Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Love, Kennedy Review

It's time to dive into Mormonville with my next movie review as we discuss T.C. Christensen's latest film, "Love, Kennedy." If you are an active member of the LDS church and you've watched any church videos, short or long, you've definitely seen T.C. Christensen's work, even if the name is jumping to your head right away. Films like "Finding Faith in Christ," "The Restoration," "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration" and "Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story" are all examples of his work. Recently, though, his feature-length theatrical releases include "17 Miracles," "Ephraim's Rescue" and "The Cokeville Miracle." See? I told you that you know this man's work. With a lot of LDS-themed films under his belt, it's safe to say the man knows how to make a film for the LDS audience. If you're not LDS and you're reading this review, well I'm not exactly sure what to tell you. If you don't like these religious films, then you probably weren't going to see this anyways, but you can still read on if you want to. But I'm going to assume that most people that clicked on this review are active members of the LDS faith because that's exactly who this movie is made for. This is a movie that's here to remind us of what's most important in our lives and it does a great job.

No director has a completely flawless record. It's just the nature of the business. For me I think "The Cokeville Miracle" was a bit of a bump in the road for T.C. Christensen, but I chalk that up to subject matter, not poor film making. It's a bit of a curious choice to make a movie about a school of children who miraculously survived a school hostage situation not long after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 kids were shot and killed. Why did God allow those kids to die while deciding to save the kids from Cokeville Elementary School? That's a question that wasn't really answered at all in the film, so I don't think it was great timing. I was hoping with this latest film that T.C. would make a recovery because I really enjoyed both "17 Miracles" and "Ephraim's Rescue," even though they are like the same movie, but from different perspectives. With "Love, Kennedy,"  there's no issue with the subject matter as T.C. goes back to making a faith-inspiring film that LDS audiences should eat right up. The big trick here is the narrative structure is such that it's hard for any filmmaker, regardless of experience, to get completely right and I don't know if "Love, Kennedy" completely succeeds at this even though it makes the audience bawl their eyes out.

This narrative structure I speak of is that of telling the story of the life of an individual. This individual is Kennedy Hansen, who as a young girl grew up like a typical child with lots of dreams and aspirations which include dating, driving a car and being a cheerleader. On top of that, she's the sweetest, most loving, Christlike child you'll ever meet. But once she gets older they discover she has what's called Batten Disease, an extremely rare, incurable disease where the person slowly starts losing their eyesight and mental capacity until the inevitable happens. So yeah, being diagnosed with a terminal illness is not a fun thing for anyone involved and everyone reacts in a different way, but often confusion and anger is mixed in there somewhere. Why me? Or why my daughter. What did she/I do wrong to deserve this? In this instance, young Kennedy was practically perfect in every way with how she handled things, thus inspiring everyone around her, from family to friends and even strangers who didn't know her well. Consequently, we as an audience watching her story unfold are also inspired to learn or remember what's most important in life and what attitude we should have towards the things that trouble us. Thus her life becomes a love letter to all.

Perhaps it's the analytical thinker in me who has watched and reviews a whole ton of movies in the last five years, but I'm not one to give an automatic pass to every faith-based film just because it left me with an inspiring message. I prefer the film making qualities to be up to par with the message and theme. There's a lot of poor quality films with great messages that I'm not going to simply ignore the flaws because my heart strings were successfully tugged at. I'm not saying this is one of those poor quality films, but I was slightly distracted at the fact that this didn't feel quite as polished as some of T.C.'s previous work in terms of the technical aspects of the film. The movie felt a lot more homemade that usual as if they didn't quite have as big of a budget to work with this time around. The camera work and editing felt more like a first time filmmaker instead of a seasoned veteran and the cinematography didn't quite jump out at me. If they were working on a smaller budget this time around, I can understand that, but I still don't give it an automatic pass because I've seen movies made on small budgets that you certainly would've fooled me had you claimed they had a big budget to work with. Then sometimes you can flip that around and fail with a big budget, so no excuse.

I really do feel bad saying these things because I know a lot of people are going to love this movie and certainly won't be as nit-picky as I am right now. I've also met and talked with T.C. Christensen and I definitely have a lot of respect for him as a filmmaker and as a person in general, so I hate to be the annoying little movie critic, but I commit myself to being honest and I'm not going to blindly praise a movie that I found a bit distracting and slightly unpolished. Then we have this narrative structure I referenced earlier. There's not really one major through story arc here. It's Kennedy living through her first year of high school while suffering from this awful disease as she slowly digresses throughout the film. There's a lot of individual segments that often only loosely connect together to make one movie. With much of this film, you could probably watch a lot of these individual segments on their own or even out of order without missing a beat as they sometimes stumbled a bit from scene to scene. Then you think the movie is going to end, but we have another major segment of the movie attached at the end. Thus instead of having a beautifully polished narrative that flows seamlessly, we have a great, inspiring story that's a bit a bit rough around the edges.

But oh my freaking goodness, what I am doing here? I was a lot more negative in those last two paragraphs than I meant to be. Even if the movie is a tad bit clunky at times with a bit of a low-budget feel to it, this is a movie that grabs you right from the start and forces you to brace for the worst. We introduce this family that is extremely likable and this little girl that is just a precious little angel, then we get slammed in the head with a baseball bat as she is diagnosed with this terminal illness. Immediately you know what is going to happen, but you don't want it to happen, thus you are prepared to have your heart ripped out and stomped on. Then throughout this journey we are introduced to character after character who completely melts your heart with the stunning acts of service that they perform for Kennedy that make me want to go find the real life people and thank them for what they did, which is not entirely impossible in this scenario given that this is a recent story that took place practically in my back yard somewhere in Utah. Christlike love and service are shown in abundance throughout this film that it's no wonder that there were so many sniffles in my theater. I could also use the cliche statement that there wasn't a dry eye in the building during certain scenes because it was true.

Then we have our cast. Holy cow were they great! The only name and face that I recognized is that of Jasen Wade, who has played the lead role in several of these recent T.C. Christensen films. He pulled off another great performance as Kennedy's father, who went through quite the emotional journey throughout this film. We also have a slew of supporting characters that all did a great job. I'm not going to name them all by name because I've already talked your ear off, metaphorically speaking, but I do want to call out the absolute star of this film and that is Tatum Chiniquy as Kennedy. I've never seen her in any prior film and her IMDb page claims this is her first major theatrical role, but she took on quite the difficult task here of playing this teenage girl who is slowly degenerating mentally and she knocks it out of the park. This movie hinges solely on us caring for this girl and Tatum gives the absolute perfect performance. I was reminded in many ways of Eddie Redmayne's Oscar winning performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything." So if any of my friends happen to know Tatum, which has happened before with these local movies, pass on the word to her that I'm a huge fan of what she pulled off here and I hope to see her on screen again soon.

Overall, I did a lot more complaining in this review than I meant to, so I hope you don't walk away thinking I hated this movie. There were just certain technical aspects of the movie that I didn't feel were up to par with what T.C. Christensen usually produces and the narrative wasn't as smooth as it could've been. And it may have had a bit too much narration. But despite that, this is a movie that knows its target audience and what it needs to do to please them and it fully succeeds. We have a gripping story that is both tragic and inspiring as there's a whole lot that everyone can learn from the story of Kennedy about life and perspective. There were plenty of people in my theater with me that were downright sobbing at the end of this film. There were a lot of sniffling and a lot of tissues wiping away tears. That should say a lot. This movie is kind of leaving theaters quickly, so if you don't see this now, you may have to wait till the DVD comes out, which wouldn't be the end of the world. But at the moment it's in most of the Megaplex theaters in Northern Utah if you're anxious to enjoy this on the big screen. But act now. Or you can wait as this will make a pretty darn good Sunday movie night with your family and friends. I'm going to give "Love, Kennedy" an 8/10.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

It Comes at Night Review

Last summer was a pretty darn good summer when it came to horror films. Not only did "Lights Out," "Don't Breathe," "The Shallows" "The Conjuring 2" all do well at the box office, but they were all pretty good films in my book, with "The Conjuring 2" being the lesser of the bunch in my opinion. All this coming after we knocked it out of the park earlier in the year with "The Witch," a movie that ended up in my top three best movies of 2016. This year we are already off to a solid start as "Get Out" is right up there with "Lights Out" and "Don't Breathe" in terms of quality in my opinion, and I'm on the lower end of the spectrum with that. And if we want to blur the line between horror and thriller, then "Split" is still my favorite movie of the year. So heading into this summer I was ready for a few more horror breakouts, thus I had my eyes on A24's "It Comes at Night," hoping it would deliver. When the critic reviews came in very solid with an 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and weekend projections had the movie around $15 million, I was happy because it appeared that this was going to be the fun, creepy summer horror film that I was hoping for. I just didn't see it as soon as I wanted because my bank account wasn't quite my best friend, so I waited for Tuesday.

This may seem menial, but these details are important. When weekend box office results started to come in, "It Comes at Night" was falling well below expectations as it only grabbed $6 million. This was sparked by an extremely negative audience reaction. Opening day audiences gave the movie a "D" CinemaScore and, despite it's 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the Flixter user score is only 44 percent. This strong negative reaction from regular moviegoers didn't have me worried, but it did have me curious as to what it is that has caused such a polarizing difference between critics and regular moviegoers. I began to theorize in my head as to what this movie was really about and my conclusions going in were that this wasn't your typical horror movie and that there was something that was going to happen in this movie that angered casual audiences and pleased critics who often go in with different expectations that are more analytical as compared to casual horror fans that just want to be scared and don't want to have to think much about it. Thus my expectations shifted completely following the weekend, making me glad that I waited. Thus I can say that I wasn't blindsided by this movie at all. In fact, I was able to really love this movie.

While this 86 percent vs. 44 percent ratio is surprising, I did a bit of digging and realized that this is not uncommon at all when it comes to horror films that I consider to be really good. You see, I'm a fan of horror, but I'm a fan of good horror. That sounds like an obvious statement, but nowadays there are a ton of low budget horror films whose only goal is to make money, thus they sacrifice story and acting in favor of jump scares and gore. And the casual audiences eat it up. But not me. Those types of horror movies I find stupid. I like horror movies that have more depth and thought to them, where acting and storytelling are put at the forefront while scares and blood are there only when it's necessary to support the story being told. They might happen quite often, but they're not necessarily the purpose of the film. Three examples of recent horror films that I personally find excellent because they do things the way I like it are "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows." And get this. When looking at Rotten Tomatoes, all three of these movies have similar critic/audience ratios as "It Comes at Night." "The Witch": 91 percent vs. 56 percent. "The Babadook": 98 percent vs. 72 percent. "It Follows": 97 percent vs. 65 percent. Suddenly everything makes sense.

After analyzing these factors, I conclude that if you go into "It Comes at Night" expecting a cliche horror film where a family gets trapped in a cabin in the woods and some sort of monster comes in and haunts them, thus providing you with a slew of jump scares, a creepy monster and lots of blood and gore, you're going to walk out hating this movie. Because that's not what this movie is. Even though that's kinda what they advertised in the trailers. A bit of a marketing fail, perhaps, that may have attracted the wrong crowd to the theater. But if you subvert your expectations and prepare for something different and deeper, then there's a lot to love about this film. In fact, the three horror movies previously mentioned follow similar formulas. "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows" are all fairly deep thematically with a rich story and great acting that completely sell what the writers and directors were going for. I suppose casual audiences walked into each of those movies expecting certain things to happen and when those things didn't happen, they got angry and left a bad review online. I suppose everyone is allowed to have their own personal tastes, but it makes me sad when people completely miss the point of these genius horror films.

Up to this point, I've been doing a lot of talking around this film without even diving into any specifics. That's kind of on purpose because this movie is shrouded with a lot of mystery and suspense that I don't want to spoil, so I feel safe making parallel comparisons and I think "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows" are three similar movies to "It Comes at Night." If you want a brief summary of what this movie is about, this is about a family living out in the middle of nowhere. There's not a lot of exposition in this film as we don't follow our typical movie arc with a fleshed out beginning, middle and end. We're just kind of thrown into that middle section as we are witnessing the after effects of whatever has happened to the world and this family specifically. We have a father, a mother and a teenage son and all three of them have different approaches to dealing with this and I loved following their individual arcs and how each of them reacts when another family comes walking onto their property unannounced. There are a lot of small, character moments scattered throughout between various combinations of characters that paint a very beautiful, symbolic film that has a lot to say about human nature and how we all respond differently.

If you go in expecting a supernatural horror film, you're not going to get it. If you go in expecting a monster movie, you're not going to get it. If you go in expecting a slasher horror, you're not going to get it. This movie is instead a paranoia horror film. What do you do when you don't know what to do? What if you are put into an unfamiliar place that you are not used to dealing with? How do you react with you think something bad is about to happen, but you have no idea what? What if you are put into a scenario with several strangers and you don't know who to trust? These are the themes these movies tackles and it's our main cast of six individuals who completely buy into this movie and their individual roles that sells this movie. First and foremost of the bunch is Joel Edgerton, who can practically do no wrong at this point as some of his recent films include "The Gift," "Black Mass" and "Loving," the latter of which was one of my favorite performances of last year. And I loved his performance in "It Comes at Night." Another fantastic addition to his resume. But not to be forgotten are Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and even the young Griffin Robert Faulkner. Phenomenal performances!

Yes, unconventional is the word of the day here. But yet when you go into an A24 film, that's something you should come to expect. Other recent movies they've distributed are "Moonlight," "The Lobster," "Swiss Army Man," "Room," "Ex Machina" and the aforementioned "The Witch." They are well-versed in the unconventional. Sometimes it leads to universal praise and Oscar nominations while other times it leads to mixed feelings and controversy. That's the nature of experimental film, though. If you walked out of the movie hating it, I can understand where you are coming from, but I think if you go in with expectations that I've talked about, then I think this is a movie that can be loved, watched and discussed for years to come. If you specifically loved the three horror movies that I have repeatedly referenced, "The Witch," "The Babadook" and "It Follows," and you are confused or disappointed at the negative reaction those movies got from some and you're ready for another unconventional horror film, then I really think you should give "It Comes at Night" a chance. I'm not going to grade it quite as high as "The Witch" and "The Babadook," which are both near perfect horror films in my mind, but this won't be too far behind as I'm giving "It Comes at Night" a 9/10.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Mummy Review

We live in a day of cinematic universes. Thanks to Marvel, who beautifully set up their cinematic universe of superheros, which has blossomed into $11.7 billion worldwide and counting, every studio is scrambling to come up with their own cinematic universes and movie crossovers to cash in on this new fad. Some time back Universal looked at this and made the decision that everyone wants to see all of their classic monsters back on the big screen. As a brief history lesson, Universal made a grand total of 89 monster movies between 1923 and 1960, which started with "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and eventually included classics such as "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Invisible Man" (1933), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), "The Wolf Man" (1941) and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954). And now all of these that I mentioned, as well as several more, will be getting modern remakes in a cinematic universal that Universal has titled Dark Universe. At least that's what they tell us. If audiences decide not to show up to this films, they may have to reconsider. At the moment, though, they seem to be rather bullish with this plan as they've already announced plans for around 10 films.

Kicking things off in this Dark Universe is the latest iteration of "The Mummy." In terms of the number of sequels and remakes, believe it or not, "The Mummy" is right behind "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." While "Dracula" has had at least 30 films made and "Frankenstein" has had at least 20, this 2017 remake of "The Mummy" is the 14th Mummy movie that has been made. That's right. The 1999 Brendan Fraser remake that I've heard many people refer to "the original" is far removed from being the original. You can call that movie No. 11 in our Mummy series. The actual original film was released in 1932, the year after "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." Instead of making a sequel to this original, Universal remade it in 1940, titling it "The Mummy's Hand." They then made four sequels to this 1940 version for a total of six Mummy movies overall in their original Universal Monsters phase. Then the British took the reins as they made a total of four Mummy movies beginning in 1959 as a part of the Hammer Horror Series. It's only after all of this that we can fast forward to 1999 when Stephen Sommers' Mummy trilogy began. And now here we are in 2017 with what is officially the fourth remake of the original 1932 classic and, as I noted, the 14th Mummy movie overall.

Before I saw this latest remake in theaters, I wanted to go back and familiarize myself with this franchise. I didn't watch all 13 movies, but I caught the highlights. Specially I watched the original 1932 movie as well as the first movie in each reboot franchise while reading over the plot synopses of the sequels. Long story short, the only movie I'd consider a great movie is the 1932 version. The movie is simple, short and brilliant with our mummy Imhotep being a fascinating, deep character with a very interesting lore. The 1940 movie switched up the lore quite a bit, named our mummy Kharis, and made a very stupid B-level monster movie. And from what I gather with the four sequels, none of them are any better. Then when the 1959 movie remade the franchise, they chose to do a remake of the 1940 movie instead of the classic 1932 movie, which was frustrated for me as I was watching. Granted they did a much better job at making the movie creepy and intense, but it still wasn't that interesting. And again, apparently the three sequels are pretty bad. Then we get to everyone's favorite 1999 version, which is bigger, louder, weirder and grosser than the previous movies. They also turned the franchise from a horror movie to a dumb, brainless action movie.

After going through all of this, I was suddenly a lot less excited about this movie as it seems that no one can get this franchise right following a fantastic first entry that is now 85 years old. And unfortunately I was right to be nervous because this movie is yet another missed opportunity. However, I will say this is a huge improvement over that 1999 movie. Now if you're one of the people that loves that 1999 movie and didn't know that any previous Mummy movies existed, I encourage you to go actually watch the 1932 movie, then re-watch your beloved 1999 film and tell me yourself what is wrong with the latter movie. It's pretty darn obvious and thus I would be willing to say that nostalgia is the biggest thing holding it up. If you want to claim it as a guilty pleasure, then I'm fine with that. We all have those. But it's a giant mess of a film where few things make any sense. It's style over substance and I prefer substance when it comes to my monster movies. I'm also frustrated with this idea that we are taking old horror films and removing the horror. An action-packed remake of an old horror film is not my idea of intelligent cinema. I would've loved to see a modern horror master take this Mummy franchise and make it into modern horror movie instead of giving us a dumb, brainless action film.

What actually surprised me with this new 2017 Mummy was that it actually did have some substance to it and was more of a streamlined, focused movie. In our 1932 film, we followed a mummy named Imhotep who some archaeologists accidentally uncovered and eventually learned was buried alive for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the Egyptian princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. When these archaeologists read a certain scroll and accidentally bring Imhotep back to life, he sets out to resurrect his lover again so that the two of them can live forever in immortality. Imhotep only harms those who get in his way, with the added drama being that he thinks one of our main female protagonists is his beloved princess reincarnated. This is a lore that I was fascinated with. I felt that if we were to take this lore and build off of it, we could create a fascinating modern remake. Instead all we've received is a bunch of hogwash that not only changes the lore and turns the mummy into a dog (metaphorically speaking) to chase after people, but also over-complicates the lore adding new and weirder elements to what happened to this guy once he was buried or what the consequences of unleashing him are. Sometimes bigger and crazier does not equal better.

This simplicity is what this 2017 Mummy reverted back to in many ways, thus I started this movie with a lot of hope. First off the backstory here is a lot more interesting than any Mummy movie since the original. And it's also not simply a second-rate, uninspiring copy. For one, our mummy is female this time around and is named Ahmanet. She's played by Sofia Boutella from "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Star Trek Beyond" and the upcoming "Atomic Blonde." If nothing else, I'm sure that at least some would agree with me that Sofia Boutella absolutely nails the role of Ahmanet. When they are showing her backstory or implementing flashbacks and dream sequences throughout the movie, she is successfully cunning and seductive. She's beautiful enough to be able to ensnare people into her trap, but is extremely manipulative and straight-up evil when she has them trapped. And when she's resurrected in the modern-day after the mindless, stupid decisions by Tom Cruise and his friend, she is extremely creepy and rather awesome. In fact, Sofia Boutella did such a great job in this role that I was kinda cheering for her to succeed with whatever plan she had up her sleeve. I cared about her a lot more than Tom Cruise and his damsel-in-distress girlfriend.

Thus comes to our problems with this movie. Everything not having to do with Ahmanet. Now for one, I will say that I was a bit confused as to what Ahmanet's final plan actually was and why she was doing it. Her motivations behind doing this were set-up very well. The betrayal she felt by the people around her was justified well enough for me to buy her delving into this dark, evil magic. It's just that her final plan didn't seem connected very well to that, both in the past when she was stopped and buried alive and in the present when she was trying to finish what she started. Imhotep's backstory and final plan all made complete sense. Ahmanet's was a bit fuzzy. But most of this movie is in the present day with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. And man was it dull. First off, there was a ton of set-up and storytelling. After our first introduction to Ahmanet in the opening credits, it took a while for the movie to get back to her and once it did, it took another while to get to her attempting to completing her master plan once she was released. We instead were forced to wander around with Tom Cruise, who plays perhaps one of his least interesting characters to date. And the movie tried to set-up a romance with him and Annabelle Wallis, who was more useless than Tom Cruise.

Then we have Russell Crowe. We actually start the movie with him as he's telling the story of Ahmanet... to no one. Just us as the audience. That was frustrating. The 1932 movie told the backstory of Imhotep at a point in the plot that made sense when our main protagonists were first learning about him. Yes, it was exposition, but it was exposition that was necessary and made sense to the plot. Then in the 1940 movie, they told the backstory in the opening sequences in an effort to get it out of the way. I didn't like that. And every movie since has decided to copy that 1940 formula. But at least with those movies, it was usually someone talking to someone else. This is Russell Crowe talking to no one. Also with Russell Crowe, the movie spent a lot of time with him as he's obviously Universal's Nick Fury. He's there as the glue that is going to attempt to hold and bring this Dark Universe together and thus I think this movie got a little carried away in setting up this cinematic universe instead of simply giving us a stand-alone movie. Thus this movie fell into the recent common trap of spending too much time setting up a universe and not enough time giving us a good movie. This was especially frustrating here because I didn't care about this set-up.

I think the right way to set up a cinematic universe is to give us several solid stand-alone movies and make us care enough about these characters and stories that will make us excited to see them come together. This is exactly what Marvel initially did with their five movies leading up to "The Avengers." Nick Fury existed and he was there to recruit them, but he was very much a small, side-character in the movies as opposed to being a main character that the movie spent half of run time focusing on. I hope this Dark Universe works out. I really do. I really hope that Universal is able to learn from this with their next portion of this saga, which is currently scheduled to be "Bride of Frankenstein" on Valentine's Day in 2019, which will be directed by Bill Condon from "Beauty and the Beast." They need to completely forget about setting up the Dark Universe and just give us a solid "Bride of Frankenstein" remake. If they do that well enough, then maybe more people will jump on board when they bring us "Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Invisible Man," "Wolf Man" and others. I think DC just struck gold with "Wonder Woman" and I hope that teaches them how to properly set up a cinematic universe. Now I hope Universal figures it out, too.

As regards to the rest of the movie, I don't want to dive into any spoilers, even if you don't care, but I will say that I enjoyed the sequences in the final act when Ahmanet was actually in the movie. But I didn't like Tom Cruise and I didn't like Annabelle Wallis. I was intrigued by Russell Crowe, but I think it was the wrong movie to focus on him. They could've completely cut him out of the movie and we would've missed nothing. Or maybe they have him in for 5-10 minutes at some point. But in the end, the movie wasn't focused on doing a proper remake of "The Mummy" and was instead focused on setting up the Dark Universe, which I found frustrating. Then when they did focus on our Mummy storyline, I really only cared for Ahmanet as a character and no one else. Having a great villain is fantastic, but we need good protagonists and a solid story or else we're just wasting our villain, thus I feel bad because Sofia Boutella did a great job, but it didn't seem that any of the other actors or crew members had her level of commitment. Yes I enjoyed this more than the 1999 remake as well as several other Mummy movies, but 14 movies in and we still haven't had a proper remake or sequel of the original 1932 film. Thus I will give our 2017 remake of "The Mummy" a 6/10.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wonder Woman Review

In our on-going battle of Marvel vs. DC, Marvel had their turn earlier in the summer with "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and now DC is up to bat with our first ever film version of "Wonder Woman," directed NOT by Zack Snyder (although my prayers go out to him and his family after the awful tragedy of his daughter's suicide) or David Ayer, but by Patty Jenkins. Thus we have a female-led superhero movie directed by a female. That might be the first time in, like, ever. We haven't even had a female-led superhero at all since 2005's "Catwoman." In fact, I don't think we've ever had a female-led superhero movie that was even good. The only other ones outside "Catwoman" that I can think of are "Elektra" (2004) and "Supergirl" (1984). All three of those were directed by males. And all three are awful movies. I don't know why this has been such a hard thing for Hollywood to do, let alone get right when they've tried. It's not like there's a lack of female characters in the comics. And speaking of Wonder Woman specifically, I don't know why it's taken until 2017 for her to get her own movie at all given that she's been around since 1941 and is one of DC's most iconic heroes. But whatever the reasons for the wait, Wonder Woman's movie is here and it's glorious!

As far as all the politics goes behind all that, I don't like putting labels on myself, but I am 100 percent for females getting an equal opportunity in the work force. Whatever that makes me, then fine. But I also don't like things to be done just for the sake of political correctness because often that means the final result feels hollow and we get lazy attempts at movies such as our female-led "Ghostbusters" from last year. I do want more female-led superhero movies and action movies, but not for the sake of politics, but because female superheroes and action stars are freaking awesome. I don't need movies oozing in so much girl power that they become political propaganda of how awesome females are and how horribly disgusting, lazy, and perverted all guys are. I mean, I know there's been a lot of injustice towards females in Hollywood, but fighting fire with fire or trying to balance out the negative by creating another negative. That's not making the world equal. That's called hypocrisy. I was really hoping that "Wonder Woman" wasn't going to be another political propaganda movie pushing hard extreme feminist values into the superhero genre. Thankfully it's not. The goal here was to make a good movie as opposed to making a political statement.

With that item of business, let's get to our other item of business. I quick recap of the DCEU. As I say in every superhero movie, I think this Marvel vs. DC fight is a load of bull crap. Extreme fanboys on both sides seem to think that they can only like their brand of comics while endlessly trash-talking the opposing side. Me? I like both Marvel and DC and I want both to succeed because I just want good movies. However, if you point a gun to my head and make me pick a side, I jump over to DC because they've made more of an impact on my childhood than Marvel has. Which is why the recent failures of DC has had me upset. Those are my characters and stories that are being thrown in a blender. If we talk about specifics, Zack Snyder started us off in the DCEU by ripping the heart and soul out of Superman, throwing it in a blender and serving it up as the big pile of disgusting, ugly dog crap that was "Man of Steel." Then that same man decided he wanted to shove five movies in one with "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Then we have David Ayer's "Suicide Squad" that had panic written all over it with all the studio interference. The end result being a movie with a lot of phenomenal characters and character arcs, but a storyline that ran into a brick wall.

Yes, it's true that I don't hate "Batman v. Superman" and "Suicide Squad" as much as others. I gave "Batman v. Superman" a 6/10 and "Suicide Squad" an 8/10. Perhaps the latter score is a bit high, but I still stand my ground that neither are as awful as "Man of Steel." "Batman v. Superman" had a lot of great individual moments and "Suicide Squad" had a lot of amazing characters. But there was still missed potential with both and so far none of our three DCEU movies have been able to fully capture the heart of why I like the DC superhero characters and stories so much. Enter "Wonder Woman." I was reasonably nervous about this one for a long time. I wanted to be excited. I wanted to jump for joy at all of the trailers that looked so freaking boss. But I wasn't going to let myself play fool to the boy who cried wolf for a fourth time because all previous three movies I've discussed have had phenomenal marketing campaigns. "Man of Steel" looked unbelievably awesome. I was ready for the epic, historic showdown "Batman v. Superman" promised us. I was ready to crown "Suicide Squad" as the best movie of the year. But none of them pulled through on the promises that they gave me. So I forced myself into the cautiously optimistic level with "Wonder Woman."

Then the reviews started pouring in and ALL of them were positive. Well, all the ones I cared about anyways. And the Rotten Tomatoes score managed to stay in the 90's. I exhaled deeply as it now appeared that we were in for a good movie. And I allowed myself to be excited. But I wasn't even prepared for the glory that was awaiting me in that movie theater when the movie started playing before my eyes. We didn't just get a good movie. We got classic DC revived into the modern day. We got the type of movie that I was hoping for with "Man of Steel," "Batman v. Superman" and "Suicide Squad." We got a movie that comfortably stands side by side with Richard Donner's two Superman movies and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. We got the "Wonder Woman" movie that all of humanity has been hoping and dreaming for when they envisioned DC's third most iconic superhero live on the big screen. We got a movie that was colorful in terms of cinematography and light-hearted in terms of tone while at the same time being emotional and deep thematically. We hit every right note that a true DC movie should hit and as I was witnessing this, it nearly made me burst into tears of joy. Was this really the same DCEU that disappointed me three times in a row now?

As far as the Wonder Woman lore goes, she was a character that I was less familiar with going in due to how neglected she's been when it comes to our live-action adaptations. Thus I was excited to learn of her origins, thus she had the immediate advantage when it comes to origin stories due to my curiosity level. Yes, I have unashamedly been known to be harsh on origin stories. We've had so many of them in the last several years that it's super easy to fall into the trap of being super cliche and boring with an origin story. I wouldn't necessarily stand on the rooftops and declare Wonder Woman's origin story as the most original origin story ever told, but I was fascinating with the lore of the film as it tied in Greek mythology with our modern day world, with Wonder Woman being a part of the Amazons who were created by the gods and Zeus as means to protect the world for the war and hatred that Aries, the god of war, was spreading around the world. Then I liked the journey that we went on with Wonder Woman in discovering what was real and what was story as she's convinced that this World War I has been started by Aries and that if she finds and kills Aries that it will stop all of the fighting and violence. This was a fascinating setup that had me fully invested.

Then oh my freaking gosh were the Amazons so boss. We have a whole freaking island of beauty queens that are trained soldiers. It was like a young man's dream come true and I think we were all jealous of Chris Pine for accidentally stumbling on this protected island and becoming friends with Wonder Woman. Speaking of Wonder Woman, I think Gal Gadot perfectly encapsulated what this character is all about. First and foremost that woman is so incredibly beautiful that she will melt the hearts of all men watching. When she gets her close ups, those eyes and that face will penetrate your soul. But she's much more than a pretty face. She puts on her armor, grabs her sword, lasso and shield and marches out to battle you've completely lost it at how perfect this character is. She has a strong will and she's not going to be told what to do. If she has her mind set on something, you better just roll with it or you're going to be left in the dust. But then as she sets out on this mission, she immediately becomes a fish out of water as she has no idea what the world outside her is like. This is where Chris Pine comes in. He may not have a fancy lasso and shield or these amazing superpowers, but he knows how the world works and it's up to him to teach her about humanity.

All of this not only ensues in a lot of natural humor, but we begin a wonderful character journey with this woman as she now has to figure out who she really is, what she believes in and what her true mission is in life. There are several moments of discovery in this film that had me truly inspired. One example early on is when she decides that she is going to protect and save a certain group of people when Chris Pine and his company are begging her to move on from because they have a bigger mission they need to accomplish. She decides that she's not going to leave these dying people behind, so she removes her robes, revealing herself as the Amazon princess that she is and charges into battle because she cares about everyone. These led to extremely entertaining action sequences that weren't there just so we could have a fun, action-packed movie, but they were there to support the plot and build this character. And that's where the reflections of Richard Donner's Superman hit me hard. Superman loves and cares about everyone. He stands as their savior that they look up to. He's there to protect them and not leave anyone behind. This is exactly the type of person that Wonder Woman became in these moments and it sent me to cloud nine.

There's a lot more that I really want to dive into pertaining to this movie, especially as we move forward to our final sequences, but alas that dives into the spoiler range and I haven't and won't declare this review as a spoiler review. But nevertheless if I speak in generalities, I loved the full arc that this movie presented us. I loved the deep, emotional themes of humanity and love that the movie explored. I loved how this wasn't a movie that declared that woman are better than men, but rather showed what it truly means to be equal. Wonder Woman needed Chris Pine in order to achieve her true potential and Chris Pine needed Wonder Woman in order to achieve his true potential. There's several sequences with the two characters that were excellent. Chris Pine and Gal Gadot both blew it out of the water with their performances and as far as the resolution goes, this very much parallels "Batman Begins" as Bruce Wayne tries to figure out who he is and what he needs to become while being challenged by Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul who gives him a true test while he's still trying to shape himself. I won't tell you how this parallels, but it does. Thus I will just leave you with the statement that I loved the final resolution of this movie. It was beautiful.

Sure, I could nit-pick this movie. It's not a perfect movie as few movies are. There are plenty of things that I could nit-pick with each entry in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, even "The Dark Knight," which has become my all-time favorite superhero movie. I can nit-pick Richard Donner's Superman movies as well as every single entry that Marvel has given us in the MCU, but the overall feeling that I had walking out of this movie is that I just experienced as close to a modern-day masterpiece as we may get when it comes to the superhero genre, given how over-saturated the market has become with superhero movies. All of these movies and TV shows these past 10 years have made me seriously contemplate what it is I want out of a superhero movie and "Wonder Woman" met those qualifications. And I'm not just fanboying out about this because I've been plenty harsh on all superhero movies recently, regardless of studio. I was going to use the cliche line that this was the best superhero movie I've seen in a long time, but then I remembered that "Logan" also came out this year and I don't know which one I like better, so I'm giving "Wonder Woman" the same grade, a 9.5/10.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Movie Preview: June 2017

Summer 2017 is one month in the books for Hollywood and overall the box office this summer started out on a really bad limp. Marvel scored big time as "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" has already passed its predecessor's final total as it inches closer to the $400 million mark domestically after standing at around $350 million following its first month. But outside that we have flops across the board. "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," "Snatched" and "Baywatch" have been straight-up box office bombs while "Alien: Covenant" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" are tallying way below their predecessors. Although with the latter two, overseas totals are making up for their domestic shortcomings, especially with "Pirates 5" as it has already earned nearly 80 percent of its worldwide total at the international box office. Meanwhile, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" and "Everything, Everything" both failed to register. Thus not only does this mean that May 2017 has been the second straight May to miss out on the $1 billion mark, but it also missed out on the $900 million mark and is the lowest grossing May since 2006. All of this means that the market is currently wide open, ready for some major hits, so let's see what June has to offer up!

June 2nd - 4th-

While Marvel led things off in May with "Guardians 2," it's now DC's turn to kick off a summer as they are releasing Wonder Woman to the world, which is the fourth movie in the DC Extended Universe. It's safe to say that it's been a bit of a rough road for DC as they attempt to follow in the footsteps of Marvel by getting their big cinematic universe off and running. The response to "Man of Steel," "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad" have all been mixed at best. Although it's worth noting that, despite less-then-stellar reviews, the box office has still been healthy as the three movies average a domestic total of $315.5 million, which is actually higher than the current average of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which stands at $305.2. Not an apples-to-apples comparison, obviously, but it shows that the DC fan base is still huge and it looks like they're finally going to get an entry in this current universe that will please just about everyone as the current score on Rotten Tomatoes stands at a fantastic 92 percent. The movie is also the first female-led superhero movie that either the MCU or the DCEU have put out and surprisingly the first ever movie in the 76-year history of the character of Wonder Woman. All of these signs put together point to a very strong opening weekend and healthy overall box office run for "Wonder Woman."

"Wonder Woman" isn't the only superhero movie coming out this weekend as DreamWorks Animation is releasing Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. This is obviously a very different type of superhero movie, thus there won't be much crossover audience as DreamWorks has chosen to completely ignore their adult audience this time around and make a movie specifically for 8-10 year old kids who will be bursting out in laughter over all the juvenile, restrained potty humor of a series focused around two fourth-graders who hypnotize their mean principal and make him run around in his underwear saving the world as the illustrious Captain Underpants. This movie is based on the very popular kids novels by Dav Pilkey, which began in 1997 and now includes 12 books, as well as a small handful of spin-offs, that have sold a total of 70 million copies worldwide. Thus while this movie is specifically targeting young kids, this might actually have a multi-generational appeal as teenagers and young adults who grew up reading the series may also be interesting in getting a healthy dose of nostalgia. The biggest obstacle here will be trying to convince family audiences to see this instead of saving their money for "Cars 3" or "Despicable Me 3."

June 9th - 11th-

Speaking of cinematic universes, Universal has decided that they want to join the party and start their own cinematic universe that they've decided to call Dark Universe. This will be a reboot of their old monster universe and begins this month with the latest iteration of The Mummy. The original Universal Monsters began with "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1923 and "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1925. Universal ended up making a total of 89 monster movies between 1923 and 1960 which are highlighted by "Dracula" in 1931, "Frankenstein" in 1931, "The Mummy" in 1932, "The Invisible Man in 1933, "Bride of Frankenstein" in 1935, "The Wolf Man" in 1941 and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" in 1954. As regards to "The Mummy" franchise, this 2017 remake will be the 14th Mummy movie made. Universal made six of their own during their Universal Monsters phase, which included them rebooting the series in 1940. The British Hammer Horror series made four Mummy movies of their own between 1959 and 1971. Then we have the Stephen Sommers Mummy trilogy that started in 1999. So yes, this will be the fourth time in history that "The Mummy" has been rebooted. Universal would really like it if this works out for them. They do have Tom Cruise on board with this movie, so that's a good sign as he's one of the most bankable Hollywood stars.

This iteration of "They Mummy" isn't actually a horror movie. It's an action/adventure movie. But it does have a horror movie challenging it at the box office with It Comes at Night. Last summer was a very healthy one for horror films with "The Conjuring 2" ($104.5 million), "Don't Breathe" ($89.2 million), "Lights Out" ($67.3 million) and "The Shallows" ($55.1 million) all performing well at the domestic box office. This year hasn't seen a ton of horror films released, but "Get Out" broke out in a huge way with $175.3 million starting in late February. Can "It Comes at Night" continue the positive trend? Early reaction from the Overlook Film Festival that it debuted at back in April is positive and distributor A24 also has a good track record of high quality films that includes "Moonlight," "Ex Machina," "The Witch," "Room" and "Swiss Army Man." What they don't have much of a track record for is breakout box office numbers as they usually play it safe with the limited release, slow roll-out game. They've only opened one movie in more than 2,000 theaters, which was 2014's "The Witch," which opened to $8.8 million and finished with $25.1 million. If those are the numbers it follows, A24 will consider that a win. "Moonlight" is their top film with $27.8 million.

The final movie of the weekend is the dog/war movie Megan Leavy. There's been a lot of movies about and starring dogs in Hollywood, but not a lot of them where the dog is a war hero. But there was one two years ago called "Max" that was also released in June and made a total of $42.7 million after opening to $12.2 million, numbers that Bleecker Street would be absolutely ecstatic if they hit, given that their highest grossing movie is "Eye in the Sky," which made $18.7 million last year. They also haven't opened a movie in more than 452 theaters before, so this isn't exactly a movie where they'll be aiming for the sky. If they get into the double-digit millions, that'll be good enough for them. The movie is based on the true story of Megan Leavy, played by Kate Mara in the film, who was able to save a lot of lives with her combat dog during her deployment in Iraq in the 2000's.

June 16th - 18th-

The third weekend of June will have four wide releases racing for the box office crown and the favorite to win that race will be Pixar with Cars 3. A "Cars" trilogy is probably one that not many asked for and on the surface level might be the most confusing that it now exists given that Pixar is not known churning out endless sequels like many animation studios these days and "Cars" and "Cars 2" are both on the lower end of Pixar's library in terms of box office totals and critic reviews. In fact, when you adjust for ticket price inflation, then only movie that "Cars 2" beats out is the disaster that was "The Good Dinosaur." So why do we have a "Cars 3" when few people liked "Cars 2" and it didn't make much at the box office? Easy. Merchandise sales. In fact, the first "Cars" movie earned approximately $10 billion in merchandise sales. That's the second highest total ever behind only "Star Wars." So yeah, more kids around the world own "Cars" toys than they do "Transformers," "Ninja Turtles" or any superhero movie toys. Moral of the story is that Pixar doesn't need "Cars 3" to be a big box office hit. They're here to make more toys sales. Although they have put together a marketing campaign that has won many people over, so this could be a surprise hit.

With how hard "Snatched" and "Baywatch" failed in May, the market for a breakout adult comedy is still wide open, especially when we get to the third weekend of June, meaning the door will be left wide open for Rough Night. They just have to play their cards right and walk through the door. The movie is about five best friends from college, played by Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz, who get together after 10 years to have one wild reunion in Miami. But things go horribly wrong when they accidentally kill the male stripper they hire. So in other words, it's "The Hangover" with females. From the writing and directing team best known for the TV show "Broad City," who have yet to work on a feature film until now. But hey, they could be the next breakout filmmakers. And Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon provide enough star power to make a female version of "The Hangover" work. The big kicker will be that if it's funny and has good reviews, people will show up. That's what went wrong with "Snatched" and "Baywatch." If you don't make a good movie, then the chance of people showing up is less likely.

Hoping to cash in on the monstrous success of "Straight Outta Compton" from summer 2015 will be the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me. Tupac Shakur, commonly known by his rapper name 2Pac, is one of the most influential and iconic rappers from the 90's. He was one of the many rappers who benefited from the success of N.W.A, a group that revolutionized the rap industry as well as the music industry in general and were the subjects of the aforementioned biopic "Straight Outta Compton." 2Pac is in fact one of the best selling rap or hip-hop artists of all-time having sold over 75 million records worldwide and around 40 million albums. His fourth studio album of which this biopic is named after, "All Eyez on Me," was certified Diamond by the RIAA in 2014. "All Eyez on Me" was 2Pac's final album he released in his lifetime as he was shot and killed on September 13, 1996, at the age of 35, seven months after the album was released. The trailers for this movie claim they are telling the untold true story of 2Pac. Whether or not that's an accurate statement is yet to be seen, but the same crowd that swarmed out to "Straight Outta Compton" should be interested in this, although it would be unfair to expect this movie to equal the $161.2 million "Straight Outta Compton."

Last and probably least for this weekend, we get our yearly shark movie, 47 Meters Down. The positives for this movie are that last year's shark movie, "The Shallows," broke out in a big way and made $55.1 million, opening around this exact same time. That movie starred Blake Lively and this movie stars Mandy Moore, both of whom are fairly likable actresses. The obvious main disadvantage is that moviegoers may not be ready for yet another shark movie this soon after. While "The Shallows" had Blake Lively abandoned on a rock next to a shark, "47 Meters Down" has Mandy Moore cage diving while looking at the ocean life when the cable breaks and sends her plummeting 47 meters down with an angry shark. It was initially meant as a straight to DVD movie by Dimension Films before being sold to Entertainment Studios, who decided to throw it in theaters first. Previous movies distributed theatrically by Entertainment Studios include, well, nothing. Which is another big question mark here. The film is directed by British director Johannes Roberts, who has mainly done a bunch of low-budget horror films that either had limited or no actual theatrical release. So most signs are pointing towards "47 Meters Down" becoming a forgotten summer film.

June 23rd - 25th-

After nine wide releases in the first three weeks of June, four coming in week three, the fourth weekend of June only sees one wide release. And it's actually being released on Wednesday the 21st. That movie is Transformers: The Last Knight. This is the fifth movie in everyone's favorite franchise, one that might never end due to the world continuing to give this franchise money. Despite mostly negative reviews, the four "Transformers" movies have made a total of $3.8 billion worldwide. The last two alone making a combined total of $2.2 billion worldwide, with around three-fourths of that coming from international totals. So the franchise fatigue setting in here in the U.S. doesn't even matter. I don't need to give you a plot synopsis of this fifth film. Something will happen that will give Michael Bay an excuse to give us three hours worth of explosions. Speaking of Michael Bay, while the franchise will continue, this is his last time directing a "Transformers" film. Paramount will be searching for new directors for their future films, which will continue next year with a Bumblebee prequel and the year after with the sixth movie in the regular timeline. After a writers room meeting, they have told us that they have 14 additional story ideas for this franchise. That means as long as the world keeps giving them money, they will keep making these movies.

June 30th - July 2nd-

The final weekend of June, which will be mostly in July, will go back to having four new wide releases that will all compete for moviegoers' attention as the weekend prior to Independence Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year. Thus most celebrations will probably take place this weekend. Leading the charge will be our third major animated movie in five weekends, that of Despicable Me 3. As far as animation goes, Illumination has been on fire. Not only did "Despicable Me 2" and "Minions" both make over $300 million domestically, feeding off the success of the beloved original, but "The Secret Life of Pets" and "Sing" both proved that Illumination can survive without the divisive appearance of the Minions as "The Secret Life of Pets" is now their highest grossing domestic release with $368.3 million, a mere $323,065 more than "Despicable Me 2," and "Sing" outgrossed Disney's "Moana" last holiday season with $270.3 million. And now we're back to the "Despicable Me" franchise, which has focused heavily on Gru and the girls this time around when it comes to the advertising instead of the Minions. A smart idea, probably. Steve Carell will also be voicing Gru's twin brother Dru while Trey Parker will take on villain duties.

If "Rough Night" fails to take advantage of the lack of quality comedies in the marketplace, Will Ferrell should be ready jump in with his latest comedy The House, which co-stars Amy Poehler. The two play a couple who, after spending their daughter's college fund, get the idea from a friend to start an illegal casino in their basement. Thus you can imagine the crazy romp that will ensue after this premise gets underway. As far as bankable Hollywood stars, love him or hate him, Will Ferrell has been one of the most reliable actors in the business. Outside a major bump in the road with "Zoolander 2," which arguably wasn't his fault, Will Ferrell has been on fire. Since 2010, he's starred in a wide variety of box office hits, from family movies like "Megamind," "The LEGO Movie" and "Daddy's Home," to PG-13 comedies like "The Other Guys" and "Anchorman 2," to hard R comedies like "The Campaign" and "Get Hard." All of these movies have made at least $85 million at the box office. With "The House" being the R-rated variety of his comedy, it worth noting that "The Campaign" made $86.9 million while "Get Hard" made $90.4 million. That might be a fair range for "The House."

Getting a head start on the weekend by opening up on Wednesday June 28 is the latest film by popular director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver. Edgar Wright can essentially be called the master of the cult classic. He's directed only four theatrically released films thus far, the highest of which has only made $31.5 million, yet all four are seen by many as masterpieces in comedy. Three of these four films consist of what's known as the Cornetto trilogy: "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), "Hot Fuzz" (2007) and "The World's End" (2013). The fourth film is "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010). In terms of box office, it's definitely worth noting that Edgar Wright is a very popular British filmmaker and not only has he done a lot of work on TV, but all four of these films did quite well in his home country, with "Hot Fuzz" being the biggest as it made $41.2 in the U.K. compared to its U.S. total of $23.6. As pertaining to "Baby Driver," the movie stars Ansel Elgort as the character named Baby who tries to escape the world of crime with his new girlfriend, played by Lily James, but ends up being coerced into a big heist that seems doomed to fail. Early reviews are really high on this film as out of 23 reviews counted on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a perfect 100 percent.

Last and possibly least we may or may not have the release of Amityville: The Awakening. I say may or may not because this movie has bounced around the schedule quite a bit. It was initially scheduled to be released back in 2012, but after five years in production hell, which consisted of many re-writes, re-shoots and postponements, it's finally here and we'll see how many people actually care to see it if it doesn't get postponed again. "The Amityville Horror" franchise began back in 1979 as the original film was a major success as it was part of the wave of 70's and 80's horror that did rather well. It made $86.4 million at the box office, which is the equivalent of $304.4 million today when adjusted for ticket price inflation. The movie was based on the alleged true story of the Lutz family who claimed to experience a series of supernatural events after moving into a house a year after a mass murder was committed. While a novel and terrifying idea back in 1979, the franchise has been beaten to the ground, yet not left alone. This is the 19th movie in the franchise to be released and the fifth to be released in theaters. "Amityville: The Awakening" is not a remake of the 1979 film, but rather a sequel to the 2005 remake with a completely new, fictional story to be told.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Review

As a young fifth grade kid many years ago, one of the more popular book series, especially with the boys in the class, was the "Captain Underpants" books. I especially remember the fourth book in the series being called "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants." In the book, the evil science teacher had that ridiculous name that made everyone laugh at him. That name was a very integral plot point to that specific story and because the books were so silly and fun, the book provided the young readers with a table to create their own silly names. Me and my friends had a hey day with this table. I don't remember what my name was, but I remember that our school's new name was Cheeseball Wafflebutts and me and my friends would often sing our school song with that name as a replacement and it was a lot of fun. So yes, these books, which began being written in 1997, when I was eight years old, were an absolute delight to my younger self. So when I heard that DreamWorks was adapting these books into a movie, the inner child in myself jumped for joy and I hoped that they would be able to recapture that magic from many years ago. To all of you "Captain Underpants" fans that have the same hope, I'm happy to report that they have!

I actually saw this movie this past weekend at an early press screening. Thankfully there weren't just fellow critics at the screening, but the public was also invited, meaning that I got to see this movie in a theater full of parents and their kids, which was exactly what I was hoping for when I went to see this movie. I personally got to go to this screening because I completed an internship a few months back with the Deseret News and this weekend they asked if I could go to this screening and review the movie for them. Their regular critic wasn't able to go, so I was delighted to fill in. I immediately wrote my review after seeing the movie and submitted to them. That should be on their site soon, but I still wanted to write a second review for this blog because I have a loyalty to this blog that I plan on maintaining and I have more personal details that I am able to include here that I couldn't in my other review for obvious reasons. This also means that I got to watch and review this movie completely blind to what other critics are saying, which is a luxury I am not often presented with. And while I'm posting this at a time when other reviews are out, I made the decision to type this up beforehand so I am not influenced at all by the words of others. This is pretty fun, right?

Anyways, DreamWorks themselves have always been up and down for where. While Pixar and Disney are generally fairly consistent with their movies in terms of quality, DreamWorks is all over the place. Most recently I actually hated "The Boss Baby" and it's been quite a while since I've been truly blown away by a movie they've made. And while "Captain Underpants" is certainly not a movie that will be a candidate for my favorite movie of the year, it's a movie that gave me the opportunity to embrace my inner child and really enjoy a film that did my beloved "Captain Underpants" books justice. Now given this subject matter, this wound up being a very different movie for DreamWorks. While many of their franchises, like "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda," do their best to please adults and children alike, "Captain Underpants" is a movie where it's extremely obvious that they honed in on their target audience of young boys and attempted to make a movie that this specific audience would love. And regardless of what the old, grumpy movie critics end up saying about this movie, DreamWorks absolutely succeeded in this goal. Or at least all the kids in my theater thought so. One young boy in front of me told his parents afterwards that he was laughing so hard his side hurt.

I mean, that's all I need to say, right? These books have a specific brand of humor and a specific audience that will love this humor. It's the type of humor that attempts to push the line of what's appropriate in a kids book, but never actually crosses it, thus making the kids reading the book laughing hysterically while their parents roll their eyes a bit at what they are laughing at, but ultimately are fine with them reading it given how much fun they are having. And since this franchise is now 20 years old, it's quite possible that the young kids that initially ate these books up are now old enough to be introducing them to their kids, especially since there's 12 of them, the most recent one having come out just two years ago. With this movie, DreamWorks nails this tone to perfection by giving everyone exactly what they were wanting and expecting from a "Captain Underpants" movie. Consequently, if you are not a fan of "Captain Underpants" or you never got invested in them as a child, this is not your movie. Sure, it's great when a movie is able to have a lot of cross appeal and expand beyond its initial target audience, but I also won't fault a movie that does exactly what its target audience wanted it to do, especially if I'm a part of that audience.

As far as specific plot points go, this movie doesn't focus on one specific book to adapt. It's actually a combination of a few of them, specifically the first, second, and fourth as they combined some of the more popular elements of several books into one movie. We start out with our introduction to this Captain Underpants, who just happens to be the mean, angry principal. Our two main protagonist are two fourth-grade friends named George and Harold who love making pranks that make their classmates laugh. Their principal, Mr. Krupp, hates this about them and is on a mission to one day catch them and ruin their friendship. But these two crazy pranksters by pure luck transform Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants, who was initially a comic book superhero that the kids created. But since Mr. Krupp doesn't exactly have the same powers as the fictional version of Captain Underpants has, the boys have to figure out how to protect him and hide him from the rest of the world while also eventually having to deal with their genius, arch-rival classmate Melvin, the evil science teacher Professor Poopypants and the giant robot toilet that the two create to try to git rid of laughter, because laughter is what has ruined their lives and thus they are out for revenge.

So yes, it's ridiculous, it's off the wall and it's crazy. But that's what the books are all about and the movie does a great job of capturing all of that magic while being restrained enough to be completely appropriate for kids, unlike some animated movies these days. I'm looking at you "Angry Birds Movie." Also speaking of restraint, the movie has the eccentric Kevin Hart playing one of our two kids and I was impressed by how toned down he was for this movie. Kevin Hart can be really funny at times, but he can also be so over the top that you want to slap him and tell him to calm down when it becomes more annoying than funny. Luckily his character isn't even very hyper or eccentric. It ends up being perfect for this specific character. While we're talking about the voice cast, the movie also has Ed Helms as Captain Underpants and Mr. Krupp, Nick Kroll as Professor Poopypants, Jordan Peele as Melvin and Thomas Middleditch as Harold. All of these people end up coming together to create a perfect voice cast who is able to help properly bring the books to life as they all seem quite natural to what you imagined while reading the books. My favorite of the bunch had to be Ed Helms as he gracefully bounced back and forth between both of his characters.

My final point with this movie is that even though this movie is mainly focused on the non-stop gags that the kids will love, this does have a surprising amount of heart. The key ingredient here is laughter. And while jokes will bring the audience laughter, laughter is also the theme of the movie. The movie tries to teach kids that laughter and fun is an important key to life. George and Harold pull pranks to make their classmates laugh because the school is otherwise very dull and boring. Professor Poopypants wants to take laughter away because people constantly laughed at his name and he wasn't able to laugh at himself. I strongly believe that this is a very important element of life as everyone needs to learn to have fun. I liked that about this movie. It's a great message to teach kids. And the movie taught this with words, but also by example as the movie constantly made the kids laugh throughout. So again, if you were never a fan of this series or never were able to get invested in it, then this is not a movie for you. But if you like "Captain Underpants" or you have kids that would fit the bill, then this is a movie for you because it's exactly what you would expect from a "Captain Underpants" movie. I am going to give "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" an 8/10.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

It occurred to me recently that I have yet to talk about a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie on my blog yet. For some reason I thought that I had written a review of the fourth movie in the early phases of this blog, which in turn covered my thoughts of this franchise. But nope. "On Stranger Tides" was released all the way back in 2011 and I started this blog in 2012. It's been a full six years. Crazy. That also means its been 14 years since the first movie debuted in theaters back in 2003. That make you feel old yet? It was a bit of an odd idea from Disney to make a movie based on a theme park ride. But sometimes odd ideas actually do work out because I think this franchise is fantastic. For the most part. I love this world they've set up. I love all the characters. I love the fun, pirating adventures that we go on. I love the visual effects and the action sequences. I love the mythologies that we dive into. Overall it's a very fun franchise that has churned out some great summer blockbusters. I also think a lot of critics have been way too harsh on these movies, especially the most recent two. I was rather abhorred as to how much undeserved hate the fourth movie received back in 2011. Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes score for this fifth, it looks like I might be fighting the same battle again.

If I'm diving into specifics, I think the first movie is a masterpiece. I have watched and re-watched that movie so many times in my life and I have an absolute blast each time. The second movie I don't think is a bad movie, but I do find it slightly underwhelming when compared to the first and I've rarely if ever gone back and watched it after my first time through. The third movie is straight up awful, but it has nothing to do with the actual universe, characters or action sequences. It has everything to do with the plot itself, specifically there being way too much of it. It's nearly three hours long and has so much story crammed into one film and it was hard to follow what in the heck was happening. I think I mentally checked out like a third of the way into the movie. And that's why I actually liked the fourth movie. It was way better than the third and even a slight step above the second. They went in a completely different direction while cutting out most of the side characters and gave us a fun, simple adventure with Jack wanting to find the fountain of youth, running into Blackbeard, mermaids and Penelope Cruz along the way. It wandered a bit in the middle, but overall was able to recapture much of the magic of the first movie.

My personal theory as to why the fourth movie got so much hate is that people were simply done with "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. So when we got a fourth movie four years after a bad third movie and average second movie, that had very little to do with the plot of the first three movies, people either flat out skipped the movie or went in with preconceived notions that it was going to be trash and weren't able to drop those, being extremely nit-picky with its imperfections. A Rotten Tomatoes score of 32 percent for "On Stranger Tides" is flat-out embarrassing. Yet these are the same critics that only gave the first movie a 79 percent and I think that one belongs in the mid-90 range, so the critics aren't necessarily the best judge when it comes to this franchise. I can understand the 54 percent of the second one, even though I think that's a bit low and only the 45 percent of the third one I think is fair. Enter "Dead Men Tell No Tales," which currently is around the same score as the fourth movie. We'll see exactly where it ends up at when the dust has settled, but as of me writing this review, it's the worst reviewed movie in the franchise at 30 percent. I think a proper score would be in the upper-70 range that the first one got. So yes, I'm going to tell you to ignore the critic's consensus here and go decide for yourself.

As far as the plot of this movie goes, if anyone uses the word "convoluted" to describe this movie, I'm going to slap them in the face. That word accurately described the third movie, but not any of the others and certainly not this movie. The major thing with this movie is that we're on the hunt for the trident of Poseidon. The reasons we're searching for this I don't think would be considered a spoiler, but I didn't know why going in, so I'm not going to say. I will say that it does relate to the first trilogy in a clever way that I really appreciated and that a few different people are searching for it for slightly different reasons. One of them is Will Turner's son Henry. Another is our main villain of the movie, a creepy, cursed ghost dude name Salazar, a former captain who, much like Barbosa in the first film, was bested by Jack Sparrow in the past and has a major curse placed on him and his crew that has caused him to hunt down Jack to get his revenge and remove the curse. In fact, in the U.K. the movie is actually called "Salazar's Revenge" instead of "Dead Men Tell No Tales." Even though I do think the U.S. title sounds cooler, that U.K. title might actually be a more accurate description of the movie. Don't know why they couldn't be consistent with the title, but it's whatever.

Based on that description, if this sounds a lot like the first movie, well, it's because it kinda is. I think when they did "On Stranger Tides," they were initially planning on a second trilogy, but I think they abandoned that idea once they learned of the general reaction to that movie as "On Stranger Tides" included an end credits sequence that set up a potential premise for the fifth movie that has nothing to do with this final result of "Dead Men Tell No Tales." Instead we have a movie that parallels the first one quite well. We have an angry sea captain mad at Jack that is trying to reverse a curse placed on their crew. We have a new version of Will and Elizabeth tagging alongside Jack. We have people who need Jack's help for certain reasons as well as people trying to kill Jack for certain reasons. And we're on an adventure to find a mythical object/treasure. Throw in Gibbs and Barbosa as our main supporting characters as well as an opening scene that has Jack trying to escape the government and almost getting himself executed. While I will say that they could've been slightly more creative with this, I instead found this to be an overall net positive as this was able to recapture much, but not all, of the magic of the first movie, making it the best movie since that first one.

Regarding character specifics, I do think Jack Sparrow was a bit more of a parody of himself in this movie than he was in the other movies. In the first movie, he was a bit of a bumbling idiot, but he was also super clever and unpredictable, making him a fantastic character well deserving of the Oscar nomination that Johnny Depp received. This time around he's more of a bumbling idiot who's not super clever, but ends up getting out of each situation due to shear luck, thus he wasn't the most interesting character in this movie, surprisingly. Our new Will and Elizabeth of the film were Henry and Carina. I actually liked both of them quite a bit. While Elizabeth was essentially our damsel in distress that Will spent the majority of the movie trying to save, Henry and Carina are a lot more interesting. Carina is most certainly not the damsel in distress. In fact, she's the brains of the mission that is helping everyone else out. She so smart that most people around her are calling her a witch. Henry is on a specific mission where he thinks he needs Jack Sparrow, but he ends up needing Carina a lot more. And instead of spending the whole movie expressing his undying love for her, he actually spends most of the movie denying he has any feelings at all, because he's trying to focus elsewhere.

I won't say too much about our other characters, but Javier Bardem plays Captain Salazar in the film and he is rather excellent. His look isn't as creepy as Barbosa and crew and in the first movie when they're in the moonlight, but he is sufficiently creepy and awesome, enough for me to knight him as the second best villain this movie has had. Certainly better than Blackbeard in the fourth and squid face in the second. And I don't even remember who the main villain in the third movie is. There are times where Javier Bardem goes a little overboard with his character, but for the most part he is just having a ton of fun with the role and I really enjoyed it. Stealing the whole show for me was actually Barbosa, but I'm not going to say why. His character has come quite a ways since his turn as a villain in the first movie and it's been a great arc that is given a huge emotional turn in this fifth chapter that I really bought. I will say that I was hoping for a slightly more epic final showdown in this movie and I also kinda wanted more ghost sharks because those were sweet, but we did get a pretty good finale that did a fantastic job of wrapping this franchise up if they decide that this is our final chapter. I wouldn't mind a sixth film, but it would probably be best if it doesn't happen.

Overall, if you are a fan of this franchise and are slightly nervous about this awful critics score this movie is getting right now, then I am going to confidently assure you to simply ignore what is being said and go give this movie a shot because chances are you will probably enjoy it. No, it's not on the same level as the first, but that wasn't my expectations going in. I wasn't hoping that this would be the best movie of the summer, but rather I just wanted another fun "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie and that's exactly what I got. If you're not a fan of this franchise and you hated movies two through four, well, I don't know what to tell you because I am not in that boat, but my prediction is that this won't be the movie to covert you back to this franchise. But I will say that if you loved the first one, but hated the second and third one and thus decided to skip the fourth one, then go give the fourth one a chance. Because you might enjoy it. And then go give this movie a chance. The final scenario I can think of is that if you did in fact enjoy the second and third, but weren't a fan of the fourth, I'm guessing that you will enjoy this movie. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't skip this movie. Give it a shot. I had a blast with it and thus my grade for "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is an 8/10.