Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hail, Caesar! Review

The Coen Brothers have been doing this movie thing for quite some time. A when they make a movie, they make a movie. As in they often direct, write, produce, and edit their movies. Typically their movies are pretty darn good, as well, as they are know for movies such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit. So when it's announced that they are making a new movie, that's something to be excited for. However, it's worth noting that on a personal note, I didn't quite let myself get too excited for this movie. There were some people that had this movie as their most anticipated movie of the entire year or one of their most anticipated movies. That wasn't me. Yes, I was excited, which is why I had it on the good side of my 2016 movie preview, but I had my expectations tempered a bit because the Coen Brothers' last outing, Inside Llewyn Davis, left something to be desired for in my opinion. They also helped write the screenplay for Unbroken, another movie that I was disappointed in. So I knew very well that despite everything they've accomplished, they're not infallible. I'm glad I went in with my expectations tempered because this is an outing from the Coen Brothers that I really just don't get.

Hail, Caesar! is a movie that is set in the 1950's and is essentially about a day in the life of a film studio back in the day. This is not a true story of an actual studio or movie. All the names of actors, directors, movies, studios, etc. are completely fictional, but there are a lot of parallels to the actual 1950's with the types of movies and situations with the actors and whatnot. Thus the movie is an homage to old film, which is cool. There are several movies within this movie that are followed, the main one being Hail, Caesar!, a biblical epic that tells the story of the life of Christ from the vantage point of a Roman soldier. They are almost finished filming this movie when the lead actor gets drugged and kidnapped. This is the story that was advertised a lot in the trailers and thus I thought the movie was going to be an uptempo, comedic thrill ride where some of the cast and crew go on a big search to get their star back. No, this is not really the case. Comedic, yes. Uptempo? No. Thrill ride? No. This is actually a slow, drawn-out movie where the tone is all over the place and the focus doesn't really seem to be there. In fact, we bounce around quite a bit showing several different movies that are in the process of being made and the central character is a guy who is head of the studio and is trying to juggle a whole bunch of things, both with his work and with his personal life.

I don't want to just totally tear this movie apart, so lets start with the good. The look of the movie was very good. Being that this was an homage to old film, this definitely had the look and feel of an older movie. The color schemes in the movie were great as were the costume designs and set designs. It felt like I was watching an old 50's movie. On top of that, the great Roger Deakins was out cinematographer and he was great as always. There were a lot of great shots in this film and great camera work. Some of the edits in the movie were a little jolting, but overall all the technical aspects of this movie were spot on and this was a well-designed movie. I was also completely glued in to the first half of the movie. I loved the fact that we were watching a film about a film. We would be watching a scene that felt like it was an actual movie from the 50's and then we heard the directors voice and suddenly we noticed that we were on a set. This was a lot of fun. Then the directors would give advice to the actors or the actors would forget a line or mess up somehow. Then we jumped to another movie set and did the same thing. Or we would cut to Josh Brolin's character, who was the head of the studio and we saw him doing a bunch of behind the scenes work to make sure everything is running smoothly. It started off a lot of fun.

But then we kept going. The individual scenes were a lot of fun. There were a lot of great performances by a lot of people who were spot on with acting like they were actors from back in the day. But before too long I was realizing that the movie was just dragging on. It appeared that the Coen Brothers were having fun paying homage to the 50's, but they forgot to include a plot for us to follow. I thought when George Clooney that we were just going to focus on that storyline, but that was only a part of the movie. And honestly I didn't think that storyline was all that interesting. The idea behind it was good. But they didn't do much with it. Halfway through the movie, I started to get bored. There was nothing to follow and no one to care too much about. It was almost like a skit movie where a bunch of different, random skits are strung together as one movie. Then we got to a point where I was still waiting for things to pick up. I was wanting the movie to go somewhere or dive deep into a storyline or start to get emotional. Nothing. Suddenly a thought struck me during one specific scene. Are we about to end? No we can't end right now. We still haven't... oh. It's over. The movie just... ended. What?!?!?! Did that really... just... wow!

From a fairly young age, I was taught the format that stories follow. This is like basic English class stuff with that bell curve and all? We get introduced to our characters, then some sort of conflict begins. This leads to the rising action and at the peak of the curve is our climax. Then we get the falling action followed by the resolution and end stuff. I'm botching all of that terminology, but hopefully you have that picture in your head. I didn't feel like Hail, Caesar! followed that. Instead of the movie being like a bell curve, it felt like a straight line that was going for a while and just abruptly stopped. I sat there during the end credits and during the drive home feeling like I missed something. Like there's some sort of deeper meaning and hidden story within the story. I didn't find that. I don't know what the point of the movie was. I couldn't find any real strong themes. What was the goal of the Coen Brothers with this film? What were they trying to say? I really don't know. Some movies you do have to watch once or twice to fully understand things. I get that. Maybe if I watch it again, then I will pick up on more things or I'll discover a new movie within the movie. I don't know. Right now I just feel confused. Not at the plot. I know exactly what happened. I'm just confused at what the point of this movie is.

I'm not going to call this a bad movie. It isn't. The movie is an homage to old film and that I thought was cool. The cast in this movie is huge and they all do a great job. Most of the cast, like Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill, felt more like cameos, but still. Their segments were good. The three main actors that we actually followed were Josh Brolin, George Clooney, and Alden Ehranreich. They all were great. The comedy was fantastic as there were several laugh-out-loud scenes. All the technical aspects of the movie were spot on. So there's a lot to love. But as a whole, I don't know what the point of this movie was. I couldn't find a solid theme or a purpose for the movie. It just felt like a day in the life of an old 1950's film studio with little substance and I kinda found it boring. Honestly this is exactly how I felt about Inside Llewyn Davis. I felt that movie was just a week in the life of a struggling 60's folk singer with little substance. Yet some people called that movie the best movie of 2013 and one of the best this decade. So perhaps I'm missing something with this movie. Maybe I need to spend more time thinking about it. Maybe I need to watch it once or twice more. I fully admit that. Perhaps my opinion will change over time, but initially my grade for the movie is a 6.5/10.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Preview: February 2016

Thanks in part to some very strong December holdovers and expansions (namely Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant, and Daddy's Home), the first month of the year was quite a success as it became the second straight January to earn over $1 billion at the box office. Now we're onto February, which is historically one of the lower-grossing months of the year as it actually has to rely on its own new releases as opposed to holiday holdovers. Generally the first two months of the year aren't where studios release their biggest films, thus is why this time of year is typically known as the dumping ground for Hollywood. However, recently Hollywood has learned that movies can actually make money in February as The LEGO Movie was a huge hit just two years ago and last year had three movies released this month that went onto make over $100 million at the domestic box office. This revelation added to the fact that it is Valentine's Day this month has made it so this February is actually fairly busy as there are several titles that should appeal to a lot of people. So let's dive in and take a look!

February 5th - 7th-

First up this month is a movie that probably would be getting a lot of Oscar buzz if it was released at the end of the year instead of the beginning. Hail, Caesar! is that movie. Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most well-known filmmakers as they have written and directed many beloved films for movie fans such as No Country for Old Men, FargoThe Big Lebowski, and the True Grit remake. Not only are they known as great directors, but they've also done a whole lot of producing, writing, and editing for a huge number of films. All this work has earned them a whopping 14 Oscar nominations. Hail, Caesar! is the whole package for them as they wrote, directed, produced, and edited the movie. They also had Roger Deakins on board as the cinematographer and a huge cast that includes Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johannson, Tilda Swinson, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill. Like I said, the Oscars would be all over this if this was released at the end of the year. We'll see if it can pull off what The Grand Budapest Hotel did at last year's Oscars. The movie is a comedy about the making of a 1950's movie called Hail, Caesar! and what the crew has to do when their lead star goes missing.

It wouldn't be February without a romance drama would it? Even better, a Nicholas Sparks movie? This year's edition is The Choice, which is the 11th Nicholas Sparks movie. They started with A Message in a Bottle in 1999 and have been almost an annual thing since 2010. I don't need to really tell you what the movie is about. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl experience a falling out that almost causes their relationship to end. Boy and girl overcome whatever problem and live happily ever after. That accurately describes every Nicholas Sparks romance drama ever made. The difference is the leader actors and a slight variation in the setup. This year's boy and girl are Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer. Typically these movies have had a good track record at the box office, especially the ones that actually get released around Valentine's Day. But the last two have actually completely bombed. Are people finally getting tired of these movies or is a resurgence in store this month?

Speaking of romance dramas, arguably the most popular movie or book in the genre is Pride and Prejudice. Most girls you talk to know and love this story and for good reason. This month the story is back on the big story. This time around there's a huge twist, though. All you have to do is look at the title to know what it is: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This comes from the same author that penned Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and is another ridiculous action comedy that will obviously appeal more towards the male gender than the female gender. Do females really want to see a movie that adds zombies to their beloved story? Targeting males this weekend does pose two major problems. The first is that most guys will be preoccupied with Super Bowl 50 this Sunday, which will affect this movie much more than the other two this weekend as people don't necessarily rush out to see a Coen Brothers film on opening weekend and a Nicholas Sparks movie appeals more to teenagers and females. The other problem is that the male audience are probably much more interested in next weekend's Deadpool than this. At the same time, though, this does have a built in audience because of the book which could give it a chance to beat out the other two this weekend.

February 12th - 15th-

The second weekend of February houses both Valentine's Day and Presidents in the same four-day weekend, which will make this a very lucrative weekend, especially with the three movies that are on the table. The biggest of these three is none other than Fox's highly anticipated Deadpool. A while back, Deadpool test footage was "leaked" onto the internet. I put that into quotation marks because you wonder if that was secretly done on purpose to see how audiences would react. Well, purposely done or not, people nearly lost their minds with how excited that made them, which gave Fox the confidence to move forward. Deadpool is a very popular comic book character in Marvel comics and a very unique one at that. Not only does he break the fourth wall all the time, but he's also a very foul-mouthed, raunchy superhero. Doing him justice requires a very strong R, hence the hesitation for the studio. R-rated superhero movies don't usually go over too well in the box office. There's a reason most are only PG-13. It's very risky to go higher, but Fox is taking that risk and based on reactions from fans, it's looking like a nice reward will be in play. This will help many erase the bad memory of X-Men Origins: Wolverine's version of Deadpool, which is a big part of the reason why many didn't like that movie.

The weekend's second release is another highly anticipated movie and that is Zoolander 2. Looking at the numbers, it might not seem like a Zoolander sequel is a great idea. Zoolander only made $45 million at the box office, it's been 15 years since it's release, and reviews weren't that great in the first place. However, since its release Zoolander has become a bit of a cult classic as its audience has grown quite a bit in the last 15 years. So a sequel actually does make sense and many people are excited. It will definitely have competition from Deadpool, but the movies are different enough that they both should play well. The whole crew is back for this sequel as Ben Stiller is on as director and star again and Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson join him as co-stars. There's also several newcomers to the cast as well as a huge list of big cameos that should make this a very fun outing for Zoolander fans.

The final release of the weekend is a very timely comedy called How to Be Single. Valentine's Day is usually a great day for people that have a significant other, but it can be a depressing day for those who are single. Hollywood always gives movies around this time for the former, but rarely is there a movie that panders to the latter, which is what this comedy is. It's a comedy that where a bunch of people need to learn how to be single in a world with a constantly changing definition of love. This is a premise that could work very well, but yet it is a raunchy comedy that is definitely targeted towards adults and not teenagers, which could limit its potential on this Valentine's Day weekend. Raunchy comedies do have a good track record as of late and this has a great cast led by Rebel Wilson, Dakota Johnston, and Leslie Mann, all of whom are fairly popular as of late. It just has a lot of competition to fight through, so we'll see how this all shapes up.

February 19th - 21st-

Valentine's Day holdovers will most certainly dominate this third weekend, Deadpool especially. But three more movies will make their way to theaters this weekend, giving people plenty of options. First up is Risen. In the last couple of years, faith-based films have been doing very well. At around this time two years ago, Son of God, God's Not Dead, and Heaven is for Real all did amazing. Having faith-based films in the market isn't enough anymore to get huge box office results as there have been plenty of failures. These studios need to give people unique, quality films in order to convince people to keep coming out, which is what Risen is attempting. The story of Christ has been told a thousand times. But Risen is taking a unique angle as it tells the story of the resurrection of Christ from the angle of a Roman Soldier who doesn't believe in Christ. This specific angle is one that hasn't been explored too deeply, so this definitely could attract an audience. Ralph Fiennes' younger brother Joseph Fiennes, who recently has been put in the media spotlight for being cast as Michael Jackson in an upcoming TV movie, is the star here. Tom Felton will co-star with him as the two will be out to disprove the rumor of a resurrected Messiah.

Next up we get a biopic of a very important figure in sports history. Race tells the story of track and field legend Jesse Owens as he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. He was a black athlete competing on the world stage during Hitler's reign in Nazi Germany. A few years back, the movie 42 was another sports biopic tackling similar themes as it told the story of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. That movie played very well both with critics and at the box office, so there is potential here. Although sports dramas of late haven't been the biggest box office drama. Disney struggled to find an audience with both Million Dollar Arm and McFarland, USA despite positive reviews, the latter being released at this same exact time last year. We'll see if Focus Features can have better luck here with Race.

And finally, we have a horror movie that wowed audiences at Sundance in January of 2015 and that is The Witch. Getting praise at Sundance doesn't always equate to huge box office numbers, though. Last year's other big Sundance hits, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Dope, only earned $6.8 million and $17.5 million respectively. Brooklyn was another big Sundance hit from 2015 and even with a few huge Oscar nominations (best picture and best actress), it's only managed to get to $30.8 million. Most general audiences won't see The Witch as a Sundance hit they need to see. They'll just see it as another horror movie and with so many being released recently, it might be hard for The Witch to find an audience, especially with no name brand attached to it. Last month The Forest and The Boy both barely cracked $10 million in their opening weekends. If The Witch can get to that mark, that'll be a win. It'll have to rely on positive word of mouth to earn its money, which could be the case. This is a horror movie that goes back to witchcraft in New England in the 1600's, which isn't your typical backdrop for a horror movie these days.

February 26th - 28th-

In the final weekend of February, we start with a big-budget fantasy adventure that could have a bit of a rough ride and that is Gods of Egypt. The production budget for this movie is reported to be $140 million, which means it hopes to have a box office run similar to that of Clash of the Titans, another movie about ancient mythical gods. Although the Greek gods like Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are probably more recognizable than what this movie is presenting, so it's at a disadvantage there. Gods of Egypt has also received a fair share of backlash for casting mostly white actors and actresses to play ancient Egyptian characters, so that's another disadvantage. Finally, the marketing has been strong, but people don't seem to treating this is as a movie that they really need to see in theaters. All this equates to this movie having a huge uphill battle to climb, which will be especially hard with how crowded March is. I'm guessing that this will need a lot of help from international markets in order to make a profit, which is actually where the aforementioned Clash of the Titans made most of its money, so it's possible that could happen here as well.

Speaking of sports dramas, we have two in two weeks this month as Eddie the Eagle hits theaters a week after Race does. Neither seems to be in for a super box office run, but Eddie the Eagle seems to be the lesser of the two as it's a movie about Great Britain's first ski jumper, Michael "Eddie" Edwards, to enter the winter Olympics. It's a much less intriguing story than Jesse Owens running in the Olympics during Nazi Germany. How many people interested in a movie about a ski jumper? On the flip side, though, what the movie does have going for it is the cast. Taron Egerton broke out in a huge way last February as he starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service. He plays the lead role of Eddie in this movie. He'll have Hugh Jackman as a co-star, which also helps. Although it remains to be seen if Egerton can be a box office draw after just one huge hit and Jackman isn't immortal when it comes to the box office as he starred in two huge duds last year in Chappie and Pan. Fox did purchase a Super Bowl spot to advertise this movie, so they're certainly hoping for the best.

As our final wide release of the month, we have the crime thriller Triple 9. This movie boasts quite the big cast which includes, but is not limited to, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, and Kate Winslet. Triple 9 is a heist movie where a gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan to murder a certain police officer in order to pull off a huge heist. A lot of craziness will ensue with double-crossing, revenge, and greed playing a huge role it what will be quite the action-packed movie. Adults wanting a straight-up action movie don't have a whole ton of options this month, so with this premise in mind added to the loaded cast, this one has the potential to become a bit of a sleeper hit. But potential is the big word there. A lot of action movies, especially ones with a strong rating, come and go without being noticed, especially when it comes to the beginning of the year. Something like Kingsman: The Secret Service is more of the exception than the rule and Triple 9 seems to be targeting even more of a niche audience, which will definitely limit it's potential.

Netflix is becoming even bigger right now as straight-to-Netflix is becoming a popular platform to release both new TV shows and new movies. Thus it's definitely worth mentioning the straight-to-Netflix release Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny as the final movie this month. Recently TV shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones became huge Netflix releases. Fuller House is an example of another highly anticipated TV show that will be debuting on Netflix this month. On the movie front, Beasts of No Nation is an example of a major movie that debuted on Netflix at the end of last year and was thought to be a huge Oscar contender (although it got completely snubbed). This year there will be several movies debuting on Netflix as both Netflix and Amazon were at the Sundance Film Festival this past month purchasing movies. A sequel to the huge 2000 hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has been in talks for a while now and recently the Weinstein Company made a deal to release the sequel on Netflix. The initial idea was to release it in IMAX theaters in addition to Netflix, but a lot of theaters dropped out of that. It still might get a small theatrical release, but the streaming service release is the big draw here. Different director and mostly different cast with this sequel, but it does bring back star Michelle Yeoh, so there is a connection there.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

So this just happened. After getting home from seeing Kung Fu Panda 3, I went to my blog archives to find my review of Kung Fu Panda 2 to remind myself what exactly I thought of that movie right after seeing it. Turns out that review doesn't exist. Did I just not write a review for it? Confused, I checked the release date for the movie. 2011?!?!?!?! It's been FIVE YEARS since Kung Fu Panda 2 was released and EIGHT YEARS since the first one was released?????? Wow! I had no idea it's been that long. Time sure does fly. I do remember being nervous about Kung Fu Panda 2. The first one ended so perfectly, I didn't know how they were going to pull off a sequel and make it equally as epic. Boy did they prove me wrong. When push comes to shove, I'd still say the original is better than the sequel, but not by much. With how that turned out, I was totally down for Kung Fu Panda 3. No nervousness. Just excitement. That excitement totally payed off because now Dreamworks has conjured up one heck of a trilogy as Kung Fu Panda 3 is right on par with Kung Fu Panda 2 in terms of quality.

The Kung Fu Panda franchise has done an amazing job at finding the perfect balance between action, comedy, and emotion that is great for both kids and adults. The idea of a bumbling panda becoming a kung fu master is a really silly, yet hilarious premise. At the same time, it packs a huge emotional punch as we learn in the first movie that the secret to becoming special is believing in yourself. Whatever goal you have in life, if you believe you can achieve that goal and then work hard to achieve it, that goal can be reached. What a great message! Then we learn in the second movie that your past doesn't have to determine your present or your future. Another great message! Now speaking of the past, this third movie is out to teach another great lesson and it uses Po's past to set this up. If you remember the end of the second movie, we get the tease that Po's real father is still out there and is living in a thriving panda village. That clued us in early that they had an idea in mind for the third movie long before it actually was released. Five years later, that's the exact premise he goes with. Po's biological father shows up and Po goes to this panda village to learn a new lesson and prepare to stop our new villain, one that is more powerful and dangerous than any other villain we've seen in this universe so far.

Speaking of that villain, let's start there because in my opinion that was the most intriguing part of this movie. Tai Lung and Lord Shen were our previous two villains and they were decent. Tai Lung looked super awesome as leopards are boss, but he was more of an afterthought if I'm being honest. The first movie was about Po becoming a kung fu master. He needed a villain to fight. But the movie wasn't about the villain. Lord Shen in the second movie was a lot more fleshed out and had a deep, personal connection to Po. Thus he's probably the best written villain in the series. But as a peacock he didn't quite look as ominous as Tai Lung. Kai is our villain in this third movie and as far as the look and the voice, he easily takes the cake as the best villain. He's a big, scary Yak from the spirit realm that has a connection to Grand Master Oogway, the wise tortoise who chose Po as the Dragon Warrior. Grand Master Oogway was also Master Shifu's master and in this universe was the founder of kung fu itself. We learn that Kai was the friend of Grand Master Oogway until he turned against Oogway and was banished to the spirit realm. Now he's back and he's out to essentially destroy everything that's good and he'd dang good and doing so. No one stands a chance to this guy.

In addition to the brilliant look of his character and the well-written backstory, what seals the deal for Kai is J.K. Simmons' fantastic voice acting because this character just sounds like a scary beast that you don't want to mess with. We learned in Whiplash that J.K. Simmons is excellent at being scary as he played the band teacher from Hell in that movie and that definitely carries over in this movie. Thus he is able to carry this movie on his back and make it a fantastic ride as he just terrorizes the whole country. Not even Master Shifu or the Furious Five is a match for this guy. Adding to his power is that once he defeats someone, he is able to turn them into jade zombies of themselves and use them to fight on his side, thus in addition to his own strength, he has an army of former heroes that are being forced against their will to fight for the wrong side. Thus the only person that is able to stop Kai and his army is our Dragon Warrior Po and his own army of pandas. But the catch here is that Po has to be able to teach them. That's his next step as a kung fu master. He's trained to become a kung fu master and he's learned to fight, but now he has to teach and that's what he has a really hard time doing.

Yes, this movie is quite the wild ride from start to finish. But specifically the finish. Even though this is a movie you can thoroughly enjoy even if you know the whole movie, I won't spoil what happens in the second half of this movie. You can probably see the ending coming from a mile away, but that's okay in this instance. It's not the type of movie where crazy twists and turns are needed. Needless to say that the ending is an absolute blast and probably the best finale out of all three Kung Fu Panda movies. If I'm being nit-picky, it's the first half of the movie that does struggle a bit. The first two movies flowed very well. They had the perfect balance of humor and emotion while providing a lot of fun action with a great story. This movie has all those elements, but it's a lot less engaging to start out. It still has a lot of great humor that made me laugh pretty good, but a lot of it did feel a bit forced. It felt like they were trying really hard to capture the magic of the first two movies. While they didn't necessarily fail, there were times where I could tell they were trying too hard. Certain things were a little too silly. The writing wasn't always clean and crisp. The flow wasn't perfect. But it was fine. I was still enjoying myself even if the magic wasn't fully there.

But there definitely was a moment where all of that changed. I'm not going to dive into the story or tell you where that happens, but if you're watching you should know exactly what moment I'm talking about. After a bit of a rocky start, even though I was enjoying myself, I realized this had the potential to tank a bit and simply be an average animated movie, but it went the opposite direction and hit a grand slam with its ending. As such, there is another message that this movie teaches. It doesn't stand out quite as much as the first movie. While watching that first movie, I was wondering how they were going to pull off the transformation from bumbling panda to kung fu master for Po. When his goose father gave him the speech towards the end about the secret ingredient, that was a moment that blew my mind. It's a moment that I still remember to this day and it's a lesson that has honestly helped me personally throughout my life. The second movie had good moments that taught good lessons, but nothing like the first movie. Same thing for this movie. There were several moments where I thought to myself that they were teaching a great lesson that people should remember. But I didn't have an experience like I did with the first movie. But that's okay. There were still good messages taught and a lot of fun to be had.

In the end, I had a ton of fun Kung Fu Panda 3. No, the magic of the movie wasn't quite there during the first half of the movie as there were times it felt like they were trying too hard to repeat what they accomplished in the first two movies, but I was still having fun with the movie. That magic was recaptured in the second half of the movie and thus as a whole I think this is another great addition to the excellent Kung Fu Panda series. I think it's harsh to call this the worst movie of the franchise. Third best is probably the most accurate terminology because all three of these movies are great! In my opinion, this third one does have the best villain of the three as well as the best final battle of the three. The ending doesn't necessarily gift-wrap the franchise up, if you know what I mean. This is the type of franchise where they could do a Kung Fu Panda 4 without making people angry. But with the way that Dreamworks is slowing things down and focusing on quality instead of quantity, it'll be at least five years before they have room on their schedule to make another one, so in my opinion they might as well call it good. If they do, they can now proudly say that they have made of the best animated trilogies ever. Well done Dreamworks. My grade for Kung Fu Panda 3 is an 8/10.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review

I'm catching up on some of the January releases I missed and what a better place to start than our annual January war drama? Two years ago we were graced with the presence of Lone Survivor which I thought was absolutely fantastic. Then we got American Sniper last year which most people went crazy over. I, on the other hand, didn't really care for it. It had its moments, but overall was a disappointment for me. When I first saw the trailer for 13 Hours, I started out very intrigued. Then they dropped this line halfway through: "directed by Michael Bay." My heart literally sank. Michael Bay is easily one of my least favorite directors in Hollywood. I no longer had any faith in the movie, especially since Michael Bay's previous two attempts at making a movie based on a true story were cinematic disasters. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain? Seriously? Despite all of that bad history, though, rumblings of "Michael Bay's best movie" started following this movie upon and suddenly I became intrigued again. Could he actually a give us a decent movie? The answer is yes. I don't want to give him too much credit as this isn't amazing. But it's a decent effort by him.

13 Hours touches on subject matter that I personally am not too familiar with. It's also super recent stuff. As in September of 2012. Just over three years ago. This blog existed when the events of this movie were taking place. Usually they wait 10 or 15 years at least before doing a major movie on current events. But not this time. And that seems to be the trend recently as stories I remember hearing about on the news not too long ago are getting movies. I don't really know what I think about that, but okay. This here is about the war over there in the Middle East that's still going on. I should keep up with that stuff more than I actually do. But oh well. Thus when I went in, I was ready for a bit of a history lesson. Tell me about Libya, Michael Bay! Because that's where we are. Benghazi, Lybia. On September 11, 2012, an American diplomatic compound was attacked, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. This led to quite the chaotic night for a group of soldiers. That's the night that this movie is about. 13 hours of chaos on the night before they are scheduled to go home to their families.

The movie is titled 13 Hours because that's how many hours these soldiers spent in chaos that night. However, I'm half tempted to instead believe that the movie is named after the amount of time it feels like you spend watching this movie because it is LONG. It's true that 144 minutes is not out of the ordinary for a movie like this. In fact, some are much longer, but this one lacks a certain focus that makes it feel super long. Think of some of Michael Bay's other movies. Like the Transformers movies. Half of the problem with those movies is that they could literally be an hour shorter, but Michael Bay is so obsessed with all of his explosions that he does nearly three hours of explosions because he just can't help himself. If the Transformers movies were only like 100 minutes or so, then they might actually be decent because that would require them to be a lot more focused and precise instead of just hours of mindless firework explosions. Don't get me wrong, 13 Hours is much better than the Transformers movies, but the same principles apply. The movie needed to be at least 20-30 minutes shorter because for much of the run time it's just a whole bunch of almost mindless war scenes. I didn't know what was going on. The story was kinda confusing. Just bombs, gunfire, explosions, soldiers running everywhere. Just unfocused war scenes.

I got the feeling that Michael Bay just couldn't help himself. It's as if he listened to all the criticism he's had over years and years of making horrible movies and decided to attempt to make a good movie this time around. And it mostly works. But he couldn't help himself. He had to include a lot of his typical Michael-Bay-isms. An overly long movie with too many action sequences. Unrealistic firework explosions. Soldiers running in slow motion. Attempted humor at the wrong time that kill the suspense. Weird camera angles, specifically camera angles where the camera is really low and angled upwards that give us the feeling that we are laying on the ground watching these super tall soldiers. And product placement. All of Michael Bay's movies have to have product placement. The Transformers movies are loaded with them. This one doesn't have nearly as much, but once again, Michael Bay couldn't help himself. I get the need for product placement, but it can be done well and it can be done poorly. This is the latter. Like there are scenes where the movie is super suspenseful, but then the suspense is completely ruined because suddenly you realize that you are in a Mercedes Benz commercial instead of a movie.

All of this was really frustrating to me because I knew there was a great movie hidden amidst all of these Michael-Bay-isms. I get that the man is trying to redeem himself, but ultimately I wish this movie was done by a different director. I think we would've had a great movie, because Michael Bay has to have his stamp on the movie. Yes, this is better than the Transformers movies. And yes, this is much, much better than his other two movies that are based on a true story. I mean, his first attempt at that he turned the events of Pearl Harbor into long, drawn-out love story with a few Pearl Harbor scenes thrown in. His second attempt, he turned a rather horrible and disturbing crime drama into a really offensive comedy. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. Bad movies. In fact, is 13 Hours Michael Bay's best movie? I guess. But best Michael Bay movie is like asking which pile of dog crap you'd rather step in. In this instance, the movie is like walking through the grass thinking you're going to step in a pile of dog crap, but then checking your shoe afterwards and realizing that you didn't. It's not an experience to write home about, but at least you didn't step in a pile of dog crap. 13 Hours wasn't a great movie. But at least I didn't feel like I was being punished with my sentence being me forced to watch Transformers: Age of Extinction all the way through.

But yes, as this being Michael Bay's best movie, or at least the best movie he's made this millennium, there are some things to praise about this. Namely the last act of this movie is really good. The first two-thirds of this movie I found boring, confusing, way too shaky (I almost got dizzy in a few scenes), and stuffed with enough Michael-Bay-isms to annoy me. But holy cow was the ending of the movie great. The suspense was at an all-time high. These men are just trapped on the tops of these buildings trying to fend off the attacks and simply hoping that they make it through the night. When the attacks come, you are on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, hoping that they make it. When the downtime arrives, it's even more suspenseful because you are thinking that at any given second another attack could happen. And of course it's at these moments where you get your strong feelings of patriotism where you are super grateful for these men for putting their lives on the line as they defend our country. Even if the battle they are fighting is useless. You're still grateful. And by that I mean this is where the slight political agenda comes in. It's not a bad thing. They are just trying to be honest in stating that the United States came in with intentions of establishing democracy, but it blew up in our faces, leaving everything in complete chaos, making you wonder if we should've stayed out of it in the first place.

I also can't leave this review without mentioning the acting. Everyone does a phenomenal job. Yet the standout performer is definitely John Krasinski. He's a genuinely likable guy and a fantastic comedian, known best for his role as Jim in The Office. He has had several supporting roles in various movies throughout his career that I have enjoyed, but I've honestly never seen him like this. I always love it when a comedic actor can take a dramatic role and knock it out of the park. That's definitely what happens here and thus I can honestly say that this is John Krasinski's best performance of his career. If Bradley Cooper can get an Oscar nomination for his role in American Sniper, John Krasinski deserves one for this movie. The problem here is that this is a January release. By the time next year's Oscar nominations come around, the old geezers in the Academy will have forgotten this movie exists. Yes, American Sniper came out around the same time, but it was officially released in four theaters at the end of December 2014, making it eligible for last year's Oscars. 13 Hours didn't do that, so it'll be forgotten in a year from now. Plus, the Academy has a man-crush on Bradley Cooper right now. He gets nominated for everything. I'm surprised they didn't include him this year. The point of all this is that John Krasinski gives an Oscar-worthy performance, which definitely helps carry the movie.

Overall this is not a bad movie. It's curious that they decided to do this so soon. I'm wondering what the soldiers involved in the actual events think of this movie as it has to be fresh on their minds still. In the hands of another director who is used to doing war dramas, this would've been great. As is, Michael Bay got his hands on this, and although he did a worthy job, he just couldn't help himself. He had to put his annoying stamps on the movie, which makes this a very average-at-best movie for the first two acts. I was bored, confused, and annoyed for most of the movie. It wasn't horrible, but I saw the potential the movie had and was sad that it was being ruined by a bad director. But then the third and final act came around and I was totally glued in and on the edge of my seat. I almost completely forgot about my complaints from the first two acts and I almost completely forgot that this was a Michael Bay movie. It was super intense, super suspenseful, and super emotional. Had the whole movie gone down like the ending went down, this would've been one of the best war dramas I've seen, especially since John Krasinski gives the best performance of his career in an Oscar-worthy performance. But as is, I have to give a grade to the movie as a whole and that comes in as a slightly above average movie. My grade for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a 7.5/10.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Boy Review

This past week I finished up my year in review for 2015 as I gave you my best and worst movies of this past year. However, incoming movies never stop coming and so now it's time to give you my first review of a 2016 movie! Yes, I did review The Hateful Eight and The Revenant this year already, but those were 2015 releases that expanded this month. There were also some other new releases in the last two weeks that I didn't get to because I chose to spend my time catching up on a few more 2015 movies before making my final best and worst lists. In typical January fashion, none of them really looked that good and poor reviews for nearly every one of them made me believe I wasn't missing much. However, I do plan on catching up with a few them anyways so I can let you know if they're worth your time. But first I needed to see The Boy. Why was a creepy doll horror movie the new January release I was actually anticipating? The answer is that this comes from STX Entertainment, the new production company that brought us The Gift, one of my favorite movies from last year. That's a good reason to check this out, right? Turns out this isn't that bad. In fact, I thought it was pretty good.

I will admit that this is a tricky movie to review as literally the whole movie hinges on whether or not the last third of the movie is any good. As such, a good portion of my thoughts pertaining to this movie have to do with the ending. But ain't no way am I divulging any of those thoughts because that will ruin the experience for you. The whole premise of the movie is centered on the mystery of this doll. Our main character is a girl who has just got out of a pretty bad experience with a previous relationship and she is simply looking to escape the world, so she accepts a job as a nanny out in the country. The house she goes to for this job is a huge, old house in the middle of nowhere with all the windows boarded up. Her job is to watch after an older couple's 8-year-old son while they are gone on some sort of vacation or something like that. Turns out their son is a doll, which confuses her, especially when both of the parents treat the doll as an actual boy with strict rules that need to be followed. The doll is not alive. It's not possessed or talking. It's just a doll. So when the parents leave, she doesn't really take this seriously at all. She leaves the doll on the chair or on the bed and goes about her normal business. She has broken the rules.

I'm going to stop you right there. When you hear that premise, I know what you are thinking. The doll really is alive and it's possessed with some sort of demon and it comes alive to chase this girl and kill her for not obeying the riles. No. That's not what this movie is. This isn't a supernatural horror film. This isn't a monster film. Instantly there's a ton of movies that come to your mind, like Child's Play for example, that do follow this premise. Quite frankly I'm not a huge fan of slasher horror films like that, especially not our modern take on the genre. Too many horror films these days rely way too much on jump scares, monsters/demons, and blood and gore in order to be entertaining. Acting and story often get thrown out the window. If that's what you like in your horror movies, don't go see The Boy. It's not your movie. The doll doesn't start killing people. The movie isn't that gory. There were hardly any jump scares and those that were there didn't make me jump very much. In fact, I wasn't even really that scared. If you're in the mood to go get scared and/or you want to see something violent and gruesome, skip this one. I'm serious. You're going to walk out hating the movie.

Does saying this spoil the movie? Not in my opinion. My point here is that I want you to know what you are getting into with this. Perhaps if you look at it the right way, you might actually enjoy the movie. No there aren't a ton of jump scares or blood and gore. Yes, there is a lot of suspense and a lot of that is done in more of a natural way. We are thrown right into a very complex story that we don't know much about. As the movie slowly starts to reveal itself, we start getting an idea of what's actually going on. But it's not given all at once. The mystery shrouding the whole situation is what keeps you intrigued and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. What's the deal with this family? What have they gone through? Why are they doing the things that they do? The first thing I actually noticed was the set of the film and the lighting. This sets the tone for the movie. Instead of jump scares, we get great camera work combined with a beautiful, creepy score. We also have great acting by everyone and very believable characters. The way the older couple cares for this doll as if it's their actual son is great and believable. How our main girl reacts to this while the parents are there and what she does right when they leave is also great. The whole thing felt real and genuine. I felt like they were actually trying to make a film instead of using horror cliches to grab a few extra bucks and I appreciated that.

In summing this point up, this felt more like a thriller to me than a horror and I think that if you look at this as more of a thriller, then you might appreciate the movie more. In fact, a very comparable movie was M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit from last year. That was another movie that was a horror/thriller. It wasn't scary or gory, but it was suspenseful and it was actually really good. Much of the same qualities that made The Visit a good movie make this one a good movie. Even if we were to ignore the ending of The Boy, the way that they crafted the film and the way that they chose to build up the suspense were very admirable in my opinion. When it comes to thrillers, I'm once again going to refer to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. None of his movies were super scary, but they were very suspenseful and the way he built that suspense was beautiful. I want more people in our day to look at the model Hitchcock set up and use that for their films. When I see it happen, I make sure that I give credit where credit is do. Last year STX delivered The Gift which I felt was a modern Hitchcock thriller, which is why I loved it so much. I went into this movie hoping that The Boy would follow the same format and I honestly feel comfortable in saying that it did. The movie was set up like a good thriller should be set up and I loved that about this movie.

But as I said towards the beginning of this review, this movie hinges on the last act of the movie. Last year there were several movies where I spent a long time explaining what it is exactly that makes a good thriller and I came up with three main points that good thrillers always have. The first is a realistic premise. The second is a good villain. The third is a good twist. That third one is a very key. Good thrillers have good twists. If you have a realistic premise and a good villain, but your twist isn't that good, the movie fails because the whole movie you are leading up to that twist. That reveal is the whole point of the movie. The reveal in The Gift was amazing. The reveal in The Visit was pretty good. The reveal in this one? Ummm... this is where I do a lot of dancing around the answer. I want to dive into my thriller formula with this movie. In my mind I have. But the problem is that I can't even talk about any of them. Do we know if this is a realistic movie? No, we don't. I spent the whole movie wondering where they were going to take this. Is the villain a compelling villain? Who even is the villain of the movie? Is it the doll? Is it the parents? Is it someone else? And how deep and relatable are they as a villain? I have answers to these, but I can't dive into specifics. Was the twist a good twist? I don't want to tell you.

So yes, as I stated earlier, this was a hard review to write. Overall I suppose a good way to sum up my thoughts is that I was satisfied. Perhaps this isn't the most original idea. I haven't actually seen a lot of creepy doll movies, but I really enjoyed the direction they took with this movie. This certainly isn't your typical slasher horror movie. This also isn't a situation where Sam and Dean Winchester needed to intervene, if you get that reference. I don't know what else to say without spoiling things, so I'm going to leave it at that. But once again I want to repeat that you should know what you are getting into with this movie. If you want a gory, jump-scare filled monster movie that so many horrors are like nowadays, this is not your movie. If you want to see a movie that scares your pants off, this is not your movie. I see this as more of a thriller where the suspense is built up in a slower, more natural way that I personally appreciate a lot more. Is this on par with The Gift? No, it's not. I have a few things to nit-pick that I can't tell you about, but I do think this is a good movie. I also think it's very comparable to The Visit. If you liked that movie, then I think you should give The Boy a shot. My grade for it is an 8/10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

DrogeMiester's Top 10 WORST Movies of 2015

A few days ago I gave you my list of my top 10 favorite movies of 2015. If you missed that list, I have it linked right there for you to catch up on. Now it's time to do the opposite and give you my least favorite movies of 2015. As a reminder, this is my list. If you liked some of these movies, that's great. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. I didn't want to hate these movies. I always go into a movie hoping to like it, but sometimes that's just not what happens. In the case of these movies, my experience was a disaster. It's also worth noting that, once again, I did not see every movie this year. In fact, when it comes to bad movies there are some that I just had no desire to see. As an example of this, I'll let the cat out of the bag right away. I had no desire to give Fifty Shades of Grey one penny of my money. Does the movie promote rape and sexual abuse? No. Does it look like a really cheap porn flick with horrible characters, acting, dialogue, and story? Yes. So I didn't see it. It's not the only bad movie I skipped. But there were enough atrocities for me to feel comfortable doing this list. So here they are!

10- Taken 3

I'm one of the few people who thought that the fist Taken movie was really dumb. I love Liam Neeson and he's done a lot of great action movies recently, but there's just no intelligence behind this Taken trilogy at all. And they got worse as they went. In this disgraceful third chapter they decided to go the Fugitive route where Liam Neeson was accused of killing his wife and the FBI went on a man hunt to try to find him. And none of it made any sense at all. There was no reason to believe that he actually killed his wife and there was certainly no reason for the FBI to jump to so many conclusions and assume that Liam Neeson was their one and only suspect. Yet that's what happened for most of the movie. I don't blame the actors for this. Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker tried their best. But there was just nothing to work with as the writing and directing was just so bad. This was just a cash grab. Nothing more. And no one seemed to care about actually making a quality movie. There wasn't even hardly any action sequences that made some people actually like the other Taken movies. They said this was the last one. Let's hope they're true to their word.

9- The Divergent Series: Insurgent

After The Hunger Games was such a big hit, there was some pretty big buzz following Divergent. People told me that the books were good. People said that the story was refreshing and original. Then people said the movie was fantastic! Well I must've been shown a different movie in theaters because the Divergent movie I saw was so dull and boring with no originality whatsoever. It's like the author read The Hungers Games and decided to change the names as well as adding a bunch of things from other successful novels/movies in this genre and make a bunch of money. I guess that worked. Money was made both with the books and the movies, but I personally thought it was a joke. However, it was good enough to barely miss this list last year. I also honestly held the hope that Insurgent would improve on the dull first novel, but holy cow it just got a whole lot worse. I rolled my eyes at Divergent. But Insurgent was actually hard to get through. I love Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller as actors. I think they are all talented. But nothing worked for me here. And poor Miles Teller shows up twice on this list, neither of which is his fault. Now are y'all ready for the movie based on first half of the final book this year? I'm not.

8- Pixels

I spent a lot of time defending Adam Sandler and Kevin James leading up to the release of this movie. Both of them have made plenty of good movies in the past, so to me it was silly to hate on a movie solely based on the fact that the two of them were in it. The premise of this movie was genius. Video game characters attacking the Earth? That should've been a lot of fun. And Chris Columbus on as director? That's the guy who gave us Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potter movies. He knows how to make a good movie. Or so I thought. Apparently he forgot because this was horrible. Turns out all the Adam Sandler haters were spot on this time around. This was supposed to be funny. I think I was supposed to laugh. I didn't. Video game characters attacking Earth was supposed to be fun. It wasn't. It was all just stupid. No one was invested in this movie. All of the actors were just there to get a paycheck. The writers apparently didn't even try to make it funny or fun. Instead it was mostly just racist, sexist, and outright stupid. Kevin James as president of the United States was horrible. Adam Sandler and the romance storyline was painful. The fact that him and his buddies were the only ones capable of shooting a freaking gun at these video game characters was a joke. The only reason why this isn't higher up is because the Pacman sequence was kinda fun. But that's literally it.

7- Pan

Every 10 years or so Hollywood decides that it's time to remake Peter Pan again. I don't know why this is the case, but if we have to do this I can at least respect the idea of doing something different. I kinda liked the idea of doing a prequel where we explain how Peter Pan got to Neverland. The idea of Hook being a protagonist to start things off was interesting. We can tell the story of how they became enemies. Add a fantastic cast and a great director and things were looking great! Until the trailers started being released. Uh-oh. I suddenly got really nervous. The trailers were terrible. And turns out that uh-oh was right. We have the dumbest, most cliche orphanage scene to start things off. I just wanted to get to Neverland. But then the journey to Neverland felt like an acid trip and when we got to Neverland they were singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Might I remind you that this was set in World War II. That song didn't exist!!! But dumb things like that set the tone for the rest of this movie to the point where if you are a fan of Peter Pan, this movie will be offensive to you because nothing is right. It's all horrible and hard to watch. It baffles me how people like Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara can read scripts like this and decide that it's a good idea to accept the job. 

6- Terminator: Genisys

Well here's a franchise that should've ended 20 years ago. If you haven't seen the first two Terminator movies, go watch them. They are two of the best action/sci-fi movies ever made. But then the rights went to someone else and then those someone elses decided to continue a franchise that was wrapped up in the most perfect way. In doing so, there were so many continuity errors that it was apparent that for some reason the new people in charge did not care for those first two classics at all. That third Terminator movie was a disaster. The fourth one had nothing to do with anything. And yet we still got a fifth one. And we might even get a sixth one. Stop it! Just stop it! Now to be fair, the initial premise of this movie is interesting. They go back to the events of the first movie and had they stayed there, this could've be a fun movie. But then they jumped into the future and the whole thing became a confusing mess. Time travel is a fun subject that I enjoy. But if you get too carried away, it easily can become a mess, thus you have to tread carefully. The first two were perfect in regards to this. But now the whole franchise is just messed up and now this this franchise has become the textbook example of what NOT to do with time travel in a movie. Personally I choose to pretend that Terminators 3-5 don't exist and I cross my fingers that they will one day just stop.

5- Jupiter Ascending

Hollywood needs more original sci-fi movies. I'm a big proponent of that. We're so carried away in sequels, remakes, and adaptations that we often don't even give original ideas our time and money. Thus Hollywood doesn't make many of them anymore. This is sad. That's why the story behind Jupiter Ascending is heart-breaking. The Wachowski siblings finally gave us another original, big-budgeted sci-fi movie. If this had succeeded, perhaps more original ideas would've followed. BUT IT WAS A DISASTER!!! The opening sequence is really awkward. The setup is stupid. Then the bulk of the movie is a huge, convoluted mess that is the hardest movie to follow. It was as if this was a fourth or fifth movie in a franchise that I was just jumping right into. There's this universe that's setup and we're just expected to know everything about it with little explanation. Not to mention that we have some characters that are half wolf, half human and other characters that are half bee, half human. We also have the weakest lead female who needs to be rescued over and over and over because she is completely helpless. And yet the movie is named after her. To top that all off, Eddie Redmayne followed up his Oscar-winning performance with the absolute worst performance by an actor all year. It made me want to punch the guy in the face and take his Oscar away.

4- Strange Magic

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Yes, I'm talking about George Lucas. In the same year that Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the highest grossing movie ever in the United States, One of Lucas' own passion projects also debuted in theaters. It was called Strange Magic and it was a mess. In fact it was such a mess that it made almost nothing at the box office in the middle of January, meaning you probably never heard of it. No Lucas didn't direct or produce this movie, but it was his story that he had wanted to have made and it was the story of the movie that made absolutely no sense. His defense was that Star Wars was initially intended as a movie for 12-year-old boys and now he wanted to do this little project as a movie intended for 12-year-old girls. Ha. Ha. Ha. I suppose that those intentions are respectable, but I doubt that any 12-year-old girl would even enjoy this movie. I have a hard time even seeing a 6-year-old girl enjoying this movie. Not only is the whole plot a copy of a copy of a copy, but it is so messy and convoluted that it feels like they tried to stuff a whole trilogy worth of plot into 99 minutes. On top of that, it's one of the worst musicals ever. Every single scene they break out into song at all the wrong moments, most of that being current pop music. And yes, if you didn't know, this is an animated movie. One of the worst animated movies I've seen.

3- The Green Inferno

For some reason I felt the need to experience an Eli Roth movie this year. That was a mistake. Have you ever had the desire to watch a human being slowly have all their limbs and other body parts get chopped off and eaten while they are alive followed by watching their head getting cut off and having their whole body served for dinner to this group of cannibals in the wilderness? I didn't think so. This movie is labeled as a horror movie. I wasn't scared. I was disgusted and disturbed. I don't know why a movie like this is passed off as entertainment. Now you can have a violent movie that's done well. Quentin Tarantino has done eight of those. You can also have a horror movie with cannibalistic themes that is actually terrifying. This is neither of those. It's just watching a group of students getting eaten by scavengers in the wilderness and it's disgusting. I don't know why I even watched the whole movie. I guess I just wanted to see how they escaped, but that just made things worse because of the end of the movie is stupid. What the survivors did and said is not what anyone would do or so if they almost just got served for dinner. They would also be a lot more broken mentally. If you are a "gore-hound" and just need to see a gory, violent movie, then I guess this is your thing. But if you want to actually watch a good horror, this is not the movie to see.

2- Jem and the Holograms

I have an idea. Let's take a popular 80's cartoon, completely throw it in the blender, and release it as a live-action film. It worked for Transformers and G.I. Joe. Why not Jem and the Holograms? Even if I were to ignore the fact that this has absolutely nothing to do with the original cartoon (which I'm not going to do -- that's part of the problem), this is still a really dumb movie. A girl records herself singing a random song in her room, her sister secretly uploads it to YouTube, and when she wakes up the next day it has millions of views and suddenly she is as popular as OneDirection. I'm serious. There are so many things wrong with that premise. The biggest problem being that this is aimed at teenage girls and thus is teaching that practice and hard-work aren't necessary to achieve success. This movie is insulting to everyone who actually has worked hard at achieving success on YouTube or as a musician in general. Not to mention that the ensuing attempt at a musical drama is the most pathetic attempt I have seen. Such terrible writing in this. But yes, let's bring back the fact that this is based on the 80's cartoon. They made a horrible movie that has nothing to do with the cartoon and slapped that title on in order to try to make money. Because of that, they've ruined any and all hope for fans of the cartoon to get a properly done movie because no one is going to want to touch this property. That hurts. The only positive thing with this is that the makers of this movie received justice. The movie only made $2.1 million and was pulled from theaters after just two weeks. They didn't even make back their $5 million budget.

1- Fantastic Four

With Fifty Shades of Grey out of the running for my worst movie, this choice was obvious. The production issues for Fant4stic were very well publicized. This doesn't always kill a movie, but in this instance I was left dumbfounded as I sat through the credits. I have never watched a movie where it was so obvious that everyone involved in a project gave up. I'm serious. They. Gave. Up. The first hour of this movie is all setup. It's long and boring, but I can see where the director was coming from. He wanted a more character-oriented movie. But I was so bored that I looked up how long the movie was just to see how much time I had left because it felt like there was another hour or so at least. There was 20 minutes left. I was shocked. Then I witnessed as the second act of the movie was like 10 minutes long and the finale was also only 10 minutes long. They gave up. After not being able to agree on anything, they just slapped an ending on and threw something in theaters. They were more concerned about retaining their rights to the property than giving us a good film. That's despicable. At least with the other movies on this list, it's obvious that an attempt at making a good movie was made and a final product was put in theaters. But because they didn't try with this one, it earns my award for worst movie of 2015. I really hope the talented young cast can recover from this disaster.

Friday, January 15, 2016

DrogeMiester's Top 10 BEST Movies of 2015

We've finished another year in movies and so it's finally time to reveal my top 10 personal favorite movies of the year. A few things to note before we start. First, this is a list of my personal favorite movies. The movies I enjoyed most or the movies that I had a personal connection with. I've been told in lists like this that I'm wrong and that makes no sense. No, I'm not wrong. This is my list. It's biased towards what I liked. Second, I have not seen every movie this year. That's an impossible feat because there are so many that come out each year. But that's okay. It means that there's always more movies to discover from every year and I think it's good to always keep searching those movies out instead of only focusing on the new ones. In the future I probably will find several movies that should've been on this list. No problem with that, right? Finally, while I do enjoy assigning grades to movies, when creating this list I always ignore the grades that I gave. Thus you might find things in an odd order if you pay super close attention to the numbers I give out. Don't let that throw you off. A number is just a number. This is all about comparing the movies to each other, which is something I don't do when giving out an individual grade. So without further ado, let's begin!

10- Shaun the Sheep Movie

Inside Out was deep. The Peanuts Movie was full of nostalgia. Both movies had me laughing hysterically the whole time and both movies almost made me cry. Yet if you know me well enough, you shouldn't be too surprised that my favorite animated movie of the year is in fact Shaun the Sheep Movie. I absolutely love the stop-motion animation genre. These movies deserve to make as much money as the Pixar movies do because of the insane amounts of time and talent that it takes to make just one scene. To make a whole movie? Holy. Fetching. Cow. Yet few people give them the time of day and that's a shame. Concerning Shaun the Sheep Movie, by all accounts this shouldn't have worked. A feature-length movie based on those short little Shaun the Sheep episodes that don't even have actual dialogue? The fact that this does work is mind-blowing. Major creative juices were flowing here because I laughed harder and was more emotional in this movie than the other two animated movies I mentioned. And there was no dialogue. Yet this movie made less than $20 million in the states. Ouch. If you skipped this one, repent now and go rent it. The guys making these movies deserve your money.

9- The Revenant

I waited until this movie expanded to my area to make this list because I had a feeling that this would end up here. And I was right! Alejandro González Iñárritu blew my mind with Birdman last year and he did it again this year. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio does get mauled by a bear, making this an intense and brutal survival story, but it's not just a survival story. The themes of love, revenge, family, and racism are so strong and beautiful. No one makes the best decisions, yet you can't fault anyone too much for the decisions they make. Not even our antagonist Tom Hardy. Best of all, the cinematography in this movie is some of the best cinematography that I have ever seen. What they accomplished in this movie with 100 percent, pure natural light is absolutely mind-boggling. This just won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Was that deserving? Eh. I don't know. I'd pick a few others before it, but if this does win Best Picture at the Oscars, I'm not going to be complaining. And speaking of which, give Leo his Oscar already! He should be winning his second or third at this point. Not his first.

8- The Martian

Big budget space movies have been quite the trend recently and I'm not even talking about Star Wars. I'm talking about Gravity, Interstellar, and now The Martian. In terms of the overall cinematic experience, I still think Gravity is the best of the three. However, in terms of story and theme, The Martian easily wins. And please, can we cut it with the "it's not scientifically accurate" argument? None of these three are perfect in those terms, It's like the argument after every single biopic that "that's not how it happened in real life!" You're missing the point. Gravity took me to space and made me feel that I was never making it back to Earth with it's amazing use of 3D. Interstellar was emotional and tragic until the ending got weird and confusing. The Martian taught some amazing life lessons that can be applicable to everyone in any situation. No we're not all going to be stuck on Mars, but all of us are going to be facing our own challenges that seem impossible to overcome. We can either give up and whine and complain our way through life or we can take it one step at a time. You can either focus on trying to get from Mars to Earth (figuratively speaking) or you can focus on figuring out how to get food for the next day. And you can have a sense of humor. Laughter can literally make you live longer. That's not just an expression. That's fact. Medically proven. What a great thing to remember! Thank you Matt Damon and Ridley Scott!

7- Creed

Here we have a seventh movie in a beloved franchise that began in the late 70's. The franchise has had its ups and downs, but in 2015 a new director and team comes on board to essentially reboot the franchise. It's not an actual reboot, but a new beginning with new characters to focus on and follow. To successfully do this, we bring in the old characters we all knew and love as our supporting cast and essentially make the same movie as the original movie just with new characters in those old roles. And it worked! IT WORKED!! Does it matter that Creed and Rocky are like the same exact movie? No! IT DOESN'T! Because every one of these movies in this franchise follows a specific formula and if you try to drastically alter that tried and true formula, you're going to fall flat on your face and no one is going to like your movie. But yet, despite following this formula, Creed still has several things that separate itself. Our main character played by Michael B. Jordan is trying to figure out where he belongs in this world and watching his character progress throughout the movie is beautiful. Helping him out is Rocky himself, whose character in this is a whole lot deeper. Sylvester Stallone gives the performance of his career. This is a beautiful character piece that is topped off with some fantastic fighting sequences that gave me all the feels.

6- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

A lot of people are talking about Brooklyn right now and for good reason. It's a pretty good movie that is now officially a best picture nominee. But when it comes to movies from Sundance in 2015, I happened to think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a better movie. You can look at the title and think that you've already seen the movie. You can read the premise and think it's just The Fault in Our Stars 2.0. You'd be wrong on both accounts. This isn't a romance movie. This isn't another typical teenager in high school movie like The DUFF or Easy A. Even though I liked all three of those movies I just mentioned, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a whole lot more. This is the most honest and real movie that I've seen about what it's like for a teenager going through high school while trying to deal with the failing health of a friend that you care about. This was such a raw, emotional movie. I related a lot with our main kid. I thought his friend Earl was the perfect friend. Best of all, I absolutely loved Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel as our dying girl. While I'm happy for Saoirse Ronan for her newest Oscar nomination, Olivia Cooke should've been the one to get that. Why was she not in the conversation? Oh yeah. Because her movie came out in the Summer instead of at the end of the year. Stupid Academy probably forgot this movie existed.

5- The Gift

I watched a lot of Hitchcock movies this year. The man is the master of making a good thriller, which is what my favorite genre of movie is. In watching so many Hitchcock thrillers, I realized that they all follow a formula (once again, following a formula is NOT a bad thing). Three main elements of that formula are as follows: a compelling villain, a satisfying conclusion (usually a good twist), and a realistic and/or relevant story. I won't dive deep into all of those elements, but if you think of the best Hitchcock thrillers (like Psycho and Vertigo), they all nail those three elements. In fact, Hitchcock or no Hitchcock, all the best thrillers follow that formula. And yes, you guessed it. So does The Gift. In fact, I feel that The Gift is a modern Hitchcock thriller. The villain, played by director, writer, and star Joel Edgerton, is deep and complex. You can relate to him and understand why he's doing what he is doing. The movie has several twists and turns that keep you on the edge or your feet as well as a jaw-dropping conclusion. And yes, the themes of bullying in the movie are very relevant in today's society. On top of all that, all the actors, especially Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton are amazing and the movie is very well crafted in all aspects. What a directorial debut for Joel Edgerton!

4- Ex Machina

Speaking of thrillers, how about the genius sci-fi thriller Ex Machina? A movie that, once again, FOLLOWS A FORMULA! Think about it. What happens in just about every movie that attempts to touch the subject of artificial intelligence? And what happens in Ex Machina? Exactly. I'm not going to spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie, but I am glad I will have a large following for this one because a lot of people have loved Ex Machina. It's shown up in just about every top 10 list that I've seen and I've been on the band wagon from the second I stepped out of the theater back in April. This movie is amazing! It's also one of four movies that I seriously considered putting number one. The fact that I have it at four almost feels like an insult, but instead is more of a compliment to how strong this movie is. The suspense in this movie is insane. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time because I had no idea what was going to happen. The moment I figured it out, I was shocked and stunned. The more I've thought about the events in this movie, the better the movie gets. And how about our trio of phenomenal actors who all gave Oscar-worthy performances? Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vickander are amazing in this movie. I'm now glad that all three have achieved mainstream success. Isaac and Gleeson are in Star Wars (Poe Dameron and General Hux) and Vickander got herself an Oscar nomination. It sadly wasn't for this movie, but at least she got one.

3- Spotlight

Another movie that I'm embarrassed that I have so low. If Spotlight is your favorite movie of the year, then I'm right there with you. I just have four favorite movies. This is literally 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d. Spotlight is just 1c and you'll realize why once you look at the other two ahead of it. Perhaps there is a bit of bias on my part with this movie because my major is journalism and this is a journalism movie. But remember? I can do what I want with my list. Last year I included Kill the Messenger in my top 10, another journalism movie. That one I felt like I was all alone on in defending it. This one I have people on my side. I don't know what the difference is between the two, but whatever. They're both great in my eyes. Kill the Messenger shows that sometimes the journalist is the victim when he or she tries to break an important story. Spotlight shows what can happen when the world decides to listen to a journalist when he or she (or a group of he and she's in this instance) breaks an important story. A journalist can literally change the world and save lives. Apparently there have been thousands, if not millions of children around the world in the last 30-40 years at least that have been victims of sexual molestation in the hands of Catholic Priests. This is the story of the group of journalists that uncovered that scandal. I knew this was a problem, but I didn't know how big of a problem it was until I watched this movie. I'm calling this the most eye-opening and most important movie of the year. Which is why I wanted to put it at the top.

2- Mad Max: Fury Road

Oh what a day! What a lovely day! I loved Mad Max: Fury Road from the second the movie started. I didn't think the rest of the world would love it, too, but I'm kinda glad they did! I mean, 10 Oscar nominations? Are we for real? That almost never happens for a movie like this! But yet, few action movies made are as perfect as Mad Max: Fury Road. Every sequence. Every shot. Every cut. Every scene. It's all perfect. And to think that it was all done with very limited CGI. It was all done by practical effects. The vehicles in this were real. The explosions actually happened. Real stuntmen performed all of the crazy stunts you see that most directors would choose to do all by computer. All of this is edited together so perfectly that the flow is just right. The cinematography is amazing. The visual effects are fantastic. The costumes are great. The makeup and hairstyles are brilliant. The actors are fantastic. The story is perfectly simple, yet the characters are deep and complex. Few action movies in the history of action movies are constructed and executed better. In fact, in celebration of it's huge day with all the Oscar nominations, I re-watched this movie because I now own it. I watch this movie all the time. It makes me happy when I am sad. It entertains me when I am bored. I wanted to put this number one. In fact, I almost just did. But there's another movie that deserves that honor and you know what it is by now.

1- Star Wars: The Force Awakens

That's right. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is my favorite movie of 2015. It's been a long time since a movie that I've been this excited for this rewarding. I promise I'm not just fanboying over Star Wars. I reviewed all six previous Star Wars movies and thus provided an in-depth analysis of why I like Star Wars so much and what I expected from this new movie. And it did exactly what I wanted it to do! Yes, it follows the same formula that A New Hope followed, but as I've been shoving in your face in this post, that's not a bad thing! I'm not going to dive into this any more than I already have, but I will suggest you watch this analyzed review by Chris Stuckmann that I just linked right there. There's so much to praise! The movie is a character piece that dives specifically into both Rey and Kylo Ren. It's their movie. Rey is such a great protagonist. I love everything about her and everything she does. And Kylo Ren is such a deep, troubled villain. I love how broken and conflicted he is. It makes him a better villain. I'm excited to see where the rest of the trilogy takes these two. It was great to see Han, Leia, Chewie, and the gang again, but what's more impressive is how I cared more about our new characters. Not just Rey and Kylo, but also Fin, Poe, BB8 and others.  I love the return to practical effects. I love the sets. I love the visuals. I love the cinematography. I love the John Williams score. I love the action sequences. I just absolutely love this movie! J.J. Abrams and company have successfully made the third best Star Wars movie!