Warm Bodies

warmbodies

It was with trepidation that I finally agreed to go with my brother to see “Warm Bodies,” a book and film in which the only thing I knew was that it had been labeled “The Twilight of Zombies.”  One: It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be to walk into the theater.  I’m in my mid to late thirties and I wear zombie hoodies and wrestling T-shirts; I’m officially old enough to not give a crap.  Two: Warm Bodies is much, much better than I was expecting it to be and if anything, its “label” and preconceived notions do the story a great injustice.  This film is so much more than a supernatural teen romance.

A zombie (would-be tween heartthrob, Nicholas Hoult) who calls himself “R” (that’s the only part of his human name he can remember) spends his post-apocalyptic days wandering around the airport with his bretheren.  R, however, seems to be an atypical walking corpse.  He knows what he is, what he was and what has happened to the world.  He has an inner monologue that the audience is privy to.  He lives by himself in an airplane where he collects relics of the lost American culture.  He’s even an undead hipster, complete with a pretty solid vinyl collection.  When not lost in his own thoughts, R attempts to communicate with his best friend “M” (Rob Corddry).  Most of the time they can only grunt, but sometimes they spit out some words.  They don’t realize it, but this small act is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless world.

The uncomplicated life of a zombie suddenly becomes more complicated when R’s hunting pack encounters some young adults scavenging for medical supplies to bring back to their walled community of survivors.  (It’s a set-up not unlike the one in my own novel, because really, there are only so many scenarios to choose from in this kind of imagined world.)  R eats the brains of a young man named Perry (Dave Franco), which gives him access to all the memories contained therein.  It’s one of the sillier concessions but as a plot device, it is effective in that 1) it provides sudden motivation for the main character when he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, and 2) it allows for some much-needed exposition of the human characters without having to resort to too many clunky “getting to know you” scenes back home.

R saves Julie (the adorable Teresa Palmer), from certain doom and leads her scared and confused, (but knowing better than to kick and scream), back to his airplane.  Having someone who can effectively hold a conversation works wonders for R’s speaking ability and it’s not long before his inner monologue is able to get his tongue working to say the things he wants to say.  He convinces Julie to stay a few days since it’s not safe for her in the middle of a zombie nest and from there, they begin to forge a genuine, if unlikely friendship.  Amazingly, R’s heart is triggered and starts working again.

During their eventual escape, they are assisted by M, who has his own heart and memories triggered by the sight of the two holding hands.  If R and Julie are the catalysts for a zombie feelings revolution, then M is the snowball they roll from the top of a hill.  It is not long before M is passing along heart-pumping human emotion like a zombie virus in reverse.  By the time R makes it back to the human camp to find Julie, (she leaves his side after understandably not taking too kindly to finding out who murdered Perry), R is colorful and lively enough to be mistaken for human, at least in passing.

Will the two young lovers from opposing sides, (I believe we’re supposed to deduce that R’s name was Romeo), be able to convince Julie’s dad, the leader of the army, that the zombies are changing for the better?  Will a world come to exist where zombies and humans live side by side in harmony?  Can the horde of skeleton zombies who are beyond redemption be defeated?  Well, if you consider that this film really is targeted toward tweenagers, then the answers to those questions are never in doubt.

But, as I said at the top, it is a disservice to dismiss this film as tween fodder.  It is about the perseverance of the human will.  The triumph of the human spirit.  And yeah, if you wanted to get technical enough, I’m sure you could write a paper on this as an allegory for war or racism or something.  This is not a story about an unlikely romance.  It is a story about how our innate humanness can not be easily killed.  It can always be revived, even to literally save the world.  It is Romero’s notion that zombies can ‘remember who they were’ taken to its endpoint.

I’m not usually one to notice things like cinematography and art direction, but the subtle ways R slowly regains his color and indeed the whole world regains its life is beautifully rendered.  The soundtrack is near perfect, aided of course by R’s hipster leanings and aforementioned vinyl collection.  The performances all range from solid to outstanding.  Particularly of note is the casting of Rob Corddry as M, which goes from headscratching at first to practically stealing the movie by the end.  He not only gets most of the funniest one-liners (zombies don’t have much more than one line at a time anyway!), but he turns out to be the real heart of the movie, figuratively and literally.  It’s my brother’s gimmick to speculate on the Golden Zombey awards, but if I have anything to say about it (which I do), Corddry is a lock for a Supporting Actor nomination.

I am so happy that I gave in and allowed myself to be dragged to see this film.  It was phenomenal and I walked out feeling not like I had just sat through some tween garbage, but like I had seen a Top 5 zombie film.  Grade: A+

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Zombie Movie Night: March ’13

Running down the cast list for Zombie Movie Night in March, we had high hopes that we would be adding a lot of name recognition to our Golden Zombey awards in September.  Bill Oberst Jr, the reigning, defending Golden Zombie Best Actor, Corbin Bleu from High School Musical, Ethan Suplee from My Name is Earl and Machete himself, Danny Trejo, all tried to throw their names into contention.  But once again we relearned the lesson that never seems to sink in when it comes to watching zombie movies:  Don’t get your hopes up!

First up was a spoof (I guess?) of the website Funny or Die, entitiled Scary or Die.  It’s basically five short films of varying lengths woven together by a creepy hand clicking each story one by one on a computer screen.  There are a few hints that all five take place in the same universe, but the tales are hardly interwoven as much as the imdb description claims.  Call me biased, but the first one is the best.  It’s a pretty good setup for a zombie movie as Bill Oberst Jr plays a racist redneck who, along with his drinking buddy, takes a hands-on approach to vigilante border patrol.  Things turn ugly when their victims start rising from their graves.  This could have gone on to be a good zombie movie if they had stuck with it, and I was really hoping to return to the characters later.  I had my hopes up (there’s that term again) that this would be five stories about the zombie apocalypse, but instead the tone immediately shifts to a grieving Asian man who finds unfortunate supernatural repercussions to his sudden act of heroism.  It’s a good twist but it has nothing to do with rednecks vs Mexican zombies, which, while still fine for a series of short films, left me feeling personally let down.   The most complete story, and also the longest and funniest is called “Clowning.”  Corbin Bleu plays a young man who is bitten by a zombie clown and slowly turns into a zombie  clown.  The other two are almost too short to mention, one about a killer who finds that his victim didn’t stay dead for long and the other about a scorned woman who uses voodoo power to rise from the grave to seek vengeance.  While four out of the five stories have zombie-like elements, I would have been more satisfied if the series had been tied together in one event.  It’s hard to give Scary or Die a grade because of the varying length and quality of each story so I’ll just stick to the middle of the road and say it’s a C.  If you’re not going into it expecting an interlocking zombie story, you might bump it to a B.

Rise of the Zombies boasts probably the most impressive cast of recognizable names since we watched the Terror Experiment.  I counted five people with real Hollywood movie and/or television credits.  I don’t know if it was a bad shoot or if they were doing someone a favor but instead of the name actors raising the quality of the movie, the movie brought them down to its level.  This movie is an absolute joke and you get the sense that the actors know it too.  Their performances range from wooden to hammy to just plain God awful.  Danny Trejo clearly forgets his lines in mid-sentence but powers through anyway because who gives a shit, just pay me and no we don’t need another take!  Ethan Suplee, who has been perfectly acceptable when I’ve seen him in other things and was downright great as Randy in My Name is Earl, shows absolutely no interest in inserting his character with any heart or emotion, even though he’s supposed to be God’s true believer.  French Stewart plays a scientist who may have come up with a cure, but I spent more time wondering if he was trying to do an accent than if he had succeeded.  The only actor who earns his paycheck in a believable way is Lavar Burton, but he spends most of the movie alone and then dies, rendering his whole arc pointless.  This movie is bad in every possible way, from disappointingly bad acting to completely fake set pieces.  (I’ve seen more convincing lifeboats during Saturday Night Live sketches.)  It holds your interest the way a car crash holds your interest, but ultimately we were enjoying it for all the wrong reasons.   I understand that people gotta eat, but man, have some respect for your craft if you’re going to accept a role.  Grade: D.