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Zack Snyder Announces His Long Desired Cut of ‘Justice League’ and the World Reacts

Justice League (2017) | Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, May 20 will be a day long remembered by fans of Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). For over two years now, fans of Zack Snyder and his vision of the DCEU have been advocating for the release of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League, and they finally got their answer this morning. In a live stream watch party of Man of Steel (2013) on VERO, director Zack Snyder gave the announcement himself. We will walk you through the days leading up to this event, the announcement, and then the reactions from fans everywhere.

Let’s back it up a bit and start at the beginning. For some of you readers who might be unfamiliar with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement online, it all began with this single tweet from user @MovieBuff100 only 4 days after the worldwide release of the theatrical cut of Justice League in 2017:

Ever since this tweet, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has become a rallying cry for supporters of Zack Snyder and his original vision of the Justice League movie. When leaks began to surface online regarding the troublesome production and reshoots of Justice League (director Zack Snyder being replaced by Joss Whedon), and that much of the actual film seen in theaters was not what Snyder and Co. had filmed, fans of Snyder began to organize, using this hashtag as their rallying cry. Unelected leaders took the reigns and created the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut Twitter account, all dedicated to the promotion of Snyder’s Cut of Justice League, and the education of those unfamiliar with the movement:

As the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement grew, the online support began to transcend the social media arena, and fans really put their money where their mouths were. Billboards, bus stop posters, and banners flown from planes during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con were all organized by Snyder fans to show their support of the filmmaker, dubbed #ProjectComicCon, and to make a public statement to Warner Bros. that there were indeed many fans who wanted to see the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League:

Money from fans all over the world was donated to make these banners and billboards come to life, but the fans didn’t stop there. Half of that same money raised for these signs was donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Zack Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, who died by suicide during the post-production of Justice League back in 2017:

After the success of #ProjectComicCon, fans moved their attention to creating awareness of their cause at the 2019 New York Comic Con. Once again, thousands of dollars were donated from fans all around the world, and organizers were able to purchase screen time on a billboard in Time Square:

At this point a lot of steam was building behind the movement, and people were beginning to take notice. Bloggers, big media outlets, and even Zack Snyder himself gave their attention to what these fans were doing. The stage was now set for the second anniversary of the theatrical release of Justice League; the time was ripe to make a huge statement to Warner Bros. that the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was to be taken seriously, and that they were here to stay. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019—a day that will be long remembered as a key turning point in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement—hundreds of thousands of fans and supporters across the globe rallied to make the hashtag “trend” on Twitter—and trend it did. The real turning point was when Wonder Woman, Batman and Snyder all joined in to tweet their support of the ‘Snyder Cut’:

On March 28, 2020 Snyder announced on VERO that he was going to host a live streaming watch party of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Sunday, March 29 and would include director’s commentary on the movie.

At the end of the live stream, Snyder teased his audience with a cliffhanger message shrouded in mystery. Check it out below:

Now we’ve arrived at Monday, May 18, 2020. Snyder announces another live streaming watch party of his 2013 film, Man of Steel, on VERO. It is now the morning of Wednesday, May 20, and rumors all over the internet are swirling about what could come out of this watch party hosted by Snyder:

If you are interested in reading a recap of the entire director’s commentary, and want to save some time without watching the three-hour VERO stream, check out the Twitter thread posted by the Backseat Directors‘ Twitter account:

Both Zack and Debbie Snyder were in attendance on the VERO stream, providing commentary on the making and production of Man of Steel. As the movie began wrapping up, fans online began to get anxious, wondering if Snyder would actually reveal any news regarding his ‘Snyder Cut’…

Until Superman himself showed up:

Henry Cavill (who has been noticeably quiet about the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement) dropped in on the VERO stream to everyone’s surprise:

As Cavill and the Snyders continued their conversation, more people began to pop up on the VERO stream. Fans and supporters of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were invited to participate in a chat and ask the Snyders questions. The very last question was asked by Twitter user @CaresDaniella regarding the ‘Snyder Cut’ and when we would all be able to see it:

The moment the entire internet had been waiting for had finally come. No more beating around the bush; no more sugar coating; Zack was asked clearly and directly, and here was his response:

Yes! It finally happened. Zack Snyder officially confirmed the release of his cut of Justice League, set to debut on HBO Max in 2021, with the official title being, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (very appropriate, in my opinion):

Years of hard work, dedication, and a love of the Snyders came pouring out all at once in a flood of tweets for so many that had a hand in this movement. Here are just a few:

The journey of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement has been full of ups and downs, hard fought battles, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to both the cause and to AFSP, and years of hoping and waiting. These fans will see their dreams become a reality in 2021 when Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuts on the shiny, new Warner Bros. streaming platform, HBO Max. And for the Snyders, a sense of joy and vindication has to be swelling within them. Debbie and Zack suffered an unthinkable tragedy during the making of Justice League, and in many ways this is sure to feel like the ending to a chapter left unfinished.

RELATED

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

If this entire experience (which is sure to be made into a documentary at some point) can be summed up in a single word, I think the most appropriate would be ‘hope.’

“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”

“It’s not an ‘S’. In my world it means HOPE.”

If you’d like to watch the entire VERO live stream of Man of Steel, with director Zack Snyder, the link has been posted below.

Strength and Honor: What I’ve Learned From ‘Gladiator’ 20 Years Later

Russell Crowe in a scene of Gladiator | DreamWorks Pictures

What’s your favorite movie?

Don’t say you don’t have one. Everyone has one, you just don’t know what it is yet; it’s something you can turn on whenever; something that makes you smile every time you talk about it; something that impacted you and continues to amaze and delight you with every re-watch. I also believe our favorite movies are ones that define us, that connect in perhaps indefinable ways to our own stories and help mold and shape our choices onward. Is that a little extreme? Maybe. But quarantine has made me extremely grateful for movies and for the Backseat Directors community. So as we celebrate its 20th anniversary, allow me to share with you my all-time favorite movie: Gladiator (2000).

A Dream that was Rome

Let’s set the scene—it’s 180 A.D., and Emperor Marcus Aurelius is waging war with Germanic tribes, accompanied by his loyal Roman general. His son, Commodus, is brutal and unfit to be emperor, so Marcus Aurelius asks this general (who is the former lover of his daughter Lucilla) to take his place as heir to the Roman Empire. Naturally, Commodus is hurt by his father’s decision, and Marcus Aurelius is killed. Without the Emperor’s choice of heir made public, Commodus takes his father’s place as Caesar while the loyal general is exiled.

Those who have seen Gladiator might recognize the plot points and characters found in this description, but this synopsis actually belongs to a movie called Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). Considering the latter was released to an audience well-acquainted with Roman epics, the studio expected it to be a smash at the box office like Quo Vadis (1951) and Cleopatra (1963) before it. After all, it starred such titans of the screen as Sophia Loren (Two Women), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), Alex Guinness (Star Wars) and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur). The studio had spared no expense; the film’s Battle of the Four Armies (not to be confused with the Hobbit movie) involved 8,000 extras, and the Roman forum they built is still the largest outdoor film set in Hollywood history (yes, even bigger than Hobbiton). But the film was an utter failure. It tanked at the box office, almost single-handedly bankrupting its production company. Critics of the time panned it as being too ostentatious and devoid of humanity and drama (ironically today it holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). So much for the glory of Rome. Fall of the Roman Empire was the last of the old Hollywood Roman epics, famed for making its title ironically intuitive and credited with killing the genre.

For 35 years, Hollywood steered clear of Ancient Rome, the Caesars, and the Coliseum. That is, until a screenwriter named David Franzoni had a pitch meeting with DreamWorks and suggested that they make a gladiator movie. Even though Fall of the Roman Empire was a disaster, the idea of making a Roman epic was thrilling enough to attract an acclaimed cast and crew. This included Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) as director and a rough-and-tumble, goofball Aussie/Kiwi named Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential) as the lead character, Maximus. The supporting cast included seasoned veterans like Richard Harris (Harry Potter) and Oliver Reed (Oliver!) and relative newcomers like Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman). Hans Zimmer was invited to compose the score, and he had the good sense to bring on Lisa Gerrard. In addition to these well-knowns, 566 other names are listed in the credits (I counted).  It was the dream team, and the movie’s success is owed to each and every one of them.

Death Smiles at Us All

General Maximus (Russell Crowe) prepares his troops for battle in a scene of Gladiator | DreamWorks Pictures

When Gladiator won Best Picture at the 73rd Academy Awards, three producers took the stage to accept their Oscars. One of them was Branko Lustig, a native of Yugoslavia who as a boy spent years imprisoned during the Holocaust. He survived Auschwitz but lost the majority of his family. The life he went on to live is the best representation of why the movie he helped to make endures. Maximus is a hero who loses everything, but not because of a mistake or a momentary lapse of judgement: it is his very goodness that brings on his head punishment, heartache, and loss. But it’s his adherence to his principles that allows him to rise and eventually challenge the corrupt Emperor in the Coliseum, becoming leader to a Rome that lost its way. Overcoming adversity through strength and honor against even insurmountable odds is not uncommon in Hollywood pictures, but few films resonate with a worldwide audience the way Gladiator did. It’s what made Roman epics so popular in the first place.

Despite the talented and dedicated people involved, the making of Gladiator was fraught with difficulty and chaos. Much of Franzoni’s original screenplay was thrown out, so they began shooting with only about 31 pages of script. Dozens of other writers weighed in, brainstorming ideas that were often rejected and ridiculed by Scott and his actors (especially Crowe). While filming, the script was often freshly written the night before. When they flew a 300-person team to film the second act in Morocco, there wasn’t a line of script to work with, just a repurposed soccer stadium where they could shoot some gladiator bouts. The toll of filming such an epic affected everyone involved; Crowe was battered and injured throughout shooting, and Phoenix was incredibly anxious about his performing abilities and physique. Just as the end of the arduous shoot came into sight, tragedy struck: Oliver Reed (Oliver!), who plays the retired gladiator Proximo, died while shooting in Malta. Instead of replacing him with another actor, the ending was rewritten and filmed with the help of CGI and extra footage. 

Gladiator was released on May 5, 2000. Even with its first act similarities to Fall of the Roman Empire, the final result was a journey more reminiscent of Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960), with similar success. It’s a simple story: the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who defied an Emperor. But it did the impossible; it ushered in another age of sword and sandal epics with a loose remake of the very movie that killed the age before. It won five Oscars, conquered the box office, and won over fans everywhere. Despite the legendary and extensive careers of both Crowe and Phoenix, today it remains the film they are most asked about in interviews. Franzoni, whose script was repeatedly thrashed, rewritten, and criticized, earned an Oscar nomination for his writing and took home an Oscar beside Branko Lustig when the film won Best Picture. It renewed a love and interest in Roman history in the United States (termed “the Gladiator effect” by the New York Times) and led to a series of movies and television shows set in Ancient Rome, though none of them were able to reach the same level of success. A Roman epic was not, and still isn’t, a guaranteed win for a movie studio, but Gladiator was a home run. 

Are You Not Entertained?

Russell Crowe as Maximus in a scene of Gladiator | DreamWorks Pictures

So why now? Why take the time to extoll the stories and virtues of this film beyond my own obsessive fandom? Because I think Gladiator is the kind of film that inspires people to be artists. It’s the kind of film that pulls people like Richard Harris out of semi-retirement because they just can’t say no to starring in it. Nobody would go into entertainment if not for those kinds of films, and I’m sure everyone at Backseat Directors could tell you the films that made them love movies. With a founder who left a corporate career to pursue a passion and a group of writers made up of professional critics and film fanatics alike, we might be a dream team of dreamers not unlike the one Ridley Scott put together.

Hollywood became an empire because it told stories that captivated our imagination and elevated our perspective. Seated with our popcorn and good company, we enjoy visual storytelling that transports us across continents and to time periods both real and imagined. The beauty of art is its subjectivity, so this will not be true for everyone, but for me, Gladiator is Hollywood at its best. It is the ultimate hero’s journey: overcoming adversity by maintaining principles that the outside world calls you to abandon. The story on the screen and the one taking place behind the scenes can inspire and encourage us as we write our own stories. Daring to believe in your own creativity and build something that’s yours is not always easy, and the rewards are not always apparent. While your leap of faith may not be quitting the corporate life or standing up to corrupt dictators or taking a 300-man crew to Morocco with only an inkling of what you’re going to film, seeing people do so can give you courage. There’s always a chance that your idea will turn out like Fall of the Roman Empire; but if there’s something you feel drawn to do, something you can’t stop thinking about that lights you up inside, could it be worth the chance of failing? I’m certainly no expert on the subject. If there’s anything we can learn from Gladiator, it’s that life is short; but as a fictional man once said, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” 

“When you grow up in the suburbs of Sydney or Auckland……or the suburbs of anywhere, you know, a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable. But this moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings, and for anybody who is on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage: it’s possible.”

Russell Crowe, Oscar for Best Actor acceptance speech (2001).

REVIEW: The Wrong Missy

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Tyler Spindel

At what point do you stop blaming others for the unreasonable expectations that you have placed on them? This is where I currently find myself with Happy Madison Productions—the production studio founded by Adam Sandler, and that brought you comedy classics like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. (I hope you can recognize my sarcasm)…

Happy Madison Productions (HMP) is an enigma in Hollywood. Its existence is a testament to the notion that there really is an audience for every movie (audience size being negligible). The ‘Paul Blart’ movies just felt like a low point for the production studio, for Kevin James, for myself for watching them, and just for the whole world in general—but these movies somehow continue to make money, and I somehow still feel interested any time they release a new comedy. I don’t consider myself masochistic in the least bit, but I’m not sure how else to explain this bizarre sense of hope I feel with new Happy Madison movies, knowing full well that I’m not going to enjoy them.

Adam Sandler invested in himself and in his career dreams, and it’s safe to say that his return on investment has paid off and continues to do so. Now, my intention is not to come off as a “hater.” I never want to disparage anyone from liking the type of movies they like. No one should feel guilty for liking any HMP movie. To prove that I’m serious, here is a (small) list of the HMP movies that I genuinely do enjoy: 50 First Dates, Bedtime Stories, Grown Ups, and Murder Mystery.

The Wrong Missy is the latest comedy movie produced by HMP. The film stars David Spade and Lauren Lapkus, and is directed by Tyler Spindel. This is the second Netflix Original movie directed by Spindel while also starring Spade. They first teamed up for the 2018 movie, Father of the Year. The Wrong Missy tells the story of Tim Morris (David Spade), a man spurred by love lost and betrayal of past relationships. After a blind-date gone very bad with Melissa or ‘Missy’ (Lauren Lapkus), Tim has decided that if he is destined to find love, love will find him. While at the airport catching a flight for a business trip, Tim runs into another traveler, Melissa (Molly Sims) and accidentally swaps bags. This mixup causes both individuals to miss their flight, and end up together sharing a (non-alcoholic) drink at a bar. The pair hit it off instantly and Tim believes that love has found him once more. They exchange some kisses and their phone numbers fully expecting to see each other again.

David Spade and Lauren Lapkus in a scene of The Wrong Missy | NETFLIX

But what could go wrong with having two phone numbers from two different Melissas stored in your phone? Apparently, A LOT. Not that anyone has actually every texted the wrong person on accident…I mean that never happens, am I right? So as Tim plans for his big company retreat in Hawaii, his friend Nate (Nick Swardson) convinces Tim to invite Melissa, but “The Wrong Missy” shows up at the airport and accompanies Tim on this work trip in paradise instead.

The story is full of familiar relationship tropes, and quirky circumstances that make for an easy watch. David Spade’s character is fairly sympathetic, and one you can’t help but root for. This movie had all the potential for an easy watching rom-com that would have had mass appeal, especially for a Netflix Original. But alas, this is a Happy Madison Production, and vulgarity, stupidity, and laziness all have to be at the core of their movies, and The Wrong Melissa is no exception. Lauren Lapkus has the chops to be a good comedic actress. She was pretty good in Between the Two Ferns: The Movie, and she has flashes of comedic talent in this movie, but the overuse of sexual obsession, and no regard for any type of social behavioral norms will just leave you rolling your eyes more than laughing.

Spade (like Adam Sandler) is a very specific kind of comedy actor, and most definitely has his fans. His character is straightforward, and plays like most every other character he’s played in other movies. It just really frustrates me that he continues to star in these kinds of movies, when I truly believe that he has the ability and the opportunity to break out of the mold. But if this is the mold that he enjoys, maybe these are the movies that he will always be destined for.

The Wrong Missy has its moments of charm and laughs, but ultimately is hindered by literally everything else this movie does to try to be edgy and irreverent. I know that this movie will appeal to life-long Spade fans, and fans of Happy Madison Productions. But for me, I’m left wondering why I still hold out hope for these movies.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Capone

Vertical Entertainment
Rated: R
Run Time: 104 minutes
Director: Josh Trank

First off, I haven’t been more uncertain as to what the actual title for a movie is since the Tom Cruise-alien combat-version of Groundhog Day. Once and for all, is it Fonzo or Capone?! Feel free to weigh in. 

In any case, the common usage of the first or last name of the lead character in a title seems to be an attempt (however feeble) to reel people into a juicy biopic. Between that and the expectation of an intricate and spectacular performance from Tom Hardy, I have to say, it caught my attention. 

Whether you love Tom Hardy or think he’s overrated, I think you’d have to admit that he inhibits a uniquely infectious brand that makes any movie or T.V. show he’s associated with 10 times more anticipated by general audiences. But here’s my opinion: I think he’s talented. I’m a huge Hardy fan; from watching Bronson as a teen discovering independent films, to his blood pumping action sequences in Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road, and his truly Oscar-worthy performances in The Revenant and Locke. I think for many cinephiles, Tom Hardy’s name and face slapped onto a biopic is enough to bring in open hearts and minds to what would likely be a great film with a great lead performance. 

Enter Josh Trank: Director, Writer and Editor.

Aside from nailing a solid lead actor (I guess they’re actually close friends), I really was excited to give Trank a chance with this film. We were all ready to give him the benefit of the doubt that he really wasn’t to blame for the critical and financial atomic bomb that was Fantastic Four; maybe it really was just studio interference. Unfortunately, he just might not be a talented director, and he certainly shouldn’t be editing or writing. A big problem is that from the top, he chose a period in a “true story” that really just didn’t have a lot to work with. 

Tom Hardy as Al Capone in Capone | Vertical Entertainment

Now there’s plenty of movies that can and have been made with someone as infamous as Al Capone playing or inspiring some sort of role; whether that’s as a main character, a co-star (as in The Untouchables), or even just referenced to (as in Scarface, Road to Perdition, even the likes of The Godfather).

Trank chose to base a near two-hour movie around Capone’s life—post the gangs, guns, and criminal glory. Even past the fall from said glory and his imprisonment due to tax evasion. The film takes place just after he’s released from prison, is mentally and physically deteriorating from disease, and is living out the rest of his life on a quiet, private manor in Florida.   

From there, it has all of the depressing elements of a central figure delving into dementia, along with all of the incontinence you’d ever need in a movie without any meaningful point to be cemented, though attempts were made. 

To Trank’s credit, I understand what kind of perspective he was trying to give the audience of this villainous, all-powerful mob boss we’ve come to know through pop culture. 

I think Trank was trying to help us empathize with the vulnerable, unbearably mortal side of a once ruthless giant. We watch the post-golden era of a king that’s lost his throne, and witness his slow and steady erosion. There’s an element of him regretting his innocence lost, as well as violent and irresponsible decisions he has made in the name of good business (all shown in flashbacks or hallucinations, or maybe both). Old Capone is trying to hold a grasp of authority and relevance, but age and sickness have left him without any devices. And no, I don’t mean to poke at this being a metaphor for Trank’s career, but there are some unfortunate parallels. 

There’s also a potentially interesting subplot of the feds trying to get whatever they can out of Capone’s last days. But every one of these potentially lifesaving elements aren’t explored in-depth enough to make the film have any sort of an impact. And the crazy thing is that none of those underwhelming elements are grounded in facts (not even the incontinence). If you’re going to puff up a true story with your own plot points, make them good—make them engage the audience. The film isn’t concerned with developing those areas, but instead is more concerned with having you watch Tom Hardy be versatile. 

Tom Hardy as Al Capone in Capone | Vertical Entertainment

To be fair, Hardy does great with what he’s been given. The best part of this movie is his performance, whether wholly accurate to the historical figure or not. But there’s a moment where you get a glimpse of what he looked like as Capone in his hay day and that is the movie I really want. Tom Hardy is too much in his prime to be taking roles that have to make so much out of an old, decrepit, terminally-ill vegetable. He needs to be swinging a bat and making spontaneous, intimidating monologues like De Niro in The Untouchables. I’m not saying we need a literal remake, but it’s been enough time since  an actual Al Capone movie featuring him as we think we’ve come to know him. And with the likes of Tom Hardy in the lead role? I’m convinced that something great, if not entertaining, could have been done here. 

Instead we got some semblance of a fading personality for the first 30 minutes. Then you get a beating corpse for an hour. Of course, there’s a respect for Hardy’s commitment to the unique role, but Daniel Day Lewis couldn’t have saved this movie.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea to take a derivative from your common gangster movie formula, and show this kind of unsung final chapter to a life of crime. But again there wasn’t enough to work with, and you’re left staring at a man who’s staring at nothing for the length of the movie. If they wanted to keep with the unique change in tone, they could’ve started with Capone going to prison, then we could get the actual fall and the aftermath. The content of the 100 minutes of screen time could’ve been reduced to a 10 or 20 minute epilogue in a more holistic approach, and it would’ve been far more impactful because you’d lose the fluff!

Bear with me while I spurt out my imaginings of a better film that would accomplish the same thing: There’s 11 years of him in prison that hasn’t been (recently) put to screen. You could explore the celebrity welcome he got at the Atlanta and Alcatraz prisons and his subsequent manner of living. You could show him still trying to run his failing business from behind bars, and the disarrayed reactions to prohibition ending and his purpose becoming null. Leading right up to the ending Capone offers, you can see how his demeanor went from that of a titan to a debilitated wreck. All in all, I’d be more than interested in seeing that flick with Tom Hardy.

Alas, I need to accept that just wasn’t the movie we got. Where credit is due: the original score was interesting enough, and the backdrop and much of the cinematography was well done. 

Lastly, I’ll just mention one thing about the editing. In every conversation, it feels like the camera has attention issues constantly cutting back and forth from close ups of one character to another. I think he’s trying to show subtle details in the acting (that aren’t actually there) as one speaks and one listens. Honestly, if you want to catch the dramatics in the dialogue, just use a wider angle with both characters in the shot. And let your actors act. That’s pretty “backseat” of me to say, but we don’t claim to be anything else!

Let us know if you have outlying questions or if you agree or disagree with this review in the comments below!

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Valley Girl

United Artists Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 102 minutes
Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg

My Rating: 6.5/10

As a critic I always try to divorce my movie-watching experience from the film I am watching. For example, it is not fair to fault a film being bad if I am in an unusually bad mood, or for it to be boring if I am unusually tired, etc; however, sometimes such objectivity is impossible as I am human and my viewing experience impacts my overall experience. Such may prove to be the case with the new remake of Valley Girl—although, I will try to be as objective as possible.

Valley Girl (2020) ended up being the first new movie I have seen in a theater environment for several months since the Coronavirus quarantine began. I watched it at my local drive-in movie theater called the Redwood Drive-in Theatre. I’ve been to this theater before but it had been a while as it is a bit of a drive from my home.

There are pluses and minuses to seeing a movie at the drive-in; but as the only option available, it was refreshing to see a new movie on some kind of big screen! Since I am on a strict no-salt diet right now I didn’t have my usual popcorn, but I had snacks and turned my FM radio to the correct station, and watched my movie to my heart’s content. It was great!

So how about the actual movie: it is not perfect but overall I had a good time with Valley Girl. The original with Nicolas Cage is also a lot of fun but not a nostalgic favorite of mine. I don’t know what people who are super attached to it will think, but I think the decision to make the film a musical was inspired. Overall it was a bubbly, effervescent, fun film with a very likable leading presence from Jessica Rothe.

Chloe Bennet, Jessica Rothe, Ashleigh Murray and Jessie Ennis in a scene of Valley Girl (2020) | United Artists Releasing.

In the film Alicia Silverstone plays an older Julie Richman (Jessica Rothe), narrating her life experiences to her daughter. In particular, she tells the story of when she fell in love with the bad boy from the other side of town named Randy (Josh Whitehouse). Her preppy friends don’t understand her decision nor do her parents (played by Judy Greer and Rob Huebel).

Valley Girl is a high school love story so it plays out as you would expect, and that is fine. What sets this film apart (and what will probably be divisive) is their choice to make it a jukebox musical. In fact, the official soundtrack of Valley Girl has over 20 numbers on it. I’m a very easy sell when it comes to musicals and this had me sold. The musical numbers are bright, fun and full of energy.

The downside to Valley Girl is the acting. While Rothe is good, most of the other performances (particularly YouTuber Logan Paul as her evil ex-boyfriend) leave something to be desired. I was hoping he would only be a cameo but he has a good number of lines and he delivers them like the amateur he is. Whitehouse is also pretty bland and uninteresting as our male lead. He certainly ain’t anything close to Nicholas Cage, but who is?

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in a scene of Valley Girl (2020) | United Artists Releasing.

Mae Whitman also appears as Whitehouse’s rebellious sister Jack, and she’s great as usual. I would just like Hollywood to start casting her in more adult roles outside of these kinds of high school films—she’s a great actress and she deserves it.

Nevertheless, Valley Girl is filmed with a lot of energy and personality by director Rachel Lee Goldenberg. I enjoyed Rothe in the lead, the 80’s fashion and sensibilities, and the fun musical numbers. That’s certainly enough for me to give it a recommendation. Plus, if you can see it in a drive-in near you GO! You’ll have a blast. At least I did!

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

Here’s a look at my drive-in experience and actually seeing a new movie during the Coronavirus pandemic!

REVIEW: Bad Education

HBO
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Cory Finley

 I am at a point in my life where if I see Hugh Jackman attached to any film then that alone gives me immediate incentive to watch that movie.  He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and diverse actors around today, so seeing him in a new movie was exciting. Luckily, I have HBO, so once I actually remembered that Bad Education was out, I quickly fired it up.

 One thing this movie has going for it is its spectacular use of writing to increase tension and give us insights into the characters. For the first twenty minutes or so, I was worried that I would find this show dull and uninteresting. But the tension kept rising and rising, and the characters kept getting more compelling until, by the end, I was on the edge of my seat! (Well…bean bag).

 I’ve seen many reviews calling this film the best performance of Hugh Jackman’s career. While the performance was excellent, I don’t think the role was dynamic enough to label it as his best. For that honor, I’ll steer you towards his performance as Tomás/Thomas/Tommy in The Fountain or as Wolverine in Logan. However, what this performance did give us was a truly three-dimensional look at what could have easily been a flat character. It’s a testament to how fantastic the writing is in this film. Jackman’s character could very easily come off as sleazy, callous, and selfish. Instead, we are confronted with a man who truly believes that spending the school’s money in order to give the appearance of financial affluence is the right thing, and would ultimately be beneficial for the progress of the school and the students as well. Allison Janney also gives a great performance in this film as well— although her character comes off less rounded than Jackman’s.

I will always champion well-written movies, and the writing for this film is its greatest strength. It elevates a story and characters that with a lesser script would be reduced for a very slow and dull story. Instead, it makes for a very compelling drama with empathetic characters. If you have HBO, or know someone who will lend you their password, give this movie a chance!

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: 18 Presents

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 115 minutes
Director: Francesco Amato

I have never been to Italy nor lost a close family relative to a terminal illness, but I do have a mother and, like her, I am a crier. Watching 18 Presents accompanied by my mother late at night on Mother’s Day was a recipe for disaster, especially when the real-life inspiration for the film is revealed. If you’re looking for something to turn your tear ducts into sprinklers and don’t mind reading subtitles, you’ve come to the right place.

The premise is this: Elisa (played by Italian actress Vittoria Puccini) is pregnant with a baby girl when she finds out that she has terminal cancer. Knowing that the progression of the illness would likely result in her dying during the child’s infancy, the mother-to-be decides to buy her unborn child 18 presents: one for every birthday until she becomes an adult. Sure, it might be hard to shop for someone you’ve never met, but isn’t it the thought that counts? Apparently not. Her now grown daughter, Anna (Italian actress Benedetta Porcaroli), actually hates these gifts from her mother, and her dad has to force her to open them, even as early as her 5th birthday. By 18, Anna has become a Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice) look-a-like with a far worse attitude and talent for self-destruction. I literally hated her. In the notes I made while watching the film, I wrote, “There is just no redeeming this character.” The biggest compliment I can give 18 Presents is that it proved me wrong: by the end, I forgave Anna, and couldn’t find it in me to hate her even the slightest. I remain impressed by this unexpected redemption. 

As the plot progresses, and thanks to some extraordinary circumstances, Anna gets to meet her mother and relive the last few months of her life beside her. Thus, there are plenty of scenes of mother and daughter interacting whilst simultaneously longing for a past/future that will never occur. These moments are genuinely sweet and get you right in the feels. The ending had me sending twin waterfalls down my cheeks, not unlike the emoji titled “loudly crying face 😭” (though it should be noted that my tears were silently dignified and not noisy). 

Vittoria Puccini and Benedetta Porcaroli in a scene of 18 Presents | NETFLIX

My quibbles are petty, but still I will quibble. First, I felt like Italy was another planet, or at least a world the Kardashians would find more relatable than I would. For instance, what would you do if you accidentally locked yourself out of your house? When I was growing up, that meant my Mom busted out the crowbar and boosted me through one of the windows so I could get in and unlock the door from the inside. I guess that makes me a trashy American, because this film would have you believe that the only sensible thing to do when locked out is rent a penthouse for the night, complete with a pool, and simply wait until morning to call a locksmith. Second, when Elisa is in her cancer support group, her suggestion of buying eighteen gifts for her unborn daughter is met with awkward silence and sideways glances (while other members are discussing their sexual promiscuity and whether they should have their cremated ashes converted into diamonds). In fact, everybody acts like the idea of a mother trying to substitute her presence with presents for her daughter’s birthdays is insane and awful. At one point it’s suggested that Anna is unfairly burdened by these gifts from her dead mother. I guess that’s just how the other half lives; burdened by too many gifts and slumming it in penthouses. It made me feel sorry for Italians.

18 Presents is the brain-child of daytime soap opera and Hallmark with an affinity for the F-word and cigarettes. Though it has its virtues, I have a hard time universally recommending a tear-jerker unless it is almost above reproach. This movie has its audience, and cry-fests are necessary evils in their time and season, but it lacks any “must-see” qualities. Considering how hard it is these days to acquire tissues, maybe go with something on Sam Cooley’sUltimate Feel-Good Movie list” instead. 

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Tigertail

NETFLIX
Rated: PG
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alan Yang

May is a special month for me as it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Essentially, it’s a time to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian-Americans towards the United States. When deciding on what film I wanted to review in May I tried to keep this special month in mind, and luckily Netflix had the hookup with their release of the film Tigertail. Directed by Alan Yang, who worked on the fantastic Netflix show Master of None, Tigertail tells the story of Pin-Jui: starting with his childhood in Taiwan and leading to his adulthood as an American immigrant. 

As a young man Pin-Jui has big dreams. He works the rice fields making a meager wage and longs to live a life where he no longer has to worry about his financial situation, and so he can retire and take care of his mother. This desire leads him to accept his boss’s offer of an arranged marriage and also a chance at a new life in New York City. But this comes at a cost as he must leave all he knows behind—including his childhood love, Yuan.

Tigertail’s story structure bounces between Pin-Jui’s past life and his present. When the story takes place in the past the color palette of the film pertains rich, strong hues, while the present is desaturated and dull; the sets also have a very distinct look for each time period. However, the structure hamstrings the film—I ended up confused as to where the film was taking place, and it becomes further complicated as the present storyline is shared with Pin-Jui’s daughter Angela (played by Christine Ko), and shares her strained relationship with her father and fiancé.

Christine Ko and Tzi Ma in a scene of Tigertail |NETFLIX

Pin-Jui is a deeply flawed character (which I admired), and when he told his daughter that “crying is for the weak” it struck me to the core: he isn’t a cruel character but rather a tragic one. He sacrificed all he loved to chase the American Dream, something that he thought would solve his problems, but the cost of that dream is in the emotional consequences. Pin-Jui is played by the excellent Tzi Ma and I could really feel his struggles. He lets you see someone who’s been taught to keep his emotions bottled up and when he finally tries to let them out he fumbles so hard it’s difficult to watch—it reminded me a lot of my own father.

Despite my issues with the film’s editing and pacing, the story was something I very strongly resonated with; being the son of Asian immigrants, there was a lot I could reflect back on. When I was younger I always thought my parents were too hard on me, and they always pushed me so hard to succeed to the point where I would be incredibly frustrated. Looking back and reflecting after watching this film I understand why they pushed me so much: they simply didn’t want me to struggle and suffer like they did when they were younger. Tigertail is a wonderful story about the cost of starting a new life and the pain of leaving your life behind to start something new. It is an introspective film and a very personal act of love, showing how important it is to honor and respect those that sacrifice what they hold dear so that the next generation can succeed.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: David Fincher

David Fincher (Merrick Morton, 2011)

If you look up any list of “The Top 10 Modern-Day Thrillers”, you’ll likely run into one of David Fincher’s films. Being that he only has 10 entries to his directorial filmography, I’d say that makes him noteworthy, and one of the most bankable directors in Hollywood today. That being said, some of his work has been underrated, so if this entry convinces you to visit or revisit any of his films, the Fincher fan in me will have done his job!

About a decade ago, a forgettable, high school weekend spent binge watching cable (pre-Netflix) led me to my first Fincher film, Zodiac (2007)–one of the finest biopic thrillers of all time, and massively underrated (starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo). Jump forward… When I first decided to pursue movie-watching beyond just your regular pastime, I started by seeking out the directors of my favorite films, and then exploring their work. I knew that Fincher would be one of my reliable directors to look into further based off of Zodiac alone—and I was right! He did not disappoint as I was introduced to inevitable favorites like Se7en (1995), The Social Network (2010) and Gone Girl (2014). In every case I started to realize that you can expect a few things from almost any Fincher film: visceral realism, high octane, stacked casts, and rewatchability.

David Fincher got his start working on classic films like Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Though having a solid foundation with his father also being a screenwriter, he had to go through some years of directing commercials and an almost “Josh Trank-esque” experience with his directorial debut. Though the Alien franchise had garnered considerable success up to this point and his start with Alien 3 (1992) was met with mixed reviews (along with an Oscar nod for visual effects), there was a ton of studio interference along with nine different writers. Fincher would go on to disown the film saying, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.” Though I think it is far from the weakest in the franchise, it’s definitely not one of the strongest sequels.

Luckily, his films have only gotten better as he has since been given more management over them. Se7en and Fight Club (1999) found their way to many of those aforementioned best-thriller lists with their engaging stories, novel twists, and great performances from Brad Pitt (in both), Edward Norton (Fight Club), and Morgan Freeman (Se7en). Honestly, these flicks are quality, and if you want to see how Fincher’s talents developed over the years, watch his movies in chronological order.

More recently, his installments have gained significant commercial and critical success, grabbed the attention of award circuits, and have been heavily considered some of the best movies of the year in which they came out. In fact, it’s been preferred by many that The Social Network had beat out The King’s Speech (2010) for Best Picture at the Oscars. Other Fincher films that have received more recent notoriety includes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and Gone Girl. I would strongly suggest that you watch the latter if you haven’t already. Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and even Tyler Perry give intriguing performances, and the story (written and based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn) makes for one of the most jaw-dropping, entertaining, mind “messer-uppers” that could only be flawlessly brought to life through Fincher’s expert directing. 

David Fincher on the set of Mank (2020) | Netflix

Fincher’s next movie should be released this year (fingers crossed with COVID). It’s titled Mank (2020), which will chronicle a screenwriter’s battle with Orson Welles over writing credit for the movie Citizen Kane (1941), which many consider to be the greatest movie of all time. Being a big fan of The Social Network, and already seeing some striking similarities, I’m very much anticipating this release. Mank was actually written by David Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, and is set to star Gary Oldman in the lead role. Keep an eye out!

Fincher has said that he was heavily influenced by Hitchcock, which shouldn’t be a surprise as most of his movies have a considerable touch of Hitchcock-like suspense, albeit modernized. Common throughout his films, the cinematography has a signature dark-and-musky shade. You’ll notice it (if you haven’t already) while watching his films—it’s like a desaturated, monochromatic coloring that really ends up reinforcing the usually dreary world that his characters live inwhat mostly comes to mind while explaining his style in Blade Runner (1982). Really, it’s a lot of that neo-noir, but without the sci-fi—and trust me, it works!

The funny thing is that there are many commonalities like this throughout his filmography, but he doesn’t seem to collaborate very much with the same people. The similarities in tone and style probably have something to do with the fact that he’s known for being a bit of a meticulous micromanager. Some of his lead actors (e.g. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rooney Mara) have spoken about their exhaustion from having to do retake after retake to get “the perfect scene”. But in turn, his perfectionism hasn’t been wasted as one of his editors said, “[It’s like] putting together a swiss watch… all the pieces are so beautifully machined. He’s incredibly specific. He never settles. And there’s a purity that shows in his work.” Honestly, in consideration of how much I love his films, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time and detail he puts into his work, even at the slight expense of his cast and crew. 

David Fincher

Below is my ranking of Fincher’s movies. Check them out, and leave me a comment on whether you agree or disagree with the ranks, or if you love, hate or don’t care about David Fincher!

  1. Gone Girl (2014)
  2. Se7en (1995)
  3. Zodiac (2007)
  4. The Social Network (2010)
  5. Fight Club (1999)
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  8. Panic Room (2002)
  9. The Game (1997)
  10. Alien 3 (1992)

REVIEW: Horse Girl

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 103 minutes
Director: Jeff Baena

My recent run of movies that I’ve chosen to review have been, in a word, torturous. The continuation of movie theater closures during the Coronavirus pandemic has kept our choice of new movies very limited. Netflix seems to have been totally unaffected with releasing new movies in 2020. Their audience is already built in with over 100 million subscribers tuning into their Netflix Original content. Of course, their new movie and T.V. series productions have been impacted, but that is new content for 2021.

Netflix is such a fascinating, modern studio that I hope one day goes full meta and makes a docu-series of itself. “Netflix Presents: The Making of Netflix, a Netflix Original.” They’ve completely changed the game as it relates to how we consume our video content. They’ve disrupted the “norm” of the old Hollywood guard, and the industry will never be the same. Netflix has given opportunity to up-and-coming filmmakers, producers, writers, etc. that otherwise would not have that same opportunity when dealing with the larger movie studios. And with the risk-taking approach that has built Netflix into the giant that it is, comes the tares mixed in with the wheat.

I came across Horse Girl while browsing new content on Netflix. Nothing about it seemed remarkable, but this was a new movie released in 2020, and at the time, that was enough of a reason for me to watch it. At first glance, the only actor I recognized in the movie was Molly Shannon (a SNL staple during my adolescence) but after a little research I realized that I was familiar with some of the work that the lead actress, Alison Brie, had done (The Disaster Artist, The Post, The Lego Movie 2). Brie co-wrote the script for Horse Girl along with Director, Jeff Baena, and the film was screened earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Baena and Brie also worked together on The Little Hours which debuted back in 2017. Unfortunately, after watching Horse Girl, any new project with Baena and Brie’s names attached to it is something I will likley avoid.

Horse Girl tells the story of a socially awkward and isolated woman named Sarah, who continually loses her grip on reality. Sarah has been deeply affected by her mother’s suicide the year before, and the loss of her horse to new owners. She spends her time between her job at a crafts store, and watching a supernatural crime show. Even with the help of her roommate, Nikki (played by Debby Ryan) who sets Sarah up on a date and encourages her to be more social, Sarah continues to plunge deeper and deeper into a schizophrenic state.

Alison Brie in a scene of Horse Girl | NETFLIX

A series of very bizarre events, that leave me struggling for words to even attempt to explain, intensify as the film goes on. Events that make you wonder what the writers were thinking or experiencing that made them come to the conclusion that these were good ideas and something people would want to see in a film. In all honesty, I really struggled to even get through the film. I’ve never experienced the use of psychedelic drugs, so it’s unfair for me to compare the experience I had while watching this movie, but other explanations seem to be lacking. From bizarre fantasy sex scenes, to dreams of random strangers and then seeing those strangers in real life, to alien abductions, the movie seems to have the tools to be an interesting story, and somewhat engaging film, but will end up leaving you completely dazed and confused as to what this movie even is.

In all good conscience I cannot recommend this movie in the least bit. There are so many other new Netflix Originals that are worth your time (see: Spencer Confidential or Extraction), that Horse Girl should be the last thing you consider turning on before exploring other options.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

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Movie Quote of the Week:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

– Rocky Balboa (2006)

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