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Movies: 'World War Z,' 'Monsters University' & 'Before Midnight'

Updated 6:01 pm, Friday, June 28, 2013
  • Brad Pitt stars in the new zombie invasion movie, "World War Z," now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    Brad Pitt stars in the new zombie invasion movie, "World War Z," now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"WORLD WAR Z"

If it weren't propelled by Brad Pitt's star power, this would be just another apocalyptic, sci-fi zombie thriller with some massive, starkly memorable special effects.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a heroic UN troubleshooter who saves the planet from a global zombie pandemic. Not that he really wants to. He'd rather stay home with his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters (Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove).

But when ravenous zombies attack, turning Philadelphia and other cities into urban disasters and collapsing our entire social structure, the only way the U.S. military will shelter his family on an aircraft carrier 200 miles off the East Coast is for Gerry to accompany a Harvard epidemiologist (Elyes Gabel) to South Korea, where the virus may have originated.

When that mission fails, Gerry teams up with an Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) as his quest for the cure takes him to the spectacular siege of walled-in Jerusalem, then to a World Health Organization lab in Cardiff, Wales.

Loosely based on a 2006 novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel and Anne Bancroft), scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, J. Michael Straczynski and Damon Lindelof, sequentially, it's directed by Marc Foster ("Monster's Ball," "Quantum of Solace," "Finding Neverland").

Reportedly costing $250 million, it's driven by an aura of dread and urgency, and distinguished by its effective chase sequences and CGI zombification of the world. These undead run, jump, leap, snarl and gnash their teeth -- but they don't really devour anything.

FYI: In movies, zombies metaphorically embodying cultural unease dates back to Bela Lugosi's "White Zombie" (1932) and was popularized as a genre by George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). Dismissing character development, Pitt does the generic "noble white man saves the world" bit, even with a 2-foot metal prong bisecting his torso, while Enos nervously clutches a cellphone and hugs the children, including a youngster (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido) they rescued.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "World War Z" is a choppy, stilted, somewhat scary, survivalist 6. As for 3D, don't bother.

"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY"

When "Monsters Inc." (2001) teamed Billy Crystal with John Goodman, Disney/Pixar knew it had a winner. Now they're together again in this generic prequel, showing the early days when Mike (Crystal) and Sully (Goodman) met at college. While "Monsters Inc." was Sully's story, this is more about Mike.

When Mike Wazowski was very young he encountered his first Scarer on a school field trip to the Monsters Inc. factory and vowed to be one of the world's greatest Scarers when he grew up. But when Mike enters Monsters University, he comes up against mighty James "Sully" Sullivan, the cocky, slacker scion of a legendary line of Scarers.

When their competitive antics get out of control, they're both expelled from the Scaring program by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). To redeem themselves, they overcome their self-destructive rivalry and assemble a ragtag band of other outcasts from the Oozma Kappa fraternity to work together and gain acceptance at the annual "Scare Games," in which sororities and fraternities compete to see who is best at frightening children.

While their cinematic chemistry still works, it's a formulaic, completely predictable, slobs vs. snobs buddy film. Written by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and director Dan Scanlon, it doesn't come anywhere near scaling the bold, imaginative narrative and visual heights of Pixar Animation's "Toy Story," "Wall-E" or "Ratatouille." Nevertheless, it's an entertaining summer diversion, introducing crazy Art (Charlie Day) two-headed Terri (Sean Hayes)/Terry (Dave Foley), cute Squishy Squibbles (Peter Sohn) and his ever-present frathouse mother (Julia Sweeney). Plus there's young, nerdy Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) and Don Carlton (Joel Murray), a middle-aged salesman who evokes memories of Chris Farley's "Saturday Night Live" motivational speaker.

As always, Randy Newman's musical score is filled with memorable tunes. And attached to the feature is Saschka Unseld's exquisite, engaging short, "The Blue Umbrella," about a blue male bumbershoot enamored with a red female one.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Monsters University" is a stunning, if simplistic 7, an amusing comedy that emphasizes teamwork and the value of friendship.

"BEFORE MIDNIGHT"

This third chapter in Richard Linklater's emotionally vibrant examination of a constantly evolving romantic relationship follows "Before Sunrise" (1995), in which an American novelist, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), met a spunky Frenchwoman, Celine (Julie Delpy), on a train, and "Before Sunset" (2004), in which the star-crossed lovers reunited a decade later.

Nine years later, Jesse and Celine are now in their 40s, living together in Paris. Jesse is seeing his adolescent son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off at Kalamata Airport in Greece, returning him to his hostile ex-wife in Chicago after summer vacation with Jesse, Celine and their twin daughters. After dropping the girls off with friends, Jesse and Celine spend what's supposed to be an idyllic, festive night at a picturesque seaside hotel in Messinia. But a marital crisis erupts. Jesse feels guilty that he can't spend more time with Hank -- but that would involve moving back to the United States -- and Celine, an environmental activist, has been offered an exciting, career-changing opportunity. They're both feeling the pressures not only of family but also of work. Add to that, the inevitable challenges, resentments and disappointments of raising children and facing middle age.

As with the first two installments, this is about two fully developed characters talking with one another, communicating their deepest feelings and frustrations. Written by director Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it rings painfully true, particularly since Jesse and Celine, while not making a commitment to marriage, have, nevertheless, taken on added responsibilities which curtail their creativity and their freedom. And make no mistake -- the teasing, taunting dialogue is carefully scripted, not improvised, and delivered with impeccably naturalistic timing in long, uncut takes.

FYI: While they're good friends/collaborating partners, Delpy has been in a relationship with composer Marc Streitenfeld since 2007 and they have a son, while Hawke has two young children with his second wife, Ryan, and two from his first marriage to Uma Thurman.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Before Midnight" is an awesome, authentic 10 -- a definite "must see."