Sunday, March 29, 2015

It Follows Review

I normally don't see horror movies. The reason for this is that there are just so many terrible horror movies nowadays that all follow the same stupid horror cliches. You know, dumb people played by terrible actors doing dumb things. Jump scares galore usually accompanied with gruesome violence and/or gore to try to scare audiences. No sense or care for a decent plot or any logic whatsoever. They just don't interest me. So I don't even give them a shot. However, a well-done horror movie is something that I can definitely fall in love with, so I don't have anything against the genre in general. Last year the movie The Babadook was a horror movie that I gave a shot and absolutely loved. In fact, it gave me renewed hope that good horror movies can still be made. Thus when this small indie movie called It Follows was received with remarkable reviews, so much so that they decided to release it into over 1,000 theaters instead of sending it straight to VOD after its small release, I decided that I wanted to give it a shot. While The Babadook restored my faith in the genre, It Follows proved that The Babadook wasn't a fluke. Yes, another good horror movie!

If you're not a movie buff like myself, there's a good chance that you have never even heard of It Follows because it wasn't exactly advertised very much. Instead of bombarding us with trailers and TV spots, they're going purely on word of mouth with this because, like I said, the plan for this wasn't to give it a wide release. So let me take a second to tell you what this is all about without giving too much away. The premise for this is actually mysterious and vague, which is the beauty of this. Going around the town is something strange. We don't know much about it. It's just "it." What does "it" do? Yup, you guessed it. "It" follows. You don't want "it" to follow you. If "it" follows you, you are screwed. "It" will slowly walk towards you until "it" catches you and "it" kills you. You can pass "it" on, but if the person you passed "it" onto gets killed, "it" will go back to following you. "It" can take the form of any human being and thus if "it" is following you, you will be deathly afraid of any human being you see.

There's a lot of things that make this movie work and they all have to do with basic elements of film that most horror movies nowadays decide to completely ignore. First off is an interesting and engaging story. This wasn't a psychological horror movie like The Babadook, but it also wasn't just a serial killer or demon centered thrasher movie like many horrors are. The whole movie is shrouded in mystery and I loved that. You don't know what "it" is. You don't know the background behind "it." You don't know who started "it." Do you find out? I'm not going to tell you. But it's an engaging plot that is also legitimately terrifying at times. It's terrifying in a way that doesn't rely on any jump scares at all. It's just people slowly walking. I appreciated that. Jump scares aren't inherently bad, but when a horror movie relies solely on jump scares and nothing else, then it gets ridiculous rather fast.

The second basic element of film that makes this a good movie is a little thing called acting. I don't know why some horror movies think that this is unnecessary, but sadly it happens way too much. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a horror movie where I didn't care one bit about the characters because of either poor writing, poor acting, or both. It's like the people who put those movies together thought all they needed to do was make a movie with a bunch of jump scares instead of focusing on story and acting. I don't know why they think this because it really makes a huge difference when you make a horror movie in which you actually care about the characters. Thus is proven in It Follows. I didn't know any of these actors going in, but they all did a fantastic job, especially the main girl who has the curse for most of this movie. I cared about them. I was emotionally invested in them. I wanted them to succeed by getting rid of "it."

In addition to a great story and a great cast, what really was the glue that held the movie together were all the technical aspects. Instead of relying on endless jump scares to make this freaky, it instead relied on great camera work and excellent music. First off, the camera work. This isn't done with found footage  or shaky cam, but rather it looks like very subtle hand-held camera. I say "looks like" because I'm not an expert and figuring out exactly what methods or styles they are doing, but nevertheless you are travelling with the characters, but the appearance is slightly shaky enough and at the perfect distance to appear that the camera is from the first person perspective of "it." You're not as you can see "it," but it gives off a really tense feel vibe as you move throughout the movie. Second, the score for the movie is really creepy. When the characters are casually walking down the city and "it" is not around, the music is very mysterious and gives off the vibe that something is not right. Then when "it" shows up in different forms, the creepy music starts up and it is so good that it makes casual people walking seem terrifying. Because that's all that "it" appears as. "It" isn't creepy, gruesome, or scary by itself, but the music makes it that way. Because you actually care for the characters, when "it" gets closer and the music gets louder and more intense, the movie itself gets rather terrifying in a way that gives quite the awesome rush. I walked out very satisfied.

In summary, I'm usually not a fan of horror movies. I gave up on the genre quite some time ago, but last year's The Babadook gave me hope that there can be good horror movies out there. It Follows "followed" that up by giving me a second good horror movie in as many years. It works because it actually follows the aspects of film-making that make a good film that most horror movies nowadays just ignore. It's a good story with well written characters played by fairly unknown actors that actually do a great job. The movie is rather terrifying because it does it in a natural way providing intense, scary moments with excellent camera work and music rather than just endless jump scares topped off with gruesome images. I was fully invested in this movie from start to finish which was very refreshing giving the lack of quality movies in the genre. There are some gruesome and graphic images that make this movie not for everyone, but if you are searching for a good, solid horror movie that is actually worth seeing, I highly suggest you give this one a shot. It's definitely one of the best movies from the first third of the year and thus I will give It Follows a solid 9/10.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent Review

Why do we call this The Divergent Series: Insurgent? Why not just Insurgent? For that matter, why do we call The Hunger Games sequels The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay instead of just Catching Fire and Mockingjay? Even The Maze Runner is falling into this trap by titling their sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Are the fans of these books going to forget what the sequel is called? Are they afraid that general audiences won't see a sequel unless it has a subtitle? If the latter is the case, wouldn't it solve it if they included somewhere in the marketing that this is the sequel to the first? I get it if that's the title of the book, but it's not. Why not just give the movie the same title? At least Maze Runner is smartly avoiding the too many"the's" issue with their title. Yes, I'm looking at you THE Hobbit: THE Desolation of Smaug and THE Hobbit: THE Battle of THE Five Armies. Oh well. I'm here to review a movie and not a movie title. At least they stylized the title well in this instance by making the "Insurgent" part really large while making the "The Divergent Series:" part really small. Sorry. I had to get that out. Now onto this movie.

In case you couldn't tell, The Divergent Series: Insurgent is the sequel to last March's Divergent and is the second movie in this popular young adult dystopian series. You know how these stories go. You have a tyrannical leader who's overthrown the previous government. The world is usually split into houses or districts or factions. You have a chosen one who's going to rise up and start a rebellion against this leader and there's usually a love triangle in the mix. If the book series is a trilogy, then the middle book is all about the rebellion getting into full gear. And of course when adapting the final book, it has to be split into movies. Yes, I'm getting kinda tired of these adaptions. However, if they can do it well or do something to set itself apart, then I'm still down. My big problem with Divergent is that it does neither. You want to claim that it's original and unique? Well then I will point out about a hundred things in that movie that are just a complete rip-off of something from another young adult series, mostly from The Hunger Games. In fact, as I was watching it just became completely and utterly ridiculous because the movie had absolutely nothing original and unique. To make things worse, it wasn't even done very well, so I couldn't even give it the "it wasn't original, but it was done well" card.

There's always hope that the sequel steps it up. I had little faith in this series based on the first one. Just like the honest trailer said, it's like Veronica Roth read The Hunger Games and said, "Hey I could change a few things in that and make a whole ton of money!" But hey, maybe it'll turn around. Trailers didn't do it for me. Reviews were close to being in the cellar. But I've still liked a movie despite those. And.... uhhh... nope. In fact, this went south from the already below average Divergent. The first thing I was looking at was the originality. Everything that Divergent did was ripped off of something else. Was Insurgent going to try to do something new? Well, we have the two leads trying to start a rebellion. We have the romantic tension. We have the double agents and betrayals. We have the dictator trying to stop the leads. So... nope. Nothing new. The bad thing, though, is that the movie was just boring. Plot was happening. It was a lot of plot that was going in lots of directions. I didn't care. I was uninterested. No surprising twists. No tension. Sure, some of the actions scenes were mildly entertaining, but the movie itself was just dull. Then you finish the movie and reflect on everything that happened and realize the whole things is just a complete mess.

One thing that this movie does have in its favor is an excellent cast. The sad thing is that this excellent cast all get misused and thus most of them looked bored. Shailene Woodley did a fine job as Tris. Personally, though, I'm not in love with her or her character. If, in theory, they kill her off in the very end of this series (I have not read the books, so this isn't a spoiler), I won't shed a tear. No emotional connection for me like I do with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Theo James as the "scary boyfriend" (that's a quote from the movie) was a dull character with the stupidest name. Four? Really? Ansel Elgort I actually loved in last year's The Fault in Our Stars. This time around he was completely off and uninteresting. Miles Teller was absolutely fantastic in Whiplash. This one he seemed like he was having some fun, but overall it just felt like he was there for a paycheck because he wasn't emotionally invested in his character. Not like he was in Whiplash anyways. Kate Winslett is one of the best actresses in the business. I love her. She played the President Snow figure in this and it just didn't work. She didn't feel menacing or evil. It wasn't her fault. It was just a horribly written villain. Octavia Spencer is in this. So is Daniel Dae Kim. And Naomi Watts. Ok? They don't do much. None are really interesting. Getting my vibe here? So many great cast members that just get wasted. I think my favorite character was actually Jai Courtney. He always does a great job at playing the idiot and he was great at that in this as well. But that was pretty much it.

Overall, I was not a fan of Divergent. I tried to go in with an open mind, hoping that this would be an improvement, but it wasn't. In fact, it was worse. I was bored. The story was dumb. The characters weren't interesting. I wasn't emotionally invested to anyone or anything. If a nuclear bomb randomly was launched and destroyed the whole world, I would've cheered. Good riddance! That said, if you are part of the group that actually loved Divergent and you are super excited for this, then go see it. You'll probably love this one as well. But if you were with me and you really didn't care for Divergent, yet you are hoping that this will convert you to the series, then just trust me. Skip this one. It's dumb. It's boring. It's not worth your time and money. It also officially convinced me that I will never touch this book series. My grade for Insurgent is a 5/10. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SPOILER REVIEW: American Sniper

It's about time I get my American Sniper review out, right? I saw this movie back in January on the weekend that it expanded nationwide. In fact, I believe it was the last movie I saw in theaters before I made my top 10 best movies of 2014 list because I thought that this would be a candidate for the list. The reviews were a bit mixed from critics in the weeks prior to its nationwide release, but yet so were the reviews for Lone Survivor the year previous and I loved that movie. It was the second straight year that we were getting a Navy SEAL movie and I was ready to love this one just like I did Lone Survivor. So I saw it the Thursday night on its expansion weekend and much to my chagrin, I didn't like it. Then this crazy thing happened that actually started the morning before I saw the movie. It got six Oscar nominations, including a nomination for best picture and best actor. That surprised me. But that wasn't the end of the surprises. I expected the movie to break the January opening weekend record, but I didn't expect it to demolish that record. $89.3 million? WOW! That's the second largest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie. But it didn't stop there. It held so well that it became the highest grossing movie of 2014 as well as the second highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. People were absolutely loving this movie. Did I miss something?

I was going to write my review that weekend, like I usually do, but I decided that this is a movie that I needed to wait before I write my review. I needed to spend some more time thinking about what I saw. So I gave it time. I had discussions about the film. I read about it. I researched Chris Kyle, the movie's subject. Then I saw it again. I thought about it some more and finally last night before I decided it was time to write my review, I saw it for a third time. This time around I took a little notebook and took very detailed notes about what was happening and what I wanted to say. I actually never do that. But this was an exception because I wanted to dive a lot deeper than I usually do when I talk about a movie. Thus I labelled this as a SPOILER REVIEW. If you haven't seen this movie and don't want it spoiled, now is the time to stop reading. If you've already seen this movie or don't care about it being spoiled, then proceed. If you want the non-spoiler version, I'm sorry. That doesn't actually exist. It usually does when I do a spoiler review, but not in this case. If you decide to proceed, just remember. I'm here to review a movie. This isn't a review of Chris Kyle, the ethics of snipers, or the United States' foreign policy. This is a review of a movie and you should treat it as such. Because I know this will be long, I'm going to split this into different sections in hopes to make it more readable. So without further ado, let's dive in!


Right off the bat, I want to say that the very first scenes in this movie are very intense and very good. You've seen the trailer. If not, you should go watch it because it is a dang good trailer. That's how this movie starts. Chris Kyle is up in his sniper perch and you see a mother and a kid walking out, pulling out a grenade. The mother gives the grenade to the child and as a viewer this is really intense and emotional. Is Chris Kyle going to shoot a little kid and his mother? AHHHHHH!!!! He's watching them closely, debating whether to shoot, is told it's his call, and BANG! Gun goes off. But it's not his gun. Well it is. But it's the gun of a young Chris Kyle shooting his first deer while out hunting with his dad. Dag yo! That was a dang good opening scene. Then we get shots of him at church with his family, a fight him and his brother get into at school, and a lecture by his father. This all adds a very interesting tone to the movie that actually gives it a whole ton of promise.

Then we get to the next phase of the introduction and this is where the movie starts to go downhill. Chris Kyle is now an adult and works as a rodeo cowboy. He comes home and catches his girlfriend cheating. So he rather rudely throws the guy out followed by the girl. He was kinda of a punk in the process, but she also deserved it. This is all fine and dandy character development. But then he's sitting down watching the news and suddenly a story about the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings comes on and suddenly he is a changed man who is signing up to join the Navy SEALs. What? That happened fast. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I feel like there was probably a lot more that went into Chris Kyle's decision to join the SEALs beside him being bothered by one news story. It felt rushed, a bit choppy, and had little depth. I realize we only have two hours to tell the story of a man's life, but come on Clint Eastwood. Give Chris Kyle's decision to join the Navy SEALs a bit more depth and meaning. Don't rush it like that. But oh well, whatever. We move on.

After he joins, we get a short montage of his SEAL training. I don't know a whole lot about this training, but I've been told it's super intense. Yet all we get are a few quick shots of them getting sprayed with a hose, sitting in the body of water during a heavy tide, getting yelled at by their commanders, and going on a quick jog, and BAM they are Navy SEALs. Once again, I don't anything about this training, but I have a feeling that it's a lot more intense than that, yet they didn't want to dive into that at all. Oh well. Whatever. Then we get to the scene where Chris Kyle meets his wife. This woman is played by Sienna Miller and holy freaking cow is she terrible in this movie. Every scene with her in it made me cringe and it starts with this weird conversation in a bar that progresses in a way that I don't think any normal conversation would. This is proceeded by a montage of them dating and getting married and I thought the whole sequence was a pile of trash. I get it. He's supposed to meet a girl and get married. But come on! Make it believable! Terrible writing made worse by terrible acting by Sienna Miller. But oh well. Whatever. He's married. We move on.

Get my vibe with this beginning? It starts great, but starts to collapse due to so many "whatevers" that I have mentioned. I spend a lot of time on this beginning because for a lot of the movie it feels the same way. Rushed scenes that are poorly written. It frustrated me. I'm not going to go through the whole movie like this, but I wanted to dissect this beginning to give you a feel for why I was unimpressed for much of this movie, even after multiple viewing. Let's move on.


If I really wanted to bore all of you, this next section would've been entitled "Tour One." Chris Kyle did four tours in Iraq and the movie spends time on each of them while showing us scenes of him home with his wife and kids in between the tours. I took notes on each of these sections and thus I could make this the longest review in history, but I'm not. Instead this section will be me talking about all of these scenes together. I told you that this movie started out really good and then went downhill pretty quickly. Well, after we get through the terrible introduction, we shoot right back up to being really good and intense. Thus this movie is quite the roller coaster in terms of my enjoyment. At the beginning of the first tour, we go back to our scene with the mother and kid having the grenade and we finish that off by watching Chris Kyle shoot and kill both of them. Holy cow! This brings quite the emotional punch and every time Chris Kyle gets a new target that makes your insides scream every time he pulls the trigger.

The overall story of the war scenes is told over the course of his four tours of duty and it took me a couple times watching this, but I can finally conclude that this is in fact an excellent and interesting story with some crazy intense villains that the SEALs are trying to hunt down. It's very intriguing and really intense when you see the enemy sniper shooting at the SEALs or one of their main targets with his drill punishing the people who associated and talked to the SEALs. Add all four of these sequences up and this was a great war movie. Is it the best war movie? No. But it's pretty good.

Yet there is a pretty big issue that I have with these war sequences. This movie is called American Sniper and is about the deadliest sniper in U.S. history. Despite this being a really interesting and intense war movie, we don't actually dive much into Chris Kyle's sniping. The man had well over 200 kills while being officially credited with around 160, I believe. How many of these kills do we get to see? I felt it wasn't very much when I first watched the movie, so when I watched it again, I counted. The number is eight. That's it. Six of the eight come in the first tour, the last two in the final 30 minutes of the movie. We see no sniping at all by Chris Kyle during the second and third tour, making it so that there is almost an hour break in the middle of this movie where we see no Chris Kyle sniping. This is disappointing because those kills that were shown were the most intense parts of the movie and this would've been a dang good movie had we spent more time focusing on what Chris Kyle is actually famous for. Instead of showing us these kills, the movie simply tells that he is getting them. Why would you do a movie about the deadliest sniper in U.S. history and barely show anything that he is famous for? Sure, the war sequences are good, but they would've been so much better if they had integrated this story with the Chris Kyle sniping instead of almost completely ignoring the sniping. I don't want the movie to tell me he is a legend. I want it to show me why he is a legend.


Roller coaster is a word I used in the previous section. This is very much the case throughout the whole movie because in between every tour of duty is a section of him being home with his wife and each of these scenes were almost cringe-worthy for me to watch. Why? Again, Sienna Miller is at fault here. Don't get me wrong, I totally feel for Chris Kyle's wife. Here is a woman who fell in love with him, yet didn't get to spend much time with him because he was always at war. Thus she is almost raising her kids as a single mother. I'm sure that woman went through a whole lot of crazy emotions during this that got worse due to him being killed not too long after he finally got home for good. There's a lot that they could've done with these scenes that definitely would've added to the emotion of the movie. Instead it drove me crazy because Sienna Miller is just whining and complaining in the most annoying way possible. Whine. Whine. Whine. Complain. Complain. Whine. Complain. Whine. Complain. AHHHHHHHH!!!!! STOP IT! STOP HER! GET HER OUT OF THIS MOVIE! That's how I felt every time I saw her. It's not because she is complaining. Chris Kyle's wife had many reasons to complain. But Sienna Miller's acting performance in this is outright terrible. Adding to that is 95 percent of all conversations between her and Chris Kyle are really awkward and poorly written. Thus the frustration by your's truly. I enjoyed the war scenes despite the complaints that I mentioned. But I outright hated the scenes where he was not at home.


For most of this movie, as you could tell, I have been judging the movie itself. I have not spent much time at all about the politics or other stuff around it because I wanted to judge the movie, not the actual events that happened. But I want to now spend a bit talking about Chris Kyle himself and the portrayal of him in the movie. Like I mentioned toward the beginning of this, I spent a lot of time researching Chris Kyle and watching interviews that he did. Him being killed happened just recently and so there are interviews you can look up of him on Conan and other places talking about his experiences. After doing all this research, I can say that he is indeed an American war hero that deserves to be praised for his service. However, he is also a human being. Human beings are often very far from perfect and Chris Kyle himself, despite being a humble war hero, is also very controversial. He said and did a whole lot of things that make you raise an eyebrow and question his character. Did the movie touch on this? Absolutely not! In fact, it didn't touch it with a 39 1/2 foot pole. Chris Kyle is seen as a bit of an idiot in the beginning of the movie, but once we watches that news story that I mentioned, he is a perfect and flawless individual throughout the whole movie. Thus I think the movie missed out on a great opportunity to tell a much more interesting story about Chris Kyle.

Also released at about the same time as American Sniper was the movie Selma, which is essentially a biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. That there is another American hero that deserves a whole lot of praise. At the same time, MLK was a flawed human being and one of the reasons I really, really liked Selma is that it showed how flawed MLK was while also showing the great things he did. This told the whole story of his person and I really appreciated it. No, it didn't make me think any less of MLK, but rather it made me appreciate him more because it showed the great things he did while also showing the things he struggled with and had to overcome. Had American Sniper gone this route, it could've been equally as amazing. Instead they decided to sugar-coat the whole thing by completely ignoring all his character flaws.

That said, I do have to praise Bradley Cooper for his performance as Chris Kyle. Even if his character wasn't written as interesting and complex as he could've been written, Bradley Cooper became Chris Kyle. If you go watch the interview of Chris Kyle, then watch American Sniper, you will see how excellent Bradley Cooper was. The most impressive acting performances in my opinion are those where an actor can completely immerse himself into the performance to the point where he becomes the character. This is exactly what Bradley Cooper does. Initially I was surprised and disappointed that Cooper got a best actor nomination over the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal or David Oyelowo, but in the end I think it was very deserved. Now I would've put Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo in over a couple other of the nominees, but that's beside the point.


Finally we've arrived at my final section before I give my summary and grade. After going on quite the roller coaster ride of liking and not liking this movie, for me it ended on a sour note. First off, the final transition from the war scenes to him being home was a bit odd. The scene was a big sandstorm and that in and of itself was really good. The story was intense. Chris Kyle had just shot the big enemy from 2100 yards away (holy cow!), which caused the other enemies to notice their location and start a very intense fight that culminated with a huge sandstorm where no one could see anything. But it's almost an unresolved cliff hanger because as a viewer you hear gunshots, but all you see is sand. Then it cuts to Chris Kyle being home and drinking in a bar. I wanted to learn how that was resolved! But oh well.

After he's home, we get these really interesting scenes of Chris Kyle suffering from PTSD. Thus you feel for him because it's a terrible thing that soldiers have to deal with when they are home. I personally thing this was portrayed very well by the movie, but once again we have the same problem that exists throughout the movie. It's rushed. We get a couple quick scenes of Chris Kyle suffering, but then it's over. Ok. Whatever. Now we move onto the scenes of him helping other marines out. This is cool. But it also feels rushed. I mean, Chris Kyle is talking a guy who suggests that he help other vets and so he does. This is very respectable, but it just happens like that. Rushed. Almost forced. Another whatever. 

Then we get the very end. Chris Kyle walks out of his house because he is out to go spend time with this other military vet who arrives at his door. They get in the car and the movie ends. We are told with a subtitle that Chris Kyle got shot by that man that day and we end the movie with a sad funeral scene while the end credits are going. This bothered me because I think the ending would've ended on a very strong emotional note if we took even 30 seconds more to show the two at a gun range and see the guy pull a gun and shoot Chris Kyle. It doesn't have to be graphic. But it would've been more powerful instead of just telling us what happened. Instead of being emotionally impacted that Chris Kyle died, which I actually didn't realize happened -- I thought he was still alive, I was mad at the movie for giving me such an abrupt ending.


In conclusion, this movie took me on quite the roller coaster ride. It flip-flopped between it being cringe-worthy awful to it being intense and powerful. After multiple viewings, my determination is that the contrast between these get even worse. The awful scenes became worse upon further viewings while the good scenes became even better. Because of this, I look at the movie and am very frustrated because of how good it could've been, but how good it is not. On top of this, even when I look at the good scenes, I am frustrated because of how much more in depth this movie could've been. Chris Kyle was a very controversial individual and they chose to completely ignore that. On top of that, this is a movie about the most deadly sniper in U.S. history where we spend more time telling us that he is the deadliest sniper instead of showing us why he is. Isn't a movie supposed to show and not tell? I already knew the things he had done. So what's the point of only telling me? After all this long, detailed analysis (which you get a huge prize if you actually read every word), it's hard to assign one grade because all these aspects I've discussed deserve a different grade. But I'm going to do it anyways and give American Sniper a 6/10.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella Review

Disney has always been really good at finding ways to earn money. Five years ago they once again struck gold when they decided to do a live-action remake of one of their animated classics. That movie was Alice in Wonderland, which made over $1 billion thanks mainly due to the world's newly found fascination with 3D following the huge success of Avatar. So of course when you have a movie with that much success, the natural thing is to try to replicate that. Following Alice in Wonderland, Disney did a twist on Sleeping Beauty, that being last year's Maleficent. If I'm being honest, though, I wasn't a huge fan of either of these movies. Knowing that we have a lot more of these live-action remakes on the schedule in the next few years, I've been waiting for one of them to actually entertain me. I was hoping Cinderella would be that movie. Was it? Well, I do have my fair share of complaints, but overall I walked out of the theater pleased at what I saw. So well done Disney.

This is the moment in my reviews where I  usually give a brief synopsis of the movie for those who are unfamiliar it. But come on, this is Cinderella we're talking about. Do I really need to tell you what happens or what it's about? I don't think so. I say this because Disney really made no effort to make this a unique Cinderella project. It's the exact same Cinderella that you know and love with the same plot, message, and everything. I suppose you can call this take as experimental because Disney's previous two efforts they've made an effort to make the remake unique and different. Alice in Wonderland was a sequel to the original animated version. Maleficent was Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain. So with this they were seeing how people would react if they tried to do things the exact same instead of changing things up. Personally, I wasn't wanting or expecting something as crazy different as Maleficent wherein they changed up practically the whole story. But I was hoping that they would go more in depth with some of the characters or plot-lines to make this Cinderella a more realistic and relatable movie. They didn't. Thus I was honestly bored for a lot of the movie because it was such a been-there-done-that movie.

Before I go into more depth on my complaints, I want to be positive, because there is a lot in this that deserves applause. The first thing that I really appreciate is the fact that this is one of the only movie-versions of Cinderella that actually took time to tell the whole story of Cinderella. This is a three-act story where the first act is a girl living with her parents, the second act is that girl living with her step-mother after her parents die, and the third act is her falling in love and finally getting together with the prince. Most adaptions, including Disney's classic animated movie, skip right to the second act, starting with Cinderella as a servant girl to her wicked step-mother. While that's not a deal-breaker for me liking the movie or not, this latest version definitely gets kudos for telling that first act with her parents. On that note, I also loved how her name was Ella with Cinderella being a cruel nick-name given by her step-sisters after she was covered in ash following her cleaning the fireplace. Speaking of unique things that most adaptions skip, I loved how this version included the mice and the cat. This was a fun part of Disney's classic animated version that was a lot of fun, but is usually skipped because it's kinda hard to do. But it was in there this time and was done perfectly I think.

The next thing that I really want to brag about was how beautiful the cinematography was in this. They were obviously going for the bright, fairy tale look to this and thus we had a very colorful color scheme in this movie with lots of happy lighting that gave this movie the perfect tone. Then you had the contrasting scenes where the step-mother is sitting in darkness or a slightly dimmer look in the house after Ella's father died. In addition to being a fairy tale, they were also going with the period drama feel to the movie, so thus we had an excellent selection of outfits and costumes as well as beautifully designed sets. I really hope award voters take note of these aspects of the movie because they were done perfectly in my mind. At the closing credits, the first name to come up was the director, of course, but then the next names were the director of photography, costume designer, and production designer, I do believe, and all of those got an applause from me.

And of course when I am talking about positives of this movie, I definitely need to bring up the cast, specifically Lily James and Richard Madden, who play Ella and the prince. I really appreciated how down to earth and human these two were. Lily James as Ella is of course drop-dead gorgeous in this. But it's not just her looks that pull this off, she got the character of Ella just right. She is nice, humble, charming, and forgiving. She cares about everyone she meets, and despite her horrible circumstances, she's always looking for the good in every situation. Even though this is a by-the-numbers adaption, it still works mainly because you truly care about Ella and want things to work out for her. Being that this is of course a romance, you want there to be good chemistry between her and the prince and there definitely is. They meet before the ball, like is typical in any Cinderella adaption, and in that moment you see him as this very humble prince. His father is the King and so he is born into royalty, but he really just wants to be a normal guy doing normal things and thus when he runs into Ella in the woods, their interaction is quite beautiful because of how honest and real it feels. You have two normal people wanting to live normal lives, but are both in situations that are anything but normal. I loved both of their characters and thought they had perfect chemistry.

Yes, I did walk out of the movie with an overall positive feel towards it, which is why I almost feel bad diving into a few negatives now, but I like being honest in my reviews and I'm going to do that. While I did appreciate the fact that they included the first act with her parents, I was also disappointed because the characters around Ella weren't developed that well in my opinion. I wanted us to go into more depth or spend more time getting to know everyone and their background, but I feel I was robbed of that. Ella's mother was great, but we didn't get to know her and she died rather quickly without much explanation. Ella's father was great, but we spent no time really talking about why he decided to get remarried and why he chose the woman to be Ella's step-mother. Speaking of step-mother, Cate Blanchett did an excellent job portraying her, but we didn't really dive into her life at all. We don't know why she married Ella's father. The two have zero chemistry. We don't know why she's such an idiot. We aren't given a reason why she starts treating Ella like crap after Ella's father dies. These things just happen because they have to happen. Cate Blanchett was good at acting villainous but her character was a terrible villain because there was zero depth to her at all. The best villains are the villains that have depth to them and almost make you feel sympathetic to their situation.

Because of this lack of depth to anyone outside Ella and the prince, I actually found the whole second act pretty boring. The first act was good because it existed, but I also wanted more of it. In addition to the reasons I have stated in the previous paragraph, it also felt like there was something else missing. I didn't figure out what it was until the end credits. I always sit through the credits because I like listening to the music while appreciating what it took to make the movie. Then sometimes there is another fun blurb or extra scene that shows up that rewards me, but that's not actually why I stay. This time after the first song, they rewarded me by playing adaptions of two songs from Disney's animated Cinderella. That's when it hit me. The movie was missing the music!! I literally complained out loud, asking why these songs I was listening to weren't in the movie. Cinderella is best when done as a musical. I wasn't needing a full out Frozen-style of Disney musical, but adding some of those classic songs would've given the movie added life that it lacked. Example. The scene with the Fairy Godmother was fun and Helena Bonham Carter definitely had fun in that role, but suddenly I imagined how much better it would've been had the "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" song in been a part of the scene instead of just a bonus at the end of the credits. Or what if Lily James had sung "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"? That would've been great! Instead it left the movie more empty and more boring.

This has been a fairly long review and I hope you've enjoyed your time reading it. I do have a lot more to say about this movie, but the rest of what I have to say pertains to the third act of the movie. I was going to dive in a bit since this is Cinderella we're talking about, but since I've already take this much of your time, I'll let that be a surprise, if that's possible. Just let me add that after a first act that left a bit to be desired for and a second act that was pretty boring, the third act was absolutely fantastic and totally saves the movie in my opinion. And by third act, I mean from the moment Cinderella leaves the ball until the end of the movie. They spent time on this. They added a few scenes that gave the movie more depth. They gave it heart. All the happy feel-goods were there at the end as this couple I really was invested in finally got together. It was great. I really wish it would've been like that for the whole movie. But it wasn't. Still, though, we had a great ending. We had two very powerful leads in Lily James and Richard Madden. And of course we had a very beautifully designed and beautifully shot movie. So yes, I left this movie with positive feelings even if I had my share of complaints. In the end, I will give Cinderella a 7/10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Movie Preview: March 2015

We're about a week and a half into March, so it's time to sit down and look at this month in movies before we get any further on. Thanks for very healthy totals from Fifty Shades of Grey, The SpongeBob Movie, and Kingsman: The Secret Service as well as another good chunk of cash from January phenomenon American Sniper, this past February turned out to be a very healthy month. It fell short of 2012's record, but still it's been a really good start for the box office this year, especially  considering the huge heavyweights coming later on in the year. March got off to a very slow start, as I'll discuss in a bit, but there's still some promise. There's a few pretty big titles that will get people's attention, but not enough of them and nothing as huge as The Hunger Games from a few years back that will make this a memorable March. But that's okay. Even with a slightly slow March, 2015 is still in good shape. But let's go ahead and dive in and see what this month has to offer!

March 6th - 8th-

The first weekend of March was looking to start things off fairly strong, instead it wound up as the lowest grossing weekend of the year so far, thanks mostly due to the failure of Chappie. Neil Blomkamp built up quite the solid reputation with just one film back in 2009 as he sent District 9 to the level of a sci-fi classic. It even picked up a best picture nomination at the Oscars, which is essentially unheard of for the genre. Blomkamp's second outing, 2013's Elysium, got a less than enthusiastic reaction from audiences, but still managed to rack up nearly $100 million in the domestic box office. Chappie was Blomkamp's attempt to dive into the artificially intelligent robot genre, but for multiple reasons, this just didn't work out. Its $13 million opening weekend was less than half of Elysium's debut and only a third of District 9's. Not helping its cause was the beating it got by critics as it currently stands at 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Not everyone hated this, though. Your's truly actually enjoyed it, but it appears as if I was in the minority. Regardless, you can check out my review right here.

Three years ago, Fox Searchlight released The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on the same weekend as Marvel's The Avengers. That release was of course in the limited variety, but the movie gained a lot of traction in the coming weeks and had a pretty dang good run in its limited to moderate release, ending with $46 million on a $10 million budget while peaking at only 1,298 theaters. It especially hit a chord with the older crowd as it starred a handful of beloved older actors and actresses like Judie Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy. Because of that success, the gang returned last weekend with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. As far as the title goes, is it the "SECOND best" or is it the "second BEST" hotel? Does that even make any sense? Probably not. Not important, though. Fans of the first one should show up to this one eventually if they haven't already. Instead of going the limited release route again, this opened right up into over 1,500 theaters and would up in third place at the box office with $8.5 million. Being that the older crowd don't rush out to theaters opening weekend, this should continue to play well throughout the month.

Dead on arrival this weekend was Vince Vaughn's recent bomb, Unfinished Business. There was a point in time where Vince Vaughn was actually a good box office draw. Back in 2005, The Wedding Crashers was a critical and financial success. Since then it's been a rocky downhill ride for the actor as the last 11 movies have all ended up as rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, the last several of which being complete financial duds. And now it seems like he's hit rock bottom. No one seemed interested in Unfinished Business leading up to release. No one showed up when it hit theaters as it only could manage $4.7 million in over 2,000 theaters. And worse of all, it seems like those who saw didn't laugh much at all. Poor Vince Vaughn.

March 13th - 15th- 

After a very weak first weekend, Disney looks like it will spark some box office magic with Cinderella. Back in 2010, Disney had the genius idea of releasing a live action remake of one of it's timeless classics, that of Alice in Wonderland. And when I say genius, I mean that in the most genuine, non-sarcastic tone possible because Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland fed off the new 3D fetish that made Avatar the highest grossing movie of all time just a few months earlier and wound up with over $1 billion worldwide. That of course began a new fetish of making live action versions of all kinds of Disney classics. And it's not just Disney doing that. Several studios have joined in on the party. In 2012, we got two adaptions of Snow White. Last year we got a Sleeping Beauty adaption (Maleficent). Now it's Cinderella again. And this is just the beginning. Many more to come in the next few years. In terms of the adaptions done by Disney themselves, they went a sequel route with Alice in Wonderland and did Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain. This time around they are going traditional and telling the story of Cinderella the exact same way that everyone knows. Does this make it redundant being that this will be the upteenth adaption of Cinderella? Apparently not. Early reaction is very positive, thus meaning that family audiences will storm theaters throughout March seeking out Cinderella.

Playing the counter-programming role this weekend is Run All Night, which is yet another Liam Neeson action movie. The idea here is to attract the male crowd not interested in Cinderella, which is pretty smart being that early indications are that Cinderella is skewing very heavily towards the female crowd. The problem is, are people getting tired of the Liam Neeson action movie? This one especially seems to be playing off the Taken brand being that it is about someone trying to harm one of his children which of course sparks Neeson taking action to stop that and protect his child. This time it's a son instead of a daughter. It also appears that the stakes are a bit higher in this being that all the Taken movies were PG-13 while this is R, thus fitting itself into the other category of Neeson action movies. One advantage that this has is that it's from the director of last year's Non-Stop, which was actually a decent hit.

March 20th - 22nd- 

In my introduction I mentioned that there was nothing coming out as huge as The Hunger Games. I stand by that statement because I was talking in financial terms when The Hunger Games opened in late March back in 2012 and eventually earned over $400 million in the domestic box office. But in terms of type of movie, we definitely do have something like The Hunger Games. It's The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Because, you know, everything about Divergent screams Hunger Games wannabee. It's worked, though. No, it's not as big as The Hunger Games. It was actually even beat out by The Maze Runner in the box office (worldwide totals, that is), but it's done fairly well for itself and now every March for the next few years we will continue to get more Divergent movies. They even did the split-the-last-book-into-two-movies thing. So Insurgent is of course the second book in the trilogy. How high can Insurgent get? Divergent took in $50 million in its first weekend on its way to $150 million. Was Divergent liked enough to get Insurgent to explode like the second Twilight movie? Or will it just match Divergent? I'm betting on the latter, but we'll see.

Speaking of Taken, Pierre Morel, the director of Taken, brings us The Gunman. This stars Sean Penn and Idris Elba in the second straight male-action driven action movie in as many weeks. Is there enough money and interest for both Run All Night and The Gunman to succeed? Straight up action movies like this without a strong brand name or huge box office draw have struggled to break out, which is why The Gunman is hoping that its attachment to Taken can help it succeed because despite how well-liked Sean Penn is, he doesn't exactly have the ability to completely put a movie on his back and turn it into a success. To me this just seems like the type of movie that will just get lost in the box office.

Rounding out the weekend, we have the Christian film Do You Believe? This comes from the same people that did God's Not Dead, which turned out to be a very solid hit last March. In fact, last year in general was a pretty big year for Christian films as Son of God, God's Not Dead, and Heaven is For Real all did really good business. Can Do You Believe? continue this trend? It's hard to predict when Christian audiences will show up in droves, so I have no idea. What I do know is that those who were a fan of God's Not Dead will most likely buy into this one as well.

March 27th - 29th-

Finishing off the month we have a couple of movies that have decent potential. The first of which is Get Hard. This is another Kevin Hart movie and if we've learned anything from him recently it's that he has a pretty big fan base due to his natural ability to make everyone laugh. Last year he was on fire as he helped three different movies open up north of $20 million and he continued that this year with January's The Wedding Ringer. Because of this, there's no reason to believe that Get Hard will be any different. This time around, Kevin Hart is looking especially strong because he's starring right alongside one of the most well-known and successful comedians of the last decade, the one and only Will Ferrell. Kevin Hart plus Will Ferrell seems like the perfect recipe for comedy success right now and I'm certain it will work out.

Last but not least, we have Dreamworks' Home. It's no secret right now that Dreamworks is in big trouble right now. Their glory days seem like such a long time ago and they are grasping at straws trying to find their way back with little success. They've had a long string of failures that have caused the company to suffer financially and thus forced them to rethink their whole strategy. The last few years they've averaged two to three movies a year. This year Home is it for them unless they end up putting B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations back on the schedule. Will it be a success or yet another failure? It stars Jim Parsons as an alien who comes to earth and befriends a human girl voiced by Rihanna. Jim Parsons is a very popular TV actor and he plays a similar type of character like that of the beloved Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Rihanna is arguably the biggest pop star of this generation. But will bringing a TV star and a pop star translate into movie success? I don't know.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The DUFF Review

The DUFF has been in release for three weeks now and if I'm being honest, it was a movie that I wasn't that interested in. It just seemed like a cheesy comedy directed at teenage girls that only teenage girls would like. I thought it would get panned by critics and earn next to nothing in the box office. I was going to allow teenage girls to have their fun with it, but I had a lot more movies on my list to see before this one, so I wasn't going to bother with it. Then a man by the name of Robbie Amell posted on facebook about how proud he was of this movie and how excited he was for the world to see. Ok, that caught my attention. Robbie currently stars as Firestorm in The CW's new hit series The Flash and of course is the stars in The DUFF. I really like both him and his cousin Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen in Arrow), so I took his recommendation seriously. Then the movie actually got good reviews from critics and did well in the box office, so I was officially in. It took me a few weeks to finally see it, but as it turned out, I'm glad I did. Yes, I was in a theater of mainly teenage girls, but in an odd turn events, I was loving the movie right along with them. Surprise of the year? I'd say so!

Before this movie was advertised, I had never ever heard of a DUFF before. When I first saw the title of the movie, I actually wondered if it was a movie about Hilary Duff. Nope. Apparently DUFF is an acronym that stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." I'm assuming the movie made up the term, but I also haven't been in high school for a while, so I don't know if this is a term that high school students are actually familiar with. But anywho, the movie started off as pretty cliche. You have the hot girl who is the most popular in the school. You have the hot guy who is dating the hot girl on and off. You have the neighbor of the hot boy, our lead girl, who is less attractive and less popular. Then you have the main girl's two best friends, who are also hot girls. Being that hot boy is neighbors with main girl, they are pretty good friends, but he's kinda embarrassed to be around her in public, but they talk a lot when it's just them and he's the type of guy who's pretty honest, almost to a fault. One day he calls her a DUFF, which essentially means the least attractive person in a group of friends who is the most approachable by the opposite sex mainly because of the desire to talk to the DUFF to get to the hot friends. Of course our main girl gets mad at being called a DUFF and well, there is where all the drama starts to happen.

 Based on all of that, you see where this is going? Yeah, so did I. Which is why I was slightly worried at first that it was going to be exactly what I initially thought it was. But that soon subsided and I found myself enjoying this movie. Sure, you can call it predictable, but sometimes a movie isn't going for original or innovative. As long as the execution of this is good, you can have a good, enjoyable film and that's exactly what happens here. Starting things off is a cast that does a great job at buying into their roles and excelling at them. Speaking of cast, though, I do have to point out real quick that very few people in this looked like they were actually high school age. I had no idea how old everyone actually was, but this was just a quick observation. After the movie, I went and looked up the ages of these kids and I was right. Most of the cast is indeed people in their mid- to late-20's playing teenagers in high school. I know this happens all the time, and there are reasons for it, but I still wonder why we can't get actual high school students to play high school students. It can't be too hard, right? Also, I did find it interesting that our lead girl, Mae Whitman, who plays the DUFF, is actually a fairly attractive girl. And I don't feel creepy saying that because no, she is not a teenager. In fact, she is a year older than myself.

That said, despite looking much older than their characters actually are, they do a fantastic job. Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell play our two leads and they have excellent chemistry together as well as perfect comedic timing. I was fully invested in both of their characters throughout the whole movie and I was also cheering for the fairy tale ending. When you can get me that invested in a romance movie, you've done something very right, because usually I just don't care. Also, this is a comedy. My most important rule with comedies is you have to make me laugh. Of course all the girls in the theater were cracking up the whole time, so even if I hadn't been laughing, I would've recognized that the movie succeeded by pleasing its target audience. But the great thing is that I was actually laughing right along with them.

Finally what makes this movie succeed is not just the good acting, the believable romance, or the successful comedy. That of course helps it a lot. But the best part of the movie is the message. This is all about accepting who you are as an individual and being happy with that. Everyone could be considered a DUFF to someone, but as I've always said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I obviously didn't make that phrase up, but it's one I totally buy into. Everyone is beautiful to someone and not just on the inside, but on the outside. There's no need to try to change who you are or try to become the desirable shape and size. Just be you. But not just that, be happy about who you are. Sure, this message is one that has been told a hundred times and thus could be considered cliche. But it's a very important message that that still needs to be told because a lot of people, teenagers especially, have a hard time fully grasping this. How many people still suffer from eating disorders, depression, or other illnesses that ultimately are caused by people not being happy with the way they look? It's a sad thing. In my opinion, this movie does a pretty dang good job at getting the message across that everyone is different and that you should be happy with who you are and for that I give it a huge applause.

In terms of a comparison, I've heard a lot of people saying this is a lot like Mean Girls or Easy A. I'm not too familiar with Mean Girls, but I did see and enjoy Easy A and I do think that's an excellent comparison. Both are movies about high school that have excellent casts and a great, inspirational message to go along with it. So my recommendation is that if you like Easy A, you should definitely give this movie a chance. I know this is a movie that's directed towards teenage girls, but if a guy like me who's in his mid-20's can enjoy this, then I think a lot of people might actually enjoy it. So give it a shot, even if you aren't a teenage girl. Now if you are a teenage girl and have been excited about this movie and haven't seen it yet, definitely go see this. You'll love it. All the girls in my theater did. Yes, it's predictable and no, it's not exactly original, but the message in this is very positive and inspirational and the cast, led by Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell do an excellent job at making this movie work. My grade for The DUFF is an 8/10.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Chappie Review

Neill Blomkamp is back with his third feature-length directorial effort! He first exploded onto the scene in 2009 with District 9, which was so well-liked that it even got an Oscar nomination for best picture. Sci-fi movies NEVER get nominated for best picture which is what makes that crazy. Then in 2013, Blomkamp delivered his second movie Elysium, which got less than favorable reviews. My thoughts on these two movies? Well. I'm not the best one to ask. I didn't see District 9 until recently, but it was a really interesting movie. And I haven't actually seen Elysium quite yet. However, Chappie is a movie that the trailers completely sold me on. In fact I loved the trailers so much that I considered Chappie my most anticipated movie from the first third of the year. The result? Hmmmmm.... not quite the movie I expected.  As you may have noticed, this movie is getting a lot of hate. If you are one of those people that walk out thinking that this movie is a pile of garbage, I totally understand where you are coming from. That said, despite the flaws in this, I actually still found this fairly entertaining.

Chappie is a movie about a slightly futuristic South Africa that has implemented a robotic police force to fight crime. Dev Patel, the creator of these robots, wants to take things a step further by creating an artificially intelligent robot that can think, learn, and grow mentally, thus being a lot more human than the current force of robots. On the flip-side of things, we have Hugh Jackman playing a character who is morally opposed to the idea of artificially intelligent robots and instead wants to implement this mega-robot that is completely controlled by humans, thus avoiding any chance of the robots taking over and destroying mankind like we've seen in countless movies. Original idea? Not really. But I was still really interested mainly because of the character of Chappie, which is the human-like robot that Dev Patel successfully creates. The trailers made Chappie look like this adorable robot that I would fall in love with just like I did with Baymax in Big Hero 6 a few months ago, albeit with the stakes and the action being upped significantly being that this is a movie for adults, not kids. I was down with a bit of been-there-done-that as long as I fell in love with Chappie and the cast pulled off great performances.

Here's the thing, though. This isn't the movie you would expect at all. Based on what I've described along with the trailers, you'd think that this is a Dev Patel and his human-like robot vs. Hugh Jackman and his human-controlled robot. That would bring with it a whole lot of interesting and potentially relevant themes about humanity and what not. This movie goes in a completely different direction that the trailers didn't advertise at all. I don't want to say too much, but the basic premise is that Chappie actually gets kidnapped, so to speak, by this gang who is in desperate need for some great luck due to threats by what's basically a rival gang. They try to train Chappie help them commit various crimes and heists in order to save their butts. Meanwhile Dev Patel is still trying to rescue Chappie so that he'll be trained right and Hugh Jackman of course is trying to implement his plan.

This is where a lot of people take issue with this movie. They wanted the cliche movie that we all wanted and expected. Yes, that movie would've been a great one. But do you know what, I still dug the direction that the movie went. No, it wasn't good robot vs. bad robot, but it did point out the often dark and twisted aspect of humanity. Sure it's all fine and dandy to raise your kids in the perfect world, but how often does that actually happen? You try to teach your kids to live right, but they have to deal with the real world and how corrupt it is. And yes, despite all the parents' efforts, sometimes the kids get caught up in gangs and whatnot. Sometimes they get shown a world of crime, drugs, and violence that they want to experiment with because they think current life is boring. Sometimes kids are deceived by people they consider to be their friends into doing things that they think are right, but are actually wrong. What do you do as parents when this starts to happen? On a similar note, though, parents aren't always perfect. They often have lessons to learn. And what about those friends? Is there room for redemption and change for them? These are the questions that Chappie discusses. We all thought is was going to be the typical good vs. evil story that has been rehashed a thousand times. But it's not. This has frustrated a lot of people, but I personally found it fascinating.

Before I close this already long review, I need to talk about the cast. The two big names in this cast of course are Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver. First off, Sigourney Weaver plays a very small role, so not much to say there. Hugh Jackman did have a fairly decent role, but in my opinion his character was very poorly written. Granted, he had a fun time with it, but he did things that no human being would ever do unless they simply had no soul. Sometimes that works, but in this one it didn't. Our real star in this is of course the robot Chappie, voiced by Charlto Copley. Based on the trailers, I hoped I was going to fall in love with Chappie and I did. I really felt for his character as he had to go through all the crap that he did. Most people that I've heard from that hated this movie did so because they think the movie spent too much time with the gang members that kidnapped Chappie, calling them horrible characters and terrible actors. I personally didn't mind them. The main two were played by Ninja and Yolandi from the band Antwoord. They kinda played themselves in this, which was weird. The female, Yolandi, was a very likable character in my opinion. Her male counterpart, Ninja, was the opposite for most of the movie, but in the end I didn't mind him. Finally we have Chappie's creator, Dev Patel. Sure, I would've liked more of him with Chappie, but in the end I was fine with what they did with his character.

In the end, Chappie wasn't the movie I was expecting it to be. I was expecting a cliche good vs. evil and I was excited for that because Chappie looked like an adorable, lovable robot going against a villain that had a very good reason for being against the A.I. robots. Instead I got a movie that took a good look at how twisted humanity can be. Most people didn't like the direction that Blomkamp and company took this and I can totally see where they are coming from. This movie does have it's flaws. It could've been a lot better. But I will be the one that stands out from the crowd to say that this is still an enjoyable movie. Chappie is as excellent and lovable that I thought he would be. What they did with his character was unexpected, but I bought into it. The duo from Die Antwoord do a better job than many are giving them credit for and Dev Patel is also great. They did waste Hugh Jackman's character, but ultimately that was my biggest complaint, not the story or the acting. If you like Neil Blomkamp's movies, I'd recommend that you still give this one a shot. You just may think this it's better than some people are saying. My grade for Chappie is an 8/10.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Freetown Review

Recently I had the great privilege of seeing the premier of Garrett Batty's new movie Freetown at the LDS Film Festival, which started March 4th and goes through March 7th. If you are reading this while the festival is still going on, I highly recommend you check out their website,, and see if there are any movies or events that pique your interest, because there's a lot of fantastic things going on. Personally I loved The Saratov Approach, which was directed by the aforementioned Garrett Batty, so I was excited to see his new movie. When I discovered it was premiering at the festival, I gladly took the opportunity to go see it. Turns out that was a fantastic decision. Not only was it a great movie that I am excited to tell you about, but having Garrett Batty, producer Adam Abel, and others from the crew to talk about the movie and answer questions made the whole experience one that I won't forget. It would be really great if I could do this every time I saw a new movie, but hey I'll take what I can get.

What is this movie about? Well, it's the second straight missionary-in-peril movie that Garrett Batty has done. It's a slightly more complex situation than The Saratov Approach in that there is a lot of history and politics involved in the setting of the film which I was unaware of, but nonetheless we are down in Africa amidst a very dangerous situation. Specifically the setting is Monrovia, Liberia during one of the Liberian civil wars that took place not too far in the past. There's a group of native missionaries there that want nothing more than to continue their mission of preaching the gospel to these people in Africa, but in order to do so safely, they need to escape from Monrovia and make it to Freetown, which is the capital of the neighboring country Sierra Leone. This makes for a very intense movie that was even more intense because I had no idea what the outcome of this was going to be. With The Saratov Approach, I first heard it announced during a BYU football game when the actual surviving missionaries showed up. This of course meant that they couldn't die in the movie because they survived in real life. Knowing this didn't ruin The Saratov Approach. However, not knowing the outcome in Freetown made for quite the ride. I knew that some of them had to survive in order to tell this story, but there was no guarantee for all of them.

Because of this, this definitely isn't your typical happy Mormon movie that is appropriate to show in Sunday School. If you don't do well during intense movies, then this might not be for you. However, if you like intense movies or at the very least don't mind them, then please proceed because this is excellent. What I really liked is that this had a very good balance to it. Yes, it was intense as they traveled from place to place, but it wasn't like that for the whole movie. There were plenty of positive, happy scenes spread throughout as the missionaries take time to share the gospel or spend time with children that are happy to see them. Oftentimes missionaries are just big 20-year-old goofballs (I know that one by personal experience) and thus there was plenty of humor spread throughout. Finally, there are a lot of positive, uplifting scenes that you would expect from a movie like this. None of it felt cliche at all, but rather very appropriate. There's a lot that these guys go through and thus this is a faith-promoting movie that is all about moving forward in live and being courageous, despite what is about to happen. I mean, if an angry rebel points a gun to your head and asks you who you are, what are you are going to do? Are you brave enough to tell him the truth even if he just shot and killed the person standing next to you for doing the same thing? Can you move forward and continue to have faith even if it seems like the road ahead of you is impossible? This is what this movie is ultimately all about and I loved. It also didn't feel preachy at all. It's a survival movie that can apply to everyone, regardless of religious belief.

In addition to having the perfect balance between intensity, inspiration, and humor, I was also very impressed with the technical aspects of this movie. As it's an independent movie, they don't have a large budget and they aren't guaranteed to make much in terms of a financial return. The hope is to be as successful as The Saratov Approach, but that's not a sure fire thing. Thus I can often forgive movies for not being technically sound when they don't have the financial means to do so. Now I don't know the specifics of their budget on this, but in my opinion this is as impressive as something that was done on a large budget. Visually speaking, this movie was amazing. It was shot on location in Africa, Ghana I believe they said, and they beautifully captured the look of that region. From what they described, this was an uphill battle to get this shot and they had a very limited time to do so. It was either three or six weeks, I can't remember which. Often on a limited time frame with a lot of difficulties a movie can feel rushed or choppy, but not knowing any of that you wouldn't know that they had any of those issues because the final product was great. I also appreciated the lack of shakiness in the movie. I think the shakiness worked in The Saratov Approach, but I didn't feel it was completely necessary and thus I was nervous that Garrett was going to do that again, but he didn't. This was very smoothly shot and thus has no chance of giving you a headache.

I also can't end this review without mentioning the fact the music was spectacular. A great score in a movie is often the glue that puts the movie together and that's definitely the case here. The fellow who did the score in this was there at the screening along with Garrett Batty, Adam Abel, and others and as he walked past me afterwards, I got the chance to thank him personally for his amazing score. He was very appreciative of this gesture and perhaps jokingly told me to tell this to the director. So  Garrett, if you are reading this review, here's me following up on that. Your choice of person to do the score was perfect and if you bring him on again for whatever your next project is, I will be very happy. 

So in the end, I am very happy that I got to see this movie at the LDS Film Festival. As many of you reading this did not get to see it, I am happy to tell you that its theatrical release is not too far away. April 8th is the date. Mark that on your calendars because you need to see this movie. In addition to talking to the guy who did the score, I also had the great pleasure of talking to Garrett Batty for a moment as well. I even have a picture to prove it. After watching this film as well as The Saratov Approach, I feel comfortable saying that Garrett is an inspired man. Yes, this movie is very intense and if you don't do intense movies it might not be for you, but it's also a super inspirational and overall fantastic movie that successfully delivers a very powerful message about moving forward and being brave. It's sure to be considered another classic in terms of LDS-themed films right along with The Saratov Approach. At least it will be in my book. My grade for Freetown is a 9/10.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Focus Review

For the longest time now, Will Smith has been one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood and one of my personal favorites. In my opinion one thing that makes him so great is not just his fantastic performances, but his careful selection of his movies. In fact, for the longest time I was able to say that I hadn't seen Will Smith give a bad performance. Even if the movie itself wasn't that good, I was always able to say that at least Will Smith did a good job in it. That ended with After Earth. Being that After Earth was his most recent performance, unless of course you count his very brief appearance in last year's Winter's Tale, I was looking for him to bounce back in his next role. I actually hadn't heard of Focus until last month, but I immediately felt that he would indeed bounce back. I'm happy to announce that he has indeed bounced back as both him and co-star Margot Robbie are fantastic in this movie. The movie itself ironically suffers a bit from a lack of focus, but overall I am happy to report that the movie is actually fairly entertaining, despite what you might hear from critics.

Focus does have a bit of an Ocean's Eleven vibe to it in that the protagonists in the movie definitely aren't doing things that they are supposed to be doing, but you are rooting for them to succeed anyways. In Ocean's Eleven they are robbing casinos. In Focus, Will Smith is a con man. Him and his company/group that he works with earn their living stealing people's watches, wallets, credit cards, jewelry, etc. Of course we are rooting for them to succeed, even though in real life if someone tried to steal my wallet, I'd want to punch them in the face. Anywho, going in to the movie I actually had an episode of the TV show LOST on my mind. It's season 2, episode 13 -- "The Long Con." In it Sawyer attempts to do his usual con to a girl, but she doesn't bite and actually becomes his con partner and lover for a long time. Long story short, the whole thing is just a really long con that he is pulling on her. It's a rather fascinating episode that I was hoping that Focus would follow because if it did it would be an excellent movie. Does it? Well, I'm not going to tell you. There's a lot of conning that goes on and a lot of it is in fact quite interesting.

The movie is kind of a tale of two movies. In the first half there is a lot of set up. Margot Robbie attempts to con Will Smith, but fails epically because he is a much better con man and soon they form this bond where he is helping her become better at conning. The two of them carry this movie rather well as they have very good chemistry. As I said, I love Will Smith as an actor and he is back to his normal self. He has a lot of whit in this with perfect timing. He's a very likable and interesting character with quite a bit of depth to him. Margot Robbie is great as well. What I really like about her is that she proves that you can have super gorgeous actresses in your movies that have amazing acting abilities. You don't need to go hire swimsuit models or Victoria's Secret models in order to get really attractive females in your movies. In fact, I get really annoyed when movies do that. Just go find people like Margot Robbie. Admittedly I have not yet seen The Wolf of Wall Street, but I hear she was great in that and she's also great in Focus. I'm really excited for her future because I know it's very bright as she's already secured roles like Harley Quinn in DC's Suicide Squad and Jane in Warner Bros.' live action Tarzan

Where this movie went wrong was in the second half of it. After a first half that was full of a lot of fun cons, there's a point where the tone of the movie shifts and they do a few things that have you wondering where the heck they are taking this. As I said earlier, they lose focus a bit, which is of course ironic given the title of the movie. I won't spoil the movie of course, but there's a few things that I had in mind that they could've done to make this a great movie. What they did instead was a bit underwhelming. However, I'm not going to be as harsh on this as other people have, because when they finally tied everything together, I was actually impressed. The ending is pretty great I thought. It almost made forgive the movie completely, but alas I still think there are several things that they could've done to make this even better.

Overall, I found myself rather entertained by Focus. Looking back on Will Smith's career, this won't be a movie that he'll really be remembered for, but I'm glad he made a return to form after that atrocious After Earth. Him and Margot Robbie make a great duo in this and even though there is a lack of focus, the movie does keep you guessing and has enough twists and turns that make for a very fun ride. There are some things that they could've done to make this even better, but if you are looking for a good time at the movies, I would definitely recommend that you give Focus a shot, especially if you are a fan of Will Smith and/or Margot Robbie as both are excellent in this movie. My grade for Focus is a 7.5/10.