Talking Movies

February 6, 2013

Warm Bodies

Nicholas Hoult apropos of Shaun of the Dead’s marketing shows us what a proper ‘zom-rom-com’ looks like, and it looks much like any other rom-com.

WarmBodiesScreenshot

R (Hoult) is a hoodie-wearing slacker who lives at an abandoned airport, listens to his extensive vinyl collection on a private jet, slouches at a bar with his best friend (Robb Corddry), and from time to time shuffles into the city for some fresh human brains. As zombies are wont to do… Julie (Teresa Palmer) is the jaded daughter of General Grigio (John Malkovich), the hardliner entrusted with safeguarding the walled city. Sent into the dead zone with her boyfriend (Dave Franco) and best friend (Analeigh Tipton) to scavenge for medicine she’s ambushed by R’s pack, but he chooses not to eat her and classic rom-com structure develops. Will she love him when she finds out his secret is that he ate her previous boyfriend? And what exactly has changed in R that makes him capable of such human feelings?

So, how do you make zombies sexy? You don’t, you make them not zombies. A perfectly sound solution but you’d hope that someone of the calibre of writer/director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50) would’ve gone deeper. Hoult’s voiceover is nicely sardonic, especially in his delightful scene-setting monologue, but if you’ve seen any episode of Dexter you’re wise to some of its tricks already. Corddry is damn good in support portraying seemingly impossible emotional ‘exhumation’, and Tipton has a wonderfully comic awkward exchange with Hoult in slacker shrugging. Palmer though struggles not to come off as simply blonde Bella Swann at critical moments… Ultimately Warm Bodies just cheats too much for its own good. Levine, in his first PG-13 outing, has to neuter the zombies’ appearance and behaviour, so that they don’t alienate with Romero-style bloody dismemberments of living human victims.

This is a difficult balancing act given the film’s brilliant innovative touch; that eating brains allows zombies to experience the memories of the human they’re munching on; powers the unlikely romance. Levine thus unveils a CGI version of Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton army as Boneys, the bad zombies who always eat people, and in one instance attack in a sequence lifted from I, Robot. At a certain point though the featured zombies aren’t really zombies anymore; more people who are so very, very, very drunk that they can no longer remember with certainty their own names or where they live, and find it equally challenging to think of things to say and then articulate the words intelligibly. Montreal is brilliantly rendered as post-apocalyptic wasteland but this is just an amusing rom-com – the power of love is the ‘cure’ for ‘zombieism’…

It seems George Romero’s heroes instead of going in for head-shots should have just stood with a boom-box over their own heads blasting out Huey Lewis and the News.

2.5/5

April 23, 2012

Damsels in Distress

Writer/director Whit Stillman’s first film since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco is a deliriously enjoyable slice of New England liberal arts college skewering nonsense.

Ingénue Lily (former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton) transfers into Seven Oaks College which is dominated by the slightly unhinged clique of Greta Gerwig’s Violet. Violet is engaged in a deadly struggle with the editor of the campus newspaper The Daily Complainer over his efforts to shut the Roman Houses as her dim boyfriend Frank (Ryan Metcalf) lives at one of these frat houses. Violet is also engaged in trying to raise morale with her Suicide Prevention Centre, which she runs with best friend Rose (CSI: Miami star Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore). Violet thinks that creating an international dance craze with her original creation the Sambola may help change the world for the better. Lily becomes more assertive under Violet’s acerbic tutelage and indeed soon thinks that Violet’s clique may be the worst people imaginable for the job of preventing suicide…

Stillman is one of the most urbane auteurs imaginable and this return from an extended absence occasioned by a film set in Jamaica falling thru is full of delightful gags. An opening argument about whether Xavier is spelt with an X or a Z which instances the lamentable case of a Xorro who signed his name by slashing X with a sword, and was therefore unjustly considered illiterate exemplifies what follows. The ‘plot’ is a ramshackle series of comedic episodes with titles. A highlight being The Roman Holiday at which the frat boys go wild in costume to the strains of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra as the girls sigh that this seems to be the end of western civilisation. But following Lily from ingénue to mean girl while Violet declines is really all the structuring character arc you need when it allows glorious dialogue.

Billy Magnusen’s frat boy Thor who is hitting the books hard to try and fix in his mind what the primary colours are is a triumphant creation, and the transformative power of a bar of soap is an equally absurdist moment. Stillman also indulges in more subtle effects, as when a piece of pop Anti-Catholicism by a character is revealed later to be tragically misjudged. Gerwig is impressive as Violet, Echikunwoke receives an amazing character moment after milking her recurring line about ‘playboy operators’, which she applies to Talking Movies favourite Adam Brody; whose Charlie, alongside Hugo Becker’s exchange student Xavier, comes between Lily and Violet as romantic obstacles. People say horrible things to each other in this film but Stillman never has anything less than love for them.

No one in the world has ever really talked quite like a Whit Stillman character, but you feel sure that F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters would get on well with them.

4/5

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