Skip to main content

This date is not going well. I want to die all over again.

Warm Bodies
(2013)

(MILD SPOILERS) The idea of a zombie love story sounded so desperate and wrong (as in, a really dumb premise designed as a cash-in), I didn’t give it the time of day until now. Even with the generally positive reviews, it failed to really sway me. So when I say it is a pleasant surprise, it’s not due to lowered expectations but rather because the unlikely angle works really well; Romeo and Juliet by way of Edward Scissorhands with a ready wit (difficult to do when Shaun of the Dead seems like the last word on zomcoms), an affecting romance and a surprisingly original mythology.


Nicholas Hoult (who hitherto – see Jack the Giant Slayer – has come across as one of those nondescript actors being pressganged into slightly awkward leading man status) is R, a reluctant zombie with a vigorous sentience but who can’t even remember his full name. His external manner is belied by an active interior monologue, impressed upon us through soundtrack narration. Sure, he has an overpowering need to feed on brains but he doesn’t really want to. He’s able to communicate, of a sort, with “best friend” M (Rob Corddry), described as an interaction in which they “occasionally grunt and stare awkwardly at each other”. The zombies aren’t exactly a community, but their relative humanity is emphasised by the existence of “Boneys” further devolved zombies that have lost any last vestiges of a living state.


When R and his colleagues attack a party of humans, he kills one (Perry, played by Dave the-brother-of-the-ubiquitous-James Franco) but is seized by the impulse to rescue Julie (Teresa Palmer). Something has awakened within him, even before he feeds on Dave’s grey matter, and slowly a romance develops between mismatched pair. In another considered twist on lore (I admit, I’m not well-versed, but this isn’t something I’ve seen before) the feeding on brains gives zombies a rush of memories and “humanity”; it’s like a drug. Yet, when his evolution is triggered, he is impelled to spit out his snack store of Dave brains. Before long, the only slightly inarticulate R is fully conversant. Further, his heart begins to beat again, triggering a similar rekindling in the undead around him.


It sounds pretty corny, and it’s easy to imagine that in another’s hands director Jonathan Levine’s screenplay (I haven’t seen his other pictures, but this one is based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name) might have been quite awful. You know, Twilight awful. But Warm Bodies is self-aware and inventive, even as it ensures it follows a recognisable path; it’s a forbidden love that R and Julie share. After all, John Malkovich is Julie’s dad. As leader of the remaining humans he hates zombies, naturally, so the last thing he wants is a drooling prospective son-in-law. The soundtrack is replete with a readily assembled compilation of tunes denoting romantic uplift (M83 is there – surprise – and Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart is one-the-nose but amusing for it).


Because Levine keeps things witty the elements that are ripe for showing ripeness fly. If the metaphors are undisguised in terms of the awkwardness of attraction and expression, for every “It must be hard being stuck in there” we get an amusing “Don’t be creepy. Don’t be creepy. Don’t be creepy” as R attempts to act cool with the girl or a self-deprecating “I have zombie fingers” (and terrible posture).


There’s the occasional stumble. The Boneys are never less than cheap CGI, so it’s a wonder Levine’s able to eke any tension from them. And he arguably relies a little too much on zombie foreknowledge as, aside from a tasteful attack on Julie’s group we aren’t shown the extent of their gore-strewn plundering. It’s also a little shocking how easily R breaks into the human compound. If this was The Walking Dead, the living wouldn’t last five minutes.


Hoult and Palmer make winning leads; I don’t know if this one is classified as part of the Young Adult genre but, if so, it’s streets ahead of the competition. One might moan that no one here is really made to look like a gross cadaver; more as if they’re partial to dodgy Goth music at worst, with a few tasteful scars. As such, there isn’t any at Beauty and the Beast or Hunchback of Notre Dame resonance. Would Julie still love R if his limbs were dropping off left right and centre? Admittedly, that really isn’t the point. This is an unabashed proclamation of the power of love, rather than an endurance test; that Warm Bodies manages to get its message across without devolving into overt sentiment or banal platitudes is achievement enough. And marvellously, despite its box office success, it’s rather precluded from a sequel… Except that Marion is already writing one. 


***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985)
Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon. Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires).

Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg (Kick the Can). There, OAPs rediscover their in…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Barbarians? You call us barbarians?

The Omega Man (1971)
(SPOILERS) Chuck Heston battles albino mutants in 1970s LA. Sure-fire, top-notch B-hokum, right? Can’t miss? Unfortunately, The Omega Man is determinedly pedestrian, despite gestures towards contemporaneity with its blaxploitation nods and media commentary so faint as to be hardly there. Although more tonally subdued and simultaneously overtly “silly” in translating the vampire lore from Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, the earlier The Last Man on Earth is probably the superior adaptation.

Reindeer-goat cheese pizza?

Hudson Hawk (1991)
A movie star vanity project going down in flames is usually met with open delight from press and critics alike. Even fans of the star can nurse secret disappointment that they were failed on this occasion. But, never mind, soon they will return to something safe and certain. Sometimes the vehicle is the result of a major star attaching themselves to a project where they are handed too much creative control, where costs spiral and everyone ends up wet (Waterworld, The Postman, Ishtar). In other cases, they bring to screen a passion project that is met with derision (Battlefield Earth). Hudson Hawk was a character created by Bruce Willis, about whom Willis suddenly had the post-Die Hard clout to make a feature.

I think it’s gratuitous, but whatever.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best
This is an update of a ranking previously published in 2018. I’d intended to post it months ago but these things get side-tracked. You can find the additions of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home and a revised assessment of Ant-Man and the Wasp. There are also a few tweaks here and there.