Zombieland: Double Tap (Ruben Fleischer, 2019). This sequel to Ruben Fleischer’s winning horror-comedy of a decade earlier isn’t good, but its pedestrian nature is almost charming. It calls to mind a bygone era, when new installments of film series were less preoccupied with world-building and instead just slapped together more of the same with the most modest of additions and expected audiences to queue up for the undemanding reassurance of the familiar. In an era of expanded cinematic universes, Zombieland: Double Tap is a Beverly Hills Cop II for whoever might need it. The film reunites the original quartet of geographically-named survivors of a zombie apocalypse, and sends them traipsing around the dystopian landscape with vaguely defined goals. The narrative moves forward because it must, and everyone is game enough. It’s nice that Emma Stone returned, presumably out of loyalty, but it’s also odd to see her stroll through a role that she now seems well beyond, like a PhD student returning to middle school for a little intellectual batting practice. Only Zoey Deutch truly impresses, injecting sparkling comic verve into her Midwestern valley girl.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2018). This documentary relies on feel and impression rather than a conveyance of cold, hard facts. The film lands somewhere in between the patient, unadorned observations regularly delivered by Frederick Wiseman and the more overt visual poetry of a more experimental film, such Robert Persons’s General Orders No. 9. While working as a coach and teacher in Western Alabama, RaMell Ross decided to capture the lives of his fellow residents — largely African-Americans subsisting on lower incomes — in an attempt to give expression to a marginalized community. There’s beauty to Ross’s filmmaking, but it’s also telling that Hale County This Morning, This Evening works about as well condensed down to a trailer as it does as a full-length feature. In opting for glances rather than commitment, Ross makes a film that provides more of an introduction than an understanding.
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011). An absolute powerhouse from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation begins as a married couple — Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Payman Maadi) — meets in family court to discuss their differences. She wants to move away from Iran, he feels obligated to stay because of his ailing father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), and neither wants to be away from their teenaged daughter (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s own offspring). At a seeming stalemate, Simin moves out, and the decisions that follow cascade into major problems for Nader. Farhadi brings incredible psychological insight to the narrative, with every turn emanating directly and clearly from established aspects of the well-drawn characters. Pride and stubbornness prove to be especially troublesome instincts. The storytelling in handled with enviable elegance, and Farhadi’s visual sense is unerring. Although framed as a melodrama rather than a thriller, Farhadi’s film anticipates Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite in its astute and ingenious exploration of social divisions.