Movie Review – Zombieland

ZOMBIELAND – REVIEW

10 out of 10

What can I say? Zombieland is the perfect zombie movie. A potent mix of horror, gore, action, comedy and buddy movies, the film works on all levels and is seriously the most fun you can possibly have at the movies. It made me jump, made me laugh and also made me genuinely care about the characters. The film is a visually arresting, highly stylized treat that entertains all the way through and will leave you wanting more. The premise of the film is relatively simple. The world has been overrun by zombies and the few survivors of the human race are constantly on the move trying to find someplace safe to lay their heads at night. The movie starts out brilliantly with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) telling us about his rules for survival in post-apocalyptic zombie filled America.

The opening credits ensue and we are shown various scenes of people running from zombies in the slow motion technique popularized by Watchmen. From there we are introduced to Columbus who explains what has happened to the world and why he has managed to survive so long. Being an introvert by nature, Columbus has managed to stay alive by sticking to his self created rules such as cardio good, avoid bathrooms and the double tap (always shoot twice). More rules are introduced as the film plays and the gag never grows old. Columbus decides to head towards Ohio in hopes that he will find his parents alive and well. On the way he hooks up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the most bad ass zombie killer you can imagine. Just to clarify, the characters call each other by their destinations, not by their actual names. Tallahassee explains that it’s easier not to grow attached to each other that way.

The pair are complete opposites which allows for some great buddy movie comedy and from here on in Zombieland plays like a road trip comedy on acid. Attacked by zombies at every turn, the two soon meet up with two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have managed to survive and after a few false starts; the foursome begins to trust and like one another.

Woody Harrelson as tough guy zombie slayer Tallahassee is ideally cast and it is the best role of his career. Harrelson is hilarious in the film, displaying his impeccable comic timing while also showcasing his tough guy swagger. Watching him kill zombies is as pleasurable for the audience as it is for the character. Harrelson shares great chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, in effect portraying the Odd Couple as zombie killers. Eisenberg is solid, perfecting the nerdy, wimpy guy and he reminds me more than a little bit of king of the dweebs, Michael Cera. In fact Cera must be kicking himself for turning down this role (I’m assuming he was offered it). Emma Stone as tough older sister, Wichita, is quite good and I believe she has a bright future on the silver screen. Abigail Breslin as her little sister, Little Rock, is one tough little cookie and proves that she is much more than Little Miss Sunshine. There is also a side-splitting cameo from… I don’t want to ruin it… let’s just say it is a brilliant cameo from a comedy god.

First time director, Ruben Fleischer, does a great job of moving the film along at a breakneck pace while also mining the comedy gold out of every situation the characters find themselves in. He has a wonderful visual style that borrows heavily from Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead remake, Watchmen) and he is certainly a director to watch in the future. It’s not an easy thing to make something fresh out of a zombie flick, but Fleischer takes the genre (sub-genre?) to a whole new level.

To sum it up, Zombieland is a splatteristic, gory, jump out of your seat horror film that also happens to be one of the funniest films of the year. Anchored by terrific performances, Zombieland is a must see horror/comedy delight. Better than Shaun of the Dead or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Zombieland is the definitive zombie movie.

Two Funny Comedies, “Talladega Nights” and “Wedding Crashers”, But Only One is a Good Film

Wedding Crashers – 3 Stars (Good)
Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby – 2 Stars (Average)

There are comedies that can make you laugh that are not good films because they lack any meaningful substance or worthwhile message. An example would be “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby”, worth a few laughs with Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, but not able to get you emotionally involved in a character’s plight.

Then there are comedies that can make you laugh that appear to have a lack of substance, but slowly pull you into a character as you become emotionally involved with his situation. An example would be “Wedding Crashers” with Owen Wilson as John Beckwith.

So what makes one film good and another just average? The difference is in the script, the direction and the acting.

For openers, Talladega Nights was written by Will Farrell, who also plays the lead role, and by Adam McKay, who is the director. My experience has been that when the director of a film also writes the script, the script, the direction and the movie all suffer the majority of the time. When the lead actor of the film is also a writer of the film, the situation becomes compounded, like the blind leading the deaf through a minefield.

Both Farrell and McKay try to tell a story with their comedy but fail because not only is the comedy unbelievable, but the character of Ricky Bobby is not likeable enough to convince us that there is human drama unfolding here.

McKay joins a long list of other writer/directors who have bombed in these dual roles, including Vanessa Parise (terrible rating) for Kiss the Bride; Peter Weir (average rating) for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Nancy Myers (average rating) for Something’s Gotta Give; Thomas Bezucha (average rating) for The Family Stone; Michael McGowan (average rating) for Saint Ralph; Jared Hess (terrible rating) for Napoleon Dynamite; Robert Rodriguez (terrible rating) for Once Upon a Time in Mexico; and Paul Thomas Anderson (terrible rating) for Punch-Drunk Love.

Exceptions to this dual role as writer/director are Kirk Jones (excellent rating) in Waking Ned Devine, and Tim McCanlies (excellent rating) for Secondhand Lions. Both Jones and McCanlies are master storytellers in these films, and other writer/directors who have failed could learn a lot from them.

Wedding Crashers, another funny comedy, is just the opposite of Talladega Nights in that Steve Faber and Bob Fisher can tell a good story, and David Dobkin can direct a good comedy film. Their effort comes together because Owen Wilson as John Beckwith is likeable and has the acting style and ability to emotionally connect with the viewer.

We can see ourselves in his predicament-living a life of fun and pleasure at the expense of others, and then developing a conscience that foreshadows personal growth.

After taking advantage of so many lovely, unsuspecting bridesmaids, he slows down enough to notice Rachel McAdams as Claire Cleary, who shares his sense of humor and light-heartedness. The more he looks at Claire, the more he wants to look at Claire.

Claire, however, is spoken for by a person she has not yet discovered is really a self-absorbed, dictatorial, manipulative, rich jerk, whereas John Beckwith appears more worthless but is wanting and willing to change his ways.

It is interesting that Vince Vaughn as Jeremy Grey’s character, Beckwith’s wedding crasher partner and best friend, is not nearly as likeable, although he also decides to get married to Claire’s immature, dippy sister Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher).

I saw the unrated and uncut version of Talladega Nights, and the uncorked (not rated) version of Wedding Crashers, the theatrical version was rated R with sexual content, nudity and filthy language.

Despite watching the additional footage not shown in theaters, and enduring the sexual content and language, I would watch Wedding Crashers again but would not watch Talladega Nights again if you offered to pay me.

Moviegoers are fooled less often than you may think, and it becomes evident at awards time. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, was nominated in 2007 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy, but did not win. Wedding Crashers was nominated in 2006 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy and did win.

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

3D Movies Are No Passing Fad

These days, it seems like every movie they make is in 3D – horror movies, in particular – but 3D is nothing new. 3D photography first became popular in Victorian Times, thanks to David Brewster’s prism stereoscope. Though 3D motion pictures would not become popular for another century, they were being made as early as 1890, when pioneer, William Friese-Greene, patented his 3D movie process. Friese-Greene’s technology was too complicated for theatrical uses, but many filmmakers and studios were developing their own 3-D technology.

The Power of Love, the first 3D movie, debuted in 1922. Audience members wore anaglyph glasses, similar to the ones audiences wear today. The movie found no buyers, but aroused the public’s curiosity, and a handful of them were made over the next several years. The Selwyn Theater in New York even installed specialized equipment for 3D movies, but they had to be made using a specific process, which never caught-on, so 3D movie-making languished over the next decade.

In 1936, the first 3D motion picture, similar to those with which we are familiar, was released. The MGM short, made using the red/green anaglyph format, was printed by Technicolor and received an Academy Award nomination. MGM made two more 3D shorts before World War II erupted. These types of movies were once again put on the proverbial shelf.

The early 1950s would become known as “the Golden Age” of 3D movies. Comedy and horror were the most popular, but 3D movies and shorts spanned every genre, and many did quite well at the box office. However, there still existed no standard technology or process; every studio and individual developed their own methods, even built their own cameras. Other stereoscopic processing methods with fewer drawbacks were being developed as well – including Cinemascope and Cinerama – and 3D faded into the background once again.

While the 1970s saw an underground resurgence of 3D movies, most were for adults. It was the 1980s’ slasher flicks that brought them back into theaters, with such “classics” as Jaws 3-D and Friday the 13th Part 3-D. The method remained popular throughout the 1990s, thanks to IMAX theaters, even though the majority of them were not 3D-capable until 2004.

James Cameron, director of the record-smashing 3-D sci-fi epic, Avatar, has been the leader in 3-D technology and acceptance for many years now. Cameron and crew invented new 3-D camera technology and techniques, which he employed in the making of Avatar. These are now being adopted as the industry standards. He also convinced theater owners across America to invest the estimated $100,000 to retool their theaters to show 3D movies and, thanks to Avatar’s success, this trend has continued worldwide.

2009 saw the release of dozens of 3-Dimensional movies. The success of these and others, including Avatar, have convinced theater owners worldwide to invest in the technology needed to show 3-D movies the way they were meant to be seen. The movie studios’ scheduled releases through 2011 include numerous 3-D movies, proving that not only are they here to stay, they are just getting started!