Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: SPIES IN DISGUISE (no spoilers, and I go off topic quite a bit)

I thought I’d counteract my bitchiness and grouchiness of Joker receiving an undeserving 11 Academy Award nominations today by quickly reviewing a movie that I saw with my family this weekend, one that actually surprised me with how much fun it was, SPIES IN DISGUISE. And by quickly reviewing this, I mean that it has already been out for about three weeks, so you either have a. Already Seen It or b. Want To See It But Waiting For Rental. If you were waiting for my review, why? A lot of you that have seen the Joker disagree with my merits of it being completely overrated. But then again, I ask if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, and you ask me what exactly that is. Ok, casual moviegoer. Ok, DC Comics biased. BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, ok, well Spies In Disguise is a family film delight filled with great voice acting by Will Smith (yes, he was himself, but you can tell he was having so much fun with it) & Tom Holland, many fun action gadget sequences, and feel good message about non-violence. Yes, it really does have that in there and it doesn’t try to slam you over the head with it either! It has a solid pace, and is an overall solid adventure that even young kids will follow. It will certainly make your day-day (you won’t get my reference here until you’ve seen the movie, and until your kid repeats the phrase day-day over and over several hours after the movie is over).

I also said that I was going to review Just Mercy, please have some mercy on me as I am not going to review it anymore. I had a ticket to it, twice in fact, but then I kept returning it because I kept saying to myself, “am I really interested in seeing this film that a. I know the outcome to and b. just another court room drama with a message?” And the answer was no, switched to a maybe if it got any Academy Award noms, but since it didn’t today, the answer switched back to no, deal with it. What is there to say about Spies In Disguise other than my recommendation in that it is a lot of fun and that it is a movie the whole family can enjoy…hmmmm…well I laughed a ton and while walking out of the theater I realized the marketing for one didn’t do it any favors. When I saw trailers and TV spots for this, I just knew it was about Will Smith as a spy that turns into a pigeon for most of the film, because of a dorky young geek tech adult voiced by Tom Holland. What those trailers didn’t reflect was the grand adventure it takes Will Smith’s pigeon and Tom Holland’s geeky side kick. In the marketing there is no indicator that the story is about a spy being framed and on the run, his run in with other hilarious pigeons while a pigeon himself, and the laugh out loud, fun action sequences they all get into together. And the fact that Tom Holland is a gadget techie that is very “non-violent” due to the fact this his mom was a cop and died tragically when he was younger. The studio just marketed the fact that Will Smith and Tom Holland are the voices, and didn’t have any confidence in the fun and zany plot. Very odd.

It’s just a fun, yet probably forgettable down the line, solid hour and 40 minute family kids film. Looking at the Academy Award nominations and last weekends Golden Globes win, I happened to also check out another animated film that won over Toy Story 4 last weekend, and got a nomination today, called Missing Link, LAIKA studios new movie. And while the animation in it was amazing (LAIKA stop motion animation will never be anything short of dazzling), I thought the film to be really sub par, meh, and boring. Probably because this is coming off their best film (one that will be pretty hard to ever beat), Kubo And The Two Strings. I just didn’t care about any of the characters in the movie, including Susan the Sasquatch, and the two bits in it that sparked my brief attention was a fantastically staged boat hallway chase scene, and a bridge collapsing climax, weren’t enough to change my mind about it. The rest of the film is just weird boring backstories that don’t really go anywhere, and it felt like Hugh Jackman and Zack Gilifinakis were just reading the dialogue without really any finesse. Zoe Saldana seemed to be the only one that cared that she had that job and wanted to be there, trying hard to make her character more than one dimensional (even though the script did nobody any arc favors whatsoever). I don’t get all the Academy and Golden Globes love on that one at all. I am now cheering for Toy Story 4, but secretly hope that Netflix’s Klaus steals it from them all. If you haven’t seen Klaus…DO IT NOW. Another perfect holiday family animated film. Honestly, Spies In Disguise probably should’ve taken that nomination spot. Loads better than that boring drivel.

I mean, there is nothing more to say about Spies In Disguise other than that you will be pleasantly surprised. That’s it, and being pleasantly surprised always means a good recommendation from me. I think I’ve just had it with Joker overrated-ness and it is effecting my day. Which it shouldn’t be. Hopefully it wears off before I go see Bad Boys For Life this Friday and I can write a focused review on that, instead of going off topic a thousand times like I did for this one (did I seriously just review three other films in my previous paragraphs?) But I really liked this film, my wife really liked it and was surprised that she did as well, and it grabbed most of my son’s undivided attention (especially once Smith becomes a pigeon). It made my Saturday with my family absolutely delightful, especially in light of the shitty weather we got the night before and how cold it was that morning. Usually there is a wide opening family film each holiday season, that is normally released on Christmas day, and usually that film is usually a piece of shit in disguise. Who knew this would turn out to be a half-way decent surprise in disguise?

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews presents: IN FULL DEFENSE OF CATS (2019) by Gabriel Evans

IN FULL DEFENSE OF CATS (2019) by Gabriel Evans

It’s January 4th, and I just got out of a screening of Cats — and I’m not sure whether it’s (#1) my fully lowered expectations based on an almost unanimous critical and audience panning of this movie, or (#2) because I saw the stage musical for the first time this year and personally was genuinely confused by the plot or what was happening — but I think it actually worked as a movie.

Oh my gosh, he didn’t hate it. #shocking, or something.

Forever I have known Cats as the musical where people wear spandex and sing as cats on a stage, but really knew nothing more until this year. I remember watching the last season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Cats is used as a hilarious plot point, and then I got a little more of a glimpse at the freak show behind the curtain — and what I gleaned from that was that the musical has gone past the weird, eccentric, artsy beginnings and has transcended past parody as being “that weird cats musical with that ‘Memory’ song”, and now it is in that strange post-post modern period where it’s just something that didn’t need to be touched in any serious way, but now that it has been, it is in a new stage of parody – where people will fully brush it aside and laugh at the concept of it being made with their decision already made before entering the theatre, and may not want to recognize that it’s actually pretty well done and accomplishes a faithful adaptation of the source material and visualizes it in a way that makes it more comprehensible and entertaining than the stage production.

Hot take, I know.

When I think about how the movie came to exist, I’m only working with hypotheticals — but it seems to me like the movie musical we deserve right now from Hollywood. It’s a star-studded cast, with a Oscar-caliber director with a history of Oscar-winning musicals, with Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson singing the classic song, with new technology applied to actors and cool set designs…. If this movie had come out 10-20 years ago, it would be nominated for everything, but now we think we’re too cool for it — so now it’s garbage.

It’s funny, because last year Green Book won as Best Picture, and a lot of the same elements apply to people’s criticisms about that movie. It didn’t feel like Best Picture of 2018, it felt like Best Picture of 1998. The only main differentiators were that the director was a comedy director gone drama, and the writer ended up, let’s say, stretching the truth about the story. But structurally, Green Book works as a movie, and honestly, so does Cats.

Cats hate really feels like where we are in society right now – we’re just really divisive and have made up our minds without ever really giving it a chance. It’s like Cats is what a democrat thinks of when he turns on Fox News, and vice versa if you’re a republican. We can’t see past the poster, because we don’t want to. Cats is it’s own special kind of freak show, and we’re in the mindset to reject the freak right now. Any real message of seeing the true side of someone’s character in the Cats narrative is discounted, because we’ve all got a little bit of a fighting, close-minded bully in us right now.

Now, in terms of adaptations — I feel like there is more to be said for what works in Cats.

I remember leaving the stage production of Cats, and my review was “Oh, so it basically was a bunch of Cats singing introductory songs about each other” – and this movie takes that a step further and gives you the source material in a way that diversifies the visuals, expands the world into different environments, and makes the villain and general plot line comprehensible in a way that didn’t initially strike me during the stage production.

The source material isn’t really conducive to a movie plot, because each song is a different cat, and it probably would work better as some kind of short-form multi-episode web-series than a movie if you really step back and think about it — but as a feature adaptation of the musical – it does the absolute best it could do in translating the magic of Cats to the big screen.

All of the cats and the celebs playing them give personality to their characters, and you do get a sense of their celebrity enhancing the personality – whether it’s James Corden or Rebel Wilson, or even a British-accented Jason Derulo. The plot is linear with a clear antagonist and a ticking clock set for a climax at the end of the evening – so in terms of watchability, it’s not confusing narratively. The only thing to do to clarify the plot would be to put some kind of Star Wars type scroll at the beginning defining what a Jellicle cat is – because it’s such an important part that can be alienating to someone who has never heard or seen anything about the musical.

The effects were fine – I’m not sure if I saw the updated version or not, but I definitely did still see Judi Dench’s wedding ring, but they weren’t distracting. They felt like part of the style, and it was like they were animated cat people – which is the actual, obvious point. Did I feel like I was watching cats? No. Was I supposed to have the same feeling as the first time I saw Gollum in Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers? Absolutely not. We live in a world of CGI enhancements, and there’s plenty of examples of imperfect effects in all movies – from the most mainstream Marvel movie to the Gemini Man “groundbreaking” character work. If something is rushed or didn’t have the money behind it – it can look off. But nothing in Cats looked like The Rock in The Mummy Returns, and we can stop saying that it looks awful – because it doesn’t.

At the end of the day, it feels like Andrew Lloyd Weber was taking the right kind of drugs to find a human message to his Cats musical, and since 1981, the drugs have worn off. Now, we just replaced them with opioids, and we’re addicted to something new – which is a brand of close-minded narcissism – because honestly, they made a movie about singing and dancing cats, and that’s what you got.

And Tom Hooper did a good job, because at the end of the day, he learned from his mistake of putting Russell Crowe in Les Miserables and didn’t put someone who absolutely couldn’t sing at all in this movie —  and that deserves respect.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: THE GRUDGE (2019)

THE GRUDGE (2019) was BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS balls. One of the most boring horror films I have ever seen.

Where to begin after that statement? This is one of the most unnecessary reboots of all time, and for some God damn reason, it happens to be even WORSE than the schlocky 2004 American remake that starred Sarah Michelle Gellar (we don’t talk about those two sequels, nor have I seen them). Which had its charms as I thought the mom and young boy ghosts were creepy as fuck at the time. NOTHING about this film is creepy. While this is more of a sidequel (side-sequel) reboot, in that a woman brings back The Grudge curse to the United States after being in that house in Japan that was in the American remake, this film couldn’t be more far off from The Grudge brand. Which, I get it, you want to do something different. But when that different so blatantly rips off other genre ghost and ghouls, then you have a giant copycat problem. The original ghost creepy mom from the American remake is in this for about 5 seconds at the very beginning of the film, but when that person makes it back to the United States, it evolves into its own monster. Both figuratively, literally, and metaphorically. None of these new ghosts were in any way scary, frightful, what have you; they all just seemed like Walking Dead-esque flesh rotting zombies. No cool pale opened mouthed ghosts with that eerie sound (we get an updated eerie sound and it isn’t really eerie at all) like we got 15 years ago. All just very bland and underwhelming.

And it copycats The Grudge formula of going back and forth and back and forth between different time periods, 2004 then 2006, and then I think several months to a year after that, (since it is a side-sequel, it has to take place when the American remake took place). While I found everything easy to understand (which time period I was in), it probably went back and fourth one too many times where I wouldn’t fault anybody for getting confused about half way through it. The non-linear structure is very sloppy, lazy and un-organized here, which will probably off put some people. Also, plot holes galore. If you know the original Grudge films, even the Japanese originals, you’ll know that “the Grudge” is a curse that is spawned whenever when someone dies in the grip of extreme rage or sorrow. And then when anyone steps into that house where the curse was starting, that curse follows you and never lets you go. Unless you burn down the house I guess (still kind of hazy on how the curse is supposed to be lifted. The new one tries to expand upon the curse but instead just gives us an obligatory sequel scene that I have no intention of following up on if another film happens to get made. The plot hole I was talking about. The new main girl character, played by Andrea Risenborough, find a body and a insane old woman in a new cursed house in the United States, and she calls it in. About 40 minutes go by before we are told via dialogue what happened with her call in, that the case was taken over by the FBI.

If that was to set up a potential sequel, where an FBI agent or two entered the house and fell upon the curse, I get the set up, but to me, it felt like dialogue to explain away events without having to show them for budget reasons. It would’ve been cool if it had showed that the FBI knew and believed in that curse, and found a way to get that body out of there without stepping foot inside the house, and also a way to get the insane old woman out of there as well. Then the movie would’ve been somewhat unique and had maybe one interesting sequence. Instead, it is just explained that the FBI took over the case via dialogue once the main character finds what she finds inside the house, and it doesn’t explain how they got the women out, or the body, or if anyone stepped inside the house. There even could’ve been a short after credit sequence maybe showing a new FBI character stepping inside the house to further develop and close that big plot hole, but nope, never brought up again, just has a scene with the old insane women in a mental facility…ROAMING AROUND FREELY NO LESS!!! And considering what she did to end up there (I won’t divulge anything due to spoilers)…but that MADE NO FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER.

Also characters say to other, possibly much younger characters that they are going to do whatever it takes to protect them, right as they drive up and park near the cursed house with that awful line of dialogue, “whatever happens, STAY IN THIS CAR!” It’s all eye rolling. So is the acting. Several times, while Andrea Risenbrough is doing research or looking over security footage (she plays a cop) of the past murders in the house, she looks like she’s about to take a shit. Betty Gilpin, Jackie Weaver, and John Cho are in this too, but everything about their wooden performances scream paycheck. Even Demian Bichir (who plays another cop), who famously hams up and has a little fun with most of his roles (especially in any Robert Rodriguez disaster), seems bored here. The film has only one good little story tidbit, and that is Gilpin and Cho’s characters finding out that their unborn child might have ADL and how they are going to deal with it, is quickly interrupted by a fast and grim as fuck resolution. Oh you want me to talk about cinematography and direction? I’m not going to bother, a small child could’ve made a better and scarier film than this.

I’m going to try and end my review with this paragraph, because I simply don’t want to talk about this movie that is more than likely going to stay on my top ten worst list of 2020 already. I could talk about how the movie wastes its R rating, I could talk about the weird editing/transition choices that elicited unintentional laughing moments not just for me, but for the audience I was watching this disaster with. I could talk about how there are no earned scares and that even the dumb cheap jump scares don’t even start until after half the movie is already over (this made me ass out to pass out quickly, which is a term I use for when I turn and lie on my side, about to fall asleep in my luxury lounger). This all boils down to it being a “fool me a shit ton of times, shame on me” type situation, as I should know by now that the first week (and mostly first month) of new film releases each and every new year has always been, and always will be, bad. But yet I keep trying to give some films the benefit of the doubt, like this one, because the trailer seemed interesting, and it was slapped with an R rating (the rest were PG-13), and it looked liked it was trying to do something different. But it is all just the same dumb, boring, cheap jump scare crap that lacks any originality whatsoever. Is it possible to create a good curse where one dies in the theater of extreme rage or sorrow by having to watch a shitty January film that maybe studios won’t gamble on shit like this anymore and we can get some half way decent material for the future years to come? The funny fellows on RedLetterMedia.com have labeled the beginning of a new year movie season each with a “Fuck you, it’s January!” video. Describing how it will never change and is basically a “Fuck you, it’s Forever!” kind of affair. Well, fuck me, it is January, and I’ve already been eye raped by one of the year’s worst films. Thanks Sam Raimi…

Zach's Zany Movie Review: LITTLE WOMEN

I think I’m going to have to start out this review of LITTLE WOMEN by defending myself in regards to my mediocre review of Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born last year. I complained that A Star Is Born’s praise was unwarranted because it was the 3rd remake, 4th adaptation of that story line, and didn’t really do much different than the three films before it. This is the 9th, that’s right, NINTH adaptation of Little Women, and getting about as much praise as A Star Is Born did last year. However, I am very much recommending Little Women as I enjoyed the entire 2 hour and 15 minute run time (didn’t feel that long at all) and in some parts thought it was absolutely wonderful. My defense of Little Women is three fold: 1. I have never read the novel. 2. I have never seen any of the previous 8 adaptations, even the Winona Ryder one. 3. The only knowledge I had of Little Women was when Joey reads it and gets emotional when Rachel gives him spoilers on the television show Friends. Had I still really liked this version if I had either A. read the book or B. watch any of or all of the previous adaptations? I still think so, and it is all probably in thanks to writer/director Greta Gerwig.

Most of you know how the story goes, so those of you that don’t, here’s my zany way of explaining things. The movie is about 4 girls, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) wants what women don’t get in that time period (American Civil War) which is women being successful and independent from men. Although she’s in love with the boy next door Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), she wants to do well on her own as a great writer. Then you got Meg (Emma Watson) who is fine with women’s roles at that time and just wants to get married to a rich dude and have a family. Then you have Amy (Florence Pugh) who wants the best of both worlds. To be in love and be successful on her own. Finally you have, Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who keeps to herself and she loves music and well…if you’ve seen that Friends episode or have seen any other adaptation of this film, you know how that ends. Yeah so, you know, without going into spoilers, even if four score, a book, and 8 adaptations ago, the women’s lives get complicated with life opportunities presented elsewhere, love, sister loyalties & betrayals, all mixed in with a father that has gone off to war, and a very pessimistic Aunt.

If anything I can probably guess that I could be spot on with, even though I haven’t read the book or seen any of the bazillion adaptations is the reason why this movie works is that writer/director Greta Gerwig makes this movie her own with out drastically changing anything, except for an expanded ending that actually toys with the audiences’ mind a little (I always enjoy that when it is done correctly, as it is here). When seeing previews for this, I was afraid it was going to be one of THOSE movies, like The Favorite, where the film takes place a long time ago, but it is mostly modern day Juno like dialogue. Thankfully, there are only one or two moments of that (involving Jo and Laurie) but they fit within the context of the film. From what I’ve been told, the main difference between this film and the others is that this movie plays with the concept of time. It goes back and forth where as the novel and other film adaptations are straight forward. I actually quite enjoyed the movies’ play on time, and Greta Gerwig uses parts already established in the book to let you know what point in time the film is. I had no trouble figuring out where the film took place with each scene and each time change. I don’t think the film playing straight forward would’ve worked as well on screen. Maybe would’ve been labeled as just “one of those” multiple copycat adaptations.

I don’t know how the dialogue is in the book, but in the movie it is very fluid and connective; quirky, but at the same time it felt real, as though they were really sisters spending a lot of time together and how they manage when they are apart. Gerwig does a tremendous job writing. Greta Gerwig also manages to flex her directing muscles after her first solo directing gig with Lady Bird two years ago. Greta Gerwig has already established herself as an actor’s director, but with this film, she shows she also has the chops to have a special eye behind the camera. Constantly the camera moves gracefully and uniquely from one room of the house to the other, where ever the sisters may be. Her outside shots, whether it be on a hilly plain or on the beach, has a nice expansive scope to take in all of the environment and make it fit within each and every frame. Before doing Lady Bird by herself, she usually co-wrote movies with Noah Baumbach, and then would let him directed while she starred in those film. Like Greenberg or Frances Ha. I do not care for her earlier work with him. I understand that they are still “together” (not married) and that they might compete with each other for Best Director at this year’s Oscars, but if I met her I would encourage her to keep doing these solo projects. I already think she is a better filmmaker after two films than her partner, who has made a shit ton of movies and who I only finally gave some props recently to his writing style and substance with this years Marriage Story. Never cared for any of his other movies. Greta, you can still love him and be with him, just maybe keep separation between that and work. Oh, and also, might’ve want to think about giving up acting. You are fine as an actress, but you are incredible with film making. Come on, show up Ben Affleck, who can’t fucking decide.

The acting in this movie is great. Soairse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlan all get their moments to shine even though the latter two needed maybe just a little more screentime for me to care more about their characters, especially in regards to what happens with Beth. But don’t worry, I still felt all the feels you have to feel at the end of the movie if you are an actual human fucking being. There was only ONE moment that took me out of the film for two seconds, and this is my own personal shit, so don’t take this to heart, but when Bob Odenkirk shows up as the girls’ father, I was like, “oh he’s alive! It’s Saul Goodman.” I think Bob Odenkirk is an incredible actor and comedian, I just can’t see him in anything else without me thinking of Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. Not saying he should’ve get these opportunities for more serious roles, but unless his character does anything dramatically different, my brain will go straight to two of the greatest television shows of all time and that one character he’s been playing for so long, and it will take me out of anything else he happens to be in. Sorry, but it’s true. He’s fine here, but I was just waiting in the wings for him to deceive someone or screw over another character. **shrugs**

Anyway, yeah, I’m not going to get into the whole “men Academy Awards voters aren’t seeing this movie because it’s a girlie girl film and aren’t giving it fair attention” nonsense that the media is trying to conjure up. If that were the case (I guess I am getting into it), there would be a movie every year like that (there is always at least one or two “female” films nominated for Best Picture) and we’d hear the same song and dance at the end of each and every December. But we don’t hear that song and dance (we do with the “Oscars So White” though, which I’m sick of seeing). It’s all just fake controversy to get your ass into the theater. Look at Rotten Tomatoes, it’s in the 90s and if you look more than half of the reviews are coming from males. And I call bullshit, because I am male, and I have a penis, and I was really wanting to see this movie and was looking forward to it based on the cast and Greta Gerwig. So poop on that shit. It’s a very, very good movie that ANYONE can and probably will enjoy. This shitting on female empowerment films is honestly the work of trolls that have nothing else better to do with their days other than sit by their computers all day and jerk off to each and every negative comment or idea they post for all to see. Go and see Little Women. Whether man or woman, girl or boy, little man or little woman, it is a really well acted, well crafted, delightful and wonderful little film. Which means it ain’t so little after all.

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: UNCUT GEMS (no spoilers)

Well, here is the 2nd to last review I will publish in the year 2019 (last will be Little Women) and who would’ve thunk that it would be my 2nd favorite film of the year. A film that stars…ADAM FUCKING SANDLER. When is the last time a movie he has been in has been in my top 10…wait…scratch that…top 20 list? Big Daddy…and that’s a HARD maybe. I don’t honestly have any fucking clue. Maybe not since Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison has he been on my best list. (I’m sorry I just didn’t care for Punch Drunk Love all that much, sorry Paul Thomas Anderson brown nosers…) And when is the last year he hasn’t been on a place on my worst list? (FUN FACT: Sandler DOES have a movie on my worst list this year, Murder Mystery, but this more than makes up for that shit show). UNCUT GEMS is unlike anything you have ever seen before. Especially from Adam Sandler, who easily gives us his best performance in a movie. Ever. Ever, ever, ever , ever, and unless he dives right into something like this again, this is probably the only really high peak he’ll ever have, besides the mid to late 90s guilty pleasure comedy peaks. Uncut Gems is dark, gritty, and white knuckle suspenseful. And the dark and gritty doesn’t just pertain to the subject matter, but the fantastic cinematography as well, which makes it looks like a film that was shot in the 70s. It’s just my definition of a perfect movie. I had a really hard time deciding between this and Knives Out as the best film of the year.

But I chose Knives Out, because I had a little more fun with that movie. But make no mistake, this one is just as good but even better in parts. You will not have any clue where the movie is going to take you, as I found it very unpredictable. I had guessed what the ending was about halfway through the film, and was completely cut off guard when it wasn’t close to what I thought would happen. This is one of those films that have those neat little set ups that have great big pay offs later. GREAT. BIG. PAYOFFS. And then there are some little set ups that don’t have any kind of pay off, which is a pay off in itself, as it subverts your expectations in the last act. It’s a film that I would watch over and over again, just like The Safdie Brothers (writers and directors on this) last film Good Time. If you haven’t seen Good Time, I highly recommend watching it too. Robert Pattinson’s performance is phenomenal in that and the film is just as good as this one. If you don’t know what the film is about, hopefully this log line or two helps you out a bit: Taking place in 2012, Adam Sandler stars as a high end jewelry store owner named Howard Ratner, a Jewish-American that is addicted to gambling. He is in debt over his head with bookies (one including his brother-in-law) and is trying to sell this uncut opal at auction he gambled with getting oversees from this Ethiopian Jewish Mining Company, and it is valued at $1 million dollars. He is about to go through a divorce with his wife, played be Idina Menzel, they have two sons who he hardly gives the time of day to, and is dating his hot young employee named Julia, (in a incredible first performance by Julia Fox) who is as gold digging as they come. That’s it. That’s all you need to know about the movie.

From the first several scenes, you know that Adam Sandler is actually trying and giving a shit in this role. Now, while I don’t think it is Oscar award worthy (unless there wasn’t any good competition this year), I think he certainly should get a nomination. And it is with this one key scene near the end of the film where he is watching a Celtics game with Kevin Garnett, who plays himself in this (remember, this film takes place in 2012), and Sandler’s character has a bet riding on his game. Sandler’s reaction to what happens within the game is priceless and totally shed my image that it was Sandler in the role. I thought it was someone else. It is quite a brilliant moment. The rest of the film he uses his usual obnoxious-ness in a great way, making this character unique and his own. It is worth just seeing Uncut Gems for Sandler’s performance alone. But if you stay seated through the whole thing, and pay attention, you realize you get more bang for your buck. As the movie has near perfect narrative structure and pacing. The whole movie is one big roller coaster ride of moments, some tense as fuck, and a couple of great comic relief bits, but all played seriously. And the last half hour is so God damn tense, your hands will be sweating and hurting grabbing your theaters arm rests so tight.

I love, love, love, love this movie. And after this and Good Time, I cannot WAIT to see The Safdie Brothers next film. Just discovered that they have a film before these two called Heaven Knows What, which has a high mark with critics and audiences. Need to check that out very soon. I mean even the musical score is unqiue: uplifting, yet haunting (you’ll see). Here’s the point: we are likely never going to get another Adam Sandler film that is even remotely close to how good Uncut Gems is. So if you are a huge Adam Sandler fan, rejoice for this movie, just know that it isn’t his usual phoning it in lazy comedic performance you’ve gotten used to the past couple of years on Netflix. If you can’t deal with that, I feel very sorry for you. Adam Sandler haters: GIVE. THIS. FILM. A. CHANCE. It might not completely change your opinion on Sandler (my opinion? He needs to cut the Netflix horseshit and do more stuff like this but I know he needs to take his family on free vacations so that won’t change), but you might be one to put your hand to your chin, and maybe agree that he’s capable of great things in the right role. Maybe if he gets enough praise for this, we won’t have to suffer through his Netflix bullshit much longer. Maybe he’ll get inspired to give us a late career great show. But if we stick to the present, I’m just glad we now have this great gem that I can keep revisiting in the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zach's Zany Movie Reviews: BOMBSHELL

BOMBSHELL is like a bomb in itself: messy and all over the place with no centralized focus and is too loud and muddled in its message to really be saying anything at all. It doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. It tries to be tongue in cheek, but it tries so hard that it doesn’t ever become tongue in cheek, it becomes a film with way too many tones that don’t mix well. Is it a comedy? I don’t think so, I maybe laughed once. Is it a political bashing film? No…not really as it had a couple of Trump moments but didn’t bash or talk about politics enough to warrant that genre. Is it a drama? It only really gets emotional the last ten minutes, but it isn’t earned as the rest of the film is too light, bright, and fluffy to have that drama totally make sense. Sure, the film is about the female personnel at the Fox News location in Manhattan and the harassment allegations that eventually come to fruition against the founder, Roger Ailes, but it tries too much and too hard to be about a dozen other things and loses its voice very, very fast.

Part of the problem with this film is that instead of just focusing on the three female leads (Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, & Margot Robbie) and then Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) as well, they introduce dozens and dozens of more characters throughout the course of the 1 hr and 50 minute film, and I guess we are supposed to care about them too as each one has an in-scene title text that gives us their real name and how they are associated with the modern world. Seriously, it’s a lot of them, so I’d put the ones just introduced to me in my memory bank in case they came back later. But then just more and more piled on and I started to lose track, so that when some of them did come back later, I had no idea where they were in reference to the story. Way too much information, and what this film needed was a sharp focus it was never near reaching. When the movie focused on Theron, Kidman & Robbie, it was somewhat elevated from its mediocre status, but then the focus is taken away just as quickly. The one that fairs the best out of all of them is definitely Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly. She’s always been an incredible actress, and here it is no different, getting all of Kelly’s mannerisms right, and even having on incredible make up that makes her look exactly like the journalist. If there was one nomination and possible Oscar win I will agree upon, is when this movie will pick up its award for make up & hair styling. Easily the best looking part of the film.

What I don’t get is all the praise for Nicole Kidman & Margot Robbie. They are getting serious supporting actress consideration, but their characters aren’t really all that interesting and it doesn’t seem like a stretch for either of the actresses to play these real life counterparts. Nicole Kidman has had plenty of (and better) supporting roles playing a strong female leader willing to do something to create change and her range here doesn’t really even get close to even meeting the caliber of those other great roles. I would say not even in the parking lot of the same ballpark. Margot Robbie’s character is just sort of a ditz that is in over her head and suddenly smarts up by the end of the movie. She has one break down scene that I guess everybody is giving her Oscar buzz over, but the fact that it doesn’t even come close to touching her great supporting role in The Wolf Of Wall Street, something she didn’t even get (but should’ve) nominated for, is baffling to me. Even her portrayal of Harley Quinn was more interesting than this wannabe journalist who is one of Roger Ailes victims. Charlize Theron is really the only one getting praise where it is due, but even then, I have at least a dozen of other better performances this year from actresses that could easily take her nomination spot and be arguably warranted.

But going back to the film’s main fault: it just doesn’t know what it wants to be, and tries too hard to be tongue in cheek and comes out as a mish-mash of genres that doesn’t really work well. It wasn’t comedy, nor drama, nor was it really all that political, and it just said things that have all been said before. All of the sexual allegation stuff seemed to be only surface level, and not digging deep into the problem and maybe having something to say other than just the usual, “speak up” if something to that nature happens to you or support from other victims. All of this just boils down to: THERE. WAS. NO. FOCUS. AT. ALL. The had the story right there, and it seems like there were 7 different writers on it that all gave the script a go, and the end result is some kind of Frankenstein monster that somehow inhabits all of their ideas. Would it surprise you to know that this was done by only one writer though? It doesn’t if you know who he is like I do, Charles Randolph. Yes, he co wrote the fantastic The Big Short, but he had some major help with how that film turned out, and the rest of his filmography, ranging from The Interpreter to The Live of David Gale to Love and Other Drugs, is just not that impressive.

To be honest, I don’t think this is director Jay Roach’s fault. Jay Roach has, I think, a great eye and brings some flair to what the camera captures and onto the frame (look how colorful and stylistic all three Austin Powers movies look like), and here is no different, but his style is completely trampled by a substance that is just too much and too little at the same time. His film and world within that film is bright, colorful, and imaginative, but the screenplay makes it feel like none of that vision is appropriate for the story being told. It says nothing by trying to say too much. This is just a performance movie without a clear message, and it saddens me to say that because I was really looking forward to Bombshell. I was expecting something to the kin of The Big Short, something with a central message and a pin pointed focus to drive home that message without being too preachy. This film wants to be too preachy but instead of preaching a direct message, preaches about a hundred other different things. It went on and on until the point where I just gave up and nodded off because none of it seemed like it was going to drop any kind of true bombshell any time soon.