Funny Zombies.. Welcome to ZOMBIELAND!!

Talon presents on behalf of NerdDimension.Com The Zombieland Film Review [ThrowbackThursday]

ZOMBIELAND Film Review

by Talon

 

Zombieland is a R-Rated adventure horror comedy (now Zomedy or Zom Com) written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and directed by Ruben Fleischer released in 2009. The movie earned Best Horror Movie, Best Cameo (Bill Murray) and Best Ensemble at the Scream Awards. The film was shot and brought to market for $23.6 million then smashed the box office earning $102.4 million making it the most successful zombie movie ever released at the time. The winning ensemble comprises Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson as leads supported by Emma Stone with Abigail Breslin and we are treated to appearances by Bill Murray, and Amber Heard in a brief scene which really kick starts the movie.

Team
Paul Wernick, Rhett Reeese, Ruben Fleischer & Amber Heard

A road movie at heart set in a post apocalyptic earth thanks to an outbreak of a virus, related to Mad Cow Disease, which turns people into zombies. The ingredients of this film could have resulted in boring product but surprisingly the film works as an entertainment piece. Zombieland cemented its legacy along with Shaun of The Dead as one of few films which brought the Zomedy genre commercial success and prominence in the mainstream western market, as the far east especially Japan had been releasing zombie related games, literature and even zombie comedies throughout the 90s and early 00s.

F EAST
The House of The Dead, Versus, Resident Evil (Bio Hazard) & Bio Zombie

The movie begins with narrator Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a student at the University of Texas, one of the few non-infected people as he breaks down his various rules for survival. Shortly we find him walking down a highway strewn with abandon cars when he encounters Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson), who is on a quest to reach Florida killing as many zombies en route as he can and if possible secure himself a Twinkie supply.

The two agree to team up for a portion of the journey before deciding to examine a grocery store in hopes of finding some Twinkie’s. After fighting off several zombies and finding no Twinkies they meet sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) in the back of the shop, trying to help the ladies feigning distress our leads are conned and left without weapons or transport.

Shortly thereafter Tallahassee and Columbus in an attempt to set things straight track down their stolen SUV, where thanks to cliche Back Seat Inviso-Syndrome (where impossibly characters cant see people in the back-seat) the girls once more play the two leads. Fortunately Tallahassee swiftly turns the tables on the realistically outmatched femme duo and they decide to stick together until LA.

BILLY MURRAY
Bill Murray’s Residence, Ghostbusters Original Movie Poster & Bill Murray

The foursome arriving in Hollywood decide to find Billy Murray’s house using maps to the stars. Reaching the expansive Beverly Hills residence the crew split up, Columbus opting to show Little Rock Ghostbusters to show her who is the actor whose home they are squatting in, whilst also probing the kid for relationship info regarding her big sister. It is during this time we receive one of the most memorable cameos in film history but I do not wish to spoil it or the movie for you guys.

Unlike many movies of the horror genre Zombieland doesn’t suffer from overly pointless gory scenes, don’t get me wrong there is violence a plenty but the team doses it just right making the scenes amusing as they are action packed. Barring the back-seat reversal the cliches work well and are welcome, as is the kindling of potential romance between characters which doesn’t feel forced or contrived. There are seldom moments you feel for the characters and understand somewhat their intent adding needed respite from action and gags heightening the contrast between scenes.

Zombieland must have surprised both Columbia Pictures and Relativity Media with its box office success, both due to the genre being still fairly untapped in the US as well it being the feature film debut of Ruben Fleischer. I think because of the somewhat humble budget and a strong script (rewritten multiple times) the fairly established cast decided to sign on and I feel both production and cast pulled it off and am surprised the sequel came out just this year (2019).

The cinematography was spot on thanks to Michael Bonvillain, smart camera movement, angles and use of distance shots. The sound and score also helped bolster the theme and feel of film so a thumbs up to David Sardy and the Sound Deparment. The editing too was well done courtesy of Alan Baumgarten making Zombieland flow smoothly with no clutter, tight and compact.

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Alan Baumgarten, David Sardy & Michael Bonvillain

Eisenberg and Woody are both good actors and they pull off their roles masterfully. You believe that Jesse is the awkward nerd who compiled the rules list which pop up on screen throughout the film and Harrelson feels authentic as the macho tough guy on a rampage of vengeance.

Also enjoyable is the various ways in which the zombies are executed by the cast using a wide spectrum of equipment from guns to baseball bats and even gardening tools. There are even some truly bizarre comic instances which are rewarding to viewer.

The first time director possesses a great sense of timing and injects clever wit throughout the bloodbath of a film. As praised the cinematography is spot on really adding much to the feel of the film providing great visuals of different areas after the apocalypse. There are some poignant moments but don’t feel forced as mentioned and do not take away from the movies main goal which is to garner laughs.

The writers turned out a genre savy script and the meta feel of some scenes will be relished by cinephiles. I applaud most Bill Murray’s amazing cameo appearance which really steals the movie and is maybe one of the best cameos ever.

I feel the movie needed a little bit more something, maybe a little more character study or development but aside from that this movie succeeded in what it set out to do which is to entertain. This movie will be interesting to comedy fans especially of Zom Coms but also classic horror film aficionados.

I give the movie a score of :

3.75 / 5

All images used are property of Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Pariah and their associate/affiliates as well as numerous media outlets and I claim no rights over them.

Joker Film Review

Talon reviews the much hyped Golden Lion winning film Joker!

JOKER COVER CRITICS POSTER
Joker Critics Movie Poster

Joker Film Review

by Talon

Todd Phillips‘s “Joker” was released to much hype on August 31 2019 winning the most prestigious award the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. The film proceeded to set a box office record for October grossing over $272 million on a somewhat modest budget estimated around $70 million (modest as compared to the last two movies based on DC characters). Widespread demand at the box office is one of few bright points in this review which is more a testament to marketing budgets and tactics than of a films artistic merits. “Joker” feels as if both writers Phillips and Scott Silver set out to humanize the iconic “Joker” character but fail as we never see him go beyond a one dimensional mentally ill victim who the world keeps relentlessly beating on, but instead acquire more of an understanding of what seems to us a logically consequential downfall of a person with grossly low self-esteem.

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Joaquin Phoenix & Todd Phillips at the 76th Venice International Film Festival

The feature is infused like countless pieces of entertainment today, especially comic book movies, with darkness for no apparent purpose than for appealing to a target market. I find the movie lacks the depth it seemingly craves evidenced by its attempts at fabricating self importance. Trying to tie in what feels like everything from gun control to racism to prevailing mental illness one can’t help feel that the makers of “Joker” wanted to cash in on the current social climate but it all feels slapdash at best in its execution.

– Brief Summary, skip if you suffer from spoiler-phobia –

“Joker” starts off in the early 1980s in Gotham City which is suffering a garbage collector strike where we meet mentally ill Arthur Fleck portrayed by masterful Joaquin Phoenix. Arthur in his 30s is a party clown with stand-up comedy aspirations living in dire straits with Penny his disabled mother, played by Frances Conroy.

The action commences when Arthur is robbed on the job by teenage delinquents in front of an electronics shop of a sign he is twirling . Arthur proceeds to chase the boys down to a backstreet only to have this backfire in a violent fashion.

After Arthur is on a public bus where he finds a child turned backwards curiously staring at him. In response he goes into his clown routine making funny faces and grimaces which amuses the boy to laughter unfortunately earning Arthur a callous remark from the child’s mother demanding him to leave her child alone.

Upon returning home he shares the elevator with two of his neighbours a mother called Sophie, played by Zazie Beets, and her child where they exchange a somewhat awkward comedic interaction before he invites her to come see his stand-up comedy.

Glenn Fleshler, in the role of one of Arthur’s colleague Randall, the next day hearing about the attack  acts concerned and lends him his revolver. Arthur after botching a gig at a children’s hospital puts the weapon to use when three well-to-do men attempt to attack him on the subway train and he responds in brutal fashion even stalking and executing the sole escapee of the three who managed to reach the stairs exiting the terminal.

Joker-Los-Angeles-Premiere-14
Glenn Fleshler, Josh Pais, Brett Cullen, Frances Conroy, Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beets, Leigh Gill & Marc Maron at LA premiere of “Joker” (from left to right)

Attempting to be as spoiler free as possible I shall only mention two more scenes in this summary. Arthur is watching a black and white film in the apartment called “Shall we Dance” featuring legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It starts with a scene on a ship where the engine room staff are crooning a tune lead by actor Dudley Dickerson and accompanied by a jazz band who are soon joined by Fred before going into a dance number. When the actors break into dance Arthur follows suit spinning around the living room accidentally pulling the trigger of his revolver making a hole in the living room wall.

Despite having several opportune moments to do so the movie seldom elicited any emotion barring the discomfort of violence. When Josh Pais, as Holt the clown agency boss, is giving Arthur an ear beating for something we know he didn’t do, Arthur sits and takes it providing little in way of resistance to the bullying he is suffering, as opposed to sympathy I felt myself and other cinema goers just felt frustrated. This is in no small part due to the caricature of Arthur Fleck, his simplicity as a mentally ill man is poorly conceived as all we see the whole movie is his odd laughing and some excerpts from his tattered diary.

Another similar instant is when he is callously treated by a mother on the bus for no reason apart from making her son laugh, but here too he seems to just take it with the difference being he provides a card explaining his condition (Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) or emotional incontinence for those curious) and continues to endure the effects of the disorder beginning to laugh repeatedly. I hold this condition in itself as a plot device was poorly thought through, utilized and does little but delay the films pacing and irritate viewers. You get the sense as if when all else fails cue Phoenixes odd laughter.

Due to our intent to not reveal spoilers there are two scenes which I cannot disclose, where one doesn’t only feel disturbed by brutal violence but the scene actually evokes feelings of deep sadness and realization. Foreshadowing was used cleverly to bring a modicum of comprehension and most to an idea of what is likely to happen next. This was the only true directorial highlight I can recollect of the movie.

The Joker Review
Ad posters for “The Killing Joke” 1988, “Taxi Driver” 1976, “King of Comedy” 1983 & “Joker” 2019

Phillips I feel was trying to make a movie of substance by combining three different and distinct source materials which served as inspiration. It seems that the team is going for a social commentary and deeper angle as opposed to pure entertainment and I feel they fumble it like the Giants in ’78.

To most film buffs it is obvious that Phillips was inspired a great deal by Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, both Martin Scorsese films and both starring another legend Robert De Niro, which study rich well developed characters. But beyond inspiration it feels as if Phillips and company attempted a mash up of the two films, which could be a reason Scorsese decided to step away from production. Another source of inspiration especially for the premise appears to be Alan Moore‘s classic One Shot graphic novel from 1988 The Killing Joke.

To compare the first two sources, both are made dark but for different and fairly sound reasons. Where “Taxi Driver” explores results of alienation on the psyche and perspective of De Niro’s Travis Bickle, “The King of Comedy” studies awkward ideas as it cuts to bone of De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin’s denial of his repeated rejections. Whilst trying to bring the two very different concepts into one film plausibility of behaviour and execution of the idea itself seem to be the challenge. Where Travis repeatedly attempts to make connections in his film we get the feeling Arthur doesn’t try which can demonstrate Arthur possessing severely low self-esteem which can be seen as further stimulated by his mother who even asks him that for one to be a stand up comedian shouldn’t they be funny.

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Marc Maron & Robert De Niro from the “Joker”

With “The King of Comedy” it is visible that a lot has been taken from the plot but there is one crucial difference, Rupert makes his success as a stand up comedian his sole focus and relentlessly attempts to gain recognition and veneration for his skills but as we watch Joker we don’t get that feeling of effort truly invested from Arthur’s side as is the case with Rupert.

Finally to discuss the alleged inspiration coming from “The Killing Joke”, I am lost for connecting points as they are few an far between. If you mention you were inspired by “The Killing Joke” one finds it hard to find what inspired Phillips. In the novel Moore and Brian Bolland, the artist, attempt to illustrate the notion that Joker is a mirror reflection of Batman, that one bad day can separate us all from insanity and depravity. One tragedy creates both iconic characters on opposite ends of the spectrum, Bruce Wayne spends his life trying to find meaning from it whilst Jack Napier (Joker) reflects the absurdity and injustice which can befall us.

In “Joker” Batman is absent and Arthur is pushed to the edge due to seemingly a build up of lifelong torment. Beyond the obvious I enjoy Moore’s take on the project that he feels when they crafted “The Killing Joke” it was to do something original, to stimulate the industry to try new ideas and be creative and he like most reviewers I feel has become sick of the trend he birthed with his stories especially The Watchmen and “The Killing Joke”. We we can derive purpose from the source material but finding a purpose for making “Joker” aside from financial gain is difficult.

Alan Moore & Brian Bolland
Alan Moore & Brian Bolland

The movie seemingly attempts to be a social commentary and falls flat, surely pulling inspiration from various crimes and tragedies which occurred in New York during the 1970-1980s such as The Central Park 5 or the Bernhard Goetz attack but switching things up enough to not make connections clear. Some reviewers claim this is a movie about racism and white supremacy, about mental illness or even about class systems but I feel none of these themes were well enough developed and simply don’t meet the mark.

There is one scene which I feel would have made for a perfect point in the movie to endear Arthur Fleck to the audience as Peter Finch‘s Howard Beale did in Network when he went on his tirade denouncing how bad things have become, instead we receive a inefficient attempt at such with unsophisticated sentiment like “Everybody just screams at each other. Nobody’s civil any more” which obviously fails in what it endeavours to do through its simplicity and lack of substance.

All being said it feels this movie was created to launch a new movie series and build unwarranted hype. If one wanted to create something new and divergent, why not simply create a new character as opposed to using someone who has their own canon and following. Then again both Marvel and DC comics have altered their characters so much to make each character appealing to everyone possible, I feel alienating the fans whose dollars these giants built there empires on in the process.

We shall briefly touch on the film-making itself, as there are few gripes here and as there is praise to be dished out likely ensuing from the exchange of a forceful plot for continual discomfort.

Lawrence Sher‘s cinematography was solid, the camera movement is smooth, the camera angles safe as are the camera distances. Feeling it would have done better with a stronger score but the sound was decent, no complaints come to mind. The editing was handled by Jeff Groth and things seemed to flow easily, feel like the other aspects we have discussed not much to really write home about.

Globally though I perceive the “Joker” came off looking catchpenny or rushed, the scenes appeared smaller than could have been and angles could have been more varied. Some rally scenes seemed nearly as slapdash as the plot, with one protestor literally holding a garden chair over his head.

If any deeper meaning can be derived I am troubled finding it, the closest thing I can find is the alluded to mash up of three iconic pieces of art in an attempt to create a hybrid of substance. Apart from that Phillips could be attempting to paint an image of a disabled downtrodden man who has been neglected and left out to dry by family, society and the government whilst pointing a finger of blame at the wealthy. If this is the case I feel he has missed the mark.

(Possible Spoiler) You don’t really get upset when you feel the director wants to you to be mad at the Wayne family. How is it an employers responsibility to take care of a former employee or her child? It is Penny’s responsibility to take care of Arthur, and here is where one might be able to blame government for even allowing an unstable woman such as her to raise a child let alone return him to her after what he endured in her care but that again rests on a society to demand such things. On the other hand when Arthur decides to take revenge it feels wrong as he is becoming exactly what he encounters regularly, a bully. Now I am feeling if I provide any more examples the movie will be spoiled for all who wish to see it.

The only thing certainly which can impress is Joaquin Phoenixes acting, he is a great actor and this role I feel forced him to resort to his bag of actors tricks constantly as there was little substance to be work with. This movie will likely be most appealing and interesting to youthful faux-nerds and less demanding quasi-fans of darker film and fiction. It has the hype to sell it, a great actor and an iconic character which they’d probably know little about previous to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight series (which he was amazing in) so this will probably work with a crowd in their early twenties to mind 30s with little love of comics from the era of Crisis on Infinite Earths and prior. For movie buffs I can say this movie is skippable in my humble opinion.

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All images used are property of DC Comics, Embassy International Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance and their associate/affiliates as well as numerous media outlets and I claim no rights over them.