World War Z

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie stars Brad Pitt, and absolutely nobody else I'd ever heard of. (Well, with one exception, noted below.) Theory: if you have a special-effects-laden movie with Brad Pitt in it, you won't have a lot of money for hiring other actors. They may have been recruiting at the Seacoast Reperatory, for all I know.

(Seriously, the other actors are fine. It's just I'd never heard of them.)

Anyway: Brad plays Gerry Lane, who used to (it's apparent) work defeating international evildoers. But you can't do that and have a full family life, so he's resigned and lives in a perfect house outside Philly with a perfect wife and perfect kids. The only clue we get that something might be wrong is the chattering on the news channel in the background. Gerry and his family are oblivious, and why shouldn't they be?

Well, they might not have driven into Philly, which suddenly erupts into serious zombie chaos, with explosions and panic and people getting chewed. Brad and his family barely escape, and start making their way up I-95. But it's only a matter of a few video minutes when they're in peril once more. The zombies in this flick move fast, and are surprisingly good at teamwork.

Gerry is roped into a desperate play to find the root cause of the zombie outbreak, in hopes that will reveal a cure: he jets from Korea, to Israel, and finally to Wales, each time barely getting away unbitten.

As mentioned: the special zombie effects are pretty good, and it's action-packed. Kind of reminded me of a video game.

Oh yeah: the other actor I recognized was David Morse. This is neat, because Morse and Pitt were also in Twelve Monkeys, a different sort of apocalyptic movie, nearly twenty years ago. Maybe in another couple decades, they'll do something else.

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

[Amazon Link]

I used to live in the Washington DC area. Although I was a poor graduate student at the time, there was a great source of cheap entertainment back then: the American Film Institute Theater, nestled in a corner of the Kennedy Center. It was a great way for a wannabe film buff to see definitive versions of old movies on the big screen. And it was there that I saw The Searchers, one of the best Westerns (some say the best) ever.

It was kinda-sorta based on a true story: the abduction by Comanches of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker from a Texas settlement in 1836, where most of the rest of her family was killed. Her uncle James spent fruitless years trying to find her. But Cynthia Ann became one of the wives of a Comanche chief, and lived with the tribe until 1860, when she and her infant daughter Prairie Flower were "rescued" in another massacre, this one by Texas Rangers, perpetrated on mostly women and children.

Glenn Frankel does something kind of neat in this book: exploring not only the true story of Cynthia Ann, but also the entire sweep of subsequent events, up to the present day. He is a meticulous researcher. The original story is far too grim and bloodsoaked to make a popular movie. Admirable characters were thin on the ground of mid-19th century Texas. (One decent guy appears, only to be shot in the back later that same paragraph.)

Cynthia Ann died only a few years after returning to the white world, probably spurred by the illness and death of Prarie Flower. All indications were that she was miserable the entire time.

But her older son, Quanah Parker, went on to become a Comanche chief himself. Although he probably killed his share of white people as a youngster, he eventually grew to become an advocate of peace. Although this was probably because he could see any other path was hopeless. He grew to (relative) fame and fortune, entertaining Teddy Roosevelt at his home.

Cynthia Ann's story was heavily mutated/adapted into the novel The Searchers, by Alan LeMay. And that book was (after much more tinkering) used as the source for the movie by the (um) colorful director John Ford, starring John Wayne as the uncle in search of the kidnapped child.

Frankel makes all this fascinating, equally at ease describing the mutual atrocities in 1836 Texas and the petty tyrannical genius of John Ford. Thankfully, he spares us any grand theorizing about What It All Means About America. In an epilogue, he describes how the remnants of the Parker clan, both red and white, celebrate their ancestors' lives. And it's very touching.