Saturday, July 14, 2018
I've never actually reviewed a "Hotel Transylvania" movie on this blog. I thought I reviewed the first movie back in the day, but apparently my blog archives claim I didn't. And I know I didn't review the second one. I'll get to the reasoning there in a second. But I did see both in theaters, so allow me to quickly summarize. I'm not a fan. The first one was a fun idea, but I remember walking out feeling a bit empty. Pixar and Disney have been very good at making their animated movies appeal to both kids and adults, but I felt Sony only managed to hit the kids side of that with "Hotel Transylvania." Said demographic was very pleased and the film was harmless enough, so I wasn't bothered by its existence or success, but it just didn't grab me. The second one was a completely different story. The movie set up a beautiful metaphor for how to treat your child if he or she is different than you. Dracula was so excited to have a grandson, but since his daughter married a human, no one knew if said grandson was human or vampire. It appeared that he was pure human, but Dracula couldn't accept this, so he spent the whole movie trying to bring the monster out of his grandson because sometimes vampires are late-bloomers. On the surface Dracula pretended to be open and accepting, but wasn't until the very end of the movie where he finally decided to love and accept him regardless.
But again, that doesn't mean I personally have to love it, which is the conflict we again run into with "Summer Vacation." I almost don't want to talk about the plot of the movie because the second I start to describe the basic premise here, you'll know exactly what happens. But yet they added the subtitle of "Summer Vacation" instead of simply titling the movie "Hotel Transylvania 3" and that subtitle gives you the plot of the film, so there's no avoiding this. If you don't pick up the plot by looking at the title, you'll know the whole movie from the trailers. Yes, it could be a situation where we get mad at the trailers for spoiling the film, but the plot of this movie is so incredibly simple, thin and predictable that there's nothing Sony could do differently. You get 10 minutes into this movie and you have the whole movie figured out. Our opening montage sets of this nemesis of Dracula named Abraham Van Helsing who will stop and nothing to kill all monsters, but fails at every attempt. Fast forward to the present and we have Dracula in the Hotel being extremely busy and lonely. He wants to find love, but he thinks that there is no hope for him because monsters only zing once. Then his daughter takes him on a cruise ship where he meets the beautiful human ship captain.
That's our premise. You know how the romance angle is going to turn out the second you learn Dracula is lonely and wants to find a date. The second everyone steps foot on this cruise ship and the ship captain introduces herself, you can pretty easily connect the dots as to who she really is. And if you don't end up connecting those dots, the movie gives the big reveal to who she really is and what the master plan is for this cruise ship. And at that point I don't think we've even made it through 20 minutes of the run time. Thus I don't think me telling you straight up who the captain is and what her intentions are would be even spoiling the movie since it happens so early on. But for the sake of humoring everyone, I'll be silent and let you connect the dots on your own. I don't think you need to have seen "Despicable Me 2" to know how it'll play out with the double-crossing romance, even though it kinda follows that plot line beat for beat as well. Take out Gru and Lucy, insert Dracula Ericka, put the movie on a monster cruise ship, and boom! "Hotel Transylvania 3." Are you mad at me at this point? Have I said too much? Well I'm sorry, but maybe if Sony Animation had any ounce of creativity in their bones, I could write a review without spoiling the film by describing the premise.
Thus in the end we have a movie that is nothing more than 97-minutes of jokes strung together while occasionally deviating to forward the paper thin plot that you can see coming before you've even hit the 20-minute mark or before you even walk in if you watched any of the trailers. This movie ended up being painful for me to watch because I started becoming uncomfortable in my chair. It was one of those moments where I felt like I had restless leg syndrome, but was confined into a chair and couldn't walk around, thus I was crying inside, begging the movie to end. When it finally did, I was shocked to see this was only 97 minutes long because it felt a lot longer. However, there is ONE sequence in the movie that surprisingly had me busting up laughing and this is actually kind of a spoiler because it's in the final, so that's your warning. But the final battle between the heroes and our villain was a DJ battle between Jim Gaffigan's Van Helsing and Andy Samberg's Johnny. I busted up laughing, nearly uncontrollably when Johnny played "Good Vibrations," followed by "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "Macarena." I don't know why that sequence made me laugh while literally nothing else did, but for that sequence and that sequence alone, I'm elevating this movie up to a 6/10.
Friday, July 13, 2018
I'm admittedly a bit late in getting this review out. I'm a huge fan of the MCU, like many others living on Earth, and thus I usually enjoy heading out opening weekend to see their latest film. This release, though, happened to land when I had family in town for the Independence Day weekend. For whatever reason, a trip to the movie theater wasn't on the schedule for us, so I waited for $5 Tuesday to see this. Then I didn't get around to writing my review earlier this week because I had to deal with Drake's album on my weekly Billboard Analysis segment over on my music blog. So you're getting this review a full week after the movie itself came. Because of that, I'm going to take a few liberties in discussing some plot details that I may have otherwise avoided if I had got this review out a week ago since most of you who were planning on seeing this have probably already done so. This won't be a full-out spoiler review, but if you were planning on seeing "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but just haven't gotten around to it and want everything regarding the plot to remain secret, then perhaps consider taking a rain check on reading this review. Just know that I really enjoyed the first "Ant-Man," and while this sequel doesn't quite hit those heights, it's still quite the blast.
Regarding that first movie, I remember that I had to participate in a lot of persuading while the market campaign was being rolled out. Everyone seemed to think the idea alone was really dumb and not a lot of said people were convinced otherwise when the trailers came out. I thought the trailers were quite genius, but outside that my big plug was that in Marvel we trust. Unlike the DCEU at the moment, the MCU has their formula down and they know how to please audiences. So why should we assume that a movie of theirs is going to be awful just because you don't like the premise? People seemed to forget that just a year before Marvel made a movie surrounding a talking tree and a raccoon into one of the most beloved Marvel movies. So can't we have more faith in Ant-Man, who happened to be one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics? Luckily when the movie itself rolled around, I was proven right and audiences bought in. Despite the movie having the second lowest opening weekend of any MCU film, ahead of only "The Incredible Hulk," reviews were strong and word of mouth spread fast, leading it to what still stands as the second highest multiplier in the MCU as it wound up with $180 million domestically following a $57 million start.
"Ant-Man" was a very small-scale movie, which perhaps made it subtly brilliant given the nature of the premise. While other Marvel movies seemed to be obsessed with going bigger and better than the previous films, "Ant-Man" was content to take a step back and give us a localized heist film that you may have forgotten was even part of the MCU had it not been for a few references here and there to the Avengers, who Mr. Hank Pym was not a huge of. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" does remain smaller in scale than some of our recent MCU films, but at the same time it feels larger in scope that "Ant-Man" did. The premise starts off by following up on Scott Lang's perspective following the events of "Civil War." As a reminder about that, he was on Captain America's side of the feud, and unlike some of his teammates, it turns out he wasn't as good at the whole fugitive game. He got caught and has thus spent the past two years on house arrest. On top of that, Hank Pym is mad at him for stealing his suit and joining the Avengers in a silly escapade while it's mostly implied that his new girlfriend Hope Van Dyne is mad at him because he didn't invite her to come along. All of these combine to essentially give us the reasoning behind where he was during "Infinty War."
While it's true that the timeline is not 100 percent clear during the movie itself as to how close the events of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" overlap with "Infinity War," we do know that it takes place right before. There's further discussion to be had on on that subject, but that's all I'm willing to give away in this review. We can talk details later if you want. But the specific mission that our crew has in this movie is searching for Janet Van Dyne, Hank's wife and Hope's mother, who is stuck in the Quantum Realm and, as we learned in the last movie, may not be as dead as Hank originally thought, which leads to new scientific ideas of Quantum Realm stuff that Hank is eager to explore and learn about, depending on how this search for Janet goes. Also as we learned in the last movie, the final end credits scene to be exact, Hank has finally allowed his daughter Hope to use The Wasp suit, or a new one that he has built for her. Thus leading us to the movie's title of "Ant-Man and THE WASP." Despite Marvel having plenty of female superheroes and characters, Evangeline Lilly has the honor of being the first one of them to be in the title of her film, barely beating out next year's "Captain Marvel." Thus gives this movie another significant achievement in the history of the MCU.
The dynamic between Ant-Man and The Wasp is the strongest element of this movie. Despite not being on the best terms to start the movie off, Hank and Hope quickly learn that they need the help of Scott to find Janet because there's a possibility that she might be communicating with Scott after he went to the Quantum Realm and came back in the previous movie. So they set their differences aside and move forward with their mission. During the whole process, Hope proves that her dad should've trusted her with the suit a long time ago rather than finding Scott because she is a master with this Wasp suit. All the best action in the movie involves her kicking some villain trash as a complete boss, immediately making her one of the most likable characters in the MCU. Evangeline Lilly sells this so well and I'm super happy that she's achieved this huge break because I've been a huge fan of her's since she played Kate in "LOST." Yeah, she was invited to play Tauriel in those disastrous Hobbit movies and some might remember that she showed up in a movie called "Real Steel" before that, but this is her huge cinematic break as she's now headlining a Marvel film. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie, you're going to walk out loving The Wasp because she's awesome.
In terms of story, searching for Janet Van Dyne feels like the natural progression for this particular franchise and there's so much fun to be had along the way with all the set pieces and the creative use of the shrinking and enlarging abilities. It's fun seeing them shrink their building they've been working in into a suitcase size thing and it's also fun to see the use of things like a Pez dispenser and a salt shaker as a weapon after enlarging them. If we're getting nit-picky with things, there's no moment in this movie that is quite as epic as the first movie's battle on the toy train set and the first movie also did a better job of having fun with the characters being super small. But there's still a lot of fun to be had with what they did come up with. The biggest negative of the movie, though, which seems like a broken record at this point with the MCU, comes with the villains. I want to make it perfectly clear, though, that I'm not talking about Ghost, who we see in the trailers. I loved her character, her backstory, her motivations and what she was able to do. Hannah John-Kamen, who is quietly having a great year, played her excellently. What I wasn't a fan of was the idea that this movie essentially had three villains and that felt like a bit too much. We could've stuck with Ghost.
The two other villains I'm talking about are Walton Goggins' character of Sonny Burch and Randall Park's FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. Walton Goggins had a lot of fun playing his character, but he was the mustache-twirling style of villain who really had no reasons for what he did. He just wanted to steal the technology that Hank and Hope had. And the story arc of the FBI chasing down Scott during this whole thing was funny at times. Randall Park had me laughing quite a bit. But as a whole it added a bit of extra fluff to the plot that didn't need to be there. The plot for "Ant-Man" was simple and concise as a fun heist movie. The plot for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was a little too crowded and held the movie back from having even more fun that they already had. But overall this is another solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn't hit the heights of some of their recent movies, but it didn't need to. From day one this was supposed to be a fun, simple adventure to act as a place-holder while we wait for the Infinity War finale next year and it delivered on that. I don't know how it fits into my MCU rankings as a whole, but in terms of Phase III, it slides right in ahead of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Black Panther" while being behind the rest. My grade for it is an 8/10.
Thursday, July 5, 2018
July 4th - 8th-
The movie that will open right on Wednesday July 4 is the fourth movie in The Purge franchise titled The First Purge. It's been a bit of a trendy thing with horror franchises to go back and tell the origins of said franchise, which is what "Ouija: Origin of Evil" and "Annabelle Creation" both did. The strategy worked out quite well for both of those movies in terms of audience reaction, so The Purge franchise will try its luck with this by telling how this purge began. The idea here is that for one day a year, for the span of 12 hours, all crime becomes legal, which basically becomes an excuse for everyone to go kill each other, providing a gore fest for audiences. Because, you know, murder is the first crime you would think of if all crime became legal. Anyways, this premise has turned out to be quite fruitful for this franchise as each of the previous three films have opened around $30 million, while finishing around $70 million. "The Purge: Election Year" was predicted to experience a drop-off in 2016, but it wound up as the highest grossing film with $79 million, so who knows what "The First Purge" will do. Opening weekend comparisons might be tough with this being the first movie in the franchise to open on a Wednesday, but anywhere from $50-75 million overall seems likely here.
July 13th - 15th-
The biggest story in July will be the amount of action movies being released. Arguably we've already had two at this point as "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "The First Purge" both could be considered action films to a certain extent. But even in ignoring those two movies, we'll have three major action films opening in the final three weeks of July. The first of those three is Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper. There's been a lot of comparisons that people have brought up here to the 1988 classic action film "Die Hard," which saw Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer, trying to save his wife and others who were taken hostage by Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. "Skyscraper" sees Dwayne Johnson, a security guard, trying to save his family, who are trapped in a giant skyscraper in Hong Kong. The skyscraper is on fire and Dwayne Johnson has been framed for it. So he needs to escape capture in addition to trying to save his family. Thus the comparison to "Die Hard." In terms of the box office, it's a foolish thing to underestimate Dwyane Johnson. Recently he's led "Rampage," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Central Intelligence" all to $35 million openings, thus that seems like a fair range for "Skyscraper" to also hit.
July 20th - 22nd-
Our second big action movie of the month is Denzel Washington's The Equalizer 2. Denzel has had a long, prestigious career in Hollywood with enormous box office success and lots of awards success, with eight acting nominations at the Oscars, which include two wins for his work in "Glory" and "Training Day." Despite all these accolades, "The Equalizer 2" will include a first for him. The first time he's ever done a sequel. That sounds strange, but if you glance over his filmography, it's true. And this sequel follows a very successful action film in 2014 in "The Equalizer," which surprised with a $34 million opening and $101 million overall. Both films are directed by Antoine Fuqua, who Denzel also teamed up with in "Training Day" and "The Magnificent Seven." In addition to being successful, "The Equalizer" was also a great crowd-pleaser and the type of action film where a sequel makes sense, with Denzel as an action star also making sense. Since 2000, Denzel has only had two wide releases that haven't hit at least $20 million on their opening weekend and that's out of a total of 18 movies. That suggests a lot of goodwill for this movie. The only thing working against this is the competition with "Skyscraper" the previous week and "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" the next week.
The final movie to talk about this weekend is the movie that might make the smallest dent out of the wide releases in July and that is Unfriended: Dark Web. This is a sequel to the 2015 movie "Unfriended," a movie you probably forgot existed. Even if you do remember it, it's probably not the movie you were expecting to get a sequel. However, it was actually decently received as it holds a positive 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and made $32 million domestically on a $1 million budget. That's an excellent profit for a movie its size and thus justifies the sequel. "Unfriended" is not to be confused with last year's "Friend Request," which was a horribly received movie that only made $3.8 million. The idea of "Unfriended" is that a group of online chat room friends found themselves haunted by a supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. "Unfriended: Dark Web" follows a similar premise with a teen coming into the possession of a new laptop with all sorts of dark videos present. Said teen and his group of friends start getting haunted by a force claiming to be the previous owner. An opening around the first movie's $15 million opening would be a success for this film. But even if it only opened to $5-10 million, that would still probably be good enough.
July 27th - 29th-
In case you thought there was only one superhero movie this month, we have a second one quietly sneaking in at the end of the month and that is the animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. The Teen Titans have been around in the comics since 1964 as they first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold #54." At that point, they comprised of Kid Flash, Robin, Aqualad and shortly thereafter Wonder Girl. There's been many iterations of the Teen Titans since then, but this animated movie, which is actually the first theatrically released Teen Titans movie, is based on the animated series "Teen Titans Go!," which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2013 and has had mixed reaction, but has nevertheless produced over 200 episodes as they recently began season 5, so they must be doing something right. This movie stars the original voice actors from the show voicing Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire, while adding Nicholas Cage as Superman (yes, that's finally happening), Will Arnett as Slade Wilson, Kristen Bell as Jade Wilson, Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, Halsey as Wonder Woman and Lil Yachty as Green Lantern. The plot is a bit meta as the Titans are trying to get their own movie made, but aren't taken seriously enough, so they find a nemesis in Slade Wilson to fight.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
First and foremost, if you can look beyond the Pepsi advertising, this is a movie made for fans of the NBA. If you don't know who Kyrie Irving is or Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson, you're going to see the wrong movie. Shaq is in here, too, but everyone knows Shaq, so that's beside the point. Also, if you don't watch Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter every night and you don't know what an ESPN 30 for 30 is, you're also going to be a bit miffed by this movie. For that I give this movie full credit for knowing who their target audience is and pandering specifically to them. It's what made me love "Space Jam" so much growing up. All the basketball references and basketball ties shoved into one movie was glorious. That and the whole Looney Toons thing. But mostly the basketball. I loved 90's basketball and thus "Space Jam" was my movie because it combined everything I love about the 90's into one movie. I see critics today hating on "Space Jam" today. In fact, it's become a very trendy movie to tear to pieces among YouTube critics. But I say screw them all. I still love "Space Jam." And, well, I have to admit that "Uncle Drew" could be this generation's "Space Jam" with how well they pander to today's modern basketball audience.
If you want to turn away, then feel free to. But I'm going to do said introduction of the plot anyways. The movie starts by shoving a whole ton of exposition in your face by means of a fictional 30 for 30 about Uncle Drew and his glory days in the Rucker Classic, an actual street basketball tournament played at Rucker Park in New York City. But anyways, in this fictional setting, Uncle Drew and his team completely disappeared before the final game, hence the movie sets up the mystery of Uncle Drew. But despite the movie being called "Uncle Drew," the central character in the movie is not Uncle Drew. It's a man named Dax, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, best known for "Get Out." Dax's rival in this movie is Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. Well, Dax grew up watching Michael Jordan and being inspired by him to play basketball, like most kids from the 80's and 90's. But when Dax got into playing, he ended up quitting because Mookie blocked his shot in one tournament game and left him scarred. So fast forward to the present day, Dax works in a shoe store and coaches a team led by Aaron Gordon, who plays Casper in this movie. But Mookie walks in, steals his team, steals his girlfriend, and leaves him with nothing. So now Dax goes out searching for Uncle Drew.
Despite this being a basketball movie, a good portion of the movie is actually a road trip. Because of course Dax accidentally stumbles on Uncle Drew, watches him do his Uncle Drew things from the Pepsi commercials, then convinces Uncle Drew to play for him in this Rucker Classic so that he can beat Mookie and win the prize money in order to get his life back. And of course Uncle Drew agrees, but it has to be Uncle Drew's team with Uncle Drew's players. So one by one, we go on this road trip recruiting Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Shaq, all of whom are dressed up like old men like Uncle Drew. I didn't keep track of how long this road trip lasted, but this almost become more of a road trip movie than a basketball movie with a whole bunch of different jokes and gags along the way, all involving this group of five current and former NBA players dressed up like old men doing old people jokes. The movie tries to play out some drama with the recruiting process, but it ends up being really easy to get everyone to join, despite Reggie Miller being blind and Nate Robinson being in a wheelchair, while Chris Webber and Shaq haven't played basketball in years. Chris Webber is a preacher with a crazy wife, played by Lisa Leslie, and Shaq is a karate teacher.
I actually think my biggest problem with the movie, outside the horribly written script, was the huge focus on this Dax vs. Mookie conflict. Lil Rel Howery and Nick Kroll did great with what they were given, but I didn't like how their characters were written and I had no investment in their story arc. I thought Tiffany Haddish, the original girlfriend who dumps Dax the second his life falls apart, was extremely annoying and way too over-the-top. Thus the only real actor in the movie I cared for was Dax's new girlfriend Maya, played by Erica Ash. What saves the movie is all the basketball players having a lot of fun with their roles. They were fun to watch when they got to play again and they did have fun being these old characters and making old man jokes the whole time. They weren't the best actors, but they didn't need to be. They had fun and I had fun watching them. There's also a lot of basketball references and jokes that made me laugh. All of that humor will go right over the heads of non-NBA fans, but being a fan of the NBA myself caused me to chuckle quite a bit at said references. I started this review by comparing this to "Space Jam," but I actually think a better comparison is the Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard." On that note, I'm going to give "Uncle Drew" a 6/10.
Saturday, June 30, 2018
The sequels to "Jurassic Park"? Yeah, not so much. It's really sad to see how far off the deep end this franchise has fallen and I'm going to dive into spoilerific details as to why this fifth installment, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is perhaps the worst of the bunch. The short version of this is that they've completely abandoned what made "Jurassic Park" so great. As I very purposely stated in my intro, "Jurassic Park" is so brilliant because it is a philosophical horror film involving dinosaurs. Now I've seen plenty of my friends walk out of "Fallen Kingdom" and say that they've enjoyed it. Well, to each his own, I suppose. But the common theme I've heard from those who've liked it is that they enjoy watching dinosaurs eat evil people. For me personally, there's an inherent problem with that. These sequels, especially our two "Jurassic World" movies, are neither philosophical nor horror. They're full of dumb people doing dumb things so that the audience can watch dinosaurs run around eating people. In other words, they're brainless action films. And when you start the franchise off as a high-class philosophical horror film, then digress to a Sharknado-level brainless action film, but with a huge budget, that spits in the face of one of the greatest movies of all time.
In terms of "Sharknado," we have the sixth one coming out this summer and I might take that opportunity to discuss the franchise on my blog, but the reason why that franchise works is that they start off by being a really stupid, absurd action movie, with the idea of purposely making a really bad film just so you can kick back and relax with a group of friends and just have a ball. And that's totally fine in that scenario. But when your franchise starts off with high class, then digresses into "Sharknado" territory, that's bad. That's really bad. Now for the record, I actually still enjoy "The Lost World." Yes, there are plenty of problems with it, but it still has plenty of likable characters who use logic and it does hang onto the horror element in several sequences. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that when Michael Crichton finished his novel in 1995 and handed it over to Steven Spielberg for the movie adaptation, Spielberg read it over and essentially tossed it to the side and went in a completely different direction while only using the ideas of a second island and a scene with two T-Rexes terrorizing people. Outside that, they're very different. Perhaps Spielberg could've made a truly great sequel had he committed more to Crichton's novel than he did.
In fact, I was so unexcited, that when I did my yearly preview this January of the movies of 2018, I included "Fallen Kingdom" in my bad section. When the first trailer came out, I was unphased. I wish I was excited. And it wasn't me being blindly arrogant and hateful. I honestly felt zero excitement. Literally the only piece of hope that I clung onto was that it was directed by J.A. Bayona, who is a great director responsible for such movies as "The Impossible" or "A Monster Calls." But the footage didn't do anything for me. When further trailers came out, I ended up being confused more than anything because each new trailer seemed to be advertising a different movie. So what WAS this movie? Luckily I was so uninterested by the time the final trailer rolled around that I didn't pay much attention to it. I remember the line from Ian Malcolm about the dinosaurs outliving us and a raptor running around in the house, but that was it. It's good that I forgot because the whole movie is in that final trailer when I went back and re-watched it afterwards. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered if I remembered because the shock value of what this movie was actually about stunned me. It stunned me so badly that I had to write a spoiler review simply because these elements have to be discussed.
First off, the movie begins where we all knew it would begin based on the very first teaser. As it turns out, the original island is a volcano. That teaser showed Chris Pratt running down the island, shouting "RUN!!!" as all the dinosaurs chased after him as they were all running from the volcano that was exploding. That's what I expected the first part of the movie to be and that's what it was. But the meat of that lies in a debate that starts the movie. The world has figured out that the island is an active volcano and there's a debate in Congress or in court, or whatever, as to whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved. This is one of Ian Malcolm's two scenes in this movie. Yeah, remember the hype of him being back? He's not. It's an advertising ploy to get you into theaters. They didn't actually know how to work him into the movie, but they new the return of Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm would sell tickets. So they gave him 30 seconds in the beginning and 30 seconds in the end, giving a monologue to the court, both of which were included in trailers, and called it good. Pathetic. But anyways, Ian Malcolm's opinion is that we should let the dinosaurs go extinct. The volcano was nature's way of correcting humanity's mistake. I agree. Case closed. End of movie. Right?
Oh wait, we're going to continue? For some reason, the movie thought they were bringing up some sort of philosophical debate when they really weren't. Creating dinosaurs in the first movie was a totally plausible idea. If, in pure theory, there was technology available to clone dinosaurs and bring them back, I could see a scientist being so preoccupied with the possibility of making it happen that they weren't thinking of the consequences. But as Ian Malcolm says in the first movie, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Thus underlies the debate with technology as a whole. We often get so caught up in thinking about the possibilities of something that we forget about consequences, which was one of the great theological messages of the first film. But if you try something and it turns out to be a complete disaster, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the four previous movies, you would think at some point the characters would start to realize that having dinosaurs around is a bad idea. More people would be on Ian Malcolm's side of the debate. But the first insufferable element of this movie is that none of our main characters get it. They ALL think saving the dinosaurs is the right idea.
Well, it did go somewhere. But that somewhere is where the movie completely derailed and stunned me into near pure hatred of the film. Turns out the save the dinosaurs escapade they were on was not a save the dinosaurs escapade. Not in the way our main characters were thinking, anyways. It was a capture the dinosaurs escapade so that our team of villains could sell them as a part of their elaborate dino trafficking scheme. Now if I were to have one major complaint about the original "Jurassic Park" it was the fact that the whole operation was screwed over because of one guy who had no brain in his head that led to all the dinosaurs escaping. I think they could've come up with a more believable way for the dinosaurs to break out rather than just having a dumb guy do a dumb thing. But fine. Whatever. One guy does one dumb thing that screws over everything. OK. I can tolerate that. But to use that trope in every ensuing movie got really old. Be creative in how things mess. In our fifth movie, not only can I simply not tolerate one dumb guy doing one dumb thing anymore, but the problem is literally exponentially worse as we have hundreds of guys doing dumb things so that everything can go wrong. A team of people screwed things over to feed into a major scheme.
My jaw hit the floor so hard at this reveal that I officially quit. I threw in the towel on this franchise and officially cataloged it with Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise. A lot of reviews that have commented on this called them cartoon characters. I don't want to simply copy everyone else, but this is a good description because they're all fake. Bad guys doing bad things just for the sake of being bad is not acceptable in my brain. I like my villains to make sense. I like them to have good motivations. I want to understand where they are coming from and why they do what they do. But not only is every single villain evil for the sake of being evil, every single one of them is extremely stupid, never once using logic or making a good decision. But here we are for the rest of the film. The dinos are all captured. Well, 11 different species of them, and in an evil Noah's ark sort of way are transported in cages to this giant residence in California where they are to be auctioned off to all of these evil cartoon characters who will use them for poaching, hunting or selling their parts for money. Meanwhile, our team of unlikable protagonists who also don't use logic have snuck into this mansion with them and are trying to find a way to stop them. That's our movie.
Once we get into all of this, you know what's going to happen. Someone is going to make a dumb mistake and the dinosaurs are going to escape and start eating all of these people. That's essentially what happens. And this is where a lot of my Facebook friends apparently delighted in this movie because they got to watch dinosaurs eating evil people. For me this was actually not satisfying. Had we had real villains in this movie, it may have been satisfying watching them all die. But as they were all really stupid, horrible villains that I didn't care about, I was just bored to tears watching them all get eaten. But no, it's not actually dinosaurs, as in plural, that escape. It's dinosaur. Singular. Thus leading to my next point that I didn't care about. We have ourselves another hybrid dinosaur running around. Something we call an Indoraptor. Because we didn't learn from the last movie that the Indominus Rex was a stupid idea. We had to create another one. I don't know, maybe I'm alone on this, but one thing that made the first movie, and perhaps moments in the second movie, was the real dinosaurs that I've grown up studying. The T-Rex. The Velociraptor. There's plenty other real dinosaurs to choose from. Pick one. I don't care about fake dinosaurs who have never lived.
Even in the brief moments at the end, I never feared for the lives of our main characters. The most nerve-wracking scene was when they were in the truck with the T-Rex in the first half of the movie trying to take its blood so they could save the life of Blue, their pet Velociraptor. When Indoraptor was hunting them down and had them cornered, I basically counted in my head. In 3... 2... 1... BOOM! On queue comes Blue to save the day and fight Indoraptor. Because, you know, that's what these Jurassic movies do. At the very last moment, another dinosaur comes in to save the day. It worked with the first movie. But now it's become so calculated that I think it's lazy writing that they use the same tropes in each movie. So Indoraptor dies. But then we have one final moment of stupidity. All the dinosaurs left in the cages are being poisoned and the option is to let them die or free them into the wild of California. Easy choice. But since our characters are stupid, this becomes a hard choice, which eventually leads to Bryce Dallas Howard NOT pressing the button to release them. But the little girl they found does. Because, oh yeah, she's a human clone. And if she gets to live, then so do the dinosaurs. Because there's a piece of logic that totally makes sense.
I'd say introducing human clones crossed a line, but this movie had already sprinted past the line a long time ago at this point. Just another sign that the writers just didn't care. And guess what? They basically admitted that they didn't. The writer here is Colin Trevorrow, who directed "Jurassic World." He admitted that he had always dreamed of a Jurassic movie where the dinosaurs were running free throughout the world. But he knew it would take two movies to get there. In other words, this whole movie was filler and he knew it. Now I don't think the idea of a filler movie is an inherently bad idea. But when the writer literally doesn't care about this film and thus he puts together something as lazy as this movie just so it could be a stepping stone to the next, that's when filler becomes an atrocious mess. If the writer didn't care, then why should I? Now I don't actually blame our director, J.A. Bayona. He did the best he could with the ugly script he was given. Who I do put all of the blame here is on Colin Trevorrow for officially ruining a great franchise. After both Jurassic World movies and "The Book of Henry," aren't we all glad he got fired from Star Wars: Episode IX? As for my grade for "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," I'm going 4/10. And even that feels nice at this point.
Friday, June 29, 2018
I have very fond memories growing up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." My parents were often selective with what they let us watch on TV, which is why the show was one of our go-to shows. We loved it as kids and my parents loved the messages taught. Dare I say it was the perfect kids show? At the time I suppose I didn't fully understand the scope of the show of how many other kids also loved the show, nor do I think I realized that this was a show that had been going since 1968. So not only did I not realize that millions of other kids were watching at the same time as me, but also this is a show that had effected several generations of children dating back to the late-60's. The reason I probably didn't realize this when I was young was that Mr. Rogers didn't ever seem like he was talking to an audience of millions of people. It seemed like he was talking specifically to me, making me feel special and important as an individual while teaching me lessons on how to be a good person. Thus is why I was able to connect with the show on such a personal level because it felt like Mr. Rogers really cared. He was like a third parent or a second school teacher who had my best interests in mind and wanted me to learn and grow. He was an integral part of my childhood.
Now as an adult, I look back on these experiences in hindsight and am totally blown away by this show because everyone was able to feel this way. Mr. Rogers was able to connect with millions, if not billions of young children in the 33 years that his show was on the air and the impact is still felt today, both with reruns of the original show as well as the with the new animated spin-off "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," which began in 2012 and takes place in the Land of Make-Believe with the original characters being all grown up with preschool-aged children of their own. Recently I spent a week at my brother's house tending his kids and when it was just me and my young nephew at home, "Daniel Tiger" was the show we watched on repeat during the afternoon because he loved it and my brother and his wife loved the messages that he learned from it. I thought it was a rather charming show that got all the songs stuck in my head during the whole week. It also again helped me show the power and influence Mr. Rogers had as his legacy continues even though it's been 15 years since he passed away back in 2003. Yet even though Mr. Rogers has been able to impact so many people, his focus was always on the one as he wanted to make each child feel important.
The reason why this Mr. Rogers documentary is so believable is that the people they interviewed are all his close friends and family who knew him best. His wife, the people on the show with him, biographers who know everything about his life, cameramen who worked on the set and parents of certain kids that he personally interacted with. Hearing those people tell the story of who Fred Rogers was is certainly much more believable than the tabloids you see, memes flying around social media, fake news outlets reporting bogus stories just for the sake of attention or outsiders giving their opinion despite not even ever having talked to the man. The picture we get from the accounts of those who knew him best are that he really was a genuinely fantastic individual. He was a very spiritual, religious man who was even an ordained minister. Yet instead of going into the ministry, he decided he wanted to do his best to reach out to children through the means of television, a medium he wasn't even a big fan of because all the children-focused entertainment was the pie-in-the-face sort of humor. He saw an opportunity to fill a need for children entertainment wherein he could make a real difference and the reason he was able to do so was that he genuinely cared.
There's a lot of details that this documentary dives into about the details of this show's beginning, the progression it went through over the time in being able to gain funding or the responses to various controversies that I'll let you discover on your own as you watch it, but there's so much packed in here that leaves you with such an emotional feeling throughout. I really loved how Mr. Rogers dealt with real word issues going on at the time and was honest about these issues with his audience. Kids live in the real world and instead of trying to hide them from the real world, Mr. Rogers did his best to help them know how to deal with certain issues, which included the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy right from the get go. He talked to kids about the hardships of life and how to properly deal with such things as the loss of a loved one or the divorce of their parents, which are conversations that parents are understandably unsure of how to talk about. Through it all, Mr. Rogers wanted to be someone who was there for the children and let them all know that they were special as they are. Social status, environment circumstance or what accomplishments in life you have don't define your value. You are special just the way you are.
If you're a religious person like myself, I think this is a documentary you will connect to on a very strong, spiritual level as Mr. Rogers himself was a very spiritual man and thus it's like watching a documentary about a prominent religious leader such as the prophet of the church or the pope. That's what I got from this. If you're not a religious person, I also think this is a documentary that you will be able to connect with because Mr. Rogers cared about everyone, regardless of who they were or how different they were. I believe that everyone will walk out of the documentary with an increased sense of self-worth. Loving yourself is a very important aspect of having a truly happy life and that's the core of this documentary and the core of who Mr. Rogers was and what he taught. The only real negative that I have here is that this is PG-13. One of the cameramen that they interviewed uses a bit of language and shares a story of a prank Mr. Rogers played on him that causes the documentary to earn its rating, thus meaning I couldn't call my Mom and recommend that she go see this when I really wanted to before that scene happened. As she would say, just a little bit of rat poison in your Mr. Rogers documentary. I found that aspect just slightly disappointing.
The justification there is that this is a documentary geared towards adults. Regardless of how good the documentary is, you're not going to take your kids to it as they'll find it boring. You'll show them episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" or "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," but not a documentary with people talking about Mr. Rogers. Thus for the targeted adult audience is not going to be bothered by a bit of language or one photograph shown, but I still think they could've made it PG and been just as good. The idea that we can't have adult-targeted material that's PG is something that really bothers me and I think that stigma is the only reason for this sequence so that the filmmakers could get their PG-13 rating. This is also not a documentary that will send shock waves through your soul or leave you with your jaw dropped to the ground like "Icarus" or "CITIZENFOUR." It's just a simple documentary chronicling the life of one of my personal favorite human beings in Mr. Rogers, showing how amazing he was, but also leaving each viewer with a strong sense of self-worth, regardless of who you are or what hand you were dealt in life and I think that's very important. As far as a grade goes, I almost abstained from that, but I suppose I'll say that a 9/10 is fair.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
My thoughts on "The Incredibles" is simple. I love that movie. In fact, when I ranked my Pixar movies on this blog a while back, I listed that as my third favorite Pixar movie, behind only "Toy Story 3" and "Toy Story." I released my updated rankings on my personal Facebook page before going to see "Incredibles 2" and that ranking holds up for the original film. I still think it's the third best Pixar film. Given that we now have 20 Pixar films and 15 of them range from good to great, claiming "The Incredibles" as No. 3 on the list is extremely high praise. And yeah, I've been on the bandwagon for a long time that we need a sequel. I don't often demand sequels, but "The Incredibles" is the type of superhero film where you want to see more. There's so much more room to grow with this family dynamic, especially after learning Jack-Jack has powers. You want to see them as a crime fighting superhero team because we only got a taste of that in "The Incredibles" given that superheroes are illegal in this universe. Heck, the movie ends with them about to fight the Underminer, a battle that you want to see play out. And speaking of superheroes being illegal, that's the big issue that was left unresolved at the end of the movie. So what took them so long?
With all that said, despite having wanted this movie for such a long time, I found myself oddly unsatisfied when the trailers came out. I wanted to fanboy uncontrollably at the footage I saw and then go in with crazy, blind optimism that this was going to be the best thing ever. But every time I tried to get to that level of excitement, I realized that said excitement was forced and I eventually began to accept the fact that I had reservations about this sequel. The biggest issue for me came with the idea that Hollywood has become oversaturated with superhero films. "The Incredibles" came out in 2004, four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008 with "Iron Man" and one year before Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy began in 2005 with "Batman Begins." We had just recently experienced "X-Men" and "Spider-Man," so this modern boom of superhero movies was in its infancy, thus helping "The Incredibles" feel fresh. But now "Incredibles 2" comes out in a day where I've lost count of how many superhero movies we've had. How is Pixar going to make it feel relevant. What are they going to do to help it stand out from the crowd? Also, in picking up right where the first movie left off, how are they going to help it stand out from the original?
This past weekend, "Incredibles 2" opened to a whopping $182 million here in the United States alone. That opening weekend is the eighth largest opening weekend out of all movies, just ahead of "Captain America: Civil War," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Iron Man" and behind only three Avengers movies, two Star Wars movies, "Black Panther" and "Jurassic World." It obliterated the record for biggest opening for an animated movie, which was set by Pixar just two years ago with "Finding Dory" at $135 million. Given that animated movies typically have excellent staying power, the final total for "Incredibles 2" could go to infinite and beyond. "Finding Dory" translated that $135 million into $486 million total, meaning that $500 million for "Incredibles 2" now seems like the low bar for what it could earn. The major reason for me mentioning these facts in this review, outside the fact that I like numbers and wanted to share, is that a lot of you have already seen this movie. Thus I'm going to take a few liberties to talk about some plot points that are key to my thoughts on the movie. No, this won't be a spoiler review, but if you haven't seen the movie and you want to know nothing going in, then close this review and come back later so we can discuss openly.
In terms of said plot points, this movie picks up exactly where "The Incredibles" left off. If you forgot, Violet gets asked out on a date, then the Underminer shows up and the family gears up to go to battle. Insert credits. "Incredibles 2" first begins with a message from some key cast members talking about the difficulties of making an animated movie and thanking everyone for their patience with this sequel, then delivers a phenomenal animated short film after which the movie begins and we recap Violet getting asked out on a date and immediately jump into this fight with the Underminer, which was an absolute blast. Now I mentioned that the trailers didn't get me as excited as I wanted to be, but when I sat down in the theater, the excitement hit me and I was overcome with complete joy at the fact that I was finally watching "Incredibles 2." I appreciated the message from the cast, nearly bawled during that short, then the opening fight happens and I was immediately overcome with excitement while I watched this family team up to face this villain. Belated sequels to classics don't always work out, but in this instance I knew I was in good hands with Pixar as it was obvious that they finally came up with a sequel idea that everyone agreed on and worked hard to bring to us.
What I mean when I say they are approached by Saul Goodman is that they are approached by a character named Winston Deavor, who is voiced by Bob Odenkirk. If you've never seen "Breaking Bad" or "Better Call Saul," then the reference will be lost on you. But I found it extremely entertaining that Bob Odenkirk's character in "Incredibles 2" was almost to a "t" the exact same character he plays on "Breaking Bad." Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" is a bit of a sketchy character, but he's the type of guy with so much passion and enthusiasm that he's able to sell you on just about anything, thus when he comes to them with a perfect plan on how to make superheroes legal again, there's absolutely no question in the minds of our two parents as to exactly what they should do. And the idea that Elastagirl is front and center this time is much more than just a nod to feminism in 2018. It makes perfect sense to the plot as her elastic abilities and high IQ are exactly what the city needs, better so than Mr. Incredible's immense strength and overzealous personality. Thus we have what I call feminism done right. A strong female character leading our movie in a way that makes perfect sense to the plot rather than being forced in the name of attempted proggresivism.
At the same time, though, the movie doesn't throw shade at all on Mr. Incredible himself. It's not a situation where they are saying that girls are awesome and guys suck. Both partners have a key role to play in the movie. Elastagirl doesn't do what she does until she has the support from her husband. Mr. Incredible being at home also puts him out of his comfort zone, allowing a ton of room for progression as he has no idea how to raise the kids, especially not this new super baby in Jack-Jack, who has all of these super powerful abilities with zero control. Thus this bit of role reversal helps the family grow closer together as Elastagirl learns the importance of using their abilities instead of hiding out the whole time while Mr. Incredible learns how to stay at home and be a dad. When push comes to shove, the thing that separates "The Incredibles" from the rest of the superhero movies is the family dynamic and that is stronger than ever in "Incredibles 2." In fact, as fun as it was to see Elastagirl out fighting crime and saving the day, I was actually more drawn to Mr. Incredible's moments at home as he was trying to help Violet with her boy problems, Dash with his math homework, and raising Jack-Jack, who completely steals this movie with his untamed baby powers.
The other thing I have to bring up is the villain. I tread very lightly here, but what they do is they go the route of the mysterious villain with an ominous voice and cool-looking outfit, while attempting to play the bait-and-switch game with us. Instead of spending time building up a well thought out villain, like with Syndrome in "The Incredibles," they instead spend half of the movie making the audience guess who is the person behind the mask. This guessing game can be fun, but this is what I nit-pick at with "Arrow" and "The Flash" all the time. I'd much rather know who the villain is from day one instead of spending the whole season guessing who it is. Both TV shows go back and forth between the two philosophies and when I look back at which villains ended up being best, almost without fail it's the villains who had more time to progress as characters rather than the villains whose true identity was hidden for some time. Thus we have this same case with this franchise. The first villain was given time to progress while this second villain was hidden. And I knew exactly who it was going to be, which made the reveal not as exciting as it could've been. That said, I did buy into the motivations of said villain, but we can talk about that in private later rather than publicly on this blog.
These final two issues is what I was worried about most going in and I do think I would've had less problems with them 11 years ago than I do know, but ultimately I was still left pleased after leaving this movie as said issues were more of major nitpicks than serious problems that bogged the movie down. Thus the movie ended up being remarkably similar to a number of MCU films that are still highly entertaining despite underlying issues. I mean, Marvel has a habit of introducing underwhelming villains with cliche motivations, yet still manage to make the movie as a whole highly entertaining, thus dispelling the idea that a movie is only as good as your villain. And the vigilante story arc? Yeah, that's all of "Captain America: Civil War" and I had the exact same nitpicks with that movie, yet still managed to be thoroughly entertained with everything happening around it. I'd say putting "Incredibles 2" on the same level as "Civil War" is pretty good company, wouldn't you? Where does "Incredibles 2" place in my Pixar rankings? I have no idea. I don't think it's top five, but that's near impossible to break into at this point. But I do think it's somewhere in the top 10, which at this point is a huge compliment given Pixar's filmography. I'm giving "Incredibles 2" a 9/10.