All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

Producer: Gavin Polone
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia and Bill Murray
Studio: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

C

A decade ago, when “The Walking Dead” was still only a gleam in AMC’s eye, “Zombieland” arrived in theatres, joining “Shaun of the Dead” from four years earlier at the apex of spoofs of the venerable genre that had thrived since George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” revived it in 1968. Director Ruben Fleischer and the original writers and cast try to recapture its anarchic spirit of comedy and gore in this long-in-gestation sequel, but the magic is gone, and despite the speed with which its new and improved species of the undead zoom around, “Double Tap” proves as lumbering and tepid as the AMC series has become after ten long years.

The script by Rheet Reese and Paul Wernick, joined this time around by David Callaham, reintroduces the original quartet of zombie-fighters—testosterone-driven Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), jittery Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), no-nonsense Wichita (Emma Stone) and her naïve sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)—as they decide to move into the deserted White House. There Columbus makes the mistake of proposing to Wichita, using the Hope Diamond for an engagement ring, leading Wichita and Little Rock to skedaddle and Tallahassee and Columbus to remain as a bickering duo.

Columbus’ brooding over his loss doesn’t last long, though, as on a jaunt through an abandoned mall they encounter Madison (Zoey Deutch), a ditzy airhead who’s survived by hiding in a freezer whenever zombies came around. It’s not long before she’s seduced Columbus. Meanwhile Wichita and Little Rock encounter Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a California hippie guitar-strummer, and Little Rock goes off with him, leaving Wichita to return to Washington and find Columbus involved with Madison.

Saving Little Rock from an unmanly sort like Berkeley becomes Tallahassee’s mission, however, so the reworked quartet are soon off after her, encountering along the way zombies that include the swifter, nearly unkillable evolved variant they dub, after The Terminator, the T-800s. Along the way they decide to visit Graceland, home of Tallahassee’s god Elvis, only to find it derelict. Nearby, however, they find a motel that’s been turned into a museum to the King by its sultry, saucy owner Nevada (Rosario Dawson), whom Tallahassee naturally finds compatible.

It’s there that Tallahassee and Columbus also encounter their virtual doubles in Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), with whom they develop a mixture of rivalry and bonhomie that could have developed into something more enduring if the arrival of a bunch of T-800s didn’t lead to a bloody brawl that thins the human ranks.

It all culminates this time not at an amusement park but a sort-of pacifist commune called Babylon, where Little Rock has wound up with Berkeley. There a stand-off becomes necessary against a huge horde of ravenous undead, most of them T-800s, and of course our heroes take the lead in mounting a risky resistance.

Clearly “Double Tap” is just what the subtitle suggests—a second shot at the same target of horror comedy, though one delivered not immediately but after the passage of a decade. But in moviemaking, unlike on a firing range or video screen, even the slightest pause can make all the difference, and while back in 2009 the first “Zombieland” felt fresh and fizzy, this attempted iteration comes across as a curiously flat recycling.

It has its moments, of course, as in a dueling rules recitation between Eisenberg (who milks his fidgety persona for all it’s worth) and the sweetly goofy Middleditch. And though Deutch’s embodiment of the stereotypical dumb blonde gets increasingly tiresome, in the earlier stages it has a Judy Holliday-esque obtuseness that’s amusing. Jogia’s blissful zonked-out quality is also enjoyable, all the more so for taking up minimal screen time.

Otherwise, though, matters are more mediocre. Harrelson’s one-note macho swagger is no longer as funny as it once was, and he’s around pretty continually. Especially in his and Eisenberg’s cases, it would be helpful if the writing for their characters were sharper than it is; the same holds true for Stone and Breslin. On the technical side, the picture is more than adequate, though most of the budget—apart from the cast paychecks—appears to have been spent on splatter effects that are okay but unremarkable. The more elaborate CGI displays are at most adequate. Fleischer’s direction is too often slack in the dialogue scenes but decent in the action ones, while Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is similarly fair but unexceptional.

The first “Zombieland” wasn’t much more than a wild reimaging of the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” road trip in comic-horror form, but it had zest and snarky spark. “Double Tap,” on the other hand, feels tired and out-of-date, and the closing suggestion that another installment might follow comes less as a promise than a threat.

It must be noted, though, that if you should go to the movie, don’t rush out as the final credits crawl begins. They’re interrupted by an extended sequence, a sort of prequel to the first picture, featuring a guest star turn you won’t want to miss—even if, to be honest, it isn’t as funny as you’d like it to be. In that way it resembles the entire film that’s preceded it.

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE (BRITT-MARIE VAR HAR)

Producer: Gustav Olden, Niklas Wikstrom Nicastro
Director: Tuva Novotny
Writer: Anders Frithiof August, Oystein Kaulsen and Tuva Novotny
Stars: Pernilla August, Anders Mossling, Lancelot Ncube, Mahmut Suvakci, Malin Levanon, Peter Haber, Stella Oyoko Bengtsson, Elliot Alabi Andersson, Abdouile Sise, Dian Llapashtica, Sigrid Hogberg and Ella Juliusson Sturk
Studio: Cohen Media

B

Swedish author Fredrik Blackman’s 2012 novel “A Man Called Ove” was the source of Hannes Holm’s Oscar-nominated film of 2016, and another from two years later is the basis for Tura Novotny’s “Britt-Marie Was Here.” It shares its theme with “Ove” in that a person approaching old age must suddenly deal with major surprises. In this case, however, the protagonist is a woman, who has to deal not with the death of a spouse and the loss of a job—as Ove did—but with the discovery that her husband has been unfaithful, and with the need to find a job after being a devoted—indeed, obsessively devoted—housewife over the decades.

These are issues that could easily lend themselves to heavy melodramatic treatment, but as was the case with its predecessor, what makes “Britt-Marie” engaging is that they’re treated with a disarmingly deadpan, low-key sense of humor. The result is undoubtedly manipulative, but you find yourself not minding.

The film benefits enormously from the lead performance of Pernilla August, who introduces us to her character via narration in which she describes herself proudly as an almost obsessively disciplined housewife who has given herself over to a regimen of cleaning, laundering and shopping for forty years while Kent (Peter Haber) has gone off to work and spent most of his time at home watching soccer on television—a sport she considers a foolish (and totally unintelligible) waste of time.

That makes it all the more ironic when the job she’s offered at the employment bureau after she learns that Kent has been having an affair with a much younger beauty (Vera Vitali)—a revelation that causes her immediately to pack up and leave—is as custodian of a crumbling youth center in a tiny town, where her main responsibility will be to coach the kid’s football team.

August brings a tone of wry self-understanding to the character, underlining Britt-Marie’s extreme need to remain in control, of her emotion as well as the situation around her, even as her inner vulnerability, and the reasons behind it, are revealed through flashbacks involving her (Ella Juliusson Sturk) and her beloved sister Ingrid (Sigrid Högberg), as well as reluctant confessions in the present. By the close in August’s hands Britt-Marie has subtly transformed into a touching figure rather than merely a slightly ridiculous one.

That change comes about as a result of the acquaintance Britt-Marie makes with the remarkable residents of the small town of Borg, where she’s sent. Among them, of course, are the rambunctious soccer-playing kids, notably Vega (Stella Oyoko Bengtsson), for whom competing in an upcoming tournament against a traditional rival, and at least scoring against them, is overwhelmingly important for a number of reasons.

But there are a number of adults who make a deep impression on her as well. There’s Sami (Lancelot Ncube), Vega’s older brother, who had also applied for the position Britt-Marie got, and Memo (Mahmut Suvakci), his boss at the general store; Sven (Anders Mossling), the local cop who takes a romantic interest in Britt-Marie; and Bank (Malin Levanon), the sight-impaired daughter of the late coach, in whose home Sven arranges for Britt-Marie to rent a room. All of them play a part in the obligatory tournament game at the close, which goes ahead after a brief hiccup and affords a mildly triumphant outcome, for the team and the town.

Connected with it is the quandary Britt-Marie finds herself in when Kent shows up and begs her to come home. Will she fall into line or follow her dreams? What do you think?

There’s a bittersweet quality to the film, which unquestionably toys with our emotions but is less heavy-handed about it than most pictures of this kind, thanks to the likable cast and Novotny’s gentle direction. Except for the flashbacks, which cinematographer Jonas Alarik gives a glossy hallucinatory quality, the picture is very straightforwardly shot in a rather homely, even ragged style, but even that is a positive, maintaining the picture’s modest tone.

“Britt-Marie Was Here” isn’t quite the equal of “A Man Called Ove”—of which Tom Hanks is reportedly working on an English-language adaptation—but it’s a similarly endearing portrait of someone forced to make significant life changes and becoming a better person in the process, through simple human contact.