July 2010 ¦¦ -1- ¦¦ ‘Zombieland’ (2009) [7/10]; ‘Crime & Punishment’ (1983) [5/10]; ‘That Sinking Feeling’ (1980) [6+/10]

Published on: July 12th, 2010

Zombieland

Zombieland

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.Zombieland.
   Raucously enjoyable post-apocalyptic horror-comedy – following four survivors of a planet-ravaging virus – is much more comedy than horror, with even the most stomach-churning instances of entrail-munching played very much for laughs.
   Though occasionally a little too cockily aware of its own self-referential, genre-mocking sharpness, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick script hits most of its targets and manages to make some sly commentary on the current state of the USA among the bloody shenanigans.
   Director Ruben Fleischer’s slick visuals – cinematography by Cloverfield‘s Michael Bonvillain – fall just the right side of flashy: he adores loves slow-motion, and deploys it with imaginative flair. The quartet of leads (nerdy Jesse Eisenberg – providing copious self-deprecating narration – swaggering Woody Harrelson, fiery/sexy Emma Stone, old-head-on-young-shoulders Abigail Breslin), meanwhile, are drawn with appealing nuance and play off each other with consistently amusing effect.
   Though at times it feels like a strung-together series of sketches and set-pieces, some of the episodes are truly inspired – most notably a trip to the not-quite-uninhabited mansion of a Hollywood star (the reveal of whose identity is part of the fun), featuring an extended cameo by said star that’s perhaps the drollest thing he’s done for years.
   The most obvious recent parallel is with British variant Shaun of the Dead, but whereas Zombieland largely aims a little lower – there’s no attempt, for example, to make us feel any sympathy for the zombies’ plight – it’s on the whole a more skilful combo of zom/rom/com tricks and tropes.
   4th July
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.Crime and Punishment.
   In-name-only adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s classic novel, transposed to early-80s Helsinki and showing only intermittent glimmers of the just-so deadpan drollery that would characterise writer/director Aki Kaurismäki’s later efforts. His first fictional feature, shot when he was 25, isn’t such a bad effort all told, and one has to admire his chutzpah in selecting such a famously “unfilmable” book at such an early stage in his career.
   But the Raskolnikov figure – here renamed Antti Rahikainen and played by balding blond long-hair Markku Toikka - exudes sociopathic obnoxiousness rather than intriguing (anti-)charisma, and the only scenes that really come off are when he’s baiting the inept local cops in their very own offices. Best line: Antti musing that after death there’s no heaven, just “spiders… or something like that.”
   Otherwise there’s not much to engage us in his unlikely romance with the sole witness to his crime (in the opening scene he bumps off a businessman for motives that are as much political as personal), and the torpid, tamped-down proceedings are only occasionally enlivened by the presence of Kaurismäki’s hallmark Helsinki deadbeats and weirdos, plus his off-the-wall choice of soundtrack cuts. While essential viewing for aficionados of the Finnish master, it’s a little too “punishing” for the rest of us – for a more rewarding glimpse of his early-doors skills, check out his considerably wackier follow-up, 1986′s Calamari Union.
   4th July
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.That Sinking Feeling.
   And a “sinking feeling” is what those viewing Bill Forsyth’s warmly-remembered debut feature will soon feel if viewing the DVD recently released by ’2 entertain Video Ltd’ of 33 Foley* Street, London W1. The organisation is perhaps to be commended for providing the film with its long overdue “disc debut” – but they’re also guilty of rather shocking cultural vandalism by providing the “wrong” soundtrack for the picture.
   Instead of the original Glaswegian accents, such a crucial element in this larkish heist-movie set among the penniless older teenagers of Scotland’s most populous city, we get the hollow-sounding, “modified” Scottish tones recorded especially for the American release in 1984. These sound much closer to the refined vocal liltings of Edinburgh’s posh Morningside than the gruff tones of Glasgow’s Castlemilk or Gorbals districts, rendering the whole enterprise somewhat unwatchable for many – as chronicled by Jane Graham in The Guardian.
  
This is a shame, as much of That Sinking (‘Synching’?!) Feeling - a decidedly rough-edged, low-budget affair made with performers largely drawn from Glasgow Youth Theatre (whose efforts range from the rock-solid to the amateur-hour ropey) – retains considerable charm, not least Forsyth’s affectionate sending-up of the sub-genre’s conventions, both visual and verbal. A necessary stepping-stone to his international breakthrough Gregory’s Girl - the latter featuring several of the main performers from That Sinking Feeling, and overall a much slicker and more confident affair – this is a scrappily likeable, unpretentiously daft affair revolving around the not-so-expert theft of 93 stainless steel kitchen sinks, this central plot supporting all manner of offbeat story-details and character touches.
   The hairstyles and clothes of late 70s Scotland are, at the time of writing, right back in fashion - which is more than can be said for Colin Tully’s incongruously jazzy score, which stands in unhelpfully lyrical/mellow counterpoint to the hard-scrabble milieux in which the story haphazardly unfolds. With its tone pitched somewhere between Ealing Comedy and The Boys From the Black Stuff, That Sinking Feeling is also a priceless time-capsule of Glasgow’s pre-gentrification vibe – Forsyth doing for his home city what, over on the other side of the Iron Curtain at almost exactly the same time, Hungary’s András Jeles was doing for Budapest with Little Valentino (1979). An ideal double-bill for some adventurous cinematheque, perhaps — provided that is, a print can be found of TSF in version originale.
   12th July
* ”Foley” is the term used in the film industry for re-recorded incidental sounds added during the editing process – a coincidence which is, given the circumstances, wryly ironic.

Neil Young
July 2010

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT : [5/10] : Rikos ja rangaistus : Finland 1983 : Aki KAURISMAKI : 89m (S&S) : The Star and Shadow cinema, Newcastle, 4th July (£4.00) : {12/28}
THAT SINKING FEELING : [6+/10] : UK 1980 : Bill FORSYTH : 88m (BBFC - DVD edit) : DVD (Sunderland), 10th-12th July : {17+/28}
ZOMBIELAND : [7/10] : US 2009 : Ruben FLEISCHER : 88m (BBFC) : DVD (Sunderland), 3rd July : {18/28}

A streetcar named CASTLEMILK... a tense moment from Bill Forsyth's 'That Sinking Feeling' (1980)