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Rating History

Zombieland (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

New Zealand has "Braindead" (or "Dead Alive" for Americans) and England has "Shaun of the Dead." Now the United States has its excellent zombie comedy, "Zombieland."

Following in the George Romero tradition, moviegoers enjoy the film for its characters and social commentary as much as for its gory special effects. "Shaun of the Dead" edges "Zombieland" out slightly in character and "Braindead" massively outweighs "Zombieland" (and probably every other horror film) in its gleeful use of gore.

The comparisons stop there. All three are excellent zombie comedies, but, because of the sensibilities of their nationally diverse creators, are strangely unique and difficult to rank against each other.

The story begins with college shut-in Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) making his way across post-zombie, American hellscape. Columbus survives by a set of rules. Rule #1: Cardio, because these are the fast, infected brand of zombies from "28 Days Later" and not the shambling "Night of the Living Dead" zombies. He has some 30 rules overall that have kept him alive in the two months the world's human population has disappeared.

He hitches a ride with Tallahassee (played with excellent Southern badassness by Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee has survived because he is a mean, crazy bastard who goes out of his way to kill any and all zombies. Tallahassee and Columbus stop at a grocery in Tallahassee's quest for a Twinkie.

In a back room of the store they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and her kid sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Little Rock feigns having been zombie-bitten, duping Columbus' and Tallahassee's firearms away from them when Wichita insists on putting her sister out of her misery when the two men hesitate on shooting a small girl.

Columbus and Tallahassee are duped again before they form a quartet heading to a supposedly safe amusement park on the west coast.

There is little more to the plot than a collection of very different people form a band with one destination to reach. The characters that make up this road trip are all well-developed and dynamic. Columbus grows from isolation to meaningful connection. Tallahassee tones down his craziness to become a father figure. Wichita becomes less guarded and cynical. Little Rock opens her circle beyond her sister. Together, the zombie-killers create a makeshift family.

As touching as the movie is, it stays hilarious and gory throughout. Human and zombie deaths are over-the-top funny and, with the aid of some terrific slow-motion, quite beautiful in a stomach-churning way. The tete-a-tete between the four is rapid and witty.

The movie has a few failings. The two sisters, despite being characterized as the smart ones, do some incredibly stupid things like risking Little Rock's life at the end of Tallahassee's gun during their first meeting or drawing every zombie in Los Angeles to their amusement park. Columbus' college apartment is inordinately large and well-furnished for a college shut-in with no apparent job. For a country with no people, and therefore no infrastructure, everywhere seems to be strangely with power.

Should I make much of this? Probably not. The opening credits include a three-legged race between a human father-son team and two pursuant zombie father-son teams. In Columbus' prologue, pre-teen zombie ballerinas attack a harried mother carpooler. This logical abandon is knowing and adds rather than detracts from the overall fun.

Zombies have turned out to be the reigning monster of cinema's pandemonium (except for "Let the Right One In," vampires have been pretty anemic of recent). Any zombie fan (and that includes an incredibly large subculture of weirdos cogitating upon undead apocalyptic scenarios) should certainly have this close to the top of their must-see list.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Looking at the other two "Toy Story" movies, yes, there are definite similarities, but "Toy Story 3" expands the story beautifully into an emotional frontier many other animated sequels don't dare.

Every time a Pixar film comes out, the buzz is initially about how far off the deep end the animation studio has gone. "How can you make a movie about a dirty, filthy rat aspiring to be a gourmet chef without the film being the cinematic equivalent of an emetic?" "Seriously, a movie that begins in silence and a dead earth?" "A children's movie that touches on a miscarriage and old age mortality?"

My misgivings about "Toy Story 3" were far graver than those for "Ratatouille," "Wall-E," or "Up." Instead of exploring bold emotional or aesthetic territory, it seemed that Pixar was treading into the familiar streets of Sequelville along with Dreamworks and Fox with their respective "Shrek" and "Ice Age" franchises.

The Monument Valley action opener was extremely amusing, but did not dispel my concerns as the sequence was very similar to the video game opening of "Toy Story 2." Like the first two movies, Buzz the spaceman (voiced by Tim Allen), Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks), Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Hamm the piggybank (John Ratzenberger), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Mr and Mrs. Potatohead (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark filling in for Jim Varney) embark on an odyssey away from Andy (John Morris) where they meet new toys.

This time around Andy is grown up and heading off to college. He plans on taking Woody (more as a sentimental token than as a plaything) and leave the rest of the toys in the attic (something the toys consider to be a comfortable retirement). Through a mix-up and misunderstanding, they end up at a day care. What they initially take for a paradise, they find is really a prison run by a superficially friendly and menacing plush bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) and a possibly more-than-metrosexual Ken doll (Michael Keaton). In the "caterpillar" room the gang is notoriously abused, their movable parts torn apart, bodies painted and glittered, body-parts crammed into every possible facial orifice.

The second act plays like a prison break film and in tone matches the other two films excellently. Like the other two films (or most other Pixar films) it displays a wonderful wit and all the characters new and recurring are in top comical form.

After the gang flees the day care, the film turns incredibly dark and dire. The movie explores obsolescence throughout, but in the last act the characters face death as they have not done before. The result is extremely gripping and affecting, whether as the result of a terrific build-up in a terrific movie or the result of spending 15 years and nearly five emotionally charged animated hours with Andy's toys.

The end runs a little too long beyond the climax, though not nearly as overlong as the denouement to "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." I mention "Return of the King," because, like the third installment of that fantasy franchise, "Toy Story 3" attempts to find the happy medium between a conclusion to one movie and a conclusion to a trilogy.

All three "Toy Stories" work well singly or as one whole story. Pixar has pulled off its fourth absolute winner in a row (performing this feat, perhaps they can make me care about "Cars 2" next year). I would even venture to say that "Toy Story 3" belongs with other great cinematic sequels like "The Dark Knight," "Return of the King," "Aliens," "The Empire Strikes Back," possibly even "The Godfather: Part II," all movies that effectively expanded and completed the story and themes begun in the movies they followed. "Toy Story 3" stands out from the rest of the pack of sequels as the only one that was able to do it with characters made of plastic.