There are two common themes found in this week’s films: love and death. Two films—the teen-oriented romance Warm Bodies and Oscar-nominee Amour—tackle both subjects head-on, though in different manners. A third, Stand Up Guys focuses more on death, though love of a non-romantic variety does play a crucial part of the film.
Leading this week’s films in wide release is Warm Bodies. Essentially a zombified Romeo and Juliet story, Warm Bodies follows R, a zombie, as he falls in love with a human named Julie. As they form an unusual union, R starts to revert back to his human ways—a change that could change the tensions between humans and zombies forever.
Even if it isn’t among the best modern adaptations of classic literature, Warm Bodies manages to work thanks to some creative twists on a well-worn genre: zombie films. While there’s a fair amount of zombie gore, Warm Bodies is far more hopeful than standard zombie fare. It helps that the story divides the undead into two groups: zombies and “Boneys,” or zombies that have shed any semblance of humanity, thus allowing for the zombies to serve more as middle ground between humans and “Boneys.”
Also giving the film a strong anchor is star Nicholas Hoult, headlining his biggest project to date. If there’s a young star to watch this year, I’d keep my eyes on Hoult. He imbues R with the right amount of emotion, making his transformation throughout the film believable (well…as believable as a zombie can be, I admit). He’s matched here by Teresa Palmer, playing Julie, as well as supporting players Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Annaleigh Tipton and Dave Franco. While it may not be something for fans of zombie movies, it should work as an appealing romantic comedy in a time where few films successfully work in that genre.
Love and death also play heavily into Amour, hitting Atlanta screens this week. Just don’t go in expecting comedy. Far, far from it.
Amour focuses on French couple Georges and Anne, both retired music teachers well into their eighties. They live simple, peaceful lives, until one day where Anne has an episode with her memory. This episode begins a slow, agonizing descent for Anne, as well as for Georges, who attempts to take care of her to the best of his ability.
Director Michael Haneke is most certainly not shy about exploring uncomfortable territory, but with his latest film, he does so in a way that’s more frightening than a horror picture. There’s no sentimentality about what goes on in Amour. It’s just a step-by-step walk into darkness. Haneke’s success lies in the subject matter. Not everyone will live long enough to die at an old age, of course, but after watching Amour, it makes one wonder if living a long life is worth it if it involves a gradual breaking down of the body and mind, as depicted here.
If this sounds like a negative review, it’s not. While I can’t say I have any desire to watch Amour again, it’s not because it’s a bad film. It’s because it’s so effective, and it’s so nerve-wracking, that I have a hard time imagining that I could make it through another screening. With that being said, it is absolutely something I would recommend watching, as long as audiences don’t expect to come out feeling enthused.
Finally this week, the themes of love and death make their way into a third film, although in different forms. Stand Up Guys stars Al Pacino as Val, fresh out of 28 years in prison for refusing to give up one of his fellow criminal associates. He’s picked up by best friend Doc (Christopher Walken), who’s under strict orders from his old mob boss to dispose of Val by the next morning. As Val and Doc attempt to have as much fun as possible that night, including teaming up with another friend named Hirsch (Alan Arkin), the two think about ways to escape or confront their pasts.
When I say that love is a theme in Stand Up Guys, it’s clearly not of the romantic type. Rather, the bond between Val and Doc serves as a form of love through friendship, with both aware of the difficult situation they’re in during the course of the night. As for death…well, that one should be obvious.
I hesitate to call Stand Up Guys a great film. The plot focuses far too much on ideas relating to “old men trying new things” to completely work. If nothing else, though, watching three acting veterans of Pacino, Walken and Arkin’s collective talents make their way through a film is certainly an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. They’re joined by some effective supporting appearances, most notably Julianna Margulies as an ER nurse and Hirsch’s daughter. In the end, though, the acting of the three top-billed stars is more than enough to turn Stand Up Guys into an enjoyable experience.