Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Orphans of Jessieland

I like a movie that makes no bones about it's philosophical geekiness, even if that means we must endure the anal-retentive Michael Cera-clone, Jesse Eisenberg, as he nervously runs around rattling off do's and dont's in the post-apocalyptic American survival in voiceover, in that insufferable style of men of a certain age who think everything they've recently realized is brand new to human knowledge, so take it on themselves to tell us that we "have to enjoy the little things," as if we didn't know that already, from ED WOOD's Bela Lugosi rose-sniffing scene, and explaining why his Han Solo archetype asskicker compadre (Woody Harrelson) is hell-bent on finding Twinkies in the post-apocalyptic Zombieland. They kind of represent to Woody what "home" is, i.e. civilization before the collapse, before America became Zombieland. Of course this film could be aimed at folks younger than me, and if it steers them towards a better appreciation for the little things, and helps them gain deconstructive analytical skillz, then I guess I shouldn't curmudge. At least Jesse's voiceover spares us dot connecting as far as consumerism, comparing zombie behavior to consumerism in reality shows and computer game addiction. Or maybe, just maybe, no one remembers that those things are bad, and that they make Europe worry about our mental health.

For after all, the apocalypse has been floating over our heads since the days of Jesus "C" - a kind of mass suicidal ideation. The apocalypse film appeals in general to the malcontents of all classes and creeds, cuz it makes us feel less caged-in to know there might come a time when our credit card debts are erased and we're free to loot and pillage and fight for survival like our DNA has programmed us to. In the meantime we sit around and do the best we can. We plot, and wait, and game, and watch, and spend.

Even back in the vulnerable pre-cellular/internet 1980s, we fantasized about the impending apocalypse. Back then however, zombies were confined to a few sequels and spinoffs from the Romero original.  For the real apocalypse fantasy we worried more about bikers, mutants and dwindling oil reserves, ala THE ROAD WARRIOR (aka MAD MAX 2, 1982). And we didn't much have to deal with babes like Kristen Stewart or Taliban Shire or whatever name is, in our Zombielands. If the girls showed up at all they were usually robots (CHERRY 2000, Pris in BLADERUNNER) or scouts for their underground breeding programs (A BOY AND HIS DOG). Alas, we find that in the Zombieland of tomorrow, the feminists have stolen all our shit with the finesse of mutant biker older sisters.

In the 1980s--thanks to Pat Benatar--we knew love was a battlefield, but then came the 90s and it takes an army to raise a village and perhaps the second decade of the 21st century will be about how the army is overseas and the village has failed to raise itself, leaving boys with no way to turn 2 men other than leaving for the Middle East, or doing drugs and drinking... blood. And the beautiful Kristen Stewarts of the world will wither and die... or worse, go out with Jessie Eisenberg before he's passed his initiation tests, before he's actually stood the test of manhood, either by getting drunk and sleeping around and then hating himself, or tripping on acid and getting in a fight or riding the mechanical bull, or in the words of Craig Finn from The Hold Steady, "waking up in someone else's van with a backstage pass in your back pocket."

I guess I'm squeamish since I was just as insecure as Eisenberg until around 1985 when I started drinking. To use the iconography of ZOMBIELAND, I went from a Jessie to a Woody in one swift funnel. Thing with Eisenberg is -- the two movies I've seen him in are both a) one world titles ending in "land" b) about amusement parks - the first is the semi-fun comedy ADVENTURELAND, wherein he slavers after the delectable pout of (below) Kristen Stewart (I hope you can feel that every time I write that name there is about a 2 minute pause while I swoon to the floor like a 16-year old promise ring-wearing Goth).

If this was a WW2 metaphor Eisenberg (and me prior to discovering alcohol) would be tightass Montgomery and Woody Harrelson would be a mighty Patton. Picture if you will, a small boy. He is Russian, and acting as a scout behind German lines for the Soviet Army. This kid is so tough and adorable, he'll break your heart and inspire you to risk death in the name of victory, all in one Hawks-like swoop. The film, she is called IVAN'S CHILDHOOD (1962). If this kid can be that cool, surely our Ceras and our Jesses can get themselves some nice Mickey Rourke-style bruises and at least give heroin a try. The Cera-Eisenberg principle instead operates on the kind of squeamish comic embarrassment Ricky Gervais smuggled over from the BBC. And of course, Judd Apatow, and the "growing up" element has more to do with letting a hot girl kiss you without running away, or going to bed with her without stuttering some excuse why "it wouldn't be right" before realizing that "hey, it's the little things that matter." Or as Bushwick Bill once said "Size ain't shit!"

I've got nothing against wimps and computer nerds,  now that I can stare like Clint and  have a deep voice... so I get mad when nerds betray their struggling nerd audience with a bad role model like Eisenberg, for whom everything is done the hard way, when meanwhile Xanax and booze are free for the taking at deserted pharmacies and supermarkets across the nation.

I'm sorry, ZOMBIELAND, you're okay. A good enough zom-com is good enough for me. If it was easy to make a good-enough zom-com, there would be lots more good ones, so take a bow. Let us fill up virtual racks at the rental store with these unfettered amalgams! And the best part is, one of us invented the whole unified zombie mythos, i.e. a 20th century indie film maverick (as opposed to a Victorian playwright), George Romero - yet no one has to pay him a ha'penny of royalties. I mean, I wish they did, so he could be rich and afford to make his own zombie films... better. I mean I couldn't even get more than 20 minutes into DIARY OF THE DEAD. Jesus Christ, it's worse than Argento's MOTHER OF TEARS!

What's generally missing in all these Romero homage/spin/rip-offs is Romero's original deeply embedded critique of consumerism. There's a scene for example in the original, long-ass DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) where the heroine is getting herself all dolled up in the mirror, with beautiful perfume commercial gold lighting and with the gun seamlessly integrated into her ensemble. ZOMBIELAND by contrast would have Eisenberg's narration go "It was like we were living in a critique of consumerism." and show a Phillip Seymour Hoffman cameo as a zombie Marxist liberal arts professor.

Z is for Zombie, that's good enough for me, and if the movie is really more of an amusement park ride than an actual horror film, and even if Bill Murray has to show up doing a frickin' Be Kind Rewind -remix of the library scene from GHOSTBUSTERS with his home's invaders, who'm I gonna call? So just remember that ZOMBIELAND is about appreciating the little things, and family, and fire arms, and all the stuff we take for granted that's going to go down in flames in a few short years. Hallelujah oh Dark Lord whom I choose to call Kristen Stewart! I predict big things.


  1. Good point...but then, we are living in a world where the nerds are the ones making the movies. This is their big fuck you to Mad Max, their revenge for constantely watching themselves get killed onscreen so that Mel Gibson could look angry. It's the Dawn of Unlikely Survivalist...and when we, the next generation of filmmakers, goes back to Maxian origins, the vicious cycle will start all over.

    Until then, you leave Zombieland alone.

  2. Agreed, anyway I did say Zombieland was a perfectly great zom-com. If I was 14 and it came out in 83, I'd want it on one of my big 6 hour VHS tapes right between Road Warrior and Return of the Living Dead (which wasn't out yet, but whatever). But I'd still rant on the troubles of Cera-cism.

    It's interesting that the movie with the best tough guy male role models this year came from a woman, go Kathryn Bigelow. I'm rooting for her to win tonight, and Hurt Locker best pic. If Avatar wins, we'll know the truth: from now on, the Oscars are just the Grammys with better dresses and more elaborate musical numbers.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...