Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Captive Review

Recently I've had the pleasure of reviewing two different movies from genres that I normally like that failed to impress me. In both cases, I took the time to explain what makes a movie from that genre good and thus related why these specific movies failed in my opinion. The first of these was War Room. I normally like religious movies. I consider myself a fairly religious guy, thus I enjoy it when a religious movie comes out and gives me a positive, spiritual boost. But that one didn't sit right for me. The second of these was The Perfect Guy. This one was a thriller. I love thrillers. In fact, if I'm forced to choose a favorite genre, that's the genre I usually go for. But this one had a lot of issues. Thus in that review that I have linked right there, I specifically listed some main points of what makes a good thriller and I used that to show what The Perfect Guy was missing. Why do I bring both of those movies up? The answer is because there was this little-known movie called Captive that came out recently that is what I have called a religious thriller. It is part religious movie and part thriller. Personally I think it does a great job of being successful in both of those areas. Thus I am going to use the guidelines I established with War Room and The Perfect Guy to show what Captive did right that these two movies didn't.

Captive is based on the true story of a certain chain of events that happened not too long ago. David Oyelowo plays a man by the name of Brian Nichols who is in jail for something that he, of course, claims he didn't do. At just the right opportunity, he manages to escape and, on his way out, steals a gun and shoots several people, one of which being the judge that was in charge of his case. Now he is a murderer on the run and in an effort to stay hidden, he invades the home of one Ashley Smith, played by Kate Mara, and takes her captive in her own how. Ashley has some baggage of her own as she is a single mother who her daughter taken away from her mainly due to her strong addiction to meth. The court has ruled that she's just not fit to raise that child. So she is trying to overcome her drug addiction so that she can work on being a fit mother that is capable of raising her daughter. This situation with her being taken captive in her own home definitely throws a big wrench into things. Religious movie, you ask? Yes, it is. But not quite in the way you might think. This movie is probably 90 percent thriller and 10 percent religious movie, which is part of the reason why it works so well. I'll get to that religious aspect in a bit, but being that this is mainly a thriller, let's talk about that aspect of the movie first.

In my review of The Perfect Guy, I listed three main points that a good thriller should have. The first of these is a compelling villain. Sure, you can have a random bad guy doing random bad things and it could still potentially be interesting, but if your villain has a lot of depth to him and the audience can even relate to him to at least a certain degree, your thriller is going to be a lot more interesting and compelling. Captive nails this. First off, David Oyelowo is an amazing actor that is perfect at playing both the ultimate hero as well as the horrible villain. This time he is in the villain role, but he is such a deep, interesting villain. He claims he's innocent in what he was originally convicted for. You kinda feel bad for him there, but not really because we watch him shoot and kill several people upon his escape. But then we learn he has a son that he's never met before. Despite the awful things he's done, his biggest desire is to at least meet his son and be a good father. This is where the movie gets you emotionally because he is very troubled over the fact that now this desire is almost completely unrealistic. You feel for him. You want him to meet his son and be a father. Suddenly our villain almost becomes our hero. But then you remember that he killed several people at the beginning of the movie and is holding this mother hostage and you remind yourself that he is the bad guy. Then you praise the movie for having such an excellent villain.

The second and third things that I mentioned in my review for The Perfect Guy is that a good thriller should have a satisfying conclusion as well as an element of realism. These points are where the movie kinda melds into the religious aspect that I'll talk about in a bit. But let me first talk about the thriller elements of this that the movie succeeds in. It goes without saying that a thriller needs to provide thrills. This wasn't one of my main points simply because I feel this is super obvious. If your movie is boring and non-suspenseful, you've failed. However, you've also failed if you don't have a satisfying ending. In fact, having the ending right is arguably more important for this genre then getting the beginning and middle right. The beginning of a thriller sets up the scenario. The middle will build up the suspense. If the ending is wrong, the whole thing is ruined. This isn't like an action movie where you can have fun during the movie and still come across with a positive outlook on the movie even if the ending was dumb. A dumb twist for a thriller or a bad ending will ruin the whole movie. I don't want to talk much about this movie's ending simply because saying that this is partially a religious movie kinda says too much already. But let me assure you that the ending of this movie works and is not cheesy like you might think if I were to tell you that this is a religious movie.

That leads to my next point. Realism. This is the big point that crosses over for both religious movies and thrillers. The best thrillers are ones where you feel like the scenarios could actually happen. If you walk out of the theater scared because you have that sensation that what happened in the movie could actually happen to you in real life, the movie has done it's job. Captive is based on a true story of something that actually happened to a woman not too long ago. And it's not one of those true stories where it's a once in a life time event that will never happen ever again. It's a home invasion. The woman was taken hostage. These things sadly do happen to a lot of people every year. People go missing. People are kidnapped. People get killed. We live in a horrible world. Thus when you watch a home invasion movie where a girl is taken hostage, that plays with your emotions in a terrifying way and thus the suspense builds because you are really interested in figuring out how this girl makes it out of this situation. The other element of realism is what the characters actually do. The Perfect Guy was a realistic situation. It had to deal with stalkers, which also happens. But how things were resolved felt so fake that I just rolled my eyes. Once again, I'm not going to tell you how this girl in Captive gets out of this situation, but it felt real. Because it was real. And it's the type of real that could realistically happen to an average person.

So now let's talk about religion. I don't to go into specifics with this aspect of the movie because I don't want to tell you how this movie is religious. That's the surprise. But speaking in general terms, what has really frustrated me with some religious movies of late is how black and white they paint things. The second you turn yourself over to God, everything in your life will immediately get better. Your football team will win games. Your car business will prosper. Your husband will stop cheating on you. Your atheist professor will realize he was wrong. No. Not that easy. In fact, life is a lot more complex than that and if you preach that everything will get better the second you follow God, someone might actually decide to test you on that and when life doesn't get better for that person, he or she might decide that God doesn't exist because life didn't get better. This was my biggest problem with War Room and after I reviewed that movie I got a whole ton of backlash as people tried to tell me that miracles do happen and that I was being faith-less because I was discounting them. No, that's not what I'm talking about here. Yes, miracles do happen. Yes, it is possible that if your husband is cheating on you, that you could pray to God and God could strike your husband with an illness that causes him to realize he's doing something bad. But if you preach the miracle as if it's the norm, your preaching the wrong message.

The point of all this is that if you are going to be a faith-based movie, what you need to do is inspire people. Don't paint a black and white picture. Don't be unrealistic. Don't preach. That's not inspiring. That's just frustrating, especially to people who actually aren't religious. Once again, I'm not going to go into specifics with this movie, but what they do with this is more subtle. Like I said, this movie is probably 90 percent thriller and 10 percent religious and that balance is what makes this work. There's no preaching in this, but there's a message of peace and hope that's perfectly sprinkled throughout that I think can apply to a broad range of people. If you are confused and you don't think I did a good job of explaining this, then I'm sorry. I wish I could go into specifics with this movie because that would really help me get the point across, but I'm not going to spoil this. You'll just have to trust me that I think they really did this right. What really helped were the performances in the movie. David Oyelowo is a genius. You can pretty much bet that whatever movie he's in, regardless of the role, he's going to excel. That holds true here. He is fantastic. But the other person who is also fantastic is Kate Mara. I kinda feel bad for her because this was supposed to be the year that she broke out as an actress, but the epic failure of Fantastic Four kinda prevented that. I hope that she's still able to get recognition despite that because she deserves it.

Overall, Captive is a movie that was a perfect blend of thriller and faith. We have quite the intense story on our hands with this murderer who is now holding this mother captive and we have the perfect blend of faith to help us feel inspired when we walk out of the theater. It doesn't beat us over the head. It doesn't preach. It's a story that I feel a lot of people can relate to and be inspired by. I'm saddened by the fact that this movie was completely overlooked in the box office. War Room earned a whole ton of movie at the box office and still is raking in the dough more than a month after it's release. The Perfect Guy ended up topping the box office when it opened, defeating M. Night Shyamalan's comeback movie The Visit. In my opinion neither of those movies did a good job at what they set out to do. War Room was not a good faith-based movie. The Perfect Guy was not a good thriller. Yet they earned all the money and a movie like Captive that did a good job at being a successful thriller and a good faith-based movie came up completely empty. Oh the injustices of Hollywood. I can't change this movie's woes. But if I can convince one person that this is a movie worth seeing, then I'd consider this review a success. My grade for Captive is a good 8/10.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice Review

Some people love the Summer blockbuster season, then ignore most of the rest of the year because "there is nothing good in theaters." Personally I also love myself a big, fun, popcorn flick in the Summer, especially if it's a superhero movie. But if I'm being perfectly honest, I really look forward to this time of year because it's the start of Oscar season. Not all the movies released from September through December will compete for actual awards, but there are a whole heck of a lot of movies that are released around this time that are trying their hardest to put themselves in the game. This makes for a ton of amazing movies that flood the theaters, giving me plenty to see and enjoy. Pawn Sacrifice is a movie that I've personally had on my radar for quite some time as it was first released last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, which sparked a whole lot of buzz surrounding Tobey Maguire's performance. It took it a year for it to show up in a theater near me, but when it finally did this weekend, it instantly became my top choice of the weekend. I was not disappointed with the result.

Edward Zwick is the director here. He's given us some pretty dang good movies in the past, the most noteworthy being Glory and The Last Samurai. He's also on board to direct next year's Jack Reacher 2, which I'm stoked for. This time around he takes on another interesting true story about chess champion Bobby Fischer. Born in 1943, Fischer quickly rose to be one of the best chess players in history and possibly the best U.S. chess player in history. According to the movie, he taught himself how to play chess at a very young age and that's essentially all he thought about at that age. He was one of those chess players that would look at a chess board and see a ton of moves in advance. He would even play out games in his head or look at a picture of a chess board and figure out exactly what moves were made to get both players to that point and he would use those strategies in his own game. He was a brilliant. By the time he was a young teenager, he was playing in several U.S. championships and winning them all. Before too long, he decided that he wanted to become the world champion and thus he determined that this would require him playing the Russians. The big match that this movie focuses on is his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Russian Boris Spassky.

What I was expecting when I went into this movie was a great biopic of Bobby Fischer led by a brilliant performance from Tobey Maguire as Fischer. Yes, this is what I got. What I didn't quite expect was for it to play out like a sports movie. The typical formula for a sports me starts with the movie following a huge underdog team or a heavy favorite in which some sort of tragedy happens. After this, the team either overcomes this tragedy and rises to the occasion or shocks the world by playing great. Either way, this usually leads up to a championship game where the team either wins and makes us all happy or they lose and teach us all a very good lesson. This is followed by the movie explaining what happened with the team and/or players through the rest of their careers and beyond. This movie fits perfectly into that. Bobby Fischer is our underdog player. No one expects the young kid to be any good. His mom would even be happy if he stopped playing chess and did something else with his life. But he keeps winning and winning, getting better and better throughout the years. This leads to many championships and the ultimate world championship match. What makes this really unique is that I don't think I've ever seen a chess movie like this. There's been plenty of movies that include chess games in their movies, like the sequence at the end of the first Harry Potter movie. But I don't remember a movie where chess was the main focus. If there is, I haven't seen that movie. Thus I was super invested in this because it felt fresh.

However, there is also much more to this movie than just chess, so if you don't like chess, this is still a movie for you. Mental health is a big theme of this movie. We aren't just watching a guy win a bunch of chess matches. We're watching a guy with a lot of mental issues. I don't know what specific mental diseases he had, so I'm not going to attempt to label them, but playing chess was all that this guy could focus on. When he wasn't playing someone, he was playing himself or going over games in his head. He also heard random voices on occasion and all the noises around him were amplified quite a bit. If someone was lightly knocking on the door, to him it felt like they were pounding. Whispering was too much for him to handle at times. Coughing was loud. He could hear the cameras rolling from a distance. This was a huge issue for him during his games because he just could not focus at times. When he was on the big stage with everyone watching, all the little sounds around him bothered him so much that there were moments where he refused to play. It got so bad for him that he would start making a whole bunch of ridiculous demands and if they weren't followed exactly, he wouldn't show up. He didn't care how important the game was or how many people were watching. If everything wasn't perfect, he wasn't going to play. He often felt like the world was conspiring against him if his demands weren't met. And his mental health just got worse and worse as his life moved on.

This is obviously a very sensitive issue that needed to be handled with care and also needed someone to absolutely nail the role. Tobey Maguire was perfect in this. Looking at his filmography, he actually hasn't been around the movie scene very much since his role as Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Despite the scene that shall not be named from Spider-Man 3, I do think he was a decent Spider-Man. Outside that, though, he has had several really good roles. He was great in Seabiscuit back in 2003. He was also amazing in The Great Gatsby in 2013. So he's an actor that I've respected throughout the years. However, this role as Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice is easily the best performance of his career. Never have I watched Tobey Maguire and said that he deserves an Oscar nomination. But I'm saying that now. He may not get it because of all the competition, but at the very least I will say his performance is Oscar caliber. And speaking of performances, there was also a lot of good performances around him. The most notable one was his main opponent, Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber. It was one of those performances where Schreiber disappeared into his role. When they showed the cast in the end credits and I saw his name, it was one of those moments where I was like, "That was Liev Schreiber?" I like those moments.

I also can't leave this review without talking about all the cinematography and other technical aspects of the movie. We constantly went back and forth from in actually looking like an early 70's movie to looking like a modern day movie. This worked very well. We also had a lot of genuine news reports thrown in to help us move the story forward and I'm pretty sure they were actual news reports from back when this actually took place. If they weren't, they did a pretty dang good job of replicating those reports. We also got a lot of fan reaction from around the world thrown in there as the big match moved along, which did a pretty dang good job at letting us know how big this event was. All these news reports and fan reactions made me really get into this as I got the sensation that this was a huge event that I needed to pay attention to. I felt like I was watching the Super Bowl. And not just a boring, blowout like the Broncos vs. Seahawks from two years ago, but a Patriots vs. Seahawks game where you are on the edge of your seat the whole time. It was intense. It was awesome. Then there was the actual cinematography and editing from the chess game itself. There were a lot of quick shots from many different angles and viewpoints. One shot we were zoomed in on the chess piece that was about to be moved. Another we were watching from over the shoulder. Another we were watching the TV that everyone else was watching after Bobby demanded to play in the ping-pong room.

Then there was the score. I actually do like watching someone play chess. It's a lot of fun. But it can also be super boring, especially in a professional chess match where they spend a whole lot of time thinking before every move. But when we are watching the chess matches in this movie, especially the final one, this is anything but boring. It's intense. It's exciting. It has you on the edge of your seat. Yes, the editing and cinematography, as well as the inclusion of the news reports and fan reaction played a big part in this as previously mentioned. But the score is the glue that holds this all together. It's what makes this movie interesting. James Newton Howard is the man behind the curtain here and thus deserves a lot of praise. He's composed some amazing scores which have included the first two movies in The Dark Knight trilogy, all of The Hunger Games movies, most of M. Night Shyamalan's movies (great or awful, you have to praise those scores), Maleficent, Snow White and the Hunstman, The Bourne Legacy, Nightcrawler, and many, many more. The man is one of many musical geniuses of our day and has rightfully been nominated for eight Oscars. Here's to hoping a win is in his not-to-distant future. He even got a Billboard Hot 100 top 20 hit last year with The Hanging Tree from last year's Mockingjay - Part 1.

There's been a lot of movies released in theaters in the past couple of weeks and with Oscar season being underway as well as the Halloween and the Holiday seasons right around the corner, the number of releases aren't going to slow down any time soon. Amidst this crowded movie season, if Pawn Sacrifice has shown up in a theater near you, I would definitely recommend you check it out. We all constantly blame Hollywood for running out of ideas. Although the themes in this movie as well as the sports movie formula are nothing new, the fact that this is a chess-based movie makes this feel fresh and original. That's what it did for me, anyways. Even if you don't feel this idea is original, it's still worth checking out because it's a great psychological movie that focuses on the mental health decline of Bobby Fischer and Tobey Maguire really knocks it out of the park. This is a really fascinating and surprisingly intense movie surrounding the chess board. There's also a tagline at the end that I found simple, yet very deep and profound as concerning the game of chess as it relates to life itself. I highly recommend you give this movie a shot. I will award Pawn Sacrifice a 9/10.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Review

First and foremost, I want to thanks this movie for doing something with the title that really bothered me with The Hobbit movies. They got rid of the extra "the" in the title. With The Hobbit movies, they titled them THE Hobbit: THE Battle of the Five Armies or THE Hobbit: THE Desolation of Smaug (emphasis added). Too many "the's."  Battle of the Five Armies or Desolation of Smaug would've been just fun. With this movie, they could've titled it The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, but they didn't. They dropped that first "the" and now it's just Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. That flows better. Anywho, with that out of the way, if you remember my review of The Maze Runner from last year, you'll know that I was pleasantly surprised and entertained for most of the movie. I loved the suspense and mystery of it. I loved the simplicity of the story. I loved all of our young actors. But then the reveal happened at the end and we come to learn that this is in fact the same exact story as all the other recent dystopian movies. Huge let down. Sure, they had a few unique twists, but not enough to make me intrigued and most of those unique twists were just weird. So it lost me. I went into The Scorch Trials hoping that this middle chapter would reel me back in. I'm not going to lie, there were parts of the movie that I found really interesting. But for the most part, no. It didn't bring me back. The things that made The Maze Runner interesting are gone and the things that made The Maze Runner dull are magnified. Very disappointing.

If you haven't read or seen The Maze Runner, I will warn you that I will be spoiling that movie a bit. In order to talk about the sequel, I do need to reference what happened in the first one in order to explain to you my thoughts about this sequel. If you don't want the first one spoiled, then feel free to stop reading, go watch that movie, and come back to read my thoughts on The Scorch Trials. If you have seen that one or you just don't care about spoilers, then let's carry on. At the end of the first movie, our group of kids have escaped the maze. They come face to face with our villains, but are rescued from this group of villains by some unknown group of people. That's how our movie ends. Well, The Scorch Trials picks up by our group of heroes being sent to this facility with a lot of other kids who have survived other mazes. Apparently there was a lot of them and after separating the wheat from the chaffs, we now have this new group of kids who are being rewarded with this great facility with good food, soft beds, and all that fun jazz that they didn't have in the mazes. Well, of course you know something is off. The biggest clue is that we have still have a trilogy to finish and we're just in the start of the second one. So we are surrounded with mystery once again. Kinda. I wasn't the least bit intrigued by this because it's extremely obvious what's going on even though the movie thinks its being smart, it's really not smart at all this time around. Of course we have to escape this place and our main group of kids from the first one, with some added newcomers, do escape. There's just nothing really to escape to. It's this huge, empty desert devoid of any signs life. The scorch. Thus we have the bulk of our movie.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. The first problem is what I just talked about. The beginning of this movie is really a piece of junk. It tries to be suspenseful and mysterious with what is going on, but it fails in a huge way. You see right through from the very beginning and thus you wonder why there are only two out of like a hundred or more kids that realize that something isn't right. Every single kid in that building should realize that they were just trapped in a huge maze by this crazy company and now they are locked up in this sketchy facility. But they all just buy into it? Why? Come on kids! Finally our hero wises up and our main group of people somehow escape. Given the situation, it makes no sense on how they were able to escape. It should've been a lot harder. But they do and now we are onto the scorch. I don't know why we have to call it the scorch. Why not just the desert or the wasteland? Words that normal human beings use. But whatever. There are some interesting things that happen in the scorch. Specifically they randomly come across a pack of zombies. Except they aren't called zombies. I can't even remember what they are called. Why not just zombies, though? Why do we have to give them fancy titles that aren't in our current vocabulary? Zombies would've worked. But whatever. Not long after being in the scorch and going through some intense scenes that kinda made me interested, it hit me. This is Catching Fire all over again.

Catching Fire, of course, is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, or the second of four movies in the movie franchise. Great book. Great movie. But come on, Scorch Trials. Can't you do something different? In Catching Fire, we are back in the arena and before too long our characters learn that the arena is a big clock with different obstacles in each section that they have to avoid. In The Scorch Trials, they aren't in an arena and thus the wasteland they are in isn't a designed thing, but as they go further and further, there are more and more obstacles that they have to avoid. It's the same exact premise! The titles are even similar. "Fire" and "Scorch." Really? After a few fun zombie scenes, I was gone. The other problem that I had that relates to this is that this movie was way too complex. The Maze Runner had a simple premise. A group of kids are caught in a maze and they have to get out. That was it. Simple. I liked that simplicity. Had The Scorch Trials spent most of the movie out in the scorch, I may have been slightly intrigued by that premise. We would've had a beginning where we were in the facility, a middle where we were in the scorch, and an ending where something happened in the last ten minutes or so once we escaped the scorch. Nope. The scorch part is only part two of like five or six sections. So much happened in this movie and it was just way too much. I was mentally gone halfway through. I'm not saying this movie should've been shorter. But it should've been more focused. Simpler. You can probably blame the book for that one.

Now let's talk about these characters. Right off the bat we are without our two most interesting characters, Chuck and Gally, who were played by Blake Cooper and Will Poulter respectively. Granted this wasn't the movie's fault. The author decided to write them off in book one. I don't have a problem with some characters not surviving. That makes things more realistic and suspenseful. But if you are going to kill off two of your best characters in the first movie, make sure you have some interesting characters that can pick up the slack in the second one. I liked Dylan O'Brien as Thomas and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa. They both were really good leads in the first one and still are really good leads in this one. But that's it. The supporting cast of kids really aren't that interesting. We have some of the side characters from the first one that I didn't care too much about and we add some new side characters that I also don't really care too much about. Thus we just have a mostly bland, uninteresting cast. Speaking of cast, we also did something in this one that really frustrated me. One good thing about the first one was that there WASN'T a love triangle. For a big chunk of the movie, it was just guys in a maze. Then the girl showed up. Instantly you think a love triangle is going to form, but it doesn't. Kudos to the movie. However, in the second half of The Scorch Trials, we introduce a second girl. Boom. Love triangle. They couldn't resist. I suppose they tried to make it clever by being a love triangle between a guy and two girls instead of vice versa, but a love triangle is a love triangle and I didn't buy it and I refused to "take a side." I never really cared about our new girl. I kinda lost interest in our old girl. Honestly, I also started to lose interest in our main guy. When I have no one to latch onto, that's a big problem.

Is there anything worthwhile in this movie? Sure. Like I said, the zombie scenes got my attention. They show up on multiple occasions throughout the movie, thus kinda making this movie a zombie apocalypse movie. Compared to other zombie apocalypse movies, it wasn't that great. No where near the likes of Warm Bodies or World War Z from a couple years back. But it was entertaining and thus provided something for me to enjoy. There also were a few things in the end of the movie that I enjoyed. I don't want to talk much about them for obvious reasons, but we have a "final battle" of sorts that was entertaining and we also some really interesting themes that make you question who's actually in the wrong in this situation. That's all I'm going to say about those. But right after that had me almost thinking the movie was going to end on a high note, it did something really stupid that made me frustrated. So yeah, not a total waste of time, but not what I was hoping for. Another positive is that I'm still way more interested in this franchise that the Divergent franchise. Divergent started off below average and took a huge nosedive with Insurgent. The Maze Runner started off as average and has turned into below average with The Scorch Trials. So that's a plus. I guess. If I were forced to watch either Insurgent or The Scorch Trials again, I'd definitely pick The Scorch Trials. But still, my grade for the movie is a disappointing 6/10.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Everest Review

Back in 8th grade English class, I remember watching a movie called Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. I can't remember why we watched that movie, but we did and I liked it. It was Miss Oveson's class. For me that was the 2002-03 school year, which will either date me or make me seem young. Anyways, the movie itself is a TV movie that was released in 1997 and is based on the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer called Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, which is Krakauer's personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster that he survived the year before. At the time, it was the biggest disaster on Mt. Everest in terms of death toll. Tragic story. There's since been a documentary short based on this experience of which I have not seen and probably other various tellings of this story. And now we have a big-scale IMAX movie called Everest. Honestly, I didn't make the connection with this movie until about a month ago. I knew for quite some time that this movie was coming and I'd been anticipating it. However, I didn't realize that this movie was also based off of that 1996 experience until I did my monthly movie preview for September and recognized one of the character names. That was a cool realization. I like this story, so I'm glad that I now got the experience of seeing it again on an IMAX screen.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of this movie. Telling you that it's based off a true story and giving you the name of the book that Krakauer wrote as well as the title of the TV movie that came a year later is almost saying too much. I could've just said that this is a movie about a group of people that hike Mt. Everest and leave it at that. But then there would've been no review to write. You already knew that this was a movie about people hiking Mt. Everest because the movie is called Everest. I think informing you that this is based on a true story actually makes this more appealing. So yeah, now that the cat is out of the bag, this is a tragedy. It's a very emotional story. And do you know what, knowing that doesn't take away from the experience. I knew exactly who was going to live and who wasn't. I knew what happened to cause all of this. Did that make it less suspenseful? Did that make it unexciting? Was I bored because I knew the outcome? Absolutely not. This whole movie is about the journey that takes place to lead to these events. That said, ain't no way I'm going to tell you who lives and who doesn't. I'm not even going to tell you the names of the characters and what they do. Obviously you know that Jon Krakauer survives because he wrote the experience down. But that's it. A group of people hike Mt. Everest and not all of them make it down. That's all that you need to know about this plot.

I tell you that this movie is all about the journey and man was it a fantastic journey. I liked it before as a TV movie made in the 90's, but as an IMAX film it was incredible in many ways. The first reason is because the 3D IMAX experience made me feel like I was hiking Mt. Everest along with them. I often don't recommend seeing movies in 3D. I'm normally of the opinion that 3D is just a gimmick to make more money, but every once in a while a movie comes around that I will say needs to be seen in 3D and Everest is one of them. Specifically, if you can pull off seeing it in 3D IMAX, that's the way I'd recommend this. An IMAX theater was built near my current residence fairly recently and I've loved it. IMAX is amazing! Especially if you can pull off seeing it for cheap like on a $5 Tuesday or for a matinee price. Not every movie is worth paying the extra few bucks for an IMAX ticket, but Everest is totally worth it. I'm sure the movie will still look beautiful on a TV screen or on a normal theater screen, but seeing it on an IMAX screen and in 3D as well gives you the sensation that you are actually on Mt. Everest. I don't know how they pulled this off or where they shot this movie, but the shots in the movie are absolutely breathtaking. As it panned out to show you the whole mountain or show you the view that the characters had, I was blown away. I would've been totally down for a simple IMAX documentary of Mt. Everest like this with no story or or characters. The fact that we had both made this even better.

About the story and characters, I will admit that this did move slowly. The movie took time to develop these characters. We went on this journey with them and there were times where we moved slowly forward with them as they climbed the mountain over the course of a month or so, or however long it took. Because of this, I can totally understand if people walk out of this movie feeling like the pace was off or the movie was boring. I didn't feel that way, though. I enjoyed the scenery. I enjoyed the slow-moving journey. I was basking in the glory of every individual shot of the mountain and I was enjoying getting to know the people that were going on the hike. I felt like I was with them. Personally I love hiking. I don't do it as often as I would like and I'm not in good enough shape to do extreme hikes, but I love the journey. I love the scenery. I'm one of those hikers that has his camera out and is snapping pictures every other second. I also love the experience of hiking with people because you can get to know someone really well as you both are just hiking up a mountain. I've made many great friends by going on hikes. Thus I loved this movie and I'm so glad I saw it in 3D IMAX because I felt like I was hiking Mt. Everest. That's something that I'm never going to do in my life, so I'm glad this movie gave me a feel for what that experience was like.

Yes, nature is beautiful. I love nature. However, nature is also an unforgiving beast at times. For every amazing experience I've had out in nature, there's also been an equally horrifying experience out in nature. Have you ever gone on a hike and realized part-way through that you didn't dress warmly enough? What if it starts raining or snowing unexpectedly? Thunderstorms can be a beast. I love watching them, but I hate being caught in the middle of them. It terrifies me if I'm out in the open in the middle of a thunderstorm where lightning is striking awfully close to me. Luckily I've not experienced very many natural disasters in my life. I do remember the tornado in Salt Lake City back when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, but that's it. Yet there's millions of people who have been caught in natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. and have lost their lives because of it. Sometimes it's purely bad luck. Other times it's sadly kinda their fault because they could've gotten away, but didn't. Everest does a great job of showing a broad spectrum of this. It's beautiful and breathtaking at one moment while being terrifying and awful another moment. Some instances you feel bad for the people who just lucked out as far as the weather that happened while they were hiking. Other people you are sad for, but you are a bit mad at them for making some really bad decisions.

On that note, there are a lot of interesting themes in this movie. There's a moment in the movie where they are sitting in their tent and one of them asks the others why they are doing this. "Because I can." "Because I want to prove that the impossible dream can be achieved." "Because I've hiked the other major peaks in the Himalayas and so I need to do this one." Mt. Everest is the ultimate test of man vs. nature. Conquer Mt. Everest and you can say that you've literally conquered the world because it is the highest peak in the world. That's a great feeling and thus you can't blame someone for wanting to achieve that ultimate goal. But at the same time, what's the price that comes with it? Human beings aren't made to be at altitudes that high. It literally kills them. Thus you have to spend some time acclimatizing to the altitude before ascending to the peak and after that you have to get up and back down pretty darn quick. Is it worth it? Is it smart? If you have a wife and kids at home, is this something you should ever do? If your wife is pregnant with your first child, is this something you should ever do? If you fail, which is very likely, you not only end your own life, but you ruin the lives of many around you that love and care for you. I really loved this movie because it dove into all of this pretty deeply and thus is cause for deep, personal reflection. I'm not just talking about literally climbing Mt. Everest, but this could be very metaphorical for all of our lives.

There's a lot of great acting in this movie. Nothing stands out as an Oscar-caliber performance, but it's great all around. And this is a really loaded cast, too. In the midst of all the big names, Jason Clarke is actually our main character. Right along with him is Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal followed by John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, and Keira Knightley among others. I don't want to dive deeply into any specifics with these characters, but collectively as a cast, this was amazing. I felt an attachment to all of these hikers. Knowing what was coming up, this made me really nervous and emotional as I anticipated disaster. I'm not going to say which characters were part of emotional scenes. Some of the aforementioned actors weren't even part of the group that headed up to the actual summit, so I'm going to leave that as a surprise for you. But I will say that the whoever it was that took part in the emotional scenes, they did a fantastic job of really hitting the home run here in the movie in the closing scenes of the movie. Like I said, no one is getting an Oscar nomination for this. But that's okay. They all did a great job.

Everest was in IMAX only this past week. I'm lucky enough to have an IMAX screen near me, so I made sure to catch it in 3D IMAX before it expands to other theaters. I was glad I did because it was fantastic. The movie will now expand nationwide to other non-IMAX theaters this upcoming weekend, so make sure you catch it. Specifically, if you can afford the price of a 3D IMAX ticket or the IMAX theater near you has an awesome deal where you can get the ticket for cheap, that's the direction you need to go with this. If neither of those are an option, do me a favor and at least see this in 3D. You won't regret your experience. Yes, the story is great. Yes, it's tragic. Yes, the acting by everyone is fantastic. Yes, there are a whole lot of themes in this movie that stick with you. But the best part of the movie is the visual experience. A 3D IMAX ticket will ensure that you actually travel to Mt. Everest with this group and that is an experience you won't regret. I suppose you can go to a normal theater and simply watch them go on this from a distance, but I don't think it will be quite the same. So make the decision to be a little adventurous. It'll be worth it. My overall grade of my experience with the movie Everest is a 9/10. Note the wording of that. The movie itself might be a tad bit lower, but the 3D IMAX experience brings it to that level.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Black Mass Review

As was probably the case with most people, Black Mass first grabbed my attention with the arrival of the first trailer. That family recipe sequence was genius and Johnny Depp was absolutely chilling. I've liked Johnny Depp for a long time. Many would say they have given up on him as an actor because a long string of horrible roles in horrible movies. I've never jumped on that bandwagon. Yes, there have been some that have been over the top and cheesy. Yes, he's done the Jack Sparrow type role several times. But he's had some decent roles since the first Pirates movie that people have seemed to overlook and he's also been a part of several movies where he was decent despite the awful movie around him. So I feel he's been unfairly criticized as an actor. Thus when I saw that he was doing this role as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, I was excited that the unwarranted Johnny Depp hate would leave. Mostly, though, I was excited to see this movie because it seemed like the type of movie that was right down my alley. Yet I knew little about the true story of Whitey Bulger, so I did some research on his life and suddenly I was even more intrigued. This story is really interesting. After seeing the movie, I would say that this movie has done the story justice. It's not without its issues, but overall I think would say that this is definitely worth checking out.

If you haven't heard of Whitey Bulger, at one point in his life he was #2 on the FBI's most wanted list, behind only Osama Bin Laden. It's safe to say that he was a pretty bad dude. Black Mass focuses on his time spent as an FBI informant in Boston for about 20 years starting in the mid-70's, which was a rather shocking ordeal. Early in his life, he was friends with one John Connolly, who became an FBI agent. Connolly was set on taking down the Irish Mafia there in Boston and he felt that the way to do this was through Whitey Bulger, who was the leader of the Irish Mob. So Connolly approached Bulger and the two formed a certain alliance. Connolly would help the FBI completely ignore everything Bulger was doing and Bulger would provide Connolly with secrets about the Italian Mafia that would help them take down the Mafia. Bulger states in the movie that he is not a fan of people secretly ratting out other people. If he found out about anyone doing this to him, that person usually ended up dead. But he justified his actions based on the fact that the people in the Mafia deserved to be taken down. How this managed to go on for 20 years is beyond me, but it sure made for an interesting movie that showed that the world is often is a bad, corrupt place.

One really interesting thing about this movie is that for most of the movie there really is no protagonist. This isn't one of those gangster movies that glorifies gangs and violence. It's not a dark comedy. Neither Whitey Bulger nor John Connolly are portrayed as some sort of anti-hero. It's just a movie where a lot of bad people are doing a lot of bad things. Until the Yellowjacket comes in to save the day. If you've seen Ant-Man, you'll know what I'm talking about. Some may not like the idea of no hero. If you don't like a movie that's mostly dark and grim the whole time, this might not be your cup of tea. To me it felt very real. This was an event that actually happened and I felt this was an honest way to tell the story. At the same time, I was also really intrigued by the character of Whitey Bulger. Yes, he was a bad dude doing awful things, but he was also a pretty deep character. He was married with a kid. He cared for his wife. He certainly loved his kid. There was an old lady around the area that he adored. He was devastated when his mother died. He had a decent relationship with his brother played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Similar things could be said about Joel Edgerton's character of John Connolly. This was great because it's good to have interesting villains with depth to them.

Everyone's talking about the acting in this movie. So let's talk about the acting in this movie. Yes, it's true. Johnny Depp is fantastic! He completely disappears in this role and is thus unrecognizable. Yes, all the makeup is a big reason why he is literally unrecognizable. But even if he looked like Johnny Depp, I still might say that because he doesn't act or sound like Johnny Depp at all. He's super creepy throughout the whole movie in the way he talks and the way he carries himself. He just oozes out evil the whole movie and it's just fantastic. I'm not going to say it's his best acting job yet, but when we look back on Johnny Depp's career, this will definitely be up there. If Steve Carrell can get an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, Johnny Depp better get one for Black Mass. Depp isn't the only great actor in this, though. This movie is loaded with amazing performances. Joel Edgerton pulls off yet another amazing performance. Benedict Cumberbatch finally does something different after being almost typecast as the super genius in every movie. He has a Boston accent in this that makes it weird when he talks because it doesn't sound like Cumberbatch. Well done. Kevin Bacon is in this and nails his role. Julianne Nicholson is amazing as John Connolly's wife. Corey Stoll is great in his few moments towards the end. All the side characters who I don't know were great to watch. Even Dakota Johnson from Fifty Shades of Grey did a good job in the first part of the movie that she was is, which was possibly the most surprising. So yes, overall an excellent cast full of people who gave it their all for this.

If I have one major concern with this movie its that I felt at times it was actually pretty slow. This is not a fast-paced, extremely intense thriller. Yes, it's dark and grim. Yes, there are plenty of times where the movie has you on the edge of your seat. But there are also plenty of times where I felt the movie just slowly wandered through the life of Whitey Bulger without a clear purpose or a destination in mind. When moments like this were happening, the counter-point that I came up with in my mind was that this probably what it was like in real life. They had this deal in place for like 20 years, so there were probably many times where Bulger just wandered through life, killing people who upset or betrayed him. I also got to the point where there were so many deaths in the movie that I was almost past-feeling. They'd introduce a character and the second that character came on screen, I knew that he/she was going to die fairly soon and when it happened I wasn't as sad or as emotionally distraught as I should've been or as I was towards the beginning of the movie. It's almost like the movie got fairly predictable as it lost it's way a bit.

Overall, though, the concerns of it being a bit slow and predictable as it wandered through Bulger's life weren't big enough for me to not enjoy this movie. It's not going to show up on any top ten list at the end of the year for me and may not be the type of movie that sticks with me for a long period of time, but it still was a very worthwhile movie to see. It was slow, but there were many times where that slow pace worked very well as it slowly built to some major event. The score, by the way, was very chilling. Even though when the music played you knew it meant that someone was probably about to die, it still worked very well and added perfectly to the creepiness of Johnny Depp's character. Yes, he was fantastic. I really hope he gets recognition at the end of the year because this is one of the better acting performances that I've seen so far this year. No, this is not a happy movie. It's dark and grim and leaves you sad about a lot of the things that happen in this world. If dark is not you, then don't worry about this one. You probably weren't interested in the first place, so no surprise on your end. But if you do like dark and you want to see Johnny Depp nail the performance of Whitey Bulger, than definitely go see it. My grade for Black Mass is an 8/10.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Perfect Guy Review

Last year on this same weekend there was a random thriller that came out called No Good Deed. I was slightly hesitant to see it as no one seemed to like it and it was in the middle September. However, I did check it out and was pleasantly surprised. It was a fairly decent thriller. Because of the success of that movie, Sony green-lit another thriller for the same weekend this year called The Perfect Guy. It was very much a déjà vu for Sony. Both movies had a predominately black cast and both were about a guy terrorizing a girl with the girl having to stand up for herself. Both weren't expected to do much at the box office, yet both earned around $25 million on their respective opening weekends, giving both the surprise win that weekend at the box office. Both movies were panned by critics, although for some odd reason most critics elected not to see The Perfect Guy as it only has 19 reviews counted on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the usual 100+ reviews. However, the thing that is very different in this case is my personal enjoyment of the movie. This isn't a bad movie, but it's lacking a lot of elements that make for a good thriller.

A lot of the reviews that I have read suggest that this movie is bad because it is completely unoriginal and predictable. It's been a movie that's been made a hundred times before, so it's just uninteresting. This is an idea that I actually disagree with. I've been watching a lot of Hitchcock thrillers and a lot of those movies have very similar premises as well. Hitchcock seemed to love the idea of making a movie about a guy that has been accused of doing something he didn't do. He also seemed to love the idea of using just one set for the whole movie. But despite these similarities, most of his movies are still considered classics. The same idea applies to the TV show Criminal Minds. It's one of my favorite shows, but if I'm being honest, most of the episodes follow the same formula. Does that make it bad? No, it doesn't. It's still really good. So yes, the premise of The Perfect Guy is one we have seen before. Our main female makes the decision to breakup with her boyfriend of two years because he can't commit to marriage. Shortly after, she meets another man who initially seems like he is the perfect guy. But one day he snaps and that is enough for our girl to realize that she wants nothing to do with him. Well, turns out this guy is a crazy psychopath and is definitely not done with her. This is kind of a spoiler, but not really. All you have to do is look at the title of the movie and connect the dots that this is a thriller and not a romantic drama and you know exactly what's going to happen for the first half of the movie. It's how things are resolved that's the mystery here.

No, this is nothing new. But that's not the issue I had. As I've been thinking about this movie in comparison to a lot of other thrillers that I have watched recently, I've been able to pinpoint some key elements that this thriller is missing in order to make it successful. The most important element it's missing is the lack of a compelling villain. Michael Ealy is our villain here and the man does a really good job with what he is given. He is very charming and romantic at first and is also very creepy at the end. I'm not blaming him personally for this. The problem is how his character is written. The best thrillers have villains that are very deep and complex in nature. In many instances, the audience is actually able to relate to the villain and even feel bad for them to a certain extent. Take Hitchcock's Psycho as a perfect example of this. There are some 55-year-old spoilers that come with this comparison, so feel free to skip ahead if you haven't yet seen Psycho. Norman Bates is a very complex individual. He comes off initially as a very kind, loving guy who wants the best for his hotel guests. But then his psychotic mother comes in and kills them. At first you feel bad that Norman is stuck with such an awful mother, but when you learn that his mother is dead and has been for a long time, it hits you that it's been Norman killing the people the whole time. He's just experiencing psychotic breaks where he kills people without even realizing it. You kinda feel bad for him. But you don't at the same time. Such a fascinating, deep character.

I'm not saying that all thrillers need to have a villain on par with Norman Bates. That's an impossible bar to match. But the general principles behind what makes Norman Bates such a good villain are the principles that thrillers should follow. Deep, complex villains that you often can relate to or feel bad for are a whole lot more interesting than random psychopaths going around killing people. Criminal Minds is a show where almost every episode has a fascinating villain. It's my personal favorite crime drama because instead of focusing on the who-done-it aspect like a lot of them do, it focuses on the psychology of a killer. Why do they do the things they do. What happened in their life to turn them into such an awful human being. A lot of them look like normal, average people that had to deal with things things in their past that aren't uncommon problems. Another great example is The Gift, which is currently one of my favorite movies from this year. I won't dive too deep into that, but Joel Edgerton's villain isn't just a random guy deciding to ruin another guy's life. There's a history to this guy that makes him a very deep, interesting character. I don't want to go into specifics about Michael Ealy in The Perfect Guy because that would require spoiling the movie, but these elements that I've talked about in these past couple of paragraphs are missing with Michael Ealy's character.

Another important element of a good thriller is a satisfying conclusion. The suspense builds and builds throughout the course of the movie and is leading towards one major event that happens at the end. Most of the time this ending is a twist that you don't see coming. When this twist occurs, you experience one of the best feelings that happens in movies, that of the mind being blown. You've been watching these events in the movie build up without really knowing what's going on and suddenly in one moment your whole perception changes and it's rather fantastic. If the twist isn't very good, the whole movie is ruined, but if the twist is done well, it makes the movie fantastic. M. Night Shyamalan is experienced in both of these situations, but a good example of twist done right comes with his latest movie, The Visit. A thriller doesn't always have to have a crazy twist, but it should at least have a fantastic conclusion. A final confrontation that has you at the edge of your seat. Once again, I'm not going to spoil The Perfect Guy by telling you what happens at the end, but this conclusion is not satisfying at all.

The final thing I want to talk about is the element of realism. A thriller is much more effective if it is at least based on events that could or have happened in real life. Psychological thrillers are excellent because mental challenges are very real and are experienced by a lot of people to one degree or another. Thus they play with our minds because they feel very real. Obviously psychological thrillers aren't the only good thrillers. That's just one example. But in the events the movie should be believable. Last year's No Good Deed was a home invasion thriller. Those can be terrifying because a lot of us fear the possibility of someone breaking into our home at night. In these terms, The Perfect Guy does fine. Having to deal with stalkers or relationships gone really bad is a real thing. What The Perfect Guy fails in is another aspect of realism. If this situation were to play out in real life, how would things turn out? If you can say that what happened in the movie is actually what would happen in real life or close to it, then you have a better thriller. The Perfect Guy is missing that. Several events towards the end had me in disbelief. If a guy like this really did show up in a girl's life, things would turn out much different. I'm not going to spoil things by giving specifics, but it got pretty ridiculous.

I hope this has been a satisfying review for you. It's a bit tricky because everything worth talking about comes in the second half of the movie. I want to dive into that and tell you exactly why that second half doesn't work, but I can't because I'm not going to spoil the movie for you. I could write a spoiler review, but this isn't the type of movie that I feel warrants a spoiler review, so instead I hope that my discussion of what makes a good thriller has been interesting enough and helps give you a general idea of why this movie doesn't work. In summary, a good thriller needs a compelling villain, interesting characters, a suspenseful build throughout that leads to a satisfying conclusion, and an element of realism both in terms of themes the movie discusses and the basic story line. The Perfect Guy isn't what I would call a bad movie. It has a good cast of actors who do a good job with what they are given. It's shot very well and has a good score. In terms of film making, there are a lot of positives. It's not one of those movies that is painful to watch or hard to sit through. It's just lacking in pretty much every category that I've discussed that makes a good thriller. Thus when I got to the end, I felt very unsatisfied. If you want to see a good thriller, go find The Gift. That might still be playing in a few theaters. If that's not available, go check out M. Night Shyamalan's new movie The Visit. That one isn't as good as The Gift, but it's satisfying in its own right. The Perfect Guy is not. Thus I am going to award the movie a 5/10.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Visit Review

I was so not excited for this movie. I'll admit that I haven't seen every single one of M. Night Shyamalan's films, but his last few were so bad that I had completely given up on him as a writer and director. The Happening? The Last Airbender? After Earth? Oh my freaking gosh. I still get a bad taste in my mouth whenever I think of those movies. And to think that this is the same director that gave us The Sixth Sense? What in the world happened to this dude? I think I'm going to subscribe to the theory given by Jeremy Jahns. I think Shyamalan was abducted by aliens and was replaced by this other robot Shyamalan who couldn't make a movie to save his life. However, there was the hope that this movie was going to be his comeback film. But that's what people have been hoping for several movies now after mediocre reactions at best to movies like The Village and Lady in the Water, but things just kept getting worse. The trailer for The Visit looked interesting. But then it said "directed by M. Night Shyamalan" and I just checked out. Early reviews came in as positive. But I still wasn't buying it because plenty of later reviews counteracted that as the movie is struggling to stay above water with it's Rotten Tomatoes score. But since reviewing movies is what I do, I went to see it anyways. At the very least people need to know my opinion of Shyamalan's latest. And do you know what? I was shocked. This is actually a pretty good movie. Shyamalan just might be back!

I don't want to spoil too much of this premise, so I'm just going to let you know the basics. This is a found footage horror movie. Or at least that's what this is labeled as. This felt more like a thriller than a horror, but meh. Semantics. The movie follows two kids who are going to visit their grandparents for a week so that their mom can go on a vacation with this other guy who is not their dad (he left them). The daughter has decided that she is going to make a documentary of this week long trip to Grandma and Grandpa's because the mom is not exactly on good terms with her parents. So she is filming everything and thus we get our found footage angle of the movie. I'll talk more about the found footage aspect of it in a bit. Everything seems all hunky dory at first. The internet isn't very good. They don't have cell reception. But it's just a week at the grandparents. Nothing bad is going to happen, right? Ha ha! Not. We quickly learn that grandma is not quite right in the head. Grandpa tells the kids that bedtime is 9:30 because they are old. So the kids are up in their room, not being tired and suddenly they realize that bedtime is 9:30 because that's when Grandma goes crazy. This is all just the first night at the grandparents. We got a whole week of movie to make it through and I will let the rest of the week be a surprise.

Found footage. Let's talk about that first. This is a genre that was initially clever and unique. I liked it. But then studios realized that it is super cheap to make a found footage movie and thus it got used over and over and over and over to the point where it was no longer clever and unique, but rather was old and annoying. I still love Cloverfield and Chronicle. Those are two excellent movies where found footage was done really well and added to the plot. Cloverfield without found footage would be lame. Chronicle without found footage would've worked, but not quite as well. But now all the recent found footage movies are lame because found footage is useless. Earth to Echo? No reason for the kids to film their footage. Project Almanac? Same thing. These movies actually could've been a lot better without the found footage. Thus I am extremely picky nowadays when it comes to found footage. Did The Visit need to be found footage? No, it didn't. Shyamalan could've done without found footage in this movie and it would've been a bit better I think. But if you decide to do found footage, at the very least do it right. Shyamalan does it right. Some found footage movies will have extra noise and music that wouldn't exist if you made a your own video. That's dumb. This movie didn't have that. Also, a girl deciding to do a documentary of the week at her grandparents' house was a legit excuse to do it. Yes, there were some times where they should've just put down the camera and run. Some footage was also a bit too professional for her age. But overall it wasn't bad.

I also mentioned that this movie felt more like a thriller than a horror to me. I said that because this really isn't a super scary movie. For most of the first half of the movie, the sequences are light-hearted and even fun. The little brother is quite the funny kid. You know there is something off with the grandparents, but the weird, creepy moments are just small teasers in the first half of the movie for what happens at the end. Even the second half of the movie isn't super scary. So if you are going into this movie with the idea that you are going to be terrified from beginning to end, you're probably in for the wrong movie. This isn't me hating on the movie, though. Horror wasn't required for me here. What we had was a really interesting story about two kids that get stuck in a really bad situation and are trying to figure out how to get out of the situation. This isn't riddled with jump scares. It's not super gory. There are no awful, scary monsters chasing them. But it does get super intense in the second half of the movie and that leads to some pretty good thrills. I'm not going to lie, there were moments in the first half of the movie where I was pretty bored and I thought this was going to be yet another Shyamalan dud, but then it picked up and before too long I found myself fully invested in the movie.

What really helped this movie do well were the great performances from the whole cast. It was kinda risky for Shyamalan to decide to have his next movie be led by two young kids since his last two movies were kid driven and really sucked. There was actually some decently talented kids cast in The Last Airbender, but Shyamalan's directing efforts made me think that perhaps they should go back to school and pick a different career. But then I see them in other movies and realize that perhaps Shyamalan was the problem. Same thing with Jayden Smith in After Earth. I've seen that kid do well in movies. But his acting was worse than a brick wall in After Earth. So Shyamalan is going to try it again with two more kids in the lead? That's sounds like a bad idea. But for some reason it worked out really well. I'll do a little bit of name dropping here and say that these kids are played by 17-year-old Olivia DeJonge and 14-year-old Ed Oxenbould. I've never heard of Olivia and the only other movie I've seen Ed in is playing Alexander in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Great find by the casting director of this movie and great job directing them by Shyamalan. Also the grandparents were fantastic, specifically Deanna Dunagan as Grandma. She was perfect as a lovable Grandma and also perfect as a completely psychotic crazy woman, which made her moments as a lovable Grandma rather terrifying.

Overall, I was rather surprised by M. Night Shyamalan in this movie. If we continue with the belief that M. Night Shyaman was abducted by aliens and replaced with a different Shyamalan that didn't know how to direct movies, we can say here that the original Shyamalan is now back. No, this isn't on par with his best movies that he made early in his career, but following those, movies like The Visit are the movies we all wanted and expected him to make and I am happy that we got him back. When he's on his game, the style of movies that he makes are the style of movies that I personally really enjoy and I really hope he's able to stay back on Earth and give us more movies like The Visit. No, this isn't a scary movie, but it's a movie that does provide a lot of really good thrills and has an intriguing story to go along with that. All of this is made even better by a great cast, led by two young kids and a Grandma that just nail their performances. I thought I was going to hate this movie and I was ready to rip apart Shyamalan once again, but I'm really happy that I'm finally praising Shyamalan once again. My grade for The Visit is an 8/10. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Flash Season 1 Review (SPOILERS)

If you've been following my blog this Summer, you'll know that I've been slowly (very slowly) unveiling my TV show reviews from this past season. Once they all ended in May, I initially meant to get all my reviews out right away, but that didn't happen. They ended up being spread out throughout the "offseason," which I actually decided that I kinda liked. You'll also notice if you've been following them that I've taken things from a slightly different angle this time around. Previously my target audience with these TV show reviews has been everyone, thus I wrote things as spoiler-free as possible. This year my target audience has been people who have already watched this season of whichever show I am reviewing because that has allowed me to give you all my thoughts from the past season. I think it's better that way because it's really hard to write a review of a whole season while dancing around spoilers and accurately portraying what you thought of it and why, especially as you go further into the show. As you can see from the title of this review, that's what I will again be doing here with The Flash. If you haven't seen The Flash, my recommendation for you is to stop reading this review right now and go watch it. It's really fantastic. In fact, it quickly rose to being my favorite current show on TV. If you've already seen the first season or you just don't care about it being spoiled, then let's continue and dive into the reasons why I loved this show so much.

First and foremost I think it's important to repeat that my experience with movies and TV shows are really different. I'll go see pretty much any movie that comes out, whether or not I'm excited for it. I won't do the same with TV shows. If I don't think a TV show looks interesting to me, I won't watch it. If it gets really great reviews from everyone and thus I am convinced that I might actually like it, I still might not watch it. Not right away anyways. And then there are TV shows that I want to watch that I just don't get around to watching. I've still only seen the pilot episodes of Gotham, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Agent Carter. I've also only seen half of Daredevil. I like these shows and I have plans to continue them, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I could say that I just don't have enough time to watch all of them because watching a TV show requires a much greater investment of time than a movie, but a more accurate answer is that watching TV shows a much smaller priority for me. Also, I do think it's fun to binge watch a TV show after it's been out for a few years, so that's another reason why I don't always feel obligated to watch every TV show from the pilot episode.

What's the point of all this as concerning The Flash? Here's the point. I've been watching The Flash from the very beginning. The week the pilot episode aired is the week that I started watching the show. That's impressive for me. What's more impressive, though, is that I've stuck with it. The other TV shows that I mentioned are TV shows where I watched the pilot episode on the day they came out, but for whatever reasons they didn't make it into my short list of TV shows that I dedicate myself to every week. The Flash did. Not counting sports and news related shows, there are four TV shows that I watch on a regular basis: Criminal Minds, Supernatural, Arrow, and The Flash. Bates Motel gets added to that when it shows up mid-season. That's it. The fact that The Flash is a part of that lineup should say something. But making that even better, after just two or three episodes in, this felt like a show that I had been watching for several years now. I was fully and completely invested in it. It was my show. Adding even more frosting to this right now, by the time we were halfway through, the show had become so good that this was the show that this was the show that I looked forward to every week. Yes, if you ask me what my current favorite TV show is, my answer for you is The Flash.

It's been over three months now since I watched the finale live on TV. In those months, I've pondered on what it is that makes this a great show and my conclusion is that this is exactly what a superhero TV should be like. Growing up I didn't really read comic books too much, but what I did do is watch a lot of the animated superhero TV shows that aired on Saturday mornings. They were a whole lot of fun for me as a kid. They were mainly light-hearted and fun instead of dark and scary. They had great heroes, great villains, great stories, great character development. They were perfect. When I watched The Flash this past year, it took me on a trip down memory lane because it was done in the exact same style as all of these excellent shows from my childhood. Arrow is a pretty dark show and I do like that for different reasons. But I really liked The Flash because of how light-hearted and fun it was. Our team of heroes were all very likable and had amazing chemistry. Much of the focus this season was a villain-of-the-week setup as they had to stop all the meta humans that showed up in the city. We had a lot of great villains and it was fun to watch our team try to figure out how to stop them. In between all that, we had an amazing story that continued to develop as the season went on that set-up our main villain and main conflict that really took off and became amazing in the second half of the season.

Let's talk more in depth about that story because the way they told that story was rather genius. First of all, it's pretty risky in my opinion to introduce the arch-rival right at the beginning of the show. Usually superhero movies or TV shows will wait until later to introduce the main villain. They'll build up their main character and the universe around them before they introduce the main villain. The Flash, on the other hand, cuts right to the chase. We start the show off with the Flash and the Reverse Flash in this duel at Barry's home when he's young. Then we jump to the present where Barry has been struck by lightning and becomes the Flash. His main mentor that helps him along is a man by the name of Harrison Wells, who we have suspicions right off the bat that there is more to this man than meets the eye. Shortly after meeting him, the show does something really interesting. Instead of keeping the audience in the dark about Harrison Wells, we get clues that Harrison Wells is in fact our main villain. We don't know everything about him, of course, but we know he is bad. Barry, on the other hand, doesn't know this. In fact, it takes almost the whole season for Barry to come to the point where he learns what we as an audience already knew about Harrison Wells from almost the very beginning. As more was revealed, I read a lot of comments where people were happy that they successfully predicted that Harrison Wells was in fact bad. Not to take that joy away from those people, but yeah. That was the point. We knew. Barry didn't.

It was very risky to do things this way. I often like to be in the shoes of the hero and not figure things out until he does. It helps build the suspense. If I know everything that happens before it happens, it often spoils the experience for me. But the fact that this worked so well made this season genius. But making this better was the fact that even though we knew Harrison Wells was going to be the villain, we didn't know his motivations behind everything. We didn't know his background. In fact, we really didn't know much about him at all outside the fact that he wasn't a friendly person like Barry thought for most of the season. This gave us enough of the element of surprise to satisfy my desire to not know everything going in. And man, when we found out what the deal was with Harrison Wells, those were some epic scenes. Harrison Wells was more than just your average comic book villain trying to take over the world or destroy our hero. He had some serious depth to him that made the conflict between him and Barry super interesting. This was made even better by the fact that both actors in this duel were fantastic. Grant Gustin is the perfect Flash, just like Stephen Amell is the perfect Green Arrow. Tom Cavanagh is also an excellent villain.

Outside this main conflict, this is also a very deep show story-wise. What I mean with that is that there are a lot of well-written side characters that all have interesting story arcs. Sometimes in a TV show all the side stories will feel like filler or fluff to get the show to 23 episodes. That's definitely not the case here. Caitlin and Cicso complete our main trio. They both work very well with Barry. You really buy the three of them as best friends. Cisco is possibly the most relatable character on the show. He's our super genius that comes up with all the ideas, but he's also the super nerdy character that fanboys out all the time. There's a moment in Arrow actually where he goes over and meets with Laurel Lance, aka the Black Canary and he just totally geeks out that he's meeting her. He asks for an autograph or a picture or something like that. It's fantastic. Caitlin is the gorgeous one. I'm a very big fan of Danielle Panabaker in many ways. But she's also more than just that. She's a very strong female lead with a lot of complexity to her. I don't know much about The Flash comic books, but I have a feeling that both Cisco and Caitlin are going to have even bigger roles as early as this upcoming season. I think they will both get powers just like Barry's powers instead of just being his team that helps him out behind the scenes. I don't know this for sure. It's just a theory, but I'm excited to see where they take both of their characters.

Relationships. This is a CW show, so we have to have relationship drama throughout. Unlike some of their other shows, though, the relationship drama in this is really interesting. Iris is Barry's love interest. The best friend growing up who is oblivious to Barry's strong attraction to her. Now I did say I like the relationship drama in the show. This is actually the one exception. I don't think Barry and Iris have good chemistry as a couple. I think they work better as friends. But the way they went about it, though, was interesting. I was nervous that it was just going to be forced, but it wasn't. Iris is actually dating Eddie the whole season. Thus we get our love triangle. I like Eddie and Iris a lot more as a couple. They were great. But you know that it's not going to end up that way, especially since Eddie kinda... uhhhh... died. That could change because of the whole time travel thing, but we'll see. To be honest, I did like Iris a lot more as the season went along, so perhaps I'll like what they do. Whatever that is. Personally, though, I was an unashamed Snowbarry. I'm talking about Caitlin and Barry with that. They had fantastic chemistry and would work better as a couple. Except for the fact that Caitlin kinda... uhhhh... got married in the finale. Which is cool with me because she married Robbie Amell. I like Robbie. The Amell cousins are just fantastic. But with this whole timeline thing, that could also change. So we'll see. Robbie, of course, plays Ronnie Raymond, half of Firestorm. Which, by the way, talk about a fantastic character. Ronnie having to learn to work with Dr. Stein to make that character work, because they are kinda the same person, is fantastic. I wanted more of them.

I could go on about all the fantastic characters in this season. There's Joe. There's Barry's dad. There's Captain Cold. There's more I could say about Firestorm and Eddie as well as all the meta humans and other villains. There's the Arrow crossovers. A lot of stuff here that could cause me to go on forever. But I think I hit enough of the highlights to give you a taste in how deep this season was in terms of story. Instead I want to talk a bit about the finale next. I said earlier that it was a bit risky that they used the first season to introduce the arch nemesis because the one question you get with that is this was done so well, where are they going to go next? Well, the finale opens the door to so much more interesting stuff that they could do. It gave me confidence that this will be a great show for many seasons to come. But the thing is I have no idea what direction they are planning on going because of the huge cliffhanger they left us on. It was one of those moments that left me screaming and fake crying for like five minutes after it ended. Right when it was about to end, I suddenly saw what they were doing with the end and I started panicking. Please don't end here. Please don't end here. Please no. Please no! No! No!! NO!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You get how that is. I don't like it because it means I have to wait four months on an awful cliffhanger to see what happens next. But I love it because that's what a finale is supposed to do. If the show doesn't have that experience at the end, I feel gypped.

The only red flag that goes up in my mind as I am thinking about this show is the timeline. We learn at the end that the whole season is based on the events of the Flash and the Reverse Flash coming back in time and changing the course of the future. If they run fast enough, they can do this by jumping back in time. This happens several times throughout the second half of the season mainly and so far they have done a great job with it. No complaints yet. But it is a red flag because time travel is a tricky subject to work with. There's some franchises like Back to the Future that execute this to perfection. When it's done right, it's one of my favorite subjects to dive into. But then you get other franchises that fall flat on their face because they didn't execute well. The Terminator franchise is a prime example of a franchise that did time travel so well when James Cameron was in charge during the first two movies, but got too carried away with the idea that the whole franchise is now one big, convoluted mess that makes no sense. Then you have some movies that don't do enough. Project Almanac is a great example of this. The kids there make a time machine and out of all places to go, they decide to go back in time and attend an Imagine Dragons concert? I mean, I love Imagine Dragons, but that was the big plan out of all the places and things they could've done. Really? So like I said, they are treading on thin ice here and I hope they succeed. They have so far. But they need to be careful is all I'm saying here.

So yes, there are so many things that make The Flash an interesting show. This is usually the point where I give out my recommendation as to whether or not you should see this movie or show, but if you haven't seen The Flash, I really hope you haven't made it this far because I spoiled a lot of elements of the show. Instead, you should now let me know your thoughts on The Flash. Did you love this season as much as I did? What are your theories for season 2 and beyond? Let me know in the comments below. Because I am super excited. Season 1 gave me everything that I wanted out of this show. It's a fun, light-hearted superhero TV show that I just had a blast with the entire time. It had a ton of great characters, major or minor, good or bad. All the story lines, big or small, were excellent. It was deep, it was fun, it was fascinating. No complaints on my end. I suppose it's unfair to compare season 1 of The Flash to season 3 of Arrow because they are on different parts of the show. But if I instead compare the first season of both shows, The Flash totally wins out. I don't have a rating system for TV shows, but if I did, this would get a very high rating, because like I said, this show has elevated itself to the point where it is my current favorite TV show. Out of everything I'm looking forward to this upcoming TV season, whether it be new shows or returning shows, I am most excited for season 2 of The Flash.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Transporter Refueled Review

Did the world really need or want a reboot to the Transporter franchise without including Jason Statham? Heck, did the world even need or want one with Jason Statham? I guess I'm not really qualified to answer that question since I've never really seen any of the previous three Transporter movies. I could've done one of those movie marathons that I've done this year and watch all the Transporter movies before I went to see this one, but I have to be honest. I wasn't extremely interested in catching up on those movies. Is that a bad thing? If you are a fan of the Transporter franchise, please explain to me why I need to see these movies. I just look at the reviews for each movie and the box office totals (or lack thereof) and conclude that this isn't an action franchise that I really need to catch up on. They don't make much money. Not many people actually enjoy them. Yet somehow they are on their fourth movie? How is it that we get a fourth Transporter movie, yet there's so many movies out there that deserve to be a franchise that don't even have a sequel yet? Like I said, technically I don't have the right to complain or judge this franchise because I haven't seen them yet. Normally I don't jump into a franchise at the fourth movie, but since this one was a reboot, I figured I'd be safe. Whether or not you are a fan of the franchise, I do feel I am safe to say that this movie is one you can probably just skip.

I will say right off the bat that this isn't laughably bad or painful to watch. You can sit through this and be mildly entertained. This was the type of movie where I went into the theater and did my best to turn off my brain and enjoy. But I just couldn't help myself. I had to turn on my brain for this movie because I was trying to figure out what in the heck was happening. It wasn't a situation where I felt I was jumping into the middle of a complex story like would be the case if I jumped into other fourth movies in a franchise. This is definitely a reboot and a standalone story. It was just a confusing one that got unnecessarily complex partway through. Things were happening and I didn't really know why they were happening and I think I was supposed to care about the characters, but I didn't, which didn't help matters. As far as this story goes, something happens in the intro. I didn't really catch exactly what happened or what the point of that was. But then we jump 15 years into the future for some reason and all the characters that I think we saw during that intro were supposed to be 15 years older, but they just had different haircuts and thus all looked the same age. Then we go to a dude that was previously Jason Statham from what I gathered and he's having Daddy issues when a random girl calls him for his help in getting from one place to another. Turns out there's three girls and they're robbing a bank and our main dude helps them escape and then he's planning on abandoning them when he finds out that a fourth girl in their little girl gang has kidnapped his dad and apparently poisoned him, forcing our main dude to take part in some sort of confusing plot to save his dad?

Get my vibe? Whoever wrote this movie did a really bad job with the script, the story, the characters. All of the above. None of it is interesting. As far as our characters go, the actors playing them didn't do a bad job. Ed Skrein was our Jason Statham replacement. He was fine as an action star. But I didn't really care for his character. I don't really know why they thought that getting rid of Jason Statham was a good idea. At the very least, Statham does a good job of pulling off a really believable action star and a very likable character. But maybe the problem was that Jason Statham didn't want to do this. If that was the case, perhaps that should've been a sign for them to NOT go forward with a franchise reboot. The other actors are also fine. We have Ray Stevenson as the dad. Loan Chabanol was our main female. They didn't do a bad job. I just didn't really care for them. Then I look at the choice of director and I see that it is a guy named Camille Delamarre. Having never heard of him, I look up his filmography and I see that the only thing he's directed was that Paul Walker version of Brick Mansions? Outside of that, the dude was an editor for other Luc Besson produced action films like Transporter 3, Colombiana, and Taken 2. That's right. They picked a guy to direct who is mainly an editor and whose only directing experience was a pretty bad action movie that no one cared about. Did they even care about making a good movie or was this just a quick cash grab? The movie only made $9 million in its opening weekend, but the budget was only $22 million, so with a little bit of foreign help and a somewhat decent hold, this movie could actually turn out a profit for them.

If you ever sign up for any film class in whatever level of education, one thing they'll always tell you is to look for the good in a movie. Any given movie is someone's passion project. People spent a really long time putting something together that they really hoped audiences would enjoy. So is there some redeeming qualities in The Transporter Refueled that could be praised? Yes, there are. Being as the director is actually an editor, for some reason that made me pay closer attention to the editing in the movie. All the shots were very well edited. I don't know if that had anything to do with the director or if it was just a coincidence, but that was a plus. Along those lines, the movie is a well shot movie and visually is pretty. So yeah, all the cinematography in the movie was great. And if I'm being completely honest, all the action in the movie wasn't bad either. There are several sequences in the movie that are fun to watch. I didn't really know what was going on or why it was going on. I still thing all the writing in the movie was putrid and the actors, while not bad, didn't do enough to make me care for them, which could partially be blamed on poorly written characters. But the action sequences were done well. It made me think that if the people attached to this project actually put more effort into the story, the characters, the script, etc, this could've been a decent movie. But decent action alone doesn't save a movie when everything else about the movie is crap.

All in all, this is definitely a movie that fits the release date. There's a lot of movies that come out in late August or early September that really just aren't worth your time. This year there's been several action movies that have come out in this time period that have tried to be the next cool action movie, but in every single case except for American Ultra, I have made the recommendation that you should check out Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation instead of seeing this movie and I'm glad that this advice has been followed because after over a month of being in theaters, that movie is still in the top 5 at the box office. Once again, that's the same story with The Transporter Refueled. Don't bother with this. Yes, it's better than Hitman: Agent 47, but that's not a high bar as even The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a far superior movie, which is rather embarrassing. Sure, some of the action sequences are fun to watch. No, this is not a painfully bad movie. But it's just not worth your time. It's a very forgettable movie. After a really busy weekend, I finally got around to seeing this on Saturday night and even though it's been less than 48 hours, I still struggled to remember what I did and didn't like about the movie. It's that forgettable. So please. Do yourself a favor and watch something else. My grade for The Transporter Refueled is a 5/10.