Downhill (2020) – Movie Review

“And I looked, and behold, pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him.” Yay, for I have now stared into the vast ether of the universe and for the first time, I truly comprehended just how alone we all are. The folly of man is knowing we have the ability without ever contemplating if we have the moral right to do so. Find comfort in your loved ones and make peace with your God, for I have found purpose, once again. This purpose: a cleansing. To rid humanity of the worst of our creations in a storm of nuclear hellfire straight from the bowels of a dying star. If you find yourself wondering what could possibly draw such ire, look no further than the profound insult to life everywhere that is the movie “Downhill”.

On President’s Day, my mother wanted to spend her day off seeing a “light-hearted comedy” with her loving son. Naively, I suggested we see “Downhill” because I thought that a film starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus would at least be worth a few decent laughs. What a fool I was… It was never my intention to review this film since it was supposed to be mindless fun while I spent time with my mother, but “Downhill” wandered onto the tracks as the train was coming through and, I, as the errant locomotive, will make it pay dearly for its lack of vision.

In what can only be generously described as the plot of this blight, Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are a married couple on a ski vacation in the Alps, when there is an avalanche and Pete runs to protect his phone rather than his family. The rest of the film is about 80 minutes of unspoken hatred for life, marriage, family, and getting older. I now see that nothing matters. Even if love is genuine, those you love will let you down when you need them most, they will not learn from their mistakes, and you will be trapped in a failing relationship that will always be more than you deserve but less than you want. Not exactly the “light-hearted comedy” we were searching for.

The corrupted sense of nihilism aside, there are absolutely no redeeming moments of this film. Zero. Zip. Zilch. This film was physically painful to endure from the very first moment of them awkwardly trying to take a family photo all the way until those end credits mercifully released us from our chains. I cannot recall any real attempt at humor or catharsis for anyone viewing to latch onto and try to get behind. You can’t laugh or smile or even learn from the characters’ mistakes. There is just nothing positive to take away from this experience. I wish there were some examples of events that I could discuss but none exist. It is just a feature-length film of complaints with no resolution. It is a slow and painful death.

If I was not with my mother, I would have walked out of the theater, got in my car, and just drive as far away from the theater as humanly possible. I take this film’s existence as personal insult, so here are some things I would rather do than ever have to see this movie again: get a colonoscopy with poorly sanitized medical equipment; pass 3 kidney stones; eat a pinecone; step on all my collection of LEGO Star Wars ships with my bare feet; cheer for the Patriots for one down in an NFL game. And those are just the few examples I could think of while I furiously thwack at my keyboard with a barrage of misplaced rage. This film is a commodity of nefarious intent. It is my professional evaluation that this film is the cause of all the wars in the world and why we will be forced to aimlessly wander in the darkness of the void until our waning days.

This movie earns a 1.0 out of 10. May the next life be more merciful to it than I was.

Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoe Chao
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 26 Minutes

Birds of Prey (2020) – Movie Review

The 2010s were concluded with a year of some of the comic book genre’s strongest showings in film. To no one’s surprise, Marvel kept up their torrid pace by putting out multiple films that eclipsed a billion at the box office, including “Avengers: Endgame” which became the highest-grossing film of all-time. But what is unexpected, is that DC objectively had successes that rivaled their adversaries. “Joker” became a cultural phenomenon that resulted in it becoming the highest-grossing rated-R film of all-time and earning actor Joaquin Phoenix an Academy Award. Now that we have entered a new year, the inevitable step onto new grounds has begun and DC is the first of the two studios to make their move.

“Harley Quin: Birds of Prey” is a pseudo-sequel to the underwhelming “Suicide Squad” film of 2016. Of what few strengths its predecessor had, the casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn had been met with universal praise and it is no secret that this film’s existence is an attempt to separate her from much of the pulp of that failure. In a cynically comedic way, one can almost see DC surgically removing Harley Quinn from everything fans hated about her previous appearance to salvage the character from the wreckage. And while you can make a compelling argument that they succeed by the end of the film to present Harley and the Birds of Prey as entities that can stand on their own, the film’s meandering around the specter of the Joker ultimately shows that they came up short in their goal. They acknowledge that Harley is moving on from Mr. J, and yet, the choice to, once again, not allow her to face-off against him as an adversary renders her “emancipation” little more than an acknowledgment of their problem without ever dealing with it. There is a Jared Leto-sized elephant in the room that has not yet been taken care of.

But that being said, I do not hold this singular film responsible for the greater politics of DC comics. “Birds of Prey” wishes to be treated as a singular body of work worthy of judgment separate from the failure that preceded it, and rightfully it should be. The legacy of this film will be the moment that Harley Quinn became a capable leading character and a continuation of the trend of female-led comic book films in the mainstream. Director Cathy Yan has created a movie that is consistently entertaining with great performances by everyone involved, even if the plot is fairly safe and forgettable.

The story begins with Harley breaking up with the Joker off-screen and having to deal with the consequences of losing the protection that being his girlfriend provided her with. Harley, a well-known sociopath, has made her fair share of enemies over the years that now see open season on getting their long-awaited revenge on her. One individual is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a flamboyant crime lord and nightclub-owner who is after a diamond, that is stolen by a child pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco). And while Sionis wants Harley to die, Harley offers to recover the diamond for Sionis in exchange for protection. He agrees but also puts a bounty on the child to increase Harley’s chances of failing. From there, we follow Harley as she violently kidnaps and befriends the child, and eventually teams up with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez) to protect the child and fight back against Sionis and his goons, in a less-than-subtle visual representation of Harley declaring that she does not need to be anybody’s underling.

The strength of this film is the acting. Margot Robbie delivers a performance as Harley Quinn that, in my opinion, puts her in the conversation along with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, as the only perfectly casted comic book characters. While she has a long way to go to match their legendary runs, she fits the character in the same fasion. Robbie is perfectly zany, violent, and very funny. She seems to operate with an innocence that happily ignores reality to the point where the world seemingly bends to her warped will. I found it most enjoyable when she seamlessly dishes out her psychological expertise while still maintaining her silly personality.  She looks the part and backs it up in every aspect. Robbie is Harley. Perhaps the only other person on the planet who could give this role as much as she would be Harley’s voice actor, Tara Strong, who has been voicing her since the character’s creation in 1992 in “Batman: The Animated Series”.

The supporting cast pulls their weight too. As the main antagonist, Ewan McGregor is very enjoyable. He plays his role well, but again, the idea of the Joker plays such a large role in this film that the character of Roman Sionis feels like a cheap substitute. McGregor gives Sionis many manic ticks and traits that are comparable to what you might expect from the Joker, including slicing faces off, inappropriate laughing, and loud, charismatic public outbursts. It is all done very well, but we all know what it really wanted to be. The remaining members of the Birds of Prey are excellent but in limited screen time. Black Canary and Huntress are given quick bursts of exposition dumps to provide a semblance of backstories, but we aren’t given enough time to witness them grow as we do with Harley. It is a shame because Smollett-Bell is a stoic badass that captivates in every action sequence she is in, and Winstead is really funny presenting herself as incredibly awkward and a highly-lethal killer. I would have gladly traded in Rosie Perez’s storyline for more time with those two.

I find the journey of this film in the real world to be odd. It already faced the task of openly ignoring the franchise’s most successful character, one that has yielded an Oscar to the actor that portrayed him for the 2nd time and make a compelling story for a character that was specifically designed to be a duo with him. That is difficult enough on its own before you consider that it is the first major comic book film to have a majority female-led ensemble. These circumstances are maybe responsible for the initial box-office shortcomings that have been reported. However, like many female-led projects in the era of social media, this film faced online troll campaigns to sabotage the reception, which undoubtedly played some role in the financial returns. The studio seems to have believed that it was a nomenclature issue so the original title of “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” was changed a single week into its theatrical run, a fairly unprecedented maneuver. Comparatively, I believe this film is funnier than “SHAZAM!”, and all-around better than “Aquaman”. If those two films were financially successful, “Birds of Prey” is more than deserving.

I give “Birds of Prey” an 8.0 out of 10

Directed by: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 49 Minutes

Shut Up Zach! Presents: The Zachademy Awards! – Winners



















Biggest Winners

“The Lighthouse” – 3 Wins for Best Picture , Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography

“1917” – 3 Wins for Best Editing , Best Sound Editing , Best Sound Mixing

“The Farewell” – 2 Wins for Best Director , Best Actress in a Supporting Role

“Little Women” – 2 Wins for Best Adapted Screenplay , Best Costume Design

“Us” – 2 Wins for Best Actress in a Leading Role , Best Original Score

Biggets Loser

“The Irishman” – 0 Wins of 7 nominations

Biggest Snubs

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Awkwafina – “The Farewell”

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Adam Driver – “Marriage Story”

Best Director: Bong Joon Ho – “Parasite”

Best Original Score: Hildur Guðnadóttir – “Joker”

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins – “1917”

Best Original Screenplay: Robert Eggers and Max Eggers – “The Lighthouse”

2020 Oscar Predictions

Today is the day! I am already on record that I disagree with a large portion of the nominees this year, so this is more of a reluctant task than in years past. I cannot grasp how we have had a year in film as strong as the one we had and yet we continue to haver nominees and potential winners that floundering in the abyss of cliché and mediocrity. But we can only play the hand we are dealt. These are my predictions for who will come out victorious in tonight’s Academy Awards.


BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY

The Nominees are…

Rian Johnson – “Knives Out”
Noah Baumbach – “Marriage Story”
Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns – “1917”
Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Won – “Parasite”

The best script of the year is that of “Parasite” and I think the Academy will rightfully award the film. Tarantino has a history of making this category interesting as no one can write a script quite like him, but I would consider this a longshot this year.

Who should win: “Parasite”

Who will win: “Parasite”


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Nominees are…

Steven Zaillian – “The Irishman”
Taika Waititi – “Jojo Rabbit”
Todd Philips and Scott Silver – “Joker”
Greta Gerwig – “Little Women”
Anthony McCarten – “The Two Popes”

I do not think this category has a runaway favorite which always makes it more intriguing. I think it would be justice if the Academy awarded this Oscar to Greta Gerwig in light of her not receiving a Directing nomination, but it is just asking for disappointment to hope for that. What’s more is that Timothée Chalamet, the male lead in “Little Women”, is one of the presenters for this award and things just line up too perfectly for Gerwig that I am suspicious. She should win but expect Timothée to begrudgingly give Taika a hug instead.

Who should win: “Little Women”

Who will win: “Jojo Rabbit”


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (Music)

The Nominees are..

Hildur Guðnadóttir –“Joker”
Alexandre Desplat – “Little Women”
Randy Newman – “Marriage Story”
Thomas Newman – “1917”
John Williams – “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

There are some incredible feats in this category. Randy and Thomas have made sure that the Newman household owns a plurality of the nominees, and John Williams is up for this particular award for an absolutely mind-melting 52nd time. But Hildur Guðnadóttir is going to win this year which will be a treat to watch as someone will have to pronounce her name on live TV and that will be some top quality entertainment in itself!

Who should win: “Joker”

Who will win: “Joker”


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Nominees are…

Rodrigo Prieto – “The Irishman”
Lawrence Sher – “Joker”
Jarin Blaschke – “The Lighthouse”
Rodger Deakins – “1917”
Robert Richardson – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

I am cheering as hard as humanly possible for Jarin Blaschke to win this award. “The Lighthouse” was my favorite film of the year and this is the only category it was nominated in, so it has my complete support. Truthfully, Jarin deserves to win here but I know the Academy will give it to Rodger Deakins. It is not that “1917” was not impressively shot, but I consider it more of an editing feat than a cinematographic one. Having said that, the odds overwhelmingly favor “The Deak” so I am just hoping for a miracle here.

Who should win: “The Lighthouse”

Who will win: “1917”


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The Nominees are…

Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern – “Marriage Story”
Scarlett Johansson – “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh – “Little Women”
Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”

There are many snubs in this category, but this is not the place to rant about that. Florence Pugh stole a nomination here and she should be elated that she will always be referred to as “Academy Award Nominee Florence Pugh”. The remaining 4 actresses all make compelling cases to win but it seems Laura Dern is on pace to win this one. Watch out for Scarlett Johansson though, as she managed to pull off the very rare “double nomination”. Jamie Foxx pulled this feat off in 2005 and won 1 of the 2 Oscars he was up for, so you never know what sort of sway this had in voting.

Who should win: Laura Dern

Who will win: Laura Dern


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The Nominees are…

Tom Hanks – “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins – “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino – “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci – “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

I can’t believe the Academy is making me do this. This category hosts what is perhaps the most egregiously incorrect group of nominees all night, but I will do what must be done. Brad Pitt is going to win this because… well because he always wins. Whenever he goes up against this crowd and Willem Dafoe is not among the nominees (please do not get me started), Pitt goes home with a trophy. Tonight will be no different and that is fine. I can live with it because of the 5 nominees, I only believe he and Pesci were really among the top 5 of the year.

Who should win: Joe Pesci

Who will win: Brad Pitt


BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

The Nominees are…

Cynthia Erivo – “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan – “Little Women”
Charlize Theorn – “Bombshell”
Renée Zellweger – “Judy”

I know I said that supporting actor was the category that was most egregiously incorrect, but damn does this one come in a close second place. The Academy nominated two actresses based on the role and not the performance and while I see that many people disagree with me, I stand firmly in my position that Renée Zellweger simply met expectations in “Judy” and was doing nothing more than hitting every mark of the “How to win an Oscar” checklist. It was a glorified impression in an aimless movie, but I cannot fight this battle anymore. Despite my protests, she is going to win. She has won virtually every award leading up to this and I do not see the Academy being the bold on to break the trend. Johansson and Ronan are far more deserving in my opinion.

Who should win: Saoirse Ronan

Who will win:  Renée Zellweger


BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

The Nominees are…

Antonio Banderas – “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Adam Driver – “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce – “The Two Popes”

I am more comfortable with this group than I am with any of the other acting categories and I STILL can see a major mistake. I want to make specific mention that I admire the Academy for including Antonio Banderas who was not really someone on my radar but deserves the recognition that comes with a nomination. However, unless the Academy decides to take a poorly thought out protest stance against violence (for whatever reason they think this is the time to do so), Joaquin Phoenix will win his much overdue Oscar.

Who should win: Joaquin Phoenix

Who will win: Joaquin Phoenix


BEST DIRECTOR

The Nominees are…

Martin Scorsese – “The Irishman”
Todd Philips – “Joker”
Sam Mendes – “1917”
Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Bong Joon-Ho – “Parasite”

I get that this was an exceptionally crowded year at the top, and while this group isn’t totally unjustified, I find it difficult to rationalize not including the likes of Greta Gerwig or Lulu Wang here. Of the nominees we are given, Bong Joon-Ho is who I am rooting for. He is an adorable human being and created a profound and thrilling piece of cinema that transcends culture and language barriers. What he has achieved is all the more impressive considering the uphill battle that he faced by his geographical and cultural circumstances. However, this can be seen as a toss-up between him and Sam Mendes. Mendes’s work on “1917” is very impressive and fits much more comfortably into the mold of what the Academy likes to see. I expect them to think Bong Joon-Ho should just feel honored to be nominated.  

Who should win: Bong Joon-Ho

Who will win: Sam Mendes


BEST PICTURE

The Nominees are…

“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
“Parasite”

Let’s be real here, “Ford v Ferrari” is outclassed here and is just thrilled to have stolen a nomination. Of the remaining 8 films, 6 of them should only be considered “dark horses” at best, despite being tremendous films. I rated “Jojo Rabbit” the lowest score out of the group but I respect the opinions of those who enjoyed the film. In the end, it will come down to “1917” vs “Parasite”. Both are tremendous films, but it would mean so much more to the filmmaking community, at large, if “Parasite”, a foreign language film, won the award. I thought “Roma”, a Mexican film, deserved this last year, but ultimately, the Academy gave it to “The Green Book”, a by-the-numbers historical drama about racism, instead. It’s hard to say if the Academy has changed their ways…

Who should win: “Parasite”

Who will win: “1917”


Other Categories

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

“Klaus”
“Missing Link”
“How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“Toy Story 4”
“I Lost My Body”

Bet against Pixar at your own Peril.

Winner: “Toy Story 4”

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

“Corpus Christi” – Poland
“Honeyland” – North Macedonia
“Les Miserables” – France
“Pain and Glory” – Spain
“Parasite” – South Korea

“Parasite” might damn near win everything so this is just a formality.

Winner: “Parasite”

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Feature)

“American Factory”
“The Cave”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“For Sama”
“Honeyland”

These never make sense to me. Just bet the odds and follow the trends.

Winner: “American Factory”

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Short)

“In the Absence”
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“Life Overtakes Me”
“St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

Let’s be real, you haven’t seen any of these.

Winner: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

The Academy loses their minds over period pieces and for once they might actually be right about it.

Winner: “Little Women”

BEST FILM EDITING

“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Parasite”

An actual toss-up, so when in doubt, bet on the better overall film.

Winner: “Parasite”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Bombshell”
“Joker”
“Judy”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
“1917”

I’d like to see “Joker win this but it’s going to “Bombshell”.

Winner: “Bombshell”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – “Toy Story 4”
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – “Rocketman”
“I’m Standing with You” – “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unkown” – “Frozen II”
“Stand Up” – Harriet”

The last time a film whoes only nomination was in this category lost to a film that was nominated in multiple categories was in 2002.

Winner: “Rocketman”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
“Parasite”

Tough call but the odds favor Tarantino’s film here. It is also the film that I would perosnally vote for, if that is worth anything.

Winner: “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

BEST SHORT FILM (Animated)

“Dcera (Daughter)”
“Hair Love”
“Kitbull”
“Memorable”
“Sister”

“Hair Love” is a safe bet.

Winner: “Hair Love”

SHORT FILM (Live Action)

“Brotherhood”
“Nefta Football Club”
“The Neighbor’s Window”
“Saria”
“A Sister”

There is no true favorite in this category but “Brotherhood” sounds like a film that wins these things.

Winner: “Brotherhood”

BEST SOUND EDITING

“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

“Ford v Ferrari” might try to sneak in here but this is for “1917” to win.

Winner: “1917”

BEST SOUND MIXING

“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”

“1917” was an electric factory with its use of sound. It should win.

Winner: “1917”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

“Avengers: Endgame”
“The Irishman”
“The Lion King”
“1917”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Visual Effects includes practical effects, not just CGI despite what some of you may think.

Winner: “1917”


And those are my predictions! If I am wrong, just know that I am trying to predict how other people will think, not who actually deserves to win. I will watch tonight with an adult beverage readily available to help filter out the nonsense that is surley to come. The one prediction I am certain of is that the show will go on too damn long (*Jeb Bush voice* please clap). I will also be releasing my Zachademy Awards tonight to bring justice to the world so please look out for that!

At what point should we be concerned about the “Kenobi” Disney+ series?

Like most things in the world nowadays, the Star Wars fandom is incredibly polarized. The sequel trilogy has yielded “mixed” reactions and depending on who you ask, “The Force Awakens”, “The Last Jedi”, and “The Rise of Skywalker” are either the best things that have ever happened to Star Wars or some of humanity’s most awful crimes. And the two anthology films haven’t faired much better (I personally love “Rogue One”), garnering a reputation as being mostly unnecessary.

Luckily, not all has been lost. A beacon of light has pierced the fog of tumult, and its name is ‘Baby Yoda’ (I know that actually isn’t his name). Things have been looking up though since we have found common ground with the Disney+ series “The Mandolorian” and mutual excitement for the long-awaited conclusion to the animated series “The Clone Wars”. Even the video game side of the franchise had been hit-or-miss untill the release of “Jedi: Fallen Order” to unviersal praise in the past 2 months. And then we were told that Ewan McGregor will reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi for his own Disney+ show and we were really cooking!

But, if you thought things felt a little too good to be true then I admire your cynicism because you were right! I was just waiting for something to go wrong and in the immortal words of Dexter Jettster, “well, wadda ya know?!” The last week or so have brought us potentially dire reports about the “Kenobi” series. It all began on January 18th, a rumor circulated on the internet that the entire series has been cancelled. This rumor gained so much traction that Ewan had to publicly reject the rumors as false. But where there is smoke, there is often fire…

After this second report on January 23rd, I had become officially worried. One of my loudest criticisms of Disney-helmed Star Wars is that they often appear as though they act before they have a plan for their actions, and this fits like a glove into the recent history of Disney’s issues. Having one of their future projects so closely resemble their most current that they have to delay and totally rewrite scripts seems like a pretty obvious sign that their was no communication between creative teams and no oversight by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy during the development stages, and possibly that there was never a thought-out plan to begin with. Luckily, Ewan, once again, drops in to say “Hello there” and save the day.

I can’t say for sure why these rumors are so persistent but the 2 constants throughout this saga are that Ewan really wants to do this and that Deborah Chow is still slated to be the director. For what that is worth, those are reasons to believe as long as the series exists, it will be good. But I am not sure anybody on the outside can be sure what exactly it is that we will be getting and flares are up everywhere, signaling problems that we have seen before. It is an objective fact that more of the Disney-era Star Wars live-action productions have had considerable production issues than those that have not. But before we divulge into full-on fear of anarchy, is there any way this panic can soothed?

If the reports saying that the series has been cut from 6 episodes down to 4 end up being true, the potential arises that this project could possibly be more successful as an anthology film than a limited 4-part series. Assume that every episode of a potential series is between 30 minutes to an hour long, that means we would be looking at a potential 2-4 hour story. How many individual storylines could you fit in a series that small, all while still wrapping it up neatly? And what if they really do need to rewrite the entire premise of the series? Would it make more sense to just condense the project into a single feature film to potentially make the story less messy? If the right people are involved they are provided adequate leadership, this could be an option.

While the sample size is incredibly limited, Star Wars has almost been perfect with their record of creating successful television shows. I cannot speak for the show “Star Wars Resistance” (because I haven’t cared enough to watch), but “The Clone Wars”, “Rebels”, and “The Mandolorian” have all added fresh stories, tones and perspectives to the Star Wars mythos that have been welcomed additions. If this track record is anything to go by, “Kenobi” might fare better through this medium than it would as feature film, which as we know, tend to ignite miniature civil wars every 2 years.

Of course, these are just the fevered panicked responses of a madman reading too many internet rumors. I suppose it is equally as likely that everything is under control, the scripts are fine, and production is still on schedule. But one can’t help but get a really bad feeling about this. As if the Force keeps granting us a premonition of the future and we all know how those always turn out…

See the source image

Kathleen Kennedy, above all, has to right this ship before it crashes. It is her responsibility and she already has too many blemishes on her record as leader of the franchise. Directing criticisms towards her is fair, regardless if you are a fan of her tenure or not. She is in charge and there is great public doubt circulating around one of the most anticipated projects of the franchise, and there are no mulligans on this. She must prove that she has a firm grasp on the totality of the franchise and display the leadership necessary to execute a project that should almost assuredly be beloved by fans. If this version of Lucasfilm is not capable of a success here, then I suggest new leadership is needed. I will call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Vallorum Kennedy’s leadership.


But, I digress from stiring up unrest. I think we are all excited to see Ewan reprise his role as Obi-Wan, but none of us want this opportunity to be wasted on a poor story or production problems. I trust Deborah Chow to create a polished final product but this is concerning. If guidence is needed, there are plenty of comics and novels already written about Obi-Wan’s time as a recluse that should serve as source material to help guide the process along (which is frustratingly something that Kennedy insists does not exist). There is no reason that this project doesn’t end up being successful so here is hoping that Disney can get out of its own way.

What is it that you would want to see out of “Kenobi”? Are you concerned at all? Am I just fanning the flames or am I doing a service by warning that the end is near? Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts!

1917 (2019) – Movie Review

Films about war occupy a very special niche in our culture. For generations, soldiers subjected to military service have seen the worst of humanity while their own lives were sacrificed at the behest of governments dictating world conflicts with virtually no regard for the people sent to fight for them. It is through the medium of film that we have most effectively displayed the stories spawned out of our lowest points, and these recollections and adaptations serve a purpose in shaping our attitudes towards violence, world conflicts, and the people who serve going forward. Though the library of films in western culture documenting military conflicts are vast, those that give attention to the tragedies of the First World War are few and far between (because the United States wasn’t the hero so Hollywood doesn’t find it as important), which makes “1917” a welcomed perspective to add to the annals of films of the genre.

“1917” follows Lance Corporals Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) on a mission to deliver a message across enemy lines to their allies in the 2nd Battalion and call off their impending attack that will result in the deaths of roughly 1600 soldiers, including Blake’s brother. In the vein of Dunkirk in that the entire premise is essentially survival from the first moment of the film. Similarly, it is not a character-driven plot, such as those like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Apocalypse Now”, though not totally devoid of that element. Consigning the feelings of stress and impending demise of the soldiers takes priority over them sharing of their backstory, making the viewer feel as though they are a third soldier on the mission.

The way the film is constructed, it relies heavily on the cinematography of Roger Deakins to set the tone of the story. It produces the illusion that the entirety of the film is comprised of just two takes, as there are only one distinct and noticeable transition in-between scenes. This is an accomplishment for a few reasons, not least of which is that it is very difficult to pull off. In recent memory, only one other film ever attempted a feat of this magnitude, that being “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” back in 2014, which was also rightfully praised for its achievement. However, in this instance, the lack of cuts adds to the subliminal tension of the viewer as we are never truly given a chance to catch our breaths, and almost experience the stress of the plot along with the characters. I should also note that the cinematographic accomplishment could not be achieved without the skilled editing work of Lee Smith.

While Deakins’ work with the camera certainly warrants praise, I found myself being critical of how the opening sequence was filmed. This particular cut only lasts a few minutes, but I found it very strenuous to view, especially when the moment was supposed to convey a “calm before the storm” sensation. It is here that Deakins uses a tracking shot (which is a tactic he uses throughout the film to make it feel as though we are moving alongside the soldiers) to accompany the soldiers moving through their own base camp’s trenches to reach their General for assignment. However, the camera was not stabilized, likely due to the difficult terrain it needed to traverse in the scene, and the result was the tracking movements conflicting with the natural shaking of the camera. I found this scene a bit disorienting but my friends who I was with did not seem to notice, so perhaps I am being too critical.

That one issue aside, the technical aspects of this film are truly astounding and are the elements that help this film differentiate itself. There are scenes at night lit by exploding flares that help induce more feelings of panic as well as some visually stunning imagery. The totality of the sounds in the film is expertly mixed. A tremendous amount of praise should be awarded to Thomas Newman for an enchanting musical score that is both tense and surprisingly catchy, as well as the mixing of explosives that punctuate the violent nature of what is being displayed. Multiple scenes made me jump from my seat because of the puissant use of sound.

Under the direction of Sam Mendes, “1917” is both story and spectacle. What he created with this film should not be taken lightly. The actors have to convey a majority of their feelings and expressions with their actions and have a relatively minimal dialogue to fall back too. They must rely on the other elements of the production to maximize their performance and to be able to do that requires a leader with a clear vision behind the camera. It is the ability to get the most out of all of the moving parts that comprise of the whole is what is so remarkable. The final result is war drama that is enthralling and powerful, and undoubtedly one of the finest films of 2019.

I give “1917” a 9.3 out of 10

Starring: Dean Charles-Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Duburcq
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 59 Minutes

Shut Up Zach! Presents: The 2020 Zachademy Awards – Nominations

Best Picture

“Avengers: Endgame”
“Joker”
“Marriage Story”
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
“Parasite”
“The Farewell”
“The Irishman”
“The Lighthouse”
“Us”
“1917”

Best Director

Bong Joon Ho – “Parasite”
Lulu Wang – “The Farewell”
Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Robert Eggers – “The Lighthouse”
Sam Mendes – “1917”

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Ana de Armas – “Knives Out”
Awkwafina – “The Farewell”
Lupita Nyong’o – “Us”
Saoirse Ronan – “Little Women”
Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Adam Driver – “Marriage Story”
Adam Sandler – “Uncut Gems”
Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”
Leonardo DiCaprio – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Robert De Niro – “The Irishman”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Lopez – “Hustlers”
Kathy Bates – “Richard Jewell”
Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”
Park So-Dam – “Parasite”
Shuzhen Zhou – “The Farewell”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Brad Pitt – “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”
Joe Pesci – “The Irishman”
Robert Downey Jr. – “Avengers: Endgame”
Song Kang-Ho – “Parasite”
Willem Dafoe – “The Lighthouse”

Best Original Screenplay

“Marriage Story” – Noah Baumbach
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” – Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite” – Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Wan
“The Farewell” – Lulu Wang
“The Lighthouse” – Robert Eggers and Max Eggers

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Hustlers” – Lorene Scafaria
“Jojo Rabbit” – Taika Waititi
“Joker” – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
“Little Women” – Greta Gerwig
“The Irishman” – Steven Zaillian

Best Cinematography

“Ad Astra” – Hoyte van Hoytema
“Joker” – Lawrence Sher
“Parasite” – Hong Kyung-Pyo
“The Lighthouse” – Jarin Blaschke
“1917″ – Roger Deakins

Best Original Score

“Avengers: Endgame” – Alan Silvestri
“Joker” – Hildur Guðnadóttir
“The Lighthouse” – Mark Korven
“Us” – Michael Abels
“1917” – Thomas Newman

Best Editing

“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” – Fred Raskin
“Parasite” – Yang Jin-Mo
“The Irishman” – Thelma Schoonmaker
“The Lighthouse” – Louise Ford
“1917” – Lee Smith

Best Visual Effects

“Ad Astra”
“Avengers: Endgame”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“The Irishman”
“1917”

Best Production Design

“Ad Astra” – Kevin Thompson
“Joker” – Mark Friedberg
“Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” – Barbara Ling
“The Irishman” – Bob Shaw
“1917” – Dennis Gassner

Best Costume Design

“Dolemite is My Name” – Ruth E. Carter
“Joker” – Mark Bridges
“Little Women” – Jacqueline Durran
“Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” – Arianne Philips
“Rocketman” – Julian Day

Best Hair and Makeup

“Bombshell”
“Dolemite is My Name”
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“Rocketman”

Best Sound Editing

“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Lighthouse”
“Us”
“1917”

Best Sound Mixing

“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“Rocketman”
“1917”

Best Animated Feature

“Dragon Ball Super: Broly”
“Frozen 2”
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4”

Shut Up Zach! Presents: Bests of the Decade! The 2010s

2010 – 2019… What a ride!

Where were you a decade ago? I was 14 years old and just ending the 8th grade, and for some inexplicable reason, I was optimistic about the future. I was an innocent, little, pale red-headed kid who was scared of his own shadow and didn’t even realize it. The world was so different from what it is now. 2010 might as well be ions ago!

The decade is in its waning moments so it is time to celebrate the very best it has offered us in the world of movies! The 2010’s brought us plenty of classic films that spurred living legends right in front of our eyes. We have been so lucky to have so many worthy films that have graced our screens and provided us hours of entertainment, conversation, and enjoyment, so in my mind we are all winners (Classic Millennial handing out participation trophies). The most difficult task I have undertaken since I began this site is narrowing down these superlative lists, but in doing so, I have gone back and relived so many moments that meant so much to me.


FILMS

I am going to be on some thin ice with a lot of you once you take a gander at my honorable mentions list. It is totally feasible that someone’s entire Top 10 List is comprised of only films that I relegated to honorable mentions limbo. Please don’t hate me, but I also know this won’t be the last time on this post that I will have to make a tough call you won’t agree with.

Honorable Mentions:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Black Swan
Coco
Deadpool
Django Unchained
Dunkirk
Ex Machina
Frozen
Get Out
John Wick
Joker
Lady Bird
Mad Max: Fury Road
Moana
Moneyball
Moonlight
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
Parasite
Roma
Skyfall
Ted
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Irishman
The Master
The Revenant
The Shape of Water
Whiplash


10th Place
“Annihilation” (2018)

9th Place
“Inside Out” (2015)

8th Place
“Arrival” (2016)

7th Place
“Interstellar” (2014)

6th Place
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)

5th Place
“Us” (2019)

4th Place
“BlacKkKlansman” (2018)

3rd Place
“The Lighthouse” (2019)

2nd Place
“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)*

*I am counting this as one continuous film. Try and stop me.

Winner – Best Film of the Decade
“Inception” (2010)


DIRECTORS

This is interesting because most of the most successful directors of the decade have rarely directed more than 2 films. This means that a lot of younger directors who got their start in the latter half of the decade have a path to placing on this list! It is also quality over quantity! This category could also use a hearty dose of diversity so here’s hoping this is the last decade with a gender imbalance like this. There are a few honorable mention that I cannot believe did not place, but like Harry Styles says, it’s a sign of the times.

Honorable Mentions:

Adam McKay
Ava DuVernay
Bong Joon Ho
Damien Chazelle
David Fincher
Ethan Coen
Greta Gerwig
Guillermo del Toro
Joel Coen
Kathryn Bigelow
Martin Scorsese
Sam Mendes
Steven Spielberg
Wes Anderson


10th Place
Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight” (2016) , “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018)

9th Place
Robert Eggers – “The VVitch” (2015) , “The Lighthouse” (2019)

8th Place
Jordan Peele – “Get Out” (2017) , “Us” (2019)

7th Place
Alex Garland – “Ex Machina” (2014) , “Annihilation” (2018)

6th Place
Quentin Tarantino – “Django Unchained” (2012) , “The Hateful Eight” (2015) , “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (2019)

5th Place
Alfonso Cuarón – “Gravity” (2013) , “Roma” (2018)

4th Place
Paul Thomas Anderson – “The Master” (2012) , “Inherent Vice” (2014) , “Phantom Thread” (2017)

3rd Place
Denis Villeneuve – “Incendies” (2010) , “Prisoners” (2013) , “Enemy” (2013) , “Sicario” (2015) , “Arrival” (2016) , “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

2nd Place
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – “Biutiful” (2010) , “”Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014) , “The Revenant” (2015)

Winner – Best Director of the Decade
Christopher Nolan – “Inception” (2010) , “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) , “Interstellar” (2014) , “Dunkirk” (2017)


ACTRESS

I am using this opportunity to right a major wrong. I feel very confidently that I got this list down perfectly but the actress at the top doesn’t seem to get the recognition she deserves. Here is hoping being named the Best Actress of the Decade will makeup for all of those Oscar snubs!

Honorable Mentions:

Alicia Vikander
Brie Larson
Cate Blanchett
Charlize Theron
Constance Wu
Emily Blunt
Emma Watson
Felicity Jones
Frances McDormand
Jessica Chastain
Julianne Moore
Melisa McCarthy
Olivia Coleman
Rachel Weisz
Rooney Mara
Sandra Bullock
Scarlett Johansson


10th Place
Octavia Spencer – “The Help” (2011) , “Hidden Figures” (2016) , “The Shape of Water” (2017)

9th Place
Natalie Portman – “Black Swan” (2010) , “No Strings Attached” (2011) , “Jackie” (2016) , Annihilation (2016)

8th Place
Viola Davis – “The Help” (2011) , “Prisoners” (2013) , “Suicide Squad” (2016) , “Fences” (2016) , “Widows” (2018)

7th Place
Saoirse Ronan – “Hanna” (2011) , “Brooklyn” (2015) , “Lady Bird” (2017) , “Mary Queen of Scots” (2018) , “Little Women” (2019)

6th Place
Jennifer Lawrence – “Winter’s Bone” (2010) , “The Hunger Games” (2012) , “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) , “American Hustle” (2013) , “Joy” (2015) , “Mother!” (2017)

5th Place
Emma Stone – “Easy A” (2010) , “Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011) , “The Amazing Spider-man” (2012) , “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014) , “La La Land” (2016) , “The Favourite” (2018)

4th Place
Lupita Nyong’o – “12 Years a Slave” (2013) , “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), “Queen of Katwe” (2016) , “Us” (2019) , “Little Monsters” (2019)

3rd Place
Margot Robbie – “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) , “I, Tonya” (2017) , “Mary Queen of Scots” (2018) , “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (2019) , “Bombshell” (2019)

2nd Place
Meryl Streep – “The Iron Lady” (2011) , “August: Osage County” (2013) , “Into the Woods” (2014) , “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) , “The Post” (2017) , “Little Women” (2019)

Winner – Best Actress of the Decade
Amy Adams – “The Fighter” (2010) , “The Master” (2012) , “Her” (2013) , “American Hustle” (2013) , “Arrival” (2016) , “Vice” (2018)


ACTOR

A lot of actors made a late decade push to separate themselves. It was a bloodbath out here just trying to narrow it down to 10 actors to place but what’s done is done. Although all of the actors I’ll mention have done great work this decade, the 10 that have placed deserve to be propped up above the rest.

Honorable Mentions:

Adam Driver
Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Kaluuya
Denzel Washington
Gary Oldman
Hugh Jackman
Idris Elba
Jake Gyllenhaal
Mark Ruffalo
Matt Damon
Matthew McConaughey
Michael Fassbender
Ryan Reynolds
Timothée Chalamet
Tom Hardy
Viggo Mortensen


10th Place
Brad Pitt – “Moneyball” (2011) , “The Tree of Life” (2011) , “World War Z” (2013) , “12 Years a Slave” (2013) , “Fury” (2014) , “The Big Short” (2015) , “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (2019) , “Ad Astra” (2019)

9th Place
Sam Rockwell – “Iron Man 2” (2010) , “Seven Psychopaths” (2012) , “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) , “Vice” (2018) , “Jojo Rabbit” (2019) , “Richard Jewell” (2019)

8th Place
Mahershala Ali – “Free State of Jones” (2016) , “Moonlight” (2016) , “Hidden Figures” (2016) , “Green Book” (2018) , “Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) , “Alita: Battle Angel” (2019)

7th Place
Bradley Cooper – “Limitless” (2011) , “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) , “American Hustle” (2014) , “American Sniper” (2015) , “A Star is Born” (2018)

6th Place
Robert Downey Jr. – “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (2010 – 2019) , “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) , “The Judge” (2014)

5th Place
Josh Brolin – “True Grit” (2010) , “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (2014) , “Inherent Vice” (2014) , “Sicario” (2015) , “Hail, Caesar!” (2016) , “Avengers: Infinty War” (2018) , “Deadpool 2” (2018) , “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2018) , “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

4th Place
Willem Dafoe – “John Wick” (2014) , “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) , “The Florida Project” (2017) , “Aquaman” (2018) , “At Eternity’s Gate” (2018) , “The Lighthouse” (2019) , “Motherless Brooklyn” (2019)

3rd Place
Joaquin Phoenix – “The Master” (2012) , “Her” (2013) , “Inherent Vice” (2014) , “You Were Never Really Here” (2017) , “Joker” (2019)

2nd Place
Christian Bale – “The Fighter” (2010) , “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) , “American Hustle” (2013) , “The Big Short” (2015) , “Vice” (2018) , “Ford v Ferrari” (2019)

Winner – Best Actor of the Decade
Leonardo DiCaprio – “Shutter Island” (2010) , “Inception” (2010) , “Django Unchained” (2012) , “The Great Gatsby” (2013) , “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) , “The Revenant” (2015) , “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (2019)


PERFORMANCE

Honorable Mentions:

Adam Driver – “Marriage Story”
Amy Adams – “Arrival”
Awkwafina – “The Farewell”
Brad Pitt – “Moneyball”
Bradley Cooper – “American Sniper”
Brie Larson – “Room”
Cate Blanchett – “Blue Jasmine”
Charlize Theron – “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Christian Bale – “The Fighter”
Daniel Kaluuya – “Get Out”
Emma Stone – “La La Land”
Ethan Hawke – “First Reformed”
Hugh Jackman – “Logan”
Idris Elba – “Beasts of No Nation”
Jake Gyllenhaal – “Nightcrawler”
James McAvoy – “Split”
Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook”
Jamie Foxx – “Django Unchained”
J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash”
Jonah Hill – “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Josh Brolin – “Avengers: Infinity War”
Lady Gaga – “A Star Is Born”
Lupita Nyong’o – “Us”
Matt Damon – “The Martian”
Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
Margot Robbie – “I, Tonya”
Matthew McConaughey – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Meryl Streep – “The Iron Lady”
Michael B. Jordan – “Creed”
Oscar Isaac – “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman – “The Master”
Robert Downey Jr. – “Avengers: Endgame”
Ryan Reynolds – “Deadpool”
Sandra Bullock – “Gravity”
Saoirse Ronan – “Lady Bird”
Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story”
Timothée Chalamet – “Call Me by Your Name”
Tom Hardy – “The Dark Knight Rises”
Toni Collette – “Hereditary”
Viola Davis – “Fences”
Yalitza Aparicio – “Roma”


10th Place
Sally Hawkins – “The Shape of Water”

9th Place
Michael Keaton – “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

8th Place
Anya Taylor-Joy – “The VVitch”

7th Place
John David Washington – “BlacKkKlansman”

6th Place
Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”

5th Place
Daniel Day-Lewis – “Lincoln”

4th Place
Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Revenant”

3rd Place
Natalie Portman – “Black Swan”

2nd Place
Alicia Vikander – “Ex Machina”

Winner: Best Acting Performance of the Decade
Willem Dafoe – “The Lighthouse”


And there we have it! Congratulations to all the winners of the inaugural Shut Up Zach! Best of the Decade Awards! I am sure many, if not all of them have worked their entire careers in the desperate hope to achieve this sort of recognition for their craft. All it takes to achieve your dreams is a little elbow grease and a “Can-Do” attitude! To all the losers who did not place as high as they could have hoped, fear not! There are surely more accolades on the horizon and that means another chance to impress the only critic you’ve ever respected. ‘Twas a hell of a decade and everyone should be proud of themselves for being a part of it, even if it was something as simple as paying for a movie ticket!

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Movie Review

**********SPOILER WARNING! DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPECIFC DETAILS OF THIS MOVIE REVEALED TO YOU**************

*Dramatically inhales* Yikes. What a mess. “The Rise of Skywalker” has finally arrived and mercifully brought an end to this aimless trilogy that Disney has created. I really must apologize upfront to anyone who has enjoyed this trilogy because I will be harsh here. It is not my intention to ruin something you have found joy in, but I cannot in good conscience ease up on this film simply because it is “Star Wars”. This film is so HEAVILY flawed that even people who enjoyed it that I have spoken too cannot ignore most of them.

I think that J.J. Abrams is overrated as a filmmaker, and his inability as a storyteller is very much on display with this movie. This plot is so erratic it is almost stressful. The first 45 minutes of runtime are so packed with exposition and random jumps from unrelated story threads that you struggle to keep up with what is happening and who it is happening to. I guess the best way I could describe the plot is like everybody has one item on a shopping list and they all know exactly where they need to go to get that item. There is no mystery or reveals in any of these quests, just simple retrieval or one minor obstacle that will delay the characters for a few minutes. I’ll compare this to the first retrieval mission in “A New Hope” when Ben, Luke, Han, and Chewie are on their way to Alderaan only to find that it was obliterated by the Empire. Instead of just jumping from one location to the next, we are introduced to the mystery of the Death Star and a changing of plans to escape and rescue of Leia. The change in the status quo is simply better than being so predictable.

The real goal of this film seems to be giving the finger to Rian Johnson. I will be the first guy to sign up for the ‘I hated “The Last Jedi”’ fan club, but I have never seen a movie so hellbent on spitting in the face of its predecessor since…”The Last Jedi”. Having a trilogy that is more at war with itself than it is within its story is a problem, regardless of which spectrum of the fanbase you find yourself on. J.J. does everything in his power to retcon anything remotely controversial in “The Last Jedi” back to the shadow realm. Rey? She’s not a nobody; she’s a Palpatine (we’ll get back to this). Kylo’s helmet? Quite literally reassembled piece-by-piece in the opening scenes. Lightsabers? We don’t throw those carelessly; they should be treated with dignity. Using ships at lightspeed to kamikaze bigger ships? 1 in a million shot that could never happen again. Hux as comic relief? Murder him in cold blood because we all hate him now. Rose is someone we should care about? Nope. Have her do nothing and try to hide her on all the promotional material. Leia flying through space with no explanation? Oh, I guess she was always a fully trained Jedi all along. The film undoes so much of the previous one that you might not even need to watch it anymore.

The result of this is that this movie tries to be both the second and third films in the trilogy. In more than one way, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels more like a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” than it does to “The Last Jedi”. In an effort to undo and cram so much story into this movie, the pacing of the film is ludicrous. Almost nothing is effectively set up and there is no emotional investment into anything we see on screen. Similarly, the introduction of a new Force power that heals fatal wounds takes away any believability of danger to the main cast. I don’t find the ability in itself to be a problem, but the way it is used within the film and the total lack of any recoil from its use nullifies any consequences of the conflicts. There are even two specific moments when we are supposed to believe characters we are told to root for die horribly, only for those characters to be alive a scene or two later with basically no attempt to explain how they survived.

I also need to talk about the return of the original saga’s villain, Emperor Palpatine. *Rubs forehead, squints eyes, and sighs in defeat* I hated every second of him in this film, and that pains me to say because he is one of my favorite characters from the original saga. He does not belong at all. The previous two films in the trilogy have provided NOTHING to suggest that Palpatine was the real villain all along. His presence was nothing more than the aftermath of what his empire had done, but his character was assuredly deceased and gone. When “The Last Jedi” killed off Snoke, Disney and J.J. Abrams panicked and forced him into this movie. His revival isn’t even given the most minimal of explanations, which is ridiculous considering just how gratuitous the rest of the script is with dishing out exposition. I have never been surer that Disney did not have this trilogy planned out beforehand than I am now that I have seen how they attempted to end it.

The Emperor is back and we just need to deal with it. His plan? Have Rey kill him and then give her his invincible army that he was hiding from the rest of the Galaxy(?). Just how big is this army? Big enough that it completely nullifies the existence of The First Order (while still somehow being easy enough to defeat in their first battle). But don’t worry, Snoke was really Palpatine’s puppet the whole time so The First Order was controlled by Palpatine. Oh, and every Star Destroyer can blow up a planet too. So, what was the purpose of The First Order if this new army of infinite Death Stars was the real plan all along? Unclear. If even the slightest bit of critical thinking is applied to any of the events that transpire in this film, and consequentially the films that precede it, everything falls apart.

And now that we know Rey is a Palpatine, I should say that this was the right decision all along. BUT, like everything in this movie, it was executed so poorly. They try to set up this dyad in the Force where Kylo, the grandson of Anakin, and Rey, the granddaughter of Palpatine, are two halves of one Force entity, and I like this premise. There is a lot of potential in this idea that could have been a real strength to tout about this film, but it is way too rushed. Rey’s lineage should have been revealed correctly in the second film of the trilogy so its impact could develop. Rey had spent the entire trilogy being a pure, unadulterated altruist, who was so steadfast in her protagonist ways she outright rejected every single plea to a contrary way of thinking. Then she is told that her bloodline is that of Palpatine and she suddenly flips to being this character that has always been struggling with her dark side. If this information was given in the previous film, she could be haunted by the possibility of what she was for a while. The fear could be what drives her to consider the dark side and when she releases her force lightning for the first time, it would be a much more believable moment of her potential decent.

I do not have issues with her prowess in the Force or any of her new abilities. To the film’s credit, the passage of time leading up to the start of the movie and the implied year or so of intense training that she had done with Leia is enough for me. Is it flawless? I think you know my answer, but considering an explanation is given at all, I cannot complain. I have far more of a problem with Palpatine’s new abilities, which besides ultimately resembling one of those generic early-Marvel CGI sky-beams, is such a jump from the point we had seen him last. Perhaps he was always holding back before but then you just have to wonder how he was ever defeated at all.

My final major gripe with this film is that the dialogue is atrocious. Like George Lucas infamously before him, J.J. displays an almost remarkable inability to write realistic and compelling dialogue. Every line is just so on-the-nose it becomes cringe-worthy. Palpatine and Rey suffer from this the most, especially when they share their soon-to-be-infamous “I am all the Sith-I am all the Jedi” scene at the conclusion of the film. But sophomorically written dialogue by Maz, Hux, and Lando amongst others is just littered throughout the film. If you are not one of this film’s five main characters, your character’s only job is to spew exposition in the most direct way possible.

And so, we have finally hobbled all the way to the finish line. This has been a sad venture for me, as both a fan of “Star Wars” but also as a fan of movies in general. I do not know what this trilogy of films was about. From a storytelling perspective, all three films are unnecessary. There was a lot of potential in the seeds of “The Force Awakens” but it devolved into a conflicting jumble of competing half-baked ideas that culminated in digging up an enemy that was already cleanly defeated before these films came to be. I hope this serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when filmmakers take shortcuts with the material they borrow, attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and thinking it is impossible to write bad “Star Wars” stories. Disney had taken the property for granted, and it is not that they decided to go the fan service route or the Rian Johnson “Burn everything down and replace it with itself but newer” method. It is that they never knew what they wanted to do other than make money movies. I hope there is a renewed focus on quality storytelling and Disney develops more thought-out plans in the future. It may never be perfect or appeal to everyone, but it is inexcusable to have a trilogy as aimless as this one.

I know it does not seem like it, but I surprisingly left the theater mildly happy with this film. Maybe it is because I spent the entire runtime whispering to my groaning friend in the seat next to me “It’s not as bad as the last one” or I was just so mesmerized by the special effects. If you are willing to not think about ANYTHING you are watching and just watch shiny things explode and people doing backflips and shooting each other with lasers and such, you can be entertained. J.J. throws an absurd amount of content into this movie and it is bound to appeal to people who think bigger is always better. Unfortunately, the more time this movie sits with you, the worse it gets. The flaws cannot hide forever no matter how deep you bury your head in the sand. Some moments are enjoyable just like some are in all the “Star Wars” films, but not nearly enough to keep it afloat. I hope you find moments buried under the rubble that appeal to you because I am sure that some exist and I love when people enjoy “Star Wars”. And while I could probably go on beating the dead horse, I hope there are people out there who will scavenge the wreckage of this film for positives to enjoy.

I give “The Rise of Skywalker” an admittedly artificially passable score of 6.0 out of 10. It really doesn’t deserve this but it will ultimately just be remembered as bad “Star Wars” which is still acceptable by most people’s standards.

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong’o, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 21 Minutes

Marriage Story (2019) – Movie Review

Seeing as I am a 24-year-old that is a solid 6 out of 10 with the maturity of a 4th grader and the financial wherewithal you would assume a movie blogger would have, it should come as no surprise that I have never been married (Hit me up, ladies!). I have been blessed to witness my parents’ in a loving marriage for my entire life, but that is the extent of my knowledge of civil unions. So, while it may be foreign to me, marriage is one of the world’s most common institutions, and the story of the decay of a family through a divorce is a story that so many people can empathize with.

Noah Baumbach creates an amazing experience with this film. He begins by giving both Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) about 3 minutes each to describe the reasons and qualities that made them fall in love with each other over a montage of them pantomiming happiness. But after these opening moments, we are bombarded with heartbreak until the very closing moments of the film. We are quickly built up to appreciate why they love each other and are given about 2 hours to watch something we understand was genuine crumble before our eyes. It is a relatable tragedy that consigns its characters’ pathos exceptionally onto its audience.

It should not take the keenest eye to notice that the film is driven almost entirely by dialogue. Every competent script requires dialogue to function, but when all events on screen are conversations rather than actions, there is risk associated with that decision. The pacing could potentially become an issue as things happen much less frequently and you may see two characters in a room simply talking about the same subject for extended periods. “Marriage Story” turns this potential pitfall into one of its strengths, as it will captivate while juxtaposing itself with the knowledge that it is fighting an uphill battle.

The writing is noteworthy, but I can’t help but wonder if the film would thrive the same way if not for Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver delivering career-defining performances. The casting for the leads is reasonably the biggest draw to the film, and they each perform theatrically yet never straying into over-the-top melodrama. Scarlett’s Nicole is a woman trying to capture the agency she felt she surrendered in her marriage and Adam’s Charlie is a man who needs to grow in maturity and learn to see situations beyond his own perspective. He has sympathy but not empathy. You know that they truly do care for each other while simultaneously not being good for each other. Both characters undergo palpable character arcs that communicate vividly just how life-changing an experience that divorce is, punctuated by an argument that serves as a climactic catharsis of their respective experiences.

I did enjoy the supporting cast as well, although their impact pales in comparison to that of the leads. Alan Alda stands out as the sympathetic divorce lawyer who is seemingly Charlie’s only ally in the entire film. He provides heart and feels like a much-needed shoulder to cry on for the few scenes he is on-screen. Similarly, Laura Dern is Nicole’s lawyer, and while she is openly supportive of her, you can’t help but feel that she could easily flip the switch to being cut-throat at any minute. It is difficult to determine if she is antagonizing Charlie or simply helping Nicole.

I am sure this film will hit differently for everyone who sees it. I have made my relationship with the material know, but all of our experiences are unique. Perhaps you can relate to your own experiences. Maybe you have seen someone you care for dealing with divorce. One thing I can promise is that we all have someone in our life we care about, and “Marriage Story” forces us to confront the idea that things will not always be perfect with that person and the reality of learning to adapt to how life would change as a result.

While the quality is undeniable, I doubt anybody will genuinely enjoy their time watching the movie. An honest assessment of this movie is that “Marriage Story” is not truly a piece of entertainment. It feels more like being forced to eat vegetables as a kid. It is not easy to be faced with powerful emotions, especially ones of heartache. It is hard work but, in the end, it is good for you. I recommend you give this film a watch at least one time because it’s as simple as streaming it on Netflix and you are most assuredly going to see the names associated with it during award season.

I give “Marriage Story” a 9.0 out of 10

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 16 minutes

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