Jack the Giant Slayer

Image_square_webby Susan

2013 Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor. Screenplay by Dareen Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney. Directed by Bryan Singer.

Following in the footsteps of other recent big screen treatments of classic fairy tales, Jack the Giant Slayer has a lot going for it – Ewan McGregor for one. Then there’s the kid in the title role of Jack, Nicholas Hoult of Warm Bodies, who is now definitely on my list of Young Upcoming Actors to Keep An Eye On. He was fantastic as the not-quite-undead teen zombie who managed to hang on to his last vestiges of humanity with a lot of help from a pretty teen girl. Think Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending for fans of comedy horror, specifically the zombie sub-genre. The movie is better than those last two sentences would have you believe – trust me.

And now back to the current review…

Everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. E V E R Y O N E. So how do you turn such a well-known fable into an exciting, visually rich movie experience? Simple: lots and lots and lots of CG. (For you non-geeks, that’s computer graphics, digital special effects. Movies are full of ’em these days.) It was done so well, the CG giants in this film are the real stars. They are numerous, hideous, menacing, murderous, and they have well-developed individual personalities. There’s one that even has double the personality of the rest. (Don’t worry, you’ll know what I mean when you see the film.)

The human actors did a very nice job, too. Considering that this version is extremely kid-friendly, each of the actors gave a spot-on performance for the target audience. Hoult’s Jack is a sweet, earnest farm boy, McGregor’s Sir Elmont is a handsome, courageous, selfless knight, Tucci’s villainous Roderick was humorously cunning and foul, Ian McShane’s thoughtful king was appropriately consumed with concern for his only daughter the Princess. Together they make a nice cast performing slightly stereotypical fairy tale roles, but that’s okay. This is, after all, a fairy tale.

Jack-The-Giant-Slayer

With all of the daring escapes, villainous plotting, swordplay, double-crosses, and battle scenes, there is plenty of action to keep the young ones on the edge of their seats. My quibble is that I didn’t find it as engaging for adults as some animated films such as Cars, How to Train Your Dragon, or Wreck-It Ralph. Frankly, the giants were more interesting characters than the actual humans. I don’t know if my reaction is due to seeing live humans acting as cartoon characters or if this movie was never meant to appeal to adults. As a modern cinematic treatment of an ageless fable, Jack the Giant Slayer has more in common with Mirror, Mirror than Snow White and the Huntsman.  It’s light and a little fluffy, quite funny in places, but not nearly as frightening as the original tale. Those old fairy tales were stories meant to scare the bejeezus out of children so they would behave and not wander far from home. Jack the Giant Slayer probably won’t have any lasting impact on anyone.

Two boxes of popcornRating: Double Serving with a big bag of M&Ms accompanied by a child 

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Warm Bodies

Image_square_webby Susan

2013, Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich. Written by Jonathan Levine, adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel. Directed by Jonathan Levine.

Yet another Zombie movie? Well, why not? The proliferation of books, movies, and television fare featuring slow-moving, mindless, cannibalistic, dead humans in recent years has given us a few gems along the way. The first zombie movie I ever saw was probably 1932’s White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi. No, I am NOT that old, but I did like to stay up late and watch old movies on TV as a kid. The second one was probably Night of the Living Dead (1968), which I was not allowed to see when it was first released in theaters. (We can thank my dear, ultra-conservative parents for that.)

There have been a lot of zombie movies since those early, creepy, black and white, nightmare-inducing introductions to the concept, some better than others. The thing about this genre, though, seems to be that it is difficult to come up with anything original to actually do with a group of slow-moving, mindless, cannibalistic, dead humans. They must be shot in the head to be destroyed, surviving a bite from one will inevitably make you one of them, and they have an insatiable hunger for human brains. Oh, and let’s don’t forget the biggie – it’s all a metaphor for the loss of our humanity, society turning into a bunch of grunting, shuffling, brainless consumers wreaking havoc and destruction on the world.

It’s all pretty grim stuff. Sometimes too grim and repetitive. This is why my favorite examples of the genre are the humorous ones: Shaun of the Dead (Simon Pegg) and Zombieland (Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg) are both clever, well-written, well-acted, and smart. They found a way to take the zombie clichés and remake them into something fresh and funny while still using them to comment on the state of our humanity.

Warm Bodies is not a horror movie, it’s a clever, well-written, well-acted, smart, funny, romantic zombie movie. Wait – did I say romantic? Yes, I did. And not only romantic, but also narrated from the zombie’s point of view. Make that a teenage zombie’s point of view. You think it’s hard being an awkward guy trying to talk to a pretty girl? Try being a shuffling zombie who can only grunt incoherently! “…they’ll eat anything with a heartbeat. I mean, I will too, but at least I’m conflicted about it…”

Warm Bodies

This one actually gives us two types of zombies, the familiar ones who still resemble humans and the “bonies” who have lost every last shred of their humanity. The remaining humans, living behind a giant wall in fear of the plague-infected brain-eaters, make no distinction between them. It’s us against them, a zombie is a zombie is a zombie and they must all be eliminated before the human race is extinct.

Julie, the pretty teenage girl, has discovered something that the other humans haven’t had the time or opportunity to realize: as long as a trace of humanity remains, there is hope for the individual. Unfortunately for our two teenage leads, it’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario. Her father doesn’t want to believe, he only wants to kill zombies. Can Julie convince him before it’s too late? Is there really any hope for the walking dead or are they all destined to become one of the bonies?

Warm Bodies has a lot of heart. It must have because it was easy to root for the zombies.

Two boxes of popcornRating: Double Serving plus a box of Milk Duds and some Twizzlers