[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 12 – Mom and Dad (2017)

Director: Brian Taylor

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Lance Henriksen, Robert T. Cunningham, Brionne Taylor, Samantha Lemole

Screenplay: Brian Taylor

86 mins. Rated R for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use.

 

I wasn’t a big fan of the directing duo of Neveldine/Taylor. Their work is very stylized in a way that just never works for me. Now, one of the two directors, Brian Taylor (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, TV’s Happy!) has gone out on his own to write and direct Mom and Dad. So what does a film with half of Neveldine/Taylor look like?

Teenager Carly (Anne Winters, Night School, TV’s 13 Reasons Why) and her brother Josh (Zackary Arthur, The 5th Wave, Mississippi Requiem) are brats. They don’t get along with each other, and they don’t really get along with their parents, but they are forced to work together in order to survive an insane 24-hour period in which all parents become enraged and try to kill their own kids.

Let me be clear here. Nicolas Cage (Face/Off, The Croods), as patriarch Brent, is so perfectly cast for this film. I read somewhere that Cage said this is his favorite film of his from the past decade, and I can see why. He’s playing himself. He’s insane in the movie. He’s insane in real life. This is Nicolas Cage doing exactly what he wants on a playground built for him. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, After) does fine work as matriarch Kendall, but it’s Cage who owns every scene he’s in. The supporting cast here is fine enough for the material, but make no mistake; this is Nick Cage’s movie.

Brian Taylor’s direction is still quite similar to his work with Neveldine/Taylor, but to a lesser extent. He has some style that works here but he also takes time to outline his world with the rules by presenting scenes that flesh out most of the rules even if he never fully fleshes out the characters. At the same time, his style takes over near the end and the film falls apart because of it. Sadly, the ending is a messy downer that doesn’t really cross the finish line.

Mom and Dad is a mostly-winning genre film that succeeds where others have failed, and it has a nice tight runtime with a lot of flashy fun. Its failures exist in failing to work in really strong characters and an ending that falls absolutely flat. It’s still a lot of fun to watch and the good outweighs the bad, but it isn’t without its failings.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, 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.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Nicole Perlman

104 mins. Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

 

After decades of waiting, a live-action Pokemon movie exists, and it follows Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town as he…wait? It doesn’t? Then who’s it about? Detective Pikachu? Seriously? Okay, let’s start this one again.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) works in the high-stakes world of insurance, and he has no interest in being a Pokemon trainer, but when Tim learns of his father’s death, he goes to Ryme City to settle things. When Tim arrives at his father’s apartment, he comes across a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, The Croods) sporting detective wear and claiming to belong to Harry, Tim’s father. The crazy thing is that he and the Pikachu completely understand each other as if they’re speaking the same language. Pikachu wants to solve the case of Harry’s possible murder, but he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything. The two unlikely heroes join forces to find the culprits, and their search brings them to a conspiracy neither one ever expected.

I was really disappointed to hear that the first live-action Pokemon movie would be a Detective Pikachu movie, mostly because there was so much material to be mined in the Pokemon Universe, and choosing to focus on a game that was largely unreleased in North America until recently seemed like a really odd choice. Then, I heard Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu and I got really concerned. It seemed to me like this whole franchise was coming together in a really bad way. Then, the poster looked okay. Then, the trailer looked silly, but it also looked like fun, so I became increasingly excited about the prospect of a Detective Pikachu movie, but there was still that lingering confusion as to the narrative purpose of a Detective Pikachu movie. It was only after seeing the film that I got it. There is a very important narrative purpose to this movie, and while I still would have like to see a straight-forward Pokemon adventure, Detective Pikachu is a great introductory course for Pokemon fans, and it has the potential to bring in a lot of new fans.

For the most part, Ryan Reynold’s voice work is pretty solid for him and the writing gives him a lot to play with. His chemistry as a CG-character actually melded pretty well with Justice Smith’s Tim. Their central relationship is the reason for watching the movie, as many of the secondary characters serve a purpose to that central relationship but little else.

Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Goosebumps) injected a lot of little references and visually appealing fan moments into the movie. I had some concern about the use of legendary characters like Mewtwo in this movie, and how they would be incorporated in an interesting way, and overall, it was mostly done with care. Again, the whole Mewtwo has a purpose in the film and a narrative reason to appear, albeit a thin one. What’s great is that, even with Mewtwo, his lore from the animated films and games appears to be intact and built into the character’s past. That’s one of reasons that I couldn’t look away from the screen during the movie. I have been a Pokemon fan since it hit stateside, and I was glued to the screen for every little CG critter to show up.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it caters to one demographic age range, which was a silly choice. This is a kid’s movie, and before you say DUH! I want to say that Pokemon, as a franchise is now multi-generational, much like the Toy Story movies. Kids who grew up with Pokemon when it started are not adults with their very own children, and if Detective Pikachu aimed their narrative at both kids and adults, it would have been more successful. I had a lot of fun watching, but the plotting was a little simplistic and I put it together rather easily. The final turn of the film surprised me a bit, and it was a good little hook to the narrative, but the overarching plotline was rather simplistic. Too much so.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu now holds the distinction of being the best video game movie ever, at least from a critical viewpoint, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s the kind of movie that Pokemon fans will like and non-Pokemon fans can at least understand. It’s plot is a little too rudimentary, but the central comradery between Pikachu and Tim is strong enough to carry, and it has plenty of cute little monsters to keep the spectacle alive.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my theory involving Detective Pikachu’s connection to Home Alone, click here.

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

104 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

 

Early in 2017, first-time director Jordan Peele released Get Out, a very well-received horror-thriller about race in present-day America. The film has been hotly discussed since February, and now that we are near the nominations for the Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to look at one of the more interesting frontrunners for the big award.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is a talented African-American man about to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their secluded homestead in the country. On the surface, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Megan Leavey, TV’s The West Wing) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener, Capote, The Croods) seem nice enough, but as the weekend goes on, Chris begins noticing strange behavior surrounding the Armitage parents and their odd houseguests. Soon, Chris uncovers exactly what’s going on, but is it too late to save himself?

Okay, so even if the rest of Get Out was terrible (thankfully that is not the case), the film would still be noted for its incredibly well-written screenplay, also from Peele. The nuances and symbolism that Peele employs almost endlessly are so perfectly-placed into the story’s framework so that none of the film feels forced as you peel back the layers.

Beyond all that, the performances are amazing and Peele proves himself to be an incredible first-time director well-worth the recognition he’s been given. From his pitch-perfect storytelling to the great work, particularly from Kaluuya, Allison Williams (College Musical, TV’s Girls) and Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Death Note). From most of the info coming out of the set, Peele created a great atmosphere on set, having a lot of fun with his cast and crew, and it shines through into the finished product.

Peele’s not afraid to take what he loves about a genre and roll with it. The opening of the film is very reminiscent of the single-shot opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The film is so packed with detail and content that there is even a class being taught at the University of California about the film’s impact.

Get Out is a film that only gets better with multiple viewings. I’ve now seen it many times and I’ve found something new each and every time. This is a film for fans of horror and newcomers to the genre. It’s made with care and dedication from a surprisingly strong first-time director. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

 

I’d been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I heard that Emma Stone (The Help, The Croods) would be playing Billie Jean King and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me 3) would be playing Bobby Riggs. The two performers worked so well together for their limited time in Crazy Stupid Love. In fact, Emma Stone also appeared in Birdman with Andrea Riseborough  and Superbad with Martha MacIsaac. She’s built quite the incredibly portfolio, but is Battle of the Sexes up to snuff?

Battle of the Sexes is more about Billie Jean King than her opponent. It covers her strained relationship with husband Larry (Austin Stowell, Whiplash, Colossal), her secret relationship with lover Marilyn (Riseborough) and her fight against Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, The Equalizer) over women’s rights in professional tennis. But when she finds herself head-to-head with the showboating Riggs, a man who is about to lose his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas, Chasing Mavericks) due to his lies and gambling addiction, she finds herself fighting for more than just bragging rights in this film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks).

Battle of the Sexes is a classic character study and a great showcase for numerous incredible performances, led by Stone and Carell. Emma Stone disappears into her role, proving that she is one of the best actresses working in the business today. Her role as King isn’t imitation or caricature but rather a true interpretation by one artist of another. Steve Carell too is tough to spot in the charismatic Riggs, a feat for the performer who could’ve turned to other comedic performances to channel. Instead, his humor is met with a nuanced characterization of a man who understands what he is doing wrong yet cannot stop himself. It’s like he is watching a car accident, unable to turn away.

The screenplay comes from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Everest) and, for the most part, it is quite strong. I found the film dragging a bit in the second act, which could’ve been fixed easily in the editing bay or with a tightening of the script.

The director duo husband and wife that is Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have delivered a film that feels like a documentary. The style and tone is something that could’ve come straight out of 1973. An event like this could very easily have turned satirical or lampoonish, and the filmmakers ride the line very well.

Battle of the Sexes is Emma Stone’s movie, and that’s a really good thing. In fact, this could be the best she’s ever been. That doesn’t excuse her costar Carell from an amazing turn as the showboating aging tennis star, but it just proves the acting caliber of the stars. If you get the chance, check out Battle of the Sexes while it’s still in theaters. This is one to watch come awards season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑