Thursday, December 1, 2016

Moana Review

Earlier this year on this blog I took the opportunity to rank all 55 movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios. If you remember that list, or go back and look at it, you'll know that I've been pretty high on Disney recently. Following a bit of a lull in the late 90's and 2000's both financially and in terms of quality (with some major exceptions, of course), Disney roared back in the 2010's with quite the successful string of movies that continually blew me away. We're talking about Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. Frozen and Tangled were great modern-day Disney princess movies. Wreck-It Ralph was great for fans of 80's video games and Big Hero 6 was great for fans of superhero movies. Zootopia managed to come almost out of nowhere to top all of these modern Disney films by being very deep and relevant. And very adult as it legitimately scared kids and thematically probably went right over their head. I had no reason to believe Moana would be any different. According to critics (98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (8.3 on IMDb), it has been another huge success. For me it was a bit of a miss, though. I realize this puts me in a huge minority, but hear me out as I explain my point of view with this movie.

Before we go any further, allow me to make a quick differentiation. I'll be simple by calling these Disney films from here on out, but know that I am specifically referring to Walt Disney Animation Studios. Not DisneyToon Studios. Not Pixar Animation Studios. Despite all being owned by Disney, these are three separate animation studios. I have links there so you know which movies belong where. Moana is the 56th film in the Walt Disney Animation Studios cannon and second of 2016 following Zootopia. And it was very smartly positioned as a Thanksgiving release. In 2013, Frozen was a fellow Disney princess musical released at Thanksgiving that was so well-liked that it became a huge box office success and turned into a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, it became such a big phenomenon that it quickly created an equal number of enemies. But Disney doesn't care about that as Anna and Elsa material still sell like wildfire with young girls. I've always been on the pro-Frozen side and I have the ability to staunchly defend it, but now is not the time for that. Only time will tell if Moana can replicate this success, but Disney did their best to hit all the same notes. They're off on the right foot with the box office numbers. For me it just didn't work.

Now I'm not going to say this is a bad movie. It isn't. If you haven't seen it yet, I'd definitely recommend you go give it a shot, especially if you have younger kids. They will all almost assuredly love it and you probably will, too. But for me this was just a middle-of-the-pack Disney movie. In the cannon of now 56 movies, I would put it at #35. Tell you the truth most of those 56 movies are decent movies. There's only a small handful of Disney movies that I would say are outright bad. Home on the Range and Chicken Little are two of them if you want examples. But for the most part Disney has consistently made good movies for about 80 years now, so #35 for Moana isn't nearly as bad as it may initially seem when you look at my list. The big takeaway is that I didn't see anything special from Moana. In terms of story, characters, and music it's about as basic as you can get for a Disney film without falling into the bad category. When I say they did their best to hit all the same notes that made Frozen successful, I honestly think they went bare minimum with all those notes. Everything felt very safe and it didn't feel like they tried to go out of their way to make something special that will stand out in a very crowded library of Disney movies.

In getting into the specifics, let's start off with the characters. First off, I love that Disney has made an effort to have more strong female characters recently to balance out all their damsels in distress they did in the old days. It's refreshing. Especially when you get the girl power in Frozen where the charming prince does NOT save the day. It's all Anna and Elsa. The title character of Moana adds to this list of strong female characters. She's also the first Polynesian Disney princess, which is cool. It's good that we're getting culturally diverse here. But outside her ethnicity, what sets Moana apart from the other Disney princesses? She seemed like a combination of Anna, Rapunzel and Merida. All four of them felt trapped for a certain reason and want to get out and see the world, but had overprotective family members holding them back. Add in a touch of the nature-driven Pocahontas and boom! Moana. Nothing new. Just some recycled Disney princesses with recycled character arcs. She even had the obligatory animal sidekick with the rooster, who was far less funny than the other sidekicks. Auli'i Cravalho, who celebrated her 16th birthday on opening night, did great as the voice. But when your title character of your movie isn't interesting or unique, that's a problem.

A much more interesting character was Dwayne Johnson's Maui. Dwayne Johnson has an undeniable charm and charisma that rubs off in every role he does and this is no different. Even though he's just a voice, you can't help just loving the demigod Maui. You can tell that Dwayne Johnson had a lot of fun with this role and he's easily the best part of this movie. His character had an interesting complexity to him that I wish the other characters had. Instead everyone but Maui were just cookie-cutter Disney characters. But even with Maui, his character arc is extremely choppy. Instead of having a smooth, well-rounded character arc, it's more like a staircase. There are phases Maui goes through, but things just jump from one phase to another without a good transition. Maui and Moana did have a good chemistry as they were going on this journey, but the journey itself wasn't super interesting. Not only can you easily predict everything that's going to happen in this movie, but there's a point in the movie where the story slams to a halt and flows aimlessly almost like the literal journey on the water they take. The ending picks up, but it's the exact ending you expected from this movie with one small surprise that doesn't even shock you once you think about it.

Since this is a musical, we do need to dive into that aspect of the movie. Yes, I do like musicals, especially Disney musicals. That was one of the strong points of Frozen. It was all-around one of the best musicals Disney has done. After my first showing, I couldn't get "Let it Go" out of my head and after my second and third showings, all the songs got stuck in my head at the same time. Frozen successfully pulled off what The Lion King, AladdinBeauty and the Beast and Pocahontas did with their music. I wanted Moana to do the same thing. But it didn't. All the songs felt out of place and unnecessary. Instead of being excited that we were diving into new music, I kept wondering why our characters decided to stop and sing. That's not what I should be doing in a musical. Sure, "How Far I'll Go" is a decent song and I hope it gives Auli'i Cravahlho and/or Alessia Cara a hit, but I couldn't even hum the tune or sing the chorus for you right now. For better or for worse, it's not even close to as catchy as "Let it Go," despite it being an obvious push to be another viral hit. It even has a similar title. Personally I liked Dwayne Johnson's "You're Welcome" a lot more. Wouldn't it be great to see Dwayne Johnson get a Billboard hit? The rest of the songs... I can't even remember any of them. I could look them up and re-listen to them. But that's beside the point.

Once again, this is not a bad movie. It just felt very safe to me for Disney and nothing special. Sure, not all Disney movies have to be intense, deep and unpredictable like Zootopia. These are fairly tales after all. And this one is a Disney princess movie. But even in the other predictable Disney movies there's either a really strong message that sticks out or heartstrings that are pulled. Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph are predictable, but Big Hero 6 almost makes me cry every time I watch it and Wreck-It Ralph is absolutely adorable and touching. Moana didn't make me cry. It pulled at no heartstrings. Yes, there's a message here, but it didn't hit me with the feels and felt like a recycled message that Disney has already told recently in movies like Frozen and Tangled, but didn't do quite as good of a job. It's certainly nowhere close to as powerful as movies like Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Aladdin, which are my top three Disney movies. If you loved Moana and you completely disagree with everything I've said, that's fine. I expect a lot of that and I am open to you telling me why you felt this was a top-tier Disney movie. Disney just didn't get me this time. I'm going to give Moana a 7/10.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge Review

"From the Academy Award winning director of Braveheart," says the trailer. Because apparently Hollywood can't say Mel Gibson's name anymore. Or maybe Lionsgate just didn't want to say his name in the advertising. Understandable choice, I suppose. Mel Gibson is not everyone's favorite human being right now, but he's directed some pretty dang good movies that many people have enjoyed. So instead of throwing a name of an unpopular person on the trailer, instead they chose to advertise the fact that this man has made some movies great movies in the past. However, I am not like Lionsgate. While they choose to not include Mel Gibson's name when talking about their movie, I'm going to talk openly and honestly about this man and his movie that he just created. If you make the decision to skip this movie just because you don't like some things that Mel Gibson has said or done in the recent past, well then it's your loss. You are choosing to skip one incredible movie. A movie that's one of the best movies of the year. Specifically if you are a fan of war films and you are alright with gruesome war images in your movies, then this is a movie that you absolutely must see!

Hacksaw Ridge is the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, an Army Medic during World War II who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I know that sentence sounds like a movie trailer, especially with my usage of the phrase, "incredible true story," but that's an accurate phrase. The story of this man is uniquely fascinating. I'm genuinely surprised it took all the way until 2016 to tell this man's story and I commend Mel Gibson for finding it and bringing it to the screen. I won't dive into Doss' backstory too much because that's one of the few things that's left to surprise here, but due to some certain circumstances in his life, Doss has decided that he never wants to touch a gun in his life. But then the Pearl Harbor attacks happen and he decides that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't sign up to fight in the war. But he still won't touch a gun, which is a major problem because that's kinda required. He decides he wants to be a medic and do his best to save people while they're all out on the battlefield. But in order to do things his way requires a huge uphill battle as he has to try to convince his drill sergeant, which is easier said than done.

My biggest question going into this movie had to do with the agenda of the film. Was this an anti-war film? Was this an anti-gun film? Was this movie going to push a strong Christian message that not many agree with? As in, the Bible says thou shalt not kill. Was this movie going to try to convince people that this applies to war, a sentiment that most people interpreting that commandment would disagree with? If you had similar concerns after watching the trailers for this movie, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Hacksaw Ridge doesn't do any of this. Desmond Doss had made a very personal commitment for very specific reasons that wasn't even reflective of his Seventh Day Adventist faith. He never attempted to push any of his beliefs onto others and neither did this movie. This doesn't take a stance on any war-related issue, one way or another. It's just recounting the story of one man and his personal journey. And it's an incredible journey that I think everyone can apply in some way to their own life. It's the story of a man who believes something and sticks to that belief regardless of what everyone else tries to tell him and ends up making a huge difference due to his courage. I walked out of my theater feeling more inspired than any film I've seen this year.

If I were to make one major complaint right off the bat about this film, it would be that this chooses to follow a certain narrative choice that I wasn't a big fan of. The movie begins with the final battle sequence, then jumps back in time to show us how we got to that point. This is something that TV shows do a lot and it can work sometimes. But for the most part I think it's done too often. In this instance, I actually knew nothing about Desmond Doss outside what the trailers told me, which is what I described to you above. I knew that he would the Medal of Honor and that he had the interesting conundrum of wanting to fight in the war, but not want to shoot a gun. The specifics of how he managed to get from point A to point B was a complete mystery. I could've looked it up, but I decided to let the movie tell me what happened to him. And because of this narrative choice, the movie managed to fill in all of those gaps within the first five minutes as if I had just watched a spoiler-filled trailer or had a friend tell me the big reveal. That felt annoying. Had the movie not done that, I may have considered this nearly a perfect film. But alas it has that one stain.

With that out of the way, it's major praise from here on out. I have nothing else negative to say about this. The movie is definitely the story of two halves. Two very good halves, but two very different halves. The first half is the story of how Desmond Doss made it as an Army Medic. This is quite the story of courage and bravery. He had this rather ridiculous idea and literally everyone was against him. If I'm being honest, if I were in the moment, I would probably be against him, too. I mean, he wants to fight in the war, but he doesn't want to shoot a gun? Seriously? My philosophy is that if you don't want to shoot a gun, then you don't have to shoot a gun. But you probably aren't the right person for the military. And that's totally fine. It's not for everyone. It's certainly not for me, which is why I have the utmost respect for those who do choose that path. So yeah, this would seem like a confusing decision and I don't blame people for questioning him. Certainly not his sergeant. War is serious business and this skinny beanstalk kid says he's not shooting his gun. Like, really? Sounds like a man that's going to get killed in 10 seconds and be a detriment to his unit and his country. But despite all of this, Doss sticks to what he believes despite what everyone says and I think that's powerful.

Then we get to our second half. Up to this point, things have been pretty mellow. We've talked about war, but we haven't been in war. Not yet. But that changes. We have our troops marching up to Hacksaw Ridge and suddenly you get that feeling that you get right before you're about to take the first initial drop on a crazy rollercoaster because as the troops are about to climb up this cliff in Japan, you remember that this is a Mel Gibson war movie. Things are about to get real. In terms of his movies, if Mel Gibson is known for one thing, it's that his movies are violent and gruesome. Just think of Braveheart, The Passion of The Christ and Apocalypto. Hacksaw Ridge is no different. This is a violent, graphic, gory movie when we hit the war sequences. It's not gratuitous like a Tarantino movie. It just feels extremely realistic and it doesn't let up. We have several long sequences where blood is flying, bodies are exploding, guts are everywhere, rats are eating dead bodies, heads are decapitated, bullets are hitting left and right, limbs are gone, bodies are burning, people are screaming and more. If you get squeamish during war movies, you may want to skip this one. Mel Gibson makes an attempt to be as real to war as he can and that can be hard for many to watch.

In being realistic to war, this movie sends a lot of very powerful messages and thus this becomes a very somber movie. It's sad watching people you grew to love while the movie was leading up to this point suddenly gone without warning. You feel for the soldiers who have to watch their friends get killed left and right on the battlefield. You want to mourn with the families and loved ones back home. The pile of dead bodies makes you want to fall to your knees and cry. This is a brutal, emotional movie that hits you to the core. And then you watch as Desmond Doss proves everyone wrong and becomes one of the most courageous and loving individuals ever portrayed on film. I won't detail what he does, but it's inspiring. In fact, it's the most inspired I've felt watching a movie this year. Not only do you commend this man for his great strength and unbelievable bravery in what he did, but then you stop and realize that his actions is a very powerful metaphor to life. His goal isn't to save everyone on the battle field, but his goal is to save as many people as he can. And he does it one man at a time, saying this simple prayer every time he goes out for another rescue, "Please Lord, help me get one more." Wow. I was absolutely floored as I was watching.

Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss definitely pulls off a career performance here. I can't praise him enough for what he pulls off. He is able to perfectly encapsulate this character and thus successfully pull off one of the best and most emotional performances that I've seen so far this year. There's only five slots for that Best Actor category at the Oscars, but if I were judging based off what I've seen thus far, he'd easily be in. Definitely an Oscar-worthy performance from Mr. Garfield. The rest of this cast was pretty good as well. Teresa Palmer gives one of her best performances as his girl that has to watch her man go off to war. Hugo Weaving gives a very different performance than we're used to him giving as he plays his drunken, broken father who is damaged from his own war experiences. And Vince freaking Vaughan shocked the living heck out of me. I didn't even realize he was the drill sergeant until the credits rolled and that floored me. Then we have plenty of other great performances from the likes of Luke Bracey, Sam Worthington and others. Major props to everyone and major props to Mel Gibson for getting the best out of everyone in order to give us a phenomenal war film.

I could keep going. There's much more I have to say about this film. There's a lot to learn from this and a lot to love. Yes, I was annoyed that the movie spoiled the ending at the beginning because I purposely avoided researching Desmond Doss before going in and I didn't know his fate or exactly what he did and that took a little bit out of the film, but not much. I still agree with the masses that this is one of the best movies of the year. Not only is this one of the most realistic war films, thus intensifying the emotion and heartbreak, but this is honestly one of the most inspirational, spiritual films I've seen this year. If you're not religious, don't worry. This doesn't push a Christian agenda. It's not trying to convert you to Christ. It just tells a phenomenal story about a man who believes in Christ and uses his strong faith and personal beliefs to make a true difference on the battlefield and inspire everyone around him. Due to this movie's high level of graphic war scenes, I can't recommend this movie to everyone. But I will say that if you love war movies, this is one you shouldn't skip. Not only is this one of the best movies of the year, but this is one of the best war movies I've ever seen and I hope a best picture nomination is in its future. I'm going to proudly award Hacksaw Ridge a 9.5/10.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Five years ago signaled the end of an era for me and I was honestly sad. The final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, was released in theaters and that meant no more Harry Potter books or movies to look forward to. This universe had been a huge part of my life during grade school and into college as I first dove into this magical world when I was in sixth grade, which was shortly after the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. When I was driving home from The Deathly Hallows - Part 2, I got really emotional. The Harry Potter universe had been so close to my heart, that it was a hard thing to accept. Little did I know at the time that that wasn't the end. As a good friend of mine always says, never believe Hollywood when they say something is the final chapter, especially if it's a lucrative franchise. Thus is the case here. Hollywood has found a way to continue the Harry Potter universe and it is in the form of Newt Scamander, the author of the Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, sending us to 1920's New York. Honestly that wouldn't have been my first choice, but apparently J.K. Rowling grew fondly of this character as she was writing her main series, so in J.K. Rowling we trust! Right?

Actually if I'm being truthful, Fantastic Beasts isn't our first means of returning to this universe since the end of the movies. Not counting all the things Rowling has done with Pottermore and social media, we first returned this summer as Rowling co-wrote a play called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, set about 20 years after The Deathly Hallows, following Harry's kids at Hogwarts. I can't speak for the actual play itself, but that script that was released in book form was an absolute abomination. I absolutely hate that story with a fiery passion greater than most stories I've ever read or watched. If you care to know why, I just linked my review of it for you to read. Go click that title a few lines back. But beware, it's quite possibly the longest blog post I've written. I like to pretend that's non-canonical and/or was just a bad dream, but it exists and thus has to be Rowling's first huge stain when it comes to her and this universe. Given that she wrote the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts, I was really hoping it wouldn't be two two missteps in row this year. But I was kinda nervous because the trailers did nothing for me. The teasers focused solely on our return to this universe and the full trailer focused on our characters chasing creatures in New York. I was hoping there was more to this movie that they weren't showing us, because if it was just chasing creatures, that would be lame.

Thankfully my fears were put at ease right from the opening scene as we started with newspaper clippings about Gellert Grindelwald, the second most powerful dark wizard in history behind only Voldemort. Grindelwald was a childhood friend of Dumbledore until the two became enemies following a duel between the two and Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, which ended up killing Dumbledore's sister Ariana. As we learn in the books, Grindelwald was expelled from Durmstrang at age 16 due to unhealthy experiments with the dark arts and was eventually defeated in a duel by Dumbledore in 1945, spending the rest of his life in prison, where he was killed by Voldemort during the events of The Deathly Hallows. If this is the story we're diving into, I'm in! Grindelwald doesn't really play a role in this movie, he's more of a tease for later movies, but that immediately made me excited for this franchise, which was announced to be five movies. At first when I heard this was going to be five movies, I was worried. Shouldn't we see how the first movie does before planning more? That seems like counting your chickens before they hatch. Risky move. After seeing the movie, I'm totally down for five movies in this franchise. Bring it on!

It was also officially announced that Grindelwald will be played by Johnny Depp in future movies, a decision I approve of. Despite the bad reputation Depp has been given, I think he's a phenomenal actor that can do a lot of different types of roles. If you don't think Depp could pull off dark, creepy and evil, go watch the movie Black Mass and get back to me on that. But I suppose we'll talk more about Depp as Grindelwald when he actually shows up in this franchise. As far as what we can talk about in this specific movie, well that's a little tricky. As I mentioned before, the trailers gave us nothing. All it teased was an adventure chasing various creatures around New York. But thankfully that is NOT was this movie is about. Yes that does happen quite a bit. But that's more of a means to an end rather than the main focus. This is not a movie about how Scamander wrote his textbook. This is a movie about Scamander getting caught up in a whole storm of other crap after a few of his creatures escape his magical briefcase. Thus we have to chase down these creatures AND deal with all this other stuff. The other stuff is much more interesting that the creature stuff, but I don't really want to talk much about it because the advertising left it a complete mystery.

What I will say is that this movie did remind me a lot of The Sorcerer's Stone. That movie had the grand task of setting up the Harry Potter universe with Hogwarts and Voldemort and all of that fun jazz and it did a great job. There was a main story in The Sorcerer's Stone involving Snape and Quirrell that was exciting, but the main purpose of The Sorcerer's Stone was setting the stage and after that was properly set up, we were able to build on that universe and tell many great stories. The Sorcerer's Stone wasn't my favorite book or movie, but I do think it's really good as it successfully sets up this universe and does have a good enough story to go along with it. Fantastic Beasts follows a similar formula. Without diving into super deep specifics, Fantastic Beasts does have a main story that involves Ezra Miller and Collin Farrell's characters that's exciting, and that's as far as I will go in regards to that, but the main point was to set up this new universe in the Harry Potter world and they do a great job. We learn about who Newt Scamander is and we follow him as he gets caught up in this mess over in the United States, which has a whole different set of rules than our typical home place of England, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander and he does a fantastic job. We learn that Newt Scamander is a complex character with a unique background, which I think makes him a great protagonist. He's not your typical flawless perfect hero and unlike Harry Potter, he's not seen by others as a "promised savior" of sorts. Not everyone likes him. On top of that, he has this slightly awkward, anti-social vibe to him where he'd rather spend time with his creatures than other people. Eddie Redmayne pulls this off perfectly. The female counterpart in this story is a girl by the name of Tina played by Katherine Waterston and she's equally as complex and the chemistry that her and Redmayne with their complicated relationship and introduction is great. Rounding out our trio in this movie is a muggle, or no-maj as they call them in the U.S., by the name of Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, who literally is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sucked into this adventure. Man is he fantastic! Such a fun character, providing great comic relief, but also a solid amount of emotion. There are times where the movie wanders, especially in the first hour or so. All the creatures in this are beautiful and fascinating, but there is a huge portion of the movie where we probably spend a little too much time with all the creatures and hunting them down, but things pick up in the end.

Overall I went into this movie a little skeptic. I was cautiously optimistic. I wanted our next big chapter in the Harry Potter universe to be as equally magic as our main series and after being stabbed in the heart by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was slightly nervous. Thankfully they pulled it off! I think this is a great introductory chapter to what I feel is going to be a wild and fun ride. I also enjoy the aspect that there are no preconceived notions of what will happen. We know the overall fate of Grindelwald, but that's about it. No comparing to any books or complaining that they didn't perfectly follow every detail to what we all had in our heads. We have a completely empty slate with a lot of great possibilities and many potential directions we can go and I'm excited to be a part of this journey. Just like with The Sorcerer's Stone, I think the future potential is greater than our introductory chapter, but also like with The Sorcerer's Stone I think this is a good movie in it's own right. I saw this in a packed theater opening night full of Harry Potter fans like myself who gave this a loud standing ovation when the credits. If you're a fan of Harry Potter, that's a dang good sign. It's possible that I didn't enjoy it quite as much as others in the theater with me, but I still applauded along with them as I was very pleased. I am going to give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them an 8/10.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Harry Potter Movies Ranked

The Harry Potter universe has been near and dear to my heart for a long time now. I first dove into the books shortly after the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2000, which was released right before I began my sixth grade year in school. For a period of 11 years, which spanned my from my junior high school years all the way up until the first part of my college years, I was always looking forward to the next book or the next movie. Summer 2011 was a very sad time for me as after watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 in theaters, I thought this chapter in my life was over. But Hollywood being Hollywood found a way to bring it back by starting up a spin-off franchise with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In honor of that movie's release this upcoming weekend, I thought it would be fun to take some time and give you my personal rankings of the Harry Potter movies. In preparation for this, I spent the last couple of months rewatching every movie and pondering over what my list would look like. After much though, I do feel comfortable with what I've come up with and it's bound to be a bit controversial simply because everyone has a different ranking for these movies. But hey, I'm no stranger to controversy, so let's dive right in! When you're done reading, please feel free to share your own personal ranking and we can discuss!

8- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

One trend you'll notice throughout this list is that I don't hate any of these movies. I know many fans of the books hate all the movies because they aren't perfect adaptations. That's a bit silly to me. I try not to hate an adaptation just because it's different. That said, The Goblet of Fire is easily the worst adaptation in this series. The epic beginning is glanced over, the World Cup is an afterthought, Dumbledore is a jerk, we rush through the whole Triwizard Tournament, the Yule Ball (which I loved in the book) is completely pointless and the best part of the final task, the sphinx, is completely cut. And that's just me touching on highlights. I do blame this to growing pains with the producers. This was the first book where J.K. Rowling kinda got carried away with the length and while that works great for the book, they really had no idea how to turn this into one into a successful movie. They considered turning this into two movies, but instead decided to tackle the whole thing in one movie. And, well, perhaps they should've turned this into two movies because the final result was a Goblet of Fire highlight reel instead of a movie. It's not a bad movie, just a disappointing one. In my opinion they learned from their mistakes here and did much better the next time around.

7- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In all honesty, with the storyline that J.K. Rowling started with The Goblet of Fire, she really could've written 10 or more books, spending a book or two with each horcrux. But she committed herself to just seven books, which meant she was essentially forced to rush the ending a bit and spend a whole book bridging the first fix books to the final book. That's what The Half-Blood Prince is to me. Information overload. Thus it may be the most important book in terms of what we learn, but as a stand-alone story it really isn't that good and is thus my least favorite book. Thus the movie producers here were doomed from the beginning. And sadly they took a sticky situation and crashed it into a brick wall. In addition to including a bunch of weird things, like the burning of the Burrow, they also completely butchered the ending with Dumbledore's death, the lack of emotion as Snape, Malfoy and company escape and the cutting of Dumbledore's funeral. I mean, that finale was the best part of that mostly eventless book and they couldn't even get that right. There were some great individual moments in this movie, like the scene in the cave at the end as well as learning about Tom Riddle's past, but as a whole I found this movie fairly empty and boring, just like the book.

6- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Now that we've got the two big disappointments out of the way, it's time to start doing more praising. Even though I still think The Goblet of Fire and The Half-Blood Prince are serviceable, there's definitely a huge step up from here on out. The first two Harry Potter movies are pretty close to me. There's definitely an undeniable magic with the introduction of this series and although I have some issues with Chris Columbus' direction, which I'll get into more next, I still like these two movies quite a bit. The best part of The Chamber of Secrets is that it is actually fairly intense and mysterious. We have a mysterious monster roaming the castle that is petrifying many of the students. We learn about a dark secret of the castle's past that may involve Hagrid and his spiders that is coming to the forefront that may lead to the closing of Hogwarts. I really love this mystery element of the movie and the performance of Kenneth Branagh as the hilariously stupid Gilderoy Lockhart is perfect. The big problem here is that the movie kinda falls off a cliff with the ending. There are a whole lot of conveniences that lead to 12-year-old Harry rather easily defeating the legendary basilisk after he blindly goes into the Chamber with no plan. The final battle is also really cheesy and poorly choreographed. I don't blame young Daniel for this. Just the adults that were training him.

5- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Yes, I know the first book was called The Philosopher's Stone in the U.K. initially. No, I don't know why they decided to change it in the U.S. to the much more lame title of The Sorcerer's Stone. But that's how I knew it as a young kid so that's the title that's stuck in my brain. Deal with. Regardless of what you call it, this first movie is so magical and brings with it a ton of nostalgia. The casting in the entire series is beyond perfect and I especially wish Richard Harris would've lived long enough to play Dumbledore in all eight movies. May he rest in peace. The storyline in the book may not have been quite is intense and mysterious as in The Chamber of Secrets, but it's still pretty good and has a much more fulfilling in the finale, even though I would've liked the potions room included. The big problem with this movie and the second is the direction. The child acting is pretty bad and I blame that on Columbus because there is a HUGE improvement with our main cast of kids in terms of the acting from the second movie to the third movie. Also the Hogwarts set design is boring and flat. Yes, this was, and still is, a magical experience. I love our introduction to Hogwarts and the Wizarding World. It's just that they managed to make it more magical as they went on.

4- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

And now we jump from the first movie to the first half of the last and the biggest controversy surrounding this one is the decision to split it into two movies. Was this necessary? Absolutely! If not, we would've had The Goblet of Fire all over again because there is such much crammed into the finale that barely fits into two movies. Did every other young adult franchise need to follow their example? Heck no! But this one worked. And I loved both parts. Sure, there is more downtime in this first half as we spend much of the time with Harry, Hermione and Ron in the woods, but the thing that really made this worked were the performances of those three. They continually grew as actors throughout this series and by the time we get to this two part finale, they were seasoned actors who absolutely killed it as these three. There are so many beautiful character moments in this film that I loved and enough intense drama to keep me from being bored. One thing that stood out to me as I rewatched this series was that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson just oozed in chemistry. The scene where they dance is one of my favorite scenes in this franchise. That same chemistry just isn't there between Emma Watson and Rupert Grint and certainly isn't there between Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright. Sure, the producers of the movie had their hands tied with this and they certainly couldn't predict how they would all turn out when they were initially cast as young kids, but Harry and Hermione belonged together. And J.K. Rowling now agrees with that.

3- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

As I mentioned earlier, there was a definite learning curve when it came to figuring out how to adapt these longer Harry Potter books. While The Goblet of Fire turned into a disjointed highlight reel of what the book was, The Order of the Phoenix might be the one instance where they improved on the book with movie. If I'm being honest, The Order of the Phoenix book is the second worst book in this series for me ahead of only The Half-Blood Prince and part of that is that it's about 200-300 pages too long. Not that I'm opposed to long books, especially since the Harry Potter books are practically double-spaced, but there needed to be some condensing with that book and the movie did it perfectly. From the moment I left the theater, I felt that they did a perfect job here of cutting what wasn't needed while included what was needed. That holds up upon rewatching it. This is a beautiful film. It's tragic seeing no one believe Harry that Voldemort is back and Daniel Radcliffe excels in presenting the emotion that Harry is going through. This is the first movie where Micael Gambon really worked as Dumbledore because Dumbledore is much more dark and mysterious from here on out and Gambon does that well. This leads to a beautifully emotional finale where everyone realizes Harry was right after an intense final duel with Voldemort and his death eaters. And yes. I. HATE. DELORES. UMBRIDGE. She was perfectly portrayed here.

2- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 

Decided my top two on this list was a real struggle. In this series of eight movies, there are two disappointing movies, four good movies and two masterpieces. I so wanted to make The Prisoner of Azkaban my top one, but instead it came in a close second. I mentioned earlier that Chris Columbus' portrayal of Hogwarts was flat and dull. Alfonso Cuarón's Hogwarts is truly magical. First off, it's on a hill. Having Hagrid's hut be on the bottom of the hill instead of looking like it was in the middle of the Quidditch field was perfect. And visually this movie is stunning. Every shot is breathtaking. And there is a HUGE improvement with our young three. Cuarón got that best out of them and I think this movie propelled all of them forward. And I loved how they often dressed in normal clothes. Then we have the storyline of the movie. This is without a doubt the best individual story that J.K. Rowling wrote. Many portray time travel as creating an alternate timeline. Azkaban portraying it on one singular timeline was genius. In fact, this may be my favorite time travel movie ever. Then we have Gary Oldman's Sirius Black. Terrifying villain at first. Until you learn he is not a villain, but a hero who was framed. So many beautiful story arcs as our main characters learn to accept this as fact and spend the finale trying to save his life. Genius. The glue holding this all together is David Thewlis as Lupin. I kid you not, the individual moments between Harry and Lupin almost made me cry when I rewatched this movie because they are so beautiful and emotional.

1- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

It's interesting to note that almost across the board The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is seen as the best Harry Potter movie. It has the highest IMDb score. It has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score for both critics and audiences. And it was the highest grossing film domestically and worldwide. That's not how I base my opinions, of course. I go against the grain all the time. In fact, I was so close to putting The Prisoner of Azkaban first. But in this instance I agree with the masses. The final movie is the best. In beautiful contrast to Part 1, which is slow-paced and character-driven, this finale is fast-paced and action-driven. From the opening scene in Gringotts to the final battle at Hogwarts, this movie doesn't slow down. And the finale is perfect. We have the emotional reveal of Severus Snape and his tragic death. Then we have Harry making the decision to sacrifice himself, becoming a true metaphor and symbol for good. The scene where he talks to his parents, Sirius and Lupin right before he gets killed gets me every time. The conversation with Dumbledore at King's Cross was perfect. Then Harry comes back and we have the epic final battle between him and Voldemort. Yes, they changed it. But to be honest, I had more issues with him snapping the Elder Wand at the end than I did with the extended Voldemort battle. You can nit-pick it if it you want, but for me this did everything I wanted it to do. It was my favorite book and favorite movie.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arrival Review

It's about time that I get to talk about Arrival! This is a movie that I saw a month ago in preparation for an article I wrote for the Deseret News wherein I previewed the movie following an interview that I got to do with Jeremy Renner. Yeah, pretty sweet gig. But I've been dying to talk about this movie ever since I saw it, but they swore me to secrecy, asking my not to post my opinions about the movie on social media or on this blog. That kinda confused me because the movie already screened at a handful of film festivals starting in early September and had a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes from all those critics who saw it at the film festivals. In fact, it didn't get a negative review from anyone until a day or two before it was released. Even after all the normal critics piled in their reviews, this movie still is at a 93 percent with 197 counted as of the posting of this review. That's pretty dang good. So why the embargo? I don't know. But oh well. I acted like a good little boy and waited impatiently to share my thoughts on the movie. In the meantime I got the privilege of being able to ponder over this movie for a month before typing up my thoughts, which in this case is pretty fortunate because this movie is one that you need to spend some time thinking about.

When I first saw this trailer, I do admit that I was a little concerned at the fact that we were getting yet another alien invasion movie. I mean, the trailer was phenomenal, but what were they going to add to this genre that we haven't seen a thousand times already? Shortly after thinking that I noticed the director. Denis Villeneuve (pronounced "den-ee vil-uh-newv," I learned from my Jeremy Renner interview - he's from Quebec). In Denis we trust. That's a motto I've come to believe in. I haven't seen Enemy or Incendies, but I absolutely loved both Prisoners and Sicario. If Denis wanted to do an alien invasion movie, then I was down. And I prepared myself to love it. And guess what? I did. In fact, it's one of my favorite movies of the year so far. Just keep in mind that this is no Independence Day. By that I mean that this is not an action movie. This is not fast-paced or super intense. In fact, this is a very slow-moving sci-fi film. Ideas, plot, character and theme are what's pushed to the forefront as opposed to fancy CGI aliens and high-paced action. This is not a brainless action movie. In fact, it's the exact opposite, it's a slow moving drama that makes you use your brain.

As far as the plot goes, yeah I'm not going to dive into that too deeply. We're in set in about present day. This isn't a futuristic movie. But randomly there are 12 alien spaceship things that land across the earth, one of them landing in Montana. So our government gets really curious about what these spaceships are doing here since they land without doing much. So Forest Whitaker is a U.S. Army Colonel leads a recruiting process in which he tracks down Amy Adams, who plays a linguist and Jeremy Renner, who plays a physicist. Together those two lead this team of figuring out why in the heck these aliens are here on this earth. And that's all I'm going to tell you. I saw that premise in the trailer and I was wondering if that was a little more than I wanted to know. But no. That's the very basics. And I'm not going to tell you anymore because this is a movie where the less you know going in, the more rewarding your experience is going to be. That means we have this awkward situation where I waited a month to tell you about this movie, but yet I don't want to tell you too much about it, so I'm going to do a lot of dancing around the specific plot points and details of this movie.

I say this movie is a slow burn. And that is absolutely correct. However, this is not a boring movie. The pace of the movie is perfect and it successfully builds and builds to a fantastic climax. There are two major elements that I think heavily contribute to that. The first is the cinematography by Bradford Young. If you are a true fan of film, specifically the filmmaking process, you will practically be drooling at this movie with how perfect and beautiful every single shot is. It's breathtaking. The other aspect is the score by Jóhan Jóhannson. This score is mesmerizing. The score combined with the cinematography makes this a technically brilliant movie and if these two people that I called out don't get Oscar nominations, there's something seriously wrong with this world. There are more criticisms from others that have risen from this movie after essentially getting perfect reviews, but even if you didn't like other aspects of this movie, like the story or the characters, you have to at least appreciate these filmmaking qualities of this movie. What Denis Villeneuve has crafted is an absolute beauty and his talents as a filmmaker are definitely evident.

Personally, though, I really loved the story that this movie told. A lot of the advertising focused on the question of why the aliens aren't here and that's what much of the movie focused on as well. But the answer to that question is not what's important here. Yes, we do get an answer and you could argue that the answer is a little underwhelming. You could also make the claim that the logistics of the alien aspects of the movie are perfect. However, if you want a perfectly logical alien invasion thriller, well... that's kind of an oxi-moron. Aliens showing up to earth is absurd. That's never going to actually happen. That's why they call this science FICTION. Huge emphasis on the fiction. This movie creates it's own thing with the aliens and it's serviceable. If I were to rank the best portrayal of aliens in a movie, this may not score that well. But in my opinion, the alien arc of this movie is more of a means to something greater. The point here wasn't to show a cool story about aliens. The messages and themes of this movie are fantastic. And there's so many themes crammed in here that once it ends, you just have to sit there and unpack it all. The more you unpack, the greater this movie gets.

If I were to give a comparison here, the movie that this made me think of was Inception. And I know that's the second time this month where I've made an Inception comparison, but this for something different. When I first watched Inception, the movie had so many interesting themes all crammed into the movie, that I spent a lot of time pondering this. And I spent hours sitting down and discussing the movie with my friends. While a much different movie, Arrival had the same effect on me. After I first saw Arrival a month ago, I just sat there in that theater during the credits and pondered. I don't want to get into any details as to what I pondered or what these themes are, but I will say that this is a very smart, thought-provoking film. Yes, I can have fun with an action-packed alien invasion movie, but the fact that this movie made me stop and think is something that I absolutely love. Deep, thought-provoking films don't come around too often, so when they do, I take them and I relish in them. Another film that came to my mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey for similar reasons. No, I wouldn't say Arrival is as good as these two movies, but there are elements of this movie that are similar to both of those two, which is why I really loved this movie.

Speaking of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when I talked to Jeremy Renner, he actually compared Denis Villeneuve to Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought it was interesting that this came up in my interview without me even instigating it. Renner did that on his own. Renner also brought up Steven Spielberg when talking about Denis, saying Denis had the best qualities of Kubrick and Spielberg, which is some super high praise. Given Denis' current body of work, I'm not going to argue with this at all. Sure, he's early in his career, but all of his films I've seen of his have been fantastic. And the ones I haven't seen, I look at the reviews and they're all super high as well. If you haven't been paying attention to this man, change that now. Pay attention. He's the real deal. His movies are fantastic. I'd say he's one of the best up and coming directors in the business. As far as other comparisons to Arrival, I've been hearing Close Encounters of the Third Kind quite a bit as well as Contact. Jeremy Renner brought both of those up when I asked him and he's not the first. I haven't seen either of those movies, so I can't make that personal judgement. But I figured I'd throw that out there.

Overall, I've been telling people that I think Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece and I stand by that. The more I thought about this movie over the past month, the better it got. And I even saw it again Thursday night when it opened to the general public and it still stood up. I do understand that this is not a movie for everyone. There's going to be a number of people that aren't that impressed with this movie and that's just personal style. For me, I love thought-provoking films. I love well-crafted films. I prefer story, characters and acting over exciting action and fancy effects. That's what this movie gave. It spoke to me. It made me think. It had themes that I loved. It's a movie that meant something rather than just being a fun, alien movie. If this movie doesn't hit with you, I guess I understand. But with a 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after nearly 200 reviews and an 8.5 on IMDb with 13,000 votes, I think there's enough people on my side to confidently say that this is a must see for everyone. There's a lot that I didn't get into because I want you to go in knowing as little as possible. But I hope you get the gist of what I am saying here. I absolutely love this film. I think it's a sci-fi masterpiece and as such I'm going to do what I haven't done yet this year. I'm giving Arrival a 10/10.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Movie Preview: November 2016

October has come and gone without a major hit. October is normally a very average month, but this was especially average as it was the first October since 2011 to not have any movie make $100 million or more during the month. The top grossing movie of the month was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar People, which earned $71.3 million in October after opening on the final day of September. Out of the October releases, The Girl on the Train led the way with $66.5 million in October with surprise hits The Accountant and Boo! A Madea Halloween close behind, both of which have passed or will pass The Girl on the Train before their runs are over. Biggest loser of the month was Max Steel, which is already gone from theaters after just three weeks in and only $3.8 million. That's one of the worst totals of all time for a movie that opened in at least 2,000 theaters. Keeping Up with the Joneses, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, The Birth of a Nation and Inferno, while not as bad as Max Steel, were also duds. Despite the middling October box office, November officially begins holiday season, which means the box office will turn around, and already has for that matter since we're a weekend in, as there are several major titles on deck, so without further delay, let's dive in!

November 4th - 6th-

The first weekend of November started very strong as Marvel's Doctor Strange made more money in one weekend than all the October releases made in the entire month with an opening of $85.1 million. This was Marvel's sixth single character intro movie and out of those six movies, Doctor Strange conjuring up the second highest opening weekend, behind only Iron Man, which opened to $98.6 million back in 2008. This was also yet another example of Marvel diving into the unknown as, outside the real of comic book junkies, not many people knew much about the Sorcerer Supreme heading into this movie. This is something that Marvel has arguably done from the beginning of their Cinematic Universe as before 2008, not many people knew much about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, yet Marvel turned all of those three into A-listers. But they've especially done this recently with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, finding major success every step of the way as they yet again seem to prove that they can do no wrong. Not only did Doctor Strange find success yet again at the box office, it also was very well received by critics and audiences alike, with a certified fresh score of 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 91 percent audience score.

Providing some very successful counter-programming to Doctor Strange was DreamWorks Animation's second outing of the year in Trolls, opening to $46.6 million. After a very rough stretch financially from Rise of the Guardians in 2012 to Penguins of Madagascar in 2014, causing many changes for the studio both with their release schedule and internally, DreamWorks now must be breathing a sigh of relief as they are now on a bit of a winning streak as Trolls is now their third straight movie to open above $40 million. Based on the troll dolls that were especially popular back in the 70's and 80's, Trolls managed to hit a sweet spot on the schedule in between Storks and Moana. It'll essentially have a monopoly on the family market this month until it gets destroyed by Moana on Thanksgiving. But that should give it plenty of time to bring in good cash. Also potentially helping Trolls was Justin Timberlake's smash summer hit on the Billboard charts, "Can't Stop the Feeling," which was written for Trolls. Anna Kendrick and Gwen Stefani also provide musical talent for the movie.

The final opening this past weekend was Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge. Given that Mel Gibson is not the most popular person on the planet right now, Lionsgate strategically advertised this as being "from the director of Braveheart," without using Gibson's name. This is Gibson's first directorial effort since Apocalypto in 2006 and has so far received huge critical acclaim. The movie first opened at the Venice Film Festival in September and reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation. The movie stars Andrew Garfield as a World War II American Army medic named Desmond T. Doss who refused to pick up a gun and kill people, instead choosing to save as many people as he could. His efforts earned him a Medal of Honor, which was the first Medal of Honor given to a conscientious objector. In addition to receiving an A Cinemascore, and an A+ Cinemascore among people over 50, the movie currently stands at 8.8 on IMDb and 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It opened to $15.2 and should hold very well throughout the month until Brad Pitt's fellow war movie Allied hits theaters on Thanksgiving.

November 11th - 13th- 

Opening in between this month's two major blockbusters are three wide releases that will hope to continue the box office success that the first weekend of the month started. Leading the way is Denis Villeneuve's critically acclaimed film Arrival, which has yet to receive a negative review on Rotten Tomatoes as of the publishing of this post with over 60 reviews counted. Arrival is a thinking man's sci-fi film as it stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker leading a team of people investigating the arrival of 12 mysterious alien spaceships that land on Earth. The team hopes to communicate with the aliens to determine why they have arrived. Director Denis Villeneuve has received very high praise with all of his movies thus far, which has included Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario. If reviews continue to trend the way they have so far, this could end up being seen as his best movie to date and could easily pass Prisoner's $61.0 million total, which is Villeneuve's current highest grossing film at the domestic box office. If the cards play out well, lead star Amy Adams could be in contention to receive her 6th Oscar nomination as she continues her quest to finally win one.

Opening along with Arrival is the first holiday-themed movie of the season in Almost Christmas. This is a PG-13 comedy that features a mostly all black cast that includes Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Jessie T. Usher and Omar Epps. The movie is about a dysfunctional family that is forced to come together for the first time since their mom died. The goal is to make things work for just five days around Thanksgiving. Thus makes this movie have crossover appeal with two holidays. The producer on this movie is Will Packer, whose had a long string of success producing similar comedies with black casts, including This Christmas, Think Like a Man and Ride Along. Most of the movies he has produced have made between $20-40 million on their opening weekends and if last month's Boo! A Madea Halloween taught us anything, that would be that holiday themed comedies aimed at a black audience can do rather well, so this could be one of the surprise successes of the month.

The third wide release of the month is a thriller that should go mostly unnoticed and that is Shut In. The distributor here is EuropaCorp whose only previous two wide releases were The Transporter Refueled from last year and Nine Lives from earlier this year, both of which earned just over $5 million in their opening weekend, a number that probably sounds about right for Shut In. This will be director Farren Blackburn's first major feature-length after directing a variety of TV episodes over the years from shows like Doctors, Luther and Daredevil. Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay star in this thriller, which is about a windowed woman who is caring for her paralyzed son when she gets "shut in" from the rest of the world after a deadly winter storm hits that in turn causes her to start seeing things and thinking that someone is inside her house trying to harm them.

November 18th - 20th-

Five years ago the Harry Potter universe hit theaters for the final time with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Or so we thought. Turns out that Hollywood is pretty good at figuring out ways to continue popular franchises, which is exactly what they've done here as our second major blockbuster of the month is the Harry Potter spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This movie takes us across the seas from London and Hogwarts to New York where we follow Newt Scamander, the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from the Harry Potter books, which is a guide to all the magical creatures. J.K. Rowling said that she became very attached to this character of Newt Scamander and now will get the opportunity of showing the world what was in her head as pertaining to the history and background of Mr. Scamander as it was her that wrote this script with David Yates, director of the previous four Harry Potter movies, back on board to direct. Everyone involved here is so confident that this will be a success that a sequel is already on the schedule for November 2018 and it has been announced that this will be a five movie series. Eddie Redmayne will play the lead role of Newt Scamander and he'll have a host of talented supporting cast around him including Ezra Miller, Collin Farrell and Ron Perlman.

Hoping for some successful counter-programming to Fantastic Beasts will be the comedy The Edge of Seventeeen. This comes to us via STX Entertainment, which is a production company that started last summer with the goal of releasing several mid-budget movies per year featuring star-studded casts. After a couple of successful thrillers, STX stumbled a bit with the action movie Hardcore Henry and flopped big time with the war movie Free State of Jones. However, they struck gold with their first try at comedy as this summer's Bad Moms became one of the huge surprise hits, earning $113.3 million at the domestic box office off a $20 million budget. Now they'll hope lighting strikes twice with their second comedy, The Edge of Seventeen. This stars Hailee Steinfeld, who is experiencing quite a bit of success on multiple fronts as she has a top 20 Billboard Hit with her song "Starving" featuring Zedd in addition to this movie coming out. The movie is about Hailee's character going through some high school drama as she's at... the edge of seventeen. Woody Harrelson and Blake Jenner co-star.

Hoping to attract some of the adult audience not interested in returning to the Harry Potter universe or seeing a high school comedy will be the boxing movie Bleed for This. Last year at about this time the boxing movie Creed took the world by storm as it was a huge critical and box office success, earning over $100 million at the domestic box office after becoming one of the most well-beloved movies of the year as Michael B. Jordan successfully took over the mantle in the successful boxing franchise. A year later, Jordan's Fant4stic co-star Miles Teller will try his luck in a boxing movie as Teller plays real life boxer Vinny Pazienza who made a miraculous comeback to the boxing ring after getting in a near-fatal accident that led many to believe he would never walk again. As far as box office success, Teller certainly isn't going to experience the same level of success as Jordan. Bleed for This isn't a part of an already successful franchise and in general boxing movies are a hard sell. Back in August, fellow true story boxing movie Hands of Stone could only muster an opening weekend of $1.7 million on its way to $4.7 million total. Another potential comparison might be 2013's Grudge Match which opened to $7.0 million on it's way to $29.8 million total.

November 23rd - 25th-

Disney is having an absolute killer year so far at the box office as they currently hold the top four spots at the worldwide box office with Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia and The Jungle Book, three of those having crossed the $1 billion mark. And they're far from over as next month they have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and this Thanksgiving weekend they are set to dominate with Moana. As far as Disney's actual animation studio, they're also doing very well with Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia all receiving strong financial and critical success. With Moana, they will be adding another Disney princess into their cannon as well as another musical. The title character Moana will be Disney's first Polynesian princess and the music in the movie has been done by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yet the actual advertising has focused less on Moana herself or the music and more on Dwayne Johnson's character, the demigod Maui. Dwayne Johnson is a proven box office king, so that's not necessarily a bad idea. A lot of parallels to Frozen here as it's a Disney princess musical released at the beginning of the Holliday season, although it might be hard to catch lighting in a bottle twice, so Frozen numbers might be unrealistic.

I briefly mentioned Brad Pitt's Allied earlier in this preview when talking about Hacksaw Ridge. This will be our adult counter-programming to Disney's Moana. One of the three such movies, anyways. There's a bit of drama surrounding this movie as the recent divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is rumored to be partially due to Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard getting along so well after filming Allied together. Not that I'm one to feed the rumor mills, but it's an interesting piece of drama. In Allied, Pitt and Cotillard play a husband and wife during World War II. Pitt is American. Cotillard is French. But Pitt's character has a huge bombshell dropped on him as he is told that his wife might be a German spy and if she is, he has orders to kill her on the spot or be hanged. Talk about a relationship tester, right? Allied is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has a long string of huge successes, which includes Back to the Future, Forest Gump, Cast Away and Flight. Although his recent film, last year's The Walk, didn't quite catch on, earning only $10 million. So he'll be looking to recover here with this project.

Our second adult-aimed movie this weekend will also be our second Christmas themed movie with Bad Santa 2Bad Santa is a movie that was released 13 years and although it was decently well-liked and had an alright run at the box office, it's not exactly a sequel everyone was asking for. Then there's the fact that comedy sequels from movies that came out 10+ years ago haven't been doing super well recently. Recent examples include Dumb and Dumber To and Zoolander 2 disappointing. So the initial prognostic for Bad Santa 2 doesn't look that great. However, a raunchy, Holiday-themed movie for the adults could very well catch on and perform well throughout the season. Last year on this same exact weekend the movie Night Before only opened to $9.3 million, but had an excellent 4.6 multiplier when comparing opening weekend to final domestic total as it finished with just over $43 million. It's possible that Bad Santa 2 follows a similar trajectory. The movie stars Billy Bob Thornton, reprising his role from the first film.

And finally we have the highly anticipated Warren Beatty project Rules Don't Apply. Warren Beatty had a very successful run as an actor throughout the 60's and 70's, most well-known for his role as Clyde Barrow in the movie Bonnie and Clyde from 1967. On the tail end of the most successful stretch of his acting career, he directed and starred in several movies, such as Heaven Can Wait, Reds and Dick Tracy. Outside the Dick Tracy Special on TV in 2010, Beatty hasn't done much of anything on any level in the last 20 years. And now he is back doing everything in Rules Don't Apply as he wrote, directed, produced and starred in this film. The success of a film like this will be based solely on the actual reviews. Good reviews mean it could be an Oscar contender. Bad or average reviews mean it could fly under everyone's radar and be forgot. The movie is about an unconventional love story between an aspiring actress, her driver and the billionaire they work for and will definitely have an old-fashioned vibe to it. In addition to Beatty himself, the movie stars Haley Bennett, Ed Harris, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick and Martin Sheen. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange Review

It's film #14 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the second movie from Phase III. If you are a fan of these superhero movies like I am, it's a great time to be alive as we certainly aren't slowing down. If you are sick of superhero movies, well, no one's forcing you to watch any of them, so I don't really feel bad for you. But they certainly aren't stopping any time soon. In fact, for the first time ever, next year will see three movies from the MCU in one year with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnorak. Add to that we have DC and Fox trying to keep up with Marvel. I'd add Sony to that, too, but they kinda gave in and decided to join Marvel with their Spider-Man franchise. Plus you have everyone going strong on TV. So yeah, it's a great time to be a fan of comic books. And no, I'm not one to blindly praise Marvel while always hating on DC. I was one of few that enjoyed Suicide Squad and I'm stoked for Wonder Woman next year. It's just that Marvel is doing so good right now that they almost can't do any wrong and I'm happy to report that this has continued with Doctor Strange. In fact, I will boldly claim that this is one of Marvel's best and easily the best superhero movie of the year (better than Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool).

Marvel also impressively dives yet again into the obscure to give us something great. It's like they are planning their schedule on a dare with Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and now Doctor Strange being some of their recent titles while making sure to still keep their big franchises going strong. Thus they continue to beautifully build this fantastic universe without letting any of us get bored. If you don't know anything about Doctor Strange, in the comics he is know as the Sorcerer Supreme, protector of the Earth from mystical and magical threats. This is his origin story, telling us how he gets to that point. Played in the movie by Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon with a photographic memory. Yet he's also very arrogant and prideful. In other words, the role Cumberbatch was born to play because he's perfect at playing these arrogant geniuses. Not to mention Doctor Strange even looks like Benedict Cumberbatch in the comics, so it was a match made in heaven. Anyways, Stephen Strange gets in a car accident where he essentially loses the use of his hands with all the nerve damage and he goes on a journey to try to fix that and ends up running into a society that does things beyond his wildest imagination.

If you've kept up with my comic book movie reviews, you'll know that I can get picky with origin stories. There's something I call origin-story-itis. And it's something that's hard to avoid. Instead of diving right into the meat of the story, you have to spend a lot of time setting up the world and introducing the character. Not only does this sometimes get a bit rote because most superhero origin stories are very similar, it also holds the movie back you can't dive into the meat of the action quite yet and you also can't waste your best villain in the first movie, so usually you start with a throwaway villain while saving the best for later. It's for these reasons that I was a little more harsh on Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool. Still good movies that I love, but I don't rank either quite as high as others, yet in both cases I think the sequel is going to be better because we have that origin story out of the way. Ant-Man managed to cleverly dodge the origin story by being a passing of the torch story and Marvel smartly introduced Spider-Man and Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War so their future movies don't have to focus so much on the origin story. But in the case of Doctor Strange, the origin story needed to happen. Yet I was impressed by how great they did with it.

In terms of a comparison to another superhero origin story, I personally think the best comparison for Doctor Strange is Batman Begins. That's definitely a huge compliment because Batman Begins is an origin story done right. Yes, they needed to take their time in setting up Batman and no, they couldn't use the Joker right away, but that movie did a great job of keeping your attention throughout the whole movie by not feeling old. Sure, that movie came out before the ginormous rush of superhero movies that Marvel started with their Avengers initiative, but Batman Begins is a movie I go back to quite frequently and it certainly holds up as a fantastic origin story. Much like Bruce Wayne, Stephen Strange is an arrogant rich man. Also like Bruce Wayne, Stephen Strange travels to a foreign part of the world to be trained. With Bruce Wayne it's ninjas. With Stephen Strange is sorcerers. But similar setup and similar facilities. The parallels with R'as al Ghul and the League of Assassins to the drama that unfolds in Doctor Strange are also similar, but I won't dive into that. Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale even have the same gruff, messy look for part of the movie. Also just like Batman Begins, I was fully invested in the development and training of Stephen Strange.

Sure, there's a lot of exposition in the movie and we don't dive into the action right away, but in my view there was a necessary learning curve here. We're not just setting up another hero to fight with the Avengers, we're setting up a whole new dimension and a whole new universe. Instead of throwing it at us all at once and causing us all to get lost and confused with all the terminology and rules, the movie slowly builds this universe, allowing for a learning curve with the audience. We're like Stephen Strange. We didn't know this universe exists and we don't know how it works. As he slowly learns how everything works, we learn right along with him at the appropriate pace. This is a very trippy, crazy universe and in teaching us how everything works, the movie doesn't go to fast, causing us to get lost, yet it doesn't go too slow, causing us to get bored. It's just right. We get a tease with the opening scene. Then we go on the journey with Stephen Strange. Then we are taught how everything works and we learn the terminology as well as the characters involved. Then by the time the second half of the movie comes around, we are ready to dive right in and enjoy the heck out of the movie with all the knowledge we have gained. And man does this leads to a crazy fun ride.

Thus that sets up my next movie comparison. Inception. No, this is not deep and thought-provoking like Inception. I'm talking about the world-bending visuals. In Inception, they were able to do whatever they wanted to their world because they were in dream land. With Doctor Strange, they are able to do what they want because of magic. But the end result is pretty much the same. Except with Doctor Strange it takes all the crazy world-bending stuff to a whole new level and thus it's like Inception on steroids. Once we've successfully established the ground rules and terminology, they completely unleash this fantastic world on us without holding back. And the rest of the world doesn't see what's going on when they bend the world around, so it's just sorcerers vs. sorcerers in this dimension that is a completely invisible to the rest of the world. I can't stress enough how much fun I had with all of this magic and sorcery. It was a blast! And it certainly brought something fresh and unique to the genre. Yes, I love all my superhero movies, but the novelty of it all has worn off, so if you don't come up with something new and different, you're not going to be quite as good. This is definitely new and different here and it promised a lot of awesome stuff for the future.

Before I wrap this up, I do want to touch briefly on a few other things without diving too deep as to avoid spoilers. First off, the whole cast as fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing as Stephen Strange. It was a role he was born to play. And he does a great American accent. And I loved his character arc throughout the movie. Also great were the supporting cast that included Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen. As far as the Tilda Swinton controversy, sure it would've been better to have an Asian actor play the role of the Ancient One, but Swinton kills it in that role, so I'm not hungover that point. If you are, I think you're being a little too politically correct, especially since the Ancient One is officially a title. Also if you don't know about Chiwetel's character of Mordo, I won't say anything. But he's fantastic. And Mads Mikkelsen's villain was an above-average Marvel villain. That's one area where Marvel struggles quite a bit, and while this one isn't great, I thought he was just fine. And the movie is funny! At the right moments. I mean, you learn to expect that from a Marvel movie. That's a part of their successful formula. But this was a lot funnier that I thought it was going to be and that didn't mess with the tone at all.

Overall, if you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you are going to go see this movie. I don't need to try to convince you to do so. If you are not a fan of superhero movies, well I don't know what to tell you because I don't relate with that. But this does feel fresh and unique, as we're playing around with magic for the first time in the MCU, so maybe it's worth giving a chance because of that unique element? If you are a casual fan of superhero movies, perhaps you enjoy them but you don't rush to see them on opening weekends, then this is one you need to put on your must-see list, because I thought this was absolutely phenomenal. We successfully built up this universe, following the formula of Batman Begins and then we explode into a trippy visual experience that's like Inception on steroids. Inception meets Batman Begins is a pretty dang good combination, especially sprinkled with the magical Marvel touch. This is an origin story that I wasn't bored of, yet it brings promise of even better things to come. This is honestly a top-tier Marvel movie. Phase III is off to a very strong start with this and Civil War and the current schedule only looks even more exciting. I was tempted to go super high with my score, but I decided that a fair score for now is a strong 9/10.