Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: ARCHIVE

Nothing can ruin a solid, solid movie other than its last act. Plenty of movies have been absolutely destroyed by them, whether it be Repo Men, Knowing, The Village, to name a few. I’m sure if you thought hard enough you’d come up with a list of 10 to 20 in the next couple of minutes. I being a huge movie buff, these kinds of films manage to break my heart all the time. Some more than others. In the case of the new direct to video title ARCHIVE, starring Divergent’s Theo James and Nymphomaniac’s Stacy Martin, it’s only the movie’s very, very last minute reveal (last 3-4 minutes of 1 hr 49 minute run time) that made me groan a little bit. I don’t want to give anything away, but it has an ending similar to one of the three movies I’ve mentioned above. It did a better job of hiding this so called “twist” (even though I knew it was coming and was praying only 10 minutes into it for me to be wrong), but I could still think of a handful of other ways it could’ve ended and been much more satisfactory in a storytelling stand point. The rest of the film is so so good though, and I have a feeling that upon a re-watch this twist might make you see everything in a different kind of light, that I’m ultimately going to give it a decent recommendation. It is a sci-fi drama sort of thriller in the vein of those you might’ve seen before like Moon or I Am Mother, but with much more meaningful undertones. The movie runs along as such a brisk pace even though it intentionally only slowly gives you bits and pieces of information throughout to put together what is going on and doesn’t just spoon feed it to you all at once. It’s very well made, shot, acted, etc. But I don’t think I can ever forgive the last 3-4 minute ending, it’s unfortunately permanently archived in my brain.

Per IMDB, it describes Archive as such: “2038: George Almore (Theo James) is working on a true human-equivalent AI. His latest prototype is almost ready. This sensitive phase is also the riskiest. Especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs: being reunited with his dead wife (Stacy Martin).” For this being a low budget movie, the special effects are top notch. They kept it simple, which is always the healthiest way to go if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a film project. The robots (humans inside of them obviously) look and act realistic, the inside and outside of the lab where George is working on his AI is the perfect display of futuristic dystopian imagery. The make up on the more human looking of these artificial intelligent beings are extremely well done. Theo James easily gives a career best performance (not too hard considering the other bullshit that is on his resume, but still appreciated), Stacy Martin is great, and the direction is crisp, fluid, and engaging. The themes, motifs, and messages are dramatically poignant, especially in this time of our real life isolation because of COVID-19. Everything in this film is near perfect. If it just wasn’t for that damned ending. Fuck, I really want to spoil it so I can vent my frustrations better. But I know that I can figure out a way to relay my true feelings without ruining things if you have any interest whatsoever in discovering what I’m bitching about. The film’s ending unfortunately breaks the Screenplay/Storytelling 101 of what not to do with an ending, because better movies have already done it with much better results.

It is too similar to the ending of a 2 word movie whose last word rhymes with Madder. If you’ve seen the movie I’m alluding to, you know what I’m talking about. That film did it so much better, really the blueprint of what this movie tries to do but kind of fails at the last minute because of how invested we are in everything that came before. But I’m ultimately giving this a solid recommendation, because the 1 hr and 44 minutes before the ending were just too damn good to ignore. It made me think a lot of the movie Moon, by Duncan Jones, and when doing a little more research on Archive, low and behold, its similarity isn’t that surprising. Archive’s director, Gavin Rothery, was part of the art department for Moon. He doesn’t blatantly rip it off, it’s more of an homage, so I’m not going to bitch about how similar they are. Rothery does make it is own and since he has never written or directed anything at all before, I’m absolutely shocked with how much he learned in that department to become as skilled as he is here. Maybe if he can direct a film with a better ending, he could wind up being a masterful sci-fi director like Ridley Scott or Denis Villenueve. He just needs to hone in on his screenplay writing skills, but hey, this is a start and shows lots of potential. This movie is better than 9/10ths of the straight to video shit we are getting because of the pandemic (that 1/10th being Palm Springs), and that ain’t bad. It’s just every time I think about the ending I cringe, just a little bit. It makes me curious if this had any alternate endings, as I would’ve loved to see how other conclusions had worked with the rest of the solid 9/10ths of this film. If there were none, some should’ve been conceived and archived.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: HOST (Shudder)

Does it really count as a feature length film if the movie is only 58 minutes long? I’m thinking more like a short film, right? But when looking it up (funny how I haven’t done that until now), HOST, a new 58 minute Shudder original movie, does in fact count as a “feature length film.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, and the British Film Institute all define a feature as a film with a running time of 2,400 seconds (i.e. 40 minutes) or longer. Who’d have thunk that huh? With the movie having a surprising short as shit runtime, my review will probably also be short as shit, because if I talk about it a lot, I’ll end up ruining the scares and surprises. One surprise I can ruin, because it has nothing to do with the plot or twists, is that Host was actually just filmed a couple of months ago during the pandemic and lock down phase of it. Which was itself kind of cool that they were able to produce a half way decent film with all the limitations and time constraints. Per IMDB, it describes HOST as: “Six friends hire a medium to hold a séance via Zoom during lock down – but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong. When an evil spirit starts invading their homes, they begin to realize they might not survive the night.” So essentially yes, it is another “desktop/laptop thriller” in the realm of other movies such as Unfriended, Unfriended: Dark Web, Searching, etc. Searching easily being the best of those. HOST ultimately works because of its very effective scares during the 2nd half hour of the film, although fans of this genre, like me, still kind of groan at the set up we have to endure before said scares.

This film isn’t written or directed by anyone you know, and it doesn’t star anyone you know. The acting though is very believable for its genre. The only thing that you’ll have to suspend your belief on is when the six friends either take their phone or laptop around their room and/or house when shit starts going down. Thankfully though, when they end up doing that, the scares are so damn effective that you completely forget about that little detail. The only real problem I had with the film is that none of these films, other than Searching, produce a great hook of a set up to get us engaged at the very beginning. It took be approximately about 15 – 20 minutes to me to get into these kinds of movies. Yeah, I understand that it is supposed to feel real, with these friends hooking up via Zoom one by one and spouting off stupid normal life shit that doesn’t really interest us, there’s just gotta be a more interesting way to do it. Other than that little nitpick, past the 15-20 minute mark, everything is smooth sailing. The scares that hit, they hit hard, and don’t ever let up, even when the end of the film has an actual fucking countdown to the end of the Zoom meeting (and you can easily guess what goes down when it hits :00, still made me jump though). To be honest, I maybe would’ve liked to see about 20-25 more minutes of added on effective scares like they had in the film, but then again, its runtime is about perfect, and adding anything else might have lessened the impact of the other frights. Considering I didn’t like Shudder’s other original film, The Beach House, and turned off Scare Package before that film’s half way mark, Host is the best thing Shudder has to offer right now. A decent one time watch. Still not enough to get me to pay past a free week trial though. Having to pay $5 a month for this service gives me the shivers in general.

Zach’s Zany Videogame Reviews: THE LAST OF US PART II (Major Spoilers)

This will probably be my first, last, and only videogame review. But since I’m running out of shit to talk about, and this over 20 hour game is basically just one long epic movie (too long really), and since the first game is a masterpiece, I thought I’d chime in with my two cents. But not as it played as a videogame, but on the story telling and narrative level I’m so used to critiquing. And to warn you now, I will ruin a lot of what goes down in it, including the ending, so if you haven’t played it and can’t stand spoilers, probably best to turn back after this first paragraph. So let me get the game play out of the way in case you are trying to get to my one sentence at the end of this paragraph that gives you a hint at what I thought of it overall. I played it on light mode, because I’ve always not been great at videogames if they aren’t called Goldeneye on N64. Although I ended up finding the gameplay to be immersive, fun, easy going, and inventive. Had a lot of fun using all the different weapons, upgrades, and supplements. Knowing what to upgrade first was challenging as you don’t want to make the wrong call, but you get the hang of it. It expands upon the first game in that area in many ways while not trying to over complicate things. It gets an A+ in that department, even though I just said that I am not an expert on the matter what so fucking ever. On a storytelling level, the game is depressing, overwhelming, too long, and not very unique. It ends up beating a dead horse when it comes to the revenge tale, so much so that I think it might’ve ruined any new revenge movie I see here on out, because I don’t think I can take the repetitiveness of it anymore. It was just too much.

Okay, spoilers from now on. Again, you’ve been warned so you can’t get mad at me…unless you’ve played the game and completely disagree with what I am saying. Here’s the message of the entire game: “Revenge doesn’t do anybody any good, no matter what it isn’t worth it, and if still pursued will end up hurting or killing your loved ones around you more than it could ever effect your psyche.” That’s it, that’s the whole game. One of the most hated new characters (according to social media) in video game lore named Abby, ends up killing one of the most beloved main characters of the first game, Joel, only about an hour/hour and a half in. Ellie, the other main character of the first game, wants revenge and goes out to find Abby, and ends up killing a bunch of Abby’s friends (the ones that were there that witnessed her getting her revenge on Joel). Abby ends up finding her after Ellie kills a bunch of her loved ones, and then kills some more of Ellie’s loved ones before turning her sights on Ellie. But then the game stops there and goes back in time Abby for a long while, showing the audience that she’s human too, as she had her own self discovery adventure while Ellie was seeking her revenge. All of it was to show that Abby isn’t so bad of a person and maybe deserved her revenge against Joel. Then we finally catch up to the present, Abby and Ellie fight, Abby gains the upper hand and let’s Ellie go, says she never wants to see her again. It seems as though that’s the end of the game as it flash forwards a couple of years later. But Ellie’s PTSD gets the best of her and she finds out where Abby is and goes to kill her, effectively ruining the new and safe-ish life out in the middle of nowhere she gained with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s baby (too long to explain that thread). Then Ellie finds Abby, and is about to kill her, drowning her in the ocean, but then decides against it for no reason and lets her go. Ellie goes back to where she had established a good life out in the middle of nowhere and the place is abandoned, her girlfriend had left her. The End. Oh, and the entire game both Ellie and Abby have to fight off the infected from the first game (basically gross mutated zombies) but also new sections of insane human being cults called The Scars. But both the infected and The Scars seemed to be an afterthought as the most interesting storytelling aspects of the game are relegated to the background while this repetitive uninteresting tale of revenge takes the spotlight. Yeah…that explanation was really heavy handed and confusing unless you have played the game. But it’s the best I can do. Now let’s get to why it didn’t work as a narrative, shall we?

The narrative doesn’t work because instead of earning those devastating moments and emotions with some whip smart plot structuring and mythology building, it instead just becomes “Shock Value: The Movie w/ Flashbacks To Try And Kick You In The Feels & All The Interesting Mythology is Buried Deep In The Background As A Bridge To Eventually Bring To It To The Forefront In Part III”. You like a character and get to know them? Fuck you, we are going to shoot them in the head a scene later and keep going so nobody properly gets to grieve. The game knows that a lot of people are going to be pissed off with Joel’s death, so instead of just that being the last we see of him, a bloody mess on the floor, they bring him back in flashbacks to show why he and Ellie had a falling out between the two games. Yeah…you don’t do that if you want your story to be structurally sound. Yes, I didn’t care for Joel’s death yet I knew it was coming ever since the really dark and brooding ending of the first game, but I didn’t think he was going to get killed an hour into the new game. It felt to me like it was just trying to subvert your expectations just so you wouldn’t think of it as a generic sequel. However, it still becomes a generic sequel because it is about nothing other than revenge and how it isn’t worth it. We’ve seen that play out in too many better films. It’s overdone already, why did Naught Dog think it was okay just to do it again. What the game should’ve done is let us experience these moments in the present: Ellie finding out what Joel did at the end of the first game, their falling out, their falling out that is part of the foundation of a new story, that new foundation wrapped around a new mythology building plot with The Scar people we got in this game, forgiveness buried deep down in the dark but the possibility of it coming into the light. We get NONE of those things. Hints of them, but all buried deep in the background, focusing on a dish best served cold that has already served more entrees than McDonald’s has burgers.

I literally rolled my eyes when it revealed the reason why Abby killed Joel is because her father was the surgeon about to operate on Ellie, he had to kill her to extract the cure that would’ve saved the world, and Joel stopped him by murdering him. I called it even though it doesn’t reveal what happened until bout halfway through the game. I was begging, pleading for it not to be as plain and simple as that. But it was, and nothing was added to it to make it more complicated. To be fair, there are some fantastic sequences in this game. You ride a horse while a village is on fire, it was absolutely breathtaking. You climb a really tall building to get to a hospital faster, go across to another building and then have to treacherously go back down, and it takes a bit to make you feel like you are really doing it. The graphics in this game are state of the art and absolutely incredible. And if the story had been solid, it could’ve been The Empire Strikes Back of the series. When I think back on the ending, if there had been one shot, just one 4 to 5 second added shot at the end right as Ellie is drowning Abby, the story might’ve worked for me. If they had just added Ellie looking at a new character named Lev for a few seconds, that was dying on the boat Abby was going to take to get them to safety, it would’ve earned Ellie ending up not killing Abby. That look would’ve proved that Ellie finally realized that revenge is killing those around them rather than calming down their demons. But no, it was just a random realization while drowning. It is very obvious the writers and director of this thing didn’t keep the emotional substance that they managed to magically conjure up from the first game. They had lightning in a bottle, and while developing this sequel, foolishly opened the jar.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the character of Abby like some of the trolls on the internet do. There were rumors before this game came out that she was an trans-woman and all the women hatin’, homophobic hatin’, and trans hatin’ men came out of the shadows; their sexist, trans-and-homo phobic guns a blazin’. Turns out she’s just a really fit and muscle-y woman. I didn’t like her character because she kind of had just a generally shitty attitude towards everyone, even her friends, and she reminded me of a couple of women I dated in and after college. They try to give her some humanity where she ends up caring for an innocent brother and sister duo from the rival Scar community, but by then, which starts 3/4th of the way already into the game, it was really too little too late. And we’ve seen the “Enemy Mine” and/or “Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend” story line as much as the revenge one. It is TIRRRRRRRRED. The fact of the matter is, they turned some likable characters from the first game and made them unlikable, and they tried to make unlikable new characters likable, but didn’t put enough effort into it where it ended up feeling forced and unearned. Not every character is unlikable though. I still am fascinated by Ellie (voiced and motion captured masterfully again by Ashley Johnson) even though the game almost made her unlikable for me at the very end. And I liked the new character Dina (voiced to perfection and motion captured by Shannon Woodward) and the brother and sister Scar siblings. And Joel, with how little he is in the game, is still likable and voice and motion captured perfectly by Troy Baker. The last flashback scene between him and Ellie almost made me shed a tear. But everybody else was an asshole, and just like opinions, there were too many of them.

Just like the videogame, my review is too long and not in a narrative cohesive structure, so I’m going to end it with this paragraph. Listen, a lot of you may disagree with my analysis. It’s just how I feel. It’s an underwhelming (notice how I didn’t say very) sequel that showed potential but ended up not delivering in the end. It is probably one of those games that the first one should’ve just been left alone, that it didn’t need a sequel. There are seeds planted near the end of this one for a Part III, such as the regrouping of the Fireflies from the first game and possibly new factions of dangerous cults, and maybe Ellie trying to find Dina and the baby again and get a peaceful life back, but if revenge is anywhere lurking at all in the story, waiting to pounce out of nowhere, I don’t want any part of it. My guess as to what they are going to do, for hopefully a final trilogy ending third part, is some story where the Fireflies come back in full force but are more sympathetic this time around and Abby is involved somehow and they try to redeem and make her character better. Also, Ellie in the end ends up sacrificing her life to provide the cure to the world like what would’ve happened at the end of the first game if Joel hadn’t have stopped them. And if they can interweave all that with a unique story that has nothing to do with revenge or forgiveness, I’m willing to give it a whirl. Otherwise, I maybe just bow out the next one. It’s a well made game. There is no doubt about that. And in time I will maybe even play it again and become more appreciative of what it did in terms of the game playing experience. But I don’t think I will ever forgive its really generic story that has effectively ruined revenge tales for me. They need to try to not subvert expectations, and try to just come up with threads that will emotionally earn everyone’s investment, otherwise it might be the last of our sanity.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: ANIMAL CRACKERS (Netflix)

ANIMAL CRACKERS journey to make it to the big scr…well…any kind of screen is interesting in itself. I’ll get to that bit in a minute. I watched this movie last weekend with my kid (it premiered on Netflix this past Friday as well) and while the 2nd half is much better than the first (it lost both his and mine attention multiple times as it took a bit to get really into the movie), it ultimately succeeds because of the fantastic climax, the cool set of rules the magical box of cookies come with that reveals itself along the way and not all at once, and the superb voice acting. If only the beginning of the film had a little more focus to make the set up a little less confusing. It goes through several generations of family in the span of only a couple of minutes and it is hard to sort out who is who for several scenes and it also takes a tad too long to get to the animal crackers themselves. But then once those magical MacGuffin’s are introduced, the film blasts off at the speed of light. It is just a little disappointing because if the whole movie was as strong in both parts, it would’ve really been something special. Well, it already is because I loved watching my son pointing out all of the different animals, naming them at the top of his lungs and “ohhh” and “ahhhh”ing at the action. As a avid film goer and fanatic I might only make a couple of more trips to this wild circus of a movie before I start to just fast forward to the good stuff.

Per IMDB.com, it describes ANIMAL CRACKERS as: “A family must use a magical box of Animal Crackers to save a run-down circus from being taken over by their evil uncle Horatio P. Huntington.” This movie was originally intended to be released on April 27, 2017 by Relativity Media, before they went defunct. It then set to be released on September 1, 2017 by upstart film company Serafini Releasing before they also shut down. This movie was later acquired by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, but the producers have since come out from that deal. The film almost never came out because it was held up for almost a year due to a lawsuit by a Seattle fisherman named Rodger May who claimed he owned the copyright to the film. The lawsuit was eventually withdrawn. All records of the lawsuit are public and can be found by a search for “Mayday vs. Animal Crackers”. Eventually Netflix bought it and although it was finished in 2017, that copyright states 2019. And then it was just released this past weekend on the streaming platform. I recommend you take a deeper look into its history, it is quite interesting to say the least. More interesting than the first half. Anyway, the point is, it is out there now, which is good because I don’t think any project should be delayed that long to see the light of day…looking at you New Mutants! The voice acting in this is excellent, there are too many celebrities to list but you have Danny DeVito, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Ian McKellen, and Sylvester Stallone. They all do a fantastic job, Stallone’s Bullet-Man character making me laugh out loud several times.

The other two things that make me ultimately recommend this movie is that the action packed climax is perfectly executed combining perfect pacing with plot progression, and then the rules of the animal crackers themselves. To try and explain it to the best of my ability, there is this box of animal crackers passed down from generation to generation that magically never, ever run out. You eat one, it turns into the animal that you eat, and then to turn back into human, you have to find the human cracker of you in the box, and then once you eat that, you turn back to your normal self while the cookie of the animal you had just eaten reappears in the box. There are other new rules that you figure out along the way as well, but revealing any of those would be spoilers and it is best for you to experience the journey for yourselves if you have any interest in watching this thing with your kids and family. I like how it stuck to the rules, and that there were no bending or breaking of them, it was all quite clever, even though some twists at the end I saw coming from a mile away. Again, I just wish the first half was as good. In any kind of movie you just can’t have the interest bits come up when you finally introduce the MacGuffin’s. Your story and movie need to have a beginning hook, and I just found it to be boring plot set up that felt like I was watching a standard biography on a generation of a family. That’s just me though. The animation is nice and pleasing to the eye, and the second half will definitely grab you, it’s just that those first 30 minutes were almost too bland and stale. Key word is almost.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

You can say that again. Normally I would tease what I really think about a movie just to get clicks and for you to read my entire review, but this time…eh, fuck it. I should have left YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT about 30 minutes into this 1 hour and 33 minute film. That runtime felt more like a two and a half hour one filled with “what’s?”, “really’s?”, slogs, bores and snores. But my rule is, in order to fully review a film, you have to fully watch it, so I battened down the hatches and watched the final hour. And while the movie is well shot, framed and moderately well acted, if you watch closely you’ll realize that it’s just a “smoke and mirrors” film: cheap editing and post production tricks to make you think it’s more special than it really is. But when the end credits roll, if you ever took a film class in college, you’ll be thinking the exact same thing as me: that this would’ve been a perfect little 15-20 minute short film because of how inconsequential the small message is at the end of the film. If you think the movie makes absolutely no sense, it doesn’t, until it does, and then when it reveals itself you’ll get a relatively confused look on your face and say, “wait, all that for THAT?!?” Yep, there isn’t anything deeper under the surface. It’s a very boring, very “meh” haunted house movie that unfortunately doesn’t really do anything different from some others that have been released recently, such as the overrated Relic that was released just a few weeks ago.

When this movie came out a month, month and a half ago via PVOD for $19.99 for a 48 hr rental, I knew to just be patient, and based on the poor reviews this was receiving, knew that it would be 5 bucks in no time. Well only a month and a half is definitely no time at all in the film buisness. And frankly, if I had spent $19.99 for one viewing of this movie back in June I would’ve slapped myself silly. Per IMDB, their log line for You Should Have Left is as follows: “A former banker (Kevin Bacon), his actress wife (Amanda Seyfried), and their spirited daughter book a vacation at an isolated modern home in the Welsh countryside where nothing is quite as it seems.” Ugh, when a movie’s log line uses “nothing is quite as it seems,” it seems to be at a loss for words on how else to describe a very plain, cut and dry film. They should just come out and say, “it’s basically another boring psychological haunted house film with cheap jump scares that don’t work at all.” Has David Koepp not learned anything from his poorly reviewed other films, such as his last “horror” film Secret Window or his last blockbuster he co-wrote…Tom Cruise’s The Mummy…or even before that…Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull? I’ll give you a minute to let Mr. Koepp’s post year 2000 screenwriting ability seep in. What happened to this guy? In the 90’s he wrote fantastic adaptations of Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible…oh wait though, he also did The Lost World and Snake Eyes…but wait…give him Stir of Echoes (his last collaboration with Kevin Bacon) and I’ll give him writing credit on one post 2000 film, Panic Room. But instead of dragging through his entire filmography for another two paragraphs before I get to my point, like he did with this film, let me just say it: The man is the epitome of a roller coaster like film career. Screenwriting wise.

While his writing career is full of highs and lows, his directing career is mostly lows. And all I need to point out is one film to prove my point: Mortdecai starring Johnny Depp. He has only directed one decent movie, Stir of Echoes. And even then there are some out there that feel that that movie is overrated. While You Should Have Left is well shot, the screenplay is so boringly bad that it takes away from that fact in the end. I would trust him more if he directed a horror movie where he didn’t have a hand in the screenplay whatsoever. He could focus on his directing craft instead of trying to do that WHILE looking and changing the blueprints every two seconds. Blueprints that were wonky to begin with. Again, the whole movie will leave you very confused the entire run time as to what its endgame is until about 5 minutes left, and even after it is revealed, you’ll be as disappointed in the conclusion as well as the journey. It is not one of the year’s worst films, because you can tell it was made with some effort. There is precisely one shot in the movie I like, in the house’s stairwell with a swinging light. I would rather watch Kevin Bacon run up and down those stairs all day than watch this film again. The acting is decent, but then again Bacon and Seyfried are pros, so that wasn’t shocking. What’s shocking was just how “meh” this film was. It was unnecessary and pointless. The point has been done before and in much better movies. But Blumhouse, who produced this film, makes a shit ton of movies on a very small ass budget. So to get Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried in a movie that takes place mostly just inside a house…why not right? I’ll tell you why not. Because they left logic, reasoning, and most of all…they left the scares nowhere to be seen.

Zach’s Zany Movie Review: THE KISSING BOOTH 1 & 2 (Netflix)

So I usually only write movie reviews on either the year they come out or a month or two after the new year has started. The latter reason is because they either weren’t available because of how limited they were released in the first place or that and they were also Oscar bait films (these movies probably only released last minute December in only New York and LA). Because of COVID-19 in 2020, new content hasn’t been released in theaters for months and I’ve been writing these reviews long after Jan or Feb because I need stuff to review because it’s all I have left to save my sanity and my blog. Now with my television reviews, which I started doing more of this year, I will only review that season that ended this year, but I’ll also combine it saying a little somethin’ somethin’ about the series as a whole. I have to do this in order to be able to explain my feelings about the current season well. This is my first movie review, where I’m needing to briefly talk about a Netflix film that released in 2018 so I can accurately review its sequel, which just came out this weekend. I never watched THE KISSING BOOTH back in 2018 because at that point in time I was relying mostly on theatrical reviews and didn’t have time to watch all this dumb yet harmless teen rom-com crap. Needless to say in years prior, I skipped a shit ton Netflix original films. But when I heard THE KISSING BOOTH 2 was releasing this weekend, and knew if I just watched the original real quick, I could watch and review the sequel, just to have new contend on my blog. How were they? Well, I already gave you a hint of what I thought when I used the words “dumb yet harmless” two sentences ago, but let me be a bit more clear: Just like To All The Boys I’ve Love Before and it’s sequel, both Booth movies are almost exactly carbon copies of each other, both sequels are unnecessary because the characters end up in the exact same place they were at at the end of the first movie, but both make up a lack for the dumbness by having everyone in its cast have great chemistry with each other. They also look like they are having a ton of fun making it, and the movie doesn’t treat its target audience as if they were idiots for liking the movie either.

Noticed I said ‘target audience’ just there. I AM NOT THESE MOVIES TARGET AUDIENCE! To me, they were harmless one time watches, maybe only watching the first one again sometime with my wife because its much shorter and a little more fun than its sequel. Any other guy watching this, especially single, would probably want to gouge their eyes out during either film and would be bored to tears. Per IMDB it describes the first Kissing Booth movie as: “A high school student is forced to confront her secret crush at a kissing booth.” IMDB describes the second Kissing Booth movie as: “High school senior Elle juggles a long-distance relationship with her dreamy boyfriend Noah, college applications, and a new friendship with a handsome classmate that could change everything.” Sound familiar? That’s because both Booth movies are basically both To All The Boys I Loved Before Movies, all four almost have the exact same plot and narrative structures. It is very, very bizarre. The real difference is that the To All The Boys movies take itself a bit more seriously than the Booth movies, where its just goofy fun teen angst stuff with just a little pinch of drama here and there. To get a little more into the Booth movies, Elle secret crush in the first oned is her boyfriend in the second movie, Noah, and Noah is the older brother of her best-est best friend in the world, Lee, who just happened to have been born the exact same day and time as Elle and they’ve been inseparable ever since, because their mothers were inseparable in high school. They have these list of rules of how best-est best friends should behave and act around each other and rule number #9 or something is you can’t date the spouses of your best friend. Needless to say it all gets complicated in the first film and everything happens and ends up exactly the way you could easily predict it would.

I’m just glad that the first movie didn’t end with Elle and Lee realizing they should now be more than friends with sexual feelings for each other…an ending plot point that has been done in too many rom-com’s we’ve already seen before. No, I can happily say that they don’t become more in either film, and they just remain truly best-est best friends, with no feelings of sexual love at any point whatsoever. He just doesn’t want her dating his older brother. Now the sequel, since Noah and her are together, you can guess how the first movie ends. So to stir up the pot this time and go somewhere different, albeit eerily very familiar when you think about the To All The Boys movies, it has Noah go off to college, and a new handsome boy comes to their school for senior year named Marco. Elle tries to get this Marco to do not only do their school kissing booth fundraiser that year, because he’s so hot and he could make them a ton of money, but also partners up with him in this Dance Dance Revolution competition for money so that she could possibly have enough money to pay for Harvard if she applies. IF she gets accepted, she could end up going to the same college as Noah next year after she graduates. You can basically see how all that predictably plays out can’t you? It’s all very, very predictable and ultimately very, very unnecessary. So now you might be asking me: “Zach, if you are saying all these negative things about it, why are you ultimately giving this film a pass for its target audience instead ripping it a new asshole?” The answer to your question is simple: the chemistry of all the actors together is fun and refreshing, and unlike other rom-coms, where it looks like people are suffering throughout filming just to get it done, everyone here looks like they are having fun and seem as though they want to be there.

And when the cast and crew look to be having fun, that fun was a tiny bit contagious for me. Joey King is just fun, innocent, and so damn delightful in these movies (her real life sister, Hunter King, who is not in this, is an absolute babe, my perverted self just had to mention that). Her chemistry with Joel Courtney, who plays her platonic best-est best friend, is refreshing to watch, knowing that it doesn’t become more than that. In the first movie at least, her chemistry with Noah, played by Jacob Elordi, is fantastic and felt real, and even though in the sequel he isn’t in it as much because he is off to college, when they do end up sharing the screen in scenes that are few and far between, their chemistry at least hasn’t missed a beat. And even though the kissing booth is questionable, ethics wise, in the first movie (it doesn’t really address homosexual people being left out), it at least made up for it in the sequel. In the end, I do end up preferring the first film, mainly because it is only an hour and 45 minutes long, where as the sequel tries to be this epic rom-com we didn’t need at 2 hrs and 12 minutes long. TOO. LONG. FOR. A. MOVIE. LIKE. THIS. This isn’t fucking Shakespeare In Love. Things that were supposed to happen in the third act happened in the second with still an hour left in the movie. Thankfully the films are frantically fast paced enough and not too complicated camera work or dialogue wise to get through it. Look, it’s this simple, you know who this movie is for. If it’s for you, it’s for you, don’t be ashamed about being interested in it, and don’t let my sometimes harsh critique get in the way of your enjoyment of it. I am ultimately recommending it to you, if you are its target audience. It’s harmless, teen angst fun. If it were teen angst for the sake of being teen angst added with too much bullshit drama, then that’s another story. Let’s just say, that if this movie itself were a real kissing booth, I’d buy YOU a ticket to go and kiss the man/girl of your dreams, and I would happily support you at a distance.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE RENTAL

Finally, a slow burn horror/thriller film that is decently developed during that down time in the first act. Then, when the shit hits the fan in acts two and three, the shit really, really hits the fan. Some will argue that THE RENTAL is a little too conventional for Dave Franco’s theatrical length directorial debut (he also co-wrote this). I would argue that not only is that okay when the rest of your film is downright entertaining as hell, but it should be completely ignored when you prove that you have a promising eye behind the camera. Dave Franco, he’s honestly not that great of an actor. He’s very limited when in front of the camera, but that is just my opinion of course. However, with this first big-ish feature, kind of like Ben Affleck’s first film, Gone Baby Gone, he shows that maybe he should do what Ben Affleck couldn’t: quit his day job. His future is bright and I hope he takes more roles behind the camera from now on (and none in front of them). Whether that happens remains to be seen but I have a good feeling about it. Granted, there are some flaws in the woodwork, such as the real villain isn’t ‘revealed’ until too late in the feature, all of the characters (except maybe Alison Brie’s and some aspects of Jeremy Allen White’s) are very, very unlikable, and some of the suspense could’ve been slowed down instead of rushed at times. Overall though, the hell of a good time I had with this movie is worth the price of rental (pun intended) alone.

Per IMDB, The Rental stars Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White and is described as: “Two couples rent a vacation home for what should be a celebratory weekend get-away.” That log line is perfect. It teases with the words, ‘what should be’ and just leaves it at that. I need to get into some of the details of the story just a tad more for my review, mainly so I can give my critique acting wise.I promise to still not reveal much. Jeremy Allen White is Dan Steven’s character’s brother in this, he’s considered the “black sheep” of his family, and his girlfriend is someone that Dan Steven’s character closely works with. Any other reveals would ruin everything. Everybody acting wise, does a great job here, especially Dan Stevens, even though that most of the things these characters wind up doing throughout this film make them completely un-sympathetic to the audience, unlikable and they all look really fucking dumb. Two exceptions to my train of thought. First off, the only reason why Alison Brie’s character may come off as unlikable is due to the fact that she makes some really dumb fucking decisions in this movie and isn’t shown doing much else. Her character has a decent personality, but she really isn’t given much of a back story for the audience to invest any likable feelings at all toward her. I have a feeling that a few more scenes of her, a well written background, and an actual narrative arc could’ve made her the only character we sympathize with, which would strengthened the impact of some of the shit that goes down.

Secondly, Jeremy Allen White at least doesn’t play the typical “black sheep of the family” movie trope. He knows he fucks up and he’s actually generally sorry for what he’s done, even though he keeps on keepin’ on fuckin’ up. But with The Rental, you don’t really stay for the likability of the characters or some of the cliched dialogue, you stay for the last hour of pure…shit fan hittin’…madness. And that’s maybe why it could be argued that these characters are supposed to be unlikable, because you can’t wait for the bad shit to keep happening to them. For these clueless people renting this cliff side cabin/home, they keep making the dumbest fucking decisions possible, and with each passing minute you can’t wait for the next fuck up, which is only maybe 1 to 2 minutes after the last. That’s why some of the movies’ payoffs from the slow set ups in the first act are so juicy. You want to, but you just can’t look away from the bloody mayhem that follows. I just wish that the movie had set up the ‘villain’ a tad bit earlier, it felt like his reveal was almost too little too late. Not quite though for me here. Also, while Franco has an eye for the camera, the cinematography in this is excellent the shots are framed perfectly, there were a couple of moments that need more…oomph, shall we say. More tension that leaded into more pay off jump scares. I know his intentions were pure in that the movie is supposed to be more traumatic and creepy than it is a loud, big noise, unearned jump scares galore, teenage bullshit horror film, but some of the “gotcha!” pay offs needed just a tad bit more build up and they would’ve been masterful. However, for the first time in a long time, The Rental is a rental I’d rent more than once.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: JOHN HENRY (Netflix)

JOHN HENRY already has my vote as the most awful misogynistic film of the decade, and will probably remain that way by the time December 31st, 2029 rolls around. How this movie got released post #MeToo is downright fucking shocking. It is THAT bad. I can guarantee you though that it just received my coveted “Worst Film of 2020” award. I didn’t think anything would beat the almost equally shitty ‘The Last Thing She Wanted’ (coincidentally but not surprisingly both Netflix films), but this one did by a mile. I think instead of another one of my typical 3 to 4 paragraph reviews explaining why this film is the worst and most offensive film since Surf Ninjas, I think I’m just going to list not only awful shit that is said, but the awful shit that goes down in it. I’ll try to be vague enough not to give away any spoilers in case you were still interested in this after I rip it a new asshole. Per IMDB’s log line for John Henry, it stars Terry Crews and Ludacris and it is described as such: “When two immigrant kids on the run from his former South Los Angeles gang leader (Ludacris) stumble into his life, John (Terry Crews) is forced to reconcile with his past in order to try and give them a future.” Sounds sane enough but a little familiar right? WRONG. Here is some of the shocking bullshit that happens in this only hr and 30 minute movie:

  1. Ludacris has a gold plated jaw. It’s laughably stupid looking. He’s only in two-three scenes.
  2. An entire conversation that involves ‘gay panic’ takes place for several minutes in a van between two gang members. This ‘gay panic’ conversation also somehow incorporates the film ‘Human Centipede’ into the argument.
  3. For about 5 minutes, at the beginning of the film, female vaginas (they use the p word in the most derogatory fashion) are compared to how delicious Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits are. No, that’s not a joke. I. SHIT. YOU. NOT.
  4. Right before a character is about to be blown up, he yells, “I’m ____________, and my dick was legendary.”
  5. When one character is teaching another character how to correctly hold a gun, “Steady now, just like you would place a hand on a woman’s titty.”
  6. Women are called “bitches”…I don’t know how many times. Probably more than Django Unchained used the N word.
  7. A character gets shot in the head, but it turns out he’s okay, bullet just grazed him.
  8. Terry Crews rips his sleeves off while holding a sledgehammer as dramatic Western music plays in the background.
  9. Ludacris forces everybody who works for him to exclusively dress in white track suits.
  10. The film literally stops halfway through so we can get a montage of random places in Compton.
  11. Terry Crews flirts with a woman as he debates what brand of feminine products to buy.
  12. Ken Foree, who spends the majority of the film in a wheelchair, magically stops being a paraplegic during a gunfight because “adrenaline.”
  13. (Enter one of the awful and stupid things that happens in this film I forgot here here, because I’m sure I forgot something.)

The movie is tonally all over the place. If this movie was meant to be a satire, I could maybe, ONLY MAYBE, see one or two things on my list work, like the gold plated jaw. But no, it takes everything that happens in it seriously, and it wants the audience to take it seriously as well. But we can’t. The film doesn’t make any God damn fucking sense. Yes, there are a few allusions in John Henry to the folklore hero John Henry, but very few, and they are more insulting than they are homages. Co-writer and director Will Forbes and co-writer Doug Skinner, who have never written or directed a movie before, shouldn’t be allowed to ever make one again. Terry Crews and Ludacris are decent people in real life and they try and breathe as much life as they can into these poorly written characters, but it was all for naught. The gang accents are laughably bad, the violence is too “looney tunes” to take seriously, and even the original rap music written and made for the film was impossible to get into. It’s just a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very awfully made film. On all levels. There was no saving this screenplay and whoever fronted the money for this thing to get green lit should be banished from Hollywood forever. And I really really really really hope that when Terry Crews and Ludacris, fuck…any actor/actress in this production, cashed their paychecks in from this movie…I hope they felt ashamed. ABYSMAL.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: CLEMENCY

Let’s get another two quick reviews out today shall we? Next up is CLEMENCY, which is probably the last film that toed the December 2019/January 2020 release date line that I will give my critique on (and it’s also the last one I truly know about). It was released very limited wise, in just two theaters (NY & LA) on December 27th 2019 to try and get a campaign going for Alfre Woodard for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. I don’t think it had much of a wider expansion, it definitely didn’t play at a theater near me around January, and I think it was just dumped on VOD a month or two ago. While this movie is in the 90 percentile on Rotten Tomatoes and there is giant praise of Alfre Woodard’s performance, I myself am going to say, in my own opinion of course, all of that is a bit exaggerated. Clemency is one of those one time watch factors for me, not because it is a bad film (although it has some major flaws), it is half way decent to be sure, but it was just too God damn depressing for me. And while Alfre Woodard’s performance was good, I didn’t think it was Oscar worthy (she for sure though made up for her weird performance in the Luke Cage Netflix TV series here, IMO). And while the story is supposed to show how an extreme career, specifically this one being a warden to a prison that also carries out executions, effects not only your outside life but also wrecks havoc on your personal demons, a lot of the examples used have been done before. You’ve seen them before too: getting drunk to temporarily make the pain go away, fighting with your spouse, crying at moments when you are supposed to show remorselessness and/or strength. It’s because of all this familiarity why I didn’t like it as much as I probably should have.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it. It’s a very well made film with very good acting, it’s just that I felt like it could’ve dug deeper into the personal demons motifs more. Per IMDB’s log line, it describes Clemency as: “As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.” The main problem with this film being able to dig deeper into those issues is the problem with its focus. At first, it focuses solely on Alfre Woodward character, as it should, she is the lead, but juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust after it seems like it gets past all the personal demons we’ve seen before in better films and will go even further…it shifts focus to the inmate that is soon going to be executed. Which is completely fine by the way, but when I say it shifts focus, it COMPLETELY SHIFTS focus. At that point into the film, if it wanted to more accurately and more emotionally portray both Woodard and the inmate’s inner demons, they needed to interact with each other more than they ultimately ended up doing. They have only a couple of brief interactions with each other, all of which have him refusing to talk to her. Most of his interactions don’t involve her, and is just the inmate, played wonderfully by The Invisible Man’s Aldis Hodge by the way, interacting with a lost love, his lawyer, etc. But in order for the movie to have earned MY emotional investment, Woodard and Hodge needed more scenes and scenarios together. And when it failed to bring me that, it failed to garner the same praise from me that it had other critics.

This feels like two movies cobbled and edited into an hour and 50 minute movie. One movie where a prison warden starts to get too emotionally attached to those inmates being executed and another movie where an innocent inmate is on death row, hoping upon hope that the governor’s office will either grant him clemency at the last moment or his appeal goes through. That’s another thing I didn’t like a little about the movie. I think the movie should’ve challenged the viewer more, playing with the audience of whether this “cop killer” truly did the crime or not. However, there is one scene of the warden driving to work, and the inmate’s lawyer is doing some kind of radio interview, and the lawyer lays out all the evidence out of why he’s innocent. Why they gave all that info in a compacted two minutes instead of spread throughout the entire film is beyond me. And if all of that evidence was there in real life, it is really hard to believe that he would’ve been denied an appeal and not given a retrial. I don’t know, I can’t say anything about it because I’m white, and the character was black, and there is some awful racial injustice happening around the world right now that I couldn’t even begin to explain let alone comprehend. My point is I think the movie should’ve made it unclear whether he did it or not, to try to have the audience just invest with the character because he is being put to death against his will. If you can make a human being care and feel for a person being put to death, even if it is unclear whether the inmate did do the crime or not, that is some powerful, powerful cinema. On the other hand if you are going to go the route of, “this person is being denied appeals and put to death just because he’s black and he really is innocent,” you need to MAKE the movie about racial injustice. This movie wasn’t about that at all, hence why this whole film felt very unfocused for me.

Wow, this review is longer than I meant it to be as it feels like I’m trying to defend myself from calling this film “only okay.” I guess I am. But here’s the thing, two movies about inmate’s being put to death came out around the exact same time, and I would definitely recommend Just Mercy over this because that film had fantastic focus. It focused on two things: racial injustice and the relationship between Michael B. Jordan, and the inmate on death row played by Jamie Foxx. If that film, halfway through, had completely shifted focus to Brie Larson’s characters efforts, or another inmate perhaps, and then eventually got back to Jordan and Foxx, I would’ve said the exact same thing about that film as I am this one. It has all the ingredients there, writer and director Chinonye Chukwu just needed to punch up and strengthen the script. Moved some things around a little, added a little here and there, or taken a couple of things out. That’s all. The atmosphere in this film is perfect, the camera work is perfect, and the acting would’ve been perfect if it hadn’t had shifted attention to detail mid way through the film. It’s just frustrating for me, because right now and certainly while watching it, I could imagine the perfect film that Clemency could have been. But in the end, I have to stick to my movie loving instincts and I just can’t grant it clemency from being “only okay.”

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: FATAL AFFAIR (Netflix)

How many times do you think they’ll try and remake Fatal Attraction and just keep making everything dumb and dumber? What have we gotten, copy cat wise, since that Michael Douglas/Glenn Close cult classic of so long ago? Swimfan, Obsessed, The Perfect Stranger, Poison Ivy, Sleeping With The Enemy, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Fear, Derailed, Sliver, Disclosure, Addicted, Basic Instinct, A Perfect Murder, Single White Female, Unfaithful, Body Chemistry, Killing Me Softly, The Crush, Bitter Moon, Eyes Wide Shut, Final Analysis, Jade, Body of Evidence, Secret Obsession, Say Nothing, The Housemaid, The Last Seduction, Black Widow (1987), Unlawful Entry, and Stone. Get the picture? One could even argue that Fatal Attraction itself is a carbon copy of movies such as Play Misty For Me and Body Heat. The new Netflix film, FATAL AFFAIR, is the lowest of the low. I mean, it just replaces one word of Fatal Attraction and uses another A word to get the title and point across. How lazy is that shit? The characters in this do and say so many dumb unbelievable things you can’t even suspend your belief to try and get through it. And the climax is one of the most laughably stupid things I have ever watched in a thriller like this in quite some time. No matter how many times you try and do Fatal Attraction, whether it be that you switch up gender or race, it is always going to be a half assed product that brings absolutely nothing new to the genre. This easily is one of the worst films of 2020. Netflix will just dump anything on its streaming platform. I wonder if one of these times it will end up being fatal for them?

Doubt it. Netflix isn’t going anywhere. But really, did they think that a film written and directed by the old crusty white dude that wrote and directed last year’s awful, awful Secret Obsession, which is yet another carbon copy of Fatal Attraction, would’ve been any better? Of course fucking not! It’s worse. It will ALWAYS be worse. IMDB describes Fatal Affair as such: “Ellie tries to mend her marriage with her husband Marcus after a brief encounter with an old friend, David, only to find that David is more dangerous and unstable than she’d realized.” This brief encounter it describes was basically almost, but not quite even that, just the tip in a “too clean to believe” night club bathroom. And you can probably guess where the film goes from there without even having to watch a minute more. The only actor/actress that is going to come out unscathed is probably the wonderfully beautiful and never aging Nia Long. She is the only person in this that tries to earn her paycheck and actually sheds tears and scream on the occasions that she needs to. It’s funny that Omar Epps plays the psychopath in this as he and Nia Long have played lovers in a couple of other long ago films. I bet they couldn’t find anybody and Nia and him are such good friends that she just speed dialed his ass and offered a quick and easy pay check. You can tell he did this as a favor and to just hang out with Nia on set and catch up on old times, as he is the most wooden actor in this, he looks bored and tired in every scene, and it seems like he just memorized his lines right before “Action!” was yelled.

I don’t even want to talk about this movie anymore. You get it. If you read the description and watch the trailer before you hit play, you know exactly what you are getting into and it is absolutely your fault if you feel like gouging your own eyes out. I’m even warning you here. It’s just Fatal Attraction cliche upon Fatal Attraction cliche, with a Fatal Attrachtion cliche cherry on top. It is shit cake with shit frosting, with shit, shit, shit, shit, shit all covered in whatever the shit. Anybody that gets their kicks out of a movie like this or The Wrong Missy is the problem with the movie going society today. You eat that cheap shit up and you are going to get more of that cheap shit to eat up, and you punish all the movie going people that look for more in their entertainment. Like me. I only watch this to warn you all not to watch it. I wasn’t going to watch it until this ended up being in the Netflix top ten the almost full week it has been out. I keep tricking myself. I see this in the top ten and I think, “could I be wrong for once and this film end up being a guilty pleasure?” I don’t know how many times I’ve been fooled and it isn’t likely to be the last. This movie is a joke, like me and a very good friend of mine got drunk or high one night and wrote this film in an hour as a joke, and then Netflix executives somehow read it and un-jokingly bought it. If you watch and like this movie, you are KILLING US. Your entertainment value is…pun intended…fatal.