Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ocean's 8 Review

OK, I'm really confused as to how to stylize the title of this movie. The original 1960 movie in this franchise was simply titled "Ocean's 11." Because, you know, typical grammar rules are that you simply type the number for numbers larger than 10 and spell one numbers that are nine or less. The 2001 remake broke that grammar rule and chose to spell out the number in "Ocean's Eleven." They stuck to that tradition with "Ocean's Twelve" and "Ocean's Thirteen." Now this new movie I thought would be titled "Ocean's 8," which goes back to the original way of stylizing the title in this franchise by simply putting the number. Although with previously mentioned grammar rules, "Ocean's 8" is also wrong, so maybe they're sticking with tradition by doing opposite of the proper grammar rules? However, despite all the posters, advertising, trailers, etc. calling this "Ocean's 8," the actual opening and closing title card during the movie itself stylized the movie "Ocean's Eight." So now what do I say? "Ocean's 8" or "Ocean's Eight"? I don't know what to do. From here on out, I think I'll just stick to "Ocean's 8" because that requires less keys to press on my keyboard. If you want to jump into this debate, though, feel free to do so because it's more interesting than anything in the actual movie.

So the Ocean's franchise. That's a funny story. I've now seen two of them. I was planning on doing a quick marathon just to make myself sound all educated, but I've not seen "Ocean's Twelve," "Ocean's Thirteen" or the original "Ocean's 11." Only the 2001 "Ocean's Eleven" remake and now the female reboot/sequel/remake titled "Ocean's 8." Yeah, I know the official word is that this is a sequel to the remake trilogy, although in the future it'll be really confusing trying to explain to someone why "Ocean's 8" comes after "Ocean's Eleven" and why the grammar in the titles are all backwards. But "Ocean's 8," in addition to being a sequel, also successfully reboots the franchise with a new cast and also has to be called a remake of "Ocean's Eleven" since the only thing differences between the two movies are that it's a female cast where they're stealing female things such as fancy jewelry. Outside that, same exact movie. Almost to a "t." And I found the whole experience to be extremely lazy, which is an absolute shame because we have a phenomenal cast who all relish in their individual roles, having a blast with the film, but the writers and director apparently had zero passion behind this project as they went for a lazily-written carbon copy of something better.

This means that we have to bring up the politics behind this project, which I was hoping that I wouldn't have to do. We're in a very progressive age where we're at least trying to give females more attention in movies, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. And I think this is an absolutely wonderful idea. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. The right way is to give females more lead roles and more directing opportunities. The wrong way is to lazily remake all the male-led movies by replacing them with females in order to satisfy a quota that we made female movies. This is where we have the female "Ghostbusters" remake, which is admittedly better than the internet thought it was going to be, but still spent way too much time regurgitating all the sexist jokes and stereotypes of the past, but reversing them to shaming all the males, and not enough time making a clever, fun "Ghostbusters" movie as it was a bit run of the mill. Now we add the female Ocean's movie. Which could've been fun. But instead feels like the writers and director felt obligated to make more female-led movies, so they regurgitated the script for "Ocean's Eleven," but replaced all the males with females just for the sake of claiming they have a female-led Ocean's movie.

It's been over 10 years since we've done one of these Ocean's movies. If someone in Hollywood had a genius idea of bringing this franchise back with a fresh cast of characters and a fresh heist to pull off, I would've been all down for this. And that's what I thought we were getting. A fun, unique heist film with a star-studded cast of ladies having a blast pulling off a unique heist. And I was excited. So I re-watched "Ocean's Eleven" in preparation, then went into "Ocean's 8" the next day and was shocked to see the same exact movie. A lazy, politically correct Ocean's movie made to fill a quota and hopefully cash in on a popular trend. But let's take a step back real quick. "Ocean's Eleven." I know some people that will claim that this movie is a classic and one of the best movies ever made. If that is you, I'm sorry. You might want to turn away because I might hurt your feelings. It's not a masterpiece. It's never blown my mind. But what it is, is a really fun, simple heist film that's the golden standard of heist films. There's been heist films before and after this movie in 2001, but "Ocean's Eleven" is now the textbook example of exactly how to do a heist film. It's a lot fun. And I think it's just fine to have a movie that's simply a lot of fun, but is not anything masterfully special.

Again, I haven't seen the other three, but I hear "Twelve" isn't worth watching and that "Thirteen" is enjoyable, but not close to the level of "Eleven." And I hear very mixed things about the original "Ocean's 11," most people agreeing that the remake was an improvement and a lot of people not even realizing that there is a 1960 version. If you have "Ocean's Eleven" in your mind, quickly let me go over "Ocean's 8," without spoilers, of course. Even though you already know how it's going to end simply because it's a heist film. We start with Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock, getting out of prison. She gives a speech to the parole board, I think, about how much she's changed and is nothing like her family, who are all known for their con-artist ways. Yet she gets out and immediately goes to Lou, Cate Blanchett's character, and describes her plan of pulling off an impossible heist that'll net them upwards of $160 million. But they need a team to pull it off, which in this case is seven of them. So we spend the first major portion of this movie recruiting the perfect team, all of whom are easily convinced and before we know it we are in the planning phase where they are going to pull off the perfect heist without any troubles, despite it being impossible to do.

Sound familiar? Anytime we get any drama, it just so happens to be the exact same type of drama as "Ocean's Eleven" wherein Debbie Ocean has secret motivation outside pulling off a perfect heist that Cate Blanchett isn't perfectly comfortable with, just like Danny Ocean and Brad Bitt's character in "Eleven." Said conversation had me screaming at the film inside of me because certain lines of dialogue were almost completely plucked straight from "Eleven." What made this partially acceptable was the cast. There's a lot of fingers to point around here, but none of them will be pointed at any cast member, which included Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter, in addition to the previously mentioned Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. Even though the movie and the heist itself was as by-the-numbers as it could get, all these ladies were having a blast. Even Rihanna did a great job, which was surprising. Personally my favorite lady in the movie was Anne Hathaway, who plays the famous actress in the movie who is modeling the diamond necklace that they are stealing. I probably shouldn't say much about why she is so awesome, but needless to say she is having the most fun.

When we get to the heist itself, I did find myself having a lot of fun with the heist, mostly because all the ladies were having a blast playing their individual roles in the heist. There is a few minor surprises that veer away from "Eleven" that I won't spoil, but the heist itself is sadly cut short a bit in order to fit room for the biggest surprise of the movie, a fourth act following our three-act structure, which unfortunately derailed any fun I was having during the moments of the heist itself. I walked out of the movie not completely offended at what was in front of me, but also really annoyed with the laziness of the movie itself. Granted, doing a heist film in 2018 is a bit of a tricky endeavor because it's hard to bring something completely new to the table that hasn't been done before. But I would've liked them to at least try, which it didn't appear like they did. "Logan Lucky" from last year proved that you still can do something fresh in the heist genre, so it's no excuse. Come up with something fresh or leave the ideas in the drawing room. As far as my final score goes, based on everything I've said, it may seem like I'm being a bit forgiving because I could go real low with this, but the ladies themselves owned this movie despite everything, so I'm giving "Ocean's 8" a 6/10.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty - Concept Short Review

About 15 years ago, a man had a dream to bring "The Book of Mormon" to the big screen. That man's name was Gary Rogers. I absolutely love this man's intentions. They were perfectly noble as he simply wanted to share "The Book of Mormon" with the world. He thought that the perfect solution would be to make a series of theatrically-released movies, each focusing on a main section of "The Book of Mormon." Thus in 2003 was released "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey." And it was a disaster. Personally I think there's elements of that movie that work just fine and I don't hate life while I'm watching it, thus I personally don't find the movie offensive, per se. But there's also so many cringe-worthy elements that you can tell it was made by an amateur filmmaker who didn't have much knowledge on how to properly make a film. That's my nice take on it. In general, the movie is mocked by most members of the Church, carrying a 3.1/10 on IMDb. It didn't make its budget back. Even if you like the movie, you'll most likely never use it to introduce a non-member to the Church. And, well, the biggest stinger is that if you look up Gary Rogers on IMDb, that movie is still his lone credit. Volume 2 was never made. Unfortunately that's probably a good thing.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have another man with the same vision as Gary Rogers. This man's name is Darin Southam. On March 15, 2018, our second try at a "Book of Mormon" movie premiered in theaters. Well, kinda. This time around, it was just a 10-minute concept short film, not a full-length feature. The short film has slowly been taking the rounds across the globe to show to members and at the moment it's right in the middle of a limited two-week run in seven different Megaplex theaters across Utah (The Gateway, Geneva, The District, Thanksgiving Point, Jordan Commons, Pineview and Providence) for just $5. I can't remember when I first saw this idea posted, but it's been quite a while. This journey began back in 2014 according to their Facebook, and I'm pretty sure I stumbled upon it around that time. I don't want to spend too much time on the history of this short film, but the gist of it is that Darin also wants to bring "The Book of Mormon" to the big screen, but he wants to do it right by making a quality production that people will enjoy. So he began a Kickstarter fund to raise money for a concept short film with the idea that said concept short film would be able to fund the feature-length movie. I recently saw the concept short film and this is my review.

This review is a fairly unique opportunity for me because normally I'm reviewing a final product and the point of the review is to let my friends know if they should see it or not. In this case, I'm reviewing a concept short that's very much a work in progress. I can give my opinion on what I liked and what I didn't like and there's a chance that my opinions can be taken into account when it's time to move forward with the feature-length movie. I have had friends in the film program and I've sat in script readings, thus I know that writers and other filmmakers in situations like this want honest feedback because it helps them know how to proceed moving forward. They might have an idea of what they want done, and I'm sure the actors and other members of the crew gave plenty of suggestions along the way, but the most important group of people are the audience of your film because they're the ones paying to see it. This is a great opportunity as a casual audience member to give feedback on this film. To make this situation even more unique, there's a chance that Darin Southam might actually read this as he sent me a message on facebook to my blog's facebook page back in August. I don't know how he found me, but he did. So this is my letter to him.

My genuine, honest, first reaction to this movie when I sat in the Geneva Megaplex this past week was that it gave me chills. The title card "Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty" came up, the music began to play and we had the text come across the screen, briefly describing "The Book of Mormon" to the casual, non-LDS audience as we had a beautiful camera shot across the water. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was actually happening. I was watching a properly done movie about "The Book of Mormon" in theaters. It felt surreal. Growing up LDS and being a fan of film, I've always had the idea in the back of my head of what my favorite "Book of Mormon" sequences would look like in a major motion picture. Up to this point, all I've had is that cheaply done 2003 movie, which only created a stronger desire in me to have it done right. However, this ultimately felt like an impossible dream. One that would never come true because there's too many obstacles that stand in the way of making this happen. Which is why I was filled with pure joy when this began because it felt like a dream come true. An event film on level of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" or "The Avengers" when I was in the theater for those the very first time. It was magical.

Then the short film itself started and I instantly put my critical hat on, ready to analyze this thing. In talking about specifics, I'm going to warn you of spoilers. If Darin Southam is actually reading this, I want him to know if specific emotions that I felt. Even if he doesn't, I want to look back on this review when the full movie comes out to compare notes. If you don't want a 10-minute short film spoiled, then go see this. You have four days left to find your nearest Megaplex if you live in Utah to watch this. Then come back and read over my thoughts. With that out of the way, after our introductory title sequence, we immediately jump to Moroni. No, not Captain Moroni who will probably be the focus of the feature-length movie. Son of Mormon, Moroni. The guy who buried the plates and showed up to Joseph Smith 1,400 years later. That's the subject of this short film. But we don't have the cliche sequence of him burying the plates, appearing to Joseph or wandering in the wilderness. We have him on the run from a group of Lamanites, who finally catch up to him and confront him. Old man Moroni then takes out his sword and participates in a duel with the three main Lamanite soldiers. Yeah, this is a short film that takes place after "The Book of Mormon."

Personally I found this choice to be curious. Not necessarily bad or good, but curious. If the idea with this concept short film was to raise funds for a feature-length film, I was thinking they would do a scene from the war chapters, like Teancum sneaking in to kill Amalickiah, Captain Moroni cornering the armies of Zerahemnah or, dare I say, a sequence involving the Title of Liberty? Portraying Moroni, son of Mormon, in his final moments was a cool sequence, but I'm not sure how that showcases what our feature-length movie portraying the war chapters is going to be like. The other curious thing was taking creative liberties about what Moroni's final moments were actually like. I know there's one story of a person in the late-1800's who said at some stake conference that Joseph Smith told them a vision of Moroni's final moments. Or something to that effect. But I'm not convinced we actually know. For all I know, he could've wandered in the wilderness for the rest of his days without the Lamanites finding him or maybe he got translated shortly after burying the plates because his work was finished. So shouldn't we be portraying an actual sequence from "The Book of Mormon" rather than a fictionalized interpretation of what could've taken place?

With that thought out of the way, if I accept the fact that this is what it is, the execution of this short film was great. I think we had a great setting for a final confrontation. The three Lamanite warriors were well cast and it was enjoyable watching Old Man Moroni fight them off with some really good fight choreography. Selling it was some phenomenal cinematography and an excellent score. Bengt Jonsson was the cinematographer while Kyle Warr did the music. If this full-length movie gets funded, bring those gentlemen back to continue their roles. I also think the costume designers and make-up artists had a lot of fun with their roles as they did a great job of making this feel authentic to 400 A.D. with Lamanites chasing down Moroni. Overall this felt very professionally done, which is why I'm excited about this project moving forward. Darin's goal was to do this right with professional filmmakers, a proper budget and well-trained actors who know what they're doing. On that final note, instead of signing up local LDS actors, a genuine effort to recruit professionally-trained actors paid off here, with Ben Cross as King Aaron, king of the Lamanites, being the standout, while Karina Lombard and Eugene Brave Rock were solid in their supporting roles, even though they didn't have much to do.

On that note, while I praise the effort of getting bigger name actors (Ben Cross was in the 2009 "Star Trek," Eugene Brave Rock was in "Wonder Woman" and Karina Lombard was in "Legends of the Fall"), I would be careful with the casting moving forward. I think Ben Cross did excellent and it was fun to see him and Darin Southam, who stepped in as Moroni, banter back and forth. But I was a bit confused as to why a white British guy was king of the Lamanites. I don't know if you need to have a strict Native American cast when it comes to the Lamanites, but I would say they need to look like Lamanites so we can easily make a distinction that they are Lamanites and not just assume they are based on makeup and costumes. Casting white people to play non-white roles is called white-washing. We don't need any of that in this movie. If we are assuming the king of the Lamanites is a former-Nephite like Amalickiah, then that needs to be clear. Also, the camera work had me a bit nervous. There was a lot of "Hunger Games" style shaky cam during this short duel. If there was too much of that during the feature-length movie, which will be heavily set around war and action sequences, that needs to be ironed out because that has the possibility of ruining the movie.

When all is said and done, though, this short film had me very encouraged about the future of this project. The worst part of this whole thing was that it ended too quickly, which is a good thing. As I sat down in the theater, I was ready to be there for the whole two hours, thus when the credits came up after 10 minutes, I was really disappointed. I knew that's what I was getting in for, but still. I wanted more. And I think that was the point of this. So well done, Darin Southam. Yes, there's a lot of work to be done here and I think Darin would be the first one to tell you that. Shooting a 10-minute short film is one thing. Transforming that into a two-hour feature film is a whole different ball game. Casting and shaky cam is what has me most nervous, but this can work. And I want it to work. I hope Darin gets funding to make his film and I hope that film does well enough to warrant him making the whole trilogy, because I love this idea and to see it played out would be the real dream come true. I also hope that the Church themselves don't steal Darin's thunder with their upcoming "Book of Mormon" videos akin to their "Bible" videos. The two separate projects can work in harmony together, right? My grade for this "Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty" concept short film is an 8/10. 


Note: Darin Southam did read through this and had this to respond to a couple of my points that I made, showing why he's the director and I'm simply a casual movie blogger:

"Good review. King Aaron was a defecting Nephite and so we portrayed him with fairer skin as per Nephi's vision seeing the Gentiles settle America and saying they looked "like unto my people before they were slain". Yes the opening sequence is based on the vision Joseph Smith had of the death of Moroni "At a meeting at Spanish Fork, Utah Co., in the winter of 1896, Brother Higginson stated in my presence that Thomas B. Marsh told him that the Prophet Joseph Smith told him (Thomas B. Marsh, he being then President of the Twelve), that he became very anxious to know something of the fate of Moroni, and in answer to prayer the Lord gave Joseph a vision, in which appeared a wild country and on the scene was Moroni after whom were six Indians in pursuit; he stopped and one of the Indians stepped forward and measured swords with him. Moroni smote him and he fell dead; another Indian advanced and contended with him; this Indian also fell by his sowrd; a third Indian then stepped forth and met the same fate; a fourth afterwards contended with him, but in the struggle with the fourth, Moroni, being exhaused, was killed. Thus ended the life of Moroni. (Evans)""

The idea of King Aaron being a defecting Nephite is what I was guessing. That vision of Moroni is something that I've heard, but it's still a bit of a grapevine story. Bro. Higginson said that Bro. Marsh said that Joseph said that this vision took place. If you know what I mean. It's believable. But I'm still not 100 percent convinced of its authenticity as opposed to being something that's more of a direct source from Joseph himself in Church history. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Hereditary Review

An A24 indie horror film that got praise out of Sundance. That's literally all I needed to have "Hereditary" right at the top of my list of movies I was anticipating for 2018. Yeah, we'll get to our awesome ladies in "Ocean's 8" pulling off a jewelry heist eventually on this blog. I enjoy heist films and that movie has an amazing cast, so I'm down for it. But I absolutely NEEDED to see "Hereditary." BEFORE all the dumb people on the internet started calling it the worst horror film ever made. Because, you know, horror fans are worse than Star Wars fans. They'll go drool all over themselves during the 876th Paranormal Activity movie or the 6,783rd Saw movie, but the second an original horror film comes out that is genuinely creepy, is well made and has deep themes that leave you lost in thought for days, horror fans start calling it the worst movie ever made because there wasn't any jump scares or creepy monsters. Personally I like to call myself a REAL horror fan. I don't care for all the cheaply made, poorly acted, jump-scare riddled, cliche crap that litters the mainstream today. I look for the real stuff. It's often hard to find, but once I do stumble onto one, it makes the search so rewarding. And A24 is typically a really good source for this type of horror film.

As far as what "Hereditary" is about, yeah that's a bit tricky to talk about, especially with how amazing the marketing has been. A24 focused heavily on the buzz from Sundance to sell this film. That certainly worked for me and should be enough for others like me who appreciate the more unconventional or indie horror. I looked at the premise of the film and all I got was something about the grandma dying, which causes all these secrets from the past to be unleashed. That didn't tell me a lot. Neither did the trailer, which just compiled a whole bunch of disturbing, creepy imagery along with a lot of clicking and creepy music. So I had no idea what this movie was when I went into it, which actually had me excited going in because I was ready to be completely surprised by whatever the movie had in store for me. And surprised I was. Yet surprised might be a bit of an understatement because, when I wasn't expecting it, the movie snuck up behind me and metaphorically drilled me with a baseball bat in the back of the head. Then almost as if the movie was a crazy psychopath standing above me and laughing. After hitting me once, the movie drilled me again. And again. And again. The moment I thought my beating was over, yup, you guessed it, I got drilled again.

This experience went on for 127 minutes, which is the length of the film. When the movie finally let up by ending, I was left battered, bruised, bloodied and scarred. I saw this movie 40 minutes from my home because I was doing a friend a favor, which means I had a long drive ahead of me when it finished. I couldn't just sit in a corner with ice cream and cat videos after a quick drive home from the normal theater I go to. It was a long, grueling drive home and my mind was just messed up. Now that I've given myself a couple of days for the dust to settle, I look back on this experience and am genuinely impressed that a horror movie was able to do this to me. I've seen a lot of horror movies in my days, especially recently, and thus I've conditioned my brain to not lot horror movies affect me as much. I can love and appreciate a really good horror movie without having weeks worth of nightmares the second a monster jumps out of a closet, if you know what I mean. Even in the horror movies that I consider the best, I've rarely walked out of the theater feeling completely torn to pieces and utterly wrecked. But that's exactly what "Hereditary" did to me. It's like bragging that you love hot food only to be completely messed up one day when a friend secretly slips a ghost pepper into your food.

Fear is certainly an interesting thing and everyone is affected by something different, so I'll try not to talk this movie up too much in case you walk out not feeling scared and thus get mad at me because I promised a terrifying experience and you ended up being bored for the full two hours. I mean, I can have a friend share a picture or video of a bee with the explanation that they think it's the cutest thing ever, yet all my brain does is enter a genuine panic. In other words, don't hate me if you walk into this movie and don't get scared by it because maybe there's something specific about this movie that successfully got under my skin. It would be interesting to do a psychological analysis of all the specific behind that with this movie, but that's certainly not happening here because I don't even want to tell you what the premise of this movie is. All that I suppose I'll say is that it involves a family. A rather messed up family with an even more broken history. The husband and wife seem to have a great relationship, but the wife's mother, passes away before the movie even really starts and the wife feels zero remorse. The father seems to be the one grounded in reality to try to hold everyone together, but the older son is a druggie while the younger daughter is a creepy demon child.

Then things start happening. Specifically there's "a moment" in the film. A sort of trigger that spawns the rest of the movie. I'm not even going to hint at what it is, but I'll just say that the whole theater was stunned to silence. After a brief few moments, someone on the opposite side of the theater cried out, "Holy (expletive)!" And we all kinda laughed because that was the perfect expression about how we all felt. It was the shock value of the moment. The initial scene where I said the movie snuck up behind me and metaphorically drilled me with a baseball bat. Shock value is quite common in horror films. That's what most of them go for. But there's a difference between shock value just for the sake of shock value and nothing else and shock value that has a specific purpose to it. Oftentimes the difference is one comes from a studio-mandated horror film where the purpose is cheap scares randomly strung together on a cheap budget made specifically to earn a few quick bucks while the other comes from someone who has a specific idea of something greater and deeper. The scares for the latter are often not the specific purpose of the movie, but are there to serve the greater whole, and thus end up making the individual scares have more of a heavy impact.

"Hereditary" is a movie that's shrouded in secrecy. You know that there's a lot of secrets with the grandma and the family's past, but you have no idea what they are, thus the movie leaves you in the dark for a lot of the run time, which in turn leaves you very unsettled and uneasy as you progress forwards towards the ending. The only really major complaints that I have is that there are several scenes in the beginning where it's exposition-heavy. There's newspaper clippings that require a lot of reading or long conversations between two characters that are only there to give you a background to the story. I don't know if there was a way to fix that to make the initial narrative more smooth, but there may have been a thing or two that they could've ironed out. The other big complaint is that the movie was secretive that I had no idea what direction they were taking it and there were several times where I suddenly became nervous that the movie would let me down when/if they finally revealed the secrets. I had such a strong level of trust based on reactions from Sundance and from the fact that this was A24 that I was patient with the movie, but sometimes I felt myself a bit impatient as they were still holding secrets from me and I wondering if I was forcing myself to like it because it's A24.

Thankfully, though, my patience with the movie was rewarded with a second half that was absolutely insane, led heavily by Toni Collette as the mom and Alex Wolff is the older son. The progression of those two characters specifically were so fascinating, especially the mom. In terms of moms in horror films, Toni Collette's performance matches or exceeds that of Essie Davis in "The Babadook." That's the level of sheer brilliance that she pulls off. Horror movies usually don't get Oscar nominations, unless you're "Get Out" and you have a social commentary that hits the whole country on a personal level. But outside that, horror movies get ignored. Thus I'm not expecting Toni Collette to get her second Oscar nomination, but this would be a situation where it would be absolutely deserved. When we have the discussion when the year as over and Oscar nominations get dished out as to who should've deserved an Oscar, you can plan on me bringing up Toni Collette. She certainly gives the best performance from the first half of the year. I think in general, the family dynamic in this movie was so fascinating and the movie was gut-wretching and heavy because of what kept happening with this family. And that's as close to the line as I'm going to get in revealing this movie's secrets.

I suppose when you write this entire movie's premise down on a piece of paper and read it, it's possible that you could conclude that we've seen this before, but the execution of this movie was so flawless that said familiarity didn't even bother me. That may point to the idea that you don't have to be perfectly unique to be impressive. If you tread on the line of familiar, but you execute in the perfect way, then the movie still comes out feeling fresh. When it comes to checking boxes that I want from a horror film, this essentially checks all of them. It doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. It's story-driven. The acting is phenomenal. The movie makes you care deeply about all of the main characters. The score is absolutely perfect. The movie is genuinely creepy, but creepy isn't necessarily the main point of the film. I could go on. But when it comes to indie horror films, especially ones released by A24, this does exactly what I want it to do in terms of concept, yet had genuinely shocking turns as I had no idea what to expect. Giving a score to this is difficult because this is the type of movie where I need time to let it marinate over the months ahead to know exactly how I feel. But based on my initial traumatizing experience, I'm going to be bold and give "Hereditary" a 10/10.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Movie Preview: June 2018

May was a bit of a sparse month in terms of new wide releases, but that's because Hollywood choose to mostly clear the way given the three major blockbusters that were on the schedule. However, said three blockbusters, "Avengers: Infinity War," "Deadpool 2" and "Solo: A Star Wars Story" were strong enough together to sneak the month over the $1 billion mark for the second month in a row and third time this year already after February and April crossed $1 billion for the first time in those months' histories, helping the year to date box office to be over $5 billion for the first five months of the year, specifically through June 5, making it so 2018 is 5.6 percent ahead of 2017 at this point and 8.3 percent ahead of 2016. The official total for May 2018 was $1.037 billion, which fell short of 2013's record of $1.141 billion. With the record-breaking $257.7 million opening weekend of "Avengers: Infinity War" actually coming in April, that means May would've had the record had Marvel kept with the original release date. Moving onto June, the after effects of Hollywood mostly avoiding May means that everything has been crammed into June and July instead of being more equally spread out, which could mean either huge numbers or box office cannibalism, so let's dive in and explore!   

June 1st - 3rd-

You may have noticed that the first weekend of June is already in the books, meaning I'm a tad bit late in covering this full month. However, this first weekend of June was an extremely quiet one as Hollywood chose to mainly avoid the second weekend of "Solo: A Star Wars Movie." In principle, it's not a bad idea to put a little space between your movie and a Star Wars movie if you are a distributor trying to correctly schedule your movies. However, there probably was room for something as "Solo" tanked 65 percent to just $29.4 million in weekend two after an already disappointing opening weekend. That just means there's a little more breathing room for everything else later on this month. "Deadpool 2" actually came surprisingly close to retaking the lead over "Solo," coming in second place with $23.2 million. "Avengers: Infinity War" took fourth place with another $10.5 million in weekend six while sleeper hit "Book Club" rounded out the top five with $7.0 million its third weekend.

You may have noticed that I skipped third place in that previous paragraph, and that's because that spot went to the first of three newcomers this weekend, which was Adrift that floated ahead of the competition when it came to the previously mentioned new releases as it took in $11.6 million. Heading into the weekend, tracking reports suggested it could come close to the $18.7 million of "Me Before You," which opened on this same exact weekend in 2016. However, weekend results instead saw it get a nearly identical total to May 2017's "Everything, Everything," which opened to $11.7 million. That suggests "Adrift" most likely will end up super close to that movie's $34.1 million, depending on how it holds. That will also mean it ends up in the same ballpark as other fellow romantic dramas "Paper Towns" ($32.0 million) and "The Mountain Between Us" ($30.3 million). The best case scenario would be a total closer to "The Longest Ride" ($37.4 million) or "The Age of Adaline" ($42.6 million). "Adrift" stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as a couple who get stranded out on the ocean together after their small boat heading from Tahiti to San Diego gets caught in a huge storm.

There were two other movies that opened in wide release this past weekend, although neither made much of a dent at the box office, yet based on expectations of both, it was a major surprise that Upgrade came in ahead, debuting in sixth place with $4.7 million. The reported budget for the movie was between $3-5 million, so this opening weekend was a win for the movie. "Upgrade" was boosted by strong reviews coming out of the South by Southwest Film Festival in March that helped with the movie's buzz, leading it to the second highest opening weekend for distributor BH Tilt, behind only the $4.9 million of 2016's "The Darkness." The movie is a sci-fi action thriller about a previously paralyzed man who gets a chip that controls his movements, helping him get revenge.

And finally, dead on arrival this weekend was Johnny Knoxville's Action Point, opening in ninth place with just $2.4 million. While not officially a part of the Jacka-- franchise (yes, I censor movies with curse words in their title), "Action Point" was a similar style of movie, involving crazy, daredevil stunts from a group of people led by Johnny Knoxville who may have all been drunk or high while doing said stunts, or certainly acting like it. This time "Action Point" involved stunts in a broken down water park. Thus with the Jacka-- connection and Knoxville starring, a $19 million budget seemed perfectly feasible as all four actual Jacka-- movies opened above $20 million, with "Jacka--: The Movie" earning the least overall with $64.2 million in 2002, which adjusts to just over $100 million when considering ticket price inflation. Thus "Action Point" potentially earning less than $5 million overall when all is said and done makes it one of the colossal failures of 2018 thus far.

June 8th - 10th-

After essentially taking last week off with three smaller releases, the summer blockbuster season continues this upcoming weekend with Ocean's 8, the fourth modern installment in the Ocean's franchise and fifth movie overall as the franchise initially began in 1960 with the original "Ocean's 11," which starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The 2001 remake, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, was a huge success as it opened to $38.1 million and made $183.4 million overall, arguably helping it becoming the more well-known version.  Title-wise it separated itself by spelling out the number, thus becoming "Ocean's Eleven." It spawned two sequels in 2004 and 2007, "Ocean's Twelve" and "Ocean's Thirteen," that opened around the same, but didn't hold quite as well, yet still did decent with $125.5 million and $117.2 million overall. It would be an easy prediction to say "Ocean's 8" performs about as well as the latter two, which is what Warner Bros. is expecting. "Ocean's 8" is a spin-off of the previous three as Danny Ocean's sister Debby puts together a female crew to go pull off a heist. The female-centered cast includes Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter.

Opening alongside "Ocean's 8" are two smaller films, though the one getting the most buzz of the two is Hereditary. This is a horror movie from distributor A24, a studio that has developed a fairly loyal fan base after a long string of well received independent films. A24 got the distribution rights to "Hereditary" following its release at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it received very strong reviews. Thus the comparison to "The Witch" might be a good one as "The Witch" was also an indie horror film from Sundance released by A24. "The Witch" opened to $8.8 million and made $25.1 million overall when it got its theatrical release. In general, indie horror always seems to have a bit of a mixed reaction as "The Witch," "It Comes at Night" and "The Babadook" all are examples of indie horror films that have had strong praise from critics and festival goers, but low praise from general audiences as they don't quite hit the cliche horror tropes that general horror fans come to expect from their mainstream horror flicks. Thus is why "Hereditary" probably won't break out with mainstream crowds like "A Quiet Place" did earlier this year, but the indie horror fans should gravitate towards it as the movie unravels the mysterious secrets of a certain family's ancestry.

The other small release this weekend is Hotel Artemis, which is an action thriller starring Jodie Foster as a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals in a dystopian future. Starring alongside Jodie Foster in this movie is Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day and Dave Bautista, giving this indie action thriller quite the large cast. The obvious challenge that this movie faces, though, is the high amount of competition. While "Hereditary" has a bit of an advantage there in being the only horror movie to be released since "A Quiet Place," as an action film "Hotel Artemis" will not only be dealing with the major blockbuster in the market, both the holdovers from May and the upcoming ones in June, but it also has fellow indie action thriller "Upgrade" from the previous week, which has grabbed people's attention already. So there's a lot of action films to choose from, thus "Hotel Artemis" might be the type of movie that people slowly discover over time on various streaming platforms in the future rather than being a movie that everyone rushes to see in theaters. For comparison, new distributor Global Roads' previous two movies, "Midnight Sun" and "Show Dogs," opened to $4 million and $6 million respectively. 

June 15th - 17th-

Sequels haven't always been the avenue Pixar has explored as they've typically had better luck with original films, but the one sequel that pretty much everyone has been begging them to do for the last 14 years is finally here and that is, of course, Incredibles 2. One may wonder how this movie would've done had it come out around 11 years earlier as "The Incredibles" came out in 2004, before the modern surge of superhero films that exploded following the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Releasing "Incredibles 2" in 2018 means that Pixar had to be extra creative to figure out how still feel fresh in a day where there's an over-saturation of superhero films. In approaching this, Pixar decided to pick up right where they left off with the original as opposed to there being a time gap similar to what there was in real life. We'll find out soon enough if they successfully accomplished the task by giving a sequel that everyone's been looking for, but what isn't in question is that this movie will be a monster at the box office. Think "Finding Dory" here, which had a similar time gap between it and its beloved predecessor, and opened to a record-breaking $135.1 million for an animated movie, on its way to being Pixar's highest grossing movie with $486.3 million, numbers that "Incredibles 2" has a realistic chance at topping or at least coming close to.

Providing an adult alternative for the small portion of people who for some reason aren't interested in the latest Pixar movie will be the comedy Tag. It's actually been a decent year for comedies in 2018. While nothing has necessarily broke the bank, unless you count "Deadpool 2," there's been quite a few mid-range comedies that have kept comedy fans rather busy and mostly satisfied with the likes of "Game Night," "Blockers," "Super Troopers 2" and "Life of the Party" all opening in the $15-20 million range. "Tag" looks to fit right into that group as it's a movie based on the true story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for nearly 30 years. This game started in the 80's with a group of high school friends from Washington state and moved onto their college years and beyond. The rules have evolved to the point where every February, for the entire month, the game starts and the friends travel across the country to tag one of their competitors. Whoever is "it" at the end of the month remains "it" until the next February roles around. Their story got the attention of a Wall Street Journal reporter in January 2013 and has now become a Hollywood film starring Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner as the group of friends.

Sneaking in on Wednesday, June 13, is the crime thriller Superfly. This is a remake of the 1972 film "Super Fly," which is described as a blaxploitation film, a subgenre of exploitation film that emerged in the early 1970's focusing on black characters and communities being the main characters and subjects of the film, helping people at the time rethink race relations at the time. "Super Fly" specifically was the story of a drug dealer named Youngblood Priest, showing his daily routine as he wants to score one more super deal and then retire. This remake stars Trevor Jackson as Youngblood Priest as well as Jason Mitchell, Jennifer Morrison, Lex Scott Davis and Michael Kenneth Williams and is set in modern-day Atlanta, which is booming with culture, style and music, but also has a dark side, especially when it comes to the lives of black people involved in certain businesses. Just like in the original, Priest is attempted to pull off one last major drug deal before retiring, which of course is much easier said than done. This is a movie that might have a hard time connecting with a general audience in the middle of a busy summer, but it will certainly hit its targeted niche crowd.

June 22nd - 24th- 

The fourth weekend of June sees only one movie released as studios probably smartly have decided to let Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom play on its own without any competition or counter-programming. Given that "Jurassic World" revived the franchise in a huge way in 2014 as it broke the opening weekend record set by "The Avengers" in 2012, becoming just the second movie to open with over $200 million with it's total of $208.8 million, a total that has since been topped three times. This phenomenon showcased the power of nostalgia as it had been over 20 years since the original "Jurassic Park" hit theaters and 14 years since "Jurassic Park III" in 2001. "Jurassic Park" went on make $652 million in the United States and $1.67 billion worldwide, despite mediocre reviews that saw it settle at a 71 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Of course a movie that big doesn't come along without a sequel shortly thereafter, which is why we have "Fallen Kingdom" coming out this month, which sees the return of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, but switches directors as J.A. Bayona, director of smaller films such as "The Impossible" and "A Monster Calls," gets his first shot at a major blockbuster as he takes over for Colin Trevorrow, who had a similar experience with "Jurassic World."

The tricky thing here is predicting exactly how "Fallen Kingdom" is going to perform. With "Jurassic World" being an event film, it's not expected that "Fallen Kingdom" gets close to that $652 million total or even the $208 million opening weekend. Looking at the original "Jurassic Park" compared to its sequel, "The Lost World," the latter fell 35 percent from the original. If "Fallen Kingdom" experiences the same exact fall as "The Lost World" did, that would mean it earns $418 million domestically. If we apply the same opening weekend to final total multiplier as "Jurassic World," that would mean an opening weekend around $133 million. The caveat to that is "Jurassic Park" is a well-beloved film while "Jurassic World" isn't. So the fall off might be a bit steeper, especially considering early reviews for "Fallen Kingdom" aren't encouraging as it is currently in the high 60 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes. Thus it seems like a realistic possibility that "Fallen Kingdom" could experience a similar fate as last month's "Solo," which vastly under-performed compared to previous Star Wars films after mediocre reviews. "Solo" will end up with around $200-220 million total, which could potentially be where "Fallen Kingdom" ends up if audiences decide that they're not that interested.

June 29th - July 1st --

The final week of June, which slips into July a bit, sees a sequel to a movie that some probably never envisioned would happen. That sequel is Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The first "Sicario" was a well-received film about the drug cartel, written by Taylor Sheridan ("Hell or High Water," "Wind River") and directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners," "Arrival," "Blade Runner 2049"), starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the lead roles. The reason why it might be a bit perplexing that it got a sequel greenlit is not due to the quality, but rather it was more of an indie/art house film that had a slow roll-out in fall of 2015, eventually getting to $46.9 million total on a $30 million budget. That's not the type of movie that typically gets a sequel. With "Day of the Soldado," the drug cartel saga continues with Brolin and Del Toro, but none of the rest of the original cast. Sheridan is back on as writer, but Villeneuve is not back as director. Replacing him is Stefano Sollima, who has a lot of experience with crime shows on TV, but is fairly new when it comes to feature films. Lastly, the other big change is moving to a summer release date, starting out in wide release. All this makes it a bit of a wildcard in predicting how it will perform, thus it will most likely hinge on the reviews.

The final movie of the month also might be the most unique film of the month and that is Uncle Drew. Occasionally you'll see current athletes show up in films, but it's usually in smaller roles or cameos as they typically choose to stick to playing their sport. Rarely do you see a current athlete take the lead role in a major comedy film, but that's exactly what Kyrie Irving, now a member of the Boston Celtics, has done as he's dressed up as title character of Uncle Drew, a former basketball legend who is now an old man and is coming back to form his own street ball team after being invited to join a street ball tournament. Also dressing up as old men to join Kyrie in this film are former NBA players Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson. Actual actors, such as Tiffany Haddish and Nick Kroll are also a part of the cast. The other thing that makes "Uncle Drew" extremely unique is that it's a movie based on a series of commercials that starred Kyrie Irving as Uncle Drew. It's not often that an ad campaign gets a film adaptation, if it ever has happened. If this unique idea for a sports comedy connects with its target audience, this could join the decently long list of mid-range comedy successes in 2018. It's certainly unique enough to grab people's attention.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

It's time again to dive into another Star Wars review! This time we are here to discuss Lucasfilm's second modern spin-off movie and first one that feels like a real spin-off as "Rogue One" felt more like Episode 3.9, leading right into "A New Hope," as opposed to being a true side story. This is also the Star Wars movie that heads into theaters after a whole ton of well-publicized productions issues that led to a director switch in the late hours of production, but no delay in release date, meaning they chose to rush the production to meet the scheduled release date right in the middle of a crowded summer instead of delaying to December where there would've been a lot less competition. All this certainly didn't help the fact that a lot of people were skeptic about this project to begin with. A movie about a young Han Solo, which obviously forces them to recast this beloved character? And topping it all off, Rian Johnson's addition to the saga just five months ago in "The Last Jedi" caused all sorts of controversy. That bitter taste that some had is still fresh in the mouths of many fans as they've not yet had time to wash that out. Put this all together and it means millions of people have had their torches and pitchforks ready before the trailers even came out. No pressure, Ron Howard.

Before we dive in, let's do a recap of my Star Wars thoughts. I've already spammed my Facebook and Twitter friends with various Star Wars stuff in the last couple of weeks, but in case there's people from other places reading this review, or you are coming to this post from the future, I will repeat it again. I love the original trilogy. I always have for as long as I can remember given that all my family were also huge Star Wars fans. "Return of the Jedi" was my favorite growing up, but as an adult I don't think that one holds up quite as well and I've instead gravitated towards "The Empire Strikes Back" as my favorite. I enjoyed "The Phantom Menace" as a 10-year-old kid in theaters. As an adult, it's as boring as tar until Darth Maul shows up. I never liked "Attack of the Clones." I think "Revenge of the Sith" is the best of the prequels, but it's always felt extremely rushed and thus there's a lot of wasted potential. The special effects in the prequels don't hold up and the acting across the board is atrocious, minus perhaps Ewan McGregor. I loved "The Force Awakens" and I loved "The Last Jedi" even more. Didn't care for "Rogue One" much and it's only soured on me the more that time has passed. Those last three opinions apparently make me a horrible person, but who cares.

If you want more details on any of those nine films, just ask me and I can elaborate. Or you can use the little search bar on the top right of this blog, right under the logo, to search out my reviews for all of them because I have reviewed each one in great detail. If you know how to use Google to search specific websites, that might be even easier. As far as "Solo" goes, I was as nervous as the rest of the world when it was announced. It didn't seem like best idea. The production issues I mentioned made me more nervous, but I was crossing my fingers that things would all work out because there's plenty of examples of movies that went through production Hell that ended up being great movies. I still think they should've pushed this back to December. Not only would that have given them more time to work on the film and more time to advertise, but they would've made more money in a fairly open December as opposed to a crowded summer. But ultimately after the advertising started to kick in, I got more and more excited as the release date got closer and I made the decision that I didn't expect as much from this film. It didn't need to be an epic masterpiece in order to please me. I just wanted a fun side adventure and that's exactly what I got, so I left the theater pleased.

As far as this review goes, unlike my previous nine Star Wars reviews, this WON'T be a spoiler review. In those reviews, I felt like anything I said would be a spoiler, so I just threw up the banner and dove right in to all the juicy details. That didn't feel necessary this time around, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, feel free to move forward. Although I will say that if you're committed to seeing it, just go see it and come back and read this review afterwards, because I will talk about basic plot details. If you don't want to know any of that, then don't read. Another reason for doing a non-spoiler review is that there's a whole lot of skepticism this time around, so I'm going to try to convince you fence-sitters to jump on in and enjoy this ride. If Disney and Lucasfilm have offended you, your family, your dog and all of your ancestors all the way back to Adam and Eve with what they've done with the new movies and you've vowed to never see another Star Wars film ever again while also committing to spending the rest of your days violently attacking this franchise and everyone involved, then I'm going to be blunt and tell you that I have zero desire to talk to you about Star Wars because I think you're being dumb and ridiculous. 

Onto the movie. I want to say this movie takes place somewhere around 10 years before the events of "A New Hope." If you've figured out the exact timeline, then I would love to hear, but the specific time frame is not completely necessary. It's after "Revenge of the Sith" and before "A New Hope" and there's a significant gap of sorts as this doesn't do what "Rogue One" did by leading directly into "A New Hope," thus leaving some space in case they want to continue further down this story arc in the future. We begin this movie with a bit of romance between Han and Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra. There's a lot of strong chemistry between the two of them that really makes this work. Yet as they are running away from a certain group in this lawless environment, Han manages to escape while Qi'ra gets caught. Ridden with guilt and driven by love, Han's only goal in life at this point is to find a way to return to her so they can escape and live together in peace, but this turns out to be much easier said than done as we then jump three years forward into the future where the majority of our story takes place and still no luck. In order to get back to where he wants to be, Han accepts a certain job with Woody Harrelson's Beckett and his little gang, which leads him into this life of being a scoundrel.

I will be the first to admit that this isn't a great movie. But again, I wasn't expecting it be. The biggest thing that holds it back from being a great movie is that the narrative of the movie doesn't feel completely polished. If you look at the typical three-act structure that movies are supposed to follow, this does have a beginning, middle and end, but it's not very smooth as for the most part we are bouncing from scene to scene without much of a clear direction as to where we are going with the story. Scenes are just kinda happening as Han and company are thrown into various situations that they have to find a way to get out of. A lot of the individual sequences are extremely fun on their own, but I spent much of the movie confused as to the overall direction of the film. This is where I honestly think that seven additional months would've greatly helped this production. Instead of rushing to completion to make their own deadlines, they could've had more time to iron out the script and polish up the movie so that we could have a better story that would grab more people and give us a reason to care instead of throwing all the weight on the shoulders of our characters or hoping that the various moments are strong enough to please audiences and keep their attention throughout.

Speaking of characters, though, a lot of the weight is thrown on their shoulders and they all managed to pull through in glorious fashion. The biggest question of all is how does Alden Ehrenreich do as Han Solo? I've said for a long time that my enjoyment of this film might hinge on whether or not I am convinced that the man I'm seeing on screen is the same character that Harrison Ford has made us all fall in love with over the past 40 years. The answer is that Ehrenreich does a fantastic job. The only critique is that he doesn't have the same voice as Harrison Ford does so there are times in the film where he doesn't sound like Han Solo does in previous movies. But outside that, he nails this character. He has a similar facial structure as a young Harrison Ford in "A New Hope." Major props have to be given to the makeup and hairstyling people as well as the costume designers for making him look like Han Solo. But a lot of credit to Ehrenreich himself for capturing Han's personality and mannerisms. At the same time, you can tell that he's not trying to mimick Harrison Ford. He manages to make the character his own, helping us enjoy this incarnation of Han Solo who doesn't have all the experiences that the Han Solo we know already experienced.

In this sense, I feel that "Solo" mirrored "A New Hope" in a way as that movie was our introduction to young Luke Skywalker. By the end of the original trilogy, Luke is a completely different person, almost unrecognizable in comparison to when we initially saw the whiny, almost unlikable Luke at the very beginning. Young Han Solo in this movie reminded me a lot of young Luke in "A New Hope" and I'm glad that we have 10 years or so between "Solo" and "A New Hope" because that gives Han room to grow as a character before he becomes the person we knew at the beginning. Speaking of transitions from one actor to another, I feel it's appropriate to mention one transition that already happened that few are talking about, that being Chewbacca. Peter Mayhew returned to reprise his role in "The Force Awakens," but only partially because he's not in the best health. Joonas Suotamo played a Chewbacca double in that movie and has since completely taken over as he's been on his own in "The Last Jedi" and now "Solo." It's been such a seamless transition that I don't know if everyone knows a transition happened, which means Suotamo deserves a lot of praise for being able to perfectly recapture the magic of Chewie with his personality and language.

On that note, the introduction of Han and Chewie is a great moment, I think. Their chemistry throughout the movie is what helps make this movie so enjoyable, especially in sequences where I didn't know what was happening with the story itself. The fact that Suotamo and Ehrenreich are able to perfectly recapture the magic that Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford had in the original trilogy speaks high praise to both of them. Rounding it out with our third old character being recast, we have the absolute gem that is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. One could argue Ehrenreich as Han, but there are zero arguments that I've heard when it comes to Glover as Lando. He looks like a young Lando. He sounds exactly like Lando does. The hairstyling and costume design people again do a great job of getting the appearance down. And Glover does a perfect job of capturing Lando's personality and mannerisms as a younger version of the character that we see introduced in "The Empire Strikes Back." And the fun part of this is that Donald Glover is also currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his song "This is America," credited under his musical alter ego of Childish Gambino. I'm not sure when the last time we saw such a multi-faceted star like this.

In addition to our old characters that we've known and loved for years, played brilliantly by new actors, there's a whole host of new characters in this movie that are equally as likable and are thus arguably the glue that holds this thing together. For those of you who loved "Rogue One," sorry to throw more salt on the wound, but the biggest reason why I was unable to love that movie is that I felt no connection to the new characters outside Jyn Erso. Both "Rogue One" and "Solo" have different narrative flaws, in my opinion, but I put "Solo" ahead of "Rogue One" because I did care about the characters here. And not just the old ones, but all of the new characters I found fascinatingly developed and portrayed brilliantly by the respective actors. There's a handful of these new characters that have small roles. And I actually loved all of them, too. But specifically I enjoyed the new additions of Woody Harrelson as Beckett, Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra and Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos. All of them are fascinating new additions to the Star Wars saga and I would love to learn even more about them in terms of where they came from and what will happen next. I also loved not knowing how their characters would turn out in the movie.

That leads into the final main point I want to make in this review. There's a lot of mystery with what's going to happen with all of the characters. We obviously know that Han and Chewie are going to remain trustworthy best friends. We also know that Han and Lando are going to become friends, even though "Empire" suggests some drama in their backstory. But we have no idea how these new characters are going to play into Han Solo's life outside maybe knowing that the star-crossed lovers of Han and Qi'ra aren't going to have a happily ever after given the whole Han and Leia thing. The movie kinda sets up one character as the "villain" of the movie, but given that they're all outcasts and scoundrels in this lawless time period of the Galaxy, you have no idea who to trust and who to fear. The ambiguity of who is the one that is the real villain is one that I found fascinating. My mind also toyed with the idea that perhaps none of them are the villain or all of them are. Thus even though the journey felt a bit rocky with the unpolished story arc, it led to a finale that I genuinely loved as I had no idea what was going to happen, which is again in stark contrast to "Rogue One" where I knew exactly what was going to happen because the outline is in the crawl of "A New Hope." 

There's a lot of specific details regarding this story that I have not even touched, but I promised a spoiler-free review, so I'm going to leave it at that. I could do a separate review where I discuss all of the spoilers and potential theories of what's going to happen next if they continue this story arc, but I don't see that as necessary because I have given you enough to give you an idea of how I felt. I didn't go into this movie with high expectations. Yes, I was nervous for a long time, but after seeing the trailers, I became more and more excited, especially when I settled on the idea that I just want a fun adventure out of this film. I didn't need for it to be on the same level as the original trilogy or even what I personally feel about "The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi." With Disney owning Lucasfilm, I envision that the eventual goal will be to have Star Wars on the same level as the MCU with two to three movies per year and several TV series also moving forward. In that case, much like with the MCU, not every movie needs to be a masterpiece. We can have simple, fun adventures like "Solo." In fact, I think that's the exact direction they should go with these side stories in this gigantic universe. It's a solid direction and I'm excited. Thus I will happily award "Solo" with an 8/10.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Deadpool 2 Review

After getting punched in the gut by "Infinity War," Fox had rather good timing with their release of "Deadpool 2," because after going through something so emotionally wrenching, we now get to kick back and relax with a "Deadpool" sequel. As far as my quick opinions on the original "Deadpool," there is a lot to love about that movie, namely the fourth-wall-breaking social commentary that Deadpool adds throughout the film that gives you gut-busting laughter from beginning to end. I also appreciated the fact that the movie was revolutionary in terms of teaching Hollywood that if you have a good movie that people want to see that is boosted by good marketing, the MPAA rating really doesn't matter. If a comic book character was written a certain way, you don't have to water that character down or spice that character up in order to achieve the desired rating that you think will make the most money. You can do the character justice as is and people will show up. Yet unlike many, I wasn't necessarily caught up in the novelty of seeing a proper Deadpool movie. I had plenty of issues with the film stemming in what I call origin-story-itis that I hoped a sequel could improve upon with that out of the way. I'm happy to tell you that "Deadpool 2" mostly does just that.

When I say "Deadpool" suffered from origin-story-itis, the specifics in that case were a bit of a tricky balance as what they did was completely necessary due to the fact that Deadpool's origins were completely screwed up in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." I don't hate that movie like most of the world does, but when it came specifically to Deadpool, that was perhaps one of the most embarrassingly awful introductions to a popular comic book character that this world has ever seen. Thus when they decided to do the "Deadpool" movie, they were required to spend a good portion of the movie on the real origins so that the world could be properly introduced to this character. There was no getting around that. And yes, they did tell the origins in a clever way as they started the movie in the middle and then spent the first half of the movie bouncing back and forth from the present to the past, so that we weren't spending 100 percent of the time on the past. But still, I found this setup to the character a lot less interesting than when we were in the present with him all suited up and ready to roll, thus the narrative balance of the movie wasn't completely in sync for me even though I was rolling around in laughter at the humor in the movie as I love fourth-wall breaking.

The second part of this origin-story-itis is that it's often not wise to introduce your protagonist's main arch-nemesis in the first film. Thus origin stories often introduce more of a throwaway villain for the hero to face right off the bat while they're in their early stages of herodom. After the character has successfully established themselves as a hero in the origin story after beating this first villain, then the franchise is ready to move forward with the major drama of that hero in the sequels. In the case of "Deadpool," we have Ajax, played by Ed Skrein, as our villain. And I only knew that name because I looked it up. Ed Skrein does a fine job with the role, but the villain is simply not memorable. I felt he was a throwaway villain whose purpose was solely to serve as a placeholder while they waited for the sequel for someone bigger and better. Thus in both of these cases, I feel "Deadpool" compares quite well to "Guardians of the Galaxy." Since no one knew the Guardians before the film was announced, that first movie had to spend a major portion introducing us to all of the characters. On top of that, they also had one of Marvel's worst villains in Ronan. Yet both "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Deadpool" were absolutely hilarious, making them fun, rewatchable movies despite the narrative flaws stemming from origin-story-itis.

I bring all of this up for a very specific reason and that's because how you think of "Deadpool 2" will most likely depend on whether or not you agree with my assessment of "Deadpool." If you are in agreement with me that "Deadpool" was a funny movie that had some significant flaws that left the door open for a sequel to be even better, then you will most likely agree with me that "Deadpool 2" delivers on the potential of it being an improvement. Or at least you might agree that is just as good. On the flip side of that, if you were one of those people who have loved the character of Deadpool for years and were crying tears of joy that he finally got justice done to him in the form of a gloriously R-rated movie, then I think you're going to like "Deadpool 2," but I don't think you'll conclude that it hits the heights of its predecessor. I'll admit that part of the reason that I wasn't necessarily elated with the idea of a proper Deadpool movie is that I'm not part of the crowd who begs for R-rated films to be made and am disappointed when something ends up as PG-13 instead. Raunchiness, language and excessive blood and gore are not requirements for my entertainment and I'm not disappointed when they are removed. But I can often tolerate them if they have a purpose to the film.

I've now gone through all this setup without having talked about this actual movie at hand and that's mostly because I feel like I'm walking on glass when I talk about it. The marketing campaign for this movie was excellent. Not only did they make Deadpool fans extremely excited to see the movie, but in hindsight, the meat of the of the plot is completely absent from the trailers. We got a lot of Cable and X-Force stuff in the trailers and I had a good idea of how I thought they were going to integrate that, but I was mostly wrong. What we got instead was a movie that was surprisingly emotional and family-driven. Deadpool jokes towards the beginning that this is the perfect family film and in an odd, twisted way, he ends up being exactly right. Although the warning he gives right before is valid because you shouldn't take your kids to this movie. I still facepalm at stories I heard of parents taking their kids to see the original, then complaining at the movie for exposing their children to such content. I mean, did you NOT see the rating on your ticket that you purchased? Anyways, while this is not a kids film, family is the theme. Deadpool wants a family, but said opportunity gets ripped away from him until he learns to discover a new sort of family. It sounds cheesy, but it works. 

There's some opening jokes that had me rolling in laughter, especially after seeing and loving "Logan" last year. But then we have an opening sequence that actually punches you in the gut, almost negated the previously stated idea of this being a relaxing film following "Infinity War." But then when the actual opening credits roll, we are reminded that this is in fact a Deadpool movie where the main focus is comedy, thus the hilarious opening credits do a great job of easing the audience back into a state of relaxation as we prepare for what the rest of the movie has in store for us, which mostly involves a kid named Russell, the kid with the fire abilities that we are introduced to in the trailers. Drama happens there that builds the emotion of the film, then Cable arrives and things start to get real. And much different than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise to me. Unfortunately I do have to be honest with the fact that the movie gets a bit clunky in the process of this setup. The flow of the film isn't the best in the first several sequences. The movie felt like it was bouncing around a bit and the story seemed to just be happening, if that makes sense. Instead of having a polished narrative flow, the movie kinda just wandered around without much focus.

Even though the humor was great, sometimes the movie tried too hard to be a comedy and wound up sacrificing story in favor of humor instead of having a natural balance between the two. And finally, the movie didn't quite know what to do with all of its characters. There's multiple examples of this, but the biggest one is Negasonic Teenage Warhead. We learn she's a lesbian, which I was fine with, and her girlfriend was pretty awesome, but the movie had no idea what to do with them as they didn't really serve a purpose and thus they became more of a side thing. All of this did a great of reminding me that this was David Leitch who directed this movie. Him and Chad Stahelski teamed up to direct "John Wick," which was amazing. Then they separated, which resulted in Stahelski to do "John Wick: Chapter 2" on his own while Leitch did "Atomic Blonde." The John Wick franchise never missed a beat as the second one was just as good while "Atomic Blonde" had moments of greatness, but was mostly just bland and stale. In my mind, that showcased to us who the better of the two directors is and unfortunately we got the lesser of the two with "Deadpool 2." Yet this being a more collaborative effort from Fox and company, I feel the others around Leitch did a good job of helping him get back on track.

The obvious answer as to who saves this film and elevates it for me is Ryan Reynolds, who proves once again that he was born to play Deadpool. Even in sequences where the movie felt a bit clunky, he still owned every scene he was in, which happened to be most of the movie given that it's his movie. In addition to playing Deadpool, Reynolds also helped write the film and there are so many moments where you can tell that he had his hand on a huge part of the script and dialogue. Not to be forgotten, though, when it comes to the cast is that of Josh Brolin. The man is having himself a really good month at the moment as his turn as Thanos in "Infinity War" has him etched in stone as one of the greatest comic book villains of all-time. And now he follows that up with Cable, who has a unique relationship with Deadpool in this movie, which takes a twist I wasn't expecting. Nevertheless, Brolin and Reynolds bounced off each other perfectly in the film. Topping things off, the kid named Russell is played by Julian Dennison, the troubled kid from "The Hunt for the Wilderpeople," a movie that you all should see if you haven't. And we have Zazie Beetz as a character named Domino. I don't want to say much about them, but they are definite highlights and I'd love to see more of them.

There is a moment in this movie where any clunkiness is recovered from, characters evolve, the humor and story become mostly well balanced, and the result is an absolute blast that I simply can't talk about. I also appreciated the fact that, despite having the door wide open for them to do whatever they wanted, the movie is fairly tame when it comes to the raunchy humor. Instead of bathing the movie in debauchery just because they can, they only make certain jokes when they feel it's appropriate for the moment. Yes, the movie gets very graphic and bloody in terms of violence and is loaded with language, but it's really not a raunchy comedy, which I appreciated. Deadpool is constantly funny throughout without feeling the need to rely on sexual-based humor to make people laugh. When push comes to shove, though, what ended up standing out the most to me comes from the bizarrely perfect soundtrack which is highlighted by the song "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie." That song is one of my favorites as there's a strong sense of optimism despite the current miserable situation. In ways I can't say, that's the whole theme of "Deadpool 2" and it's rather beautiful. Add in the comedy and action and "Deadpool 2" delivers a solid 8/10 from me.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Movie Preview: May 2018

As was expected going into April, summer came a bit early this year with the late decision by Disney to bump "Avengers: Infinity War" up a week to April 27. Said decision resulted in the largest domestic opening weekend ever of $257.7 million to fall in April. Add in another $24.7 million for "Infinity War" on Monday, April 30, and that was enough to push April 2018 over the edge as the first April to cross the billion mark with $1.02 billion. Although that $282.4 million that "Infinity War" earned in April was only 27.7 percent of the total gross for the month, meaning the rest of the slate helped out greatly, especially the $149.4 million total for "The Quiet Place," $78.5 million of "Rampage" and $53.5 million of "Blockers" as well as great holdovers from both "Ready Player One" and "Black Panther." Now we move onto the first official month of the summer where we're going to mainly sit pretty for a couple weeks while "Infinity War" continues to rake in all of the money, but then we'll kick things into high gear with two major franchises set for huge openings, which should lead a rather busy and exciting summer. The May record is $1.14 billion set in 2013, which may have been reachable had "Infinity War" not jumped up a week. But as is, that record is most likely safe for another year.

May 4th - 6th-

The biggest question of this first weekend will be how much "Infinity War" makes in its second weekend. The best comparison are the previous two Avengers movies. The original 2012 movie fell 50.3 percent in its second weekend while "Age of Ultron" fell a steeper 59.4 percent. Using both movies as the range for "Infinity War" this weekend, that will leave it somewhere between $105-125 million for its second weekend. The all-time record for a second weekend is "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with $149.2 million. Although that movie was a December release, hence the light 39 percent fall from its opening weekend. If "Infinity War" can manage to top the $111.7 million of "Black Panther" from earlier this year, it will claim second place.

As far as the new releases for this weekend, leading the pack will be the Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez comedy remake Overboard. The original 1987 movie was directed by Garry Marshall, also known for "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries" among others, and starred Goldie Hawn as a stuck-up rich girl and Kurt Russell as a lowly, poor carpenter. When Goldie Hawn suffers amnesia and her real husband decides not to take her back, Kurt Russell decides to claim her as his wife, thus forcing her to live a life in poverty with him. In this remake, the roles are flipped and Eugenio Derbez is the spoiled rich man whereas Anna Faris is a lowly carpet cleaner. When Derbez suffers amnesia, Faris comes up with a plan to take him in as her husband, forcing him to live a life in poverty. This remake isn't getting very good early marks from critics at just 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but the original wasn't necessarily a critical darling, either. Tracking metrics have it playing similar to, or ahead of, Derbez's previous film "How to Be a Latin Lover," which opened to $12.3 million in 1,118 at nearly this same exact time last year. With "Overboard" opening in 1,623 theaters, if it were to follow a similar per theater average, that would equate to $17.8 million for this weekend.

Hoping to compete for a place in the top five will be the Charlize Theron drama Tully. The advantage that this movie has is strong critical reviews with a certified fresh score of 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The disadvantage is a lower theater count at just 1,353 theaters. "Tully" chronicles the pains and struggles of motherhood, especially for women in their 30's and older, who, as the trailer talks about, often feel like they have disappeared into the background, thus feeling rather worthless at times after such vibrant and active lives they had in their 20's. Charlize Theron plays one said mother in this movie who has become overwhelmed with life, as she has to raise her several kids almost on her own while her husband is extremely busy with his work. This leads her to eventually accept her wealthy brother's offer of hiring a nighttime nanny named Tully to help her out with her responsibilities. The movie is directed by Jason Reitman, who also directed "Juno," "Up in the Air" and "Thank You for Smoking." Given that this is more of an adult-targeted drama, said audience are not necessarily known for rushing out opening weekend, meaning this could be more naturally backloaded, especially with Mother's Day around the corner.

The final movie of the weekend is the movie with the highest theater count of the three, yet the movie that might make the smallest dent and that is Bad Samaritan. This is a movie that was initially scheduled for an April 27 release date, but when "Infinity War" took that date, Electric Entertainment smartly decided to swap and take this May 4 release date instead. But in the vein of this initially being a late-April throwaway movie, we have a horror/thriller that might have a hard time finding an audience. The movie is about a pair of young robbers who steal a man's car and intend to rob his home only to find a woman held captive in the home. David Tennant is the biggest name in the movie as the man whose home is being robbed while the other actors in the movie are lesser known. The movie is directed by Dean Devlin, producer of "Independence Day," "Stargate" and other Roland Emmerich films while having directed last year's "Geostorm." Distributor Electric Entertainment will be experimenting with their first film opening in wide release, as "Bad Samaritan" hits 2,007 theaters, after their only previous two films include "LBJ" (659 theaters) and "Blackaway" (11 theaters).

May 11th - 13th-

It'll be an uncontested third weekend at No. 1 for "Infinity War" this weekend again as following the trajectories of the first two Avengers movies would land it somewhere between $52-67 million. Although this weekend will provide our first potential sleeper candidate of the summer as Melissa McCarthy's Life of the Party debuts. Ever since "Bridesmaids" in 2011, every comedy that McCarthy has led has opened to at least $20 million, making her one of the safest comedy bets around at the moment when it comes to box office. This movie has her playing a middle-aged mother who decides to go back to college with her daughter to finish her degree after her husband suddenly asks for a divorce. The mother/daughter banter throughout the movie could very well be timely for this weekend with Mother's Day on Sunday. "Life of the Party" will again reunite McCarthy with director Ben Falcone, who she's been married to since 2005. Falcone previously directed "Tammy" and "The Boss," which opened to $21.6 million and $23.6 million respectively, so there's a good bet as to where "Life of the Party" could also debut. "Tammy" went onto make $84.5 million while "The Boss" wasn't quite as lucky, landing at $63.3 million, which is still fairly respectable, though.

The other movie is another Mother's Day themed movie, albeit with a polar opposite angle from "Life of the Party" and that is Breaking In. This movie sees Gabrielle Union playing a mother who takes her kids to visit the home of her father, who has recently passed away, only to experience a home invasion where a group of guys take her kids hostage and make certain demands or else none of them will make it out alive. So we essentially have a home invasion thriller with Gabrielle Union fighting like a mother to protect and save her kids. The movie is directed by James McTeigue, who directed "V for Vendetta" in 2006, although he hasn't done much of note since. A better name to point out is producer Will Packer, who has produced a long string of hits. When it comes to "Breaking In," perhaps the most notable Packer-produced thrillers include "No Good Deed" and "Obsessed," which opened to $24.2 million and $28.6 million respectively. That mark seems like a best case scenario as there's a lot of potential comparisons here, ranging from "Unforgettable," which tanked by opening to just $4.8 million, or medium hits such as Halle Berry's "Kidnap" ($10 million opening), "When the Bough Breaks" ($14.2 million opening) and "Proud Mary" ($9.9 million opening).

May 18th - 20th-

After two full weeks of Hollywood letting "Infinity War" dominate at the box office while providing some smaller options for attempted counter-programming, we have our next major summer blockbuster and that is fellow superhero movie Deadpool 2. This is a movie that was initially set for a June 1 release date, but Fox decided to release it the weekend before "Solo: A Star Wars Story" instead of the weekend after, which was the domino that caused "Infinity War" to in turn jump up a week to April 27. "Deadpool" was a movie in 2016 that took a huge risk. Prior to that, R-rated superhero movies did exist, but they were few and far between while being on the smaller end of the scale in terms of size. The mindset of Hollywood was that you couldn't release an R-rated superhero movie and have it make money. It had to be PG-13. Thus the huge risk for "Deadpool," which turned into huge reward as the movie opened to $132 million on its way to $363 million total, basically proving to Hollywood that as long as you have a well-marketed, high-quality movie, the rating doesn't matter. "Deadpool 2" has gone all out with its marketing. That along with the good will from the first movie should help it get to an opening similar to that of its predecessor.

There should be plenty of laughs to go around this month. In addition to "Overboard," "Life of the Party" and "Deadpool 2," another option for audiences will be Book Club. Despite the high level of competition when it comes to comedy this month, this movies seems like it's in decent shape because its target audience seems to be the older, senior crowd who probably don't have much interest in "Life of the Party" or "Deadpool 2." The movie stars four of Hollywood's beloved senior actresses, Diane Keaton (72), Jane Fonda (80), Candice Bergen (71) and Mary Steenburgen (65), who play lifelong friends who decide to read "50 Shades of Grey" in their book club, which in turn stimulates their desires to reinvigorate their own love lives, despite their age. The movie is directed by first time director Bill Holderman, who is known for his work as a producer, most notably for the movie "A Walk in the Woods" in 2015, which starred Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as two long-time friends who decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. The box office for that movie might be a good comparison for "Book Club" as "A Walk in the Woods" opened to a modest $8.2 million, but held fairly well to end up with $29.5 million.

The final movie of this weekend is the first movie in May to be targeted specifically at family audiences and that is Show Dogs. While "Peter Rabbit" was a huge hit for families earlier this year, the market has been a little sparse since then as "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Sherlock Gnomes" performed decently in March, but not great, and "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero" was more of a blip in the radar in April. So the market is probably ready for another family hit, especially as school comes to a close for kids. The problem is that, even though the market is ready for another hit, the options on the table still have to be appealing and the reaction to the trailers for "Show Dogs" haven't been very nice to say the least. The movie involves a police dog going undercover with his human at a dog show in order to help advert a certain crisis. The movie comes to us via director Raja Gosnell, who previously directed "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and both live-action Scooby-Doo movies, so he seems to be an expert at these sub-par live-action kids movies involving talking animals. Granted, kids are pretty nice and forgiving as critics, but it's still the parents buying the tickets and they might choose to save their money for the likes of "The Incredibles 2" and/or "Hotel Transylvania 3."

May 25th - 27th-

Last, but certainly not least, we have just one movie opening on the final weekend of May, but it could be the biggest one and that is of course Solo: A Star Wars Story. The conversation surrounding Star Wars has certainly been an interesting one over the last few months as "The Last Jedi" did a great job of completely dividing fans, causing the conversation to turn from friendly chatter to heated debates, feeling almost political in nature. That combined with the fact that the idea of a Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford has never been a well-received one among fans. Add in all of the production issues this movie has had with the firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller late in the game, turning to Ron Howard as a replacement, and this all means that Lucasfilm has an uphill battle to climb with this movie. However, lest you think this movie is poised to flop, allow me to remind you that it's going to take a lot more than one controversial film to push away all Star Wars fans. Despite a small portion of fans claiming they will forever boycott Star Wars, people will show up. Even the much maligned prequels all made over $300 million at the domestic box office. Early tracking for "Solo" has it at the pace of "Rogue One," which opened to $155.1 million.