Review: ‘World War Z’ (all of the zombies, none of the blood)

You know what the difference is between zombies in World War Z and “The Walking Dead?” Everything.

Beginning like any other day in Philadelphia, ex-UN worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) finds himself on the run with his family. The cause: an outbreak transmitted through a bite that turns a human into a rabid, frenzying carrier intent on infecting anyone and everyone it can. A fleet of ships in the Atlantic serves as a base of operation as US cities and more all over the globe are falling to the epidemic, but a handful of specialists think a cure could be had if they could find “patient zero.” With the safety of his family hanging in the balance, Gerry reluctantly accompanies a team across the globe in an effort to discover the cause and a cure, but is it already too late?

Putting the worst parts of 28 Days Later and Contagion into a blender would be a good start to describe what unfolds onscreen, but the most baffling part is the lack of actual blood. The zombie-like affliction seems to have one purpose: infect everyone, but then what? These things don’t eat so much as they infect and move on, but at the speeds they move – like cockroaches scattering when a light comes on – they can’t possibly last very long. To quote Bladerunner, “A candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” and if you suddenly turned into a sprinting, climbing infection machine running full tilt for hours on end, how long before your heart exploded? The science for the effect is pure fiction here, which hurts the overall production since the plot is driven by investigators trying to make sense out of all of it. It’s an action-thriller zombie film purged of blood, gore, and most of the drama, and yet it remains surprisingly watchable as an edge-of-your-seat, will-they-or-won’t-they-make-it summer popcorn flick.

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Review: ‘The Tree of Life’ (not for human consumption)

If I can prevent just one person from watching this, it’ll have been worth suffering through it.

After an opening sequence of scenes flashing between past and modern times, the story is interrupted by the barely audible questioning of God, something that becomes a running theme and occurs at completely random intervals throughout the film. This first instance triggers a breathtaking, Discovery Channel-worthy “Creation of the Universe” sequence (almost sixteen minutes long) complete with a shot of a beached Nessie and Darwinian evolutionary jumps (none of which seem to have anything to do with the random jumble of info provided at the opening). Following this is a montage of family film clips, extreme point-of-view shots, and dramatic orchestra music. Finally, fifty minutes in, something resembling a narrative begins at the dinner table with Big Daddy Pitt in his Waco, Texas home… no, wait, now we’re in an airplane (sigh). We learn in Sunday school that everything dies while Big Daddy Pitt says “You can’t be too good in this life, and you can’t say ‘I can’t.'” Enter the longhaired brunette schoolgirl, a drowning, Snow White in a glass coffin, and (finally!) something interesting: ‘tweenage rebellion and defiance. Sean Penn at last reappears (at the two-hour mark!) in a suit… in the desert. No, wait… back to space. People from every era of the film appear together while wandering aimlessly at the beach. There are doors, masks, sunflowers, and water… lots of life-giving, boring water. The end. No, really.

Incredible cinematography? Check. Beautiful soundtrack? Check. Narrative? You won’t find any such thing ’round these parts. There’s been little secret that Terrence Malick isn’t among my favorite directors. One of the most meaningless, wasteful films I’ve ever reviewed, The Thin Red Line, has stood as this reviewer’s all-time least recommended film. With the hype and awards for his newest creation, The Tree of Life, I had hoped that the reclusive yet inexplicably celebrated auteur might have crafted something, well, watchable. Congratulations, Mr. Malick; you’ve topped yourself and my every expectation, and The Thin Red Line must be relegated to my second least recommended film of all time.

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