Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

So this just happened. After getting home from seeing Kung Fu Panda 3, I went to my blog archives to find my review of Kung Fu Panda 2 to remind myself what exactly I thought of that movie right after seeing it. Turns out that review doesn't exist. Did I just not write a review for it? Confused, I checked the release date for the movie. 2011?!?!?!?! It's been FIVE YEARS since Kung Fu Panda 2 was released and EIGHT YEARS since the first one was released?????? Wow! I had no idea it's been that long. Time sure does fly. I do remember being nervous about Kung Fu Panda 2. The first one ended so perfectly, I didn't know how they were going to pull off a sequel and make it equally as epic. Boy did they prove me wrong. When push comes to shove, I'd still say the original is better than the sequel, but not by much. With how that turned out, I was totally down for Kung Fu Panda 3. No nervousness. Just excitement. That excitement totally payed off because now Dreamworks has conjured up one heck of a trilogy as Kung Fu Panda 3 is right on par with Kung Fu Panda 2 in terms of quality.

The Kung Fu Panda franchise has done an amazing job at finding the perfect balance between action, comedy, and emotion that is great for both kids and adults. The idea of a bumbling panda becoming a kung fu master is a really silly, yet hilarious premise. At the same time, it packs a huge emotional punch as we learn in the first movie that the secret to becoming special is believing in yourself. Whatever goal you have in life, if you believe you can achieve that goal and then work hard to achieve it, that goal can be reached. What a great message! Then we learn in the second movie that your past doesn't have to determine your present or your future. Another great message! Now speaking of the past, this third movie is out to teach another great lesson and it uses Po's past to set this up. If you remember the end of the second movie, we get the tease that Po's real father is still out there and is living in a thriving panda village. That clued us in early that they had an idea in mind for the third movie long before it actually was released. Five years later, that's the exact premise he goes with. Po's biological father shows up and Po goes to this panda village to learn a new lesson and prepare to stop our new villain, one that is more powerful and dangerous than any other villain we've seen in this universe so far.

Speaking of that villain, let's start there because in my opinion that was the most intriguing part of this movie. Tai Lung and Lord Shen were our previous two villains and they were decent. Tai Lung looked super awesome as leopards are boss, but he was more of an afterthought if I'm being honest. The first movie was about Po becoming a kung fu master. He needed a villain to fight. But the movie wasn't about the villain. Lord Shen in the second movie was a lot more fleshed out and had a deep, personal connection to Po. Thus he's probably the best written villain in the series. But as a peacock he didn't quite look as ominous as Tai Lung. Kai is our villain in this third movie and as far as the look and the voice, he easily takes the cake as the best villain. He's a big, scary Yak from the spirit realm that has a connection to Grand Master Oogway, the wise tortoise who chose Po as the Dragon Warrior. Grand Master Oogway was also Master Shifu's master and in this universe was the founder of kung fu itself. We learn that Kai was the friend of Grand Master Oogway until he turned against Oogway and was banished to the spirit realm. Now he's back and he's out to essentially destroy everything that's good and he'd dang good and doing so. No one stands a chance to this guy.

In addition to the brilliant look of his character and the well-written backstory, what seals the deal for Kai is J.K. Simmons' fantastic voice acting because this character just sounds like a scary beast that you don't want to mess with. We learned in Whiplash that J.K. Simmons is excellent at being scary as he played the band teacher from Hell in that movie and that definitely carries over in this movie. Thus he is able to carry this movie on his back and make it a fantastic ride as he just terrorizes the whole country. Not even Master Shifu or the Furious Five is a match for this guy. Adding to his power is that once he defeats someone, he is able to turn them into jade zombies of themselves and use them to fight on his side, thus in addition to his own strength, he has an army of former heroes that are being forced against their will to fight for the wrong side. Thus the only person that is able to stop Kai and his army is our Dragon Warrior Po and his own army of pandas. But the catch here is that Po has to be able to teach them. That's his next step as a kung fu master. He's trained to become a kung fu master and he's learned to fight, but now he has to teach and that's what he has a really hard time doing.

Yes, this movie is quite the wild ride from start to finish. But specifically the finish. Even though this is a movie you can thoroughly enjoy even if you know the whole movie, I won't spoil what happens in the second half of this movie. You can probably see the ending coming from a mile away, but that's okay in this instance. It's not the type of movie where crazy twists and turns are needed. Needless to say that the ending is an absolute blast and probably the best finale out of all three Kung Fu Panda movies. If I'm being nit-picky, it's the first half of the movie that does struggle a bit. The first two movies flowed very well. They had the perfect balance of humor and emotion while providing a lot of fun action with a great story. This movie has all those elements, but it's a lot less engaging to start out. It still has a lot of great humor that made me laugh pretty good, but a lot of it did feel a bit forced. It felt like they were trying really hard to capture the magic of the first two movies. While they didn't necessarily fail, there were times where I could tell they were trying too hard. Certain things were a little too silly. The writing wasn't always clean and crisp. The flow wasn't perfect. But it was fine. I was still enjoying myself even if the magic wasn't fully there.

But there definitely was a moment where all of that changed. I'm not going to dive into the story or tell you where that happens, but if you're watching you should know exactly what moment I'm talking about. After a bit of a rocky start, even though I was enjoying myself, I realized this had the potential to tank a bit and simply be an average animated movie, but it went the opposite direction and hit a grand slam with its ending. As such, there is another message that this movie teaches. It doesn't stand out quite as much as the first movie. While watching that first movie, I was wondering how they were going to pull off the transformation from bumbling panda to kung fu master for Po. When his goose father gave him the speech towards the end about the secret ingredient, that was a moment that blew my mind. It's a moment that I still remember to this day and it's a lesson that has honestly helped me personally throughout my life. The second movie had good moments that taught good lessons, but nothing like the first movie. Same thing for this movie. There were several moments where I thought to myself that they were teaching a great lesson that people should remember. But I didn't have an experience like I did with the first movie. But that's okay. There were still good messages taught and a lot of fun to be had.

In the end, I had a ton of fun Kung Fu Panda 3. No, the magic of the movie wasn't quite there during the first half of the movie as there were times it felt like they were trying too hard to repeat what they accomplished in the first two movies, but I was still having fun with the movie. That magic was recaptured in the second half of the movie and thus as a whole I think this is another great addition to the excellent Kung Fu Panda series. I think it's harsh to call this the worst movie of the franchise. Third best is probably the most accurate terminology because all three of these movies are great! In my opinion, this third one does have the best villain of the three as well as the best final battle of the three. The ending doesn't necessarily gift-wrap the franchise up, if you know what I mean. This is the type of franchise where they could do a Kung Fu Panda 4 without making people angry. But with the way that Dreamworks is slowing things down and focusing on quality instead of quantity, it'll be at least five years before they have room on their schedule to make another one, so in my opinion they might as well call it good. If they do, they can now proudly say that they have made of the best animated trilogies ever. Well done Dreamworks. My grade for Kung Fu Panda 3 is an 8/10.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review

I'm catching up on some of the January releases I missed and what a better place to start than our annual January war drama? Two years ago we were graced with the presence of Lone Survivor which I thought was absolutely fantastic. Then we got American Sniper last year which most people went crazy over. I, on the other hand, didn't really care for it. It had its moments, but overall was a disappointment for me. When I first saw the trailer for 13 Hours, I started out very intrigued. Then they dropped this line halfway through: "directed by Michael Bay." My heart literally sank. Michael Bay is easily one of my least favorite directors in Hollywood. I no longer had any faith in the movie, especially since Michael Bay's previous two attempts at making a movie based on a true story were cinematic disasters. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain? Seriously? Despite all of that bad history, though, rumblings of "Michael Bay's best movie" started following this movie upon and suddenly I became intrigued again. Could he actually a give us a decent movie? The answer is yes. I don't want to give him too much credit as this isn't amazing. But it's a decent effort by him.

13 Hours touches on subject matter that I personally am not too familiar with. It's also super recent stuff. As in September of 2012. Just over three years ago. This blog existed when the events of this movie were taking place. Usually they wait 10 or 15 years at least before doing a major movie on current events. But not this time. And that seems to be the trend recently as stories I remember hearing about on the news not too long ago are getting movies. I don't really know what I think about that, but okay. This here is about the war over there in the Middle East that's still going on. I should keep up with that stuff more than I actually do. But oh well. Thus when I went in, I was ready for a bit of a history lesson. Tell me about Libya, Michael Bay! Because that's where we are. Benghazi, Lybia. On September 11, 2012, an American diplomatic compound was attacked, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. This led to quite the chaotic night for a group of soldiers. That's the night that this movie is about. 13 hours of chaos on the night before they are scheduled to go home to their families.

The movie is titled 13 Hours because that's how many hours these soldiers spent in chaos that night. However, I'm half tempted to instead believe that the movie is named after the amount of time it feels like you spend watching this movie because it is LONG. It's true that 144 minutes is not out of the ordinary for a movie like this. In fact, some are much longer, but this one lacks a certain focus that makes it feel super long. Think of some of Michael Bay's other movies. Like the Transformers movies. Half of the problem with those movies is that they could literally be an hour shorter, but Michael Bay is so obsessed with all of his explosions that he does nearly three hours of explosions because he just can't help himself. If the Transformers movies were only like 100 minutes or so, then they might actually be decent because that would require them to be a lot more focused and precise instead of just hours of mindless firework explosions. Don't get me wrong, 13 Hours is much better than the Transformers movies, but the same principles apply. The movie needed to be at least 20-30 minutes shorter because for much of the run time it's just a whole bunch of almost mindless war scenes. I didn't know what was going on. The story was kinda confusing. Just bombs, gunfire, explosions, soldiers running everywhere. Just unfocused war scenes.

I got the feeling that Michael Bay just couldn't help himself. It's as if he listened to all the criticism he's had over years and years of making horrible movies and decided to attempt to make a good movie this time around. And it mostly works. But he couldn't help himself. He had to include a lot of his typical Michael-Bay-isms. An overly long movie with too many action sequences. Unrealistic firework explosions. Soldiers running in slow motion. Attempted humor at the wrong time that kill the suspense. Weird camera angles, specifically camera angles where the camera is really low and angled upwards that give us the feeling that we are laying on the ground watching these super tall soldiers. And product placement. All of Michael Bay's movies have to have product placement. The Transformers movies are loaded with them. This one doesn't have nearly as much, but once again, Michael Bay couldn't help himself. I get the need for product placement, but it can be done well and it can be done poorly. This is the latter. Like there are scenes where the movie is super suspenseful, but then the suspense is completely ruined because suddenly you realize that you are in a Mercedes Benz commercial instead of a movie.

All of this was really frustrating to me because I knew there was a great movie hidden amidst all of these Michael-Bay-isms. I get that the man is trying to redeem himself, but ultimately I wish this movie was done by a different director. I think we would've had a great movie, because Michael Bay has to have his stamp on the movie. Yes, this is better than the Transformers movies. And yes, this is much, much better than his other two movies that are based on a true story. I mean, his first attempt at that he turned the events of Pearl Harbor into long, drawn-out love story with a few Pearl Harbor scenes thrown in. His second attempt, he turned a rather horrible and disturbing crime drama into a really offensive comedy. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. Bad movies. In fact, is 13 Hours Michael Bay's best movie? I guess. But best Michael Bay movie is like asking which pile of dog crap you'd rather step in. In this instance, the movie is like walking through the grass thinking you're going to step in a pile of dog crap, but then checking your shoe afterwards and realizing that you didn't. It's not an experience to write home about, but at least you didn't step in a pile of dog crap. 13 Hours wasn't a great movie. But at least I didn't feel like I was being punished with my sentence being me forced to watch Transformers: Age of Extinction all the way through.

But yes, as this being Michael Bay's best movie, or at least the best movie he's made this millennium, there are some things to praise about this. Namely the last act of this movie is really good. The first two-thirds of this movie I found boring, confusing, way too shaky (I almost got dizzy in a few scenes), and stuffed with enough Michael-Bay-isms to annoy me. But holy cow was the ending of the movie great. The suspense was at an all-time high. These men are just trapped on the tops of these buildings trying to fend off the attacks and simply hoping that they make it through the night. When the attacks come, you are on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, hoping that they make it. When the downtime arrives, it's even more suspenseful because you are thinking that at any given second another attack could happen. And of course it's at these moments where you get your strong feelings of patriotism where you are super grateful for these men for putting their lives on the line as they defend our country. Even if the battle they are fighting is useless. You're still grateful. And by that I mean this is where the slight political agenda comes in. It's not a bad thing. They are just trying to be honest in stating that the United States came in with intentions of establishing democracy, but it blew up in our faces, leaving everything in complete chaos, making you wonder if we should've stayed out of it in the first place.

I also can't leave this review without mentioning the acting. Everyone does a phenomenal job. Yet the standout performer is definitely John Krasinski. He's a genuinely likable guy and a fantastic comedian, known best for his role as Jim in The Office. He has had several supporting roles in various movies throughout his career that I have enjoyed, but I've honestly never seen him like this. I always love it when a comedic actor can take a dramatic role and knock it out of the park. That's definitely what happens here and thus I can honestly say that this is John Krasinski's best performance of his career. If Bradley Cooper can get an Oscar nomination for his role in American Sniper, John Krasinski deserves one for this movie. The problem here is that this is a January release. By the time next year's Oscar nominations come around, the old geezers in the Academy will have forgotten this movie exists. Yes, American Sniper came out around the same time, but it was officially released in four theaters at the end of December 2014, making it eligible for last year's Oscars. 13 Hours didn't do that, so it'll be forgotten in a year from now. Plus, the Academy has a man-crush on Bradley Cooper right now. He gets nominated for everything. I'm surprised they didn't include him this year. The point of all this is that John Krasinski gives an Oscar-worthy performance, which definitely helps carry the movie.

Overall this is not a bad movie. It's curious that they decided to do this so soon. I'm wondering what the soldiers involved in the actual events think of this movie as it has to be fresh on their minds still. In the hands of another director who is used to doing war dramas, this would've been great. As is, Michael Bay got his hands on this, and although he did a worthy job, he just couldn't help himself. He had to put his annoying stamps on the movie, which makes this a very average-at-best movie for the first two acts. I was bored, confused, and annoyed for most of the movie. It wasn't horrible, but I saw the potential the movie had and was sad that it was being ruined by a bad director. But then the third and final act came around and I was totally glued in and on the edge of my seat. I almost completely forgot about my complaints from the first two acts and I almost completely forgot that this was a Michael Bay movie. It was super intense, super suspenseful, and super emotional. Had the whole movie gone down like the ending went down, this would've been one of the best war dramas I've seen, especially since John Krasinski gives the best performance of his career in an Oscar-worthy performance. But as is, I have to give a grade to the movie as a whole and that comes in as a slightly above average movie. My grade for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a 7.5/10.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Boy Review

This past week I finished up my year in review for 2015 as I gave you my best and worst movies of this past year. However, incoming movies never stop coming and so now it's time to give you my first review of a 2016 movie! Yes, I did review The Hateful Eight and The Revenant this year already, but those were 2015 releases that expanded this month. There were also some other new releases in the last two weeks that I didn't get to because I chose to spend my time catching up on a few more 2015 movies before making my final best and worst lists. In typical January fashion, none of them really looked that good and poor reviews for nearly every one of them made me believe I wasn't missing much. However, I do plan on catching up with a few them anyways so I can let you know if they're worth your time. But first I needed to see The Boy. Why was a creepy doll horror movie the new January release I was actually anticipating? The answer is that this comes from STX Entertainment, the new production company that brought us The Gift, one of my favorite movies from last year. That's a good reason to check this out, right? Turns out this isn't that bad. In fact, I thought it was pretty good.

I will admit that this is a tricky movie to review as literally the whole movie hinges on whether or not the last third of the movie is any good. As such, a good portion of my thoughts pertaining to this movie have to do with the ending. But ain't no way am I divulging any of those thoughts because that will ruin the experience for you. The whole premise of the movie is centered on the mystery of this doll. Our main character is a girl who has just got out of a pretty bad experience with a previous relationship and she is simply looking to escape the world, so she accepts a job as a nanny out in the country. The house she goes to for this job is a huge, old house in the middle of nowhere with all the windows boarded up. Her job is to watch after an older couple's 8-year-old son while they are gone on some sort of vacation or something like that. Turns out their son is a doll, which confuses her, especially when both of the parents treat the doll as an actual boy with strict rules that need to be followed. The doll is not alive. It's not possessed or talking. It's just a doll. So when the parents leave, she doesn't really take this seriously at all. She leaves the doll on the chair or on the bed and goes about her normal business. She has broken the rules.

I'm going to stop you right there. When you hear that premise, I know what you are thinking. The doll really is alive and it's possessed with some sort of demon and it comes alive to chase this girl and kill her for not obeying the riles. No. That's not what this movie is. This isn't a supernatural horror film. This isn't a monster film. Instantly there's a ton of movies that come to your mind, like Child's Play for example, that do follow this premise. Quite frankly I'm not a huge fan of slasher horror films like that, especially not our modern take on the genre. Too many horror films these days rely way too much on jump scares, monsters/demons, and blood and gore in order to be entertaining. Acting and story often get thrown out the window. If that's what you like in your horror movies, don't go see The Boy. It's not your movie. The doll doesn't start killing people. The movie isn't that gory. There were hardly any jump scares and those that were there didn't make me jump very much. In fact, I wasn't even really that scared. If you're in the mood to go get scared and/or you want to see something violent and gruesome, skip this one. I'm serious. You're going to walk out hating the movie.

Does saying this spoil the movie? Not in my opinion. My point here is that I want you to know what you are getting into with this. Perhaps if you look at it the right way, you might actually enjoy the movie. No there aren't a ton of jump scares or blood and gore. Yes, there is a lot of suspense and a lot of that is done in more of a natural way. We are thrown right into a very complex story that we don't know much about. As the movie slowly starts to reveal itself, we start getting an idea of what's actually going on. But it's not given all at once. The mystery shrouding the whole situation is what keeps you intrigued and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. What's the deal with this family? What have they gone through? Why are they doing the things that they do? The first thing I actually noticed was the set of the film and the lighting. This sets the tone for the movie. Instead of jump scares, we get great camera work combined with a beautiful, creepy score. We also have great acting by everyone and very believable characters. The way the older couple cares for this doll as if it's their actual son is great and believable. How our main girl reacts to this while the parents are there and what she does right when they leave is also great. The whole thing felt real and genuine. I felt like they were actually trying to make a film instead of using horror cliches to grab a few extra bucks and I appreciated that.

In summing this point up, this felt more like a thriller to me than a horror and I think that if you look at this as more of a thriller, then you might appreciate the movie more. In fact, a very comparable movie was M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit from last year. That was another movie that was a horror/thriller. It wasn't scary or gory, but it was suspenseful and it was actually really good. Much of the same qualities that made The Visit a good movie make this one a good movie. Even if we were to ignore the ending of The Boy, the way that they crafted the film and the way that they chose to build up the suspense were very admirable in my opinion. When it comes to thrillers, I'm once again going to refer to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. None of his movies were super scary, but they were very suspenseful and the way he built that suspense was beautiful. I want more people in our day to look at the model Hitchcock set up and use that for their films. When I see it happen, I make sure that I give credit where credit is do. Last year STX delivered The Gift which I felt was a modern Hitchcock thriller, which is why I loved it so much. I went into this movie hoping that The Boy would follow the same format and I honestly feel comfortable in saying that it did. The movie was set up like a good thriller should be set up and I loved that about this movie.

But as I said towards the beginning of this review, this movie hinges on the last act of the movie. Last year there were several movies where I spent a long time explaining what it is exactly that makes a good thriller and I came up with three main points that good thrillers always have. The first is a realistic premise. The second is a good villain. The third is a good twist. That third one is a very key. Good thrillers have good twists. If you have a realistic premise and a good villain, but your twist isn't that good, the movie fails because the whole movie you are leading up to that twist. That reveal is the whole point of the movie. The reveal in The Gift was amazing. The reveal in The Visit was pretty good. The reveal in this one? Ummm... this is where I do a lot of dancing around the answer. I want to dive into my thriller formula with this movie. In my mind I have. But the problem is that I can't even talk about any of them. Do we know if this is a realistic movie? No, we don't. I spent the whole movie wondering where they were going to take this. Is the villain a compelling villain? Who even is the villain of the movie? Is it the doll? Is it the parents? Is it someone else? And how deep and relatable are they as a villain? I have answers to these, but I can't dive into specifics. Was the twist a good twist? I don't want to tell you.

So yes, as I stated earlier, this was a hard review to write. Overall I suppose a good way to sum up my thoughts is that I was satisfied. Perhaps this isn't the most original idea. I haven't actually seen a lot of creepy doll movies, but I really enjoyed the direction they took with this movie. This certainly isn't your typical slasher horror movie. This also isn't a situation where Sam and Dean Winchester needed to intervene, if you get that reference. I don't know what else to say without spoiling things, so I'm going to leave it at that. But once again I want to repeat that you should know what you are getting into with this movie. If you want a gory, jump-scare filled monster movie that so many horrors are like nowadays, this is not your movie. If you want to see a movie that scares your pants off, this is not your movie. I see this as more of a thriller where the suspense is built up in a slower, more natural way that I personally appreciate a lot more. Is this on par with The Gift? No, it's not. I have a few things to nit-pick that I can't tell you about, but I do think this is a good movie. I also think it's very comparable to The Visit. If you liked that movie, then I think you should give The Boy a shot. My grade for it is an 8/10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

DrogeMiester's Top 10 WORST Movies of 2015

A few days ago I gave you my list of my top 10 favorite movies of 2015. If you missed that list, I have it linked right there for you to catch up on. Now it's time to do the opposite and give you my least favorite movies of 2015. As a reminder, this is my list. If you liked some of these movies, that's great. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. I didn't want to hate these movies. I always go into a movie hoping to like it, but sometimes that's just not what happens. In the case of these movies, my experience was a disaster. It's also worth noting that, once again, I did not see every movie this year. In fact, when it comes to bad movies there are some that I just had no desire to see. As an example of this, I'll let the cat out of the bag right away. I had no desire to give Fifty Shades of Grey one penny of my money. Does the movie promote rape and sexual abuse? No. Does it look like a really cheap porn flick with horrible characters, acting, dialogue, and story? Yes. So I didn't see it. It's not the only bad movie I skipped. But there were enough atrocities for me to feel comfortable doing this list. So here they are!

10- Taken 3

I'm one of the few people who thought that the fist Taken movie was really dumb. I love Liam Neeson and he's done a lot of great action movies recently, but there's just no intelligence behind this Taken trilogy at all. And they got worse as they went. In this disgraceful third chapter they decided to go the Fugitive route where Liam Neeson was accused of killing his wife and the FBI went on a man hunt to try to find him. And none of it made any sense at all. There was no reason to believe that he actually killed his wife and there was certainly no reason for the FBI to jump to so many conclusions and assume that Liam Neeson was their one and only suspect. Yet that's what happened for most of the movie. I don't blame the actors for this. Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker tried their best. But there was just nothing to work with as the writing and directing was just so bad. This was just a cash grab. Nothing more. And no one seemed to care about actually making a quality movie. There wasn't even hardly any action sequences that made some people actually like the other Taken movies. They said this was the last one. Let's hope they're true to their word.

9- The Divergent Series: Insurgent

After The Hunger Games was such a big hit, there was some pretty big buzz following Divergent. People told me that the books were good. People said that the story was refreshing and original. Then people said the movie was fantastic! Well I must've been shown a different movie in theaters because the Divergent movie I saw was so dull and boring with no originality whatsoever. It's like the author read The Hungers Games and decided to change the names as well as adding a bunch of things from other successful novels/movies in this genre and make a bunch of money. I guess that worked. Money was made both with the books and the movies, but I personally thought it was a joke. However, it was good enough to barely miss this list last year. I also honestly held the hope that Insurgent would improve on the dull first novel, but holy cow it just got a whole lot worse. I rolled my eyes at Divergent. But Insurgent was actually hard to get through. I love Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller as actors. I think they are all talented. But nothing worked for me here. And poor Miles Teller shows up twice on this list, neither of which is his fault. Now are y'all ready for the movie based on first half of the final book this year? I'm not.

8- Pixels

I spent a lot of time defending Adam Sandler and Kevin James leading up to the release of this movie. Both of them have made plenty of good movies in the past, so to me it was silly to hate on a movie solely based on the fact that the two of them were in it. The premise of this movie was genius. Video game characters attacking the Earth? That should've been a lot of fun. And Chris Columbus on as director? That's the guy who gave us Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potter movies. He knows how to make a good movie. Or so I thought. Apparently he forgot because this was horrible. Turns out all the Adam Sandler haters were spot on this time around. This was supposed to be funny. I think I was supposed to laugh. I didn't. Video game characters attacking Earth was supposed to be fun. It wasn't. It was all just stupid. No one was invested in this movie. All of the actors were just there to get a paycheck. The writers apparently didn't even try to make it funny or fun. Instead it was mostly just racist, sexist, and outright stupid. Kevin James as president of the United States was horrible. Adam Sandler and the romance storyline was painful. The fact that him and his buddies were the only ones capable of shooting a freaking gun at these video game characters was a joke. The only reason why this isn't higher up is because the Pacman sequence was kinda fun. But that's literally it.

7- Pan

Every 10 years or so Hollywood decides that it's time to remake Peter Pan again. I don't know why this is the case, but if we have to do this I can at least respect the idea of doing something different. I kinda liked the idea of doing a prequel where we explain how Peter Pan got to Neverland. The idea of Hook being a protagonist to start things off was interesting. We can tell the story of how they became enemies. Add a fantastic cast and a great director and things were looking great! Until the trailers started being released. Uh-oh. I suddenly got really nervous. The trailers were terrible. And turns out that uh-oh was right. We have the dumbest, most cliche orphanage scene to start things off. I just wanted to get to Neverland. But then the journey to Neverland felt like an acid trip and when we got to Neverland they were singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Might I remind you that this was set in World War II. That song didn't exist!!! But dumb things like that set the tone for the rest of this movie to the point where if you are a fan of Peter Pan, this movie will be offensive to you because nothing is right. It's all horrible and hard to watch. It baffles me how people like Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara can read scripts like this and decide that it's a good idea to accept the job. 

6- Terminator: Genisys

Well here's a franchise that should've ended 20 years ago. If you haven't seen the first two Terminator movies, go watch them. They are two of the best action/sci-fi movies ever made. But then the rights went to someone else and then those someone elses decided to continue a franchise that was wrapped up in the most perfect way. In doing so, there were so many continuity errors that it was apparent that for some reason the new people in charge did not care for those first two classics at all. That third Terminator movie was a disaster. The fourth one had nothing to do with anything. And yet we still got a fifth one. And we might even get a sixth one. Stop it! Just stop it! Now to be fair, the initial premise of this movie is interesting. They go back to the events of the first movie and had they stayed there, this could've be a fun movie. But then they jumped into the future and the whole thing became a confusing mess. Time travel is a fun subject that I enjoy. But if you get too carried away, it easily can become a mess, thus you have to tread carefully. The first two were perfect in regards to this. But now the whole franchise is just messed up and now this this franchise has become the textbook example of what NOT to do with time travel in a movie. Personally I choose to pretend that Terminators 3-5 don't exist and I cross my fingers that they will one day just stop.

5- Jupiter Ascending

Hollywood needs more original sci-fi movies. I'm a big proponent of that. We're so carried away in sequels, remakes, and adaptations that we often don't even give original ideas our time and money. Thus Hollywood doesn't make many of them anymore. This is sad. That's why the story behind Jupiter Ascending is heart-breaking. The Wachowski siblings finally gave us another original, big-budgeted sci-fi movie. If this had succeeded, perhaps more original ideas would've followed. BUT IT WAS A DISASTER!!! The opening sequence is really awkward. The setup is stupid. Then the bulk of the movie is a huge, convoluted mess that is the hardest movie to follow. It was as if this was a fourth or fifth movie in a franchise that I was just jumping right into. There's this universe that's setup and we're just expected to know everything about it with little explanation. Not to mention that we have some characters that are half wolf, half human and other characters that are half bee, half human. We also have the weakest lead female who needs to be rescued over and over and over because she is completely helpless. And yet the movie is named after her. To top that all off, Eddie Redmayne followed up his Oscar-winning performance with the absolute worst performance by an actor all year. It made me want to punch the guy in the face and take his Oscar away.

4- Strange Magic

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Yes, I'm talking about George Lucas. In the same year that Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the highest grossing movie ever in the United States, One of Lucas' own passion projects also debuted in theaters. It was called Strange Magic and it was a mess. In fact it was such a mess that it made almost nothing at the box office in the middle of January, meaning you probably never heard of it. No Lucas didn't direct or produce this movie, but it was his story that he had wanted to have made and it was the story of the movie that made absolutely no sense. His defense was that Star Wars was initially intended as a movie for 12-year-old boys and now he wanted to do this little project as a movie intended for 12-year-old girls. Ha. Ha. Ha. I suppose that those intentions are respectable, but I doubt that any 12-year-old girl would even enjoy this movie. I have a hard time even seeing a 6-year-old girl enjoying this movie. Not only is the whole plot a copy of a copy of a copy, but it is so messy and convoluted that it feels like they tried to stuff a whole trilogy worth of plot into 99 minutes. On top of that, it's one of the worst musicals ever. Every single scene they break out into song at all the wrong moments, most of that being current pop music. And yes, if you didn't know, this is an animated movie. One of the worst animated movies I've seen.

3- The Green Inferno

For some reason I felt the need to experience an Eli Roth movie this year. That was a mistake. Have you ever had the desire to watch a human being slowly have all their limbs and other body parts get chopped off and eaten while they are alive followed by watching their head getting cut off and having their whole body served for dinner to this group of cannibals in the wilderness? I didn't think so. This movie is labeled as a horror movie. I wasn't scared. I was disgusted and disturbed. I don't know why a movie like this is passed off as entertainment. Now you can have a violent movie that's done well. Quentin Tarantino has done eight of those. You can also have a horror movie with cannibalistic themes that is actually terrifying. This is neither of those. It's just watching a group of students getting eaten by scavengers in the wilderness and it's disgusting. I don't know why I even watched the whole movie. I guess I just wanted to see how they escaped, but that just made things worse because of the end of the movie is stupid. What the survivors did and said is not what anyone would do or so if they almost just got served for dinner. They would also be a lot more broken mentally. If you are a "gore-hound" and just need to see a gory, violent movie, then I guess this is your thing. But if you want to actually watch a good horror, this is not the movie to see.

2- Jem and the Holograms

I have an idea. Let's take a popular 80's cartoon, completely throw it in the blender, and release it as a live-action film. It worked for Transformers and G.I. Joe. Why not Jem and the Holograms? Even if I were to ignore the fact that this has absolutely nothing to do with the original cartoon (which I'm not going to do -- that's part of the problem), this is still a really dumb movie. A girl records herself singing a random song in her room, her sister secretly uploads it to YouTube, and when she wakes up the next day it has millions of views and suddenly she is as popular as OneDirection. I'm serious. There are so many things wrong with that premise. The biggest problem being that this is aimed at teenage girls and thus is teaching that practice and hard-work aren't necessary to achieve success. This movie is insulting to everyone who actually has worked hard at achieving success on YouTube or as a musician in general. Not to mention that the ensuing attempt at a musical drama is the most pathetic attempt I have seen. Such terrible writing in this. But yes, let's bring back the fact that this is based on the 80's cartoon. They made a horrible movie that has nothing to do with the cartoon and slapped that title on in order to try to make money. Because of that, they've ruined any and all hope for fans of the cartoon to get a properly done movie because no one is going to want to touch this property. That hurts. The only positive thing with this is that the makers of this movie received justice. The movie only made $2.1 million and was pulled from theaters after just two weeks. They didn't even make back their $5 million budget.

1- Fantastic Four

With Fifty Shades of Grey out of the running for my worst movie, this choice was obvious. The production issues for Fant4stic were very well publicized. This doesn't always kill a movie, but in this instance I was left dumbfounded as I sat through the credits. I have never watched a movie where it was so obvious that everyone involved in a project gave up. I'm serious. They. Gave. Up. The first hour of this movie is all setup. It's long and boring, but I can see where the director was coming from. He wanted a more character-oriented movie. But I was so bored that I looked up how long the movie was just to see how much time I had left because it felt like there was another hour or so at least. There was 20 minutes left. I was shocked. Then I witnessed as the second act of the movie was like 10 minutes long and the finale was also only 10 minutes long. They gave up. After not being able to agree on anything, they just slapped an ending on and threw something in theaters. They were more concerned about retaining their rights to the property than giving us a good film. That's despicable. At least with the other movies on this list, it's obvious that an attempt at making a good movie was made and a final product was put in theaters. But because they didn't try with this one, it earns my award for worst movie of 2015. I really hope the talented young cast can recover from this disaster.

Friday, January 15, 2016

DrogeMiester's Top 10 BEST Movies of 2015

We've finished another year in movies and so it's finally time to reveal my top 10 personal favorite movies of the year. A few things to note before we start. First, this is a list of my personal favorite movies. The movies I enjoyed most or the movies that I had a personal connection with. I've been told in lists like this that I'm wrong and that makes no sense. No, I'm not wrong. This is my list. It's biased towards what I liked. Second, I have not seen every movie this year. That's an impossible feat because there are so many that come out each year. But that's okay. It means that there's always more movies to discover from every year and I think it's good to always keep searching those movies out instead of only focusing on the new ones. In the future I probably will find several movies that should've been on this list. No problem with that, right? Finally, while I do enjoy assigning grades to movies, when creating this list I always ignore the grades that I gave. Thus you might find things in an odd order if you pay super close attention to the numbers I give out. Don't let that throw you off. A number is just a number. This is all about comparing the movies to each other, which is something I don't do when giving out an individual grade. So without further ado, let's begin!

10- Shaun the Sheep Movie

Inside Out was deep. The Peanuts Movie was full of nostalgia. Both movies had me laughing hysterically the whole time and both movies almost made me cry. Yet if you know me well enough, you shouldn't be too surprised that my favorite animated movie of the year is in fact Shaun the Sheep Movie. I absolutely love the stop-motion animation genre. These movies deserve to make as much money as the Pixar movies do because of the insane amounts of time and talent that it takes to make just one scene. To make a whole movie? Holy. Fetching. Cow. Yet few people give them the time of day and that's a shame. Concerning Shaun the Sheep Movie, by all accounts this shouldn't have worked. A feature-length movie based on those short little Shaun the Sheep episodes that don't even have actual dialogue? The fact that this does work is mind-blowing. Major creative juices were flowing here because I laughed harder and was more emotional in this movie than the other two animated movies I mentioned. And there was no dialogue. Yet this movie made less than $20 million in the states. Ouch. If you skipped this one, repent now and go rent it. The guys making these movies deserve your money.

9- The Revenant

I waited until this movie expanded to my area to make this list because I had a feeling that this would end up here. And I was right! Alejandro González Iñárritu blew my mind with Birdman last year and he did it again this year. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio does get mauled by a bear, making this an intense and brutal survival story, but it's not just a survival story. The themes of love, revenge, family, and racism are so strong and beautiful. No one makes the best decisions, yet you can't fault anyone too much for the decisions they make. Not even our antagonist Tom Hardy. Best of all, the cinematography in this movie is some of the best cinematography that I have ever seen. What they accomplished in this movie with 100 percent, pure natural light is absolutely mind-boggling. This just won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Was that deserving? Eh. I don't know. I'd pick a few others before it, but if this does win Best Picture at the Oscars, I'm not going to be complaining. And speaking of which, give Leo his Oscar already! He should be winning his second or third at this point. Not his first.

8- The Martian

Big budget space movies have been quite the trend recently and I'm not even talking about Star Wars. I'm talking about Gravity, Interstellar, and now The Martian. In terms of the overall cinematic experience, I still think Gravity is the best of the three. However, in terms of story and theme, The Martian easily wins. And please, can we cut it with the "it's not scientifically accurate" argument? None of these three are perfect in those terms, It's like the argument after every single biopic that "that's not how it happened in real life!" You're missing the point. Gravity took me to space and made me feel that I was never making it back to Earth with it's amazing use of 3D. Interstellar was emotional and tragic until the ending got weird and confusing. The Martian taught some amazing life lessons that can be applicable to everyone in any situation. No we're not all going to be stuck on Mars, but all of us are going to be facing our own challenges that seem impossible to overcome. We can either give up and whine and complain our way through life or we can take it one step at a time. You can either focus on trying to get from Mars to Earth (figuratively speaking) or you can focus on figuring out how to get food for the next day. And you can have a sense of humor. Laughter can literally make you live longer. That's not just an expression. That's fact. Medically proven. What a great thing to remember! Thank you Matt Damon and Ridley Scott!

7- Creed

Here we have a seventh movie in a beloved franchise that began in the late 70's. The franchise has had its ups and downs, but in 2015 a new director and team comes on board to essentially reboot the franchise. It's not an actual reboot, but a new beginning with new characters to focus on and follow. To successfully do this, we bring in the old characters we all knew and love as our supporting cast and essentially make the same movie as the original movie just with new characters in those old roles. And it worked! IT WORKED!! Does it matter that Creed and Rocky are like the same exact movie? No! IT DOESN'T! Because every one of these movies in this franchise follows a specific formula and if you try to drastically alter that tried and true formula, you're going to fall flat on your face and no one is going to like your movie. But yet, despite following this formula, Creed still has several things that separate itself. Our main character played by Michael B. Jordan is trying to figure out where he belongs in this world and watching his character progress throughout the movie is beautiful. Helping him out is Rocky himself, whose character in this is a whole lot deeper. Sylvester Stallone gives the performance of his career. This is a beautiful character piece that is topped off with some fantastic fighting sequences that gave me all the feels.

6- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

A lot of people are talking about Brooklyn right now and for good reason. It's a pretty good movie that is now officially a best picture nominee. But when it comes to movies from Sundance in 2015, I happened to think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a better movie. You can look at the title and think that you've already seen the movie. You can read the premise and think it's just The Fault in Our Stars 2.0. You'd be wrong on both accounts. This isn't a romance movie. This isn't another typical teenager in high school movie like The DUFF or Easy A. Even though I liked all three of those movies I just mentioned, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a whole lot more. This is the most honest and real movie that I've seen about what it's like for a teenager going through high school while trying to deal with the failing health of a friend that you care about. This was such a raw, emotional movie. I related a lot with our main kid. I thought his friend Earl was the perfect friend. Best of all, I absolutely loved Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel as our dying girl. While I'm happy for Saoirse Ronan for her newest Oscar nomination, Olivia Cooke should've been the one to get that. Why was she not in the conversation? Oh yeah. Because her movie came out in the Summer instead of at the end of the year. Stupid Academy probably forgot this movie existed.

5- The Gift

I watched a lot of Hitchcock movies this year. The man is the master of making a good thriller, which is what my favorite genre of movie is. In watching so many Hitchcock thrillers, I realized that they all follow a formula (once again, following a formula is NOT a bad thing). Three main elements of that formula are as follows: a compelling villain, a satisfying conclusion (usually a good twist), and a realistic and/or relevant story. I won't dive deep into all of those elements, but if you think of the best Hitchcock thrillers (like Psycho and Vertigo), they all nail those three elements. In fact, Hitchcock or no Hitchcock, all the best thrillers follow that formula. And yes, you guessed it. So does The Gift. In fact, I feel that The Gift is a modern Hitchcock thriller. The villain, played by director, writer, and star Joel Edgerton, is deep and complex. You can relate to him and understand why he's doing what he is doing. The movie has several twists and turns that keep you on the edge or your feet as well as a jaw-dropping conclusion. And yes, the themes of bullying in the movie are very relevant in today's society. On top of all that, all the actors, especially Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton are amazing and the movie is very well crafted in all aspects. What a directorial debut for Joel Edgerton!

4- Ex Machina

Speaking of thrillers, how about the genius sci-fi thriller Ex Machina? A movie that, once again, FOLLOWS A FORMULA! Think about it. What happens in just about every movie that attempts to touch the subject of artificial intelligence? And what happens in Ex Machina? Exactly. I'm not going to spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie, but I am glad I will have a large following for this one because a lot of people have loved Ex Machina. It's shown up in just about every top 10 list that I've seen and I've been on the band wagon from the second I stepped out of the theater back in April. This movie is amazing! It's also one of four movies that I seriously considered putting number one. The fact that I have it at four almost feels like an insult, but instead is more of a compliment to how strong this movie is. The suspense in this movie is insane. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time because I had no idea what was going to happen. The moment I figured it out, I was shocked and stunned. The more I've thought about the events in this movie, the better the movie gets. And how about our trio of phenomenal actors who all gave Oscar-worthy performances? Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vickander are amazing in this movie. I'm now glad that all three have achieved mainstream success. Isaac and Gleeson are in Star Wars (Poe Dameron and General Hux) and Vickander got herself an Oscar nomination. It sadly wasn't for this movie, but at least she got one.

3- Spotlight

Another movie that I'm embarrassed that I have so low. If Spotlight is your favorite movie of the year, then I'm right there with you. I just have four favorite movies. This is literally 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d. Spotlight is just 1c and you'll realize why once you look at the other two ahead of it. Perhaps there is a bit of bias on my part with this movie because my major is journalism and this is a journalism movie. But remember? I can do what I want with my list. Last year I included Kill the Messenger in my top 10, another journalism movie. That one I felt like I was all alone on in defending it. This one I have people on my side. I don't know what the difference is between the two, but whatever. They're both great in my eyes. Kill the Messenger shows that sometimes the journalist is the victim when he or she tries to break an important story. Spotlight shows what can happen when the world decides to listen to a journalist when he or she (or a group of he and she's in this instance) breaks an important story. A journalist can literally change the world and save lives. Apparently there have been thousands, if not millions of children around the world in the last 30-40 years at least that have been victims of sexual molestation in the hands of Catholic Priests. This is the story of the group of journalists that uncovered that scandal. I knew this was a problem, but I didn't know how big of a problem it was until I watched this movie. I'm calling this the most eye-opening and most important movie of the year. Which is why I wanted to put it at the top.

2- Mad Max: Fury Road

Oh what a day! What a lovely day! I loved Mad Max: Fury Road from the second the movie started. I didn't think the rest of the world would love it, too, but I'm kinda glad they did! I mean, 10 Oscar nominations? Are we for real? That almost never happens for a movie like this! But yet, few action movies made are as perfect as Mad Max: Fury Road. Every sequence. Every shot. Every cut. Every scene. It's all perfect. And to think that it was all done with very limited CGI. It was all done by practical effects. The vehicles in this were real. The explosions actually happened. Real stuntmen performed all of the crazy stunts you see that most directors would choose to do all by computer. All of this is edited together so perfectly that the flow is just right. The cinematography is amazing. The visual effects are fantastic. The costumes are great. The makeup and hairstyles are brilliant. The actors are fantastic. The story is perfectly simple, yet the characters are deep and complex. Few action movies in the history of action movies are constructed and executed better. In fact, in celebration of it's huge day with all the Oscar nominations, I re-watched this movie because I now own it. I watch this movie all the time. It makes me happy when I am sad. It entertains me when I am bored. I wanted to put this number one. In fact, I almost just did. But there's another movie that deserves that honor and you know what it is by now.

1- Star Wars: The Force Awakens

That's right. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is my favorite movie of 2015. It's been a long time since a movie that I've been this excited for this rewarding. I promise I'm not just fanboying over Star Wars. I reviewed all six previous Star Wars movies and thus provided an in-depth analysis of why I like Star Wars so much and what I expected from this new movie. And it did exactly what I wanted it to do! Yes, it follows the same formula that A New Hope followed, but as I've been shoving in your face in this post, that's not a bad thing! I'm not going to dive into this any more than I already have, but I will suggest you watch this analyzed review by Chris Stuckmann that I just linked right there. There's so much to praise! The movie is a character piece that dives specifically into both Rey and Kylo Ren. It's their movie. Rey is such a great protagonist. I love everything about her and everything she does. And Kylo Ren is such a deep, troubled villain. I love how broken and conflicted he is. It makes him a better villain. I'm excited to see where the rest of the trilogy takes these two. It was great to see Han, Leia, Chewie, and the gang again, but what's more impressive is how I cared more about our new characters. Not just Rey and Kylo, but also Fin, Poe, BB8 and others.  I love the return to practical effects. I love the sets. I love the visuals. I love the cinematography. I love the John Williams score. I love the action sequences. I just absolutely love this movie! J.J. Abrams and company have successfully made the third best Star Wars movie!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Revenant Review

It's been a good weekend for The Revenant. After a great run in limited release, it overperformed in it's expansion as it took in $39.8 million, almost besting Star Wars: The Force Awakens' fourth weekend take of $42.4 million. It topped off the weekend by winning three Golden Globes: Best Picture - Drama, Best Actor - Drama, and Best Director. That Best Picture win was especially surprising and impressive. Does that mean director Alejandro Gonazález Iñárritu will make it two years in a row with a Best Picture win at the Oscars or is that Golden Globe win a fluke? We'll find that out on February 28th. As for now, it's time to tell you my personal opinion of the movie. This is actually the final movie from 2015 that I felt needed to see before revealing my top 10 favorite movies of the year. The big reason I wanted to wait for this one is not just because of the good reviews, but Iñárritu's movie from last year, Birdman, was my second favorite movie of 2014. I've been excited for this one since I heard of its existence.

The Revenant is the true story of a group of fur trappers in the early 1800's. There's a ton of fascinating themes and stories that take place throughout the movie, the biggest of which is a survival movie centered on Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm not going to spoil the setup of this movie because I think not knowing that setup will make for a more emotional journey, but I will say that does involve a bear. That part is no secret as I've known about it for about a year now and it's been in just about every trailer and TV spot. Leo gets attacked by a bear. And he doesn't just get attacked by that bear. He gets mauled by that bear. It's a rather terrifying sequence that leads to his group leaving him for dead. Thus we get a man vs. nature survival story that's rather brutal. However, this isn't your typical survival movie where it's just one man trying to survive for most of the movie with a few side characters showing up for a scene or two at the beginning and end. We spend quite a bit of time on several of the side characters, which makes for a very well-rounded, deep movie. But like I said, I'm going to leave most of that a surprise for you to discover on your own.

The best adjective that could be used to describe this movie is breathtaking. Last year Iñárritu did a fascinating thing with Birdman as he combined some really long shots with some magical editing to give the movie the appearance of being done in one shot. This year the fascinating thing he did with The Revenant is shoot the whole movie in natural light, meaning that the only light they used was the natural light of the sun or fires that were lit. Adding to that, most of the movie is shot at dusk or at night. If they didn't get the shot that they wanted, they would just go back and shoot the scene the next day and hope that they get it right. I'm sure this took a lot of patience and persistence, but the final result is some of the best cinematography I've ever seen. I mean, I have no problem with cinematographers creating their own beautiful scenes, but doing things this way and mostly at that time of day means they were able to capture the honest, real beauty of nature. As Iñárritu said in an interview with, "It's the time of the day when God speaks; you hear the wind in the trees, you feel the cold, you smell the fear."

I like being out in nature. I also like photography. And yes, I really love photography of nature. When I'm out in nature, I make sure to have my camera and I'm usually snapping tons of pictures so that I can get the perfect shot. By no means am I even close to being a professional photographer, which is why I also love looking at pictures and videos from actual professional photographers. This is a beautiful world we live and this movie did a great job of capturing that beauty. Even if the story in this movie was sub-par, I would've come out with a positive feel about the movie with how beautiful the landscapes they capture in this movie are. Yet at the same time, nature is also very brutal and unforgiving at times. Leo's character in this movie is in a very bad situation. We're in the middle of the winter and he's trying to survive on his own after being mauled by a bear. In addition to capturing the beauty of nature, the way in which they shot this movie also made it so they captured the terror of nature. The movie felt very cold. Much of the movie was pretty dim. Thus it felt like you were there with Leo trying to survive. This effected me mentally as I was watching and I actually felt cold, so I put on my coat. No joke with that. Major props to this movie for pulling off what they did.

The cinematography is so good that I said that I would've come out of this movie with a positive feeling even if the story wasn't that great. But that's the thing. The story is really good. The themes in this movie are really fantastic and I love how things turn out. Much of this is propelled by the fantastic acting throughout. Much has been said about Leo's acting performance in this movie and for good reason. Leo is one of the best actors in our age because he completely immerses himself into every one of his roles. Even though he is one of the most recognizable actors, when I watch any of his movies, I see a character and not an actor. For this movie, he wasn't Leo pretending to be stuck in the wilderness on his own. He was Hugh Glass and he was a badly injured man near death in the freezing cold winter. He didn't do a whole lot of talking for several reasons, but he didn't need to talk in order to pull off an amazing performance, which is what he does. In fact, in a very long list of fantastic performances, this performance stands out as one of Leo's best. There's a reason why many people are upset that Leo hasn't won an Oscar yet, especially after five nominations. I really hope this is his year.

Leo isn't the only person to give an amazing performance in this movie, though. There's quite a long list of great performances. I will briefly speak of three. The first is Tom Hardy. Speaking of Oscars, there's a man who's due for a nomination. I hope his name is called this week on nomination morning. Yes, Tom Hardy is pretty talented at portraying characters you can't understand at times and that's the case here again, but his villain in the movie is so fascinating. These are men who really are victims of their context and time. You can't agree with the choices he makes, but you can understand where he's coming from and why he does what he does. As I've stated many times in the last year, those are the best villains. Speaking of a character stuck in a moral dilemma, Will Poulter is a character who wants to make the right decisions and knows Tom Hardy is doing wrong, but is stuck in a terrible spot and is forced to follow Hardy. Finally there is Domnhall Gleeson, who I've loved for a long time. Finally I can use a different reference other than pointing to him being Bill Weasley from Harry Potter to get you to recognize him. It's General Hux from Star Wars! Once again Gleeson gives a very different performance and once again he does great at it.

If you are only a casual movie-goer who only heads out to the theater once or twice a month at most, I do think this is a movie that you should give a shot to. However, if you are a fan of film, specifically the film making process, then this is a must see. Not only is this a great movie with a great story and great themes, but this is a beautifully crafted film. The cinematography is breathtaking. The camera work is fantastic. The use of natural light adds so much to the theme and feel of the movie. The costume designs, makeup, and hairstyles are perfect. The direction of the film is amazing. This is definitely Iñárritu's movie and I love what he does with it. Leo gives his all in this role and is very deserving of an Oscar win. But he's not the only actor who deserves praise. Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domnhall Gleeson all add a very important depth to movie. All of them give what I call Oscar-worthy performances. If I were to pick only one to stand along Leo, I'd go with Hardy, but Gleeson and Poulter deserve to be noticed as well. There's a reason why I waited to see this movie before doing my best movies of 2015 list, because this will probably be on there. My grade for The Revenant is a 9.5/10.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Hateful Eight Review

Starting in November and going every week up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I watched and reviewed every single Star Wars movie. Shortly after the release of The Force Awakens, I began another marathon. A Quentin Tarantino marathon. I didn't review all of those movies like I did with my Star Wars marathon, but I wanted to do this marathon because I hadn't seen all of Tarantino's movies. I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time a year or two back and I was immediately blown away by how amazing that movie was. It immediately became one of my all-time favorite movies. Thus before I went to his new movie, I wanted to watch his other movies since there wasn't too many of them. That's why this review is a bit late. I didn't realize until around Christmas time that the expansion of The Hateful Eight had been pushed up to December 30th. But now my marathon is complete and now it's time to top that off with a review of The Hateful Eight. As it turns out, no movie topped Pulp Fiction, but all eight of his movies are pretty darn good. In fact, they're so good that this gem of a movie in The Hateful Eight is actually his sixth best movie.

The trailers for The Hateful Eight didn't clue me in too much as to what this movie was going to be about, which I mostly appreciated. However, this was one of the few instances where I wanted a little more of an idea of what we were getting into. When I finally heard, not from marketing but from reviews, that this was a Tarantino version of Clue I immediately became intrigued and excited, especially after I dove into more of his movies and realized more of this man's brilliance as a filmmaker. I always love myself a good who-done-it movie. If this was a Tarantino who-done-it movie, I was in. That's kinda what we got. I'll get to more of that in a second. But as far as our premise, we're set in the Civil War time period, just after the war I do believe, and we have a bunch of different characters trapped in a cabin during a blizzard. We have a couple of bounty hunters. One of them has a female victim worth $10,000 that he's planning to get hanged. The other fought for the North in the war. We also have a war general from the South, the new sheriff of the town everyone's heading to, a hang man from that town, and a few other side characters. It's a very fun setup and you know something is about to go down. You just don't know what.

I'm going to do best to tread lightly around things as I talk about this movie because the mystery aspect of it is what makes this a whole lot of fun. I did mention that a who-done-it movie is mostly what we got. What I mean by mostly is that this is not quite the movie I thought it was going to be after I heard others talk about it. In Clue, the premise is that a bunch of different people are gathered in a room and towards the beginning someone dies when no one is looking and everyone spends the rest of the movie trying to solve this mystery of who committed this murder. That doesn't really happen here. Not like I thought it would, anyways. Instead it's more like a group of people stuck in a cabin and the big mystery is who is bad, who is good, and who is going to finally do something that will set up the bloodbath that we know is going to happen. There is a murder mystery somewhere in the plot, but it ends up feeling more shoehorned in than anything and when a reveal does happen, it ends up actually being kinda lame. We also know from the opening credits that more characters are going to be a part of this outside our main eight and most of those characters are useless when they do show up.

I hope this isn't too spoilery for you if you haven't seen this movie. We're three hours long and there's a lot more that happens that I'm not even hinting at, but I do bring up what I do in order to help illustrate that the story of this movie isn't actually that interesting, especially when compared to Tarantino's other movies. Django Unchained was a slavery, Western movie. Inglorious was a re-telling of World War II. Kill Bill was a huge revenge story. Jackie Brown was a hidden love story. This was just a bunch of guys in a room. No real depth to it. Not a whole lot of meaning. The themes aren't nearly as strong as some of his other movies. Splitting this movie into chapters didn't really have a point. Telling this out of chronological order didn't work in this like it usually does in his movies. The ideas were in place for a super interesting movie, but the execution doesn't really work in this like it usually does. There's several elements that are in every Tarantino movie and while all of his movies are good, his best movies are the movies where all of his elements fit together perfectly. This didn't happen with The Hateful Eight.

That said, this isn't a bad movie. It's just a sub-par movie when compared to Tarantino's other work. When you've made so many great movies in your career, there's almost an expectation to put out great movies each time and thus when you make a movie this is good and not great, it's often seen as a disappointment. That's just an unfair part of life, I suppose. When you spend the last 20 years making great and sometimes near-perfect movies, a misstep is a lot more noticeable and easier to criticize. But for now I'm going to be done criticizing. If my negative points are confusing, that's because I'm not letting myself go into details because the aspects that are most worthy of complaining about are in the middle and the end of the movie. As far as the good, the best part of the movie is the characters and the amazing acting performances given by everyone. I was actually really worried about the three hour run time going in, but that wasn't an issue at all because the buildup and character development with all of our characters is perfect. One of the things that Tarantino does best is his dialogue. He can often go huge portions of a movie just with people talking and somehow make it super interesting. That's the case here. Much of the three hour run time was the spoken dialogue between all of the characters and it was all really fascinating.

Part of the reason why all the dialogue was so fascinating was obviously a well-written script that kept you paying attention to every spoken word. The other part is the acting. This is one of the rare instances where I almost don't want to point out anyone because if I point out one person, I have to point out everyone and if I point out everyone, I might get carried away and spend four or five paragraphs just on the different performances. That would be excessive. So I'm just going to give highlights here and not complete thoughts. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Tim Roth are our Tarantino staples and all were amazing, especially Samuel L. Jackson, who gives possibly his best performance yet in a Tarantino movie. Walter Goggins gives an excellent sophomore effort in a Tarantino movie. He was in Django, but wasn't a huge character. This he is. And he almost steals the show as the character who experiences the best and most interesting arc. When push comes to shove, the one who does steal the show is our prisoner girl played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Holy. Fetching. Cow. That woman was crazy. Bruce Dern I loved. Channing Tatum I actually wish was in the whole movie because he was fantastic in his five minutes of screen time. More people could've been mentioned, but I think that's a good highlight reel of performances.

Moral of the story is that if there are awards shows that give out the awards for best ensemble cast, The Hateful Eight better win hands down. It would in my book that is. Other awards that it should at least get a nomination for include the amazing score and the beautiful cinematography. From the very opening scene I knew that both of those elements would be amazing throughout and they were. The score immediately grabbed me during the opening shot and blew me away the whole time. It was so great that it was one of those scores that I was singing for the rest of the night. And every shot of the movie was so beautifully crafted, especially the shots of them out in the snow. When your goal is to build tension throughout your movie, building up to your big reveal, these two aspects are very important and even though the reveal itself was underwhelming, they did great with the buildup. This is another reason why the three hour run time didn't feel that long. I also wish I was able to see this movie in the 70 mm format that it was shot it. But there were no theaters around me that had that format showing, so I just had to do it as is.

Once again, Tarantino is a master filmmaker. The man really knows how to make a movie. With the large amounts of blood and gore in every one his movies, he's definitely not a filmmaker that will appeal to everyone, but if you are a Tarantino fan, The Hateful Eight is another score for Tarantino that you need to check out. The music and cinematography are practically perfect and that combined with an amazing script with beautiful dialogue make the build-up for this movie very good. It's a long movie, but one that keeps your attention with every move and every line. The mystery surrounding the movie makes it really interesting and fun to follow. However, when we learn what is actually going on, I will admit that the movie as a whole becomes a lot less interesting than it could've been and you realize that the story in this movie is very weak. Thus when compared to Tarantino's other movies, this is no where near as good as several of his other movies. But even with this less than stellar premise, it still manages to be intense and entertaining as you are unsure where everyone's loyalties will lie. It's not going to show up on my list of favorite movies from 2015, but it's still worth checking out if you haven't already. In a bit of a storybook finish to this review, I'm going to give The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's eight film, an 8/10.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride Review (SPOILERS)

Sherlock is easily one of my favorite shows on TV. In fact, the character of Sherlock Holmes has always been a favorite of mine because I've always enjoyed the mystery/detective books, movies, and TV shows and that's exactly what Sherlock Holmes is. I can't say that I've read or watched everything having to do with Sherlock Holmes, but what I have I've really enjoyed. I first got introduced to the show Sherlock when they were in their second season. The finale of that season was actually the first episode that I watched. Quite the introduction there if you remember what happens in that episode. It didn't take me long at all to catch up with the rest of the series and ever since doing that, I've been in a constant state of waiting. That's the only disadvantage to being a fan of this show. Most of your time is spent waiting for the next season to air. When it finally does, you get through it in the blink of an eye and then it's another 2-3 years of waiting. There's not a new season each year and the seasons that do come only have three episodes each. Granted they're all an hour and half long and thus it's like three movies, but still. I want more.

That's why this Christmas Special was quite the pleasant surprise. I knew it was coming, but I totally forgot about its existence until I was reminded on the day of that it was happening. Instantly my plans for that night changed and I once again dove into Sherlock. As is the case with all of my TV show reviews now, this review will be a spoiler review. I've decided with TV, my target audience is not people waiting to see the show or considering watching the show, it's the people that have already watched. I want to discuss the details of this episode with other fans of Sherlock that have already seen it, because there's a lot that happened here. If you haven't seen this episode yet, it's actually showing in theaters tonight and tomorrow (January 5th and 6th) in certain places if you feel like paying to see it. Otherwise it is re-airing on January 10th I do believe. Or you could probably just find it online somewhere. I'm guessing that PBS or BBC will have it on one of their websites, but that's just a guess. Anywho, watch the episode somehow and then come back and read this review for the episode and let's discuss!

For those reading this paragraph, I'm assuming that you have watched the episode or just don't care about knowing spoilers. So let's dive in! What I immediately loved about this episode was that it initially appeared to be an episode in an alternate universe. What I mean is that one of the great things about Sherlock is that it is set in the modern day, yet it has the tone of and feel of any other Sherlock Holmes story. Well this time the episode was actually set in the late-1800's with our current cast of characters. A lot of the stuff that was going on was the exact way it is in all the old Sherlock Holmes stories. It was classic Sherlock Holmes with the actors that we all love! I didn't know why it was happening, but it was and I was enjoying it. I just assumed that they wanted to do something fun for the Holiday Special to satisfy fans while we all wait impatiently for season 4 to finally air. I was totally down for this. In fact, I didn't need for this to connect at all with season 3 or season 4. Instead I got to thinking how cool it would be if we actually had a full-fledged spin-off series like this.

But it actually did connect and it did so in such a genius way. First to the actual case we are following for much of the episode. The Abominable Bride. Here we have a somewhat basic case in a show like this that we are told by Watson turns out to be one that racks Sherlock's mind like none other. A woman blows her brains out in front of a large enough crowd of people that it seems certain that she is actually dead. The next night she shows up in what appears to be ghost form and kills her husband. But then when everyone goes to the morgue to check this out, she is indeed dead and it's not a fake body. So what's happening? Is it actually a vengeful spirit haunting the town? Because she continues to show up despite her obviously being dead. Do Sherlock and Watson need to call Sam and Dean Winchester (or their ancestors) to burn this lady's bones so that she can stop? Obviously not. Although it appears to be a simple supernatural occurrence, everyone knows that it isn't and we need to figure out she is doing this and why she is doing this.

That's where the meat of this story will come. It's always fun during an episode like this to speculate on how she faked her death, just like it was fun to speculate how Sherlock faked his death at the end of season 2, which we still don't know the answer to. We speculated for two full years only to be teased for the whole third season on how he did it. All we really got was more questions as it appears with the end of the season 3 finale that Moriarty also faked his death. Now it will be a total of five years before we might get an answer to these questions. We did get a few more clues towards the end of this episode, but I'll talk about that in a second. The point is, I was fully invested in this mystery they were solving. They could've just gone on did this story the whole episode without bringing it in and I would've been totally fine, but then crazy things started to happen. Sherlock is mediating in his room when Moriarty shows up and starts taunting him about this case. Then he wakes up. He is back on the plane with Watson, Mary, and Mycroft in the modern day, right where we left off after the season 3 finale.

The whole finale to this is rather wacky, but really genius at the same time. Apparently everything that has been happening in this past is all in Sherlock's head. He's used drugs to send him into this mind simulation so that he can solve a case from 120 years ago that he feels can help him figure out what is going on with Moriarty. I don't know why I didn't make the connection earlier, but suddenly I did. The whole case with the Abominable Bride is parallel to Moriarty's case. This bride blew her brains out and appears to come back and so did Moriarty. By solving this case from, we could get clues as to how Moriarty pulled off what he did. This also dives deep into the character of Sherlock. He's not just a super genius solving cases. He's a human being with serious flaws. He has these drug addictions that are apparently a lot stronger than we initially thought and he justifies the use of these drugs so that he can feel better about himself. We even dove into his thoughts on romance as Watson interrogated him about that. I also got the feel as we kept jumping back and forth through Sherlock's mind that Moriarty has gotten to him real good. Whether or not Moriarty is actually dead, his legacy certainly lives on and if his goal has been to mess Sherlock up mentally, it seems to be working.

After jumping back and forth through time, we finally go back and it appears that we are going to solve this case. The bride faked her death at first. Then she went and killed her husband. After doing this, she kills actually kills herself to throw people off when they identify her dead body at the morgue. Then a secret group of females have been carrying on her legacy to avenge the wrongful things that certain men have done to them. I really enjoyed this specific story. A surprising reveal? No. An interesting one? Yes. But even more interesting is what happens right at the end. Sherlock is about to unmask the lady, certain he knows who he is, when he is shocked to find Moriarty, who is also supposed to dead in this dreamed up timeline as well, although through the classic waterfall death scenario. Pretty soon we are back to the waterfall where we have our second confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty. The two big sequences we have between Sherlock and Moriarty is definitely the meat of this episode. The constant battle between the two of those is what ultimately holds this whole series together. Yes, the episodes without any sign of Moriarty are still good, but the ones with him are the best. Yes, much praise has to be given to Benedict Cumberbatch for his perfect portrayal of Sherlock, but we can't forget Andrew Scott as Moriarty for being perfect in that role as well.

Speaking of which, I will end this review with touching a bit on the question that has been on our minds since the end of season 3 at the very least, possibly earlier. Is Moriarty dead? We knew the second Sherlock jumped off the building at the end of season 2 that he had faked his death. We don't know exactly how he did it. But we know who helped him and there are ideas. But did Moriarty also fake his death? Sherlock concludes at the end of this episode that he definitely is dead, but he still has plans that will be carried after his death which they have to deal with. After all, he shot his brains out and there's no coming back from that. Do we trust Sherlock? The second he said that, I thought about a few minutes earlier when he described how the bride in this episode also shot her brains, but faked it. I've always kinda felt that Moriarty would come back and that both him and Sherlock faked their deaths, so that's still where I lean. But even if Sherlock is right with what he thinks, I'm equally excited for that to play out. I'm just hoping that we get plenty of Andrew Scott in some form during season 4 and I'm really excited to see where this goes.

In conclusion, I thought this was a very fascinating episode. Because of this series, I'm always excited to see Martin Freeman and/or Benedict Cumberbatch show up in any sort of TV show or movie, which is part of the reason why I'm stoked to see Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, but I especially am excited when both Freeman and Cumberbatch show up together in Sherlock. This episode snuck up on me, but I was so glad I got to get my Sherlock fix. This was a fun story and it was great to see all these characters in a classic Sherlock Holmes setting. Then as it was revealed what was happening, I really enjoyed how psychological we got. Sherlock was always a fascinating character, but I felt we dove even deeper into his character in this episode and saw a lot of the issues that he has and how troubled he is over the Moriarty situation. Speaking of which, the best part of this episode for me was the return of Andrew Scott as Moriarty. I wasn't expecting him to show up, but it was such a pleasant surprise when he did. Then did again. As a holiday special, this was perfect. This didn't progress the story too much, but it gave us a taste of what is in store for us next year. I just wish season 4 would get here faster.