Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TV Bites: Zombieland

Chocolate "Twinkies" with Raspberry/Cream Filling

Aooooooo! [cough, cough] Happy Halloween! From day one, my children of the night, I knew one of the films I would do here would be Zombieland, which is one of the most fun times I’ve had in a theater in some time. You just fasten your seat belt (Rule #3) from the moment the movie begins and sit back and enjoy the ride. And, I wanted to try to make Twinkies (more on that below)... How scary is that????

Zombieland is available on Demand via both Amazon and Netflix.


“In fact, the only thing [Tallahassee] was more obsessed about than killing a zombie was finding a Twinkie. Something about the Twinkie reminded him about a time not so long ago when things were simple and not so f----ing psychotic. It was like if he got a taste of that comforting childhood treat, the world would become innocent again and everything would return to normal.”

Zombieland started life as a TV pilot, believe it or not, with John Carpenter set to direct. But after it spent some time in development at CBS, the writers got it back and sold it to Sony.

“The first 45 to 50 minutes of the movie are the pilot and the last half of the movie is essentially episode two,said co-writer Paul Wernick. Though director Reuben Fleischer noted that the final scenes were his idea. “Part of how I got the job, I think, is because it didn't have a natural ending, because it was going to be a television show.... What I brought to it was the idea of giving the movie a destination.... It was my idea to have it be the little girl's dream to go to Pacific Playland, and that be the end point. Have it culminate in a giant zombie killing battle in an amusement park was what I pitched.” (Though to be fair, one of the last lines in the earlier script version before Fleischer got involved is, in response to the question of where to go next, the answer is "I'm going to Disneyland!")

The story begins not long after a virus has broken out (much like in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later) which has spread like wildfire and caused people to turn into human-flesh-eating creatures. Essentially everyone is now either dead, eaten, or zombified (you get the virus through blood-to-blood contact). 20-something Columbus (all characters are only known by their city of origin) explains how a nerd such as he has survived so long in what he's dubbed "The United States of Zombieland" because of his "rules to live by" (there are 32 by the film's end). He shortly meets up with Tallahassee (Harrelson), an older cowboy/redneck who has found his life's calling as a zombie killer. They reluctantly decide to travel together. Soon enough, they are conned by the sister team of Wichita & Little Rock (who is only 12) out of their car & guns. Eventually, they stop chasing each other and travel together to California. Wichita has promised to take her little sister to Pacific Playland (a low budget Disneyland) in the hopes of letting her have one last childhood experience. Columbus & Tallahassee have no where else to go, and besides Columbus is falling for Wichita, so they go along. Lots of zombie killing ensues as the foursome form themselves into a family unit of sorts.

There is a surprise guest star who shows up in the middle of the movie. Originally, the part was written for Patrick Swayze, but then Swayze got ill, and they tried to get Stallone. From there it was “Joe Pesci, Mark Hamill, The Rock, Kevin Bacon, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Matthew McConaughey, who said yes, but backed out at the last minute,said Wernick. At the screening here in Austin, director Fleischer & Woody Harrelson wouldn’t disclose that it was McConaughey, but said that after he bowed out at the last minute, Woody called up his old buddy who signed on. The surprise guest actor, the writers, director and cast improvised some ideas for the scenes and shot it a few days later.

According to the latest gossip, apparently the first draft of Zombieland 2 is completed, but it may be a while before it gets into production. They're also rumors it might be filmed in 3-D.


Now an on-going divisive issue amongst the zombie-obsessed is whether zombies would be slow-moving and fast-moving when the zombie apocalypse occurs. For the longest time, zombies were considered “undead” and just lumbered along. Then, thanks to Michael Jackson, zombies learned to dance. From then on, it was only inevitable that they learned to run. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, was not the first, but the most famous to have first featured running zombies. The "reasoning" was that they were never dead but became zombies because of a virus so they are still limber.

Zombieland director Fleischer said he’s definitely in the fast-moving camp: “We definitely went with the fast zombies, the viral zombies, like from 28 Days Later. Our zombies you don't have to kill by shooting in the head. They're not undead. They don't come back from the grave. They're people that have become infected as opposed to people who have died and supernaturally risen from the grave. Zombie purists don't even call our zombies 'zombies,' because to be a zombie you have to be undead. That's something zombie purists can fight about for years and years to come.

Simon Pegg, writer & star of Shaun of the Dead has seemingly spent a great deal of time considering this issue. “[W]erewolves can't fly; zombies do not run. It's a misconception, a bastardization that diminishes a classic movie monster.... More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety.... The absence of rage or aggression in slow zombies makes them oddly sympathetic, a detail that enabled Romero to project depth on to their blankness, to create tragic anti-heroes; his were figures to be pitied, empathized with, even rooted for. The moment they appear angry or petulant, the second they emit furious velociraptor screeches (as opposed to the correct mournful moans of longing), they cease to possess any ambiguity. They are simply mean.

George Romero, the “Godfather of the Zombie Film,” sides with Pegg. He's said: "Zombies don't run. They can't! Their ankles would snap.... What did they do - wake from the dead and immediately join a health club? I don't get it."

Nevertheless, whether they're limber or lumbering, moviemakers and movie audiences have yet to tire of a good zombie flick, and this is definitely a great one.


"I'm not a Twinkie lover,said Woody Harrelson, who is a card-carrying vegan. “I don't do sugar or dairy either. When we finally shot my Twinkie-eating scene in [Zombieland], they had to give me a specially made mock Twinkie made of corn meal.” For those who feel the need to try such a thing, I did find a vegan Twinkie recipe here.

This year, 2010, marks the 80th birthday of the Twinkie. (At least, 1930 is the official year according to Hostess. A Google search of other sites state 1931 or 1933, depending. Wikipedia plays it safe with "about 1930.") According to the folks at Hostess: "James A. Dewar created the beloved treat in 1930, while working as a Hostess bakery manager in Chicago. Looking to make better use of shortcake pans that sat idle except for a short strawberry season, Dewar decided to inject the little golden cakes with a smooth crème filling (first banana and later vanilla following a banana shortage during World War II). A St. Louis billboard advertising “Twinkle Toe” shoes inspired the name for the two-for-a-nickel treat and an American icon was born." 500 million Twinkies are made every year.

"The core ingredients in Twinkies have been the same for decades: flour, sugar and water. Deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe," wrote Steve Ettinger, author of Twinkie, Deconstructed, his book wherein he spends a chapter on each of the 39 (yes, 39!) ingredients of a factory-made Hostess Twinkie. "I’d always wondered what those strange-sounding ingredients were as I read labels purely out of habit, going through the motions without ever understanding or even gaining any knowledge. Then and there, I decided to put an end to the mystery and find out."

Other scientists have researched even deeper mysteries of the Twinkie.

One of the most infamous stories about the Twinkie involves the slaying of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. As the story goes, murderer Dan White was high on eating Twinkies which made him crazy and his lawyers used this as a defense. However, the myth of the "Twinkie Defense" is more myth than reality. "I don't think Twinkies were ever mentioned in testimony," said chief defense attorney Douglas Schmidt, who recalled "HoHos and Ding Dongs." But Twinkies were, in fact, mentioned, but only in passing to point to a junk food diet of White's. The main thrust of White's defense was "diminished capacity" and depression. Neverthless, the media grabbed on to the Twinkie idea.

I have no defense to the fact that I am not really a huge fan of the Twinkie. My junk food snack of choice growing up was the Ring Ding. However, I thought it would be fun to make a Twinkie that I'd like. But....

Okay... I AM NOT A BAKER! I admit it. I can follow a recipe, but I'm not a baker. I tried 3 different times, different recipes, but I could not get these to work right. The cakelet was either too tough or too spongy, and the filling never attained the thickness it should. If you ARE a baker and can get the cakelets right and the filling thick enough, please post a comment and enlighten me. There are copycat recipes for regular Twinkies, but the chocolate remix was beyond my skills. So, in the recipe below the a-bit-too-cakey/spongy cakelets I saw here which is basically the same recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and the filling I got from Bon Appetit.

But you know what... I gave up and just poured the raspberry cream sauce over the cakelets and they tasted just fine. No complaints at the dinner table. And this is supposed to be an "adventure," after all. We do what we can. So, here's the recipe and let me know if you get it to work, thanks!

Cook, watch, eat, and enjoy!

Chocolate Twinkies with Raspberry/Cream Filling
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makes 8

For the cakelets:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2/3 cup non-fat milk

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package frozen raspberries, thawed (about 2 cups)

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350° F. Generously spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Measure out all the ingredients, except the eggs, directly into your mixer bowl. Mix on low speed just until incorporated. Turn mixer speed to high and beat for 2 minutes. Add eggs, (one at a time) and continue to beat on high speed for 2 additional minutes.

3. Divide the batter among the wells of the prepared pan. Bake until the cakelets spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cakelets cool for 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto the rack, gently tap the pan bottom and lift off the pan. Let the cakelets cool completely.

4. For filling: Using electric mixer, beat ingredients in large bowl until very firm peaks form.

5. Either "attempt to" pipe the filling into the cakelets, or make a slit and try to spoon in, or simply pour over as a sauce. Goes well with some Vanilla Ice Cream on the side....

P.S. - If you buy the Norpro Twinkie Pan (see below), what I've read is don't try using the enclosed "decorator kit," but either make or buy a piping bag. Supposedly, the enclosed one is crap and will make a mess.

Interview with Zombieland director Reuben Fleischer
Woody Harrelson & Jesse Eisenberg Video Interview
A Brief History of the Hollywood Zombie
Top 20 Zombie Movies @
Official Hostess Twinkie Page
The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project, Science Experiments with Twinkies
The Myth of the Twinkie Defense

Zombieland DVD
Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, by Glenn Kay and Stuart Gordon
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, by Max Brooks
The Twinkies Cookbook: An Inventive and Unexpected Recipe Collection from Hostess
Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey..., by Steve Ettlinger
Norpro Cream Canoe Pan (aka Twinkie Pan) w 9-Piece Decorating Set

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