Friday, February 8, 2013

Stand Up Guys and Warm Bodies

          The Essence of Life … and Death …and Maybe Life Again

                                 Review by Ken Burke         Stand Up Guys

Old ex-gangsters (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin) want another chance to take in all life has to offer, even if it's with a limited-time, no-money-back guarantee.

                                                                             Warm Bodies
A teenage love story between a desperate-for-survival young woman and … a sensitive zombie.  When she brings him home to meet Dad, problems ensue.  Interesting!

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Lest you think I’ve gone all religious on you, fear not (although I may reap the wrath of devout Christians for daring to quote from St. Paul the Apostle’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. 13, verses 11-13, in regard to movies about gangsters and zombies, but I’ll risk it because I know from historical records that no religious person has ever persecuted another just because of offense to the faith … oh, wait … well, maybe I’d better finish writing this review with Nina’s machete close at hand).  I just find this famous Biblical quote to have relevance concerning these two new offerings at your local cinema because beneath their popish surfaces (Ooh, look, Pacino’s a criminal again; ooh, look some more, it’s a teenage love story with zombies instead of vampires.  Coolness to the max!) there’s some real “heart” stuff going on, although it takes a bit longer in Jonathan Levine‘s Warm Bodies for us (or the undead protagonist, R [Nicholas Hoult]) to fully feel the pulse.  Before I get to romance among the reanimated, though, I’ll start with an exploration of some guys who are still on this side of the life line, Al Pacino (Val), Christopher Walken (Doc), and Alan Arkin (Hirsch)—Oscar-winners all (for Scent of a Woman [Martin Brest, 1992], The Deer Hunter [Michael Cimino, 1979], and Little Miss Sunshine [Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006] respectively [Best Actor for Pacino, Best Supporting Actor for Walken and Arkin], with the latter contending again this year for Best Supporting in Ben Affleck’s Argo [which, if he doesn’t win, could lead to a great post-award ceremony in which he tells the Academy, “Argo, f*** yourself!” to reprise the film’s most “endearing” catchphrase])—in Fisher Stevens’ tale of mobsters at the end of their road in Stand Up Guys (and before you start making “Can these guys still stand up?” jokes before you’ve even seen the movie—my, I’ve gotten touchy about aging since I got that Medicare card, haven’t I?—do know that there's still some fire left in them, even though the whole plot of the film centers on Val’s short life expectancy as he’s targeted by local mob boss, Claphands [Mark Margolis], for execution soon after he’s released from spending his last 28 years in prison).  Seems that Claphands (we never do find out if this is a weird family moniker or a “Paulie Walnuts”-type nickname but it’s certainly a memorable top-dog identifier, as if he just claps to indicate the finality of his edicts) lost his only son in a job gone wrong those 28 years ago because the trigger-happy kid created a crisis but was shot down accidently by Val in the melee so the old man’s being planning revenge ever since (exactly what Val kept quiet about—making him the primary “stand up guy”—I never was sure about, but that’s not important compared to understanding Val, Doc, and Hirsch as “decent” cons compared to their cruel ex-boss [with reminiscences of how Pacino’s Corleone family were the “good” goons in the Godfather films [Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, 1990] compared to the vicious beasts around them [“It was Barzini (Hyman Roth, Don Lucchesi) all along!”]).  

Why, you might ask, didn’t Claphands just have Val knocked off while he was in the joint?  Because, I might answer, this despicable mobster-monster (see, not all of us who are old are well-weathered paragons of humanity) wanted Val to both lose his freedom as soon as he gained it (the execution must be done by 10am the next day), but, even more dastardly, he waited so that Doc, Val’s only friend after his conviction, would be ordered the indignity of the hit, lest he also be killed.  Clearly, the “judge” of Val’s second sentence is more like “Craphands” (in terms of not being able to cleanse himself of his crimes, à la the attempt of Pontius Pilate to wash his hands of his sins [Damn!  The Biblical references again; what am I channeling here?  Maybe I need some bourbon before I write anything else.  Or it could be just voices in the sky, as with The Moody Blues from a real-live psychedelic 1968 performance at I might need something else besides bourbon for this funky flashback]), although the real dilemma lies with the executioner as Doc struggles to not only leave his criminal past behind but also to decide which is the worst choice in his imposed no-win situation:  kill his closest (and probably only) friend or submit to sure death himself, just as he’s trying to build a clandestine relationship with his long-lost granddaughter, Alex (Addison Timlin), a waitress that he visits daily but has no idea who her most charming regular customer really is.

When you mix all of the above in with some fancy driving by former getaway master Hirsch (who also has no one else to turn to, except for a distant but forgiving relationship with his nurse daughter, Nina [Julianna Margulies, back in the E.R. again after those long TV years with George Clooney (1994-1999 for both of them,     -2000 for her, -2009 for the series]), whom Val and Doc liberate from his semi-comatose nursing-home confinement; the triumphant-testosterone visits to a local brothel (run by Wendy [Lucy Punch], daughter of their old-pal madam) where Hirsch manages to overwhelm a much younger twosome (although he dies shortly thereafter so he may have left more than just his bodily fluids with the ladies) and Val claims to have had 4 orgasms with 1 of the working girls due to his massive overdose of another e.r. reference (in this case, erectile-dysfunction counterbalancing drugs—even though the eclipsed screen time was only about 5 minutes, so if the stuff is really that effective we may soon see some “stimulating” late-night TV ads)—and Val having 3 different steak dinners in 24 hrs. at Alex’s diner (a combination of hunger for non-prison food and an acknowledgement that he’s a marked man—who even knows that Doc is the assigned killer—so any meal could be his last, thus it might as well be high-end), you’d think you’d have the right ingredients for a really successful story, but were it not for the caliber of the main actors leading us through this night of debauchery (sex, alcohol, drugs—medicinal but still in overdose mode—car theft, and vicious retaliation against some local punks who took grotesque pleasure on an innocent young woman [she participates in the revenge in a scene that gives new meaning to the phrase “batter up”]) you’d quickly find the script rather trite, the pace as slow as the metabolism of the principals, and the easily-expected jokes (including the same dangerous-amount-of-blood-in-the-penis bit that Pacino-Godfather-colleague Robert De Niro had to deal with in the most recent installment of his Meet the Parents [Jay Roach, 2000] franchise, Little Fockers [Paul Weitz, 2010]) leaving you wondering if they’re going to resurrect (so to speak … oh, wait, that's a pun best saved for the next review) the old TV ad about the woman who’s fallen and can’t get up (clearly not Val’s problem, or Hirsch’s either for that matter).  However, despite the rambling, uninspired process of this narrative going from opening suspense (Is Doc really going to do it?  If so, when?  With the answer to the latter question getting serious attention as the new morning grows later and Claphands makes a clear threat to Doc that Alex will also be on the hit list if the deed isn’t finished.) to geriatric joyriding, the mere presence of these marvelous actors, let alone the relish with which they throw themselves into their characters (Pacino and Arkin are manic as usual, Walken is more reserved than you might expect but that plays off well against the other two), still makes this movie a delight to watch despite its narrative shortcomings.

Although, I have to admit I was thinking throughout my viewing that if I were watching this same story with other actors in the main roles (even accomplished ones like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich [more on him below] as we have in Red [Robert Schwentke, 2010], a much superior film [with a sequel due out later this year; photo from the original above includes Helen Mirren for good measure] about oldsters getting back into action but calling for personalities not as specific to their sordid circumstances as what we see in Stand Up Guys) I don’t think it would work very well as a story on its own but rather what value it has—and that’s considerable in places—is seeing Pacino in full-screen bellowing command, Walken in a sensitive manner that displays true anguish about the situation he’s been forced into, and Arkin as a former wild man who temporarily regains his mojo by being liberated from his oxygen tank for a few hours (which, even if it contributes to his death, is a relatively small price to pay for the reignited fire in his belly as he commands the stolen car through a high-speed chase with the cops and commands himself in the brothel with Wendy and—probably exhausted by this point unless she’s recovered from Val’s previous onslaught—Oxana [Katheryn Winnick]).  Without the male leads here we wouldn’t have much at all with this tale of life’s last chapter, an interesting concept but one that hasn’t caught fire much with critics (Rotten Tomatoes 36, Metacritic 41, Movie Intelligence 53, compared to my roughly 70, but maybe I’m just pleased too easily with seeing these great actors give a bit of substance to a fairly thin story).

Where the thinness of Stand Up Guys thickens up a bit is in the depiction of the never-ending friendship between Val and Doc.  Even though Doc has long ago turned away from the life of crime and indulgence (Not indulgences; good, the spiritual inputs from my subconscious have subsided so hopefully I won’t be tempted to give up anything for Lent starting next week after the final hurrah on Fat Tuesday—I wonder if there was any break in New Orleans between the Super Bowl parties and Mardi Gras? I doubt they’ve stopped partying no matter what the reason on the calendar in Baltimore—a city which, coincidentally, provides the lowlife neighborhoods that house the action of Stand Up Guys; but, if you just want run-down neighborhoods and plenty of places to party, either after prison or the Super Bowl, San Francisco has plenty to offer as well, so maybe next year, Forty-Niners [or Not-Able-To-Move-Five-Yarders, as they may be known around here for awhile]) to embrace painting sunsets (one of which provides the opening and closing image for this movie) and lovingly stalking (I know that doesn’t sound good but it’s somewhat accurate) his granddaughter while trying to swell up the courage to reveal her heritage, worried that she won’t accept an ex-crook, he’s never lost his connection to Val, whom he picks up from prison, accompanies on all of their meandering escapes, and struggles to the end with regarding the death sentence that awaits at least one of them (as well as completely innocent Alex).  Val, for all of his bravado, is inwardly fearful of his immanent death yet refuses to comprise Doc’s safety by trying to escape nor even considers for a moment the idea of killing Doc first (Doc has to struggle with his own choices, given an opportune moment when Val was passed out from his various ingestions, but he just couldn’t pull the trigger when he had the chance).  One could debate philosophical arguments about which is the more difficult choice that Val and Doc face, but either way the situation calls for killing a longtime close friend only to preserve your own life, not because there’s anything else to gain by the homicide.  Ultimately, their friendship—and the charity they display with each other, so as to not totally lose the significant allusion with which I began this review—triumphs over losing either of their lives (declaring a need to protect Alex in the process), leading them to launch an attack on their oppressors straight out of Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 The Wild Bunch (although on a lesser scale, just the two of them vs. Claphands and a few bodyguards rather than 4 aging outlaws against an entire company of the Mexican army). However, in a finale more akin to another 1969 western, George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we aren’t directly shown what happens to our assumed-dead protagonists because of the use of cinematic devices (and speaking of cinematic devices, Stand Up Guys is shot largely in wonderfully-lit closeups of our protagonists; these wrinkled mugs would never be mistaken for wax-figure versions of their younger selves but they do provide screen presence, not just as nicely sculpted features but as some very recognizable, beloved faces of our contemporary film world).

In Butch and Sundance (not a black and white movie but this is the best photo I could get) our outlaw heroes run out into a situation where they’re surrounded by a squad of firing soldiers but it all ends on a rare freeze-frame that doesn’t show us their ultimate fate; in Stand Up Guys it seems as if the minor gunmen have been gunned down, leaving Claphands firing down onto the street where impeccably-clad Val and Doc (in stolen suits, of course) are firing back with great precision, but then the camera tilts upward toward the sky leaving us with reasonable assumptions—one, that Claphands had to die (along with his henchmen) or Alex would still be in danger and, two, that Doc and Val were likely mortally wounded in the battle as well, both because Doc left Alex a good bit of cash and had a final phone conversation with her just before the shootout and because during that camera tilt we start seeing bullets hit randomly into the wall above Claphands' window, an unlikely bit of poor marksmanship from our favored assassins unless they were shooting with diminished capacity.  So, Doc and Val seem to die, brothers in arms, for a last good cause, somewhat redeeming themselves from the sins of their past (as Val is unable to do in an earlier semi-comic scene with a priest at what seems to be a very early-morning confessional so I guess the sacraments never rest for the mean streets of Baltimore; Pacino was more effective in getting absolution as Michael Corleone in Godfather III, although he wasn’t able to “Hail Mary his way” out of that one either, as he suffered the ultimate penance of having his daughter, Mary [Sofia Coppola] gunned down in an attempt on his life)Stand Up Guys won’t likely have any standing ovations, but the last 15 minutes are very touching as Doc finally reveals himself to Alex and the 2 old friends finally take control over whatever fate they still have left.  Death may be their only choice but at least they make it into a good day to die.

In Jonathan Levine‘s Warm Bodies there are no good days to die, just a possible eternity of bad days to live, both for the humans whose lives are constantly under threat of ending in a brutal fashion and for the zombies that fleetingly-dead humans have become in a plague-ridden world of apocalyptic proportions (I’m verging on religious insights again; Jack Daniel, where are you?).  Yet, to return metaphorically to my opening reference from the hallowed St. Paul (who’s also been dead for a long time but hasn’t been seen [by most of us at least] in a return engagement—reanimated or not), there’s great charity in this oddly charming movie as well, a benevolence offered by both the Undead and the Living, that is by the young protagonists R (Nicholas Hoult) and Julie (Teresa Palmer) toward each other as he finds her suddenly un-eatable (not inedible, because I’m sure her flesh would be tasty, but he mysteriously refuses to want to devour it) and she slowly finds him not-so-repulsive-then-quite-attractive.  This is one of those rare movies where I’ve had a chance to read the book first (by Isaac Marion, a fascinating read, quite well-written and erudite in its strange concept), which allows me to say confidently that the main concepts and “heart” (too good a pun in this context to just use once) of the novel are well-retained in the movie, despite some narrative shifts, some minor and some noticeable but in keeping with the overall concept of the original writer’s intentions.  Despite my literary acumen in this case (actually, that’s a bit much; it’s just by chance that I was offered an opportunity to read the book before seeing the movie), I must admit that I’m no expert in the recent popcult fascination with the undead and their creepy werewolf, etc. colleagues (I'm bragging, not apologizing) so I can thankfully tell you almost nothing about the Twilight books and films where it’s a young vampire and human mix nor about the TV cult craze, AMC’s The Walking Dead, or any other cinematic, video, literary, or graphic novel connection to this fascination with creatures better left buried (except for the occasional connection as with my very-long-ago viewing of two of George A. Romero’s creature classics, Night of the Living Dead [1968; probably still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, although it’s a close contest with my first viewing of The Exorcist [William Friedkin, 1973, back when these subconscious religious intrusions were much more conscious, pronounced, and impactful] and Dawn of the Dead [1978], by which time as I was watching it in a projection booth I was able to eat a fried chicken lunch and not even wince when a screwdriver was being jammed through a zombie’s head; how's that for Texas machismo?).

So, I admit there may be a lot more going on out there in zombie lore than I’m aware of, which might diminish my acceptance of the concepts of Warm Flesh (just as Quentin Tarantino’s initially-marvelous Pulp Fiction [1994] became a bit less impactful for me when I finally saw his Reservoir Dogs [1992] and realized how much he’d ripped off from himself—but at least he’s been consistent about that; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of his films where I didn’t feel like I needed a blood transfusion afterward) if I knew them better, but given my naïve bliss I’ll just say that I enjoyed Warm Bodies a lot in a pleasant but not overwhelming manner and do appreciate how successfully I think Levine managed to capture the soul (if we can still consider such a concept regarding a zombie narrative) of Marion’s novel.  About those changes, so we can move on to more interesting analysis, the main ones for me are: (1) how in the movie the besieged humans live behind the massive walls constructed around the central core of a former city whereas in the book they’ve built their own city within what used to be a massive sports stadium (something like what the San Francisco Forty-Niners are building outside of SF, about 50 miles south of "The City," in Santa Clara, just as the New York Giants have moseyed over to New Jersey; someday maybe we’ll get to the stage of the St. Louis Cardinals of Tulsa—“Over our dead bodies!” say those redbirds, but according to Warm Bodies dead may be the new life so you never know [although, as some wise-guy 5th grader probably once asked, “If everybody’s a zombie then who do they eat?”]), (2) in the book Julie’s military-commander father, Col. Grigio (Malkovich, see I didn’t forget about him; in a bit of a joke in the book Julie goes by the surname of Cabernet some of the time because it seems to fit the “taste” of her personality better), dies in a struggle with one of the most despicable forms of zombie, a skeletal Boney, but in the audiovisual version of Warm Bodies he survives to help transform former human disgust with zombies into new-found acceptance after he understands that R and his fellow corpses are somehow evolving back into humans, and (3) in both the book and the movie R eats the brain of Julie’s former boyfriend, Perry (played by Dave Franco, the not-as-yet-famous younger brother of James), which gives him both memories of Perry’s life and deeper attraction to Julie (prior to that early scene, as we’re first introduced to R’s airport “hive,” Levine does a cleaver thing to overcome the zombie memory loss by allowing R to speculate not only on who he was in a former life but also the identities of the wandering corpses around him via quick suppositions on whom they might have been, punctuated by equally quick faux flashbacks of those assumed lives), but in the book, with its constant verbal dialogue with the reader, we are given a much better understanding of the strange collage of R and Perry that seems to evolve inside of R’s consciousness, allowing R to become more human and Perry to become less of a kill-or-be-killed human “zombie” in his own right.

Ultimately, that’s what Warm Bodies is about: How dehumanized the Brainys have become (I just made that up to accompany the zombie distinctions between Fleshies [those like R who still have much of their bodies intact] and the Boneys [the ones who’ve been around longer, have lost most everything but their skeletal structures to the ravages of time and human attacks, becoming hardened against any interactions with the Living [the zombies’ term for us rather than mine] except for mealtime) in this not-very-distant future (whatever the apocalypse was, it occurred only 8 years prior to the story on screen as shown by a popcult magazine that has Kim Kardashian on the cover) so that while they still see themselves as more of God’s creatures than the soulless, life-devouring zombies, the humans are on the verge of losing their humanity as well, just struggling to survive in a world of constant danger and scarce resources where shooting first (preferably at the head, both to finally terminate an attacking zombie and to prevent an infected human either dead or dying from rising up and joining the ranks of the Undead) with little hope for anything but day-to-day survival and no conception that the monsters who attack them might still have a consciousness that yearns to be warm again, not just to annihilate every human still standing.  In the process of this strange story—based somewhat, as many have noted, on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet and the difficulties they faced in trying to find love despite the bloodlust of their warring families (we even get a bit of a balcony scene far into Warm Bodies), but with little but surface connections to Shakespeare’s relatively-ancient classic—both Julie and R have to pretend to be what they are not:  Julie must masquerade as a zombie when R first suddenly, incomprehensibly saves her from an attack of his own hungry roamers—after first killing Perry, which complicates things a bit later in the story—and takes her against her will to his abandoned airport home; then when Julie returns to the walled city on her own, R finds his way into the guarded fortress looking for her in order to further their unexplained connection so she turns her fascination into a growing level of caring by disguising him as somewhat plausibly human (remember, he’s mostly intact, with no gaping body cavities or dangling eyeballs) which allows him to hide among his enemies until such time as he reconnects with his closest zombie buddies who are beginning to evolve like him back toward a human state, complete with periodic heartbeats and a desire to link up with the Living against a massive attack by the Boneys.  R and Julie have somehow found a connective spark which begins to infect the zombies in a manner that reverses their previous post-death sentence, a growing passion that literally raises the Undead back into humanity and rids the world of the horrible tragedy that has somehow pushed our species to the brink of extension.

Another aspect of the book that would add depth to the movie if time had allowed its harsh exploration and if more complex concepts than survival at all costs could have been worked into this storyline is that the plague that unleashed this zombie tragedy was the result of human degradation, that we eventually just got so  selfish, unconnected from each other’s needs, and materially-focused that we reached a bottom level of human consciousness and decency, allowing dehumanized evil to creep into our lives, thereby preventing a natural sense of closure as the dead were compelled to rise up and stalk the Earth.  We get a nice sense of a modified version of this in the movie version of Warm Bodies as the growing love between R (called that simply because he can’t remember what his name used to be but he seems to recall it starts with the letter R) and Julie sort of sends a kind of (I sound like a typical non-committal baseball player's interview) re-humanizing pheromone into the atmosphere that stirs life back into the zombies (another idea for this type of story that I’ve not seen before, just as with the articulate mind still present in the zombie brain which can be expressed somehow in interior words in the book, voiceover in the movie, even though these wretched creatures can barely string a few syllables together when trying to talk—that is, until R starts evolving and his speech capacity grows along with his emotional yearnings).  In the book at one point R wishes that he could move through time in a movie-montage manner that would let him compress events and get onto his desired result faster; in the movie we get that montage event (in very typical movie fashion) when Julie first accepts that she’s not going to get out of R’s abandoned airplane home until he lets her go in a few days so they become more tolerant of each other in a series of quick scenes set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” (instead of Frank Sinatra, as in the book [if you’ve gotten this far without another one of my musical breaks maybe it’s time for divergence with The Boss, either this version with the E Street Band at a 2009 Madison Square Garden concert with lots of audience participation—they energetically sing a lot, even more than Bruce does—at, or if you’d prefer a more focused approach to a performance/music video, primarily with Bruce singing, here’s another rendition to watch at]--however, this brings up the continuity question of what Energizer Bunny-batteries still work to power R’s record player, just as we have to wonder where the push-button-ignition car comes from in Stand Up Guys, which otherwise seems to be set in the 1980s with small-screen TVs and payphones [not a cell phone or computer in sight]).

       While there are a lot of other songs in the soundtrack of this movie (and they’re probably much more meaningful to those who know these tunes than to musically-out-of-touch me), I find “Hungry Heart” to be the essence of what this story is trying to tell us in either print or cinematic form (just as Romeo and Juliet set out to do so many centuries ago), that interpersonal connection to another human being and inter-societal connection even without romance attached is what we all need for full engagement in life, not just walking around and eating like we were some low species of the forest with only a minimal sense of consciousness beyond what it takes to keep ourselves sentient and reproduced (the zombies have only a mild sense of the former and no possibility regarding the latter—but they don’t need to replace themselves right now because of their recruits from the ranks of the Living; someday, as noted before, that may become a problem in the land of the Undead, but that’s a concept for another yet-unrealized zombie story [for me, at least]): the end of the human food supply, where seemingly it’s our life force that sustains them and our memories that provide some sense of a past, except for the Boneys who “live” totally in the present, maintaining their mode of existence as fiercely as a medieval baron or a fundamentalist patriarch, even attacking less-decomposed zombies who don’t adhere to their rigid, engrained social rules).

In the end, life returns to the evolving zombies (a neat trick, given that they all actually died before, but here come those spiritual whisperings again, this time with hints of “resurrection”—and just a bit of an oaken aftertaste that defines a fine Cabernet [like Julie?], especially one transformed from ordinary water at a wedding feast), R and Julie make a nice life together, the Boneys all are killed or just deteriorate from the lack of sustenance they apparently enjoyed not just from eating flesh but also from the fear emanating from the “younger” zombies, and all good things begin to grow enthusiastically again as the former Undead find connections among the Living (including R’s good friend M [Rob Corddry] who eventually links up with Julie’s pal Nora [Analeigh Tipton]).  Perry sort of blends into the Great Beyond in the book as R begins to take on more command of his life (but Perry hardly registers a real presence within R in the movie except for one R-dream-induced picnic scene where he’s with Julie but R suddenly appears in dialogue with them—still a notable moment, given that zombies don’t really sleep, let alone dream), but that’s significantly symbolic as well:  We all need to get beyond the hostile, defensive aspects of Perry that sense the worst in the world around us and keep us on guard for defense; instead we need more of R’s yearning to be alive again, to feel the blood running through our veins (rather than trying to consume someone else’s, symbolic of their life force and material possessions which we prize too much at times, determined to acquire what those around us have rather than being content with our own existences and feeding the life force within ourselves rather than simply coveting it from our neighbors [here comes that spiritual subconscious messenger again; if I’m not careful I’m going to end up in church next week on Ash Wednesday instead of writing film reviews of escapist entertainment (that has a bit more of a purpose than just pure escapism) as I’m doing this week, so pray for me to escape this fate—wait a minute, that doesn’t work either!]), feeling his heartbeat both as a signal of his personified passion and as a sharing of that passion toward Julie.  Warm Bodies may have aspects that play like campy jokes and trendy action movies, but there’s some genuine tenderness here as well that I don’t think you have to be just a reanimated teenager to appreciate.  Maybe the kinds of faith, hope, and charity that we get in Stand Up Guys and Warm Bodies isn’t exactly what St. Paul had in mind, but in a secular world such as ours even these seemingly childish movies (when compared to truly adult stories such as Amour [Michael Haneke], Zero Dark Thirty [Kathryn Bigelow], and The Master [Paul Thomas Anderson]) offer some insights within their dark glass which hopefully help us grow into more open-minded adults, understanding and accepting all forms of charity wherever we find it.  At one point on this dense soundtrack we get a taste of the one song that for me sums it all up, Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” so I’ll leave you with that.  I found innumerable amateur covers of it but none by Bob; however here’s a more professional version by Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris at  Sing along if you like until next week.

If you’d like to know more about Stand Up Guys here are some suggested links: (short interview with director Fisher Stevens and actors Julianna Margulies and Alan Arkin)

If you’d like to know more about Warm Bodies here are some suggested links: (a silly 8 min. visit to the set of the movie in Montreal as interviewer Jake Hamilton goes through zombie makeup process and costuming, short talks with actors Nicholas Houtl, Rob Corddry, Teresa Palmer and director Jonathan Levine, but at least you see a bit of what goes into the preparation of this production)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California  knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.         Ken


  1. Warm Bodies was my latest cinematic escape as Beautiful Creatures and other more anticipated movies have not made it to my neck of the woods while all of the remaining offerings are either re-releases of PI, Silver Lining, Argo, Dark Thirty or are clearly second tier.  An interesting note is that Master is not in second release in my area while nationally Yahoo Users have given it a less than stellar two star assessment.  Silver Linings and The Master both deal quite powerfully with mental illness, but Linings has a successful romance while Master does not.

    I was expecting a Twilight audience for Warm Bodies and that’s what I found at the screening.  Women seem to love romance stories regardless of plausibility or fantasy elements.  The ladies in the audience were having a great collective experience with giggles, laughs and swoons throughout.   A matinee idol male must be a requirement, regardless if he’s a vampire in high school or a walking corpse after the apocalypse.   Just make sure that the couple prevails and that there's hope for the future.

    I must admit that I liked the original Twilight and found it to be exceptional, employing a clever script, excellent cinematography, subdued effects, beautiful women, superb architecture and a variety of back stories. The back stories took full advantage of generations of knowledge accumulated by twenty something immortals.   Unfortunately the sequels and spin offs failed to meet Twilight’s high standard, and Warm Bodies is no exception. 

    But I did spend a couple of hours watching evolving zombies primarily based on Mr. Burke’s review (he even read the book!) and other user's opinions; both are data sources that are generally quite good. 

    I found the screenplay and pacing of Warm Bodies to be a little weary in the first half; how much grunting and self-agonizing by a corpse do we really need?   Once “R” begins effective communication, things improved.  Communication seems to be a common requirement for human relationships; I assume it is equally relevant for zombies.

    It is always interesting how Ken’s reviews can bring one back to the moment, often generating a re-imagining and reliving of the cinematic event.  That quality of his reviews is clearly unique. 

    I also responded to many of the movie’s musical selections which "R" uses to begin the bonding. The characters are shown listening to the hits using old school vinyl, which is amazingly is an up and coming trend.  As Ken notes, Springsteen’s Hungry Heart is featured.   A Springsteen biographer recently noted that Bruce did not like Hungry Heart and that the Boss had to be forced to include it on his breakthrough album.  One reason was that Hungry Heart had a depressing set of lyrics about a guy who leaves his family and never comes back. Apparently Bruce wanted a different audience perspective as his star rose.  A casual listener often hears a different story of a lonely guy seeking love but failing in his efforts.   Regardless, the song was a good reference either way for Warm Bodies

    Overall a successful popcorn movie (although I don’t buy the overpriced popcorn anymore).  I’ll probably pass on sequels but I don’t see that hour and half as totally wasted.   Your woman will probably leave smiling and that is what counts!

  2. Hi, rj. A marvelous collection of comments (I rarely buy movie popcorn anymore either, except on days when work commitments have caused me to skip lunch and I'm absolutely starving by the time I get to the last afternoon bargain matinee) on a wide selection of related topics (and thanks for the compliments; your royalty check should be in the mail). You definitely put the "Two" back in Two Guys in the Dark (sorry, Pat, I know you're still busy with theatre reviews). Keep up the contributions! Ken