FEARLESSLY CRUDE FLICK THE HEAT PROVES THAT GREAT CHEMISTRY BETWEEN THE LEADS CAN MAKE AN AVERAGE COMEDY A GUTBUSTER FOR ADULT EARS

Director:  Paul Feig

Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy

Studio:  Twentieth Century Fox

Length:  1 Hr 57 Min

Rated:  R

F.B.I. agent Sara Ashburn and Boston Police Detective Shannon Mullins don’t just come from different worlds, but are polar opposites when it comes to police work as well.  Ashurn is a straight-laced, clean-cut, well-dressed example of professionalism and efficiency.  She can recite the rulebook backwards and forwards as well as highlight the achievements on her considerable resume, which she repeatedly does to the chagrin of her F.B.I. colleagues.  But socially, she’s clumsier than a drunken three-legged giraffe and her definitively awkward social skills combined with her defensive arrogance distance her from everyone around her.  She’s so lonely she regularly kidnaps her neighbour’s cat for companionship.  Mullins on the other hand, is a sloppy, crude, profane force of nature with all the subtle charm and grace of a wrecking ball on speed.  Over the course of the movie, she throws watermelons, telephone books, knives and plenty of punches and bullies both cops and crooks alike.  The only reason she’s tolerated in her precinct is because she knows the streets better than anyone and fills more jail cells than any of her co-workers.  The two even find themselves working the same case for different reasons and there’s immediate, hilarious friction between the two.  But while their polar opposite characters clash on-screen, it’s soon apparent that Bullock and McCarthy shared immediate, natural chemistry during filming and that’s what lifts The Heat from being a potentially disappointing she-buddy cop movie to a hilarious comedy for grown ups.

Special Agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is dispatched to Boston to bring down a drug lord no one’s even seen.  It’s difficult finding witnesses because anyone who’s gotten on the wrong side of the mysterious underworld figure is found a piece at a time. Ashburn is sent because she’s an expert interrogator who, in the words of her boss, “gets inside people’s heads.”  Her incentive is purely professional because the F.B.I. is dangling a promotion in front of her, promising her a sweet job if she does well.  Following a trail of suspects, she comes across a low-level drug dealer nabbed by Boston Police Detective Mullins (Melissa McCarthy).  Turns out McCarthy isn’t just possessive of Boston’s streets, but of her suspects as well and even her precinct captain avoids going near her collars.  The two become reluctant partners and soon Mullin’s family, especially her ex-con brother, find themselves in the crosshairs.

Watching McCarthy and Bullock on-screen you get the feeling that the majority of what’s coming out of their mouths was pure improv, the two actresses feeding off one another and allowing their characters to just flow out, using the script like a schematic more than anything else. The two intuitively allow the friendship between their characters to grow naturally, using their few similarities as the foundation of a bond.  Ashburn is a former foster child while Mullins has a loud, crass Boston family who hates her because she was the cop who arrested her brother.  Ashburn hasn’t had anything resembling a date in years while Mullins goes through men and one night stands like Captain Kirk goes through green alien strippers, yet she’s just as lonely as Ashburn.   Both are friendless but they share a relentless devotion to their jobs, albeit with different motives.  This makes the eventual friendship more natural, and the laughs more genuine.  Half way through the movie, you forget your watching partners arguing and start to believe your watching two sisters hurling insults at each other, and it’s all a testament to the easy relationship Bullock and McCarthy must have shared during filming.  The nightclub scene alone is nearly worth the price of admission, where Ashburn’s horrific attempts at being seductive are balanced out by Mullins’ impersonating an NFL linebacker, spewing one liners and obscenities the whole time.

Director Paul Feig is smart enough to sit back and allow his female leads plenty of slack to work their magic, and you have to think that the outtakes and deleted scenes on the home release a few months from now will be worth more than the actual movie.  The plot is pretty standard fare with few surprises, but it’s just a clothesline to hang a pair of excellent comedic performances on.  The supporting cast is strong, whether it be Marlon Wayans bright young agent Ely or Thomas Wilson’s exasperated captain Woods, everyone is pretty much there to get arrested, get smacked around or to observe Bullock and McCarthy have at one another.

The humour is pretty adult without being pornographic or obscene, and your definitely leaving the kids at home for this one.  Even some of the scenes they wanted to show off in trailers had to be cleaned up a little for TV audiences.  If you’re turned off by swearing and profanity, then seeing The Heat is a waste of both time and money, but if you’re looking for some guilty laughs and maybe need an escape from the saccharine kiddie movies for a few hours, then this is one summer comedy definitely worth checking out.

Shayne Kempton

TURNING UP THE HEAT

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WHITE HOUSE DOWN IS A DECENT ACTION MOVIE AND WAS BETTER THAN EXPECTED, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS ITS OLDER TWIN OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN

Director:  Roland Emmerich

Starring:  Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Richard Jenkins

Studio:  Sony Pictures

Length:  2 Hrs 11 Min

Rated:  PG

     John Cale’s having a rough day.  He’s catching a tonne of heat from his ex-wife for, well, being his ex-wife, his relationship with his eleven year old daughter is strained because he’s messing up as a dad at every turn despite his best intentions, and his interview for the secret service job he needed to elevate his status in his daughter’s eyes goes wrong from the word go.  Then, just to cap it all off, while he and his daughter are on a tour of the White House, a group of terrorists seize control of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue.  That’s a lot to deal with before lunch and if the plot sounds remarkably similar to the storyline in March’s Olympus Has Fallen, that’s because it pretty much is.  And while White House Down delivers adequate punch for an action movie, it’s the lesser of the two films, which is unfortunate for Roland Emmerich’s most recent summer popcorn movie because of the inevitable comparisons the two movies’ identical plots will provoke.

     There are some differences, to be sure.  In Olympus, Gerard Butler plays a secret service agent parked behind a desk after he fails to prevent the tragic death of the first lady and soon finds himself swept up in a spectacular assault on the White House by North Korean terrorists bent on taking the president hostage to seize America’s nuclear arsenal.  In White House Down, Tatum’s Cale is a capital police officer whose daughter is taken hostage by a motley crew of domestic terrorists ranging from white supremacist Tea Party types to disgruntled former soldiers, apparently looking to ransom the president off for the entire U.S. Treasury.  After that though, both movies are roller coaster rides of explosions, gun fights and fisticuffs that can best be described as Die Hard on Capitol Hill.

     Channing Tatum has always struck me as having the potential to be the next big action star, but somehow that breakout role has always eluded him (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra failed to carve him a foot hold and he had little more than an extended solo in this spring’s sequel).  In White House Down though he gets a chance to sink his teeth into his action hero role, efficiently delivering some humour along the way as well.  Jamie Foxx does a more than decent job as President Sawyer, though after his turn as the hero in Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic revenge fantasy Django Unchained, it’s unusual seeing Foxx playing the guy who needs rescuing (though Foxx’s commander-in-chief does get in a handful of shots against the bad guys along the way).  And even though White House Down starts a little slow, Emmerich quickly ramps up the pace and once at full throttle, he doesn’t ease his foot off the gas too much until the final credits.  He even makes a thinly veiled nod to the magnum opus of his career, a certain science fiction disaster movie starring Will Smith that also featured some prominent destruction at the White House a few years back.

     White House Down isn’t a bad action movie.  It isn’t great but it was better than I expected going in.  While it isn’t going to go down in movie buddy history, the onscreen relationship between Foxx and Tatum had its share of decent chemistry as the two trade barbs and one liners while dodging bullets.  And if you’re looking for comic relief, there’s a particular tour guide that pops up every once in a while that provides a few chuckles here and there.  But White House Down simply isn’t as good as Olympus Has Fallen, and it’s that comparison that is going to hang over this movie’s head like the cinematic sword of Damocles.  Nothing against Tatum, but for the time being Butler seems more bread to his action roles, Olympus‘ villain was a little more ruthless and imposing and the action delivered a little more punch.  That’s not to say  that White House doesn’t have plenty of action-Emmerich’s signature over the top approach is on full display-but Olympus just seemed a little more orchestrated, a little more precise.  Plus, White House runs a little too long for my tastes and there was probably plenty of opportunity for Emmerich to get all his best explosions in under two hours.

     Rumour has it that originally, White House Down was supposed to be released first but Olympus Has Fallen‘s release date was bumped up to this past March, a strategic move that will probably cause a lot of movie goers to write White House off as cheap copy cat fare.  Unfortunately, White House Down‘s  promotional campaign hasn’t been able to establish its own identity (although, there’s precious little difference between the two movies outside of their actors).  It’s a costly error that could hurt; even as I was leaving the theatre I overheard more than one comparison between the two, all favouring Olympus as the better movie.  The lesson moviemakers may learn here is how truly valuable word of mouth is for the success of a summer blockbuster.

Shayne Kempton

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

THE STATUE OF LIBERTY FINALLY JOINED THE MARRIAGE EQUALITY PARTY (HER INVITATION HAS BEEN LOST IN THE MAIL FOR THE PAST DECADE), BUT SHE BROUGHT A LOT OF SORE LOSERS LOOKING TO SHUT THE PARTY DOWN.   THE PROBLEM IS THEY CAN’T HEAR THE SOUND OF THEIR IRRELEVANCE OVER THEIR BIBLE THUMPING.

Supreme Court of the United States Seal

Supreme Court of the United States Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

June 26th, is a day that’s going to live in American history for a long time to come, celebrated by many, welcome by most and hated by some.  This is the day the Supreme Court of the United States stopped wringing its collective hands and avoiding the polarizing issue of same-sex marriage and did something it often tries to avoid on hot button topics; it made a decision.

Before the Supreme Court were challenges to DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), an American federal law that denied equal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, as well as California’s Proposition 8, which essentially made same-sex marriage illegal within that state.  This was not the first time SCOTUS had this particular ball in its court; a decision was anticipated back in March of this year, but the Justices meekly procrastinated, pushing the decision to the final day of their current session, and some observers opined that the nine judges didn’t feel it was their place to make rulings on contentious legal issues (newsflash guys and gals-the biggest part of your job is MAKING RULINGS ON CONTENTIOUS LEGAL ISSUES!).  But on this sunny day in late June, the court took a stand and struck down the legal barriers to same sex marriage, calling them unconstitutional, and therefore, illegal.  That grinding sound you hear may be the slow, achingly rusted gears of the United States’ legal system reluctantly dragging it into the 21st century.  Or, it could be a chorus of explosions as a bunch of heads on America’s political far right begin spontaneously combusting.  Either way, America has finally caught up to the rest of the civilized world.  Hey, you may be late to the party Lady Liberty, but let me be the first to give you a drink welcome you to the club.

It took a little while, but all the usual suspects have spent the latter part of the day reacting to the court’s decision, many losing what little minds they had.  While Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman (you know, the one with the deeply closeted but obviously gay husband) and others have questioned the ethical implications of the ruling, many have tried to use ludicrous legal arguments that would make kindergarteners howl in laughter (how do we know people won’t start marrying animals or power tools!).  Mike Huckabee took to Twitter to voice God’s apparent unhappiness (it appears the Good Lord enjoys a good Holy tweet or two every now and then) and Senator Paul has already mused he just may propose a Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage (funny how when it comes to gun control, many Conservatives treat the Constitution like it’s Holy Scripture handed down from Jesus Himself, but when it’s used against them, well that puppy needs to be changed ASAP).

Fellas, listen up (I would include you Ms. Bachman, but I hear you’re still busy fleeing from office while being investigated by the FBI, so don’t worry your empty little head), while your all busy being outraged and climbing up on your high horses and stuff, you need to understand you lost, and you lost for good reason.  Your window of intolerance and bigotry is closing.  Fast.  Last November, not only did the American people re-elect a black guy for President (bet that one stuck in your craw, huh guys?) but ten states also voted to recognize Same Sex marriage.  More states have moved in the same direction in the few months since and a handful of prominent Republican figures have recently come out in favour of marriage equality.  Current polling has shown that 58 percent of the American electorate supports equal marriage rights for gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals, with that number ballooning to a whopping 80 plus percent for voters 30 years and younger.  Roughly translated for ya’ boys, that means when the baby boomers shuffle off their mortal coil and leave the voting booth behind, you’re prejudice will be an ugly foot note in American history.

And before you try using the Bible to justify your bigotry (because be honest, your going to) even Bill O’Reilly, the messiah of FOX news, America’s bastion of White, Christian Conservatism, has criticized using scripture condemning same sex marriage, saying on that if opponents were only planning on thumping their bibles, they deserved to fail (stay tuned for Bill’s inevitable flip-flop though).  Besides, there are millions of Christians (and Muslims and Jews) who believe in equality and they’re reading the same book as you.  But if we are going get into the biblical meat of the issue, and you plan on quoting Leviticus (because you know you do), let me ask you if you also plan on quoting the parts of Leviticus that also ban wearing clothes of different fabrics?  Or voluntarily scarring the flesh (as in tattoos or piercings)?  What about eating shellfish?  Or planting different crops together?  I’m sure a heathen like me doesn’t have to remind you fine God fearing folk that Leviticus states that each one of those nasty little deeds is a sin-an abomination even-and punishable by death (don’t worry Vatican, to the best of my knowledge Leviticus doesn’t mention anything about raping altar boys).  So quick question for you Mike, when you’re not talking to the Almighty Father via social media, are you aware that if you’ve ever eaten shrimp or planted beans in the same row as corn, you should be put to death for those particular dietary and farming faux-pas?  Just asking.

And by the by fellas, there are now thirteen countries, including my native Canada, where gay marriage is an afterthought, laws recognizing their equality passed years ago with nary a whimper from anyone one their political landscapes.  And guess what?  None of those countries has seen even the slightest hint of Almighty Wrath.  That’s right Mr. Huckabee, countries like South Africa, Argentina and the Great White North still seem to be Facebook friends with God.

It’s unfortunate that the most powerful nation in the history of Mankind has to be forced to recognize equality by its courts (granting women the right to vote, civil rights for everyone, impending immigration reform), but the one thing the Supreme Court has proven over the past few decades, is even when it’s backed into a corner and forced to take a stand, it follows the winds of public opinion.  And that, my uber-Conservative friends, is why no one cares what you have to say on the matter.

Now you’re probably going to toss around words like sacriliege and blasphemy and damnation in the coming days.  Glenn, I know your going to struggle with anything you can’t read in a Dr. Seuss book, but I have confidence you’ll be as offensive as you possibly can be (and I can only imagine how Rush Limbaugh is going to waddle into this in between his sexist rants and Viagra pills).  But just remember boys, the only ones who are going to take you seriously are the Klu Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church and the Tea Party, moronic Neanderthals all, and the louder you stomp your feet and scream and cry, the more you’re going to convince people trying to ignore you to vote against your side next time they visit a voting booth.

Shayne Kempton

LOVE THE RAINBOW

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY LACKS SOME OF THE MAGIC OF THE CLASSIC MONSTERS INC., BUT ITS STILL A FUN FLICK THAT WILL APPEAL TO YOUR INNER CHILD

Starring:  John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Steve Buscemi 

Director:  Dan Scanlon

Studio:  Disney/Pixar

Length:  1 Hr 51 Min

Rated:  G

     They’re back.  Or should I say, they’re here.  Monsters University brings back loveable monsters Sully and Mike and introduces a fresh batch of characters in this prequel to Disney/Pixar’s 2001 animated hit Monsters, Inc.  University is the prequel that tells the story of how the gruesome twosome met and became the best of friends while also becoming the greatest Scarers in Monstropolis history.  While it isn’t as good as the original tale, University is still a nice little tale about the value of friendship gift wrapped in a slick, colourful package that kids will find a laugh riot.  And there’s still enough of the old juice to appeal to the inner child locked away in most adults as well.

         Monstropolis is powered by the screams of terrified children, and the monsters who venture through portals into the human world to frighten those screams out of unsuspecting young tots are known as Scarers.  They’re the rock stars of the monster city, revered like professional athletes, complete with trading cards.  Every monster aspires to be a Scarer, and one-eyed Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) is no different.  An outsider his entire life who never really fit in anywhere, Mike is determined to be a Scarer from a young age.  He devotes every waking moment to studying the art of scaring, earning acceptance to the Scarer’s program at Monster University against the odds.  Even at Monsters’ U though, Mike fails to fit in, looked down on by the other monsters training to be Scarers as too small and not scary looking.  Mike has his work cut out for him, with countless hours of study ahead of him to make up for his lack of natural scariness.  Enter Jimmy “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), a hulking brute blessed with fangs, claws and a bone rattling roar whose the latest in a long line of accomplished Scarers.  Sully’s coasted by on his natural talent and his family name his entire life, and thinks that study is a waste of time.  A natural-born Scarer, things just click for Sully, even when they’re the result of Mike’s hard work and ingenuity.  The two quickly find themselves on opposite ends of a fierce rivalry, but through a reckless turn of events by the feuding monsters, they get themselves thrown out of the Scarers program, their only salvation lies in winning the Scare Games, an event between fraternities to determine the best scarers on campus.  Mike and Sully reluctantly find themselves on the same side, teamed up with the least scary outcasts at Monster U.  If through some miracle they win the scare games the whole team of adorable rejects are back in the scare program.  If they lose, Mike and Sully are expelled from Monsters U forever.

     Pixar has earned itself a reputation for gathering all-star voice casts, and Monsters University is no exception.  Memorable standouts include the draconic Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), a legendary Scarer who puts chills into other Monsters, and Johnny (Nathan Fillion) the charismatic head of Roar Omega Roar, the most popular fraternity on campus and the defending Scare Games champs.  Mike and Sully’s band of misfits are also perfectly cast, with sitcom veterans Sean Hayes and Dave Foley voicing the two-headed, dancing monster  Terry/Terri, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day voicing Art, the New Age Philosophy major who resembles a furry purple slinky.  Alfred Molina gives life to Professor Knight, a hard-nosed scare instructor, Steve Buscemi returns to voice the slithering chameleon Randy Boggs (and we discover the root of the rivalry between the devious Randy and Sully in Monsters, Inc.) and John Ratzenberger makes his traditional Pixar cameo.  All in all, Pixar continues to assemble the best voice casts of any of the major animators.

     But the truth is Monsters University just isn’t as good as Monsters, Inc. was.  It lacks the same energy, the same freshness that the original boasted.  It doesn’t stretch the imaginative boundaries the way it’s predecessor did, the way Pixar has come to be known for.  I’ve been a huge fan of Pixar’s since they exploded onto the scene with 1995’s Toy Story, but this seems to be a recurring theme as of late.  While 2011’s Cars 2 was a box office success, it didn’t enjoy the same level of financial success as previous Pixar efforts (or the same level of critical praise; more than one critic referred to it as Pixar’s first “dud”).  Last summer’s Brave was pretty successful at the box office as well, especially when it found itself competing with the likes of The Avengers, The DarK Knight Rises and the Amazing Spiderman, but it lacked the epic scope Pixar had mastered in the past.  Even Monsters University’s preceding mini-feature, The Blue Umbrella, seems forced, a motion to go through because people expect it.  While I enjoyed all three movies, it just seems that Pixar has lost some of its original charm.  The fact that two of three aforementioned titles are sequels can’t be a coincidence, and while I would love to see a sequel to The Incredibles, it may be time for Pixar to return to mining new material instead of trying to catch lightning in the same bottle over and over again.  Alas, with a Finding Nemo sequel (Finding Dory) scheduled for the summer of 2015 , Pixar seems intent on seeing just how many more dollars they can squeeze out of established properties.  Although having said that, I have high hopes for next May’s Pixar release, tentatively titled The Good Dinosaur.

     But while Monsters University  seems destined to live in the shadow of its original namesake, it’s still a pretty decent flick in its own right.  You could do worse this summer season, and if you can, take it in with a bunch of kids (trust me, they’ll find the slapstick hilarious).  And with a little luck, there should be enough magic in University to tease a few laughs out of your own inner child.  you know, the one who still believes there’s a monster hiding in your closet.

Shayne Kempton

MONSTERS SQUARED

WHILE BRAD PITT’S MOVIE ADAPTATION OF THE WILDLY POPULAR BOOK WORLD WAR Z IS PRETTY DISAPPOINTING AS A THRILLER, IT COULD DOUBLE AS A SOLID CURE FOR INSOMNIA

Starring:  Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos

Director:  Marc Forster

Studio:  Paramount Studios

Length:  1 HR 56 Min

Rated:  14A

     You have to hand it to World War Z; it fully knows why you spent the price of admission to park your butt in that movie seat and it isn’t long before hyperactive cannibals are running across the screen, attacking anything that moves like a happy meal on legs.  Adapted from the best-selling, fan favourite novel by Max Brooks (who also wrote The Zombie Survival Guide), World War Z is a big budget zombie movie told on a global scale as humanity desperately tries to survive a plague that turns people into killing machines addicted to the taste of human flesh.  For many movie goers though, they may wind up trying to survive boredom, because as riveting as the premise sounds, the suspense falls flat and you might want to buy a pillow with your ticket.  You could need it.

     While driving his two young daughters to school in Philadelphia, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former United Nations investigator turned stay at home dad, finds himself caught in a traffic jam that seems to be choking half the city, and they’re moving nowhere fast.  Then, with little warning, all hell breaks loose as Gerry, his family and everyone else held hostage by morning traffic become witnesses to (and eventually sitting ducks for) a swarm of homicidal commuters who have apparently developed a pair restless chompers.  If bitten, a person turns into a zombie themselves in a matter of seconds, assuming they didn’t become the main course to begin with.  And once turned into a zombie, the only thing that will slow them down is the taste of warm, living man-meat; the only thing that will stop them is a lethal shot to the head or being incinerated.  Containment is impossible as the plague of undeath spreads through the population at the speed of light, turning the human race into a seething tidal wave of hungry, unstoppable lunacy.  Cities are overwhelmed instantly, nations topple in a matter of hours and the entire world is plunged into a bloody dark age in a handful of days.  Gerry reluctantly returns to active duty, co-operating with what remains of the powers that be for the sake of his family, searching the globe for the plague’s origin in hopes that they might discover a cure.

     The audience never completely learns what Gerry did for the U.N. exactly, but it’s implied that he saw some really bad things in some really bad places, and his retirement was just as much about preserving his sanity as it was about spending time with his young family.  But whatever’s on Gerry’s resume, it makes him valuable enough that the U.N. takes a personal interest in him as soon as the entrails hit the fan and he’s sort of like a post Zombie Apocalypse MacGuyver, improvising on the fly, surviving whatever’s thrown at him (which includes hungry, pissed off zombies) deducing the behaviour of the plague (which is lucky for the survivors because some of the few scientists who survive the cataclysm turn out to be fatally clumsy) and even proves capable of some pretty impressive field medicine under impossible conditions.

     The zombies in World War Z aren’t like the ones you’re used to.  These aren’t the plodding, shambling creatures that your grandma can outrun with her walker.  And while they’re closer to the ones used in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, they’re a definite upgrade on that speedy bunch as well.  This is a hyper-kinetic breed, prone to drop to all fours to help them run down their prey.  They attack fortress walls and even airborne helicopters as a massive, collective organism made up of a million cells, moving at mach speed.  And that’s just about the only thing World War Z has going for it.

     The story unfolds fast, civilization breaks down chaos and anarchy within minutes and the main characters are off and running pretty soon.  Director Marc Forster (Monsters Ball, Quantum of Solace) tries to keep things moving fairly briskly, using a formula of frenetic action separated by brief intervals of story telling.  When the outbreak first occurs, he uses first person, documentary style camera work to try to immerse the audience in the confused panic, but it comes off as more annoying than anything else.  Fortunately, once the outbreak is established Forster abandons the hand-held camera and returns to more conventional camera work.  But the plot is Z’s biggest weakness.  While Forster tries to ratchet up the tension and the suspense in certain parts, you can easily count the moments of shock on one hand, as most of the movie’s Big Scare moments come off more as Big Meh moments.  And the few that do come close to working resemble mild surprise more than genuine scares.  Pitt is the only name of any weight in Z, as the movie spent most of it’s estimated 170 million dollar budget on special effects and stunts (although if you’re only going to have one big fish in your pond, you could do worse than Pitt).  Although there are times that it looks like Pitt is wishing he was somewhere else, and you have to wonder that if in his few moments of introspection he’s actually asking himself “what am I doing in a zombie movie?”  Which is kind of confusing since it was Pitt who secured the movie rights, winning a brief tug of war with another Hollywood superpower, Leonardo DiCaprio.  Although kudos go out to relative newcomer Daniella Kertesz, who plays Israeli soldier Segen.  In a summer where the few female leads in the big budget action flicks are restricted to subordinates and damsels in distress, Kertesz’s Segen is a tough as nails, battle hardened fighter.  And while it’s true she may not survive without Gerry, Gerry sure doesn’t survive without her watching his back during the final act of the movie.

     I haven’t read the book (it’s on my extensive literary to-do list), but there’s already been pushback from the novel’s fans, unhappy about the change in tone and approach to the story.  Regardless, both movie and book fans alike will probably be disappointed in the film’s unsatisfying ending (there’s probably going to be about three or four different alternate endings with the Blu-Ray/DVD release).  And while the visual effects are nothing to sneeze that, they’re only so much white noise, lost in a summer full of movies about super heroes, starships and giant fighting robots.  The problem is, I was rarely moved to care about the characters in World War Z.  Motives are never really explained (particularly with Thomas, who just reappears in the movie with little explanation) and empathy is never truly established.  Even with some impressive effects and its rabid zombies on speed, World War Z  comes off as tiresome.  The movie could very well be a victim of it’s own mass marketing.  Zombies are a staple of horror, but by keeping the content tame enough to warrant a rating beneath the dreaded “R” to reach the coveted summer audience of teenage movie goers, world War Z may very well have neutered itself.  Without that restriction, it could very well have provided some genuine thrills and scary entertainment.  Instead, it comes across as movie milquetoast with a hundred million dollars worth of special effects.  You may want to buy a pillow with that movie ticket.  You just may need it.

Shayne Kempton

WORLD WAR ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . . . .

I’VE FINALLY BECOME SMART ENOUGH TO REALIZE WHAT MAKES  A TRUE HERO, AND ON FATHER’S DAY, I KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR THE GREATEST ONE I KNOW

     My father has a story he likes to tell whenever he’s asked why he refused to hold me when I was a baby.  It happened one at a county fair when I was only a few months old.  If I remember correctly, we were at the Ancaster fair (or the Lincoln one, I think the version changes on who he tells it to), and he was holding me in front of him when I decided I wanted to try a little skydiving and planted my itty bitty baby feet on his chest and pushed with all my newborn might, launching myself out of his hands like a missile in a diaper.  Fortunately he caught me a sliver of a second before the ground broke my erstwhile fall, and from that day forward, he decided to play it safe and held me as little as possible.

I think about that story every Fathers Day.  How my father essentially saved me from myself and I think that’s the biggest part of a Fathers (and Mother’s) job description.  I can’t count the times my father has bailed me out of my own stupidity, and somehow still managed to keep a head level enough not to disown me (I’m sure he’s been tempted on one or more occasion).  I can’t count the number of times he (and my mother) acted as a lifeline, allowing me to keep my head above water and I could never hope to count the number of times he was there to listen to me rant about work or challenges or life in general.  Or offer me sage counsel during times of trial or failure, times that happened more than I’d like to admit.  And only recently have I become wise enough myself to listen, and regret the many years where I wasn’t smart enough to.

And while I can’t count the number of times my father was there to give me a helping hand (or offer me one during times I was too stubborn or blind to see it), I could never imagine how many times he wanted to knock some sense into my think head, mostly during my teenage years.  While I wasn’t a typical teenager, my father still had plenty to put up with during those wasted years.  I was an outcast, not the worst mind you, but with the exception of my final two years in high school, I shared the same postal code with some of the kids who grew up harbouring violent grudges (think Steve Buscemi in Billy Madison), and looking back on it now, I took my frustration and self-pity out on my family, primarily my father.  I have a well-earned reputation for being a sarcastic, wise-cracking jackass who needs to learn a little more verbal discretion sometimes (I’m pretty much banned from church) and I cut some of those nasty teeth on those around me, especially my father.  Thinking back on it now, there were probably plenty of times my father wanted to kick my ass and I more than deserved it every occasion.  Hell, I would have kicked my ass for just some of the grief I gave him had the positions been reversed.  Even today, I scratch my head, wondering where he found the resolve not to (in that same vein, I also wonder how my long-suffering mother put up with the two of us, locking horns for no other reason than I was a scrawny teenager full of hormones and stupidity).

It’s only recently that I have begun to understand how lucky I truly am.  How blessed.  I wasn’t merely an outcast at school, but struggled to find acceptance in the tiny little town where I grew up.  But my father quietly encouraged my curiosity when I began questioning the church I had always believed in without question before, and he silently nurtured my political beliefs as they began to grow and mature, often opposing those he held.  When it looked like a group of pseudo neo-Nazis at my high school were going to decorate the ground with my brains after I mouthed off about them robbing and urinating on one of my friends, my mother confided in me that my father was quietly observing the situation and was prepared to bring hell down on anyone who touched me.  I inherited my appetite for reading from my father, and he’s a far more voracious reader than I am (I have co-workers, who if they read this, will probably find that hard to believe), but our tastes couldn’t be further apart. But the fact that he’s held little interest in the fiction I have occasionally dabbled in writing myself has never stopped him from prodding me to keep going, to push myself and test my own boundaries.  And even though he may not be a fan of the things I am drawn to, the things that go bump in the night and creatures of pure imagination that sail across the stars and slither in the shadows, he’s still my best supporter.

Perhaps the best example of my father’s belief in letting me be my own person is Canada’s national passion; the sport of hockey.  In small town Canada, the local hockey rink is perhaps the most important building in town, more important than schools, churches, libraries and even city hall.  Hockey is the religion of small town Canada, the arena the altar where it’s worshipped, and to say my lack of interest during my early years went against the grain would be like saying that Elvis was only a slightly successful musician.  To add a little extra fuel to the proverbial fire, my father was a long time coach and there were a number of occasions that both he and my mother were stopped in the middle of the street by friends and neighbours alike, demanding that I be forced to play, regardless of what I wanted (such is the mentality of the small Canadian town).  But never once did either my mother or my hockey coaching father surrender to the small-minded pressure of their peers and force me to pick up a hockey stick.  It wasn’t until I became a teenager that my interest in hockey naturally grew, and then it was purely my choice.

And it’s only recently that I’ve begun to respect the man my father is.  A decorated firefighter, he was awarded medals for saving lives when he wasn’t on duty.  He was recognized by the province of Ontario for his volunteer work in girls softball, coaching a team to a provincial championship in a time when women’s sports were considered irrelevant.  And while he never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to, he made sure I kept my word.  When I wanted to quit clarinet lessons after finding out it was work (yeah, I studied clarinet for a year, shut up yer face), he made me stick it out for the full year I had committed to.  Whenever I wanted to quit soccer (my preferred sport that was eventually replaced by hockey) because I was clumsy and not as good as the other kids (and they let me know it), he made me stick with it for the summer, because he knew I’d be first in line for registration the following spring.  Every time I decided to wallow in self-pity, he was there to kick my butt out of it (or at least try) and the only reason I continued to study karate long enough to earn my black belt was because he prodded me forward (even on the occasions where I was deliberately failed, the test being to see how I would handle adversity).  There are some people whose father left them when they were barely able to walk, was never there to offer protection or guidance; I had a man of his word who believed in the value of your promise to call father.  He (and my mother) even dared to believe in me even during the many, many times I refused to believe in myself.

Thinking on it now, everything good about me, my values, my tolerance, my patience, I got from my father (and you too, mom), and everything about me I wish I didn’t have, well, that’s all me.  I’m not where I’d like to be in life (yet), and there are times, late at night, when I worry I’ve let my father down.  That I haven’t justified his faith in me with deed or accomplishment.  And then I smile and realize if I ever admitted that to him, he’d tell me to stop being stupid.  The truth of the matter is, if I were twice the man I am right now, I’d still only be half the man my father is and his example pushes me to strive better.

So here’s what it boils down to-the world is a haven of threats and danger, populated with devils and monsters clothed in greed using fear and violence as their tools.  There is no shortage of fallen angels or suave demons waiting to seduce children with temptation and foolish indulgence and many of the bogey men who stalk us are beasts of our own making.  The bitter truth is sometimes there’s precious little parents can do to protect their children, whether from the world or from themselves.  Sometimes it’s all a father can do to wisely let his sons and daughters endure the storms when they can, fight alongside them when they need, embrace them when it’s over and help them pick up the pieces later.  I often wonder how I would cope if I ever have the honour of becoming a father, how to manage with all the fears and uncertainty and eventual heartbreak.  People tell frightened new parents that there’s no such thing as a parenting textbook, but should the day ever arrive that I’m gently cradling a child of my own in my arms, I could do a hell of a lot worse than to follow my Father’s example.

I was (and still am) a child of imagination, wonder and mystery.  I live in a world of nightmares and miracles, where werewolves and vampires and other citizens of the dark are kept at bay by bravery and magic.  And while the world I chose to live in growing up included the likes of Batman and Superman and countless other super heroes of lore, my father is, and will always remain, my greatest hero and it’s only now and only through these words that I have the courage to say out loud that I love you Dad.  Maybe one day soon I can be a stronger man, but only because of your example.  And in the meantime, if I fall, I know that, like all those years at the Ancaster (or was it Lincoln) fair, you’ll catch me.

Shayne Kempton

 A TRUE HERO

SUPERMAN SUCCESSFULLY RETURNS TO THE SILVER SCREEN WITH MAN OF STEEL.  AND IT WAS PRETTY AWESOME.

Starring:   Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Lawrence Fishburne.

Director:  Zack Snyder

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Rated:  PG

Length:  2 hours, 28 minutes

Superman is perhaps the most famous, most iconic super hero ever conceived by modern human civilization.  He is arguably the industrialized world’s version of Jesus.  A stranger from the stars, with powers and gifts that make him a god among men, always striving to show us the hope at the end of every dark tunnel. A shining example of what mankind could be.  What it could choose to be.  A constant reminder of the greatness we are capable of.  But ever since 1980’s Superman 2, Hollywood has struggled to make a film befitting such an icon.  In fact, most of what Hollywood has churned out in blue tights and a red cape has pretty much sucked.  That has changed.

Man of Steel is Warner Bros and DC Comics long-awaited, super hyped cinematic reboot of the Superman franchise, not only succeeding where Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failed miserably in 2006, but seemingly apologizing for that ill-fated piece of movie dredge as well.  Directed by confessed comic book geek Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan of Batman fame, Man of Steel manages to energize the most important comic book character ever created, and it doesn’t just make stop at making him relevant again, it actually makes the big blue boy scout sexy for movie going audiences that may have never set foot in a comic book store.

Everyone and their brother knows the story of Superman-his brilliant parents flung him out into the stars to escape the doomed planet Krypton, choosing Earth to be his new home, its yellow sun turning him into a god.  But Man of Steel puts a fresh twist on it.  There had been rumours circulating the internet that the film makers had tinkered with Supes origin, that the infant Kal-El, born to father Jor-El (one of the finest minds belonging to an incredibly advanced civilization) and mother Lara-El, was rocketed to Earth where he could choose his own path, saved from a sterile world where everyone was born to pre-determined roles and were essentially genetic slaves.  What I found to be the most disturbing part about this rumour was that Krypton never blew up, and the movie’s villains were hunters come to collect their planet’s wayward son.  While this mercifully turned out to be false, Man of Steel‘s premise turns out to be a nice little combination of the two.

Krypton’s scientific advancements stagger the imagination.  A once star faring race that bent entire planets to their will, the Kryptonians retreated to their home world, fashioning an unnatural society where people are bred instead of born.  Each Kryptonian is designed from the ground up to serve a specific purpose within the larger society.  No one gets to choose what they’ll be when they grow up because they know what their future holds from the second they’re removed from the incubator (imagine a world with no high school guidance counsellors).  Krypton’s leading scientific genius Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife have conceived a child the old-fashioned way, and Kal-El is the first Kryptonian born from a woman’s womb in centuries.  Krypton is dying, a victim of an insatiable hunger for energy, and Jor-El sees the birth of his son as Krypton’s best chance for survival.  Amid a military coup led by krypton’s top military officer, a genocidal General Zod (played magnificently by Michael Shannon), Jor-El sends his son to Earth, dying at Zod’s hands in the process.  Zod and his co-conspirators are exiled to the phantom zone for their crimes, but Krypton meets its end soon after, its destruction freeing Zod and his band from their celestial prison.  The surviving Kryptonians spend the next three decades salvaging what is left of their empire, it’s ruins scattered among the stars.  Eventually they discover Jor-El’s refugee son, hiding on Earth, a planet that could serve as a new Krypton to be built by the obsessively driven Zod.  And they aren’t keen on sharing their new world with humans.

Man of Steel succeeds in every way that Superman Returns failed in 2006.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that Kevin Spacey, Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth did adequate jobs in their respective roles, they just weren’t given much to work with.  And while Returns possessed some interesting ideas (like Lois and Superman’s love child) and using John Williams original score was a stroke of genius, everything else failed on an epic scope.  Large chunks of the script were taken directly from the original Superman, the plot had enormous holes in it and the film makers seemed to think that I was willing to slap down ten plus bucks to see Lex Luthor reduced to a gold digging, evil real estate agent and the climactic fight had Superman in one corner and a tidal wave in the other (Superman vs the tsunami probably didn’t help the film’s  under-achieving gross).

Man of Steel doesn’t suffer from any of those problems.  Henry Cavill is a perfect choice to play the titular character; he has the look, the acting chops and he worked hard to acquire the necessary physique.  Amy Adams portrays a fiercely independent and ballsy Lois Lane and Micheal Shannon’s convincingly ruthless Zod will earn him villain of the year honours.  Even the supporting cast does an excellent job, whether it be Kevin Costner and Diane Lane playing Johnathan and Martha Kent, the Kansas couple who discover and adopt the star lost child as their own, instilling in him the values that will guide him as he becomes the world’s greatest hero; or Lawrence Fishburne, playing a cranky but loveable Perry White, publisher of the Daily Planet.  The visual effects are outstanding and should receive more than a few Oscar nods come February, although there were a few that looked as though I could have been watching a cut scene from a PS3 game.  To say the action scenes are ambitious. is a gross understatement  Remember, these are scenes involving characters that can bench press continents and move at the speed of sound.  If you aren’t a fan of fast-moving visuals or loud noises, do not see this in IMAX.  Entire city blocks are demolished during some of the fight scenes (a few of the fight scenes do seem to drag a bit).

The story has enough human warmth and tenderness to compliment the eyeball busting effects and the massive action sequences.  Superman’s back story is relayed through a number of flashbacks, taking place in Smallville, Kansas, a town surrounded by wheat fields and where the coolest place to hang out is the local Ihop.  It’s like a rustic Norman Rockwell painting of the modern midwest, complete with a Sears outlet.  Man of Steel‘s carefully paced storytelling actually seems to have more of Christopher Nolan’s fingerprints on them than director Zack Snyder’s, which might be why Warner Brothers tagged him to produce.  There’s also some easter eggs for the die-hard Superman fans and a little setup for the inevitable sequels (Warner Brothers had already green lit a sequel before Man of Steel opened).

Man of Steel isn’t perfect, but it may likely be the best super hero movie out this summer (I’m going into July’s The Wolverine with low expectations).  Could it have been better?  Probably, but it could have been a lot, lot worse and as far as popcorn flicks go, I enjoyed Man of Steel as much as I did last summer’s The Avengers.  Now, if the powers that be take the same approach to their anticipated Justice League movie scheduled for 2015, it could well launch a whole series of successful film franchises for Warner Bros and DC.  Let’s hope Man of Steel‘s box office is enough to convince them.

Shayne Kempton

THE RETURN OF THE BIG RED S