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Entries in Brad Pitt (5)

Thursday
Jun202013

World War Z

“World War Z” has many problems, some of which surely stem from the much reported on troubled production and reshoots, but it’s biggest problem boils down to one observation: it has a fundamental misunderstanding of what the zombie subgenre is and can be. While many unfairly relegate the subgenre to surface analyses of mindless bloodshed and walking corpses, the truth of the matter is that it’s very sophisticated. The best zombie movies and television shows understand that stories come from people, so they tend to focus on the characters rather than the zombies. They can even use zombies as a metaphor for real world issues, particularly the classic George Romero pictures. Comparatively, “World War Z” is fluff, a brainless action picture with hardly anything going for it. Its focus is skewed, its themes are barely there and its characters are unmemorable. This is one to quickly forget about.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is husband and father to his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and two little girls, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). They live simple lives in Philadelphia, but one morning, a disturbance causes mass panic and the city finds itself overrun by crazed people hungry for live human flesh. They quickly find out that the entire world has been stricken with whatever virus is causing their people to do this, but luckily, Gerry is a retired United Nations employee and still has some connections that are willing to help. However, in exchange for keeping his family safe, Gerry has to head out in the chaos and try to find a cure, perhaps even Patient Zero, the one who set this chain of events into motion.

“World War Z,” in one of its only attempts, tries to wring out some kind of emotion in these early moments. A loving family thrust into an impossible situation, a father who has to leave that family and risk his life to save them and the world, a pair of daughters who don’t fully understand what’s going on, yet are still fearful. These are all in the early moments, but they’re hardly prominent. No more than 10 minutes is spent with them and no personality is truly ever established. They love each other, but they’re a family; such information is obvious. What are their personalities like? What are they afraid of, beyond the easy losing-my-family fear? In general, who are they as people? As far as the screenwriters are concerned, it doesn’t matter. This movie is about zombies, and lots of ‘em.

In fact, the writers were so clueless as to how to proceed that they introduce extraneous side characters as motivation only to kill them off shortly after. Take the brilliant scientist, for example, mankind’s best hope for finding a cure. He works as the catalyst to Gerry’s adventure, as he has to accompany him on his search, but the writers have no plan for him and instead opt to have him freak out at the first sight of a zombie, trip, fall and accidentally shoot himself in the head. This is the mark of poor screenwriting. No decision is organic and all motivations are manufactured in an attempt to make way for the action. Frankly, the movie gives no reason to care, which seems to correlate with the actors actually in the movie. Grave lines like “What do you mean we’ve lost Boston?” are delivered with the same intensity one has when asking what’s for dinner and the acting is generally sluggish, even from Pitt, who can’t even sigh convincingly here, despite a string of solid performances in his previous work.

As a popcorn movie for those who don’t necessarily care about quality and just want to turn their brains off, I suppose “World War Z” will fill their needs, but it doesn’t change the fact that it defecates on the zombie subgenre to an insulting degree. Zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” explored themes of racism and bourgeois culture. “World War Z” explores nothing. Television shows like “The Walking Dead” (and its video game equivalent from Telltale Games) craft wonderful, human stories about people trying to hold onto their humanity even as the world falls apart around them. “World War Z” has zombies crawling on each other to jump over a giant wall. Even the film’s source material, a book written by Max Brooks, was smart enough to tell its story through firsthand recounts from survivors of the event, allowing them to describe their own experiences and giving the zombie nightmare a human angle. The movie, quite simply, doesn’t get it. While other zombie media understands the possibilities the subgenre can offer, “World War Z” spits on it.

Even its ending, which was reshot to replace what was apparently an even worse ending, is anti-climactic and unfulfilling, though it does take a quick second to put in one of the most egregious product placements I’ve ever seen in any movie. At the end of the day, even the technical construction of the film is lousy. The camerawork is overly shaky and the cinematography is so dark, it’s sometimes tough to see what’s going on. When you actually can see, the edits come at such a furious pace—partially due to its restricting PG13 rating and partially due to its desire to manufacture excitement—that it effectively obscures it. “World War Z” had a ton of problems during its production and those issues shine through in the final product. It's an absolute disaster.

World War Z receives 1/5

Friday
Nov302012

Killing Them Softly

At first glance, Killing Them Softly looks like a typical gangster movie; big scary guys played by typecast actors like James Gandolfini run around with guns murdering those that have wronged them. Although some of the greatest movies of all time have followed that formula, to write this off as something so simplistic would be a disservice to what it actually is: a satire. Killing Them Softly isn’t always successful in what it’s trying to say, or even clear, but it’s always interesting. Even if you can’t decipher the meaning behind it, of which there will be wildly different analyses, the story is interesting enough to keep you entertained throughout its surprisingly short 97 minute runtime.

Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) is a local mob man. He runs an underground gambling ring where many of the area’s heaviest hitters gather together to put their money on the line. With so much money floating around, however, it’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to stick them up. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) decide to do just that, hoping Markie will take the fall for one of his earlier transgressions. The local criminal organizations who take part in this game are obviously unhappy about what happened and employ Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the culprits and take them out.

Where the satire comes in is its setting: 2008, during the McCain/Obama elections when the economy collapsed and the country found itself in a dire situation. In lieu of ambient music to heighten tension, many of the film’s scenes are punctuated with radio stations and television screens lingering on political pundits and speeches that are emphasizing the new financial panic we found ourselves in and how they wouldn’t let the prosperity of the few hurt the majority, all while robberies and murders of monetary purposes take place right in front of us. While the correlation between the real world economy and the fictional onscreen criminal economy are obvious, the emphasis behind it isn’t. If the film is trying to make a direct comparison between the two, it’s diluted with a skewed focus. After all, when our economy collapsed, it was the guilty stealing from the innocent, which resulted in vast numbers of people losing the majority, or all, of their lifetime savings. In the movie, it’s the guilty stealing from the guilty, which isn’t quite the same.

Yet I feel like the correlation is deeper than that. Speeches about how we need to take action to protect our economy play in the background as the gangsters in the film attempt to do the same to their own, but the gangsters aren’t necessarily protecting the overall flow of money. They’re more worried about their own well-being and their actions are motivated by personal gain. In 2008, when one of the most important elections our nation has ever had was on the horizon, the financial collapse led to presidential talking points, to agenda pushing, all so someone could become the next President of the United States. The film isn’t necessarily saying McCain and Obama didn’t mean well—both clearly wanted what they thought was best for this country—it’s just pointing out that their actions weren’t without selfish reasons.

All of this coming from a seemingly simple gangster movie is incredible to think about. Never before has there been such an effective mobster satire, if only because mobster satires are few and far between, though that no less diminishes the care put behind it. Killing Them Softly is both exciting and darkly humorous. It sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard to get you to root for certain characters—Jackie is as likable of a murdering gangster as you could possibly create, who even insists on tipping his waitress at a local coffee shop to help her get by during such hard times, but he’s hardly someone to root for—and a feeling of cynicism pervades its entirety (when one character calls Jackie “a cynical bastard,” you can’t help but feel like he’s personifying the movie itself through the character), but it’s that cynicism that gives the film its edge. Perhaps it’s Jackie’s final monologue that hits the hardest, as he discusses how even the most noblest of acts throughout history have been about greed and power: “America is a business,” he says, “now give me my fucking money.”

Killing Them Softly receives 4/5

Friday
Nov182011

Happy Feet Two

The original Happy Feet is a movie that people will forever watch and wonder why it received as much praise as it did. While certainly not a bad movie, the title of “Best Animated Feature” seems a bit of a stretch. But one need only look at its competition from 2006’s Oscar season (Cars and Monster House) to realize it was merely the best of what appeared to be a disappointing year for animation. Those why say Happy Feet Two is better or worse than the original are fooling themselves. It’s just as charming, energetic, fluffy and, ultimately, forgettable.

Mumble (Elijah Wood), the poor penguin from the first film who was constantly harassed for his inability to sing and willingness to dance instead, has now been accepted into the pack. His heroic efforts from his last adventure did not go unnoticed, but his odd genetics have now produced a baby penguin named Erik (Ava Acres) who is just as awkward and clumsy and is, like his father back in the day, being ridiculed by those around him. In his dismay, he runs off and meets a flying penguin named The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) who tells him anything is possible if he puts his mind to it. Eventually, Mumble finds him, but a terrible surface collapse back home has left the rest of his penguin herd stranded with no escape. Now they must combine their talents and save those they love before it’s too late.

Happy Feet Two begins with a flurry of popular songs, a medley that includes “Mama Said Knock You Out” and a cleaned up version of “SexyBack.” Right out of the gate, it bursts with vivacious, catchy, toe tapping fun. It’s a high energy the movie unfortunately isn’t able to maintain thanks to unimpressive original numbers and laughable plot turns, but they say first impressions mean everything and this thing grabs you from the get go.

This sequel follows the same trajectory of the original and utilizes the same basic narrative mechanics. The first film was about expressing yourself and using your God given talents to help others any way you can. The second is about, well, exactly the same thing. The cute little Mumble is now replaced by the cute little Erik. The first had the penguins facing starvation from a lack of fish. The second has them facing it again, though this time it’s because they’re stranded rather than due to human fishing. Also, as with the original, the penguins enlist the help of the humans to rescue them from their dire situation.

Happy Feet Two doesn’t even attempt to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but it’s easy to see why. That film made the viewer feel warm inside, despite whatever faults it may have had. It was a crowd pleaser that was guaranteed to leave a smile on family members young and old who went to see it. Why change the formula? Still, it’s this rigid hold on the original’s structure that keeps it from taking off and its faults are the same. The live action footage once again doesn’t symphonize with the colorful and vibrant animation—the dreary look of those scenes takes away from the beautiful look of the rest of the movie—and the one-with-the-animals mindset is silly at best, especially when you consider the laughable musical connection between the humans and penguins.

Where the sequel differs the most from its predecessor is in its B story. Whereas the original focused almost entirely on Mumble, Happy Feet Two constantly moves to other territories, interjecting footage of two krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). Their journey together to the top of the food chain is hands down the funniest and most delightful aspect of the entire film. It’s extremely clever and the dialogue is spoken with comedic vigor and spot-on timing, though it’s more or less inconsequential to the main narrative. The two stories cross paths, but are only connected by the flimsiest of means. It’s such a shame because both tales, though still entertaining apart, would have stood side by side in harmony. Still, Happy Feet Two is entertaining and it will teach kids in the audience to believe in themselves. This may not be a truly great movie, but that has to count for something.

Happy Feet Two receives 3.5/5

Friday
Sep232011

Moneyball

A couple weeks ago, we were treated to Warrior, a sports drama that broke the mold of a typical sports drama and became something more. Hot on its heels is this week’s Moneyball, a movie that, similarly, hopes to break new ground in the genre by focusing more on what goes on behind the scenes rather than on the field. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of last year’s best picture, The Social Network, directed by Bennett Miller, director of Capote, framed by Wally Pfister, cinematographer of The Dark Knight, and it features a terrific cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Its resume is second to none and although it’s a technically sound film, it nevertheless tells an inconsequential story, one that will likely have people asking when it’s over: that’s it?

Moneyball tells the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager for the Oakland Athletics, when he attempted to wrangle up a championship team despite a tiny budget during the 2002 baseball season. To do so, he enlisted the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an Ivy League graduate who explained to him that the owners of Major League Baseball teams are trying to buy players when they should be buying wins. He believes there are undervalued players out there that are overlooked because of trivial matters like body type or play style. He thinks, despite a lack of money, they can find 25 men worthy of calling themselves a ball club.

Moneyball can be viewed a number of different ways, though none of them are particularly interesting. One way can be as a traditional sports story about defying expectations—after all, this ragtag group of players ended up setting the record for most consecutive wins in a single season—but defying expectations meant making it to the playoffs, where the team lost in the first round, making a movie adaptation about them questionable. Another way would be as a story about a man who changed the way the game was played, or, more specifically, how managers recruited players, but that’s a tidbit that is interesting as a footnote in a sports book, not as a full length feature film. You could also see it as a film about a man overcoming his emotional struggles, but even that proves to be uninteresting because his struggle stems solely from baseball. They don’t come from a meaningful outside factor like in the aforementioned Warrior; they come from not winning games, which is hardly a struggle at all.

The best sports dramas aren’t about the sport, they’re about something else. Remember the Titans, for example, was about a social divide brought on from racism. The Express similarly dealt with race relations, chronicling the story of the first African American Heisman Trophy winner, an accomplishment that meant more than the sport itself. Moneyball is simply about baseball, that’s it. While not necessarily a bad thing, its insignificance can’t help but show through when compared to other films in the genre.

There needed to be a reason to care about Billy and his team, but none is ever presented. He’s a divorcé, a situation ripe for emotional turmoil, but only one scene exists between him and his ex-wife and, as far as the viewer can tell, their post-marriage relationship is fine. He too has a good relationship with his daughter, shown through scenes that prove to be the only gripping moments away from baseball. In his family life, nothing seems to be eating away at him. The film tries to create a connection between his desperate need for success by tying it in with flashbacks from his failed professional career, seemingly wanting to make up for the fact that he never lived up to expectations as a player, but again, it’s not fleshed out enough and the connection gradually diminishes until there’s nothing left.

Moneyball is a baseball lover’s movie. If you don’t know what an RBI is or are uninterested in the player trading process or don’t care about the likelihood of a player getting a hit based on the pitches he swings at, this movie may not be for you. Because the process used to recruit the players is based on an old algorithm, there is a lot of statistical talk, which many will find dry and boring. I played baseball as a kid and watch it today, so I found it somewhat interesting, but these talks are as deep as this movie gets, which is a problem considering its pretentiousness in thinking it is so much more. It’s still worth seeing because of the great performances, top notch cinematography and gripping dialogue, but it’s simply too shallow to make an impression.

Moneyball receives 2.5/5

Friday
Nov052010

Megamind

DreamWorks Animation is one of the most hit-and-miss production studios in Hollywood. When you sit down for one of their movies, you never know whether you’re going to get garbage or quality. Sometimes you’ll get a fun, funny, smart adventure like Shrek or Monsters vs. Aliens and other times you’ll get a vapid, deadening nothing of a film like Bee Movie or Madagascar. Their last effort, How to Train Your Dragon, was more like the former. It was their best and most mature film to date and it had many critics believing that Pixar now had some serious competition in DreamWorks. Those critics may be changing their tune after Megamind.

The movie begins as an homage to (or a rip-off of—I can’t decide which) Superman: The Movie. Megamind’s (Will Ferrell) planet is crumbling and his parents have decided to blast him off towards Earth before they all perish. However, a family on a neighboring planet has done the same thing with their child, a kid who will grow up to be known as Metro Man (Brad Pitt). To Megamind, it seemed like he was always destined for evil. Whereas Metro Man landed at the front steps of a wealthy, classy family, he landed in the middle of the Metro City jail and learned how to be bad. Now he has a rivalry with Metro Man and is determined to defeat him no matter what.

Megamind is a more comedic version of Superman in animated form. It makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s borrowing liberally from that storied franchise, complete with the beautiful Lois Lane like reporter named Roxanne (Tina Fey), who has been kidnapped by Megamind more times than she can count. They even make Metro Man a Christ-like figure, a comparison made subtly in Superman, but harshly brought forward here by giving him the ability to walk on water.

Oddly enough, this is the stuff that works best. The spoof aspect of superhero tropes and traditions is well thought out and quite funny. The knowing references to the witty banter that occurs between a hero and his arch-nemesis during battle are clever, but there’s simply not enough of it.

What the rest of the film resorts to are worn down slapstick gags and idiotic one-liners that I imagine will appeal mostly to the younger ones in the audience. The voice talent is wasted with this silly material and they do little to make the experience worthwhile, with the exception of one particularly funny bit where Will Ferrell mimics Marlon Brando. The rest of the time, he’s mispronouncing words for no apparent reason and raising his voice so we are aware that it is indeed him.

In fact, the funniest parts of the movie are the sight gags, like an Obama-esque poster of Megamind as he rules over the city that says “No You Can’t” and a quick nod towards the original Donkey Kong game, which is a testament to the talented animators at DreamWorks. The problem with this movie is not the animation. It’s the lack of creativity and bland writing. That was the case for many of DreamWorks Animation's previous movies. Such is the case with Megamind.

Compared to How to Train Your Dragon or pretty much any Pixar movie, Megamind is weak. Whereas those movies reached out to the adults, this one is for the kids. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how few choices there are for children at the movies these days, it’s also what keeps it from reaching its full potential. The basic messages about good and evil and learning from your mistakes are noble, but they offer nothing adults don’t already know. Although I don’t judge movies on whether or not they’ll work for their intended audience, I suspect Megamind will, but it didn’t for me.

Megamind receives 1.5/5