(On Cable TV, May 2014) The past ten years have seen a mini-boom of sort in fairy tales and fantasy books converted to the screen through the same screenwriting formula, all eventually leading to the climactic shock of two armies running into each other. Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, Jack and the Beanstalk: nothing is safe from the Hollywood fantasy paradigm. In Jack the Giant Slayer, two fairytales become an action fantasy epic about kingdoms going at war, a peasant winning over a princess and assorted shenanigans to take over the throne. While the results can be interesting in bits and pieces (the depiction of a giant beanstalk has a can’t-be-missed patina of realism), it usually boils down to a familiar and ultimately boring template. While director Bryan Singer is a seasoned professional who knows what he’s doing, there simply isn’t much to the script. Nicholas Hoult does a bit better as the titular hero, although it’s easy to wonder what could have compelled Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci to take on such minor and thankless roles. It’s not an unpleasant film to watch… but the biggest problem with Jack the Giant Slayer is that it’s dull and almost instantly forgettable. Save for a highly pretentious final scene that somehow feels the need to link with the present, it’s a film that’s too middle-of-the-road to be noticeable. The perfect example of how quickly pop-culture can dispose of movies that have involved years of work by hundreds of talented craftsmen.
(On Cable TV, December 2013) Either I’m reaching terminal boredom with the zombie genre or my expectations ran too high for this unusual take on the zombie mythos: Warm Bodies has exceptional qualities, and yet I found myself bored through most of its duration. On the positive side, Warm Bodies attempts something new(ish) with the zombie genre: Setting up a romance between a zombie guy and a human girl. Making Johnny Undead sympathetic, of course, requires two complementary strategies: Making our hero more human than zombie, for once, and setting up something-worse-than-regular-zombies for another. Once you figure out the course of Warm Bodies, though, there isn’t much left to watch: This Romeo-and-Juliet adaptation goes to the expected places, and while it does so with a certain amount of wit, the shambling walk to the next plot point feels overly long. At least Nichola Hoult is fine as the narrating zombie protagonist, and director Jonathan Levine does the most with his material. Montréal-area viewers will delight to see a film explicitly set in the city: not only featuring Mirabel airport and the Olympic Stadium, but showcasing a few long-shots of the city as seen from Mont-Royal. I suspect that my mind may have wandered during Warm Bodies, and that it should work a little better for most. It remains another quirky entry in the zombie canon, one that shows better than most the inevitable domestication of even our starkest fears.