[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 17 – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson

Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.

 

It’s been a crazy ten years, and we are finally arriving, once again, back in Zombieland.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up some years after the first film, and our favorite zombie killers have arrived at a comfortable life in a luxurious new home. They are not without their struggles, though. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) have gotten past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Wichita especially is having a lot of trouble with the idea of settling down with Columbus. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show) have developed a father-daughter regard for one another, but Little Rock pines to interact with someone new, to begin dating boys, whereas Tallahassee would prefer the solitude of Zombieland life. So when Little Rock runs away with a cute boy, the others must band together to save  her.

I’ll make this one super-simple. If you liked Zombieland, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It isn’t as good as the original film, but it’s very self-reflective on the time that has passed culturally and a lot of the humor comes from the idea that these characters really haven’t changed much in that time. It’s regularly poking fun at itself.

The cast does a fine job again, especially Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. Harrelson really matures as an actor in this role, and his is the one character that seems to really evolve to something new. All that being said, though, the best parts of this film are the new additions of Zoey Deutch (Set It Up, TV’s The Politician) and Rosario Dawson (Rent, Reign of the Supermen) to the cast. Deutch’s Madison steals every scene as a clueless woo girl that’s supremely ditzy and made me question how she could even survive this long in the apocalypse. Dawson joins up as the tough-as-nails Nevada, who lives in a bar that gets a visit from the gang. Both add a lot of flavor to the film.

The film is a little too convenient at times, and the additions of new zombies (very Left 4 Dead), new rules (not just by Columbus), and new zombie kills, while fun, don’t add a level of newness to the film. If this had come out right after the first film, I think it would not be as noticeable, but given that ten-year gap, I think the similarities stand out. Still better than the Amazon pilot, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap is fun for fans of the original film, and even though it’s just more of the same, I ended up having some good laughs and entertainment. This won’t bring in a lot of new fans, and it may not win over old fans at the same rate that the first film did, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and I would really like this see this team come back together for a third installment. Just make it sooner.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 10 – Zombieland (2009)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

88 mins. Rated R.

 

It’s been a bit since I’ve watched Zombieland. I was utterly addicted to it back in 2009, but it’s been a long time. It’s been ten years since it released, so it is time to officially talk about the film that was envisioned as a TV show, then reworked into a film that was adapted into an Amazon pilot before eventually getting a sequel. Did you follow all that?

It’s been some time since the world ended, and zombies have overtaken the landscape. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, The Art of Self-Defense) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) have formed a shaky truce and teamed up to pursue their goals, and along the way, they befriend two young women who go by Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show). Together, four of the last humans in America make an effort to get to Pacific Playland, a famous theme park that Little Rock has always wanted to see. It’s just another day in Zombieland.

Zombieland fires on all cylinders. Every element of this film works exactly as is intended. The cast is absolutely incredible. There’s a reason all four leads have been nominated for Academy Awards (Stone going as far as to win as well). Woody Harrelson finds that perfect balance of dickery and sweetness. Jesse Eisenberg could very easily become boring, but he tows the line just right. Emma Stone displays a subtlety in her distrust of the others and her love for Little Rock with such ease. Even Abigail Breslin, who has to shoulder the responsibility of being a kid growing up in a zombie wasteland. The secondary cast is terrific in what they need to accomplish.

The screenplay is smartly-written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and features solid world-building, very funny dialogue, and an elegant mix of horror in suspense in all the right doses. Their collaboration with Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Gangster Squad) creates a unique, authentic, and fun reinvention of the living dead mythos.

If there’s a flaw to Zombieland, it’s maybe that the film hasn’t aged perfectly, and it’s the realization that we should’ve gotten a sequel sooner. This is a tightly-constructed narrative, coming in under 90 minutes but bursting with flavor. If you missed Zombieland back in 2009, I highly recommend you give it a go, and if it’s been some time since you last watched, go back and revisit it. It’s a remarkable little horror/comedy.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

Director: Riley Stearns

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots

Screenplay: Riley Stearns

104 mins. Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

 

I knew absolutely nothing about The Art of Self-Defense before walking into the theater, and all I can say is this was not the film I expected in all the best ways.

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is not a strong person. He is uncomfortable in social situations, and he is unable to defend himself when attacked one night on the street. He joins a local dojo where he is trained by an odd and influential sensei (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off, Disobedience). As Casey’s confidence rises, he begins to see problems with the way Sensei operates, and it causes him to question his leader.

It becomes very clear early on in The Art of Self-Defense that the world these characters inhabit is a strange and surrealist version of our own. Casey’s answering machine is sarcastic about the amount of phone calls he receives. There’s also a strange quality about the dojo. I’m still not sure if the Sensei’s teachings are lies in this world or if that’s part of the surrealist world that writer/director Riley Stearns (Faults, The Cub) has constructed.

Eisenberg does fine as Casey, but part of the problem is that he is essentially playing versions of previous characters I’ve seen from him. He’s good in the movie, but there’s no range or excitement about his role because I’ve kind of seen it before. Again, not bad in the bed, but he’s overshadowed.

The reason I’m not talking about Eisenberg is because of Alessandro Nivola, who plays the peculiar Sensei. Nivola steals every scene he’s in with a special quality of strange which makes him equally comedic and stone cold disturbing. He’s the character I’ll be talking about most months from now.

The biggest problem this movie has is that Stearns dawdles a bit near the end of the film and doesn’t focus on what’s important as the film nears a close. There are some revelations about Casey, the Sensei, and the dojo that feel more important than they end up being. The ending makes up for this because it is exactly what I wanted without me knowing I wanted it. It’s a bonkers ending that is perfect for a film like this.

The Art of Self-Defense is not a realistic depiction of karate, nor is it much of a realistic depiction of anything, and for that, it works quite well. Writer/director Riley Stearns has crafted a unique experience that’s weird and wild and different from a lot of other recent films, and while I would have liked more exploration into the plot threads at the end of the film, and I would have wanted something more surprising from the film’s lead, this is still a very worthwhile viewing experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

151 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.

 

So, after countless years of waiting for DC to officially make a move at creating a cinematic universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived. Now comes the real question: Can DC create a universe from some of the most popular characters in comic book history? And what exactly is this film?

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, Gone Girl) has been obsessed with one thing over the past eighteen months: Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Cold Light of Day). After witnessing the damage done to the city of Metropolis due to Superman’s fight with General Zod, and seeing one of his own buildings filled with his employees come down in the battle, Bruce does not believe that Superman should be allowed to do as he pleases, and he’s not alone. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter, The Incredibles, Manglehorn) and billionaire playboy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, American Ultra) completely agree. Bruce’s caretaker Alfred (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, Race) becomes increasingly more concerned about Wayne’s mental state as the obsession grows. Meanwhile, Clark Kent’s life is moving in the right direction: He is in love with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, Big Eyes), he has a great job at the Daily Planet, but there is a problem. He too has become worried about a masked vigilante frequently called The Bat, but Clark finds that the world seems to be more concerned with Superman’s doings than this Bat character. When Lex Luthor sees an opening, he begins planting the seeds to bring these two heroic titans to blows, and hopefully take them both down at once.

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Well, we have a lot to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning. The title of the film is very strange. The decision to excise the “vs” in favor of a “v” implies a court case, which confuses me as I don’t understand why you want a superhero movie to be a court case, but I’ve already started to digress.

This movie’s plot seems to want to go everywhere but doesn’t actually get anywhere. It seems like two screenplays jammed together: one is a Batman v Superman movie, the other a Dawn of Justice movie. The problem here is that the glue used to stick these movies together is weak and flimsy. The Batman stuff is great, particularly their dealing with the origin, which is fleshed over the opening credits like how The Incredible Hulk treated theirs. Since this is the second Batman of this decade and the third iteration of an origin, I’m glad they decided to go this route, citing that Batman Begins did it the best it could ever be done. And what a Batman they picked! Ben Affleck owned this role. I learned from my initial criticism of Heath Ledger’s casting for The Dark Knight when Ben Affleck was selected to don the cowl for the nest Batman. I pulled back and thought, let’s just wait and see. And I was right, folks! Affleck’s performance was real and yet unlike anything we’ve seen from the Caped Crusader.

How’s the Superman stuff? Eh, not all that great. Henry Cavill doesn’t have the acting chops to do much, and his character is wasted on a convoluted plotline anda misunderstanding of the Man of Steel. I read countless times that this isn’t so much of a Man of Steel sequel but rather a backdoor pilot for the Justice League, which isn’t true. This is in fact a direct sequel as it fits every plot point of the previous film into this one, even the finished plot threads, and the movie bloats because of it.

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Now onto the Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Fast & Furious 6, Criminal) of it all. Wonder Woman is great. With only 16 lines of dialogue, Gal Gadot does her best to leave a presence here, and she does. It’s a great introduction to this character and truly excited me for the next installment featuring her.

Among the film’s principal faults lie Jesse Eisenberg, who plays a very new and very different incarnation of Lex Luthor. He did one incredible feat in this film. He made me hate Lex Luthor, but not in a way that works. Eisenberg skewers every scene is in by playing some goofy and unhinged extremes. For a character who was apparently written with such realism, none of that comes to play here. I was arguing with someone who claimed to understand (but not like) Eisenberg’s portrayal of the greatest criminal mastermind of our time. He told me that I didn’t like the performance because I wanted Gene Hackman back. I answered back that I didn’t like the performance because it was a poor performance. There were multiple moments in the film that feature Luthor in public essentially having a mental break. I was sitting in the theater and wanted to see someone just look at him and think that this guy is absolutely insane. The worst of it was all this press that came out later and announced that Bryan Cranston had been looked at, as had Tom Hanks (based on his incredible work on the underrated Cloud Atlas), and yet Eisenberg had been selected in order to reinvent the character. WHAT?!?

Let’s talk some on the Dawn of Justice portion of the film, which does get us into some spoilery territory, so be warned. Batman v Superman is seen as almost a Justice League origin story in a lot of ways. It sets up Batman, Wonder Woman, and even introduces us to several other members of the team. A major problem here is that the audience is spoon-fed the Justice League. The references and setups are literally beaten over the heads of viewers. There are better ways about this. The introduction of the Justice League was terrible sans The Flash, who got a quick moment of reveal that actually worked for me. As for Aquaman and Cyborg…yuck. Cyborg even wasted the origin story on a poor expository flitter of a moment with no style whatsoever. Absolutely stupid. Now, the film does have some subtlety here when they dance around some of the dark past of Bruce Wayne, but it doesn’t do this enough. You could even have thrown some of this into a post-credits scene to get it out of the main narrative.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, to me, a more enjoyable experience than Man of Steel, but as far as a cohesive story, it is not. This is a collection of some really cool moments squeezed into a movie that’s bursting at the seams. Ben Affleck gets great redemption from his previous Daredevil failure (in a world where Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans are also getting second chances) and is easily the best part of this film (Scott Adkins blames the Oscars for why Ben Affleck was cast, but doesn’t understand that Scott Adkins was not cast because he was Scott Adkins). I’m excited to see where this franchise is going (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman) but I’m nervous that the DCEU is not getting off to a great start and can’t really afford to fumble anymore. Overall, the film is divisive and has some great elements, but there is just too much that is found guilty in this court case.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

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