Tuesday, April 25, 2017

13 Reasons Why Season 1 Review (SPOILERS)

Suicide. That's what I'll be talking about on this post today. This is a very heavy, sensitive subject for everyone and I'm going to do my best to be careful and sensitive in the process. The reason why I will be talking about suicide is because of Netflix's new hit show that's been making the rounds, that of "13 Reasons Why," a 13-episode TV show centered around a high school girl who commits suicide. Just before doing so, she creates a series of 13 tapes, each of them talking about one reason why she decided to commit suicide, with one individual on each tape being the main subject matter. Her goal with making the tapes is so that each of the people on the tapes will listen to them and then pass them onto the next person in a very secretive manner, this being essentially a revenge plot of sorts for her to get back at those individuals who ruined her life and led her to suicide. You can imagine with a subject matter like this that the show gets very deep and emotional, which is why I have to get my thoughts out in a blog post, even though I haven't been consistent with my TV show reviews. I had a love/hate relationship with this show from the moment I started, which continued through the finale, thus leaving me with a ton of thoughts that I need to get out. I'll start spoiler-free.

I actually didn't get the memo about this show immediately after its release in late March. I don't always follow the new big Netflix shows. But recently I've been watching quite a few crime drama documentaries that I find interesting. Doing so has caused Netflix to suggest a bunch of them to me that I looked through and selectively added to my list to watch when I had downtime. This showed up in that list with a 99 percent match to what I had been watching, whatever that means. Apparently Netflix has determined what shows I will and won't like, which is not always accurate, but I move forward with life despite it all. So anyways, I looked at the description and without doing much research, I just assumed it was a documentary about a real life girl who had committed suicide and left a series of tapes behind that someone decided to do a documentary on. That was a intriguing idea that sounded interesting to me, so I added it to my list and moved forward with my life with the idea that I might eventually get around to it. It was at that point where I started hearing a ton about this show, mainly on twitter actually, so I gave it a second look and this past weekend I started it up, quickly learning that I didn't have the ability to stop.

The reason why I mention the detail that I initially thought this was a real-life documentary is that when all is said and done, that would've been more interesting to me. Within the first few seconds when I realized this wasn't a documentary, I quickly went and actually did research on this. Not only was this not a documentary, but it also wasn't a dramatization of actual events that had happened. This was a work of complete fiction based on a book written like 10 years ago. Suddenly I was less interested in this fictional depiction of a girl committing suicide, but I decided to continue anyways, mainly out of curiosity. I also learned at some point that this was going to be a movie starring Selena Gomez before it eventually become a Netflix TV show. I mention that because when all is said and done, I think turning this into a movie would've been a much better idea, minus the Selena Gomez part as I doubt her ability to successfully pull off such a complex character as our lead character in this would have to be to make this work. But I envisioned a "Manchester by the Sea" style of movie involving around suicide that perhaps may have been loosely based on our last five episodes. That sounds like a movie that I would really want to see with the right cast and crew on board.

As is, though, I think we have a drawn-out TV series with way too much fluff and filler for its own good, that, despite its noble intentions, misses the mark in what they set out to do. I mainly blame the writing and story-telling for this. We have a whole host of cliché high school characters that all look way too old to be in high school and, for the most part, all look way too attractive. We also had a perfectly diverse set of main characters that were split almost evenly between race, gender and sexual orientation. I'm obviously not complaining at diversity. That's certainly a good thing. But it kinda felt a bit forced, like they were focused mainly on having a politically correct cast instead of accurately representing a normal high school. The whole attractive thing was more bothersome because that also didn't feel like an accurate representation of a real high school. When each character that played a big role was eye candy, that's a problem. The fact that most of these characters look closer to 30 than they do 17 is the most annoying. I didn't look up ages, but I didn't believe any of these actors were close to high school age. I get it that hiring real high school students is a tough thing for various reasons, but I've seen a lot of movies that do a better job of fooling me on this.

The point of this past paragraph is to set the stage for you before I dive into details of this show. The overall point if we're going to do a high school drama movie in the vein of "Easy A" or "Mean Girls" is that I should actually buy into the setting. I want to realistically believe that we are in a high school and I didn't get that vibe. It felt fake and forced. Which is a problem when we are discussing the subject of teen suicide, what we can do to prevent teen suicide, the horrors of suicide itself and what the aftermath of suicide is like for those left behind. That's why I liked the idea of an actual documentary, because that literally would take us into the mind of a person who committed suicide and the reasons behind why they did so that those of us watching can have a better understanding of suicide and how we can help someone who feels lost and alone. I would've also liked the idea of a "Manchester by the Sea" style of movie because, while completely fictional, that movie felt super real and helped me dive into the life of a family that was going through something super tragic. With "13 Reasons Why," I don't feel like a got a TV show that helped me understand suicide better. I felt like I instead got a drawn-out high school drama with good intentions that missed the mark.

In terms of acting abilities, I do think every character did a good job with what they were given. I saw a lot of potential in all of our "high school kids" in terms of their acting abilities as it made me want to see more of them in future movies or TV shows. I especially loved Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, who played our two main characters. The problem, though, is that I don't think the writing was on par with these characters. Except for perhaps Dylan Minnette, who played the character of Clay Jensen. He was written as a socially awkward protagonist, which is very realistic for a teenage boy. Him I bought. Katherine Langford, who plays Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide, was mostly good. As I said, I love her as an actress now and I think she did great with what she was given. But I have serious problems with how her character was written and what she did throughout the series. I thought she came off as too attractive and too likable while not selling the darkness and depression well enough. That sounds weird, yes, but when she becomes the school outcast, it makes no sense. She was bullied by our cast because it was written that way for our supporting characters, even though it made no sense for them to do what they did.

If this information is enough for you to get the overall feel of how I felt about this show and you want to call it good, then feel free to call this the final paragraph and move forward with your life. Ending things right here would make it the length of a normal review and would make this an essentially spoiler-free review. I can say in summary that this is a cliché high school drama TV show with cliché characters who do cliché things. This attempts to dive super deep into the subject of suicide, but is so cliché with the main cast surrounding this girl who committed suicide and her socially awkward friend Clay Jensen that was in love with her that I didn't buy into the realism of the situation. The creators of the show had noble intentions of showing the horrors of suicide, what often happens to those left behind and how we should treat everyone in order to help prevent suicide, but I don't think they do things real enough to really hit home their message and thus the aftermath of all this will potentially either make things worse worse or, more realistically, not help at all one way or the other. Movies such as "Easy A," "The DUFF" and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" touch on similar subjects in a high school drama setting in a less graphic way that end of being more effective.

END OF SPOILER-FREE PORTION

And there you go. Call that a finished review if you want. But no, I'm not done with this show. I want to dive deep into spoilers and I want to do so on an episode by episode basis. I do this mainly so that I can get my thoughts out so that I can move on my life, otherwise I'll be stuck with all these thoughts in my head and won't know how to get rid of them. If you are in a mood to read and you've seen this show, or simply don't care about spoilers, then feel free to move forward with me. But I won't be offended if you don't. I won't touch on every detail, especially since I mostly didn't care about all the dumb drama happening in the present day, but I'm going to cover what I feel like covering. So let's get started.

Episode 1- "Tape 1, Side A"

The First Kiss

Subject of Tape: Justin Foley

The subtitles here aren't the actual titles of the episode. The real titles of the episode are what I have next to the episode numbers. The "Tape 1, Side A" stuff. I like those episode titles because they didn't spoil what happens in the episode like some shows do. I just created my own episode titles with the subtitles in order to help keep this spoiler review simple and organized. I hope they help.

But anyways, what we can call the inciting incident, the first reason that led Hannah to suicide, was this first kiss with Justin Foley, a character who proves to be fairly interesting when all is said and done, but is certainly anything but interesting in this first episode.

This is Hannah's first love if you will. And she wants is her first kiss to be something memorable, so her and Justin go to a random park at night and seem to have a great night and a great first kiss.

But Justin takes a picture up her skirt and texts it to Bryce, who then sends the picture out in a mass text to the whole school? Why? I don't understand this. First off, it seems like Justin was really into Hannah, so it doesn't make sense that he would take a picture up her skirt in the first place or that he would get away with doing so without her knowing right away, especially since there would have to be a flash in that dark night to get the quality of the photo he did, which would immediately anger her and thus he should've never gotten away with this.

Then I also don't understand why Bryce sends it to the entire school. Sure, Bryce is the biggest idiot in the school, who for some unknown reason is also the most popular kid at school, but at this point they have absolutely no reason to objectify her and bully her like this. In fact, she immediately gives off the persona that she is the cool, attractive girl that they instead should want to get to know, not someone to immediately send an up-skirt picture of to the whole school.

But OK, the purpose of this episode was to put in place that Hannah is now seen by the entire school as the school slut. That stereotype put upon you would be awful, especially undeserved. But the execution of us getting to that point was really bad. If you want a movie that does this particular subject of a girl given the stereotype of school slut, but executes it a lot better, watch the movie "Easy A."

Episode 2- "Tape 1, Side B"

Friend Drama

Subject of Tape: Jessica Davis

Oh boy. We follow up the story of episode of Hannah becoming the school slut with this episode. She is forced into a friendship with Jessica that for some reason works out, despite them being opposites of each other with no chemistry. Then they adopt Alex into their group after catching him staring at one of them and suddenly they are a dynamic trio of friends.

For like five minutes.

Before long, Alex and Jessica abandon Hannah because they fall in love, leaving Hannah lonely. The formation and destruction of this trio happened so fast that it felt kinda choppy. Then Alex and Jessica break up and Jessica blames Hannah. Then at some point Jessica gets angry and slaps Hannah, which would make anyone upset.

But this is all typical high school drama that I found boring and choppy. Again, the idea of gaining a friend and then having that friend become angry at you and throw blame your way is upsetting. But I thought the execution was poor. A theme that you will see continue throughout all of this.

Episode 3- "Tape 2, Side A"

The List

Subject of Tape: Alex Standall

The list is a recurring theme throughout the series that stands as one of the main reasons that drove Hannah to suicide. Much of it is like the mass text of the up-skirt photo of Hannah. The whole school sees the list and the whole school is making fun of Hannah for it.

This list is started by Alex after he was upset with all the previous episode's drama and it comprises of one of those yearbook-style "best of class" lists. Alex decides to vote Hannah as best butt, which then makes her self-conscious because everyone is making fun of her butt, staring at her butt and in some instances grabbing or slapping her butt.

If that actually happened to someone, yes, that would be upsetting. I just didn't buy this as realistic drama. Playing onto the drama of the first episode, why is it that no one saw this and rolled their eyes? Why did no one decide to stand up for a very likable girl? Why was Hannah the only person in the school upset at this? If you had a small group of morons who got pleasure in this, then fine. But it never felt like a realistic situation where everyone made fun of her butt because of this list or that everyone now considered her a slut because of a picture that realistically never would've been sent out in the first place.

This is the reason why I keep using the word cliché. These didn't feel like real high school characters. They all felt like cliché high school characters who bullied a likable girl for no reason outside the fact that it was written that way in the script. I felt no realistic high school drama in the midst of all these cliché characters.

Episode 4- "Tape 2, Side B"

The Stalker

Subject of Tape: Tyler Down

How about we dive into another problem? Why is it that none of our characters care about crime committed? At the point in the present day, Clay is the 11th person listening to these tapes and they all listened to Tyler's tape and have now learned that he is perhaps the creepiest psycho in the school that takes pictures of everyone and everything using the justification that he's taking pictures for the yearbook.

No. Just, no. Yet no one cares to start an investigation or report what he's doing. Instead they just get revenge by throwing rocks into his window or, in Clay's situation, taking a nude picture of Tyler and texting to everyone in the school, which they again all decide to laugh at instead of being concerned. Not one person in the school would report voyeurism to the school? Not even Hannah and Courtney? And not one person would report Clay's mass text of nude Tyler? These are unrealistic events that bother me.

But that's not all in this episode. We then dive into Courtney, one of the most annoying girls in this show. There's no real arc or progression for her. She's just the nicest girl in the school in the first four episodes and then suddenly the meanest, most annoying girl once Clay learns her purpose in all of this. She goes from white to black without warning. Even in the flashbacks. Because apparently she never did anything wrong and never lied to her two dads until the night where she decided to help Hannah catch her stalker, which turned into make out session that distracted them enough to forget what they were doing.

When Tyler sent out the photo of them making out, why again was no one concerned about how he got this private picture of two girls in a bedroom? And why did everyone immediately go into mocking mode instead of having at least a small minority stand up for this wrong?

I don't understand. Again, the idea of a high school girl getting the reputation of being a lesbian when she isn't after being seen as the class slut, rejected by her friends and being made fun of for the way her butt looks would send someone into a dark place. But the execution of all this was so bad that it had me reeling. Since each of these episodes was 50 minutes long, I really wanted to stop, but the way the show is set up is done so in a way that makes it so you half to keep going, especially since the promise of something deep and serious is always on the horizon.

Finally, at this point should I bring up the idea of using suicide as a means for revenge? That hasn't sit well with a lot of people and this is the episode is where it really begins. Hannah throws a rock into the window of someone who contributed to her committing suicide, then tells everyone to do the same on the tapes, which they follow, successfully shaming this kid and sending him to a very dark place. Not the best message to be sending to viewers.  

Episode 5- "Tape 3, Side B"

Winter Formal

Subject of Tape: Courtney Crimsen

This episode is actually kinda forgettable. It's a Part 2 to the whole Courtney story line that begins the episode before and I may have actually covered much of it already. After the aforementioned photo of Courtney and Hannah making out gets out the school, Courtney gets destroyed. This is actually a decently emotional side arc with Courtney being too afraid to admit to herself that she is gay and accepting that. But they don't do enough with that to make me happy. Instead Courtney just transforms into the wicked witch of the west by throwing Hannah under the bus instead of accepting responsibility. Then in the future she is the angriest one of the bunch of them when they are discussing what to do with Clay and the tapes towards the end.

On a happy note, this is also where good things happen in the show. The Clay and Hannah romance begins to develop. He likes her a lot and she really likes him, but neither really know what to do about it because he's socially awkward and has no experience with romance and dating while she is unsure at this point exactly how she feels about him.

More on this in Clay's episode, but I really connected with this because in high school I was a lot like Clay when it came to girls and romance, so I felt for him.

Episode 6- "Tape 3, Side B"

One Dollar Valentine 

Subject of Tape: Marcus Cole

Another episode where I actually appreciated the budding, awkward romance. Hannah is realizing when she is filling out the silly form that she really likes Clay, but isn't confident enough about it at this point to make a move at this point. Plus, she's waiting for him to do something, but he certainly isn't ready to make a move even though he really wants to. This leads to that awkward moment in the theater where she is essentially begging Clay to save her from Marcus and I was yelling inside at Clay to man up and make the move.

But he doesn't. And that felt like the most real high school moment in this show.

Then we transition from that to one of the most unreal high school moments. Because Marcus, who seems like a really nice guy, has asked Hannah on a date and is purposely an hour late. But Hannah waits there for an hour? I mean, she didn't want to go on a date with him anyways. She should've only waited 15 minutes tops. But then Marcus finally arrives and pretty soon advances on her because he thought she was easy.

Oh yeah. Because she is seen as the school slut for a dumb reason that I discussed in the first episode. This very much feels out of character for Marcus. They just turn him into another cliché high school character who decides to bully Hannah because the script demands it even though it didn't make any sense for his character.

Of course Hannah has every reason to feel broken and upset if this happens. It just feels like an unrealistic moment for the sake of juicy plot details. But then we end with Zach Dempsey being nice to Hannah with Hannah just lashing out at him. That was rude of her.

Episode 7- "Tape 4, Side A"

Positive Notes

Subject of Tape: Zach Dempsey

Which leads us to this episode. Zach Dempsey's tape. Now I've read a lot of people's opinions saying that Hannah was a whiney, annoying drama queen and thus they don't feel empathy for her. I disagree with that. Especially since when you are sent to a dark place in your mind, you don't necessarily make the most logical, rational choices. It's not fair to get angry at someone like this and not have any empathy. That said, this is one of the episodes where I was NOT on Hannah's side.

Hannah is clearly someone who's experienced a lot of crap thus far. Even though it's cliché, unrealistic crap, it's still a bunch of crap. Zach is our 30-year-old high school kid who actually feels bad for Hannah. He walks up to her and is genuinely nice to her and tries to help her out. But what does she do? Yells at him and orders him to go away. I don't want to say she brought things on her self, but in her situation it made no sense that she would yell at someone who was actually trying to be nice to her.

I don't blame Zach for being angry. I get kinda annoyed, too, when I'm trying to genuinely be nice to someone and they push me away for no reason. But stealing those positive notes? That was cold and unnecessary. I think the writers again when a little too far in making Zach be mean.

I have heard some argue that stealing the positive notes is not a big deal and it shouldn't have been something that made Hannah upset. I disagree. Little acts of kindness like that go a long way for someone who is going through a dark period and taking that away from her is cold. It's one of the more brutal things that happen to her in the beginning of the show, I think.

Episode 8- "Tape 4, Side B"

Poetry

Subject of Tape: Ryan Shaver

Am I sounding like a broken record yet? Poetry club. Hannah develops a trust for Ryan and learns to love poetry club, which causes her to write a deep, personal poem to share to the group and Ryan does a great job of helping her out with this poem. And do you know what? That was a dang good poem she wrote. I actually really loved it. It was very thought-provoking and deep.

But why in the name of tarnation would you steal someone's poem against their will and publish it anonymously it the school poetry magazine? That was a cold move. But more annoying for me was the fact that the very next day everyone suddenly has a copy of this magazine and is reading the poem and laughing? First off, no one really cares about school poetry magazines, so there's no way everyone in the school would have a copy of this magazine. Even if they did, there's absolutely no way that all of them would be laughing at this and mocking this. Again, this was a dang good poem! But why are the mocking it? Oh right. Because the script told them to.

Episode 9- "Tape 5, Side A"

The Party Part 1 - Jessica's Rape

Subject of Tape: Justin Foley

I mentioned in the first half of this review that I think this TV show would've been better as a "Manchester by the Sea" style of movie. I specifically mentioned in passing that I think if they did so it would've been best to adapt the final five episodes. Because the first eight episodes are mostly dumb, cliché nonsense. These final five episodes, though, are actually pretty dang good and *almost* knock the emotion and power out of the park. Almost the highlighted key word there.

This is also a good time to mention that this is not a show for kids. I've seen a lot of people say that they are worried what effect this show will have on their kids watching it. Well, my response is why in the living frack are you letting your kids watch this? This is the major problem with the MPAA culture we live in. PG-13 movies are always good. R rated movies are always bad. Black and white. No gray area. I hate it. What I hate even more is the fact that less monitoring happens with TV shows. This doesn't have an MPAA rating, so it's good for kids? It's a TV show, so it's OK? Heck no. If this did have an MPAA rating it would be a very hard R. If you let your teenagers watch hard R, well... I'm not going to judge you. But if you don't, then you better keep this show far away from them because that's exactly what this is.

This is the episode that Hannah unfortunately witnesses Bryce raping Jessica when Jessica is drunk and asleep. No female nudity and no male frontal nudity. But a very graphic, on-camera depiction of rape that is disturbing. And super emotional. Hannah is in the room because of events that happen in Episode 11 as these three party episodes are told out of chronological order. This is something that I can legitimately see as emotionally traumatic for Hannah as not only does she witness Bryce raping Jessica, but she witnesses Justin, who is dating Jessica, allow it to happen.

My biggest question here is why is Clay, the 11th person to listen to these tapes, the first person to have a desire to do something? Why did Hannah not do anything in the first place? And why did a red flag not go up for anyone until Clay decides he wants to try to do something?

At this point, I'm also wondering how these tapes got past Justin without him attempting to destroy them. Justin is actually an interesting character because we dive into his background with his awful mom and her violent boyfriend. You can see why is cold-hearted and angry. And I actually bought him as a troubled character that I thought was going to kill Clay at the end of this show, finishing up our Romeo and Juliet theme with Clay and Hannah. That didn't happen, but I'm wondering why Justin passed these tapes on, knowing that they could potentially incriminate him.

All that said, this was a powerful, emotional episode, which is something this show had been lacking up to this point.

Episode 10- "Tape 5, Side B"

The Party Part 2 - Jeff's Crash

Subject of Tape: Sheri Holland

This was also a really good episode. The horror of the situation between Hannah and Sheri as well as the panic of not knowing what to do is something that I really bought. Yes, if you ever crash into a stop sign, the right thing to do is to call the police because awful things can happen exactly like the death of their friend Jeff when an intersection is lacking a stop sign that should be there. But for whatever reason, I bought the panic on Sheri's part when she knocked it over. It seems like something an immature teenage girl might do.

What I didn't really like is Sheri abandoning Hannah when they disagreed on what to do. When Hannah said they should call the cops, getting so mad that she leaves Hannah there is a really annoying, bratty thing to do. In the present, I do like that Sheri is one of the few characters who actually feels a sense of guilt for what she did instead of claiming that Hannah is lying and/or plotting revenge against Clay for being the only sane person in the school when he learns of these tapes.

Looking back on this, the death of Jeff might the one death that effected me the most in this show. I never really connected the dots that he wasn't in the present day and only in the flashbacks, so it actually caught me by surprise when he left the party and was killed in a car crash because of the dumb decisions of two teenage girls who knocked over a stop sign. That was super tragic and unexpected, especially since he was one of the non-cliché jocks who befriended Clay and did his best to help him and Hannah out.

Episode 11- "Tape 6, Side A"

The Party Part 3 - Romance 

Subject of Tape: Clay Jensen

This is the big episode that the whole show is building up to. What did Clay do to drive Hannah to suicide? That's the question that you ask from the start. For a while I actually thought that Clay's tape was going to be the final tape, but instead it's the third to last, which does make sense because then we have time to finish things off after Clay finally knows the truth about why he's there.

Looking back on this episode, there is one thing that doesn't make sense to me. Before Tony forces Clay to finally listen to his tape, Clay forces him to answer this question, "Did I kill Hannah Baker?" To which Tony finally declares, "Yes."

No! The right answer is no! And Hannah even says that herself. Clay did nothing wrong. She pushed him away and was super harsh on herself about it. Clay didn't belong on these tapes, she admitted, but she included him because she wanted him to know the truth about how she really felt about him, which is extremely tragic and emotional.

However, out of all the regrets in this show, Clay's is the one that hits home the most. He didn't kill her. She pushed him away because of emotionally trauma she was going through. But as he is reminiscing over what he could've done better, if he had stood his ground and confessed his feelings at some point, that could've helped her. But in the moment he was totally justified in what he did because she yelled at him repeatedly to get out. Which for a socially awkward kid such as Clay is really damaging and he was justified in his hurt the following days in pushing Hannah away when she attempted to come apologize. The specific moment that really hit me the hardest was the "La La Land" style scene where Clay is daydreaming on what could've been had he acted differently, which ended with dream Hannah saying, "Why didn't you tell me that when I was alive?" Ouch.

What I didn't like was Hannah's reaction once her and Clay were about to make love there at the party. She knows Clay is different than the rest. She knows he is genuinely a good person. And I get that she reacted out of trauma, but still it didn't seem to make sense to suddenly go so cold and start yelling at the kid to go away and push him out of her life when she knows he did nothing wrong.

I also think that if this show wanted to go with the realistic route of Hannah being driven to suicide that Clay actually should've done something that pushed Hannah away without fully realizing exactly what he had done. That would've had more emotional gravity in my opinion given that Clay was Hannah's final hope. Having him push her away would've been more tragic in my opinion rather than her pushing him away when he did nothing to deserve it. That's why I didn't fully buy into this episode, but for the most part it really worked for me.

Episode 12- "Tape 6, Side B"

Hannah's Rape

Subject of Tape: Bryce Walker

Out of all the episodes in the show, this is the episode that effected me the most. This is the episode that will stick with me. Up to this point, I've had a lot of complaints about all the events that Hannah pointed in her tapes that drove her to suicide. Most of people's treatment of her felt forced and cliché rather than realistic and her lashing out at Zach and Clay also didn't feel super realistic. This episode felt real. Almost a little too real. This episode alone may have justified why she decided to commit suicide.

The one problem that I do have with this episode that I will get out of the way at the beginning is why in the heck did Hannah go anywhere near Bryce's place? It seems like shortly after witnessing him brutally rape Jessica that she would stay far away from him and his house. But that's more of a nitpick. I'm definitely not blaming her for her being raped. That's a big problem in today's rape culture with us blaming the victim for them being raped. I'm just saying that in a screenwriting sense, which this TV show has a ton of problems with, they could've done a better job at setting up this scenario.

With that out of the way, I think this episode was extremely effective at showcasing what girls might be going through when they get raped and how it ruins their lives. Not that I'm in a position to relate to that, but I'm just saying that's what it seemed to me. In fact, those who have gone through something like this should probably stay far away from this episode as I can imagine that it has the potential to dig up some awful memories. Thus I don't know if it was extremely necessary to show Hannah getting raped on camera, but it's a scene that completely destroyed me emotionally. Even though this is a show that severely lacks good writing, Hannah is a girl that I still had an emotionally attachment to through all of this. Being that she said this was the worst day of her life in the tape, you knew something awful was going to happen, but then to slowly see people leave the pool to the point where it was just her and Bryce suddenly filled me with dread.

The rape itself only showed Hannah's face and her reaction, but that's all that was needed to deliver the emotional punch. Watching her go from fighting Bryce to giving up and submit to being raped was hard. I could see the life and desire to live completely leave her soul and it tore me apart.

Then we contrast that by Clay approaching Bryce about this and forcing him to confess. His lack of empathy towards women was disgusting. He seemed ignorant towards what rape actually was and tried to justify his actions by downplaying the seriousness of the situation and claiming that all girls want to be raped by him if what he did was considered rape. Again, I'm not an expert in this area, but I can guess that this mindset is probably a lot more true to life than it should be, thus I think this show with this episode combined with episode 10 was probably a lot more effective at attacking the current rape culture than it was addressing teen suicide.

Episode 13- "Tape 7, Side A"

Suicide

Subject of Tape: Mr. Porter

We've made it. The grand finale of this show. The moment where everything that Hannah has gone through finally leads her to commit suicide. There's a lot to say about this finale, but the first thing that I will say is that it seems like creating these tapes was therapeutic for her. Instead of committing suicide, it may have been possible for her to actually recover mentally and move forward helping others who have had suicidal thoughts. May have that been a more effective way to end this show? A bit of re-writing to go that direction could've been much better, perhaps only focusing on the past so that we don't know exactly how things are going to wrap up.

Of course we all know that's not what happened. But that's usually the direction these shows or movies go and perhaps there's a reason for that. Instead, though, after an emotionally powerful episode with Bryce raping her, the final straw is broken for Hannah after visiting with the world's worst counselor. Seriously. World's. Worst. Counselor. Ever. I'm not a professional counselor and I'm not the best at knowing what the appropriate things to say to a suicidal person is, but it's certainly not anything close to what Mr. Porter says to Hannah. She basically confesses to him that she is suicidal without using those exact words and his reaction absolutely infuriated me. It exemplified to me everything that is wrong with the show. The writing is so bad and so unrealistic. No counselor would ever say those words to a person that entered their office and I hated every second of those scenes.

Then we have our actual suicide scene that has rightfully gained a lot of controversy due to them showing the suicide on screen. We sit there and watch as Hannah turns on the bathtub, sits in it and slits her wrists. A lot of people have a lot of opinions on why this is a poor decision for this show to make. The makers of the show justified it because they wanted to portray suicide as a horrific event. I get those intentions. But they didn't need to show the suicide. My reasoning is that it was way too graphic. I don't ever need to watch a girl slit her wrists. They could've done more implying because we all get it. And it hurts my wrists every time I think about it.

The other thing that bothered me about the finale is that they left a lot of loose ends in the present. I wanted to see Bryce arrested and thrown into prison. I wanted to see the courts come down hard on the school. I wanted people to figure out that Tyler is a psychopath who is hiding a bunch of guns. I wanted to see what Justin is planning on doing with his gun. I wanted more explanation as to why Alex shot himself in the head and if he survived or not, because it left us on a cliffhanger of him being in critical condition.

But I wanted to see all of that settled in the first season. I don't want a second season. But I feel that's exactly what they are setting up. But why? The purpose of the book and of this show is to explain to us why Hannah committed suicide and now that we learned all of that, what would be the purpose of continuing the story?

Final Thoughts

That about does it. Yes, I skipped most of the present day stuff and focused on the flashbacks and reasons why Hannah committed suicide. Again, my reasoning there is that I really thought most of the present stuff was dumb. You thought I complained a lot about the flashbacks, just wait until you hear me rail on all the present day stuff. Which I'm not going to do, by the way. Let's just say that almost none of it was interesting. I think this show would've been much better if they had stayed in the past. But even then, as you can tell, the first eight episodes of this show were pretty bad. The final five episodes did a good job and almost redeeming this show, but that finale derailed everything for me. There's good moments in this show. There's good intentions from the cast and crew that put this together. But in the end, I think they missed the mark and looking back at this, I'm upset that I got sucked into this show. But at the very least I can help advise others who haven't got sucked into this show to steer clear and go watch one of those movies that I suggested, like "Easy A," "The DUFF" and "Me and Early and the Dying Girl." They are all far superior to this show and will only take two hours of your time.

Yet I know many will disagree with me, which is why I would love to hear your reactions if you have already watched this show. I don't expect a response as long as mine, but if you loved this show, please feel free to tell me why and if you were even harsher on this show and think that it sends the wrong message and may incidentally increase suicide, I would also like to here that. I mean, I'm just a single guy in his late-20's trying to understand the world and giving his personal opinions, so I would honestly love to hear more from you!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten Review

As I've said a few times recently, April is an interesting month for movies. Outside a few exceptions each year, April is that awkward time between March and May where studios refuse to release movies that they have any real hope for, thus we get a barrage of low budget, low quality films that can often be hard to sort through to determine which ones are worth seeing and which ones are worth being thrown to the wayside. Take this weekend for example. We have five new releases this weekend. Five. For a film-lover like myself, you would think that this would be movie heaven given that I now have a ton of options. But instead it was more stressful and annoying as I tried to figure out which one to actually see. "Unforgettable" looks like a horrifically awful thriller. "Free Fire" looked like a dumb action movie that throws logic and story out the window. I haven't really cared to see any of DisneyNature's documentaries, so "Born in China" was a no. I was waiting for reviews on "The Promise" and those are in the basement. See the problem here? A sixth option, "The Lost City of Z" looks like a great choice, but that didn't expand far enough. So instead I headed out to "Phoenix Forgotten," our found-footage alien invasion movie with no idea what to expect.

When I say I had absolutely no idea what to expect, I mean that almost literally. When I went into the theater to see this, there were no reviews up on Rotten Tomatoes. None. A few have trickled out since I finished the movie and started writing this review, but none were up when my screening started. All I had to go by was the user score on Flixter and the IMDb score, both of which were positive (80 percent on Flixter and 8.1 on IMDb), but there weren't enough votes in on either to make it a reliable source. So I went in based on trailers alone, which looked intriguing enough for me to give it a shot. But we all know how reliable trailers can be, so I decided to go in and blaze my own trail with this experience, which I actually enjoy doing, even though it doesn't happen very often. Obviously I try to come up with my own opinion without being influenced by what I read, but it's not often that I go in having no idea as to what to expect. And do you know what? This might end up being one of 2017's little hidden gems. No one seems to be paying any attention to this and we can point our fingers to several different factors as to why that is. But when it comes to found-footage movies trying to play off what "The Blair Witch Project" did, this is a pretty effective little film.

If you clicked on this review having no idea what this movie is about or potentially not even having heard of it before, allow me to explain. This is a movie that is centered around the Phoenix Lights phenomenon in 1997 that still perplexes people to this day. I didn't actually learn of this until recently, but apparently one night in March there was a strange set of lights that showed up in the sky one night around the Phoenix area that has been hard for many to explain. There's a lot of theories out there about what this could've been, but when you have something like this that is hard to explain, there's also a lot of conspiracy theories that arise. With this situation, the big conspiracy theory is obviously that this phenomenon was a UFO flying across the sky. In true Blair Witch Project fashion, "Phoenix Forgotten" is a found footage movie where three teenagers go out searching for these UFO's and end up missing. Much of the movie actually takes place in the present day as one of the teenager's younger sister is now putting together a documentary trying to uncover clues as to what happened to her brother 20 years previously and comes across some unseen footage in the process. Thus we have a big mystery movie that attempts to connect the dots as to what happened back then.

You can definitely see this movie as a shameless rip-off of "The Blair Witch Project" as it does a pretty good job of going almost note for note to that movie. However, I actually think that there's a lot that this movie does right that didn't make me upset at the final result even though the similarities are strikingly obvious. For one, I think the overall goals of the two movies are different. "The Blair Witch Project" was a movie in the late 90's that set out to trick audiences into believing that the footage they discovered and put together was actual footage from actual missing teenagers. They went to great lengths to play this gimmick out. Not only did the movie make a ton of money and popularized the found footage genre, but there were a lot of people that walked out of the theaters fully convinced that they just saw actual footage of teenagers who had gone missing in the woods due to a potential witch legend. Brilliant! It's a once in a lifetime movie that you can't repeat again because there's no way that you can fool everyone twice. However, because their primary goal was to trick people, I think the movie itself doesn't hold up very well as a movie. A lot of wondering around and complaining at being lost in the woods. It gets kinda old after a while.

Because of this, I actually think last year's sequel "Blair Witch" is a better overall movie, despite its many flaws, when you watch the two back to back, even though nothing is going to top the theatrical experience that many people had when they saw "The Blair Witch Project." "Phoenix Forgotten" is another movie that isn't trying to trick people into thinking this is actual footage, but rather they are simply trying to make a good movie that successfully uses the found footage genre, which admittedly has been overused. A lot of movies have used found footage because it's cheap to make and usually gets you a good profit. But they have no idea how to successfully use the technique to make a good movie. And if they do, they don't care to do it right. A couple simple questions to ask while watching a found footage movie are, first, why is the character in the movie choosing to film things with their camera and, second, do the results of their filming make logical sense? In other words, if the movie itself would be just as good, if not better, without the found footage elements, then they probably shouldn't have filmed it that way, especially if the footage itself is not believable camera work. You'd be surprised as to how many found footage movies get this wrong.

When it comes to "Phoenix Forgotten," how do these two elements hold up? Quite well. The first question, why are they using found footage? Well, in the 1997 footage, the brother is doing a birthday tribute for his little sister, or something to that effect, at the moment the Phoenix Lights phenomenon happens and he is lucky enough to capture it on camera. So why does he continue to use the camera? Well, first off he doesn't use it non-stop for the rest of the journey, filming everyone and everything for no particular reason, which is refreshing. But his goal is to make his own little documentary about the phenomenon. Then he goes on a journey with his two friends and their goal is to continue this and hopefully capture some UFO footage. It makes sense. In the future scenes of the movie, his sister is also making a documentary about what happened to her brother. At this point she is 26 years old, thus it makes sense for her footage to be slightly more professional, but she is interviewing family and friends as well as police and detectives about what happened while integrated the old footage from her brother. It makes sense. It's a pretty realistic fictional documentary as well. Believable camera work from old and new time periods, thus satisfying the second question.

In terms of story, I do think the flow of the movie is done well. What bothered me about "The Blair Witch Project" is that there was too much wandering around and complaining. That was most of the movie. The fact that this movie is done in the form of a fictional documentary put together by the sister makes it much more balanced. We don't spend the whole movie with our three teenagers wandering around. We bounce back and forth between the past and present, spending just the right amount of time with both. Also, this movie doesn't try to shove conspiracy theory down your throat. Rather it touches on it enough to make for some interesting thinking about the subject. While I didn't know much about the Phoenix Lights situation, I did live in Roswell, New Mexico for seven months starting towards the end of 2009, so I'm well acquainted with conspiracy theories surround aliens and UFOs. While I don't buy into myself, I do find it fairly amusing. A fun way to try to reconcile confusing events in your brain. And the other good thing about this movie is that the focus here is on the mystery behind it all. What were these lights and what happened to these fictional teenagers? It's not a horror movie and there's no cliche horror elements that bog down movies like this.

Sure, this is not a movie that is going to leave your mind blown when you walk out of the theater. But if you are in the movie for a fun UFO mystery movie, I'd say this is worth checking out. I'm actually really glad that I chose to see this movie as I felt I was watching a hidden gem given that the marketing push wasn't very strong and it got thrown in a weekend in the middle of April that already had four other new wide releases. Thus this movie is being left in the dust. I didn't know what to expect going in and I was hoping that this wouldn't be another dumb found footage movie that does the genre wrong. This easily could've been a disaster, but I was happy to discover that this movie does found footage right. There is a reason and a purpose behind the found footage. The horror cliches that litter these found footage movies are completely gone. In fact, I wouldn't even call it horror. It barely even classifies as thriller as it doesn't get intense until the very end. This is a mystery movie surrounding UFOs and the mysterious Phoenix Lights with a good story and well-written characters that make this easy and fun to follow. I was very pleased walking out of "Phoenix Forgotten" and I think if you decide to give the movie a shot, you might be pleased as well. I'm giving the movie an 8/10.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife Review

I was originally planning on seeing "The Zookeeper's Wife" towards the end of March when it was released. A movie about animals, zoos, World War II and saving Jews seemed like a winner. Plus usually all you have to do is announce a movie is starring Jessica Chastain and I'll be down for seeing it. She's one of the best actresses in the business right now in my humble opinion and I love seeing what she brings to the table in each of her movies. So why did I not see this when I was planning? Well, Focus Features decided to release it in only 541 theaters on opening weekend instead of the initial plan of a wide release, which kept it away from my current city for it's first two weekends and I didn't really feel like driving 45 minutes to see it. But it finally arrived and amidst a slow April with a ton of mediocre movies, if this is in a theater near you and you are in need of a movie, I think this is a pretty good option. Critics seem split down the middle with this one as it currently holds a 58 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think the more accurate indicator in this case is the Flixter User Score, which is at 81 percent. While this movie isn't as emotionally powerful as I was expecting it to be, I do think it's a solid film and I think casual audiences will enjoy it more than critics have.

The story of the movie takes place in Poland during World War II and tells the true story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński and how they helped rescue around 300 Jews over the course of World War II. A more accurate title to me may have been "The Zookeeper and His Wife" because the story is about both of them. But I suppose they call it "The Zookeeper's Wife" because the book this is based off was taken from the diary of Antonina and gives it that title, so it makes sense. But anyways, the two of them are running and living at the Warsaw Zoo when, on September 1, 1939, we have the German invasion of Poland where sadly the zoo gets caught in the crossfire and mostly destroyed. The Żabińskis survive, though, and once we get into the thick of things and they see what is going on with the Jews, they come up with a plan to use the destroyed zoo that they still live at, and plan to rebuild once the war is over, as a secret refuge for Jews, some of whom stay for just a night or two while others stay for the entire war. Their cover-up plan to pull this off is to use the zoo as a pig farm to feed the German soldiers so that they can fly under the radar and hopefully not get caught. In the meantime, Antonina uses her piano playing as a warning for when there's potential danger.

Right off the bat I feel obligated to warn you that this is not a kid's film. If you know me well enough, you'll know that I'm not a big fan of the MPAA because there's a lot of ambiguity and gray area. I don't like it when people use the MPAA alone as a strict guideline for when to see and not see a movie rather than looking at the content in the film. PG-13 is an especially gray area since many PG-13 films, especially the superhero and recent Star Wars film, are mild enough that a 9 or 10 year old child would have no problem with while other PG-13 films probably shouldn't be seen until one is closer to being a legal adult. This movie belongs in the latter category. While I didn't notice much blood or language, the war scenes were rather brutal. I cringed in my seat quite a bit during the bombing sequences or when soldiers would shoot people and/or animals. Then we have a certain bedroom scene where the sheets don't quite cover Jessica Chastain well enough when she shifts in her bed. Thus I think they got away with a PG-13 when this arguably could've been R. I mainly say this because I know there are people who are understandably sensitive to war movies and I wanted to give you a fair warning in case you are one of these people. Proceed with caution.

Moving forward, there's two movies that came to my mind while I was watching this. "Schindler's List" and "The Book Thief." I say "Schindler's List" because both movies have in common the theme of saving Jews from the horrors of World War II. However, "Schindler's List" is a movie that packs a powerful punch in helping us see the true horrors of what happened to these people. It's a movie that's worth being watched at least once for educational purposes, but given how hard it is to watch, it's one that perhaps needs only one watch as it's not the type of movie you'd throw in on a random evening when you are bored. "The Zookeeper's Wife" had the potential to be a movie similar to this given the content. Thus had they played their cards right, this could've been a November or December release with strong potential to be a big awards contender. That's not what this movie is, though. Yes, there are several really brutal scenes that make me stand by my previous statement that if you don't handle war films too well, you may need to proceed with caution, but this is also a movie that plays it safer than it needed to. I didn't go in expecting it to be as heavy as "Schindler's List," but I was slightly disappointed that it didn't pack as much of an emotional punch as they could've.

With that in mind, in comes my second comparison. "The Book Thief." This is what I would classify as an very underrated film that also dealt with World War II in a more toned back, quiet sort of way, choosing to focus more on the story of a few people who had to go through war instead of giving a first-hand, brutal look into the horrific moments that happened. It was released at the end of 2013 and also holds a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes of 46 percent, not too far below the 57 percent of "The Zookeeper's Wife." I would say both movies deserve to be at least in the 70's or 80's on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is what it is. The tone of "The Zookeeper's Wife" is very much like "The Book Thief." Yes, they could've done more to give the movie more emotional weight, but what they chose to do wasn't bad. We spend a lot of time with Jessica Chastain in the zoo with these people. We don't get a ton of background on where they've been or the specifics of what happened to them, but there's a lot of character building with these quiet moments that makes you really appreciate what this couple did for these people despite the high risk of what could've happened to everyone had their secret plan been found out. Because of this, I was nervous in the final act of this movie.

I suppose if people don't like the idea of spending a lot of time hidden down in the basement corridors with these people that were hiding from the Germans, then this may come off as too slow and boring. If you need a war thriller that is action packed and gruesome from beginning to end, perhaps you may want to look elsewhere. But in my experience, the story of this movie was told well enough for me to be continually interested in what happens next and the characters were good enough to help me be emotionally invested. Jessica Chastain especially pulls off a good enough performance to carry this film and Daniel Brühl was an intimidating enough presence as one of our German soldiers to make me nervous every time he was on scene, especially during the moments where he was in the house. Their was enough war scenes scattered throughout with the bombings and other actions of the Germans to make it so that you can't be comfortable. Thus even though much of the movie was fairly slow, I was still on the edge of my seat for most of the movie, especially because the war scenes were pretty brutal when they did happen. I don't know if I'll have a huge desire to watch this movie again, but I'm grateful I learned this story and thus I'll give "The Zookeeper's Wife" an 8/10.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Your Name. Review

The world of anime is a world that I've been meaning to dive into more. Outside a few kids TV shows when I was young and an anime movie here and there, the anime world is one that I really haven't experienced much. I don't know why this is. I have nothing against this genre. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The anime I have seen have easily convinced me that this is a genre of animation done right. I just haven't gotten around to exploring this world too much and I'm excited to explore it more because I've committed myself to doing just that. Which is why when I finally saw "Your Name." hit theaters in my hometown, I put it high on my list of movies that I need to see and review after hearing nothing but high praise about it. Now that I've seen it and given it several days to sink in, I'm happy to declare to you that this is one of the best animated films that's been released in theaters in quite some time. I'm also embarrassed to learn that this is in fact the very first time I have reviewed an anime on this blog. Part of that is because they don't hit theaters in the U.S. that often, as I'll touch on in a bit, and I typically only write reviews for new releases, but still. No excuse. But hey, if I have to start somewhere, "Your Name." is a pretty good place to start.

As far as the plot specifics of this movie and details of why I like the movie so much, that's a bit of a tricky thing. Before I went in, I had a friend who had seen it tell me to go knowing as little as possible, so I followed his advice and went in without even knowing the premise of the movie. I just saw it had phenomenal reviews and was part of a genre that I've been meaning to catch up on, so that was good enough for me to give it a shot. It wasn't until well after seeing the movie that I remembered that I had watched YouTuber Chris Stuckmann's review of it back in December, but I totally forgot everything he said until I re-watched his review afterwards, which I'm grateful for because he says a lot. Probably a bit too much. After approaching this movie in this manner, I would honestly encourage all of you to do so in the same way. The best comparison that I can come up with for this movie is that it feels like a Studio Ghibli film in terms of style and quality. This is not a Studio Ghibli film, but if you like Studio Ghibli or are a fan of anime in general, close this review right now and go see this movie. Don't read or watch anything about it. Just go see it. The film is very mysterious in premise and the less you know about it going in, the better your experience will be.

As this is a movie review, and I need to say SOMETHING about what the premise is, I'm about to reveal what the basic, initial premise of this movie is so I can have something to say and build on for the rest of the review. If what I've already revealed in the last two paragraphs is enough to convince you, then my recommendation is for you to discontinue reading and come back and finish this review after seeing the movie. If you need a little more about what this movie is and why I liked it before you commit yourself to seeing it, then proceed. The movie is centered around two main characters, a boy named Taki and a girl named Mitsuha, voiced by two Japanese actors that me make glad I have a blog and not a YouTube channel because I am horrible with Japanese pronunciation -- Ryûnosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi. Anyways, these two characters are teenagers who for some mysterious reason have swapped bodies, having no recollection of who the other one is or what's going on in their life. Thus they have to figure out what the heck is going on and while they are figuring this out, we as an audience are trying to figure it out as well, making this for one incredible journey through the lives of these two characters.

That's about all I'm going to say about the plot of this movie. The rest of this review will focus on my emotions that I was going through while watching, which made for quite the movie-going experience because my emotions were all over the place. This movie is really heavy. It's unpredictable. It had me on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire run time. It had several moments of gut-busting laughter that almost made me miss what was happening next. It nearly made me cry in several moments for several different reasons. There were times where I felt like a teenage girl by having my heart melt at some of the romantic elements. The movie was really intense at times to the point where I was so nervous that I was shaking. This movie literally has almost every positive emotion that you can feel while watching a movie. I even experienced that feeling of dread that sometimes overcomes you when you realize that a movie is about to end, but you've become so emotionally invested in the world and the characters that you don't want it to end. I don't think I've experienced that specific feeling so strongly since my first time seeing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." I can't remember when an animated movie from any studio sent my on a ride this emotionally drastic.

One thing that I really loved about this movie is that it's an animated movie for adults. There's a lot of stereotypes in Hollywood that I really hate and one of them is that animated movies are for kids. I want there to be more studios and filmmakers out there that are willing to make more animated movies strictly for adults. I don't mean to say I want more sexual content or more language in my animated movies. That's another Hollywood stereotype I hate. PG movies are only for kids, PG-13 movies are for teenagers and R rated movies are for adults. I want that to go away. Not by making R-rated kids movies, but by making PG-rated adults movies. Movies that AREN'T sexually explicit or have tons of language, but that thematically speaking are stories that are geared towards adults that only adults will truly appreciate. Yes, there are a lot of Pixar and Disney movies that adults will appreciate more than kids, such as "Zootopia" and "Inside Out," but even those movies are crafted specifically so that kids will enjoy the heck out of them alongside adults. And that's all fine and dandy, but "Your Name." is a PG-rated animated movie that will most likely put your kids to sleep or cause them to lose interest within a few minutes, but will have you as an adult glued to the screen.

I love that about this movie. In fact, I love that about many of the anime that I have seen. While there are anime movies and TV shows for all different ages, many of the more popular ones, especially the Studio Ghibli films or the other animated films that typically sneak into the best animated feature category at the Oscars, are movies that, despite the PG rating that they often get, are movies for adults. They also are the traditional 2D animation style that all the major Hollywood studios have now completely abandoned ever since Pixar popularized the 3D CGI style of animation in the mid-90's. If you're a traditionalist when it comes to animation and you want more animation for adults, then anime is the genre of animation that you need to check out. Most importantly, these are often high quality movies with real, human emotion, characters you grow to love and stories that are well-thought out and are the main focus of the movie, an idea that sadly doesn't exist quite as much as it should with so many blockbusters these days focused solely on fancy visual effects or cool action sequences as opposed to focusing on good stories and good characters that movies used to be all about. Watching movies like "Your Name." is definitely a breath of fresh air in a day saturated with so many sequels, reboots and remakes.

If you are already a fan of anime, then I'm sure I'm just preaching to the choir and you are thus probably hoping that I can get on with the movie review, but I look at the U.S. box office results for this genre and I'm convinced that there is a good majority of the population that has completely ignored these movies for whatever reason, so I feel this is an important plug to make here. Especially since I haven't done my part well enough. I mean, the highest grossing anime in U.S. box office history not named "Pokemon" or "Yu-Gi-Oh!" is "The Secret World of Arriety" with just $19.2 million. Ouch. That's less money overall in the United States in its entire run than most Pixar movies make in one day. And that's with the highest grossing movie in the genre. Most of these phenomenal movies make less than $10 million here and sometimes less than $1 million here. It's a real travesty. For comparison, "Your Name." has made the U.S. equivalent of $235.3 million in Japan and $328.7 million total internationally. This is a movie that deserves to equal that over here instead of its current total of $3.5 million as of the posting of this review. So if you haven't yet made the commitment to see more anime, join with me right now in making that commitment.

Because, yes, "Your Name." is a fantastic movie that's definitely worth your time. It's one of my favorite overall movies of 2017 so far and it would've been very high on my list of best movies of 2016 had I had the luxury of seeing it last year like some did. I mention that because it premiered last July at the Anime Expo in California and had an Oscar qualifying run at some point before the end of the year, but didn't get an official U.S. theatrical release until earlier this month on April 7. It was also released in Japan as well as several other countries at various points last year. So it's a bit ambiguous as to which year this movie belongs in, but for my personal purposes, I'm going to call it a 2017 movie because that's when it got its U.S. release and that way it will be eligible for my best movies of 2017 list. Being that we're only in April, I make no promises that this will make that list, but being that it's a strong contender at this moment for my favorite movie of 2017, I'd say its chances are pretty good. There's so much more to say about this movie as I could spend a whole review elaborating on the feelings I described in my fourth paragraph, but I'm not going to because I want to savor the experience for you. So I'll just finish this review by awarding "Your Name." a perfect 10/10.

P.S.- I saw the subtitled version of this movie, not the dubbed version. Because when I watch a movie in a foreign language, that's how I prefer to watch so that I can hear the original sound of the foreign person's voice as they talk. I have no problem reading subtitles in a movie in situations like this. I think that's how they should be watched. In case you were curious.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Fate of the Furious Review

The Fast and Furious franchise is a franchise that I got into back in 2011, right before the release of "Fast Five." That movie was getting quite a bit of pre-release hype and so I went back and watched the previous four before seeing "Fast Five," which I still think is the best one in the franchise, despite what I may have said in previous reviews after being hyped up with adrenaline upon leaving theaters. I'll get into my specific opinions of the previous movies a bit later, but the short version is that the first four range from bad to guilty pleasure street racing movies while five through seven took this franchise in a completely different direction, completely embracing the absurdity of what they put on screen while trying to one-up themselves with new and insane stunts and action sequences in each ensuing film. If you've never seen any movie in the franchise, I'd encourage you to throw in "Fast Five" just to see what you think instead of complaining as to why this franchise now has eight movies with a ninth and a tenth already on the schedule. If it's not your cup of tea, the eighth movie won't convert you, but if you find that you are enjoying yourself, then catch up on the franchise and get ready for another wild ride with a movie that is exactly what you want it to be.

They probably could've ended the franchise after "Furious 7" and that would've left us on a beautiful emotional high, but when you make $1.5 billion worldwide with the previous installment, the rules of business in Hollywood state that you find a way to make another movie, especially when you're part of a franchise where coming up with a new premise is pretty easy to do. I mean, it's not like these are deep, emotional, story-driven movies where making sequels has the potential of ruining the magic that the previous installments put into place. This is a very sequel-friendly franchise where all they have to do is come up with a simple premise then use a bit of creativity to decide what cool new crazy stunts they are going to pull off next while trying to figure out which new famous actors want to join in on the fun. This time we have zombie cars and submarines while adding Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and Scott Eastwood to the party with a premise that consists of Vin Diesel going rogue which leads to his team trying to figure out what in the heck happened while trying to figure out how in the heck to stop him. Boom! There's our movie. Now if you don't mind some absurdity and you don't need your movie physics to make any sense, then strap in and enjoy!

As far as the specifics of our story, this is probably the most concise story since "Fast Five." They got a little carried away in "Fast & Furious 6" causing the story to get a bit more complex than they needed it to be. Meanwhile "Furious 7" was handicapped a bit with the death of Paul Walker, which caused them to have to re-write things a bit in order to complete the movie, a task they did quite well with all things considered, but left the story itself a bit scattered. "The Fate of the Furious" is essentially a mission to find Vin Diesel and stop what he's up to, which in turn is tied into the master plan of Charlize Theron's villain, which in turn is tied into Owen and Deckard Shaw, our two villainous brothers from six and seven. OK, that sounds a bit complex. But all that really means is that you probably shouldn't start your journey into this franchise with "The Fate of the Furious" as you might get lost without knowing what happens in "Fast & Furious 6" and "Furious 7" as they do a pretty good job at tying everything in, thus rewarding the fans who are familiar with the whole franchise, which I personally appreciated, especially since I spent the whole week prior re-watching all seven movies, thus I had everything fresh on my mind heading into this eighth film.

I will say this movie does start out pretty slow. After our obligatory street race to start out the movie, which was a pretty good street race if I might add, Charlize Theron approaches Dom (Vin Diesel) in Cuba while him and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon and shows him things. Then we go over to Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who gets approached that things need to happen over in Berlin. Hobbs recruits Dom, who gets the rest of the team together to head over to Germany with Hobbs. It felt kind of forced and rushed, thus making me slightly nervous about the rest of the film. Then finally things got interesting with Dom betrayed the team and got away, blind-siding his whole team as he mysteriously chooses to follow Cipher (Charlize Theron). Then things get interesting as Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is back to help them stop Cipher, but in doing so he cleverly arranges for Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to join with them through a series of events that I won't describe and we're off to the races. Once we finally get things set up, that's when the movie takes off and is super entertaining while also being surprisingly dark and emotional at times. I was invested in what was going on and I really bought Charlize Theron as a villain. She was a great addition.

There is an unfortunate thing that needs to be discussed, though. While much of this franchise is built on crazy stunts and action sequences that entertain the heck out of you, the glue that holds everything together is our team of characters that we've grown to love through all these years of movies. In "Fast & Furious 6" we said a final goodbye to Han and Giselle, two of our main side characters. Then in "Furious 7" we sadly had to say goodbye to Paul Walker, who was one of the two cornerstones of this franchise following his tragic death. In order to make for a smooth transition, we also had to say goodbye to Mia, Paul Walker's love interest in the movie as the two are now living a quiet life on their own in this fictional universe. So our great team of characters that is holding everything together is thinning out. With this eighth movie deciding to make Dom, our other major cornerstone, go rogue, we are left with a team full of side characters for the majority of this movie. Letty, Roman, Tej and Ramsey all do great, but the four of them can't carry this franchise on their own. The absence of Paul Walker is really felt in this movie and when Vin Diesel is not around on the good side, the movie feels really empty. It was like a family reunion with only a few members of the family.

Luckily we did have Dwayne Johnson for the entire film this time around, as he disappeared for much of "Furious 7." He added a lot to the franchise when he joined in "Fast Five" and they certainly need to make sure they keep him around to help maintain the success of this franchise. What really helped as well was Jason Statham. He played a pretty awesome villain in "Furious 7," and while I won't reveal any more details on why he is fighting on their side, they need to keep him with the team going forward. A Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel led team is a team I can get behind as we move forward with this franchise. No more Vin Diesel abandoning his team. And we could probably use another person or two to join up with this franchise. A good action star that everyone knows and loves. On that note, they probably regret killing off Gal Gadot in "Fast & Furious 6" now that she has been cast as Wonder Woman. Having her around would really help. Perhaps they can recruit someone like a Tom Cruise or an Arnold Schwarzenegger? Maybe Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Liam Neeson or Russell Crowe? Either to work for or against our team? Just a few ideas. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them. Let me know on social media or in the comments! Let's help Universal cast the next two movies!

That about does it with this review. If you love this franchise, especially the previous three movies, then "The Fate of the Furious" gives you exactly what you've come to expect and is thus a must see, but you were probably already planning on seeing it anyways and didn't really need my stamp of approval before going out. What I've left mostly out of this review is my specific thoughts on the action and crazy stunts they pull off. I do that on purpose because I want all of that to be a surprise for you if the trailers haven't already spoiled it for you. Just know that you're in for quite a treat which includes a third act that is absolutely insane and one of the best finales of the entire franchise. If I were to give grades to all of the movies, since I watched them all this past week, I would give "The Fast and the Furious" a 6/10, "2 Fast 2 Furious" a 5/10, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" a 4/10, "Fast & Furious" a 7/10, "Fast Five" a 9/10, "Fast & Furious 6" an 8/10 and "Furious 7" a 9/10. Concerning tie-breakers, I'll give "Fast Five" a slight edge over "Furious 7" as the best of the franchise. With all that in context, I will slide "The Fate of the Furious" right in below "Fast Five" and "Furious 7" and just ahead of "Fast & Furious 6," although with the same grade as the latter of an 8/10.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Going in Style Review

April is a bit of an interesting month for movies. With March transforming into an early summer month in Hollywood and May being the official start of Hollywood's summer, April is kind of left in that awkward middle phase where a lot of smaller films get dropped and forgotten about. These are the types of films that will either be hidden gems or throwaway garbage and it's hard to trust trailers or even reviews when those come out, so you just kind of have to take the gamble and see if it works out. That's what I'll be doing with several of my reviews this month because I'm certainly not one to just sit around and wait for all the good stuff, especially since last summer taught us that many highly anticipated blockbusters have the potential of being complete duds, anyways. So why not venture out to see a lot of these smaller films? "Going in Style" is a movie that I've been curious about for a while now since it had three of Hollywood's greatest actors settling down and having fun in their old age. It didn't seem like a movie that you should go in with super high expectations or take super seriously while watching, like some critics seem to have done, but rather it should be a movie to sit back and enjoy for a couple of hours, which is what I did. And I had a lot of fun with this!

As far as a premise goes, "Going in Style" is actually a remake of a 70's movie of the same name and premise, which I didn't actually know until like two days before I saw the movie, which was this past Thursday on opening night. Being that it's only been like a week since I've even known the original existed, I'm not going to spend much time on that or bother to compare the two, like I often do with remakes. If you do know and love the 70's version of "Going in Style," feel free to tell me about it in the comments and compare the two. I'd be curious to read about that from people. I'm just not going to do it myself. All I know is that both movies are about old people robbing banks. Old people with no criminal history, that is. In the old one apparently a group of old friends just get bored one day and rob a bank. In this one Michael Caine gets angry at the bank for wronging him and convinces Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin to join him in robbing his own bank, an idea that he got from witnessing a bank robbery himself. So slightly different setups, but similar premise. The 70's version has an 89 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, but that's with only nine reviews up, so not a totally reliable score to compare to the new version's 45 percent, a score that I think is too low.

That's it with the comparisons. Now I'm strictly onto this current remake. As I see it, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin have done so much for the world of cinema that I think it's perfectly fine if they want to relax and have a bit of fun for a movie. Because sadly this movie reminded me that we might not have these three for much longer. Morgan Freeman is the youngest of the three and he turns 80 later this year while Michael Caine is the oldest at 84. Their characters were joking around that they thought they would have eight years or ten years left and that made me nervous with how accurate they might, unless of course they all live til they are like 100 years old, in which case you could probably double those numbers. But that's still not a whole heck of a long time, all things considered, so why not just go have fun with some movies in your old age? And why can't we as an audience just kick back and enjoy a movie like this without taking it super seriously or expecting it to be one of the best heist films ever made in order for us to be pleased? If you go in with the right mindset to this film, I think there's a lot of fun to be had. Thus if you need a quick movie fix while you wait for the busy summer schedule, then I think this is an excellent choice.

The best part of this movie is definitely the chemistry between our three main characters. They all act as if they've been good friends for the last 50 years, thus they totally sell this friendship. While I don't know how good of friends they actually are off camera, I assume at least Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are good friends because they've been in practically every movie together this century. Yes, I exaggerate, but not by a whole lot. I could probably easily list 10 films off the top of my head without thinking too hard. But even if these three weren't the absolute best of friends, all three have had decades of acting experience to know how to pull this off. Thus watching them interacting on screen together is just a delight. I will be honest and say the setup was a bit dull and had me worried that the movie would be too boring, but once they finally made the decision that they were going to rob this bank, I had a big smile on my face for the rest of the movie. The chemistry between the three of them was great, the movie made me laugh quite a bit and the actual heist scenes were a ton of fun. Not as epic as an "Italian Job" or "Oceans Eleven," but it didn't need to be. It's just three old guys robbing a bank and having fun doing so. What more do you need in a movie?

When it comes to the actual heist scenes in the movie, we have a pre-heist scene, the heist preparation and the main heist. Quite frankly, the best moment of these three is the pre-heist. If you've seen any trailers, this scene will be the most familiar to you because that's the moment they spent most of their advertising on. But it's absolutely hilarious. Two of the three are on board for the heist while the other thinks they are crazy, which makes for a hilarious camaraderie in it's own right. But they have no idea how to do a heist or any experience doing so, so they decide to go rob their local grocery store in order to make dinner and this whole segment had me dying in laughter. Easily the most hilarious aspect of this movie. Overall, I didn't have a ton of laugh out loud laughter moments throughout the movie, but this scene definitely had me cracking up. Then they go find someone to train them on how to do an actual heist and prepare for that and the movie has a bit of a tonal shift to it. We go from outright comedy to more of a drama that actually had me kinda nervous when the big heist took place, which I think was an important shift for the overall experience of the movie because it gave the movie enough of a heart for you to care and let these three actors shine.

One of the most important parts of a heist movie, in my opinion, is the moral dilemma the audience is put in while watching. If a bank robbery happened in real life and we were watching things unfold on the news, all of us would be crossing our fingers that the perpetrators would be caught and thrown in prison. But when it happens in the movie and our main protagonists are the bank robbers, then we are cheering for them to get away with it, which is morally kind of backwards. Thus if the movie can successfully put you into that moral dilemma of making you cheer for crime to be committed while at the same time having that moral compass in the back of your head trying to point you in the right direction, then the heist movie gave you the appropriate cinematic experience. This movie definitely pulls that off. You want these three to succeed, but in between them deciding to do a heist and actually going through with it, there's a lot of family things setup and a lot of emotion displayed that makes you hope they don't go through with it. We establish that money isn't needed to provide happiness and success in life, thus the idea of these three getting caught and thrown into prison has some serious emotional implications and you don't even know if they are going to be able to pull this thing off.

Overall, I look at other reviews for this movie and I think there's a lot of critics that went into this movie with the wrong mindset. I don't like to be one to say, "Don't trust the critics" because that puts an unfair blanket statement on hundreds of professional critics that all go in and give their personal opinion. There's no team meeting among critics where they come up with a consensus that they're going to all bash certain movies while praising others. What you should do is find critics that you trust and read their individual reviews or watch their YouTube videos if you are in need of a second opinion before seeing a movie. Then go in and make up your mind on your own without letting their opinion become your opinion. What I will say in this case is that you shouldn't look at the Rotten Tomatoes score and conclude that "Going in Style" isn't worth your time, because in doing so I think you will be missing out on a fun, little April gem with three Hollywood legends enjoying life in their old age. No, this doesn't hold up to the all-time great heist films, but that wasn't the goal here. The goal here is to just have fun. If you choose to go into this movie with a relaxed mindset that you are going to enjoy life for two hours, then I think you will find enjoyment. I'm going to give "Going in Style" an 8/10.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Preview: April 2017

As I expected, this past March was huge at the box office, becoming the first March ever to cross the $1 billion mark. In fact, its $1.17 billion is the second highest grossing month ever outside July and December. July holds all top five spots in that category while our yearly Star Wars tradition is making December a month to be reckoned with. But the $1.17 billion for March is phenomenal for a non-Holiday/Summer month and goes to show how far Hollywood has come in making the lesser movie months relevant. Although I should note that it's not really worth your time to praise me too much for seeing this coming. I just had to look at the calendar and see that "Beauty and the Beast," "Logan," "Kong: Skull Island" and "Power Rangers" were all on the schedule and it was a no-brainer. "Beauty and the Beast" of course led the way with nearly $400 million in the U.S. alone in just three weeks while "Logan" crossed $200 million and "Kong: Skull Island" is inching close to the $150 million mark. Not bad at all! Looking forward to April, this is where Hollywood takes a bit of a break. The silence before the storm with the official Summer movie launch coming in May. There's a whole host of smaller releases to talk about along with our one major title, so let's knock them all out!

April 7th - 9th- 

The final weekend of March saw DreamWorks' "The Boss Baby" shock the world and topple "Beauty and the Beast," ending Disney's hope for a three-peat. Now instead of Disney going for a four-peat, the two will battle it out again this week for the top spot, both looking to come in just under $30 million. Outside a second straight surprise, that should mean our biggest new release of the weekend is probably looking at a third place finish. That being Smurfs: The Lost Village. This is the third Smurfs movie in the recent reboot franchise of our popular blue people from Sony Pictures Animation. This third movie comes at a bit of a surprise given how few people older than five years old actually enjoyed the first two movies, this shown by their horrific critical reviews ("The Smurfs" - 22 percent; "The Smurfs 2" - 13 percent) and the huge drop-off at the U.S. box office ("The Smurfs" - $142.6 million; "The Smurfs 2" - $71.0 million). For whatever reason, Sony has decided that they're not giving up on this franchise, despite it also being four years since "The Smurfs 2." In an effort to make things new and refreshing, this third movie stands as a semi-reboot and is also the first of the three to be purely in animation as opposed to animation/live-action cross-over.

Looking to finish significantly behind the three aforementioned movies that will top the box office this weekend will be Going in Style. This is a remake of the 1979 movie of the same name, which was directed by by Martin Brest and starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three senior citizens living a dull life in New York City who decide, despite have no criminal record, that they're going to rob a bank. Their reasoning is that they need to do something that will spark a bit of excitement. If they succeed, they have a bunch of money. If they lose, they get free board for a few years and have a host of social security checks waiting for them when they get out. Seemingly a win/win situation. This 2017 remake has essentially the same premise with three of Hollywood's favorite older actors stepping into the lead roles, that of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin. Certainly not a bad cast at all if you're going to remake an older 70's film that perhaps your average movie-goer may not have heard of. Directing this remake is Zach Braff, director "Garden State" and "Wish I was Here."

Our final wide release comes via Pure Flix as they present The Case for Christ in hopes of luring in the Christian crowd ahead of Easter, which arrives later than usual this year on April 16. This is our second Easter-themed movie of the season following "The Shack," which opened in early March and has performed rather well so far. It opened to $16.2 million and in five weeks of release has made $53.7 million in the U.S. so far. Pure Flix would be ecstatic to see a result like that, but a quick glance of some of their previous releases that have opened in just over 1,000 theaters might tell a better story. "Do You Believe?" opened to $3.6 million and made just under $13 million total while "Woodlawn" opened to $4.0 million and made $14.4 million total. Both in 2015. Just looking at the movie title, you can probably guess what "The Case for Christ" is going to do and you'd be right. This movie is about an investigative journalist and self-proclaimed atheist whose wife has just converted to Christianity and thus he starts on investigative search to disprove Christ. You can probably make a guess as to how his journey ends. The movie is directed by Jon Gunn, who also directed "Do You Believe?"

April 14th - 16th-

Being that it's April, a month that's not known for its high box office totals, studios seem perfectly content to hand over the monopoly for the month to Universal's The Fate of the Furious. With movies such as "Logan" and "Kong: Skull Island" not having much of an impact anymore at this point, the eighth movie and the Fast and Furious franchise enters the weekend with zero competition as our family affair that will still be doing well is a different target audience. As you'll find out for the ensuing two weeks of April, there's nothing left in April to slow it down. This is a month that the Fast and Furious franchise has done very well in as the fourth, fifth and seventh chapters all performed very well after opening in April. "The Fate of the Furious" will again look to increase the action, intensity and stakes with this story focusing on Vin Diesel going rogue. The movie brings back most of its major players, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky and Jason Statham while adding Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren. F. Gary Gray from "Straight Outta Compton" and "The Italian Job" fame will direct. Given that "Furious 7" was a tribute to the late Paul Walker, don't expect "Fate" to come close to that movie's $1.5 billion worldwide total, but it still should do very well in its own right as it's guaranteed to be 2017's second $100+ million opener.

April 21st - 23rd-

With "The Fate of the Furious" set to open somewhere between the $97.4 million of "Fast & Furious 6" and the $147.2 million of "Furious 7," that means its second weekend should be between those two movie's $35.2 million and $59.6 million, a mark that none of our five new movies this weekend will even come close to. In fact, there's a good chance that they will all fall short of $10 million, but let's talk about them anyways! And how about we start with Unforgettable, the movie that has the most potential to breakout out of all of these. Despite the potentially ironic title, "Unforgettable" is a thriller surrounding a very angry ex-wife who is specifically targeting her ex-husband's new wife with the goal of making her life miserable. This is a Katherine Heigl vs. Rosario Dawson face-off, with Heigl playing the ex-wife and Dawson playing the current wife. This premise reminds one of a traditional September Screen Gems thriller ala "When the Bow Breaks," "The Perfect Guy" or "No Good Deed," movies that opened to $14.2 million, $25.9 million and $24.3 million. If Warner Bros. can hit the mark of the latter two, they'll be ecstatic here, but a total closer "When the Bough Breaks" might be more realistic, especially since both are similarly "Fatal Attraction" rip-offs or wannabees.

 Perhaps a slightly more memorable outing for filmmakers that could be the top new release if "Unforgettable" is a flop (which is entirely possible) is Free Fire. This movie is an R-rated British action-comedy starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor that is set in Boston in the late-70's. The movie is about two gangs that meet in an abandoned warehouse to buy guns. Things go amiss and suddenly they all find themselves in a big shootout where no one is in control because they all have guns. "Free Fire" made it's debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and also closed out the BFI London Film Festival. It was released in the U.K. at the end of March with StudioCanal U.K. handling distribution over there while A24 will handle distribution in the U.S. A24 has become a very prestigious distribution company in the realm of independent films with last year's best picture winner "Moonlight" being one of many films they have handled. Yet despite that, this will be only their second movie that they've opened in more than 1,000 theaters after last year's "The Witch," which opened to $8.8 million. So either this will break a record for them or it will play out like "The Witch" and have a more conservative run.

Next up we have a movie attempting to play "The Blair Witch Project" card and that is Phoenix Forgotten. In 1999, "The Blair Witch Project" was a movie that claimed to be edited from actual camera footage found from three students that went out into the woods hunting a witch a few years previously and were never found again. It was a brilliant cinematic ploy that tricked millions of people and popularized the found footage genre. 18 years later, we're all sick of the genre due to its overuse, but "Phoenix Forgotten" is going to try it again anyways. In this, the trailers claim that the there have been multiple UFO citings throughout history that the government has repeatedly denied. "Phoenix Forgotten" tells the story of three students who caught UFO footage on their cameras in Phoenix, Arizona 20 years ago, then went out searching further and were never seen again. Sound familiar? One of the producers of this film is Ridley Scott, director of the 1979 classic "Alien." This coming a month after "Life," an "Alien" copycat movie and a month before "Alien: Covenant," which is again directed by Ridley Scott. So, you know, aliens are the cool thing in Hollywood right now.

It's been an April tradition around Earth Day for a new DisneyNature documentary to come out. This started in 2009, with the only years DisneyNature taking off being 2013 and last year. But they're back this year with Born in China, a DisneyNature documentary that explores the wildlife of China. DisneyNature claims that this is their most ambitious project to date with how difficult it is to get the footage of this area for several different reasons, high elevation being one of them. They specifically follow the families of a panda, a snow leopard and a golden monkey. For every ticket purchased on opening weekend, DisneyNature will donate $0.20 to the World Wildlife Fund to help protect the wild animals in China, with the minimum donation being $100,000. In case you needed some incentive to go see it. For context, opening weekends for past DisneyNature documentaries have been anywhere from $4.6 million to $10.8 million, with the average being $6.8 million and the median being just over $6 million. So that's the range we're looking at for "Born in China."

The movie with perhaps the least amount of promise this weekend is ironically The Promise. This movie is a historical drama that takes place during the last days of the Ottoman Empire and is centered around a love-triangle between characters played by Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale. So in terms of cast, this movie is strong. But it reminds me a bit of last month's "The Zookeeper's Wife," a more low-key historical film with an A-list cast that Focus Features decided to open in just 541 theaters instead of their initial planned wide release, a strategy that worked well for them given how high the per-theater average was (it earned $3.3 million in 541 theaters). If Open Road Films wanted to use the same strategy here, that wouldn't be a bad idea given the number of films in the market this weekend. Either way, the reviews will be what carries this film. On that note, it currently carries an early 31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after showing at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, which isn't a very good sign. Unless general audiences react differently, this could be dead on arrival.

April 28th - 30th-

Based on the third weekend totals of "Fast & Furious 6" and "Furious 7," "The Fate of the Furious" is looking at a third weekend total between $19.6 million and $29.2 million. This is a total that would be beatable if it weren't a weekend that's essentially cinematic suicide to release a film on, so studios don't usually try. Hoping for the best will be STX Entertainment with The Circle. The reason why the last weekend of April is such a bad weekend is that the first weekend of May is the big Summer opening weekend, which in this case means Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," which is poised for one of the biggest opening weekends ever. Does any studio really want to release their movie the weekend right before that? And if they do, what does that say about their confidence towards the movie that they won't give it a little more breathing room? Now "The Circle" does have some positive buzz as it's a sci-fi thriller based on a popular novel from a few years ago and stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega. Emma Watson takes a job at a powerful internet company and quickly rises up the ranks only to realize that this may not have been the best choice. James Ponsoldt from "The Spectacular Now" is the director of the film.

Finishing off the month will be a pair of releases that will go mostly unnoticed. Starting us off is How to Be a Latin Lover. This comes to us via Pantelion Films, a distribution company focused on delivering movies to the Latino audience. Recent films they've released include "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Un Padre No Tan Padre," "Compadres" and "No Manches Frida." "How to Be a Latin Lover" stars Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe and Kristen Bell and is about a man who made a career of career of seducing older women. After 25 years of marriage to a woman twice his age, he comes home one day to find that she has dumped him and now he has to start over and ends up moving in with his sister and her son. These movies from Pantelion usually open to a few million or so and play well over the ensuing weeks with their target audience, so this is likely to do the same.

Last and possibly least from the month of April is Sleight., a movie that initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year before being acquired by BH Tilt and WWE Studios and finally arriving in theaters over a year after its Sundance premier. The movie is about a young magician looking after his younger sister following the passing of their parents. When she gets kidnapped, he uses his magician skills to try to save her. At least one critic described it as "Chronicle" meets "Iron Man," which is an interesting comparison. Sundance films don't usually have the best crossover to general audiences. Out of the 2016 crop, "Manchester by the Sea" did very well thanks to its awards season buzz, but the others not so much. "The Birth of a Nation" and "Love & Friendship" led the way with a final total of $15.9 and $15.0 million respectively while most of the others that got an actual push landed between $1 million and $6 million, which seems like a good range for "Sleight." BH Tilt has released a total of five films over the last two years that finished between $2.3 million and $10.8 million.