Easy A

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 8:00 am

Emma Stone finally gets the breakthrough role her fans have been waiting for in “Easy A.” This is the moment that takes her into the front rank of movie stars, sub-category: America’s sweetheart.

Stone has an immediately appealing presence on screen, unpretentious but utterly charming. Here she plays Olive, a girl who doesn’t yet realize that all of the things that make her feel invisible in high school are going to make her wildly beloved for decades after. She is impatient to be “interesting” and so after a thrill-less weekend highlighted by singing along to a greeting card she impulsively tells her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she had sex with her college student boyfriend. Problem #1: the sex and the boyfriend are both imaginary. This is the kind of mistake a teenager would make. Problem #2: this confession occurs in the ladies’ room at the high school, with no checking the stalls. This is not the kind of mistake anyone would make after 7th grade, but we have to kick that plot into gear, now, don’t we?

And so the whole school immediately knows and believes this scandalous news. Which is why Olive’s closeted gay friend tired of getting picked on comes to her with a proposition. Not that kind. He wants her to have noisy public pretend sex with him so that he can be definitively proven manly. And since her reputation is already shot, what can it hurt? And why not do the same favor for some other needy souls? And then, when it seems the whole school is judging her (conveniently, her class is reading The Scarlet Letter), she decides to sew a big red A on a bustier and see what it feels like to go from invisible to un-missable.

Stone is such an effortless charmer that she keeps the story aloft, even when Olive inexplicably turns her little adventure into a for-pay enterprise, insisting on gift cards(!) in exchange for making the reputation of the guys involved at the cost of her own. A side story involving Olive’s favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) and his wife, the school guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) is also unnecessarily tawdry. Far better are the encounters with the always delectable (and just about always underused) Amanda Bynes as the school holier-than-thou abstinence proponent and the always ultra-watchable Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s deliciously off-kilter parents. Their scenes are warm, witty, and surprising, and livelier than Olive’s romantic ups and downs. In every way, it is Stone who is the heart of this movie, and she wins our hearts as well.

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Emma Stone Should Be a Star

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

I’m hoping that this fall’s “Easy A” will give Emma Stone the breakthrough role she needs to become a major star. From “Superbad” to “The Rocker,” “Zombieland,” “The House Bunny,” and even “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” she has demonstrated the ability to zero in to create a fully-realized character instantly, and she has some of the most powerful screen charisma of her generation. Here’s a clip that is just plain adorable.

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Zombieland

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for horror violence/gore and language
Profanity: Constant very bad language, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, characters injured, killed, and eaten, zombies and other graphic and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 2, 2009
Date Released to DVD: February 2, 2010

What is it about zombies?

Dating back to 1932’s “White Zombie,” the stories of the relentless, omnivorous undead and the humans who try to escape them have been one of film’s most popular genres, with sub-genres including the flourishing category of zombie comedies, best described as gallows humor, gasps of horror alternating with gasps of laughter. Zombie films turn out to provide many opportunities for some core elements of humor, especially the juxtaposition of dire circumstances with trivial detail and the deconstruction of our assumptions about what we need and the norms of lifestyle and behavior. As its title suggests, “Zombieland‘s” take is darkly comic, with zombie encounters as theme park or video game. It even ends up in a real theme park, the few remaining humans battling the hordes from rides and concession stands.

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One thing about zombies is that they thin out the herd. In this story, only four non-zombie humans seem to be left, which gives them an opportunity to try to band together with people with whom they would otherwise have nothing in common and show each other and themselves that they are capable of more in both physical courage and relationships than they ever thought possible.

The mixed bag, all known only by the names of cities, includes shy college student (Jesse Eisenberg) who tries to maintain some sense of control by compulsively making lists of rules for survival. He meets up with a modern-day cowboy (Woody Harrelson) in search of his favorite Hostess treat and a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have their own methods for taking care of themselves. And even though they have not much idea where they are going or why they should go there, they hit the road.

Funny zombie movies can be just as scary as straight zombie movies, but they leaven the terror with humor that comes as the characters try to find some element of normalcy in between double-tapping zombies (one of the rules), grabbing whatever they want among the abandoned cars and grocery stores. It also includes checking out the home of a major movie star who shows up for an hilariously deadpan cameo before one last zombie attack in the actual amusement park — that juxtaposition element again.

The actors, including the movie star, are all superb. Eisenberg and Stone are two of the most talented young performers in movies and they hit just the right notes here. The usual getting-to-know-and-trust-you road trip developments play out in a manner that is both endearing and funny, as when Eisenberg asks Breslin if her sister has a boyfriend as though there are any other possible candidates for dating who would have a very different idea of having her for dinner. It goes on a little too long and does not match the inspired lunacy of “Shaun of the Dead,” but it will keep zombie-philic audiences as happy as finding the very last Twinkie.

Parents should know that this film has extreme and graphic violence involving zombies, guns, characters in peril, injured, killed, and eaten, drinking, smoking, and very strong language including crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why didn’t the characters use their real names? What do you think of Columbus’ list of rules? What makes zombie movies so popular?

If you like this, try: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “I am Legend,” and “28 Days Later”

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