Tag Archives: B+

WARM BODIES

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B+

At first blush the idea of a zombie version of “Romeo and Juliet” might sound like a terrible idea—okay, does sound like a terrible idea. But Jonathan Levine pulls it off with considerable agility and even sweetness in “Warm Bodies,” aided in no small measure by a winning cast.

Adapting Isaac Marion’s young adult novel, Levine (“The Wackness,” “50/50”) finds precisely the right way to treat the premise, avoiding a point-by-point, slavish translation of Shakespeare into genre-movie terms but retaining enough of the source (the heroine’s name—Julie—though the zombie hero can remember only that his starts with an R, along with a balcony scene) to make its indebtedness cheerily obvious. And the tone he adopts, despite some serious undercurrents (like the character of Julie’s father General Grigio, who’s constructed a non-zombie oasis in the middle of the city and is determined to defend it at all costs), is overall surprisingly light and whimsical. That’s a blissful contrast to the deadly earnestness of the inter-species romance of “Twilight” and its ilk.

Of course, Levine couldn’t sustain the picture’s conceit for long were it not for a cast who can carry it. Nicholas Hoult, a child actor who won plaudits for his work in “About a Boy” (2002) and more recently showed he was making the transition to adult roles well with an excellent supporting turn in “A Single Man,” is extraordinary as R. He’s helped by the amusingly deadpan narration Levine has provided for the character, which Hoult delivers in wry voice-over. But he’s also a nimble physical presence, nailing the zombie gait but, more importantly, sensitively capturing the subtle changes the fellow experiences after meeting Julie (spunky Teresa Palmer).

That happens when the girl leaves her father’s walled compound along with a small band, including her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco), to collect needed medical supplies from the devastated areas occupied by those they call the “Corpses”—both zombie-like types like grunting R and his best buddy M (Rob Corddry), who will eat the brains of the living to enjoy experiencing their memories, and even more downgraded specimens, the skeletal Bonies, who will devour anything with the slightest glimmer of life remaining. When the explorers fall prey to the Corpses, R saves Julie from being eaten after he’s consumed Perry’s brain and takes her to the relative safety of his idiosyncratic abode in a junked airplane that he’s filled with items he’s collected and hoards—like old LPs that he plays for his houseguest (with the songs providing amusing counterpoint to the action).

That includes R’s increasing recovery of his humanity in light of the feeling he has for Julie—which includes a growing ability to speak again, though haltingly—and her gradual warming to him. Soon they’re off on a journey back to her father’s compound, and though they’re separated on the way, he follows her there despite the danger after he learns—from Corddry and the other Corpses who are undergoing transformation to more human status, too—that the Bonies are planning a massed assault. Despite the misgivings of Julie’s father—whose actions allow for something akin to Shakespeare’s tragic finale, though with the happy twist Levine’s take on the story demands—the humans and the increasingly humanized Corpses find they have a good deal in common.

Visually the film creates a convincingly dystopian world for this tale to take place in. The production design by Martin Whist is aces, especially in view of what must have been a comparatively modest budget, with many witty details on the edges of the frame, and it’s complemented by Javier Aguirresarobe’s widescreen cinematography, which uses a bleached-out look to the images while allowing nice touches of color, like R’s tattered red hoodie.

In the movement to put new spins on old horror-movie conventions, makers of zombie pictures have been among the most inventive. With “Zombieland” Ruben Fleischer turned the genre toward screwball action comedy, and now Levine pushes it in a surprisingly charming and funny direction. “Warm Bodies,” like Hoult’s R, occasionally stumbles along the way, but for the most part it’s a jaunty, even touching journey.

THE GATEKEEPERS (SHOMEREI HA’SAF)

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B+

Dror Morah’s extraordinary documentary sketches the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of the directors of Shin Bet, the Israeli counterterrorism unit. “The Gatekeepers” are the six interviewees who headed the agency at various points over the past three decades, and they speak with remarkable candor, a good deal of pride over what they accomplished but also no little regret about what they failed to prevent. What becomes clear is that the experience of all the men had the effect of bringing them, to greater or lesser extent, to a profound disquiet about how Israeli policy has developed over the years and a low opinion of most of the political leaders they served.

Archival footage lays out in brief the first decade of Israel’s national life, but it’s really with the Six-Day War of 1967 and the occupation of Palestinian territory that followed it that the first-person narrative really begins. Avraham Shalom, who headed Shin Bet between 1980 and 1986 and the oldest of the interviewees, recalls how the use of military force to secure tranquility led instead to a cycle of violence, attack and counterattack, that has grown increasingly vicious over time and made it virtually impossible to find common ground that might finally bring peace to the region. The possibility of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian intelligence agencies—which once was quite vibrant—collapsed over time, and the emergence of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip was a result.

But though Shalom expresses doubts about the wisdom of the policies toward the Palestinians developed after 1967, he remains a hard-liner in terms of the application of strong measures when they’re necessary, and he remains closed-lipped about his own involvement in a case in which Palestinian bus highjackers who’d been taken captive were killed by soldiers. Another interviewee speak enthusiastically of expertly targeted assassinations—like that of a Hamas bomb-maker who was killed with an explosive cell phone in a carefully-planned operation (though one that initially didn’t come off as planned). And one regrets the failure to approve an airstrike that might have wiped out the leadership of Hamas in a single stroke because of fear of collateral damage and civilian deaths.

There’s pain in all of this, but also poignancy in the remembrance of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose decision to reach out to the Palestinians led to his assassination by a Jewish rightist, which all the interviewees agree, fundamentally changed Israeli attitudes and began the strong turn in Israeli opinion toward the harsher, far less accommodating policies characteristic of the current government. One message that comes through loud and clear is that even as Shin Bet became ever more effective in its anti-terrorist activities, the heads of the agency recognized that Israel’s overall security nonetheless declined—leading one of them to remark that as you grow older in the practice of his profession, it’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll love to the left.

Intelligently put together, with archival footage, graphics and some recreations skillfully employed to fill out the story and tie the various interview threads together smoothly, “The Gatekeepers” is not only an engrossing first-hand account of Israel’s Palestinian policies over time, but one that may have lessons to teach both Israeli leaders and other nations confronting those they identify as terrorists.