Wednesday, January 31, 2018

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers Review

How about that for a subtitle to your movie? OK, I'm not even sure if that's an official subtitle or simply just a tagline for the movie, but when you see the movie logo, it shows up right under "12 Strong" as if it were a subtitle. Like the rest of the world, I'll simply be referring to this as "12 Strong" from here on out, but I felt like including that in my review title because that gives a pretty good description of what this movie is all about. If you don't follow movies as much as I do and this movie flew in under your radar, you might see the title "12 Strong" and have no idea what the movie is about. But when you read "The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers," that paints a pretty good image of what you're about to get yourself into. "12 Strong" is a movie that was released a couple of weeks ago, but I'm getting around to it right now because I'm behind on my January releases as I've been focusing on other things rather than seeing all the new January releases, most of which I wasn't super interested in. But "12 Strong" did have my attention and despite being late, I was interested in seeing this. And I'm glad I did because this is a pretty solid war film that chronicled an event that I didn't know much about. So I left the theater feeling educated and entertained.

As far as the "declassified true story" part of the subtitle, that's a bit deceiving. From what I've read, this was indeed a classified mission at first, but it became declassified in November 2001 when they completed the mission. So it's not this big secret thing that has just recently been revealed to the world. However, I would contend that this is a story that not many people are fully aware of. It went under the radar quite a bit until the book "Horse Soldiers" came out in 2009. There's a statue in New York City honoring the Horse Soldiers that was built in 2012 that I definitely recognize, but I'm sure that a lot of people walk by the statue without realizing its significance. Now if you're an expert on everything that's gone on in the Middle East over the last 20 years or more and you think I'm totally wrong on the idea that this is a fairly unknown event comparatively, then I apologize. In that case, I will definitively say that I had no knowledge of these events and I would predict that I'm not the only one. So I think that this is a great story to be told. We can learn about some true war heroes from the modern day that accomplished something great despite the remarkable odds stacked against them. If you're a fan of war movies like I am, this is definitely one to check out.

The first thing that this movie did for me was give me a sense of nostalgia. Not positive nostalgia necessarily, but it caused me to reflect on where I was when I learned of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. It's crazy for me when I realize that later this year we'll be commemorating the 17th anniversary of those events, meaning that there are high school kids right now who will be studying this event as history rather than something they remember as it took place before they were born. Personally I was in seventh grade. We didn't watch T.V. in the morning and social media wasn't a thing back then, so it's not like we would get a notification from our phones that told us we need turn on the T.V. to learn of what was happening. I learned of the news from my best friend as we were on the way to school. "Did you hear what happened this morning?" is essentially what he exclaimed when we picked him up. School that day was a very somber feeling as the whole school just watched the coverage on the T.V.'s in silence, the whole country being shocked at what we were witnessing. In addition to it being a very sad day for the country, I also remember the days following as very encouraging as it was one of the few times where we were all united as a country.

In "12 Strong," Chris Hemsworth plays a man by the name of Mitch Nelson, whose real name was Mark Nutsch as the movie and the book change his name for various reasons. He had recently been moved to a desk job after having previously served as a field captain of the Special Forces. He's at home with his family at the beginning of this movie when they witness the attacks on the news.  Immediately he heads over to his job and says that he needs to be put back with his team. It requires a few strings to be pulled with Hemsworth kicking over his desk, but it happens. This is what made me reflect back on that day in 2001. I was personally too young to actually do anything about it, but watching this guy's reactions gave me a strong sense of respect and patriotism towards this man. He could've stayed at his desk job, thinking that he dodged a bullet that he wouldn't be required to go out in the field. But instead his reaction is that he wants to go out in the field right now to fight for his country to prevent attacks like this from happening again. What an awesome guy! And yes, I do like looking up the real history and this is accurate to what Mark Nutsch actually did. In fact, his wife in real life was pregnant, something not portrayed in the movie, yet he still went over to fight.

The ensuing story with this crew, the elite U.S. Special Forces unit, Operational Detachment-Alpha 595 (ODA 595 for short), is a rather fascinating story. As the title of the movie informs us, there were just 12 of them and they were the first unit out in Afghanistan responding to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA gave them intel on what local leaders to work with, which led them to Afghan General Rashid Dostum, who was a bit of a sketchy dude, but was the best bet that they had. General Dostum's crew had about 200 paid Afghan soldiers. So we have around 200 men, 12 of which are Americans, going up against what was estimated to be like 50,000 Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. And how do they do this? On horseback. Because that was the best way for them to travel through the terrain of Afghanistan. Hence the nickname the Horse Soldiers. A small number of men with guns on horses attacking a large army of scary enemies with their tanks and missile-like things. The best weapon that the Horse Soldiers have are the air-strike bombers that Chris Hemsworth is directing. But the have to strategically get close enough in order to get the proper coordinates. Outside that, it's a very small army against an extremely large one, so the odds of survival are extremely low.

I don't want to give too much away about this mission because I went into this knowing very little of the specifics. I had no idea if this was a tragic suicide mission or if this was an incredible underdog story of people defying the odds to accomplish something miraculous. Or perhaps a combination of both. So I'll leave that up to you to learn what happens on your own. But I will say that the movie had my full attention throughout. A very close comparison to this movie in many ways is "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." The titles are remarkably similar. Both movies came out in January and will make similar numbers at the box office. Both movies are about modern war stories over in the Middle East. Michael Bay did his best to try to ruin "13 Hours," but he ended up failing in that as the movie was actually really good with a phenomenal ending that had me on the edge of my seat. "12 Strong" is similar. Overall, the movie is better directed and flows more smoothly than "13 Hours," but like "13 Hours," the highlight of the movie is the final battle. We wander a bit in the middle and sometimes humor is thrown in when it didn't need to be there. But those war sequences are intense. I was on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen.

When I walked out of the theater, I had a strong feeling of patriotism. To me, that's a sign of a really good war movie, especially one that involves soldiers from your own country fighting against the enemy. We all know Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet in this movie he plays a more important, real life hero named Mark Nutsch. What an amazing, heroic man this was! And Hemsworth does a great job in portraying him. He's one of my favorite actors because he always brings a lot of charm and charisma to his characters. With him and Michael Pena, I didn't see Thor and the funny sidekick from "Ant-Man." I saw two war heroes and I was proud of what they did and the amount of bravery it took to march out on that battle field despite the odds saying they wouldn't survive. If they were going down, they were going down for their country. But despite the odds, they were bound and determined on making it home, giving them strong motivation to keep going. This movie won't be getting any Oscars next year, but it was one of those movies where there were some Oscar-worthy performances given in an important story that's worth telling and definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of war films. My grade for "12 Strong" is an 8/10. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Darkest Hour Review

Here's a movie that's been on my radar for a while now. After hitting the film festival rounds starting with Telluride on September 1, 2017, "Darkest Hour" got its official theatrical release on November 22 in four theaters before expanding nationwide on December 22. I had my eye on this since that point, but there were a lot of other movies that were higher on my priority list, so this slipped away from me for a while. The awards buzz weren't super strong as a whole, outside Gary Oldman, who's been the consensus best actor winner from the beginning. I thought it was a possibility that Gary Oldman for best actor would be the only nomination it got, which is why I didn't rush out to see it. But this surprised in a big way on nomination morning by capturing six nominations, which included a best picture nomination. When that happened, "Darkest Hour" immediately shot right up to the top of my priority list along with "Phantom Thread" and "Call Me by Your Name," as those were the only three best picture nominees that I hadn't seen. My plan is to give you a review of all three of these movies, but "Darkest Hour" was the most accessible initially as it was already in wide release while the other two are still making their way to more theaters. So here we go with its review!

Before we dive into "Darkest Hour," we have to reopen old wounds from this past summer with a little film called "Dunkirk." I remember writing my review of "Dunkirk" with high levels of extreme rage, mostly directed towards Christopher Nolan fanboys who were praising the movie as the best war film ever made as well as one of the best overall films ever made. The movie had a 9.8 on IMDb after its first 3,000 votes... which took place BEFORE the movie was released to the general public. That means we had nearly 3,000 people give the movie a 10/10 before even seeing it JUST because it was directed by Christopher Nolan. Had the same exact movie been made by any other director, I highly doubt this same fan base would've even shown up. And if they did, I think they would've had a much different opinion as this was a very unconventional war film. I think critics would've still loved it, but I think audience reaction would've been a lot more mixed since they wouldn't have been obligated to praise their Lord and Savior, Christopher Nolan. Thus when I saw the movie and was mostly unimpressed, I wrote a pretty vicious attack towards these Nolan fanboys, which in turn backfired on me as now I have the reputation of hating Nolan, which is totally not true. But oh well.

Nolan has now made 10 films and as that is the golden number, I now plan on creating a list where I rank those 10 films, which should demonstrate that I really love seven of those 10. I'm just not madly in love with the most recent three, "Dunkirk," "Interstellar" and "The Dark Knight Rises." "Interstellar" completely craps out for me in the final act and "The Dark Knight Rises," which is still highly entertaining, has a lot of plot holes that have bothered me more and more as time goes on. The reason why I wasn't a fan of "Dunkirk" was mainly due to the perspective. I wanted the movie to teach me the historical context of what was going on at the time and I wanted characters to latch onto. I got neither of those. We just got 106 minutes of war scenes. Nolan assumed his audience already knew about the history of Dunkirk, so he completely avoided that. As far as characters go, he wanted to show the world what it was like as an average, normal soldier experiencing war. With that latter point, I feel it's quite normal for your average soldier to not have knowledge of the bigger picture. They're just following orders from their superiors. So it makes it even more accurate to the average solider. And I thought that was fascinating. For like 20 minutes. Then I got bored.

The reason why I'm kinda re-reviewing "Dunkirk" is that it's not very often where I have specific complaints about a movie that are completely rectified six months later with another movie. That's why I was so taken aback by "Darkest Hour." I wanted "Dunkirk" to give me historical context and characters to attach myself to. I got them in "Darkest Hour." The battle of Dunkirk in history is when the German soldiers essentially corner the British troops at Dunkirk, nearly to the point of winning the war. Winston Churchill essentially pulled a rabbit out of the hat for Britain, saving them from complete disaster and thus extending the war wherein Germany of course lost and the Allies won. "Darkest Hour" is the story of Winston Churchill being appointed as Prime Minister and being immediately faced with a lot of difficult decisions. A lot of the leadership at the time wanted Britain to surrender and negotiate with Hitler. Does Winston Churchill go with that or is he going to come up with a daring plan to fight on against incredible odds? This is the exact conflict that "Darkest Hour" focuses on. Even though I knew how it was going to end, especially since I saw "Dunkirk," I was fascinated as I watched the history behind how it all came about.

There's a lot of uncertainty this Oscar season, but one thing that seems to be a forgone conclusion is that Gary Oldman is going to win that trophy for best actor. I can't officially judge this category quite yet because I have not seen Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread," Timothée Chalamet in "Call Me by Your Name" or Denzel Washington in "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," meaning I have some homework to do before my Oscar predictions post, but it'll definitely be a huge hill for those three to climb to top Oldman when it comes to my personal opinion of who should win because I certainly have a soft spot for actors who are able to perfectly portray a historical figure. I think Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg's "Lincoln" was a performance for the ages and I personally liked Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in 2016's "Jackie" nearly as much. Gary Oldman portraying Winston Churchill is another performance for the ages that belongs right in the same conversation as those two as he magically transforms into Churchill for this role, not just in looking just like him, but sounding just like him and nailing his mannerisms. Sure, the makeup people get a lot of credit for his looks, but major props have to be given to Oldman for his disappearing act.

I will admit that I'm not an expert when it comes to Winston Churchill, so I couldn't immediately say without research that Oldman pulled this off perfectly like I was able to when Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln. With the latter role, I felt like the filmmakers had gone back in time and recruited the real Abraham Lincoln to play himself in their movie. Luckily with Churchill, this thing called the internet exists and he lived recently enough where I can listen to his speeches and look up pictures of him so that my ignorant American self can be better educated on exactly how Churchill looks and sounds. And yeah. Gary Oldman is perfect. Which is crazy because Oldman as is looks and sounds nothing like Churchill. I look at him and I still see Commissioner Gordon. So the transformation is amazing. Even more impressive than his transformation into Sirius Black. But even before I did my research, I was rather fascinated by this character. I loved how human and conflicted he was the whole movie in figuring out what the right thing to do was. He didn't even expect to become Prime Minister in the first place and in many instances he was a fairly unlikable fellow. Thus his character arc in the movie really moved me in the way a true biopic should.

Yes, we know how this all ends. Because, well, spoiler alert, Britain didn't surrender to Germany or make a peace treaty with Hitler. The soldiers at Dunkirk were saved. Over 300,000 of them. The Allies went onto win World War II. But I love myself a good historical drama that dives into history of how this came about. "Darkest Hour" did just that and I was fascinated to learn more of the details behind this story while getting a look into what life was like for Winston Churchill, both on a personal level as well as his work as Prime Minister. I wanted the movie "Dunkirk" to teach me of the history surrounding these events and the fact that it didn't was one of the major reasons why I was disappointed. Thus I was rather pleased when "Darkest Hour" did exactly what I had wished "Dunkirk" would've done by teaching me about these events. There's approximately zero minutes of war scenes in "Darkest Hour," but that's OK because we got 106 minutes of those in "Dunkirk." When the time came, I was able to mentally plug in "Dunkirk" and thus I was perfectly satisfied. While I'm not going back on my opinion of "Dunkirk" on its own, I will say that "Darkest Hour" and "Dunkirk" would make for a great double feature and for this I am awarding "Darkest Hour" a 9/10.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Paddington 2 Review

The year 2017 is in the books on this blog. Sure, there are a few final best picture nominees that I still plan on reviewing and of course I will be doing my annual Oscar predictions post right before the Oscars in early March, but I officially have my best and worst movies of 2017 lists posted, so now it's time to put the main focus on 2018 and what a better way to start than with this absolutely delightful "Paddington" sequel! As far as the other 2018 new releases go, I do plan on eventually getting to "The Commuter," "12 Strong" and "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," but I make no specific promises. What I don't plan on getting to is "Den of Thieves," "Proud Mary" or "Insidious: The Last Key." I simply have zero interest in those three movies and with plenty on the docket to see right now, they'll most likely be left in the dust. Sorry. That's just how life goes sometimes. But "Paddington 2" was the January movie that I was super excited for. I actually saw it nearly two weeks ago, but had other priorities on this blog, specifically with the end of year lists, but with those out of the way, it's time for me to gush about this adorable British bear and how simply wonderful this movie is. With two absolutely phenomenal family films in the books, this is becoming one of the best family film franchises.

This biggest thing that I've heard from a lot of my American friends is that they thought the first "Paddington" looked dumb, so they skipped it. Those same people are also claiming they are skipping this sequel because it also looks dumb. Every time a friend tells me that, I have to strongly resist the urge to grab them by the shoulders and shake the living daylights out of them in order to knock some sense into them. The first "Paddington" got a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 141 reviews counted and this sequel currently stands at a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes 172 reviews counted. That's the highest reviewed movie EVER on Rotten Tomatoes, from a certain point of view. It's the most reviews counted for a movie that stayed at 100 percent. A record that "Lady Bird" had late last year before a Grinch finally gave it a negative review. Thus the record went back to "Toy Story 2" before "Paddington 2" then took it back away. If you hate Rotten Tomatoes, both movies got an A on Cinemascore and both have high audiences scores on various other sites, like IMDb. Regardless of how you look at it, people who have seen these movies have loved them. Yet you refuse to even give them a chance because "they looked dumb"? C'mon man!

OK, fine. Whatever. Rant over. I suppose we can credit some of that undeserved hate from ignorant Americans who refuse to give this franchise a chance on the fact that these are British movies intended first and foremost for a British audience. I mean, that's where Paddington came from. He first showed up in a kid's book in 1958 written by British author Michael Bond. The various Paddington books have since sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The first T.V. series for Paddington began on BBC in 1975 and has been widely successful for many years. The first Paddington movie was released in 2014 in the U.K. and made $64 million there. Compare that to the U.S. total of $76 million a few months later in early 2015. And Google tells me we have around five times the population. So far, "Paddington 2," released in November 2016 in the U.K., has made $57 million there compared to just $26 million here in the U.S. after two weeks of release. The latter is a crime to humanity in my opinion, but if it's pleasing its target audience and making money over in the U.K., then I suppose I can't complain too much. They even gave "Paddington 2" three BAFTA nominations, which included outstanding British film.

Why is this such a beloved movie? For me it centers around Paddington himself, who is such a lovable character. He has an adorable innocence to him as he's always looking for the good in everyone and doing his best to make a difference in the world while living as good of a life as he can. This right here provides a solid message for kids watching the movie to live a good life and be a good human being. Then we have the good-natured humor that comes with Paddington's innocence of being an anthropomorphic bear living in the human world in London, not fully understanding exactly how the human world works, but doing his absolute best. This leads to a lot of clean, fun humor that will have all the kids and the adults on the floor rolling in laughter. If you are tired of all the recent kids movies relying heavily on poop, butt and fart jokes to make the kids laugh, then Paddington is a franchise you need to turn to because they don't have any of that extremely low form of humor. Yeah, sure, your six-year-old will laugh hysterically at all the fart jokes in the other movies, but why rely on those movies when the Paddington movies will make them laugh just as hard with clean humor? And the joy of it all is that the jokes aren't just for kids as the adults will be laughing, too.

Paddington also goes through quite the character arc in this movie. As the story goes, all he wants to do in this movie is get a special gift for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday. While browsing through an antique shop, he finds an elaborate pop-up book of London that he decides he wants to give to his Aunt Lucy since she's never been to London. The problem is the book is a little more expensive than Paddington can afford, so he does odd jobs around the city to earn money and has almost earned enough when one day he notices a thief in the antique shop stealing the book, so Paddington chases him down, but is unsuccessful as the thief does a disappearing act last second, leaving Paddington framed for the crime, putting him on trial and sending him to prison. The big character arc with this is that Paddington has to learn the hard way that sometimes the world isn't as good and perfect as he thought it was, but yet being the great bear he is, he tries to make the absolute best out of every situation, being the best prisoner that he can be while putting his full trust in his family back home that they will figure out a way to prove his innocence and get him out of prison. This is a lovely arc with great messages that adds quite a bit of depth and emotion to this already fun film.

There's a lot of care and precision given to this movie on every level. Without even knowing much about director Paul King, outside the fact that he did a great job with both of these movies, I can tell that he really cares about this subject matter and really wants to do this material justice and give people who love the Paddington books and T.V. shows the series of movies that they deserve and can share with their family and kids for years to come. This is a very well-directed movie with a great three-act structure. The intro I described to you in my summary makes for a great first act as it sets up the story quite well. I won't say what happens in the second or third acts, but the second act is absolutely delightful and had me laughing so hard while the third act takes you on quite the wild ride while ending in a very touching way that nearly brought tears to my eyes. And don't you dare leave when the credits start rolling because there's a mid-credits scene that might be the best scene of the movie. In addition to all the directing and writing being perfect, the acting is spot-on from everyone involved. None of the actors are here just to collect a paycheck. They are all fully invested in providing families for years to come with an absolutely delightful film.

The best way for me to summarize "Paddington 2" is that it's the perfect family film. To quantify that statement, I'm not saying this is the absolute perfect, flawless film overall. But in terms of everything you want or expect from a family film, this does everything it needs to do. It's extremely hard to make a great family film. Paul King did just that three years ago with "Paddington." It's even harder to make a sequel to a family film that's just as good, if not better. Yet Paul King ALSO did that with "Paddington 2." In fact, over the last week or so, I've been trying to come up with a comparison for this franchise and the best one I can think of is the "Toy Story" franchise. Those are three movies that I would similarly qualify as perfect families because they do everything they need to in order to successfully entertain family audiences. All three movies are very solid individual movies that stand on their own and all three of them are about on the same level. It's impressive what they've done and we can only hope that continues with "Toy Story 4" next year. We've only had two "Paddington" movies so far, but both of them are absolutely solid films. I don't even know which one I like more, so I'm going to play it safe and reward this sequel the same score as I did the first - a 9/10. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

DrogeMiester's Top 10 WORST Movies of 2017

At the beginning of this past weekend, I posted my list of favorite movies of 2017. Now it's time to finish 2017 off with my list of least favorite movies of 2017. I briefly mentioned in my favorite movies of 2017 list that I didn't see every movie in 2017. That is especially true with this list. There's a lot of really bad movies that I simply chose not to see and I don't feel bad about it. Yet as I skim over the movies that I skipped, most of them include raunchy comedies that no liked that I have zero interest in subjecting myself to ("CHiPs," "Snatched," "Baywatch," "Rough Night"), low-budget horror movies that no one liked, made solely to earn a few bucks ("The Bye Bye Man," "Rings," "Wish Upon," "Flatliners," "Jigsaw") or sequels in franchises that I have less than zero interest in ("Underworld: Blood Wars," "Resident Evil: Final Chapter," "Fifty Shades Darker," "Smurfs: The Lost Village," "Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature," "Pitch Perfect 3"). So the following is a fairly accurate list of the worst movies of the year out of the ones I decided to give a chance to. But if you want to simply call it "10 bad movies that Adam saw this year," then I'm cool with that. I do think that 2017 was a good year for the most part. But here are the highlights of the stumbling blocks that we had to get through along the way.

10- Transformers: The Last Knight

The fifth Transformers movie was Michael Bay's "screw you" to the world. I'm sure he knows exactly why everyone hates his movies, but the previous two movies, "Dark of the Moon" and "Age of Extinction," both made over $1 billion worldwide, so I honestly think Michael Bay just didn't give a crap about what people thought because his horrific movie-making formula was consistently bringing in the big bucks. So is it surprising that "The Last Knight" delivers the exact same pile of stinky, rotten crap that everyone has been complaining about with this franchise in the last 10 years? No, it's not. Because Michael Bay doesn't care. I just gain comfort in knowing that Michael Bay's plan backfired this time around as the world witnessed this movie and said "screw you" right back to Michael Bay as "The Last Knight" made far less money than the previous two, getting only $130 million domestically and $605 million worldwide. And if this team continues to make no effort in improving this franchise, those numbers will continue to fall. The only reasons why "The Last Knight" isn't higher on this list is that it's better than "Age of Extinction," even though that's not saying much, and I wasn't angry at it after watching due to me not expecting anything from it.

9- The Greatest Showman

It's been a long time since I've had this strong of a disconnect with ALL my friends and family. I promise I'm not trying to purposely be controversial here. I genuinely hated this movie. It's one of the worst musicals in recent memory. Not only does the storyline manage to be extremely generic and cliche, but it also goes in a thousand different directions as it lacks any sort of focus or coherency. How do they manage to tape this mess of a story together? With music. The music in a musical is supposed to enhance your experience. That doesn't happen here. Instead the music is used to bandage everything together as every song takes you from Point A to Point Z. I felt cheated. My music blog forced me to revisit the most popular songs from the musical when they showed up on the Billboard Hot 100 and, in addition to said songs being used poorly, they are all generic and meaningless, highlighted by the worst of the bunch, "This is Me," which is a generic empowerment anthem written by two privileged white guys who have never been oppressed in their lives. The lyrics definitely show. Top all of that off with the fact that the movie is a complete and utter lie when it comes to the actual story of P.T. Barnum, which I could've forgiven if the movie itself was worth anything.

8- The Boss Baby

One thing that definitely stood out to me when it comes to the worst of 2017 was the extreme lack of quality when it came to animated movies. There were obvious exceptions to that, like "Coco," "Your Name." and "The LEGO Batman Movie," but "The Boss Baby" is the first of THREE animated movies on this list. And that's with me leaving off "Despicable Me 3," "Cars 3" and "The LEGO Ninjago Movie," all of which were worthy contenders. When it comes to DreamWorks Animation, they've always been hit and miss for me, but rarely have they had as big of a miss as "The Boss Baby." In trying to cleverly answer the question of where babies come from, we have what ends up being "Baby Geniuses" meets a painfully obvious rip-off of "Toy Story," all of which seems like it was written by a group of 7-year-olds with a plot that somehow manages to be extremely confusing and super cliche. The trailers looked awful. I almost skipped the movie altogether, only seeing it because it made a ton of money. I was embarrassed to asked for a ticket. And I wanted to walk out while watching because I was writhing in pain the entire time. It made the kids in my theater laugh, but half of that was because of all of the butt, poop and fart jokes littered throughout. 

7- The Circle

Sometimes I watch a movie and become baffled as to how such highly talented actors can look at a script for a movie and agree to be a part of it anyways, despite it being painfully obvious that there was never anything here to begin with. Sure, I suppose it's a decent idea to have a movie that showcases the potential hazards of social media and the internet, but it would have to be executed perfectly because we've had movies about the dangers of modern technology practically ever since they started making movies. It appears that this idea for "The Circle" never even translated to a decent screenplay because there is nothing here. The movie is as boring as tar. Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega do the best with what they were given, outside Emma Watson proving yet again that she should just stop trying to pull off an American accent. But again, they were given nothing to work with. Nothing happens. I felt like I was being forced to tag along with this group as they moved forward with a boring day at a boring job for this stupid company that was obviously trying to replicate a modern social media, but failed to have any sort believability. These three certainly weren't in need of a quick paycheck, so why'd they take it? Did they all lose a bet? 

6- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Or, as I like to call it, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Jar Jars." Director Luc Besson has a decently impressive filmography, so it's typically not hard to get me excited for one of his films, at least when it comes to his directing credits. And I was intrigued by the idea that he'd wanted to do a Valerian movie for a long time as he grew up reading the French comics "Valerian and Laureline," which were released initially in 1968. But my conclusions here are that he loved those comics so much that instead of picking one of them to adapt, he chose ALL of them as we get a plot that goes in a thousand different directions with way too many subplots and a run time of 137 minutes that literally felt 45 minutes too long. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne have zero chemistry, creating one of the most awkward romances I've witnessed recently. And of course we have my adjusted title because we have so many different space creatures crammed in, all of which annoyed the crap out of me like Jar Jar did for most people in the prequels. The one thing everyone else seemed to agree on were the stunning visual effects. I don't know. Maybe my theater showed a different version of the movie because I thought the movie looked and felt like a really bad video game.

5- The Star

Next up we have our second animated movie of this list, and the first of two animated movies from Sony Pictures Animation. Now I don't necessarily mind there being yet another movie telling the story of the Nativity. It's a story I enjoy that I obviously think has a great message behind it. But yet we've had so many movies about various parts of Christ's life that I often wonder why we're getting yet another one when something like this shows up on the schedule. But it's whatever. If they do a good job telling the story, then I can give it a pass. And that's the problem with "The Star." Did anyone on Earth really want a movie about the Nativity from the perspective of the animals? Even though unique perspectives of the Nativity have worked in the past, I really have no idea what Sony was thinking with this one or how this specific screenplay even passed the board room meetings. Not only does the movie completely twist the story of the Nativity itself, but every time we switched to the animals in the movie, which happened to be most of the movie, they successfully drove me completely crazy. I wanted all of the animals to be captured by the bad guys and served up for Christmas dinner. Not something I should ever desire out of my main characters.

4- A Cure for Wellness 

Here's a movie that came out in mid-February that most people have completely forgotten about. And rightfully so. It's final box office total came in at just $8 million domestically and $26 million worldwide. The only reason why I saw it was for the off chance it happened to end up like "Shutter Island," a movie it was obviously trying to replicate as both are mystery thrillers where someone goes to investigate a mysterious place isolated from the rest of the world. And despite a good score and good cinematography, "A Cure for Wellness" fails on every level. It's not very mysterious as you have this place figured out as well as our villains fairly quickly into the movie. The thrills in the movie aren't very exciting either. But where this movie really rubbed me the wrong way was when we revealed the secrets of this place. And as a warning, I'm going to spoil this. Long story short, a guy falls in love with and marries his sister, potentially against her will. She's infertile, but he gets her pregnant through various experiments, but is found out and the sister is burned alive. But the fetus somehow survives, so the dude spends the next 200 years figuring out how to extend life and attempts to marry and rape this daughter when she finally comes of age before being stopped by Dane DeHaan. It's all disgusting and disturbing. I really don't know what Gore Verbinski was thinking here.

3- Daddy's Home 2

I spent two years avoiding this franchise after "Daddy's Home" came out at the same time as "The Force Awakens" and I just didn't care enough to go see it. But the franchise was haunting me ever since, so I watched both of them back to back when "Daddy's Home 2" was released and both of them have similar problems. They can't decide if they want to be family comedies or adult comedies, so instead this hits the awkward PG-13 comedy status that's too raunchy for kids, but too juvenile for adults. They also can't decide if they want to be a serious drama or an over-the-top slapstick comedy, so the movies end up being both and thus subsequently neither. Watching both of these movies back to back gave me a huge headache due to the overdose of unintelligent filmmaking. Specifically with "Daddy's Home 2," since sequels always have to be bigger and better, instead of simply following the Mark Wahlberg vs. Will Farrell arc of the first, we introduce the dads of both, adding in Mel Gibson and John Lithgow. Thus we have double the dads, double the plot lines and double the headaches for me as this movie had absolutely no idea who or what to focus on in this extremely unfunny, confusing movie that doesn't know who the target audience is or what tone to take the movie. And all the jokes from the first, which weren't funny to begin with, are lazily copied and pasted.

2- The Snowman 

I honestly think "The Snowman" is a modern marvel of a film. For all the wrong reasons. As in I truly marvel about how this final product came to be. The movie is based on a very popular series of murder mystery thrillers. We have a top-notch director in Tomas Alfredson and a top-notch executive producer in Martin Scorsese who wanted to direct this initially. We have a very talented cast, led by Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson. We also have a top-notch crew all around with the editors, cinematographer and composer. There was no reason to believe this wasn't going to at least be a decent thriller. But not only is this a bad movie, this is an unfinished movie. After this movie was released and universally panned, Alfredson came out and said that they never even filmed 10-15 percent of this movie. How do you let that happen? And what were you filming instead? I heard about that before going in, but after watching this, I feel that he lowballed that estimate as it feels like only 10-15 percent of the movie was even filmed and that small amount of content somehow got stretched into two hours. I was stunned and left speechless after finishing this movie that I was really excited for and concluded that this was a cinematic disaster on the level of 2015's "Fant4stic."   

1- The Emoji Movie 

If you've followed this blog or talked to me at all this year, this selection should be the most unsurprising choice to you. I left "The Emoji Movie" feeling like it was the epitome of everything wrong with Hollywood in 2017. Sony has dipped so low into the pool of ideas that they made a movie based on the emojis in your phone. Sony got so desperate to follow current trends that they tried to set up a Smartphone Cinematic Universe. The world of this movie is called Textopolis and the plot is the most disgustingly obvious ripoff of "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Inside Out," but does absolutely nothing right. The movie is not funny. The movie has no depth. The movie has no redeemable characters. The movie is loaded with poop jokes and puns. The movie teaches the message that texting is better than talking to someone in person. Like, seriously. I did not laugh once. Nothing moved me. Nothing entertained me. I hated every minute of this movie and am beyond furious that this embarrassment of a film exists in our world. And to top everything off, the movie was unable to entertain its target audience of young kids. I have not talked to one young kid who enjoyed it and I have never been to a kids movie where the kids in the screening seemed more bored.

Friday, January 19, 2018

DrogeMiester's Top 10 BEST Movies of 2017

Every year I have a lot of fun watching and reviewing as many new movies as I can and it all builds to this point. The end of year list. My favorite post of the year. 2017 was a unique year in that there really wasn't the one or two movies that rose to the top as the favorite. That's really apparent when I look at all the other lists and notice that most people have a different No. 1. Most of the awards shows are also favoring different movies. It's exciting. That holds true with me as well as there wasn't a super obvious choice for movie of the year like "La La Land" in 2016. The other thing that made 2017 unique is that there seemed to be a higher percentage of good movies than there normally is, which made this list really tricky to make because I think there's more than 25 movies that belong in this top 10. I had to make a lot of surprising cuts that made me sad and might shock you. But after much thought I feel comfortable with these 10 in this order. A few quick notes. No, I didn't see every movie this year. And that's OK. And yes, I completely ignored the scores I gave in my reviews when ranking these movies as well as my mid-year list. If you keep track of either of those, you might be ever more surprised, which should make this fun. So let's begin!

10- Wind River

Taylor Sheridan made my 2016 list as a writer for "Hell or High Water" and could've easily done the same in 2015 as the writer for "Sicario," even though that one missed the cut. In 2017 he stepped into the director's chair for "Wind River" and hit yet another home run. "Wind River" can best be described as a bone-chilling thriller. I saw this movie during the summer when it was warm outside, but yet I wanted to put on my coat in the theater. It's set on a modern-day Native American reservation during the winter, thus the characters were walking around in the snow the whole movie, so it literally looked cold. But also thematically this is dark and chilling as this is a crime thriller where Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are there trying to solve a murder case where a Native American girl wound up dead in the middle of the snow, miles away from any of the residences. The movie sends the message that there are shockingly high number of murder cases on the reservations that go unsolved, which I find devastating. The movie builds slow, but is never dull as it builds to a final act that is absolutely phenomenal and is carried by career performances from both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. Taylor Sheridan, you definitely have my attention.

9- Wonder Woman

I have no idea what the current state of the DCEU is. After the failure of "Justice League" and the rumored departure of Ben Affleck as Batman, they look like they are in all-out panic mode as they are on the verge of everything exploding in their face. Regardless of what happens, though, at least we can rest at ease knowing that we were able to receive a proper Wonder Woman film. It's also a sign to DC that if they get their act together, audiences will gladly forgive them for past failures as "Wonder Woman" not only ended up as the highest grossing superhero movie of the year, but the fifth highest of all-time domestically as well as being the highest-grossing origin story. And I think it's absolutely fantastic that girls around the world now have a superhero that they can look up to. The sheer volume of Wonder Woman costumes during Halloween is a sign of how big of a cultural phenomenon this movie became. This because the movie was fantastic. I had goosebumps all over and a giant lump in my throat while watching this for the first time because I was just so happy that I was finally watching a classic DC film in theaters. I like Marvel a lot, but DC is closer to my heart, so seeing this movie done so well by Patty Jenkins was essentially a dream come true.

8- Baby Driver

What happens when you combine "The Fast and the Furious" (car chase scenes), "Ocean's Eleven" (heist film), "Goodfellas" (gangster movie), "Guardians of the Galaxy" (clever use of music) and "Cinderella" (romance + Lily James), all brought together while the magical touch of Edgar Wright? You get "Baby Driver." This is a movie where you might not walk out reflecting on the meaning of life, but if you don't walk out with a huge smile on your face, there might be something seriously wrong with you because this is definitely the most fun I had in theaters all year. If you look at this concept on paper, you might be legitimately concerned with how much is going on and how many genres they're trying to shove into one movie, but that's why Edgar Wright is a genius because this works perfectly. I'm glad he finally got the recognition he deserved after all his previous films have to be given the label of cult classics. I mean, for a director who's done "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "The World's End," you would think he's had more success outside the U.K. Crazy thing is, despite how much I love "Baby Driver," I look at these five films and I'm not sure "Baby Driver" is my favorite. In fact, you could claim it's the fifth best and I couldn't argue with you.

7- I, Tonya

The story of Tonya Harding isn't one that I was super familiar with as I was only five years old when Nancy Kerrigan got her knee bashed in, causing a lifetime ban from figure skating for Tonya Harding and 20 years worth of being the butt of every joke. Thus I was excited to learn about all of this when I went into this movie. What I wasn't expecting was to get a movie-going experience that could very well stay with me my whole life. The movie is told mockumentary style and does a lot of fourth-wall breaking. There's a moment when Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding looks out at the audiences and says, "You are all my attackers." That cut me deep. I may have been too young to know about Tonya Harding, but how many other athletes, celebrities or other people have I simply read a story about in the news and made an immediate judgment of how awful a person they are without even stopping to think about their background, their history or why they may have made certain decisions? Way too many. And now I feel awful for doing so. It's not too often that a movie completely changes my perspective on things, but "I, Tonya" did just that. The only disadvantage this movie has is that I just saw this like a week ago. This could end up even higher in the future.

6- A Ghost Story

This movie wins the award for the movie that stuck with me the longest. When I first saw it in theaters, it absolutely mesmerized me. I went home and gave it a good review. Then I moved on with life and saw many more movies in theaters as the weeks and months went by, but this movie never left my head. It stayed at the top of my head the whole entire year and I almost literally couldn't stop thinking about it. When it came time to put this list together, I told myself that this had to be on here because no movie this year had the same impact as this one did. In typical A24 fashion, this is a very unconventional film, so there's a chance that you could watch it and think I'm crazy. All we have going on is a man who dies and comes back as a ghost where he is forced to watch his now widowed wife live life without him. That's it. A simple premise to a simple movie. Yet it's hauntingly devastating. The most famous scene is simply one long shot (nearly five minutes) of the wife sitting on the floor eating a pie. Yet it's the most uncomfortably, fascinatingly honest scene in film all year when it comes to dealing with the death of a loved one. I was near tears re-watching this movie the other night. It has now shown up on Amazon Prime, so go give it a chance.

5- Logan

We live in a day where there's an over-saturation of superhero movies thanks to the enormous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has them giving us three movies a year and every other studio desperately trying to catch up with them. The winner of all of this is definitely all of us comic book fans as we're living in a golden age of comic book movies. I'll be honest and say that I still really enjoy all of these movies. It doesn't take a whole lot to entertain me, especially when the quality is consistently high. But I'll also be honest and say that because we've had such an overabundance of these movies, they aren't the ones that rise to the top for me when I create my end of year lists. You have to do a bit more to truly blow me away. And that's why I love "Logan." This doesn't feel like a comic book movie at all. This feels like an independent film following the lives of two aging superheroes. The emotion is sky high throughout the whole movie as it's devastating watching Professor X in such bad health as well as old man Wolverine having seemingly given up. We can thank "Deadpool" for opening the door for this movie to be made as we all finally got the Wolverine movie we deserve. The final result is the best superhero movie since "The Dark Knight."

4- Split

As I've read through and watched all of the end of year lists this season, I feel like a lot of people have forgotten about this movie because it came out a year ago in January 2017. I definitely didn't, though. I actually purchased it brand new, which is something I don't usually do, and have watched it on multiple occasions throughout the year, including re-watching it again yesterday in preparation for this list. "Split" marks the triumphant return of M. Night Shyamalan. This is a man who roared onto the scene in the late 90's and early 2000's with movies like "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and "Signs." People were calling him the next Spielberg. But then he spent the next decade as a laughing stock because he forgot how to make movies. But now he's back with perhaps his best movie yet. I'd say calling him the next Spielberg was erroneous. The correct comparison would be calling him the next Hitchcock as Shyamalan is great with his thrillers and "Split," in my opinion, is a modern-day "Psycho" as we follow a villain suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, just like Norman Bates. Unlike Norman, Kevin Crumb has 23 different personalities instead of just two and I get more fascinated with his character the more I watch. The twist ending is also so fantastic.

3- War for the Planet of the Apes

I think there's a lot of people who don't fully comprehend what it is we've received with this new Planet of the Apes trilogy. I will step on my pedestal and boldly declare to the world that this is one of the best trilogies ever made. Yet this beautiful finale that is perhaps the best movie of the trilogy got far less attention than it deserved. I blame Fox for sandwiching it right in between "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Dunkirk." And perhaps the filmmakers for giving it the wrong title. If you saw "War" in the title and were expecting "Helms Deep: The Movie," you might have walked out disappointed. Because this was not a war movie or an action movie. This is a drama following Caesar the ape, who goes on a revenge tour after his family gets killed, making a lot of bad decisions on the way, causing the apes to get trapped in a concentration camp where we then meet the evil Woody Harrelson. But is Woody really that evil? He's just trying to help the human race survive and things are getting desperate. This movie beautifully runs into the original Charlton Heston film, proving that it's actually possible to make a really good prequel trilogy and even improve on the original.

2- Star Wars: The Last Jedi 

You're either going to love me or hate me for this one, but so be it. Rian Johnson is a director who has built a career on taking risks with his filmmaking and that's exactly what he decided to do when he was given the key to the car here. He just may have not completely understood what the consequences would be to taking said risks with such a beloved franchise as a lot of Star Wars fans were unhappy with the decisions that he made. He had my full support, though, as I genuinely think that he crafted one of the most powerful Star Wars films to date that is second only to "The Empire Strikes Back" when it comes to quality Star Wars films. What they did with Luke Skywalker was the absolute perfect way to complete his story, even though it wasn't the ending we thought we'd get. And what they set up with Rey and Kylo Ren was cinematically poetic. I even had a lot of fun with the space battles and I don't hate Finn and Rose, even though Canto Bight won't go down in history as my favorite Star Wars planet, if you know what I mean. If you hated it, then it's whatever. I'll just take comfort in knowing "The Empire Strikes Back" also received mixed reaction initially due to how bold it was. Difference there is social media didn't exist back in 1980 when "Empire" was released.

1- Lady Bird

We had two truly epic franchise entries in "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "The Last Jedi," yet "Lady Bird" managed to top both of them? I know, I'm impressed, too. The more I thought about this movie, though, the more I felt this was the right decision. I reflect back to when I was in the theater and mentally I was ready to watch these characters for the next 10 hours. When the credits rolled, I was upset because I wanted more. As I was driving home, I was powerfully overcome with feelings of homesickness. I missed my parents. I missed my family. I missed my high school friends. I missed the hometown I grew up in. The more I thought about the movie, the more I realized that Lady Bird was the character that I felt the strongest connection with this year. I want to go hang out with her and be her friend. Give her a hug when things are going wrong. Celebrate with her when things are going right. I also realized upon reflection that I can't find a single flaw with this movie. Greta Gerwig as a director perfectly captured what it's like to transition from an adolescent to an adult. "Lady Bird" serves as a perfect companion piece to "Boyhood." Given that "Boyhood" ended up as my favorite movie of 2014, it's only fitting that "Lady Bird" end up as my favorite movie of 2017.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Post Review

Here we have my final movie review before I dive into my top 10 favorite movies of 2017, which I will then follow up with my top 10 least favorite movies of 2017. Now, to be clear, this isn't the last 2017 movie I'll be watching and reviewing. I'll be spending part of February catching up on some final Oscar contenders that I haven't yet seen that should be expanding once the nominations come out and I'll give you those reviews as I see fit. However, every year there's usually at least one or two movies that play the limited release game towards the end of the year and expand in January that I tell myself I need to see before I do my end of year lists. Thus instead of getting my end of year lists out in late December or early January, mine usually come out in mid to late January. "The Post" is this year's movie that I told myself that I absolutely needed to wait for. I wasn't sure if it would make my list, but I at least needed to see it in order to give it the proper opportunity. The obvious reason for this is that this is a Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Enough said there, right? The other reason is that this is a journalism movie and since that's kinda my thing, I was rather excited because I was hoping that it would be this year's "Spotlight."

The movie is based on the true story of the Pentagon Papers back in the 1970's. The subject of said Pentagon Papers was the Vietnam War, which goes without saying that it was one of the more controversial wars that we got involved in during our nation's history. Not many people were a fan of that war and for good reasons. But here we are in 1971 and the Washington Post is trying very hard to keep up with the New York Times when the Times seemingly gets even further ahead by publishing a story based on some secret government documents that essentially state that the United States government has been lying to the American public for the last four presidents about what has actually happened over in Vietnam. They kept saying that everything is going great when everything was not going great. And perhaps 70 percent of why they hadn't pulled out and decided to lie to the public was to avoid public humiliation? Say, what? So yeah, the Times jumped on this story, which caused the government to not be happy, so they made an attempt to shut down the Times and stop them from publishing. Amidst all this drama with the Times and the government, the Washington Post manages to get their hands on those same documents, giving them a tough decision to make.

I wouldn't go as far as saying that I'm an expert in all things journalism, but in case you didn't know, that is my degree that I graduated with fairly recently. I did quite a bit of journalism work during my time with this major, which included an internship at Deseret News in Salt Lake City where I got to interview all sorts of cool people, thus I was able to get a good taste of what it's like in the newsroom. Because of this, I usually have a blast with movies that take us to the newsroom and that's where most of this movie took place. In the newsroom of the Washington Post or in the homes of the people in charge of the Post. Thus I felt at home because it reminded me of my time in the newsroom at Deseret News and also gave me a peek at what life could be like once I get back to another newsroom. Being that this is 1971, I also enjoyed the peek at what it was like at a major news corporation in the 70's, so there's a bit of journalism history in this movie as well. If you are a fellow journalist like myself or are an aspiring journalist, which might be a better way of describing my current situation, then I probably don't need to tell you to go see this movie, but I'm going to say it anyways. You should go see this movie because of the atmosphere and the history provided.

Whether or not journalism is your thing, I'd hope that this is movie you'd be interested because all of us read the news. Or all of us should, anyways. I think it's important to take a look at what happens behind the scenes of a newsroom. What is it that goes behind the publishing of a major article? What emotions are present and what might the discussions be like? Maybe it's the journalist in me speaking, but I think one can have more empathy for journalists if one takes the time to see what it's like in their shoes instead of writing everyone off as horribly biased journalists with these awful agendas when an article is published that you happen to disagree with. The role of a journalist is to be a watch dog. Keep the American public and the government in check. Inform people of the truth that's going on. And that's easier said than done at times. Here we have a really tough situation where the Post had the opportunity to publish the truth about what was happening in Vietnam, but was it the right thing to do? Do they risk losing all their credibility or their status in the journalism world if what they do ends up being unethical? Is it worth risking going to prison in order to get the truth out about something or is it better to sit back and wait for a better time?

These are all themes and situations presented in this movie. The U.S. government is claiming it's illegal to publish their government secrets because it could do damage to the country as a whole, but the Post and the Times feel this information needs to get out so we can be transparent to the country as a whole. While this movie is focusing specifically on what was happening during the Vietnam War, similar situations can be applied today in situations of the media vs. the country. One immediate situation I thought of was the Edward Snowden situation where he felt it was necessary to reveal these secrets so that the public can be aware of, but many people in the government felt that revealing those secrets could be damaging. And that's definitely not the only situation like that. Thus this is one thing that I really appreciated about "The Post" as it gave us a look at what it's like for members of the media in trying to find that balance between acting as the watch dog to inform people of the truth, but also doing so in smart ways that won't jeopardize your business or the country itself. The whole movie managed to be successfully intense as this journalism team was working hard to meet deadlines that were quickly approaching while also decided whether or not to publish.

Thus a lot of praise has to be dished out to this team. Spielberg obviously knows what he's doing as a director and he does a fantastic job at setting everything up and crafting the narrative. As a director Spielberg hasn't always been at the top of his game recently like he was back in the 80's and 90's. The very average turn in "The BFG" is a good example of that. But I think he scored pretty big here. We also have a huge team of actors that come together to make this work. The standout to me was Tom Hanks. He finds himself in quite the stressed situation as the guy who's essentially leading this specific team and is fighting hard to get everything published. He's not the one writing the stories, but he's the boss here and he does such a good job. Meryl Streep is the one playing the owner of the Post, so all the final decisions have to run through her. When things get super heated, she also excels as always as you can feel how stressed she is in making the final decisions. I do get slightly weary of Streep getting nominated every year as sometimes we nominate her just because her name is Meryl Streep. I don't think this is necessarily one of her best roles, but she does good enough that I wouldn't complain at all if she gets another nomination even though Hanks I feel is more deserving this time around.

A lot of attention is rightfully being focused on Hanks and Streep during this awards season, but there is a long list of supporting actors and actresses that deserve credit. I personally liked our "Breaking Bad" reunion with Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons getting plenty of screen time, Odenkirk as one of the main reporters who played a key role in the Post obtaining these papers and Plemons playing one of the legal people trying to keep everyone in check so no one gets arrested. There's even a few moments with Odenkirk and Plemons together, with one specific confrontation between the two being a rather excellent scene. We also have Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Zach Woods, Michael Stuhlbarg and many, many more who all come together to play their individual roles. I don't know if any of them necessarily stand out of the crowd and scream the necessity of them being nominated, but they all contribute their own individual piece to the puzzle that make this a pretty good film overall that at least deserves a mention when we start listing off all of the good films Spielberg has made over his career and if this does get a best picture nomination, I won't be upset.

The only thing that causes me to hesitate in declaring this a great movie is that it doesn't necessarily leave a lasting impact and that specifically has to do with the subject matter at hand. They chose to focus on a subject that I feel everyone knows about. I'm far from what you would call an expert on the Vietnam War, but I do know that it was one of the more embarrassing chapters in our country's history and thus the idea that the government kept secrets from the public isn't surprising and given how it all turned out, I don't think it's a surprise as to how this movie will turn out. And that has nothing to do with the filmmaking or the acting itself. It's the subject matter that they chose to make a movie about. No surprises will be had in this movie. There's not any twists and turns that will catch you off guard. When it ends, instead of being shocked and amazed, you'll instead say to yourself that, yes, that's exactly how this story ended. That's the danger when you choose a well-known subject to turn into a movie as opposed to something more low key that we didn't know about. When I watched "Spotlight," my jaw dropped so hard that it hit the ground. I walked out of "The Post" saying that was a good journalism movie, but nothing great. Thus my grade is an 8/10.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

I, Tonya Review

Here in mid-January we are thick into the Awards season as the Golden Globes and other award shows are behind us. Even though this has been a crazy year where no movie has risen above the rest to be a front runner for the best picture award at the Oscars, we have a general idea of what the major contenders will be. Looking over all of those, I have covered most of them on this blog already. The two major ones that I haven't yet covered are "I, Tonya" and "The Post." Right now we are knocking one of those two out with this review of "I, Tonya." I'll get to "The Post" next week as it just barely had it's nationwide expansion this weekend and I haven't yet had the opportunity to see it. There's a lot of the fence-sitters that I haven't had the opportunity to see, specifically "Call Me By Your Name," "Darkest Hour," "Phantom Thread," "Molly's Game" and "The Florida Project." Oscar nomination morning will tell me which of those I need to make a priority and I'll get around to said movies before the Oscars, but "I, Tonya" and "The Post" also stand as the final two movies that I've told myself I need to see before I make my end of year list of favorite movies. So it's these two movies, then onto that list. Get excited for that! But for now let's dive into the very fascinating "I, Tonya."

While I won't label this review as a spoiler review, I'm going to give you the warning right now that I'm going to dive more into the details of this movie than I normally do for a non-spoiler review of a biopic, so if you honestly would rather know nothing about this story going in, feel free to close this review and come back later after you've seen it. However, keep in mind that this is one of the rare situations where you will benefited by knowing more about this story surrounding Tonya Harding, which is why I feel comfortable giving more of the details about what happened because the movie itself actually expects you to know what happened and I need to talk about said events in order to explain why I became so fascinated with this movie. So you've officially been warned. "I, Tonya" is the story of Tonya Harding, an Olympics figure skater who rose to popularity in the late 80's and early 90's as in Fall 1991 she became the first American woman to attempt and land the triple axel at an international event. In 1994 she became the subject of controversy when she was involved in a scandal where an individual was hired to break her competitor Nancy Kerrigan's leg. Three people served jail time because of this while Tonya Harding herself was banned for life from figure skating.

Since I was only five years old when that happened, I wasn't one who knew about it right away and I don't follow figure skating enough to be super well educated on its history, but I do love the Olympics and I've also been a huge sports fan in general my whole life, so a movie about a controversial sporting event grabbed my attention right away, especially with how much positive buzz it's received throughout the festival season and on into awards season. So when it finally expanded last weekend into enough theaters where I was able to drive out and see it, I made that a priority because this seemed like it was right down my wheelhouse. I'm glad I did because this hit me on so many different levels as a sports fan, a movie fan and as a human being in general who does his best to not judge people so harshly. In terms of a sports movie, this is a uniquely complex underdog tale that manages to take your mind in so many different directions even though you know exactly where the movie is going. In terms of a movie, this is crafted in such a unique, unconventional way and has some powerful themes that should cause fans of film to sit down and spend hours discussing. And this will definitely make you feel bad for immediately judging someone you've never met.

I went into this movie expecting a typical biopic. And I was excited. I love a well-done biopic, even if it follows a typical biopic formula. And even if we went down the route of typical sports movie, I was excited for that, too, because it doesn't take too much for me to enjoy a good sports movie. However, right when the movie started, I was immediately shocked because it was obvious from the opening scene that this was not going the direction I thought it was going. The more we dove into it, the more I became uniquely fascinating in the way they chose to tell this narrative. It took me a while to figure out exactly what the appropriate way to describe this was, but I now feel comfortable in describing this as a fourth-wall-breaking, mockumentary-style, sports biopic. That's a bit of a mouthful, but it's appropriate. The reason why they did it this way was because when screenwriter Steve Rodgers interviewed both Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, he got two completely different stories about what happened, so there was a complex puzzle that they needed to put together and the way they decided to put this together was a very creative decision. Tell the story using both perspectives and let the audience decide.

How do they do this? Well, this is where the mockumentary element comes in. We don't start the movie in 90's with the incident or when Tonya was a child. We start the movie in the present day with Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney dressed up as their respective characters, Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly and Tonya's mother LaVona Golden, as if they are being interviewed by the filmmakers to tell the story. As they are telling their stories to the camera, the movie then goes back in time so that we as an audience can visualize what they are talking about. But we frequently cut back and forth to our characters being interviewed and our story being shown to us as the characters will have commentary on what you're about to see, sometimes being one of the people claiming that everything we are about to see is completely false while the other claims it's true. Thus when we see the moment, we have to often take it with a grain of salt because the characters informed us that it may be false. Usually biopics will fictionalize certain events for their movie, but this movie has the self-awareness to inform the audience that there is a disconnect here that may be impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong instead of coming up with something on their own.

This made for an interesting narrative because the movie forces the viewer to decide on their own what to make of this whole thing. Was Tonya Harding a victim of her mother, her boyfriend, the Olympic committee, the media and the general public? Or was she a cunning con-artist who deserved all the scrutiny and punishment she got? Honestly I can see two different people walking out of this movie with either opinion and you couldn't say definitively that one opinion is wrong and one is right. The whole thing is very complex and ambiguous. Given that there is no consensus on certain details, I think this was the right way to go because it makes the movie itself very layered and complex instead of being a simple movie that attempts to portray our characters in one specific way in order to push forward their agenda. Instead the filmmakers let Tonya Harding tell her story from her perspective while letting the audience decide what type of person she is while also doing the same thing for her ex-husband and mother, as well as some other minor characters including various journalists and friends of both. I loved the idea that I had to think about everything to develop my opinion instead of having a filmmaker's opinion spoon-fed to me.

What I personally came up with was a strong reminder to not be so quick to pass judgment on an individual without carefully considering who they are or what they've been through. I will admit that I have seen the story of an athlete or a celebrity who's done something negative and without question I will jump to the conclusion that they are a horrible human being and move on with my life. And I'm positive that that's what many people did in 1994 when it was reported that Tonya Harding's boyfriend hired someone to break Nancy Kerrigan's leg and that Tonya was being banned for life because a judge ruled that she was well aware of what was happening and may have even been a major part of this. What a horrible human being! Right? Did people consider Tonya's background? Did people know that she had an abusive mother and an abusive husband? Did people consider that she was raised much differently than others and that certain things were all she knew? Did people consider the frustration she may have gone through when she consistently outperformed her competitors on the ice, but was given lower scores because she wasn't the golden girl they wanted to represent America? Did people consider that the judge's ruling may have been wrong?

I'm not necessarily saying that everything that Tonya did was good and right. In fact, I think she made a lot of poor decisions that led to these unfortunate consequences. Do I think her punishment was too harsh? Absolutely. There's definitely favoritism that goes on in professional sports, which has especially been apparent to me when I watch figure skating and gymnastics in the Olympics among other subjectively graded sports. But that doesn't mean I think Tonya didn't deserve some punishment. However, what really struck me was the idea that we often don't consider everything that leads up to these events and scandals. WHY did a player or celebrity act the way they did? What have the experienced in their lives? What is their family like? What was their upbringing? We often forget that everyone has a story and a reason for who they are as a human being. Before we judge them, can we instead take the time to consider their story? Put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective? And this doesn't even have to only apply to athletes and celebrities. You can easily apply this to your friends, your family, your coworkers and various acquaintances or strangers that come across your path throughout the day? What is their story? Why do they do what they do?

These are all of the thoughts that have gone through my head since seeing this movie a few days ago. Yes, this was a movie about a figure skater who got banned for life after her ex-boyfriend hired someone to break her competitor's leg. But this was a film that went beyond being simply a film to watch and either enjoy or be educated. This taught me a great life lesson and is thus a movie that I will remember for a very long time. I mentioned forth-wall-breaking happens in the movie. It's implemented quite cleverly. There's one specific moment where Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding looks at the audience and says we are all her attackers. That cut me deep. I realized that she was right. And not necessarily just when it comes to her, but with everyone around me who I may have unfairly judged or treated poorly. And moving forward it's something that I'm going to make a sincere effort to change. So I'd like to thank these filmmakers for this incredible film that they've delivered in the way they delivered it. I'd also like to thank all of the actors who put their heart and soul into becoming these people who were able to collectively teach me an important lesson about life as well as the actual people themselves for helping me learn not to have such harsh judgments.

You can tell this is a movie I really liked based on the fact that this is a super long review and I haven't even gotten to all I wanted to say. There's just so much depth to this story. So many layers to peel apart that it's been a daunting task approaching this review. I hope that reading this has helped you gain a sense of why this is such a special film, so I'll wrap this up without going much further, but before I leave you, I need to mention all the acting. Margot Robbie is absolutely phenomenal. She's able to perfectly encapsulate Tonya Harding and make you care for her despite the fact that she's been a punchline for the last 20 years. And she did most of her own skating, minus the more difficult stuff. Allison Janney is also getting a lot of attention and that's well-deserved as she does a perfect job at playing the angry, abusive mother. The other performances that are getting less attention that I would like to point out are Mckenna Grace and Sebastian Stan. Mckenna doesn't get much screen time, but she makes the best out of what she gets as young Tonya and is a young girl that continues to blow me away. And Sebastian Stan deserves a best supporting actor nod for his role as the abusive, yet complex husband who is equally as fascinating for different reasons.

I do feel bad giving you an 11-paragraph review for this movie. I usually like to keep it three or four paragraphs shorter. And I almost went back to re-write or edit this down to make it normal length, but I couldn't. There's just so much that I felt needed to be said in order to do this review justice. Even with all that said, there's still a lot that I haven't covered, but I'll call this good for now. In summary, I think the mockumentary style was perfect for this story. With Tonya and Jeff giving completely different perspectives as to the specific details, having the filmmakers decide to tell both sides of the story while letting the audience decide what is real and what isn't was genius because otherwise it would've been slightly less interesting had they picked a side and spoon-fed their opinion. It made for a lot of depth and a lot of layers with the audience having to figure things out for themselves. I loved the narrative. I loved all the acting. I loved the themes of the movie. I loved it when the characters would break the fourth wall because oftentimes those were the most poignant moments of the film. I don't even know what the appropriate score is for this movie. A number doesn't do this justice, but this obviously deserves to be pretty high, so for now I'm going to settle with a 9.5/10.