Saturday, March 16, 2013

Warm Bodies

Plot: After a zombie apocalypse, the humans have walled themselves into a single walled city, and the zombies and their more demented cousins, the skeletons, rule the world outside. Julie (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry leave the walled city to scavenge for supplies, but get surprised by R (Nicholas Hoult), M (Rob Corddry) and other zombies. R eats Perry's brain and acquires his memories including his love for Julie. R is immediately smitten by Julie, and can't kill her. Instead he disguises her and takes her into the zombie city. Soon she begins to trust R, and hate the skeletons who are meaner and more aggressive than the ordinary zombies. She meets M and their zombie friends, who also don't eat her, and like having her around. The skeletons force them to run, and in time R arrives at the human city where he is not wanted.  In the end, there is a battle between humans, skeletons, and zombies, and the movie proceeds to its ending/s. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet with R, the zombie, as Romeo, and Julie as Juliet.  M is Mercutio, and Nora is Juliet's Nurse. Plus there is a scene with Julie on the balcony and R calling up to her, as in the play. 

Since R is a zombie and can't emote very well, most of the movie is carried by Palmer's Julie; we never get much emotion from Nicholas Hoult's R -- although he gives a voice over narration to tell everyone what he is thinking.  Aside from some nice facial acting by Teresa Palmer, the middle of the movie is slow. Zombies are dull monsters.

The skeletons are faster moving and clearly animated, and often they were scary. The photography is serviceable, and the sound effects were good, which made the average sets seem better.  The soundtrack by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders was great; there were multiple good songs.

There is a symbolic meaning, which is the love can redeem the world -- bring dead people back to life. That was a nice plus. 

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Nicholas Hoult

Directed by: Jonathan Levine based on the novel by Isaac Marion

Rating: 2.0 stars: possibly 2. 5 stars if you like the Shakespeare angle a lot. Some good parts, but only occasionally fun. Although advertised as a comedy, it is not funny -- see the SPOILER section below.

SPOILER: Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and this movie is advertised as a comedy, which means a happy ending. There is a symbolic death scene that is supposed to serve as the tragic death of the play, and a rebirth: I like the idea that when zombies 'die' they come back to life. If Julie had stabbed herself after R died as in Shakespeare's original, it would have felt wrong because the evil skeletons would have won.  By introducing a common enemy of skeletons, the writers create the option for a happy ending. 

More: As everyone knows, there is no such thing as zombies, and you can't ask a movie like this to make sense. If you need sensibleness, you should stay home and read -- I was going to say watch CNET on TV, but that isn't very sensible either -- maybe you should read geometry.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Plot: A 1890 circus show magician Oz (James Franco) is swept away in a gas balloon by a tornado to Oz. This portion is shown in black and white in a squarish screen shape. When he gets to Oz, the movie is in color and in full width. He meets the witch Theodora (Mila Tunis) who he flirts with as they journey the Emerald City, where he meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz) her sister witch, whom he also flirts with. Evanora sends him to Glinda (Michelle Williams) who is their enemy.  Glinda beguiles him, and Oz switches sides. The sisters figure out that he has been romancing both of them and now Glinda, and suddenly hate him. Oz is not actually a wizard but he uses his showman tricks to defend himself, and then in the final battle. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Wonderful. This is a clever retelling of the classic story that is both fresh and comforting. It is something between a remake and sequel in that it copies so many elements from the original. Notably how people in Kansas show up in Oz.

The tone of the movie is just a little bit comedic, and this distracts from dramatic elements. I wonder what it would be like as a straight drama, darker, stronger and more adult, but probably less magical and less interesting to the whole family audience. In the end, this is a family movie and some of the comic elements need to be seen in that light, for example, Finley the talking monkey.

In the end the Wizard gives gifts to his friends. I thought this was sweet, charming and affecting. It verged on too saccharin, but this is family movie. The end also tied up the story of China Girl (Joey King) which is important thematically.

The movie is built on the excellent performance of James Franco, who I had not seen before, but I am sure that I'll see again. Rachel Weisz was strong too; Mila Kunis was good, but Michelle Williams was only OK. The Danny Elfman sound track was the best orchestral soundtrack recently. 

The photography, aside from the black & white gimmick, shows an other world reality in a theatrical way where the scenery represents the real Oz, and the audience is to suspend disbelief. In the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the journey to Oz is really Dorothy's dream, and she was actually sleeping at Aunt May's house the whole time. It is possible that director Raimi was trying to show that through set design and photography. 

All in all, this was a great piece of filmmaking. I liked it, and I want to see it again. It may become a cult classic, but I am not sure mass audiences will go for it. 

Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Willams, Joey King

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Rating: 3.25 stars: Not as good as some more serious films. It is fun to watch most of the time. 
More: Being a Disney movie, I am pretty sure that there will be another Oz movie someday. I wonder if the dreaminess of the world will continue to play into it. Will Oz someday take his balloon back to Kansas and wake to find his Anne and Frank?