A choppy adaptation of Max Brooks' beloved novel of the same name, World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, aims for a putative classy, ruminative sweet spot somewhere between pandemic thrillers like Contagion and Children of Men and pulse-quickening zombie survival tales like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later and its sequel. But it ignores or fudges various geopolitical realities, and in fumbling away one of the chief strengths of its source material it morphs into just another anonymous quasi-post-apocalyptic blockbuster.
A poorly reasoned first act gives way to a number of admittedly crackling, professionally mounted set pieces largely unburdened by any necessary unification, but the degree of satisfaction with World War Z for many viewers will be inversely proportional to their familiarity with the source material — or indeed, even just a desire for intelligent complexity. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Paramount, PG-13, 116 minutes)
Fleshing out their unreleased 2007 short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, multi-hyphenate Seth Rogen and co-producer Jay Baruchel delve into end times with the winning, unabashedly vulgar This Is the End, in which a bunch of comedic Hollywood actors, playing themselves, cope with panic and paranoia while Armageddon unfolds outside around them. Befitting the backslapping nature of its casting, there are inside jokes and side-winding conversational riffs aplenty, but Rogen and his cowriter-director, Evan Goldberg, honor the conceit in all its zonked-out glory, studding their movie with slapstick gore, eccentric supernaturalism, some skewering of disaster and horror movie conventions, and lots of smart digs at particularly masculine vanity and insecurity.
While a lot of the humor in This Is the End trades in baser instincts (there are drugs, projectile vomiting and even point-of-view footage from a decapitated head, and an array of phalluses also make appearances, including the largest glimpsed onscreen since Watchmen), all the irreverent bickering and lashing out leads to some terrifically funny bits. And the movie gets in enough shots at horror films and the recent glut of siege tales to partially qualify as genre parody. Mostly, though, This Is the End is a relationship picture, with an improbably sincere ribbon of fraternal feeling and uplift. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Sony, R, 106 minutes)
Hardcore fans of Dancing With the Stars may find ancillary enjoyment and reward in the nonfiction offering Kumpania, which just enjoyed a Los Angeles premiere at the 16th annual Dances With Films. A concise documentary look at flamenco dancing and music, director Katina Dunn's movie is a subcultural curio invested with much depth of feeling. Those with a predetermined investment in its rhythms will want to get up and dance along. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Piece O' Work Productions, unrated, 61 minutes)
As an avowed, no-nonsense peddler of cinematic excess, director Michael Bay would in some respects seem to be the ideal candidate to bring to the big screen the deliciously weird and over-the-top true crime story at the center of Pain & Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson. Unfortunately this down-and-dirty air-quote character piece, a florid and casually misogynistic action dramedy that marks Bay's least expensive production since his debut film, comes unglued early on, and then spends two hours-plus thrashing about wildly, to only middling effect. Madly trading off rambling voiceover narration from character to character, like a relay race baton, Pain & Gain takes the tale of a group of brutal yet idiotic criminals and twists it into a series of hyper-masculine poses masquerading as some sort of statement on the new American dream. It's like Bottle Rocket by way of Savages, but not really in a good or interesting way. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Paramount, R, 129 minutes)