Tag: jesse eisenberg

Zombieland: Double Tap


Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
★ / ★★★★

If your idea of entertainment is unadulterated boredom then Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland: Double Tap” is a winner: a lazy, low energy, soporific sequel to a predecessor that embodies none of these qualities. It is astounding that although there is a ten-year gap between the original and the follow-up, the ideas served here are tired and maddeningly cliché, rotten, the actors hamming it up to create a semblance of a good movie. I felt embarrassed for their efforts; they are character actors stuck in a third-rate material. It is clear that the picture has no reason to exist other than to make money. To say it is a waste of ninety minutes is an understatement.

The introductory scene shows some promise. Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg), via narration, acknowledges that since we last spent time with them a decade ago, zombies have specialized and a few have evolved. Each type is given a specific name based on the undead’s characteristics, particularly the manner in which it hunts. But this potentially fresh idea is dropped almost immediately and picked up only when convenient—when it is desperate for an action scene. Instead, we are bogged down with lame dialogue—most of them expository—about the importance of sticking together, of family, of home being where your loved ones are. Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick’s screenplay appears to be confused when it comes to their target audience. Did they mean to impress those with IQ lower than 70?

Every time the material attempts to explore family dynamics among Colombus, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), it is a challenge to prevent closing one’s eyes because none of the connections ring true. For example, the father-daughter relationship between Tallahassee and Little Rock is forced and awkward on two fronts: there is no chemistry between Harrelson and Breslin—the latter at times coming across like she doesn’t even want to be in the film while the former, almost recognizing the lack of enthusiasm from his co-star, recompenses for their shortcoming as a unit by exaggerating an already hyperbolic character—and the screenplay never provides a warm, touching, or curious moment between the two characters prior to their relationship being challenged.

Another example is Columbus and Wichita’s would-be romantic connection: it is dry and purely circumstantial. Like Harrelson and Breslin, Eisenberg and Stone lack chemistry—this time the romantic variety. I suppose the idea of opposites attract is meant to be humorous, but what they share is consistently one-dimensional. Wichita is always the straight man, Columbus the bumbling bungler. The writing fails to let the audience see—or discover—what Wichita sees in Columbus, vice-versa. It is without question that interpretations of these characters are detached from the previous film. And so the whole thing comes across as a charade.

Even zombie attacks are nothing special: the undead appear and they are shot either in the distance or pointblank. Observe how these sequences are edited like a music video. The reason is because fast cuts and other flashy, in-your-face techniques are meant to establish a veil of energetic razzle-dazzle when, in reality, unfolding before us is just another shoot ‘em up. Substitute zombies with bad guys in suits and nothing is changed on the fundamental level. I felt especially insulted when a character would yell out zombie types (“Homer,” “Hawking,” “Ninja”—introduced during the opening scene) when one is encountered instead of allowing us to discover ourselves which version is in front of us. It zaps away the already minimal tension.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is not made for smart people. It is made for the undead audience, those who prefer to have everything spoon-fed or explained for them. There is no excitement, no suspense, no thrills, not even one good scare. I did not feel as though the filmmakers felt confident or passionate about their material. If they did, they would have put more effort in elevating the dialogue, making sure that the relationships ring true, ensuring that the action is creative or surprising. If the bar is this low for the series, I hope it stays dead. It is an insult to everyone involved.

American Ultra


American Ultra (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Neither achingly funny enough to pass as a comedy nor as thrilling enough to take on a convincing guise of an action film, “American Ultra,” written by Max Landis and directed by Nima Nourizadeh, is all-around confused, constantly gasping for air with the hope of keeping the audience’s attention for one more minute. What results is a barely watchable gamble; show this movie on cable television, its scenes constantly interrupted by commercials, and it would be a small miracle if viewers decide to stick with it till the end. There is not enough intrigue in the screenplay to make it a compelling experience.

It is a shame because the plot involves a stoner named Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), who just so happens to be a sleeper agent for the CIA, activated one day by a lady (Connie Britton) simply by uttering a few strange lines. Mike, as it turns out, is no ordinary stoner living in a small town: He is a member of a four-hundred-million-dollar Ultra Program—people with a history of serial misdemeanors who were given a choice to become “assets,” or assassins, for the government. Soon, Mike is hunted by fellow assets from a different program—the Tough Guy project.

Although supposedly a stoner comedy, the characters are not shown being stoned very often. Instead, we see some long-term effects of smoking weed—slower mental faculties, some issues with quickly accessing memories, the manner in which thoughts are put into words. There are not enough images here that, if one were to watch the film after smoking a joint or two, would impress or stand out. In fact, the picture is for the most part visually unexciting.

This lack of excitement includes the action sequences. Perhaps most marginally tolerable, because there is an impression of glee about it, involves Mike having to put down assets in a grocery store using only objects that happen to be around him. This happens late in the film. The rest of the action scenes, however, are straightforward and boring: buildings explode and bullets hit bodies but notice there is an absence of significant consequences. Most of the time, people who get hurt or die are those with whom we are not invested in emotionally.

Even the relationship between Mike and his girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) offers no excitement. Although Eisenberg and Stewart share an awkwardly endearing chemistry, their characters are not written deeply or thoughtfully enough that we feel as though we are discovering something new or interesting about them during their exchanges. There is no defined perspective. These are supposed to be young people who have ordinary jobs with ordinary dreams—until their worlds are turned inside out. Clearly, dramatic gravity is missing from the screenplay.

Fusing and mixing genres are especially difficult to pull off and “American Ultra” serves as testament to this fact. Although it is not unambitious, for this kind of film to work and work well, the writing must be so on point that surprises not only come in the form of plot twists—which just happen to have occasional shootouts—but also in terms of what we come to know or realize about its characters the more we spend time with them.

Night Moves


Night Moves (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Director Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Movies” should have been called “It Drags” instead because sitting through it is like an unending torture, a bore down to its bone marrow. It tells the story of three environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) who decide to blow up a dam. When news circulate the following morning that a camper has gone missing since the night of the terrorism, guilt and paranoia begin to take control.

An understated realistic drama does not equal boring. It is the opposite: great movies that fall under this category are engaging because the characters are smart, the script offers no easy solution, and the direction demands the viewers to pay attention very closely because at times someone else’s plight may reflect a version of our own.

The film seems to pride itself through maintaining a level of detachment. The problem is, its subjects, environmentalists who are not above employing violence to get what they want, are already figures that are inaccessible. Instead of opening them up—what they think, why they come to think a certain way, how they plan to go about executing the changes they wish to see in the world—the material keeps us in the mist by utilizing soporific techniques.

It has a penchant for sticking with long takes—even if the scene leads nowhere or fails to offer an important detail about a character or a situation. Worse, the silences are supposed to be thoughtful, I suppose, but the script itself is devoid of insight. Yes, this is one of those movies where it puts close to nothing in and yet expects us to extract a lot from it. I do not know much about eco-terrorists or eco-terrorism other than the repercussions of their actions. By the end, I did not feel like I understood them a little better. The pictures introduces the idea that they are humans, too: capable of fear, guilt, and remorse. But that is too obvious.

The climactic scene is so poorly lit that it forces us squint through the darkness. It takes place at night in the middle of a body of water. It is understandable that the characters decide not to use flashlight in order to avoid getting caught. But it is the director’s responsibility to ensure that the audience are not struggling to watch a critical scene unfolding. Reichardt needed to reshoot the boat scene. Because it is so dark, the climax comes across flat rather than suspenseful. Realism does not equal incompetence.

“Night Moves” will be forgotten five years from now—and it deserves to be. What is shown here is not art in any way, shape, or form but an inexcusable digression aimed to waste everybody’s time. Despite its attempts to come across as “real,” there is no thought or emotion here worth sitting through. I was disgusted by its brazen attempt to tell a dead dull story for almost two hours.

To Rome with Love


To Rome with Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

At one point in “To Rome with Love,” written and directed by Woody Allen, a character says, “Whoever imbecile conceived this moronic experience should be taken out and beheaded.” And although my sentiment for this picture does not reflect that line exactly, it comes really, really close. I hated this movie.

I was at a loss on what Allen wishes to communicate or convey to the audiences. I cannot imagine anyone that can relate to this film on a pragmatic or emotional level because all four story strands are given an element of absurdism so off-putting that it is difficult to discern whether the writer-director is making fun of his subjects or he is simply wishing to make a movie that feels light and inconsequential. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation especially when expectations are high. Allen is a seasoned writer-director. What is produced here is egregiously bad—slow in pacing, a bore to sit through, one of the most worthless experiences I have had in quite some time.

Out of the four strands, perhaps one that is most marginally interesting is a young architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in head over heels with his girlfriend’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), an actress, who is visiting Rome after having broken up with her boyfriend who turned out to be gay. Although Jack’s girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), fears that her beau will grow attracted to Monica eventually, she keeps looking for ways for the two to spend time with one another. The situation could have been rife with potentially funny truths and consequences, but the screenplay loses the big picture consistently, opting to focus on behavior—such as aside comments with a sort-of imaginary character (Alec Baldwin) that can be seen and unseen by the trio whenever convenient—rather than the real emotions that are encountered when such a situation arises.

The casting of Eisenberg and Page does not work because these performers are driven by innate quirkiness. The attention is further focused on behavior—which is a problem in the first place. Because the two are so idiosyncratic, the tone is almost always off. They need a co-star who can function as a sounding board for their peculiarities. As a result, we are never really convinced about what Jack sees in Monica and vice-versa. Although I thought Gerwig does an adequate job in playing the role of an insecure girlfriend, she is not the ideal co-star. She, too, can be too quirky but the saving grace, I suppose, is that she does not have very many lines.

Two stories I found ridiculously boring involve Allen playing the father who meets the Roman family of his daughter’s boyfriend and an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly finds himself being stalked by the paparazzi. The former does not work because we never really believe that Allen’s character, Jerry, is once an opera director who rarely received good reviews for his work. I was at a loss on what Allen was thinking when he decided to cast himself in this role. It does not fit him in any way, shape, or form. All we see on screen is the director of the film wanting some sort of attention.

The latter does not work because the screenplay never allows us—in a meaningful way— into the life of a man suddenly finding himself considered as a celebrity. While the message of celebrity being an evanescent thing is crystal clear, that is a truth that is obvious. Wouldn’t it have been so much better or interesting if we learned how special this ordinary man really is despite the chaos unfolding around him? We rarely saw his family. I was not convinced that Allen had a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a part of the working class. His work here reeks of privilege. I found it repelling.

I would like to think that Allen is smarter than this. I want to convince myself that he made this movie as a joke—that people will be brave enough call garbage as garbage rather than art regardless of the name behind it. I sensed no effort put into this work. It is not funny. It is not sad. it is not tragi-comic. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. I felt as though I wasted my time and I advise you not to waste yours.

Rio


Rio (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Blu was a baby bird, he fell off a tree and animal smugglers took him to America. When the deliveryman suddenly stepped on the break pedal in the snowy terrain of Minnesota, the cargo which contained the macaw fell out of the truck. He was found by a caring little girl named Linda. Several years later, Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann), who now owns a book store, is informed by a passionate ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), that Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last of his kind. In order to preserve the species, Linda has a choice of coming with Blu to Rio de Janeiro so her friend can mate with a macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway).

Directed by Carlos Saldanha, “Rio” is an energetic animated film where its colorful characters are thrown in one chase scene after another, from the busy streets to the dangerous jungles of Rio and back. Children and children-at-heart will most likely find it entertaining because something cute is always moving and making noises while the jokes are funny but rather harmless.

The movie excels in its chase sequences. Animal smugglers (Carlos Ponce, Jeffrey Garcia, Davi Vieira) want to make a lot of money by capturing Blu and Jewel and selling them. One of the criminals owns Nigel (Jermaine Clement), an ugly-looking bird who used to be quite a celebrity. When Blu and Jewel, chained together by the foot, try to escape from the three goons and the aggressive Nigel, it is like putting a camera on a roller coaster: we are right behind the duo as they slide, bounce, jump, and crawl over the favela rooftops, the poorer areas of the city.

While it is exciting to watch because something genuine is at stake, it challenges itself by trying to be more creative than its last joke. However, I wished the filmmakers had worked more on the characterization. Blu, a domesticated bird, feels depressed when he realizes that his being unable to fly makes him feel like he is missing out on being truly free. I wished it had explored that feelings of inadequacy a bit more instead of simply giving us only about three other scenes before it moved onto the next. Does domestication equal emasculation?

And then there is Nigel, the angry bird, the villain. Even though he is mean, I wanted to get to know him more. After one song, we learn that he is bitter because is replaced by a more beautiful bird. But what else? Why take orders from a human when humans are the ones who disposed of him so quickly? “Rio” is fun to watch but it could have been stronger if it the writing had been more direct in asking the more difficult questions. If not through dialogue, then perhaps through songs.

30 Minutes or Less


30 Minutes or Less (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) was a pizza delivery guy who consistently failed at getting to the doorstep on time that we were left to wonder why he was still hired. When he wasn’t at work, he hung out with his best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), a recently hired full-time teacher, played video games, and other things typical single guys did on their spare time. Meanwhile, Dwayne (Danny McBride) could no longer stand being treated by his father (Fred Ward), an ex-Marine and a lotto winner, with disdain for being a thirty- or forty-something slacker. When an exotic dancer (Bianca Kajlich) proposed that Dwayne should find a way to kill his dad so he could get the inheritance, Dwayne thought this was a brilliant idea. Based on the screenplay by Michael Diliberti and directed by Ruben Fleischer, “30 Minutes or Less” should really have lived up to its title because stretching its pia mater-thin premise to eighty minutes felt interminable. All the characters were either stupid or vile or stupid and vile; not one was worth rooting for. Nick was eventually strapped to a code-activated homemade bomb which incited a lot of yelling and screaming out of panic. It would have been different if all the commotion soon led to practical solutions once the characters had enough time to absorb the predicament. However, the situation simply reached various levels of absurdity and not once did I feel danger or fear for the people I saw on screen. Were some lines uttered funny? Undoubtedly, yes. I laughed at the part when the cashier suggested that Nick and Chet buy a condom because the items they bought, which included ski masks and tape, made them look like sexual predators. I also enjoyed some of the banters between Nick and Chet prior to the former’s life being threatened by a bomb. There was something about their geeky friendship that would make a nice sitcom aimed toward guys. Did the movie work as a comedy? It did not. The laughs came few and far between. For instance, after one amusing racist joke, five unfunny ones would come right after. It seemed like the writers managed to brainstorm a lot of jokes but they didn’t bother to be selective enough so that the best ones could make it onto the screen. It felt lazy and with such a low hit rate, it wasn’t worth sitting through. Furthermore, the romance between Nick and Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria), Chet’s twin sister, felt completely unnecessary. Why did the writers even bother to have Nick fall for someone if they weren’t willing to spend enough time to convince us why they were or were not a good fit? To make Nick more sensitive and relatable? Surely there were other ways. I detected more laziness. Not only did “30 Minutes of Less” feel shallow and undercooked, it tried too hard to impress in terms of violence while actually achieving nothing. A thirteen-year-old came up to me and said that he and his friends watched the funniest movie they’ve seen in a while. When I asked what it was, he gleefully announced it was “30 Minutes of Less.” If this passes as comedy for them, I think we’re in deep trouble.

The Social Network


The Social Network (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The first thing I did after watching David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was log on Facebook to check if I had any notifications. Whether one’s feeling toward Facebook and other social networking sites be love or hate, no one can deny the fact that such simple inventions changed how people communicate. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) desperately wanted to fit in Harvard when he was an undergraduate. He wanted to get into a private club but he didn’t have the means. He was smart but he wasn’t likable. In fact, he was far from likable. When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) broke up with him, he went up to his dorm room and posted insults about her body and her family on LiveJournal. His only real friend was Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who also wanted to belong. Eduardo’s emotional intelligence was higher than his friend’s. Eventually, the two became partners in creating Facebook but when it was launched, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claimed that their idea was stolen. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, came into the picture in order to bring Facebook to an international level. The film benefited from very strong performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake. I was delighted with Eisenberg’s performance because even though I’ve seen him play nerd-chic multiple times prior (with relative ease), I felt like this was his most complete and challenging performance yet. I hated him, I rooted for him, I hated him some more, and I felt sorry for him. The final shot of him refreshing a certain someone’s Facebook page was pitch-perfect because it showed that despite all the money and the acclaim, he had nobody so his life felt empty. Garfield, who’s been doing fantastic independent work for a while, is finally given the spotlight past overdue. He had a lot on his plate because he was the heart of the picture. He was David who had to face multiple Goliaths equipped with brains. We all knew it would take more than a slingshot and some pebbles for him to, not necessarily succeed because we all knew what would ultimately happen, but to take what he deserved. I was invested in his character because he struggled to remain loyal to his friend even though his friend had no sense of loyalty to him. Lastly, Timberlake did a wonderful job playing Parker, a fierce and forward-thinking businessman who knew exactly he wanted and wasn’t afraid to grab whatever he desired even if it was on someone’s else plate. His ego was probably as big as his ambition to be relevant again. Fincher’s confident direction mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script made a wonderful film that highlighted not just the story of college students lives’ being broadcasted over the internet or the drama of the creation of Facebook, but also the highly ambitious, although sometimes misguided, natures of young adults today.