No More Orphans In Zombieland (Zombieland: Double Tap, 2019)

Zombieland_Double_Tap_PosterSo, I loved 2009’s Zombieland. I found it largely a clever and hilarious take on Zombie movies with a terrific cast.  Amazon tried to do a series based on the film, recasting the characters with lesser known performers and a rather blah pilot episode.  I eventually gave up on the idea of ever getting a sequel…and then last year, on the heels of director Ruben Fleisher’s successful but critically maligned Venom, it was announced that a sequel was in the works…and that it would have the central cast returning. But revisiting Zombieland ten years later feels like a risky proposition.

Probably one of the original’s most notable flaws is how it feels like a lot of ideas strung together without a central story. lots of really entertaining sketches.  The film still works, just maybe could have used a more centralizing story.

However, while the film begins feeling a bit the same, a cohesive tale and goal for the group comes together.  The film adds some very fun new characters, and the jokes really land a good 90% of the time.

I appreciate that they kept a lot of the first film’s visual identity and this film feels like a surprisingly natural follow up to the first. If you enjoyed the first Zombieland, I feel confident you will have a great time with Double Tap.

The Second Most Amazing Spider-Man (the Amazing Spider-Man 2, 2014)

spider-man-amazing-2-poster-imax1The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was pretty much greenlit before the previous film was released.  Sony has been trying to make their Spider-Verse work…and to date they just cannot seem to find the footing.  Spider-Man 2 was not just a sequel, it was meant to set up other films, such as a Sinister Six film.Which means the film is packed with villains.

We meet the Rhino, though he is only in the film for a few minutes, setting him up for a Sinister Six film.  We also meet the Green Goblin and Electro.  The film wastes Chris Cooper, who plays Norman Osborne.  In the previous film we barely met Osborne.  We were told he had a debilitating disease, and was eager for Dr. Conner’s work to have results.  The disease apparently gnarls the body and turns flesh a greenish tint.  Harry is brought home to see his father.  His father tells him about the disease and how it is genetic.  This sets up Harry to become obsessed with a cure as well.  And he believes Spider-Man’s blood contains that cure.  He and Peter re-kindle their friendship and when he finds out Peter “knows” Spider-Man, he begs him for help.

Meanwhile, Peter is constantly dating and then breaking up with Gwen.  He is haunted by the “ghost” of Captain Stacy.  So, they are together, then he gets emo and pushes Gwen away.  It becomes frustrating.

Peter and Spider-Man deny Harry’s request causing a strain in the friendship.  Jamie Fox plays Max Dillon as a nebbish but smart electrician.  He fancies himself as Spider-Man’s friend after Spider-Man saves him and calls him his buddy.  After a freak accident with a tank of electric eels, Max is  given the power to generate and manipulate electricity.  When Spider-Man cannot quite recognize him he becomes enraged.  After Spider-Man takes him down, his anger only grows.

Of course, Harry becomes Green Goblin to gain revenge on Spider-Man and teams up with Electro to take Spidey down.  In some ways, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is better than the previous film.  Spider-Man is a bit more Spider-Man.  But they still have him mopey about his dad.  In a flashback, we see where he and Peter’s mother went after dropping Peter off with Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  The problem with this is that Uncle Ben is the catalyst for Peter Becoming Spider-Man and yet he seems to not spend much time dwelling on Ben, he is more driven to find out more about his dad.

The film recreates one of the comic books most tragic moments for Peter.  And this results in Spider-Man disappearing for awhile.  But, of course he comes back.  The sequence where he returns to action is nicely done, involving a kid in a Spider-Man costume standing up to Rhino.

The biggest problem with this film is that it feels like a massive setup for other films.  We even see a sequence where different costumes of future villains are on display cases.  Tying all of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery makes for some lazy storytelling.  The film is still entertaining, but not in a way that it would ever be seen as a classic.  A third Amazing Spider-Man had been announced, but it was put on the back-burner.  Eventually, it was scrapped all together and Sony partnered with Marvel Studios to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Ah-Mahzing Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man, 2012)

spider-man-amazing-movie-posterAfter Spider-Man 3 had it’s tepid response, Sony tried to cover it’s butt.  They had Raimi developing a fourth Spider-Man film…and 500 Days of Summer Director Marc Webb (the humor there was not lost on anybody) was developing another Spider-Film.  Sony decided to go with Marc Webb’s version and dumped the entire Raimi version.  Webb promised this would not be a reboot, even though it would have an entirely new cast.  In the end, we definitely got a reboot.

And the film has a focus that Raimi’s series never thought of.  Peter is really upset about his parents disappearing.  There is a big conspiracy based subplot where Richard Parker was actually involved with  the experiments that result in Peter getting bit by the spider.  And instead of the spider being some random research lab, Peter is bitten at Oscorp.  On the other hand, it is nice to see this film not seeing how many villains that they can pack in.  Instead, we are offered one new villain.  And he was not featured in Raimi’s trilogy.  He was set up, as Rhys Ifans is playing Doctor Curt Conners, who was played by Dylan Baker in the previous set of films.  But we never met his alter-ego the lizard.  And they make Peter part of his creation, because Everything Must Be Tied Together.

Really, there is plenty to like here.  Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield have a wonderful chemistry.  They were dating at the time, but that is never a guarantee of onscreen chemistry.  Emma is great in the role of Gwen Stacy, while Denis Leary is her Police Chief father.  Leary brings his working class everyman persona to the role and it is quite effective here.  Sally Field and Martin Sheen make for a fine Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  Andrew Garfield is likeable, and his Spider-Man is a wise cracker…but..Peter is excessively morose.  He is constantly in a state of passive rage.  And while there is comic book precedence for this in the early years, it feels out of place here.

Uncle Ben’s death seems…lacking.  Peter storms out after an argument.  Peter does not prevent a robbery at a convenience store, but it does not seem as effective as the comics version or Raimi’s first Spider-Man.  Peter’s darkness, especially in relationship to his missing father (and it is really his father, Peter seems to not feel the same emptiness in regards to his mother).  Peter has never been that haunted by the loss of his parents, he saw Aunt May and Uncle Ben as his parental figures.

One the biggest holes is…there is no J. Jonah Jameson.  And it makes the film feel not quite like a Spider-Man story.

The Peter and Gwen story is compelling and the relationship between Peter And Captain Stacy make for great tension.  At the same time, Peter makes a promise to Captain Stacy that he almost immediately breaks…and Peter is flat out unkind to Gwen in a moment where she really needs his support.  He of all people should understand her loss, and he is pretty much a jerk.

The whole conspiracy aspect feels unnecessary and worse, drags the film down, even though it hinges on the conspiracy to make sense.

The effects are good, and they have improved a lot since 2002. The Spider-Man models and the Lizard look great, and are very slick.  In the overall design, I appreciated the look of the new Spider-Man costume.  It is colorful and stays faithful to the traditional costume of the comics.

There is plenty to like, some things that improve on the last incarnation and yet…where it fails, it fails pretty big.  It is entertaining, but still does not reach…great.


Everybody’s An Orphan in Zombieland (Zombieland, 2009)

zombieland_posterI cannot be objective about this film.

The main reason is that I had way to much fun.  Visually, the movie has a great style.  The humor is spot on.  The performances are terrific.  I had a terrific time.

The first thing that stands out is that the credits are as inspired as Watchman’s opening credits.  As we see slow motion zombie carnage, the credits are appearing on the screen, they get knocked off the screen by the zombies and their victims all to Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.  It really sets the tone for the film.  Wait, no, it is the sequence in which Jesse Eisenberg explains his rules, which pop up on the screen.  His main for rules are Cardio.  You better be able to run.  I am going to give them a pass on the fat joke here.  Because I don’t care how you cut it…we fat people can run quickly in short bursts, but we would likely be the first to get picked off in a zombie apocalypse.

Then, avoid bathrooms (demonstrated humorously in a bit featuring Mike White).  Next is seatbelts.  Always wear your seatbelt.  Finally, there is the double tap.  This means you do not want to be stingy with the bullets. If you shoot a zombie-take em out in the head to be safe.   Technically, Eisenberg’s list is comprised of 32 rules.  The recurring of the rules popping up on the screen is both funny and a helpful reminder.

A great bit is the film’s emphasis on how people have survived by not forming new attachments and how this has actually been damaging.  Nobody knows the names of the characters.  They are referred to by where they are from.  So Woody Harrelson is Tallahassee, while Emma Stone is Wichita, Eisenberg is Columbus and Breslin is Little Rock.

The cast really sells the movie.  Personally I really like Emma Stone, who has been entertaining in even crappy films like the House Bunny.  And Abigail Breslin is great as her younger sister.  I cannot say too much about these two, because it will spoil some great moments in the film.  Eisenberg is a self described shut in who has survived because he really had no earthly attachments before the zombie apocalypse.  He gets joined by Tallahassee, a rather anti-social guy with a morbid sense of humor and a real hatred of zombies.  And a Twinkie fetish.

This is a strong horror comedy, not unlike Shaun of the Dead, although Shaun of the Dead was much  gorier.  This surprised me, I mean, Zombieland is not…bloodless.  But outside of the very beginning, there is not a lot of grizzly, gory deaths, since it is pretty much all zombies being taken down.  The humor on tap here is at times morbid, but it works in the context of the film.   Trying to describe the jokes just won’t work outside of seeing them in context.  But if you liked Shaun of the Dead?  You will more than likely enjoy Zombieland.

The soundtrack is a fun mix of heavy metal, alternative and country and it works.

I think my only real criticism?  Jesse Eisenberg.  Don’t get me wrong, within the movie, his character is effective.  But there isn’t that much difference between, say, Columbus and James from Adventureland.  Or Jimmy from Cursed.  Eisenberg seems to be playing slight variations on the quirky loner who seeks love persona over and over.  Schwarzenegger has had more range than this.  But all in all?  Zombieland is a keeper.

An Easy Mess (Easy A, 2010)

easy-a-movie-posterI had high hopes of this being a clever teen comedy in the 10 Things I Hate About You Vein.  It starred Emma Stone, who seems to be able to brighten up the lamest of films.  It was a fresh take on a dusty classic.

And there are things I found in the film to be praiseworthy.  It’s likable cast, for instance.  Everyone does well, even though some character roles are terribly thankless(more on that later).  There are some solid laughs, and the interaction between Olive (Stone) and her carefree liberal parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) have their moments.  I liked the framing structure (Olive is broadcasting her story to the web).  I liked how they dealt with the potential fallout of the situation in Olive’s life.  Olive is a very likable character.  Smart, sarcastic, yet compassionate and supportive of her friends (it is this aspect of the character that creates the situation of the movie).

What is that situation?  Basically, Olive makes up a white lie to satisfy her friend Rhi (Aly Milchaka).  She find’s Rhi’s family uncomfortable and does not want to go camping with them, and says she has a date with a college boy.  Rhi presses for details, convinced Olive has lost her virginity.  So, rather than come clean, she tells Rhi what she wants to hear in the girls bathroom.  Which is overheard by Exaggerated Southern Christian Stereot-uh- Marianne (Amanda Bynes).  This spreads across the school like wildfire.  A friend (Dan Byrd) is facing bullying at school.  He’s gay and people suspect it…weary of the abuse he begs Olive to pretend they had sex together.  So at a party, they stage an elaborate sequence to convince everyone that the pair hooked up.

From there it snowballs, other guys start trying to get her okay to say they have done various sexual acts with her.  It snowballs until she is taking credit for things to protect a teacher and losing her friends.

And it is this area where the film just gets messy… for instance, Olive and Rhi have a falling out- resulting in Rhi disappearing for much of the film.  And Marianne…dear God, Marianne.  First, I have a hard time buying that someone that conservative and pious would wear outfits that are all that tight.  I would expect the character to be more modest.  Plus, she has this thick southern accent that nobody else seems to share.  It’s as if they think becoming a Christian results in developing a Texas Accent.  The character is cut from the cloth of a long line of Conservative Evangelical villains, and is so deathly cliched it is insulting-no matter what you believe.

On the positive side, there is no absurd comeuppance sequence revealing Marianne to be some secret slut in an attempt by the movie to shame her.  So, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.

The end is a terrific mess.  I get why they ended it the way they did.  Earlier in the film, Olive laments that her life is not more like an 80’s teen romance, set to a montage of John Cusack, Patrick Dempsy and John Hughes flicks.  And the film’s final moments touch on that, including the montage of characters having a moment of realization.  But much is unresolved in this ending.  And not in a what happens next makes you want more, way.  But rather that you are watching the filmmakers cheat.  What exactly is Marianne’s revelation?  We don’t know.  But she seems sad.  Same with Rhi…and is their friendship salvaged?  Who knows…apparently Olive patching things up with her best friend did not strike the film makers as important.  It feels as if they had no idea how to resolve all their dangling threads…so they just show us the characters looking pensive and assume that allows them to end the movie.  But it just feels like a massive cheat.  So, the film is just a mess of good and bad… it’s a slapdash of humorous scenes and thoughtful moments adrift in a storm of bad storytelling.

The Age Old Question…

Maggie-GyllenhaalSometimes when watching a show or movie at home, I will look people up on the IMDB.  One of my curiosities is to look up actors and actresses in the lead roles who are supposed to be a couple in the film and show and see what kind of age difference there is.  Often, the age difference is pretty large.  Only in the last few years have I recalled seeing pairings of equal ages(within five years of each other).

But it is overwhelmingly in the direction that a couple with a large age gap in film and television being an older guy and younger woman.  On the occasion where it is an older woman and a younger man?  It tends to be the point of the film.  This is, of course, not some new observation I am making.  I am not under any illusion that I stumbled on something.

Just this past May, Maggie Gyllenhall (six years younger than me) told about how she was told she was not getting a role because at 37, she was too old to be the love interest for a 55 year old actor.  If you look through the IMDB, you will actually find that plenty of actresses have no age or birthday listed.  Gyllenhall’s story underscores there are probably good reasons for not including Ages.  If a casting director looks you up on the IMDB?  They cannot simply look at age and pass.

There is a long  standing tradition that it is rude to ask a woman her age.  It is not actually rude…but our patriarchal system has put the greatest emphasis women have to offer is their youth and beauty.The cold hard truth is there is no good reason to demand a romantic interest in a movie be played by a 24 year old when the lead male is Jack Nicholson.  The fact that this is still the norm is proof as to how far we have not come in roles for women in Hollywood.

mirren-loreal_shootPeople talk about how great Helen Mirren looks in a bikini at 70, pat themselves on the back for being supposedly not ageist and hire 27 year old Emma Stone or 25 year old Jennifer Lawrence to play 40 year old Bradley Cooper’s love interest.  The thing is, you know what Helen Mirren brings to film?  Not a great bikini body, but tremendous acting talent.  Emma and Jennifer are attractive, but they are more talented than to be treated as the eye candy for older actor’s arms.  And the larger the gap, the more it can just feel creepy.

It is time to stop telling women their age is the enemy.  Film and television can help by choosing age appropriate actresses for their leading men more than they do not.  Because there are certainly cases where you might be telling the tale of an age gap.  But if that is not part of the plot, if your lead just happens to be dating or married to someone ten years his junior, maybe rethink that.  You seem very conscious of who you pair older women up with, Hollywood (just how often are Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench paired up with male leads in their 30’s or 40’s?).  Show that conscientious attitude with your male leads.  You might be surprised.

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