On Movies: Good summer choices in zombies and Shakespeare | St. Louis Public Radio

On Movies: Good summer choices in zombies and Shakespeare

Jun 21, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: ‘World War Z’ Traditionally, or at least since George Romero's seminal 1968 horror flick "Night of the Living Dead," zombies have been depicted as relentless but ungainly, sluggish creatures. The tradition of slow-moving zombies has persisted well into this century -- the long-running cable television series about zombies, after all, is called "The Walking Dead," not "The Running Dead."

Well, there's nothing slow about the zombies in the bracing new thrill-ride called "World War Z." These zombies are faster than Google.

Ravenous, they speed like the wind in pursuit of their hapless victims, chomping their virus-laden teeth on human flesh like starving Gila monsters. Once bitten, the victim's body arches in agony for 12 seconds. Then what once was a man or a woman or a child leaps up and joins the chase -- that's how fast the virus turns victim into zombie. These creatures seem to be unstoppable -- at least, by anyone but Brad Pitt and a handful of Navy Seals. And we're not even sure about the Seals.

"World War Z" begins with a montage of the effects of human tenancy upon the earth -- overpopulation, pollution, the destruction of the environment, virulence, dead beached dolphins-- and then, having made its point, turns into an adrenaline-pumping thriller without a lot of message. At its most intense moments, when zombies by the dozens, by the hundreds, and eventually by the thousands are attacking United Nations troubleshooter Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his compatriots, "World War Z" had me on the edge of my seat.

The action gets underway in Philadelphia with a family outing that turns into a zombie-spawned nightmare. Lane thinks he has retired to his family -- a wife and two young daughters -- when the call comes to return to the United Nations, and pretty soon he and the family are being plucked by a military helicopter off the roof of a housing project in Newark with the hands of zombies reaching for upward for them. It's like a recreation of the fall of Saigon.

They are taken to a fleet of ships 200 miles off the coast of the United States, where desperate men and women plan a fight against the countless millions -- billions? -- of zombies who have taken over most of the cities of the world. Lane's mission, as it evolves, is to pinpoint where the zombie infestation began so scientists can figure out how to stop it.

He leaves his family on a ship and proceeds to Korea, to Israel, and to Wales, finding zombies everywhere. When, with the help of a yappy dog, he discovers a plague of slavering zombies -- or "zekes," as the Seals call them -- on a plane in mid-air, he hurls a grenade into their midst, blowing an enormous hole in the fuselage. Everything and everybody is sucked out of the plane except for Lane and a companion. What's left of the plane crashes to the ground. Lane and his companion survive.

Well, they did wear their seatbelts.

Fortunately, the movie speeds right past such potential plot holes and absurdities -- for example, a character inconvenient to the story trips and accidentally shoots himself in the head and is immediately forgotten. And it's hard to pay much attention to such things when you are assailed by such powerful imagery -- particularly the sight of huge mobs of bloodthirsty zombies swarming upward like giant ants on a very high wall surrounding Jerusalem.

Director Marc Forster, working from the novel by Max Brooks, seems to have learned a lesson from the tepid response he received for the sometimes turgid James Bond film "Quantum of Solace," and he emphasizes action. We see a cast of thousands -- either real or digital, it's hard to tell with the film's skillful use of computer graphics -- but by the final scenes, wisely, Forster has pared the battle down to a few.

At the end, which is very effective, tense but low-key, the focus has narrowed to Brad Pitt and one particularly toothy, skull-faced zombie. Pitt has a scheme to stop the monster from doing its worst, but will it work? The future of the human race, as they say, hangs in the balance.

What else do you want from a good summer movie? Shakespeare?


‘Much Ado About Nothing’

It's too bad Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant never did "Much Ado About Nothing." They would have been perfect for what may be Shakespeare's best comedy, the story of two sharp-tongued verbal adversaries, purportedly foes of love and marriage, who are tricked into admitting that they love one another after all.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is a quintessential screwball comedy, and Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Avengers") directs it well, with a light yet firm touch, creating one of the year's best comedies.

The film was shot quickly in and around Whedon's Malibu home, with American actors speaking Shakespeare with American accents. The plot is complex, and it takes a while for someone who hasn't seem "Much Ado About Nothing" in some years to put everything in its place. But there is never any doubt that the center of the film is occupied by the lovers-to-be: the outwardly scornful yet inwardly insecure Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and the haughty but vulnerable Beatrice (Amy Acker).  Truly, as Beatrice's young cousin Hero says,

". . .loving goes by haps:

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps."