The weather is getting cooler. The leaves are beginning to change. You can buy honeycrisp apples again. *sigh* Fall is upon us. That means it’s time for the big holiday / award season movie push! I’m sure we are all excited about McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave and Clooney’s The Monuments Men. Oh, and there’s Curón’s Gravity. And the second part of The Hobbit. Winter is always my favorite part of the movie year.
But before I get there, I have to play catch up. As usual, I missed a ton of movies this year that I wanted to see in the theater and I just couldn’t make it. So, as penance to myself, let’s go through two of them here.
Pain & Gain (2013) – [R]
This is a tough one because it isn’t really the movie I expected it to be. First off, let’s just put it all on the table, shall we. It’s directed by Michael Bay. Yeah, that guy. I knew that this was supposed to be a bit of an answer to folks who thought he could only make movies about explosions but that didn’t mean I expected it to be any good. I knew Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie were going to be in it but so was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Perhaps, most importantly, I knew this was a true story.
And maybe that’s what saves this because it’s actually kind of good. Yeah, it’s a little slow. Yeah, the dialogue is a little cheesy, but you want to watch it to the end because the story is so interesting. Perhaps even more incredible, I actually think The Rock was the best actor in this thing. I actually liked and cared about his character. Wahlberg has sort of perfected the “meathead with a heart” role and can do it in his sleep. Anthony Mackie is always solid (even when he played Tupac in Notorious). But I never would have guessed that Dwayne Johnson could actually make me care about a character he was portraying. Never.
This is still a Michael Bay movie so you still have slow-motion action sequences, explosions, misogyny, lame humor, lingering shots of chiseled bodies . . . this is the sea that Bay swims in. The movie, as told through the eyes of its characters however, is meant to be a jab at these very things. In a voice-over, Wahlberg’s Daniel Lugo laments the wasted potential of people he sees around them and we are meant to be in on the joke that ultimately, it is Lugo who wasted his own potential. But doesn’t that also apply to Michael Bay? Aren’t his talents squandered on loud, expensive, disposable summer blockbusters? It’s hard to tell whether Bay was really in on the joke or not and I think that may be what makes this movie so interesting.
Well, that and the plot. It’s a true story about a bodybuilder from Miami who teams up with two guys from his gym to kidnap a wealthy client and extort him. Then it really goes down hill. If you haven’t read about Daniel Lugo, please don’t. Watch the movie first.
In the end, Pain & Gain is a story about the American Dream and honestly, I don’t know that I could have thought of a better director or cast of players to tell it. And who would have seen that coming!
7 paws out of 10
World War Z (2013) – [PG-13]
This is going to lose me a few friends but can we just chill on the zombies, people? We’ve just come out of our vampire stage (which was preceded by a Harry Potter, wizards and witches phase) and I just want a break. Just once I would like to see a movie where the human race is under attack from a giant band of angry wild cats. Is that too much to ask?
I digress. World War Z is about a United Nations employee played by Brad Pitt who has to solve a zombie apocalypse. Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, has a family and he wants to protect them from the growing zombie epidemic. We know Gerry’s family is important to him because I would guess that if you cut together all of the shots of Pitt looking soulful and worrying about his family, it would be about a quarter of the length of the whole movie. The movie feels like it is saying that the world can only be saved from a plague of super fast, computer-generated zombies by a blonde, hunky movie star who is the only person left on the planet that loves his family.
And yet, I can’t hate it. Trust me, I wanted to. Every time the camera zoomed in on Pitt’s mopey face, I wanted to just rant about how terrible the movie was. But it isn’t. It isn’t great. I don’t even know that I would say it is good but it certainly isn’t bad. Director, Marc Forster and his crew manage to make a pretty decent zombie movie. The sets are epic in scale and majestic to behold. There are plenty of good scares. Forster even manages to regulate the pace and the intensity of the film so well that I actually had moments where my heart rate kicked up a little.
Would I recommend that you watch it? Well, if you are a zombie movie fan, there are much better out there. If you are a Pitt fan, there are much better out there. But if it is 8:30 on a Saturday night and you’ve got some pizza and your buddies coming over, you could do much worse.
6 paws out of 10