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Zombieland: Double Tap

Ten years later, the gang’s still together, living in the White House like one big semi-content family, and even more improbably, still alive. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been together long enough that their zombie battles are like a well-choreographed ballet. They know each other intimately. Columbus and Wichita have somehow remained romantically involved, even if it’s stale (the lack of options might be keeping them together), and Tallahassee has appointed himself Little Rock’s substitute father, whether she wants or needs one or not.

You don’t even have to read between the lines to know that one day, the boys will wake up and find the girls gone. Sometimes you’d rather risk your brain being slurped out of your face holes than spend another night watching Netflix with your smarmy, curly-haired, concave-chested boyfriend.

The only hitch is that while these 4 bozos have gone stagnant this past decade, their zombie counterparts have not. The zombies are evolving, becoming harder to kill and better at killing. Which is depressing. Anyway, against their will, circumstances will see them all hitting the road with some new comrades in arms, hitting up Graceland and a hippie commune and literally an ice cream truck in between. Rosario Dawson joins the crew as Nevada, a badass innkeeper, and they pick up Zoey Deutch as Madison, a woman who has thus far managed to survive the zombie apocalypse because she’s absolutely brainless. It’s a role that you will make you hate her AND admire her for performing it just a little too well.

I’m naturally skeptical about sequels and I bet you are too. And yet this one reunites the whole gang and manages to recapture the magic. It leans on some of the things that made the first film unique, but doesn’t shy away from trying new things out. It finds the laugh more often than not.

I was particularly mesmerized by the clever set design; the White House is full of funny sight gags and Easter eggs that the movie doesn’t even pause to appreciate. The commune, while wholly different, is also very generously designed and outfitted. Everything in the movie is amped up – especially the violence. A head caving made even stoic Sean flinch. Or maybe he was suppressing a sneeze. The point is, my head was so firmly turned away from the screen in self-protection that I was watching him rather than the movie. Which only sounds like a complaint. In fact I quite enjoyed myself. There was really no need for a Zombieland sequel and it’s not overly concerned with justifying itself. But director Ruben Fleischer and company manage to make blood and guts endearing – go ahead and get splattered with good times.

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Zombieland

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us the first rule of surviving in the United States of Zombieland is: cardio. “The first to go are the fatties.” Well, shit. I mean, not that I’ll mind much. I’ve gone on record before – I am not a survivor. I would 130% rather die than live without clean fingernails, hot soup, pillow-top mattresses, a good light to read by, air conditioning, my hot tub…well, the list is nearly endless. I am what they call “high maintenance” and I am not embarrassed. My happiness is not accidental, it is the result of favourable conditions and many comfort items. It’s basic math. More is more. Plus, I think running for your life is undignified. I won’t even walk briskly for a bus.

Columbus, a loner and a weakling, is perhaps himself an unlikely survivor, but his odds increase when he teams up with fellow traveler Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is infinitely cooler and braver and better at this zombie shit. And yet they still fall prey to a couple of young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are simply smarter. It’s when all 4 start traveling together that the fun really starts. Sure it contravenes some of Columbus’ dearly held rules, like traveling light and not being a hero, but just because you’re being chased by brain-hungry hoards doesn’t mean you’re not also horny.

It’s sort of incredible that it’s been 10 years since Zombieland came out; it was one of the first movies that Matt, Sean and I would have seen together. I would have met Sean about 2.5 months prior and he was already being the third wheel on Jay & Matt adventures. We saw Zombieland at a downtown Ottawa theatre that no longer exists – The World Exchange. I was about to say that we could walk there from our apartment but in October 2009, it was still technically only Sean’s apartment (and always would be – when I moved in with all my stuff, we moved up 2 floors to a spacious 2 bedroom). Now of course we’ve done the big suburban exodus. In 10 years we’ve bought 1 house, 3 more dogs, 4 cars, 6 weddings (5 of them ours). We’ve added 15 people to our immediate families – 9 by birth and 6 by marriage. If life can change this much in a decade for us and our cushy little existence, imagine how much things have changed for the people living the zombie apocalypse. They have no government, no infrastructure, no twinkies. When we left them at the end of Zombieland, all they had was each other. What have they been up to? How are they possibly surviving? Did they hole up in a farm? Contract the flu? Did Wichita beat Columbus to death with a studded baseball bat? We’ll find out this weekend, when the sequel finally hits theatres.

The Art of Self-Defense

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a meek man. He gets bullied at work by the very clique he wishes most to belong to. He photocopies their favourite tittie magazine in black and white xerox to study it, and by doing so, completely misses the point.

One night, coming home with dog food, he is attacked by a motorcycle gang and beaten within an inch of his life. He survives and decides to make some changes. He signs up for karate lessons at a dojo where we encounter toxic masculinity at its most pungent. He learns punches and kicks, but more importantly, how to be a MAN, a manly MAN: to listen to metal, to learn German rather than French, to replace his beloved wiener dog with a more aggressive variety. He’s also encouraged to beat people as severely as he was beaten. These changes do in fact make him more confident. And also a dick.

Nothing in this film is played for laughs. In fact, it’s delivered largely in deadpan monotone, a stylistic choice applied fairly evenly throughout the cast. It takes a minute to get used to this, or get over it maybe, but it’s also an important clue that we’re investing in satire and critique, and if the film seems a little outrageous, a little over the top, well, that’s the point.

Casey is quickly swept up by the dojo’s charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt but second class citizen Anna (Imogen Poots). If it sounds like a cult, good. It is not not a cult. But it’s also kind of karate, a homoerotic, needlessly violent, testament to testosterone. But when Casey gets promoted to Sensei’s mysterious night classes, it’s a whole new world of brotherhood, brutality and a special brand of hyper-masculinity that requires constant proving.

The humour is dry and dark as hell; in this script, a well-chosen word can wound as much as hand or foot. Or gun, though guns are for the weak. Eisenberg is well-suited for the role; he channels nascent neuroses as well as the yearning to be more. Writer-director Riley Stearns is perhaps a little inconsistent, but is brave in his stinging skewering of American masculinity, economic with words but generous with derision. It’s a little hard to take at times, but patience will be rewarded.

The Hummingbird Project

Not that the world needed another ode to American greed, but here goes.

Vince and Anton are cousins who work in high-frequency trading for Eva Torres. Eva (Salma Hayek) is interested in finding an even higher frequency: on the stock market, traders who could get into the best deals even a fraction of a fraction of a second faster would ultimately have a huge cumulative advantage worth billions of dollars over time. Vince (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks he can one-up her, so he leaves, taking coder cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) along with him.

Their scheme involves digging a fiber-optic line in a straight shot between Kansas and New Jersey. And I do mean straight: through mountains and rivers and Amish country if necessary. Their plan means buying land and thwarting government agencies and raising millions in funding from greedy investors. It also means staying one step ahead of ex-boss Eva, but don’t think for a second she’s going to let them get away with this.

Alexander Skarsgard is nearly unrecognizable as a socially inept, worrywart brainiac who must be micro-managed by his bolder cousin. Jesse Eisenberg continues his one-note symphony, bringing the same manic chipmunk energy he brings to everything because he literally can’t do anything else. And to be honest, not only am I over it, I don’t have room in my life for being bombarded by a neurotic asshole. It’s too much.

The script isn’t doing much for me either. It’s single-minded in its pursuit of success, and boring as hell. All this wheeling and dealing: haven’t we seen this a hundred times before? And it ain’t exactly subtle. For every shot of aggressive drilling and invasive construction, there are literal scenes of both amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties. You can practically feel an anthem swelling somewhere. But the characters are in fact caricatures: Vince is the hyper-achiever, Anton is the Beautiful Mind, and Eva is the Bond villain.

There is no such thing as cinematic drilling. Or fascinating drilling. Or interesting drilling. It’s just drilling. So unless you’re into some weird engineering porn, this movie is really not suitable for viewing. I think there might have been some potential for satirical commentary buried deep in there somewhere, but in this one case they didn’t drill deep enough. The Hummingbird Project is ultimately shallow, and you only wish its runtime was operating at a higher frequency so you could put this one to bed already.

Night Moves

Josh and Dena are passionate about their cause: the environment. Tired of small measures, they team with Harmon, a shadier character who can help them pull off an act of eco-terrorism, the bombing of a hydroelectric dam.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are idealistic and young. They figure this revolutionary act will prompt people to think about what they’re doing to the environment, which you and I know is almost never how it works. What happens in real life is that we’re angry about the disruption to our lives. In the movie, however, what happens is even messier. The greatest impact they have is on themselves.

MV5BMTY1NDIzODA2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4Mjk0MTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Night Moves isn’t so much about the environment as it is a character study between these three individuals trying to make a statement, and then living with the consequences. It’s slow, almost plodding. There’s no flashiness, just a creeping sense of guilt and paranoia.

The thing is, Jesse Eisenberg is a one-note actor and I’m damned tired of that note. He wears this grimace that tells us the world is just painful to him, like how can his pinched little rat face be expected to live in a world with us plebeians? He got lucky once with a role whose neuroticism suited him perfectly. Everything else has been derivative, and while it might have been slightly funny to watch Mark Zuckerberg get chased by zombies, I just don’t buy him as an eco-thug, bless his entitled little heart.

Otherwise I think Kelly Reichardt puts together a uniquely character-drive film that defies classification. It pushes us to challenge what we think of as “natural” and ratchets up the tension with increasing themes of alienation. What Reichardt doesn’t do is decide for us.

Cafe Society

I wanted to crawl right into the very first frame, so luscious and drenched with colour it was. If I had turned it off right then and there, I may have dreamed in technicolour and sung the film’s praises. I didn’t.

Cafe Society is a beacon of hope to all the men who have been friend-zoned. Stick around for long enough to provide the shoulder to cry on when she eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, who is cooler, more interesting, and more wasp2015_day_21-0031.CR2successful than you, and you might actually find her vulnerable enough to prey on her heartbreak and win. For a while. But since you’re still nerdy old you she’ll eventually wise up and leave your ass, potentially even for the ex who doesn’t deserve her, and you’ll have to content yourself with second place. If second place always looked like Blake Lively you might thank your lucky stars, but Woody Allen is an idiot, so here we are.

Bobby is the Woody-Allen-stand-in in this case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an inspired choice because he’s already got the annoying neuroticism and concave chest. He’s not content with the similarity though, he goes full-on chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0impression, right down to the self-conscious body language and flighty hand gestures. Bobby moves to Hollywood, trying to escape the family business. He goes to his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), an important guy at a big movie studio, who barely makes time for him, and pawns him off on his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart have a twitchy chemistry that works well, but it does mean you’ll have to watch the two most high-strung performances in Hollywood today. Simultaneously. In a Woody Allen movie.

Steve Carrell is the best thing about this movie, and he wasn’t supposed to be in it. He replaced Bruce Willis well into filming after Brucie was fired for being a diva and not learning his lines. The costumes are also divine. ‘Cafe society’ was coined to describe the beautiful people hanging out in night clubs, and all those beautiful people are prettily dressed and on sumptuous display. This is Woody Allen’s first digitally captured movie, and his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – if he’s smart, it’ll be the first of many, because this film is gorgeous if nothing else. And yeah – nothing else. It feels like two different stories stitched inexpertly together (Allen provides the stitching – he narrates the thing, cause he just can’t keep his wrinkly hands OFF). Despite the window dressing, Cafe Society is a love story at its core, but a love story between two people you don’t really care about, and you don’t even like. The end.

Now You See Me 2

I only saw the first Now You See Me (1)  grudgingly, which is to say, on a plane. It’s amazing what you can get me to watch when I’m hurtling through space in a glorified tin now-you-see-me-two-movie-poster-10can. Anything to distract myself, even Jesse Eisenberg doing “magic.”

To be honest, I hate magic. I hate the spectacle and the artifice and the hammy, tan people who “perform” it. I hate it. I HATE hate it, the way I hate Nazis and speeding tickets and being tricked into eating vegetables. I have to remind myself, with a shock, that some people actually pay to see magic, while I would gladly pay to not see it. I’d rather not even walk by a street magician, if I can help it. But I’m half-willing to give it a go in the movies because while I also hate Nazis, I concede that some fairly wonderful movies have been made containing them. So I don’t rule Now You See Me out just because it has magic. Or just because it has Jesse Eisenberg, who is quickly ascending my list of things to avoid.

Jesse Eisenberg is joined by 3 other magicians (including a token girl!) to form the “4 horsemen” – the Robinhoods of the magic scene, they spent the first movie stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. You can’t do that without consequences, so they’ve been in hiding this past year and are only revealing themselves in the sequel when their magical governing body, the Eye, calls on them to do so – for a very good cause, I’m sure.

Safe to say a sequel to this blip of filmdom is one trick I never saw coming, unlike all the tricks in the film, which I saw from a mile away. There is no “magic” is Now You See Me 2, which is a real tragedy in this renaissance of practical effects, unless you count thenysm2-jack-lula-posters “magic” of CGI. Or the magic of marketing, I suppose. Definitely not the magic of film making, because this guy was seemingly made in a vacuum of personality. There is no fun in watching card tricks when you know the cards were added digitally, after the fact. And the tricks are not replicable in the real world, so Now You See Me 2 is just another CGI-bloated entry into the super hero genre, only these heroes are super lame and the costumes even lamer (though Eisenberg’s sporting a more Lex Luther-appropriate hairstyle than he did in Batman v. Superman).

But the greatest crime this film commits is its end. We, the audience, have spent 2 hours watching the 4 horsemen play tricks on their audiences, their enemies, their government, and each other. Now they seek to play one on us, and a two minute monologue discredits everything that’s come before and tells us we’ve been played for fools and what we thought was happening really wasn’t. Gotcha! Except the script does absolutely nothing to earn this. To set this up, a script has to leave breadcrumbs, it has to set it up, carefully, craftilly, but dutifully. Or else it’s total baloney. And this, my friends, was grade F deli meat, straight from Oscar Mayer himself. It’s like me suddenly telling you that I’ve been writing a Finding Dory review this whole time…TADA!

What do you mean you’re not convinced? I said ta-da, dammit. What more do you want? A viable story? Some forethought? Common sense? I mean – what do you expect here? This isn’t magic. It’s just a little trickery, and you can either buy in or opt out. It’s up to you.