Friday, June 24, 2016

The Shallows Review

Are you ready to get your shark on? The Shallows comes our way five days earlier than initially planned as just a few weeks ago it was scheduled for Wednesday the 29th, but for whatever reason Sony decided to bump it up a few days to this weekend. Perhaps Sony started to notice a lack of interest in Independence Day: Resurgence and thought this was a good opportunity or maybe they decided they wanted a little more distance between this movie and The Purge: Election Year. But whatever the reason, we have been blessed with The Shallows a few days early. When I first saw this trailer, I immediately had a huge grin on my face. I love shark movies. I was totally ready to get my shark on even if no one else was. In fact, leading up to this movie, I made sure to re-watch both Jaws and Sharknado, two movies I love for very different reasons. Also, I managed to read no reviews going into this movie. As of Wednesday, there were no reviews on IMDb or on Rotten Tomatoes, so I made the decision to ignore the internet on Thursday going into my showing so I could be completely surprised and it turns out I loved this movie. For some reason I was expecting critics to hate it, but then I checked Rotten Tomatoes after leaving the theater and to my surprise they loved it too! Wahoo!

There's two ways you can make a shark movie. You can go the slow and steady route like Jaws or you can go the in-your-face, over-the-top way like Sharknado, which is why I made sure to watch both of them before going into this movie. And yes, I do love Sharknado for the record. Yes, it's a horrible movie, but that's the point. They purposely made a horrible movie, which is why it was super entertaining if you go in with the right mindset. If you are one that hates Sharknado with a fiery passion, rest at ease. The Shallows goes the Jaws route in terms of style. It's slowly and steadily builds tension throughout the movie and thus when we get our shark attacks, they pack a powerful, terrifying punch. But no, The Shallows is definitely not a carbon copy of Jaws. In fact, in terms of story and theme, it goes complete opposite. Jaws is a movie where the shark attacks on a very crowded beach, sending terror throughout the entire city. The Shallows sees Blake Lively pretty much by herself on a private beach, thus bringing the terror of there being no one there to help her escape this shark. She's also on some beach in Tijuana and speaks very little Spanish, so even when she sees people, she has a hard time communicating. She's just out trying to have a good time surfing by herself and gets stuck in a really bad situation.

Another contrast to Jaws that I found interesting is how both movies look at the shark. Jaws takes the angle that sharks are man-eating monsters, thus feeding off people's fear of sharks in that essence. While this is a great premise for a monster movie like that, we all know that's a bit unrealistic. And we're fine with that. The shark in Jaws seems to hunt people for no apparent reason. In The Shallows, the shark is different. Blake Lively is out surfing and just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a giant dead whale in the ocean that she stumbles on that has attracted this shark and thus Blake essentially ran right into the shark's dinner plate and gets bitten. As she's trying to escape, she's leaving a trail of blood from her attack that is keeping the shark around. She manages to escape onto a rock, but since the shark is circling her for the whole, there's no way she can get back to land. By no means am I a shark expert, but this felt more realistic to me, which I appreciate. It was a fresh take on the shark genre. Now in real life would the shark stick around and circle her for a day or two and eat everyone that tried to rescue her? Perhaps not. But it would make for an awfully boring movie if the shark just left after a few minutes. We'd just have the Blake Lively surfing show for the entire run time.

It is worth mentioning that this is definitely a survival movie. Most of the movie is Blake Lively stranded on a rock trying to figure out how to get off. If you get bored with survival movies or movies with only one actor or actress for most of the movie, then perhaps this won't be for you. But I dig them. There's a lot of classic survival movies that I think are phenomenal. A few examples that come to me right off the bat are Cast Away, All is Lost, 127 Hours, Life of Pi, and The Martian. Out of those, the two that immediately jump out at me are Cast Away and Life of Pi. Cast Away because that's our classic survival movie and stranded with Blake Lively on the rock is a bird with a broken wing. That bird was totally Blake Lively's Wilson! The movie managed to make you care just as much about the bird as you did Blake Lively, which is impressive. You wanted them both to make it off. I use the Life of Pi comparison because Blake Lively is stranded in the ocean with a dangerous predator. Pi is stuck on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. Blake Lively is stuck on a rock 200 yards or so from the shore with a shark surrounding her. All this means that The Shallows is like a combination of Jaws, Cast Away, and Life of Pi. A strange mix, but it works well!

To make a successful survival movie, you need a well-written screenplay and direction that keeps the audience engaged for the whole run time and you need a great performance from your main actor or actress. This movie has both. I was never bored in this movie and I give credit to writer Anthony Jaswinski and director Jaume Collet-Serra. Speaking of said director, Jaume Collet-Serra is the guy who directed UnknownNon-Stop, and Run All Night, so he's clearly proven that he can do a tense thriller really well and he delivers yet again on this. As regards to the second part of making a successful survival movie, Blake Lively is amazing in this. And I don't just mean her looks. Yes, she is in a skimpy bikini for practically the whole movie and she wears it well. And yes, they did manage to have slow-motion, close-up undressing scenes when she was getting into her surfer outfit, which I mainly rolled my eyes at, but whatever. I guess Jaws has a skinny-dipping scene to start things off, so we're just being consistent here with our shark movies? Anyways, back on track, Blake Lively is certainly more than just a pretty face. She shows a ton of emotion in the movie and keeps the audience fully engaged with her performance. I was legitimately concerned for her survival and thus I was on the edge of my seat with things got tense.

Speaking of that tension. Yeah. This movie is legitimately terrifying. We get a quick shot of the shark in the opening scene, thus setting the stage for the danger, but then we spend plenty of time building up the tension. And yes, we do have the same type of scenes from Jaws where we go back and forth from seeing things from our characters' points of view to seeing things from the shark's point of view. Plenty of shots with the camera half submerged and plenty of shots under the water looking up at our various characters surfing and thus we're anticipating the shark attacking, which makes things very nerve-racking. And when these attacks do happen, holy fetch does that shark look phenomenal and glorious. The whole time I was wondering what Jaws would've looked like if Steven Spielberg had today's technology to create the shark. Granted, Spielberg and company did a fantastic job with what they had available to them, but 1975 and 2016 are two very different time periods. This shark is incredible and after you see the whole thing jump out of the water for the first time, you're even more terrified because that thing is scary and you really feel for Blake Lively as you realize exactly what she's up against.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this movie. Yes, I'm fairly easy to please when it comes to this genre, but I thought this was a legitimately well-made shark thriller. Sure, we had plenty of our obligatory, slow-motion, eye-candy scenes with Blake Lively in a skimpy bikini for the whole movie, but her performance in this movie was phenomenal and thus I loved her character. I wasn't cheering for her to get eaten. I was cheering for her to survive, thus the movie was super tense. You know you've made a good shark movie when you fear for the safety of your main characters and you want them to survive as opposed to wanting the shark to enjoy a nice snack. In addition to Blake Lively, the direction by Jaume Collet-Serra was fantastic. It's another great thriller by him and thus I definitely have him on my radar and will be looking forward to his future films. He did a great job of building up the intensity of the movie and making sure the movie delivered at just the right moments. The movie is also visually stunning. It's amazing what we can do with technology in creating life-like animals like giant sharks as well as amazing ocean shots, both in and out of water. In a summer full of a surprising amount of duds, I highly recommend you give this a shot. I'm giving The Shallows a solid 8/10.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Central Intelligence Review

A little Hart and a big Johnson! Central Intelligence is the third buddy comedy in the last couple months. Keanu came our way at the very end of April and The Nice Guys showed up in May. And now we have Central Intelligence here in June. This is actually the fourth movie in this genre to show up this year, but I skipped the first one back in January, that being Ride Along 2. I really hated Ride Along and thus I didn't care to see the sequel in theaters. I might catch up on it before the year ends, but we'll see, but I'll be referencing the first one a time or two just because Ride Along and Central Intelligence share a co-star in Kevin Hart. Keanu and The Nice Guys, though, were two movies that I enjoyed and I was looking forward to Central Intelligence. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson seemed like a hilarious duo and the trailers made me laugh quite a bit. And really, when it comes to comedies, the most important thing is for the movie to make me laugh. Easier said than done, though, because I can get picky with my comedies. A lot of things that certain movies or TV shows try to pass off as "humor" just doesn't work for me. In this instance, I am happy to report that Central Intelligence did its job. It made me laugh and thus I feel comfortable recommending it to all of you!

In Central Intelligence, we start off with our comedic duo in high school. Kevin Hart is the most popular kid in school and is voted the most likely to have a very successful career. Dwayne Johnson on the other hand is kind of an oddball who gets teased and bullied by most of the school. Kevin Hart is the only one in the school to stand up for Dwayne Johnson and Dwayne Johnson remembers and appreciates that. Fast forward 20 years and both of their lives have gone in completely opposite directions than what people thought. Kevin Hart is an accountant who doesn't really like his job even though he is really good at it. He married the girl of his dreams, but their marriage is a bit rocky. Thus he's almost at the point where he's having a mid-life crisis. Dwayne Johnson has now become extremely buff after being really fat in high school and has joined the CIA. As a member of the CIA, he's got himself caught in a really sticky situation that has the CIA actually chasing him and in order to try to clear his name and solve a certain mystery, he reconnects with Kevin Hart in order to take advantage of his expert accounting abilities. Plus Kevin Hart is the only person he's ever trusted. So yes, just like with both Keanu and The Nice Guys, we now have a movie that is not just a comedy, but is an action comedy.

Doing a successful action comedy is much trickier than doing a straight-up comedy and this here is the difference between Keanu and The Nice Guys. Not only do you have to get the comedy right by actually being funny, but you also have to get the action right, meaning your stars have to be believable action stars in addition to being funny comedians. Thus there is a tricky balance that needs to be found. The Nice Guys hit all the right notes with this. Not only is it one of the best action movies of the year, but it was also laugh-out-loud hilarious with a pretty good story. Keanu made me laugh a ton, but the story was a bit shaky and the action wasn't that good. Key and Peele probably should've focused a lot less on the action in Keanu and thus the balance was way off, even though the movie was still entertaining enough to get a pass. Central Intelligence is probably right in the middle of these two movies, with a slight skew towards Keanu. The action is fine and entertaining enough, but it's certainly not what you're going to walk out of the movie bragging about. And the balance between action and comedy is a bit off at times, especially in the second half. At times, it can't decide if it wants to be an action movie or a comedy and thus it gets a bit rocky with both.

See here's the deal. If you want to be an action movie with comedy, you have to focus first on making it a good action and then sprinkle enough comedy in the right places to make it work. This is where The Nice Guys succeeds beautifully. But if you want to be a comedy with action, you have to focus first on making your movie funny and then sprinkle enough action in the right places to make it work. Central Intelligence is going for the latter. They definitely get the comedy right, but where they struggle is the idea of sprinkling the action in the right places. It's over-bloated with action and I got the feel that the director here didn't quite know what to do with all that action, thus the action comes off as more cheesy and far-fetched instead of being cool and awesome. Then you go check out the director's filmography and everything makes total sense. This is Rawson Marshall Thurber, the director of We're the Millers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. This dude is a comedy director. Granted, Dodgeball is a horrendously unfunny movie for me and I never saw We're the Millers. But still. Comedy. Not action. They should've just stuck with comedy here and it probably would've been a much better movie.

That said, what did make this movie work were our two leads, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Kevin Hart is one of the most popular comedians right now, but for me he's hit and miss. He's like one of those wind-up toys, but he doesn't wind down. He's always super wound up and thus is bouncing everywhere super fast and talking a hundred miles an hour. Sometimes it works really well and makes you laugh the entire time. Other times, like in Ride Along, he becomes extremely annoying really fast, but won't shut up or slow down and thus makes you cringe as you just want the movie to end. With how much I hated Ride Along, I was a bit nervous that this would be a repeat of that, but thankfully this case is the former for Hart and not the latter. He's actually really funny in this movie. Part of why he's really funny is they actually do a good job of holding him back just enough so he doesn't go completely crazy. They do this by making him more of the voice of reason. He's not interested in going on this crazy journey with this friend who he hasn't talked to in years. He just wants to get back home with his wife and his job, but since Dwayne Johnson dragged him into this situation, that's not really an option and so he has to do his best to make it through.

Dwayne Johnson, though, is the one that's a teenager stuck in a 40-year-old body. Yes, he's the CIA agent, but he's the weird, goofy CIA agent, which is a bit different for Dwayne Johnson. He's a bonafide action star who has proven time and time again to be a complete boss who can totally carry a movie when you let him be serious, mean, and kick some trash. The fact that he's the silly, goofy one in this movie and Kevin Hart is the voice of logic and reason makes it so both of them are out of their element, but the two make it work. They could've just let Kevin Hart be Kevin Hart and let Dwayne Johnson be Dwayne Johnson, but they kinda reversed their roles and thus made them have to rely on each other more to really pull it off and this is what they do very well. It's an odd pairing for sure putting the biggest star in Hollywood (literally) with the smallest star in Hollywood (also literally), but it turns out they have amazing chemistry together and even though the action in the movie didn't work out as well and the story was weak and predictable, these two stars still did their best to make this movie work, despite some weak efforts from the writers and director of the movie. It made you want to see these two together again on screen. Which we will. In... Jumanji. Uhhhh....

Yeah. Overall, if you're looking for a good, entertaining movie to enjoy and you're tired of all these sequels getting thrown at you, Central Intelligence is a good option. It's not "original" by any means as it's the third action comedy in two months. But it's not a sequel. If you're looking for comedy, you've got it here. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart make for a great comedy duo who have to rely on each other because their roles are completely reversed as far as what they are both used to doing and it works. Does it mean I'm excited to see them in Jumanji next year? Not really. I think they need to leave that movie alone. But it could work, I guess. These two have now shown that they work well together. And they will have Jack Black joining them. Jumanji aside, I would like to see more of these two together in some sort of way because they made this movie work. As I detailed in this, the action doesn't work super well, which is disappointing because Dwayne Johnson is one of the best action stars of our day. But that blame goes on the director, not on Dwayne Johnson. And yes, the story is weak. They try to make this movie a mysterious, almost whodunit movie, but you see everything coming from a mile away, especially if you pay attention to the rest of the cast. But despite this, I still had a blast with Central Intelligence and thus I will give the movie an 8/10.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory Review

Pixar is at again with their 17th feature-length animated film in Finding Dory. For the longest time, Pixar was nearly a flawless animation company. From Toy Story (1995) to Toy Story 3 (2010) they didn't make a bad film. Sure, I wasn't a huge fan of Cars and the politics that they shove down your throat in WALL-E bothers me more than most people, but they were still good movies. The last five years, though, has been a little bit of a different story. Cars 2 was a disaster. Brave was fun, but it felt like a cliche Disney princess movie more than a Pixar movie. Monsters University was very average. Inside Out was a grand slam hit, but then they followed that up with The Good Dinosaur, another disaster. So yeah, it hasn't been as smooth of a road recently for Pixar. And honestly, Finding Dory is a movie I really can't say I was excited for. I like it better when Pixar is doing original films as opposed to sequels and this didn't seem like a sequel we needed. I loved seeing how excited Ellen was to do this, but when the trailers came out, I felt like this was going to be a carbon copy of Finding Nemo. So no, I wasn't excited. Hopeful, yes. Excited, no. But man I was blown away by this movie! I had an absolute blast with Finding Dory and I'm happy to say that this is another gem in the Pixar legacy!

First and foremost, this actually isn't a carbon copy of Finding Nemo. It definitely pays homage to its predecessor in many and does follow a similar formula that Finding Nemo followed, but it's its own movie. The movie isn't a story where Dory gets lost and Marlin and Nemo have to go search through the ocean to find her and bring home while Dory meets some new fun sidekicks in a place where she gets trapped. That's what the trailers made it seem like. But it's more than that. In fact, if you wanted, you could switch around the title to Dory Finding instead of Finding Dory because she's never really lost. Sure, she gets separated from Marlin and Nemo for some time, but they're just as lost as she is and it's more of a story of them trying to find each other while Dory is searching for her parents because there's several moments where she's saying something, someone is saying something, or someone does something that triggers a memory for her and she is instinctively out to use that memory as a clue to find where her parents. In typical Dory fashion, she doesn't stop to think twice or analyze the situation in order to make a decision, she just does whatever comes to her mind. And since she is bound and determined to find her parents, we are taken on quite the wild ride with her.

The biggest question that people always wonder when you make a movie centered around a side character in another movie is can that side character hold their own when they are put center stage? The answer here with Dory is a definite yes. I don't know how many people got annoyed with Dory in Finding Nemo, but she was one of my personal favorite parts of that movie. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory has always been a match made in heaven. It may be the best voice casting ever in a Pixar movie. Ellen herself is one of my favorite comedians. She is just so fast and witty with her humor that it cracks me up. Just like her character of Dory, it doesn't seem like she stops and thinks about what she is going to say, she just says what comes to her mind and her timing is always so perfect that it is hilarious. I absolutely love her. And she definitely knows when to be serious when that is necessary. That makes her perfect as Dory because Dory is Ellen and Ellen is Dory. Ellen definitely knows what to do when she's put in the lime-light and she is absolutely at the top of her game for the entire movie. I'm pretty sure I was laughing harder and more often than anyone else in the theater with me, even all the kids, because I love Ellen and this was Ellen at her best.

The other thing I liked is that this did have the magical Pixar touch. By that I mean that Pixar has always been good at pulling at your heartstrings and giving us an emotional movie. Some movies they hit harder than others, but all of their movies have feel-good stories behind them, making them great for kids and great for adults. On a scale of Cars 2 to Toy Story 3, how hard does Finding Dory hit emotionally? Somewhere in the top half of that scale. It's not anywhere close to something like Toy Story 3 or Up in terms of emotion. I wouldn't even say it hits as hard as Finding Nemo. But it definitely hits you good. Dory is someone who really struggles with her memory loss. This causes her to be frustrated at herself and understandably lose a lot of self-worth. What is she good for if she can't even remember? Not all of us suffer from the same thing Dory does, be we all have our weaknesses and limitations that can cause us to be harsh on ourselves or question our self-worth, but this movie does a pretty good job of teaching us that whatever our weakness is, we can turn that into a strength. The issue may not go away, but we can learn to deal with it in a positive way and learn to love ourselves for who we are and know that we can do good in the world and that really touched me.

I'm not going to tell you what happens in the second half of the movie, but there's definitely several different directions that they could've taken this movie. If I'm being nit-picky, I honestly think that the movie would've hit even harder had if they had gone a certain direction that I thought they were about to go. But they didn't. It still worked out for me. It just wasn't as emotional as it could've been. And speaking of being nit-picky, this isn't as good as Finding Nemo. The adventure, the story, the emotion, and the side characters were all superior in Finding Nemo than Finding Dory. But do you know what, this didn't need to be as good as Finding Nemo, which is a personal top five Pixar movie for me. This just needed to be a good movie and that's exactly what it is. I will say that it is faster paced than Finding Nemo. The majority of the movie takes place at an aquarium in Morro Bay, California and the movie takes you all over the place in that aquarium in fantastically ridiculous style. In fact, in certain places it felt a little too over the top to the point where I felt like it was a Fast & Furious version of Finding Nemo, but that's not necessarily a bad. I kinda love that franchise. It was kinda fun having turn-off-your-brain action sequences in a Pixar movie. We even got a little bit of Inception homage at the end. It was great!

So yes, I had an absolute blast with Finding Dory. No, it's not as good as Finding Nemo, but it didn't need to be. But it was a lot closer to that mark than I initially thought it would be. In fact, last year I did a blog post where I ranked all of the Pixar movies that were out at the time. If you never saw that post, I just made a link to right there for you to check out. On that list, I had Finding Nemo at #5. Not even Inside Out with all its brilliance was able to break my Pixar top 5, so at this point its hard for Pixar to top movies that are nearly animated perfection, so I don't expect them to top the best of the best. I just hope for a good movie out of them and that's what I got. If I were to put Finding Dory into that Pixar ranking, I would put it at #8, which is right behind Up and right before Toy Story 2. That's some pretty good company and a few notches higher than I was expecting going in. I obviously don't need to try to convince you to go see this movie. You were all planning on it anyways. But I am happy to report that I personally loved it. It was a crazy fun ride, it had me laughing out loud throughout, and it had a good amount of heart to it. Well done Pixar! My grade for Finding Dory is a 9/10.

Next up for Pixar: Cars 3 (2017), Coco (2017), Toy Story 4 (2018), and The Incredibles 2 (2019). Let's continue this positive trend!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Warcraft Review

This is the year that the future of video game movies is being held in the balance. Hollywood has been obsessed for quite some time with trying to make this marriage work with video games on the big screen. But to say it's been a messy marriage thus far might be putting it nicely. Sure, there have been some that I have personally enjoyed and others that have made decent money, especially when you look at overseas totals, but you really can't point to one video game movie that was liked across the board AND was a big hit at the box office. It's been a disaster, but Hollywood keeps trying because they think this is going to work. But perhaps the moral of this story is that video games should remain video games and movies should remain movies. Maybe we should stop trying. However, I say this is the year where the future of video games is being held in the balance because we have two hugely popular video games this year with deep, interesting mythologies that are being adapted to the big screen. Warcraft and Assassin's Creed. If these don't work, is it really even worth trying anymore? Assassin's Creed is out in December, so we'll wait and see on for that one. But Warcraft is out right now with very mixed results across the board to say the least, so it's time now to dive into that one!

Honestly going into this movie I really didn't know what to expect. None of the trailers sold me. But I was willing to give it a shot. Reviews from critics were very poisonous as it currently stands at 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is an 82 percent. In addition to that, it currently has a 7.6 on IMDb with over 60,000 votes in and it scored a decent B+ on cinemascore. So it seems like audiences are enjoying this much more than critics are. Maybe this is one of those instances where tons of critics practically had their reviews written in their heads before they saw the movie and were just looking for things to hate about this movie? I went into the movie hoping that I would at least have a fun time. I obviously didn't expect this to be as epic as The Lord of the Rings, but I was just hoping to have fun. I also saw the movie in 3D IMAX, so I was hoping that experience would be great. Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, perhaps that's an unfair comparison to bring up because few fantasy movies will ever even get close to that bar, but I'm going to be using that comparison throughout this review simply because this has much of the same type of characters. Orcs, humans, dwarfs, elves (I think?), wizards, etc. The potential for this was pretty high and if they were to at least follow the formula set by The Lord of the Rings, they'd have a solid movie on their hands.

But no, this movie is a slog. Before I go any further, I feel obligated to inform you of my history with the Warcraft game. I've personally known a lot of people who love the Warcraft games, especially World of Warcraft. But me? Nope. My total lifetime hours playing any Warcraft game is most likely less than one hour. I just never got into it. I was more of Starcraft person. Two very different games, obviously, but they both have "craft" in their title, so I feel like I needed to bring that up. A Starcraft movie? I've always wanted one of those, but I think the time is long passed to pull it off, so let's just leave that a game at this point. Back to Warcraft, even though I've never spent much time playing the game in my life, as far as the movie genre goes, I'm a huge fan. Like with most people on this planet, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies ever. I've also found myself loving other fantasy movies with similar elements, so I'm not just another old, angry critic just waiting to hate on another giant Hollywood blockbuster. I had high hopes for this. I wanted it to be good. And if I'm being honest, there are a lot of reviews that I have read that I think are being way too harsh on this. I've been hearing some people say this is as bad or worse than something like Jupiter Ascending. Heck to the no on that.

Before I dive into where this movie fails, I do want to spend some time saying how this succeeded, because there is a lot of good. First and foremost, I love this universe that they have set up. I'm not going to try to explain which specific Warcraft game this is based off of, although I hear it's pre-World of Warcraft, but don't quote me on that because I know almost nothing about the games outside perhaps the types of characters in the game. I'm just going with what I saw in the movie. And in this movie, the orcs' world has been destroyed, or something like that, so they jump through this portal into this new world with all the humans. They're plan is to take over this new world because they need a world to live on. Obviously the humans aren't down with this idea and thus we have our conflict. This is a pretty great setup actually. What I really loved is that there is no black and white answer as to who is good and who is evil. In most incarnations of the orc vs. human battle, the humans are good and the orcs are bad. That's how The Lord of the Rings did it. But in this there's a lot more gray area. Sure, we have our fair share of evil orcs, but there's plenty of good orcs in this who are conflicted with what their leader(s) are telling them to do. The fact that we are humanizing our orcs and making us feel for them was a fantastic idea.

Also, visually speaking, this movie is phenomenal. I was a little worried going into this that it would be a huge CGI mess, but that wasn't an issue for me at all. I'm all for practical effects over CGI if you can believable pull that off. CGI should be used as a tool to improve your movie, not a means to create a movie. I think the Star Wars saga has taught us that. The Lord of the Rings vs. The Hobbit trilogies also taught us that. The Lord of the Rings went mostly for practical effects while The Hobbit was all CGI. Honestly I thought the CGI in The Hobbit was horrible in all three movies, especially the orcs. I hated The Hobbit's version of the orcs. Hated. And that totally ruined the whole trilogy for me. That's why I was kinda worried about this. I didn't want Warcraft to suffer the same fate as The Hobbit given that I knew that there was as much, if not more, CGI used in Warcraft as The Hobbit. But do know what, it worked. If you are going to rely on CGI, at least do a good job and Warcraft does a dang good job. This is an absolute visual treat that's gorgeous in IMAX especially. And I listened to an interview with director Duncan Jones where he says that in addition to all the CGI, they did build a lot of actual sets for the movie, which I also appreciate. Movies should never be made the way George Lucas made the prequels.

Also worth a lot of praise is the score of the movie. If we once again think about The Lord of the Rings, one of the many beautiful things about that trilogy is that it has one of the best scores in movie history. It's so good that I bet that you could walk up to almost any random stranger and ask them to sing something from The Lord of the Rings score and on command they'd be able to do that. That score also makes any situation or moment extremely epic when played in the background, whether it be a long road trip, a game of Risk, or whatever. Warcraft obviously doesn't come anywhere close to The Lord of the Rings in terms of the score, but the point of this is that key to any movie, but especially a big-budget fantasy epic, is the score and Warcraft's score is pretty great. This once again made my IMAX adventure with this movie pretty entertaining. We had amazing visuals and a great score and put that together on an IMAX screen in an IMAX theater and it was a lot of fun. It was especially good when we got to the battle scenes in the movie, which were a lot of fun when they happened. So like I said, all this put together means this movie had a pretty good setup with high potential. A lot of things done right.

But there are two major elements of this movie that were a complete swing and a miss for me. Those two things are kinda essential to every movie and if you completely fail on both it's unfortunately an unforgivable sin. I'm talking about plot and characters. Let's start with the latter. Characters. I honestly can't tell you the name of a single character from this movie. I could describe to you some of the characters as far as what they did or what they looked like. We had the pretty orc girl who got captured by the humans and kinda joined their side. We have the main orc couple. We have the evil orc leader. We have the human king. We have the two magic human dudes. We have another human that was kinda cool. But literally none of these character names stuck in my mind and part of that is because none of them were really interesting. I don't know if it was the actors' fault for not caring about the movie or the screenwriters' fault for not writing interesting characters that you really cared about. It was probably a combination of both. Something went very wrong somewhere and it led to a disaster because when you don't care about any characters in the movie, it's hard to get invested in any movie or franchise. And as I said earlier, the premise they set up was a good one. You have a handful of great characters and you have yourself a solid movie.

That is if you have a good plot to go along with your characters. I mean holy freaking fetch this was a bore. And considering how great of a premise this was and how great of a universe they set up, this was very disappointing. The first 10 or 15 minutes were pretty great, but then the movie got completely stuck in the mud. And when I say completely stuck in the mud, I mean completely stuck in the mud. Nothing interesting happened for the longest time. I wanted battles. I wanted intrigue. I wanted mental, emotional and/or physical conflict. But the movie dragged. And dragged. And dragged. I was practically bored to tears halfway through. It got so bad that mentally I just checked out somewhere during the first half of the movie. I just didn't care anymore. Things happened in the second half of the movie and some of them seemed like they might be interesting or partially emotional, but I couldn't tell you even if you asked. I was never planning on doing a spoiler review for this movie, but I honestly don't even know if I would be physically able to do so without reading the plot on Wikipedia and trying to memorize the thing followed by seeing the whole movie again. And none of that's happening.

The Lord of the Rings is practically perfect in every way. They have a great premise. Great visual effects (that hold up better than The Hobbit movies). Great universe. Great score. Great characters. Great acting. Great story. Great everything. Warcraft didn't need to be as epic as The Lord of the Rings to get a pass from me. But if they just did a good job at those things, I would be happy. What really frustrates me about this movie is that they did do a lot of things great. We had a good premise. We had great visual effects and great character designs for the orcs. We humanized those orcs so that you don't know exactly what side your supposed to be cheering for. We had a good score and well-done battle scenes (when they happened). Everything was in place for this to be an epic adventure and possibly a fantastic franchise. But when you have no plot and no characters that are worth anything, it doesn't matter how good everything else is. There was not one character that I was invested in and there were very few moments of the plot where I was invested it what was happening. That's a problem. And we had a good director in Duncan Jones putting this all together. Don't know what happened there. No, this is not as bad as some critics are saying, but it's certainly not good. My grade for Warcraft is a 6/10.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bates Motel Season 4 Review (SPOILERS)

If you ask me what my favorite movie of all time is, I usually have a hard time answering that. It's hard to go through every movie I've ever watched and pick just one as my personal favorite. Favorite genre is an easier question. While I like a wide variety of genres, I love myself a good thriller. Make it a psychological thriller and I'm even more sold because I love diving into the human mind. Of course you know where I'm going with this because you've clicked on this review, but the best psychological thriller that I've ever seen is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitchcock was a master with thrillers and there's no question in my mind that Psycho is his greatest work. That's some high praise, too, because he made a lot of phenomenal films. If you haven't seen Psycho, then turn away now because I'll be diving into some 56-year-old spoilers with this Bates Motel season 4 review. One of the reasons why I love Bates Motel is that I think they've done justice to Psycho as I've loved seeing their take on this Psycho mythology. And, of course, if you've read the title of this review, you'll know that there will also be spoilers for this season of Bates Motel. This season kicked this show into high gear and it's time to discuss in detail why that is. Consider yourself warned.

Personally I've always referred to Bates Motel as a prequel to Psycho. I've seen people on the internet arguing against that, but I think they're just arguing a silly game of semantics. Yes, this is a prequel to Psycho set in the modern day. The Psycho mythology itself is fascinating. In the original movie, all we know for most of the movie is that Norman Bates is a nice hotel manager, but his mom is a crazy, jealous, killer who kills all the girls that Norman ends up fancying. As it turns out, his mother is actually a dead, rotting corpse in the basement, which means Norman is really messed up in the brain. At the very end we have a psychiatrist explain that Norman killed his mother and her lover 10 years prior out of jealousy, which then caused him to go crazy and turn into the person he is in the film. But that's all we're told. Logically you could argue that if he made the decision to kill his mother, he was probably already crazy, but it's open to interpretation. After Hitchcock's death, Universal made three sequels to Psycho and those movies weren't even consistent with themselves in telling Norman's backstory. This means Bates Motel had the liberty of doing whatever the heck they wanted without offending Psycho fans such as myself.

This made for a really interesting series for me. We knew what the end game was going to be, but we had no idea how they were going to get there. I mean, Norman had to kill his mother as some point. But when was that going to happen and how? And with all these random side characters the show has created, how is Norman going to get away with this? In the beginning, the show did a great job of making the audience feel bad for Norman and not like his crazy mother Norma. She was all kinds of messed up, but Norman was this nice kid who was really just stuck in a horrible situation. Then Norman's blackouts start to happen and suddenly your loyalties to this kid start to become questioned, especially after he kills his teacher at the end of the first season. But even then you still feel bad for him because he's still a great kid and honestly has no idea what has happened. The jealous Norma part of Norman's brain completely took over when his teacher invited him into his home and started stripping down. He had no recollection of any of it. Then when Norman starts to realize that he may have been the one killing people, those are some really emotional moments. The fact that he has a very emotionally unstable mother doesn't help things at all.

Season 4, though, is where the tables are completely flipped compared to what they were in season 1. Norman is fresh off killing Bradley in the season 3 finale and any semblance of this nice, innocent kid that you were rooting for is gone. Norman has completely gone off the cliff mentally as he literally can't tell the difference between the Norma that is taking over his brain and the Norma in real life. The first time we see him in this season, he is arguing with the Norma inside his head, which creeps a bystander out. That bystander brings him back to town and pretty early on Norman brutally murders Emma's mother who is just in town because she wants to get a message to her daughter. But that's not all. Norman is completely convinced that it was his mother who killed Emma's mother and he gets into this argument with the real Norma where he acts in a completely dominate way towards her, which is honestly extremely terrifying. Yeah, no more innocent little teenager. Norman is an all out terrifying psychopath and you fear for the lives of everyone around him this season. A huge round of applause goes out to Freddie Highmore as Norman because he does complete justice to this iconic serial killer. Norma makes the tough decision to send him to the mental institution, which is where you really hope he stays.

Speaking of a huge round of applause, one of those definitely has to go out to Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates. Her and Freddie Highmore have totally made this show work as they have portrayed Norman and Norma. As I said, at the beginning of this show I was on team Norman. Norma was the crazy one, but as this show progresses, you start feeling bad for Norma. As we've unfolded this story, we've learned that she had an awkward romance with her brother growing up, which ended with him raping her. Then she went through two marriages. The first one didn't work out and the second one ended up being a really abusive relationship where she was also essentially raped by her husband who ended up getting killed by her psychopath son. Now she has to figure out how to properly deal with this psychopath son who is getting worse and worse as the days progress and months progress and has now killed several people. Can you blame her for being mentally unstable? Absolutely freaking not. This season you are 100 percent on team Norma and deep down you want things to work out for her, but since you know what show this is, you know this is going to end in a tragic way and you are trying to emotionally embrace yourself for what is going to happen, but you know it's going to completely wreck you.

Then Norma falls in love. And it's a beautiful romance. But a doomed romance. Throughout the first three seasons, there is some definite romantic chemistry between Sheriff Alex Romero and Norma Bates. Then in this season she completely drops a bombshell on him by asking him to marry her. This is done for completely selfish reasons as the aforementioned argument between her and Norman causes her to be scared out of her mind. She knows she needs to get him into this mental institution, but she doesn't have the means or the insurance to do so. But if she were to marry Sheriff Romero, they could use his insurance and since he is Sheriff, he could pull some strings and get Norman in, which is exactly what happens. They get married and even though it wasn't a true marriage, he moves in with her in order for the town to believe it's real and in a very backwards sort of way they end up falling in love after getting married. For the first time in Norma's life, everything seems good. Norman is gone and getting help. She has a husband who loves her and treats her well. She's able to tell him the complete truth about her past and he's able to be with her to help her through it. Speaking of a round of applause, can we give a third one to Nestor Carbonell as Alex? This is his best season yet.

When this romance happened in Norman's absence, it did two things. First, it made me really happy to see something go right for Norma. Second, it made my heart sink. By falling in love with Alex in Norman's absence, she sealed her fate. This is how she dies. Everything from here on out is all downhill. Granted, we all knew she was doomed from the start, but this is the turning point. Why does Norman kill his mother in Psycho? Because she falls in love with someone else. Regardless of which version of Psycho we're going by, whether it be the movies, the books, or the TV shows, romance is bad because romance equals death. If Norman falls in love, the Norma part of Norman's brain takes over and kills the girl. If Norma falls in love, then Norman kills her. With this Norma/Alex romance, all is going fine and dandy... until Norman finds out. Granted, him finding out via the newspaper shreddings while making his papier-mâché dog in the mental institution was a bit cheesy, but his reaction to this finding was perfect. The look of betrayal and determination was terrifying. "This isn't going to end well," was my exact reaction to his reaction. Norman said he was getting out and going home. And I panicked just as much as Norma did. We were in for a wild ride.

Before we talk about the finale of this season, I want to go on an important tangent. In the movie Psycho, the most iconic scene of the movie is the infamous shower scene. In fact, it's seen as one of the greatest scenes of all time and it's certainly one of my all time favorite scenes in any movie. I could spend a long time on my reasons for this, but for the sake of this review, I will be simple. Psycho is a story about Marion Crane, who is a very troubled female. We won't dive into why at this point, but she is. She ends up stealing $40,000 and running away. A series of events leads her to the Bates Motel where she meets Norman. Alone in her hotel room, she continues this inner struggle and finally makes the decision that she's going to clean up her act and go back. The fact that she's at her lowest low is at least part of the reason why she makes this decision. Her decision to clean up her act is then symbolized by her taking a shower, so she's literally and figuratively becoming clean. And that's when Normal kills her. Not only is she at rock bottom when she is killed, but being naked in a shower is one of the most vulnerable places that a woman could be attacked by a man. So in summary, Marion is killed at the very moment when she is both physically and emotionally most vulnerable.

Tragic. Devastating. Heart-breaking. Thematically it's one of the most emotionally jarring scenes. That alone is enough to make this scene amazing and I haven't even talked about the filming of that scene or the iconic score during that has been used or mimicked hundreds of times in cinema since. And I won't go into those other elements right now because they aren't relevant to this Bates Motel review. But those thematic elements are relevant here because this season does a tragically beautiful job in paralleling that iconic moment with Norma Bates. As I've detailed, Norma's arc in this series is depressing and tragic. We spend four seasons telling her backstory and when we have the full picture, you really feel for this woman. Then in this season, she has finally found happiness and finally found someone who can help her through all this and love her for who she really is. Then Norman gets himself out of the mental institution and shatters that fairy tale ending into a thousand pieces because him and Alex do not get along at all. Norma is forced to choose between Norman and Alex and she goes with Norman, but it literally destroys her inside. She is more of an emotional wreck than she's ever been. She's hit absolute rock bottom. And can you think of another place where a woman would be extremely vulnerable? How about asleep in her bed?

First though, I want to talk about the sequences leading up to this tragic ending? Norman is home and he is absolutely furious at the fact that his mother decided to get married. The tension between him and Alex is incredible and it leads to some extremely emotional, fiery scenes between the two. Norma's reaction to all of this and her futile attempts to make the three of them work as a happy family are also extremely emotional. I talked about giving all three actors a round of applause for their performances in this season. The interactions between the three of them in these final few episodes was the peak of each of their performances and was absolutely incredible. But even at this point, I had no idea that Norma was about to die. I thought they were going to build on this more throughout the next season and have the finale of the show be the moment where Norman finally kills his mother. But here I was watching Norman and Norma talk about going and starting over one final time and Norma falls asleep. Then Norman gets out bed, turns up the dangerous furnace, and closes all of the vents in the house except for the one in his mother's room and then gets back in the bed with her. It's an attempted murder suicide that partially fails because Norman survives. But Norma doesn't. Norman has killed his mother via carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pure shock. I knew this season was going to end with a major death, but I thought it was going to be Dylan and Emma because Dylan dating the girl that Norman almost started dating seemed like bad news for both of them. But I guess we're saving that one for next season. Seeing Vera Farmiga get killed a season early was a total blind-side hit for me. But as I think about it, it's another genius parallel to Psycho. I'm sure few people in 1960 predicted that Marion Crane would be killed super early, especially since movies back in the day had more of a tendency to be nicely wrapped in a bow. Hitchcock was definitely way ahead of his time. I can't say my shock factor was equivalent to that of people in the 1960's watching Psycho, but the fact that there was an early death of our main female lead that I didn't see coming is genius. And the final episode with Norman and dead Norma was haunting. And freaky when Norma opened her eyes. This could've been the series finale the way they did this, but we left some loose threads with Alex, Dylan and Emma, Chick Hogan, Dr. Edwards, and a few others. I don't expect any of them to make it out of next season alive, but we'll see how Norman ends up completely getting away with all of this. And having a full season of Norman in full psycho mode after killing his mother is really exciting!

I don't think next season can top this season. And I don't think it needs to. This is the season where we built up to Norman finally killing his mother and it was tragic. I believe this was a five-season plan for this show and if that's true, we have one final season to wrap up all the loose ends and I'm excited to see how they finish this up. I actually didn't watch this season live on TV because I had so many other shows that I was trying to keep up with. But once those shows ended, I quickly jumped into this season of Bates Motel and was planning on spending a few weeks binge watching it at my desired pace, but it totally sucked me in and I ended up watching all 10 episodes over the course of two or three days. I'm glad I was able to do that because watching one week at a time might've been really tough. After finishing the season, I've given it a week or two of thought before diving into this and I can honestly say that this was one of the best seasons of a TV show that I have ever watched and the second to last episode, titled "Forever," where Norman kills his mother might be one of the best TV episodes that I have ever watched. When I sit and ponder the events of this season, I get emotionally distraught and it almost ruins my day. That's how you know you've successfully written a beautiful tragedy, which is what Psycho is. Well done, Bates Motel!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Now You See Me 2 Review

Three years ago I was blown away by the surprise summer hit Now You See Me. If you haven't seen that movie, close this review now. If I'm to talk about this sequel, I need to tell you why I loved the first movie, which requires some mild spoilers. First off, the magic sequences in the movie was a ton of fun. Far-fetched and unrealistic? Perhaps. But still a ton of fun. And our group of magicians were fantastic. They had such great chemistry as a group and you could tell they had a ton of fun making the movie. But all that was the icing on the cake. The real reason why I loved the movie is that the movie itself was a magic trick. The theme of the movie was that magic was all about misdirection and slight of hand. The whole time you are focused on the group of magicians when the movie was really all about Mark Ruffalo's character. His story isn't hidden. In fact, it's right in front of your face. But you're so focused on the group of magicians that you don't pay attention to Mark Ruffalo's story. Misdirection. Slight of hand. The second time around the movie is a completely different film because you know where to focus on. Genius. But could they do it again with the sequel? This seemed like a standalone film that got a sequel because it made money. Thus I was skeptic. But to my great surprise, they did! They captured the magic once again!

First things first, we need to address the Rotten Tomatoes score for both of these movies. I honestly believe the first movie should be in the 80's or 90's. This sequel should be in the 70's or 80's. Both should be certified fresh. But the first one has a score of 49 percent and this sequel is in the 30's. Ouch! Like seriously. What the freaking heck is wrong here? I try not to dwell too much on the Rotten Tomatoes scores for movies I review, but this just appalls me. These professional, Rotten Tomatoes certified critics got this franchise dead wrong. And this is also more than just dumb fun. These aren't guilty pleasure movies for me. These are fantastic films that I will passionately defend here. And I feel I have a lot of support because both movies got a Cinemascore of A-. Both movies are in the 7-range on IMDb. Both movies have positive audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes. The financial future of the sequel is TBD, but the first movie scored an impressive $351.7 million worldwide total, $117.7 million of that coming domestically. The fans have spoken. We like these movies! Now if you are on the side of the professional critics and you hated the first movie, I don't know why you would bother with this sequel. But if you are one of the many that loved that movie like I did, this is a must-see summer film.

That's a long introduction, but a necessary one in this case. The story of this movie is one that I was concerned about. The first movie did such a great job of wrapping things up in a big beautiful bow, that I didn't think this movie was necessary at all. Turns out this is a Star Wars type of situation and Now You See Me 2 is The Empire Strikes Back. Now if you walk out of this review thinking that I just said this movie is as good as The Empire Strikes Back, I'm going to slap you in the face. That's not what I'm going for with this comparison. But in terms of the story, Star Wars does very well as a stand-alone film. They didn't need a sequel. But we got one, and aren't you glad we did? In terms of story, The Empire Strikes Back is a pure revenge film. Darth Vader and company are out for blood after good owned by Luke and company in the first film. Plot-wise, that is the direction this franchise goes. In Now You See Me, this group of magicians, along with Mark Ruffalo, completely own Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. In Now You See Me 2, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are out for revenge against the group of magicians, who are now officially called the Horsemen. The Four Horsemen, plus Mark Ruffalo and maybe some others. So I'll just go with the Horsemen. This revenge plot I immediately bought. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are out for blood and thus our Horsemen need to step up their game.

Let's talk about the magic in this movie. Personally I'm a complete sucker for magic. No, I'm not good at performing magic tricks. But sitting down and watching a good magician perform is one of my personal favorite things. Thus a movie centered around magic usually will suck me in every time. Is the magic in these movies completely realistic and believable? Eh. Not really. And it's certainly not the actors themselves doing the tricks. It's of course complete CGI for at least most of it. But if your hold up with these movies is how believable the magic tricks are, then I'm going to give you a huge eye roll right now. That's like watching an action movie and complaining about the legitimacy of the stunts or hating Star Wars because they don't always follow the laws of physics or have faulty astronomy. These magic scenes are an absolute blast! Just like the first one, half of the magic is explained and half of it isn't. The scenes that are explained are believable enough and the scenes that aren't are just so freaking entertaining that I don't care how believable they are. What really carries that is our Horsemen carry themselves very well as magicians. Does it feel like sometimes they are actual magicians pulling off real magic? Maybe. But that didn't bother me at all. It didn't bother me in the first and it didn't bother me in this.

Speaking of the Horsemen, this group is just fantastic. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco are back from the first movie. The three of them have so much chemistry. They all bring their different personalities to group that meshes perfectly together to create this fantastic group. Isla Fisher was the final member of the group in the last movie, but she is not back in this. She got pregnant or something like that and wasn't able to return. That happens in this business. When an actor from a franchise dies, is going through personal issues, decides to stay home and be a parent, or something else along those lines, you just have to move forward. Now You See Me 2 does not miss a beat with Isla Fisher's replacement as Lizzy Caplan is our new female Horsemen. Did I like Isla Fisher. Absolutely. Do I miss her in this movie? Absolutely not. Lizzy Caplan is a brand new character who joins the team, it's not Isla Fisher's character re-cast, and she fits in perfectly. She adds a spice and an energy to this team that Isla Fisher couldn't add. Thus it doesn't take you long at all to completely forget that Isla Fisher ever existed in this franchise. Also with this group, in addition to having great chemistry and pulling off the magician facade super well, they are also hilarious. Their comedic timing was perfect and it caused several moments of gut-busting laughter for me.

Supporting cast. There's a lot of them. We have Mark Ruffalo as the leader of the Horsemen. As I said, the first movie was secretly all about him. Now that the secret is out, his story continues on the forefront as it's partially his story once again. There was a lot of tension between him and Morgan Freeman in the first movie and that continues here. In those scenes with Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo really shines. Ever since he took over as the Hulk in The Avengers, Mark Ruffalo has evolved into one of my favorite actors, both in the big blockbusters as well as in the smaller indie/art house films. And of course I don't need to tell you that Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are fantastic. Those two are in like every movie and even in cases where the movie they are isn't fantastic, you know you are going to get an A+ performance out of them and that's of course the case here. Joining the club this time around is everyone's favorite wizard back in another magic movie, Harry Potter himself, aka Daniel Radcliffe. I don't want to say too much about his role, but I really loved him in this movie. We all watched Daniel Radcliffe grow up on screen and I've got to give it up to him. He's turned into a dang good actor. It took a while, but I've finally been able to see him as Daniel Radcliffe instead of just Harry Potter.

There's a few more characters here, but I've covered the main ones. We do have Chinese superstar Jay Chou in the movie. I'll leave him a secret, though. We also have plenty of FBI characters. Not going to lie, the FBI in this movie was a lot less interesting in this movie than the first one. Speaking of Jay Chou, the movie smartly panders to the Chinese audience as in addition to having him in the movie, at least half of our movie is over in Macau. If you haven't got the message, them Chinese people love their movies. There's a lot of movies nowadays that will actually make more money in China than in the United States. Furious 7 is a great example of that as it earned a whopping $390 million over there compared to its very good $353 million in the states. In terms of the plot of the movie, I'm going to push on the brakes a bit. I didn't give you that much of a premise and there's a reason for that. You need to experience this plot yourself. I do have to admit that there are times in this movie where the plot did drag a bit and some scenes didn't connect too well to the overall plot. For a little while, it almost seemed like they were wandering a bit through their plot and despite some very entertaining scenes and great characters around the board, I wasn't completely sold on this the entire time despite the fact that I was very much entertained.

But it came around. As I've mentioned several times with the first movie, the plot of that movie was its strength. Those who said the plot was weak and all over the place really should be slapped. The theme here was magic and the movie pulled off an actual magic trick with its plot. So genius. The big thing I was looking for with this movie is what are they doing next with the plot. Is this just a cash grab or is there an actual purpose here? There definitely is purpose here. The revenge aspect of this movie that I've talked about was pretty good. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman did a great job of building off the events of the first movie and made this movie seem like a natural and necessary progression of the plot. But this is more than just your typical revenge plot. It's a continuation of certain things that happened in the first movie and without giving away anything, it takes things deeper. Part of the genius of the first movie was that there was a huge shock value at the end of the movie that made for a completely new movie the second time through. That's not quite the case here. I didn't have a jaw-dropping experience in the final act of the movie, but I did really appreciate what they did with it. It made for a very believable and natural sequel, which is often hard to pull off.

In the end, I was very skeptic at the idea of sequel to Now You See Me. Not only did I think they tied a very nice bow on the end of the movie, but I didn't think that they could replicate the joy that I had with that first movie. I got the magic trick, but can you pull off another magic trick? The answer is yes. The film does drag at times, but there were so many scenes that I found super entertaining. Our group of Horsemen are fantastic. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco capture the same great chemistry that made them a great group in the first movie and Lizzy Caplan is a perfect new addition. I had a blast with the movie and I laughed a lot. I also loved the continued story of Mark Ruffalo and especially loved the scenes with him and Morgan Freeman where he totally shined. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine were back for blood and they were great as always. Daniel Radcliffe joins the club and does an excellent job. I didn't experience the same wow factor here that I did with the end of the first movie, but at the same time I was very pleased with what they did. If you loved Now You See Me like I did, you need to see this sequel because it does the first justice. My grade for Now You See Me 2 is a 9/10.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Conjuring 2 Review

If you follow my blog closely enough, you'll know that the horror genre is a genre that I'm actually a big fan of. I absolutely love myself a well-made horror movie. However, in that statement lies a problem. Nowadays it's really hard to find a well-made horror movie. Making a horror movie is a very lucrative business because they are dirt cheap to make and are easy to gain a profit. Most horror movies these days only take $5-$10 million at most to make and thus earning $15-$20 million is considered a win. Because of that, I feel a lot of studios care more about the money and thus will throw together a bunch of really cheap horror movies stuffed full of horror cliches without caring too much about quality. Due to the fact that at least 90 percent of them make a profit, they keep following that formula, which causes true fans like me to be really frustrated at the extreme lack of good horror these days. All that said, I'm always on the constant search for the few good horror movies that come out and when it happens I do my best to wave a huge flag to notify true horror fans that I found one. Today I... kinda found one. I'm going to be more critical of The Conjuring 2 than many reviews I've seen, but I will admit that it's better than most that have come out recently.

I never wrote a review of The Conjuring. This is because I didn't actually see it until recently. Don't know what my holdup was. I just never got around to it for some reason. With all the movies that come out every year, that sometimes happens. Overall I thought The Conjuring was a very well crafted horror movie. I'm really sick of all the horror movies that rely heavily on jump scares, blood, gore, sex, nudity, and language to be effective. Part of the problem with horror movies these days is that those elements are the primary focus when studios make these movies. Elements like plot, screenplay, and acting are practically thrown out the window. The Conjuring is a movie that actually focused on the latter first, which is what all horror movies should do. In fact, the blood and gore was very limited, and there was no sex, nudity, or language used all. There were jump scares, but all of them served a good purpose to the plot, which was the main focus. This is something that I really appreciated about the movie. Director James Wan did a great job of building honest tension that made it so I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and I also loved the story about this haunting that was supposedly going on at that house for the last hundred or so years.

What I didn't like about The Conjuring was that they tried to shove it down my throat that the events in the movie actually happened. Supernatural horror movies can be really good. I have no problem with the genre as a whole. The TV show Supernatural is one of my favorite shows and they deal with this stuff in pretty much every episode. What I do have a problem with are the supernatural horror movies that claim they are based on a true story and try to drive that into your head, but are really a work of fiction when you research the actual events. If a studio wants to take events that happened and make a fictional movie inspired by that, that's fine with me. But if a big part of the reason why the movie is supposed to be scary is because the events spoken of actually happened, but they really didn't, then it's something that I laugh at because it takes away all of the tension. Simply put, I don't believe in the supernatural. Not in the way it's portrayed in these supernatural horror movies, anyways. With The Conjuring, they tell the story of an evil witch from the Salem Witch Trials that is haunting the house and causing everyone that lives there to commit suicide. Despite what the movie tries to tell you, the whole thing is a bunch of bull crap. Well-crafted horror movie. Annoying premise. Thus it's good, but not great.

The Conjuring 2 has the same problems, but amplified. Both movies focus on two real-life paranormal investigators named Ed and Lorraine Warren that investigated tons of cases. To the credit of both movies, they do an excellent job of following the Warrens' account to a t. But that account is the issue. With the first movie, the current owner of the house went through detail by detail of every character brought up and proved how horribly fake the whole story is. Granted, it's a game of he said, she said, but when you listen to the account of the current owner and then listen to Lorraine Warren and/or Andrea Perron, it's really obvious as to whose account is more legit. I'll give a you clue. It's not the Warrens' account. Before I saw The Conjuring 2, I researched the heck out of the case this is based off of, which is one of the more publicized paranormal stories in history, and the huge consensus is that the two young girls in the family set the whole thing up and did a dang good job of tricking everyone. The only people that believe them are the people like the Warrens who will believe any and every paranormal case they investigate. Perhaps I shouldn't have done this research and just tried to go enjoy the movie, but I have this weird thing where if a movie tries to shove down my throat that it's a true story, then I like holding them to that. If the whole thing ends up being bogus, I take issue because I feel I was lied to.

The funny thing with The Conjuring 2 is that a huge portion of the movie actually focused on the skepticism towards this case. The first movie didn't do that at all. Everyone in the movie just bought into the ghost story and the focus was on learning about the ghost and figuring out how to stop it. I think I actually preferred the first movie's methods because the skepticism story arc actually bothered me. First off, all the skeptics in the movie were portrayed as idiots. Second, every time a skeptic argument was brought up, the movie debunked it. Now if they wanted to go with the ambiguous route and present two objective sides to the story and let the audience decide what happened, that would be cool. That wasn't the goal here. Instead the goal was to shove it down your throats for nearly the whole 134 minute run time that they were telling a true story and no aspect of their movie was false and thus their movie is super scary because it could happen to everyone. No. I was throwing the b.s. flag the entire time and because the movie tried so hard to convince me to believe it, I almost felt like I was arguing with the movie the whole time. It was like one of those situations where your crazy old uncle is telling you a story that he claims is true, but you know is false and you impatiently sit there waiting for him to be done. Yeah, that was this movie.

However, despite all this, I told myself going in that if this movie were to have the same effective horror elements that the first one had, I would give it a pass. But that was a mixed bag for me. The movie does follow the formula of the first movie in how it is crafted, and I once again appreciated that. There's no language in the movie. There's no sex or nudity at all. With everything that happened in the home -- all the furniture, plates, knives, etc flying around -- they had every right to make this a bloody gore-fest. But it's not. The movie is rated R, but for "terror and horror violence." This is probably an appropriate rating because young teenagers and kids who usually go to PG-13 movies might have nightmares for the rest of their lives if they see this movie, but I loved how the movie focused on making a movie instead of stuffing it with blood, gore, nudity, and language and calling that good. That said, while I appreciated the approach, the first two-thirds of the movie weren't that scary for me as compared to the first. The first movie is terrifying. This second movie not so much. They tried to build a ton of tension and provide a lot of scares, but it just didn't work this time for me. I was bored. The ghost in this one didn't even have an interesting back story like the first movie's ghost did. I was disappointed.

Two-thirds of the way through, I was thinking that I was actually going to write a negative review for this movie, which made me sad because it is better than most horror movies. But I just wasn't buying it. It wasn't that scary and they were spending too much time trying to shove the "based on a true story" aspect down my throat. But then there came a point where the movie turned around. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I will just say that this turning point came when certain characters were on a train. From that point on, the movie was phenomenal and I was wishing that the first two-thirds of the movie would've followed that because this would've made for a great movie. I will admit that there was no point in this ending that was as jaw-dropping as the exorcism scene in the first movie, but it was still good. And I do have to say that the acting throughout the movie was excellent. My favorite person in the movie was Vera Farmiga. I think she's a phenomenal actress. Sure, I may be biased because she does play Norma Bates in Bates Motel, which is one of my current favorite TV shows. But oh well. She was still good. Also great was the young girl who was possessed for much of the movie. Her name is Madison Wolfe and I'll be looking out for her from now on. I love myself a great child actor. They're hard to come by.

Overall, The Conjuring 2 was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I will give it huge props because most horror sequels are pure garbage, which is why I initially put it on the list of movies I was worried about heading into this year. But it turned out to be better than most horror movies in general and one of the best horror sequels. If you're one who is easily pleased with all these horror movies that come out, you should quickly run out to see The Conjuring 2 because you'll love it. If you loved The Conjuring and you aren't bothered by a movie that spends its entire run time lying to you about it being a true story, then you should also run out to see this because you will love this. But personally that was my hangup. Any movie that spends this much time trying to prove that its a true story, in my opinion better be the truest story ever told. But it's not. The whole thing is pretty bogus and that made me mad. But like I said, if it was a well-crafted horror movie, I would give it a pass. But that aspect of it was a mixed bag and this I am giving it a mixed review. I was more bored than scared for the first two-thirds of the movie and the evil spirit haunting the house was pretty dull. But the ending, while not as good as the first, was pretty fantastic and completely saved the movie. Thus my grade for The Conjuring 2 is a 7/10.