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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Do Be Cruel

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that my favorite film-reviewer is Elvis Mitchell of the Times (you may need to register --free-- to read Times stuff).

His writing pops and snaps and spins deliriously, always wise, wry, and deliciously surprising. Plus I almost always agree exactly with him. Plus he's dead gorgeous, as you see.

For about a year, I've been collecting files of some of my favorite reviews of his. What prompted this post, however, was reading his review of the new remake of Dawn of the Dead. I loved George Romero's original film and would teach it sometimes in American Studies courses. A chronicle of four people taking refuge from an Anacharsis Clootz procession (nurses, hara krishna people, mommies, policemen, businessmen, etc.) of American zombies in a shopping mall, eliminating the "savages" to make way for their "civilization" (and loving it, as Agent 86 used to say), the film invokes so many quintessentially American motifs (not least the interracial homosocial pair at the story's center whose prominence in American literature was chewed over delightedly by D. H. Lawrence and later Leslie Fiedler) and has such fun sending up the American mass media's reflexive disaster response.

Anyway, here's some of the fabulous Elvis on the latest Dead taken from the Times:
A Cautionary Tale for Those Dying to Shop

Correction Appended

The original 1978 horror splatter-comedy "Dawn of the Dead" had an idea that played like cast-iron satire: zombies invading a mall. The one good exchange from that film is repeated in Zack Snyder's single-minded scare-tactic remake: when someone asks why the zombies congregate there, the response is: "Memory, maybe. Instinct."

Otherwise, Mr. Snyder's blood feast is strictly by the numbers: this second-rater could be the world's most expensive Troma film. . . . [T]his is the first studio picture to exhibit the tacky Troma influence, which means —— something, like the end of shame in Western civilization, perhaps. However, since "Dawn of the Dead," which opens today nationwide, doubtless thinks of itself as a reimagining rather than a remake, the concept of shame was probably obliterated the moment the script got a green light from Universal.

"The Dead" — with apologies to James Joyce — notches its frights early, before the introduction of the, excuse the euphemism, characters. The first undead we see is a little girl with part of her face rotted away, who goes right for her dad's neck. The mother, Ana (Sarah Polley), barely escapes the house intact and drives away through an apocalyptic version of the dozy suburban tract neighborhood she had come home to the night before. The graphic point of zombielike conformity was made earlier with an overhead shot of the neighborhood.

. . . .

Milwaukee, the home of the bubbler, is transformed into the subdivision of the living dead. Ana runs into Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a uniformed cop, who makes her speak. It's one of the few ways to tell the zombies from the living — though with dialogue like this, who's better off?

. . . .

C. J.'s intolerance is evident early, when he calls Andre "Shaq." His ragtag minimum-wage squad is determined to keep the zombies out, especially once Ana figures out that the life-free scourge is spread from a zombie bite. Isn't it always funny that people in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies, so they have no information whatsoever?

. . . .

[W]e're left with a movie dependent on generating its small amount of sparks by setting an order in which to eliminate the annoying cast members. A scene in which weapons have to be liberated from a gun store so the group can carry out a plan to get to a marina and sail away to safety — don't ask — shows why zombie pictures aren't unsettling anymore. The flesh-eaters are picked off like video-game targets.

The eventual video game is bound to be a lot more fun — and less slowed down by bad dialogue — than this "Dead."

Mitchell often mocks the required end-of-the-review statement clarifying its MPAA rating. He's what he wrote, for instance, at the end of his Black Hawk Down review:

''Black Hawk Down'' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for a barrage of violence, dismemberment and mayhem, and the usual accompanying panicked strong language.

Here's what he wrote for this one:

"Dawn of the Dead" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has scenes of limb slicing, blood spewing, flesh chomping and decapitation. Oh, yes, and strong language and sexuality.

The best part of the review, however, is probably not written by Mitchell at all. It's the following quotation that seems like an intentional caricature of the latest incarnation of the much-wrangled-over New York Times corrections policy (discussed with respect to columnists in this article, or here, if you can't easily load that one) as it leaps yodeling breezily off a cliff:

Correction: March 25, 2004, Thursday

A film review of "Dawn of the Dead" in Weekend on Friday misstated the relationship of one zombie to the heroine, Ana (Sarah Polley). That zombie, a little girl, is the child of a neighbor, not Ana's daughter.
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