Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

On Valentine's Day weekend in 2015, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" debuted right alongside "Fifty Shades of Grey" as some counter-programming for people that actually appreciate these things called movies and not the complete trash that is the latter-mentioned movie. I of course wasn't going to touch that filthy piece of sleaze, so I smartly elected to enter the theater for this "Kingsman" movie that looked like it could be a bit of fun. And holy cow did I experience quite the wild, intense ride. From the moment Sofia Boutella's character used her prosthetic legs, which doubled as sharp blades, to slice a man vertically in half, to the moment where hundreds of heads colorfully blew up with patriotic music playing in the background, I was thoroughly entertained. I now own the movie and have joyfully watched it on many occasions. It's one of the most fun action movies I've seen in a long time. So naturally I was super excited to jump back into this universe, especially when it was announced that Matthew Vaughan was back to direct and most of the cast from the first were on board to reprise their roles, while people like Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore were added to the cast. And the trailers looked phenomenal. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, see, that's a funny discussion. A lot of critics seem to think that a lot did go wrong in this movie, thus it unfortunately is in possession of a giant, ugly, splattered, rotten tomato on the critics aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. I always do my best to make up my own decision and not let someone else's thoughts influence my own when it comes to movies, but it's interesting what reviews can do to your expectations. The absolute worst feeling is when you go into a movie that you are dead set on loving, only to witness a disaster unfold. So when others said that they didn't like this movie, I had to temper my expectations a bit to avoid that huge crash of disappointment. But then I paid closer attention to what people were actually saying and I got the vibe that we had an "it's not as good as the first, that means I hate it" scenario. As if no gray area or middle ground is allowed in film. If it's not an epic masterpiece, then it has to be the worst movie on the planet, right? WRONG!!! I hate that mindset. Thus I went from super excited to tempered expectations to determined to enjoy the movie anyways. All before seeing the movie. And hey, a 50 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes means half of the critics liked the movie. That's a good sign, right?

I purposely detail that experience because, in this situation, choosing to ignore what I deemed as unfair criticisms actually made it so I really enjoyed this movie. It's really easy to jump on the bandwagon of hate, especially when more and more hateful reviews come out. But my plea for all of my readers is that you don't jump on bandwagons just because everyone else is. It's perfectly OK for you to love a movie that other people don't enjoy. On the flip side, you are also not required to enjoy a movie that the whole population of Earth seems to be enjoying. Go to a movie that you think you are going to enjoy and make up your own mind as to how you felt about the movie. I see too many people being heavily influenced by the opinions of others that they often end up hating movies out of obligation because everyone else hated it. I don't like that. And I'd hate for a movie such as "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" to be thrown to the wayside just because it became the cool thing to say it was a bad movie. Because it's not. Not in my opinion, anyways. And hey, if you look at the audience score for "The Golden Circle," it currently stands at a 75 percent, which is close to the 84 percent audience score "The Secret Service" received. That should mean something.

With that rant out of the way, let's talk about this actual movie, which I think has a lot worthy of praise. Is it as solid as the first? No. It's not. But that doesn't make it a bad movie. In my opinion it's OK to simply be good. Which is exactly what this movie is. A good movie. One of the major things that holds this movie back from being great like the first one is the actual plot. Julianne Moore plays a crazy psychotic woman living in the middle of the jungle in some country and she has essentially gained a monopoly on the drug industry where she has poisoned every recreational drug in the world. Now she goes to the president of the United States with certain demands she wants met or else everyone who has caught her disease will die within like 24 hours. In the meantime, every Kingsman base in U.K. has been blown up by her, so the remaining Kingsman have to go to the United States and team up with the Statesman, essentially the United States' version of the Kingsman, to stop Julianne Moore before half of the population of the world dies. Yeah, this plot got a bit too silly for me. I mean, I know this is "Kingsman." Ridiculous is the name of the game. But it got a little too unrealistic and ridiculous. I would've liked them to be a little more grounded with things.

Mainly I'm tired of this whole shtick with the main villain trying to destroy the world. There's not a whole lot of solid motivation behind what Julianne Moore is doing and she doesn't pull off an evil, crazy psychopath convincingly enough, even though she admittedly is having a ton of fun with the role. Never once did I believe she was capable of destroying every single Kingsman base and never once did I believe she was capable of inserting a drug into every last recreational drug on Earth or that she could just press a button and the remedies would be immediately dispersed within seconds to every single person. It was too much. I feel that Matthew Vaughan simply wanted to go bigger and better with every aspect of the movie and thought that having a more powerful villain with a more deadly plan was the right thing to do. I don't think it was. It would require a super crazy, terrifying villain to successfully pull that off and even though Julianne Moore had a ton of fun with what she was given, she wasn't the right choice. The person who did work as a villain was the return of Edward Holcroft's Charlie, one of the butt-hurt, rejected Kingsman candidates from the first movie back for revenge. Except he played a distant second fiddle, so it didn't quite make up for it.

The other missed opportunity here was the team-up with the Statesman and the lack of focus in the second act. When we're first introduced to the Statesman, Channing Tatum is front and center and he does a dang good job with his role, as does Jeff Bridges with his role as head of the Statesman. But then Channing Tatum falls victim to this virus and is out of commission for the entire movie, thus getting like 10 minutes of screen time. On top of that, the only time we see Jeff Bridges is in an office during discussions and plans. I wanted a lot more of those two alongside Taron Ederton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth. That would've been awesome. Instead we get a lot of mediocre Halle Berry playing the Merlin role for the Statesman and a whole lot of Pedro Pascal as the Statesman agent who actually gets most of the screen time and involvement in the action and the story. That frustrated me. We also went on a whole lot of tangents in the middle of the film that bogged the story down. The run time of this movie clocks in at 141 minutes. We could've shaved like 30 minutes of that off and the flow of the movie would've been much improved. And while I'm dishing out complaints, two decisions were made that angered me. But those are spoilers.

There you go. I think those aspects of the movie are what are causing a lot of people to hate this movie. But to me, all of that doesn't quite bring the movie down to rotten level. There's just a lot of missed opportunities, a lack of focus and a forgettable main story and villain. But all of our main cast take what they are given and fully commit to it. The beginning of the movie is rather insane with some high octane action sequences that I had a blast with. Teron Egerton once again owned it as Eggsy while Mark Strong and Collin Firth were both fantastic as well. And even though Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges weren't in the movie as much as I wanted them to be, they also owned the screen time they got, making it so I would love a spin-off focused solely on the Statesman. This time with Tatum and Bridges being front and center instead of being sidelined. And again, even though I didn't like Julianne Moore's character, she gave it her best. Thus we had a cast and crew that were fully committed to making this a fun movie and that level of commitment honestly made me really enjoy the movie. And most of the action sequences were on par with the first movie. We don't get a "church sequence" in this movie, but what we do get is a crazy, wild ride that I enjoyed.

The best part of this movie is the final third for me. Given the nature of a final third, I will not detail it, but we get intense, crazy and surprisingly emotional, even though a few decisions made me angry. And there was one specific action sequence that did make me super dizzy, but I don't think the action as a whole was quite as bad as some are making it out to be. Yes, this does get a bit on the comic book level with certain stunts that take place. Again, bigger and badder doesn't always mean better quality. And given that this was the first sequel that Matthew Vaughan has ever directed, I think he got a little carried away with trying to make the movie bigger and better. I hope that he is able to learn from certain mistakes and give us a more grounded, slightly more realistic third movie. But I still had fun. And if you go in with the mindset that this movie is a "Kingsman" movie, I think you'll find a lot of entertainment value out of this. The first act of the movie is a ton of fun. The third act of this movie gets ridiculous and insane in all the ways you hope a "Kingsman" movie will do. A lack of focus in the second act, a lame villain and a lackluster overall story are what brings this movie down, but I still think this is better than many are giving it credit for and thus I will award the movie an 8/10.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

"The LEGO Movie" in 2014 was a movie that a lot of people were really nervous about. I mean, a movie about LEGOs? What can you do with that to make it interesting? Turns out with the right creative team you can make anything work. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were definitely the right two people for the job as "The LEGO Movie" was absolutely genius and one of my favorites of 2014. And on record, I wasn't among the crowd dreading it. I saw those trailers and I was sold. But apparently I'm in the minority, which is OK. I ended up being right with my premonitions. That aside, the success of "The LEGO Movie" opened up a whole new door for Warner Bros. Animation with a whole slew of different LEGO Movie options that they could do and they decided to start things off brilliantly with "The LEGO Batman Movie" earlier this year. Not only was Will Arnett's Batman one of the funniest parts of "The LEGO Movie," but there have been so many iterations of Batman over the years that doing a LEGO spoof movie on the character was absolutely genius. While I loved "The LEGO Movie" more, "The LEGO Batman Movie" wasn't too far behind in quality. And now we have the third movie in the LEGO series in... "The LEGO Ninjago Movie"? In Warner Bros. we trust?

With the success of "The LEGO Movie" and "The LEGO Batman Movie," it didn't take too much convincing for me to be excited about "Ninjago." Ninjas are cool, I guess. I like the cast in the movie. And the trailers were fun. So why not? Let's just trust in Warner Bros. and jump right in! The problem here for me was that "The LEGO Movie" was made for people who love LEGOs and "The LEGO Batman Movie" was made for people who love Batman. I am definitely deep into both those crowds. "Ninjago" was a completely unknown entity for me. Since the announcement and trailers for "Ninjago," I learned there's a popular kids TV show called "Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu" that aired its seventh season earlier this year that has also sparked (or perhaps vice-versa?) a whole brand of Ninjago LEGO sets that are some of LEGO's most popular sets. So I suppose it makes sense. But who's the audience here? How are they going to make this movie appeal to adults and kids this time around when most adults probably aren't super aware of "Ninjago" unless they have kids who love the series and the LEGO sets? Or have they decided to just ignore the adult crowd this time around and make a LEGO Movie specifically for the kids?

The answer to that latter question is definitely the latter answer. "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" is a movie solely for kids. Adults expecting the quality and depth of the first two movies are going to be sorely disappointed as we instead have a movie that is about on par with a straight-to-DVD LEGO movie. And remember the creative team that I referenced earlier that was key to making "The LEGO Movie" work? That might be our biggest problem here. We don't have Lord and Miller on this project like we did with the original. We don't even have someone like Chris McKay, who, prior to directing "The LEGO Batman Movie," worked a lot as director and producer of "Robot Chicken." With "The LEGO Ninjago Movie," we have a trio of directors who have primarily worked in the art department on various animated projects. Charlie Bean is the most experienced in the director's chair, having directed eight episodes of "TRON: Uprising" and 17 episodes of "Robotboy," while Paul Fisher and Bob Logan are stepping into the director's chair for the very first time, TV or film. And the team of writers is a rather large one, seemingly led again by Fisher and Logan, who have no screenwriting experience either. Too many cooks in the kitchen? And none with enough experience?

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense as to why this story is just a mess. And even though I know nothing about "Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu," I got the premonitions after watching this that the movie had absolutely nothing to do with the TV show. After reading a brief few things from a few people, I think my premonitions might be right and thus it's possible that your kids who love that show might walk away a bit confused as to what in the heck they just watched and why it has nothing to do with their TV show outside outside character names and character designs. That's all I'll say about that, given my limited knowledge of the show. Just a potential fair warning there. What we do have is a story that you can predict from the second you watch the trailers and a movie that thinks it's as smart as "The LEGO Movie" but really just had me bewildered as to how off it was. Kinda like the young 10-year-old kid who is confidently trying to sound as smart as his older brother, but is really just pulling at straws with no one wanting to be brave enough to tell him that all the knowledge he's spouting off is completely wrong. That's how "Ninjago" felt to me. The confident, yet clueless little brother to "The LEGO Movie." Thus I walked out of the theater really disappointed.

As far as specifics go, I do feel the need to talk about two plot points. Both were featured highly in the trailers and neither are actually spoilers. However, if you've read enough from this review and/or you haven't seen the trailers, you don't have to proceed if you don't want me talking about plot points. If you don't mind, then allow me to continue. Our main story arc in this movie follows a young teenage kid named Lloyd, whose secret identity is one of the Ninjas protecting the city. His father is the evil Lord Garmadon who daily attacks the city. Getting Luke/Darth Vader vibes just by me saying that? Yeah, we'll get to that. The other major plot point is that of a cat attacking the city. That I actually thought was a spoiler, thus I wasn't going to mention it in this review. But as it turns out, the whole father/son thing is more of a spoiler than the cat. Yes, it's a giant, live action cat that has seemingly jumped onto the LEGO set and started to play with the buildings, not helped by the fact that Lord Gardadon has a laser pointer that the cat loves playing with. Yeah, this is kind of a funny gag that had me laughing. However, I thought that this cat duel was going to be the final boss fight for our ninjas. No. The cat shows up at the beginning and is the main conflict throughout the movie.

So yeah, the funniest gag in the movie is one that is way overplayed. The cat showing up for 5-10 minutes at the end and destroying their city could've made for a funny finale. But he kinda wore out his welcome by being there for the whole movie. Then we have our father/son thing. And I really am curious to know how this writers meeting worked out for this. Someone honestly suggested that the evil overlord of the city was the father of the main character, as if this would be a clever, unique story to follow that would win over audiences. As if no one watching has ever heard of this thing called "STAR WARS"!!!! Had they done something fun or unique with that story arc, then fine. But I swear they wrote this movie as a huge ninja parody of "Star Wars," hoping that no one would figure it out if they followed nearly the same exact structure. Or maybe they wrote this thinking that their target audience of young kids either wouldn't care or wouldn't notice. Which is totally fine if it pleases them. But I am a little frustrated that they chose to completely ignore the adult crowd that turned out in droves for their last two LEGO movies. I was waiting for something unique or clever with this story. Instead it's exactly what you think it's going to be.

I suppose there's enough fun to be had in this movie that it's a passable film, especially for younger kids that are dying to see another new movie since it's been a couple months. In comparing this movie to the likes of "Cars 3" or "Despicable Me 3," I was certainly a lot less frustrated this time around. I didn't hate life and I wasn't completely bored to tears. The cat stuff is fun for a while and the adventures that the group of ninjas go on, led by Jackie Chan's Master Wu as their teacher, were decent. There were a few fun LEGO ninja fights. But the movie was also trying way too hard to be as clever as "The LEGO Movie" instead of doing its own thing. Lloyd was too much like Emmet. Lord Garmadon was too much like Lord Business. The message was fine and you got a few feel goods, but it also mirrored "The LEGO Movie" quite a bit. There was even a live action element to the movie that starts this film off and feels completely forced and unnecessary this time around. If your kids were looking forward to this movie, you should take them if you have the time and money because they'll probably enjoy it. But if you can convince them to wait until the DVD release, that might be best. My grade for "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" is a 7/10 and even that feels a bit too nice.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Detroit Review

Here's a super belated review. I meant to get this one out a long time ago, back in early August when it came out. But for whatever reason, I didn't get around to seeing it as early as I wanted to and when I finally did, it was practically gone from theaters, which is really sad. So getting this review out at that point wasn't the highest priority. At this point I'm now reviewing this in hopes that you will rent it and watch it when it comes out on DVD. It's funny because everyone who saw this loved it, but it still didn't make as much money as it deserved. I put all the blame on new distributor Annapurna for making a huge rookie mistake. This should've been the type of movie that they released in a film festival, like TIFF or NYFF, then did a limited release in November and December before finally giving us a wide release on a weekend that made sense, perhaps close to when Oscar nominations come out. Had they done that, I would be confident that this would've gotten loads of Oscar nominations, including best picture, which would've then given it a lot more attention and thus a lot more money. But oh well. Such is life. Perhaps I'm a small part of the problem by not doing my part and getting this review out early. But hey. Here I am making up for my mistake.

Yet another slight problem with this movie is the title. "Detriot" is super vague. I thought about telling my facebook friends that I'm going to Detroit. And I'm sure many of them may have thought that I had found a job in Detroit and decided to move there, because back in August I hadn't quite yet figured out my housing situation. That would've been funny. But it proves a point. Vague title. If you don't look at any of the posters or watch any of the trailers, you'll have no clue as to what this will be about or what genre it is. Maybe that was even a part of the problem when it actually came to theaters. Casual audiences come to the theater and see "Detroit" on the box office ticker, get confused and buy a ticket for something else, like "Spider-Man: Homecoming" or "Dunkirk." So what part of the city of Detroit is this about and in what time period? Well, this has certainly nothing to do with the Detroit Lions of the NFL, even though I'm ironically watching the Lions play right now as I type this review. This movie is about the Detroit riots that happened back in the 1960's. Specifically this is about an isolated incident in the midst of those riots at a place called the Algiers Motel. In fact, if I had a say in things, I would've titled this movie "The Algiers Motel."

I don't want to say too much about what happens once we get into the meat of the conflict here, but since the movie title leaves this super vague and the trailers don't tell you much outside the fact that this is a Detroit riots movie, which is not really what this movie is, allow me to actually set the stage. The main characters of the movie are a couple members of the group The Dramatics, who were a group of black singers trying to make it big in the Motown scene. Right before they are about to perform at a certain event, which could be their huge break, the police cancel the event, and after their bus is attacked by rioters, the group is split up, leaving Larry Reed and Fred Temple to the Algiers Motel, where they rent a room for the night. At one point early in the night, one of the guys in the motel decides to use his cap gun to pretend to shoot at the police outside. Probably not the best move. The police, thinking that they've been shot at by a sniper, raid the motel, lining everyone up at the wall. And it's at this point where most of our movie takes place and concurrently the place where I'm going to stop describing this plot and let you figure out when you go watch this movie, because I had no idea what was going to happen and that makes for the best experience in my opinion.

It's safe to say that life in the 1960's was tough if you were black. Racism was practically at an all-time high and tensions around the country were crazy as America tried to integrate the Civil Rights movement by integrating our country and getting rid of racism, which caused a lot of opposition from opponents of integration. And while we mostly focus on the south when it comes to movies like this, showing other parts of the country during times like this was really interesting to me, especially since Detroit currently is still one of the most violent, crime-ridden cities in the country. I can't imagine what it was to live there as a black person during the 60's. It must've been super rough. Thus as we went through this movie, I became increasingly nervous about the safety of our main characters. They did a great job of setting them up as great people who really did nothing wrong that were caught up in an awful city with awful things happening. I really wanted them to make it out safe and alive, but when the police stormed in, I had no idea if they were. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was in for an unhappy ending, which just ripped my heart to shreds. How is it that such awful things like this event could've actually happened in this country? It's a real shame that racism was once this bad.

Yeah. I'm sure you know where I'm now going to take this review. There are a lot of times with cinema where you watch something and are ashamed that certain events actually happened in this country. I love this country, but I'd be lying if I were to claim there were no dark moments in our history. The Civil Rights movement certainly had a lot of these moments with how blacks were treated and this movie definitely made me sad and ashamed. But then I turn on the news. Yeah, it's still happening. And despite me not liking the August release for this movie, it's really interesting that this came out at almost the exact same time as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. And it's insane how closely this movie parallels those events. So much that you can say that "Detroit" is probably the most relevant movie out at this point. I mean, you can totally understand why the police reacted the way they did. They heard gunfire and they thought they were being shot at. But in my opinion, despite this proper motivation for raiding the place, they crossed so many lines and it was horrific seeing the events unfold and thus the police were totally in the wrong. Imagine if the president at the time came out and said there was fault on both sides. Catch my vibe?

That's as political as I'll be with this review. But you better believe that I could continue with that and go on a super long rant. But yet this is a movie review, so I'll stick with reviewing the movie instead of going on a political rant. But that had to be said because you have to know why this movie connected with me so much. It's more than just an awful event that happened in the past. It's that and the fact that this parallels what's happening right now and can thus be used to make a statement and stand up for what is right. A lot of credit for this movie has to go to director Kathryn Bigelow for constructing such a masterful film. We can point the finger of blame at the marketing for not giving this movie a shot with the general public, but the movie itself is fantastic. Bigelow is really good at this genre and she's also blown people away with both "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty," both of which are also based on true stories that are very relevant to today. Both of which also were nominated for best picture, with "The Hurt Locker" winning the award. So yeah, Bigelow knows what she's doing and she does an excellent job of setting up the events in the movie, building the tension and punching you in the chest at the right moments in order to give you the feels.

The other person that has to get a ton of credit for this movie is Will Poulter. He plays the main police officer who is leading this raid and man is he good at being the most despicable human being. I won't say what he does, but he spent the whole movie filling me with unbearable rage. Like, I look at his picture right now and my blood just boils. I have to remind myself that in real life he's probably a really nice kid. But he's certainly really good at playing the annoying pest in the movie, as was also evident with him perfectly portraying Eustace in the third "Chronicles of Narnia" movie. Now Eustace is all grown up and deserves an Oscar nomination due to how successfully evil he was in this movie. Too bad Annapurna dropped the ball big time with this movie, making it so he probably won't get one. But it's deserving. And in fact, a question arose as to who should play the Joker in the upcoming Joker spin-off movie that DC announced that is apparently disconnected with the DCEU as a whole and will not bring back Jared Leto's Joker. I don't get what's happening with DC, but that's a conversation for another day. But if we're going to do that, then Will Poulter deserves to be cast as the Joker, because if he's as evil in that movie as he was in this one, he would make for one dang good Joker.

Again, I apologize for not doing my part by seeing this movie earlier and getting my review out when this movie was still in theaters. But as I have made up for my mistake by finally writing this review, you should also make up for your mistake if you were one who decided to skip this movie. It needs to be seen. It's well directed. It's super intense. It's the most relevant film you'll see all year. The only issue I had with the movie is that it probably should've ended before it actually did. In a super non-spoilerific, vague way, I think after certain things happened, certain other things should've been told by giving us some text to read instead of spending the time to detail it out in the movie. I don't normally say that. In fact, in some instances it's the exact opposite. But after such a crazy, intense ride throughout, it did deflate things a bit. But that's all I have to say negative about this. This deserves to be a best picture nominee. Bigelow deserves a nod for best director. Poulter deserves a best actor nomination. But sadly that may not happen. But regardless of all the politics that may surround the Oscars, this deserves your time and your money. I spent the whole movie on the edge of my seat and given the timing, this movie made a big impact on me. Thus I'm going to give "Detroit" a 9/10.

Friday, September 15, 2017

mother! Review

Perhaps one of the most controversial films of the year has arrived in theaters and it's no surprise that Darren Aronofsky is the one behind the camera. Prior to this week, the only Aronofsky film I had seen was "Noah" and that easily topped my list of the worst movies of 2014. However, I knew that there were a lot of people on this earth who absolutely love this man as a filmmaker, so I went on an adventure to figure out exactly why. After crowd-sourcing facebook, I mostly ignored what people said and ended up watching the two highest profile films from Aronofsky that I would've watched anyways, "Requiem for a Dream" and "Black Swan." But don't worry, facebook friends, I do plan on seeing "The Wrestler" and "The Fountain" to see what I think. And I might even top things off by watching "Pi" so that I can say I've watched all of his movies. But with "Requiem," "Black Swan," "Noah" and now "mother!" under my belt, I feel that I now have a pretty good understanding about what this man is all about and I have a lot of respect for the passion and energy he puts into his films and I love how he's not afraid to unleash everything on his mind without holding back. That naturally leads to controversy and divisiveness, and "mother!" is no different, so let's dive in.

First of all, I want to make it very clear as to what this movie is NOT. After watching the trailers, I had the feeling that Aronofsky was planning on making this crazy horror/thriller and I was very intrigued by this home invasion horror film that I thought was being advertised and those trailers were so mysterious and intriguing that I decided to not read any reviews or reaction before heading in because I wanted to be surprised by this crazy thriller without getting any hints as to what this movie was about or what the crazy twist at the end was that I thought was going to be heading my way. If you want to have the same experience as I did and go in blind, I highly recommend that. This is divisive and crazy enough that it's probably better to go in without any preconceived notions and just experience this for yourself. So I would recommend to close this review and go watch it. Then come back and discuss with me after finishing this review. I'm not going to dive into spoilers, but I do want to give my thoughts and that's going to require me to do a little more hinting at what this movie is actually about. But just note this. This is not a horror movie. And it's not a thriller. Yes, the trailers are extremely deceiving. So don't go in expecting one or you're going to be disappointed.

What is this movie about? Well, that's hard to pinpoint, actually. I will say real quick that even though I was really surprised that this was not the horror/thriller I thought it was going to be, I've been deceived enough by trailers in my life to learn that I should judge a movie based on the movie and not on the trailer. I don't think it's fair to hate on the movie because it wasn't the movie advertised. That's sent a lot of movies to the trash can by casual audiences that frankly aren't deserving of that fate. If you're going to hate this movie, hate it for what it is. A purging of Aronofsky's thoughts and feelings on the state of society in the form of a very messed up, allegorical drama. When I finished this film, I was in a state of stunned silence. And not necessarily out of awe and amazement, but rather me being sincerely stumped at what I just watched. This is one of the most crazy, insane, unique films that I have ever watched. There are so many weird, off-the-wall twists and turns in this movie that had me floored with a final act that had me speechless. I almost wanted to give this several days to just simmer, but I decided to just get out my initial thoughts while it's fresh on my mind because I don't know if this movie will ever be done simmering.

I almost want to compare this to "2001: A Space Odyssey," which, historically speaking, was a movie that was so crazy and insane, that critics of the time, who were required to throw out an opinion right away, gave very negative reviews to. Over time, though, after years and decades of deep analysis, the movie has been rightfully enshrined as one of the greatest movies ever made. I don't know what the reputation of "mother!" will end up as and I'm not going to predict that it will end up that way, but I think "mother!" parallels that in the sense that this is a very strange movie that requires a lot of thought and discussion to rightfully unpack everything that it has to say. If you try to make it a simplistic film with one black and white message that Aronofsky is trying to get across, then I think you might be missing the mark here. Same thing goes with "2001." I know people who watched it once, thought it was awful and didn't want to think any more about it. And that's perfectly alright. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone has different reasons for watching movies that come with different expectations. Strange and weird with lots of metaphorical commentary packed into one film is certainly not for everyone and I won't blame you if you hate this film.

Plot-wise, this seems very simple. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem live together as husband and wife in a quiet, country home away from most of society. Bardem is a writer and poet who's going through huge writer's block while Lawrence has spent most of her time fixing this home up because it has been in very rough condition. Then they get a visitor in the form of Ed Harris, who is a doctor that thought this was a simple bead and breakfast. He stays the night and shortly after, his wife also shows up. Then more people show up. Then things happen. And if you saw the trailers, that's exactly what you expected to happen. But each individual in this story represents something or someone. Each event that happens represents something that is happening in the real world today. Or perhaps in the past. Or maybe both. Then after we get through that initial premise is when things start to get really weird. Then the weirdness increases exponentially to the point where I had no idea what any of this meant or why it was happening. I've since pondered on it and had my initial thoughts. I've also read and listened to a lot of other people giving their thoughts. And the big thing that I've concluded is that I'm not sure there is one right or wrong answer. I personally find that fascinating.

In true allegorical form, I think there's a lot that you can take from this film if you open your mind to all the possibilities of what it could mean. I also think it's important to gain a bit of context of how and why Aronofsky wrote this. A couple of years ago, he was at his home watching the news when he just got frustrated at the current state of society. I think things like this happen to all of us and we all have different ways of purging those thoughts. Given that Aronofsky is a filmmaker, he sat down and in just five days purged it all out onto an initial draft of this movie's script. During the press screenings, a lot of the critics got a handout written from Aronosky giving the context of his frustrations about society and all of that jazz in a way to prepare them for what they were about to experience. I think knowing that context of why Aronofsky made this film can help you understand the craziness happening in it. Thus you can go back, either by re-watching it or reflecting on what you saw, and make the connections that Aronofsky was going for. Then after getting your own thoughts, you can go talk to your friends and potentially get something completely opposite, thus sparking debate and conversation about what it all means.

This whole thing really fascinates me. I love a movie that can spark discussion. I love a movie that it vague and mysterious enough that two people can have two completely different takes on it and both potentially be right. Granted, there's a balance with movies like this. If you go too off the deep end, you might lose your audience. And perhaps that's happened with some people here. If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine. But I personally think Aronofsky found the right balance. This is obviously not the first time Aronofsky has used a film to express his thoughts and opinions on the world. In fact, he's done that with all the films I've watched of his. And yes, with "Noah," I have been on the negative end of Aronofsky's political and social commentary. I thought it was the wrong platform to use the story of Noah in the Bible to vent about Aronofsky's environmentalism views, especially with how much he twisted the story into near blasphemy. So if "mother!" is your "Noah," I understand. But it worked for me this time. I saw a man concerned about the state of society who decided to use this crazy story about a husband and wife living in this secluded country home to express all of his frustrations about the world in a fascinatingly complex, allegorical story.

If I were to pick out one major negative about the film, it's that I'm not sure the movie had quite the impact on me as Aronofsky was probably hoping for. Given that I watched "Requiem for a Dream," "Black Swan" and "mother!" for the first time all in one week, I will say that the former two are weighing a lot heavier on my mind than "mother!" currently is. Those two feel more impactful and important. But we'll see what happens when the dust settle. I will definitely say this movie is very gripping and mesmerizing. We have unique camera work with Jennifer Lawrence being front and center for most of the film while the camera follows her as if this were a third person video game point of view. We have great sound design and visuals, as are present in all of Aronofsky's films. And the whole cast are very committed to their performances with Jennifer Lawrence especially going all in on whatever the heck Aronofsky told her to. If this gives her yet another Oscar nomination, this just might be the most deserving of the bunch. But again, how this movie ends up playing out in my mind for the future is uncertain, thus it feels unfair to give it a grade at the moment, but it currently has my stamp of approval and I'd say it feels right to give it an 8/10.

Friday, September 8, 2017

IT Review

Happy Halloween everyone! Yes, I know it's early September and not October, but if Christmas can get three or four whole months of celebration for some people, then I think it's perfectly fine for Halloween to get a full two months. Hollywood always starts the Halloween movie season in September, anyways, so they can get a jump on the Halloween box office. We're just a few weeks earlier than normal because usually studios avoid the first two weeks of September like the plague. This year Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema were like, "Screw it. We're releasing our big movie in early September, anyways." Yes, that made me nervous because sometimes studios dump the bad movies in early September, so maybe they had a lack of confidence in this "IT" remake? Turns out that's not the case as this movie is going to destroy box office records, which I think is very good news for Hollywood as it shows that movies can still make a lot of money outside your typical blockbuster release date. Thus summers and holiday seasons don't have to be so crowded. That's part of the reason why this summer and last summer did so poorly comparatively. Too many films cannibalizing their potential. So "IT" doing well this weekend is a great sign.

That aside, with all the hype that "IT" has been getting and the huge money totals it's about to take in, is it worth it? Should you drop all you are doing and go see the latest iteration of Pennywise the dancing clown terrorize a new group of young kids? If you are a horror fan and/or you loved Stephen King's novel along with the 1990 TV mini-series, then the answer is yes. Or at least make this a priority at some point during this Halloween season, because I'm sure this will be sticking around throughout the season. Speaking of the novel and mini-series, though, let's talk about those first. Being straight up, I have not read the novel and I did not grow up with the nostalgia of the mini-series. But I made sure to watch the mini-series before seeing this movie. Or at least the first half with them as kids, because that's what the movie is all about. I meant to see the second half with them as adults, but didn't get around to it. That first half, though, I found fascinating. I thought "IT" was all about a killer clown terrorizing people, but there's a lot more depth and psychological aspects to it than I was expecting. There was also a lot of mystery and intrigue to this thing that was haunting them. And I can totally see how it traumatized everyone's childhoods.

All of those elements that made the first half of the mini-series so fascinating translated rather well into a full-length movie based solely on that first half. With the mini-series attempting to tackle the whole novel, that first half ends up only being 94 minutes long, which would work just fine for this movie if that was the direction they wanted to go. But instead they decided to slow things down a bit, taking more time to set up the story and develop these characters. Thus we get a movie that's 135 minutes long. Pretty long for a horror movie, but there's never a dull moment. In fact, I really loved the added time to the story. Covering all this ground in the mini-series made it so things were a bit rushed. Clown attacks happened faster and closer together. The kids bonded quicker and there wasn't enough time to dive into the depth of their relationship as a group of friends. I mean, they did a fine job with it, but once you watch this new movie and compare the two, you'll realize how much better the added time makes this as this is a marvelously directed movie that manages to be a huge improvement over the mini-series, which again, I've loved what I've seen so far. That's an impressive feat in a day of sloppily done remakes.

As far as the horror elements of the movie, I really like the character of Pennywise. Having not finished the mini-series, nor read the novel, I actually don't yet know all the secrets behind what or who he really is. I just know that he is some sort of demonic clown. What makes him a lot more interesting than your typical demonic presence haunting people is that he preys on the fears of each individual kid and he does so in a way that makes each kid believe that Pennywise is only haunting him or her. Both in the mini-series and in the movie you have the scene with the girl in the bathroom where everything gets covered in blood, and when the father walks in it is obvious that he can't see any of it. Thus the haunting is personal. It's secretive. And it's different for every kid. One kid might be afraid of blood. Another clowns. Another is haunted by a traumatic event in the past. One is afraid of disease. And they all get their time alone in the movie where, out of nowhere, this greatest fear of theirs is brought to life in the most horrific way and is followed up by Pennywise coming out of the haunting, showing that he is boss, that he is responsible and that he is out to get them. And we don't hold back either as Pennywise shows he's not afraid to attack and kill the kids.

In terms of the level of terror, while I found the mini-series fascinating, certain elements of it were a bit outdated and cheesy watching it in 2017. Thus it wasn't as scary to me. I can totally understand how it terrified people back in the day, especially when they were young when they watched it. But I was more fascinated by the angle it took with the horror rather than the horror itself. The movie adaptation was NOT that way. Yes, the angle it took is equally as fascinating, but each sequence of haunting is absolutely terrifying. I've watched enough horror films that I don't get scared at each jump scare or scary image. Thus I almost challenge a movie to actually scare me while doing a great job of making a movie. But this movie got me. Quite a bit. The horror sequences are horror done right. We focus on the lighting and the setup. The score plays a huge role when things are about to get serious. Then we have lots of creepy imagery followed up by Pennywise showing up without you expecting it and either jumping right out and you are chasing you through whatever place you're in. It made for quite the exhilarating thrill ride throughout the whole movie that never lets up. When you're not being flat out terrified, you are nervously anticipating the next time Pennywise shows up.

Yes, we have an excellent demonic villain that fascinatingly feeds on the worst nightmares of each individual kid in a horrifyingly personal way and we have well-directed horror sequences that are flat out terrifying. The thing that sets this movie apart from other horror movies that also captured those elements well is that this is also a rather beautiful and touching coming of age story. It plays out very much like a movie like "The Goonies" from back in the 80's or a TV show like "Stranger Things" from very recently where the heart and soul of the movie is strictly on the shoulders of a group of kids and the quality of the show depends on how well they do as child actors and how much you care for them. "IT" is absolute top notch when it comes to this. All the child actors in this movie are so great, which I have to give partial credit to them for pulling of performances as well as the director for making it happen. I loved seeing this group of kids come together and bond. Each of them got their own time in the spotlight, making for a very well developed group of kids. And I loved watching all the drama unfold, both positive and negative, as they come to realize that all of them are being haunted by Pennywise and they need to work together to stop him.

I think the only minor thing holding this movie back from me giving it an even higher score than you'll see me give it is that this is very much a conventional horror movie. And that's not a knock on the movie. In fact, I'd say it makes it more accessible to general audiences than some other stuff. But I personally find myself gravitating towards the unconventional horror films when it comes to horror films that absolutely blow my mind. Recent horror films that I have given super high praise to include "The Babadook," "The Witch" and "It Comes at Night," all of which are the unconventional route. You know, the type or horror films that me and the critics love while general audiences seem to hate. But that's more of personal preference. "IT" is your typical haunted house type of horror film that most audiences expect and want from a horror movie. Thus it's not going to be as high on my list of horror films as some. But I have to give credit where credit is due and "IT" plays all those typical conventions to perfection, thus I can honestly see this movie becoming a seasonal Halloween classic for many that will definitely ruin the careers of all of the clowns around the world. They might as well just get a new job because no one will want them around. My grade for "IT" is a 9/10.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Wind River Review

Last year one of the surprise movies of the year was a little film called "Hell or High Water." It was an indie film also released in August that was a modern western/heist film that immediately blew me away. I didn't think it was going to be an Oscar film, but it gained so much traction on all fronts that it pleasantly surprised me by making it into the race and getting four nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay for Taylor Sheridan. It's that Taylor Sheridan that is back again this year with another screenplay he's written. Except this time Sheridan is not only responsible for writing the screenplay, but he's also decided to sit in the director's chair, something he's only done once before in 2011 with a small horror film called "Vile" that I don't even think got much of a theatrical release, if at all. Sheridan, who was previously known for his acting, most notably being that of Deputy Chief David Hale in "Sons of Anarchy," definitely now has my attention as a new filmmaker with "Wind River," "Hell or High Water" and the script of Denis Villeneuve's "Sicaro" under his belt. Because, yes, "Wind River" is an absolute bone-chilling thriller that's well-written and well-directed by Sheridan and is thus one of the highlights of the year so far.

"Wind River" starts out with a bang as we see a modern Native American girl running bare foot across miles of snow with a rather chilling monologue being repeated as she runs. Around the time the monologue finishes, she collapses in the snow, having reached the limit with whatever she was running from. From that point on, you know you are in for quite the ride. And it's certainly an intense ride that you get, albeit one that takes it's time in setting the scene and building the characters involved in this bleak, depressing tale. Shortly after the girl collapses, we are introduced to our main character of the film, that of Jeremy Renner, who plays a hunter on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. While out on the job, he runs into the body of this now dead Native American girl and thus we embark on this murder mystery thriller in the Wind River Reservation, which proves rather difficult given the scarcity of the police force in the area. They simply don't have the manpower to conduct the type of investigation necessary to easily solve this type of case on the level that us Caucasians do in a typical U.S. city. The best help they get is that of Elizabeth Olsen, the lone FBI agent called from out of town to help work on the case.

Yes, I love myself a good thriller. When we get to the meat of this story, it gets super intense and heavy. But I also love a good, character-driven drama. The latter is what this movie is for most of it. Neither Jeremy Renner nor Elizabeth Olsen are Native American, but both of them are heavily involved in this to help us gain perspective of what life may be like for some modern Native Americans. In this fictional story, Jeremy Renner's character married a Native American woman and the two of them had two children before certain circumstances led to their divorce. Much of this movie revolves around their story, giving Jeremy Renner a ton of depth as we dive into heart of the movie. Everything involving them does tie into the overall story which adds a lot of weight and emotion when we finally get our big payoff. Then we have Elizabeth Olsen as our fish out of water. She represents the average white American who comes into the situation and quickly realizes how in over her head she is. She is a very strong character who wants to do a lot more, but simply doesn't have the experience with and knowledge of this culture to do as much as she wants, thus she's the character who represents most of us watching the film.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I would really love it if Jeremy Renner managed to get an Oscar nomination. I interviewed Jeremy Renner leading up to the movie "Arrival" last year for my internship, which is a fun experience that I enjoy bragging about to my friends. Hence the bias. But I honestly think he does a phenomenal job in this movie. Both him and Elizabeth Olsen. They did such a good job of becoming these characters and bringing the depth and emotion required to pull this off. Despite their extreme recognizability in Hollywood, it didn't even dawn on my until the end of the movie that we were watching Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch from "The Avengers" solve a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. I saw them as these characters in this film and I was fully invested in wanting them to succeed. When popular, recognizable actors can manage to disappear into their roles and make you see them as a character and not an actor, I think that's worthy of high praise. While Renner and Olsen are the leads in this movie, there are plenty of Native American characters in supporting roles who all do a fantastic job of setting the scene for the story that's being told. Simply put, without them there is no movie. You really feel for all them.

I don't really want to say too much about modern Native American culture since I know close to nothing about it. I have no idea if this movie is an accurate portrayal of the type of lifestyle these people go through or not. The struggles that the black community have faced and are still faced is well-reported and documented, which is why the social commentary in movies such as "Get Out" and "Moonlight" is so powerful. I think it's possible that "Wind River" provides similar social commentary for the Native American community, so I think it's possible that this could be an important movie to see, but I simply don't know enough one way or the other. At the very least, this movie gave me a desire to learn more about this culture and what life is like for these people. The awful treatment of the Native Americans back in the early days of this country are certainly well-documented. But how is life like for them now? One of the themes of the movie is that not many of us today are aware of what's going on in their lives on these reservations, which is why this movie made me curious to know more. I imagine life is not super ideal and thus if something awful like a murder of an 18-year-old girl were to happen, it would probably hurt even more.

If nothing else, if we look at this movie as a movie and remove the social commentary, this still works really well as a movie. Regardless of who you are and what race or culture you belong to, losing someone you care about is an awful thing and when it happens via murder, it's hard to imagine the pain and suffering that occurs for the family and friends of that individual. This movie definitely does a really good job of painting that severe depression and sadness that takes place. The moments where Renner and Olsen are at the home of the family are heart-wrenching. Gil Birmingham as the father of this girl especially shines in every scene he is in. I don't know if this will end up as an Oscar contender like "Hell or High Water." My guess would be no, but I thought the same thing of "Hell or High Water," so we'll wait and see. But if does end up as an Oscar contender, Gil Birmingham would be my vote for supporting actor after putting Renner and Olsen in the lead actor and actress categories. His wife in the movie is only in a few scenes of the movie, but holy cow does she deliver some power when she shows up. There is one specific scene that just ripped my heart out and when you get to this scene with her, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

It's fair to note that "Wind River" won't be for everyone. There are certain scenes that might be too much to handle for some, especially in the final act. But if you love yourself a good crime thriller, this is the movie this year that you need to show up for. There's a lot of build up to set the stage for what's happening. This could bore some. For me I really appreciated how it took the time to build the characters and make you truly care for them and what they are going through. Without all of that, I don't think the finale would be as rewarding as it is. I'm not going to talk spoilers about the final act. That would require a lot more explaining about the plot, anyways. But needless to say there is a moment in the end that punches you in the gut and sends you reeling. It's a very rewarding finale to a rather excellent film that I have to say is held together quite well by the score of the film as well as the beautiful cinematography and landscapes of Park City, Utah, which is right around the corner from where I live. The goal with all of that is to make you feel cold and it worked. I almost wanted to put on a coat in the theater and it was hot outside when I saw the movie. But yeah, don't miss this movie if thrillers are your thing. It's a highlight of 2017. I'm going to give "Wind River" a strong 9/10.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Leap! Review

Or, as it's referred to in just about every other country, "Ballerina." I'm not sure why they decided to change the title here in the United States, especially since "Ballerina" is a much better title than "Leap!" When you look at the title "Leap!," you might be confused about what the overall point of the movie is, until you look at the trailer and poster, of course. But "Ballerina" leaves no room for further explanation. It would be really easy to convince your five-year-old daughter to see a movie called "Ballerina." If you simply asked them if they wanted to see the movie "Leap!," you'd probably have to follow that up with the explanation that it's the ballerina movie, in which they would probably jump for joy. So why not just keep the name "Ballerina"? But oh well. It is what it is. Now if you live in the U.K. or France and you are wondering why I'm reviewing this movie now, because it came out LAST YEAR for you and has already been on DVD over there for a while, it's because not only do we sometimes do dumb things by giving your movies dumb titles, but sometimes it takes us a while to catch onto things as this just came out last weekend over here. And because nothing else worth seeing was out last weekend, I thought, "What the heck. I'll go see this."

If I'm being completely up front about this, "Leap!" is kind of a dumb movie. Hence is why it's in the 30 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes. I get it. But in this specific instance you'll notice that I'm going to be a heck of a lot more forgiving towards this movie than I have other animated movies this summer like "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3" and "The Emoji Movie" because I think context and target audience is extremely important here. "Leap!" is not a movie intended to be a best picture nominee that will blow the minds of every adult who sees it. In fact, it's not targeted at all towards all of those grumpy adults giving it bad reviews. This is a movie that is specifically aimed at five-year-old girls and I am absolutely confident that those five-year-old girls who see it will totally love it and it may even inspire them to start dancing or have a goal to be a ballerina. And if I'm right on that and the movie accomplishes this, then I think it's a huge win. That's the beauty of cinema. Hundreds of movies come out each year and if you look hard enough then you will find something for everyone. "Leap!" happens to be the movie for five-year-old girls and I think that's fantastic. If you watch the trailer and decide that this isn't for you, then that's perfectly fine. Find something right for you.

As far as the plot goes, yeah this one is really simple. Felicie is an 11-year-old orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina, but due to her situation with her mean, angry owners of the orphan, this dream seems like an impossible one. So one day, her and her inventor friend Victor, devise a plan to escape the orphan and go to Paris, which of course works. When they get there, they get separated. Victor ends up at the workshop of Gustave Eiffel while Felicie ends up stealing the identity of the snobby brat Camille, thus joining the class of young ballerinas at the school of the Paris Opera Ballet where there is a competition as to who gets to play the lead role in the upcoming performance of "The Nutcracker." Lucky for Felicie, she runs into a former famous ballerina named Odette who trains her in the art of becoming a ballerina. If you think that sounds like a combination of about 30 different movies who all told a similar story, but better, then you are absolutely right. For some reason I thought of "Cinderella" meets "The Karate Kid." But there's probably a whole bunch of different combinations that this movie feeds off of. If you feel like docking the movie because of that, then I understand. But that didn't bother me as much as it should've.

The other thing that stood out to me right away was that it felt like it was a French movie that had been poorly dubbed over into English. Given that this is a French film, had that been the case it wouldn't have been super surprising. Foreign animation films usually have a dubbing and a subtitles version of their movies. I always prefer subtitles because I like hearing the original voices and I don't mind reading the subtitles. After 10-15 minutes, my brain adjusts to it and I feel it's not much different than watching a movie in English. But in the case of "Leap!," after my own investigation of the matter, it appears that this was initially released in English. In looking at the animation itself, it appears that their mouths are speaking English words and not French words dubbed into English. And I can't find anywhere that reveals a French version of the cast. So then my next conclusion is that perhaps this was just miscast. Elle Fanning, 19, and Dane DeHaan, 31, are voicing our two 11-year-old main characters. Carly Rae Jepsen, 31, is voicing the older former ballerina while Maddie Ziegler, 14, is voicing the rival girl Camille. Maddie is the only one that seems on point. The others do fine, I just think maybe they should've picked voices closer to the characters' actual ages?

The other problems that I'm sure others will point out is that the animation isn't quite up to par when you compare it to other animated films from big studios and of course the story is as by the numbers as you can get. But do you know what? I think this movie had enough heart in it. I think it teaches positive messages about dreaming big and following those dreams. Along with that, it teaches that you need to work hard to achieve your dreams and if you do things that aren't morally right or if you slack off and just expect everything to fall to you, there will be negative consequences. But yet despite mistakes that may be made, these obstacles can be overcome. People can change and do things the right way. Are these lessons that have been taught in movies before? Absolutely. But again, target audience. While us adults may have seen these things plenty of times in movies, there's a chance that young girls watching this movie might not have seen it as much as us adults and this is a movie that can inspire them to dream big. It hits all the notes you think it will. But it hits them right and has enough likable characters and plot points that I gave it a pass. Plus, the little girl sitting close to me in the theater seemed to be loving life. That has to count for something, right?

So here's an interesting discussion point. Why am I being so nice and forgiving towards this movie's flaws while I was super harsh on "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3" and "The Emoji Movie"? Because, yes, all four of these movies have flaws, but all four did manage to please at least some of their target audience of young kids. While there's a lot of ways that I could answer this question, and you could refer to my reviews of each movie if you want full details, but I think one major reason is expectations. I've seen lots of Pixar movies that entertained kids while blowing the minds of adults. That's kinda their brand. So for Pixar to then deliver a juvenile, lazy sequel intended to sell toys, that's disappointing. And when "Despicable Me" and "Despicable Me 2" followed a specific formula that made those movies so fun, deep and charming, then deliver a crap shoot that will only entertain small kids with "Despicable Me 3," that's also disappointing. And, well, do I need to discuss "The Emoji Movie"? Sony Animation has also made solid movies, so for them to dip to the absolute lowest of lows in filmmaking is rather disturbing. "Leap!" doesn't come from any major studio and is simply out to make a film for young girls to love and it manages to do just that.

For some final thoughts on this review, there are a few other moments that I legitimately loved. You could perhaps trash the story all you want, but there's a lot of animated dance choreography in this movie that is legitimately well done and the soundtrack is spot on. There's even one moment where Felicie and Camille have a dance off to Demi Lovato's "Confident" and I was really entertained. Maybe the voice acting was a bit off, but the characters were likable enough. You're rooting for Felicie and Victor to succeed in their endeavors and even though the story is super familiar as you could come up with a lot of different movies that it seems to follow, it's a charming enough journey along the way with a positive message for young girls that will teach them to dream big and to work hard to follow their dreams. This is not an easy journey for Felicie and not everything just magically falls into her laps and there are times where she wants to give up. But through persistence, she is able to overcome the challenges facing her. So if you are a parent with young girls, you should go take them to see this one. Or you can wait and rent it when it comes to DVD or play it if it shows up on Netflix. It's a charming little film that I'm going to award a 7/10.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Movie Preview: September 2017

Summer 2017 came whimpering to a close this past month as August could only muster up around $650 million, which may end up as the lowest grossing August since 1997. While quite the statistic there, this doesn't come at a huge surprise given that studios chose to mostly avoid this month. In recent years, movies such as "Suicide Squad" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" snuck into August and dominated the month. This year the long awaited movie adaptation of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" was in that slot, but awful reviews and poisonous word of mouth led that to only getting around $45 million through the month, thus opening the door for "Annabelle: Creation" to win the month as it currently stands at $80 million and is slowly inching its way to the $100 million mark. Historically speaking, September is the year's worst month of the year as the September record is held by 2015 with just $626.4 million. This September, though, actually has potential to buck this trend. While it will get almost no help from August holdovers, there are several huge titles scheduled for this month that could make this one of the more interesting Septembers in recent history. Thus let's dive in and take a look at what this September has in store!

September 1st - 4th-

I said that there are several big titles being released this September. And I didn't lie. But we have to wait a week first because Hollywood avoided Labor Day weekend like the plague. It's historically the worst weekend of the year where nothing can make money. Because of that, it's become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy as studios just don't schedule anything big for this weekend. This year there aren't any new releases opening in more than 1,000 theaters. The biggest new release of the weekend is actually the 2017 re-release of Steven Spielberg's 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 901 theaters. Alicia Vickander and Dane DeHaan will finally take the stage in Tulip Fever, which will enter into 765 theaters after being delayed multiple times, and is about an artist in the 17th century falling in love with a young married woman that he's commissioned to paint. Marvel will release the first two episodes of their upcoming TV superhero drama Inhumans into 386 IMAX locations, while the small release that may come out on top is Pantelion's Hazlo Como Hombre, despite only opening in 382 theaters. But all this said, "The Hitman's Bodyguard" is poised to score a three-peat at the box office with around $7 million for the three-day.

September 8th - 10th-

And this is where things get real in September. Usually the second weekend of September isn't much better than the first, but this year Warner Bros. ignored that unwritten rule of not scheduling anything major in the first half of September as they slotted Stephen King's It in this spot. This high risk is looking like it's going to translate into very high reward as the September opening weekend record is guaranteed to be shattered. The current opening weekend record is "Hotel Transylvania 2" with $48.5 million. Current predictions from various sites based on tracking metrics have "It" opening to at least $60 million, and that could be a conservative estimate. The fist sign that this movie was going to be huge was when the first trailer was released and received 197 million views in the first 24 hours, breaking the record for most trailer views in the first 24 hours. The brand recognition is obviously a huge key in this as "It" was written in 1986 by King and is one of his most well-known and well-loved novels, which was then adapted into a popular two-episode TV mini-series in 1990. Thus everyone's favorite killer clown has been terrorizing people for over 30 years now and audiences are excited for Pennywise's first feature-length movie adaptation.

Those not in the mood to be terrorized by Pennywise the clown have the option of settling down with the romantic comedy Home Again. This stars the 41-year-old Reese Witherspoon look as young as ever, playing a 40-year-old single mother who, through a series of unexpected events, ends up allowing three young men in their 20's to move in with her while her ex-husband, played by the 48-year-old Michael Sheen, wants to make his way back into her life. Even though he is much closer to Reese in age, this might make for some purposefully awkward laughs as his "competition" for Reese are young enough to be his children. "Home Again" is the directorial debut for Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of popular filmmaker Nancy Meyers, known for films such as the 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap," "What Women Want," "Something's Gotta Give" and "It's Complicated." "Home Again" will determine if Hallie has the same knack for romantic comedies as her mother Nancy, while Nancy has been on the crew as producer, helping her daughter out.

September 15th - 17th-

The third weekend of September sees the first of two movies this month with the word "American" in the title. I'll get to "American Made" a bit later, but this weekend the "American" movie is American Assassin. This continues the "Keatonaissance" as the latest movie headlined by Michael Keaton after starring back-to-back best picture winners, "Birdman" and "Spotlight," revitalized his career, turning him into one of the most popular actors of the day. "American Assassin" has Keaton teaming up with "Maze Runner" and "Teen Wolf" star Dylan O'Brien. Or rather, the movie has Keaton, a Cold War veteran in the film, training O'Brien to be an assassin after O'Brien is enlisted in the CIA as a black ops recruit as he is seeking revenge following a terrorist attack on a beach that killed his girlfriend right after they got engaged. Keaton and O'Brien then are out on a mission to stop a mysterious character nicknamed "Ghost," who is played by Taylor Kitsch. If "American Assassin" can match the $21.4 million opening of last month's "The Hitman's Bodyguard," that will be considered a win. Although great reviews will be required to hit that mark as opening the weekend before "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" may prove to be a tricky prospect financially.

The second movie of the week is the return of acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky with mother! Aronofsky has been absent since 2014's controversial outing in "Noah" and mostly likely hopes to return to form after being most well-known for 2000's "Requiem for a Dream" and 2010's "Black Swan," the latter of which was nominated for five Oscars, which included a best picture nomination, a best director nomination for Aronofsky and a best leading actress win for Natalie Portman. Can "mother!" bring Aronofsky back into Academy relevance? It's had the early pre-release buzz, but that's mainly because it's Aronofsky teamed up with Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Pfiefer and others in a movie released in the fall. In reality, "mother!" might not be the type of movie that the Academy goes for as it's more of a mysterious horror/thriller where Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a couple who start getting visits from strange guests that keep coming and coming. Thus if this is going for a horror vibe like the trailers make it out to be, releasing it the weekend after "It" might prove to be a bit questionable in terms of timing and Oscar nominations might simply be reserved for acting categories.

The final release of the weekend may end up becoming a small release with a wide expansion later, but we'll talk about it here anyways. This movie is All I See is You. If this does end up as a normal wide release this weekend, mid-September thrillers have a history of performing well. Although usually it's with Screen Gems and has a predominately black cast ala "When the Bough Breaks," "The Perfect Guy" and "No Good Deed" from the last three consecutive years. Screen Gems has their own horror film towards the end of the month that breaks this trend a bit, but we'll get to that. "All I See is You" is directed by Marc Forster, director of "Finding Neverland," "Stranger than Fiction," "Quantum of Solace" and "World War Z," and stars Blake Lively and Jason Clarke as a couple whose relationship changes drastically once Blake Lively, who was blind, receives her sight and discovers disturbing details about their relationship. The movie debuted last September at TIFF to mixed reviews. Open Roads are probably hoping that general audiences react a little better than the festival audience did.

September 22nd - 24th-

After "It" is set to shatter the September opening weekend record in the second weekend of September, two weeks later we have two major films targeted towards very different audiences that are both set to rock the box office as well. It's a bit of a coin toss to see which one will win the weekend, but we'll talk about Kingsman: The Golden Circle first. The first "Kingsman" movie took the world by storm around Valentine's Day 2015, providing great counter-programming to "Fifty Shades of Grey," as a high-octane, violent action thriller similar to a very intense, bloody James Bond like action movie with the Kingsman being a secret organization of very gentlemanly individuals with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets hidden in their suits as they are prepared for any sort of situation. The movie made a star out of Taron Egerton and will see him return to the sequel along with much of the original cast while adding a whole host of new names, highlighted by Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges. The Kingsman have to band together with an American version of their organization to take down a common enemy who destroyed the Kingsman's headquarters. Matthew Vaughan returns to the directing chair with the very first sequel he's directed.

The other movie opening alongside "Kingsman" will be The LEGO Ninjago Movie. The "LEGO" franchise is building themselves quite the brand in the animation realm as this is the second "LEGO" movie to come out this year following "The LEGO Batman Movie," both of which are building off the major surprise success that was "The LEGO Movie" in 2014, which many people mistakenly thought would be awful. "Ninjago" is a natural direction for LEGO to go with their next movie as the Ninjago series has been one of LEGO's most popular series with a ton of various LEGO Ninjago sets that have come into popularity due to the "Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu" TV show that began in 2011 and recently aired its seventh season earlier this year on Cartoon Network. While the movie does feature the same characters as the TV show, the movie is not a continuation of the TV show and has a different voice cast than TV show. Thus being caught up with the TV show is not a requirement for this movie. That said, "Ninjago" hits more of a niche crowd than that of "The LEGO Movie" and "The LEGO Batman Movie," so naturally this should have more of a dip financially from the previous two, although the lack of competition at the moment should be a major advantage.

Finally for this fourth weekend, we have another thriller. That being Friend Request. With this being potentially the fourth horror/thriller of the month, we can definitely tell that studios are doing their best to take advantage of the Halloween season as this influx of horrors will continue in October with the likes of "Happy Death Day" and "Jigsaw." Naturally, too many movies of the same genre at the same time is a problem, thus not all of these movies can make money. With "It" and "mother!" likely being the horror/thriller hits of the month, "Friend Request" is likely to fall by the wayside along with "All I See is You" and the two that I'm about to get to in the final weekend of September. As you can guess by the title, this is another Facebook horror movie. A certain college girl unfriends this mysterious girl and starts being haunted by this girl because of it. If it sounds like something you've heard of recently, that's because in April of 2015 we had a similar movie called "Unfriended" that had a similar premise. That movie had an opening weekend of $15.8 million and went onto make $32.5 million domestically and $64.1 million worldwide. Pretty good for a $1 million production budget. "Friend Request" will be lucky if its final total equaled that movie's opening weekend.

September 29th - October 1st-

The final weekend of September, which includes one day of October, will be headlined by our second "American" movie of the month, that of American Made. The movie is a biographical crime thriller that stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, who was a former pilot that became a drug smuggler for the Medellin Cartel in the 1980's and later served as an informant for the DEA in order to avoid jail time. The movie is directed by Doug Liman, director of "The Bourne Identity" and "Edge of Tomorrow" and co-stars Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson alongside Cruise. This could end up as a decent sleeper hit at the end of September, leading into October, given that it's already been released in several countries around the world, which includes its August 25 release in the U.K. Word from all of those countries is very positive. If that translates into positive hype over here in the U.S. and the critic reviews stay strong, the movie currently holds an 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, this could have a solid opening and a long run. Last September, "Sully" was the top release, opening to $35 million on its way to $125 million total domestically. While not a perfect comparison, I wouldn't be surprised to see "American Made" get close to these numbers. Maybe even some Oscar potential?

Five weekends in September. Why not five horror/thrillers as Flatliners joins the market. This here will be our annual September Screen Gems thriller, although it bucks their trend a bit as the previous three Septembers saw Screen Gems release a thriller in early- to mid-September, all with a predominately black cast. This is late September and is not really the same type of thriller as their previous three. "Flatliners" is actually a sequel to the 1990 film of the same name. Yes, sequel. Not reboot. The original was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon among others and was about five medical students experimenting on near death experiences that end up having dark consequences. Cut and paste the premise this time around, most likely 30 some odd years later, with Ellen Page, Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev this time around highlighting our main crew of medical students. The 1990 "Flatliners" debuted to $10 million and grossed $61.5 million total. This 2017 sequel might get a similar opening weekend, although 27 years later the ticket price inflation makes that less impressive and I'd be shocked if this matches that movie's final total.