MOVIE REVIEW: Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s a sequel too late in the making, but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP squeezes out enough comedic chemistry from its excellent reunited cast to keep the audience laughing even when the lethargic plot fails to hold our attention. The original foursome of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been living together for 10 years in The United States of Zombieland and are making a home out of the abandoned White House when the sisters once again feel the need to strike out on their own – this time because Wichita fears commitment and the all-grown-up Little Rock wants to experience adulthood on her own. From there the story is mostly a road trip, with the group meeting new survivors, facing off against more dangerously evolved zombies, and contending with a colony of pacifists along the way to restoring their little family.

The film’s primary faults lie in an extreme reuse of/reliance on material from its predecessor, Columbus’ “rules” and old jokes are recycled frequently instead of introducing fresh new ones, and a lack of emotional weight. It’s not that we don’t care whether Wichita and Columbus end up happily ever after or if Little Rock will find love, but the film never reaches the heights of the original’s climactic Pacific Playland sequence when it comes to us caring about the fates of our characters.

The original cast is definitely giving their all even with less than stellar dialogue to deliver, and Zoey Deutch’s inclusion alone will be worth the price of admission for many; her extremely “extra” survivor Madison brings about the best banter in the film and elicited theater-wide laughter numerous times. I couldn’t decide whether I found her character more maddeningly annoying, hilarious, or attractive, and I mean that as praise. Deutch’s performance is definitely the one thing I won’t forget about the film and is worthy of all the memes it is sure to inspire.

Other additions to the cast include a short but hilarious appearance by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a pair of eerily similar personalities to Tallahassee and Columbus, and an appropriately badass role for Rosario Dawson. However, though not without their charm, these felt more like cameos than significant additions to the plot.

One place the film definitely shines is in the action department, where the high-octane zombie kills are more creative and realistically bloody than ever before. The easily squeamish might want to sit this one since there is vomit and gore galore, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with some of the most exciting action of the series during the film’s standout climax.

Sadly, the lack of moving, character deepening moments holds this back from being more than just an occasionally energetic, mostly funny nostalgic trip. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP will likely satisfy fans of the first film, but the magic isn’t quite there and it feels like a big time missed opportunity to improve upon the original’s formula. The definition of a mixed bag: see it with tempered expectations and just enjoy the ride. Oh, and be sure to stay through the credits for a special treat.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 192: Zombieland

Kicking off a little mini run on zombie flicks for this October, we discuss one of the more unique entries in this sub-genre. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the United States of Zombieland, but there are moments of poignancy that give us the feels too. So go ahead and push play because it’s time to nut up or shut up!

Zombieland Review – 0:01:30

The Connecting Point – 0:52:13

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Episode 182: No Country For Old Men

For our third film in this year’s Director Battle Month series, our Facebook group chose a Coen Bros. gem that many consider a masterpiece, but leaves others full of anger. We dig in to themes of choice and consequence, as well as chance and fate, for this neo-western conservation.

No Country For Old Men Review – 0:05:39 

Connecting Point – 1:04:17

 

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Highwaymen

 


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Venom


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 111: Solo-A Star Wars Story

In appropriately numbered Episode 111, we talk all things Han Solo, and we do mean ALL things. With so many origin stories there is plenty to discuss.  We talk about which ones worked, which ones didn’t, where Star Wars spin-off films go from here, and how sometimes it’s okay to just have a little fun at the movies.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10
(Aaron – Star Wars marathon)
(Patrick – Monsters)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review – 0:19:36

The Connecting Point – 1:23:05


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 086: The Edge of Seventeen

Feelin’ Film writer Jeremy Calcara joins us for a discussion about one of our favorite coming-of-age films. The Edge of Seventeen is unique in its rejection of typical genre tropes in order to tell a more realistic and innocent story. With memorable characters and relationships, this is a film we expect to find ourselves revisiting often, and talking about it brings us great joy.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:42

Aaron (Brigsby Bear)
Patrick (Love & Mercy)
Andrew (Brigsby Bear, The Punisher on Netflix)

The Edge of Seventeen Review – 0:17:38

The Connecting Point – 1:19:16

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Glass Castle

How does the old saying go? You can’t choose your family? If you could, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would willingly pick the Walls family. The Glass Castle, based off the memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls, tells the story of a dysfunctional family living way below the poverty line, desperate to find a balance between survival and hope. Held afloat by powerful performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) and co-writer  Andrew Lanham (The Shack) do a decent job in spotlighting  the shocking day to day experience of being a child of Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts.) But this membership holds no privileges.

The Walls structure their parenting (use that term in the loosest possible way) philosophy around indifference and empty promises. The result is an environment suited to reckless endangerment, emotional and physical abuse, and a disinterest in pursuing any exploit that might better their lot in life. A lot of this neglect is shadowed by a delusion that everything will work out, which only serves to justify their lack of effort and responsibility.  Added to that is the drunken state Rex usually resides in, and the blissful ignorant haze that gets Rose through life. It’s a frustrating and often uncomfortable watch- one that is all too easy to judge from the sidelines- yet one that is peppered with just enough sentimental moments to play with our emotions and rage against our instincts as rational human beings.

Where The Glass Castle falls short is in its inability to push the boundaries outside the Walls’ family bubble.  Something the book does very well is focus on the societal impact of living in this level of squalor, especially on the children. They are bullied at school. There is a constant fear of social workers intervening. The images the book conjures in your mind are infinitely more graphic than what is depicted onscreen. The film brushes over a lot of that in favor of keeping within the confines of interpersonal family relationships.

Told primarily through the lens of young Jeanette, played with a wide-eyed precociousness by Ella Anderson (The Boss), all of our emotional chips are wagered on the fallout from Rex’s indiscretions and how they impact his family. Promises of one day striking it rich and building a fantastical “glass castle”, Rex manipulates Jeanette with false hope. As his children get older and more wiser to his bullshit, Rex flees deeper into his alcoholism, leading to much darker situations that are likely to leave audience members sickened with disgust. But, throughout all of the hurt and anger justifiably levied against their parents by the children, there is always an air of unconditional love lingering. That’s where a lot of people are struggling to hang their hat.

Because of the focus on Jeanette and Rex, Harrelson and Larson get the lion’s share of dramatics to handle. Harrelson is doing some of his best work here. It’s a role that seems built for his irascible style. Larson continues to prove she’s worthy of acclaim.  Even though she really only gets one “awards worthy” scene, it’s a powerful moment in which she’s able to express Jeanette’s long festering frustration with her parents, and it’s quite satisfying as a viewer that has had to watch these kids go through Hell for ninety minutes. I’d like to say the remaining characters leave an impression, but their moments simply aren’t as impactful. Watts is never given much to do other than hang around in a lot of scenes as the compliant waif to Rex’s aggressions. The other kids are there more or less because they have to be.

So the difficult question to answer is, do the filmmakers sprinkle a bit too much sugar on the film to make it more palatable? Do the arguably criminal actions of the Wall’s level of neglect warrant a mostly happy ending? Most of the critics serving negative reviews I’ve seen seem to want to die on this particular hill. The consensus is that transgressions such as these couldn’t possibly align with themes of redemption and forgiveness.  Admittedly, I’m not sure I would be able to find that level within myself, but it’s easy to say that as an outsider looking in. The book and the film seem to indicate that the power of love is strong within this hot mess of a family. Only Jeanette Walls and her three siblings get to decide whether that’s a worthy ending.

Rating: