Saturday, September 24, 2016

Snowden Review

If you've lived on planet Earth at any point in the last two years, there's a good chance that you've at least heard the name Edward Snowden. If you're one who's interested in politics, there's an even better chance that you know quite a bit about this man as he's one of the most controversial figures living today. Opinions of Snowden are all over the map in both parties. Some think he is an American hero and want him pardoned. Others think he is a traitor to our country and deserves to die for his crimes. Then we have just about every opinion in between. My thoughts on Snowden? Ha ha! Not going to happen. Not on this post, anyways. As much as I would love to dive into a deep political discussion on Snowden, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I am going to stick to writing a movie review on this new movie that Oliver Stone has made. If you don't know much about Snowden, but you're interested in learning more, I'd actually recommend checking out the documentary Citizenfour. If you've seen Citizenfour and/or you already know a lot about Snowden after following the media stories about him these last few years, then I don't know if this new movie is really worth your time. There's nothing new here. Thus this is kind of a pointless outing. But at the same time, this is not a bad movie. Just a bit of a tricky one to review because of all these factors.

The story of Edward Snowden is a rather fascinating one. Here's a man who was presented with quite the moral dilemma. After getting a job in the CIA, he quickly noticed that there were some sketchy things going on in the government, specifically with the NSA. In a post-9/11 world, the government was super sensitive towards national security in order to try to prevent more terrorist attacks. This caused the NSA to start essentially spying on everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. They would go through emails, messages, phone records, and more searching for key words that might infer terrorism. This would even lead to spying on people through cell phones and web cams. The intentions were good. Prevent terrorism. But were the actions justified? Enter Edward Snowden. He's not cool with this because, like many other people, he values his privacy and thinks the NSA crossed a line. What's worse is that in court, the NSA denied everything. Snowden is high enough up that he has the ability to rat out the NSA, but doing so requires him to steal classified documents in order for him to officially have proof. Something that is very illegal. Yet that's exactly what he does. His intentions were good. Protect privacy. But were his actions justified?

Enter the documentary Citizenfour. Through cryptic emails, he contacts two journalists and a documentarian to come have a series of interviews. He gives them the information and the journalists write their stories and break the news while the documentarian films everything and works on getting the documentary out. The reporters names are Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill while the documentarian's name is Laura Poitras. Greenwald and MacAskill broke their stories in 2013. Laura Poitras released her documentary in 2014. It's called Citizenfour. The actions of the four of them had the desired effect as the story gained immediate worldwide coverage, which in turn led the government to charge Snowden with a whole bunch of crimes wherein he responded by hiding in Russia, where he currently is at. This is why I say that if you want to know more about Snowden, you should watch that documentary Citizenfour and get everything from the horse's mouth. It's a phenomenal documentary. It's simple, straight to the point, and extremely thought-provoking. Even if you are against Snowden, I still think this is a good documentary to watch so that you can get his perspective on things from him instead of listening to second-hand sources.

Or you can watch Oliver Stone's movie Snowden. Which in my opinion is like reading news from those sites that focus solely on reporting on what other sites have reported on. They'll usually summarize the article in some way and either give their own twist on it or add in their own biased opinion. Sometimes those sites are fine. And there's a way to successfully report on stuff like that. But many of those sites out there do a poor job at journalism and thus in my opinion it's better just to go to the original source and read those articles. A concept that Facebook's new trending section doesn't seem to understand. Not once have I seen Facebook source primary sources in their trending section like CNN, ESPN, or Deadline. It's always the dumb, secondary sources and thus I go to Facebook's trending section for my daily entertainment as I laugh at everything they post instead of going there for actual news. Why do I bring up Facebook's trending section? Well, I wanted to use them as an example. When it comes to learning about Snowden, you can either watch Citizenfour or go read the news articles that broke the story or you can be like Facebook's trending section and choose to learn about Snowden by watching Oliver Stone's Snowden.

In summary, my opinion of this movie is that it's kind of a pointless movie. But if I ignore all of that for a moment and focus on the cinematic qualities of this film, there are a some things to be said here, both bad and good. First of all, this is a bit of a missed opportunity. As I inferred earlier, this is not a black and white discussion. I honestly think that both sides had good intentions, yet both sides did something very wrong and illegal. The NSA was trying to prevent terrorism. But they did so by spying on every American. Edward Snowden was trying to protect our privacy. But he did so by stealing classified government documents and revealing them to the public. This movie had the opportunity to go in completely unbiased and present both sides of the argument to the public and let people decide for themselves. That could've led to a fascinating movie. But no. This is Oliver Stone. He's known for making controversial political thrillers and very rarely does he go in objectively and this is no different. Oliver Stone has decided to take the approach that Snowden is an American hero, a whistleblower akin to those who uncovered the Watergate Scandal. The government in this movie are the villains. Turning a gray subject into a black and white subject was a bit disappointing.

The good? Well, one advantage of a film over a documentary is that there is the ability to show instead of just tell. Much of Citizenfour is Snowden explaining his position and his history. Snowden is able to go show his history. Sometimes that can be more effective. You can tell us that the government is spying on all of us. Or you can show us. Like there is one scene where they are spying on one of those Middle Eastern ladies who is normally all covered up, but then she goes into the privacy of her own home and starts undressing. Meanwhile the NSA dude with Snowden starts enjoying the free peep show, saying "I wonder what she looked like under that," before Snowden gets him to rightfully turn it off. Did the NSA actually do stuff like that? I don't know. But the idea that they could is a bit disturbing and effectively gets across the point that this idea of spying on us is bad. Thus you can understand why Snowden started to become extremely paranoid about his privacy and why he decided to do what he did. Although I will also say that when it comes to this showing instead of telling, despite it being fairly effective, it was a bit of a marathon. This movie is 134 minutes long and they literally should've shaved about 30 minutes off of that.

Of course I can't let you go without commending the cast of this movie. If Oscars were given based off how well an actor pulled off a certain role rather than how much they cried, screamed, or did daring things, then Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves an Oscar for this role because he looked like, sounded like, and acted like Edward Snowden. He was perfect. And Shailene Woodley was equally as perfect as Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. I don't think Shailene has hit Kristen Stewart level in terms of how much she is mocked for her role in those Divergent abominations... I mean movies. But like Kristen Stewart, she has done some dang good work in the smaller, independent level that she doesn't get enough credit for when it comes the general public's view of her. And by dang does she show her prowess in this film. And they we have our side characters. Zachary Quinto is Glenn Greenwald, Tom Wilkinson is Ewen MacAskill and Melissa Leo is Laura Poitras. You go watch Citizenfour and then you watch Snowden and you will be seeing déjà vu with how these three look and sound. Then on top of that you have other side characters like Nicholas Cage, Rhys Ifans, and Scott Eastwood who are also solid in their side roles. From top to bottom, this cast was perfect.

No, this isn't a bad movie. Everyone in the cast is perfect. And the movie does an effective job in showing us why Snowden became so paranoid and why he did what he did. But at the same time, if they had to make a movie of these events, it would've been more effective in my opinion if they would've taken an objective look at the situation by presenting both sides of the argument and letting the audience choose which stance to take. But it doesn't do that. It paints a black and white picture that Snowden is a national hero who did nothing wrong and is only trying to smear a corrupt government. I'm not saying I don't like that angle because I disagree. In fact, I'm not giving you my opinion here, so don't assume. I'm just saying an objective look at this would've been more interesting. And all that is me judging the cinematic qualities of the movie only. As I explained in the first half of this review, this is movie is essentially a useless, second-hand retread of something better. Remake is probably the wrong word, but that's what it feels like. It feels like a sub-par remake of a movie that just barely came out a couple of years ago. Thus my recommendation is that you skip this one and go see Citizenfour instead. My grade for Snowden is a 6/10.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blair Witch Review

The history of 1999's The Blair Witch Project is a rather fascinating one. The movie was a cultural phenomenon that was revolutionary in the horror genre. Made on a mere $60,000 budget, the goal of the then unknown filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez was to make a horror film about an ancient witch legend that would trick audiences into believing was real. The movie starts by claiming that the movie people were about to see was compiled from actual camera footage recovered from three hikers that had gone missing five years previous and never found. The marketing campaign leading up to the movie aggressively pushed this angle to the point where they even passed out missing flyers for the supposed missing actors at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered and had a website with fake police reports and other stuff like that to trick people into thinking that this was real. The IMDb page even listed the actors as "missing, presumed dead." The gimmick worked. People were tricked. Thus the movie became the first movie to go viral over the internet with its marketing campaign. This led to a final worldwide tally of $248.6 million off that $60,000 budget, making it one of the most profitable movies ever made, popularizing the found footage genre. Prior to The Blair Witch Project, less than 10 found footage movies existed. Now there's over 100.

Like I said, The Blair Witch Project has a fascinating history. I have mad respect for what the movie managed to pull off and as such I will say that it is a phenomenal found footage movie. Probably the best found footage movie there is. But I am not one who experienced this movie-going event in theaters. I was only 10 years old at the time of its release and I certainly wasn't into that type of horror movie at such a young age. I had always heard about it and was interested in seeing it, but I never got around to seeing it until recently. If you haven't seen it, it's the type of movie where you need to be aware of this history to fully understand and appreciate it. But if I'm being honest, despite me believing that it's a great found footage me and realizing that it successfully accomplished what it set out to do, I don't think it's a movie that holds up. Yes, if three kids did get lost in the woods and their footage was later discovered and edited down into 81 minutes of footage, this is exactly what it would look like. But as a movie, it's not that great. Most of its 81 minute runtime consists of these three hikers walking around and complaining that they're lost. It's not that scary and there's no real payoff. Sorry, I'm not a fan. I respect it. But I don't love it.

So how about this sequel? First off, this had another genius marketing campaign that was the exact opposite of the marketing campaign of the first. This movie was on the schedule and advertised as a random September horror movie called The Woods. It even had an initial trailer that set up a purposely vague premise of people being haunted in the woods. Well, two months ago at San Diego Comic Con it was revealed that The Woods was not actually called The Woods. It called Blair Witch and was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Whoa! We just got got Cloverfielded for the second time this year. If you remember, 10 Cloverfield Lane did the exact same thing earlier this year. It was on the schedule as something else until a couple months before release it was revealed that this random movie was actually a Cloverfield sequel. The only difference between 10 Cloverfield Lane and Blair Witch in terms of this marketing campaign is that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn't have a fake trailer. For the record, in a day where it's hard to keep a secret, I'm all down for people continuing to successfully make secret movies. It's kinda refreshing and fun. Gives me a bit of nostalgia for the day when we didn't actually know what was coming out until the trailers showed up.

But did people actually really want another sequel to The Blair Witch Project? Based on early weekend projections, apparently not. Especially not when reviews and word of mouth have not been so good. It only has 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 5.9 on IMDb, a D+ cinemascore, and a projected opening weekend total of less than $10 million. But do you know what? Going into this movie, I didn't actually pay much attention to the reviews simply because I knew my experience with The Blair Witch Project was much different than others. If you're one that loved The Blair Witch Project, thinking it was disturbing and scary, I don't know if this review is going to be any help to you. I didn't think The Blair Witch Project was scary at all. As I said, 81 minutes of people whining and complaining that they were lost with piles of rocks and stick contraptions showing up occasionally. Realistic, yes. Scary, no. This sequel, Blair Witch, is no masterpiece by any means. But the goal for these filmmakers was to make a good, scary movie instead of trying to make a movie that would convince people that the Blair Witch actually existed and that these kids actually got lost in the woods. As such, I think Blair Witch is actually a scarier movie than it's predecessor.

Let's talk about the problems in this movie, though, because there's plenty of them. The biggest one that everyone has been bringing up is that this is kinda the same movie as the first one. At least for the first half. The second half of the movie goes in a much different direction and I'll touch on that in a second, but the first half of the movie goes point for point along with the first movie. We're following the younger brother of the girl that went missing. He thinks his sister is still alive. So he decides to make a documentary. He gets some friends to go camping in the woods. We talk about the Blair Witch. They set up camp. Weird things start to happen. People loose their tempers. There's less focus on the whining and complaining, which I appreciated. Also in the first one there's a steady stream of cursing throughout most of the second half of the movie once things go wrong and that wasn't the focus here either, which was nice, but I still felt like I was watching a movie that used the exact same script with different characters. So what's the difference between this and a movie like Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Well, there's a bit a fine line between following a formula, paying homage, and making the exact same movie. But there is a difference. The Force Awakens follows a formula. Blair Witch makes the same exact movie twice.

Another thing that I didn't like was that they did focus a little too much on some classic horror clichés. There were a lot of dumb people making dumb decisions in order to try to build tension. That was annoying. Thus I cared a lot less about our cast of characters than I did in The Blair Witch Project. Also, there were a lot of fake jump scares. One of our characters would be walking through the woods in the dark and out of nowhere a friend would jump out in front of them. One or two of these would've been fine. But there were a ton of these moments and it got really annoying really fast. Thus things weren't looking good for this movie for a while. But then it got better, especially in the final act. Without diving into things too deeply, one of the things that people thought was scary about The Blair Witch Project was that you never saw anything. It was 100 percent ambiguous. Normally I'm not one to demand for us to see the monster. But The Blair Witch Project is a movie that felt a little bit empty and thus I would've liked a bit more payoff. Blair Witch satisfied me on that. Despite a rough start, the final act of this movie is absolutely terrifying. It dives deeper into the Blair Witch mythology without ruining things or being inconsistent with what the first setup. I imagine some hardcore fans will be mad at this, but I was satisfied.

Overall, The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch are two movies that had two very different goals. The goal of The Blair Witch Project was to make a movie that would trick people into thinking that the footage people saw in the theaters was actual footage. Thus it was a perfect found footage movie in terms of how realistic it was. But the consequences of this goal is that 17 years later the actual movie itself is a little boring and lifeless. We see nothing. We hear hardly anything. There's no payoff. It's not scary. Instead there's 81 minutes of people wandering around in the woods complaining that they were lost and letting out a constant stream of cursing. The goal of Blair Witch was to actually make a movie that was scary. Yes, they focus too much on annoying horror clichés and copy the plot of the first movie too much, but it felt like a more complete movie to me. And despite some annoyances in the first half, the movie actually payed off with a fantastic finale and a phenomenal final scene. Not a masterpiece by any means, but I enjoyed it more than I did the first. In giving a grade to both movies, I would probably give The Blair Witch Project a 6/10. I've not actually seen Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and nor do I ever plan on doing so, which is why I've ignored it in this review. But I do think Blair Witch is a serviceable horror that I enjoyed, so I will give it a 7/10.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sully Review

Monsters, Inc. spin-off following John Goodman's lovable character Sulley? I obviously knew this wasn't the case because I follow Pixar closely enough to know what movies they are planning and this wasn't one of them, but I can't be the only one to think that when I first saw this on the schedule at the beginning of the year. Although with how Monsters University turned out, perhaps it's a good thing that this isn't the case. Pixar is typically at their best when they stick with original films. But alas, I digress. This is not about James P. Sullivan from Monsters, Inc. This is about Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg, the pilot behind the miracle of the Hudson. It's not very often you hear a story about a plane landing in a body of water and everyone surviving. So yeah, this news story stuck with ever since I first heard about it in 2009. My reaction when I first realized that this Sully movie was about that event was probably the same as everyone else's. How are they going to turn that into a movie? And one that is enjoyable to watch? I mean, this was an incredible event, but what is there to say about this event that we all didn't see on the news? How are they going to make it suspenseful and interesting when we know how things end? I wasn't nervous about this, but I was very curious.

The legendary Clint Eastwood was the man behind the camera here and he recruited one of the all-time greatest actors to play Sully, that of Tom Hanks. The trailers looked great and the movie promised us that it was going to tell the untold story behind the miracle on the Hudson. So I was confident. But I still had a lot of questions. And despite how amazing Clint Eastwood is in front of the camera as an actor, behind the camera he doesn't exactly have a clean track record. He didn't direct, but he did help produce one of the worst baseball movies I have ever seen in Trouble with the Curve. I was personally split with American Sniper. There were a lot of amazing moments in that movie, but also a lot of cringe-worthy moments as well. I also haven't seen J. Edgar or Jersey Boys, but I know people who outright hate those movies. So yeah, I had a lot of questions. But holy cow was I pleasantly surprised. This movie really isn't about the miracle on the Hudson. I mean, that's obviously the central event in the movie. But the movie is more about Sully himself and how he reacted to everything instead of being about the event itself and that was fascinating. Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks combined their amazing talents to deliver us a beautiful film.

After seeing this movie, I am convinced now more than ever that Sully is a true American hero. This is something that I wasn't fully aware of before this movie. I know he had done a heroic act and saved 155 lives, but I wasn't aware of how amazing this man truly is until seeing this movie. Much to my surprise, this movie doesn't start out before the flight like I thought it would. It starts after the flight is over. I did not see that coming, but I loved it. We all know what happened on the miracle of the Hudson and it was obvious that Clint Eastwood was not simply trying to re-tell these events, so by starting this movie after things already happened, the tone is set for this being about Sully. This is a man that had been a pilot for over 40 years. His goal with each flight was to do his job. Get people from point A to point B safely. He was a humble man. He had high character. And because of a freak accident where he ran into a flock of geese and had to do an emergency landing, he became a worldwide hero over night. How did he react to this instant fame? He didn't like it. It was too much for him. He didn't like the attention. On top of that, an investigation was started by the NTSB that was questioning if he had done the right thing or if he instead had endangered all those lives.

That's where this movie gets really interesting. The NTSB are essentially painted as the villains in the movie. Sully has just landed a plane in the Hudson, saved 155 lives, and has become an American hero. Yet they come out and start interrogating him, saying that he could've made it back to LaGuardia Airport safely, that one of the engines might've actually been fine, that he put 155 people in danger unnecessarily, and stuff like this. They ask him if he'd been drinking, what his frame of mind was, and what his personal life was like. These guys were mean. Apparently the real NTSB aren't super happy about this portrayal of them. They claim they were just doing an honest investigation in order to ensure the safety of the passengers in the future, which makes sense. But oh well. This is what made the movie intense. I knew about the miracle on the Hudson. I did not know about the investigation afterwards. Suddenly I started to honestly question this situation. Did he make the right decision or did he screw up? If he did screw up, how much can we blame can we put on him and how much can we write off to human error? I really appreciated this aspect of the movie because one of my big questions going in was how were they going to make this a good movie when it seems like most people remember the events in the news fairly well? This is how. I won't spoil much of how it turns out, but I was very pleased with how this movie ended up.

Up to this point, I have made it seem like this movie is all about the events after the miracle on the Hudson. Yes, that's the focus of this movie and yes, I did enjoy that. But the actual plane crash into the Hudson is in fact in the movie. We just tell things out of chronological order, which is something I really enjoyed. Instead of going straight through the timeline, we bounce around a bit and in this instance I think it enhances the movie. The crash scene is inserted at the right moment. It's even shown a few different times from different perspectives. And yes, everyone's been using this comparison, but it's a good one. These crash sequences reminded me a lot of United 93. If you haven't seen that me, please go do so. Especially since the 15th anniversary of 9/11 is this weekend. Sully obviously has the exact opposite outcome and the flight time was a heck of a lot faster. They crashed into the birds shortly after takeoff and the whole sequence was only 208 seconds or something like that. But the sequences do have a similar feel to United 93 in how intense they get, how well the scenes are shot, how good the visual effects are, and how personal it gets with the individual passengers that really makes you care about them. It was beautiful and intense. I didn't see this in IMAX, but I do hear that it's pretty dang good in IMAX, so that's worth noting.

And of course I can't leave without talking about the man, the myth, and the legend in this movie. He's Forest Gump. He's Woody. He's Captain Miller. He's Chuck Noland. He's Robert Langdon. He's Captain Phillips. He's Walt Disney. He's James Donovan. And now he's Sully. He's been in so many good movies. He disappears into every role he's in. He also puts 110 percent effort into everything. He's been acting my whole life. He's been nominated for five Oscars, winning back to back in 94 and 95. He's one of the best actors working today and one of the best actors of all time. He's Tom Hanks. When it comes to a Tom Hanks movie, you come to expect perfection. And the great thing about him is that you get perfection. Every time. It should go without saying that Tom Hanks does a great job in this movie. But I'm going to say it anyways. He does such a great job playing this down-to-earth, humble captain who doesn't want any of the attention that he's getting and is having a lot of emotional struggles dealing with all of this on top of the investigation that's going on. He gives one of my favorite performances of the year so far and I think it is time for a sixth Oscar nomination for Mr. Hanks. After not getting nominated for Captain Phillips or Bridge of Spies, it's probably time.

Overall, I was anticipating this movie. It looked like it was going to be a winner, but given the subject matter, I still had a lot of questions about how certain specifics of this movie were going to play out and thus I was very pleasantly surprised to learn exactly how good this movie was. Yes, the miracle of the Hudson is a very familiar story, but the fact that this movie focuses on the aftermath of the incident and the ensuing investigation, I learned that there's a lot to this story that I was unaware of and I thoroughly enjoyed diving into the personal experiences that Sully went through because of this. There was a lot of drama and a lot of honest tension that kept me fully invested in the movie throughout. The movie is carried by yet another phenomenal performance from Tom Hanks as well as a great direction from the legendary Clint Eastwood. The supporting cast around Hanks also did a good job, this led by a great performance from Aaron Eckhart. When we did get to the actual crash landing on the Hudson, those scenes were great and intense. I loved how the story was told out of chronological order. I think that enhanced the experience. Overall a great movie. If we're calling this our official fall kick-off film, we're off to a great start. I'm going to give Sully a 9/10.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Morgan Review

Did you know a movie called Morgan came this past weekend? Judging by it's horrendous box office total, there's a good chance that you didn't. Or even if you had heard about it, you may have just not cared. Despite opening in 2,020 theaters, it only managed to pull in $2.5 million over the four-day weekend, landing it in an embarrassing 18th place, behind a slew of summer movies that have been out for a while. You could blame Fox's lack of a decent marketing campaign for this one combined with the poisonous release date and sub-par reviews. There was just no excitement for this movie. That didn't stop me from being intrigued, though. The only reason why I didn't see it myself this past weekend was because it didn't open on Thursday night like most wide releases do these days and I was busy the rest of the weekend. I'm not one to let a poor box office total sway me and I'm certainly not one to be pushed away by mediocre reviews. If you were one that decided to skip this movie because it didn't seem interesting, well, you made a good move. That said, this wasn't a complete waste, so there's a chance that it could be a little better than you were thinking.

The reason why I remained intrigued despite everything is because in the last five years there were two other female super weapon movies released called Hanna and Lucy. Hanna opened in April 2011, earned a 71 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and only made around $40 million at the box office. Lucy opened in the summer of 2014 and made a good amount of money, but only earned a 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was typically seen by most as either a disappointment or a brainless action movie. These things sadden me. I thought both of these movies were phenomenal. Not only were they extremely entertaining, but they were smart, deep, and emotional movies that clicked on all levels for me. I wasn't necessarily expecting Morgan to be as good as these two, but the similarities were unavoidable. Female action star that the movie was named after where the female had super human strength. Plot that seemed like it was at least trying to be smart. I wasn't about to let this one slip away from me without at least giving it a shot. Also, this movie was on the 2014 Black List, which is a yearly list of the best written scripts that hadn't yet been made into a movie. The fact that people looked at the script and loved it is a good sign, right?

I will say right up front that the idea behind this movie is good one. If I were to describe the entire plot from beginning to end, it might actually pique your interest a bit. I'm not going to do that, of course. What I will say is that the movie centers around a girl named Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in The Witch earlier this year. Morgan was created in a lab, experienced super fast growth and has super human strength. As is the case in pretty much every movie about artificial intelligence, things go wrong. Morgan attacked someone from the lab and because of that we have Kate Mara's fancy, higher-up character coming to the lab to investigate the situation and determine if Morgan needs to be terminated or not. Yeah, that initial premise does sound like every other artificial intelligence movie. But they do attempt to go in places that other similar movies haven't explored. The second half of this movie takes several surprising twists and turns and has an ending that shocked me. That's why I say if I were to describe this movie to you, it might actually sound interesting. Thus I can see why it ended up on the 2014 Black List. On paper this is a good movie. It's in the execution of the movie where this falls apart.

I don't know who to point the finger of blame at here. Perhaps it's unfair to point that finger at first-time director Luke Scott, but at the same time I feel that a good director, like Luke Scott's father Ridley Scott, could've taken this material and done something great with it. Instead the pacing is all off and the character motivations in the second half make little sense. Let's talk about that pacing first. I saw this movie at a late showing in Luxury seating. Why? Because I could. And it was only $5 that night. The luxury seating in this specific Megaplex theater was super soft and let you lean your seat back and lift your foot rest to your heart's desire. Perfect setting to watch a movie, right? Normally, yes. But not if your goal is to stay awake so you can write an objective review. I didn't spend $5 to take a nap on a comfortable seat. But this movie was so freaking boring in the first half that I almost had no choice. I fought and I fought hard, but I was losing really bad. If you're going to make a sci-fi thriller, step one should be to find a way to keep your audience's attention throughout the whole movie. I'm not saying story and character building should be sacrificed for action. But I am saying that I should be invested in the movie, not bored to tears and fighting to stay awake.

Then we enter the second half of the movie and this is where the movie started to pick up and became really fun. And super confusing. Not confusing in terms of story. Confusing in terms of me having no idea why certain characters did what they did. The movie tried to make Morgan a human character with emotions and feelings, despite being created in a lab. I could sense that she felt bad for what she did in the opening credits of the movie and that many people on the crew were trying their best to fix her. This could've been an interesting angle. But then certain characters, Paul Giamatti specifically, started doing things that made no sense. I was sitting there thinking why are you doing this? And why are you continuing to do this when clearly this is a bad idea? Then certain things happen and the other characters should've done certain things, but yet they don't for some dumb reason. This then causes Morgan to freak out like you knew she would and at this point I was totally on team Morgan. Anya Taylor-Joy wasn't given much to work with, but she had a lot of fun with this role and was literally the only character in the movie worth caring about. I was cheering for her to go kill everyone. I had zero remorse for the other characters. Had the movie done things right, I would've cared about everyone and thus the movie would've been super emotional and engaging. But they totally missed the boat on that one.

This wasn't a horrible, cringe-worthy movie. I had fun with certain aspects of the second half of the movie even though nothing made sense. But overall it was really disappointing because I saw the skeleton of a good movie in there that could've been amazing had this been in the right hands. Anya Taylor-Joy, who blew me out of the water in The Witch, did great in this role with what she was given. Kate Mara was someone who also seemed to have a lot of fun in her role. Although I really feel bad for her because she's had horrible luck with most of her movie roles as of late. I think she's a good actress who just picks the wrong movies to be in. Perhaps she should sit down and take some advice from her little sister Rooney who has picked all the right roles in her career. Paul Giamatti was super intense in his role even though it didn't make any sense. The first half of this movie was as boring as tar and almost forced me to take an unplanned, early bed time in the soft seat I was in. The second half picked up, but it was a movie full of characters doing dumb things. Then there's a twist at the end that comes completely out of left field. It left me confused. I have a lot more to say about that, but I'll leave it at that for now. So no, this is not a complete waste of time. But ultimately it's disappointing and forgettable. I'm going to give Morgan a 6/10.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Preview: September 2016

With August being officially over, Hollywood's summer season is also officially over. Thanks mainly to the somewhat critic-proof Suicide Squad making nearly $300 million at the box office so far, this August became just the second August to pass the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office, thus ending the summer on a high note. Overall, this summer as a whole was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was just the second summer to ever see three movies cross the $350 million mark (Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life of Pets) and once Suicide Squad crosses $300 million, it will be just the third summer to see four movies cross the $300 million mark. But after those four movies, there was a huge drop-off. The fifth highest-grossing movie of the summer is X-Men: Apocalypse with just $155.4 million, meaning this will be the first summer since 2000 to only see four movies cross $175 million. This wasn't due to a lack of high-profile releases, though. It's more along the lines of a lot of high-profile releases disappointing audiences combined with there being too many of said high-profile releases crammed into a short period of time. Now we move onto September, which has historically been the worst month of the year for the box office. This will be no different this year, but there are still some big titles to talk about, so let's dive in!

September 2nd - 5th-

The reason why September is historically the lowest-grossing month at the box office is that it just happens to be the awkward period of time between the summer season and the holiday/awards season. October has Halloween. November has Thanksgiving. December has Christmas. September has... Labor Day? For whatever reason, no one goes to the movies on Labor Day. September is also a bit too early to release the major awards contenders into theaters as studios like to send those through the film festival rounds first, which starts right now. This Labor Day weekend saw two new releases completely misfire at the box office. Claiming the higher theater count of the two as well as the much low box office total was the sci-fi thriller Morgan. Anya Taylor-Joy from this year's The Witch stars as an artificial intelligent woman named Morgan who was created in a lab and has super-human strength. A freak accident happens and things go wrong and suddenly we have a premise that sounds like every other A.I. movie. This was included in the 2014 Blacklist of best screenplays yet to be produced. But, based on early reviews, this appears to be another example of a well-liked screenplay that may not have translated to big screen for whatever reason. This is also the directorial debut of Ridley Scott's son Luke, which is an interesting tidbit. Big shoes to fill there.

The second movie of the weekend that was a major dud was The Light Between Oceans. On paper this movie looks like a solid hit. This is romance drama about a couple who adopts a child who comes floating ashore, which leads to a complicated scenario when they learn what's happened to the actual birth mother. This is based off of a novel written by M.L. Stedman and is directed by Derek Cianfrance, director of The Place Beyond the Pines and Blue Valentine. It also stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vickander, two of Hollywood's current biggest stars. Like I said, great on paper. The problem is that it's a movie that's essentially been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years now and with the Labor Day release date seems like a movie that was dumped on the calendar by DreamWorks and Disney. The reviews are better than Morgan, but not by a whole lot.

September 9th - 11th-

After the naturally quiet Labor Day weekend, the rest of September will see studios at least trying with their releases as there will be a total of 13 wide releases in the final four weekends of September. This second weekend is first of two straight weekends that will see four wide releases. The most notable on this weekend will be Clint Eastwood's Sully. One interesting trend recently has been to make movies out of events that happened fairly recently on the news. These aren't just war movies like Lone Survivor, American Sniper, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Bengazi, but also other movies such as 127 Hours and The 33. This month we have two more of these movies. I'll talk about Deepwater Horizon a bit later, but Sully tells the story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River back in January 2009 after hitting a flock of geese. Sully miraculously helped save all 155 passengers of US Airways Flight 1549. I don't know how much of the movie I just described, but that's the story that I remember rather well that made Sully a national hero. The advertising for the movie claims it's telling the untold story behind that, so we'll see. Tom Hanks stars as Sully and awards are possible for him and Eastwood and Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, did very well on all levels.

The second movie of the weekend looks to be a sleeper hit and that is When the Bough Breaks. This comes to us via Sony's Screen Gems division who, on this exact weekend in the past two years, has released thrillers featuring a predominantly black cast that surprised at the box office. No Good Deed opened to $24.3 million in September of 2014 while The Perfect Guy delivered up $25.9 million in September of 2015. Neither were expected to win their weekend, but both did after being in only around 2,200 theaters. Can lightning strike three times for Screen Gems? When the Bough Breaks is also a thriller with a predominately black cast being released in around 2,200 theaters. This also shares Morris Chestnut from The Perfect Guy. The premise for When the Bough Breaks surrounds a surrogate mother for a couple who becomes dangerously obsessed with the soon-to-be father. It would be quite the feat if this beat out Sully for the weekend's prize, but don't be surprised if it does. Unless of course Sully can manage to open with $30 million or more.

Next up we have two movies that will probably be lost in the September madness. The first of those is the horror film The Disappointments Room. It was initially supposed to be Before I Wake this weekend for Relativity Media, which is a movie that I've already covered twice in my movie previews. But for a third straight time, Before I Wake was taken off the schedule at last minute. I wonder if that movie is ever coming out, but I'm glad they made the change this time BEFORE I did my movie preview. It was three weeks ago when that change was made and The Disappointments Room, which was initially slated for a November release, was put into it's place. It's been a phenomenal year for horror movies as The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, and Don't Breathe are examples of movies that did very well at the box office. The Conjuring 2 wasn't a surprise, but those last two definitely were. The Disappointments Room is a supernatural horror about a family that moves into their dream house only to discover a horrifying mystery in the attic. Personally I do think we're in for another horror breakout this month, but I don't think it will be with this movie. I think it's too late of switch for this to break out.

Last and almost certainly least will be the animated movie The Wild Life. Titled Robinson Crusoe almost everywhere else in the world, The Wild Life is a Belgium animated film that was initially released at the Brussels Animation Film Festival in February this year and has already seen a theatrical release in over 30 countries worldwide, earning a total of $20 million, led by Germany with $5.1 million and France with $2.6 million. As is inferred by it's title everywhere else, this is the story of Robinson Crusoe told from the perspective of the animals on the island. Hence the United States title, The Wild Life. Based on reaction from places where it's been released, this appears to be an animated movie that appeals to young kids only. The type of movie that's perfect for distracting your kids in the morning when it shows up on Netflix and not necessarily the type of movie to rush out to see. Lionsgate is handling the U.S. distribution for the movie as this doesn't come from any major animation studio. The other animated movie that Lionsgate distributed this year in the U.S. was January's Norm of the North, which opened to just $6.8 million on its way to $17.1 million overall.

September 16th - 19th-

Another four movies are slated to hit theaters in the third weekend of September and they will most likely be led by the horror sequel Blair Witch. I mentioned just a bit ago that I think we're in for another horror breakout this month. This is the one. The history of 1999's The Blair Witch Project is a fascinating one. The movie is about a group of young adults that set out in the woods to film a documentary about a witch that legend in the area claimed existed. The three of them disappear in the woods and weren't seen again. The goal for the filmmakers was to give the illusion that the events of the movie actually happened and that the footage shown in theaters was actual camera footage recovered from this group. Given that the found footage genre wasn't a huge thing at the time as well as an effective marketing campaign that pushed this pretty hard, a lot of people were tricked and thus the movie became a cultural phenomenon. There was a sequel made shortly after that no one liked, but this year's Blair Witch tells the story of a brother of the main girl out to find what happened to his sister, convinced that she is still alive. The movie wasn't announced until San Diego Comic Con this year. It was previous disguised as a horror movie called The Woods, thus the movie did the exact same thing 10 Cloverfield Lane did earlier this year. Very early reviews, which sometimes mean nothing, suggest a quality film which would make it prime for a good chunk of money.

One of the most controversial figures of today is a man by the name of Edward Snowden. This weekend the movie about him finally hits theaters and that is Snowden. Joseph Gordon-Levitt place Edward Snowden and the movie is directed by Oliver Stone, who is well known for his controversial war/political thrillers such as Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers, Wall Street, and many more. Given the release date in the middle of election season where Edward Snowden has been one of the hot topics, this could be a timely movie. Or a movie that angers a lot of people. Or a movie that people just don't care about due to the fact that the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour just barely came out two years ago and won best documentary at the Oscars last year. A lot of people are very well aware of the situation here with Snowden and thus if the movie strays a bit from actual events or doesn't hit people like it has potential to, there's a chance this could be ignored. The fact that it was postponed two different times could also be seen as a red flag. Or it could be a sleeper hit. So call this movie the wildcard of the month.

Next up is a third movie in a series that most people probably didn't anticipate being a trilogy and that is Bridget Jones's Baby. Bridget Jones's Diary was released in 2001 and became a sleeper hit after opening to just $10.7 million, but finishing with $71.5. This was enough to justify the sequel three years later called Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which didn't do quite as well, but did well enough. Now we are 12 years after the second one with this third chapter. Renee Zellweger returns as Bridget Jones for a third time, as does Colin Firth's Mark Darcy. Being added into a love triangle is the well-loved Patrick Dempsey. Call that an all-star romance drama cast for this movie. The drama in this third chapter is such that Bridget Jones is pregnant, but she doesn't know if either Colin Firth or Patrick Dempsey is the father, so she kinda courts both until she can figure out who the father is and who she would prefer to be with more. This could end up as a sleeper hit like the first two, especially since the female crowd hasn't been treated to a romance drama in a while and there really isn't any on the schedule for much of the fall season. Or this could end up going the way of most other sequels this year by under-performing especially with how much time has passed.

Pulling up the rear this weekend should be Hillsong - Let Hope Rise. This comes to us via Pure Flix, a Christian distribution company that was responsible for God's Not Dead 2 and Woodlawn. This is a documentary/concert film following the musical group Hillsong UNITED, a very popular Christian music group. They've had five albums hit #1 on the US Christian Albums chart and plenty of hits on the US Hot Christian Songs chart. They even had one song, "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)," cross over to the US Billboard Hot 100. So there's potential here. The problem is that documentary/concert films like this never do super well at the box office. The only three that have done super well at the box office have been Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Michael Jackson's This is It, and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour. One Direction, Katy Perry, the Jonas Brothers, and Glee are examples of very high profile singers/groups that had concert movies that didn't really hit. Christian movies do sometimes surprise at the box office, but it would be very surprising if this one managed more than $10 million this weekend.

September 23rd - 25th-

The fourth weekend of September is a lot less crowded and that's most likely due to studios smartly avoiding the high profile remake of The Magnificent Seven. This is remake of the 1960 classic of the same name, which was in turn a Western-remake of Seven Samurai from six years earlier. Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven are typically found on plenty of lists of all-time favorite movies and have been very influential to the history of cinema. Just think of any movie that has a group of protagonists teaming up to fight off an antagonist of some sort and that can most likely be traced back to being inspired by these two movies. This year's remake is also not the first high profile remake of a remake to hit theaters this year. Last month saw Ben-Hur get the same treatment. The result of that was a complete disaster as Ben-Hur to say the least. The Magnificent Seven definitely won't suffer the same fate. In fact, Hotel Transylvania's September opening weekend record of $48.5 million is in jeopardy. The difference between The Magnificent Seven and Ben-Hur? A good director, a good cast, and a good marketing campaign will definitely do the trick. Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day and The Equalizer, is at the helm here and starring as the Magnificent Seven are Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier. Thus instead of comparing this to Ben-Hur, a more accurate comparison is the fellow Western remake of True Grit in 2010.

The other release of the weekend is Warner Animation Group's Storks. Pushed very heavily in marketing here is that this is the same team that released The LEGO Movie. The idea here is to keep up with the likes of Disney and Pixar with the animation party, so they're really hoping Storks is a success. Sony has learned recently that late September can be a very good time for animation as their Hotel Transylvania movies and their Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies have done very well in this slot, so there's a good chance for success here, especially since it will have been a couple of months since the last big animated movie and there won't be another animated movie until November with Trolls and Moana. In the movie Storks, the storks no longer deliver babies. Instead they have modernized to deliver packages. However, the baby making machine is accidentally activated, causing our main stork to have to deliver a baby once again. This is directed by Nicholas Stoller, who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, and the Neighbors movies, as well as Doug Sweetland, who worked in the animation department for several of Pixar's movies. The voice talent includes Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Kelsey Grammer, and Key & Peele.

September 30th - October 2nd-

The final weekend of September, which starts in September and ends in October (I always include these weekends in the month the weekend starts), will see three additional releases. Depending on the reaction to all three, there could be a bit of a battle for the top spot, especially with the second weekend of The Magnificent Seven likely to be fairly strong as well. The first movie I will talk about is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar People. When you watch the trailers for this movie, you get the vibe here that this is an awfully lot like a Tim Burton version of X-Men. A group of children with unique and extraordinary abilities have all been gathered into one home under the direction of a teacher or mentor of sorts. Yup. That describes both of these stories. Except Miss Peregrine looks a whole lot weirder than X-Men, thus this looks like a Tim Burton version of X-Men. Tim Burton is very well known for his strange movies. Miss Peregrine wasn't his initial creation. It's based on the young adult novel of the same name written by Ransom Riggs in 2011 that was a New York Times best seller. Given that this is right up Tim Burton's wheelhouse, I'm sure he jumped for joy at the chance to direct this. The PG-13 rating is a bit curious as this now appears to be intended for more of a young adult audience as opposed to a family audience, but this could work well as an early Halloween trip to the theaters for this young adult crowd.

Competing with Miss Peregrine to dethrone The Magnificent Seven will be Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon. Earlier during this preview when I was talking about Sully, I mentioned the trend of turning recent national news stories into major motion pictures. Deepwater Horizon pairs with Sully to make for two movies during this month to follow this trend. This movie is specifically based on the New York Times article "Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours," which was released on December 25, 2010 and told the story of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, which headlined the news for quite some time during 2010. Peter Berg is the director here. He previously found success with the Navy SEALs movie The Lone Survivor back in January of 2013. Both The Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon star Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. Speaking of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, this won't be the only time this year the two will team up for a modern news story turned into movie. Patriots Day will be released in December and is about the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt to find the bomber. Both stories should be fresh on people's minds and it will be interesting to see if they translate into box office and/or awards success.

The final movie of the month is a comedy titled Masterminds. This movie is a PG-13 heist comedy that is directed by Jared Hess, who wrote and directed both Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. The movie features a talented cast of comedians which includes Zach Galafianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Jason Sudeikis. In other words, three of the four female Ghostbusters from a couple months back plus Galafianakis, Wilson, and Sudeikis. So this has the star power to be a sleeper hit and a PG-13 rating that could appeal to a broader audience. There's also not a whole ton of comedies this fall, so it could hold well if it's received well by audiences. The problem might be a lack of awareness for this. It's also a Relativity Media production that has been pushed back several times partially due to Relativity's financial crisis, so this could also be a fall comedy that completely slips under the radar and is instead forgotten about.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hell or High Water Review

The summer season in Hollywood is now officially over. To put it nicely, this was a very average summer for me. We had a lot of straight-up bad movies (WarcraftNine Lives, Ben-Hur, Free State of Jones, Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Angry Birds Movie, Money Monster, The Secret Life of Pets), even more average movies (X-Men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Conjuring 2, Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, The BFG), and plenty of good movies that should've been much better (Jason Bourne, Suicide Squad). I wanted to love all of these, but the movies that actually blew me away were few and far between. Even the sequels that I did love weren't quite to the level of of their phenomenal predecessors (Captain America: Civil War, Now You See Me 2, Finding Dory).  Despite all this, I always say that if the big movies are disappointing you, go find a smaller one. My top two movies of the summer were the should've been blockbusters Kubo and the Two Strings and The Nice Guys. Close behind them were a handful of indies (Sing Street, The Lobster, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). Now we're going to add another one to that. Hell or High Water. This movie is absolutely phenomenal.

The most recent movie that I reviewed was the horror/thriller Don't Breathe. There's a couple of reasons to bring this movie up when talking about Hell or High Water. The first reason is that both movies are a bit ambiguous when trying to label them with one specific genre. After seeing Don't Breathe, I got into a conversation with a random YouTuber that was adamant that Don't Breathe wasn't a horror movie. I would consider it a horror movie, especially since I was more terrified during that movie than I was during most other horrors that I've seen recently. But does it really matter what you call it? And do you really have to limit a movie to just one genre? Don't Breathe is a horror and a thriller. But more importantly, it's a movie. And a good movie at that. Same goes with Hell or High Water. I was sitting there watching this movie and was trying to think of what genre it was. Was it a crime drama? Was it an action movie? Does it count as a western? It's certainly a heist movie, but do heist movies get their own genre or are they more of a sub-genre to something else? My conclusion? Eh. Who cares. Hell or High Water is a film. And a dang good film. Speaking of which, perhaps later we can discuss movie vs. film. Are they the same thing or different? For now we will move on.

What definitely existed during this movie was a whole lot of nostalgia, if that's the right word. This whole movie takes place in the barren wastelands of West Texas. I loved it! That's where I spent two years of my life from 2008 to 2010, so the setting of the movie took me on a trip down memory. I haven't been back to Texas since I left over six years ago, but I really want to go back. This movie allowed me to do so for about two hours and that made me happy. But was the movie actually filmed in West Texas? I spent the whole movie curious about that. The credits answered that question. "Filmed on location in New Mexico." Oh. Well, same thing. Technically during my two year stay in that area, 17 months were in West Texas and 7 months were in East New Mexico. Some internet research informed me that at least some of the filming took place is Clovis, New Mexico, which is close to where I was. It's all flat, dry, and ugly. I love it! Going back to the genre thing, this setting helped make this feel like a modern-day western. It's the perfect setting for that. Then you had a lot of similar elements in this movie to older classic westerns even if they weren't specifically cowboys riding horses in the old west having gun showdowns and all that fun jazz that we all love about westerns. It was the modern-day parallel to all of that and it was a ton of fun.

The other reason to bring up Don't Breathe is that both movies were essentially heist movies. Don't Breathe was a heist gone wrong that had three dumb kids trapped in a house with an old, blind psychopath. With that, I said in that review that a successful heist movie will toy with your moral compass. Crime is wrong. Robbing banks is awful. But if a heist movie can make you go against that moral logic by making you cheer for the heist to be a success, then it has done it's job. Don't Breathe succeeded in other areas that made me conclude that it was a good movie, but it failed on this heist aspect. I didn't care as much for these group of kids as I would've hoped and a part of me wanted them to suffer the consequences of trying to rob this old man of $300,000. Hell or High Water is a different story. This absolutely succeeds on the heist aspect. The story follows Chris Pine and Ben Foster playing two brothers going around robbing banks in order to get enough money to achieve a certain goal that I won't spoil. But you absolutely want them to succeed. These are two very-well fleshed out characters with great motivations that causes you to really care for them. Thus when I'm ranking heist movies, this stands it's ground with other great heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, and Fast Five. It was an absolutely fabulous ride.

On top of that, we also had the Rise of the Planet of the Apes conundrum here. In that movie you spend the whole time trying to figure out if you are on the side of the apes or on the side of the humans and you never really know who to root for. Some were frustrated with that. I wasn't. I love the fact that the movie did that to me and it's the same here. On the one hand, you have Ben Foster and Chris Pine robbing banks and you want them to succeed. On the other hand you have the legendary Jeff Bridges as our sheriff hunting them down in what may go down as one of Jeff Bridges' best roles yet. While you want Chris Pine and Ben Foster to succeed, you also definitely want Jeff Bridges to succeed as well because he is a total boss in this. There's no white and black here. No definitive good vs. evil. It's all very gray, which blew me away. What really sold this were the performances of these three actors. I may hate Chris Pine's Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies, but I do like Chris Pine and he gives the performance of his career in this movie. It's the best I've seen Chris Pine by a long shot. Same with Ben Foster. I won't claim it's Jeff Bridges best performance because he's done a lot of amazing things, but he's equally as good. All three of these men give Oscar-worthy performances and I hope they don't all get snubbed or else I'll be mad.

There's a lot of emotion in this movie. All the characters have great depth and great story arcs. The heist scenes are a lot of fun and are super intense, especially towards the end where this movie brings you to the edge or your seat, but I loved that the focus here was on the characters and the emotion. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Chris Pine is sitting down and talking to a younger individual who I believe is his nephew, but the exact relationship is irrelevant. If I have that wrong, don't shoot me. Point is the kid looks up to him and Chris Pine truly cares for him. But it's apparent that Chris Pine is ashamed of the example that he's set for this kid and this leads to a beautiful moment that really grabbed me. And there's several moments like that in this movie where it slows down and really tugs at your heartstrings with both sides of the spectrum. Thus when we get to our action sequences, there's a lot of weight to them. You are emotionally invested in everyone and you have no idea how this is going to turn out. All of this builds up to an incredible finale that is extremely intense that pays off in a huge way. Here we have a heist movie that in the end leaves us pondering many of the great mysteries of life in addition to making us stop and think about our own lives. Not even the best heist movies can successfully claim that they pulled this off.

Hell or High Water is one of the best reviewed movies of the year. It currently stands at 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 140 reviews counted. It's also catching on at the box office as at the conclusion of the Labor Day weekend, it'll have close to $15 million in the bank following its fourth weekend of release, which is actually pretty solid for indie movie standards. I'm not one to just go with the flow. I've gone against the grain many times. But in this case, there's a reason why everyone who has seen this movie is raving about it. I've actually had some time to think about this movie as it's been about a week since I've seen it and it's one of those movies that gets better the more I think about it. Towards the beginning of this review I talked about all the different genres that this movie could fall under and the fact that it can be classified under so many genres is a strength that speaks to how well-rounded this movie is. It covers a little bit of everything along the way and thus is a fantastic ride. Oscar season is about to start and I really hope that this is a movie that catches on during awards season. If it gets ignored because it was released a little too early or didn't hit the festival rounds before getting released, that would be quite the shame. Regardless of what Oscar voters say, though, make sure you go out and treat yourself to this fantastic film. You'll be glad you did. I'm giving Hell or High Water a 9.5/10.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Don't Breathe Review

The final weekend of Hollywood's summer is upon us and the late-August/early-September lull has begun. These last couple weeks of August and first couple weeks of September is typically a dead zone for movies because nothing ever seems to do well at the box office and usually the quality of the films that are released are fairly. This is kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy for Hollywood in that due to the reputation of this time period, studios will typically avoid this time period like the plague. If they have a movie on their hands that they think will be good and has a chance of earning money, they'll schedule it for some other time. Thus this period becomes more of a dumping ground for movies where studios will drop movies that they don't have much confidence in. You'll typically get a lot of b-rated action and horror movies in this slot. Thus despite the fact that the trailers for Don't Breathe looked super intriguing and word earlier this year from South by Southwest was positive, I was leary of this. Then the reviews from critics came out as glowingly positive. What? Are we actually getting a GOOD horror movie at the end up August? Yup. Believe it! Don't Breathe is pretty good!

The premise here is a simple one, so this should be a simple review. Simplicity is definitely not a bad thing, though. Sure, I love myself a deep, complex tale that really makes you think about what exactly happened. If done well, that is. Sometimes movies try to be super deep and complex and end up being a giant mess. So the fact that this movie went for simple is good. Here we have three young adults around their early-twenties, I'm guessing, going around robbing houses in order to earn some money to escape their current situations. One of them discovers that there is an old man in the ghetto part of town who has at least $300,000 in cash in his home. If they rob him, they'll have all they need and they won't need to rob anymore. Then they discover that not only he is an old man living by himself, but he's also blind. They think they've scored the jackpot. So they go in one night to grab the money and go. But they quickly discover that they may have made the biggest mistake of their lives as this old man is not to be messed with. In fact he's a crazy psychopath who locks them into the house and chases them around. Thus for most of this movie we as an audience are trapped in this house with these kids as they try to survive this crazy man and someone escape the house.

Essentially we have a heist movie gone wrong with this movie. Heist movies are interesting because if done right they put the audience in a bit of a predicament. Your normal moral compass will usually tell you that robbing a bank or committing a crime is a bad thing. If you see a story of a robbery on the news in real life, you're never going to cheer for the criminals to get away with their crimes. You want them caught. But yet in a heist movie, such as Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, and Fast Five, you are cheering for the heist to be a success despite know that what they are doing is wrong. But then you stop and remember that they are doing something bad and you question your own moral compass in wanting them to succeed. If a heist movie pulls that off, then it's a success. If I'm being perfectly honest, Don't Breathe doesn't quite succeed in this, which is a major problem with this movie. This group of kids are just a group of punk kids doing dumb things. They made the bone-headed move to try to rob this dude. They kinda got what they deserved when he chases them down and locks them in the house. I'm not saying I was necessarily on the side of the old man, but this group of kids weren't quite as likable as other heist teams in successful heist movies.

That aside, in terms of pure horror and terror, this movie succeeds in a huge way. Yes, there were some jump scares and there was some gory scenes, but the movie doesn't rely on those aspects in order to successfully scare you. And it also doesn't try to shove down your throat that this was "based on a true story" in order to scare you, like the Conjuring movies. What this does rely on to scare you is pure suspense and terror. And it works. In fact, if I were to grade the intensity of this movie on a scale of 1 to 10, this gets a 10. Normally I'm pretty good at not getting scared during horror movies, but even I was terrified. With Lights Out, despite me enjoying the movie, I was laughing when my whole theater was squirming, jumping, and screaming. This time my theater was more mature because the rating of the movie prevented there being a huge group of teenagers seeing it with me, but I was the one squirming and jumping in my seat. I didn't scream, but I was very uncomfortable. In a good way. The movie is called Don't Breathe and I half think that title is describing the state of the people watching the movie because there were a lot of moments where I refused to breathe. It was quite the exhilarating experience.

A big part of the reason as to why this movie is so successful is because of our crazy old man. I don't want to say too much about him, but this guy is someone straight out of a good Criminal Minds episode. He has a relatable backstory which makes him an interesting character, but the decisions he makes because of that are way over-the-line. Stephen Lang plays the old man and he is so creepy in the way he looks, the way he carries himself, and the way that he is always in the right place. He may be blind, but his other senses are amplified because of that, making it so that he has the upper hand in this situation. Thus even though the kids are the bone-headed ones for breaking into his house, you quickly learn that this is a bad vs. worse situation and I was totally on the side of the kids. Even though they are dumb kids who deserve what they get, our main two are fairly likable. I'm talking about Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy. Dylan Minnette is our big star here. He previously starred in the Goosebumps movie last year, so he gets the opportunity of doing something much different and he shines. I also enjoyed Jane Levy. This was the first role I've seen her in and I was impressed. I wished their characters were written a little better, but they did good with it anyways.

The final thing that I want to dance around a bit is the ending of this movie. There's a lot of ways they could've ended this movie and I honestly don't think the writers were completely settled on which ending they wanted to go with, so they kinda did all of them. There were several moments where I thought the movie was going to end, but it didn't. They eventually had to settle on something because the movie had to end somehow, but the specific ending they went with was the wrong ending in my opinion. That's all I will say about that, though. Overall I was very impressed with this movie. Sure, I think our characters could've been written better. If we're doing a heist movie, I expect to like our characters more than I did in this movie. And as I just said, the ending could've been better. But the majority of this movie is spent in this home and it's an extremely effective horror/thriller. It doesn't rely on a bunch of horror cliches, like jump scares, excessive sexuality and gore, or trying to trick you into thinking this was a "true story." This is just three people stuck in a house with a psychotic, old, blind guy who was super creepy and terrifying. I was legitimately scared while watching this and thus I easily give this a pass. It's a great late-August surprise that I will award an 8/10.