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Hollywood's choice this weekend: Monsters or zombies?
Or, you can romp with Shakespeare instead.
The likely box-office champ this weekend is "Monsters University," Pixar's prequel to its 2001 hit "Monsters, Inc." This one shows monsters James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) meeting in college, first as rivals and ultimately as friends. (And if you think that's a spoiler, you don't understand the concept of the prequel.) It's light and funny and charming, but it doesn't have the gee-whiz brilliance of "Monsters, Inc."
The other big studio movie is possibly the most expensive movie made this summer: "World War Z," an ambitious but flawed attempt to make a movie out of Max Brooks' post-apocalyptic novel. The movie captures the zombie apocalypse in progress, as a global pandemic is creating hordes of undead and putting everyone else in a panic. It's up to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN investigator pressed back into service, to hop the globe searching for the source of the outbreak. Director Marc Forster creates a chilling mood, but the episodic structure creates some slow spots in the pacing.
The best movie of the week is Joss Whedon's shimmering adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing," which reimagines Shakespeare's comedy as a bubbly cocktail party. Shot in black and white, and in modern dress, the story of feuding Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) transforms into a sharp romantic comedy. Whedon benefits from casting many of his regular actors, from Denisof and Acker (formerly co-stars on "Angel") to Clark Gregg ("The Avengers") and Nathan Fillion ("Firefly"). (Read an interview with Fillion, who also provides a voice to "Monsters University," in The Cricket column.)
"The East" is a tense eco-thriller from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, the team that created the Sundance hit "Sound of My Voice." Marling stars as a corporate spy assigned to infiltrate a radical environmental group as they plot to strike back at greedy polluters. The script, by Batmanglij (who directed) and Marling, ratchets the tension while posing some intriguing moral dilemmas. The strong cast includes Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Patricia Clarkson. (Read The Cricket's interview with Marling and Batmanglij.)
"The Bling Ring" is Sofia Coppola's latest look at fame and its downside, a glossy look at a real-life criminal case in which southern California teens robbed houses of Hollywood A-listers. With powerhouse performances, particularly by Emma Watson as one of the vapid teens, Coppola captures the robbers' obsession with celebrities and their designer culture.
Lastly, "The Kings of Summer" is a funny and sweet story of teen rebellion, about three high-school boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias) who decide to leave their homes and build their own house in the Ohio woods. The movie (titled "Toy's House" when it played at this year's Sundance Film Festival) is acidly funny and sharply observant of teen emotions.