Thursday, March 31, 2016

Movie Preview: April 2016

Hollywood's Summer is just around the corner and Marvel is poised to kick it off yet again with Captain America: Civil War. But first we have to make it through one of the slower months of the year in April. Zootopia and Batman v. Superman helped propel yet another successful March as this March became the second March in box office history to cross $900 million at the domestic box office. The April record is held by 2011 with just $792 million so if 2016 hopes to be the first April to cross $800 million, it's going to need both Batman v. Superman and Zootopia to have good legs going into the month because outside a pair of pre-Summer appetizers, this is looking like a typical April at the box office. There's plenty of titles to talk about, but for the most part they are titles that look like they belong in April, if you know what I mean. But let's dive into the month anyways because there's bound to be at least one or two titles that will pique your interest, especially since we dive into the live-action world of Disney on two separate occasions!

April 1st - 3rd- 

As mentioned above, Batman v. Superman and Zootopia should still be playing strong heading into this first weekend of April and, barring a huge surprise from this weekend's only major release, they should easily be able to capture the top two spots again. That new wide release will be God's Not Dead 2. This will be our fourth major faith-based film hitting theaters nationwide around Easter time. Risen and Miracles from Heaven have both had fairly successful runs so far while The Young Messiah fell flat on its face. God's Not Dead 2 will almost assuredly make this three for four successful box office hits as this is the one that already has a built-in fan base. Two years ago around this time, God's Not Dead was a huge surprise at the box office as it earned $9.2 million its opening weekend in just 780 theaters and went on to make $60.8 million total. The premise here is pretty simple. Pure Flix Entertainment is out again to prove that God's not dead. Last time we were in a classroom. This time we go to court. Brand new cast this time around, which shouldn't effect things one way or another as its the subject matter and connection to the first that should bring Christian audiences out once again.

Sneaking into just over 1,000 theaters this weekend and most likely not making much of a dent is the horror spoof comedy Meet the Blacks. The horror movie being spoofed here is The Purge as the Black family (whose skin color is also black. Get it? They made a funny!) moves from Chicago to Beverly Hills to start new, but couldn't have timed it worse as they move there right at the start of the annual purge where all crime is legal for 12 hours. This style of movie has worked very well in the past as the Scary Movie franchise did very well and even A Haunted House also was a hit not too long ago. But Meet the Blacks looks like a dud. First off, I don't think many people are aware of this movie. Second, there isn't really any big names tied to this movie, in front or behind the camera. Third, The Purge isn't really popular enough to warrant a spoof comedy. But even so, Fifty Shades of Black and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were both petty big flops this year and they did have those three things in their favor.

Two movies will be expanding into a moderate release this weekend. The first of those is Bleecker Street's Eye in the Sky. Bleecker Street is a new distribution company that started in 2014 and has been responsible for the distribution of Danny Collins, I'll See You in My Dreams, Pawn Sacrifice, and Trumbo. In addition to expanding Eye in the Sky, they will also have another release later in the month that we'll get to. Eye in the Sky expands after a successful run in limited release where it earned around $2 million in three weeks and has a very strong 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a modern war thriller starring the late Alan Rickman in his final live action role. He'll return next month as a voice in Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass, but audiences may be interested in catching the beloved actor one final time. Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul also join Rickman in this movie, which is about a mission to stop some suicide bombers in Kenya that escalates when a 9-year-old girl enters the kill zone.

The second movie expanding into a moderate release is Hello, My Name is Doris. This followed a similar trajectory as Eye in the Sky as it also had a successful three-week run in limited release with a similar per theater average and an 85 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. There's no Alan Rickman or war thriller to draw people in here, but what is earning this movie a lot of attention is the performance of Sally Field who plays an older lady named Doris working at a company with people mostly younger than her. She is inspired by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue one of her co-workers that is nearly half her age. Thus the movie is a comedic romance drama that is sure to attract at least some sort of niche crowd even if it struggles to appeal to a general audience.

April 8th - 11th-

First up for this second weekend of April is the new Melissa McCarthy comedy, The Boss. This movie stars McCarthy as a big industry titan who gets sent to prison and six months later is out leading a group of girl scouts. It's safe to say that Melissa McCarthy is one of the most popular comedic actresses right now. Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy, and Spy all opened north of $20 million and all of them except Tammy ended their runs north of $100 million. However, this isn't another Melissa McCarthy collaboration with writer/director Paul Feig like with Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. That collaboration comes later this year with the remake of Ghostbusters. The Boss reunites McCarthy with director Ben Falcone, director of Tammy, which could be seen as a small red flag because that movie is generally not well-liked. However, despite poor reviews it still made a respectable $84.5 million. That number would be a good target for The Boss. Joining McCarthy in The Boss is Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, and Tammy co-star Kathy Bates.

Providing some counter-programming for those not interested in a Melissa McCarthy comedy will be the very unique action movie Hardcore Henry. What makes this movie unique is not necessarily the premise. The movie is about a guy named Henry who is raised from the dead without the knowledge of who he is and suddenly he has to go rescue the girl who has just told him she is his wife. The unique aspect of this movie is that it is told entirely from first person as if you are watching, or even playing, a first person shooter video game. This obviously won't be for everyone, but the concept alone should be enough to bring in a decent-sized crowd. The movie debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and was purchased for $10 million by STX Entertainment, a brand new production company dedicated to making/producing several medium-budget films per year. With this goal in mind, their first three movies, The Gift ($43.7 million), Secret in their Eyes ($20.2 million), and The Boy ($35.8 million), all did pretty well. Given the $10 million price tag for Hardcore Henry, anything in that range will be a win for STX.

The final wide release of the weekend is a horror movie I already talked about a few months back. Before I Wake was supposed to be released in September of 2015. In that month's preview, I talked about how it seemed like a bad idea for two horror movies to be released on the same weekend as it was Before I Wake and The Green Inferno. Then that weekend came and Before I Wake was M.I.A. I didn't really know what happened to it as somehow I missed the announcement of it being postponed. But then it reappeared here in April. So here we are again. This is a horror movie that follows a family whose young boy has dreams and nightmares that manifest in reality. He dreams something. They experience it. One huge advantage this movie has now as opposed to before is that the young boy is played by Jacob Tremblay. Back in September no one knew who he was. Following the release of the best picture nominee Room, everyone knows and loves Jacob Tremblay. How's that for a bit of dumb luck?

April 15th - 17th- 

The biggest movie event in April will most definitely be The Jungle Book. One of the big trends right now in Hollywood has been to make live-action remakes of classic Disney animated films. This was started by Disney themselves in 2010 with Alice in Wonderland and followed up with Maleficent and Cinderella. All three of these were huge successes for Disney, so try number four will be The Jungle Book. Many more of these live-action remakes are being planned, both by Disney and other studios, so buckle in folks! It's worth mentioning that Disney wasn't the first studio to make a Jungle Book movie and they won't be the last, either. I mean that quite literally, too. Rudyard Kipling's classic story was first made in 1942 before Disney's classic animated feature in 1967. And in 2017, Warner Bros. will make their own live-action version of the movie with Andy Serkis at the helm and Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Jack Reynor, Naomie Harris, and Andy Serkis himself as stars. This month's version stars Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Christopher Walken, and Ben Kingsley with Iron Man's Jon Favreau as director. That's a lot of star power for both movies. Reaction to the trailers for this Disney version has been very positive so far, so this is sure to be another hit for Disney.

Speaking of trends, another current one is comedy sequels to older comedies that no one really asked for. This month's version of that is Barbershop: The Next Cut. Recent movies in this trend include Anchorman 2, Dumb and Dumber To, Zoolander 2, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. While opinions on each of these movies are quite varied, the most popular opinion is that these aren't very good movies, so I don't really know why the trend keeps going, but oh well. Barbershop: The Next Cut is actually the third Barbershop movie. The original Barbershop was released in 2002 while the sequel came out just two years later in 2004. Now it's been 12 years since that second one and here we have the third. I don't know if it's really fair to put Barbershop in the same category as Anchorman or Zoolander, but just in case I get swarmed by a hornet's nest of Barbershop fans, I won't make that judgment. I just know that reviews for them aren't super high and the box office totals weren't that great, so I don't know if this third one was necessary, especially since its been so long. It feels like they are about 10 years too late with this third movie.

Finally for this weekend we have a movie with possibly the most generic title I've seen in quite some time. Criminal. Yup. Just Criminal. This is an action movie where the memories and skills of a deceased CIA agent are implanted into a very dangerous criminal. If that title and that premise don't have you sold, perhaps the cast actually will. This is a movie that stars Deadpool and Wonder Woman hot off very huge superhero movies. Or should I say Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. Billed higher than those and possibly getting more screen time in this movie is Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones, which is a pretty dang good cast. Ryan Reynolds' name isn't actually even on the movie poster for this, so perhaps his role isn't that big, but still. Big names don't always equate to big box office numbers and being released in the middle of April definitely doesn't. But this will provide another option for action fans if they've already seen Hardcore Henry and are dying for more.

April 22nd - 24th-

Speaking of the trend of turning Disney animated classics into live-action remakes, we have a second one in two weeks with The Huntsman: Winter's War. Following the huge success of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, it was two different studios that quickly jumped on the bandwagon and thus the world received two different live action remakes of Snow White in 2012 with Mirror Mirror (Relativity) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal). The latter was the more successful of the two and was supposed to be a trilogy, but that sequel got canned in the aftermath of the scandal between director Rupert Sanders and star Kristen Stewart where Sanders apparently cheated on his wife with Stewart. Needless to say, we now have a prequel four years later and it's no coincidence that neither Sanders nor Stewart are involved. Instead this is a prequel that follows the two most popular characters from Snow White White and the Huntsman, that being Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth's Eric the Huntsman. Joining Theron and Hemsworth will be Emily Blunt as the Ice Queen and Jessica Chastain as the Huntsman's wife Sara. So yes, this is also borrowing from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, which inspired Disney's Frozen.

Opening alongside The Huntsman will be Bleecker Street's other movie from this month, Elvis & Nixon. As far as the release goes here, this will most likely be another smaller release in around 1,000 theaters, give or take a few hundred. But this has a premise that has a chance to intrigue movie-goers. It's exactly what the title makes it seem. A movie about Elvis and Nixon. Yes, that Elvis and that Nixon -- Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon. This is a true story about a time in 1970 where Elvis showed up at the White House requesting a meeting with President Nixon. There is a photo taken during this meeting of the two shaking hands that is the most requested photograph of all-time in the National Archives. This movie will tell the "untold true story" behind this moment. Michael Shannon will be playing Elvis while Kevin Spacey will be playing Nixon.

April 29th - May 1st-

The final weekend of April (which includes the first day of May) will see three movies daring enough to open in the shadow of Captain America: Civil War. The first of these is Key and Peele's Keanu. While they are unproven box office draws on the big screen, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two very popular comedians thanks mainly to their popular sketch comedy series Key & Peele on Comedy Central, which also has a huge YouTube presence on Comedy Central's YouTube channel. Their highest viewed sketch on YouTube, Substitute Teacher, has over 92 million views. Keanu is Key and Peele's first motion picture following the conclusion of their comedy series. It stars Key and Peel as two friends whose cat Keanu goes missing, so they decide to pose as drug dealers for a street gang in order to retrieve him. The cat is a heavy focus of the advertising of the movie, especially when it comes to the posters. Being how popular cats are on the internet, this is a very smart marketing campaign. Keanu does have an R rating, which could potentially effect the box office for the movie. But it should make enough money to win the weekend, at least when it comes to the new releases as there is a chance that The Jungle Book or The Huntsman could still be on top this weekend.

Mother's Day will be on May 8th this year and leading up to that date the holiday will get its own movie called Mother's Day. This movie comes from director Garry Marshall, who directed Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He also directed Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, which is exactly the type of movie Mother's Day is. Both Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve had huge ensemble casts with a ton of different stories intertwining into one movie. Critically speaking, neither of these movies worked. Valentine's Day earned a lowly Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 percent while New Year's Eve was even worse at 7 percent. Financially speaking, Valentine's Day opened to a huge $56.3 million, but dropped like a rock and only finished with $110.5 million. New Year's Day opened to a much lower $13.0 million just a year later, but held much better and finished with $54.5 million. Mother's Day will probably follow in the footsteps of New Year's Eve as it's been enough time for people to forget the bad taste in their mouth that the other two left. Yes this does follow several different mothers and the large ensemble cast is led by Jennifer Aniston, Britt Robertson, Kate Hudson, and Julia Roberts.

Finishing up the month of April will be Ratchet & Clank. This is an animated movie that is adapted from the very popular video game series of the same name. Ratchet & Clank started on the PS2 and has shown up on all of Sony's platforms since then, so there's definitely a built-in audience here. However, history is against the Ratchet & Clank movie for two reasons. First, video game movies have a bad history in Hollywood, both in terms of box office gross and overall reception by fans and critics alike. Second, Ratchet & Clank doesn't come from a major animation studio. Some of these movies have had decent performances at the box office, but for the most part, animated movies without a major animation studio attached have a hard time finding an audience. Ratchet & Clank does have a good voice cast attached to it, which includes James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, and Armin Shimerman reprising their roles from the games as Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, and Nefarious respectively. Joining them will be Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone, Bella Thorne, John Goodman, and Paul Giammati. So that's a plus. However, it seems that family audiences will be saving their money for The Angry Birds Movie and/or Finding Dory in the upcoming months instead of seeing this one.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Can you believe that it's been three years since the world was poisoned with the atrocity that was Man of Steel? I am 100 percent unapologetic when it comes to my opinion of that film. I hated it. With a fiery passion. I've never been called a DC hater in my life, but if that thought ever arose in your mind because of my rantings against that movie, feel free to put that to rest. Superman is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. And that's why I hated Man of Steel. They did Superman wrong. In fact, they made the Superman movie for those who normally hate Superman. Sure, it pleased a lot of people. But not this superhero fan. And now we're using that movie as a springboard for DC's cinematic universe. Oh dear. Someone help us all! I'm not sure why it took three years to take the next step, but that step is to bring in Batman, another one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, and pit him against Superman. This should be exciting, right? Batman and Superman on the big screen together for the very first time. That's what we've all been asking for our whole lives. Yet someone gave the keys of the car to Zack freaking Snyder, a director who has yet to make a good film, and is letting him drive our dreams into trash. What a sad waste of amazing potential.

As you can tell, I never really bought into the Batman v. Superman hype like everyone else. Following the trailers, I got as far as neutral with this film. When I did my 2016 movie preview, I officially put this in the maybe category. It looked like it could be a good movie, but yet I also remembered loving the Man of Steel trailers and I knew that the same man who directed that movie was back on board for Batman v. Superman. I wasn't going to let myself get false hope and walk out disappointed once again. Once the reviews started coming in and they were mostly all sour, worse than Man of Steel on Rotten Tomatoes, any neutrality I held all went away and the dread set in. Zack Snyder has done it again. He's ruined my favorite superheroes for a second time. Cringeworthy is the word I would use to describe Man of Steel. Now I was ready to go in and tear apart DC's second attempt in this universe. Sure the DC fanboys were super active as they all gave the movie 10's before even seeing it. That's the only reason I can explain this being at 9.3 on IMDb just two days ago with 10,000 votes. I was ready to agree with the critics on Rotten Tomatoes who currently have the movie at a 31 percent.

Turns out I think the critics are being a little harsh with this movie. But don't get too excited DC fanboys. That 9.3 on IMDb was even way more out of line. I think this movie belongs somewhere in between those two drastic opinions. It's certainly a huge step up from Man of Steel. Right off the bat I can tell you that the premise of this movie is absolutely genius. One of the biggest problems with Man of Steel was the high level of destruction that Superman caused while trying to stop this one villain. In Richard Donner's Superman II, Superman took the fight with Zodd out of the city boundaries so that no one would get hurt. But nope. That's not what Man of Steel's Superman did. They duked it out right in the middle of Metropolis, seemingly killing millions of innocent civilians. Horrible! Yet that's what Batman v. Superman plays off of. Turns out Batman was in Metropolis during that fight and he sees Superman not as a hero, but a monster that needs to be stopped because of all the destruction he caused to the city. Meanwhile, Superman is trying to find his place on this world and win the hearts of the people because they are naturally skeptic of him as well. And thus we have a fantastic setup for the battle of these two titans. Well played, movie. Well played!

Okay almost well played. I was enjoying this setup, but there came a point where I was mentally ready for this huge fight. Let's do this! But they kept setting up and setting up and setting up and setting up. When was this freaking movie going to start? It didn't take me very long to realize what was happening here. This was DC's catch-up movie. Back in 2008, Marvel slowly started to unveil their Cinematic Universe. They were patient. Instead of jumping into The Avengers, they released five solo movies leading up to The Avengers. That was so successful that they are now very deep into their universe and it's been truly fantastic to see. DC got jealous. They've been trying to setup a Justice League movie for a long time, but it's never gotten off the ground. Now that Marvel struck gold, DC quickly jumped on board to throw up their cinematic universe. The problem is Marvel was patient and took their time. DC is not being patient. While Marvel made five solo movies before The Avengers, DC has now shoved five movies into one movie, rushing into their long-awaited Justice League. They called this cram-fest movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Seriously. This movie has way too much going on.

Individually all of these elements are actually pretty darn good. Crammed together it is one big mess with horrible flow, bad editing, way too much setup, and a rushed ending that splats everything together into one incoherent mess. However, I do want to talk about some of these individual elements. Let's begin with the most controversial one. That Batfleck. I don't know why, but everyone hated the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman when it was first announced. Not me, though. I was on board for the Batfleck from day one. Yes, he had a bad run as Daredevil a while back, but he's an actor that has proven that when he wants to act, he does a dang good job of it. And recently the man has been on a role. He wrote, directed, and starred in two phenomenal movies in The Town (2010) and Argo (2012), the latter of which freaking won best picture. Then in 2014 he completely owned his performance in Gone Girl. Yet people seemed to ignore all that and complain about Daredevil, which was all the way back in 2003. Give it up people! Learn to give credit where credit is due! The Batfleck was a great idea!

I'm happy to announce that haters all over the world will be eating their words big time. Meanwhile I'll just be sitting here telling you I told you so because the Batfleck is so freaking awesome in this movie! Ben Affleck not only plays one of the best and most entertaining Batmans that we've ever had, he also might be one of the best Bruce Waynes. Keep in mind, though, that this is a messed up version of Bruce Wayne. And when I say messed up, I mean that he's a very broken human being. We get flashbacks into his past and we see the events that have led him to be such a broken human and it's quite tragic. You really feel bad for this guy. Personally I was fascinated with this version of Bruce Wayne and I am so stoked to see him get his own movie that will NOT be directed by Zack Snyder, but by Ben Affleck himself. This is also a very dark Batman. He gives new meaning to the nickname the dark knight. And when he's pissed, he shows absolutely no mercy. And yes, this Batman kills. He has no qualms with completely throwing his moral code out the window when he gets emotional, which is something that will definitely split a lot of viewers. Surprisingly, though, I wasn't too bothered by this. But I know a lot of people will be and already are, so it's worth noting.

On top of an introduction to our new Batman, this movie also serves as a follow-up to Man of Steel. This has several elements to it worth talking about. First off, as part of my hatred towards Man of Steel, I have been very harsh on Henry Cavill as Superman. I've recently had a bit of a revelation, though, that came when I was watching the movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This movie was a light-hearted, spy-thriller in the style of James Bond in which Cavil took the lead role and he was phenomenal. He had a ton of fun with this role and actually reminded me a lot of the great Christopher Reeve. Thus I decided that Henry Cavill was an excellent choice for Superman. The problem was how his character was written. They decided to go dark and dreary among other things and it didn't work for me. However, I did my best to ignore Man of Steel while watching this and I found that Superman actually redeemed himself a bit in my eyes. While we do have an on-going political thriller where people are deciding whether or not Superman is needed, Superman is actually doing his best to make a positive impact on the world by helping people where he can and this I liked. This political thriller element lasted WAY too long, but I did like Superman's arc in this movie.

Going along with Superman, the movie introduces his arch-rival Lex Luthor and does it's best to keep his girlfriend Lois Lane relevant. Neither of these worked very well. Let's start with Lex Luthor. If you are a devout follower of my reviews, I'm sure you'll know that I am a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg. The man is a genius actor that's had a great career thus far and has a very bright future ahead of him. I'm always excited to see a new Jesse Eisenberg movie. But this is a casting choice that never made sense to me. I get that they're going a much different route with Lex Luthor and I'm glad they attempted this, but this was not the right casting choice and to make it worse the direction he was given was not good. Yes, Lex Luthor definitely has his moments in this movie, but for the most part he is just extremely annoying. And as far as Amy Adams as Lois Lane, that was one aspect of Man of Steel that worked for me. I love her character. But in this movie she is completely useless and becomes more of a damsel in distress. Sad. And yes, we get a scene of her in a bathtub that lasted way too long and was one of many scenes in this movie that didn't need to be there.

I'm sure you're getting the vibe here with what I thought about this movie. Already with what I've talked about this movie is just too crowded. We have one story that's introducing the Batfleck to us. We have another story following the Superman drama after the infamous Zodd fight. We have a third story following Lex Luthor, which was actually a much bigger portion of the movie than I thought it would be. And we have a fourth story that's trying to make Lois Lane fit into all of this. Individually it's great, but it's just too much. That's not even all of it. I've already written a ton and so I'm going to try to be brief with the rest, but we haven't even gotten to the title of this movie. Batman v. Superman. The fight. I expected 20-30 minutes of setup, but after that I expected a fight. That's what I came to see. I didn't keep track of how long it actually took to get to the fight, but it must've been at least an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. No joke. And then when we finally got to that point, they didn't have enough time for it. Yes, it was great while it lasted. But that's the thing. It didn't last. It was very short and thus very disappointing. It reminded me of the fight at the end of Iron Man 2.

On top of all of this that is already way too much, we of course have our subtitle. Dawn of Justice. Our group of six Justice League members will consist of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and the Flash. And only two of those characters should've been in this movie. Batman and Superman. That's it. How many of them actually show up? I'm not going to answer that. I do feel safe to say that Wonder Woman plays a pretty big role here and even though she shouldn't have been in this movie, I will say that she is the second best character in the movie behind only the Batfleck. I freaking love Wonder Woman in this and Gal Gadot totally kills it. The fight at the end where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman team up was glorious. Was it forced? Yes. Did it need to happen. No. Was it shoehorned in there to setup the Justice League. Absolutely. They should've saved this for the Justice League movie. There was too much already going on. But I'm not going to lie, when you isolate this scene and ignore its relevance to the plot, it's amazing. It also makes me super stoked for the stand alone Wonder Woman movie, that will also NOT be directed by Zack Snyder.

And speaking of characters that were shoehorned into this movie, how about Doomsday. First of all, wouldn't it have been great if he was a complete surprise? That would've been a fantastic reveal. But no. They decided to spoil that and show us Doomsday. Many people complained at his look in the trailer. Yep. It's as bad as you thought. I'm not going to reveal how or why he is there or how long he lasts, but I will say it's a real waste of a potentially awesome villain. Doomsday is one of Superman's greatest villains because Superman himself stands no chance against Doomsday. Thus it would've actually been great if Doomsday were saved for the Justice League movie. And they should've really worked on that look, because although he was a great villain in terms of strength and dominance, he was such a horrible looking villain. Overall wasted potential there. I would've been totally fine with this movie just being Batman v. Superman. Cut the Dawn of Justice out. Don't introduce any of the other characters, unless it's in an end credits scene. Let this simply be Batman and Superman's movie.

This has been quite a long review and I hope you've enjoyed it. I was very thorough with this review because there was a ton to talk about due to there being a ton of stuff shoved into this movie. When push comes to shove, I actually really enjoyed a lot of elements of this movie. If you isolate the individual scenes, there's a lot to love and respect. But when you look at the movie as a whole, it's a pretty big mess. I really think they should've split this movie into several different movies. Follow up Man of Steel with a solo Batman movie. Then do a solo Wonder Woman movie. After that, they could do a Man of Steel 2 where they try to redeem Superman and even introduce Lex Luthor. Then they could devote a whole movie into the conflict between Batman and Superman. After all of this, then would be the time to bring them all together for a Dawn of Justice movie that you could simply call Justice League. I would've been totally down for this. But instead, they became way too impatient in trying to catch up with Marvel that they did ALL of this in one movie. It was just too much. Yes, this movie was way better than Man of Steel and the individual elements really worked. But as a whole it's just a mess. My grade for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a 6/10.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Criminal Minds: A Farewell Tribute

On this blog you may have noticed that there are a handful of TV shows that I have been reviewing on a yearly basis, namely Arrow, The Flash, Supernatural, and Bates Motel. There are a few more that I will review that I will review as seems fit. You will notice that Criminal Minds is not a show that I write reviews for on a regular basis, despite it being one of my favorite current shows. The only reason behind this is that the focus for Criminal Minds is on the individual episodes as opposed to the season as a whole. It's hard for me to review a full season at a time with shows like this. To do it justice I would need to review each individual episode, which at this point I don't have time to do. If I did this with one of my shows, I would feel the need to do the same with all my shows and that's just too much. But there is something that happened on this current season of Criminal Minds (season 11) that I do need to talk about. One of our main characters left the show in last night's episode and I need to write the character a farewell tribute.

If you're not caught up with Criminal Minds and you don't want to know which character left the show and why, then this is your cue to exit this post and come back when you are caught up. If are still reading this sentence, I'm now assuming that either you are caught up or you don't care about Criminal Minds spoilers. Or maybe facebook already spoiled it for you, so you're like "what the heck, I'll read Adam's thoughts." Here's the news. Shemar Moore has left Criminal Minds. On very good terms, mind you. But still. There will be no more Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds. Not as a main, recurring character, anyways. This is sad. Criminal Minds will still move on, but I feel a chapter in my life has ended. Watching that episode last night was like watching the series finale of my favorite show. As Derek said goodbye to each of the members of the team, I was nearly as emotional as they were.

So let's watch a few of these clips that Criminal Minds uploaded to their own YouTube channel from last night's episode. First up, here's Derek's goodbye to JJ and Spencer:

And here's the super emotional farewell between Derek and Penelope as well as Derek's final farewell to the show:

I really love that last quote. It's so very true. "Every ending is also a beginning. We just don't know it at the time." I'm like Spencer in that first clip. I hate goodbyes and I hate change. It scares me. I suppose I'm terrified of the unknown and if there's a good thing in life, I want it to stay. But yet it seems that the only thing that's consistent in life is change. And yet again life brings another huge change. Derek Morgan isn't just one of my favorite characters on Criminal Minds, him and Spencer are two of the greatest TV show characters of all-time in my opinion. And now we are losing half of that great duo. When Matthew Gray Gubler leaves the show, I really hope it's because the show itself is ending because I don't know what I would do with both of them gone. Part of me wants Criminal Minds to go on forever with Shemar Moore staying on board the whole time. But the other part of me echoes the exact sentiments that Spencer shared with Derek. I don't want him back because I know why he's leaving and I couldn't be happier for him.

I'll talk more about the exit of Shemar Moore himself here in a second, but first I want to talk about the exit of his character Derek Morgan. Most of all I'm really glad they gave him a happy ending. That's one of my biggest gripes about the show in general. For some reason they don't like giving the male characters happy endings. Hotch got a divorce. His second girl moved and was never talked about again. Rossi's had several divorces. All of the male characters except for Morgan has had someone they care about get murdered on the show, some being right in front of them. Okay show, I get it. Life as an FBI agent can be rough. It might be hard to keep up a family when you're this busy with work. But can't we give one of them a happy ending? I was happy for Morgan when he found his girl recently on the show. Then I was increasingly worried in these last few episodes when it looked like they might go the same exact route as every other male character. Morgan gets kidnapped. We don't know if he's going to survive. That ends up happy at first, but then his girl gets shot. No! Don't do it, show! Not again!

That made for quite the intense final episode last night for Morgan. The whole time I was just telling them over and over to give him a happy ending, but I had no idea what was going to happen. Were they going to kill off one of our team's girls once again? Were they going to kill Morgan himself? I didn't know. Halfway through I became certain that his girl was going to survive, but then I wasn't sure about Morgan surviving. He was sitting there in the room with that psychopath without a gun and suddenly they start playing that random bullet game and the psychopath made Morgan call everyone and say goodbye. Was this it? Then we had the slow-motion shot of the bullet going into position and what sounded like a gun fire go off as we went to commercial. Man that was a crazy commercial break! Thankfully when the reveal happened, Morgan was not dead. Not even shot. He pulled that off in true Derek Morgan style, showing off how much of a boss he really is. Then we have the moral dilemma Morgan faced right after that of whether or not he should shoot this guy who shot his girl, nearly killing her and their unborn baby, then attempted to kill him. After a bit of anticipation, once again in true Derek Morgan style, he kept his cool and didn't shoot, letting him get arrested by Hotch and the rest of the crew.

What a great finish for Morgan! They made me nervous and I don't know if all the drama from the last several episodes was really necessary, but they what a finish! Not only does he get to show off his acting chops throughout the last few episodes, but he gets to finish off and capture this unsub like the boss Morgan really is. And he got a happy ending! I loved it. Morgan has had a fantastic story arc throughout the whole season. He had a horrible upbringing, but was able to overcome that and spend his life stopping psychopaths like a true hero. And when the time came to settle down with a wife and kid, he was able to step away from everything and live a normal life with his new family. That's just great in about every way. Not to mention he's such a likable character. It's hard to do him complete justice in words, but he's pretty much a perfect human being. Yes, he has his flaws like everyone else. But he's a great leader. He's a great friend. He's someone everyone can talk to. He's essentially the superhero of the team when it comes to chasing down the bad guys. He's super ripped and buff, but that looks completely natural and thus inspires you to exercise and stay in shape. I'm sure it makes for great eye-candy for the girls, but I can't be the judge there. He's just the perfect character and will definitely be missed.

The other thing about Morgan that deserves its own paragraph is his relationship with Penelope. I'm sure you've seen the memes that go around about this. Every girl deserves a guy who treats her like Morgan treats Penelope. And it's true. The best part of this is there is never a romantic relationship between the two of them. He's just a guy that can give her compliments, tell her how amazing she is, have constant playful banter, tell her he loves her, and everyone can be fine with it. There's no love triangle. Morgan's girl doesn't feel jealous with this. Penelope doesn't get nervous that Derek is going to propose because he told her he cares about her. It's amazing! I wish I could just walk up to a girl, tell her she is beautiful, tell her I love her hair, tell her I love her outfit, and she can just take my compliment without thinking twice. But no. I feel nervous doing that because too many girls that think this means I want to date and marry them. No. It's just a compliment. On the flip side of things, there are girls out there that would be willing take compliments like this, but the guys are too scared to give a compliment. So it goes both ways. We can learn from Morgan. We can learn from Penelope. It's one of the best on-screen relationships ever and yet Morgan married someone else. And nothing changed! So good!

Now let's switch gears to Shemar Moore as an actor and his departure. Let's start this by sharing a few more videos. I'm going to play the sorry not sorry card for posting so many videos in this post because not only do I want to make sure you see these, but I want them in an easy-to-access post to look back on if I want. Here's Shemar's farewell to his fans:

Here's the cast and crew of Criminal Minds giving their own tribute to Shemar Moore:

And here is Shemar talking about what he plans on doing next:

Going back to what I said earlier, part of me wants Criminal Minds to go on forever with the same exact cast. It's been 11 great seasons so far and I don't want it to end. I'm not ready to say goodbye to this show and I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters. Thankfully I don't have to say goodbye to the show yet, but we did say goodbye to Derek Morgan last night and it was sad. But yet I am so excited for him. He is such a dedicated actor and I know he has a bright future ahead of him. I'm sad to see him go, but I get it. There comes a point in life where you need to make tough decisions to move forward with your life and career. You can stay where you are and continue to do the same exact thing with your life and sometimes it's good to keep that consistency going. But yet, you also have to look at the big picture. What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to accomplish? You only get one chance here on Earth, so make the most of it. Be a dreamer. But don't just dream. Figure out what you need to do to make that dream a reality. Starring in over 250 episodes of one show is definitely a great accomplishment. But I commend Shemar Moore for knowing when the right time is to call it quits and move forward. I'm excited to see what he has in store next.

I don't know how many people are going to read this. My highest viewed post ever is in fact a Criminal Minds post. It was a discussion of the first spin-off show that was wrongly cancelled and left on a huge cliff-hanger. That post is at nearly at 2,500 views right now. Maybe this post will equal that. Or maybe it will get just 10 or 20 views. I don't know. But I'm going to finish this post off by giving my personal message to Shemar Moore. Whether or not he reads it is irrelevant. But thanks, Shemar. Thanks for bringing the character of Derek Morgan to life. Thanks for your commitment and dedication to the show and to your fans. You have inspired me to do my best, to dream big, and to do what I need to make those dreams a reality. You have done this both with your portrayal of your character on screen and the way you live your life off-screen. I'm going to miss you and miss your character on this show. But I'm happy for you. I'm excited for what you have in store for the future and I plan on following you the whole way. I can't say I've been with Criminal Minds since day one, but I've loved it since I was first introduced to it and I can't believe that I've now watched 250 episodes of this show, all of them with you in them. So thanks for all that you've done and good luck to you, wherever the future takes you!

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Review

Yipee!!!! We get to deal with yet another chapter of the extremely boring Divergent Series. Going into Divergent, I did have a lot of friends who had read the book and loved it, so I went into the movie fairly intrigued. I did love The Hunger Games books and movies after all. But wow! Divergent wasn't unwatchable, but there was zero creativity. Every plot point in the book was a complete ripoff of something else. It completely took me out of the movie. I went into Insurgent hoping for something better than the first, but holy cow it took a huge nosedive. Not only did it continue the trend of ripping things off, but it wasn't even remotely interesting or watchable at all. I just didn't care one bit. In fact, I hated it so much that it ended up on my list of my top 10 worst movies of 2015. Needless to say I wasn't excited for Allegiant at all. But I am a bit of a completionist when I start a movie franchise, so here I am reviewing this movie for all of you! Now to be fair, I did go in with an open mind, hoping that this would at least be an improvement over Insurgent. Turns out it was. No, I'm not giving Allegiant a pass, but I wasn't hating life like I was during Insurgent.

If you didn't get the news, there are only three books in The Divergent Series. We have Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. But no. This isn't the final movie. Like always, we have to split the final book into two movies and that's exactly what they've done. This is a finale part one. However, they tried to be a little clever with their titles in that instead of going with Allegiant Part 1 and Allegiant Part 2, they threw a curve ball at last second and renamed them Allegiant and Ascendant. Don't let that confuse you, because you might be confused at the ending if you thought you were seeing the grand finale of this series. There is a cliffhanger at the end and there is another movie coming out next year. Don't let that surprise you. That said, there is a lot that happens in this movie. A lot more than I was expecting for a part one of a finale. Part of me wonders if they went way deep into the book with this third movie, but I have no idea because I haven't read the book. Nor do I ever have a desire to read these books to see how they compare. If you have read the books, feel free to let me know in the comments how this compares.

The funny thing about starting this movie is that I realized when the credits started that I kinda forgot what happened in Insurgent. I almost wish that I had read the wiki real quick before going in so I can remind myself. Turns out I wasn't that lost. Kate Winslet's character is no more and the rebels who finally put a stop to her are out for revenge, so they put all of her remaining followers on trail. But pretty soon our main band of characters start to get a little disturbed by this because they feel that Four's mother, who has taken lead, is doing the same thing to them as they were doing before. Thus we get this moral dilemma that would be interesting had I not realized that this is the same exact dilemma at the end of Mockingjay. President Snow has been captured and President Coin has the genius idea of doing to the capital what the capital had been doing to them for the past 75 years or so. Facepalm. You couldn't help yourselves, could you Allegiant? You just had to ripoff The Hunger Games in some fashion yet again. Can't say I'm surprised. The first two movies were all about ripping things off from other franchises. Why should this one be any different? And no, this isn't just following a formula or paying tribute. This is a blatant rip-off. There's a difference.

Oh but that's not the end of it. In fact, we're just getting started here. Like in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, they escape from where they are currently confined to find nothing but a deserted wasteland that they have to wander through in order to make it to another group of people ready to oppose the people that they were just with. Ha ha. You know you've dipped to new lows when you are ripping off of The Scorch Trials. That movie wasn't even that great. But when we get to these new people who claim they are the good guys, we learn that this has been The Truman Show for the last however many years. These people have watched our heroes for their whole lives and thus they are like celebrities walking in. Then Tris gets summoned to evil Dumbledore's office where he tells her that she is a pure blood while everyone else she knows is a mud blood. Then evil Dumbledore pulls out the pensieve to show our chosen one some memories of the past to convince her of what has gone on in a certain person's past. Okay, they don't use Harry Potter terminology and the memory thing isn't quite like the pensieve. But I'm sure you got the point. Evil Dumbledore is named David and he's played by Jeff Daniels, which is kinda cool.

The sad part of all of this is that this was actually kind of a fun story with good acting. Most people did a good job. More on that in a bit. But the action was fun. They had these fancy, futuristic suits with shields, guns, and little flying discs that they could control that were genius. The pacing was great. The movie flowed very well and didn't drag on. But holy cow, I was having a heyday with how much they were ripping off of everything else. A lot of people thought I was being nit-picky with Divergent, but I wasn't even trying with this one. It was just so fetching obvious that things came to me without me even thinking twice. I was like. oh hey, that's Mockingjay. Oh hey, The Scorch Trials. Oh hey, The Truman Show. Oh hey, Harry Potter. Oh hey, Tomorrowland. Oh hey, Batman Begins/The Amazing Spider-Man/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Because yes, after all that I've said, they do go to a place that looks like Tomorrowland and the ending uses the exact same plot as the three movies I just mentioned there at the end of my little tirade there. It was hilarious! In a bad way. And holy freaking predictable. You can see literally everything in this movie coming from a mile and a half away. The second they escaped the city, I had an idea of exactly what was going to happen. And I was right. And you will be, too, because I'm not necessarily an expert at predicting movies.

Let's talk about the acting. Because, no, the story isn't good at all and the direction is poor. Sure, the source material probably has something to do with that, but as I've not read nor will I ever read the books, I cannot officially blame them. However, despite that, we have some big name actors and some great performances. Shailene Woodley as Tris is our star and she's done just fine in all of these movies. I'm not head over heels for her, but I'm not complaining either. However, I do think it's annoying that we now seem to have to add the obligatory "get Shailene Woodley naked" scene in these movies now that she has seemed to become more daring of an actress. Camera angles and lighting kept it PG-13, but this was a weird prolonged decontamination scene of some sort when they got to the new place. They sent her to a fancy room by herself and the computer told her to take off her clothes and burn them. And she listened. And I swear this lasted at least a minute or two of her going through this decontamination process. I just felt like I should warn you of that in case you need another reason to skip this movie if that sort of thing is a deal-breaker. Moving on, I definitely prefer J-Law over Shailene, but she's a solid female protagonist in these movies.

Her co-star, though, was the real star of this particular chapter. I'm talking about Theo James, who plays the love interest with the dumbest name. Four. Why? Just, why? Oh well. I don't know when he got the Captain America treatment in this franchise, but he was certainly a boss in this movie. There were several scenes where it was him facing off against five or more guards and he totally kicked trash every time. It was kinda fun. Ridiculous and dumb. But fun. He was also the smartest one in this in that he figured out what was really going on almost as fast as I did. I don't know why it took Shailene Woodley so long, but I'm glad someone was ahead of the obvious game. Moving onto other actors. Miles Teller was actually annoying as crap. After his fantastic performance in Whiplash, he's certainly followed up with some awful performances with these movies on top of Fant4stic. I hope for a quick recovery for him. Ansel Elgort was completely useless in this and even looked mostly bored throughout. I really don't know how they conned Jeff Daniels to join this franchise, but he did good as evil Dumbledore. A lot of fun. Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer also return in major roles for this. Don't know why they joined in the first place, but they are here and they also do a great job.

Like I've said many times over the last two years now, I'm not a fan of this franchise. I think it's a horrible story that continues to be a rip-off of so many different movies and franchises, especially The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. I go in with an open mind every time, yet without fail they keep reminding me of why I don't like this franchise. I'm happy that I only have to make it through one more. That said, if you think I'm totally crazy and you love everything about these books and movies, then by all means go see this movie. Don't let me stand in your way. In terms of my personal enjoyment, Allegiant was a step up from last year's Insurgent and probably on par with Divergent. That's certainly not saying very much, but it does mean that if you liked those two movies then you'll like this one. But if you're on my side of the spectrum with this franchise and you didn't like the first two, then don't expect anything more from Allegiant. Yes, it is watchable this time around and, no, it probably won't make my top 10 worst movies of the year list like Insurgent did, but it suffers from the same exact problems that the other two had. Thus you can probably feel free to skip it. Unless you are a completionist and have to finish the franchise regardless of quality. My grade for Allegiant is a 6/10.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Miracles from Heaven Review

I've been on a roll with my religious movie reviews recently. This will be my third in a row and fourth in the last month. But like I've said in all of them, it's Easter time and this Easter is especially loaded with a ton of studios, big and small, wanting to get in the game. I always try to review as many of these as I can because I don't think that IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes are trustworthy sources when it comes to religious films. Anti-religious trolls have to make sure that they destroy every religious film on IMDb and critics on Rotten Tomatoes are usually pretty harsh as well. Case in point. I thought Heaven is for Real from 2014 was a pretty good religious movie, but it has a 5.8 on IMDb and a 46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Why do I bring that example up out of all the religious films out there? Because Miracles from Heaven is from the same studio and it's just as good, if not better than Heaven is for Real and it's currently at 5.1 on IMDb and barely fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a 61 percent. So if you were a fan of Heaven is for Real, make sure you ignore all those reviews out there that are hating on this and make Miracles from Heaven a must-see.

I do have to make sure I play a bit of trailer watch here before I tell you what this movie is about, which was the same problem that Heaven is for Real had. It was a great story, but they literally spoiled the entire plot in the trailer. Thus when I saw the movie, I felt I was seeing it for the second or third time, despite it only being my first. Still enjoyable, but frustrating. When I saw the trailer for Miracles from Heaven and noticed it was from the same people that did Heaven is for Real, I was really nervous that they just did the exact same thing. I felt like I just watched the whole movie. AND I WAS RIGHT! Holy freaking annoying. The people in charge of these trailers should be grounded. I really don't know why they feel the need to tell their whole story in the trailer in order to get people out to see their movie. Tease us for crying out loud. We might be able to guess how this going to turn out, but let us guess. Make the ending a mystery. It is perfectly fine to do that. The premise here is a young girl is diagnosed with a rare intestinal disease that has no cure. Had they not spoiled the ending, I actually would've second-guessed myself as to what was going to happen based on the direction they were taking the movie. Disappointing.

As was the case with Heaven is for Real, I'm not here to review a trailer. I'm here to review a movie. Despite a frustrating trailer, this movie is fantastic. In fact, it does exactly what I've been begging religious movies to do. This is a very realistic, human story with a ton of emotion. The Kendrick brothers specifically need to take some notes from this. All of their movies tell very simple, black and white stories based on good principles. Take last year's War Room for example. Prayer is a good thing that I encourage. But that whole movie told the message that if you pray with a sincere heart, all your problems will immediately go away. Your husband will get deathly ill when he's about to cheat on you. After you've learned to trust in God, your husband will immediately follow. If you've done something illegal, your boss will completely forgive you and won't press charges, even if you deserve 15-20 years in prison for what you've done. Yes, I believe in miracles, but that's a frustrating angle to take. What if someone prays and their spouse still cheats on them? What if their business still fails or their football team still loses or their spouse still gets fired and goes to prison? Does that person just conclude that God doesn't exist because their prayers weren't answered? That would be sad.

Towards the end of my War Room review, I asked for there to be a faith-based film that dove into the issue of why bad things happen to good people. I got it. That's exactly what Miracles from Heaven is all about. Towards the beginning of the movie, they even address this directly. Following the girl getting sick, some members of the congregation approach the mother and tell her that they've been praying for her daughter. This is all good and dandy, but then they probe her and ask her why her daughter is not healed yet. Who's the one sinning? Her, her husband, or her daughter. This makes the mom really mad and she stops going to church because she cant stand being around those people anymore. I actually found this fantastic because it dealt with the honest human emotion that people experience when going through tragedy like this. These parents aren't perfect by any means, but they are honestly doing their best to be good, faithful people and raise their kids right. And they are doing a pretty dang good job. Yet they still have this horrible thing happen to them and it's not solved right away by having faith or turning to God. They already had faith and they were already turned to God. Yes. This happens. Life sucks. We don't know why things happen, but we do know that God lets bad things happen to good people.

Yes, this movie tells the story about an amazing miracle that happened to a family. Yes, this does happen. Often God tests our faith for a while and then after we've endured enough, he decides to show us a great miracle. Or there are times when he shows us this miracle in order to show others that he does exist. But note the title of this movie. It's not called A Miracle from Heaven. It's called Miracles from Heaven. Plural. Many miracles. And do you know what, miracles happen every single day in our life. We just need to be looking for them. And they're not always obvious. A person walking up to you and deciding to be your friend can be seen as a miracle. Someone saying hi could be a miracle. An act of service could be a miracle. A stranger taking a day off of work to show you around in a new city could be a miracle. Oftentimes we are so stressed out at all the bad things happening around us that it's easy to ignore all the small things that are actually going in our favor. That's what this movie is all about. Yes, big miracles can happen. But it's the everyday small miracles happening all around us that we should really be focusing on. Even if things don't go our way, we can still be positive and faithful. This hit me really hard as I was watching and actually got me super emotional. Major props to this movie for that.

Because of all this, I would say that this is a better written story than most faith-based movies that you see today. It gives honest, human emotion instead of the cheesy, spiritual preaching that sometimes happens in a faith-based movie. Hitting this home are the fantastic performances given by pretty much everyone. I almost can't just single one or two people out because everyone does great in this movie. Jennifer Garner is the lead here, so let's start with her. She's the mother who has to deal with her young daughter going through this as well as dealing with the criticism from some of the congregation who put the blame on her for not being faithful enough. Man does she have some phenomenal moments in this movie as she sells this role perfectly. Then we have her husband played by Martin Henderson who does his best to be calm and collected through all this to keep everyone together. He didn't have as many emotional moments, but yet I almost liked him just as much. Our little girl is played by Kylie Rogers and holy cow is she great! She's essentially the perfect little girl and thus you really feel for her as she has to go through this all, especially in moments where she says she just wants to die because she doesn't want to have to deal with the pain anymore. Excellent! We also have Queen Latifa, Euginio Derbez, and Wayne Pére all as excellent side characters.

Overall, despite me knowing everything that was going to happen going in because of the trailer, I still really enjoyed myself. This is an excellent faith-based film that actually does what I've been wanting a faith-based film to do. I've grown tired of the preachy, faith-based films that paint everything as black and white because there's a lot of gray when it comes to things like this. Bad things do happen to good people and I think it's important to know what to do and how to react in situations like these, even if life doesn't get better. Regardless of what happens in life, if you have an optimistic, positive attitude, you can find all the little miracles happening around you that will make you appreciate life. You can remain faithful through tragedy and not blame God when bad things happen. If you falter in your faith or you get frustrated, that's okay. It happens to everyone. It's called human. You just eventually have to learn how to pick yourself back up. And when the big miracle does come you'll be able to appreciate it even more because you knew how it was to be down in the dumps. That's what this movie is all about and I really appreciated it. This is definitely worth checking out this Easter if you are searching for a good faith-based film to watch. My grade for Miracles from Heaven is an 8/10.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Young Messiah Review

Easter is around the corner and, as I have said previously, there are quite a handful of faith-based films coming out in honor of the season. I was rather high on last month's Risen as it was a really fascinating story about the resurrection taken from a unique angle. Later this week you'll learn of my opinion of Miracles from Heaven, which comes from the same studio that made Heaven in for Real a huge success. In April comes God's Not Dead 2, a sequel which I am quite honestly dreading. But right now it is time to talk about The Young Messiah, a movie that definitely piqued my interest. Reviews have been all over the place, so I didn't know what to think going in. The anti-Christian trolls were very active on IMDb, bringing it down to a 5.3 score. Critics were mixed with a 55 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience score there was more positive with a 72 percent while the Cinema Score was a very strong A-. In the box office, though, this bombed with an abysmal $3.3 million. So yeah, I had no idea what to think. Turns out I have mixed feelings at best about this movie and thus I can't recommend you spending your money to see it.

The reason this movie was so intriguing to me is because it attempted to tell the story of what life was like for Christ as a young child. As I stated in my review of Risen, the story of Christ's life is one that has been told over and over in the history of cinema. Some of the first movies ever made were movies about Christ. This makes sense because Christians are obviously adamant about getting the story of Christ out to the world. But now with so many movies about this same subject having been made already, in my opinion you plan on doing this again then you have to do something new and unique. This is what this movie did. No one has really attempted to dive into the childhood of Christ. And there's good reason for that. Almost nothing is written about the childhood of Christ. We obviously have the story of his birth. Then we have the story of him teaching the priests in the temple when he was 12. Outside that, we have one small verse that says that he increased in wisdom and knowledge. That's it. The rest of what's written about him in the Gospels is him as an adult. That means there would have to be a lot of creativity to make this work as well as a lot of intelligence to make Christian audiences accept this as plausible.

That's the problem here. This didn't feel plausible to me. No, I'm not going to sit here and be a New Testament purist and yell at this movie for not being perfectly accurate. The biggest reason for that is that with this subject matter, we just simply don't know what happened. I can't say for sure that something they did was right or wrong because we just don't know. Even if we did know, I'm usually fairly forgiving with Biblical movies as long as they don't pull a Noah and do something completely bogus and disgusting with an amazing story just for the sake of using it as a basis to jump on your political high horse. The Young Messiah didn't feel blasphemous or awful. It just felt off. I wasn't offended. I was just raising an eyebrow at everything that happened. We start the movie off by a bully running to hurt a girl. Jesus yells at the guy to stop which is followed by the devil throwing an apple in the kids way, tripping him and killing him. Of course Jesus is the only one that can see the devil and so the whole crowd claims 7-year-old Jesus for killing him. After a bit of an uproar, Jesus raises the kid from the dead. What? Jesus raised people from the dead when he was only 7-years old? That just doesn't feel right.

The rest of the movie is essentially a coming of age story, so to speak. Jesus is realizing that he has these amazing powers to perform miracles, but he doesn't know why he is so special. But Mary and Joseph won't tell him because they feel he is too young to know this. In theory, I can understand the struggles Mary and Joseph have as parents in this situation. How do you teach God's only begotten son about God? Is it right to tell a 7-year-old that he is in fact the savior of the world? It's also possible that Mary and Joseph at this point don't fully comprehend exactly what this means themselves so they might not be sure how to explain in. But still. These are two very faithful human beings as the Bible explains. An angel came to them before he was born and told them who this was. Why would they hold back in explaining to him who is? Especially after, according this this movie, he's definitely proven that he deserves to know since he's already performed miracles and can quote all scripture. But anywho, they don't and so most of this movie is young Jesus trying to figure it out on his own which includes him travelling from Nazareth to Jerusalem by himself to figure this out. It just didn't feel right to me.

The other thing about this movie is that the tone felt off. This is Easter time. And this is a movie about Christ. This should be more light-hearted and spiritual in tone. Even if the facts are off in a Biblical movie, if I come out feeling uplifted and inspired, I can give it a pass. That's the point of a faith-based movie, right? That doesn't happen here. This movie is surprisingly dark and creepy. It also definitely earns its PG-13 rating. Now I'm not against the idea of making a faith-based movie PG-13. Risen from last month and Son of God from 2014 were both PG-13 and I enjoyed those movies. But those were PG-13 mainly because of the crucifixion scenes. The tone was still great and uplifting. The Young Messiah was just creepy and depressing for much of it. First off, we had the crazy new young Herod trying to hunt down this child. They did a great job of making him feel evil and crazy, but they got a little carried away with it, especially when they threw in a scene of a scantily-clad female dancing for him for an extended period of time. Because of him, much of the movie was the Roman soldiers chasing Jesus and his family. They were terrifying. We had a few gruesome crucifixion scenes. As in while travelling, the family walked down a path full of people being crucified. Was this necessary? And when all that wasn't happening, we had the devil creeping around.

Yeah. I wasn't expecting all that. Not that I really mind a dark and creepy Biblical movie, but when we're talking about the life of Christ, especially 7-year-old Christ, I would think that we would at least have some spiritual aspect to this. Right? No. This wasn't a spiritual movie. I don't think they were trying to help people find faith in Christ or rekindle the fire in believers during this Easter season. They were just telling a dark and creepy fictional drama of what life may have been like for a 7-year-old Jesus. No, this is not a bad movie by any means. I wasn't offended and turned off. I was just let down because I was confused for most of the movie about why certain things were happening. And the overall narrative of this coming of age story was just not that interesting to me. Sure, the production quality of the movie was fantastic. Great cinematography. Great set designs that made us look like we were in first century Jerusalem. Fantastic casting choices and phenomenal acting. So this definitely had potential to be really good. It's just the choices they made with the story and tone were off. Perhaps this could be traced back to the source material, but I haven't read the book this was based off of and I don't know much about the author, so I can't make a fair judgment there.

In this end, there's a lot of choices for Christian audiences this Easter season. As a Christian myself, I really enjoy a good faith-based movie, especially during Easter or Christmas seasons. I want to be able to recommend these movies to you if you are also the target audience. If you aren't a person of faith and you don't like Christian movies regardless of how good they are, well, I don't really know why you are reading this because you already probably knew that there wasn't a chance that you would go see this movie. Unless you just like reading my reviews. In which case, thanks. But if you are a Christian looking for a good faith-based movie to see, my recommendation is that you skip this one. I did think the production quality of the movie is great and while this isn't a bad movie, the story was just not interesting, it was way too dark and creepy than it needed to be, it wasn't very spiritual at all, and, although we don't know much about the life of Christ when he was this young, this just didn't feel like it was even in the right ballpark. I didn't hate this. But I didn't enjoy it either. I'll let you know if Miracles from Heaven or God's Not Dead 2 are worth seeing, but as of now I can send you to see Risen instead of this. That's my recommendation. My grade for The Young Messiah is a 6/10.

Singing with Angels Review

If you live in Utah right now, you have the opportunity of going to see the small, LDS film about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Motab) called Singing with Angels. If you don't live in Utah and you've seen the trailers, you'll most likely have to wait until this comes to DVD before you can view it because I don't think this is expanding very far. Now the LDS film community is growing tremendously and I think that's great. Major LDS films have been hitting theaters rather frequently following the success of God's Army in 2000, but recently they've been doing very well with movies such as The Saratov Approach and Meet the Mormons that have gotten the attention of national media. As someone who is LDS and has been watching these LDS films for much of my life, even before they started putting them in theaters, I usually take it upon myself to see these movies and review them, especially for a movie like Singing with Angels that hasn't gotten very much attention at all. I honestly wish I could give them all positive reviews, especially when the intentions are great, but the fact of the matter is sometimes these movies just fall flat. Unfortunately Singing with Angels falls very flat.

I first saw this trailer a few months ago in front of some other faith-based movie. I can't remember which one it was, but honestly it looked terrible. Yes, there can be great movies that have bad trailers, especially if it's for a small movie like this, which is why I decided to give it a shot. Because I almost didn't. My biggest question going in was what is this movie? Is it a documentary about the Motab? Is it a docudrama? Is it a movie inspired by the true events of someone who was in the Motab? I really didn't know. The advertising didn't even really make that clear. Turns out this is purely a work of fiction and is definitely not a documentary. Is this inspired by true events? I think it might be. But the movie didn't say anything about that, so I don't know. Either way, we are telling the story of a woman who made it into the Motab and her experiences with her family during her tenure there. There's a lot of different directions that they could've taken this movie, but unfortunately the direction they took was a surprisingly boring and uninteresting one.

Had this been a musical drama following the Motab, it could've been really interesting. It could've been a concert movie of sorts, either fictional or biographical. I've seen both work very well. But it's not. Outside a few practices and rehearsals, you get almost no Motab music until the third act of the movie. They also could've made a movie about a guy whose life was saved when he stumbled on music by the Motab. That would've been great. Yes, that's in there. But it's really just shoehorned in there as it only takes up about five minutes or so at most. Instead this is just a movie about an average family living an average life. We have an annoying mother-in-law. The daughter gets sick at one point. The mother is trying out for the Motab. Events happen. They go to the store a few times. The father talks about his job. They move at the beginning of the movie. The mother is teaching a choir class at a high school. But holy freaking cow there's almost no conflict in the movie and almost no Motab. To make things worse, the story is told out of chronological order. It's not confusing, but it does take away any drama or anticipation of this mother getting into the choir as well as a few other plot points that they tried to make interesting. And it was completely unnecessary.

Was this a movie showing the behind-the-scenes of how to get into the choir? Kinda. Does this show what life is like in the choir? Kinda. But not really. It's just a story about an average family. It's like if someone who was actually in the choir starting filming their average, normal life for a few weeks and edited it into an 94 minute movie and made you watch it. Yeah this movie covers five years, but you get my point. Speaking of editing, the flow of this movie wasn't good. It felt very choppy and all over the place. Some of the shots were good, but they just weren't put together very well and they didn't feel super professional. They had a lot of shots of temple square and the tabernacle that the choir practices in, but they looked like they were shots that were taken directly from Music and the Spoken Word or General Conference, if you know what I mean. And every time we bounced back and forth through time, we had to fade into black and white. If I'm being completely honest, I was so bored for the entire movie and the fact that the production of the film looked very low quality and homemade made it even worse, especially with a lot of the editing and story-telling choices.

Sure, you could chalk a lot of these issues up to this being a very low-budget film and forgive it because of that. But I can't do that because I've seen plenty of low-budget films that are fantastic. You wouldn't know by watching them that they had little to nothing to work with. Last year we had an LDS film called Once I was a Beehive that was fan-freaking-tastic and I'm sure their budget wasn't super high. So it's no excuse. This looked like a low-budget film and the screenplay was bland and uninteresting. The acting in the movie was fine. Our biggest name in the movie was Scott Christopher, which if you are up to date on your LDS movie culture, you should know exactly who he is because he shows up in like everything. Most notably he plays the investigator Kyle Harrison in The Best Two Years. He did a good job in this movie. As did the others who are lesser-known. But they just weren't given anything to work with here. But hey, this is a Motab movie, so if the music is great then we can forgive the rest, right? Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, nice idea. Like I said, there's almost no Motab in this movie. And I'm not convinced that anyone in this movie actually sang. It felt like they were lip-syncing to dubbed over Motab music.

I do have to give credit where credit is due and there is a third act to this movie that actually tries to be good. Despite almost literally nothing interesting in the movie happening for almost the whole time, something finally happens and I was like, hey! I feel emotion! I kinda care about this part of the movie! Kinda. It was too little too late for me to really feel affected. Also in this third act, they finally had some actual Motab singing and those one or two songs were pretty good and emotional like a Motab movie should be. They either brought in or spliced in the actual choir for these pieces and for once it didn't feel like lip-syncing. And I know it was the actual choir because I have a friend in the choir right now and I saw him in the movie. Twice. And it made me happy. But then it made me nervous and sad because I knew I was going to go home and write this horrible review of a movie that had a person in it that I actually knew. And that person might read this. Yikes! But anyways, back on track, you will get the feels for a bit and I was hearing sniffling from others around me, but at the same time I was more frustrating because I feel this should've happened a lot earlier in the movie. Not at the end. Thus it was like wasted potential instead of emotional feel-goods for me.

In the end, I really feel bad writing this review because I know that there was good intentions with this movie. There is a lot that you could do with a Motab movie. Make it a musical drama. Make it a concert movie. Make it an actual documentary where we interview past and current members of the choir. Make a full movie out of that five minute scene we got in the middle of this where we told the story of how the Motab saved a guy's life. Any of these would've been an excellent option. Instead we get a fictional movie about an average family with almost no conflict whatsoever until the very end and almost no Motab music. It was a very disappointing experience. I've seen a lot of great LDS films in the past. I've begged people to go see these films. But this time I am going to beg you to stay home and save your money. Don't see this in theaters. This is the type of movie where if it's on sale at a Deseret Book for a dollar or two, it might be worth picking up and playing as background noise on a Sunday evening when you have nothing else to do. But even that's a stretch as it might be more enjoyable to listen to a Motab CD or re-watch an actual Motab concert. My grade for Singing with Angels is a 5/10.

Friday, March 11, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

About two months ago now, I saw that 10 Cloverfield Lane was trending on facebook. This was in mid-January shortly after I had done my in depth look at all of 2016. A Cloverfield sequel was NOT on my radar. In fact, it was on no one's radar. So when I saw it was trending, I naturally assumed that they had announced that a Cloverfield sequel was in the works and would come our way in 2017 or 2018. I was down for this. I'm in the party that loved Cloverfield and I'll get to that in a second. But no. But no. They weren't announcing that a Cloverfield sequel was in the works. They were announcing that a Cloverfield was complete and was coming in two months. And here's the trailer. That absolutely floored me! They made a freaking movie of this caliber without anyone spilling the beans. J.J. Abrams loves his secrets and this was a huge one. Back in the day this sort of thing happened all the time. You never really knew what movies were coming out until you went to the theaters and watched the trailers. But that was before social media. We don't live in a day and age of secrets anymore. The second a director, studio, or producer thinks about making a movie, it's already all over the headlines. But 10 Cloverfield was made and finished without anyone knowing about it. That's incredible!

Cloverfield. This is a fairly polarizing movie. It was a horror/thriller of sorts made back in 2008 when the idea of a found footage movie was still a novel idea. I'm not a fan of all found footage movies. In a lot of the recent found footage movies, the format was completely unnecessary and even held the movie back. Earth to Echo is a great example of that. Could've been a fun movie. The found footage made it kinda dumb. But Cloverfield did it good. It was an alien invasion movie done found footage style that gave you the feel that if someone were actually recording during an alien invasion, that's exactly how it would've gone down. There were so many brilliant, unique elements to it that made it really fascinating. But I get it. It's not for everyone. Many didn't like the alien invasion element or constant explosions. Many got super dizzy and/or annoyed with the constant, shaky handheld camera style. And that's fine. So if you disliked the movie for these or other reasons, this is a movie that you can just forget about, right? WRONG! This is actually nothing like Cloverfield. It's not a sequel. It's not a reboot. It's not a spin-off. It's not a prequel. It's not a side-quel. I don't even know if it's in the same universe. So what it is? J.J. Abrams called it a blood relative. Yeah, that describes it pretty well.

There's a lot of similar elements to Cloverfield, hence the name, but this is a completely different thing. None of the actors or characters return. We're in a different part of the country. There's no references to the events or people or date in the first one at all. In fact, this is not even a found footage movie. That will give many of you a sigh of relief. And while I do like plenty of found footage movies, I will share your sentiments. In this case, no found footage was a very good thing. Now I've been spending a lot of time telling saying what this movie is not because I want you to go in with the right mindset. But now let me tell you what this movie is. It's a thriller. And it's a dang suspenseful thriller that is successfully terrifying in many ways. While Cloverfield had a ton of characters and they were all frantically running around in Manhattan, 10 Cloverfield Lane had three characters and they were all confined to one small area for nearly the whole movie. We have this girl who leaves her boyfriend and is driving down the road at night when suddenly her car gets hit and she rolls over several times. After blacking out, she wakes up confined in what looks like a dungeon while handcuffed to a pole. "I just got kidnapped," she thinks. "I didn't kidnap you," John Goodman responds. "I rescued you."

I don't want to say too much about this plot because the less you know, the better it is. Needless to say, this girl is not convinced at all that John Goodman rescued her, but he's adamant that he saved her life. As an observer to all this, I honestly had no idea who to trust or what was going to happen. I think I flip-flopped in my head about 10 to 20 times. Maybe more. I kept playing out in my head what I thought was going to happen, but there were so many twists and turns in this movie that every 10 minutes or so I changed my mind. The second I thought I actually knew what was going on, the movie took another turn. This happened literally throughout the whole movie. And dang this was suspenseful. I was downright terrifying for nearly the whole movie. The fact that this is a relative to Cloverfield made this even worse because I knew based on that movie that I couldn't put anything past this movie. They could literally do just about anything and I wouldn't be surprised. That's what happened in Cloverfield. I don't want to spoil that movie for those of you who haven't seen it, but there's a lot of crazy things that happen in that movie. I didn't think for one second that they couldn't do whatever the heck they wanted and it made me scared.

All three actors in this movie were fantastic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was our lead female character and she was so great in this. People these days are always on the lookout for a strong female character in a movie and by goodness did they get one with this girl. Her co-prisoner/rescuee (we don't know which is the case and I'm not going to tell you) is played by John Gallagher Jr. and he is also great as her partner in crime as they try to figure out what in the heck is going on. But despite these two great performances, it's John Goodman that completely steals the show. He has proven time and time again that he is one of the best actors in the business right now and has been for many, many years. His character is both very mysterious and very creepy and boy does he pull that off. Yes, he has the charm to him that at times will make you side with him and believe that everything he is trying to tell these people is true. But yet he also has the creep factor that just terrifies you, especially when he flips out at them. I mean, John Goodman is no small dude. If you make him mad, he is terrifying and inescapable. If he is chasing you, you better pray that he makes a mistake.

Did you know that John Goodman has never been nominated for an Oscar? Not even once? We all jumped on the Leo bandwagon in demanding he get an Oscar and we rode it until he finally won this past year. Can we make John Goodman our next target? He deserves a gold trophy as well. Thrillers rarely get nominated for anything, especially not when they come out in March, so he won't get one for this role, but I hope he does soon. There's a lot of other things I want to talk about with this movie, but I'm not going to touch on them out of respect for the experience. Just know that I was on the edge of my seat the entire time in this very suspenseful movie. But there is an ending to this movie that I'm going to vaguely dance around because when it comes to thrillers, one of the most important elements is to have a good ending and in this case I am completely torn. On one hand, I think it's genius and amazing how things turn out. On the other hand, they could've taken a page or two from the original Cloverfield. On a third hand, there was another thing that I wish they would've done that could've been amazing that they didn't do. What does all this mean? It means that you should watch the movie then come talk to me and we can sort things out.

All in all I really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane. If you were a fan of the first, it probably means that you enjoy suspenseful movies and thus I have reason to believe that you will enjoy this one as well. Just don't go in expecting a Cloverfield 2 because that's not what this movie is. If you normally love thrillers, but you didn't like Cloverfield because of the found footage style or you thought the alien element of it was a little silly, then you might actually enjoy 10 Cloverfield Lane. It's a very different movie that spends most of it's time in a claustrophobic bomb shelter type of place and is not found footage. If you aren't in the mood to be terrified from beginning to end, this might not be your movie because this is one of the most suspenseful thrillers that I have seen recently and is much more terrifying than the original Cloverfield. I'm undecided on the ending as of now, but this is a non-stop thriller that is suspenseful from beginning to end and much of the credit there goes to John Goodman for being such a terrifying and creepy character that is very mysterious at the same time. I love Cloverfield and I also love 10 Cloverfield Lane. But for very different reasons. My grade for 10 Cloverfield Lane is a 9/10.