Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE WAY BACK

THE WAY BACK is a movie you’ve seen a billion times. Alcoholic/depression/enter drug here to find his way back from rock bottom movie combined with bad sports team that comes together to be greater movie. Throw in a couple of twists of when exactly protagonist hits rock bottom and when exactly the big game the team has to win in the movie for their cinematic journey to be complete and you get this film in a nutshell. The only reason why I am recommending this movie to be something of an eventual one time watch, must see, is Ben Affleck’s best performance of his career. That’s right, Ben Affleck, who most of the time, unless he’s written and directed the movie (and a few other exceptions), looks like he is coasting through the movie with a phoned in performance, is utterly fantastic here. Probably because this movie was ultimately really cathartic for him in that he just got out of a really rock bottom period in his life where he’s admitted to having a huge drinking problem and having to go to rehab several times to try and get through it. So I guess you can say maybe it is his best performance because he had the most disposal to research he’s ever had? Whatever it is, he’s great in the movie. And while I give it a slight recommendation, it is only because I was fascinated with his character, and not so much the kids in the basketball team, which should’ve been direct second fiddle story wise, but ends up as just a background C (maybe even D)plot that manages to stick its head out every once in awhile and yell out, “remember me?!?!?”

And I’m glad the film subverted expectations and didn’t really focus on the kids all that much, like other movies do, where it eventually loses focus of the lead protagonist coach and quickly wraps up his story only at the very end (see every team sports film ever made), but in doing so the movie felt a bit, incomplete? Minor complaint, as if it did end up doing that I’d probably be ripping this film a new one for not being unique. Just something felt a little off, in that I didn’t know ANY of the kids’ characters’s name except one, and I had to constantly repeat his name in my head so that I would forget. What is the story? A mid life guy who is an extreme alcoholic and just seems to be coasting through life gets offered a job as coach at his old high school basketball team where he was once one of the greatest players of the game. He has a sister and separated wife worried about him and always asking questions about what he’s doing, but he doesn’t seem to care all that much and really just wants to be alone, soaking in his pain. Yet he takes the job and he starts to get better…but as you know, it is just a ticking time bomb for one thing to go wrong and he’s falling off the wagon again. Can he overcome his demons and get better? Now I’ve heard a couple of critics said that they wish Ben Affleck’s character just drank because he was depressed, and not the specific reason they give him in the film. They just wanted him to drink and be an alcoholic, because he just was one. I don’t know if that necessarily would’ve worked. They do eventually reveal the reason, and while the reason was sort of what I was expecting but not really (you’ll see and you’ll probably figure out in other way the same sort of reason could’ve been presented), I don’t think the film would’ve worked as well without it. Even though the reason is cliched, no reason just makes the film feel…again…incomplete.

This is another review that will end up being short because there is really not much else to talk about the film without really getting into spoilers. I can’t really talk about the other acting, because none of the characters were memorable enough or had enough screen time to warrant talking about (the woman playing the ex wife did well but she’s barely in it), but I can say that everyone else does a good job. The movie is shot really well by director Gavin O’Connor, who has directed some films I’ve really enjoyed such as Warrior, The Accountant, and yet another sports team drama, Miracle. It is shot with a gritty like feel, making it all seem like you could’ve seen this film in theaters in the mid 90s. It is basically a mid 90s sports character drama. If you go into that expecting nothing more yet nothing less, you will come out quite surprised. And if you feel sorry for Ben Affleck or like him as a person or whatever, he will definitely surprise you with his performance. It’s pretty real. It won’t get him nominated or win any awards, but maybe, just maybe it could be cathartic enough for him to want to get out there and start writing and directing again. We’ve gotten Good Will Hunting, Gone, Baby, Gone, Argo, The Town, and while not many other people like it, Live By Night, writing and/or directed wise from Affleck, and he’s not that old, maybe we could get a couple of more great films from him. Maybe when a couple of more awards technical awards. And I guess it would be fine if he acted in his films too, as long as he brings the same kind of passion he did in The Way Back.


Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE LAST THING HE WANTED (Netflix)

“WHAT…IS…HAPPENING?!?” I screamed out this phrase about four or five times while watching this new contender for worst film of the year…that’s right, even worse than the awful remakes of The Grudge and Fantasy Island, and you want to know why? At least I knew what the fuck was going on in those movies, even though in the end I ultimately didn’t care for either of them. I had no idea what the fuck was going on in THE LAST THING HE WANTED until one critic decided to do some extra do diligence and publish an entire article explaining what was going on. And it took me awhile to find that article! (will post it on both my Facebook page and Twitter for those interested, fyi I read said article AFTER I had finished the movie to relax my lost brain). And the background of U.S. history not explained isn’t the only reason why I had no clue what was going on. The editing was choppy, the cliched dialogue certainly didn’t help, there was too much paranoia, too many back stabbings, and some key important events were not shown that just enhanced said confusion. It seemed to me that this film should’ve been about a half hour longer and it already clocks in at just under two! It is all even more disappointing considering the fact that writer/director Dee Rees last film, Mudbound, another original Netflix film, was freaking fantastic. This is a movie that you absolutely need to go out of your way to avoid if it hits your Netflix queue. It is one of the most absolute wastes of time I experienced, even more so than my pick for last year’s worst film, Cats.

You are probably wondering whether or not I can explain the movie to you…I can! But by way of borrowing and giving credit to and Wikipedia: “The story centers around Elena McMahon, a reporter for the Washington Post who quits her job covering the  1984 Presidential Election to care for her father after her mother’s death. In an unusual turn of events, she inherits his position as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America which makes her lose the thread of her own narrative and thrusts her from byline to unwitting subject in the very story she’s trying to break.” Adapted some from fucking novel I’ll now never read. Look, if you want to know what is going on just a little bit BEFORE you start to watch this movie (if for some reason you are still interested in checking it out after my scathing review) know this: You need to know some of the background of the layered and complex history of the United States and its shady intervention in Central America during the Cold War. To borrow also from the article I’m about to post in the comments of this review: “the United States government was providing millions of dollars of military aid to the El Salvador government during the Salvadoran Civil War, because the El Salvador government was considered a Cold War ally. This means the U.S. directly contributed to the many civilian murders and human rights violations committed by the El Salvador armed forces.” So once you know all that, and combine it with the combined IMDB and Wikipedia summaries of the movie itself, maybe you’ll enjoy the film more?

But see, here’s the thing, if you want your audience invested in the movie, you can’t just assume the viewers are going to know that part of American history well. Yes, you’ll probably need some beginning scene that combines a montage with old archived footage with some background narration (possibly the protagonist), telling you what’s what. And yes, you might not want that because every other new movie that is released does that, but you know what? In a world where everybody is staring at their phones obsessing over social media posts, the likely hood they are going to use those mediums to search American history during the Cold War in the 1980s is slim to fucking none. To tell you the truth, it is cliched, yet a necessity in a movie like this. But what makes my observation even more confusing is that THE FILM STARTS AND ENDS WITH FUCKING NARRATION FROM THE PROTAGONIST!!! (BTW, I haven’t heard of an opening narration so bad since the original theatrical cut of the first Blade Runner films in the 80s) ARE YOU MEANING TO TELL ME THERE COULDN’T HAVE BEEN A SCENE OR TWO ADDED TO TELL US WHAT THE FUCK WHAT GOING ON?!? I know there are stupid people out there that probably still wouldn’t get it after being fed the info with a silver spoon in their mouths, but when you have critic after critic after critic tearing this movie apart because they had no clue what was going on, and then I don’t get what was going on until I found an obscure article telling me what apparently the filmmakers thought I was already supposed to know…you know your movie has a giant problem.

And the giant problem is that I just didn’t care what was happening on screen because I didn’t know any of the stakes. It is just Anne Hathaway being depressed, mad, paranoid and running for her life for two hours, with Ben Affleck in what is just a glorified extended cameo where you can tell he just did it for the paycheck with his blank stare, phoned in performance. Oh, and it has Willem Dafoe for two scenes playing Hathaway’s father, where it should’ve been three or four, with a proper conclusion to his character than just “blind or you’ll miss it” dialogue explaining what happened to him. It’s all just a stupid, awful, boring, confusing mess. And the ending is laughably dumb with a slow motion shot (you’ll know it when you see it) that lasts way too long and had me laughing my ass off (I was well fed up with the film by then to the point of laughing hysterically). Why did Netflix purchase this film to stream on its platform knowing how bad it was? Whatever film festival is debut in January, the reviews were all terrible, does Netflix really have all that cash to waste on a project like this? Maybe it’s because of their relationship with Dee Rees and her successful Mudbound movie a couple of years ago? Who knows, but this film should’ve never seen the light of day unless there happened to have been extensive re shoots where audiences could figure out what the fuck was going on the entire two hours. The last thing I wanted was to watch a film as bad as this. Should’ve trusted the other reviews on this one. Do yourself a favor and trust mine.