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Monday Review: Zombieland and Whip It


Remind you of anything? *cough*Left4Dead*cough*

'Zombieland' has it all

Zombieland has one flaw, and its so minuscule that it's almost not worth mentioning, but for any zombie movie lover it is important. See, it should really be called "Infectedland" as, according to the main character's narration, the flesh eating creatures are infected by a disease which causes a zombie like state and are indeed not actually the walking dead. That's the one flaw. Otherwise Zombieland is a bloody, gorey, funny, over-the-top, zombie slaughtering piece of perfection.

The premise of the film is that America has pretty much been overrun with zombies (we're going to call them that even if it's wrong) after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Like any good zombie apocalypse there are survivors. Four, in fact. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy college student; Wichita (Emma Stone), a hard-edged babe; Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita's little sister; and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a zombie killing, one-liner spouting, badass cowboy. If the setup sounds a little contrived, it is, but it's what the movie does with it that makes it so awesome. The four meet, and after a little controversy decide to head toward an amusement park in California where the girls have fond childhood memories. Zombie killing ensues.

In an immensely smart move, and one more and more zombies films are taking, the film completely glazes over the arrival of the apocalypse and plops right down in the middle of it. The movie runs a blood soaked 80 minutes, and it's the perfect amount of time to run in, kill some zombies, throw out some brilliant jokes and then kill some more zombies. It might be unclear, but there are a lot of dead zombies (not in the redundant way, in the "shot through the head" way) in this movie and they all die in ways too creative to ruin here by mentioning them.

If the screenplay and directing were any sharper it would slice through its own zombie's necks. Normal comedies don't usually make you laugh this hard, let alone ones involving copious amounts of blood and guts. Harrelson's Tallahassee is particularly a joy to watch as he decapitates and dismembers zombies in some of the most creative ways out there. On top of this Columbus's narration and strict set of rules he follows (Rule #2: Double tap all zombies) make for the perfect parody of the classic zombie film. It's refreshing that these four survivors seem to have actually watched a zombie movie in their life and know not to be an idiot, except near the end when they light up an entire theme park like a giant zombie beacon.

They do that, however, in order to remain human (spiritually), and it's that part of the film that really shines through. It's not just blood and guts, but there's a solid storyline with character development and actual human choices, which are often far, far away from movies that involve zombies. Of course no one paid a ticket for that stuff when they came to see a movie called Zombieland so let me reassure you that the film has some of the greatest zombie kills I've ever seen. In fact it's a point of pride for the movie and its characters to come up with the best ways to eliminate zombies, and director Ruben Fleischer's use of slow motion to an epically overused point fits the film perfectly. There's probably more slo-mo shots than 300, but they're gloriously well done or campy.

If none of this has convinced you that Zombieland is worth the price of admission (and rewatching with beer when it comes out on DVD) then let me just throw one more nugget at you. Zombieland contains the greatest cameo put to film since Neil Patrick Harris stole Harold and Kumar's car and started snorting coke after a strippers butt. Go now, and enjoy.

'Whip It' whips up the girl power

If you're famous in Hollywood and you want to direct the chances are it's going to happen. Film companies love putting name actors' names on their movies so when one wants to direct it usually happens. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't. Whip It is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and she chose a girl power/indy comedy/sports film starring Ellen Page to do it with. Three genres, one first time director, a young actress; what could go wrong?

Evidently, not that much, but just enough to miss the mark. Whip It goes down and indy with the world of roller derby, a sport that was kind-of big in the 70s and is actually seeing quite the resurgence at the moment. It's not really about that though, it's really about Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), an indy rock girl trapped in small town Texas looking for a way to truly express herself. Her overbearing mother forces her into beauty pageants and her father is a push over. She has one best friend and gets made fun of by the "cool kids." Then, on a shopping trip to Austin, she discovers roller derby and falls in love. After trying out, and discovering she's actually really fast on a pair of roller skates, she makes the team.

Of course she hasn't told her mother or father about any of this, she's underage for the league and she's falling for a boy in a rock band. If you think you've heard it before, you probably have as the film is both a bit cliche and based on a book by the same name. However, the film's story (by far its strongest point) weaves around all out sports movie/coming-of-age-story cliche by mustering up its girl power message over all else. Bliss's mom is not an evil creature, simply a protective mother. The girls on the roller derby team aren't just gags, but women and the whole relationship thing takes a decidedly refreshing turn for a movie of this type. Yes, Whip It is definitely bathing in the pools of cliche, but it's making enough waves to make it hard to tell.

Barrymore on the other hand is hardly splashing at all. Unfortunately it shows that this is her first time directing, and it shows bad. The film feels almost slapped together from the random parts she was lucky enough to capture and the actual scenes of roller derby competition are seriously lacking. Now this is the first time I've ever seen actual roller derby put to the screen (Rollberball doesn't count, I assume), so maybe it's a really tough sport to capture, but I doubt it. There's no flow to her games and it's often hard to tell what is going on. In fact it would be impossible if Jimmy Kimmel wasn't narrating the entire match as the announcer. It's too bad as more cohesive roller derby sections could have really tied the film together.

On the plus side, all the actors seem to get what is going on. Page is at once likable and plucky and Kristen Wiig, as team captain, is once again enjoyable (she seems to be the new go to comedy gal). The overall "we're so trendy" vibe of the movie doesn't ruin it either, but it sure as hell is there. Of course, when you're filming in Austin it's most likely hard to avoid that, and Bliss's mother perfectly offsets it in a very human way. Somehow, through her muddled directing, Barrymore captures some actual truth.

As a whole Whip It can entertain and is a rare girl power film that is actually about girl power. While it has its many flaws, those either in love with roller derby or just looking to have a girls night out aren't going to come out of the theater disappointed. Whip It is good, it just needs to be whipped into better shape.

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About Matthew Razakone of us since 2:04 PM on 04.03.2009

Matthew Razak is the Editor-in-Chief here at Flixist, meaning he gets to take credit for all this awesome even though its really the rest of the amazing staff that gets it done. He started as a community member back in the early days of Destructoid and bugged his way into writing for the site while being the Managing Editor over at That VideoGame Blog. He was also writing as a film critic for a local newspaper in the DC area and for Examiner.com. Finally after seven years of thinking silently to himself why the Modern Method network doesn't have a movie site he told Niero that we should start one. At the same time Fronz had been telling him to start a movie site too. The two of them teamed up with Niero's go ahead and now we have Flixist.

Matthew is totally open to any movie of any genre, but his wheelhouse is horror, action and James Bond. Doesn't sound too respectable but he's also got a fancy film degree from Vassar College and he's a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Society so that makes him semi-official in some capacity. He just really like movies and hopes that's enough to let you trust his opinion on them slightly.

He get asked these questions a lot when he tells people he writes for a movie blog, so:

Favorite movie: Evil Dead 2

Favorite franchise: Bond

OK, Favorite Bond movie: From Russia With Love

If you want to know the movies you have to see to get Flixist head here.

Currently backed upcoming crowdfunding projects:

Shenmue III
Xbox LIVE:Cowzilla3
Mii code:4283622287658660


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