Saturday, July 22, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Big Sick Review

Kumail Nanjiani has a fairly unique story behind how him and his wife, Emily, finally ended up together. What's more unique is how him and his wife have decided to share that story with the world. They sat down and wrote a screenplay together for a movie of how they met, dated and eventually got married. That movie is called "The Big Sick" and is now in theaters nationwide after a phenomenal run in limited release where it accumulated a three-week total of $8.4 million at a max theater count of just 326 theaters. This after it's initial premier earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Now because of this success, it's expanded to 2,500 theaters this weekend and is thus available for you to see in a theater near you. Now a romantic comedy based on a true story isn't the most unique thing ever. There's even been movies where the story was even more incredible than this. And I suppose it's probably not out of the ordinary for the couple to be involved in the filmmaking process, although I can't think of any off the top of my head. What makes "The Big Sick" unique in my mind is that Kumail Nanjiani stars in the film... as himself. I can't think of any movie based on a true story, non-documentary, where the subject of the film is also the star of the film.

The movie begins as your typical boy meets girl romance drama. Kumail does stand-up comedy. Emily attends one of his shows. Kumail goes and talks to her after the show and they have an immediate connection which sparks a relationship. Like with every romance drama, tension sparks in the relationship which causes them to go their separate ways. In this instance, cultural differences are what stand in the way. Kumail belongs to a Muslim family who have immigrated from Pakistan at some point in the past and Emily is your typical white American and has a hard time understanding certain aspects, which is not helped by Kumail's dishonesty with the whole situation. The tradition in Kumail's family is arranged marriage and if he goes against that, his family might not be so happy with him. Yet it would also spark trouble if he told his girlfriend that he was participating in dinner appointments to please his family with these other girls while he's dating her? So what's the right thing to do? Lying to both sides is not necessarily the best option in the world, but you can understand why he would make the decision to do this. But as we go on with this story, you get the feeling that everything is about to blow up in Kumail's face. And it does.

Lest you feel I'm diving into too much detail with this, I promise you that this is just the set-up for the real drama of the movie. I won't spoil the film in this review, but I do want to talk about this major drama that ensues because that's what sets this movie apart from other romance dramas. This movie is much more than your cliche chick flick, thus I honestly believe that guys and girls alike will enjoy this movie. The aforementioned box office total thus far as well as the 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 92 percent Flixter user score and 8.1 IMDb score appear to back me up on this statement. Now if you've heard enough from me at this point and you want to go in totally surprised because a well-reviewed romance drama written by the couple and starring Kumail as himself is enough to get you in your seat, then feel free to close this review and go see this movie. But if you're like me and romance dramas aren't your typical cup of tea, thus you want to know why you should go see this movie, then proceed. Because these are the questions I was asking myself. The first third of this movie was decent, but I was trying to figure out why this movie was getting so much praise because to me it didn't seem super special and I didn't even know about the couple's involvement.

Then we got to the second act. This is where the curveball hits. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl experiencing a falling out and go their separate ways. Then girl gets hospitalized with a rare disease where boy gets called in and has to sign off as her husband so that the hospital people can put her in a medically induced coma to figure out what's wrong, which is followed by boy having to call the girl's parents, who fly into Chicago from North Carolina to be with girl... and boy? Say what? Yeah, this movie gets super awkward real fast and I really loved it. There is real honest tension between the two and both are committed to going their separate ways. This could be the type of relationship where Kumail learns from his mistakes and tries to do better next time. We all experience that. But then he is uncomfortably and awkwardly thrown back while he is with a different girl, almost against his will. I mean, what would you do if your ex's friend called you saying your ex is in the hospital and they need your help because her family is in town? Exactly. That's the type of situation where you don't question or debate. You go. And because Kumail is genuinely a good person, he stays with her. Then this is where the hilariousness ensues.

What really made this movie work so well for me was not necessarily the relationship Kumail has with this girl. It's the relationship he develops with her parents. If you had to hang out with your girlfriend's parents on your own, that alone can be awkward enough. Now imagine that you are forced into hanging out with your ex-girlfriend's parents. She hates you at this moment because you've done some awful things and it turns out that she tells her parents everything, so they hate you. But you're stuck with them in a room with these doctors and nurses or in waiting rooms as you all eagerly wait for more updates. The awkwardness just oozes from the scenes and makes you feel uncomfortable yourself as you watch this and try to imagine yourself in this situation. And that's where the movie becomes hilarious. This was advertised as a romantic comedy, not just a romantic drama, thus I was waiting for the comedy to kick in the first third of the movie, but I just wasn't getting it. I tried. But all I could muster was some courtesy laughs. But then there was absolutely no holding back for me in the second act with the parents. I lost it. A lot. When you go into a comedy and you experience genuine gut-busting laughter the entire time, that's the best.

Thus when all is said and done, the real stars of this movie for me were Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents. First off, I want to shine the spotlight on Ray Romano. He's a comedic actor that I absolutely loved in "Everybody Loves Raymond." If I'm being honest, I don't like many modern sitcoms because they don't make me laugh. But I love my 90's sitcoms because they did make me laugh and "Everybody Loves Raymond" was right up there with the likes of "Home Improvement" for my favorite 90's sitcoms that I practically watched religiously. Following "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray Romano kinda disappeared. Outside the "Ice Age" franchise, he hasn't really done much that has stood out. But he's back in this. If you can imagine Ray Barone, Ray Romano's character in "Everybody Loves Raymond," but 10-20 years later as the parent of a 20-30 year-old daughter, that's what he's like in this. I started feeling super nostalgic and thus super happy. Now team him up with Holly Hunter, who essentially plays a very outspoken southern mother and they work magic together and the relationship they build with their daughter's ex-boyfriend is rather touching. A "don't judge a book by it's cover" situation.

I also don't want to dismiss Kumail's performance as himself. On the surface level it might seem easy to play yourself in a movie because you have years of experience already doing so in real life. You don't have to become a new character. You just have to remember how you acted in certain situations. But then I thought that if I had to reenact former moments of my life and make them believable to the audience, that actually might be really hard. Because you've learned from past experiences and hopefully have tried to become a new person, but now you have to go and dig up all those old emotions and try to become your former self again? That's a very unique performance to judge, as again, I can't think of a time where an actor has played themselves in a movie. Oftentimes they will have a cameo in the movie as a different character, but they don't usually play themselves. And then he has to build believable on-screen chemistry with a girl who is NOT his wife, pretending that she is. Because Emily is not played by the real Emily like Kumail is. She's played by Zoe Kazan from "Ruby Sparks" and "What If." So yeah, a tricky performance that I was impressed with. He gave an Oscar-worthy performance playing himself that I think is worth the praise.

Overall, I do think this movie lives up to the hype it's been given. If you like romance dramas and/or romantic comedies, this is a movie that you definitely should check out. If you don't like those types of movies, I don't think you should immediately write this one off. I think you should give it a chance because I'm usually quite picky with my romance movies, but I loved this. I don't often enjoy romance movies because many of them follow an extremely formulaic plot that I get bored with. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl split up. Boy and girl realize that they are meant for each other and get back together. Yawn. I need something more than that and this movie definitely gives me more. I'm so glad that Kumail and Emily decided to share their story with the world because I think there's a lot that could be learned from it. And there's also a ton of hilarious awkwardness thanks to Ray Romano and Holly Hunter that made me feel like I was watching a modern version of "Everybody Loves Raymond" on top of this very touching romance story. Great humor. Great drama. Great performances from everyone involved, especially Kumail playing himself as well as Ray Romano and Holly Hunter stealing the show. I've giving "The Big Sick" a 9/10.

Friday, July 14, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

It's been nearly 50 years since cinema has been churning out Planet of the Apes movies and even a bit longer since the idea was first put to paper. Pierre Boulle originally wrote the French novel in 1963, which was adapted into the classic 1968 film starring Charlton Heston. Following that we had several direct sequels of varying popularity, a couple TV shows that some people probably enjoyed and a 2001 Tim Burton remake that I've not heard one positive remark about. Personally I'm not what you would call a Planet of the Apes purist. I find the original movie fascinating, but I've never checked out the 70's sequels, TV shows or the Burton remake because I've been given no indication that it's worth checking out. So I never have. Thus I was unsure about what to think when I went into "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in 2011. It didn't seem like it was a good idea to try yet again. But like with the rest of the world, I was blown away. Now six years later this prequel trilogy is complete with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in 2014 and "War for the Planet of the Apes" in theaters now. Suddenly we have on our hands one of the best trilogies ever made as "Dawn" improved upon "Rise" and now "War" has impressively improved upon "Dawn."

Right off the bat, one of the things that I found interesting about "Rise" was that, through a certain chain of events, we started to have an ape uprising where we set up this ape vs. human conflict and I had no idea which side I was supposed to take. I myself am a human, so naturally it makes sense for me to want the human race to prevail. However, Caesar, Koba, Rocket, Maurice and the gang of apes are such fascinating characters that I also want to cheer for them. That somewhat unconventional route of no clear protagonists vs. antagonists story really threw me off at first, but it didn't take me too long to absolutely fascinated by it. Very rarely do we have war films where you completely understand the position of both sides of the battle and aren't sure where you are supposed to stand. Then this idea was exemplified in "Dawn" when Caesar learns the hard way through Koba that not all apes are good. But even then with Koba as a more clear villain, you fully understand why he made certain decisions given how oppressed and mistreated he was by the humans, whereas Caesar sees the good in humans because he was raised by James Franco's character, who was genuinely a great human being, something that Jason Clarke reminded him of in "Dawn."

I don't remember when it hit me, but sometime after seeing "Dawn," I made the connection that this is more than just a fun sci-fi apes vs. humans franchise. It's a franchise that is reflective of the human condition. In "Dawn" specifically, we have a battle of humans vs. apes where both sides honestly feel that they are in the right and that the other side is in the wrong. This sparks an inciting incident that leads to a major battle. In the meantime, some of the humans and some of the apes realize that there is good and bad on both sides and that they should make peace. But it's too little, too late. How often in society do we see this same battle play out when it comes to color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, political opinion or anything else like that? We are constantly labeling ourselves and bitterly fighting against the opposing side without stopping for a moment to truly consider what we are really doing. Many fights could be solved if we would just put ourselves in the shoes of the opposite side and try to really learn where they are coming from and why they are doing the things they do. Yet for some reason this seems to be impossible for some people, so we continue to fight. Racism, prejudice and the like prevail while we all lose.

Yes, I loved both "Rise" and "Dawn" when I first saw them, but they are the type of movies that have only improved over time as I continue to see them and consider the messages the movies teach us, given that they are essentially an allegorical tale on the human condition and what can happen if we continue on the path that we are currently on. What I really loved about "War" was that it took these themes and expanded on them, giving us a perhaps the deepest and most emotional chapter yet that is the perfect conclusion to this beautiful and tragic saga. If you were a fan of "Rise" and "Dawn," like I definitely was, you absolutely need to make "War" a priority. And bring a box of tissues along with you. I don't know if this is the absolute final Planet of the Apes movie that will ever be made. In theory there are a lot of potential stories in this universe that they could still tell. But there is no question that "War" is at least the conclusion of this specific story arc that we've been telling these last two movies. I would be nice if Hollywood had the self-control to let this franchise be, but if they go the route of "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" or "Bourne" by finding a way to continue, at the very least I am happy that we have this trilogy to treasure for years to come.

I was just now reading what I wrote in my review of "Dawn" in 2014 and one thing that I noticed is that I didn't touch the plot of the film very much because the trailers did a good job of keeping that movie's real story a secret. I really appreciate it when a movie does that and now I'm super happy that they've done so twice in a row. You may think what you know what is going to happen after you watch the trailers. It's Caesar vs. Woody Harrelson in the final war of apes vs. humans, right? Well yes. But that's only the very bare bones of this movie. The skeleton, if you will. But there is so much more to this movie that the trailers chose not to tell us about and I love that. Thus I'm going to follow my 2014 example and not talk much about this plot. I want you to experience this movie like I did. So I'm going to do my best to stick with the generalities of the movie as opposed to the specifics. And the first thing on this note is that, despite it being called "WAR for the Planet of the Apes," this is not really a war film. I do think it's a fitting title because there is a war going on around them, but this is more of a character-driven drama where the action is more of a supplemental side note rather than it being the other way around and I really appreciated that.

If you go into this movie hoping for Helm's Deep the movie, but in this world, then there is a slight chance that you will be disappointed. The trailers were very action heavy, but the movie certainly is not. However, just be aware that if you are disappointed because you wanted more action and less character stuff, I will be disappointed in you. There's a time and a place for brainless summer action flicks, but this Planet of the Apes saga is not one of them. The heart and soul of these movies have been the story of Caesar and what he's gone through. We saw him in "Rise" as he built his own little kingdom of smart apes. We saw him have to witness the rise of a war against the humans thanks to the actions of Koba. Now we get to see him fight his absolute hardest to keep his civilization alive in a point where the humans are at their most desperate state. Caesar has to go through some horrific tragedies which lead him to have to make difficult decisions. And the decisions are not necessarily the best decisions, which often comes back to haunt and torment him. There is a ton of raw emotion that Andy Serkis is able to bring to this character that often makes you want to sit and cry as you are watching it all unfold in your theater chair.

Speaking of Andy Serkis, might I remind you that this is a motion-capture performance. It's much more than just Serkis providing a voice to a computer-generated character. He's on set in a fancy suit moving around like Caesar is. It's one thing to provide a lot of emotion to a human character or do great voice work, but it's a whole different ball game with Serkis becoming an ape AND providing all of that depth and emotion. I've been impressed with every motion-capture performance that Serkis has done, but this is by far the best work he has done and is his most emotional and powerful role. So please. Give this man an Oscar. Or at least a nomination. I don't know why the Academy has been so stubbornly opposed to motion-capture, but it would be really nice if they got off their high horse and give credit where credit is due. But they probably won't. And I'll be mad. But life will go on and I will get over it as I realize again that the Academy Award really don't mean that much. It's the same story, just different years. But I suppose it's only fair to wait and see what else 2017 has to offer us because it's only July and all of the major Oscar bait movies don't even come out until late Fall. But still. It would be satisfying to see the man get recognized somehow.

Serkis isn't the only part of this movie deserving of awards, though. If this were up to me, I'd go all out in true "Return of the King" fashion, at least in terms of nominations. And since it's the concluding chapter, it would be the right time to do it. Let's give it a best picture, best screenplay, best lead actor for Serkis, best supporting actor for Woody Harrelson, best cinematography, best visual effects, best original score and even more of those technical categories because this movie is brilliant. If I were to pick only one outside Serkis, those visual effects would be a great choice as once again, those apes look like real apes. If you were impressed by the visual effects in "Rise" and "Dawn," it only gets better here. And yes, I kind of just name dropped Woody Harrelson in there for supporting actor because I absolutely loved him in the movie and I wish I could dive even more, but I'm going to let you experience that. Just know that every time Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson are on screen together, it's cinematic magic. So much more to talk about with this movie, but I think I've made my point and now I'm going to let you discover the brilliance of this film on your own. This trilogy is one of the best and this final chapter is a masterpiece. I'm giving "War" a 10/10.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Beguiled Review

Sneaking into theaters in the middle of the summer, which is, as usual, a very blockbuster-heavy summer, is a little movie called "The Beguiled," directed by Academy Award winner Sofia Coppola. "Lost in Translation" was the movie Coppola won that award for and it was a best original screenplay award. "Lost in Translation" was also nominated for best picture and best director for Coppola and also gave Bill Murray his only Oscar nomination, which was best lead actor in this movie. Coppola has also directed "The Virgin Suicides," "Marie Antoinette" and "Somewhere." Admittedly I have some homework to do because I have seen none of these movies. Yep, "The Beguiled" is the first Sofia Coppola movie I've seen. And, well, after my experience with this movie, I'm really intrigued to check these other movies out to see what else this lady has brought to the table because I found "The Beguiled" surprisingly fascinating. But beware, this movie is very out of place in the middle of the summer as it belongs in Oscar season. If for some reason you walk in without having known anything about the movie and you're expecting another fun summer movie, you might be in for a bit of a surprise as "The Beguiled" is the exact opposite of a summer blockbuster.

The setting for this movie is the Civil War, about three years in, I believe. The entirety of the movie takes place at a girls school in Virginia. At this point in the war, tension is high and numbers at this school are low. In fact, there are just five female students of various ages and two adults. One day, one of the young students comes across a wounded soldier from the North and decides to help him to their place instead of leaving him to die. Given that he is on the enemy's side and is an adult male, not many are a fan of this decision, but they decide to keep him there and take care of him for the time being. With this being a period piece, the first thing that I thought of is that this could be a great candidate for a lot of the smaller awards such as makeup and hairstyling, costume design and production design. Such things can be easily overlooked when watching a movie, but I don't think it should be taken for granted all the work that goes into making this look and sound like we're back in the 1800's. You've got to build or find the right sets. You have to search for the perfect outfits and do the ladies' hair just right. Then there requires some skilled direction and acting to make each of these characters sound like they're in the right era after setting everything up.

If the casual person walks into your movie and doesn't notice a thing about this, then it's quite possible everyone has done their jobs right. That might sound a bit strange off the bat, but if you go into a movie set in the 1800's and are immediately immersed and convinced that you are in the 1800's to the point where the audience doesn't bat an eye, then it's perfect. If any of the sets, outfits or character portrayals stick out like a sore thumb because it doesn't feel like they belong in the era, then that's when people are going to start noticing and become distracted because it just doesn't feel right. When it comes to these aspects, this movie is seamless. I'm no expert in filmmaking, but I've taken enough film classes and other things of that sort to know that there is a lot of careful and precise work that goes into making a film. Thousands of hours with countless crew members are required to make every detail seem perfect. This craft of filmmaking is something that I think we often take for granted given how many thousands of movies we have been subjected to, with literally hundreds of new films being made every year. It's easy to sit down for an hour or two and totally forget how much work goes into making every single film that we sometimes quickly toss to the side.

I would be lying if I were to say I wasn't guilty of said actions, especially since watching and reviewing films has become a hobby of mine that I have dedicated countless hours to in the last five or more years to with this blog. Sometimes I find myself going through the motions and forget that people have spent months and years carefully putting together a film that I spend two hours watching and often throw to the side if it didn't do exactly what I was expecting or wanting to. It's a very selfish thing and sometimes I feel bad trashing someone's livelihood like that. Imagine if you spent a lot of time and effort putting together some fancy project that you are proud of and suddenly your friend walks up, takes one glance at it, and informs you that it is awful and you have wasted your time. Thus I am grateful for when movies come around that remind me of how brilliant the art of filmmaking is. Yes, I enjoy my giant blockbusters. I loved "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Wonder Woman." I am stoked for "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "Dunkirk." But I often love the smaller, artsy films more than the giant blockbusters because they remind me of how great the art of film is and why it is completely appropriate to call filmmaking a form of art.

This is exactly what "The Beguiled" helped me do. Quite frankly, if you look at it on the surface level only, it is quite possible that this movie might bore you to tears. There's not a whole lot that happens with this story. These seven ladies are in a very isolated situation and in order to portray that, I believe Sofia Coppola purposefully crafted this as a lonely, isolated film. The trailers advertised this as a crazy, twisted movie that blends a period piece with a mysterious thriller, but that's not really what happens. I don't want to say the trailers are misleading, but I will say that this particular movie was a hard one to try to advertise and thus I don't really blame them for what they came up with because they had to do something to get people in seats and taking footage from the first half only might make for a really boring trailer. Because again, not much happens. The film is slow-paced. There's nothing too crazy or intense that happens. They take their time getting through the story. Which is why I say it's a bit out of place in terms of a June/July release because we're used to high-octane action thrillers and in the midst of them we have this slow moving drama about a group of girls who are trying to figure out what to do with this dude that's now in their life.

Thus as the movie slowly moved along, my full attention was elsewhere outside the story and the characters. The movie starts with a girl walking along a trail. I wasn't thinking to myself that I'm bored of simply watching this girl walk. I was fascinated as I listened to the sounds of her footsteps and I began to ponder as to what it took to record those sounds and how they must've carefully implemented those sounds at the perfect time during the editing process. This is a fun thing called sound editing and sound mixing. To the average person, they're just the weird categories at the Oscars that no one seems to care about. However, if you dive in and begin to study the sound editing process, which is followed by the sound mixing process, this is an absolutely fascinating process. Every tiny little sound in the movie has to be created in some way. Then those sounds have to be put in very carefully at the right place with the right volume so that it feels natural to the scene. You believe that the actress stepping on the dirt is what created that exact sound when in fact that was most likely not the case. If you think this sounds boring, then you should pay close attention to characters walking and what sounds are and aren't made while they are doing so.

I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating that I can sit and spend a whole paragraph or two just on a girl walking down a path in the woods. And I didn't even get into the camera work and editing, because that's fun, too. You can take a movie scene by scene and focus on each different cut. What angle is the camera at next. Where is the focus in the scene. We have the wide shots, the medium shots, the close-up shots. Sometimes we are in front of the girl walking. Sometimes we are behind her. Each sequence has a specific purpose and helps the audience focus on exactly what the filmmaker is hoping the audience will focus on. There's a lot of things that you can take from a moment that's so simple. Thus even though it seemed like nothing much was happening in the movie, I was completely immersed and fascinated because it's the sounds in this movie that become their own characters. When it's night outside, you hear the crickets chirping. When it's morning, you hear the birds singing in the background. Then as they are outside, you hear the distant sound of cannons and gunshots going off, reminding you of what's going on beyond this little school house where the girls are taking care of this mysterious yet friendly soldier.

You may find it curious that I've now reached the length of a normal review for my standards, yet I haven't really gone into much detail about this specific film. A big reason for that is I really loved how well-crafted this film was and I felt like diving into more detail than usual about this art of filmmaking because I feel like we often take for granted all the technical aspects of the movie that are required to make a film work and I really hope you've enjoyed this discussion about this because it's something I've come to feel passionate about. The other reason that I haven't gone into much detail is because the most interesting aspects of the movie when it comes to plot, characters and themes are in the second half of the movie and I don't really want to spoil the experience for you. The movie does take its time to get going and it also takes its time wrapping up, but once we came to the final scene and the credits started rolling, I became lost in thought about the themes that ended up being discussed and I was fascinated by the decisions some characters made. Yes, the plot is simple and the movie is purposefully isolated, but this is actually a very deep film with a lot to say. I really want to discuss these themes with you, but for the sake of not giving spoilers, I'm not going to.

When all is said and done, I believe that this is the perfect type of film to be discussed and analyzed in film classes for students who are desiring to know more about film. On the surface level from a casual moviegoer, this could be seen as a boring film that has nothing to say because nothing happens. But it's when you sit down and think harder about it while analyzing the various elements that went into making this film and themes that are discussed, that's where I feel this film blossoms. It's a wonderfully crafted film where the true beauty is in all the details. The movie looks and sounds flawless, which is a testament to the careful precision that had to have gone into every little details and every individual scene. While I don't want to dive into the second half of the film, I would encourage you to pay special attention to the score. I'd ask you to remember the time period that we're in and what these characters must be thinking. If you don't like analyzing film and you'd rather sit and watch a brainless action movie and shove popcorn into your face, then this might not be the movie for you. But if you're interested in using a bit of brain power to analyze what's going on and reflect on the themes presented, then give this one a shot. I'm giving "The Beguiled" a 9/10.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Movie Preview: July 2017

We're about a third of the way into July already and due to the Independence Day holiday and other distractions, this blogger has yet to get his July 2017 preview out. Although with July starting on a Saturday and those first two days of that weekend having been covered in June's preview last month, we've only missed one full July weekend and that only had one wide release, so there's still three full weekends of movies to cover and plenty of movies to get to, so no worries right? This just means we'll have to do a recap "Spider-Man: Homecoming" before we preview the rest. Looking back on June, we continued our summer of disappointing sequels and reboots with "The Mummy," "Cars 3," "Transformers: The Last Knight" and "Despicable Me 3" all falling short of expectations. Although all was not lost as the story of June was the incredible performance of "Wonder Woman," which made $334.9 million in the month of June alone and by the end of its run will finish as the top movie of the summer. This success helped June just clear the $1 billion mark as it avoids the fate of becoming the first June to fall short of the mark since 2007. Meanwhile, July is rather packed with huge titles, so without further ado let's dive right into what should be an entertaining month for moviegoers!

July 7th - 9th- 

As previously mentioned, the first full weekend of July, which is just barely in our rear view mirrors, provided only one wide release, but it was a huge one as Spider-Man: Homecoming swung into theaters with quite the bang. Coming in at  $117 million, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" delivered the third largest opening weekend of 2017, behind only "Beauty and the Beast" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2" and just ahead of "Wonder Woman." Without adjusting for ticket price inflation, this is the second highest opening weekend for a Spider-Man movie, behind only the extremely front-loaded debut of "Spider-Man 3." This is also the highest debut ever for a single character introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This connection with the MCU is precisely why this movie did so well, despite it being the sixth Spider-Man movie in 15 years and third incarnation of the character in that time period. After "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" became a franchise killer, Sony finally gave in and made a deal with Marvel to allow Spider-Man into the MCU if Marvel helped them make a good movie. Both Marvel and Sony should be pleased at the final result as it also achieved praise from critics and casual audiences alike. People are digging Tom Holland's Spider-Man.

July 14th - 16th-

The first three weekends of July all deliver high profile releases, which could either turn this into one of the highest grossing summer months in history or, as last summer showed us, could cause the movies to all financially self-destruct. Thus the jury is still out on whether War for the Planet of the Apes will out-gross its predecessors or not, but Fox certainly has confidence in their supposed final installment of their recent Planet of the Apes movies as they opened the critical flood gates a few weeks ago with their press screenings and no embargo. Thus far this is working out for them as the movie is currently receiving praise equal to or better than the critically acclaimed "Rise" and "Dawn." The tradition of making Planet of the Apes movies began nearly 50 years ago with the classic 1968 Charlton Heston classic about a future planet where apes are the dominant species instead of humans. This recent trilogy has decided to take a different spin on how this came to be, with "Rise" being about how this ape society came to be as well as how the human race began to fall. "Dawn" chronicled the inciting incident that started a war between the apes and the remaining humans where "War" figures to be the final battle wherein the apes finally take over.

Hoping to sneak in a few scares amidst the influx of blockbusters this month is the horror movie Wish Upon. This horror flick stars the now 17-year-old Joey King, who started her acting career as a very young girl and has built up quite the impressive resume of films that few people her age have achieved. Now in her late teenage years, she is starring as a girl who comes across a box that will grant you any wish you ask for. And, well, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish as you can imagine, in true horror fashion, these things come with major consequences. "Wish Upon" is directed by the cinematographer of successful horror films such as "Insidious" and "The Conjuring." However, as the main man in charge, Mr. John R. Leonetti has such films as "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," "The Butterfly Effect 2" and "Annabelle," which is not a selection of films that Broad Green Pictures probably are eager to inform audiences that their director has been attached to, but ones that audiences should be aware of in case they are heading in expecting this to be the next horror masterpiece. Because, in all likelihood, this is probably not going to be remembered.

July 21st - 23rd-
First there was "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Then there was "War for the Planet of the Apes." And now we're throwing Dunkirk into the mix? Yeah, if all goes well, this could be a month to remember. "Dunkirk" sees esteemed director Christopher Nolan back with another movie, this time being a World War II film about, you guessed it, the Battle of Dunkirk. I won't give any details about this battle because I don't want to know anything going in, but if you feel like looking up what happened at Dunkirk before seeing the movie, then be my guest. What I will say is that, unlike many war films that are released, this carries with it a PG-13 rating, which means that high levels of blood and gore are not what Nolan is going for here. Despite Nolan's huge, rabid fan base that he's formed after movies such as "Inception" and "The Dark Knight," his last two films both got quite the impressive mixed reaction as there are a large number of people that will say "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Interstellar" are the best movies ever made while an equally large number will claim those are the worst movies ever made. Included in that are just about every opinion in between. Thus I'm sure that Nolan is hoping that he can do a better job of uniting moviegoers this time around.

With July this packed already, it seems a bit questionable that STX Entertainment would choose this month to try and convince audiences to also see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It seems like this movie would be better suited in August or October rather than in July, trying to compete with the likes of Spider-Man, Apes and Nolan. But oh well. I suppose that's why I'm a blogger and not an executive in the film distribution industry because this decision makes zero sense. Regardless, "Valerian" stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline respectively and is based on the French series of comics titled "Valerian and Laureline," which was first published back in 1967. Thus it makes sense why French director Luc Besson is so passionate and excited to bring this series to the big screen in its 50-year anniversary, which is another reason why it seems like they would want to pick a better release date. Besson and STX hope this doesn't become the next "John Carter" or "Jupiter Ascending," two notorious sci-fi flops. But yet with its $180 million budget, it's going to take a huge surprise for "Valerian" to NOT be clumped with those two as a $20 million opening weekend seems like a generous prediction at this point.

The final entry of this third weekend comes from a genre that has been outright brutalized this summer. That being the raunchy comedy genre. Girls Trip hopes to buck this trend as summer 2017 desperately tries to search for a hit here. Yet despite strong marketing pushes and big name actors, "Snatched," "Baywatch," "Rough Night" and "The House" all fell embarrassingly short of even the most held-back expectations. Opening weekend totals for the four movies were $19.5 million, $18.5 million, $8.0 million and $8.7 million respectively. While the female-centered partying plot seems like the perfect premise for those wanting a good raunch com as a similar premise led "Bad Moms" to $113.2 million domestically just last summer, "Rough Night" also had a similar premise, yet was one of the two that couldn't even crack $10 million opening weekend. And with a cast led by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon, "Rough Night" seemed like it had a lot more potential. All due respect, but Regina Hall, Queen Latifa and Jada Pinkett Smith aren't nearly as popular as Johansson and McKinnon at this current point. But hey, maybe the epic failures of these previous four movies means we are finally poised for one to have success this summer.

July 28th - 30th-

The fourth and final weekend of July provides audiences with an additional two movies, albeit two very different films targeting two very different audiences, both of which have potential for success. First up is Atomic Blonde. While there's a lot of major blockbusters hitting theaters this month, as we have discussed, "Atomic Blonde" has the chance to succeed despite the busy market because it is specifically targeting the adult audience seeking another hardcore action flick. I don't want to say this has been an under-served genre this year, but there's been enough space between these types of movies that this audience isn't feeling overloaded at this point. The last of which would be "Baby Driver," which found breakout success at the end of June. "Atomic Blonde" is essentially being billed as the female-version of "John Wick." Not a bad comparison being that the director is "David Leitch," one of the co-directors of "John Wick." Leitch will be hoping for similar success here as he infuses his style with Charlize Theron in the lead role, who has developed into a bonafide action star thanks in huge part to best picture nominated "Mad Max: Fury Road" as well as this year's "The Fate of the Furious." Her presence should definitely help this movie succeed.

Perhaps the most controversial release of the month will be the arrival of The Emoji Movie. This is a movie that no one seems to be excited for but is happening due to the success of "The Angry Birds Movie," which made $107.5 million domestically. The reaction was rather negative when this was announced and the reaction was even more negative when the official trailer by Sony was released. This being evident by the trailer having 73,533 dislikes on YouTube at the time of this blog's posting compared to only 17,528 likes. If you don't feel like doing math right now, that's a dislike rate of 80.8 percent. But as I said at the start of the last paragraph, this movie has a chance to succeed anyways. First off, as mentioned, "The Angry Birds Movie" found success despite the negative reaction. And the young crowd this is aiming to please are less harsh critics than your average moviegoer. It doesn't take a lot to please a 5-year-old. If this movie succeeds in pleasing this target audience, then none of this negative reaction really even matters. A huge part of this hatred comes with the plot, which seems like a direct rip-off of "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Inside Out." But again, a 5-year-old isn't going to care about that. They just need to convince their parents to take them to see the movie.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

One of my favorite moments each year is sitting in the theater as yet another movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe starts to play. Nowadays it happens two or three times a year. But it never gets old. The advertisements end. The trailers start. The anticipation through each trailer is high as you realize you are closer and closer to the movie starting. Then the trailers finish and you get one more blurb or two from the theater and then there it is. The epic Marvel logo shows up and gets you absolutely pumped! This weekend it's time for millions of people across the world to experience this feeling yet again! Kinda. We had a minor little caveat this time around as the moment where the Marvel logo was supposed to show up, the Sony and Columbia Pictures logos showed up instead. Because even though most people now believe that Spider-Man is Marvel's franchise, Sony kindly reminded us that they still own the character. They just struck a deal with Marvel so that Marvel can help them actually make good movies and in turn they'd let Spider-Man join the MCU. So we got the Sony logo first. Then an opening scene involving Michael Keaton, not Spider-Man. Then they let the Marvel logo show up. And we were officially in business with another MCU superhero movie!

For comic book fans, this is the moment that we've all been dreaming of ever since the Avengers initiative began with "Iron Man" in 2008. When is Sony going to man up and let everyone's favorite Marvel character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Well, it took the financial and critical disaster that was "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" to happen before Sony caved and came whimpering to Marvel for help. And now we have it. Spider-Man has been rebooted for the second time this millennium, but this time Marvel has a say in the matter and they are doing it their way. We're going to wipe the slate clean, pretend that both Sam Raimi's trilogy and the Amazing Spider-Man movies don't exist, cast a nobody baby face as Spider-Man, hire an unknown director and boom! Marvel's Spider-Man. Then we throw on there the "Spider-Man: Homecoming" title, which is has a duel meaning with this being Spider-Man returning to Marvel as well as it reflecting the style and tone of this movie, which is a straight-up teenager, high school drama in the vein of a classic John Hughes movie such as "The Breakfast Club" or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but with superheroes. Yeah this is a very different Spider-Man movie than what we are used to, but in this case I think that's a good thing.

Now in regards to my personal opinion of the Spider-Man lore, it's worth noting that I have been a Spider-Man fan since I was a young kid. I remember the animated Spider-Man TV shows and the Spider-Man video games. He was a comic book character, along with Batman and Superman, that I really loved. Then as a 13-year-old kid I was elated with the fact that Spider-Man was finally coming to the big screen courtesy of Sam Raimi. Toby Maguire put on that Spider-Man mask for the first time in 2002 and I loved it. Then I loved the sequel in 2004. Unfortunately the third entry in that franchise is one we don't talk about in my household and sadly it was so bad that it killed that specific franchise. But because Sony owns the character and has to continue to make movies or they lose the rights, they rebooted the character with Andrew Garfield in 2012. Even though it was a retread of Spider-Man's origins, I thought it was done fantastically. I even enjoyed the sequel two years later that most of the world likes to tear apart and throw in a dumpster. But because I was in the minority, that movie killed the franchise, too. So now we get what is either going to be three strikes and you're out or third time's the charm. Luckily it appears to be the latter.

The big question that everyone will face with this new Spider-Man movie is how does this stack up against the previous five? Well, I'm not going to answer that yet. I initially planned to do a Spider-Man marathon to refresh my mind and reassess my opinions on everything so I could come up with an honest ranking in this review, but I ended up not having time to do that, so that will come at a later day. When it happens, I will throw in a comment down below as to what my rankings are in addition to a facebook post on my personal page. But for now I'll just say that I enjoyed all of the Spider-Man movies outside "Spider-Man 3." And I have a feeling that this one is going to be a bit tough to figure out exactly where it stands because quite frankly this is a much different iteration of Spider-Man. For one, as I said earlier, the tone is much different as this is a high school drama with superheroes. But also, Tom Holland is much younger than Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield  were when they took on the mantle. Maguire was 27 when "Spider-Man" was released in 2002 and Garfield was 29 when "The Amazing Spider-Man" was released in 2012.  Tom Holland is 21 right now. But he honestly looks like he is about 16, which is what Marvel is going for here.

If I'm comparing the three actors in their portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, I'd still probably say Toby Maguire does the best Peter Parker while Andrew Garfield does the best Spider-Man, but Tom Holland is the most well-rounded in playing both. He's very natural at playing the nerdy Peter Parker who is very socially awkward and, as we learned in "Captain America: Civil War," he is great when he puts on the suit to become the famous web-slinger as he may have been the best part of that airport sequence. The high energy level that he brought to that scene is present throughout this movie once he becomes Spider-Man and it's a lot of fun to watch. But in this movie, Marvel has done something really fascinating that the other two sagas didn't do. They made Spider-Man a kid. Sure, Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were technically supposed to be high school students in their first movie, but no one ever bought it due to how old they were. In this movie you do. And anyone who knows the Spider-Man comics, that's how it's supposed to be. Spider-Man is a kid who got superpowers and has to balance school life with superhero life and sometimes fails at both. That's the story Marvel is telling here. He's a kid trying to be an adult with these powers.

If you're looking for classic Spider-Man story arcs in this movie, you're not going to get them. There's no Harry Osborne or Mary Jane Watson in the movie. Instead his best friend is named Ned and his love interest, or rather high school crush, is a girl named Liz. There's no Uncle Ben in the movie, only a subtle reference to Aunt May going through hard times, which I took to be Uncle Ben's passing. Speaking of Aunt May, she actually looks like an Aunt May instead of the Grandma May that most versions interpret her as in terms of age, which I appreciated. Having Aunt May be in her 70's shouldn't necessarily be a requirement. In fact, younger, hotter Aunt May made for a lot of great comedic moments. Although those complaining at Aunt May being too young may not realize that Marisa Tomei is 53. A pretty dang good looking 53-year-old if I might add. Moving on, we also don't have Norman Osborne or any Green Goblin/Hob Goblin references. With no Uncle Ben, Peter's mentor in the movie is Tony Stark, which I'd be willing to bet is not the case in any previous Spider-Man stories. So yes, Marvel has gone in a completely different direction with this new iteration of Spider-Man. All things considered, though, I think that was necessary. Another rehash would not have been accepted.

But despite the movie being completely different in terms of our specific, classic Spider-Man stories, Marvel nailed the spirit of Spider-Man as this young kid figuring out this thing called life. He had quite the initiation to the Avengers in "Civil War" and now he is completely obsessed with all of that. He starts dropping out of all his school programs and putting his full energy into becoming Spider-Man, but much to his dismay, Tony Stark is mainly ignoring him. He doesn't get to go on any more cool adventures with the Avengers and thus he becomes really frustrated at this whole process as he tries to simply become a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, but finds himself kinda bored with it. To me this felt like real teenager emotions. If a kid got super powers, this is how he would act. He'd probably try to be a superhero, but he'd probably fail because there's a lot more to being a superhero than having powers and putting on a costume. These are the lessons that Peter has to learn the hard way. He thinks he's ready, but he's really not. Thus while the movie itself is not an origin story -- the spider bite is only referenced in passing -- this is a movie about kid Peter Parker learning how to become Spider-Man and it's a really beautiful arc that he goes through. 

So yes, I loved Tom Holland's version of the character and I loved the arc that he went through. But if I'm being a bit nit-picky, the movie as a whole is not quite as sharp and focused as some other previous Spider-Man movies. This is more of a high school drama than a superhero movie for a lot of it and while I enjoyed that, I did also feel that we were kinda wandering through high school for a while without having a traditional three act movie. I didn't know where the movie was going for most of it. While not as bad as the first half of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" from earlier this year, I did feel there could've been a bit more focus and direction. Thus while I don't know exactly how I will rank all the Spider-Man movies, I do know this one won't be on the top of that list, but it does have a good chance at being in the top half of that list and that is actually because of Michael Keaton as the Vulture, which I was surprised by. I don't want to dive too much into his character because I want that to be a surprise for you, but he got a lot more attention in this movie than I thought he was going to get and, based on trailers I'd seen, he has a lot more depth and humanity to him than I was expecting. This is one of the best Spider-Man villains if I'm being honest.

Overall, this definitely is a very enjoyable movie. Kudos to Tom Holland for nailing both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Kudos to Marvel for deciding to go with the teenage Spider-Man instead of the adult Spider-Man we've gotten in the previous movies. More kudos to Marvel for being bold enough to take this in a completely different direction, thus making this feel fresh, despite the fact that this is our sixth Spider-Man movie in 15 years. I know a lot of people that were sick of the character after the past three movies and I think Marvel has done a perfect job of getting everyone excited again for their most popular character. I also have to dish out kudos to our supporting cast, which includes Jacob Batalon as Peter's best friend Ned, Laura Harrier as his crush Liz, Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, Zendaya as a girl named Michelle, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. They were all great. Then of course RDJ was great again as Tony Stark, this time in a mentor role. And a huge round of applause to Michael Keaton for making this movie work. This is the fourth best superhero movie of 2017, which is more of a testament to how great this year has been for the genre as I'm giving "Spider-Man: Homecoming" a 9/10.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Baby Driver Review

We're halfway through Hollywood's summer and sneaking in at the end of June, right before the year's halfway point, is the latest film from director Edgar Wright. I'm not sure what the specific qualifications are to be considered an official huge Edgar Wright fan, but if we were to get into technicalities I may not be eligible. Up until last month I had only ever seen one of his films, that being "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." But in my defense, he's only made four major theatrically released films. Yes, he made a few early films that didn't get much of a release and he worked a lot in TV and other random small film projects, but outside "Scott Pilgrim," his other three films consist of what is referred to as the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy: "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End." Now I've been madly in love with "Scott Pilgrim" ever since I saw it in theaters in 2010 and I caught up with the Cornetto trilogy before seeing "Baby Driver" and holy cow are all three of those movies fantastic. So however much time is required to become a huge Edgar Wright fan after seeing all of his films, sign me up on that waiting list because this man is a genius filmmaker with no blemishes on his record up to this point. That continues with "Baby Driver," which is another Edgar Wright masterpiece.

Since box office totals of these four Edgar Wright films lead me to believe that he is a master of the cult classic wherein not enough people have seen these films, let me give you my plug. "Shaun of the Dead" is a zombie movie parody that came out in 2004 when zombie movies where a huge thing. The movie is hilarious, intense, exhilarating and emotional all in one film. It's an absolute blast. Three years later, in 2007, "Hot Fuzz" was released and is one of the most insane buddy cop movies I've seen with so many over-the-top twists and turns that just keep coming and coming. I was laughing so hard for all of the right reasons. In 2010, we have the illustrious "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which is literally a video game movie. Not an adaptation of a video game. The movie itself is a video game. One of the most clever, hilarious and fun movies I've ever watched. And finally we have "The World's End" in 2013, shortly after the huge craze over the "end of the world" in 2012. Another hilarious and awesome film that ingeniously parodies all of the end of the world movies that came our way at that point. Four great films. Yet the highest grossing of the bunch at the U.S. box office was "Scott Pilgrim" with only $31.5 million? Say what? That's practically a crime to humanity.

It's really a shame that none of these movies made much money. Sure, several of them did solid numbers in Edgar's home country of the U.K., but such low grosses makes me sad. Here we cry for more originality in Hollywood, yet when a director like Edgar Wright gives us movies that are the dictionary definition of original, creative and fun, we ignore them? I don't get how that makes any sense. And you wonder why we get so many sequels, remakes, reboots and adaptations. That's all consumers will bother paying for while hypocritically demanding for more original movies that they always choose to skip when they come around. I'm just glad that "Baby Driver" at the moment is NOT suffering the same fate as Wright's previous movies as it's already at around $30 million through its first five days in release, with word of mouth suggesting that it's in for a long, healthy run during this busy summer. It's about dang time that Wright gets love from more people than his home country. This is another unique, fun, crazy film from Wright wherein I loved every second of my movie-going experience. In fact, I had so much fun that I waited a few days for it to settle in before writing this review so that I can comfortably make some bold claims.

The major bold claim that I am going to make right now is that "Baby Driver" is my favorite movie that I've seen in 2017 thus far. With movies such as "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "Dunkirk" coming up in just the next three weeks, it's quite possible that this title only lasts for a brief moment, but from the moment the publishing of this review, that is my claim. That's why I had to give this a few days of thought. So with that bold claim out of the way, what is "Baby Driver"? The easy answer to this question is that it's everything. There are so many genres packed into this one film and all of them are perfectly balanced by Edgar Wright so that the final result is one huge, epic film. With so many genres in one movie, the initial watch is almost like drinking from a fire hose, but when you give yourself time to unpack everything and think about what you just watched, you slowly begin to realize how genius this movie is and how many layers there are. Then comes the daunting task of trying to do the movie justice in one short movie review because there is just so much to this. I almost just want to end right here and tell you to go experience this movie for yourself, but I will do my best to try to press forward with this review.

The movie itself centers around a character named Baby, played by Ansel Elgort from "The Fault in Our Stars" fame, who has gone through an accident in his past that caused a ringing in his ears. Because of this, he listens to music to drown out the buzzing and has since gotten himself deep into a hole with a violent, dangerous criminal organization who commit heists and robberies. Baby isn't helping with the robbing part of this. He's the getaway driver. And he's so good at what he does with his driving that he's gotten himself stuck in helping them. His secret to being such a good getaway driver? His music. He syncs his driving to the music he's playing and that's what gives him the energy to make it through each job. Thus as he's listening to this music, we as the audience get the pleasure of seeing these epic chase sequences go down synced to this fantastic music. Thus right off the bat we have a heist film, a car chasing film and a musical. Thus the initial comparison was like a "Fast and Furious" the musical. I'd say combine that with a heist film, but "Fast Five" already got that genre covered, so maybe this movie is similar to a "Fast Five" the musical. And that's only the first portion. The further into the movie we get, the more layers and genres we add.

One genre that we quickly add is a romance film as Baby meets Cinderella herself working at the diner he goes to everyday for certain reasons. And by Cinderella, I of course mean Lily James, who is as beautiful and wonderful as ever in this film. Her and Baby immediately develop a ton of romantic chemistry that is totally not forced at all. It happens quickly, but completely naturally. The second they meet in the diner, you immediately are cheering for them to get together. With Baby being in such a tough position that he doesn't know how to get out of, Lily James gives him the motivation to try. Thus the movie becomes daring enough to combine a sappy chick flick with a guy-targeted action/racing thriller. One might ask if it's possible to combine these two very opposite genres and make it work. Well, Edgar Wright is daring enough to run with it and he managed to make me absolutely love all the guy stuff that I'm suppose to love with this type of movie that felt like a "Fast and Furious" or "Mad Max" film while also making me fully invested in this romance arc because I wanted nothing more than the two of them to have their happily ever after and since this is Edgar Wright and not Nicholas Sparks, I had no idea if I was going to get that.

Yet Ansel Elgort and Lily James aren't the only two characters in this movie worth caring for. We have so many different characters with so many different character arcs all interweaving together in such a way that on paper you might look at it and think this is a disaster waiting to happen because often too many characters with too many different story arcs can blow up in a director's face if not handled correctly. But again, Edgar Wright crafts this to perfection. This is more than just poor little Ansel Elgort trying to escape the evil villains who have done all this wrong. Every character has depth and complexity to him or her. Characters in this movie that I really cared about outside Ansel Elgort and Lily James include characters played by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Kevin Spacey, CJ Jones and Jamie Foxx. I don't want to say who played what role in the movie or what each character went through to make me care about them because that would dive into plot spoilers. But needless to say, each character has his or her share of flaws and each character has believable motivation behind what he or she does. These elements made each character worth caring about and thus we got no hollow characters on either side.

We do eventually get to the point where it's hero vs. villain in one epic showdown and while I hesitate to even say that, I feel the need to bring this up because in addition to a mashup of genres that shouldn't work combined with so many story arcs that should make the movie over-bloated, that against all odds works beautifully, we also have the perfect hero vs. villain story arc that every superhero movie attempts to pull off while many fail in the process. We have a complex, flawed hero who has made a lot of mistakes fighting against a well-fleshed out villain who is both ominous and scary while also having a whole lot of depth and motivation behind the actions taken. You understand why this villain is doing these things and you are almost tempted to side with this villain, thus making this a lot more than your typical good guy vs. bad guy story. And there are stakes in this movie. In a lot of superhero movies or other blockbusters, you often know that the hero is going to make it out alive, even in times where you are thoroughly enjoying the film. That's not the case here. There are stakes. There are consequences. And if you watched the Cornetto trilogy, you know Edgar Wright isn't afraid of doing exactly what you DON'T expect. In fact, he seems to like that.

I've gone over a lot of details of this film, but despite that, I don't feel I've covered a whole ton of specific details. This movie has a lot of layers to it with several twists and turns that you come to expect from an Edgar Wright film if you're familiar with his work. I've only scratched the surface. But I've said what I wanted to and now it's up to you to go give this movie a shot. It's an absolute beauty. Edgar Wright is a bold, daring filmmaker who is oozing with fun, creative ideas that I feel give life to what is often a super familiar landscape when it comes to Hollywood. Thus if you want to get away from the predictable and boring, come dive into the world of "Baby Driver." We have so many different genres and story arcs going on during this one movie that on paper it may seem like it wouldn't work, but Edgar Wright masterfully crafts this work of art together into what can be called the perfect summer blockbuster that is glued together with Wright's distinct visual and editing style. If you are a fan of Edgar Wright's films and you haven't seen this movie already, make this a top priority. If you are less familiar with Edgar Wright, but you are wanting to see a unique and perfect summer blockbuster, then you also need to make this a priority. I'm giving "Baby Driver" a 10/10.