BluRay/DVD Reviews

ZOMBIELAND

By • Feb 11th, 2010 •

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It was 32 years ago, my first year teaching at The School of Visual Arts when, feeling the need to have ‘making of’ films about indie filmmaking for college-level students, I proposed a series of such films to Silas Rhodes, the man who founded SVA. Silas went for it with some initial funding, and off I went with two car-loads of crew members to Pittsburgh to document the now legendary DAWN OF THE DEAD, George Romero’s sequel to his watermark indie film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

I was the only documentarian on that shoot, and one of the first ever to document an indie film. Today, the theaters, stores, supermarkets, and internet film sites are saturated with indie zombie fare, all crammed with ‘making of’ docs and other fun supplements.

Usually when a sub-genre begins to parody itself, the end is in sight. A prime example: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, which signaled the end of Universal’s long, classic monster franchise. But SHAUN OF THE DEAD did nothing to stem the zombie outpouring, and ZOMBIELAND will likewise prove unequal to the task. Zombies, it seems, are here for the foreseeable future.

ZOMBIELAND gets off to a rocky start, too loud and caricatured for its own good, but when Woody Harrelson arrives, it starts to level out. After the first ten or fifteen minutes, it has settled in to a gory, good-natured tone, and hangs on for pretty much the rest of its 88 minutes, during which four intrepid adventurers navigate an American landscape inhabited by the living, drooling dead. What are theire goals? What is this road trip for? Relatives. An amusement park. And Twinkies… (Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment’s delightful promotional gimmick was to send a box of twinkies to the reviewers. Very funny, and also, how I loved Twinkies when I was a kid, so what a wonderful surprise.)

Jesse Eisenberg is fun to watch; he has a large paintbox full of expressions. In the commentary track one of the writers says he would have been a great silent film comedian. This is true. And Emma Stone is finely honed as well, a visually articulate Sally Field clone (kind of). But I must say, what propels the film, what gives it a bit of substance, is Harrelson. He’s as good in this as he is in THE MESSENGER, but comedy isn’t easily recognized for award consideration. Never has been.

On the commentary track, Harrelson provides most of the most enjoyable lines, piping up every now and then, for instance, with a child’s sense of amazement, to acknowledge that he had no idea how a particular effect was done. He’s still imbued with a sort of sly redneck charm that works well in so many of his performances, and a physical look that prefectly compliments the verbal delivery. He’s become someone I’d go out of my way to see in a film, and that’s high praise, since it used to be just Sean Connery and Lance Henriksen (and Brian Cox if he was doing more than co-starring, as in RED or L.I.E.).

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