As Good as It Gets (1997) – Movie Review

After days of preparation, South Florida was hit with an ankle-breaker from Hurricane Dorian that has left us dry but ultimately ticked off for wasting our time. But in that wasted time, my family and I had a movie night where we watched one of the most revered films from 1997: “As Good as It Gets”. The general rule of life is that anything with Jack Nicholson in it is worth a watch, but let me tell you, there is no better way to watch a quirky comedy that is 20 years out of date than having a few glasses of whiskey and being cooped up in a boarded-up house with no sunlight. So, with that in mind, let’s see how this one holds up.

My initial reaction was: It was alright, I guess. The film has a reputation the precedes it as a 2-Time Oscar-Winner, and maybe I was expecting something truly amazing when it was only just pretty good. Whether or not it is fair to judge a film because it does or does not meet initial expectations is a debate that is worth having but ultimately, I couldn’t separate that factor from my feelings of the film. I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed at a few aspects of the film that are somehow toted as the film’s high points, but I believe that even if I didn’t have my expectations prior, I would likely still have these criticisms.

The story feels forced in some areas. I thought he first half of the film worked much more cohesively than the second half because the latter seemed to be forced to try to conform to the more cliché aspects of storytelling. Jack Nicholson’s Melvin in the first half was great. He was an abrasive asshole who hid from the responsibility of his own actions behind his OCD. He seemed to convince himself that he can’t improve himself as a person so there was no need to even try to be good to anyone else. He was racist, sexist, homophobic, and pretty much every other bad trait you can think of. Similarly, Helen Hunt’s Carol and Greg Kinnear’s Simon were equally interesting in the first half of the film. Carol was the only character that didn’t seem to be afraid of Melvin’s antics and Simon was a gay artist who was beaten a robbed to an inch of his life. But when the film takes the three of them on a road trip to Maryland, everybody except Simon seems to grow illogically.

In the first half of the story, Melvin and Carol had a nice back and forth, but there was ZERO sexual tension or romantic chemistry between them. And yet, the trip to Maryland shows that somehow, they’ve always had romantic feelings for each other. Maybe it is because Melvin is Jack Nicholson who hasn’t looked younger than 55 since he starred in “Chinatown” 20 years earlier, but I just do not believe Carol has ever found this man even remotely attractive in any way. Melvin has always been exceptionally rude to her, and even after he pays for her son’s medical treatment, she still says she would never have sex with him. That works in tandem with the fact that Melvin didn’t do what he did out of the kindness of his heart or to impress her. He wanted her back at work so she could go back to being his waitress and he could go back to his routine. It was a selfish, pragmatic motivation from an older, mentally unstable man, who continues to show how unstable he is after that moment. It would have made much more sense storytelling-wise if she developed sympathy for his situation and became a supportive figure as a platonic friend, but the romance just seemed very forced.

Carol was initially portrayed as fiercely independent, showing the willingness to stand up to Melvin when virtually no one else had the backbone to look him in the eye. Yes, she was looking for love, which included one very creepy date with a guy who didn’t talk but did make large physical advances and had those serial killer wire glasses (you know the ones I am talking about) and blank stare that makes you wonder why she didn’t just call the cops immediately. However, her quest for partnership was played as almost a form of desperation and I think it devalues her strength that despite her ability to call Melvin out, she still ends up with him romantically. You could say she loves him despite his flaws but it really felt as though she was willingly entering a bad relationship because she just couldn’t walk away. It is why I think a friendship with Melvin is more appropriate than a romantic relationship that is doomed to fail. If Melvin was given the opportunity to grow as a person in the film, it is a shame that they didn’t afford Carol the same opportunity, and instead gave her the cliché “Love is where you least expect it” routine.

Much more positively, Simon is a great character who’s arc actually makes sense to me. Like I said before, he is an artist who was robbed and beaten, but those physical actions affect his character immensely. He goes from being a creative man trying to live his best life to being someone resentful and bitter. This is a reasonable and natural reaction as everything he had was taken from him and his only perceivable way out is turning to his abrasive homophobic neighbor to watch his dog and drive him to Maryland to beg his parents for money even though they wouldn’t call or visit him and abandoned him years back because he was gay. Yup, not an ideal situation. Yet, on the trip, Carol helps him rediscover the beauty in life and regain his passion for art and living again. He calls his parents and tells them that he doesn’t need them and seems to really have grown from the experience. Frankly, the type of relationship he fosters with Carol should have been what Melvin also has with her. There is no romance, but there is compassion, empathy, and genuine love. It is a shame that this was not the central theme of the film and the three characters could have been 3 friends who understand each other’s struggles and provide the support they were lacking prior. After all, the strongest structure in nature is the triangle.

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this movie was bad, just overrated. The message seems poorly thought out and it mainly just coasts on the charisma of its cast and the quirkiness of its characters. Much of the film feels a product of its time and perhaps that is why the forced romance was deemed acceptable. When you really think about it, it’s crazy how the 1990s were allowed to happen. Everything was just goofy. But the film does sport quality acting from all of its main cast and the occasional funny moment that isn’t totally derived from uncomfortable awkwardness, so maybe it doesn’t deserve to be judged as harshly as I did. But I give you my honest thoughts and there they were.

I give “As Good as It Gets” an adequate 6.8 out of 10

Directed by: James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 19 Minutes

10 Best Foreign Accents in Movies by Actors

I may not be an actor myself, but I have often said that one of the most difficult aspects of acting is convincingly changing your voice outside its natural tones. We all know someone who thinks they are good at doing an accent but in reality, they would be detained by local authorities if they ever tried it outside of the safety and confines of their own homes. That is not to say some people do not have the gift of modulating their voice, but it’s an extraordinarily difficult feat to master. In film, we see actors take on roles of characters that don’t share the same native dialect as them, so they must change their accent for authenticity’s sake. Some, like Kevin Costner, perform insults unto the almighty, but others are actually decent folks who try their best, and those are the people this list will celebrate!

Seeing as though I am not an expert, I had to do some extensive research on the interwebs for this one, and through my decades of tutelage I have discovered that this is extremely difficult for people to do. It is so difficult, in fact, that even the most widely praised performances still have their detractors. But if this list tickles your fancy and you are interested in hearing directly from an expert, I recommend you visit dialect coach Erik Singer’s website for great videos.

As you know, when constructing a Top 10 List, we must have rules or else there will be Anarchy, Communism, and worst of all, Childhood Obesity! Thusly, the ground rules are as follows: accents must be non-native, so no Mark Wahlberg doing a Bostonian accent. In fact, all Americans on this list can’t be doing any type of American accent, even if the regional dialects differ wildly. And while I am at it, Europeans don’t qualify if they are doing a different European accent! Most Americans can’t tell the difference between English, Scottish, and Irish accents because we are dumb, so let’s just avoid the confusion all together. In this dojo we only acknowledge intercontinental accent changes. Furthermore, an actor can only place ONE time on the list, even if they have several performances that might be worthy. I am all powerful and I have spoken!

Of course, we have some honorable mentions! Brad Pitt in “Snatch” (Native Accent: American/Character Accent: Pikey/Irish), Kate Winselt in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Native Accent: English/ Character Accent: American), Gary Oldman in “True Romance” (Native Accent: English/Character Accent: Jamaican) and Christian Bale in literally every film he’s ever been in. 

And I need to make a special honorable mention to Saoirse Ronan, who, despite her young age, has already proven to be one of the greatest masters of accents of our time. The issue with her is her nationality. She was born in the Bronx, NY in the USA but was raised in Dublin, Ireland. Furthermore, her natural accent seems to me an amalgamation of the two distinct regions. Because of my own tedious rules, she does not qualify for many of her performances despite her exceptional and versatile work. If it weren’t so confusing, she would probably place in the top 5 for any of her roles.

10. Renee Zellweger – “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001)

Native Accent: American/Texas
Character Accent: English/London

Full disclosure, this one didn’t impress me all that much when I first heard it. I heard Renee Zellweger’s voice trying to do an accent, rather than a character speaking. But after carefully reading the scriptures, I have seen the light! Actual British people have complimented Zellweger on her accent in this film, which is better than anything I can say about it. What is most impressive though is the fact that her natural accent is from Texas, making this performance a huge departure from her comfort zone.

9. Margot Robbie – “I, Tonya” (2017)

Native Accent: Australian
Character Accent: American/Pacific Northwestern

Margot Robbie is so incredibly gifted at doing accents that most Americans do not realize that she is Australian. She has delivered great performances with a New York accent before in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Suicide Squad”, but I find her accent in “I, Tonya” to be much more impressive. The Pacific Northwestern accent is far more subtle and less popular than the New York accent, and therefore it is more of a special feat for an Australian to master it.

8. Robert Downey Jr. – “Natural Born Killers” (1994)

Native Accent: American
Character Accent: Australian

Robert Downey Jr. looks like he had so much fun filming this movie. The accent seems to have come very natural to him and he doesn’t appear to even be putting in considerable effort to maintaining it, which just gives him the freedom to be as flamboyant with it as possible. He seems so comfortable with it you would be excused in thinking he was born in Australia instead of Manhattan. He eventually went on to use this accent again in scenes in “Tropic Thunder”.

7. Don Cheadle – “Hotel Rwanda” (2004)

Native Accent: American
Character Accent: Rwandan

For the first time ever, War Machine places better than Iron Man in a Top 10 List. Don Cheadle is a very talented actor but his performance in “Hotel Rwanda” is widely considered to be his personal magnum opus. According to those who are experts in African dialects, Cheadle is practically flawless in his speech throughout this film. The trailer above shows this off, along with a cliché narration that will make you laugh.

6. Leonardo DiCaprio – “Blood Diamond” (2006)        

Native Accent: American/California
Character Accent: Rhodesian

Leo has done a great many accents and voice modulations in his career, but rarely does he ever play characters who are not American. In “Blood Diamond”, it is the rare exception and he plays a mercenary from Zimbabwe (Formerly known as Rhodesia. Educate yourselves). This accent places this high up because it is widely believed that the Rhodesian is incredibly difficult for an American to master. Most language experts agree that Leo gets this one right, all while still being able to show off his natural charisma.

5. Heath Ledger – “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)

Native Accent: Australian
Character Accent: American/Texas

I have discussed my love for Heath Ledger’s role in “The Dark Knight” ad nauseum at this point, and while that could definitely qualify here, I think its time we give his performance in “Brokeback Mountain” some respect. Ledger performs a heavy Texas accent in this role that is emphasized by a deep baritone and accurate lip posture. If he only grew out a mustache, he could easily be confused with a young Sam Elliot.

4. Cate Blanchett – “The Aviator (2004)

Native Accent: Australia
Character Accent: Katherine Hepburn Impression

Cate Blanchett does an amazing job with this role. She is tasked with mimicking the very distinct voice of one of the most famous actresses ever. Katherine Hepburn, although from Connecticut, had a very unique voice that sounded like she was always performing in some way, and Blanchett essentially becomes her with this performance. Her natural Australian accent is so well hidden, you’d be forgiven if you think I am lying about her nationality to allow her to qualify for the list.

3. Forest Whitaker – “The Last King of Scotland” (2006)

Native Accent: American
Character Accent: Ugandan

My friend once told me he Forest Whitaker is adorable and, for once, I have to agree with him. But that irrelevant fact aside, he flawlessly pulls off a difficult Ugandan accent in “The Last King of Scotland”. I have made known that African accents are particularly challenging for Americans to pick up on, yet professionals and locals alike have all praised him for his work getting the voice down so correctly. Whitaker embraces the challenge with what is objectively the best performance of his career.

2. Daniel Day-Lewis – “Gangs of New York” (2002)

Native Accent: English/London
Character Accent: Early New York

I could have easily chosen his accent in “There Will Be Blood” or “Lincoln” for the obligatory Daniel Day-Lewis entry on this list. All of these roles required accurate accent work for dialects that no longer exist. In the ridiculously long “Gangs of New York”, he plays Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, who proudly displays a loud, scratchy, and emphatic early New York accent. The vowels are more pronounced than in today’s accent, and DDL just takes it and makes an extremely interesting character in movie that feels like it takes 3 weeks to finish.

1. Meryl Streep – “Sophie’s Choice” (1982)

Native Accent: American/New Jersey
Character Accent: Polish

I have praised actors for being able to master a foreign accent, and they should be praised. But Meryl Streep, in the most Meryl Streep-like way possible, totally outclasses everyone here. Not only did Meryl speak in a flawless Polish accent, she also learned both German and Polish, in just 6 months before filming, AND learned to speak them in a Polish accent. You think speaking in a foreign accent is hard? Try doing it in a second or third language that you have only been speaking for about half of a year. That’s right, sit down before you hurt yourselves amateurs.

Sony and Marvel get divorced over Spider-Man and I say we riot!

“Honorable representatives of the Republic, I come to you under the gravest of circumstances…” I choose to echo Queen Amidala’s opening remarks to the Senate in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” because this is truly the gravest of circumstances. Marvel and Sony’s negotiations over the distribution rights of Spider-Man have stalled, resulting in Marvel no longer being able to produce and distribute films or any type of media starring the iconic superhero. Or more simply put, Spider-Man, perhaps the most famous superhero in the world after Batman and Superman, will no longer be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even though he has starred in 2 solo films and 3 major crossover films in just the past few years. Indeed, the character that was being groomed to be Iron Man’s successor in the most profitable movie franchise in history was defeated by corporate negotiations…

If you aren’t familiar with Spider-Man’s weird situation, you might be thinking “Why does Marvel need to work with Sony over a character that was created by Marvel?”. Well, in the 1990s, Marvel was not doing so hot, so they sold off the rights of some of their most profitable characters to other major studios to stay afloat. Powerhouses like “The Fantastic Four” and “The X-Men” were sold to Fox, Sony got “Spider-Man”, and Universal got “The Hulk”. Since then, movies starring those characters have been produced and distributed by their corporate step-parents, except for “The Hulk”, so long as he is not the title character in a Marvel Film.

As Marvel regained its financial strength and was eventually purchased by Disney, they have been slowly rebuilding their lost property. Just this year, Disney agreed to a merger with Fox, giving them back the rights of the characters they once sold. But even before that, Sony’s failure to successfully reboot their own “Amazing Spider-Man” movies convinced them to rent out the character to Marvel, resulting in the Tom Holland version we know and love. (You can read about that deal here.) But the agreed-upon deal only lasted for 5 films and when it came time to renegotiate terms, both sides were greedy. Marvel asked for a 50-50 split, which is an astronomical increase from the measly 5% they take from their current deal, and Fox did not even give a counteroffer, saying they were unwilling to stray from the original terms. And because 2 multi-billion-dollar studios couldn’t figure out a way to fairly divide up a few billion dollars, we, the fans, are the ones that lose.

Frankly, it is criminally irresponsible of Marvel to allow this situation to get to this point. They knew they really had no leverage when it came to negotiations and they asked for way more than they should have, Furthermore, they were putting a lot of their eggs in Spider-Man’s basket to be one of the new faces of their entire franchise, knowing fully well that the possibility of them losing the rights to the character was real. Now, they are in a difficult situation with regards to their main overarching story that they spent so much time and financial resources to set up. But I think this is mainly Sony’s fault. They rented out Spider-Man to Marvel just to make the character profitable again, then once there was a film that crossed a billion dollars grossed, they said: “We’ll take it from here”. They were already making north of 90% of the profits from the Spider-Man films without having to do any of the work. Marvel made them so much money (“Spider-Man: Far from Home” is actually Sony’s most profitable movie ever and they didn’t even make it) and they were unwilling to move an inch.

Sony making Spider-Man movies is definitely a bad thing. They were successful with the first two films that Sam Raimi made in the early 2000s, but they couldn’t leave well enough alone after that. They insisted on studio interference on the bloated “Spider-Man 3” with too many villains and stupid stories, which ultimately killed the beloved series. And when they tried to reboot the franchise into “The Amazing Spider-Man” with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, they learned zero lessons and drove the franchise into the ground after just two sub-par movies. If you can’t make a freaking Spider-Man film with talents like that profitable or even good, you are biblically incompetent as a studio. No one trusts them to do this right, but even so, it doesn’t even matter because it removed one of our favorite characters from possibly the most popular story in the world right now because of corporate greed. Who cares if Sony can make a competent “Spider-Man” film if it took hurting the MCU to do it? I don’t see how at even in the best of circumstances we could even break even as a society.

Sony let this happen. We have come so far and I refuse to go back to this! We live in a goddamn society!

And here we are. Our best friend’s parents just got divorced, the deadbeat dad got sole custody, and they moved to North Dakota to be a famous singer or some shit that definitely will fail. No one is happy and everyone loses. And I am out here flipping tables, screaming into the ether to no avail. I say we riot! Or start a fire! That’s always a good way to get attention. I know we live in really strange times with real pressing issues to take care of, but I’ll commit my vote to any Presidential Candidate who promises to put Spider-Man back into the MCU. The removal of Spider-Man from its home is surely a sign of impending Armageddon. Tony Stark did not sacrifice himself to save all of existence just for petty financial contracts to take away his protégé and pseudo-son! He deserves better. Stan Lee’s legacy deserves better. We deserve better!

The Farewell (2019) – Movie Review

Is lying ok? Does the reasoning behind your actions mean more than the actions themselves? Whose burden is it grieve loss? “The Farewell” is openly based on an actual lie about a family trying to hide the fact that their grandmother is dying from her while spending one last gathering with her. Director Lulu Wang creates a tale resembling an real situation in her life that thoughtfully discusses the difference in customs in China and America, and how her family handled those moral questions, seamlessly mixing cultures without ever resorting to clichés.

I saw this movie with my mother who only knew of Awkwafina’s leading role, and she ended up being surprised that a majority of the film is in Chinese (She loved it but was just caught off guard by this). If you are not a fan of foreign language films, then perhaps this could be the film that could change your mind. There is a nice mix of western-style interactions to balance out the heavily subtitled Chinese dialogue scenes. I encourage everyone to keep an open mind and you may be surprised with a delightful film that you otherwise may not have given a chance.

This film also takes a chance with its casting. The popular opinion amongst most movie fans is that it is typically a bad idea for comedic actors to test the waters in drama. We have all seen the likes of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller flop on the big screen trying to convince us that they are serious people and it is noticeably difficult to watch. But the reality of it is that many actors rise to the challenge and deliver tremendous dramatic performances. The likes of Tom Hanks, Emma Stone, Robin Williams, and Jamie Foxx all began as comedy actors and they are now amongst royalty in Hollywood. As difficult as it may be for simple people like us to grasp, these Cadillacs of humans are talented. So talented, in fact, that just because they have proven they are good one type of acting does not mean they might not be even better at another.

Likewise, Awkwafina is mostly known for her comedic chops and her New York-style sarcasm, but in “The Farewell” she takes the leap to drama and holy crap does she flourish in a multi-lingual, understated, intimate and emotional role. Billi is a character of immense humanity, having to balance her grief with a façade that she fundamentally disagrees with. You can feel Billi’s love for Nai Nai and her disagreement with the way her family is handling her impending end with every interaction she has, both with her family and herself in her moments of solitude. She expresses so much with quiet subtlety but is not afraid to express powerful emotion when the time calls for it. She should be commended for her performance and we can safely add her name to the list of actors who can do well in both comedy and drama.

Nai Nai is the film’s most lovable character, brilliantly played by Shuzhen Zhou. She is kept in the dark about her own terminal diagnosis, which is a common practice in the East, and while her family tries to hide the harsh reality from her, she just showers them all with love. She is Billi’s paternal grandmother, and her relationship with Billi is clearly special, as they have maintained a close bond despite them living on different sides of the world. She is the supportive and loving figure in Billi’s life that seemingly her parents are not. And although it is not truly alluded to, I got the feeling that she knew her family was hiding something from her and played along for their sake, ironically doing exactly what they were trying to do to her. She is an emotional character and one that I hope we all have someone in our own lives resemble.

“The Farewell” is a humbling experience to watch, but it is a joy nonetheless. We, as viewers, are confronted with harsh realities of life and love, but even in the worst moments, the film never resorts to cynicism. Through the lens of Billi, we understand that we cannot control life and sometimes we must do something difficult for the sake of the people you love, even if you disagree. Part of being in a family, no matter what culture you are from, is that being in a family means you are never alone.

I believe that the most complimentary aspect of this film is that everyone involved seemed to genuinely care about the story. When you care for the material you are working on, the work seems less like work and more like a privilege. The heart in the story is palpable for everyone to see and any film that can sell that kind of emotion, even with a language and cultural difference from its audience is special.

This was a film that I had seldom seen any sort of marketing for. It’s lead, Awkwafina, is a burgeoning young star whom I adore very much, and I was hopeful the word would spread. While it appears that it is not exactly a box office juggernaut, reception for “The Farewell” has been near-universally positive. It might be a low-budget film, but I am thrilled that the industry has taken notice of what a well-crafted piece of cinema this movie is. This was one of my favorite films of the year and it is my hope that as many people can experience it as possible.

I give “The Farewell” a superb 9.0 out of 10

Directed by: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhou, Aoi Mizuhara,
Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 Hour and 40 Minutes

Thank you for being with me for 50 Posts!

Dear everybody,

This marks my 50th post here on Shut Up Zach! And I wanted to use this as an opportunity to drop the façade and thank you, guys. I know that this is still a really small project but your support has had a profound impact on me and this page. I know I write a lot of my posts with bravado and might come off very condescending or arrogant, but in reality, I have no idea what I am doing.

As you would expect, I only began this because it was a hobby of mine. Some close friends urged me to start a blog and I was pretty resistant to the idea. I did not feel very comfortable putting myself out there, whether it be for criticism or simply being observed. When I began, I did not ooze the type of confidence you might think a guy who calls frequently calls millions of Disney fans “scumbags” and “cowards” would have. It was because of the support of those friends and the support of anyone who has read anything that I wrote that I came around on the idea. So, to everyone who was there before I made this page, thank you.

Even now, I am still trying to figure things out as I go. I spend a lot of time researching how to grow a page and evolve the type of content I make to be more appealing to everyone. I understand I need to be patient and this is not the type of project that grows overnight. It takes time, but even so, there are times when my confidence wanes. To be honest, I am at a junction in my life where I have very few answers to many questions. Nothing in life is ever assured and this is just another aspect of growing that I am trying to figure out right now. When my confidence is shaky I just need to remind myself that I am doing this because I enjoy it. Whether this is what I am going to do with my life or not, at this moment, it has been everything I needed it to be.

If anyone is out there and they feel uneasy about where they are, I want them to know that they are not alone. Whatever stage you are at in life, it is easy to think you are not where you are supposed to be at that time, but every experience you have, good, bad and everything in between, will shape you into a more complete person for tomorrow. Do your best and know its ok to try and fail. Like those who have supported me, I promise that there are people in your life who will be with you along the way.

I do not know what the future holds but I would love to look back on this in a few years and just see how much I have changed. I really hope to evolve this page to incorporate new types media like YouTube videos and podcasts, but I have very little aptitude for technology, so it would just be another step that I am learning how to do on the fly. I love movies and just being able to express myself has been therapeutic to me. I would love for the future of this page to be more interactive so you all can join in expressing yourselves, whether you agree with me or you feel the need to tell me to shut up! Thank you all again for being with me on my first 50 posts! Let’s hope the future is even better! May the Force be with you all!

With gratitude,
Zach

P.S. I would like to thank my friend Bryan On for creating the image above which will be this page’s much needed icon.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019) – Movie Review

The “Fast & Furious” franchise has had one of the most fascinating lifespans in Hollywood, and with its newest spinoff “Hobbs and Shaw”, it has proven that there will always be a time and occasion for a film of the franchise to exist. What was once a localized series focused on youth street racing has now escalated into spy thrillers about bioterrorism and the forced biomechanical evolution of human beings. A very natural progression if you ask me.

The film is exactly what you think it is as all of the franchise staples are there. The action is dialed up to gratuitous-levels, where broken glass is meaningless glitter for “the Rock” to smash through, recoil only applies to people with hair, and sexual tension between the male leads is so thick that it puts Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at last year’s Oscars to shame. But perhaps the film’s greatest strength is just how self-aware it is about how cartoonish everything is which translates plainly into unadulterated, ridiculous fun.

As you might expect, there isn’t a highly cerebral story in this film. In fact, Idris Elba straight up announces in the first minute that he is the bad guy. Not every movie has to be “Inception” to be fun. Fitting snuggly into the mold of its predecessors, the main theme tackled in “Hobbs and Shaw” is family… and how it is good. A very controversial stance, I know, but one it so boldly embraces regardless of public opinion. The world needs more leadership like this.

There are aspects of the film that are just cheesy caricatures and frankly, it is the appeal of it all. The shadowy head bad guy is nothing more than a comically modulated voice behind a screen, reminiscent of Doctor Claw from the 1980s cartoon “Inspector Gadget” where you never see his face but he is pulling all the strings and he assures you that “I’ll get you next time!”. On top of that, there are absolute gems of one-liners here. Classics like “We are doing things my way!” are here along with spy-thriller mainstay “Grab the asset”. But my personal favorite is “You want to tell me just what the fresh turkey Hell we are dealing with here?”. Powerful, thought-provoking dialogue to say the least.

If you think I am criticizing “Hobbs and Shaw” for being what it is then you are missing the point. In no universe was this ever supposed to be a sophisticated tale. It knows its role very well and fully embraces every quality that makes this franchise as successful as it is. It throws action, humor, big named surprise cameos and homoerotic machismo at you like it is a cafeteria food fight and the audience eats it up. Go see it, turn your brain off for 2 hours and enjoy yourself. There is not much more to say beyond that.

I give “Hobbs and Shaw” a 6.9 (nice) out of 10

Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 17 Minutes

The Case for Robert Downey Jr. Getting an Oscar Nomination

We love you 3000, Tony

Yesterday, I was taking a casual stroll through the depths of twitter, as is tradition for a late afternoon, and I stumbled upon a brilliant hypothetical: Should Robert Downey Jr. be nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Avengers: Endgame”? (I should say that this idea is not my original thought and if you would like to see the original post from Barstool Sports, I will leave the link here.) You know I love the Oscars so naturally; this is a topic I immediately had a lot to say about.

WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN

Conventional wisdom says it isn’t even worth bringing up. It simply won’t happen. In the long history of the Oscars, only one person was ever nominated for an acting Oscar for a role in a comic book movie, that being Heath Ledger in 2009 for “The Dark Knight”. Ledger, of course, actually won but there is a myriad of factors as to why that was different than this instance, including the legendary performance, the weaker competition, and of course Ledger’s untimely death. Every other performance in the genre realistically never even smelled a nomination.

The Oscars have always been behind the curve as far as modernization goes, and to this day, they do not fully take most blockbusters seriously. Recently, they have acknowledged comic book films more, but only with the narrow filter of technical achievements. In the eyes of the voters, these films just lack the sophistication to genuinely be considered amongst the perennial crop of biopics, period dramas, and melodramatic monologues that so desperately beg for validation. Even new, younger voters can still be influenced by an ingrained prejudice towards genre films, even if they do not actively hold the same elitist attitudes. Everyone has been told for so long that they are too childish to ever be considered.

And is the role all that challenging? I mean, you or I couldn’t do it. You try acting in front of a green screen against a giant purple man and making it look half believable. But do you think the Academy considers it a worthy role? Clearly not. RDJ has been playing Tony Stark/Iron Man brilliantly for over a decade and voters never seemed to consider it. What’s worse is that Marvel has so many actors expertly cast into roles that fit them like a glove, RDJ becomes one of many instead of a single exceptional circumstance. And as monumental as he has been for the franchise, the genre, and pop culture itself, the Oscar’s have never given out a nomination for the entirety of an actor’s run as a character, only a singular performance.

WHY IT SHOULD ABSOLUTELY HAPPEN

Of the entire original argument that I read, the one point that made the most sense to me is: Of all the movies, and all the roles within those, which single performance had the largest impact on the most amount of people? There is nothing to think about here. It is unequivocally Robert Downey Jr. in “Avengers: Endgame”. I do not care what comes out before the end of the year, I will wager that there will be no performance that makes audiences experience as emotion as RDJ did for that movie. This role changed the status quo for an entire genre, if not the entire world of cinema. If you were to put the very same elements of his performance into a more mainstream drama, I have little doubt that it would be receiving awards buzz.

The fact that “Avengers: Endgame” is now officially the highest-grossing film of all time also really helps his case. The previous 2 films to hold the title, “Avatar” and “Titanic”, were both nominated for Best Picture, a feat that I fully expect “Endgame” to match as well, and being the pseudo-leading man in a Best Picture nominee usually boosts an actor’s chances of seeing award recognition themselves. If voters are already watching the film for other aspects, it gives him more exposure which can only help his case.

To my count now, I only have seen 2 other roles that I expect to be nominated for Best Lead Actor: Taron Egerton in “Rocketman” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood”. That leaves potentially 3 nominations remaining (or a wide-open Best Supporting Actor race that he could campaign for instead) with about 50% of the eligible year remaining, including the ever-potent “Oscar-season”. Once we get into the fall, the typical dramas will liter our screens as they fight over who did the best impression of a dead person. If the year is “weaker” year, as it has the potential to be, and there are not enough of the usual suspects to fill up the ballot, I can definitely see the internet making a lot of noise for this to happen.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

Personally, I believe this performance is worthy of garnering a nomination, but sadly, I do not have say. In this instance, he doesn’t need to win it, just place top 5, which certainly makes it possible. If I had to give it a guess, I would still only give this a 15% chance of happening just because I really do not have faith in the Academy to make a bold selection like this. Yeah, they are slowly getting more accepting of new genres, but that is ultimately a slow process and more often than not, they still favor the typical dramas over comic book and science fiction films. I just think it is a lot to hope for an organization who gave Best Picture to the hackneyed and stereotype-filled “Green Book” just last year. They’ve got their heads so far up their own asses, they only appreciate the smell of crap sometimes.

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019) – Movie Review

***SPOILER WARNING***

When asked in an interview what genre his film “Inglourious Basterds” falls under, director Quentin Tarantino said he believes it is acceptable to view his work as a sort of fairy tale since the story takes place within actual events, but fictional characters transform the outcome and create an alternate history of sorts. With “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” Tarantino similarly creates a fairy tale of Hollywood’s Golden Age centered around the young up-and-coming actress, Sharon Tate; the aging star trying to adjust through the times before he is forgotten, Rick Dalton; and the controversial stunt man who has worn out his welcome in the industry, Cliff Booth. Lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio described the film as 2 ½ days in Hollywood in 1969 with characters, both fictional and real, interwoven within the fabric of major events of history, creating a never-before-told version of life in a time we thought we were familiar with.

When the film was announced, there was a reasonable concern that this film would glorify the Manson Family as Tarantino films are usually saturated with gratuitous violence. The Manson Family is tied in with the story, but it is not what the story is about. Tarantino writes a tale that is very respectful to the human element of the tragic real-life events. In fact, Charles Manson is only on screen for roughly one minute in total. As out of character as it sounds for one of his films, I wouldn’t describe it even as a violent flick. Although there are isolated moments of violence, the main attraction is the characters, dialogue, and environments, which are outstanding.

DiCaprio, as the film’s lead, Rick Dalton, absolutely thrives. As a popular western television star in the late 50s, Rick tried and failed to make the transition from TV to film, and is now a has-been. He sees himself as one tough casting decision away from being Steve McQueen, an A-lister who was the lead in the hit film “The Great Escape”. After a healthy dose of self-loathing and alcoholism, Rick learns to take pride in his craft as an actor, but not without first being upstaged by a little girl and forgetting his lines amid an intense day of filming to catalyze the process. Although it takes some time for him to realize it, his director keenly pointed out to him, “I hired you to be an actor, not a tv cowboy”, and perhaps it is this epiphany that can provide his fading stardom a jumpstart. This role is reminiscent of many of DiCaprio’s performances from the 2000s, where his flamboyant personality is saturated within every action of his character, as compared to his most recent stoic turn in “The Revenant”. Rick Dalton will likely go down as one of Tarantino’s more memorable character and I predict Leo easily will be nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

Brad Pitt is exceptional too as Rick’s best friend, former stunt-double, and current gofer, Cliff Booth. His role is not as challenging, in comparison to his co-star’s, but it is exceptionally entertaining, providing for many of the film’s more humorous moments. I would describe him as a combination of the real-life cowboy that Rick plays on TV and a smooth bastard out of the mold of Matthew McConaughey. He has tremendous chemistry with DiCaprio, which more than anything, makes me feel cheated that this is only the first time the two superstars have ever worked on a film with each other. The boat scene with Cliff, which alludes to the nonfictional death of actress Natalie Wood allegedly at the hands of her husband Robert Wagner, is a pivotal and subjective scene that allows the audience to choose for themselves how they view Cliff as a human. Since we do not see if he actually killed his wife, his actions remain purely speculative and his morals ambiguous. This ultimately defines his character on a case-by-case basis, as he could be an innocent man or he could be a violent man depending on how you saw it.

Of the Big-3 in the cast, Margot Robbie is the only one who has the burden of portraying a person who really existed. She is tasked with presenting the legacy of the late Sharon Tate while balancing her noticeably limited dialogue with a decent amount of total screen time. In what is more attuned to a “show me, don’t me” performance, her presence on screen is carried by her outward demeanor more than her words. She portrays Sharon’s optimistic nature very well, as well as a display of her talents, which is exemplified by her training in martial arts with Bruce Lee for her fight scene in “The Wrecking Crew”. The relationships she forms with people is just as important as the words she says. She does not get a hearty monologue like Leo but still fulfills her role admirably, which is to serve as a stark contrast to the fading star of Rick Dalton. Seeing Sharon enjoy her early successes and be stunned to see her name on movie posters is the perfect display of the dreams that Hollywood’s Golden Age could inspire. As negative as certain aspects of the industry are, Sharon’s experiences in the film show that there is a lot to enjoy about making a career in Hollywood. While Robbie is an actress that could have no doubt handled more complex dialogue, it should not take away from the great performance that she does deliver.

And what is a fairy tale without a Happily Ever After? Tarantino delivers a brilliantly positive ending for his film. Cliff, having killed the Manson Family invaders, helps save his loved ones’ lives and arguably redeems himself. Sharon is not the victim of the murders and instead gets to continue her life and her career as well as give birth to her baby. And after Rick proves himself relevant again with his successes in Italy as well as surviving a murder attempt, Sharon finally invites him to his neighbor Roman Polanski’s house, something that he long believed would help his career revive itself.

Many of the film’s minor characters stand out too, even with their very limited screen time. Mike Moh as Bruce Lee has one of the most entertaining scenes in the film where Cliff fights him because he was bragging that he could cripple Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Mohammad Ali). He delivers this monologue with such passion and charisma, you cannot help but love his portrayal, while the brawl displays well-choreographed martial arts and perfectly shows why Cliff is not welcomed in Hollywood with open arms. Julia Butters as a young 8-year-old actress who outclasses Rick and shares a touching moment of growth with him was amazing. She is a child but is very dedicated to her craft and takes her job very seriously. Leo went on to compare Butters to a young Meryl Streep, which is the highest compliment that can be paid to an actor. Dakota Fanning also gets the most out of her few minutes on screen, as Squeaky Fromme. She is abrasive, confrontational, manipulative and is totally believable as one of the leaders of the Manson family.

My initial reaction to seeing this film was “Oh, that was not what I was expecting, but it was very entertaining”. For me personally, I knew I needed a second viewing to fully grasp all that was put into this film, but maybe you won’t. I had at first perceived the film as oddly paced and unfocused, yet amazingly acted. But this was due to a misconception was that I had thought the film was trying to achieve something that it never sought out to do. I, like many others, thought this was going to be a film about the Manson Family, which it is not. A film should not be penalized for a viewer having poorly aimed expectations before viewing. In my subsequent viewing, was fully able to appreciate the painstaking detail that went into crafting each scene with a better understanding of what its purpose was. This is just my personal experience and yours could very well differ from mine. While some have called this film a love letter to Hollywood, it is unfair to claim that it is nothing more than a stylized montage of 1969’s greatest hits. I say this because I have noticed that some opinions on the internet seem to share my original sentiment and perhaps, they too were a result of the film not trying to be the film they were expecting.

I have given this careful thought over the past few days, and I am ready to proclaim this the 2nd best film of the year so far. But as my dad said to me “What does 2nd best get you?” and that is an excellent point. Considering my personal frontrunner is “Avengers: Endgame” and it is a comic book movie, rather than a “sophisticated”, award-friendly movie, “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” could be potentially lined up to score big at award season at the end of the year. Only time will tell.

I give “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” a tremendous 9.2 out of 10

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Julia Butters, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 41 Minutes

“The Lion King” Sucks… and it made $185 Million Opening Weekend…

You people are the worst types of scumbags. Here I am, speaking the truth and how do you repay me? By giving Disney all your money anyway. The arrogance. Frankly, I have no idea how your parents can even muster up the courage to tell people that you are their spawn. “The Lion King” has stolen $185 Million in its opening weekend despite a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, I am not an idiot like you people are. I know that Rotten Tomatoes is not the gospel for what is considered quality cinema (just see how “Midsommar” is 82% Fresh), but I do know something is wrong when a film is rated so poorly and still makes all the money in the world.

Disney monopolizing the Top 3

Crazy enough, it seemed as though the masses on Twitter actually saw through the charade this time. Everyone and their mothers seemingly called out Disney for making a soulless remake as nothing more than an easy cash-grab. I encourage everyone to see the side-by-side comparisons of the original to the remake and I DARE YOU TO TELL ME THAT THIS NEW ONE IS BETTER. The photorealism takes away so much of the expressive natures of the characters that we all loved so much about the original and replaced it with a nightmarish National Geographic special where actual animals sing and dance and say Shakespearean one-liners as they betray their brothers for power.

Which version of Scar looks more expressive to you?

I need to say it again since clearly, no one heard me last time. THE MOVIE ALREADY EXISTS! Frame-for-frame, scene-for-scene, song-for-song. IT IS THE SAME MOVIE. It is unethical, nay, MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE to say anything positive about this movie that regards anything other than the change in visuals and voices. Oh, you liked the story? Shut your stupid mouth! It is the same story as the original. You really like the film released in 1994 and this one is the kid who sat behind it on exam day and cheated on their test. Do you praise the kid who got an A on a test by cheating? If you say “yes”, that’s because you were the one cheating.  And before you give me the whole “Well, actually, ‘The Lion King’ is just ‘Hamlett’” routine that I know is brewing up in your simple, stupid minds, just stop before I expatriate you from Earth. They are not the same thing. “The Lion King” (1994) is a creative take on an old story, but it is not the literal same exact story.

All of you and all of your terrible, objectively wrong opinions are giving me Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I hope you are proud of yourselves. You are just mindless drones flocking to give Disney your money for doing nothing but making a lesser version of what they have already sold you. My brain cannot cope with this logic. Perhaps the most amazing part of this is that if they changed the movie up a bit, I would not be nearly as irate. But it is the exact same film and you assholes can’t seem to get enough of it. Maybe Thanos was onto something…

Crawl (2019) – Movie Review

If you were to ask me a month ago if I ever had any intentions of seeing this movie, I would have laughed derisively in your face and possibly even spit on you. How dare you insult me by wasting my time with a question like that? The film looked stupid and was a rather easy decision for me to place on my “Skip” list. But then, earlier this week, a friend of mine, who I disagree with on 136% of his opinions, saw it and said he wasn’t too impressed and that the only thing he liked was the University of Florida references in the first few minutes. With my natural hatred for the University of Florida activated, I quickly deduced that if he hated the rest of the film, that maybe I, an intellectual, would appreciate it. After doing a quick Google search to discover that Rotten Tomatoes scored it 87% with critics and a fairly beefy 78% with fans, I knew something was afoot. And so, I journeyed onwards into the theater to see what all the hoopla was about.

The concept is a simple one: Florida. Need I say more? (Only if I want you to understand.) In probably the most accurate physical description of the state in which I currently reside, we see Florida as the torrential hellscape it is. They have everything down perfectly, with the only notable admission was that there were no crackheads (at least that I could see) trying to overthrow the US government with their arsenal of weaponized chewing tobacco. There are even teenaged looters who ignore the dangers of a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane to steal some hotdogs from a gas station. And our two main characters, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and Dave (Barry Pepper) need to survive a hurricane, hordes of vicious alligators, and rising floodwaters in a claustrophobic thriller that is surprisingly executed far more effectively than its Florida-based premise would suggest.

As a Floridian, I know first hand how destructive a hurricane can be. Having said that, there is not a person in Florida that even flinches at the idea of one of those storms. It’s just a day off of school and work for us. So, to sell the horror aspect of the film, the script correctly depicts the numerous gigantic alligators as the real threat and uses the storm to exacerbate their power. Then trap everybody in a crawl space under a house with the beasts and watch them try to escape before they drown in rising floodwaters. I can say that the formula they execute works. The audience can struggle to breathe with Haley and Dave, and they understand the fear of not knowing where the next gator is at any given point.

Weirdly, the film vehemently insists on pushing a narrative about family that does not affect our investment in the story whatsoever. Dave is Haley’s father who divorced her mother (for reasons unknown) and their family never recovered since. Understandably, the filmmakers tried to humanize the characters, but the idea that Haley was trying to rescue her father was enough to make the situation believable as it was. And considering the final resolution of the film had nothing to do with family, rather than just believing in one’s self, it seems like the whole subplot was unnecessary. Let us not kid ourselves, we only care about the gators and if they can survive.

What makes “Crawl” stand out to me, especially among the myriad of horror films that have already been released this year, is that it chooses to present a means of victory for the characters. In films like “Brightburn” and “Midsommar”, there really is no way for the characters to survive the horror that hunts them, and so, it feels as though there is no reason to believe anything but horrible things can happen to anybody. Essentially, we are just watching whatever force is causing the horror to go on an uninterrupted rampage, which could be entertaining, but doesn’t make for a compelling story. But “Crawl” establishes a way for them to survive, while still maintaining that it is unlikely to do so. The fact that we always know survival to be a possibility allows us, as the viewers, to be more invested in what is playing out on screen.

I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I won’t pretend we have the next “Citizen Kane” on our hands here but it would be a lie to say that it is a bad film. A problem that “Crawl” will have though is that it still feels like a skippable outing, even after seeing it. Despite it being a decently made slasher/horror, the subject matter just feels like a B-movie, which it probably is if we are being honest. The concept is reminiscent of the direct-to-DVD discount bin you can find at Walmart. It is like a good-but-not-great minor league ballplayer. No one would say that they are bad, but in the grand scheme, they might not be all that significant.

I give “Crawl” a decent 6.5 out of 10

Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 27 Minutes

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