Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: WAVES (no spoilers)

WAVES is a film playing in limited theaters that is starting to get some Oscar attention late in the game. So naturally I went to see it to check it off my potential nominations list (btw, I’m not doing the full thing like I did last year, only thing I want checked off the list as a whole are the Best Picture nominees). It is actually a really beautiful film about the choices we make and the “waves” of reverberation it has on those around us. The consequences more specifically. While the film is a whole, it is unique by completely switching gears (thankfully not jarringly) a little more than halfway into the film, into another character’s perspective. And the first half will have you nervous what is in store for the characters, while the second half will calm that nerve down but make you a little bit more emotional. With my critique of the film as a whole, I do have to say that one half of the movie works better than the other (the first), but that isn’t to say that the film falters in anyway, it’s just a personal opinion of what worked for me. If you like family dramas with a little bit more of a bite, an edge, this is probably right up your alley. I can tell you that the movie really makes you think about what could happen to you in a flash because of a major split second mistake.

And the film is gorgeously shot too, changing aspect ratios several times based upon the mood of the movie. It was written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, whose only done three films, and I’ve only seen one of the other two, It Comes At Night, and I didn’t really care for it at all. This film shows his true potential. Another thing that makes this film stand out is the fantastic score by Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won a well deserved statue for scoring 2010’s The Social Network. Their work here is nothing short of amazing as well, and I hope that maybe it can sneak into the Best Original Score race come next month when Oscar nominations are announced. What is the movie about? Well, to not get into any spoilers, let’s just say it deals with a family, specifically the brother and the sister. The brother is a praised high school senior athlete, in wrestling, who finds out he has a major, major problem with his shoulder…and his sister, a grade or two below him, stands way under his shadow, but starts to find love with a boy, played by Lucas Hedges. Their father, played by Sterling K. Brown, while a good man, maybe pushes the brother too hard while neglecting the sister a little. And that’s all you need to know. Anything else and the film is completely spoiled.

But it’s a solid movie. The first half is extremely tense, while the second half will probably make you cry Niagara Falls. I expected one of the outcomes of the perspectives to be much worse in my head than what happened on screen, but thinking back on it, that was me just trying to come up with the worst situation possible, and not in regards to what would make a good story or work with the narrative. The acting here also elevates the movie into something that is definitely worth checking out. Sterling K. Brown we all know is a fantastic acting, having already won several Emmy for his work on This Is Us and American Crime Story, and here is he just as good. Maybe not Oscar caliber yet, but extremely close. Lucas Hedges, who has been in a shit ton since being nominated for supporting in Manchester By The Sea, is great here too, playing the sister’s shy love interest. The Oscar caliber performances come from the two playing the brother and sister, Kevin Harrison Jr. (only good part of It Comes At Night) and Taylor Russell (the main girl from Escape Room). Again, without spoiling anything, both of their performances are riveting and heartbreaking. Any other year, they’d be more in the Oscar conversation. But yeah, good film, not much more to say on it, other than what I’ve already said: a solid family drama that makes you think, and will make you think harder with the choices you make in the future.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: MARRIAGE STORY (Netflix, no spoilers)

MARRIAGE STORY is Noah Baumbach’s best film. If you’ve been a long time reader of my reviews, or know me in person, I probably haven’t said too kind a word about most of Baumbach’s filmography including (but not limited to) Greenberg, Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories or even the critically acclaimed The Squid And The Whale. I just thought his films were a little bit too quirky and they were trying to be quirky without being subtle with any of it, trying to shove it in your face and scream in your ear, “Hey, I’m a really quirky independent film, look how fucking quirky I am, you must love me because I’m different and quirky.” No, that shit doesn’t work for me. Marriage Story is his most real and down to Earth film, some parts being quirky, but they earn their quirkiness for being real and not shoving spoonfuls of it into your face. The dialogue is crisp, the acting is fucking phenomenal, both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deserve to be nominated, and I would not raise one concern if they ended up winning. Marriage Story is actually a pretty great film. But I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever watch it again. Ever. Have I said ever?

Not to rip on the film, it’s trying to be as real as possible, and I appreciate that in the best way possible, but this film is so fucking hard to watch. And I can’t imagine how hard it is to watch for couples/individuals going through a divorce, already been divorced, thinking about divorce, right at the end of a divorce, fuck, even for people going through a small rough patch in their relationship/marriage. It really fucking feels real. Oh shit….did I forget to mention what the film is about? Well, the title is a little misleading isn’t it? The movie is called Marriage Story, but it’s really the story of a couple going through a divorce with a kid. And no, it doesn’t go through flashbacks with them to show their marriage through the years (that is done tastefully and authentically well represented through fantastic dialogue), it is just saying that divorce could be part of a story about marriage. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s characters are medium profile successful people. Driver’s a director who’s play that he co-developed with Johansson is about to launch on Broadway without her (because of the divorce) and she is a small time actress whose TV pilot got picked up to series, and she had a huge teen movie hit in her past. She moves to L.A. for the show and wants Henry to be with her. Driver wants to stay with his career in New York. They both want to do the divorce without lawyers, but suddenly she’s getting one, which forces him to get one…as you can see, it turns into a giant messy mess, which I’m guessing is what a lot of divorces are and what they do to people.

That’s all I’ll tell you about the story film. The film is a hefty 2 hrs and 15 minutes of just depressing sadness. But there isn’t a slow minute to be found. The dialogue is crisp, clean, interesting to hear, real and comes at you at rapid pace. There are some genuinely funny scenes that try and relieve you somewhat of the trauma these two are going into but don’t be fooled, this movie is a straight one way ticket to Depressed Town. The ending? Hopeful yet real yet still made me sad. It’s just a sad sad sad sad movie. And I think the reason it is so sad is because of the acting and that these characters seem like people you might know in your own lives. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deserve all the acting nods and possible awards they are going to get in this. They are absolutely fucking incredible, the best performances I’ve seen from either of them, and Scarlett was fantastic in JoJo Rabbit just a month ago as well, Driver great in The Report on Amazon Prime. I love how the film paints neither as a bad guy, they are just wanting something different out of their lives, and think that this divorce will finally un-tether a cord that has long been frayed. The movie doesn’t choose sides at all. It chooses a side on certain situations, but these two characters aren’t despicable or ugly or mean, or unforgivable. They are just normal people.

Other fantastic performances include the always amazing Laura Dern and the fiesty Ray Liotta, who play their lawyers. Very good bit parts for them. Marriage Story is an excellent film. I can’t even deny it. There was hard work in writing it I’m sure, and hard work in directing it as Noah Baumbach has stated he took some of what happened with his divorce with Jennifer Jason Leigh into account with this story. It’s very well made and Netflix was very smart into picking this up for their platform. This did not need to be a theatrical release as I think the subject matter wouldn’t have people flocking to the theaters. It’s a perfect little awards film. But I don’t think I could get through it again with how fucking sad and depressing it is. Am I recommending it? If the subject matter doesn’t bother you at all, then I say you absolutely give it a watch. People that cry during movies a lot? No. Depressed individuals? Are…are you kidding? Happy couples or people in a happy marriage? Well, I mean, sure as long as you don’t think it is going to start exposing the little shit layer by layer and then you end up pausing the movie and fighting yourselves. People going through or have been through a divorce? As Leo said in The Wolf Of Wall Street, “Absolutely fucking not.”

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: QUEEN & SLIM (minor spoilers)

While I enjoyed QUEEN & SLIM enough to give it a minor recommendation, mainly because of Daniel Kaluuya’s incredible fucking acting (he’s this generations Denzel, this man will eventually win an Oscar one day, believe you me), the motivation for the Queen character to make them both run away from the scene of the cop shooting (especially since it was recorded on the dash cam and you can clearly see it is self defense) dumbfounded the shit out of me. Especially considering her occupation (a respected attorney) and the fact that she reveals she got a black man off a murder charge before (citing it was an accident, and one could argue that their situation was an accident as well). I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Surely there could’ve been a way to get Slim off via self defense and even more so when they eventually find out the cop had killed an innocent black man before and got off scott free. But no, she makes them go on the lam, when he was wanting to stay at the scene of the incident first place. It just seemed to me to be a bullshit excuse to get the plot rolling, otherwise you would have no movie. Actually, not quite true, them going on trial could’ve been a fantastic legal thriller. Anyways, that main issue, another hiding out issue, plus a couple of weird comedic moments (with a story like this they felt extremely out of place) kept me enjoying the movie to its fullest extent. But their travels, the acting between the two leads, and the ultimate message of the film won me over in the end, but probably not for a second viewing.

If you don’t know the story (you could put my context clues together and figure it out) but two individuals (Queen & Slim) first date takes an unexpected turn when a police officer pulls them over. The police officer goes too far multiple times with the situation, is a white racist asshole, and ends up shooting at Queen, and when Slim gets into a tussle with the officer trying to protect her, he ends up with the officers gun and shoots the asshole in the head. Queen gets Slim to run off with her and they must find a way to keep one step ahead of the police and get out of the country (to Cuba). That set up is a great one. You have conflict, a strong message on police racism and brutality, you got suspense, making it look like self defense makes you care and root for the characters. So what exactly went wrong? I’d point it down to the screenplay having Queen’s occupation being an attorney. Her thinking in just running away from the scene makes absolutely no fucking sense whatever. The whole film I kept waiting for the true motivation for why she really fled the scene and the movie didn’t give it to me. In fact, it kept giving me reasons (combined with the one listed in the first paragraph) that made me even more dumbfounded than I was before. Took me completely out of the film. Her occupation led me to another problem I had with the movie. They go out and hide at her uncle’s for a day and a half. Her being a respected attorney, there is no way they could’ve gotten away staying there for that long. Especially when it reveals that the damn uncle was her first law case and she got him off a murder charge. Wouldn’t have the police looked into relative history right off the bat and sent troops there to check on the house? I mean, come on.

There are also a couple of comedic moments, one that takes place at a burger joint, the other Bokeem Woodbine’s over-the-top acting, that took me out of the film again. Those two moments just didn’t feel to me to be appropriate for the trauma that the two characters were going through. I understand those were created to have some comedic relief moments for not just the characters plight, but for the audience to also take a breather. What confuses me are that there are other, better little moments of lightness the characters experience, like at a dance joint and riding a horse, that fit in with the narrative more more perfectly than the other two unnecessary instances of humor. To me, those two parts could’ve been re written more to fit with those other “relief” moments. That’s probably just going to be my opinion on that though. You’ll probably find those parts hilarious and laugh your ass off. They just didn’t gel for me when I was trying to get into the seriousness of the central conflict. Damn, it seems like I’m getting on to this film a little too much, so let me quickly get to the stuff that did work. Most of the dialogue works very well, even if you didn’t have the excellent chemistry between Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie-Turner Smith. Lena Waithe, mostly known as an actress, proves that she has some pretty damn good writing chops, even with my conflicting feelings about the initial running away motivation of the Queen character. It actually tackles the message of the police “shoot first, ask questions later” problem enough to where it makes you think yet it doesn’t try to hit you over the head multiple times with it. The message also gets right that it can be ANY cop, not just white and racist. If the story had gone down the path of Queen & Slim staying at the scene and on trial, I’ll admit it could’ve went into that territory and I might’ve had a problem with that? It seems like you can’t satisfy me, right? That’s not necessarily true, Lena Waithe could’ve surprised me going down that avenue of the story, we’ll just never know.

Remember earlier, when I described the conflict I had with a couple of over the top comedic moments against the better lighter moments between the two characters? Those lighter moments are what made the movie for me. I won’t get into all of them for spoilers sake, but when these moments happen, the movie completely shines and takes it to another level I wish the rest of the movie could’ve been. But I reiterate, I did enjoy the movie enough, and the positives outweigh my dumb issues with the film to give it a recommendation. The film looks good, the cinematography is gritty yet gorgeous, and director Melina Matsoukas, known for episodes of Insecure and Master of None, knows how to perfectly frame a film and is clearly one of those rare perfect actor’s directors. This film can connect to a lot of people. It already has if box office numbers from this weekend prove anything (it did better than expectations). All I am asking for I guess was I would’ve liked a tighter screenplay with clearer motivations that made sense, and also some less ‘Get Out’ over the top comedic moments. Otherwise, you have a solid road trip thriller. If you have any interest in going on the run and joining Queen & Slim on their adventure, I’d say take the trip if you get a chance. Might not warrant multiple trips, but I think you’ll enjoy the ride for what it is.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: THE REPORT (Amazon Prime)

None of my theaters had a great late evening show of Queen & Slim, and add to that a bit of Abuelo’s food poisoning, and I didn’t end up seeing that (but will this week), and instead caught up with a new movie that was just released on Amazon Prime called THE REPORT, starring Adam Driver. In the vein of Spotlight and the also recent Dark Waters, The Report details one man’s quest for the truth when investigating into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Needless to say if you cover politics heavily or are familiar with these events, this man discovers some shocking secrets indeed. This isn’t an action film or even really a thriller, it is very dialogue heavy, but don’t worry, the screenplay is very tight, giving the audience all the main important information needed and in a way everyone over the age of 18 could probably understand. Some of these filmmakers in Hollywood really want ordinary citizens to know the truth of what went on behind the scenes of some of the most famous debacles in history, and they fear (and rightly so) the only way to do so is turn it into a feature length film, but hopefully entertaining enough so no one is nodding off at home streaming it. Hell, they’re right. I wouldn’t have searched into this if there wasn’t this movie telling me all this shit that went down. They also did their due diligence with this film: I did not get sleepy once, and I watched it pause free until the end credits.

With Adam Driver being in everything under the sun this past year, from Star Wars, to Marriage Story, to this, to other shit I’ve probably forgotten about, how in the hell did he have time to film this? Well, considering the fact that there isn’t that many locations shown during the movie and it’s basically him in a room looking over paperwork for half of it and then in his boss’ office for the other half, I’d say this took no more than two weeks to film. But no matter, I didn’t expect an actioner, I expected an informative film to keep my eye lids open and on my tippy-toes, provided that the movie also delivered with the acting. It did, as Adam Driver is again at the top of his game, throwing some semblance of a conscience into the proceedings when his character is told time and again not to make the investigation personal. There are other actors in this as well, such as Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, and Annette Bening, but they are all just window dressing to Driver’s building, which was fine, because the movie would’ve made a mistake if it focused on anybody other than him.

The movie is written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who is more of a screenplay writer than he is a director. I think this is his first big feature to flex his directing muscles. He’s definitely an actors director and would make a solid one moving forward if he stuck to the informative projects he’s been involved with. He also wrote The Informant!, Contangion, Side Effects, The Bourne Ultimatum. Don’t really see him ever directing an action-er considering a lot of this film was just point and shoot but am willing to give him a chance considering he’s a very strong writer and knows what he’s doing. I am not going to dive into my own opinion of these torture reports and my view on politics as A. I don’t want any of you political afficianados ripping me a new one if I don’t see eye to eye with you and B. I need to stick with my view on movies, as that is what I love to do and what I think I’m good at talking/writing about. And as a movie, The Report was shocking, informative, entertaining, with very impressive dialogue, impressive acting and an impressive way to get this vast amount of information (we are told the initial report is 7,000 pages long) into just a 2 hr film. Gets a solid B+ from me, a good report indeed.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: KLAUS (Netflix)

Hey, so it’s after Thanksgiving so you are probably looking for Christmas classics to watch with the family while they are still here for the weekend, exhausted from the bullshit that is Black Friday. While there are old reliable films such as Home Alone, The Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Jingle All The Way, the bajillion adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and the classic claymation specials. Or if your family is just full of adults and you are into more sinister shit like Die Hard, some version of Black Christmas, Bad Santa or even the newer Better Watch Out, there is a new film I’d like to talk about on Netflix that was just released. Something that everyone, young and old, will enjoy, and that I think will end up being called a holiday classic in the next five years. It’s called KLAUS, and it is a more grounded, realistic take on how the whole myth and story of Kris Kringle came to be. It’s basically Santa Claus Begins, but with beautiful hand drawn animation that uses CGI lighting techniques to create an unique all new animated tale. It’s really something, the movie just keeps getting better and better as it goes along and deserves its emotional climax that I swear to God if you don’t have a lump in your throat, tearing up, or crying your eyes out at the end of it, you need a lump of coal in your stocking this year.

The film starts out with a post master general sending his self entitled spoiled brat son to a place far off north called Smeerensburg in a “make it or break it” deal: either successfully handle 6,000 letters in a year or be cut off from his lifestyle. When he gets to the town, it appears deserted but in actuality is invested by two groups of people that can’t fucking stand each other. There’s even a bell in the middle of town and when/if rung, they all come out of their homes to try to violently beat the shit out of each other (keep in mind, this is a family film so no one is actually really hurt and/or killed). Anyway, this spoiled brat postman eventually befriends a reclusive toy-maker, who feels bad for the children in the town that don’t have the hatred in their hearts the parents have for each other, and without spoiling anything else that happens in the film, the origin of the story of Santa Claus comes to light, albeit a bit more organically and realistically. There is of course more to the story, including a great comic relief gag about a woman that is a teacher at a school in town that isn’t used as a school, but as a fish shop, that all culminates in an hour and 36 minute tale that is magically funny, charming, heartrending, heartbreaking, yet hopeful and inspiring.

The voice acting elevates the film even more than the storytelling already does, with Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Norm MacDonald, the great J.K. Simmons, all providing excellent vocals to make all their characters come alive and not be one dimensional. Every emotional beat is earned, all wrapped into a giant incredible hand drawn animation package that you just don’t see anymore nowadays, but still wish you did. What is incredible is that Disney had nothing to do with this, this is Netflix’s first original animated feature, and they completely knock it out of the park. Their storytelling is so phenomenal, not even some of the best Pixar films have come close to matching Klaus’ wit and dexterity. I’m liking that my reviews have been shorter the past couple of go a-rounds, so I think I’ll end it here, and just say, Merry Thanksgiving/Christmas to all, and for those to all have a good night, cue this delightful film up to give your family nights some much needed holiday cheer.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: THE IRISHMAN (Netflix)

If Goodfellas, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Departed are masterful Scorcese, and if Casino, The Aviator, Gangs of New York are great Scorcese, then Shutter Island, Silence, Hugo, and THE IRISHMAN are good Scorcese. Because really, has there ever been a bad Martin Scorcese film? Not that I’ve seen. This being his magnum opus and finale to his unofficial ‘gangster’ trilogy (the other two being Goodfellas and Casino. The Departed was more fictional), I expected maybe a bit…more? And no, not more run time wise (being 3 hrs and 30 minutes). One giant, glaring problem with the movie is that it is just way, way, way, way, long. There were several scenes I felt could’ve been cut to not only secure a smaller run time but maybe be a bit tighter narrative wise so that the end would’ve had a more emotional punch (maybe something between Goodfellas run time of 2 hrs and 30 minutes, and Casino’s run time of 3 hrs) Don’t get me wrong, I still liked the movie quite a bit, and the de-aging technology was absolutely phenomenal, but in the long run case of Martin Scorcese’s new movie, I felt like a little less would’ve been more.

But you get some great Scorcese scenes in here, particularly when he does his thing of making a scene nice, smooth, and rolling (literally) with a dolly, going into one room, back out, around, then back in. All the camera work in this film is stunning. And you get the great Scorcese acting. Everyone in here does a great job, to DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci (although I can’t really see any acting nominations coming, a hard maybe with Pacino) to even Anna Paquin’s only two lines in the movie, every nuance performance makes a powerful statement. And this based on a true story tale is very interesting, and Wikipedia again makes more of a perfect log line then I could’ve: “The film follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).” I like my gangster dramas grounded, real, and down to Earth. And even though a lot of reports said that when Frank Sheeran divulged all this information near the end of his life, that he was more than likely full of it, everything that happens seemed real, like it really could’ve taken place, so I was completely sold.

The film uses its violence in just the right way, it isn’t over excessive or glorifying, and all the time periods it went through felt like those time periods. So why in the hell am I only saying it is good Scorcese, but not great or masterful? Again, it’s the run time. And I know the run time is supposed to make it feel like you were with Frank Sheeran all his life so when that last shot happens in the film, the message about these people’s lonely and dangerous lives really gets into your head, there are plenty of movies that achieved the same effect but were 45 minutes to an hour shorter. Constantly throughout the film, I was pointing to my television screen saying, “okay, didn’t really need that,” “nope, didn’t need that” and the film goes all Return of the King on us and has multiple endings, which lessens the emotional punch that the final shot is supposed to have.

The film still has an emotional punch, don’t get me wrong, it’s just lessened by the excessive amount of time it takes to make those points. And it just made me a little disappointed. Emphasis on little. Because the rest of the film is pretty great. Scorcese picks the perfect oldie music to surround his film, the editing and score is perfect, and the pacing is pretty good even though a couple of scenes go on too long. I’m not going to make the same mistake as Scorcese and have this review go on and on and on and on. So while I’m not going to make you an offer you can’t refuse to watch The Irishman, if you’ve got three hours and a half hours to kill, I can recommend that you can’t go wrong with another yard spinning new (and maybe last) gangster tale from a master class director.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: HONEY BOY

You probably haven’t heard of the movie HONEY BOY, or if you have then you probably know it’s the one that Shia LeBeouf wrote based around a younger version of him and his father. It takes place over a couple of days of them living in a ramshackle hotel sort of place while Shia, or in this case Otis, completes all of his child career Hollywood gigs. It also flash forwards to an older Otis to see how his PTSD of having to deal with his asshole father has effected his young adult life. Oh, and Shia LeBeouf plays his own father. And probably gives the best performance of his career, even though I have already said that about 3 times already with Lawless, Fury, and The Peanut Butter Falcon. Lucas Hedges of course delivers as the adult version of Shia/Otis, but the scene stealer (when LeBeouf isn’t on screen) is the kid that plays the younger version, the kid that you might’ve just seen playing Christian Bale’s son in Ford V Ferrari, Noah Jupe. Hopefully he isn’t having a stressful and sad childhood like Shia did. The whole point of this very short Thanksgiving review is: is the movie as sweet as honey, or more of a pie in the face?

Not really either. It’s half way decent but a lot of parts are really hard to watch because of the awful way Shia’s father behaved. I’d probably never watch this movie again, but I have a feeling writing this film, and then starring as his own abusive father was really therapeutic for Shia to finally let himself heal and focus on the positives of the rest of his life and career. Also, it turns out Shia is a very decent writer as well as an actor and I look forward to seeing other projects that he happens to write a screenplay for, as I see fantastic future potential. I did like the vagueness of some of the screenplay, going out of its way to avoid saying what projects that Shia is working on both young and older where he’s having these drinking, drug, and behavior problems, but little robot noises and an explosion set, a set where he’s in old prohibition clothes, and a fantasy sequence talking to a television dad actor obviously points to his time during Transformers, Lawless, and Even Stevens.

This movie is basically in existence to explain his weird past behavior and a very solid warning to those that think fame is everything, it isn’t. I feel really really really bad for what Shia had to go through and can only hope that getting all this out gives him some peace. He’s fantastic in it. Absolutely fantastic. Everybody is. The younger Otis/Shia has some really remarkable scenes with this much older young adult that lives in the same shanty hotel (I didn’t know if she was some kind of prostitute but it was hinting she was) that is borderline romantic and almost goes into statutory rape territory, but it stays platonic. They just really need each other to get through life. The film is directed Alma Ha’rel, her first feature length, and instead of going all independent shaky cam, she combines it with some truly remarkable static shots proving that she is a force to look out for in future projects. Honey Boy is a decent little movie that isn’t just therapeutic for Shia, but a word of warning for people that have too many fantastical thoughts about fame, but even at a short 93 minutes, it may be too hard for some to experience more than once.