Lots to get through this week, including the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron comedy Dirty Grandpa, Oscar-nominated financial comedy The Big Short, Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton in Our Brand Is Crisis, Feng Xiaogang in mainland gangster drama Mr. Six and Japanese musical shenanigans in La La La At Rock Bottom.
On this week’s show I struggle not to dismiss two big-name offerings outright. Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, and By The Sea, from Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, are both unlikely to find much of an audience, but that’s not to say they are wholly without merit.
Plagued with problems every step of the way, running vastly overbudget, scraping and totally reshooting the entire third act, losing its core fanbase by largely disgarding Max Brooks’ source novel – it seemed World War Z was destined for failure. But then it came out, and actually it is pretty decent.
Brad Pitt cuts a reliably heroic figure as the former UN agent called back into the fray when a zombie holocaust quickly and violently engulfs the entire world. He jets from the US to South Korea, on to Jerusalem, before finally ending up in a remote WHO facility in Wales.
Sure it’s not perfect, and it’s pretty obvious to see where the film has been rewritten, but the fact that Marc Forster and Paramount Pictures were able to put together something anything close to as entertaining, visceral and engrossing as this should be commended.
Do we really need another Zombie movie? No, of course not. Which makes you wonder what World War Z, the blockbuster zombie action flick starring Brad Pitt could offer us, especially given the well documented troubles this film has had in the process of moving from screenplay to final release.
The answer is – quite a bit. Pitt plays a retired UN investigator, Gerry Lane who quite literally, stumbles upon the Zombie apocalypse. He is soon re-enlisted, in a global special operations chase to try and find some answers as to what caused the said apocalypse and hopefully, how to stop it.
For the first two acts, this is a fast paced, startling take on this familiar genre. The Zombies are nimble, ferocious and move in an alarming way, a blending the relentless of ants, the swarming tendencies of crabs and the ferocity of predatory cats.
Yet, for all this, the story hinges far too much on a singular hero. It’s as if Brad Pitt has been cast as Tom Cruise. World War Z doesn’t so much end, as give up. I guess the film makers tried to leave room for a sequel. More zombies – what joy.
The Tree of Life is a film with some seriously big ideas. Only the fifth offering from one of American Cinema’s most highly regarded auteurs, Terrence Malick’s latest continues his close examination of Man’s turbulent relationship with Nature, while also betraying growing concerns of mortality and his own role within the universe. The Tree of Life was awarded the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and while some critics argue that the film falls short of representing the director’s best work, there is no denying its overwhelming visual power, which has drawn welcome comparisons to Noe’s Enter the Void and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Viewers looking to catch “the new Brad Pitt film” take heed, as The Tree of Life is a meditation, a visual poem if you will, on the nature of God’s Will and where human beings fit into the Almighty’s Grand Design. Eschewing traditional narrative structure, the film follows Jack (Sean Penn), a middle-aged businessman still struggling with the untimely death of his younger brother many years earlier and we hear his prayers, together with those of his mother and younger self, as he asks God for an explanation. Jack scours his memory for happier moments from his childhood, but not before Malick has treated us to a bravura sequence detailing the creation of the Earth and evolution of the species, from the Big Bang, through the Jurassic period right up to Jack’s birth.
Jack’s parents, played by a never-better Brad Pitt and the almost saintly Jessica Chastain, represent the opposing life paths of Nature and Grace. Pitt is the determined, driven, yet ultimately unsuccessful breadwinner, who struggles to raise his three sons to be strong, independent individuals. He is domineering and abusive, causing the young Jack (impressively portrayed by Hunter McCracken) to fear him but also to lash out in bursts of adolescent defiance and rebellion. Jack repeatedly compares this relationship with God’s role as patriarch and life-giver, only to become increasingly frustrated by the contradictions and lack of answers he encounters. Jack’s mother, on the other hand, is an innocent free spirit, looking only to shower love upon her children and the world around her. While Jack’s love for his mother is strong, he spies a weakness within her, a realization that troubles him even further.
Those needing a rigid three-act structure and clearly defined character arcs will be frustrated by Malick’s loose and cyclical approach, while his theological rhetoric does at times feel naïve, repetitive and cloying. However, the film’s narrative weaknesses are more than compensated for by the audio-visual extravaganza that is the heart and soul of THE TREE OF LIFE. If you are willing to surrender to Malick’s Will, the film is a work of resonant ethereal beauty that will haunt you for days afterwards and the big screen is the only way to fully appreciate this singular cinematic poet at work. Just sit back and let it wash over you.