Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Preview: July 2016

The summer of the disappointing sequels continued in June as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2, and Independence Day: Resurgence joined May releases Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and X-Men Apocalypse as sequels this summer to disappoint. Several other non-sequels also fell flat on their faces here in the U.S., including Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Warcraft, and Free State of Jones. The Chinese people are doing their best to redeem several of those, but it's still surprising how many of these attempted blockbusters are failing this summer. Of course, not all was a loss this month, especially not if your name is Pixar as Finding Dory has shattered all kinds of records on its way to not only being the top movie of the summer by a long shot, but also potentially the top grossing movie of the year. The Conjuring 2 also scared up a ton of money and a handful of original films including Me Before You, Central Intelligence, and The Shallows were rewarded. July is another month loaded with blockbuster hopefuls that will try to keep things positive. On paper it looks like this should be a strong month, but we shall see. Let's dive in!

July 1st - 4th-

After impressively spending two weeks at the top of the box office, Finding Dory is looking like it will pull off the three-peat this weekend, which is especially impressive being that it's an animated movie released in the middle of the summer. Three new releases will join Independence Day: Resurgence in the fight for second place and it's looking like the winner could be The Purge: Election Year. The annual purge is becoming a tradition here in mid-summer as the past two summers saw the releases of The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy, both of which opened around $30 million and made $64 million and $71 million respectively. It's a low-budget franchise as both movies made the money they did on a budget of less than $10 million. The idea of this franchise is very simple. Once a year, all crime, including murder, becomes legal for 12 hours and in this universe that's supposed to make world an overall safer place. It's really just an excuse to have an extremely violent movie and this has successfully pleased audiences and it doesn't seem to be losing steam at all as The Purge: Election Year is tracking ahead of The Purge: Anarchy at this same point. The election year theme is also very well-timed given that we're right in the middle of election year in real life. Don't be surprised to see a fourth Purge movie announced before too long for next summer.

Next up is our latest attempt at making a live-action remake of a Disney animated property with The Legend of Tarzan. Granted, Tarzan had been around for many years before Disney's animated movie in the late 90's, but most of Disney's animated movies are also adaptations of something, so this still fits the bill. This is the third movie this year in this trend following The Jungle Book and Alice Through the Looking Glass. The latter was a huge flop, but with the huge success of The Jungle Book, this trend isn't going to slow down any time soon. In fact, Disney is planning on speeding it up even further as they alone will be doing two to three of these movies a year. And it's not just Disney remaking their own movies. Other studios are joining the party as well as is shown here. The Legend of Tarzan isn't Disney's work. It's Warner Bros. Last year, Warner Bros. joined this trend with their movie Pan, which was a critical and financial disaster. The Legend of Tarzan is tracking ahead of Pan, but that's not saying much. People don't seem to be super excited about this movie and early reviews are coming in sour. Although Tarzan is a popular character, so there's a chance it could surprise, especially with a large cast that includes Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, and Samuel L. Jackson.

These three movies could realistically end up in any order, but I put The BFG in third place for now because it seems like it has the biggest uphill battle to climb. Fans of The Purge franchise probably won't care that two other horror/thrillers also came out in the last few weeks (The Conjuring 2 and The Shallows) and The Legend of Tarzan seems to be going for a broader audience with a PG-13 rating in addition to having a fan base already built in. The BFG will be specifically targeting family audiences, meaning not only will it be competing directly with the seemingly unstoppable freight train that is Finding Dory, but it also has the highly anticipated The Secret Life of Pets to deal with the upcoming week. Too many options for family audiences in such a small window of time usually means something gets left in the dust. That being said, will people really turn down the opportunity to see another Steven Spielberg directed movie with a John Williams score? This is one of the most successful and popular directors in history we're talking about. Plus, the novel this is based on is one of the more popular novels written by Roald Dahl, who also penned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.

July 8th - 10th-

Something's got to stop Finding Dory, right? The Secret Life of Pets is looking like it will do just that. Or you can call it a passing of the baton as this will be the fourth straight weekend that an animated movie will top the box office. Not only has Illumination thrown together a phenomenal marketing campaign for this movie, but it's also had a head start overseas as it was released in the U.K., Ireland, and Norway on June 24th and will hit a few Asian markets before its U.S. release on July 8th. The early word is positive. Great marketing campaign combined with good reviews is usually a great formula for success. There is the possibility that the crowded family market might hurt it a bit, but it doesn't seem like it will hurt it too much. And if we're talking about an animation company that is on an absolute roll, it's definitely Illumination. This will be their sixth movie thus far and their five previous movies have averaged $255 million in the U.S. and $641 million worldwide. This is mainly due to the hugely successful Despicable Me franchise with the ever so popular minions. That connection has been all over the advertising here. Plus, everyone loves their pets. Toy Story with pets seems like a winning idea on its own.

This summer hasn't been so nice to R-rated comedies. Granted there's only been two of them, but both Neighbors 2 and Popstar flopped pretty hard. If you throw in The Nice Guys into the mix, which was more of an action comedy, you have a third one that didn't do so well. That means one of two things for this next R-rated comedy, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Either it will follow the trend of being a disappointment or it will take advantage of the current dry market for this genre and be a surprise. The title of the movie tells you all you need to know about the plot of this movie. Mike and Dave, played by Adam Devine and Zac Efron, are searching for wedding dates. Their two female co-stars are Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. Connect the dots there and you have an idea of what will happen. All four of these actors are popular in their own right, but in most cases it's been in supporting roles. Can they carry their own movie? The director here is Jake Szymanski, who has zero previous experience working on a feature-length, theatrically-released film. Wedding comedies have been huge in the past, but recently they've been hit and miss. Thus all signs point to this being another disappointment at the box office.

July 15th - 17th-

The third weekend of July will see easily the most controversial film of the year get released and that is Ghostbusters. Starting with the positive, director Paul Feig has a very good history at the box office as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy were all huge hits both financially and with audiences. All three of those starred Melissa McCarthy, who is a comedy superstar at the moment, making the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy combination a rather dangerous one. But this here is a much different animal. First off, this is the first time that Paul Feig has attempted to direct a PG-13 rated comedy. Thus he's really unproven when it comes to more family-friendly comedy, which is what Ghostbusters is attempting to be. Some people aren't super happy about the idea of female-led Ghostbusters movie, but the much bigger issue here is the idea of Ghostbusters being rebooted in the first place. When it comes to reboots, a good trailer or two can usually win over at least some audiences. But that's the biggest issue. The trailers for this movie have been unanimously hated across the board. In fact, they're the most hated trailers in YouTube history and anyone that's tried to defend them has been mauled by an angry, rabid Ghosbusters fan base. What does that mean financially? Well, controversy often sparks curiosity. So there's a chance that all the hate might actually help this movie. But if it's as bad as everyone thinks it will be, this could also disappear quickly.

There's no real competition for Ghostbusters this weekend. The only fight it will have will be holdovers from previous weeks. But there is another smaller release and that is The Infiltrator. This is a thriller that will be aimed at adult audiences, which means a giant opening weekend isn't expected, but its box office life will be determined by how well it's received. This is based on the book written by Robert Mazur in which he tells of his experience fighting the biggest drug cartel in history. Playing Robert Mazur in the movie is Bryan Cranston, who is fresh off of his Oscar nomination for Trumbo this past year. In the last few years, Cranston has becoming a big star both on the big screen and on the small screen, so his presence could attract some people to theaters. Movies about the fight against the drug cartel are fairly common, but they're also usually very well received by those who actually go out and see them. The director here is Brad Furman, the director of The Lincoln Lawyer and Runner Runner. Back in 2011, The Lincoln Lawyer opened to $13 million on its way to a $58 million total. That seems like a best case scenario if the stars align for The Infiltrator. A more likely scenario might be one like Runner Runner, which opened to $7 million on its way to a $19 million total.

July 22nd - 24th-

Regardless of how well The Ghostbusters does in it's first weekend, it's likely to take a shot to the chin in it's second weekend as this fourth weekend of July sees Star Trek Beyond arrive in theaters. Star Trek has been one of the most popular franchises for quite a long time starting with it's formation in the 1960's. It's had an up and down history both on TV and on film, but in 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise in a huge way after it had been going through an especially hard time. The 2009 reboot created a new generation of fans and ended up being the highest grossing Star Trek movie ever, even when you adjust for ticket price inflation. Old time Star Trek fans were a little more on the fence with this reboot, but they especially lashed out against its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, ranking it as the worst Star Trek movie ever made at the Star Trek convention in 2013. Enter Star Trek Beyond. With J.J. having gone over to Star Wars, Justin Lin from the Fast and Furious franchise has taken the helm for this third movie and he has a lot of fans nervous. Star Trek Into Darkness was still well-received by casual fans and critics and was a box office success, but there's a lot of signs that point to this potentially continuing the trend of under-performing sequels this summer.

Speaking of sequels, we have another one this week. This one is the fifth Ice Age movie, Ice Age: Collision Course. If you are wondering why in the heck we have five Ice Age movies, look no further than the overseas totals for these movies. Yes, they have been financially consistent here in the U.S., each making between $150 million and $200 million. But the overseas totals tell the whole story. When you look at the overseas chart (not worldwide -- overseas only), the two highest grossing animated movies are Frozen with $875 million and Minions with $823 million. Right behind those two? You guessed it. Ice Age: Continental Drift (the fourth movie) comes in third with $715 million and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (the third movie) come in fourth with $690 million. Yep. Now you know why we are getting a fifth movie. When you make that much money in today's movie business, you find a way to keep going. This might be yet another under-performing sequel here in the U.S., but that doesn't matter. They eat these movies up overseas for some odd reason. And it's not just one country. It's a lot of them combined.

The final movie of this weekend will be the horror movie Lights Out. A couple of years back there was a three-minute short film called Lights Out (that I have linked for you right there) that was created by David Sandberg that preys on people's fear of the dark. It's quite the effective little horror short film that might make you have a hard time sleeping if you watch it at night. After going viral, that little short film has been turned into a feature-length film using the same ideas that is also written and directed by David Sandberg while being produced by horror expert James Wan, director of The Conjuring and Insidious. This is a bit of a risky venture as an 81-minute version of this might not be as effective as the three-minute short, but financially there's practically no risk with these horror films. Most of them cost less than $10 million to make, so all they need is a final total of like $15 million (or even less if it cost less than $5 million) in order to be considered a financial success. That should be a very easy mark for Lights Out to hit. It could get there in its first weekend.

July 29th - 31st-

On our final weekend of July, we have yet another highly anticipated release, that being Jason Bourne. Having Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, and August's Suicide Squad all coming out in consecutive weeks is either going to make for a phenomenal end to the summer or they could all end up self-destructing. Not everyone can afford to go to every movie released. We'll get to Suicide Squad a month from now in my August preview, but out of these three movies that will be finishing off July, Jason Bourne is the most likely to succeed. When you think of the best action stars or characters, Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is probably one of the first that comes to your mind. All three of his Bourne movies were huge financial and critical successes, which peaked with The Bourne Ultimatum making $227 million back in 2007. The fourth movie, The Bourne Legacy, was a failure, but that didn't have Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass. Now it's been nine years since Ultimatum and Matt Damon is back along with Paul Greengrass and fans are excited. Adjusting for ticket price inflation, Ultimatum's total is equivalent to $283 million. Is it possible for Jason Bourne to get that high? Maybe that's too much to expect, but this should be huge.

Our second raunchy comedy of the month comes in the form of Bad Moms. STX Entertainment is a fairly new production company whose goal is to produce and distribute several medium-budget, star-driven movies each year. They started off with three thrillers, two of which had pretty good success (The Gift and The Boy). Their last couple of movies haven't been quite as successful. The bought and distributed the action movie Hardcore Henry which failed to get to $20 million and then their war movie Free State of Jones was a huge flop this past month considering it's fairly high price tag. Now they're going to try to get back on track with their first raunchy comedy, Bad Moms. This stars Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell as well as Christina Applegate and Jada Pinkett Smith and is about a group of moms that are tired of being over-worked and under-appreciated. Thus they decide that they are going to stop trying to be perfect angels and live the rebellious party life. This is a premise that a lot of ladies can probably relate to. Whether or not they decide to follow these moms' examples is a different story, but this could make for a decent hit.

Our final wide release of the month comes with the mystery/thriller Nerve. If you watch the trailer to this movie, it might seem like you've just watched the whole movie. Without going as far as the trailer, the premise for this thriller follows a high school senior who finds herself immersed in this strange online game where she has to follow a bunch of dares like kiss a random stranger or try on this expensive dress in a store. As a part of this game, there are both watchers and players and thus I don't know why anyone would actually be a part of this super sketchy "game," but I suppose it's not out of the ordinary for high school students to do crazy things without thinking. You can probably guess that this movie will go in a bunch of crazy directions and if you watch the trailer you will learn that you are right, but personally I'll just leave it at that. The directing duo for this movie is the directing duo that did the third and fourth Paranormal Activity movies and the stars are Emma Roberts, the niece of Julia Roberts, and Dave Franco. So there's some recognizable names, but nothing here really screams box office success.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

Back in 1996, the movie Independence Day took the world storm as it opened to $50.2 million on its way to $306.2 million domestically. Both of those were easily the top totals of that year. In terms of the final total, the next two highest grossing films that year were Twister with $241.7 million and Mission: Impossible with $180.9 million. Putting that total into perspective, that $306.2 million put Independence Day into the top 10 highest grossing movies ever at the time and when adjusting for ticket price inflation is equivalent of $594.8 million today, which is in the same ball park as The Dark Knight or The Avengers. On top the major financial success of the movie, it became an immediate favorite of many and a movie that's now considered a classic. It's honestly a bit baffling that it took 20 years for the sequel to show up. It's also baffling to me that 1996 was 20 years ago, but that's a conversation for another day. A lot of people have waited a long time for an Independence Day sequel. And now they have it. If I'm being honest, though, perhaps this should've stayed on the shelf because Independence Day: Resurgence is a huge mess with no entertainment value. Dare I call it a... disaster?

Before I dive into my angry rant against Independence Day: Resurgence, I think it's important that you know my thoughts of Independence Day. If you look at Box Office Mojo's list of the highest grossing disaster movies, these 90's disaster movies dominate the list. You have Titanic, Independence Day, Twister, Armagedden, Apollo 13, Deep Impact, Godzilla (1998), Dante's Peak, and Volcano all having earned a decent amount of money, especially when you adjust for ticket price inflation. People in the 90's loved these movies. But when you go back and watch them, there's a good percentage of them that you realize that maybe there's a huge amount of nostalgia that keeps them elevated to the level they are. Independence Day is a classic example of the latter. I re-watched it yesterday before heading into the sequel and yeah, it's not that great of a movie. Extremely entertaining? Yes. Extremely stupid? Also yes. Thus I would have to classify it as a dumb fun movie. I've seen better action movies and I've seen better disaster movies. If I were to write a review for Independence Day, I would probably give it a 7 or an 8. If you think that's blasphemous, I'd challenge you to take off your nostalgic glasses and go watch it again. If you still think it's an epic masterpiece, well, I guess you're entitled to your opinion. But I'd have to disagree.

With that in mind, I didn't expect much going into Independence Day: Resurgence. It didn't need to be a great movie. I just wanted it to be another dumb fun movie like the first or perhaps like the more recent Pacific Fun, which is one of the best dumb fun movies. Before all of these negative reviews started spilling out, was I among the group of people that was unbelievable excited for this sequel? Nope. And I'm not just saying that to sound smart. In fact, when I did my 2016 movie preview, I put this into the maybe section. Why? One name. Roland Emmerich. Yes, he's the director of the first one, but check out this filmography following his huge success with Independence Day in 1996: Godzilla (1998); The Patriot; The Day After Tomorrow; 10,000 BC; 2012; Anonymous; White House Down; and Stonewall. That's an all inclusive list of the movies his directed post-Independence Day. Ouch. Some of those have some entertainment value. None of them are great movies. Most of them are straight up trash. This man is NOT a good director, people. The fact that Independence Day is such a beloved movie is more of a fluke for him. A good comparison for Roland Emmerich is Michael Bay, who has made almost nothing but crap since Armageddon in 1998.

Speaking of Michael Bay, the best comparison to Independence Day: Resurgence for me is Transformers: Age of Extinction. Not I compliment. I hated that movie. It ended up in my bottom ten for 2014. Good cast. Good visuals. Bad story. Bad acting. Bad directing. A ton of overstuffed action that WASN'T entertaining. We're going to preach most of the same notes here for Independence Day: Resurgence. As I said, I didn't expect great for this movie. I never did. I just hoped for a Pacific Rim level of enjoyment. The fact that I got a Transformers: Age of Extinction level of enjoyment instead made it feel like I just got blind-sided by a horse in the middle of a race track (check out this video to get that reference). I did not expect the movie theater to turn into a prison. You know, that feeling you get when you want to walk out or stop the movie, but instead make the decision to watch the whole thing so that you can give an accurate recommendation to your family and friends? I hate it when that happens. I go to the movies for enjoyment, not punishment. With this movie, I got punished. Thankfully the movie is only 120 minutes long instead of the 165 minutes that was Transformers: Age of Extinction. But that's still 120 minutes that I will never get back as I was completely miserable for every one of those minutes.

Now I've been a bit harsh on Independence Day in this review because I do think it's an overrated movie, but I'm actually going to take a turn from that and use what that movie did right to show what this sequel did completely wrong. First of all, Independence Day knew what it was. Aliens have attacked the United States and after realizing what exactly has happened, the country goes into a state of panic. An initial assault on the aliens takes place. After that fails, they take a step back to figure out what to do. Once they have a plan, an epic speech is given, a second assault is attempted, and the aliens are destroyed. Is this a dumb story? Sure. Can you poke a lot of holes into it? Absolutely. But is it focused? Yes it is. The flow of the movie is great. The setup is done well. We have enough character progression and down time, but not too much. Speaking of characters, we have a handful of well-written characters played by good actors who are doing a great job and feel like they care. Most importantly we have a lot of fun action sequences like when the aliens blow up the white house or our final assault that includes an emotional sacrifice by one of our characters. The movie was also wrapped up in a nice little bow that didn't try to set up a sequel. Had Independence Day: Resurgence followed this simple formula, I would've given it a pass.

But that's the problem. It doesn't. Let's start with plot. Not the strength of the first movie, but it was still well-structured and mostly made sense. This movie's plot? Ummmm... what was it? Aliens are back. And they're kinda mad. Why? How? I don't know. And I don't think the people who wrote this movie know. They're just back. A logical structure to this revenge plot? It's not there. A flow to the movie? Heck no. The plot is a huge mess in just about every way. I don't think I could even describe it to you. Things just happened and I don't know why or how or what was going on. They just happened. I literally don't think I could spoil this movie because I was just confused the whole time. I mean, I could spoil who wins the war, but I think we all knew that anyways. No one makes an alien invasion movie where the aliens win and end up destroying the earth and all the humans on it. Not that I can think of, anyways. If there is one, feel free to remind me of it. If there's not, wouldn't that be kinda cool if it happened? I certainly was rooting for that to happen in this movie, but I wasn't supposed. And it almost worked out. I mean, the aliens destroyed like a third of the earth in the first ten minutes, but didn't do jack squat for the rest of the time.

How 'bout them characters? The reason I say I was cheering for the aliens in this movie is because there was hardly any redeemable characters in this movie. I say hardly any because there was one huge African dude played by Deobia Oparei that has apparently been fighting aliens for the last ten years and he's pretty boss. Everyone else? Nope. And there's quite a few returning characters, too. Jeff Goldbum? He looked bored. I felt he was there to collect a paycheck and that was it. Bill Pullman? I don't even know what the point of his character was. They tried to give him another epic speech, but all of those attempts totally felt flat. Speaking of useless, that's even more the case with Judd Hirsch, Jeff Goldblum's dad in both movies. They did a lot of weird things with his character and everything regarding him was 100 percent unnecessary. If they completely eliminated his story arc, the movie would've missed nothing. Brent Spiner is also back. To his credit, he is the one person that actually looked like he was having a lot of fun in the movie, but his character's story? Yikes. We assumed he got killed in the first one. Nope. Just in a 20 year coma, which he suddenly wakes up from and goes about things as if nothing ever happened. No recovery period. No weakness. Nothing. It was stupid.

Do you know who's not back. Will Smith. I don't know what the conversation was like between Will Smith and the crew of this movie when they tried to recruit him, but he must've listened to their idea or looked at their script and laughed in their face. And that's the moment where they should've cancelled this movie. I'm dead serious. Independence Day without Will Smith should not have happened. Oh but they keep reminding us of him. His son, played by Jessie T. Usher, takes his place as the lead character and thus Will Smith is shown in pictures quite a bit and referenced a ton. How they decided to write Will Smith's character off is really stupid. The other characters in this movie? Well, I'm just going to start naming names here. Liam Hemsworth. Maika Monroe. Sela Ward. William Fichtner. Patrick St. Esprit. Vivica A. Fox. Angelababy. Charlotte Gainsbourg. Nicholas Wright. Travis Tope. Chin Han. Gbenga Akinnagbe. Robert Loggia. John Storey. Joey King. Jenna Purdey. Garrett Weiring. Hays Wellford. Mckenna Grace. James A. Woods. Robert Neary. Joshua Mikel. Joel Virgel. Arturo del Puerto. That there is a long list of characters. And those are all the people that have character names. The first movie had a good balance of characters. This one has way too many. And most of them are either useless or don't seem to care about the movie they're in.

Horrible plot. Horrible characters. Are there any action sequences that are entertaining? Well first off, it's hard to care about the action in the movie when the plot is a mess and none of the characters are interesting. That said, I didn't think the action itself was that great. And I saw this movie in 3D IMAX. I'm glad that I only payed $5 for my IMAX ticket because neither the 3D nor the IMAX were actually worth it. If you must see this movie because you think I'm crazy, at least do me a favor and see it in normal 2D because you will get the same exact experience. Sure, we had 20 years of progressed technology since the first one which made the visuals of the movie naturally more impressive. There was no epic scene like the blowing up of the white house in the first movie. Things were destroyed, but there was no shock value or emotional impact. The first movie was kinda sad when they realized how many people just died. This movie just killed people and made no time to make things emotional or acknowledge the fact that close to a billion people probably got killed. And the final battle between the humans and the aliens? Or any battle for that matter? Boring. Seriously. Boring. And yeah, it was the worst sequel setup that I've seen in a long time.

In the end, I almost literally found no redeemable aspect of this movie, which was a huge disappoint. No, I don't drool over the first movie like many people do, but I still acknowledge the fact that it is an entertaining movie that does a great job of doing what it set out to do. No, I wasn't excited for this movie because I knew who the director was I was scared of the fact that he's made bad movie after bad movie after bad movie. It's like when the name Michael Bay shows up in a trailer. You just roll your eyes and groan. But that aside, I still crossed my fingers that we'd have another fun movie here where I could turn off my brain and have fun watching humans fight the aliens. But I didn't even get that. The plot is a huge mess that has no structure and instead is loaded with a lot of useless scenes and characters. There are plenty of great actors in this movie, but there's very few good performances. There's a ton of poorly written characters, most of which don't even have a good use, so you really can't blame the actors for looking like they're there for a paycheck. They were given nothing. Yes, the movie is visually impressive, but so are the Transformers movies and that alone doesn't make a good movie, especially when the action itself is not entertaining. Independence Day: Resurgence is one of the worst movies of the year and as such I'm going to give it a dismal 4/10.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Free State of Jones Review

STX Entertainment is a fairly new production company that I have been talking up a lot on my blog recently. Their goal has been to produce and distribute several medium-budget, star-driven films per year. This is an idea that I really like. I think people should pay more attention to small-budget or medium-budget films instead of only seeing the huge blockbusters. There's a lot of gems that you'll find if you do search the smaller films out. STX's first movie was The Gift from last August, which I thought was absolutely phenomenal. That got me even more exited for STX, hence is why I have been talking them up. Unfortunately, though, they've been on a bit of a losing streak recently. Although I did enjoy The Boy more than most, I didn't care to see Secret in Their Eyes and Hardcore Henry gave me a headache. Now STX is braving the war genre with Free State of Jones and this is a movie that I was super excited for. Good director. Great cast. Amazing trailers. I don't know why it was being released in the middle of the summer instead of during Oscar season, but it still looked. But holy cow! This movie is a complete mess and a disaster for STX on just about every level. I don't know who to point my finger at. There's a lot of deserving candidates. But we had a potential best picture candidate here that will now go on the books as one of the biggest disappointments of the year.

I love myself a good war movie. By no means am I an expert on the Civil War, but I do think it's a fascinating period of time to study and thus I feel it's rich field to dive into cinematically. There's so many stories to be told about the Civil War that would make for phenomenal films. Free State of Jones tells the lesser-known story of Newton Knight who fought for the Confederate army, but ended up deserting and started his own rebellion against the South. I didn't know much about these deserters and thus I was excited for this movie to teach me more about them and their struggle. Before I dive into why this doesn't work as a good war movie, I want to dive into this financial disaster that this movie has been. First issue. Why was this released in June? Not only is it a super crowded marketplace, but this is the exact type of movie that the Academy usually eats up and thus this needed to be released during Oscar season, which is the last few months of the year. Even putting the reviews aside, the subject matter and the cast would've been enough to help this make more money towards the end of the year. And it could've been able to pick up a nomination or two for someone like Matthew McConaughey or Gugu Mbatha-Raw, which would've helped it even more.

On top of this, the production budget for this was apparently $50 million. I thought STX's goal was to produce and distribute medium-budget movies. The Gift made $59 million on a $5 million budget. The Boy made $64 million on a $10 million budget. Even Hardcore Henry was a win because, even though it only made $14 million, STX purchased the movie for only $2 million. This is a plan that was working. Their goal wasn't to make a ton of money each movie, hence the small budget. So why in the heck would they have a budget of $50 million for Free State of Jones. It seems like $50-$60 million is the ceiling for this company, so why would they do a movie with a budget that was close to their ceiling? That's setting themselves up for failure. Because of that huge budget, they needed to make $100-$150 million with this movie in order to get a good product. Even with amazing reviews and great word of mouth, that may have been a hard mark to hit. But with poor reviews combined with the previously mentioned terrible release date, Free State of Jones opened to a meager $7.8 million and might struggle to even get to $25 million. With a production budget of $50 million, which doesn't even take into account marketing and advertising costs, that hurts. That hurts bad.

So many mistakes made in those regards. And that's not even taking into consideration the movie itself, which is what I'll focus on from here on out. This movie had great intentions and has some great elements to it, but overall the biggest problem is that it felt like this is a movie based off of a rough draft of a screenplay. Somewhere hidden in this sloppy mess is a movie that had potential to be a best picture candidate. But it needed several revisions to that screenplay. The biggest problem is that the movie was too ambitious. It tried to tell too much. I think that this should've focused specifically on Newton Knight's rebellion against the Confederate armies. When the war ended, the movie should've ended. In fact, they didn't even need to stretch it out that far. It could be for a year or two during the war. They could've left more post-war stuff up to our imagination or given us a few blurbs at the end to tell what happened next. But no. This movie starts in like 1962, towards the beginning of the war and tells nearly 20 years of story. But that's not even all. They periodically flash 85 years into the future, late 1940's I believe, to tell even more story. The 1940's stuff was completely useless and actually spoiled some elements of the movie. And nothing post-war intrigued me that much.

Based on the fact that this movie covers 20 years of time and then some, you might think that this is a movie that is super rushed and very choppy. No. This movie is slow and boring. And choppy. It does start out really intense as we are in the middle of a Civil War battle. Then I was really intrigued as we followed Newton Knight on his journey to becoming a deserter. There was a lot of conflict between him and the Confederate army as they were trying to track down the deserters and that conflict was great as well. But man, after like 20 minutes, the movie just got stuck in the mud. I don't mind a slow burner. Not every movie needs to be fast-paced, but if a movie is going to be slow it should be slowly building to something. There should be an emotional climax after the slow build, especially if it's a war movie. Ha ha! Nope. There is no climax in this movie and it builds to absolutely freaking nothing. It's just slow. Occasionally there is an action sequence thrown in or an emotional moment that is had, but those are few and far between. Instead we just have a bunch of sequences from Newton Knight's life just strung together pretty lazily. Like seriously, the transitions in this movie were horrible. We'd randomly jump 85 years into the future or jump one year into the future without warning or throw some historical photos as a transition or throw some text at the bottom to explain something it should've shown instead of told.

It was a mess. An unfocused mess. It seemed like they were trying to tell every detail from Newton Knight's life instead of focusing on one specific event like the story of the deserters that was advertised in this trailer. The worst part of this was the ending. No spoilers, of course, but there is one scene towards the end of the war that got super emotional and I thought that this was going to be the final climax. It should've been. But no. One of our random, lazy transitions was the movie telling us that the war was over. That felt very anti-climatic to me. The worst part was that we kept going and going and going and going. I get that the end of the Civil War didn't end all conflict in the South. But that should've been a separate movie. Let this movie be about the deserters and tell the post-Civil War movie later. Nope. We went for it here. We tried to cram two or three movies worth of story into one long, boring movie. I thought the post-war stuff would be just a minute or two. But it just kept going and at that point I got so bored that the movie caused me to do something unforgivable. I checked my watch. I wanted to know how much time was left in this movie theater turned prison. And then I cried inside when I saw that the movie had 30 minutes left. If that sequence of events happens to me during a movie, then the movie has failed.

There's a lot of fingers that need to be pointed with this movie. The first finger needs to be pointed directly at STX for the horribly timed release and the enormous production budget that made this a disaster waiting to happen. The next finger should be pointed at writer/director Gary Ross for trying to do way too much with this and crafting one of the worst war movies that I have seen in quite some time. Whoever else on the crew who was involved in the decision-making process with this movie is also to blame. It should be noted, though, that the cast of this movie doesn't deserve any blame. Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell were our main players in this and they were all fantastic. I need to especially give a round of applause to Mahershala Ali because he was the best part of this movie. And I should mention that the visuals and the cinematography were phenomenal as well. But the story was such a disconnected, unfocused bore that none of that mattered. This was all super disappointing because I know there was a best picture winner hidden somewhere here. This movie could've been one of the best movies of the year, if not the best movie of the year. Instead it's a big pile of crap. Not the worst movie of the year, but certainly the most disappointing. My grade for Free State of Jones is a 5/10.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Shallows Review

Are you ready to get your shark on? The Shallows comes our way five days earlier than initially planned as just a few weeks ago it was scheduled for Wednesday the 29th, but for whatever reason Sony decided to bump it up a few days to this weekend. Perhaps Sony started to notice a lack of interest in Independence Day: Resurgence and thought this was a good opportunity or maybe they decided they wanted a little more distance between this movie and The Purge: Election Year. But whatever the reason, we have been blessed with The Shallows a few days early. When I first saw this trailer, I immediately had a huge grin on my face. I love shark movies. I was totally ready to get my shark on even if no one else was. In fact, leading up to this movie, I made sure to re-watch both Jaws and Sharknado, two movies I love for very different reasons. Also, I managed to read no reviews going into this movie. As of Wednesday, there were no reviews on IMDb or on Rotten Tomatoes, so I made the decision to ignore the internet on Thursday going into my showing so I could be completely surprised and it turns out I loved this movie. For some reason I was expecting critics to hate it, but then I checked Rotten Tomatoes after leaving the theater and to my surprise they loved it too! Wahoo!

There's two ways you can make a shark movie. You can go the slow and steady route like Jaws or you can go the in-your-face, over-the-top way like Sharknado, which is why I made sure to watch both of them before going into this movie. And yes, I do love Sharknado for the record. Yes, it's a horrible movie, but that's the point. They purposely made a horrible movie, which is why it was super entertaining if you go in with the right mindset. If you are one that hates Sharknado with a fiery passion, rest at ease. The Shallows goes the Jaws route in terms of style. It's slowly and steadily builds tension throughout the movie and thus when we get our shark attacks, they pack a powerful, terrifying punch. But no, The Shallows is definitely not a carbon copy of Jaws. In fact, in terms of story and theme, it goes complete opposite. Jaws is a movie where the shark attacks on a very crowded beach, sending terror throughout the entire city. The Shallows sees Blake Lively pretty much by herself on a private beach, thus bringing the terror of there being no one there to help her escape this shark. She's also on some beach in Tijuana and speaks very little Spanish, so even when she sees people, she has a hard time communicating. She's just out trying to have a good time surfing by herself and gets stuck in a really bad situation.

Another contrast to Jaws that I found interesting is how both movies look at the shark. Jaws takes the angle that sharks are man-eating monsters, thus feeding off people's fear of sharks in that essence. While this is a great premise for a monster movie like that, we all know that's a bit unrealistic. And we're fine with that. The shark in Jaws seems to hunt people for no apparent reason. In The Shallows, the shark is different. Blake Lively is out surfing and just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a giant dead whale in the ocean that she stumbles on that has attracted this shark and thus Blake essentially ran right into the shark's dinner plate and gets bitten. As she's trying to escape, she's leaving a trail of blood from her attack that is keeping the shark around. She manages to escape onto a rock, but since the shark is circling her for the whole, there's no way she can get back to land. By no means am I a shark expert, but this felt more realistic to me, which I appreciate. It was a fresh take on the shark genre. Now in real life would the shark stick around and circle her for a day or two and eat everyone that tried to rescue her? Perhaps not. But it would make for an awfully boring movie if the shark just left after a few minutes. We'd just have the Blake Lively surfing show for the entire run time.

It is worth mentioning that this is definitely a survival movie. Most of the movie is Blake Lively stranded on a rock trying to figure out how to get off. If you get bored with survival movies or movies with only one actor or actress for most of the movie, then perhaps this won't be for you. But I dig them. There's a lot of classic survival movies that I think are phenomenal. A few examples that come to me right off the bat are Cast Away, All is Lost, 127 Hours, Life of Pi, and The Martian. Out of those, the two that immediately jump out at me are Cast Away and Life of Pi. Cast Away because that's our classic survival movie and stranded with Blake Lively on the rock is a bird with a broken wing. That bird was totally Blake Lively's Wilson! The movie managed to make you care just as much about the bird as you did Blake Lively, which is impressive. You wanted them both to make it off. I use the Life of Pi comparison because Blake Lively is stranded in the ocean with a dangerous predator. Pi is stuck on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. Blake Lively is stuck on a rock 200 yards or so from the shore with a shark surrounding her. All this means that The Shallows is like a combination of Jaws, Cast Away, and Life of Pi. A strange mix, but it works well!

To make a successful survival movie, you need a well-written screenplay and direction that keeps the audience engaged for the whole run time and you need a great performance from your main actor or actress. This movie has both. I was never bored in this movie and I give credit to writer Anthony Jaswinski and director Jaume Collet-Serra. Speaking of said director, Jaume Collet-Serra is the guy who directed UnknownNon-Stop, and Run All Night, so he's clearly proven that he can do a tense thriller really well and he delivers yet again on this. As regards to the second part of making a successful survival movie, Blake Lively is amazing in this. And I don't just mean her looks. Yes, she is in a skimpy bikini for practically the whole movie and she wears it well. And yes, they did manage to have slow-motion, close-up undressing scenes when she was getting into her surfer outfit, which I mainly rolled my eyes at, but whatever. I guess Jaws has a skinny-dipping scene to start things off, so we're just being consistent here with our shark movies? Anyways, back on track, Blake Lively is certainly more than just a pretty face. She shows a ton of emotion in the movie and keeps the audience fully engaged with her performance. I was legitimately concerned for her survival and thus I was on the edge of my seat with things got tense.

Speaking of that tension. Yeah. This movie is legitimately terrifying. We get a quick shot of the shark in the opening scene, thus setting the stage for the danger, but then we spend plenty of time building up the tension. And yes, we do have the same type of scenes from Jaws where we go back and forth from seeing things from our characters' points of view to seeing things from the shark's point of view. Plenty of shots with the camera half submerged and plenty of shots under the water looking up at our various characters surfing and thus we're anticipating the shark attacking, which makes things very nerve-racking. And when these attacks do happen, holy fetch does that shark look phenomenal and glorious. The whole time I was wondering what Jaws would've looked like if Steven Spielberg had today's technology to create the shark. Granted, Spielberg and company did a fantastic job with what they had available to them, but 1975 and 2016 are two very different time periods. This shark is incredible and after you see the whole thing jump out of the water for the first time, you're even more terrified because that thing is scary and you really feel for Blake Lively as you realize exactly what she's up against.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this movie. Yes, I'm fairly easy to please when it comes to this genre, but I thought this was a legitimately well-made shark thriller. Sure, we had plenty of our obligatory, slow-motion, eye-candy scenes with Blake Lively in a skimpy bikini for the whole movie, but her performance in this movie was phenomenal and thus I loved her character. I wasn't cheering for her to get eaten. I was cheering for her to survive, thus the movie was super tense. You know you've made a good shark movie when you fear for the safety of your main characters and you want them to survive as opposed to wanting the shark to enjoy a nice snack. In addition to Blake Lively, the direction by Jaume Collet-Serra was fantastic. It's another great thriller by him and thus I definitely have him on my radar and will be looking forward to his future films. He did a great job of building up the intensity of the movie and making sure the movie delivered at just the right moments. The movie is also visually stunning. It's amazing what we can do with technology in creating life-like animals like giant sharks as well as amazing ocean shots, both in and out of water. In a summer full of a surprising amount of duds, I highly recommend you give this a shot. I'm giving The Shallows a solid 8/10.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Central Intelligence Review

A little Hart and a big Johnson! Central Intelligence is the third buddy comedy in the last couple months. Keanu came our way at the very end of April and The Nice Guys showed up in May. And now we have Central Intelligence here in June. This is actually the fourth movie in this genre to show up this year, but I skipped the first one back in January, that being Ride Along 2. I really hated Ride Along and thus I didn't care to see the sequel in theaters. I might catch up on it before the year ends, but we'll see, but I'll be referencing the first one a time or two just because Ride Along and Central Intelligence share a co-star in Kevin Hart. Keanu and The Nice Guys, though, were two movies that I enjoyed and I was looking forward to Central Intelligence. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson seemed like a hilarious duo and the trailers made me laugh quite a bit. And really, when it comes to comedies, the most important thing is for the movie to make me laugh. Easier said than done, though, because I can get picky with my comedies. A lot of things that certain movies or TV shows try to pass off as "humor" just doesn't work for me. In this instance, I am happy to report that Central Intelligence did its job. It made me laugh and thus I feel comfortable recommending it to all of you!

In Central Intelligence, we start off with our comedic duo in high school. Kevin Hart is the most popular kid in school and is voted the most likely to have a very successful career. Dwayne Johnson on the other hand is kind of an oddball who gets teased and bullied by most of the school. Kevin Hart is the only one in the school to stand up for Dwayne Johnson and Dwayne Johnson remembers and appreciates that. Fast forward 20 years and both of their lives have gone in completely opposite directions than what people thought. Kevin Hart is an accountant who doesn't really like his job even though he is really good at it. He married the girl of his dreams, but their marriage is a bit rocky. Thus he's almost at the point where he's having a mid-life crisis. Dwayne Johnson has now become extremely buff after being really fat in high school and has joined the CIA. As a member of the CIA, he's got himself caught in a really sticky situation that has the CIA actually chasing him and in order to try to clear his name and solve a certain mystery, he reconnects with Kevin Hart in order to take advantage of his expert accounting abilities. Plus Kevin Hart is the only person he's ever trusted. So yes, just like with both Keanu and The Nice Guys, we now have a movie that is not just a comedy, but is an action comedy.

Doing a successful action comedy is much trickier than doing a straight-up comedy and this here is the difference between Keanu and The Nice Guys. Not only do you have to get the comedy right by actually being funny, but you also have to get the action right, meaning your stars have to be believable action stars in addition to being funny comedians. Thus there is a tricky balance that needs to be found. The Nice Guys hit all the right notes with this. Not only is it one of the best action movies of the year, but it was also laugh-out-loud hilarious with a pretty good story. Keanu made me laugh a ton, but the story was a bit shaky and the action wasn't that good. Key and Peele probably should've focused a lot less on the action in Keanu and thus the balance was way off, even though the movie was still entertaining enough to get a pass. Central Intelligence is probably right in the middle of these two movies, with a slight skew towards Keanu. The action is fine and entertaining enough, but it's certainly not what you're going to walk out of the movie bragging about. And the balance between action and comedy is a bit off at times, especially in the second half. At times, it can't decide if it wants to be an action movie or a comedy and thus it gets a bit rocky with both.

See here's the deal. If you want to be an action movie with comedy, you have to focus first on making it a good action and then sprinkle enough comedy in the right places to make it work. This is where The Nice Guys succeeds beautifully. But if you want to be a comedy with action, you have to focus first on making your movie funny and then sprinkle enough action in the right places to make it work. Central Intelligence is going for the latter. They definitely get the comedy right, but where they struggle is the idea of sprinkling the action in the right places. It's over-bloated with action and I got the feel that the director here didn't quite know what to do with all that action, thus the action comes off as more cheesy and far-fetched instead of being cool and awesome. Then you go check out the director's filmography and everything makes total sense. This is Rawson Marshall Thurber, the director of We're the Millers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. This dude is a comedy director. Granted, Dodgeball is a horrendously unfunny movie for me and I never saw We're the Millers. But still. Comedy. Not action. They should've just stuck with comedy here and it probably would've been a much better movie.

That said, what did make this movie work were our two leads, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. Kevin Hart is one of the most popular comedians right now, but for me he's hit and miss. He's like one of those wind-up toys, but he doesn't wind down. He's always super wound up and thus is bouncing everywhere super fast and talking a hundred miles an hour. Sometimes it works really well and makes you laugh the entire time. Other times, like in Ride Along, he becomes extremely annoying really fast, but won't shut up or slow down and thus makes you cringe as you just want the movie to end. With how much I hated Ride Along, I was a bit nervous that this would be a repeat of that, but thankfully this case is the former for Hart and not the latter. He's actually really funny in this movie. Part of why he's really funny is they actually do a good job of holding him back just enough so he doesn't go completely crazy. They do this by making him more of the voice of reason. He's not interested in going on this crazy journey with this friend who he hasn't talked to in years. He just wants to get back home with his wife and his job, but since Dwayne Johnson dragged him into this situation, that's not really an option and so he has to do his best to make it through.

Dwayne Johnson, though, is the one that's a teenager stuck in a 40-year-old body. Yes, he's the CIA agent, but he's the weird, goofy CIA agent, which is a bit different for Dwayne Johnson. He's a bonafide action star who has proven time and time again to be a complete boss who can totally carry a movie when you let him be serious, mean, and kick some trash. The fact that he's the silly, goofy one in this movie and Kevin Hart is the voice of logic and reason makes it so both of them are out of their element, but the two make it work. They could've just let Kevin Hart be Kevin Hart and let Dwayne Johnson be Dwayne Johnson, but they kinda reversed their roles and thus made them have to rely on each other more to really pull it off and this is what they do very well. It's an odd pairing for sure putting the biggest star in Hollywood (literally) with the smallest star in Hollywood (also literally), but it turns out they have amazing chemistry together and even though the action in the movie didn't work out as well and the story was weak and predictable, these two stars still did their best to make this movie work, despite some weak efforts from the writers and director of the movie. It made you want to see these two together again on screen. Which we will. In... Jumanji. Uhhhh....

Yeah. Overall, if you're looking for a good, entertaining movie to enjoy and you're tired of all these sequels getting thrown at you, Central Intelligence is a good option. It's not "original" by any means as it's the third action comedy in two months. But it's not a sequel. If you're looking for comedy, you've got it here. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart make for a great comedy duo who have to rely on each other because their roles are completely reversed as far as what they are both used to doing and it works. Does it mean I'm excited to see them in Jumanji next year? Not really. I think they need to leave that movie alone. But it could work, I guess. These two have now shown that they work well together. And they will have Jack Black joining them. Jumanji aside, I would like to see more of these two together in some sort of way because they made this movie work. As I detailed in this, the action doesn't work super well, which is disappointing because Dwayne Johnson is one of the best action stars of our day. But that blame goes on the director, not on Dwayne Johnson. And yes, the story is weak. They try to make this movie a mysterious, almost whodunit movie, but you see everything coming from a mile away, especially if you pay attention to the rest of the cast. But despite this, I still had a blast with Central Intelligence and thus I will give the movie an 8/10.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory Review

Pixar is at again with their 17th feature-length animated film in Finding Dory. For the longest time, Pixar was nearly a flawless animation company. From Toy Story (1995) to Toy Story 3 (2010) they didn't make a bad film. Sure, I wasn't a huge fan of Cars and the politics that they shove down your throat in WALL-E bothers me more than most people, but they were still good movies. The last five years, though, has been a little bit of a different story. Cars 2 was a disaster. Brave was fun, but it felt like a cliche Disney princess movie more than a Pixar movie. Monsters University was very average. Inside Out was a grand slam hit, but then they followed that up with The Good Dinosaur, another disaster. So yeah, it hasn't been as smooth of a road recently for Pixar. And honestly, Finding Dory is a movie I really can't say I was excited for. I like it better when Pixar is doing original films as opposed to sequels and this didn't seem like a sequel we needed. I loved seeing how excited Ellen was to do this, but when the trailers came out, I felt like this was going to be a carbon copy of Finding Nemo. So no, I wasn't excited. Hopeful, yes. Excited, no. But man I was blown away by this movie! I had an absolute blast with Finding Dory and I'm happy to say that this is another gem in the Pixar legacy!

First and foremost, this actually isn't a carbon copy of Finding Nemo. It definitely pays homage to its predecessor in many and does follow a similar formula that Finding Nemo followed, but it's its own movie. The movie isn't a story where Dory gets lost and Marlin and Nemo have to go search through the ocean to find her and bring home while Dory meets some new fun sidekicks in a place where she gets trapped. That's what the trailers made it seem like. But it's more than that. In fact, if you wanted, you could switch around the title to Dory Finding instead of Finding Dory because she's never really lost. Sure, she gets separated from Marlin and Nemo for some time, but they're just as lost as she is and it's more of a story of them trying to find each other while Dory is searching for her parents because there's several moments where she's saying something, someone is saying something, or someone does something that triggers a memory for her and she is instinctively out to use that memory as a clue to find where her parents. In typical Dory fashion, she doesn't stop to think twice or analyze the situation in order to make a decision, she just does whatever comes to her mind. And since she is bound and determined to find her parents, we are taken on quite the wild ride with her.

The biggest question that people always wonder when you make a movie centered around a side character in another movie is can that side character hold their own when they are put center stage? The answer here with Dory is a definite yes. I don't know how many people got annoyed with Dory in Finding Nemo, but she was one of my personal favorite parts of that movie. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory has always been a match made in heaven. It may be the best voice casting ever in a Pixar movie. Ellen herself is one of my favorite comedians. She is just so fast and witty with her humor that it cracks me up. Just like her character of Dory, it doesn't seem like she stops and thinks about what she is going to say, she just says what comes to her mind and her timing is always so perfect that it is hilarious. I absolutely love her. And she definitely knows when to be serious when that is necessary. That makes her perfect as Dory because Dory is Ellen and Ellen is Dory. Ellen definitely knows what to do when she's put in the lime-light and she is absolutely at the top of her game for the entire movie. I'm pretty sure I was laughing harder and more often than anyone else in the theater with me, even all the kids, because I love Ellen and this was Ellen at her best.

The other thing I liked is that this did have the magical Pixar touch. By that I mean that Pixar has always been good at pulling at your heartstrings and giving us an emotional movie. Some movies they hit harder than others, but all of their movies have feel-good stories behind them, making them great for kids and great for adults. On a scale of Cars 2 to Toy Story 3, how hard does Finding Dory hit emotionally? Somewhere in the top half of that scale. It's not anywhere close to something like Toy Story 3 or Up in terms of emotion. I wouldn't even say it hits as hard as Finding Nemo. But it definitely hits you good. Dory is someone who really struggles with her memory loss. This causes her to be frustrated at herself and understandably lose a lot of self-worth. What is she good for if she can't even remember? Not all of us suffer from the same thing Dory does, be we all have our weaknesses and limitations that can cause us to be harsh on ourselves or question our self-worth, but this movie does a pretty good job of teaching us that whatever our weakness is, we can turn that into a strength. The issue may not go away, but we can learn to deal with it in a positive way and learn to love ourselves for who we are and know that we can do good in the world and that really touched me.

I'm not going to tell you what happens in the second half of the movie, but there's definitely several different directions that they could've taken this movie. If I'm being nit-picky, I honestly think that the movie would've hit even harder had if they had gone a certain direction that I thought they were about to go. But they didn't. It still worked out for me. It just wasn't as emotional as it could've been. And speaking of being nit-picky, this isn't as good as Finding Nemo. The adventure, the story, the emotion, and the side characters were all superior in Finding Nemo than Finding Dory. But do you know what, this didn't need to be as good as Finding Nemo, which is a personal top five Pixar movie for me. This just needed to be a good movie and that's exactly what it is. I will say that it is faster paced than Finding Nemo. The majority of the movie takes place at an aquarium in Morro Bay, California and the movie takes you all over the place in that aquarium in fantastically ridiculous style. In fact, in certain places it felt a little too over the top to the point where I felt like it was a Fast & Furious version of Finding Nemo, but that's not necessarily a bad. I kinda love that franchise. It was kinda fun having turn-off-your-brain action sequences in a Pixar movie. We even got a little bit of Inception homage at the end. It was great!

So yes, I had an absolute blast with Finding Dory. No, it's not as good as Finding Nemo, but it didn't need to be. But it was a lot closer to that mark than I initially thought it would be. In fact, last year I did a blog post where I ranked all of the Pixar movies that were out at the time. If you never saw that post, I just made a link to right there for you to check out. On that list, I had Finding Nemo at #5. Not even Inside Out with all its brilliance was able to break my Pixar top 5, so at this point its hard for Pixar to top movies that are nearly animated perfection, so I don't expect them to top the best of the best. I just hope for a good movie out of them and that's what I got. If I were to put Finding Dory into that Pixar ranking, I would put it at #8, which is right behind Up and right before Toy Story 2. That's some pretty good company and a few notches higher than I was expecting going in. I obviously don't need to try to convince you to go see this movie. You were all planning on it anyways. But I am happy to report that I personally loved it. It was a crazy fun ride, it had me laughing out loud throughout, and it had a good amount of heart to it. Well done Pixar! My grade for Finding Dory is a 9/10.

Next up for Pixar: Cars 3 (2017), Coco (2017), Toy Story 4 (2018), and The Incredibles 2 (2019). Let's continue this positive trend!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Warcraft Review

This is the year that the future of video game movies is being held in the balance. Hollywood has been obsessed for quite some time with trying to make this marriage work with video games on the big screen. But to say it's been a messy marriage thus far might be putting it nicely. Sure, there have been some that I have personally enjoyed and others that have made decent money, especially when you look at overseas totals, but you really can't point to one video game movie that was liked across the board AND was a big hit at the box office. It's been a disaster, but Hollywood keeps trying because they think this is going to work. But perhaps the moral of this story is that video games should remain video games and movies should remain movies. Maybe we should stop trying. However, I say this is the year where the future of video games is being held in the balance because we have two hugely popular video games this year with deep, interesting mythologies that are being adapted to the big screen. Warcraft and Assassin's Creed. If these don't work, is it really even worth trying anymore? Assassin's Creed is out in December, so we'll wait and see on for that one. But Warcraft is out right now with very mixed results across the board to say the least, so it's time now to dive into that one!

Honestly going into this movie I really didn't know what to expect. None of the trailers sold me. But I was willing to give it a shot. Reviews from critics were very poisonous as it currently stands at 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is an 82 percent. In addition to that, it currently has a 7.6 on IMDb with over 60,000 votes in and it scored a decent B+ on cinemascore. So it seems like audiences are enjoying this much more than critics are. Maybe this is one of those instances where tons of critics practically had their reviews written in their heads before they saw the movie and were just looking for things to hate about this movie? I went into the movie hoping that I would at least have a fun time. I obviously didn't expect this to be as epic as The Lord of the Rings, but I was just hoping to have fun. I also saw the movie in 3D IMAX, so I was hoping that experience would be great. Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, perhaps that's an unfair comparison to bring up because few fantasy movies will ever even get close to that bar, but I'm going to be using that comparison throughout this review simply because this has much of the same type of characters. Orcs, humans, dwarfs, elves (I think?), wizards, etc. The potential for this was pretty high and if they were to at least follow the formula set by The Lord of the Rings, they'd have a solid movie on their hands.

But no, this movie is a slog. Before I go any further, I feel obligated to inform you of my history with the Warcraft game. I've personally known a lot of people who love the Warcraft games, especially World of Warcraft. But me? Nope. My total lifetime hours playing any Warcraft game is most likely less than one hour. I just never got into it. I was more of Starcraft person. Two very different games, obviously, but they both have "craft" in their title, so I feel like I needed to bring that up. A Starcraft movie? I've always wanted one of those, but I think the time is long passed to pull it off, so let's just leave that a game at this point. Back to Warcraft, even though I've never spent much time playing the game in my life, as far as the movie genre goes, I'm a huge fan. Like with most people on this planet, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies ever. I've also found myself loving other fantasy movies with similar elements, so I'm not just another old, angry critic just waiting to hate on another giant Hollywood blockbuster. I had high hopes for this. I wanted it to be good. And if I'm being honest, there are a lot of reviews that I have read that I think are being way too harsh on this. I've been hearing some people say this is as bad or worse than something like Jupiter Ascending. Heck to the no on that.

Before I dive into where this movie fails, I do want to spend some time saying how this succeeded, because there is a lot of good. First and foremost, I love this universe that they have set up. I'm not going to try to explain which specific Warcraft game this is based off of, although I hear it's pre-World of Warcraft, but don't quote me on that because I know almost nothing about the games outside perhaps the types of characters in the game. I'm just going with what I saw in the movie. And in this movie, the orcs' world has been destroyed, or something like that, so they jump through this portal into this new world with all the humans. They're plan is to take over this new world because they need a world to live on. Obviously the humans aren't down with this idea and thus we have our conflict. This is a pretty great setup actually. What I really loved is that there is no black and white answer as to who is good and who is evil. In most incarnations of the orc vs. human battle, the humans are good and the orcs are bad. That's how The Lord of the Rings did it. But in this there's a lot more gray area. Sure, we have our fair share of evil orcs, but there's plenty of good orcs in this who are conflicted with what their leader(s) are telling them to do. The fact that we are humanizing our orcs and making us feel for them was a fantastic idea.

Also, visually speaking, this movie is phenomenal. I was a little worried going into this that it would be a huge CGI mess, but that wasn't an issue for me at all. I'm all for practical effects over CGI if you can believable pull that off. CGI should be used as a tool to improve your movie, not a means to create a movie. I think the Star Wars saga has taught us that. The Lord of the Rings vs. The Hobbit trilogies also taught us that. The Lord of the Rings went mostly for practical effects while The Hobbit was all CGI. Honestly I thought the CGI in The Hobbit was horrible in all three movies, especially the orcs. I hated The Hobbit's version of the orcs. Hated. And that totally ruined the whole trilogy for me. That's why I was kinda worried about this. I didn't want Warcraft to suffer the same fate as The Hobbit given that I knew that there was as much, if not more, CGI used in Warcraft as The Hobbit. But do know what, it worked. If you are going to rely on CGI, at least do a good job and Warcraft does a dang good job. This is an absolute visual treat that's gorgeous in IMAX especially. And I listened to an interview with director Duncan Jones where he says that in addition to all the CGI, they did build a lot of actual sets for the movie, which I also appreciate. Movies should never be made the way George Lucas made the prequels.

Also worth a lot of praise is the score of the movie. If we once again think about The Lord of the Rings, one of the many beautiful things about that trilogy is that it has one of the best scores in movie history. It's so good that I bet that you could walk up to almost any random stranger and ask them to sing something from The Lord of the Rings score and on command they'd be able to do that. That score also makes any situation or moment extremely epic when played in the background, whether it be a long road trip, a game of Risk, or whatever. Warcraft obviously doesn't come anywhere close to The Lord of the Rings in terms of the score, but the point of this is that key to any movie, but especially a big-budget fantasy epic, is the score and Warcraft's score is pretty great. This once again made my IMAX adventure with this movie pretty entertaining. We had amazing visuals and a great score and put that together on an IMAX screen in an IMAX theater and it was a lot of fun. It was especially good when we got to the battle scenes in the movie, which were a lot of fun when they happened. So like I said, all this put together means this movie had a pretty good setup with high potential. A lot of things done right.

But there are two major elements of this movie that were a complete swing and a miss for me. Those two things are kinda essential to every movie and if you completely fail on both it's unfortunately an unforgivable sin. I'm talking about plot and characters. Let's start with the latter. Characters. I honestly can't tell you the name of a single character from this movie. I could describe to you some of the characters as far as what they did or what they looked like. We had the pretty orc girl who got captured by the humans and kinda joined their side. We have the main orc couple. We have the evil orc leader. We have the human king. We have the two magic human dudes. We have another human that was kinda cool. But literally none of these character names stuck in my mind and part of that is because none of them were really interesting. I don't know if it was the actors' fault for not caring about the movie or the screenwriters' fault for not writing interesting characters that you really cared about. It was probably a combination of both. Something went very wrong somewhere and it led to a disaster because when you don't care about any characters in the movie, it's hard to get invested in any movie or franchise. And as I said earlier, the premise they set up was a good one. You have a handful of great characters and you have yourself a solid movie.

That is if you have a good plot to go along with your characters. I mean holy freaking fetch this was a bore. And considering how great of a premise this was and how great of a universe they set up, this was very disappointing. The first 10 or 15 minutes were pretty great, but then the movie got completely stuck in the mud. And when I say completely stuck in the mud, I mean completely stuck in the mud. Nothing interesting happened for the longest time. I wanted battles. I wanted intrigue. I wanted mental, emotional and/or physical conflict. But the movie dragged. And dragged. And dragged. I was practically bored to tears halfway through. It got so bad that mentally I just checked out somewhere during the first half of the movie. I just didn't care anymore. Things happened in the second half of the movie and some of them seemed like they might be interesting or partially emotional, but I couldn't tell you even if you asked. I was never planning on doing a spoiler review for this movie, but I honestly don't even know if I would be physically able to do so without reading the plot on Wikipedia and trying to memorize the thing followed by seeing the whole movie again. And none of that's happening.

The Lord of the Rings is practically perfect in every way. They have a great premise. Great visual effects (that hold up better than The Hobbit movies). Great universe. Great score. Great characters. Great acting. Great story. Great everything. Warcraft didn't need to be as epic as The Lord of the Rings to get a pass from me. But if they just did a good job at those things, I would be happy. What really frustrates me about this movie is that they did do a lot of things great. We had a good premise. We had great visual effects and great character designs for the orcs. We humanized those orcs so that you don't know exactly what side your supposed to be cheering for. We had a good score and well-done battle scenes (when they happened). Everything was in place for this to be an epic adventure and possibly a fantastic franchise. But when you have no plot and no characters that are worth anything, it doesn't matter how good everything else is. There was not one character that I was invested in and there were very few moments of the plot where I was invested it what was happening. That's a problem. And we had a good director in Duncan Jones putting this all together. Don't know what happened there. No, this is not as bad as some critics are saying, but it's certainly not good. My grade for Warcraft is a 6/10.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bates Motel Season 4 Review (SPOILERS)

If you ask me what my favorite movie of all time is, I usually have a hard time answering that. It's hard to go through every movie I've ever watched and pick just one as my personal favorite. Favorite genre is an easier question. While I like a wide variety of genres, I love myself a good thriller. Make it a psychological thriller and I'm even more sold because I love diving into the human mind. Of course you know where I'm going with this because you've clicked on this review, but the best psychological thriller that I've ever seen is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitchcock was a master with thrillers and there's no question in my mind that Psycho is his greatest work. That's some high praise, too, because he made a lot of phenomenal films. If you haven't seen Psycho, then turn away now because I'll be diving into some 56-year-old spoilers with this Bates Motel season 4 review. One of the reasons why I love Bates Motel is that I think they've done justice to Psycho as I've loved seeing their take on this Psycho mythology. And, of course, if you've read the title of this review, you'll know that there will also be spoilers for this season of Bates Motel. This season kicked this show into high gear and it's time to discuss in detail why that is. Consider yourself warned.

Personally I've always referred to Bates Motel as a prequel to Psycho. I've seen people on the internet arguing against that, but I think they're just arguing a silly game of semantics. Yes, this is a prequel to Psycho set in the modern day. The Psycho mythology itself is fascinating. In the original movie, all we know for most of the movie is that Norman Bates is a nice hotel manager, but his mom is a crazy, jealous, killer who kills all the girls that Norman ends up fancying. As it turns out, his mother is actually a dead, rotting corpse in the basement, which means Norman is really messed up in the brain. At the very end we have a psychiatrist explain that Norman killed his mother and her lover 10 years prior out of jealousy, which then caused him to go crazy and turn into the person he is in the film. But that's all we're told. Logically you could argue that if he made the decision to kill his mother, he was probably already crazy, but it's open to interpretation. After Hitchcock's death, Universal made three sequels to Psycho and those movies weren't even consistent with themselves in telling Norman's backstory. This means Bates Motel had the liberty of doing whatever the heck they wanted without offending Psycho fans such as myself.

This made for a really interesting series for me. We knew what the end game was going to be, but we had no idea how they were going to get there. I mean, Norman had to kill his mother as some point. But when was that going to happen and how? And with all these random side characters the show has created, how is Norman going to get away with this? In the beginning, the show did a great job of making the audience feel bad for Norman and not like his crazy mother Norma. She was all kinds of messed up, but Norman was this nice kid who was really just stuck in a horrible situation. Then Norman's blackouts start to happen and suddenly your loyalties to this kid start to become questioned, especially after he kills his teacher at the end of the first season. But even then you still feel bad for him because he's still a great kid and honestly has no idea what has happened. The jealous Norma part of Norman's brain completely took over when his teacher invited him into his home and started stripping down. He had no recollection of any of it. Then when Norman starts to realize that he may have been the one killing people, those are some really emotional moments. The fact that he has a very emotionally unstable mother doesn't help things at all.

Season 4, though, is where the tables are completely flipped compared to what they were in season 1. Norman is fresh off killing Bradley in the season 3 finale and any semblance of this nice, innocent kid that you were rooting for is gone. Norman has completely gone off the cliff mentally as he literally can't tell the difference between the Norma that is taking over his brain and the Norma in real life. The first time we see him in this season, he is arguing with the Norma inside his head, which creeps a bystander out. That bystander brings him back to town and pretty early on Norman brutally murders Emma's mother who is just in town because she wants to get a message to her daughter. But that's not all. Norman is completely convinced that it was his mother who killed Emma's mother and he gets into this argument with the real Norma where he acts in a completely dominate way towards her, which is honestly extremely terrifying. Yeah, no more innocent little teenager. Norman is an all out terrifying psychopath and you fear for the lives of everyone around him this season. A huge round of applause goes out to Freddie Highmore as Norman because he does complete justice to this iconic serial killer. Norma makes the tough decision to send him to the mental institution, which is where you really hope he stays.

Speaking of a huge round of applause, one of those definitely has to go out to Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates. Her and Freddie Highmore have totally made this show work as they have portrayed Norman and Norma. As I said, at the beginning of this show I was on team Norman. Norma was the crazy one, but as this show progresses, you start feeling bad for Norma. As we've unfolded this story, we've learned that she had an awkward romance with her brother growing up, which ended with him raping her. Then she went through two marriages. The first one didn't work out and the second one ended up being a really abusive relationship where she was also essentially raped by her husband who ended up getting killed by her psychopath son. Now she has to figure out how to properly deal with this psychopath son who is getting worse and worse as the days progress and months progress and has now killed several people. Can you blame her for being mentally unstable? Absolutely freaking not. This season you are 100 percent on team Norma and deep down you want things to work out for her, but since you know what show this is, you know this is going to end in a tragic way and you are trying to emotionally embrace yourself for what is going to happen, but you know it's going to completely wreck you.

Then Norma falls in love. And it's a beautiful romance. But a doomed romance. Throughout the first three seasons, there is some definite romantic chemistry between Sheriff Alex Romero and Norma Bates. Then in this season she completely drops a bombshell on him by asking him to marry her. This is done for completely selfish reasons as the aforementioned argument between her and Norman causes her to be scared out of her mind. She knows she needs to get him into this mental institution, but she doesn't have the means or the insurance to do so. But if she were to marry Sheriff Romero, they could use his insurance and since he is Sheriff, he could pull some strings and get Norman in, which is exactly what happens. They get married and even though it wasn't a true marriage, he moves in with her in order for the town to believe it's real and in a very backwards sort of way they end up falling in love after getting married. For the first time in Norma's life, everything seems good. Norman is gone and getting help. She has a husband who loves her and treats her well. She's able to tell him the complete truth about her past and he's able to be with her to help her through it. Speaking of a round of applause, can we give a third one to Nestor Carbonell as Alex? This is his best season yet.

When this romance happened in Norman's absence, it did two things. First, it made me really happy to see something go right for Norma. Second, it made my heart sink. By falling in love with Alex in Norman's absence, she sealed her fate. This is how she dies. Everything from here on out is all downhill. Granted, we all knew she was doomed from the start, but this is the turning point. Why does Norman kill his mother in Psycho? Because she falls in love with someone else. Regardless of which version of Psycho we're going by, whether it be the movies, the books, or the TV shows, romance is bad because romance equals death. If Norman falls in love, the Norma part of Norman's brain takes over and kills the girl. If Norma falls in love, then Norman kills her. With this Norma/Alex romance, all is going fine and dandy... until Norman finds out. Granted, him finding out via the newspaper shreddings while making his papier-mâché dog in the mental institution was a bit cheesy, but his reaction to this finding was perfect. The look of betrayal and determination was terrifying. "This isn't going to end well," was my exact reaction to his reaction. Norman said he was getting out and going home. And I panicked just as much as Norma did. We were in for a wild ride.

Before we talk about the finale of this season, I want to go on an important tangent. In the movie Psycho, the most iconic scene of the movie is the infamous shower scene. In fact, it's seen as one of the greatest scenes of all time and it's certainly one of my all time favorite scenes in any movie. I could spend a long time on my reasons for this, but for the sake of this review, I will be simple. Psycho is a story about Marion Crane, who is a very troubled female. We won't dive into why at this point, but she is. She ends up stealing $40,000 and running away. A series of events leads her to the Bates Motel where she meets Norman. Alone in her hotel room, she continues this inner struggle and finally makes the decision that she's going to clean up her act and go back. The fact that she's at her lowest low is at least part of the reason why she makes this decision. Her decision to clean up her act is then symbolized by her taking a shower, so she's literally and figuratively becoming clean. And that's when Normal kills her. Not only is she at rock bottom when she is killed, but being naked in a shower is one of the most vulnerable places that a woman could be attacked by a man. So in summary, Marion is killed at the very moment when she is both physically and emotionally most vulnerable.

Tragic. Devastating. Heart-breaking. Thematically it's one of the most emotionally jarring scenes. That alone is enough to make this scene amazing and I haven't even talked about the filming of that scene or the iconic score during that has been used or mimicked hundreds of times in cinema since. And I won't go into those other elements right now because they aren't relevant to this Bates Motel review. But those thematic elements are relevant here because this season does a tragically beautiful job in paralleling that iconic moment with Norma Bates. As I've detailed, Norma's arc in this series is depressing and tragic. We spend four seasons telling her backstory and when we have the full picture, you really feel for this woman. Then in this season, she has finally found happiness and finally found someone who can help her through all this and love her for who she really is. Then Norman gets himself out of the mental institution and shatters that fairy tale ending into a thousand pieces because him and Alex do not get along at all. Norma is forced to choose between Norman and Alex and she goes with Norman, but it literally destroys her inside. She is more of an emotional wreck than she's ever been. She's hit absolute rock bottom. And can you think of another place where a woman would be extremely vulnerable? How about asleep in her bed?

First though, I want to talk about the sequences leading up to this tragic ending? Norman is home and he is absolutely furious at the fact that his mother decided to get married. The tension between him and Alex is incredible and it leads to some extremely emotional, fiery scenes between the two. Norma's reaction to all of this and her futile attempts to make the three of them work as a happy family are also extremely emotional. I talked about giving all three actors a round of applause for their performances in this season. The interactions between the three of them in these final few episodes was the peak of each of their performances and was absolutely incredible. But even at this point, I had no idea that Norma was about to die. I thought they were going to build on this more throughout the next season and have the finale of the show be the moment where Norman finally kills his mother. But here I was watching Norman and Norma talk about going and starting over one final time and Norma falls asleep. Then Norman gets out bed, turns up the dangerous furnace, and closes all of the vents in the house except for the one in his mother's room and then gets back in the bed with her. It's an attempted murder suicide that partially fails because Norman survives. But Norma doesn't. Norman has killed his mother via carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pure shock. I knew this season was going to end with a major death, but I thought it was going to be Dylan and Emma because Dylan dating the girl that Norman almost started dating seemed like bad news for both of them. But I guess we're saving that one for next season. Seeing Vera Farmiga get killed a season early was a total blind-side hit for me. But as I think about it, it's another genius parallel to Psycho. I'm sure few people in 1960 predicted that Marion Crane would be killed super early, especially since movies back in the day had more of a tendency to be nicely wrapped in a bow. Hitchcock was definitely way ahead of his time. I can't say my shock factor was equivalent to that of people in the 1960's watching Psycho, but the fact that there was an early death of our main female lead that I didn't see coming is genius. And the final episode with Norman and dead Norma was haunting. And freaky when Norma opened her eyes. This could've been the series finale the way they did this, but we left some loose threads with Alex, Dylan and Emma, Chick Hogan, Dr. Edwards, and a few others. I don't expect any of them to make it out of next season alive, but we'll see how Norman ends up completely getting away with all of this. And having a full season of Norman in full psycho mode after killing his mother is really exciting!

I don't think next season can top this season. And I don't think it needs to. This is the season where we built up to Norman finally killing his mother and it was tragic. I believe this was a five-season plan for this show and if that's true, we have one final season to wrap up all the loose ends and I'm excited to see how they finish this up. I actually didn't watch this season live on TV because I had so many other shows that I was trying to keep up with. But once those shows ended, I quickly jumped into this season of Bates Motel and was planning on spending a few weeks binge watching it at my desired pace, but it totally sucked me in and I ended up watching all 10 episodes over the course of two or three days. I'm glad I was able to do that because watching one week at a time might've been really tough. After finishing the season, I've given it a week or two of thought before diving into this and I can honestly say that this was one of the best seasons of a TV show that I have ever watched and the second to last episode, titled "Forever," where Norman kills his mother might be one of the best TV episodes that I have ever watched. When I sit and ponder the events of this season, I get emotionally distraught and it almost ruins my day. That's how you know you've successfully written a beautiful tragedy, which is what Psycho is. Well done, Bates Motel!