Zombieland: Double Tap

Release: Friday, October 18, 2019

→On Demand

Written by: Rhett Reese; Paul Wernick; Dave Callaham

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

I’m not much of a zombie guy but I have a lot of time for Zombieland. The original, now over a decade old, was this fun little hang-out movie set at the end of the world, a nice, self-contained story that took the zombie threat about as seriously as any movie needs to in my opinion. Its energy was propelled by banter and pop culture references almost in equal measure, as a group of strangers tried to survive a particularly bad outbreak of a disease that turned cows mad and people into, well, ravenous bloodthirsty creatures.

The last time we saw the old crew, they — the rule-making Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Twinkie-loving tough-guy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the clever and resourceful sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) — were leaving the scene of a major zombie beat-down at an amusement park somewhere in California. It seemed to me and I think to pretty much everybody that this was a natural end to their story. Clearly director Ruben Fleischer didn’t have enough closure and in 2019 he dropped the long-not-awaited sequel, hoping to recapture at least some of the magic from the first.

As it turns out, he was on to something.

When it comes to style, Zombieland: Double Tap — the name is inspired by Rule #2 in Columbus’ handy little survival guide — definitely has it. That’s because it is pretty much the same movie, now with Homers, Hawkings and T-800s (suborders of zombie that are hilariously dumb, horrifyingly intelligent and near-impossible to kill, respectively) thrown in the mix. The flashy presentation is a carbon copy, right down to certain camera angles and motifs — scenes of Woody Harrelson briefly losing it in a fit of rage and of gnarly zombie kills choreographed sublimely to the blasting guitars of Metallica . . . oh, and the neat little thing the editors do with the on-screen text, integrating words into the environment in some really creative ways.

It’s the way Fleischer justifies all the time in between that makes Double Tap a surprisingly substantive and sentimental update. It helps to have your entire original cast return and to have the caliber actors who can easily slip back into character like no time has passed and yet still convey that it has. This is a sequel that not only benefits from consistency, but a natural sense of evolution. While most of them don’t look like they’ve aged (and Eisenberg is almost comically eternally boyish), Abigail Breslin was a mere 12 years old at the time Zombieland was filmed. The young actor has done the most growing up and shrewdly Fleischer and his writing team offer the sequel as a coming-of-age story where, effectively, every A-lister in the movie defers to her arc, even Eisenberg and Stone, whose Columbus and Wichita are dealing with their own little fall-out after the former proposes the one thing that scares the latter more than any zombie — marriage.

Through a combination of cabin fever and having tired of Tallahassee’s overly protective quasi-parenting, Little Rock desperately seeks independence, eventually crossing paths with a pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia) who whisks her away to this zombie-free utopia called Babylon where guns and troublemakers are the only things unwelcome. The resulting movie becomes another cross-country adventure that, along with culturing the viewer in the diaspora of post-apocalyptic American landmarks, introduces some solid new supporting characters en route to reuniting with Little Rock.

Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson pop up briefly, mostly to get turned into zombies, but not before serving up a surprisingly effective and protracted doppelgänger gag, while Rosario Dawson is in as Nevada, who is pitched not just as an obvious savior for Harrelson’s lonely soul but also his intellectual/emotional equal — one of my out-and-out favorite scenes in either movie is the hostile manner in which they first meet near Graceland.

And we may have lost Bill Murray along the way, but Double Tap does counter-offer Zoey Deutch in what is easily the movie’s stand-out performance, playing this total space cadet named Madison who, relative to this narrative at least, comes from a shopping mall freezer and adds this whole other whacky dynamic to the mix. Instead of being an annoyance her dumb-blonde archetype is the movie’s revelation and I for one would recommend the movie on her contributions alone. Her Madison becomes a part of the crew’s growing pains and really inspires some good reactions from Emma Stone.

Anyone who has sat through a Zoolander 2 or a Dumb & Dumber To or — yikes! — an Independence Day: Resurgence knows not to trust the ten-year belated sequel. In fact it almost feels like Double Tap breaks the rules by actually being good, that oh so rare justified sequel that delivers both on world-expansion and character growth while never abandoning the breezy narrative formula that made the original a hit. With a cast this good, it’s easy to keep the good times rolling even when the world is falling apart around you.

I know. I know it’s a spoiler. But it’s just too good not to share.

Recommendation: I’m having serious debates with myself over which movie is better. I’m actually leaning toward the sequel. Think about it. A sequel has to do something extra just to draw even with, be as good as, its predecessor. A good original movie debuts with no standard set against it. Double Tap has to overcome familiarity and it does that really well by introducing some quality new characters and perhaps most importantly by keeping the tone light. There’s a version of these movies that could be really dark, like The Road dark; remembering back to Columbus’ narration in the original about how everyone has been made an orphan in the wake of the virus. But these are stoner comedies of equal value. The fact Double Tap outgrossed its predecessor might be the strongest testament to that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “There I was, hiding in the woods, when I thought, ‘I used to live in a freezer, so why not a freezer on wheels?”

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Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

#OscarsQuiteUnpredictable

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Steve Harvey reaching out to Warren Beatty after he was involved in what has got to be the most embarrassing SNAFU in Oscars history — and possibly of the actor’s career — strikes me as humorous for some reason. I know it isn’t funny, but what if there really is some support group for this sort of thing? Victims of Award Ceremony Gaffes Anonymous, does that exist?

Look, I’m not here to point fingers and perpetuate the blame game because, well, I feel as though a sufficient pall has been cast over Barry Jenkins’ legitimate victory and Jimmy Kimmel’s first Oscars hosting gig. Poor guy. It’s not like he was the greatest host ever — the highlight of his night is without a doubt his manipulating the pit orchestra in order to rush Matt Damon off stage as he was presenting, which was amusing but not good enough to make me stop missing Billy Crystal.

But Kimmel’s night was going really well and for it to end in such a bizarre and awkward way, it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. Or just assume that M. Night Shyamalan had played a part. And we all know that while it was probably the decent thing to do to try and divert the awkwardness away from the presenters (does anyone know what country Faye Dunaway is now living in by the way?) and towards himself, we also know this was not his fault. A scheme like this would be too complex for Jimmy Kimmel to mastermind, anyway. Besides, I don’t feel bad for the talk show host in the way I feel bad for La La Land.

ryan-gosling-snubbedI suppose the good that came out of this “custody battle” — besides the fact that one of the most deserving films in recent memory actually took home top honors — was that we got to know a little bit more about La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz. It’s almost unreasonable how composed he was. How gracious in defeat he was. How sincerely his congratulations were offered to his competitors. I think there’s something we can all learn from the way he (and others) handled their situation.

I rated the two films differently but truth be told, and given everything that happened on Sunday, I think I would have been alright if the honor were shared between both films. That’s where the Academy really screwed things up. (Okay, I guess I am going to have to do a little scapegoating here.) Sure, PwC has taken the heat and rightfully so, but even if there were not enough trophies to go around on stage, I don’t know how you can allow for something like this to happen.

And it’s not like ties haven’t happened before, because they have. Six times actually. Six times a producer or director or cast member was spared the humiliation of being cut-off mid-acceptance speech because they hadn’t, in fact, any right to be making it. Of course, the way the 89th Academy Awards ended feels like a first. This wasn’t an example of indecision or voter fraud. This was an unprecedented production fiasco that unfolded in real time. To further troll the Academy and PwC, I’m really not sure if there could have been any protocol for this. And I really doubt there will be a ‘next time,’ so there probably never will be.

With the elephant in the room having been addressed, allow me to breakdown the categories that I featured in my preview post:

Best Picture (Winner: Moonlight) 

What I predicted: La La Land

If I had it my way: Moonlight

Well, the cast and crew of La La Land certainly went skipping up on stage because for a fleeting moment, as I had predicted, life for them was but a dream. But oh man, how fleeting that feeling was . . .

On the bright side, Moonlight becomes just the second LGBTQ-related film ever, behind Midnight Cowboy in 1970, to win Best Picture. And it is the first time in Oscars history a film with an all-black cast has won the award. Just let that sink in for a second.

Directing (Winner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land)

What I predicted: Damien Chazelle

If I had it my way: Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special

No real surprise here. The art that lives within the 32-year-old director is undoubtedly unique and profound. For him to go from directing a film like Whiplash to La La Land in the span of three years is, well, the guys at Consequence of Sound said it best: it’s just baffling.

Actor in a Leading Role (Winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea)

What I predicted: Casey Affleck

If I had it my way: Casey Affleck

Amazing. To go from being the architect of your own potential destruction to Oscar-winner in the span of a few months is about as crazy as #EnvelopeGate. When a sexual harassment scandal reared its ugly head once again in the lead-up the Oscars, it seemed Ben Affleck’s younger, smaller and generally awkward brother had the odds stacked against him. Not to trivialize the troubling story that has been following the actor for some time, but his work in Manchester By the Sea deserved the win. It is almost enough to make us forget that hey, Oscar winners ain’t saints. I said ‘almost.’

Actress in a Leading Role (Winner: Emma Stone, La La Land)

What I predicted: Emma Stone

If I had it my way: Amy Adams, Arrival

Emma Stone, you need not worry if I’m doubting the legitimacy of your win. Your work in the movie speaks for itself. Your ‘Audition’ scene took my breath away, and I never quite got it back. I’m so glad Leo didn’t have any trouble with his presentation, because the Oscar absolutely went to the right person this year. Emma Stone has further cemented herself as one of the most meteoric stars of her generation. Jennifer Lawrence, watch your back.

Actor in a Supporting Role (Winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight)

What I predicted: Mahershala Ali

If I had it my way: Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man

I love that in an era where Muslims are feeling more and more persecuted and marginalized in this country, one has just taken home Oscar gold. It feels something close to poetic justice, even if other artists this year have indeed suffered the effects of an unprecedented travel ban. I was introduced to Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Remy Danton in Netflix’s brilliant political drama House of Cards. I was impressed right away. In Moonlight, his turn as an empathetic drug dealer who exerts major influence on the young Chiron early in the narrative, is enough to break your heart. But in ways you might not expect. It’s a stunning supporting turn, and a big part of the reason I thought Moonlight was able to reach some other psychic level that La La Land just couldn’t.

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Actress in a Supporting Role (Winner: Viola Davis, Fences)

What I predicted: Viola Davis

If I had it my way: Viola Davis

Viola Davis was one of the only true locks for the evening, the other being the winner of Best Documentary Feature (congratulations to Ezra Edelman and O.J.: Made in America for a well-deserved but, yes, very inevitable win). So while I didn’t exactly jump for joy when Davis won, I was nonetheless psyched for the woman. The Oscar win identifies her as the first black actress to complete the Triple Crown of Acting. She has officially taken home an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony Award for her scintillating work as beleaguered housewife Rose Maxson.

Animated Feature (Winner: Zootopia

What I predicted: Zootopia

If I had it my way: Moana

Blah. Zootopia was good I guess, but this is becoming one of those movies where, the more I hear about it, the more I’m feeling disdain for it. Studio animations have this unprecedented burden of becoming message movies these days, so I guess that’s what the Academy was looking for this year. How many heavy, controversial issues can you jam into one colorful little narrative? That’s the competition. Me, personally? I would have taken anything over the contrived kumbaya of this Disney “classic.” Even The Red Turtle, whatever the hell that is.

Cinematography (Winner: Linus Sandgren, La La Land)

What I predicted: Linus Sandgren

If I had it my way: Emmanuel Lubezki, Knight of Cups

So you could look at the Best Picture fiasco two different ways. You could feel terrible that La La Land lost in the manner that they did, or you could look at them as being a production that simply missed out on lucky #7. Yeah, they were involved in one of the most egregious mix-ups in an event of this magnitude but they also walked away with SIX OTHER TROPHIES. Inarguably one of the categories they absolutely had in the bag was this one. Linus Sandgren’s ability to capture Los Angeles in a classically romantic, old-fashioned way while reminding the viewer that they are experiencing events in the present tense is truly astonishing. La La Land is a technicolor dream sequence executed to perfection. The iconic Griffith Observatory has rarely looked so good before.

Costume Design (Winner: Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)

What I predicted: Colleen Atwood

If I had it my way: Timothy Everest and Sammy Sheldon Differ, Assassin’s Creed

For a film that I actually never bothered to see I was really pleased with the final result. Though I really didn’t see any of the other nominees challenging the fantastic (sorry) and ornate wardrobe drummed up by the costume designer of such classics as The Silence of the Lambs and Edward Scissorhands.

Production Design (Winner: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land)

What I predicted: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

If I had it my way: Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte, Arrival

I conclude my wrap-up with another fairly predictable result and La La Land‘s first Oscar win of the night. I could make the case for Arrival‘s ability to craft iconic imagery out of simpler elements being more impressive than what the Wascos (a husband-and-wife duo who worked on such films as Inglourious Basterds and Pulp Fiction) were able to achieve. After all, the latter were afforded the unique and historic architecture and landscape of metropolitan L.A., while Arrival‘s production design team were tasked with making the rural pastures of Montana seem eerie. But, call it what it is: La La Land is a gorgeously rendered production whose heart and soul is owed to more than just the infectious lead performances and a few jazz numbers.


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La La Land

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Release: Friday, December 9, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Damien Chazelle 

Directed by: Damien Chazelle 

Damien Chazelle’s critically-acclaimed modern musical is being hailed as one of the most original movies in years. That’s not surprising given the cinematic environment into which it has been born. It’s hard not to appreciate the oasis in a sprawling desert. While Disney animation in particular continues to inject original song and dance into each new incarnation, barring one or two high-profile exceptions the traditional musical has been all but banished from contemporary cineplexes. La La Land represents a change of tone from the writer-director’s previous exploration of creative obsession, and the scope has been broadened with the way he interrogates aspects of life beyond the singular pursuit of perfection. What he presents in 2016 is a lively, upbeat jazz musical that revisits several familiar themes.

Viewed through the lens of career ambition (okay, yes — obsession), the city of broken dreams offers an uncanny backdrop. Approximately 60 L.A. locales were used, ranging from dilapidated trolley stations to infamous stretches of freeway near the bustling metropolis. Coupled with the bright, neon lights and iconic landmarks, La La Land is a romantic outing in more ways than one. It is visually spectacular, an ambition unto itself. And while many of the musical interludes won’t leave any lasting impression, two of them — the catchy opening tune ‘Another Day of Sun’ and Emma Stone‘s stand-out solo ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ — are absolutely fantastic. These are certifiable “Oscar moments.”

La La Land tosses several significant and believable obstacles in the paths of our protagonists, once more asking viewers what we would sacrifice to ensure our dreams become realized. Our story, as it were, is constructed out of the interactions between two star-crossed lovers — Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) — as they evolve from strangers with road rage to significant others. In their third romantic pairing (Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad being the others), the actors feel entirely natural together. Under the guidance of Chazelle the two really are wonderful. They’re first spotted in the very traffic jam that opens the film in a surprisingly thrilling fashion. They’re not exactly amiable towards each other at first, with Sebastian blaring his horn at Mia having grown tired of the woman in front of him not paying attention to her surroundings.

Quite serendipitously the two will meet again, first at a small restaurant where Sebastian has just been fired for disobeying his manager (J.K. Simmons in a cameo) who told him explicitly not to play any jazz, only the Christmas jingles. This encounter is also far from pleasant. Later the two meet again at a couple of L.A. parties, where they could be meeting anyone. I would have rolled my eyes more but Chazelle writes so well forgiving these nagging coincidences is not only easy, it’s mandatory. Cheesiness is part of the fabric of the musical. Despite feigning disinterest in one another via the film’s obvious centerpiece — a beautifully choreographed dance number near Griffith Observatory synchronized with a setting sun that bathes the valley in royal purple — the two share an irresistible charm that reminded me of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s affectionate ribbing in Eternal Sunshine.

As the two eventually entwine their lives together they attempt to motivate each other to make their dreams become realities. A passionate jazz pianist, Sebastian sees himself opening his own club one day, despite how he barely gets by on the gigs he plays right now. The aforementioned fall-out at the restaurant finds the musician relegated to playing synth for an 80s cover band at birthday parties. His girlfriend scratches her head when she sees him stooping to a new low by going on tour with a mainstream band headed by a high school acquaintance named Keith (John Legend). “Do you like this kind of music?” Mia asks during a heated exchange over a candlelit dinner. Sebastian stabs back with a reminder that her acting career has yet to take off. Refreshingly, this relationship isn’t perfect. Matters of practicality vs. idealism begin creating friction. Sebastian maintains he is doing whatever he can to make ends meet. He no longer can afford to be so idealistic.

In La La Land conviction is everything. Enthusiasm and vigor prevent the production from descending into schmaltz. It’s a quality that applies to virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process, from Chazelle’s emphatic direction to the complicated dance routines that give characters as much soul as any awards-baiting monologue ever could. From the meticulous location scouting to the cinematography that makes Los Angeles bleed colors we haven’t seen since Nicolas Winding Refn lit the place on fire with 2011’s Drive. The songs won’t make you want to sing in the rain like Gene Kelly, nor are they quite as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as anything Julie Andrews did . . . but hey, they’re still catchy. And given the inexperience of the cast — Gosling learned to play piano and tap dance for his part, while Stone reportedly had some balance issues — the fact that we catch ourselves moving our feet in rhythm speaks volumes about the harmony of the post-production process. La La Land comes together very well, despite several familiar elements.

The film’s music is almost always fantastical, in some instances even ethereal as a lone spotlight falls on the singer of the moment while the rest of the world fades to black. But the fantasy doesn’t subtract from the authenticity of the emotions on  display.  Impressively the story stays rooted in reality, and the experience is not exactly pain-free. Chazelle is a passionate advocate for jazz music, clearly. I mean of all things, he landed on a jazz musical, in a day and age where country singers and pop stars are being manufactured on game shows. In an era of jaded 20-year-olds who think jazz is just music stuck in the past. And while thematically it feels like the writer-director is somewhat treading water post-Whiplash, ultimately he inspires simply because of the gamble he just took to realize his own ambitions.

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4-0Recommendation: La La Land, a film with enough verve and color to supply at least five other major productions, lingers in the mind because of the fascinating combination of modern actors performing arguably outmoded roles in an era where the musical is no longer popular. It’s a film for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fans and jazz lovers alike. It’s a film for romantics. But if you’re heading in expecting Damien Chazelle to up his game from Whiplash, you might find yourself disappointed. Because that film was a stroke of genius. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 128 mins. 

Quoted: “You could just write your own rules. You know, write something that’s as interesting as you are.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Superbad (2007)

Time to break out your favorite JanSport backpack, No.2 pencils and loose leaf notebook paper boys and girls, because it’s once again time to go back to hell school in this second edition of Throwback to School September. (Catchy phrase, right?) Fortunately in this world, all you’ll really need is a backpack to throw in some illegally purchased bottles of liquor as you seek high school celebrity status in 

Today’s food for thought: Superbad.

Becoming McLovin’ since: August 17, 2007

[DVD]

Instead of offering my thoughts on this raucous comedy from the dirty minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, I figured I’d once again do something a little different with this TBT and list the ten things I was reminded of about high school having watched this movie. I will just say that one thing that works in this film’s favor, aside from the ideal casting of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — all three physically embodying high school seniors while simultaneously fully embracing their juvenile mentality — is a script that tells it like it is. After all, Superbad was never a film you wanted to watch with the parents, it’s too awkward. Just like high school.

TEN THINGS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL SUPERBAD REMINDED ME OF

#1) Hormones dictate every decision (and purchase) you make.

#2) We gave teachers way too much shit. They’re too underpaid to be this under-appreciated, even if half of what they taught us we never ended up using.

#3) Some cliché about how generally useless P.E. classes were. Why couldn’t high school have recess, like the good old elementary school days? And why did we have to wear those tatty shirts that were cribbed from a Wal-Mart dumpster?

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#4) Of all the rites of passages, getting your driver’s license was one of the greatest because it meant you could go and hang out with your friends whenever you wanted. Only drawback? Being 16 and having a curfew.

#5) Going to a party where you didn’t really know anyone and where everyone was older than you was the most uncomfortable thing ever. Especially when you found out that some of them were coked out of their minds.

#6) Teenage crushes. Awwwwwwww

#7) Every year there seemed to be at least one major fight. We’d always gather in the parking lot of The Fresh Market to see who would win. Most of the time all they amounted to was a bunch of shouting and insults regarding a certain female parental unit. But every once in awhile we were treated to a spectacular showdown.

#8) Peer pressure could be a bitch.

#9) Adults seemed lame at the time. (Spoiler alert: they still are.)

#10) Senior year is a bittersweet time. Friendships are fleeting, and who knows where everyone ends up in college. The trick is to make the most of what time you have left together.


Recommendation: One of the definitive movies about the high school experience, Superbad is a must-watch, especially if you’re facing your ten year high school reunion. Endowed with an incredible script that’s essentially a pervert’s stream of consciousness, and armed with superb performances from its entire cast Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg struck comedic gold with their story that’s loosely based on their own experiences. Pretty much a modern classic. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: When this was being filmed, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was 17 years old and so his mother had to be present on set during his sex scene. I guess for some, the awkwardness from high school never goes away.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Release: Friday, October 17, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu; Nicolás Giacobone; Alexander Dinelaris Jr.; Armando Bo

Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu 

Michael Keaton as Birdman as Batman, is awesome.

Behind him, a coterie of memorable characters, some fictitious and others parodies of the performers playing them. There’s Ed Norton in his underwear, Emma Stone in a drug rehab phase (if you thought she was good before, Birdman demonstrates that there is another level of impressive that she’s capable of reaching), and Zach Galifianakis, subdued to the point of being unrecognizable. There are so many elements to carry with you out of the theater, but it is these individuals who will preoccupy your thoughts more often than anything else.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the fifth film from Mexico City-born Alejandro González Iñárritu and my first experience with his work. It tells the tale of a desperate and washed-up actor, Riggan Thomson, trying to salvage his career by mounting his first Broadway play, one based upon American writer Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. When one of the play’s star performers is ‘accidentally’ injured on set, Riggan stumbles upon what first appears to be his ideal candidate, a well-established actor by the name of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) for the part. But in the days leading up to opening night, a string of on and off-set snafu’s threatens to shut down the play before it has even debuted.

Two decades after Riggan decided to step away from the role of the popular (and fictional) superhero Birdman he is found succumbing to hair loss and possible mental instability while scrambling for a way to revitalize himself. The film unequivocally runs parallel to Keaton’s own Hollywood experience, particularly the years after he exited Tim Burton’s take on Batman. Now, Birdman doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of the actor’s history but every little bit of familiarity is likely to enhance the experience. For those who know, the struggle is indeed very real.

Birdman is a film student’s guide to establishing creative shots. Cameras spend much of the time following Riggan around the cramped interior of the famed St. James Theater in New York City, occasionally ducking out of the building to deal with side stories involving his troubled daughter Sam (Stone) and to put into perspective Riggan’s dual identities — as an aging actor and a former superhero. He’ll have you know that there are distinct differences, unique burdens and even particular liberating powers. And what better way to try and visualize the concept of a man struggling to accept who is than by hiring the incredibly talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (don’t take it from me, check out his work in Gravity). Once again, his cameras find some of the most beautiful imagery in difficult and unusual places.

There’s one technical aspect that really separates the film from other tales of ill-conceived attempts at career resuscitation, and that’s Iñárritu’s wanting to give the impression the movie is cut as one long, continuous take. Thanks to Douglas Crise’s crucial editing, it’s much easier to feel a part of the process because we never feel as if we’re watching a series of scenes strung together. There’s a flow to the proceedings that could very easily be overlooked in favor of the impossible dynamic between its cast and setting.

If the unexpected virtue of ignorance does have fault, it’s just that: too many things to ogle over and become infatuated with. It might be too dynamic a picture, but that’s more a passive-aggressive compliment than a sleight against a director who simply has a wealth of strong ideas surfacing at once. In some ways Iñárritu’s imagination is like that of a child’s: exploding with ideas and bright color, an obsession with the fundamentals of existence, things like popularity. Self-identity. Awareness of the place that has you contained. In Riggan’s case, it’s more a fear and confusion over these things from his past than apprehension and curiosity about what the future holds.

Riggan is a complex and massively entertaining character. But he is merely one piece of a fascinating jigsaw puzzle that crams stellar performances — Galifianakis, as Riggan’s best friend, lawyer and producer Jake, deserves a second mention perhaps more than Stone — as well as a passion for theater, and positively thrilling and adventurous storytelling into a relatively taut two hours. Is this the part where I am supposed to mention something about the score as well? Surely the jazz-drum score laid down by Antonio Sanchez will linger in the mind well after the end credits have rolled.

Here’s a production that is as uniquely bizarre as it is efficient and deceptively straightforward. Actors are, more often than not, some pretty insecure people. Actors want to be liked. They ideally would like to be adored by all. While that’s never going to be true, one is still allowed to dream. Here are those dreams visualized, distorted and shaped as if made of something tangible. As far as Iñárritu and Birdman are concerned, anything is possible through the magic of performance art. I absolutely loved this movie.

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5-0Recommendation: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one whacky ride. Its outward appearance is likely to scare away a few who aren’t too impressed with kinky stories. For god’s sakes we have Ed Norton fighting Keaton in his undergarments, actresses making out with each other for the hell of it, and a man seemingly possessing an ability to control things with his mind. (If that wasn’t telekinesis, whatever the director’s doing with that little extra bit certainly propels the film further into the weird.) But it’s such weird, good fun and if you are game for a movie that is a little different from the rest, I can’t recommend a better one right now than this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sixty is the new thirty, motherf**ker.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Release: Friday, May 2, 2014

[Theater]

His greatest battle begins, and so does mine. . .

The web-slinging hero is back on the big screen in 2014 but it is much to many viewers’ dismay that the final product doesn’t deliver the goods. . .at least, not in terms of doing it the way recent superhero packages have handled things. And while people up and declare the latest chapter in Steve Rogers’ saga as being a bold break from convention within the genre (I am inclined to agree), they ought to give consideration to this non-Marvel film property as well.

My spidey senses are tingling, and they sense a filmmaker desiring to go a different direction as far as the story’s presentation is concerned. Busy with multiple villains offering multiple story arcs that impact on Peter Parker’s double-life in a multitude of ways, the plot to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is considerably less focused than that of it’s predecessor, as it appears more interested in presenting conflicts and developments episodically rather than condensing information into a taut and dramatic narrative.

As you make these choices, Mr. Webb, keep in mind: with great power comes great responsibility.

It’s another (read: fantastic) day in the life of Spider-Man as he slingshots his way through tight corridors lined with looming edifices and over the heads of captivated (and conveniently placed) on-lookers — plucking children, police officers, even a desperately lonely and low-level OsCorp engineer named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) out of harm’s way as an out-of-control tanker truck carrying plutonium samples and driven by a crazed Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) smashes through the city. The chase is pretty convenient for Spidey as he kicks crime’s ass on his way to his high school graduation, where his non-web-spinning girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is preparing to deliver her valedictorian speech.

At a life crossroads, Peter and Gwen discuss what the future holds. For Gwen, it’s looking like an opportunity to study at Oxford University on a prestigious scholarship; for Peter, it’s likely more tangoing with the criminal underworld. It’s this very reality that drives a wedge in their otherwise idyllic relationship; Gwen says Spider-Man is great and all, but she needs Peter more. And clearly that part of Peter is unwilling to up and drop his duties to the city. Undoubtedly it is this conundrum, this tug-of-war between two souls that drives the film’s drama, rather than the hero’s relationship(s) with the villain(s). Odd that a romance should take precedence over the fantastical concerns of the titular superhero that we were led to believe would comprise his ‘greatest battle,’ but fans of the franchise should take what they can get. After all I’m trying to stay positive here.

The strength of chemistry between leads Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield is a big positive. While their relationship was certainly on solid footing in the previous film, TASM-2 really allows it to blossom. It’s too bad the rest of the film’s backdrop isn’t as compelling. The emergence of foes like Electro — whose chuckle-inducing radiance is the result of an unfortunate (and somewhat predictable) accident involving Max and a tank of electric eels — the Green Goblin, and the Rhino seem less like threats than elements that get shoehorned in to give Spider-Man something to do while contemplating permanently breaking away from Gwen.

In the context of this story, each of these characters come and go in a flash, acting as brief chapters in a much bigger story that will likely encompass this movie and the next. And so, they feel like nothing more than afterthoughts. It’s a tactic that, in addition to making these threats feel a tad wasted, leaves a lot of dead space in between action sequences, a fact that really hampers the film’s pacing and flow. We also aren’t ever afforded the opportunity to really dig into the motives of any of the villains. Even Electro is considerably underdeveloped for being the film’s most immediate threat. Oh. . .right, he wants attention. Whoop-dee-doo. So do I. . . . which is why I developed a movie blog! 😀

Awkward pacing and lots of narrative drift are problems that any general moviegoer is likely to pick up on, though the above is hardly an exhaustive list for those who flat-out reject this franchise as a legitimate entity. It probably doesn’t need to be said that if the first film didn’t do much for you, this one will do much, much less.

While cheesy dialogue is built into the formula of not only this franchise but the one preceding it, levels appear to be left unchecked this time around. It was as if Marc Webb set the dial on ‘Silly’ and left it there. In a variety of contexts, dialogue ranges from eye-rollingly to face-palmingly bad. At times the script can’t possibly seem to be in final draft form. Paul Giamatti’s over-the-top Rhino is exemplary. One hopes he gets more to do in future installments. . .and that his character actually gets to materialize as well. Same applies to Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, whose descent into madness is at once very difficult to empathize with, and categorically cliché. Beginning with the obligatory deathbed scene he shares with his rapidly deteriorating father, and culminating in a thoroughly disappointing final fight scene, the Goblin’s story arc feels contrived.

At the end of the day, the film aims at displaying the second chapter in the new Spider-Man canon by casting a web of multiple threats and thematic elements, but it ultimately fails to focus on any one thing. Reiterating, The Amazing Spider-Man has good reason to exist; the Webb-era has ushered in a more emotional and slightly more personal world surrounding Spider-Man and his origins are better accounted for here. But the current story needs to be more than just how well Garfield and Stone get along, even if their dating in real life actually seems to positively influence the film rather than distract from it.

Now let’s just hope they stay together, for I fear if the two split up that that’s exactly how we get Spiderman 3: The Marc Webb Edition. I’m pretty sure I would not be able to handle Andrew Garfield turning into an emo Spider-Man.

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zappin’ da beeaasss!

2-5Recommendation: Though it falls pretty far short of being a superior version that expands upon its predecessor’s ambition, this follow-up still offers a lot of the emotional release that the first one did, and the visuals in this film are pretty spectacular. In fact, they are amazing and truly deserving of that description. Less so is the script, which may turn away even a fair amount of fans. Not being the most devout reader of the comic, but a supporter of the re-boot all the same, I really and truly believe Marc Webb could have done better. This isn’t a bad film but it certainly is guilty of underachieving.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 142 mins.

Quoted: “Hey, lick that. You are not a nobody, you are a somebody. You’re my eyes and ears out here.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Movie 43

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Release: Friday, January 25, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Two or three months’ worth of frenzied anticipation. . . . . for THIS?!?! What a waste of my time, and of an excellent cast! As if the audience reactions (or lack thereof) aren’t enough to drown this gross-out “comedy,” then we’ve gotta think bigger: how the heck are the stars of this film reacting to how Movie 43 was put together? I mean, what were they thinking getting involved?

All the previews, community buzz and generally negative reviews thereafter couldn’t prepare me for the sheer stupidity of this sprawling mess of a movie. While I understand that is kind of the whole point to Movie 43 — I sensed a mocking, if not altogether disdainful view towards not just Hollywood (hence Dennis Quaid’s role in this film) but the entire human race given the level of gruesomeness — there simply must have been at least a baker’s dozen different and far better ways to shape this rebellious beast. In the weeks and days leading up to its release, the talk about this film’s potential reached epic heights. I’m not sure if people knew what was coming. . . . .like, they actually could sense the incoming turds about to hit them in the face with this raunchfest, or what the dealio was but the faces of moviegoers nationwide as they go into the film and then exit could compare to something like pre- and post-homicide mug shots. If my point hasn’t yet been clear enough, don’t go see Movie 43 if you’re not into tasteless tastelessness.

Only go if you’re willing to subject yourself to shameful, mostly pointless rants on the state of. . . . .you know what? No. No, no no. I can’t do it. I cannot defend any part of this film by using some description that would maybe give you the impression that there is something of substance to watch here. Maybe I’ll defend its raunchiness, like so: only if you are among the most hardened of gross-out comedy veterans may you find it funny how Movie 43 throws decency out the window like a broken television from the top story during a balls-out teenage party that galvanized 80s and 90s punk-rock movies. Those moments when you are just going all-out just to fail and fall harder and harder each time. You could think of this like Jackass, in some ways (hey, yeah even Johnny Knoxville is getting in on this action!) and then if you do, realize that when Knoxville does get his turn, it’s probably one of the stronger moments in the feature.

Yikes.

Let’s see, what kind of a cast do we have here that Johnny Knoxville may have upstaged (read: in the five minutes or so he got to be a part of this)? Well, you’ve got Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, Common, Seth Macfarlane, Liev Schrieber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Katie Finneran, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sean William-Scott, Uma Thurman, Jack McBrayer, Kristen Bell, Chloë Grace Moretz, Patrick Warburton, Gerard Butler, Stephen Merchant, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin. My apologies to all those who I have left off that list. . .

I find most insulting of all about this gag-a-thon (not ‘gag’ as in “hardy-har-har” slapstick. . . .I mean more like the two-girls-one-cup kind) the fact that the MANY producers and directors could not make this thing work better with an ensemble like this. In fact, that might be the crowning achievement of it all: utter failure. To get back to that question I asked up top in my introductory comment(s), what must it be like to be one of these stars who were (un)lucky enough to be a part of this? Why did they get involved, other than to show the rest of the world that each of them, bless their little overcompensated souls, has the ability to say dirty and rude things like the rest of us lowly non-celebrities? Is this film really trying to purport that we are all alike as human beings, especially when we talk nasty and speak of and do stupid, ridiculous things? Is this meant to be the cherry-popping daddy of all gross-out films?

I see no other motive behind the testicles dangling from Hugh Jackman’s chin, or Kristen Bell admitting to her excessive pubic hair at a speed dating event. Cramming this many A-list names onto one bill was meant to be a buffer from (or, even more pathetically, as an enhancement to) the bizarre nature of gross-out comedies. Squirming in your chair from disgust potentially could be more fun if you trust the people saying it. We’re meant to be thrown by Emma Stone all of a sudden talking dirty (and I mean, dirty) to an ex-boyfriend in a grocery store, while the nearest microphone picks up the entire conversation for all the patrons to hear.

In reality, the only thing we’re thrown by is the discombobulation of everything put together. (Bonus points go to me since I finally get to use that word in a review. . .)

The movie is a damn mess and has literally no point to it. None. You can check out the plot on IMDb or on movie reviews elsewhere, because that alone will not tell you anything about this film at all. Here’s a brief run-down: Dennis Quaid is pitching his last-ditch attempt at being a good film director, and he’s got several skits planned out that he’s going to put together that will form a “heartwarming story.” Hah! These skits, in turn, are acted out by the vast cast and its pretty much downhill from there.

I will admit that I found myself laughing pretty hard more than a few times. I’m still not sure if these laughs were produced by what I was seeing or more from me coming to realize how ridiculous this film was intent on becoming. There are a couple of bits here and there that serve as light-hearted breaks amid the onslaught of buffoonery put forth by every one of its actors. (Et tu, Liev Schrieber??? What the hell, man?) Surely, this film could have benefited from a little bit of contrast now and again — more than the one or two skits developed that weren’t as offensive as possible. Movie 43 proves that one doesn’t need to be yelling the entire time to have their voice heard. We’ll get the idea if you just talk to us, treat us with some respect. As a viewer, you’re probably going to feel a little like an animal just for sitting through the whole movie.

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Richard Gere’s face says it all

0-5Recommendation: I would say stay away. Wait for the DVD, because shelling out $10 for this one is simply nuts. I don’t regret it, since my curiosity about how atrocious a gross-out comedy can be was the only thing that led me to this point. I can no longer say that the bigger the cast, the better the movie, which is a shame.

Rated: R (for ‘ripoff’)

Running Time: 97 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com