Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Supergirl Season 1 Review (SPOILERS)

Last night I was catching up on the 20th episode of Supergirl, thinking of course that there was going to be the normal 23 episodes. As I was watching, I was thinking that this felt like a finale. I brushed that off, though, because I was confident that I had three more episodes. Nope. Turns out that was the finale. I don't know if you've ever had that feeling of thinking you had three more episodes left in the next month, but realizing you didn't have any left until the next TV season, but that's a rather depressing feeling that definitely screams first world problems. I mean, there are starving children in Africa and here I am today upset that I don't have anymore Supergirl episodes to watch? Oh well. I suppose that means I get to write my review for this a month earlier that I initially intended. That's good right? As has been the case on this blog recently, my target audience for this review will be people that have finished the season or people that don't care about spoilers. Yes, this limits my potential audience a bit, but it also allows for me to get all of my thoughts out instead of trying to dance around spoilers and thus I much prefer this way. If you haven't seen Supergirl, go watch it! Then come back and we can discuss the details here. 

First and foremost, there's a lot of people hating on this show, but continuing to watch it. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I guess if you don't like the show, but are holding out hope that it becomes better I can totally see that. But if you're just hate watching... why? There are so many TV shows out there. Pick one that you enjoy. No one is forcing you to watch Supergirl. On the other side of the spectrum, critics apparently love this show. But don't ask me how Supergirl managed to get a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes while Legends of Tomorrow managed to only get a 59 percent. That doesn't make much sense since the two shows are about on the same level for me. Although you probably shouldn't get me started on the new TV side of Rotten Tomatoes, because that's all kinds of messed up. They really should score each individual episode because giving a score to the season as a whole at the very beginning of the season isn't entirely fair for the shows that start slow and get better or the shows that start strong but crash and burn. As far as my opinion, I realize that this show has it's flaws and definitely starts out very rocky, but I immediately saw the potential of this show right from day one and a little of bit of patience has definitely paid off.

What is it that I immediately saw in this show that I loved? The answer is simple. They do the Superman universe right. If you ask me who my favorite superhero is, my answer is going to be Superman. Specifically, I really love the Richard Donner Superman movies, that being Superman and Superman II. To say they went downhill when Donner stepped away is a huge understatement. But nevertheless, Christopher Reeve is my Superman. Not only is there some great symbolism with the character (whether or not that was the original intentions with the character is beside the point), but it's also just light-hearted and fun. Christopher Reeve brought some lovable charisma to the character and you could tell that his main focus was protecting Earth and loving the people. Those two movies didn't take themselves too seriously, but that's a good thing. This isn't a character that is supposed to be taken seriously. Superman Returns with Brandon Routh did a good job of keeping the tone of Superman even though the story and acting was a bit of a bore. But man was I angry when Zack Snyder and the new DC Universe took Superman and threw him in a blender. Man of Steel was obviously a Superman movie that was made for those people who hate the Richard Donner Superman movies and thus is why I hated Man of Steel in return. They actually did a bit better in Batman v. Superman with the character, but not by much.

Then there's Supergirl. After being absolutely furious with the current DC Universe for making a dark and depressing Superman movie with a Superman who obviously didn't care one bit for Earth and had a backwards moral code, it was a breath of fresh air to see a TV show in the Superman universe that did things right. As far as the character of Supergirl, I personally don't know her as well. I don't read the comics and the only times she's been adapted onto film or TV is that awful 1984 movie Supergirl as well being brought in towards the end of the TV show Smallville, which I haven't seen all the way through. But I don't need to know the specific character super well in order to know how a TV show or movie in the Superman universe should be done. Light-hearted and fun. That's Superman. Don't take things seriously. Don't be dark and depressing. Keep the heart and soul of the character in tact. Supergirl nails this. Supergirl is Kara Zor-El and she is Superman's cousin who is sent to Earth to watch over him. Turns out her pod got knocked off course and she got here a lot later, so she spends her time growing up as a normal girl living a normal, human life. But then certain events cause Kara to come out and become Supergirl. Her cousin Superman had his time to shine in Metropolis, but now it's time for Supergirl to step up and protect National City.

Before I go any further, I have to give a ton of praise to Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. Melissa Benoist is to Supergirl as Christopher Reeve is to Superman. She's absolutely perfect in this role. She definitely has the charm and charisma necessary to pull this character off and make her the lovable hero of the city. She is also so pure and innocent, which I love. You can tell that she has the utmost care and respect for everyone around her. She's not prideful or self-centered. In fact, the well-being of the city is much more important to her than her own well-being. She's here to protect Earth and that's what she cares about most. On top of all that, there's a lot of growth that her character experiences throughout the season. One of the biggest criticisms that anti-Superman people will give is that Superman is too perfect. People find it boring that he can do everything, defeat any villain, and not be stopped by anyone unless they have kryptonite. I can argue that at another time, but one good thing about Melissa Benoist's Supergirl is that she's not perfect. Sure, she has every power that Superman has, but there's a difference between having powers and knowing how to use those powers. When she finally got to Earth, she essentially went undercover as a normal human being and thus she's untrained when it's finally her time to shine. And it takes her time to learn how to refine her powers and use them properly.

In addition to providing Kara with some honest growth both physically, mentally, and emotionally, the other thing that this show does right is provide villains that match her powers. Yes, people do complain that Superman is too strong and too perfect, but if you give him villains that match his power, that's not a huge problem. Yes, in the Superman lore there are plenty of villains that are equal to him or stronger than him. I will admit that some of the Superman movies I do like probably spend a little too much time on Lex Luthor and not enough time on these other villains. Thus Superman seems boring because Lex Luthor is a normal man and Superman is a Kryptonian with a ton of powers. But there are villains like Doomsday and Darkseid that own Superman and make things interesting. Obviously these two villains aren't introduced in Supergirl, but right off the bat we are introduced to a lot of potential villains that could be a good match for Supergirl. There's other Kryptonians that she has to deal with as well as other villains from various planets that have the same strength as her. Then we have Maxwell Lord, who plays the Lex Luthor type of character in this show. He's cunning and smart, but also a normal human being who we don't know if we should trust or not.

I did say that this show isn't perfect and so now let me talk about a few of these areas. First off, this show did have a really rocky beginning. The pilot is essentially her origin story of how she becomes Supergirl. This is necessary to tell because not many people, myself included, know Supergirl's backstory. But they certainly shove a ton into that first episode. No, it wouldn't have been good to spend too much time with this backstory and thus I am perfectly fine with her flying around as Supergirl at the end of the pilot. But they did kinda rush and stumble out of the gate. Personally I didn't hate the pilot. Potential is the word I used after watching it because of the tone and feel that I've previously talked about as well as Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. But it did take time. It wasn't like Arrow or The Flash which hooked you right from the beginning. It took time. Honestly the first half of the season wasn't the great. It's good that they took a light-hearted and fun approach to it, but there were times where it was a little too cheesy and you didn't know exactly what direction they were going with the story. They also throw a whole bunch of characters at you and it takes a bit of time for you to develop an emotional attachment to some of these characters. Thus while it had potential, average is the word I would use for the first half of the season.

The other big problem was that it suffered from the same problem that a lot of CW shows suffer from. Yes, this is on CBS, but it's from the same writers as The Flash and Arrow and thus it feels like a CW show. What I mean in this instance is that there's an overabundance of romance. I acknowledge the fact that just about every superhero has a romance element to it, but I would rather have that romance be a side dish and not a main dish. During the middle chunk of this season, the very complex love web was the main dish and the superhero stuff was the side dish. We have Winn Schott, played by Jeremy Jordan, as Kara's best friend. He is the first to know about her, outside her sister of course, and he's the one that helps her become Supergirl by creating the suit and whatnot. Then we have Jimmy Olsen, played by Mechad Brooks, enter the picture. He was Superman's photographer at the Daily Planet and now he's moved over here. Well Winn has a huge crush on Kara. Kara has a huge crush on Jimmy. Jimmy has a girlfriend named Lucy Lane, who I believe is the sister of Lois Lane. Winn tries to go after Kara. That catches Kara off guard and she doesn't know how to act. Kara goes after Jimmy until she learned Jimmy has his girl. But Jimmy kinda likes both Kara and Lucy, which is a problem. Then Melissa Benoist's real life husband enters the scene and goes after Kara and a psycho girl enters the scene and goes after Winn (she doesn't act psycho at first).

Yeah. It's a messy web and we spend way too long with it. I'm here to watch a superhero show, not a romance-centered soap opera. Not surprisingly, though, the character that Kara has the best chemistry with is the character who is played by Melissa Benoist's real-life husband. The actor's name is Blake Jenner and his character is named Adam Foster. Knowing that him and Melissa were married in real life made it really fun to watch them interact with each other and start dating again. I'm sure they had fun with that. I'm sure that Melissa also found dumping him after two episodes rather amusing. I don't know what the game plan is there, but that was dumped really fast as if they just did that for fun to bring Melissa's real husband in. As far as the actual drama they are serious with, I would actually prefer Kara and Winn get together and Jimmy and Lucy get back together. I don't think that's the game plan here, though. I think Kara and Jimmy is the end game plan, which is the direction they started to go at the end of the season. I don't think they have the best chemistry, but I do think Mechad Brooks is a boss on this show, so it's whatever. Much better than Oliver and Felicity on Arrow or Barry and Iris on The Flash. I do feel bad for Winn. He's the coolest guy on the show, but I feel he's the one that will be stuck in the friend zone the whole time.

Anyways, after going through a rocky beginning and getting stuck in the middle with a way too much romance, being patient with this series really payed off. The second half of this season was really enjoyable and it started when team Supergirl really started to gel. We essentially started with two separate teams. First team was Supergirl with the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations). The main players are Kara's Earth sister Alex Danvers and the DEO leader Hank Henshaw. The second team is Kara with Jimmy and Winn. Eventually they all essentially become one team. It takes a bit to get used to these characters, but once I did, I really loved them. The real turning point in my opinion is when we learned that Hank Henshaw wasn't actually Hank Henshaw. At first we didn't know if he was trustworthy, which made him interesting as I thought he was going to be the villain. Turns out he is actually J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Man, is this guy good! David Harewood is the actor playing him and he initially goes from being an interesting side character to almost stealing the entire season. I really liked the drama when the DEO learned who he was and I also liked the personal drama between him as he didn't want to reveal himself. Eventually we have Supergirl and Martian Manhunter fighting together to stop people and that is so entertaining.

It took a while for us to figure out who the actual villain of season one is. Once we learned, that story was decent. We introduce Astra and Alura. Alura is Supergirl's biological, Kryptonian mother. She's technically dead but is around to protect Supergirl and give her advice much in the same way as Jor-El and Superman. Alura's twin sister Astra is not dead and her and her husband Non are the villains. Astra and Kara have a really interesting relationship in a Darth Vader and Luke sort of way. Astra is bad, but she's family and Kara does her best to try to get some good out of her. In a battle, Astra is killed by Alex Danvers, but J'onn J'onzz takes the blame so that Alex and Kara's relationship isn't torn apart and that leads to some excellent drama. Kara is super mad at J'onn, but Alex doesn't have the heart or courage to tell her the truth. It's an amazing sister moment when she finally does. Following Astra's death, Non takes it upon himself to finish her bidding, thus making Non the overall big bad villain here. I wasn't the biggest fan of Non, although I did find him serviceable. I liked the idea of him turning all the humans into drones and Supergirl having to try to figure out how to stop that. Then of course when that fails, he decides he's going to explode all of the humans' brains with this Myriad project that he used to control all of them. The final battle was a little too easy for Supergirl and Martian Manhunter, but it made for a decent finale.

Overall I think this first season did a great job of setting up this universe. I like all of team Supergirl, but I especially like Supergirl and Martian Manhunter as a fighting team. Some people are saying he should get his own show. I say keep him on this show because that makes Supergirl a better show. I didn't talk much about Maxwell Lord, but I also loved his character and I think there is a ton of potential with him. He's evil and cunning at first, but then he joins them at the end to save mankind. Is he good? Is he bad? I don't know. But I like that mystery. I also loved the crossover episode with Supergirl and the Flash. I want more of that. I even would love a mini Justice League TV show much like Legends of Tomorrow, but with the main characters like Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl. Would that be great? Most of all, I really hope Supergirl gets renewed by CBS. Rumors are that they will renew it, but they haven't yet and it's making me nervous. Yes, this show had a rocky start and a lot of people probably gave up on it. But those of us who stuck with it were treated to an amazing second half of the season and thus because of that I think the potential for this show is great! In fact, towards the end of the season, I was actually enjoying Supergirl more than I was enjoying Arrow and The Flash. Both of those shows started to take a dip while Supergirl started soaring.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War Review

In the last five years or so, Hollywood has been on this kick of doing live-action remakes of Disney's animated classics. Yes, Disney instigated this in 2010 with Alice in Wonderland, but they aren't the only ones doing it. In fact, in 2012 we got two live-action remakes of Snow White, neither of them by Disney. One of those was laughably bad while the other one I actually enjoyed for the most part. I'm not here to re-review Snow White and the Huntsman, but yes. That's the one I liked. Surprisingly a lot of people hated that movie, but I was definitely not on that bandwagon. Because a lot of people's hatred of that movie, not many people were super excited for The Huntsman: Winter's War. I was. I thought the trailers were great. I love the cast. I thought the premise was intriguing. The movie looked beautiful. I was excited. When the reviews started trickling out and was laughably bad, I chose to ignore them. Most people hated the first, so of course they're going to hate this one. Despite everything, I still went in hoping that I would be one of the few to give this a positive review. Because of all this, I honestly feel like I just got punched in the face. The Huntsman: Winter's War is a complete mess.

Snow White and the Huntsman was a darker spin on the Snow White fairy tale that I thought really worked out. Kristen Stewart sold it as a dark and depressed Snow White who had been locked up in a castle for most of her life. Charlize Theron was absolutely amazing as the Evil Queen. Chris Hemsworth was a fun and enjoyable side character along for the ride. The ending was a mess, but for the most part I thought they did a great job. It was also originally a planned trilogy, which I thought was an interesting idea. The first did well enough financially to justify a sequel, but there were a lot of production issues with it. A big one was Kristen Stewart having an affair with the director. Coincidence that neither of them are back? Probably not. Also I hear that Kristen Stewart wanted no part of this, so how do you do a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman when your Snow White doesn't want to be there? Clever answer! Do a side story with the Evil Queen and the Huntsman, who were the two best parts of that movie anyways. Let's call it The Huntsman, add the subtitle Winter's War to it, and thrown in Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to the mix and we've got ourselves a dang good setup for the next movie. I'm all for it!

But is this a sequel, a prequel, or a spin-off? I was under the impression that this was a prequel. I thought they were going to tell the story before the story of how the Evil Queen became the Evil Queen and how the Huntsman essentially became her henchman. Sure, if you're going that route you could probably guess what was going to happen to Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain's characters, but that sounded interesting. It is possible to make a good prequel, even though Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings both failed with their movie prequels. But that's not what this is. The answer to the question, "is this a sequel, a prequel, or a spin-off?" is... yes. All of it. This is kind of a prequel, a sequel, and a spin-off. All at the same time. That's a big part of the problem here. The movie doesn't really know what it wants to be and thus the plot is all over the place. We start off as a prequel. After telling some backstory, we suddenly jump several years into the future and are in the era where Snow White is queen and the Evil Queen wants revenge on Snow White. That's a sequel. But we also spend most of the movie on an adventure with the Huntsman, his sort-of wife, and a few male and female dwarfs. Spin-off.

Let's start with the prequel part of this movie. This was bad. The overall story here is some drama between two sisters. Anna and Elsa are good friends before Elsa realizes she has powers that her parents want her to suppress, causing Elsa to dive into a state of depression and insecurity where she shuts Anna out. Oh wait, back up. Wrong movie. Evil Anna is a good person initially who starts to be seduced by an evil gold ring... er, evil gold mirror that looks more like a giant symbol from a drum set than a mirror, but whatever. She wants to be the fairest in the land and when the demon inside the mirror tells her that her sister Elsa will have a daughter prettier than her, well... uh.... she does bad things that causes Elsa to feel betrayed and hurt, which in turn brings out her magical ice powers. Elsa becomes Evil Elsa, turns everything into a winter wonderland, and creates her own kingdom where she decides to raise an army of children to be warriors while banning love. Because, you know, she got betrayed by her sister so obviously that means love is a thing of fiction and no one should even be allowed to try because it will never work.

Come on. Give me a break. This is the dumbest plot device to go with. The second that happens, you know what is naturally going to happen and how this whole movie is going to turn out. Chris Hemworth and Jessica Chastain fall madly in love. No, correction. They don't fall. They just are randomly madly in love. I mean, you can't really blame them. On the one hand, you have a guy that was named the sexiest man alive and on the other hand you have a girl that probably could be named the sexiest woman alive. Both of them are among my favorite people in the acting business. So naturally it makes sense for them to fall madly in love the second they lay eyes on each other. But we could've given them some character progression and built up to that. Instead we just need to show to love birds making out in a forbidden romance shortly after we hear Evil Elsa banning love. You know what's going to happen with this. And you're absolutely right. But it's not done very well. Instead we have Liam Neeson as narrator exposition the heck out of the story so we can rush through all the drama that should've been it's own movie and boom. We suddenly jump seven years into the future where all of the stuff that happened in Snow White and the Huntsman is now in the past.

Whoa! Slow it down there movie! The idea behind this is not a bad one, but the execution is poorly done. Speaking of the idea behind this, I hope you've figured out that this movie is essential dark Frozen meets Snow White without Snow White. Evil Anna is actually named Ravenna and Evil Elsa is actually named Freya. But Ravenna and Freya aren't as fun to say. I like Evil Anna and Evil Elsa. After all, this was partially inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen just like Frozen was, so it obviously fits. Anyways, after speeding through that intro in a very rocky, unstable manner, the movie takes my advice and slows down. But in this case this was a bad idea. The whole middle of this movie is a complete drag. After an incredibly stupid twist, which had me laughing, the movie becomes a quest to find the mirror featuring Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastian, and a handful of annoying dwarfs that had no purpose other than try to provide some comedic relief which mostly failed. And it was boring. Outside a few fun action sequences, we were mostly plagued with an awful script that had me literally laughing out loud in some places where I shouldn't have been laughing.

Remember that this is a movie that I was dying to defend. I wanted to be the one person who enjoyed this and gave it a positive review. But I have no idea what the heck happened here. This was an ugly mess. Was this the directors fault? Very possible. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is the director here and this is his first time directing. His previous work was as the visual effects supervisor for, you guessed it, Snow White and the Huntsman. It's like when they decided to get the director of that film, they picked a name out of a hat from their existing crew and the visual effects supervisor was the lucky winner. I'm sorry, but maybe he should just stay a visual effects supervisor because the visual effects in this movie as well as Snow White and the Huntsman are absolutely phenomenal. It's also possible that the writing is to blame with this movie. The script is a mess. The dialogue is cheesy. The jokes mostly fall flat. I was laughing, but not where I was supposed to be laughing. The overall story is all over the place. Yes, there's some good ideas hidden in here that could've made for a great movie, but when the writing is bad, it's hard for the rest of the crew, especially the director and actors, to turn this into a good movie.

Speaking of acting, let's talk about the acting because we have an all-star cast full of people who either have won an Oscar, have been nominated for an Oscar, or are due for an Oscar nomination in the not-so-distant future. When I heard they were adding Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt to this cast, I became ecstatic. We now had a trio of my favorite actresses, which Charlize Theron being the third. Sadly, though, Jessica Chastain's character was so poorly written that she was essentially a waste and Emily Blunt shockingly gave possibly the worst performance of her career. Evil Elsa had potential to be a great character, but Emily Blunt just completely dropped the ball, which was sad. Jessica Chastain at least did the best with what she was given. Charlize Theron is somehow back in this movie after dying in the first one. That made no sense. I mean, they explained it, but it still made no sense. She also wasn't in for very long, which was another big fault for this movie because when she was in the movie, she owned every scene. Another phenomenal performance from her. Finally, I think Chris Hemsworth had a ton of fun with his character. This was the type of performance where I felt he knew he was in a bad movie, but he decided that he was going to have a blast playing this character anyways. Thus I had fun watching him, even though that performance was nothing to write home about.

Is there any redeemable aspects to this movie? Yes. As I've stated, the visual effects in the movie were phenomenal. I really was blown away by this world we were in. It was so pretty. I also loved the score. That was done very well. But also, I actually do believe that the third act was pretty entertaining. After a dismal first act and a boring and laughable second act, I found myself having a lot of fun with the third act. Most of this is due to the fact that Charlize Theron shows up and owns the movie. If this movie had been more focused and had more of Charlize Theron in it, I may have given this movie pass. As is, Charlize Theron alone convinced me to grade this a point or two higher than I was initially planning. Yes, the very, very end leaves something to be desired for. Remember when I said that given the premise of the movie, you could guess how this is going to end? Exactly. They had to tie it up with a nice, little ribbon, painting a perfect fairy tale ending that you could see from a mile or two away. This almost completely diminished the entire third act, but I'm not going to go that far because I still want to give credit where credit is due and some of it is due. But not enough of it.

In the end, I really did want to come out of this movie with a positive feeling. I was excited for the movie. I was ignoring the reviews. I wanted to give this praise. I even defended this movie when some of my friends said it looked terrible. But now I'm eating my words because after seeing the movie, I will sadly be joining the bandwagon of people hating on this because it was just a mess overall. If they wanted to do a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, then go ahead. If they would rather try a prequel, then for it. If they wanted to test Chris Hemsworth's drawing power and do a straight-up spin-off with his character, then that's great. But I feel they didn't quite know what they wanted to do and so they tried to do all three and ultimately failed in every category. There were some great ideas present here. This could've worked out. If they would've focused the story, had a good script, and had a good director on board to pull it all together, this could've worked. They had the cast. They had the effects. They had the world. They had a great opportunity. But they just dropped the ball completely here. No, this isn't cringe-worthy. I didn't feel like watching it was a chore. And yes, there were some good scenes here and there. But overall I feel this movie is a mess and thus my grade for The Huntsman: Winter's War will be a 5/10.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Jungle Book Review

Recently I've been in the process of binge-watching all of the movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios in preparation for an epic blog post where I will reveal my list of personal favorite animated Disney movies. It wasn't my initial plan to go this in-depth with this project, but once I started watching these movies, I got carried away and have had a lot of fun with it. That blog post will most likely come your way next month, so stay tuned for that. I bring this up because as a part of this project, I made sure to pay special attention to The Jungle Book when that movie was up due to the fact that we will be getting two Jungle Book movies in the near future. The second one won't be here until late 2018, but will be Andy Serkis' motion capture masterpiece, which sounds exciting to me. So keep that in the back of your mind because right now it's time to discuss Disney's own live-action remake of their animated classic. I've not been super impressed with this trend so far of making live-action remakes of Disney's animated classics, but it's finally worked for me. I was a bit skeptic of this specific project, but I'm here to report that The Jungle Book delivers in a huge way!

Before I dive into this live-action remake, I first want to spend a bit of time discussing the animated movie so you can get an idea of where I'm coming from with this review. In order to rank these Disney movies, I've had to put on my critical glasses because otherwise it wouldn't be possible. In doing so, I realized that The Jungle Book actually has its fair share of issues. Yes, there's the childhood nostalgia that goes with it. Yes, there's the ultimate trump card of "it's made for kids!" Yes, the characters and songs are a lot of fun. But what's the story? And what purpose do all the characters have in that story? Exactly. Essentially The Jungle Book is a series of animated shorts with Mowgli in the jungle strung together with a very thin story of Bagheera taking Mowgli back to the man village. A lot of the side characters serve no purpose outside entertaining the kids and the villain Shere Khan doesn't show up till the last part of the movie and for some unknown reason decides he wants to kill Mowgli. As a fun little Disney flick meant for kids, this works. Sometimes simple is better. But as a spoiler, this won't show up on my upcoming list of favorite animated Disney movies.

However, if you're Disney and you're planning on making a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, you've got to do something different with this movie. Creating a carbon copy of the movie in live action like last year's Cinderella won't work. It would also probably be a bad idea to go way out in left field with this like they did with Maleficent. In my opinion, they needed to find a balance and I wasn't sure how they were going to accomplish this, which is why I personally was a little more skeptic over this than others. Cautiously optimistic would be a good way to describe my feelings. And that's why I can honestly say that this movie blew me away. First and foremost, I had my eye of scrutiny directly on the story. Based on the trailers, I was confident that the voice acting and the CGI would be just fine. But what were they going to do with this story. Were they going to go fun and silly with this or were they going to turn this into something epic? I was very pleased to learn that it is in fact the latter. The story in this movie is easily the best part. It's not just the wolves and Bagheera agreeing that it's time for Mowgli to move to the man village and having a lot of crazy adventures on the way. The story is engaging. It's emotional. It's powerful. It's intense. It's suspenseful. From beginning to end you are completely sucked into this universe.

The biggest factor in transforming this from a weak story into a strong story is the added involvement of Shere Kahn. As I mentioned before, in the animated version Shere Kahn doesn't show up until much later in the movie and you don't understand his motivations at all. For some reason we're just supposed to believe that the tiger is the dangerous one while the panther, the bear, and the pack of wolves are the friendly giants and the tiger wants to kill the man cub. That's it. Not in this one. Shere Kahn shows up right at the beginning and immediately instills his terrifying presence into the movie. For the entire run time, you are extremely worried that Shere Kahn just might show up at any instance. And he has some pretty darn good motivations in this. He's more than just a scary tiger. His position is that this boy doesn't belong in the jungle because he is a danger to everyone. Perhaps as a boy he's harmless, but boys grow up to be men and men are enemies to animals and the jungle. They hunt and kill animals. They burn down jungles. They are dangerous. This honestly makes you stop and think for a second because, yes, Shere Kahn has a very understandable and relatable point of view. Plus he's freaking scary on top of that. Honestly I think he's one of the best villains I've seen in any movie recently and I've been quite picky with my villains as of late.

With this in mind, we have a very good reason for our main characters to decide that Mowgli needs to leave the village. It's not just a pack of wolves decided randomly that he doesn't belong and a rule-bent black panther agreeing with them. Mowgli is in danger and they need to get him to the man village in order to keep him safe, otherwise Shere Kahn will stop at nothing until he's dead and he's willing to do some pretty crazy stuff to prove to everyone that he's for real. Following this fantastic introduction, we are then taken on quite the journey through the rest of the movie. And it isn't just a series of random adventures with random animals as Mowgli wanders through the jungle and gets separated from Bagheera on several occasions, every element to this movie has a purpose to it and every sequence does a great job of progressing the plot forward. Yes, we follow the same general storyline with the wolves, then the elephants, then Kaa, then Baloo, then the monkeys, but each sequence is sharpened up and in some instances completely revised in order to make it relevant and interesting. It's no longer a series of short stories. It's one cohesive story that is absolutely brilliant.

Let's now talk about the voice acting in this movie. Sometimes your immediate reaction to a remake of a movie you enjoy is naturally to be worried and scared. That actually wasn't the case with me. My worries arose later on as I thought about certain things more in depth. The reason why I was immediately sold was because of the voice cast. Just hearing who is voicing these characters got me excited because it seemed perfect. Turns out it is. I don't think they could've done a better job. I've talked a lot about Shere Kahn, so I might as well start with him and say Idris Elba's voice was a key factor in making him sound so menacing. Ben Kingsley is the perfect Bagheera. He actually sounds exactly Bagheera from the animated movie. Bill Murray was an absolute home run as Baloo. His comedic timing for everything was absolute gold, yet he was good at being serious when he needed to be. Lupita Nyong'o did a perfect job of acting as the concerned mother figure in Raksha. She really sold her scenes with Mowgli, making it possibly the best relationship in the movie. I wish we had seen more of Kaa in the movie, because Scarlett Johannson made for a really creepy snake. Much better than the Winnie the Pooh version of Kaa in the animated movie. And of course Christopher Walken as the giant King Louie was an absolute treat.

Perfect. Just perfect. There was also a lot more side characters and I found myself enjoying all of them. We even had new side characters in this that were all a lot of fun. Finally, as far as acting goes, I will finish up by talking about our one live-action character, Neel Sethi as Mowgli. I'm not going to lie, there were plenty of moments in this movie where the kid wasn't always at the top of his game, but all things considered he actually did an amazing job. Outside him, the whole movie is literally done via CGI. I don't know everything he had to work with, but I do know this was filmed in a studio in Los Angeles. They didn't fly out to an actual jungle to shoot this. They didn't create a jungle set for him to work with. He was probably just inside a studio somewhere in Los Angeles acting in front of a bunch of green screens and talking to absolutely nothing outside some props. It's one thing when you have a lot of practical effects to work with. It's a second thing to have sets built while having to pretend the creatures are there. But it's a much different thing when you are forced to pretend that you are in this world when in fact you have nothing to work with. So yes, huge props to this kid because this is something even experienced adult actors can struggle with.

Speaking of that CGI, I personally thought it was fantastic. Yes, I am on the side that if you have the option of using practical effects and building sets that you should do that. That's one of the many reasons why I thought Star Wars: The Force Awakens was done so well because they only used CGI when it was absolutely necessary. CGI should be a tool to use to enhance your movie, not the other way around. That said, if you're going to make a live-action movie using only CGI, you need to create the illusion that you used practical effects. The audience needs to buy into this world. In that sense, this movie is quite the masterpiece. If I didn't know beforehand how this movie was done, you could've convinced me that they shot it in an actual jungle. If the animals didn't start moving their mouths and talking like humans, you could've convinced me that they used actual trained animals. It's that good. It's impossible to predict how well this movie will hold up in 10 or 20 years from now, but as of today this is some of the best CGI work I have ever seen. I hope that this doesn't start a trend because I would still like to see actual sets and practical effects used, but I honestly think that this movie should be the textbook example of what to do if you're going to go the complete CGI route.

All in all, I was completely blown away by The Jungle Book. I do need to note that, although the only previous version I have mentioned of The Jungle Book is Disney's animated version from 1967, The Jungle Book has been made plenty of times before. This is not even the first time Disney themselves have done a live-action remake. But I will say that without a doubt, this is the best version of The Jungle Book that I have ever seen. Andy Serkis has a lot to live up to with his version in a couple of years. I have faith in that man, but with what Disney has just accomplished, he needs to conjure up quite the masterpiece if he is to top them because this one is great. I feel that Disney acknowledged that, although their animated classic is well loved, it's not without it's flaws. They took the elements of that movie that worked and they improved on the elements that perhaps don't hold up in order to give us the near perfect Jungle Book movie. This is everything it needed to be. I feel kids can still enjoy this, but adults especially will love it with how amazing, intense, and emotional the story is combined with the amazing voice work, great acting by Neel Sethi as Mowgli, and amazing CGI. Because of all that, I'm going to give The Jungle Book a 9/10.

P.S.- Make sure to stay through the end credits. No, there's no extra scene, but you do get a bonus song halfway through that's not one of the two songs that's in the movie.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hardcore Henry Review

If you follow my reviews closely, you'll know that I've talked quite a bit about STX Entertainment recently. They're a small production company that was formed recently with the goal in mind to release several medium-budgeted movies each year. Personally I'm a fan of seeking out the movies with a small budget instead of only watching the big blockbusters, so I love their approach and thus have made sure to seek out their movies. The other thing that attracted me to Hardcore Henry was the unique approach to the movie. I believe that this is the first feature-length film to be done entirely from the first person. It's the first one I've seen, anyways. If there are others out there, please let me know. Being that this is a pretty violent action movie, the outcome is that it gives the illusion that you are in a first person shooter game. I'm not a gamer and I don't like first person shooters, but I was curious to see how this would turn out as a movie, especially because I do like action movies. As it turns out, while there is a lot of elements to this movie worthy of praise, I felt that this ultimately wasn't a movie for me. But I do want to be careful with this review because I know that this movie will have an audience that will love it and I want to do my best to help you figure out if you are part of this audience.

I mention that Hardcore Henry comes from STX Entertainment. The full story behind it is that STX purchased this movie for $10 million at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, who is the frontman of the Russian indie rock band Biting Elbows. Naishuller directed a couple of music videos for their songs that ended up going viral because of this first-person shooter format that they used. Namely, one of these music videos currently has 33 million views on YouTube. I won't name this song because it would require typing an f-bomb in this review (which I don't do), but if you look up Biting Elbows on YouTube, you'll find it. Due to this success, Naishuller decided to take this idea and run with it in a feature-length film that debuted at TIFF. I believe the whole movie (or at least most of it) is shot using a GoPro, which is a fascinating idea for a movie. Unless of course the idea of watching a cyborg, superhuman fight a bunch of baddies with a GoPro makes you feel a bit sick. If any sort of shaky camera technique in a movie makes you sick, then I'm going to tell right up front to skip this movie, because this is the shakiest movie I've ever seen. Even I started feeling a bit dizzy in certain scenes and I can usually do good with shaky cam.

If you don't mind shaky, then I will say that there are a lot of scenes in this movie that are really exhilarating. I don't know how much of this was pure stunt-work versus visual effects, but I'm sure all of you have watched those GoPro videos of someone doing something insanely crazy out in nature. That gives you quite the thrill, right? That's exactly what this movie does. There are times where our dude is climbing a building, jumping across something, getting pushed off of something, or jumping off something that gives you quite the thrill. The scenes themselves are nothing original for an action movie, but the fact that this is done GoPro style makes it a blast. Then you have the action itself. Due to the fact that you feel like you are this character, the intensity is raised quite a bit. There are a lot of scenes, most of the movie in fact, where these villains are chasing and shooting at Henry. In a normal action movie this can get intense because you are fearing for the main protagonist. But it takes it to another level when it feels like you are the one being shot at. The other part of this is that when Henry is kicking trash, your self-confidence shoots through the roof because it feels like you are the one kicking everyone's trash. You walk out of the theater feeling like you can conquer the world.

On this same humorous note, there is a bit of guilt that settles in when you watch the movie. I don't know about you, but Henry does some things that I wouldn't do in real life. Because of the fact that it feels like I was him, I almost wanted to apologize to some of the people I ran into or shot with a gun that I didn't need to shoot. It wasn't my fault, though. I was being forced to do all of this. It also got rather disgusting at times when blood was splattering on my face, when a head (or whole body) would explode, or when I would walk past the dead corpses of villains that I either shot or blew up with a grenade. Obviously you aren't going to see this movie if you don't like action movies, but I'm just going to give you a warning of how violent and bloody this movie is. Know what you are getting into. And don't go watch a censored version of this movie on a place like VidAngel because there won't be much of a movie left to watch. This is non-stop blood and violence in your face for the entire run-time. You're either all in or you're not. If you enjoy watching a movie as violent as Kingsman or any Quentin Tarantino movie, then you'll probably enjoy at least portions of this movie.

The problem here is the narrative. You can definitely tell that this a movie written by someone whose main profession is musician who has only written and directed a few really good music videos as opposed to a professional screenwriter. There's not a whole lot of substance to this story. I do like the fact that we are thrown right into this movie without knowing what is going on. The premise does follow the Jason Bourne formula in that our main antagonist has no idea what is going on and has to try to figure things out himself. In our instance, Henry can't even talk which makes it even more like we are Henry. But after like 20 or 30 minutes, the movie started getting old. You can kinda see through the mystery the whole time so the "twist ending" comes with zero surprise and the plot itself is very thin. We're just going from place to place fighting a bunch of bad guys. And we don't slow down at all. I would've liked to slow down a bit in certain scenes to build some story or have some character progression. The best action movies do exactly that. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for example. The movie wasn't just a non-stop chase scene. We stopped on multiple occasions to develop Tom Hardy's and Charlize Theron's characters and thus the flow felt right.

This movie just kept going and going and going and the only plot that happened at times was a certain character telling Henry where to go next. Thus I started to actually get bored before too long and this is where the novelty of the GoPro action started to ware off and I instead started getting a bit dizzy, especially when it got super intense with all the jumping, ducking, falling, twisting, dodging, and all that fun stuff. This movie is only 96 minutes long with credits, but it felt a lot longer. There was literally about four or five action sequences where I felt like this should be our final battle. But we must've been only an hour in, maybe less, when I started getting these thoughts. When I went to look up the run time afterwards, I was certain that the movie was over two hours long. But no. Apparently it was a fairly short movie when compared to some action movies. This is why I feel the lack of an interesting story and the non-stop pace made this feel much longer. Yet I do know that there will be people who won't be bothered by this. I'll compare this to a game of Halo. I don't play Halo much, but when I do play, I either like short spurts of multi-player or the campaign because of the story. Some people can play the multi-player for hours and I just don't know how they do it because I get bored of it quick.

If you are one of those people who do like playing multi-player, first-person shooter games for hours on end and having a story to your gaming isn't necessary, then I feel that Hardcore Henry is a movie that you will really enjoy. That type of gaming I can do in short spurts every once in a while, but I get bored of it pretty quickly. I'm predicting there will be a correlation here. I think you have to be more than just a fan of action movies to enjoy Hardcore Henry. I think you have to be a fan of play first-person shooters for hours on end because that's what this movie is. Maybe I'm wrong. But that's just my prediction. I also think that there's a chance if you are this type of person, you don't necessarily go see a ton of movies, which is why I think this movie flopped in its opening weekend. They couldn't get their target audience to go see their movie. Sure, STX will still make a profit due to the small price tag, but this is looking like it'll be the studio's lowest grossing movie yet. As I said, there's plenty to praise with this movie and I did have a ton of fun for a little while, but due to the lack of an interesting story as well as the non-stop pace, I was checked out mentally around halfway through and thus my grade for Hardcore Henry is a 6/10.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

God's Not Dead 2 Review

Man I'm on a roll with these religious movies! Counting some of the local Utah religious movies, this will be my sixth review of a religious movie in just over a month. As I say almost every time, as a religious person who loves reviewing movies, I take it upon myself to make sure I review these movies because I feel I'm a better judge of these movies than some other critics out there. I don't mean to be prideful with that statement, but I just think that someone who is a part of the target audience for a certain movie has more credibility than someone who is not. There's a lot of non-religious people reviewing these religious movies and it's hard to take their word for it. It would be like me reviewing a raunchy comedy. I don't like that type of movie, which is why you don't see me review too many of them. Anyways, as a religious person, I've thought a lot about what I personally think makes a good religious movie and in a day where the Earth is being flooded with this genre, I'm here to sift out the good and the bad. No, I'm not the end all, say all. You still might have a different opinion than me and that's fine. But nevertheless, here's my opinion anyways on yet another faith-based film.

I went back and read my review of God's Not Dead recently and I surprised myself by how nice I was to that movie after my initial viewing. That's a movie that got worse and worse the more I thought about it and it got to the point where I think I angered several people when I stomped the movie to the ground after they claimed they loved it. Perhaps that was uncalled for. Sorry. But my opinion stands. There's a good way and a bad way to go about doing a religious movie. God's Not Dead did things the bad way by shoving religion down your throat and portraying the non-believers as horrible, evil people who have everything go wrong in their life. I kinda wish I could go back and re-review that movie, but I'm not going to. Instead I made sure that I would review the sequel, despite me having less than zero desire to see it. I need my updated opinion out on this franchise. So I saw it. A bit late. But I saw it. And holy cow! This movie is so much worse than its predecessor. There's no saying they had good intentions but went about it the wrong way. This is an outright piece of trash. I'm almost offended that my fellow Christians would put out something this atrocious in the name of Christianity. To my non-religious friends, I'm so sorry that this piece of garbage will forever be a thing. I promise that there are good religious people doing good things in the world.

Where to begin with this? There's so much that could be dissected and discussed here. How about we start with the story. In the first God's Not Dead, the story was kinda implausible and poorly written. Would a philosophy professor at a University really force his whole class to write down on a piece of paper that God is dead or else their grade would suffer? Probably not. But compared to God's Not Dead 2, that's totally plausible. In fact, I wish they would go back and do something like that again because at least that would be better than what they came up for in this one. I don't know how they conned Melissa Joan Hart into doing this movie, but she's our main character in the movie. She plays a history teacher at a high school who is very religious. Despite this, she is still good at keeping her religion to herself in the classroom and focusing on history. One day, one of the students asks a question about Jesus in a purely historical context and Melissa Joan Hart gives a very historical answer that would totally be appropriate. But not for this movie. Before we know it, we are in an intense court battle where the prosecution is attempting to prove in a court that God is dead and is using Melissa Joan Hart as an example by trying to get her teaching license revoked.

Talk about throwing all logic and reason out the window. I'm serious, every stage of this movie gets more and more ridiculous. First off, a professional history teacher at a public school would probably be a little more careful in her answer and probably wouldn't quote scripture in her response. Second, none of the high school students would even bat an eye at the answer she actually gave. Third, even if the school board found out, they would probably just have a nice chat asking her to be more careful the next time. Fourth, even if the school board were super angry at her actions, wouldn't they first give the school's best teacher a warning? Sixth, even if they did decide they wanted her fired if she didn't apologize, would this really be something that would go to court and get this much attention? Seventh, even if this did go to court, wouldn't the focus be on Melissa Joan Hart's actions and the legality of it rather than a huge debate where one side is trying to prove that God is dead while the other side is trying to prove that Christ really did live and that God is not dead? Getting my vibe here? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. This is such a poorly written story that gets worse and worse as it goes along. If you are going to take this idea and run with it, can't we at least have a story that makes sense? Is that too much to ask for? Apparently so.

Even when you don't think of the religious messages that they portray in this movie, the story is so bad that by itself it totally ruins the movie. Not even good acting or a good message could've saved a story this bad and this ridiculous. Not to mention that it didn't even seem like they did any research on how a court process works, but I'm not even going to go there because there's more troubling things to worry about. How about this message? Yes, I'm a religious person and I totally believe that God is not dead, but the way they portray non-believers in this movie is offensive. They even have a statement towards the beginning almost in passing that an atheist can't live a happy life. Wow! You really had the guts to throw that in there, movie? The movie was trying to teach tolerance and understanding towards Christianity, but how about we not be hypocrites about it? There is zero tolerance in this movie towards anyone who disagrees with Christianity. In fact, all of the non-believers are practically demonized. Almost all of them are portrayed as awful, horrible, evil human beings that will never do anything right. You had the scary ominous music. You had the evil smiles. You had the intense camera angles. Worst of all, all of them were trying their hardest to absolutely ruin this nice woman's life because she made one statement in a classroom about Jesus.

I was shocked and horrified at this portrayal of non-believers. There was even another comment that mentioned that the Christians were at war with the non-believers. No!!! So much no!!! This is not the Christianity that I know and love. This is not the Christianity that I want to be associated with. This is hypocritical Christianity that I personally don't think Christ himself would be too happy about. Yes, there have been actual court cases that have discussed separation of church and state. It's a real issue. Yes, it's good to stand up for what you believe in despite the opposition you may face. So there is a skeleton of good movie somewhere hidden in here, but they went about things in all the wrong ways in my opinion. Then we had the court drama itself. This aspect wasn't quite as bad as the first movie. In that movie we had a debate between a professor and a student about God in which I think, based on the arguments and not my personal opinion, the atheist professor won because he gave more compelling arguments. But no. Everyone in the class sided with the student, which was dumb. I didn't feel quite the same way with this court case, but there were still plenty of logical fallacies that were frustrating.

Most of all I kept coming back to the fact that this situation in real life would never go to court so I had a hard time buying into it as a whole. Thus it was off to a bad start for me and then both sides just went in a lot of weird directions and if I'm being honest, I had a hard time following the whole thing, which is a problem because that was most of the movie. The one side was trying to prove that Melissa Joan Hart was preaching, but the other side was trying to prove that she was not. Then we had discussions of how religion was detrimental while the good side suddenly decided that they were going to try to prove in the court that Christ really lived. We just kept weaving back and forth through a lot of twists and turns which ultimately led to our religious rock band telling their whole crowd to start praying for this girl that the jury and the judge will soften their hearts. Because, you know, if you get enough people to pray then God is going to intervene and change the outcome of a court case, right? Yes, I believe in prayer, but in this case it was just way too silly if that makes any sense. This was just a big mess.

Is there any redeeming qualities to this movie? If I'm being honest, it did look like they were working with a nice little budget and thus were able to make this look professional. This is a well shot, well edited movie. Not all the shots were necessary. I didn't think we needed an overhead shot of the courthouse every time we were about to start a courtroom scene. I get it movie. This is a court drama. You don't need to keep reminding me. But for the most part this was a technically sound movie. Also there was a lot of decent acting in this movie. Sure, none of the actors had anything to work with give how horrible the screenplay and script are, but they all did the best with what they were given. Melissa Joan Hart has always had a place in my heart due to my love of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and she gave this her best shot. The lawyer defending her also did his best job of being a lawyer and the judge was a convincing and likable judge. We also had Melissa Joan Hart's 17-year-old student who started this whole thing by asking the question. She was a very likable, attractive girl who also did her best with this. She's really 22, so I am allowed to say she's attractive without being creepy. Her name is Hayley Orrantia and if you watch The Goldbergs (which I don't), apparently she's a regular there.

Overall this is a big, fat no from me. If you were one who loved God's Not Dead and you're excited for this sequel, maybe you'll like this. I don't know. It did get an A cinemascore which baffles me, so maybe I'm just crazy because I agree more with the 2.8 on IMDb or the 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I've seen plenty of good Christian movies. This is just not one of them. I thought the story in the movie was completely ridiculous. None of it made any sense and it just got worse and worse as it went on. They didn't do their research. They didn't seem to care about logic and reason. It was a mess. Yes, the acting in this movie was fine, especially from Melissa Joan Hart and Hayley Orrantia, but they just weren't given anything to work with. Worst of all, this is a horrible representation of Christianity as it takes a rather offensive, hypocritical stance, especially when it comes to the portrayal of non-believers. Don't see this one. Go see Miracles from Heaven instead or Risen if it's still around you. As far as my grade goes, if I were to regrade the first movie, I'd probably give it a 5/10. For this sequel, I'm going even lower. I've giving God's Not Dead 2 a 3/10.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Saturday's Warrior Review

Two weeks ago I was seeing one of the many faith-based movies that came out this March in time for Easter and suddenly the trailer showed up for Saturday's Warrior. This got me excited! I had heard that a Saturday's Warrior movie was in production and was set for a release date sometime in 2016, but for some reason further updates totally escaped me. I had no idea when it was coming out or if it was even still a thing. I'm usually on top of things when it comes to movie news, so the fact that this escaped me is kind of embarrassing, but oh well. It is what it is. On the positive side, it was nice not to have to play the waiting game with this as it was released just two weeks after I first heard that the release date was April 1st. So anyways, here I am reviewing the brand new theatrically released version of Saturday's Warrior! And as a fair warning, I will be diving slightly deeper with this review because this is a great opportunity for me to openly discuss a controversial musical that I have enjoyed for most of my life and discuss how the movie version holds up. I'm assuming that most people reading this already know this musical pretty well.

For those of you who like following my reviews, but have no idea what I'm talking about when I say Saturday's Warrior, allow me to briefly explain. This was a musical that was written in the early 1970's and quickly became a cultural phenomenon in the LDS community and was performed quite often on stage for LDS audiences. A movie was made of this in 1989, although it's not really a movie. It's more like a filmed version of the play. But regardless of what you call it, I'm willing to bet that most LDS people have either seen this 1989 version or at least heard of it. So the fact that this has finally been made into a movie is a rather big deal and it's actually kinda surprising that it never happened earlier. The story follows an LDS family who made promises to each other in the Pre-Earth Life and now have to come down to Earth and face this very stormy existence. The principles taught in this center around the Plan of Salvation. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going after we die? There's a lot of great things to learn here and the musical does a great job of teaching these things through a great story and beautiful music.

However, there are also several major problems with this musical. I know I'm reviewing a movie and I promise I will get to the actual movie in a bit, but first off all we need to have a bit of a doctrinal discussion about the original musical because there's a huge elephant in the room when talking about Saturday's Warrior and I'm not going to dance around that. I'm going to discuss it straight up before diving into my review so you know where I'm coming from and understand my point of view with this musical. Pre-Earth Life. This is a very unique doctrine that the LDS church teaches that is one of the reasons we stand out from other Christian churches. We believe that we are all spiritual children of God and that we lived with God before we came to Earth. Before the Earth was formed, there was a council in heaven where God presented his plan for us. After God presented his plan, Lucifer, a former angel of light, proposed an opposite plan that opposed God and we as spirit children of God were given the ability to choose between God's plan and Lucifer's plan. However, we weren't free to choose the consequences of our choice and so those who followed Lucifer, which was about a third of the hosts of Heaven, were cast out. The rest of us who chose God's plan got the opportunity to come here to Earth.

That's the basics of the Pre-Earth Life. It's also called the Premortal Existence and the First Estate. Sadly, many also refer to it as the Pre-Existence, which I believe to be incorrect terminology, but that's a discussion for another day. Regardless of what you call it, it's also a doctrine that we don't know a ton about. We know the basics, but we don't know many of the specific details and in this instance it's probably best not to speculate too much. We should go with what we do know and not worry about what we don't. But Saturday's Warrior dives fairly deep into this Pre-Earth Life. Deeper than it probably should. And because of how huge this musical was, I do believe that the things it speculates have seeped into LDS culture and have thus caused many to believe in doctrines that aren't necessarily true and have never really been taught by the leadership of the church. Specifically, Saturday's Warrior speculates that we were organized as families in the Pre-Earth life. This means that couples were already formed and children were already assigned to these couples. These specific doctrines are not taught in the LDS church and the implications of believing certain aspects of this can be harmful.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I have heard many stories of couples saying that they have received personal revelation that they knew each other and were even foreordained to be married. I have also heard families say that they have received revelation that they were organized as a family in the Pre-Earth Life. It is not my place to question the legitimacy of these revelations one way or the other. They are called PERSONAL revelations for a reason. It would be the most inappropriate and quite frankly rude thing to say that your personal revelations are false and have no place. I'm just speaking in general here about doctrines that I have spent a long time studying and pondering. When I say that there are certain doctrines that Saturday's Warrior speculates on that can be harmful if you believe in them, I am talking specifically about the doctrine of soul mates. A lot of Pre-Earth Life speculations I could answer with the statement we don't know. When it comes to soul mates, I think we do know. This is false. And I'm going to go straight to President Spencer W. Kimball to back up my point:

"While Marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be, more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive.  This is within the reach of every couple, every person. "Soul mates" are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price."

That quote came from an address he gave to Brigham Young University in 1977. If you would like to read the whole address, I just provided the link for you right there. That I think is pretty straight forward and was given only a few years after Saturday's Warrior was written and became huge. The thing that this completely shoots down is the relationship in Saturday's Warrior between Julie and Tod. As they state when they talk to each other in the Pre-Earth Life, they have loved each other forever. There was never a point when their love began and there will never be a point when their love ends. There love is a circle that has no beginning and no end. Yet the drama in the musical comes when they get sent to Earth at different times and in different places. They have to find each other. Julie goes through two different men that she could marry, but doesn't go through with either because neither of them feels right. But when she finally meets Tod, they have an instant connection and fall madly in love. I could talk for a while about why this is a bad thing to believe, but let's me just say simply that if you are looking for the "one and only" and you reject certain people because you didn't receive the revelation that the two of you were soul mates in the Pre-Earth Life, you could potentially be passing up on many different potential marriage partners that would work very well for you.

Thanks for letting me establish all of that before moving on. I know that this means that this review will be longer than normal, but I feel it was important for me to establish my point of view on that issue before we start, especially since I have been dying to get my full thoughts on this subject out and I am taking advantage of this new release to do so. In short, the more I have thought about Saturday's Warrior, the more I don't like that aspect of it. But despite that, I will still defend Saturday's Warrior to those who don't like it because there is more to this than the Julie/Tod storyline. In fact, that is just one of three different storylines being intertwined in this musical. The main storyline is that of the oldest son Jimmy and the third storyline is between two missionary companions trying to find success in the mission field. Some people might get so caught up on the Julie/Tod storyline that they will call this a bad musical. In my opinion, these other two storylines are so great that the strengths of Saturday's Warrior far outweigh the weaknesses. And the actual music written by Lex de Azevedo is phenomenal.

Now finally to this movie. I was hoping that in finally making Saturday's Warrior into a movie that they would take advantage of the opportunity and fix certain aspects of the story while keeping the parts of it that really worked. An updated Saturday's Warrior that was more doctrinally sound would be fantastic. Nope. For better or for worse, this is a very faithful adaptation to the original musical. That means if you are one who hates Saturday's Warrior because of the false doctrines and potentially erroneous speculations about the Pre-Earth Life, then this movie is not for you. The changes made or more minor, which I suppose I'm fine with because it would require a complete reworking of the story which would probably make too many fans angry and not make them any money. So I get it. However, there are a few tweaks made that did make me really happy. While all the Pre-Earth life stuff is almost verbatim to the play with Julie and Tod, their reunion at the airport at the end is actually much improved. I guess I won't spoil this for you, but just know that I think they got the balance right between making it true to the musical while making it more real to what may happen in real life. It's not something that will completely win you over, but it's satisfactory. At least for me.

With that completely out of my system now, let's focus on the aspects of this movie that really work well. Just like in the original musical, it's the other two storylines that completely save this movie. Let's start with Jimmy. What I really like about his storyline is that it's essentially the story of the prodigal son. You have a son that butts heads with his family, especially with his parents, and he leaves for a while. Certain events finally bring him back and it's really beautiful. With the movie they dive into this even deeper and put this family into a realistic situation in the 70's. In the play version, there are certain aspects of the story that are somewhat disconnected, but it's really a non-issue because for the play format it works just fine. With the movie there's some dots that needed to be connected and boy do they do a wonderful job of connecting them. Jimmy still has his group of friends that believe in "zero population" and legalizing abortion. Jimmy has a large family that is in conflict with this. Connecting the dots is that Jimmy and these friends have formed a band that get offered a record deal and the opportunity to go on a west coast tour. Jimmy is about to side with his family when he has a huge argument with his parents that sends him over the edge and so he leaves with his friends.

There's a lot of emotion that goes with this aspect of the story. The conflict that Jimmy experiences is a real one and it's sad to see him reject his family and go off the deep-end. There's no holding back with this. Jimmy gets messed up. But despite all the issues he is going through, he has the nearly perfect twin sister named Pam who he has an honest connection with and she is the only one that is able to get through to him. This sibling relationship between the two is beautiful. This was my favorite part of the play and the movie totally does it justice. They even tell more of the backstory as to why Pam is in a wheelchair, which makes this movie even better. If you've made it this far into this review, I'm almost certain that you know exactly what happens here, but I'm still not going to spoil it. There's a moment in the play where it gets very emotional. In the movie, that emotion gets kicked into high gear. If the play makes you cry at certain points, make sure to bring plenty of tissues into the theater with you because you are going to need every single one of them. The way they wrap this story up is perfect. Overall I have to give a ton of credit to the whole cast for pulling this off because the acting is great. Huge props to the casting director or others that were responsible for finding all this talent because they did a perfect job.

Providing much of the humor for the movie was our third storyline. The missionaries! Elder Kestler and Elder Greene. One thing I found interesting is that when comparing the cast of these two from the 1989 version to this version, their looks are kinda flipped. Elder Kestler from 2016 looks a lot like the Elder Greene from 1989 and Elder Greene from 2016 looks even more like Elder Kestler from 1989. Just a random thought there. But man, this movie nailed these two. Their story arc is more subtle than that of Jimmy and his family. This is true in both versions. But it's still pretty great as it tells the story of a missionary who goes into the field expecting to conquer the world and baptize pretty much everyone he talks to, but instead is sent to an area where no one will listen to him and he has to be satisfied with just one baptism. This missionary is of course Elder Kestler and he has the perfect companion in Elder Greene who does a good job of counteracting his little idiosyncrasies. In the 1989 version, this aspect of the play is very cheesy. In this one, it's not cheesy at all. It's just hilarious. These two steal every scene they are in and almost steal the whole show. In made me quite happy.

Finally, I need to talk about the music in this movie. Most of the songs from the original musical are inlcuded in this movie. There's a few that are left out and a few new ones added. The ones left out aren't missed and the new ones fit in perfectly and even allow The Piano Guys and Alex Boye to join in this movie, which is fun. The songs themselves are beautifully sung and I would totally buy this soundtrack. But there is one huge problem here with this music. All of this looked lip-synced to the extreme. Now I get it. Not every movie musical can do what Les Mis did with their recording. Most musicals have to record the music in a studio and then mix it in after the fact. But holy freaking cow make it look like the actors were actually singing when you filmed them. I don't know if I should call this issues with sound mixing, sound editing, both, or something else, but it was off. It was so off. Every time we transitioned from dialogue to singing, it was super painful to watch and it was actually super distracting and disrupted the flow of the movie. Thus I have to sadly say that, although the songs were great and I would buy the soundtrack, the music was the worst part of the movie. And when you're movie is a musical, this is a pretty big problem.

Overall, I did have a positive experience with Saturday's Warrior. Yes, there is a good portion of the musical that is false doctrine that has unfortunately seeped into LDS culture, especially the idea of soul mates. The movie makes no effort to update these aspects of it, but as is the case with the musical, I do think that the other two-thirds of the story is so good that the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses and leaves me with a great, uplifting message with a lot of actual truth that we can learn from. If you are with me and you appreciate the good in Saturday's Warrior, then you need to go out and support this movie because you'll like it. They did a great job of translating this from a play to a movie by adding enough details and depth to make it work. This is a very well-written, emotional movie with a phenomenal cast that successfully brings this story to the big screen in a big way. However, this is also a musical and I do have to be honest and admit that the musical part of this movie disappointed me. When I watch a musical, I at least want to be fooled into thinking that the actors are actually singing and it was so painfully obvious that everyone was lip-syncing that it got super distracting. Thus all things considered, my final grade for Saturday's Warrior is a 7/10.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Movie Preview: April 2016

Hollywood's Summer is just around the corner and Marvel is poised to kick it off yet again with Captain America: Civil War. But first we have to make it through one of the slower months of the year in April. Zootopia and Batman v. Superman helped propel yet another successful March as this March became the second March in box office history to cross $900 million at the domestic box office. The April record is held by 2011 with just $792 million so if 2016 hopes to be the first April to cross $800 million, it's going to need both Batman v. Superman and Zootopia to have good legs going into the month because outside a pair of pre-Summer appetizers, this is looking like a typical April at the box office. There's plenty of titles to talk about, but for the most part they are titles that look like they belong in April, if you know what I mean. But let's dive into the month anyways because there's bound to be at least one or two titles that will pique your interest, especially since we dive into the live-action world of Disney on two separate occasions!

April 1st - 3rd- 

As mentioned above, Batman v. Superman and Zootopia should still be playing strong heading into this first weekend of April and, barring a huge surprise from this weekend's only major release, they should easily be able to capture the top two spots again. That new wide release will be God's Not Dead 2. This will be our fourth major faith-based film hitting theaters nationwide around Easter time. Risen and Miracles from Heaven have both had fairly successful runs so far while The Young Messiah fell flat on its face. God's Not Dead 2 will almost assuredly make this three for four successful box office hits as this is the one that already has a built-in fan base. Two years ago around this time, God's Not Dead was a huge surprise at the box office as it earned $9.2 million its opening weekend in just 780 theaters and went on to make $60.8 million total. The premise here is pretty simple. Pure Flix Entertainment is out again to prove that God's not dead. Last time we were in a classroom. This time we go to court. Brand new cast this time around, which shouldn't effect things one way or another as its the subject matter and connection to the first that should bring Christian audiences out once again.

Sneaking into just over 1,000 theaters this weekend and most likely not making much of a dent is the horror spoof comedy Meet the Blacks. The horror movie being spoofed here is The Purge as the Black family (whose skin color is also black. Get it? They made a funny!) moves from Chicago to Beverly Hills to start new, but couldn't have timed it worse as they move there right at the start of the annual purge where all crime is legal for 12 hours. This style of movie has worked very well in the past as the Scary Movie franchise did very well and even A Haunted House also was a hit not too long ago. But Meet the Blacks looks like a dud. First off, I don't think many people are aware of this movie. Second, there isn't really any big names tied to this movie, in front or behind the camera. Third, The Purge isn't really popular enough to warrant a spoof comedy. But even so, Fifty Shades of Black and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were both petty big flops this year and they did have those three things in their favor.

Two movies will be expanding into a moderate release this weekend. The first of those is Bleecker Street's Eye in the Sky. Bleecker Street is a new distribution company that started in 2014 and has been responsible for the distribution of Danny Collins, I'll See You in My Dreams, Pawn Sacrifice, and Trumbo. In addition to expanding Eye in the Sky, they will also have another release later in the month that we'll get to. Eye in the Sky expands after a successful run in limited release where it earned around $2 million in three weeks and has a very strong 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a modern war thriller starring the late Alan Rickman in his final live action role. He'll return next month as a voice in Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass, but audiences may be interested in catching the beloved actor one final time. Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul also join Rickman in this movie, which is about a mission to stop some suicide bombers in Kenya that escalates when a 9-year-old girl enters the kill zone.

The second movie expanding into a moderate release is Hello, My Name is Doris. This followed a similar trajectory as Eye in the Sky as it also had a successful three-week run in limited release with a similar per theater average and an 85 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. There's no Alan Rickman or war thriller to draw people in here, but what is earning this movie a lot of attention is the performance of Sally Field who plays an older lady named Doris working at a company with people mostly younger than her. She is inspired by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue one of her co-workers that is nearly half her age. Thus the movie is a comedic romance drama that is sure to attract at least some sort of niche crowd even if it struggles to appeal to a general audience.

April 8th - 11th-

First up for this second weekend of April is the new Melissa McCarthy comedy, The Boss. This movie stars McCarthy as a big industry titan who gets sent to prison and six months later is out leading a group of girl scouts. It's safe to say that Melissa McCarthy is one of the most popular comedic actresses right now. Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy, and Spy all opened north of $20 million and all of them except Tammy ended their runs north of $100 million. However, this isn't another Melissa McCarthy collaboration with writer/director Paul Feig like with Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. That collaboration comes later this year with the remake of Ghostbusters. The Boss reunites McCarthy with director Ben Falcone, director of Tammy, which could be seen as a small red flag because that movie is generally not well-liked. However, despite poor reviews it still made a respectable $84.5 million. That number would be a good target for The Boss. Joining McCarthy in The Boss is Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, and Tammy co-star Kathy Bates.

Providing some counter-programming for those not interested in a Melissa McCarthy comedy will be the very unique action movie Hardcore Henry. What makes this movie unique is not necessarily the premise. The movie is about a guy named Henry who is raised from the dead without the knowledge of who he is and suddenly he has to go rescue the girl who has just told him she is his wife. The unique aspect of this movie is that it is told entirely from first person as if you are watching, or even playing, a first person shooter video game. This obviously won't be for everyone, but the concept alone should be enough to bring in a decent-sized crowd. The movie debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and was purchased for $10 million by STX Entertainment, a brand new production company dedicated to making/producing several medium-budget films per year. With this goal in mind, their first three movies, The Gift ($43.7 million), Secret in their Eyes ($20.2 million), and The Boy ($35.8 million), all did pretty well. Given the $10 million price tag for Hardcore Henry, anything in that range will be a win for STX.

The final wide release of the weekend is a horror movie I already talked about a few months back. Before I Wake was supposed to be released in September of 2015. In that month's preview, I talked about how it seemed like a bad idea for two horror movies to be released on the same weekend as it was Before I Wake and The Green Inferno. Then that weekend came and Before I Wake was M.I.A. I didn't really know what happened to it as somehow I missed the announcement of it being postponed. But then it reappeared here in April. So here we are again. This is a horror movie that follows a family whose young boy has dreams and nightmares that manifest in reality. He dreams something. They experience it. One huge advantage this movie has now as opposed to before is that the young boy is played by Jacob Tremblay. Back in September no one knew who he was. Following the release of the best picture nominee Room, everyone knows and loves Jacob Tremblay. How's that for a bit of dumb luck?

April 15th - 17th- 

The biggest movie event in April will most definitely be The Jungle Book. One of the big trends right now in Hollywood has been to make live-action remakes of classic Disney animated films. This was started by Disney themselves in 2010 with Alice in Wonderland and followed up with Maleficent and Cinderella. All three of these were huge successes for Disney, so try number four will be The Jungle Book. Many more of these live-action remakes are being planned, both by Disney and other studios, so buckle in folks! It's worth mentioning that Disney wasn't the first studio to make a Jungle Book movie and they won't be the last, either. I mean that quite literally, too. Rudyard Kipling's classic story was first made in 1942 before Disney's classic animated feature in 1967. And in 2017, Warner Bros. will make their own live-action version of the movie with Andy Serkis at the helm and Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Jack Reynor, Naomie Harris, and Andy Serkis himself as stars. This month's version stars Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Christopher Walken, and Ben Kingsley with Iron Man's Jon Favreau as director. That's a lot of star power for both movies. Reaction to the trailers for this Disney version has been very positive so far, so this is sure to be another hit for Disney.

Speaking of trends, another current one is comedy sequels to older comedies that no one really asked for. This month's version of that is Barbershop: The Next Cut. Recent movies in this trend include Anchorman 2, Dumb and Dumber To, Zoolander 2, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. While opinions on each of these movies are quite varied, the most popular opinion is that these aren't very good movies, so I don't really know why the trend keeps going, but oh well. Barbershop: The Next Cut is actually the third Barbershop movie. The original Barbershop was released in 2002 while the sequel came out just two years later in 2004. Now it's been 12 years since that second one and here we have the third. I don't know if it's really fair to put Barbershop in the same category as Anchorman or Zoolander, but just in case I get swarmed by a hornet's nest of Barbershop fans, I won't make that judgment. I just know that reviews for them aren't super high and the box office totals weren't that great, so I don't know if this third one was necessary, especially since its been so long. It feels like they are about 10 years too late with this third movie.

Finally for this weekend we have a movie with possibly the most generic title I've seen in quite some time. Criminal. Yup. Just Criminal. This is an action movie where the memories and skills of a deceased CIA agent are implanted into a very dangerous criminal. If that title and that premise don't have you sold, perhaps the cast actually will. This is a movie that stars Deadpool and Wonder Woman hot off very huge superhero movies. Or should I say Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. Billed higher than those and possibly getting more screen time in this movie is Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones, which is a pretty dang good cast. Ryan Reynolds' name isn't actually even on the movie poster for this, so perhaps his role isn't that big, but still. Big names don't always equate to big box office numbers and being released in the middle of April definitely doesn't. But this will provide another option for action fans if they've already seen Hardcore Henry and are dying for more.

April 22nd - 24th-

Speaking of the trend of turning Disney animated classics into live-action remakes, we have a second one in two weeks with The Huntsman: Winter's War. Following the huge success of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, it was two different studios that quickly jumped on the bandwagon and thus the world received two different live action remakes of Snow White in 2012 with Mirror Mirror (Relativity) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal). The latter was the more successful of the two and was supposed to be a trilogy, but that sequel got canned in the aftermath of the scandal between director Rupert Sanders and star Kristen Stewart where Sanders apparently cheated on his wife with Stewart. Needless to say, we now have a prequel four years later and it's no coincidence that neither Sanders nor Stewart are involved. Instead this is a prequel that follows the two most popular characters from Snow White White and the Huntsman, that being Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth's Eric the Huntsman. Joining Theron and Hemsworth will be Emily Blunt as the Ice Queen and Jessica Chastain as the Huntsman's wife Sara. So yes, this is also borrowing from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, which inspired Disney's Frozen.

Opening alongside The Huntsman will be Bleecker Street's other movie from this month, Elvis & Nixon. As far as the release goes here, this will most likely be another smaller release in around 1,000 theaters, give or take a few hundred. But this has a premise that has a chance to intrigue movie-goers. It's exactly what the title makes it seem. A movie about Elvis and Nixon. Yes, that Elvis and that Nixon -- Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon. This is a true story about a time in 1970 where Elvis showed up at the White House requesting a meeting with President Nixon. There is a photo taken during this meeting of the two shaking hands that is the most requested photograph of all-time in the National Archives. This movie will tell the "untold true story" behind this moment. Michael Shannon will be playing Elvis while Kevin Spacey will be playing Nixon.

April 29th - May 1st-

The final weekend of April (which includes the first day of May) will see three movies daring enough to open in the shadow of Captain America: Civil War. The first of these is Key and Peele's Keanu. While they are unproven box office draws on the big screen, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two very popular comedians thanks mainly to their popular sketch comedy series Key & Peele on Comedy Central, which also has a huge YouTube presence on Comedy Central's YouTube channel. Their highest viewed sketch on YouTube, Substitute Teacher, has over 92 million views. Keanu is Key and Peele's first motion picture following the conclusion of their comedy series. It stars Key and Peel as two friends whose cat Keanu goes missing, so they decide to pose as drug dealers for a street gang in order to retrieve him. The cat is a heavy focus of the advertising of the movie, especially when it comes to the posters. Being how popular cats are on the internet, this is a very smart marketing campaign. Keanu does have an R rating, which could potentially effect the box office for the movie. But it should make enough money to win the weekend, at least when it comes to the new releases as there is a chance that The Jungle Book or The Huntsman could still be on top this weekend.

Mother's Day will be on May 8th this year and leading up to that date the holiday will get its own movie called Mother's Day. This movie comes from director Garry Marshall, who directed Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He also directed Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, which is exactly the type of movie Mother's Day is. Both Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve had huge ensemble casts with a ton of different stories intertwining into one movie. Critically speaking, neither of these movies worked. Valentine's Day earned a lowly Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 percent while New Year's Eve was even worse at 7 percent. Financially speaking, Valentine's Day opened to a huge $56.3 million, but dropped like a rock and only finished with $110.5 million. New Year's Day opened to a much lower $13.0 million just a year later, but held much better and finished with $54.5 million. Mother's Day will probably follow in the footsteps of New Year's Eve as it's been enough time for people to forget the bad taste in their mouth that the other two left. Yes this does follow several different mothers and the large ensemble cast is led by Jennifer Aniston, Britt Robertson, Kate Hudson, and Julia Roberts.

Finishing up the month of April will be Ratchet & Clank. This is an animated movie that is adapted from the very popular video game series of the same name. Ratchet & Clank started on the PS2 and has shown up on all of Sony's platforms since then, so there's definitely a built-in audience here. However, history is against the Ratchet & Clank movie for two reasons. First, video game movies have a bad history in Hollywood, both in terms of box office gross and overall reception by fans and critics alike. Second, Ratchet & Clank doesn't come from a major animation studio. Some of these movies have had decent performances at the box office, but for the most part, animated movies without a major animation studio attached have a hard time finding an audience. Ratchet & Clank does have a good voice cast attached to it, which includes James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, and Armin Shimerman reprising their roles from the games as Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, and Nefarious respectively. Joining them will be Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone, Bella Thorne, John Goodman, and Paul Giammati. So that's a plus. However, it seems that family audiences will be saving their money for The Angry Birds Movie and/or Finding Dory in the upcoming months instead of seeing this one.