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

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Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Bill Condon. From the book by Stephenie Meyer.

I think it was about four years ago, more or less, when I started hearing about a book entitled Twilight. It was enthusiastically described to me as a story about a family of vampires and the human girl who is attracted to one of them. “Oh, vampires, right. That’s a theme that finds renewed popularity every few years,” I said.

“But these vampires are different! They are good, and only drink the blood of animals, and try to coexist peacefully with humans, but they have to keep it a secret that they are vampires.”

“Yeah… I guess that’s fairly different. What’s the latest on the next Harry Potter movie?” I was, and still am, a devoted fan of the Boy Wizard. Of course, the Harry Potter movies were magnificent but the books are stupendously better than the movies.

Ignoring my attempt to change the subject, the TwiHard continued. “And they SPARKLE in the sunshine! And they are practically the only GOOD vampires in the world! They’re really, really old but they still look like teenagers because they don’t age after becoming a vampire so they go to high school over and over again. And this one guy – the really cute one – can read minds.”

They never age so they keep going to high school for eternity? Now that’s a living hell on earth, for sure, I thought. Wait a minute – “They sparkle in the sunshine? And actually enjoy being in high school forever?” Something about the weirdness of sparkly teenage vampires had captured my attention, so I borrowed the book to find out what the big deal was all about. I have to admit that it was a very interesting read, a totally new take on the old vampire theme. The only problem for me was all the angsty teenagery stuff that dragged on interminably. I know the target age group for the Twilight books is tweens and teens, but the first couple of Harry Potter books were for children and they were simply enchanting.

So I shouldn’t be trying to compare apples to oranges. What Twilight has in common with Harry Potter is that they are both a series of books that have been made into movies. Twilight must be evaluated on its own merits, such as they are. After reading the first book, I was ready to dive into the next one. And then the third and the fourth. Native American legends of shapeshifters, sparkly vampires, teenage love triangles, ancient evil vampire Mafioso, the lure of eternal love – these elements were cleverly interspersed with the angsty teenagery stuff in a way that made me want to know how the story would unfold. I think it could have unfolded quite nicely with about half the pages it took to fill each book, but that would have entailed losing most, if not all, of the angsty teenagery stuff that apparently is a big selling point with the books’ target demographic. (I can’t help it if I find it increasingly difficult to get in touch with my inner fourteen-year-old. I am much more comfortable with my inner twenty-four-year-old.)

I have read all four books in the original series and have also seen each of the movies. I admit that it was as much out of curiosity about how the story would be presented in film as anything else that prompted me to see the movies. I further admit that the Twilight movies, collectively, were not a bad translation of book to screen. If anything, the necessity of paring down the story to its essential elements for a movie was an improvement. The angsty teenagery stuff is still there, but not overwhelmingly so.

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the first half of the fourth book. In this installment we are treated to a wedding, a honeymoon, an impossible conception, dissension and mutiny within the ranks of the shapeshifters, a birth, a death, and a re-birth as Bella says good-bye to her family, her humanity, her heartbeat, and any desire for a great salad ever again. Some of the material as presented in the book seems so corny it was difficult to imagine how it could be Hollywoodized without coming across as silly at best and just plain stupid at worst. Kudos to Bill Condon and his cast for pulling off the near-impossible and delivering a beautifully filmed movie that stays true to the book without devolving into an oversimplified, maudlin mess of angsty teenagery absurdities.

What I liked best about this movie: the intentional and appropriate humor interspersed throughout. What I was most annoyed by in this movie: the tendency to present scenes with the Cullens posed as if in a static tableau where they collectively looked either “concerned” or “anxious” or perhaps “bored.” The one thing in this movie I would most love to have a logical, or at least plausible, explanation for: if vampires have no bodily fluids, how did Bella get pregnant?

I had read the book, I knew what to expect, and I was still entertained by what I saw on the screen. I’m very happy for all of my diehard TwiHard friends who waited in line to see it at midnight when it first opened, and have seen it several more times already. They are extremely pleased with the movie, noting that the wedding scenes were perfectly gorgeous, the honeymoon scenes were perfectly romantic, and the pregnancy/birth scenes were perfectly gross and intense. The only complaint I have heard so far is that Taylor Lautner did not have sufficient bare-chested scenes. Now let’s please have the final movie – Breaking Dawn Part 2 – so we can move on to the next huge moneymaking book-series-turned-into-movies craze.

Rating: Double Serving plus a pound of Red Twizzlers

The Night Circus

by Mandy

 

What if your first kiss was held suspended in time, bestowed as all in the room succumb to the power of magic?

There’s no doubt Erin Morgenstern has created magic. In her debut novel, two opponents fight in a lifelong battle of skill versus skill in a mysterious challenge that threatens to rip the world apart. Well, some of it anyway.

The black and white tents of Les Cirques des Rêves appear without warning, suddenly occupying space that was empty the day before. Drawn by its mystery, townspeople enter and are enthralled by nights filled with mystery and feats of extraordinary talent. But who is behind it all?

Bound as children to a contest they do not understand, raised without love by men they barely know, Celia and Marco are rivals in an arena that defies convention. It is a dreamland, one that speaks to the hearts, souls and imaginations of not only the audience, but the creators of each exhibit. Dazzling and intricate, the circus is a living thing, and perhaps Morgenstern’s most brilliant invention. Every decadent page speaks of love, betrayal, hope, mystery and magic. It’s a love story, but it’s so much more. As pawns trapped in a cruel wager between two powerful, magical and proud men, Celia and Marco must not only discover the nature of the challenge, but how to play and ultimately win. Each tent is not only a display of immense talent, but a secret token of affection to one another. Poetry runs down the trunk of a tree, an ice forest grows and blooms and a reflecting pool transcends grief and loss.

I was drawn in by the early buzz, but skeptical of the label “Harry Potter for adults.” I take issue with this. It is a desperate plug for publishers and entertainment houses in a post-Harry Potter and Twilight world to gain what they love most: money. First of all, Harry Potter is just as much for adults as it is for kids and teens. It’s just that good. Tread carefully when invoking Harry’s name, people! Anyway, I received my copy, and from the very first line, I was entranced. The hook is fantastic. It’s a confident work, and I will smile whenever I see splashes of red alongside black & white. I’m certain it will be a trend, with the book generating its own rêveurs. The book is not for the impatient: though the chapters are brief, each slice of the circus is delivered leisurely. Glimpses are provided through different characters, descriptions of challenges created and answered and through the players themselves. It’s slow, but maddening only because the desire to know more about the circus is so strong.

I want to say more, but some tents are left better explored at one’s own pace. Enjoy.