Monday, January 30, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Review

If you have no idea what the "xXx" movie franchise is, let me get one item of business out of the way. I don't know if anyone was thinking of this, but in case you were, "xXx" refers to extreme sports in this instance. As in the X Games or X-treme sports. Skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling in the winter. Biking, skateboarding, BMX in the summer. That sort of thing. Not the XXX movie rating given to heavily pornographic films. These movies are PG-13 rated "turn off your brain" action films about extreme sports athletes recruited by the government to save the world. They are really dumb movies, but that's their goal. When you know you are a dumb movie franchise and you own it and run with it, you can be super entertaining. Think "Sharnado." A really awful movie. But an intentionally awful movie that is super entertaining because of it. I fully recognize that not everyone is on board with these types of movies. Some people absolutely hate "Sharknado" and I get it. Call it an acquired taste if you will. But I dig them. If done right. There's definitely a different set of standards to judge movies like this by and if done wrong, they can be cringe-worthy like "Zoolander 2." But in my opinion, "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" is a dumb movie done right and I had a blast with it.

As far as my history with this franchise, I did not see the first two movies in theaters back in 2002 and 2005 respectively. I watched them in summer of 2010 or 2011. My younger brother was leaving for the summer for some sort of Army thing and he requested that I hold onto his movie collection until he got back. As a part of his collection, he owned both "xXx" and "xXx: State of the Union." I watched both of them that summer. "xXx" was a unique experience for me. For a good portion of the first half of the movie, I thought the movie was really stupid with no entertainment value. I almost turned it off and moved onto something else. But either the movie started getting better or something happened to my brain cells because I started really enjoying it. By the end of the movie, I was grinning like a little two year old. I put in the "xXx: State of the Union" shortly after and hated it. Zero entertainment value. The big problem was that they killed off Vin Diesel and replaced him with Ice Cube. Wrong move. Ever since the movie was released, rumors of Vin Diesel returning for a third movie existed, but it never came to fruition. Until now. 12 years after "State of the Union" hit theaters. It was more of a six or seven year wait for me, but I am so glad this movie finally happened.

The undeniable comparison to the "xXx" franchise is "The Fast and the Furious" franchise. The original movie "The Fast and the Furious" was released in 2001, a year before "xXx." Both movies were dumb, over-the-top movies starring Vin Diesel and I had a similar reaction to both films. At first I was not bought in, but by the end, I was completely sold. I'll dive deeper into "The Fast and the Furious" franchise later this year when "The Fate of the Furious" comes out, but a quick overview is that Vin Diesel left in the second movie and the quality went way down. The third movie had no returning cast and was completely useless. In the fourth movie, everyone returned and the franchise returned to its guilty pleasure status of being a fun, dumb movie. Then something crazy happened as "Fast Five" was not dumb at all, but extremely epic and one of the best heist movies ever. "Fast and Furious 6" was straight up entertaining and "Furious 7" was not only super entertaining, but also super emotional as Paul Walker died before they finished filming. "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" doesn't hit the levels of films five through seven in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, but I would say it's on the line of the fourth film as it successfully gets the franchise back on track.

If I'm being honest, Vin Diesel is not that great of an actor. I don't ever think he's going to be the type of guy that's ever getting an Oscar nomination for his acting skills, but the man has a lot of charm and charisma. He completely carried the first "xXx" and "The Fast and the Furious" movies on his back and when he left both franchises, it's no coincidence that both franchises went downhill. It's also no coincidence that his return to both franchises is what got both of them back on track. This type of dumb action film is his thing and he does a great job with them, even if he's not much of a stunt person. He's also perfect as the voice of Groot in "Guardians of the Galaxy" as he manages to put so much personality into a character who only has one line of dialogue. So yeah, I love Vin Diesel. I was angry when they killed his character in "State of the Union." An Ice Cube led "xXx" movie just was't the same. Ice Cube is a rapper turned actor who is a horrible actor with no charm and charisma. He looks and sounds like he's going to punch someone in the face at any given moment and I find him really annoying. Almost every Ice Cube left movie has completely turned me off. I know a lot of people love him as a rapper and actor, but he's a man I just don't get.

As far as plot goes, I'm sure you caught this by now, but Vin Diesel plays Xander Cage. And he's back. That's all you really need to know. They tried to put some sort of script together for this movie, but I honestly don't think they ever got past a first draft. They never really explain how he faked his death, we're just supposed to accept the fact that he did and has been hanging out in some exotic place for like 11 years or so. I don't really remember how they found him or why he specifically was needed for another mission, but he is. The mission involves a thing called Pandora's Box, which apparently controls satellites and is being used to crash satellites into various parts of the world, so they need to hunt down the box. The military tries to give Vin Diesel a team of soldiers to work with, but he's like, "Screw you," and dumps them off a plane, then recruits his own team of extreme sports people and they're off to save the world! In other words, we spend a lot of time focusing on Vin Diesel returning and then we set up a team like they have in "The Fast and the Furious." That's kinda cool. They're trying to make this even more like "The Fast and the Furious" and I'm totally down with that. After we do both things, crazy stuff happens. And that's essentially the whole movie.

I will admit that this took a while to get going for me. I went in with a lot of excitement. I admit that I was probably more excited than I should've been, but whatever. I enjoyed a few of the opening scenes and then spent a lot of time being fake excited before I realized I wasn't having as much fun as I wanted to be having. Then the movie tried to do too much story and wandered a bit. I started to get worried, but then I remembered the same thing happened with the first movie, so I decided to be patient. In the meantime I tried for a while to understand this overly complicated plot involving Pandora's Box, but then I was like, "Screw it" and completely turned off my brain and relaxed in my chair. Eventually the same phenomenon happened with the first movie where either I lost too many brain cells and thus started to be entertained at dumb things that happened or the movie itself may have gotten better. I don't know which one it is, but I loved the second half of this movie. It's exactly what I wanted it to be. This new team even grew on me as the movie went along. I loved Ruby Rose and Donnie Yen most, but the others were cool, too. Eventually. The plot completely changed like three times. Almost without warning. But that was whatever.

As far as a recommendation goes, this one is easy. If you loved "xXx," then you should see this movie. You'll probably love this, too. If you somehow also loved "xXx: State of the Union," you should definitely see this because it is miles better than that movie. If you think this franchise is dumb, then I don't why you would bother with this third movie. It's not going to convert you. A lot of critics have pointed out just how poorly made this movie is when it comes to all the filmmaking aspects like plot, dialogue, acting, editing, etc. And they're right. If someone calls this an awful movie that they hated, I'm not going to dispute any of their specific points. For me I was able to somehow look past all of that and have a good time, anyways. This is not on the level of the most recent three "Fast and Furious" movies. But it is on the level of the first and fourth "Fast and Furious" movies as well as the first "xXx" movie. They aren't that great. But I enjoyed them anyways. That's why they are called guilty pleasures. "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" gave me everything that I was hoping for in a "xXx" movie and I hope they continue with this franchise because I'm on board. Financially it hasn't done well in the United States, but overseas is currently saving it, so that's good news. My grade is an 8/10.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hidden Figures Review

Oscar nominations were announced earlier this week and sneaking into the lineup for best picture was the movie "Hidden Figures." I don't make my own predictions as to what's going to get nominated. I make predictions for what I think is going to win in February right before the awards are given out. But I do follow predictions year round from various places and "Hidden Figures" was a movie that was on the fence. Sometimes there's a movie that sneaks into the race last minute based that wasn't on many people's radars in the months leading up to the nominations and this year "Hidden Figures" was that movie. Two months ago no one was talking about "Hidden Figures." Right now a lot of people are after strong reviews led to a phenomenal January box office performance where it dethroned "Rogue One" from the top spot and remained there for two weeks and now is about to hit $100 million at the domestic box office. This weekend "La La Land" and "Hidden Figures" will be the 27th and 28th 2016 releases to hit that $100 million domestic mark. And do you know what? I'm happy for "Hidden Figures" getting all this attention. It's a very family-friendly, feel-good movie!

In case you are wondering, I did manage to see "Hidden Figures" before I made my top 10 best movies of 2016 list. And no, it didn't make that list. But that's not an insult to the movie. That's just a compliment to how good of a year 2016 ended up being. In terms of 2016 Civil Rights themed movies, I prefer "Loving" over "Hidden Figures," but not by much. "Loving" did make my list at No. 9 while "Hidden Figures" was a part of my honorable mentions at No. 16. I'm sure you've heard of it by now, but in case you haven't, "Hidden Figures" is a biopic focusing on three black ladies in the 1960's working for NASA. The focus of the movie is mainly on mathematician Katherine Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, but we also get side stories along the way focusing on Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, and Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer. This is the point in history where the United States was trying to get a man in space. John Glenn was the man. NASA needed some extra help and Katherine Goble was extremely influential in making that happen due to her top-notch math skills. Yes, math is cool. And useful. Math put a man in space!

One thing that I really loved about this movie is that it told a story that I didn't know much about. I think everyone knows that John Glenn in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth. Speaking of Glenn, talk about a timely tribute to the man considering he passed away just a month ago. But the movie doesn't focus on that John Glenn story that we all know. The movie focuses on all the behind the scenes stuff that made that happen. I don't know if you all knew this story of Katherine Goble. If you did, give yourself a pat on the back. Being that I'm not a historian, I didn't know about this and given the title of the movie, "Hidden Figures," the prediction here is that not many do. The movie tells the story of the "hidden figures" that made a huge difference. Like "Loving," this isn't a movie that shoves Civil Rights in your face. Not that doing so is a bad thing. That can be super effective. But this movie tells a simple story about some black ladies that made a difference in a time where a lot of people weren't allowed to make a difference. I personally really enjoyed watching this movie because it was super informative. I might not be a historian, but I love myself a good history lesson if done right. We may know the end goal, but I enjoyed learning what got them there.

Another thing I loved about this movie is that they weren't afraid to stick with the PG rating. We have an annoying stereotype with the MPAA that R is for adults, PG-13 is for teenagers and PG is for kids. G rarely exists and thankfully NC-17 is a rarity as well. I don't really like this. There's a lot of movies that are either R or PG-13 just because they want to target an older audience. I've seen countless number of movies that are almost PG in content, but because they're afraid that no adults will watch their movie if they're PG, they throw in some useless strong language just to get their R or PG-13. If the language or other content is essential to make your movie more emotional, then fine. Watered down movies are annoying, too. But if you have a movie whose subject matter doesn't need any "adult content," why not just have the guts to keep it out? Let's have more PG movies for adults like "Hidden Figures." Because why not? Destroy the stereotype. Yes, this movie is PG. But no, it's not for kids. Not that it's inappropriate. It has a bit of mild language and that's all. It's just a movie that younger kids are going to be bored if they watch. And that's perfectly fine. We have "Moana" and "Monster Trucks" for kids. We have "Hidden Figures" for adults. All under one rating. Genius, right?

If you're wondering why your kids will be bored with this movie, it's because that most of this movie is a math movie. Parts of it do drag on a bit, but not too much. For the most part I found it fascinating. All throughout grade school we were all forced to learn math. And as we did so, the big question that many of us asked is how is this math going to be relevant to us in real life. This movie helps answer that. Most kids have a dream of being an astronaut and going to space. While a very small percentage of kids with that dream grow up to actually follow in the footsteps of John Glenn, growing up to be like Katherine Goble, using math to send people to space, is a realistic option. Maybe you don't work for NASA specifically, but there are a lot of cool job opportunities that you can have by being good at math. While math teacher is a very respectable option, that's not the only option out there and I think this movie does a fantastic job at showing us that math is cool. I'm more of a words and numbers person rather than a math person, thus I didn't understand most of their formulas and equations even though I recognized most of the symbols, but I still found it fascinating.

Of course I can't end this review without talking about the acting. There's been friendly debate as to who in this movie deserved the Oscar nomination. Octavia Spencer is the one who got it. I think the most deserving of the main three girls was Taraji P. Henson. Her character was the focus and she did the best job. As such, she would be in the lead actress category, which was the much more competitive category. I wanted her to get a nomination there, but who do you take out? Thus we go to the best supporting actress category. In there we have Octavia Spencer vs. Janelle Monáe. The Oscars went with Octavia Spencer. I would've picked Janelle Monáe. I thought she gave the much more impressive, in-your-face performance. That woman had attitude and I loved it. I also don't think we should overlook the men in this movie. Kevin Costner has made a lot of great underrated career choices of late with the likes of "Draft Day," "McFarland, USA" and now this. Him and Jim Parsons provided a good balance of personalities in this with Costner being more open black ladies helping them with Parsons being more hesitant letting them in. Had Costner been given a best supporting actor nomination, I would've been fine with that. He had a lot of excellent moments.

Overall if you haven't seen this movie yet, I'd definitely give it a shot. It got a best picture nomination as well as a best adapted screenplay nomination and the aforementioned best supporting actress nomination for Octavia and I'm certainly not upset. I think this along with "Fences" and "Moonlight" got a little extra boost at the Oscars this year due to last year's "Oscars so white" controversy and if that's the reason it got into the race, then so be it. This is an excellent movie for the Oscars to get behind that a lot of people have reacted positively to. This is a great story that I didn't know much about heading into this movie, so I appreciated the educational opportunity that this movie gave me and I also loved the focus on math. This movie made math seem cool and it showed one of many great opportunities that knowing math can provide you in life. I also liked the more low-key approach to the Civil Rights discussion as it showed a great story of what three black ladies were able to accomplish at NASA in a day and age that didn't provide them with a lot of opportunities. That was cool. In terms of Civil Rights movies, I wish "Loving" would've gotten as much attention with the general public, but I'll take this. My grade for "Hidden Figures" is a 9/10.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Dog's Purpose Review

Riding a huge wave of controversy into theaters is the movie "A Dog's Purpose." I'm going to be honest, I wasn't planning on seeing this movie right away and getting my review out this quick, but that controversy changed my mind. I studied the situation and quickly became super mad. But in the opposite way as most people. If you didn't hear, there was a TMZ video that I have linked there that shows what appears to be a dog being abused on set. A dog trainer is trying to force the dog into water, but the dog doesn't want to go in the water. Then the video cuts to a shot of the dog in the water, which makes people assume the dog got thrown in against his will just so the filmmakers can get their shot, which in the movie is a police dog rescuing a girl who is drowning. Pretty horrible, right? WRONG! If you actually study the situation, reading both sides of the story, you'll quickly come to learn of a bigger picture that paints a much different story. But because we live in a hypersensitive world where people are essentially begging to be offended, thousands if not millions of people apparently refused to do their quick research and basked in the glory of being offended. Which frustrates me to no end. So I "rebelled" against this protest and saw it as soon as I could.

The first red flag for me was that this was a TMZ video. TMZ lives for controversy. They'll immediately release anything controversial that people send them without thinking too hard about it. The second red flag for me was that PETA threw a fit. PETA always throws a fit at the smallest things. They would prefer if all animals used in movies were CGI as they oppose any trained animals being used on set. So a TMZ/PETA led controversy is never going to immediately convince me that something is actually wrong. So I watched the video myself and read what both sides had to say about it and this one is easy. Here's an article you can read if you want more details, but my quick summary is that they had a dog named Hercules who loves the water and joyfully did all the water stunts in the movie. When the dog does jump into the water, they have platforms underneath and a scuba diver there protecting him, so the dog is perfectly safe in the water and under no distress. One day on set they tried to get Hercules to perform the stunt on the other side of the pool. It's not that the dog hated water, he just didn't want to jump into the pool from a different spot. The filmmakers acknowledged that mistakes were made in trying to show the dog that the water was OK because the location was the problem, but even so, the dog was never forced into the water and was never abused.

End of story. This is a movie where their goal was to create a love letter to dogs and dog owners. I have all the confidence in the world that they treated their dogs well and weren't abusing dogs in order to make a quick buck. I do believe that whoever leaked this video to TMZ was probably interested in making a quick buck by giving this video? Why do I say that? First off, if someone on set shot the video with their cell phone because they were concerned about what was happening, why didn't they release the video 15 months ago when they shot it? Because yes, this video is from 2015. And it is heavily edited to make it look like something different is happening. When you watch, there is never a moment where the dog is thrown into the water. The trainer holds the dog down a bit and tries to show him that the water is OK, which reminded me of the times where I gave my dog a bath, but they don't throw him in. Instead there is a jump cut to the dog in the water, which was probably taken from a different time when the dog happily jumped into the water to perform the stunt. I stayed for the end credits and the statement of "no animals were harmed during the making of this film" was there. Thus it has the Animal Humane Society's stamp of approval. And I believe that. So if you were excited about this movie, go see it. Because no dogs were forced into turbulent water. No dogs were harmed.

Now that we have that out of the way, how about the movie itself? Let me start by saying that if you were one who wanted to boycott this movie, but you already saw the trailer, then joke's on you. You already saw the movie. Because the whole fetching movie is in the trailer. We just have a two-minute version of the movie free online and a two hour-version of the movie you can choose to go pay for. That's super frustrating for me. Some movies feel the need to spoil everything in their movie in order to get people in the theater. Thus I try to be less trailer savvy than I used to. If I miss a trailer for a movie, good. I don't like the feeling of watching a trailer where it looks like I watched the whole movie, then I go see the movie and have no surprises because everything was spoiled in the trailer. That's exactly what this movie's trailer does. It's advertised as a movie where a dog is living with a kid who grows up to become a high school student, then when the dog passes away, he gets reincarnated into other dogs with different purposes before he finally makes it back to this kid who is then a full-grown man. Well the scenes with the kid are the first half of the movie. The reincarnated begins in the second half and returning to the owner is literally the final act of the movie.

What this means is that if the trailer got you excited, then I'm positive you'll enjoy this movie. If the trailer made you think the movie was going to be dumb and silly, then you don't need to go see this movie. It's that simple. Personally I thought the movie had it's fair share of flaws, but it was a cute, little movie that I enjoyed. Josh Gad, aka Olaf, is the narrator in this movie, speaking the mind and thoughts of the dog as he lives his many lives. Essentially the angle here is that the dog is narrating the movie. I was one who thought Josh Gad was brilliant as Olaf in "Frozen." He was quirky, funny and had perfect comedic timing. For the most part I think he did fine as narrator for this dog. He didn't really make me laugh very much and his voice didn't always fit the dog that was on screen, but I think he did a good job of portraying the thoughts of the dog as his human lived his life. I've often pondered on what is going through the mind of my pets as I'm living my life. I've had a few dogs and many cats in my life, as well as quite the assortment of other pets, this movie did a good job of making me think of my pets, thus this was a very emotionally effective movie. If you currently own a dog, you're going to want to go home and give your dog a big hug after seeing this movie.

I wasn't a huge fan of the reincarnating thing. I thought that was a silly idea that didn't really work. I think they should've either told the story of a lot of different dogs with different narrators whose voices match each dog while finding a way to tie in the narrative so that it's not just a bunch of short stories or simply tell the story of one dog who lives a long life of 10-15 years or so. Both of those ideas would've made for a better movie. There was also a lot of human drama that didn't work well for me. I suppose I won't spoil those aspects of the movie, but our main kid, whose name is Ethan, goes through quite the journey in his life and a lot of decisions made by him and other cast members didn't make much sense as certain story arcs were either clunky or forced. Then we have the idea that the dog literally goes everywhere with Ethan. He's there at his football games. He's with him on every single date. He goes to the town with him and is sometimes even around school. The movie does this so that we can see every aspect of Ethan's life, but it wasn't realistic. No one takes their dog everywhere they go. Had the whole movie taken place in their house with some sharp dialogue, that could've also been a really interesting idea, but as is it was a bit silly.

So yeah, this movie is far from perfect. It definitely feels like a January release where a lot of the sub-par movies get put while the studios save their higher quality movies for later. There were a lot of story elements that felt forced just to get some emotion out of people and there's a lot dogs that die in this, which if you have a heart it might make you tear up because a pet dying is the worst, but there didn't need to be that many pet deaths in the movie. I didn't like the reincarnating element to the movie and Josh Gad tried to be funnier than he actually was, but overall the movie was fairly effective in what it set out to do. If you like dogs and you were excited to see this movie, then go see this. It's a cute, little dog movie told from the prospective of a dog, which is something that is fairly unique. Had they tightened up the script a bit or made another revision or two, this could've been a great movie, but as is it's fine. It's certainly not worth all of the controversy that was contrived by TMZ and PETA. No dogs were harmed in the making of this film and no terrified dogs were forced into turbulent water. I love dogs as much as anyone else, but the controversy is dumb, so just ignore all of that and go see the movie if you were interested in it. I'm going to give "A Dog's Purpose" a 7/10.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DrogeMiester's Top 10 WORST Movies of 2016

Earlier this week I gave you my list of my top 10 favorite movies of 2016. Now it's time to flip the script and give my top 10 least favorite movies of 2016. As I said in my best list, I didn't see every movie this year. When it comes to bad movies, this is especially true as there was quite a bit of movies that I simply chose to skip and I don't really feel bad about it. Yes, I do have enough followers that I try to see all types of movies, good or bad, and I do find pleasure in seeing a bad movie in order to warn people to avoid it. It's also fun to write a review that absolutely destroys a bad movie. It's just that sometimes I come across a weekend with several releases and I prioritize the better movies which causes some movies to fall by the wayside. I do my best to catch up with the highlights so I can have a good list here, but this year I had enough worthy contenders for this list that I decided that what I had seen was good enough. And of course there have been many times when a movie that everyone claimed was bad ended up being enjoyable for me, so I usually do my best to go in with an open mind. With all that said, out of the movies that I did see, here are my least favorite. Enjoy!

10- Alice Through the Looking Glass

If I'm being honest, I'm not really the best judge of "Alice in Wonderland" as a franchise in general. Disney's original animated film based on the book that I've never cared to read just feels like a teenage girl experimented with drugs for the first time and went on a bizarre acid trip. I don't get it. I've never liked anything to do with "Alice in Wonderland" and I certainly didn't like Tim Burton's horrifically awful 2010 live action remake that only made over $1 billion worldwide because it was the next big 3D aftar James Cameron's "Avatar" revolutionized the genre starting in late 2009. I know my stance on this is very controversial, but as it turns out, my opinions of this unnecessary sequel that was a major box office flop certainly hasn't been controversial. All my friends who do love "Alice in Wonderland" also hated this movie as it doesn't even have the crazy acid trip that it's predecessors have. This is a boring, lifeless piece of garbage that I literally predicted the whole plot to frame by frame. Disney should've titled it "Alice in Wonderlessland." The only thing good that came out of this is that "Just Like Fire" song by P!nk, even though it literally had nothing to do with the movie.

9- Gods of Egypt

This movie was dead on arrival when it hit theaters late February and was one of the first major flops of the year. That's because of the huge controversy surrounding its white-washed cast. This is a movie about Egyptians and Egyptian Gods and there are literally no foreign actors. Just a bunch of white Americans. But that's not even why the movie is bad. This represents everything wrong with Hollywood today. In addition to the white-washing, this also sexualizes every female character, is chalk-full of bad acting and has a horrific story line. This is one of those attempted blockbusters that the studios decided they only need to focus on fancy special effects in order to make a movie. Sure, I enjoy myself some good special effects, but when it looks like no one involved even gave one thought to creating a good movie to go along with those fancy, glossy special effects and ended up offending half the country in the process, that's really frustrating and I'm glad we united together to reject this film. The only reason this isn't higher is because it is the type of movie where you can put in and have a good time with your friends making fun of it "Mystery Science Theater 3000" style. I can't say that for some of these other attempted blockbusters that I'm about to talk about here in a second.

8- Assassin's Creed

Like this one. Man, this was a frustrating movie to endure. 2016 was the year that video game movies were supposed to turn the corner. Instead we had "Warcraft" and "Assassin's Creed" officially confirm that video game movies just don't convert well to the big screen. If any video game movies were going to make the transition, it was these two movies. "Warcraft" is lucky enough to miss this list, but "Assassin's Creed" isn't quite as lucky. This video game franchise has such good lore that should've made a fantastic film. They even had a good director and a perfect cast, yet they still couldn't get it right. This movie spends most of it's time in the present and barely any time in the past. It should've been the other way around. That's problem No. 1. Problem No. 2 is that I didn't care one bit about what was happening in the present. Problem No. 3 is that when they finally went to the past, the action sequences were so bad that they almost gave me a headache while I was watching them. They literally got nothing right in this film. And I would honestly rather sit on my couch and watch one of my friends play this video game for hours than be subjected to this movie again.

7- Independence Day: Resurgence

For some reason people were actually excited for this sequel. I wasn't. So many red flags went up during every phase of this movie's promotion, the first of which was that it was directed by Roland Emmerich. The man has proven time and time again that he does NOT know how to make a movie and the fact that so many people love the original "Independence Day" was probably more of a fluke. I was baffled at how so many people thought that this track record would magically change with an "Independence Day" sequel that was probably 17 years too late and DIDN'T include Will Smith, which was the main reason that original film actually worked. Sadly it turns out that I was right. This movie is an epic disaster. The story line makes no sense. None of the new characters are even worth caring about. The cast that does return looked bored the entire time. The action sequence nearly put me to sleep. We were only a part of the way through and I quickly found myself cheering for the aliens to just blow up the Earth and put us all out of our misery so we don't have to be subjected to any more "Independence Day" sequels ever again. I really hope the sequel that they setup in the last scene never comes to fruition. Luckily the box office receipts mean my wish might come true.

6- Ben-Hur

Here's a novel idea. Let's take one of the most iconic films ever made, throw it in the blender, chop it to pieces and put it back on screen to see if we can make some quick money with the brand name recognition. And let's hire the director of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" to try to pull this off. Yeah, no. Another one of Hollywood's major problems today is this trend of taking iconic masterpieces and remaking them in hopes of a quick cash grab. The 1959 "Ben-Hur" is one of the top 15 highest grossing movies ever when adjusted for ticket price inflation and one of my all-time favorite movies. No one wanted a remake. And thankfully no one saw the remake as it could only muster $26 million domestically off of a $100 million production budget. In theory this could've worked with the right director and the right script, but instead this goes down in history as the textbook example of what NOT to do with a remake. They literally took the heart and soul out of "Ben-Hur" with this remake. The major themes that make "Ben-Hur" so great were an afterthought. The movie had no life. No purpose. No meaning. The main focus was on the two major action sequences that it's nearly 60-year-old predecessor did better. That's embarrassing.

5- Me Before You

I'm going to spoil this movie. And if you don't want to read, you can jump to the next movie. Because I can't talk about this movie without talking about the ending. The boring and predictable Nicholas Sparks style of romance dramas are movies that I usually choose to skip. But for some reason all my friends wanted to see this movie a month after it came out, so I decided to be social and bit the bullet and went with my friends. And the experience infuriated me. Here we have a movie about a man who had everything. After an accident leaves him paralyzed, he's now lost everything. However, this amazingly attractive woman comes into his life and shows him that, despite his losses, life can still be enjoyed and lived to its fullest. What a great, positive message this movie could've shared. But instead this idiot of a character decides that life is still not worth it and commits assisted suicide. I don't need all of my movies to be wrapped in a pretty, little bow, but in this instance I left the theater feeling disgusted and horrified at what this movie was promoting and teaching. If life gets rough, just give up and kill yourself? What? Yet a lot of girls loved this movie. I don't understand why.

4- Norm of the North

I didn't actually see "Norm of the North" in theaters. Do you want to know why? It's because I was too embarrassed to walk up to the box office person and ask for a ticket to this movie. Even if I purchased my ticket on the machine, I would've still had to walk up to the dude who takes your ticket so he can rip it in half and tell me where my theater was. I couldn't even do that. I'm dead serious. So I watched it online several months later because I knew this belonged on this list and I was so right. This was such a stupid animated movie that it took me a few days to get through. I could only handle small segments at a time. This movie tries to be funny and cute, but instead makes you cringe every time they try. The story line of the movie tries to be creative, but is just awful. This tries to be politically relevant, but ends up not making any sense. I'd say this is the type of movie that is only useful for distracting your 2-year-old early in the morning, but I wouldn't even want to subject a 2-year-old to this movie. There's so many other shows on Netflix for young kids that are actually useful and somewhat interesting that I don't know why you would waste your time with "Norm of the North." And all you need to do is watch the trailers and you'll know exactly what I mean.

3- Nine Lives

Two kids movies in a row. I feel like a grumpy old man right now. And I was seriously tempted to put this at No. 1, but the group of kids that I saw this with in theaters actually laughed a lot throughout, so maybe that's worth something. But outside that, this movie is almost worth seeing so that you can witness the horrific atrocity that they put together. I was literally shocked at how bad this movie was as I was watching. First problem is that can you predict the entire movie just by looking at the poster. I mean, Kevin Spacey is a mean, grumpy old man that doesn't give his family the time of day and thus gets punished by getting turned into the family cat. You know how that premise is going to turn out. But that's not even half of the problem. The sound mixing, editing and visual effects are so lazily put together that it's rather shocking. Never once do you believe that Kevin Spacey's voice is coming from the cat that is on screen. They don't even bother to make the cat move and act like a real cat would. I was embarrassed for these filmmakers. Then we have the plot. I don't even know where to start. It leaves you dumbfounded the whole time. And the biggest surprise of all is that this comes from a respected director and includes respected actors. How did this even happen?

2- Zoolander 2

If you want to know an embarrassing secret of mine, I never saw "Dumb and Dumber" or "Anchorman" until their respected sequels came out. In both cases I watched the original and sequel back to back and enjoyed all four films a lot more than I probably should have. I had every intention of having the same experience with the "Zoolander" movies. Then when I watched "Zoolander," I hated my experience so much that I couldn't get myself to go see the sequel in theaters. So I didn't. That would've been too many brain cells lost in one week. I eventually bit the bullet and watched the movie on Amazon Prime a month or so ago. Ouch. I may hate "Zoolander," but I can understand why it's considered a cult classic. The sequel, though, I don't understand how any person on Earth could enjoy. The movie feels like a bad parody of itself. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell - actors I do enjoy at times - were trying so hard to be funny, but I instead wanted to punch each of them in the face. I decided to keep track of how many times I laughed during the movie and I didn't even make it to two. That's how dumb this movie was. And my one laugh was more of a brief chuckle. I think the best performance in the movie is given by Justin Bieber. And he only has like a 30 second cameo.

1- God's Not Dead 2

With my least favorite movie of 2016, I officially look like one of those angry atheists that is mad that Christian filmmakers are putting out "religious propaganda" in order to convert people to Christianity. That couldn't be farther from the truth, though. I actually do consider myself an active Christian that tries his best to help people understand that God does live and that he loves everyone. But in doing so, I will definitely make an effort to steer non-believers far from this horribly offensive film franchise. The other movies on this list made it because they are simply bad movies. This one tops the list because, not only is it a bad movie, it's an offensive movie that paints Christianity in a bad light. All the Christians come off as pompous and arrogant. All the non-Christians are portrayed as evil, whether they be atheist, Muslim or whatever. As if you can't be a non-Christian and still be a good person living a successful, happy life. Then we have all logic and reason completely thrown out the window with the story they set up. We eventually get to a court case where we're trying to prove God's not dead. And their arguments in favor of God are honestly pretty bad. Not to mention that everything leading up to this court case is completely unrealistic and laughable. I love God. But I HATE this franchise with a fiery passion. It really needs to die. Please don't turn this into a trilogy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

DrogeMiester's Top 10 BEST Movies of 2016

It's that time of year again! Time to give you my end-of-year movie lists. Before I get to my worst, I'll start here with the best. To preface this, let me say that I did not see every movie this year. I did my best to catch all the major highlights, but there's so many movies that come out each year that it's literally impossible to see them all. Thus I realize that there may be some that I missed that could've made this list, but that's OK. I don't make it a goal to see every single movie ever made. Rather I make it a goal to keep going back to previous years and watching movies that I haven't seen in hopes that I will find more hidden gems that could've made a best of the year list. I also want to point out that 2016 was a phenomenal year for film. Yes, there were a lot of major disappointments, but there were also a lot of great movies that flew under the radar of the general public as well as a lot of great movies that came out in the last few months of the year that made 2016 a year to remember. Consequently, I was forced to leave off a lot of worthy candidates for this list, which made me sad. But after a lot of thought, I feel comfortable with these 10 and thus you can call them the best of the best. My 10 personal favorite movies of 2016. With all that out of the way, let's begin!

10- Doctor Strange

Out of all the end-of-year lists from others that I've seen, most have included "Captain America: Civil War" and/or "Deadpool." Thus I will start off with a major shocker. Neither of those movies made this list. I enjoyed both of them, but it was "Doctor Strange" that won my heart and wins my award for best superhero movie of the year. Personally I've been really impressed at the consistency of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems like Marvel is daring themselves with each new movie they make to test their limits of what they can do while still pleasing audiences and it keeps working. Thus it seems they can do no wrong. With "Doctor Strange," they added a new element to their universe. Magic. And man was it fun. The whole second half of the movie felt like "Inception" on steroids with those visuals and I loved every minute of it. But that's not all. This movie reminded me a lot of "Batman Begins." I think Strange's story arc paralleled Bale's Batman in that movie both in terms of specific events that happened as well as in quality. Benedict Cumberbatch hit a home run with this character and immediately inserted himself as an A-list character in the MCU. We even set up a future villain for the franchise that could wind up as one of Marvel's best villains.

9- Loving

We had two major Civil Rights movies hit theaters in December and while "Hidden Figures" did win my heart and is currently owning it at the box office with its January expansion, I'm giving "Loving" the slight edge. For me this was a different approach to the well-covered Civil Rights genre of historical films. Instead of taking the bold, direct route equivalent of a preacher giving a pulpit-thumping sermon in front of a captive audience, this movie was like a good friend quietly entering the back door of your house, sitting down at your table and telling you a simple, yet profound story. Because it did that, this movie ended up speaking louder and more profoundly to my heart that most Civil Rights movies. "Loving" could've chosen to include plenty of powerful speeches or some intense court sequences. But it didn't. The focus here was on telling a beautiful love story between a couple that wanted nothing more than to just be together, raise a family and not bother another soul in the world. Yet because they were an interracial couple at a time and place where that was illegal, they weren't given peace and quiet and that was heart-breaking for me. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga both gave phenomenal performances and were easily one of the best on-screen duos of the year.

8- Kubo and the Two Strings

Now we get to my favorite animated movie of the year. And believe me, it was extremely hard for me to not include "Zootopia" on this list, which is honestly one of Disney's best and most relevant films. I thought for sure that would make this, but there ended up being just too many great movies this year. Instead we have a genre of animation that is criminally underrated. Stop-motion animation. Laika deserves to be in the discussion as one of the best animation studios in existence right now, but instead each of their movies struggles to get to $50 million because people just won't give stop-motion animation the time of day. Which is an absolute shame. "Kubo" has every emotion imaginable in it tacked onto an action/adventure film. So many great characters. Such a fun story. Several great action sequences. A surprising number of dark, scary sequences. And a ton of heart. And it was all done with clay. One tiny movement at a time. Had this been a 100 percent CGI animation film, the characters and story would've still made this the best animated movie I saw this year. Add in all the time and effort that was put into every scene and every movement and this movie completely blew my mind. If you are one of the millions that skipped "Kubo," fix that. Right now.

7- The Nice Guys

Summer 2016 was a disappointing summer for many people, myself included. We started off on a great note with "Captain America: Civil War," which just barely missed this list, by the way, but then we had blockbuster after blockbuster fall flat on its face. Hidden in May, though, was a summer movie that brought with it a ton of anticipation, but limited box office results. It was like everyone was excited to see it, but then decided to skip it for some reason. Shame on them, because this was easily the best movie of the summer and perhaps the most entertaining theatrical experience I had all year. Like seriously, I looked over all the movies I've seen this year and I couldn't think of one that provided more gust-busting laughter than this movie. There were points in this movie where I was laughing so hard, I had a hard time breathing. And that doesn't happen for me too often. On top of that, the action sequences in the movie were also the best of the year and they didn't stop coming. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe made for a surprisingly fantastic action duo. Add in a surprising amount of heart and emotion, as well as a pretty decent story, and this was one heck of a well-rounded movie. The type of movie that you could watch over and over and be entertained each time.

6- Hell or High Water

We've now moved on from the great movies this year to the heavyweights. Each of these next six movies could make an argument for best of the year in previous years and most of them I have seen as other people's No. 1 film of 2016. And for good reason. We start with a movie that came out nowhere in the middle of August to absolutely blow my socks off. I don't even really know what genre to classify "Hell or High Water" as. It feels like a modern western, action, crime drama, heist movie all wrapped in one giant bow, set in West Texas, an area where I lived for two years, which was kinda cool to see. What I really loved about this movie was that it was a heist movie that gave an equal amount of screen time to both sides of the heist and made you cheer on both sides. It's Jeff Bridges vs. Chris Pine and Ben Foster. There's so much gray area with all three characters, especially our two "villains." All three give Oscar-worthy performances that help the movie build up to an insanely emotional conclusion that left me floored. I didn't think this would be the type of movie that would get a bunch of attention during awards season, but it actually has and that has made me ecstatic.

5- Hacksaw Ridge

Believe it or not, the most spiritual movie experience of the year for me came with Mel Gibson's war movie, "Hacksaw Ridge." Say what you want about Mel Gibson as a person, but he really knows how to direct a movie. There's a lot of war movies that have been made, but few are constructed as well as "Hacksaw Ridge." The first half of the movie is spent solely on setting the stage and is essentially PG-level as we're just telling a story of a man who doesn't want to pick up a gun, but wants to go fight in a war anyways. There's so many well-written characters in here with various amounts of screen time that I honestly cared for everyone. Then we got to the point where we were marching to battle and suddenly it dawned on me that this is a Mel Gibson war movie. Things are about to get crazy. And that they did. The second half of the movie came like a tidal wave. It didn't hold back and it left no time for the audience to breathe. All of this sets the stage perfectly for an inspirational finale led by some crazy acts done by Andrew Garfield's character acting like a true hero, using God as his inspiration to move forward and save one life at a time. It was an amazing performance in an amazing movie that has helped me a lot since I've seen it. Well done, Mel Gibson!

4- Arrival

"Arrival" was the hardest movie to place. There was a point this year where I claimed this as my favorite movie before a certain two movies came out. There was another point while I was organizing this list that I had this as low as No. 8. I couldn't figure out what to do with it. So I had to go watch the movie again and pay extra close attention this time. Here's the thing. On the surface this is an alien invasion movie that moves super slow and doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about certain things. It's intriguing and mysterious with a haunting score and beautiful cinematography, but there's aspects of it that don't hold up upon further viewings. However, it's when you look beneath the surface that this movie shines. If you stop focusing on all of the alien stuff and start focusing on the many themes the movie brings up, this movie is genius. It has so many deep layers to it and when you start breaking down those themes and thinking about them, there's so much to unpack. If I were to scratch the surface a bit, we talk about the importance of communication and unity. The movie is a reflection of the current state of our government and how hypersensitive we can be. We also have interesting ideas about family, time and language presented. Another great movie from Denis Villeneuve.

3- The Witch

Up to this point, I bet all of my choices haven't been too surprising. I'm guessing this is where I throw a major curve ball that catches people off guard. "The Witch" was an independent horror movie released at Sundance in 2015, then finally got it's theatrical release in February of 2016. After I saw it, it immediately became my favorite movie of the year and it stayed that way for most of the year. This is a horror movie done right and as a fan of the horror genre, it was refreshing to see a horror movie that didn't rely on all of the frustrating horror tropes of our day. It was successfully creepy and intense without having any jump scares or over-the-top gore. But that's not why this is so high. This is honestly one of the most fascinating horror movies ever made. Is it a tragedy where an imperfect young girl trying her best to be good ends up embracing witchcraft because her stubborn, 17th Century, protestant parents push her too far away? Or is it a happy movie where an oppressed young female finally makes choices on her own, despite it not being the popular choice? This has led people on all sides of the religious spectrum to endorse this movie, from faithful Christians to Satanic worshipers. Not many horror films can claim that. Fascinating. And it only gets better over time.

2- Manchester by the Sea

You'll find a theme with my top two movies. Real, honest human emotion. Two stories that aren't tied with a pretty Hollywood bow on top, but are rather more representative of the human experience in ways that not many movies today are bold enough to go. When I wrote my review of "Manchester by the Sea," I made sure to stay far away from any spoilers and I will stick to that. If I put it simply, this is a movie about a man that has had a horrific tragedy happen to him and he deals with it in way that many people actually would instead of trying to sugar coat things to appease audiences or present the perfect Oscar-bait movie. That honest human emotion is what I really appreciated and was blown away by. Once you know the secret of what happened to this man, it is like a strong punch in the gut that sends you reeling throughout the whole second half of the movie. And once you've recovered, which might take a while, you are left in awe at the movie that was presented to you. Casey Affleck delivers a staggeringly phenomenal performance as this man that I hope wins him a gold trophy at the Oscars. And of course that performance would be nowhere without the beautiful Michelle Williams. When those two are on screen together, it is cinematic gold.

1- La La Land

Yeah this was easy. Last year I disputed for days in my head as to which movie I would award as my favorite movie and there were three movies that I had a hard time deciding from. This year that decision was essentially made in early November when I saw "La La Land" for the first time. Not only does Damien Chazelle bring back a genre that many of us thought was dead a long time ago, that being the Golden Age musical, but he also managed to make one of the most relevant films for our day. I don't know how Damien did it, but I sat in awe as I watched a movie that was essentially a portrait of my life. I'm not an aspiring actor or an aspiring jazz musician, but I saw myself in both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I have dreams and aspirations of my own and I've had a rough go at it. And I'm certain I'm not alone. Life throws a lot of curve balls at you and it's tough trying to figure out how to deal with it. When you are thinking of the greatest movies of all time, there's usually "the scene" in each one that you can point out. "La La Land" has four of those scenes. And when I re-watched the movie last week, two of them turned me into a complete emotional wreck. After taking a close look at each year of this current decade, I couldn't come up with a single movie that I like more than "La La Land." Thus I feel comfortable calling it my favorite movie of the decade.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Silence Review

It's my final review of a 2016 release before I give you my lists of best and worst movies of 2016. Not that I'm done watching movies from 2016 or earlier years. I think it's always good to go back to past years instead of only watching brand new movies. And I still might give you reviews of "Hidden Figures" or "20th Century Women" if I get around to them. But there's always a small handful of movies that get a limited release at the end of December and expand nationwide in January that I feel I absolutely need to see before creating my end of year lists and this year that included "A Monster Calls," "Patriots Day" and "Silence." Now that I have seen all three of them, and recently reviewed the other two, it's time to give you my review of "Silence," create my end of year lists, then jump into the 2017 releases such as "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" and "Split." As pertaining to the movie "Silence," this was the most anticipated movie of the year for many people, and for good reason. It's the return of Martin Scorsese in a movie that looked absolutely brutal and intense. Could it be 2016's "Schindler's List" or "12 Years a Slave"? Well, not quite. But it's still a good film worth seeing.

The interesting thing about the anticipation of this film is that the marketing here kinda killed the movie. Usually this is the type of movie that the studio and marketing team would be completely open about. The Oscar formula is to send the movie through the film festivals, give it early screenings to awards voters, release it on a limited front in December and expand it throughout January when Oscar nominations come out in order to get the box office. Instead of doing all of that, they kept this movie a big secret. They didn't submit it in any film festivals. They gave it no pre-sreenings to voters, thus making it essentially ineligible for all the early awards shows that can give movies momentum heading into Oscar season. There was even a significant period of time where we didn't even know if this movie was coming out this year. They finally made the release date official, but it was practically last minute. Thus they played all their cards wrong, killing all the awards potential and their box office. So instead of being like "The Wolf of Wall Street" in 2013, which was nominated for five Oscars and earned $116.9 million in the U.S., this may walk away with no Oscar nominations and less than $20 million at the U.S. box office. Ouch.

But I decided to be a good little boy and give the movie a chance, even if it seemed like Paramount themselves threw in the towel before the movie was released. And this movie really worked for me. For like 80 percent of it. If you're wondering what the heck this movie is about, it's a story where Spider-Man and Kylo Ren decide to team up and go on a journey to find Qui-Gon Jinn. Ha ha, sorry. I couldn't help it. Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are just so freaking recognizable that I couldn't help myself. All of them do an absolutely fantastic job in this movie. Garfield and Driver actually play Catholic priests in the 1600's who go on a mission to Japan to find one of their fellow priests, who has gone missing there for many years. This specific priest, played by Neeson, was a mentor to both of them, or at least to Garfield. The issue here is that this is a period of time where Christianity was banned in Japan. And these Japanese people are absolutely brutal. If they find anyone who is Christian, they will force them to either deny their faith or torture and kill them. Yeah, not a super friendly environment to be in, but Garfield and Driver go anyways.

And holy crap is this movie brutal. Certainly not for the faint of heart. In many ways it does compare to "Schindler's List" and "12 Years a Slave" in terms of how hard it is to watch. Watching people get burned to death is uncomfortable. And so is watching them get slowly tortured in other ways such us dripping burning hot water on them, hanging them upside down for extended periods of time or essentially crucifying them in water. I won't go into any further detail than that, but the things that happen to people in this movie make you physically angry. And I think that was the point. Certain movies make a point to show how awful these situations were in order to display the reality of what people like the Jews in World War II, the slaves in the 1800's or the Christians in 1600's Japan actually went through. And these are the types of movies that that you are worth watching once in your life, but then calling it good. It's not like I'll ever just decide to go watch "Schindler's List" when I'm bored on a Friday night, but I'll definitely recommend it to people who have never seen it. I honestly think that's a movie that everyone, once they are a certain age, should watch at least once.

As I said, for most of this movie, it was on the level of a "Schindler's List." Our first major problem with "Silence" is the run time. It clocks in at 161 minutes. I'm not one to always complain at long movies as if it's inherently bad. I think the fact that we have increasingly short attention spans is a bad thing because sometimes you need three hours to give certain stories justice and many movies cut 30 minutes off their movie because they're too scared to have a long movie, thus compromising the film. But I will admit that if you are going to be 161 minutes long, you need to make sure that run time is justified and you better be able to keep people's attention for the entire time. The beginning of this movie did not capture my attention at all. Because they decided to take 161 minutes to tell their story, they felt like it was OK to ease into the story instead of jumping right into all the brutality of the situation. In theory this could work. But in this instance it didn't. I think they could've shaved 10-15 minutes off that beginning and it would've made the movie better. Once they got into metaphorical hot water in the movie, that's where things picked up and finally got interesting. But even so, I will fully admit that they could've also shaved off 20-30 minutes in the middle to end and also been fine.

I won't say too much about what happens to everyone once they get in trouble, but I was fully invested. I will say that Garfield and Driver get separated and we spend most of the movie following Garfield. And man, he gets stuck in quite the dilemma, which is where the movie get super interesting. He decides as a priest that if they torture and kill him, then he will die a martyrs death like Christ or the apostles and he's accepted that. But the Japanese are a little smarter than that. They don't keep him in great condition, but they start threatening him in other ways. If he doesn't deny his faith, they will keep hurting and killing everyone around him. I'm done saying stuff, but that adds new layers to this horrific tale and ends up saying a lot about personal spiritually versus organized religion. Not that it's anti one or the other, but the moral of this movie is very interesting and worth discussing with friends after you have seen it. I will briefly add that in order to be completely on the level of "Schindler's List" or "12 Years a Slave," there needs to be the emotional payoff or else the whole brutal journey is ruined. If I'm being honest, there came a point towards the end where I became crushed and angry. Then I had a period of reconciliation with myself and wasn't mad anymore. Thus there ended up being emotional payoff. It just wasn't as strong as I hoped it would be.

There's definitely a lot more than could be said about this movie and I am genuinely sad that Paramount and company played all their cards wrong and made it so this movie will be both ignored by Oscar and the box office. It deserves much more than $20 million or so at the box office (and that's being generous - it's under $5 million right now). Andrew Garfield gives a performance equivalent to that of his "Hacksaw Ridge" performance. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson give performances worthy of a supporting actor nod as do a few of the Japanese supporting cast. There's a lot of technical categories like visuals, cinematography and score that it could be awarded. I hope it sneaks in something. And I wouldn't even be upset if it had been given a best picture nomination. It's a worthy candidate. On a personal level I was bored with the beginning and not completely satisfied with the emotional payoff at the end, but there were points in the movie where I was thinking it could be my No. 2 movie of the year and I still think it's a movie worth seeing at least once. And it may be the type of movie that gets better over time as I think more about it. But as for now I will give "Silence" an 8/10.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Patriots Day Review

How about we take a trip down memory lane real quick? A trip to a rather devastating time in our country's history. On April 15, 2013, I was sitting on my couch watching Sports Center. At 2:49 p.m. Eastern Time, there was an explosion towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A block away and 13 seconds later, there was a second explosion. Chaos ensued. Over 250 people were injured and three people killed. Being that I was sitting there watching Sports Center, I got news of this almost immediately from ESPN and quickly switched over to CNN, where I was glued to my TV in shock as I witnessed all of this unfold. Here's a quick timeline of what I posted on my personal facebook about the Boston Marathon that week:

April 15:

"BREAKING NEWS: Multiple explosions just happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Many people injured. Oh my horrible!!!"

In the comments on that post after a couple of my friends replied:

"Yeah I was just watching Sports Center and it was reported live and is all over the news. They showed footage of the explosions and they were pretty bad. They don't have a ton of details right now but it appears that there were bombs hidden in the trash cans. At least two, maybe more. Live footage is chaos and a lot of people hurt, some people said they have lost limbs."

April 16:

"At times like this, I wish people would show some respect and actually put aside their political party instead of wanting to spit in the President's face when he stands up to give the people in Boston some words of encouragement."

April 19 (early morning I believe):

"Taking a friend to the airport at 3:30 (a.m.), so how do I spend my night? Watching the drama in Boston unfold on CNN. So far after police officer shot and killed, a carjacking, and a shooting or two, suspect number one in Boston Marathon Bombing is dead, say the police. Praying that suspect number two gets caught asap."

Later on April 19:

"They got him!"

Then shortly after, I quoted two statements from the Boston Police Department (I think they came from twitter):

"CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."

"In our time of rejoicing, let us not forget the families of Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell and Officer Sean Collier."

Yes, the Boston Marathon Bombing was a tragic event in our recent history and one of the worst terrorist attacks on our country following 9/11. But it was also an event that brought our country together, especially the city of Boston. In just four days, both of the suspects were apprehended and good prevailed over evil. Boston proved that they would not cower in the face of danger and became as resilient as ever. A year later, and every year since, the Boston Marathon continued bigger and stronger than ever. This is such an amazing story of unity and strength that shows how great this country is. More terrorist attacks and mass shootings have happened both in this country and around the world since the Boston Marathon bombing and in each case our country has united in faith and prayer, putting aside our differences and disagreements, to support the people in places like Paris and Orlando when tragic events have happened. It's at times like these when you are reminded that, despite all the horrific events happening in our world, there is still plenty of good in the world. In this ongoing battle of good vs. evil, evil may win some battles. They may instill fear in the hearts of the people and take some lives, but evil will not win the overall war. Good will prevail.

And now we have a movie. Because that's what we do in Hollywood these days. We turn all major events into movies. Yes, historical movies have been made since movies existed, but recently it's been an especially popular trend to make movies out of major recent news stories. Director Peter Berg has especially enjoyed doing these types of movies, using Mark Wahlberg as his lead star each time. I'm talking about "Lone Survivor" and "Deepwater Horizon" in addition to "Patriots Day." I don't know what to call this trilogy of movies by Peter Berg, or if he's even done making them, but it's been interesting. While not all of these movies in this trend have been a success and I am a bit weary of Hollywood getting too carried away with this -- I don't think it's necessary to turn every news story into a movie, Peter Berg himself has done a fantastic job. I loved both "Lone Survivor" and "Deepwater Horizon" and thus I was excited for "Patriots Day." While I think "Patriots Day" is the lesser of the three, I definitely think it's worth watching as it's another home run for Peter Berg. I'm genuinely curious what he has up his sleeve next.

I don't need to tell you waht this movie is about. You know this event and what happens. If you didn't, I practically spoiled the whole movie in my facebook timeline that I just posted to start this off. The bombing happens. The FBI declares it terrorism and takes over. The hunt to find these two people quickly begins and includes the shooting of an officer, a carjacking, shootouts with the police, one of the suspects being killed and the eventual capture of the second suspect shortly after he escapes. But obviously the point of the movie isn't to tell you a story you didn't know, it's to put you in the perspective of these people, the citizens of Boston, the two terrorists, the FBI and the Boston police. And it's definitely an interesting perspective. It's one thing watching everything happen live on CNN in 2013. But it's a whole experience being there with everyone in 2017 as this movie shows us firsthand what everyone on both sides were going through and it fills in the small details that you may have not been able to know just watching the events unfold on the news or reading about them in articles later on. Peter Berg handles everything with extreme care, delivering an excellent movie in the process.

Comparing this movie to "Deepwater Horizon," which was released back in September, I found it interesting how Peter Berg decided to construct each movie. In "Deepwater Horizon," Peter Berg decides to have the actual explosion occur at the climax of the film. While everything seems normal for all of our characters for the first half of the movie, we as an audience know that things aren't normal and thus the suspense continues to build throughout the run time of the film until suddenly everything goes boom and the last half of the movie is pure chaos and darkness. "Patriots Day" is constructed in a much different way. The character buildup is fairly quick and the bombing takes place in the first part of the movie, almost without warning. Which is exactly how it happened in real time. After several minutes of panic and chaos, which was super intense and graphic, things settle down a bit and the bulk of the movie is spent on manhunt finding these two terrorists. With the two movies being so close together in release, I did appreciate how he took a different approach to both movies as opposed to making the same movie twice with different events, which he could've very well done. Especially since we had Mark Wahlberg in the lead both times.

Speaking of Mark Wahlberg, I thought he did a great job in both movies. In my review of "Deepwater Horizon," I said he gave an Oscar-worthy performance that I hope gets him some awards recognition. It hasn't of course. "Deepwater Horizon" sadly has received zero awards buzz and neither has "Patriots Day." I do think that's a shame, but it's whatever. Comparing the two performance, I think "Deepwater Horizon" was the better performance for Wahlberg as in this case I will simply say he gives a good performance. And it might even slip over to supporting if it was getting Oscar buzz. I don't know if there is a lead role in this movie because there is quite the cast of individuals all getting an equal amount of screen time. Among those are John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Melissa Benoist, J.K. Simmons and Kevin Bacon. Plus a whole host of other names, big and small, all tag-teaming on different sections of this movie in order to bring this to life. If there was an award at the Oscars for best ensemble cast (I don't know why there isn't), this would definitely be worthy of that award. In these situations I have to give credit to our director for making it all work like a charm.

There's not much more to say here. As a while, the movie isn't quite as intense as "Lone Survivor" or "Deepwater Horizon." I wasn't in pure shock and suspense during the entirety of this film like I was for both of those. But I did think there were a lot of great moments in this film that were all tied together nicely in order to put this whole week into perspective, giving us a great narrative. And the manhunt was equivalent to a fun episode of "Criminal Minds" on steroids, being how large the team was in order to capture these two. It's possible that I didn't find this movie as suspenseful as the other two simply because I knew the story like the back of my hand due to me spending so many hours and days following this story, but I still think they did a solid job. I don't think every news story needs to be a movie. Whenever a big article comes out, the studios don't need to be fighting over the rights to adapt it into a movie and people shouldn't be doing heroic acts so that they can be portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in a movie one day. I'm fine with we never have movies about major events such as Paris or Orlando. But in this case I think everyone did a solid job. I'm giving "Patriots Day" an 8/10.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jackie Review

The story of President John F. Kennedy is a rather intriguing one. If I'm being honest, I am no historian and thus I am the last person you should turn to for an in-depth history lesson on the Kennedys. But the basics of his assassination is definitely something that I think every American knows. The assassination of President Kennedy has elevated him to be among one of the most well-known and widely discussed presidents to ever take the Oval Office. But what would his legacy be had he not been assassinated? I know many people that think that he was already one of the greatest presidents, thus making his assassination even more tragic. I also know people that think he was an awful president that only became a hero because he was assassinated. If you want my opinion on that matter, well you're not going to get it. At least not here. Because this is not a movie about John F. Kennedy. In fact, this is not even really a political movie at all. This is a movie about a woman who was sitting in a car next to her husband when someone shot him in the head and killed him and how she dealt with that horrific tragedy. That woman is, of course, John F. Kennedy's wife Jackie.

First of all let me say that if you are wanting a movie that goes in depth about the assassination of President Kennedy, this is not your movie. That scene exists in the movie and I'll talk about it later, but this doesn't dive into the investigation of his death and all the conspiracy that follow due to the fact that the man who shot him was also shot shortly after. This is all about how Jackie dealt with the loss of her husband. Here was a woman who had pretty much everything she wanted in life. I mean, her husband was the President of the United States. He was far from perfect, but he was still her husband and she loved him and it was a great position to be in. But then in a moment's notice, all of that was ripped away from her and now she is left as a widow with two young children. I don't care who you are, the death of a husband is an awful thing for a woman to have to experience and I would imagine it would be especially tough if that woman really wasn't able to have a ton of privacy to mourn his loss due to her position. This is not an in-depth biopic of Jackie's whole life. In fact, this focuses mainly on that brief period of time between her husband's assassination and his funeral and what she went through during that time, which had to have been devastating.

Before I go any further into this review, allow me to add my voice to the long list of people that have been praising Natalie Portman. I haven't spent much time in my life listening to or researching Jackie Kennedy. Perhaps that puts me in the minority. I can accept that. But luckily there was an invention called YouTube that has like every video ever. After seeing this movie, I searched Jackie Kennedy on YouTube and holy fetch. Natalie Portman sounds exactly like Jackie Kennedy. She perfectly captured all her speech patterns, movements and mannerisms. Add to that much praise for the makeup, hairstyle and wardrobe departments for making Natalie Portman look like Jackie Kennedy. Yes, it's Natalie Portman's face. That's hard to hide since she's one of the most recognizable actresses in the business. But the rest of her is Jackie Kennedy to a "t." On an emotional scale, Natalie Portman also does a fantastic job of capturing the complexity of the situation for this woman. I'm sure she would've loved a lot of privacy to mourn the loss of her husband, but she wasn't really able to have much of that. Thus she had to balance trying to be elegant and composed while at the same time giving herself time to mourn. It was an all-around brilliant performance.

If we're making comparisons here, Natalie Portman's performance is definitely on par with that of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Definitely an Oscar-worthy performance for Natalie. Does she deserve to win? Well that's a bit tricky. Her main competition will be against Amy Adams from "Arrival" and Emma Stone from "La La Land." That's a hard one for me to choose. I really want Amy Adams to finally win an Oscar, but I don't think it should be a lifetime achievement award, so to speak. "Arrival" wasn't even Amy's best performance of the year. Even though "Arrival" is the better movie, I think "Nocturnal Animals" was the better movie. And "La La Land" is my favorite movie of the year and possibly my favorite movie of the decade and much of that lies on the shoulders of Emma Stone, who is one of my favorite actresses. But if I am isolating the specific performance, I think Natalie Portman gives the best performance of the three. We'll see who rounds out the final five when nominations come out, but I don't think I'd pick Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Isabelle Huppert, Ruth Negga or Annette Bening, either. Give the Oscar to Natalie!

So yes, I've established the fact that Natalie Portman gives an absolutely phenomenal performance, but how about the actual movie she is in? Well, that gets a bit tricky. I think there are a lot of amazing individual scenes in this movie. Perhaps it's the journalist in me, but I loved the scenes where the journalist is interviewing Jackie. That was such a crazy interview and an interview like that would be an absolute blast to conduct. She was quite the character in that interview as she would say things and go off on an emotional tangent, but then she'd tell the interviewer that she didn't say that. Then there were times where she became the interviewer and started interrogating the journalist and asking him questions. Then she would state that she would be editing the interview to make sure the quotes are what she wants rather than what she actually said. It was quite the fun interview and the dynamic between these two. The other moments that I loved were moments between Jackie and a priest. This is where Jackie was able to pour her whole soul out and express how she really felt without the pressure of her statements being published or broadcast to the world. Combine the journalist and priest scenes and you have quite the character study here for Jackie Kennedy that makes you really appreciate how she handled this horrific situation.

In addition to those scenes we would jump to the scenes showing the drama that happened directly following the assassination and all the decisions needed to be made for the funeral arrangements. There was also the difficult task of telling her two kids that their father had just been shot and killed and thus wouldn't be coming back. How do you do that? Then we have flashbacks to her time with her husband before he was killed, showing their relationship instead of just her telling the journalist or the priest about their relationship. And of course we do show the assassination scene, which is absolutely brutal. Seeing the actual live coverage of the assassination that we actually have is brutal enough, but this movie portrays it up close and it's extremely graphic and hard to watch. It adds a lot of weight to what Jackie went through as we see her react to her witnessing her husband's brains getting blown out with blood going everywhere. So yes, there are a lot of individually fascinating sequences in this movie. But together as a whole I don't think all the scenes weave together super well. It was just a bunch of individual scenes randomly glued together with a soundtrack that got noisy at times and camerawork that framed everything in the dead center.

So I don't know what to do with this movie as a whole. I don't want to say it was bad. Because it wasn't. I sincerely believe that Natalie Portman gave a legendary performance that deserves the win in a very crowded race. And if you isolate all the individual scenes, the movie is a fascinating character study that dives into the life of Jackie Kennedy directly following the assassination of her husband. Given her situation, she wasn't allowed a ton of privacy and all things considered she handled it pretty well, but when she did get some privacy, those scenes are very powerful. But all these scenes with this fantastic performance weren't glued together very well. I found myself loving the performance and being intrigued by this character study, but I wasn't loving the movie as a whole. I've seen a lot of other biopics that work much better as a movie. The scenes didn't connect together super well and there wasn't a strong overall story arc. This should've been a much more powerful movie than it actually was. Giving one grade to this movie is hard. Natalie gets a perfect score. A lot of individual scenes and moments get a perfect score. But in grading the overall movie, I feel I can only give "Jackie" a 7/10, but one number doesn't do this justice, so take that for what it's worth.