Thursday, October 24, 2019

Zombieland Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Director: Ruben Fleisher
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Bill Murray
Zombie films have proven to be cyclical. Like the undead beings they portray, the zombie genre is resurrected and disposed of according to the public’s interest or the success of one particular film. Back in the 70’s, thanks to the success of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), zombie films made a resurgence. They grew in popularity thanks to all the Italian knock offs that came as a result of Romero’s seminal film. I speak of films like Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979) and The Beyond (1983) and a whole slew of Italian zombie films that were released during the 80’s. In America, we saw films like Return of the Living Dead (1985), Day of the Dead (1985), Re-Animator (1985) and Night of the Creeps (1986). In a few years, zombie movies died again and disappeared. During the 90’s, few of them were released in theaters and the ones that did get released were not box office giants. But time passed and in 2002 that all changed, zombie movies were back at the box office and they came back strong! Thanks to box office hits like 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Resident Evil (2002), zombie movies were back in a big way! Zombies even infested our tv screens with shows like the ever popular The Walking Dead, which is still shambling around.

Zombieland (2009) was released around the time when people were still obsessed with zombies. It was a moderate hit, which should have meant a quick sequel. Instead, for whatever the reason, they waited a decade to make it. So now here comes the sequel, a whole decade late. I can definitely say it couldn’t have come at a worse time, because at this point,  people are zombied out. This zombie wave is reaching its end …zombie fatigue is definitely here and it is felt in the lackluster box office performance of Zombieland Double Tap (2019) Yes my friends, my take on Zombieland Double Tap is that it’s a sequel that came about ten years too late. And you know how that goes when you wait too long to do a sequel, people stop caring. If you don’t believe me just see Dumb and Dumber 2 (2014), Zoolander 2 (2016) or any other sequel that waited too damn long to be made. The moment has passed, the magic is gone. I say it’s always a mistake to wait that long. Unless your film is a sequel to a beloved franchise that people can’t get enough off, chances are your long gestating sequel will die a quick death at the box office. 

Why make Zombieland 2 now? When people have had their fill of zombies for years? Apparently the filmmakers have their faiths set on the cast, who at this point are all Oscar nominees or winners. Or they think they have an important enough story that it simply has to be told! But quite honestly it doesn’t feel that way at all. In fact, it’s a very silly movie that exists only to make us laugh and giggle, the story is just an excuse for the comedy antics which is fine by me, the only problem for me is that I feel they could have made it funnier. I’m sure a lot of people will find it an unnecessary film. As it is, it's simply a watchable film. 

It’s great seeing Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin together again. They still have the chemistry, which is really what saves this movie. It's the script that's weak. And that's a sad story too because apparently they waited this long because they were waiting for the right script or it wasn't going to happen. Let's see how this story’s been more than ten years since we last saw them and the zombie apocalypse is still going strong with a (wait for it) new strand of zombie that has evolved and become stronger and faster. The team has decided to find their “forever home” and it’s the abandoned white house. The story revolves around rescuing Abigail Breslin’s character, who has decided to run off with a hippy who doesn’t believe in violence. And they decided to go to Graceland, Elvis's home. So off they go to rescue her, along the way they meet a couple of funny characters. 

But honestly there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before in other zombie movies. An evolved strand of zombies? Check. The zombie free haven they have to get to by the end of the movie? Check. They even have an entire scene that we’d already seen before in Resident Evil Extinction (2007), so this one doesn’t get any bonus points for originality in terms of zombie antics. I did laugh a few times, but I feel that if the filmmakers knew that they were not bringing anything new to the table in terms of zombie mayhem, then they should have at least amped up the comedy and made it a full on super comedy. I mean, I did like the ditzy dumb blonde girl…and the Tallahassee and Columbus clones…but we needed more slapstick, silly stuff. Problem is that the actors on this film aren’t comedians, they are actors who are in a movie that’s supposed to be funny. The film could have benefited from casting actual comedians in the main roles. Why is it that Hollywood keeps making comedies without comedians? I don’t get that. 

It’s not all bad, while this movie does feel a tad unnecessary, it does have a few things that keep it from being a total waste of your time, like for example, there’s the opening sequence that imitates the opening sequence from the first film. If you remember correctly, the first film opened to slow motion zombie mayhem to the tune of Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, on this one they do the same slow motion zombie mayhem thing, but to the tune of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ which is just perfect,  loved that opening credits sequence.  There’s an after credits scene involving Bill Murray killing zombies, make sure you stay for that. There’s a scene that involves Rosario Dawson driving a monster truck that was pretty freaking sweet. But that’s about it. A fun movie my friends, but nothing you’ll remember after you walk out of the theater. It’s got zombies, but nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s funny, but not super funny. So it’s a very been there done that kind of film, very so-so. I guess the correct word for this one is ‘bland’ and that’s not a good thing for a zombie film to be. So in a way, Zombieland Double Tap has dug its own grave. Bottom line is, we are witnessing the last throes of this cinematic zombie wave. I am currently waiting for Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead to be released, which to be honest has my full attention, my curiosity is peaked. It looks like that will be the film to determine if we’ll see any more theatrically released zombie films in the coming years. Let’s see where this goes.
 Rating: 3 out of 5

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Joker (2019)

Joker (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips 

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Deniro

Joker has taken the world by storm. I had a hint that it was going to be better than your ordinary comic book movie when the media started their fear campaign against it. Somebody somewhere made damn sure that major media outlets started spreading the news that going to see Joker might be a dangerous thing because the movie might instigate a crazy loon to sneak into your theater and shot gun you to death. Sure it happened before during The Dark Knight Returns (2008), but that was an isolated incident and we sure as hell are not gonna let one crazy bastard (who started shooting people in a theater while dressed in a Joker outfit) ruin our movie going experiences. They also had people believe that it is way to violent. Okay, so it is violent I wont say it isn’t, but there’s way more violent films out there. John Wick Chapter 3 (2019) and Rambo: The Last Blood (2019) are two fine examples of films that are way more violent and graphic than Joker, so that argument was weak. So why did the media target this film for termination? Why did the powers that control the media focus all their forces against this film? Could it be that it actually had something to say? 

 Glad to say that yes, this film does in fact have a lot to say and I applaud it for doing so because we do live in a world in which being truthful is frowned upon and wearing a mask to hide what we really have to say is the norm.  Film reviewers who weren’t attached to mainstream media (and I speak of bloggers and movie sites) were hailing it as a masterpiece. My movie buff experience has shown me that usually, when the media tries its best to kill a movie, its’ because they are afraid of it. When the media started to label it as dangerous, I immediately put the movie on my must watch list. The media tells me not to do it, I’m gonna do the opposite, because normally they don’t give a shit what crappy movie you go see. But when they’re self-righteous, politically correct minds stand against something so strongly, it’s because they are afraid of it. And ho boy do they have a reason to be afraid of Joker. 

 Sure, it's “just a movie”, but like the highest type of literature, film can also serve as a mirror to ourselves; to society and Joker simply put, is right on the money as to how a huge part of society feels right now. The poor are suffering, the rich are getting fatter and things are tough all over as Cheech and Chong use to say. Yeah people are struggling to survive in this crazy world, many are one paycheck from living out on the streets…one crazy moment away from going totally bat shit insane. And when the masses can’t take it no more, all they need is a little push to drive them over the edge. This is what “they” are afraid of, that those in need of waking up might do so because of this movie. That they might suddenly see what’s being done to them and that seeing the film might push them to do something about it. That is the reason “they” don’t want you to see it. But tell a kid not to do something, and he’ll go right ahead and do it. So others might see the whole “controversy” as a marketing campaign. If it is, it worked like gang busters. 

 Will this movie incite people to revolt? To scream as the main character in Network (1976) did “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!”? Actually, that quote is referenced in Joker, leading us cinephiles and movie buffs to understand the mentality behind this fine picture. That mentality of uncovering the insanity behind the status quo of society, showing us, with laser like accuracy, the ones to blame for the state of the nation. What they fear with this movie is that people will see themselves mirrored in the main character of the Joker. And I’m sure many will. We’ve all been in that tight spot, living paycheck to paycheck, praying that pay day gets here…only to see our checks vanish in thin air due to how expensive life is at the moment. So yes, many people will see their lives addressed in this here film.

 Now these are all issues that need to be addressed, we cannot go through life ignoring problems. As we all know, when we do that, problems only tend to get bigger. Issues have to be addressed and talked about, so solutions can surface and progress is achieved. Kudos to the filmmakers behind Joker for that. For harnessing societies collective anxieties in one film. Now, Joker is not the first film to do that and the filmmakers behind Joker know this, which is why they borrowed and paid homage to films of the same ilk. I speak of course of Taxi Driver (1976), The King of Comedy (1982), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fight Club (1999) and Network (1976). You’ll find bits and pieces of all these movies in Joker. And that’s a good thing in my book, it drew inspiration from similar films and created this amazing film that brings its own original and show stopping moments to the silver screen. 

 I am pleasently surprised with where DC went with Joker. This film is the anti-thesis of Marvel movies. Joker was decidedly adult and dramatic, serious and raw. It’s not a cgi fest, it’s not PG-13, it does not have a post credits sequence…simply put, if you had superhero fatigue, Joker is the cure. Now keep in mind that it is not your traditional “comic book film”, you’re not gonna see heroes posing with the full moon in the back looking all mysterious and menacing. You’re not going to get your traditional Joker either, so don’t expect Joker falling into a vat of chemicals while fighting Batman. No, this film functions more like an issue of ‘What If…?’ from Marvel Comics, an alternate take on the Joker. It’s closer in spirit to what Fox did with Logan (2017), it takes the character to previously unseen levels of dramatic possibilities. It takes the Batman mythos and uses it as an excuse to address social issues and present us with a picture perfect character study of a mental patient. 

 Speaking of which Joaquin Phoenix delivered such a masterful performance. The Oscar for performance of the year is his, I am almost certain of it. If he doesn’t win it, I will lose what little faith I had in the Oscars. If he doesn’t win, there’s something wrong with “the academy”, which has always been a bit looney anyways. Joaquin will convince you of his madness. He really did immerse himself into the role, losing weight to look sickly and being extremely intense on set. He was recorded getting upset because someone was making fun of him on the set, calling him a “diva”. To that I say, why mess with an actor that is “in the zone” trying to create a memorable performance? I side with Joaquin who said “I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t have done it”. And I totally get him. When you see the performance, you see he wasn’t just reading his lines, he wasn’t just “getting a paycheck” with this movie. No, he was living that role, he was meaning it. With this performance, Joaquin puts other actors to shame. This will be, I’m sure, the performance of his life. The one they will most remember Phoenix by. 

 Technically speaking the film is amazing as well. It shows us a very ugly picture of society, sure, but it looks so beautiful. Somebody had the brilliant idea of shooting in New York and making it look like Gotham and I have to say this was a genius idea. Maybe it had something to do with Scorcese producing? As cinephiles everywhere know, Scorcese has always been enamored with the Big Apple, and so maybe his clout made it all happen. Because normally, studios stay away from filming in New York because it is so expensive to shoot there. On a personal note, I had a blast when I discovered they shot the most iconic scene in the film (that of Joker dancing on those long steps) in the neighborhood where I grew up in, in The Bronx. It was so cool to see Joker dancing around my old elementary school! To see him dancing his glorious dance in those steps I went up so many times! 

 Final words: it’s not all the time that we get a film that syphons the way the public feels about society so well. This is the reason why the film is breaking all sorts of records. It’s because people see themselves in the film. Joker has high marks all around, great performances, great script, an amazing musical score (reminiscent of Taxi Driver's own score) and beautiful visuals, a true masterpiece of modern cinema. I love that DC is finally doing the right thing by not trying to duplicate Marvel’s movies, but rather getting as far away from them as possible. Keep it up DC, chins up, you’ve redeemed yourselves with this one! Don’t drop the ball with the next one!  

Rating: 5 out of 5


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