Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Martian Review

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Okay, no, this isn't Star Trek, but I was planning on opening this review with some sort of statement on space and thus I decided why not use the best space monologue ever written? I could've used the Next Generation updated version in the great voice of Patrick Stewart, but I decided to go with the original monologue. Anywho, space is a place that I've always loved going via TV show and film. It just plain out fascinates me. Thus I've been really happy these last few years at the fact that big budget space movies have become a tradition. We started two years ago with Gravity as we got trapped in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. That ended up being my favorite movie of the year. Last year, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was my most anticipated movie of the year. I had no reason to believe that a Christopher Nolan space drama would be anything less than completely epic. Turns out it was my most disappointing movie of the year as a piece of crap ending ruined an epic beginning. But hey, I was still ready to put that experience behind me and look forward to the big space movie this year in The Martian. I didn't quite know what to expect or how this one would be different, but people loving the book it was based off of and critics praising the movie in early screenings made me super excited going in. It was a very busy weekend for me, so I couldn't get it out when I wanted to, but I am happy to report to you that in terms of my personal enjoyment, this is more on the level of Gravity than Interstellar.

The common comparison for this movie is that it is a combination of Cast Away and Apollo 13. I walked out of the theater thinking that it was like Cast Away and Gravity. But the Apollo 13 comparisons are definitely warranted as well. Perhaps we can say that it is Cast Away plus Apollo 13 plus Gravity? Whatever the combination, I'm here to tell you that I think this is a better movie than all three of those, which is a huge statement from me because I really like all of those movies. Like I said, Gravity was my favorite movie from 2013. If you haven't seen The Martian yet, you may be wondering what sets it apart from the rest of the space or survival movies. Because I'm not going to lie, this looks like a very predictable movie going in. There's a lot of survival movies nowadays and there's only so much you can do with one of these movies and call yourself unique. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but Matt Damon is part of quite the team of astronauts on Mars when a huge storm hits, threatening the survival of the whole crew. Matt Damon gets hit with a piece of shrapnel and is assumed dead, so the rest of the team makes the tough decision to get out of there so the rest of them don't die as well. Turns out this was a huge mistake because Matt Damon is alive and now they've left him all alone on Mars.

Pretty run of the mill, right? Not quite. I'm not going to spoil this movie, but there are definitely a few things that really set this movie apart and I want to dive into those. But first I feel the need to talk about the visuals in this movie. Even if the movie itself was run of the mill and super predictable, this movie would still be a very enjoyable movie because of the visual effects. This is definitely where director Ridley Scott excels. Even in his more sub-par movies like last year's Exodus: Gods and Kings, you can't argue with the fact that his movies are consistently beautiful. Exodus: Gods and Kings had it's issues with story, but was absolutely gorgeous. The scene where Moses parts the red sea and the children of Israel cross? Wow! Absolutely incredible. Same thing here. Like I said, I love space. Seeing space shot so beautifully is always a treat for me. Whether it's the crew in space overlooking Earth or Mars or whether it's Matt Damon on Mars, this is amazing. These may be the best Mars visuals ever. I felt like the movie was actually shot on Mars. I'm convinced that they got their whole crew to fly out there with Matt Damon. Then when we got the shots of Mars from right outside its atmosphere, holy fetching cow! Those were jaw-droppingly gorgeous. This movie was worth it just for that and thus I'd definitely say that this is a must-see in theaters.

But as I said, this movie is more than just a visual treat. There's some themes in this movie that are so strong and will stay with me for a very long time. The first of these is some real world application of subjects like science and math. Oftentimes high school students find themselves in school, studying subjects that they feel are completely irrelevant for their life and future. The common questions is how will I use this in my life? This movie teaches how you can use these subjects in everyday life. No, I don't anticipate many people in their life will be trapped on Mars, but Matt Damon's approach to things teaches very good problem-solving principles. The whole movie is him moving forward one step at a time. He doesn't start out by trying to figure out how he is going to escape from Mars. He starts small. I'll give an example from the trailer. Food. He realizes that his first problem he needs to solve is that he needs to figure out a way to grow food on a planet where food doesn't grow. So he uses his knowledge of math and science to plan out a way to solve this. Like I said, we're not going to be trapped on Mars in our lifetime, but we will have problems of our own that we will need to solve and we can use these principles that Matt Damon uses with problem-solving to better our lives. If we get as much education as we can. Learn math. Learn science. Learn these other subjects. We will be much better off in our lives in whatever our situation is and we definitely can use these.

The other great principle that this movie teaches is the importance of having a good sense of humor. Most survival movies are quite depressing. The person is all alone on an island or in the middle of the ocean and they understandably go through a lot of emotional, mental, and physical problems. Some of them become psychological as the person trying to survive is losing his or her mind. Thus most survivor movies become dark, gloomy, and depressing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's very realistic, in fact. However, The Martian is an outright hilarious movie. I heard this going in based on plenty of reviews. But I was still wondering how they were going to pull this off because there are very few signs of comedy in the trailers and this seems like the type of movie that wouldn't be funny. But Matt Damon is cracking joke after joke after joke. And they all land perfectly. I was loving it. Then I thought about it afterwards and realized that this was perfect. It is, shall I say, scientifically proven that laughter is good for your physical health. You can definitely tell that Matt Damon is struggling emotionally. He hates being there. There are many times where you feel that he is about to break. But he keeps a positive outlook. He continues to be humorous in his approach. That helps keep him alive.

This is what sets this movie apart from other survival movies. Like I keep saying, we aren't going to be in a situation in our lives where we will be trapped on Mars. But just like with the problem-solving aspect of this movie, having a positive outlook in life is a principle that is definitely important for people to learn. Life sucks. Hard times will come. You can either mope and cry about it, or you can have a positive outlook and have a good sense of humor. Obviously there is a time and a place for everything. There are times in life where you probably shouldn't tell a joke. But a smile is contagious. A laugh is contagious. Both of these will make most situations better. A happy person is a person that will live longer. And if not, at least you will live an enjoyable, worthwhile life. A wise man once said that there is a space between action and reaction. You can choose to be happy whatever your situation. Another wise man once said to come what may and love it. Yes, this is easier said than done, but if these principles can be mastered, your life will be a lot better. And when you see someone who has mastered this, it is very influential and makes you want to do better. Matt Damon's character in the movie, while not perfect, masters this principle and thus The Martian is an extremely inspiring movie because of it.

Yes, there are other aspects of this movie that also make this incredible. I could dive into all of them, but alas there is no time. Yes, the cast is great. Yes, they all do a great job. In fact, this movie is absolutely loaded. I could spend three or four paragraphs talking about the whole cast and how well they all did, but I'm not going to. Needless to say, Matt Damon gives on Oscar-worthy performance. This is one of the best performances of his career, which is saying something because the man is one of my favorite actors. Also, this movie feels real. Is all the science and space stuff perfectly accurate? I don't know and quite frankly I don't care. But this movie felt like it was telling the true story of a situation that actually happened. I loved that sensation. It made the possibility of man going to Mars exciting. All of this combined with beautiful visuals, amazing story (which does get really tense in the second half), and very strong themes that teach very important life lessons make this my favorite movie of the year so far. The only issue I had is that I wanted to see this movie in IMAX and that wasn't available. But the 3D is still pretty good. Not Gravity-level good. I wouldn't say this is a must-see in 3D, but if you do you won't be disappointed. That said, if that's the only issue I had with the movie, that's pretty darn good. My grade, of course, is a 10/10. This is a future classic and one of Ridley Scott's best.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie Preview: October 2015

In my September movie preview, I suggested that the September opening weekend record was going to be broken twice. Well, I was wrong. Despite a lot of strong pre-buzz and good will from the first movie, poor reviews and bad word of mouth hurt Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials quite a bit. In a surprise turn of events, it ended up lower than the first. But Hotel Transylvania 2 opened high as expected and did break the opening weekend record, which was held previously by it's predecessor Hotel Transylvania. This all means that Halloween season came a bit early this year with Dracula and the gang dominating theaters. Now that October has finally hit, there's going to be several other Halloween-themed movies for both kids and adults to enjoy. In addition to those Halloween movies, Oscar season is in full force as we'll get several major contenders that will hope to please crowds and Oscar voters. And of course there will be other non-themed movies that hope to gain an audience. It's a loaded month, so let's dive right in.

October 2nd - 4th- 

After two very successful weekends in platform release and strong reviews, Sicario goes nationwide this weekend and could have success similar to that of Denis Villeneuve's previous movie Prisoners. As I talked about Sicario last month in my September movie preview, you can go read more about that movie there. As far now, it's time to briefly discuss the movie that's going to dominate theaters this weekend and most likely for the rest of the month as well and that is The Martian. It is almost a tradition now to have a big-budget space movie at this time of year. Two years ago, Gravity took the world by storm. Last year it was Interstellar. Now it's The Martian. Speaking of Interstellar, the cast here with The Martian shares a couple of different cast members from that movie in Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. It also has Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover. So yeah, this is loaded. Helming all of them is director Ridley Scott, who has had a couple of small misses, but mostly has a long list of incredible cinematic achievements. The Martian is looking like it's going to be in that latter group. A lot of people loved the book it's based off of. A lot of people have seen the movie already and loved it. This has success written all over it and that could translate into some awards as well come Oscar season.

As I said, the big challenger for The Martian is Sicario. The other movies have decided to wait until a little closer to Halloween to debut, so it's time to dive into a couple of limited releases for the weekend. The first of these is The Walk. I say limited release with this one and that is true. But it's limited release in the vane of last month's Everest, which opened in IMAX theaters only the weekend before it expanded nationwide. Everest was super successful in its IMAX release as it made an incredible $7.2 million in that format. The Walk will be stealing the IMAX theaters from Everest and will hope for similar success. The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is directed by the great Robert Zemeckis, and is the true story about a guy in the 1970's who put a high-wire between the World Trade Center towers and walked across. Audiences were totally down for travelling to Everest in September via IMAX. We'll see if they want to come with this guy and walk across the towers with him. Following its exclusive release in IMAX theaters this weekend, The Walk will be released nationwide next weekend, October 9th.

In case you missed the news and have not been on social media yet this year, there was a monumental decision in the supreme court about the definition of marriage. I'm not here to dive into that at all. I am here to tell you that Hollywood has taken advantage of this by making several relevant movies surrounding that subject. Granted, these films were filmed before the decision was made, so I suppose this means there was either a lot of luck involved with these releases or some sort of foresight because we got a lot of them coming. Starting out in two theaters this weekend is Freeheld. This movie stars Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore, Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page, Oscar-nominated actor Steve Carell, and Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon. Julianne Moore's character in the movie is diagnosed with terminal cancer and she and her domestic partner, played by Ellen Page, both battle to secure the pension benefits. Early word off the street with this movie is that, despite good intentions, this will not be the Oscar darling as the movie has a lot of issues not related to theme. It's platform release will determine if it goes wide anyways, despite poor reviews.

October 9th - 11th-

Nothing says Halloween like yet another reboot of Peter Pan, right? No? Pan was actually supposed to come out in July, but after realizing that it wasn't going to compete with the likes of Ant-Man and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Warner Bros. wisely decided to reschedule it for a slightly less competitive October. The biggest obstacle this movie faces is the nature of the project itself. Does the world need another Peter Pan movie? Does the world want another Peter Pan movie? Knowing this would be an issue from the start, they decided to do something completely different with the character. And when I mean different, I mean different. This movie looks absolutely like no other Peter Pan movie we've ever seen. It's way far out in left field. Because of this bold move, I envision one of three different outcomes for this film: 1- The movie is universally praised for its uniqueness and creativity; 2- Critics praise the movie for being unique while Peter Pan fans are frustrated with the changes; 3- Critics "pan" the movie and Peter Pan fans assemble in an angry mob and seek for blood from the makers of the movie, causing those people to go into hiding for the rest of their lives. Knowing that the third option is the most likely, the marketing branch of this film as wisely targeted a less critical audience: kids. Regardless of what everyone else says, parents are going to take their kids to see this movie and those kids will probably enjoy themselves. Either that or the parents will wait for Goosebumps next weekend and Pan will be left in the dust. Pan does have an excellent cast and an acclaimed director. I should bring that up before moving on, so there's a plus.

While adult audiences from most of the country not wanting to see Pan will be either seeing The Walk as it expands or catching up on Sicario and/or The Martian, folks from New York City and Los Angeles will be flocking to the select theaters that will be showing Steve Jobs. Wait, what? Didn't we already get a Steve Jobs movie? Yup. Back in 2013, Jobs came out, which starred Ashton Kutcher as the legendary businessman. No one liked it. Very few people actually gave it their money. Word is it wasn't that accurate at all. It was a pretty big flop. But someone saw that movie and decided that a Steve Jobs biopic done right could be extremely successful and popular. So now we are getting that and this is going to be a huge Oscar contender. Instead of director Joshua Michael Stern (Nervewas, Swing Vote -- what?), they selected Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). Instead of Ashton Kutcher playing Jobs, we have Michael Fassbender. Riding along with Fassbender will be Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen, all of whom are getting at least some Oscar buzz for their roles in this movie. Word is this movie is the actual, honest story of Steve Jobs, which is the biggest plus. A slow expansion will happen throughout the month and the rest of the country will get the movie towards the end of October.

October 16th - 18th-

This is it! This slate of movies this weekend is a very significant one because on Wednesday October 21, 2015 is when Marty McFly went into the future in Back to the Future Part II. When he arrived, he looked at the movie screen and saw that the big movie out in theaters was Jaws 19. Whatever movie wins this weekend will determine the movie title that should've been on that sign had they actually been able to tell the future. This is a pretty big deal. There are a few options here, but if I'm going to make a guess, I'm going with Bridge of Spies. If that holds true, the interesting thing here is that Back to the Future Part II got the director right. Kinda. Steven Spielberg didn't direct the sequels to Jaws, but he did direct the original and he is the director here. Spielberg has directed many classics in the last 40 years. Eight of his movies have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and he's received seven personal nominations for Best Director. As far as wins, Schindler's List got him the win in both categories while Saving Private Ryan got him his second directing win a few years later. There has been three times were he has worked with actor Tom Hanks: Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, and The Terminal. This will be number four. And the movie is about the Cold War. Spielberg directing a Cold War drama that stars Tom Hanks? This has winner written all over it. A winner at the box office. A winner with the general movie goers. A winner with the critics. And potential winner at the Oscars.

If Bridge of Spies can't do it this weekend, then my guess is that it got topped by Goosebumps. Timing can't get much better with this one as this looks like it'll be the perfect Halloween movie for family audiences. Back in the day, the Goosebumps books were the thing. Everyone read Goosebumps and everyone loved Goosebumps. I speak mainly by experience there back in the day when I was in Elementary school. I loved Goosebumps and so did everyone in my grade. Taking my personal bias out of it, I'd still think it's safe to say that this is an extremely popular series. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that more than 300 million books have been sold, making it the bestselling series of all time. The original series of books began in 1992 and included 62 different books published between 1992 and 1997. There's been a total of around 200 of these books published, the most recent of which coming earlier this year. The movie isn't based on one specific book. Author R.L. Stine is played by Jack Black and the monsters from his books are real, but they're trapped inside the books. A group of kids, upon visiting his house, accidentally unleash all these monsters on the town causing quite a bunch of mayhem that needs to be fixed. Like Pan, this movie should be critic proof when it comes to the box office as family audiences should eat it up.

The third movie of the weekend also has potential to take the top spot, which should make for quite the busy weekend. That movie is Crimson Peak. This is also a perfect movie for the Halloween season. Although this one is strictly for adults. Yes, we have ourselves another horror. Horror movies are always a dime a dozen, so you have to do something a little special in order to stick out and earn a ton of money. The selling point for Crimson Peak is director Guillermo del Toro. The man has written, directed, and produced a lot of different types of movies and has a huge fan base. While he's done other popular projects like Hellboy and Pacific Rim, horror is where he started and horror is what he's really good at. So Guillermo del Toro doing another horror has definitely turned a lot of heads. The extremely simplistic story for this has to do with a woman in a, shall I say haunted house? And the cast is huge as well, led by Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain.

That's it for our three-headed monster this weekend. Now let's quickly run through some smaller releases from this weekend. In moderate release this weekend will be Woodlawn. This is a football movie based in Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1970's. There's still a lot of racial tensions at this time and thus racism and hate are abound at Woodlawn High School. The chemistry between the football team is awful until the head coach lets a man named Hank, played by Sean Astin, to speak to his football. Hank gives the team a message of faith and hope that not only helps them unite as a team on the football field, but improve their lives. The star football player that the movie centers around is Tony Nathan, who went on to have a very successful NFL career and even spent some time as a coach.

Now for a couple of platform releases. The first of these two is Room. This is a movie that has gained a whole lot of attention recently from the Toronto International Film Festival as it just walked away with the People's Choice Award, which is the top award at TIFF. In the last seven years, six movies that won this award have gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, three of them winning the Best Picture Oscar. Those three movies are Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech, and 12 Years a Slave. So yeah, Room is now a movie to look out for because of this win at TIFF. Room tells the story of a 5-year-old boy named Jack who has been trapped with his Ma in a 10-by-10 foot windowless space which his Ma has called "Room." As Jack gets more and more curious, a plan is devised to help Jack escape to the real world. Brie Larson plays Ma in this movie and word is that her performance is good enough to now be considered a serious contender in the competitive Best Actress race.

The final movie that I will discuss from this weekend is Truth. This also was just screened at TIFF and although it wasn't received with praise on the level of Room, this is a story that could catch the attention of those non-movie buffs who don't follow the Oscar race or the film festival buzz because it is a movie about Dan Rather. Specifically, this tells the story from just over 10 years ago when Dan Rather and CBS News head Mary Mapes chose to air the false story on 60 Minutes of how President George W. Bush avoided being drafted to Vietnam. This led to a lot of controversy that subsequently led to the firing of both Rather and Mapes. In the movie, Dan Rather is played by Robert Redford and Mary Mapes is played by Cate Blanchett.

October 23rd - 25th-

The past weekend, there were six movies I ended up talking about. This weekend there are also six movies to talk about, but five of them are in wide release, making this an extremely crowded weekend. Either some of them will get ignored or a few of them will settle for a more moderate release. We will see. The biggest name of the weekend is Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. This franchise started in 2009 and was quite the success story. The first one only cost $15,000 to make, yet earned nearly $200 million worldwide. That's quite the profit. Thus we got a sequel per year until Paranormal Activity 4 in 2012. Paranormal Activitty 5 was supposed to come out October 2013, but it got delayed a few different times. No Paranormal Activity movie happened in 2013. They ended up settling for a spin-off in January 2014 instead and now the fifth one is finally here, whether or not people actually wanted it. This time around we have a few different catches to get people's attention. The first is that it's the first Paranormal Activity movie to be released in 3D. The second is that the trailer promises that all the secrets will be revealed. Whether or not that is a smart idea is debatable, but it should get people out. But even if it doesn't, it doesn't require much money for them to make a profit.

Next up is an attempt to begin a brand new franchise with Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter. Vin Diesel is coming off the enormously successful Furious 7, so who better to begin a new franchise, right? The premise here is that several centuries ago, many witches roamed the world and there was an army of witch hunters to hunt them down. These witches, of course, are supernatural witches. Well, Vin Deisel gets cursed by the Queen witch with immortality. Thus when his wife and children die, he is stuck on Earth without the ability to reunite with them in the afterlife. Now we fast forward to the current time where Vin Deisel is still around as, you guessed it, the last witch hunter. Yet there are still witches that need to be fought. The human race is in danger and it is up to Vin Deisel to save it. This seems like it could work as a new franchise. This will definitely test the star power of Vin Deisel. Having Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, and Michael Caine along for the ride should also help.

The next three movies are scheduled to come out in wide release, but are three that will either get ignored or will put themselves in moderate release and hope for good word of mouth. The first of these is Jem and the Holograms. For some reason, I lived most of my life not really knowing what Jem and the Holograms was. I think the name and the characters if I saw them would ring a bell, but it's mostly blank. When I saw the trailer for the first time, it was looked like just a random musical from the studios that brought us Pitch Perfect about a girl who gets absurdly famous after a video of her singing on YouTube goes viral. Her stage name becomes Jem and she's this lead singer of a band called Jem and the Holograms. Then I notice the reaction and there are thousands of people out for blood. Turns out Jem and the Holograms was a super awesome animated TV series in the late-80's from the people that also gave us the Transformers and G.I. Joe TV shows. Based on the trailers, the only similarities between this live action movie and the animated TV show is the name. Suddenly I see why everyone is mad. Looks like this is also going the way of the Transformers and G.I. Joe movie adaptations in terms of quality.

The second of these under-the-radar films is Rock the Kasbah. As the trailer puts it, this movie is "inspired by a true story strange than fiction." It's a comedy starring the comedy legend Bill Murray where he plays a music manager that has ran into a lot of bad luck. That luck seems to be changing when he discovers a girl who he thinks has a lot of potential. While that seems pretty basic, the catch here is that he discovers this girl while he is on tour in Afghanistan and takes her to Kabul to compete in what is essentially the Afghanistan version of American Idol called Afghan Star. This also has a pretty loaded cast around Bill Murray as that supporting cast includes Bruce Willis, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, and Danny McBride. It's directed by Barry Levinson who has directed hits such as Rain Man, Bugsy, Disclosure, and Good Morning, Vietnam. So this could be a movie that opens small, yet holds well if the word of mouth is good.

The final wide release of the weekend is Burnt. This movie is positioning itself for Oscars and although the buzz isn't super strong at this point, it's hard to argue with this movie's resume. At least not on paper. Specifically the movie stars Bradley Cooper, who currently has an incredible streak of three straight acting nominations at the Oscars. He also has Lily James, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Sienna Miller, Emma Thompson, and Daniel Bruhl around him as well as John Wells as a director. Wells previously directed the movie August: Osage County and is also involved in writing, producing, and/or directing a whole bunch of TV shows such as ER, The West Wing, and Shameless. What is this movie about? Well, it appears to be a food porn movie. If you haven't heard that phrase, don't freak out. That's what we call the genre of movie that focuses heavily on people making food and thus makes you extremely hungry afterwards. Bradley Cooper plays a character who has made a lot of mistakes in his life and is attempting to make a comeback by becoming a chef at a top restaurant.

And of course I would be doing this month an injustice if I didn't bring up this last movie, which will be debuting on a limited front this weekend and that is Suffragette. It's hard to imagine a time in our country where women couldn't vote. It makes no sense to deny them and thus I don't know how it was tolerated for so long. Suffragette is a movie that takes place in the early 1900's and tells the story of some of the early leaders in the feminist movement that led to women finally getting the right to foot. Namely it's the story of the foot soldiers who turned to violence after concluding that peaceful protests weren't working. On the acting front, Carey Mulligan is the name that's getting a ton of early awards buzz for this movie, but she also has Helena Bonham Carter and the great Meryl Streep working with her as well, so this has potential to be a big contender at the Oscars if the movie is received well.

October 30th - November 1st-

The final weekend of October is a bit of a tricky one for movies, which is why most of the big movies came out a weekend or two earlier. I'm referring to the fact that Halloween itself falls on Saturday, thus potentially limiting business for the weekend as people are usually out celebrating and partying, not flocking into the movie theaters. There is a pair of movies that are taking a stab at the weekend anyways and the first one is Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocolypse. The scout motto is "be prepared," right? Well, what if a zombie outbreak happens in your town? Are you prepared to fight them? These scouts are. This movie looks like it's trying to be some sort of mix between Zombieland and Superbad as not only does it include a lot of graphic zombie fights, but it's also an extremely raunchy film. Just go check out the red band trailer and you'll see what I mean. Will this combination work? Are people who like one or both of those movies give this one a shot or will they skip this one in favor of catching up on Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Crimson Peak, or The Last Witch Hunter. The latter seems more likely, but you never know with this genre.

Political dramas seeking for awards buzz are very common at this time of year. There's almost always at least one in the Oscar race every year. This month I've already talked about two of them with Bridge of Spies and Suffragette. Now it's time to finish the month off with a third in Our Brand is Crisis. The Halloween release for this movie won't effect it much, so it's safe being released this weekend as it's not the type of movie that relies on a strong opening weekend, but rather good word of mouth that helps it hold well. Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thorton star in this movie which has Bullock in South America trying to install a new leader in one of the countries down there, meeting resistance along the way. Comparing this to Suffragette, it seems like the marketing campaign for Our Brand is Crisis is a lot stronger at the moment, but the early reviews aren't so positive as the movie is currently on the wrong side of the tomato meter, so this could end up being a miss. We'll have to all stay tuned to see what happens.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Captive Review

Recently I've had the pleasure of reviewing two different movies from genres that I normally like that failed to impress me. In both cases, I took the time to explain what makes a movie from that genre good and thus related why these specific movies failed in my opinion. The first of these was War Room. I normally like religious movies. I consider myself a fairly religious guy, thus I enjoy it when a religious movie comes out and gives me a positive, spiritual boost. But that one didn't sit right for me. The second of these was The Perfect Guy. This one was a thriller. I love thrillers. In fact, if I'm forced to choose a favorite genre, that's the genre I usually go for. But this one had a lot of issues. Thus in that review that I have linked right there, I specifically listed some main points of what makes a good thriller and I used that to show what The Perfect Guy was missing. Why do I bring both of those movies up? The answer is because there was this little-known movie called Captive that came out recently that is what I have called a religious thriller. It is part religious movie and part thriller. Personally I think it does a great job of being successful in both of those areas. Thus I am going to use the guidelines I established with War Room and The Perfect Guy to show what Captive did right that these two movies didn't.

Captive is based on the true story of a certain chain of events that happened not too long ago. David Oyelowo plays a man by the name of Brian Nichols who is in jail for something that he, of course, claims he didn't do. At just the right opportunity, he manages to escape and, on his way out, steals a gun and shoots several people, one of which being the judge that was in charge of his case. Now he is a murderer on the run and in an effort to stay hidden, he invades the home of one Ashley Smith, played by Kate Mara, and takes her captive in her own how. Ashley has some baggage of her own as she is a single mother who her daughter taken away from her mainly due to her strong addiction to meth. The court has ruled that she's just not fit to raise that child. So she is trying to overcome her drug addiction so that she can work on being a fit mother that is capable of raising her daughter. This situation with her being taken captive in her own home definitely throws a big wrench into things. Religious movie, you ask? Yes, it is. But not quite in the way you might think. This movie is probably 90 percent thriller and 10 percent religious movie, which is part of the reason why it works so well. I'll get to that religious aspect in a bit, but being that this is mainly a thriller, let's talk about that aspect of the movie first.

In my review of The Perfect Guy, I listed three main points that a good thriller should have. The first of these is a compelling villain. Sure, you can have a random bad guy doing random bad things and it could still potentially be interesting, but if your villain has a lot of depth to him and the audience can even relate to him to at least a certain degree, your thriller is going to be a lot more interesting and compelling. Captive nails this. First off, David Oyelowo is an amazing actor that is perfect at playing both the ultimate hero as well as the horrible villain. This time he is in the villain role, but he is such a deep, interesting villain. He claims he's innocent in what he was originally convicted for. You kinda feel bad for him there, but not really because we watch him shoot and kill several people upon his escape. But then we learn he has a son that he's never met before. Despite the awful things he's done, his biggest desire is to at least meet his son and be a good father. This is where the movie gets you emotionally because he is very troubled over the fact that now this desire is almost completely unrealistic. You feel for him. You want him to meet his son and be a father. Suddenly our villain almost becomes our hero. But then you remember that he killed several people at the beginning of the movie and is holding this mother hostage and you remind yourself that he is the bad guy. Then you praise the movie for having such an excellent villain.

The second and third things that I mentioned in my review for The Perfect Guy is that a good thriller should have a satisfying conclusion as well as an element of realism. These points are where the movie kinda melds into the religious aspect that I'll talk about in a bit. But let me first talk about the thriller elements of this that the movie succeeds in. It goes without saying that a thriller needs to provide thrills. This wasn't one of my main points simply because I feel this is super obvious. If your movie is boring and non-suspenseful, you've failed. However, you've also failed if you don't have a satisfying ending. In fact, having the ending right is arguably more important for this genre then getting the beginning and middle right. The beginning of a thriller sets up the scenario. The middle will build up the suspense. If the ending is wrong, the whole thing is ruined. This isn't like an action movie where you can have fun during the movie and still come across with a positive outlook on the movie even if the ending was dumb. A dumb twist for a thriller or a bad ending will ruin the whole movie. I don't want to talk much about this movie's ending simply because saying that this is partially a religious movie kinda says too much already. But let me assure you that the ending of this movie works and is not cheesy like you might think if I were to tell you that this is a religious movie.

That leads to my next point. Realism. This is the big point that crosses over for both religious movies and thrillers. The best thrillers are ones where you feel like the scenarios could actually happen. If you walk out of the theater scared because you have that sensation that what happened in the movie could actually happen to you in real life, the movie has done it's job. Captive is based on a true story of something that actually happened to a woman not too long ago. And it's not one of those true stories where it's a once in a life time event that will never happen ever again. It's a home invasion. The woman was taken hostage. These things sadly do happen to a lot of people every year. People go missing. People are kidnapped. People get killed. We live in a horrible world. Thus when you watch a home invasion movie where a girl is taken hostage, that plays with your emotions in a terrifying way and thus the suspense builds because you are really interested in figuring out how this girl makes it out of this situation. The other element of realism is what the characters actually do. The Perfect Guy was a realistic situation. It had to deal with stalkers, which also happens. But how things were resolved felt so fake that I just rolled my eyes. Once again, I'm not going to tell you how this girl in Captive gets out of this situation, but it felt real. Because it was real. And it's the type of real that could realistically happen to an average person.

So now let's talk about religion. I don't to go into specifics with this aspect of the movie because I don't want to tell you how this movie is religious. That's the surprise. But speaking in general terms, what has really frustrated me with some religious movies of late is how black and white they paint things. The second you turn yourself over to God, everything in your life will immediately get better. Your football team will win games. Your car business will prosper. Your husband will stop cheating on you. Your atheist professor will realize he was wrong. No. Not that easy. In fact, life is a lot more complex than that and if you preach that everything will get better the second you follow God, someone might actually decide to test you on that and when life doesn't get better for that person, he or she might decide that God doesn't exist because life didn't get better. This was my biggest problem with War Room and after I reviewed that movie I got a whole ton of backlash as people tried to tell me that miracles do happen and that I was being faith-less because I was discounting them. No, that's not what I'm talking about here. Yes, miracles do happen. Yes, it is possible that if your husband is cheating on you, that you could pray to God and God could strike your husband with an illness that causes him to realize he's doing something bad. But if you preach the miracle as if it's the norm, your preaching the wrong message.

The point of all this is that if you are going to be a faith-based movie, what you need to do is inspire people. Don't paint a black and white picture. Don't be unrealistic. Don't preach. That's not inspiring. That's just frustrating, especially to people who actually aren't religious. Once again, I'm not going to go into specifics with this movie, but what they do with this is more subtle. Like I said, this movie is probably 90 percent thriller and 10 percent religious and that balance is what makes this work. There's no preaching in this, but there's a message of peace and hope that's perfectly sprinkled throughout that I think can apply to a broad range of people. If you are confused and you don't think I did a good job of explaining this, then I'm sorry. I wish I could go into specifics with this movie because that would really help me get the point across, but I'm not going to spoil this. You'll just have to trust me that I think they really did this right. What really helped were the performances in the movie. David Oyelowo is a genius. You can pretty much bet that whatever movie he's in, regardless of the role, he's going to excel. That holds true here. He is fantastic. But the other person who is also fantastic is Kate Mara. I kinda feel bad for her because this was supposed to be the year that she broke out as an actress, but the epic failure of Fantastic Four kinda prevented that. I hope that she's still able to get recognition despite that because she deserves it.

Overall, Captive is a movie that was a perfect blend of thriller and faith. We have quite the intense story on our hands with this murderer who is now holding this mother captive and we have the perfect blend of faith to help us feel inspired when we walk out of the theater. It doesn't beat us over the head. It doesn't preach. It's a story that I feel a lot of people can relate to and be inspired by. I'm saddened by the fact that this movie was completely overlooked in the box office. War Room earned a whole ton of movie at the box office and still is raking in the dough more than a month after it's release. The Perfect Guy ended up topping the box office when it opened, defeating M. Night Shyamalan's comeback movie The Visit. In my opinion neither of those movies did a good job at what they set out to do. War Room was not a good faith-based movie. The Perfect Guy was not a good thriller. Yet they earned all the money and a movie like Captive that did a good job at being a successful thriller and a good faith-based movie came up completely empty. Oh the injustices of Hollywood. I can't change this movie's woes. But if I can convince one person that this is a movie worth seeing, then I'd consider this review a success. My grade for Captive is a good 8/10.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice Review

Some people love the Summer blockbuster season, then ignore most of the rest of the year because "there is nothing good in theaters." Personally I also love myself a big, fun, popcorn flick in the Summer, especially if it's a superhero movie. But if I'm being perfectly honest, I really look forward to this time of year because it's the start of Oscar season. Not all the movies released from September through December will compete for actual awards, but there are a whole heck of a lot of movies that are released around this time that are trying their hardest to put themselves in the game. This makes for a ton of amazing movies that flood the theaters, giving me plenty to see and enjoy. Pawn Sacrifice is a movie that I've personally had on my radar for quite some time as it was first released last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, which sparked a whole lot of buzz surrounding Tobey Maguire's performance. It took it a year for it to show up in a theater near me, but when it finally did this weekend, it instantly became my top choice of the weekend. I was not disappointed with the result.

Edward Zwick is the director here. He's given us some pretty dang good movies in the past, the most noteworthy being Glory and The Last Samurai. He's also on board to direct next year's Jack Reacher 2, which I'm stoked for. This time around he takes on another interesting true story about chess champion Bobby Fischer. Born in 1943, Fischer quickly rose to be one of the best chess players in history and possibly the best U.S. chess player in history. According to the movie, he taught himself how to play chess at a very young age and that's essentially all he thought about at that age. He was one of those chess players that would look at a chess board and see a ton of moves in advance. He would even play out games in his head or look at a picture of a chess board and figure out exactly what moves were made to get both players to that point and he would use those strategies in his own game. He was a brilliant. By the time he was a young teenager, he was playing in several U.S. championships and winning them all. Before too long, he decided that he wanted to become the world champion and thus he determined that this would require him playing the Russians. The big match that this movie focuses on is his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Russian Boris Spassky.

What I was expecting when I went into this movie was a great biopic of Bobby Fischer led by a brilliant performance from Tobey Maguire as Fischer. Yes, this is what I got. What I didn't quite expect was for it to play out like a sports movie. The typical formula for a sports me starts with the movie following a huge underdog team or a heavy favorite in which some sort of tragedy happens. After this, the team either overcomes this tragedy and rises to the occasion or shocks the world by playing great. Either way, this usually leads up to a championship game where the team either wins and makes us all happy or they lose and teach us all a very good lesson. This is followed by the movie explaining what happened with the team and/or players through the rest of their careers and beyond. This movie fits perfectly into that. Bobby Fischer is our underdog player. No one expects the young kid to be any good. His mom would even be happy if he stopped playing chess and did something else with his life. But he keeps winning and winning, getting better and better throughout the years. This leads to many championships and the ultimate world championship match. What makes this really unique is that I don't think I've ever seen a chess movie like this. There's been plenty of movies that include chess games in their movies, like the sequence at the end of the first Harry Potter movie. But I don't remember a movie where chess was the main focus. If there is, I haven't seen that movie. Thus I was super invested in this because it felt fresh.

However, there is also much more to this movie than just chess, so if you don't like chess, this is still a movie for you. Mental health is a big theme of this movie. We aren't just watching a guy win a bunch of chess matches. We're watching a guy with a lot of mental issues. I don't know what specific mental diseases he had, so I'm not going to attempt to label them, but playing chess was all that this guy could focus on. When he wasn't playing someone, he was playing himself or going over games in his head. He also heard random voices on occasion and all the noises around him were amplified quite a bit. If someone was lightly knocking on the door, to him it felt like they were pounding. Whispering was too much for him to handle at times. Coughing was loud. He could hear the cameras rolling from a distance. This was a huge issue for him during his games because he just could not focus at times. When he was on the big stage with everyone watching, all the little sounds around him bothered him so much that there were moments where he refused to play. It got so bad for him that he would start making a whole bunch of ridiculous demands and if they weren't followed exactly, he wouldn't show up. He didn't care how important the game was or how many people were watching. If everything wasn't perfect, he wasn't going to play. He often felt like the world was conspiring against him if his demands weren't met. And his mental health just got worse and worse as his life moved on.

This is obviously a very sensitive issue that needed to be handled with care and also needed someone to absolutely nail the role. Tobey Maguire was perfect in this. Looking at his filmography, he actually hasn't been around the movie scene very much since his role as Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Despite the scene that shall not be named from Spider-Man 3, I do think he was a decent Spider-Man. Outside that, though, he has had several really good roles. He was great in Seabiscuit back in 2003. He was also amazing in The Great Gatsby in 2013. So he's an actor that I've respected throughout the years. However, this role as Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice is easily the best performance of his career. Never have I watched Tobey Maguire and said that he deserves an Oscar nomination. But I'm saying that now. He may not get it because of all the competition, but at the very least I will say his performance is Oscar caliber. And speaking of performances, there was also a lot of good performances around him. The most notable one was his main opponent, Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber. It was one of those performances where Schreiber disappeared into his role. When they showed the cast in the end credits and I saw his name, it was one of those moments where I was like, "That was Liev Schreiber?" I like those moments.

I also can't leave this review without talking about all the cinematography and other technical aspects of the movie. We constantly went back and forth from in actually looking like an early 70's movie to looking like a modern day movie. This worked very well. We also had a lot of genuine news reports thrown in to help us move the story forward and I'm pretty sure they were actual news reports from back when this actually took place. If they weren't, they did a pretty dang good job of replicating those reports. We also got a lot of fan reaction from around the world thrown in there as the big match moved along, which did a pretty dang good job at letting us know how big this event was. All these news reports and fan reactions made me really get into this as I got the sensation that this was a huge event that I needed to pay attention to. I felt like I was watching the Super Bowl. And not just a boring, blowout like the Broncos vs. Seahawks from two years ago, but a Patriots vs. Seahawks game where you are on the edge of your seat the whole time. It was intense. It was awesome. Then there was the actual cinematography and editing from the chess game itself. There were a lot of quick shots from many different angles and viewpoints. One shot we were zoomed in on the chess piece that was about to be moved. Another we were watching from over the shoulder. Another we were watching the TV that everyone else was watching after Bobby demanded to play in the ping-pong room.

Then there was the score. I actually do like watching someone play chess. It's a lot of fun. But it can also be super boring, especially in a professional chess match where they spend a whole lot of time thinking before every move. But when we are watching the chess matches in this movie, especially the final one, this is anything but boring. It's intense. It's exciting. It has you on the edge of your seat. Yes, the editing and cinematography, as well as the inclusion of the news reports and fan reaction played a big part in this as previously mentioned. But the score is the glue that holds this all together. It's what makes this movie interesting. James Newton Howard is the man behind the curtain here and thus deserves a lot of praise. He's composed some amazing scores which have included the first two movies in The Dark Knight trilogy, all of The Hunger Games movies, most of M. Night Shyamalan's movies (great or awful, you have to praise those scores), Maleficent, Snow White and the Hunstman, The Bourne Legacy, Nightcrawler, and many, many more. The man is one of many musical geniuses of our day and has rightfully been nominated for eight Oscars. Here's to hoping a win is in his not-to-distant future. He even got a Billboard Hot 100 top 20 hit last year with The Hanging Tree from last year's Mockingjay - Part 1.

There's been a lot of movies released in theaters in the past couple of weeks and with Oscar season being underway as well as the Halloween and the Holiday seasons right around the corner, the number of releases aren't going to slow down any time soon. Amidst this crowded movie season, if Pawn Sacrifice has shown up in a theater near you, I would definitely recommend you check it out. We all constantly blame Hollywood for running out of ideas. Although the themes in this movie as well as the sports movie formula are nothing new, the fact that this is a chess-based movie makes this feel fresh and original. That's what it did for me, anyways. Even if you don't feel this idea is original, it's still worth checking out because it's a great psychological movie that focuses on the mental health decline of Bobby Fischer and Tobey Maguire really knocks it out of the park. This is a really fascinating and surprisingly intense movie surrounding the chess board. There's also a tagline at the end that I found simple, yet very deep and profound as concerning the game of chess as it relates to life itself. I highly recommend you give this movie a shot. I will award Pawn Sacrifice a 9/10.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Review

First and foremost, I want to thanks this movie for doing something with the title that really bothered me with The Hobbit movies. They got rid of the extra "the" in the title. With The Hobbit movies, they titled them THE Hobbit: THE Battle of the Five Armies or THE Hobbit: THE Desolation of Smaug (emphasis added). Too many "the's."  Battle of the Five Armies or Desolation of Smaug would've been just fun. With this movie, they could've titled it The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, but they didn't. They dropped that first "the" and now it's just Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. That flows better. Anywho, with that out of the way, if you remember my review of The Maze Runner from last year, you'll know that I was pleasantly surprised and entertained for most of the movie. I loved the suspense and mystery of it. I loved the simplicity of the story. I loved all of our young actors. But then the reveal happened at the end and we come to learn that this is in fact the same exact story as all the other recent dystopian movies. Huge let down. Sure, they had a few unique twists, but not enough to make me intrigued and most of those unique twists were just weird. So it lost me. I went into The Scorch Trials hoping that this middle chapter would reel me back in. I'm not going to lie, there were parts of the movie that I found really interesting. But for the most part, no. It didn't bring me back. The things that made The Maze Runner interesting are gone and the things that made The Maze Runner dull are magnified. Very disappointing.

If you haven't read or seen The Maze Runner, I will warn you that I will be spoiling that movie a bit. In order to talk about the sequel, I do need to reference what happened in the first one in order to explain to you my thoughts about this sequel. If you don't want the first one spoiled, then feel free to stop reading, go watch that movie, and come back to read my thoughts on The Scorch Trials. If you have seen that one or you just don't care about spoilers, then let's carry on. At the end of the first movie, our group of kids have escaped the maze. They come face to face with our villains, but are rescued from this group of villains by some unknown group of people. That's how our movie ends. Well, The Scorch Trials picks up by our group of heroes being sent to this facility with a lot of other kids who have survived other mazes. Apparently there was a lot of them and after separating the wheat from the chaffs, we now have this new group of kids who are being rewarded with this great facility with good food, soft beds, and all that fun jazz that they didn't have in the mazes. Well, of course you know something is off. The biggest clue is that we have still have a trilogy to finish and we're just in the start of the second one. So we are surrounded with mystery once again. Kinda. I wasn't the least bit intrigued by this because it's extremely obvious what's going on even though the movie thinks its being smart, it's really not smart at all this time around. Of course we have to escape this place and our main group of kids from the first one, with some added newcomers, do escape. There's just nothing really to escape to. It's this huge, empty desert devoid of any signs life. The scorch. Thus we have the bulk of our movie.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. The first problem is what I just talked about. The beginning of this movie is really a piece of junk. It tries to be suspenseful and mysterious with what is going on, but it fails in a huge way. You see right through from the very beginning and thus you wonder why there are only two out of like a hundred or more kids that realize that something isn't right. Every single kid in that building should realize that they were just trapped in a huge maze by this crazy company and now they are locked up in this sketchy facility. But they all just buy into it? Why? Come on kids! Finally our hero wises up and our main group of people somehow escape. Given the situation, it makes no sense on how they were able to escape. It should've been a lot harder. But they do and now we are onto the scorch. I don't know why we have to call it the scorch. Why not just the desert or the wasteland? Words that normal human beings use. But whatever. There are some interesting things that happen in the scorch. Specifically they randomly come across a pack of zombies. Except they aren't called zombies. I can't even remember what they are called. Why not just zombies, though? Why do we have to give them fancy titles that aren't in our current vocabulary? Zombies would've worked. But whatever. Not long after being in the scorch and going through some intense scenes that kinda made me interested, it hit me. This is Catching Fire all over again.

Catching Fire, of course, is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, or the second of four movies in the movie franchise. Great book. Great movie. But come on, Scorch Trials. Can't you do something different? In Catching Fire, we are back in the arena and before too long our characters learn that the arena is a big clock with different obstacles in each section that they have to avoid. In The Scorch Trials, they aren't in an arena and thus the wasteland they are in isn't a designed thing, but as they go further and further, there are more and more obstacles that they have to avoid. It's the same exact premise! The titles are even similar. "Fire" and "Scorch." Really? After a few fun zombie scenes, I was gone. The other problem that I had that relates to this is that this movie was way too complex. The Maze Runner had a simple premise. A group of kids are caught in a maze and they have to get out. That was it. Simple. I liked that simplicity. Had The Scorch Trials spent most of the movie out in the scorch, I may have been slightly intrigued by that premise. We would've had a beginning where we were in the facility, a middle where we were in the scorch, and an ending where something happened in the last ten minutes or so once we escaped the scorch. Nope. The scorch part is only part two of like five or six sections. So much happened in this movie and it was just way too much. I was mentally gone halfway through. I'm not saying this movie should've been shorter. But it should've been more focused. Simpler. You can probably blame the book for that one.

Now let's talk about these characters. Right off the bat we are without our two most interesting characters, Chuck and Gally, who were played by Blake Cooper and Will Poulter respectively. Granted this wasn't the movie's fault. The author decided to write them off in book one. I don't have a problem with some characters not surviving. That makes things more realistic and suspenseful. But if you are going to kill off two of your best characters in the first movie, make sure you have some interesting characters that can pick up the slack in the second one. I liked Dylan O'Brien as Thomas and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa. They both were really good leads in the first one and still are really good leads in this one. But that's it. The supporting cast of kids really aren't that interesting. We have some of the side characters from the first one that I didn't care too much about and we add some new side characters that I also don't really care too much about. Thus we just have a mostly bland, uninteresting cast. Speaking of cast, we also did something in this one that really frustrated me. One good thing about the first one was that there WASN'T a love triangle. For a big chunk of the movie, it was just guys in a maze. Then the girl showed up. Instantly you think a love triangle is going to form, but it doesn't. Kudos to the movie. However, in the second half of The Scorch Trials, we introduce a second girl. Boom. Love triangle. They couldn't resist. I suppose they tried to make it clever by being a love triangle between a guy and two girls instead of vice versa, but a love triangle is a love triangle and I didn't buy it and I refused to "take a side." I never really cared about our new girl. I kinda lost interest in our old girl. Honestly, I also started to lose interest in our main guy. When I have no one to latch onto, that's a big problem.

Is there anything worthwhile in this movie? Sure. Like I said, the zombie scenes got my attention. They show up on multiple occasions throughout the movie, thus kinda making this movie a zombie apocalypse movie. Compared to other zombie apocalypse movies, it wasn't that great. No where near the likes of Warm Bodies or World War Z from a couple years back. But it was entertaining and thus provided something for me to enjoy. There also were a few things in the end of the movie that I enjoyed. I don't want to talk much about them for obvious reasons, but we have a "final battle" of sorts that was entertaining and we also some really interesting themes that make you question who's actually in the wrong in this situation. That's all I'm going to say about those. But right after that had me almost thinking the movie was going to end on a high note, it did something really stupid that made me frustrated. So yeah, not a total waste of time, but not what I was hoping for. Another positive is that I'm still way more interested in this franchise that the Divergent franchise. Divergent started off below average and took a huge nosedive with Insurgent. The Maze Runner started off as average and has turned into below average with The Scorch Trials. So that's a plus. I guess. If I were forced to watch either Insurgent or The Scorch Trials again, I'd definitely pick The Scorch Trials. But still, my grade for the movie is a disappointing 6/10.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Everest Review

Back in 8th grade English class, I remember watching a movie called Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. I can't remember why we watched that movie, but we did and I liked it. It was Miss Oveson's class. For me that was the 2002-03 school year, which will either date me or make me seem young. Anyways, the movie itself is a TV movie that was released in 1997 and is based on the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer called Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, which is Krakauer's personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster that he survived the year before. At the time, it was the biggest disaster on Mt. Everest in terms of death toll. Tragic story. There's since been a documentary short based on this experience of which I have not seen and probably other various tellings of this story. And now we have a big-scale IMAX movie called Everest. Honestly, I didn't make the connection with this movie until about a month ago. I knew for quite some time that this movie was coming and I'd been anticipating it. However, I didn't realize that this movie was also based off of that 1996 experience until I did my monthly movie preview for September and recognized one of the character names. That was a cool realization. I like this story, so I'm glad that I now got the experience of seeing it again on an IMAX screen.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of this movie. Telling you that it's based off a true story and giving you the name of the book that Krakauer wrote as well as the title of the TV movie that came a year later is almost saying too much. I could've just said that this is a movie about a group of people that hike Mt. Everest and leave it at that. But then there would've been no review to write. You already knew that this was a movie about people hiking Mt. Everest because the movie is called Everest. I think informing you that this is based on a true story actually makes this more appealing. So yeah, now that the cat is out of the bag, this is a tragedy. It's a very emotional story. And do you know what, knowing that doesn't take away from the experience. I knew exactly who was going to live and who wasn't. I knew what happened to cause all of this. Did that make it less suspenseful? Did that make it unexciting? Was I bored because I knew the outcome? Absolutely not. This whole movie is about the journey that takes place to lead to these events. That said, ain't no way I'm going to tell you who lives and who doesn't. I'm not even going to tell you the names of the characters and what they do. Obviously you know that Jon Krakauer survives because he wrote the experience down. But that's it. A group of people hike Mt. Everest and not all of them make it down. That's all that you need to know about this plot.

I tell you that this movie is all about the journey and man was it a fantastic journey. I liked it before as a TV movie made in the 90's, but as an IMAX film it was incredible in many ways. The first reason is because the 3D IMAX experience made me feel like I was hiking Mt. Everest along with them. I often don't recommend seeing movies in 3D. I'm normally of the opinion that 3D is just a gimmick to make more money, but every once in a while a movie comes around that I will say needs to be seen in 3D and Everest is one of them. Specifically, if you can pull off seeing it in 3D IMAX, that's the way I'd recommend this. An IMAX theater was built near my current residence fairly recently and I've loved it. IMAX is amazing! Especially if you can pull off seeing it for cheap like on a $5 Tuesday or for a matinee price. Not every movie is worth paying the extra few bucks for an IMAX ticket, but Everest is totally worth it. I'm sure the movie will still look beautiful on a TV screen or on a normal theater screen, but seeing it on an IMAX screen and in 3D as well gives you the sensation that you are actually on Mt. Everest. I don't know how they pulled this off or where they shot this movie, but the shots in the movie are absolutely breathtaking. As it panned out to show you the whole mountain or show you the view that the characters had, I was blown away. I would've been totally down for a simple IMAX documentary of Mt. Everest like this with no story or or characters. The fact that we had both made this even better.

About the story and characters, I will admit that this did move slowly. The movie took time to develop these characters. We went on this journey with them and there were times where we moved slowly forward with them as they climbed the mountain over the course of a month or so, or however long it took. Because of this, I can totally understand if people walk out of this movie feeling like the pace was off or the movie was boring. I didn't feel that way, though. I enjoyed the scenery. I enjoyed the slow-moving journey. I was basking in the glory of every individual shot of the mountain and I was enjoying getting to know the people that were going on the hike. I felt like I was with them. Personally I love hiking. I don't do it as often as I would like and I'm not in good enough shape to do extreme hikes, but I love the journey. I love the scenery. I'm one of those hikers that has his camera out and is snapping pictures every other second. I also love the experience of hiking with people because you can get to know someone really well as you both are just hiking up a mountain. I've made many great friends by going on hikes. Thus I loved this movie and I'm so glad I saw it in 3D IMAX because I felt like I was hiking Mt. Everest. That's something that I'm never going to do in my life, so I'm glad this movie gave me a feel for what that experience was like.

Yes, nature is beautiful. I love nature. However, nature is also an unforgiving beast at times. For every amazing experience I've had out in nature, there's also been an equally horrifying experience out in nature. Have you ever gone on a hike and realized part-way through that you didn't dress warmly enough? What if it starts raining or snowing unexpectedly? Thunderstorms can be a beast. I love watching them, but I hate being caught in the middle of them. It terrifies me if I'm out in the open in the middle of a thunderstorm where lightning is striking awfully close to me. Luckily I've not experienced very many natural disasters in my life. I do remember the tornado in Salt Lake City back when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, but that's it. Yet there's millions of people who have been caught in natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. and have lost their lives because of it. Sometimes it's purely bad luck. Other times it's sadly kinda their fault because they could've gotten away, but didn't. Everest does a great job of showing a broad spectrum of this. It's beautiful and breathtaking at one moment while being terrifying and awful another moment. Some instances you feel bad for the people who just lucked out as far as the weather that happened while they were hiking. Other people you are sad for, but you are a bit mad at them for making some really bad decisions.

On that note, there are a lot of interesting themes in this movie. There's a moment in the movie where they are sitting in their tent and one of them asks the others why they are doing this. "Because I can." "Because I want to prove that the impossible dream can be achieved." "Because I've hiked the other major peaks in the Himalayas and so I need to do this one." Mt. Everest is the ultimate test of man vs. nature. Conquer Mt. Everest and you can say that you've literally conquered the world because it is the highest peak in the world. That's a great feeling and thus you can't blame someone for wanting to achieve that ultimate goal. But at the same time, what's the price that comes with it? Human beings aren't made to be at altitudes that high. It literally kills them. Thus you have to spend some time acclimatizing to the altitude before ascending to the peak and after that you have to get up and back down pretty darn quick. Is it worth it? Is it smart? If you have a wife and kids at home, is this something you should ever do? If your wife is pregnant with your first child, is this something you should ever do? If you fail, which is very likely, you not only end your own life, but you ruin the lives of many around you that love and care for you. I really loved this movie because it dove into all of this pretty deeply and thus is cause for deep, personal reflection. I'm not just talking about literally climbing Mt. Everest, but this could be very metaphorical for all of our lives.

There's a lot of great acting in this movie. Nothing stands out as an Oscar-caliber performance, but it's great all around. And this is a really loaded cast, too. In the midst of all the big names, Jason Clarke is actually our main character. Right along with him is Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal followed by John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, and Keira Knightley among others. I don't want to dive deeply into any specifics with these characters, but collectively as a cast, this was amazing. I felt an attachment to all of these hikers. Knowing what was coming up, this made me really nervous and emotional as I anticipated disaster. I'm not going to say which characters were part of emotional scenes. Some of the aforementioned actors weren't even part of the group that headed up to the actual summit, so I'm going to leave that as a surprise for you. But I will say that the whoever it was that took part in the emotional scenes, they did a fantastic job of really hitting the home run here in the movie in the closing scenes of the movie. Like I said, no one is getting an Oscar nomination for this. But that's okay. They all did a great job.

Everest was in IMAX only this past week. I'm lucky enough to have an IMAX screen near me, so I made sure to catch it in 3D IMAX before it expands to other theaters. I was glad I did because it was fantastic. The movie will now expand nationwide to other non-IMAX theaters this upcoming weekend, so make sure you catch it. Specifically, if you can afford the price of a 3D IMAX ticket or the IMAX theater near you has an awesome deal where you can get the ticket for cheap, that's the direction you need to go with this. If neither of those are an option, do me a favor and at least see this in 3D. You won't regret your experience. Yes, the story is great. Yes, it's tragic. Yes, the acting by everyone is fantastic. Yes, there are a whole lot of themes in this movie that stick with you. But the best part of the movie is the visual experience. A 3D IMAX ticket will ensure that you actually travel to Mt. Everest with this group and that is an experience you won't regret. I suppose you can go to a normal theater and simply watch them go on this from a distance, but I don't think it will be quite the same. So make the decision to be a little adventurous. It'll be worth it. My overall grade of my experience with the movie Everest is a 9/10. Note the wording of that. The movie itself might be a tad bit lower, but the 3D IMAX experience brings it to that level.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Black Mass Review

As was probably the case with most people, Black Mass first grabbed my attention with the arrival of the first trailer. That family recipe sequence was genius and Johnny Depp was absolutely chilling. I've liked Johnny Depp for a long time. Many would say they have given up on him as an actor because a long string of horrible roles in horrible movies. I've never jumped on that bandwagon. Yes, there have been some that have been over the top and cheesy. Yes, he's done the Jack Sparrow type role several times. But he's had some decent roles since the first Pirates movie that people have seemed to overlook and he's also been a part of several movies where he was decent despite the awful movie around him. So I feel he's been unfairly criticized as an actor. Thus when I saw that he was doing this role as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, I was excited that the unwarranted Johnny Depp hate would leave. Mostly, though, I was excited to see this movie because it seemed like the type of movie that was right down my alley. Yet I knew little about the true story of Whitey Bulger, so I did some research on his life and suddenly I was even more intrigued. This story is really interesting. After seeing the movie, I would say that this movie has done the story justice. It's not without its issues, but overall I think would say that this is definitely worth checking out.

If you haven't heard of Whitey Bulger, at one point in his life he was #2 on the FBI's most wanted list, behind only Osama Bin Laden. It's safe to say that he was a pretty bad dude. Black Mass focuses on his time spent as an FBI informant in Boston for about 20 years starting in the mid-70's, which was a rather shocking ordeal. Early in his life, he was friends with one John Connolly, who became an FBI agent. Connolly was set on taking down the Irish Mafia there in Boston and he felt that the way to do this was through Whitey Bulger, who was the leader of the Irish Mob. So Connolly approached Bulger and the two formed a certain alliance. Connolly would help the FBI completely ignore everything Bulger was doing and Bulger would provide Connolly with secrets about the Italian Mafia that would help them take down the Mafia. Bulger states in the movie that he is not a fan of people secretly ratting out other people. If he found out about anyone doing this to him, that person usually ended up dead. But he justified his actions based on the fact that the people in the Mafia deserved to be taken down. How this managed to go on for 20 years is beyond me, but it sure made for an interesting movie that showed that the world is often is a bad, corrupt place.

One really interesting thing about this movie is that for most of the movie there really is no protagonist. This isn't one of those gangster movies that glorifies gangs and violence. It's not a dark comedy. Neither Whitey Bulger nor John Connolly are portrayed as some sort of anti-hero. It's just a movie where a lot of bad people are doing a lot of bad things. Until the Yellowjacket comes in to save the day. If you've seen Ant-Man, you'll know what I'm talking about. Some may not like the idea of no hero. If you don't like a movie that's mostly dark and grim the whole time, this might not be your cup of tea. To me it felt very real. This was an event that actually happened and I felt this was an honest way to tell the story. At the same time, I was also really intrigued by the character of Whitey Bulger. Yes, he was a bad dude doing awful things, but he was also a pretty deep character. He was married with a kid. He cared for his wife. He certainly loved his kid. There was an old lady around the area that he adored. He was devastated when his mother died. He had a decent relationship with his brother played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Similar things could be said about Joel Edgerton's character of John Connolly. This was great because it's good to have interesting villains with depth to them.

Everyone's talking about the acting in this movie. So let's talk about the acting in this movie. Yes, it's true. Johnny Depp is fantastic! He completely disappears in this role and is thus unrecognizable. Yes, all the makeup is a big reason why he is literally unrecognizable. But even if he looked like Johnny Depp, I still might say that because he doesn't act or sound like Johnny Depp at all. He's super creepy throughout the whole movie in the way he talks and the way he carries himself. He just oozes out evil the whole movie and it's just fantastic. I'm not going to say it's his best acting job yet, but when we look back on Johnny Depp's career, this will definitely be up there. If Steve Carrell can get an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, Johnny Depp better get one for Black Mass. Depp isn't the only great actor in this, though. This movie is loaded with amazing performances. Joel Edgerton pulls off yet another amazing performance. Benedict Cumberbatch finally does something different after being almost typecast as the super genius in every movie. He has a Boston accent in this that makes it weird when he talks because it doesn't sound like Cumberbatch. Well done. Kevin Bacon is in this and nails his role. Julianne Nicholson is amazing as John Connolly's wife. Corey Stoll is great in his few moments towards the end. All the side characters who I don't know were great to watch. Even Dakota Johnson from Fifty Shades of Grey did a good job in the first part of the movie that she was is, which was possibly the most surprising. So yes, overall an excellent cast full of people who gave it their all for this.

If I have one major concern with this movie its that I felt at times it was actually pretty slow. This is not a fast-paced, extremely intense thriller. Yes, it's dark and grim. Yes, there are plenty of times where the movie has you on the edge of your seat. But there are also plenty of times where I felt the movie just slowly wandered through the life of Whitey Bulger without a clear purpose or a destination in mind. When moments like this were happening, the counter-point that I came up with in my mind was that this probably what it was like in real life. They had this deal in place for like 20 years, so there were probably many times where Bulger just wandered through life, killing people who upset or betrayed him. I also got to the point where there were so many deaths in the movie that I was almost past-feeling. They'd introduce a character and the second that character came on screen, I knew that he/she was going to die fairly soon and when it happened I wasn't as sad or as emotionally distraught as I should've been or as I was towards the beginning of the movie. It's almost like the movie got fairly predictable as it lost it's way a bit.

Overall, though, the concerns of it being a bit slow and predictable as it wandered through Bulger's life weren't big enough for me to not enjoy this movie. It's not going to show up on any top ten list at the end of the year for me and may not be the type of movie that sticks with me for a long period of time, but it still was a very worthwhile movie to see. It was slow, but there were many times where that slow pace worked very well as it slowly built to some major event. The score, by the way, was very chilling. Even though when the music played you knew it meant that someone was probably about to die, it still worked very well and added perfectly to the creepiness of Johnny Depp's character. Yes, he was fantastic. I really hope he gets recognition at the end of the year because this is one of the better acting performances that I've seen so far this year. No, this is not a happy movie. It's dark and grim and leaves you sad about a lot of the things that happen in this world. If dark is not you, then don't worry about this one. You probably weren't interested in the first place, so no surprise on your end. But if you do like dark and you want to see Johnny Depp nail the performance of Whitey Bulger, than definitely go see it. My grade for Black Mass is an 8/10.