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Zombieland a must see

By Lady Liberty
web posted October 5, 2009

Whip It

3 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13
Runtime: 111 minutes

I hadn't honestly intended to see Whip It this weekend. A friend and I had been planning to see something else entirely. But when something else entirely didn't make it to our theatre, Whip It was the one film neither of us had seen that we could both agree we might like. Despite being made somewhat on the fly, that decision turned out to be a pretty good one.

In Whip It, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a high school senior whose mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden), loves little more than entering Bliss and her younger sister Shania (Eulala Scheel) in beauty pageants. As a former contestant herself, she's convinced pageant participation opens doors that might otherwise remain closed to her daughters. Bliss goes along largely because she doesn't have much of anything else to do.

That all changes when, on a shopping trip to Austin, Bliss picks up a flyer in a shoe store. The ad is for a roller derby event. Bliss becomes fixated on seeing the contest, and convinces her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) to make the drive. That night, Bliss falls in love not with a boy (although there's one of those, too) but with roller derby. Watching rough and tumble women like Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), and the incomparable Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) makes Bliss want something more, something entirely different. And roller derby is apparently the answer she's been seeking.

I vaguely remember when roller derby was on television on Saturdays. I didn't watch it often, but I have to admit that the little girl I was thought those women were awfully tough and very cool. Whip It does a nice job of conveying that feeling to its audience without ever falling too far into any given stereotype. Sure, Bliss is a rebellious teenager, and the boy she meets (Landon Pigg) isn't all one would hope a boyfriend would be. And yes, Bliss' mother is pushy and her father (Daniel Stern) less assertive at times than he ought to be. But both the story and the characters have the unique quality to them that real people have and, as such, it's an easy film to fall into and enjoy.

Ellen Page has been brilliant every time I've seen her, and she's really terrific again here. Although not quite as young as her appearance would lead you to believe, she acts with an ease and simplicity far beyond her years. When Ellen Page weeps, laughs, or screams, I believe her. More important, I feel with her. That's a rare talent indeed! Marcia Gay Harden does a fine job of portraying a well-intentioned mother with regrets of her own, and Landon Pigg is perfectly cast (the actor is also a gifted singer with a new album in which my interest was piqued after seeing him perform in the movie). While the derby girls are supporting cast, several manage to stand out in a very good way, not least of those performances being that of Juliette Lewis. I'm also going to single one man out for special mention: Jimmy Fallon. All but unrecognizable as Hot Tub Johnny Rocket, he's absolutely fantastic as the derby announcer and "hanger onner."

Whip It is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut. While I can't say I saw any particular stroke of genius here, I also can't fault her abilities. There were a couple of shaky moments (one of them being her own over-the-top performance), but I think she'll be a fine director with a little more experience. It didn't hurt that the cast was a good one, or that the screenplay by relative newcomer Shauna Cross was so well written, either.

BOTTOM LINE: I can't say that Whip It is the best movie I've seen this year, but it's not one I regret spending the money to see. That may seem like damning with faint praise, but that's far from the truth given that there are so many movies I can't say that about!

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Whip It is rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material. I'd say that that's probably just about right. If you've got children, especially girls, who are in their early teens, I'd encourage you to attend Whip It with them. This is one of those rare films that will likely open up channels of communication between you and your kids without any preachiness or syrupy dialog whatsoever.

POLITICAL NOTES: None.

Zombieland

4 out of 5 stars

Rated R
Runtime: 80 minutes

I like horror movies. I like them a lot. Despite that fact, I'm really not a big zombie fan. I always found zombie movies to be more silly than horrifying. Maybe it's an acquired taste. But the trailers for Zombieland were amusing, and the early reviews were surprisingly good. On a cold and windy Saturday with nothing else to do, I figured I'd take a look.

Zombieland actually refers to the United States of America after some bizarre plague has turned most of humanity into staggering man-eating zombies. One of the few survivors is a young man who calls himself Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) after his hometown. After most of humanity has been infected or eaten, Columbus decides to try to make his way from Texas back to Ohio in the slim hope that his parents have survived as he has. He puts all of the survival lessons he's learned to the test as he wanders down the highway where he runs into another survivor by the name of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Against both of their better judgments, the two team up and head east together.

Eventually, Columbus and Tallahassee craft a sort of working relationship. But the balance they've reached is disturbed in no small way when they meet two girls who have somehow managed to survive on their own. Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are headed in the opposite direction. They've heard rumors of an amusement park in California that is "zombie free," and they're determined to make it there to see if the stories are true. Since both Columbus and Tallahassee fear that there's really nowhere—not Ohio, not Florida, and certainly not a west coast amusement park—that's really zombie free, they see no reason not to change direction and head west themselves.

Of course, there are adventures along the way, and the four don't always get along particularly well. Making matters more complicated is the fact that zombies abound; Tallahassee has a mission having nothing whatsoever to do with zombies; and neither Wichita nor Little Rock are quite what they seem. And nobody can possibly know that somewhere, waiting for them out west, is what may be the single most brilliant celebrity cameo appearance of all time.

Jesse Eisenberg is making a name for himself playing young, confused, and socially inept men. I have no idea what the real Eisenberg is like, but his characters are painfully real (if you've not seen him in Adventureland, both he and the movie are well worth a rental). Woody Harrelson owns the role of Tallahassee. I can't for the life of me imagine anybody else doing what he does here so well. Emma Stone is fine too, although Abigail Breslin is better, I think.

Zombieland is directed by Ruben Fleischer who says he was inspired by Shaun of the Dead. I've not seen Shaun of the Dead (I don't like zombie movies, remember?), but I might have to see it now if it's anything like Zombieland. Regardless of what inspired Fleischer, he's an inspiration all his own after helming Zombieland. The very funny screenplay was penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Interestingly, none of these guys have particularly long résumés. If Zombieland really is one of their first big screen efforts, I have hopes for more goodies to come in the future from all three.

I've read that Zombieland was made on the cheap, for "only" $24 million or so. In terms of moviemaking, that really is a bargain. What impresses me more, though, is that I didn't see anything that would have led me to believe the film was at all budget conscious. The make-up was superb. The sets were all very real and with terrific detail. The action was just great as well, and the editing and cinematography were excellent. I'm not sure how much credit the director deserves and how much goes to the producers, but either way, I have to commend those responsible.

BOTTOM LINE: I never in a million years would have anticipated I'd use the words "zombie movie" and "fantastic" in the same sentence. Never. But here it is, folks: Zombieland is really that good.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Zombieland is rated R for horror violence/gore and language. Let's be honest: There aren't too many things that are typically bloodier than zombie movies, and Zombieland is no exception. It also has its scary (startles, mostly) moments. I'd recommend Zombieland for those 14 or so and up who happen to have strong stomachs.

POLITICAL NOTES: None. ESR

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

 

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