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At Large

Zombies, terrorists and minions

These have been our companions—for at least two hours a day—the past week. The hubby and I are at the time of our lives we call “semi-retirement,” and while the passage is official for my husband, who is at least five years into freedom from daily schedules in a huge corporation, for me it is mainly a matter of choice. I have chosen to cut down on daily commitments and have eased up on what used to be a fervid pursuit of journalistic deadlines.

Now we find ourselves with a lot of time on our hands—which is not always an unmitigated good, I can tell you, but which leaves us with an amazing flexibility to pursue goals we have set for ourselves. And one of these is to watch movies. We suddenly have the time to catch up on movies on our “must-watch” list, although choosing the movies on that list is hardly an exercise in harmony. For the most part, the “market” (the movie distributors) determines the choices, especially since the choice of movie houses or cineplexes is an important factor.

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But other times, our choices have been the subject of intense debate that covers personal taste, favorite actors, thematic relevance, and even historical implications. In many ways, we are back to the days when we were just dating, and movie-watching was our main form of recreation and bonding. And choosing our movie fare was one way of testing each other’s personality and our own compatibility. The bad news to new couples: The testing never ends, and choosing movies is as problematic as ever.

However, we do manage to come to an agreement, and here are three of the most recent movies we managed to reach détente on.

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I really wasn’t all that sold on “World War Z,” especially after my son pointed out that “Z” was for zombies, and that critical opinion on the film was mixed. But when we stepped out of the movie house, I was surprised at myself. I had enjoyed the film, fully, satisfyingly. Maybe it was because Brad Pitt enjoyed an extraordinary amount of screen time, even if for much of the movie he was scruffy with a days-old stubble. Or maybe it was because the movie was a combination of horror, suspense, scientific whodunit, with apocalyptic morality lessons thrown in.

Pitt plays a former UN operative who is mustered back to action when a viral outbreak turns normal people into virtual zombies, with the epidemic spreading faster and farther than most authorities can respond to. The main mystery is how the outbreak began in the first place, and the search takes Pitt from the streets of New York to a carrier in the middle of the Atlantic, and thence to Korea, Israel and Switzerland.

The frenetic pace of the early part slows down quite a bit inside the WHO research center in Switzerland, but this is also where the most suspenseful bits take place. I like the global scale of the movie, and the capable multinational cast’s believability. I also like that the “zombies” aren’t quite the clichés they are on other movies and on TV, although they could really use some serious moisturizer.

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Neither was I fully sold on “White House Down.” It stars Channing Tatum, for one, and in the opinion of my fashion guru (?!) Joan Rivers, he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But who needs brains when you’ve got brawn? And when your character has a preteen daughter with enough precociousness for two adults?

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The White House in the movie feels familiar, since it has an African-American (Jamie Foxx) for president who is caught between his own inclination toward brokering peace with America’s enemies and his conservative opponents’ fervid hatred of these same enemies.

Watching the movie, I was startled by how easily the homegrown terrorists seemed to have penetrated the White House’s security shield, but I won’t tell you why or how, except to say terrorists exist in all guises and are motivated by any number of grievances.

The filmmakers, who are behind familiar and forgettable summer blockbusters, push all the right buttons and haul out the most stereotypical characters. And we know it. But we play along, if only on first viewing, because who needs to think when the White House is being set on fire and the presidential limo ends up in the swimming pool?

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My daughter tells me that McDonald’s is now hard put to meet the demand for the minion figurines that come with especially-themed “Kids’ Meals.” She had ambitions herself of collecting all the figures in the set, but now is resigned to holding on to the single minion she was able to snag.

And that’s how popular the yellow one- or two-eyed robots have become, and how they are driving ticket sales for “Despicable Me 2.” This is the animated film that features a reformed villain, his three adorable adoptive daughters, his decrepit lab assistant, and his secret-agent girlfriend. Still, the real stars of the movie are the minions, who speak in multitongued gibberish (including some distinctive Tagalog words) but are able to express a multitude of emotions.

The first “Despicable” movie had at its core the budding relationship between the reformed villain and the three girls, and indeed it was the heartwarming core of a madcap movie. The rebooted version is all madcap, built around the rather flimsy infrastructure of a search for another mad scientist-villain.

Look to the minions for humor and irony and “cuteness.” But that’s all you’ll get from this second movie in a franchise that I hope ends up in a minions cartoon series, if only to satisfy our craving for them.

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TAGS: At Large, Despicable Me, Films, Movies, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, White House Down, World War Z
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