Friday, June 21, 2013
Although based on Max Brooks’ apocalyptic novel, this epic zombie picture most closely resembles Danny Boyle’s jarring 2002 shocker 28 DAYS LATER. Whereas the earlier film began in the eerily quiet aftermath of an infection that turned the populace of Great Britain into rabid, swarming monsters, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof waste no time plunging us into the midst of a citywide panic at the onset of what we learn is a global epidemic. Ex-United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) escapes an overrun Philadelphia with wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters thanks to a helicopter extraction care of former boss Thierry (Fana Mokoena). His family’s shelter on an aircraft carrier is conditioned, however, upon Gerry returning to fieldwork to locate the source of the plague and, accompanied by scientist Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel) and a squad of soldiers, to find a cure. Gerry first arrives at a desolate and decimated military base in South Korea, only to find all the infected bodies burned. Former CIA operative (David Morse) suggests they travel to Israel where senior Mossad agent Jurgen Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken) oversees security for the heavily fortressed country by retaining the undead masses outside its towering walls. There Gerry learns that the best hope for a vaccine may lie at a World Health Organization laboratory in Wales, which leads him onto one of the most harrowing commercial flights committed to film. Director Marc Forster sets a relentless pace, deftly handles both the large- and small-scale action, and elicits a surprisingly grounded performance from Pitt. With their willingness to kill off characters indiscriminately and dispassionately, the filmmakers maintain an air of dread seldom experienced in big studio summer fare. The film’s tense final sequence upends expectations further. Our hero achieves success, such as it is, not through weapons proficiency in an absurd shooting gallery video game, but through courage and willing sacrifice for a greater good – qualities too rarely on view in the movies these days.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Sarah Polley (best known for performances in the ebullient GO and the devastating THE SWEET HEREAFTER) has evolved into a filmmaker of exceptional merit. AWAY FROM HER, her sensitive adaptation of Alice Munroe’s short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” earned her an Oscar® nomination, and her tender direction helped earn Julie Christie the same. In her new film the writer/director turns documentarian and aims the camera at her own family (and sometimes herself) to explore through collective memory the life of her vivacious mother, Diane, who died in 1990 when Polley was 11 years old. For this project she enlists father Michael, brothers John and Mark, sisters Susy and Joanna, and several family friends and colleagues, some under mild duress, to tell from beginning to end their story of Diane. With these storytellers’ recollections, Polley combines archival footage, seamless reenactments, and written narration recited by Michael, at times punctuated by her request for a line redo, to create an idiosyncratic and deeply personal story. By definition a documentary is factual and objective, but in practice the documenter’s point-of-view prevents true objectivity. Polley is a shrewd enough filmmaker to use this unconventional approach to underscore the elusiveness of objective fact, and gives each story, even those that seem to contradict, equal credence. In a pivotal sequence she shows the danger of presupposition by revealing how one direct investigation leads to a dead end, while a tangential one bears unexpected fruit. Wryly referring to her interview style as an interrogation, Polley is not afraid to ruffle feathers. But her persistence pays off with funny, bracing candor from many of her subjects, particularly the touching Michael. By and large Polley avoids the precious, a real danger inherent in material this close. Instead she transcends the personal and finds the universal. Her film reminds us that our lives are but stories we construct, through memory and action. In some lives we play major roles; in others mere bit parts. And sometimes we must allow our story to change in order to discover who we truly are.