Warm Bodies Leaves You Cold

Warm Bodies the number one movie in America last week? Am I dreaming?

First of all, with the ridiculous amount of Oscar Best Picture nominees again this year, you’d think the Academy’s plan to generate more interest in the movies would be working – at least in their favor – but instead, the top grossing movie is a pre-teen snoozer cashing in on both the lucrative zombie genre and the beastly, psuedo-horror/romance fad 13-year olds all seem to identify with these days. It’s so much cooler to be hot for vampires, werewolves, zombies and other one-off horror show freaks, than it is to fall for just a normal, run-of-the-mill kind of guy, isn’t it? Why don’t they ever make movies where the male characters are the ones falling in love with a physically flawed female character, by the way? I’ll tell you why, because Hollywood knows that in their already dwindling audience of males age 18- 35, none of that demographic wants to lust after a girl who looks like a zombie or the guy from Beastly. Not even if it was Bar Refaeli playing the part.

Lucio Fulci will likely rise from the dead as soon as he finds out about this comparison.

Lucio Fulci will likely rise from the dead to eat someone’s brains as soon as he finds out about this horrendous “inside joke” comparison.

Warm Bodies is a pathetic excuse for a zombie flick to begin with, falling way short of ever providing any sort of truly cinematic zombie movie goodness. Instead it just recycles the old zombie apocalypse theme with the people who haven’t yet been bitten hiding behind a makeshift wall somewhere in a city that looks vaguely like London or New York City and with zombies milling around outside. Warm Bodies even appears to borrow a little bit of the I Am Legend look with its laughably CGI “Boney’s.” What’s worse though is how the film expects its audience to reject every perfectly plausible zombie movie guideline they know and just blindly go with this stupid story which at one point even turns into Romeo and Juliet.

The film is void of any sincere laughs, and gets by – if on anything – on its ability to make the lead zombie boy look and act cute because he’s fallen in love with a un-zombified girl. There are too many plot holes and inconsistencies to even bother referencing them here, but suffice it to say, no one seemed to notice (or care) except me. Something about this movie spoke to people. I am baffled. Look, I’m a sucker for a good romance and I love horror films from all sub-genres, so the unique plot concept about zombies painfully being alive inside their bludgeoned heads even when their bodies are dead, and the idea that they can gradually come back to life when embraced with the feeling of love, was a huge selling point for me – but this movie completely missed both marks and gave up all its opportunities to exploit its unique storyline to the fullest.

Then there are the actors – they’re terrible. Yeah, the lead girl is cute in a rip-off Kristen Stewart kind of way, but she is ultimately and instantaneously forgettable. The boy is similarly bad – the worse zombie ever in fact – I’ve seen zombie extras play more believable and horrifying than him. The boy’s movements inconsistent, unrealistic and his moaning and groaning ability to communicate short sentences to the girl and other zombies is a real chore to sit through. Even the director Jonathan Levine clearly felt that way after he saw the footage edited together, because the amount of songs which they conveniently edit into the film to absolutely no added effect, is equally boring to sit through. I find better zombie music videos online at least once a week.

The director Jonathan Levine should be ashamed of himself. This is utterly and obviously a job he took for the money, as I can see no effort, interest or talent that was put into this – especially comparing it to previous stellar work he’s done when he’s motivated and inspired, such as the hilarious and poignant 50/50. Even The Wackness was better than this.

…As I think about it more now, maybe this is the best movie to see in theaters at this moment. At least half of the Best Picture noms are unjustified and obvious promotional tactics / pats-on-the-back, but at least filmmakers like Spielberg and David O. Russell care about their craft and what they bring to the screen and if they’re making a film for the paycheck, they put a little effort into it still. The writer, filmmakers and actors (including Malkovich) of Warm Bodies, should all be ashamed of themselves for letting such drivel cost $12.50 in pointless Cinema XD since there’s about as much XD worthy action in the movie as there is in Lincoln, and as little tangible romance as there is in Silver Linings Playbook. Go see something else.

Girls

The writing and producing team of Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow is brilliant. Dunham can provide for the real world dramatic back-and-forth of the characters and Apatow can provide for the off-the-wall hilarity which brings a typical dramatic scene to a whole other unexpected level. Season One of the HBO TV series “Girls” is basically like a new Lena Dunham film. I watched the episodes as they premiered on Sunday evenings last year, and then I watched them all over again in one long 10-hour marathon. Either way they’re bound to stay with you, affect you and peak your interest into what a second season would bring. And Season Two premieres this Sunday, January 13.

Girls TV Series

The set up for the series is simple and brilliant. It’s like a much more intelligent Sex and the City and for a much less Princess-syndrome-plagued audience. An audience not any less self-important and self-aware, but one whose just may be a little hipper, listens to Sleigh Bells, The Echo Friendly and prefers writing and art over college football and keg stands.

There’s even an ingenious referencing to Sex and the City by the most appropriate character for enjoying that kind of show on the series. She’s also the one who enjoys game shows, reality TV and is hyper-obsessed with perfection and losing her virginity. Let’s start with her – the least obvious of the cast of characters – and with the most befittingly bohemian uptight name: Soshanna. Soshanna’s still in college, lives with doll house decorations in her apartment and needs a serious wake-up call to life. She’s also the cousin of Jessa.

Jessa is your typical Urban Outfitters / Free People adorned Williamsburg hipster, although she has a little edge to her with the aloof-albeit-endearing foreign accent (which you have to even wonder if not unlike a Madonna-like play for attention, she puts on). She’s working in the most inappropriate job ever for someone as uninterested in personal responsibility as she is – an au pair for a well-off family with a too-busy-for-the-kids glamour industry mom and a shlubby, out of work musician dad who becomes more enamored with Jessa then his own children.

Then we get to the stars of show, Dunham herself (playing as Hannah) and her “best” friend and roommate Marnie. Marnie starts the whole series off on a downward trajectory which destroys the heart of a perfectly good boyfriend and finds her literally seething with hatred for her relationship with him because he’s “too nice” to her, and clearly because he sees beauty and perfection in her which she could never see in herself due to a plethora of hidden self-esteem issues which she’s dutifully masked throughout most of her life from everyone she knows – including the lowest self-esteemed of all – Hannah.

Marnie in GirlsMarnie’s the kind of girl I literally find myself hating now, because I’ve seen what someone as damaged as she is can do to a relationship, and I don’t think they can ever really change. She’s too pretty to realize she’s pretty and she’s too uptight and self-obsessed to ever want a man who doesn’t beat her down with his disinterest in her any waking hour except those in which he’s horny.

Hannah is the most well-developed character (and interestingly the only one whose parents we’re introduced to), and best of all she’s got the perfect boyfriend. On the outset, her boyfriend Adam is a perverted loser, but the beauty of the way this series unfolds is that you learn to not judge any characters by their initial affectations, and instead (like real people) give them a chance to get to know you. Adam is a unique, artistic guy who’s not afraid to stand up for himself and not afraid to tell Hannah what he wants, even if it frightens her. What’s cool about the series Girls is that Dunham is pleading to women her age out there to give guys like this a solid chance, because honestly you could write him off over the first few episodes, but by the middle of the season you’re kind of hooked. He keeps Hannah honest, doesn’t necessarily tell her what she wants to hear, but always tells her what he’s feeling (when she takes the time to become un-self-absorbed and actually ask him). They’re a good combination of emotional intelligence and creativity for each other and really, Dunham puts all the pressure on the character she’s playing to keep it together with Adam, because (like most self-absorbed and low-esteemed girls) she’s unsure about a good thing.

girls-hbo-adam-hannahSeason Two has some changes in store for Hannah and Adam though, as Hannah will obviously be freaked out by the realization that Adam is actually in love and committing to her. Dunham actually sums up the feelings her character has for Adam in an honest and perfect real life example from her past (via Vulture), depicting just how some girls can be when they’re not emotionally mature at all:

The thing is, I’ve been in so many situations where, like, the power balance just shifts and shifts and shifts — like, I remember when I was 16 and I had this boyfriend from camp and I liked him so much, and he did not like me that much. He was really cool; he was a rapper, but he was not that into me. But then I went back home, he went back home, I started calling him a little less, and he turned into this mixtape-sending, flower-wielding person. I went to Boston to visit my friend and saw him, and we all went to a thrift store together, and it was like his passion for me was so unbridled he shoved me into a coat rack and tried to kiss me. And I was like, “Get off of me!” I just had this feeling like, “Where were you before?” I felt revulsion, because when you’re not mature enough to handle being responsible for somebody else’s feelings, their need is disgusting. When you really love someone, and you’re adult enough to understand that life is a back-and-forth of sometimes you need and sometimes they need, then you find somebody else’s vulnerability beautiful, and you want to nurture it, and you want to keep it safe. But I feel like, until pretty recently in my life, somebody expressing any kind of desperation or any kind of vulnerability — it was like your parents showing you they have real feelings, it was like running into your teacher on the subway. It was awful, and so I think that for Hannah this switch with Adam, even though it’s everything she had dreamed of, was overwhelming, and suddenly he’s a real person and she’s scared, and there’s this feeling of somebody else is wanting her time and her energy, and she’s not about that.

All the characters in this series are perfectly crafted out of real-life, they’re perfectly flawed and ingeniously paired. It’s a risky series for someone like Dunham to reveal because of its level of personal reflection and commitment as both filmmaker and star playing a role in which she must reflect many of her own personal demons. It’s also a challenging series because initially it was hard for me to become so invested in it; the girls are just so utterly off-putting to begin with that I found it to be more socially un-redeeming than socially revealing, but it’s an important and intelligent (and funny!) examination on young women and men and their ability to process and maintain meaningful relationships in today’s technocratic and constantly evolving world. Stick with it through the first few episodes and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised and glad you met these characters.

Only the Young

A coming of age film about Christian youth trying to rebel? I’ll admit, this is one indie film concept I didn’t see coming. I’m intrigued, but really, how original is a story about little hipster Christian kids trying to find themselves while realizing there’s more out there than just God’s word (which will no doubt keep being rammed down their throat until they fall in line)? Even if they don’t rebel in their youth (or ever), they’re going to become hypocrites one day regardless. All brainwashed, non-thinkers do.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems like an age-old cinematic question: what would you do if you knew the end of the world was near? Most films depict riots, looting, crazy parties or on the other side of that coin, romantic or reconciliatory last ditch efforts to make you go, “Aww.” Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring the cute and lovely (respectively) Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell, is a film that also has all these things, but with just the right amount of humanity to make it go down easy.

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Faced this time with a Tim Burton-esque sounding threat: an asteroid named Matilda that is headed for Earth, Steve Carrell finds himself in his usual comedic stature here (e.g. Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love) – he’s depressed and questioning his life and what it’s all been worth. It’s such familiar territory for him that there’s even a moment in the outtakes of the film where he cuts the scene before the director because he thought he could do a better take. Carrell is a talented actor, there’s no question about that, but I’m frankly a little tired now of the character he is always forced into. I’m all for comedy-via-self-deprecation, but there’s got to be something else he can do. Maybe a Robin Williams turn like in One Hour Photo would do Carrell good, and he could hone his acting chops on a character not so nice and empathizable for once.

Keira Knightley seems oddly less typecast than usual in this film, but maybe that’s because I’m more akin to her brooding romantic character creations which I’m generally fond of, even if the period pieces do get a wee bit old after a while. She’s a good fit for the character and her British lilt is charming and works given her character’s driving ulterior motive (she wants to visit her parents in England before the end of the world).

As fate would have it, mere weeks before their demise, these two soul mates finally meet. She helps him realize what he’s been missing all his life, and he helps her on the same front. The nice things about the movie is, it doesn’t make these characters necessarily perfect for, or a good balance for each other, but it makes them the kind of people who are willing to accept the other for their good and bad qualities and stick by them no matter what happens. They really do become friends before they ever realize their love for each other, and that’s subtly what leads them to even realize it.

The pacing and story of this film is superb. We knows there’s an imminent countdown to their fate looming over everything, and even when we start to wonder if that’s just all been forgotten by the filmmakers, the next scene throws a curve, declaring via news report that the asteroid’s actually a week early in its arrival. There’s no overly drawn out cinematic need to anticipate the inevitable – the audience is already anticipating it. In fact, I was literally in disbelief the whole way through, thinking there was surely going to be some red herring at the end that enabled the asteroid to just miss Earth, and everyone would get to live happily ever after. But then, I know I wouldn’t have been happy with that ending after a while, because how simple, painless and obvious would that be?

No, the filmmakers stick to their guns and go out on a poetic note even, in a denouement of scenes that will surely have you welling up with tears, if not full on crying into your shirt sleeves. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may be easy to pan for many film critics, but I found it a refreshing take on the end-of-the-world movie and a smart, funny examination of what we really are as humans: fools, not so much scared of the end of life, but scared of living life, and consequently trying to always be something we’re not until we finally realize it’s too late.

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is like a Lars Von Trier for the recreational filmgoer: he knows how to make artsy edginess palatable for the masses. Moonrise Kingdom follows Anderson’s usual storybook directing style. An Anderson film is always, colorful, character-ful, graphic and socially hip. That said, an Anderson film is also usually rich with story; the one place where Moonrise Kingdom is lacking.

The film is actually (I’d argue) the darkest of all Anderson’s work, and maybe that’s partly what continues to hold me through it even though it ultimately leaves me wanting more. Characters come and go like plastic chess pieces, only used to propel the narrative forward in most cases. While Anderson’s previous work only had this pretentious two-dimensional character problem in small doses, it should be noted that Moonrise Kingdom has this problem throughout – even the main characters are in many ways dimly lit.

Similarly, but in direction opposition to Von Trier, Anderson leaves a lot up to the viewer in this film, with cardboard-like performances from the actors against detail-saturated set designs that make you feel like you’re watching a school play gone awry. Again, this is standard stuff for an Anderson film, but all of his previous work through in many ways nauseatingly flat, always also held deeply introspective stories that made it seem sort of like you were reading a book that came to life in front of you. Comparing Kingdom to, say, Von Trier’s Dogville, where the viewer is tasked with filling in the blanks of the chalk-outline set design yet given more character detail than they may want to handle, both of these directors seem to like working against their audiences, only in direct opposition of one another.

The beauty of an Anderson film is that his style is so utterly easily digestible by mainstream moviegoers, it’s going to be virtually impossible, I fear, to ever see him get a terrible review from someone. Von Trier, however, many times uses imagery and forthrightness in his cinema that the mainstream will more than likely be repelled by, despite how much the critical masses will tout his genius.

If we look behind the curtain, there’s two things really going on here: First of all, Kingdom is endearing because of its two main characters which are brainy, quirky, adolescents. They’re also oddly easy to misconstrue as fledgling hipsters. In fact, there’s no way you can watch this film and not think if these two kids hit 18 today they’d be dressed in skinny jeans with black framed boxy glasses and unkempt hair.

Second, it’s a love story between these two kids. One of those love stories that you stick with because it’s precious, simplistic, virtuous and yet there’s an element of danger to it.

That’s it – that’s where the film excels – on these two areas alone. It’s in its artsy vapidness that the audience can easily get lost and fall in line with the narrative, willing to follow it to the end, but I worry there’s nothing tangible to Anderson’s kind of cinema except the fleeting moments when a new character (played by a usually stellar character actor) pops up in a scene and you get to whisper to your viewing patron in the seat next to you, “Hey, isn’t that so-and-so?”

My Week with Marilyn

Simon Curtis may only have TV movies in his body of work, but My Week with Marilyn deserves to be on the silver screen. This is a great film that made me think a lot about Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles and wish it could have been more like this was. Curtis directs with a warmth and love for his subjects that’s immediately noticeable. He himself may have very well been the character of Colin Clark, the young man of which the titular week with Marilyn is spent.

Comparable to the way The Artist  plays with the professionalism and theory of acting as a classic art form, My Week with Marilyn tenderly reflects the unseen qualities of Marilyn Monroe’s ability as an important actress as opposed to a movie star. She is plagued by self-image issues, many of which were never alleviated (or even mediated) by any of her handlers or suitors, until Colin. It’s a perfect pairing in that he is so utterly without self-importance when around her that he is able to focus all importance on her, lifting her to the place she wants to be for the moment.

Too much of a good thing is quickly had though by both parties involved, and inevitably their relationship, as fleeting as it was, will come to a bitter end. This will do much to sober Colin up, but he will remain without ever realizing or finding what he truly wants, in order to make him happy. It’s not obvious at the beginning, but Colin and Marilyn are very much alike on the inside; very much opposite on the outside.

Colin will effectively lose what he wants most and will have to rebuild, just as Marilyn would have to do if she’d the will to stomach the loss and unpredictability of the future. Michelle Williams plays an eerily pitch-perfect Marilyn who is lit so gorgeously by Ben Smithard and made up so perfectly by the makeup department, that it’s simple to slip right into the story and feel like Monroe is alive again. Biopics are notoriously long, overwrought and hard to fall in love with, but My Week with Marilyn is a welcomed vacation despite its inevitable sad ending.

The Descendants

If The Descendants was set in any other state than Hawaii, it would have been a completely different (probably worse) film. What a difference a location makes. Think of how many movies you see on a regular basis where the location is basically interchangeable or even unremarkable. Not in this case. It’s a mean trick because not only is it a gorgeously eye-melting location, the film uses the location to also support a meaningful environmental and societal cause for the local Hawaiian communities.

Clooney’s critically applauded little film is almost a companion piece to Up in the Air, the last smart, memorable little indie drama he did. I never would have thought to compare the styles of director Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), but if you watched them back-to-back you’d almost guess they were the same director.

Payne’s style in Descendants is a little less heavy on the schlubby man spectacle than his previous efforts, Sideways and About Schmidt, but nonetheless utterly depressing. This is well-traversed and familiar territory for Payne, and he handles the material well, but it’s the addition of the young daughters to the story that really bring out the best in the film. Their interaction with Clooney as the disaffected father whose just coming to his senses thanks to a jarring turn of events, is typical, but welcomed.

Like most movies in this vein the children seem to be more observant and in touch with reality than the adults – isn’t that always the case? Maybe they see life from a narrower focus, preventing them from having to deal with the added pressures of literally everything else in the world… or, maybe, it’s actually the other way around. Either way, the film deserves all the credit it’s received; superb, engaging acting and an enthralling – albeit soap-operatic script hold up the simple, straightforward visuals (and really how can you make a film in Hawaii without an audience being enamored?). The fact is though, you probably won’t ever have the urge to revisit the movie in the future, it’s just not that kind of movie.