Monday, June 22, 2015

Pixar Movies: Best to Worst

This past weekend I went to see Pixar's latest film Inside Out. Not too long after I saw it, I was scrolling through my subscriptions on YouTube and I noticed that one of the channels I follow, What the Flick, had done a video where they ranked all of Pixar's movies from best to worst. Being that I love making lists, I decided to take on that challenge myself. Holy cow this ended up being a tough challenge. There are so many great Pixar movies that have been made. In fact, there has only been one of their 15 movies that I haven't liked and most of the 14 that I have liked I've absolutely loved. Thus putting this all together almost felt like ranking my family members. It felt wrong. But since they're only movies and not family members, I've done it anyways. So just remember as you go through this that this is my list. The movies at the top of the list are movies that I personally enjoyed most. To break the tie, I often looked at which movies were most memorable to me or made the most impact on my life. You'll probably disagree with this list. In fact, that's so likely that I'm almost ready to guarantee that everyone who reads this will disagree with at least one movie's placement if not more or even most. But that's okay. The great thing about an opinion is that everyone has one and in this case, no one is wrong. So after you read through my list, you should share your opinion with me. Make your own list and post it in the comments. Let's have a lot of fun with this! Now with all that said, it's time to dive in. As I always do, I'll start at the bottom and move up.

15- Cars 2

I told you that there's only one Pixar movie that I don't like. Based on recent online conversations, I'm sure there were at least a few of you that were thinking that a different movie that would end up in this spot. But no. I said that this was a hard list to create, and I stand by that, but putting Cars 2 here was actually the easiest part of creating this list. This movie was awful. The story made no sense. There were no touching moments or inspirational messages. Pixar just made a whole freaking butt-load of money on toys after the first Cars and so they made a sequel as a pure cash grab to make more money on toys. That's why all kinds of different cars, trucks, planes, and other vehicles showed up in this movie. Toys from Cars 2 were already lining the walls at the stores before this movie was even released. Pathetic. Had the movie actually been good, then fine. But it wasn't. It was a mess. The only thing this movie teaches you is that even the best people screw up on occasion.

14- Monsters University

In my opinion, the thing that Pixar does best is create fun, original movies and for the longest time, that's all they really did. In fact, they're a studio that everyone praised for their constant originality. Everyone else in Hollywood was sequel-happy, but Pixar kept doing originals. Until Toy Story 3. That movie was so good that Pixar sadly gave into the sequel-happy business that we live in today. Right after Toy Story 3, we got the disaster that was Cars 2 and not too long after that we got a prequel to Monsters, Inc., which was ALMOST another disaster. Luckily this movie had a really good ending that saved it from being a disaster and turned it into a movie that I can claim I enjoy, but that ending doesn't quite make up for the fact that the first two-thirds of this movie was really dull and pointless. Not to mention it had a few continuity errors with Monsters, Inc. In the end, it wasn't bad, but the world still didn't need Monsters University.

13- Cars

You're not going to believe this when I say it as Cars didn't higher than 13 on this list, but I actually spend most of my time defending Cars. No, I didn't like Cars 2 at all and I cringed when I heard the announcement of a Cars 3 (c'mon Pixar!), but I thought this first movie was fine. Owen Wilson makes a great Lightning McQueen who has a lot of good, honest character development that teaches the good message that you often need to stop and smell the roses and appreciate the small things around you. It also has some great side characters, including the hilarious Larry the Cable Guy as the voice of Mater and a fun race sequence at the end. It's a good solid movie by Pixar. It just doesn't live up to the rest of the movies on this list is all, which is a theme that you will notice going forward. A lot of Pixar movies made a huge impact on my life. Cars wasn't really one of them. It's a good movie. But that's it.

12- WALL-E

I love WALL-E. I really do. He's an absolutely freaking adorable robot that is fun to watch, especially when he meets EVE. Their interaction throughout the movie was great, as was all the small little details around the wasteland that is Earth in this movie. I also liked the idea of limited dialogue. But when I say I love WALL-E, you'll notice that I didn't italicize anything because I'm referring to the character of WALL-E and not the movie called WALL-E. I don't love the movie WALL-E. I don't hate it, but there's a lot of issues that I have with the movie that prevent me from putting it any higher on this list. And yes, you guessed it, all of those issues have everything to do with the political preachiness of the movie. Yes, I understand the opposing point of view. Many claim that there is no political aspect to this movie. But movies are a form of art and as such can be interpreted many different ways without being wrong. When I watch WALL-E, I feel like I'm watching an environmentalist preach to me about how fat, lazy, and too reliant us humans are on technology and how if we don't change, the world is going to go to crap. Yes, this distracts me from enjoying the movie. If you don't see that at all or it doesn't bother you, then I'm happy for you. I really am.

11- A Bug's Life

Now here's a Pixar movie that I think is very under-rated. This was Pixar's second outing after Toy Story and I personally think it was a very successful outing. It came out at like the same time as Dreamworks' Antz, which was odd. I don't know why we were on a bug fetish that year, but I personally thought both were decent movies, with A Bug's Life being the better of the two. The big problem with A Bug's Life is that it really hasn't stood the test of time like other early Pixar movies such as Toy Story; Monsters, Inc.; or Finding Nemo. I don't mean to say that it has become worse with time. It's still a good movie. It's just one that I feel is more forgettable. I wasn't ever in love with this movie. I've never seen it as a must own Pixar movie. There's a lot of Pixar movies that we did own and watch repeatedly growing up, but I don't think this one of them. Now that's been 17 years since Pixar released this movie, it's one that you will often forget about when you're trying to name all of their movies.

10- Brave

Out of all the movies that I've put on this list, Brave was the hardest one to place. As far as the release date, it was sandwiched between Cars 2 and Monsters University and was part of the underwhelming trio of Pixar movies following the epicness of Toy Story 3. What makes it hard to place, though, is the fact that this is arguably the most different Pixar movie. It's the one Pixar movie that doesn't feel like a Pixar movie at all. It feels like a Disney princess movie. Ironically, this came out the same year as Wreck-It Ralph, which was a Disney movie that felt like a Pixar movie. Yes it's true that Brave doesn't stand up to the rest of the Pixar movies. You can say it's one of their most predictable outings and thus not as creative or bold as their other movies. But maybe it doesn't deserve to be compared to Pixar's other movies. Maybe it deserves to be compared to other Disney princess movies, in which case this holds up pretty well. All of those can be called predictable if you think about it. Brave is a fun, goofy movie with very likable characters, especially our strong female role of Merida, who would probably be my favorite Disney princess if we were to put her in that category. The animation in this movie is also beyond beautiful and it has an amazing score. So maybe I've been too harsh on it. That's why it's ended up a lot higher on this list than I thought it would.

9- Ratatouille

We're now in single digits on this list, which coincidentally is also the point where we go from movies that I like to movies that I love. I called A Bug's Life under-rated and I almost want to call Ratatouille under-rated because I've talked to plenty of people who haven't actually seen it. It's also one of Pixar's lower grossing films with the lowest opening weekend for a Pixar film in the 2000's. I guess people just weren't quite as interested in a movie about a rat? Which is a definite shame if that's the case. I know a lot of people who would put this in their top three. I obviously haven't put it that high as it's not quite as memorably as the eight movies above it, but this is a great movie that teaches a fantastic lesson about success. If you want to do something, don't let others tell you that you can't do it even if the goal seems implausible. If a rat can be a chef, then whatever your goal is can be achieved. Also this movie does a good job of making you hungry, so kudos there.

8- Toy Story 2

It's unfair to call Toy Story 2 the worst movie in the trilogy. That makes it sound like it's a bad movie. It's not. Instead I like to call it the third best. It may not have quite the emotion of the third or the extreme-high nostalgia of the original, but this brings back all my favorite characters from the first and introduces several more that are simply excellent and takes audience on an excellent adventure. And to think that this was originally planned as a direct-to-video sequel. Good decision to throw this into theaters. In fact that was a $485 million decision, as that's how much it made worldwide. Many still think that this is the best of the Toy Story movies as well as Pixar's greatest movie. In which case I hope you don't hurt me for not claiming the same because I love all three Toy Story movies.

7- Up

This one hurts. Man, this one hurts. I know a lot of people will say that this is Pixar's best, which means if you have completely agreed with me up to this point, this is where I will probably lose you. Just know that when I came up with my first draft of this list, I had this at number two. I wanted to put it really high, but the more and more I stared at the list, the more I realized that there were just too many Pixar movies that I like better to have this that high, which is why this list has been tough to make. Up is one of Pixar's best and most emotional stories and definitely has one of the best love stories I've seen in an animated movie. It also has a lot of great characters, animal and human, as well as a ton of laugh-out-loud humor. I have no complaints about this movie. There's just six movies that I enjoyed more, which says more about the awesomeness that is Pixar than anything else.

6- Inside Out

And here we are with the most recent Pixar movie, which just scored the highest opening weekend ever for a original Pixar movie and second best behind Toy Story 3. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on this one as I just recently wrote a long review on this movie and thus I will direct you there for more details, but let me quickly say here I think this is Pixar's smartest movie and one that adults will probably enjoy more than the kids simply because they'll understand all of the references that the movie makes about the psychology of a human. It's too early to call it an animated classic as it's been in theaters for less than a week, but I definitely think this has the power to become one.

5- Finding Nemo

Did you know that when you adjust for ticket price inflation that Finding Nemo is actually Pixar's biggest hit in the domestic box office? Did you also know that the movie also celebrated it's 12th birthday last month? Crazy, right? Finding Nemo is definitely one of Pixar's most memorable movies, which is why it has stood the test of time so well. I initially had this one a bit lower, but as I stared at the list I realized that had to change because in my opinion this is one of Pixar's best. Out of all the Pixar movies, this one is almost easily the most quotable. I'd also argue that this movie has Pixar's best casting choice with Ellen DeGeneres as Dory. I was initially worried when word came out that they were doing a sequel to this movie, but when I saw Ellen's official announcement of Finding Dory and how excited she was to be doing this project, I became excited. Overall, Finding Nemo has everything you want in a Pixar movie. It has heart, it has emotion, it has adventure, it has excitement, it has humor, it has great characters, it has an amazing story, it has a great message. A definite grand slam for Pixar.

4- Monsters, Inc.

Every once in a while I run into people who don't like Monsters, Inc. and that honestly baffles me. Outside the original Toy Story, this is the Pixar film that I watched the most growing up as a teenager with my two younger brothers as this came out 14 years ago when I was 12 years old. These characters, specifically Mike and Sully, are just as much classics as the Toy Story characters. John Goodman and Billy Crystal have had long, successful careers, but when I think of both of them, this movie is what comes to my mind first as the two of them are the perfect voice actors for these two characters. As far as this movie goes, I also think it's probably Pixar's most clever idea as they take this long-standing idea of having monsters in your closet and spin it so that the monsters are just doing it as a job to power their world and are in fact terrified of kids. Just like what I said with Findning Nemo, this is an all-around perfect movie for Pixar with a little bit of everything you want from a Pixar movie. In fact, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo are pretty equal in my eyes. So much so that I can't really even explain why I give the slight edge to Monsters, Inc.

3- The Incredibles

We're on the home stretch with this list and this top five has been really difficult to put together because of how close all of these movies are in terms of greatness. Being honest, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo may better all around Pixar movies than The Incredibles, but I made the decision to put The Incredibles ahead of both of them because there is one area where The Incredibles has a huge advantage. That's the fact that in my opinion The Incredibles is by far the most entertaining Pixar movie. It's also the only superhero movie they've done and I have a special place in my heart for superhero movies. Speaking of which, forget about this list for a second. A couple of years back I created a list of my personal favorite superhero movies and this movie was on there. There's been a whole slew of new superhero movies that have come out since I did that list that would require a revision of that list, but I'm pretty sure that The Incredibles would still make it. It's THAT good. It's a wildly entertaining ride from beginning to end, so of course it belongs high on this list. I'm so glad they finally announced they are doing a sequel because this is the one movie that everyone has been begging Pixar to do a sequel for.

2- Toy Story

If you've actually read this whole blog instead of just looking at the titles, first off congratulations. Go reward yourself. But second, you probably saw this coming because I have referenced Toy Story several times now. I love Toy Story. It came out when I was only six years old and I watched the movie more times than I can probably count and have enjoyed it every time. I love these characters. I owned a Buzz growing up. My brother had a Woody. One of us had a Mr. Potato Head. It was also such a great idea because all of us have imagined our own toys coming to life when we aren't watching and thus this is very relatable to every kid. The animation in this is also incredible. This came out in 1995, which was 20 years ago and yet it still holds up today. Before Toy Story came out, the only animated movies that really came out were by Disney. Now because of Toy Story, we have an almost countless number of animation studios that have created a whole bunch of great movies. Toy Story was revolutionary. So not only is Toy Story an excellent movie on it's own right, but I have Toy Story to thank for pretty much every animated movie that has come in the last 20 years. Of course I had to put it this high. In fact, the only Pixar movie to top the original Toy Story for me is, of course...

1- Toy Story 3

Yup. And if you've talked to me in person you should know that this was no surprise. I've said many times that this was a hard list to make. The easiest movie to place was Cars 2 as the worst. The second easiest was Toy Story 3. In fact, these are the only two movies that have stayed in the same spot among my many revisions. What makes Toy Story 3 so good is the high level of nostalgia that it brought with it. Like I said, I grew up with Toy Story. I watched it so many times growing up and absolutely loved all of the characters. It's crazy to think that there was a 15 year difference between Toy Story and Toy Story 3, but when the third chapter was finally done, they picked the perfect subject matter as it was about Andy going off to college for the first time and having to say goodbye to all of his toys. Not only was this nostalgic and sad because I loved the characters in Toy Story, but it was a very personal one for me because it reminded me of my childhood, specifically all my toys and stuffed animals that I had growing up and how much fun I had with them. All of those memories just flooded in and I couldn't hold it in. I'm not a crier when it comes to movies. Not that I have anything against crying, I just don't cry during movies, but this is one of those movies that almost got me. Twice. Such a perfect movie. It was also the perfect ending to the perfect trilogy. Then Pixar announced Toy Story 4. Uhhhhhhhhhhhh......... in Pixar we trust? Maybe?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Out Review

It's been 20 years now since Pixar revolutionized the animation world with Toy Story. Maybe it's just me, but that seems crazy. Toy Story will be celebrating its 20th birthday this November. I can't remember if I actually saw it in theaters, but I do remember it being in theaters and it's definitely a movie we bought shortly after it came out. On VHS. That's sounds so old-fashioned now. Anywho, I watched that movie many, many times growing up. Following Toy Story, and continuing for 15 years, Pixar blessed my life with movie after movie that was just fantastic. Every time I'd see a new Pixar movie I would go in expecting greatness and I would walk out being perfectly satisfied because that's exactly what I got. Never did I think I would watch a Pixar movie and be disappointed. But then it happened. After they released my personal favorite in 2010, that of Toy Story 3, this Pixar movie called Cars 2 became a thing. Man. What a disaster! Brave and Monsters University weren't bad, but they also weren't up to Pixar's standards and last year we didn't even get a Pixar movie. Pretty soon I've realized it's been five years since we've gotten a great Pixar movie and I was wondering when they'd be back. I was hoping Inside Out was going to be the glorious return of Pixar. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to announce to you that it is. Pixar is back!

Ever since I first heard of the idea for Inside Out, I was intrigued. Before there was a trailer or a title or even a scheduled release date, I heard that Pixar had this idea that they were working on where they would go inside the mind of an 11-year old girl. I didn't even really know exactly what that meant or what they were going to do with it, but it sounded like they had a great idea there. When I finally saw the trailer for this movie, the intrigue turned into pure excitement as I saw a glimpse of how this idea has been put into reality. Now seeing this whole thing in it's full glory was quite a treat. I don't want to say too much about the plot of this movie because the advertising has actually done a good job of keeping most of the movie a secret, which can be annoyingly rare these days as some movies feel the need to spoil the whole movie in the trailers in order to get people's attention (yes I'm looking at you Jurassic World). But in describing this movie, I will give you the very basics. The movie is about an 11-year-old girl named Riley whose life was going great until her parents move. Yeah, that is always tough on a kid. In order to really explore what she's going through, we see most of the movie through the perspective of these characters inside her head that represent emotions that control what Riley does. We have Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.

Being that most animated movies made these days are directed mainly towards kids, I often am able to judge them a bit differently. There may be certain plot devices that aren't great or cliches that are used, but if I know it's something that the kids will love, then I can forgive it and give the movie a pass. However, I always say that despite being geared towards kids, the best animated movies are ones that appeal to both kids AND adults. If they successfully do this, they get a lot more kudos in my book than a movie that makes the kids laugh but bore the adults. This does happen quite a bit in my opinion, but very rarely do you see an animated movie that appeals more towards adults than kids. Pixar themselves have done this several times. While a young kid might have fun with the events and characters in Toy Story 3, they don't know what it's like to grow up and be forced to part ways with all the toys you used to love. Thus I feel Toy Story 3 would mean a lot more to adults like me who went through all of this. Similar things can be said about other Pixar movies like Up and Ratatouille. As you could've guessed by now, Inside Out does this as well. I feel adults will appreciate this more than kids.

Sure, kids are going to have fun with this movie. They'll laugh at all the characters doing silly things and they'll have fun with the adventures that they go on. But there's a lot of things in this movie that adults will appreciate a lot more. No, I don't mean adult-themed jokes and gags that some animated movies subtly throw in there that go right over the heads of kids that they figure out years later when they watch the movie again. The whole subject matter of this movie is very deep and psychological. I don't want to get into specifics, but in general terms the human mind is a very complex place. I'm no psychologist by any means, but psychological movies are movies that I really enjoy and I feel that this movie does a dang good job of accurately portraying what the human mind is like, especially one that is as complex as an 11-year-old girl who is put through quite the traumatic experience. It's got a be a pretty wild ride up there. But that's not all. The way in which this movie does it is so unique and original that it's one that I will never forget. In fact, when my own mind is going through an emotional roller-coaster, this is the exact movie I will be thinking of. I'll be picturing all the different emotion characters inside the control room of my mind and what they are going through to control this person that is me. It's definitely a crazy place up there.

Are there flaws to be had with this movie? Eh, not really to be honest. Sure, you could nitpick to the extreme and say this wasn't as emotionally powerful as Toy Story 3 or Up. The adventures in the movie may not have been as exciting as The Incredibles. But would it be fair to expect every Pixar movie to be the new best Pixar movie? No, it wouldn't. But definitely don't take these statements the wrong way. This is an emotional movie. Those characters inside my head were doing double duty while watching this one. I was laughing threw a lot of it. I went down memory lane many times. I got all the warm fuzzy feel-goods. And yes, there were a few scenes where I almost cried. It wasn't quite on the Toy Story 3 level, but if you cry during movies, make sure to bring a few tissues to this movie. No this isn't Pixar's all-time best, but it's easily the best since Toy Story 3 and in looking at all of Pixar movies as a whole, this is up there with the best of Pixar's movies. Just recently I saw a YouTube video that ranked all of Pixar's movies from best to worst. Being that I love making lists, I challenged myself to do the same and it's going to be a dang hard challenge, but when you see this, you'll notice that Inside Out will be high up there.

In the end, I do think Inside Out is one of the most interesting animated movies I have seen lately and certainly one of Pixar's best, which is high praise considering how many great movies they have made. In giving a grade, I do think it's important to remember that a number is just a number. I do like giving a number at the end of a review because it gives people an overall idea of what I thought of that movie, but much more important than a number is what I actually say about the movie and I hope you're focusing more on that than the number I give. No, there's no specific instance that triggered these thoughts, despite what you may think, but it's just something that I've been thinking of recently and I decided I'd share. I was going back and forth in my mind as to what grade I wanted to give this movie and thought to myself, does it really matter that much? My view of the movie might change over time anyways and when I create my end of year lists, I always ignore the numbers I gave to the movies. That said, I still am going to give this movie a grade and that grade is a 9/10. It's a great movie and if you are a fan of Pixar, this is a must see.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic World Review

It's been a long time since we as an audience were given the pleasure of returning to the Jurassic Park universe, which has been a universe that I have personally been a huge fan of. Mostly anyways. I don't know how old I was when I first watched the Jurassic Park movies and read the books. I know I would've been four years old when the first movie came out and eight years old when Lost World came out. I know I didn't see them when they were brand new, but I did see them when I was very young and I really loved both of them. Jurassic Park is of course a classic and most people would agree with me on that. However, there's a lot of people that really hate The Lost World and I really don't understand. Sure, story-wise it's not as strong, but in terms of dinosaur action it is extremely entertaining. In fact, there was a point in my life where I liked The Lost World more than the first because of how entertaining it was. Don't hurt me too much for saying that because that's before I actually appreciated story when it came to movies, which is where the first excels. I also read and loved both books by Michael Crichton, which is a very different experience since the movies don't really follow the books. Especially not the second one. The only thing they really have in common is the title. Jurassic Park III? Yeah, we don't speak of that one. It's an atrocious mess in so many ways.

With that background in mind, it's time to dive into this Jurassic World movie. A fourth movie in this franchise has been in the works for quite some time and I'm really glad that it took them so long to make it because a Jurassic Park IV shortly after Jurassic Park III would've been a movie that no one would've cared about. I have a feeling that it would've gone the way of Steven Spielberg's Jaws franchise. Ever seen the fourth Jaws movie? Yeah, you don't want to. Instead it's now been 14 years and we are calling it Jurassic World, giving the feel that it is more of a reboot than a sequel. In case you are wondering, no it's not a reboot. The previous three movies are still relevant in this, especially the first which is referenced and given tribute to several times. But it is a new cast, new characters, new story, etc. So it feels like a reboot. And it works. I think it successfully brings the franchise back to it's former glory.

Is this a perfect movie, though? Absolutely not. Despite it being a worthy sequel, there are plenty of issues with this movie. The first in my opinion is the story. It's not really a justified story that makes a lot of sense. Sure, you could argue that bringing dinosaurs back to life is not really a realistic possibility. But if, in theory, we were to find a way to bring dinosaurs back to life, I feel the first movie accurately tells the story of how that would go. Even though the story in the second movie isn't as strong as the first, the reasoning for them to come back to the island is very plausible. Once again, I ignore the third one. But in terms of story, this is a lot more far-fetched than the first two. There's a lot of stupid people doing a lot of stupid things that no one would realistically do, especially considering what happened in the first two movies. We learn in the first movie that creating a park with live dinosaurs is not a good idea. Bad things will happen. People will become lunch. But we do it anyways. Why? Because we needed a movie. But that's not the end of it. The world apparently forgets what happened in the first two movies and storm out to this park anyways. And for some reason they get bored of the park. So to counteract this, the park managers decide to create hybrid dinosaurs to keep interest, the most recent of which is the holy-fetch-asaurus. I won't tell you much about this new huge carnivore, but the more you learn about it, the more you begin to wonder why in the heck would they create a dinosaur like this. Oh yes, because we needed a movie.

The other major thing that I need to point out is that the pacing of the movie is off. The best monster movies do spend a lot of time building anticipation and don't show the monster until later in the movie. This is something that Jurassic Park does perfectly. If you go re-watch the movie, you may be surprised to learn how far into the movie you get before you first see the t-rex. But despite this, you aren't bored. Jurassic World tried to follow this formula and I appreciate that attempt, but I was bored. Whenever dinosaurs weren't chasing and eating people, I was bored. I shouldn't have been begging the movie to get to the dinosaur action. I should've enjoyed the whole build-up. But I didn't. It also didn't help that for the most part, this movie is super predictable. I will say it was cool to see Dr. Hammond's original goal with this park finally realized, but you know exactly what's going to happen. Part of that is the trailers give away the whole story. The other part is that it's just super obvious. You have a dinosaur park created. Something bad is going to happen. You know that. And when the trailers told you that they made a holy-fetch-asaurus, well you know exactly the bad thing is going to happen. The fact that the trailers take it even further makes in even more frustrating.

Now that I've gotten all of that out of my system, it's time to give you some positives because I do stand my ground in saying that this is a worthy sequel. Is the story realistic? No. Is the pacing on? No. Is it unpredictable? No. Is it entertaining? HECK YES! Does it have good characters? Also a yes. Let's talk about this characters first. Not all of them are great. The movie spent a lot of time on these two kids whose parents send them to the park by themselves. Why not go with them? I don't know.  It sounds like a fun family weekend. Oh but their aunt is one of the main workers at the park. Ok fine. I'm not going to say I didn't like the kids. They were decent. But I also won't admit that they were necessary to this story, because they weren't. Speaking of their aunt, Bryce Dallas Howard starts out as one of the really dumb characters who makes a lot of really dumb decisions just so that we can have our movie, so I thought I would hate her the whole time. But I didn't. The second half of this movie she becomes a very likable character. But there is one person in this movie who single-handedly takes this movie on his back and makes it worthwhile. That's Chris Pratt. In the midst of all these dumb people making dumb decisions, he's the smart one who knows what's going on. He knows that creating the holy-fetch-asaurus was a bad idea. He's also been opposed to the hybrid dinosaur thing in general. Since he's not in charge, he has no control over these decisions, but when he's called on to help, he knows exactly what to do. And he does a dang good job at it. He's a well-written character who pulls off a dang good acting performance. His breakout performance as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't a fluke. This guy is for real.

Next up is in the entertainment value that this movie provides. I saw this movie in 3D IMAX because two years ago they re-released the original Jurassic Park in 3D and that was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. I usually don't fork over a ton of money for one movie, but because of my experience with this re-release, I had planned for a long time to see Jurassic World in this format. Being honest, the 3D in the original Jurassic Park was a lot better than Jurassic World, but seeing Jurassic World in 3D IMAX was certainly a great experience. The visual effects in the movie were fantastic. The cinematography was beyond beautiful. The music by Michael Giacchino was great as was the inclusion of John Williams' classic theme. All this made for a great IMAX experience that I would definitely recommend. Even though I did have issues with the story and the pacing, the dinosaur sequences were amazing. The holy-fetch-asaurus (yes I did get this nickname from Jeremy Jahns, by the way, albeit an edited version of his nickname for the Indominus rex) was terrifyingly beautiful. When compared to other monster movies, which is essentially what this movie is, this is one of the better monsters out there. When he got close and was chasing people around and eating them. Wow! These were moments that were equivalent in glory to the first two and that's some pretty high praise. There's been a lot of talk and controversy about the raptors in this movie. My thoughts? Haha! I'm not going to tell you. But I do have a lot of them if you want to talk to me in private. Also, the last 30 minutes of this movie was fantastic. No spoilers, of course, because it did do a few things I was not expecting, but man was it an epic ending.

Overall, I did have my fair share of problems with Jurassic World. I didn't think the story was that great. I thought the pacing was a bit off. I was disappointed with the predictability of 90 percent of the movie, part of the which is the marketing team's fault for giving away too much in the trailers and TV spots. But this is a super entertaining movie with great performances from Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard that makes this a worthy sequel. Do I like this as much as Jurassic Park? Of course not. Do I like this as much as The Lost World? I'd also say no to that. But that's because if I were to give grades to these two movies, Jurassic Park would get a 10/10 and The Lost World would get a 9/10. It goes without saying that Jurassic World is better than Jurassic Park III, which I would give like a 4/10 at best. Still, though, this is a worthy sequel and a good summer blockbuster. It's not a great movie, but it's a good movie and I'd be down for a sequel with these same characters if they decide to go that route. My overall grade for Jurassic World is an 8/10.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Cokeville Miracle Review

Earlier this year, I took the opportunity to attend the LDS Film Festival in Orem, Utah. There were a lot of movies and projects being shown there, but there was two main films that I wanted to catch. The first was Freetown and the second was T.C. Christensen's The Cokeville Miracle. I was able to watch and review Freetown, and even talk with the director afterwards. But when I went up to purchase my ticket for The Cokeville Miracle, I learned that it was a lot more popular than I had thought and thus was turned away because it was sold out. Sad day. So I had to wait over two months until it finally came to regular theaters, which happened this past weekend. If you don't recognize the name T.C. Christensen right off the bat, just think of almost every other major LDS film out there and there's a good chance he was either the director or cinematographer. Like seriously. He has a huge stamp in the LDS film industry. Most recently he was the director, cinematographer, and producer of 17 Miracles and Ephraim's Rescue, both of which I loved. In fact, I have been a huge fan of most of his projects. Out of everything he's done, The Cokeville Miracle is his boldest venture yet as well as the one that's a pretty mixed bag for me.

Before I go any further, I should quickly mention that I don't really think this is a spoilable movie. I mean, the title of the movie and the tagline kinda tell you what's going to happen in the end. Because of this, I don't really feel bad discussing that ending because there are things that I want to bring up. However, if you look at the title of the movie, read the description and/or watch the trailer and you have no idea what's going to happen and don't want me telling you, I suppose this is a spoiler warning. Feel free to close this review now. Otherwise let's continue. The Cokeville Miracle tells the true story of a rather miraculous event that happened in Cokeville, Wyoming on May 16, 1986. David Young and his wife Doris walked into the elementary school in the town and took hostage 136 children and 18 adults, threatening to blow up every one of them with a huge bomb that they had with them if they didn't follow exactly what they said. That, of course, is not the miracle. The miracle is that the only deaths that day were the two perpetrators. This was a very religious town and everyone was praying very hard for the safety of the children and afterwards many of the first-hand accounts from the children stated that there were a host of angels that protected them throughout.

Cinematically speaking, this is a very-well made movie and I'll get into that here in a bit. However, throughout the whole movie there is a HUGE elephant in the room that the movie barely even acknowledges. Even when they do, I don't feel that they do a good enough job. That issue is that on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 20 young kids and six adults before shooting himself and after shooting his own mother. That horrific event is still very fresh on people's minds and is only one of many similar events like it where psychopaths succeeded in killing innocent victims. This is a very sensitive subject for many people and if you're going to make a movie where people survived an event like that because they prayed and God saved them, then you are walking on glass and you need to proceed with a lot of caution. Why does God save some people, but let others die? I know people who will deny the existence of a God because of how unfair this seems. I know other people who still believe in God, but will be emotionally distraught at this issue and for good reasons.

No I didn't see this movie at the LDS Film Festival, but I did read up on this controversy when the film was debuted and thus I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue before I saw this movie this past weekend. There are ways that you can explain this. I thought about sharing my thoughts on the issue, but ultimately I decided to keep this more as a review instead of a spiritual discussion on death, which I do have a lot of personal experience with being that many people close to me have passed away. The answer the movie gives at the end is that some people aren't as lucky as the people at Cokeville Elementary School and we don't really know why. Not even Christ healed every leper or blind man. But despite this, we should be grateful when a miracle does happen. This is a fair point, but it's not good enough in my opinion, especially since it was given as more of an afterthought in the postscript comments right before the end credits. If you are going to tackle a subject like this in a movie, then you need to do a better job than they do at addressing this issue. If you don't feel you can, then you should just leave it alone. Unfortunately I believe that this movie will end up doing more bad than good. I tried to imagine how the parents of the children killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy would feel after they watched this movie and I don't think it would be a very positive reaction.

The other issue I had with this movie was the tone of it. Most, if not all, of T.C. Christensen's films are LDS-themed films with very positive spiritual messages that you could throw in on a Sunday night and be inspired. This movie does have all that in it, but it's all in the second half of the movie. The first half is actually a really intense thriller. It felt like I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds. Yes, I do love Criminal Minds and I also love a really good thriller. But can you imagine sitting down with your parents on a Sunday night, wanting to watch a spiritually powerful movie like The Joseph Smith Movie or The Testaments (two movies that T.C. Christensen also worked on), and instead turning on an episode of Criminal Minds with a spiritual twist towards the end? That might not go over so well, but yet that's what this is. It is PG-13 for good reason, which I think is a first for T.C. Christensen. I mean, if you are wanting to watch a really intense spiritual thriller, then be my guest. Just know what you are getting into beforehand.

Like I said earlier, cinematically speaking, this is a very-well made movie. For a smaller-budgeted LDS film, this feels very professional. Not only did T.C. Christensen direct this movie, but he was also the cinematographer and he did a dang job with that. All the lighting, camera angles, and visuals are very stunning. This is a beautiful movie. There are also some special effects that are surprisingly good, an example being David Young tests his bomb on an empty school bus. It was a legit explosion that you don't usually done that well in a smaller-budgeted movie. The acting is also very good. Jason Wade from 17 Miracles plays the lead role in this as the father and police officer who is struggling with his faith through this whole thing and he is great. Our husband/wife psychopath duo of perpetrators are also very good. I hadn't even heard of Nathan Stevens and Kymberly Mellen who played these two, but they are good. The music is also very good, especially in scenes where there is no music. It was very tactically placed and taken away and was thus extremely effective. So this isn't a bad movie by any means. I just feel this is very sensitive subject matter that many won't take very well.

In the end, I think there are ways that this movie could've been made that would've been much more effective. I know this is T.C. Christensen and spiritually-inspiring movies are his forte, but I think one way to effectively make a movie based on these events would be to focus more on the events that actually happened and less on the spiritual aspect of it. I'm not saying they should've taken the spiritual aspect out completely, but making the whole thing more ambiguous as opposed to spelling everything out may have been more effective. If they wanted to spell it out, though, they should've spent a good portion of the movie trying to explain why God saves some people from tragedy, but yet lets other people die. There's ways to explain this without being offensive or insensitive. But instead I feel they ignored the issue and thus I think this movie will dig up a lot of painful emotions instead of inspiring a lot of people. If you do get inspired by watching this film, then I'm glad. I really am. I hope I am wrong. No, this is not a bad movie, but I don't think it's nearly as powerful as Christensen's other films and yes, I do think it end up doing more bad than good. Thus my grade for The Cokeville Miracle is a 6/10.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

San Andreas Review

It's the summer. Sometimes during the summer you have to turn off your brain, grab a bucket of popcorn, and go watch the big dumb blockbusters with the fancy effects just so that you can be entertained for a couple of hours. San Andreas didn't look like the best movie of the summer and the reviews weren't the best, but I often enjoy disaster flicks more than some do, so I didn't worry about the reviews on this. I just wanted to go have a fun time. And I am a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson, so this seemed like a win/win. However, I did decide to see Aloha before I saw this movie because that was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Bad mistake. That movie was a mess. I should've seen this one. However, I'm actually glad I waited a few days on this one just because I learned of a deal that a new local theater in my area has where you can see a movie in 3D IMAX all day Tuesday for just $5. I normally don't see movies in 3D IMAX just because I don't like paying upwards of $15 for a movie ticket, but for that price I am totally down! And with this movie, holy fetching cow that was a treat! Yes, I had a lot of fun with San Andreas. So ignore the bad reviews on this movie and just go have a fun time watching California get destroyed.

This movie does have a plot. But that plot isn't that important. Quite honestly, it's kind of a ridiculous plot, which is why I say it's important to turn off your brain when you go see this movie because if you start to think about all the logistics behind everything, you're going to find a whole lot of issues with everything and thus you'll miss the whole point of the movie, which is to watch California get destroyed by earthquakes. Dwayne Johnson is the star and he plays a fire and rescue guy. The story revolved around him and his family. For reasons explained later in the movie, they are going through a divorce and his wife has a new boyfriend and Dwayne Johnson is wanting to spend some time with his daughter, and yada yada ya. Earthquakes! They interrupt everything. Given his job, Dwayne Johnson is called to work these earthquakes start to hit and so he flies a helicopter to save people and suddenly the earthquakes keep getting bigger and bigger and more frequent to the point where like all of California from Los Angeles to San Francisco is in trouble because they are experiencing the worst earthquake in recorded history. Somehow Dwayne Johnson's family gets spread out around California and being that everyone is in trouble, he decides that he is going to focus on saving his family. Because that's what Dwayne Johnson does. He saves people.

Like I said, in a movie like this, a great story that makes complete sense isn't a requirement, but if your story is a complete mess and your characters are really stupid and annoying, then that is actually a problem. I do need a little more than fancy effects to be entertained and thankfully this movie gives that to me. Is this a well-written story with a perfect script that makes complete sense? No. Is it serviceable? Yes. And the characters? They are also just fine. Personally I really loved Dwayne Johnson in this. He's just a very likable guy with a lot of charisma and like he does with most of his recent movies, he carries this movie on his back and makes you like it. Did I care about his wife? No. Did I care about his wife's stupid boyfriend? Absolutely not. Did I care about his daughter? Uh, yes actually. She was very pleasing to the eyes, but not to a distracting point as she's not overly sexualized like some females are. And she wasn't a damsel in distress, which I was glad of. Just a good solid female character played by a good actress. Did I care about her boy thing that she meets? Not really. What about boy thing's hilarious little brother. Sure. He was fun. Was there a point in the movie where I felt like any of the main characters were in serious peril? No actually. Which was a problem given that they were experiencing the biggest recorded earthquake in history. Why am I talking about all of this? I don't know. It doesn't really matter. But the point is that the movie around the disaster is serviceable, which is important.

But now onto the good stuff. The earthquakes. Holy. Freaking. Cow. Once we finally get through the introduction and to the earthquakes this movie got epic. Would all these super strong earthquakes ever hit California to this degree? I highly doubt it. But like I said, that doesn't matter. I hope I've driven that through your head enough because the special effects in this movie are unbelievably fantastic. Seriously. Huge props to the whole special effects team in this movie. The cinematography in general was just fantastic. Lots of great shots, beautiful visuals, perfect lighting, etc. Visually stunning. It also had a pretty good balance to it. Some disaster movies spend way too much time setting things up for the disaster and thus when the disaster happens, there's not enough screen time to make the disaster epic. That's not really an issue here. Sure there were moments where I wanted less family drama and more earthquakes, but whenever I started to feel that way, it didn't take long for them to get back to the earthquakes, so I was pleased. The score in this is also pretty darn epic, which combined with the stunning  visuals made the IMAX experience amazing. The 3D wasn't really super impressive, but this is definitely worth seeing in IMAX. If you don't want to spend the money for an IMAX ticket and you don't have the cheap IMAX ticket option that I do, I'm assuming a regular theater is also good, but this is definitely a movie that was made for IMAX so take that chance if you can.

Overall, I know that many critics have given this movie a really hard time and when I read their reviews, I can't actually argue against the points they make, but what I can say is that you really have to go into this movie with the right frame of mind. This is a crowd-pleasing, popcorn blockbuster. The point of this movie is to watch the stunning visuals and be super entertained with the epic destruction of California. If you just turn off your brain and try to enjoy that aspect of the movie, I really think you are going to be immensely entertained. I was. If you spend too much time thinking about the plot or the script or some of the things the characters do, then you need to stop yourself before you ruin your experience because there are a lot of problems in those aspects of the movie, but the actual destruction scenes are so good that it makes up for it. But the rest of it is serviceable. The story is fine. Dwayne Johnson is great as always. The girl who plays his daughter, Alexandra Daddario, is good as well. The rest of the of characters I didn't really care for, but no one bothered me. But it's whatever. I went it in simply wanting to have fun with it and I did, so I am going to unashamedly give this movie an 8/10.

Movie Preview: June 2015

We are one month into Hollywood's summer movie season and May got us off to a pretty good start. No records were set in May, but that's nothing to cry over because there were a whole lot of success stories. Avengers: Age of Ultron didn't quite fly as high as most people were thinking, but perhaps our expectations were unfairly high because the numbers that The Avengers grabbed are numbers that most movies haven't even come close to achieving. Although Age of Ultron will fall well short of its predecessor's $623 million domestic total, its $430 million so far is nothing to scoff at. In fact, that's in the top 10 all time, so this is definitely a huge success. Other successes from May were Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, and San Andreas, all of which opened way higher than they were expected to open. So yes, these success stories led for a very good month despite some failures from the likes of Hot Pursuit, Tomorrowland, Poltergeist, and Aloha. Out of all the summer months this year, July looks like it will be the most loaded, but June does have some pretty good fire power, so let's jump right in and see what there is to look forward to in the second month of the summer!

June 5th - 7th-

Looking at all four weekends this month, each weekend looks like it will have exactly one huge, which should make for a consistently successful month. The huge hit this first weekend will be Melissa McCarthy's Spy.  Melissa McCarthy is one of the biggest names in comedy today as she has been fairly reliable in the last few years, starring in huge comedic successes such as Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, and The Heat. She had a slip-up last year with Tammy as no one really liked it and it made a lot less than the aforementioned movies. However, there's a lot of reasons to believe that Spy will get her back on track. The first reason is that it reunites her with director Paul Feig, who worked with her on her two biggest films, Bridesmaids and The Heat. The second reason is the premise of the movie. As the title suggests, this is a spy comedy that co-stars action star Jason Statham, who is recently coming off huge success with Furious 7. This means the movie is attempting to reach beyond the typical Melissa McCarthy crowd by drawing in fans of Statham or action movies in general. The final thing it has going for it is very strong early reviews as it currently is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes at 95 percent.

The second movie of this first weekend will give horror fans an option as Insidious Chapter 3 will attempt to haunt theaters. Four years ago, Insidious became a surprise hit as it opened low but held extremely well back in April 2011. In terms of horror, it is generally seen as a well-liked horror movie, which can be rare these days. Because horror movies usually only cost a few dimes to make, this of course sparked the sequel Insidious Chapter 2 which played off the success of the original to open up to huge numbers in September 2013. The problem here is that Chapter 2 wasn't well liked and thus fell hard. Where the original quadrupled it's opening weekend total, Chapter 2 barely doubled. This isn't really a good omen for Chapter 3. If it ends up being a stinker like the second, it has a good chance of getting ignored this time around. They are taking the prequel route with it, which has worked for horror movies in the past. Also, trailers are promising that it is the most terrifying chapter yet. In order to be a hit, it'll most likely have to hold up on that promise.

The final movie of the weekend is actually the movie that is getting a head start on the month as Entourage actually opens up on Wednesday the 3rd, which means a lot of Entourage fans will be heading out to the Tuesday night showings which are happening as a type this up. Entourage is based off the hit HBO TV series which started in 2004 and went for 8 seasons. When I say "based off," I really mean that it's an extension of the series as it brings back the cast and characters from the series for one final ride. A lot of critics are panning the movie right now, saying that it's nothing more than an extended TV episode of Entourage, but actual fans of the series have enjoyed it so far, so this is one of those critic-proof movies as some fans are calling this the finale that the TV show deserved, but didn't actually get in the actual finale. So if you are a fan of the TV series Entourage and you haven't already seen the movie by the time you read this, it's a movie you should probably go see.

June 12th - 14th-

There's only one movie coming out in the second weekend of June and there's a pretty good reason for that as no studio has decided to challenge the long awaited Jurassic World. It's hard to believe that it's been 22 years now since Jurassic Park first debuted in theaters, especially when you go back and watch it and realize that the special effects and CGI in that movie are still better than some movies made today. As you may know, they made two sequels to Jurassic Park, despite the fact that Michael Crichton only wrote two novels. But that's ok because they didn't really follow the novels very well anyways but still were pretty epic. The Lost World especially strayed from the book as the only similarities were the title and the inclusion of dinosaurs. What you may not know is this fourth chapter, Jurassic World, ignores the two sequels and is essentially a direct sequel to the original. So if you are one of the people that didn't like Jurassic Park III (I'd be raising my hand at that) and were worried about the fourth because of that, that could possibly ease your mind. The idea behind Jurassic World is that the initial goal in the first movie of having a dinosaur theme park open to the world is finally fulfilled. By now we as an audience know that this is in fact a bad idea, especially when they decide to create a hybrid dinosaur, but it sure does make for an entertaining movie. Chris Pratt will continue to make a huge name for himself as he goes from starring as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy last year to starring as some sort of raptor trainer in this.

June 19th - 21st-

After seeing the return of the Jurassic Park franchise in the second weekend of June, the third weekend of June sees another return. The return of Pixar with Inside Out! The absence of Pixar was obviously a much shorter absence, but due to production issues with The Good Dinosaur they took 2014 off, making it the first year in several years without a Pixar movie. Early reviews on Inside Out are making it look like this will be another type of Pixar return. A return to the days when they were the king of animation. Back in 2010, Pixar had phenomenal success on about every level with Toy Story 3, but their next three outings weren't quite the same. Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University do have their fair share of fans, but neither were quite as universally loved as most other Pixar films. The premise of Inside Out did have a few people questioning it as it's about the emotions inside a little girl's head, but early reviews suggest this is a return to form. As of now it stands at a perfect 100 percent on the tomato meter as well as at a 9.1 on IMDb. Those will obviously change when more reviews come out, but that is a very good early sign.

The other movie from this weekend is much less known, but like it's release companion, it also has a perfect score of 100 percent on the tomato meter. This movie is Dope. Initially released at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Dope was picked up by Open Road Films and is a coming of age comedy/drama about the post hip-hop generation. Open Road Films aren't known for their huge releases as their highest grossing movie is 2014's The Nut Job with $64 million domestically, so I imagine they are planning on a smaller release with Dope and will rely on word of mouth to propel it forward, but given the reviews it's definitely something to look out for. As far as a draw, the big name actor in this is Forest Whitaker. Outside him, much of the cast is full of younger stars, the biggest of which is Zoe Kravitz, the daughter of singer/actor Lenny Kravitz. Zoe has made a decent name for herself recently as she's picked up supporting roles in major films such as X-Men: First Class, The Divergent Series, and the most recent hit Mad Max: Fury Road.

June 26th - 28th-

The final weekend of June ends a bit like it began - with an R-rated comedy that has the potential to be a huge hit. This time the foul-mouthed teddy bear is back in Ted 2. This exact weekend three years ago, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane debuted his first feature-length film with Ted. The idea was a bit of a novelty in that everyone's always imagined their childhood teddy bear coming to life. It was also evident that this was Seth MacFarlane's first chance to completely unleash all his foul jokes and gags that he wasn't able to on a TV show and thus this childhood teddy bear because quite the potty mouth. Audiences worldwide completely bought into it and Ted was a massive success, earning a humongous $549 million worldwide, $218 million coming here in the states. MacFarlane's second movie showed his comedic mortality, though, as A Million Ways to Die in the West was an absolute disaster in multiple ways. So now MacFarlane is hoping to recover by bring the foul-mouthed teddy bear for a second go around. This should work quite well as fans of the teddy bear are sure to show up again, although it might be unfair to expect the movie to replicate the huge success of the first as that's a pretty high standard that most R-rated movies in general don't come close to.

The last movie of the month is the one that I'm going to call the biggest sleeper candidate and that is Max. I say sleepeer because it could possibly stay asleep if the advertising doesn't kick in a bit, but it's also the type of feel good movie that could go over very well with audiences and thus hold well at the box office. Max is a dog. But not just any dog. Max is a war dog and a war hero at that who has saved the lives of many marines in Afghanistan. But just like a lot of soldiers, Max has gone through a traumatic experience that has caused him to suffer from PTSD after he is home. So this is a war drama. A war drama surrounding a dog. I haven't quite been able to tell if this exact plot is based on a true story about an actual dog, but I do know that these types of dogs do exist. The movie is directed by Boaz Yakin, the director of  Remember the Titans and the writer of Now You See Me, and stars Robbie Amell and Thomas Haden Church among others.