Tuesday, February 22, 2022

ZB's Movie Review #2: Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up (2021)

Adam McKay really has become an auteur in the last decade. His transformation has turned into a Woody Allen-like swing from straight-up comedy into deeper, more emotionally complex narratives. Pretty remarkable. And of course it’s sad to know that this artistic turn has played a role in McKay and Will Ferrell parting ways. But if that separation was needed for McKay to truly fly in this new dramedy space, then I’m all for it. Sorry Will. Artists either evolve or die, and Ferrell’s lack of growth is a big reason why his acting career has been floundering ever since The Other Guys.

McKay’s newest film Don’t Look Up is instantly among his best in my opinion. It’s sharp, funny, and there’s enough closeness to reality within the satire where the same moments that make you laugh could just as easily make you cry. You see one outlandish character or watch a particular scene, and say to yourself “Jesus, that’s not that far off”. That’s the genius of true satire - being able to point out cruel ironies while retaining the hilarity.

Acting-wise Leo is great, as is Jennifer Lawrence. No surprise there. And of course Jonah Hill is an absolute homerun. He’s so good at playing that annoying, snobby asshole character. He’s too talented to be forever typecast in that role, but it’s definitely a tried and true arena for him. He was my favorite in the whole film. I also thought Meryl was brilliant, as was Sir Mark Rylance as the tech giant for Bash. His voice was perfectly delivered - the high-pitch, almost child-like nature of his cadence masks the sinister intentions he has all along. Which I thought was a genius way of encapsulating the modern day tech oligarch. We get sucked into their personality and mesmerized by the good they do, which can make it next to impossible to see the horrors they commit and cause. Well done, Sir.

As for the story, I thought it was a bit chaotic and all over the place. Which sort of fits McKay 2.0’s whole shtick. He loves the fast-paced jumping around style, and the fact that it’s so clearly a satire gives the whole piece more license to be outrageous and over-the-top. I liked how there were a couple homages to legendary satires of old. Ron Perlman’s character Colonel Drask seemed like a nod to Major Kong from Dr. Strangelove. And DiCaprio’s character Randall Mindy’s manic speech on live TV evoked the “Mad as Hell'' speech from Network, but purposefully stripped of its climax and abruptly cut short. I thought both weren’t too obvious and were nice touches.

The overarching symbolism that’s used is without a doubt clever and thoughtful. It kind of annoyed me how in all the press coverage I read about the movie, they just totally gave away the meaning of the allegory. Before I knew anything else about it, I already knew that the comet was a symbol for the climate crisis. Kind of a bummer in my opinion. Let the viewer get there on their own. Spelling out how someone should perceive the film takes a very meaningful part away from the artistic experience. At least that’s how I feel. I get that this is a political statement that McKay and David Sirota want to make, which is why they’re being so on-the-nose about it. And that’s certainly commendable when considering the urgency surrounding climate change. But I can’t deny that the wind was taken out of my sails a bit when the whole message was spelled out for me. Luckily the final product is strong enough where it’s still an incredible watch despite the giveaway.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the film was the end, when all the main protagonists get together at the Mindy household for one last supper. I thought that was beautiful, and to me that whole scene encapsulated the underlying point to the film. Which is that at the end of the day, what really matters is being with people that you love. When shit hits the fan - whether it be a mass extinction event like the movie, or a minuscule traumatic event - it’s important to surround yourself with family and friends. Say what you want to say (Yule proposing to Kate). Don’t be afraid to forgive (June taking Randall back). And be open to other people’s healing/coping processes (the Mindy’s letting Yule lead a prayer). They touch on all of that in one final dinner, which was lovely despite the horror that engulfs them in the end.

I certainly recommend this film, I thought it was a genius social commentary that felt like the grandchild to Dr. Strangelove. Which is to say that I believe this movie will go down as one of the best satires of the era.

- ZB James

Friday, February 18, 2022

Chris Arnade Walking America: Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke

"It is a wonderful city, and yes I know it has plenty of problems...But that isn’t what I want to focus on, because I walk to see beyond those problems. Because the residents of Holyoke, like in any “run down town”, continue living and doing their best despite them. Seeing that, and being reminded of that, is why I walk." 
- Chris Arnade

I forget how I discovered Chris Arnade, but he is a splendid follow on Twitter and his Substack Intellectual Int-ing is an interesting read.

He walks all over the world, talks with locals, takes pictures, and eats McDonalds lol. Then after his journey he writes a little piece about his travels. It's a cool travel blog style that feels super old school. As if he's back in the early 2000s when blogging first became an online sensation. It's that down-to-earth aesthetic that gives it a unique authenticity. Something you won't find on any television travel show.

The specific piece I'm linking to today is the one where he walks Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke out in Western Massachusetts. I've been to Springfield and Holyoke recently and thought his candid descriptions of both places were right on the money. I appreciated his more intimate perspective because I was driving during my travels, and like he says walking definitely forces you to see cities "beyond the bleh".

Anyways, I thought it was a great read and wanted to share. He's worth checking out no doubt about it. Great photographer, great writer, and a wholehearted perspective all in one.

- ZB James

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

ZB's Movie Review #1: The Tragedy of Macbeth

At the start of the pandemic I lost my movie-watching mojo. Sure movies were still coming out, but the fact that theaters were closed crushed my cinematic spirit. It’s taken me close to two years, but finally the mojo is back. Yeah baby, yeah!

So here comes the newest Lush and Todd series: Todd's Movie Review (with my specific review line titled ZB's Movie Review). Not exactly sure what this will be or where this will go, but the basic concept is the same as Album Review. It can be whatever you want: a pure film analysis, an essay, an op-ed, a quick couple of sentences, incoherent ramblings. Literally whatever comes to your mind after watching a film.

For my first installment, I figured there'd be no better place to start than The Bard himself. It's Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

This was a super unique and enjoyable film. I’m admittedly not sharp when it comes to fully comprehending Shakespearean English, but there’s enough language to grasp where I can generally understand what’s going on. And I read the play in high school, so there’s a distant memory of the story as well. It was almost like watching a brilliant foreign film or a surrealist film. There’s confusion and disconnect, but as a viewer you recognize the greatness unfolding before you. 

And that’s not a hard thing to see considering Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are at the top of the call sheet and a Coen brother is in the director's chair. The emotion worn on both leads’ faces throughout is incredible. Their monologue and soliloquy pacing is masterful, even if I don’t fully get it line by line. There’s just something beautiful about Olde English done well. Something really poetic. And every now and then a few lines cut through and hit profoundly. 

As for Joel Coen, him and his team have done an amazing job at creating an unforgettable and harrowing atmosphere. The production designers most certainly deserve their Academy Award nomination, as does the cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. Each scene is shot on a stage and the whole movie is in black-and-white, which gives the film a Studio Era feel that fits like a glove. It’s clearly an homage to that time and I think the choice to go simple as opposed to something grand and budgetarily bloated was the right choice. Especially considering this is a by-the-book Shakespeare adaptation and not some twisted, bastardized, Hollywood profit-maximization production. Hell, that fact alone is probably why I enjoyed this so much. It’s like going back in time, before the blockbuster machine took hold of the system, when classic tales were first being retold for the screen.

There were a few other surprises that took hold of me. One was the performance by Kathryn Hunter, who played the witches and the old man. I’d never heard of her, but holy hell was she frighteningly good. She’s clearly a stage actor, and this movie's closeness to traditional theatre made it perfect for her. I was also blown away by the use of shadows and light. Like I said before, there was something very surreal about the whole piece. As if it were a dream, or a nightmare. It didn’t feel like it was of this world. And I think the use of darkness and light and shapes brought it to another dimension. It evoked the surrealist classics of old. Also the use of water and blood as a symbol of the ticking clock was another mesmerizing factor within the film. As soon as Macbeth commits his horrid crime, the dripping blood signifies that his time is limited. He will soon descend into madness and tyranny.

I also couldn’t help but think of the madness our own leaders display in today's world. With all the insanity surrounding the tensions between Russia and the United States over Ukraine, it was impossible for me not to relate those war games to the ones that Macbeth played. This story, and this movie by extension, does a world-class job at showing just how dangerous power can be. It highlights how a thirst for power can corrupt the mind into something unrecognizable. And the fact that 400 years later these same themes and motifs can be so easily applied to current political affairs is pretty depressing. Progress certainly has been made, but man remains unquenched.

In the end, while I’m not a Shakespeare dork by any means, this was an awesome telling of a legendary tale. I think any true movie buff will appreciate the artsy, subversive aesthetic and find it to be a worthwhile watch.

- ZB James

Sunday, February 6, 2022


Methuselah, White Mountain, California - photo taken by Yen Chao

This is a poem from The Cape House, a book that my father wrote.


He sat in his room afterwards

Slowly recuperating

Looking back on his life

Thinking about time

What it was

Where it came from

Where it went

What he’d done with his allotment

Wondering if it really

Just ran in a straight line

And passed by

And disappeared into nothingness

Lost forever

Except for what could be recorded

In books

Or photographs

Or memories

If that was the case

What would be left at the end?

Of an individual life

Or the whole species

When that single existence

Or the sun

Burned itself out


A grave filled only with bones

A box holding a jumble of pictures

A dark library with no visitors

It seemed hard to believe


And those dead?

Where did they go?

When their time ran out

In this visible world

Back to the earth

And nowhere else?

But what if time had other dimensions?

Or other branches

Or it flowed in different directions

What if Spags was right?

And when you died

You saw the people you knew in life


No longer an end

Or a barrier

Or a dividing line

And relationships that needed to be managed

On both sides of the grave

That would complicate things a bit

He might need to start thinking about that

Time was running out

And yet



Never end

by M.W. Brown

You can buy this book and many others within the M.W. Brown collection on Amazon.