I went up to Langhorne on Wednesday and down to the local Regal Cinema tonight, and saw two of my favorite movies of the year.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The opening of Zack Snyder’s debut feature is shockingly good – Godfather good. We see a perfectly normal, bored hospital and a nurse (Sarah Polley) about to take off for home. She gets in the car, flips to a nice song on the radio. A neighborhood girl shows off her skating. The nurse’s husband makes cute and talks about upcoming weekends. Then they sleep, and are woken up by the neighborhood girl, bleeding from her face and neck, ripping into the husband’s shoulder. The nurse scrambles outside into a literal apocalypse – cars running over dazed men, screaming women banging to get into a car, trucks caterwauling into gas stations. It really looks like the breakdown of society. I was sold.
The movie slows down after that – only a few sequences approached the beauty of the opening, and few are as effective as the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) that is still one of my very favorite movies. I loved the ammo shop owner bunkered across the street, who communicates with our heroes via dry-erase boards and engages in celebrity zombie sniping. I loved the soldering of people movers in an attempt to make them tanks capable of plowing through zombie hordes.
But there was plenty of stuff that worked in a 2004 horror movie, and paled when compared to the original. I won’t spoil everything, but I’ll say that too many characters are introduced, one goes insane without much motivation, and, yes, the running zombies inevitably step all over the metaphor Romero used to make zombies worthwhile in the first place.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
No matter how much I enjoyed Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (saw both on dates, too), I could never count them as my favorite movies because their endings were such blustery cop-outs. But Eternal Sunshine … has a great ending. There’s nothing to hold it back from becoming an utterly perfect love story.
Like Lost in Translation (definitely an inferior movie), this one actually drove me to examine the corners of frames and think about what was going through characters’ heads. Despicable characters like Patrick (Elijah Wood) do things which are perfectly understandable in the film’s world – if you’re wiping a woman’s mind, and you have all the trinkets from her past relationship, and you want to date her, why not use that stuff to woo her?
Director Michel Gondry throws in details that are funny and pathetic at the same time, often subtle enough that half the audience will laugh and the rest will sort of look down. I’m thinking of the scene when Joel returns to the Lacuna office, and one woman has a bag full of her dog’s toys, and one man has a bag with a basketball trophy poking out. He’s obviously about to erase the memory of his son, but Gondry leaves us looking at the dog lady, and most of my audience chuckled.
Best movie of the year, at least. See it.