Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Defenders Season 1 Review (SPOILERS)

We live in a day of cinematic universes where everyone is trying to copy what Marvel did with "The Avengers" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it seems like many have forgotten that Marvel rolled things out slowly by making five individual movies before bringing them together in "The Avengers," thus a lot of these attempted cinematic universes have been really sloppy and disappointing, making it so the novelty has worn off, thus in turn making it so my standards for these cinematic universes and movie/TV crossovers are much higher than they once were. But with Marvel's TV universe I had faith that they would do it right since they are the once who started this game. But before I dive into my thoughts on the first season of "The Defenders," I need to talk about the four individual shows that have led up to "The Defenders," since I have yet to do so on this blog. I've been really excited for this show to come out so that I finally have a good, timely excuse to talk about all of these shows. Because this has been a fun, yet very difference universe than Marvel's cinematic version. I'm not going to do in-depth reviews of each show, but I'm going to cover the basics so that you know where I am coming from before I talk about this big crossover event.


"Daredevil" is easily the best show of the bunch for me and I thoroughly enjoyed both seasons, albeit the first season slightly more than the second. While Marvel has been very timid to go all dark and grim with the MCU, they hold nothing back in "Daredevil" as this is Marvel's version of a hard R superhero TV show. Not for language, sexuality or nudity, but for the unrestrained graphic violence and overall dark nature of the show. But of course, many who avoid R-rated movies like the plague for some odd reason had no qualms jumping right into "Daredevil" because the MPAA doesn't deal with TV. But what can you do. Laugh at the double standards and move on with life? Now I loved this tone, not because I require graphic violence in my shows, but because there are real stakes here. At any given moment, any character, whether big or small, could wind up dismembered, decapitated or brutally injured at any given moment. Thus the tension is super high throughout, leaving me on the edge of my seat the entire time and practically forcing me to keep going to the next episode. Having been late to the party after not having Netflix for a while, while I finally watched "Daredevil," I rather quickly binged both seasons in less than a week or two.

As far as specifics go, season 1 was the origin story of "Daredevil," and although I'm picky with origin stories due to so many of them being so similar, thus making it easy to dive into cliche territory, "Daredevil" season 1 is on the level of "Batman Begins" when it comes to origins. In addition to the dark, gritty, tense tone, the character development of Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page is perfection. All three characters are fantastic in their own way and react to each situation in very real, humanistic ways. The way they grow together as a team makes you really care for all of them, which in turn tears you apart when they grow apart after eventually learning of Matt Murdock's secrets as not only playing "Daredevil" at night, but also of these powers he's had since he was young that he went years keeping from his friends. It's easy for some shows to quickly arrange the main characters as this secret super team like in "Arrow" or "The Flash," but that's not the route "Daredevil" goes. We go the realistic, human route, which adds to the dark, gritty nature of the show as not only does Matt Murdock have to deal with all the monstrosities happening in the city, but he also has to deal with his friendships falling apart and his lawyer career failing him.

Then of course we have Vincent  D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. In addition to being super picky about origin stories, the other thing I am super picky about is villains. Dark, ominous and scary is nice, but I've really grown tired of villains being evil just for the sake of being evil and attacking the hero of the show because that's what they are supposed to do. The most important element of a good villain for me is motivation. Why are they doing what they do? What happened to them that caused them to be who they are? I'm not going to lie, Wilson Fisk in the first season of "Daredevil" just might be one of the best villains in an superhero story in the history of ever. The show spends time developing his character. You dive into his backstory quite a bit and you really feel for him. You understand him. You know exactly why he's developed into such a cold-hearted monster. Yet even as he's cunningly terrorizing the city with his perfect, subtle plan, you still feel for him. And you're also scared to death of him when he's on screen because they also managed to capture the dark, ominous and scary elements of his character perfectly. There are no flaws with him. Thus we have the perfectly setup hero story clashing against the perfectly setup villain story.

Season 2 of "Daredevil" naturally suffers from the lack of Wilson Fisk, even though he's still there building up his empire in prison as Kingpin. It also naturally suffers from the fact that Matt Murdock has arrived as Daredevil since the journey in season 1 of him becoming Daredevil was so intriguing. But there's still a lot of fun to be had as he's fully suited up in the rather awesome Daredevil costume. Season 2 also introduces The Punisher and Elektra, two characters that I really loved. The Punisher is the perfect anti-hero. He's dark, scary and does a lot of bad things. But he does them for the right reasons, thus you get the perfect contrast between him and Daredevil who both have the same goal and same motivations, but have exact opposite philosophies on how to accomplish these goals. Then we have Elektra who simply does what she wants to do. She's neither good nor bad. She has no real loyalties other than to herself, but starts to fall in love with Matt Murdock, making things very complicated for the both of them as their lives are seemingly heading in opposite directions, but they can't help falling for each other anyways, which nearly destroys both of their lives. I really enjoyed it their unique, both strong chemistry as this doomed couple.

Perhaps the biggest problem with season 2 for me was the lack of an interesting overarching villain. We did some stuff with Wilson Fisk, but I got the feeling that much of that was setting up future story arcs. The actual main villain, or main villains, was the organization of the Hand, which I never honestly cared too much for. They were the mysterious, evil ninja organization quietly taking over the world. Much like the Foot Clan in "Ninja Turtles" or the League of Assassins or the League of Shadows in DC. It felt too much like a "been there, done that" for me. And done more interestingly at that. It made for some fantastic action sequences, but the organization remained too much of a mystery for me to really be invested. And when we got the payoff in "The Defenders," it wasn't very good. Thus we instead probably focused a bit too much on The Punisher and Elektra because the season didn't have much else to do. It made me excited for "The Punisher" show coming out later this year, but I feel we dwelt on that a little too much and we focused way too much on Elektra. Again, I loved her character. But I would've rather had her be a side character they built up cleverly instead of being the whole focus of the season. But overall it was still a very enjoyable season.

Jessica Jones

After clearing through both seasons of "Daredevil" super fast, I immediately jumped right into "Jessica Jones," as I couldn't hold in my excitement. And even though this show is a much different one than "Daredevil," I enjoyed it nearly as much. In fact, I'd probably slide the first season of "Jessica Jones" right in between season 1 and 2 of "Daredevil" in terms of my personal enjoyment. There's less to say here on this post because there's less show to cover. And maybe we could've even chopped this season down a bit to be more focused, but the first thing that jumped out to me with this show is that it doesn't feel like a superhero TV show at all. It was more of a drama surrounding this very broken woman who doesn't give a crap about the world and decides mostly to drink away her problems and sleep with various guys, mostly Luke Cage, though, in order to try to hide her real world responsibilities while occasionally doing some private investigating on the side, focusing specifically on busting men cheating on their wives, because that's something that she's good at that will also get her enough money to pay the bills. She hates the fact that she has powers and she rarely uses them. When she does use them, it does a good job of surprising the audience in a good way.

What Jessica can't get away from is this crazy psychopath named named Kilgrave, who is directly responsible for ruining her life. Kilgrave is brilliantly portrayed by David Tennant, many people's favorite Doctor from "Doctor Who." As I said in the "Daredevil" portion of this post, I'm really picky with villains, which is why you shouldn't take it lightly that I also loved Kilgrave. While very different than Wilson Fisk, this man is a legitimate psychopath. He has these powers where he can tell people to do anything he says and they have to obey. Seems like a useful ability to have, right? Ha ha. No. It's completely ruined him and he legitimately can't help himself. He's not just an evil man purposely using evil powers to ruin the world. He's a very broken man whose been destroyed by these powers and has thus become like an alcoholic in that he has to use the powers because he doesn't know any different. And when you make him angry or get in his way, there's not much you can do because he'll just tell you to go do some random task for an infinite amount of time that will either slowly kill you or drive you completely insane. Or he might just accidentally tell you to go screw yourself without even realizing what he just did or what that might lead to.

Now imagine you are a girl in Jessica's position and Kilgrave has decided that you're his lover. Yeah, life will very quickly go down the drain, which is what destroyed Jessica. The whole first season of this show is her trying to figure out what to do with this guy. Does she give in and throw her life down the drain for the greater good of the city or does she try to find a way to stop him? But how to stop him? She can use her detective skills to try to find something against him and turn him into the police. But how is she going to convince the police exactly who he is and what he has the power to do? And how does she find evidence and proof for the police to buy her story? And even if they do, what next? How does she successfully turn him into the police when he can just walk into the police station and make the whole police force do exactly as he says? Of course she has the option of killing him, but even though she is a depressed drunk who doesn't care about the world, she also has a conscience and committing murder is something that crosses her moral boundaries. She refuses to go that route. Yes, despite the show perhaps being a few episodes too long, I was fully invested into this story, especially when we got to the second half and things got really intense.

Luke Cage

This one is going to be a lot shorter than the other two. Because I only got four episodes into this show before I gave up on it. Listen, Luke Cage is a great character played fantastically by Mike Colter. And after he was introduced in "Jessica Jones," appearing in seven episodes, I was excited to see him in his own adventure. But when we got to his own adventure, I just wasn't sucked in. If I'm uninterested in a movie, I'll most likely bite the bullet and finish it, because it's only a couple of hours. But a TV show is a much bigger time investment. I don't have time to sit and watch every TV show that shows up and when I start a show and fail to get invested after four episodes, it's hard for me to keep going. There were times when I had the idea to go watch another episode of "Luke Cage" after I got to the point I did, but in every instance I ended up choosing to do something else with my life because I just wasn't interested enough. And yes, many of those instances included me deciding that 50 minutes extra sleep sounded more interesting that 50 minutes of "Luke Cage." Perhaps I prefer him as a side character in other shows rather than being front and center in his own.

Iron Fist

This one is even easier. I didn't watch "Iron Fist." I'm not as big of a TV buff as I am a movie buff. I was planning on watching all of shows leading up to "The Defenders" before watching "The Defenders." But after I couldn't get myself interested enough to finish "Luke Cage," I became even less interested in even starting "Iron Fist," especially given how many negative reviews the show received. Yes, I know. I should give it a chance anyways. After all, I did like "Supergirl" after a lot of people came out and hated it. But in this instance I simply ran out of time decided to jump right into "The Defenders" without even starting "Iron Fist." I figured if Danny Rand impressed me enough in "The Defenders," I would perhaps go back and watch his show. But, well, spoiler alert. I hated his character in "The Defenders." He almost completely ruined the show for me. So I think it's safe to say that I made the correct decision.

The Defenders

And now we've arrived to the show in question. The one you really clicked on to hear me talk about. Now fair warning. As mentioned in the title of this post, this analysis will contain season 1 spoilers. I'm not going to mention every detail of every episode, but I'm going to type as if you've already watched the show. So if you haven't seen our short eight episode crossover, then just know that I found this entertaining enough to give a pass to. But this is no way on par with Marvel's "The Avengers" and is also a significant step down from both seasons of "Daredevil" as well as "Jessica Jones." But I was intrigued enough to keep going after each episode and with only eight episodes of show, this was a really quick binge even on a busy weekend. So go check it out and then you can come back and we can compare notes as to what we thought. Also a quick note. I didn't watch "Iron Fist" or most of "Luke Cage" and I didn't feel lost. I imagine you could also get away with not having seen all of "Jessica Jones." But don't go into this show without having seen both seasons of "Daredevil." I don't know why you would do that anyways. But since this plays more of a continuation of "Daredevil" than anything, you're going to want to be caught up there.

The biggest problem with "The Defenders" is that the major focus of the show is on exactly the organization that I admitted to not being a huge fan of. The Hand. But this time the man behind the curtain, so to speak, has been unveiled and we are up against the five fingers of the Hand. None of whom are anywhere close to as interesting as R'as al Ghul or the Shredder. When you don't have interesting leadership, it's hard for me to care. The big boss is Sigourney Weaver, who does not pull off ominous, scary mastermind very well at all and she rather stupidly puts all her cards into a basket that all of us knew was never going to work out for her. Elektra. Because after Elektra got killed in "Daredevil," Sigourney Weaver revives her as soulless, zombie Elektra, like we all knew was going to happen. And of course you can guess from scene one that Elektra is not quite as soulless as Sigourney Weaver was hoping. Oh, and yes, the Hand also needs Danny Rand, the almighty Iron Fist, who doubles as the stupidest and most annoying character on the show, as a key to unlock some sort of final plan that's going to help the Hand destroy New York. Because, you know, why not? "The Avengers" focused on destroying New York City, so why not "The Defenders"?

That paragraph certainly sounds like I am about to take a dump all over this show. But I'm not. I just found the overall premise of these episodes to be a bit underwhelming. But good ole Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter did their absolute best to take such a silly premise and make it work, even though Finn Jones seemed dead set on sabotaging the whole thing. Yeah, if I haven't made it abundantly clear at this point, I really hate Danny Rand in this show. I actually took notes during the show because I knew I was going to be typing this up and one of my immediate notes when the Hand waltzes in and claims they need Iron Fist, I wrote, "Take him, please." It would be a worthy sacrifice to dispose of his character and put us all out of our misery. Then we could focus on the other three. With Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, we all knew from "Jessica Jones" that those two had great on-screen chemistry. Add Matt Murdock into the bunch and we have some pretty great interactions especially when they are trying to get to the point where they are trusting each other, despite them all having deep, dark secrets. That made for some good drama and some entertaining moments. And the show did a great job of making fun of Danny Rand for being a dumb character. I was happy.

Another major problem is that the show does take a long time to get started, which had me confused because there were only eight episodes to begin with. I had no idea why they were dragging their feet so much. It didn't help that this season doubled as "Daredevil" season 3, "Jessica Jones" season 2, "Luke Cage" season 2 and "Iron Fist" season 2. They painted themselves into quite the corner here because they were going so far sideward that it was hard to progress forward. Thus it took them four episodes to progress forward one episode's worth of content. Suddenly we're halfway through and it seems like we just got started. In the middle of that, it didn't seem like they had a great plan of how to get these four together, so they had them all randomly going to the exact same destination, Midland Circle, the home of the Hand. That led to some fun action sequences (episode 3), which was followed by game planning what to do with the help of Stick from "Daredevil" (episode 4), followed again by some more fun action sequences (episode 5) and plenty of boring stuff in between, before we FINALLY got to the point where I was actually completely invested in the show. The final three episodes were mostly great episodes, outside a bit of a cliche finale.

In the center of all of this is our girl Elektra, who I still really like. But I don't know if I was really wanting her to be the central focus of this season. Through her progression, the only thing I could think of is Sara Lance from "Arrow," who went through the exact same process of dying, being resurrected, acting like an insane zombie, getting her memories back and then going onto being a hero. The difference there is that Elektra isn't really a hero. She's her own thing and is quite boss as she shocks the world and kills Sigourney Weaver and then makes the remaining three (the other one got decapitated by Stick early on) follow her wherever her gray morality leads her. Matt Murdock believes he can talk some sense into her and we all think he's going to be successful. And he kind of is. To some extent. I think? The final showdown between him and Elektra is quite a fun one as an epic duel leads to some snarky, genius dialogue and is finished with them making out as the giant building collapses on top of them. And we spend like 10 arduous minutes of our characters crying over the death of Matt Murdock, which pained me because we all knew he wasn't dying. I don't think Elektra died either. Then we end with our huge *surprise.* He's alive! Who woulda thunk it!

And again, playing a big part in this was Danny Rand. Stick concludes in episode 6 that the Hand is planning on using Danny's Iron Fist as a key to unlock something. So naturally all they have to do is keep Danny away from the Hand and they win. Too bad Danny is too stupid to connect the dots, so he whines and complains the whole way through, making the other three decide to fight him and tie him up as a prisoner. I did kinda feel bad for him because he spent those last three episodes as someone's prisoner or tool. But I didn't feel too bad for him because it was evident that he had no brain and Finn Jones was certainly lacking on the acting skills. It probably didn't help that the writing here with his character wasn't that great either. Moving on. Shortly after the Defenders make Danny their prisoner, Elektra bursts in, kills Stick, knocks the others out cold and kidnaps Danny. That was all pretty boss. Thus, yes, episode 6, "Ashes, Ashes," was my favorite episode of the show. This does lead to a good finale loaded with a ton of great action sequences topped off with them deciding to blow up the Midland Circle building, which Matt and Elektra got caught in. I really hope this signifies the end of the Hand or at the least leads into something more interesting if one of them survived.

That about sums up my thoughts on the first season of "The Defenders." As far as a grade goes, I gave a grade to each individual episode while watching and this is what I came up with:

- Episode 1, "The H Word" -- 6/10
- Episode 2, "Mean Right Hook" -- 8/10
- Episode 3, "Worst Behavior" -- 8/10
- Episode 4, "Royal Dragon" -- 7/10
- Episode 5, "Take Shelter" -- 7/10
- Episode 6, "Ashes, Ashes" -- 9/10
- Episode 7, "Fish in the Jailhouse" -- 9/10
- Episode 8, "The Defenders" -- 8/10

If you do the math on all of that, that's an overall per-episode average of 7.75/10 for the first season of "The Defenders." Round that up to 7.8/10 or simply 8/10 if you want to. Somewhere in that range feels about right for me. Thus I stand my ground that this is a decently entertaining show, but nowhere near as epic as it could've been. For that I blame mostly on the premise of the Hand and their business with Iron Fist and Elektra. It was fairly underwhelming. Danny Rand also drove me up the wall the whole season, but he was balanced out by Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, who all brought their A-game. There were a lot of great chemistry between those three and plenty of fun action sequences. But I finished simply wanting more seasons of "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" rather than more of "The Defenders." And of course I am stoked for "The Punisher." And maybe we can do what the CW does with their Arrowverse by having each of the Defenders make cameo appearances on the other shows. I would love to see Jessica Jones show up in "Daredevil" or vice-versa and I'm open for Luke Cage showing up in either show, even though I don't plan on tuning in for his own show. So that does it here. Bring on "The Punisher" in November!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Logan Lucky Review

The middle of August is an interesting time for movies. The big summer movie season is behind us, it's a bit early for Oscar season, school is about to start up for many and, well, people just don't go to the movies that much. Thus studios typically don't drop their big releases in this month, especially not when it comes to mid- to late-August. I mean, Hollywood has realizes with the likes of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Suicide Squad" that the first weekend of August can be a great one, thus allowing you to have a monopoly on the rest of the month because no one is going to care to challenge you. "The Dark Tower" tried that this year, but they failed to interest anyone, so now we are just left with an empty month with a lot of low-budget films that could be good or the could be outright disasters. So I'm usually paying extra close attention to reviews to prioritize which movies to see first and which movies can wait for much later. And this is why I found myself in theaters for "Logan Lucky" this weekend because here we have a heist film from director Steven Soderbergh, the director of the "Ocean's" movies that is sitting pretty at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score in the 90 percent range will certainly get my attention.

As far as the "Ocean's" movies go, I have to be honest and say I'm not as up-to-date with them. I really enjoy myself a good heist movie, but I fell asleep during "Ocean's Eleven" when I first watched it and haven't watched it too many times since. I did enjoy it, though, but it definitely garners a re-watch. And I never did see "Ocean's Twelve" or "Ocean's Thirteen." Although I hear "Ocean's Twelve" is a disappointment while "Ocean's Thirteen" brings it back to form. I've also not seen the original "Ocean's 11" in 1960 with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Perhaps I'll catch up on those before next year's female reboot, "Ocean's Eight." But despite me not being up-to-date with perhaps the most popular heist series, again I do love myself a good heist movie, such as "The Italian Job," "Fast Five" and "Ant-Man," to name a few off the top of my head. This year we even had "Going in Style" and "Baby Driver" that I enjoyed. They are a lot of fun. When I saw that Soderbergh was back out of "retirement" with a new heist film, I was really hoping that it would be a lot of fun, although the mid-August release date had me a bit nervous. But the great reviews gave me confidence and excitement and I prepared myself for a good time with a heist at a NASCAR race.

Right off the bat I will say that if you go into this movie expecting an epic masterpiece, you might be a bit let down. This is not on the level of the greatest heist movies, thus the 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes might be a bit deceiving. Although it should be noted that Rotten Tomatoes is simply the percentage of critics that gave the movie a good review. A movie that gets in the 80-100 percent range simple means a lot of people liked it. Rotten Tomatoes doesn't differentiate between decent movie and masterpiece. It's all black and white. Positive and negative. That's why you have to do a bit of reading in between the lines to see what people are saying instead of just looking at a score. I think the overall consensus is that a lot of people had a fun time with this movie. And I'm one of them. If I were a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic, I would be part of the 93 percent that gave this a pass. I don't think Soderbergh really took himself too seriously with this film, which is a good thing here. This is not a serious, intense drama. This is essentially a comedy heist. A hillbilly, redneck parody of Soderbergh's "Ocean's" films. If you go in expecting a masterpiece, you might be disappointed. But if you go in just expecting to have a good time, I think you will.

If I'm getting super nit-picky with the premise here, the motivations behind the heist wasn't perfectly clear to me. A heist film typically dives into anti-hero territory and I love it most when there's good, solid reasoning behind doing a heist. You have to look at your main characters and believe that they'd be the type of people that would be willing to pull something like this off, yet they have to have enough charisma for you to cheer for them to be successful despite this being a very illegal thing that you wouldn't root to succeed if this were real life. That's why "Fast Five" worked really well. Vin Diesel and crew are very likable characters who spend most of that series running from the law or doing things, like street racing, that aren't exactly legal. A major heist, stealing a giant bank vault, made sense for them and it was a ton of fun. Channing Tatum is our main character in "Logan Lucky" and he plays your very typical, likable redneck, southern dude. He loses his job over liability issues and then goes to his brother, played by Adam Driver, and says that they should go rob the NASCAR race track during a huge race. That kinda felt out of left field and not what those two characters would do. So the movie didn't quite have the best setup in the world.

Motivations aside, though, this movie is quite the fun romp. If you live in the deep south or simply enjoy that type of culture, this is going to be your movie. I lived in Texas for two years and while that's not quite the deep south, I did get a taste of the southern culture, especially when I was in the small, redneck towns, so I really appreciated this redneck parody. I thought it was a lot of fun. If you are more cultured into the deep south than I am, then you're going to like this even more. They get the southern culture down pretty well. And, you know, what better than two hillbilly brothers pulling off a heist at a NASCAR race? It's absolutely hilarious. Even if you're not associated with southern culture, I still think there's potential to have a great time here due to the uniqueness of the setup. Along with that, I think all the cast members had a fun time with this, especially Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. Everyone in the movie has a thick, southern accent, which works for some more than others, and they all have great chemistry as a team of crazy dudes doing this crazy heist, even if it seems they're a bit in over their heads. With the cast having fun and the director not taking things seriously, it's easy to just sit back and have fun with them.

The biggest challenge for any heist movie is to make sure the pacing of the film is done right. Your typical formula for a heist movie is the introduction of the characters followed by some inciting incident where a decision is made to perform a heist. Then you spend a lot of time in the planning / recruiting / preparation phase before finally getting the payoff of the heist itself, which is typically concluded with post-heist sequences where we see if they get away with this heist. Thus you spend a lot of time in these movies setting things up, which has the potential of getting boring if not done right. If the heist and post-heist sequences aren't intense enough, then we don't get the proper payoff after waiting so long to see this go down. If I'm being honest here, "Logan Lucky" didn't quite nail this pacing. As I mentioned earlier, I think the setup of the heist came out of left field. I don't think it quite made sense. Then there were a lot of moments during the planning phases that were a bit too slow. Watching it late at night, I was having a bit of a rough time staying awake. Then I don't think the payoff was as quite as good as I wanted it to be. Now, none of these elements were straight-up bad, but each step was off by just a bit to throw off the groove of the movie. Things could've been tightened up.

That aside, though, I do think this is an entertaining movie. If you've already got yourself caught up with the summer's big blockbusters and you're just dying for something to come out to so you can get your fix of movie watching, I think "Logan Lucky" is a solid option. If you're not one that heads out to theaters often, I don't think this is necessarily a movie where you need to rush out and see it as soon as possible. Feel free to wait for Netflix, Redbox or whatever means you use to watch movies on your own at home. It will be a well-spent two hours of your life if you have nothing else going on. You can definitely tell that the cast of the movie had a lot of fun during the filming process and that Steven Soderbergh simply wanted to make a casual, lighthearted film for his coming out of retirement party. If you go into the movie without any super high expectations and simply plan to relax, throw some popcorn in your face and have a good time with a hillbilly parody of "Ocean's Eleven," I think you're going to have a great time with this movie. I personally may need to do a re-watch at some point, maybe during my "Ocean's" marathon, due to me dosing off a bit during some of the slower parts. But I did enjoy my experience and thus for now I'm going to give "Logan Lucky" an 8/10.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Annabelle: Creation Review

I think it's safe to say that we all rolled our eyes when it was announced that we were getting another "Annabelle" movie. I mean, "The Conjuring" movies are pretty entertaining horror movies and that Annabelle doll was extremely creepy when it showed up in the first "Conjuring." But when they did that "Annabelle" prequel movie, I don't think there was a single person on the planet that gave that movie a good review. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. It did get all the way up to 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes out of 119 reviews, but no one that I talked to or critic that I like to follow said anything good about it. And even though hype and marketing helped it to open in the same range as both "Conjuring" movies, it crashed hard in ensuing weeks and barely managed to double its opening weekend total. I suppose I can't officially judge it because I didn't care to see it. Yes, I'm a horror fan, but there are so many bad horror films out and I choose to seek out the ones that do horror right while usually skipping the awful ones like "Annabelle." Which is why, in a surprising turn of events, I found myself in a theater watching "Annabelle: Creation." They got a good director which led to good early reviews, so I was intrigued to see if they could rein this back in.

The timeline for this movie is a bit interesting. As I mentioned before, "Annabelle" is a prequel to "The Conjuring." In "The Conjuring," you see the Annabelle doll in that one room where the Warrens have kept all of their possessed or supernatural objects that they have collected, so with the movie "Annabelle," they went back in time to tell that doll's story. With "Annabelle: Creation," instead of going forward in time a bit after the first "Annabelle," they again backtrack to tell the origins of the Annabelle doll. So yes, "Annabelle: Creation" is a prequel to a prequel of "The Conjuring." Simply put with this story, a man is happily married with a wife and a young daughter and is making a line of Annabelle dolls to sell to families. While I don't feel like getting into specifics with what exactly happens, even though you can see it coming from a mile away, bad stuff happens to this family and then we jump 12 years later where he is now a sad man with a lot of secrets, yet decides to bring in some foster girls who are hoping to be adopted. Or something like that. Point is, a Nun with a group of young girls of varying ages are now coming to live at this man's home and they quickly learn that there is a lot of strange things happening in this home centering around this doll.

The first thing I noticed about the events that were taking place was that there were a lot of supernatural things happening without much explanation. I understand that with many horror movies it's a bad idea to try to explain everything because often it ends up ruining the movie and mythology. But I looked at this movie in comparison to both "Conjuring" films, which had intriguing stories and mythologies that they told about certain haunting cases. Both films took the time to explain the backstory of their films and why everything was happening. "The Conjuring" especially had a very rich, detailed story with their haunting that the Warrens were solving. With "Annabelle: Creation," the daughter is haunting the house and that's pretty much it. There's no investigation or mystery to be solved. No Warrens around to help this girl or exercise her spirit. No real explanations to how or why the doll is moving around everywhere or the specific motivations behind why this girl is choosing to haunt these other girls using this doll. It's just simple scares without much story or depth behind it. A deceased young girl is haunting this house that all these girls have moved into and the girls have to figure out how to survive and what to do. That's "Annabelle: Creation" in a nutshell.

This disappointed me because for me it wasn't the terror of the "Conjuring" films that made me like them. It was the mythology and the investigation that I found fascinating, which was topped off by some legitimately terrifying sequences. "The Conjuring" even had a lot of religious undertones to it as the message of the film is that the devil exists and God exists and our destiny as human beings is to choose which one to follow with the Warrens representing the people who use the power of God to get rid of the power of the devil. In fact, this is a very common theme for many horror films like "The Exorcist" from 1973. While a very non-traditional way to share a spiritual message, it works and it adds a lot of depth to the movie instead of being a movie about simple scares. Even in the non-religious realm, there's a lot of other horror films that dive deep into various themes and real life situations people have to deal with, like "The Babadook," which deals with mental illness and depression in a rather powerful way. Other examples from this year include "Get Out," which is very much a social commentary on racism or "It Comes at Night," which deals with the fear of the unknown and paranoia. "Annabelle: Creation" has none of this. It's just there for scares.

But yet on a positive note, when it comes to the scares, "Annabelle: Creation" does it right. So many horror films these days are bogged down with jump scares and gore that really get old. They throw story and characters out the window because they think cramming as many jump scares into as possible, with many of them being annoying fake jump scares, are why people like horror films. Or they think that a bloody gory image is what's scary so they decide to make their movie huge gore-fests. These are the types of horror films I choose to avoid because I don't find them interesting. From what I've heard, "Annabelle" is this exact type of horror film. But "Annabelle: Creation" is not. They hired David F. Sandberg to direct, who is responsible for both the "Lights Out" short film from 2013 and the "Lights Out" feature-length film from last year. Even though "Lights Out" was another simple scare-fest without a ton of depth, it was a successfully creepy film. Sandberg implements a lot of those tactics he used in "Lights Out" for "Annabelle: Creation," meaning the movie is focused a lot more on creepy imagery, clever camera work, appropriate lighting and other stuff like that instead of blood, gore and endless amounts of jump scares to make this a good horror film.

Yes, jump scares exist in "Annabelle: Creation," but most of the jump scares in this movie were ones that gave you real reason to jump with a demon jumping out, the doll appearing or creepy eyes showing up in the dark. Real stuff to be scared about. Fake jump scares are kept to a minimum and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie's run time with how legitimately scary this house was with this doll. No, the movie didn't have any depth to it or much of a story to latch onto, but this was a well-made horror film in terms of the actual horror elements. There were also a lot of good characters in this movie with great acting. The main guy whose house we're in is played by Anthony LaPaglia and he does a great job of playing this very broken man. The Nun who is in charge of the girls is played by Stephanie Sigman and she does a great job of being loving and charismatic towards these girls. And our two main girls are played by Lulu Wilsons and Talitha Bateman, both of whom do a great job as these young girls being haunted by this doll. There are plenty of dumb decisions made by everyone, making this a very cliche horror film at times. But that was all in the writing as all the actors did their absolute best with the material they were given.

In short, if you are looking for a horror film with a ton of depth and a lot of interesting themes, "Annabelle: Creation" is not your film. It's short on story. There's a lot of supernatural events that are left unexplained. There's not very many strong character arcs. It doesn't dive deep into the mythology as it could've. It's not a paranormal investigation movie. The movie does a good job at connecting with both "The Conjuring" and "The Conjuring 2" while successfully setting up next year's "The Nun" (yes we're going for a "Conjuring" cinematic universe with these spin-offs). But it fails to hit the heights of "The Conjuring" and is more in line with "The Conjuring 2" for me, a movie that I felt had a lot less depth and purpose than its predecessor. That said, if you're looking for a horror movie that's simply entertaining, this will be your movie. After a bit of setup, there are a lot of scares in this movie and those scares are done properly as the movie focuses more on the creepy imagery while using good lighting, interesting camera work and effective music to deliver these scares instead of relying solely on jump scares and gory images to be scary. If you're not a horror fan, this won't convert you. But if you are a horror fan, there's a lot of fun to be had. I'm giving "Annabelle: Creation" a 7/10.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Dark Tower Review

So this is a bit awkward. I have not read Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series. There's eight of these books and I have a lot of friends who love them. But for whatever reason, I've just never gotten around to reading them. Thus I don't know if I'm the most worthy person to write this review, but I'm going to give it my best shot, anyways. And hey, sometimes it's fun to get the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the source material. So that's what you're getting here. If I'm being honest, I was never really excited for this movie in the first place. Yes, I love myself a good Stephen King story, so the idea of turning one of his most popular series into a movie is a good idea. But this has been in Production Hell for the last 10 years and the advertising of the movie led me to believe that the studio itself never had a ton of confidence in the final result because this looked more like a confusing action blockbuster, which I'm pretty sure is not what this franchise is all about. Because of this, my expectations were super low and I went in with the idea of getting this experience over with and moving onto the next movie, especially after the embargo was lifted and I saw those awful reviews. But hey! Surprise! This ended up not being as bad as I thought it was going to be.

From what I'm gathering, the final decision after many years of discussion ended up being that they were not going to simply focus on the first book in the series, but rather they were going to combine several of the books into one 95-minute movie? That's an odd choice. So I don't know how the books go, but in this movie we start out by focusing in a young 11-year-old kid named Jake Chambers who has these psychic abilities that they call "the shine." He sees these premonitions of this other world, the Man in Black and the Dark Tower, thus he knows something is up. But of course no one believes him, so he runs away right before his parents plan on sending him to some sort of mental institution. He runs into Idris Elba, who is a gunslinger trying to save the universe from Matthew McConaughey, the Man in Black, also named Walter. We end up with a rather simple, surface-level good vs. evil story with Matthew McConaughey trying to destroy the world and Idris Elba trying to save it. Jake Chambers is key to this with his psychic abilities. All of this centers around this Dark Tower, which kinda looks like Sauron's tower in "Lord of the Rings." I think we go the route of the world being in trouble if the Dark Tower gets destroyed, but I might have this reversed.

You can definitely tell without even knowing about the books that they tried to cover way too much ground, which is why I ended up being more confused than anything with this whole mythology that I think they assumed that I knew more than I actually did. It didn't really help that the movie failed to hook me and I found myself falling in and out of consciousness during the first act. But then through some series of events, this kid ends up with Idris Elba and they're going on adventures together. When that happened, the movie actually managed to grab my attention. Given that everyone is hating on this movie, I think I was supposed to be getting frustrated and angry at the movie, but instead I was feeling quite the opposite. I was enjoying this universe that we set up and I was loving all of our characters. I didn't know what the Dark Tower really was. I had no idea what a gunslinger was or why this Man in Black was so evil, but I became sold on this journey and I was eager to get answers to my questions. The kid in the movie and Idris Elba had a good amount of chemistry as an unlikely duo that made this a fun movie when certain monsters would show up or when Matthew McConaughey was maliciously trying to ruin everything. I was having quite a bit of fun.

I think the biggest reason as to why this works as well as it does is because Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey both bring their A-game to this movie. Idris Elba is such a likable hero as his character felt like he was plucked straight out of an old western and put into this mysterious fantasy world. He carried the name of gunslinger rather well with his fancy gun tricks and his "I shoot with my mind, not my hands" philosophy. And when him and Jake head into the real world, Elba is hilarious as a fish out of water much in the same way Wonder Woman was when she went out into the real world with Chris Pine. On the flip side, Matthew McConaughey did such a great job of playing this pure evil sorcerer. I didn't know why he was evil and I was disappointed that the movie chose not to dive into any of his motivations for being evil, but I could tell McConaughey was absolutely relishing this role of the dark villain. Thus we had what felt like a classic western rivalry meshed with fantasy elements with the cowboy dude against the evil sorcerer in this modern-day society meets Middle Earth from "Lord of the Rings." It was a great combination of several genres that set up this world that I was really eager to learn more about.

My problem is that the movie ended rather abruptly after an extremely rushed, anti-climatic finale. If you're adapting such an epic book series AND you decided to combine several of the books together, you have got to go longer than 95 minutes. I could've easily gone for two hours in this, maybe even two and a half hours. Thus this movie was 30-45 minutes too short. We set up this fascinating universe and chose not to delve into to much. We introduced these fascinating characters played by the perfect actors who brought their A-game and we decided not to reveal too much about them. We set up this fantastic rivalry between Elba and McConaughey and rush through it too fast. Not knowing anything about the books, I was watching this movie and thinking to myself that this has the potential to dive as deep into this realm as a "Lord of the Rings," but they decided not to. It would as if Peter Jackson decided to take the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and, instead of making three really long movies, combined the whole thing into a 95-minute movie. You would feel really cheated as a fan because of all the wasted potential. An outsider with no knowledge of the books might have fun, but someone who cares about the books would be mad at what they put together.

Because of this, I came up with two potential comparisons for those who have read the books that I think might be a good comparison. The first one is "Ender's Game." I remember enjoying that book along with everyone else and when they finally turned it into a movie a few years back, I was a bit frustrated that they chose to make it such a short movie because there's so much more that happens, but I think despite that it was perfectly cast and otherwise well done, so I enjoyed it overall. The other perhaps concerning comparison is to "Eragon." I know people who never read the books that enjoyed the movie. For me I realize that they had the right cast (for the most part) and it was a well-acted, visually stunning movie, but they butchered the adaptation so badly that I spent the whole experience extremely frustrated at what they were doing to my beloved series. The movie was also way too short, combined several sequences into one, didn't do justice to several of the characters and removed several key plot points that made it impossible for them to continue the series even if they had made enough money to justify the sequel. Even though it wasn't poorly made movie, the adaptation was, and still is, one of the worst book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen.

Personally the big difference for me with "Eragon" vs. "The Dark Tower" is that going into "Eragon" I had read the books while going into "The Dark Tower" I hadn't. Thus if you have read the books and are a big fan, I think it's quite possible that this might be your "Eragon." You very well might hate this movie with a fiery passion. And I totally understand. But not having read the books, there was enjoyment for me to be had. I loved Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They both gave it their all. There was some really fun action, fantasy sequences and we set up a world that was really intriguing to me. In a summer that saw disappointments like "The Mummy," "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3," "Dunkirk," "Valerian," "The Emoji Movie" and "Atomic Blonde" to name a few (I still haven't seen the latest "Transformers" movie), I found myself surprisingly pleased with "The Dark Tower" and enjoyed it more than all of those movies even if I thought the ending was super anti-climatic and transformed this movie into a surface-level action/fantasy movie when I knew this had so much more potential. The movie did give me the desire to actually go read the books and maybe when I do my opinion will change. But as for this moment in time, I'm going to give "The Dark Tower" a 7/10.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie Preview: August 2017

If July 2017 taught us anything it's that sometimes it doesn't matter how good your movie is, if you have a bad release date or there's too much competition in the market, your financial potential will be limited. Several studios learned this the hard way this past month. Heading into the month, it was going to either be a historic month or a bit of an overcrowded disaster. Turns out it was more of the latter. Marvel and Sony's "Spider-Man: Homecoming," Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes" and Warner Bros.' "Dunkirk" all scored extremely well with critics and audiences alike, but had each had a little more breathing room instead of being released in three consecutive weeks, perhaps their financial total would be a bit more as they have all been cannibalizing each other a bit. Meanwhile "Valerian" and "Atomic Blonde" were completely left in the dust, proving that both should've picked a different release date all together. Perhaps August would've been a good date for those movies because, as you are about to see with this August preview, it's looking like a very empty August. I mean, there's plenty of movies on the schedule, but none of them look like they'll have enough power to propel this month anywhere close to August 2016's $1.02 billion record.

August 4th - 6th-

First up to bat in this month is the long-awaited arrival of the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. This is a movie that's been in what is referred to as "Production Hell" for the last 10 years. That's a phase where filmmakers are trying to get a movie made, but various issues keep it from coming to fruition, so it stays in production. Sometimes permanently. "The Dark Tower" initially began production back in 2007 when J.J. Abrams was attached to direct with fellow "LOST" co-workers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on to write a script. But then 10 years of issues happened which included Abrams and co. leaving, Ron Howard being brought on to direct and then leaving before finally being left to Nikolaj Arcel, who's directed a few small films such as "A Royal Affair." Cast-wise, the movie has plenty of star power with Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba in the lead roles, but hype leading up to the movie isn't exactly what fans of the books have hoped for. After muted or decreasing interest leading up to the release, the review embargo went until Wednesday evening, which has since led to a flood of mostly negative reviews. This probably means the franchise's future, which was hoping to go to T.V. next, is in jeopardy.

On a more positive note, the next movie up is the nationwide expansion of Kathryn Bigelow's critically praised Detroit. This had been set for a wide release this weekend for some time, but semi last minute, Annapurna Pictures elected for a limited release run a weekend earlier, which turned out to be a great choice as the movie earned a solid $350,190 in just 20 theaters this past weekend. Possibly more important to that is the early reviews from this run leaving the movie at a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie is set in Detroit in 1967 and tells the story of events that took place in the Algiers Motel during the Detroit riots. Bigelow has a very strong track record with these types of intense true story films as her last two feature length films, "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker," both went onto be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, with "The Hurt Locker" winning the award back in 2009. With it only being August, it's way too early to tell if "Detroit" is in contention for best picture this upcoming awards season, but early signs are positive, which is also a good sign for lead stars John Boyega and Will Poulter. Look for this to play well throughout August as word of mouth builds, even if it doesn't have a strong wide release.

The final movie of this initial weekend of August sees Halle Berry return to a lead role for the first time since 2013 with her new film, Kidnap. The aforementioned previous lead role for Halle came with a movie called "The Call," which successfully fought a slate of mostly negative reviews by finishing with $51.8 million after a $17.1 million opening. Similar to "The Call," which found Halle chasing down someone who just kidnapped a teenage girl, this is also a crime thriller. About Halle chasing down someone who just kidnapped her 6-year-old son. So yeah, pretty much the same premise as "The Call." New time distributor Aviron Pictures would absolutely love a similar box office result as "The Call," but this seems more like a movie that is destined for a small opening followed by a quick exit from theaters and the minds of people who watched it. The strong negative reviews certainly don't help its case.

August 11th - 13th-

Fans of "The Conjuring" movies probably rolled their eyes at the announcement of this next film as the second weekend of August will see the release of Annabelle: Creation into theaters. While both "Conjuring" films did rather well at the box office and were generally well-liked films, the "Annabelle" prequel following the creepy doll from the original "Conjuring" film was a major critical dud. But since it still made a lot of money, Hollywood is ignoring the reaction and creating a second movie following the doll. Although is this a case where the studio listened to the complaints from the first "Annabelle" movie and are working to improve the quality of the film? While the first "Annabelle" couldn't even get to 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, super early reaction from scattered reviews have "Annabelle: Creation" currently listed at a perfect 100 percent. Once more reviews come in, this high mark most likely won't stay perfect, but the early positive reaction is a very good sign. Timeline-wise, we continue to reverse course as "Annabelle: Creation" is a prequel to "Annabelle," which was in turn a prequel to "The Conjuring." If this follows the track of the previous movies in this franchise, this could end up as August's top new film.

While "Annabelle: Creation" will be looking to attract horror crowds, Open Road Films will be looking for some family-friendly counter-programming with The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. It might be a surprise to many to see a sequel to "The Nut Job," a movie that nobody liked and nobody probably remembers, but as a reminder, despite the negative reaction to what have called a very sub-par animated film, "The Nut Job" went critic proof by opening to $19.4 million in January 2014 and ended up with a final tally of $64.3 million. That's nothing close to typical animated affair, but for a small, independent animated film, that's a decent tally. Enough for Open Roads to decide that a sequel was necessary. After a summer full of disappointing animated affair, which saw "Cars 3" and "Despicable Me 3" perform below expectations when compared to their predecessors, as well as "The Emoji Movie" collapse following poisonous word of mouth, don't look for "The Nut Job 2" to reverse course. That job will be left to "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" in September. "The Nut Job 2" will instead most likely be as forgettable as its predecessor with worse box office totals.

The final wide release of the weekend is Lionsgate's release of The Glass Castle. Starring Academy Award winner Brie Larson, Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson and Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts, this movie tells the true story of Jeannette Walls and her unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing with her siblings and dysfunctional parents, based on the memoir of the same name written by Jeannette Walls herself that spent 261 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. If this doesn't scream Oscar-bait, I don't know what does. Now the term "Oscar-bait" often unfairly brings with in a negative connotation, but if the reviews of this are good, this could be a good drama that provides some counter-programming with the adult audience. Although if Lionsgate really wanted to push this one for awards, they forgot that August is still usually a bit too early to get serious consideration. Or maybe they don't quite have as much faith. Without those good reviews, though, this is likely to disappear into the late August night.

August 18th - 20th-

The third weekend of August brings us two titles aiming for the exact same audience: the adult male. Two action comedies. This is typically a bad sign as both of these late-August releases risk cannibalizing each other at the box office, meaning there's no guarantee that either of them end up topping the second weekend of "Annabelle: Creation," but the film that seems most likely to do so is The Hitman's Bodyguard. This action comedy stars Ryan Reynolds as a special protection agent who is assigned to protect a notorious hitman, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and help escort him safely to International Court of Justice where he is required to testify. The movie will be banking on the star power of Reynolds and Jackson, which is probably a good bet at this point given Reynolds' career resurgence following "Deadpool" added onto the fact that Jackson has been one of the most bankable stars for the last 20+ years. The two of them will be hoping to capture what made last year's "The Nice Guys" so well-loved while hoping to make a bit more money than that one did. Although it wouldn't be a surprise if "The Hitman's Bodyguard" ended up in the same realm as "The Nice Guys," which opened to $11.2 million on its way to $36.3 million.

Our second action comedy of the weekend comes from the director of "Oceans Eleven," "Oceans Twelve," "Oceans Thirteen" and "Magic Mike." That's a bit of an odd selection of filmography to highlight, but yes, we are talking about Steven Soderbergh and this is Logan Lucky. Speaking of Soderbergh's "Oceans" movies, those might be the best comparisons here as "Logan Lucky" is also a heist film with a large ensemble. The movie is led by two brothers, played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, come up with a plan to execute a big heist during a NASCAR race, specifically the Coca-Cola 600 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Joining Tatum and Driver in this heist film is Daniel Craig, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank. So yeah, the "Oceans" movies are a good comparison. Except for when it comes to the financial aspect. All three "Oceans" movies opened in the $30 million range and finished above $100 million. Distributor Bleecker Street's highest grossing movie is "Eye in the Sky" with $18 million. Their biggest opening weekend was this year's "Megan Leavey" with $3.8 million. So they'll definitely be looking to break some personal records here.

August 25th - 27th-

If either one of our action comedies from weekend three end up breaking out, they have a really good chance at stealing a repeat in the infamous final weekend of August, which is a historically bad weekend financially. But there are three wide releases to talk about and these newcomers might be led by the animated movie Leap! from The Weinstein Company. "Leap!" has bounced around the schedule quite a bit this year, initially scheduled for March, then April, then Labor Day weekend, then this weekend. It's U.S. release is almost an unnecessary after-thought as this is a French-Canadian animated film and has already been released in a lot of countries worldwide, starting in France and the U.K. in December 2016, and has already accumulated $57.5 million on a $30 million budget. Now if you are from these other countries and you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, this is known as "Ballerina" everywhere else. Why they switched the title here, I have no idea. This is about an orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina and might get the chance as she auditions for the celebrated school of the Paris Opera Ballet. So, you know, the title "Ballerina" DID make sense. Voice cast includes Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Madie Zeigler and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Our next late-August release is the Christian movie All Saints. This is a genre that has had success in the past as "War Room" and "When the Game Stands Tall" both released on this weekend in the past and went on to make $67.8 million and $30.1 million respectively. But yet for everyone of these, there's a handful of other Christian movies that pull in just a few million and it's almost hard to predict which ones will resonate with Christian audiences and which ones will be left in the dust. So there is hope for "All Saints." There's also the possibility of it completely failing to register. Nevertheless, this tells the true story of pastor named Michael Spurlock who is ordered to sell the Church he preaches at due to their congregation being so small. Turns out group of refugees from Southeast Asia show up and together they come up with a plan to rescue this church. I'm sure the filmmakers here would be ecstatic if this hits the $11.4 million or $8.4 million openings of the previously mentioned Christian films. If this does, this could theoretically take the weekend if nothing else on the schedule makes an appearance at the box office. That's not out of the question here.

The final movie of the weekend is the Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon. Now the advertising of this movie does lead you to believe that this movie is focused on Bruce Lee and the famous battle between him and Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man, which helped Lee become a legend. However, the actual movie might be a slightly different story than advertised. The movie was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016 and received very negative reactions from that screening as people who saw it were angry that the movie instead focused more on the fictional white character named Steve McKee, a student and friend of Lee who apparently inspired Lee. Thus accusations of "white washing" were thrown out, even though some don't seem to know what that actually is. Even so, if the critic and audience reactions are similar to these reactions from TIFF, this could easily be a movie that picks up a million or two at most and quickly disappears from theaters.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Ghost Story Review

This past weekend I took a 30-minute journey to see A24's latest film, "A Ghost Story." The movie has enjoyed a rather successful limited release run over the past few weeks and is slowly making its way into more theaters. Now I don't normally drive that far just to see a movie, but for various reasons I felt like I needed to get out and go on an adventure and being that A24 is one of my current favorite studios, this seemed like the perfect movie for me to venture out to see, especially since I ran out of patience when I saw it was semi-close to me. I decided I didn't want to wait until it got to the theater only five minutes away from me because I didn't know if that was going to happen. Some A24 movies don't. Now if you draw a blank when I say A24, some of the movies they have distributed lately include "The Lobster," "The Witch," "Ex Machina," "Swiss Army Man," "Room," last year's best picture winner "Moonlight" and June's "It Comes at Night." These are the movies that go against your typical movie structure, which is why I usually find them fascinating. They're unique, different and innovative. A breath of fresh air. And now they've struck again with "A Ghost Story," because this is quite the movie that fits in rather well with their impressive catalog.

The risk you take when making a movie that is different from what people are used to is that there's always going to be a percentage of the population that doesn't quite grasp the vision of that specific idea or direction. I fell victim to this myself with last month's "Dunkirk" as the direction that Nolan decided to go just didn't connect with me. So yes, the fact that "A Ghost Story" is a VERY different film means that naturally there's going to be people that aren't going to like this movie due to the specific styles they went with. But if you're looking for something unique and different, I'd encourage you to check this out if/when it expands or when it comes to DVD or various streaming services. Because the journey this movie takes you on is quite the experience. I also have to mention that even though the title of this movie makes it sound like a horror movie, especially since A24 has released a lot of horror movies, this is not a horror movie. This is a straight-up drama that reflects on humanity and our own individual place in this giant universe we live in. I can see people looking at the title or poster and going in hoping for a horror and coming out disappointed with that not being what they got. Thus the warning. This is not a horror movie. Don't expect one.

The premise of the movie almost sounds silly when I describe it, but the movie centers on this couple where the man dies and comes back as a ghost. Your old-fashioned Halloween costume style of ghost with a big white sheet over your head. Thus the movie almost reminded me of that old Michael Keaton movie "Jack Frost," where the dad dies and comes back reincarnated as a snow man with one more chance to live life right. Although in this case, this ghost isn't getting a second chance at life. No one can see him. No one can hear him. He can't speak. And he's assigned to the house he's lived in where he is forced to silently stand there watching his wife try to live life without him. When she moves on, he is still stuck in the house and has to watch this other family live in the house they lived in. Being quite frank, this is a movie that is going to tear you to pieces emotionally. This is not a religious movie. It doesn't try to teach you some sort of positive message about life and what to do if you've lost someone you love. It's just flat out sad and depressing. You feel for this couple as their lives have been suddenly ruined and if you've ever lost someone you care about in a sudden way, this movie is probably going to make you think about them.

Outside this premise, what makes this movie so unique is some of the decisions they made with this. First and foremost, the framing of this movie is not equal to the movie screen or TV you will be watching it on. I don't know what the specific ratios are, but it's close to being a square. My guess is that the ratio is either 2x3 or 3x4. And the edges are rounded. Thus there's going to be a section of the screen on the far left and far right that will be completely blank. Then we have very limited dialogue. The dialogue that exists is just normal, everyday conversations among the people that come on the screen. There's plenty long shots where very little happens and also plenty of shots where the camera stays in one spot with no zooming or cutting, allowing the characters to come and go in the shot without the camera following them as if you're just watching a play. A play with long sequences where little happens. The movie takes its time to tell this depressing story and thus might bore some as it is very slow at times. If you tell me that the movie put you to sleep, I won't be surprised. But personally all of this combined had me absolutely glued to the screen. I was sitting there in awe at what I was witnessing as the movie slowly tore me to pieces.

I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to mention a few early examples of what you will see in order to paint a picture of what this movie is like. Towards the beginning, there is a long sequence of this couple laying in bed. Nothing sexual. They're not making love or even kissing much. They're just laying there, saying nothing, and enjoying each other's company. The camera stays still and no one talks. Yet no words are needed. In doing this, the movie very effectively conveys that this couple loves each other very deeply. Certain scenes around it show that there marriage was very normal and far from perfect. But they loved each other. It's one of the most romantic sequences of the year and there's very little romantic acts and no words said. Thus when the man dies, you are effectively crushed. A sequence shortly after the death is where a neighbor or friend gives the wife a pie and a note that if she needs anything to let her know. The wife sees the pie a bit later when she's by herself and takes the whole thing, sits on the floor and just goes to town on it, binge eating a huge portion of it out of pure depression while the husband as the ghost sits and silently watches her, not being able to do a thing. And the scene goes on for a while as she simply eats this pie.

That's the type of movie you're getting yourself into with this one. Long sequences with little dialogue that effectively portray a specific emotion quite powerfully. The score of the movie does a great job of setting the scene each time and each new scene almost has a specific emotion attached to it. We move from happiness to romance to sadness to confusion to anger to hopelessness. The way they choose to portray each emotion ends up being much more powerful then your typical Hollywood film and I attribute that to the unique choices they made with this filmmaking. The acting performances here are really subtle. Our couple, who are not given names in the film, are played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. I don't think these were particularly difficult performances for them. Casey Affleck simply stood with a sheet over him and stared at things. Rooney Mara got to sit and eat a pie. But yet they perform these simple tasks with perfect, which then allowed the post-production to take that and form it into a near masterpiece of a film that won't leave my mind. I didn't walk out of the theater wanting to stand on the rooftops and declare to the world that they must see this movie, but this movie refused to leave my mind.

In case you feel that I've spoiled a lot of this movie for you, I will say that the movie did go in a lot of different directions that I wasn't expecting. Rooney Mara isn't in the film for as long as I thought she would be and at times I was wondering what direction they were taking this. When the movie ended, I was uncertain about the final result. I could've sat down immediately and wrote my review hours after seeing the movie like I often do, but I couldn't because that wouldn't do the movie justice. Instead I just pondered. And even when I wanted to focus on other things, my brain wouldn't let this movie go and I don't know if/when my brain ever will. Any bit of uncertainty has slowly transformed into complete fascination and I think this process will be ongoing. Thus I don't feel it's completely fair to give this movie a score. I will. But one number simply is just not going to do this movie justice. A good comparison is to A24's movie from last year called "The Lobster." That was another unique and thought-provoking film that I found fascinating, but it required a lot of thought and still often comes to my mind. It missed my year-end list, but that doesn't really matter either. It's just a list and my score here is just a number. But that number for "A Ghost Story" currently stands at a 9/10.