Weekend Viewing Roundup and World War Z review

Hello all, hope you have a great weekend. Today is the Autumnal Equinox, that is the first day of Fall! I’m sooo lovin’ the crisp, cool air of Autumn! 😀 So did you hit the theaters this weekend? Perhaps you went to see PRISONERS, billed as the first adult drama of the Fall season. If you’ve read Ted’s review from Friday, sounds like it’s worth a watch despite the long running time of more than 2.5 hours! As for me, I’d rather rent that film later on because of that running time.

Gravity_ThumbnailI did see Gravity last week and this is my quick thought on that film:

It’s perhaps THE best 3D film I saw all year and it’s one of those films that’s best to experience on the big screen or even IMAX. I can’t review it until its US release date of October 4 but let me just say it lives up to the hype. Always nice when that happens!

HTTYD_ThumbnailI also rewatched How to Train Your Dragon, which was as much fun as the first time I saw it. This is the fourth time we watched our Blu-ray, so the re-playability value is great. It always made us regret that we didn’t get to see this on the big screen! So when the sequel comes out next year, we’ll make sure to catch it on IMAX. The flying sequences with the Night Fury a.k.a. Toothless is spectacular!

Now here’s my review of…

WORLD WAR Z

WWZ_banner On Friday night, we managed to watch the unrated version of World War Z. I had been curious about this movie for some time and I heard complaints from people the fact that the film has a PG-13 rating. Now, having seen the unrated version which shows some of the really brutal scenes, including a hand getting chopped off with blood spluttering all over, I’d think that the film would probably make less of an impact in its toned-down version. Ted has posted his full review a few months ago so I’m not going to rehash the plot again. Besides, all you need to know is that a virus has somehow turned a large population of the world into the undead and it’s quickly spreading as every person who got bitten immediately turns into a flesh-eating zombie! Now, as a non-fan of the Zombie sub-genre, I wasn’t too keen on this film initially. But the more I read about it, including the numerous production issues and multiple rewrites, I’m curious how this film would turn out. Well, I actually quite like this one. I think the scale of just how catastrophic the zombie attacks are, devouring major cities in a matter of minutes, is pretty well-done. The personal story of Brad Pitt‘s character and his family isn’t as compelling as I had thought, and I agree with Ted that Mireille Enos‘ role who seemed intriguing at first ended up being nothing more than just the worried wife as her husband is out saving the world. WWZ_stills The film also has a pretty strong third act at a W.H.O. facility, which gives us a nice break from the herd of zombies as a small band of human survivors try to outsmart remaining zombies in a deserting wing of the UN building. Interesting to see Scottish actor Peter Capaldi as “W.H.O. Doctor.” As you know, a couple of months after the film’s release, the BBC announced he would be portraying the title role in Doctor Who. Pretty uncanny, huh? [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text below to read] One of the gripes I have with the movie is regarding the demise of the young virologist Andrew Fassbach who’s on mission to South Korea to find the source of the zombie outbreak. I mean seriously, with all of those zombies all around him, he actually perished when he tripped on the plane’s rear door and accidentally shot himself!! Unbelievable! Is this one of those last-minute rewrites that they didn’t even bother to figure out a decent way to go for the doctor?? I thought that was pretty lame that it took me out of the movie for a bit. Anybody else bothered by that?? I also heard that this finale is a result of one of those rewrites, which gives the audience a more hopeful ending. My impression is that the finale is a bit too good to be true, but I guess it’s got a perfect set up for a sequel. Props for Marc Forster for delivering an action-packed zombie thriller that’s both thrilling and suspenseful. Instead of a typical monster horror flick, World War Z is more in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion which also deals with an infectious disease that spreads quickly. I think the scariest part is that those two films make me think that this kind of calamity is perhaps not so implausible. Maybe we should give this CDC article a read then, you just never know, ahah.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU see this weekend?

New Releases Double Reviews: World War Z & White House Down

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WORLD WAR Z

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Based on a popular novel by Max Brooks, this big budgeted film was plagued with troubled production and ran well over its original budget, reportedly somewhere around $170-200 mil (the original budget was set around $150 mil). The film was scheduled to open last December but because of rewrites and reshoots of the film’s third act, it got delayed for six months. Now it’s ready for audiences all over the world to see. I want to mention that the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, besides the title and premise the film has nothing to do with its original source. Just thought I mention that for fans of the novel.

The film opens with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family going to some family trip. While stuck in traffic on the streets of Philadelphia, suddenly chaos broke out. If you’ve seen the countless trailers and clips, you already know what happened. The scene was pretty intense and exciting to watch. Gerry and his family was able to escape and drove all the way to New Jersey.

Later on Gerry got a call from his former colleague, Theirry Umuntoni (Fana Mokoena), he explained what has been happening all over the world and needs Gerry’s help. Gerry agreed and Theirry told him to wait somewhere overnight and in the morning he’ll send over a helicopter to pick him up. Gerry and his family found a refuge with a family who still lives in an apartment building in New Jersey. After Gerry and his family were rescued, they were flown to a ship outside of the States where the US Navy set up their command post. He found out that US President was killed and most of the government officials have either died or missing. Since Gerry has experience in working all over the world, he’s been asked by the US Navy Captain to help them find out what cause the outbreak. First he was hesitant because he didn’t want to leave his family but after the Captain told him that the only reason he and his family are on the ship was because he’s useful to them, if he doesn’t want to help, he and his family have to leave. I don’t like to give out too much plot points on my reviews so I’ll just say that for the rest of the film, Gerry went on an adventure trying to find out what cause people to turn into zombies.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but they did include sequences that were similar to some section from the book, some fans might appreciate that, I know that I did. I’m not the biggest fan of Marc Forster but I thought he did a really good job of staging some really cool action set pieces and even made me jump a few times. I thought the first half of the film was pretty great, I was involved in the story and thought it could one of the best films of the summer. Unfortunately the film’s second half was a letdown.

There were five screenwriters who were credited on this film and I blame all of them for the lackluster second half. Apparently studio folks weren’t too thrilled with the first cut that Forster had delivered to them and hired Damon Lindelof to rewrite the ending and order re-shoots. Unfortunately what he came up with was pretty lame in my opinion, of course I won’t spoil it but it’s clear they want sequels. In fact, Brad Pitt said in an interview that he wants to turn this film into a trilogy. I think had they stuck with the original ending, the film might work out better. I hope they include that original ending on Blu-ray/DVD or better yet, integrate it into the eventual director’s cut release. If you want to find out what the original was like, go and read this excellent article that chronicled the film’s troubled production.

Performance-wise, Pitt was pretty decent in the lead role. Make no mistake, this is his film. He appeared on the screen pretty much 99% of the time. Mireille Enos who played his wife had some good scenes in the first 30 minutes or so but unfortunately her role was reduced to just being the worried wife while her husband was out saving the world. The only other major character in the film was an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz, she sort of became Pitt’s sidekick throughout most of the film.

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I was a bit disappointed that they decided to make it a PG-13 zombie movie. I’m not a gore freak but I expected to see blood and some gore when it comes to film about zombies. I know that when they agreed to turn the book into a movie, it was under contract that it couldn’t be R-rated, that’s one of the reasons why they had to change the original ending. Apparently it’s too violent and the film would’ve gotten an R-rating. I understand it’s done for financial reasons but seriously, there was a scene in the film where Pitt’s character chopped another character’s hand off but we didn’t see anything because they had to cut away. Also, if you cut someone’s hand off, there would be blood everywhere! The film couldn’t show that of course. Just a minor complaint though, there were many intense scenes that worked despite its PG-13 kid friendly rating.

Even with the lackluster second half and lack of blood and gore, I still recommend it. I think some of the big spectacle sequences should be seen on the big screen and the 3D effects were pretty good. This coming from a guy who doesn’t care about 3D. Also, I thought the soundtrack was pretty great, especially the theme song by Muse.


3 out of 5 reels

WHITE HOUSE DOWN

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The second film about the White House under attack this year is now ready for audiences everywhere, the first being Olympus Has Fallen which opened back March. This one stars Channing Tatum as the reluctant hero who has to save the day and Jamie Foxx as the POTUS. The premise is pretty much the same with exception that the villains in this film were domestic terrorists while the bad guys in Olympus were foreigners. I would say White House Down really reminded me of Michael Bay’s The Rock, which was basically Die Hard at Alcatraz.

The setup for these kind of films are pretty similar, we were introduced to the main characters who will be involve in the story. There’s the hero John Cale (Channing Tatum), he’s basically a bodyguard to The Speaker of House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Then there’s the President (Jamie Foxx), head of the security in the White House Martin Walker (James Woods), secret service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) and Cale’s daughter Emily (Joey King). The story begins as Cale is taking his daughter to the tour of the White House, we learn that he and his daughter aren’t that close and she’s sort of hate his guts. So in order to impress her, he told her that he’s being interview for a position as secret service agent. You see his daughter is somehow crazy about politics and she even has her own political blog and she also loves the President.

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Once they got to the White House, Cale got call in for the interview and found out Carol will be the one who’s interviewing him for the job. Apparently the two of them had some of history back in college and she thinks of him as a loser. Of course he didn’t get the job but he lied to his daughter that he might get it. By now we get to see some of the potential bad guys have also arrived at the White House and gearing up for their attack. The group’s leader is Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). Later on, the bomb went off at the Capitol Building and Emil’s group started killing all the security people at the White House. During this attack, Cale was able to rescue the President and the film became sort of buddy action. There were lots of shoot outs, hand to hand combats and of course big explosions. If you’ve read my reviews on this site then you know I don’t like to give out plot points and you know what, the plot for these kind of films aren’t that important. You’ve seen them many times before and you just have to go along with the ride and I can tell you it’s a fun ride.

The film was directed by Roland Emmerich who seems to love to blow up Washington DC buildings in many of his films and well he did the same thing here. But unlike his other disaster spectacle films, this one was his first shoot’em up action flick since Universal Soldiers. I thought he did a great job of building up the tension and staged some really cool and fun action set pieces. There’s a big car chase that took place in front of the White House’s lawn, it’s the most ridiculous action scenes I’ve seen in a while but it’s fun nonetheless. He also understands that he’s making an action movie so he kept the tone light and not make it overly serious.

As for the actors, I thought everyone did a good job, although Foxx tried a bit too hard to imitate our real President Obama. Tatum was good as the not-so-smooth action hero, he’s more goofy than most action heroes. I was surprised Cale’s daughter played a big role in the movie and the young Joey King did a pretty good job as the know-it-all kid. I give the casting director big props for finding a young actress who actually looks like Channing Tatum. The rest of the cast did pretty well too, again thanks to Emmerich’s direction, none of them took their part too seriously.

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So how does it compare to Olympus Has Fallen? Well in my opinion this one was a much better film because it didn’t try to be more than an action summer flick. I thought Olympus took itself way too seriously, it tried too hard to be dark, edgy and violent as opposed to just being an action movie. Also, the effects in this film were much better than Olympus’, well to be fair White House Down has a bigger budget. But still Olympus’s budget was around $80mil and yet the effects in the film looked like something from the late 90s.

Of course there were some flaws in this film, I was expecting some new motivations from the villains, not the same old thing we’ve seen in the past. Even though I enjoyed the action scenes, I thought the hand to hand combats were badly-staged and the always bloodless violence sort of bug me a bit. When people get shot or blown up, there should be blood everywhere. Also, there’s a scene during the climax of the film that involved Cale’s daughter and a flag that was kind of odd and I wish they’d rewrite that sequence. I think people will either laugh out loud or just go WTF!? I think you might agree with me when you see it.

Overall I thought the film was a lot of fun and it’s one of the best action films I’ve seen in a while. If you’re a fan of Die Hard, The Rock or Olympus Has Fallen then you’ll enjoy this one.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


– Reviews by Ted S.


Have you seen either one of these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.