Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lady Bird Review

Oscar season is in full force right now and I am excited to now be talking about a major contender in the best picture race that I saw just over a week ago. It's worth noting that, yes, I'm just as big of a fan of big summer/holiday blockbusters as the next guy. Heck, I think I gave the new "Avengers: Infinity War" trailer nearly half of its 48 million views yesterday and I've been so excited for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" that I had a dream the other night that I was in the theater about to watch the movie. I woke up for that dream in such a good mood because I realized that that very experience is just two weeks away. Despite that, though, my favorite season of the year is Oscar season. Not necessarily because of the awards themselves. I usually get mad at the Oscars for nominating the wrong films and awarding the wrong nominees with the gold trophies. But this is my favorite season because of the sheer volume of quality independent/art house films that come our way. Films from filmmakers who truly understand the art of filmmaking wherein story, characters and acting are at the forefront rather than fancy visual effects and endless amounts of action sequences and explosions. Again, the latter can be fun, but that's not the sole reason why movies should be made.

On that note, "Lady Bird" is a movie that has achieved quite the remarkable feat on Rotten Tomatoes. With 181 reviews counted as of the publishing of this post, it has maintained a perfect 100 percent. That's the highest number of reviews ever counted for a movie that stayed at 100 percent on the site. The previous high count for a 100 percent film was "Toy Story 2." Thus one could say that it's the best reviewed movie ever on the site, as some outlets have reported. But that wouldn't be completely true because Rotten Tomatoes actually keeps an updated list of that on their site in which they use a weighted, Bayesian formula based on several factors in which "The Wizard of Oz" is currently in the lead. "Lady Bird" is currently No. 37 on that list, behind other 2017 films "Get Out," "The Big Sick," "Dunkirk," Wonder Woman" and "Logan," with the potential to climb higher as more reviews come in. But that's beside the point. A perfect score is hard to maintain and it's really impressive that it is nearing the 200 review count without getting a single negative review. That doesn't mean all 181 of them have crowned it as the best movie of all time. That just means all of them have at least given the movie a pass. Not one single Grinch has hated this movie. Knock on wood.

So what is this movie that has received such positive praise? Simple really. It's another one of our high school, coming of age dramas. Christine McPherson, who has nicknamed herself Lady Bird, is a senior in high school at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California acting very much like a senior in high school who is excited to get away from her horrible family and boring life in this dull city when she finally graduates and is able to go off to college. The movie takes place over the course of a year as we watch her live out her senior year. That's it. That's our movie. Now after watching the trailers and reading some of the reviews, I went into this movie rather giddy and excited. However, as we began this movie, I began to ask myself the very question that you are probably asking yourself right now after having read my description. How is it that a movie with this specific premise, of which we've seen a hundred times before, being considered as one of the best movies of the year and a serious contender to win best picture? As I began, I thought to myself that this may be one of those movies that is perfectly enjoyable, but not necessarily a personal favorite of the year. Maybe it was going to be like Saoirse Ronan's 2015 film "Brooklyn." A good movie, but not a great movie?

However, as we continued through the film I found myself absolutely shocked as to how much I was enjoying this film. I've liked plenty of high school dramas, from older ones like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to more recent ones such as "Easy A" or "The DUFF." Even this year's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" falls into that category. But I kid you not, never have I been this invested into a film from this genre as I have "Lady Bird." When I began to think of comparisons, it's not those previously mentioned movies that came to my mind first. There were two other movies that came to my mind that DID make my top 10 lists in their respective years. The first being "About Time" from 2013 and the other being "Boyhood" from 2014. "About Time" is a small film that looked like it was a typical romance drama with time travel elements, but ended up being more about the relationship between a father and son that was deep and emotional. "Boyhood" is a rather epic movie filmed over the course of 12 years that is about a family living life from when the boy is six years old to when he is 18 years and moving onto college. Take that idea from "Boyhood," except only do one year instead of 12, then add in the deep parent/child relationship from "About Time" and you have "Lady Bird."

Even though this movie is about Lady Bird living life during her senior year, the movie is centered around the drama between Lady Bird and her mother. What makes this so fascinating is how real this feels. Greta Gerwig, who is mainly known for her acting, steps into the director's chair for the first time and you know from the very first sequences of the movie that she just gets it as a writer and director. She knows what it was like to live as a senior in high school and she has crafted a film that perfectly represents that period of still being quite immature, then transitioning to adulthood. In fact, Greta Gerwig went to a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California, so you could almost say that this movie is semi-autobiographical. That's what it feels like, anyways. This feels less like a movie you are watching and more like footage from an actual family trying to make it in the world. I said earlier that Lady Bird is a girl trying to get away from her horrible family. Truth is, her family is not horrible at all. That's just what it's like from her perspective, which is typical for a high school student. The mother in this movie, played by Laurie Metcalf, is a fantastic mother who is struggling to figure out how to raise such an independent-spirited teenage daughter.

I imagine you can go into this movie and appreciate it from multiple perspectives. Those who graduated high school recently can watch this movie and appreciate the fact that this movie so perfectly portrays what it is like as a teenager in high school. Lady Bird goes through several different phases throughout the year that are easy to relate to. She's such a fun, quirky character that I just wanted to go be her friend because it seemed like she would such a great person to be around. There's a lot of things that she did that had me laughing hysterically. But then, in typical high school fashion, something unexpected would happen that was like a punch in the gut. In those moments, I just wanted to go up to Lady Bird and tell her that everything was going to be OK. Let her cry on my shoulder or talk together about how much life sucks sometimes. That's the type of relationship that I had with this movie. Given that I'm not that old, the high school aspect was what I was able to relate most with, but I imagine that parents with teenage kids are going to watch this and have similar reactions towards Laurie Metcalf's character as the mother. I imagine it's really tough to try to raise a teenage child and I'm confident that this movie perfectly captures that feel as well.

In short, the relationship between a parent and child, regardless of situation, can be a difficult relationship due to the fact that both often have the same personalities. When both have strong personalities, those personalities can clash really hard as the child wants to be independent but the parent wants to be stern because they want what's best for the child. The child will be angry and mad at the parent and want to get away while later in life, after coming of age, the child will then realize how great the parent was. They will grow up and have children of their own and turn into the parent that they once clashed with. This relationship and this bond was captured so perfectly in this movie that I fell in love with it. Helping this out, I think Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both gave brilliant acting performances that are well worth the Oscar nominations that they better both get. As far as Saoirse Ronan goes, I've been following her for a while. I first noticed her in "Hanna" in 2011 and have loved her ever since. Each one of her characters is quite different, but she plays them all so well. Yet Lady Bird might be my favorite character she's played. And I'm also happy that I now know how to pronounce her name. You say it "Sersha." As in rhyming with "inertia."

I started this review by talking a lot about the Rotten Tomatoes score and I want to end this review by following up with that. Just remember, a Rotten Tomatoes score is the percentage of critics who gave the movie at least a pass. A movie in the 90 percent or higher range does not necessarily mean that everyone thinks the movie is the greatest movie ever made. It just means that a lot of people enjoyed it. Given how much buzz "Lady Bird" is receiving on the awards front, my biggest fear is that it will receive too much buzz. I would absolutely hate it if the second wave of people went in expecting "Lady Bird" to be the greatest movie ever made and walked out deciding that they hated it because it didn't live up to these lofty expectations. "Lady Bird" is a smaller, homely-feeling movie about what it's like to transition from adolescence to adulthood. And it does a perfect job at that. Go in with those expectations and I think you will fall in love with this as I did. The only thing that upset me was that the movie ended. While it absolutely ended perfectly, I wasn't ready for it to end. I wanted to keep going with this story and these characters to see what happened next because I was so invested. I think that's the sign of a truly great movie and thus I am confidently giving "Lady Bird" a 10/10.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas Review

With Thanksgiving over, it's officially time to put our focus on Christmas. What better way to start the season off than by reviewing this appropriately timed biopic of Charles Dickens as he wrote everyone's favorite Christmas novella, "A Christmas Carol"? Even though I'm a Grinch during most of November as I get frustrated with people seemingly skipping over Thanksgiving by celebrating Christmas right when Halloween ends (or before in some cases), I really do enjoy the Christmas season, so long as people don't put too much of their focus on the commercialism aspect of the holiday. In fact, I considered going on a run of Christmas-themed movie reviews during December like I did with Halloween movies in October. But I'm probably not going to get around to that this year with how busy things usually are in December. What I might do instead is give you one special review of a Christmas movie on or close to Christmas. While I had this idea in mind before I saw this movie, I mention it here because that movie would indeed be my favorite version of "A Christmas Carol," which I will leave a mystery for now. There's a lot of them. And a lot of good versions, too. Thus made it all the more fun to go watch the movie about how this story came to be.

While I'm very familiar with "A Christmas Carol," I'm less familiar with Charles Dickens himself and the events that led up to the publishing of this classic novella. Thus I found this movie fascinatingly educational. Here we start with Charles Dickens celebrating the enormous success of his novel "Oliver Twist" in 1839, which was quite overwhelming for him in certain instances. Fast forward a few years until October 1843 where Dickens has since experienced, according to the movie, three straight flops, putting him into a bit of a predicament moving forward with his career. Looking at Dickens' bibliography, I'm guessing that these flops were "Nicholas Nickelby," "The Old Curiosity Shop" and "Barnaby Rudge." I don't know enough about Dickens to know if flop is the right word for these books, but I can say with confidence that "Oliver Twist" and "A Christmas Carol" are certainly more well-known. Thus we have a movie in "The Man Who Invented Christmas" that is not only an insight into what inspired "A Christmas Carol" and what Dickens went through in trying to get that story finalized, but we also have a movie that dives into the mindset and life of a writer while they are experiencing the valleys in between their peaks of success.

That latter aspect is something that I think can be very relatable to many people. It can be very frustrating putting your heart and soul into a certain project only to see the Grinches that write reviews to take a few looks at it and then pan it as garbage. It's very disheartening. Thus you can empathize with Dickens' desire to ignore what the critics have to say and hope that the casual readers will appreciate his work more. But then they start to ignore him, too, in the form of not buying his books and suddenly Dickens is left in a predicament that he is running out of money and needs to come up with something because he has a wife and kids he needs to support with another child on the way. Sometimes we forgot about the behind-the-scenes drama that can happen in the life of a writer when things aren't going their way. Now I'm not as big into reading books as others, so instead I like to apply this to filmmaking and use stories like this to help remind me that it takes a lot of time and effort to write, direct and make a film. Yes, I will be honest about my opinions as I write these reviews, but I also do my best to respect the process and remember everything that went into making these movies. So I appreciated this movie for reminding me to be a bit sensitive when giving my opinions.

That of course isn't the main focus of this movie. But I found it to be an interesting side note. Whether or not you are the one writing the reviews or simply consuming the material, whether it be books, movies, TV shows or whatever, it's good to remember that this is someone's life work over the last however many months or even years. With that perspective in mind, I think it becomes easier to at least do a better job of respecting the material. The main focus of this movie, though, is the other aspect of writing. Bringing a story to life. Which can be equally as challenging, if not more so. Because we have this thing called writer's block that every writer goes through. I know I do all the time when I'm writing these movie reviews. It took me a bit of time to figure out exactly how to approach this one and I got stuck a few times along the way. Sometimes these reviews come easy for me. Other times they're really difficult. Even if you're not in the writing field, we've all been to school on some level and have been asked by a professor to write a paper. Sometimes we get those papers churned out really quick. Other times we get stuck. So yeah, I think we all know what Charles Dickens is going through to some degree, which made this a fun watch, at least for me.

Speaking of writing, the challenge with this movie is how are they going to manage to make a movie about someone writing a book interesting? It's especially tricky considering we all know how this story turns out. Because, spoiler alert (but not really), Dickens successfully writes "A Christmas Carol" and everyone loved it. There can't be too many twists and surprises with this movie, so they had to come up with a way to make the journey interesting. I personally think they did a great job at that as the approach here was to make the characters themselves show up once Dickens nailed them down in his head. As the saying goes, once you have everything in place, the story writes itself, right? I found it to be a blast to watch Dickens interact with all of these characters as it almost took him by surprise when characters would show up and argue with him about how things were going to turn out and what the right thing to do was. Specifically the interactions between Dickens and Scrooge were priceless as the two would banter back and forth quite a bit during this process. This was helped by great chemistry between Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, the latter now has to be included in the conversation of one of the best portrayals of Scrooge.

This here leads us to the themes of the movie. The biggest block that Dickens goes through in writing this story is how is he going to properly finish this story that does justice to the characters while portraying the appropriate messages that he is trying to get across. The biggest obstacle in this being the character of Scrooge. Can a man really change overnight when he's spent his whole life being bitter and angry towards the world? This put Dickens through quite the turmoil which causes the movie to parallel "A Christmas Carol" in his themes. Dickens is a good man, but he gets so invested in this story and so troubled with how he's going to finish it that he kinda becomes a Scrooge himself as he starts pushing away the people he cares about, not fully realizing what he's doing. Thus we get the themes from "A Christmas Carol" centered on what Christmas is, or should be, all about. What makes "A Christmas Carol" so moving is seeing the transformation of Scrooge through the night as he examines what happened to him in the past, what's going on around him in the present and what could happen if he doesn't change. We see similar transformations from Dickens in this movie as he figures out what this story is going to be.

I don't know what Bleecker Street's plans are with this movie's expansion throughout the holiday. It only opened in around 600 theaters and didn't have the best per theater average during that opening weekend. So this might be the type of movie where you will have to go on a bit of a hunt to figure out exactly where it's playing. But if you're a fan of any version of "A Christmas Carol," I would highly suggest you make that hunt because this is a solid companion piece to "A Christmas Carol" as it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into what went into the writing of this story. We get a good look into what life can be like for a writer in general, which can help us more appreciate the final results of their work. But it was also fun seeing this specific story come to life as Dickens is interacting with his characters as they show up and help him in writing his story, which felt very metaphorical for what was going on in Dickens' head and the movie does a great job of successfully pulling at your heartstrings in a way that a holiday movie should do as we see this story go from an idea in Dickens' head to a published novella that really did help revolutionize how people looked at Christmas back in the day and continues to do so today. I'm going to award the movie an 8/10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Coco Review

Thanksgiving is a strong holiday for Disney as they currently own nine of the top ten spots on the list of the biggest three-day and five-day Thanksgiving opening weekends with "Frozen," "Moana," "Toy Story 2," "Tangled" and "The Good Dinosaur" currently comprising the top five. They're about to add another juggernaut to that list as Pixar's latest original film "Coco" will be hitting theaters. Now to be clear, this is referring to all movies distributed by Mother Disney, which is quite a bit nowadays. Now if we're being specific, "Coco" comes to us via Pixar Animation Studios, which is different than Walt Disney Animation Studios, even though both are owned and distributed by Mother Disney. Pixar used to be the kings of animation as nearly every movie they put out would practically be guaranteed to be a great movie and a box office monster as at one point they had a streak of nine straight movies make over $200 million at the domestic box office. Recently they've been a bit more spotty that one would like as, since "Toy Story 3" in 2010, the only true classic Pixar they've come up with is "Inside Out," with "Finding Dory" also coming close. But thankfully I'm here to reveal that they've conjured up another huge winner as "Coco" is definitely one of their top tier films.

"Coco" is the story of a young boy named Miguel who is an avid lover of music. The problem with this is that music is banned in his family due to actions of Miguel's great-great-grandfather, a musician who abandoned his family to pursue his music career. That made his great-great-grandmother bitter towards music, so she refused to allow it in her household and the tradition of no music passed down through the generations. This sets up a conflict with young Miguel who has to pick between following his musical career or honoring his family and he is angry at his family for not letting him pursue his music career, so he is leaning towards leaving his family to play his music. Through a series of events, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead during Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, where he has to get the blessing from his ancestors or remain their forever, and they're also wanting him to promise to never play music before they give him their blessing, so this leads us through a rather eventful journey through the Land of the Dead as Miguel tries to resolve this conflict. As far as why the movie is called "Coco," it's actually a very beautiful title for the movie, but I'll let you discover the specific reasons on your own as minor spoilers would be required to elaborate.

The obvious comparison for this movie is the 2014 film "The Book of Life." Some will wonder why Pixar is doing that movie all over again. Now I can't speak for everyone, but I actually wasn't a huge fan of "The Book of Life." I thought it had a very unique animation style that almost made it appear like a stop motion film with toy figurines, even though it was 100 percent computer animation. That's all the movie really had going for it, though. I thought the story was uninspiring and the characters were forgettable. It felt more like a cliché love story with a Day of the Dead backdrop rather than a movie that was focused on honoring Mexican culture by going all in on the Day of the Dead themes of honoring and remembering your ancestors. I didn't hate the movie, but I saw the potential the movie had and was disappointed that it didn't live up to that potential. Thus when I saw Pixar had their own Day of the Dead movie coming up, instead of being confused as to why we were revisiting "The Book of Life," I was extremely excited because I felt like Pixar could actually deliver me the movie that I wanted "The Book of Life" to be. A movie whose sole focus is to go all in on helping all of us remember and respect our ancestors, thus giving us the Day of the Dead that we all deserve.

The reason why I love "Coco" so much is that it ended up being the exact movie that I hoped it would be. This is a very Mexican movie and I mean that in the best way possible. It felt like a movie made by Mexicans that was intended on being released solely in Mexico. I almost felt like it would've been more appropriate to watch the Spanish version of the movie with English subtitles as if this were a foreign film. In fact, while typing this review I've been listening to the "Coco" soundtrack on Apple Music, which has all the English songs and the Spanish songs. I think I like the Spanish version of the songs better than the English versions that I can understand because they are just so pretty. Now I'm certainly not an expert on Mexican culture and tradition, even though I have plenty of Mexican friends. What I do know is that this movie was released in Mexico on October 27, shortly before Day of the Dead, and is now the highest grossing movie ever in Mexico, passing the previous record set by "The Avengers." I've also read reactions from people there who have praised the movie for doing a beautiful job of honoring their culture. So I feel confident in declaring that this movie does indeed do a beautiful job of honoring this great culture and tradition even though I'm not an expert.

Continuing this Mexican theme, as I went and re-read my review of "The Book of Life," one thing that I noted in that review is that a good portion of the cast were American and it seemed like they were also dumbing down this holiday for an American audience by spending a while explaining what this holiday was while being nervous to immerse themselves too much, as if they would lose their American audiences that the movie seemed intended for. This is definitely not the case here in "Coco" as they dive right into this holiday and these themes without spending any time explaining the holiday, as if they already know that their target audience is well aware of the holiday. And just by looking at the names of the cast members on IMDb, I'd be willing to guess that most of the cast are either Mexican or have Mexican heritage, which I think is a good thing. Sometimes Hollywood feels the need to cast American actors to play or voice foreign people as if they wouldn't make money otherwise. Then we have cries of white washing throughout the internet. Even though I think people go a little overboard with these complaints, it is nice when a movie that's intending to honor a culture actually uses actors who represent that culture. That makes a big difference.

Going back to my American perspective on this movie, I don't think you need to have a vast knowledge of Day of the Dead or Mexican culture to love and appreciate this movie. I feel that the themes of family unity are universal, thus I feel that everyone can relate to the messages portrayed here. The kid Miguel in this movie can represent all of us as we are sometimes frustrated with things that are family has done or is doing to us. Yet despite this, we can learn through the eyes of Miguel the importance of family as he learns these very lessons through this journey in the Land of the Dead. Even more specifically, we can learn to love and respect our family members that went before us. Thus the movie teaches lessons of genealogy and family history work. We may know the stories of our parents or grandparents, but how far back do we know? Are there some ancestors that are in risk of being forgotten? If so, what are we going to do to remember them? This is the purpose of the Day of the Dead holiday and these are the themes that "Coco" drives home as our main kid tries figure out how to properly balance his priorities in his life of following his dream and honoring and remembering his family. These are powerful lessons that were very inspiring to me.

When it comes to animated films, often the stereotype is that these movies are for kids. Yet I think we all know that when it comes to Pixar, their absolute best movies are the ones that resonate just as equally, if not more, with the adults than the kids. Movies like "Toy Story 3" and "Inside Out" are fun enough for the kids, but the themes present are ones that are better understood and appreciated by the adults watching the film. I honestly think this is exactly where "Coco" stands. There's enough in here to grab the kids' attention and help them have fun, but if you're going to "Coco," you're not going to so that your kids can have a fun time at the theater. You're going for your own personal enjoyment while hoping that your kids enjoy the film as well. In fact, if I were to pick a side for this movie, I'd say this movie is more for adults and less for kids. And in true Pixar fashion, "Coco" does an absolutely beautiful job at tugging at your heartstrings. If Pixar movies in the past have made you cry, then don't leave your box of tissues at home for this one because you're going to need them. And then you're going to go home with a new or renewed desire to research your own ancestors and learn of their stories so that they won't be forgotten for future generations.

In summary, "Coco" does everything that we've come to expect from a Pixar movie. The reason why I've been so harsh on recent Pixar movies such as "Cars 2," "Cars 3," "The Good Dinosaur" and "Monsters University" is that I know what Pixar is capable of and I thus I have a very high bar for them when I go into a new Pixar movie. While that might seem unfair, movies like "Inside Out" and now "Coco" prove to me that it's OK to have these high expectations because Pixar is still capable of meeting them. In terms of where "Coco" ranks among the Pixar classics, I'm having a tough time figuring out a specific ranking in my head just because Pixar has made so many good movies and this is their 19th feature-length film, and this will be the 15th one that I think is really good. What I'm more comfortable with at this point is separating these movies into categories. In the top category that I would label as Pixar classics, I currently have "Toy Story 3," "Toy Story," "The Incredibles," "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo," "Inside Out" and "Up." "Coco" will now join that group. That should make you excited. The only reason I'm not giving it a perfect score is that it took a bit getting started and is slightly predictable. That said, the grade that I'm settling with for now for "Coco" is a 9/10.

P.S. - Before you get treated to this new Pixar classic that is "Coco," you will be subjected to a 21-minute short film called "Olaf's Frozen Adventure." This will be a good time to go to the bathroom, stretch your legs, go buy some concessions or whatever it is you do to prepare yourself for a movie because this little holiday short film is way too long and really annoying. And this is coming from someone who still really likes "Frozen," despite the fact that it has become the cool thing to hate the movie. I like the two story arcs that Anna and Elsa go through. I like our side characters, including the normally hilarious Olaf. And I really enjoy the music. And I respect the fact that it has become this young generation's version of "The Lion King." And I didn't even mind our little "Frozen Fever" short film in front of 2015's "Cinderella." But this short film made me want to melt Olaf and banish Anna and Elsa to a deserted island. I don't think this is indicative of how "Frozen 2" will turn out because I think Disney's main team of animators and writers will take special care of that one. But if I'm wrong and it is, we are all in trouble. Perhaps your young girls will enjoy seeing their favorite characters again, but for me I was really just wanting "Coco" to start. Fair warning.

Mudbound Review

We live in an age where Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services are changing the way we do movies and TV. I don't review everything I watch on Netflix. For the most part I use that for my own personal entertainment while occasionally throwing something up on Facebook or Twitter about what I watched. In fact, that's exactly what I was going to do for this movie. But as I started typing up my "quick thoughts" on Facebook, I realized there was a lot to say here, so I might as well turn this into a full review. "Mudbound" is a movie that you will see with the official title of a Netflix original film, but the true story is that this has been a popular festival movie this year as it initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, followed by showings in several big film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Along the way it's picked up a lot of momentum heading into awards season with solid reviews from critics and festival goers. Netflix and Amazon have been going to the festivals the last few years and have been buying the rights to films like these. "Mudbound" was Netflix's major purchase this year, as they beat out the likes of A24 and Annapurna for distribution rights. And they're giving it a heavy push for awards.

The movie is based off the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan and is set in rural Mississippi around the time frame of World War II. Henry McAllan, played by Jason Clarke, has purchased a farm and moves his family there, despite the fact that his wife Laura, played by Carey Mulligan, was never really a fan of this idea. She was enjoying her life as a domestic house wife. In fact, she was never really madly in love with him in the first place, but married him anyways for various reasons. But she accepts the change and they move in, working on his dream of becoming farmers. Moving in with them is Henry's violently racist father, played by Jonathan Banks from "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." This you know is going to cause major issues given that tenants on this farm are the black family, Hap and Florence Jackson, played by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, along with their kids. Along with this, we have the beginning of the United States' involvement in World War II, instigated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Henry's brother Jamie, played by Garrett Hedlund, as well as the Jackson son Ronsel, played by Jason Mitchell, go off to war and become friends when they get back as they bond over war experiences and both try to integrate back into normal life.

If this sounds super complex, it's really not. This is just a really long movie, clocking in at 134 minutes. The movie does follow a narrative structure that I'm not a huge fan of. We start at the end of the story, tease something major and intense, then jump back to the beginning and spend the rest of the story building up to that point. This is something that a lot of TV shows that I watch do frequently and while it occasionally works, I mostly am tired of it as I don't think it's a structure that's super effective. I get the idea of teasing audiences, thus putting them on the edge of their seats as they intensely watch the story unfold, eager to learn how we get to that point and how everything is going to be resolved. And maybe the filmmakers thought that this was important because a lot of nothing happens following that intro. But I'd rather have the element of surprise in my story. In this situation, we have yet another story about racism on a farm or a plantation in our country's history and thus I already knew that something bad was going to happen. Thus the only thing that teasing me at the beginning ended up accomplishing was giving me vital clues that ended up helping me piece together exactly what was going to happen once we got into the meat of the story.

That narrative structure, though, was more of a minor annoyance for me. If the rest if the movie was an epic, important masterpiece, I would've been able to forgive the movie. I think the bigger issue for me is that while watching this movie, I felt like I had seen this exact movie done a hundred times before. There's a lot of movies about racism and slavery on the farm/plantation scene, thus if we're going to do it again, the movie needs to do something to separate itself from the crowd. "Mudbound" certainly isn't a bad movie, but I don't think it has the element of uniqueness needed for me to recommend that this is a must-see for educational purposes that can teach us about the horrific things that happened in the past while applying said themes to the present day where racism is still a huge issue. Instead I kept feeling while watching that this was a less important, less intense version of "12 Years a Slave." The big differences being that this is in the 1940's, not the 1800's, and the black family on the farm in "Mudbound" are there on their own free will as opposed to being slaves. Outside that, these are two very similar movies. If I'm being honest, "12 Years a Slave" is the movie I would recommend you seeing while "Mudbound" is one that's not necessary.

The other major problem with "Mudbound" is the pacing of the movie. This is a movie that is 134 minutes long. And while I'm not inherently opposed to long movies, the aforementioned "12 Years a Slave" is the exact same length, if you're going to go long, you need to justify your run time. Whatever time you need to properly tell your story, take it. "Mudbound" is a movie that has this intriguing opening scene, but then spends 110 minutes of its 134 minute run time building up to this moment. We spend a lot of time learning about both families, spend time with both Jamie and Ronsel off at war, spend time with them as they become friends afterwards, and through it all I'm thinking that this could've been at least 30 minutes shorter. Or maybe the big moment could've happened halfway through the movie instead of towards the end, then we could've stretched that part out a bit to give the movie more balance. Or something like that. Point is we had a really long movie that spent most of its run time building up to the final sequence without having a whole ton of drama or intensity in the process. It could've used a bit more polishing somewhere in order to capture my attention for the entire movie instead of just during that final act.

What helps the movie out is solid acting across the board. I did a lot of name-dropping of actors playing each role in that second paragraph and I did that because all of them deserve a mention. If this movie does get love during the awards season, the voters will have a lot of performances to choose from. If the Oscars had a category for best ensemble cast, that would be the most appropriate place to award this movie. A few of the pre-cursors do have that and I hope they include. But for the major awards shows that leave that category out, we instead have to play this game of who are we going to nominate. My choice is Jason Mitchell as Ronsel followed closely by Garrett Hedlund as Jamie. While the movie is about a lot of characters, I would contend it's mainly about these two and both of these characters are the ones who have the best story arcs. Mitchell and Hedlund both do a great job of selling their roles so that you buy this relationship and have strong emotional connections when they are put through heavy criticisms for  simply being friends. My third choice would be Jonathan Banks for his despicable villainous turn which would then be followed by Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan all on even levels behind those three.

I will conclude that, while the movie suffers from these pacing issues and doesn't set itself apart from the crowd of films that touch on this subject matter, the final act in the movie is done well enough to sell me to the positive side when it comes to this review. Given that the movie spoils itself enough with that opening sequences, I'm going to stay far away from spoilers here and thus not tell you much of these positives. I will simply say that the aforementioned acting from everyone involved does a great job of adding to the emotional weight of that final act. I also won't talk about the themes in the movie that you are left with once the final credits roll, but those are also satisfying enough to make me pleased with the final result of the film. And I loved the song that was playing during those credits. Thus in summary, it's hard to pinpoint this movie down and give it one definitive grade. Perhaps if I've made you curious enough, you can sit down and find out for yourself? You don't have to find a theater or pay for a ticket. If you have a Netflix account this is a free watch that you can stop at any time if you decide it's not your thing. But for me, when I weigh the strong positives with the concerning negatives, I think a fair overall grade for "Mudbound" would be a 7/10.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Justice League Review

Well here's a big one. Our live-action film adaptation of "Justice League" has finally arrived! I don't think people fully understand how marquee of a moment this is for DC fans like myself, so let me repeat that. Our live-action film adaptation of "Justice League" has finally arrived! These characters have been around since the early- to mid-1900's and I'm sure there's been some people in Hollywood trying to figure out how to make this happen at least since Richard Donner's 1978 "Superman" and Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" became huge hits and revolutionized the comic book era. I definitely know there were a lot of talks and plans throughout the 2000's that caused the movie to almost happen. But nevertheless, the stars never aligned and our "Justice League" movie never happened. But thanks to the enormous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and especially "The Avengers" in 2012, the fire was rekindled to finally make "Justice League" happen. And needless to say it's been one heck of a bumpy road as DC impatiently and foolishly attempts to catch up with Marvel, but nevertheless we've arrived. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are fighting alongside each other and I'm a very happy man!

I'm sure you don't need this speech again, especially since you just got it two weeks ago from my "Thor: Ragnarok" review, but I don't participate in this Marvel vs. DC war. I'm a fan of comic book movies and thus I will love and support any comic book movie that is done well, regardless of which studio it came from. On the other hand, I am not afraid to criticize a comic book that doesn't live up to its potential. I'm not going to salivate all over myself when another Marvel movie is presented to me and I'm not going to rail on every DC movie just because that seems to be the cool thing to do at the moment. It just so happens that Marvel has done a much better job recently at making quality films as they have their formula for success down pat while DC has stumbled all over themselves as they try to catch up and figure out their identity. But truth be told, I actually have more of an affinity towards the DC characters, which is why I was furious at Zack Snyder for taking a dump on Superman with "Man of Steel." It's also the reason why I wasn't quite as harsh as some on "Batman v. Superman" and "Suicide Squad" because I saw rays of hope from both. Lastly, I beamed about "Wonder Woman" because they finally got it right. That was classic DC entertainment there.

As pertaining to "Batman v. Superman" and "Suicide Squad," let's do a quick recap. "Batman v. Superman" was DC's catch-up movie. I actually loved the individual elements that happened in that movie, but I was frustrated because it was DC cramming in five movies at once instead of having the patience to properly set up "Justice League" like Marvel did with "The Avengers." With "Suicide Squad," I wasn't in love with what they did with the story and I think Enchantress was a big joke as a villain, albeit not Cara Delevingne's fault for the record, but I did love the characters they set up and the performances from the actors playing those characters. Specifically I think Will Smith and Margot Robbie nailed Deadshot and Harley Quinn respectively and I can't wait for those characters to return in the future. And shocker, I actually did like Jared Leto's Joker. I just thought he was underutilized and thus wasn't given the opportunity to prove his worth. Instead of being there solely to setup Harley Quinn's character, I think he should've also been the main villain of the movie. So yeah, neither movie was perfect, but both movies showed me that there is hope for the future of this franchise. If they can get the proper screenwriters and directors, they can totally make this work.

So let's look at these directors and analyze. Why did "Wonder Woman" work? Because they found a director in Patty Jenkins who showed the perfect level of expertise to make that character and story work. Not only did Jenkins get the character of Wonder Woman right, but she also nailed the tone, the feel and the themes that should be present in a DC film, thus making "Wonder Woman" the classic DC film that we've all been waiting for. With that success behind DC, I think they can learn from that and hire the correct team of writers and directors that can make these movies work so that DC can replicate the success of "Wonder Woman" with the likes of Batman, Aquaman, the Flash and others. Because it's those screenwriters and directors that have been the problem in the past. With "Suicide Squad" it was evident that David Ayer wasn't quite the right man as his expertise is dark, gritty, R-rated movies and DC wouldn't let him make the movie he wanted to make. With "Batman v. Superman" and "Man of Steel," it's quite evident that Zack Snyder simply doesn't know how to make great movies. And that conversation is important moving forward with the rest of this review because guess who was again in charge of "Justice League"?

But let's slam on the brakes real quick. I think Zack Snyder is a good, humble human being. It took a lot of guts for him to walk on stage at Comic Con shortly after the epic failure in the eyes of many that was "Batman v. Superman" in order to showcase what he had in store for "Justice League." Comic book fans there booed him when he stepped on stage. But he took it and showcased "Justice League" anyways, which caused fans to have a change of heart as they went from booing to cheering. I think that shows that Zack Snyder is trying to improve and be better. But he's simply not the right man for the job. Yet that leads me to have to be somewhat sensitive because of the tragic situation where Zack Snyder's daughter committed suicide earlier this year, causing Snyder to step down from "Justice League" to spend time with family, leading Joss Whedon to step to the plate to finish what Snyder started. Thus in an unfortunate turn of events, Joss Whedon can now put on his resume that he directed or helped direct both "The Avengers" and "Justice League." But lest you think Whedon threw Snyder's movie in the trash and started over, allow me to inform you that this is still Snyder's film that Whedon finished, which I think was the right decision in this scenario.

With the knowledge behind us that this is still Snyder's film and not Whedon's, I think we have to give props to Snyder for making what might be his best film. I'm not going to give credit to Whedon for making this feel like an Avengers movie. I think this was Snyder's vision based on how morbidly he was attacked by fans after his last two films. Yet there is still some glaring Zack Snyder problems that holds this movie back. One of these problems is Snyder's over-reliance in CGI and special effects. I think he cares more about his big, epic action sequences than he does about giving us a good story to work with. Thus the story here is really thin, which is the exact opposite problem he had with "Batman v. Superman," which had way too many different story arcs that he tried to weave in. In both situations it's evident that he can't find the happy medium. He doesn't know how to tell a proper story. In "Justice League," Steppenwolf has come to wreak havoc on Earth as he tries to usher in the reign of Darkseid, thus our heroes have to band together to stop Steppenwolf and his army of giant metallic bugs, which reminded me of robot versions of the flying monkeys from "Wizard of Oz." That's kind of it. Thus we set the stage for a bunch of Zack Snyder action sequences.

And, oh yeah. Superman is dead. Yes, I just spoiled "Batman v. Superman" for you. But if you haven't watched that yet, were you really planning on it? If you're wanting to go see this movie without seeing "Batman v. Superman," you were going to learn that within the first five seconds anyways. And the movie will continue to remind you relentlessly to make sure you don't forget. I was like, I get it movie. Superman died. He got killed by Doomsday at the end of our previous movie. But did anyone really believe he was going to stay dead? Now I won't spoil this movie. Maybe he shows up here. Maybe he shows up in the next "Justice League" movie. Maybe he shows up in the end credits. I won't tell you. But Superman is going to show up at some point and all that I'll say here is that the death of Superman is a great story arc in the DC comics that these two movies combined have really dropped the ball. Much of the drama in "Justice League" is how the world and our remaining heroes deal with the aftereffects of him dying. Due to Warner Bros. demanding that this movie stay two hours or less, those studio mandates are another thing that hurts this movie as I could've used 20-30 minutes more of development that was cut short. Because yeah, this movie feels a bit rushed.

What did make this movie work were the characters and their camaraderie as a team. We've already seen Batman and Wonder Woman in this universe and we all knew that they were great. Despite the hatred towards the casting of Ben Affleck, he did a great job in "Batman v. Superman" of proving everyone wrong by being an awesome Batman. Yes, I'll remind you that I defended him from day one. But he again doesn't disappoint. Batman is awesome in this movie as he tries to rally the troops to stop this evil force. Wonder Woman is also great as she works as his partner in crime to also recruit these people. But again, we knew that these two would be awesome. The big question is how would the other three fit into this movie? We haven't yet seen the on-screen cinema incarnations of the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Being that this movie is only two hours long by studio mandates and has Zack Snyder spending plenty of time on his action sequences and special effects, the introduction of these three characters could've been a disaster, but somehow Zack Snyder managed to make it all work. I walked out of the movie wanting to see more of the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg because they were all great characters.

Lucky for us, we'll got Aquaman here fairly soon as his movie comes towards the end of next year and I'm confident that James Wan, director of "Furious 7" and a bunch of good horror films, will work his magic there. But I really love how they made Aquaman macho and manly. He's an awesome character in this movie, which is good because he's kind of a joke in the comics. I don't know when we're getting movies from the other two, but I want to take a moment to talk about Ezra Miller's version of the Flash, because I've been nervous about his introduction simply because I'm a huge fan of the TV version played by Grant Gustin. While not without its flaws, the CW has done a great job of bringing that character to life in a really entertaining TV show. And now four seasons into the TV show, we're just going to start over and try to get people to care about the Flash again on the big screen? How are we going to do that without the obvious comparison to the TV show? The answer is that they need to ignore the TV show to a certain extent and do their own thing. And they've done just that. Ezra Miller's Flash is quite a bit different than Grant Gustin's, which is why I feel I will be able to see and enjoy both characters separately as they are great for different reasons.

Since I've already gone really long in this review, I won't dive into any more specific details regarding Grant Gustin vs. Ezra Miller like I initially wanted to. Instead I'll let you find out on your own. Quickly about Cyborg, I knew close to nothing about him going in, but left the movie really intrigued and impressed with his character. All in all, these five superheroes coming together really helped me enjoy this movie because all five of them are perfectly cast and have great on-screen chemistry. I was sold with the drama among them as they were trying to figure out what they were going to do and I was entertained by the action sequences as they worked together to stop Steppenwolf and his metal bugs. Thus despite a story that really didn't exist and a villain in Steppenwolf that was as empty and hollow as they come, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit and I became really excited for the future of all these characters. This reminded me of a good pilot episode to what has the potential to be an epic series. I may not return to this specific movie too much in the future, but I'm excited for the direction that DC is heading. So go see this movie and enjoy the ride. And make sure to stay for all of the credits because epic things happen there. My grade for "Justice League" is an 8/10.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express Review

It was a surprisingly lucrative weekend at the box office this past weekend as both "Daddy's Home 2" and "Murder on the Orient Express" defied poor to mediocre reviews to cash in around $30 million each. I use the word surprising as this is the weekend in between two major blockbusters with "Thor Ragnarok" making a huge splash in the first weekend of November while "Justice League" awaits us this upcoming weekend. Usually the movies sandwiched between don't perform that well. But both "Daddy's Home 2" and "Murder on the Orient Express" were able to provide some counter-programming for audiences that perhaps are a little burnt out on the superhero stuff. Studio expectations and official projections were around $20 million for both movies, thus is why the $30 million is a definite win for both. As far as the poor to mediocre reviews go, based on my review of "Daddy's Home 2," you would probably guess that I think the 16 percent this movie scored is a bit generous. You'll learn with this review that, on the contrary, I think the 58 percent that "Murder on the Orient Express" scored is a tad bit too low. I have my theories as to why not everyone was madly in love with this movie, but I personally found it to be a solidly entertaining film.

If we take a second to closely examine Rotten Tomatoes for a second, I think that 58 percent is not actually as bad of a score as some might think. It's sometimes easy to see a score that's less than 70 percent and immediately declare that critics hated the movie. In reality, I'd say that anything that's between 40 percent and 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes should be classified as mixed reviews. The percentage you see on Rotten Tomatoes literally means the percent of certified Rotten Tomatoes critics that gave the movie a positive review. Barely positive counts as positive. That means that you could theoretically have 95 percent of critics claiming the movie was just OK and the movie would still get that 95 percent score. You could also theoretically have 50 percent of critics describe the movie as the best movie ever made while the other 50 percent weren't quite as enthralled and the movie would get that 50 percent score. So if you see a movie like "Murder on the Orient Express" in the 50 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes, that doesn't mean skip it because everyone hates the movie. It literally means there is not a consensus, so you should go in and find out for yourself if it was a movie that you were excited for because you just might be part of the positive group.

I don't usually spend so much time talking about the reviews of the film. More often than not I will look at the scores on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and other places as more of a curiosity thing and then proceed to give you my review despite all of that. But in this instance I think the fact that this movie lands in the 50 percent range goes to show that, in this instance, personal preference will play a major key in whether you will like this movie or not. "Murder on the Orient Express" is very much an old-fashioned murder mystery with modern-day visual effects. My honest opinion is that I simply think this is a genre that not everyone takes to. There's a lot of movies that pay homage to classic film, but not a ton of them that actually feel like a classic film. I imagine this was a very specific stylistic choice from director Kenneth Branagh. He could've chosen to do a modern adaptation of this story, using something like "Snowpiercer" as inspiration, which was a very intense, high-octane thriller from a few years ago that also took place on a train. And perhaps that's what we would've gotten if a David Fincher type of director got their hands on this material. But I think Branagh simply wanted to make an old-fashioned detective movie and so he went for it.

If you look at the rest of Branagh's filmography, it kinda makes sense that he would go this direction with a classic Agatha Christie novel. While not all of his movies have worked out in the eyes of critics or the general public, he definitely has a type as he started with "Henry V" in 1989 and proceed to direct movies such as "Much Ado About Nothing," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," "A Midwinter's Tale" and "Hamlet" in the 90's. A lot of Shakespeare in there with a classic Mary Shelley tale thrown in as well. Even with his most recent film prior to "Murder on the Orient Express," it makes sense that he would take a very safe, classic approach to Disney's live action "Cinderella" from 2015, a movie that a lot of my friends really loved because of how true it stayed to Cinderella's story. You can even look at the original "Thor" from 2011 and see a lot of Branagh's classic elements to it. He likes taking classic material and doing his best to turn them into classic films made in the modern-day. Again, it doesn't work out every time for him. But in this instance I think he nailed the tone of this movie. We obviously have a lot of mystery and suspense with this, but the intensity level is purposely toned down in favor of some classic dialogue-centered detective work.

You may have noticed in this review a lack of my typical plot description that I usually include in the second paragraph of my reviews. I've purposely omitted that as I don't want to talk about the plot of this movie. If you're familiar with Agatha Christie's 1930's novel and/or the 1974 film adaptation, you already know the plot of this movie anyways. If you are like me and you very much enjoy old-fashioned detective movies, but you aren't familiar with this specific story, then I don't want to tell you the plot because you should go in knowing as little as possible. But if you need it, there's been a murder. On the Orient Express. Shocker!!! Kenneth Branagh, who I've already talked about a lot as the director of this film, also doubles as the movie's lead star, detective Hercule Poirot. And he's doing his best to solve this thing. Being very well aware several months ago that this movie was heading our way, I debated in my head as to whether I wanted to familiarize myself with the source material. I ended up making the conscience decision not to, deciding instead to go into this movie blind. I think it's quite possible that this decision played a factor in my personal enjoyment of the film as I had a lot of fun trying to solve this mystery along with Hercule Poirot.

On those lines, I think there's two key elements into my personal enjoyment of any detective movie like this: the journey and the payoff. In terms of the journey of this film, this had me fully invested for the entire run time, much like most Sherlock Holmes stories do. I had a ton of fun putting on my metaphorical detective hat and turning my brain, making my best effort to pay attention to every character and every detail so that I could solve this mystery. What made this so fun was that there were so many characters to sift through and remember, that include, but aren't limited to, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh God, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley. And those are just the names on the poster. There are other characters not listed on that poster and a whole host of side characters that make small cameos that I tried to pay attention to. We aren't clued in on any of their backstories at all going in. The only time we learn about them is when Kenneth Branagh is learning about them through his interviews, conversations and detective work. The movie was very dialogue-heavy, but I wasn't bored. I was doing my best to listen and remember so that I could figure out my own suspects.

Did I solve the mystery? No, I actually didn't. Did I have my premonitions? Not really. I was quite surprised with the results. Is that the reason why I enjoyed this, because they successfully kept me in the dark? No, I don't think so. I don't usually judge my experience with these detective movies based on whether or not I solved the mystery myself. I think a better judge to these movies is how does the story hold up when you go back through it a second time, whether that be in your mind or on a re-watch. No, I haven't watched the movie a second time, but I did spend the weekend thinking about it as I didn't have time on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to write my review after seeing this movie Friday evening. In general, if the enjoyment of a movie is hinged on the twist ending or the surprise, I think that's a bit of a precarious situation as there's a risk that the movie is no longer enjoyable a second time through. Thus the best mystery films are the ones that have a well-thought out story with great characters and great motivations. Even though I'm not yet familiar with the source material here, I can make a good guess as to why it's stood the test of time. I found the conclusion of this movie to be very satisfying and emotional with some great themes in place.

That's all I'm going to say about this movie. I could dive into the themes, but that would spoil the movie. Just know that they made me ponder and think more than your average murder mystery. This is a movie that's not hinged solely on the fun, whodunit that you play while watching. I predict that this will have the rewatchability factor, even though I have not yet watched it a second time. I could also talk a lot about the acting here, but I feel like if I singled out the actors or actresses that did a good job in this movie that it would clue you into who are the major characters, so I'm going to avoid that. I do feel comfortable saying that Kenneth Branagh did a great job as Hercule Poirot since it's his vantage point that we are seeing this movie from. I will also add that there are some fantastic acting performances from various cast members. Once you've seen the movie, you can come talk to me and I will share with you who those were. But for now, I will leave that a mystery. When push comes to shove, "Murder on the Orient Express" is a movie where you have to ask yourself if you enjoy old-fashioned detective movies. If they're not your thing, then you don't need to bother with this movie. But if you eat them up, then definitely go see this one. My grade for the movie is a solid 8/10.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daddy's Home 2 Review

I didn't review "Daddy's Home" on this blog. Because I didn't see it. Not until yesterday, anyways. You see, "Daddy's Home" looked so stupid and I didn't want to deal with it. Yes, I see bad movies all the time in order to warn people to steer clear, but "Daddy's Home" just had awful timing for me. Not only did it come out around Christmas time, it also came out at almost the exact same time as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." So not only did I not want to leave family during Christmas in order to see a dumb movie like "Daddy's Home," but every time during that holiday season that I did want to escape to the theaters, why in the heck would I go see "Daddy's Home" when I could simply go see "The Force Awakens" again? Seemed like a no-brainer. Once the holiday season was over, it was too late for me to care. So it never happened. But unfortunately that movie made an insane amount of money for how dumb it looked ($150.4 million domestically and $242.8 million worldwide), so because we live in 2017, that means sequel. Joy. Because who in the fetch wants a "Daddy's Home 2"? Not me. But in order for this franchise to stop haunting me, I bit the bullet and watched BOTH movies over the course of the last 24 hours. And now I'm here to complain.

The premise of "Daddy's Home" was that Will Ferrell is a stepdad with a seemingly perfect wife whose two kids absolutely hate him, despite his best efforts to be the best father figure he can. Right when he thinks he's starting to make some progress, their actual father, played by Mark Wahlberg, arrives and essentially derails all of that progress. While Wahlberg was one of the worst husbands and a really despicable human being, hence the divorce, he's nearly the perfect father as he spoils these kids to no other. And Will Ferrell doesn't quite have the heart or the confidence to simply kick him out, especially considering how cunning Wahlberg is. This leads to a 96 minute brawl between these two that isn't making wife too terribly happy with either one. But in the end the somehow manage to work things out and live happily ever after as co-dads while Wahlberg moves into the castle next door with his new supermodel wife and Will Ferrell stays at home with the kids and his wife. That's the first movie. Turns out in the second movie we learn that it wasn't quite a happily ever after as we continue the fight, this time adding two more dads into the mix, Walberg and Ferrell's dads, played by Mel Gibson and John Lithgow. Lots of dads. Lots of problems. And lots of headaches for me.

When it comes to the first movie, which I won't spend a ton of time on, my biggest question was who is the audience of the movie and what style were they trying to go with it? If they wanted to make a gag-filled, slapstick comedy for families, then fine. I can respect that, so long as it makes the younger kids laugh. On the other hand, if they wanted to go all out and make a raunchy comedy for adults, then fine. I probably would skip it because I hate raunchy comedies, but if the target audience loved it, then it's whatever. But it seemed like they couldn't decide which audience to appease and ended up with a PG-13 comedy that is way too dirty for family audiences, yet way too stupid and juvenile for adults. Thus the movie wanders in limbo or purgatory in my opinion as it's not able to please anyone. Thus I'm shocked at how much money it ended up making. On a similar note, the filmmakers also also couldn't decide what tone to give the movie. If they wanted it to be a serious drama about the struggles that stepdads have in raising their wives' children, it was way too unrealistic and over-the-top. If they wanted it to be an outright, ridiculous comedy filled with nonsensical slapstick humor, then the movie took itself way too seriously.

Unsurprisingly, "Daddy's Home 2" suffered from similar problems. Who is this movie for? Thankfully they toned down all the raunchy humor in this movie, as if they wanted to make a Christmas movie for families. But it still earns its PG-13 rating and thus I don't think this is a movie that kids would enjoy or should be taken to by parents, especially not when several other actual family friendly movies are heading their way into theaters this holiday. On the flip-side, are adults really going to go to this movie and find it funny? All of the humor crammed in is almost literally cut and paste from the first movie. In the first movie, Will Ferrell tries to ride a motorcycle and epicly fails with him crashing in the house with the motorcycle smashing the family van. In this second movie, Will Ferrell goes similarly berserk with a snowblower that leaves him hurt with the snowblower ending up on the family van. In the first movie, Will Ferrell got electrocuted will riding a skateboard. In this movie, Will Ferrell gets electrocuted when he cuts down a cellphone tower that he thinks is a Christmas tree. That's just two examples. Most of the gags are similarly identical, as if the writers cared more about their quick cash grab then trying to make a funny movie.

So yeah. The slapstick humor is the type of humor that I think is only really funny for young kids. Adults aren't going to laugh at it. Especially not when it's all copied and pasted from the first movie. But yet this is not a kids movie, so if they were targeting towards an adult audience, why not go all in and make a comedy that adults will actually laugh at? I personally don't think you need to have a ton of raunchy humor in order to make adults laugh, but if a movie wants to go that direction, then commit. I personally would say that, regardless of rating, adults normally prefer comedy that is clever and well-written. Surprisingly, though, I think a bigger problem with this sequel is the absolute lack of focus with the story. The first movie came out during Christmas, but is not really a Christmas movie. This movie comes out ahead at the beginning of the holiday season and is definitely an attempt at a Christmas movie. On paper, the idea of making a Christmas movie where the whole family gets together in an attempt to have a giant, happy Christmas party is a great idea. There can be a lot of humor with the clashing personalities and the outright insanity that the holiday season can bring, but the execution of that premise in this movie is absolutely atrocious.

Our recent "Thor: Ragnarok" movie proved that it actually is possible to take a whole host of characters and story arcs and weave it together into one beautiful movie, if you have good writing and good directing. What "Daddy's Home 2" proves is that it is very easy to take a ton of characters and a ton of story arcs and deliver a complete train wreck when your writing and directing is completely putrid. No, I didn't like the first movie. But at least it was somewhat focused in terms of story. It was Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg fighting to prove that each were the better dad for their kids. This movie continues that battle of Ferrell vs. Wahlberg, but also adds in Wahlberg's relationship with his dad, Will Ferrell's relationship with his dad, those two grandpa's reactions to everyone, Ferrell's wife and her battle with Wahlberg's wife, the drama between Ferrell's and Wahlberg's shared kids, the drama between Wahlberg and his stepdaughter, the battle between Wahlberg as a stepdad himself fighting John Cena as the perfect dad to his daughter as well as every other webbed relationship with everyone towards everyone else. If that was a confusing paragraph to read, just imagine all of that and more trying to be balanced on screen.

And the story. I mean, what story? Outside the attempts to try and balance all of these relationships, there is no real story. They're all celebrating a week or so together as a giant family during Christmas time. That's the story. We just move on from one gag to another gag to another gag to one random story arc to another random story arc to another random story arc, most of which had no relevance to the story as a whole. They were just all horrible attempts at humor that felt like the writers had no idea where they were going, but instead felt like there were 50 writers all contributing one scene that they thought would be funny. And remember what I said about the first movie not being able to decide if it wanted to be an all-out comedy or a drama. Yeah, same here. This is too unrealistic and insane to have any dramatic weight while also being way too serious for audiences to sit back and enjoy the movie as a crazy popcorn flick. Just multiply this by 100 with how many stories and characters the movie was trying to weave in. If you've ever watched a construction crew implode an old building, causing it to crumble and disintegrate into a pile of rubble and dust, that's what I felt like watching this movie. It was a bad idea that got worse as it went along.

I don't even blame the actors for this one. Will Ferrell got to be Buddy the Elf again, albeit a horrible impression of Buddy the Elf. Yet I think he had fun. John Lithgow definitely looked like he was having fun as Will Ferrell's equally as crazy father. Mark Wahlberg did his best as the movie was crumbling around him. Mel Gibson got to be Mel Gibson for the whole movie, if you know what I mean. The two wives tried to make their shoehorned parts work. And I can't blame any of the kids for this. Who I can blame is the writers and director for taking all of this talent and turning it into a complete disaster by not making any of it work. This movie doesn't who its target audience is. It doesn't know what type of movie it wants to be, whether dramatic or comedy. I don't think anyone had any idea what direction they were trying to take the story or what to do with the characters. Everything just happened and it was a giant mess. This movie clocks in at 100 minutes long, 20 minutes short of two hours. Yet I thought I was in the theater for nearly three hours. Granted this wasn't the most offensive movie I've watched. It's not a movie that made me super angry. It was just a huge disaster that felt like a complete waste of my time. I'm awarding "Daddy's Home 2" a 3/10.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Only the Brave Review

"Only the Brave" was released back on October 20, the weekend where there were five new wide releases, including "Geostorm," "Boo 2! A Madea Halloween," "The Snowman" and "Same Kind of Different as Me" in addition to "Only the Brave." Of those five, I elected to see "Geostorm," not because I thought it would be good, but I was curious as to how bad it was. Obviously the movie I should've seen was "Only the Brave." And I knew that going into the weekend. I don't know why it took me nearly three weeks to see it. But oh well. Life happens and life moves forward. So here I am with a slightly late review, but this is still in theaters right now and it didn't make much at the box office compared to what it deserved, so if you're like me and you didn't see it opening weekend, then there is still a chance for you to head over to the theaters. If you like disaster movies, then this is definitely one to see. And by disaster movies in this instance, I'm meaning real life disaster movies such as "Deepwater Horizon" or "Everest." The type of disaster movies that tell the story of a horrific event by diving into the lives of the people who experienced that event. Not the fictional "Geostorm" crap made solely to show off some fancy special effects, Michael Bay style.

I don't really know how much I want to say about this event in this review. This is a movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots from Prescott, Arizona and their journey fighting fires a few years back, somewhere in the time frame of 2008 to 2013. I went in knowing exactly what happened to them because I got curious when the movie started being advertised heavily. Knowing the end from the beginning didn't ruin my experience. In fact, I'd say it enhanced it. But in case you have no idea what these men and their families went through, I will be mum about the details this movie is leading up to. I'll just say that this is a movie that dives into the everyday lives of firefighters, specifically a team that is working their hardest to become Hotshots, which, if I have my firefighter terminology from the movie correct, are the group of firefighters fighting at the base of the wildfires who work on controlling the wildfires so that they don't burn major structures or go into the small towns. Sometimes that's easier said than done because nature is an unforgiving beast that is no respecter of persons when its on is mad rampage as we've learned rather well in 2017 with all the hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires that have devastated our world.

The biggest thing that I really loved about this movie is that it gave me a deep appreciation of the firefighters working tirelessly around the globe. These are the group of people that are too often the unsung heroes of our country. I mean, how often to you thank the firefighters for saving countless lives every year or even think of the firefighters? I know I often take them for granted, and I'm sure I'm not the only person on earth who has done so. But they really are national heroes worthy of a ton of praise. This movie does a great job of reminding you of that. It does so by diving deep into the everyday lives of this specific group, showing all the sacrifices they have to make to protect the country. I'm sure it's really hard for the families of the firefighters during fire season due to how often they are gone. There's a lot of personal struggles on both sides in deciding if this is really worth it. How do the wives of these men feel when they are gone so often? They want their husbands around and it's hard living life with them always on the war path against these fires. And what about the kids who never get to see their dads? It's a tough life and a rough balancing act. But then you see them successfully stopping a fire from doing major damage and see that it's all worth it.

Specifically we dive into the lives of two of the crew members, Josh Brolin as the chief of the group and Miles Teller as a brand new recruit. Brolin's been the guy whose done this for many years and he pulls off this role really well. You see him dressed in uniform, leading his crew of people and it just seems like he's been doing this for years and knows exactly what he's doing. The movie also spends a lot of time with him and his wife, played by Jennifer Connelly. This is where we get the family perspective as Connelly has to deal with her husband being gone all the time, especially once they get the promotion as Hotshots. She honestly does a great job of supporting him, fully realizing all the good that he's doing in the world. But oftentimes her human side comes out and you can feel the pain of her not getting to see her husband as much as she wants as she feels his life is 90 percent devoted to fighting the fires and only 10 percent devoted to her. The two of them have amazing on-screen chemistry with each other, which is what makes this relationship and the struggles work. They'll fight for a bit and you feel the tension, but then they'll make up and apologize to each other, which then gives you all the happy feel goods and you really hope they live happily ever after.

On the flip side, we have Miles Teller who is completely unqualified to join this group. He's a druggie and a complete mess. He's not in proper physical shape and you wonder how and why Josh Brolin lets him on the team. Miles Teller joins because he learns that his girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, is pregnant and when she has their child, he has an honest desire to change his life around so that he can support them. Thus he practically begs Josh Brolin to let him on the team, because this is the training he did when he had is life at least somewhat in order. Turns out Brolin lets him on because he sees a lot of himself in Miles Teller and knows this job can save his life if he really commits to it. But the others on the team really hate this decision as they feel Miles Teller is going to hold them back and prevent them from making it as Hotshots. Miles Teller does a great job of playing a punk in his movies, thus he pulls off this druggie kid really well, making you side with the others on the team. But he's also genuinely a really good actor and makes you care more and more for him as the story goes on. Out of all the characters in this movie, Miles Teller is the one that has the best character arc. Him and Brolin play off each other really well in order to make that arc work.

There's also a few other story arcs woven into this movie as this has a rather large cast of notable names. Thus I feel that where this movie really succeeds is in becoming a beautiful character piece, focusing on the lives of these firefighters. Some of these movies based on real natural disasters spend a lot of time focusing on the disaster itself. And in many cases that works really well. This movie spends most of its time on the characters as the fire sequences themselves don't take up a whole lot of time despite this movie being 134 minutes long. While that's a big risk in spending so much time on the characters and not much time on the disaster, by successfully pulling that off, it makes the disaster hit even harder when it comes because you fall in love with all of these characters and you want all of them to survive. Thus the praise here has to be in the acting. Despite great reviews all around (91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 93 percent on Flixter, 8.1 on IMDb), due to Oscar politics, this movie isn't even on the Oscar radar, which is unfortunate. But I honestly think Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller give Oscar-worthy performances. I don't know who I'd personally put in, but the three of them are certainly worthy candidates.

Overall, if you haven't yet seen this movie, I would make it an effort to find a theater and go fix that. If you're not a theater-going person, then this would make an excellent movie night when it comes out on DVD. It's a long movie that spends most of its time developing these characters, but I think that angle worked out really well as we dive deep into the normal, everyday lives of these firefighters, getting an honest look at what it's like living in this profession. It's hard work with a lot of sacrifices needing to be made, but these are people who make a real difference in our lives and are deserving of more praise than they get. I really appreciate this movie for giving me that perspective and making me personally want to make sure to give more credit and appreciation for all of the firefighters around the country. There's solid directing and writing in this film with some fantastic cinematography and genuinely terrifying fire sequences that do a great job of making fire scary, which it is, but really propelling the movie forward are the phenomenal performances from Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly that make this movie work as they make you really care for them and hope for the best, despite knowing what's coming. I will give "Only the Brave" a 9/10.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Stranger Things 2 Review (SPOILERS)

I never reviewed the first season of "Stranger Things" on this blog. Part of that is that I've not been as big on reviewing all the TV shows I watch. I've decided that reviewing things episode by episode is the way to go instead binge reviewing a whole season at the same time. But reviewing every episode of every TV show I watch is simply too time consuming. So I just enjoy my TV on my own and focus this blog on movies, while occasionally throwing out my thoughts on something major like "The Defenders" or "13 Reasons Why." The other reason why I never reviewed the first season of "Stranger Things" is that I was really late to the party. I actually didn't have a Netflix account when it came out. In fact, this is the show that caused me to cave and sign up for Netflix. Yes, I had a Netflix account quite some time ago, but I cancelled it because I just didn't use it much. But now that we live in a day with so many major Netflix original series and movies, it suddenly became a necessary thing to have. So I figured what the heck. I'll give my $10 a month to Netflix so I can be on top of things when something major comes around. Like "Stranger Things 2." Now that the second season has been binged, it's time to finally deliver you my thoughts on this show.

First off, I think it's important to note that when I finally got around to binging the first season of "Stranger Things," I completely ate it up. The mystery and the suspense hooked me from the very first episode and I found that my agency had been completely taken away, causing me to watch the entire season in one sitting. It was quite the marvelous experience. Do I think it was the absolute best show ever given to mankind, causing me to worship the ground the Duffer Brothers walked on? Definitely not. If you hate me for saying that, well then so be it. Be a grinch towards me if you want, but I think that'll be unfair on your part because I really enjoyed my experience. It was a great trip down memory lane that brought to the modern day everything good about Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, mashed into one show. You have the camaraderie of a group of kids bonding together and being kids, like "The Goonies," while something crazy and mysterious happens, like in "IT." In fact, the latter I think is actually the best comparison to "Stranger Things," although we side more on mysteries and thrills rather than outright horror. If you hate horror, you still might like "Stranger Things" because it's really not as scary as something like "IT." For the most part, anyways.

Speaking of which, if you haven't seen "Stranger Things" or "Stranger Things 2," this is about as far as you should go in this review. If you didn't notice by my spoiler tag in the title, I will be discussing spoilers. I'm not going to cover everything in the season, but I'm going to write as if everyone reading has already watched both seasons. You've been warned. When push comes to shove, I think the best way to describe "Stranger Things" is that it's 80's nostalgia vomit at its greatest. I feel it's created by two brothers and their team of writers, directors and producers that absolutely love the 80's and wanted to bring the best of the 80's back to the modern day, which is actually a very popular trend right now that I mostly enjoy. I was born in the final year of the 80's, which means I'm mainly a 90's kid, but as a 90's kid, I couldn't help myself with all the 80's stuff as well as there's a lot of great movies, music and TV shows from the 80's that are absolutely fantastic. Thus seeing that come back in my adult years makes me smile like a giddy, little school kid. Unlike movies such as "Super 8" and the "Ghostbusters" remake, "Stranger Things" is 80's nostalgia vomit that is done to perfection. Not that those two movies are awful. But they don't quite capture the magic.

Now that I've properly buttered you up as to why I think this is a great show that is definitely worth watching if you're a fan of everything 80's, it's time to bring a little bit of honesty to the table because while I love the show as a whole and I was madly in love with the first season, the second season falls a bit short of the first season. While I love getting myself caught up in nostalgia, I don't let myself get completely caught up in the nostalgia as I refuse to claim something is the greatest thing of all time when it quite frankly isn't. The camaraderie of the kids simply isn't as strong. The suspense and the mystery isn't there. The season doesn't grab you and hook you in like I wanted it to. In fact, after watching the first two episodes on the day it was released, instead of having my agency taken away by being forced to watch the whole season in one sitting, I was totally fine with stopping after two episodes to focus on finishing my Halloween movie reviews and Halloween festivities with friends. I went a whole five days without any "Stranger Things" and never once during that period did I have the burning sensation of needed to know what happens next. It wasn't until I got bored following the ending of Halloween that I went back and finished the season.

Jumping into specifics, let's first talk about this camaraderie of this group of kids. Mike is a completely unlikable prick in season 2. I mean, boo hoo, your girlfriend is gone. I'm so sad. Now why don't you stop taking it out on your friends. And why act like a dictator in this group of friends that has all the say in everything? I especially hated his complete stubbornness in not letting Max into their group when she obviously had a whole lot to offer them and proved her worth time and time again. If I were Dustin and Lucas, I would've said, "Screw you Mike. We're going to hang out with Max until you get your head out of the sand." But I did appreciate their loyalty to the group, although both of them could've stood their ground a bit earlier on. Speaking of Dustin, I thought it was really dumb of him to hide the baby Hell Hound (Demidog) from his friends or to keep it as a pet. I mean, did he forget everything about the Upside Down and the Demigorgon from a year ago? Doesn't he know it's a bad idea in this world of theirs to keep mysterious-looking creatures as pets? And after they go on their hunt to find it when it escapes, why in the world does he think it's a great idea to hide the thing from his friends and take it back to his home?

Of the bunch, Lucas is the one that gets his time to shine this season and I loved the addition of Max as the obligatory red-headed girl in their group (another comparison to "IT"). I just could've used a little more effort on Lucas' part to be more headstrong instead of allowing himself to be pushed around by Mike so much. But I do realize that it added a bit to his character arc, though, as he learned how to stand up for himself or be confident around Max. So I can let that slide. And I do realize that these are Middle School aged kids. Doing dumb things and acting like pricks is very normal. I just think the writing of their characters was a bit underwhelming as they did things that didn't seem to make sense for their characters. But the kid actors certainly were fantastic. Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin certainly have bright futures ahead of them. Speaking of writing, though, I think it was another mistake to keep El, or Eleven, or Jane, whatever name we're giving Millie Bobby Brown's character, hidden away in a cabin for most of the season. I'll get to that in a second, though. Finishing off my discussion of the main group of kids, the huge standout was Noah Schnapp as Will. The poor kid can't catch a break on this show, yet the acting there was superb.

The other major complaint I have is the suspense. One of the greatest things about the first season is that it hooked me right from the start with the disappearance of Will into the Upside Down. But since we didn't know the lore yet, the suspense was super high in my mind as I was dying to know what the heck was going on. When we revealed everything about the Demigorgon and the Upside Down, that was a satisfying conclusion to all of it, especially the more we saw from El throughout the season. This season we had El locked in a cabin for most of the season, Will is having flashes to the Upside Down that everyone is confident is PTSD and Dustin finds a baby Hell Hound that he decides to keep as a pet. That didn't hook me. It wasn't bad. I just wanted to be hooked and I wasn't. I did think it was a great moment when Will took the advice from Sean Astin to face his fears head on, because that turned out to be very bad advice, causing Will to get possessed by the Smoke Monster. But that all meant that we were going to be facing the Smoke Monster from "LOST" and the Hell Hounds from "Supernatural" in a finale that I hoped was good? Meanwhile we have El and her X-Men powers to help them if Hopper would let her free.

The fact that all I had was hope that this would turn out well frustrated me a bit because the first season just took off running while the second season had a poor set up that decided to be content with waiting four to six episodes before finally DOING something. It's as if they didn't know they were going to get a second season, so this season they had to start over and set up something completely new instead of continuing where they left off. Luckily for me, that hope paid off because the final three episodes were phenomenal. What really hooked me was that X-Men episode... that apparently everyone hates. I mean, after watching the show, I looked at the episode grades on IMDb and saw a 6.4/10 for episode 7 with a ton of bitter, hate-filled reviews? Say what? That floored me. I think that this was the most important episode of the whole season as El finally decides to stand up to Hopper, who obviously wasn't going to do jack squat outside locking her up in the cabin for the rest of eternity. So she gets out to see the world and teams up with a fun group of outcasts who actually respect and appreciate her. Then we have her Indian sister who is there to teach El how to use her powers. I had been waiting two seasons for that moment and I'm glad it happened.

I also really liked the character arc that El went on during this episode. This group was trying to teach El that she belongs with them because the outside world rejected them. And she fit in so well with them. Quite frankly the little heists they went on during that episode were fun to watch as El and her sister combined their powers together to create quite the team. I was kinda hoping for a few more of these people so that we can have a full-out X-Men team to fight all the monsters from the Upside Down. And maybe we're going that direction in the future. Because Shadow Monster certainly didn't get stopped and it's possible that the Hell Hounds could be back. All we did in this season was close the gate to the Upside Down again, which we learned from the last season doesn't really work. But I'm getting ahead of myself. El could've gone with this team of outcasts, but she makes a great decision that her friends back home needed her. She has the psychic premonitions that they are all in trouble, so she has to make the decision to part ways with her sister, the one person she has come to know as family, to go help her friends back home. Because they need her and might all die without her. It was a powerful moment, yet a sad one as the sisters parted ways.

This leads us to our finale. Which, holy cow! This was super intense. The Hell Hounds have banded together and they are out for blood. When I said earlier that this show is not really horror, but is more mystery and tension, this is where I have to go back on that a bit because the attack of the Hell Hounds definitely does make this pure horror on the level of "IT." Those things are scary and their flower heads with their dog bodies make the creature design look freaking awesome. I roll my eyes a bit that the big reveal with this show is that it's just monsters attacking the city from a different realm and nothing more, but these are well-designed monsters that are legitimately terrifying, so it works. And the sequences in the lab with the Hell Hounds were probably the most terrifying sequences in this show thus far. The fact that this show has the guts to brutally kill off one of the main characters in Sean Astin made it even more intense because that means anything can happen. Thus when they're hiding in the house with absolutely no plan as to what to do, with the Hell Hounds closing in on them, I was practically cowering in my chair or my bed -- wherever I was. Even though I complained a lot about the set up of this season, the finale was fantastic.

The final episode itself, though, was not quite as impressive as the previous two episodes before it. I think we get bogged down a bit by the Billy story arc. They moment where Billy goes to Nancy's house and has a moment with Nancy's mother is perhaps the worst moment in the entire show thus far. It was just so stupid and unnecessary. I suppose having Billy around helped make Max's character more interesting, but Billy is definitely the worst part of this season. I could've done without. Thanks mostly to El, we did a good job of wrapping this season up by defeating the Hell Hounds and closing the gate. But part of me actually wanted more of a cliffhanger ending. I know that would've killed me, but that could've made it so season 3 starts off running, because now I fear that we are instead going to spend half of season 3 setting up something new  instead of continuing one story arc that could've made season 3 intense and mysterious right from the get go. But we'll see what they do. The dance was a nice way to end things. That gave me the feel-goods. Although I could've done without both kisses. Middle School romance is dumb to me. Too young. Spending a nice moment dancing would've been sufficient for 13-year-old kids. But whatever.

As far as a grade for the season, after each episode ended, I got out a notepad and gave a grade to that episode. So here's how those episode-by-episode grades turned out:

- Chapter One: "MADMAX" -- 8/10
- Chapter Two: "Trick or Treat, Freak" -- 8/10
- Chapter Three: "The Pollywog" -- 9/10
- Chapter Four: "Will the Wise" -- 8/10
- Chapter Five: "Dig Dug" -- 9/10
- Chapter Six: "The Spy" -- 9/10
- Chapter Seven: "The Lost Sister" -- 10/10
- Chapter Eight: "The Mind Flayer" -- 10/10
- Chapter Nine: "The Gate" -- 9/10

That leaves us with a per-episode average of 8.89/10 for the season as a whole, which I personally think is fair. If you wanted me to drool all over myself by giving each episode a 10/10 and proclaim that this was the greatest season of television ever bestowed on mankind from the heavens above, I'm sorry. That's not how I felt. By my 8.89 average is actually higher than the 8.80/10 average from IMDb, mostly because of that 6.4/10 for the seventh episode. But still. I'm higher than the average IMDb user for the season as a whole. That should mean something. And maybe I was a bit too harsh on the setup for this season in this review, because as you see, I gave every episode either an 8 or a 9. This was good enough and I still give this season a strong recommendation. I don't know what my per episode ranking of season 1 would be, but I imagine it would be higher because I was more invested throughout during season 1 while season 2 it was just for two episodes that I was blown away while being decently entertained for the rest. And I'm slightly nervous for season 3 because we didn't get a proper cliffhanger after this season, thus I fear more time will be spent setting up again. I'm guessing next Halloween is when it will come, so let's hope it's good!