Now that Robert Pattison’s big series is over, and he has yet to make a successful film not associated with brooding vampires or hunky werewolves, Hollywood is searching for The Next Big Thing among the pool of eligible young actors.
Enter Nicholas Hoult. Hoult has been around a while, he was literal Boy in “About a Boy”, starring Hugh Grant as figurative boy and Toni Collette. Now that he is in his twenties, the studios are making a little push to position him as the NBT. He is currently in two big releases, which is a good sign, but only one of them is worth your attention, which is problematic.
It makes sense that Hoult is being groomed for this new role; he’s British, not hard on the eyes and he can act. RPats shares two of these three qualities. Slam! Any Twihards reading this review have no doubt clicked “Not Helpful” provided they understood the slam. Double Slam!
But back to the reviews. The first and better film “Warm Bodies” tells a modern “Romeo & Juliet”-esque tale. But in this case R is a zombie (Hoult) and Julie (Teresa Palmer, “I Am Number Four”) is one of an ever decreasing group of humans. A few years ago, a virus began turning humans into zombies and this created a society with three groups, humans, zombies and Bonies – zombies who have gone to the next level and will eat both zombies and humans. A group of humans, led by Grigio (John Malkovich) have created a safe haven in the middle of the city, living behind patrolled walls. Grigio is a “Shoot first and ask questions later” kind of guy, doing anything to protect the lives of the people in his care. He is also Julie’s father. Julie goes out on a supply run with her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and best friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton). At the pharmacy, they are quickly overrun by R and a group of his friends. But R is instantly taken by Julie’s beauty and feels his heart start to beat again. He pauses while eating one of her friends to appreciate her full Warrior Mode as she fights off his friends. The Bonies attack and R takes Julie to his home, an abandoned jet at the airport. R pleads with her to stay, for her protection, and they get to know each other.
R quickly realizes he is changing-his expanding vocabulary is one sign-and he eventually convinces Julie of the change, hoping to gain her affection in the process. But they realize the change is happening in all of the zombies. Julie decides she should try to convince her dad of this, because the zombies could help the humans fight off the increasingly vigilant Bonies. R and Julie sneak into the barricaded area with the help of R’s friend, M (Rob Corddry). All they have to do is convince her dad of the change, which is easier said than done.
Directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), “Warm Bodies” is a unique, amusing and entertaining film. There is a lot to like and appreciate about it and it just seems smarter and more involving than other tween romances featuring dark creatures.
Much like “Zombieland”, the filmmakers don’t waste a lot of time. From the first frame, we meet R and listen to him talk about his current life as he walks aimlessly through the airport he calls home. As he introduces us to his world we see brief snippets of the past, much of it through news program headlines, giving us more than enough information to illustrate how the world got into this state. It is a fast and complete picture and doesn’t slow down the narrative at all.
The zombies are amusing enough because they are painted as victims, to an extent, who have to fend off attacks by both humans and Bonies. As they walk around, many still trapped in the meaningless jobs they had as humans, they are doing what they did in life, working to live. Now that they are real zombies, little has changed.
The best thing about “Warm Bodies” is everything in and about the film seems very familiar. Two teens in love. Parents against it. But they fight for their love. It’s a story as old as, well, Shakespeare. But Levine adds unusual elements and sets the story in an unexpected time and place. What this does is take the usual and make it different, exciting and unexpected. With so many cookie-cutter teen romances out there, it is refreshing to watch a film that takes the extra step to create an original and unusual story.
It is also nice to watch a romance develop more naturally. It takes a long time, in the film universe, for Julie to accept R and fall in love with him. In so many films, it seems like someone flips a switch and the character changes. Julie is old enough, wise enough and weary enough to be resistant and make sure he is the right guy. Zombie or not.
The addition of Rob Corddry is a nice touch. He plays M, another zombie who is R’s friend, as much as they can have friends; he grunts in response to R’s grunts and they spend a lot of time together. Given their age difference, it is a nice touch to make them friends, because their relationship seems borne out of convenience, another nod back to the human-as-zombie references populating this film. And when the change begins to happen, M is at R’s side, ready to lead the fight against the Bonies.
John Malkovich plays the leader of the humans, a no-nonsense type of guy who leads his people with an iron fist, unwilling to let anyone who may be infected into the compound. Grigio is a nice change of pace for the actor, showing once again he can take on just about any role and make it interesting.
But Hoult is the real stand-out in the film. He brings a wide-range of skill to the role, giving R a lot of personality and interest. He always makes the zombie interesting, even before he starts to change and become more human. In the beginning he is more of a typical zombie, managing only monosyllabic grunts, moving slow, eating humans, looks like he just rolled out of a trash dumpster. But he is extremely introspective and we listen to him narrate his everyday existence.
The more time he spends with Julie, the more he changes. As he grows closer to Julie, he tries to communicate and the words start to flow a little more naturally. It is much more difficult for actors to create interesting, viable characters without the use of their voice. Initially, Hoult has to use facial expressions to express his emotions. He can’t even really use his arms or body language. It is an interesting involving performance making a good film even better.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a very different story and a very different film. Bryan Singer’s (“The Usual Suspects”, “X-Men”) new film was originally scheduled for last summer, but Warner Bros. delayed the release to “enhance the special effects”. It is never a good sign when a studio delays the release of a film. If they liked the film and had confidence in it, they would have stuck to their guns and gone ahead with the release. Instead, they are “enhancing the effects” and the marketplace is “too crowded”.
It’s easy to see why the studio lost faith. “Jack” isn’t very good. A lot of money was spent on the creation of the CGI giants. They look good, but they also look like CGI creations. In a live-action film, CGI should blend in more seamlessly and not look fake and cartoony.
In fact, none of the recent grown-up adaptations of fairy tales has been memorable. “Red Riding Hood” is a bad, blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of “Twilight”, complete with two hunky male leads fighting each other for the girl. Both “Snow White” films were problematic; one is too goofy and cornball, the other is anchored by a starlet who can’t act working with Charlize Theron who chews the scenery throughout. “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” (sequel on the way, folks) is a gory revenge tale with a brother and sister with different accents fighting off witches throughout.
The other big use of CGI in the film, the beanstalks, is pretty well done. Somehow, these creations, wild, unpredictable and massive, seem much more real because they don’t have any human characteristics.
“Jack” begins with a flashback – both young Jack and a young Princess Isabelle are told the tale of King Erik who defeats the cannibalistic giants and banishes them to their own land, in the clouds. His magical crown and the beans needed to grow beanstalks that can reach the giant’s land are buried with the King. Jack is frightened by the tale which Isabelle embraces as a fairy tale. Flash forward 10 years and Jack now lives with his Uncle who sends Jack into town to sell their cart and their last horse to help keep their floundering farm afloat. But he is quickly distracted by a young woman watching a panto show. When he realizes she might be in trouble, he tries to help, but the King’s guards, Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Crowe (Eddie Marsan), arrive to save Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the King’s (Ian McShane) advisor, has uncovered the crown and beans and has a secret plan simmering. Long story short, Jack gets hold of the beans and one grows under his Uncle’s farmhouse, trapping Isabelle there. Soon, the two world’s clash and Wicke (voiced by Ewan Bremmer) leads his giants into battle against the humans.
There is a lot of good production design in “Jack”; the prologue is illustrated with panto characters, much like the ‘Deadly Hallows” sequence in the last “Harry Potter” film. And the castle is beautiful. But this is definitely a case of the filmmakers putting all of their eggs in one (or two) baskets. Much of their time and energy was spent on the look, leaving little left for character development or story.
Once the film gets going, it is basically one long chase. The princess gets stuck in Giant Land, leading Jack, Roderick, Elmont and other members of the King’s guard to begin climbing the beanstalk. Once there, they try to elude the murderous beasts as they search for the princess. Eventually, they make their way back to the kingdom but giants are fast on their heels and attack the castle, trying to extract their long-gestating revenge. This makes for a fast-paced film, which is good, but does nothing for the characters and doesn’t exactly make a complicated or involving story. For instance, when we meet Jack in ‘Present Day’, he is now living with his uncle, but there is never a mention about what happened to his father or how this might have shaped the young man’s life.
Princess Isabelle, as played by Eleanor Tomlinson, is completely forgettable. There is an attempt to make her a self-reliant, plucky young royal. The moment we first meet her is a good indicator of how her character is to be viewed; despite her independent nature, she needs to be saved by the Royal Guard, to protect her from an unruly man. Not exactly a great role model for the tweens in the audience. This unfortunately holds true throughout the film because she quickly ends up as a Damsel in Distress, hanging on Jack’s arm.
Hoult isn’t given much to do. He runs around, trying to evade the giants before he realizes he has to stand up and fight. Naturally, he finds courage he never knew he had when the need arises. Not very interesting. Strangely, his costume in the film looks like it was purchased at Hollister or the Gap; he really looks like he is wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie. This lack of detail only serves to draw us out of the time, place and story.
McGregor, Tucci, McShane and Marsan are all more interesting than the two leads, but they are also given more to do. McGregor has the swagger and confidence you would expect from the head of the Royal Guard. But he also has a twinkle to his eye that brings in a touch of the comic book superhero. Tucci’s Roderick is plotting to overthrow the King while he plays along with King’s plans to marry him to Princess Isabelle. It is a funny, strange and interesting role. McShane is perfect as the blustery, unaware monarch. And Marsan plays against type as a member of the Royal Guard.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a very uneven film. If the filmmakers had been as interested in the characters as they were in the special effects, this aspect of the movie would have been greatly improved. As a result, the entire film would have been much better and memorable.
For every NBT to make it through. Hollywood history is littered with thousands of handsome young actors who didn’t make a lasting impression. They are given a big push, star in two or three high profile films that flop and then end up starring in a show in the CW. The sad thing is that the failure of these films is not always the actor’s fault. Those that can act often get cast in bad films, or poorly marketed films. Cast him in a period costume romance and then a hard hitting urban drama. The tweens who made his first film a huge hit will surely follow and the success will follow. Or not.
I think Hoult can and will rise above the failure of “Jack”; he got many good reviews for “Warm Bodies”, he had a small, but interesting role in “A Single Man”, he was on the BBC version of “Skins”. In other words, he can act. His agents and handlers just need to steer him away from some of the more iffy blockbusters. If a balance can be reached, Hoult can become a fixture of Hollywood. Hell, he might even end up seated next to Nicholson at a future Oscar ceremony.