Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Over the past five months, I’ve seen a handful of films in theaters: Up, Public Enemies, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Cold Souls, and Inglourious Basterds. With each one, I was determined to make a comeback. And then, one by one, they all faded away. It’s not that they weren’t memorable (quite the contrary, actually); I just failed in my attempts at writing. Too much time passed, and I was convinced that the next film would be the one, and so on. Well, I’m not reviewing any of those films today. The film that has brought me back from the dead (so to speak, of course) is…drum roll, please…Zombieland. My first review of a 2009 release and my first blog post in over 6 months, and I’m talking about zombies? Go figure. As unexpected as this review is, though, I'm embracing it. I don’t know why this film is the one, it just is. Zombieland is a thrilling surprise. I thought I would like it and that it would be a lot of fun, but I had no idea just how phenomenal the experience would be.

Zombieland is a fantastic film from start to finish. I would even call it a masterpiece. It’s so much more than just a zombie movie. In fact, I wouldn’t even put it in that genre. This is a coming-of-age comedy, and a witty, exhilarating one at that. The apocalyptic story centers around Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a college-aged loner with phobias and issues galore, as he survives in what he dubs “Zombieland.” Basically, humanity has been ravaged by a virus (some advanced form of Mad Cow, hilariously enough) that turns people into zombies. Columbus is one of the few humans left on the face of the earth, and he has survived this long because, well, he was never much of a people person to begin with, so it was easier for him to remain uninfected. He also has a set of rules that he follows obsessively (these include: “don’t be a hero" and “beware of bathrooms"). He meets up with Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a zombie killing machine, and the resourceful Wichita and her little sister Little Rock (they‘re all given geographical names). The four of them become bonded together, reluctantly and inextricably.

Everyone is on a quest for something (that‘s great screenwriting): Tallahassee wants to find a Twinkie and destroy as many zombies as possible (he has an understandable chip on his shoulder), Wichita wants to keep Little Rock safe and to bring her to an amusement park in California so that she can be a kid again, Little Rock wants to stick with her sister and go to said amusement park, and Columbus is initially searching for his parents and his home, but when he meets Wichita, he starts looking within himself and embarks on a journey of romantic/sexual awakening and self-discovery. They all find home in each other. Isn’t that sweet? I’m not being sarcastic either, I really mean it. Zombieland is wonderfully sweet without ever being sappy.

All sweetness aside, there is a TON of violence and blood in Zombieland. It works as a parody of zombie flicks, as well as a zombie movie on its own terms. It’s uncompromisingly gory and unabashedly silly. The visual effects are astounding, from the zombies themselves to the stunts to Columbus’ rules intermittently popping up on the screen and moving around. Michael Bonvillain’s cinematography is gorgeously muted and at the same time vibrant and visceral. David Sardy’s score really got under my skin, in a really good way. It’s very insistent and powerful, and at times seriously beautiful, especially during the climax of the film. The only problem I have with it, actually, is that it isn’t available to the public to buy or download. That needs to be fixed immediately. The production design by Maher Ahmad and set decoration by Gene Serdena are exquisite. The world is so amazingly believable. I was especially blown away by the look of the amusement park. The running time is perfect; it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t waste any time getting into the story. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script is impeccably brilliant, and Ruben Fleischer’s direction is relaxed (he lets the actors explore their characters), yet purposeful and confident, with great flair. Zombieland is pretty much the total package.

The cast is incredible. I loved seeing Abigail Breslin holding Woody Harrelson at gunpoint and then later describing Hannah Montana to him. She really holds her own here and challenges herself by doing something different. I’ve been a fan of Emma Stone since Superbad, and I think she’s poised to become a big star. She has an ease about her that instantly elicits the viewer's empathy. And she’s a strong, kickass female presence. Her performance as Wichita is multi-faceted and memorable. Jesse Eisenberg is similar to Michael Cera in persona and acting style, I don’t think anyone will deny that, but Eisenberg is more likeable, doesn’t seem as needy, and has more going on than just the persona (I'm not sure that Cera does, though he does do his shtick extremely well). I think Eisenberg has significantly more depth and range than Cera. He’s adorably loveable as neurotic, geeky Columbus, and he has that quality that just makes you want to root for him. Even though this is totally an ensemble effort, Woody Harrelson stood out the most for me. He’s hot (really? did I just say that?), hilarious, and moving - he's just awesome. There’s also an epic cameo, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. *wink*

I absolutely LOVED Zombieland. I honestly can’t find a single thing that I didn’t like about it. It does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s funny as hell, smart, sweet, suspenseful, romantic, touching, exciting, exuberant, and emotionally engaging - it’s perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Well played, Zombieland. And thank you.

Rating: ***** (out of 5 stars)