‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ – Seriously Folks, The Thrill is Gone

Terminator Dark Fate theatrical poster

Hollywood is one the few places on this planet where you can look at $29 million dollars and say, that’s it? This was the reaction many had when the opening weekend numbers of “Terminator: Dark Fate” were revealed to the world, and to say they were below expectations is putting it mildly. Many will pontificate over why this sixth installment bombed at the box office, but I think it comes down to the inescapable fact that the “Terminator” franchise has long since lost its capacity to wow and thrill us in the same way the first two movies did, and even series creator James Cameron, who returned to executive produce this sequel, cannot put it back together again. While you can retcon the hell out of “Halloween” to keep it going, “Terminator” is now way past the point of self-termination.

I finally got to check out “Terminator: Dark Fate” after finding some time to tear myself away from work as I was not going to let anything deter me from seeing it on the big screen. The truth is, it is not a bad movie and it has a good story and a game cast of actors who bring their all to the material. But it does not take long to see this sequel tread familiar ground as the story remains the same even if the major players have changed, and the feeling of déjà vu is more prevalent than ever before.

“Dark Fate,” as you all know by now, is a direct sequel to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and it ignores all the other movies which followed it. The movie begins with Sarah Connor suffering a tragedy much like the one Ellen Ripley suffered at the beginning of “Alien 3.” While she and her son were able to stop Judgment Day, they could never stop fate. The movie then jumps ahead 22 years when an advanced Terminator called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) appears in Mexico City with a mission to kill Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman who works at an automobile industrial plant. But when Dani arrives at work, she finds her job is being taken over by (surprise, surprise) a machine.

Another person arrives from the future, and her name is Grace (Mackenzie Davis). At first she appears human, but then she is shown to have superhuman strength and fighting abilities much like the average Terminator, and seeing her kick human ass is quite the sight. We later learn she is indeed human but has been augmented to become more like a cyborg, and her mission is to protect Dani from Rev-9 as Dani is set to play an important role in the future.

Sound familiar? Of course it does because this was pretty much the plot of the first two “Terminator” movies. Part of me wants to forgive this as it sets up how Skynet was completely destroyed and has since morphed into another artificial superintelligence system called Legion, and this shows how history, more often than not, repeats itself. Heaven forbid we ever learn from our mistakes, you know? We are certainly reliving a past we have not learned from right now as certain impeachment hearings have a certain Nixon feel about them. Like Snake Plissken once said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

But while the first few minutes tread very familiar ground, “Dark Fate” really comes to life when Linda Hamilton enters the picture as an older but still battle-ready Sarah Connor. It is the first time Hamilton has appeared in a “Terminator” movie in 28 years, and it is great to have her back as she makes this iconic character of hers as badass as ever, and she has some terrific dialogue to boot. With her face weathered from years of struggle and loss, Hamilton quickly reminds us how brilliantly she embodied this character all those years ago, and with the character evolving to another level here, she shows how one with such a hardened heart can rediscover their humanity even after suffering the worst life has to offer.

And yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, and he gets to take his iconic character of the T-800 in yet another interesting direction. In “Terminator: Genisys,” he played the cyborg as one who has existed long enough to where he is no longer under warranty. In “Dark Fate,” this T-800 starts off as a cold-blooded assassin who, after a particularly shocking act, ends up developing a conscience and even becomes domesticated. Schwarzenegger gives another inspired portrayal here as he plays it straight and never for laughs, and this makes his performance all the more enjoyable. It is not the first time he has given a terminator this much heart, but his work here is particularly moving in a way it has not been for some time.

Mackenzie Davis, so luminous in “Tully,” is a powerful presence as Grace, and there is no doubt she gave her all in this role as watching her dominate the action scenes here is both physically and emotionally exhausting, just as it should be. Natalia Reyes does strong work in taking Dani from being an innocent person thrust into a situation no one could see coming to someone who accepts a role she is expected to fulfill. As for Gabriel Luna, he is good as Rev-9, but he is nowhere as menacing as Robert Patrick was as the T-1000.

Directing this installment is Tim Miller who helmed the first “Deadpool” movie, and he certainly has an interesting visual style which benefits this franchise to a point. At the same time, he is not able to bring the same visceral energy Cameron brought to the first two “Terminator” movies. Looking back, none of the other directors were able to either. Some came close, but Cameron is a rather unique filmmaker as he has given us some of the most exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping motion pictures we could ever hope to watch, and his vision of “The Terminator” is a personal one which no one can easily duplicate.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” simply feels like the same old thing with little in the way of anything new. It’s not a bad movie and it definitely has its strengths, but it serves as proof that this franchise has truly hit a dead end and really needs to be put to rest. The last few “Terminator” movies have come to us with the promise of a trilogy and of filmmakers more or less telling us that, this time, we are going to get it right. Well, this is the latest installment to see its hopes for a trilogy dashed yet again as Arnold’s dialogue of “I won’t be back” proves to be quite prophetic.

Still, we do learn of one advantage of being a terminator which the other movies never showed us: they can change diapers without complaining. If this does not impress you, what will?

* * ½ out of * * * *

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‘The Blob’ 1988 Movie and Blu-ray Review

The-Blob-blu-ray-shout-factory-cover

The following article was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

If you are a fan of 1980’s horror films, you know Shout Factory/Scream Factory gives them the proper treatment each and every single time as they are like the Criterion Collection for horror fans.  They go above and beyond the call of duty with their commitment to the audio and visual aspects of cult classic horror films, and they supply their Blu-rays with tons of special features.  They understand you want to know as much as possible about your favorite horror films, and they have done it once again with their collector’s edition of “The Blob,” a remake of the original film which starred Steve McQueen back in 1958.

With this version of “The Blob,” it shows the advancements made at the time in gore and special effects. I don’t think it is fair to necessarily compare the two films since they were released thirty-years apart.   One thing they both have in common is they are very enjoyable to watch.  I own both of them.  I have the Criterion Collection version of the 1958 film, and I am thrilled to add the remake to my collection from Scream Factory/Shout Factory.  The gore is also taken up a notch here, and it is sticky, gooey, bloody and completely over the top in the best possible way.

“The Blob” is, of course, a film about a disgusting life-form which comes to a town by the name of Arborville.  It is your normal town with a football team, local diner, police and cheerleaders, some of which you would just love to date.   Shawnee Smith plays Meg Penny, the local cheerleader who is your girl-next-door type.  Her father works at the pharmacy, and she is going on a date with football star Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch Jr.) when they notice something terrible happening all around them. The character blamed for all of this is Brian Flagg who is played by Kevin Dillon, brother of Matt Dillon, and from “Entourage.”  He is the bad boy with a motorcycle, and he has a total kickass 80’s haircut. The police can’t wait to put the blame on him, but he is completely and totally innocent.

The blob will eat and destroy anything that gets in its way. You never know when it is going to appear or when it will strike.  It is part of a political experiment being overseen by shady scientists with their own agenda, and they are not concerned about the people.  The blob started by attaching itself to an old man’s arm, and from there the devastation only increased.  It is self-aware enough to have a running time of 95 minutes so the pace is right on point, the kills are interesting and disgusting, and it never feels boring.

Major props go out to Shawnee Smith as she gives a truly committed performance which should remind you of her work as Amanda from the “Saw” franchise.  Kevin Dillon is solid as well because he knows how to make this character likable but with an edge. He is someone you would want on your side when the blob hits the fan, if you catch my drift.  The effects are also terrific considering the time period this film was released in. The only time the green screen is very, very noticeable is near the end, but even then, it is campy fun.

This was my first time seeing the remake of “The Blob,” and I love both movies.  It is great when they get a second home on Blu-ray as well as the proper treatment courtesy of Shout/Scream Factory. There is also just the right amount of humor when the moment calls for it as well.  Fun fact: The screenplay was co-written by Frank Darabont of “The Green Mile,” “The Walking Dead,” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” This flick is able to gross you out while keeping you entertained and laughing as well, and this is not an easy accomplishment to pull off.  However, everyone stepped up their game on this film, and it shows in the final product.  I cannot recommend this movie enough if you have not seen it in the past, or if you have seen it and want to own it in this tremendous format.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

______________________________________________________________________________

Special Features:

Audio commentary with director Chuck Russell, special effects artist Tony Gardner and cinematographer Mark Irwin, moderated by filmmaker Joe Lynch

Audio commentary with actress Shawnee Smith

“It Fell From the Sky!” – an interview with director Chuck Russell

“We Have Work to Do” – an interview with actor Jeffrey DeMunn

“Minding the Dinner” – an interview with actress Candy Clark

“They Call Me Mellow Purple” – an interview with actor Donovan Leitch Jr.

“Try to Scream!” – an interview with actor Bill Moseley

“Shot Him!” – an interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin

“The Incredible Melting Man” – an interview with special effects artist Tony Gardner

“Monster Math” – an interview with special effects supervisor Christopher Gilman

“Haddonfield to Arborville” – an interview with production designer Craig Stearns

“The Secret of the Ooze” – an interview with mechanical designer Mark Setrakian

I Want that Organism Alive! – an interview with Blob mechanic Peter Abrahamson

“Gardner’s Grue Crew” – behind-the-scenes footage of Tony Gardner and his team

Audio Commentary with director Chuck Russell, moderated by film producer Ryan Turek

Theatrical Trailers

TV Spot

Still Gallery

Blu-Ray Info: “The Blob (1988)” is released on a Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray from Shout Factory/Scream Factory.  The film is rated R and has a running time of 95 minutes.

Audio Info: The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  For a film that is thirty-one years old, it sounds terrific.  All of the dialogue between the actors is easy to understand without any issues whatsoever.  When the gory scenes come up, they also have a real sizzle to them as well. Subtitles are in English.

Video Info: The 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is out of this world.  There are no signs of grain, dust, or dirt when watching this film.  It is incredibly clear and vibrant on screen.

Should You Buy It?

With so many special features on this wildly fun flick, it’s a no brainer when it comes to buying “The Blob (1988).”  I wish I had seen this movie sooner, but to be honest, I didn’t even know there was a remake of the original until recently.  I’m glad there is and that Shout/Scream Factory is there to make it available for purchase for hardcore horror fans such as myself and so many others out there.   The film is a gory ride which has a very satisfying and fun conclusion. You always get your money’s worth and then some with Shout Factory/Scream Factory titles, so you will not be disappointed when you pick this one up.  As a matter of fact, it would make a great double feature with the original flick.

 

In Defense of Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ Movies

The two “Halloween” movies written and directed by Rob Zombie were eviscerated not just by critics but by the fans as well. Some critics, like James Berardinelli of Reel Views, said they did not even feel like “Halloween” movies. Fans were vocal in how characters like Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis were unforgivably degraded compared to how they were portrayed in John Carpenter’s original. Others simply said Zombie’s take on Michael Myers just wasn’t that scary.

Well, I say phooey to all this nonsense! Zombie’s “Halloween” movies may not be as scary as the one which started off this never-ending franchise, but for me this was pretty much a given. There is no way you could recapture what Carpenter thrilled us with years ago. Zombie was aware of how Michael Myers, like other horror icons such as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, had pretty much worn out their usefulness. His respect for Carpenter’s slasher opus was strong, and after making a true grindhouse classic with “The Devil’s Rejects,” I knew he would take this story and these characters and make them his own.

What makes Zombie’s “Halloween” stand out from what came before it is how he treats the backstory of Michael Myers. Granted, this threatens to take away from what made him so scary in the first place. Carpenter’s original was an unrelentingly visceral experience mainly because we were not sure what to make of “The Shape” as he became less than human throughout. But here we get a strong idea of how young Michael went bad as he dealt with an uncaring sister, a busy mother, and an abusive lout of a stepfather. Seeing all he had to deal with made it understandable, if not forgivable, as to why he went psycho in the first place.

Now whereas Zombie’s “Halloween” was about Michael, his “Halloween II” was all about Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and of how the horrific events they went through forever destroyed them. It is here we come to realize what Zombie has accomplished with these movies: They are character studies instead of the average slasher movie we have come to expect. This is made even clearer on the “Halloween II” director’s cut which is available on DVD and Blu-ray as it proves to be infinitely superior to the theatrical version.

Fans hated how Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis were so different from how they were portrayed in Carpenter’s original film, but they forgot how Zombie’s films were a meant to be a reimagining of the franchise and not business as usual. Strode’s extreme emotional reactions might make her unlikable, but they soon become understandable as no one involved in what she went through can ever walk away from it unscathed. Both Scout-Taylor Compton and Malcolm McDowell deserve credit for not being constrained by what Jaime Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence created before them. In Zombie’s incarnation, these two actors inhabit their characters more than they play them.

In a time of remakes which are as endless as they are unnecessary, you have to give Zombie points for taking this long-running franchise in a different direction. It may not have been what diehard fans wanted or expected, but whereas most remakes repeat the formulas of movies they originated from with negative success, there is something to be said for a filmmaker who willfully goes against expectations. Seriously, this says a lot in a time when originality in cinema is largely frowned upon.

‘Terminator Genisys’ is, at the Very Least, an Interesting Reboot

Terminator Genisys movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written back in 2015.

I walked into this fifth “Terminator” movie with mixed emotions. The series started in 1984 and has shown an amazing amount of stamina considering we are getting this latest sequel 31 years later. Still, nothing has been quite the same since James Cameron departed the franchise following “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and I say this even though I liked “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” which he had nothing to do with. But then came “Terminator Salvation” which had me wondering where the salvation was among other things like an interesting story or a strong villain.

When it comes to action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has always been about giving moviegoers what he believes they want, so it seems only natural that he would return to this long running franchise even after a 12-year absence with “Terminator Genisys.” On one hand this particular sequel had me missing a lot of the franchise’s original stars like Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, composer Brad Fiedel, Edward Furlong and the R rating these movies usually get (this one is PG-13). But once I got past my misgivings, I found “Terminator Genisys” to be an entertaining summer blockbuster even if it is nowhere as good as the first two movies in the franchise.

The movie begins with John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading his merry band of troops in a battle to destroy Skynet’s main defense grid and that pesky time machine they have hidden underground. But of course, one of the T-800 cyborgs has already been sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back in time and stop the cyborg from eliminating Sarah, and we are put right back into the events of the first movie.

Once the T-800 and Kyle Reese arrive in 1984, we get a largely faithful reconstruction of the first few minutes of “The Terminator.” But things change very quickly as the T-800 is suddenly confronted by another T-800 which had been sent back even further in time to protect Sarah Connor and who takes out the original cyborg with extreme prejudice. As for Kyle, he arrives in 1984 like he did before but is met by a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) who differs greatly from the average LAPD officer. Once he is inside the convenience store getting clothes and shoes, he gets saved by Sarah Connor who comes crashing in. From there, everything we know about “The Terminator” franchise is turned upside down as our heroic characters find themselves on a different path than the one they traveled down previously.

“Terminator Genisys” is essentially a reboot along the lines of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” as it plays around with the timeline we grew up on and works around it to give us something which is, quite thankfully, not the usual prequel. Just when I thought I knew where this movie was going, it took a different turn which I did not see coming. Of course, this also results in the screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier having a few plot holes which will not survive logical scrutiny. Then again, the movie whisks by so quickly to where I didn’t care too much about logistics.

Now on one hand, Schwarzenegger has played the Terminator many times to the point where it seems like he should have retired from this role long ago. Regardless, it is still great to see him back in his most famous role as it has provided him with a long and interesting career. In the first movie Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was the bad guy, in the second he was the good guy, in the third he was both, and he was barely in “Terminator Salvation” so let’s not even go there. In “Terminator Genisys,” he becomes the one thing we never thought he could be for Sarah Connor, a father figure to look up to.

The other thing “Terminator Genisys” wisely acknowledges is the fact Schwarzenegger is not a young man anymore. For once we have a T-800 which actually ages, and this was interesting to witness. While the character may be a cyborg, the skin covering his body ages as it would on any human being. We see him struggle as his body goes through a few malfunctions like his hand shaking uncontrollably or his knee going out on him. But as he points out throughout the movie, he is old but not obsolete.

A lot of people still see Schwarzenegger as a non-actor, but I still think he’s better than most people give him credit for. In “Terminator Genisys” he manages to imbue his character with a humanity a cyborg would not have by design, and he makes you feel for a character that is, in his own way, eager for Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor to get it on.

Emilia Clarke succeeds in making the role of Sarah Connor her own as she starts off the movie in furious ass-kicking mode and never lets up. Jai Courtney gives a good if not great performance as Kyle Reese, and Jason Clarke makes John Connor into the military leader I impatiently waited for him to become ever since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The movie also features a scene-stealing performance from Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as Detective O’Brien, a cop who has more history with these iconic characters than we realize at first. It is a shame, however, we do not see more of Simmons as the movie goes on.

Helming this “Terminator” sequel is Alan Taylor who previously directed “Thor: The Dark World” and also directed episodes of two of my favorite televisions shows, “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz.” I was surprised to see what a good job he did in making this sequel feel like a James Cameron movie in a way previous directors were unable to. Taylor is not able to wow us the way Cameron did and continues to do, but then again few filmmakers can. What he does do is keep the action moving at a steady pace and gives us the fun time we usually expect from a summer movie.

Regardless of how “Terminator Genisys” ends up doing at the box office, this is clearly not the last time we will see Schwarzenegger in his most iconic role. But a further sequel also means Skynet will find yet another way to strike back at the human resistance. It’s like Skynet is Wile E. Coyote and the Terminator is the Road Runner. Skynet keeps searching for new ways to achieve victory, but they are somehow effortlessly defeated by humans and a rogue T-800. Perhaps effortlessly is the wrong word to use in this case, but who wants Skynet to win? Well, I guess we will have to see what nefarious method they will use next because, like it or not, the Terminator will be back.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Terminator Salvation’ Does Not Have Much in the Way of Salvation

Terminator Salvation movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2009 when the movie was released.

Remember how a while back the number three proved to be an unlucky number for sequels? There was “Shrek The Third,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and, most infamously, “Spider-Man 3” all turning out to be tremendous disappointments. Those sequels left a sour taste in my mouth which still won’t go away (“Spider-Man 3” still eats away at me furiously).

In the summer of 2009, it looked like the fourth movie in a franchise was having the worst luck of all. We got “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the fourth X-Men film, landing with a resounding thud. Now, we have “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth in the Terminator series and the first without Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a franchise which surprisingly found enough energy and excitement for a third movie (I don’t care what anyone says, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” was good), but now it has run out of gas. This sequel brings nothing new to the story of John Connor and his fight against Skynet, and I came out of it feeling unfulfilled which has never been the case with any “Terminator” movie before.

This is the first “Terminator” movie to get a PG-13 rating instead of an R, but this is no excuse. “Live Free or Die Hard” was the first in its series to get a PG-13 and proved to be even more exciting than anyone expected. The ratings for movies like these are pretty much irrelevant these days anyway, so why wonder if “Terminator Salvation” would have been better if it had been rated R?

In a time of endless sequels and prequels, “Terminator Salvation” is actually both. It starts off some time after the third movie and takes place in the year 2018, but it also comes before the events which set off James Cameron’s original. John Connor (“The Dark Knight’s” Christian Bale) has now fully accepted his role as the leader in the resistance against the machines, and he is no longer the whiny little bitch he was previously. I know this aspect really drove fans crazy in part three, so they will be relieved if and when they ever get around to seeing this movie.

It soon comes to John’s attention that Skynet is kidnapping humans, and one of them turns out to be Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), his father who must later travel back in time to get all hot and heavy with Sarah Connor or else he will not exist. Also, John meets a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who is not all he appears to be. Soon all these characters will come together to fight against the evil which is Skynet.

One of my big problems with “Terminator Salvation” is it does not have much of a plot. It feels like it exists more for the explosions being set off every other minute more than anything else. The “Terminator” movies were never just about action and special effects, but of great stories and memorable characters which gave these particular films a lot heart and soul which the genre does not always allow for. This fourth “Terminator” movie, however, does not have much of a pulse, and all the loud explosions become tiring after a while. You don’t feel for the characters in the way you should, and some of them get short shrift and are simply there to maintain some sort of continuity in the franchise’s timeline. Lord knows with movies like this and J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” timelines are getting a hell of a workout!

Bale is the third actor, or fourth if you count the guy in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s” prologue) to play John Connor. While he remains one of the best actors working in movies today, his performance as this titular character is shockingly one-note. Part of the problem lies with the screenplay as it does not endow John with the humanity which makes him the great leader we are told he is. Bale plays him as stripped of all feeling, and much of his screen time is spent yelling and screaming at others. Watching him portray this iconic character as a real sour puss made me wonder why John Connor bothered fighting the machines in the first place.

But other actors in the movie end up getting even shorter shrift thanks to the underwritten screenplay. One of the chief victims is Bryce Dallas Howard who portrays Kathryn Brewster, a character previously portrayed by Claire Danes in “Terminator 3.” Howard is more or less reduced to walking around pregnant, working on patients and showing a constant face of worry whenever John goes off into battle. This is a character who should have been utilized more and could have provided this movie with its strongest female protagonist. Howard is a wonderful actress, but she is wasted in a movie which fails to make better use of her talents.

Another character who is ultimately given little to do is Blair Williams, a fighter pilot in the resistance played by Moon Bloodgood. She gets a memorable introduction, figures in some of the most exciting action scenes, and there is no denying she is infinitely sexy. But in the end, Blair basically exists for the sake of the other characters here, and realizing this makes things all the more frustrating.

Helena Bonham Carter’s character of Dr. Serena Kogan could have been a great villain, but she appears only at the very beginning and end of “Terminator Salvation.” A great actress in her own right, she is also wasted in a practically non-existent role. The machines by themselves do not make much of an antagonist here, and they need that one face which can hold them all at attention. Carter’s character could have been this, but it proves not to be the case.

The script by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris also contains a serious plot hole when compared to the other “Terminator” movies. At one point, the resistance discovers Skynet has a list of targets which includes John Connor and Kyle Reese. But the thing is Skynet could not have been aware of Kyle’s existence at this point in the series. If they were that aware of his existence, he would have never been able to go back in time to rescue Sarah Connor. The Terminator would have spotted Reese before he could have spotted the Terminator if this were the case. I know we are busy reinventing timelines right now, but this plot hole is completely inexcusable.

Even though John Connor appears to be main character, “Terminator Salvation” really belongs to Sam Worthington who plays Marcus Wright. Of everyone here, his character is the most fully realized as we follow Marcus on a road to redemption which takes him to a desolate future he could never have imagined. Worthington delves deeply into his character’s complex nature. Marcus Wright is not exactly a good guy, but he is not a bad guy either, and Worthington plays him as a character caught up in circumstances not of his own making. Without Worthington’s performance, “Terminator Salvation” could have been a lot worse.

One really good performance to be found here is from Anton Yelchin who plays a young Kyle Reese. Yelchin succeeds in giving Reese an energetic feel whic is almost completely different from what we have seen before with this character. Basically, we are seeing Kyle Reese in an unrefined state before he becomes the man who travels back in time to be John Connor’s daddy.

As for Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger, he is and is not in “Terminator Salvation.” With the help of CGI magic, his face was digitally placed on another actor’s buff body, and it makes it look like he never left the franchise. The audience I saw the movie with at Grauman’s Chinese applauded his appearance loudly, and it gave us all an ecstatic sense of joy to see him onscreen. However, it also proves my theory of how you can make a “Terminator” movie without James Cameron, but you cannot make one without Schwarzenegger.

And yet the most ironic thing about Schwarzenegger’s appearance is how it illustrates the movie’s biggest problem; It is missing a strong and intense sense of menace the other “Terminator” films benefited from. Realizing this makes “Terminator Salvation” an especially depressing experience as it is unable to replicate the success of its predecessors.

In all fairness, McG, best known for directing the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, does a good job with the action scenes, and the movie is never truly boring. He makes the action look like it was all done in one shot, and his handling of it is terrific. What he needs to keep in mind is how the characters need to be the ones driving the action and not the other way around. If you do not have strong characters to relate to, the special effects will not mean very much.

“Terminator Salvation” feels like it exists more for the special effects than for the story and its characters, and it makes this long running franchise feel like it has hit a dead end. Maybe it should have stopped after the third one. Considering the talent involved, I cannot help but feel like this could have been so much better. I came out of it feeling empty as if I had just seen something which went in and out of my system like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. This could have been a fresh reinvention of the franchise which thrives on imagination, but there is nothing new brought here. The Terminator will be back whether we like it or not, but will Hollywood’s thirst for franchises allow them the insight to give us a more effective follow-up? Well, here’s hoping.

* * out of * * * *

NOTE: “Terminator Salvation” was dedicated to Stan Winston, the special effects wizard who was an amazing creative force in movies like these. He will be missed.

‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ Finds Another Chapter Worth Exploring

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie • Poster

What life has taught me is that doing a series finale to an acclaimed television show, let alone any television show, can be a truly thankless task. Wrapping up everything in a nice bow after years of following a group of characters throughout their lives typically leaves fans infinitely frustrated as they always expect something far more epic than they are given. Seriously, just ask the fans of “Game of Thrones” and “Dexter,” as the utter disappointment from those finales remains never ending. With “Breaking Bad,” however, Vince Gilligan managed to wrap up Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) criminal saga in a way which seemed perfect and totally fulfilling to everyone. No need to go any further with the story, right?

Well, Gilligan has continued to tap into the “Breaking Bad” well with “Better Call Saul” which started off as a prequel, but which may eventually turn into a sequel. And now Netflix has just dropped “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” which follows the show’s other main character, Jesse Pinkman, who is once again played by Aaron Paul. It turns out there is a bit more story than what we were led to believe, and while the end result might seem unnecessary to some, it results in an exciting motion picture which proves to be as good as the average “Breaking Bad” episode.

“El Camino” starts at the exact point “Breaking Bad” ended, with Jesse driving like hell in the car this movie takes its title from. While reveling in having escaped from his cruel and sadistic Neo-Nazi captors, he also realizes he is not out of the woods just yet as the police are looking for him here, there and everywhere. After meeting up with his friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) to get some rest and gather his thoughts, he plots his next move which will hopefully lead him away from the long arm of the law.

The movie’s opening scene serves as a flashback to what is about to transpire, and it sets down the gauntlet Jesse wonders if he can pull off. During a friendly conversation with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Jesse asks him where he will go once he gets out of the drug dealing business. Mike says he will go to Alaska as he sees it as “the final frontier” and a place where one can do anything. Jesse sees the appeal to Mike’s plan, but he also wonders if he can get out of the drug game and manage to make things right for those he has hurt or wronged. Mike tells him he can never make things right, but with this scene, Gilligan leaves us wondering if Jesse can do both as the look on his face shows a wealth of guilt which needs to be dealt with.

There have been countless movies which deal with characters who are caught up in the drug trade and looking to retire from it, or they are trying to atone for a brutal past which continues to hover over them despite their best efforts to go straight. The ones which quickly come to mind include “Carlito’s Way” and “Light Sleeper,” and those two had their main characters facing consequences which karma was not done with them yet. Gilligan plays around with our knowledge of these movies as we wonder if Jesse will ever be able to escape his crimes and atone for them in some way, or if karma has something in store for him which he cannot see coming.

Having a “Breaking Bad” movie centered around Jesse Pinkman feels more than appropriate as Paul has proven to be every bit the actor Cranston had been on the show. Jesse was not even supposed to survive the first season, and it is a testament to Paul’s portrayal that he made it all the way to the end as he gave us a character who was not necessarily a bad person, but one who had made foolish decisions in life and was now being thrust into devilish situations he never intended to get into. When we meet up with Jesse again in “El Camino,” he is a broken man, picking up the pieces of a life which has been forever shattered while living in fear of being apprehended by the law. And in today’s technologically driven society, one can only hide from the law for so long, if at all.

Paul is outstanding as always as he continues to take Jesse from one extreme to the next. His attempts to escape his scary predicament result in him enduring a tremendous level of unease and anxiety as he puts in Jesse’s shoes to where we feel as helpless as he does. The world is on his tail, and one can only be so lucky in escaping their past deeds. Paul is superb in portraying Jesse’s mindset without ever having to overdo it, and his performance is another example of an actor who inhabits their character instead of acting it.

Gilligan returns to write and direct “El Camino,” and he has melded it into a non-linear journey as it shifts from past to present. What results adds more weight to what we have already seen previously, and it makes Jesse’s predicament all the rawer and more unsettling. He also reminds you of how, when it comes to “Breaking Bad,” you need to expect the unexpected. The show was always about playing with your expectations to where you had no idea of what would come next. This movie keeps this tradition going as Jesse tries various methods to make it out of New Mexico in one piece even as some nasty road bumps are constantly being placed in his path.

Now I am writing this review of “El Camino” some time after its release, so many of you may already know about the various cameos by “Breaking Bad” characters who appear here. All the same, I will not spoil any of them for you as audiences deserve to discover them on their own. Still, I have to point out the one made by Robert Forster as the actor, in a sad and cruel irony, passed away on the day this movie was released. Forster returns as Ed Galbraith, the vacuum cleaner salesman who also relocates people who are running from the law and gives them new identities, and his performance is a reminder of what a priceless character actor he was. His inscrutable poker face shows how close Ed keeps his cards to his chest as he is not about to expose himself to outsiders. Forster was always great at taking every character he ever played and gave them an added dimension which may or may not have been in the screenplay. The same goes with his performance here as he shows Ed to have just a bit of vulnerability in him to give the character a conscience we were never sure he had.

Does Jesse escape his fate and make things right? Well, “El Camino” keeps you wondering about this all the way up to its closing credits, and it proves to be an engrossing ride for “Breaking Bad” fans who still get enough of what Gilligan has up in that head of his. While seeing Jesse burn rubber in the series finale as he escaped his imprisonment served as an excellent end for the character, there were still many who wondered where he could have gone from there. Whether or not you believe “El Camino” ranks alongside “Breaking Bad’s” best episodes, it is a thrilling ride which kept me engaged right to its final moments, and it is a fitting epilogue for a character who proved to be more complex than we initially realized.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ Goes Down in a, You Know, Pleasurable Way

Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie poster

Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is the first movie he made which takes place outside of New Jersey. Instead, he takes us to Pittsburgh where we follow the exploits of the title characters who share an apartment and have been the best of friends since they were kids. When we first meet them, their lives are hanging by a thread as they are behind on all their bills, and soon after they lose their water and electricity. Both work at a Starbucks-like shop called Bean n’ Gone where they waste their lives away like those two guys from “Clerks. “Sound like anyone you know?

These two end up going to their high school reunion where Miri ends up connecting with her biggest crush, football hero Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), in the hopes of having a nice little fling. She has yet to find Bobby doesn’t “swing that way.” This soon becomes clear as we see Zack talking with Bobby’s boyfriend, Brandon (Justin Long, who is frackin’ hilarious), who reveals to Zack he is in fact an actor in gay porno films, the stuff Zack doesn’t quite fit the demographic for.

Later on, when both Zack and Miri are in very dire straits, Zack comes up with the idea of the two of them doing a porno. Miri is not quite up to the idea, but the way Zack sees it, porno is now so mainstream that even Paris Hilton (albeit unintentionally) did one and now hawks her own line of perfume to “tweens.” They end up committing to it despite one thing; they have never had sex with each other before. The way they saw it beforehand was they get along so great that they both believe sex will just get in the way of the friendship they have a la “When Harry Met Sally.” Of course, you can’t help but get the feeling Zack would love an opportunity to get up close and personal with Miri, you know?

There’s this line from “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones” which keeps floating around in my head of when Anakin meets up with Padme again and tells her how she has grown more beautiful since the last time they were together. To this, Padme replies, “Anakin, you’ll always be that little boy I remember from Tatooine.” I totally remember the audiences groaning after she said this, and the line kind of sums up the relationship between Zack and Miri, and we feel we have a pretty good idea of where their relationship will end up.

Zack is played Seth Rogen who, for a moment, appeared to be Smith’s new man crush since Ben Affleck was far too busy with his acting career at the time. Rogen is perfect as he handles the raunchy and profane material of the movie with the confidence of a pro, and at the same time he projects a sweet side to his character which really wins the audience over. Elizabeth Banks (“W.“) plays Miri who stays close to Zack throughout their hardships and spends nights with him in front of a trash can in which all their unpaid bills are burned to a crisp. The chemistry between these two is very good, and they play off of each other really well.

In addition, Smith has rounded out a great cast to keep the laughs going throughout this ode to porn. Some of his regulars show up here like Jason Mewes who plays Lester, a hopelessly dense individual who also yearns to be a porn star. Another is Jeff Anderson (the immortal Randal Graves from “Clerks”) who plays Deacon the cameraman. How he manages to get a movie out of all this insanity is beyond me.

Smith even goes out of his way to even cast actual porno stars as well. The most noticeable one is Katie Morgan who has been featured on some documentaries on HBO about her career (how I know this, I refuse to reveal). She is as perky here as she is in those interviews, and her cheerful presence here is kind of a surprise compared to other actresses in her line of work. Traci Lords co-stars as well, and she shows us an amazing new way to blow bubbles. A former porn actress herself, Lords has long since escaped adult entertainment and has dived into the bad taste escapades of John Waters to a delightful effect. Both of the actresses being in this movie should show just how mainstream porn is getting and of how much this scares conservative politicians to death.

But one of the truly scene stealing performances in this movie belongs to Craig Robinson who plays the producer of the porno, Delaney. Robinson is a big kick to watch here as he delivers his lines in a terrifically deadpan manner. At once disgusted at what he has been hired to do, Delaney suddenly becomes incredibly enthusiastic when he realizes he gets to do. He also has a pretty hilarious response to when he is asked to work “Black Friday,” and it serves as a reminder of how some people take things a little too literally.

Smith also has loads of fun skewering the porn films we know from our past but never really admit to ever having watched. Zack and Miri end up coming up with the title “Star Whores” for their porno, and this in reference to how so many of these pornos are typically named after Hollywood blockbusters. See if any of these remind you of anything (some of these I made up):

“Pulp Friction”

“Robocock”

“The Hard Knight”

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Boner” (Justin Long’s character could easily be cast in this one.)

Smith directs this movie to those who are more familiar with pornos than they would ever admit during a sales pitch. It’s also an ode to when he started as a filmmaker all those years ago with “Clerks.” Using a hockey stick as a boom mike holder? You can believe he utilized things like these to get his first movie done.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is not as consistently funny as some of Smith’s other movies like “Clerks” or “Dogma” among others. Like “Jersey Girl,” it follows a certain formula to where we pretty much know where the story is going to end up. At the same time, he gleefully skewers the formula by adding his own brand of raunchy humor. There was one moment I laughed so hard that I almost passed out, something which does not always happen if at all. I fell over, the color went out of my eyes for a second, and things got fuzzy. Yes, that’s how hard I was laughing. I refuse to spoil this particular moment for you, but I will say I will never look at cake frosting in the same way ever again.

Smith also makes clear the difference between having sex and making love, and this difference is made clear at a pivotal moment in the movie which changes everything for the characters. There’s the one nighter, and then there’s the sex which reveals true feelings and which proves to be more than extraordinary. I may not be an expert on the subject for reasons I will plead the fifth on, but I do know this much. Smith, after all these years, still gives us down to earth characters which shows how he has not come even close to forgetting where he came from.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” may not be the best movie of Kevin Smith’s career, but it definitely has its moments of utter hilarity. It also shows there is more to him than making movies in New Jersey. By making a break from his usual comic territory, we can and should expect him to go beyond his comfort zone for a good dose of naughty laughs filled with heart from here on out.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’ – The Duo is Back for Some High Times

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot poster

2001’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was supposed to be the last installment of the View Askewniverse, but time has shown you cannot keep two stoners from New Jersey down. The duo would return in “Clerks II,” and now 13 years later following some serious drug problems and a near fatal heart attack, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith have come back to play their iconic characters in “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” which has the two up to the same shenanigans while finding new meaning in their lives. Like the average Kevin Smith film, it is imperfect but still a lot of fun. And unlike “Yoga Hosers,” you do not have to be stoned to enjoy it.

When “Reboot” begins, Jay and Silent Bob have been busted by the police for running an illegal marijuana operation in the old RST video store next to the Quick Stop. In court, they are represented by Brandon (Justin Long) who gets them acquitted upon convincing the judge (Craig Robinson) that the duo’s store was a temporary pop-up store designed to promote an upcoming movie. The case against them is dismissed which is a relief for them and me as I was not in the mood to watch a court movie. Things, however, take a sharp left turn when the same lawyer quickly switches sides and defends a representative of Saban Films which has optioned the comic book series “Bluntman and Chronic.” It turns out the two, when they were signing documents the lawyer said were necessary for representation purposes, inadvertently signed away their naming rights to Saban, and now they can no longer self-identify as Jay and Silent Bob ever again.

After meeting with Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee), Jay and Silent Bob discover Saban is planning a big budget reboot entitled “Bluntman v Chronic” which is being directed by… Well, you’ll see. Once again, our intrepid duo heads out to Hollywood in an effort to stop production in this reboot and reclaim their identities in the process.

Yes, the plot of “Reboot” is the same as “Strikes Back,” and even Smith has stated this new movie is “literally the same fucking movie all over again.” However, to dismiss this latest View Askew production as a lazy retread would be to miss the point. Smith is out to make fun of sequels, remakes and reboots, and he is not lost on the irony that “Reboot” is essentially all three of those things. What results is one of the most meta movies I have seen in some time as he threatens to be cleverer than he is, but it also results in a motion picture which kept me guessing as to what would happen next. Not all the jokes hit, but the ones which do had me laughing uncontrollably, and this includes one such moment which made me as light-headed as the “frosted” scene from “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”

As you can expect, there are a myriad of cameos to be found throughout “Reboot” as well as a ton of easter eggs. One key cameo comes early when Shannon Elizabeth returns as Justice (a.k.a. Boo Boo Kitty Fuck), Jay’s love interest from “Strike Back.” It turns out Jay did get an answer to his question of “will you fuck me when you get out” as Justice introduces him to their love child, Millennium “Milly” Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith). But because Jay and Justice have been estranged for years to where she has lied to Milly about his whereabouts, she encourages Jay not to reveal to Milly he is her father because, well, you know. Still, Milly finds a way to join him and Silent Bob on their journey to Hollywood.

The moment where Jay discovers he is a dad is what makes this particular View Askew movie stand out as he is forced to confront a new responsibility no one is easily prepared for. It also allows for Jason Mewes to show a vulnerability here we have not seen from previously, and this makes for an especially heartfelt story. In real life, Mewes has become a dad himself, and this among other things is what has kept him from an early death. Seriously, there is real emotion to be found here in “Reboot” even for those who are not Kevin Smith fans in the slightest.

As for the other cameos, not all of them have been spoiled by the trailer, so I will go over the ones you already know about. Chris Hemsworth, in a movie filled with priceless “Thor” puns, plays himself and reminds us of his inspired comic performance in the “Ghostbusters” reboot. Ralph Garman of “The Ralph Report” can rest assured that his cameo as Ted Underhill lasts a lot longer than 17 seconds, but it could have lasted even longer so we too could get his character’s credit card number. Matt Damon’s cameo is so infinitely priceless to where I refuse to ruin it for anyone and, unlike Jimmy Kimmel, I am glad Smith made time for him. You also have Fred Armisen, Rosario Dawson and Kevin’s wife Jennifer Schwalbach making small but very memorable appearances, and be sure to take a look at the name of Craig Robinson’s character as it is like something out of a 1970’s exploitation movie.

But the best cameo here comes from Ben Affleck who returns as “Chasing Amy’s” Holden McNeil. Both Affleck and Smith had been estranged for some time, but even Affleck knew he had to be a part of this flick as Smith was responsible for giving him some of his first leading roles in movies. Plus, Affleck helps to give “Reboot” an even bigger heart as he talks about how children are like our own reboots, and this solidifies the evolution Smith had in mind for the various characters he has created over the years. While “Clerks II” dealt with the responsibilities of being an adult, “Reboot” looks at what becoming a parent does to your overall identity to where everything else in your life becomes secondary. Smith covered this before in “Jersey Girl,” a movie which I think is better than people typically give it credit for, but here it takes on a deeper meaning as both he and Mewes have danced with the Grim Reaper and have come out the other side with infinitely changed perspectives.

When it comes to the cinema of Kevin Smith, his movies are either for you or they are not. I have been a big fan of his since “Clerks” which contained one of my most favorite pieces of dialogue ever (“This job would be great if it weren’t for the fucking customers”), and it is a true joy to see him revisit his View Askew Universe. While he may not be as gifted as Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, Smith still knows how to give us a fun time, and he does just that with “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.” Even if you are not supposed to be here today, I would like to think this movie will find a way to cheer you up. And yes, be sure to stay through the end credits.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘3 From Hell’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

After watching “3 From Hell,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is Rob Zombie’s best film with “The Devil’s Rejects” being right behind it.  This might be an unpopular opinion, and I might be in the minority on this, but this is one hell of a movie, pun intended.   Even though the late Sid Haig is hardly in the movie because of his health issues at the time, it is an incredible ride from start-to-finish.  There is never a dull moment in this movie.  This is the kind of balls-to-the-wall and in-your-face horror film which is missing from today’s cinemas.  It is a shame the film did not get a wider release as there is a lot to like here.

3 From Hell” picks up right where “The Devil’s Rejects” left off, and it shows the aftermath of the big finale.  Someway, somehow, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) have survived their shootout with the police.  However, they are in prison, which makes it quite difficult to unleash their unique brand of mayhem and chaos onto unsuspecting victims. Baby Firefly is still completely crazy and has little interest in trying to get out of prison.  She’s quite proud of what she has done behind bars and of how she has survived.  As a matter of fact, the three of them have quite a fan base now because of the news.

Otis Driftwood is able to escape out of prison thanks to the help of his half-brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake) who is new to this series of films.  However, he has worked with Rob Zombie in the past on “31” and “Halloween II.”  Even though he is no Captain Spaulding, he does a really good job of being a believable brother to Otis and a terrifying force.  Now that Otis and his brother are running around free, they need to find a way to reunite with Baby Firefly.  Without her, they are just not complete.  They write off Captain Spaulding as dying from lethal injection, which explains why he is not part of their team anymore.  Once the “3 From Hell” gang are back together again, things really get taken up a notch.  Sometimes their victims just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The violence is unrelenting, brutal and completely raw, and this is a compliment to the highest degree in a horror film.

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It is rare to see films like this made today, as I mentioned earlier.  This film is not politically correct, and it is not afraid to truly go for it without thinking twice or blinking. This is the unrated cut of the film, and it certainly holds nothing back with the violence or the nudity as well.  There is not a single moment in this film which is boring, lackluster or wasteful.  Rob Zombie takes a patient approach, but there is always something happening on screen that is capturing our attention as an audience.  At times, it plays like a horror western with some of the showdowns.  It’s also incredibly entertaining.

When “3 From Hell” was over, I had a huge smile on my face.  I realized I had witnessed something special and something which doesn’t find its way to your local theater with the proper marketing.  This is why it was given a special release through Fathom Events. A lot of people have complained about the film being a rehash of “The Devil’s Rejects,” but quite frankly I don’t see it.  With Rob Zombie, he doesn’t make films where things are black and white.  At times, innocent people die on screen. We find ourselves rooting for evil people who are doing evil things.  It is because they are entertaining, funny and totally unlike anything else in a horror movie.

Rob Zombie is a true horror fan, and it shows in the way the film was shot.  It had that grindhouse feel to it.  I loved the look of the film, and I especially loved the performances in the film.  At times, I felt like Sheri Moon Zombie was stealing the show with her antics on screen.  In other moments, I enjoyed the easy-going yet incredibly scary performance by Bill Moseley.  Richard Brake is just as off the wall as well with his performance.  If I had to pick one performance that really stood out, it would have to be Sheri Moon Zombie, though.  Granted, she is given a lot to work with on screen, but she’s more than up to the task of handling it all with relative ease. It’s hitting all the right notes.  I loved every single second of this flick.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “3 From Hell” is being released on a two-disc Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Combo Pack from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.  It comes with both the R-rated and unrated versions of the film, but the unrated version can only be viewed on the Blu-Ray. The film has a running time of 115 minutes.  For the rated version, it is rated R for strong sadistic violence, language throughout, sexual content and drug use.

Audio Info:  The English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is out of this world! It is exactly what I wanted out of this film.  It truly adds to the screams of terror when the violence is happening on screen.  It’s great during the scenes which feature some great songs as well. There are also subtitles in English and Spanish.

Video Info: The film looks outstanding on a 1080p High Definition 16×9 (1.85:1) presentation.  It is able to have an old-school grindhouse look to it, as I mentioned in my review, without sacrificing the picture quality which is sharp and top-notch.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Rob Zombie:  If you have ever heard an interview with Rob Zombie, you know what an intelligent and thoughtful filmmaker and individual he is.  He takes you through the entire filmmaking process and is never boring.  This is a commentary track which I highly recommend you listen to after watching the film on its own.

To Hell and Back: The Making of 3 From Hell (4-Part Documentary) (01:34:00):  This is almost as long as the film itself!  This is the kind of special feature I wish more filmmakers would add to Blu-rays. It shows on-set footage, behind-the-scenes interviews, and tons of knowledge on anything and everything you would ever want to know about this movie.  This is a top notch, A+ special feature.  I’m really glad they took the time to show us how this movie came together. Rob Zombie is as laid back as they come and very open to ideas from his actors.  Even though he is the writer/director, he only puts his foot down when it comes to notes from the studio trying to change his vision or tell him what to do on his films.

Should You Buy It?

HELL YES!!!  As soon as you have finished reading this review, you owe it to yourself to buy this movie as soon as possible.  This is my favorite horror movie of 2019, and it is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in probably a decade.   Now don’t get me wrong: I love what Jordan Peele is doing with films like “Get Out” and “Us”.  However, this is, as director Kevin Smith called it, “Horror Heaven.”  If you like your horror films bloody, twisted, funny, unhinged, crazy and totally unfiltered, this is the movie for you.  The audio and the visuals are top notch as well as the special features.  Lionsgate did a tremendous job with this Blu-ray release, and I can’t recommend it enough!

 

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is Fun, But Also a Bit Stale

Zombieland Double Tap poster

For the record, I have seen the original “Zombieland” although it took being on cable one morning for me to watch it. In the midst of an endless sea of zombie movies and television shows, here was one which had a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse, and it proved to be endlessly entertaining throughout. While everything and everybody could have been easily upstaged by Bill Murray’s howlingly funny cameo where he is at his self-effacing best, it had a game cast of actors who reveled in the fun you could tell they were having during its making.

Now it is 10 years later, and we finally have the long-awaited sequel “Zombieland: Double Tap” (nice title). The cast now comes with at least one Oscar nomination under their belts, Reuben Fleischer is riding high after the commercial success of “Venom,” and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have freed themselves from the “Deadpool” franchise long enough to pen this one. What results is definitely fun, but it also lacks the freshness of its predecessor, and everyone seems to be trying a little too hard to be funny and clever this time around. Plus, the sight of a zombie’s head getting bashed does not have the same visceral thrill it used to have.

When we catch up with our intrepid band of heroes, they are laying waste to the latest zombie horde as they make their way towards a government building which these days has had one too many unwelcome guests – The White House. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has long since become a hardened survivor, and the many nights he spends with Wichita (Emma Stone) in the Lincoln Bedroom has him seriously thinking about marriage. As for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), he treats everyday in there like it is Christmas while Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) continually resents him for treating her like she is still a little girl. Things come to a head when Wichita and Little Rock suddenly become tired of life in the Oval Office and hit the road to find some new sights. After some hesitation, Columbus and Tallahassee do the same.

For a moment, I figured “Zombieland: Double Tap” would take place entirely in The White House and that the filmmakers would take great pleasure in ridiculing the terrible state of American politics. But since “Zombieland” took place largely on the west side of America, it only makes sense we find these characters traveling through various locales on the east coast which include, yes, Graceland. Like in any zombie movie, home is where you find it as no one can afford to stay in the same place for very long.

Seriously, these movies thrive on their inspired cast of actors. Woody Harrelson, who can play just about any role at this point in his career, looks to be having the time of his life as Tallahassee as we watch him channel Elvis Presley more often than not, and he makes his undying hatred of pacifism and minivans especially palpable. Eisenberg and Stone play off of each other wonderfully as they constantly try to prove who is more sarcastic than the other. As for Breslin, it has been fascinating to watch her grow up onscreen, and her yearning to look for other people her age in this apocalyptic world gives her character more room to grow than the others.

Still, there is a constant feeling of “been there, done that” which permeates these proceedings. Sometimes filmmakers can get away with doing the same thing one more time, but other times they fall victim to staying in their comfort zone to where things get stale very quickly. With “Zombieland: Double Tap,” it is an example of half and half as there is still much fun to be had, but what was once fresh now feels far past its expiration date. Plus, seeing these characters continually try to be cleverer than the other gets exasperating rather quickly.

One of the things this sequel really has going for it is new blood. Zoey Deutch, so fetching in “Everybody Wants Some,” is a scene-stealer as the infinitely dumb Madison. Sure, this character is a dumb blonde cliché, but Deutch is a hoot throughout as she makes Madison so adorably stupid to where I kept waiting for her to sing “Cause I’m a Blonde” at the drop of a hat. We watch a lot of movies like these waiting for dumb blondes to die a most horrible death, but Deutch gives us more than enough reason to see Madison live one more day and then die on another.

There is also the always excellent Rosario Dawson who shows up as Nevada, a fellow survivor who, like Tallahassee has quite the thing for Elvis. She and Harrelson have quite the chemistry together as they talk about their love for “the king,” and it is a shame she is not in the movie more. However, when she does reappear, it is at the perfect moment.

And there is no forgetting Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch who play… Well, just watch the movie to find out.

Fleischer does what he can to keep things rolling, and he gives us one great zombie attack sequence which lasts several minutes and looks like it was done in one shot. This sequel is never boring, but it still feels lacking in one way or another. Even when the main characters ban together to attack an amazingly large horde of zombies which threaten Babylon, an oasis of peace which is just asking to be laid waste to especially when you take into account it has a no guns policy, the climax is never as thrilling as it wants to be.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is not a bad movie, but it is also not particularly memorable. Whether or not the fans of the original enjoy it, I do not think it will have the same staying power. Everybody here looks ever so happy to be reunited, and the fun is definitely on display, but that same amount of fun does not quite translate fully over to the audience. In the end, things could have been much worse, but this sequel is still a near-miss for me.

By the way, be sure to stay through the end credits as there is a couple of post-credit scenes which are funnier than anything else in this sequel. Trust me, it is worth waiting to go to the bathroom until after the lights come up.

* * ½ out of * * * *