Thursday, February 28, 2013

Like: Beautiful Creatures

Aaaand somehow we've managed to find ourselves writing this about two weeks later, when the film has already slipped back and all but disappeared from the box office roster.  It's too bad. The first quarter of the year is always a mixed bag of genre screw-ups and Oscar leftovers. It's the time when Hollywood is resting on its laurels, preparing to launch a full-scale cash-grabbing initiative of summer blockbuster hype and late season prestige pictures. Occasionally, they'll slip a potential franchise starter into the mix. Especially, it seems, if that franchise is the sort designed to spread via word of mouth through the hallowed halls of middle schools and high schools nationwide.  Beautiful Creatures is one such film.  Based on the co-authored young adult novel of the same title, the film is essentially just another supernatural romance spawned from the torturous reign of Twilight.  Boy meets girl. Rural country. Strange powers. Mad love. Bad things a brewin'. If I had to guess, you're already suppressing the urge to projectile vomit during one fiercely laborious eye roll. 
Before you do, though, I'd urge you to give Beautiful Creatures a chance.  Did you just read that line a second time? You should have. Yes. I said it. I said you should give Beautiful Creatures a chance. Beautiful Creatures is not Twilight. The book wasn't, and the movie veers even further away from the somber, self-pitying anti-feminism of that vampiric mess.  Granted, it has definite problems of its own, but it's exactly the type of frothy, flaky fun I feel comfortable recommending to anyone who enjoys the following:

1. Teen witches.
2. A Southern Gothic aesthetic
3. Oddly integrated Charles Bukowski references 
4. Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons with full-blown Southern accents
5. Outfits stolen from the closet of Stevie Nicks
6. Super campy melodrama

That's enough. Beautiful Creatures is sort of what would happen if Twilight had a teen-friendly baby with the first season of True Blood, all the vampires turned into witches, and someone snuck in and rewrote the dialogue so that it was effectively self-aware.  It's pure, twangy mayhem with a magical spin and all the stupid-looking contact lenses you could ever hope for. 
The film deviates from the outline of the novel quite a bit, but the general premise remains the same. Ethan Wate (Aiden Ehrenreich) is a surprisingly bright charmer of a high schooler who deals with a life trapped in his Bible-Belt backwards village by reading every banned book he can get his hands on. His life is dramatically changed with the arrival of bitter, glowering goth girl Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert).  Lena is nothing like the backstabbing, phony belles Ethan is used to bearing through gritted teeth. Not, mind you, because she's a mysterious new girl cipher like Bella Swann, but because she displays a sharp wit, her own personality, and seems to loathe his classmates as much as he does.  Of course, Lena is harboring a secret.  The Southern belles are quick to label her a Satanist; the dirty-blooded demon relative of the town's bad-mouthed reclusive aristocrat, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons).  She's not a Satanist, of course, just a Caster (essentially a witch, or, someone who uses magic) who has been sent to live with her uncle in preparation for her 16th birthday, at which point she will be claimed by the light or the dark.
Though the film has heavy plotting issues, and seems to struggle to evenly disperse the key parts of the book's narrative across its mid-sized frame, the film manages to succeed in spite of itself.  Beautiful Creatures suffers from relative incoherence if you break down its more expository, plot-driven bits.  We're not sure, for example, how the claiming works or why we need the Civil War flashbacks that permeate the film. It's true, too, that female adolescence is dramatized (in extreme mood swings of violence and the whole light/dark fate thing) in a way that some may read as tipping towards a misogynistic interpretation.  With all that in mind, there remains something pleasant about the film.  Its ornamental trappings make for an entertaining winter bauble that gets closer to something legitimately romantic than Twilight ever did. It's a good-bad movie that tips more towards the light than the dark, with some delightful camp dished out by respected actors. Gleefully over-the-top meltdowns from Emma Thompson aside, however, there's enough character development and well-meaning quirk here to make this audience member interested in the fates of the individual characters, and even (for a bit) in Lena and Ethan's budding relationship.  If you can't appreciate the overtly gothic elements of the presentation, chances are you'll at least appreciate seeing an on-screen supernatural couple actually engage in conversation.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Under 250: Flight

Flight is a great return for director Robert Zemeckis, who has spent too long toiling away in the uncanny valley, and similarly an excellent shift back into straight drama for Denzel Washington, who has been caught in a cycle of thrillers.  It's a solid film on all counts: smartly paced, believably scripted, and shot with a sharp eye.  Flight doesn't wimp out, doesn't take an easier option or grant its protagonist a loophole that will sweep him up into the audience's good graces.  For that, I can respect the film.  Indeed, I'd even agree that this is a far more brilliant performance from Washington than it may first appear.  Washington plays an alcoholic pilot named Whip Whitaker, a man who drinks to excess and snorts up copious lines of cocaine to shock his system and function in day to day life.  Whip's not the guy you want flying you across state lines, but he's a pilot of exceptional skill, and when the engines on a routine flight fail, Whip calmly pulls off a move the analysts agree is almost impossible: he rolls a commercial craft, flying it upside down into it slows enough that he can glide it into an open field.  He's a hero, but a guilty one.

As the investigation into the crash commences, Whip is caught in a cross-fire and forced to try and pull his messy life together. Flight isn't particularly pleasant, in part because Washington sells us Whip's struggles with frustrating conviction.  This is a highly nuanced role that requires a significant amount of downplaying addiction and maintaining a gloss of composure forever cracking to reveal the pain and twisted hubris below.  Washington sells it, but in spite of some impressive technical moments and a solid backbone, the film is fairly bland and frequently heavy handed with the story elements around Whip's character sketch.  Blunt symbolism, cliche music cues, and an extra 30 minutes means Flight ultimately just glides past instead of making its mark.   

Under 250: Battleship

I watched Battleship in two parts over January 18 and 19.  During the first part, I was like half asleep. I honestly don't even know why I finished the movie. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) stole a burrito from the grocery store to impress a generic looking blonde girl who I actually confused for the generic looking blonde girl in roughly six other films before looking her up and realizing she hadn't been in any of them (this one is Brooklyn Decker, who makes terrible acting decisions).  Still, I watched the second part.  There's no point in commenting. Instead, I will send you a transcript of the text play-by-play I sent to someone during the film. This is what happens in this movie. It sounds better than it is. Trust me.

I AM WATCHING THE SECOND HALF OF BATTLESHIP.

THEY HAVE ACTUALLY JUST RUN OUT OF NEW TECHNOLOGY AND RESORTED TO FIRING UP A WW2 MUSEUM. BECAUSE OF COURSE.

They're like "NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO RUN THIS MUSEUM!!!!!"

AND THEN ALL OF THE OLD MAN VETERANS WALK OUT IN SLOW MOTION.

And now the old men veterans and John Carter have teamed up in a montage set to AC/DC or something.

I THINK THESE MEN ARE REAL VETERANS. THEY ARE SERIOUSLY ANCIENT.

I can FEEL how close this is to the "you sunk my battleship" line. It's coming. I know it.

John Carter just stared at someone and said "art of war"

"You're gonna die, I'm gonna die, we're all gonna die...BUT NOT TODAY."

A veteran has just proclaimed "THEY AIN'T GONNA SINK THIS BATTLESHIP"

John Carter has been corrected on his improper use of Sun Tzu by a Japanese naval officer. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN THIS MOVIE.

A BURLY MAN WITH ARTIFICIAL LIMBS IS FIGHTING AN ALIEN IN ARMOR BY CRACKING ITS HELMET REPEATEDLY AGAINST HIS ARTIFICIAL LEGS.

THEY DIDN'T SINK THE BATTLESHIP. WTF.

Why did the old technology work? THE ART OF WAR, INTERPRETED INCORRECTLY BY A GLORIFIED MORON.

John Cater has been told by Liam Neeson that he doesn't have his blessing in marrying his generic daughter. John Carter says  "but...I saved the world."

Under 250: Step Up: Revolution

I've long been of the opinion that the Step Up series is basically like pornography: you don't watch them for the plot, you don't watch them for the characters. You're here for the dancing. That's it. Early on in 2012 I watched the entire heavily choreographed series as a promise to a friend and because I'd fully intended on writing a Yes, Really post about the whole she-bang.  I have to admit, I was fairly entertained.  Though I wound up checking out or fast-forwarding through a significant amount of talking sequences - especially each entry's seemingly obligatory "tender moment somewhere near water"scene - I found the dancing impressive enough to keep up with the otherwise wholly forgettable films. There's some seriously well-plotted choreography and photography in each (the end of Step Up 3 is particularly memorable), but with Step Up Revolution imma go ahead and suggest it may be time to officially throw in the towel.  Each sequel is a retread, but this one felt cloyingly abrasive in its cyclical rehashing, and the dancing, while still decent, seems to fall back on the 'guerrilla street art' edge instead of translating its raw physicality into the cinematography. The actors, too, may be the worst yet.  They're wooden, cheesy, and incapable of translating their supposed passions to the camera (even through dance).  Stick with your gut: don't bother.
  

Under 250: Dredd

As mindless action movies go, this is one worth watching.  Coming in at a blissfully brief 95-minutes, Dredd is an agile, brutally violent, and quippy shoot 'em up that kills 'em all and invents the perfect framework for its relatively pointless standard operating procedure.  Based on the comic book but separated from the 1995 Stallone film, Dredd lays out a dystopian world where justice is wrought by helmeted, corrupt 'judges' who (as the line goes) serve as judge, jury, and executioner in one frightful package.  Karl Urban ("Bones" in the Abrams Star Trek) is unrecognizable and forever obscured as the title character, a judge with zero backstory and seemingly no interest in anything other than taking out thugs and delivering a heaping helping of one-liners.  If you need character development to propel you through gunfight after gunfight, you've got the wrong film, but Dredd manages a touch of pathos in establishing Dredd's buddy-cop partnership with a psychic female rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby).  Together, they've found themselves in a nightmare scenario straight out of a video game.  They've got to go into a slummy high-rise and battle level after level to reach the boss: a sadistic drug lord (Lannister family matriarch Lena Headey) dealing a dangerous drug called Slo-Mo.  Put the pieces together and you have a manic logic that allows, without argument, reasons for extreme violence, rapid edits, pulsing music, and sparkling, elaborate slow-motion sequences.  Hands down the most glittery action flick around.

Pretty Much the Best Thing Ever

This site isn't really for talking music videos, but I simply cannot delay gushing about the David Bowie video for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" any longer.  I have watched this thing probably about a dozen times over the last 48 hours, and have come to the conclusion that obviously what is happening here is that someone has been reading a transcript of the pop culture wishlist I keep in my head. It is here my friends, the on-screen meeting of David Bowie and Tilda Swinton. AKA: the best possible pairing ever and just about everything I could possibly wish to come of Bowie's musical return. This is it, people, Floria Sigismondi has taken two of my pop patron saints and finally merged them in one gloriously bizarre and hyper stylish androgyny blitz also featuring crazy beautiful androgyne models Andrej Pejic and Saskia de Brauw.

I had a teen fangirl brain meltdown when I saw this. Could not fully process the video as a thing that exists. I'm still not sure it's real. The only thing that grounds it in reality is the font choice. That's not the font I would choose in my head, so it has to be a thing...right?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar 2013 Liveblog


IT'S LIVE BLOGGING TIME, BITCHES. Who's ready for this? I am so ready for this. Why? Because this year The Artist isn't in the running and as long as Les Mis doesn't execute a surprise  coup (it won't, right?), I have nothing to flip my lid about because honestly? 2012 was a pretty boring year for film, in my opinion, and two of my favorites (The Master and Moonrise Kingdom) got blocked from the Best Picture running.  I'm favoring Django Unchained, no question, with Amour in second place as a worthy title holder. Since neither film has much of a chance, however, we're just gonna ride this out and play the game for league points. 

As you may recall, this year some friends and I set up an award season fantasy movie league (rules and details here), and post Spirit Awards and Razzies, I have found myself suddenly with a fifty point lead. So, I'm rooting for the horses I've got in this race (even though I think Beasts of the Southern Wild is phenomenally overrated): Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and Frankenweenie.  Let's do this. 



6:33:  Dear Anne Hathaway, that dress is heinous. It's like two bridesmaids dresses sewn into one, and the bodice? Are you kidding me? Those seams? You appear to have FOUR nipples. Anne 'four nips' Hathaway. New nickname.

6:37: This picture doesn't cut it. You can only see 1/2 of the weird bumpage happening in this dress.  Compliment, though? Your hair looks fluffy, Anne Hathaway.

6:51: Someone please slip Kristin Chenoweth a tranquilizer.  And by slip I mean shoot her with a dart. Right now.

6:53: Meanwhile on E!, we need to limit the usage of 'OBSESSED'.  OMG, I am OBSESSED! OBSESSED! I am like, OBSESSED WITH THE FACT THAT I AM OBSESSED.

7:19: Do any of these networks dare put red carpet folks out there who will actually talk to people like human beings?

7:24: I didn't even recognize Renee Zellweger.

7:29: Alright, that Mercedes Benz Willem Dafoe commercial kinda killed it.

7:33: You know, Tommy Lee Jones really does look like Grumpy Cat. I can't unsee it.

7:35: THE SHAT. THE SHAT CONQUERS ALL.  Between the arrival of a Star Trek reference and a song about boobs, I think we've effectively classed up the joint.

7:42: Flight sock puppets, I see you and I appreciate you.  Music in the movies showtunes, I feel weirder about you. But, adorable. Nice kicks Radcliffe.

7:47: BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR goes to CHRISTOPH WALTZ for Django Unchained.  2 for 2, that guy. Though I do think PSH deserved it a little more this time.

7:57: This animation exchange is clever, I think, but no one seems to be getting it. BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM goes to the delightfully sweet Paperman

8:00: Man, these people really dressed the part, didn't they. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE goes, deservedly, to BRAVE.

8:06: To the man with the flowing Fabio locks, we give you an Oscar for BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY for your efforts for LIFE OF PI.  Man, this guy has feelings. He's like an overexcited Samoyed.

8:09: ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS goes to LIFE OF PI, perhaps the most subtle of the options.

8:18: Predictably, COSTUME DESIGN goes to ANNA KARENINA. And as we lead into makeup may I just say that Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston could both use some touching up right now.  Lookin' a bit washed out up on that stage, guys. MAKEUP goes to LES MIS. THESE LADIES. PINK LEGGINGS? WHAT IS THIS OUTFIT?

8:21: Halle Berry always looks the same. I want that dress to just be straight across the top, crewneck it.  Now, let's shut up while I watch this Bond tribute.

8:25: Whoa, they really just produced Shirley Bassey. #ALLTIMEGREATKARAOKESONGS

8:28: $10 says Quentin Tarantino just had a nerdgasm during that number.

8:33: LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM = CURFEW.  Also, can we talk about Kerry Washington in real life? Because I think she's actually terrible at acting like she's human, and not a Barbie doll with a fixed smile.  BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT = INOCENTE

8:37: I feel like the look on Amy Adams' face was just like "Oh...a homeless person on the stage."  Not a great cutaway, camera person.

8:43: DOCUMENTARY FEATURE goes to SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN.

8:50: Jessica Chastain is certainly among the best dressed of the evening, btw.

8:51: Huzzah! BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM to the devastating AMOUR.

8:52: It seems really odd to me that the orchestra isn't in the building. Right?

8:53: I was really hoping Travolta was just going to come out, or something, and do that crazy kind of Jodie Foster Globes speech.

8:54: Catherine Zeta Jones looks great, I think. But... I'm having serious flashbacks right now.

8:56: Remember that time when Beyonce was completely pushed to the background by Jennifer Hudson?  That was a thing. Look. It's happening again. Sidenote: I completely forgot about Dreamgirls. 


8:59: Damn.

9:00: Oh god, please don't let Russell Crowe sing. What have we done? Sweet Jesus, what have we done to deserve this torment? Ugh. It hasn't even started and I want it to stop.

9:03: I DREAMED A DREAM THAT THIS WOULD STOP. Pandering, pandering, pandering...

9:04: Though yes, at least Anne Hathaway changed out of that god awful dress. Let's all please note this other dress.

9:09: How have we still not hit Best Supporting Actress yet?

9:11: A teddy bear presents the award for BEST SOUND MIXING to LES MISERABLES. Meanwhile, some SOUND EDITING love for (SURPRISE TIE!!) ZERO DARK THIRTY and a man who is apparently part wolf, or...yorkie. Just tie a little red bow on his head.  Second Oscar goes to SKYFALL. 

9:17: WHY DO ALL THESE TECH GUYS HAVE THIS SUPER LONG HAIR?

9:19: OH MY GOD THAT SOUND OF MUSIC JOKE KILLED THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING. Allow me to quote the E! Fashion Police and say, simply I AM OBSESSED.

9:23: She may be the phoniest person to get up on that stage tonight. Histrionics are second nature to this woman. Too much, can't deal with it. Shush....  oh, and yes, I'm talking BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS from ANNE HATHAWAY.  Wow. Miss America much?

9:33: FILM EDITING for ARGO.

9:47: Is Kristin Stewart eyeing Harry Potter? PRODUCTION DESIGN to LINCOLN. 

9:50: Salma Hayek is really making the enunciation happen after that Seth MacFarlane jab. Hands on hips, commit to the pronunciation.

9:57: Having George Clooney present the In Memoriam is supposed to soften the blow, right?

10:02: Babs, memories, so many accessories.  Also, this stage is gorgeous.

10:03: I feel like I'm watching her secret lounge act. This is the Duke Silver banter hour...


10:09: They're really pushing Chicago down our throats, aren't they? BEST ORIGINAL SCORE for LIFE OF PI. Also, I don't think that Renee Zellweger can actually read through her eye slits...

10:12: I'm legitimately worried about Renee Zellweger. She's so awkward she's making everyone else look awkward.  I'm worried that Renee Zellweger isn't actually there, that that's someone wearing a Renee Zellweger suit...

10:17: ORIGINAL SONG naturally, is SKYFALL.  I would like Adele's dress, please.

10:23: We're almost there, getting close to the end of all the shenanigans. BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY = ARGO. Not what I would choose for a writing win, but I guess everyone like the 'Ar-go fuck yourself' line.

10:26: Not my points, but thank god. Would have been criminal, otherwise.  ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY= DJANGO UNCHAINED.

10:33: Big guns are out, we're ready for our close ups.  Time for BEST DIRECTOR with a woman who barely ages.  Holy shit, really? ANG LEE FOR LIFE OF PI. I'm frankly surprised, know there were some serious advancements made to shoot that, but...?

10:40: K.Stew looks like she did a bunch of blow in the bathroom.

10:42: The small Wallis child is rather irritating, no? BEST ACTRESS to JENNIFER LAWRENCE for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. 

10:44: Only Jennifer Lawrence could pull off a fall like that. Opposite of Anne Hathaway's phony sincerity? Jennifer Lawrence.

10:45: No, no, Meryl Streep, we KNOW you were picking a wedgie.

10:48: Of course, BEST ACTOR goes to DANIEL DAY LEWIS, who is as falsely modest as Anne Hathaway.  Like you didn't know it would happen...

10:52: At long last. Jack Nicholson and his wonky glasses arrive to tell us who's winning this whole shebang.

10:52: What the hell? Seriously? Is Michelle Obama gunning for a post-first lady Dick Clark career? Politics out of Hollywood, guys. For real. Nice message or not...

10:56: BEST PICTURE predictably, is ARGO.  Because, duh, the only one that glorifies Hollywood this year...

10:57: Whoa, that woman crying...

BTW: 7 POINT LEAGUE LEAD FOR ME. Gap nearly closed, but I held on.

Game over. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love: Side Effects

It's very tempting to begin this write-up with yet another long lament on director Steven Soderbergh's early retirement, but I'll keep it short:  dear Steve, this isn't the one to go out on.  It's good and everything, but, it's not the one to go out on.  Side Effects is a curious concoction, a straight-playing guilty pleasure that lulls you into a procedural-style stability before introducing a touch of sensationalist camp.  Perhaps it is its own side effect, the result of a long bender in which Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns overdosed on Verhoeven and Polanski and Fatal Attraction and then decided to resurrect Jude Law's crazed character from the equally paranoid Contagion . It's a dizzying ride, surprising in ways that place it in a class just above your average thriller in spite of its modest trappings.  Soderbergh has, of late, become a director interested in taking common newspaper narratives and fracturing them in ways that speak to our cultural attentions in ways both entertaining and quite revealing.  Where Contagion fussed over national health and The Informant! looked at food and business, Side Effects begins as a film concerned with the chemicals we use to control our bodies...and ends as something very, very different.  I'd urge you, actually, to stop reading if you haven't seen the film.  While I don't intend on revealing any of its secrets, absolute ignorance is recommended for the optimal viewing experience.
Side Effects centers on Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a troubled woman who finds herself stuck in a deep clinical depression as she attempts to deal with the anxieties that awaken with the return of her white-collar criminal husband (Channing Tatum) from a 4-year stint in prison.  When Emily drives her car into a parking lot wall, she finds herself in the care of Dr. Banks (Jude Law), a well-meaning psychiatrist who doesn't hesitate to write her a prescription for a common SSRI.  Unhappy with the results, and suffering from harmful side effects, Emily finds herself moving from pill to pill until her previous doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) suggests to Dr. Banks a new drug: Ablixa.  On Ablixa, Emily's waking life returns to relative normalcy. She's pleased with the results, and takes them, we learn, in spite of their rather troubling side effects. What begins as a convincing depiction of a debilitating ailment - with Emily channeling all the necessary despondency and frustration - takes a sudden turn towards a winding tale centered, surprisingly, far more on Dr. Banks. It's here, of course, where my synopsis must stop. To tell you anymore would be to deflate some of the film's more surprising victories, which would be a shame since the film's greatest strength is its quiet ability to undermine our expectations.  
In many ways, the film's structure is fractured to mirror its subject matter. We begin with a seemingly simple set of unhappy circumstances, and as our characters attempt to change them, the story morphs in ways we cannot anticipate.  The simpler the solution seems, the more complicated the film becomes, and in that way there is something really quite brilliant about its unconventional, often quite evasive tactics. However, as the film changes, it occasionally stumbles over itself.  What begins as Emily's own quietly creepy story is exchanged for something far louder, and occasionally campy in a way that does a disservice to the perfectly controlled early scenes. It may continue to bite just as hard, but some viewers may find that they've already started to go numb.  Still, if you're able to take the film in stride as I was, to appreciate a bit of the over the top, you'll likely enjoy what Side Effects has to offer. 

Still...final film?   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Squalor: Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is one of those movies that's cute, but that's about the best thing you can say.  It's a film given credit for the fact that it's decent in spite of the odds: not a particularly good movie, not a a particularly original idea, but gentle enough to make necrophilia at least somewhat adorable.  The film is essentially a reworking of Romeo and Juliet that's been mashed-up with a bit of Beauty and the Beast and, well, a decidedly less comedic Shaun of the Dead.  Nicholas Hoult stars as R, a sentient corpse.  We meet R as he idles about a post-apocalyptic airport, groaning and growling in an attempt to release the on-going monologue happening in his still vital brain.  R is not all gone.  He has no memories, but he retains language and the need for connection apart from the devouring of flesh -- a tough lot for a zombie.  In true meet-cute fashion, a magical opportunity for real human interaction drops into his lap when he 'saves' the open-minded, kick-ass daughter (Teresa Palmer) of the man in charge of rallying the zombie busting troops.  Her name? Julie, of course. 
What follows unfolds with all the tried and true methods of a million and one generic rom coms, and to call Warm Bodies anything but an improbable Valentine, or Twilight with a sense of humor, would be to complicate it in ways it simply doesn't earn. Warm Bodies squanders a significant amount of potential and goes repeatedly for the cheap shots and sure things: cheeky voice over narration, quirky one-liners, a tongue-in-cheek makeover montage, and a 'safe' legitimizing of R and Julie's taboo undead affection. Hoult is charming as R, and able to convey subtle emotions through a blank stare, but director Jonathan Levine doesn't seem to trust the audience to stay with the narrative long enough to simply let R be R.  Instead, the pacing jerks in quick bursts and screeching halts that rarely lead to anything truly satisfying, and the story is fully dependent on a suspension of disbelief it doesn't seem interested in providing context for.  Levine has a story to tell, but merely tells it. Warm Bodies shows us very little and works, largely, through an endless stream of wittily worded exposition. The result is just plain dull, and, ironically more lifeless than the average zombie flick.
Which is to say, in part, that if you want your romantic comedy to feature zombies, you're better off sticking with Shaun of the Dead. Unfortunate, too, because Warm Bodies has real potential. As I watched, I found it easy to imagine the more memorable version of the film-the imaginary one where it immediately slips into the cult canon and not simply into the lineup at a 13-year old's sleepover- the one that doesn't shy away from guts. In that version, R always looks dead. In that version, R doesn't suddenly find it far easier to form words, Julie doesn't trust him so easily, and we get a complete picture of the world in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.  The film that didn't get made is the one I'm interested in seeing. Show me the zombie who's trapped, no, buried alive, behind some monstrous 'disease', then show me how that character (without falling back on voice over) interacts with a living, breathing human being through trial and error.  Show me what it's like for this character, I don't need another self-deprecating protagonist mumbling to himself in minute after minute of solid exposition. And? Don't you dare deus ex machina us with a fairy godmother touch straight out of the Grinch. The sad truth: Frankenweenie addressed the problems of the soulful undead far, far better than Warm Bodies.




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Under 250: Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis is a successful adaptation of a decidedly uncinematic work of fiction. In taking on the task of filming Don DeLillo's short novel, David Cronenberg all but set himself up for a critical meltdown and a bevy of unhappy viewers.  It's a postmodern novel, a work that seeks to make a statement on modernity and which uses its characters as control systems.  Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is less an individual than a construct, a rogue capitalist in a post-human world who stands in, essentially, for an entire capitalist economy.  In both book and film we hear him say that when he dies, the world will end.  It's a melodramatic line delivered with straight, blank conviction, and we have to wonder at whether or not there's something to it.  Of course, many will simply say no, and they'd be right: Cosmopolis is a film pre-loaded with wooden dialogue, drained of personality, and which slogs through downtown traffic installing glowing neon signs around every possible touch of allusion or symbolism.  It's faithful to a fault, and seeing DeLillo's stylistically stilted lines delivered by real human beings somehow deflates it of potential.  While I could admire the effort, and would argue that this is a ballsy move for Pattinson the glittery vampire, Cosmopolis is too limited and constrained by its source material.  Cronenberg is misusing his cast, not taking nearly enough liberties with the content, and keeping style at bay.  As an adaptation, it couldn't be better. As a film? Meh.

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