Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther Review

It's time again to review yet another entry in the illustrious Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 18th entry. Can you believe it? This is the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Talk about a successful franchise! And not only is this the 18th movie in this franchise, but this going to be the 18th successful movie in the franchise and might become one of Marvel's biggest hits yet. The previous 17 movies have combined for a whopping $5.3 billion at the domestic box office and $13.6 billion at the worldwide box office. These are franchise numbers that the world hasn't seen. Like, literally. It's the highest grossing franchise ever at the worldwide box office. Next up is Star Wars with $9.1 billion, Harry Potter with $7.7 billion, James Bond with $7.1 billion and Lord of the Rings (including The Hobbit movies) with $5.9 billion. And the crazy thing is that it doesn't appear that we're even close to slowing down. Last night "Black Panther" earned $25.2 million in Thursday night previews, the second highest ever for the MCU, and is looking for a four-day President's Day weekend around $200 million. And that's in the non-summer month of February that has only seen one other movie ("Deadpool" in 2016) even top $100 million for opening weekend.

Before I dive into my thoughts on the movie, I want to discuss this crazy phenomenon that "Black Panther" is about to become at the box office. Up to this point in the MCU, the solo introduction movies haven't exactly been the money makers. "The Incredible Hulk" opened to $55.4, "Ant-Man" opened to $57.2 million, "Captain America: The First Avenger" opened to $65.1 million, "Thor" opened to $65.7 million, Doctor Strange opened to $85.1 million, "Guardians of the Galaxy" opened to $94.3 million and "Iron Man" opened to $98.6 million. Those are all of our solo introduction movies in the MCU. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is more of a unique situation because that was the sixth Spider-Man movie since 2002, but even that was only $117.0 million. All of the others that opened higher were sequels or Avengers movies. So it's rather incredible that "Black Panther" will essentially be doing Avengers numbers. There's only a handful of non-sequels that have even topped $100 million on opening weekend and "Black Panther" could be the highest grossing of them all if it can manage to top last year's "Beauty and the Beast" ($174.8 million). Next up is "The Hunger Games" ($152.5 million), "Suicide Squad" ($133.7 million) and "Deadpool" ($132.4 million).

So why is "Black Panther" opening that high? Well, you could definitely point to his very successful introduction in "Captain America: Civil War" as at least one factor. Without that, I'm not so sure the awareness for the character would be as high given that he's a slightly obscure comic book character, at least when compared to your Batman, Superman and Spider-Mans of the world. And of course, Disney and Marvel being confident enough to give it a worldwide premier at the end of January helped a lot with the enormously positive buzz over the last few weeks as it's received nearly unanimous praise since that release. A well-received Marvel movie will capture a lot of people's attention. But there's something more significant here that's helped this movie achieve the ultimate sweet spot with audiences and that is the cultural significance of this movie. This is a high-budgeted superhero movie led by a black superhero with a mostly black cast being released in black history month in 2018. I hesitate to call this revolutionary. He's not the first black superhero. He's not the first black superhero with his own movie. And this isn't the first movie with a mostly black cast and black director. But much like "Wonder Woman" last year, this is a defining movie for the genre.

I don't think that this is something that should be lost on us. Sure, characters like Falcon and War Machine exist in the MCU itself. But they are mainly side character and aren't popular enough characters to warrant their own movie. And yes, fans of the Blade trilogy will be quick to remind you that calling "Black Panther" the first black superhero movie is not accurate. But yet there's something special about "Black Panther." The size the production. The accessibility to mainstream audiences. The timing of the release in a very progressive modern era. The superhero genre for so many years has been dominated by these white, male superheroes that certain minorities, ethnic groups and genders have been left in the dust. That's why "Wonder Woman" was such a big hit last year. We finally got a female-led superhero movie that was actually worth watching. Girls around the world, young and old, but especially young, now have a superhero for them to look up to. The number of girls who went dressed as Wonder Woman at Halloween was astronomical compared to previous years because of how culturally significant the movie was, especially with the "Me Too" movement going strong. Women can be strong and powerful. They can make a difference in the world. That was a powerful notion.

Following on the heels of "Moonlight" and "Get Out," which were other culturally significant movies for the black community in their own ways, "Black Panther" now gives the black community their own superhero to look up to. And not just one fighting as a sidekick to Captain America and Iron Man. But one who is leading the charge. Even though I myself am a white, male American who has been spoiled for so many years and thus really don't know how it feels to be oppressed, I have all the respect in the world for "Black Panther" being the superhero movie that millions of people around the world can now connect with on a different level that I can't fully comprehend. Thus I want to tread lightly here with this review because I totally understand how culturally significant this movie is for many people. But I have to give you my personal opinion of this movie that I watched last night. You can choose to praise me for my honesty or stone me for being "insensitive," but as my own personal rule, a movie has to be more than just culturally significant for me to enjoy it. The movie itself has to be good. I praised "Wonder Woman" to the high heavens, not just because it was a female-led superhero movie, but because it also felt like classic DC. And I grew up loving DC.

If I'm being honest, "Black Panther" as a movie didn't quite hit the sweet spot for me like previous Marvel movies have. You can blame it on me being a white, male American if you'd like. And I'm not going to argue with you. But I like to blame on me being extra picky after watching 17 of these MCU movies before going in. And that's not to mention all of the other superhero movies from the other studios that are trying to replicate Marvel's success. The market has been oversaturated with superhero movies in the last 10 years. Even though it's not difficult for me to enjoy the genre, I've also come to the point where the novelty of seeing a superhero movie on screen has worn off and I've thus become a lot more picky. You can get mad at me for being super picky if you'd like. Tell me that I should stop being so critical and just enjoy the movie. But the advantages of being picky is that occasionally a movie will come around that will do everything I want it to do. Thus I feel I'm rewarded for being picky when movies like "Logan," "Wonder Woman" or even "Thor: Ragnarok" roll around because I enjoy those a lot more than I may have otherwise if I had just blindly enjoyed every superhero movie that graced my eyes as if they're all flawless masterpieces.

Carefully setting aside the color of Black Panther's skin, his arc in "Civil War" was phenomenal. That's what engaged me. That's what I was excited to see. His father, the king of Wakanda, was killed in an explosion and because of that, he spent the movie on a revenge plot, seeking out the killer. And in the end he could've had his revenge, but he realized that he was bigger than that. That was beautiful. I loved who he was and what he stood for. It was one of my favorite parts of "Civil War." Thus I was excited to see the next part in his story as he went back home to Wakanda and now had to take over as king. I immediately became immersed in this country of Wakanda. The development thanks to the vibranium was fascinating and the visuals were breathtaking. But for the first half of the movie, we didn't do a whole lot. We hung out in Wakanda. We officially made T'Challa the new king. We set up Ulysses Klaue and Erik Killmonger, the two main villains, as being up to no good. We set up a few other story arcs, teasing us that something was going to happen with them. Eventually. Then we went on a bit of a goose chase and through it all, I found myself not being quite as interested as I wanted to be. My brain was deciding that this super comfortable seat was worthy of taking a nap in.

Eventually the movie did find its groove for me, but it took its sweet time getting there and that was a bit disappointing for me, especially when most of the other Marvel movies hooked me right from the opening scene and kept me engaged throughout. Even when the movie finally did hook me, in pondering over what we ended up getting, I'm not so sure the final result was super revolutionary. I hate to use the word predictable, but we kinda wandered into that territory a bit. I walked out thinking that this was Marvel's version of "The Lion King" as a lot of the story elements connected rather well. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison than comparing this to an animated Disney movie would be to branch out further and say that "Black Panther" seems to gain a lot of inspiration from "Hamlet" as this is a movie centered around a conflict over the throne after the previous king has passed away. I don't want to dive too deep into the comparisons because I want to avoid spoilers, but we have implemented themes of self-discovery, our main character taking a bit of a side journey into the wilderness, visions from the former king, and a bit of an inner revolution as the people of Wakanda tried to figure out what was best for the country.

I will say the standout in all of this was Michael B. Jordan's villainous role of Erik Killmonger. I do kinda chuckle when people so daringly say that he's the best Marvel villain since Loki as if claiming that is some sort of bold statement. I mean, what competition is there for that runner up spot? I think a more bold statement coming from me is that he's NOT the best villain since Loki. But that sounds a bit more harsh than it actually is. I would just like us to not forget about Michael Keaton's Vulture from last year. Killmonger is third place for me. Good villains are something that Marvel has really struggled with and it makes me happy that they finally got it right. He's not just evil for the sake of being evil. There's things that happened in the past that make him legitimately have a grudge against Wakanda as a whole. The movie gets fascinatingly political when Killmonger points out major flaws with the current philosophy of Wakanda that make you stop and realize that he's actually kinda right in being upset with them. It made me wish that the movie had a bit more focus because outside being in a few opening scenes, he doesn't really show up until the second half of the movie. But when he did, he owns the screen and nearly overshadows Black Panther in his own movie.

There's a lot more that I could dive into, but this review is long enough as it is, plus diving in deeper would cause me to fall into spoiler territory. Just know that I do really have a high amount of respect for this movie for what it's accomplished culturally, even though the movie on a personal level didn't connect with me as much in terms of story and characters. I think we got a better Black Panther movie brilliantly weaved into "Civil War" than we got with this actual full-length movie. The movie is a lot more serious in nature, thus reminding me more of a DC movie than a Marvel movie. In fact, it felt like it was following the formula of a Batman movie more than anything Marvel's done. And I actually enjoyed that minor diversion from their formula. It means their more willing to take risks and let the directors have more creative freedom rather than having specific studio mandates. But I suppose when push comes to shove, I think the movie had a lot of pacing issues. It wasn't as sharp and focused as I would've liked it, especially in the first hour of the movie. But the second half of the movie gave us a lot of political intrigue and some good character development from T'Challa and Killmonger. Assigning a grade is hard in this instance, but I think for now I will settle with an 8/10.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

Remember that time when everyone was raving about this Maze Runner franchise and how everyone was dying of anticipation for this final chapter given how much praise the previous two movies received? Yeah, neither did I. Because no one cares. I actually kinda feel bad for this franchise because it had such a great cast and amazing potential... for the first two-thirds of the first movie. Then they revealed the ending and that completely deflated everything with how boring and cliche it became. The the second movie came out and I don't think anyone remembers that boring piece of cinema. The this final movie was supposed to come a year ago, but Dylan O'Brien got seriously injured on set, forcing them to postpone the movie for an entire year while he recovered, which had the unfortunate side effects of creating enough space to cause everyone to completely forget this franchise existed until trailers started showing up a few months ago. Now "The Death Cure" is officially like that facebook friend who discovers the old trends a year or two late. We all moved on with life, but they're still posting Harlem Shake videos, if you know what I mean. Needless to say I wasn't interested in this at all, but sometimes I can be a completionist, so here we go with a review.

This all started with Harry Potter and Twilight becoming huge things. Since those movies were a success, Hollywood desperately kept searching for the next big YA book series to adapt into movies. We specifically began to hone in on the dystopian subgenre of this thanks to the discovery of The Hunger Games. Then we quickly found out that there's not a whole lot you can do with this genre, but Hollywood kept trying until finally audiences got bored. The finale of The Hunger Games severely underperformed compared to the previous movies in the franchise, but that was nothing compared to the embarrassing death of the Divergent series. "Allegiant," the third of four planned movies, was such a huge box office bomb and critical disaster that the finale was straight up cancelled. They were initially planning to finish it off on TV and attempt a new series, but I highly doubt that is ever going to happen. I feel that this was the nail in the coffin for this genre. But here we are with "The Death Cure" in early 2018. Perhaps this would've been more successful if it wasn't so late to the party, but as is, "The Death Cure" is bombing hard. After finally seeing it following its second weekend in release, I don't feel that bad. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Maze Runner franchise.

If I'm being honest, I didn't expect much from this franchise to begin with, but when "The Maze Runner" debuted in September 2014, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first two acts. I thought the movie had a great cast and there was a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding this maze that they were thrown in which also provided a lot of genuinely intense action sequences with whatever the heck was chasing them in the maze. The camaraderie among the group at home base just outside the maze was pretty great. But then they decided to reveal the mystery behind all of this and it turned out to be really lazy. Just another dystopian movie with zero creativity and zero originality. Given that I actually enjoyed a good portion of that movie, though, I went into "The Scorch Trials" a year later with the slight hope that maybe they could get back on track. But man. I don't even fully remember why I hated that movie. But that might prove a point. Despite being let down by "The Maze Runner," I at least remember it vividly. "The Scorch Trails," though... no. It's mostly gone from my memory. I just remember having zero interest in it while watching. I thought about going back and reading my review or reading a wiki synopsis before going to see "The Death Cure." But that didn't happen.

I will say that I don't think "The Death Cure" is an inherently bad movie. When compared to "The Scorch Trials," any movie in the Divergent series (all three were bad) and "Mockingjay Part 2," which broke my heart by being terrible, this is a mostly watchable film. There were a lot of well shot action sequences and everyone in the cast was giving it their all. And the basic premise of the movie had potential. But when push comes to shove, the writers of this finale just had no idea how to finish this off. I haven't read the books and have zero desire to, so I can't say for sure if the root of the problem lies within the novel itself or if it's just a crappy, unfocused adaptation, but my initial prediction is that it could be a bit of both. Yet I can only judge based on what I saw on the screen, so that's my focus here. The basic premise is that most of Earth has been infected by a virus that has turned the population into zombies, even though they refuse to say the word zombie, which is silly to me. Anyways, the arrogant rich people are trying to figure out a cure, but show a lack of respect of humanity with their inhumane experiments on the lower classes. All this has led to just one city left on Earth that is in jeopardy of being destroyed if they don't succeed.

Through all this, our main group of kids has escaped all these shenanigans and are ready to repopulate at a safe heaven across the ocean along with a bunch of other rebels of various ages. But there's a few friends of this group that got recaptured and are being taken back to the city for more experiments. So our lead character Thomas, played by Dylan O'Brien, is dead set on leaving the ninety and nine, so to speak, to rescue the one. Thus we are going back to the city that they spent the last two movies escaping. At it's core, that premise could work. It almost felt like a heist of sorts with a small group of individuals sneaking into a giant building with a master plan on how to steal something. In this case, their friend. Had this movie had any sense of focus, this could've worked. Sneak into the city. Find a way into the building. Rescue their friend as well as any others trapped. Get the heck out of there. Travel to the promised land. Throw in a few moments where the plan fails, causing panic as well as major confrontations with our big baddies and we'd have a solid movie on our hands. But that's definitely not what we did here. We successfully made it through that first step: sneak into the city. But after that, the movie exploded into this big confusing mess.

I should start by pointing out that this movie actually started by making me think I was watching a Fast and Furious sequel. I had a lot of fun with that, despite it being completely ridiculous. I mean, they were stealing a train cart full of people. Not just the people. But the full cart while the people were in it. It was extremely absurd. But a lot of fun. When they realized the person they were looking for was not on that cart, that's when the plan was made to go back to the city. That was all fine and dandy, I suppose. But I bring up the Fast and Furious comparison because every time danger arose, they got out of it in Fast and Furious manner, which got to be a bit silly, especially considering the fact that they were actually trying to make a serious movie as opposed to a purposely absurd action thriller like the actual Fast and Furious movies. Thus there were a lot of lazy plot conveniences with certain people being in the right place at the right time. There were also a lot of crazy action sequences that shouldn't have worked considering the context of the movie and the abilities of the characters. But the writers didn't know how else to write these characters out of these situations, so instead they settled with these insane stunts that didn't make sense.

Yet this isn't even the major problem with "The Death Cure." Given the context of this being a rescue/heist mission sort of movie, the run time should've been 90-110 minutes long. Instead it was 140 minutes long, meaning this movie was quite literally anywhere from 30-50 minutes too long. This felt even longer considering when we got to the city around the end of the first act, the plot became as coherent and focused as a giant plate of spaghetti. There were so many twists and turns in this movie, but not the good kind. Plot just happened. It wandered in directions it shouldn't have or didn't need to. And it kept going. And going. And going. And going. I didn't check the time on my phone at any point in this movie, but there came a point in the movie where my brain told me that we were probably setting up our final action sequence, but instead this played out like a Transformers film in that said "final action sequence" was just the first of many confusing and unnecessary action sequences that weren't needed. I just wanted them to rescue their friend and leave the city. But that was impossible because apparently this movie needed to be as long as a Harry Potter film, despite not even having as close to as much content to justify such a lengthy run time.

When the movie finally decided that it was going to actually end, I spent to reflecting back on a lot of the plot points that happened in the movie and realized that a lot of them were in fact completely pointless. There were a lot of character motivations that I simply didn't understand, especially when it came to our evil masterminds. Decisions were made that I felt betrayed some of the characters or simply didn't need to happen. I think certain sequences were setup to try to make me feel emotion by pulling on my heartstrings. But instead I confusingly said to myself, "Well that was stupid." For posterity's sake I really want to reveal which specific plot points in the movie actually made me physically angry because I feel like this movie will play out like "The Scorch Trials" by making me completely forget about it, but I won't. Just know that there were several moments where instead of feeling the emotion that the movie wanted me to feel, I instead looked at the screen and nearly verbalized the word, "Why?" My conclusions to each of these questions all tied into the general thought that the writing in this movie was horrendous. They had a decent premise and good characters with committed actors, but a writing team that didn't know how to wrap this up.

In concluding this review, I want to repeat that I don't find this to be a straight-up bad movie. The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Rosa Salazar (Brenda), Aidan Gillen (Janson) and another individual who I had no idea was in this movie, so I'll leave the identity a secret for those who actually care and don't want the movie spoiled. Those six actors especially gave it their all. And if we turn off our brain and ignore the incoherent, unfocused plot of the movie that was unnecessarily extended 30-50 minutes, the individual action sequences were extremely entertaining, even if they were also a bit absurd. The visual effects are all fantastic and the cinematography is very well done. So there's a lot of elements in this movie that really worked. But when push comes to shove, this dystopian genre is a worn-out genre with nothing else to give, so I don't think there is a way this movie could've ended that would've completely pleased me, but the writing was so incompetent that it ended up sticking out like a sore thumb and caused me storm out of the theater in a frustrated rage. I could go really low with this score, but I'm feeling nice, so I'm giving this a 6/10.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox Review

Yeah that's right. I'm reviewing a new "Cloverfield" movie right now. Totally not something I thought I would be doing at this moment, but it happened. And for that, this movie is absolutely genius. Or at least the extremely unique marketing campaign is. If we add a bit of context to this, the "Cloverfield" franchise is one that has always been shrouded in secrecy. I didn't watch the original "Cloverfield" in theaters back in 2008, so I'm not perfectly up to par on exactly how that movie's marketing went about, but I'm pretty sure it's a movie that just showed up with a trailer a month or two before it actually came out with people wondering what the heck this movie is. A lot of people enjoyed it. A lot of people didn't. Call it an acquired taste, I suppose. I jumped on the bandwagon several years later. Let's call it 2012. Give or take a year or two because I don't know exactly when I saw it. But I bought it on DVD in a $5 bin from Wal-Mart one day and loved it. Then in January 2016, "10 Cloverfield Lane" starts trending on Facebook and I thought that meant a sequel was announced. And it was. But the announcement was that the sequel had already been made and here's the trailer for this sequel that's coming in two months. Say what? So I saw that one and loved it, too!

Fast forward to yesterday. Super Bowl LII. During the first half of the game, the trailer for the long-awaited third "Cloverfield" finally debuted. Some thought it would be called "God Particle." Turns out the trailer reveals that this movie is called "The Cloverfield Paradox." And the previous rumors that it had been sold to Netflix from Paramount turned out to be true. But that first trailer didn't inform us when the movie would come out. So I assumed April because that was the most recently scheduled release date. See, unlike the first two movies, we've known about this one for a while, but it kept bouncing around on the schedule quite a bit, making me quite antsy, especially when the release dates were approaching and we still had no trailer. So I was really happy to be satisfied with that trailer finally showing up during the Super Bowl. I was planning on giving my thoughts on the trailer along with the other trailers we got, but then we were surprised with a second trailer towards the end of the game, which ended with the statement that the movie was available to be streamed right now. SAY WHAT?!?! But yeah. It was true. I opened my Netflix app and there it was. So once the game ended, I went home and watched it with my roommates. Now I'm writing my review.

I'm still kinda blown away by this. Just two days ago I was a bit flustered that we still hadn't seen a trailer, so I wasn't even sure when this thing was coming out. And now I'm writing my review of it because within hours it was confirmed to be heading to Netflix, the trailer showed up and now the movie is here. That's such a "Cloverfield" thing to do with the marketing and I love it. So maybe it's a bad idea to write this review when I'm still hyped up over the fact that I just watched a new "Cloverfield" movie that I wasn't expecting for another two months, but the other part of me wants to surprise my friends who payed no attention to the Super Bowl with a review on Monday of a new "Cloverfield" movie that they may be unaware even exists. Obviously the latter won out. If I managed to shock even one of you, then mission accomplished. Now for the most recommended movie-watching experience, I recommend closing this review, opening up your Netflix and watching the movie. This is not a spoiler review, but I am going to give you my thoughts on this and in doing so I have to reveal some plot details. If you want to go in completely blind like I did, then turn away and read the rest later. Just make sure you find the biggest screen possible for the best experience.

Full disclosure here. I am predicting right now that if you aren't sold by this franchise as of yet, "The Cloverfield Paradox" is not the movie that's going to convert you. I can even understand you still not being sold by this specific movie even if you did like the previous two. But if you're a "Cloverfield" fan, you need to at least give this one a shot because I think what they've done with this franchise is rather fascinating. The first one is a found footage horror film. If you don't like the found footage style, then I can totally understand why you may hate "Cloverfield." It's not worth watching a movie that literally makes you sick. But I thought it was a clever way of telling an alien invasion horror flick. Some kids are at a party and a monster shows up and now they have to run away. That's our movie. Also don't watch if you don't like horrors. But if found footage and/or monster movie horror films aren't your thing, "10 Cloverfield Lane" might be worth checking out if you happen to like intense mystery thrillers. Most of that movie takes place in an underground bunker with this girl trapped by a crazy John Goodman. One of the best modern thrillers, in my opinion. If you hated the ending, well, I'll just kindly remind you what franchise this is and hopefully that will make sense.

Enter "The Cloverfield Paradox." This one is not found footage. Neither was "10 Cloverfield Lane" for that matter. So no need to worry about the movie giving you motion sickness. What this movie does do is successfully switch up the genre again, giving us three "Cloverfield" movies that are all different genres. We go from found footage horror to thriller to sci-fi. Yes, "The Cloverfield Paradox" is best described as a sci-fi movie. A sci-fi movie that is heavily sprinkled with the "Cloverfield" magic. And just like "10 Cloverfield Lane" was not really a sequel to "Cloverfield," "The Cloverfield Paradox" is also not really a sequel to either. They're all like sidequels. They're happening side by side in the same universe, but neither picks up on the exact same story arc as others. And if that doesn't make sense, maybe a better way to describe it is this whole franchise is a giant puzzle. Because J.J. Abrams, who is producer for all three, loves his mystery box films, him and his team have now given us three pieces to this "Cloverfield" puzzle. Each piece stands on its own as a decent film, but if you look at all three of them together, we're formulating this rather fascinating picture of this creative story that's enhanced by this unconventional reveal of this puzzle.

It's possible that some might finish this movie and consider it to be a tired premise that they're sick of seeing, especially if they watched it on a tiny screen instead of finding a bigger TV to watch it on. I'm kinda bummed that this never made it to theaters because seeing this on the big screen would've been awesome. But oh well. Netflix is changing the game with movies like this and "Bright," so I'm cool with it, I suppose. But I say this might be a tired premise for some because this is a lot like the movie "Alien." A crew is on a ship and crazy things start happening, with some sort of monster potentially involved. In addition to all the other "Alien" sequels, most of which aren't that good when compared to "Alien" and "Aliens," we also had the movie "Life" last year that half-heartedly did a similar thing. Throw in a touch of "Gravity," "Interstellar," "The Martian" and others and we have ourselves a movie in "The Cloverfield Paradox" that feels very similar to others. But it had a unique enough spin to it to have me completely fascinated the whole way through as it also borrows a lot of classic sci-fi ideas when it comes to interdimensional travel, multiverses, parallel universes and what not. And as the title suggests, there's a clash that happens that creates a certain paradox that this movie explores.

Movies like this are naturally divisive. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was a hated movie by many when it first came out 50 years ago and Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" impressively had every opinion imaginable, with myself winding up on the more negative side of the spectrum. At the moment, the IMDb score is quite high, but looking at the reviews submitted sees quite a range of opinions. No critic score on Rotten Tomatoes exists when I'm typing this as Rotten Tomatoes is barely aware this movies even exists, although there are audience opinions submitted that seem to be nicer to the movie than the user reviews on IMDb. So I don't know what the consensus for this movie will be, if there ever is one as I'm guessing there won't be, and as such I feel a little insecure with not knowing if I'm in the majority or the minority, but I was fascinated by this ride. I had the edge-of-your-seat sensation for the whole time and I had a giant smile on my face when it wrapped up. I think a major part of this is that I'm completely sold on this franchise and I thought this movie did a great job of expanding the lore of this universe while filling in some of the gaps that the previous two films left wide open. I had several "Ah ha!" moments that made me smile like a little school boy.

Just like with "Cloverfield" and "10 Cloverfield Lane," the ending of "The Cloverfield Paradox" left me wanting more. Luckily we might not have to wait for too much longer as news came out within the last week or two that the fourth film is already done filming and has the working title "Overlord." Or perhaps that's the secret title they've been using. Either way, a movie called "Overlord" from Paramount is currently on the schedule for October 26 of this year. But as we just learned from "The Cloverfield Paradox," the fourth movie will come to us whenever the heck J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot team decide to give it to us. Maybe that's tomorrow. Maybe that's October. Maybe that's in 2019. But apparently it'll be a World War II film, which is interesting. It feels like we're building to a certain point, like this is the Cloverfield Cinematic Universe and they have their version of "The Avengers" in the works, but these are all the individual solo films building up to that. "The Cloverfield Paradox" is a solid entry in this saga of "Cloverfield" films. It's hard to rank these movies because they're so different, but I still think "10 Cloverfield Lane" is my favorite. Yet "The Cloverfield Paradox" isn't too far behind. And if I'm the only one that thinks so, then so be it. My grade for it is a 9/10.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Movie Preview: February 2018

The first month of 2018 is now in the books and things went mostly as expected. January box office is usually always ruled by the holiday holdovers and that was again the case with "Jumanji," "The Last Jedi" and "The Greatest Showman" earning the top three spots. The biggest surprise there was how well "Jumanji" and "The Greatest Showman" held on  while how quickly "The Last Jedi" has fallen off compared to the past two Star Wars movies. Although with $1.3 billion in the bank worldwide, no one at LucasFilm is shedding too many tears. "The Last Jedi" just happened to be more frontloaded than usual and its percentage falloff from "The Force Awakens" domestically will end up nearly perfectly matching the falloff that both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Attack of the Clones" experienced. Anyways, "Jumanji" easily won the month with $171 million in January alone and a total over $300 million thus far. None of the new releases did much as "Insidious: The Last Key" was the best newcomer with $64 million. The best picture nominees didn't make a huge dent either, although the later than usual announcement had an effect there. February should pick things up, though, with several big titles on the schedule, so let's dive right in!

February 2nd - 4th-

Sunday, February 4 will be Super Bowl LII with the Patriots and Eagles facing off, so this is a weekend that Hollywood rightfully avoids as movies opening essentially only have two days instead of three unless they can successfully counter-program the game. The highest opening weekend ever on Super Bowl weekend is "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" with $31.7 million back in 2008. Only six other titles have even opened higher than $20 million. The only movie daring enough to attempt the feat this year is Winchester. No, not Sam and Dean Winchester from "Supernatural." Although these characters could probably use the brothers' help as this is a ghost movie loosely based on the infamous Winchester Mansion, which would lead itself to a decent horror movie under the right directors. Unfortunately it's the directors of the recent horror sequel "Jigsaw" that got their hands on this one and thus the studio has such low expectations that they didn't even screen the movie at all for critics. Best case scenario for this movie would be the $13 million that last year's "Rings" did on Super Bowl weekend, although the $5.3 million that "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" did the year before might be more realistic.

February 9th - 11th-

With the Super Bowl out of the way and most of the market being completely dead at this point, it's time for some life to be given to the box office and that'll be kicked off with the final movie in the Fifty Shades trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed. This has become a Valentine's Day tradition for certain audiences over the last few years and the box office has been fairly solid, especially for the type of movies these are. Fans of the books or the first two movies will most certainly be interested in seeing the Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele romance wrap up. As far as crunching the numbers for this final movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey" opened to $85.2 million and made $166.2 million total while "Fifty Shades Darker" opened to $46.6 million and made $114.6 million total. That's a 31 percent drop off when it comes to the final domestic total. If "Fifty Shades Freed" continued that same pattern, that would equate to $79.1 million total. And if "Freed" had the same multiplier as "Darker," that would mean it gets a $32.1 million opening weekend. Although it's safe to say that the fan base that stuck around for "Darker" don't care what others think about it, so it wouldn't be surprising to see "Freed" equal the numbers of "Darker" or even improve on them a bit as finales often do.

While "Fifty Shades Freed" will certainly be an adults only affair, the pre-Valentine's Day weekend also has a family option available as well with Sony's adaptation of Peter Rabbit. While this is a live action movie, the specific studio in charge here is Sony Pictures Animation, who were responsible for the critically acclaimed, cinematic masterpieces of 2017 in "Smurfs: The Lost Village," "The Emoji Movie" and "The Star." Yes, that's a sprinkle of sarcasm there. After successfully pleasing family audiences in the past with such franchises as "Hotel Transylvania" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," 2017 clearly wasn't the best year for this studio, so they'll look to get back on track in 2018 with four movies. Proceeding "Peter Rabbit" will be "Hotel Transylvania 3" in July, "Goosebumps 2" in October and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" in December. "Goosebumps" might actually be the best comparison here as both movies are live action films with Sony Pictures Animation doing the CGI creatures. "Goosebumps" made $80 million in 2015, which is a number that "Peter Rabbit" is capable of hitting, despite the fact that fans of the source material might be scratching their heads as to what Sony is doing to their beloved Peter Rabbit.

The final movie of the weekend is the Clint Eastwood film The 15:17 to Paris. While "Peter Rabbit" is targeting families and "Fifty Shades Freed" is targeting adult females, "The 15:17 to Paris" will be targeting a separate adult audience who are looking for a drama rather than a romance, meaning all three of these movies could do good business this weekend. "The 15:17 to Paris" is the story of the August 2015 attempted terrorist attack on a Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The 25-year-old gunman Ayoub El Khazzani from Morocco attempted to open fire on the train when his assault rifle jammed and he was then tackled and subdued by three American friends, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, two of whom were off-duty U.S. Armed Forces members. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone wrote a book about their experience that this movie is based off of. Usually in a movie like this, actors are cast to play the main characters, but what makes this movie unique is that Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone will be playing themselves in the movie, which is something that the studio can get away with since the events were less than three years ago. They'll bring the unique element of knowing exactly what they did to stop this gunman.

February 16th - 18th-

A little later this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be celebrating their 10th anniversary as "Iron Man" was released May 2, 2008. "Avengers: Infinity War" will be released two days after that anniversary on May 4. Before we get to that movie, though, we have the huge movie of February, Black Panther, the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Amazingly, the 17 previous movies have averaged $310 million domestically for Marvel, with all three movies from 2017 eclipsing that $300 million mark. "Black Panther" will almost certainly be their fourth straight movie to hit that mark as the hype for this movie is currently through the roof after the worldwide premier at the end of January led to unanimous praise for the film, calling it one of Marvel's best yet, with especially strong praise being given to Michael B. Jordan's villain. This has led pre-sales to skyrocket and the movie is currently outpacing "Deadpool" at the same point in pre-release. "Deadpool" opened to $132 million in February 2016, so those are the numbers we're looking at. And not only does it look like we have another great Marvel film on our hands, this will also be a culturally significant with a predominately black cast and black director in Ryan Coogler opening in black history month.

No major movie will be challenging "Black Panther" this weekend, which is a smart move for obvious reasons, but there will be two smaller movies hoping to provide a bit of counter programming, the first of which being Aardman Animation's Early Man. For some reason, the stop-motion animation genre is a tough sell here in the United States as no stop-motion film has ever hit $20 million on opening weekend and only one has hit the $100 million domestic mark. Luckily for Aardman, that one $100 million movie belongs to them, but that was back in 2000 with "Chicken Run." Their most recent film "Shaun the Sheep Movie" only opened to $5 million in 2015 and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" opened to $11.1 million before that in 2012. Luckily Aardman does have more of a foreign audience as both previously mentioned movies earned over 70 percent of their total overseas, a big portion coming in their home country of the U.K. So if "Early Man" fails in the U.S., it may still have an audience. Aardman is going caveman-themed with this movie, which stars Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams and Timothy Spall. It's already been released in the U.K. and reaction is a bit mixed, but leaning positive, which is a decent sign, but not an incredibly great one.

The final movie is an attempt at a biblical epic from Pure Flix and that is Samson. This popular biblical tale with Samson and Delilah has been portrayed on the big screen at least five times before. There was a 2009 Australian film, a couple of T.V. movies in the 80's and 90's, and a 1922 Australian silent film. But the most notable one is Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah," which is the highest grossing movie that was released in 1949 as it was one of the major movies from the glory days of the biblical epics, which most notably included DeMille's other biblical epic "The Ten Commandments" in 1956 and "Ben-Hur" in 1959. Modern-day biblical movies have had a bit of a rocky track record, with the highest grossing ones being the bigger Hollywood productions, of which this is not. Pure Flix themselves have released nine movies in theaters beginning in 2015, which have averaged $8.6 million total domestically. Their last five movies have all opened below $5 million with their highest opening weekend being "God's Not Dead 2" with $7.6 million. With Samson being a well-known biblical figure, this could end up on the high end of Pure Flix's releases, but this is the wrong weekend to attempt to attract a more general audience outside their typical Christian fan base.

February 23 - 25th-

The final weekend of February will see the first major comedy of 2018 with Game Night. This is a movie that has vibes of "The Man Who Knew Too Little" as the main characters think they're participating in a simple game night without even realizing something much more drastic is happening around them. The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been rather successful leading this genre in the past with efforts such as "Horrible Bosses" ($117.5 million), "Identity Thief" ($134.5 million), "Horrible Bosses 2" ($54.4 million) and "Office Christmas Party" ($54.7 million). Those later two could be around where "Game Night" lands as they also both opened around the $15 million mark. Directing this movie is the directing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein who almost directed "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and are the latest to be attached to DC's "Flashpoint" in 2020. What they have directed is the 2015 comedy "Vacation," which also opened around $15 million and made $58.9 million, another sign that this is the range "Game Night" could land. The last comedy in theaters was "Father Figures," which disappointed majorly, so we really haven't had a hit comedy since "Daddy's Home 2" in November, meaning the time could be right for our next comedic hit.

The movie that could become the sleeper hit is Alex Garland's Annihilation. Garland has worked as a screenwriter since the early 2000's, but his directorial debut came in 2015 with the movie "Ex Machina," which received very high praise and nearly got into the best picture race at the Oscars, despite being released in April. What it did end up getting was a surprise win for best visual effects and a best original screenplay nomination. Lead star Alicia Vikander nearly got nominated as she got in at the Globes, but the Oscars instead gave her a nomination for "The Danish Girl," which she won. Needless to say, fans of "Ex Machina" are eager to see what Garland is bringing to the table with his second directorial effort. "Annihilation" is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy and is a sci-fi, fantasy, horror film where a group of scientists, researches and other volunteers discover a mysterious zone that seems to be cut off from the rest of the world. The movie stars Natalie Portman as a biologist, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a psychologist, Tessa Thompson as a surveyor, Gina Rodriguez as an anthropologist, Tuva Novotny as a linguist and Oscar Isaac as Portman's injured soldier husband.

The final film of the month is the romantic drama Every Day. This stars Angourie Rice, who played roles in "The Nice Guys," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "The Beguiled," so she's been experiencing quite a bit of success as an up and coming young actress. The now 17-year-old Angourie plays a teen girl named Rhiannon who falls in love with a boy who wakes up in a different body, living a different life, each day. The movie is based off of the book by David Levithan and is directed by Michael Sucsy who previously directed "The Vow," which opened in February 2012 and wound up making $125 million domestically. Orion Pictures would certainly be ecstatic if this came anywhere close to that. The studio was very successful in the 80's and 90's, releasing movies such as "Dances with Wolves," "Platoon" and "Silence of the Lambs," but shut down in the late 90's. "Every Day" is their first film after being officially revitalized by MGM. Perhaps a better comparison than "The Vow" might be last month's "Forever My Girl," which had a pretty good opening of $4.2 million from just 1,114 theaters, Roadside Attraction's biggest opening ever. "Forever My Girl" fell just 16 percent in weekend two, meaning it could have a decent run that "Every Day" could match.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers Review

How about that for a subtitle to your movie? OK, I'm not even sure if that's an official subtitle or simply just a tagline for the movie, but when you see the movie logo, it shows up right under "12 Strong" as if it were a subtitle. Like the rest of the world, I'll simply be referring to this as "12 Strong" from here on out, but I felt like including that in my review title because that gives a pretty good description of what this movie is all about. If you don't follow movies as much as I do and this movie flew in under your radar, you might see the title "12 Strong" and have no idea what the movie is about. But when you read "The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers," that paints a pretty good image of what you're about to get yourself into. "12 Strong" is a movie that was released a couple of weeks ago, but I'm getting around to it right now because I'm behind on my January releases as I've been focusing on other things rather than seeing all the new January releases, most of which I wasn't super interested in. But "12 Strong" did have my attention and despite being late, I was interested in seeing this. And I'm glad I did because this is a pretty solid war film that chronicled an event that I didn't know much about. So I left the theater feeling educated and entertained.

As far as the "declassified true story" part of the subtitle, that's a bit deceiving. From what I've read, this was indeed a classified mission at first, but it became declassified in November 2001 when they completed the mission. So it's not this big secret thing that has just recently been revealed to the world. However, I would contend that this is a story that not many people are fully aware of. It went under the radar quite a bit until the book "Horse Soldiers" came out in 2009. There's a statue in New York City honoring the Horse Soldiers that was built in 2012 that I definitely recognize, but I'm sure that a lot of people walk by the statue without realizing its significance. Now if you're an expert on everything that's gone on in the Middle East over the last 20 years or more and you think I'm totally wrong on the idea that this is a fairly unknown event comparatively, then I apologize. In that case, I will definitively say that I had no knowledge of these events and I would predict that I'm not the only one. So I think that this is a great story to be told. We can learn about some true war heroes from the modern day that accomplished something great despite the remarkable odds stacked against them. If you're a fan of war movies like I am, this is definitely one to check out.

The first thing that this movie did for me was give me a sense of nostalgia. Not positive nostalgia necessarily, but it caused me to reflect on where I was when I learned of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. It's crazy for me when I realize that later this year we'll be commemorating the 17th anniversary of those events, meaning that there are high school kids right now who will be studying this event as history rather than something they remember as it took place before they were born. Personally I was in seventh grade. We didn't watch T.V. in the morning and social media wasn't a thing back then, so it's not like we would get a notification from our phones that told us we need turn on the T.V. to learn of what was happening. I learned of the news from my best friend as we were on the way to school. "Did you hear what happened this morning?" is essentially what he exclaimed when we picked him up. School that day was a very somber feeling as the whole school just watched the coverage on the T.V.'s in silence, the whole country being shocked at what we were witnessing. In addition to it being a very sad day for the country, I also remember the days following as very encouraging as it was one of the few times where we were all united as a country.

In "12 Strong," Chris Hemsworth plays a man by the name of Mitch Nelson, whose real name was Mark Nutsch as the movie and the book change his name for various reasons. He had recently been moved to a desk job after having previously served as a field captain of the Special Forces. He's at home with his family at the beginning of this movie when they witness the attacks on the news.  Immediately he heads over to his job and says that he needs to be put back with his team. It requires a few strings to be pulled with Hemsworth kicking over his desk, but it happens. This is what made me reflect back on that day in 2001. I was personally too young to actually do anything about it, but watching this guy's reactions gave me a strong sense of respect and patriotism towards this man. He could've stayed at his desk job, thinking that he dodged a bullet that he wouldn't be required to go out in the field. But instead his reaction is that he wants to go out in the field right now to fight for his country to prevent attacks like this from happening again. What an awesome guy! And yes, I do like looking up the real history and this is accurate to what Mark Nutsch actually did. In fact, his wife in real life was pregnant, something not portrayed in the movie, yet he still went over to fight.

The ensuing story with this crew, the elite U.S. Special Forces unit, Operational Detachment-Alpha 595 (ODA 595 for short), is a rather fascinating story. As the title of the movie informs us, there were just 12 of them and they were the first unit out in Afghanistan responding to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA gave them intel on what local leaders to work with, which led them to Afghan General Rashid Dostum, who was a bit of a sketchy dude, but was the best bet that they had. General Dostum's crew had about 200 paid Afghan soldiers. So we have around 200 men, 12 of which are Americans, going up against what was estimated to be like 50,000 Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. And how do they do this? On horseback. Because that was the best way for them to travel through the terrain of Afghanistan. Hence the nickname the Horse Soldiers. A small number of men with guns on horses attacking a large army of scary enemies with their tanks and missile-like things. The best weapon that the Horse Soldiers have are the air-strike bombers that Chris Hemsworth is directing. But the have to strategically get close enough in order to get the proper coordinates. Outside that, it's a very small army against an extremely large one, so the odds of survival are extremely low.

I don't want to give too much away about this mission because I went into this knowing very little of the specifics. I had no idea if this was a tragic suicide mission or if this was an incredible underdog story of people defying the odds to accomplish something miraculous. Or perhaps a combination of both. So I'll leave that up to you to learn what happens on your own. But I will say that the movie had my full attention throughout. A very close comparison to this movie in many ways is "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." The titles are remarkably similar. Both movies came out in January and will make similar numbers at the box office. Both movies are about modern war stories over in the Middle East. Michael Bay did his best to try to ruin "13 Hours," but he ended up failing in that as the movie was actually really good with a phenomenal ending that had me on the edge of my seat. "12 Strong" is similar. Overall, the movie is better directed and flows more smoothly than "13 Hours," but like "13 Hours," the highlight of the movie is the final battle. We wander a bit in the middle and sometimes humor is thrown in when it didn't need to be there. But those war sequences are intense. I was on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen.

When I walked out of the theater, I had a strong feeling of patriotism. To me, that's a sign of a really good war movie, especially one that involves soldiers from your own country fighting against the enemy. We all know Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet in this movie he plays a more important, real life hero named Mark Nutsch. What an amazing, heroic man this was! And Hemsworth does a great job in portraying him. He's one of my favorite actors because he always brings a lot of charm and charisma to his characters. With him and Michael Pena, I didn't see Thor and the funny sidekick from "Ant-Man." I saw two war heroes and I was proud of what they did and the amount of bravery it took to march out on that battle field despite the odds saying they wouldn't survive. If they were going down, they were going down for their country. But despite the odds, they were bound and determined on making it home, giving them strong motivation to keep going. This movie won't be getting any Oscars next year, but it was one of those movies where there were some Oscar-worthy performances given in an important story that's worth telling and definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of war films. My grade for "12 Strong" is an 8/10. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Darkest Hour Review

Here's a movie that's been on my radar for a while now. After hitting the film festival rounds starting with Telluride on September 1, 2017, "Darkest Hour" got its official theatrical release on November 22 in four theaters before expanding nationwide on December 22. I had my eye on this since that point, but there were a lot of other movies that were higher on my priority list, so this slipped away from me for a while. The awards buzz weren't super strong as a whole, outside Gary Oldman, who's been the consensus best actor winner from the beginning. I thought it was a possibility that Gary Oldman for best actor would be the only nomination it got, which is why I didn't rush out to see it. But this surprised in a big way on nomination morning by capturing six nominations, which included a best picture nomination. When that happened, "Darkest Hour" immediately shot right up to the top of my priority list along with "Phantom Thread" and "Call Me by Your Name," as those were the only three best picture nominees that I hadn't seen. My plan is to give you a review of all three of these movies, but "Darkest Hour" was the most accessible initially as it was already in wide release while the other two are still making their way to more theaters. So here we go with its review!

Before we dive into "Darkest Hour," we have to reopen old wounds from this past summer with a little film called "Dunkirk." I remember writing my review of "Dunkirk" with high levels of extreme rage, mostly directed towards Christopher Nolan fanboys who were praising the movie as the best war film ever made as well as one of the best overall films ever made. The movie had a 9.8 on IMDb after its first 3,000 votes... which took place BEFORE the movie was released to the general public. That means we had nearly 3,000 people give the movie a 10/10 before even seeing it JUST because it was directed by Christopher Nolan. Had the same exact movie been made by any other director, I highly doubt this same fan base would've even shown up. And if they did, I think they would've had a much different opinion as this was a very unconventional war film. I think critics would've still loved it, but I think audience reaction would've been a lot more mixed since they wouldn't have been obligated to praise their Lord and Savior, Christopher Nolan. Thus when I saw the movie and was mostly unimpressed, I wrote a pretty vicious attack towards these Nolan fanboys, which in turn backfired on me as now I have the reputation of hating Nolan, which is totally not true. But oh well.

Nolan has now made 10 films and as that is the golden number, I now plan on creating a list where I rank those 10 films, which should demonstrate that I really love seven of those 10. I'm just not madly in love with the most recent three, "Dunkirk," "Interstellar" and "The Dark Knight Rises." "Interstellar" completely craps out for me in the final act and "The Dark Knight Rises," which is still highly entertaining, has a lot of plot holes that have bothered me more and more as time goes on. The reason why I wasn't a fan of "Dunkirk" was mainly due to the perspective. I wanted the movie to teach me the historical context of what was going on at the time and I wanted characters to latch onto. I got neither of those. We just got 106 minutes of war scenes. Nolan assumed his audience already knew about the history of Dunkirk, so he completely avoided that. As far as characters go, he wanted to show the world what it was like as an average, normal soldier experiencing war. With that latter point, I feel it's quite normal for your average soldier to not have knowledge of the bigger picture. They're just following orders from their superiors. So it makes it even more accurate to the average solider. And I thought that was fascinating. For like 20 minutes. Then I got bored.

The reason why I'm kinda re-reviewing "Dunkirk" is that it's not very often where I have specific complaints about a movie that are completely rectified six months later with another movie. That's why I was so taken aback by "Darkest Hour." I wanted "Dunkirk" to give me historical context and characters to attach myself to. I got them in "Darkest Hour." The battle of Dunkirk in history is when the German soldiers essentially corner the British troops at Dunkirk, nearly to the point of winning the war. Winston Churchill essentially pulled a rabbit out of the hat for Britain, saving them from complete disaster and thus extending the war wherein Germany of course lost and the Allies won. "Darkest Hour" is the story of Winston Churchill being appointed as Prime Minister and being immediately faced with a lot of difficult decisions. A lot of the leadership at the time wanted Britain to surrender and negotiate with Hitler. Does Winston Churchill go with that or is he going to come up with a daring plan to fight on against incredible odds? This is the exact conflict that "Darkest Hour" focuses on. Even though I knew how it was going to end, especially since I saw "Dunkirk," I was fascinated as I watched the history behind how it all came about.

There's a lot of uncertainty this Oscar season, but one thing that seems to be a forgone conclusion is that Gary Oldman is going to win that trophy for best actor. I can't officially judge this category quite yet because I have not seen Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread," Timothée Chalamet in "Call Me by Your Name" or Denzel Washington in "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," meaning I have some homework to do before my Oscar predictions post, but it'll definitely be a huge hill for those three to climb to top Oldman when it comes to my personal opinion of who should win because I certainly have a soft spot for actors who are able to perfectly portray a historical figure. I think Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg's "Lincoln" was a performance for the ages and I personally liked Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in 2016's "Jackie" nearly as much. Gary Oldman portraying Winston Churchill is another performance for the ages that belongs right in the same conversation as those two as he magically transforms into Churchill for this role, not just in looking just like him, but sounding just like him and nailing his mannerisms. Sure, the makeup people get a lot of credit for his looks, but major props have to be given to Oldman for his disappearing act.

I will admit that I'm not an expert when it comes to Winston Churchill, so I couldn't immediately say without research that Oldman pulled this off perfectly like I was able to when Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln. With the latter role, I felt like the filmmakers had gone back in time and recruited the real Abraham Lincoln to play himself in their movie. Luckily with Churchill, this thing called the internet exists and he lived recently enough where I can listen to his speeches and look up pictures of him so that my ignorant American self can be better educated on exactly how Churchill looks and sounds. And yeah. Gary Oldman is perfect. Which is crazy because Oldman as is looks and sounds nothing like Churchill. I look at him and I still see Commissioner Gordon. So the transformation is amazing. Even more impressive than his transformation into Sirius Black. But even before I did my research, I was rather fascinated by this character. I loved how human and conflicted he was the whole movie in figuring out what the right thing to do was. He didn't even expect to become Prime Minister in the first place and in many instances he was a fairly unlikable fellow. Thus his character arc in the movie really moved me in the way a true biopic should.

Yes, we know how this all ends. Because, well, spoiler alert, Britain didn't surrender to Germany or make a peace treaty with Hitler. The soldiers at Dunkirk were saved. Over 300,000 of them. The Allies went onto win World War II. But I love myself a good historical drama that dives into history of how this came about. "Darkest Hour" did just that and I was fascinated to learn more of the details behind this story while getting a look into what life was like for Winston Churchill, both on a personal level as well as his work as Prime Minister. I wanted the movie "Dunkirk" to teach me of the history surrounding these events and the fact that it didn't was one of the major reasons why I was disappointed. Thus I was rather pleased when "Darkest Hour" did exactly what I had wished "Dunkirk" would've done by teaching me about these events. There's approximately zero minutes of war scenes in "Darkest Hour," but that's OK because we got 106 minutes of those in "Dunkirk." When the time came, I was able to mentally plug in "Dunkirk" and thus I was perfectly satisfied. While I'm not going back on my opinion of "Dunkirk" on its own, I will say that "Darkest Hour" and "Dunkirk" would make for a great double feature and for this I am awarding "Darkest Hour" a 9/10.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Paddington 2 Review

The year 2017 is in the books on this blog. Sure, there are a few final best picture nominees that I still plan on reviewing and of course I will be doing my annual Oscar predictions post right before the Oscars in early March, but I officially have my best and worst movies of 2017 lists posted, so now it's time to put the main focus on 2018 and what a better way to start than with this absolutely delightful "Paddington" sequel! As far as the other 2018 new releases go, I do plan on eventually getting to "The Commuter," "12 Strong" and "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," but I make no specific promises. What I don't plan on getting to is "Den of Thieves," "Proud Mary" or "Insidious: The Last Key." I simply have zero interest in those three movies and with plenty on the docket to see right now, they'll most likely be left in the dust. Sorry. That's just how life goes sometimes. But "Paddington 2" was the January movie that I was super excited for. I actually saw it nearly two weeks ago, but had other priorities on this blog, specifically with the end of year lists, but with those out of the way, it's time for me to gush about this adorable British bear and how simply wonderful this movie is. With two absolutely phenomenal family films in the books, this is becoming one of the best family film franchises.

This biggest thing that I've heard from a lot of my American friends is that they thought the first "Paddington" looked dumb, so they skipped it. Those same people are also claiming they are skipping this sequel because it also looks dumb. Every time a friend tells me that, I have to strongly resist the urge to grab them by the shoulders and shake the living daylights out of them in order to knock some sense into them. The first "Paddington" got a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 141 reviews counted and this sequel currently stands at a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes 172 reviews counted. That's the highest reviewed movie EVER on Rotten Tomatoes, from a certain point of view. It's the most reviews counted for a movie that stayed at 100 percent. A record that "Lady Bird" had late last year before a Grinch finally gave it a negative review. Thus the record went back to "Toy Story 2" before "Paddington 2" then took it back away. If you hate Rotten Tomatoes, both movies got an A on Cinemascore and both have high audiences scores on various other sites, like IMDb. Regardless of how you look at it, people who have seen these movies have loved them. Yet you refuse to even give them a chance because "they looked dumb"? C'mon man!

OK, fine. Whatever. Rant over. I suppose we can credit some of that undeserved hate from ignorant Americans who refuse to give this franchise a chance on the fact that these are British movies intended first and foremost for a British audience. I mean, that's where Paddington came from. He first showed up in a kid's book in 1958 written by British author Michael Bond. The various Paddington books have since sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The first T.V. series for Paddington began on BBC in 1975 and has been widely successful for many years. The first Paddington movie was released in 2014 in the U.K. and made $64 million there. Compare that to the U.S. total of $76 million a few months later in early 2015. And Google tells me we have around five times the population. So far, "Paddington 2," released in November 2016 in the U.K., has made $57 million there compared to just $26 million here in the U.S. after two weeks of release. The latter is a crime to humanity in my opinion, but if it's pleasing its target audience and making money over in the U.K., then I suppose I can't complain too much. They even gave "Paddington 2" three BAFTA nominations, which included outstanding British film.

Why is this such a beloved movie? For me it centers around Paddington himself, who is such a lovable character. He has an adorable innocence to him as he's always looking for the good in everyone and doing his best to make a difference in the world while living as good of a life as he can. This right here provides a solid message for kids watching the movie to live a good life and be a good human being. Then we have the good-natured humor that comes with Paddington's innocence of being an anthropomorphic bear living in the human world in London, not fully understanding exactly how the human world works, but doing his absolute best. This leads to a lot of clean, fun humor that will have all the kids and the adults on the floor rolling in laughter. If you are tired of all the recent kids movies relying heavily on poop, butt and fart jokes to make the kids laugh, then Paddington is a franchise you need to turn to because they don't have any of that extremely low form of humor. Yeah, sure, your six-year-old will laugh hysterically at all the fart jokes in the other movies, but why rely on those movies when the Paddington movies will make them laugh just as hard with clean humor? And the joy of it all is that the jokes aren't just for kids as the adults will be laughing, too.

Paddington also goes through quite the character arc in this movie. As the story goes, all he wants to do in this movie is get a special gift for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday. While browsing through an antique shop, he finds an elaborate pop-up book of London that he decides he wants to give to his Aunt Lucy since she's never been to London. The problem is the book is a little more expensive than Paddington can afford, so he does odd jobs around the city to earn money and has almost earned enough when one day he notices a thief in the antique shop stealing the book, so Paddington chases him down, but is unsuccessful as the thief does a disappearing act last second, leaving Paddington framed for the crime, putting him on trial and sending him to prison. The big character arc with this is that Paddington has to learn the hard way that sometimes the world isn't as good and perfect as he thought it was, but yet being the great bear he is, he tries to make the absolute best out of every situation, being the best prisoner that he can be while putting his full trust in his family back home that they will figure out a way to prove his innocence and get him out of prison. This is a lovely arc with great messages that adds quite a bit of depth and emotion to this already fun film.

There's a lot of care and precision given to this movie on every level. Without even knowing much about director Paul King, outside the fact that he did a great job with both of these movies, I can tell that he really cares about this subject matter and really wants to do this material justice and give people who love the Paddington books and T.V. shows the series of movies that they deserve and can share with their family and kids for years to come. This is a very well-directed movie with a great three-act structure. The intro I described to you in my summary makes for a great first act as it sets up the story quite well. I won't say what happens in the second or third acts, but the second act is absolutely delightful and had me laughing so hard while the third act takes you on quite the wild ride while ending in a very touching way that nearly brought tears to my eyes. And don't you dare leave when the credits start rolling because there's a mid-credits scene that might be the best scene of the movie. In addition to all the directing and writing being perfect, the acting is spot-on from everyone involved. None of the actors are here just to collect a paycheck. They are all fully invested in providing families for years to come with an absolutely delightful film.

The best way for me to summarize "Paddington 2" is that it's the perfect family film. To quantify that statement, I'm not saying this is the absolute perfect, flawless film overall. But in terms of everything you want or expect from a family film, this does everything it needs to do. It's extremely hard to make a great family film. Paul King did just that three years ago with "Paddington." It's even harder to make a sequel to a family film that's just as good, if not better. Yet Paul King ALSO did that with "Paddington 2." In fact, over the last week or so, I've been trying to come up with a comparison for this franchise and the best one I can think of is the "Toy Story" franchise. Those are three movies that I would similarly qualify as perfect families because they do everything they need to in order to successfully entertain family audiences. All three movies are very solid individual movies that stand on their own and all three of them are about on the same level. It's impressive what they've done and we can only hope that continues with "Toy Story 4" next year. We've only had two "Paddington" movies so far, but both of them are absolutely solid films. I don't even know which one I like more, so I'm going to play it safe and reward this sequel the same score as I did the first - a 9/10.