Zombieland: The Laughing Dead

Step right up, folks! Don’t miss your opportunity to visit the one and only Zombieland! See! the amazing traveling zombie-killers Tallahassee and Columbus! Witness! the beguiling sibling con artists, Wichita and Little Rock! Marvel! at the last famous person on Earth, Bill Murray! Watch! in horror as the undead walk and ooze assorted unidentifiable bodily fluids…

In the near future, a virus will sweep the world, turning almost everyone into flesh-eating, undead monsters with lightning reflexes and ravenous appetites. Civilization has collapsed, and very few living humans remain. Some things, however, never change: Murray is still at the top of the Hollywood food chain, and still insouciant. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg; Adventureland) is one of the few survivors – mainly because he has always been a skittish germophobe and budding recluse. Columbus adheres to a rigid set of rules, apparently derived from horror movie clichés, which has kept him alive. (Rule No. 31: Always check the back seat. Rule No. 17: Don’t be a hero.) He runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is the Steve McQueen of zombie-killers: bloodlessly efficient and almost too cool for words. Tallahassee’s only weakness is a mad craving for Twinkies. The corpse-grinding guys meet their match in a pair of sisters dubbed Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who survive on a wicked mix of brains and sex appeal. The boys just cannot stop underestimating them and falling for their cons. Complications inevitably arise when the group’s “every man for himself” ethos – the characters are designated by hometowns rather than names to keep each other at arm’s length – collides with simple human concern for one another.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 09/09/09

I love that BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL’s Ridge and Brooke traipsed down to the city clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license. You never see that sort of nuts-and-bolts detail! Soap weddings usually gloss over the technicalities and legalities in favor of romance. It’s so much more dramatic to swap out brides before a ceremony than worry about the names on the documents that make it all count. But here we had Brooke and Ridge go through the actual process of getting a license; trundling out their IDs, accounting for the fees and wrangling the pile of legacy paperwork. Then it got all goofy with the couple harassing the clerk with photos of their previous weddings… (all…what, 300 of them?) and then they made him pronounce them man and wife. Or rather, husband and wife. Or whatever. When he proclaimed, “You may now kiss the bride,” everyone cheered for those crazy, lovesick kids.

Speaking of kids, MELROSE PLACE has been officially rebooted with a (mostly) new cast, and my verdict on last night’s premiere is cautiously optimistic. It kicked off with a cloud of sexy intrigue, but as the hour wore on the major players were exposed as more easy “types” than characters. But MP recovered in its final half-hour, and I am actually looking forward to next week.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/8/09

This week’s MAD MEN was all about fathers and sons. The episode opened with Horace, the son of wealthy shipping magnate, eager to blow his inheritance on a bid to popularize jai alai. The fact that many of you don’t even know what that is (let alone how it’s spelled) indicates what a pipe dream that was. But we’re looking at it with 40 years of hindsight. I almost laughed out loud when Horace demanded to show jai alai on all three networks at the same time.The ’60s really were an idealistic time, eh?

But the week’s big development was Betty’s father passing away. Gene only recently moved in with the Drapers, but he quickly spiraled out of control, causing chaos like letting Sally drive, giving Bobby a World War II souvenir German helmet — even eating ice cream with salt on it! Gene foreshadowed his own death by discussing his will with Betty (The mere mention of it creeped her out!), and the very next day he died while standing in line to buy fruit at the A&P. It would be fitting if he was shopping for oranges, because just the night before he had mentioned smelling oranges. And oranges always portended death in the Godfather movies.

Speaking of movies, Sal directed the Patio commercial and turned in a spot-on pastiche of Bye, Bye, Birdie that the Pepsi people rejected as simply “not right.” Don’s lackluster defense of Sal’s work was not right, but I guess the customer always is. Don was also looking out for the customer when he tried to submarine the jai alai deal as a waste of Horace’s money. Clearly, Don is growing more and more detached from his job, as well as his homelife. It’s a drift that is paralleled by Sal. His wife, Kitty (is that really innocent Sarah Drew from EVERWOOD?), tried to seduce him in a little green nightie, but he was all about work. I guess she was wearing green because she’s jealous of the attention his job gets….

In one of those odd juxtapositions of the TV schedule, this week’s GREEK was entitled, “Our Fathers,” and dealt with ZBZ’s Daddy/Daughter weekend. This gave Thomas Calabro a chance to once again play Rebecca’s father, the scandal-plagued Senator Logan, before reprising the dastardly Michael on tonight’s reboot of MELROSE PLACE on The CW. Somehow, I doubt Michael has undergone a similar spiritual awakening. Tom Amandes (I guess this is EVERWOOD week!) played Jordan’s father, Jack Reed, while Kadeem Hardison portrayed Ashley’s daddy, Brian. Predictably, guy each sided with his own daughter in a mini-spat of their own. But family problems were not the only dirty laundry aired: Ashley’s boyfriend Fisher confessed to Casey that he and Rebecca kissed at the party, and Casey reluctantly agreed to keep the secret to spare Ash’s feelings. Too bad Rebecca decided to tell Ashley — and to point out that Casey knew and hid it from her. Rebecca is a great villainess, because that pretty smile always distracts from the knife going in your back.

The line of the night belonged to Dale, who was so upset over breaking his chastity vow that he described the encounter thusly: “It was magical…ly disgusting!” Dale’s self-flagellation led him to consider Catholicism, as embodied by Catholic schoolgirl Mary-Elyse, who also captured Cappie’s eye — but he was interested in more earthly delights.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/3/09

It’s a Wonderful Life — well, at least it seems that way on GUIDING LIGHT, lately. I was reminded of that Frank Capra classic because today’s episode was so heavy on feelings of despair and then redemption.

Phillip telling his family about his terminal illness reflected the same sort of hopelessness that the movie’s George Bailey felt; neither would get to live the life he wanted. Phillip is actually dying, but George lost his grip on his destiny when he had to take over the Bailey Building & Loan and let his little brother go to college. From that point on, George faced a long, slow death march through Bedford Falls.

The sequences with Buzz and the Cooper clan moping around Company waiting for the bank to foreclose on them was very similar to George, Mary and Uncle Billy trying to keep the Building & Loan open until close of business on the day of the bank run. Meanwhile, Blake, Ashlee and Cyrus raced to finish their book manuscript by 6 p.m., in order to qualify for an advance that would keep the wolves away from the Cooper door. The authors submitted their book with two minutes left — just like George ended the day with $2. Then Blake and pals marched into Company with their check, just like the townsfolk brought baskets of money to the Bailey house to stave off financial ruin.

And that was one amazing book advance! It was enough to pay off both mortgages on Company, buy a new stove, replace the roof and send Daisy to college! Blake claimed the sum was so large because Coop had a “good reputation.” Whatever that rep was based on, it must have been pretty terrific.

And the final parallel: Every time Cyrus lies, an angel gets its wings!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/2/09

Now that’s hot! Bravo, Denis Leary and Peter Tolan! I was shocked and awed by the spectacular fifth-season finale to RESCUE ME, which featured a truly harrowing cliffhanger. At 22 episodes, this was the longest season ever, and (from beginning to end) the best. So this was the finale the series deserved. The story was all about waiting for the other shoe to drop — more than one shoe, in fact. And when they did, they landed with devastating effects.

First of all, Janet finally served Tommy with divorce papers. As Lou pointed out, this has been years in the making; years that Tommy has spent alternately looking over his shoulder and trying to rescue a long-dead marriage. But the relationship is burned beyond recognition. And it is not helped by Tommy’s dalliance with Sheila. He seems to have a good thing going — but Sheila’s idea of a “no strings” relationship seems even more binding than Janet’s idea of marriage. (Tommy is supposed to be watching over Sheila’s son Damian at the firehouse, but Damian is actually keeping an eye on Tommy for his mother). Not even new gal Kelly is what she seems to be. She seems to offer the ultimate “no strings attached” relationship — she can barely remember Tommy’s name. But even she draws the line at sharing personal information. When word of Kelly reached Sheila, she declared a truce with Janet long enough to tag-team Kelly. But of course they could not keep the claws sheathed long enough to take down a common enemy. The Sheila/Janet catfight turned into a rumble in the jungle, with the gals hurling shoes and bricks at each, and it ended with Sheila using a garbage can lid to beat down a passerby who tried to intervene. Which was fitting, because in a lot of ways, this has been Callie Thorne’s season, and she has really run with the role of Sheila. By turns shrill and crazy-sexy-cool, Sheila is the model of a passive-aggressive nightmare girlfriend.

But the life-and-death stakes came from Uncle Teddy, who was inconsolable over Ellie’s death. He finally found solace in a warm gun. This comes as no surprise to longtime viewers, who doubtless remember that Teddy shot the drunken driver who killed Tommy’s son Connor. (Teddy’s stint in jail for that slaying led to him meeting Ellie in the first place!) Calling attention to the fact that while Tommy himself is a train wreck, it’s always everyone else who ends up dead, Teddy decided to punish Tommy for pushing Ellie off the wagon. So Tommy shot him. Twice. In front of all his buddies from 62 Engine. So the season ended with Tommy lying on the floor of his bar, bleeding out while his closest friends look on, helplessly, held at bay by the crazed Teddy. Now that’s a cliff-hanger!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/31/09

The good news about the Daytime Emmys was that the show moved at an entertaining clip. The bad news was the lack of actual clips. In fact, soaps seemed to be pushed to the margins a bit. Sure, the first award went to ALL MY CHILDREN’s Vincent Irizarry as outstanding supporting actor, but after that the broadcast felt like game shows, talk fests and SESAME STREET dominated. Tons of attention was devoted to other programming, as if to prove to casual viewers that daytime has more to offer than “just” soaps. Hence the recurring bits with SESAME STREET’s Elmo and Gordon, and the obsessive cut-aways to JEOPARDY!’s Alex Trebek. The ultimate insult came at the very end, though, when BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL was announced as Outstanding Drama and then the credits rolled. Viewers barely got a glance at the stage as the B&B folks gathered. That was sort of disgraceful, especially in light of all the time wasted by hostess Vanessa Williams. Did she really need two song-and-dance numbers? No, she did not. This is not the Oscars, which needs production numbers to sell the show to overseas markets that demand such spectacle. This is the Daytime Emmys! We don’t need no stinkin’ songs; we got…er, Elmo!

But back to the good stuff. I cover GENERAL HOSPITAL, so I was particularly pleased by Julie Marie Berman’s supporting actress win, and the victory of Robert Guza Jr. and the writing team! Irizarry had the best speech. He hit all the bases — by turns touching without being maudlin, and funny yet respectful. The other great “speech” came from DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Darin Brooks, whose expletive-laden stream-of-consciousness was mostly bleeped out. And the look of horror on his face when he realized that he’d blown all his time was priceless! The tribute to GUIDING LIGHT was terrific, but over way too soon. Just like the show itself. Probably everyone will agree that Tamara Braun taking the statue for supporting actress was the biggest surprise. That’s no diss on her, it’s just that she wasn’t in Salem very long. But obviously she made an impression.

I am no fashion maven, but even I noticed the amorphous white blob that seemed to be eating the dresses worn by GH’s Kirsten Storms and GL’s Kim Zimmer. My colleague Mala noticed it, too, and we shared theories via IM. (I feared an alien symbiote was lurking backstage and attaching itself to the couture.) Mala also explained that the cravat sported by B&B’s Ronn Moss was unrelated to the poofy white infestation. Sadly, I missed YOUNG AND RESTLESS’ Stacy Haiduk and her “escort/accessory,” Mr. Kitty during the red carpet preshow.

The CW was totally committed to using the awards broadcast to launch its fall lineup. I’m calling that a good thing. Since the entire network is aimed at young women, this means CW execs saw the awards as a good platform to reach young women. And maybe there will be some cross-pollination from MELROSE PLACE and 90210 and GOSSIP GIRL and VAMPIRE DIARIES to Y&R and DAYS and GH.

When I flipped over to MAD MEN at 10 p.m., I was delighted to see a daytime connection: Peyton List (ex-Lucy, AS THE WORLD TURNS) was back as Roger Sterling’s scandalously young wife. Welcome back, Peyton. Though I have a feeling that scene with John Slattery’s Roger in blackface is going to generate a firestorm! I have to admit the episode was rather boring overall, so why not add a minstrel show to the pot-smoking and pill-popping?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/28/09

The first-season finale of ROYAL PAINS was a microcosm of the series as a whole — and a lot like HankMed itself: appealing, but not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

Case in point: The installment began with Hank and Evan behaving so completely out of character that it was as if their minds had swapped bodies. Hank was obsessed with the business of HankMed, while Evan was only interested in taking Sunday off. Since when? Evan was not even worried that a check sent to a medical supply house bounced. The week’s medical case involved Alexandra Holden (ex-Suzy, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) playing Zoe, a young woman who was experiencing hallucinations that her sister attributed to supernatural causes. Hank examined and treated her (in her backyard). She turned out to be suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome brought on by an adverse reaction to cough syrup. Meanwhile, the time had finally come for Divya to put her finger where her mouth is, and get engaged.

On the good side, we got to see a lot of personal stuff. However, nothing was very original. Hank had to raise his little brother after mom died and dad walked out. The way Hank went out of his way to deliver the exposition left me expecting that their deadbeat dad would turn out to be behind the loss of the HankMed nest egg. But what was Hank talking about when he told Evan, “I’m surprised it took this long for you to let me down.” He hinted at a long history of secrets and lies that could prove to be very intriguing.

Divya’s desire to marry for love, not to fulfill her parents’ wishes, was also a far too-familiar tune. That dream sequence of her standing up for herself? Lame. I’m not sure I bought the idea of Divya knuckling under and letting Raj put a ring on her finger, but at least it ensures she will have a story next season. (Next season being summer 2010.) Another classic soap groaner came when Jill rolled up on Hank at just the right time to interpret something the wrong way. And then Hank got it wrong when he fell for the ol’ “aggressive ex-hubby pretending he’s still in his wife’s life” routine. Gee, will those two crazy kids ever get together?

At least the show dialed back the gore this week, which was a relief after last week’s grotesque chest injury. (In case you missed it, a man’s rib cage became detached inside his chest, and a crude device involving fish hooks was improvised to fix it. At least, I think that’s what happened; it was hard to see the TV after that scene caused me to vault off the couch and cling to the ceiling!) And I thought that compound-fracture of a leg a few weeks ago was bad!

Anyway, the stage was set for next season with Jill left alone after kicking Charlie out, and Hank left alone after Evan set off to confront their father, “Eddie R.” Not exactly nail-biting scenarios, and I doubt I will remember the situations next summer. But I will remember ROYAL PAINS as a pleasant warm-weather diversion.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/27/09

I am distressed to see GUIDING LIGHT devoting so much of what little time it has left to shoehorn Cyrus not only into storylines, but families. Murray Bartlett is a very appealing actor, but I find Cyrus to be an appalling character, not a loveable rogue at all. Cyrus’ airtime would be much better spent on a truly worthy bad boy, the fiery Jonathan and his mother, Reva.

But instead we get Cyrus trying to prove his hero cred by pretending it’s 1799 and finding buried treasure to help Buzz solve his money problems. Money problems that largely stem from Buzz’s bizarre decision to post Cyrus’ bail. (Tell me again why Buzz bet his beloved Company on that international scoundrel…) GL has decided to retcon the retcon that Cyrus and Grady were brothers. In order to decouple Cyrus from Tammy’s despised killer, GL has decided that Cyrus faked the fraternal link. The treasure trail took the thief and the restaurateur to Australia, where Jenna Bradshaw decided to bury a box under a tree. (Since this is a redemption story, I guess burying the box was an ode to The Shawshank Redemption.) So what was in the box? No, not Gwyneth Paltrow’s head (that would have been too Se7en. Wrong movie.) Dog tags. Tags that “prove” Cyrus is Jenna’s son. And thus Coop’s brother. Huh? My horrified colleague Mala immediately IM’s me that this revelation means Harley slept with her brother’s brother. And Marina slept with her (sort-of) uncle. What the—? Buzz immediately embraced Cyrus. Again, what the—? Why is Buzz so obsessed with Jenna’s bastard kid from when she was 16, considering that he abandoned her son, Rocky, and barely mentions his own daughters, Harley and Lucy, anymore! It’s simply ridiculous.

After reading the dog-eared note Jenna penned, Buzz stared at Cyrus and declared, “I guess this was all about you.” Can the show stop being all about him now?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/25/09

I have to admit I did not see the shocking end of the MAKE IT OR BREAK IT season finale coming! The-powers-that-be apparently took the show’s title literally, because Payson broke her back when she fell from the uneven bars. The teaser previews showed someone falling, but I assumed it would be one of those “get back on the horse” sequences, like Emily had in the season premiere. (Hmm, then maybe I should have expected this bookend, after all) However, I was taken by surprise. I had a feeling that Payson — who was the golden child tipped to win the all-around title — might be denied her dream, since her character was completely melded with gymnastics that it would be dramatically interesting to see her deal with defeat. But instead, viewers will have to see if she can deal with life without gymnastics at all. (At least actively; I suspect she might try coaching.) Or will she make a triumphant return to the bars against all odds?

It was not all gloom and doom, however. Kaylie won the overall title, after deciding to stand up for herself and stop relying on the men in her life. She symbolically sent Carter and her father packing by returning their gifts of jewelry and then went out and won her own — a gold medal. (Lauren and Emily also made the national team.) Lauren came to terms with Summer, and Emily finally kissed David. That’s a lot of resolutions for a short season!

…a short season that will get a lot longer. ABC Family has ordered 10 additional episodes of MAKE IT… to air in early 2010, and those will technically be the second part of a 20-episode first season. So, yes, the girls broke it and made it!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/24/09

This week I realized how much I missed MAD MEN thanks to a tiny little scene that most people probably sailed right past. Don and Betty were having a conversation in their bedroom. Suddenly the kids started making a ruckus. Don opened the door, barked at them to settle down, then calmly returned to his conversation. That little bit of business emphasized what a writer’s show this is. MAD MEN doesn’t just have time for characterization like that, it’s all about characterization like that. I’m sure most people were fixated on pregnant Betty smoking and drinking, but they missed something about Don there. Don, as usual, was a rain-maker at work, landing an important account with the developers who wanted to demolish the old Penn Station to build a new Madison Square Garden. But as soon as Don sealed the deal, London backed out. (Real-world spoiler: MSG eventually was built on top of Penn Station, and its current owners plan to refurbish the arena. Meanwhile, the post office location across the street is scheduled to be demolished in order to build a new Penn Station. The more things change…)

Viewers also got a peek at Peggy’s personal life. At work, she suggested that a campaign for diet soda should appeal to the women who would drink it rather than the men who create the ads. And her forward-thinking did not end at the Sterling Cooper offices. She stopped in a bar on the way home and picked up a college guy, practically against his will. She wanted to take a bite out of him, but settled for his burger. I had to laugh, because like 90 percent of current daytime soaps, Peggy’s romantic encounter took place on a couch — but at least this one folded out into bed! Meanwhile, Roger’s daughter didn’t want him and new wife Jane at her wedding to Brooks. (Too bad we’ve only gotten to see Peyton List, ex-Lucy, AS THE WORLD TURNS in the recaps so far this season.) However — real-world spoiler alert, again — Margaret’s wedding is scheduled for Nov. 23, 1963; I don’t think that’s gonna happen…

MERLIN was another double-header this week — or, if you prefer, a two-hour season finale. The opening installment saw Gwen’s father Tom, the Camelot blacksmith, accused of aiding and abetting the alchemist Tauren, and Tom was subsequently killed trying to escape the dungeon. Morgana, railing against King Uther’s narrow-minded literalism, was jailed for talking back to him. The show asked an extremely modern question: How far should a leader go in the pursuit of national security? Which individual liberties should be surrendered in the name of public safety? Uther has kept the kingdom (somewhat) safe from magic, but his policies have curtailed freedom and led to harsh justice. It would be many centuries before Benjamin Franklin would write, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” but his question is still relevant today. The word “terrorist” was even used!

The second hour proved to be a bit of a letdown, going back to the “Will Arthur die?” well once again, after he was bitten by the magical Questing Beast. What was important was the revelation that the Dragon — who had been totally willing to let Tauren the alchemist kill Uther in the previous hour so that magic could be restored to the land — was so determined to install Arthur as king that nothing else mattered. He was even willing to align with Nimueh and try to roast Merlin! But the young wizard survived, and Merlin warned the beast, “You won’t see me again.” Will American audiences get to see the second season of this British import?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com