Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Zombieland: Double Tap

Zombieland: Double Tap -- a Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

If you don't have to be told what "double tap" means, you're probably going to like this sequel to the 2009 cult hit, and that's because you probably saw the original.  If you haven't seen the first film, it's not a big deal; there's a half-a$$ed explanation to catch you up.  But still, you know, if you want the full experience see the first one.  The original gang is back, their egos intact, even after a decade of achievement--Emma Stone has won an Oscar and is content to hang in the background, as Wichita (yes, every character is still named after a US town), playing behind the two male leads, Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), the love interest, and Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), the leader of the band and involuntary father figure.  Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), as Wichita's sister, rounds out the group of Oscar-nominees who decided to have a blast crushing Zombie skulls.

Just like the first edition, there's a lot of self-awareness but not much plot.  The gang has discovered, for example, that zombies fall into several categories, ranging from humorous (called "Homers") to horrifying ("Ninjas").  The film is nominally about family, the conflict between the natural need to assert independence and the security of having a family--even one that's not related by blood.  But don't expect schmaltz.  Serious, touching moments never last long amidst gags flung by the armful to see what sticks and zombie brains splattered by the skullful to, erm, see what sticks.  New to the fun are Rosario Dawson as Nevada, a badass so badass that even Tallahassee is impressed; Luke Wilson (Albuquerque) and Thomas Middleditch (Flagstaff) as eerily familiar zanies, and Avan Jogia (Berkeley) with whom Little Rock becomes smitten.  But the revelation is Zoey Deutch (Madison).  She plays the dumb blonde, but her take is so energetic and delightful that she transcends stereotype and steals every scene in which she appears.  She is central to the best bit in the film when she comes up with the idea for a Lyft/Uber invention that is scoffed at by her more intelligent fellow travelers.

Ruben Fleischer returns as director, and Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman: 1984) joins Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, co-writers of the Deadpool films to pen Zombieland: Double Tap.  All knew they weren't going for Gone With the Wind, but then neither were FilmZ, Captain HE, and I.  We were looking for the product of a bunch of good actors having fun together.  Mission accomplished.
7.5 out of 10

Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg Get Cranky

A Note from the Management
-- Introduction by FilmZ, Dialogue between Guy S. Malone, Researcher and CG Bear

Not long ago, Martin Scorsese said Marvel movies are "not cinema," that he tried to get through one and couldn't finish it. He added: “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

 Francis Ford Coppola joins his buddy Scorsese in putting down the Marvel franchise  "When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration…I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again,” ... Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

Steven Spielberg doesn't think "Netflix" movies deserve consideration for Oscars.  He plans on petitioning the Academy, arguing that films must have a least a four-week theatrical run in order to be considered for Oscars.

We truly respect the directors named above for their contributions, especially those they made during the golden decade of the early '70s through the early '80s.  And we understand Spielberg's argument to the extent that he is concerned with preserving the theatrical experience.

These three venerated filmmakers went too far, though, when they upset Guy S. Malone, Researcher.  Joining in his umbrage the even more ornery screenwriter and Emmy winner, CG Bear.  They fire back with both barrels, making that four barrels in all, to our reckoning, and the three filmmaking legends in their own time get taken down a few pegs by two rumors in their own time:

GSM, R:  We love Martin Scorsese, but the guy who made Wolf of Wall Street, a movie that glorified Jordan Belfort, a predatory capitalist who happily robbed poor and aged people of their worldly possessions, has no room to question the value of the Marvel franchise.  (Cue all Scorsese cult members to tell me I "didn't get" WoWS)

CG Bear: (Posts a Twitter notice wherein Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg are paraphrased, as noted above, and another source notes, George Lucas' disappointment with Star Wars: The Force Awakens visuals.)

GSM, R:  Somewhat hypocritically, I think there have only been three good Star Wars movies in the series, and the rest have ranged from mediocre to awful.

CG Bear:  "Right? These guys, some of them, responsible for the concept of "blockbusters," which is actually what destroyed what they so sanctimoniously call "cinema," turning around and criticizing the very thing that's STILL BRINGING AUDIENCES TO MOVIE THEATERS as something not just less than (what they call) art, but "despicable"?  Jesus wept, here's the tiniest violin in the world. You know? *facepalm*

(Guy Malone, Researcher nods in agreement whilst rubbing his chin sagely, in hopes of imparting an aura of something resembling wisdom.)

CG Bear:  If it's not their jam, fine. They don't have to publicly disparage other people's work. Especially when they know how much work goes into it, how hard it is to get anything made.
And all this is *before* I actually think for five seconds about any of them saying this to Captain America's face. 🤣🤣🤣

GSM, R (chuckles sagely) Excellent points all, CG, especially the one about how these guys helped destroy the viability of original content, stand-alone films.  (And critics don't help; they squawk about how much they want original single-story films, but then they almost always hatchet them--I see you, Rotten Tomatoes lemming bro-bloggers.)  Let me add one more point to the ones you mentioned above: Scorsese admits that he never even watched the films he so disparages. He says he tried to watch one and couldn't get through it.

(CG Bear smiles uneasily, taken aback as Guy S. Malone, Researcher's voice rises and he wildly waves his index finger in the general direction of his computer screen.)

GSM, R: And another thing, though a bit off-topic Spielberg has never, ever featured a female as the protagonist in his films. In fact, he has had films in the works that featured women and he dropped them for blockbuster-type films.  Some will say, how about The Post? Meryl Streep starred as Kay Graham. Nope, no, no! If you watch the film, yes, Kay Graham had to make a momentous decision, but Tom Hanks Ben Bradlee is on the screen a lot more. Furthermore, Spielberg has Bradlee dominate Graham face-t0-face, even though she is his boss.

CG Bear: Re: the Post, I think you may be ascribing to Spielberg stuff that was in the script written by Liz Hannah.

GSM, R: True, but I'm making the point that some have given him credit for having a female as the featured protagonist. Besides, as director, he has the power to reshape a character's tone. That dinner table conversation where Bradlee tells Graham to basically f-off could easily be redirected to make her more forthright.  And furthermore, who is Spielberg to disrespect Netflix movies? Wasn't it a little TV movie named Duel, starring Dennis Weaver, that made his name for him?

CG Bear: Yeah, he disparaged streaming right before he signed a big deal with Apple to stream, so... I don't listen to his opinion anymore. Also re: your earlier point--I'm not sure a single one of his movies would pass the Bechdel test, which is the lowest possible bar. I still love his movies, but to claim he's focusing on women is, like... *shrug*

Hey, Gang, FilmZ here again.  I'm not sure how or why the dangling conversation.  Perhaps, Simon and Garfunkel can help.  So, as Porky Pig might say, "Abba-de, abba-de, that's all folks,"

Judy and Hustlers by Guest Reviewers

As many of you know, we have a moviegoing Gang of Six (known as the "Serfers").  Afterward, we get together for food and beverages and FilmZ and I get to hear our cohorts' reflections on said movies.  Then, as we write our reviews, we either ignore their thoughts or actively oppose them.  It's also true that we can't get to every movie, and Serfers end up seeing the movies themselves or dragging their significant others along to them.  By absolutely no popular demand, here are two film observations from members of our august contingent. 
--  Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Judy -- a guest review from Captain HE

Judy focuses on Judy Garland's youth training at MGM, seeds of her substance abuse, psychological fragility and tragic career end. It's a story we know but it deserves to be told.

The movie opens with a harried, middle-aged Judy comforting her children (Lorna and Joey Luft) while desperately searching for housing after being turned out from the hotel they called home. She turns to former husband Sid, with whom she has a contentious relationship. It's the late 60's and the former "girl next door" is at the bottom of a decade long spiral caused by heavy drinking and drug abuse.

 As the story progresses viewers are transported to 1938-39. Judy is on the set of Oz. Louis B. Mayer is giving her a pep talk to get her through her fatigue, reminding her of her commitment and duty. Scenes like these are sprinkled through the movie as we see the origins of her amphetamine addiction and her desire to be like "normal kids."

 Alcohol is a constant companion and sleep is always an elusive desire. Insecurity about her abilities rises when she lands a London concert gig which becomes a mixed triumph and debacle. The story closes with the London audience helping her finish "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as she contemplates her life during her final performance.

 There are numerous uncomfortable moments during the film as the audience is drawn toward Judy's desperate fight to be a good mother and the expectations of her fading stardom. She dies of an overdose 6 months after her London engagements.

SHE went with HE to see Judy and agree, Renee Zellweger gives a marvelous performance and the story is poignant.  Maybe an Oscar nod for Zellweger.  It was a hit with the septuagenarians who attended the Geezer matinee at the Montage Mountain Cinemark.
7.5 out of 10

Hustlers -- guest review from a different He, but One Who Shall Not Be Named

Hustlers presents a story of four women who use their entrepreneurial skills to gain financial independence.  Their attempt, however, involves criminal activity and unravels with police intervention.

The film paints a vivid picture of the goings-on in "Adult Entertainment Clubs".  It highlights the conditions facing the women who willingly perform for paying male patrons.  Viewers are exposed to nudity, pole dancing, and lap dances.

Unhappy with the conditions facing the dancers, the story shifts to the dancers leaving the confines of their employment and becoming independent contractors, using previous clients and gaining new ones through previous contacts.  Drugs and alcohol become the means of taking advantage of their customers and ultimately is responsible for their financial destruction.

The acting is acceptable but the storyline is weak.
One note of caution to solo male movie-goers:  while watching the film, do not place an overcoat on your lap.
5.0 out of 10


Joker -- a commentary by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Frankly, I am intensely ambivalent about this movie.  Director and co-writer Todd Phillips claims that he aimed for the spirit of a film era--the decade of 1973-83.  In several ways, he did.  He gets the gritty urban underbelly of Gotham City and the rising intensity of underclass unrest and individual paranoia so prevalent in films of that period.  Credit Cinematographer Lawrence Sher and Production Designer Mark Fredberg for the visual verité and Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir for the intense, moody backdrop (augmented by slyly ironic classic rock and pop selections).  Joaquin Phoenix inhabits the title role in his best, and most disturbing performance since Freddy Quell, the alcoholic zealot in The Master.  There have been many Joker portrayals over the years.  Most of us consider Heath Ledger's turn in 2008's brilliant The Dark Knight to be the standard by which all others are compared.  Only two have dared attempt it since; ironically, they have been Jared Leto's much-ridiculed attempt in 2016's Suicide Squad and Phoenix's much-praised performance here.

Phillips has assembled a tremendous cast in support of Phoenix's Arthur Fleck/"Joker." Frances Conroy as his invalid mother with whom he shares a tenement apartment, Zazie Beetz as a single mom who lives down the hall and serves as his fantasy love, Bill Camp and Shea Whigham as a pair of homicide detectives, Brett Cullen as investment magnate Thomas Wayne (father of Bruce), Brian Tyree Henry (underused) in a single scene as a records clerk, and most significantly Robert DeNiro as late-night talk show host who is also Arthur's idol.  It's appropriate that Robert DeNiro is featured in this film, because he not only exemplifies one of Joker's strengths, he also reminds us of where the film falls short.  Despite Phillips' claims of an era inspiring Joker, it is highly derivative of two of DeNiro's best films: Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy

Arthur Fleck is so psychologically disturbed that he alienates those around him.  Not only is he socially awkward, but he also is afflicted with the bizarre tic whereby he falls into uncontrolled maniacal laughter when under stress.  He dreams of being a standup comedian because his mother has told him his purpose in life is to bring joy and laughter to others.  Arthur's lack of self-awareness is such that he believes the insane scrawlings of his journal entries are jokes that will propel him to stand-up comedy stardom.  He watches Murray Franklin's (DeNiro) late-night talk show and fantasizes about being a guest.  He meets Sophie (Beetz) by chance on the tenement elevator and their small talk convinces him that they have chemistry.  Still, Arthur is relatively harmless, except to himself.  His -- and Gotham City's -- real problems are attributable to Reagan-era cuts that widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Social unrest simmers, needing only a spark to create an explosion. Arthur's access to counseling and his seven med prescriptions are eliminated, and this coincides with a traumatic revelation about his past.  Arthur's fantasies become more grandiose, his rage turns outward, and he inadvertently becomes the spark that ignites a firestorm. 

Joker is as divisive as it is riveting.  As of this date, audiences like it a lot more than critics do: on IMDb, it enjoys a phenomenal audience score of 8.9 (out of 10), based on more than 324,000 moviegoers; contrast that with a Metascore of 59 (out of 100), based on 58 critical reviews.  Phoenix is magnetic, and from the beginning, the film s mesmerizing; seizing our attention, it doesn't release its grip until the screen fades to black. It is not entertaining but rather relentlessly downbeat; further, we are often so embarrassed for Arthur it is difficult to watch, and the third act has unnecessarily vivid spasms of violence.  Some have made much of the portrayal of Arthur's fantasized love for Sophie and how this might incite incels to violence.  Wow, just wow! Talk about missing the forest for the trees.  This film is about the danger posed by the government being in bed with predatory capitalism; it is about the ever-widening wealth gap and class divisions.  And in the end, the failed stand-up comedian finally gains acclaim as an urban terrorist.
8.0 out of 10

Ad Astra

Ad Astra -- a review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Writer-Director James Grey's films seem to resonate with critics better than they do with audiences.  We have a hypothesis, at least with regard to Ad Astra and Lost City of Z, his most recent previous movie: the former is science fiction adventure, the latter is a historical Indiana Jones-style adventure flick.  That's what we, as movie-goers expected.  What we got were moody, meditative dramas of existential quests that have some intense action set pieces.  We say this not to criticize Gray; we merely want to prepare our friends who intend to see the film.

We open in the indeterminate future where astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is working on a towering space antenna when an intensive power surge hits, damaging the tower and hurtling him to Earth.  After miraculously surviving, Roy is called to a secret meeting where he is told that the surge was just the beginning is a series of events that threaten life in the solar system.  More, it is emanating from Neptune, in the area where Roy's father, legendary space pioneer H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) was lost and presumed dead in an expedition aimed at contacting extra-terrestrial life.  The space agency believes Roy's father is alive and has knowledge of the surges.  Roy is tasked with going to the Moon and then Mars--where there is equipment capable of communicating with Neptune--and sending a message to his father, pleading for contact.  This dredges up a well of feelings in Roy--abandonment, isolation, the inability to connect--so his journey is not only one of discovery but also of the soul.  Along the way, we meet Roy's estranged wife (Liv Tyler); Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), Clifford's old associate who holds a key to the mystery, Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), a planetary administrator on Mars whose parents died at the hands of Cliff McBride; and various others.  Roy narrates, so we learn his inner voyage as the mission moves onward to outer space to discover the secret of whether Clifford McBride is hero or villain, and if Roy can stop the life-threatening power surges.

One can be forgiven if Ad Astra invokes an aura of 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Apocalypse Now.  Comparisons are obvious.  The stunning images Hoyte Van Hoytema provides, along with the sedate but eerie soundtrack by Max Richter immediately invoke Kubrick's film, even as Pitt's meditative narration and the quest itself derive from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which begat Apocalypse Now.  Gray's and co-writer Ethan Gross's vision of the future, replete with bureaucratic machinations, invasive bio-psychological probing, and exploration that marries the efforts of capitalism and science are thought-provoking and set up much of the dramatic tension.  An excellent cast is largely wasted in roles that could have been played by any competent actor.  There has been talk of multiple Oscar nominations, especially for the film itself and Brad Pitt,  The belief here is that Ad Astra is so subdued and leisurely-paced, and that it has been released so early in the Oscar season, that it will leave no indelible marks to be remembered by the awards voters come January. 
7.5 out of 10
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