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Weekend Movie Preview: 'Warm Bodies,' & 'Bullet to the Head'

February 1st, 2013 11:00am EST

Warm Bodies Poster Am I the only one flabbergasted that “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” is Number 1 at the box office right now? I still haven’t watched it yet, but I’ve heard from several colleagues that it’s terrible, and not in the awesomely bad way. Did you like the film? Leave me a comment telling me why you enjoyed it so much. Maybe you’ll convince me to give it a shot.
I’m quite sad by how hard Arnold’s comeback film “The Last Stand” is tanking at the box office. I know a lot of people have written him off as an action hero; however I urge them to give this movie a chance. It’s not a masterpiece or even one of the all-time great Arnold flicks, although it has a fun villain, some excellent action, and it’s beautifully directed by Jee-woon Kim. Plus Arnold takes a grounded approach to the role and scales back his physicality to age-appropriate levels. My Grade: B
This week’s column has my reviews of the horror comedy “Warm Bodies” and the Stallone action picture “Bullet to the Head.” Which one do you think I liked better considering that I love zombies? You might be surprised. Read on my friends.
WARM BODIES

R (Nicholas Hoult) is a highly unusual zombie. His thoughts and his remorse about eating human flesh lead him to save Julie (Teresa Palmer) from being attacked by a group of hungry zombies. R’s act of kindness sets in motion a series of events that will irrevocably alter their post-apocalyptic world.
Director/Writer: Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “The Wackness”)
Based On: The young adult book Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Notable Supporting Actors: John Malkovich, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton
MY TAKE: I never read Isaac Marion’s book Warm Bodies prior to seeing Jonathan Levine’s big screen adaptation, but as a certified zombiephile, I expected to love every moment of the horror comedy. So why didn’t I?
An initial thought was that trailers spoiled the funniest jokes. While they might have affected me slightly, I don’t believe lack of surprise alone turned me off. Another idea was that I was too old to dig the humor, since the majority of the audience in my theater, which seemed to be in the 18 – 22 year-old range, thought the movie was a riot, while I only let out a couple of chuckles. Then I realized, if age has anything to do with why I didn’t care for “Warm Bodies,” it’s merely that I have more film watching experience. Through my cinematic adventures I’ve already discovered better zombie comedies like “Night of the Creeps,” “Dead Snow,” “Dead Heat,” “Zombieland,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and “Fido.” These were the films I was using as my gold standard, and “Warm Bodies” just didn’t measure up.
I don’t want to be too harsh, because didn’t completely hate the movie. It has some decent qualities, like the tale's fresh approach to zombies as beings. The undead in "Warm Bodies" live as two different species. There are corpses, which are traditional zombies, except they've retained their thoughts and rudimentary speech. Corpses eat brains only out of necessity. Also there are bonies, uncaring snarling skeletal creatures who only want to eat flesh. As expected, the two groups eventually come to blows over their differences. I just wish the film went into further depth though about the dynamics between the corpses and the bonies to explain how they managed to coexist prior to their conflict.
In "Warm Bodies," regular zombies thankfully aren't completely beyond repair; the power of love can help turn them back into functional members of society. The concept that human love could physically transform undead creatures feels silly and dangerously close to sappy Twilight territory, but science can be damned in a horror comedy.
The most annoying part of the flick for me was R’s constant narration. He talks a lot, which is amusing, because how often do you get to know what zombies are thinking? Since his lines have a very stream of consciousness feel, they’re not very witty. They seem. Like. A lot. Of. Simple. Short sentences. This style of speech may be humorous to mumblecore hipsters, but I couldn't get into it. Another obnoxious aspect of "Warm Bodies" is its waste of a talented actor like John Malkovich on a throwaway character. He's not in the movie a whole lot, which almost makes his top billing false advertising. He's forced to play Julie’s cookie cutter closed minded father, who just can't believe that R or any other corpses can change. What a shame.
At least there is a ton of great music in the film. R is a vinyl enthusiast so you get to hear a lot of classic tunes. Unfortunately those songs are tackily integrated, ruining what could have been fantastic ambiance in several places. The lead actor Nicholas Hoult is amusing and charming as R, and he has decent chemistry with Teresa Palmer, something that makes the film easier to watch.
“Warm Bodies” isn’t a terrible horror comedy, just a mediocre one that squanders a fresh premise with lackluster humor that's likely to amuse hipsters and inexperienced viewers of the zombie genre.
My Grade: C

BULLET TO THE HEAD

After their respective partners are murdered, a New Orleans hitman (Sylvester Stallone) and a Washington D.C. cop (Sung Kang) form a partnership to take down a mutual foe responsible for the killings.
Director: Walter Hill (“Last Man Standing,” “48 Hrs”)
Writer: Alessandro Camon (“Madame T,” “The Messenger”)
Based On: The graphic novel Du plomb dans la tête by Alexis Nolent
Notable Supporting Actors: Sarah Shahi, Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Jason Mamoa
MY TAKE: “You had me at f**k you,” Sylvester Stallone mumbles affectionately to his pissed off partner in Walter Hill’s “Bullet to the Head,” right after the kid lashes out for being punched in the gut. If it hadn’t already hooked me before, Alessandro Camon’s hilarious banter definitely would have had me there. Camon’s verbal exchanges about race, technology, and police procedure between career criminal James Bonomo (Stallone) and uptight cop Taylor Kwon (Kang) hark back to classic 80s buddy cop films. Kwon wants to go by the book every step of the way, while Bonomo is only interested in dispensing hot lead street justice. Watching their polar opposite personalities bounce off each other is hilarious. Is this what “Beverly Hills Cop” would have been like, had the producers continued their original plan to have Stallone star in the title role? Perhaps it would have been funnier than we all thought. Even though Stallone sounds like a dumb jock, he proves in “Bullet to the Head” that he really can pull off quips like “Are we gonna fight, or are you gonna bore me to death?” for serious laughs. He also surprises by taking on film noir style narration in this picture.
On top of the 80s buddy cop dynamic, “Bullet to the Head” has the aesthetic and story of gritty revenge flick from the 70s. Walter Hill’s film mixes the best of both worlds to create an entertaining action picture with personality. It has a crime-ridden city for its setting and mismatched partners, just like other police movies, plus it involves cold-blooded revenge seeking that would make Charles Bronson proud. In fact, the film probably could have been called “Bullets to the Head” for all the headshots used to dispatch enemies.
Even the music feels right because it’s clearly local musicians playing blues/rock and Cajun influenced tunes. Despite being peripheral to the scenes, the songs in “Bullet to the Head” create this amusing dark, nothing-to-lose kind of ambiance for the protagonists. I was wondering how Hill could so effectively blend these genres and then I realized something: he directed the buddy film “48 Hrs” AND the 70s cult hit “The Warriors,” a personal favorite. Then it all made sense.
The conspiracy at the heart of Bonomo and Kwan’s investigation is easily explained in the course of a couple lines from the bad guys, which is disappointing yet expected for this type of film. Poor Christian Slater’s career has reached a new low, since he merely serves as an expendable henchman for Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from “Lost”). While it’s nice to see Agbaje again, he plays a bland villain who is not only physically weak, but he doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, so he’s not very engaging. Jason Mamoa is a much more interesting bad guy, a mercenary younger and physically larger than Stallone. Mamoa’s character has an arrogant swagger that works against him with the street smart Bonomo.
Another unfortunate thing is that Bonomo and Kwan’s partnership is very uneven. Stallone is really the only one who gets to have fun with witty lines, shooting people, and blowing shit up. Kwan is too devoted to procedure for viewers to like him. Also he’s a complete wimp by comparison, playing into emasculating racial stereotypes. Even when Kwan tries to throw Bonomo off his game, by talking about hooking up with the hitman’s daughter, Bonomo is still cool as a cucumber. A more balanced foil would have made this film strong enough to compensate for its weak plot.
In the land of aging action heroes, Stallone’s “Bullet to the Head” trumps Arnold’s recent flick “The Last Stand.” I had a such blast watching “Bullet to the Head,” that I actually plan to see again as soon as possible. It’s one I think I’ll enjoy just as much on the small screen as I did on the big screen.
MY GRADE: B+

Related: Bullet to the Head, Warm Bodies, Starpulse Exclusives, Movies, Movie Reviews, Columns, Weekend Movie Preview

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