Gangsters and Zombies

Zombie Romance in "Warm Bodies"

Zombie Romance in “Warm Bodies”

Josh Brolin looking tough in "Gangster Squad."

Josh Brolin looking tough in “Gangster Squad.”

This past weekend I saw two movies, which, at first glance had  no relationship to each other.  One was set in 1940’s Los Angeles and the other in a futuristic, zombie filled, post apocalyptic world.  So why am I writing about them in the same article?  Applying a close critical analysis, and a bit of imagination, the case can be made that both movies are about the dregs of society.  Conversely, one film had something interesting to say about humanity and the other did not. 

“Gangster Squad” is a predictable, cliché ridden, surprisingly uninvolving, CGI (computer graphics imaging) laden gangster film about a squad of rogue cops who go outside the law to bring down notorious LA mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).  Apparently based on a real life story, the film stars Josh Brolin as Detective John O’Mara who headed this group of five officers that went after Cohen’s illegal enterprises.  Brolin’s performance is one note and cartoonish.  He is only matched by Penn’s constantly scowling Cohen.  Together, they run the emotional gamut from A to B.  The only convincing, realistic performance is given by Mireille Enos as O’Mara’s pregnant wife Connie, who wants her husband to stop messing around with gangsters.  Of course he’s too dedicated to his job to listen, either that, or the script had trouble finding a convincing motiavtion.

Storywise we know which way “Gangster Squad” is going to go long before it gets there.  We know which good guys are  going to die, with nobility of course, and we know that the guy that everyone looks down upon will emerge triumphant.  It’s one video game shoot out sequence after another, complete with bad guys who have lousy aim, that is until it’s time to dispatch one of the good guys, about which the movie thinks we will care, so that we can feel we have had an emotional experience.

“Warm Bodies,” on the other hand, proved to be a funny, engaging, surprisingly observant zombie-comedy-romance (a zomcom?) take off on “Romeo and Juliet.”  The story is set in the standard issue world of “Night of the living Dead,” so familiar to zombie movie fans.  The zombies are the undead.  They stumble around through the ruins of civilization looking for people whose brains they can eat.  The rest of humanity lives in a walled city rung by armed guards who shoot the zombies in their heads (the only way to kill them once and for all).

One of the zombies, a young man only identified as R (Nicholas Hoult) falls for a beautiful zombie killer named Julie (Teresa Palmer).  R narrates the story in which he tells us of his disenchantment at being a zombie and his love for this zombie killer.  Obviously it’s a hard sell trying to get an attractive girl like Julie to like you when you are one of the undead.  R’s persistence, complete with iconic balcony scene, soon wins the day, but what will Julie’s militaristic, zombie killing father Grigio (John Malkovich) approve of the match?

“Warm Bodies” is a knowing comedy about people trying to connect in the modern world and the judgments that people make about others who are, well, different on the outside but have good hearts.  “Gangster Squad” is overly long and mercilessly predictable with shallow, stock characters.  Give me the zombies any day.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 6, 2013, in Feature Articles, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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