Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: STAR WARS EPISODE IX THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, ho ho ho)

Merry Christmas (well…Eve) everyone! As present to my faithful readers and since I haven’t had any backlash on what I’ve said about STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER so far, my present to you is a full review, albeit some spoilers in this here stocking stuffer. So, if you haven’t seen it, I’d steer clear until after you have, so you don’t blame Zach Claus and put him on your own naughty list. I don’t go into detail with every single thing that happens in the film mind you, but I do go into some specifics about what I liked and didn’t like about the film. The only way to really do that is to spoil some major shit that goes down. So if you have seen the film, gather your family around by the computer, maybe start a fire in your fireplace, or put a fake one on your big screen television, and bundle up to get warm, as this sleigh review ride might be downright bumpy to you and yours from the get go.

Why is that? Because The Rise Of Skywalker is NOT my favorite/best film of 2019. Yep. Did I just shove some shocking coal down your stocking? If you’ve read my shit for awhile, you would know that The Force Awakens was my top film of 2015 and The Last Jedi was my top film of 2017 (and still are, no shame here). And if I could go back and tweak my 2016 and 2018 lists, I would take Rogue One completely out of the spot (I think #3, how insane was I? was probably bias) I put it on and it wouldn’t even be on that list at all, and Solo would reappear near the bottom twenty of the year of its release. I’ve learned that you can’t just rank a new Star Wars film on your best of list without several repeat viewings of said new adventure. The Rise of Skywalker, while I ultimately had a lot of fun watching it and it kept me entertained the entire 2 hr and 22 minute run time, I thought was too rushed, a little too convoluted at times, was too rushed, had way too much material that felt just shoved in and didn’t have a lot of room to breathe, was too rushed, had a little too much fan service for my liking, and was just too rushed. Did I happen to mention it just felt too rushed?

But I can’t blame J.J. Abrams for this, he was doing the best he could with what he had to work with. The main problem with The Rise Of Skywalker is three fold.

  1. The Passing of Carrie Fisher – Abrams did the best with the archival footage he had of Carrie to work with. Someone telling you they should’ve just killed her off in between films or just had her character absent is a dumb fuck. If someone tells you that shit, they have absolutely no idea what a cohesive and rewarding narrative feels like. Leia HAD to be in that film, her character had to have some kind of resolution with her son Ben, and I think Abrams and company did the best job they could. Is some of her footage and dialogue jarring? Yeah…but it could’ve been much, much worse. The jarring parts are completely worth it when it comes down to Leia’s emotional last act.
  2. They didn’t plan out the trilogy – whoever is in charge of Lucasfilm in the coming months, whether Kathleen Kennedy steps down and Jon Favreau and/or Dave Filoni take her place, this sequel trilogy (and the two solo ((pun intended)) films) are solid arguments about what NOT to do with planning out your franchise. Back whenever Abrams was hired, there should’ve been a stipulation that he had to direct and write and/or co-write all three episode films, and stick with it for about a decade (he didn’t do shit between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker btw). There also needed to be at least 3 years between the Episode films, what Lucas had (but didn’t utilize) with the prequel trilogy. While I still love The Last Jedi, and am one of its few defenders, Rian Johnson’s film at the end of the day feels very insignificant when put into the confines of this trilogy. Everybody in that film ended up in the same place by the end in terms of where they were at the beginning, with no threads leading to any kind of a hint of where the last film was going to go. When The Rise of Skywalker picks up, its quite jarring, as it seems that Abrams just let a bunch of new ideas fall onto paper and he just started grabbing at some of them to put them together to make something cohesive. It’s cohesive at times, but not enough. Maybe this is a lesson learned for any future expansion of the brand.
  3. Rise of Skywalker feels like a film that catered to the fans wishes and especially to those that hated The Last Jedi. DON’T EVER DO THIS. You can’t make everyone happy, so you need to throw those notions out of your brain and make a film that feels completely cohesive, a strong and structured narrative, no matter if it pisses those angry fan boys off or not. That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi, even if his film did kind of trip the other one a bit to the finish line. The Rise of Skywalker feels like a bunch of fan explanations and theories put to paper and then jumbled up and then reassembled quickly . So much shit happens in this film, it completely felt like Abrams tried to cater to everyone. You can’t do that with movies. You just fucking can’t and anybody that tries to do that from now on is going to look like an absolute moron and giant asshole.

I’m saying all this and you’ll probably look down at my ranking of all the Star Wars films that were released in theaters and be shocked to see that Rise of Skywalker is still above the middle of the list. So what did I enjoy about the film exactly? I enjoyed Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver’s performances as Rey and Kylo respectively. I really really enjoyed Harrison Ford’s emotional cameo. I enjoyed the special effects, as always with this new trilogy (anything to prevent my eyes from being burned by the forever glowing green screen madness of the prequels). I enjoyed C-3P0’s arc, even though I thought everything was kind of negated when he got his memory back at the end. I still enjoyed Rey and Finn’s chemistry, even though that romantic story line that was started in The Force Awakens didn’t seem to go anywhere in this film (I don’t fucking buy Abrams explanation that Finn was going to tell Rey that he was Force-sensitive. That’s stupid to say to someone when you are about to die. I love you is the only thing that needs to be said at a time like that). I loved the new character of Babu Frick (the little guy that fucks with C-3P0’s mechanics), and even though they were hardly in the film, I enjoyed the new character played by Keri Russell named Zorii Bliss, and I enjoyed Billy Dee Williams small return as Lando.

I also really loved Ian McDiarmid’s hamming it up as Emperor Palpatine once again, even though his return isn’t really explained very well. I don’t care if it is going to be explained in canon off shoot novels and comics, that needed an explanation then and now. Was he a clone or was that his dead body from the destruction of the second Death Star? I loved the whole Rey Skywalker thing at the end, so fucking sue me. I got that message and it touched me in the feels, so fuck off. I liked Ben Solo’s redemption and his little nod for the Knights of Ren’s ultimate demise when Rey force connects herself to Ben and she passes the light saber to him. I liked that Rey was revealed to be a Palpatine (his granddaughter), even though that brings up the question of who would’ve fucked that wrinkly old sack of shit in the first place to produce offspring to eventually produce her (again, probably something that will be expanded upon in future comics/novels). The thing I probably enjoyed the most more than Harrison Ford’s cameo was the unique force connection thread that Abrams thankfully brought back from The Last Jedi, and expanded upon it (even though I think at the end of The Last Jedi, Rey closing the door to the Falcon was symbolizing her cutting off the connection, but whatever). There is just so much in this film to deconstruct, I really can’t do it all in one review. Hit me up on messenger if you want to talk long and talk specifics. That being said, let’s get to the stuff I didn’t really like:

  1. Unfortunately my prediction of the Knight of Ren hardly being in the film and ultimately being a wasted MacGuffin came true. They are completely useless in this film, and even though they are being expanded upon in the novels and comics, they’re ultimately so easily defeated by Ben Solo that I don’t really care to know much more about them. They are the Captain Phasma/Boba Fett of this film.
  2. While Abrams embraced and acknowledged some of the events of The Last Jedi, I didn’t like the little subtle one liners of taking some events back from that film and taken them for granted. I didn’t like the line explaining Holdo’s kamikaze lightspeed maneuver in the last film being chalked up to a 1 in a million shot. I didn’t like when Luke’s force ghost just catches the lightsaber Rey tries to throw away after learning about her lineage near the end of the film and Luke says he was wrong for his actions in the last movie. I didn’t like the explanation of Snoke was just a patsy that was made from Palpatine and I almost laughed when I saw a vat of Snoke bodies in that liquid container on Exogol.
  3. The fake out with Chewie’s death was kind of dumb.
  4. Huge mistake was not giving Rose Tico/Kelly Marie Tran anything to do, it just made those complaints about her character from angry fan boys valid, as if saying, “they were right.” I feel really bad for her, I really do. I really think Tran is a nice, humble, and fantastic human being in real life. Hope she excels in other, better roles.
  5. Why are we introducing new characters at the end of a nine part saga story? I mean Zorii Bliss was kind of cool and everything, but did we really need Naomie Ackle’s character? Or Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde character? I have a feeling they might be Disney Plus’d soon to have an explanation for their appearances. Abrams should’ve focused on the characters already established, for more well rounded and fitting ends. Because I think Finn and Poe, even though they had great chemistry together, ended up being an afterthought in this film. Take out the new characters, put back Kelly Marie Tran, and work on just those, and they could’ve had something special.
  6. The awesome looking Sith Troopers and the Final Order was wasted.
  7. Maz Kanata…what was the point of her ultimately?
  8. I didn’t like that J.J. Abrams didn’t pay close attention to the shit that has been established in canon novels and comic books. There was literally no time for Poe to have once been a spice runner, something new about him that was just revealed in this film, and the fact it was revealed in a comic book that Chewie had his own medal from the Battle of Yavin, just so Abrams could punch you in the feels with his own Chewie getting a medal scene. Him not taking that canon to heart, and me reading about that canon, made those scenes make not much sense in the long wrong.
  9. The whole film just felt rushed, there was way too much packed into it, and some of it felt convoluted. Abrams needs to get his head out of story lines that involves maps and finding a thing that leads to another thing, that leads you to another thing that eventually gets you to a hidden location. It’s like maps are his Star Wars porn that he jerks off to.

Only in the last third of the film did everything slow down a bit and was allowed room to breathe. I liked the final semi-space battle. The “ground” battle on top of one of the Star Destroyers was cool and something I hadn’t seen in Star Wars before, I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed the look of Exogol even though Rey’s final confrontation with the Emperor was a tad disappointing as it basically ripped off Harry Potter and Voldemort’s final match in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I enjoyed all the voices from Star Wars past, including television characters that haven’t been put to live action film yet. I enjoyed the desert chase, the lightsaber battle on the ruins of Death Star II and I even liked the new force additions like Force healing. If you tallied up everything, you can see that I enjoyed more of the film than what I didn’t enjoy.

Thankfully, on my second viewing, I put all my criticisms to the side and tried to enjoy the film for what it was. And while I still think the whole story is rushed as fuck, I enjoyed the The Rise of Skywalker even more the second viewing. And I have a feeling that with even more future viewings, I’ll eventually chalk it down to that this film was my generation’s Return of the Jedi. An underwhelming, yet entertaining final chapter. By the way, you might be surprised where Return of the Jedi is on my list below. I really don’t like large portions of that film (Boba Fett going out like a bitch, didn’t care for Jabba, and I hate Ewoks. Solo and Leia don’t get much to do. I do enjoy Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor and I’m always exhilarated by the speeder bike chase.) At least we know we aren’t getting a new Star Wars film for at least 3 or 4 years, so there is some optimism to be had that maybe everyone at Lucasfilm can breathe and actually plan things out for once. At the end of the day, for every Star Wars fans, everybody is going to have a different opinion. There is so much in the Star Wars universe that your different opinion will be unique, your own special one. And that is perfectly okay, just don’t have it be an angry fan boy toxic opinion. Don’t hate, try to appreciate everything you have been given by being lucky enough to live in a time where you actually HAVE Star Wars. Try to find that balance of optimism in the forest of all that negativity. If you don’t, you are going to force yourself down a long dark hole of hate, a feeling that will ultimately make you feel like shit, maybe even depressed. You will regret feeling that way, but by then it will be too late, there is no turning back from that path to the dark side. Pun intended on everything with those last couple of sentences, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…and of course…May The Force Be With You!

My ranking of all the Star Wars films that were released in theaters:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. The Last Jedi
  5. The Rise of Skywalker
  6. Return of the Jedi
  7. Solo
  8. Revenge of the Sith
  9. Rogue One
  10. The Phantom Menace
  11. Attack of the Clones
  12. The Clone Wars Movie

Zach's Zany Movies Reviews: TOGO (Disney +)(spoilers if you've seen Balto)

When first watching TOGO, the new original movie on Disney +, 30 minutes in, I was like, “what the fuck this is just a rip off of Balto.” And that’s because I didn’t watch one trailer for this film, or research it at all, just heard that it was Disney +’s next original movie that happened to star a great actor, Willem Dafoe, so I just hit play. Turns out, Balto is just the dog that gets way too much credit for 1925 serum run, where diphtheria antitoxin was transported to Achorage, Alaska to very sick children during a giant fucking storm. Togo, at 12 years old, is the one that ran the most miles like a motherfucker to save all those innocents. The owner just didn’t really care much about credit, he cared about the dog’s well being. As for the film itself, it’s not bad, it’s just a more dramatic, no animation at all live action version of….well, Balto. But since Balto was originally distributed by Universal Pictures, you can’t point the finger at Disney this time and say this was simply a mere live-action remake cash grab. There is a more deeper point to this film than just the main dog getting the serum to the sick children. This is a personal story of owner and dog.

And it’s a good story, because we learn that Togo wasn’t always obedient, and the owner didn’t think much of him at first. The film switches from present day (starting with the news of a storm coming and the sick children to going out to save them in the storm), to 12 years earlier, when Togo was a pup. Eventually owner and Togo share more positive experiences with each other and he learned to respect and love the dog. What I appreciated most about this film, is that the film used REAL DOGS, REAL LOCATIONS that did REAL STUNTS/MOVEMENT, and everything about it felt authentic, even when the film obviously switches gears having to use a green screen CGI studio to film the parts with the real dogs running across a frozen lake, with the ice breaking apart and melting. They could’ve went full CGI with the dogs too, but they didn’t, somehow it completely comes together and works. Thankfully the movie doesn’t just focus on just getting the serum to the children, because we saw that with Balto, this focuses on the relationship between Togo, the owner and his wife, and it is quite moving.

Especially because it used a real dog. I keep going on about the real dog thing but have you seen the trailer for the new The Call Of The Wild film with Harrison Ford? Looks awful because it is a completely CGI rendered dog, not even a real dog with a CGI face that they used in the new live action Lady in the Tramp. It looks terrible. Are you meaning to tell me they couldn’t have gotten a real dog to do scenes with Harrison Ford? They got real dogs for the entirety of this thing and managed to not piss off PETA. Whatever, I’m not seeing that horrific CGI ridden trash. I learned my lesson from the new Cats (2019) film (review on that later. Anyway, you can’t go wrong with Togo on Disney +. It’s a pretty solid movie with a solid performance by Willem Dafoe but an even more solid performance by the dogs that played Togo. My only complaint would be, and I checked on my phone to make sure it wasn’t just my television, but a weird sheen to the film with this semi dark like substance on the all sides of the wide screen bar. I don’t know what that was about but it was a tad distracting. Let me know if you see it to. All I have left to say is well done Disney, you managed to sort of make a live action remake without it really being a live action remake. Do that and stop with this Aladdin, Lion King, and Dumbo nonsense. You’ve still got a little magic that can get to people’s hearts, and Togo is that proof.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: FROZEN II

Have any of you watched any ‘making of’ docs or featurettes on Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom? If you have, after seeing FROZEN II, you might be already getting the point I’m about to make, but if you haven’t, let me clue you in a little on the big reveal from those little insights into the darkest chapter of the Indiana Jones franchise. It is revealed from Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and even Lucas himself that most of Temple of Doom is just jumbled up unused ideas, themes, and scenes left on the cutting room floor from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The beginning at Club Obi-Wan through the jumping out of an airplane on an inflatable raft scene to the fast and furious mine cart chase near the climax of the film, all little unused ideas. Probably the reason why I don’t re-watch that film quite as much as the others (don’t worry, I still think Crystal Skull is still the worst of the four). What I’m trying to get at is that FROZEN II felt the exact same way for me, a bunch of unused messages, themes, and ideas that they probably had for the first movie but had to not include due to it not working with the flow of the first film. This film only feels like a half realized idea. In my opinion, the film is also way too dark and depressing for children, the songs aren’t memorable at all, the adults won’t get into the story and may even be bored by it, and they should’ve just left everything about the first movie alone. This didn’t need a sequel.

The film isn’t terrible, I just found it boring and unnecessary. After watching it and being ultimately disappointed by what I saw, and then went and did some research about when the first one came out (6 years ago) and how long they took to make it (a year and a half to come up with the story, much longer to create each and every animated frame), I came up with a personal (yet arguable conclusion): Disney forced the filmmakers to make this sequel when they didn’t have any solid story ideas or any justifiable reason for doing another adventure other than Disney just wanted more box office bucks and licensing to sell more toys. I bet you anything that the filmmakers had other original ideas up their sleeves, but when brought to Disney, they didn’t even take a look, they just shook their heads, tapped their watches, and asked when they would develop a sequel to one of their most successful animated films of all time. The creators probably didn’t want to do it, but Disney kept adding those 0s to their contracts, and after the last and final no, Disney exclaimed, “okay, if you won’t make it, someone else will.” It is then that the filmmakers didn’t want anybody else in control of their “baby,” and finally said yes, even though their hearts weren’t truly into it like they were with the first one. Not only truly into it, but they felt rushed to get a completed project out into the world by a certain date. Now keep in mind that this is just my heavy duty conjecture just to give the creators an excuse of why I was personally let down by this sequel. Because if none of that is true, and their hearts were completely into it and they had more than enough time with their songs and ideas and didn’t feel rushed at all…then that just makes this film worse in my mind.

I know a lot of people find the first film overrated, but that is because they didn’t watch until long after the crazed hype it received right after it was released. I personally still love the first movie, not just because I saw it the first night it came out before the casual moviegoer obsession began but also because I’ve watched it a thousand times with my young one, who gives his undivided attention to each and every viewing, and points and shouts with glee every time he sees one of the characters outside of home. To give a point of reference to my screening that I had over the weekend, I took my young one with my wife to a Camp Cinemark showing of the sequel, which kids are allowed to talk a little and move around a little (or a lot with both in some cases); a screening that die hard fans and non interrupted folk should stay far away from. With my son, I’ve learned to tolerate the distractions, and wasn’t really upset with my screening, and was confident coming out of it that I didn’t miss any of the movie. My son was the perfect little moviegoer during his screening, making me wish we had just went to a regular one as he leaned his head on my arm and paid attention to most of the entire thing. But I’m glad I ended up going to that show in the long run, because with my new found powers of heightened peripheral vision, hearing and side attention techniques I developed having having my first child, I was able to read the room with what they thought of the sequel as well, and it wasn’t good.

Kids barely paid attention to it, several of them saying out loud that they were bored or wanted to watch the original again, others screamed or cried during the really dark or sad parts of the movie, I heard adults whispering to themselves that they weren’t enjoying the sequel at all and that the songs weren’t very good, looking at their phone clocks to see how much time they had left in that miserable experience. When the film was over, there was not a clap of enjoyment, not even from my 2 year old son who claps when the credits roll on ANYTHING, and only a handful of people stayed for the songs during the credits or to even witness a half way decent after credits scene. To summarize: children and adults, at least in my screening, weren’t having it. And please believe me, I TRIED to give this sequel a chance, but after the first song I was like…”uh oh.” During the first movie, I had each and every song already stuck in my head before the next one played across the screen, already knowing and humming the words as I left the theater into the many days and weeks and years after to present day. I know the whole damn first movie by heart because of my son’s love for the film (not a bad thing.) I knew that there was no way a sequel could top or maybe even getting close to the magic of the first film, but I was hoping upon hope that I could be proven wrong. Alas, 3/4ths into the film, into the incredibly dark and depressing third act, I had given my hopes up.

Telling you any of the story would probably be considered spoilers, but I’m going to try so I can get my point of disappointment across. The first thing you should know is that the grand adventure advertised in the trailers and tv spots is nowhere to be found. Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven find this small, magical, closed off place in the forest and spend some time in there dealing with past shit, all the while Kristoff is trying to find a time and place to propose marriage to Anna. Not much happens, but that’s all I can really say without spoiling the film. The “not much happens “parts, to be very vague, are just messages and themes already explored in the first film that just felt repetitive all combined in the giant melting pot of a ‘reparations’ story line we’ve seen time and again from other and much, much better films. There are new characters in the film, but none of them get much screen time, leading to each and every single one of them feeling one note, the characterization all surface level, nothing deep. They only learn and change their attitudes instantly with several lines of dialogue the main characters give them at the drop of a hat. The center and arguably single stage only allows Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf to have character development, but instead of learning more about their inner selves like the script should’ve done, they only learn more about their untold surrounding history. All of this leads to revelations and fates they already experienced or should have experienced in the first film. The very, very ending fate of one of the main characters that happens in this sequel I had predicted would happen at the end of the first film while watching it for the first time, but was wrong. It happening in this film is part of the feeling I had about recycled or unused ideas I mentioned in my first paragraph.

None of the songs are memorable except for Kristoff’s funny love ballad, but that is mostly due to the visuals and the reindeer. But even with that song I wasn’t humming it nor was it stuck in my had afterward. None of them were, I can’t only remember the title of the song ‘Into The Unknown,’ because those three words were repeating over and over and over and over and over again for most of the song. To go even one step further with my complaints, some of the songs seems to borrow too much not only visually, but narratively from the first film. One song, ‘Show Yourself,’ copies almost verbatim visually from when Elsa belted out ‘Let It Go’ from the first one, all the way down to when she makes herself a new outfit using her powers. Then something happens to her that was narratively verbatim to what happened to a different character in the first film. It all just felt like unused or recycled shit, but in new gift wrapping, with a new pretty bow. Make no mistake, this film is visually, very, very well done. Everything looks gorgeous, some parts even breathtakingly beautiful. But special effects do not make a film. You should know that already because of Michael Bay and Transformers. Or James Cameron’s Avatar.

And the voice acting of course is still great. Everybody involved, Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and even with little to do, Sterling K. Brown, Even Rachel Wood, and Alfred Molina, all do a fantastic job. The singing, sound mixing, sound editing, score, all perfect, it’s just packaged in a story I could never quite get invested in. And since I didn’t care about the story, or the songs, I didn’t care about the characters, which made me just not really care for the entire product. And if their heart wasn’t it in, they didn’t try hard enough, but if their heart was, then they tried way too hard. Sometimes with sequels, even though you want to do something drastically different, if its a kids movie, you can still do it, but you have to keep it simple. The story, themes, and sad parts in this film I feel are wayyyy too dark and depressing for the target audience that Disney was intending. They shouldn’t be making a movie for the ones that enjoyed the original film six years ago, they needed to make it for the ages of what all of us were (young and older) back then. A sequel to bring in a new audience but still fun, light, and bright like the original. It tried to mature way too much. Disney has always been able to ride that fine line (tightrope) between a kid movie and an adult movie, so precise in fact that it gives a film for everyone to enjoy. This film tripped over itself too much into the adult category, much like Ralph Breaks The Internet did (although I enjoyed that sequel so much more than this one, the story and character development were very strong and kept my undivided attention.)

All of this ends with someone asking me, “did you like Frozen 2?” and I answer with a crunched up meh face, a shake of my head and a shrug of my shoulders. It’s not something I’m going to get upset over if people really like it and think I’m wrong (I’m already tapped out of that after Joker). And if your kids like it, wonderful, I hope it brings them hours of repeat joy in the future. I have one more nitpick about the movie, but it goes vastly into spoiler territory, and it also just happens to be some bullshit I’m probably pulling out of my ass because it’s politically related, and I’m just tired of seeing that influence in films that don’t need to have those kinds of messages in them. Scroll way down for me just running my mouth. I just personally didn’t really like the movie, I think its a very mediocre sequel, and I think once the people that really like it give it enough time, the flaws will start to seep through the cracks. Especially when what happens when the second one hits home video and you’ve watched the first one a thousand times, put the sequel in, only get about halfway through it only to eject and put the first one on a thousand more times. There is way too much hardship in this movie. Ultimately, Frozen II tries too hard to be what The Empire Strikes Back did for Star Wars and instead it should’ve been something more akin to the Ewok sequences in Return of the Jedi.

**one spoiler paragraph warning** Okay, so this nitpick I’m pulling out of my ass as I probably read too much into films these days as seeing all these articles about movies containing references to today’s political climate or supporting social justice warrior’s agendas and all that crap. So take what I theorize with a grain of salt. It reveals in the film that this small place in the forest cut off from everyone so long ago has two group of people trapped within its magical borders: old Arendelle soldiers and magic Nomad people. t\They all hate each other because of Anna and Elsa’s grandfather, who basically was a fucking asshole bigot (Trump anyone?). For the two groups of people to get out of this purgatory-like place and break the magic spell trapping all of them there not able to leave, not only do they have to like and respect each other, but there is a dam that, if destroyed, will break the spell and let everyone escape. But also to destroy this dam would also completely flood and destroy Arendelle in the process. As Anna finds out that her parents were basically the Romeo and Juliet of these two groups, Anna also realizes the dam must be destroyed as a reparation of sorts for the sins of their grandfather and what he did to these spiritual magical nomads long ago (killed them). She gets these magic rock giant beings to throw giant boulders at it to break open the dam, but Elsa comes in on a horse (quite literally) and saves Arendelle from being destroyed anyway. The whole time I was just thinking, “Oh God, is this an anti-Trump, anti-Trump border wall movie? Are you fucking kidding me?” I don’t like Trump as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong, I’m just tired of seeing these type of messages taken from our political climate put inside a kids movie. They need to not do that. Now if that wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers, I apologize for trying to tie threads together that don’t exist and instead of trying to read too hard for these kinds of messages in these movies, I need to just….let it go. But if our politics today influenced this story at all in any way, and I’m right about some of my theories, shame on you filmmakers, come up with something more original and less preachy next time please. Thanks. **end of spoiler paragraph and the real end of the review**

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: NOELLE (Disney +)

As you can probably tell, when Disney+ debuted yesterday, I ate that shit up. Watched the first episode of The Mandalorian, watched the new live action remake of Lady And The Tramp, tried the first episode of The World According to Jeff Goldblum but couldn’t get through it as it was shockingly had too much Goldblum zaniness (I know, right?), and this other Disney+ original holiday movie available at launch, NOELLE. Or as I really want to call it: Elf 2 – A SJW Santa Story. I’ll get to the reasons for my alternate title a little later, but needless to say, this is the kind of movie you’d find premiering on ABC or the Disney Channel 25-30 years ago, on a weekend night. It works for what it is meant for, a small scale television movie. It isn’t going to be the next holiday classic like Elf was at the time, and there are a lot of problems with the film itself other than the “social justice warrior” angle (which I’ll get to as well) but I am giving it a slight recommendation as I did laugh out loud several times throughout it and also mostly due to the quirkiness and lively performance from Anna Kendrick, who always brings her charming A-game, even if the game of said movie is not up to snuff.

The reason why this movie is so close to Elf is that it is about a fictional holiday character, in this case, Santa’s sister, having a fish out of water journey, as she has lived her entire life at the North Pole. Noelle, always really into Christmas and its spirit, has to leave her home and go to Phoenix, Arizona in search of her brother, who has gone on vacation due to the stress of it being his first Christmas taking over the Santa mantel from the recent passing of their father. The movie largely consists of updated technological fish out of water jokes (a lot of advancements in tech and our way of life with them have been invented since 2003’s Elf) and also jokes consisting of the fact that she has lived in a very cold place on Earth all her life and just quickly transitions to a hot one. With any other actress, I don’t think these jokes would’ve landed as well as they did because of Anna Kendrick going all in with each and every single one. And the holiday spirit messages such as being with family, being a good person, giving not receiving, thinking about others, yada yada yada, are all in there too and they mostly work even though we’ve seen it all before.

There are other famous actors/actresses in this as well, such as the funny Bill Hader, Shirley McClaine, and the mostly annoying and loud Billy Eichtner (here he is fine though), but they don’t have much screen time, and completely take a back seat to Kendrick’s quirkiness, especially Hader. His involvement in this film seemed like a real missed opportunity. There are some glaring problems with the movie, for one, the CGI is shoddy as fuck. The reindeer look remarkably fake and weird, and it seemed like a lot of scenes had a green screen backdrop behind them, even when it is in Phoenix, Arizona, making everything seem like it was filmed inside a cheap studio, with cheap sets, cheap everything. With a heftier budget, this project could’ve looked a lot more livelier than it had. But I realize that this project was probably made for Disney+ from the get-go and not theatrical distribution, so I guess all of that is forgiven. If this had premiered in theaters, all of it would’ve been completely unacceptable.

The movie was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, a name you may have heard as he is responsible for one of the most watched and quoted rom-coms of all time, Miss Congeniality. And his film Music & Lyrics I enjoyed. But the bulk of his work, which includes Two Weeks Notice and Did You Hear About The Morgans?, is mostly unfunny comedy drivel. I have a feeling this script was written awhile ago, and again, whoever is in charge of Disney+ digged this script out of development hell and said, “oh this could be cheap and easy to make to debut on the platform!” Yep, it all shows. (side note: I actually looked at some rumored trivia for this film and found out that filming at supposedly started in 2017 but then was postponed a little to debut on the service, take that rumor for what you will). The biggest thing that had me rolling me eyes during the movie was the social justice warrior angle of the film. If read my description of the plot, you probably can predict how the movie solves all of the conflict. I don’t want to spoil what actually happens in the movie but I want to take a direct quote/thing that happens from the movie to prove my point, so consider this a **spoiler warning**. One male character shouts out during a meeting, “A woman can’t be Santa Claus!” and a woman in the audience scoffs and yells, “Hey!” **end of spoiler**. I don’t mind some of those messages as our way of life has undoubtedly changed over the years, but there is a more subtle approach to be had, and dialogue like this in the film gives off too much of a social justice warrior vibe. There, I said it.

But anyway, I do end up recommending Noelle, as I can see people, families, what have you, queue-ing it up every other holiday or so to enjoy a nice and serviceable Christmas movie together with a fantastic re-watchable performance by Anna Kendrick. I can’t bash shit like this too hard, as I will eventually come out as an Ebenezer Scrooge myself. Know this: I really and truly try to give each and every film the time of day, even if I’m not looking forward to them. I was looking forward to this, mainly for the acting talent involved, and while I wish there was much more from Hader, Anna Kendrick elevated the mediocre material and shoddy production value, and made the film slightly work. As long as those head honchos at Disney+ know that this kind of straight to platform film will only work for so long, as with the streaming battle about to come out to a full on war, they’ll need to elevate their material to ultimately get and keep people’s attention (I have no doubt that the Marvel shows will end up doing this). But I’ll give this one a ho-ho-hopeful review for the time being.

Zach Zany Movie Reviews: DUMBO (2019) (A Hate Rap Poem)

This one is dedicated to Dustin Bade:

DUMBO 2019 (A HATE RAP POEM) By Zach Alexander

Who the fuck was this movie made for?

It can’t be for older people, who will instantly snore,

Not for younglings, scared back behind a door,

For tweens, they’ll think it’s a chore,

Yet it’s another loser for Tim Burton,

Hopin’ to raise the curtain, for certain,

His career, since Returns it’s been a hurtin’

An awful green screen CGI crap fest,

Live action stress test, ends up being a pest,

Hurts our childhood hearts, makes a mess of our chest

The acting, all distracting, spewing lines instead of reacting,

Detracting from a story that’s too abstracting, compacting

Cliched and no emotions impacting, redacting

From the heart of the story, a small elephant

Ehren Kruger’s script quite arrogant,

Danny DeVito borrowed from It’s Always Sunny set,

As Mac’s mom is there too as an asset, blasted,

Colin Farrell looks like he wants to kill himself,

His career on a dusty shelf, Eva Green, herself

Burton’s muse, adds nothing, it’s crushing

Michael Keaton rushing and busting,

His performance, more a gay Batman

Than a thespian with a plan, all panned,

Tried to make the movie too grand,

Instead it gives a backhand, to the Disney brand,

Finding single parent angle too bland,

Darker themes children won’t understand,

Made for no one, no fun hun,

Not surprised it didn’t gross a ton,

Remakes now shunned, wish they were undone,

Taken out to pasture with a shotgun, anyone?

Someone please slap me with some hard leather,

Or tether me to a tree, hang together, with shitty weather,

I wondered whether,

An elephant could be better,

Than new Aladdin or Lion King, be on top to blether

But Dumbo just asked them to hold his feather.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: ALADDIN (2019) (I’m going to spoil the $#!^ out of this piece of $#!^)

I think that other than O Brother Where Art Thou?, this is the latest I’ve ever seen a movie in its first run in theaters. And now I wish I hadn’t gone at all. **opens eyes** Shit, well I must not have a genie if I’m still writing this review. ALADDIN (2019) is the most abysmal live action remake since Mr. Magoo with Leslie Nielsen. It feels like a half-assed Disney Channel adaptation they would’ve made for the station in the late 90s. Except for two people involved in this production, everything about it offends me as a movie lover. It breaks almost every rule of Film Making 101 and everything about it screams lazy three times over. How could Disney have even dared to released such a product? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I get it. Disney was distracted. You see, it was so preoccupied sucking its dick while counting its cash it didn’t know what giant turd it was releasing upon the world. This is easily one of the worst films of 2019.

Do I ever need to explain the story to you? No. Because if you are reading this, have seen the new Aladdin but never saw the classic cartoon with Robin Williams, I hate to break it to you, but you are a fucking idiot. I’m guessing you are here because you have seen both, maybe wondering and maybe even confused about what exactly you thought you saw when watching this travesty and maybe I can break it down to have a more clear understanding of everything. Well, I guess that is what I’m here for. Here is the main problem with the new Aladdin. This film is 28 minutes longer than the cartoon, and yet all of it feels so rushed. Even the cartoon, with it’s short 90 minute run time, took a minute or two to let the characters just breathe. Here, they abandoned characterization entirely on some minor characters to make way for Will Smith’s ego. Eh, that’s being a little too harsh. I mentioned in the first paragraph there was only two people involved in this production that actually fared well in the movie, and one of them is Will Smith.

Let’s face it, no one will ever ever ever ever ever ever ever come close to even matching the genius of Robin Williams’ Genie. In fact, if they had given Oscar’s out for voice acting back in 1992, he surely would’ve won one. Will Smith at least tries to make Genie is own (even with all the same old songs and shit) and he at least looks like he wants to be there. Iago isn’t a character in this. He says maybe 4 complete sentences, with Alan Tudyk replacing the great Gilbert Gottfried, and is only there to turn into a giant evil parrot at the end to try and make a really out of left field last act magic carpet chase scene work. The fat old chubby but lovable Sultan is replaced by some random guy with a beard that looks like he wants to hang himself from the palace balcony for even agreeing to be in the movie. Even Abu I feel was short changed except for one or two “aw shucks” looks into the camera and don’t even get started on the magic carpet. 5 seconds in the old cartoon gave more characterization to that fabric than this whole film did.

But who’s the worst culprit? You thought I was going to say Aladdin didn’t you? But no. While I think Mena Massoud looks the part, and has one or two charming moments, I honestly think he’s rather dull. But that I don’t blame on his acting, I blame on the direction given to him and the hackneyed screenplay he had to read from. No, the worst character in here is Jafar. Jafar in the cartoon was the bad ass of bad assery. He was pure evil and when he walked into the room, everyone knew it. For a drawing, it was one of the most confident villains I have ever seen in any kind of animated film. Here….Jafar who? Like, who was he? If I could describe him best, he felt like a whinier Anakin Skywalker from Attack of the Clones. He got high pitched and just cried and scream to people about power and shit. He wasn’t intimidating at all, and I was wondering why most of the film someone didn’t just walk up to him and kick him straight in the nuts to shut the fuck up. He seemed THAT fragile.

Other than characterization, the screenplay is a giant mess. For some reason they decided to combine Aladdin’s ‘One Jump’ song ALONG with meeting Jasmine. They took two separate character moments that set up who these people were and tried to combine it just to get to the Genie a little bit faster. In all the scenes that everything needed to take a breather, it felt rushed, and all the scenes that needed to be cut for dragging, was dragged out as long as possible. There were two scenes of Jafar and the Sultan where I was looking at my watch, clocking how much longer that scene would go on. It was insulting as a film goer. And the awesome climax in the original cartoon, where the stakes were raised and Jafar turns into a giant bad ass snake? Completely gone. The climax to this feels like the climax to the novel version of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, where opposing characters are just one opposite sides of the room from one another trying to out talk and maneuver the other one.

The only other person that walked away from this garbage that was actually really good and look like she wanted to be there was Naomi Scott as Jasmine. She was the confident, brave, bold, and smart heroine that she needed to be. I never considered in the cartoon her to be a damsel in distress (even though there were a couple of scenes to argue that notion) and in this film, THE ONLY THING IT DOES RIGHT, is too completely strip away that stereotype and make her the bad ass princess that we know and love. Naomi Scott is a good singer, and her voice is lovely to hear on screen, but that new solo song they gave her, ‘Speechless,’ felt wayyyyy out of place and didn’t match the rest of the film, and in fact, slowed it down. In the climax, where things are supposed to amp up, she breaks out to the rest of the song she started earlier in the film, and it just felt sloppy. The whole controversial thing of the film making her Sultan at the end that’s getting a lot of flack for Disney trying to be ‘woke’ or whatever it is called? Probably the LEAST controversial thing about the film, and in fact, was one of the few changes that worked.

Oh, I guess two more points I could say that I liked, but they are just fleeting praises, like finding a tiny speck of gold in a pile of shit. I think the “Whole New World” sequence was done well and I liked that they kind of gave the Genie more of a definitive sweet and sappy ending (although Nasim Pedrad, who was a part of that ending, was wayyy under used). And that’s it. The Cave of Wonders scenes, including the journey to the lamp and trying to escape were rushed, boring, and editing poorly. The CGI in almost every frame looked like shit, including the Blue Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Agrabah just looks like every film that has a old boring palace in the middle of a desert location. I could go on and on, but it’s too tiring too. Director Guy Ritchie should be ashamed of himself. He obviously didn’t have any of his trademark directing in the film, because The Mouse was busy forcing his hand to do its bidding. This film opened up a whole new can of worms to seriously getting me to start hating live action remakes. Disney will never have a friend like me if they continue churning out this assembly lined bantha poo doo.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: TOY STORY 4 (no spoilers)

TOY STORY 4 or what I am calling it, Woody’s Epilogue, is actually a pretty great…well..epilogue. Let’s face it, we all know that Toy Story 3 provided mostly all of the toys we’ve come to grow up with a satisfying conclusion to the “Andy Saga.” However, in the third movie, Bo Peep was no where to be found with one line of dialogue and one frowny face basically explaining that she was just gone, and not with them anymore. Well, this 4th movie is basically a Bo Peep RetCon. And it’s really, really good. I think I even enjoyed it more than the 3rd one. I’m going to be the controversial one by saying that I didn’t find Toy Story 3 all that memorable other than them about to be fried in that furnace and then the tear jerking ending of Andy giving his toys to a new little girl, Bonnie. And I’ll even double down on the shock value and tell you that #2 blew me away when I saw it in theaters and is still my favorite of the franchise to this day. Now is the time though, when all childish things must come to an end, and hopefully, even though this was great, it is definitely the last film.

And yes, I know that they introduce a new character named Forky (voice by the great Tony Hale), and I know that he’s getting his own Disney + series (hard pass), I’m meaning as far as theatrical films go, I hope this is the last one. And yes, I will even admit to you that this movie was unnecessary. But look at Pixar and their cash cow. They made three completely unnecessary films about Cars that were either too boring or too wacky. It was even revealed in a recent article that they started planning and writing Toy Story 4 before 3 even hit theaters, and that was 9 God damn years ago. But given that the recent article said that Pixar will be focusing on original films going forward and there won’t be many sequels anymore, and the Forky series, I have a feeling that this will be the last one. Because after the mid credits scene roles, there is literally no more story left to tell, even with Bonnie, because it was just be recycling Andy growing up all over again. You’ve had the toys almost get lost and die a thousand times, you’ve gotten the story line of what if some of the toys were collector’s items, and you’ve all had one dimensional villains that either want to destroy everything or keep the depressing status quo.

Which is why I liked this film quite a bit, because of Gabby Gabby, the first true villain of the franchise that actually had an arc (Sid, the Prospector, and the Giant Purple Bear weren’t all that interesting to be honest). They took her to a place I didn’t think they would go, and was very grateful to get something different. And the reason why I’m really calling this film “Woody (and Bo’s) Epilogue” is because, other than those two and a few new characters, all of the other ones get the shaft. And I get it, Toy Story 3 was their ending, and this is Woody and Bo’s, but this film has Buzz Lightyear featured the very least in any of the film in the franchise. Other than one ‘inner voice’ joke, that was actually hilarious and a lot of fun, I’d say Buzz is in the movie for less than 20 minutes, with that joke being the brunt of it. I guess I could forgive it, seeing that the film opens 9 years prior to show how Bo really went away and Woody seemingly giving her one last goodbye, but there had to have been some way to feature Buzz more in this film. Consider that my biggest criticism of the film.

The rest is fantastic though. I loved that the film took place mainly in an RV, at a fair, and one of my favorite locales in the whole franchise, an antique shop. I loved Gabby Gabby’s really creepy ventriloquist henchmen (provided some weird dark comedy). I loved the new characters, like Forky mentioned earlier, a pair of duck and bunny stuff prize dolls voiced by Key and Peele, and especially Duke Caboom voice by none other than, the celebrity getting the most love he’s ever gotten in his career this year, Keanu Reeves. He completely steals the show, and the film even (stay thru the mid credits!) gets Reeves to do his one signature line we’ve made fun of him for, but also praised him for, and have been doing homages ever since. I found myself laughing out loud in the theater quite a bit too, which just gives the movie even more brownie points. If you are a kid film made for kids, but you get adults to laugh out loud and smile along, you know you are a special film.

And obviously, since we’ve had this franchise since the mid 90s, this is the most visually striking of all the films. They manage look crisper and more detailed every outing, and that is very much appreciated (although for the love of God don’t run out of ideas and then George Lucas everything by remastering the first three films with better digital effects). The voice acting is all there, with Hanks and Potts almost making me cry with their interactions. It’s a very, very solid Pixar movie in general. And was so, so, so, so much better than the kind of okay sequel we got last year with Incredibles 2. I’m very, very happy and excited for the future of Disney/Pixar after this film, and the fact that they said they are going to focus on original tales from now on. But this needs to be the last Toy Story theatrical film. There is no where left to go. And I swear to God, someone needs to hand me a poison vial or shoot me in the face if they ever announce a Cars 4.

My Rank Of Toy Story Films:

  1. Toy Story 2
  2. Toy Story
  3. Toy Story 4
  4. Toy Story 3