“Warm Bodies” review: A zombie story with heart… and a lot of brains

warm bodies

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Just when you thought the zombie genre had shambled off into the sunset bereft of any fresh ideas, a movie like “Warm Bodies” comes along and makes the undead seem, well… very much alive.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) and based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, “Warm Bodies” unfolds in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse that has made humans the food of choice for hungry zombies and the savage, skeletal “bonies” that some of the undead turn into after a certain point in time. However, unlike the zombies portrayed in most media, some of the undead in this story still show signs of life, stringing together thoughts and even communicating with the occasional grunt or single-syllable word. “R” is one such zombie, and when he falls in love with a human girl that he saves from some of his fellow zombies, their relationship ignites a spark that not only changes him, but also has a cascading effect on both zombies and humans alike.

While it’s easy to dismiss the concept of “Warm Bodies” as just another young-adult supernatural romance that exchanges vampires and werewolves for flesh-hungry zombies, Levine’s film shares more in common with the modern, clever takes on the genre like “Shaun of the Dead” than it shares with the “Twilight” franchise.

British actor Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class”) carries much of the film on his slumped shoulders as R, complementing a smart, funny inner monologue with physical acting that just might make him the funniest zombie since Tarman in “Return of the Living Dead.” Emoting shouldn’t be easy when your character is a trudging, near-mindless corpse, but Hoult certainly makes it seem so, adding just the right inclination of an eyebrow or tilt of his chin to give R some genuine depth. The subtle exaggeration of these small movements as the story progresses makes R’s evolution even more believable, and provides a nice showcase for Hoult’s talents.

Playing opposite Hoult, Teresa Palmer (“I Am Number Four”) puts in a good, safe performance as Julie, the object of R’s affections and the daughter of General Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of a nearby, militarized human sanctuary. Although her character never manages to steal the spotlight away from R, this says more about Hoult’s performance and the focus of the film than anything she brings to the role. The same goes for Malkovich, who plays more of a cameo than anything even remotely as memorable as the characters he’s played in the past.

Still, “Hot Tub Time Machine” actor Rob Corddry does manage to stand out as R’s zombie pal “M,” and the pair have a nice chemistry that translates into some of the film’s funniest moments. Like Hoult, Corddry does a lot with every scene he’s in, right down to the smallest twitch of a shoulder or well-timed grunt, and makes a strong case for M as the character most deserving of his own spin-off film.

In fact, that may be the most impressive achievement in Levine’s adaptation of Marion’s novel: the most interesting, compelling characters in the story are zombies.

Even with all of the story’s allusions to “Romeo & Juliet” (from star-crossed lovers R and Julie, to R’s best friend M serving as the Mercutio to R’s Romeo), “Warm Bodies” never feels like a traditional romance dressed up in a post-apocalyptic theme. The reverse feels more appropriate, with the costume of a classic romance disguising a very smart mash-up of horror and comedy that somehow manages to bridge the divide between two very different audiences and — maybe even more importantly — stand out in an increasingly overcrowded genre.

“Warm Bodies” hits theaters Friday, February 1.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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