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Until the End

 Posted: 9:05 AM June 27, 2013

"World War Z" opens perfectly. It's early morning, and Karin and Gerry Lane (Mireille Enos and Brad Pitt) are asleep when their two young daughters run in and jump on their bed with much protesting from Karin and Gerry. The girls want pancakes for breakfast. Brad, a U.N. investigator with special skill sets, on hiatus, cooks.

Cut to the family driving through heavy traffic in downtown Philadelphia, on the way to dropping off the girls at school.

All is normal, the family is chatting, and then things abruptly change. Helicopters are circling. People are running past the car. Suddenly panic and fear are palatable. And in that instant, "WWZ" goes from 0 to 150. And stays there. A world of routine and taken-for-granted expectations is now a world of malevolent chaos and anarchy. The patina of civility has vanished; all is mayhem.

World War Z

115 min

Rated PG-13

Much Ado About Nothing

109 minutes

Rated PG-13

What has occurred is, in essence, a medical mystery, one that Gerry, because of his background, will be asked by the U.N. undersecretary (Fana Mokoena), seemingly the last official standing, to solve.

I would argue that "WWZ" is not a zombie movie. It's a frantic search by the scientific community to discover first causation and then an antidote to what is a worldwide pandemic, and Gerry is walking point.

To the writers' credit, he's not your typical hero: initially reluctant, then vulnerable and terrified, as are all those who have escaped what is a cascading plague that is devouring mankind.

Granted those infected become nonhuman: their eyes are cataract-covered and they possess superhuman speed and strength. The threat they pose literally threatens all of mankind, hence Gerry's journey — from an aircraft carrier off the East Coast, to South Korea and then Israel — is unrelenting as he moves ever closer to the eye of the storm, snagging small pieces of evidence and information as he goes. All is high risk and potentially high gain.

There is a set piece in Israel that is astonishing. Riveting. The infected — the military calls them Zekes — breach what the Israelis believed was an impregnable wall in a manner that's inspired (of course it is shot digitally) and mind-bending.

This is an apocalyptic film in the best tradition of "Contagion," "Outbreak" and the "Andromeda Strain." And, of course, it pays, loosely, homage to George Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead," later mirrored in AMC's "The Walking Dead."

However, "WWZ" is far closer to "Contagion" and "Outbreak" than it is to those movies where the dead become undead and lurch from side to side, arms flailing, as they walk stiff-legged toward their prey.

"WWZ" is a far more intelligent film than your typical big-tent summer blockbuster. It engages immediately, and even when it hits a necessary lull in act III, the tension never abates.

"Much Ado About Nothing"

As often as it's tried, taking Shakespeare contemporary always is a dicey proposition, one wherein the audience is asked to suspend its disbelief and listen to 15th-century Elizabethan conversation, spoken by folks carrying iPads and cell phones, dressed in stylish 21st-century clothes (with a noir feel), while living in Santa Monica, a laid-back beach town near L.A.

With Shakespeare, it ultimately comes down to the accessibility of language and plotting. The syntax, the vocabulary, the referents all are from a distinctly different period, and though "Much Ado About Nothing" is a romantic comedy, replete with the timeless and familiar "opposites attract" skirmishes between Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), there seems to be something missing.

Perhaps it's because the film feels rushed. But maybe the play is written to be hurried. And there's the issue that absent a cast list, it takes time to figure out who is who and their connections to one another. Characters appear without backstory, which would have been helpful in creating a context as the narrative progresses. A narrative that involves manipulation, duplicity, schemes and ruinous leaks of information meant to undermine the pending marriage of Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Franz Kranz). All orchestrated by Don John (Sean Maher), for reasons that are offered up so hastily that they are never completely clear. Other than John is malevolent.

What is known is that director Joss Whedon, a well-known filmmaker, shot "Much Ado" in 12 days using actors with whom he has history, using his own L.A. home as the setting. It all seems as if it's done more as a fun, ensemble, acting company exercise than a serious attempt to bring Shakespeare's romantic comedy from text to screen.

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