Reviews

Zombieland

Have you ever taken a cross country road trip? How about a cross country road trip where you have to fight zombies? Are you feeling fit?


Zombieland

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Woody Harrelson
Length: 88 Minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Distributor: Columbia
Release Date: 2010-02-02

I like Zombieland a lot, but I feel guilty about it. When I step back and think about it logically, there are two reasons why I feel like I shouldn’t enjoy Zombieland as much as I do.

The first reason is the fast zombies. When it comes to horror, especially zombies, I’m a bit of a purist. My entire left arm is taken up by a tattoo of zombies swarming the flaming ruins of Seattle, which, if anything, is indicative of my love-hate relationship with my city. As for the zombies, as with comic book adaptations, I’m pretty good at setting my puritanical fanaticism aside for a couple of hours. I even like the 28 Days movies, and didn’t hate the Dawn of the Dead remake as much as I should have. Still, I don’t truly consider them zombies if they can sprint.

The new breed of horror fanatics toss around an argument about fast zombies that goes something like this, “There’s nothing scary about slow zombies, you can just walk away from them.” True. After the impending zombie apocalypse, in whatever form it takes, you probably won’t get run down by a single, slow zombie. That's not the point, thorught. The point is that zombies are scary despite being slow.

The core argument of fast zombie proponents is inherently flawed. Proponents of fast zombies confuse zombie movies with action movies, while in reality zombie movies are more akin to suspense movies. Sure, a fast reanimated body is more likely to jump out of a shadowy bush, and a foot race across a parking lot will provide a quick burst of adrenaline, but a swarm of rotting zombies, gradually moving towards you over a field, creates tension and suspense. Every time you look at them they are closer, creeping towards you and your loved ones. The effect harkens back to Hitchcock’s maxim that you don’t just show the bomb go off, true tension lies in watching the timer tick down.

Zombies are inevitable, a force of nature, like a glacier. If you are a decent shot with a hunting rifle you can sit there and pick them off one at a time, but you are going to run out of ammunition, and they are not going to stop. You can out run them for now, but you get tired, you have to sleep, you have feelings and emotions, and get frightened and make rash decisions that will ultimately get you killed. They will never stop, and they will get you.

The real focus of zombie movies is rarely the zombies themselves. The best of the genre hold a mirror up to society, exposing the ugliness of humankind, and all of that fun stuff. That is why the 28 Days movies, and even the new Dawn of the Dead, manage to work, despite the fleet-footed zombies. These movies let you watch the breakdown of humanity, the dissolution of societal standards and morals in the face of extreme opposition. Take away the trappings and pretense of society, and what remains is as visceral and raw as the zombies themselves.

The issue of slow versus fast zombies is really one of protracted suspense and tension versus momentary jolt. This is my major criticism of modern horror in general. Too many movies go for that fleeting, jump-out-of-a-closet-and-yell-boo, kind of scare, and not enough actually focus on elements that create a lasting fright, a fright that sticks with you as you walk out of the theater across a dark, empty parking lot.

The second reason I feel like I shouldn’t like Zombieland is the accessibility. This is where my elitist, I-know-more-about-zombie-movies-than-you leaning rear its ugly head. It used to take effort to find zombie movies. You used to have to hunt down all of the obscure Italian zombie films. You had to scour every video store in town, hoping that one of them happened to have a copy of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Finding a copy of Zombi in a second hand store on grainy VHS used to feel like a triumph.

When some theater had a midnight showing of Evil Dead, it was an event that you planned your weekend around. Watching it meant so much more when you had to work to get it.

Now zombies are everywhere. On one hand this means that your collection is much more extensive, and you’ve been able to find movies you couldn’t before, and you're actually be able to see them, because, lets be honest here, some of those VHS copies you found were so degraded, copied so many times, that you couldn’t be sure what the hell was happening on screen. On the other hand, this means that movies like Zombieland have enormous opening weekends, and because the success of the genre, everyone with a video camera is going to try to make a zombie movie.

For fans of zombie flicks, this feels like when a band that has been around forever, a band that you’ve loved forever, suddenly hits it big and gets on MTV, and now everyone in the world is talking about this thing that you cherished and held close, and now that you have to share it with millions of people it doesn’t feel as special, anymore. Part of me liked it better when my obsession with the undead wasn’t cool, when it made me the weird kid.

Like I said, there are reasons why I feel like I shouldn’t like Zombieland, but I like Zombieland. I like Zombieland a lot. Zombieland is a good time, and a crazy amount of fun.

Michael Cera lookalike, Jesse Eisenberg, plays Columbus, a neurotic, fearful college student with irritable bowels. There has been an outbreak of a fast acting virus, a mutant strain of mad-cow disease that attacks humans. There is actually a human equivalent of mad-cow, called Kuru, that is transmitted through consumption of brain matter, and often associated with cannibalism. Both diseases are members of the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy clan.

In the wake of this epidemic, the infected turn into zombies. These are not your rising from the grave, shambling, undead zombies, these are humans that have become sick, and the primary symptom of their disease happens to be zombification.

Surviving the initial onslaught that destroys most of humanity, Columbus develops a series of rules for successful living in this new world, which he names Zombieland. They include working on your cardiovascular fitness routine, wearing your seatbelt, and avoiding public bathrooms, to name a few. With nothing better to do, because after the apocalypse there’s really not much going on, Columbus decides that he needs to know for sure what became of his parents, and he sets out on a cross country journey to his home town of, you guessed it, Columbus, Ohio.

At its core, Zombieland is essentially a road movie, sort of a blood-soaked Vanishing Point, or Cannonball Run with blood spewing monsters. Along the road Columbus gets a ride from Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a NASCAR loving, wiseacre redneck, who, in the days following the death of humanity, has found his true calling. His mama always told him he’d find something he was good at, who would’ve thought that would be killing zombies? Tallahassee enjoys the end of the world in a way that few others do.

This unlikely pair stumbles across Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), sisters who are scamming and swindling their way across the country on their way to an amusement park. Yeah, that makes sense.

Along the way, director Ruben Fleisher, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, manage not only to provide ample zombie action, and a ton of fun, witty laughs, but also a lot of touching, very human moments. Really. This is why Zombieland works so well. If all that this film consisted of was zombies and jokes, then sure, it still be fun, but overall it would be pretty disposable. The people are what elevate the movie above simple camp.

These are complex individuals, well-rounded characters with motives and emotions. The actors don’t just ham it up for the camera, they have secrets and demons and conflicting feelings that lurk beneath the surface. They are all doing what they have to do to survive, trying to find a way to cope with the end of the world and the loss of everything they’ve ever known. What they ultimately find is that what they really need is each other, not only for simple physical survival, but for emotional survival, as well.

Aside from the movie, the DVD release is unspectacular. There's an enjoyable commentary track, a couple of short production documentaries that hold little interest unless you want to watch artists apply make up and prosthetics to the actors, and five minutes of deleted scenes that were deleted for good reason. Here’s a suggestion: instead of watching any of the extras, just rewind the scene with Bill Murray in it. That alone is worth the price of the DVD.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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