GUEST CRITIC! Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews Presents Don Hernandez’s take on ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Hey there, this is Zach really quick here, I posted on my Facebook page that I would not be reviewing ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL because I really don’t have much of an interest in seeing it. So instead, my good friend Don Hernandez decided to write up his opinion on the film. After reading his review…kind of glad I’m skipped out on it and am waiting for rental. Anyway, here is Don’s review:

After being pushed back multiple times, The Robert Rodriguez/James Cameron manga adaptation has finally been released in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s clear why Fox pushed it back over and over again as they hoped the CGI filled Sci-fi action movie would do better against more diverse movies. With the original summer date and then the Christmas date, Alita would have been battling some major action juggernauts. While she may be able to handle her own in the movie, no amount of cybernetics would have kept her from being lost in the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, the visuals are stunning and Alita, despite being all CGI, comes off quite realistic the longer you are in this world. However, two of the main baddies end up not feeling realistic at all (Nova & Grewishka, I don’t know why but it really felt like they ran out of money when these two were put together as they look so out of place at times). The action sequences are awesome. Alita’s bar fight and the arena sequence are spectacular (highly recommend Dolby Cinema or IMAX to get full effect of this).

Where the movie suffers is the story. One part I have to mention first, because I still can’t shake how dumb it is, happens just around the halfway point: there are these individuals called “Hunter Warriors” and some huge leaps in logic are taken to how they are viewed in this society that made me say to myself more than once, “wait, when was this established about them?” It literally makes no sense unless they were just trying to find a way for Alita to monologue before giving us a fight scene. Let me put it this way, a tiny little dog shows more bravery in the movie than 99% of these so called “bad ass hunter warriors”.

It gets even more odd later because one of them starts spouting off about “the hunter code”….to quote another movie “the code is more or less guidelines than actual rules”. Many important characters aren’t really given their moments to be fleshed out enough to care/understand their motivations either. When we get some character development, it’s quick and pushed aside for the shiny CGI moments. Which is a shame because Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Masherala Ali are all great actors.

As for the main character’s story…. Alita is introduced quite well and we are just as invested as she is to find out who she truly is. We do get pieces here and there but it’s never fully explained. Throughout this there is, of course, the “of different worlds” love story that provides the vehicle for finding out more of Alita’s arc but overall it isn’t needed to actually advance it. A little over halfway into the movie though it’s clear why; the whole thing is just being set up for future installments (that maybe will give more backstories of more than just Alita?). Too many studios are doing this now and it’s hurting more than helping. It’s a double edged sword. Do I want a sequel to this? Sure…..but I didn’t need Fox force feeding it to me. Let the film speak for itself. It’s poor writing when you can’t create a self contained story but leave the possibility for continuing it. If you need half your movie to be set up you already failed.

The ending, the cameos, the star power, so much is wasted here since the film has already made it’s bed; we are left with an incomplete story that really doesn’t make any sense. I felt like I was on a cool roller coaster ride in the dark that showed me flashes of the rest of the track only for the ride to end.

As stated previously, it’s a shame because a self contained story would have made this a concrete much watch. That’s saying a lot because I’ve always believed action movies aren’t supposed to be for “story”. Sure, a solid story can make certain action movies stand out from the rest. Overall though it’s all about the action, explosions, and visuals. Only in this case, it’s an action sci-fi film that introduces us to a different world and time so we need that story to make the connection & investment. A character’s development can manage that as well but it needs to be within the first film. Sadly Alita: Battle Angel asks too much of the audience without giving us the proper motivation with no guarantee of the future.

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Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (no spoilers, I promise)

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is bold and bat shit crazy. In a good way thankfully. Kind of like Aliens did with Alien, it completely does a 180 degree flip and changes genres, and completely sticks the landing. The first film was a Groundhog’s Day horror/thriller that happened to be funny with a great, great, let me emphasize that more, GREAT, performance by Jessica Rothe. And even though it was a horror/thriller, it wasn’t very scary, but the fun completely made up for it. The sequel, released yesterday, almost completely (except for one or two little tense jump scares) abandons the horror/thriller aspect and becomes more of a sci-fi emotional mystery adventure. And I God damn loved every minute of it.

And don’t ask me in a direct message if the movie was better than the original. They are two different beasts if try to put them in a competitive match. Like comparing apples and oranges at this point in time. I will say that whenever I watch the first film again in the future, I would watch the second one immediately, as they are great companion pieces to one another, and are both proof that you CAN DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT than just rehash old shit in sequels. Writer/Director Christopher Landon did something unique and I can’t believe Blumhouse bought into it, but I’m glad they did. This movie definitely has more of a Back To The Future Part II vibe than anything, and it even references the film directly, and has little trinkets of Easter Eggs as well throughout the whole thing if you are willing to pay close attention.

I’m not going to reveal any of the plot or story, but I love how the movie starts out immediately by not making it about Jessice Rothe’s character Tree, but organically brings her back into the fold, and front and center no less. I’m not even going to reveal how she ends up getting back into her death loop or what the loop has been about the entire time, the best parts of this movie is finding out everything yourself when the story unfolds and a perfect pace for you. And I love, love, LOVED how this movie has such an emotional punch to it, that you don’t even care really who is the killer in the end (I completely stopped guessing at one point because the movie basically tells you to and that it isn’t the point of the story), it’s more of just the a good tasting cherry on the cake you weren’t expecting to get anyway.

This sequel also manages to ask and answer questions we didn’t even know we needed asked or answered from the first film. And the best thing about it all? It pokes fun at itself, it knows how ridiculous it is, but the tone is so nearly pitch perfect that it doesn’t matter. There are several scenes in this film that will make you cry if you even have half a heart, and the movie features an emotional score that is too good for horror/thriller/sci-fi films (loved the Back to the Future Part II homage musical cues). And the performances were all spot on for a film like this. But again, I’m going to focus on the very underrated actress Jessica Rothe, for without her, these movies absolutely would not work. She is the entire light, the light bulb, the plug, and the spark to ignite everything. She is absolutely amazing in this, and even manages to pull off a better emotional performance than the first film, which I thought was damn near perfect to begin with. You’ll know what scenes I am talking about when you see them.

Trust me, I wish I could write a spoiler review and spoiler the shit out of this thing screaming its praises, but I should be shot if I tried. I can’t wait for more people to see it so I can discuss this film privately with them. If any of the movies little fun secrets are ruined for anyone, I would feel really really bad. Just take my word that the movie is a completely different experience from the first film, and if you accept the sci-fi story elements, you are going to have a great and fun time.

Look, in the end, you know if you want to see this movie or not. If you are looking for the same old shit like the first film, this isn’t for you. If you want something scary and horrifying, this film isn’t for you. If you didn’t like the first movie, you probably won’t like this one either. I’ve read reviews with complaints that they wish there was more Baby face mask killing and stalking, but IMO, if we got more of the same, this film wouldn’t have been all that great. This film is something different from the original, which we need more of in sequels. In a nutshell, if you are willing to go on this little bat shit crazy sci-fi mystery adventure emotional idea, this film will reward you…and reward you….and reward you….and reward you….and reward you…

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: WEEKENDS and SHOPLIFTERS (2 Film Review) Oscar Catch Up Part 9

Update: By Monday, I will end up seeing every single nominee for the 91st Academy Awards, all 121 of them (some are the same obviously as some films have multiple nominations). This series of Oscar Catch Up will ironically end on Part 11, which I will then call Chapter 11 since it is the end. But anyway, two quick short reviews:

WEEKENDS (Nominated for Best Animated Short)

WEEKENDS is a short 15 minutes. The animation is easy on the eyes (kind of messy/classic, you’ll get what I mean when you watch it, it’s on YouTube now), and other than a score and a couple of repeating rock/pop songs, there is no dialogue. It is about a boy that is dealing with the separation of his parents. His mother gets him during the week, his father on the weekends. He tries to move on with his life as they move on with theirs.

It’s quite emotional and stays with the theme of all the shorts basically being about growing up and dealing with your age. I have now seen all 5 of the nominated ones now, and while I think Bao will ultimately win, (I mean Pixar, come on) I really hope instead that it is One Small Step. This one would be a close third.

SHOPLIFTERS (Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film)

I have one Foreign Language film left to see (Never Look Away, this Friday), but I’m going to go ahead and call that SHOPLIFTERS will be my least favorite of the bunch. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but this one might have been a little over hyped for me. The film is a Japanese drama film about a family, who are not really related at all we come to find out, that steal from shops and do other scams to deal with a poverty type lifestyle.

You probably won’t know any of the actors/actresses in it so I won’t waste my time, but the acting is very solid. The story itself and the motivations and secrets of these characters is like peeling layers off of a fruit to get to the sweet juicy center. Some of the revelations are sad, some are downright shocking. The ‘family’ mentioned above is a family of five at the beginning, and then it turns to six when they take in a girl that seems to be abandoned and abused by her mother and father.

The ending is sure to leave a lump in your throat and the film is very engaging on a story and character developmental level. Everything technical about it could’ve used some work. The cinematography isn’t all that special, and some scenes were too dark to work with to see what was going on. It felt like a point and shoot kind of movie. However, going back to a positive light, the film has probably the best child acting since IT in 2017. But yeah, the movie is available to rent on all your Movie On Demand providers. It’s worth checking out completely story wise, as it is really original and is something that Hollywood in America wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole now, due to the fact we are in sequel/reboot land for the next 1,000 years.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: FREE SOLO and PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. (2 Film Review) Oscar Catch Up Part 8

There will be one more part after this and then I’m done. Will have ultimately seen 117 out of the 121 Oscar nominees, my personal best. I will be posting my list tomorrow if anyone could help me out in watching the last four. Anyway, here is a quick review on two more:

FREE SOLO (Nominated for Best Documentary)

I’ve now seen 4 out of the 5 nominated full documentaries nominated for an Academy Award, and while any of them would make a fine winner, I ultimately hope that this wins. It is AMAZING. The documentary is about a man named Alex Honnold and his dream to pursue a free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. What is a free solo climb? You know rock climbers right? Imagine them scaling giant rock spires with no harnesses, ropes, or any protective equipment of any kind. Instead they have to rely solely on their athletic ability. Many people have died free soloing around the globe.

This is one documentary that is sure to have your heart pounding. It’s not a spoiler to say that he makes it to the top and doesn’t die, because I don’t think there would be a movie necessarily if he plummeted to his death. Oh wait, right, there still would be because Hollywood loves a tragic story as much as they do a triumphant one. But the doc isn’t just about the climb. It’s about Alex and how he lives his life climbing while trying to maintain a romantic relationship to a woman who happened to give her number to him at a signing.

The doc shows him practicing for the climb, older footage of him free solo climbing other things. That combined with Marco Beltrami’s amazing score, the 1 hour and 40 minutes just floats by in a snap of the fingers. The film also goes into the intricacies of rock climbing while still making it interesting enough even for the casual viewer. I was awed while watching this, it might be my favorite documentary of all time to be honest.

This was just available to buy starting today.

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. (Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject)

Just released on Netflix today, this short 25 minute documentary is the favorite to win Best Documentary Short Subject, and I hope it does. It was funny, light, inspiring, and entertaining enough where I could’ve watched it a whole other hour had it turned into a full length documentary.

What is it about? It’s about a small group local women in Hapur, India as they inform their women and community on women menstruation. They also learn how to operate a machine that makes cheap and biodegradable sanitary pads. They then go around trying to sell them, but inform everyone at the same time, as some of them don’t really know what menstruation is all about, and some of them even laugh and are embarrassed at the word. One woman tells about how she basically dropped out of school because she didn’t have a sanitary pad at the time, and she’d have to go out of her way to change all the time, and men would either stare at her or make fun of her.

Again, I really wish this was longer, it was as engaging as Free Solo. But I guess you could say it is short, sweet, and just proof that the world is trying to change for the better, one small step at a time. Truly inspiring.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE LEGO MOVIE 2 – THE SECOND PART

I remember a couple of years ago when the marketing came out for the first Lego Movie, it was all in your face, trying to get you or you and friends or you and family members to get to the theaters to see this zany animated film that throw jokes at you a mile a minute. It had a hugely successful box office weekend and now we have the inevitable sequel. He’s the grub though, I didn’t see much marketing for THE LEGO MOVIE 2 – THE SECOND PART. I’ve seen one trailer or two, but the online and TV spot marketing has been ‘mum’s the word’ for awhile and I had no idea what was going on? Did Warner Bros. try and save money, knowing people would go see this on the name alone? Or worse, did they not have any confidence in the film? I have a feeling it might be the latter. It’s not to say this sequel is bad, however the title is kind of ironic, because the second part of the film is really entertaining and totally sticks the landing. But the first part of the film, the first half if you will, was totally not awesome.

I have a feeling that Warner Bros did not want to do this film without Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, so instead of waiting on them to complete Solo: A Star Wars Story and their involvement in Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse they downgraded their status to the film as just the writers of this sequel, giving directing duties to the guy that directed…Trolls…and Shred Forever After….and, and….Alving and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked… To be frank though, if Warner Bros. had waiting for Lord and Miller for all the duties, they might still be waiting, and you know the Hollywood system, time is money. So they made this compromise. Well, we know how Solo turned out (Lord and Miller were fired in case you really live under a rock) and they really then honed in on Spider-Verse (which is winning so many awards Lord and Miller are laughing in Kathleen Kennedy’s face right now). So with all that, they still managed to write the script to this movie?

I bet the differ. I think maybe the director had a hand in it…especially the first part of the film. I have a feeling the latter half of the movie was all Lord and Miller because it stuck the landing really well. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but this movie feels like two different films. The first part, about 10 minutes in, I thought to myself, “oh shit…” The jokes were flying a mile a minute, but none of them were sticking, and it gave no time for the room to breathe. The film for some reason felt like it had to start off right where the last one ended. Which I highly disagree with. The movie should’ve really started 20 minutes into the movie that we got. With the first 20 minutes minutes being chopped up into tiny little bits, that would’ve made more sense as flashbacks near the end reveals. It’s like nobody knew what to do with the film, so they just started writing, thinking they’d find their groove.

And the film eventually does. Especially after a certain Bruce Willis/Vent/Die Harde joke. I’m not going to explain the plot of the movie at all to keep from ruining the surprises. All I’ll say is that it starts off right where the first one left off, and the Lego city that Emmett and WyldStyle eventually turns into an apocalyptic wasteland. Also, remember the first film’s ending? Well, this ending is very, very similar, but it works so well and lands perfectly, that I didn’t really mind the whole repetitiveness and predictability of it all. Oh, and if you thought “Everything is Awesome” was an annoying yet delightful fucking song, there is a song in this that tells that song to holds its beer.

Actually, this films benefits a little from the other one in the song department. The first films only had “Everything is Awesome” going for it. This sequel has about 4 songs (one though a play on Everything Is Awesome but just replacing Is with Not) and they were all quite delightful, with one of them involving Will Arnett’s Batman (steals the whole show yet again) and the ‘bad guy’ Tiffany Haddish, I think it was called “I Don’t Date Gotham City Guys?” I don’t know, something like that, I’m too lazy right now to look up what the song was actually called. Just know that I liked the songs in this one more than the only one song in the first film.

The animation is top notch and it is a well made film, but it by no means even gets to the height of what the first film achieved, and it is all because of the pesky, pesky, first half of the film. It could be that I’m insane and it just didn’t click with me for some reason, but I’ve just been reading other critic reviews and they happen to feel the same way. If they do happen to make a third I really hope that Miller & Lord come back to direct, and they put their all into writing the screenplay. Unfortunately, like a lot of sequels, this felt like a rushed product, and while it achieve some heights of awesome, it feels like a tiny bit of a disappointment. Still recommending it, especially as a kids film, but man, next time, focus more on everything to be awesome, and not just kind of awesome, some of the time.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: COLD PURSUIT

If you clicked on this review to read about my comments on the whole recent Liam Neeson controversy, click elsewhere, because they won’t be on here. I’m here to review a movie Neeson happened to be and star in called COLD PURSUIT. And I loved this movie. I loved the thriller aspect of it. I loved its dark and weird humor. I loved the pacing, the direction, the action, all of it. Even the very weird, hilarious last shot of the film. It’s probably Liam Neeson’s best film since Taken for me. Which is kind of ironic, as my friend Don described this movie best when he says that it was basically, “Taken meets Fargo.”

A very accurate description. The plot starts out simple. Liam Neeson’s son is killed by someone injecting a whole bunch of heroin in him. Doctors tell Liam Neeson that it was just a drug overdose. Liam Neeson doesn’t believe this. Liam Neeson goes out to find who is responsible. I thought the rest of the film would be just a simple tale of Neeson going to person after person who was directly or indirectly responsible for his son’s death and just killing them in the most Neeson ways possible. But no, a little of the way into it, the bad guys think that other bad guys are really killing them off, and Neeson indirectly starts a turf war between the white drug lords and the Indian drug lords. No hold barred.

Because the plot was not so simple than Liam Neeson trying to find people, I liked it a lot more than I usually do. Ever since Taken, we’ve gotten two very shitty sequels, a half way decent A Walk Among The Tombstones, Non Stop, Unknown, Run All Night, The Commuter, so on and so forth. This, with all of its extreme dark humor thriller violence, stood out among the pack and was a breath of fresh air. This is actually a remake of some foreign film called In Order of Disappearance. Usually I can’t stand remakes, however, I hadn’t seen that one, and the same writer and director of that one did the American remake. And then when watching the trailer to the other one the other day, its looks like a shot by shot retelling with a signature American Hollywood flavor. So I give this remake an absolute pass.

This also feels like Liam Neeson actually cared about this film and wasn’t phoning anything in. It shows. Despite the recent controversy, I think he is still one hell of an action hero. Laura Dern and Emmy Rossum are both in this as well, and even though both are good, especially Rossum as a newish cop in the small town Neeson lives in, eager to get a big case, they both are a little wasted. Dern (who plays Neeson’s wife) but much than Rossum. But then again, I think the film took a No Country For Old Men approach, and nothing happens the way you think it will, which is how life is supposed to be. So those lose and seemingly meaningless threads are actually meaningful in the game of life.

One last thing, the main American villain in this is one of the best villains in a action thriller in awhile. He is totally cliched as all get out, but the actor, Tom Bateman, knows exactly what kind of movie he is in, chews the scenery like a motherfucker, and looks like he is having a boat load of fun playing the guy, which made the villain stand out. Anyway, Cold Pursuit is definitely worth checking out. If you are shying away from it because of Liam Neeson’s recent comments, then I feel kind of sorry for you as you are missing some great entertainment. I love these kinds of snow movies, like Ice Harvest, Fargo, and this. Darkly comic as hell, and fun to boot. Sometimes you just want to have a good time at the movies, this one fits the bill, so pursue it if you get a chance.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: All 5 of the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts (Oscar Catch Up Part 7)

Okay, I went to a theater this weekend to cross 5 more nominated things off my list. Since my wife and I are having our last Oscar party this year, I’m trying to see the most nominations I ever have, in case any guests have any questions. I will definitely never do this again, as all 5 of the Live Action Shorts were depressing as fuck (they were all well told though and well made). Was there really no happy shorts? So let’s do one or two quick paragraphs on each shall we?

DETAINMENT

The longest and depressing of them all, let’s rip it like a band-aid. This is based of the true 1993 England tragedy of two year old James Bulger, who was tortured and murdered by two ten year old boys, the youngest convicted murderers in the history of the world. This 30 minute short basically covers the initial taped interviews when they were first brought in for questioning. I read about this haunting case about a year ago, and it has haunted me ever since. Do everyone a favor and don’t look up this case anywhere on Wikipedia or other news sites, as if you do, you might end up depressed for hours/days, and this whole ordeal haunting your nightmares, especially if you have a little toddler in your life right now.

I’ve listened to the tapes awhile ago in real life (they don’t replay the real ones here, it is re-enacted by actors and actresses) and everything here is dead on. The child acting is phenomenal, and seeing the two boys abduct James in the mall and walk him to his death was very hard to watch for me. This short is controversial out of the whole bunch because the mother of James Bulger has tried to get this film boycotted because she feels like the movie humanizes the two monster. Quite the contrary, it made me hate the little fuckers more and wish that I could kill them both myself. Especially if you read how their lives have basically moved on after they turned 21 years old and the whole anonymity bullshit. I really hope this short doesn’t win, as I do agree that the filmmaker not getting permission from Bulger’s mother beforehand makes me think he really is trying to get ahead by creating art out of tragedy. I’ll tell you one last thing, if I had a time machine, this would be the first thing I would stop.

MADRE

This shortest of the shorts is a one take depressing wonder. Basically this mother receives a phone call from her six-year-old son, who is on a beach in France waiting on his father to get back with something (why the father left him alone? No clue, this doesn’t answer it. Marta quickly realizes that something is very wrong and that she has almost no time to solve the problem as her son’s cell phone battery is low.

The one take thing was pretty genius. The acting from both the mother, her son’s voice, and then the grandmother are excellent (I wonder how many whole takes it took to get the thing in the can). You might be asking if this is more of a thriller and how the hell is it depressing. Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I bet you could probably guess how this thing ends. Anyway, the short, while depressing, was short and well made.

FAUVE

On the Quebec countryside, two young boys are playing around in abandoned areas and objects. They keep challenging each other to certain tasks, and one of these tasks will change their lives forever. Yep, this one is still depressing, and very haunting to the point where you don’t want to ever lose sight of your young child. It’s not as bad as having them abducted and murdered, but it’s still very bad.

The child acting is great, and the short isn’t that long. So yeah, that’s all I have to say about that. Great camera work in this one as well.

SKIN

A racist red neck asshole beats up a black man outside a grocery store in front of both their families. The black man did absolutely nothing wrong, in fact, he was just playing with the boy with an action figure from a distance. Then this racist red neck asshole gets abducted by some people as revenge from the encounter. Anyway, where it goes from there, I will not say. As the revenge is pretty genius, and the depressing part is the initial racism beat up scene and then the ending.

The acting here is excellent. It actually have people you may know such as Jonathan Tucker (in a bunch of shit) or Danielle McDonald (the girl in Patti Cakes and Bird Box). And like I said, the revenge part is pretty genius. You’ll see.

MAGUERITE

Last, but certainly not least. This is the one posed to win the Oscar, and it deserves it. It is the least depressing of the bunch, more of a bittersweet depressant. A very old sick elderly woman, who needs dialysis but refuses to get it, is taken care of by a nice younger woman, and the two become friends.

When the elderly woman finds out things about the younger woman’s life style, she reminesces about her past and then shares some things with the younger one that she didn’t think she could tell anyone. I won’t giveaway what these things are, but they are depressing in that what the elderly woman’s dreams when she was younger was considered a mortal sin back then, and she just didn’t live in the right time. Great acting, great short, hope it wins, and that’s it, I’m tired of talking about depressing films.