The essence of the sequel transition is taking the essence of the original, maintaining it and amping it up. But what most do not tend to understand is that finding that different cadence in between the lines is what truly can make a sequel sing. For the first 2/3rds of “Zombieland: Double Tap”, the film does exactly that. Picking up 10 years after the original, the perspective really works well since most of everyone is slightly different, with the exception of Tennessee played by Woody Harrelson who, at his age, is stuck in his ways. This of course is a running joke of perspective.
From the opening credits set to Metallica on the lawn of the now abandoned White House, the film gets in while understanding how much more seasoned director Ruben Fleischer is having directed “Venom” since then. Fleischer instills a sense of fun while not worrying about too much depth which is, for the most part, welcomed. The actors know these characters enough and they are riffs on their actual personas.
Where the original “Zombieland” keyed into the idea of a theme park, this is more a road movie…not quite in the style of “Mad Max” but more in an amped up version of say “Road Trip”. But as indicated it is just in the final moments, which are not bad, that it loses a bit of steam with the ending not being as bad ass as the second act.
This intention is mostly due to Rosario Dawson who always amps up the heart but also the coolness whenever she is on screen. She lifted “Clerks 2” as an example undeniably but what she does her is provide a much needed foil to Woody’s character who is too slick (and too seasoned) to really play in that sandbox. Not to say Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg are not very good, they just tend to play in their own playground as well. Neither element is necessarily better yet there is such an ease to the comedy and would-be romance between Dawson and Harrelson despite whatever happens. To be honest, there is more chemistry here than that upon first glance with Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”. Now granted this is a comedy per but NBK was a satire as well yet one that bathed more in its own style.
Eisenberg is, as always, a variation on the nerd/hero archetype but that is turned on its head a little but with the arrival of Luke Wilson and his sidekick which looks a little too similar to someone else. This gag works very well and leads into the best executed sequence both in tone and in action.
The unsung comedy gem on the piece is Zoey Deutch as Madison who plays a girl who survived the zombies in a mall by sleeping in a refrigerator. The irony of her could have been played up much more but as is played gives the elevation of pure insanity that the film revels in.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” progresses along with a sense of style under the nature of the smorgasboard progresses. It transforms perhaps in a sense of wantonness to satire in the essence of a place of sanctuary which almost necessarily needs to be turned inside out. The film is nothing if not egregiously cheeky but in its own special way, understands its reason for being, though slight and yet undeniably enjoyable. Although it ends slightly less edgy than it begins, “Double Tap” uses it strengths to push through.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of what evil complies to in modern times sometimes directly involves correlation to way of life but also what it means to rule and protect. While the sequel “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” addresses this idea, it does so almost in a superficial way, both to appeal to wide audiences, have a distinctive female empowerment theme but also to build the texture of the Maleficent myth without really changing. The weird irony bakes in the idea of conventional happiness. The idea here revolves around what Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) actually wants. She wants to fall in love but must understand as Queen Of The Moors, she has a responsibility to protect them. She seems concerned but there is never any dire loss on her part that feels at all real. At one point, the possibility could verge on a sort of genocide but it is glossed over in a way, albeit this has to be cohesive for all audiences from the Disney perspective.
Angelina Jolie is radiant as Maleficent but most of the time it is very hard for her to emote from behind the altered make up and the contact lenses. There is so much more possibility and as the film progresses her, as expected, through a sense of rage. You can see the sadness in the character but it is never inexplicably brought out, which is not Jolie’s fault, it is the nature of the character. Maleficent, as a character, is undeniably defensive and hot headed which may cause her to act out of terms of fear when she has all the power. Like Captain Marvel, it at times can be hard to root for a character who almost cannot lose. That is why part of the progression here works but doesn’t take it to the nth degree possible.
The other side of the coin is brought the Queen character as played by Michelle Pfieffer. This is the most brazen character she has played in years but despite some deliciousness that brings to mind “Batman Returns”, it is not nuanced enough or motivated with enough concrete factors. This is likely not Pfieffer’s fault but an overall problem in terms perhaps of direction and a light script built to showcase effects. Something like Endgame or even Alice In Wonderland can pull at the heartstrings. That effort is surprisingly empty here. There is no sense of loss or bewilderment. The CG actually takes away when the base story is solid enough but become periphery when it is trying to handle too much else. Pfieffer’s character says she acts the way she does for the good of the kingdom but many times it simply comes off as vengeful and not strategic. If the standard sets true to do an action for the love of family, her motivations simply becomes a selfish act, and it belies any important value is under it.
As the lead per se in Elle Fanning, the diversity that she showed in something like “The Neon Demon”( granted this movie is utterly different and 180 tone) is missing here. Again this might be more just a script or direction problem but the essence of a Disney princess in the modern times is to be reflective both of old and new. And while Aurora voices her displeasure at conforming to norms, she easily leaves her people which is something Maleficent also does so the progression of thought seems a bit skewed.
There is also a subplot about Maleficent’s kind and her place in their mythology. This plays nice and well but is more set up to be the flash point of a later plot specific device. Chiwetel Ejiofor in a sense is the only character both on the Moor and human side who relays the texture of what is being fought for. He, likely on purpose, tries to underplay it. Jolie, at times, tries to play back but it is hard within the make up. The most telling of all the scenes is when Maleficent is alone and vulnerable not knowing what she is without the regal robes. Jolie’s styled black hair looks more like a siren hanging off of Elfin ears and it really gives a distinct different impression and a different view into the character. However, this is short lived.
Ultimately, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” is keying into a powerful IP but also trying to keep itself within a certain confine of plot structure, effects, pliability and other textures without either offending or going too dark in worry of losing the audience. What ends up happening is characters in a fantastical world who are not quite archetypal but are also not fully fleshed out to the potential of their possible luminosity and dimension.
By Tim Wassberg
The idea of what memory constitutes or the idea of trauma reflects in the psychology of a person and their experiences. This is the basis of “Fractured“. The beauty is some of the Netflix original films, whether acquired or not, is that they explore sometimes more character driven pieces that are based in a simple genre structures that don’t need a lot of set pieces but definitely reflect in production value and a proven actor. Sam Worthington, undeniably known as the lead in “Avatar” and its upcoming sequels, has leaned into these types of psychological genre thrillers on Netflix and found a nice niche in well written and well directed tomes that might have ended up with no distribution simply because they exist in the mid-range.
Directed by Brad Anderson, who made a more bleak but similar “Session 9” with David Caruso many years ago, the film “Fractured” exists in a realm of misperception where Worthington’s lead character arrives with his wife and daughter after an accident. However, after said wife and daughter are taken back for a CAT scan, they seemingly disappear. Worthington has always had a knack of playing paranoia as his film “Man On A Ledge” interpreted. “Fractured” at times plays more like a Hitchcock film or a “Twilight Zone” episode with a little less dread. The threads are fairly easy to follow and the violence not too overwhelming which makes for an interesting evening watch that is not too overcome by any ideals that it is trying to present.
The minimal locations and barrenness of the tundra that they are traveling across is completely reflective of the character’s mindset. The story is disjointed on purpose but the structural reflexivity does make the story move without bogging it down in too many mechanics. “Fractured” is a tight little genre thriller with understated performances but a steady idea of what it is and what it is trying to accomplish.
By Tim Wassberg