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Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: ASSASSINATION NATION (no spoilers)

As of right now, I’m probably going to be the only one that you’ve heard of or know that thought ASSASSINATION NATION was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. But I’m not too upset about it. I’m going to give it time. Time to hit home platforms and seep into the minds of those that like to “discover” little art house films like these, and then go off, brag to, and convince their friends that they have to watch it right this second. I can always say that I was there opening night (almost by myself, only two other people in a mostly empty theater) and say they actually saw something ambitious and original. This movie, this movie plays directly to our times, yelling and screaming at us that all it takes is a little push to descend everyone into utter madness, and that we aren’t doing shit about it. It is a film that, at the drop of a time, switches genres, and does it so effectively that each transition blends into the other where you can’t even tell what is happening before it is too late. You have Eli Roth on the last end of his pitiful rope doing a “horror” kids movie that doesn’t look like much fun, you have Michael Moore going around and screaming into a bullhorn at people a bunch of things that you probably already know about or have read on CNN, and you have Life Itself, which is just This Is Us sappy and stupid bukake all over your face. Assassination Nation is the only good work coming out this weekend, and none of you are destined to see it.

I don’t know the outcome of how this movie will be looked upon in the future actually. It’s just a simple guess. Instead of it being really appreciated over time it could fall into the “meh, it was alright” category. You never know how these things will be perceived. I mean, when Austin Powers hit theaters in Summer of 1997, it completely tanked at the box office. But when it hit home video, it exploded into two sequels that made a shit ton of cash and made Mike Myers, albeit briefly, funny and relevant again. And it could be is that I went really deep into this movie, trying to dissect it and convey what it was trying to tell me each moment with images, dialogue, shots, camera angles, etc. I just really really enjoyed it for what it was. There is this tremendous tracking shot that lasts a couple of minutes outside a house a couple of girls are staying in that was mesmerizing to watch. I just…I don’t know…have you ever had one of those films that just hit you, and it has hit no one else, and you feel like you have your own special little movie that no one can or is going to try and take away from you? This is it.

If you haven’t heard of Assassination Nation, the plot is very simple. In the town of Salem (yes, this movie is a great sort of riff on the Salem Witch Trails), half of the town’s populations information, texts, snapchats, Twitter’s, pictures, Facebook’s are hacked and all released to the masses. Four high school girls find themselves at the heart of it, and start to see the town slowly at first, but then amped up to shit go bat shit crazy, trying to figure out who hacked them all. The movies message is quite clear: how this country is at the brink of chaos and pandemonium, and how that seems to be acceptable as the new norm. Judging by the trailer, it looks as though this movie goes all out once it starts and never lets up until the end credits. Not true, I thought it was a very slow burn type of narrative. It starts out as sort of a meta comedy, transition into a too real episodic drama, then into a horror/thriller, then into a bit of a actioner, and then finally goes full circle with the last six haunting words in the film back into a meta comedy. There are problems in this film, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is perfect, in fact, I would say that characterization is a huge problem in this film, as there aren’t really many characters arcs, and the ones that are seemed a little too rushed and not fully formed nor realized. There is one scene in the film that I love, where the girls’ principal is accused of being a pedophile because he has a naked picture of his six year old playing in the bathtub and the main character Lily has this whole discussion with her family at the dinner table on what exactly is pornography nowadays. It’s quite eye opening.

But the acting is quite good. Out of the four girls, only Odessa Young and Hari Nef get enough screen time to get some awesome dialogue quippy chewing, scene stealing moments. Abra and Suki Waterhouse (who is a staple of these films produced by Neon, as she was the lead in the recent film I dug The Bad Batch), are in the film a lot but don’t have very much to say or any time to develop at all. You probably don’t know any of those girls, so let’s get to the people in the film you do know. Bella Thorne gets the “and” credit on the poster here, and just like most “and” people on movie posters she isn’t in the film very much, maybe three scenes, one of the scenes though she has a very good little speech about privacy that hits right on the nose with today’s society. Joel McHale and Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard, have the “with” titles on the poster but they get actually more screen time than you might think, McHale playing totally out of character with what he usually does, and Bill Skarsgard stepping back in age playing the boyfriend of the main character Lily, and showing us that if given the right role, he could be a tour de force in a film if he ever becomes a leading man.

One that sees this might tell you that the movie ends too soon or doesn’t end on the right moment. I beg to differ. I think it ends exactly where it should, and gives you enough context clues in the very last short scene to tell you what happened. This isn’t a movie like Kill Bill where you see the 4 girls in the trailers just massacring a entire town with bullets. I know that is what the trailer makes it look like where the film is going to go, but writer/director Sam Levinson subverts those expectations to bring something, while still a bit outlandish, a little more realistic. I do know that a message does not make a movie. Look at Sorry To Bother You, it had a huge message, but the execution was way, way, way off and boring. This film has a message and uses filmmaking and its techniques to get that message across in a thought provoking yet exciting way. If you want to say something, you can’t just be Michael Moore with a bullhorn, with some jokes about issues audiences have already heard way too much about, you need to do something outside of the box. Assassination Nation is that something.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: A SIMPLE FAVOR (no spoilers)

A SIMPLE FAVOR is a pretty good movie that could’ve been fantastic if it didn’t stumble in its landing the last five minutes of the film. But it could’ve fell flat on its face, so I’ll be that glass half full film reviewer today. It’s Paul Feig’s third best film, right behind Bridesmaids and Spy, and definitely makes up for the bullshit that was the Ghostbusters remake/reboot a couple of years ago. Almost the whole time during the movie I was like, “Holy shit, Feig has actually stepped up his game as a director” and was really really really into it, but those last five minutes, his Ghostbusters attempt at physical and dreadful one liner humor peaks out with a very unnecessary pre credits summary of what the characters (that survived) are doing currently. But I’m willing to forgive it, because what came before had a almost pitch perfect tone and the dark humor was devilishly, deliciously funny. Oh, and Blake Lively finally showed that she can actually muster up some kind of performance if need be.

See, I like Blake Lively as a human being (I think her relationship ((so far)) with Ryan Reynolds is perfect and they are a truly happily married Hollywood couple), but I can’t stand her as an actress. The closest she has ever become to actually doing something of note was her small bit in The Town, which even then I didn’t believe her so much a drug addicted stripper/prostitute/whatever the fuck her character was supposed to be in that. But here, she sinks into an abnormally prideful spoiled rich housewife that befriends a quirky widowed Anna Kendrick so that their sons can have play dates. To not spoil the rest of the movie, I’ll just say that Blake Lively goes missing and Anna Kendrick tries to find out what happened to her new found friend, while trying to make sure Lively’s son and husband are okay in the process. Anybody that ruins this movie for you is a monster. It has revelation upon revelation until the end credits roll. There are double crosses, triple crosses, and I think maybe even a quadruple cross? The movie keeps you guessing, which I appreciated. I could compare this movie to another movie and that movies book that it is based on, but if I reveal the title, I reveal all. I don’t think it rips off that book/movie per say, especially with the multiple different revelations, but some of the plotting is very, VERY similar. You’ll know exactly which book/movie I’m talking about when you see it, but if you don’t, just message me and I’ll give you a “ah-ha!” kind of moment.

What makes the movie really work first and foremost is Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. Oh, and I can’t get away with not mentioning Henry Golding either(he plays Lively’s husband in this and he was just one of the leads in a breakout film, you might’ve heard of it: Crazy Rich Asians). But this is Kendrick and Lively’s show, and their chemistry is palpable, they just play off each other like a perfect acting pair that every director and screenwriter probably dreams of. This is Anna Kendrick’s best work since Up In The Air and Pitch Perfect. Kendrick, while fantastic, her role is a little familiar to people that like her and watch all of her filmography. She’s still that overly quirky and awkward character that you can’t help but adore, however this film really uses that aspect of her to its advantage, and turns it into something a little different and definitely more delightful. Blake Lively is in command here, where whenever she’s on screen you can’t help by being fascinated with what comes out of her mouth and what she is going to do or say next. All three of them turn what are already well rounded written characters into something you can’t take your eyes or ears off of.

And the tone is brilliant too for the most part. The first half of this film is near perfect. It’s a dark comedy that walks that fine line but is smart enough know to not cross over too much on either side. The film has bright, vibrant cinematography and that feel any director or screenwriter wants of a eerie suburbia is gloriously executed here, and never tries to be what it isn’t. Many films have gotten it wrong in the past, most recently the awfully executed Surburbicon from George Clooney. Now in the last five minutes, that fine line the film was walking must’ve tripped on a shoe lace that had impeccable timing to be untied right when the film was about to end. It stumbled into a straight comedy with none of that pinch of darkness that we got throughout the other 1 and 50 minutes. But I don’t know, I may need to do some research, because if the book ends exactly like that, with a physical moment and a stupid lame one liner that is played for forced laughs, then I won’t blame Feig. But it just felt like 2016 Ghostbusters Feig, and if true, he should’ve known better than to try and lighten the tone at near the very last moment of the film. And like I said, those title cards of what the characters were doing after the events that took fold before the end credits hit was unnecessary and should’ve been cut or re written as something else. And while I did like some of the revelations, there is one that I wish it would’ve stuck to, it would’ve been ingenious to end on that note and made for a savory little treat that you could talk with people at the water cooler, but the movie took it further, and I’m willing to be the book did too, so I can’t nit pick too much.

But yes, I did enjoy Paul Feig’s new movie, until the movie started playing I was mainly shrugging it off because of that disaster of a Ghostbusters reboot. But Feig shows here he might have some untapped talent in that weird noggin of his, maybe someday it will bring us something that can be considered a masterpiece. This is a very good film with a couple of problems that keep it from achieving that benchmark.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE PREDATOR (very minor spoilers)

THE PREDATOR is exactly what I wanted earlier this summer’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to be: A big, dumb, fun, fast-paced action movie that didn’t put me to sleep. And by dumb, I don’t mean insulting to my intelligence like doing yet another fucking hybrid dinosaur. And by fun and not putting me to sleep, I don’t mean selling dinosaurs and trying to turn a monster franchise into a haunted house movie. Those of you going in there expecting the grittiness or seriousness of the first one, you are going to be disappointed. Tone wise it is somewhere around Predators, but maybe a little more lighthearted and with a pinch of that Shane Black dialogue and humor we know so well. This was definitely more fun than Predators, and it didn’t try to rip off the first movie like Predator 2 basically did. Let’s not even talk about the abysmal pile of shit that are the AVP movies.

And it could be that I just had a weird and exhausting day beforehand and needed an escape out of reality. And it could be that I read a lot of critics abysmal reviews (nothing spoilery) and I was expecting a train wreck of epic proportions. But I had a lot of fun to be honest and was very entertained for the tight 1 hr and 40 minute film. And I see what Shane Black was trying to do. He was trying to create an original story that would expand the Predator mythos a little bit, while also not trying to create just a fan service film with too many references to the past films (there are a couple but it isn’t Force Awakens ridiculous). He and fellow co-screenwriter Fred Dekker also tried to actually create characters with personalities in this as well. The two standouts are definitely Treante Rhodes and Sterling K. Brown. I also liked Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, and Keegan-Michael Key. I actually cared when some of them are eventually offed.

The story develops as you go, but it starts out with the same title font letters and same music as the original, a crash, a soldier getting some alien tech and sending it to a PO Box to keep out of government hands, which somehow his son gets a hold of, with that predator, and another, bigger predator want back, because they both have alternate agendas. That’s as vague as I’m going to get. The film has a MacGuffin, and has an interesting idea of where the sequels can go, but the last three minutes of the film, including the shaky CGI, I’m not so sure it could work but who knows. Anyway, the story cares about the characters while also trying to move the action and story along.

Now the film does have its problems. And some of the problems are bigger than others. Olivia Munn has to be the most unbelievable scientist since Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough, and when she is firing weapons and spouting off Shane Black dialogue, she is definitely out of her league. The Preddogs, yes you read that right, are in theory a good idea, but in execution are a complete CGI mess. So is the giant ultimate Predator you have seen in the movie. There is a lot of good CGI work as well though, and the good stuff does outweigh the bad.

The semi-finale in the woods has a couple of problems. The editing is extremely chopping and some characters that I thought had died, hadn’t, and I was trying to keep up who was where and what they were doing. Needless to say the first half of the film is infinitely better than the second. And that scene Olivia Munn had cut because of that sexual deviant guy that was in the scene with her, I wish they would’ve re-filmed that with someone else because Olivia Munn kind of just shows up in the film with no real introduction.

But the action is 80s/early 90s B movie solid. The Predator kills are some of the best of the series. I enjoyed the fact that Shane Black acknowledges that the other films exist and didn’t try to do a straight up remake or sequel. He was trying to do something different. He actually cared about the story and where it could go. And while the final 3 minutes are CGI shoddy as fuck, I could see where they could take it if the effects get a little bit better. At first I thought this MacGuffin, I promise I won’t spoil what it is, was going to reveal to be something else. Something bigger, more WTF, more throwback cameo, and more shocking. If you’ve seen the movie message me privately and I’ll tell you what I thought. If what I thought came to fruition, I think it would’ve been much better than what came out. Still, I give it points for trying.

This is the perfect movie this weekend to just shut off your brain and get lost into. I had a lot of fun. The film is action packed, it’s humor works, mostly, and I enjoyed the Predator kills, technology, and weaponry. Next time, Black should focus on really polishing the script and he could give us something really, truly special. But for now, we have this, and hey, I know it’s not saying much, but it is the best since the first, and at least it won’t make you want to Predator laser cannon your own head to never have to experience AVP again…

My Rank of Predator Films:
1. Predator
2. The Predator
3. Predator 2
4. Predators
5. Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem
6. Aliens Vs. Predator

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE NUN (minor spoilers)

I’ve already done all of my THE NUN puns on social media (aka “How many scares did this movie have? Nun. And I was nun too pleased with this movie”) so I think I’m going to lead in with this: If you are laughing hysterically at a scene that is supposed to be tense and frightening because you thought the Hocus Pocus candle made a cameo in the movie (and it is near the end of the film), you know that your attention in not invested in it. So far, The Conjuring cinematic universe has really been a hit and miss, by my own personal ratio it is still 3 to 2, so it’s still in the win column, but if they keep going on as they are, it will ultimately be a shaky foundation where you might not want to visit it as often as you might think. I was not scared of this flick at all. I never once grabbed on to my seat, or tensed up when I knew a jump scare was coming. I yawned and I kept picking apart the movie beat by beat, because I had nothing else better to do.

The main problem is with the characters, albeit at least one of the actors looked like they actually wanted to be there. Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga play Father Burke and Sister Irene, who, after a guy just named “Frenchie” played by Jonas Bloquet, finds a dead nun in Romania that seems to have hung hung herself outside an old church, are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Needless to say, all isn’t what it seems as all of them encounter a demonic presence in the form of a nun. Maybe it is just me, but I’m kind of sick of the whole “demon” causing havoc horror film. The last film to do it correctly (in fact it didn’t really reveal anything demon-ish until the very last 5 minutes) was Hereditary. Had Hereditary brought the whole “demon” explanation/entity earlier in the film, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. Demons are now the vampires, zombies, and found footage horror films of this decade…meaning it is SOOOO PLAYED out to the point of exhaustion. But I guess what else is there? (I have a feeling the slasher film is going to come back with an untold menace and vengeance this Halloween…if you catch my drift). Anyway, horror movies need a new ace up its sleeve, because everybody at the table wants to boot the demon asshole out of there.

There have also been too many movies this past decade and a half relying on religion to be scary. I’m not really a religious person, but to me trying to making it scary is tiring as hell, as I’m not too big a fan of exorcism movies either. If exploring the dark themes of religion is scary to you, then this film might be right up your alley. But let’s talk about the real problems of the film. The acting is downright terrible and I suspect that it is because the actors didn’t have much to work with as all the characters are two dimensional and are way past boredom. We’ve seen great things come out of Demian Bichir, but playing Father Burke seemed like he was doing the studio a favor. A solemn expression the whole time, he doesn’t really shred of tear of true emotion here (especially during a sticky situation I would have been crying my eyes out over), and is waiting for the shoot to be over. Taissa Farmiga I think was hired based on the fact that she can open here eyes extremely wide for insurmountable passages of time and the producers thought that shocked look was good enough for that character. And Jonas Bloquet, the guys who plays “Frenchie,” I think was the only one that was flattered that he won the role, as he is the one that has the most charisma and has the most emotion, even though his character is gone a good chunk of the film, and until the end, doesn’t have all that much to do. Plus, in the finale, they have him holding a shotgun, wearing old suspenders, and going down dark tunnels that I thought for a moment we were watching dailies from The Mummy with Brendan Fraser.

The movie doesn’t have that much of a story. It’s a demonic presence that got out of hell and took the form of a nun. That is it. It tries to bring about story beats like a crack in the ground and Jesus Christ’s blood at some point in the plot but I think it was just stretching a story to the brink of collapse…because they really had nothing but the scary nun idea in the first place. The movie also has no balls. There was a part where I thought a character was gone not even half way through the movie, and gone in a cool frightening way, but the character is saved in the most bizarre and ridiculous fashion. The movie starts out pretty well, it has one of those nice slow burn quality feels to it. I was thinking about 20 minutes into it that if it kept this up the whole way through we’d have a nice little horror treat on our hands. But nope, once things start halfway through, they try to throw every cookie cutter, cheap jump scare plus the kitchen sink with every 5 seconds that passed with no room to breathe. The finale is what I just described on steroids.

Is there something else I can actually compliment about this film? While there are a couple of shaky CGI issues throughout the film, there are mostly really well done make up and special effects, and some of the scenery, cinematography, and tone is handled really well. But the rest of it just plummets into mediocre (almost disaster level) oblivion. You have already made up your mind before this review if you are going to see this, and most of you already have, considering the excellent box office opening weekend it just had. But I have a feeling that the attendance ratio is going to plummet on this fast once audiences truly understand the mediocrity before their eyes. Understand the cover up that is taking place with the cheap factory floor produced scares. At first there were many, but then a short time passes, and then there were nun.

Ranking of The Conjuring Universe Films:
1. The Conjuring
2. The Conjuring 2
3. Annabelle Creation
4. The Nun
5. Annabelle