This week: It's up to Brad Pitt to figure out a way to slow down a global zombie pandemic in "World War Z," a summer blockbuster with a new unrated cut that will excite horror fans disappointed with the PG-13 theatrical cut.
Also new this week is Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" based on true events, Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra" with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and the educational documentary "Space Junk 3D" on Blu-ray 3D.
'World War Z'
Box Office: $201 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 67% Fresh
Storyline: Former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is forced back into duty to protect his family and the rest of humanity from a global zombie pandemic that is toppling governments and plunging the world into chaos. The action moves from New York to Jerusalem to Wales as Gerry races against time to find a way to stop the hordes of undead in this blockbuster directed by Marc Forster and co-starring Mireille Enos and James Badge Dale.
Extras!: The Blu-ray contains several behind-the-scenes features, including the multi-part "'WWZ' Production," one called "Origins" about how Pitt collaborated with the filmmakers to make a different kind of zombie movie and "Looking to Science," which explores the scientific realities of zombie behavior in nature as well as zombies in literature and film. The Blu-ray 3D combo pack has the PG-13 theatrical cut in 3-D in addition to an extended unrated cut on Blu-ray (2-D only).
We Say: Plagued with tales of costly reshoots and trouble on the set, everyone wrote off "World War Z" as the summer's biggest disaster months before it even opened. Not only did it become a global moneymaker, it won over critics for its intense, action-heavy look at the worldwide impact of a zombie apocalypse. Since there are a lot of dark scenes and shaky-cam moments, this post-conversion 3-D job doesn't benefit much from the additional dimension for the majority of its runtime as effective 3-D requires a different camera language than what Forster used here. Instead, check out the 2-D unrated cut, which adds seven minutes of visceral footage that was trimmed for the theatrical PG-13 rating, including scenes in which Pitt stomps a zombie's head in and cuts off a young soldier's hand to stop an infected bite from spreading. Like its undead monsters, "World War Z" rose up and tore through its naysayers and the summer box office … and has a sequel in the works.
'The Bling Ring'
Box Office: $6 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 60% Fresh
Storyline: Sofia Coppola directs this comedy (?) about the real-life group of fame-obsessed teenagers who tracked celebrities' whereabouts so they could rob their homes. Rebecca (Katie Chang) leads Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) on multiple heists of designer clothes, jewelry and cash from celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan until the whole racket gets national exposure.
Extras!: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a making-of featurette, "Behind the Real Bling Ring" and "Scene of the Crime with Paris Hilton."
We Say: From the description you can probably ascertain that every single character in this movie is unlikable, a bunch of irritating spoiled kids who drive around Los Angeles while blasting gangsta rap and talking big about what they feel entitled to have. That would be fine if Coppola had any further insight into their motivations but she instead passively follows her cast around as they reenact house robberies and doesn't even scratch the surface about this pop-culture disease. You don't want to spend five minutes with these idiots, so asking to watch for 90 minutes is testing any reasonable viewer's patience if Coppola thinks just highlighting that some millennials are obsessed with silly fake celebrities is itself interesting or revealing. It's, like, not. Totes!
'Behind the Candelabra'
Box Office: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Fresh
Storyline: Reportedly director Steven Soderbergh's final film, this HBO biopic follows the five-year affair between flamboyant pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and young Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) beginning in 1977. Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Scott Bakula and Debbie Reynolds also star in this acclaimed production.
Extras!: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a making-of featurette that explores "the wild and wonderful legacy of Liberace with several cast and crew members, including Douglas and Damon."
We Say: Douglas is scary good as the effeminate, eccentric entertainer whose stage and television career spanned 40 years but whose private life remained closely guarded until he died of AIDS in 1987. Not everyone is going to want to see Jason Bourne mount Gordon Gekko on screen, but "Behind the Candelabra" lifts the veil of denial about Liberace and shows the performer as a vulnerable, lonely figure trapped by his image and terrified that his "secret" would come out. Damon is excellent as a bisexual social climber who ends up disfiguring his face in an attempt to look like he could be Liberace's son and Lowe is freaky as the plastic surgeon ready to reshape Liberace's young bucks. Maybe the distributor thought domestic audiences are still too homophobic, but it's criminal that Soderbergh's supposed cinematic swan song only got a theatrical release overseas or we'd be talking about Oscar nominations for its leading men.
'Space Junk 3D'
Box Office: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: No Score Yet
Storyline: Narrated by Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson, this documentary short created for exhibition in IMAX theaters is the first movie to explore the rings of man-made debris that threatens the safety of astronauts, space stations and satellites in orbit. Expert Don Kessler takes viewers on a journey to the Arizona Meteor Crater to 22,000 miles above the Earth while guiding us through the challenges we face in cleaning up this space junk and why it's so important that we do so.
Extras!: This Blu-ray 3D contains a making-of featurette, an interview with Wilkinson, a photo gallery and an extensive 3-D trailer set.
We Say: After a summer full of more than a few movies with obnoxious, headache-inducing 3-D effects ("R.I.P.D.," "Man of Steel"), it's refreshing to see the technology used to educate viewers on a very real problem instead of just, well, virtually throwing CG bits of exploding buildings in our faces. A 2-D version of "Space Junk" is included on the same disc, but this is a short movie designed with 3-D in mind from inception and is best viewed with an added dimension. There are a few space shots that have a real feel of orbiting high above the Earth when viewed in 3-D, so take a virtual space walk at home if you have a sweet setup. Also, before you see the extraordinary sci-fi film "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, "Space Junk 3D" will show you the very real reason those characters must fight for their lives high in orbit.