Friday, March 24, 2017

Power Rangers Review

Once again in Hollywood I find myself reliving my childhood. The second time this month, actually. In fact, if there's any TV show or movie from my childhood that hasn't either been remade or given another sequel, then I'm sure it's coming. I'm at a point in my life where my childhood was 20 years ago and that's a good milestone in the minds of Hollywood people to start redoing things. This time around, we're discussing the Power Rangers! If you're a 90's child like myself, I'm sure that the Power Rangers was one of the staples of your childhood, especially if you were a male that grew up in the 90's. I'm not being sexist there. It's just that Power Rangers mainly appealed to young boys. If Power Rangers was a staple for your childhood, I'd also be willing to guess that your mom wasn't a huge fan of Power Rangers and in hindsight you probably don't blame her because watching Power Rangers makes you want to get in play fights with your siblings that sometimes turns into real fights if things get out of hand. But either you watched it anyways or your mom grudgingly let you enjoy. I can't say I was ever super deep into Power Rangers, but I certainly thought it was a lot of fun. The type of cheesy, dumb fun that you can sit back and enjoy because the show knows what it is.

When I heard that Power Rangers was getting the remake treatment, I immediately became nervous simply because Transformers and G.I. Joe were also fun shows that got absolutely butchered with their recent movie remakes. If I'm going to be forced to relive my entire childhood on the big screen, I want justice to be done. It doesn't need to be as good necessarily, but I want to walk out of the theater pleased and given that the Transformers movies have turned into complete abominations and the G.I. Joe movies aren't much better, I really didn't want Power Rangers to suffer the same fate. But when the trailers started coming out, I began having nightmares because it seemed as if my fears were going to be realized. I hated the trailers. I was crossing my fingers that the movie would turn out better than what was being advertised, but I didn't have much hope. Now to be clear, I wasn't requiring perfection out of this. The original Power Rangers were very cheesy and dumb, but the reason why the show worked so well is because they were very self-aware and they knew who their target audience was and they embraced all of it. That's all I wanted here. Cheesy, dumb fun, not over-bloated cinematic torture that people like Michael Bay think will be fun.

The result for me was very mixed. We can essentially split this movie into three different parts where my emotions towards each part were completely different. So let's start with part one. Horrendous. Awful. Bad. Cringeworthy. I absolutely hated the first third of this movie, which is strange because a lot of the reviews I've watched and read said the first part was the only part that really worked. I think it's safe to say that most people know about the Power Rangers, yet for some reason the filmmakers here decided they needed to start from ground zero and spend two-thirds of their movie going into an in depth origin story about how the kids in this movie become Power Rangers as if this was a new concept that they were introducing and there was no need for that at all. I'm very picky with my origin stories, especially when it comes to an origin story that we all know. It's like the Batman and the Spider-Man origin stories. We get it. We've seen it a hundred times. Don't do it again. If you go into this movie expecting a fun filled Power Rangers action movie from beginning to end, you're not going to get it because they don't even morph into their suits until the final act. I understand the need to spend some time setting up, but this movie dragged the setup way too far and I didn't like.

I especially didn't like the first half of our setup. Our group of five kids that I assume are young adults in real life and not actual teenagers I think do a fine job and I'll get more into them in a second, but the problem here is the screenplay. The movie is essentially a high school drama with a group of misfit teenagers that experience every cliché in the book for these movies. We have the high school quarterback that ruined his football career with a series of dumb mistakes that don't even make sense. We have the kid this is a social outcast due to his lack of social skills. We have the useless bully who's an idiot for no real reason. We have the girl who gets rejected by her girlfriends and decides to cut her hair with scissors in the bathroom, which magically gives her the sexiest hair in the school. We have the new girl in school that can't fit in with everyone else. Then we have the Asian dude who, well, we don't learn much about until later. Not only is there zero creativity with this setup, but it's also executed in the most horrifically painful way possible that makes it a whole heck of a lot worse than just about every other teenage drama out there. Most of this consists of painfully awful dialogue and decisions that are either super convenient to the plot or straight up dumb.

Not helping this at all is the attempted humor in the film. If you've seen the final trailer and cringed as much as I did at that, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But in the movie it's even worse and even comes close to Transformers 2 level of awful humor that is super dirty and unfunny. It's not quite as bad as Transformers in that aspect, but there are some moments where I cringed in my seat at what was happening. There was also a lot of other humor that, while not cringeworthy or dirty, just fell flat. There were many attempted jokes where I thought to myself that it seemed like they trying to be funny, but I didn't even crack a smile. And while I'm on the subject of Transformers, we also had to do our best to sexualize the females in the movie. I mean, why did we have to show our main teenage girl strip down to her underwear and dive into the lake? And why did Elizabeth Banks' villain have to wear weird, skimpy outfits for the entirety of the film? I don't understand. And on top of all of that, the movie had no idea what tone it wanted to take. It tried to balance being super serious with being super cheesy and instead of getting the right balance, they just fumbled the tone the entire film and even had out of place horror moments with the introduction of our villain.

So yeah, this wasn't going well at all for me. I hated our kids. I hated the setup. I hated the humor. I hated the undecided tone. I hated the dialogue and most of the screenplay in general. I was painfully sitting in my seat just hoping for the movie to go by quick and put me out of my misery so I could go home and completely trash it as a worthless piece of garbage that deserves to flop hard. But then something happened. I don't know if there was one defining moment where the movie turned from completely awful to tolerable or even good at some moments, but I think it was a gradual thing. We started off painfully awful, but the movie got slowly less and less painful to the point where I was enjoying the drama that was taking place with these kids. They still hadn't become Power Rangers, but they started to connect as a group and gain a lot of chemistry. Then there were moments of honest emotion where they opened up to each other about their life and experiences and I got all of the honest feel-goods with this group of kids that showed me that sometimes in life we feel like outcasts, but if we look deep inside ourselves, we can gain a sense of belonging. Suddenly I didn't hate these kids. In fact, I actually really loved them as a group. I was excited for them to become the Power Rangers and fight this evil villain!

And then we have our final transition of emotion as we head into the final act. I suppose I won't give any spoilers, although being that this is a Power Rangers movie, there's really nothing to spoil. But after getting through two acts of setup, the first act of which I hated while the second half being truly good, this is where the movie finally becomes a Power Rangers movie. It's dumb, predictable and cheesy, but kinda fun. And it brought back a lot of nostalgia to my days watching the show. I mean, if we're being honest with ourselves, every episode of the Power Rangers has the exact same plot and formula and the movie follows that to a "t" in order to pay tribute and make fans like me happy. And I kinda dug it. Rita Repulsa wants to destroy the world and the Power Rangers, but starts by sending a giant monster thing to the small town that the rangers live in and they have to go fight it. Elizabeth Banks plays our useless, throwaway villain that has zero depth, but she plays the character in such an over-the-top way that she's practically in a different movie. The kids in the movie are trying to make a name for themselves while she's just taking a break and having fun for a film. I can't blame her for this, but I wasn't madly in love with her villain. Although there's also been worse.

Overall, if you're a Power Rangers fan, I think this movie is worth seeing because there will at least be parts of the film that you really enjoy. In giving a final grade, this is really difficult because this is the tale of three movies. I went from feeling like I was experiencing a living Hell to really enjoying the journey our kids were going on to being mildly entertained and nostalgic at our ending when this finally became a Power Rangers. If this does well enough to get a sequel, I honestly think the sequel will be much better now that this setup is out of the way and I finally grew to enjoying our cast of kids. The movie is thankfully better than most of our Transformers movies and far superior to both of the G.I. Joe disasters that happened. A perfect comparison might be the recent Ninja Turtles movies that I didn't love, but also didn't hate as much as I thought I would and was even entertained at times, especially during the sequel. That's the level of quality we're looking at here, for better or for worse. Other random tidbits, I didn't care for Bryan Cranston's Zordon or Bill Hader's Alpha 5, but I kinda loved the purposefully over the top Krispy Kreme product placements that surprisingly became essential to the plot. For my final grade, I think a fair average would be to give "Power Rangers" a 6/10.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Review

Last year I released my list of my favorite films from Walt Disney Animation Studios and topping that list was the 1991 classic "Beauty and the Beast." That's a movie that I watched a lot as a child and have always loved. While many Disney movies admittedly carry a lot of nostalgia, I can promise you that "Beauty and the Beast" has a lot more than nostalgia going for it. In fact, it gained new meaning for me when I saw it as an adult because I was able to discover the deep meanings and themes to the movie that hit me right to the core. In fact, many times when I watch it I become an emotional wreck due to how powerful it is and that doesn't happen often for me. Everything about the movie is simply perfect with what it sets out to do and say. Now that Disney is on a mission to remake all of their old classics, "Beauty and the Beast" is the latest in what is going to be a long line of Disney movies to get the live-action treatment. Given how beloved "Beauty and the Beast" is to me, you would think I would be a lot more nervous about this given my relationship with remakes, but you might be surprised to know that this is a movie I've been excited for every step of the way for reasons that we will discuss here and I'm happy to announce that it did not disappoint.

Before we dive into the movie, we need to dive into the controversy. Because we live in 2017, a year in which many people seem look for new ways to be offended. This is actually the fourth major movie this year that has been buzzing in controversy that I think have been unwarranted. "Split" was accused of putting mental illness in a bad light. "A Dog's Purpose" was accused of on-set animal abuse. "The Great Wall" was accused of being a white savior movie. All three controversies were pretty bogus. And now we have everyone throwing a fit over some comments that director Bill Condon made that "Beauty and the Beast" has Disney's first ever "exclusively gay moment." Mr. Condon probably learned the hard way that many people are super sensitive about their Disney movies and that you should probably be careful about comments you make about the movie. There's a lot of people that don't like the idea of Disney pushing a gay agenda which will cause parents to have to talk to their kids about why two men love each other and if that is normal or not. These are very legitimate concerns that have people passionately arguing both sides that range from boycotts of the film to high praise. I braced myself for this and was ready to make a passionate stance depending on what happened. And guess what? Yeah. It's nothing. Like, literally.

Do you want to know exactly what this "exclusively gay moment" is? If not, feel free to skip this paragraph. Because I'm going to tell you. Minor spoilers coming your way. In the end fight, there is a moment where three men approach our wardrobe lady and she dresses them up like girls, like in the animated movie. Two of them scream and run away. A third one looks in the mirror, smiles and walks away happy. At the final ball, this man and LeFou share a dance that is shown on screen for a grand total of like two seconds. That's literally it. LeFou makes some comments throughout implying that he has affection for Gaston, but nothing that I would define as an "exclusively gay moment." These are very subtle moments that are so subtle that your kids aren't even going to notice. For better or for worse, there will be no explaining that you will have to do. If you want to get mad at this, well, just know that Disney has subtle moments like this in just about every movie they've done. There's a lot of Disney moments that are a whole heck of a lot worse than our two second dance in this movie. If Disney does something major like giving Elsa a girlfriend in "Frozen 2," then let's talk. But right now there's nothing really to talk about. Go see the movie and take your kids.

Shall we talk about the movie now? In case you've been living in outer space for the last 80 years or so, you should know that Disney is very good at making money. They always have been. When they find something that makes them money, they keep doing that until it stops working. When they do something wrong, they are very good at learning from their mistakes and keep on trying to improve until they find success. Basically the movie "Meet the Robinsons" is analogous for Disney themselves. In 2010 they discovered that they can make live-action remakes of their classics and make a lot of money off of it. In fact, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" that I reference made over $300 million in the U.S. and over $1 billion worldwide. "Light bulb!" That's exactly what they studios execs probably said when that happened. Since "Alice in Wonderland," we've had several studios join in on this party, but Disney themselves have now made "Maleficent," "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book," "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Pete's Dragon." Many more of these are on the horizon and I can now say I'm excited for this future because Disney is getting better. They're learning from previous mistakes in those movies and learning how to make a proper remake.

"Alice in Wonderland" may have made a lot of money, but the movie was a disaster. "Maleficent" tried to take "Sleeping Beauty" and twist it in a clever way. Nice idea, but lousy execution that turned into an awful movie. With "Cinderella" they decided to make a movie that was faithful to the source material while enhancing a few story elements. Boom! They struck gold with that idea. I had a few minor issues with "Cinderella," but I was overall pleased with this result and this formula. Last year with "The Jungle Book" and "Pete's Dragon" they stayed with that formula. Enhance and update some story elements that may have not made a whole lot of sense, but overall stick with what worked. Both movies were great. "Alice Through the Looking Glass" was an atrocious mess, but we can chalk that up to a minor bump in the road and move on with life. "Beauty and the Beast" follows the same successful formula that made "The Jungle Book" and "Pete's Dragon" work. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is an extremely faithful adaptation that plays the exact same notes as the original while taking the opportunity to enhance a few elements of the movie or explain certain things that were left unexplained. They take an 85 minute movie and turn it into a 130 minute movie and it works.

As we were going through this movie, I really appreciated the fact that they took the time to fill in the gaps. This is not a fault of the original, really. It's a fairy tale that was meant to be short, yet powerful. Many of Disney's animated movies are less than 90 minutes. Again, that's something that worked for Disney, so they kept doing it. But if you are going to make a live-action movie, 85 minutes isn't going to cut it. So they take the time to add more exposition about the castle, the kingdom and this curse that was placed on the Beast and many of his fellow castle mates. I liked that. When we finally have Belle and Beast in the castle together, they take more time to develop the relationship. Belle has some realistic reservations about the whole situation, but as time goes on, they are able to develop an honest friendship that stems from them realizing that they have several common interests. With the animated movie, this relationship moves really fast and for the sake of that movie, that worked. This time there's more development with the characters and a few minor things are changed in or to get us from Point A to Point B that work really well. And we have a villain in Gaston whose motivations are mostly the same, but partially enhanced to give us a very well rounded story.

All I wanted from this movie is for the magic of the original to return. Because of Disney's decision to remain faithful to the story, that's exactly what I got. This is a tale as old as time that is as timeless as can be. The Beast's character arc is one that many of us go through. We begin our journey as prideful human beings and the end goal is hopefully for us to learn how to truly love, which requires a lot of humility and patience. It's a character arc that is beautiful. Added onto that is the lack of confidence that we may feel that we're never going to find affection from another human being, a female in the case of the Beast, because of our physical appearance. Then we have the character of Belle who is very down to Earth and respectful of everyone. She is headstrong, fearless and progressive. She abhors many cultural traditions such as treating women unfairly or not seeing them as equals to men. She doesn't like the fact that the Beast has made her a prisoner, but at the same time she is able to look past his fierce, repulsive appearance and see him for what he really is, which is something that many aren't able to do, not even the Beast himself at times. Not only are these two relatable a romantic level, but these principles can be applied to a lot of aspects of life.

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens both do an excellent job at encapsulated these two characters. Sure, they don't quite compare to Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson from the original movie, but in fairness not many people would be able to. Yet Emma Watson and Dan Stevens do a pretty dang good job at capturing the magic these two characters. Yes, it's true that I had a hard time seeing Belle in the movie instead of Emma Watson. She doesn't disappear into this role. But I love Emma Watson as a person. I love what she stands for. I love how down to Earth she is. I love her acting. While she doesn't necessarily look a whole lot like Belle or sound a whole lot like Paige O'Hara, the character of Belle and the real life person of Emma Watson have a lot of similarities in personality, so because of that I buy her as this character and I enjoyed seeing her on screen. We'll talk about her singing in a second, but she certainly fit the character. Speaking of characters, though, completely stealing this show was Luke Evans as Gaston. Gaston is one of the best Disney villains with how manipulative he is and how despicable he is. Luke Evans knocked it out of the park. He is a manipulative and atrocious human being with motivations that are completely believable.

Holding the glue together are all of our side characters. There's a lot of them and I enjoyed all of them. Ewan McGregor was hilarious as Lumiere. Ian McKellen did a great job balancing him out as Cogsworth. Gugu Mbatha-Raw does a great job as Lumiere's love interest who has been turned into a feather duster. Then we have Emma Thompson who does a great job stepping into the shoes of Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts and her boy Chip is very quick and witty, which I loved. We also have Stanley Tucci playing a new piece of furniture named Maestro Cadenza, who I believe is a harpsichord. He was a great addition to our cast of characters. By the way, all the furniture looks fantastic. It translated a lot better into live-action than I was expecting. In fact, while we're at it, all of the sets in the movie are gorgeous. Our castle especially is breathtaking. All the visual effects and cinematography to go along with the set design is cinematic perfection when it comes to the technical aspects of the movie. Back to the characters, on Gaston's side of things, Josh Gad is perfect as LeFou. In addition to Gad's perfect comedic timing that he brings to this role, LeFou is given more of a conscience in this movie. He's not just the dumb idiot blindly following Gaston. He has a lot of depth and emotion to him that I wasn't expecting. Major props to Gad and the writing team there.

Finally we need to talk about this music. Because the other thing that Disney did here in addition to being faithful to the story and to the characters is keeping this a musical, which is something they didn't do with "Cinderella" and "The Jungle Book." Thus more experimentation. And it worked. I really loved the music. I was going to do a in depth segment at the end of this review discussing each song, old and new, but I have decided against that. I listened to the soundtrack early in the week and really liked it. It took me a second to get used to new voices singing the songs I love, but after several listens it really grew on me, thus when I saw the movie, it connected seamlessly. In fact, there were a few songs that I was nervous about that when I saw them in context of the movie ended up being a lot better. No, the songs don't compare to the original animated film and they aren't Broadway level of perfection. Yes, Emma Watson's voice is enhanced a bit and you can tell at certain moments. No, Luke Evans doesn't have as deep of a voice as Gaston. But I didn't find any of it distracting. The songs weren't great and phenomenal, but they were good enough for me to give the music a pass. I enjoy the soundtrack and I'm going to go back and listen to it many times in the future.

This sparks a completely different discussion that we could go on for hours debating. But I will try to keep it brief. Is "good enough" an acceptable standard for our Disney musicals? Is it OK to hire big name actors and actresses and give them a few months of vocal training so that they can pull off the music while slightly enhancing their voices in post-production in order to give the music a pass? Or should we bring back voice dubbing, which is something Disney themselves used to do all the time? The problem there is finding voice doubles that not only can sing really well, but sound like the actor. If I can tell that the talking voice and the singing voice are two different voices, that takes me out of the movie. Thus it requires a lot of extra casting effort to make it work. Another option is to simply hire trained musicians via Broadway or elsewhere for these roles, but is it OK to sacrifice star power and rely on the brand name recognition alone to do this? I can guarantee you that casting Emma Watson as Belle helped a lot in building anticipation. If we hired someone who was a smaller name that could sing better, the movie may have sold less tickets. Would that have been worth it? I don't necessarily have answers to all of these questions. But they are interesting discussion points.

Overall, this was a longer review, but I felt like it was necessary in this case. "Beauty and the Beast" is a movie that I hold very close to my heart and this was my opportunity to talk about it in more depth than I have before in previous posts. Yet if you can believe it, this was also a very restrained review. I could probably go on for twice as long as I already have talking about just the animated "Beauty and the Beast" and comparing it line for line with this remake, just with the story, themes and characters alone. I barely even touched on the set design, cinematography and visual effects and I don't think I even mentioned the actual score, which is one of Disney's best scores that they brought for this movie. Then there's all the controversies that needed addressing and the debate on the music that needed to be discussed. So yeah, this was a restrained review. Simply put, I am picky with my remakes, yet I have been excited for this remake for a long time as I thought it would make a beautiful transition into live action and I was right. This is a faithful adaptation that recaptures the magic of the original while also enhancing the story and filling in many of the gaps that were left unexplained. It's not as perfect as the animated movie, but I think it would be unfair to expect that or claim it's awful because it's not perfect. My grade for "Beauty and the Beast" is a 9/10.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kong: Skull Island Review

We now live in a day of cinematic universes. Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so successful, everyone is trying to copy that formula to create their own cinematic universes. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. The movie industry is a business and the purpose of a business is to make money. When you see something that works, you do your best to replicate that to find success on your own. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Personally I think crossover movie events are fun, if done right. My big problem is that sometimes studios of late have been so focused at setting up a cinematic universe that they forget to make a good movie. The reason that Marvel has found so much success is that they were patient and focused on making one good movie at a time before bringing everyone together in "The Avengers." That's how it should be done. And if we do it right, I'm down for it happening. Our most recent continuation of an attempted cinematic universe comes with the King Kong side of things in the King Kong and Godzilla cinematic universe which started with the 2014 Gareth Edwards "Godzilla" remake, a movie that I really enjoyed. So I was excited to see what they had up their sleeves with everyone's favorite giant ape, King Kong!

King Kong is a character that first showed up in the 1933 classic "King Kong" and has since made his way to various forms of media since, including several different movies and remakes throughout the years, the most recent being the 2005 remake by Peter Jackson. How does this movie hold up to all the previous King Kong material? Well, I'll let you be the judge of that. I wasn't expecting it to live up to any previous movie. I just wanted to see a fun movie with a giant ape wreaking havoc when some dumb Americans decided to trespass on his island. As far as expectations go, I went in not sure what to think. I loved the first trailer. I didn't like the second trailer. I heard mostly negative things from the YouTube critics I subscribe to, but the movie was certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes despite all of that (79 percent currently with 195 reviews counted), so there is apparently some sort of disconnect. But that's exactly what happened with the 2014 "Godzilla" and I landed on the positive side of that train, so I still had plenty of hope despite bracing for potential disappointment. Turns out I had quite a bit of fun with this iteration of King Kong. It has it's fair share of flaws, but it's a perfect movie to just turn off your brain and enjoy. Your typical summer blockbuster. Released in March.

The biggest complaint I've heard about this movie is that, while the scenes with Kong are a lot of fun, the movie spends most of the time with its human characters, who are not very interesting. So in other words, the 2014 "Godzilla" debate all over again. People want their "Pacific Rim" style of movie where 95 percent of it is just giant monsters fighting, forgetting that the best monster movies save the big reveal for the second half of the movie. Sure, Godzilla didn't show up until the end of the movie, but other monsters did show up early and the movie spent most of the time building up the terror and panic before delivering an epic finale. It worked. I was kind of expecting that again, but actually Kong shows up quite a bit in this movie. He's in the opening scene. He's there to attack the helicopters when they first arrive. He's there at various moments on their journey through the island. And he's also there for another epic finale. So I don't get what the complaint there is. But yes, we do spend plenty of time with our humans and I do agree that the humans have to be interesting or else there isn't much of a movie. I actually liked our human characters in "Godzilla." Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen did a great job in that. And, despite what everyone else is saying, I didn't hate our humans in this movie either.

I will admit that I was a bit bored during the setup. That being the events between our opening scene and our arrival on the island. Because that opening scene is pretty great. And the arrival on the island is also pretty great. In between that, though, not so much. John Goodman is obsessed that monsters exist and no one believes him when he claims he found a mythical island that he wants to explore, but he gets support anyways for some reason. They find Loki in a bar and for some reason decide that he needs to be their guide. Brie Larson, our future Captain Marvel, is a photographer that is along for the ride for some reason. Then they are given a military escort to tag along that is led by the extremely stubborn, stuck-up military commander commander in Samuel L. Jackson, aka Nick Fury. So yeah, we have a group of random people led by some Avengers characters and John Goodman, none of which have much depth to them or much of a background that is explored. I don't like simply going with the flow and saying the same thing everyone else has been saying, but as things were moving along, I was beginning to understand where everyone was coming from and I was actually dozing off a bit because I was bored, when suddenly... BOOM!!! I'm awake!!

That "BOOM!!!" is when they got to the island. I wasn't expecting an attack right away. I was thinking they would fly in, land on the island, explore a bit, meet some exotic creatures, then accidentally run into Kong. Nope. That's not what happens. They're flying in with their brigade of helicopters and get attacked right away before they can land. They've pissed off the beast to begin with and he starts smacking their helicopters around, swatting them like flies and then crushing them like ants when they're trying to escape. We lose quite a bit of "red coats" right from the beginning and it was freaking epic. Once the dust settles and Kong is gone, that's when the journey begins in a few different parties due to their helicopters being swatted around like flies. Quite honestly I loved Skull Island, which is the name of the island they are on. It's rather entertaining when they are walking through a bamboo field and one "red coat" looks up and gets jabbed through the mouth with a giant piece of bamboo that turns out not to be a piece of bamboo, but rather a leg of a Kong-sized spider. And that's just one of many fancy creatures on this island. It was a fun journey that did a good job of keeping me entertained throughout the movie. The CGI on all of these creatures was great!

One major aspect that I was worried about was the character of John C. Reilly. He was featured quite a bit in that second trailer, which is why I didn't like the second trailer. The trailer had tonal inconsistencies as it tried to be serious like "Godzilla," but John C. Reilly was nothing but off-the-wall humor that made things clash and I was worried that the movie would have the same issues. Nope. John C. Reilly was actually one of my favorite characters. His humor wasn't out of place. Rather he plays a guy that has kinda gone insane after being trapped on the island for like 30 years, so it fit. As far as the rest of the characters go, yeah they don't have much depth or emotion to them, but they grew on me. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John Goodman do a great job in their roles despite not being given much and they make it work. There were also plenty of "red coats" that I enjoyed. The character I actually didn't care for much was Samuel L. Jackson. He does a good job of being angry, bitter and mean. You're supposed to hate him and you do, so props there. But there's a lot of stupid decisions that he makes that don't make any sense and thus derails the movie a bit.

Overall, though, the characters were fine and the journey was fun. And the visual effects and cinematography were phenomenal. There's a lot of epic camera shots. Every time Kong shows up, the movie is fantastic. And he shows up more than some people are giving him credit for. He makes the opening scene great. He makes the arrival on the island jaw-dropping. He makes the final showdown epic. And he shows up in small doses throughout outside those scenes to make things work. Yeah, the journey to get to Skull Island was boring and the characters don't have much depth to them, but once they get to Skull Island, the movie is really entertaining. Whenever Kong isn't there, various other creatures show up to fill space, thus keeping the journey exciting, the best of which being the skull crawler creatures they have to avoid. Yeah, there's some decisions made by certain characters that don't make sense. There's also a few elements of the movie that didn't actually do much to help or hinder the plot. They're just there. But overall this is a fun movie. And different from the other King Kong movies as this tells a different story with different characters than the 1933 and 2005 versions. It does its own thing and it works. I'm going to give "Kong: Skull Island" an 8/10.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Shack Review

Easter is a bit on the late side of things this year as it doesn't come until April 16, but nevertheless February through March is the time of year that we usually get at least a few religious-themed movies hoping to take advantage of the season and almost without fail they are very polarizing. On one side of things, professional movie critics almost always pan religious movies as they see them as religious propaganda and for some reason that is always considered a bad thing no matter what. If it has anything to do with faith, then critics will pan it. On the other side of things, there's also a lot of religious people that will automatically praise these films no matter what. To heck with actual storytelling, acting and plot, if it tries to preach a sermon, then it is automatically a great movie. Then you have me. As a religious person and someone who likes reviewing movies, I try to be a voice of reason. Yes, I like myself a good, faith-inspiring movie, but I like one that's done right. Good intentions doesn't always cut it for me. So now we have "The Shack," which currently holds a 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes to go along with an "A" CinemaScore and an 87 percent on the audience portion of Rotten Tomatoes. The polarization has happened again. So here I am.

In order to accurately talk about this movie, I do need to dive into some minor spoilers. I won't reveal how it ends, but certain things that happen in the first two-thirds of the movie need to be discussed. These are things that, for the most part, were hidden from the advertising. And probably for good reason. This is a really strange premise that goes in places that makes you about as confused as our main character is through most of it. And I need to bring these strange things up in order to do this review justice. If you want absolutely no spoilers and you like religious movies, then know that despite how strange this is, I do think it has a good payoff and is thus better than many of the awful religious movies that do come out, like the "God's Not Dead" movies and everything that has been made by the Kendrick brothers ("War Room," "Fireproof," "Courageous"). If you want more of an explanation than that and you don't mind me detailing this plot, then let's continue. The basic outline of this plot is that a father has recently gone through a horrific experience where his daughter was kidnapped and murdered in a shack in the mountains. A year or so later, he gets a letter in the mail from God asking him to come to this shack to have a chat because it's been a while.

Given how heavy this subject matter is, I went in thinking that this could only go one of two different ways. Either it's going to present a good message on how to deal with grief or it could end up being super insensitive and unintentionally offensive. Many religious Christian movies, believe it or not, take the angle that anything bad that happens to people happens because they weren't faithful. Then they try to tell people that if you turn to God, all of your problems will be immediately solved. This paints a black and white picture of Christianity that I think is very harmful because life is a lot more gray than that. Sometimes bad things happen to good people even when they did nothing to deserve that. That's the premise of this movie. A good man who has tried to do his best to be a good husband and a good father goes through the tragedy of having his youngest get kidnapped and murdered. Because of that, he starts to struggle and question God. "If you exist, God, then why did you let my daughter die like this?" That's a dang good question that many people in life ask. If they were to take the "You weren't faithful enough" route, I would've been ready to trash this movie. Thankfully they didn't. They actually take the good route and have a pretty decent answer to this question.

The problem here is that the movie requires a lot of patience before it gets there. And these are where I give the necessary minor plot spoilers. First off, while the acting in the movie is serviceable, they don't do a great job at selling the grief of the situation. I hate to compare everything to "Manchester by the Sea," but that's become my new gold standard when it comes to grief-stricken movies and Sam Worthington doesn't shine a light to Casey Affleck when it comes to him selling this character who blames himself, and in this instance God, for what has happened. And he's not quite broken enough given what happened. And the actual kidnapping sequence doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Another comparison here would be to the many "Criminal Minds" episodes I've watched. We have the teenage daughter and the teenage son in a canoe on the lake. For some reason the teenage daughter decides to stand up in the canoe and call attention to her Dad. This tips the canoe and traps teenage boy in the water, which causes father to jump in the lake to save him. That's a fine idea, but executed fairly poorly. It didn't make sense for the teenage daughter to do that and the actress didn't do a great job at selling that. Then the rest of the sequence is fairly predictable.

Predictable in the sense that once the dad leaves to rescue his son, you know the youngest daughter is going to be kidnapped because this is actually a flashback sequences that has a ton of foreshadowing. The whole ride up to the campground is spent on the father telling her a legend of an Native American girl that died and the daughter the night before asks a lot of questions if she is going to have to die. The bigger issue, though, is that this specific family isn't the only one at this campground. There's several families there and thus the young daughter is not exactly left alone. If some crazy child abductor were in their presence, this wouldn't have been the opportune time to kidnap the little girl and I don't know how he would've anticipated this exact moment that happened out of pure luck. Yeah, this is me being super picky due to how much "Criminal Minds" I have watched, but if you are going to setup a depressing movie that includes a kidnapping sequence, the kidnapping scene should be done done well and the grief of the characters should be more believable. That way when you portray this father talking to God in the mountains, the lessons taught in the mountains would have a much stronger impact. As is, this setup wasn't bad, but it also could've been executed better.

All that said, that is not the weird part of the movie. That was just the poorly setup "Criminal Minds" style of introduction to the meat of the movie. And no, we learn nothing about this child abductor for the rest of the movie. The movie leaves that part of the movie hanging. In their defense, they weren't trying to be a crime drama. They were trying to be a faith-based about how to deal with pain and grief. But I still left slightly disappointed that we didn't explore that aspect of the movie further and watch the police or FBI solve this kidnapping case. Instead we have our father, whose name is Mack, get a letter from God in his mailbox. After debating what he should do, he decides to go with his neighbor to the shack, but at the last second, he ends up stealing his neighbor's truck and going on his. That didn't make any sense. If this were a taunting message left by the kidnapper, why do this alone? Especially when your neighbor wants to come with you? Anywho, Mack finally arrives at the shack and finds Jesus, who is played by an Israeli actor (kudos there), that leads him to this summer paradise in the middle of winter where God resides. God in this instance, is played by the one and only Octavia Spencer. Yes, you read that right. God in this movie is a black female.

Not only is God played by Octavia Spencer, but we also have The Holy Spirit there played by a Japanese actress, singer and model named Sumire. Jesus is the closest we get to the actor actually looking like Jesus. As I said, he is played by an Israeli actor, which I found cool. He has short hair and a short beard, but I was fine with that. Better than most portrayals. It's having Octavia Spencer and Sumire playing God and The Holy Spirit that tripped me out. Mack was super confused at everything that was happening and quite frankly so was I. Granted, God comes in the form of Octavia Spencer because Mack had a lot of daddy issues growing up. His dad was very abusive to him and his mom and I think the movie inferred that Mack put poison in his dad's alcohol and killed. But that's not super clear. So God decides to come to him in the form of a woman instead. And this setting is where most of our movie takes place, so I actually haven't spoiled much. I just detailed the setup of the movie and revealed the movie's big surprise with Octavia Spencer being God. Granted Octavia Spencer did a great job at playing God as did our other two playing Jesus and The Holy Spirit. It's just not what I was expecting and it threw me off for a while until I managed to accept it.

That's why I said this movie requires patience. The intro to this movie is like a poorly done "Criminal Minds" episode that doesn't make much sense when you think about it and had way too much foreshadowing and not enough shock value. Once this happens, our main actors don't sell the grief as much, thus the impact at the end isn't as powerful when he goes to the mountains to learn from Octavia Spencer as God. If you give the movie time, though, and accept the weird things that are happening, this does have a good payoff that didn't feel preachy to me, but rather told a good message on how to deal with grief and pain. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but we shouldn't let the pain consume our life and destroy our family. It's a natural thing to want to blame God for the bad things that happen in the world, but we also have to learn that God allows evil people to do evil things because they have their agency. There's also a great message here about forgiveness that I thought was done well. I won't tell you how these messages were taught and what happens to Mack during this stay with God or what he does afterwards, but I left with an overall positive feeling towards this movie despite its flaws in storytelling and filmmaking. Thus I will give "The Shack" a 7/10.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Logan Review

I have an interesting relationship with the X-Men movies. One of these days I will sit down and do a ranking of all the X-Men movies like I've done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe recently. But today is not that day. Today is the day to talk about our latest Wolverine movie. This is the third Wolverine solo movie that has been made, the first two being fairly disposable films. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" gets a really bad rap from most. I recognize its flaws, but I think some people are a little too harsh on it. My problem is it tries to be an origin story for Wolverine, but has continuity errors with the original X-Men movies, so it ends up being pointless as a film, even though it's fairly entertaining on its own right. "The Wolverine" I thought was a really fun movie and much better than Origins, but it felt like a filler episode of a superhero TV show. There was also no point to it. And they wiped it out a few months later in "Days of Future Past." Now we have our third Wolverine movie, this one titled "Logan." Out of our three Wolverine movies, this one is easily the best. But that's not really saying much, so let's go a bit bolder. Out of our nine X-Men movies we've had so far (10 if you count "Deadpool"), this one is the best. And I'm pretty confident in declaring that.

Before we dive into this movie, let's get something out of the way. Don't take your kids to see this movie. Last year "Deadpool" took a big risk to see if people would pay money for a major superhero movie that was rated R, because in order to do justice to the character, an R rating was needed. That risk ended up paying off big time as "Deadpool" made $363.1 million in the U.S. alone, making it one of the highest grossing films of 2016 and second highest grossing superhero movie of the year behind only "Captain America: Civil War" and ahead of "Batman v. Superman." "Suicide Squad" and "X-Men: Apocalypse." Not only was "Deadpool" a big hit at the box office, but it is also becoming a revolutionary film in the comic book realm as Hollywood now knows that superhero movies don't have to be PG-13 to make money. They can be free from the bondage of the MPAA and make it how they feel it needs to be made and still make money regardless of rating. "Deadpool" was a very strong R, but for some reason some parents didn't get the memo. And I'm still confused as to how that happened. When you buy a ticket to an R-rated film, there is usually a big letter "R" on it. That means you shouldn't bring your kids and you definitely shouldn't get mad at the movie if you do.

When Hollywood saw the box office receipts for "Deadpool," it didn't take long at all for a whole ton of R-rated superhero movies to get the green light. It was like a cry of freedom. They've been bound to PG-13 for the longest time despite the fact that many comic book characters definitely aren't PG-13 characters and thus had to be watered down to be done justice. But now that "Deadpool" released those chains and proved that R-rated superhero movies can be done and make money. The first superhero movie to get immediately green-lit after "Deadpool" was "Logan." Because that's what fans have been asking for for years. Wolverine is a troubled, angry character who has giant metal claws that come out of his knuckles. He slices and stabs people with these. Yet up to this point, they've had to keep a leash on the Wolverine action scenes. A lot of careful editing and watering down to make it fit in a PG-13 movie. But now they don't have to keep a leash on that and they certainly don't in this movie. Yes, this movie is bloody, it's graphic and it's foul. It's an adults only movie. The MPAA warned you. Your ticket will warn you. I have warned you. Don't make the same mistake that many made with "Deadpool." Leave the kids at home.

With that two paragraph warning out of the way, shall we actually talk about this movie? "Logan" is based on the "Old Man Logan" story in the comics. I'm not actually super familiar with that story so I don't know how faithful it is to that. But as that title would suggest, Logan is old. And so is Charles Xavier, who is also in this movie. The year is 2029 and a lot of crap has happened since we last saw the X-Men that has made Logan more broken and worn down than normal. I don't even really know what timeline we're in. I assume that it's the new timeline that was set up in "Days of Future Past," but at this point the X-Men timeline is so screwed up that I don't even know. Point is we're in some sort of future and Logan is not in good shape at all. Charles is even worse as he looks like he's on death's door the entire film and keeps having these seizures that are extremely harmful for everyone around him. And it's super depressing and sad. I may have had a unique relationship with the X-Men movies, but I have always loved Patrick Stewart's Professor X and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. It's been 17 years with these two and seeing them both in a worn out, broken down state just broke me. Right off the bat it starts off as a very heavy movie emotionally and it never let down.

As you can expect, Wolverine has a habit of not being left alone. Despite his best efforts, crap happens and people come looking for him and we are sent on quite the journey in this movie that I'm not going to tell you anything about because the advertising actually made me happy by not revealing hardly any of the plot, so I am going to respect that because it doesn't happen too often. I will say that part of that includes us being introduced to X-23, a female version of Wolverine who is a young child in this movie. She ends up with Wolverine and Professor X for reasons and they have to protect her for reasons and things happen in the movie for reasons that were really well done. Bad people were convincing in their roles and fights against bad people were bound to happen for reasons. And man are those battle sequences intense and awesome. We've all been wanting this movie to happen for a long time and seeing it happen is glorious. Wolverine is finally allowed to be let loose in this movie and him and young X-23 make a phenomenal fighting duo that makes for perhaps some of the best action sequences ever in a superhero movie. And this was able to happen because "Deadpool" finally opened the door for it, which makes me want to sing praises to "Deadpool" even more.

One thing that I really loved in this movie, though, was how restrained it was for a lot of it. And I know I just bragged about how happy I am that we finally have an unrestrained version of Wolverine, but I will admit that I was nervous that they would take this too far and make an over-the-top, gratuitously violent Wolverine movie that had no story or purpose to it except for watching Wolverine chop of people's heads and arms for two hours just because we could. But no, thankfully that's not what happens. This movie is actually a very deep character study into Wolverine and Professor X that is a slow burn for much of it. And I don't mean that in a bad way. But the movie goes long periods of time without any violence or action sequences. They took the time to tell a good story and dive into these characters with what they are going through. In fact, this almost feels like an independent superhero movie as the main focus is on the story, the acting and the script as opposed to the action and violence. When we do get to the action sequences, they are there to supplement and enhance the story. Wolverine has so much anger and rage built up for reasons and the action sequences are his way to express his anger and none of it felt gratuitous or pointless. There was a purpose to every action scene in this movie and Wolverine never did anything unless he had to.

There is certainly a lot to unpack here with this movie, but I'm going to surprise you by wrapping this up instead. Because I want you to go experience this movie for yourself without knowing much about it. That's how this journey should be taken. Just know that this is an emotionally heavy movie. There are many moments that will make you want to gush out and cry. The movie is deep and moving. Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman give their best performance yet as these two characters and if the Oscar voters weren't so violently opposed to superhero movies for some dumb reason, I'd say Hugh Jackman would be deserving of a best actor nomination with Patrick Stewart getting a best supporting actor nomination. They bring a lot of weight and emotion to their roles and if this is indeed the last X-Men movie for both of them, they went out on top with performances to remember. Not to be ignored is what Dafne Keen brought to the table as X-23, but I'll be brief with her because I want to leave that mostly a surprise. But I absolutely loved her. Together these three add power and weight to this movie that we've never seen in an X-Men movie yet and the fantastic action sequences were the icing on the cake to a beautiful and emotional movie. For these reasons and a whole heck of a lot more that I stayed far away from, I'm giving "Logan" a 9.5/10.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Movie Preview: March 2017

The weather outside is very bipolar right now, which means we must be approaching this thing called Spring. In Hollywood we call this early Summer, though, because March has recently developed a reputation of being a very good month for major blockbusters, which is a discovery that began in the early part of this decade with movies such as "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Hunger Games." In fact, since 2010 there have been eight titles that opened in March that went on to make over $200 million at the domestic box office. Prior to 2010, only "300" accomplished that feat. Last year alone had "Zootopia" and "Batman v. Superman" earn over $300 million after opening in March. This has caused Hollywood to be increasingly more confident in releasing blockbusters in March as this March has just as many blockbusters scheduled as any month this Summer. It's not out of the realm of possibilities for this to be the first March to ever hit $1 billion at the box office, which would be a nice turnaround for 2017 as we've started off with two fairly average months that have only seen three new releases barely cross the $100 million mark so far. "The LEGO Batman Movie" leads the way $135 million so far heading into the first weekend of March. So let's jump right in!

March 3rd - 5th-

Kicking things off will be the X-Men movie that fans have been begging to be made for years now and that is Logan. For 17 years now Hugh Jackman has played the character of Wolverine, a character with long, sharp blades that come out his hands that he uses to stab people with. But yet the amount of blood and stabbing is always kept to a safe minimum. In the comics Wolverine is often a very violent, rough character, but the movies have never fully unleashed that potential because, well, superhero movies need to be PG-13 or else they won't make any money. That's the thought at least. Fans have wanted a violent, graphic version of Wolverine that didn't hold back, but they were never given one because Fox wanted to make money. Last year changed all of that when "Deadpool" proved that you can be true to a character's comic book origin and still make money. Several R-rated superhero movies immediately got put into the works, the first of which was "Logan." This is what fans have been asking for. A movie about Wolverine that doesn't hold back. It'll be based on the popular comic book story "Old Man Logan" and is rumored to be Hugh Jackman's last outing as Wolverine as well as Patrick Stewart's last outing as Charles Xavier. But, you know, all of us want Wolverine to show up in "Deadpool 2," so maybe he'll change his mind and at least give us a cameo there.

Easter isn't until April 16 this year, but the faith-based film The Shack will be hoping that faith-based audiences will be in the mood to celebrate a bit early. This time of year has typically been pretty kind to this genre. Last March, "Miracles from Heaven" earned $61.7 million after opening in mid-March. Granted, Easter was only two weeks away at that time, but "Risen" also did fairly well last year after opening in mid-February, which had about the same amount of time to Easter then as "The Shack" does this year. That said, "The Young Messiah" last March was a major flop, earning only $6.4 million total, and "God's Not Dead 2" only earned a third as much as its predecessor after opening just after Easter, so a faith-based film around Easter doesn't guarantee good box office receipts, so we'll see how well "The Shack" does. "The Shack" is a story about a father who receives a letter that he assumes is from God, asking him to return to the place where his daughter was abducted and assumed to be murdered, which is a small shack. The father obliges and returns to the shack, where he hasn't been since the abduction. The film stars Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw.

The final movie of the weekend is Before I Fall, which is essentially a version of "Groundhog Day" intended for teenage girls, as it's also based on a young adult novel of the same name by Lauren Oliver, which is a genre of movies that has started to die out recently, meaning this movie might be a few years too late. It stars Zoey Deutch ("Dirty Grandpa," "Vampire Academy," "Why Him?") as a girl who dies in a car accident one night and is then forced to re-live that day of her death every day for a week. Hence the comparison to "Groundhog Day" with that time loop idea. You can probably guess that there's a lesson that she needs to learn, much like Bill Murray needed to, before she's able to escape the time loop. The opening weekend for "Before I Fall" is tracking on par with "The Edge of Seventeen" and "The Space Between Us," which made $4.7 million and $3.7 million respectively on their opening weekends, which suggests an opening for "Before I Fall" of less than $5 million.

March 10th - 12th-

There's only one new wide release on the second weekend of March, but it's a big one with Kong: Skull Island. The character of Kong, a giant gorilla who lives on Skull Island, dates back to 1933 with the original classic film "King Kong," which has been remade and re-imagined in many different forms of media, most notably on the big screen in 1976 and 2005. That most recent version from 2005 was directed by Peter Jackson and made $218.1 million at the domestic box office, a number that Warner Bros. would love to replicate with this newest sequel. The big reason for that is that, outside the obvious goal of making money, they have a shared universe planned with 2014 version of Godzilla, which includes "Godzilla 2" scheduled for 2019 and the epic showdown of the two giants in 2020 with the movie simply called "Godzilla vs. Kong." If "Kong: Skull Island" doesn't live up to its end of the bargain, that plan could be in jeopardy. The 2014 "Godzilla" opened huge to $93.2 million, but tanked hard after that and only barely doubled that opening weekend with a domestic total of $200.6 million. That film came with a mixed reaction that could mean audiences are lukewarm to this idea of this shared universe. As far as story goes, given that there is already a planned showdown in three years, the typical ending of Kong climbing the Empire State Building and getting shot and killed is probably off the table, meaning we're probably in for a surprise ending.

March 17th - 20th-

The third weekend of March sees the arrival of one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. This trend of Disney remaking all of their animated classics began in 2010 when "Alice in Wonderland" scored over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Since then Disney has ventured out and did live-action remakes of "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Jungle Book" and "Pete's Dragon," all of which received varying degrees of success, the biggest story being last year's "The Jungle Book," which actually out-grossed "Alice in Wonderland" in the U.S. with $364 million compared to that movie's $334 million, and fell just short of its worldwide total. Building off strong goodwill from "The Jungle Book," Disney has now taken on one of their most beloved animated films of all time in "Beauty and the Beast," casting the well-liked Emma Watson in the lead role of Belle. Anticipation for this movie has been through the roof so far as shown by the 127 million views the initial trailer got in its first 24 hours. The box office prospects for "Beauty and the Beast" look like its headed to infinite and beyond as it could be one of the biggest opening weeks of all time. It will certainly break the $103.2 million that "The Jungle Book" earned last year and may set the March opening weekend record, which currently belongs to last year's "Batman v. Superman" with $166 million. At the very least it should come close to that total.

There's only one movie that will be challenging "Beauty and the Beast" and it's looking like it won't make much of a dent. That movie is The Belko Experiment. The premise of "The Belko Experiment" is that 80 people are locked in their office and are told by a voice coming from an intercom that they need to start killing each other or else a higher percentage of them will end up dead. Thus we have a twisted social experiment similar to a graphic adult version of "The Hunger Games." The movie is directed by Greg McLean, who directed "The Darkness" last year, "Wolf Creek" in 2005 and a small handful of other overly graphic low-budget action/horror films. In terms of box office comparisons, McLean's "Wolf Creek" opened to $2.8 million in 2005 while "The Darkness" opened to $4.9 million last year. There's also a lot of small action movies that get released around this time. Last year, "Hardcore Henry" opened to $5.1 million and "Criminal" opened to $5.8 million. "The Gunman" opened to $5.0 million in 2015 while "Sabatoge" opened to $5.3 million in 2014. Seeing a trend here? An opening around $5 million seems about right for "The Belko Experiment."

While it's not hitting a wide release this weekend, it's definitely worth noting the limited release of T2 Trainspotting, which has already been released in over 20 countries worldwide, which started in the U.K. in late January. The movie has already earned $20.1 million over there, which makes sense since "Trainspotting" has been lauded as one of the greatest British films of all time. The original "Trainspotting" was released in 1996 and only earned $16.5 million in the United States, but has since become a cult classic. The movie was a black comedy about a man who was trying to overcome a heroine addiction. It was directed by Danny Boyle and starred Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle as a unique group of friends. "T2 Trainspotting" reunites the group of friends 20 years later, with all four actors reprising their roles. Director Danny Boyle also returns, having directed movies such as "28 Days Later...," "127 Hours," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Steve Jobs" in between his "Trainspotting" movies. Critics so far have labeled "T2 Trainspotter" as a worthy successor as is currently certified fresh with 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

March 24th - 26th-

For the third major remake this month following "Kong: Skull Island" and "Beauty and the Beast," we have the not so highly anticipated remake of the classic 90's TV show Power Rangers. Now to be fair, the original TV show, which started in 1993, was designed as a show for kids and didn't take itself too seriously. It's more of a cheesy, dumb kids action show that young boys especially loved. All this movie really needs to do in order to be considered a success is to appease that same target audience. If the young boys enjoy the movie, then the movie has done its job, even if every critic ends up panning the movie. Kids don't spend time looking at reviews. That said, the initial target audience that grew up watching "Power Rangers" in the 90's are now adults themselves that have seen other beloved TV shows such as "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" get botched on the big screen with their recent reboots, so there's an understandable amount of concern heading into "Power Rangers." As far as box office goes, I'm sure Lionsgate would love for this to hit "Transformers" level, but a more realistic bar might be the two "G.I. Joe" movies, which made $150.2 million and $122.5 million respectively. If "Power Rangers" can hit that range, that should be considered a success.

Each year for the last four years we've had a big-budget, sci-fi space movie released. And no, I'm not talking about "Star Wars." I'm talking about "Gravity" (2013), "Interstellar" (2014), "The Martian" (2015) and "Passengers" (2016). This year's space movie comes a little earlier in the year and is called Life. Yeah, that's a bit of a generic title, but the movie is about six astronauts that are aboard the space station and are studying a sample that was collected from Mars that has proven that there is life on Mars. What they have on their hands is a large, single-celled organism that has made them all ecstatic with their discover. At least initially. The trailers show evidence of panic and chaos ensuing when they discover that there may be more to this than the originally thought, turning the movie into a sci-fi thriller. Directing this movie is Daniel Espinosa, who is best known for directing "Safe House," which was a breakout movie in February 2012 that earned $126.4 million domestically after surprising people with a $40.2 million opening. I'm sure Espinosa would love another breakout performance here in late March. We'll see if it happens. Best case scenario here might be "Passengers," which is currently sitting at $99 million after opening around Christmas. "Life" does have a good cast going for it, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds.

Next up is the first raunchy comedy of the month in CHiPs. In fact, this is the first R-rated comedy since "Fist Fight" in February and "Why Him?" before that in December. That means fans of raunchy comedies have been a bit under-served as of late, meaning that "CHiPs" is in prime position if it can play its cards right and entertain audiences. The movie stars Michael Pena and Dax Sheppard as two California Highway Patrol officers (CHiPs) making their rounds on their motorcycles. The movie is a remake of the TV show "CHiPs," which ran for 139 episodes over the course of six seasons from 1977 to 1983. That makes this the second remake of a TV show this weekend between this and "Power Rangers," the two aiming for two obviously different audiences. With this being more of a buddy comedy released in late March, I'm sure the creators of this would love for a response similar to that of "21 Jump Street," which was also a remake of a TV show starring two male leads that made $138.4 million in March 2012. Although the star power of Michael Pena and Dax Shephard isn't near the level of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. This is also written and directed by Dax Shephard, whose only previous work as a director is a few small movies and TV show episodes.

March 31st - April 2nd- 

The final weekend of March only has the first day of it in March and the last two in April. As always, though, I go by what month the weekend started on, not what month it ended on. Riding its own fair share of controversy to the big screen this weekend will be Ghost in the Shell. If I have my facts right, "The Ghost in the Shell" was initially released as a manga in 1989, a manga essentially being a Japanese comic. Since then it has been adapted into various anime movies and TV shows. The series is set in a futuristic Japan and follows an organization called Public Security Section 9, an organization comprised mainly of former police and military personnel. In this version of the future, there are many members of the public that have cyberbrains which can also be combined with various levels of different prosthetics up to the level of being full-fledged cyborg. The main character is one Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is a fully cyborg Japanese girl. The controversy surrounding this live action version is that Major, as they simply call her in this iteration, is played by Scarlett Johansson, who is most certainly NOT Japanese. The idea here is to add some star power to the movie to drive ticket sales, which Scarlett has proven time and again that she is capable of. Some wonder if they should've just cast a Japanese actress given that many of them would've loved to play the role.

Next up is the latest addition to DreamWorks Animation Studio's cannon with The Boss Baby. DreamWorks has had an interesting history. The came onto the scene in the late 90's shortly before exploding with "Shrek" in 2001. This was followed by them dominating the animation scene along side Pixar for the greater portion of the decade. Then they got a little carried away and started going quantity over quality, which caused them to crash in a major way starting with "Rise of the Guardians" in 2012. A major overhaul happened after a lengthy streak of failures, which caused a lot of people their jobs and forced the company to shelf or outright cancel many of their major projects. The goal here was to focus more on quality instead of quantity, which recently has them on a bit of a winning streak as their last three movies, "Home," "Kung Fu Panda 3" and "Trolls" have all done decently well at the box office. "The Boss Baby" is a bit of an interesting idea for an original animated movie that is focused on a baby who has the mind of a bossy adult, voiced by Alec Baldwin. If this does connect, it'll be in pretty good position as, outside "Smurfs: The Lost Village" the next weekend, the next major animated movie doesn't come until June with DreamWorks' fellow animated movie "Captain Underpants," which will be followed shortly by "Cars 3" and "Despicable Me 3."

Finishing off the month will be the World War II drama The Zookeeper's Wife. This is looking like it will be more of a small release that will rely on reviews and word of mouth in hopes to hold well throughout April. The movie tells the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who lived in Poland during World War II. As you can probably guess, Jan was a Zookeeper of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. When the German invasion of Poland began in 1939, the zoo was destroyed, but the Zabiniskis continued to live there and used the zoo to hide up to 300 displaced Jews during the war. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, which drew on the diary of Antonina, who is played in the movie by Jessica Chastain. "The Zookeper's Wife" is directed by Niki Caro, who most recently directed the sports drama "McFarland, USA," a movie that only opened to $11 million in February 2015, but rode good word of mouth to eventually make $44.5 million. Focus Features will be hoping for a similar run here, but that will be dependent how strong the reviews and the word of mouth for the film end up being. This could turn into a sleeper hit. Or it might just stay asleep.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out Review

From the mind of Jordan Peele, half of the comedy sketch duo of Key and Peele, comes a horror movie with a touch of comedy and a lot of social commentary. When the first trailer for this movie came out, I was dumbfounded. And not in a good way. I thought it looked like one of the worst horror movies made in a long time. In fact, I confidently put it in the bad section of my 2017 preview at the beginning of the year. As it turns out, it was thrown into Sundance at the end of January and it left there with a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. That floored me. But OK. The Sundance crowd loved it. That sometimes means nothing. I mean, they gave "The Birth of a Nation" a round of applause... BEFORE the screening happened. They sometimes get clingy for political reasons and not movie reasons. We'll get to that more in a bit. But then it hit normal theaters and through a whole weekend it STAYED at 100 percent. With over 130 reviews. Say what? Yeah, as it turns out, that first trailer was simply a horribly put together trailer for a pretty good horror movie. They literally throw together every part of the movie into the trailer in a choppy, nonsensical way. Fail. But that happens. That's why you should never skip a movie based solely on the trailers because it might be good.

Before we dive into this movie, let's discuss this Rotten Tomatoes score. For a while it stayed at that 100 percent mark, which is insane for any movie. Armond White from the National Review finally gave the movie its first negative review, but that means the movie currently stands at a 99 percent with 144 reviews counted as of the publishing of this review. That would qualify it as one of the best reviewed horror movies EVER. Is it that good? No, it's not. But I'm not going to say I was disappointed going into the movie because I didn't have the expectation that it would be that good. I just figured that there was something a bit off with the critics this time around. As a comparison, two of the best modern horror movies in my opinion are "The Witch" and "The Babadook." "The Witch" has a 91 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes while "The Babadook" has a 98 percent score. It's a crime against humanity that "Get Out" has a better score. A better comparison for "Get Out" in my humble opinion is "Don't Breathe," which has a 87 percent, and "Lights Out," which has a 76 percent. That's the type of horror movie you're getting here with "Get Out." And I liked both of those movies, so that's not a bad thing. I'm just saying you should go in with the right expectations.

Why is it that "Get Out" is all the way up at 99 percent? Well, I can't speak for others, but my personal opinion is that it's because of the premise. "Get Out" is about an interracial couple where a white girl is taking her black boyfriend to meet her parents for the first time. "They're not racist," the girl promises when the boyfriend asks if she's told her parents that he's black. Well it turns out that they kind of are. But not outright blatantly racist. They don't think they're racist, but they naturally treat him a bit differently than they would've if he was white. In a private conversation after the initial meeting, he essentially tells her, "I told you so." And she feels awful, but he does his best to not make it a huge deal. Racism does exist in our day, but they type of racism that exists is not necessarily the type of racism that existed in the 1800's or even the 1950's. It's the type of racism that exists in this movie, which is why this movie provides an excellent social commentary and because of that I think that many critics are afraid to give this movie a bad review when they normally would with this type of movie. They don't want to be called racist because in our day a bad review of this movie would get them that title with how this movie goes about discussing racism.

I definitely have to give props to this movie for doing this in such an honest, straightforward way. It becomes a relevant movie. Black people have watched this movie and felt like it was telling the story of their life in certain scenes. Thus if you are not black, you can watch this movie and get a taste of what they are going through on a daily basis. I have a huge appreciation for what this movie accomplishes. But I'm not going to automatically label this as the best horror movie ever because it got the politics right. It needs to hold up to horror standards for me to label it as the best horror movie ever. I judge the movie, not the politics. And as a movie, this doesn't hold up to the standard of a horror classic. But this does a good enough job for me to praise it as a good horror movie, much like I did "Lights Out" and "Don't Breathe." Both of those movies I was able to point out plenty of flaws with the movie, but I had a good enough time with them to give them high recommendations. And I will also say this is a super impressive directorial debut for Jordan Peele. It's one thing to go from comedy to drama in the acting realm. It's another thing to go from comedic actor to horror director. That tells me that Mr. Peele has a great career ahead of him in various genres and film roles.

There's a lot of things that this movie does right and a few things that it does less right. Sadly I'm not going to dive super deep into this because it's the type of movie that requires a spoiler review to do so. I did that earlier this year with M. Night Shyamalan's "Split," which I didn't use in my comparisons because I consider "Split" more of a psychological thriller than a horror. What's the difference between the two genres? That's a good question. I'm not the best at defining it in words. It's one of those things where I know it when I see it even if I can't explain it in words. But "Get Out" is definitely horror. And it's the type of horror where the less you know going in, the better your experience is going to be. If I dive deep into my feelings, that's going to take something away from your experience. And I don't think it's quite good enough or trippy enough to warrant a spoiler review. So I'm going to dance around a bit for the rest of this review, giving general statements that do my opinion justice without giving things away. One thing I will say right off the bat is that this does creepy really well. There's a ton of setup before we dive into the meat of the problem, and that setup is dang good. We get subtle hints that something is up that slowly decrease the comfort level and bring us closer and closer to the end of our seat before crap hits the fan in the final act of the movie.

Given that the premise of this movie is that white girl takes black boyfriend to her family that she claims is not racist, it's safe to say that you have a pretty good idea of what will actually happen when he gets there. You know that there's something up with this family and that our main character is in big danger. When you have a horror movie where you know exactly where it's going to go, that makes it a slightly less enjoyable experience. This movie takes place over the course of a few different days at this home and after the first night, I knew the exact direction that the movie was going to take. I knew which characters were bad and I knew which characters were victims. While I didn't know the specifics of what was going to happen, I knew the general direction of the movie and when things were revealed, there was no shock value. It was like, "Yeah that made total sense." Or "I saw that coming from a mile away." As I said, the setup of the movie is great. And the direction from Jordan Peele is fantastic. He manages to take a fairly basic horror idea that is kind of by the numbers and predictable and turn it into a well made film that keeps your attention from the first scene to the last scene. And you walk out of the theater satisfied and entertained.

One final thing to touch on. The best horror movies, and thrillers for that matter, are ones that the villain has good motivations. Why is the ghost haunting the place? Why is the witch performing sorcery? Why is the serial killer murdering people? Why is the creepy dude stalking someone? Why is the old man trapping people in his house? "Just for the heck of it" is not a good enough answer. "Split" has great motivations. "Pyscho" has phenomenal motivations. "Don't Breathe" has good motivations. "The Witch" has good motivations. "The Babadook" has good motivations. "Lights Out" doesn't have good motivations, but is effective in what it set out to do. "Get Out" is also effective in what it sets out to do. It's successfully creepy with a great setup and great acting all around, especially from Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. Jordan Peele proves he knows how to direct horror and I want to see more from him in this genre. We also have great social commentary and well placed comedy that doesn't ruin the creepy mood. We also have a very satisfying finale. But the movie is fairly predictable and the motivations aren't there. Because of that, I'm shocked that more critics haven't been daring enough to pick this apart. That said, I'm still giving "Get Out" an 8/10.