October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

That’s the famous line from George Romero’s classic horror satire “Dawn of the Dead”. I’m guessing hell isn’t full–or, that guy was totally wrong. There’s no such thing as zombies. Right?

Well, in the last few years, we’ve been introduced to a new kind of zombie. Richard Roeper, God’s gift to film criticism and wonderful hair, once stated that he likes this new angle of zombies–basically, the “this ain’t your daddy’s zombie!” attitude. Let’s make them fast and furious! But wait–were these zombies, that were “created” in “28 Days Later”–really zombies? I’ve had this debate so many times it makes *me* brain dead. No, they’re not zombies! At least, they’re not zombies in the Romero sense. They’re functioning people, they’re just “infected.” This worked in “28 Days Later” because like “Dawn of the Dead” and most of the “Dead” series, this was a social commentary rather than a straight up zombie movie.

The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” was a straight up zombie movie–and it got the idea all wrong, as fun as the movie was.

But here, in “Zombieland”, it kind of crosses the themes. We have people that are “infected” with some kind of virus that began with someone eating a rotten hamburger somewhere (I guess they had to come up with something…) and so they are somehow blood thirsty and want to eat people–you’d think they’d just have a hunger for lousy hamburgers, and just raid McDonald’s–but they’re also…zombies. They look dead, they have rings around their eyes, their mouths are full of disgusting ooze, and when they’re not rampaging, they’re making strange jerky motions that’s somewhere in between the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. In fact, in a way, you could say they look more like they’re possessed than “infected”.

But “Zombieland” is not really about plot. The movie is only about 81 minutes, so it gives you as thin a narrative as possible: a kid with many phobias is teamed up with an alpha male who loves Dale Earnhardt, and twinkies (inside joke about male sexuality/security? you decide), go on the road and wind up with two attractive and manipulative females and all of them end up being chased by zombies, and killing a lot of them.

There is also a very funny cameo by a great actor of our time–probably one of the greatest. And there’s a tie-in with the twinkie, for a moment.

So, the question is–does “Zombieland” work? Well, you have to look at it from this stand point to really understand what it’s getting at–do you find zombie killing funny? I don’t know that anyone’s really broached that before, not in a clear and crisp way. There always seems to be some kind of social satire muddled in the mix, and we have to wonder if we’re laughing at zombies, or ourselves.

Well, rest assured–there is no question here. The zombie killing is pretty hilarious. And Woody Harrelson as Talahassee (everyone’s name in the film represents where they’re from; i.e., Columbus, who is the kid with phobias) provides a lot of laughs because of his comic ability as an actor. Not every joke works, and some seem forced. There’s also a twist in something we learn about Talahassee’s past that seemed a bit morbid, especially when the scenes surrounding it are comparatively more comical. The pace of the film is a bit off, as well–sometimes it seems like we’re learning too much about people that are essentially placed in an arcade game like “House of the Dead”, just knocking off zombie after zombie, trying to come up with the Kill of the Week (but an old lady and a piano make the top of that list). You’d think for a film so short that clunkiness wouldn’t be an issue; but at times, some of the scenes do actually seem as though they drag.

As for the rest of the performances, Emma Stone (Wichita) is emerging as a fine young actress, and pulls of manipulative sexy just as well as she can pull of sweet and sensitive. Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) proves you can out-Michael Cera Michael Cera, and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) is good as well but I still couldn’t take her seriously as a schemer. Mike White (“The Good Girl”, “Chuck and Buck”, “School of Rock”) also makes an amusing appearance as a gas station attendant.

Probably the funniest element of the film comes from Columbus’ rules of survival: Cardio (rule #1), Beware of Bathrooms (rule#2), Seatbelts (rule #3), and Double tap (rule#4) among others. Each rule is given an example, and each time he performs a rule, a caption for said rule appears somewhere on the screen. It’s charming in its own way (and somewhat of an homage to Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Guide”) and eventually, as always, some rules are meant to be broken.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s almost like a cute, dolled up Troma film. There’s just enough heart and just not enough gore, but it’s a good way to…ahem…kill…an hour and a half of your time.

And it really gives  you a craving for a Hostess Twinkie.

My rating: :-)

Slumdog Millionaire

January 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

This film may be this year’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”, or “Life is Beautiful”. A movie from overseas, directed by–oddly–Danny Boyle (“Sunshine”, “28 Days Later”, “Trainspotting”), that transcends where it’s from. Forget the subtitles, forget the fact that it takes place in Mumbai. This is a story about people that we’ve seen in our own backyards–even if they are tucked away in the bad neighborhoods. We’ve seen the rags-to-riches stories.

And like so many cases, we blur the lines between our heroes and our villains in stories about rising up. But the villains in this story are multiple, and at times, subtle heroes as well. The story centers around two brothers, Jamal and Salim–basically you’re classic Cain and Abel, Salim being the Cain character. He’s more violent, soulless, and has no problem taking the money while Jamal takes the path that’s more heartfelt and honest. But both want the same thing as they grow up together, through the slums of India, manipulating lazy tourists and taking advantage of their own bad luck–they want happiness. Jamal never forgets a girl that they allowed into their “posse”, though Salim wants her out of it since it seems to cloud the golden road that he’s trying to pave.

It turns out, though,  Jamal is the one who winds up in the basket of riches, when he’s on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. But because of jealousy and envy, the host (who had won the most before our beloved protagonist), thinks the kid is cheating, and has him arrested.

That’s basically where the narrative’s heart and core is. The movie weaves in and out of the past and present, of Jamal and Salim’s modest beginnings, to their adolescent lives where things get a little stickier, and illustrates a side of life in India that maybe we Americans don’t always see (India’s got their own version of South Central, for example). But by the time of the climax of the film, we get a good idea of what this film is about:

It’s simply about destiny, and there are two kinds of destiny that is illustrated through the characters of Salim and Jamal. There’s the destiny that fate gives us, and there’s the destiny that we make ourselves. Obviously the former sometimes helps the latter. But, in the case of Salim, there is the case of being the victim of the latter–while in the case of Jamal, there’s the hero buried deep in the former. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

Either way, this film hits on all cylinders when it comes to character development, and by the time we get to the final question for our guy, Jamal, on the “Millionaire” show, we can’t help but root for the guy–and we want destiny to work out for him.

This is simply one of the best executed films of the year, and it deserves the accolades it is getting. It should get some awards, and it will–but it shouldn’t be forgotten. This isn’t merely a flavor of the month. This is a film to cherish, even if some of the logic seems a bit forced. Remember, this is just a movie.

My rating: :smile: