Horror

Zombieland: Double Tap

First Hit: There are some wonderfully funny moments in this zombie spoof.

Ten years after the original Zombieland, the same characters are back, older, wiser, and ready to take on the ever-evolving zombies. To this end, the team talks about the three different types of zombies, but then they learn about the high powered zombies.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still roaming the eastern part of the United States, taking what they want, living where they want, and killing all the Zombies that come their way.

The women are struggling with the men. Little Rock is feeling out of sorts because she’s running around with adults, and she would like to find people her own age. Wichita is feeling pressured by Columbus to get married. Adding to the women’s misery, Tallahassee thinks he’s the boss of this motley crew and spends most of his time tinkering with The Beast, the Gatling gun protected car.

Deciding to take residence in the White House, things come to a head. Little Rock and Wichita steal The Beast and leave a cryptic note for the men saying “so long.”

Wichita and Little Rock run into a young hippy they call Berkeley (Avan Jogia), who is a pacifist guitar-playing guy looking for Babylon. A place he says, where no guns allowed, and the compound is walled off to protect the residents from the zombies.

Columbus runs into Madison (Zoey Deutch) at a mall that he and Tallahassee are pilfering. She’s a dumb blonde who has been living in a freezer that keeps her safe from the zombies. She goes back to the White House with him and seduces him.

Little Rock leaves her sister Wichita to run off with Berkeley in search of Graceland and then maybe Babylon. Alone, Wichita comes back to the White House to ask Tallahassee and Columbus to help her find her younger sister. But as soon as she gets there, she confronts Columbus for sleeping with Madison so quickly after she had left.

Deciding to stay together, they head out to find Little Rock, fearing she’s making a mistake. The journey has them killing lots of zombies on their way to Graceland, thinking that is where Little Rock was headed. After seeing Graceland empty, they find the church of Elvis and find Nevada (Rosario Dawson) running the joint, alone. Ready to rest before heading out again, The Beast is run over and crushed by a monster truck driven by Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch).

With Albuquerque and Flagstaff acting just like Tallahassee and Columbus, respectively, there are moments of great full-throated laughs through the one-ups-man-ship of these four guys. The back and forth is priceless.

The theme of this film is outrageous fun through gags and props. Some of the accessories are; The Beast, the suburban van, the motorhome, Babylon (pronounced by Madison as “Baby lon”), and who killed Bill Murray. Murray is shown in the opening minutes of the ending credits, stay for this. Even Elvis gets his due in this film.

Harrelson is hilarious. He uses sincere looks while going through his mood swings. But the underlying smirk of amusement and self-deprecating humor makes his performance thoroughly enjoyable. Eisenberg was excellent as the semi-cautious list-making member of this crew. Stone is terrific as Eisenberg’s love interest and older sister to Little Rock. Breslin has physically changed more than anyone of the other actors in this crew because she was very young in the original film. She carried her scenes with strength. Deutch was so much fun as the dumb blonde. She made this role work exceptionally well, and I enjoyed her as an addition to this team. Dawson was beautiful as the proprietor of the church of Elvis. Wilson and Middleditch were great as memes of Harrelson and Eisenberg respectively. The swagger of Wilson and the nerdiness of Middleditch were correctly done. Jogla, as Berkeley, the hippie, was OK. I just didn’t think he brought the same level of humor and fun to his role. Murray, in the credits, was excellent. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Dave Callahan wrote a fun script. They didn’t try to make it too close to the first film and just let the fun be expressed in this one. Ruben Fleischer did an excellent job of directing this film with a loose fun-filled feel while keeping the story logical and moving.

Overall: This film was a great follow-up to the original.

Don't Let Go

First Hit: Visually well crafted and ambitious in concept, ultimately it didn’t quite satisfy.

Films that mess with time (jump time), like “Memento” and “Frequency” have had their ways to jump time and create an engaging story. “Don’t Let Go” does this and then some.

In this story, the deep trusting relationship between a Policeman Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) and his niece Ashley (Storm Reed), is put to the test when Ashley, her father (and Jack’s brother) Garret (Brian Tyree Henry), and mother Susan (Shinelle Azoroh) are brutally murdered, or are involved in a murder-suicide.

The film does a great job of showing how close Jack and Ashley are through multiple telephone calls and one on one discussions. He does this because his brother has had a checkered past, and he wants the best for Ashley.

Jack gets a disturbing and interrupting call from Ashley that ends in a hang-up. He drives over to his brother’s home and finds them all murdered. Shocked, he thinks that this could be the result of Garret’s re-involvement in illegal drugs, with the intent to distribute.

Despondent, he’s in shock during the funeral which is then followed by scenes of him sitting at home, at a loss for why this happened.  Shortly after that, he gets a call from Ashley’s phone and the voice on the other end is definitely Ashley, although it is more scratchy sounding than usual. She hangs up. He calls back and gets a message that this number is no longer in use. Shocked he checks the police crime scene file boxes and doesn’t find her phone. Breaking into his brother’s murder scene sealed home, he finds the phone in the tub. It is broken and doesn’t work.

He then gets another call from Ashley from her number, and he begins to talk with her while trying to grapple with how this can be because he’s buried Ashley and yet she’s calling him.

Eventually, he determines that she’s calling him from the past and by slowly accepting that if he can change Ashley’s past actions, just before the murderous event, he is hoping to help her shift her future and his future as well, the one he’s already lived through.

That’s what this film attempts to do, have the audience believe this possible and improbably story of past and future existing at the same time. The work to make this film believable is all up to the acting of Oyelowo because he’s trying to live in three different time frames all at the same time. In doing so, he must juggle and make the audience believe the various versions and scenarios of the story. In two of them he gets shot. One he gets shot by a drive-by shooting. In another he gets shot twice, once in a warehouse and then by a fellow officer. These wounds bring him to the edge of death but also make him figure out who his brother’s murderer is and who might be corrupt in the police department. Ultimately, he’s able to help Ashley stay alive and conversely it allows him to live.

This is a complex film, and I thought the sets and scenes were well designed. The alleyways, buildings, and street scenes were not overpowering, but they brought the right tone and reality to this mystery.

Oyelowo does an outstanding job of creating belief. Less of an actor would have made this film a mess and unbelievable. He was able to use his protective love for Ashley in a most effective way. The whole restaurant gum scene was beautiful. Reed shows again (“A Wrinkle in Time” among her credits) what a wonderful actor she is becoming. Again, watch the restaurant gum scene, she’s magnificent in it. Mykelti Williamson, as fellow police officer and friend Bobby, was excellent as a trusted friend and eventually an antagonist. Jacob Estes wrote and directed this complex and challenging movie. At times, I felt I needed different clarifying touchpoints, but it was well done.

Overall: Although I really liked the components, I still don’t feel that the film finished as well as it could have.

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

Ma

First Hit: Moderately thrilling at times.

This is a story about someone who was bullied as a high school student and finally having the opportunity to go overboard and get back at what was done to her.

Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) picks up the nickname “Ma” from a bunch of high school kids for whom she buys liquor because they are too young to buy it themselves. “Ma” also offers these kids a place to party and drink the alcohol she obtains for them.

Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mom Erica (Juliette Lewis) have just moved from San Diego to her mom’s hometown in Ohio. Erica has taken a job as a cocktail waitress while training to be a card dealer at a casino.

Attending high school on her first day, Maggie meets up with Haley (McKaley Miller) who convinces her to join her and a few friends for a drinking party just outside of town. One of Haley’s friends and someone who smiled and said “hi” to Maggie is Andy (Cory Fogelmanis). Maggie joins them on this adventure, especially because Andy will be there.

Standing outside the liquor store, Maggie gets Sue Ann to buy some liquor. Sue Ann convinces the kids to follow her to her house where they can party, and she can keep tabs on them.

The word spreads around school that “Ma” will not only get them booze but let the kids drink and have fun in her basement. But there is something suspicious about “Ma” and Maggie suspects there is an underlying current of weirdness.

We learn that “Ma” went to school with Maggie’s mom and Andy’s dad Ben (Luke Evans) because the story cuts back and forth through time showing these adults as kids in high school and the mean trick they played on Sue Ann.

It is in this context that Sue Ann decides she’s going to get revenge on the people that embarrassed and humiliated her. She does this through their kids, the ones coming to her house to party.

Secrets are revealed, and the and the sick pain “Ma” feels about what was done to her expresses itself in several horrific scenes.

Spencer is rather good as the kind veterinarian assistant and the off the charts psychotic revenge focused woman in her hometown. She did a great job of changing her look as needed. Lewis is always interesting to watch on screen. She always makes me think she’s just hanging out on edge. Silvers is excellent as the somewhat shy, yet intelligent young girl. Miller is keen as the friend who creates excitement around herself. Fogelmanis is very good as the young man who cares about Maggie. Evans is terrific as the man who is the primary subject of Ma’s vengeance. Scotty Landes wrote this script that attempts to tell the darkest side of what happens to people who are bullied. Tate Taylor got strong performances from the young cast and Spencer.

Overall: It was fun to watch Spencer change her expressions from light-hearted and helpful to dark and revengeful.

The Intruder

First Hit: A day after watching this movie, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it.

A good film has you remember something about it, the next day, next week, next month, and next year. This film barely made it to the next day. A movie like “Wait Until Dark,” which might be categorized as the same genre, is still is with me today, and I saw it in 1967.

The idea of this film is; a couple decides to buy a country home in Napa Valley, fix it up, and hopefully raise a family in their new home. The house they fall in love with is owned by a man who claims his wife died about two years ago from cancer and it’s time for him to move on and live in Florida with his daughter. But, with any good horror mystery, there is a wrinkle in the idyllic story.

Here we have Annie and Scott Russell (Megan Good and Michael Ealy respectively), having had success, wanting to move from a condo in San Francisco to a home in Napa Valley. The home Annie falls in love with is owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid).

The faults started early for me. The looks and quick switches in attitude by Peck made him a creepy suspect too soon. He didn’t sell the story of his wife dying of cancer well enough. That is what disappointed me about this film. It telegraphed too loud and too early the player's positions in this film.

Annie, on her part, was too trusting too early and in apparent situations where caution would be the by-word, she wasn’t. Scott was on edge too early as well. His mistrust and skittishness seemed a little too fabricated.

Anyway, after buying the house, Peck keeps showing up at Russell’s home, mowing the lawn, yelling at people installing a security system, and trying to be helpful. He isn’t, and the creepiness oozes from his eyes and a fake smile.

The story unfolds as one might imagine, but the over crafting from the beginning led to an apparent predictable ending. Additionally, I live in the San Francisco Bay area I’m surprised that Scott, as a high-level advertising executive, would consider making a daily commute from Napa to San Francisco. It might have been better if they had moved to Mill Valley, Fairfax, or other Marin County areas, than Napa. I couldn’t get around the commute as being something viable.

Ealy was OK as Scott. However, his suspicions were telegraphed too early in the film. Good was acceptable as Annie. Her naivety towards Peck by not seeing his obvious behavior flaws was not believable. As a for instance, note the scene when she invites him in to share the pizza he delivers to her, dumb. Quaid overacted the part, but I did think his evil grin was well done. He sort of had a “Chuckie” look to him. Joseph Sikora as Scott’s close friend Mike was reasonable in his role as up and coming young, robust and rich guy. Alvina August was acceptable as Mike’s girlfriend who put up with Mike’s posturing. David Loughery wrote a good script, but it was the direction by Deon Taylor that failed to make the story memorable. He didn’t get much out of his actors and sided on overacting to make this film.

Overall: This film is totally forgettable and not worth seeing.