Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jason Bourne Review

It's been nine years since the character of Jason Bourne has graced theaters and I've got to say that it's really good to have him back! The original Bourne trilogy is one of my all-time favorite trilogies. I was going to watch them in preparation for this new film, but life got busy and I didn't get around to it. Oh well. I know them well enough to know what I like about them and what I expect from a new Jason Bourne movie. There are a few things that make this one of the greatest trilogies. First, all three movies are really good. That alone elevates it above a lot of trilogies. Sure, I could rank them from favorite to third favorite, but there's no weak link like there often is an a trilogy. Second, there is an overarching story that connects all three movies beautifully, yet each movie can stand on its own as an excellent film. Third, the action in each movie is phenomenal. Fourth, the aforementioned story is intense, intriguing, mysterious, and captivating. Fifth, the characters are all well-written allowing some great story arcs and character moments throughout, especially with our title character Jason Bourne. Thus these movies work well as action movies, thrillers, and character pieces. So yeah, this new movie had a lot to live up to. But we had our old crew back, so I was confident!

Yeah, there is a fourth movie in this series. But like everyone else, I'm going to mainly choose to ignore it. Why? Well, first off it's not really a Jason Bourne movie. It's an Aaron Cross movie. Paul Greengrass, director of Supremacy and Ultimatum, chose not to return as director and when that happened, Matt Damon chose not to return either. So we had a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. Jeremy Renner was cast as a Jason-Bourne-esque character named Aaron Cross and while he did a great job as the character, the movie spent the whole run time trying to justify why they were making a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne instead of coming up with a good story. When you have a Jason Bourne movie with a poor story, that's a problem. The second half of the movie ended up being a ton of fun in terms of the action, but a decent action movie is all it was. It wasn't even a good thriller or a good character piece. I didn't hate the movie as much as some. I even gave it a decent review on this blog back when I was still fairly new to this movie reviewing thing. But I haven't seen it since theaters and I don't really have a strong desire to either because it's a very forgettable movie. All that really matters is our Matt Damon Bourne movies.

With those thoughts out of the way, it's time to get back to our real Jason Bourne movies. I was super excited when Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon decided to return for this fourth true Jason Bourne movie and thus this was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The title announcement during that Super Bowl spot surprised me, though. They broke the trend of titling it "The Bourne _________" and just titled it Jason Bourne. They could've stolen another title from the book series. That's what The Bourne Legacy did. That fourth book and fourth movie literally have nothing in common outside that title. The fifth book is titled The Bourne Betrayal. That would've been a cool title. We also have a total of 13 books now (the last ten written by Eric Van Lustbader with the first three written by the late Robert Ludlum). We could've stolen a title from any of them. But no. Just Jason Bourne. Not bad, I suppose, since the books and the movies never really had a whole lot in common anyways. But I was stoked nonetheless. When I saw the score on Rotten Tomatoes for the first time, my heart literally sank. It's currently at 57 percent. That's only one percent higher than the 56 percent of The Bourne Legacy. I hate it when one of my most anticipated movies gets trashed by critics. Was this really going to be that bad?

No. Plain and simple. It's not that bad. So let's correct these Rotten Tomatoes scores real quick. 56 percent for Legacy is about right. As is 93 percent for Ultimatum. I'm bit surprised that Identity is only at 81 percent while Supremacy is only at 83 percent. The fact that nearly 20 percent of critics gave those first two movies a bad review is embarrassing for them. All three belong in the 90 percent range. So what about Jason Bourne? This belongs in the high 70 to low 80 range. It's not quite the masterpiece that the first three are, but it's still pretty good and is certainly much better than Legacy. Since Ultimatum did do a decent job of wrapping up the trilogy, how do they manage to extend this story? If you want that answer, you're just going to have to see the movie. I'm not going to dive into specifics with this story because this is a case where the marketing team for this movie actually did a great job with the trailers in NOT giving away the movie. If you read my most recent review of Nerve, I personally enjoyed the movie, but I was frustrated like heck that I knew exactly what was going to happen after every turn because the trailer for the movie was a two-minute cliff notes version of the entire movie. This didn't happen with Jason Bourne, though, so I'm going to respect that marketing and not even give you a general premise.

I will say that Legacy spent the whole movie trying to justify the fact that they were making another Bourne movie without even having Bourne in it. They spent so much time doing that that they forgot to tell an interesting story. No justification here for Jason Bourne. They simply pick up a certain period of time after Ultimatum left off and continue the story almost as if they never missed a beat. Unlike Legacy, this feels like a Jason Bourne movie! We follow the same formula that made the first three movies a success and thus I sat back and had a great time. I don't know if the trilogy is old enough for me to feel nostalgic while watching this new movie, but those are the feelings I had. It was good to see the crew back together. It was great having Matt Damon back as Jason Bourne. And it looked like everyone was having fun making this movie. It didn't feel like a cash grab for the studio and Matt Damon didn't look like he was there for a paycheck. If you listen to interviews with Matt Damon, the guy loves playing Jason Bourne. He loves having the title of being Jason Bourne follow him around for his whole career. Some actors aren't a fan of that. Matt Damon is fine with it. He loves Jason Bourne and you could tell that from this performance. It felt like he was enjoying being back in this role and thus it was fun to watch him.

If I go back to the reasons why the Bourne movies are so great, we have three things. Great action movies. Great thrillers. Great character pieces. Once again, I'm not diving into super detailed specifics here, but I want to analyze Jason Bourne against those three aspects in order to fairly determine how it holds up to those movies. Legacy wasn't good because it only got the action right. It missed the other two aspects. Jason Bourne manages to successfully hit all three, but the issue is that it didn't hit quite as high in either category as I was hoping. Let's start with the action. One staple of the Bourne movies is the brilliant use of shaky cam. There's a lot of people that will say that this stylistic choice is inherently bad. I disagree. Is it overused sometimes? Perhaps. Is it always necessary? No. But it's not inherently bad and this franchise is a great example of that. Paul Greengrass does a great job of implementing the shaky and making it improve his movies. In my opinion, the shaky cam enhances the action sequences and makes the movie more intense. However, if you are one that got sick or dizzy watching the Bourne movies, I totally understand if you don't like it. If you were hoping that this one would be different, sorry. It's the same as the others, so proceed with caution. That aside, the actual action here was phenomenal... when it happened. Great opening sequence. Great closing sequence. A few fun fights in between. But we did go a long time without any action.

That leads me to the next point. Thriller. This movie is a lot more thriller than action, almost to a fault. In each Bourne movie, Bourne is trying to get answers to something while others are trying to hunt him down for some reason, thus making for a very intriguing story that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Same formula here. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. That's the philosophy they use with this series and it works once again. Mostly. But in this case, there was a lot more hunting him down than actually fighting him. Jason Bourne spends a whole heck of a lot of time walking and others spend a whole heck of a lot of time trying to catch up to him or find him. I wanted a few more confrontations along the way. That would've helped our balance not be so lopsided. But it definitely was a lot of really intense walking because the people were almost catching him, which made me nervous. Then we had our super intense score playing the whole time. So good. The biggest problem with the thriller element, though, was it was kinda like one of those heart monitors. Spike. Drop. Spike. Drop. Spike. Drop. What I mean there is that there are actually two plot lines going on. One interesting one. One boring one. I wanted to stay on the interesting one, but we didn't. The movie kept getting derailed with this second plot line that I didn't care about and that was frustrating.

Finally, the characters. The Bourne movies always have great characters on both sides. Jason Bourne is trying to figure out who he is and why people are trying to kill him while the people on the other side have pretty dang good motivations for trying to stop him. In Jason Bourne, I loved all of our characters. But I didn't completely understand the motivations behind everything. Motivations were clear in the original trilogy. Here they weren't and thus with this specific element of the movie it felt more hollow and unbelievable than it should've. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't as compelling. But the actors did a great job with it anyways. As I said earlier, Matt Damon looked like he was having a blast playing this character again. Then we had Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander. Tommy Lee Jones played your typical old guy in a Bourne movie role. We have a lot of old crazy people in this franchise and Tommy Lee Jones just might be the best one. And Alicia Vikander just might be the most interesting part of this movie. I won't say why, but this girl is special. Ever since she made my jaw drop in Ex Machina last year, she has been on fire. She was great in The Danish Girl. She was great in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. She was great in this. She's definitely an actress who is going places.

The discussion of expectations are an interesting one. With Nerve this week, I absolutely loved myself. But I went in with really low expectations and that's probably a good part of the reason why I enjoyed myself so much. With Jason Bourne, I was slightly let down, but that's because Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon have proven in the past that they can team up and make a nearly perfect action thriller and thus when they don't hit that level again, it can be seen as disappointing. That's why I honestly think this movie has such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Expectations were so high that it's easy to trash the movie because it didn't live up to those lofty expectations. But yet this movie doesn't deserve to be trashed. No, it's not a great movie. But it's still a good movie. There's not as much action as I wanted, but the action that's there is still pretty dang good. Our thrill ride was disconnected frequently by another plot line that didn't belong, but it was still a good thriller. Our character motivations weren't as clear or interesting, but we still had great characters. Overall, I still really enjoyed myself with this movie, even if it wasn't as good as it could've been, and I hope another sequel is on it's way with this team. I'm going to give Jason Bourne an 8/10.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nerve Review

In the midst of this giant, blockbuster-filled summer, we have a small thriller called Nerve sneaking its way into theaters hoping to become a bit of a sleeper hit. The target audience here is definitely the teenage crowd with a bit of holdover to the young adult crowd. Basically the group of young people who are obsessed with social media and app games. I'll be honest, I didn't have super high expectations going into this movie. It didn't look that great. I also expected this to this to be a movie that the critics would completely trash and one that would tank at the box office. I was thinking somewhere between 10-30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with a box office total of around $5 million for its opening weekend. The box office total is still to be determined, but apparently this surprised with $1.1 million on its Tuesday night opening night, which is a pretty good sign of things to come. I was also surprised to see this in the 60 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes, neck and neck with Jason Bourne. So I was like, what the heck. I'll check it out. I enjoy thrillers, so maybe this has the chance to be a decently entertaining teenage thriller. Maybe it's these low expectations that I had going in, but I was genuinely surprised with this. It's actually a fun, little thriller!

Due to the fact that this is not a big summer blockbuster and hasn't been heavily advertised, there's a chance that you have never heard of this movie. Allow me to explain. In this fictional, modern-day setting there is a game called Nerve. As the game itself describes, it's like truth or dare without the truth. It's mainly done on the phone and is about as popular as Pokemon Go is in real life. Everyone plays it. The options in the game are to be a player or be a watcher. As a player, you are fighting not only for honor and glory, but also for money. The riskier the dare, the more money you earn. But in order to keep that money, you have to keep playing and keep doing more dares. If you bail, you're out. At the end of a certain period of time, the two highest scoring players will go head to head in one final dare. The dares themselves are determined by the watchers and the creators of the game are an anonymous group that have kept this game a secret from authorities, so another rule is that you are not allowed to tell the police about this game. So yeah, this is super sketchy and I don't know why anyone would really play this if it were a real thing. But at the same time, I know people would play. And even more people would watch. And it would cause a ton of problems. 

If you find this premise intriguing, I recommend you just go see it. Please don't watch the trailer for this movie if you haven't already seen it. Or watch like the first 30 seconds or so and then turn it off. After I first saw this trailer in theaters, I honestly felt like I had watched the whole movie and I found that frustrating. I remember a day where trailers would tease a movie and make us excited. But instead we live in a day where studios think they need to spoil their whole movie in the trailer in order to get people to go see their movie, especially if it's a smaller movie like this. I hate it because I want to be surprised by a movie and if all the big moments are in the trailer, it ruins my experience in the theater. With this movie, I was hoping that I was wrong and the whole movie wasn't in the trailer, but it is. Like seriously. The whole fracking thing. Our two main characters, played by Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, are both playing this game and end up teaming up because the watchers decide to set them up. And ever single dare they do in the movie is in the trailer. Every. Single. Freaking. One. And I'm not exaggerating. Just by reading my non-spoiler premise, you know that this is sketchy game and that bad things are going to happen. But if you watch the trailer, you know exactly what bad things are going to happen because it's all there. I was furious watching this movie because of that.

If I were to grade this trailer, I would give it a big fat F. A 0/10. Despicable. Disgraceful. I hate it. I hate this trend. But this review is not a review of that trailer. It's a review of the movie. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I tried not to let my thoughts on that trailer determine my opinion of the movie. That wouldn't be fair. Especially because this is actually a really fun movie. First and foremost, all of our actors completely sell this premise. It could've been a really silly, cheesy premise, but it's not. While watching this movie, you totally believe that this is a super popular game that would actually catch on like a Pokemon Go. Because, come on. We've all played some sort of variation of truth or dare in our lives whether it be extreme and crazy or harmless and fun. Because of this, you know that a truth or dare app would be super popular if it existed. Now would it be as popular if it cost money to play, required you to enter all of your personal information, and was controlled by a mysterious, sketchy organization? Probably not. But there's a lot of crazy people in this world that would participate anyways, especially teenagers who don't think about consequences and are instead motivated by incentives of power, recognition, and money.

This caused me to think what this game would be like if it existed as is in real life. It would be insane, especially if the watchers got to choose the dares people did. A lot of the dares would be raunchy and dirty. And if not that, they would be super dangerous and violent. But people would do them anyways because pride, lust, and greed would get in the way of logic and morality. Thus I realized as I watched that this movie is actually pretty tame. It's not a violent movie. It's not a graphic movie. It's not a sexually explicit movie. The worst we got was Emma Roberts and Dave Franco running around a mall in their underwear because their clothes got stolen. But come on. Don't try to tell me that their next dare in real life wouldn't be to take off their underwear and/or make love right there in public. I'm perfectly glad that this WASN'T the case in the movie. They definitely were shooting for a PG-13 rating and a light PG-13 rating at that in order to attract a teenage crowd. We didn't need to be graphic and explicit with our movie. But I'm just saying that a suspense of disbelief is required here, especially when some of the later dares get a bit cartoonish and silly. And the execution by our characters was a little too easy. No way someone would survive some of those dares.

That said, despite this being a very tame movie where a lot of the dares towards the end got a bit silly, the movie actually did a great job of building tension and making the movie suspenseful. Part of this is what I said earlier with the cast. They really sell it. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco as our two leads especially do a great job with their characters. Emma Roberts is a very attractive female who is much more than just a pretty face to look at. She's likable and charming. My new celebrity crush? Sure. She's my age and Julia Roberts is her aunt. Both pluses, right? In seriousness, though, I do hope she gets more big roles because she was the best part of this movie. And Dave Franco was cool, too. I enjoyed him in both Now You See Me movies and I enjoyed him in this. The Franco brothers are both now on a role. The acting isn't the only thing that sold this movie, though. This was a well shot, well edited movie that had a great flow to it. Never a dull moment. The cinematography was great and we had an interesting neon color scheme that grabs your attention throughout. On top of this, the score is done very well and the soundtrack works, too. All this makes for some real honest tension and suspense throughout. Never once did I fear for our characters' safety, but I was nervous during most of the dares that were done and that's because of all this combined together.

The movie also provides an interesting social commentary on our society. I mentioned the greed and pride aspect already. How many people in our world are willing to throw values and common sense out the window in order to gain popularity and recognition? Way too many. The other interesting social commentary comes with the group of watchers. This is especially prevalent in the second half of the movie, so I won't dive into specifics, but how many people in this world are much more willing to do and say awful, horrible things when they are hidden in a crowd or are anonymous? Just go look at any YouTube comment section and you'll know what I mean. People on those YouTube comment sections are bitter, mean, brutal, racist, sexist, and have no respect for people's feelings. I've seen people get unfairly mauled and attacked with zero mercy shown for things as silly as a difference of opinions on a movie. Go look at a review for anyone who didn't like Batman v. Superman or go look at the comments to those Ghostbusters trailers. Would people say things like that in real life if they were face to face? No. But hidden behind the comfort of their own computer with an anonymous username and some people are completely different people. It's a shame and it's something this movie addresses in an interesting way.

Overall I enjoyed my experience with this movie. The performances were great. The movie was well made. There was a lot of honest tension throughout as the dares got more and more dangerous. The pacing of the movie was perfect. On top of that, there were several interesting themes that were discussed that are very relevant today, especially among the teenage crowd that the movie is hoping to attract. Where the movie unravels a bit is when I stopped to think about what I watched afterwards. I could've used more twists and turns. I could've used more shocking moments. Some of the specific dares were a bit silly and unrealistic. The resolution to the movie left something to be desired for. But these are all things that started to surface in my mind after the fact. During the movie I had no time to stop and think about things in depth or work out things logically in my head. I was thoroughly enjoying the ride! As I said at the beginning of this review, expectations probably had a lot to do with this. My expectations were very low and thus I found myself pleasantly surprised. In a summer that's been full of a lot of disappointing blockbusters, this is a little thriller that feels refreshingly entertaining and fun, which is what summer movies are supposed to be. I'm giving Nerve an 8/10.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lights Out Review

A couple of years back, there was a little horror short film that came out called Lights Out. It's just under three minutes long, but is a super effective little short film. I have it linked for you right there if you haven't seen it. Basically there's a mysterious figure that shows up when the lights get turned off, but disappears when the lights get turned on. When the lady in the short film keeps turning the light on and off, this creepy figure gets closer and closer. This feeds off people's fear of the dark, making it unsettling walking through your house at night when the lights are off. This is why it's so effective. It made its rounds on the internet and social media and got popular enough for it to be adapted into a feature-length film which was just released this past weekend. The advertising has smartly been pushing producer James Wan, who is a horror master, but the cool thing is that this movie is written and directed by David Sandberg, who is the man who wrote and directed the original short. Now he gets to expand his little story from three minutes to 80 minutes. This was a risky venture because some short films are better as short films as opposed to feature-length films. But Lights Out is an example that works well as both. It's a good short film and a good feature-length film.

As with the short film, Lights Out is about a mysterious, demonic woman figure that shows up when the lights are off and disappears when the lights get turned on. But it's also a whole lot more than that. First off, yes this mysterious demon lady is deadly. If you let her get too close without shining a light on her or turning the light on, she will grab you and hurt you. I'm not going to spoil if she actually kills anyone or not, but that's a definite possibility. Demon lady aside, the core of this movie is actually about a family. Yes, it has a plot! And a surprisingly good one with great characters. We have a mom who's a bit crazy, a young boy who lives with his crazy mom, an older sister who is grown up and living on her own, and a boyfriend to that sister. Mom spent a lot of time in a mental hospital when she was younger and is not doing well, so it's not a good situation for young boy. Older sister lives a bit of a sketchy life, but she sees this issue and is trying to get young boy to live with her instead of mother. The sister's boyfriend, who is NOT useless, plays the voice of reason in all this as he's trying to talk a bit of sense into his girl when she does things on a whim without thinking them through. On top of all this is the demon lady showing up and messing with their lives even more.

A horror film with a good plot, well-written characters, and good acting? Now there's a novel idea! I consider myself a horror fan, but I'm also a fan of film in general. I get frustrated with a lot of modern horror films because the focus often isn't on making a good movie. It's on making some quick cash. A lot of these horror films are dirt cheap to make, so even the smallest of box office returns in most cases will still be considered a profit. In the case of this film, the budget was only $5 million, so if it only made $20 million in its entire run, that would be considered a win. The fact that it made $20 million in it's first weekend alone must have the studio and filmmakers ecstatic right now. This has sadly caused many franchises to go downhill very fast. Take the Paranormal Activity movies for example. That first movie cost $15,000 to make and ended up with about $200 million worldwide. No surprise that we now have six of them, most of which are very poor quality. Studios get so caught up in the money that they will throw together a quick story, hire some b-list actors, throw in a bunch of jump scares, and call it a movie. Plot and characters get thrown out the window in favor of some quick cash. Thus when I get a horror movie like Lights Out that actually has a good plot and well-written characters, I become ecstatic.

All these main actors need to be mentioned by name here because they all did a great job. Our most recognizable name is Teresa Palmer as the older sister. She's had a handful of misses recently, so it's good to see her finally catch a break by being in a good movie again. Previously she has been most known for her role in Warm Bodies in 2013 as well as I Am Number Four and The Sorcerer's Apprentice before that. I've liked her in every movie I've seen her in and this movie is no different. She does a good job. Our young boy is played a kid named Gabriel Bateman. He's played a handful of small roles from movies and TV shows I have not seen, most notably being Annabelle. A good child actor can be hard to come by, but this kid holds his own and does a job. The boyfriend in the movie is played by Alexander DiPersia. Most impressive with him is that usually the boyfriend/girlfriend is the throwaway character destined to die and usually it's a very unemotional death used to scare our main character. Not the case here. He has a lot of charm and charisma and, as I said before, is the voice of reason. I appreciated that. Last but not least, the best individual performance of the movie came with our crazy mother played by Maria Bello. She comes nowhere near the performance of the crazy mother in The Babadook, but she does crazy decently well.

Now for the horror aspect of this movie. Story and characters are fantastic and I definitely appreciate that they are given attention in this movie. But if we're a horror movie, the most important part is the horror, right? Unfortunately this is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Mixed in with the great plot and interesting characters is a whole slew of horror cliches. This demon lady is honestly creepy and I'll get more into that in a second, but there are so many jump scares in this movie. I was disappointed that a movie with a concept so intriguing relied so heavily on jump scares. Jump scares in a movie aren't inherently bad. Don't get me wrong. But I appreciate a horror movie where jump scares aren't the focus. My favorite horror movies are the ones that are creepy and unsettling without having a ton of jump scares, but that's not what this movie is. It's jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. It got a bit old. The other thing is that they tried to give this demon lady a backstory, but they did a pretty cruddy job of it. If you're going to explain the villain, make sure its a well-written villain. I won't dive into spoilers, but this is a pretty poorly written villain and that made the second half of the movie a lot less scary. It would've been better if they just left that demon lady a mystery.

On this subject, I would say that there's three main branches of horror movies: psychological horror, supernatural horror, and slasher horror. With how vague the initial short story is, they could've taken this movie a number of different ways. I personally would've preferred it if they turned this into a psychological horror. Think of how creepy it would be if this demon lady remained a mystery and our main characters weren't even sure if she was real or if they were just going crazy. That would be terrifying and would legitimately make me paranoid when I'm in the dark for at least a week or so. As is, this is a supernatural horror movie, with an uninteresting, poorly-explained demon lady. Yet despite this, I will admit that the movie did a decently good job at being effective despite poor writing when it comes to this demon lady. Last night when I was getting ready for bed, I had to walk through our dark hallway because both of those lights are burnt out and that was a terrifying walk. I turned the corner to the bathroom and turned the lights on as fast as I could because I was positive that demon lady would be there. Thus while this movie isn't an epic psyhcological horror like The Babadook, I would say the initial 1978 Halloween movie is a good comparison, which I just watched this past week. The backstory for Michael Meyers is pretty poorly written and unbelievable, but they do such a good job at making him creepy anyways that the movie gets under your skin.

No, this isn't the best horror movie of the year. But it's decently effective. I was creeped out by the demon lady and I loved our storyline and characters. It was refreshing to see a horror movie take time to flesh out a story and characters because that doesn't happen super often in horror. Sure, I would've appreciated it if the movie were a psychological horror instead of a supernatural horror. I think they shouldn't have tried to explain this demon lady and I also think they shouldn't have relied so heavily on jump scares. But that's just a personal preference. It's worth noting that I was in a sold-out showing and almost everyone else there was jumping, yelling, screaming, and panicking at every little thing that happened and several rounds of applause broke out when a character did something good. They were all so into the movie that it was actually rather distracting and I found myself laughing at how scared everyone got and kinda wished that I was watching the movie in an empty theater. But at the same time, it showed me that despite my personal opinions, if horror movies make you jump easily, this one just will get under your skin fast. But back to my personal opinion, compared to other horror movies this year, this doesn't shine a candle to The Witch, but it's better than The Conjuring 2 and about on-par with The Shallows. Thus I will give Lights Out an 8/10.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond Review

Here's a juicy review that I've been waiting a long time to write. Star Trek Beyond. Three years ago I got quite a bit of flack with my review of Star Trek Into Darkness. My friend and I didn't like the movie, but it seemed like everyone else did, including the critics. So I knocked out my controversial review and took the heat for it. But that's okay. That happens occasionally when you write as many movie reviews as I do. A few months later, there was the official Star Trek convention where those in attendance ranked all the Star Trek movies at the time. Do you know what came in dead last? Yup! Star Trek Into Darkness! Boy did that make me happy to see that. Is Star Trek Into Darkness the worst Star Trek movie in my opinion? Yes. It is. I'll get to that more in a second. Leading up to Star Trek Beyond, I wanted to dive deep into my soul to figure out exactly why I like Star Trek and why this new reboot franchise just hasn't done it for me, because no I didn't like the 2009 reboot either. Then the plan was to use that knowledge to give my best review for Star Trek Beyond. What did I do? I paced myself and watched all 12 Star Trek movies leading up to this 13th theatrical adventure. Now it's time to give you my results of this marathon.

First I must explain that Star Trek is a franchise that I grew up loving. Do I consider myself a trekkie? I don't know actually. I don't think I'd meet the minimum requirements to officially dawn that title. But I will say I'm a Star Trek fan. I grew up watching The Next Generation with a little bit of Voyager and Deep Space Nine. Have I ever watched all episodes of those three shows in order? No. But I enjoy them nonetheless. Note that I didn't include The Original Series in that. I didn't grow up watching that one. But before you have a heart attack, know that in my adult years I have dove into The Original Series and gained a very high appreciation for it to the point where if you make me pick my personal favorite Star Trek series, I'm going to go with The Original Series. When it comes to the now 13 movies, well, it's been a bit of a rough ride to say the least. In my humble opinion, the only three great movies are The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock, and First Contact. I also enjoyed The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home, although I'd classify those two as good, not great. The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, Generations, Insurrection, and Nemesis are all either bad or sub-par in my opinion. So no, not every Star Trek movie is created equally.

Then we have our reboot movies. I'll get to Star Trek Beyond here in a bit, but for now I will continue to build anticipation to that and focus on Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness for a second. I don't like either of them. Star Trek put us in an alternate dimension, but did so in a weird, convoluted way that in my opinion is more of a cop-out than an interesting story choice. I liked our intro with Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk, but Chris Pine's James T. Kirk is an abomination in that movie. I hate how they made him a spoiled, unlikable brat that joins Starfleet on a dare and becomes captain because his dad was a war hero. On top of that lame story, the villain was dumb and the Spock/Uhura love story was awful. Not a good movie. But Star Trek Into Darkness was a whole heck of a lot worse. Why? So many reasons, but if I'm being brief, it's a cheap, second-rate remake of The Wrath of Kahn, which is the best Star Trek movie. A completely copied story with characters I didn't care about and a watered-down version of Kahn that was much worse than the original Kahn. Cumberbatch did the best with what he was given, but that wasn't a whole lot. The death of Kirk was cheap and frustrating because they completely copied it from The Wrath of Kahn and was made worse by the fact that they didn't have the guts to keep Kirk dead for longer than 10 minutes.

I gave Star Trek Into Darkness a poor review the first time around, but in the last three years it has festered inside of me to the point where I outright hate it. At least our other bad Star Trek movies either had a crew I cared about or good character moments in them. Star Trek Into Darkness has nothing going for it. Luckily J.J. Abrams didn't screw up Star Wars in the same way he did Star Trek. But speaking of which, J.J.'s involvement in The Force Awakens means he was unavailable to direct this third movie in the reboot franchise. Roberto Orci, who co-wrote the first two movies, was initially tabbed to direct the movie, but then for various reasons he jumped ship. After his departure, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung wrote a brand new script and Justin Lin from the Fast and Furious franchise was hired as director. Yes, Lin's Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 were both fantastic and the fourth movie, simply titled Fast and Furious was also decent. But should we really be hiring the director of the Fast and Furious movies to direct a Star Trek movie? Was this third movie just going to turn into a high-octane, brainless action movie with Star Trek characters? I was NOT down for this. When the trailers showed up, I was worried because that's exactly what it looked like.

The reviews came in strong as it's currently at 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But that didn't convince me. Those same critics also gave 2009's Star Trek a 95 percent and Star Trek Into Darkness an 87 percent and I just told you what I thought about those movies. I couldn't even trust the YouTube critics that I follow because they're in the same exact boat. So despite a whole bunch of reviews in, I essentially went into this movie completely blind and totally expected to hate it. I had my roast-fest all planned out in my head and I was going to unleash this angry demon inside of my soul on this new franchise. But yet I always have the philosophy of going into every movie with an open. So I did. But at the same time, I also had fresh on my mind my reasons for liking Star Trek as a whole and thus there were certain checkpoints that this movie needed to meet in order to get a pass. To my huge surprise, this movie actually met them! I'm totally serious. J.J. Abrams doesn't know how to make a Star Trek movie, but apparently Justin Lin does. No, this movie doesn't have a lot of depth or emotion to it, but it's a fun little Star Trek adventure that felt like a solid filler episode of the TV show. For the first time in this reboot series, it felt like I was actually watching Star Trek. That made me happy.

In thinking about what it is that makes me like Star Trek, I decided that the most important thing is to have a crew that I care about. This is something that The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine all had. Good crews with characters that I care about. Leading these crews has to be a solid captain. William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard are perfect examples. Both of these men are phenomenal actors that make for great captains. William Shatner as Captain Kirk especially has so much charm and charisma that makes him so likable. He has plenty of character flaws, but that allows him to go through so much growth. This is what the reboot series was missing in the first two movies. Chris Pine's Kirk was an abomination. My favorite part of Into Darkness is when Cumberbatch was beating the crap out of him. It made me happy. It wasn't Chris Pine's fault, though. It was how he was written. Concerning the rest of our crew, Zachary Quinto didn't quite sell me as Spock and the romance between him and Uhura totally ruined both of their characters. Karl Urban was a little over the top as Dr. McCoy. All he did was complain and whine. Same thing with Simon Pegg's Scotty. The only two main characters who nailed their roles were John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov.

First order of business for Mr. Lin: fix our crew. Check. Starting with the top, Chris Pine's Kirk is no longer crybaby Kirk or spoiled-brat Kirk. He's Captain Kirk. He acts like a really good, likable captain. Does he have the charm and charisma of William Shatner? Heck no. But in fairness, not many people can match that. But he does take a huge step forward in this movie. Whereas in the first two movies I cheered when he got beat up, in this one I actually cared for his safety. Next up, the Spock and Uhura romance gets axed in the beginning and Zachary Quinto does a much better job of acting like the emotionless, logical Spock that Leonard Nimoy did so well. Him and Kirk make a great team like Kirk and Spock are supposed to. Karl Urban is toned down a bit as Dr. McCoy and Simon Pegg as the writer of this movie was able to write his Scotty much better. Zoe Saldana doesn't have much to do as Uhura, but at least she doesn't negatively impact the movie like she did in the last two. Sulu I was ready to complain about because they announced recently that he was gay and I had George Takei's disapproval to back me up on that, but that reveal doesn't occur. And finally, every scene with Chekov totally broke my heart. Anton Yelchin does such a great job in all three movies. He was taken from this earth way too soon. May God bless him and his family.

So yeah. Good crew that I care about? Awesome! Let's go have a fun adventure! Fun space adventures are another reason that makes me love Star Trek. I love science fiction and I especially love when that science fiction involves space. That's part of the reason why I enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars. Space! If anyone tells you that you can't love both franchises and you have to pick one, please slap them. They deserve it. Star Trek Beyond's story finds them on their five-year mission and Simon Pegg and Doug Jung actually attempt to write an original story, thus it automatically gets a pass over Star Trek Into Darkness for that reason. This isn't a cheap remake of another better Star Trek movie. It's its own thing! And it doesn't make me cringe like the story in the first one, so that's another plus. Granted Pegg and Jung decided that they needed to do the obligatory destruction of the Enterprise in this movie like each generation of Star Trek before it has done. That made me roll my eyes. But after they crashed-landed on this planet, we had a fun, little adventure. The main crew was split up and a lot of the red coats were taken hostage along with Uhura and so our goal was for everyone to find each other, get off the planet, and learn why this latest villain-of-the-week tried to kill them all.

The final aspect of Star Trek that I love are the intellectual, thought-provoking messages and themes spread throughout the series. Yes, this movie had a good crew with characters I cared about. It had some great character moments with plenty of good one-liners. And it had a fun space adventure. But did it have this final element that would be the frosting on the cake? No. That's what I would say the biggest flaw of this movie is. Yes, it is fun. But no, it's not a deep movie. There's not a ton of strong themes. It doesn't make me stop and ponder about the messages it's trying to portray. It's simply a shallow, fun adventure. That's why I said it's like a solid villain-of-the-week episode. Idris Elba plays our villain and I actually enjoyed him much more than Benedict Cumberbatch's Kahn and Eric Bana's Nero from the first two movies. It does take us a little too long to learn what's up with Idris Elba's villain, but the final act with him is pretty solid. Throughout the middle of this movie, Justin Lin does a great job with the action, which was too be expected from our Fast and Furious director. But if fun action is all we're getting throughout the second act of a Star Trek movie, it still leaves me a little disappointed. Star Trek isn't supposed to be just fun. It's supposed to be fun AND thought-provoking with great character moments. Thus I say I was pleased with this movie, but not blown away.

In the end, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with Star Trek Beyond. Given my dislike of the first movie and my bitter hatred towards Into Darkness, I was totally expecting to dish out an all-out roast fest with this review, especially since the trailers were pretty bad. But this turned out to be a decent adventure. I have now learned that Justin Lin knows how to make a good Star Trek movie, something that J.J. Abrams failed miserably with in his two attempts. We had an original story that wasn't copied from a previous Star Trek movie. A lot of the character traits with our crew that bothered me in the first two movies were fixed and I actually found myself caring for Kirk, Spock, Bones, and company.  I certainly wasn't cheering for the villain here like I was in our last movie. It misses the intellectual, thought-provoking element of Star Trek and goes mainly just for entertainment as it's just a simple, shallow movie that's nothing special. But it's a huge step forward from our previous efforts. If I were to give grades to the other two movies, 2009's Star Trek gets a 5/10 while Star Trek Into Darkness gets a 3/10. So the fact that I'm giving Star Trek Beyond a 7/10 should be seen as a generous compliment. I'd say it's the sixth best Star Trek movie. I'll put those rankings in the comments below.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters Review

The most controversial film of the year is finally here! Don't worry. I'm not going to dance around any of that controversy. I'm planning on diving right into the middle of it all and hitting it head on. We've got misogyny, sexism, feminism, political correctness, and the necessity of sequels/reboots all gift-wrapped into one giant lightning rod of controversy. Why would I avoid all of that? This is our freaking female-led reboot of one of the most well-loved comedies of all time! Ghostbusters! Like most people on planet earth, the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie is a movie that is very close to my heart. I've always loved the movie and loved the characters. It's a ton of fun! Notice, though, that I specify that specific movie. They made a pretty bad sequel five years later as well as some other stuff that wasn't that great. I have no attachment to that. Just the original movie. I cringed when I heard they were planning on rebooting Ghostbusters. Fast forward to the trailer release and I was horrified at what I witnessed. It looked awful! I was ready to pummel this movie to oblivion because everything about it looked horrible. Yet I am shocked that I am now announcing that I enjoyed this movie. Yes. You heard that right. This movie is not that bad.

To say that this is the most controversial film of the year might be putting things nicely. When the first trailer came out, people were so horrified with what they saw that this quickly became the most hated trailer in YouTube history. Ever since that trailer, there has been a ginormous internet mob filled with an unprecedented level of anger and hatred towards this movie that has not been kind to anyone. Shortly after the trailer release, Dan Murrell from the YouTube channel Screen Junkies did a video where he suggested that maybe we should give this a chance. There's been many times where a good movie was preceded with a bad trailer. Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy have had a pretty good track record, so maybe there's a chance that this could still be a good movie. Yeah, Dan got viciously destroyed by this angry mob for saying that to the point where that video became the most disliked YouTube video in Screen Junkies history. And if you follow Screen Junkies you'll know that they have a pretty rabid fan base that will often tear apart their videos. It's a little ridiculous. But that's been the story everywhere with this movie. It should be no surprise that the movie held a 4.1 on IMDb with 15,000 votes on the Thursday afternoon before the movie's release to the general public.

What did all this do to me? Honestly this made me gravitate towards the movie a bit. I hated the trailer, too. But I mean for crying out loud a trailer is a trailer. I've been preaching for several years that you shouldn't base a movie on its trailer. Every year I see countless examples of great trailers that led to bad movies and awful trailers that led to good movies. After seeing all this footage and witnessing the angry reaction, I actually came to the conclusion that I didn't think this would be a bad movie. I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I also didn't think that this would come close to making my worst movies of the year list at the end of the year. And that was before all critic reviews started to come out. Basically I concluded that I didn't think that this movie was going to deserve all this negative publicity. That said, I fully expected the critics to destroy the movie. I was rather shocked to find out that a lot of the early reviews were positive. But maybe it will drop? Nope. The movie is now officially certified fresh. But then a thought crossed my mind. How many critics out there gave a positive review because they were afraid of being called sexist if they gave a negative review? I doubted there were many, but I did see early comments from some people that said they felt obligated to be excited for the movie because they were feminists. A lady one of the Schmoes' live shows said that. And she's not the only one.

So let's dive into that real quick. And I promise I will get into my actual movie review, but this is a topic that can't be ignored. The world in general right now is very sensitive and striving for political correctness is at an all-time high. This has very much seeped into Hollywood. There have been plenty of iconic characters that have had their race, gender, or sexual identity changed in order to satisfy political correctness. Yes, this trend bothers me. Not because I'm racist, sexist, or homophobic, though. I have zero problem with adding more strong female characters, more people of color, or more LGBT characters into popular or new franchises. But why do we have to change already established and loved characters in order to satisfy this demand? Can't we create new characters to fill this need? If it's a comic book movie, there are plenty of female, color, and LGBT characters in the comics. Why not introduce one of them instead of demanding that Captain America be gay or turning Iron Man and Thor into females? And why are we deciding to make female reboots of every popular franchise that had a male-dominant cast? No, I'm not a misogynist. I happen to love females and female-led movies. But the politically correct purpose behind all of this does make me roll my eyes.

That said, was the fact that our Ghostbusters were female the reason why I was dreading this movie? Absolutely freaking not! There have been a lot of people, feminists especially, that have assumed all the anger and hatred towards this movie has been because of the female cast alone. This position makes me almost as furious as the people hating the movie without even seeing it. I say this because that is an extremely ignorant stance that has absolutely no back towards it. Is the sexism and misogyny there? Sure. But it's a lot smaller than some people have made it out to be. For me personally that was a total non-issue. And I think if you go read the reactions to this movie, you'll find that a lot of people were with me on that. Sure the specific cast members had me nervous, but not because of their gender. There's two main reasons why I was not excited for this. The first was the idea of rebooting Ghostbusters in the first place. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of reboots. If the original was just fine, why make the movie again? Hollywood needs more original ideas and less reboots. The second big reason that I was nervous about this movie is because it did not look funny and it did not look entertaining. Thus I felt like this was going to be another useless remake.

I was wrong, though. This movie was a huge surprise for me. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year. A perfect movie? Heck no! This movie does have plenty of problems, but given the fact that this movie had a trailer that became the most hated trailer in YouTube history, this is definitely not deserving of all of that hate. Because of that, you'll probably find me leaning more positive with my comments because I want to try to convince you to give this movie a shot, especially if you were part of the group that was previously planning on skipping this altogether. Now if you were a part of the angry internet mob that has been preaching hellfire and brimstone towards this movie and you've already left your hundreds of angry YouTube comments as well as given it your 1/10 on IMDb without even seeing it, then perhaps you were bound and determined to hate the movie and nothing I say will help. But if you're like me and you like to go into every movie with an open mind and do your best to enjoy it, then I would recommend you go into this movie with that open mind and give it a shot. If you do so, I honestly think there is a chance that you will enjoy it as well. No, it's not as good as the original. But it's a serviceable Ghostbusters movie in my opinion.

Returning in this movie are most of the main original cast. As cameos playing new characters. This is not a passing of the torch movie and is certainly not a sequel. This is 100 percent a reboot. The events in the 1984 movie did not take place in this new Ghostbusters universe. And yes, our new Ghostbusters are all female. And yes, all the males in this movie are portrayed as big, dumb idiots. Why this movie felt the need to take its feminism theme that far is beyond me. Why can't we have strong female characters AND strong male characters? But whatever. As it turns out, the best part of this movie is definitely the cast. I'm not as big of a Melissa McCarthy fan as some others are. Admittedly there are several of her movies recently that I have skipped because I don't like raunchy comedies and that's a lot of what she does. But still. From what I have seen, I'm not a huge fan. And Saturday Night Live for me is very hit and miss. And that's me being nice. So having our cast be Melissa McCarthy with two SNL girls and Kristen Wiig, a former SNL girl, did not excite me. But these girls surprised me. They have great chemistry as a group. Not only did they provide a lot of laughs, but it was fun to watch them fight ghosts and experiment with gadgets.

As I was watching this movie, I noticed that it was actually hard to connect them with their 1984 male counterparts. Leslie Jones is the only easy one to compare, but that's because she is the black member of the team. The other three are fairly unique characters when compared to the original Ghostbusters. This I appreciated because it showed they were trying to do something different instead of just being a carbon copy of the original. Melissa McCarthy was the leader of the team. Her and Kristen Wiig were the original friends who started this, but Kristen Wiig moved and tried to separate herself from the supernatural while Melissa McCarthy kept going with it in a very nerdy way. Kate McKinnon joined up in the meantime and became the main engineer of all the fancy gadgets. And Leslie Jones is the black, non-science girl that joins the team about a quarter of the way through the movie. I was especially impressed with Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. Based on the trailers, I thought Leslie Jones was just going to be loud and annoying the whole time, but she was actually really funny. Kate McKinnon I've been noticing has people split. Some love her, some hate her. I'm a part of the former. I thought she was great! I also had a lot of fun with Chris Hemsworth's character because it was apparent that he had a lot of fun with his role.

The problems I had with this movie were not our team of Ghostbusters and it wasn't the humor. It was the plot. This felt like one of our average superhero origin stories. We spent a ton of time setting this team up and not enough time out hunting ghosts. In the original Ghostbusters, our ghost-hunting team was set up pretty quick and after their first fight with ghosts, they had everything down and the whole city loved them, thus allowing for most of the movie to be spent on these fun, silly adventures. I don't know the exact timing with this new movie, but man they dragged this out quite a bit. It was as if they thought that no one knew who the Ghostbusters were, so they needed to spend a whole movie meticulously setting up this universe and explaining every small detail. They ran into one ghost early on, defeated their first ghost towards the middle, and then didn't really do any ghost fighting until the finale. On top of that, the angle taken here was that the city was not on their side. They spent the whole movie trying to earn the respect of the city, which wasn't as fun for me. Finally, the villain here was a cliche, I hate the world and want to destroy it, type of villain. He decides to start the Ghostocalypse as I call it and thus we get another cliche villain destroying the world story. Yawn.

Overall, though, I was a lot more impressed than I thought I would be. Yes, the tone and feel of this movie was a bit different than the 1984 original, but I mostly appreciated that because they tried to do something new and different instead of making a carbon copy of that original. This was still a fun movie, though. That's what Ghostbusters is supposed to be. A fun, enjoyable ride that you shouldn't take seriously given the premise. The ghosts were a little more creepy than in the original, but that was okay. Speaking of ghosts, the special effects on the ghosts were pretty darn good and certainly a huge improvement over the original. But that was too be expected. If your special effects aren't significantly better than a movie that came out 32 years earlier, there's a bit of a problem. I liked our team of female Ghostbusters. They worked very well as a team, were quite funny, and were entertaining to watch. Chris Hemsworth was also fun as their dumb secretary. I didn't like our plot or our villain. And I didn't laugh as much in the second half of the movie as I did in the first half. But I was pleasantly surprised with this as a whole. Not a great movie, but a fun ride that's not deserving of the hate it's been getting. I'll give our new Ghostbusters movie a 7/10 and say bring on the sequel!

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets Review

We've been on a little run of family movies recently with Finding Dory beginning its monstrous run at the end of June, The BFG opening last weekend and The Secret Life of Pets opening this weekend. If you're a parent with a bunch of little kids running around, I can totally understand that it may be impossible for you to run and see all of these family movies. So allow the crazy, 27-year-old single dude who has nothing better to do with his life than watch movies and review them help you out a little here. No, I may not have a wife and kids, but I do have a special intuition with what the kids will enjoy. I have several older siblings that have this thing called life all figured out and thus I am an uncle to nearly 20 nieces and nephews of whom I absolutely adore. I'm pretty good at detecting a movie that I know my nieces and nephews will love. The Secret Life of Pets is definitely one of those movies. The kids will fall in love with this movie and thus it has the potential to become a childhood favorite for many. That said, if you're going to spend the money to take your family out to a show, I do think it's important for that movie to be one that parents and kids will love equally. The Secret Life of Pets is NOT that movie. That would be Finding Dory. So if you can only pick one to see, go see Finding Dory and wait for the DVD to see The Secret Life of Pets.

The Secret Life of Pets is about a young boy named Andy who owns a collection of toys that he loves. His favorite one is a cowboy named Woody. He's loved Woody for a long time. But on his birthday, he gets a new toy named Buzz Lightyear. Well, these toys have a secret life when the humans aren't around and Woody is not happy. Woody and Buzz end up hating each other because of it and due to a series of events, this leads to both of them being lost in the city and they need to learn to work together to get back home to Andy. Wait. Shoot. I got the wrong movie there. My bad. That's not The Secret Life of Pets. That's Toy Story. Let me get my thoughts straight and give you the premise of The Secret Life of Pets. This movie is about a girl named Katie who owns a dog named Max. Katie loves Max and Max loves Katie. But then one day Katie comes home with another dog named Duke and Max is not happy. Max and Duke end up hating each other because of it and due to a series of events, this leads to both of them being lost in the city and they need to learn to work together to get back home to Katie. Wait, what? Is it just me or did I just describe the same movie twice? Did Illumination look at Toy Story and decide to pitch the exact same movie, but with pets instead of toys?

Okay, I'll stop playing dumb here. Toy Story with pets is the very first thing that I thought of when I first saw the teaser for this movie. But hey, that could work, right? It's not going to be the exact same movie with the exact same plot. They're going to have their own fun, unique spin. That would be really dumb, otherwise. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Yeah... Exact. Same. Plot. To a t. We just have Max and Duke instead of Woody and Buzz and they are two dogs instead of two toys and their owner is a girl this time around who is a bit older. I was really kinda dumbfounded. And when we weren't following Toy Story to a t, we were following the exact same plot of every other movie where the pets are lost in the city and have to make their way back to their owners. Homeward Bound and Oliver and Company are two that initially came to my mind. But there's lots of them. And The Secret Life of Pets makes zero effort whatsoever to do something unique and different. Zero. And it literally took me out of the movie. Granted kids that watch this movie aren't going to care about this. That's why I said they'll love it. But for me as an adult, plot is important to me. It frustrates me when I watch a movie that I feel is a complete rip-off of something else and thus I found little entertainment value in this movie.

The characters are cute. I'm a sucker for animals. I'm a dog person. And I'm a cat person. And I'm a pet rat person. And I'm a snake person. Basically I love all types of pets. I grew up with mainly cats, but we had a few dogs along the way as well as an assortment of other animals. I also love going to zoos or petting zoos or reptile houses or pretty much anything that has to do with animals. Because of that, I couldn't help but love all these little characters. All of the little animal isms for each pet was done very well. They got all the personalities spot on, which was fun. The voice acting for all of these creatures was also phenomenal. I felt like Illumination managed to find the perfect voice for each of our creatures. This includes, but is not limited to, Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Burress, and Steve Coogan. Quite the collection of voice actors there, all of whom did good. Even Kevin Hart. That's the second straight movie by him where he has entertained me instead of driven me up the wall. With this, the beginning and end of the movie where the owners leave and then return again was good for me. But that was just five minutes at the beginning and five minutes at the end. We had a huge middle portion that was a real chore for me to get through.

No, this is not unwatchably bad. This is not as bad as other animated movies from this year like Norm of the North or They Angry Birds Movie. I just expected a lot more from this. There were plenty of chuckles along the way. Some individual clever moments or funny lines. But there was no gut-busting laughter. I wasn't laughing hysterically throughout like I was during Finding Dory and I didn't feel charmed like I did while I was watching The BFG. It was just very average and very meh. And there's a few things that they did towards the second half of the movie that I need to point out. If you remember my Finding Dory review, I mentioned that there was a moment at the end of that movie that goes full-out Fast and Furious. Same thing here. Except multiply it by ten. It got a little ridiculous. The Finding Dory scene entertained me. This one was a little over the top. The other thing I have to mention is that Illumination literally advertised for their next movie inside of this one. And it wasn't subtle. In December they have this movie called Sing coming out, which is a like an animal version of American Idol. There is a Sing movie poster on a bus in this movie that they show several times. I've never seen that done that blatantly. It caught me off guard.

This is not a bad movie by any means. I just don't think there's too much cross-appeal to kids and adults this time around for Illumination. Now if you're an adult and you loved this movie, don't take any offense to what I just said. Obviously there are going to be plenty of adults who love this and plenty of kids who don't. But in general terms, I think this is going to be a movie that has a lot more appeal with the kids. If you're a parent, your kids will love this. You should show it to them eventually. But I think it can wait. Buy this on DVD and use it to distract them in the mornings when you have stuff to do around the house. That would be a great use for this movie. Outside that, though, I really don't think there's much else to this. If you are single or don't have kids, I think there are plenty of other movies that are more worth your time this summer. It's a fun idea. The animals are all great. The voice acting is spot on. The animation is well done. But the story for me gets a big, fat F from me because of the serious lack of originality or creativity. And there's not enough laughs or emotion to make me overlook that. Illumination wasn't able to harness their inner Pixar this time around and thus I am going to give The Secret Life of Pets a 6/10.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan Review

We once again dive into this trend of doing live-action remakes of Disney's animated movies. On the table today is Tarzan! And before you bring it up, let me bring it up for you. Tarzan was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, which is 87 years before Disney's animated Tarzan. Plenty of Tarzan movies, books, comics, and other media existed before Disney jumped on the bandwagon in 1999. But I'm still calling this a part of the live-action Disney trend because I don't think we'd have this movie if it weren't for all the other successful live-action Disney remakes in the last several years. Disney's not the only studio that has been doing these as The Legend of Tarzan is brought to us by Warner Bros. They were responsible for the epic disaster that was Pan last year, so they didn't get off to a great start in trying to cash in on this trend. Most thought The Legend of Tarzan was going to be a second strike for them. Even thought Rotten Tomatoes might suggest that this is in fact the case (34 percent), fans have been a lot nicer to this movie. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is a much nicer 73 percent. It also got an A- cinemascore and surprised at the box office with $46.5 million over the four-day weekend. Personally I'm with the fans here. This is a pretty solid Tarzan flick.

Did we need another Tarzan movie? Perhaps not. But we got one. Sometimes I find myself complaining about all these unnecessary remakes. Other times I just accept their existence and move on with my life. I've always been intrigued with the idea of The Legend of Tarzan. When I heard about the cast and crew here, that's what got my attention. Then the trailers came out and I thought it could be cool. However, I thought I was in the minority with this. No one seemed to be excited for this movie. But yet the aforementioned box office totals suggest that the phenomenon of the silent majority was in play here. I wasn't the only person looking forward to this. Other people were excited, too. They just didn't vocalize their excitement. Or at least not as loudly as those who weren't excited. Speaking of Disney, though, it is worth mentioning that this is definitely not a specific re-imagining of Disney's Tarzan. This goes back and remakes the original stories of Tarzan that Disney strayed from, like they always do, and does so with a very dark, serious tone. I would make a guess that that was the root of many people's worries. The dark, serious tone that is. I mean, heaven forbid a Tarzan movie be any fun, right? We are talking about a man raised in the jungle by apes, aren't we?

I was ready to use that point as my major complaint here. Turns out I totally dug it, though. It works. As far as our story goes, we do have a two for one deal going on. I don't know exactly how the conversations went in the pre-production stage of this movie, but I imagine a lot of people agreed on the fact that we didn't need to rehash the same Tarzan story that we've seen a hundred times already. Thus this movie is a sequel. Tarzan is already married to Jane and they have left the jungles of Congo and are living in England. And Tarzan doesn't go by Tarzan. He goes by John Clayton III, the name his father originally gave him. The premise for this sequel follows a bit of a political drama where Congo has been divided up by the United Kingdom and Belgium at some point in the 1800's. Belgium is going bankrupt, so their king sends a man named Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz, into Congo to find some legendary diamonds. Rom runs into a native tribe in Congo, whose leader says he will give Rom the diamonds in exchange for Tarzan. So Tarzan is invited back to Congo, not realizing this is a trap. He hesitates at first, but then him and Jane return. I say this is a two for one deal because while this story is going on, the movie slowly unfolds their version of the Tarzan origin story. So it's like we're watching two movies in one.

I will admit that as I was watching this movie, I found myself a lot more interested in the flashbacks than the sequel story of Tarzan returning to the jungle. I almost wish that we had actually had been given this story first before as a movie before we dove straight into this sequel. Those scenes were all super intense and dramatic. They had my undivided attention. We all know that Tarzan was raised by apes. Disney went with gorillas. The original stories weren't gorillas, but were close to gorillas. So to be safe I am going to call them apes. And these apes are super scary, much like full grown gorillas and chimpanzees are in real life. You know that story of the silverback gorilla that got shot in the zoo? "Oh but he was just going to take care and love the child that fell in his cage and those mean zookeepers shot him unfairly." Ha ha ha ha ha!!! Yeah, not to get political, but that's a ridiculous stance. These are scary animals in real life and they're definitely terrifying in this movie. The ape that the original story, as well as Disney, calls Kerchak is a terrifying beast in this movie. Kala acts as a nice motherly figure in this, but I was scared of Kerchak. We didn't anthropomorphize them like Disney, so they don't talk. But they don't need to. You knew Kerchack was angry and you knew why. There's also some serious drama that goes on between Tarzan and these apes that I was fully invested in.

So yes, this backstory that the movie was telling us was fascinating. I loved it and I kinda wanted a full movie with just that backstory. The sequel story wasn't quite as interesting. Not at first, anyways. But then we finally came full circle. When Tarzan goes back to these apes, it's not a friendly reunion and thus you know that some crazy drama went on and when that's finally revealed, this movie, both in the flashbacks and the current story, gets pretty good. The movie doesn't anthropomorphize the apes. But there's definitely some great emotion. In fact, one of the best character arcs in this movie is one of the apes. That ape and the leader of the native tribe, played by Djimon Hounsou. I will say no more, but yeah, Djimon Hounsou is one of the several side characters that stole this movie right away from Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie as Tarzan and Jane. But native tribesmen? Yeah, like I said, this is not Disney's Tarzan. We have a couple different tribes as well as a whole assortment of animals including lions, wildebeest, ostriches, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and more. It's not just Tarzan and the apes. We're in the African Congo! Thus even though we know the story of Tarzan, we don't know where this specific story is going in either timeline. So this isn't as predictable as you might think. And there's a lot of emotion.

Another side character that stole the show away from Tarzan was Samuel L. Jackson's character. I had no idea what type of role he was going to play in this movie or how big that role would be, but I was excited that he was in this movie. I was even more excited when I learned that he had more than just a cameo or a limited role. He is one of our supporting characters, but he's a supporting character that is in the movie for pretty much the entire run time and he has a ton of fun hanging out and going on this adventure with Tarzan. This is not to say that Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie weren't good in this movie. They definitely were. Skarsgard does a great job at playing this socially awkward ape man who is now married to the prettiest girl on the planet. And he has a very intimidating presence as he is 6'4" in real life and is a total beefcake in this movie, much like Tarzan should be. Him swinging around on vines and fighting various animals and humans is totally believable and super boss. Don't mess with Skarsgard's Tarzan or you will be sorry. And speaking of the prettiest girl on the planet, Margot Robbie makes a great Jane. I make it no secret that this woman is my number one celebrity crush at the moment. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but she is a phenomenal actress that kills it in every role she's in. Her being cast as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad is half the reason why I'm so excited for that movie! That's a match made in heaven.

How about these visual effects in the movie? Phenomenal! I saw this movie in 3D IMAX and even though I wasn't initially excited for that part of the movie, it ended up being the best 3D IMAX movie that I've seen this summer. Granted, its only competition was Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, and Independence Day: Resurgence as I didn't see Captain America: Civil War or X-Men: Apocalypse in 3D IMAX. But regardless, this was pretty good. It actually effectively used the 3D when Tarzan was swinging on vines through the jungle and fighting various opponents. It wasn't over the top or distracting. But it was enough for me to be entertained by the 3D, which is hard to do nowadays. And the IMAX part was great. The score of the movie is fantastic, which in my opinion is the most important part of an IMAX adventure. A giant screen, fun 3D, and great visuals are nice, but if you don't have that good score, then it's a waste of an IMAX ticket. This movie has that and it's a score that is done by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who is known for scoring a bunch of Adam Sandler movies and that's almost it. Impressive, though, because when I was looking up who did the score, I was expecting a big name composer. And yes, the visuals in this movie are great. It's amazing what we can do with CGI today. You would think that all of these animals are real, but they're not.

No, we probably didn't need another Tarzan movie. But that's the case with most of these live-action Disney remakes. We don't really need any of them. If you hate the fact that they exist, well you're in for some trouble because there will be a lot more them done by Disney themselves as well as others. So even though this movie wasn't necessary, we got it anyways. Turns out it's a pretty solid Tarzan movie. If you're a fan of the character like I am, you'll be happy to know that they did him justice. The cast of the movie is perfect. Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie were great as Tarzan and Jane, even though they did get overshadowed slightly by the excellent performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Djimon Hounsou. Christoph Waltz was a slightly forgettable villain, but he still did his best with what he was given. I was worried about the serious tone of the movie, but it worked. The action sequences are great, the visual effects are phenomenal, the movie has a good amount of emotion, and a story that sucked me in. Sure, it took a while for me to get invested in the present timeline as I was more invested in the flashbacks at first. But in the second half of the movie I was invested in both timelines and I thought they tied together very effectively. So yeah, this movie was a pleasant surprise and thus I will give The Legend of Tarzan an 8/10.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The BFG Review

The BFG. Big friendly giant. Big freaking giant? Big fumbling goofball? Oh man, this is a scrumdiddlyumptious conversation! What can you come up with that fits the acronym BFG? Think about that as you read this review and let me know your best one! Anyways, moving on. We are now in the middle of the summer and Steven Spielberg and company have found themselves in quite the sticky position. Here they are having made a fun, family adventure and they were confident enough to give it a mid-summer release date. Their $140 million budget for the movie means they were expecting big things out of this. But as it turns out, they have found themselves sandwiched between two powerhouse family adventures with Pixar's Finding Dory and Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets. Three family adventures in this short of time span usually means that at least one of them gets left in the dust. Right now it's looking like The BFG is the odd one out as the excitement and awareness levels don't seem that high. Some are projecting this to open below $20 million for the holiday weekend, which is a horrible start for a $140 million movie. This is unfortunate in my opinion because Spielberg has conjured up yet another fun family adventure that is worth your time!

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I will be reviewing the movie The BFG and not the book The BFG. Zero comparisons will be made between the two in this review simply because I have zero knowledge of the book. I do know Roald Dahl and some of his other works, but for some reason I went through life not even knowing that The BFG novel existed until the first teaser for this came out and everyone started freaking out. And no, I didn't bother reading it or even researching the plot before seeing the movie, so I went in completely blind and thus I will be talking solely about my movie going experience with this story. If you want a book/movie comparison, feel free to find another friend who could help you out there and let me know what you come up with. However, even though I had no knowledge of The BFG, I was still excited for this movie. I mean, this is Steven freaking Spielberg we're talking about. I, like everyone else on this planet, love Spielberg's movies. One of the many great things about him is that he has something for everyone. Movies like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Schindler's List are some of my favorite movies, all for different reasons. And a John Williams score to go along with it? I'm so down!

That said, no director is perfect. Not even the great Steven Spielberg. Even though he has made a lot of personal favorites of mine, including but not limited to the movies I mentioned, he's also made other movies like A.I. Artificial Intelligence or War Horse that I wasn't a fan of. Not every Spielberg movie is a masterpiece and not every Spielberg movie needs to be. The BFG is no masterpiece. It certainly wouldn't make a Spielberg top 10 and it might even struggle to make a Spielberg top 20. But one of the many things I love about Spielberg is how versatile of a director he is. He can make a hard-R masterpiece like Schindler's List and he can also tone it down and make a delightfully fun family film like The BFG. That's what this movie is. It's a cute, charming, delightful movie that I think the whole family can enjoy, especially the little kids. If you are a parent with kids between ages 5 and 10, I'd almost be willing to call this a must-see at some point because this has the potential to be a childhood favorite of theirs much like a movie such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a childhood favorite of many who grew up in the 80's. I realize you might not have the means to see this, Finding Dory, and The Secret Life of Pets all in theaters. But check this out at some point. You'll be glad you did.

As far as the plot goes, this movie is about a young girl becoming friends with a giant. She's an orphan and she really doesn't like it too well at the orphanage. One night she hears something and wanders over to the window to see what it was and she sees the giant. Because she saw him, he feels the need to kidnap her because he's afraid she'll tell everyone about him. She thinks he's going to eat her for dinner, but she quickly learns that he is in fact a big friendly giant, so she calls him BFG. The two become friends rather quickly and are quite the charming pair. We also learn quickly that BFG isn't the only giant out there. The others aren't quite as friendly. They're more like BFI's, big freaking idiots. They're the ones that actually are the mean, child-eating monsters and children all over London have been going missing because they get kidnapped and eaten by these other giants, which is kinda disturbing when you stop and think about it. Good thing we aren't shown any of that. But that does lead to our conflict in the movie. It's BFG vs. the other giants and BFG and the girl have to figure out what to do. As I said, they make quite the team. It's a lot of fun to watch them interact and talk with each other. They go on several fun adventures and the compliment each other quite well.

I will admit that I am still kind of mad that Mark Rylance won the best supporting actor Oscar earlier this year over Sylvester Stallone. I mean Mark Rylance did a good job in Bridge of Spies. But Sylvester Stallone in Creed was incredible and there will never be another chance to reward Stallone for his great performance as Rocky Balboa. Sorry for bringing that up, but that's what I think about now when I see Mark Rylance and I had to get that out of my system. But now the other thing I will think about when I see Mark Rylance is his incredible performance as BFG. Not only was the motion capture element of this great, but so was his overall performance. BFG is not very good at English and because of that he is always stumbling over his words or making words up as he goes. The little girl spends a lot of time correcting him on his English and helping him to become better. It was rather charming to watch and Mark Rylance just rocked this character. He was so good. As so was our little girl for that matter. Her character's name is Sophie and the young actress is a girl by the name of Ruby Barnhill. It's rare to find a great child actress and we've found another one here. She is such an adorable little girl and does such a great job.

In terms of complaints about the movie, I will admit that this took a while to get started. There were a lot of moments in the first half of the movie where I found myself a little bored and was sadly drifting in and out of consciousness. I don't think this was intended on being a big, scary, thrill ride with giants, but I would've appreciated it if the movie would've picked up the pace a little sooner than it did. I did enjoy the second half of the movie quite a bit more than the first half. The scene where they visit the Queen of England was especially fantastic. As I think about it, though, nothing about this movie was particularly amazing. Even when it picked up in the second half, I was never really blown away. I was charmed. It was an adorable movie. But I wasn't super impressed. It's not a movie that I'm going to run around trying to advocate everyone rush to the theaters to see. We do have great characters, but I don't think there's a ton of depth to the story itself. It's just a simple, fun, family film. I don't know if this is a problem with the source material or not. Like I said, I know nothing about the novel. I'm just judging what I saw on screen and it was nothing fantastic. I may have even had a bit more fun with Jack the Giant Slayer a few years back. But I still think this is worth seeing.

No, this movie won't be remembered as one of Spielberg's masterpieces. But I appreciate the fact that he can still feel comfortable with toning things down and making a solid movie that the kids will enjoy. That's what this is. Regardless of overall quality, another thing I love about Spielberg is that he always makes well-crafted films. Spielberg has the art of filmmaking down to a science and it's been this way for many years, which is why it's always great to watch a Spielberg movie. And a John Williams score is something that I always love. The man is 84 years old, so I don't know how many more films he has in him. But I hope it's still a lot. His scores have been some of my all time favorites and I look forward to many more. So yes, there's a lot to love in this movie. It's a well-crafted movie with a beautiful score. Mark Rylance is amazing as the BFG and Ruby Barnhill is equally as great as Sophie. The two of them are just charming to watch. The movie overall is nothing special and I was bored a lot more than I should've been in the first half. But I still think this is a good family film worth seeing. Even if you don't have the means to see it in theaters, I'd recommend you renting it at some point. My grade for The BFG is a 7/10.