Friday, April 24, 2015

Ex Machina Review

Sometimes movies that I'm really excited for claim they are coming out one week, but then torment me by staying in limited release for two straight weeks. I've been excited for Ex Machina for a while now based solely on the trailers that were released and I was totally excited to see Furious 7 in the first weekend of April followed by Ex Machina in the second weekend. But no, I had to wait all the way until the fourth weekend. Thankfully they finally decided to expand nationwide, which is something the other movie from the second weekend of April has yet to do. Yes, I'm looking at you Clouds of Sils Maria. Come on already! Back on subject. Ex Machina finally came. Putting it simply, this is the best movie of the year so far. No contest. Granted, most of the big movies of the year haven't come out yet, but still. Also, this is the type of movie where the less you know about it going in, the better your experience will be. This makes for a tricky review, but I will  do my best to explain why this is my favorite movie of the year without telling you a whole lot about it.

Premise. Artificial intelligence. This subject has been covered by a whole ton of movies throughout the years, but I'm here to tell you that this may be the best artificial intelligence movie that has been made. I use the word "may" because I haven't seen every movie that has tackled the subject, but right now I can't think of any that have done a better job. Broadening the topic even more, this is also one of the best sci-fi movies that I have seen in quite some time. Note the wording "one of the best." I'm not claiming this is the best sci-fi movie, but it's a dang good one. So what's it actually about? Well, Oscar Isaac plays this guy who is the head of a huge company and has created this artificially intelligent woman that he has named Ava. Domnhall Gleeson plays a character who has won the chance to come participate in an experiment with Ava for a week. That's all the specifics I'm going to tell you about the plot. Just know that with this setup comes a whole lot of unpredictable twists and turns that make this quite the ride.

A lot of this movie is actually slow-paced. As I've said in my most recent review of True Story, having a slow-paced movie can go two ways. With True Story, there are parts of the movie that are slow that make the movie boring and thus take away from the quality of the movie. Ex Machina is a great example of a movie on the other side of that spectrum. There's a lot of movies out there that focus on special effects to make their movie great. With the summer season about to get underway, we're about to see a whole lot of these movies and I'm proud to admit that I love these types of big blockbusters. This is not the focus of Ex Machina. While the special effects are actually quite brilliant, the movie leans a lot more on ideas and theme to make the movie great. The power of the movie comes in these conversations between Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and the robot Ava as well as the consequences that follow the decisions made by each of these three. There are a lot of themes that I'm not even going to talk about because I want it to be a surprise for you, but I will say that these themes are deep. They are thought-provoking. This isn't the type of movie that is simply an entertaining flick, it's the type of movie that sticks with you long after seeing it because of the themes that are presented.

This is also a movie that is very meticulously crafted in terms of all the technical aspects and the production design. I'm not going to give you examples because, as I stated, I want to leave the themes a surprise. But once you think of all the major themes that are happening, you can sit there and analyze in depth each scene, each set, each outfit, each room, each prop and notice how all of these details, whether big or small, add something to the themes of the movie, To add to that, you have all of the cinematography adding to the themes of the movie. You can specifically pay attention to the lighting in every scene, the camera angles, the different shots, etc. All of it makes for an absolutely beautiful and stunning movie. But I'm not even done. The score in this is fantastic. A lot of the music is very subtle as the scenes themselves are also subtle, but when the movie gets to the really intense scenes, especially towards the end of the movie, the score just adds so much intensity and power to an already powerful film.

Finally I want to talk about the acting in this. First off we have Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. These are two actors that I have been raving about for quite some time now. Pay attention to these two. If either of them highlights a cast of a movie, pay attention to that movie because it's probably worth seeing. Even if the movie itself isn't that great, you can bet that they will at least give it their all. They are also examples of two actors that do a great job of disappearing into their roles and that, to me, is the sign of a great actor. Oscar Isaac is especially excellent at this. I've seen him in several movies now and he is completely different in every movie. He acts differently. He looks differently. He talks differently. He is the character and not himself, which is fantastic. If you don't know Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, I can guarantee that you will by the end of the year as they are both cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakes. I also can't end this review without mentioning the third person in this movie because it is a trio of great acting, not just a duo. This is Alicia Vikander who plays our A.I. girl Ava. I didn't know her much at all before this, but holy cow. She's just... wow! I don't want to say much about her or her character, but just trust me on this. She's great.

It's only April. I'm not going to try to predict how high this will be on my list of favorite movies of the year come December. First off, most of the highly anticipated movies from this year are yet to come. Second, there's always movies that show up out of nowhere towards the end of the year that blow my mind away. Last year at this time there were a couple of movies that I said were guaranteed to be on my end of year list and embarassingly enough, I left them off. What I will say, though, is that if there is a movie this year that is going to top Ex Machina, I'm super excited to see that movie because it will require a near perfect movie to top it. Right now I'm going to give Ex Machina a 9.5/10, but I'm going to put a figurative asterisk on that because this is the type of movie that will probably get better after time just by thinking about more and giving it additional viewings, but as of now it's been less than 24 hours. Just know that my mind was blown at the end of this movie. I understand that it won't be for everyone because this focuses more on theme and dialogue than fancy effects, but my reaction at the end of this movie was a similar to the reaction I had when I saw Inception for the first time. I'm not saying it's as good as Inception. I'm just saying I had that type of reaction at the end.

True Story Review

Now here's a movie that you may have never heard of. I myself had barely heard of it before it showed up in theaters this past weekend. So let me catch you up to speed real quick. This was one of those movies that Oscar buffs thought might have a slight chance at award recognition had it actually come out last year. It didn't, though. Instead it premiered this January at the Sundance Film Festival. I thought about attending Sundance this year since it's not too far away from where I am. But for various reasons, I chose not to. Instead I decided to play the waiting game because the best movies from Sundance usually get picked up by a distribution company and eventually make their way to theaters. Thus was the case with True Story, which I believe is one of the first movies from this year's festival to hit theaters. Outside the cast, I still didn't know much about this when it did hit theaters. Then I actually read the premise. Yup, I was in. This is a crime drama/mystery/thriller thing. If you know me, these types of movies are right down my alley.

I know you all have the same question in your mind, so let me answer it. Yes, this is based on a true story. It stars Jonah Hill as Michael Finkel and James Franco as Christian Longo. I'll get to those two actors in a second, but the story of Michael Finkel and Christian Longo is a really interesting one. Longo was a seemingly normal man who, nearly out of the blue as the movie claims, killed his wife and three kids. Or at least that's what he's accused of at the beginning of the movie. We get his actual court trial towards the end. Before he got caught and arrested, though, he was on the run taking on the identity of Michael Finkle, who is a New York Times reporter that just got fired for adding a few too many creative liberties in one of his big stories. What does Finkle do when he discovers that this convicted killer took on his identity? Well, being a reporter he decides to go visit him in jail/prison to get his story. Because that's of course the most logical solution, right? The result of these visits is a memoir Finkle ends up writing based on these experiences that he calls True Story, which of course takes several surprise turns.


Like I said, I think the idea behind this movie is a really fascinating one. I was really intrigued as I tried to figure out Finkle's motivations behind everything. I also enjoyed the mystery aspect of it. Like I inferred, at this point Longo was accused of killing his wife and kids. But since it came out of the blue, on the surface anyways, there is the question of if he is actually guilty or not and that is what Finkle is trying to figure out because Longo initially tells him that he innocent. I personally bought the mystery and intrigue. I love that stuff. However, I will admit that there did come a point in the movie where it did drag on a bit. I was waiting for the drama to pick up and for the longest time it didn't. Slow is not always bad. Many times slow is necessary and makes for a dang good film. In this instance, though, slow was boring and I almost actually dozed off a few times. Thankfully it did finally pick up and when it did the ride to the end was actually a pretty intense, fun ride. So yeah, they could've fixed that middle somehow, but overall this made for a pretty solid flick.

What definitely made it work were the two performances from our leads. James Franco and Jonah Hill are actually two pretty versatile actors, both of whom have Oscar nominations under their belts. Typically they are known for their comedies, especially when you see them both together in a movie. I mean, if I told you I saw a movie with Jonah Hill and James Franco and that was all I said, I'm sure that the first thing you would ask is which new comedy I went to see. But no. This is far from comedic, which is why I liked it. James Franco is actually a really likable character, which in turn makes him a very creepy character when you think of what he is accused of doing. Jonah Hill, though, is the one that really impressed me. Franco I've seen in several serious roles and I know he does a dang good job with them. Hill on the other hand is a different story. I'm not a huge fan of his style of comedy, but I know those who are acknowledge that he is a very funny man, so I give him props for that. And he has done a decent job in his supporting roles that he's done being that that's the category his two nominations came from, but this is the first time I've personally seen him as the lead role in a serious film and he knocked this out of the park. I'd say this is a much more solid performance than his other two performances that got him Oscar nominations and if this movie came out towards the end of the year, I'd say maybe this was good enough to at least get him in the conversation for another nomination, this time as a lead.

Finally we have this girl named Felicity Jones, who I think is really starting to make a name for herself. Before last year, she was a fairly unknown actress. Then she showed up as Felicia in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which was of course followed by her true breakout performance as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything which got her a best actress nomination in the most recent Oscars. In True Story she plays Jonah Hill's wife and her role isn't very big, but towards the end of the movie she has a moment. It's only one moment, but holy freaking cow is it a dang good moment. It's a moment that almost steals the whole movie right away from James Franco and Jonah Hill. Thus it reminded me that this girl definitely has a very bright future in front of her that will almost certainly take off next year at the latest when she will show up as a lead role in the Star Wars spin-off called Rogue One.

Overall if you need a good movie to see and you don't want to wait until Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out next weekend to go to the theaters next, I'd recommend you give True Story a shot, especially if you're into the crime drama genre like me. This made almost nothing in it's small nationwide expansion, so if you don't get it now, you'll have to wait until it shows up at RedBox, in which case it would be a couple dollars spent very well. Yes, it is a bit slow during the middle, but it's an intriguing premise that immediately catches your attention and ends very well. Any slack that the movie itself leaves is picked up by solid performances from our two leads in James Franco and Jonah Hill, who prove once again how versatile they are as acting. And of course Felicity Jones totally owns it in her moment. My grade for True Story is an 8/10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Home Review

After several years of dominating the animation scene alongside Pixar, Dreamworks Animation Studios has really struggled as of late. Dreamworks of ten years ago was able to provide the world with plenty of $200 million movies or at least get close. Since the end of 2012, though, things started to go south as Rise of the Guardians was a pretty big disappointment. Since that movie, only The Croods could be considered a win for the studio. The highly anticipated sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, couldn't even get wings last year as it wound up $40 million below its predecessor, despite expectations that it would out-earn that movie by quite a bit. After the financial disaster of Penguins of Madagascar, Dreamworks has totally revamped everything. Enter Home. Given this sketchy recent history, was Home looking like the home-run type of movie that would put Dreamworks back on its feet? Regardless of how you would answer that, turns out Home has become a huge win for Dreamworks. Yeah, I don't really understand why. But congratulations Dreamworks.

As far as my opinion on the movie, this is a very mixed bag actually. Allow me to describe to you the premise of this movie. There's this alien race known as the Boov. The Boov are running away from this other alien race and decide to take over Earth as a hiding spot. There's this one Boov named Oh that always screws things up and thus none of the other Boovs like. After a certain series of events that finds him running from the other Boov, he finds himself teamed up with a young human girl named Tip, who got separated from her mother when the Boov invaded. If you haven't seen this movie, think of all the possible scenarios that could happen in a kids movie where aliens invade and a young girl is teamed up with an alien. Then take a minute and try to think about exactly what happens in this particular movie. I'll even let you go watch the trailer for help. Now if you came to me with your prediction as to what happens in this movie, I will bet that you will be mostly right. That's the problem here. You can see exactly the direction this movie is going from a mile away. Then once you get watching the movie, not even halfway through you will be able to accurately and easily guess every single twist and turn that the movie tries to take you. It doesn't feel like Dreamworks put a whole lot of thought or effort into it at all. In fact, I'm sure they're very befuddled right now because they've struggled to find success with other movies that they definitely put a lot of effort into and yet the one that the succeeds is one of their lazier efforts.

Despite this very average and very safe effort, there are a few aspects of this movie that do make it a lot more enjoyable than the atrocities that were Turbo and Penguins of Madagascar. The big thing that almost saves the movie is the voice acting of one Jim Parsons. If you don't know Jim Parsons, it's probably because you've never watched the TV show The Big Bang Theory. In which case, I would highly recommend you fix that because that is one of the few modern sitcoms that I really enjoy. If you have watched that, you will know that Jim Parsons plays the hilarious character of Sheldon Cooper. I absolutely love Sheldon in that show and so do a lot of other people as he has one several awards for that role. In Home, Jim Parsons essentially plays the exact same character. In fact, I've been telling most people that it's Sheldon Cooper that stars in this movie, not Jim Parsons. You can dock him points if you want to for the lack of creativity, but in my opinion this actually works. I was actually laughing quite about at everything that Oh did for the same reasons that I laugh at like everything Sheldon does. It was great!

On the other side of things, the main girl is played by this pop singer named Rihanna. Being quite honest, I have no idea why Rihanna is in this movie. Is she bad? No. She's serviceable. But that's it. Serviceable. However, the problem is that there are so many other actresses that could've played that role and done a better job. Rihanna was just cast so that they could advertise the fact that Rihanna is in the movie and hopefully sell more tickets. That kinda bothers me because she's not even an actress. She's a singer. Heck, that same story is what happens in her singing career. She's a serviceable singer. Some of her songs are good. But I have no idea why she is so dang popular. If you were to ask me the most popular singer/group of this generation, I would be forced to say Rihanna because it's true. Just look at her discography. Then other singers recognize that and she gets featured on so many songs by other artists, not to make the song quality better, but to make the song more popular. It bothers me. So I'm so frustrated that Dreamworks fell into this stupid trap because there were so many more people that could've played this role of the girl in this movie and done a much better job. Then there's the fact that pretty much all the songs in the soundtrack were from Rihanna. It was as if Rihanna made a deal with them. If she were to accept the role, they had to use a bunch of her music. Her songs didn't fit with the theme of the movie. They didn't. But they were there and thus I ended up hating most of the soundtrack.

So like I said, this movie was a very mixed bag for me. The story of the movie was totally boring. I was not invested in it at all. But Jim Parsons made the movie really entertaining at times. I laughed a lot because of him, which made me the movie manageable. But then there's the whole Rihanna thing that just was frustrating. Ultimately, though, this is a movie that is made for kids and the kids are sure to love it. They won't care if the story line is predictable. They probably don't even know who Rihanna is. They are sure to laugh and have a lot of fun with this, so if you are looking for a movie to take your kids to then you should really give this one a shot because there's no other real options until the middle of June when Inside Out comes out. But I always say that studios can and should make movies that are entertaining for kids and adults. Dreamworks has made many of these movies that I have loved. When I look back on all of Dreamworks' movies, this isn't at the bottom. There have been several that are much worse. However, this is nowhere near the top in terms of Dreamworks quality. So if you are an adult with no kids and your looking for a good movie to see, go see something else. My grade for Home is a 6.5/10.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Furious 7 Review

For the casual onlooker that hasn't cared to pay attention to the Fast and Furious franchise in the last several years, this movie might seem as ridiculous. A seventh Fast and Furious movie? Did the world really need a seventh movie in this franchise. Well, the answer to that question is a resounding heck yes we did! If you've seen the last two movies, you'll know exactly why. In case you are one of the people that hasn't seen  any of these movies, let me quickly catch you up to speed. The first movie was average. It was mainly dumb for most of it, then it had a good ending. The second one was honestly pretty bad. The third one I still haven't cared to watch because it has no returning cast. The fourth one turned things around by actually being a decent movie. Not amazing, but pretty good. Then holy freaking cow was the fifth movie amazing! Loved it! The sixth one was quite as good as the fifth, but it was still pretty darn awesome. So even before the tragic death of Paul Walker I was excited for a seventh one. The fact that he did die made this movie an absolute must see, which is why it just broke so many records. Also with that death brings a whole lot of emotion into this movie, which is why I think this will end up as my favorite in the series.

All things considered, I think they actually did a pretty good job with the plot in this movie. I say "all things considered" because I'm pretty sure they had a specific direction they were going with the movie before Paul Walker died and when he did die they had to re-write a lot of the movie, adding new elements so that they could seamlessly write his character out of the series. Thus the final result is a little out of whack. We don't have one clear focus like we did in the last two movies. Things are happening and I wasn't sure how we got there or why we really needed to go there, but we did anyways. Like I said, I don't really fault them too much because of what happened. In fact, I would really like to watch a special or read an article on the making of this movie if there ever happens on where they were planning on going with this and how much they had shot before Paul's death and what they did after to make everything work. That would be interesting. Speaking of which, in order to make it work, one of the things they had to do is use Paul's brother as body doubles while using CGI to finish Paul's scenes. I actually tried my hardest to figure out which was real Paul and which was fake Paul and I honestly couldn't tell. There's times that I could make a guess that it was fake Paul based on what was happening and the camera angles that they were using, but I really have to give them props for pulling that off.

All that said, this movie is very entertaining. In fact, it is so dang entertaining that I didn't even care that I didn't quite know what was going on. I was just having a blast! Now if you are the type of person that has to have everything in a movie make complete logical sense while following all the laws of physics, you're going to have a rough time because this not only ignores physics and logic, it takes them, throws them out the window, shatters them into a million pieces, and burns every piece until there is no semblance at all. Yes, this movie is absolutely freaking ridiculous. Yes, it makes no sense logically. But that's what makes it so awesome. You saw crazy things in the last two movies. With this one it takes things to a whole new level of crazy and it happens throughout the entire movie, not just in a couple of spots. Using trailer footage as examples, we had cars parachuting off airplanes, a character running up a vehicle as it was falling off a cliff, cars jumping between skyscrapers, and a whole lot more. Dang it was fun! I had the biggest grin on my face throughout the whole movie. On top of that, the movie was riddled with so many one-liners that had my laughing so hard. The dictionary really needs to update the definition of entertaining to include Furious 7.

As I referenced earlier, the icing on the cake for me was the emotion. If you didn't know, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were not only like best friends and brothers in the movie, they were that tight in real life. The theme of this whole franchise is that of family and how important it is. More important than anything else. The actors in this were able to pull that off because they were really like family and so they didn't need to act like family. They were family and they were saying in the movie what they felt in real life. When Paul Walker died, Vin Diesel lost a brother and he was devastated. He has said since that this was the hardest movie he's ever had to do because of that. When he introduced the movie at its premier, he was chocking up. Yes, Vin Diesel is a very manly individual who proved that real men do cry. And I felt for him. I knew what he was going through because I know what it's like to a lose a brother to a tragic accident. It sucks. But you gotta move forward and realize that he's still there with you. That's why this movie is so beautiful because the whole movie is a tribute to Paul Walker and it's done perfectly. Vin Diesel gives a speech towards the end that is completely breaking the fourth wall because you know it's him talking to and about Paul. I don't cry at movies. Not that I have a problem with doing so, I'm just not a very emotional person. But this got me closer than any movie ever has. If you are a crier, then I recommend you bring your tissues with you to the theater because the ending will get to you.

In the end, this movie definitely knows what it is and it has a whole lot of fun with it. Because, you know, why not parachute cars out of planes and jump them between skyscrapers? This is the type of movie where you throw all logic out of the window and just have fun because you know they did when they made the movie. If a movie is trying to be realistic and fails, that's one thing. But this is another. If you are a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, you are going to absolutely love every second of the film and you won't even care that it lacks a bit when it comes to plot, especially given the circumstances of the filming. And yes, this is the perfect send-off to Paul Walker, a guy that I've really to respect and appreciate as an actor and a person. The world lost a great man in November 2013 and this final performance is a great tribute from his family in this franchise. All this put together is why Furious 7 is my favorite of the franchise, but it's not by a huge margin. Thus I will give Furious 7 a 9/10. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie Preview: April 2015

The month of March is over, which means we have a whole new month full of movies to look forward to. Or do we? Historically, April has been known as an off month. Studios like the month of March and of course they love the Summer months, but April is another month where things just get dumped. Then of course there's usually one huge Summer-like release that gets a head start on the Summer season. April has proven that it is good for that, so the lack of big movies in the month can be seen as the fault of the studios as opposed to the fans' lack of desire to see movies. This month should be pretty similar in that aspect. The Fast and Furious franchise has historically been one franchise that has had lots of success in April and they are at it again with what should be their biggest hit. However, I look at the rest of the month and I am struggling to come up with another movie that has a decent shot of even breaking $30 million on opening weekend. But even if there aren't many box office hits in store, there's usually still enjoyable movies, so let's dive in and look at this month!

April 3rd - 5th-

It's rare that you seen a seventh movie in a franchise that is as highly anticipated as Furious 7. Usually the response to a sequel this high is like, "Really? Another one? When are they going to stop?" The casual fan who has skipped all the Fast and Furious movies still might say this, but those who have seen all the movies are more like, "Heck yes! Another Fast and Furious movie!" I say this because starting with Fast Five, the franchise has taken things to the next level and audiences have loved it. In addition to that, Furious 7 was initially supposed to come out last summer, but the tragic death of the beloved actor Paul Walker during production caused them to have to re-write the whole ending to the movie and thus postpone it until now. It's been an emotional ride for those involved, especially Vin Diesel, who was like a brother to Paul Walker both in the movie and in real life. Vin Diesel was even chocking up quite a bit during the premier. Had Paul Walker not died, this movie still would've been huge, but now it's going to be even bigger because people are going to be really interested in seeing the late actor one last time in his most popular role. Last year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier broke the April opening weekend record with $95 million. Look for Furious 7 to shatter that record. And with the lack of competition for the rest of the month, there's a decent chance that this movie stays at number one for the entire month.

April 10th - 12th-

Given how male-centered Furious 7 is, the only logical choice of movie to release during its second release is a chick flick. Yup, that's what's happening in the second weekend of April with The Longest Ride. The Nicholas Sparks brand is a fairly good and reliable brand of chick flicks. They aren't exactly known for their originality, but that's not the point here. The point is to make a movie showing two people falling in love. Out of the previous nine Nicholas Sparks adaptations, eight of them ended with over $40 million, while five of them ended over $60 million. The concerning statistic is that the one that missed the $40 million mark is the most recent one, last year's The Best of Me. That shows that the brand is not invincible. The key to making a successful chick flick is getting at least one, but preferably two lead actors that are recognizable. This has Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson. Who? Exactly. This seems like a miss, but sometimes a chick flick can be hard to predict.

I said there was only one wide release this weekend and I didn't lie to you. However, there are a couple of platform releases worth talking about and the first one is Clouds of Sils Maria. This premiered in the Cannes Film Festival last year and has since hit the rounds of film festivals and is finally getting a theatrical release, at least a small one. The movie is about an actress who takes a role in the play that sparked her career 20 years previously. The overall movie itself hasn't exactly been praised, but what has been praised are the performances from the actresses in the movie, specifically one Kristen Stewart who recently won the Cesar award for best supporting actress. The Cesar Awards are the French equivalent of the Oscars and Kristen is the first American actress to ever win a Cesar award. It's way too early to predict next year's Oscars, but this could be a good omen for Kristen.

The second platform release worth mentioning is Ex Machina. This has been released already in various countries around the world and had it's US debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival a few weeks back. Unlike the previously mentioned movie, this actually has received very strong reviews as it currently stands at an 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.0 on IMDb. This is a sci-fi thriller about guy who participates in an experiment involving a beautiful artificially intelligent robot woman. The line becomes machine and robot becomes very thin as this guy tries to figure out who he can trust, the robot girl or the guy doing the experiment. Ex Machina stars two up-and-coming stars in Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson. If you aren't familiar with this two, come year's end you definitely will be. They're both in Star Wars: Episode VII, which is of course released in December.

April 17th - 19th-

After two weeks of smartly playing the game of avoiding Furious 7 like the plague, a whole handful of movies get released on the third weekend of April as studios attempt to earn a bit of cash before everything gets destroyed by Avengers: Age of Ultron in the first weekend of May. Still, though, there's a good chance that Furious 7 takes the weekend because none of these seem too strong. The first movie that will attempt to dethrone Furious 7 is Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. I don't know if the world really needed or wanted a sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but we got one anyways because the first one made just under $150 million on a $26 million budget back in 2009. If this sequel tops or matches that total, it could end up winning the weekend, depending of course on how much Furious 7 falls after in its second and third weekends. The huge advantage Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 has is that the options for family audiences is very slim pickings right now, which is one reason why last month's Home was such a big hit. It fed a starving audience even if the response to it was so-so. Star Kevin James does actually have a decent track record when he does his family-friendly movies. Critics may hate movies like Zookeeper or Here Comes the Boom, but young kids don't care one bit about what a critic says.

If Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 falls short this weekend, the other candidate to stop Furious 7 is the new horror movie Unfriended. Horror movies are very hit and miss. A couple years back, there was a huge string of very successful horror movies. Last year tried to replicate that but instead ended with a huge string of duds that  no one cared about. Unfriended is attempting to go where no horror has gone before. Social media. I actually don't know if there have been any other social media horror movies. I haven't cared enough to look to hard. I'm just going by the trailer's claim that this is a new genre of horror movie. What happens in this is that a girl kills herself and for some reason her suicide was recorded and posted on the internet. So she comes back and haunts all her friends via social media. Is this unique and new enough to attract horror fans and take the weekend? We shall see.

The third option of the weekend seems much less likely to breakout, but yet has all the ingredients of a potential sleeper hit. This is Child 44. The family audience and the horror audience are pretty huge, even if they don't end up taking the trip to see these specific films. Getting a huge crowd out to see an R-rated thriller is a lot harder, especially since this is April. However, Child 44 does have an intriguing premise as it's about an investigation of a string of child murders during the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. The director is a man by the name of Daniel Espinosa who directed the movie Safe House back in 2012, which was a huge sleeper hit. That's the second thing the movie has going for it. Finally, the cast is quite excellent as it stars Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, and Charles Dance among others. So yes, the pieces are there for a sleeper hit, but sometimes potential sleeper hits stay asleep, so its hard to tell for sure.

Finally we have what has essentially become an Earth Day tradition for Disneynature, releasing some sort of nature documentary in this weekend in April. This year it's Monkey Kingdom. Since 2009, Disneynature has released documentaries on Earth, Oceans, African Cats, Chimpanzees, and Bears. The only year they missed since 2009 was 2013. They've been consistently getting around $20 million overall. So they aren't huge, but for anyone who wants to go learn about monkeys, the option is there!

April 24th - 26th-

The final weekend of April is always a very dangerous one because the first weekend of May starts Hollywood's summer season and Marvel loves that spot. This year they have Avengers: Age of Ultron on the docket. If by chance you've been like Rip Van Winkle and have been asleep for the last 20 years, the first Avengers made more money in its opening weekend than most movies make in their entire run. Considering how beloved that movie is, Age of Ultron will most likely make even more, at least in the opening weekend. Moral of the story concerning the final weekend of April is that the two movies here essentially have seven days before everything gets stomped on. The first movie daring to come this weekend is The Age of Adaline. Earlier in the month, we got our Nicholas Sparks chick flick and now we end the month with this romance movie. I'm not sure if I want to call this one a chick flick, though. It might simply be a romantic drama, which is different than a chick flick. At least in my book. Adaline is a girl that has been stuck in time, so to speak. She hasn't aged in a long time, thus falling in love seems hopeless because she literally can't grow old with any man. This could end up being a chick flick, but the trailers seem to have focused a lot less on the romance and more on the idea of life and the disadvantages of staying young forever. I'm not sure if this will make more money than The Longest Ride, but one thing it does have on that movie is recognizable cast members which include Blake Lively and Harrison Ford.

Last and potentially least is another drama, this one being Little Boy. I haven't seen very much advertising on this one at all, so I don't know if there is a huge push by the studio. They might just be hoping to pick up a dollar or two by spending close to nothing to get the word out. It's a father/son drama about a little boy whose father just went off to World War II and the boy wants his father back. The trailer also gives off the vibe that this could be a faith-based drama, so that crowd might be interested in this one. But I don't know, I fail to see how this one is going to get enough interest to do anything. I'm thinking most movie goers are just going to skip it because they are saving their time and money for Avengers: Age of Ultron the next weekend. This does have a recognizable cast, though. It's Kevin James' second movie of the month and along with him are Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson. I don't think that's going to be enough, though.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

It Follows Review

I normally don't see horror movies. The reason for this is that there are just so many terrible horror movies nowadays that all follow the same stupid horror cliches. You know, dumb people played by terrible actors doing dumb things. Jump scares galore usually accompanied with gruesome violence and/or gore to try to scare audiences. No sense or care for a decent plot or any logic whatsoever. They just don't interest me. So I don't even give them a shot. However, a well-done horror movie is something that I can definitely fall in love with, so I don't have anything against the genre in general. Last year the movie The Babadook was a horror movie that I gave a shot and absolutely loved. In fact, it gave me renewed hope that good horror movies can still be made. Thus when this small indie movie called It Follows was received with remarkable reviews, so much so that they decided to release it into over 1,000 theaters instead of sending it straight to VOD after its small release, I decided that I wanted to give it a shot. While The Babadook restored my faith in the genre, It Follows proved that The Babadook wasn't a fluke. Yes, another good horror movie!

If you're not a movie buff like myself, there's a good chance that you have never even heard of It Follows because it wasn't exactly advertised very much. Instead of bombarding us with trailers and TV spots, they're going purely on word of mouth with this because, like I said, the plan for this wasn't to give it a wide release. So let me take a second to tell you what this is all about without giving too much away. The premise for this is actually mysterious and vague, which is the beauty of this. Going around the town is something strange. We don't know much about it. It's just "it." What does "it" do? Yup, you guessed it. "It" follows. You don't want "it" to follow you. If "it" follows you, you are screwed. "It" will slowly walk towards you until "it" catches you and "it" kills you. You can pass "it" on, but if the person you passed "it" onto gets killed, "it" will go back to following you. "It" can take the form of any human being and thus if "it" is following you, you will be deathly afraid of any human being you see.

There's a lot of things that make this movie work and they all have to do with basic elements of film that most horror movies nowadays decide to completely ignore. First off is an interesting and engaging story. This wasn't a psychological horror movie like The Babadook, but it also wasn't just a serial killer or demon centered thrasher movie like many horrors are. The whole movie is shrouded in mystery and I loved that. You don't know what "it" is. You don't know the background behind "it." You don't know who started "it." Do you find out? I'm not going to tell you. But it's an engaging plot that is also legitimately terrifying at times. It's terrifying in a way that doesn't rely on any jump scares at all. It's just people slowly walking. I appreciated that. Jump scares aren't inherently bad, but when a horror movie relies solely on jump scares and nothing else, then it gets ridiculous rather fast.

The second basic element of film that makes this a good movie is a little thing called acting. I don't know why some horror movies think that this is unnecessary, but sadly it happens way too much. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a horror movie where I didn't care one bit about the characters because of either poor writing, poor acting, or both. It's like the people who put those movies together thought all they needed to do was make a movie with a bunch of jump scares instead of focusing on story and acting. I don't know why they think this because it really makes a huge difference when you make a horror movie in which you actually care about the characters. Thus is proven in It Follows. I didn't know any of these actors going in, but they all did a fantastic job, especially the main girl who has the curse for most of this movie. I cared about them. I was emotionally invested in them. I wanted them to succeed by getting rid of "it."

In addition to a great story and a great cast, what really was the glue that held the movie together were all the technical aspects. Instead of relying on endless jump scares to make this freaky, it instead relied on great camera work and excellent music. First off, the camera work. This isn't done with found footage  or shaky cam, but rather it looks like very subtle hand-held camera. I say "looks like" because I'm not an expert and figuring out exactly what methods or styles they are doing, but nevertheless you are travelling with the characters, but the appearance is slightly shaky enough and at the perfect distance to appear that the camera is from the first person perspective of "it." You're not as you can see "it," but it gives off a really tense feel vibe as you move throughout the movie. Second, the score for the movie is really creepy. When the characters are casually walking down the city and "it" is not around, the music is very mysterious and gives off the vibe that something is not right. Then when "it" shows up in different forms, the creepy music starts up and it is so good that it makes casual people walking seem terrifying. Because that's all that "it" appears as. "It" isn't creepy, gruesome, or scary by itself, but the music makes it that way. Because you actually care for the characters, when "it" gets closer and the music gets louder and more intense, the movie itself gets rather terrifying in a way that gives quite the awesome rush. I walked out very satisfied.

In summary, I'm usually not a fan of horror movies. I gave up on the genre quite some time ago, but last year's The Babadook gave me hope that there can be good horror movies out there. It Follows "followed" that up by giving me a second good horror movie in as many years. It works because it actually follows the aspects of film-making that make a good film that most horror movies nowadays just ignore. It's a good story with well written characters played by fairly unknown actors that actually do a great job. The movie is rather terrifying because it does it in a natural way providing intense, scary moments with excellent camera work and music rather than just endless jump scares topped off with gruesome images. I was fully invested in this movie from start to finish which was very refreshing giving the lack of quality movies in the genre. There are some gruesome and graphic images that make this movie not for everyone, but if you are searching for a good, solid horror movie that is actually worth seeing, I highly suggest you give this one a shot. It's definitely one of the best movies from the first third of the year and thus I will give It Follows a solid 9/10.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent Review

Why do we call this The Divergent Series: Insurgent? Why not just Insurgent? For that matter, why do we call The Hunger Games sequels The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay instead of just Catching Fire and Mockingjay? Even The Maze Runner is falling into this trap by titling their sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Are the fans of these books going to forget what the sequel is called? Are they afraid that general audiences won't see a sequel unless it has a subtitle? If the latter is the case, wouldn't it solve it if they included somewhere in the marketing that this is the sequel to the first? I get it if that's the title of the book, but it's not. Why not just give the movie the same title? At least Maze Runner is smartly avoiding the too many"the's" issue with their title. Yes, I'm looking at you THE Hobbit: THE Desolation of Smaug and THE Hobbit: THE Battle of THE Five Armies. Oh well. I'm here to review a movie and not a movie title. At least they stylized the title well in this instance by making the "Insurgent" part really large while making the "The Divergent Series:" part really small. Sorry. I had to get that out. Now onto this movie.

In case you couldn't tell, The Divergent Series: Insurgent is the sequel to last March's Divergent and is the second movie in this popular young adult dystopian series. You know how these stories go. You have a tyrannical leader who's overthrown the previous government. The world is usually split into houses or districts or factions. You have a chosen one who's going to rise up and start a rebellion against this leader and there's usually a love triangle in the mix. If the book series is a trilogy, then the middle book is all about the rebellion getting into full gear. And of course when adapting the final book, it has to be split into movies. Yes, I'm getting kinda tired of these adaptions. However, if they can do it well or do something to set itself apart, then I'm still down. My big problem with Divergent is that it does neither. You want to claim that it's original and unique? Well then I will point out about a hundred things in that movie that are just a complete rip-off of something from another young adult series, mostly from The Hunger Games. In fact, as I was watching it just became completely and utterly ridiculous because the movie had absolutely nothing original and unique. To make things worse, it wasn't even done very well, so I couldn't even give it the "it wasn't original, but it was done well" card.

There's always hope that the sequel steps it up. I had little faith in this series based on the first one. Just like the honest trailer said, it's like Veronica Roth read The Hunger Games and said, "Hey I could change a few things in that and make a whole ton of money!" But hey, maybe it'll turn around. Trailers didn't do it for me. Reviews were close to being in the cellar. But I've still liked a movie despite those. And.... uhhh... nope. In fact, this went south from the already below average Divergent. The first thing I was looking at was the originality. Everything that Divergent did was ripped off of something else. Was Insurgent going to try to do something new? Well, we have the two leads trying to start a rebellion. We have the romantic tension. We have the double agents and betrayals. We have the dictator trying to stop the leads. So... nope. Nothing new. The bad thing, though, is that the movie was just boring. Plot was happening. It was a lot of plot that was going in lots of directions. I didn't care. I was uninterested. No surprising twists. No tension. Sure, some of the actions scenes were mildly entertaining, but the movie itself was just dull. Then you finish the movie and reflect on everything that happened and realize the whole things is just a complete mess.

One thing that this movie does have in its favor is an excellent cast. The sad thing is that this excellent cast all get misused and thus most of them looked bored. Shailene Woodley did a fine job as Tris. Personally, though, I'm not in love with her or her character. If, in theory, they kill her off in the very end of this series (I have not read the books, so this isn't a spoiler), I won't shed a tear. No emotional connection for me like I do with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Theo James as the "scary boyfriend" (that's a quote from the movie) was a dull character with the stupidest name. Four? Really? Ansel Elgort I actually loved in last year's The Fault in Our Stars. This time around he was completely off and uninteresting. Miles Teller was absolutely fantastic in Whiplash. This one he seemed like he was having some fun, but overall it just felt like he was there for a paycheck because he wasn't emotionally invested in his character. Not like he was in Whiplash anyways. Kate Winslett is one of the best actresses in the business. I love her. She played the President Snow figure in this and it just didn't work. She didn't feel menacing or evil. It wasn't her fault. It was just a horribly written villain. Octavia Spencer is in this. So is Daniel Dae Kim. And Naomi Watts. Ok? They don't do much. None are really interesting. Getting my vibe here? So many great cast members that just get wasted. I think my favorite character was actually Jai Courtney. He always does a great job at playing the idiot and he was great at that in this as well. But that was pretty much it.

Overall, I was not a fan of Divergent. I tried to go in with an open mind, hoping that this would be an improvement, but it wasn't. In fact, it was worse. I was bored. The story was dumb. The characters weren't interesting. I wasn't emotionally invested to anyone or anything. If a nuclear bomb randomly was launched and destroyed the whole world, I would've cheered. Good riddance! That said, if you are part of the group that actually loved Divergent and you are super excited for this, then go see it. You'll probably love this one as well. But if you were with me and you really didn't care for Divergent, yet you are hoping that this will convert you to the series, then just trust me. Skip this one. It's dumb. It's boring. It's not worth your time and money. It also officially convinced me that I will never touch this book series. My grade for Insurgent is a 5/10.