Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: SPACE JAM – A NEW LEGACY (Spoilers Ahoy, Mateys!)

READY PLAYER SPACE JAM….errrr, I mean CYBERSPACE JAM…errr, I mean SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY is going to do to your kids in 2021, exactly what the original did to you as a child in 1996. They will see one of the most legendary sports players of all time going toe to toe with their favorite Looney Tunes characters to play the ultimate game of basketball with sight gags and cartoonish violence aplenty. They will instantly develop memberberries and claim that this film was their childhood in a bottle. But then in 25 years, that will be the year…2046? FUCK. In 2046, they will realize the movie doesn’t hold up, at all. And they will start to question not only their childhood sanity, but their current one.

Just to set things up, I watched the original Space Jam last week in preparation for today. I thought I remembered 1996 just like it was yesterday: seeing this film in the theater, in awe of how Michael Jordan reacted to cartoon drawings, loving all the zany antics & hilarity. Not knowing that Bill Murray’s 5 minute cameo would be what I would ultimately only remember vividly about the film. Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages…SPACE JAM DOES NOT HOLD UP. It has a bittersweet beginning with Michael Jordan and his father…it was emotional and sweet then in 1996 but it is now a bit bitter knowing that Jordan’s father was tragically murdered three years prior (our parents rightfully kept this sad shit from us when we were young).

But after that well done little opening, the film is all over the place. It’s not a terrible film by any means. When the film gets to Toon Town and the ‘ultimate game’, the entertainment ramps up to a watchable little romp. The new character of Lola Bunny was too cool for school and didn’t take any shit from bugs. The villain MonStars had a actual character arc. It pokes a little fun at Jordan wanting to play baseball. It has some other memorable scenes here and there (mainly Bill Murray). But…

  1. Michael Jordan can’t act his way out of a paper bag. He shows a little charm in some scenes but ultimately he looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, having a hard time interacting with what amounts to a green screen and tennis balls.
  2. The opening credits shamelessly put Jordan on a pedestal (small nitpick but I started rolling my eyes as a 35 year old adult when I re-watched it last week)
  3. There isn’t that much character development with anybody: Jordan realizes…teamwork? And maybe not to play baseball? The Tunes learn to…believe in themselves? I guess? Even though they believe in themselves in the old cartoons that they previously did?
  4. When compared to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which came out 8 years earlier, the animation and live action isn’t very impressive, especially on the court at the final game.
  5. Any scene with Newman from Seinfeld is unfunny, annoying, and you just want to punch him in the face.
  6. It needed more Danny DeVito voice work. And it needed more Looney Tunes focus & action (but is a masterpiece of focus when compared to this sequel)

I’m sure there is more but I’m trying to do a review of the sequel, so let’s get into it. To be fair, let’s just list the few positives this film has:

POSITIVES

  1. Don Cheadle
  2. The animation and live action blending here looks decent and uses modern technology to its fullest advantage.
  3. A Michael Jordan cameo that subverted expectations made me chuckle.
  4. A Rick and Morty 10 second cameo elicited the biggest laugh of the whole movie for me (I’m a huge fan)
  5. The film does have a couple of set ups and pay offs that worked, specifically dealing with an initial glitch in the son’s game he is designing at the beginning of the film.
  6. A couple of Looney Tunes sight gags here and there made me chuckle (one with the big red hairy Looney Tunes character and one with Wild E. Coyote made me laugh out loud).
  7. Don Cheadle

And that’s about it. I listed Don Cheadle twice because he looks like the only human participant in this picture that looks like they want to be there. He hams it up in every single frame he’s in and he looks like he’s having a grand old time. If he’s not, someone please give him a supporting Oscar nomination, because he could’ve fooled me. He’s also the only actor in the film that looks like an absolute pro talking to what is essentially a green screen and tennis balls.

Now, let’s list off the many, MANY negatives this film has:

  1. This movie is basically a giant Warner Bros. IP ploy. It just bukake’s everything under the WB logo and sun with every pop culture movie and tv character/property their banner owns. They show up EVERYWHERE. AND IT GETS VERY DISTRACTING. The attention is supposed to be on ‘the big game’, full of life and death stakes, but instead, character’s from The Mask, IT, Game of Thrones, Batman & Robin, Hanna Barbera, etc, etc, etc, show up and are clearly visible in the background that I ended up pointing them out to myself so much that I had to rewind the movie on HBO Max and make myself focus on what was happening on the court. How bad does it get? EVEN FUCKING RICK AND MORTY SHOW UP IN THIS FILM! At least the original film only had one pop culture reference that I didn’t get at the time, and that was to what is now my favorite movie of all time: Pulp Fiction. If you weren’t a fan of Ready Player One, the book and/or movie, because of the constant callbacks to other properties, prepare to REALLY, REALLY loathe this film.
  2. That being said, most of the movie relies on the Looney Tunes incorporating themselves into famous scenes and situations from Warner Bros. movies and tv shows like 8 Mile (the rap battle here is so fucking stupid), The Matrix, Casablanca, FUCKING MAD MAX FURY ROAD, the hard R rated film from George Miller, The Cartoon DC Universe etc. etc. etc. Not a spec of originality comes from the Tunes until the big game and even that was drowned out by all the sploodging of WB IP all over my fucking face.
  3. LeBron might have been one of the standouts of the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck, but here, he’s a literal trainwreck. He can’t act his way out of a smaller paper bag than Michael Jordan’s, and he doesn’t really seem like he wanted to be doing this. It screams paycheck. I know Michael Jordan can’t act but some charm at least seeped through in the original that showed he wanted to be in a movie that put him up on a pedestal. LeBron seems like he could care less as long as more money shows up in his hand at the end of it all.
  4. The opening credits, yet fucking again, puts LeBron up on a pedestal. I rolled my eyes twice as much as I did in the original Michael Jordan pedestal opening credits.
  5. There is literally no fucking character development here. What little there is, is just, “I need to pay attention to my son more, a son who doesn’t really want to play basketball. I also need to let him do his dream which is designing video games and not be such a hard ass.” And even that little message is muddled with all the Ready Player One bullshit that was going on around it.
  6. At least the MonStars in the original movie had an arc. They each had distinct personalities and realized they were being controlled by cartoon Danny DeVito too much and needed to branch out as toons on their own. Here the ‘Goon Squad villians’ have no story, no arc, they just show up for the final game with their God like special powers and say a few quips. That’s it. The villains in this, other than Don Cheadle, are completely ignored. And I understand that the villain players are basically just made up on the spot videogame entities created by LeBron James’ fictional son, but come on, some more humanity and back story go a long way. One of the few charms of the original film is that the MonStars steal the talent of real NBA players. And while the NBA players go on stupid hospital/therapy antics when they lose their talent in that movie, at least that was something. Here, it’s completely nothing.
  7. I like Zendaya as a person, actress, and celebrity but her voice does not match the character of Lola Bunny at all here. And it makes me enraged to think that the original voice actress for her (the one that voiced Lola in 1996) had recorded all of the dialogue as this film was being made, only to be dumped post production last minute and replaced by an A-List celebrity. For shame, Warner Bros. Let Zendaya do her Spider-Man and Euphoria thing and have ACTUAL VOICE TALENT VOICE YOUR FUCKING CARTOON CHARACTERS. You didn’t learn your lesson with last year’s SCOOB! and you certainly didn’t learn it here. They don’t need to be well known, they just need to be right for the part. Zendaya is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the right voice for the right character.
  8. Why the fuck is this movie even called Space Jam? At least the first movie they fucking played in FUCKING SPACE against SPACE ALIENS!!! Is it still called Space Jam because it’s supposed to be how much God damn server space that Warner Bros. has on all their IP properties? Why didn’t they just call it CYBERSPACE JAM?!? Either way, fuck that, I’d rather watch blood in my stool.
  9. Our lovable Looney Tunes are mostly in the background in this movie, in the deep deep shadow of Lebron James’ ego. In the original movie, all the main characters had a scene or two to shine. Not here. They are all amusing at times background screensavers as Lebron James doesn’t act right in front of our eyeballs.
  10. As one review on twitter put it: “Some of the reviews of SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY are missing the point. This movie wasn’t made for grown ups, it was made for kids. And if there’s one thing that kids today love, it’s references to Casablanca and A Clockwork Orange.” The reason why I see that a lot of kids might not like this film is the references that will go way over their head like the one above. I understand you can’t put in anything that references Disney but surely you could mention something more updated in these times for the younger crowd…
  11. Ummm…the movie gets very close to saying some naughty words that wouldn’t really fit the rating of this movie. Terms like “son of a glitch” is uttered (when uttered by Daffy Duck I honestly thought he said bitch for two seconds there). And there is one part where Don Cheadle is bleeped as he curses but I could almost clearly read his lips…And this was supposed to be a kids movie?
  12. Speaking of MonStars, they have a 2 second cameo that ruins their character development from the first movie, as they sigh and look depressed when the villains start to lose.
  13. LeBron James’ heartfelt climax speech to his son about his acceptance of his kid wanting to do other things other than basketball and also realizing he’s a shitty father is so cringe worthy it is sure to earn him a Razzie Nomination by the end of the year.
  14. There’s a “death”, “sacrifice”, what have you, that one of the main Looney Tunes characters make in order to win the big basketball game. Basically they risk deletion from the WB Server’s for good. At the beginning of the movie, a son does a specific basketball move with one of his players he created in the videogame he is making, and that move causes the game to crash and the character gets deleted. That is a set up for a pay off at the end of the movie to have a different character do that same move to win the game, but then get deleted. They set it up like LeBron James is going to sacrifice himself, but I knew one of the toons were going to take over and do it and I was seriously hoping it was going to be Pepe Le Pew. You didn’t see him the whole movie and then for him to just pop in the middle of the game would’ve been BOLD. That would’ve been a FUCKING BRILLIANT commentary on cancel culture and a smart and unique way to get rid of that character for good. But no, it’s another main toon. And that “death”, that “sacrifice” is completely null and void not 5 minutes later. You have this emotional scene with a character sacrificing sacrificing him/herself for his/her family (no, it’s not Dominic Toretto) and then act like it is permanent, only for the character to show up two scenes later and just shrug it off spouting, “I’m a cartoon, there’s no getting rid of me!” PATHETIC.

This review has gotten way too long, so let me end it with the following: If you are just a casual moviegoer that doesn’t get bothered by petty things, maybe one with a couple of young children to watch this with, or if you are still a no shame fan of the original, or if you suck down memberberries like Daniel Day Lewis does a hypothetical milkshake in There Will Be Blood, you might find some enjoyment out of Space Jam: A New Legacy.

But if you hated the constant memberberries ejaculating on your face in Ready Player One (novel or movie), if you hate LeBron James, if you didn’t care for the original film back in 1996 and/or don’t care for it present day when you finally grew a brain and learned better, if you are wanting just a bunch of fun and entertaining Looney Tunes antics like you’ve been getting with the charming HBO Max television reboot that has two seasons thus far on the streaming service (please watch that instead)…then you are going to want to avoid this like the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Grades for Both Films:

Space Jam – A New Legacy: 3 out of 10

Space Jam: 9 out of 10 (in 1996), 6 out of 10 (on a re watch in 2021)

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: CHARM CITY KINGS (HBO Max)

Out of three original movies since their launch (American Pickle and Unpregnant, I count Class Action Park as more of a documentary than movie) CHARM CITY KINGS is easily HBO Max’s best. And most of you, including me, probably haven’t heard of it. For me to describe it easily to you, it’s a 2 hr youngster, gangsters with dirt bikes, redemption drama. IMDB describes it with the following: “Fourteen-year-old Mouse desperately wants to join the Midnight Clique, an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders who rule the summertime streets.” This Midnight Clique, what you can garner from my description, they rule the streets both physically AND metaphorically. And while the movie does relegate to gangster group and youngsters trying to avoid a life of crime cliches during its runtime, and the movie drags just a tiny bit in the second half, the movie keenly kept my attention the entire run time, I thought it was very entertaining, the acting is top notch and the direction is visually striking. I haven’t heard of actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston, apparently he is great in a television series called Everything Sucks! but he’s fantastic here as Mouse, and I’ve heard of Meek Mill, I’m not too familiar with his regular music except when it’s in movies like Creed or Spring Breakers, but he’s a pretty damn good actor as well. However if you are looking for mainly dirt bike action sequences & stunts, other than a pretty neat chase at the beginning where the camera glides across the inner city effortlessly and the end credits, it was lacking just a little bit. Director Angel Manuel Soto, who I’m not familiar with, does a remarkable job with the rest of the film, there is neat camera work even in the tightest of spots, and I look forward to his future career.

For me though, not having that many dirt bike action sequences worked, because it easily could’ve been a movie that was all stunts, action and no substance. This has plenty of substance. The screenplay was written by Sherman Payne, who apparently has written the worst episodes of both Shameless and Season 3 of Scream The TV Series (yikes). Charm City Kings stretches his craft for sure, but that probably had something to do with the story was thought up by Barry Jenkins, whose film Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars several years ago (deservedly so although I would’ve loved for La La Land to have one) and even though I didn’t much care for If Beale Street Could Talk, it was written and directed well for what it was. Now Barry Jenkins is doing a live action CGI sequel to Jon Favreau’s terrible shot by shot CGI live action remake of The Lion King and all I have to say is…good luck with that. Anyway, the film is really really good for something straight to streaming. It’s not masterful or even great, but it’s very good. The movie even made me choke up a bit. Mouse has a side job as a veterinarian before he gets involved with the clique, so you can see everything that is coming from a mile away, but at least they didn’t totally abandon his vet skills like so many movies have done before, hoping you forget about a character’s gifts so that they can bring it back in an emotional climax. I also would’ve liked to see a bit more with the female love interest for Mouse, but at least it had a completed arc. But it’s the Winston and Mill show here and their chemistry and their scenes together make Charm City Kings for what it is, not so much the king of streaming movies, but a worthwhile charm.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: UNPREGNANT (HBO Max)

UNPREGNANT, just released today on HBO Max, is the exact opposite of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a heavy, heavy drama that came out earlier this year that is eyeing Oscar gold come 2021. However, they will both are still gonna have their detractors. They are both about a woman getting an abortion. While NRSA is a sad road trip movie to the point of depression, Unpregnant is a comedy road trip movie that that will elicit a chuckle or two. Both are only one time watches for me, and both of them will be complained about, NRSA for being too damn depressing while Unpregnant will have complaints pertaining something to the kin that you can’t make a comedy when the subject matter is abortion. So either movie, neither are going to win over everyone. At least Unpregnant’s laughs are much more sweet than they are raunchy and it focuses on the relationship between the two girls that are making the trip. The reason why it was a one time watch for me is that everything that happens in it I’ve seen in comedy road trip movies before. Literally nothing new. And it doesn’t really have all that much to say about abortion either believe it or not, no matter how much the film thinks it does. It isn’t all pro choice or all pro life, it briskly rides the line between the two, which I don’t necessarily know if that was the right call. Especially some of the narrative decisions of the actions of a specific supporting character, which I’ll get to later. Unpregnant isn’t unwatchable, but it definitely leaves me uninterested to give it another go.

Per IMDB, it describes Unpregnant as: “A 17-year old Missouri teen named Veronica discovers she has gotten pregnant, a development that threatens to end her dreams of matriculating at an Ivy League college, and the career that will follow.” To expand upon that weird log line that doesn’t really say amuch about the movie, Veronica decides to get an abortion and drive almost 1000 to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she doesn’t need the consent of her mother because she’s only 17 (the actress, Haley Lu Richardson, by the way, is 25-26, and this is about the last time she’s going to be able to pull off playing a high schooler). She manages to snag an estranged and almost forgotten close friend named Bailey to drive her there and keep her company, but little does she realize that their strained friendship will hit a few more bumps in the road along the way before it has the chance to be as strong as it once was. Will Veronica make it to New Mexico and back over a weekend before her mother finds out what she’s doing and if she does make it, will she even go through with the abortion? And will she and Bailey be able to mend the friendship that once was inseparable? Where the movie should’ve had more debatable dialogue and discussions pertaining to the first question, one would argue that the movie didn’t do that because it didn’t want to offend anyone. Really? That’s their excuse?

Also, did they really have to make the supposed father of the pregnancy an asshole douche bag just to write around having to make the movie morally ambiguous? I would’ve like to see the would be dad be a nice and caring young man that really wants to have the child, therefore making the viewer question the actions of the protagonist. But nope, they make him seem like a creep-o stalker that didn’t tell her that the condom broke when they were having sex a month ago. It was a cop out, screenplay wise. The girls also run into some religious pro life nut jobs about half way in, and even though that situation was handled a bit better than the protagonist’s boyfriend was, the story didn’t go where it needed to for any of the messages or morals of that altercation to have a deeper meaning. The main thing that makes the movie watchable and worth an hour and 48 minutes of your time is the chemistry between the two leads, Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira, specifically the latter with her hilarious facial expressions and one liners. Their relationship journey completely makes the movie, even though every situation they run into, whether trying to hide out from the cops or meeting possible love interests along the way, came from the ‘Idiots Guide To Road Trip Comedy Screenwriting.’ I would’ve liked the movie to dig into the issue of abortion a bit more. I think if the writers, one of them being Jenni Hendriks, whose novel this movie is based on, sat down and really took their time to craft some smart jokes while trying to educate people about the moral implications of an abortion, this movie could’ve been something special. But it’s just another road trip comedy, an anti Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a forgettable sweet afternoon snack.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: CLASS ACTION PARK (HBO Max)

CLASS ACTION PARK is a perfect little documentary that just premiered on HBO Max yesterday. Perfect in its construction and execution. The doc grabs you at first with “holy shit, I can’t believe this was real” laughs and then mid way through the film, keeps your attention by doing a 180 and presenting the cold hard facts of the corruptness and tragedy of it all. It’s not too long and it’s not too short (1 hr and 30 minutes exactly). It makes you want more by the end of it, yet it doesn’t over present its case. Instead it sticks with you long enough after you’ve finished the film where you end up doing the rest of the research on your own. Research that ends up going into too many details, just backing up the docs claims. If this information here to be added onto the movie, say about thirty minutes, making the doc two hours, it would’ve put the casual movie goer to sleep. Per IMDB, it describes Class Action Park as “a documentary that focuses on a dangerously legendary water park and its slew of injuries and crimes along with child safety concerns.” The 2018 Jackass movie Action Point was based on this park. The very much real Action Park was in New Jersey, built in the late 70s, but ended up being more notorious in the early to mid 80s. The first half of the movie presents the park’s origin, and detailed information on specific rides and how dangerous they were. It’s hilarious, “what the fuck”, kind of awful. The documentary is cut and interspersed with actual footage and ads from the park, some not well known celebrities such as Chris Gethard and Alison Becker with their memories of going to the park when they were young (Gethard’s tales are especially hilarious with the way he describes things), and then tales of recollection from the son of the creator of the park and some of the parks employees, high and low.

It’s a very interesting documentary. It makes you laugh, but then it makes you hate everyone involved with the creation of the park, and the upkeep of it. There are rides described (and some shown, either with archive footage or this zany crude original animation) in this film that will make your jaw drop straight to the ground. You don’t know how many times during the film my wife and I said out loud, “how in the fuck did they get away with this?” Luckily, the film answers that question, and even with the political corruptness happening to the United States today, those answers were still shocking to hear. You want to know how bad this park was? I can quickly give you a brief snippet from the doc that will answer that question easily: even Donald motherfucking Trump was about to invest it in back in the 80s before he backed out, deeming that the park was, and I quote, “too nuts.” Donald Trump didn’t even invest in that craziness, let that sink in. And then the documentary makes you sad while angry, as it goes into detail about the 5 deaths that occurred at the park, really focusing on one of those families, the tragedy, and its aftermath. The perfect ending stinger. It brings you in with laughs but then sucker punches you with sadness and anger over the dumb asses that let it all happen. If you aren’t riveted or floored by the end of this doc, then I’m sorry to say that probably no documentary is worth your time, energy and investment. Class Action Park probably won’t win any awards, as this documentary isn’t about poverty, or racism, or injustice, or anything akin to those that do win Oscars at years end, but it is quite effective with the subject matter it presents to its target audience, and at the end of the day, isn’t that a ride worth visiting?

Zach’s Zany TV Binge Watchin’ Reviews: PERRY MASON SEASON 1 (HBO)

Before you ask, no, I have not seen one episode of your great-grandfather’s or just grandfather’s old Perry Mason series that starred Raymond Burr. And I know that PERRY MASON SEASON 1 on HBO isn’t your great-grandfather’s/grandfather’s Perry Mason, as this one has a shit ton of adult content that couldn’t air on network television, even at this more forgiving time let alone back in the 1950’s. All I know, is that this is supposed to be a soft reboot/prequel series of the old show, but giving everything a very hard and dark edge. Per IMDB.com, HBO’s new Perry Mason is described as: “In booming 1932 Los Angeles, a down-and-out defense attorney takes on the case of a lifetime.” The original series is described as such on IMDB: “The cases of a master criminal defense attorney, handling the most difficult of cases in the aid of the innocent.” So needless to say, this is about what happened right before he became a criminal defense attorney, where he is a private investigator. This new series has the detective noir time period look and feel down. This series looks and feels amazing. The thing that is disappointing though is that half of the seasons 8 episodes are very mediocre in terms of story telling and character development. Very, very basic writing that doesn’t challenge the audience. Especially the awful, awful, awful, awful subplot involving the usually great Tatiana Maslany’s church leader character (and the subplot ends anti-climatic as well). But whenever the show focuses on Matthew Rhys and him alone, it shines brilliantly. Knowing that Maslany won’t be a part of next season, I might give it a chance, but I’m extremely on the fence about it.

It just seems like it the whole thing wasn’t conceived very well or at least half of it wasn’t. Episodes 1, 6, 7, & 8 really focus on Perry Mason as a character…and since the show is named after the titular character, he should be the main presence in every single episode. However, in episodes 2, 3, 4, and 5, the show treats him like a 4th or 5th fucking background character, focusing way too much on a crazy church lady and her mommy subplot that is so poorly written that I almost wanted to plug my ears either time Maslany or Lili Taylor opened their mouths. The season’s story goes like this, a couple’s child is kidnapped and killed, and the mysterious events around it lead to such a big conspiracy that the child’s mother ends up being put on trial of the crime, where Perry Mason is convinced she had nothing to do with it, with not only the evidence provided, but with some of it even tampered. A subplot involving high up church leaders trying to not only lend a hand to the mother on trial, but promising that her dead child will somehow be resurrected in the coming days…yeah, the first part sounded interesting didn’t it, and it almost lost you there at the end, huh? The church arc was absolutely pointless (except for a little detail that ties it in a different way to the kidnapping & murder), and the ending of those characters was rather…odd to say the least, you’ll see what I mean if you check this out. And the last episode was great in terms of Perry Mason’s arc, and his closing speech to the ladies and gentleman of the jury was powerful, well written, and well acted, but the conclusion to those events, and the fates of some of the characters that were perpetrators to the kidnapping and murders, felt out of place and kind of cliched to other, better tv shows & movies that have done it before. Especially when it came to certain karma.

Another problem I had with the program, is that the central story didn’t really have a mystery. We know who the perpetrator of the kidnapping and murder is from the very beginning. And knowing who it was, I was able to put two and two together on what exactly took place. It was kind of disappointing. On a lighter note, the television show though gets the look and feel of the 1930s detective noir time period though, and other than Maslany and Taylor, every one gives a fantastic performance. You feel really sorry for John Lithgow’s character, you want to strangle Stephen Root’s, Chris Chalk as a black police officer could score him a supporting nomination, but the man of the hour is easily Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason. He plays the character to perfection and completely melted away any fear I had of him just copying his masterful performance that won him an Emmy for The Americans. Every time Rhys showed up on screen, the show started to get a little bit better. I do have a suggestion for next season though, and instead of just focusing on one case, Perry Mason should focus on 3 or 4 at the same time, challenging the writers to make a compelling story/mystery without convoluted cliches or coincidences. Get them to write a perfect weave that doesn’t get confusing or sluggish. Write an actual mystery, and have the reveals saved for late in the season. Don’t just show your cards right from the beginning, it leaves absolutely no tension for the rest of your season. With a story like this, you gotta have tension and the fear of the unknown or you’ve completely failed as a narrative. The only way I will consider watching Season Two is if the trailer blows me away like Season One’s did, but if Season Two has a typical sophomore slump, with an already ‘only okay’ season one, Perry Mason will not have me joining him on another case.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: AN AMERICAN PICKLE (HBO Max)

Well I’m certainly not in a pickle, I easily can tell you that I very much enjoyed the new Seth Rogen original movie, AN AMERICAN PICKLE, that just premiered today on HBO Max. There are a lot of critics and normal folk out there thinking that this movie is just mediocre or okay at best, but I have a feeling that they might just be sour (pun intended) about no new great and big blockbuster movies being available in theaters for awhile, the pandemic finally getting the best of their opinions. Sure, it is another “fish out of water” story, a plot thread we’ve seen in many a film, including one of my favorites, the original Rush Hour, but this movie has a something bit more to say than just “that’s not how we do it where I’m from.” Instead it turns it into “that’s not something we can say, do, or think about because of the times.” Sure I would’ve liked the movie to be longer as the things it says feel a little cut off too quickly because the films’ length, but since the pacing was near perfect, it is easier to ignore my minor complaint. It is a tightly woven, no filler, one hour and 29 minute cute little PG-13 comedy that uses the often used recurring plot thread to say a little somethin’-somethin’ different about immigration, religious beliefs, sexism, social media, and cancel culture that I haven’t seen done in a film of its genre as of yet. Combine that with Seth Rogen easily giving the best performance of his career since ’50/50′ and you have something that is a little more special than just okay or mediocre. You have something a little more kosher. Again, pun intended.

Per IMDB, it describes AN AMERICAN PICKLE as: “An immigrant worker at a pickle factory is accidentally preserved for 100 years and wakes up in modern day Brooklyn.” To expand upon that description, he is preserved for 100 years in pickle brine, a ridiculous and impossible concept, one that the movie manages to make a rather clever joke about. I found myself either chuckling or laughing out loud every couple of minutes in this movie. Maybe I just appreciated something a little simpler from Seth Rogen instead of the R-rated, boob, dick, curse, weed, and fart jokes I’m accustomed to watch in every one of his films. This movie contains smart, well written jokes that make you think a little bit. It makes fun of Twitter and it makes fun of cancel culture in a series of ridiculously funny gags that don’t take one side or the other. It comments and pokes fun at sexism and the immigration process while also saying something heartfelt yet funny about genes, family, and religion. After you watch the movie, if you think about it, it toes a pretty perfect line. I don’t know, if you end up hating the movie, you could probably just say that I was in a desperate state of wanting anything to even be 50% better than most the drivel we have gotten since late March. But I encourage you to have an open mind when watching this movie. Dig a little deeper than just thinking its another Seth Rogen comedy at the surface. Read between the lines into what it is trying to say.

If anything, watch the movie for Seth Rogen’s performance. Or shall I say performances’s. Seth Rogen plays two roles in the movie, Herschel Greenbaum, the guy that falls into and is preserved in the pickle brine for 100 years, and he also plays his great grandson Ben Greenbaum, who reluctantly takes Herschel in as the only family he has left in his generation. While Rogen’s performance as Ben is somewhat familiar as a more quiet and subtle Seth that we’ve seen in other films, it’s his accent and mannerisms as Herschel that makes his performance soar. I was constantly laughing at Rogen’s facial expressions and anything blasphemous flying out of that character’s mouth. And while the movie is quite predictable plot structure wise, I still had fun with the journey. Writer Simon Rich, who has written for Saturday Night Live and did some additional story treatment for Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out, has written here a heartfelt story that has a little more to say than most in this comedy category. When watching the trailer, it looked very standard, but thankfully they saved all the good stuff for the actual film. This is director Brandon Trost’s first big directing gig, as he has been a cinematographer on several Seth Rogen films, and his direction is crisp and clean, with no tonal problems whatsoever. That’s another thing, critics complained about drastic changes in tone, which I very adamantly have to disagree with. Usually I feel those, and if I did miss any, it was probably because I was enjoying this enough to ignore it. I kind of relish this movie. To me, there was never a dill moment.

Zach’s Zany TV Binge Watchin’ Reviews: AVENUE 5 (HBO)

I watched the first episode of AVENUE 5 on HBO when it premiered after a new episode of what I will always keep continuing watching if there are any more new seasons, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I couldn’t even finish the pilot episode. It was unfunny and seemed like it tried to rip off the look and feel of The Orville, with more crude, crass, dick and fart joke humor combined with a Gilligan’s Island like overarching plot structure/device. I heard though, that the show is like the beginning of VEEP, and that you have to give the whole season a chance before you decide whether or not to give up on it. I gave Veep a chance, and ended up loving it to the point where I stuck with the whole show through the series finale. With Avenue 5, I’m glad I ended up going back and finishing all 9 really quick episodes, as I ended up really liking it (not loving though) and think it is ripe full of potential for us to receive a much, much better season 2, to the point where I could end up loving it. The reason I was interested in Avenue 5 to begin with was because creator Armando Iannucci had also created Veep, which I ended up loving mainly due to the excellent ensemble cast and that it played with both sides of the political coin and wasn’t as biased as I thought it was going to be. Avenue 5 is political in a different kind of way, and found it’s footing about halfway through the season, with some hilarious sight gags, plot threads, and incredibly funny and well written one liners. It does though has a way to go for me to say that it has an excellent ensemble cast (mainly due to my annoyance with one particular actor). I also wanted to watch it because I’m a big fan of Hugh Laurie, but I also didn’t want to watch it because of a previously mentioned actor who I will reveal and complain about more in detail a little later on in the review. Suffice to say in the end, I’m glad I went back and gave this quirky space comedy a chance.

IMDB.com’s synopsis nails the whole thing right on the head: “The troubled crew of Avenue 5, a space cruise ship filled with spoiled, rich, snotty space tourists, must try and keep everyone calm after their ship gets thrown off course into space and ends up needing three years to return to Earth.” Three years? Three hour tour? You can start to see where my Gilligan’s Island like structure/plot device I described above comes into play. But Gilligan’s Island was, to me anyway, more focused on character development while trying to find a way out of their plight. Finding a way out of their plight was plot B, with a focus on character being plot A. Avenue 5 is the exact reverse of that. Every episode deals with different ways that the crew can get home sooner, say 6 months, and they try to execute said plans only for giant fuck ups to happen where they end up might even extending their time in space to a full 8 years. With all this, there is a giant sacrifice to character development here, in which there essentially isn’t anyway. Almost every character is unlikable and only Hugh Laurie (as Captain Ryan Clark) & Lenora Crichlow (as Billie McEvoy) showing very small shimmers of maybe moving past their selfishness in a future season. This lack of character development helps yet hurts the series, as it is in very close proximity to the characters of Veep, and at the end of that series, *spoiler alert* NO ONE FUCKING CHANGES. But they are all so despicably hilarious that the lack of learning lessons is forgivable. Compare Avenue 5 and Veep to Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia for a point of reference, where no character learns any lessons at the end of any of the episodes or seasons. It remains to be seen if Avenue 5 can successfully continue on that trend quite yet, but I really would like to see this show expand and have characters learn and be changed by lessons, even if it is only in a character or two. Doing this would separate itself a little bit from the pack of the others where NO ONE changes, and not end up being just another copycat full of despicable yet hilarious human beings.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room (not a pun, not referencing a body type, just a big problem with the series) and that is Josh Gad. There is no doubt that Josh Gad is talented. He was one of the main players when Book of Mormon first went to broad way, he is beloved as Olaf in Frozen, etc. etc. But EVERYTHING else I have seen him in, he just comes off as unlikable, loud, and annoying. To be fair, he is just being cast in these already annoyingly written roles, it’s not his writing at all, and if Mr. Gad were ever to read this, I would beg him to reconsider what scripts he chooses, don’t become a stereotype! In Avenue 5, he’s the one character who you don’t even love to hate, you just want to reach through the screen and choke that character to death so you don’t have to see him anymore. He plays the character named Judd, the character that made this space travel luxury thing happen. He is also a massive egotistical maniac, and also dumb as a sack of bricks. If the series wants to do any character development at all, I would suggest that Judd would be the way to go. But considering what happens in the first season, it just seems to me that Gad will get more annoying by the episode. And that is a shame. Everybody else though, while their characters you won’t like, they do a good job acting as them, and convincingly make you laugh at them as well. Zach Woods, who you know from Silicon Valley and Gabe on The Office, has some of the best faces and one liners you will see and hear on television all year. Basically, once you get past the first set up episode that doesn’t contain one real laugh, if you want to see a bunch of despicable characters bitch at each other for 9 episodes, HOWEVER that whole premise is combined with delightfully funny ways of all of them trying to get out of their awful predicament, I completely recommend Avenue 5 during our own kind of quarantine like hell we are going through. Very reminiscent of the times for sure. Will definitely make this a part of my television watching universe whenever season 2 set sails.

Zach’s Zany TV Binge Watchin’ Reviews: WESTWORLD SEASON 3 (& THE SERIES AS A WHOLE)(HBO)

What the fuck happened to WESTWORLD? This is easily another case of “oh how the mighty have fallen” indeed. I mean, Season 1 is near perfect. Perfect story. Perfect pace. Perfect acting. An incredibly creepy performance by the great Anthony Hopkins. We all wanted to go and have fun at that park. Then season 2 happened and instead of feeding us out of the same feeding tube, the same speed of flow, they put about two dozen extra feeding tubes on there and flipped the switch to overload. The sophomore slump was pretty much horrendous. Awful pacing, too many time switches and time line fuckery’s (even though I was easily able to keep up, about 90% of the audience couldn’t though). The acting was still there and the visuals were still crisp and clean, but everything else about it was absolutely convoluted. In the end we ended needed a break from the park. Well, SEASON 3 literally gave that to us, completely reinventing itself, hardly any time spent in a park, both narrative and visual wise, shorter and tighter episode count (8 instead of the other two seasons previous 10), and they even gave us Jesse Pinkman…errr, I mean Aron Paul (one of the seasons very few highlights). And while 1 to 2 episodes of the run were near perfect (in my opinion Episode 2 titled, “The Winter Line” and Episode 5 titled, “Genre.”) and the end to episode four titled “The Mother of Exiles” being very action packed, what the story led to, the other 5 episodes, the end game especially in the final episode titled “Crisis Theory” really led to nothing more than a bunch of meh. The story was supposed to be about fate and what we make for ourselves but in the end didn’t have any major or surprising revelations, I literally shrugged when it went to end credits, and it seemed that all that episode was for was a bridge to give its audience some very ho-hum after credits sequences that will likely build to another empty promise.

I’m still going to finish out the series however long it goes. It’s more interesting than The Walking Dead ever was a a whole (and I still watch that nonsense), but all of this convoluted storytelling makes me want to just go and watch the old short 95 minute movie that was written and directed by the great Michael Crichton. If you haven’t seen the old Westworld movie, please do, it is a real treat. Series showrunners Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan (yes, Christopher Nolan’s brother that co-wrote The Dark Knight wit him) say that this series is meant to last six seasons. I really want to know what is in there heads as to how. Even the end of Season 3, as shrug worthy as it was, felt like it could’ve been an ending if not for the couple of after credit only thinking about the future and not the present, ho-hum scenes. Now while all the critics and audiences’ thought it was bold for Westworld to go out of the parks, into the real world and in a new direction, we all agreed that after this season ended. We missed the parks indeed. My guess is that with supposedly three seasons left (I see the ratings completely dipping in Season 4 and that HBO tells them to wrap it up with a Season 5), the story will take us back to the parks that we fell in love with. Kind of like how Hunger Games went back to the arena in Catching Fire, but then Mockingjay book crashed and burned because there were no more fighting arenas. I know that sounds contrite and selfish, but if you can somehow manage to contain your story and keep it in motion with the environment the audience loves…why change the formula?

I would’ve agreed to the formula change if the narrative went somewhere I actually cared about. In the end, kind of spoiler alert, it’s all about Aaron Paul’s character, and his acting, along with Evan Rachel Wood (who’s a good actress but kind of too loud and brash on social media), and Thandie Newton, completely carry the season. They and the two masterful episodes I mentioned before are the only things that make Season 3 a tick above in quality to Season 2. The ONLY things. Especially the Genre episode. It’s the only episode of television to come as close to perfect as most of the episodes we saw in Season 5 of Better Call Saul. It’s action packed, challenges the mind, acted to perfection, and visually gorgeous. It sets up themes that you think will have surprising conclusions (but the final episode fails on that promise) and it is perfectly edited. I think you could watch that episode completely out of context and still enjoy it. If the conclusion to Season 3 had been as masterful as the set up, I would be completely into all of it and really excited for Season 4 (God knows when we’ll get that), but since the final episode was just a bunch of talking leading to a bunch of predictable and “who cares?” conclusions, when Season 4 ends up finally airing, I’m more than likely to be, “oh…Westworld is back, guess I could check that out again.” It’s just so disappointing because the potential is there, but they are having an extremely hard time unlocking it after they went successfully went in and out of Pandora’s Box in the wonderful first season.

I get that the story eventually had to get to “how can these robots and humans go exist together in life?” But there aren’t too many ethical questions the series brings up to try and have a good and lengthy debate about the ramifications of said questions. It only half-assed, “well, because it just can” kind of answers. The season also tries to play with fate and has a couple of giant computers that can predict the outcome of every individual on Earth’s life, and of course some of the story is “how can we expose or shut down this system and start letting the humans of Earth make their own choices without any predestined paths. Should we let human’s make their own choices? The conclusion to this train of thought, again, is a bit ho-hum and disappointing. It’s just matter of fact one sided answers. Maybe the true answers are in future seasons? But with the way things concluded this past Sunday, I’m thinking there may not be much more to discuss on the matter. We’ll see. You want to know my biggest problem with Westworld? With about 80%-90% of the actors being robots, no one really stays dead. If they do die, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) can just use the Devos company technology to make a dozen more copies. WHICH FUCKING HAPPENS. I couldn’t keep track of how many Delores or Maeve’s there were this season. If death doesn’t really stick, why should the audience care? And one of the robot characters seem to have a definite conclusion, but since this actor/actress is one of the main stars of the show, I doubt he/she is done with it, which again, makes me beg the question, “why should we care if there aren’t really any true stakes?” Also, Jeffrey Wright’s character is extremely short changed this season…was he just not available where they had to write a really short story for when he was they could shoot it all quickly? Hopefully they bring him back with a vengeance next year. Westworld Season 3, and the series as a whole…has mastered the art and look of the artificial…but definitely not the intelligence.

Zach’s Zany Movie Review: BAD EDUCATON (HBO)

I think this is my first time reviewing a original HBO film or a movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and then was bought and released by HBO. One of the two, but I know this is my first time reviewing something like this as I had to add an HBO tag to it. Anyway, that was off topic, BAD EDUCATION is a fantastic movie, and dare I say, the best original film to premiere on HBO…ever. Well, from what I’ve seen anyway, you may know of something better. The film is based on a true story and it follows the largest public school embezzlement in American history and the beloved superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district and his staff become the prime suspects. Some are saying its a dark comedy while others are saying its a dramedy, where I saw a straight drama with just a unintended absurd joke here and there that may or may not have been intended to be funny. Whatever you want to categorize the film as, it is great and you should watch it. And you should watch it without watching any footage of it whatsoever, trailer or tv spot, and definitely do not read HBO’s log line of it right before you hit play as I think it ruins some of the fun. It is absolutely downright shocking how much some of these people got away with for so long in this movie and it all came crashing down because of one pep talk and one sibling being a real motherfucking idiot.

The film stars the fantastic Hugh Jackman and also features Alison Janney and Ray Romano. Jackman plays the superintendent who wants his school, Roslyn, to be number one in the country and/or state (I forget which because I don’t think it was exactly said and/or I missed it?) with ivy league college acceptances of highschoolers. So much so that when one of the people in his administration is outed as embezzling money from the school, he wants it taken care of quietly as to not out the school to the public. Part of his problem? A junior in the high school paper that decides to not do just a new puff piece of this school “skywalk” project and instead she digs a little into the school’s pending budget. If I say anymore I’ll ruin it, but just trust me, the movie is fantastic. I was enthralled from beginning to end, and I don’t think I looked or played on my phone once during the movie. That’s saying something. Now while realistically speaking, the film is directed well by Cory Finley, stylistically wise it is kind of a let down when comparing it to his first feature film debut Thoroughbreds, which had more of a artistic flare so to speak. This film seems like anyone could’ve just pointed and shot it with a gritty filter to make the film feel dated even though it takes place in 2002. But I will say that with that movie and this in tow, he is definitely a A+ solid actor’s director.

Because the performances make this film fantastic. Everyone does a great job. Alison Janney is reliable as always, Ray Romano keeps proving that he was too good for his own sitcom all those years ago, and that Hugh Jackman has a hell of a career post Wolverine. While I wouldn’t say that this is his best performance (will always think it’s Logan, sorry) it is pretty damn close, making us feel for the character, yet questioning his every move and reasoning behind it throughout the film. The script is nice, tight, smart, witty, and concise and the film moves at a very legitimate pace. Not too fast where it feels like the whole thing was rushed and not too slow where it would just bore the viewer with too much information. Instead the movie does the very smart thing where it doesn’t just tell, it shows, and that makes all the difference in the world with some movies. I think HBO is offering a bunch of its content for free right now and I believe this is a part of that package. So if you can find HBO or HBONow or HBOGO I would highly recommend you check this out if you have the time. The whole movie has a very well placed message in the aftermath of such a huge scandal such as that one and it doesn’t bonk you over the head with it every few minutes. Bad Education contains good education on what definitely NOT to do in such a huge position of power. Karma is definitely hiding just around the corner.