At The Movies!

At The Movies!

Box office tallies, movie reviews, and more!

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

November 29 – December 1, 2019

1. Frozen II
2. Knives Out
3. Ford v Ferrari
4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
5. Queen & Slim
6. 21 Bridges
7. Playing with Fire
8. Midway
9. Joker
10. Last Christmas

FLASHBACK

November 26-28, 1999

1. Toy Story 2
2. The World is Not Enough
3. End of Days
4. Sleepy Hollow
5. Pokemon: The First Movie
6. The Bone Collector
7. Dogma
8. Anywhere But Here
9. The Insider
10. Being John Malkovich

MOVIE REVIEWSFROZEN II

★★★
Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad. Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee. 1hr43min  MPAA rating: PG (for action/peril and some thematic elements).

Sequels are tough! Especially with musicals. Hollywood, Broadway, either way. “Grease 2,” “Love Never Dies” (the “Phantom of the Opera” add-on), the epically lousy 16-performance flop “Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,” the un-lamented “Bring Back Birdie” — tough, tough, tough, tough.

The good-enough success of “Frozen II,” then, deserves medium thanks and your allotted Disney money. The story pulls Elsa the Snow Queen and her less magical but nonetheless charismatic younger sister, Anna, into a murky web of Shakespearean political intrigue, with a large dose of Scandinavian pagan mythology; late-’80s/early-’90s-style power ballads from songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; and just enough Olaf (snowman) and Sven (reindeer) to please younger viewers who, for years, after the first “Frozen” conquered the world in 2013, went to bed and then woke up singing “Let It Go.”

In one surefire comic interlude, at top speed Olaf recaps the narrative events of the first “Frozen.” And the lightning-quick “Let It Go” reference proves that the Lopez duo hasn’t lost its comic instinct.

That said, “Frozen II” is more of a hairy quest deal, and knottier emotionally than the first. All’s well in the kingdom of Arendelle long enough for a generic happy-townsfolk number. Then Elsa (voiced and belted by Idina Menzel) starts hearing a siren-song female vocalist emanating from somewhere up north, beckoning, waiting to reveal the truth behind her magical snow-sculpture powers, and the sisters’ parents’ death by shipwreck (another Shakespearean flourish).

With Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s amiable, supportive b.f. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad) in tow, Elsa discovers a mist-shrouded land and a new set of human characters. One of many intriguing notions in “Frozen II” deals with the memory properties of water, so that water, in various forms, manifests a series of visual clues to the sisters’ fraught childhood. It’s like Emily in “Our Town,” revisiting her past, if Emily had ever learned to sing “Let It Go” in her more repressive era.

The moral here is clear and repeated frequently: Always do “the next right thing.” That includes letting a couple of Disney princesses wear pants when they trek to lands unknown. The Lopez songs do the job without unearthing another enough, already earworm on the order of “Let It Go.” But one of those is probably enough. Since Kristoff didn’t get to sing much in “Frozen,” the lovelorn lunk treats himself this time to a wry music video of his own, delivering a power anthem titled “Lost in the Woods.” The movie itself occasionally gets lost in those woods, but finds its way back out again.   By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media 

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A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

★★★
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper. Directed by Marielle Heller. 1hr43min MPAA rating: PG (forthematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language).

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is not primarily about Fred Rogers, or “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and it isn’t a traditional biopic, not even a traditional two-headed biopic. You should know these things going into this eccentric, often moving third feature from director Marielle Heller, whose previous films — “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (2015) and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018) — were seriously wonderful. This one’s more of a ruminative mixed bag, worth seeing and debating.

It focuses on the moral character development of a cynical magazine writer, played by Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”), assigned by Esquire magazine in 1998 to interview his temperamental polar opposite, the famously gentle, searching, reassuring and resoundingly kind children’s TV show host. Tom Hanks plays Rogers and, as you may have guessed, he’s wonderful. With subtle but clearly well-researched care, he makes Rogers his own, neither sending him up or saint-ing it up. Hanks makes every interaction with an adoring fan, each diagrammatic step toward friendship with the writer, here named Lloyd Vogel, a lesson in listening and in truly filling a pause — crucial, because Rogers spoke with great, kindly deliberation.

“Oh, God, Lloyd, please. Don’t ruin my childhood.” In the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, Lloyd’s wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), urges her grudge-prone husband to avoid writing a hit piece on a man who does not deserve such treatment.

In the movie, Lloyd, a heavily fictionalized and renamed version of real-life writer Tom Junod, is a brand-new and heavily doubt-filled father, not much good within his own family unit, stuck in a miserable standoff with his own wastrel father (Chris Cooper). Lloyd carries an invisible load of childhood baggage around with him, everywhere he goes. His dad left the family, and Lloyd’s dying mother, at a profoundly selfish time. At the beginning of the film, an argument between drunken father and rage-filled son leads to a fistfight and a very bad odor.

This provides the backdrop for the Mister Rogers element, which is why people are interested in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” after all. Assigned by his editor (Christine Lahti, doing a lot with a little) to write a quick 400-word profile for Esquire’s issue devoted to American heroes, Lloyd visits the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” set in Pittsburgh. Much of the movie proceeds by way of the subsequent conversations between interviewer and interviewee. The film presents Rogers as somewhat less religion-forward than the real man, an ordained Presbyterian minister, though it’s more a matter of the story structure leaving somewhere between 47 percent and 51 percent of the running time for the Rogers portion.

The movie takes a while to locate its preferred mixture of wry whimsy and earnest, quietly anguished drama. It begins as an imagined episode of the program, with the familiar Rogers intro, the change of shoes, the cardigan sweater, and then the news that we’ll be learning about Rogers’ new friend, Lloyd, a man in pain with some problems to solve. As written, Lloyd threatens to turn into a monotonous narcissist pretty fast, and while the reasons for structuring the screenplay this way are clear — it plays up the massive contrast in personality between Rogers and, well, nearly everyone else in the world — “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” may stir up memories of an earlier double biopic, “Julia and Julia” (2009). That dealt with Julia Child’s life, and recipes, but split its running time with the story of a contemporary food blogger plowing through every page of Child’s most celebrated cookbook.

The other film that Heller’s recalls, for me, anyway, also comes from 2009: Spike Jonze’s harsh and quite brilliant adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are.” I took my son, then 9, to that, and he resented its bruising depiction of childhood rages all the way. My wife and I took our 10-year-old to “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and it was not a good experience, “learning” or otherwise.

I love Heller’s previous two features for completely different reasons, and her work here with Rhys and Hanks and several others, including Watson, Maryann Plunkett (as Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife) and Cooper. The father character becomes the movie’s damaged soul, seeking forgiveness. Rogers takes the time he needs to confront Lloyd about his unforgiving nature, and while it’s whole-cloth fabrication, the scenes with Rogers and Lloyd’s extended family are nonetheless affecting. (I love composer Nate Heller’sjazz-inflected assist in these and other scenes; Rogers’ show was similarly friendly toward the jazz idiom.)

Author Junod’s real-life Esquire cover story will help you determine if you like Junod’s artfully self-aggrandizing approach to his subject more than I do. The piece has recently been bookended by Junod’s account of his post-cover story friendship with Rogers, and his feelings about the new movie. The new movie has the unavoidable misfortune of following in the footsteps of last year’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This excellent Morgan Neville portrait of Rogers became a gratifying crossover commercial success. Now there are two Rogers movies in the world. Heller’s is the odder, riskier and potentially bait-and-switch-ier of the two. But Hanks, especially, keeps the trolley on the rails, and everything Heller is after in this film comes together in a remarkable final shot depicting Rogers alone in the TV studio, having made another friend. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media 

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21 BRIDGES

★★
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J,K.Simmons. Directed by Brian Kirk. 1hr39min MPAA rating: R (for violence and language throughout).

Chadwick Boseman should get ’em in the door, and in the elevator after the “21 Bridges” promo screening, a female consensus of two agreed that the movie “wasn’t bad,” and that it was nice to see the “Black Panther” star try on a Denzel Washington “Equalizer 2” role for size. I’ll go with that. It’s enough for passable couch viewing after a beer. Not a great beer. Some cheap lager. A few stale chips. Maybe an almond or two. Whatever’s around.

“21 Bridges” is the movie equivalent of whatever’s around.

Boseman plays unerringly instinctive and unfailingly righteous NYPDdetective Andre Davis, whose policeman father was gunned down when Andre was 13. Nineteen years later, Andre’s taking care of his widowed, addled mother (Adriane Lenox) and wrangling with internal-affairs investigations into his conduct. His reputation, stated plainly by narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), precedes him: He’s “a cop who kills cop-killers.”

So he’s in the right story. One late afternoon in Brooklyn, psychotic Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and scared tag-along Michael (Stephan James) bust into a wine bar, guns drawn, to boost a few kilos of cocaine stashed in the freezer. Oddly, several police officers are there, too. Seven dead cops and one life-support case later, the thieves are on the run, scrambling to sell the cocaine and get out of town.

“21 Bridges” takes place across what should be 12 ever-tightening hours, with all of Manhattan Island bridges and tunnels blocked off so the manhunt, led by Andre, can wrap up in time for the morning rush. Miller’s narcotics detective character joins the hunt, at the orders of a tough-as-nails NYPD precinct captain played by J.K. Simmons.

This is a feature directorial debut for Brian Kirk, who has worked a lot on television (“Game of Thrones,” “Penny Dreadful”) and knows how to arrange a steady supply of gamer-style “kills” and setups for the next bloody shootout. “21 Bridges” showcases close-range gun violence: guy shot in the eye while looking through a peephole, guy getting his fingers shot off, guy after guy after guy getting a digital blood spritz out the back of his head.

Cinematographer Paul Cameron’s light is consistently pretty, each time screenwriters Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahanarrive at a pistol-to-the-head standoff, the cops and/or perps act as if they have all year to talk about it. There’s strangely little urgency to the internal rhythms and pacing of “21 Bridges.” It’s not so much a ticking-clock thriller. It’s more like: “Is this clock still working? Why didn’t I get a digital clock?”

As the vulnerable, scared half of the cop-killer duo, James’ Michael emerges as the one character to care about. Boseman’s, by contrast, settles for supercool, one-note avenging angel. The audience gets way out ahead of the script’s revelations. And before long in “21 Bridges,” the extent of the corruption becomes the top line of a vision test — far too easy to spot from a distance.

Postscript: Aside from a few establishing shots and a familiar NYC landmark or two, “21 Bridges” was shot in Philadelphia. With hardly any extras. And some very un-New York streets and alleys, wide enough to park a mobile home sideways. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media

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FORD V FERRARI

★★★
Starring Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal. Directed by James Mangold. 2hr32min MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some language and peril).

In this stylish, enjoyable mash note to its era, Matt Damon plays Texas race car designer Carroll Shelby, hired by the Ford Motor Company to produce a vehicle that can win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans. The previous six Le Mans endurance feats, 1960-1966, have been won by Ferrari. Christian Bale co-stars with Damon, portraying the English racer, engineer and mechanic Ken Miles. Emotionally the story belongs to Miles, not Shelby, and Bale brings an outsize energy to the proceedings. Much of this leisurely 2.5-hour film chronicles Shelby locking horns with the money men over control of the project. Tracy Letts essentially steals the movie as Henry Ford II, who has a memorable meltdown during and after a GT40 test drive at high speed. (It’s the stuff of Oscarnominations.) Ford’s enterprising right-hand man Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) tips around the edges of the action, while Josh Lucassnivels away as Leo Beebe, Ford’s “special vehicles” director and the movie’s antagonist. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media

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CHARLIE’S ANGELS

★★1/2
Starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Patrick Stewart. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. 1hr59min MPAA rating: PG-13 (for action/violence, language and some suggestive material).

There’s a new “Charlie’s Angels” picture, this one from producer, writer, director and co-star Elizabeth Banks. It’s fairly entertaining globe-trotting nonsense. Kristen Stewart, in particular, makes a private party out of every scrap of comic relief she’s given. Her character, Sabina, is a Park Avenue rich kid who went rogue and became a superspy/private eye. The film’s central trio comprises Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska. The plot concerns a corporate whistleblower (Scott) whose sniveling boss (Nat Faxon) has overseen development of a powerful, dangerous electrical source that can be weaponized in the wrong hands. The film makes no bones about being a female-led, female-skewing audience picture. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media

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THE GOOD LIAR

★★1/2
Starring Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russel Tovey. Directed by Bill Condon. 1hr49min  MPAA rating: R (for some strong violence, and for language and brief nudity).

Director Bill Condon brings Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen together for this adaptation of a Nicholas Searles novel. The twisty little tete-a-tete is potentially the politest movie about a scammer ever. Roy (McKellen) is an older, more dignified version of “Dirty John,” romancing elderly ladies and sussing out the size of their retirement accounts. But you don’t cast Mirren in a role where she isn’t the more intelligent and cunning half of a pair. She plays a wounded widow with grace, but that’s not her true nature. Somehow the beige-ness of it all just overwhelms everything, even the occasional violence. “The Good Liar” takes its sweet time to pick up steam and pulls its punches in places where it could have been even darker and more daring.  By Katie Walsh, Tribune Media

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DOCTOR SLEEP

★★1/2

Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Run time: 2hr31min. MPAA rating: R (for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use).

The cultural grip of “The Shining” is such that it has a stranglehold on director Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of “Doctor Sleep,” a sequel of sorts, that it nearly chokes the life out of it. Author Stephen King’s take on what happened after “here’s Johnny” on that snowy mountain is a fascinating follow-up involving an alcoholic Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) learning to harness his “shine” for good, helping a young girl fight a terrifying death cult, the True Knot. That’s the most engrossing aspect, comprising the first two-thirds of the film. Rebecca Ferguson is entrancing as cult leader Rose the Hat, one of the best horror villains of recent years. It’s when “Doctor Sleep” is dragged back to the Overlook Hotel that this adaptation loses consciousness.  By Katie Walsh, Tribune Media

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TERMINATOR:DARK FATE

★★★

Starring Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna. Directed by Tim Miller. Run time: 2hr8min. MPAA rating: R (for violence and action throughout, brief nudity, strong language).

For starters, you need to walk into “Terminator: Dark Fate” with a ‘Terminator-movie-mindset.’ Check your reality at the door, leave all your questions in the car and just sit back and enjoy this definitive summer popcorn movie (albeit in November). This film follows all the latest structures in Hollywood, recycles much of its own material, and allows little character development – but if you go in to this film knowing that and simply looking for a fun bad-guy-chases-good-guy film, then you will walk out of the theater a happy camper. Like every single one of the other films in the franchise, you must be ready to suspend your beliefs and not ask, “Well, why didn’t they just ___?” Don’t ask, just enjoy the ride.

The franchise has taken on the latest Hollywood trend of eliminating some films in the franchise from their timeline (see “Halloween,” “Predator,” “G.I. Joe,” and much of the DC universe). “Dark Fate” is a direct sequel to “Judgment Day” (1991), erasing the events of the enjoyable “Rise of the Machines” (2003), the interesting, yet flawed, “Salvation” (2009), and the regrettable “Genysis” (2015). Director Tim Miller (“Deadpool”) describes this film as occurring in an “alternative timeline” from the more recent three films.

Although I was not happy with “Genysis,” I was willing to give the franchise another shot. If the producers were willing to forget about that last film, I can too. I walked into this film with the words of the late, great film critic Jimmy Martin in my head: “Let’s see what you got.”

The film stars a trio of ladies who carry the weight of the film. We have MacKenzie Davis as Grace, a human soldier from the future, who has been cybernetically enhanced; Natalia Reyes as Danni, our young and naive character who needs protection; and the return of Sarah Connor herself (Linda Hamilton), who shines throughout the film at her ass-kicking finest. 

With three women in the lead roles, some viewers will undoubtedly see this film as a construction of the liberal media – combined with the scenes involving the immigration determent camps, and we will definitely hear people screaming from the rooftops about the “underlying subtext” in the film. It is true, this film does carry on the other current Hollywood trend of the fairer sex taking the center stage in many action film franchises (“Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters”). I am sure there will be many extremists on both sides either applauding or disavowing this film based on the gender choices alone. Personally, I couldn’t care less what gender or race someone is.  I think there is room enough for everyone to be a hero in our modern cinematic folk tales. And above, all I just want to see a good movie. 

So, that comes down to the big question: Is “Dark Fate” good? I am not exactly sure. It surely doesn’t break any new ground, it is a pretty much paint-by-numbers Terminator storyline – future characters arrive, they find the target, and its a 2-hour chase scene, then (spoiler) evil is overcome. But of course, they need to make everything even bigger and badder than before. If that was the goal they were looking for with “Dark Fate,” mission accomplished. 

And this movie moves quick – we know the drill, no need for any long explanation. Glowy ball, naked person, and 13 minutes into the film, the target (Reyes) is found by the Terminator and Grace and the chase begins. Sarah Connor is no cameo appearance here, she shows up early and she steals the film, being the exact incendiary firebrand we would expect her to be 28 years after “Judgment Day.” Davis and Reyes both shine in these roles, but they are just cannot compare to Hamilton’s grizzed and damaged Sarah Connor. It is her return that really captures the essence of the franchise – the first two films were successful because it was her story, and this continues her story in a manner which fits in with the Terminator world.

Like the first two films, this one has plenty of fast-forwards to a bleak and desolate future overcome by the apocalyptic robotic force. This is essential to see how Grace became “enhanced,” and also explains a few things that accelerate the plot. And like the past, they do not overstay their welcome, but provide a good perspective of this dreary future.

Back in the present day, our baddie this time is the Rev-9 model (played sufficiently enough by Gabriel Luna). This one can patch into the computer systems, form weapons out of his own liquid metal exoskeleton, and even split himself into two separate entities (and then you would ask, “Why not always be split in two?” –  Hey, what did I tell you about leaving your questions at the door!). The Rev-9 is also capable of mimicking human behavior much better than its predecessors, leading to some interesting interactions between the Rev-9 and its potential victims.

As we would expect, the chase never stops, but provides small breaks here and there. At one moment in the film, our heroes talk about a ‘contact’ whom they need to identify and meet with – they may as well wink right at the camera – we all know exactly who they are talking about. 

Diehard fans might be upset that we must wait until an hour into the film when we meet Carl, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. You might wonder how Arnold is back after his character seems to perish at the end of “T2,” they do answer that question for you. 

Much like “T2,” this film does have its moments of corny comedy – and that usually comes from Carl in this interlude. But it is delivered at just the right time in the film to be acceptable and I even did what the kids would call a lol irl!

As you could predict, the chase continues and has to get even bigger and more over the top that ever – and it does. If you have seen the trailer, you know that our cat and mouse chase takes to the skies in this one. The climax is completely unbelievable and over-exaggerated – one scene after another is just extravagant CG effects galore. Some people might say that sentence as an insult to this film, but really, with the Terminator, what would you expect? 

The franchise tried to do something different with “Salvation,” and it wasn’t liked, then they tried to change up the canon with “Genysis,” and that was liked even less. So should we be at all surprised that they are going back to the well with this one? If you walk into this movie expecting nothing too deep or sophisticated, and just want to see heroes fighting Terminators, you will not be disappointed. For better or for worse, “Dark Fate” is just what we want to see in a Terminator film.

By Jason Hedman

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HARRIET
★★★

Starring Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters. Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Run time: 2hr5min MPAA rating: PG-13 (mature thematic elements; violence and coarse language, including racial epithets).

Director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons give us a rousing biopic of the former slave who escaped alone and led many slaves to freedom as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. The incredible Harriet Tubman deserves this cinematic rendering of her phenomenal life, which goes beyond elementary school history books. Cynthia Erivo turns in a remarkable performance in the lead. Faith is what allows Tubman to press on during a harrowing journey to freedom that she undertakes alone, traveling 100 miles by foot from Maryland to Philadelphia. “Harriet” is a deeply spiritual film that asks the audience to take Harriet’s experience and religious beliefs at face value. By Katie Walsh, Tribune Media

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MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL
★★

Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer. Directed by Joachim Ronning. Run time: 1hr58min. MPAA rating: PG (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images). 

The 2014 live-action stand-alone film “Maleficent” positioned the curse-bearing mistress of evil (Angelina Jolie) as a misunderstood guardian of the natural world and all the magic it contains. While “Maleficent” wasn’t exactly a great movie, Jolie was certainly fun to watch. In the follow-up, things turn kooky, as this wild, surreal and wacky escalation spins out of control and our leading lady fades to the background. Maleficent is forced out of the Moors and into war as her goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), plans to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), merging the fairy and human kingdoms. Of course there’s only one real problem: her future mother-in-law. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the icy Queen Ingrith, whose slinky side-eye line delivery screams that she’s up to something.  By Katie Walsh, Tribune Media

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ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP
★★1/2

Starring Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin. Directed by Reuben Fleischer. Run time: 1hr39min. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language). 

The original “Zombieland” didn’t try to change the world; it was just out for a few laughs and had the guts (literally) to proclaim itself a comedy first, rather than an action movie tarted up with a few wisecracks in between hackings. “Zombieland: Double Tap” has its moments, too. It’s still the zombie apocalypse, and our makeshift family of uninfected hero-survivors enjoys one day at a time, residing in what’s left of the White House, now tricked out with anti-zombie security measures. Fussy Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and sardonic Wichita (Stone) are now fully a thing, though his proposal of marriage sends her into gotta-go mode. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) remains the quasi-father figure, with Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) now a young woman and chafing at the quasi-parental oversight. The plot whisks the women away so the men can retrieve them before they’re besieged by a new strain of harder-to-kill zombies. As the story moves from D.C. to what’s left of Graceland, Rosario Dawson swaggers into frame as a new character, Nevada; Luke Wilson is Albuquerque; and Zoey Deutch joins the ensemble as Madison, a dizzy survivor bearing a lot of pink luggage.  By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media