Movie Review: “Deadlands: the Rising”

Yesterday I watched the 2006 indie zombie film, Deadlands: the Rising.  It was written, directed by and stars GaryZombieDeadlands Ugarek, a zombie-film enthusiast who played a zombie in George Romero’s Land of the Dead.  It’s great to see do-it-yourselfers making new zombie films, but unfortunately this one wasn’t very good. 

Deadlands: The Rising seems to  follow the lives of a pair of family-men (one played by Ugarek), and a few other people in suburban Maryland, as they navigate a zombie-outbreak.  I say “seems” because the plot is difficult to recount.  There are sequences at an improvised firing-range, in a housing development, and along a highway during an evacuation, but it is frequently difficult to understand how these scenes are related.  At times, there seems to be no main character in Deadlands, which is never good.  (I like to read books by E.L. Doctorow, but there’s this one called City of God which is just inexplicably terrible.  When I read it, I was like “What’s up with this dreck?  Doctorow is usually awesome, but this sucks.”  Then, a few weeks later, I read an interview with Doctorow where he said he was trying–as some sort of artistic experiment– to write a novel without a main character.  And I thought, “There’s your problem!”  Anyhow, same thing with Deadlands.  Without a main character, it all feels scattered and pointless.)

ZombieSarcasticMan1
"THERE'S your problem... your movie has no main character."

The zombies in Deadlands don’t look very good (lousy makeup, etc.), and they’re not introduced until the halfway-point of the film.  The zombies are also inconsistent– some are fast and sprint after their victims, while others shamble slowly in the Romero tradition.  I know some favor fast zombies, and others (like me) prefer slow ones, but you’ve got to decide on one or the other.  (It’s like Geddy Lee says: “If you choose not to decide [on fast vs. slow zombies], you still have made a choice [to make a lousy film].)  

Narrative aside, it should be noted that the sound/audio in Deadlands is also terrible.  (If you watch it, be sure to have the remote handy so you can ratchet the volume up and down.)  I feel like, if you’re a filmmaker and you know your audio equipment is cheap and terrible, just make a Zombie Diaries/documentary-style zombie film.  That way, the lousy, patchy audio can become part of the narrative.  But don’t try to make a traditional, “Hollywood” zombie film if you know you’ve got terrible audio, because it’s not going to work.

Another strange feature of Deadlands is that many of the establishing shots feel curtailed or “cropped” in weird ways.  One has the feeling that the shots have been filmed guerilla-style, on the fly.  In an interview, Ugarek says that he was stymied by the City of Baltimore when trying to get permission to film in the city-proper.  It looks to me like Ugarek did his best within those constraints to create abandoned-looking urban scenes, but he was forced to position his shots in awkward ways to avoid showing the people who were naturally present in those areas.

I think it’s awesome that a zombie fan made his own film–and he probably learned a lot from this experience– but I’m hard pressed to recommend the final-product this time around.  (Most of the other reviews I found for Deadlands were negative, but here’s a guardedly positive one, if you’d like a dissenting opinion.) 

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Online-community creator and Harvard psychiatrist added to ZRS Advisory Board

Ryan Leach (Co-Creator of LostZombies.com, the world’s first community-generated zombie documentary) and ZOMBIERESEARCHBLOG12Steven Schlozman (Co-Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Associate Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency for the MGH/McLean Program in Child Psychiatry, and Lecturer in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education) have been added to the Zombie Research Society’s Advisory Board.

Here’s a neat interview with Dr. Schlozman about zombie neurobiology.

And here’s a link to LostZombies.com.

Welcome to them both!

Music Review: Tonight of the Living Dead

Last night I listened to an interesting new ambient music CD called Tonight of the Living Dead by 400 Lonely Things.  ZombieTonightoftheLivingDeadDescribed in their one-sheet as “a collage of treated audio” from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Tonight of the Living Dead is an eerie and moody meditation on the original film. 

I am not a big consumer of ambient or experimental music, so I’ll describe what I heard on the CD in the plainest terms possible.  Tonight of the Living Dead is quiet, scary music–a little like the score to a horror film.  There are some samples from the film, but mostly the album seemed to be strings and keyboard effects.  Now and then the music swells to something edging toward the climax of a horror-film, but other times it crests so low and subtle that you almost forget it’s there.  The overall effect can be quite enjoyable and scary, if you’re patient with it.

As I listened to Tonight of the Living Dead, I was reminded of the scary sequences in David Lynch’s Inland Empire where Laura Dern is walking around dark hallways by herself for like half an hour.  Yet unlike in Inland Empire–in which Lynch resorts to several cheap, jump-out-and-scare-you tricks–the mood evoked in Tonight of the Living Dead remains consistent throughout.  (There are no loud, sudden orchestra-hits calculated to make you jump.  Instead, Tonight of the Living Dead seeks to lull you into a pervading, quiet terror.)

I also want to note that the CD booklet contains some really cool zombie (or zombie-like) images.  They may be stills from the film that have been digitally manipulated, or they may be entirely original artwork.  (I can’t tell.)  The point is, they’re pretty cool.

So, if you like ambient music and zombies, then Tonight of the Living Dead is probably a must-own.  I’m not an ambient music fan, but I thought it was pretty neat.  You can buy your own copy here.

Rancid: Let the Dominoes Fall

Okay, so this post is not about zombies.  (But what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t write about your favorite Rancidband releasing a new record!?!)

A week ago, my favorite band, Rancid, released Let the Dominoes Fall,  their first album in six years.  I’ve been listening to it pretty constantly since last Tuesday, and am utterly delighted with it.

I’m a drummer, so I’ll start with the drums:  It’s the band’s first album with new drummer Brendan Steinckert, whom I saw play on Rancid’s last tour.  I thought he was a good drummer, but I didn’t know how he would be at composing original drum parts.  A cynical part of me thought maybe Rancid just picked him because he had big arm muscles.  (I once wrote an article for a music magazine in which I noted that drummers with the fastest hands tend to be either stick-thin or on the chubby side, but not bodybuilders/weightlifters.  The article just made drummers want to kill me.)  But any fears I harbored about how Steinckert might change the band’s sound were completely allayed by Let the Dominoes Fall.  His drumming is talented and tasteful, and he knows when to pull-back on softer numbers.  His tendency to put a crash cymbal on the 4 at the end of a bar (instead of the 1 of the next bar) puts me in mind of Brett Reed (Rancid’s previous drummer) and also the great Topper Headon.  

The songs themselves are awesome, and seem a natural extension of the band’s previous record, Indestructible.  The single “Last One to Die” is just delightful.  It’s the kind of a song that will make you want to join a band.  August Brown, writing in the L.A. Times called the song: “Rancid’s equivalent of a rap veteran’s boast track.”  This description may be technically accurate, but it is hardly sufficient.  The wonderful lyrics go beyond merely listing the band’s accomplishments; they make a case that it is the band’s dedication to authenticity and friendship that has allowed it to succeed over the years while so many others have failed.     

Another highlight for me is the album’s most downtempo track, “Civilian Ways”, about a soldier trying to adjust to coming home from Iraq.  It’s similar to “Arrested in Shanghai” (a song about a political prisoner, off of Indestructible) in that its effectiveness comes from Tim Armstrong’s “non-traditional” vocal style.  The lyrics are all the more moving and authentic-feeling because they are NOT rendered with the saccharine choir-boy voice of an American Idol contestant, but with the garbled, slurred grit of the spittle-throated Armstrong.  When Armstrong sings the song like he does, it is somehow “more real.”  (It makes me think of a reading/lecture I heard Derek Walcott give around 2003 where he read this poem about a non-native English speaker who attempted to name his boat “In God We Trust” but instead wrote “In God We Troust.”  According to Wolcott, the imperfect rendering “Troust” comported more meaning and emotion and insight than the correctly-spelled “Trust” could have.  I think about that Walcott lecture whenever I think about Tim Armstrong’s singing-style.)

Anyhow, I just can’t say enough good things about this record.  Here’s the video for “Last One to Die”:

ZombieTargets.Net

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A target from ZombieTargets.Net

ZombieTargets.net is a website where you can buy firing-range targets that look like zombies.  They’re just $2.50!  (If you’re like me and you live in Chicago–where just about every type of firearm is banned–you could still buy one to put on your wall.  [They look really cool]  Or maybe you could take it out to the yard and just throw rocks at it or something.  That might be fun too.)

The virtual home of writer Scott Kenemore