Monday, December 30, 2019

Fade to Zach’s Top 15 Films of 2019 (in Haiku form)



In no particular order...


The Farewell

Sometimes secrets and
Hidden goodbyes transcend to
Universal truths

Avengers: Endgame 

Ultimate showdown
The climax of an era
Effin’ fantastic 

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Shooting and slashing 
Yeah, John Wick is on a horse 
I’m thinking he’s back 

Midsommar

Flowers and horror
Cults under burning sun 
Oh damn, a bear suit

Hustlers 

Keen stripper saga 
Swings and spins around a web
Of dangers and tricks 

Parasite 

Biting social class 
Genre experiment with 
Precise dissection 

Uncut Gems

Wow, Adam Sandler
Kills it as a fraught gambler 
Living on the edge

Knives Out

Twists on top of twists
A shifty-eyed whodunnit
As sharp as they come

Joker 

Dark decent into
Disturbing madness and you  
Just can’t look away  

Jojo Rabbit

Bold and affecting 
Tragicomedy with a
Fluffy heart of gold

The Peanut Butter Falcon 

This real fairytale 
Converges friendship and fate
Like a delta stream 

The Irishman 

Sprawling mob epic
Reclines back and ruminates  
With a cast of GOATS 

Marriage Story

Of messes and kin 
Closed chapters and open wounds
Emotions run raw 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The exciting end
To a glowing trilogy 
The force never leaves 

Little Women

Great stories told with 
The warmth of a crackling fire
Framed and bound with love


Saturday, December 28, 2019

[Review] Little Women


Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, and Timothée Chalamet make up the magnificent cast in director Greta Gerwig’s compassionate and appreciative retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women

Set in Civil War New England, the timeless plot revolves around the March sisters and their family trials and tribulations, personal ambitions, potential romances, and life complications. 

There’s a certain type of film that falls into the “What a lovely film” category and Little Women is definitely one of them. The story waltzes and twirls along with wonderfully likable and well-drawn characters. Greta Gerwig carefully and lovingly orchestrates the classic material with the warmth of a crackling fire amidst the dead of winter. The film is beautifully shot with winsome period costuming against the lush backdrops of old-fashioned country homes and handsome landscapes. There are so many exquisite images in this film that you could slide into a picture frame and set it upon the mantel. The musical score flows with elegant keys and delightful flourishes that make piano dust dance. 

The chemistry between the cast is superb, and the performances are great all around. Like she did in films like Brooklyn and Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan impressively leads the way and embodies the central character of “Jo” with depth, dimension, and remarkable emotional range, proving that she is indeed one of the best actresses of her generation. Florence Pugh gives a stellar supporting performance as Amy, the spitfire sister extravagant tastes. Timothée Chalamet is terrific as the close family friend “Teddy” in a charming, heart-on-sleeve turn. 

Little Women is endearing cinema at its finest. It’s a thoughtful exploration of sisterhood, artistic craft, and getting what you want out of life. At one point, Laura Dern’s character declares “Pretty things should be enjoyed.” That’s certainly true about this film. 

* 9/10 *

Friday, December 27, 2019

[Review] Uncut Gems


Following their grimy breakout crime-thriller Good Time, Benny and Josh Safdie throw down their bets on Uncut Gems, a high-stakes rush that features a dramatic tour de force performance from — yes — Adam Sandler.

Sandler plays a wheeling, dealing jeweler and degenerate gambler who somehow probably even owes God money. When he concocts a scheme involving an imported opal from Ethiopia, a pawned NBA championship ring, and an insane sporting bet, he finds himself in an absolute mess. 

It’s a jackpot of engrossing chaos that grips hold and never lets up. It’s a cinematic panic attack that shatters glass and lives on the edge. It’s a neon and blacklight soaked rollercoaster ride that goes off the rails and crashes into a torrent of dooming synths.

The film sizzles and sprints with frenetic energy, while escalating at every turn and questionable decision. It sustains that frantic pace and heart-pounding exhilaration over the course of 130 minutes. Just when you think Howard can’t dig himself any deeper — he does. There are so many moments here that will make you put your hands on top of your head and shake no. Howard is the type of guy that you look at and think “I’m glad that’s not me.” Along the way, we witness him get shaken down at a middle school play, wind up naked in the trunk of a Mercedes, and engage in a physical altercation with R&B artist The Weeknd — and that’s only scratching the surface! 

Adam Sandler is terrific here, proving that he can anchor a serious role with convincing heft and make the right material pop with impressive precision. He embodies this character with unshakeable sleaze and a sense of desperation that could excavate an entire city. He truly deserves an Oscar nomination for this role. Lakeith Stanfield, Edina Menzel, Julia Fox, and NBA legend Kevin Garnett (who’s surprisingly great in a very significant role - Anything is possible, KG!) round out the stellar supporting cast. 

By the end of Uncut Gems I was sweating and sitting at the edge of my seat. It’s only after the credits roll when you can finally catch your breath, and even then — all bets are off. 

* 9/10 *

Thursday, December 26, 2019

[Review] Cats


We came. We saw. We suffered.

Only the deepest, darkest depths of the netherworld could hack up a hairball as wretched as the new Cats movie. 

It’s atrocious. It’s horrifying. It’s appalling. 

None of this makes any sense. The plot is that there is no plot. All we really know is that the group of cats are called Jellicles and they’re competing for a shot at reincarnation or something, and considering how unbelievably horny and sexualized this thing is, they might as well be called Testicles. Rails are straddled, legs are spread, and hairy private parts are thrust across the screen like some sort of furry fever dream.

There’s something inherently creepy and disturbing about the rendering of the humanoid cats. It’s the stuff of nauseating nightmares. The set designs and colors look like a unicorn had an aggressive bout of diarrhea and decided to use the entire town as a toilet. The motion-capture and visual effects look like what would happen if a Snapchat filter became possessed by an evil spirit. 

And then there’s the hysterical combination of how the cast is genuinely going for it and how stupid they all actually look. An emotionally-charged Jennifer Hudson plays it dead-serious, singing like all 9 of her lives depend on it, and it’s hilarious. It’s just hard to take someone seriously when they’re belting out their lungs with twitchy cat ears on top of their head, superimposed whiskers, and a drip of snot that seems to randomly alternate between each nostril like a game of Whack-a-Mole. 

James Corden just spouts about being fat and tries so desperately hard to be funny that it’s pathetic. Will he make fun of himself on his late-night show? Rebel Wilson’s baffling scene of her being awakened to scratch her crotch, flop around, unzip her skin, and eat a line of humanoid cockroaches is something that no one should ever have to witness. Of mice and monstrosities. Judi Dench looks like she’s forgotten where she is or what she’s doing half the time. Jason Derulo over-acts like he’s somehow on an episode of The Masked Singer and Dancing with the Stars at the same time. And after this, that might be his only fate. Taylor Swift pops in for a wannabe showstopper that falls flatter than the bottom of a litter box. The only thing she proves is that her voice isn’t meant for musicals. Her character sprinkling catnip onto the other cats and putting them into a daze is fitting on multiple levels, because altering one’s state of mind might be the only way to convince people that this isn’t an absolute disaster.

Most embarrassing is Idris Elba. It’s a performance that’s so bad that it makes his turn in Obsessed look like a masterclass. It’s a performance that’s so bad that you’ll never be able to rewatch “The Wire” the same way ever again. 

There are so many questions that this film raises. Why do the cats have clear human hands? Where does the chosen one actually go? What is Gandalf doing here?

What’s so mind blowing is that this is a film that actually got made. Someone watched a final cut of this thing and thought “Yep, it’s good to go.”

I wanted to gouge my eyes out, but at the same time I couldn’t look away, except for when I made sure to locate the emergency exits in case I had to make a run for it.

This is the kind of movie that should be recalled from the market. It’s the E. Coli-tainted lettuce of films. This is the kind of movie that we have to warn future generations about. If aliens ever found out that this is something our civilization created, we’d be doomed. 

There’s just no way to wipe it out of your memory. There’s no rewinding back. 

I thought about my own real cats, and how they’d hate to be associated with this movie. I thought about the night, and whether I’d ever be able to sleep again. I thought about what it would be like to live in a post-Cats world, and how nothing would ever be the same. 

When the credits rolled, my wife and I looked at each other - speechless. A new day has begun. And I’m afraid. Very afraid.

( 0/10 )

Monday, December 23, 2019

[Review] Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


So it’s all come down to this...

Cruising in as the third and final installment of the 2010s Star Wars trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker blasts off to a fitting conclusion, so sit back and let the force take over.

The story sees Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, BB-8, and C-3PO set out to fight against the First Order and search for the whereabouts of the evil Emperor Palpatine, while Kylo Ren gears up for an inevitability epic confrontation with Rey.

An early chunk of the film does a lot of stage-establishing and setting-hopping, but it’s completely watchable. I was just happy to have another new Star Wars movie in front of my eyes. It really hyper-speeds into excellence during the second half with gripping momentum and a non-stop series of spectacular battles, chases, infiltrations, and pushes and pulls and clashes and bashes between good and evil. And while the plot sometimes relies on conveniences and coincidences, it makes up for the lapses in logic with pure entertainment and blockbuster fun. 

The film’s most significant strength is the genuinely compelling paths that Rey and Kylo Ren’s characters each take. They’re the characters in this era that we’ve invested the most in (well, aside from the Porgs), and it’s riveting to see the monumental dilemmas they’re faced with and the game-altering decisions they’re forced to make. Like looking at a pair of fractured mirrors, the two are struggling against the opposing forces just as much as they’re struggling against their inner selves. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are fantastic here.

The Rise of Skywalker delivers the electrifying climaxes, crafty twists, big reveals, fist-pumping moments, chill-inducing moments, and the emotional goodbyes that you’d come to expect. And in the end, it once again becomes crucially transparent that at the core of the Star Wars galaxy has always been a glowing pulse of friendship, heart, and the spirit of those we’ve lost.

* 9/10 *