Sunday, July 07, 2013

BuboBlog Summer Movie Recap

(We're staying with family in Atlanta this week, which has allowed us to see two movies at the theater — a rare feat when we're in New York. Here are the capsule reviews.)

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Director J.J. Abrams has settled into a nice groove with his rebooted series, and this film is easily among the top four or five films of the entire Star Trek oeuvre. The actors are comfortable in the roles, successfully paying homage to the original portrayals of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Sulu and Ohura without doing imitations. There are moments of humor throughout, and yet the tension ratchets up relentlessly until the final showdown — where, once again, the safety of San Francisco is threatened. (More on that in a future post.)

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Khan, made no attempt to mimic Ricardo Montalban and that's probably for the best (even though it's safe to say we missed the man-cleavage). And like the first Abrams Star Trek movie, it doled out plenty of goodies to die-hard Trekkers — especially connoisseurs of "The Wrath of Khan," which this film serves as a companion piece to — while still being entirely accessible to non-fans, such as my wife. It also felt extremely topical in its confrontation of terrorism and the risks of losing our idealism in combating it. If Abrams can nail the "Star Wars" films this well, we're in for a treat. BuboBlog Rating: 4 asterisks (out of 4).

WORLD WAR Z: This was one of those times where I wished we hadn't paid for the 3-D. I'm not much of a zombie enthusiast to begin with, and I didn't relish the idea of the undead lurching at me in more than two dimensions. But while "World War Z" definitely delivers its share of scares, it attempts to do something most zombie films shy away from: giving the global perspective. "28 Days Later..." also had a virus-creates-zombies conceit and creatures that moved at similarly disturbing speeds. But in that movie, the characters had little to no knowledge of the outside world. Here, you have Brad Pitt's character in regular contact with the deputy undersecretary of the United Nations! (Apparently in this film's version of Earth, that position carries some actual influence.)

The finale of "World War Z" was famously reshot to eliminate a "Rambo versus the undead" showdown. Instead, the film has a less dramatic climax inside a zombie-infected World Health Organization lab (basically, the most dysfunctional office you can imagine). I think it worked, but it's unusual for an action film to have these amazing set pieces — especially a sequence set in Jerusalem — and then finish with something more low-key. The last James Bond film, "Skyfall," did something similar: Bond battles Javier Bardem's Silva character in a globetrotting trail of destruction, and then winds up in a rustic Scottish estate where the only lives at stake are their own. Maybe this is a trend.

The most remarkable thing about "World War Z" may be how assiduously it avoided product-placement deals. There's one scene where Pitt is fighting the zombies and stops to drink a soda. The beverage appears to be extremely refreshing, so I was surprised not to see a brand name on it. Considering that "Man of Steel" made $160 million from product placement, you have to wonder how much money was left on the table here. BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).