Thursday, February 28, 2013

Warm Bodies (2013)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Firstly, let me start off by saying that loving a zombie is not necrophilia. Not that I would condone such a love without copious amounts of moisturiser, but if it's going to happen then I would rather the correct terminology to be used. Necrophilia is from the Greek nekros, meaning death, and philia, meaning love. Zombies aren't dead. In fact, by definition they're undead. No, the correct terminology is kinemortophilia from the Greek kine (movement), the Latin mort (death) and, again, the Greek philia.

If all of that ancient language hurt your head, then we're only just getting started. The second lesson of the day is English Literature, and more specifically; Shakespeare. I must confess I was having a bit of a stupid ninety minutes when I watched Warm Bodies as it took until the famous balcony scene for me to realise that the entire film was a parody of Romeo and Juliet.

Zombies, unsurprisingly, have taken over the world. There is a small pocket of humans remaining and they have taken to walling themselves in, only venturing out in search of vital supplies. Julie (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of the human commanding officer (John Malkovich), is sent on one such mission but her group is quickly overrun by the zombies. Julie finds herself saved by an introspective zombie known only as "R" (Nicholas Hoult).

The zombie staring contest final was entering its 4th hour
So, to conclude, the Montagues have been replaced by a bloodthirsty zombie hoard, and the Capulets have been replaced by the last few remaining humans in the world. Romeo is R, Juliet is, err, Julie. Mercutio has also been substituted for a zombie, known as "M" (although not to be confused with the "M" played most recently by Dame Judy Dench). Yes, it did take me until the balcony scene to see the references and yes, I do feel ashamed of myself.

But still, less chastising me and more moving onto the rollicking that a parody deserves. Well, I say rollicking, but what I actually mean is praising. I know that Warm Bodies is a spoof in the most basic sense of the term, but it isn't a traditional badly-filmed, badly-acted and badly-directed piece of crap that Hollywood usually churns out after a successful and popular story. No, Warm Bodies is - and forgive me for this - good.

I think that because it's surprisingly good I can be forgiven for forgetting the references to Romeo and Juliet (although, probably not). Warm Bodies isn't just a standard mock-em-all horror, but includes a well thought out script and some very intelligent humour that is equally accessible to a zombie-loving teen as it is to their rom-com loving parents.

Undoubtedly the star of the show is Nicholas Hoult who looks just as comfortable being a member of the brain-eating undead as he does being a love-sick puppy. He also provides much of the humour at the start as the voice-over, speaking on behalf of his mute protagonist from the perspective of being inside his head. Listening to his speech will almost certainly make you view Dawn of the Dead in a completely different light.

This all brings me nicely onto how Warm Bodies fits into the zombie horror genre. Undoubtedly it'll make horror purists cringe as their favourite genre is hilariously spoofed. When you sit down and think about it though, there are very few zombie films that won't make you laugh, and in this sense, Warm Bodies fits right in.

All that being said, it's still a spoof. Admittedly though, and I'll say it quietly, it's brilliant.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

212 - Hud (1963)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Happy Belated Valentine's Day for Thursday everyone! I treated myself to the 212th film of the 500 as a romantic treat while the girlfriend was out serving loved-up couples dinner at her evening shift. I know, I know. If it's any consolation I did get her a card. From Asda.

OK, so Hud isn't exactly the most mushy film to watch on Valentine's Day. The protagonist, Hud (Paul Newman), is a nasty piece of work, not caring about his family and showing even less regard for the law. His elderly father, Homer, owns the ranch that he lives on with his nephew, Lon, and housekeeper, Alma.

While Hud is out being a playboy for all of the town's married women, Homer discovers that one of the cattle has contracted foot and mouth - jeopardising the future of the ranch. Meanwhile, Lon isn't sure which father figure to follow - the brash, risk-taking Hud or the hard working, mild-mannered Homer.

I must be honest, I wasn't sure what to  expect when I picked up Hud. I saw Paul Newman in his Stetson on the DVD cover and expected a Western, and watching the first few scenes only seemed to agree with that conclusion. It seems that my opinion of the appearance of America in the 1960's was slightly skewed.

The other misconception I took into the film is that Hud would be the good guy. If there is one thing I've learnt from watching films, it's that your protagonist should be likeable - or, at the least, have something about them to cling on to when hope is nigh. Hud doesn't, because Hud isn't. He never shows a hint of empathy in his headlong charge to relationship suicide.

Affectionately known as the "strangle hug"
But somehow, against the odds, Hud works. How or why is beyond me, but I would hazard a guess that it is very much to do with director James Wong Howe's decision to shoot in the unforgiving black and white. Filming in monochrome adds a sense of raw distaste which - since the 1960's at least - suggests that the film isn't supposed to be liked; merely watched and appreciated for its acting and direction.

At this point, I should point out that colour film had been favourable for at least 20 years prior to Hud but monochromatic filming was still popular - Hud won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in the Black & White category.

Despite the obvious restrictions of monochrome, the landscape is breathtaking. Sure, it's a sparse environment where the only life away from a few disease-ridden bovine is an outdated town square, but there is a certain beauty that would never work in full colour.

While Hud will stay with me for a long time for being the film that shouldn't work, it is so well directed - and acted - that it would be hard not to give it 5 stars, right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

211 - His Girl Friday (1940)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Now that I've finally got around to re-watching His Girl Friday, I can finally say that I'm back to where I was in September when I originally watched it, promptly forgot to review it and ended up getting distracted by something shiny.

Actually, when I first watched His Girl Friday I didn't really think much of it. I couldn't get my head around the story because of the speedy dialogue, and for that reason I'm glad I got a second viewing. So, firing up the DVD on Sunday night I watched with wonderment at how much I actually understood this time around.

Walter (Cary Grant) is a big shot editor in charge of the The Morning Post, and when he learns that his star reporter and ex-wife, Hildy (Rosalind Russell), is leaving to get married, he pulls out every trick in the book to keep her around. When a story about a condemned man that the Post has been following develops, Walter puts Hildy straight to work.

In truth, His Girl Friday is relentless. It is not a film where you can switch off and admire the butterflies outside the window because it demands your attention from beginning to end. It never stops to laugh at its own jokes like many modern comedies - it expects you to be on the boil and listening carefully to the catchy dialogue awaiting each tidbit of screwball humour. If you can keep your concentration against the barrage, then you will find yourself spluttering with laughter.

Walter wondered whether to tell Hildy that
stripes should only go in one direction
Grant has a clever comic timing. It looks as though he is just simply reading a script in such a way that he brushes over many of his lines, never really allowing himself to smile. Some might say that this is terrible acting, but he knows that his character is - underneath the sly, cunning exterior - a desperate man who will do anything to keep the love of his life and keep his star reporter working there too. One wonders if Hildy was only ever Walter's wife to keep her at the paper.

While Grant may be the star of the show, I can't help but think that his role would be nothing without Rosalind Russell. As Grant is granted a seemingly infinite licence to read the lines how he pleases, it is often Russell's sharp response that receives the laughs of those that missed the joke the first time around.

As the story reaches its crescendo of farce, which sees Walter measuring both the height of a window and a desk using just his arms while Hildy desperately attempts to prevent her future mother in law from being incarcerated (yes, it really is that potty), it fortunately never tips into being unbelievably ridiculous. This is thanks in the most part to some clever directing from Howard Hawks who gives the film just enough slack, before reining it back in for the final act.

All in all, His Girl Friday is basically anything you could ask for from a screwball comedy. Dastardly hilarious, devilishly devious and down right funny.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
As a kid, I envied all of my classmates who owned Gameboys and PlayStations. In fact, much of my younger years were spent at my friends' houses ignoring them while I completed various levels of Mario on their behalf.

When I did get into the gaming scene, I wasted no time wasting my time on retro arcade classics such as Donkey Kong and Pacman. My first home console was a GameCube, so I also spent my apprenticeship on the more traditional side of gaming with Zelda and Metroid.

Taking all this into account, try to imagine my excitement when I saw the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, featuring bad guys from a wide range of gaming universes. From a generic zombie to Clyde (one of the four Pacman ghosts), right up to Sonic's Dr. Eggman and the big fire breather himself, Bowser (err, from Mario), they are all there. My inner child screamed out with glee.

The fact that this was to be the 52nd animated classic only aided my advertising of the film to my Disneyphile girlfriend, and it comes as no surprise that we booked into the see the 3D version the day after release.

Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly - one of very few high profile actors to feature in a Disney animated classic) is the demolition man often foiled by in-game nemesis Fix-It Felix. He also finds himself being left out of certain social events, leading Ralph to think that no-one appreciates the role he has. Ralph hops into other games in Litwak's arcade in an attempt to win a presitigious medal which he thinks will earn him more respect. As Ralph inadvertently starts to cause havoc, he loses his medal to a glitching racer called Vanellope von Schweetz who has her own use for it.

Ralph wondering who designed such irregular fire escapes
With the exception of not being based on a traditional fairy tale, Wreck-It Ralph is very similar to most other Disney films. It is filled with rich, intelligent dialogue that provides humour while also spurting out the traditional moral messages.

Where Wreck-It Ralph differs though is that it captures two completely different audiences. The bright animation and child friendly dialogue appeals to the younger viewer and family markets (of which, unsurprisingly, there were many in the cinema - even at the 8pm showing), but there are also a huge variety of nods to gaming from the 1980's right up to modern day.

There is the obvious Halo-esque shoot-em-up that Ralph finds himself in when seeking his medal, but even more impressively there is a massive array of characters, many of which even I'm unfamiliar with. On the more subtle side, there are also a number of events - I recognised the Metal Gear alert along with a pleasant nod towards an old cheat code I've used many times. Even the Disney studio got in the act with an amusing 8-bit start screen.

Wreck-It Ralph isn't as refined as other Disney films though and the minor characters felt a little rough around the edges. Vanellope starts to irritate on occasion - although this could be because I kept forgetting that I'm not the primary audience. This apparent lack of development could also, in part, be put down to Disney falling foul of its own high standards of character rich stories (The Lion King and The Jungle Book to name but two). In that respect, Wreck-It Ralph falls a little short of its contemporaries.

As I was growing up I learnt that there was a whole range of truly terrible, lazy games based on films, and as I reached my teens I learnt that this was the same case in the film industry. Where Wreck-It Ralph does succeed is that it proves that the two industries can be married together (in film, at least).

Perhaps it just takes a little 8-bit effort and a lot of Disney magic to prove it.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Films 211 - 220

Here is a list of the next ten films in he Empire 5-star 500 challenge:
  1. His Girl Friday (1940)
  2. Hud (1963)
  3. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939)
  4. The Hurt Locker (2009)
  5. The Hustler (1961)
  6. I Served The King Of England (2008)
  7. The Idiots (1998)
  8. If... (1968)
  9. Ikiru (1952)
  10. Imitation Of Life (1959)
It is at this point that I would usually jabber on about the last ten films, but regular readers will know that I started those 10 films back in September - four months ago. (quickly checks list) Ah, the previous ten films list had A Hard Days Night in it! Excellent. I would highly recommend this.

Also recommended are Hamlet, High Noon and Halloween which are all films that I agreed with Empire's 5 star rating.

As for the next ten, I'm looking forward to seeing The Hurt Locker. This is a film that is back in the fore because of director Kathryn Bigelow's latest film Zero Dark Thirty, which is hoping to follow The Hurt Locker's Oscar success.

I'd love to say that yes! I'm going to belt these next ten films out as soon as possible to continue with the challenge, but what with the A to Z in April and the continuing delays in my 'real' life, I'm not holding my breath. Then, there's the cinematic appearances of Hitchcock and Disney's 52nd Animated Classic, Wreck It Ralph in February which are  no doubt going to slow me down further.

So, until next time!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

210 - Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
It's about high time I actually wrote a review that had something to do with the reason I set up this blog in the first place. That's right, it's back to Empire's 5-star 500.

I must admit I had been putting off continuing the challenge. I had watched both Hiroshima, Mon Amour and His Girl Friday before Christmas but I never got around to reviewing them. As such, I realised that I had to re-watch them both in order to properly write an objective review for each.

Expressive artistic films of a certain movement are not my forte. I am also not a big fan of slow moving films that don't get to the point quickly (or, at least, films that I can't see the point of). So, it is with great trepidation that I sat down to watch Hiroshima, Mon Amour once more.

In truth, I understood Hiroshima, Mon Amour better the second time around, probably because I had a vague idea of what to expect. A Japanese man and a French woman who are both married meet in Hiroshima and have a brief affair. During their couple of days together both reflect on the memories of the war during which the man lost his family in the atomic attacks and she lost her German lover in her childhood town of Neves.

The film's opening sequence is certainly one of the most harrowing that I have ever experienced in my life. I'm assuming that it is mixed in with footage from the aftermath of the 1945 Hiroshima bombings and some of the malformed bodies with burnt skin are just horrific. Even without the protagonist explaining what his family experienced, the audience is left with no doubt. At no point though is any blame attached.

By comparison, her issue seems slightly pathetic - although this does show that she was lucky to be away from Japan and that the war affected people in different ways. She goes mad with grief over seeing her German lover die, and this is cleverly portrayed as she talks to her Japanese lover as though he was her childhood sweetheart.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is definitely not a film I'd recommend to everyone. For starters, it's set in Japan, spoken in French with English subtitles and is filmed in black and white - and that's even before reaching the potentially upsetting subject matter. Those seeking entertainment, look elsewhere. If you are interested in both Japan and the effects of the Second World War then this one's for you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Man On A Ledge (2012)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
I'm not sure what it was, but something about Man On A Ledge caught my attention when I first heard about it. On the surface of things, the story seemed a little thin - surely one man attempting suicide for an hour and a half could not be that interesting?

But still, there was something there that intrigued me. Perhaps it was the thought of seeing a dying man's inner self in a beautiful soliloquy by Sam Worthington that made it sound interesting. Maybe I have deep psychological issues that could only be fulfilled by watching a man perform a true leap of faith. Or maybe I was just curious exactly what noise Hollywood would apply to a protagonist hitting the pavement from 15 storeys up.

Either way, I got my wish this weekend as I found a rental download that I could watch on the train journey to and from London town. On a small aside, if you ever watch films on a train, be sure to bring big headphones to block out the noise of the train, passengers, and ticket collectors (pay close attention to the latter if you have, err, lost your ticket).

Back to the film, and I must say it is very different from what I was expecting. Man On A Ledge is much more of a thriller than I had anticipated and, rather than a soft account of a man's life before he jumps, it follows Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an ex-cop and escaped convict, who is trying to clear his name after being framed by a rich businessman. In fact, the man on the ledge is a literal distraction from the rest of the story.

I swear the pavement was just here.
As the man that the film centres around, Sam Worthington is superb. The chemistry between him and negotiator Elizabeth Banks works beautifully from the moment they hit the screen together. The peril of the situation is never lost between the pair and it is they - along with some clever storytelling - that keep you right on the edge of your seat.

In fact, unlike many films that bill themselves as thrillers, during I physically felt myself holding on for dear life whenever Cassidy got close to the edge - and this means a lot from me as I absolutely love heights. If you suffer from vertigo then I would highly recommend avoiding this film at all costs, or at least watch it while sat next to someone who is medically qualified.

Unfortunately, it is not all rosy. Away from the main action and the scenes featuring Jamie Bell and Génesis Rodríguez are not so convincing. While some of the techniques used to break and enter the building were inventive, both characters ruined the film in terms of keeping the sincerity. I can understand that such a desperate film may seem like it needs something to lighten the mood, but in truth the chemistry between the main two is more than enough to keep the film above depression. The 'secondary' couple was horrific and corny - every time they entered the screen and complained about their relationship problems, I lost interest.

It's a shame really. The story as a whole is very well conceived, but two characters are irritating enough to ruin it. There are plenty of highs, but they are overshadowed by the moments that push it over the edge.