Friday, August 18, 2017

Logan Lucky Review

The middle of August is an interesting time for movies. The big summer movie season is behind us, it's a bit early for Oscar season, school is about to start up for many and, well, people just don't go to the movies that much. Thus studios typically don't drop their big releases in this month, especially not when it comes to mid- to late-August. I mean, Hollywood has realizes with the likes of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Suicide Squad" that the first weekend of August can be a great one, thus allowing you to have a monopoly on the rest of the month because no one is going to care to challenge you. "The Dark Tower" tried that this year, but they failed to interest anyone, so now we are just left with an empty month with a lot of low-budget films that could be good or the could be outright disasters. So I'm usually paying extra close attention to reviews to prioritize which movies to see first and which movies can wait for much later. And this is why I found myself in theaters for "Logan Lucky" this weekend because here we have a heist film from director Steven Soderbergh, the director of the "Ocean's" movies that is sitting pretty at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score in the 90 percent range will certainly get my attention.

As far as the "Ocean's" movies go, I have to be honest and say I'm not as up-to-date with them. I really enjoy myself a good heist movie, but I fell asleep during "Ocean's Eleven" when I first watched it and haven't watched it too many times since. I did enjoy it, though, but it definitely garners a re-watch. And I never did see "Ocean's Twelve" or "Ocean's Thirteen." Although I hear "Ocean's Twelve" is a disappointment while "Ocean's Thirteen" brings it back to form. I've also not seen the original "Ocean's 11" in 1960 with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Perhaps I'll catch up on those before next year's female reboot, "Ocean's Eight." But despite me not being up-to-date with perhaps the most popular heist series, again I do love myself a good heist movie, such as "The Italian Job," "Fast Five" and "Ant-Man," to name a few off the top of my head. This year we even had "Going in Style" and "Baby Driver" that I enjoyed. They are a lot of fun. When I saw that Soderbergh was back out of "retirement" with a new heist film, I was really hoping that it would be a lot of fun, although the mid-August release date had me a bit nervous. But the great reviews gave me confidence and excitement and I prepared myself for a good time with a heist at a NASCAR race.

Right off the bat I will say that if you go into this movie expecting an epic masterpiece, you might be a bit let down. This is not on the level of the greatest heist movies, thus the 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes might be a bit deceiving. Although it should be noted that Rotten Tomatoes is simply the percentage of critics that gave the movie a good review. A movie that gets in the 80-100 percent range simple means a lot of people liked it. Rotten Tomatoes doesn't differentiate between decent movie and masterpiece. It's all black and white. Positive and negative. That's why you have to do a bit of reading in between the lines to see what people are saying instead of just looking at a score. I think the overall consensus is that a lot of people had a fun time with this movie. And I'm one of them. If I were a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic, I would be part of the 93 percent that gave this a pass. I don't think Soderbergh really took himself too seriously with this film, which is a good thing here. This is not a serious, intense drama. This is essentially a comedy heist. A hillbilly, redneck parody of Soderbergh's "Ocean's" films. If you go in expecting a masterpiece, you might be disappointed. But if you go in just expecting to have a good time, I think you will.

If I'm getting super nit-picky with the premise here, the motivations behind the heist wasn't perfectly clear to me. A heist film typically dives into anti-hero territory and I love it most when there's good, solid reasoning behind doing a heist. You have to look at your main characters and believe that they'd be the type of people that would be willing to pull something like this off, yet they have to have enough charisma for you to cheer for them to be successful despite this being a very illegal thing that you wouldn't root to succeed if this were real life. That's why "Fast Five" worked really well. Vin Diesel and crew are very likable characters who spend most of that series running from the law or doing things, like street racing, that aren't exactly legal. A major heist, stealing a giant bank vault, made sense for them and it was a ton of fun. Channing Tatum is our main character in "Logan Lucky" and he plays your very typical, likable redneck, southern dude. He loses his job over liability issues and then goes to his brother, played by Adam Driver, and says that they should go rob the NASCAR race track during a huge race. That kinda felt out of left field and not what those two characters would do. So the movie didn't quite have the best setup in the world.

Motivations aside, though, this movie is quite the fun romp. If you live in the deep south or simply enjoy that type of culture, this is going to be your movie. I lived in Texas for two years and while that's not quite the deep south, I did get a taste of the southern culture, especially when I was in the small, redneck towns, so I really appreciated this redneck parody. I thought it was a lot of fun. If you are more cultured into the deep south than I am, then you're going to like this even more. They get the southern culture down pretty well. And, you know, what better than two hillbilly brothers pulling off a heist at a NASCAR race? It's absolutely hilarious. Even if you're not associated with southern culture, I still think there's potential to have a great time here due to the uniqueness of the setup. Along with that, I think all the cast members had a fun time with this, especially Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. Everyone in the movie has a thick, southern accent, which works for some more than others, and they all have great chemistry as a team of crazy dudes doing this crazy heist, even if it seems they're a bit in over their heads. With the cast having fun and the director not taking things seriously, it's easy to just sit back and have fun with them.

The biggest challenge for any heist movie is to make sure the pacing of the film is done right. Your typical formula for a heist movie is the introduction of the characters followed by some inciting incident where a decision is made to perform a heist. Then you spend a lot of time in the planning / recruiting / preparation phase before finally getting the payoff of the heist itself, which is typically concluded with post-heist sequences where we see if they get away with this heist. Thus you spend a lot of time in these movies setting things up, which has the potential of getting boring if not done right. If the heist and post-heist sequences aren't intense enough, then we don't get the proper payoff after waiting so long to see this go down. If I'm being honest here, "Logan Lucky" didn't quite nail this pacing. As I mentioned earlier, I think the setup of the heist came out of left field. I don't think it quite made sense. Then there were a lot of moments during the planning phases that were a bit too slow. Watching it late at night, I was having a bit of a rough time staying awake. Then I don't think the payoff was as quite as good as I wanted it to be. Now, none of these elements were straight-up bad, but each step was off by just a bit to throw off the groove of the movie. Things could've been tightened up.

That aside, though, I do think this is an entertaining movie. If you've already got yourself caught up with the summer's big blockbusters and you're just dying for something to come out to so you can get your fix of movie watching, I think "Logan Lucky" is a solid option. If you're not one that heads out to theaters often, I don't think this is necessarily a movie where you need to rush out and see it as soon as possible. Feel free to wait for Netflix, Redbox or whatever means you use to watch movies on your own at home. It will be a well-spent two hours of your life if you have nothing else going on. You can definitely tell that the cast of the movie had a lot of fun during the filming process and that Steven Soderbergh simply wanted to make a casual, lighthearted film for his coming out of retirement party. If you go into the movie without any super high expectations and simply plan to relax, throw some popcorn in your face and have a good time with a hillbilly parody of "Ocean's Eleven," I think you're going to have a great time with this movie. I personally may need to do a re-watch at some point, maybe during my "Ocean's" marathon, due to me dosing off a bit during some of the slower parts. But I did enjoy my experience and thus for now I'm going to give "Logan Lucky" an 8/10.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Annabelle: Creation Review

I think it's safe to say that we all rolled our eyes when it was announced that we were getting another "Annabelle" movie. I mean, "The Conjuring" movies are pretty entertaining horror movies and that Annabelle doll was extremely creepy when it showed up in the first "Conjuring." But when they did that "Annabelle" prequel movie, I don't think there was a single person on the planet that gave that movie a good review. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. It did get all the way up to 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes out of 119 reviews, but no one that I talked to or critic that I like to follow said anything good about it. And even though hype and marketing helped it to open in the same range as both "Conjuring" movies, it crashed hard in ensuing weeks and barely managed to double its opening weekend total. I suppose I can't officially judge it because I didn't care to see it. Yes, I'm a horror fan, but there are so many bad horror films out and I choose to seek out the ones that do horror right while usually skipping the awful ones like "Annabelle." Which is why, in a surprising turn of events, I found myself in a theater watching "Annabelle: Creation." They got a good director which led to good early reviews, so I was intrigued to see if they could rein this back in.

The timeline for this movie is a bit interesting. As I mentioned before, "Annabelle" is a prequel to "The Conjuring." In "The Conjuring," you see the Annabelle doll in that one room where the Warrens have kept all of their possessed or supernatural objects that they have collected, so with the movie "Annabelle," they went back in time to tell that doll's story. With "Annabelle: Creation," instead of going forward in time a bit after the first "Annabelle," they again backtrack to tell the origins of the Annabelle doll. So yes, "Annabelle: Creation" is a prequel to a prequel of "The Conjuring." Simply put with this story, a man is happily married with a wife and a young daughter and is making a line of Annabelle dolls to sell to families. While I don't feel like getting into specifics with what exactly happens, even though you can see it coming from a mile away, bad stuff happens to this family and then we jump 12 years later where he is now a sad man with a lot of secrets, yet decides to bring in some foster girls who are hoping to be adopted. Or something like that. Point is, a Nun with a group of young girls of varying ages are now coming to live at this man's home and they quickly learn that there is a lot of strange things happening in this home centering around this doll.

The first thing I noticed about the events that were taking place was that there were a lot of supernatural things happening without much explanation. I understand that with many horror movies it's a bad idea to try to explain everything because often it ends up ruining the movie and mythology. But I looked at this movie in comparison to both "Conjuring" films, which had intriguing stories and mythologies that they told about certain haunting cases. Both films took the time to explain the backstory of their films and why everything was happening. "The Conjuring" especially had a very rich, detailed story with their haunting that the Warrens were solving. With "Annabelle: Creation," the daughter is haunting the house and that's pretty much it. There's no investigation or mystery to be solved. No Warrens around to help this girl or exercise her spirit. No real explanations to how or why the doll is moving around everywhere or the specific motivations behind why this girl is choosing to haunt these other girls using this doll. It's just simple scares without much story or depth behind it. A deceased young girl is haunting this house that all these girls have moved into and the girls have to figure out how to survive and what to do. That's "Annabelle: Creation" in a nutshell.

This disappointed me because for me it wasn't the terror of the "Conjuring" films that made me like them. It was the mythology and the investigation that I found fascinating, which was topped off by some legitimately terrifying sequences. "The Conjuring" even had a lot of religious undertones to it as the message of the film is that the devil exists and God exists and our destiny as human beings is to choose which one to follow with the Warrens representing the people who use the power of God to get rid of the power of the devil. In fact, this is a very common theme for many horror films like "The Exorcist" from 1973. While a very non-traditional way to share a spiritual message, it works and it adds a lot of depth to the movie instead of being a movie about simple scares. Even in the non-religious realm, there's a lot of other horror films that dive deep into various themes and real life situations people have to deal with, like "The Babadook," which deals with mental illness and depression in a rather powerful way. Other examples from this year include "Get Out," which is very much a social commentary on racism or "It Comes at Night," which deals with the fear of the unknown and paranoia. "Annabelle: Creation" has none of this. It's just there for scares.

But yet on a positive note, when it comes to the scares, "Annabelle: Creation" does it right. So many horror films these days are bogged down with jump scares and gore that really get old. They throw story and characters out the window because they think cramming as many jump scares into as possible, with many of them being annoying fake jump scares, are why people like horror films. Or they think that a bloody gory image is what's scary so they decide to make their movie huge gore-fests. These are the types of horror films I choose to avoid because I don't find them interesting. From what I've heard, "Annabelle" is this exact type of horror film. But "Annabelle: Creation" is not. They hired David F. Sandberg to direct, who is responsible for both the "Lights Out" short film from 2013 and the "Lights Out" feature-length film from last year. Even though "Lights Out" was another simple scare-fest without a ton of depth, it was a successfully creepy film. Sandberg implements a lot of those tactics he used in "Lights Out" for "Annabelle: Creation," meaning the movie is focused a lot more on creepy imagery, clever camera work, appropriate lighting and other stuff like that instead of blood, gore and endless amounts of jump scares to make this a good horror film.

Yes, jump scares exist in "Annabelle: Creation," but most of the jump scares in this movie were ones that gave you real reason to jump with a demon jumping out, the doll appearing or creepy eyes showing up in the dark. Real stuff to be scared about. Fake jump scares are kept to a minimum and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie's run time with how legitimately scary this house was with this doll. No, the movie didn't have any depth to it or much of a story to latch onto, but this was a well-made horror film in terms of the actual horror elements. There were also a lot of good characters in this movie with great acting. The main guy whose house we're in is played by Anthony LaPaglia and he does a great job of playing this very broken man. The Nun who is in charge of the girls is played by Stephanie Sigman and she does a great job of being loving and charismatic towards these girls. And our two main girls are played by Lulu Wilsons and Talitha Bateman, both of whom do a great job as these young girls being haunted by this doll. There are plenty of dumb decisions made by everyone, making this a very cliche horror film at times. But that was all in the writing as all the actors did their absolute best with the material they were given.

In short, if you are looking for a horror film with a ton of depth and a lot of interesting themes, "Annabelle: Creation" is not your film. It's short on story. There's a lot of supernatural events that are left unexplained. There's not very many strong character arcs. It doesn't dive deep into the mythology as it could've. It's not a paranormal investigation movie. The movie does a good job at connecting with both "The Conjuring" and "The Conjuring 2" while successfully setting up next year's "The Nun" (yes we're going for a "Conjuring" cinematic universe with these spin-offs). But it fails to hit the heights of "The Conjuring" and is more in line with "The Conjuring 2" for me, a movie that I felt had a lot less depth and purpose than its predecessor. That said, if you're looking for a horror movie that's simply entertaining, this will be your movie. After a bit of setup, there are a lot of scares in this movie and those scares are done properly as the movie focuses more on the creepy imagery while using good lighting, interesting camera work and effective music to deliver these scares instead of relying solely on jump scares and gory images to be scary. If you're not a horror fan, this won't convert you. But if you are a horror fan, there's a lot of fun to be had. I'm giving "Annabelle: Creation" a 7/10.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Dark Tower Review

So this is a bit awkward. I have not read Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series. There's eight of these books and I have a lot of friends who love them. But for whatever reason, I've just never gotten around to reading them. Thus I don't know if I'm the most worthy person to write this review, but I'm going to give it my best shot, anyways. And hey, sometimes it's fun to get the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the source material. So that's what you're getting here. If I'm being honest, I was never really excited for this movie in the first place. Yes, I love myself a good Stephen King story, so the idea of turning one of his most popular series into a movie is a good idea. But this has been in Production Hell for the last 10 years and the advertising of the movie led me to believe that the studio itself never had a ton of confidence in the final result because this looked more like a confusing action blockbuster, which I'm pretty sure is not what this franchise is all about. Because of this, my expectations were super low and I went in with the idea of getting this experience over with and moving onto the next movie, especially after the embargo was lifted and I saw those awful reviews. But hey! Surprise! This ended up not being as bad as I thought it was going to be.

From what I'm gathering, the final decision after many years of discussion ended up being that they were not going to simply focus on the first book in the series, but rather they were going to combine several of the books into one 95-minute movie? That's an odd choice. So I don't know how the books go, but in this movie we start out by focusing in a young 11-year-old kid named Jake Chambers who has these psychic abilities that they call "the shine." He sees these premonitions of this other world, the Man in Black and the Dark Tower, thus he knows something is up. But of course no one believes him, so he runs away right before his parents plan on sending him to some sort of mental institution. He runs into Idris Elba, who is a gunslinger trying to save the universe from Matthew McConaughey, the Man in Black, also named Walter. We end up with a rather simple, surface-level good vs. evil story with Matthew McConaughey trying to destroy the world and Idris Elba trying to save it. Jake Chambers is key to this with his psychic abilities. All of this centers around this Dark Tower, which kinda looks like Sauron's tower in "Lord of the Rings." I think we go the route of the world being in trouble if the Dark Tower gets destroyed, but I might have this reversed.

You can definitely tell without even knowing about the books that they tried to cover way too much ground, which is why I ended up being more confused than anything with this whole mythology that I think they assumed that I knew more than I actually did. It didn't really help that the movie failed to hook me and I found myself falling in and out of consciousness during the first act. But then through some series of events, this kid ends up with Idris Elba and they're going on adventures together. When that happened, the movie actually managed to grab my attention. Given that everyone is hating on this movie, I think I was supposed to be getting frustrated and angry at the movie, but instead I was feeling quite the opposite. I was enjoying this universe that we set up and I was loving all of our characters. I didn't know what the Dark Tower really was. I had no idea what a gunslinger was or why this Man in Black was so evil, but I became sold on this journey and I was eager to get answers to my questions. The kid in the movie and Idris Elba had a good amount of chemistry as an unlikely duo that made this a fun movie when certain monsters would show up or when Matthew McConaughey was maliciously trying to ruin everything. I was having quite a bit of fun.

I think the biggest reason as to why this works as well as it does is because Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey both bring their A-game to this movie. Idris Elba is such a likable hero as his character felt like he was plucked straight out of an old western and put into this mysterious fantasy world. He carried the name of gunslinger rather well with his fancy gun tricks and his "I shoot with my mind, not my hands" philosophy. And when him and Jake head into the real world, Elba is hilarious as a fish out of water much in the same way Wonder Woman was when she went out into the real world with Chris Pine. On the flip side, Matthew McConaughey did such a great job of playing this pure evil sorcerer. I didn't know why he was evil and I was disappointed that the movie chose not to dive into any of his motivations for being evil, but I could tell McConaughey was absolutely relishing this role of the dark villain. Thus we had what felt like a classic western rivalry meshed with fantasy elements with the cowboy dude against the evil sorcerer in this modern-day society meets Middle Earth from "Lord of the Rings." It was a great combination of several genres that set up this world that I was really eager to learn more about.

My problem is that the movie ended rather abruptly after an extremely rushed, anti-climatic finale. If you're adapting such an epic book series AND you decided to combine several of the books together, you have got to go longer than 95 minutes. I could've easily gone for two hours in this, maybe even two and a half hours. Thus this movie was 30-45 minutes too short. We set up this fascinating universe and chose not to delve into to much. We introduced these fascinating characters played by the perfect actors who brought their A-game and we decided not to reveal too much about them. We set up this fantastic rivalry between Elba and McConaughey and rush through it too fast. Not knowing anything about the books, I was watching this movie and thinking to myself that this has the potential to dive as deep into this realm as a "Lord of the Rings," but they decided not to. It would as if Peter Jackson decided to take the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and, instead of making three really long movies, combined the whole thing into a 95-minute movie. You would feel really cheated as a fan because of all the wasted potential. An outsider with no knowledge of the books might have fun, but someone who cares about the books would be mad at what they put together.

Because of this, I came up with two potential comparisons for those who have read the books that I think might be a good comparison. The first one is "Ender's Game." I remember enjoying that book along with everyone else and when they finally turned it into a movie a few years back, I was a bit frustrated that they chose to make it such a short movie because there's so much more that happens, but I think despite that it was perfectly cast and otherwise well done, so I enjoyed it overall. The other perhaps concerning comparison is to "Eragon." I know people who never read the books that enjoyed the movie. For me I realize that they had the right cast (for the most part) and it was a well-acted, visually stunning movie, but they butchered the adaptation so badly that I spent the whole experience extremely frustrated at what they were doing to my beloved series. The movie was also way too short, combined several sequences into one, didn't do justice to several of the characters and removed several key plot points that made it impossible for them to continue the series even if they had made enough money to justify the sequel. Even though it wasn't poorly made movie, the adaptation was, and still is, one of the worst book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen.

Personally the big difference for me with "Eragon" vs. "The Dark Tower" is that going into "Eragon" I had read the books while going into "The Dark Tower" I hadn't. Thus if you have read the books and are a big fan, I think it's quite possible that this might be your "Eragon." You very well might hate this movie with a fiery passion. And I totally understand. But not having read the books, there was enjoyment for me to be had. I loved Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They both gave it their all. There was some really fun action, fantasy sequences and we set up a world that was really intriguing to me. In a summer that saw disappointments like "The Mummy," "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3," "Dunkirk," "Valerian," "The Emoji Movie" and "Atomic Blonde" to name a few (I still haven't seen the latest "Transformers" movie), I found myself surprisingly pleased with "The Dark Tower" and enjoyed it more than all of those movies even if I thought the ending was super anti-climatic and transformed this movie into a surface-level action/fantasy movie when I knew this had so much more potential. The movie did give me the desire to actually go read the books and maybe when I do my opinion will change. But as for this moment in time, I'm going to give "The Dark Tower" a 7/10.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie Preview: August 2017

If July 2017 taught us anything it's that sometimes it doesn't matter how good your movie is, if you have a bad release date or there's too much competition in the market, your financial potential will be limited. Several studios learned this the hard way this past month. Heading into the month, it was going to either be a historic month or a bit of an overcrowded disaster. Turns out it was more of the latter. Marvel and Sony's "Spider-Man: Homecoming," Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes" and Warner Bros.' "Dunkirk" all scored extremely well with critics and audiences alike, but had each had a little more breathing room instead of being released in three consecutive weeks, perhaps their financial total would be a bit more as they have all been cannibalizing each other a bit. Meanwhile "Valerian" and "Atomic Blonde" were completely left in the dust, proving that both should've picked a different release date all together. Perhaps August would've been a good date for those movies because, as you are about to see with this August preview, it's looking like a very empty August. I mean, there's plenty of movies on the schedule, but none of them look like they'll have enough power to propel this month anywhere close to August 2016's $1.02 billion record.

August 4th - 6th-

First up to bat in this month is the long-awaited arrival of the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. This is a movie that's been in what is referred to as "Production Hell" for the last 10 years. That's a phase where filmmakers are trying to get a movie made, but various issues keep it from coming to fruition, so it stays in production. Sometimes permanently. "The Dark Tower" initially began production back in 2007 when J.J. Abrams was attached to direct with fellow "LOST" co-workers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on to write a script. But then 10 years of issues happened which included Abrams and co. leaving, Ron Howard being brought on to direct and then leaving before finally being left to Nikolaj Arcel, who's directed a few small films such as "A Royal Affair." Cast-wise, the movie has plenty of star power with Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba in the lead roles, but hype leading up to the movie isn't exactly what fans of the books have hoped for. After muted or decreasing interest leading up to the release, the review embargo went until Wednesday evening, which has since led to a flood of mostly negative reviews. This probably means the franchise's future, which was hoping to go to T.V. next, is in jeopardy.

On a more positive note, the next movie up is the nationwide expansion of Kathryn Bigelow's critically praised Detroit. This had been set for a wide release this weekend for some time, but semi last minute, Annapurna Pictures elected for a limited release run a weekend earlier, which turned out to be a great choice as the movie earned a solid $350,190 in just 20 theaters this past weekend. Possibly more important to that is the early reviews from this run leaving the movie at a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie is set in Detroit in 1967 and tells the story of events that took place in the Algiers Motel during the Detroit riots. Bigelow has a very strong track record with these types of intense true story films as her last two feature length films, "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker," both went onto be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, with "The Hurt Locker" winning the award back in 2009. With it only being August, it's way too early to tell if "Detroit" is in contention for best picture this upcoming awards season, but early signs are positive, which is also a good sign for lead stars John Boyega and Will Poulter. Look for this to play well throughout August as word of mouth builds, even if it doesn't have a strong wide release.

The final movie of this initial weekend of August sees Halle Berry return to a lead role for the first time since 2013 with her new film, Kidnap. The aforementioned previous lead role for Halle came with a movie called "The Call," which successfully fought a slate of mostly negative reviews by finishing with $51.8 million after a $17.1 million opening. Similar to "The Call," which found Halle chasing down someone who just kidnapped a teenage girl, this is also a crime thriller. About Halle chasing down someone who just kidnapped her 6-year-old son. So yeah, pretty much the same premise as "The Call." New time distributor Aviron Pictures would absolutely love a similar box office result as "The Call," but this seems more like a movie that is destined for a small opening followed by a quick exit from theaters and the minds of people who watched it. The strong negative reviews certainly don't help its case.

August 11th - 13th-

Fans of "The Conjuring" movies probably rolled their eyes at the announcement of this next film as the second weekend of August will see the release of Annabelle: Creation into theaters. While both "Conjuring" films did rather well at the box office and were generally well-liked films, the "Annabelle" prequel following the creepy doll from the original "Conjuring" film was a major critical dud. But since it still made a lot of money, Hollywood is ignoring the reaction and creating a second movie following the doll. Although is this a case where the studio listened to the complaints from the first "Annabelle" movie and are working to improve the quality of the film? While the first "Annabelle" couldn't even get to 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, super early reaction from scattered reviews have "Annabelle: Creation" currently listed at a perfect 100 percent. Once more reviews come in, this high mark most likely won't stay perfect, but the early positive reaction is a very good sign. Timeline-wise, we continue to reverse course as "Annabelle: Creation" is a prequel to "Annabelle," which was in turn a prequel to "The Conjuring." If this follows the track of the previous movies in this franchise, this could end up as August's top new film.

While "Annabelle: Creation" will be looking to attract horror crowds, Open Road Films will be looking for some family-friendly counter-programming with The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. It might be a surprise to many to see a sequel to "The Nut Job," a movie that nobody liked and nobody probably remembers, but as a reminder, despite the negative reaction to what have called a very sub-par animated film, "The Nut Job" went critic proof by opening to $19.4 million in January 2014 and ended up with a final tally of $64.3 million. That's nothing close to typical animated affair, but for a small, independent animated film, that's a decent tally. Enough for Open Roads to decide that a sequel was necessary. After a summer full of disappointing animated affair, which saw "Cars 3" and "Despicable Me 3" perform below expectations when compared to their predecessors, as well as "The Emoji Movie" collapse following poisonous word of mouth, don't look for "The Nut Job 2" to reverse course. That job will be left to "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" in September. "The Nut Job 2" will instead most likely be as forgettable as its predecessor with worse box office totals.

The final wide release of the weekend is Lionsgate's release of The Glass Castle. Starring Academy Award winner Brie Larson, Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson and Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts, this movie tells the true story of Jeannette Walls and her unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing with her siblings and dysfunctional parents, based on the memoir of the same name written by Jeannette Walls herself that spent 261 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. If this doesn't scream Oscar-bait, I don't know what does. Now the term "Oscar-bait" often unfairly brings with in a negative connotation, but if the reviews of this are good, this could be a good drama that provides some counter-programming with the adult audience. Although if Lionsgate really wanted to push this one for awards, they forgot that August is still usually a bit too early to get serious consideration. Or maybe they don't quite have as much faith. Without those good reviews, though, this is likely to disappear into the late August night.

August 18th - 20th-

The third weekend of August brings us two titles aiming for the exact same audience: the adult male. Two action comedies. This is typically a bad sign as both of these late-August releases risk cannibalizing each other at the box office, meaning there's no guarantee that either of them end up topping the second weekend of "Annabelle: Creation," but the film that seems most likely to do so is The Hitman's Bodyguard. This action comedy stars Ryan Reynolds as a special protection agent who is assigned to protect a notorious hitman, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and help escort him safely to International Court of Justice where he is required to testify. The movie will be banking on the star power of Reynolds and Jackson, which is probably a good bet at this point given Reynolds' career resurgence following "Deadpool" added onto the fact that Jackson has been one of the most bankable stars for the last 20+ years. The two of them will be hoping to capture what made last year's "The Nice Guys" so well-loved while hoping to make a bit more money than that one did. Although it wouldn't be a surprise if "The Hitman's Bodyguard" ended up in the same realm as "The Nice Guys," which opened to $11.2 million on its way to $36.3 million.

Our second action comedy of the weekend comes from the director of "Oceans Eleven," "Oceans Twelve," "Oceans Thirteen" and "Magic Mike." That's a bit of an odd selection of filmography to highlight, but yes, we are talking about Steven Soderbergh and this is Logan Lucky. Speaking of Soderbergh's "Oceans" movies, those might be the best comparisons here as "Logan Lucky" is also a heist film with a large ensemble. The movie is led by two brothers, played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, come up with a plan to execute a big heist during a NASCAR race, specifically the Coca-Cola 600 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Joining Tatum and Driver in this heist film is Daniel Craig, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank. So yeah, the "Oceans" movies are a good comparison. Except for when it comes to the financial aspect. All three "Oceans" movies opened in the $30 million range and finished above $100 million. Distributor Bleecker Street's highest grossing movie is "Eye in the Sky" with $18 million. Their biggest opening weekend was this year's "Megan Leavey" with $3.8 million. So they'll definitely be looking to break some personal records here.

August 25th - 27th-

If either one of our action comedies from weekend three end up breaking out, they have a really good chance at stealing a repeat in the infamous final weekend of August, which is a historically bad weekend financially. But there are three wide releases to talk about and these newcomers might be led by the animated movie Leap! from The Weinstein Company. "Leap!" has bounced around the schedule quite a bit this year, initially scheduled for March, then April, then Labor Day weekend, then this weekend. It's U.S. release is almost an unnecessary after-thought as this is a French-Canadian animated film and has already been released in a lot of countries worldwide, starting in France and the U.K. in December 2016, and has already accumulated $57.5 million on a $30 million budget. Now if you are from these other countries and you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, this is known as "Ballerina" everywhere else. Why they switched the title here, I have no idea. This is about an orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina and might get the chance as she auditions for the celebrated school of the Paris Opera Ballet. So, you know, the title "Ballerina" DID make sense. Voice cast includes Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Madie Zeigler and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Our next late-August release is the Christian movie All Saints. This is a genre that has had success in the past as "War Room" and "When the Game Stands Tall" both released on this weekend in the past and went on to make $67.8 million and $30.1 million respectively. But yet for everyone of these, there's a handful of other Christian movies that pull in just a few million and it's almost hard to predict which ones will resonate with Christian audiences and which ones will be left in the dust. So there is hope for "All Saints." There's also the possibility of it completely failing to register. Nevertheless, this tells the true story of pastor named Michael Spurlock who is ordered to sell the Church he preaches at due to their congregation being so small. Turns out group of refugees from Southeast Asia show up and together they come up with a plan to rescue this church. I'm sure the filmmakers here would be ecstatic if this hits the $11.4 million or $8.4 million openings of the previously mentioned Christian films. If this does, this could theoretically take the weekend if nothing else on the schedule makes an appearance at the box office. That's not out of the question here.

The final movie of the weekend is the Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon. Now the advertising of this movie does lead you to believe that this movie is focused on Bruce Lee and the famous battle between him and Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man, which helped Lee become a legend. However, the actual movie might be a slightly different story than advertised. The movie was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016 and received very negative reactions from that screening as people who saw it were angry that the movie instead focused more on the fictional white character named Steve McKee, a student and friend of Lee who apparently inspired Lee. Thus accusations of "white washing" were thrown out, even though some don't seem to know what that actually is. Even so, if the critic and audience reactions are similar to these reactions from TIFF, this could easily be a movie that picks up a million or two at most and quickly disappears from theaters.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Ghost Story Review

This past weekend I took a 30-minute journey to see A24's latest film, "A Ghost Story." The movie has enjoyed a rather successful limited release run over the past few weeks and is slowly making its way into more theaters. Now I don't normally drive that far just to see a movie, but for various reasons I felt like I needed to get out and go on an adventure and being that A24 is one of my current favorite studios, this seemed like the perfect movie for me to venture out to see, especially since I ran out of patience when I saw it was semi-close to me. I decided I didn't want to wait until it got to the theater only five minutes away from me because I didn't know if that was going to happen. Some A24 movies don't. Now if you draw a blank when I say A24, some of the movies they have distributed lately include "The Lobster," "The Witch," "Ex Machina," "Swiss Army Man," "Room," last year's best picture winner "Moonlight" and June's "It Comes at Night." These are the movies that go against your typical movie structure, which is why I usually find them fascinating. They're unique, different and innovative. A breath of fresh air. And now they've struck again with "A Ghost Story," because this is quite the movie that fits in rather well with their impressive catalog.

The risk you take when making a movie that is different from what people are used to is that there's always going to be a percentage of the population that doesn't quite grasp the vision of that specific idea or direction. I fell victim to this myself with last month's "Dunkirk" as the direction that Nolan decided to go just didn't connect with me. So yes, the fact that "A Ghost Story" is a VERY different film means that naturally there's going to be people that aren't going to like this movie due to the specific styles they went with. But if you're looking for something unique and different, I'd encourage you to check this out if/when it expands or when it comes to DVD or various streaming services. Because the journey this movie takes you on is quite the experience. I also have to mention that even though the title of this movie makes it sound like a horror movie, especially since A24 has released a lot of horror movies, this is not a horror movie. This is a straight-up drama that reflects on humanity and our own individual place in this giant universe we live in. I can see people looking at the title or poster and going in hoping for a horror and coming out disappointed with that not being what they got. Thus the warning. This is not a horror movie. Don't expect one.

The premise of the movie almost sounds silly when I describe it, but the movie centers on this couple where the man dies and comes back as a ghost. Your old-fashioned Halloween costume style of ghost with a big white sheet over your head. Thus the movie almost reminded me of that old Michael Keaton movie "Jack Frost," where the dad dies and comes back reincarnated as a snow man with one more chance to live life right. Although in this case, this ghost isn't getting a second chance at life. No one can see him. No one can hear him. He can't speak. And he's assigned to the house he's lived in where he is forced to silently stand there watching his wife try to live life without him. When she moves on, he is still stuck in the house and has to watch this other family live in the house they lived in. Being quite frank, this is a movie that is going to tear you to pieces emotionally. This is not a religious movie. It doesn't try to teach you some sort of positive message about life and what to do if you've lost someone you love. It's just flat out sad and depressing. You feel for this couple as their lives have been suddenly ruined and if you've ever lost someone you care about in a sudden way, this movie is probably going to make you think about them.

Outside this premise, what makes this movie so unique is some of the decisions they made with this. First and foremost, the framing of this movie is not equal to the movie screen or TV you will be watching it on. I don't know what the specific ratios are, but it's close to being a square. My guess is that the ratio is either 2x3 or 3x4. And the edges are rounded. Thus there's going to be a section of the screen on the far left and far right that will be completely blank. Then we have very limited dialogue. The dialogue that exists is just normal, everyday conversations among the people that come on the screen. There's plenty long shots where very little happens and also plenty of shots where the camera stays in one spot with no zooming or cutting, allowing the characters to come and go in the shot without the camera following them as if you're just watching a play. A play with long sequences where little happens. The movie takes its time to tell this depressing story and thus might bore some as it is very slow at times. If you tell me that the movie put you to sleep, I won't be surprised. But personally all of this combined had me absolutely glued to the screen. I was sitting there in awe at what I was witnessing as the movie slowly tore me to pieces.

I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to mention a few early examples of what you will see in order to paint a picture of what this movie is like. Towards the beginning, there is a long sequence of this couple laying in bed. Nothing sexual. They're not making love or even kissing much. They're just laying there, saying nothing, and enjoying each other's company. The camera stays still and no one talks. Yet no words are needed. In doing this, the movie very effectively conveys that this couple loves each other very deeply. Certain scenes around it show that there marriage was very normal and far from perfect. But they loved each other. It's one of the most romantic sequences of the year and there's very little romantic acts and no words said. Thus when the man dies, you are effectively crushed. A sequence shortly after the death is where a neighbor or friend gives the wife a pie and a note that if she needs anything to let her know. The wife sees the pie a bit later when she's by herself and takes the whole thing, sits on the floor and just goes to town on it, binge eating a huge portion of it out of pure depression while the husband as the ghost sits and silently watches her, not being able to do a thing. And the scene goes on for a while as she simply eats this pie.

That's the type of movie you're getting yourself into with this one. Long sequences with little dialogue that effectively portray a specific emotion quite powerfully. The score of the movie does a great job of setting the scene each time and each new scene almost has a specific emotion attached to it. We move from happiness to romance to sadness to confusion to anger to hopelessness. The way they choose to portray each emotion ends up being much more powerful then your typical Hollywood film and I attribute that to the unique choices they made with this filmmaking. The acting performances here are really subtle. Our couple, who are not given names in the film, are played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. I don't think these were particularly difficult performances for them. Casey Affleck simply stood with a sheet over him and stared at things. Rooney Mara got to sit and eat a pie. But yet they perform these simple tasks with perfect, which then allowed the post-production to take that and form it into a near masterpiece of a film that won't leave my mind. I didn't walk out of the theater wanting to stand on the rooftops and declare to the world that they must see this movie, but this movie refused to leave my mind.

In case you feel that I've spoiled a lot of this movie for you, I will say that the movie did go in a lot of different directions that I wasn't expecting. Rooney Mara isn't in the film for as long as I thought she would be and at times I was wondering what direction they were taking this. When the movie ended, I was uncertain about the final result. I could've sat down immediately and wrote my review hours after seeing the movie like I often do, but I couldn't because that wouldn't do the movie justice. Instead I just pondered. And even when I wanted to focus on other things, my brain wouldn't let this movie go and I don't know if/when my brain ever will. Any bit of uncertainty has slowly transformed into complete fascination and I think this process will be ongoing. Thus I don't feel it's completely fair to give this movie a score. I will. But one number simply is just not going to do this movie justice. A good comparison is to A24's movie from last year called "The Lobster." That was another unique and thought-provoking film that I found fascinating, but it required a lot of thought and still often comes to my mind. It missed my year-end list, but that doesn't really matter either. It's just a list and my score here is just a number. But that number for "A Ghost Story" currently stands at a 9/10.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Atomic Blonde Review

Summer 2017 is coming to a close and here in the final weekend of July we have my final highly anticipated movie of the summer. It's not been a perfect summer, but overall I can't complain as we have had movies such as "Wonder Woman," "Baby Driver," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" that all really pleased me. I was hoping to finish off strong with "Atomic Blonde" before we head into the wildcard month of August, which could have some good movies, but we won't know until they come. The reason why I had every reason to be excited for this movie was that it was a female-led action flick starring the great Charlize Theron and directed by David Leitch, one half of the directing duo of "John Wick," which was a huge surprise back in 2014 that also spawned an equally as great sequel earlier this year. Quite frankly, "Atomic Blonde" looked like a female version of "John Wick" based on the trailers and, given the director and strong cast, that had me excited. Unfortunately reviews came in as mixed, which caused me to temper my expectations going in. That was probably a good decision on my part because, while "Atomic Blonde" is a decently entertaining film, it's nowhere near as awesome and slick and "John Wick."

The biggest problem this movie had was the plot of the film. While "John Wick" was full of amazing action sequences, a big reason that made it work was that the premise was simple and easy to follow, yet setup this awesome underground world of hitmen that made you want more, which it successfully delivered in "John Wick: Chapter 2" as it successfully expanded this universe. "Atomic Blonde" on the other hand is anything but simple and it uses a storytelling technique that really bothers me. After an intriguing opening, Charlize Theron's story arc in the movie begins at the end with her beaten up and bruised. Shortly thereafter she is taken into an interrogation room with John Goodman and Toby Jones to tell the what happened. Then the bulk of the movie is essentially told in flashbacks while cutting back to the interrogation room whenever the movie felt like it needed to add more exposition to its rather confusing and cliche plot which consists of a whole ton of characters all wanting to track down a list of names. I had a hard time keeping track of every character and what their specific motivations were, which wasn't helped by the fact that the movie was purposely super mysterious as to who was trustworthy and who wasn't, which didn't work for me this time.

Charlize Theron's role in all of this is as a MI6 undercover agent sent over to Berlin in 1989 with the backdrop of the whole "Tear down that wall!" stuff to figure out who killed one of their other agents and track down this list of double agents. Thus in an interesting turn of events, I quickly learned that this was absolutely not a female version of "John Wick," but rather a female version of "James Bond." We have a movie that's mainly a spy thriller with action sequences thrown in on occasion. Now I'm not necessarily an expert on Bond, but I enjoy myself a good Bond film, although they do have a history of being more hit and miss, which is expected when you have a franchise of 25 films over the course of 50 some odd years. With "Atomic Blonde" being this female version of Bond, I have to point out that instead of giving the world a literal female James Bond (or Jane Bond as it would be), like many people are demanding, I say we keep James Bond's gender in tact and just make more movies like "Atomic Blonde." That should work, right? And in theory you would think that it would please everyone. We would be avoiding turning Bond into a politically correct franchise while having more female-led action/spy movies.

Back to the movie, though, if we continue this comparison to Bond, I think "Atomic Blonde" ends up feeling a lot more like "Spectre" than "Skyfall," if we're using recent examples that are fresh on people's memories. Throwing specific plots aside, I say this because "Skyfall" had me fully invested and entertained throughout the whole movie while "Spectre" had me bored for most of the movie while occasionally throwing me an action sequence that caught my attention and gave me hope before again throwing that hope out the window by becoming boring again. Thus was the case with "Atomic Blonde." I really didn't give a crap about this whole list thing and when that is what the whole plot is centered around, it's hard to be invested in a movie when you don't care about this plot. I was just begging the movie to give me more action sequences because Charlize Theron is a boss and I wanted nothing more than to see her in full-out John Wick mode by tearing through a ton of people in a bunch of action sequences instead of wandering around in this confusing web of a plot while making out with Sofia Boutella on occasion, which was a romance that I didn't really buy given how cold-hearted and broken Charlize Theron was for the rest of the movie.

Yeah, the best way to describe Sofia Boutella in this movie was that she was a Bond girl. Her character was an undercover French agent, which made me want to see her and Charlize Theron out in the field together. I mean, Sofia Boutella has played some super awesome characters in the last few years where she has proven that she is a fantastic action actress who brings her A-game to every role. I absolutely loved her in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and even though I wasn't a huge fan of "Star Trek Beyond" or "The Mummy," I loved her character in both movies as well. Having her team up with Charlize for some high-energy action sequences would've been great. Instead Sofia is relegated to the bar or the bedroom where she is objectified as a Bond girl instead of her skill sets as an action star being taken advantage of. It felt like a huge waste. It was as if this filmmaking team was unsure of their ability to attract people just with the female action hero premise, so they thought that throwing in a female romance with two beautiful and popular actresses would be the real way to get males to see their action movie. I can't speak for the male population as a whole, but for me I was sold on the action and was disappointed when the movie didn't deliver on that.

Yes, I do have to give credit where credit is due. Despite me being frustrated at the boring, cliche, convoluted story and upset that we didn't have more action sequences, when they did happen, they were pretty darn awesome. The one staircase sequence that everyone is talking about is just as good as advertised. It was just as good as the best sequences in "John Wick" and the fight choreography was on par as well. Given that Leitch's background is heavy on his stunt coordinator work, he definitely knows how a true action sequences should be directed. Thus we have real, genuine action sequences that aren't plagued by your typical camera and editing tricks that make a lot of action movies feel super lazy. Just by watching the movie, I believed that Charlize Theron trained hard to be able to pull these stunts off. I concluded this by carefully watching the camera and where the cuts were, thus I was super impressed and entertained by how genuine and real it all felt by not cutting away. Thus I give a lot of credit to Leitch and Charlize for pulling this off yet again. And there were more fun action sequences than just the staircase sequence like some are claiming, but yet I was hoping for a bit more action and less confusing story.

Overall I do think there was a good movie hiding in here somewhere. Had we gotten rid of the flashback story technique and sharpened up the plot of the movie by cutting out several characters and giving us a slightly more interesting premise than everyone in Berlin searching for this list, this would've been a great movie. More action sequences would've been great. It would've also been nice to give Sofia Boutella something to do in the movie outside making out with Charlize. But the action sequences that we did get were awesome. I also loved James McAvoy in the movie. I thought the movie was well-shot with a slick look that was similar to "John Wick" and had a very good 80's soundtrack to go along with its 80's Cold War setting in Berlin. And compared to my last two movie adventures in "Valerian" and "The Emoji Movie," I suppose anything could feel like a masterpiece. But when all is said and done, it just makes me wonder if the bulk of the credit for making "John Wick" work should be given to Chad Stahelski instead of David Leitch. The two did great together with "John Wick." On their own, Stahelski did equally as great with "John Wick: Chapter 2" while Leitch left a lot to be desired for in "Atomic Blonde," which I'm giving a 6/10.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Emoji Movie Review

The movie we've all been dreading for has arrived. Sony Pictures Animation Studio has brought Hollywood to an all-time low by making a movie based on emojis in our phone that we use to communicate with our friends. No one was excited for this movie based on that premise. The reaction on the internet was poisonous. And yeah, I was one feeding that negative fire. This just seemed like a bad idea, especially after the disaster that was last year's "The Angry Birds Movie," that somehow made a bunch of money, giving Sony the confidence moving forward with this movie. When the trailers for this movie finally arrived, I personally thought they were so bad that I was cringing through every second of them. The only thing that brought me joy was looking at the like/dislike ratio on YouTube and seeing that it was 80 percent dislikes, a ratio similar to that initial female "Ghostbusters" trailer or Rebecca Black's "Friday" song. It's great seeing the world unite against such a horrible Hollywood premise. For various reasons, I decided to bite the bullet and see this movie. Now that I've done so, I am here standing as a warning to all of you. We were all right. This movie IS just as bad as we all thought it would be. In fact, it somehow may have managed to be worse.

Welcome to the city of Textopolis. I wish I made that up. But I didn't. That's the actual name of our place in our movie. In Textopolis, the job of every emoji is to act the exact way that they are supposed to. If they are good enough to successfully express their emotion, they can earn a job at this fancy studio where they stand in a giant Hollywood Squares style box and be scanned when the owner of their phone decides to select an emoji to send. The conflict in the movie arises when Gene, the Meh emoji, doesn't want to be a Meh emoji. There's a whole range of other emotions that he wants to be able to express, but is forbidden. When he gets his Meh job anyways, the owner selects a Meh emoji to send and Gene panics and the wrong face is sent, which destroys our giant Hollywood Squares box and causes Gene to be labeled as a malfunction and ordered by the evil robots to be permanently erased. Not wanting to be erased, but promised by the rejected Hi-5 emoji that there was a hacker in the phone that could reprogram him, the two set out on a journey to find this hacker and set things right. Thus we have a painfully awful, disjointed adventure through just about every popular smartphone app riddled with an endless amount of smartphone jokes and references.

I'm just going to give all of you a fair warning. I'm going to spoil this movie. I'm not going to dive into every last detail or every plot point, but I'm going to speak liberally about the major aspects of this movie that bothered me the most and I'm not going to care about what point in the movie they happened. If you are one of the few people on earth that care about this, feel free to exit this review and come back later. But seriously. Who actually cares about this? I don't. And you shouldn't. That's why I don't care about spoiling the movie because no one should see this and no one should take their kids to see this movie because they might hate it, too. But I'll get into that a bit later. Yet if the current 3 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1.5 on IMDb and my personal angry review does nothing to convince you that this movie is complete trash, I suppose you have the freedom of finding out for yourself. And who knows. Maybe you'll be the first person ever to find enjoyment out of this. If so, then more power to you. I'm glad you had a good time at the theaters. But if you end up as miserably horrified as the rest of us, don't say I didn't warn you. If your kids end up as restless, miserable and bored as the kids in my theater, at least I can say that I tried to prevent it.

Shall we carry on? Now if you read my plot description or watched the trailers and made the connection that this movie sounds like a bad ripoff of "Inside Out" and "Wreck-It Ralph," then you are exactly right. In "Inside Out" and "Wreck-It Ralph," we have central characters with a specific assignment or job who become unhappy with their role and end up on an adventure through the mind or the arcade that causes them to discover a sense of self-worth through a certain chain of events. Copy and paste those premises, but insert emojis, and you have "The Emoji Movie." The problem here is that both "Inside Out" and "Wreck-It Ralph" had likable characters, well-timed humor, a focused storyline and a whole lot of depth that resulted in the kids being entertained and the adults being blown away. There is not a single redeemable character and the talented cast of voice actors all sounded bored. The movie is criminally unfunny as every single joke in the movie lands wrong and becomes extremely awkward. The storyline is extremely erratic and unfocused as if the writers had an idea of 20 minutes of movie and somehow had to figure out how to extend it to 86 minutes. And there certainly isn't any depth to this embarrassing ripoff of a film.

When push comes to shove, the biggest reason why I hated this movie so much is that it just felt like the epitome of everything wrong with Hollywood right now. How many times have you heard people say that Hollywood has run out of ideas. In an effort to make money, every studio is trying to copy each other by coming up with the next best remake, adaptation or major franchise. And we've had so many crazy ideas that now we have scraped the bottom of the barrel by making a movie based on emojis? Seriously?!?! This is not a video game. This is not a comic book. This is not a board game. This is not even a smartphone game. This is a movie based on the messaging app in your phone and the inner workings of that app. I don't think it can get any more lame than that. And what's worse is that with everyone trying to setup their own cinematic universe after the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we now have Sony dipping to the lowest of lows by attempting to setup the Smartphone Cinematic Universe? I'm not even making that up. That seems like exactly what they were doing here with over half of their 86 minutes being spent wandering through various smartphone apps like Candy Crush, Just Dance, Spotify, Facebook, Instagram and Dropbox.

Can you imagine the brain-numbing consequences if this becomes successful? Do you want our summer lineup in the future to include "The Candy Crush Movie," "The Just Dance Movie," "The Spotify Movie" and others? The fact that we have "The Angry Birds Movie" and "The Emoji Movie" is bad enough. I don't want this cinematic universe to continue and I hope Sony gets the message that they should end this and come up with something intelligent. The fact that they took such an awful premise and attempted to setup an awful universe is bad enough. But on top of that the story they come up with is completely void of new or creative ideas. In theory, you can have a really dumb premise that works if you have creativity. A lot of people were pointing to "The LEGO Movie" as an example of this because there were a lot of people that thought a movie based on LEGOs sounded like the worst, but it ended up being fantastic due to the imagination and creativity. This movie has none of that. They just took the "Inside Out" script and replaced emotions with emoji, threw in a bunch of "Wreck-It Ralph" stuff and called it good. The movie follows practically every beat of those two movies, but in a horribly cringe-worthy way. I was in utter shock while watching.

Shall we dive into some specifics? Our main character Gene is barely worth caring about. And you know from the very start that he's going to be the one to save their phone once their owner decides that it's malfunctioning enough to go to the store shop and get it erased. He's going to follow the same arc as Sadness or Ralph and he does. To a "t." Then we have the absolutely hilarious James Corden voicing the sidekick Hi-5. I don't know how they did it, but they turned James Corden into the most annoying piece of trash that I ever seen in a movie. And I don't blame James Corden. I think he tried his best. But sometimes if you are given a piece of crap to work with, there's no much you can do with it. And speaking of piece of crap, Patrick Stewart literally voices the poop emoji. Luckily he was only a side character, but one poop joke from the trailer was bad enough. Poop jokes and puns happened throughout the movie whenever that character showed up and it was horrible. The smiley emoji was almost as annoying as the poop emoji and Hi-5 as she played the villain of the movie, which is one of the most predictable twists in this horribly predictable movie. I mean, I was literally predicting plot points with my friend the whole movie and we were right every time.

One example of my genius predictions was when they came to the firewall that was going to be the gateway to reprogram if they got past it. They spent like a minute guessing the passwords and getting burned over and over in the process. The whole time I was saying that the password is the girlfriend's name. Like, the owner of the phone's girl crush. Oh, and what do you know? Bingo! And how about that lovely transition to the romance in the film? Because, yes, it exists. Both outside the phone and inside the phone. The only storyline that we follow outside the phone is our phone owner trying to figure out how to ask this girl to the school dance. It was worthless. And of course we have this phenomenal message thanks to "The Emoji Movie" that the way to get the girl is not by talking to her, but through texts and emojis. But the worse love story is that of Gene the Meh and the princess. Because... SURPRISE... the hacker girl that Gene and Hi-5 are searching for is the princess emoji in disguise. She's ran away because she doesn't want to be a princess. She wants to do her own thing. So while we're travelling through all the apps, we are setting up a love story between Gene and the princess, whose name is Jailbreak? No words. Just pure shock and cringe.

Lest you think I'm being a grumpy old man by being super harsh on this kids movie, one of the main goals I had going in was to pay close attention to all the kids in the movie and see their reaction to this. Because even if the movie failed to entertain the adults in the audience and critics writing their reviews, if it ends up entertaining the young kids, then the movie has done its job. There's actually a "Hotel Transylvania" short film to start the movie off and that had the kids laughing hysterically. I payed close attention to that reaction and every time a joke landed in the real movie, I was waiting for the kids around me to react in a similar way to that short film. And it never happened. There was the occasional chuckle, especially when the butt and poop jokes happened, but the kids never laughed. A noticed a lot of them asleep in their chairs or yawning throughout the film. A lot of the younger ones got up and started wandering around, causing the parents to chase them. A lot of loud chatter. I've been around kids enough to when they are bored of a film and I have never sat in a theater where the kids that the movie was trying so hard to entertain were so bored and restless. When you can't even entertain your target audience of easily entertained 3-5 year old kids, that's embarrassing.

I could probably go one, but this review is long enough and I think you get the point. The only entertaining part of the movie was my friend next to me snapping pictures of my reactions to the film. I was in a constant state of pure disgust and horror throughout the film and those pictures do a great job of showing my reaction. Many of you have already seen them and if not, you can head over to my personal facebook and check them out. They sum up my feelings rather well. And it was also fun to sit there and make fun of how awful and predictable the film was. Normally I am a strong advocate of not talking and not using your phone while watching a movie in theaters, but this time I just didn't care and neither did anyone around us. This movie is flat out trash for kids and adults. Don't see it. You will hate it. Don't take your kids. They might hate it. Stay home and put on "Inside Out" or "Wreck-It Ralph." If your kid gets sad, then promise them a trip to see "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" in September because you don't want to waste your time and money with this. Whatever your grading scale is for movies, I'm going to confidently say that "The Emoji Movie" deserves the lowest score. For me personally, that score is a 1/10. And I rarely give that score out.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

I don't get it. The timing of this movie makes absolutely no sense. Here we have the most expensive French film in history with the U.S. equivalent of over $200 million and we release the movie in the middle of July, just after "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" and on the same exact weekend of "Dunkirk"? Like, why? I mean, the net budget is a bit smaller and there's a whole bunch of different companies and studios financing the film, so STX Entertainment didn't put too much into this. EuropaCorp took a bigger portion and various other chipped in. But still. If you have a movie that costs this much to make, you need it to make a ton of money or else everyone involved is going to lose big. So you need to pick a smart release date and this weekend was a very stupid release date that is causing this movie to completely drown in the competition. With its $200 million price tag, it just experienced an estimated $6.5 million opening day, heading for an opening weekend of around $16 million. That's what happens when you make dumb decisions with your release date. But do you know what? That serves this movie right. It's nothing but a huge, messy pile of dog crap and it doesn't even deserve one penny or one minute of your time.

It's worth noting that this is Luc Besson's passion project. It's based on the French comics "Valerian and Laureline" that were first released in 1968. Besson grew up reading these comics and wanted to make a movie out of them since he directed "The Fifth Element" in 1997. So I find it really cool that he gets to live out his dream by making this film, but I am certainly not happy with the final result. I haven't seen everything Besson has done. I've been meaning to watch "The Fifth Element" and "Leon: The Professional" from the 90's and I did like 2014's "Lucy" more than many people, but the man has also been responsible for the writing and producing of a lot of really bad movies such as the "Taken" trilogy, all of the "Transporter" films (of which I have not seen every one -- but "Transporter Refueled" was an atrocity), "Colombiana," "Brick Mansions" and "Lockout." So it's not like I see his name attached to a film and jump for joy. In fact, I watched these trailers and thought that this movie looked like complete trash. But the critics were surprisingly nice to it as it remained in the 70 percent range for a while before falling into the 50's. So maybe it's just really bad marketing and a really bad release date for a decently entertaining movie? That was my hope heading in.

I don't know what some of these critics were thinking when more than half of them gave this movie a positive review. Maybe they were shown a different version of this movie, but this movie made me cringe from the opening sequence and never let up. First off I want to talk about these visual effects that everyone is praising for some odd reason, calling it the equivalent of "Avatar." They weren't that good. And that was one of the many frustrating things for me. They had a production budget of $200 million and they can't even make their movie look good? We live in a day where movies like "The Jungle Book" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" exist and prove that modern-day CGI can do wonders. Those two movies looked like they trained real animals for the film. Yet the entire movie of "The Jungle Book" was filmed in a studio with the kid who played Mowgli walking in front of a giant blue screen and every ape in the "Planet of the Apes" movies done by motion-capture technology. "Valerian" looks like a video game or a border-line animated movie. I've seen better visual effects done in the 90's than in this movie. And this was a 2017 film with a $200 million production budget. I hold those types of movies to higher standards and it's embarrassing when they fall so short.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. At the very least I was excited to escape into this futuristic, fancy-looking universe and those sub-par visual effects took me completely out of the movie. But perhaps I could've given this a pass had the movie itself had any entertainment value. After a useless opening montage showing how far humanity has progressed in space since 1975 until the present day, which is somewhere in the 2100's in this film, we open on a perfect, paradisaical planet with these weird, barely clothed white creatures who are living the perfect life when the dumb humans decide to blow up their planet. Then we immediately jump to Valerian and Laureline modeling for us on a technologically-imposed beach, which turns out to be in a room in their ship. Being that they are important agents for this whatever organization and they are called on a mission by their bosses to this place that is named the City of a Thousand Planets, a term that I still don't understand after watching the whole dang film. Thus we begin a crazy, psychedelic adventure that seems like Besson loved these comics so much that he tried to adapt every single one of them into a giant, messed-up, convoluted drudge of a film with two lead actors that bring absolutely nothing to their roles, making me wish that both of them would be captured by aliens and eaten as breakfast.

Shortly into this movie, I came up with a nickname for it. "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Jar Jars." Remember how annoying Jar Jar was in "The Phantom Menace"? Yeah. Get ready to multiply that by a thousand. Besson obviously had a ton of fun cramming this movie with all sorts of weird aliens and creatures. For some reason he thought that would make for a really funny, creative movie. But every one of these creatures I found super annoying. Forget the sub-par effects with them that Mr. Lucas did a better job of in his original "Star Wars" trilogy that began 40 years ago. These creatures were the worst. Every time a new one came on screen, I was praying for Valerian and/or Laureline to blast it into oblivion, but Besson made sure to milk every second of screen time with each of his new creations before moving onto the next annoying creature where he did the same thing. I make sure to bring up "Star Wars" because this is exactly what Lucas did, except he was successful. Mostly. But if we ignore Jar Jar and the prequels, the original trilogy had all sorts of fancy, fun creatures that enhance the experience and make you truly love the universe you are in. "Valerian" ends up coming off as a "Star Wars" rip-off combined in a bad way with "Men in Black" and "Jupiter Ascending."

We get "Men in Black" because we have two agents and a whole ton of aliens. We have "Jupiter Ascending" because of the incoherent attempted sci-fi space adventure whose plot is one of the most confusing and nonsensical plots ever written in the history of cinema. The plot here for "Valerian" is an improvement over "Jupiter Ascending," but not by a whole lot. Yet I think "Valerian" did a better job of annoying the crap out of me in every scene, whereas "Jupiter Ascending" was just confusing and weird. If you were to put a gun to my head and force me to re-watch one of them, I honestly don't know which one I'd pick and I may be tempted to just tell you to pull the trigger. Now if we go back to the idea of this being partially a "Star Wars" rip-off, I have to mention the fact that there is actually a moment in this movie where Laureline repeats the line, "I have a bad feeling about this." I was already getting the "Star Wars" vibe at that point, so when I heard that line I wanted to shout out, "BLASPHEMY!!!!" I don't know if that was intentional or not, but how dare they use such an iconic line in such an offensive rip-off of one of the greatest franchises ever. That might be nothing for some people, but for me that was a culmination of what a disaster this movie is.

The next thing I need to talk about is the performance of our two leads, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne. In my opinion these are two very talented young actors. I loved Dane DeHaan in "Chronicle" and I was also one of the few that loved him in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." With Cara Delevigne, she won me over in "Paper Towns," even though that movie itself wasn't the greatest. And her horrendous performance as Enchantress in "Suicide Squad" wasn't her fault. She's also an attractive young lady and a great model. But man these two just had zero chemistry in this movie. They didn't fit together well as agents and they were even worse with their attempted romance, which was made super awkward by Dane DeHaan begging her to marry him throughout the whole movie when it was blatantly apparent that she wanted nothing to do with him in that sense. I'm not going to put all the blame on these two because I think the bigger problem is what they were given to work with. But they certainly didn't do a very good job of taking this material and making it work. In fact, being that Cara is a model, I felt like she was so bored with the movie that she instead focused on having fun modeling in the movie with all these outfits they gave her to wear.

The absolute worst part of this whole experience was that this movie refused to end. Our run time clocks in at 137 minutes and in my opinion it shouldn't have gone a second past the 90 minute mark. That means I think this move is literally over 40 minutes too long. But even worse, while I was never invested in the first place, I was mentally checked out at the 30 minute mark. Thus I had to sit through over 100 minutes of movie after officially wanting to leave the theater. I was practically on me knees begging the movie to end as it was one of those times when the theater transformed into a prison for me and it's been a long time since I had this strong of an urge to simply walk out. But I didn't. I endured every second of the 137 minute run time and I did it so that I can give a proper review after having watched the whole movie. I endured the horrendous story. I endured the sub-par visual effects. I endured every annoying alien, including Rihanna's shape-shifting alien doing a strip dance for Dane DeHaan. I endured the awkward romance. I endured Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne both giving the worst performance of their respective careers. And I did it so that you don't have to. Skip this one. It's not worth your money or your time. My grade for "Valerian" is a 3/10.


Some have pointed out that the "Valerian" comics came before "Star Wars," as I was very well aware of given that I mentioned that they were first published in 1968 whereas "Star Wars" came out in 1977, thus stating that it is unfair to call "Valerian" a rip-off of "Star Wars." Fair point. HOWEVER, even if I concede that "Star Wars" may have been influenced by the "Valerian" comics, that doesn't change my opinion that I think this movie feels like a "Star Wars" rip-off as the most immediate comparison there comes with "The Giver," a book that was very much ahead of its time with it's young adult dystopian themes. However, when they finally adapted it into a movie, so many other similar movies had been made that the movie very much felt behind the times and thus a copy of so many better movies before it. Such is the case here. The "Valerian" comics may have been ahead of the times, but this 2017 movie very much feels behind the times as it seems to have been made in order to cash in on this recent fad of space adventures, which includes a rival of "Star Wars" as well as other movies such as "Gravity," "Interstellar" and "The Martian." Thus I stand my ground. Even so, that doesn't change the fact that the characters, story and visual effects are awful.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk Review

Normally when a movie you are anticipating gets solid reviews heading into the week of its release, that is cause for excitement and celebration, right? Well, in a weird twist of events, when reviews started coming out on Monday praising Nolan's "Dunkirk" as yet another Nolan masterpiece, my emotions went the exact opposite way as rage and anger started setting in. The biggest target of my rage was towards all the Nolan fanboys on IMDb who all jumped onto the website to give their Lord and Savior another 10/10 without even seeing his film. Because, yes, I am convinced they worship him as a god and refuse to accept the fact that he is capable of making any mistakes in the filmmaking process. I mean, why else would "Dunkirk" have a 9.8 score on IMDb with over 3,000 votes counted just hours after IMDb opened the voting nearly four days before its release? Yes, I like the man as a director as well. He's the director of "Inception" and "The Dark Knight," two of my all-time favorite films. But he's also the director of "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Interstellar," two very flawed films that somehow have an 8.5 and 8.6 on IMDb, respectively, both with over a million votes. If you do enjoy those movies, ask yourself, are they really THAT good? I certainly don't think they are.

Now that we're here on a Friday afternoon, "Dunkirk" has been lowered from its 9.8 to 9.0 after 19,000 votes. OK, that's progress. But that also means that once it hits the 25,000 vote mark, it'll debut in the top 20 on IMDb's Top 250 greatest movies of all-time. Again I'd like to ask you a question. If you've seen and loved "Dunkirk," do you honestly think that it's one of the best movies ever made in the history of cinema? I would hope you say no. Don't let yourself get sucked into this Nolan fanboydom. It's OK to admit to yourself and others that Nolan is capable of making a film that's not a masterpiece. While I won't say "Dunkirk" is a bad movie, because it's not, I can list off several war films released in theaters recently that I think are done much more superbly, the big one on my mind being "Hacksaw Ridge," one of my favorite movies from last year. With today officially being opening day for "Dunkirk," I don't know what the movie's reputation will be once the Nolan fanboys are done worshiping at Nolan's feet, but if this ends up standing the test of time as one of the all-time great war films in people's minds, I will be the first one up to bat to unashamedly throw the overrated flag because I just wasn't that interested. In fact, I unfortunately found it kind of boring.

As the movie's title declares, "Dunkirk" is about the battle of Dunkirk. If you are a history buff, especially when it comes to World War II, there is a good chance that you know exactly what happens in this battle. If you don't, well, you should probably go read up on it because Nolan made this film with the expectation that everyone already knew what happened at Dunkirk, which was my first mistake. I'm fascinated by World War II and I love a lot of World War II movies, but I guess I just missed the lesson about Dunkirk in school because I knew nothing about it. Instead of educating myself on the battle before going into the movie, I decided that I would let the movie teach me, thus I avoided anything and everything related to this story because I didn't want any spoilers. Turns out that was a mistake because this movie didn't teach me much about Dunkirk at all. It just showed a highlight reel of events that happened at Dunkirk without much context at all and certainly no characters to care about. This movie was just war. War from different perspectives. We had Tom Hardy flying a plane. We had Mark Rylance as an average Joe sailing out to help people. And we had Harry Styles and company stranded at Dunkirk, waiting for rescue.  

When I say this movie is just war with no real characters to care about, I mean that it purposely goes the non-traditional route of beginning the movie in the heat of the battle without focusing on any characters. Most war movies select a specific vantage point with their story they are telling as we usually follow one or two main characters as they go out into war. We usually even start before they enlist and set them up with their family and friends, then show why they decided to enlist before sending them out into war where they usually experience an emotional character arc which then makes us happy when they make it out alive or makes us sad when sacrifice their life on the battle field. This movie does none of that. It's not a character-driven war film and it's not a war film out to share a history lesson with us. It's just war. A lot of our characters don't even talk or react with each other at all as dialogue in the movie is kept at a minimum, with characters only speaking when it's necessary to speak, such as to give a command or share their intentions with people around them. No fireside chats at night. No diving into any character's history or why they're there. The movie simply shows them in the midst of battle and war from their perspectives of what it was like.

Yes, I know exactly how you are going to react when I tell you that I was simply uninterested in this. You're going to tell me that this is how war really is. A lot of individual soldiers aren't perfectly aware of the bigger picture of what's going on. They're just living life one day at a time, following orders of what their superiors are telling them to do. This movie does a great job of showing that realistic human experience. The people in the bombers are just flying their planes, dropping bombs at where they are supposed to. The people on the ground are simply trying to survive the attack, doing the best they can to fend off the enemy. The citizens in the boats are just driving to the shores of Dunkirk because they hear people need help. And even though every person has a story of why they're there, when you get to battle, you're just part of a group of soldiers and you don't really matter much more than the soldier with a gun standing next to you. This movie does a very good job at giving us an insider's perspective of what war is often like for those who who enlist to serve. The typical Hollywoodized war films don't often give us an accurate representation of what life was like for the ordinary, average soldier as they usually focus on a person or event that was out of the ordinary.

If you like this idea of a day in the life of an average Joe soldier, then "Dunkirk" is your movie. And if you walk out of this film having genuinely enjoyed your experience because you appreciated this perspective as opposed to you being legally obligated praise the heck of out everything Nolan does, I will fully understand why you loved it. And yes, I get that this movie does a great job of showcasing the average, ordinary soldier. But sometimes the "day in the life of..." movies just miss the boat for me. "American Sniper" might be the best comparison for me because, while we did focus on one specific character to show what he went through, the movie just showcased his average, normal routine without your traditional three act movie formula. Another couple of comparisons come from the Coen brothers as "Hail Caesar!" showcased a week in the life of your typical 50's Hollywood movie studio and "Inside Llewyn Davis" showcased a week in the life of a struggling 60's blues/folk musician. I walked out of all three of those movies not having hated my experience, but at the same time I didn't feel like I had witnessed anything special. Yes, these types of movies have worked for me before, but "Dunkirk" was another one that I walked out unimpressed.

I suppose that my major frustration with Nolan fanboys that are again praising this movie as the greatest movie-going experience of their lives is that I feel they would react the exact same way to every movie he makes, regardless of quality. I honestly think Nolan could set up a camera in his kitchen, film him preparing a fancy breakfast, eat that breakfast and then leave for work and edit that into a feature-length film while adding in a Hans Zimmer score and it would be praised as a masterpiece. I think that if this same exact movie were being made by any other director, its IMDb score would be in the mid- to upper-7 range at best and casual audiences would be bored with it as a non-traditional war film that doesn't hit any of the notes that the great war films of old have hit. Critics might still praise it, but I think general audiences would hesitate to see it and thus I think it would fail at the box office. But since it's Nolan, everyone is praising it as a masterpiece and it's set for a $50 million opening weekend. It's not a bad movie for me, but when compared to almost all of the other war films I have seen and love, this just doesn't shine a candle and in a year from now I may have forgotten this movie even existed. Thus I'm giving "Dunkirk" a 6/10.