thewlis, who was equally colorful as British journalist Nick Davies, who covered WikiLeaks’ exposure of the Afghan War Logs. I was also impressed by Laura Linney, who did an excellent job in conveying the U.S. intelligence services’ anger and frustration toward the WikiLeaks website. The movie also featured solid performances from Stanley Tucci, Alicia Vikander, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu and Anthony Mackie. However, I was disappointed by the film’s minimum use of Mackie. For someone listed third in the cast, he had a very small role.

Despite the negative reaction to the movie and my belief that it could have included the viewpoint of main character Julian Assange, I still managed to enjoy “THE FIFTH ESTATE”. I thought director Bill Condon and screeenwriter Josh Singer did a solid job in creating a credible thriller from a movie about computer online leakage. More importantly, the film benefited from first-rate performances given by a talented cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.