Tag Archives: Tig Notaro

Viva Laz Vegaz

Army of the Dead

by Hope Madden

The single best feature film Zack Snyder ever made was his first: 2004’s Romero reboot Dawn of the Dead. (That is my hill.) For that reason (plus my sheer, giddy joy for zombie movies), I was far more eager about his latest zombie installment, Army of the Dead, than in anything else he’s made recently.

Even the title suggested that he was still on the Romero wavelength and, indeed, by his own 2005 Land of the Dead, the maestro of the undead was already dropping us into a town where the Z population had begun to organize.

In Snyder’s case, it’s not just any town. We open on the catalyst—a rapid-fire transformation just over the hill from Vegas. Conjuring fond memories of his prior undead flick, Snyder cuts together an excellent opening montage with some inspired musical accompaniment to quickly bring us up to the film’s current plight. (Likely also offering a preview to their upcoming Netflix series.)

Not a moment or line of dialogue wasted. Which is great, because this is going to trudge on for another 2 ½ hours, which is entirely unforgivable for a zombie movie.

How about a zombie heist movie?!

I mean, the zombies aren’t stealing anything, and nobody’s stealing zombies. Instead, some smarmy billionaire (Hiroyuki Sanada) convinces a Z-war hero (Dave Bautista) to get a crew together and head into Vegas to steal a fortune inside his casino vault.

So, Train to Busan: Peninsula. That’s not where Snyder and co-writers Shay Hatten (John Wick 3) and Joby Harold (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) got all their ideas, though. You will also notice Aliens, The Girl with All the Gifts, I Am Legend, Ghosts of Mars, World War Z, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and just a touch of Danny Ocean.

Still, Army of the Dead would be pretty entertaining if it weren’t so tediously predictable. (That does happen when you borrow so liberally, I guess.) Tig Notaro’s a fun piece of miscasting as the wise-cracking chopper pilot, Matthias Schweighofer delivers a bright performance (though it does feel as if it is part of another film entirely), and it’s always a delight to watch Garret Dillahunt weasel his way through a role.

The whole mess could have been mindless and merry were it not for its bloated running time. (Self-indulgence, thy name is Snyder.) It still delivers the goods here and there, but it won’t stick with you.

Write What You Know

Instant Family

by George Wolf

The comedy output of writer/director Sean Anders has ranged from decent (Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers) to disaster (That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home 2). His latest works as well as it does thanks to leaning more on heart than humor.

That’s most likely because Anders is telling much of his own story here, and a warm authenticity buoys even the film’s most ridiculous moments.

Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are Pete and Ellie Wagner, a California couple who run a home renovation business and remain undecided about having children. A flippant remark from Pete leads Ellie to investigate foster parenting, which then leads to three young siblings moving in.

There is, to put it mildly, an adjustment period.

Yes, Anders’s parallel of renovating homes and families is plenty obvious, but it goes down easier with his commitment to sincerity about an important topic. The film doesn’t shy away from pointing out the difficult aspects to foster parenting, utilizing an odd-couple pair of case workers (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, playing nicely off each other) as an effectively organic vessel for reminding us that “things that matter are hard.”

The laugh quotient rarely rises above a good chuckle, and you can expect some obligatory music montages and family comedy trappings, but some well-drawn characters and a likable cast keep that sizable heart beating.

Byrne continues to show the timing of a comedy MVP, Wahlberg seems more comfortable with the genre than usual, and Margo Martindale breezes in with memorable support as Grandma Sandy, but Anders, speaking from experience, makes sure to remember it’s about the kids.

He doesn’t use children just to be cute (although they are), but as real characters at the core of this arc. This is especially true of oldest sibling Lizzy, thanks to the standout performance from Isabela Moner (Sicario 2), a true young talent.

Always more fuzzy than consistently funny, Instant Family offers plenty of good feels backed up with some lived-in comfortability.