Saturday, December 30, 2017

Movies of 2018: The Good, the Bad, and the Maybe

The year is coming to a close and while it makes sense to reflect on 2017 before looking forward to 2018, I do things a bit backwards on this blog because January is right around the corner and I want to get this yearly preview out before our first slate of January releases come in. Meanwhile, before I give you my favorite and least favorite movies of 2017, I'm holding out for a few final movies to see that opened in limited release in December and are expanding in January. So I do it this way. I've done a yearly movie preview every year on this blog because it's fun to do, but this specific format of "The Good, the Bad and the Maybe" I've been doing since 2014. I tried it out that year and found it to be a fun way to talk about a whole bunch of movies in the upcoming year, so I've doing it ever since. It's fairly self-explanatory, but I have this separated into three categories: "The Good," the movies I'm excited for; "The Bad," the movies I'm dreading; and "The Maybe," the movies that I'm on the fence about. The order I put them in is by release date, not by most anticipated or least anticipated. The dates listed are the current release dates as of the publishing of this post, which could change as the year goes on. So without further ado, let's dive in and explore the movies of 2018!

The Good:

Paddington 2 - January 12
I absolutely adored "Paddington" when it came out two years ago. I proudly own the movie on DVD. So I'd be excited for this movie even if I hadn't already known the reaction to this sequel. Being that this is a primarily British property, they got first crack at it as it was released in the U.K. in early November. And they all loved it. Some have told me that this "Paddington" franchise is quickly turning into one of the best family film franchises, so I have every reason to believe that I will also love this sequel.

Untitled Cloverfield Movie - February 2
The "Cloverfield" franchise has always been shrouded in secrecy when it comes to the making of the movies. I remember not including "10 Cloverfield Lane" in my 2016 yearly preview because I didn't know the movie existed when I typed that. And neither did anyone else until the trailer dropped in January. But that was a March release. This movie is scheduled for a month from now and we've not even heard anything. No poster. No trailer. No official title (even though it's been rumored for a while that this could be "Cloverfield: God Particle"). Either they're going to have to postpone it again or they're going to have to give us SOMETHING here soon. Right? They can't just drop this is in theaters without giving us any trailers. Or could they? That would totally be a "Cloverfield" thing to do. But whenever we get it, I'm excited. 

The 15:17 to Paris - February 9
The movie about those three Americans a couple of years ago who stopped a terrorist attack on a Paris train. Starring the actual three Americans as themselves. Directed by Clint Eastwood. They've got my attention.

Black Panther - February 16
"Black Panther" has the opportunity to be as culturally significant to the superhero genre as "Wonder Woman" was last year. We've had black superheroes before and we've had huge blockbusters that have included black superheroes in them. But have we had a major superhero movie dedicated to a black superhero with a predominately black cast to go along with it? Certainly not to this scale. So that's significant. Even if this wasn't a potentially culturally significant movie and we had done that before, I'd still be super excited because Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther was amazing in "Civil War" and I've been highly anticipating his solo adventure ever since. And there's a pretty dang good supporting cast that includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown as well as our non-black characters played by Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

Annihilation - February 23
They had me at "from the writer and director of Ex Machina." If you haven't seen "Ex Machina," you need to because it's mind-blowing. I'm excited to see what this guy has up his sleeve next. Even without the connection, the trailers are really intriguing.

Pacific Rim Uprising - March 23
Listen. "Pacific Rim" is a really dumb movie. But it's also an amazing movie. Perhaps the best dumb movie that's ever been made. And they intentionally did it that way. Which is why is was so great. Just by watching the trailers for "Uprising," I'm extremely excited to again embrace my inner 9-year-old by watching more giant robots fight even bigger giant monsters. I'm ready to embrace the major stupidity of this franchise once again.

Isle of Dogs - March 23
It's Wes Anderson. Enough said. He's the director of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Or in this case, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" because he's gone back to animation. If you think this looks weird and goofy, well, that's kinda the point. It's Wes Anderson. I could see this a serious contender to win the best animated feature at the Oscars in 2019. And that's with "Incredibles 2" and "Wreck-It Ralph 2" in the mix. I mean, they nominated "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for best picture. And it wasn't far off from winning.

Paul, Apostle of Christ - March 28
We have a handful of Easter movies on the schedule this year and most of them are showing up in different sections, because, well, I'll get to that. This one looks like the one worth seeing as it feels like it has a similar, serious tone to "The Bible" series. Even though this is separate from those people, who also put together "Son of God," it feels like it came from them. Who this does come from is Affirm Films, who notable did "Risen," "Heaven is for Real" and "Miracles from Heaven," all of which I really enjoyed. Paul's story is also one that's great for cinema as he was a great apostle who began a persecutor of Christians, thus is a more relatable to the general public than other prophets or apostles seem to always have been super holy and righteous. Based on trailers and other promotional videos, I have confident that they are doing his story justice.

Ready Player One - March 30
All I'm looking for with this movie is a fun ride at the movies and I think I'm going to get that. Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors ever and even though he hasn't quite been on his game in recent years like he was in the 80's and 90's (with some major exceptions, of course), but this feels like classic Spielberg and that has me excited. I'm ready to experience a whole bunch of nostalgia vomit like I did with "Stranger Things," but I do think I'm also going to get more than that as this is based on a book that a lot of people love.

A Quiet Place - April 6
I underestimated "Get Out" on last year's list and that ended up being great, so I'm going to put my faith in John Krasinski and say that he's going to pull off a Jordan Peele by going from comedian/actor to excellent horror director. You wouldn't think that Jim from "The Office" would go from that to horror director, but it also seemed strange that one half of the Key & Peele duo would also do the same. "A Quiet Place" obviously won't have the social commentary that caused people to love "Get Out" so much, but I think this will continue our trend of solid horror films that we got from last year that included "Get Out," "It Comes at Night" and "It." At the very least this is a dang good trailer.

The New Mutants - April 16
Speaking of horror films, we're getting an X-Men horror film? When I initially saw this premise, I wanted to facepalm at the fact that we're getting yet another introduction to a group of new mutants because Fox seems more interested in interested in introducing new groups of X-Men than actually continuing their arcs. But then the trailer dropped and I was stunned. Because, yeah. This is a horror film. Thus Anya Taylor-Joy ("The Witch," "Split") and Charlie Heaton ("Stranger Things") are perfectly cast. I commend Fox for continually taking risks after "Deadpool" and "Logan" worked out beautifully. The mid-April release date here is a curious one as this doesn't look like it will be a money maker being so close to "Infinity War." But they'll get my opening weekend ticket.

Avengers: Infinity War - May 4
Speaking of "Infinity War," of course this is my most anticipated movie of 2018. This is what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards ever since they dropped the Thanos tease during the credits of "The Avengers" in 2012. That's a five year build-up to one single story arc. And boy I can watch that trailer all day. I practically did when it first came out. Even if this movie ends up as another "Age of Ultron," which I don't think it will, I can at least commend them for making one of the best trailers in recent memory. What I'm most excited for is the epic scale of superhero movie that it looks like this movie has as well as the fact that I don't think this is going to end well. Remember that this was initially titled "Infinity Part 1." They smartly dropped the Part 1 and Part 2 from both films. But that now untitled fourth Avengers movie is still coming out May 2019 that I'm pretty sure will conclude this two part story. Thus I think with this movie, Thanos is going to come in and annihilate the Avengers, leaving us on a somber note that we rarely get in an MCU movie, before Adam Warlock (who was teased at the end of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2") comes in and saves the day in "Avengers 4" in 2019. Thus this could be "The Empire Strikes Back" of the Avengers movies.

Deadpool 2 - June 1
I unashamedly loved "Deadpool," which might be strange to some of you given that the raunchy comedy isn't usually my style. But it wasn't the raunchiness of "Deadpool" that I loved. It was the fourth-wall breaking humor and the absolutely hilarious portrayal of the our famous merc with the mouth by Ryan Reynolds who born to play this character and it was great that they got it right after botching the character in epically horrific fashion in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." I had some minor issues with "Deadpool" that I attribute to origin-story-itis, but now with the origin story out of the way, we have the ability to go all out in this sequel. I'm just mildly nervous that we have the director of "Atomic Blonde" on board here as he proved there that he was the lesser of the "John Wick" directors.

Incredibles 2 - June 15
The one sequel that everyone wanted from Pixar is finally here. Yes, Pixar normally does a lot better when they stick to originals, as they proved once again in 2017 when "Coco" astonished everyone soon after "Cars 3" became their second lowest grossing movie ever, ahead of only "The Good Dinosaur." But, I mean, come on. "The Incredibles" is the type of movie that leaves you wanting more, as is the case with most superhero movies. Yet it took 14 years for Pixar to FINALLY give us that second helping we've all been begging for? Yes, by the time this comes out in June it will have been that long since the original came in 2004. It's about time.

Ant-Man and the Wasp - July 6
I think I was the one person that was on board with "Ant-Man" from day one. Everyone else thought it was a stupid idea, especially when they saw the trailer. I was different. I thought it was a great idea, especially since Ant-Man was one of the founding members of the Avengers. And I thought the trailers were brilliant. People finally jumped on board with me when they went to the movie and found out that it was one of Marvel's funniest films. It was also a low-scale heist film, which was unique for Marvel. And now I hear "Ant-Man and the Wasp" might be a romcom? That's a gutsy move. But I'm excited for it. I'm guessing we'll get our first teaser during the Super Bowl or in front of "Black Panther."

Mission: Impossible 6 - July 27
Sometimes when you get to a sixth film in a franchise, you have franchise fatigue and the quality starts going down. Not here. They keeping upping their game with the M:I franchise and Tom Cruise keeps proving he's ageless as he gets crazier and crazier with these films and the stunts that he does all himself. This was proven in "Rogue Nation" when he ACTUALLY hung off the side of that airplane when it took off. Speaking of "Rogue Nation," which I think was the best film of the franchise - I don't often say that for a fifth film, Christopher McQuarrie from that movie is back on to direct M:I 6, so I have all the confidence in the world for this film. I'm also guessing that this is another Super Bowl trailer that we'll get.

Christopher Robin - August 3
I'm not sure if this will be the official title of this movie, but this seems like the most logical one. Disney has a lot of unique movies coming out this year and I'm not 100 percent confident in all of them, but this one seems like a huge winner. Ewan McGregor will be playing an adult Christopher Robin with Hayley Atwell as his wife. And this kinda sounds like "Hook" in the sense that he's grown up and lost all of his imagination. But then he meets Winnie the Pooh again who will help him rediscover the joy in life. Doesn't that just sound like a huge winner?

Goosebumps 2 - September 21 
I was rather entertained by our first "Goosebumps" movie. It was a fun, nostalgic trip that brought the "Goosebumps" franchise back to the modern day. Given how many books there are, there's a lot of directions they can take this sequel. I'm excited to see which one they take. I just hope they can improve upon the CGI in the first film.

First Man - October 12
I might be biased here because I interviewed Damien Chazelle during my Deseret News internship while they were promoting "La La Land" to the world. But this guy has now made two movies in "Whiplash" and "La La Land" that I own and love that I would confidently declare as masterpieces. It's unfair to expect perfection from every movie Chazelle directs, but I have enough confidence in his abilities as a filmmaker to say that this Neil Armstrong biopic is probably going to turn out to be a good movie. He's got Ryan Gosling with him again playing Neil Armstrong with Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. That's solid casting there. And we also have Claire Foy, Jon Bernthal and Jason Clarke along for the ride, too.

Mowgli - October 19
I know a lot of people are going to be confused as to why we're getting another "Jungle Book" movie when this movie starts being advertised, which makes me feel really bad for Andy Serkis because he had great ideas for a groundbreaking film in terms of motion capture and visual effects that make you excited coming from the master of motion capture himself. But then Disney stole his thunder with Jon Favreau's live-action remake of "The Jungle Book," which was both very good AND made nearly $1 billion worldwide. Yet I'm still curious as to what Andy Serkis has up his sleeve and I also think it was smart for Warner Bros. to rename this movie "Mowgli" instead of "Jungle Book" or "Jungle Book: Origins" because at least that sets itself aside when it comes to the title. As far as cast goes, we have Christian Bale as Bagheera, Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, Andy Serkis as Baloo and Cate Blanchett as Kaa. That should get people excited, right?

Mulan - November 2
Disney is going to be doing live-action remakes of everything until they stop making money. Being that "Beauty and the Beast" made $1.2 billion worldwide in 2017 after "The Jungle Book" made $966 million in 2016, they're not going to slow down anytime soon, so we might as well brace for it and hope they do well. "Aladdin," "The Lion King" and "Dumbo" are all coming in 2019 after Disney's interesting slate in 2018. Out of all of these announcements of live action remakes of their classic animated films, "Mulan" is the one that makes the most sense because the whole point of her character was to prove that a society can break tradition and culture by giving females the empowerment they deserve. That was a powerful message back in 1998 that I think will be even more powerful 20 years later as "Mulan" stands the test of time as one of Disney's most relevant films. And it looks like Disney is planning on doing this right by casting Chinese actress Yifei Liu as Mulan. We also have Niki Caro, director of "McFarfland, USA" and "The Zookeeper's Wife," two very underrated films, on to direct.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - November 16
What I love most about the "Fantastic Beasts" movie franchise is that there's no source material for Harry Potter fans to compare it to. I think the Harry Potter movies were mostly all really good, but they were heavily criticized by many who upset that the movies didn't play out quite like they had imagined in their heads. Now all of that is off the table as there's nothing to compare this to, meaning they have the freedom to do what they wish. It's like reading the books all over again because we don't know what's coming next. The first "Fantastic Beasts" was a solid intro to this new spin-off universe and this sequel has a title that just sounds awesome. I'm excited to see Jude Law as our young Dumbledore and I have confidence in Johnny Depp as Grindelwald.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 - November 21 
Did you know that Disney's main branch of animation is fairly new to the game when it comes to sequels of their classic films? And before you freak out at me and name off the thousands of horrible sequels that they've come up with, those were all DisneyToon, their straight-to-DVD branch. The only real sequel that their main branch of animation has done (not counting "Fantasia 2000" or the 2011 "Winnie the Pooh" because those weren't really sequels) was "Rescuers Down Under," which was arguably better than the original. So breathe easy. Disney has this under control. As a fan of the old arcade-style of video games, I thought "Wreck-It Ralph" was genius. Having him run around the internet in the sequel also sounds genius. And if that isn't a good enough selling point, this movie will include every single Disney princess in it, from Snow White to Moana, with most of the original voice actresses who are alive and able to reprise their role. If that doesn't at least have you intrigued, you might be a lost cause.

Aquaman - December 21
I'm giving DC the benefit of the doubt here. With how big of a financial disappointment "Justice League" was, they are in all-out panic mode right now and I don't even think they know what the future of the DCEU looks like, which is why they really need a win for "Aquaman" like they got in 2017 with "Wonder Woman" before "Justice League" blew up in their face. But do you know what? I enjoyed "Justice League." It was a solidly entertaining movie with great character moments and fun action sequences, despite its lack of an interesting story. "Justice League" also introduced us to Jason Momoa's Aquaman and I think Momoa blew it out of the park. I'm excited to see what they have in store. And I think James Wan is a more than capable director who proved with "Furious 7" that he's more than just a horror director as he has the versatility to pull something like this off.

Bohemian Rhapsody - December 25
We don't know what Oscar season is going to look like in 2018. We get a taste with the Sundance Film Festival in January and the Cannes Film Festival in May as to what might be contenders, but it's really not until the major festival season in September and October that we get to see what the real contenders are. I had no idea last year at this time that "Three Billboards," "Lady Bird" or "The Shape of Water" were even a thing. But I'd say there's a decent chance that this Freddie Mercury biopic is a player. And if not, I'm sure that general audiences who are fans of Freddie Mercury and Queen will at least be stoked. I know I'll be one of the first in line to see this. If not on Christmas itself, then shortly thereafter. And if you don't know Rami Malek's name at this point from the acclaimed TV series "Mr. Robot," you'll know his name next Christmas as he's the one playing Mercury.

The Bad:

Insidious: The Last Key - January 5
I watched the first "Insidious" movie a couple of months ago for the first time. I thought it was a really entertaining comedy. The problem is that it was supposed to be a horror film, not a comedy. I have not cared to check out either of the two sequels that have an even worse critic score than that awful original. So why would I be excited about a fourth film that is in the January slot? We're going to find out awfully quick here if I'm right, but I'm predicting that this movie gets universally panned as the trailers make it look awful.

Proud Mary - January 12
Listen, I'm not opposed to a female-led action movie. I embrace that as I really enjoyed "Lucy" and I tried my hardest to enjoy "Atomic Blonde," even though the latter failed miserably. And I like Taraji P. Henson, so I would love it if I was wrong and this movie was epic. But the trailers for this movie make it look like a train wreck. And it has the January release date that gives me no confidence. There's a couple of movies in January that I have hope for, but a lot more that look like they were dumping ground candidates. You hope for the best, but when in doubt just assume a January release is going to be bad. And this coming from the director of "London Has Fallen" gives me even less confidence.

Fifty Shades Freed - February 9
There is one good thing about this movie being released. Once we officially have this out of the way, the "Fifty Shades" trilogy will be officially in the rear view mirror. I know I haven't seen the previous two movies and I'm not planning on seeing this final chapter, so maybe it sounds like I'm ignorantly bashing something I haven't seen, but it's OK to use common sense in certain areas, I think. And I did watch the first 30 minutes of the first movie online before we got to all the sex and nudity, which apparently isn't the least bit sexy, and I already had a really awful taste in my mouth with how horrible the premise, the setup, the acting and the characters all were. And I've read and watched plenty of reviews on both movies to know that those 30 minutes were plenty for me as it apparently only got worse. So let's make this franchise die and burn in Hades.

Peter Rabbit - February 9
From the animation team that brought us "Smurfs: The Lost Village," "The Emoji Movie" and "The Star" in 2017 comes a live action adaptation of something that shares the name with a popular property, but looks like Sony Animation has no idea what or who Peter Rabbit is. I don't even have a strong childhood attachment to this character, but those trailers make me want to get up and take a bathroom break every time they show up in theaters. I feel really bad for those who actually do care about this character.

Tomb Raider - March 16
I want to be excited for this movie and I love Alicia Vikander. But my first thought when I heard about this movie was why are we getting another "Tomb Raider" movie? Video game movies never work anyways and this didn't work the first time around. So why try again? But I did my due diligence and waited for the trailer. And when it came, it did absolutely nothing for me. So again, why are we getting this movie? Are we just planning on turning Alicia Vikander into eye candy like we did for Angelina Jolie? Because my girl Alicia deserves a lot better than that.

Sherlock Gnomes - March 23
The lowest form of humor when it comes to kids movies, or any movie in general, are the poop, butt and fart jokes. It'll make your three-year-old laugh and that's it. And we really should have more wholesome humor for those young kids to laugh at. Yet I watch this trailer and that's literally all this movie has in terms of humor. Endless butt and fart jokes. It makes me cringe. I already want to erase this movie from existence and it hasn't even been released yet. Which is a shame because a Sherlock Holmes movie for kids is a great idea that SHOULD be a lot of fun. This instead looks like a bit disaster.

God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness - March 30
I promise I'm not a grumpy anti-Christian. But I HATED both of these movies with a fiery passion. "God's Not Dead 2" topped my list of worst movies of 2016. Why? Because they're offensively bad. They portray every non-Christian as an evil human being that is going straight to Hell. It's the type of frustratingly horrific arrogance that will and has pushed away non-Christians. Because why in the name of everything good and holy would you want to join a religion full of arrogant idiots who are that hateful towards non-believers? As a strong Christian myself, I hide in shame when it comes to these movies while begging everyone, Christian or not, to avoid these movies like the plague because true Christians do not, I repeat, DO NOT, or at least SHOULD NOT, act the way that they do in these movies or the way that these filmmakers apparently do. These movies are an outright atrocious embarrassment to Christianity and all involved should be ashamed of themselves. That and their storytelling ability is really embarrassing. But that's beside the point.

Mary Magdalene - March 30
On the flip side of things, here's a movie on the opposite side of the spectrum that looks like it comes from a Hollywood director trying to take a Biblical story and turning it into a Hollywood drama that throws all religious elements out the window. I got a "Noah" vibe or even "The Da Vinci Code" vibe. Hollywood productions touching religious subjects that are just off. I hope I'm wrong, but the trailers promised "the untold story of Mary Magdalene." I don't want the "untold" story of Mary Magdalene. I'd rather have the real one. And I don't want Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. That's just weird. This comes from the director of "Lion," though, which I really loved. So I'm hoping it was just a really bad trailer.

Rampage - April 20
Dwayne Johnson fighting giant gorillas, giant wolves and giant crocodiles in a movie based on an 80's arcade game with those giant monsters attacking buildings. From the director of "San Andreas," a movie that I thought was fun because it really didn't take itself too seriously and was amazing in IMAX. This movie looks like it's taking itself way too seriously, especially for a movie based on a silly arcade game with little plot. I want to be excited for this in the same way I'm excited for "Pacific Rim Uprising." But I'm not. And the late April release date says to me that the studio has no confidence in this movie. So why should I have confidence?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - June 22
"Jurassic Park" is one of my favorite childhood movies that got even better when the older I got. I need to refresh myself on "Lost World" and "Jurassic Park III," but I remember enjoying the former and hating the latter. "Jurassic World," though, was a movie that I thought was entertaining, but was more of a dumb action movie with dumb humans doing dumb things in order for us to get mindless dinosaur action. "Mindless" isn't an adjective that should describe the "Jurassic" franchise. And the movie made about $1 billion more than it deserved. Like, seriously. The movie made $650 million domestically and $1.6 billion worldwide. Based on quality, it deserved about $200 million domestically and $500 million worldwide. And that's me feeling generous. Thus I naturally came in skeptic about "Fallen Kingdom." And I'm sorry, I watched the trailer and it did nothing for me. My excitement level for this is at zero. I think it's a giant cash grab that will probably be another dumb, mindless dinosaur movie.

The Purge: The Island - July 4
We didn't get our annual "Purge" movie in 2017 and I wasn't upset at that. When they start reeling out low-budget horror movies likes this on a nearly yearly basis, that's a bad idea that shows their only motivation here is to earn a quick buck rather than make a movie that people might actually care about.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation - July 13
This is a popular franchise for many and I hate to be a downer, but I thought the first movie was very juvenile and uninteresting. If you are an adult and you enjoyed it, I honestly mean no offense. But I felt like it was a movie geared only to kids that I just didn't get. But it's the sequel that really bothered me. It started off with a fantastic message that was very relevant to today, but didn't have the guts to follow through and completely botched it, making me angry. And it also become a cheap copy of "The Incredibles." Enter movie three. And this just looks dumb. Does Sony Animation even have the ability to make a good animated movie anymore?

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - July 20
I know fans of "Mamma Mia!" that are even confused about this sequel. But it'll take you a bit of searching to actually find those fans because it seemed like most people were disappointed in the movie adaptation. So it totally makes sense to give us a sequel a decade later that no one wanted in the first place. At least the original movie was based on something. A really popular Broadway musical. There is no second Broadway musical, so this movie is based on, well, nothing. And that's one of the many major red flags here.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies - July 27 
This title alone makes me want to punch someone in the face. Title aside, I really don't know why we need a theatrical movie of this. The animated "Teen Titans Go!" is popular enough among it's target audience. Can't we just keep it that?

The Equalizer 2 - August 3
Maybe it's a bit harsh of me to include this sequel in this section. "The Equalizer" is an action movie that a lot of people enjoyed and we have the same cast and crew back for this sequel. So maybe this is an action movie that fans of the original will enjoy. But I'm naturally skeptic about sequels these days, especially ones that I'm not sure the world really needed.

The Predator - August 3
I'm mildly intrigued by the fact that Shane Black is directing this remake. He generally makes good movies. But I was also mildly intrigued at Ridley Scott returning to make a couple more "Alien" movies and we all know how that turned out. "Prometheus" was pretty bad and "Alien: Covenant" wasn't that much better. So after failing to milk the "Alien" franchise, Hollywood is returning to "The Predator" franchise. Because we can't just come up with new ideas.

Barbie - August 8
Do I need to even say anything here? They've been trying to do this movie for quite some time now and I have no idea why. And in case you didn't know, this is indeed a live-action "Barbie" movie. It got all sorts of negative controversy when Amy Schumer almost played the lead role. Now we have Anne Hathaway as Barbie and even though that's better, I still think this is a movie that they should just give up on and drop.

Scarface - August 10
I know the popular 1983 "Scarface" was also a remake. But why can't we be satisfied with the movies we have? We do we have to remake everything? Let's leave "Scarface" alone. As well as everything else in the 80's.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls - September 21
What in the heck is this, you might ask? It's definitely a title that grabs your attention. But I'm putting this on here because it's Eli Roth directing. He's obsessed with his gross, unnecessary gore-fests. Eli Roth should just stop directing movies.

Robin Hood - September 21
No one cares about Robin Hood anymore, just like no one cared when Guy Ritchie tried to make King Arthur a thing in 2017. We have too many versions of Robin Hood and we don't need anymore. I don't even care that Taron Edgerton is starring. He's a great actor who should make better decisions than agreeing to be in our upteenth Robin Hood movie.

Smallfoot - September 28
2017 was a really bad year for animated movies. Sure, we did get "Coco" and "The LEGO Batman Movie," but for every one good animated movie in 2017, we seemed to get three more that were trash. So excuse me for being bitter towards these animated movies where I watch the trailer and it just looks like it is only capable of being enjoyed by a 3-year-old.

Halloween - October 19
I actually reviewed the original "Halloween" on my blog in 2017. It's a solidly entertaining horror film that creeps me out more than most horror films. But the franchise as a whole was partially responsible for the annoying trend of making endless horror sequels even when people stopped caring. And with this franchise, people haven't given a crap for nearly 30 years, but for some reason Hollywood keeps going. Because it's easy to make a few quick bucks by making a horror movie with a title people recognize. Now I'm sure this remake will do a better job than Rob Zombie's unwatchable remake, but that's not saying much. I wish this franchise could die and that we could instead come up with more original horror movies.

Dr. Seuss' The Grinch - November 9
I'm sure this will be another wtf moment of 2018. Everyone loves the story of the Grinch. Classic Christmas tale from Dr. Seuss that became a great little animated special back in the day. And on record, Ron Howard's 2000 live action movie starring Jim Carrey has always been a personal favorite. I watched it on Netflix on Christmas this year and again loved it. It totally holds up as not only a hilarious Grinch movie, but also has a lot of heart and depth to it with a powerful Christmas message. So why can't we be happy with what we have? Illumination is on a solid streak financially, but their quality of film is extremely spotty, thus I'm going to be the Grinch when it comes to this latest remake of this story unless they can somehow justify this movie's existence. Because at this point I seen no reason for this movie.

Holmes & Watson - November 9
This is the second Sherlock Holmes movie that has found its way on this portion of this list. This time around it's because we have Will Ferrell playing Sherlock Holmes and John C. Reilly playing Watson. What in the frack are they planning here? This just sounds like a bad Sherlock comedy that should never happen. But maybe with the right director? Yeah, looking up the director is what convinced me to move this from the maybe section to the bad section. This comes from Etan Cohen. No, not Ethan Coen from the Coen Brothers. Etan Cohen. The director of the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart comedy "Get Hard" that absolutely no one liked.

Bumblebee - December 21
One of the things that made me really happy about 2017 was that we collectively rejected the "Transformers" franchise. The second "Transformers" movie, "Revenge of the Fallen," made $402 million domestically. Even though three and four digressed in the U.S., they still made over $1 billion worldwide. The most recent one from 2017, "The Last Knight"? It only made $130 million domestically and $605 million worldwide. That proves to Michael Bay that the world actually can reject this franchise if no effort is made into putting together a decent movie. But Paramount is going to keep trying, anyways. I say Paramount in this instance because this "Bumblebee" spin-off will be the first of the recent "Transformers" movie NOT directed by Michael Bay. It's directed by the dude who did "Kubo and the Two Strings." So maybe this can be good? I'm not crossing my fingers, though. Until proven otherwise, all "Transformers" movies go in this section.

The Maybe:

The Commuter - January 12
We have an odd trend recently where train movies are becoming popular. In 2016 we had "The Girl on the Train" and in 2017 we had "Murder on the Orient Express." In 2018, we start out with two train movies at the beginning of the year. "The 15:17 to Paris" in February and "The Commuter" in a week. "The Commuter" stars Liam Neeson trying to deal with some conflict on a train. Immediately my brain went to "Taken" and I was nervous. But then my brain corrected itself. This is from the director of "Non-Stop," the 2014 Liam Neeson whodunit mystery movie on a plane. With that in context, "The Commuter" looks like "Non-Stop," but on a train instead of a plane. And that makes me kinda excited.

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers - January 19
War movies in January have been a really popular thing recently. "Lone Survivor," "American Sniper" and "13 Hours" all did well in January. "12 Strong" looks to continue that trend and it has a premise that is intriguing enough that it could work. Although I'm playing the wait and see game, just because it is January and "13 Hours," while decent, didn't necessarily blow me away and "American Sniper" I was very mixed on. And this is January, so...

Maze Runner: The Death Cure - January 26
I really feel bad for the "Maze Runner" franchise. The first two movies came out in consecutive years, 2014 and 2015. The finale really should've come out in 2016 or 2017 at latest in order for people to still care. But star Dylan O'Brien got hurt on the set of "The Death Cure," which postponed this movie for like a whole year. That was something tragic that's completely out of their control, but the unfortunate consequence is that I don't think anyone cares anymore. But they're going to try to salvage this anyways. We'll see how it goes. I enjoyed most of the first movie, but not the ending. And I didn't care for "The Scorch Trials."

Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built - February 2
It makes me nervous putting horror movies in the good section because it's often hard to predict which ones are going to be good and which ones are going to be complete crap. I took a gamble with "A Quiet Place" and "The New Mutants," but I'm slightly less confident in this "Winchester" movie. It claims to be a movie based on the most haunted house ever and it has a really good trailer, so I'm hoping we go "The Conjuring" route with this, but I realize that this could also go the cliche haunted house route as well.

Samson - February 16
Out of all the Biblical characters to make a movie out of, Samson makes the most sense as his story is rather intriguing. And this does come from a Christian studio, so I'm not worried about it being too weird. But the specific studio here is Pure Flix and I'm not sure I completely trust their judgment. I'm more excited about "Paul, The Apostle of Christ" and certainly less excited about "Mary Magdalene" and "God's Not Dead 3." With this one I'm planning on playing it by ear. The trailers looked really bad, but maybe they're just not good at putting together trailers.

Game Night - February 23
The trailers for this movie look absolutely hilarious, reminding me of "The Man Who Knew Too Little" with this group of people who think they are enjoying a harmless game night rather than the serious situation that they're actually in. But I'm not letting myself be totally sold by the trailers John Francis Daley and Johnathan Goldstein who did the recent "Vacation" movie that few people liked and got fired from (or chose to leave?) "Spider-Man: Homecoming." So this could be a really bad comedy with a great trailer. I hope not, though. I want this to work.

Alpha - March 2
I first saw this trailer when I went to see "The Last Jedi." And I saw it both other times that I also saw "The Last Jedi." Each time I watched it, I had completely forgotten what the movie was even called. It's a survival movie with primitive people 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. So it seems like a forgettable movie. But it seemed like a mildly interesting enough movie to include on this list, even if we might forget about it shortly after.

Red Sparrow - March 2
I want this movie to be a good action thriller, much like I wanted "Atomic Blonde" to be a good action thriller. From the trailer, it looks like it could go in that direction and I really like Jennifer Lawrence, so I'm holding out hope that this could be a good female led thriller, but I'm also not 100 percent convinced, especially because it could end up like what "Atomic Blonde" ended up as. I also hope they don't push the sexual angle too heavily because I want J-Law to be a good female character, not an empty, sexualized piece of eye candy.

A Wrinkle in Time - March 9
A put "Christopher Robin" and "Mulan" in the good section of my list because I'm confident that those will be good live-action movies from Disney. There's three others that I'm putting in this maybe section, with this being the first of three. Personally I just don't know enough about "A Wrinkle in Time" to be excited about the fact that this is being made and I don't know enough to know if the trailers are doing it justice or not. I'm just looking at this from a casual perspective and this looks like a super trippy movie. I just don't know if that's a good trippy or a bad trippy. The trailers are super effective, but that's also because of the song "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" is perfectly incorporated. So I'm playing the wait and see game.

Chappaquiddick - April 6
I think I put this movie here just because of the title. I've also seen this movie floating around the release schedule for a while now and I've never been sure when it will land. It seems like they're committing to this April release date, which makes me feel less confident because an April release date says that the studio isn't confident enough to give this a proper Oscar push, which seems like the place a Ted Kennedy biopic should belong. Maybe this will come and go without any people realizing, but I'm still mildly intrigued, especially with the huge cast.

Slenderman - May 18
I fully realize that this could be a really bad horror movie, but I am extremely amused by the fact that we are actually getting a Slenderman movie. I'm not angry or excited. Just amused.

Solo: A Star Wars Story - May 25
Well this is a weird spot to put a Star Wars movie, especially after I've become a non-stop, extremely vocal supporter of "The Last Jedi" being one of the best Star Wars movie. But I think it's safe to say that the whole world is currently in a state of skepticism and have been ever since this was announced. The fact that the fired the directors towards the end of production and hired Ron Howard to redo the thing, keeping their May release date, has me more nervous. Lots of drama on set. And not enough time to make a proper movie with a rushed release date? I would've been fine if they postponed it to December in order to get it right. Then there is the initial issue of everyone being nervous about Han Solo being played by someone other than Harrison Ford. In the history of cinema, there may never be bigger shoes to fill. We'll see if Alden Ehrenreich is up to the challenge. If not, he can go talk to Hayden Christensen about what it's like to move forward with life after disappointing Star Wars fans by not properly portraying an iconic Star Wars character in a prequel movie. This is a Lawrence Kasdan script and it seems like Kasdan fought hard to make sure his movie was done right. I just hope the final result is satisfactory. If not, this movie could be in trouble.

Ocean's 8 - June 8
I'm not a fan of being politically correct just for the sake of being politically correct. The only reason why this movie, as well as the 2016 "Ghostbusters" remake, was made is to push a feminist movement. That's not necessarily a bad thing because I'm certainly a fan of having more female representation in major Hollywood roles. I'm just concerned about the overall quality of films and if your main motivation is to push a political movement forward rather than making a solid movie, you could sacrifice the quality of the movie and thus fail in your final goal. The reason why "Wonder Woman" ended up being a culturally significant movie in 2017 was that their main goal was to make a good movie that happened to have a female lead and thus they ended up with an iconic film that entertained audiences and gave millions of girls around the world a hero to look up to. Our female "Ghostbusters" will end up as a forgotten movie because, while not as bad as many expected, they didn't spend enough time making a good movie and spent to much time on pushing the feminist movement. If that makes sense. So what are we going to get with "Ocean's 8"? Are we going to get another "Wonder Woman" or are we going to get another "Ghostbusters"?

Sicario 2: Soldado - June 29
"Sicario" is a fantastic film that is intense and dark. One of Denis Villeneuve's many great films. It's not the type of movie that really lends itself to a sequence and is not the type of movie that you would expect to get a sequel. Now if Denis Villeneuve said that he had more story that he wanted to tell here, then I would put my full trust in him because he hasn't disappointed me yet. But this is not him directing this movie, so it has me nervous. It's Stefano Sollima instead, who I've never hear of. Was this a situation where the filmmakers decided there was more to tell or was this the studio demanding more. Luckily we do have Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay to "Sicario," back writing this movie. So maybe it was his idea that sparked this sequel and they just couldn't get Denis on board for whatever reason.

The Nun - July 13
"The Conjuring" cinematic universe expands. We've had two Conjuring movies, two Annabelle movies and now we get "The Nun," which is a spin-off based on that creepy Nun character from "The Conjuring 2." I do think both Conjuring films are enjoyable, even though I was upset at them pushing the true story angle as hard as they did because none of this was actually a true story and they should just own up to that and make a good film. I have not seen "Annabelle," but I really enjoyed "Annabelle: Creation," so I'm mostly on board with this universe. As long as we get an effectively creepy movie about this Nun, I will be satisfied. That's not asking too much, is it?

Alita: Battle Angel - July 20
I don't really know much about "Alita" outside the fact that I was looking at the summer schedule a month ago and was wondering what the heck this movie was, only to have it drop during "The Last Jedi." Then I was like, oh. That's what that is. A James Cameron screenplay that's produced by Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Based on the graphic novel manga series "Gunnm." Sounds like we're trying to cash in on the "Ghost in the Shell" success here with another cyborg-led movie in a post-apocalyptic world. I didn't hate "Ghost in the Shell" as much as some people did, even though it wasn't even close to even being on the same level as the source material. So I'm not upset at this, nor am I super excited.

The Meg - August 10
We've had two shark movies recently that both surprised me with "The Shallows" and "47 Meters Down." I read the premise for this one and I just beamed with dumb excitement because this latest shark movie stars Jason Statham. Jason Statham fighting a giant shark sounds like it could be an entertainingly dumb movie worth seeing.

A Star is Born - October 5
I know I've been rightfully harsh on remakes in this list, which is why this isn't good in the good category, but I am optimistically curious about this one. "A Star is Born" was a successful 1937 movie musical that was remade in 1957 with Judy Garland and remade again with Barbara Streisand in 1976. And now we're going for our third remake. Instead of going for my normal statement by saying why don't we watch the others and be happy with that, I'm instead noticing that this is the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper. Great actors turning into directors intrigues, even though it equates to various levels of success. In addition to also starring Bradley Cooper, this stars Sam Elliott, Bonnie Somerville, Anthony Ramos, Lady Gaga and Dave Chappelle. So I'm curious to see what Bradley Cooper has up his sleeve.

Venom - October 5
I really have no idea what Sony is doing with their "Spider-Man" franchise and I'll say that again here in a bit. But thanks to Marvel's help, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" really worked out and we're getting that movie's sequel in 2019. So why is Sony trying to be smart by breaking off and doing their own thing with their other Spider-Man properties. I want to see Venom show up in one of the "Spider-Man: Homecoming" sequels as a proper villain/anti-hero that "Spider-Man 3" really botched. I'm less interested is seeing him in his own thing that is separate from Spider-Man. But this does have Tom Hardy as Venom and I'm pretty sure the movie will also include Carnage. So maybe this will work out. But I'd still rather see Venom and Carnage in a Spider-Man movie and I don't think that Sony is planning on that.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix - November 2 
I thought we already did this story arc. And it successfully killed the initial X-Men franchise, causing them to start over with "X-Men: First Class." Yes, I'm talking about X3, which I think I was one of four people on earth who actually enjoyed. But still. Why are we doing this again? Is the idea to do it properly this time around? After they fell flat on their face with "Apocalypse," I'm not so sure "Dark Phoenix" is a great idea. Maybe it'll fail enough that it'll kill the X-Men franchise again, setting the stage for Marvel to completely press the reset button when they are officially ready to take over the X-Men and implement them into the MCU.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - November 2
The second Disney live-action movie that I'm not completely sold on. Much like "A Wrinkle in Time," I also don't know much about "The Nutcracker" outside loving the music, so this seemed like an odd thing to adapt. But hey, maybe there's a goldmine waiting to be discovered here. Or maybe it'll be another "Alice in Wonderland" like many that many are worried it'll become. Personally I'm more nervous about the line in the trailer "the legend you know has a dark side." Or something like that. Trying to put dark twists on known stories doesn't usually work out. Just stick to telling the story that we, or other people more familiar with this, already know. But hey, that trailer version of the song "The Dance of the Sugarplum Faries" was awesome. So at least there's that.

Widows - November 16
I don't know enough about this movie to determine if it's an actual Oscar contender or not. I just noticed it's from director Steve McQueen, who won best picture with his movie "12 Years a Slave." So maybe he'll be back in the race this year? Starring is Elizabeth Debicki, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Viola Davis. That's seems like good enough ammunition.

Mortal Engines - December 14
Peter Jackson has officially come out of hiding after his awful Hobbit trilogy that partially damaged his legacy as he's no longer just the man known for "The Lord of the Rings." But he's also the man who stretched a single prequel book into three unnecessarily long movies. And he hasn't done anything since. And he's not directing "Mortal Engines," but he is on as producer. We already have a teaser trailer despite it being a year out and it looks... really strange. A post-apocalyptic world with cities on wheels rushing around attacking other cities.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - December 14
Back to Sony. This is their animated Spider-Man movie that I've always seen as their back-up plan in case their third attempt at a Spider-Man franchise also failed. Well, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" worked, thanks to Marvel. But Sony is still moving forward with this solo Spider-Man adventure where we finally introduce Miles Morales, the black Spider-Man people have been wanting for a long time. And a lot of other Spider-Mans? Because this is based on a Spider-Man story arc where a lot of people wear the Spider-Man outfit. I don't know, we still have DC doing their animated Batman movies, so I guess I'm not opposed to this. But I don't know the necessity of this movie and it also has the Sony Animation Studios label behind. Do I need to remind you what that studio has done recently?

Mary Poppins Returns - December 25 
Our final Disney live action movie in this maybe section. This one I'm actually more optimistic about because I'm very well-versed on my Mary Poppins. That's one of my favorite musicals. I don't know if I should admit that I put this in here to balance things out so that we have an equal number of movies in each category. But maybe I should instead say that I'm not sure we necessarily need Mary Poppins to return when we can go back and watch the lovely original or even "Saving Mr. Banks," the movie about the making of Mary Poppins. And I'm glad this is a sequel and not a remake. But are they going to be able to conjure up a new Mary Poppins musical with songs that match the old ones, which I might add are pretty darn iconic. I legitimately question that. But Emily Blunt is a great choice for Mary Poppins. And Dick Van Dyke will be back in the movie. So lets' hope Disney has some magic up their sleeve.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Shape of Water Review

Guillermo del Toro is an interesting filmmaker. He's kind of a guy who just makes what he feels like making and doesn't really have a specific style. He's gone the superhero route with "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II." He lived out his childhood fantasies by making giant monsters fight giant robots in "Pacific Rim." He did "Crimson Peak," which was a gothic horror/romance film. Then of course he is probably most well known for "Pan's Labyrinth," which is another mashup of genres, combining fantasy with drama and war. And those are just the highlights of what he's directed. If you take a look at his producing and writing credits, it seems as if he's had a hand in pretty much everything. So I'm always intrigued by whatever he has up his sleeve next because it's practically impossible to predict where he's going next. Even when you look at his future IMDb credits, he has 10 upcoming films all with giant question marks next to them, meaning I don't know what's going actually happen or not out of all of those. This year's project for him is a little film called "The Shape of Water," which is a rather fascinating tale about a girl and a creature that's getting all kinds of awards buzz right now. It's not only a guaranteed shoe-in for best picture at the Oscars, but it has a decent chance of winning.

I want to give a warning before I go any further. I'm going to talk about this movie. I'm not going to spoil what happens. But I'm going to talk about the premise. Given that I knew practically nothing about the movie going in, if you want to also know very little about the movie, feel free to exit this review and go see it. Just take a quick peak at the content to see if it's one that you'll actually approve of. And if you need more than just my personal recommendation, it has an 8.2 on IMDb, a 93 percent critics score and a 84 percent audience score, and has been nominated for pretty much every major awards ceremony thus far. So in general people are enjoying this film. If you want to dive into a little more depth and you don't mind me giving away what this movie is actually about, then proceed. The very basic premise of this movie centers around this strange, mythical creature that the government and/or military has captured and are doing tests on. One of the janitors is a mute girl played by Sally Hawkins who discovers the creature almost by accident and develops an attachment to it. When she learns that these military people are treating the creature in a very horrible way, she devises a plan to help the creature, thus we get a refreshingly unique journey.

One of the reasons why I love Oscar season so much is that after drowning in major blockbusters all year, we get a whole boatload of these smaller independent/art house films whose main focus is not on giant action sequences or fancy visual effects, but are more focused on storytelling and characters, elements of film that were at the core of filmmaking when filmmaking began because they didn't have the ability to rely solely on special effects to make a movie. Yes, I love myself a good blockbuster film, but I prefer movies that do a good job at telling a good story and developing good characters. That's exactly what "The Shape of Water" is at it's core. It's a fantastic character piece from many angles. We have Sally Hawkins playing a mute janitor who feels lost in the world. We have this creature who is trapped in an environment that isn't good for him. We have Sally Hawkins' neighbor played by Richard Jenkins who is an older gentleman with few friends and a struggling art career. We have the "evil" military people led by Michael Shannon who have no feelings for this creature. We have the doctor played by Michael Stuhlbarg who doesn't want the creature hurt and we have Sally Hawkins' best friend played by Octavia Spencer who is there to support her.

All of these arcs come together beautiful in what is truly an acting showcase. That there is definitely the best part of this film. All the previously mentioned actors give worthy enough performances to be nominated in the acting categories. Sally Hawkins is the lead in the movie and the definite standout. She did a phenomenal job of portraying this complex, troubled individual without saying a word. She signed her way through most of the movie when she had to communicate. Rather aggressively in some sequences. But the best moments were when she was by herself or with the creature and had to express everything required of her through body language. I bought it. It was one of the most emotional performances of the year. Next up I would actually say is Michael Shannon. I think he had a lot of fun playing the main antagonist of the film. The scenes with him in it were rather menacing and intense. But then he would spend time with his wife and kids, showing a completely different side of him. The others all gave solid supporting roles. Richard Jenkins is getting most of the buzz outside Sally Hawkins and I'm fine with that, but I also enjoyed the performances of  Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg. Even Doug Jones as the creature was great.

I mentioned earlier that the movie felt refreshingly unique as I was watching. When the movie finished and I was leaving the theater, I began to think of what other movies this reminded me of. This is where we get into semi-spoilers because this needs to be mentioned. The movie that I first thought of was "Beauty and the Beast." Because, yeah, this is a romance film. Between Sally Hawkins and this creature. It's sweet and romantic, yet a bit weird. With "Beauty and the Beast," the romance is pure and innocent in both the animated and the live action as to not cross over into awkward territory. Plus Beast is really a human transformed into a beast, so it's not that weird. But the creature in "The Shape of Water" is not a human. Not really anyways. He's more like an alien from space with human like qualities. But still not human. I personally think the movie could've been just as effective if Sally Hawkins established a connection with the creature like one does with a pet or another stray animal. I didn't need the romantic relationship between her and the creature, especially not when it got a little more awkward than was necessary. I mean, it fit in the way that both were lost in the world and couldn't speak, but it was a bit much.

Then once I got to thinking of the "Beauty and the Beast" comparison, suddenly a lot of other movies came to my mind. "E.T." "Creature from the Black Lagoon." "King Kong." Pretty much any movie with a monster or alien that the government, military or the general population think is bad and evil, but in reality has a different side to it that a character in the movie comes to respect and befriend (but usually not fall in love with...). Yeah, the more I think about the movie, the more I realize how it's actually not as unique as I initially felt while watching. There's even been commentary from the internet about how this creature looks an awful lot like Abe Sapien from "Hellboy," another Guillermo del Toro movie, both characters being played by Doug Jones. Suddenly the internet is wondering if this could be a prequel to "Hellboy"? I don't think so. But it wouldn't be the first time a director has secretly done something like that this year. Back on track, though. Despite the movie not being super original, I still think it's executed well. Sometimes you can get away with having a similar premise to another movie if the execution is on point and that's the exact case with "The Shape of Water." Guillermo del Toro has crafted a well-designed piece of art.

I suppose one could say that this movie is a disappointing one if you walk in expecting it to be the brilliant masterpiece that have caused many critics to knight it as the best movie of the year. But that's not how I approach these Oscar films. It's unfair to expect any movie to be a perfect masterpiece and it's certainly unfair to come down on it so harshly if it doesn't live up to those expectations. I go into these movies expecting a good, solid movie. If I come away with a masterpiece, then so much the better. If I come away with simply a good movie, I'm satisfied with that, too. "The Shape of Water" is a good movie. It's a solid character piece with deep themes that will resonate with a lot of people. I don't know if I completely loved the romance and I think there were a few moments where Guillermo del Toro could've held back a bit more, but I also didn't walk out completely appalled or angry. This movie is going to get a lot of Oscar nominations and it certainly deserves it, especially when it comes to the visual effects regarding this creature. The Oscars have seemed a bit hesitant to accept motion capture, which I think is frustrating and I'm sure Andy Serkis feels the same way. But it's whatever. If you like Guillermo, give this a watch. I'll give "The Shape of Water" an 8/10.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Greatest Showman Review

Christmas time is a popular time for families to head off to the theaters. As such, Hollywood dumped a whole ton of new movies on us right before Christmas. Since it was improbable to cover all of them so quickly in addition to spending time with family around Christmas, I had to prioritize which ones I saw first and critic reviews from "The Greatest Showman" promised me that I didn't have to focus on that one. So I didn't. I saw "Jumanji" first and caught up on "Ferdinand" second, enjoying both of them to certain extents. But then following a wave of harsh critical reactions towards "The Greatest Showman" which has caused it settle around a 52 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, I noticed a strong wave of high praise from casual audiences who seemed to be loving the movie, causing the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes to soar to 90 percent, which is in stark contrast to a certain space movie that came out recently. Thus I became both curious and confused as to which side of the fence I was going to end up on. What is it about this movie that's causing such distance between audiences and critics and which side was I going to end up on? Because, yes, I have disagreed with critics plenty of times, despite what some may think. Turns out, though, that I am with them on this one.

When I walked out of the theater, I had both a literal and metaphorical headache that I didn't have when I walked in. Yes, it's true that there were probably other factors that gave me the actual headache, but the movie had me so frustrated that I will probably enjoy telling people that this movie literally gave me a headache. I was frustrated not because I had witnessed an epic disaster, but because there were a lot of things that were genuinely great about this movie that were overshadowed by too many things that had me pulling my hear, pushing my face in anger and squirming around in my chair that probably didn't help this growing headache that I was getting. There is a good movie in here somewhere. In fact, I saw the potential of a great movie that could turn into a classic musical. I wanted to be a part of the crowd that has been loving the movie. But I started coming up with several nitpicks. I was hoping that those nitpicks would go away, but they just started festering inside me and they refused to go away. There came a point in the movie where I was no longer enjoying anything on the screen and I wanted to both scream and cry at the screen, but I held myself in check due to the sold-out screening of people who seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Time to stop beating around the bush. This is a movie about P.T. Barnum. Well, kind of. It's apparently not accurate at all to his actual story, but I'll get to that later since that wasn't actual my biggest concern. But the movie attempts to tell what ends up being a partial fictional version of a character named P.T. Barnum who invented this thing called the show business. Or the circus. A term that Barnum coined in the movie after one angry critic called his show a circus. In an attempt to laugh in the face of professional critics, he called his show a circus, which certainly has a good ring to it. The movie is about Barnum's rise from rags to riches as he goes to having no money after growing up in poor circumstances to creating this grand phenomenon that would live on long after Barnum's death in the late 1800's. This is a premise that had a lot of potential as it could teach us that, regardless of your upbringing, if you put your heart and soul into something, you can be successful in that thing. And I loved that idea. It's a good positive message. And we certainly got that in this movie. But only in the first 10 minutes. He went from rags to riches extremely fast and suddenly I was a bit blindsided because I was then wondering where the movie was going to go from there.

We certainly started off on the right foot. We had a great opening musical number that put a huge smile on my face. It was bright and colorful. There was great singing from talented musicians as well as some incorporation of well-used dubbing for those who aren't as good at singing. There was also fantastic dance choreography. That song transitioned well into telling the story of Barnum with his childhood lover, Charity. Barnum and Charity were essentially forbidden lovers where Charity grew up in a fancy, prestigious household and Barnum was the poor kid. The drama of the situation was properly set up. Then we started singing a song and magically by the end of the song these two kids were suddenly happily married as Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams with two adorable daughters. That was quick. Then we set up more drama where Hugh Jackman was fired from his job, but Michelle Williams loved him anyways, thus being the perfect wife. But Hugh Jackman still needs a job. Suddenly he comes up with a genius idea to create this museum full of unique and different individuals. I'm pretty sure we sang another song there and magically by the end of the song, his show was a huge success despite the equally as strong opposition towards it.

The nitpick was that this movie seemed to be moving rather quickly and we covered a lot of time space during the musical numbers that acted as a bridge between two different parts of the story. But I was still enjoying myself and I thought the musical numbers were good songs. It actually wasn't until Hugh Jackman met Zac Efron that a huge problem manifested itself. Zac Efron is successful in his own right, but Hugh Jackman wants him on his team. He approaches him and Zac Efron is bitterly opposed to this idea. Again, proper drama set up that I was excited to see play out. But then they broke out into song. Yes, the song was decent. The dance choreography was well done. But I finished the song feeling cheated out of what could've been some great cinematic drama as the two of them were best friends and business partners by the end of the song. Did the movie really just use a musical number to lazily patch together two story arcs so we could quickly move onto the next portion of Barnum's life? A musical number should be used to enhance a scene and not as a bandage to string together a lazily written script. I kindly begged the movie to not do that again and I was willing to forgive the movie if that was the only blunder in this musical that we encountered.

For the rest of the movie following that scene, I was fixed on this idea of how these songs were being used in the movie. I don't know how often I have thought super in depth about the construction of a musical, but I was thinking to myself that we should play out the drama in a musical in a proper way, using the musical numbers to enhance the moment or add the necessary emotion to the film, not as an easy way out to quickly progress the plot so that you can cover a lot more ground in a very detailed and complicated story. But it was when I zoned in on this thought that I successfully ruined my experience with this movie. Because I wanted my musical done right. I was suddenly thinking back to "La La Land" from last year wherein every song served a specific purpose in enhancing my experience with the movie. Thus I was becoming increasingly angrier and angrier with "The Greatest Showman" because they were doing everything wrong. Every moment of drama in the movie was solved with a song. After every song, we were onto a new part of the story. A story that I became increasingly uninterested in the further we progressed because there also seemed to be a very interesting story in here that was being ruined by lazy writing and poorly timed musical numbers.

That leads me to my previous point that I briefly mentioned briefly about this not being the actual story of P.T. Barnum. I didn't know anything about him prior to this movie, thus I was ready to learn about him and the great things that he did. But I got this strange inkling that the movie was lying to me about his story. Things seemed off. It just felt like this was a complicated individual that was being Hollywoodized or sanitized in order to fit the perfect outline of this colorful, bombastic musical that they wanted to do. I wanted there to be intense drama. I wanted to feel conflicted about certain things that he was doing. But I wasn't. Everything felt too easy or too perfect. Think of the perfect Hollywood movie about a man rising from rags to riches than being a little too obsessed with said riches and that's exactly what this movie portrayed. From a storytelling perspective, everything felt too perfect, too easy and too polished. I didn't care about it at all. And it didn't help things that when good drama started rising, the musical numbers were thrown in and completely ruined the moment. Then I go and learn after the fact that P.T. Barnum was actually a fairly complex, controversial character? You mean there was a great story here that was completely wasted?

I know I've had a complicated relationship with musicals in the past as I've never really given high priority in my life to diving into Broadway musicals (I still have never listened to or watched "Hamilton") and I nearly got crucified by an angry mob of fans several years back when I admitted to not liking the film adaptation of "Les Mis," an opinion I still hold to even though that review would look a lot different if I redid that review today. But I do consider myself a fan of the genre as I genuinely love a well-done musical and I don't think it takes much effort for a musical to please me. But "The Greatest Showman" frustrated me to no end. It has well-written songs that are sung well by this cast. I think I will enjoy re-listening to the soundtrack. There was great acting and an overall colorful and bombastic feel to it. But the story they told of P.T. Barnum was completely botched. Not only was it essentially fictional with how off they were, but the fictional story they told of this complicated man was dull and boring. An atrociously bad screenplay was made worse by horribly timed songs that were used solely to bandage this lazy screenplay rather than add depth and emotion. I didn't buy it at all and I left really angry. Thus my grade for "The Greatest Showman" is a 4/10.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ferdinand Review

You may have heard the news, but last weekend there was a small movie released from a 40-year-old franchise that was so divisive that I'm pretty sure there is now a huge mob of fans on the way to Rian Johnson's house wherein half of the mob is prepared to burn his house down whereas the other half is prepared to worship him as their new savior. Regardless of where you stand in regards to "The Last Jedi," what you may not have actually realized was that there was another movie released at the exact same time called "Ferdinand." Now you may be wondering why in the heck Blue Sky would choose to release their latest animated film at the same time as a Star Wars movie, but this is actually a strategy that has worked out well in the past. Just last year Illumination released their animated movie "Sing" at the same time as "Rogue One" and "Sing" ended up making around $270 million domestically, which ended up being more than "Moana" did after being released a month earlier on a "safer" Thanksgiving release date. So it's not a bad idea to attempt some counter-programming. And even though opening weekend didn't work out quite like Blue Sky was hoping for, this has the chance to play well through the holidays with no new family movies until Paddington 2 in January.

"Ferdinand" is about a young lion named Simba who runs away from home after his father dies. After living a peaceful life away from his former home, certain circumstances cause him to be thrown back to his original home where has to face the past and deal with a dangerous situation that has come up. Oh wait. Wrong movie. "Ferdinand" is actually about a young boy named Miguel who comes from a family of shoemakers. Miguel, however, doesn't want to be a shoemaker. He wants to be a musician. But in his family, being a musician is looked down upon, so he goes on a crazy journey that sends him to the land of the dead wherein his motivations are to prove his family wrong and become a musician anyways. Oh dang it. That's also the wrong movie. This is not "The Lion King" or "Coco." This is "Ferdinand." The movie about the bull who would rather smell flowers than bullfight. Based on the 1930's kids book that was adapted into the 1938 animated short that won Disney an Oscar in that category. Blue Sky has decided to take that short story and expand it into a feature length animated film wherein Ferdinand goes on a whole bunch of different adventures with different animals and people while still keeping intact the outline of the original story.

In doing so, "Ferdinand" ends up becoming a movie that you've probably seen a thousand times before. It has a painfully unoriginal premise with painfully unoriginal themes. If you watched the trailers, you can make a guess as to what's going to happen in this movie and you're going to feel like a psychic afterwards because you'll be exactly right. Even if you didn't seen any trailers or you aren't aware of the original book or animated short before watching this movie, you'll see the opening scene with a bunch of bulls training for bullfighting while Ferdinand is taking care of his flowers and then you can map out in your mind where this is going and you'll also be right on. The movie tries to throw in some crazy twists and turns, but it ends up being a lot less clever and smart than it thinks it is. As I pointed out earlier, the plot structure ends up being very similar to "The Lion King" when they expanded from eight minutes to 108 minutes. And even though "The Lion King" is fantastic, they didn't exactly invent that structure either as they're modeled after Shakespeare's "Hamlet." And an animated movie teaching kids that they can be different than what's expected of them? Yeah, I've never seen that before in my life. Hashtag sarcasm. Hashtag Coco.

But do you know what? I've been so mean to animated movies this year that I'm going to give this one a break. I mean, I've completely trashed so many of these animated movies such as "The Boss Baby," "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3," "The Emoji Movie" and "The Star" that I could potentially have my top 10 worst movies of the year list full of these disappointing animated movies. When I reflect on this whole situation, even though "Ferdinand" is no where close to the likes of "The LEGO Batman Movie" or "Coco" and probably isn't quite on the level of "Captain Underpants" either, I found myself enjoying "Ferdinand" a lot more than I thought I would and thus I would say it's easily better than all those previously mentioned animated movies that I trashed on this year. John Cena is the voice of Ferdinand and I felt that fit rather well. Yes, John Cena is a bodybuilder and a WWE superstar, but I feel like he's the type of guy who, when he's at home with friends or family, wouldn't actually harm a fly and is more of a big giant teddy bear who would rather sniff flowers than hurt someone. So I thought he was extremely charming and lovable as Ferdinand and I genuinely wanted him to get back to sniffing flowers all day long with his young girl owner.

There's also a lot of other talented voice work in the mix here that made this an enjoyable ride. The best of which is definitely Kate McKinnon, voicing a crazy goat. Kate McKinnon is a really talented comedian on SNL as well as all these other movies she's been showing up in after "Ghostbusters" made her more of a household name and this whole movie I felt like she just had a blast in the recording booth. We also have our team of bulls voiced by Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning and David Tennant. Yeah, you heard that right. Peyton Manning is in this movie. You thought he was going back to the NFL in some form as a coach, a GM or an owner? Maybe he has a career in voice acting ahead of him. Those other three around him make for a fun team of bulls all with very different personalities. Then we have a trio of mischievous hedgehogs voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias that are quite hilarious and a trio of horses next to the bulls voiced by Flula Borg, Sally Phillips and Boris Kodjoe that steal the show every time they show up, which includes a rather hilarious dance-off between the bulls and horses that comes out of nowhere, but should make everyone in the theater bust up laughing.

All of this comes together in a rather enjoyable fashion that should do a great job of pleasing its target audience, that being younger kids. I always try to pay close attention to how the kids are reacting when I go into a kids movie. When push comes to shove, it doesn't matter what any grumpy, old adult thinks about a kids movie. If the kids enjoyed it, the movie did its job. Luckily there were plenty of kids in the theater with me and I honestly think they had the time of their lives. The movie has a lot of gags from the bulls, hedgehogs and horses that are geared towards making kids laughed and it worked. The kids laughed quite a bit and I joined them during several of these scenes. The movie also has a finale that's very similar to "Finding Dory" that'll probably make the parents facepalm at how ridiculous it gets, but again the sequence should be very enjoyable for kids. Yes, there's always the argument that an animated movie has the ability to be like Pixar by pleasing the kids AND the adults, but sometimes you can tell that a studio set out to simply make a fun, harmless kids movie and if they succeed in doing so, then I have no problem with that. With this being Blue Sky, the team that did all the "Ice Age" movies, that seems to be their main focus.

Do you need to rush out and see this movie right away? No. There's so many other movies in theaters right now that this is one you can skip over and you won't miss anything. I'd say it's probably a middle of the pack movie for Blue Sky. They're a studio that occasionally comes up with something that's worth seeing for all audiences, such as the first "Ice Age" movie, "Horton Hears a Who" or "The Peanuts Movie." Yet for the most part they stay on the safe side of things by delivering movies that are harmless fun for the younger crowd while not spending much effort at all going outside the box to create something special. I haven't seen anything particularly bad from them, although I admittedly skipped the third, fourth and fifth "Ice Age" movies, but they aren't a studio that blows me away. Thus I use the word "safe." "Ferdinand" is another safe movie from Blue Sky. If you've already seen "Coco" or "Wonder" this season and you want another family movie trip for you and your kids and they're too young for "The Last Jedi" and "Jumanji," then "Ferdinand" is a solid choice. Your younger kids aged 3-6 will probably love this movie. But if you don't feel like spending the money, you're totally fine in waiting for the DVD or Netflix this time around. My grade for "Ferdinand" is a 7/10.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

When it was announced a few years ago that plan were in the works for a remake of "Jumanji," I, along with much of the rest of the world, cried out in horror. The project became official shortly after the death of Robin Williams, which felt like an insult to his legacy. We don't need all these pointless remakes that are nothing but cash grabs and we certainly don't need touch anything Robin Williams has done. I rather comfortably included it on the "bad" portion of my yearly movie preview. Twice. Because this was initially supposed to come out last Christmas before being postponed to this Christmas. I was mildly intrigued by the casting choices of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, but this was from the director of "Bad Teacher" and "Sex Tape," so I wasn't convinced. But then the trailer dropped. I was stunned. It... actually looked like a good movie? I wasn't sure what to think because I wanted to continue my hate for this idea, but it actually looked like it could be mildly entertaining, so I became conflicted. Slowly my hatred went away as I decided to instead play the "wait and see" game. Now that the movie is officially here, I rather surprisingly announce that the rumors are true. This is a really fun movie. "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" could be the surprise of the year. 

In the process of coming to terms with the idea that this could be a good movie, I had to peel back in my mind what exactly it was that made the 1995 "Jumanji" movie so good that we all cried blasphemy when we heard it was being remade. Was it truly a masterpiece of a film? No, I don't think so. It's a movie about a board game that comes to life when you play it. You have to avoid all the obstacles that come at you from the game and successfully finish the game before it kills. And you have Robin Williams who got stuck in the board game as a child and gets brought back to the present day when the new kids find the game and start playing it again. It's a simple idea that's incredibly fun, probably a bit more dark than you remember, has just enough heart and has Robin Williams. It's the perfect recipe for a good, fun shot of nostalgic entertainment. With nostalgia probably being the key word there. "Jumanji" is a movie that most 90's kids really love, but critics at the time didn't feel the same way as the movie is actually rotten on Rotten Tomatoes with an even 50 percent score and an audience score of 62 percent that's not much better. So if these new filmmakers can manage to recapture the fun, nostalgic trip with this game, what's so bad about bringing it back?

I think we've rightfully conditioned ourselves that remakes and reboots are bad because for the most part they seem like unnecessary cash grabs. There's the idea that Hollywood is running out of ideas, so the only thing they can manage to come up with is bringing back all of the old properties when there's no problem with going back and watching the original version. In most instances that will provide audiences with a better movie watching experience rather than paying for the modern update that ends up not as good. But occasionally bringing an older property successfully expands the universe of that film, adding to it's lore and that's exactly what "Welcome to the Jungle" does. I think the biggest reason why this worked so well, despite everyone's negative expectations, is that this is NOT a remake. This is a sequel that is updated for modern audiences. They're not recasting Robin Williams. They're not rehashing the same idea. The idea here is that no one plays board games anymore -- which is not true, but beside the point -- so the Jumanji game, after being found in 1996 and thrown on a shelf, transforms itself into a retro video game console, successfully trapping a 90's kid in it, setting the stage for our modern kids to find it and play it.

Thus if there's a "replacement" for Robin Williams, his name is Nick Jonas. Because in this transformed Jumanji video game, if you start playing it, you get sucked into the game and become the avatar that you choose. So our kid from the 90's gets sucked into the game and becomes Nick Jonas, but to beat the game and go back to real life, you need all five avatars selected or it's going to be awfully difficult. Thus he gets stuck in the game for 20 years until four very different high school kids get sent to detention and find the Jumanji game down in the basement of their high school. We have the strong, athletic football jock; we have the attractive, ditsy teenage girl obsessed with her appearance, her boyfriend, her Instagram and her phone; we have the nerdy kid with no social skills doing homework for the football jock while playing his video games; and we have the closed-off girl who really only cares about her grades and getting into a fancy, prestigious university. The intro to their characters and how they all get thrown in detention is a bit clunky and glossed over. But as an audience all we care about is them getting sucked into the video game and luckily that's all the filmmakers really cared about, too. So we forgive the clunky intro because we get to Jumanji pretty quickly.

The best aspect of this are the character transformations. The nerdy kid becomes Dwayne Johnson. The football jock becomes Kevin Hart. Enough said with those two. The closed off girl becomes the hot, sexy, jungle girl in Karen Gillan and the ditsy teenage girl becomes an overweight, middle-aged man in Jack Black. It was a lot of fun seeing all of these actors play a teenage character that are the exact opposite of them and for the most part they all played it perfectly. Kevin Hart plays Kevin Hart in the movie. Granted, he's a great version of Kevin Hart that sides on the hilarious aspect of him rather than the annoying aspect, but he doesn't do a good job of pretending he's an athletic football jock. The other three are perfect, though. Dwayne Johnson has his typical charm, charisma and strength, but he has a lot of fun being a scrawny, nerdy kid in Dwayne Johnson's huge body. Karen Gillan plays an attractive girl who has no experience with being an attractive girl as she has limited social skills and has no idea how to flirt. And Jack Black. Holy freaking cow. He's the star of the show as he pulls off one of the best performances he's done in his career as he does a perfect job of playing an annoying teenage girl throughout the whole film and has so much fun doing it.

Together they have great chemistry as a cast. They play off each other perfectly and make this movie a lot of fun. And when Nick Jonas joins the group later, they pull off a great quintet as Nick Jonas shows some surprisingly good acting chops. When you hear he's in the movie, you might think he's there just as a pretty face for Jack Black's teenage character to fangirl over the whole movie. And while those scenes are hilarious, Nick Jonas pulls off a solid dramatic performance as someone who has been stuck in this game for 20 years and is nervous about dying in the game. Because, yeah, each character has three lives and if you lose those three lives, it's game over both in this virtual world and in the real world. That adds some stakes to this movie that adds just enough emotion for to make you care about these five. Just like the original "Jumanji" is more than just mindless fun, this sequel makes you care. Whatever shortcomings the movie may have in writing and direction are overcome by this cast who know exactly what movie they're in and just decide to have a whole ton of fun with it by making you laugh throughout while adding enough heart to make it a solid movie. Thus this becomes a fun holiday blockbuster for you to sit back, relax and enjoy.

The other excellent part of this movie is how well they do the video game stuff. In which case, this is also the aspect of the movie where the target audience is very specific because this feels like you're in a 90's video game. The actual console they're playing is a generic console, making it obvious that Sony didn't care enough to pay whatever royalties needed to have a Nintendo or a Sega console in the game, but that's exactly where we're going in this movie. Specifically this reminded the most of an N64 with games like "Ocarina of Time," "Mario 64" or "Donkey Kong 64." Adventure games where you wander around, have missions to accomplish, the characters you interact with in the game tell you a coded script and nothing else, and you have an overall goal that you need to complete in order to beat the game. Yes, there is a lot of generic humor that all audiences can laugh at, but I can see the older generation who grew up before the 90's or the younger generation who grew up after the 90's not completely understanding all the specific 90's video game humor that this movie gets so well. Combine that with the tone and feel of a nostalgic 90's movie in "Jumanji" and you have a perfect movie that 90's kids should love while other people might find decently entertaining.

As such, this is a mildly missed opportunity as this could've been a perfect family movie for young kids as well as adults. This trailer played in front of a lot of kids movies that I saw this year and it was the trailer that all the young reacted the best to, but this is not a movie that I would feel comfortable taking kids to. I feel like they decided to target this specifically at 90's kids who are now grown adults in their mid- to late-20's, thus they feel comfortable with throwing in a bit of adult humor that causes you to remember that this does come from the director of "Bad Teacher" and "Sex Tape." Normally I don't like this type of humor, but I'm not going to lie, I was rolling over laughing hysterically as certain gags they did. But I still wouldn't be comfortable subjecting young kids to those jokes. So this misses the opportunity of becoming a "Wreck-It Ralph" that is loaded with 80's/90's nostalgia and is appropriate for young kids. And it might not hit quite as well for people who grew up in the 80's or earlier and don't understand 90's nostalgia, but as a 90's kid myself, I really loved this movie and I would highly recommend all other 90's kids, especially those who liked 90's video games and the movie "Jumanji," to go see this movie. I'm awarding "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" an 8/10.