“The Man With the Iron Fists”– (**) There’s an old saying : “If you’re going to make a Quentin Tarantino movie, it’s best that Quentin Tarantino directs it”. Alright, so that’s not true, but it should be. Q only “presents” this movie, and Wu Tang Clan alum RZA wrote, directed, and starred in this passion project, which doubles as an homage to surreal Kung Fu cinema of yesteryear. The words ‘passion project’ should make something sound like the beginning of a beautiful thing. In this case, however, a silly threadbare story, which is what most martial arts films have, isn’t elevated to a coolness or beauty that good or great films of its kind have.
Unlike “Kill Bill” and other similarly toned exploitation films, the startling moments of gory violence and extreme action didn’t work for me. The eye-gouging, scalping, and heart-piercing in Tarantino movies startle us, but seem right at home in the context of the film. RZA tries that with his film as well, but it’s startling in a silly way. Instead of giving an uncomfortable guffaw after one unfortunate soul’s chest is split open, I just rolled my eyes. Russell Crowe (I’m not sure what he saw in this role) does his best to chew out a supporting gig as a dangerous mystery man trying to enjoy his vacation of debauchery. It’s not nearly enough, as this film turns out to be more goofy than I think it intended.
“Evil Dead” (2013)– (**1/2) For some reason, the powers that be decided to remake the original “Evil Dead”, a film that’s very well-known, and is just awful. I know that people love Bruce Campbell and the original “Evil Dead” trilogy, but putting myself through those films was an experience I can’t imagine doing again. Why in the world would I watch a remake then? I was admittedly intrigued by the marketing campaign, which boldly declared the new film the “most terrifying film you’ll ever see”. I figured anyone brave enough to stamp that on their poster must be serious about their movie, so I bit.
Amazingly, this isn’t a disaster. The plot is typical, and vaguely resembles the original, as friends meet at an abandoned cabin for a weekend getaway. This time around, though, it’s not all fun and games for the young adults, as Mia (Jane Levy) aims to get sober with a little help from said friends. Of course, this means she’s the most vulnerable of the group. That works out quite well for the freshly unleashed (and conveniently nearby) demon, or hellspawn, or whatever one might call it. So far, so typical. What works for this movie is the constant onslaught of gore and doom, which made me consistently uncomfortable; what didn’t work is that the filmmakers expect the sheer presence of said gore and explicit violence to work as a fear tactic. At no point did I experience fear. The possession/demon story line isn’t new anymore, and it isn’t enough to scare me. I’m wondering if instead of a remake, a prequel might have been a better idea. After all, the opening scene of the film was the most effective part, and a further look at the wretched story of the demon sounds more intriguing than Hell on Earth. I suppose the claims of the marketing team aren’t accurate, but it is watchable, an accomplishment the original trilogy failed to achieve.
“Warm Bodies”– (***1/2) Of the three movies I’ve seen in the past ten days, this is by far the best of them, even if it falls short on occasion. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine the main ideas for “The Walking Dead” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” colliding with “Romeo and Juliet”. In other words, this is a quasi-indie zombie romantic comedy with heart. I’m sure that helps.
Nicholas Hoult (“About a Boy”, “X-Men: First Class”) stars as a zombie who’s conflicted with the state of affairs in the post-apocalyptic world he’s in. Why a reanimated corpse has any cognitive function at all is a mystery to me and the film, but I digress, for the film wouldn’t exist otherwise. In a particularly grisly attack on the living, this zombie is overtaken with an urge to protect someone- the lovely Julie (Teresa Palmer, the Australian equivalent of Kristen Stewart). So, he removes Julie from the situation, and takes her back to his ‘place’. Again, why a zombie would have living quarters is perplexing, but it does give the plot a chance to advance. The zombie doesn’t remember anything from his past, but can speak (kind of). Through that, an unlikely relationship develops between Julie and ‘R’, as she christens him, and while he continues to protect her, he starts to undergo changes.
The changes I’m referring to are where the film really takes off. Imagine being dead, or completely isolated from living society, and then someone makes the effort to understand you, despite the inherent danger and disgust involved. No matter how dead, depressed, or isolated you might be, the film illustrates in a quirky way that love, or the energy of loving feelings, can bring anything back to the light. Other zombies that ‘R’ feasts with began to feel similarly, especially the one played by Rob Corddry. I would have liked this better without him in it. Corddry is a scene-stealer, like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler before him, but in a bad way; he’s always got to “Corddry it up”, and it doesn’t fit in this movie.
We’ve seen unlikely couples on film before, from Romeo and Juliet to Jack and Rose, and the pairing of ‘R’ and Julie qualifies as one of them, albeit not as legendary. There’s also a demanding, militaristic father (John Malkovich), the head of the living resistance, who would never accept a zombie- right? This all comes to a head, of course, because the change in zombies coincides with an increasing discontent amongst the ‘bonies’, a sect of the undead that’s “too far gone”, and even kills their own kind. Add that up, and of course there must be a final battle of sorts. All in all this is a good film, with a lot of quirky humor, and surprisingly, a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like on a grander scale, where the history of the zombie plague was at least hinted at, and the science of viruses and the undead were taken seriously. I don’t think that was ever the intention, but nonetheless I saw an even better movie hiding underneath. It’s possible that the original storyteller, author Isaac Marion, simply wished to use zombies as a metaphor for how we live our lives today. Are we basically zombies, and do we need to periodically reconnect with the world around us to regain our humanity? I can see that being possible.