Zach’s Zany TV Binge Watchin’ Reviews: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. FINAL SEASON 7 (& series as a whole)

Ah, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. what an interesting journey, both on screen and off. The real question remains: is it canon or is it not? I mean, the first several seasons, particularly the first and second, connected directly to Captain America The Winter Soldier and Thor The Dark World. Nick Fury and Sif even showed up for an episode or two! But then from each season on, the world outside the television show it took place in, started getting mentioned less and less, and even though Thanos was mentioned near the end of season 5…we never saw the series link to any of the later Marvel Cinematic Universe films, especially Infinity War or Endgame. After those movies went by before the shows’s sixth and seventh seasons premiered, the show runners and producers couldn’t even answer simple questions as to when all their events exactly took place. Is it still canon, or if not…is it now it’s own thing…it’s own timeline? Because with the last 3 seasons, we aren’t given any exact dates or years, any time that passes, it is just casually mentioned with a title card or two ‘one year later’, no big deal. So, that brings us to a new question: in SEASON 7, the final season at the very end, is everything connected? Does it concretely establish itself as MCU canon? My concrete answer: even if it does or doesn’t (it kinda sorta does and doesn’t), it doesn’t really matter. After the first three seasons, the show became its own thing, and without the constructs of having to adhere to the MCU theatrical timeline, its storytelling exploded with rich exposition, imagination, and character development. When it became it’s own thing, it was absolutely riveting. And although season 7 does have a couple of nods to the MCU, ESPECIALLY the last two episodes, at the end of the day, who gives an ultimate shit? Us still loyal viewers, we wanted an ending for the CHARACTERS, and not just placating fan service to Infinity War, Endgame, or even Spider-Man Far From Home. Did we get that character ending? Abso-fucking-lutely we did.

Not only do I feel safe in saying that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a fantastic series finale, but I’m quite confident that it was the best season out of the seven, a truly rare accomplishment indeed. Out of 13 episodes, maybe only one lost my attention a couple of times. The other 12? Some of the best episodes of the entire series, especially one directed by series regular Elizabeth Henstridge, that pays homage to Groundhog Day to absolute perfection. Most of the series maybe had about only half a really great season, and half a so-so season. Let’s do this in order shall we? The first half of the first season is absolutely fucking abysmal. But those last 11 episodes, especially when it ties itself to Captain America The Winter Soldier…solid. Season 2 takes season one’s momentum and ups it a notch, showing how Sky (Chloe Bennett) finds her lineage and her real name (Daisy), along with her superhero identity (Quake). It lagged a bit in the middle though. Season 3 takes the Inhuman story line and steps it up yet a tiny notch further, especially since the references to the MCU become smaller and smaller and smaller. Again, it lagged a bit during the middle though. Season 4 stumbles a bit with the Ghost Rider introduction, but once it gets to Life Model Decoy’s about half way through the season, not to mention almost no other connections to the MCU, the storytelling gets very, very good. Season 5 is the last 22 episode season that was my favorite until this last season. I couldn’t believe that almost each and every episode mattered, considering I think any show that goes over 13 episodes now per season is tiresome. But season 5, dealing with the team going way into the future and facing the ‘Destroyer of Worlds,’ was an excellent, excellent storyline.

And the ending of that season? It honestly could’ve been the end, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Season 6 was just a notch below, but that is mainly because I didn’t like how they made Clark Gregg (usually Agent Coulson) play a different character that also happened to be the villain of those 13 episodes. But the show now being only 13 episodes instead of 22 made it have more of a solid foundation and didn’t become tiresome. And it was still entertaining because the rest of the characters flourish, especially one that was introduced in season 5, Deke, shines here. Season 7 ties everything up, and without giving too much away, Clark Gregg is back as Agent Coulson, everybody gets a fitting ending, and the time travel to the past story line is fun and exciting. Even though the actor that plays Fitz was mostly absent, it made up for it when he finally appeared. Oh…and they pick up a character that was on Agent Carter, and actually give him an arc and an ending story line, which was nice considering that show was (rightly) cancelled abruptly after two seasons. If feels as though season 7 was completely pre-visualized before they even starting writing dialogue or full scripts. This final season has a very nice and tight arc, that while being extremely fun, especially the first 7/8 episodes, makes sure that the final 5/6 don’t rush everything. It plants seeds in the first half of the season that steadily grow into a flower that blooms the last 4 when it’s still fun, but taken more seriously, story line wise. It is hard to talk about without revealing anything, but I can say that the story involves the characters going through several different time periods in the past, and trying not to fuck up the main timeline, especially when the evil Chronicoms (you’ll have to watch the series to get what I’m even talking about), are intent on ending S.H.I.E.L.D. and possibly all of mankind in the process.

The villains this season are good, and although I could get into who they are, it is best not to give any of the reveals away. So what I can talk about without giving much away is how I felt about the series character and acting wise, focusing on the main cast only. Chloe Bennett turns Sky from an ‘aw shucks, what is happening to me’ kind of one dimensional character, and transforms into ‘Quake,’ a bad ass heroine that rivals any of the female superheroes we have gotten in the MCU theatrical films. Clark Gregg was a side character in those films as Agent Coulson, but he and the showrunners took the several glimmers of personality we got in those films, and turned it into a full and satisfying emotional arc in these seven seasons of television. Ming-Na Wen, who played Melinda May, is yet another heroine, but without any powers, that rivals most if not all of the female superheroes in the MCU. She constantly surprised us every season with how deeper her initial one-dimensional hardened character could go. Ian De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Fitz and Simmons were the true emotional heart of the series. Their friendship and maybe more than friendship was the one constant the entire seven seasons had. It never wavered once in its storytelling, even though Ian is mostly nowhere to be seen this final season (for a good reason it turns out). I don’t know whether he didn’t want to be in this final season as much because he got tired of being on the show, or if it was a creative decision. Either way, his arc here worked. And his arcs in the other seasons and acting were fantastic as well. Elizabeth’s really worked. She took a geeky girl scientist nerd and turned her yet into another strong and emotional bad ass heroine. And like I said before, she directs Episode Nine of this season titled, “As I Have Always Been,” that is easily my favorite episode of the series.

Henry Simmons as Mack was always the strong brute that could’ve also been just a two dimensional character, but in later seasons he got his emotional moments and brilliant one-liners enough to branch out on his own. And then finally Brett Dalton, Natalia Cordova- Buckley, and Jeff Ward, who were only in a third to almost half of the series episodes as Grant Ward, Yo-Yo Rodriguez, and Deke, all shined in whatever screen time they did have. Especially Brett after Grant Ward’s big reveal near the end of the first season and when Jeff Ward got to cut loose with Deke in season 6 and made him the comic relief. It was also nice to see that during these whole seven seasons, there was never any showrunner or writer shake up. They stayed put and got to do their vision their way, which is always commendable in the day and age of studio interference. The only thing the studio interfered with here was the uses of any character that the films maybe wanted to use down the line, which actually benefited the show, seeing it didn’t have any chains to weight it down. In summary, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of those very rare shows that just got better and better as time went on. It will be known more for the second half of its life than its first, which is astonishingly unbelievable. Once the connections to the MCU went away, everybody got more creative and more time to play. And it shows. So in the end, who really cares if it is canon or not? I certainly don’t (even though in my mind I can argue and provide proof for both ways). When I just finished the series over lunch, the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t whether or not canon even mattered because of the confusing nature of where exactly this took place in the MCU. No, the first thing that came to my mind was how emotionally satisfying the arc of all the characters ended and how the storytelling really did become its own…Pandora’s Box, if you will. And it was all very…very satisfying and I loved that I got to open Pandora’s Box for seven years. Now if only they would let the two showrunners, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen…write their own MCU script. Just imagine…

My personal rank of seasons of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. :

  1. Season 7
  2. Season 5
  3. Season 6
  4. Season 4
  5. Season 3
  6. Season 2
  7. Season 1

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: I USED TO GO HERE

Ah, the awkward nostalgia trip “hang out” movie. We’ve gotten a lot of those the past decade haven’t we? There aren’t that many that have not been done before: lost loves, old party houses, old school mates, drugs, diners, drive-ins, and dives (yes, pun intended on that last one). I USED TO GO HERE is not an exception to the rule. So when you aren’t an exception, you gotta make the movie at least entertaining when you are surrounded by predictable elements, and in that, it succeeded for me. But it might not be very memorable down the line. Produced by The Lonely Island guys, I Used To Go Here stars Community’s Gillian Jacobs and per IMDB, “Following the launch of her new novel, 35-year-old writer Kate is invited to speak at her alma mater by her former professor. After accepting the invitation, Kate finds herself deeply enmeshed in the lives of a group of college students.” The movie does go down the familiar path of where the protagonists work is not that successful and most of the jokes surround her taking the criticism in a different dumber of ways, but thankfully Gillian Jacobs innate ability to turn those predictable narrative threads and react to them in her own unique way make them a little bit fresher than normal, is what is part of this film’s small charm. Jacobs thankfully isn’t just playing Britta from Community here, and more of an “aw shucks I just take everything in stride and am just along for the ride” type character.

The movie really succeeds starting in the last half hour, where she goes spying on one of her old professors, played by an almost unrecognizable and more clean cut Jermaine Clement, with some college kids she just met that are staying at her old college house. This film works on entertainment value alone, but don’t expect anything too deep in terms of allegory or theme. It’s just a simple hang out movie, where the story takes place over a night or two, one where the characters share a little heartache, a little remembrance, some passion and laughter, they learn a couple of lessons, but their experience might be hazy or not remembered at all in several years down the line in their lives. Which is exactly how I’ll be with this movie in time. If it ever comes up in conversation or I ever happen to remember it again, I’ll remember it for Gillian Jacob’s aw shucks cute as a button performance, yet not much else. I am not familiar with writer/director Kris Rey’s work, but she is definitely an actor’s director, getting realistic performances form all. I just wish there was a little something more from the movie. It felt just like a much more likable Holden Caulfield type hanging around his old school for a couple of days and maybe learning a lesson or two. But this worked for a one time watch, but in about a decade I’ll probably be saying, “oh yeah, I used to remember that movie, from what I can recollected, it was fine.”

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: BANANA SPLIT

BANANA SPLIT just happened to be a random find while cruising Netflix. When looking it up, it was certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the premise sounded interesting, and it was released back in March of 2020 (even though it was made two years ago and played at film festivals for a bit until then), so here I am, able to review it. And I’m glad I did, because this was actually a decent little teen comedy that didn’t treat the audience as if they were morons. Witty, fun, yet crude dialogue that made our two protagonist characters hilariously funny. Combined with their undeniable chemistry ended up making this film a breeze of a watch, especially that it is also only an hour and 28 minutes long. It doesn’t drag once whatsoever. It’s one of those R rated coming of age tales that in no way shape or form would’ve made any kind of money whatsoever in theaters, due to the fact that while the two leads have been in a bunch of stuff your teen children could recite off the top of their heads, I only knew them from things when I looked up their names on IMDB. Streaming is the perfect platform for this movie. And it thankfully isn’t a Netflix original film, I looked it up and found that you could rent or buy cheap on other VOD apps like VUDU or FandangoNow for anyone interested that doesn’t pay for the big subscription streaming platform. Speaking of IMDB, it describes Banana Split as such: “Over the course of a summer, two teenage girls develop the perfect kindred spirit friendship, with one big problem: one of them is dating the other’s ex.” The reason why I probably enjoyed this film the most is that the two leads reminded me of two good friends of mine that act the same way toward each other, although neither of them has dated the same guy…thank Christ for that.

Halfway through the film, I started thinking to myself, “man, some of this dialogue is so crude and rude there is no way that a woman wrote this.” If the reveal had been a guy I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. How am I supposed to know if what was said and made me laugh was authentic from a woman’s perspective? Well, it is authentic, as I was surprised to find out that the co-writer of this screenplay was the film’s main star Hannah Marks. She co-wrote it with her frequent collaborator Joey Power, which makes me want to check out their 2018 indie After Everything, which has similarly gotten good reviews. Her and Liana Liberato are fantastic here. Their friendship based off rules of not talking about the latter’s current boyfriend and the former’s ex felt genuine and realistic. Granted, it does go into some predictable territory by the film’s end, such as the audience knows the leads are eventually going bring up their feelings of jealousy and get mad at one another, but to give the film’s credit, it doesn’t wrap up everything in a nice and neat bow. There are a couple of threads left dangling, and the film does that on purpose, as the story is just about the resolution of these two’s relationship and their relationship alone. We have a couple of side B plots involving the boyfriend, played to the best of his stone face ability by not Jughead Dylan Sprouse, and his red headed best friend, and while a couple of things happen that are interesting, the movie knows it doesn’t need to focus on them as much as other teen comedies would have. Focusing on them too much would’ve bogged down the narrative.

The movie isn’t revolutionary in terms of the teen comedy or the crude sexual content comedy, it’s just a fun little flick that mostly works because of the fast, witty dialogue and the chemistry between the two leads. It was quite refreshing to not have a teen comedy go directly into the toilet within the first five minutes of the film, it had a natural progression that set things up as need be, and then the pay offs, although some of the predictable, didn’t try to do anything too outlandish. Hannah Marks should keep on keepin’ on writing. and unlike Ben Affleck, she’s a pretty good actress where I’d say she could star in her own stuff and it not seem like too much at one time. I’m really curious as to if maybe these two girls are actually really good friends in real life, but I don’t have the energy to do that much research on such a little film. Judging by their Instagram’s, I don’t think they are, which they could’ve fooled me as all their interactions in the film feel very realistic. I really don’t have any complaints about this film. It is a decent couple of times watch teen comedy that got quite a few laugh out loud moments from me. A movie like this isn’t meant to be studied or held up on a pedestal, it isn’t supposed to make you think or be nominated for any awards, it is just meant for escape and to have fun with it, something different than the bullshit movies on Netflix like Feel The Beat or Work It. Something worth your time and you can pay 100% attention to and not have your mind split over other activities on your phone or computer. It was a nice little indie treat.

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: WORK IT (Netflix)

Holy shit…if I was really that lazy I would just go back and copy my review of Feel The Beat, paste it on here, change the names and move a couple of things around a bit and BOOM!…you have my review of Netflix’s new and yet…**groan**…another dance competition movie…WORK IT. Starring a former Disney star/singer/actress that is too good for this shitty material. I mean…really Netflix? Feel The Beat was less than two months ago, and you are going to put out yet another dance competition movie in so short a time that it is literally comparing rotten apples to rotten apples? You could’ve held this thing till January and still had some of your pride intact. But no, because of coronavirus, you are running out of shit to put on the streaming service, so here we are. But Zach, Feel The Beat was more like a family friendly version of Bad News Bears meets a competition movie where as Work It is more of a high school Pitch Perfect homage. Um…no, they are the same film, they both have almost the exact same plot beats (they even fucking advance from the first round due to technicalities, this film actually uses that word for fuck’s sake!), they have the exact same formula, and since there is little to distinguish one sack of crap from the other…it is called a RIP OFF. Work It is a rip off. It is almost the exact same film Pitch Perfect is, but dancing instead of acapella. Is there a love interest for our protagonist? Absolutely. Is there a dumb bad acting asshole villain from a rival dance team? Does a bear shit in the woods?

Ready for the big reveal I was going to wait until the end of this review to prove my rip off point? I’m just too excited I’m going to let the cat out of the bag early. The director of Work It is the same director…as PITCH PERFECT 3! That’s right, the filmmakers couldn’t even hire an unknown director where it would’ve given them their shot and pushed their limits a little directing something like this, but no, they went for the safe and easy option and got someone that had already directed the exact same type of film, because laziness. And the writer has only written one other screenplay…the critically and commercially slammed Ugly Dolls of last year. And now we get to Work It, which IMDB lamely describes as: “When Quinn Ackerman’s admission to the college of her dreams depends on her performance at a dance competition, she forms a ragtag group of dancers to take on the best squad in school…now she just needs to learn how to dance.” **YAWN**. Let’s look at IMDB’s description of Pitch Perfect, shall we? “Beca, a freshman at Barden University, is cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school’s all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus competition.” It’s. The. Same. Movie. Look, this movie is so mediocre I was guessing what would happen ten minutes before it happened and every time it ended up proving me correct on screen, my wife, who was watching the film with me, kept giving me the finger. On about the 4th or 5th time my wife gave me the same hand gesture for “fuck you, I hate it when you are right,” I said, “look sweetie, you’ve been with me for 11 years, I’ve taught you all about this Screenplay 101 laziness bullshit…don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Now let’s get to you Sabrina Carpenter. I’m going to talk directly to you except that I know you are never going to read this because you don’t take common folk like me seriously. So I’m just talking to myself. But alas, I have to say…YOU ARE TOO GOOD OF AN ACTRESS TO BE ACCEPTING SHITTY ROLES SUCH AS THIS JUST TO PROMOTE SEVERAL OF YOUR ORIGINAL SONGS FOR YOUR SINGING CAREER. You were easily the best part of this movie. I know you can dance in real life and the way you pulled off having to act like you didn’t know how, was quite believable. Look, you were good in The Hate U Give as the friend/bigot villain and right when Girl Meets World premiered, everybody watching the pilot episode with me said you were too good in it to actually be on that show. Fire your agent, and get someone that is going to take your talents a little more seriously. You are the only reason why I made it to the end of this film. That and some of the dancing was fun to watch. But the mediocre cliched love story, the cliched plot beats, the cliched dialogue, the really bad predictability bogged down the movie too much for me to have even pressed ‘Play’ in the first place. I don’t know why I did, maybe because I had nothing better to do? Fuck you coronavirus. At least it looked like you had fun making this movie Sabrina, everybody else knew what they were in and looked like they wanted to dance themselves to death. Netflix, stop producing or financing this kind of rip off content. You are better than this. You need to work it to keep our subscriptions.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: RETALIATION

I don’t think U.S. marketing knew what to do with RETALIATION, considering that this movie was just released recently in the States, but back in 2017 overseas and under a different (and more sensible) title, Romans. If you look up the movie on popular streaming services like VUDU, FandangoNow or Amazon Prime Video you will see Lord of the Rings’ Orlando Bloom’s face front and center, all beat up, holding a hammer and the hand holding it all bloody, with a look of…well… revenge and retaliation on his face. Per IMDB.com, it describes this movie as such: “An adult victim (Bloom) of childhood sexual abuse confronts the horrors of his past.” To expand just a tiny little bit on my own for you to understand the point I’m eventually going to make in terms of being marketed incorrectly, this childhood sexual abuse is from a priest that raped him when he was 12 years old. Believe it or not, IMDB has the better description of this movie (not to mention it correctly lists it as a 2017 film). Let’s take a look at VUDU’s description: “Malky, a demolition worker whose life receives a seismic shock when, out drinking with friends at a local pub, he sees a disturbing figure from his past: the man he holds responsible for a traumatic childhood incident. Fueled by anger, Malky sets out on a path of vengeance–and discovers that no one can escape the consequences of their sins in this taut thriller.” Thriller…pfft. So combine that brief description with the visual marketing to get you to rent or buy the movie, No go and watch the trailer. I’m serious, go and do it, this might be the only time where I recommend you do before diving head first into a movie. You’ll thank me later.

Done watching the trailer? Okay, so now, combine VUDU’s description of the film, the visual stupid direct to U.S. video on demand image of Blood beaten up and holding a hammer, as well as the trailer you just watched. What movie does it seem like it is going to be to you? A revenge thriller where Orlando Bloom goes all “crazy” and kills a bunch of pedophile priests? WRONG. It is not that movie, but here’s a twist you didn’t see coming, I knew that going in. So this review isn’t going to be how my expectations were damaged because of false advertising. No, I’m determined to give you different expectations before you watch this movie (if you watch it) so that you don’t hate it after you view it or if you’ve already seen this and hated it, why you shouldn’t hate it that much because it isn’t the movies’ fault. For me, Retaliation is a hard to watch, half way decent, one time viewing featuring Orlando Bloom’s incredible, best performance to date. The movie is hard to watch because there are a couple of self mutilation scenes that make make you gasp and/or stomach churn. However, they are necessary as it correlates with the themes of the movie and make sense with the protagonist’s plight. At first the movie makes you think it is going to be a revenge type thriller, but quickly pulls a 180, being more of a very slow burn character piece that is much more juicy narrative wise with a pitch perfect ending. I’m glad it took the 180 route, because if it hadn’t, and it was just a straight tale of revenge, then my disappointed feelings with The Last Of Us Part II would’ve effected by critique greatly.

But it doesn’t! Just expect a lot of characters talking to each other, some love and friend mishaps, ‘mommy issues’, several long (and very well written) monologues where Orlando Bloom vents his frustrations about what to do with his thoughts and demons, followed by an earned final 10-15 minutes. Don’t expect ‘Kill Pedophile Priests: The Movie.’ The film doesn’t overstay its welcome at a lean hour and 35 minutes and to watch Orlando Bloom powerfully and emotionally steal every scene he is in was an acting treat to behold. He’s never ever ever been this good. If this was a normal movie, released under normal circumstances, he probably could’ve been considered for Awards at some point. Alas, maybe something else down the line, he’s still young. I can’t get into the writing and directing history of the filmmakers involved all that much, because I’ve never seen any of their other work, but I can say that the dialogue was believable and true to the subject matter, and the direction was dark, moody, and the shots looked good. Look, I’m not a religious person at all, I just admitted on social media that I’m an Athiest (especially in part with the whole priest sexual abuse allegations that have been going on for quite some time), but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to respect the source material if it happens to be in a movie. Far from it, as after watching this I wish it would’ve been released in the U.S. under its original title, Romans, the film being centered on that part in the Bible that talks about enemies and forgiveness. That title makes so much more sense, especially near the end. I don’t know who the fuck came up with ‘Retaliation’ but they need to be crucified.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE SPEED CUBERS (Netflix)

Since it is just a tad past forty minutes, the new documentary on Netflix, called THE SPEED CUBERS, counts as a feature length film, so here I am bringing you a really, really short review to highly recommend this very quick watch to you. The Speed Cubers is about Rubik’s Cube World Competitions to see how fast young individuals can solve one of those puzzles, mainly the 3X3, although they have competitions for the bigger ones as well. Yes, you read that right. Rubik’s Cube solving competitions. The documentary focuses on two of the best if not THE best speed cubers in the world, one normal young adult from Germany (Feliks Zemdegs), and then a little younger adult autistic Chinese kid from the United States (Max Park). I pressed play mainly to see how fast these guys and girls could solve a Rubik’s Cube, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes with what I saw, faster than a fucking bullet it seemed. Absolutely astounding. But with this short feature length documentary, you get more than that, you get a story of two competitors that aren’t rivals at all, in fact they are close friends and both support each other even when one beats multiple world records of the other.

It’s true friendship. And the documentary also dives into the Max’s parents and how they raised him where Max ended up overcoming a lot of the obstacles that come with autism. If this documentary doesn’t put a lump in your throat and one or two tears in your eyes, then you aren’t really a compassionate human being. This documentary is the perfect length, not too short and it doesn’t over stay its welcome. It does warrant maybe a sequel or two where we follow other individuals that compete. I still can’t believe there are competitions with how fast you can solve one of those things, and these guys can solve a 3×3 Rubik’s cube in about 6 to 7 seconds. You literally won’t believe your eyes. Makes me want to get a Rubik’s cube and go on YouTube to figure out the formula for solving one of those. In no way does it want to make me practice over and over and over and over again to solve it in mere seconds. And this skill isn’t pointless, it focuses your mind and harnesses it to be able to solve patterns and strengthen your hand and eye coordination. But I’m 34 God damn years old and although I can still type pretty fast for someone my age, there is no chance in hell these flimsy things could even come remotely close to keep up with these youngsters. Fuck. I’d probably get so frustrated I’d throw the thing out the damn window!

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: THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY SEASON 2 (Netflix)

The sophomore slump. It happens to 95% of television shows. The second season of almost anything is usually not as good as the first. For example: 24, Lost, Alias, Homeland, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, and Westworld, to name a few. There is the occasional exception when you think of shows such as Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Friends, and The Americans. Well, the 2nd season I’m about to review of a newer popular Netflix series has just reached that rare 5% where it not only doesn’t have a whiff of a sophomore slump, but completely destroys that cautious train of thought. If THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Season 1 was the series’ A New Hope, then SEASON 2 is its EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Season 2 eclipses Season 1 in every way imaginable: character development, plot structure, acting, pacing, twists, turns, visuals, and its entertainment value. I couldn’t believe how perfect the second set of ten episodes were. It starts off with a bang and does not let up, the final three episodes being some of the most perfect hours of television I have seen in 2020 along with the entirety of Better Call Saul’s 5th season. This season is a masterpiece, and it doesn’t matter if Season 3 is not up to snuff (which if there isn’t a season 3 after this Netflix is out of their fucking minds), there is no way in hell it could ruin the perfection of what I just witnessed. To put it in a better metaphor: the show’s umbrella did not let a drop of rain ruin the cashmere fabric that is these ten episodes.

I won’t be digging into Season 1 all that much on here, so if you are looking for an in depth analysis on it, I suggest you look elsewhere. I will just say that Umbrella Academy’s first season is a fun, if not flawed first 10 episodes, where the first couple of them are great and the last couple are great, but the middle of the series lags a bit. Only do the acting and characters pull through that slog to reach its grand epic conclusion. If you haven’t seen any of this show…what the fuck are you waiting for? The Umbrella Academy is about a family of 7 former child superheroes, who have grown apart, one of them even dead, that must now reunite to continue to protect the world. Well, that’s the first season in a nutshell. Minor spoiler alert for that season (but don’t worry, won’t spoil the big stuff of Season 2), they end up failing in the end and have to use one of their time traveling abilities to go back in time and try again. The first season ends right as they time travel, right before everything blows up and dies around them. The only thing I will reveal about the 2nd seasons story is at the beginning it is revealed that they went a little too far back into time, the 1960’s to be exact, and they have to prevent another and different kind of apocalypse, this one much sooner than what they had experienced in April of 2019. That’s all I’m going to say. Needless to say, when watching a trailer tease for this 2nd season, I was worried at first about the story line having a copy cat apocalypse angle from the first season and just doing more of the same. Boy, was I dead wrong.

The names of the seven characters are Vanya, Klaus, Allison, Luther, Ben, Diego, and Number Five. Their arcs and screen time were kind of uneven last season, focusing a little too much on just Ellen Page’s Vanya, but this season, everybody gets the exact same amount of screen time, all of them have full, interesting arcs and densely developed story lines. One villain that was uninteresting and in the background too much in the first, Kate Walsh’s Handler, is front and center this time and much more interesting, and a new character Lila, played extremely well by Rita Arya, has a fantastic dynamic with Diego and her own interesting reveals. Plus you have little mini arcs with some interesting characters from last season including Hazel, Pogo, Grace and Reginald Hargreeves, but nothing too distracting that takes away from the main seven. Episode 7 is easily the best of the ten, providing a new look at a list of time paradox ticks that are used perfectly and hilariously (you’ll see what I mean when you get there). I can’t reveal much more, so I’ll end this by saying that the series has a fantastic climax that is perfectly plotted over the course of the last three episodes (making the climax of season 1, that really just took place in the last 15 minutes of the final episode, feel rather tame), the visual effects are much more striking, the characters have a shit ton more to do, and Robert Sheehan’s Klaus and Aiden Gallagher’s Number Five, much like last season, steal every scene they are in. It’s just a fun and engaging second season that is perfectly structured narratively, directed and shot to perfection, and the character development is crisp and acted to new heights. It’s a perfect season of television, an unbreakable, sturdy umbrella if you will, that is sure to make you weather this COVID-19 bullshit of a storm for a bit.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: RADIOACTIVE (Amazon Prime)

Is it just me, or is it odd that what is supposed to be a biography celebrating Nobel Peace prize winner Marie Curie and her findings, she discovered polonium and radium with her husband, turns out to be a scathing piece of how her discoveries hurt the world more than it helped? RADIOACTIVE doesn’t know what kind of tone it wants to have, completely nose diving in its second half narrative wise when the first half was somewhat enjoyable. The only constant this movie has is a wonderful performance by Rosamund Pike as Curie, probably her best performance since Gone Girl and A Private War. The film is mostly told in a linear fashion but is continuously disrupted by a flash forward to where her discoveries ended up costing the lives of millions, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Chernobyl’s meltdown. To top it all off, when doing actual research into what really happened in Curie’s life versus what I witnessed play out on screen, a lot of it is very, very inaccurate. Not only inaccurate to her character/personality depiction, but also with historical and scientific events. What this all boils down to is that you can’t use this film an educational or biographical source. So then what can you use it as? A piece of entertainment? No, because the pacing and lack of focus in the second half of the film made me droopy eyed. Can you use it as a uplifting yet cautionary tale on science? No and that is why the movie ultimately doesn’t work, there are so many mixed messages in this that it ends up pointing to nothing.

Per IMDB, it describes Radioactive as: “Pioneer – Rebel – Genius. Radioactive is incredible, true-story of Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her Nobel Prize-winning work that changed the world.” After seeing this movie, doing some research and then reading the description, I scoffed and laughed when I got to the word ‘true.’ In the film, it depicts Curie as advising her daughter Irene (a minor background role wasting actress Anya Taylor-Joy’s talents) against a career in science, when in fact she encouraged her daughter in the subject, welcomed Irene into her laboratory, and even started an experimental school for her in which Curie ending up teaching lessons on physics. Also, in the film the both Curie and her future husband almost laughingly meet in a classic rom-com manner. Marie literally runs into him on the streets of Paris, and he notices what she’s reading. In reality, Marie and Pierre met when a Polish professor of physics introduced them, because he knew Marie was looking for laboratory space and thought Pierre would be able to provide it. Also in the movie she constantly blames her sickness on her studies in radiation when there is no historical proof that she ever really truly acknowledged the dangers of her career. Yeah…I don’t want to say it because I hate the man that coin phrased it…but this movie is in fact, “fake news.” That is just a few examples, but believe you me, this movie takes many, many liberties with what really went down during that time.

I understand that ‘true story’ films from Hollywood always take some liberties, it is just that this movie took several too many when it could’ve easily adhered to the facts and made the movie much more interesting in the process. Historical and personality inaccuracies aside, it’s the tone, messages, and pacing of the second half of the film that make it almost completely unwatchable. At one moment the film was trying to celebrate her life in how hard she worked to achieve her goals and make discoveries, and the next minute the film was like, “look what your findings ended up doing, you bitch!” It’s as if the movie was trying to do a very straight adaptation on the subject, and in the middle of it, while you are watching it at a theater, suddenly a Karen stands up, pauses the movie, and starts pointing and yelling at the screen about how much she is triggered by what she is witnessing. Disgracing the audience for feeling for Marie Curie and her family when her discoveries did more harm than good. The film couldn’t pick a tone, and it constantly had a bunch of time lapses that ended up being hard to keep track of. To sum it up, I got bored and I didn’t care what happened anymore about 55 minutes into this hour and 49 minute movie. Things get even more confusing right before the end credits with title cards detailing how great her discoveries were, with X-Rays during World War I and such. It didn’t know whether it wanted to praise or condemn her, and in doing both, muddled everything it was trying to say and gave its audience a surreal experience that I never want to take part in again.

I don’t blame director Marjane Satrapi, as the imagery and shots in this are better than average. The real person to blame is the screenwriter, Jack Thorne, who unsurprisingly also co-wrote the very historically inaccurate 2019 film The Aeronauts, whose first half was much better than its second as well. Maybe he needs to take lessons on how to better construct the second half of the stories that he writes. Maybe instead of taking liberties with the material he is trying to adapt, he should take lessons on how to accurately portray events and still make them interesting on screen, instead of making shit up, and still having the final product come out tire-some, boring, and sloppy. His too on-the-nose writing with characters ceremoniously announcing the film’s themes and their personal motivations as they go along, makes the film completely by-the-numbers drivel that will be forgotten about in one month’s time. It’s no wonder that Amazon Prime quickly snatched this up after its theatrical premiere was cancelled due to COVID-19. It was probably really cheap to do so as the studio probably had no faith in it. Only if you are a Rosamund Pike performance completist can I recommend this film to you. She’s stunning and really good and the only part of the film, save for some of the first half, that works. I’m going for the easy last sentence sum it up pun joke here, so forgive me, but just like radium itself, you should stay far away from Radioactive.