Saturday, August 29, 2015

War Room Review

I'm going to preface this review by saying that I consider myself an active, faithful Christian. I believe in God. I believe that he plays a big role in our life. I believe that prayer is a powerful tool. So I should love a movie that is all about the power of prayer in our life, right? Wrong. There's a lot of faith-based movies that I really enjoy. I can even excuse some bad acting and lesser-quality production skills if the movie itself presents a good positive message that believers and non-believers can both appreciate and learn from. But at the same time, there are a lot of really bad faith-based movies that just make me cringe when I watch them or facepalm afterwards. Honestly, all of the movies put out by the Kendrick brothers fall into that latter category. We have five of them now. Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, and now War Room. When I first saw Flywheel, I wasn't impressed. Facing the Giants was kinda fun because it's football, but it still had a lot of the same problems. Fireproof was atrocious and Courageous was almost as bad. Now we their worst one yet in War Room. I know a lot of people will be shocked at these statements, but I'd like you to hear me out and let me explain why I think these movies are flawed and actually harmful to non-believers.

The story line in ever single one of these movies is exactly the same, which is a problem in and of itself. You have someone or a group of someones who is going through a really hard time. Someone else tells them to believe in God and read the Bible and everything will work out. They do so and miraculously everything works out perfectly and they go on with their lives having perfect faith in God. That's it. Every movie. War Room is no different. In fact, War Room also deals with a marriage that is falling apart, which is exactly the same plot in Fireproof. They're like the same movie, just with different actors and a slightly modified story. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan are a couple that have been married for 16 years and have a 10-year-old daughter. Both of them have jobs, but Tony's job as a salesman pays him a whole lot of money and causes him to be away a lot. The communication in their marriage isn't good and Tony is always yelling at Elizabeth for things big and small and doesn't spend much time with her or their daughter. Elizabeth doesn't want her marriage to fail, but she sees it falling apart. One day while she is working her job as a realtor (I believe) and she meets this hilarious old black lady who tells her that she needs to pray and believe in God and that will save her marriage. Can you guess how it turns out? Yup, you're right.

What really frustrates me about these movies is that these are good principles that they are trying to portray. In order to make a marriage work, there needs to be communication. Both parties need to focus on figuring out what they need to do better to help their marriage. You need to spend time with your spouse and children instead of focusing on your effort on your career. So this has potential to be a great message. But the movie portrays everything as black and white with no gray area. If your marriage is struggling, it's because you are only lukewarm at best when it comes to God. If your business is failing, it's because you don't have faith in God. If your football team is losing, then it is because you don't have faith in God. However, when you turn your life over to God, immediately everything will change. Your business will succeed. Your football team will win. Your marriage will succeed. And all this will happen immediately. NO! Not true. I know this may sound like blasphemy, but I don't think God really cares about the outcome of a football game. I think he will allow you to fail in your career or at school even if you are super faithful. A family built on the foundation of God will definitely help a marriage, but it's not going to change over night the second you turn to God. It takes time to fix a marriage and sometimes a relationship just doesn't work out, even when both parties are putting their trust in God. Moral of the story, sometimes life still sucks like crap when you put your faith in God and I think that's a very important thing to learn that none of these movies even touches on.

Shall we get into specifics with this particular movie? That last paragraph was pulling examples from all their other movies. Technically I will be divulging spoilers from the some parts of the movie, but I need to prove a point here and like I said, they make the same movie over and over, so spoiling the movie isn't really possible, is it? Anywho, if you don't want to know anything from the plot, then feel free to skip this paragraph. Otherwise continue. First off, there is a point in the movie where Elizabeth is getting ice cream with her daughter and the old lady. A crazy man comes to them, pulls out a knife, and demands money from them. Elizabeth is about to give in and give him money (smart move), but the old lady refuses and instead tells him in the name of Jesus to go away. He does and they aren't harmed. I'm sorry, in the real world that would be a dumb thing to do and the old lady might end up dead. Next, we learn that the husband is cheating on his wife and is about to go home with a different girl. Well, the wife had found this out and prays that he doesn't go through with it. The second she prays, the husband gets sick and decides not to go through with it. I laughed. Towards the end of the movie, we find out that the husband had been doing stuff that was very illegal and he should've been sent to prison. Well, because he made right with God and was honest about the situation, he was completely pardoned. Ha! That wouldn't happen.

Get my vibe? I won't divulge any spoilers anymore, but stuff like this happened the entire movie where life just worked out perfectly because this couple decided to turn their lives over to God and it got frustrating because of how unrealistic the situation seemed. It was also frustrating because this was their fifth straight movie full of B.S. like this. Like I said, I'm a Christian and I think these are good principles, but situations like this in real life are a lot more complex and want to see more of that complexity. I want their next movie to end with a relationship failing or the business collapsing or the football team losing all of their games and have the movie show what a good Christian would do despite these continued hardships. But I know that will never happen with the Kendricks. Honestly I think that is a bad message to send to non-believers. I can honestly see someone watching movies like this and trying it out for themselves and coming to the conclusion that God actually doesn't exist because their situation didn't improve overnight. In fact, that's a very common complaint. If God exists, why are all these bad things happening? Why do we have such a crappy world? Why is it that people pray to God and it seems like he ignores them? I want a faith-based movie that satisfies these questions and none of the movies by the Kendricks do that at all, especially not War Room. Their message is that if you turn your life over to God, everything will immediately improve and all your problems will be solved right away and that's just not true.

On top of this, there is some dialogue and preaching in this movie that is simply bad. When Elizabeth first decides to turn her life over to God, she starts out by praying out loud in her closet. Why she decided to completely empty everything out of her closet didn't make sense to me, but whatever. I'm fine with her praying out loud in her closet. But then as a part of that prayer, she leaves her closet and is yelling and crying at the top of her lungs in the middle of her front room for Satan to leave this house and never return. This yelling prayer goes on for quite some time and by the end of it I had completely lost it. I was laughing hysterically. I felt bad that I was laughing at a prayer, but it was so over the top and ridiculous that I just couldn't help myself. Then we had our preaching by the old lady. Boy did she preach. Think of what it's like when you go to some Baptist or Protestant church and the preacher is straight up yelling at the congregation. Yup. That's what this old lady does on multiple occasions. I wasn't in the mood to get preached at. I just wanted to watch a faith-based movie. Let's tone it down movie. Please? Pretty please? No? Ok.

After being officially done with the movie, I did look up some of the reviews and apparently there's a lot of people that are disagreeing with me on this. The movie won the box office on Friday and will challenge Straight Outta Compton for the top spot this weekend with over $10 million, which will be the highest opening yet for the Kendrick brothers. The movie also was awarded an A+ cinemascore and is at 88% on Flixter. So if you've liked the previous movies by these guys, you'll most likely love this one. I'm sorry, I just can't get into them. Yes, the technical aspects of this movie are very well done and some of the acting is decent, but that's it for me. This was also way too long. It's the type of faith-based movie that only needs to be 70 or 80 minutes, but it clocks in at 120 minutes. So yes, this is almost an hour too long. At the very least, they could've kept this to 90 minutes because it was at that point where I was begging this movie to end, but it kept going and going and going and going. Moral of the story is that I am not going to recommend this to anyone and I personally would keep it far, far away from any non-Christians. My grade for War Room is a 4/10.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Review

Oh man. Sometimes in life you bite off more than you can chew. I was attracted to The Diary of a Teenage Girl for two reasons. First, it was a movie that got praised at the Sundance Film Festival. Second, the critics thus far have praised it as it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. This sounds like the perfect formula for me. I love indie movies and I seek out indie movies that get praised by the critics. However, I was slightly hesitant going into this one because I did know of the subject matter, but I decided to go for it anyways because I figured that I could handle it and I would come out with a positive experience. But holy cow was this heavy. I don't know exactly where the line is for in terms of what exactly is too heavy for me to handle. Usually I'm pretty good. But whatever that line is, it was crossed with this movie. I felt uncomfortable watching this movie. It felt wrong being in the theater and I wanted to leave. But I stuck through it and luckily I was in an empty theater so playing around on my phone was an option to distract me. No, this isn't a bad movie. But proceed with caution. Know what you are getting into before jumping right in.

That was a very vague paragraph, so allow me to go into a little bit more depth. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a movie where we get very personal with the deep, dark secrets of a teenage girl's life. Specifically, our main girl is 15 years old and has come to the point in her life where she has a huge desire to be sexually active. It's that weird moment in life where she is not quite an adult but her body wants to be an adult and do adulty things and her mother didn't really teach her the power of abstinence. In reality, her mother isn't the best example in the first place. So this girl goes for it. In the most awkward and uncomfortable way. She starts sleeping with her mom's boyfriend who is somewhere between 35 and 40. This is just a sick and uncomfortable romance. No man who is in his 30's should sleep with a teenage girl, especially not a girl who is not a legal adult. But they both love each other, so it's fine, right? WRONG! Call the cops and get that man arrested for sleeping with a minor. That's what was going through my mind. Now let's get one thing clear. The actress who plays our 15-year-old girl is 23 in real life, so nothing illegal actually happened in the filming of this movie. But she definitely has a baby face and pulls off 15 very well, so it's still disturbing, especially since Alexander Skarsgard is 39, which is 16 years her senior. Of course things get very complicated and since this girl has now become addicted to this sexual activity, she goes off with all kinds of people regardless of age, race, or even gender to satisfy her need for physical intimacy.

Yup. Like I said. This is very heavy. I'm not quite sure why so many people loved this so much, but I have an idea and it's a pretty darn good idea. This is an extremely honest coming of age drama that doesn't hold back. It attempts to dive deeply into what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl as she is going through this awkward phase of her life. We all know how it feels like to be a teenager. I don't need to go into detail about that. But this movie feels the need. Quite honestly it does a dang good job of showing what life can be like for a teenage girl and I guess that this honest, raw, unbridled look at the life of a teenage girl pleased a lot of people. So I guess it could please you as well, especially if you are familiar with the source material of which I didn't even know existed until I watched this movie. But personally I don't need explore in detail what goes on in the life of a teenage girl. I don't. But yet I did with this movie and it was uncomfortable.

In terms of the technical aspects of this movie, I do have to be an honest and say this was a very well shot movie. Our main girl is an aspiring artist and as the movie is told from her perspective, it seemed fitting for random artwork to come to life. There were times when animated butterflies started flying around or fireworks shot off in the background. She'd even talk to some animated characters sometimes and other times the whole movie turned animated for a few seconds. I thought that was a clever way to help paint the picture of what was going on in her mind. I also have to admit that the acting in the movie was good. Yes, Bel Powlie as our girl and Alexander Skarsgard as the old boyfriend did a good job. I just didn't care one bit about either of their characters. There was one girl that I did care about, though, and that was the mother who was played by Kristen Wiig. The whole time while her daughter and her boyfriend are doing this behind her back, you feel awful. She's already gone through a lot in her life up to this point. She didn't need to have her boyfriend cheat on her with her daughter. But then Kristen Wiig figures this out and holy freaking cow was her acting phenomenal. She gave an Oscar-worthy performance. I really hope that this movie gets completely ignored at the box office and by the Academy, but if Kristen Wiig were to get a nomination for best supporting actress, I would not complain.

In the end, this is not a movie that I would recommend you seeing. I went into this movie because it had raving reviews and it was an indie movie coming out of Sundance, but this is one of those instances where I actually disagree with critics. Yes, that does happen. This movie took things too far. We could've told a coming of age story that dove into the life of a teenage girl without getting graphic, detailed, and disturbing. There's plenty of those. Off the top of my head, The DUFF from earlier this year is one of them. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is another fantastic coming of age story from this year. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a movie that just doesn't need to be seen. I felt horrible while watching it. The girl was talking to the tapes telling no one to listen to them and I felt like I was invading her privacy. It was an awful experience. This is not a bad or poorly made movie, so I'm not going to give it an extremely bad grade, but it's just not one that I think the world needed. I really hope it just stays under the radar and disappears from theaters without many people seeing it. My grade for The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a 5/10.

Friday, August 28, 2015

We Are Your Friends Review

This month we've had the pleasure of experiencing several musical dramas. The first is one that I still have yet to see, that of Meryl Streep's Ricki and the Flash. I'll get to it eventually. The second is one that I really didn't think I would like because in general I hate rap music, but despite that I was shocked that I liked the movie Straight Outta Compton. The third one, despite the poisonous release date, was actually the one that I was most intrigued by, that of We Are Your Friends. Intrigued is an interesting word, though. I wasn't necessarily excited to see a movie about Zac Efron aspiring to be a popular DJ, but I was intrigued because I love electronic music. In fact, you could call it my favorite genre of music. My expectations going in weren't actually super high given the late August release date combined with the poor reviews. Mostly I walked out with a desire for them to make an actual biopic of some early pioneer of electronic music. That could be really good. However, I was also surprised that I didn't hate this movie as much as some others have. It's nothing special, but it's also not the typical late-August crap that usually gets released this weekend.

No this isn't a biopic. It's not based on the true story of some DJ. Instead it's exactly what I said in the last paragraph. Cole Carter, played by Zac Efron, is aspiring to be a popular DJ. That's it really. He plays at a lot of small clubs full of mostly high school students and possibly some young college students and hangs out with a weird group of annoying friends that you never really care too much about until maybe the very end. One night he is at a club about to be up to DJ when he runs into none other than Seneca Crane who takes him under his wing to help him be the next big game maker for the Hunger Games. Oh wait, wrong movie. We have Wes Bentley, who plays Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games, show up to the club and invite Cole to come to a party with him. Cole decides it's a good idea to just skip his DJ-ing gig for the night to go to this party with a random stranger where he ends up on some weird drugs that turns everything into a cartoon and before long makes him black out and wake up on this stranger's couch the next morning. There he is reunited with a girl that he met the previous night before Wes showed up that turns out to be Wes's girlfriend. All is well, though, because Wes Bentley is actually a guy named James who is a big name DJ and decides to take Cole in under his wing and help him be a better DJ.

Based on that, you could probably guess what is going to happen in this movie and you would probably be right, especially if I hinted you in on the fact that Cole has the hots for the girlfriend, who is played by Emily Ratajkowski. Like I said, this is nothing special story-wise, although there are some good aspects of the story that I did enjoy. First off, we do have moments where the movie is trying to teach the audience about electronic music. You get some insight on what it takes to be a DJ. Believe it or not, it does require a lot of skill to try to create the perfect song that will get the party moving. And that DJ board is fairly complex. It's a different type of skill than what makes your typical rock star or pop artist popular, but it does require skill. Then there the moments where Wes Bentley is teaching Zac Efron about how to be a better DJ that will stand out, showing him that he can implement actual instruments like drums and pianos instead of just mixing everything on a computer. These were great moments and I was actually liking the direction the movie was taking me. Sadly these moments were few and far between. Instead of going the direction I wanted the movie to go, it got really boring and cliche. I found myself playing around on my phone for much of the movie instead of giving the movie my undivided attention. Yes, this was fine because I was the only one in theater, but the movie lost a lot points in my book because I got bored.

The acting in the movie was actually pretty decent. Zac Efron himself wasn't anything special. He didn't do a bad job, but he felt replaceable as our main character. His group of friends were the same. In fact, they were really pointless for most of the movie. Things would've been better without them or at least with less screen-time for them. The other two, though, were really good. Hitting it out of the park in this movie and almost single-handedly saving it was Wes Bentley. His character was actually really interesting. He had a lot of baggage that we don't really dive into, but we can tell he is a broken individual and thus a really deep character. Things get interesting in the second half of the movie and I think the movie wanted me to think that Wes Bentley was the jerk with Zac Efron being the guy that I care for, but it was actually the other way around. I really liked Wes Bentley's character and I was hoping things turned out well for him. What made this happen was a great acting performance from Wes. Huge round of applause for him. The other character that I really liked was Emily Ratajkowski. I was really skeptic about her because up to this point she's just been typecast as the hot girl who doesn't need to act because she's just there for people to look at. I mean, she's one of the girls in Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines music video if that helps you understand what I'm getting at. But being that she was the lead female in this, I wanted to see some acting out of her and that's what I got. Yes there were plenty of shots where she wore skimpy outfits and the camera made sure to remind us that she has a really good figure, if you know what I mean, but for the most part she actually acted and was a character I cared for, so props to her. Hopefully she can do more of that in the future.

I told you that a lot of this movie was boring and cliche and I stand by that. However, the second half of the movie actually did get fairly emotional. Yes, it still was cliche, but it was done well enough that I started to care for the characters, even the annoying friends that were mostly useless in the first half of the movie. Yes, I knew everything that was going to happy. There were no crazy twists or turns. But I was into it. I also really liked the thing that Zac Efron came up with at the end of the movie because you know the movie is going to end with him doing a huge DJ gig. That's not a spoiler. That's common sense. And it was a lot of fun. In general, the whole soundtrack of this movie was fantastic. This is where me being a fan of electronic music helped me enjoy this movie more. If you hate this style of music, you might think it's just loud and noisy, but I thought it gave the movie just enough energy to keep in interesting. I payed close attention to the end credits where it showed all of the songs that were included in the movie and I was rather blown away by how many amazing artists were included in this. I'm not going to name them because if you aren't a fan of electronic music then it'll just be a bunch of random, meaningless names that you've never heard of. But nevertheless I'm going to have a lot of fun going through this soundtrack and downloading it all to my apple music library.

Overall, I was intrigued when I heard of this movie because I like electronic music, but I wasn't super excited because movies that are released in late-August are rarely good and the early reviews weren't too encouraging. No, this isn't a great movie. In fact it's boring and cliche for much of it. But I ended up enjoying it more than some other people have. It's not a bad movie. Do I recommend it as a movie that you need to see? No. You could skip this and you wouldn't really be missing anything, but if you like going to a lot of movies like I do, then this isn't a bad option. Zac Efron gives a decent performance as the lead male and Emily Ratajkowski gives a surprisingly good performance as the lead female. Best of all, Wes Bentley knocks it out of the park with his performances as the supporting male in the movie and almost single-handedly saves the movie. Also, if you are like me and you love electronic music, then you at least need to look up the soundtrack of this movie because it's rather incredible. My grade for We Are Your Friends is a 7/10.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No Escape Review

I saw the trailer for the movie No Escape in theaters for the first time a few months ago and honestly I was intrigued. We had Owen Wilson playing the lead role in a dramatic film that seemed like a historical thriller. Knowing nothing else about the movie, a whole bunch of interesting thoughts went through my head. These seemed like a movie the Academy would like. Is this going to be one of our Oscar contenders? Could Owen Wilson get his first best actor nomination at the Oscars? I liked that idea. Suddenly I envisioned myself rooting for Owen Wilson to win an Oscar. Then I saw the release date of the movie. Late August. Oh. Suddenly all of these thoughts were completely wiped away. The last weekend of August is not a date that the Weinstein Company would put a movie that they are hoping can contend for an Oscar. In fact, that's a weekend that a lot of b-level action, thrillers, and horror movies get put to die. This year the Weinstein Company will be pushing movies like Carol, Burnt, and/or The Hateful Eight for the Oscars. Not No Escape. In fact, they probably are just hoping that they can sneak in a few extra dollars with this release. Suddenly I was a lot less excited to see this movie, but oh well. Perhaps I can go in and have a good time.

I mentioned that I thought this movie looked like a historical thriller. It's not. Not really, anyways. It is a thriller, but the historical thing not so much. Owen Wilson plays a fictional character named Jack Dwyer who has decided to move his family to Southeast Asia to start over. Thailand, I believe. He got a job offer there that he's excited about. As it turns out, this is a situation where he gets diagnosed with a bad case of being in the wrong place at the worst time. Less than 24 hours after he gets there and is all settled in, there is some sort of huge violent outbreak where all the natives have decided that they are going to mercilessly kill all the foreign people in the area and so Owen Wilson quickly finds himself running for his life with his family to try to find somewhere safe to settle in. Now if this was a historical drama based on actual events or an actual war or civil war that happened in Thailand, this would be a really interesting movie. As is this is just a fictional thriller where all the natives are seen as violent madmen that are out to kill all the Americans. I don't know much about the politics of Thailand and what, if anything, is going on over there, but this felt wrong. It felt racist. Maybe I'm just completely off my rocker, but I had a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach about whatever message this movie was trying to portray.

Throughout the movie I was trying to figure out what the purpose of this film was. Were they trying to portray some sort of political message? Were they trying to accurately portray the lifestyle of the people of Thailand? I hope not, because if that is the case I feel this could be an offensive movie. Were they just trying to make a harmless thriller? These seems more like the case here, but if that were the case, I feel they could've had a better approach. Instead of it being Owen Wilson, the American, being a victim of all these horrible savages that live in Thailand, perhaps it could've been Owen Wilson being the target of a random, fictionalized organization. That would've been better. As is, I felt a little unsettled throughout the course of the movie. However, if I were to ignore all of that and focus on the actual thriller aspect of the movie, this was a really intense movie. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and honestly I had no idea if the whole family was going to survive. The movie went back and forth from being quiet and still to being really intense and thus it made all the quiet moments even more intense. In fact, a comparison that I thought of during the movie was World War Z. The difference was it was angry Thai people instead of zombies. But outside that, the two movies were fairly similar.

I do want to talk about Owen Wilson for a moment. He's actually been one of my favorite comedy actors for quite some time. His comedic timing is always really good and even when he's in a bad movie, it still feels like he is having a good time. I can't think of too many times where he has done a completely serious role, though. He's always doing comedy. But this is a case where he does pure drama. Sure, there are moments where he tries to be funny, but he's not being funny for the audience. He's being funny for his kids in the movie, telling the classic dad jokes that make his young kids laugh. Outside that, he is completely serious the whole time and he does a dang good job at it. It gave me the feeling that if he got a lucky break and was cast in an Oscar-bait movie, he has what it takes to pull off an Oscar-worthy performance. I always like it when an actor or actress can step outside of his or her comfort zone and still pull off a great performance. I love comedians who can do serious roles. Those are the best comedians. Owen Wilson has now proven that he is among that class of comedians, so major props to him. As a side note to Owen Wilson, they did some close up shots of him at the beginning while they were on the plane and for the first time I noticed that Owen Wilson is getting old. In fact, I looked up his age afterwards and learned that he will turn 47 later this year. I found that interesting.

As far as the cast around Owen Wilson, they also did a great job. Lake Bell plays Owen Wilson's wife in the movie and the two of them have really great chemistry as a couple. I don't know her too well as an actress. I had to look her up afterwards to remember what else she was because she looked super familiar and that's when I realized that I remember her from the baseball movie Million Dollar Arm. She's the main girl in that as well. She was good in that, too, so props to her. We also had James Bond come to save the day several times in the movie. I'm talking about Pierce Brosnan. He always shows up in the most intense moments and does a great job of giving the audience a quick breather. Every time he showed up, I felt like our family was safe, whereas when he's not there and our family is on their own, things are extremely intense. Speaking of those intense moments, another thing that did bother me was the use of the shaky cam in the movie. I'm not one of those that thinks shaky cam is inherently bad. If done well I think it's extremely effective. But in this instance it got in the way. I wanted the camera to be more stable because I was feeling a bit dizzy in some of the scenes.

In the end, if you are bored this weekend and are looking for a decent time at the movies, this is a better option than a several other recent releases. It's meant to be a thriller first and foremost and if I were to grade it solely on that, I'd give it high praise because it's a very good thriller. It also had great performances from Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan to further push it forward. However, I can't praise it too much because it did make me feel unsettled in how it dealt with the locals. I wanted the movie to either be an accurate, historical representation of what was going on over there. That would've been interesting. But it's not. It's just a work of fiction and as such, if they are going to go that approach, I would've rather the villains in the movie be a random fictional organization that Owen Wilson is trying to escape from instead of some mad savages from a foreign country. Yes, it did remind me of World War Z and that is a good thing, but the fact that it's local savages instead of zombies just didn't sit well with me and because of that I feel like the movie is a bit of a wasted opportunity. Thus my grade for No Escape is a 6.5/10.

UPDATE: After posting this review, I realized that Thailand doesn't border Vietnam. While the movie is filmed in Thailand, they don't actually say what country they are in, but they do have a goal to escape to Vietnam, which is bordered by Laos and Cambodia. I just assumed this took place in Thailand because that's where it's filmed. But whether this is supposed to be in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia, the idea is the same. They portrayed a whole country of people as angry savages and that didn't sit well with me

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Once I Was a Beehive Review

Yes, I know exactly what you are thinking right now. You're snickering at the title of this movie. You look at that and think that this is another one of those dumb, cheesy church movies that you'll only like if you are a 12-year-old Mormon girl. If you are a guy, you are especially thinking that this movie is not for you. How do I know that you are thinking this? Because those are the same thoughts I had. I heard about this movie back in March during the LDS Film Festival in Orem, Utah when I went to the movie Freetown. I was skeptic back then and even though I had nearly six months to decide if I was going to see it when it hit theaters, I was still unsure about it when it actually came out. That's why you're getting a review of it now instead of two weeks ago when it was actually released. I debated back and forth, but there ended up being a few reasons why I chose to go see it. The first reason is that not many people review these LDS films comparatively, so I felt an obligation to get my review out there. The second is that it is directed by Maclain Nelson, lead actor in the Saratov Approch, and I wanted to see what he put together. Finally, Jason Gray from Studio C posted that he loved the movie, so that was good enough for me. I was in. And holy cow was I stunned by this. Not only is this actually a really good movie that I, a male in his 20's, enjoyed, but I'm going to go as far as saying that this is one of the best LDS films that I have ever seen.

If you are reading this review, there is a good chance that you are a member of the LDS church and already know what a beehive is. But for the chance that you aren't a member, allow me to explain. No, we aren't talking about the home of one of those black and yellow flying, stinging insects that we call bees. The LDS church is a very organized church with a lot of different groups and classes that we split up into for various reasons. The young women of the church have their very own organization where the girls aged 12-18 are split into three different groups, based on age, called Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels. Don't ask me where they got those names from, but that's what it's been. Beehives are the girls aged 12-13. Thus our movie title. Once I Was a Beehive. The movie actually follows a non-member teenage girl named Lane who is suffering from the loss of her father. On top of that, she is also upset that her mother got re-married as fast as she did to a faithful Mormon guy. With this marriage she has a new 12-year-old cousin that she quickly becomes close to and through a certain chain of events, she agrees to go with this cousin to girl's camp, which is where the majority of this movie takes place.

If you've followed my blog long enough, you'll know that I've developed a strong love for indie movies because without a large budget, they are forced to rely on the basic elements of film in order to make a good movie instead of just a bunch of awesome special effects. When I say basic elements of film, I specifically mean a well-thought out, well-written story; good characters played by good actors; and some good old-fashioned camera work. You don't need a lot of money to make a really good movie and this here is a perfect example of that. First off, this is an amazing story. I thought it was just going to be a girls camp movie, but it was much more than just that. This is mainly about a girl trying to deal with the death of her father and thus this has a very high level of emotion. I didn't really know what to expect going in, but I certainly didn't expect to be brought to tears in several occasions, but that's what happened. There were a few different scenes where I almost completely lost it. I've dealt with the death of several people that were really close to me and it sucks. You try to look at things from a bigger picture and try to be positive, but it's still very hard to deal with. This movie could've dealt with things in a cliche, predictable way. It's very raw, very honest, and very real. Because of that, this felt like a very personal movie that really moved me.

This isn't just a sad, depressing movie the whole time. This movie is also a blast. Yes, there were several scenes that almost brought me to tears, but there were even more scenes that had me busting up laughing. Seeing a non-Mormon girl jump head first into Mormon culture without much warning or knowledge of what she was getting herself into was played rather well and was very amusing. In addition to that, you get all the different stereotypes with these Mormon teenage girls as well as their leaders and it's just fun to watch all of them as they go throughout the week. I haven't ever been to a girl's camp before, so I don't really know what it's like, but I've been around enough girls growing up that I feel that this movie was most likely spot on with girl's camp and all the fun, crazy adventures and stories that come from that. I made sure to gauge the reaction of all the girls around me because I was one of the few males actually in the theater and they all seemed to love every minute of this movie. I think there's two things that you can take from this. First off, I had a lot of fun with this movie, so this isn't a movie where you have to have been to girl's camp to enjoy. Second, if you actually have been to a girl's camp at some point in your life, this is an absolute must see. All the girls around me were laughing and bawling the whole movie. I was secretly listening in on conversations as I was walking out of the theater and reaction was extremely positive. In fact, when the credits rolled, my theater gave the movie a standing ovation.

I say that I haven't ever been to girl's camp. This is true. But I did go on plenty of week-long scout camps when I was a teenager in the church as well as plenty of high-adventure camps and outings and even though a guy's camp and girl's camp are obviously going to be very different, I feel there are several principles that are similar. The main thing is you have a lot of different people at different ages with different backgrounds all coming together for a week. There's always ups and downs throughout the week, but despite the differences, there's a special bond that you all form that week. Because of that bond, there are many memories that are made that you will never forget. In fact, these memories are some of my best childhood memories. I'll never forget the time we went on a 50-mile hike over the course of three days or spent the week in the Uintas or the Teetons. It's the best. This movie did a very good job of capturing this. All these girls are very different from each other, but they all form a great bond and it's fantastic watching them all come together. This is done so well due to great performances all around. I could start name dropping here because I've never heard of any of these actresses, but they were all great. I especially liked our main girl and her new 12-year-old cousin who were played by Paris Warner and Mila Smith. Huge props to these girls for carrying this movie and huge props to all of the supporting cast around them.

On top of all this, all the technical aspects of this movie are done very well. All the camera work looks very professional. There are a lot of great shots in this movie with great lighting, great camera angles, and great editing. All in all, the cinematography is excellent. Yes, I pay attention to all of those little details, especially in smaller films like this. It's interesting to see how well they compare to bigger budget movies. This movie looks very professional. I was impressed. There are a lot of small LDS films that look very cheaply made. This is not one of them. This is fantastic. There's a lot of crew members that I could attribute this success to, but the big name that I will attribute this to is that of Maclain Nelson as he wrote, directed, and produced this film. I'm always curious about actors that I like that jump behind the camera for a change. It's not always a successful transition, but in this case it is. Looking at Maclain's filmography, this is technically not his first directorial effort as he co-directed a movie called Vamp U that I've never heard of back in 2011, but that's it. So he's fairly new to this directing experience, which makes this even more impressive. I mainly know Maclain from The Saratov Approach as he played Elder Propst, one of our kidnapped Elders. He was great as an actor in that and now that he's done great as a director, he's someone that I definitely have my eye on.

Overall, I was super impressed with Once I Was a Beehive. I almost chose to not see the movie at all because it didn't seem like a movie I'd enjoy, but I'm glad that I decided to give it a shot because it was a great overall experience. It had a moving story that hit home for me. I was almost brought to tears several times. I also had a whole lot of fun with the movie as I was laughing out loud throughout. Great story. Great writing. Great characters. Great acting. Great message. This is a movie that needs to be seen. According to the movie's facebook page, this will be leaving Utah soon, so if you live in Utah I'd recommend you don't hesitate with this one and see it as soon as possible, before it disappears. If you live outside of Utah, this will be expanding a bit in the next month or so at least to places like Idaho and Arizona. If you can't catch it in theaters, then you need to find it when it comes to DVD. It will be all over in places like Deseret Book before too long. Will you like this if you are not of member of the LDS church? I don't know. Maybe? But if you are a member, you need to see this regardless of your age and gender. It really is one of the best LDS films in my opinion. My grade for Once I Was a Beehive is a 9/10.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hitman: Agent 47 Review

I find it funny that everything right now is trying to become the new Bourne or Bond. Granted, it has been a pretty good year for action movies like this as Kingsman: The Secret Service was a huge surprise earlier this year and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is making bank right now. This will continue later this year as the latest Bond movie Spectre is sure to be a monster hit. Meanwhile we have all these little August movies that are trying to join in on the party. I keep seeing TV spots for them that say "Most entertaining movie of the Summer" or "Better than Bond and Bourne." Meanwhile I'm sitting on my couch wondering who in the heck said that. Must be some bitter old movie critic that hates Bond and Bourne, because no. These movies aren't the same caliber as those. Yes, I did like both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and American Ultra, but they aren't even on same level as Kingsman or Mission: Impossible. And this latest movie, Hitman: Agent 47? Oh heck no! Not even close. In fact, compared to this movie even The Man From U.N.C.L.E. looks like an epic masterpiece. This movie was a mess. I wanted to turn off my brain and have fun. I'm good at that. But I didn't have any fun with this. When I did turn on my brain to try to figure out what was happening, it got worse. Do yourself a favor and just skip this movie.

The premise of this movie was fairly straightforward and thus I actually bought into it at first. Here we have a woman who is trying to figure out the whereabouts of her father. He left her alone when she was little and never returned for her. In the midst of trying to locate him, she suddenly notices that she is being chased by a trained assassin and tries to escape when luckily Spock comes to her rescue as the man assigned to stop the assassin from killing her. And of course by Spock, you know I don't mean that literally. I'm talking about Zachary Quinto, the guy who plays Spock in the new wannabe Star Trek films that tricked millions of people into thinking they actually liked Star Trek when in reality they were an insult to the Star Trek name. Wait, did I just say that? Moving on. This initial premise for Hitman: Agent 47 could've been a good one. It had a little bit of a Terminator vibe to it, which I thought could've worked. For a moment I even wondered if I was going to be one of the few that liked the film. Nope. After starting off interesting enough, this movie took some weird turns that it just expects the audience to totally buy and I totally didn't buy it at all. In fact, for the last three-fourths of the movie I was completely miffed at what was happening and when the movie ended I had a hard time trying to connect everything together and make sense of it all. Was someone drunk when they wrote this movie?

But that's not even the biggest problem with this movie. If I go into an action movie like this, I can sometimes forgive a really stupid plot if I have fun with the actions scenes themselves. But I didn't. For much of the movie, we had this super soldier trying to train this other super soldier and both of them are so super that they just walk into a building and kill everyone in one shot. No suspense. No contest. No danger for our "protagonists." It was just plain out boring. I like it when our action hero is put in a situation where we as an audience aren't sure if they are going to be able to pull this off or we aren't sure how they are possibly going to do it. Even with someone as unstoppable as Jason Bourne we aren't sure how he's going to succeed at what he's trying to do. But in Hitman, they just walk into the building and start shooting everyone and everything is just too easy that it's not even fun or the least bit suspenseful. On top of that, there is a whole lot of downtime in this movie where nothing is happening. It's bad enough that I was bored during the action scenes, but it's even worse that I wanted to fall asleep in my chair because there was so much downtime that was even more boring.

Honestly I feel bad for the actors in this movie. They didn't do a bad job. In fact, I really liked the main female in this, Hannah Ware. I also liked our main male lead, Rupert Friend. These two are fairly unknown names that could've enjoyed a breakout performance had the writing not been so bad. Sometimes actors are able to overcome the bad writing and still make their character likable. Unfortunately that's not the case here. I didn't care about any of the characters. There was a spot in the end that I think I was supposed to feel a bit of emotion, but I didn't because I just didn't care about anyone in the movie. Zachary Quinto was probably the least likable of the bunch, but I don't feel bad for him because I know he will recover from this. The other two I fear that they may have lost their opportunity, which sucks for them. Oh, did I mention that there is a long car chase scene in the movie that is one of the worst car chase scenes that I've seen because it looked like a 10-minute car commercial? And to end with a huge punch in the gut, the very final scene in this movie before it went to credits was the worst and most confusing scene in the movie. I was at a loss for words during the credits. And I was laughing out loud because of how bad it was. Ouch.

Please, do yourself a favor and skip this movie. Don't even rent it or watch it on Netflix. Not only is it not worth your money, but there are so many other things that you could do with the 96 minutes that are more worthwhile than watching this movie. Everything I mentioned combines to make a huge mess of a movie. We started out with what seemed like an interesting premise with some likable actors that were doing a good job, but then the movie took some weird twists that just didn't work out at all. The action was boring. There was way too much downtime. None of the characters were likable. We had a long car commercial thrown in there with the chase scene. The very final scene was super confusing. It just doesn't work. I mentally checked out about 30 minutes into the movie. I wanted to leave. I wanted to take a nap in my chair. But I did neither of those and instead I earned my badge of honor for completing the film and now I am eligible to give out my grade. It won't be the worst grade of the year, but it's far from a passing grade as I will give Hitman: Agent 47 a 4/10.

Friday, August 21, 2015

American Ultra Review

You know the Summer is ending when you look at the new movies coming to theaters this weekend and none of them look that appealing. Then you go look at their score on Rotten Tomatoes and sure enough all three of them are on the rotten side of the meter, two of them being in single digits. Ouch. On top of all this, Facebook is being flooded with back to school pictures and posts. Yup. It's late August. One of those times of years that is typically considered a dumping ground. If a studio is confident about the commercial success of a movie, late August is not the time they release it. I could've just avoided the theaters this weekend and no one really would've noticed. But I consider it a duty of mine to see the new movies in theaters so that I can inform my readers, whether the movie is good or bad. Plus, I always hold onto the hope that a movie I'm seeing could surprise me and be good. When it came to American Ultra, that hope was actually fairly high. This looked like one of this situations where you could check your brain at the door and go have fun. I didn't expect anything deep, profound, or mind-blowing. I just wanted to have fun with a late-August movie. Plus, this movie had two of my current favorite actors, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. So what the heck? I payed no regard to what others had said and went in hoping for a good time. And do you know? I had a blast with American Ultra!

I will admit, the premise of this movie is nothing to write home to. If you think too deeply about everything that happens or try to pick apart the movie, you'll probably be able to find a lot of things wrong with this movie. If you come to me later saying that you hated the movie, I won't be one bit surprised. This is nothing new. This is nothing creative. In fact, it's kind of a lot of different ideas thrown into one, but for me it worked. Here we have Jesse Eisenberg playing a stoner in a small town. Kristen Stewart plays his girlfriend that he absolutely adores and he works in this small convenient store type of thing that no one really ever enters. Life is just quiet and low key for him. But then some lady enters the mart and starts speaking some mumbo-jumbo to him. Shortly after, two guys approach him with the intent of killing him and out of nowhere he pulls off these crazy awesome moves where he kills both of these people while only being armed with a spoon. Yup. Apparently he is some sort of secret super-soldier that is now being targeted for termination and he's just as shocked as anyone at all of this. It's beginning at that point where we as an audience are taken on quite the wild ride as Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are simply trying to not be killed while both pulling off some crazy awesome moves in the process.

This movie is definitely not for everyone. I'll be up front with that. It's a contender for the bloodiest movie of the year and the language is pretty bad. If that turns you off, then avoid this movie. It's that simple. But call me crazy and/or sadistic, I enjoyed it. I've been known to be able to turn off my brain and enjoy action movies like this, so this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. In terms of the level of violence in the movie, Kingsman is probably a good comparison and I had a blast with that one, too. This one I felt was unique in the fact that Jesse Eisenberg was as weird and nerdy as it gets, but for some reason was able to pull off some pretty awesome moves. His reaction to these moves was priceless, especially that first time that he tried to explain to Kristen Stewart what had happened. He was fumbling all over the place and was as nervous as heck. It was great. You can compare it to Jason Bourne in the sense that both characters are super-soldiers with a mysterious past that they have no idea about, but the difference here is Jesse Eisenberg is a nerdy super-soldier who has no idea what he is capable of until he starts fighting. It's really the perfect Jesse Eisenberg role and if you've seen any of his movies, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Then there's Kristen Stewart. The two of them are just perfect for this movie. In fact, it's both of them giving excellent performances that makes this movie work. They have great chemistry as a complicated couple, which makes for a surprising level of emotion as we get deeper into the film. But they're just fun to watch. About Kristen Stewart. If you are one of those people that still bash her for her inability to act, we're at the point where you need to get with the times. One good performance could be seen as a fluke, but when it comes to the point where she gives an excellent performance in everything that she does, I think it proves that her Twilight performance was the actual fluke. Once again I will say that I think her performance in Twilight can be attributed to a poorly written character and a poor direction for the movie as a whole. Even the best of actors can sometimes give bad performances when they have nothing to work with and no one working with them. Just go watch The Phantom Menace again and pay attention to how bored great actors like Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, and Liam Neeson look the whole movie. My point proven. What I've learned to love about Kristen Stewart is that she is blunt and straightforward with her feelings. When she's upset or bored, she's not afraid to show it. But when she's into something, she goes all it. The latter is the case with American Ultra. She is so into this movie and is thus so fun to watch with the broad range of emotion that she brings to the table with her character.

So yes. I enjoyed this movie. Is it the most unique, creative, and thought-provoking movie? Absolutely not. It's fairly simple and straightforward with the premise and doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but that's just fine. It doesn't need to. It's just a movie that is trying to have a lot of fun and succeeds. What really makes it work as well as it does are the two stellar performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Both of them are the perfect casting choice for their specifics roles in the movie and both of them give it their all. They provide action. They provide humor. They provide emotion. They have great chemistry. Because of all this, when this group is trying to attack and kill them, you honestly care for their well-being and you want everything to work out for the best. It's all extremely satisfying, especially in the final act when Jesse Eisenberg is just in the zone and you know that anyone or anything that crosses his path is in deep trouble. At just 95 minutes, this movie is also very simple and to the point. They could've dragged it out to two hours or more, but they didn't and that worked very well for them. One critic said that it was the funnest movie of the Summer and the marketing recently has taken that and ran with it. No, it's not the funnest time I've had at the theaters this Summer, but it's up there. My grade for American Ultra is an 8/10.