Dead Like Me

Dead Like MeThe Afterlife for a Grim Reaper is a pretty bizarre place in this terrific little Showtime television series that lasted two seasons.  Laced with dry, dark humor and peppered with expletives, Dead Like Me is full of fascinating, sometimes hilarious characters going about the process of reaping souls.  Sometimes, along the way, there are serious moments and a few solid observations about life and death.

Georgia “George” Lass (Ellen Muth) is an 18 year old girl who has just dropped out of college.  She is bored with life and avoids unhappy situations by affecting an attitude of not caring what happens.  She is living at home with her mother, Joy (Cynthia Stevenson),  who is frustrated by her daughter’s apparent lack of love, father Clancy (Greg Kean), a professor at the University of Washington who is having an affair with a student and simply going through the motions at home, and her little sister Reggie (Britt McKillip), who worships her and is upset that George has cut her out of her life.

Upset with George’s lassitude, Joy sends her out to the Happy Time employment agency to get a job so she can get an apartment and move out.  At the Happy Time agency, she is a little freaked out by the receptionist, Crystal (Crystal Dahl) and the almost overbearingly happy Delores Herbig (Christine Willes), but she takes a part time job there and begins work as a file as a file clerk.  On her very first lunch break, unaware that the Mir Space Station’s deteriorating orbit is breaking it into pieces, she relaxes in a plaza when the Space Station’s toilet seat comes hurtling through the atmosphere and blows her into a hundred little pieces.  Although she wasn’t aware of it, a Grim Reaper (they look like normal people) shucks her soul from her body with a simple touch.  Standing around watching the fallout from her death, George is approached by Rube (Mandy Patinkin) who tells her that the man who just reaped her soul has filled his quota and she must take his place as a Grim Reaper.  She will also have a quota of souls to reap before she will be able to move on, but she won’t know what that quota is until she reaches the magic number.  Rube heads up a small group who work the External Influence Division, assigned to reap the souls of violent deaths, suicides, murders and so on.  She has a new body now that doesn’t look like her old one and, unfortunately, she must get a job and a place to live because there is no paycheck for reaping.

An English reaper, Mason (Callum Blue) takes her to a penthouse where an execution-style multiple murder has taken place and he tells her she can live there temporarily as he goes through pants pockets removing money.  The other reapers in her little band include Betty (Rebecca Gayheart), a carefree soul who takes pictures of the people whose soul she’s about to reap, and Roxy (Jasmine Guy), who works as a meter maid and has a no-nonsense approach to reaping souls.  There are also little creatures called Gravelings that scurry around arranging the accidents or situations that actually kill people.  In general, the reapers try to avoid these ugly little creatures as they cause a great deal of mayhem when their patience is tested.  This little group meets at various times at Der Waffle Haus restaurant, where Rube hands out their assignments on yellow Post-It notes, giving only initials, last name, place and ETD (Estimated Time of Death).  The waitress, Kiffany (Patricia Idlette), the cooks, the patrons, and even the food play a major role in the comedy.

George rebels against her new state of being at first, testing Rube’s patience as she tries to save a little girl who is about to die in a train crash.  However, Rube tells her that if the soul is not reaped, it will wither and die, leaving a hollow, unhappy person.  If the person does die without their soul being reaped, it continues to live on inside the dead body, which is a terrible thing to do to anyone.  Gradually, George begins to accept her state of being, but she can’t seem to let go of her family, repeatedly visiting them and watching as Joy grieves and Reggie acts out her sorrow by stealing toilet seats all over town.

The creator of the series, Bryan Fuller, brought a wicked sense of humor to the show and if you don’t like dark humor or if you take death too seriously, this is probably not the show for you.  I thought it was awfully funny and developed a serious addiction right from the beginning.

Ellen Muth Mandy PatinkinThe casting is excellent, beginning with Ellen Muth who was born to utter droll, witty, ironic comments, yet has the vulnerability to pull off the more serious moments, too.  Her character drives all of the action and she handles it deftly, leading us through the entire series.  George’s foil is Rube, played brilliantly by the multi-talented Mandy Pitinkin, making his character into a father figure for all of the reapers, a man who is much deeper than his surface appearance.  Blue, Gayheart, and Guy all offer sharp, well-rounded characters, although after the fifth episode, Gayheart’s character is replaced by Daisy Adair (Laura Harris), a former actress with a seriously sexy history, but who brings a deeper level of vulnerability than one might expect.

Cynthia Stevenson, who is always terrific, comes through again with a deep, well-layered performance as Joy and Brett McKillip is endearing as the angst-ridden Reggie.  Christine Willes is hilarious as Delores Herbig “as in, her big brown eyes” and so is Crystal Dahl as the spooky receptionist.

Clever, creative scripts keep the story moving along and even though each episode could be taken as a stand-alone episode, the story, especially during the first season does move forward from one episode to another.

Quirky, extremely funny, and very well written and directed, Dead Like Me is a terrific series full of dry, dark humor.  I highly recommend it for mature viewers.

Warm Bodies

WARM-BODIES_510x317There are few films that boast a truly original premise, but Warm Bodies is one of them.  What genre is it?  Well, it’s the only zombie romantic comedy I’ve ever seen.  Written and directed by Jonathon Levine, it was adapted from a Young Adult novel of the same name by Isaac Marion.  I haven’t read the novel yet, but the movie carries that “first person present” feel to it that is omnipresent in YA dystopian books.

The movie is narrated by a teenage zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), who knows there’s something missing in his death, but just can’t figure out what. He lives in an abandoned airplane that he has appropriated for his use and stocked with lots of stuff that he has collected, including a stereo with a turntable and an impressive collection of disks, because he values the purity of the sound.  By day, he shuffles around the airport groaning, occasionally grunting with his “friend” M (Rob Corddry) and going out to eat with him.  The food, of course, is human and R cherishes human brains because they allow him to vicariously experience life by re-living the memories of the deceased.

Ultimately, the zombies turn into living skeletons called Boneys. Although the skeletons leave the zombies alone, they also exist by eating humans and they are extremely deadly.

In a city within the city, protected by towering walls, humans live under the authoritarian leadership of Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich). The Colonel’s daughter, Julie (Theresa Palmer), her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), and her best friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton) volunteer to go outside the walls to search for medical supplies and this expedition coincides with a search for human food by R and M (the initials are all they can remember of their former names) and some of their zombie friends.

During the fight that ensues, R is attacked by Perry and kills him. As he eats the boys brains, he relives memories of Perry’s time with Julie and he develops a soft spot for her, so when the raid is over, he rescues Julie and brings her back to his airplane.  Unsure what to do next, he plays music for her and rescues her again when she tries to escape.  As he attempts to talk to her and finds a few human words, she wonders why he keeps saving her.  During the next few days, they talk, play games, and listen to music, but finally she convinces him that she must go back to her father.  When M and the other zombies see them holding hands, they begin to develop feelings, too, and allow them to go.  The zombies are beginning to regain their humanity.

If there are a few things here that seem a little familiar, it’s because there are some similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Yes, R and Julie suggest that.  So does the story of “two houses divided” in a great city.  And yes, there is even a balcony scene, but that is where the similarity ends.  There is nothing tragic in this “feel-good” dark comedy.

Hoult and Palmer are splendid as the young lovers. Hoult’s voice and narration are both hilarious and oddly touching at the same time.  It’s the only zombie movie where you will find yourself identifying with the zombies.  Hoult is English and Palmer is Australian, yet they are perfectly believable American teens.  Palmer is beautiful and sexy, yet very down-to-earth.  They should both have terrific film careers.

Malkovich is a little one-note as Colonel Grigio, but the role was written that way. Tipton may be the big surprise in the film.  Although her role is fairly small, she seems consistently to get the best lines not given to Hoult and she is laugh-out-loud funny in places.  Corddry gives a very restrained and heart-felt performance as M.

It’s hard to do the movie the credit it deserves in a short review, but it is the kind of film that should have a big crossover audience. The characters are well-drawn, the situation bizarre and hilarious and the film-making is first rate from the beginning to the end.  At 91 minutes, it is the perfect length and that shows that director-writer Levine was really in tune with the material.  Many other directors might have cluttered up this charming film with all kinds of nonsense or overplayed the comedy, but he hits the right note in every scene.  The cinematography, art direction, costume, and make-up are all spot on.

I highly recommend this movie!