MEEK AT THE MOVIES : THE COUNSELLOR ( 2.5 stars )

Counsellor

^ mixed up shook up bad gals and bad guys : including Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz in Ridley Scott’s “The Counsellor”

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Not so long ago the Coen Brothers deviated from their usually quirky fare and wove a hard-boiled yarn about lawmen and criminals playing it loose and lethal as they pursued an elusive satchel of money back and forth across the Southwest border.  The basis for that masterpiece came from the laconic and acerbic prose of Cormac McCarthy’s similarly titled novel, “No Country for Old Men.” And in an odd and intriguing, first time move, the scribe, for iconic director Ridley Scott (“Alien” and “Blade Runner”), has delivered his first original screenplay. The result is full of pointed soliloquies, diatribes imbued with philosophy and poetry and even daubs of philosophy regarding poetry; but the mainstays, of course, are protracted dissertations on death and destiny, followed invariably by death.

Just as in “No Country” the plot is driven by an accidental anti-hero ensnared in a macabre web of underworld misdoings. In short, McCathy has cooked up an assured rearrangement of “No Country.” It’s not on par by any means, but it is entertaining. And, if you haven’t gotten enough of him lately, Michael Fassbender tackles the eponymous role (that’s all he’s ever called), as a square-jawed, fashionably stoic defender, who, while very dapper and upper crust, has a litany  of unsavory clients. One, an imprisoned mama kingpin (Rosie Perez put a lot of pizzazz into the brief role), asks him to pay a fine for her son who’s in jail for a traffic violation (going over 200 mph). He reluctantly complies, but doesn’t know that the kid is involved in a scheme to hi-jack a 20 million dollar drug shipment. Which doesn’t matter, because by sheer association he’s now considered one of the brains behind the ever expanding plot.

Zanies and assassins from every corner of the muted desert town start to drift up. And, if the similarities to “No Country” haven’t hit you over the head at this point, Javier Bardem drops in for good measure as the shady club operator who has a few nascent business dealings with the Counsellor. Bardem’s real life wife, Penelope Cruz, shows up too, as the Councilor’s betrothed, but she’s mostly just garnish and a bargaining chip. The real feminine fire power comes from the gams of Cameron Diaz as the high priestess of the Southwest gangland. She’s flip, enjoys Gucci and Prada and doesn’t value life too much, and, if she so desires it, she’ll fuck a Ferrari (no joke).

Brad Pitt’s in the mix too as another shady sort who advises the Counsellor on how to get his neck out of the noose, but his role, like Cruz’s, feels more ornamental than substantive and perhaps somewhere out there, there’s  a studio exec who thought it would be devilish fun to release Pitt and Fassbender in this western noir the same week the pair appeared in the more serious, “12 Years a Slave”–celluloid buddies to save the day at the box office?

The problem with “The Counsellor” isn’t so much the every twisting and inward folding machinations that keep the engine humming. That works quite well, the problem is that none of these people are likable and Fassbender’s Counsellor is such a stiff, you never really give a rat’s ass if he gets offed or not. But the film looks great. Scott has always been a visual stylist and really summons up the dusty milieu with artistic elan.  McCarthy too packs it with some rich treasures and a potpourri of indelible underlings. Heads roll (literally) and the stash of drugs is carted around a septic truck that from time to time gets shot up and re-patched so that the shit don’t stink. That’s the wicked type of fun “Counsellor” has. It’s not much, but it clicks along just enough.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : WORLD WAR Z ( Rating : 2 1/2 stars )

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Zombie apocalypse and anything vampire seems to be the hot ticket out of Hollywood these days. The subtext, that we prey on each other and that life is a precious and fragile thing, is a piquant notion that gets magnified to its fullest when examining how man comports himself as civilization crumbles.
Sans rules and with limited resources, what would you do? Snatch and grab, help out or hole up doomsday prepper style?
That’s the special sauce that makes any apocalypse-cum-horror flick grip the road. Real people, super natural horror, deep shit. George Romero’s seminal “Night of the Living Dead” was more about the dynamics and dissent amongst a band of survivors barricaded in a farm house than it was about the throng of shambling flesh scratching at the walls. Decades later, guys like Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”) and Zack Snyder (the 2004 remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”) got the nifty idea to make the dead move at warp speed.
Speed kills and given the choice in “Jurassic Park,” who would you really want to face, T-Rex or the veloci-raptors?
“World War Z” does zombie on a grand scale and goes at the genre in new ways, even if the rabies outbreak that is transforming people in to flesh ripping berserkers is similar to the rage virus that fueled the “28 Days Later” series.  You get bitten and in seconds you’re one of them, a maniac on angel dust spreading the disease. The decayed, mangled weak-kneed dead in Romero’s tales and TV’s “The Walking Dead” have nothing on these Olympic athletes.
The outbreak comes suddenly and fast as Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt, who snatched up the rights to Max Brooks’s 2006 book) and his family wallow in a Philadelphia traffic standstill and a wave of the rampaging infected sweep through, shattering windshields with their heads, chomping and biting, and increasing their numbers. It’s a terrifying beginning of the end.
Gerry, it turns out, is a recently retired UN operator who was adept at getting in and out of such hellish hotbeds as Liberia and Bosnia. Those survival skills keep the family alive for a night in a Newark housing project, and to get the family out and onto the safety of a flotilla of military vessels off the coast, Gerry has to agree to get back in the game. Bureaucracy and governments are eroding all around the world, and so Gerry, a SEAL team, and a Harvard educated biologist set out on a viral forensics mission of sorts to find a potential cure. The journey sends them to Korea, Wales and Israel where the Middle East flashpoint of contention has seen this coming and taken all their settlement walls and set them outward-facing.
The globe-hopping plot drops Gerry in one harrowing situation after another– I’m not sure what was more unsettling: the transformation of coach class on an airliner into a neck biting brood or being trapped in a W.H.O. laboratory (a veritable maze) with dormant undead at every turn. The scripts and Pitt play Gerry right, though; he’s not a can-do skull basher, he’s a thinker and a plotter, susceptible, vulnerable and human, more MacGyver than Rambo.
The film — directed by Marc Forster, who’s been all over the map with “Monster’s Ball” and a Bond credit — does an effusive job of rendering the world spanning terror. The scenes of broad carnage–that Philly traffic jam and the scaling of the wall in Israel by a zombie flesh ladder, which must be some type spin on the Tower of Babble — astound in scale, authenticity, and the seamless blend of FX and live action. If the story bogs down, it’s in its disjointedness. Each stop along the way feels like a chapter written by a different author; and that would be correct, as the script credits listed in IMDB require more comas that I care to entertain.
The end also comes (too) quick and rushed (and a bit of a groaner to boot), and there’s not enough screen time for Mireillie Enos of “The Killing,” who plays Pitt’s wife and the mother of their two daughters. The family tie binds the film nicely and Forster and Pitt hold it from going over and into cliché and hyperbole. The result is lithe and agile, and intrinsically eerie enough to keep your stomach pinned to the back of your throat throughout.
—- Tom Meek / “Meek at the Movies”