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.

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Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino gets away with a lot in Hollywood. It appears he’s even celebrated for what he can get away with – the latest of which being the Oscar nod to Django Unchained in the Best Picture category. While his latest film is in no uncertain terms great, I’m hesitant to say it’s the Best Picture of the year… yet.

If you know Tarantino’s schtick, you’ve seen all of his other films; Django Unchained shouldn’t be surprising in any ways. QT creates each of his “new” films by arduously selecting only the best bits and pieces of a cinema long-gone and tying it all together in a story that is ripe with exposition, dialogue and graphic imagery. In this case, one bit he’s carefully selected from the annals of cinema history is the title and title character.

Django Unchained

The original Django (from 1966, directed by Sergio Corbucci) had nothing to do with the Antebellum South or slavery, but it did have a man tortured by the loss of his woman who was also on a vengeful quest to get her back. One of my first disappointments with Tarantino’s film was the surprising lack of startling imagery as compared to many of his previous works. In this film, his usual cinematographer Robert Richardson and he, seemed to be a little less inspired with the visuals. For example, the opening imagery in Sergio Corbucci’s Django is of the titular character dragging behind him a coffin on a rope. Unchained opens with Django’s character walking in the woods tied to a group of other slaves – granted – also a powerful image you’d think, but not in the way it’s presented here, dark and expected, and even more, it’s an image that’s been burned into an American’s psyche forever. In this respect, I almost find myself having to agree with Spike Lee in his protestation at Unchained’s release, to leave this topic alone – almost.

That issue aside, the first three-quarters of the film had me pretty much hooked and under his spell. I commend Tarantino on what he’s succeeding to say with the story, but then by the end, when he goes for the simplistic, tie-up-every-loose-end-of-the-story-with-a-ridiculous-gunfight (very much akin to the final scene in True Romance or the Crazy 88’s scene in Kill Bill), my interest and appreciation quickly began to wane.

The thing about Tarantino’s films are they confidently take themselves very seriously. It’s why arguments are easy to make with Unchained about its use of the word “nigger” and its over-the-top violence. As for the word “nigger,” I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback by its gratuitous use from the first scenes forward in Unchained, but at the same time, I know that’s because I’ve been conditioned to be repelled by that word – a seemingly more disrespectful and distasteful slur now-a-days than, say, calling someone a “bitch” or a  “fuck.” It seems to me that if we’re going to be repelled by the use of one derogatory slur, we should be repelled by them all equally. Historically though, I know the use of the word “nigger” was a real and extremely prevalent thing (and to some extent, unfortunately still is), and therefore, even though QT uses it to his cultish, slightly perverse pleasure here, it’s not without point or reason. For much of the violence, however, I cannot say the same.

Django Unchained

Violence in the cinema has never been an issue to me; cinema is all fantasy no matter how you look at it, but it’s the new breed of violence in films (most of it re-invigorated by the torture-porn musings of films like Hostel, Saw and basically any “horror movie” from Asia in the past decade-and-a-half) that turns me off of filmmaking in general. Much of Tarantino’s brand of gun violence is point blank with plenty of maiming. When it works for the story, I can accept it and move on, but when it’s just random and unsubstantiated, I find myself getting bored. The final shootouts in Django Unchained are very over-the-top. Although someone will likely argue that I shouldn’t keep comparing them, the final shootout in Corbucci’s Django was equally over-the-top, but so much more acceptable (maybe not believable) – and just plain cool. Franco Nero, the actor who plays that original Django, after having his hands crushed to the point where he can’t hardly hold a gun, much less shoot it, musters the will and strength to bite through the trigger guard on his pistol and then by pressing the exposed trigger up against a gravestone, and using his gimp hand to hit the hammer back, he cleans out a cemetery full of bad guys all by himself.

Jamie Foxx’s Django has a far less impressive final shootout, although also equally unbelievable. Hardly even grazed by a bullet in a barrage of fire at him, he dives under a wooden wardrobe that is toppled over and despite it then being riddled with bullets – which indeed appear to be piercing the wood – he is not even showing a scratch once he emerges. It’s only that he runs out of ammo that he is even stopped and gives himself up. While I’ve always appreciated that Tarantino remains firmly planted in plausible territory with his action sequences in all his films, Unchained’s final shootouts seem a little haphazard and too “easy.”

As usual, the characters in Unchained are full, colorful and engaging. The highlights here are most certainly Leonardo DiCaprio as a young owner of one of the largest plantations in the South, his house slave, played by a well made-up Samuel L. Jackson and, of course, the always coolly hilarious and ebullient, Christoph Waltz as, quite literally, the only white man in the Antebellum time period to “abhor slavery,” aptly named Dr. King (Schultz). Upon just hearing the name for the first time in the movie, it brought a smile to my face.

Despite some of its drawbacks, Tarantino’s film is a much needed respite from the overwrought, striving-to-be-historically-accurate period pieces that normally tackle subjects as large, sensitive and America-centric as the Civil War and slavery, in that it allows audiences to actually enjoy a movie, while still also getting the gist of what was egregiously wrong about that time period in America’s history, and poking fun at how far (and in some cases, how not-so-far) we’ve come since then. Too bad Spielberg never had the balls to do that.

Repulsion

Roman Polanski’s second feature film (and his first English language) has been called by one critic Psycho turned inside-out. I’m not sure that’s the best concise description of the film, but it’s certainly better than how the trailers summed it up. The star, and the titular repulsed woman, is played by the gorgeous, blonde Catherine Deneuve. She speaks in a broken English, lives in a messy flat in London with her brunette sister and works as a nail technician in a salon. This is all Polanski wants his audience to know, and the rest is up to the viewer to process and identify with as they like.

As noted in the above-mentioned critic’s review, in stark contrast to the 1960 Hitchcock film, Polanski is more concerned with exploring the dark recesses of the mind of the psycho, rather than keeping the psycho solely in the shadows. However, the trailer would have you believe that the director takes us into the mind of Denueve’s paranoia, but that’s never really the case. Instead we get to see a couple of her dark nightmares (possibly indicating a sexually traumatic event in her past?), and a couple seemingly benign delusions. In the nightmares she’s stalked by men, later attacked by men and ultimately raped by men. Consequently, in reality she’s repulsed by men, the touch of men and the general presence of men.

Similar to the New York Mad Men universe, Repulsion is set in a ’60s London where Deneuve can’t walk down a city street (and she walks down many of them), without getting whistled at, groped or chased down by men desperate to be her boyfriend. It’s actually interesting to compare these on-location city-walking scenes with those of (pretty much) any ’60s French New Wave film (e.g. Breathless, Cleo, etc.), and notice how the similarities in style of filmmaking are almost identical, except when coupled with the performance of Denueve and the disjointed score, Polanski is able to fashionably pull off an overwhelming sense of dread in such a modern, un-staged, cinematic style – unlike most anything Hitchcock would ever do.

While Denueve’s nightmares are obvious and rather digestible for audience interpretation, the visions she has of her apartment (her prison) cracking around her, are much more cinematic and questionable. In fact, the visions seem almost in direct opposition to her rapidly developing fear of leaving the apartment and venturing out to where the staring and whistling men are. Yet, it’s when she retreats in her home, (later, even barricading herself there), that she has these visions of the walls splitting apart when she touches them. Is it the passage of time becoming exponential in her mind? Is it the frailty of the world around her that she fears? Or is it even darker fears that no matter where she hides, the men (the world, even) will always break through to find her in between the cracks?

I like the subtle inexplicabilities in a Polanski film. There’s even some question at the end whether or not she is a victim of her own illness. I’ve read in multiple reviews on the film that she’s in fact dead at the end of the film, the third casualty, as it were; but, I have watched the ending a few times now and I would argue she is alive – catatonic, maybe – but alive.

Like Hitchcock, Polanski uses well-developed cinematic scenes to lure a viewer into the light of a scary moment and then – bludgeon them (sometimes literally) with a surprise. Unlike many lazy directors of late, Polanski always ensures motive for his supporting characters’ actions. In a wonderfully crafted scene involving Deneuve’s first murder, her pushy boyfriend barges into her apartment – her slowly cracking sanctuary – to work on reversing the cold shoulder she’s been giving him.

Polanski’s masterfully crafted scene of murder.

While the character leaves the front door open after coming in, Polanski develops the scene from a two-shot into a three-shot with the nosey next door neighbor and her nosey dog appearing, framed up right in the center of the open doorway, eavesdropping (rather openly). When the boyfriend notices, he storms to the door, shuts it and without a second thought Denueve walks up behind him, candlestick raised over her head, brought down swiftly on the back of his skull. The moments of her insanity reaching their peak like this, are so expertly crafted, it’s hard to adjust to it momentarily. I hesitate to say this, for fear I even give someone the unborn idea, but a remake of this film would be destroyed by many genre directors of today. Subtly, pacing, drama, build-up and atmosphere are not in many of the new Hollywood elite’s repertoires (save, Fincher or Romanek).

While Hitchcock was pure Hollywood and genre, Polanski for a long while remained on the outskirts, coupling the fresh, bold European filmmaking styles of the ’60s with his own brand of calculated suspense via avant garde cinematics. I would never dare to call Repulsion an inside-out version of Psycho, for I feel that is actually a slight against Repulsion, with a point in favor for Psycho. No, instead, these are two films which should remain separate and apart, and whether the 1960 “shocker” was identified as some sort of inspiration for Repulsion or not – Roman Polanski was cinematically and stylistically years ahead of Hitch in ’65.

The Man with the Iron Fists

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Quentin Tarantino should be sincerely flattered right now. Rapper and musician RZA (who also worked on the score for Tarantino’s Kill Bill), has just directed his own schlocky debut feature, The Man with the Iron Fists. Spoiler alert: the titular Man is RZA himself. While certainly not impressive, RZA’s debut film is relatively entertaining; equal parts good and bad.

RZA plays a cool-headed blacksmith living in China where he is paid rather royally to basically outfit all the rivaling clans with weapons they can use to kill each other. The blacksmith also narrates the film in that uniquely lispy urban poetry-like voice he has going for him. It’s frankly one of my favorite things about the whole movie, despite his less-than-remarkable acting.

The story starts off a little sloppy in its narrative, and keeping track of all the rival gangs is almost laughable in itself (maybe intentionally?), but by the middle of the film when things take a turn for the worst for the blacksmith, the story (which up until then was disposable), becomes a little more gripping. Unfortunately, storyline, directing style, set design, characters, nor props in many cases can be seen as anything original and it seems that inspiration for RZA seems to have quite obviously come from Tarantino’s Kill Bill, or the more widely seen martial arts cult classics such as Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

The problem with a movie like this is, it’s trying hard to imitate and be inspired by these types of grindhouse movies where it’s more about sensationalism than plot and filmmaking. But what we now look at as cult classics or grindhouse genre films are just movies that were doing what they could with what they had back when they were made, probably not even trying to fall into the trash cinema classification which they have since then (retroactively marketably) fallen into. RZA, however, has the assistance of Tarantino (a master in his craft of revitalizing the cult and trash cinema genres to critical acclaim), way more resources and budget than many of the films he’s trying to channel from the ’70s and ’80s, and yet Iron Fists still looks cheaper and is weaker than most of those predecessors.

Tarantino gives the film a lift with his name attached, of course, and maybe that will help with marketing it to QT devotees, and even smartly help increase the awareness and anticipation for Tarantino’s latest revitalization, Django Unchained. There’s even a special trailer for the film running prior to Iron Fists, where QT himself intros it (also giving props to “his man” RZA’s film you’re about to see).  So see, it really all comes down to advertising, and if I was just a tad more cynical, I’d even go so far as to suggest RZA only got the damn greenlight for this film because of the beautiful marketing opportunities it would present.

George Kuchar (1942-2011)

Underground / experimental filmmaker George Kuchar (one half of the Kuchar Brothers) passed away September 6th. If you like the work of Guy Maddin, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, and Kenneth Anger, you no doubt feel the ripples of this great loss to avant-garde cinema as much as I do. For the uninitiated, but cine-curious, this doc is a great starting point…

There is an awesome obituary from the New York Times on him here.

Liam Bachler

Filmmaker Liam Bachler’s videos are gloriously soft focus 70s throwbacks with pretty women doing mischievous things… What’s not to love!? Check out the best below and as soon as I can find his short film Time Machine I’ll be sure to put up a review and/or post it here.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Little Blu House”



Computers Want Me Dead “Letters and Numbers”

Still from Time Machine

Kung Fu Red

Quickie homage to kung fu films by indie filmmaker Michael Scott. Well performed and with a cute payoff to boot. Give it a watch: