Zombieland: Double Tap

Release: Friday, October 18, 2019

👀 On Demand

Written by: Rhett Reese; Paul Wernick; Dave Callaham

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg; Woody Harrelson; Emma Stone; Abigail Breslin; Zoey Deutch 

Distributor: Sony Pictures

 

 

***/*****

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.

Moral of the Story: 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?”

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

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

Concussion

Concussion movie poster

Release: Christmas Day 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Peter Landesman

Directed by: Peter Landesman

Concussion is the kind of movie one watches because they want to get that warm and fuzzy feeling of seeing the big bad corporation that is the NFL taken down a peg or two. They watch it and are glad to see they’re not the only ones who think poorly of a league commissioner that officially — wait for it — owns a day of the week.

The bluntness of the title tells you everything you need to know about the story. This is the movie — well the first one, anyway — that strikes the one nerve no other football (or really any sports) drama has before. It focuses on Nigerian pathologist Dr. Benet Omalu (Will Smith), who discovers a link between severe head trauma and the physical violence of professional football.

His initial fear is confirmed by a series of deaths of former football ‘legends’  — the mourning of the passing of Junior Seau is thinly veiled — which inspires him to bring his findings to the attention of the league, much to the dismay of colleagues, including his boss Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), and the league itself, who’s not so much worried about the findings as it is about their stash of cover-ups being discovered.

Of course the league knows about the aftermath; of course they know about the concussions. They won’t know to call the epidemic something fancy like chronic traumatic encephalopathy but big businessmen like these aren’t that oblivious. They’re just really good at not talking about an issue. The confluence of power and controversy (and secret-keeping) is Roger Goodell, who, wanting to put these recent blows to his public image behind him, probably became ecstatic when an actor who looks exactly nothing like him was hired to play the part.

It’s not all Luke Wilson’s fault, though. Concussion isn’t a sensational movie; contrivances and a few shaky performances abound, but it is really timely and its convictions are strong enough to be taken seriously. Will Smith’s certainly are. He might be at a career best here, gracefully becoming rather than mimicking a personality that now will become quite famous. Smith’s typically easygoing nature has been retooled with stern coldness, a commitment to solemnity not seen since Seven Pounds.

But back to Wilson’s Goodell for a second. For a character that gets all of 5 – 10 seconds of screen time, this might seem like a lot of wasted effort but he’s actually a major concern of mine. In a film that takes place often behind closed doors, Goodell’s still the one most distanced from the controversy. We never get inside his own personal office. Wilson’s appearance in mock video footage is more obligatory than compelling, yet the brevity of that appearance — not once in the same physical space Omalu occupies — lends Goodell this mysterious aura. That’s a reality check for you: even in a film purportedly confronting the cold hard truth, Goodell remains unscathed.

The NFL as a whole remains relatively out of reach for the duration of the picture as a matter of fact. Concussion builds momentum mostly through Omalu’s several investigations that he eventually publishes with the help of Pittsburgh Steeler team doctor Julian Bales (Alec Baldwin) in a medical journal. Those findings eventually bring the heat down upon Omalu and Bales — even Wecht — the league threatening through phone calls and police investigations their very careers. But the league offices are rarely a factor here. Instead it’s the strength of Smith’s performance that gets us to really care.

Just as it may be the case for the commissioner, I think the job of supporting a story of this magnitude shouldn’t have to fall to one person. Alas, here we are.

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Recommendation: Emotional story rooted in facts, Concussion offers fans of Will Smith another enjoyable outing yet the framework around him is all too familiar and forgettable. Not expecting to hear about too many outrages caused by this film, as everything we learn in this film is stuff we have already read about over the years: the NFL is a broken, money-sucking machine. What else is new?

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “When I was a boy, Heaven was here. And America, was right here. You could be anything, you could do anything. I never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be an American.”

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 

The Skeleton Twins

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Release: Friday, September 12, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Craig Johnson; Mark Heyman

Directed by: Craig Johnson

Sniffle. It’s just so sad, you guys — these SNL kids are all growing up. . . !

Back in February I would not have looked at Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig — deserving as they are of their own vehicle — as contenders for Best Actor/Actress for next year, and I certainly would not have predicted this honor being bestowed upon them for their contributions to drama. In Craig Johnson’s sophomore effort The Skeleton Twins, the duo leaves an indelible mark upon 2014’s collage of strong performances, ranking as some of the most colorful as well as honest contributions all year.

In this unabashedly emotional drama about estranged — yes, twins, you got it — Hader and Wiig are physically full-grown versions of Eddie Schweighardt and Sydney Lucas’ little Milo and Maggie, respectively, who are limited to flashback sequences.

We aren’t shown their complete history, just enough to appreciate that their respective lives have slowly come unraveled, emotional and psychological pain taking unique tolls on the individuals while the pain of living in a very broken family haunts them both in perpetuity. As a measure of just how far we’ve come since the days of their six-minute skits, I need only refer to the opening scene, one in which we’re presented with Wiig’s Maggie, on the edge (of a toilet seat) and on the verge of making a rash decision. A handful of pills are about to be forced to her lips by her own hand, but she’s unable to follow through as a phone call intrudes upon her introspective hour. It’s about her brother; he’s in the hospital following his own suicide attempt.

Maggie decides it’d be best for both of them if Milo comes to stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) for awhile. It’s been a decade since either of them spoke to one another so this is really quite the grand gesture. Particularly when its evident Maggie’s hubby isn’t exactly down with the lifestyle Milo leads as a gay actor from L.A. In turn, Milo’s not really impressed with his sister’s taste in men. Safe to say there are a few other things the two jab each other about over the coming days and weeks.

And herein lies the beauty of this movie. Despite opening on a rather confronting note using attempted suicide to introduce us to the characters, there’s still an ocean of things we can identify with as this dysfunctional brother-sister duo gradually open themselves back up to one another. They may be taking extreme measures, yet it’s their vulnerability that draws us towards them, makes us come to love them. Not pity them. A lot of that should be credited to the tag-team of Hader and Wiig, a typical comedic dream-team totally transformed into a sorrowful bunch still worth rooting for.

Good as the actors are, there is a perfect marriage between this script and these particular SNL alums. Words are lifted from the pages of Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson’s collaboration and in the mouths of the right people they’re transformed into weapons, some striking with almost deadly force as Milo and Maggie try their best to not create more problems for one another, as small cracks in their initial standoffish-ness eventually yield great, gaping chasms. Secrets are revealed: marital issues between Maggie and Lance; Milo’s dark past with a former teacher of his (Ty Burrell, who’s also excellent).

Not only are they mindful of how their script reflects the lives of the broken-spirited, Heyman and Johnson are careful to not sugarcoat proceedings nor dwell too long on the melancholic blue. The celluloid is tinted rather than soaked heavily in its own prejudices towards its characters, which is partly why the opening scenes work so effectively. There are a number of mesmerizing sequences throughout, most of them revolving around one of the most fully-realized characters Bill Hader has ever undertaken. A few include their bonding over laughing gas at Maggie’s dental office; a Halloween party in which Hader dresses in appropriately hilarious/horrifying drag; the duo’s lip-synched rendition of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,’ by Starship.

Heartfelt, incredibly well-performed, highly entertaining and just quirky enough to escape a great many comparisons to other similar stories featuring an estranged pair making amends after lost time, The Skeleton Twins is not only one of the greatest dramedies this reviewer has seen, but one of the more tonally balanced and emotionally resonant efforts made all year.

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4-5Recommendation: If you call yourself a fan of either Hader or Wiig, what are you waiting for? Purr chase your ticket — pronto! Arguably their best work thus far, their latest outing sees them operating at an entirely different level. It’s not particularly a story you haven’t seen done before but none of that matters when the characters and dialogue is this convincing. I highly, highly recommend.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “I can’t wait to be the creepy, gay uncle . . .”

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