Saturday, October 22, 2016
I wasn't bothered by the fact that Jack Reacher: Never Go Back had bad reviews. The first one's Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 60 percent and that is certainly way too low. Of course they were going to hate the sequel as well, right? I went in unfazed. I was still excited. Turns out they were right this time. Kind of. A score of 39 percent is a bit low. It probably deserves a score closer to what the first one got. Either way, though, I was expecting much more. Jack Reacher was based on the 9th book in the series, One Shot, while Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is based off the 18th book in the series, Never Go Back, which was the first book released after the release of the first movie. Jack Reacher is a man who never calls one place home and always gets himself into trouble. I've never read any of the books, but I do kinda want to. In this movie Jack Reacher is on the phone with a new female commanding officer, Major Susan Turner. When he goes to meet her, he learns that she has been arrested for espionage and he also soon after gets arrested. So of course he breaks both of them out and they go on an adventure trying to figure out the mystery behind these arrests. And Jack also learns that he might have a 15-year-old daughter that complicates things even more.
That's a premise that's interesting enough. On paper anyways. I certainly wasn't expecting anything super deep or crazy. I just wanted a fun, action-packed detective thriller. Like your basic James Bond or Sherlock Holmes type of movie. That's what the first one felt like. There were a lot of great moments in that film and it was a movie that had me guessing throughout as far as what was going on. This time around I was bored. It wasn't a well constructed plot. I don't know if it was the source material that wasn't that great or that it was just a poor adaptation. Whatever it was, there were a lot of scenes that took place that just didn't make any sense to the plot or were completely useless when you look back on the movie. Then the pacing and editing was off. There were times where it would be a slow burner but then suddenly things picked up without any warning or without an effective transition. And the build up to certain events wasn't handled well. There were certain portions of the movie where I was fighting to stay awake because nothing interesting was happening. In the first movie each scene built off the last scene and kept me engaged throughout. In this movie I was not engaged and the journey itself was really rocky. The movie was sloppy and boring.
As far as our cast goes, I think Tom Cruise did just fine. He's one of the best actors in the business right now and always brings a certain charm and charisma to his characters and that's the same here to a certain extent. I didn't seem like he cared as much for this movie, so I can't call this a great performance, but I would probably blame that more on him not having much to work with. We did have a director change from Christopher McQuarrie to Edward Zwick. That might be part of the problem. Zwick has made plenty of good movies, but I think he dropped the ball on this one. Tom Cruise's costar and love interest is Cobie Smulders as Major Turner and she did great. They didn't have good chemistry at first, but I think that was the whole. They both experienced some good character growth that I did appreciate and they ended up working well together. Tom Cruise is old enough to be Cobie's father in real life, but it wasn't weird this time because Tom Cruise is the youngest 54-year-old you'll ever meet. He's like forever 35, which is why he worked well with the 34-year-old Cobie. Same story with Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, actually. It's impressive. I'm sure it makes millions of 54-year-old men around the world super jealous.
I suppose it's unfair to call this an awful movie. It's not. The 39 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes is a bit lower than it deserves. But this is a movie that I was anticipating for nearly four years. I didn't need a masterpiece. I just wanted a movie on the caliber of the first Jack Reacher and I didn't get that. Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders did just fine and they experience some good growth. And I also liked the young girl played by Danika Yarosh that was with them as well, even though she had a habit of getting them into trouble time and time again. That's what teenage girls do, right? But it worked for me. Her and Tom Cruise share a great moment at the end, which gave me some feel goods. But outside this, the movie as a whole was a bit of a mess. The action scenes were fine, but they didn't stand out. They tried to set up a mystery thriller, but I ended up not caring about that at all. The pacing was rocky and unbalanced and the individual scenes didn't continually build on each other like in the last movie. Instead we just wandered aimlessly and made it hard for me to stay awake at times. I hope this isn't a franchise killer because I want them to learn from this and make a better third movie. As far as this second movie goes, though, I'm going to sadly give it a 6/10.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
In case you were living under a rock in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. If I have my facts right, it is officially the second largest oil spill in history and the largest accidental one as the only oil spill that was bigger was done on purpose in 1991. That according to this article I found about the 13 largest oil spills in history that I have linked right there. If you want to fact check me on that, that's up to you. Point is that this was a major disaster that was all over the news in 2010. Even if you're not an expert on the oil industry (I certainly am not), I would be shocked to learn if anyone didn't at least hear something about a giant oil spill back in 2010. This movie Deepwater Horizon is specifically centered around the events that transpired on April 20, 2010 when the explosion happened that ended up killing 11 people out of the 100+ people that were there that day. The movie is officially based on the New York Times article that was written about the event later that year. It's an absolutely fascinating read. If you haven't read it, I'd encourage you to take a break from this review to read it, then return.
As we are sitting there watching, we are just waiting to get punched in the gut. Peter Berg successfully takes the audience on a meticulously planned journey through the day that plays with their emotions. You know this thing is going to blow up. You know people are going to get hurt. You know people are probably going to die. But the characters in the movie have no idea and you just want to scream at them to get out and get to safety. But you are absolutely helpless and you just have to sit there and watch them walk to their doom. This is an emotionally taxing, depressing film. And that's before the explosion happens. After successfully building tension through the first part of the movie, keeping the audience at the edge of their seat the entire time, it finally happens at the absolute perfect moment in the film's arc. KABOOM!!! And dang does this movie successfully knock you over the head emotionally like a ton of bricks. And here I give my warning. This movie is insane. It's graphic. It's violent. It's intense. Peter Berg's goal in this movie is to take you into the heart of this accident and make you as an audience understand what these people went through as many of them honestly had the fear that they were never going to get to see their family and friends ever again. And some of them didn't. Thus this movie is definitely not for the faint of heart.
In fact, here's a little discussion on this thing called the MPAA. Walking out of this movie I was absolutely shocked that this wasn't rated R. In fact, I had to go double check online to verify the rating. I don't know how this got away with a PG-13, but it probably should've been R with how graphic and intense it is. I of course don't mean that in a negative way. I'm just saying in an objective way that if you have a hard time watching movies that are super graphic and intense and you think the line of what you can and can't handle is drawn at the line between PG-13 and R, well then you might be unpleasantly surprised with your experience in this movie because it's a difficult watch at times. But in my opinion this gives the movie the exact emotional punch that it needed to give in order to make a serious impact. This is a movie that you're going to remember long after you watch much like Peter Berg's previous movie in this trilogy of sorts in Lone Survivor. Remember how it felt watching the Navy SEALs in that movie jump off their next cliff in order to get to safety? That's exactly what you get here. And you come away with the same level of reverence and respect for what these people went through as you do in Lone Survivor.
Overall, Deepwater Horizon is a really intense, emotional look into the disaster that we all heard about, but perhaps may not have realized how horrific it really was for the people that were caught in it. The setup for the movie is perfect. The movie carefully and meticulously builds tension up to the point where the explosion happens and you want to yell at people to get to safety, but you end up helplessly stranded in the theater watching them. Then when the explosion happens and the movie delivers a strong emotional punch. This is certainly not for everyone as it gets very graphic and violent at times, making it a more difficult watch, but if you enjoyed Lone Survivor, then this is a movie that you need to watch. With two home runs for director Peter Berg, I am now even more excited for Patriots Day, which will be released to the public in December. The Boston Marathon bombing is something that is very fresh on my mind. I remember sitting in front of the TV all day listening for updates on CNN, so I'm curious to see what they bring to the table with that movie. After a lot of disappointments this year, Deepwater Horizon is a breath of fresh air as it's one of the better movies to be released this year. I'm going to give it a 9/10.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
The story here is pretty much the same as every Godzilla movie ever made. There's really not a whole lot that can be done with this character that hasn't already been done a hundred times, so I don't really know why we keep feeling the need to make more Godzilla movies. But in this instance I'm not complaining too much. I do feel this is essentially Japan's response to the 2014 American Godzilla movie by Gareth Edwards, a movie that I personally enjoyed. There were some phenomenal special effects, sweet action sequences and some good build up with characters. One of the major complaints that movie got was that there wasn't enough Godzilla in it. To that I respond that all the best monster movies save the big reveal for later. The first appearance of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park or the shark in Jaws took around the same amount of time make their first real appearance, so I think that's a dumb complaint. However, if that was an issue for you, Shin Godzilla just might be your Godzilla movie because he comes early and often to terrorize Japan. And man are those sequences intense. This is a fantastically powerful beast that shows no mercy and is practically unstoppable.
My big problem with this movie is that when Godzilla is not on screen this movie is as boring as tar. The only human characters that the movie focuses on are politicians. Mostly Japanese politicians as this movie is stuffed full with meeting after meeting after meeting with a group of Japanese political leaders gathering in a variety of different rooms discussing the politics of what to do with this monster that is now there. And of course we go through all the same discussions that happen in every other Godzilla movie. First there are discussions of does this creature really exist when it is first spotted. Then we make decisions to tell the public that this is not a serious threat. Then it starts killing everyone and all the politicians have to eat their words and figure out how to stop it. Of course the first decision is to try to shoot it down and bomb it with the military. But as is the case with every Godzilla movie, that doesn't work. Then we have to do more strategic planning to figure out how to stop it. So yeah, it's like they felt obligated to safely move through every Godzilla plot point there is. In a very uninteresting way. With tons of politics and council meetings. And no character growth.
But then Godzilla actually shows. If you are patient enough with the movie to endure all the boring politics and lack of characters, when Godzilla shows up or wakes up, the payoff is immense. It's really weird how this Godzilla starts off, though. When he first showed up, he looked so weird that I didn't think it was even Godzilla. But then he evolves or metamorphosizes into this giant, awe-inspiring monster that is in fact an outright monster. The special effects aren't quite as good as the 2014 Godzilla, but I half wonder if that was intentional in order to give this Godzilla a throwback look because I definitely got an old Godzilla vibe with this. It felt like a modern-day 50's disaster film. Or maybe that's just how live-action Japanese is. I really don't know any better. But either way, this Godzilla is enormous and terrifying. And it's abilities when it unleashes them are jaw-dropping. And there is this sense of panic because he comes with zero warning, forcing millions of people to abandon their homes, much like in real life with actual natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters don't wait until everyone is perfectly situated and this movie was a pretty good metaphor for that.
Overall, despite a lot of boring politics in this movie, I would recommend you watch this if you get the chance. While I can't say for sure, my guess is that those who are huge Godzilla fans will have a fantastic time because this felt like a nostalgic throwback to the old Godzilla movies. I wish we would've had more depth and substance in between terror sessions instead of being a boring slog with only politicians as our main characters instead of some normal human beings to follow. I also wish this movie would've tried to do something new and different instead of being super safe by following point by point what every other Godzilla movie has done as if going down a checklist instead of making a creative movie that adds to the lore. But despite all of this, it's still a lot of fun watching Godzilla show up and terrorize the city and that level of terror is certainly kicked into high gear. Godzilla is large. He is terrifying. He shows absolutely no mercy. When people try to stop him, it only seems to make him angrier as he seems to be out for vengeance towards Japan and thus you really have no idea how to stop him. So when push comes to shove, despite this movie's imperfections, I do think it's worth a watch if you get the chance. I'll give Shin Godzilla a 7/10.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Who are the Mormon Yankees? To get the most accurate, in-depth answer to that, I'd highly recommend you read the book called Mormon Yankees: Giants on and off the Court by Fred Woods, a BYU professor who did extensive research on the Mormon Yankees, interviewing a total of 70 people leading up to writing his book. This included interviewing several Mormon Yankees themselves as well as many people in Australia who knew a lot about the Mormon Yankees for various reasons. It's a fantastic book by a fantastic man. Fred Woods is genuinely a great guy who I had the pleasure of talking to in preparation for my story. I know I'm doing a movie review, but I need to take this time to promote his book because it's so good and inspirational. When you buy the book, it will also come with a companion DVD documentary of the same name that will teach you more about this wonderful story of the Mormon Yankees. The movie Spirit of the Game is based off Fred Woods' book and I do think it gets the spirit of the story right, but it does take a lot of creative liberties to make for a good film, so watching that is not enough. You also need to read the book.
After talking to Woods and a few others about this, here's my personal brief summary about the Mormon Yankees. They originated back in 1937 in Australia. The people in Australia loved sports, but they didn't love Mormons. So the Mormon missionaries down in Australia had a bit of a rough time. In 1937, they started playing basketball with the YMCA in order to build bridges with the people in Australia. Establishing common ground with people makes missionary work much easier. I can personally attest to that. The YMCA referred to this as "muscular Christianity." The LDS Church called it "spiritualized recreation." From 1937 to 1961, LDS missionaries played basketball in various leagues in Australia through the YMCA and elsewhere and found enormous success. In 1954, the Harlem Globe Trotters came to Australia, giving people there a desire to play basketball, because while sports were big there, basketball really wasn't. But the Harlem Globe Trotters got their attention. One mission president in Australia took advantage of this and promised the press that if they would start covering the Mormon Yankees basketball teams, he would organize a team of basketball players that were better than the Harlem Globe Trotters. So they did.
Shortly after this exchange and formation of a team, LDS Church president David O. McKay came to Australia. This mission president initially felt a big sheepish and said these basketball leagues were only temporary as he felt President McKay would disapprove. It was the exact opposite. President McKay loved what was going on and promised to send even more missionaries that knew basketball. In 1956, the Olympic Games were coming to Australia and the Australian national team was in need of a lot of help, so the coaches requested the help of the Mormon Yankees, who obliged. Not only did the Mormon Yankees help the Australian team, but they also ended up played 10 different exhibition games against countries from around the world that also wanted to practice with the Mormon Yankees, winning five of these games. One major highlight was a game against the Russian national team where the Mormon Yankees only lost by nine points. This is impressive because this Russian team went onto win the silver medal in the Olympics, with the USA winning the gold. Following these events, the history of basketball in Australia was forever changed. But not just that, the Church membership in Australia tripled during the late 50's.
Incredible story, right? If you want to learn more about this, do as I said and read Fred Woods' book. You'll be grateful you did. Now onto this movie. In giving you my brief summary of what actually happened, I made sure to mention the mission president as well as LDS Church president David O. McKay. I should also mention that DeLyle Condie was a missionary who was both the coach of the Mormon Yankee team and their star player. And by all accounts, a fantastic man on and off the court who truly loved the people of Australia. These three individuals are all portrayed in the movie. But the movie's story is a bit different. Elder Condie comes to Australia and is approached by the coaches of the Olympic team after tracting into one of them. Elder Condie wants to help, but his mission president forbids it. He's one of those super strict, letter-of-the-law mission presidents. Finally President McKay intervenes and gives them the go ahead, but the mission president is still fairly weary until later and then we jump right into this basketball drama where they face off against the French twice, which was accurate. They played the French twice. But it was the Russians that were super physical and crazy with them, not the French. Yeah, it's all very dramatized to make a good movie.
That said, if you take the movie on it's own, it's a pretty entertaining movie. It reminded me a bit of a cross between Hoosiers and The Other Side of Heaven. An underdog basketball story combined with a mainstream missionary story. They don't really push the faith angle too hard. This is a basketball drama first and a story about missionaries making a difference in a very far second. From an LDS perspective, the actual story of what these missionaries accomplished is so great that you come out wishing they would've pushed that side of things stronger. But you can't blame them too much for not wanting to sound preachy and you do get enough of the faith element to satisfy that need. Meanwhile this is a movie that anyone can enjoy regardless of your faith because its about good people doing good things and standing up for what they feel is right. The overall feel is that they get the spirit of the story right. The family of Elder Condie is spot on to what they were like and how supportive they were. Elder Condie himself is done perfectly. He really was that great of a guy. The level of sportsmanship really was that high with this team. They really were that classy and they really did bond as a team and a group of missionaries like that. Thus I can't be too mad about the dramatizations.
Recently I wrote a review of another local movie called The Last Descent and I went on and on in that review about how poor quality of a film that was on every technical aspect. It felt like it was made by a group of junior high school students. Thus it was a breath of fresh air for me to walk into another local movie and see a professionally made film. The cinematography was beautiful. The script was well-written. The camera work, lighting, and editing were all done very smoothly. You don't need a large budget to make a good film and this movie proves that. And all the acting is fantastic, especially Mr. Aaron Jakubenko as Elder Condie. I had the privilege of speaking with him on the phone and he is the nicest man on earth who treated me, a perfect stranger, as his best friend. So easy to talk to. Such a great person. Thus I may be biased in thinking he did a great job, but that's what I thought before I talked to him, so I think I'm in the clear. Also, he is very Australian in real life with a thick accent. Yet he does a flawless American accent in this movie. I was shocked to learn he wasn't American. That in and of itself was impressive. The rest of the cast did good, too, but Jakubenko was the stand out here as the lead of this movie. Hats off to him.
Overall this is a movie that I would recommend if it's in a theater near you. Purdie is the distributor here and they play this little game with all of their films where they take it a week at a time. So if you follow them on social media you may think that you've missed your opportunity to see the film because they always say "this is only going to be here for one week!" But it's always in theaters for like a month or two like every other film. So you do have time. And if you miss it in theaters, catch it on DVD. It's a nice little film. Yet I do have a soft spot for sports dramas, so there may be a bias there, but so be it. Most importantly I will appreciate this film for teaching me about the Mormon Yankees. Had it not been released, I would've never taken on the project to research the real Mormon Yankees and thus I may have never known. Yes the actual story is much different. Yes they did dramatize this quite a bit to make it a good film. But in an ironic turn of events, the movie is called The Spirit of the Game and they do capture "the spirit of the story" so to speak, so nicely done. And of course I will put one final plug for you to go read Fred Woods' book Mormon Yankees: Giants on and off the Court to learn the in-depth, full story. It's fantastic. As far as my grade for the movie The Spirit of the Game, I'm going to award it a solid 8/10.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
October 7th - 9th-
The first of two duds this past weekend was easily one of the most controversial films of the year and that is The Birth of a Nation. This was released in Sundance and got a standing ovation from audiences. Right before it was screened. An important detail that many missed in that story. You see, the Sundance Film Festival happened right in the thick of the "Oscars So White" controversy early this year and here we had a mostly black cast and crew led by actor/writer/director Nate Parker in his directorial debut. It was something for people to get behind who felt Hollywood and the Oscars especially were racist. Thus it was touted as potentially the next 12 Years a Slave and was purchased for a record-breaking $17.5 million by Fox Searchlight. A price tag that would prove to be way too high as this didn't even hit $10 million in its debut. Following Sundance, it was all downhill for this movie. Not only was the movie itself apparently very average, but rape allegations against Nate Parker surfaced from 1999. He wasn't found guilty, but was most likely was. The girl committed suicide in 2012, which doesn't help Parker's case. These revelations most likely soured general audiences away from this movie, especially considering certain scenes that were in the movie.
Our second dud of the weekend was the family-targeted film Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. The obvious comparison here is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, which has produced three successful films and has a fourth on the way next year. Both movies are based on successful books targeted at an audience of older kids and young teens. Diary of a Wimpy Kid successfully transitioned to the big screen with an opening weekend of $22.1 million while Middle School could only muster $6.8 million last weekend. I can't speak for the book, but the movie is essentially a gag-filled movie with middle school kids pulling pranks to get back at their mean teachers and mean principal for setting way too many rules that won't let the kids have any fun or creativity. This is a premise that could've worked if they played their cards right, but apparently it didn't. I guess it's possible that kids who saw it enjoyed it. I can't speak for them. But based on box office numbers, it's safe to say that not many parents were interested enough to actually take their kids to see this one.
October 14th - 16th-
Now we have the two upcoming duds. The first of these being Kevin Hart: What Now? I suppose it's unfair to call this one a dud because it's a stand-up comedy movie and the expectations for these types of movies are much different. But don't expect it to make a ton of money. However, when it does come to stand up comedians, Kevin Hart is arguably the most popular in the business at this current moment. His first two stand-up comedy movies opened up to $7 million and $10 million respectively and Kevin Hart has only gotten even more popular since those two outings, so it's entirely possible this continues the upward trend. This particular routine took place at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and broke records for ticket sales, so that's a good sign.
The other dud will be a a superhero movie! But not a Marvel or DC superhero movie. This one is called Max Steel and there's not many people on this planet that have heard of it. It started filming in 2014, then got shelved for a long time. The trailer for the movie didn't show up until late August, which is awfully late for trying to get the word out. The movie is directed by Stewart Hendler, the director of Whisper and Sorority Row, two movies no one has ever seen, and a web series called H+. In other words, he's a no-name director. The movie stars a bunch of no-name actors as well. It is based on the line of Max Steel action figures by Mattel, which are kinda like G.I. Joes. These Max Steel action figures got an animated TV show adaptation, which wasn't that popular. So nothing points to success for this. If you are wondering what it's about, a kid named Max combines with a certain alien called Steel to develop superpowers. Thus is why it gets the label of a superhero movie. One that will be quickly forgotten about. If it even gets anyone's attention in the first place
October 21st - 23rd-
Second up is the latest movie in Tyler Perry's Madea franchise with Boo! A Madea Halloween. From 2006 through 2014, Tyler Perry directed at least one or two movies per year, most of which consistently made between $30-60 million. They started to tail off a bit towards the end of that run, with his most recent movie, Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club only making $15.9 million total. Out of these series of Tyler Perry movies, the most popular ones were those that featured his character of Madea, which is a crazy, old, black lady played by Tyler Perry himself. The most successful outing with Madea was Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, which made $90.5 million back in 2009. Boo! A Madea Halloween is the second straight holiday themed movie with the Madea character following Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas in 2013. This holiday theme could very well resurrect Tyler Perry's movies as it's one of the few movies this month that's actually Halloween themed. The other one is coming up next.
The one and only horror movie during this Halloween month is, much to many people's chagrin, is Ouija: Origin of Evil. Ouija was a movie two years ago based on the popular board game that many think is a joke while many others think is a genuinely satanic, evil board that should never be messed with. Thus there was a huge controversy when the movie came out that played off people's fear of this evil board. Basically it was a movie where a bunch of people messed with the board and all died. The major problem here was not the controversy necessarily, but it was almost a universally hated movie as most called it one of the worst and most cliché horror movies, hitting every note that all the bad horror movies these days hit. But that didn't stop the droves of teenagers from showing up to the movie as, despite the poisonous reviews, the PG-13 rating helped it earn a total of $103.6 million wordwide, half of that in the U.S. That off a $5 million budget. What happens when you have a horror movie with that huge of a profit? You ignore the reviews and make a hundred more sequels until you've squeezed every last penny out of the franchise. Thus we have Ouija: Origin of Evil.
Movie number four of the weekend is the action comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses. This movie sports a cast of Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher, Zach Galifianakis and John Hamm and is directed by Greg Mottola, the director of Superbad and Paul, two very popular comedies. The premise is a very normal couple (Fisher and Galifianakis) ends up getting caught up in a huge international espionage plot after their seemingly perfect new neighbors (Gadot and Hamm) turn out to be government spies. This has all the ingredients for a very successful action comedy and if this gets great reviews, this could turn out to be a sleeper hit even if it doesn't open super high. The obvious elephant in the room is that with five wide releases, not everything can make bank at the box office. The two established franchises will most likely take precedence in people's minds when push comes to shove, so Keeping Up with the Joneses will be fighting the hardest uphill battle in this crowded weekend, even if the specific target audiences will be different for all the films involved.
Last and probably least for this weekend will be the faith-based film from Pure Flix in I'm Not Ashamed. Faith-based films have been known to break out in the last couple of years, but this is probably not going to be an example of that. Looking at the history of the films that Pure Flix has released, Do You Believe? made $12.9, Faith of Our Fathers made $1 million, Woodlawn made $14.4 million, God's Not Dead 2 made $20.8 million and Hillsong - Let Hope Rise made $2.4 million. So there definitely seems to be a ceiling here with Pure Flix. If this ends up somewhere between Do You Believe? and God's Not Dead 2, that will be a win for Pure Flix. The movie itself tells the true story of Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting back in 1999. The movie is based on her journal entries. If played well, this could definitely hit the niche crowd of Christian film goers that Pure Flix aims for with their movies given that it's a subject matter that many people remember quite well.
October 28th - 30th-
Thursday, October 6, 2016
If you don't know the story of The Magnificent Seven, you probably actually do without releasing it. As I said, this year's The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake. Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai is the origin here. The 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven was a western remake of Seven Samurai and it definitely wasn't the last movie to either directly use that movie's premise or take influence from that movie. In Seven Samurai, a village is threatened by a certain villain. In order to protect themselves, the enlist the help of a samurai, who in turn recruits a small army of seven samurai to fight this villain. A group of heroes uniting to fight one common enemy? Can you think of a movie that follows that basic plot? There's about a thousand of them. And I'd be willing to bet that most of them can trace their roots and inspirations back to Seven Samurai. Thus you can claim that Seven Samurai is one of the most influential movies ever made. So yes, that premise is the premise of the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven and the premise of this current movie. A villain comes and attacks a town. In this iteration, the town turns to Denzel Washington for help. Denzel then recruits people like Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Byung-Hun Lee to help him and this results in an epic showdown of heroes vs. villains.
Now that I've doused you in comparisons, shall I get into specifics? Yes, just like in Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Avengers, the first half of this movie is devoted to setting up our team. Our big baddie played by Peter Sarsgaard has arrived into this town and terrorized it, burning down their church and shooting several of the people. Why does he decide to do this? I don't know. The movie never really tells us. He's just evil for the sake of being evil. He's not deep and complex like Loki in The Avengers. He's more like Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron, who simply decided that shortly after his creation that he needed to kill the Avengers. Same with Peter Sarsgaard. He arrives at this town and just decides to terrorize it. OK. There's our super cliché western villain. Granted, Saarsgard did a pretty good job at being crazy and evil, when he wasn't overacting (which happens on occasion), but he was a shallow villain. This causes our townsmen to turn to my man Denzel Washington, who single-handedly turns this into an awesome movie. Why does Denzel take on this challenge? That we do learn. But not until like the very end of the movie. I don't want to say it was too little, too late, but it would've been better to get that at the beginning.
Our other members of the magnificent seven? I have to say, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio and Byung-hun Lee were pretty sweet. Zero depth and zero backstory. But they were pretty sweet. Chris Pratt looked like he was having a ton of fun every day on set as his character is also a blast to watch. Although unfortunately I'm not going to praise him too much this time around because it felt like Chris Pratty dressed up as a cowboy having fun instead of a character in a movie. He didn't disappear into his character at all and I didn't see him as an old-west gunslinger. There were two others. I don't remember who they were and what they did. I mean, I can look up their names on IMDb, but I don't remember much of what they did. One of the two was Mexican, meaning we had ourselves a diverse seven. Black guy, Mexican guy, Asian Guy, Native American guy, old guy and a couple of younger white guys. I don't know if that really means anything, but it was just an observation. Overall, outside being cool characters, none of our characters had any depth. And we don't learn too much about any one of them. I get that we don't have the time to give each of our characters an in-depth backstory. But something would've been nice. Thus the stakes were never too high because I never cared too much about any of the characters. Consequently, the hour of setup was surprisingly boring.
Overall I did have a lot of fun with this movie. It has a good opening scene and a fantastic finale. Denzel Washington proved yet again why he is one of the best actors in the business because he took this role and made this his movie. The rest of the cast was serviceable. Plenty of fun characters, but not enough depth. If you are expecting something on the level of Seven Samurai or the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, you're not going to get it. Those two movies had a ton of depth, a lot of emotion, and plenty of charm and charisma with the cast. This movie has no depth, a story that we've seen a thousand, a villain that's bad just for the sake of being bad, and a main cast of characters that we never learn too much about and thus don't care for as much as you would want, but I'm not going to chalk this up into one of the many useless remakes. It's not as close to as bad as this year's Ben-Hur. If you're a fan of westerns, I honestly think you are going to into this movie and have a lot of fun. It does everything that you want a western to do. With how many hero team-up movies that have taken place since Seven Samurai, this is nothing new, but it's a movie where you can turn off your brain, shove popcorn into your face and have a lot of fun. I'm going to give it an 8/10.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
The Last Descent is directed by a man named Isaac Halasima Not only did he write and direct the movie, but he also did the cinematography and editing. While that may seem impressive on paper, after watching the movie I think he should've shared some of those duties, but we'll get to that in a second. The first challenge when you're making a movie about a guy who gets trapped in a dark cave is to keep my interest for 105 minutes, because there's not a lot to work with when it's a story about a man trapped in one position. You need to have a well-written script, good acting, and a story that successfully builds up to the final emotional moment. Unfortunately it feels like Halasima had an interesting idea, but had no idea how to successfully turn this into a full-length movie. This is his first time writing and directing a feature-length film. Apparently he previously worked on some Imagine Dragons music videos and done some editing and cinematography work for a few documentaries, but that's it. This time the lack of experience shows. Not only is this movie emotional for all the wrong reasons, but the cinematic, filmmaking elements of this movie are just plain awful all around. It felt like he wrote a rough draft of a script, grabbed a cheap camera, shot a bunch of random footage, and lazily edited it together into one giant mess of a film.
Let's talk about the specifics with this. First off, I don't want to put any blame on the actors here. They did the best with what they were given. But the dialogue on the movie was so painful to listen to. The script is just bad. The editing and camera work as they are driving to the cave is atrocious. And the cinematography throughout is an absolute mess. The camera work is not good. The lighting is awkward. The editing is choppy. It literally looks like a movie that made in an amateur junior high film class. Like seriously. I think I've seen higher quality films made my my friends and classmates for various school projects. Then we get to our cave. And of course John gets trapped in a really awkward spot and rescue workers come to try to save him, but he's in such a rough spot that they have a hard to figuring out what to do. So while they're figuring things out, one rescue worker goes down to keep him company. This is all fine and dandy because that's what happened in real life, but I'd be willing to bet that over half of this movie is of these two men down in that cave talking. Most of it is small talk that isn't super pertinent film. This makes sense in real life because a rescue worker in this situation needs to keep the trapped person awake and talking, but with such poorly written dialogue, it makes for one heck of a boring movie. There's no building up to an emotional climax. There's just aimlessly wandering through the movie trying to fill space.
Then we have the emotion. I'm not opposed to tragedies on film. I don't think every movie ever made needs to be wrapped up in a pretty little bow. But when you are making a movie where your main character dies, you should have some pretty good reasons for why you doing this and some good messages or themes to go along with it. A movie like The Fault in Our Stars is a good example here. You know the movie isn't going to end in a happy way, but it tells some great themes about living life to the fullest, thus making for a beautiful film. It's OK if you know the ending of a movie as long as the journey to that ending is a good one and the themes are strong. The Last Descent does none of that right. Being that this is a local movie, they could've pushed the faith-based angle. In fact, they should've. If this was an emotional, spiritual movie that told us that life isn't the end and we'll all be together again soon, that would've worked. Thus in the hands of someone like T.C. Christensen, this could've been a beautiful, emotional film, especially since the guy's wife has an incredible story of faith with how she's dealt with it all and what it taught her. This movie does none of that. Instead we get to slowly watch a guy die with no real purpose or direction. Instead of making me sad, yet inspired, this made me angry because it started digging up personal memories for me of people I have lost and I started to hate this movie for taking me through all of that.
As I said, the wrong type of emotions. There's no spiritual message here. There's no point to this film. I don't know how the family and friends of this man feel about this movie, but I would be angry if I had to watch a movie about how someone I cared for passed away without there being any purpose to it. It would be like reliving the worst day of my life for no apparent reason. Not cool. It's not even put together well cinematically. This movie needed several revisions to the script by someone with more experience in writing and probably could've used a more professional cinematographer and editor. I do kinda feel bad trashing a local film like this because sometimes the people involved might actually read my review. If that's the case, I hope they can appreciate my honesty and use this as constructive criticism. Often in life you need to make a big mistake so that you can learn from it and do a better job next time. No actor is at fault here, especially not Landon Henneman who played our main rescue worker. Being that the writing, directing, cinematography, and editing were done by one man, I have to point the finger of blame at him. Sorry Isaac Halasima. Better luck next time. I can't recommend anyone see this film. Not only is it not worth your money, but it's 105 minutes of your life that you will never be able to get back. My grade for The Last Descent is a 3/10.