Friday, August 18, 2017
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
August 4th - 6th-
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-
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-
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-
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.