500 Words Or Less: JACK REACHER (2012) and THE LAST STAND (2013)

Jack:Arnold

There’s a quote by David Foster Wallace where he theorizes that, in an age of irony and cynicism are the sword and shield of ‘rebellion,’ perhaps true rebellion comes from earnestness, simplicity, unpretentiousness, and grace. While neither one is a masterpiece, Jack Reacher and The Last Stand remain entertaining on those merits alone. Or perhaps it’s because you can watch the fight sequences and understand what’s going on.

Reacher and Last Stand’s similarities go beyond those virtues. Both feature eighties icons who are now reaching middle age. In fact, were it not for things like cell phones and GPS playing a large role, these films could have been unearthed by some nostalgic start-up and released on DVD with a reunion in the special features. Both are contemporary updates of Western tropes — Reacher telling the tale of a man (Tom Cruise) who rides into town, restores order, and then rides out again, Last Stand focuses on a town and its sheriff (Arnold Schwartzenegger) under siege from outsiders. Both know how to employ humor and both get assists from capable supporting casts. And both suffer from the same flaws — each is about ten minutes two long, and littered with excessive violence.

Jack Reacher, despite its PG-13 rating, feels like the more violent of the two. Based on one of the many novels by Lee Child, the film focuses on Reacher’s hunt for a sniper in Pittsburgh. It’s easy to see why the film was delayed in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. There’s one flashback to the murders in particular that’s quite unsettling when viewed through this lens. However, Cruise’s Reacher prefers to solve his problems with his hands — and while he’s not the hulking brute from the books, the intelligence and swiftness of the character are given capable menace by the actor. As a character, Reacher falls somewhere between the movie star roles of The Firm and Top Gun and the weird menace of Magnolia and Rock of Ages.  Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie makes effective use of Pittsburgh as a location, and for a writer known for his verbal brilliance, the film’s best sequences are wordless. Except when Werner Herzog appears to give audiences his take on The Greek from The Wire.

The Last Stand also knows how to quickly establish its location and simple plot: a fugitive is racing towards the border in a very fast car, and only the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction and its sheriff stand in its way. That sheriff has a name, but to audiences, it’s just Arnie, back on the screen after years in political life. The actor surprises in his nearly full-throated embrace of his age while occasionally reminding viewers that he can act when he wants to. Loud, fast-paced, and funnier than expected with a wonderful score, the film features several thrilling action sequences — a chase through a cornfield stands out — that make it preferable to Jack Reacher.

But Blood and Bone beats them both.

Jack Reacher. Dir./Wr. Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child. Perf. Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, David Oyelowo. 130 minutes. Paramount, 2012.

The Last Stand. Dir. Kim Ji-woon. Wr. Andrew Knauer. Perf. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forrest Whitaker, Jamie Alexander, Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford. 107 minutes. Lionsgate, 2013.

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500 Words or Less: HITCHCOCK (2012)

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In one of the many fantasy sequences that populate Hitchcock (2012), the director (Anthony Hopkins) imagines himself on a psychiatrist’s couch. The psychatrist is Ed Gein, inspiration for Psycho, and in the course of their session, Hitchcock confesses he’s been having thoughts. “Dark thoughts,” he says.

It’s a chilling delivery by the former Dr. Lecter and a reminder that, even after years of paycheck roles and under makeup that never fully gels here, Hopkins remains a stunning actor. This scene, however, encapsulates the flaws and pleasures of Hitchcock, a biopic in the Capote mold where one period in a subject’s life is meant to represent the whole of their career. Director Sasha Gervasi and writer John L. McLaughlin, working from the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, spend much of the film’s running time portraying the production of Psycho in relatively straightforward fashion. The dynamic between Hitchcock and Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, who also gets many lovely moments throughout) is the focus during the production, emphasizing the tension between the famous director and his less-known wife. It captures the relationship two creative people in love so often have, from the fights to the creative disagreements, from the discussions over the material to the private knowledge that, in the end, there’s only one person whose opinion you trust. This relationship is surrounded by a bevy of character actors in supporting roles. Scarlett Johansson is warm and gentle as Janet Leigh, and Toni Collette disappears into her role as Hitchcock’s secretary. Michael Stuhlbarg continues his hot streak of being one of the best parts of any movie he’s in as future Universal studio head and agent Lew Wasserman.

Yet these sections are interspersed with the aforementioned fantasy sequences and in-jokes, often surrounding Hitchcock’s conversations with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) or inserting Hitch into key moments from Gein’s life. And of course time must be given to the director’s voyeuristic impulses and sexual manipulation of his leading ladies. These oft-amusing shadings remain the least effective parts of Hitchock, but they suggest a much weirder, sinister movie had more time been devoted to them. As such, they leave one wishing for more behind-the-scenes material — like the relationship between ‘Hitchcock blondes’ Leigh and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel).

Hitchcock can’t fully commit to either take on the Psycho myth, and the film suffers for it before recovering in the final act, centering around the promotion and premiere of Psycho. Here, in a sequence involving Hitchcock watching the people watching the shower sequence, both tracks come together with Hopkins’ wordless acting that makes you wish for a better movie yet leaves you happy with the one you get.

Recommended: Yes.

Hitchcock. Dir. Sasha Gervasi. Wr. John L. McLaughlin, based on Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston. 98 minutes. Fox Searchlight, 2012.

Too Big To Fail

This review later appeared on January Magazine’s website.

When Hollywood decided to adapt The Bonfire of the Vanities, Oscar-winner William Hurt’s name was on the short list to play Sherman McCoy, the Wall Street “Master of the Universe” who finds himself having a very bad year. That role went to Tom Hanks, but twenty-plus years later, William Hurt headlines HBO’s very good adaptation of Too Big To Fail. Hurt plays Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a former Wall Street master who finds himself having a very bad few months in 2008. The stakes here, are much higher — instead of a murder charge, Paulson faces the complete meltdown of the financial system world-wide.

While Paulson is the haunted center and Hurt the top-billed actor in this adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s international best seller, he is not without support. Director Curtis Hanson, of the classic L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and the less-than-classic The River Wild, stuffs the film with…well, every character actor in the history of ever. While that’s an exaggeration, calling the ensemble cast of Too Big To Fail a Murderer’s Row of talent is not. This review could very easily sell you on the picture by listing off who’s in it — when you have Dan Hedeya (as powerful Congressman Barney Frank) and John Heard (as Lehmann Brothers CFO Joe Gregory) show up for a single scene a piece, you know Hanson and his casting directors mean business.

"Selling the uber-successful Lehmann Brothers? How do you FUCK that up?"

The cast is by far the strongest part of Hanson’s movie. The director, working from a script by Peter Gould (Breaking Bad), uses the all-star cast as a kind of shorthand. While animated subtitles inform the audience to folks’ names and jobs, Hanson understands the baggage certain actors bring to their parts as well. So yes, it makes perfect sense that James Woods is the arrogant, self-destructive Dick Fuld, CEO of Lehmann Brothers, whose reluctance to sell his company kicks the whole thing off. (Woods’ first line is a word the actor is familiar with, and that is “motherfucker”.)

We should all listen to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, because he’s played by the darkly funny and very serious Paul Giamatti, and heed the sage advice of Warren Buffett, because he’s the grandfatherly Edward Asner. When you put JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in a room with other executives to find a way to bail out Lehmann, you know Dimon’s running the room, because the man speaking his dialogue is former President Bill Pullman. And you know, no matter what, Matthew Modine will find a way to make Merril Lynch CEO John Thain look like a doofus, because, well, Matthew Modine plays a lot of doofuses.

Tanking bailouts, scamming Agrestic...all in a day's work for Modine.

Those are just a few of the names in the cast of Too Big To Fail, and I’m neglecting others, like Billy Crudup’s Timothy Geitner and Topher Grace and Cynthia Nixon as Treasury aides. I’m also not emphasizing just how good Hurt is as Paulson at portraying the crushing guilt that comes with both causing the financial crisis of the film (as Paulson lobbied for deregulation while in charge at Goldman Sachs) and desperate to fix it. Hurt makes Paulson into a guy with real regrets who becomes frayed over the course of the picture. He’s good at selling the big moments — threatening CEOS with the weight of the federal government — and the smaller ones, like casually remarking that nobody did anything to stop deregulation because “We were making too much money.” It’s a fantastic performance, and a sign that audiences never really lost William Hurt — he just went away for a while.

If the film has flaws that keep it from being a great addition to HBO’s ongoing efforts to dramatize all of American history, it’s that the film often feels like not enough time is spent with these characters. Too Big to Fail plays like a thriller, and it’s a terribly exciting movie at times, but there are moments, especially early on, when I found myself wishing the whole thing were longer. This could have easily been spread out over two nights.

Ben Bernanke frowns on your Objectivist shenanigans.

Stretching it out, however, may have eliminated the pace of Hanson’s direction, which is crisp, solid, and while it doesn’t reach the heights of his classic work, it’s still a solid entry from the journeyman filmmaker. Hanson breaks up the tension with some moments of real humor (mostly from the deadpans provided by Mssrs. Grace and Giamatti), as well as stopping the action to explain what a sub-prime mortgage is and how it caused the crisis about halfway through the film — without missing a beat. That scene, by the way, is succinct and informative enough to be taught in schools for years to come, and it’s to Gould’s credit as a writer that he indulges in hand-holding a few times throughout the course of the picture.

Too Big To Fail is not a perfect film, nor is it in the top-tier of HBO’s continuing efforts to chronicle all of American history. Its length, and over-reliance on some of the character “sketching” through its casting keep it from being on the level of a Path To War. But it is an engaging, entertaining movie for adults that’s a welcome antidote to the summer months. So if you want answers about how we got into the mess we find ourselves in, or are just looking to watch a bunch of really great actors act their butts off, this might be a film you’ll enjoy.

>The Expendables (2010)

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I started this week with Centurion, which I really loved. I ended it with a late-night showing of The Expendables with the special lady friend. It was nice to be out with the SLF, but in retrospect…I wish I’d taken her to see Centurion. Because Expendables wasn’t very good at all.

I mean, it was bad, but it wasn’t bad-bad. It’s simply “eh,” but I think when you have a movie like this with a cast like that, being simply “eh” is even worse, somehow. On our walk home, the SLF mentioned that she has three expectations for any action movie in order to be satisfied:

1. Stuff blowing up real good
2. Breasty chicks in slow-motion or wet/sweaty t-shirts, who can look sexy while being dragged at gunpoint. She also defines this as “lack of bust-itude.”
3. Funny jokes/quick one-liners you don’t have to think too hard about.

She later added:

4. A literally ass-kicking soundtrack. If you can’t kick in the door to the first line, then you shouldn’t use it on the soundtrack.

I’m gonna put that shit on a tea-cozy, or at least a notecard above my desk. How did The Expendables fare on this now-patented SLF Action Movie Code?

1. Yes, stuff did blow up real good, and with some frequency. There are a few sequences that stood out and had me laughing and giggling in my chair like a fourteen-year-old. Sure, it’s fun to see Terry Crews mow people down with the world’s biggest shotgun or Jason Statham be Jason Statham, because he’s one of the few action guys working today who is reminiscent of the Willis/Stallone mode. Statham works in these types of movies because he never winks at the camera. He’s authentic. You believe him, and thus, you buy the movie.

But the problem, if you can believe it, is in The Expendables, stuff blows up with too much frequency, and by the end of the movie, I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. Besides that, it lacked the emotional satisfaction that you get when a movie saved its stuff blowing up real good for the last act. That’s one of the reasons why Crews’ shotgun opera works, because he doesn’t really get to DO anything for the entire movie, and you’re just waiting for him to show what a bad dude he is. And when he does, you realize that, if President Ronnie were kidnapped by ninjas, he would, in fact, be a bad enough dude to rescue the President.

2. For a movie that is meant to harken back to the glory days of the 80s, there was a surprising lack of hot chicks in this movie. SLF is watching old-school Buffy the Vampire Slayer, like back before Charisma Carpenter did Playboy, and Carpenter is in this. But her part is booooooring, and only seems to exist to allow Jason Statham some more cool stuff to do. Beyond that, the entire movie hinges on Sylvester Stallone’s kind of sort of thing with a female rebel of an unnamed Latin American country that’s not the fake Latin American country from The West Wing. As the SLF says, “if she had gotten killed, nobody would have cared, and that is no way for your helpless female character to be.”

SLF continues with the very good point that if you’re not going to resolve anything re: her relationship with Sly, you should make her fourteen or fifteen and make it a father-daughter thing. Give Stallone’s Barney Ross a backstory with a wife and daughter who left him while he was off capping dudes with Mickey Rourke…or even the regret that he never had a family at all because of his aformentioned penchant for cappin’ dudes. That would cover the lack of brestitude and make the scenes where the female character is tortured more despicable and make you want to see Eric Roberts get his comeuppance.

(SLF has this whole thing about movie villains and it’s pretty awesome, but I don’t really have the time to transcribe what she’s saying. So maybe later.) Thus, Expendables fails on the lack of breastitude, and I apologize to my female readership for harping on that. I’m really a male feminist, I swear.

(By the way, as I write this, SLF is basically rewriting The Expendables in the apartment while she is sewing, and her version of the movie is way better than the movie we just saw.)

3. Funny jokes/one-liners. This where the movie fails, and fails HARD. I found one joke in this movie funny, and that’s a dick-sucking one-liner delivered by Bruce Willis in the infamous Bruce-Arnie-Sly scene. Other than that, it’s the most surface shit imaginable. Randy Couture has a fucked-up ear. Jet Li is short. Let’s make jokes about these for 90 minutes. I mean, there are funny parts. Eric Roberts is very funny, but come on, it’s Eric Roberts. He had some of the worst jokes in the movie, and he delivered them better than anyone else. Like Statham, he knows how to stick the landing with some of these bits — as the SLF says, “if you don’t commit, it’s gonna be shit.”

I think this is the longest review I’ve written for this little blog, and I could go on about the parts of The Expendables I did like, such as Mr. Mickey Rourke. I remember the story about Rourke basically demanding that he have a cockatoo and do all this outrageous shit on the set of Iron Man 2, and it’s clear that he got away with much the same stuff here: A pipe. Low-rider jeans with a beer gut. A touching, nonsensical monologue about Bosnia that is actually somewhat touching, because IT’S MICKEY ROURKE. (SLF: “I don’t think it was about Bosnia, but there was pain there.”) Hell, he basically drives off the cover of Low Rider magazine for his first appearance, with random hot chick on the back of his bike.

Oh, and 4: The movie has a classic rock soundtrack, but it doesn’t use it very well, it chooses the most obvious songs imaginable (and so expensive-sounding!), and there is not one rock song used as the soundtrack to any of the action sequences. Please see the winner of the 2007 Palm D’Or, Shoot ‘Em Up, for a better example of this.

I didn’t really dig it. Neither did the SLF. I’d probably watch it again on tv, though. I kind of wish we’d gone to a midnight screening of Face/Off instead. Because even while Face/Off‘s plot is far more ridiculous and outlandish than The Expendables, its actors hold that shit together.

“I’m ready…ready for the BIG RIDE, BABY.”

Good night.

>Centurion (2010)

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I’m a pretty old-school guy, which is why I see a majority of movies at Film Forum here in New York. I appreciate film is an art that is ever-moving forward, ever growing and changing and adapting to trends in the culture…but sometimes you just want to see Jimmy McNulty fight a chick with a giant fucking spear.

That’s not the entire plot of Centurion, the new film from Neil Marshall, but it’s one standout scene in a film filled with them. Centurion is a lean-and-mean, meat-and-potatoes, masculine movie that is one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in a theater this year. The plot is this: In 2nd Century Britain, while travelling to battle the Picts’ guerilla army, the Roman 9th Legion (commanded by Dominic “McNulty” West) is betrayed and slaughtered, leaving only a few survivors, including an ex-POW, played by Michael Fassbender. You may know Michael Fassbender from his part as Arch in Inglorious Basterds, where he was excellent. Centurion cements him as a leading-man, in that he spends most of the movie with his shirt off (for the ladies) and is a manly-man doing all kinds of manly-man things and being a leader of men (for you dudes in the audience).

It’s not all about Fassbender, though — at the Q&A after this movie, Marshall said “We don’t get to make Westerns in Britain, so this is my Western” — and it very much is, with gorgeous sweeping helicopter shots and horses framed in silhouette against an expansive sky. The cast is made up of lots of “hey, it’s that guy,” including David Morrissey, who I like a lot, and Noel Clarke, from Dr. Who. There’s even a character who is the “token Middle Eastern dude.” Not really sure why they put him in there, but it works. Also great is Dominic West, who’s more of a supporting role than the name above the title would lead you to belive, but he has some awesome action and character moments, especially with Fassbender. It’s a good part for him, and I hope he takes more like this one, because he’s great at it. Also, there’s a scene where he gets drunk and sleeps with a wench bent over the back of a Roman column.

What I really liked about Centurion was the feeling. During the Q&A a guy complained that he didn’t really like any of the Roman characters because they were, essentially, an invading force. I disagree — Marshall paints these guys with a very broad brush — the guy on his last tour, the eternal soldier, the cook, the guy who you know is going to turn out to be bad news — but first and foremost, they’re soldiers. They talk like soldiers (“fuck” is used quite often and the dialogue is very modern-sounding, which I liked a lot and reminded me of Milch’s work on Deadwood), they act like soldiers (fighting and drinking), and it makes what they go through as characters, both in their arcs and in the challenges they face, resonate. It’s hard to look at any modern movie about a historical empire battling a small yet determined guerilla force and not think of what’s going in other parts of the world, but Marshall never beats you over the head with it. There’s a little talk about dying empires and the like and that’s about it. It’s not like “hai guies this is Afghanistan lol.”

I’m not sure if this movie is as much batshit crazy fun as Doomsday, but it might be Marshall’s best movie to date. I dug it, and I’d see it again. Good stuff, this movie.

>Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

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(Alternate title for my internet homies like Luca of Wholly on the Level: Durry of a Wimpy Kid)

One of the best courses I took in college was on children’s film, where we spent a semester talking about just how fucking racist the original Peter Pan is and how much Ferngully sucks. My end of the term paper ripped off Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. with its title, “Fifteen Ways of Looking At A Friendly Ghost”. It was about how Casper, the Christina Ricci vehicle from the mid-90s, is bad for kids. My main thesis there was that Casper was a pervert and that the movie teaches kids that death is a great way to get out of school/things you don’t want to do.

A few years later, one of the message boarders on a board I post at regularly, CHUD.com, created a very controversial thread called “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the worst movie ever made.” The gist of that thread was that Ferris Bueller was a sociopath who probably later grew up to work for Enron. Many people took offense to this, and the debate raged on for many pages, and I think somebody even brought up Nazis. Because, you know, it’s the internet.

I really hope everyone who disagreeed with that boarder never sees Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I watched at work with the sound off, even though it took me three hours to get through a ninety minute movie because I had to tell customers where the Renee Fleming and Jason Mraz albums were, might not be one of the worst movies ever made, but it’s definitely one of the worst kids’ movies ever made. It’s not incompetent, mind — there are parts of this that are kind of good. Steve Zahn and Rachel Harris as the parents of the titular wimpy kid are very funny (Harris has a bit where she makes Roderik, WK’s older brother, apologize to all of womankind for having a bikini-biker mag), that girl who played Hit Girl is charming as the older “outcast” who attempts to mentor wimpy kid, and there’s a “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” joke that I wish they’d let me turn on the sound for. A draft of this script was written by Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, who worked on Freaks & Geeks and I guess are on 90210 now, trying to avoid writing a “Dukie returns!” episode. This could have been a good movie about being yourself, not trying to be cool, and the fact that simply walking into Mordor is a less hellish experience than middle school. It’s not, and so what we wind up with is a movie that really should have been called Diary of a Pre-Pubesecent Sociopath.

I’ve read a lot how child actors, the competent ones anyway, are wind-up dolls you can tell what to do and they’ll do it, and that you should feel bad for beating up on them in your reviews. Guess what? I’ve directed child actors, and while you don’t need to be Little Man Tate, there’s a skill level there that needs to be present, and that’s why I don’t feel bad singling out Zachary Gordon for his performance as the Wimpy Kid, aka “Greg Haffley.” We know his name is Greg Haffley because they say it a billion times. Greg is, in case you couldn’t guess, the sociopath of that alternate title I busted out up there.

Greg spends the entire runtime of Diary as an egomaniacal, self-obsessed little shithead. Are we supposed to think this is cute? I don’t. The “plot” of this movie hinges on Greg trying to get into his school yearbook’s “favorite” page, all the while ignoring and insulting his best friend. When said best friend wises up after Greg frames him for throwing children into a hole and terrorizing them (This happens, friends), we’re supposed to feel sad for Greg. I didn’t. I kept hoping that Greg would learn a valuable lesson and end the movie as at least something resembling a human being. He doesn’t. He grows a pair and takes the blame for something involving cheese near the end, but when it’s all over and he’s friends with his fat best friend again, I didn’t really get the sense that Master Gregory Haffley had learned a valuable lesson about not growing up to be Patrick Bateman.

Look, I suppose I could be missing some nuance in Gordon’s performance because I watched him without sound on. Maybe those lines weren’t supposed to come off as shitty as they did when the subtitles were on and all I had was Gordon’s smug face in glorious Blu-Ray. And maybe I really did get that kid actor I directed to swim on the first take.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is bad because it is a well-made movie. It’s the kind of movie we spent weeks tearing apart, movies that look unassuming on the surface but have some insidious, odious message in them. But in a weird way, I found myself thinking about this movie after the fact, thinking about how if I had kids, what would I ask them about this movie’s message? How would I use the movie as a discussion point, rather than just plopping them down in front of the TV or telling them “no, you can’t see it.” I don’t have kids, but if I do someday, that’s the approach I’d like to take as a parent.

Didn’t dig it. Don’t really have any desire to see it again. Kind of hate this movie.

>Zombieland (2009)

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I don’t understand why people always want to compare Jesse Eisenberg to Michael Cera. Yes, the two sound somewhat similar, but they’re very different actors. This was illustrated to me today by watching Superbad (2007, and I had it on in the background, so I’m not going to write it up for this blog), which stars Cera, and Zombieland, which was the other half of Eisenberg’s “theme-park-set movies from 2009 that have ‘land’ in the title” duology. I like Michael Cera quite a bit, but he doesn’t seem to play variations on his persona as well as Eisenberg. Michael Cera tends to play Michael Cera, wheras Jesse Eisenberg plays characters that kind of sound the same/come from the same place. Put it another way: Would Michael Cera do Holy Rollers?

I fully admit, though, that my affection for Eisenberg has to do with the fact he’s starred in some of my favorite movies. Adventureland, aka “the one where I kick myself through its running time realizing this is how my summer camp movie should have been”, was very nearly my favorite film of 2009 (it went to Antichrist, and I’ve watched In The Loop more than any other film from that year), and The Squid and the Whale was not only my favorite film of the 00s, but is in my top ten of all time. Eisenberg’s so good in that, and it remains astonishing that an actor can be that young and that brave, to be that unsympathetic at times, without concern that it might hurt his career as a leading man (which is what Cera seems to want to be). I’m already hearing Oscar talk for him coming off his performance in The Social Network, which wouldn’t be surprising at all, because he’s not one of those actors that you think of as one of the best of his generation (Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster Karate Explosion), but he’s up there.

Much like the people who want to compare Michael Cera to Eisenberg because they share similar characteristics, I read quite a bit on the internet comparing and contrasting Zombieland to Shaun of the Dead (2004, another Best of the Decade lister), as if there was room for only one zombie comedy in people’s hearts. Zombieland is not Shaun of the Dead, but then again, few things are.

If you can get past the fact that Zombieland, like Shaun, is a comedy first and a zombie movie second, you’ll have fun with this one. It made me laugh very hard in spots, and while it takes a little while to get going (I don’t think the movie really gels until all four leads are on the road together), I had a smile on my face throughout. Woody Harrelson might be doing career best work here — his performance is both hilarious and touching; I’d compare it to James Franco in Pinapple Express when it comes to the layers he adds. Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin shows she’s got some great comic timing (one of her lines destroyed me) and made me hope that she can transition into teenage and adult roles. Emma Stone, who was also in Superbad, doesn’t have as much to do as the other three leads, but she’s got a great deadpan delivery that serves her well. And if you couldn’t guess from the first half of this blog, I liked Eisenberg a lot in it.

The film isn’t all belly laughs. It does a wonderful job of setting up the world and its rules, as well as never letting you forget the very real danger these characters are in. That lends the climax, set in the aformentioned amusement park, an appropriate suspense and believability. Beyond that, has some well-shot, well-thought out action that doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid. One of the things I appreciated most about Zombieland was its clear geography of its scenes; I always knew where a character was in relation to the other characters as the action cut from one part of the park to the other.

I dug it, and I think it might wind up alongside In The Loop and Superbad as one of those movies to throw on when you want to watch something, you want to laugh, but you want to see something you’ve seen before.