Saturday, April 21, 2018
One thing I really appreciated about the marketing of this film is that they managed to not tell me much about what this was about. We were given some vague, yet intriguing trailers about a boy wandering around on Trash Island looking for his dog. So I wasn't even sure what I was getting myself into when I went into the theater. Certainly this had to be more than just a boy searching for his dog for 100 minutes, right? That didn't make me nervous at all because I have a lot of confidence in Wes Anderson. Curious would probably be the more appropriate word. Turns out my suspicious were correct. This is actually a fairly layered, complex film with a very deep story arc that they left a complete mystery in the marketing. I won't spoil the film, but I do have to talk about it in order to tell you why I loved this so much. If you already love Wes Anderson and you know nothing about "Isle of Dogs," feel free to close this review and go experience the complex, thought-provoking magic that Anderson has presented in this movie. Yes, the movie is about a boy searching for his dog. But the bigger, overarching plot involves a futuristic, fictional Japanese city where everyone loves cats while the leader has banned all dogs, exiling them to Trash Island. That's our plot here.
I'm not going to talk about what actually transpires in this film after this initial setup, but there came a point early on in the film where it dawned on me that this is much more than just a film about cats and dogs. There are a lot of films out there that are simply movies about humans and their pets. As an animal lover myself, these simple stories often capture my heart and make me miss my old pets growing up. Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of "Old Yeller," "Homeward Bound" and "Air Bud" as examples. We even have last year's "A Dog's Purpose" that was decently enjoyable. If that's all "Isle of Dogs" was about, there would be a good chance that I would still enjoy it. In fact, there's certain heartwarming moments that I loved specifically because of the relationship between the boy and his dog. But rather than being strictly a movie about cats and dogs, "Isle of Dogs" is a movie that uses cats and dogs as more of a metaphor for government as a whole as well as various social issues. The first thought that came to my mind was that this could be Wes Anderson making a strong, yet subtle statement about our current regime here in the United States with the tyrannical Japanese leader representing everyone's current beloved president, Mr. Donald Trump.
As I began to think about that, my mind was immediately blown. I was like, "Whoa!" Yet as I thought about that even more, it also dawned on me that there probably isn't just one big political statement that is being driven home here. The oppressive, tyrannical government of Japan could probably be applied to a lot of different government regimes, past or present. Meanwhile, in terms of the dogs and the cats, they could apply to various social issues. Perhaps the dogs being oppressed could represent any race or sect of people in our day who are oppressed or maybe even various ideals or philosophies that are being rejected by the populous while the cats are the exact opposite. They could represent the various racist or sexist ideas or philosophies that society often clings onto while the small group of dog lovers in the movie represent the people pushing for change, acceptance and and an overall progressive society. Reject all of those evil cats and learn to accept the dogs in your life that you have discarded. Maybe this idea will make real cat lovers angry, but the movie isn't literally saying all cats are bad. The cats are just the metaphor as cats are generally the more self-centered pets while dogs are the more loyal and humble pets.
Combine these masterfully crafted technical aspects of the movie with a creatively deep themes and metaphors surrounding these lovable characters and the best way to describe "Isle of Dogs" is that it's a brilliant work of art. If you're one of the many that are constantly complaining that Hollywood has no original ideas, then make sure you expand your horizons from the typical big blockbuster affair and go see a movie like "Isle of Dogs" because there's actually a lot of filmmakers out there like Wes Anderson that do have their creative juices flowing and are constantly showcasing it in their films. "Isle of Dogs" is unique, it's creative, it's heartwarming, it's hilarious, it's shocking, it's a bit brutal and graphic at times, it's honest and it's very thought-provoking. Even though it may seem like I have covered a lot of this movie, there's a ton here that I haven't even touched. A lot of twists and surprises throughout. A lot of different story arcs that are beautifully woven together. A lot of classic Wes Anderson moments that will have you rolling around in your chair as he takes you on a wild ride that you didn't think a movie about a boy and his dog could take you. It's definitely a top-tier Wes Anderson film for me that's worth your time and money. I'm giving "Isle of Dogs" a 9/10.
P.S. - This is not a kid's movie. I'm not saying don't take your kids. That's up to you. I'm just going to say use caution. This is a PG-13 movie that earns its rating, thus I would say this is an animated film directed at adults and fans of Wes Anderson rather than kids, which I think we need more of rather than having the stereotype that animated movies are for kids only.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
|Actual footage from my personal Pioneer Trek in 2004. Not footage from this movie|
When I say brief summary, that's the extremely brief summary. Obviously the history of the Mormon church is a very long, complex history that I don't care to detail in this review, but the general idea is that they traveled west, often walking with handcarts carrying their stuff. I think in general it's a good idea to remember and honor your ancestors, regardless of what your current state of life is, so in the Mormon church, Pioneer Trek is one good way to remember the sacrifices that our ancestors made. Believe me, hiking in the mountains pulling a handcart behind you for just four days is tough work, even when your church leaders have everything meticulously planned out with plenty of food and water as well as ready medical attention if anyone needs it. You get to the end of that four days and you're ready to go back to your own house with your own family and live your normal life. But generally it's a very positive experience that makes you appreciate your ancestors who went through what they did over the course of several months or years. It was just a four-day reenactment for me. But for them it was life. If they ran out of food and water or got sick, there wasn't always a truck driving behind them ready to bail them out. They had to do their best and move forward.
I promise I'll get to this movie in a second, but the idea of this movie coming out sparked an interest in myself to go back and reflect on my personal experience with Pioneer Trek. The Trek that I went on with my stake was from June 29 - July 2 in 2004. I was 15 years old at the time. Don't be too impressed that I remembered those dates. All that means is that I saved my journal from that experience. I went back and read my thoughts at the time and watched the 55 minute DVD that they made of it, where someone took video footage of our Trek and added interviews of my peers talking about their experiences. I found it to be a really great experience to go back and read my thoughts and watch that DVD. I haven't done that in a long time, so doing so after so many years was pretty special. In fact, the pictures in this blog post are not of this movie that I'm reviewing. I took screenshots from my computer of said Trek DVD while I was watching, because I thought it would be fun to add those to this review. For me, this was a life-changing experience that I never forgot. Being only 15 years old at the time, it was a great way to shape my testimony. I especially loved listening to the testimonies of all my old friends from 14 years ago after this experience.
|Actual footage from my Pioneer Trek. This is 15-year-old me|
All I can say if the filmmakers are reading this review is that I hope they appreciate honest feedback. I do keep in mind when it comes to locally made films that they're at an unfair disadvantage without the resources available to a normal big-budget Hollywood production. They often can't afford to hire major Hollywood actors or a professional Hollywood movie crew to make it look like a perfect Hollywood film, so it's unfair to judge in the same level. Even if said local filmmakers are rich and can afford to finance the whole thing, you can't spend $50 million making the movie because you're not going to make that much money in return. On the high on the things, "Meet the Mormons" made $6 million, while "The Saratov Approach" made $2.1 million and "Once I Was a Beehive" made $732,655. And those are movies that all had huge, positive buzz in the Mormon community. At the same time, though, all three of those movies were also made with the same handicaps as "Trek: The Movie" had. Or at least those last two were. "Meet the Mormons" is in a slightly different category with the Church itself making and financing it. But despite extremely low budgets, "The Saratov Approach" and "Once I Was a Beehive" were two quality films.
I think one of the biggest problems for "Trek: The Movie" was the idea itself. As you can tell, I loved my Trek experience. As do millions of other Mormon youth. But without even seeing any footage, how many of you would be intrigued at the idea of a Trek movie? I know I was concerned. That doesn't seem like a topic that translates well into an interesting big screen experience. I mean, most of Trek constitutes hours of walking while casually talking with your fellow handcart peers about life. How do you take that and transfer it into a traditional three-act movie structure that manages to keep the attention of the audience for an hour and half? I think the idea the filmmakers had was to take the idea and turn it into a Mormon version of a John Hughes-style high school drama. I suppose that sounds like an interesting idea in theory. But again. How do you translate that idea into an actual movie script that works? The correct answer is that you go talk to the people who put together "Once I Was a Beehive" and figure out how they did it. Because they talked the subject of Girl's Camp and somehow magically transformed that into an amazing Mormon film. In fact, that movie is one of the reasons why I had the confidence to purchase a ticket to this movie. Maybe it can work again?
|Actual footage from my Pioneer Trek. I'm not in this picture|
Now I don't know if any of the actors in this movie are going to find this review or even really care about the opinions of a random movie blogger. But they're the ones I'm actually going to compliment. Austin R. Grant, Joel Bishop, Stefania Barr, Clint Pulver, Ryan Mitchel Brown, Spencer Loftus, Avery Pizzuto and Spencer Marsh are the major players in this and they all did a fine job with what they were given. But it's that last part that's the problem. What they were given to work with. This is an awful representation of Trek from start to finish. It's so bad, that it's hard to come up with specific examples as to why, but I suppose we'll start at the top. This is supposed to be a Pioneer Trek for this whole stake. I know not all stakes are the same, but I imagine that if stake leadership made the decision to do a stake Pioneer Trek, there's going to be a lot of planning and preparation put into said Trek for months in advance. And if you have 100+ kids going, you're going to have more than five adult leaders going with them. And all the leaders are going to be well prepared as to what they are doing. Here we have the main leader who is written as an oblivious man to all of this, as if he was asked to lead a few days before, and the other leaders are exaggerated to the extreme.
So said leaders are taking this large group of kids up the mountains five minutes to a place where it looked like all the kids could walk home if they wanted to. Their handcarts are practically empty. And they aren't fed anything. Like, seriously. They walk for half the day and when it's time for lunch, they get a single orange. Then we have one of the drill sergeant leaders yelling at them every five minutes. This isn't Trek. Just look at the pictures I've provided of my real Trek. That's what Trek is. This Trek is just a joke. I don't know the personal backgrounds of these filmmakers who wrote this, but it looked like they had no idea what actual Pioneer Trek was like. At least I hope that's the case. If they ever volunteered as leaders on a real Pioneer Trek carefully organized for months in advance by stake leaders who wanted nothing more than to give the youth in the stake a life-changing experience, then that's even more embarrassing because at the very least this movie should've been able to capture what Pioneer Trek was actually like. I mean, maybe I just went on the most celestial Pioneer Trek ever, but I'd be willing to bet that anyone who loved Trek will watch this movie and be confused as to how off this is. It's the type of movie that could be watched for the sake of laughing at it for the wrong reasons, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.
|Actual Footage of my Pioneer Trek. I'm at the back right|
So yeah, when the whole setup is bad, that's a problem. This is supposed to be a good movie about Pioneer Trek, but the leaders were incompetent, the setup of the Trek itself was way off in terms of accuracy and all of the teenagers that are leading the way in this movie are written as exaggerated Mormon teenagers who all hate the idea of this Pioneer Trek. But OK. Fine. Maybe this is just a really poor setup. Maybe I'll get used to the characters and get something out of this movie in the final two acts. Well, they tried. The major storyline involved our main kid who was lacking in faith because one of his friends died a year previously. There was potential there. But even that fell flat. And the final act of the movie involves them getting lost in the woods because one of the girls got sick since these incompetent leaders decided to starve everyone, so the only normal leader had to drive her home in the truck, while leaving our rebellious main kid in charge of everything. Logically that had me screaming inside, dramatically it all fell flat, spiritually it felt artificial instead tear-jerking, and comedically it was just cringe-worthy. I tried to be patient with this movie, but it was bad to begin with and just kept spiraling downward to the point where I wanted to walk out.
After I left the theater, I didn't want to write this review. I didn't get the impression that many people had even heard about it and I certainly wasn't hearing any buzz after it's first week in theaters. I think this is a Mormon movie that will disappear from theaters rather quickly, so I was thinking that I could get away with just keeping my miserable experience to myself and no one would know any different. But there's a few reasons why I decided to write this. First, I said I would on Twitter after this movie's Twitter page followed me. Second, I honestly had a great time looking back and remembering my personal Trek and I'm glad I had a platform to discuss that for a bit before diving into the actual review, which is why this post is longer than my normal reviews. Third, if any of my other Utah friends saw these previews and were curious about this movie, I'm here to rescue you. Don't waste your time and money on this movie. There's plenty of other good Mormon films that you can watch, with "The Saratov Approach" and "Once I Was a Beehive" being my two prime examples. Yeah, I know, it's an uphill battle making this low-budgeted Mormon films, but for every one of them that succeeds, there's movies like this that don't make it. My grade for the movie is a 3/10.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
What this really speaks to in my mind is that people going out to see movies in the theaters isn't dying out. If you make a quality movie and put together a good marketing effort, people are still willing to make the trip to the theaters. And this is a movie that had a ton of momentum ever since the initial trailer dropped, which makes me happy because at first I was wondering if I was the only one excited for this when that trailer first came out. There's quite a few good, unique horror films that end up getting ignored by general audiences and I was ready to begin the fight to convince people to give this one a chance, like I have in the past with movies such as "The Witch," "The Babadook," "It Follows" or "It Comes at Night," but it makes me really happy inside that this is not a battle that I have to even start this time around. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. People have come to me in the last few days asking if I've seen the movie or telling me that they're excited to read my review. I even had to get a ticket later than I was planning on Saturday night because the initial showing I tried to buy a ticket for was sold out. And I totally didn't expect this to be a movie that would sell out. All this has been surprising for me, but this is a really fun movie that deserves the attention.
If you are one of the few people that are a fan of horror and haven't seen this movie yet, well, I'd recommend that you actually close this review and just go see it. I'm not going to spoil anything here, but I am going to talk about what this movie is and why I really enjoyed it. Given that I didn't know much about the premise outside the fact that our main characters had to be perfectly silent or else they were going to be in a lot of trouble, I also want to give you the opportunity to go in with a completely blank slate, because I think that enhances the experience in a film like this. Having seen the movie, I will say that I feel comfortable talking about the premise of the movie because John Krasinski did not make a mystery box horror film. It's not one of those situations where there's something out there and neither the characters nor the audience know what it is until the last half of the movie. Instead, we know rather early on exactly what the danger is. If you're still reading, this is your last chance to turn away because what we are dealing with here is a... monster movie. We don't know where they came from or much about anything how this all started, but John Krasinski's whiteboard and newspaper clippings early on reveal everything that he's learned about them.
What's even better than the creature design itself is the way this movie is set up. The idea here is that the characters in the movie have to be very quiet as any loud sound will cause these things to jump out at them, regardless of whether it's midday or in the middle of the night. Because of that, the movie itself is really silent for much of it, which in turn forces the audience to remain frozen in their seats. This was one of the quietest movie-going experiences ever for me because no one dared make a single sound. Thus if anyone coughed, walked down the isle, moved around in their chair or even made too much noise with their popcorn or candy, everyone in the theater would hear that as if it were happening right next to them. Normally small sounds like that aren't a big deal, but when the movie itself is so silent and the whole theater is invested in being perfectly still, those sounds are a big deal and no one wants to be the one to make one of those sounds, making the theater-going experience rather exciting. The best comparison I can come up with is listening to a performance of John Cage's 4'33." If you understand that reference, then we can be friends and you'll know exactly what this movie-going experience will be like. If not, then do a quick Google search.
The basic idea there with John Cage's song is that everything is completely silent. The whole orchestra follows along, the conductor still turns his pages and everyone involved in the performance takes this seriously, but no one has any notes. But there's still music being played. How? Well, John Cage was a very experimental musician and the idea here is that this gives you the opportunity to pay close attention to all the little sounds around you and have that be the music. Yes, there's humor if you're in on it in seeing the initial reaction from those who have never experienced this and are thus really confused as to why no music is being played, but there's also a lot of honest pleasure in taking the time during those four minutes to listen to all of those small noises happening around you that you would normally not pay attention to otherwise, thus making it a beautiful piece of music. That's what it felt like watching "A Quiet Place." It made me pay attention to the sound design in the movie. Sure, there was no score or no dialogue in much of the scenes, but there was a lot of effort put into the sound editing and sound mixing to portray the natural sounds of the world around them and I enjoyed paying close attention to that, both in the movie and in the theater around me.
All of this makes John Krasinski's work in "A Quiet Place" really impressive, especially since he's mostly just a comedic actor with little directing experience, but you wouldn't know that by watching this film as this feels like it comes from someone with years of directing experience. He's said in interviews that he didn't even make this movie for the scares. He made this movie as a love letter to his kids with the idea of presenting a movie showing what he as a parent would do to protect his kids if they were put in some sort of danger like this. Thus in doing so he was able to craft a truly effective horror film. When the danger finally comes, the movie is relentless with its terror. Speaking of "Jurassic Park," most of this movie is like that scene with the velociraptors in the kitchen, but spread out through much of the run time. The movie lets you know when it's OK to relax for a moment, but then quickly reminds you of how dangerous of a situation this family is in so that you can't relax too much. For a majority of this movie, you are left cowering in your chair in complete silent terror. There's also a lot of foreshadowing in the movie as the audience is clued in on several things long before the characters themselves are, giving the audience a complete sense of dread for the future.
The only real complaint that I have about this movie is not really much of a complaint at all, but is rather more of a statement about what type of movie this is. This is not a horror film like "The Witch" or "The Babadook" that will stick with me long after I leave the theater. Both of those movies, as well as others like them, are movies with deep, thought-provoking themes that left me lost in thought right after my first viewing that gave me a desire to go back time and time again in order to explore those themes even more. I didn't have that feeling with "A Quiet Place." Rather, as I was walking to my car, instead of being lost in thought, it was like I just got off an intense rollercoaster ride that gave me quite the thrill, but after being finished my mind was ready to move onto the next ride. That's not to say there's no strong themes worth discussing because there certainly are. However, I'm not going to discuss them here because that would require me talking about spoilers. If you've seen the movie, you'll know exactly what moments I'm talking about. But for the most part, this is not some deep exploration of a certain subject matter, but is a simple, fun thrill ride well worth seeing if you haven't already. And that's perfectly OK. I'm going to award "A Quiet Place" a 9/10.
Friday, April 6, 2018
April 6th - 8th-
Also building up a lot of steam in recent weeks is the comedy Blockers, which currently holds a certified fresh score in the low-80's on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning this is looking to be a real crowd-pleaser. The movie stars John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz as a trio of parents who learn that their teenage daughters are planning to lose their virginity on prom night and thus go on a mission to try to stop them. Adult-targeted comedy has been a bit sparse recently, thus is why with solid reviews out of the South by Southwest film festival a few weeks ago, "Blockers" is looking to take advantage of the dried up market. So far in 2018, the only adult comedy that has been released has been February's "Game Night," which is wrapping up its release after opening up to $17 million on the weekend of February 23. "Blockers" is currently tracking a bit ahead of "Game Night," meaning other similar titles for opening weekend could be "Snatched" ($19.5 million), "Baywatch" ($18.5 million) or "Bad Moms" ($23.8 million). A best case scenario could be last year's "Girl's Trip" ($31.2 million).
Opening in around 1,700 theaters this weekend is the sports drama The Miracle Season. Speaking of a sparse genre, there really hasn't been many sports dramas at all to open recently as the last one to open in more than 1,000 theaters was "Eddie the Eagle" back in February 2016. "The Miracle Season" depicts the true story of Iowa City West High School's women's volleyball team, who were looking to repeat as state champions, after winning the previous season, when their team captain, Caroline "Line" Found tragically died. After this happened, the girls came together as a team to try to win the title for their teammate and friend. "The Miracle Season" is directed by Sean McNamara, the director of the 2011 film "Soul Surfer," and stars Helen Hunt, who also starred in "Soul Surfer," as the volleyball coach. Using "Soul Surfer" as a comparison, that movie opened to $10.6 million in 2,200 theaters. If "The Miracle Season" matched that per theater average, that would equate to a $8.2 million opening weekend, which might be a bit high. Looking at the aforementioned "Eddie the Eagle," following that movie's per theater average would give "The Miracle Season" $5.1 million. And finally, following the per theater average of "Woodlawn" would give it $4.4 million.
Opening up in around 1,500 theaters is the Entertainment Studios drama Chappaquiddick. This is a movie that tells the true story surrounding the mysterious events when Ted Kennedy drove his car off the Dike Bridge, resulting in the drowning of aspiring political strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. The movie is directed by John Curran and stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne as well as Ed Helms, Bruce Dern and Jim Gaffigan. It initially premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where is was purchased by Entertainment Studios for $4 million and was initially scheduled for a December release date last year, indicating that it was going to get an awards season push. However, Entertainment Studios then decided to reschedule for this weekend instead, perhaps indicating a lack of confidence that it could actually be a real player at the Oscars, which isn't a good sign for the movie's potential moving forward. It does have a decent Rotten Tomatoes score from the critics at 80 percent from 70 reviews, but the audience score is a less encouraging 63 percent, which matches up with the IMDb grade of 6.5. Thus with mixed reaction and no awards buzz, "Chappaquiddick" might struggle to find an audience.
April 13th - 15th-
The second horror film being released this month is the teenage-targeted Truth or Dare. This is a movie directed by Jeff Wadlow, director of "Kick-A-- 2," and centers around the popular teen game truth or dare. The catch with this version of the game in this movie is that those who tell a lie or refuse to do the dare are punished by some supernatural occurrence. Starring in the movie are a bunch of potentially lesser-known, younger actors including Lucy Hale ("Pretty Little Liars"), Tyler Posey ("Teen Wolf") and Violett Beane ("The Flash"). Despite opening a weekend after "A Quiet Place," which could hurt it if word of mouth for the John Kransinski film is strong, "Truth or Dare" could still do well if the teenage crowd shows up as the two horror films are targeting slightly different audiences. Blumhouse Productions is the production company here, and although they've released a wide variety of different horrors and thrillers, a potential comparison could be their release of last year's "Happy Death Day," which attracted teens to the theaters during Halloween season to the tune of $26 million opening weekend. Another comparison if "Truth or Dare" doesn't breakout that high is the 2016 teen-targeted thriller "Nerve," which opened to $9.4 million.
There's two other smaller releases scheduled for this weekend, currently listed for wide release on Box Office Mojo, although neither movie has had much of a marketing effort, so the exact theater count is a mystery at this point. Nevertheless, those two movies are Borg vs. McEnroe, a movie about the famous tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in the 1980's, and Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an animated movie telling the true story of a stray Boston Terrier who wandered into a military camp during World War I and wound up becoming an American hero and the first dog to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the United States Army. "Borg vs. McEnroe" premiered during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to decent reviews and was purchased by Neon, a new distribution company who released "I, Tonya." Yet Neon has never opened a movie in wide release. "Sgt. Stubby" is being released by Fun Academy and this is their first ever theatrical release. Thus is why the theater count and box office potential for both is a current mystery.
Also, this weekend will see the nationwide expansion of Wes Anderson's latest stop motion film Isle of Dogs, which has experienced a very successful limited release run as it earned $1.6 million from just 27 theaters on its opening weekend on March 23-25 and nearly broke the top 10 in its second weekend with $2.9 million from 165 theaters. It expanded to around 550 theaters in its third weekend, April 6-8, before this scheduled nationwide expansion. Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" expanded into 2,033 theaters in its nationwide release while "The Grand Budapest Hotel" eventually hit 1,467 at its peak theater count. So that's what "Isle of Dogs" will probably experience. This movie was discussed in more detail in last month's movie preview, so head over there for more information.
April 20th - 22nd-
The first of the two smaller releases that I mentioned previously is Super Troopers 2. And by smaller releases in this instance, I mean movies that will probably be getting a more moderate theater count somewhere around 1,000, maybe 2,000, theaters that are looking at a weekend that may end up less than $5 million. When it comes to "Super Troopers 2," this is a movie that is being released 16 years after its predecessor, which only earned $18.5 million domestically following a $6.2 million opening weekend back in 2002. It was mostly panned by critics, which may have led to its subpar box office total. Although it has gained enough of a cult following since its initial release to justify this eventual sequel, which many of the fans of the original have been waiting a long time for. However, comedy sequels arriving 10+ years after the initial movie have had a poor track record, as has been evidenced by the likes of "Anchorman 2," "Dumb and Dumber To, "Bad Santa 2" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," all of which were generally disliked by fans of the original movies. So that trend might be cause for concern for "Super Trooper" fans. Both movies are centered around the general premise of a team of officers more focused on pranks than real police work.
The second of the two smaller films is the thriller Traffik. This movie is directed by Deon Taylor, director of the 2016 comedy "Meet the Blacks" and stars Paula Patton and Omar Epps as a couple who initially just want a romantic getaway in the mountains. Yet their vacation is spoiled when they run into a motorcycle gang at a gas station and accidentally come into the possession of a phone that is important to a group of sex traffics. This motorcycle gang wants that phone back and will stop and nothing to get it from this couple. This seems like a potentially intense movie with a decent premise. However, the late-April release date doesn't speak a whole lot of confidence to the movie. Even super good reviews might not be enough to make much of a dent. If the reviews come in as negative, then this could be dead on arrival.
April 27th - 29th-
It also almost goes without saying that this will be one of the biggest movie events of this decade as nearly everything Marvel has done thus far in the MCU has led up to this point as the Tesseract, which is the first infinity stone, was introduced back in "Captain America: The First Avenger" in 2011 with Thanos being teased at the end credits of "The Avengers" in 2012. The idea is that once Thanos gets all six infinity stones, he puts them in the infinity gauntlet and has all the power in the world. Since that first "Captain America" movie, the other infinity stones have been introduced throughout the MCU with only one left to discover, that being the Soul Stone. "Infinity War" is actually the first of a two part story arc involving Thanos and the infinity stones and was initially titled "Infinity War - Part I" before Marvel canned the Part I/Part II idea with the title and simply called this movie "Infinity War" while the conclusion, which is currently scheduled for May 2019, doesn't yet have a title. Or, rather, Marvel doesn't want to reveal the title yet because that could end up spoiling "Infinity War."
As far as how much money this will make opening weekend, a $200 million opening weekend seems like a foregone conclusion while the $247 million opening weekend record set by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" isn't out of the question as the pre-sales numbers right now are through the roof. Speaking of "Star Wars," though, a safer bet might be one closer to the $220 million opening weekend of "The Last Jedi." As far as what this movie's final domestic total will end up being, that will likely be determined by what the reaction to the movie is. If the movie is as good as everyone hopes it will be, then the reign of "Black Panther" as the highest grossing superhero movie domestically might be short lived, although it's worth noting that both "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" were both rather frontloaded, despite being mostly well-received films. So don't be surprised if this opens to $220 million, yet ends up with "only" $530 million total, which is what it would get if it followed the multiplier of "Age of Ultron." Nor should you make fun of the movie for being a "flop" if it fails to top "The Avengers" or "Black Panther." That would make you look quite silly.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
I mean, what if I told you that I hated both "Carol" and "The Danish Girl"? What if I told you that I enjoyed "Moonlight," but didn't think it was the greatest movie ever made? What if I told you that I was mixed on "Call Me by Your Name," with certain aspects being phenomenal while other aspects being atrociously bad? Would you respect my opinion and still be my friend? Or would you sit there in angry silence, never trusting a single word I wrote again? If you stand on the former side of the fence, well then thanks. I appreciate that. But I know there's a lot of people that would be on the latter side, even if they would refuse to admit it. I'd be labeled as the homophobic friend who just didn't get it. And that's just not something that sits well in my mind. So why am I breaking the silence now with "Love, Simon"? Well, quite frankly, this movie is different than most other LGBT dramas. And I plan on driving that home in this review here in a bit. Like most of these movies, I was hesitant about it for a long time, but at some point during the marketing, the light bulb went off in my head, and before I even saw the movie, I knew it would be different. Why? Because this is a Greg Berlanti film. The creator of the Arrowverse. That's my exact cup of tea and I feel completely comfortable discussing it.
Before I discuss all things Arrowverse and the parallels there are to that universe and this movie, I want to drive home why this is different than other LGBT dramas. What it really boils down to is politics. We live in a very progressive era where society as a whole not only has realized that there's a lot of social injustices going on in the world, but they've decided to actually do something about it. Certain cultures, races and sexes have spent their whole history being oppressed and we're trying to undo that. I love that idea. More representation is needed from females, minorities and the LGBT crowd instead of having straight, white males dominate society as a whole. However, when it comes to film, I think there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it and the best example I can think of to illustrate this is to look at the issue of female representation in film. Yes, we need more female-led movies, both in front and behind the camera. But do you do things the "Ghostbusters" way or the "Wonder Woman" way? Both movies had the same general goal of provided female-led movies, but completely opposite ways of going about it. "Ghostbusters" tried to forcefully shove everything down your throat while "Wonder Woman" was much more natural and subtle in their approach.
Now if I apply that to this situation, I'm happy to inform you that "Love, Simon" is the "Wonder Woman" of the LGBT dramas. I won't name specific titles, but a lot of the LGBT dramas that I've seen come with a specific, political agenda and that agenda is to shove the LGBT culture down the throats of the whole world, showing how amazing they are, while at the same time viciously attacking traditional marriage and religion, as if the three elements of society can't coexist, just like "Ghostbusters" was out to prove that, not only are women capable of getting the job done, but they're the only ones that can get the job done while all males are idiots. If we're going to have a balanced world, we need to have the goal of being a balanced world. I know the scales have been tipped a specific way for many years, but to overcompensate and tip the balance the opposite way does not get the job done. Instead it attempts to do things the way President Coin wanted to do things in the end of "Mockingjay," causing Katniss to act in the way she did. "Love, Simon" is not out to shove the LGBT culture down your throat. It does not attack traditional marriage. It does not claim that religion and LGBT rights can't coexist. It's just telling the struggles of a gay, teenage high school kid.
Because of this, I didn't find myself watching in apprehension. I didn't walk out feeling the need to defend my religious views or my support of traditional marriage. I instead became invested in a story about a kid who had this huge secret his whole life that he had no idea how to approach. I became invested in his story and in his character. Even though I have good friends who are gay and I've learned a lot about the types of things they had to deal with growing up, I still don't have that personal experience for myself being that's not who I am. While watching some films that makes me feel ostracized because the way they approach things make me feel like being gay is a prerequisite to understanding the film, "Love, Simon" instead feels like it was politely made for everyone in that I felt like Simon was telling me his story without trying to force his views down my throat or attempt to change my opinion on marriage and religion. That made me feel quite comfortable watching this movie, which in turn caused me to be emotionally invested with this story. I walked out thinking that those who are gay are going to really love and relate to this movie, as many of my gay friends already have, and those who are not gay are going to appreciate this perspective.
This is now where the Greg Berlanti angle comes in. Realizing that he was at the helm of this project put me at ease before I even saw this movie because he had already done this as the creator of the Arrowverse. If the term Arrowverse confuses you, what I am referring to with that is the combined DC TV universe on The CW with "Arrow," "The Flash," "Supergirl" and "Legends of Tomorrow." DC may be struggling on the big screen with their cinematic DCEU as "Wonder Woman" is the only movie in that universe that has been consistently praised, but they're rocking the world on the small screen as "Arrow" just got renewed for season 7, "The Flash" for season 5 and both "Supergirl" and "Legends" for season 4. That will be over 400 combined episodes of television once those announced seasons are complete. And I've faithfully kept up with all four shows. Now I don't know how much of the episode-to-episode decisions Berlanti makes with these shows, but as the creator I don't think it's any coincidence that there are certain running themes across all of the shows that are also very similar to "Love, Simon." Every single show has rather naturally implemented LGBT story arcs and in three of them, LGBT characters are in the lead role. And I've never had a problem with it.
I hope you're fine with me talking about all of this in relation to "Love, Simon" without actually discussing the movie itself. In my mind, this was a better angle to take this review because I have been able to get all my thoughts out without spoiling much of the actual plot. However, I will admit that "Love, Simon" wasn't all rainbows and butterflies for me. Yet you can rest at ease knowing that my issues with this movie had little to do with the approach they took in presenting this LGBT story or Simon's specific journey. Those aspects of the movie stand as a shining example of how I think LGBT stories should be handled and whenever they are handled wrong, I now have a movie to turn to as an example of a movie that did it right. My biggest issue that I had was with a side character named Martin. In a world full of realistic characters, he stuck out as a sore thumb as someone who felt more cartoonish. I think the actor Logan Miller did great with the material he was given. He took it and ran with it. The character himself just felt fake. I would be able to write this off as an annoying side character of which exists in a lot of these high school dramas, but things that his character did were integral to the overarching plot of the movie and I didn't like it.
The other major problem I had is something I need to tread lightly on because it involved the final act of the movie. This is something that the Arrowverse has a major problem with, too. They LOVE playing the whodunit mystery game. It's a huge problem in "The Flash" specifically, but it has existed to some extent in every show. In the Arrowverse it has to do with the villains. They love stringing out the big reveal as to who the major villain of the season is. In season 3 of "The Flash," they waited until one of the final episodes of the season to reveal who this mysterious Savitar character really was. They did the same thing with Zoom in season 2. I got tired of this real quick. As I'm thinking of examples, in "Arrow" season 4, they revealed at the start of the season that a main character was going to die and they made the audience play that guessing game until the last part of the season. Again, I don't know what part of that was Greg Berlanti's decision, but is it a coincidence that the same thing is done in "Love, Simon" with who this mysterious email friend is? Instead of revealing who Simon was emailing partway through the movie and spending the rest of the time developing the relationship, they played the bait and switch game with us until the very end of the movie.
When that big reveal did happen, I enjoyed a big, cheerful laugh for reasons I won't spoil. But it reminded me of those Gorilla Glue commercials where the gorilla jumps out at them, hands them the glue, and they exclaim, "Of course!" Knowing Berlanti, this made so much sense. Message me in private and we'll talk more about what I mean. Overall, though, I did have a very positive outlook towards this movie. Instead of feeling political and in your face, this felt like a natural story. They didn't have an agenda with this film. They just decided to tell a story about a gay student in high school struggling with this big secret he has of being gay. It's quite engaging and done in a very refreshing way. Nick Robinson ("Jurassic World") does a great job as Simon. Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner are excellent as his parents. And his group of high school friends, played by Katherine Langford ("13 Reasons Why"), Alexandra Shipp ("X-Men: Apocalypse"), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. ("Spider-Man: Homecoming") and Keiynan Lonsdale ("The Flash") were all great as well. There's just those few major issues I had with the character of Martin and the heavy bait-and-switch reveal strategy, but mostly I came out of this with a positive experience as good high school drama. I'm going to give "Love, Simon" an 8/10.
Friday, March 30, 2018
When I say the term 80's nostalgia vomit, that almost sounds like I'm using it in a negative connotation, but I'm really not. I'm using it more as a statement of fact in describing this phenomenon. We take everything we love about the 80's and dump it all into one movie or one TV show. For me this is more of a positive thing. The 80's are my favorite decade when it comes to entertainment, most of my favorite music, movies and TV shows are either from the 80's or formulated like the 80's. I can even claim that I was born in the 80's, even though it was on the latter end in 1989, meaning most of my childhood took place in the 90's, but I think most 90's kids like myself would agree that they equally love all of the 80's entertainment. It's practically the golden age of entertainment. The music there is by far the greatest of any generation. And thanks to Spielberg with "Jaws" and George Lucas with "Star Wars" kicking things off in the late 70's, the summer blockbuster was invented and by the time the 80's rolled around, the movie industry was completely transformed, taking everyone around on quite the joyride, a ride that we are still looking back on and doing our best to try to replicate or straight-up remake with modern cinema.
Yes, I love a great nostalgia trip, so when I saw the trailers for this movie, I jumped for joy as I was beyond excited. If you, for whatever reason, hate the 80's or aren't a fan of huge nostalgia dumps like "IT" or "Stranger Things," then this recommendation is simple. Don't see "Ready Player One." But if the idea of a movie starting out with "Jump" by Van Halen as it's theme song while our main character is racing around in the DeLorean from "Back to the Future" puts a smile on your face, then you need to run out to your local theater as soon as possible, find the biggest screen you can, grab a big bucket of popcorn, then sit back and enjoy because you're in for a real treat with "Ready Player One." Much like "Back to the Future Part II," "Ready Player One" is a movie that takes place about 30 years into the future from our present day, that of 2045. This seems like it could be a decent representation of the future with Virtual Reality, something that's on the rise on 2018, being the huge thing of this futuristic generation. Everyone has their VR headsets and they love jumping away from reality into the virtual world they call the Oasis, where you can be anyone you want and do anything you want with anyone you want.
The specific plot of our adventure involves a challenge presented by the creator of the Oasis, who has recently passed away. Upon his passing, it is revealed that he has hidden three keys somewhere in the Oasis and the person who finds the three keys first gets rewarded with the golden Easter egg, giving that person total control of the Oasis moving forward. So the movie follows our main group of players, led by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, as they make their way through this challenge. The further they get, the more opposition they receive from our big corporate bad guy, played by Ben Mendelsohn, who is bound and determined to have all the power for himself instead of having the power in the hands of a normal user. Thus him and his crew represent a company like EA, a company that most gamers absolutely hate with the tactics they use, yet they play the games anyways because there's not a lot they can do about it. Or another potential comparison is Disney, who pretty much owns everything in Hollywood at the moment. Or you can even bring politics into this and compare it to the government vs. the average person. Regardless of which way you choose to spin it, this is the big corporation vs. the seemingly insignificant individual.
First and foremost I want to give high praise to our cast of up and coming stars. Leading the way is Tye Sheridan, who absolutely owns this role as Wade Watts in the real world and as Parzival, which is his username in the Oasis. This is the kid from "Mud," a movie that hit the festival run in 2012 before being released to the general public in summer 2013. If you're like me and you saw that little indie film and loved it, one of your high praises was that this Tye Sheridan kid is going to be a star. And it's fun seeing him live out his potential as he got his first huge break as the new Scott Summers in "X-Men: Apocalypse" and now Spielberg picked him up for "Ready Player One," which I feel will boost his career even more. In the Oasis, his character of Parzival falls in love with this super hot avatar girl named Art3mis. People in the movie were warning him to be careful because she could be this old, fat guy living with his mom. But the whole time I was like, "Nah, he's good." Because eventually she was going to be revealed as Olivia Cooke, who I've also loved since 2013 as she starred in "Bates Motel," the "Psycho" prequel series that recently finished that I think is phenomenal. She was also in the 2015 film "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," which I also loved.
I hope this doesn't make me sound conceited. I mean, all y'all are learning of these two just now while I've known them for five years now. So take that! But hey, as I'll get to more here in a second, this movie has something in it for everyone. For me one of the fun things was seeing two young individuals who I've been cheering on for several years get their huge break in a big budget Spielberg film. I talked a lot about Sheridan, but when it comes to his better half, Olivia Cooke, what has impressed me so much about her in the smaller roles she's been in is that she feels so approachable. There's a lot of times where you'll see an actress in a movie or a TV show that you really love, but you think to yourself that even if you did see her in real life, you wouldn't even be worthy of speaking to her because she's so out of your league. That's not the case with Olivia Cooke and I mean that as a high compliment. I feel like if I ever ran into her on the street, I could sit down and have lunch with her and just talk about life. That I respect and thus it makes me happy seeing her get a huge role like this because she deserves. I do want to talk about the other three in this gang, but their human selves don't get revealed until much later, so I'm going to forgo that.
As far as this adventure that they go on, if I had one major problem with the it, it's that I have a hard time believing that this group of kids and young adults would be the first to ever solve this puzzle. I'm not a gamer myself, but I know a lot of gamers and they all seem really good at discovering all the secrets to these games they play. So I feel if the creator of the Oasis really did introduce the challenge after he died, it would be solved by someone within a week or two, if not earlier. But that's whatever. We kind of have to accept the fact that they get super lucky and now have to move forward while fighting the evil corporation. There's so much in this adventure that I want to dive into, but for the most part the advertising did a great job of leaving the specifics of this movie a secret as far as all the Easter eggs hidden in there. I mean, we knew about the Iron Giant and the DeLorean, as well as several other things from the trailer, but there's a lot more that gets thrown out you that are completely surprises and it was a huge delight. I'm sure there was a ton that I missed, but there were a lot of moments where I felt like Captain America in "The Avengers" with his "I understood that reference!" moment. Those instances made me happy and caused me to really enjoy the ensuing scenes.
I think the best thing about this movie is that, unless you've been living under a rock for the last 30 years, there's a moment for everyone. There will be a song that is played, a character that shows up, a reference that is made or a land that they enter where you will recognize it and cry out with much delight. I've been using the phrase 80's nostalgia vomit when it comes to "Ready Player One," because that's the huge spotlight. But in reality I should remove the 80's because Spielberg obviously had a ton of fun playing with all of his old toys from every decade, as well as other peoples' toys as there's stuff from the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's and the current decade. The only thing that's missing is Disney and Nintendo property, but that's probably because those companies are very stickler with their property. Everything else is here and it's a blast. Given that there's three keys to find, this movie is essentially split up into three sections and without given any spoilers, I'll just say the second section of the movie was the one for me. I also had a ton of fun with the finale where they throw everything at you at once and the first section was fine. I wish I could talk more, but that's all I'm saying for now. As a whole, this movie was an absolute blast and I'm giving it a 9/10.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
I don't want to say that this was a disappointing movie for me, but this was definitely a different movie than I was expecting. Thus before I go any further I want to clue everyone in on what this movie is all about it. I didn't think it was too harsh to expect a movie titled "Paul, Apostle of Christ" to be solely about Paul, the apostle of Christ. His story is a very relatable one in the sense that he went about destroying and persecuting the Christians of his day when one day Jesus appeared to him and told him to stop persecuting the saints, to which he responded by completely changing his life around and spent the rest of his days in Christ's ministry. OK, sure, few of us have Christ appear to us, but the idea is that Paul was arguably a very worldly person who was against Christianity, yet was able to completely change his ways and come to Christ. If such a person who had done such awful things can change and come to Christ, perhaps that can give us hope individually that either we can change and become better or our family and friends that we try to reach out to can eventually soften their hearts and come to Christ. Thus if this movie honed in on those themes and drove home this story of Paul and his miraculous change, I think this could've been a powerful film.
Thus while I was watching it, expecting to be entertained or inspired by Paul's conversion story, I had to mentally shift gears a bit as we were instead focusing on the persecution of the saints in Rome, which was one of the darker times in history for Christians. In fact, I would say that Luke is the main character of this movie while Paul is there as the Yoda figure, giving out his wisdom as to what should be done, while not being in a position to lead them since he's in prison. And it's funny that I think of that Yoda comparison, because now I'm thinking about "The Empire Strikes Back," a movie where the Empire deliver crushing blows to the Rebellion. If the Empire is Rome, Palpatine is Nero, Darth Vader is Mauritius, Yoda is Paul and Luke is, well, Luke, then there's a lot more comparisons to "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Paul, Apostle of Christ" than I was initially intending on bringing up when I started this paragraph. I mean, both movies are led by a Luke who gets advice from a wise old figure in the midst of a conflict where the bad guys win. Ha ha! In that case, I suppose it would be a similar situation would be if "The Empire Strikes Back" was titled "Yoda, Ancient Jedi." Both Yoda and Paul are central figures to the story, but the story isn't completely about them.
OK, now time to get back on track after incidentally stumbling on a Star Wars comparison. Once we have the right idea about what this movie is about, I think this movie can be appropriately enjoyed. Or, rather, appreciated. Because this is a rather somber movie. We start by seeing the good Christian saints being used as torches to light the streets at night. While the specific imagery we see isn't extremely graphic, not when compared to something like Martin Scorsese's "Silence," anyways, the implications of what's happening make you rather sick to the stomach. These are good people who did nothing but choose to believe in Christ, yet they are being brutally tortured by the Romans because of it. There's a group of saints out in hiding who are simply trying to figure out what to do, especially since their leader that they look up to, that being Paul, is essentially on death row and they are going to be up next if they don't figure something out. There's a portion of them that decide they want to start an uprising. All things considered, you can't really blame them for desiring that. In addition to the debate as to whether to fight or remain peaceful, there is a discussion on whether they should stay in their home country of Rome or escape to a more livable area.
There's one specific scene that stood out to me as a powerful moment of dialogue in this movie. I won't give the specific storyline to what's happening to these people as it's closer to the end of the movie, but Luke is telling them that they are going to experience a lot of pain. But that pain is going to be brief and if they are able to endure it, then will come the moment of glory where their patience and endurance will pay off as they will get to celebrate in the presence of God. I think that's the message that this movie tries to drive home and if you're patient with the movie, I think it's something that has the ability to be impactful. Everyone has to make choices in life based on what they feel is right and, even though it's hard to endure, you have to stick to your guns and continue to do what is right regardless of what the worldly consequences are. If you believe in God or believe in Christ, do you have enough faith to still believe and follow the teaches even if you are thrown into prison, condemned to die, or see your friends and family get tortured and killed. Can you say with Paul as he says in 2 Timothy 4:7 that "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" even as you are about to be offered up and killed by your persecutors?
I will admit that this is a bit of a difficult watch at times on a few different levels. First off, yes, there is some imagery that is hard to stomach and, even though a lot of it isn't seen on screen, the movie does a good job of letting the audience know how brutal the Roman Empire was to these Christians. But second, this is a slow-moving drama that requires a lot of patience to get through without drifting off. And never once does it really pick up, thus it requires one to think and ponder on the themes of the movie in order to feel satisfied, because I can see people walking out of the theaters feeling bored and I wouldn't blame them. As pertaining to the lack of focus, yeah there's some story arcs that I felt were included because the filmmakers were trying to figure out how to fill the run time, with one example being Mauritius, one of Nero's little pawns, having a sick daughter who was about to die. I'm not sure what the overall point of that was in the big picture of the movie. But overall as I look back on the movie, this was a satisfactory viewing experience for me. If you can only afford to see one Easter movie, I'd still recommend "I Can Only Imagine" over this one. But if you're willing to be patient and implement a bit of brain power, this movie can work just fine. I'll give it a 7/10.