“Welcome to Zombieland. Back for seconds? After all this time? Well, what can I say, but thank you. You have a lot of choices when it comes to zombie entertainment, and we appreciate you picking us.”
Zombieland was an unexpected gem, a cynical and yet strangely joyous take on the apocalypse. Although fans clamoured for a sequel, the rising stars of Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone meant that it took a full decade to arrive and in many ways that is Double Tap‘s biggest problem in a saturated genre, even as Columbus addresses it in his introductory voice over. The chief culprit is the script which, although it contains a few laugh-out-loud moments, is largely a retread of the original’s road trip formula. The handful of new characters we meet are one-note caricatures rather than rounded individuals with the emotional depth that elevated Zombieland. Similarly, the high energy of a mid-credits flashback sequence serves only to highlight how muted Double Tap often feels. The result: a frequently entertaining but decidedly shallow sequel that offers no reason to rewatch it rather than its predecessor.
“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”
The best coming of age stories do not simply speak to those going through the transition, but allow adults to reconnect with that period of their youth. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s wonderful debut demonstrates an ear for the naturalistic wit in sardonic teenage dialogue without the artifice of Juno. Socially awkward Nadine is self-involved, disagreeable and at times even casually cruel, but Craig still allows us to sympathise with her experience. This relies heavily on Hailee Steinfeld’s fantastic central performance, humanising Nadine’s positive and negative traits with warm humour, and granting an emotional weight to those teenage experiences that feel life-or-death at the time. I have not been closely following Steinfeld’s career since her arrival as the wilful young girl in True Grit, but I certainly will be now. Woody Harrelson is notable in a supporting role as that rare, patiently understanding teacher on whom any outsider relies. With the exception of Boyhood (which really is a different beast), The Edge of Seventeen is the best example of the genre for some time.
Beckett’s order may as well have been Disney’s diktat. No one was asking for a Han Solo origin story and, with the beloved character already so well fleshed out by the original trilogy, it is hard to see this as much more than a cash grab. When directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were ousted from the project, it seemed the writing was on the wall. Ron Howard stepped in and opted to reshoot three quarters of the film, the requisite for a solo credit. Although the result is actually better than I had feared — with a competently told and occasionally rousing heist tale — like JJ Abrams, Howard plays entirely safe within Star Wars universe. Solo moves at pace so that, as with Rogue One, little time is spent fleshing out the characters, and the only performances that stand out are Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and Donald Glover’s young Lando (an origin story that would have been far more appealing). The film’s strongest element may be John Powell’s score, which plays liberally with a theme by John Williams. Ultimately Solo‘s bland result is another strong argument for seeking out new stories to tell in this expansive universe rather than rehashing the past ad infinitum.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature.”
Concluding Caesar’s trilogy, we find the embittered chimp no longer confident in his intelligence and questioning his decisions as he succumbs to a desire for revenge. The titular “war” is something of a misnomer, though the antagonists are soldiers. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is driven by a specific sense of purpose which sadly, because it is delivered through monologue, never receives real examination. This series has always questioned the extent to which humanity is defined by its intelligence and what it would take for mankind to recognise and respect that intelligence in another species. The final film goes one step further and poses the question at what point one loses that humanity, although there are few answers offered. It is easy to forget that half the characters are animated, such is the quality of the emotion conveyed through motion capture, led by Andy Serkis with a clearly demanding physical performance. Despite the extent to which it is employed, this is CGI used right, in service of the story.
“That’s good. It’s good to be positive despite making zero progress in a year.”
The level of smartness of this sequel is evident from the fact they failed to call it Now You Don’t. Where the original was a surprise success with stylish sleight of hand distracting from its lack of substance, this movie fails to cover its tracks at all. The freshness is gone, but so too is the tension. The tricks are now overblown and ridiculous, to the point that each time one is revealed it induces a groan rather than amazement. There is no magic here.
“My daughter Angela was murdered 7 months ago. It seems to me the police department is too busy torturing black folk to solve actual crimes.”
Based on the talent involved, I expected to like this but I had no idea just how much. Starting with a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter by calling out the local police department, this is really a journey through multiple characters dealing with grief and exploring the effect of tragedy upon our relationships, emerging as anger, love and fear. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are stellar in portraying richly nuanced characters, and are accompanied by an excellent supporting cast. Many scenes are soaked with such powerful emotion, whilst avoiding sentimentality through use of raw drama and dark humour, that watching the film is a cathartic experience. Of particular note, it is rare and refreshing that we see a female character whose grief is expressed through violent, misplaced rage. Martin McDonagh proved his talent with In Bruges but has seriously upped his game.