MOVIE BUFF-ET: Zombieland, Maleficent sequels offer fans more of the same

Two sequels open in local movie theaters this weekend, and if you enjoyed the original films, you’ll probably like “Zombieland 2: Double Tap” and “Maleficent Mistress of Evil” well enough.

On the whole, I’d say I enjoyed the Maleficent follow-up a bit more than the original.

“Zombieland 2: Double Tap” is probably on par with the original, and even if it slipped a bit, the winning cast has such strong chemistry that 10 years later, it’s still fun to watch their apocalyptic antics.

Zombieland 2: Double Tap

Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone in Zombieland: Double Tap / Sony Pictures Entertainment

After 10 years there would be no reason to make a “Zombieland” sequel unless the four main cast members returned, and the stars certainly did align with Woody Harrelson, Oscar winner Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin all returning as the dysfunctional, zombie-killing family that captured our interest in the first movie.

Each step back into their intentionally stereotypical roles like putting on well-worn slippers in the film that cleverly fuses action and comedy to form a fun time for zombie fans, but as deft as their performances are, Zoey Deutch not on steals scenes but nearly runs off with the movie playing Madison, a valley girl/Paris Hilton-type, who somehow has survived 10 years in zombie-infested America despite her innate stupidity.

The gist of the film is that Breslin’s character Little Rock runs away with her hippie boy friend Berkeley (Avan Jogia) to join his anti-gun commune with the rest of her pseudo family — Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), and Wichita (Stone) giving chase in a road movie that features several funny and action-packed pit stops.
Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Thomas Middleditch lend excellent support as doppelgängers of Wichita, Tallahassee, and Columbus to hilarious effect along the way.

The script by “Deadpool” writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Dave Callaham is clever, exciting, and extremely inventive, retaining many of the high notes from the first film and while also finding new ways to dispatch even more extreme zombies.

Director Ruben Fleisher can’t be given enough credit for for pulling what easily could have been a by-the-numbers flop into a sharply made action/comedy the hits all the right notes as well as pulling off a number of surprises.

The movie does contain a number of surprise cameos and a mid-credit scene that’s worth waiting for.

(R) 1 hr. 33 min.
Grade: B

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil / Walt Disney Studios

In this sequel to 2014’s “Maleficent,” Angelina Jolie returns to play the title role in the franchise that continues to give us the other side of the story of the 1959 Walt Disney classic animated classic “Sleeping Beauty.”

Elle Fanning also returns as the beautiful princess Aurora with Michelle Pfeiffer playing the nefarious Queen Ingrith, the mother of Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), who is Aurora’s betrothed, much to the chagrin of Maleficent, her fairy Godmother.

Queen Ingrith has a plan to wipe out Maleficent and the other magical denizens of the kingdom, which includes a civilization of fairies led by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whom Maleficent grows closer to after they save her from drowning.

Both the forces of Ingrith and Conall face the wrath of Maleficent after she learns they both are using her to further their goals.

Jolie, Pfeiffer, and Fanning all deliver convincing performances against a backdrop of garish CGI effects and a muddled plot that will leave your head spinning if you think too much about it.
That trio made the film watchable and perhaps more entertaining than it should have been.

The film, directed by Joachim Ronning, isn’t exceptional. Technically and narratively, it seems a bit undercooked by Disney standards, but it is hard to deny the power of the movie’s three leading ladies. It’s difficult to take your eyes off them.

(PG) 1 hr. 59 min.
Grade: C+

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil(PG) 1 hr. 59 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Malco Rogers Towne, Skylight
  • Zombieland 2: Double Tap(R) 1 hr. 33 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Malco Rogers Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – The Black Cat

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat / Universal Pictures

If you like your creeps two for one, then the 1934 version of “The Black Cat” might be a moldy oldie you’d like to check out this Halloween season.

The movie bares no real resemblance to the classic short story by Edgar Allan Poe from which it takes its name, but it makes up for it with a super creepy plot of revenge that features the kings of classic horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Karloff thrilled audiences for his sympathetic yet frightful portrayal of the monster in the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” and its first two sequels. Earlier the same year, Lugosi stamped his immortal brand on pop culture in an iconic turn as the Prince of Darkness in “Dracula.” Both were smash hits for Universal Pictures, and it didn’t take long for the studio to pair their two masters of fright together.

“The Black Cat” is the first of eight movies that featured the two, and many feel it is their best. Personally, I like “The Body Snatcher” from 1945 and “The Son of Frankenstein” from 1939 a bit better, but their stardom is on full display in “The Black Cat,” which is credited as being the first psychological horror film, using guilt, fear, and revenge as its axis.

Lugosi plays Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who has just been released after serving 15 years for war crimes in a Siberian prison following World War I. He is traveling in Austria alongside a honeymooning young couple Peter (David Manners) and Joan (Julie Bishop). Werdegast is going to visit an old army comrade, an architect by the name of Hjalmar Poelzig, who has built his home on the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian fort he commanded in the war.

After bus accident on rainy country road leaves Allison injured, Werdegast and Peter take her to Poelzig’s fortress home that’s as eerie as it is intimidating with its art deco stylings. There we learn that Werdegast and Poelzig aren’t exactly friends.

When Poelzig surrendered the fort, he got off scot-free and ended up marrying Werdegast’s wife Karen, while Lugosi’s character was in prison. Werdegast is there for revenge. Poelzig is an evil man. The Satan-worshipping cult leader is conducting all kinds of mad experiments, and he needs a young woman for the sacrificial rite that he plans on leading during “the dark of the moon.”

Poelzig, who was reportedly inspired by noted 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley, has his eyes on Joan. Learning Poelzig’s plan, Werdegast challenges his nemesis to a game of chess for their lives of Joan and Peter. But the black cat-fearing Poelzig’s bad luck continues as he loses.

The movie, directed in a haunting German surrealistic style by Edgar G. Ulmer, continues to unfold like pulp-novel nightmare with plot points that include necrophilia, torture, a black mass, hypnotism, and skinning a man alive. While most of those actions are merely mentioned and not explicitly shown, just the suggestion remains perverted and creepy even today.

The final scene between Lugosi and Karloff, shown in silhouette remains creepy all these years later.

While their performances aren’t as iconic as in “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” Lugosi and Karloff are allowed to cut loose in this movie like few others. It’s a film any horror movie fan or film buff in general should be familiar with.