Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Welcome back to the Hotel Transylvania! Because nothing says middle of July more than your six-year-old's favorite team of monsters. The first two movies opened in the end of September, which made perfect sense since they had all of October to play in theaters during Halloween season. But this third movie sees the gang going on a summer vacation, so Sony decided to release the movie in the middle of the summer. I suppose that makes sense. But I'm wondering now if they are regretting their decision just slightly given the strong performance of "Incredibles 2" that should hurt their business at least slightly since the animated behemoth is set to make another $15-20 million this weekend in its fifth weekend in theaters. Meanwhile the only family films to open in September and October are "The House with a Clock in Its Walls," "Smallfoot" and "Goosebumps 2." Sony could've bullied out "Smallfoot" to a different time and "Goosebumps 2" is their movie, so it seems like a September release may have worked out better, but it is what it is. Current weekend projections have the movie opening in the mid $40 million range, which is exactly where the first two movies opened, so I suppose this little experiment from Sony may work.

I've never actually reviewed a "Hotel Transylvania" movie on this blog. I thought I reviewed the first movie back in the day, but apparently my blog archives claim I didn't. And I know I didn't review the second one. I'll get to the reasoning there in a second. But I did see both in theaters, so allow me to quickly summarize. I'm not a fan. The first one was a fun idea, but I remember walking out feeling a bit empty. Pixar and Disney have been very good at making their animated movies appeal to both kids and adults, but I felt Sony only managed to hit the kids side of that with "Hotel Transylvania." Said demographic was very pleased and the film was harmless enough, so I wasn't bothered by its existence or success, but it just didn't grab me. The second one was a completely different story. The movie set up a beautiful metaphor for how to treat your child if he or she is different than you. Dracula was so excited to have a grandson, but since his daughter married a human, no one knew if said grandson was human or vampire. It appeared that he was pure human, but Dracula couldn't accept this, so he spent the whole movie trying to bring the monster out of his grandson because sometimes vampires are late-bloomers. On the surface Dracula pretended to be open and accepting, but wasn't until the very end of the movie where he finally decided to love and accept him regardless.

This I thought was a beautiful metaphor for all ages hidden in the sequel to a kid's movie. I especially thought it worked well for straight couples who learn their son or daughter is gay or lesbian. How do you react? Most people's first reactions might be similar to Dracula's reaction, but the movie taught us that the proper reaction was to love and accept your child like Dracula finally did for his grandson at the end of the movie. HOWEVER... the twist ending is that the grandson in the movie is a vampire after all, which I felt completely betrayed the whole film and what it taught and instead turned it into an utter rip-off of "The Incredibles" because the young kid's powers weren't revealed until the very end when the villain was about to win, in almost beat-for-beat fashion as Jack-Jack and Syndrome. I was floored by this in a very negative fashion. I struggled as to how I would approach this in my review and that inner struggle resulted in me never getting around to my review because it didn't seem like it mattered anyways because all of that went straight over the heads of the target audience of young kids. In fact, last year I remember my six-year-old niece being very excited when she saw "Hotel Transylvania 2" on Netflix, which caused me to resign in defeat. Kids loved it, so that was OK.

But again, that doesn't mean I personally have to love it, which is the conflict we again run into with "Summer Vacation." I almost don't want to talk about the plot of the movie because the second I start to describe the basic premise here, you'll know exactly what happens. But yet they added the subtitle of "Summer Vacation" instead of simply titling the movie "Hotel Transylvania 3" and that subtitle gives you the plot of the film, so there's no avoiding this. If you don't pick up the plot by looking at the title, you'll know the whole movie from the trailers. Yes, it could be a situation where we get mad at the trailers for spoiling the film, but the plot of this movie is so incredibly simple, thin and predictable that there's nothing Sony could do differently. You get 10 minutes into this movie and you have the whole movie figured out. Our opening montage sets of this nemesis of Dracula named Abraham Van Helsing who will stop and nothing to kill all monsters, but fails at every attempt. Fast forward to the present and we have Dracula in the Hotel being extremely busy and lonely. He wants to find love, but he thinks that there is no hope for him because monsters only zing once. Then his daughter takes him on a cruise ship where he meets the beautiful human ship captain.

That's our premise. You know how the romance angle is going to turn out the second you learn Dracula is lonely and wants to find a date. The second everyone steps foot on this cruise ship and the ship captain introduces herself, you can pretty easily connect the dots as to who she really is. And if you don't end up connecting those dots, the movie gives the big reveal to who she really is and what the master plan is for this cruise ship. And at that point I don't think we've even made it through 20 minutes of the run time. Thus I don't think me telling you straight up who the captain is and what her intentions are would be even spoiling the movie since it happens so early on. But for the sake of humoring everyone, I'll be silent and let you connect the dots on your own. I don't think you need to have seen "Despicable Me 2" to know how it'll play out with the double-crossing romance, even though it kinda follows that plot line beat for beat as well. Take out Gru and Lucy, insert Dracula Ericka, put the movie on a monster cruise ship, and boom! "Hotel Transylvania 3." Are you mad at me at this point? Have I said too much? Well I'm sorry, but maybe if Sony Animation had any ounce of creativity in their bones, I could write a review without spoiling the film by describing the premise.

Here's the other thing about the plot, though. It barely exists. The movie relies on gag after gag after gag. Most of said gags have absolutely nothing to do with the plot of Dracula and his romance with the ship captain. They're just there to make you laugh. And I suppose that's what the point of comedy is. To make you laugh. But the best comedies have the humor cleverly inserted into the plot of the movie, causing there to be an actual flow. "Hotel Transylvania 3" will spend five minutes progressing the plot forward, then 30 minutes with various tangents of jokes following all the different monsters on the cruise ship and what they're up to, a few more minutes on the plot, then another huge section with jokes, and so on and so forth. And it's the type of juvenile humor of the first movie that just did not connect with me. It was almost impressive to me how consistently every single joke missed the mark. I spent most of the movie trying to come up with some sort of philosophical reasoning as to why humor exists and what elements of a joke cause us to laugh so that I could give a deep analysis of why every joke in the movie completely missed for me. I failed to come up with anything, so instead I have to tell you that the jokes didn't make me laugh.

Thus in the end we have a movie that is nothing more than 97-minutes of jokes strung together while occasionally deviating to forward the paper thin plot that you can see coming before you've even hit the 20-minute mark or before you even walk in if you watched any of the trailers. This movie ended up being painful for me to watch because I started becoming uncomfortable in my chair. It was one of those moments where I felt like I had restless leg syndrome, but was confined into a chair and couldn't walk around, thus I was crying inside, begging the movie to end. When it finally did, I was shocked to see this was only 97 minutes long because it felt a lot longer. However, there is ONE sequence in the movie that surprisingly had me busting up laughing and this is actually kind of a spoiler because it's in the final, so that's your warning. But the final battle between the heroes and our villain was a DJ battle between Jim Gaffigan's Van Helsing and Andy Samberg's Johnny. I busted up laughing, nearly uncontrollably when Johnny played "Good Vibrations," followed by "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "Macarena." I don't know why that sequence made me laugh while literally nothing else did, but for that sequence and that sequence alone, I'm elevating this movie up to a 6/10.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Earlier this year the Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrating its 10th anniversary in mind-blowing fashion with the huge scope and success of "Avengers: Infinity War," which is still my favorite movie of the year. The movie broke the opening weekend record set by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015 and is now the highest-grossing superhero movie ever worldwide as its just the fourth movie ever to cross the $2 billion mark after "Avatar," "Titanic" and "The Force Awakens," although it's going to fall just short of "Black Panther" domestically. Even though I absolutely love "Avengers: Infinity War," I acknowledge that the movie was very emotionally heavy, which is why I think "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was perfectly timed. It allows us to take a bit of a breather from that emotional weight and relax in the theaters as we figure out where Ant-Man and The Wasp were while the rest of the Avengers were battling Thanos. Did they just not get invited to the party or did they have other things going on during that they had to deal with? Even though "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was designed to be smaller scale in terms of the box office, the movie does bring its own milestone with it. This is the 20th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's pretty crazy to think about.

I'm admittedly a bit late in getting this review out. I'm a huge fan of the MCU, like many others living on Earth, and thus I usually enjoy heading out opening weekend to see their latest film. This release, though, happened to land when I had family in town for the Independence Day weekend. For whatever reason, a trip to the movie theater wasn't on the schedule for us, so I waited for $5 Tuesday to see this. Then I didn't get around to writing my review earlier this week because I had to deal with Drake's album on my weekly Billboard Analysis segment over on my music blog. So you're getting this review a full week after the movie itself came. Because of that, I'm going to take a few liberties in discussing some plot details that I may have otherwise avoided if I had got this review out a week ago since most of you who were planning on seeing this have probably already done so. This won't be a full-out spoiler review, but if you were planning on seeing "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but just haven't gotten around to it and want everything regarding the plot to remain secret, then perhaps consider taking a rain check on reading this review. Just know that I really enjoyed the first "Ant-Man," and while this sequel doesn't quite hit those heights, it's still quite the blast.

Regarding that first movie, I remember that I had to participate in a lot of persuading while the market campaign was being rolled out. Everyone seemed to think the idea alone was really dumb and not a lot of said people were convinced otherwise when the trailers came out. I thought the trailers were quite genius, but outside that my big plug was that in Marvel we trust. Unlike the DCEU at the moment, the MCU has their formula down and they know how to please audiences. So why should we assume that a movie of theirs is going to be awful just because you don't like the premise? People seemed to forget that just a year before Marvel made a movie surrounding a talking tree and a raccoon into one of the most beloved Marvel movies. So can't we have more faith in Ant-Man, who happened to be one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics? Luckily when the movie itself rolled around, I was proven right and audiences bought in. Despite the movie having the second lowest opening weekend of any MCU film, ahead of only "The Incredible Hulk," reviews were strong and word of mouth spread fast, leading it to what still stands as the second highest multiplier in the MCU as it wound up with $180 million domestically following a $57 million start.

The movie itself still stands as one of the funniest movies in the MCU for me as the level of creativity was so high with what they were able to do with shrinking element of the movie. Sadly Edgar Wright left the project during production due to creative differences with Marvel stemming from the fact that the movie had been in production since "Iron Man." Seven years later, Marvel had different ideas as far as where they wanted to take the movie as they were wrapping up phase II. But I still think the Edgar Wright influence with the final product was very strong as it still felt like an Edgar Wright superhero movie. If you've ever seen any of Edgar Wright's movies, you'll know exactly what I mean because he has a very distinct style that is extremely entertaining. I think that influence was able to push "Ant-Man" even higher in terms of style and humor than Peyton Reed, the director who took over for Edgar Wright, would've been able to do on his own. And that leads into "Ant-Man and the Wasp," which saw Peyton Reed in charge from day one as he was able to create his own movie rather than playing clean-up after the departure of Edgar Wright. And with this follow-up, I think he proved himself to be a very capable director.

"Ant-Man" was a very small-scale movie, which perhaps made it subtly brilliant given the nature of the premise. While other Marvel movies seemed to be obsessed with going bigger and better than the previous films, "Ant-Man" was content to take a step back and give us a localized heist film that you may have forgotten was even part of the MCU had it not been for a few references here and there to the Avengers, who Mr. Hank Pym was not a huge of. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" does remain smaller in scale than some of our recent MCU films, but at the same time it feels larger in scope that "Ant-Man" did. The premise starts off by following up on Scott Lang's perspective following the events of "Civil War." As a reminder about that, he was on Captain America's side of the feud, and unlike some of his teammates, it turns out he wasn't as good at the whole fugitive game. He got caught and has thus spent the past two years on house arrest. On top of that, Hank Pym is mad at him for stealing his suit and joining the Avengers in a silly escapade while it's mostly implied that his new girlfriend Hope Van Dyne is mad at him because he didn't invite her to come along. All of these combine to essentially give us the reasoning behind where he was during "Infinty War."

While it's true that the timeline is not 100 percent clear during the movie itself as to how close the events of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" overlap with "Infinity War," we do know that it takes place right before. There's further discussion to be had on on that subject, but that's all I'm willing to give away in this review. We can talk details later if you want. But the specific mission that our crew has in this movie is searching for Janet Van Dyne, Hank's wife and Hope's mother, who is stuck in the Quantum Realm and, as we learned in the last movie, may not be as dead as Hank originally thought, which leads to new scientific ideas of Quantum Realm stuff that Hank is eager to explore and learn about, depending on how this search for Janet goes. Also as we learned in the last movie, the final end credits scene to be exact, Hank has finally allowed his daughter Hope to use The Wasp suit, or a new one that he has built for her. Thus leading us to the movie's title of "Ant-Man and THE WASP." Despite Marvel having plenty of female superheroes and characters, Evangeline Lilly has the honor of being the first one of them to be in the title of her film, barely beating out next year's "Captain Marvel." Thus gives this movie another significant achievement in the history of the MCU.

The dynamic between Ant-Man and The Wasp is the strongest element of this movie. Despite not being on the best terms to start the movie off, Hank and Hope quickly learn that they need the help of Scott to find Janet because there's a possibility that she might be communicating with Scott after he went to the Quantum Realm and came back in the previous movie. So they set their differences aside and move forward with their mission. During the whole process, Hope proves that her dad should've trusted her with the suit a long time ago rather than finding Scott because she is a master with this Wasp suit. All the best action in the movie involves her kicking some villain trash as a complete boss, immediately making her one of the most likable characters in the MCU. Evangeline Lilly sells this so well and I'm super happy that she's achieved this huge break because I've been a huge fan of her's since she played Kate in "LOST." Yeah, she was invited to play Tauriel in those disastrous Hobbit movies and some might remember that she showed up in a movie called "Real Steel" before that, but this is her huge cinematic break as she's now headlining a Marvel film. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie, you're going to walk out loving The Wasp because she's awesome.

Personally I also loved the dynamic of this whole team. The Wasp is the leader, but Scott Lang as Ant-Man has the most progression as he's spent the first two movies, as well as his gig in "Civil War," figuring out how to be a superhero because that's previously never been his thing whereas Hope has spent her whole life training for battle, but being held back after what happened to her mother. So it makes perfect sense that she's the battle-trained hero in the movie whereas Scott is still stumbling around, trying to get a hold of things. It makes for a well balanced dynamic. On top of that we have Michael Pena's character of Luis playing the comedic relief while also getting a bit more to do in this movie regarding the action sequences and of course Michael Douglas owns the character of the old Dr. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and the one acting as the mentor for Scott and Hope while also being the one who is the expertise regarding the scientific element. When he's rambling off all of his science stuff, Michael Douglas does a great job making it all seem interesting. Added into the mix we also have Laurence Fishburne, a former colleague of Hank Pym who was best known for being Goliath, a fun tid-bit for comic book fans, before the two of them had a falling out.

In terms of story, searching for Janet Van Dyne feels like the natural progression for this particular franchise and there's so much fun to be had along the way with all the set pieces and the creative use of the shrinking and enlarging abilities. It's fun seeing them shrink their building they've been working in into a suitcase size thing and it's also fun to see the use of things like a Pez dispenser and a salt shaker as a weapon after enlarging them. If we're getting nit-picky with things, there's no moment in this movie that is quite as epic as the first movie's battle on the toy train set and the first movie also did a better job of having fun with the characters being super small. But there's still a lot of fun to be had with what they did come up with. The biggest negative of the movie, though, which seems like a broken record at this point with the MCU, comes with the villains. I want to make it perfectly clear, though, that I'm not talking about Ghost, who we see in the trailers. I loved her character, her backstory, her motivations and what she was able to do. Hannah John-Kamen, who is quietly having a great year, played her excellently. What I wasn't a fan of was the idea that this movie essentially had three villains and that felt like a bit too much. We could've stuck with Ghost.

The two other villains I'm talking about are Walton Goggins' character of Sonny Burch and Randall Park's FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. Walton Goggins had a lot of fun playing his character, but he was the mustache-twirling style of villain who really had no reasons for what he did. He just wanted to steal the technology that Hank and Hope had. And the story arc of the FBI chasing down Scott during this whole thing was funny at times. Randall Park had me laughing quite a bit. But as a whole it added a bit of extra fluff to the plot that didn't need to be there. The plot for "Ant-Man" was simple and concise as a fun heist movie. The plot for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was a little too crowded and held the movie back from having even more fun that they already had. But overall this is another solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn't hit the heights of some of their recent movies, but it didn't need to. From day one this was supposed to be a fun, simple adventure to act as a place-holder while we wait for the Infinity War finale next year and it delivered on that. I don't know how it fits into my MCU rankings as a whole, but in terms of Phase III, it slides right in ahead of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Black Panther" while being behind the rest. My grade for it is an 8/10.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Movie Preview: July 2018

The box office is booming in 2018 as a record-breaking $1.269 billion June, which bested 2013's previous June record of $1.246 billion, led to a record-breaking second quarter for the box office with $3.328 billion. The previous record for a second quarter of the war was in 2015 with $3.086 billion. This means that 2018 is still on a record-breaking year-to-date pace with $6.264 billion as of July 2, just over 9 percent ahead of both 2017 and 2016. June itself was yet again propelled by a Disney-distributed film as "Incredibles 2" pulled in $425.5 million, which was followed by Universal's "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," which earned $245.9 million in June, and Warner Bros.' "Ocean's 8,"  which earned $112.3 million. Holdovers from previous months came in next with "Solo: A Star Wars Story," "Deadpool 2" and "Avengers: Infinity" followed by decent mid-sized totals from "Tag" ($39.2 million), "Hereditary" ($38.6 million) and "Adrift" ($30.0 million). Now we move forward to July, which is traditionally the biggest month of the summer for the box office. In fact, dating back to 1982, which is the earliest year Box Office Mojo has box office totals for, there's only been five years where July hasn't ruled the summer: 1983, 1984, 1987, 2014 and 2015. Can 2018 continue the trend?

July 4th - 8th-

With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday, it makes for a long five-day weekend at the box office, yet only one of our two new releases will be taking advantage of that and that movie is NOT Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, which will open on Friday, July 6. One of the biggest questions that fans had coming out of "Avengers: Infinity War" was where were Ant-Man and The Wasp? In fact, Marvel themselves posed this question with the cast of "Infinity War" in a teaser video advertising the release of the Official Trailer #2 back in May. This question will most likely be answered in this sequel to 2015's "Ant-Man," which sees Evangeline Lilly's character of The Wasp get an increased role after a post-credit scene in "Ant-Man" saw her father finally give her the suit his wife used back in the day. In 2015, "Ant-Man" was actually Marvel's second lowest opening weekend with just $57.2 million, ahead of only 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." However, strong reviews and positive word of mouth helped it hold on quite well as it ended up with Marvel's fourth highest multiplier. Chances are that this goodwill from the first movie will lead to a much higher opening weekend, potentially closer to the likes of the $85 million of both "Doctor Strange" and "Thor: The Dark World."

The movie that will open right on Wednesday July 4 is the fourth movie in The Purge franchise titled The First Purge. It's been a bit of a trendy thing with horror franchises to go back and tell the origins of said franchise, which is what "Ouija: Origin of Evil" and "Annabelle Creation" both did. The strategy worked out quite well for both of those movies in terms of audience reaction, so The Purge franchise will try its luck with this by telling how this purge began. The idea here is that for one day a year, for the span of 12 hours, all crime becomes legal, which basically becomes an excuse for everyone to go kill each other, providing a gore fest for audiences. Because, you know, murder is the first crime you would think of if all crime became legal. Anyways, this premise has turned out to be quite fruitful for this franchise as each of the previous three films have opened around $30 million, while finishing around $70 million. "The Purge: Election Year" was predicted to experience a drop-off in 2016, but it wound up as the highest grossing film with $79 million, so who knows what "The First Purge" will do. Opening weekend comparisons might be tough with this being the first movie in the franchise to open on a Wednesday, but anywhere from $50-75 million overall seems likely here.

July 13th - 15th-

After being under-served for the majority of 2018, family audiences got rewarded big time in June with the arrival of "Incredibles 2" and now they will be rewarded again in July with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. The biggest thing that "Hotel Transylvania 3" has going against it is opening in the shadow of "Incredibles 2," which will still be going strong in theaters at this point. However, there's enough of a gap there that the two movies will probably be able to survive on their own. Much like the title suggests, this third movie has the gang moving away from the hotel of monsters for the time being in order to go on a summer vacation, which they will be spending on a monster cruise ship. The drama in the film surrounds the ship's captain Ericka, who sparks a quick romance with Dracula that's most likely too good to be true. Also like the movie's premise, the franchise takes a break from it's typical September opening that has been rather fruitful in order to try their luck in the summer. Thus the comparisons to the first two films might be a bit difficult, but those two movies both opened in the $40 million range while finishing around $150-170 million. So a safe prediction would be that "Hotel Transylvania 3" follows suit by hitting those same ranges.

The biggest story in July will be the amount of action movies being released. Arguably we've already had two at this point as "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "The First Purge" both could be considered action films to a certain extent. But even in ignoring those two movies, we'll have three major action films opening in the final three weeks of July. The first of those three is Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper. There's been a lot of comparisons that people have brought up here to the 1988 classic action film "Die Hard," which saw Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer, trying to save his wife and others who were taken hostage by Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. "Skyscraper" sees Dwayne Johnson, a security guard, trying to save his family, who are trapped in a giant skyscraper in Hong Kong. The skyscraper is on fire and Dwayne Johnson has been framed for it. So he needs to escape capture in addition to trying to save his family. Thus the comparison to "Die Hard." In terms of the box office, it's a foolish thing to underestimate Dwyane Johnson. Recently he's led "Rampage," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Central Intelligence" all to $35 million openings, thus that seems like a fair range for "Skyscraper" to also hit.

July 20th - 22nd-

A potential dark horse hit this summer could come this weekend with the musical Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! Recent box office successes have proven that musicals are very much in fashion today. "Les Miserables" in 2012, "Into the Woods" in 2014, "La La Land" in 2016 and "The Greatest Showman" last year were all huge successes financially, earning over $125 million each at the domestic box office, with "The Greatest Showman" nearing $175 million, despite only opening to $8.8 million. That's a good sign for this "Mamma Mia!" sequel, meaning that it could be great counter-programming to all these giant blockbusters and action films. "Mamma Mia!" started out as a Broadway musical in 1999 and is a musical based on the songs of the popular group ABBA. The musical has been immensely popular as it had a 14-year run on Broadway and is still currently running in London's West End, making it one of the longest running musicals in both places. One could argue the movie adaptation in 2008 had more mixed reaction, but it still had an incredible box office run of $144 million after opening to $27 million. Musicals don't often get sequels, making "Here We Go Again!" a bit unique in that aspect, but a solid run of $100+ million should be expected.

Our second big action movie of the month is Denzel Washington's The Equalizer 2. Denzel has had a long, prestigious career in Hollywood with enormous box office success and lots of awards success, with eight acting nominations at the Oscars, which include two wins for his work in "Glory" and "Training Day." Despite all these accolades, "The Equalizer 2" will include a first for him. The first time he's ever done a sequel. That sounds strange, but if you glance over his filmography, it's true. And this sequel follows a very successful action film in 2014 in "The Equalizer," which surprised with a $34 million opening and $101 million overall. Both films are directed by Antoine Fuqua, who Denzel also teamed up with in "Training Day" and "The Magnificent Seven." In addition to being successful, "The Equalizer" was also a great crowd-pleaser and the type of action film where a sequel makes sense, with Denzel as an action star also making sense. Since 2000, Denzel has only had two wide releases that haven't hit at least $20 million on their opening weekend and that's out of a total of 18 movies. That suggests a lot of goodwill for this movie. The only thing working against this is the competition with "Skyscraper" the previous week and "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" the next week.

The final movie to talk about this weekend is the movie that might make the smallest dent out of the wide releases in July and that is Unfriended: Dark Web. This is a sequel to the 2015 movie "Unfriended," a movie you probably forgot existed. Even if you do remember it, it's probably not the movie you were expecting to get a sequel. However, it was actually decently received as it holds a positive 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and made $32 million domestically on a $1 million budget. That's an excellent profit for a movie its size and thus justifies the sequel. "Unfriended" is not to be confused with last year's "Friend Request," which was a horribly received movie that only made $3.8 million. The idea of "Unfriended" is that a group of online chat room friends found themselves haunted by a supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. "Unfriended: Dark Web" follows a similar premise with a teen coming into the possession of a new laptop with all sorts of dark videos present. Said teen and his group of friends start getting haunted by a force claiming to be the previous owner. An opening around the first movie's $15 million opening would be a success for this film. But even if it only opened to $5-10 million, that would still probably be good enough.

July 27th - 29th-

The final action movie of the month should be the biggest of the three major action movies and also could challenge "Ant-Man and the Wasp" for the biggest overall July release and that is Mission: Impossible - Fallout. The Mission: Impossible franchise began in 1966 with the original TV series that lasted seven seasons. It had a brief, yet unsuccessful revival for two seasons in the 1980's before finally being brought back to life in 1996 with this current film franchise starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. The first two movies had mixed reviews, but were major hits at the box office. The third movie also had lukewarm reviews, but was a bit of a dud at the box office as it's still the lowest grossing in the franchise, even when adjusted for ticket price inflation. It's the recent two movies that have really lit the franchise on fire as both "Ghost Protocol" and "Rogue Nation" did great at the box office and stand at an excellent 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Thus "Fallout" comes to theaters with a lot of excitement based on this goodwill from the previous two movies. "Fallout" also brings back "Rogue Nation" director Christopher McQuarrie, as well as most of the previous cast members while adding Henry Cavill to the mix, all of which should lead to the biggest opening yet for the franchise.

In case you thought there was only one superhero movie this month, we have a second one quietly sneaking in at the end of the month and that is the animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. The Teen Titans have been around in the comics since 1964 as they first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold #54." At that point, they comprised of Kid Flash, Robin, Aqualad and shortly thereafter Wonder Girl. There's been many iterations of the Teen Titans since then, but this animated movie, which is actually the first theatrically released Teen Titans movie, is based on the animated series "Teen Titans Go!," which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2013 and has had mixed reaction, but has nevertheless produced over 200 episodes as they recently began season 5, so they must be doing something right. This movie stars the original voice actors from the show voicing Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire, while adding Nicholas Cage as Superman (yes, that's finally happening), Will Arnett as Slade Wilson, Kristen Bell as Jade Wilson, Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, Halsey as Wonder Woman and Lil Yachty as Green Lantern. The plot is a bit meta as the Titans are trying to get their own movie made, but aren't taken seriously enough, so they find a nemesis in Slade Wilson to fight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Uncle Drew Review

When I first saw the advertising for this movie, I honestly thought it was a joke. I can't remember if it was a movie poster or a teaser trailer, but I looked at it and thought it was a fan-made joke. Because there's no way they'd actually turn that Kyrie Irving Pepsi campaign into a feature-length movie, right? I mean, it was a clever idea for a series of commercials. Kyrie Irving dresses up as an old man and goes out on the street ball court, shocking everyone around him that an old man is kicking their trash. That's all there is to it. No need to extend it to 100 minutes. But yet here we are. This isn't joke. Pepsi teamed up with an actual film production company in Temple Hill Productions, got Summit Entertainment, a subsidiary of Lionsgate, to distribute, and here we are. And in case you forgot this was a thing by Pepsi, we start by "Pepsi Productions presents..." And then just to make sure you remember that this is a Pepsi thing, Pepsi products are all over in this movie. The sheer volume of Pepsi product placement is ridiculous. I felt like I was watching a 100-minute long commercial for Pepsi that was made purely to sell Pepsi rather than to entertain audiences. Thus it's been a while since I've seen such an unashamed money grab, but it is what it is, so let's talk about it.

First and foremost, if you can look beyond the Pepsi advertising, this is a movie made for fans of the NBA. If you don't know who Kyrie Irving is or Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson, you're going to see the wrong movie. Shaq is in here, too, but everyone knows Shaq, so that's beside the point. Also, if you don't watch Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter every night and you don't know what an ESPN 30 for 30 is, you're also going to be a bit miffed by this movie. For that I give this movie full credit for knowing who their target audience is and pandering specifically to them. It's what made me love "Space Jam" so much growing up. All the basketball references and basketball ties shoved into one movie was glorious. That and the whole Looney Toons thing. But mostly the basketball. I loved 90's basketball and thus "Space Jam" was my movie because it combined everything I love about the 90's into one movie. I see critics today hating on "Space Jam" today. In fact, it's become a very trendy movie to tear to pieces among YouTube critics. But I say screw them all. I still love "Space Jam." And, well, I have to admit that "Uncle Drew" could be this generation's "Space Jam" with how well they pander to today's modern basketball audience.

But yet I'm going to be that grumpy old man for most of this review because I thought this was really stupid. And we start right with the plot. If you're trying to rack your brain in thinking about how to turn a 5-minute commercial into a 100-minute movie, yeah that's the problem I imagine the script writers had, too. Yes, we've seen time and again where creative writers take a simple idea that you wouldn't think would translate into a movie and somehow make it work. "The LEGO Movie" is a great example of that. A movie based on LEGOs? How do you make that work? Oh. That's how. So it's possible that with a good team of writers, a great basketball movie could've been made from these Uncle Drew commercials. But after seeing the movie, I'm envisioning the writing room for this movie and all I see is conflict and confusion as the team of writers are trying their best to come up with something clever, but just come up blank. Because this is one of the most poorly written sports comedies I've seen, with just about every basketball movie cliche in the book. It's so poorly written that I almost want to warn you of spoilers before I introduce the plot of the movie because the second the movie is set up, you can predict exactly where it's going and you won't be wrong.

If you want to turn away, then feel free to. But I'm going to do said introduction of the plot anyways. The movie starts by shoving a whole ton of exposition in your face by means of a fictional 30 for 30 about Uncle Drew and his glory days in the Rucker Classic, an actual street basketball tournament played at Rucker Park in New York City. But anyways, in this fictional setting, Uncle Drew and his team completely disappeared before the final game, hence the movie sets up the mystery of Uncle Drew. But despite the movie being called "Uncle Drew," the central character in the movie is not Uncle Drew. It's a man named Dax, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, best known for "Get Out." Dax's rival in this movie is Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. Well, Dax grew up watching Michael Jordan and being inspired by him to play basketball, like most kids from the 80's and 90's. But when Dax got into playing, he ended up quitting because Mookie blocked his shot in one tournament game and left him scarred. So fast forward to the present day, Dax works in a shoe store and coaches a team led by Aaron Gordon, who plays Casper in this movie. But Mookie walks in, steals his team, steals his girlfriend, and leaves him with nothing. So now Dax goes out searching for Uncle Drew.

Despite this being a basketball movie, a good portion of the movie is actually a road trip. Because of course Dax accidentally stumbles on Uncle Drew, watches him do his Uncle Drew things from the Pepsi commercials, then convinces Uncle Drew to play for him in this Rucker Classic so that he can beat Mookie and win the prize money in order to get his life back. And of course Uncle Drew agrees, but it has to be Uncle Drew's team with Uncle Drew's players. So one by one, we go on this road trip recruiting Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Shaq, all of whom are dressed up like old men like Uncle Drew. I didn't keep track of how long this road trip lasted, but this almost become more of a road trip movie than a basketball movie with a whole bunch of different jokes and gags along the way, all involving this group of five current and former NBA players dressed up like old men doing old people jokes. The movie tries to play out some drama with the recruiting process, but it ends up being really easy to get everyone to join, despite Reggie Miller being blind and Nate Robinson being in a wheelchair, while Chris Webber and Shaq haven't played basketball in years. Chris Webber is a preacher with a crazy wife, played by Lisa Leslie, and Shaq is a karate teacher.

Every step along the way, the plot is clunky. The humor sometimes works, but I wasn't laughing as much as I wanted to. Whenever the movie tries to drama, it blows up in the movie's face by being cringe-worthy. However, despite all of this, what does make the movie a bit endearing as how fun our cast of basketball players are having. They're not that great at acting, but Kyrie Irving, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Shaq and Lisa Leslie are having the time of their lives playing these old characters. I especially loved every moment with Chris Webber and Lisa Leslie. Eventually we do get to the tournament at the end and it's also a lot of fun watching this team play, especially our former players. I didn't care much for Kyrie Irving himself playing, but seeing Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Shaq on the court again was a lot of fun. Eventually Lisa Leslie steps in and she's fun to watch, too. The problem here is this plays into every basketball cliche. You know what's going to happen during the tournament. You know who they're going to face in the finale. And given the movie's setup, you know exactly how the final seconds of the game are going to play out, thus there's no actual moments of surprise or tension.

I actually think my biggest problem with the movie, outside the horribly written script, was the huge focus on this Dax vs. Mookie conflict. Lil Rel Howery and Nick Kroll did great with what they were given, but I didn't like how their characters were written and I had no investment in their story arc. I thought Tiffany Haddish, the original girlfriend who dumps Dax the second his life falls apart, was extremely annoying and way too over-the-top. Thus the only real actor in the movie I cared for was Dax's new girlfriend Maya, played by Erica Ash. What saves the movie is all the basketball players having a lot of fun with their roles. They were fun to watch when they got to play again and they did have fun being these old characters and making old man jokes the whole time. They weren't the best actors, but they didn't need to be. They had fun and I had fun watching them. There's also a lot of basketball references and jokes that made me laugh. All of that humor will go right over the heads of non-NBA fans, but being a fan of the NBA myself caused me to chuckle quite a bit at said references. I started this review by comparing this to "Space Jam," but I actually think a better comparison is the Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard." On that note, I'm going to give "Uncle Drew" a 6/10.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review (SPOILERS)

I think it's safe to say, without being controversial at all, that "Jurassic Park" is one of the best movies ever made. If you were to do the daunting task of ranking all of Steven Spielberg's movies, I'm certain that most would have "Jurassic Park" at least in the top five and possibly the top two. I think most people have a fascination with dinosaurs and Spielberg did a great job of bringing dinosaurs to life on the big screen in properly adapting Michael Crichton's book, which is a book that I actually HAVE read. Not something I say very often in these movie reviews based on books. I actually read both "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World" when I was younger and they're both really fascinating. Much different than the movies, so if all that you've ever seen are the movies, go check out Crichton's two books. Anyways, back "Jurassic Park," I would classify it as a properly set-up horror film involving dinosaurs. If you are allergic to the word horror, then perhaps we can dive more specifically into the genre and label it as a proper monster movie. And it's more than just a monster movie where monsters run around chasing people. There's a lot of deep themes in "Jurassic Park" that make it properly fascinating in addition to being extremely terrifying, especially with the velociraptors.

The sequels to "Jurassic Park"? Yeah, not so much. It's really sad to see how far off the deep end this franchise has fallen and I'm going to dive into spoilerific details as to why this fifth installment, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is perhaps the worst of the bunch. The short version of this is that they've completely abandoned what made "Jurassic Park" so great. As I very purposely stated in my intro, "Jurassic Park" is so brilliant because it is a philosophical horror film involving dinosaurs. Now I've seen plenty of my friends walk out of "Fallen Kingdom" and say that they've enjoyed it. Well, to each his own, I suppose. But the common theme I've heard from those who've liked it is that they enjoy watching dinosaurs eat evil people. For me personally, there's an inherent problem with that. These sequels, especially our two "Jurassic World" movies, are neither philosophical nor horror. They're full of dumb people doing dumb things so that the audience can watch dinosaurs run around eating people. In other words, they're brainless action films. And when you start the franchise off as a high-class philosophical horror film, then digress to a Sharknado-level brainless action film, but with a huge budget, that spits in the face of one of the greatest movies of all time.

In terms of "Sharknado," we have the sixth one coming out this summer and I might take that opportunity to discuss the franchise on my blog, but the reason why that franchise works is that they start off by being a really stupid, absurd action movie, with the idea of purposely making a really bad film just so you can kick back and relax with a group of friends and just have a ball. And that's totally fine in that scenario. But when your franchise starts off with high class, then digresses into "Sharknado" territory, that's bad. That's really bad. Now for the record, I actually still enjoy "The Lost World." Yes, there are plenty of problems with it, but it still has plenty of likable characters who use logic and it does hang onto the horror element in several sequences. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that when Michael Crichton finished his novel in 1995 and handed it over to Steven Spielberg for the movie adaptation, Spielberg read it over and essentially tossed it to the side and went in a completely different direction while only using the ideas of a second island and a scene with two T-Rexes terrorizing people. Outside that, they're very different. Perhaps Spielberg could've made a truly great sequel had he committed more to Crichton's novel than he did.

"Jurassic Park III"? Yikes. I was always confused because there never was a third book, so why was there ever a third movie? I suppose I've gotten past that a bit since I was young, especially because the biggest similarity between "The Lost World" in terms of book and movie was the title. So the idea of a third movie could be acceptable, but whoever committed to the writing and directing of this thing, barely made a third movie themselves, so we don't talk about. I thought it was so stupid when I first watched it back in the day that I've never cared to go back and revisit it. I was going to do that just for the sake of ranking all five movies, but I haven't gotten around to that. Maybe I will soon and leave those rankings in the comment section of this blog sometime in the near future. But for now we'll forgo that. In pertaining to "Jurassic World," I was actually nice to it in my review back in 2015. I was immediately soured on the fact that it broke the opening weekend record and went onto being one of the highest grossing films of all-time, thus immediately causing me to throw out the overrated flag. But I considered it fun enough, despite being really dumb. In the time since, it's only soured on me to the point where I was never once excited for this sequel.

In fact, I was so unexcited, that when I did my yearly preview this January of the movies of 2018, I included "Fallen Kingdom" in my bad section. When the first trailer came out, I was unphased. I wish I was excited. And it wasn't me being blindly arrogant and hateful. I honestly felt zero excitement. Literally the only piece of hope that I clung onto was that it was directed by J.A. Bayona, who is a great director responsible for such movies as "The Impossible" or "A Monster Calls." But the footage didn't do anything for me. When further trailers came out, I ended up being confused more than anything because each new trailer seemed to be advertising a different movie. So what WAS this movie? Luckily I was so uninterested by the time the final trailer rolled around that I didn't pay much attention to it. I remember the line from Ian Malcolm about the dinosaurs outliving us and a raptor running around in the house, but that was it. It's good that I forgot because the whole movie is in that final trailer when I went back and re-watched it afterwards. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered if I remembered because the shock value of what this movie was actually about stunned me. It stunned me so badly that I had to write a spoiler review simply because these elements have to be discussed.

First off, the movie begins where we all knew it would begin based on the very first teaser. As it turns out, the original island is a volcano. That teaser showed Chris Pratt running down the island, shouting "RUN!!!" as all the dinosaurs chased after him as they were all running from the volcano that was exploding. That's what I expected the first part of the movie to be and that's what it was. But the meat of that lies in a debate that starts the movie. The world has figured out that the island is an active volcano and there's a debate in Congress or in court, or whatever, as to whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved. This is one of Ian Malcolm's two scenes in this movie. Yeah, remember the hype of him being back? He's not. It's an advertising ploy to get you into theaters. They didn't actually know how to work him into the movie, but they new the return of Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm would sell tickets. So they gave him 30 seconds in the beginning and 30 seconds in the end, giving a monologue to the court, both of which were included in trailers, and called it good. Pathetic. But anyways, Ian Malcolm's opinion is that we should let the dinosaurs go extinct. The volcano was nature's way of correcting humanity's mistake. I agree. Case closed. End of movie. Right?

Oh wait, we're going to continue? For some reason, the movie thought they were bringing up some sort of philosophical debate when they really weren't. Creating dinosaurs in the first movie was a totally plausible idea. If, in pure theory, there was technology available to clone dinosaurs and bring them back, I could see a scientist being so preoccupied with the possibility of making it happen that they weren't thinking of the consequences. But as Ian Malcolm says in the first movie, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Thus underlies the debate with technology as a whole. We often get so caught up in thinking about the possibilities of something that we forget about consequences, which was one of the great theological messages of the first film. But if you try something and it turns out to be a complete disaster, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the four previous movies, you would think at some point the characters would start to realize that having dinosaurs around is a bad idea. More people would be on Ian Malcolm's side of the debate. But the first insufferable element of this movie is that none of our main characters get it. They ALL think saving the dinosaurs is the right idea.

So right off the bat, I became extremely frustrated. Now if you had a few characters act as the bone-headed people who still think having dinosaurs around is a good idea, then fine. Whatever. But balance them out with an equal amount of people, or a greater amount, who think this is an awful idea. Let Bryce Dallas Howard be the dumb one. Which she is. But have Chris Pratt be the voice of reason. Maybe she tries to convince him to help her out, but fails. Yet he comes, not because he changed his mind, but to save her from herself or to stop her. But that's not what happens. That's initially what does. He's all for letting them going extinct. But he ends up going because he watched a video of his pet raptors and suddenly that's the end of that debate. They're all on the side of save the dinosaurs and are off on a stupid escapade with a group of people to the original island. My eyes were rolling to near the top of my head and my head was probably buried in my palms, but I thought, OK. Maybe we'll get passed this roadblock and J.A. Bayona will have something up his sleeve in the second and third act of the film. I had no idea what direction the movie was going because the trailers were so confusing, but I was still holding onto hope that it would go somewhere.

Well, it did go somewhere. But that somewhere is where the movie completely derailed and stunned me into near pure hatred of the film. Turns out the save the dinosaurs escapade they were on was not a save the dinosaurs escapade. Not in the way our main characters were thinking, anyways. It was a capture the dinosaurs escapade so that our team of villains could sell them as a part of their elaborate dino trafficking scheme. Now if I were to have one major complaint about the original "Jurassic Park" it was the fact that the whole operation was screwed over because of one guy who had no brain in his head that led to all the dinosaurs escaping. I think they could've come up with a more believable way for the dinosaurs to break out rather than just having a dumb guy do a dumb thing. But fine. Whatever. One guy does one dumb thing that screws over everything. OK. I can tolerate that. But to use that trope in every ensuing movie got really old. Be creative in how things mess. In our fifth movie, not only can I simply not tolerate one dumb guy doing one dumb thing anymore, but the problem is literally exponentially worse as we have hundreds of guys doing dumb things so that everything can go wrong. A team of people screwed things over to feed into a major scheme.

My jaw hit the floor so hard at this reveal that I officially quit. I threw in the towel on this franchise and officially cataloged it with Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise. A lot of reviews that have commented on this called them cartoon characters. I don't want to simply copy everyone else, but this is a good description because they're all fake. Bad guys doing bad things just for the sake of being bad is not acceptable in my brain. I like my villains to make sense. I like them to have good motivations. I want to understand where they are coming from and why they do what they do. But not only is every single villain evil for the sake of being evil, every single one of them is extremely stupid, never once using logic or making a good decision. But here we are for the rest of the film. The dinos are all captured. Well, 11 different species of them, and in an evil Noah's ark sort of way are transported in cages to this giant residence in California where they are to be auctioned off to all of these evil cartoon characters who will use them for poaching, hunting or selling their parts for money. Meanwhile, our team of unlikable protagonists who also don't use logic have snuck into this mansion with them and are trying to find a way to stop them. That's our movie.

Once we get into all of this, you know what's going to happen. Someone is going to make a dumb mistake and the dinosaurs are going to escape and start eating all of these people. That's essentially what happens. And this is where a lot of my Facebook friends apparently delighted in this movie because they got to watch dinosaurs eating evil people. For me this was actually not satisfying. Had we had real villains in this movie, it may have been satisfying watching them all die. But as they were all really stupid, horrible villains that I didn't care about, I was just bored to tears watching them all get eaten. But no, it's not actually dinosaurs, as in plural, that escape. It's dinosaur. Singular. Thus leading to my next point that I didn't care about. We have ourselves another hybrid dinosaur running around. Something we call an Indoraptor. Because we didn't learn from the last movie that the Indominus Rex was a stupid idea. We had to create another one. I don't know, maybe I'm alone on this, but one thing that made the first movie, and perhaps moments in the second movie, was the real dinosaurs that I've grown up studying. The T-Rex. The Velociraptor. There's plenty other real dinosaurs to choose from. Pick one. I don't care about fake dinosaurs who have never lived.

Thus when we got to the finale of our movie, I was completely checked out. I think I was supposed to be scared of this Indoraptor as he snuck around the mansion. But I wasn't. Because I didn't care about the Indoraptor. Now the excuse for the Indominus Rex was that the Jurassic World park managers thought they needed to spice up the park and create something new that was bigger and better. I thought that was dumb. I know some people that liked that, though. So whatever. Even compared to that, this Indoraptor's creation was even dumber. He was around because our evil cartoon villains thought it would be a good idea to create a new hybrid dinosaur that the government could use as a military weapon, because he was designed to be trained to follow certain lasers on guns and attack whatever or whoever the laser was pointed at. Granted, I think the Indoraptor itself had a cool design to it and there were a couple of moments were him hunting our main characters got somewhat intense, but the majority of his sequences were him eating the evil villains and only a short time was spent hunting our main characters when it should've been the other way around, like in the first movie where the dumb guy got eaten early and the rest of the movie was our protagonists in danger.

Even in the brief moments at the end, I never feared for the lives of our main characters. The most nerve-wracking scene was when they were in the truck with the T-Rex in the first half of the movie trying to take its blood so they could save the life of Blue, their pet Velociraptor. When Indoraptor was hunting them down and had them cornered, I basically counted in my head. In 3... 2... 1... BOOM! On queue comes Blue to save the day and fight Indoraptor. Because, you know, that's what these Jurassic movies do. At the very last moment, another dinosaur comes in to save the day. It worked with the first movie. But now it's become so calculated that I think it's lazy writing that they use the same tropes in each movie. So Indoraptor dies. But then we have one final moment of stupidity. All the dinosaurs left in the cages are being poisoned and the option is to let them die or free them into the wild of California. Easy choice. But since our characters are stupid, this becomes a hard choice, which eventually leads to Bryce Dallas Howard NOT pressing the button to release them. But the little girl they found does. Because, oh yeah, she's a human clone. And if she gets to live, then so do the dinosaurs. Because there's a piece of logic that totally makes sense.

I'd say introducing human clones crossed a line, but this movie had already sprinted past the line a long time ago at this point. Just another sign that the writers just didn't care. And guess what? They basically admitted that they didn't. The writer here is Colin Trevorrow, who directed "Jurassic World." He admitted that he had always dreamed of a Jurassic movie where the dinosaurs were running free throughout the world. But he knew it would take two movies to get there. In other words, this whole movie was filler and he knew it. Now I don't think the idea of a filler movie is an inherently bad idea. But when the writer literally doesn't care about this film and thus he puts together something as lazy as this movie just so it could be a stepping stone to the next, that's when filler becomes an atrocious mess. If the writer didn't care, then why should I? Now I don't actually blame our director, J.A. Bayona. He did the best he could with the ugly script he was given. Who I do put all of the blame here is on Colin Trevorrow for officially ruining a great franchise. After both Jurassic World movies and "The Book of Henry," aren't we all glad he got fired from Star Wars: Episode IX? As for my grade for "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," I'm going 4/10. And even that feels nice at this point.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? Review

It's not often that I do reviews of documentaries. In fact, I think I've only ever reviewed one other documentary and that was one of Dinesh D'Souza's political documentaries. I got so angry after watching it that I had to write a post about how stupid that man was. However, just because I don't write reviews of documentaries, doesn't mean I don't like them. I just usually prefer to watch them in the privacy of my own home on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I almost always do my best to watch the Oscar-nominated documentaries and I love to check out the other ones getting buzz or various ones that catch my attention. For various reasons, documentaries about crime or serial killers fascinate me as do shocking documentaries like "Icarus" where someone accidentally stumbles on something huge, like the biggest scandal in sports history with "Icarus." The Edward Snowden documentary "CITIZENFOUR" was also fascinating as that was the documentary that sparked so much discussion and debate. "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" doesn't really fit into any of those categories. But it's special in its own right as it gives you a heavy dosage of inspiration as it chronicles the life of one of the greatest human beings to ever live who did so much good in this world. Fred Rogers.

I have very fond memories growing up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." My parents were often selective with what they let us watch on TV, which is why the show was one of our go-to shows. We loved it as kids and my parents loved the messages taught. Dare I say it was the perfect kids show? At the time I suppose I didn't fully understand the scope of the show of how many other kids also loved the show, nor do I think I realized that this was a show that had been going since 1968. So not only did I not realize that millions of other kids were watching at the same time as me, but also this is a show that had effected several generations of children dating back to the late-60's. The reason I probably didn't realize this when I was young was that Mr. Rogers didn't ever seem like he was talking to an audience of millions of people. It seemed like he was talking specifically to me, making me feel special and important as an individual while teaching me lessons on how to be a good person. Thus is why I was able to connect with the show on such a personal level because it felt like Mr. Rogers really cared. He was like a third parent or a second school teacher who had my best interests in mind and wanted me to learn and grow. He was an integral part of my childhood.

Now as an adult, I look back on these experiences in hindsight and am totally blown away by this show because everyone was able to feel this way. Mr. Rogers was able to connect with millions, if not billions of young children in the 33 years that his show was on the air and the impact is still felt today, both with reruns of the original show as well as the with the new animated spin-off "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," which began in 2012 and takes place in the Land of Make-Believe with the original characters being all grown up with preschool-aged children of their own. Recently I spent a week at my brother's house tending his kids and when it was just me and my young nephew at home, "Daniel Tiger" was the show we watched on repeat during the afternoon because he loved it and my brother and his wife loved the messages that he learned from it. I thought it was a rather charming show that got all the songs stuck in my head during the whole week. It also again helped me show the power and influence Mr. Rogers had as his legacy continues even though it's been 15 years since he passed away back in 2003. Yet even though Mr. Rogers has been able to impact so many people, his focus was always on the one as he wanted to make each child feel important.

As far as this documentary goes, the biggest subject matter that it tackles was who Fred Rogers really was, on and off camera. When you watch the show, all you see is this seemingly perfect fatherly figure, or perhaps grandfatherly figure in the later years. I suppose, in theory, it might be easy to put on a face for 30 minutes a day while you're on camera, then go live a completely opposite lifestyle when you go home. Thus the big question is, is Mr. Rogers as good of a person off camera as he is on camera? I think we've all heard the rumors that he was a military man in the Vietnam War or whatever with all of these tattoos up and down his arms, which is the reason he's always wearing long-sleeve shirts and jackets on his show. Is that true? Quite frankly, no. Now the big trick with a documentary is that it's easy to be extremely biased. Everyone has their own opinions on things, thus you can interview the right people, find the right imagery, insert the appropriate music and make someone believe a point that is completely false. I mean, have you ever seen the Seaworld documentary "Blackfish"? Classic example there of a horrible propaganda documentary that paints a completely false picture. Seaworld had a really long counter that was much more believable.

The reason why this Mr. Rogers documentary is so believable is that the people they interviewed are all his close friends and family who knew him best. His wife, the people on the show with him, biographers who know everything about his life, cameramen who worked on the set and parents of certain kids that he personally interacted with. Hearing those people tell the story of who Fred Rogers was is certainly much more believable than the tabloids you see, memes flying around social media, fake news outlets reporting bogus stories just for the sake of attention or outsiders giving their opinion despite not even ever having talked to the man. The picture we get from the accounts of those who knew him best are that he really was a genuinely fantastic individual. He was a very spiritual, religious man who was even an ordained minister. Yet instead of going into the ministry, he decided he wanted to do his best to reach out to children through the means of television, a medium he wasn't even a big fan of because all the children-focused entertainment was the pie-in-the-face sort of humor. He saw an opportunity to fill a need for children entertainment wherein he could make a real difference and the reason he was able to do so was that he genuinely cared.

There's a lot of details that this documentary dives into about the details of this show's beginning, the progression it went through over the time in being able to gain funding or the responses to various controversies that I'll let you discover on your own as you watch it, but there's so much packed in here that leaves you with such an emotional feeling throughout. I really loved how Mr. Rogers dealt with real word issues going on at the time and was honest about these issues with his audience. Kids live in the real world and instead of trying to hide them from the real world, Mr. Rogers did his best to help them know how to deal with certain issues, which included the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy right from the get go. He talked to kids about the hardships of life and how to properly deal with such things as the loss of a loved one or the divorce of their parents, which are conversations that parents are understandably unsure of how to talk about. Through it all, Mr. Rogers wanted to be someone who was there for the children and let them all know that they were special as they are. Social status, environment circumstance or what accomplishments in life you have don't define your value. You are special just the way you are.

This was a powerful message that not only showed how amazing of a person Mr. Rogers was, but was also a message presented in the documentary that was very relevant to today because Mr. Rogers' message was one that we could all apply to our lives. It doesn't matter what you look like, what challenges you face, what your color of skin is or what your sexual orientation is. You are special. To that last item in that list, one of the major story arcs in the documentary involved one of the major characters on the show who was gay. And yes, there was some initial drama surrounding that, especially since this was the 60's and 70's, but ultimately Mr. Rogers was able to get through to him that he liked him just the way he was, thus this individual was able to finally able to understand that message and broke down in tears as from there on out, Mr. Rogers became the father figure that he never had, but really needed. I think there's some powerful messages there. I mean, if you haven't turned on the news or talked to those around you, racism, sexism and prejudice towards individuals and groups is very much prevalent today and there's some strong lessons that we could all learn from Mr. Rogers of how to treat those around us.

If you're a religious person like myself, I think this is a documentary you will connect to on a very strong, spiritual level as Mr. Rogers himself was a very spiritual man and thus it's like watching a documentary about a prominent religious leader such as the prophet of the church or the pope. That's what I got from this. If you're not a religious person, I also think this is a documentary that you will be able to connect with because Mr. Rogers cared about everyone, regardless of who they were or how different they were. I believe that everyone will walk out of the documentary with an increased sense of self-worth. Loving yourself is a very important aspect of having a truly happy life and that's the core of this documentary and the core of who Mr. Rogers was and what he taught. The only real negative that I have here is that this is PG-13. One of the cameramen that they interviewed uses a bit of language and shares a story of a prank Mr. Rogers played on him that causes the documentary to earn its rating, thus meaning I couldn't call my Mom and recommend that she go see this when I really wanted to before that scene happened. As she would say, just a little bit of rat poison in your Mr. Rogers documentary. I found that aspect just slightly disappointing.

The justification there is that this is a documentary geared towards adults. Regardless of how good the documentary is, you're not going to take your kids to it as they'll find it boring. You'll show them episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" or "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," but not a documentary with people talking about Mr. Rogers. Thus for the targeted adult audience is not going to be bothered by a bit of language or one photograph shown, but I still think they could've made it PG and been just as good. The idea that we can't have adult-targeted material that's PG is something that really bothers me and I think that stigma is the only reason for this sequence so that the filmmakers could get their PG-13 rating. This is also not a documentary that will send shock waves through your soul or leave you with your jaw dropped to the ground like "Icarus" or "CITIZENFOUR." It's just a simple documentary chronicling the life of one of my personal favorite human beings in Mr. Rogers, showing how amazing he was, but also leaving each viewer with a strong sense of self-worth, regardless of who you are or what hand you were dealt in life and I think that's very important. As far as a grade goes, I almost abstained from that, but I suppose I'll say that a 9/10 is fair.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Incredibles 2 Review

The one Pixar sequel that everyone has been begging for has finally arrived. It's hard to believe that it's been 14 years since "The Incredibles" was released in 2004. That 14 year difference is the biggest gap between Pixar sequels as we had 11 years between "Toy Story 2" and "Toy Story 3," 12 years between "Monsters, Inc." and "Monsters University," and 13 years between "Finding Nemo" and "Finding Dory." Pixar can throw out all the excuses in the world as to why they never did a sequel to "The Incredibles" until now, despite leaving the movie on a cliffhanger without resolving the issues they set up, but when push comes to shove, sequels just weren't Pixars thing until recently. Beginning with "Toy Story" in 1995 all the way to "Up" in 2009, the only sequel they had made was "Toy Story 2" in 1999, and that was initially intended to be a direct-to-video movie before they ultimately decided to throw it in theaters. Thus in 2010 a new era of Pixar began when they released "Toy Story 3." Their era of sequels. From 2010 to now, they've actually done more sequels than originals. The most baffling thing about that, though, is how in the heck we managed to have three "Cars" movies before getting a second "Incredibles" movie. But it is what it is and I'm glad they finally made restitution.

My thoughts on "The Incredibles" is simple. I love that movie. In fact, when I ranked my Pixar movies on this blog a while back, I listed that as my third favorite Pixar movie, behind only "Toy Story 3" and "Toy Story." I released my updated rankings on my personal Facebook page before going to see "Incredibles 2" and that ranking holds up for the original film. I still think it's the third best Pixar film. Given that we now have 20 Pixar films and 15 of them range from good to great, claiming "The Incredibles" as No. 3 on the list is extremely high praise. And yeah, I've been on the bandwagon for a long time that we need a sequel. I don't often demand sequels, but "The Incredibles" is the type of superhero film where you want to see more. There's so much more room to grow with this family dynamic, especially after learning Jack-Jack has powers. You want to see them as a crime fighting superhero team because we only got a taste of that in "The Incredibles" given that superheroes are illegal in this universe. Heck, the movie ends with them about to fight the Underminer, a battle that you want to see play out. And speaking of superheroes being illegal, that's the big issue that was left unresolved at the end of the movie. So what took them so long?

With all that said, despite having wanted this movie for such a long time, I found myself oddly unsatisfied when the trailers came out. I wanted to fanboy uncontrollably at the footage I saw and then go in with crazy, blind optimism that this was going to be the best thing ever. But every time I tried to get to that level of excitement, I realized that said excitement was forced and I eventually began to accept the fact that I had reservations about this sequel. The biggest issue for me came with the idea that Hollywood has become oversaturated with superhero films. "The Incredibles" came out in 2004, four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008 with "Iron Man" and one year before Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy began in 2005 with "Batman Begins." We had just recently experienced "X-Men" and "Spider-Man," so this modern boom of superhero movies was in its infancy, thus helping "The Incredibles" feel fresh. But now "Incredibles 2" comes out in a day where I've lost count of how many superhero movies we've had. How is Pixar going to make it feel relevant. What are they going to do to help it stand out from the crowd? Also, in picking up right where the first movie left off, how are they going to help it stand out from the original?

I wasn't sure the trailers to "Incredibles 2" helped me resolve any of these questions as I began to fear that this movie was 11 years too late. Had it come out in 2007, three years after the first movie, perhaps these questions wouldn't have been questions at all and I could've enjoyed it without having to overanalyze it after being super picky with my superhero films now that we've had so many. The answer to these questions after seeing it this past weekend and giving myself a few days to ponder over it is that "Incredibles 2" doesn't separate itself from the crowd, nor does it separate itself from "The Incredibles." But before you hyperventilate, let me quickly put you at ease. Turns out my concerns were a bit blown out of proportion as it didn't need to separate itself. It just needed to be a really good Incredibles movie by matching the tone and feel of the first movie, thus allowing the audience to have another fun adventure with the heroes that we all have grown to love over the last 14 years. On those terms specifically, what "Incredibles 2" pulled off was, well, dare I say... incredible? No, it's not as solid and refined as the original movie. But it didn't need to be. What we did get is a movie that feels like the natural successor to the original.

This past weekend, "Incredibles 2" opened to a whopping $182 million here in the United States alone. That opening weekend is the eighth largest opening weekend out of all movies, just ahead of "Captain America: Civil War," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Iron Man" and behind only three Avengers movies, two Star Wars movies, "Black Panther" and "Jurassic World." It obliterated the record for biggest opening for an animated movie, which was set by Pixar just two years ago with "Finding Dory" at $135 million. Given that animated movies typically have excellent staying power, the final total for "Incredibles 2" could go to infinite and beyond. "Finding Dory" translated that $135 million into $486 million total, meaning that $500 million for "Incredibles 2" now seems like the low bar for what it could earn. The major reason for me mentioning these facts in this review, outside the fact that I like numbers and wanted to share, is that a lot of you have already seen this movie. Thus I'm going to take a few liberties to talk about some plot points that are key to my thoughts on the movie. No, this won't be a spoiler review, but if you haven't seen the movie and you want to know nothing going in, then close this review and come back later so we can discuss openly.

In terms of said plot points, this movie picks up exactly where "The Incredibles" left off. If you forgot, Violet gets asked out on a date, then the Underminer shows up and the family gears up to go to battle. Insert credits. "Incredibles 2" first begins with a message from some key cast members talking about the difficulties of making an animated movie and thanking everyone for their patience with this sequel, then delivers a phenomenal animated short film after which the movie begins and we recap Violet getting asked out on a date and immediately jump into this fight with the Underminer, which was an absolute blast. Now I mentioned that the trailers didn't get me as excited as I wanted to be, but when I sat down in the theater, the excitement hit me and I was overcome with complete joy at the fact that I was finally watching "Incredibles 2." I appreciated the message from the cast, nearly bawled during that short, then the opening fight happens and I was immediately overcome with excitement while I watched this family team up to face this villain. Belated sequels to classics don't always work out, but in this instance I knew I was in good hands with Pixar as it was obvious that they finally came up with a sequel idea that everyone agreed on and worked hard to bring to us.

That high level of care and strong chemistry from the cast and crew is immediately felt from the very first scene and makes all the difference in the world. In fact, the whole movie feels like it was made at the same time as the original movie, but split into two movies with the second half being released 14 years later. It felt natural and seamless. I watched "The Incredibles" right before walking into "Incredibles 2" and that was a magical experience comparing the two like that. The two movies connect together perfectly as if they were meant as one big movie, which is a huge praise to the whole team behind this. As far as the plot goes following the big opening battle, we are quickly reminded that we are in an age where superheroes are illegal, thus the family goes back to living their quiet life, but relocated to a small hotel room for two weeks until they figure out their housing situations being that their house went boom at the end of the first movie. It's at this point that they are approached by Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" and he has a plan to make superheroes legal again. This plan centers around Elastagirl being the city's vigilante, thus leaving Mr. Incredible stuck at home for the time being, raising the three kids on his own.

What I mean when I say they are approached by Saul Goodman is that they are approached by a character named Winston Deavor, who is voiced by Bob Odenkirk. If you've never seen "Breaking Bad" or "Better Call Saul," then the reference will be lost on you. But I found it extremely entertaining that Bob Odenkirk's character in "Incredibles 2" was almost to a "t" the exact same character he plays on "Breaking Bad." Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" is a bit of a sketchy character, but he's the type of guy with so much passion and enthusiasm that he's able to sell you on just about anything, thus when he comes to them with a perfect plan on how to make superheroes legal again, there's absolutely no question in the minds of our two parents as to exactly what they should do. And the idea that Elastagirl is front and center this time is much more than just a nod to feminism in 2018. It makes perfect sense to the plot as her elastic abilities and high IQ are exactly what the city needs, better so than Mr. Incredible's immense strength and overzealous personality. Thus we have what I call feminism done right. A strong female character leading our movie in a way that makes perfect sense to the plot rather than being forced in the name of attempted proggresivism.

At the same time, though, the movie doesn't throw shade at all on Mr. Incredible himself. It's not a situation where they are saying that girls are awesome and guys suck. Both partners have a key role to play in the movie. Elastagirl doesn't do what she does until she has the support from her husband. Mr. Incredible being at home also puts him out of his comfort zone, allowing a ton of room for progression as he has no idea how to raise the kids, especially not this new super baby in Jack-Jack, who has all of these super powerful abilities with zero control. Thus this bit of role reversal helps the family grow closer together as Elastagirl learns the importance of using their abilities instead of hiding out the whole time while Mr. Incredible learns how to stay at home and be a dad. When push comes to shove, the thing that separates "The Incredibles" from the rest of the superhero movies is the family dynamic and that is stronger than ever in "Incredibles 2." In fact, as fun as it was to see Elastagirl out fighting crime and saving the day, I was actually more drawn to Mr. Incredible's moments at home as he was trying to help Violet with her boy problems, Dash with his math homework, and raising Jack-Jack, who completely steals this movie with his untamed baby powers.

On that note is where my biggest complaints come in. While the family dynamic is powerful and Jack-Jack made me bust out in laughter at every turn, the superhero aspect of the movie left a little to be desired. I think this is a situation where they had their hands tied a bit and did the best with what they could, but the underlying issue was unavoidable. I'm mainly talking about the vigilante story arc. Superheroes being illegal and them trying to figure out how to overcome that. In defense of "The Incredibles," setting up that story arc in 2004 was still fairly fresh. That story arc hadn't been beaten to a pulp yet by showing up again and again and again. It wasn't completely new, but in the 14 years since, just about every superhero story, whether on TV or on film, faces that quandary of what to do when the city or the government gets weary about what to do with a superhero wandering the streets, seemingly living above the law in fighting crime. I realize it's necessary, but I'm kinda done with that story arc. And "Incredibles 2" didn't handle it very well at all. In fact, they almost felt uncomfortable with it as they resolved it way too easily. Just a few moments with Elastagirl saving the day and suddenly 15 years of disagreement solved as everyone's on board with superheroes.

The other thing I have to bring up is the villain. I tread very lightly here, but what they do is they go the route of the mysterious villain with an ominous voice and cool-looking outfit, while attempting to play the bait-and-switch game with us. Instead of spending time building up a well thought out villain, like with Syndrome in "The Incredibles," they instead spend half of the movie making the audience guess who is the person behind the mask. This guessing game can be fun, but this is what I nit-pick at with "Arrow" and "The Flash" all the time. I'd much rather know who the villain is from day one instead of spending the whole season guessing who it is. Both TV shows go back and forth between the two philosophies and when I look back at which villains ended up being best, almost without fail it's the villains who had more time to progress as characters rather than the villains whose true identity was hidden for some time. Thus we have this same case with this franchise. The first villain was given time to progress while this second villain was hidden. And I knew exactly who it was going to be, which made the reveal not as exciting as it could've been. That said, I did buy into the motivations of said villain, but we can talk about that in private later rather than publicly on this blog.

These final two issues is what I was worried about most going in and I do think I would've had less problems with them 11 years ago than I do know, but ultimately I was still left pleased after leaving this movie as said issues were more of major nitpicks than serious problems that bogged the movie down. Thus the movie ended up being remarkably similar to a number of MCU films that are still highly entertaining despite underlying issues. I mean, Marvel has a habit of introducing underwhelming villains with cliche motivations, yet still manage to make the movie as a whole highly entertaining, thus dispelling the idea that a movie is only as good as your villain. And the vigilante story arc? Yeah, that's all of "Captain America: Civil War" and I had the exact same nitpicks with that movie, yet still managed to be thoroughly entertained with everything happening around it. I'd say putting "Incredibles 2" on the same level as "Civil War" is pretty good company, wouldn't you? Where does "Incredibles 2" place in my Pixar rankings? I have no idea. I don't think it's top five, but that's near impossible to break into at this point. But I do think it's somewhere in the top 10, which at this point is a huge compliment given Pixar's filmography. I'm giving "Incredibles 2" a 9/10.