Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Game Night Review

I don't know if anyone has really noticed, but I don't review a ton of straight-up comedies on this blog. And that's not because I'm a Grinch who hates laughing. It's just that a lot of modern comedies that hit theaters just aren't my cup of tea. So much of them are stuffed full of toilet humor or raunchiness because apparently that's what's funny for audiences today. It's for that same reason that I don't watch very many modern sitcoms. They don't make me laugh. I love my 80's and 90's sitcoms and I wish we had more of that humor around. But we don't. So I simply decide to let people enjoy their dumb sitcoms and dumb raunchy comedies that hit theaters and move on with my life. There's enough humor mixed in with other movie genres such as many of the MCU movies as well as a lot of the Netflix stand-up comedy specials that all help me get my comedy fix. So I'm content with all of that. However, "Game Night" is a movie that really caught my attention as the trailers were absolutely hilarious and the premise seemed quite genius, so I crossed my fingers that it would be a comedy worth seeing. When the reviews started flowing in, I was quite encouraged that they were mostly positive. Thus I was given the confidence to give this one a chance.

The premise for this movie is centered around a group of family and friends who enjoy having game nights with each other. I feel this is a relatable setting. Everyone loves having a game night, right? At least we do in my family as do most of my friends in my little corner of the world. So I felt it was a clever premise. In this movie "Game Night," Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a very competitive married couple who enjoy having game nights with their inner circle of friends. The biggest conflict, at least on Jason Bateman's side of things, is that is his older brother, played by Kyle Chandler, has always been so much better than him. He has more money, a fancier job, a super nice car, a huge house, is claimed to be so much more attractive, and all of that jazz. At this moment in time, he just happens to be in town for a little while and comes over to Jason Bateman's very modest house, down talks him the whole night, then owns him in every game they play. At the end of the night, he then invites everyone over to his huge house where they are going to have a real game night. A super fancy, eloquent murder mystery of sorts. But it all goes very wrong when Kyle Chandler gets kidnapped and mobbed by actual mobsters, yet the rest of the company think it's all a part of the game.

Thus with this we get a modern take on Bill Murray's "The Man Who Knew Too Little" as it's absolutely hilarious watching Kyle Chandler get beat up while trying to defend himself against these two mobsters while everyone else is sitting around commenting on the cheese, arguing among themselves, being surprised at how strong the glass tables are and being impressed at how realistic this whole fight looks. After Kyle Chandler is officially tied up and dragged out of the house, with the mobsters telling no one to follow them or they will get killed, the three couples all have different strategies as to how they are going to "win the game" by saving Kyle Chandler. Thus we are sent on quite the wild adventure with these three couples, all of whom have different levels of hilarious chemistry and running gags of problems they need to solve among themselves while competing against each other. On paper it seems like a lot for the movie to balance, especially considering the fact that I'm only describing the first part of the movie as the movie goes in a lot of crazy directions in the second and third acts. This all could've blown up in the faces of our directors, but instead it's handled with care as everything is impressively woven together.

A lot of the credit here goes to the chemistry among the actors. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams work great together as our main married couple. The banter among the two of them is hilarious and both of them made me laugh quite a bit. I was especially impressed with Rachel McAdams as doing comedy is not exactly her normal wheelhouse. Jason Bateman does a lot of these comedies, so it's no surprise that he's able to pull this off, but thanks mostly to "The Notebook," Rachel McAdams has been typecast as an actress who mostly does romance dramas. Even in non chick flick movies, she's usually the side note as the girlfriend or the wife to the main character who is the real focus, like in "Southpaw" or "Doctor Strange." She did show in "Spotlight" that she can be more than just the token love interest and she does that again here as she's not just a side show to Jason Bateman, but leads the way in hilarious manner. She was one of the funniest characters in the movie, second only another character I will mention here in a second. Even though Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are our main focus, I do have to give credit to our other two couples, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury as well as Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan, who are great for reasons I'll let you discover.

But as a just barely mentioned, there is another character outside of the main seven that I have already referred to that absolutely steals the show and that is Jesse Plemons. Most of you will probably know him as Todd from "Breaking Bad." At least that's where I know him from. He was in 65 episodes of "Friday Night Lights" before "Breaking Bad" and 10 episodes of "Fargo" afterwards, but as I haven't seen those TV shows, I can't judge how he was in there. But he was fantastic in "Breaking Bad" and has been showing up on the big screen in various roles, so I feel he's about to get his huge cinematic break and he proves in here that he deserves it as pretty much every time he shows up on screen, he had me busting up laughing. He plays the police officer neighbor of Bateman and McAdams who wants to be included in the game nights, but is a bit socially awkward, so instead of being upfront and welcoming to him, they try their best to politely sidestep things, which sends him on a mission to figure out how to be included. The specialty of his humor is the serious deadpan humor, which if done right, I find to be the best form of comedy and absolutely nails it every time the camera comes to him, most of which is due to how hilariously awkward he makes each scene.

I do want to tread lightly when it comes to describing my feelings of the entire movie, so I'll instead be vague in saying that the tone of the movie shifts a bit from what we were treated to in the first act of the movie and that did have me worried initially, but the transition ended up being surprisingly flawless and I found myself enjoying the many aspects of this film that were thrown at me, which included plenty of drama, some heartfelt moments that worked really well and some solid action sequences that I wasn't expecting. For making all of this work, I have to give a lot of credit to our directing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Often the focus of comedies is on all of the gags and what they can do to make the next gag work, but Daley and Goldstein managed to do a lot more than just that as this was a well-crafted film with sharp editing, great camera work, solid cinematography and clever visual effects that helped tell this story instead of relying solely on the scrip and the actors' abilities to deliver properly. This style of comedy made this feel very much like an Edgar Wright film instead of being another generic comedy. Daley and Goldstein are currently attached to DC's "Flashpoint" and I now have the confidence that they can pull that off.

When push comes to shove, when I go into a comedy, what I desire most from that comedy is some good escapism. Yes, I love analyzing film because doing so helps me better appreciate that films that are done right. But with comedies, I just want to go in, forget about the world around me and have a fun time. I don't need Oscar-worthy performances from the cast or pure perfection from a technical standpoint or from the story. I just want to laugh and have a good time. And that's exactly what "Game Night" was able to provide for me. We had a clever premise that set up a fun movie. We had a great balance of characters that made for a variety of different humor that kept things fresh throughout. And we had a great cast that all brought their comedic A-Game, led by Jesse Plemons and Rachel McAdams as the funniest characters. And I won't lie to you and say that this is all clean, family-friendly humor, but this isn't a raunchy comedy at all, which I personally appreciated. It gets its strong rating mainly due to violence and blood with a bit of language rather than the raunchy, sexual toilet humor of most other modern comedies. So if you're having a rough day and you want to escape the world for an hour or two, I'd say "Game Night" is a solid choice. I'll give it an 8/10.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Annihilation Review

From the writer and director of "Ex Machina." When that line showed up 30 seconds into the official trailer, I was sold. I didn't need to see anything else. I wanted this movie right then. On paper, "Ex Machina" was simply another movie about artificial intelligence that we've seen a hundred times. We get it, Hollywood. Artificial intelligence is bad and unknown technology shouldn't be trusted because it's going to destroy the world. But dang Alex Garland did such an excellent job at constructing that movie. I was glued to the screen for every second of the movie and when the ending came around, my jaw practically hit the floor in shock. The movie stuck with me for the whole year and wound up pretty high on my list of favorite movies at the end of the year. So now you're telling me that Alex Garland has a follow-up project that is also a futurist sci-fi of sorts? Yeah, sign me up. If you also loved "Ex Machina" like I did, just close this review and go see "Annihilation." It's more Alex Garland magic, proving this this guy has the potential to be a sci-fi master if he continues to make movies like "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation." I'm not going to spoil the movie in this review, but I have to talk about and the less you know about it going in, the better your experience will be.

The movie actually starts off with a bit of a skewed timeline. We jump around from past, present and future without the movie informing us what part of the timeline we are on. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to put it together once you get going, but it does set the tone for the rest of the movie and lets you know that your brain has to be active in this one. If you're expecting to relax and watch a brainless sci-fi action flick with a group of girls fighting a bunch of monsters in a mysterious area and you're not willing to put in the brainpower required to understand what's going on, you're going to get lost really quickly and you're going to walk out of the movie disappointed in how "boring" and "meaningless" this movie is. Words I put in quotation marks because I think it's insulting to use those words to describe this movie, yet a lot of people have. This movie got a C on cinemascore and caries a nearly miserable 65 percent on the audience section of Rotten Tomatoes, a disappointingly common trend when it comes to these smaller scale, unconventional horror/sci-fi films that I really love. The 86 percent critics score and the 7.9 on IMDb will thankfully clue some people in that this is a movie worth seeing as those scores indicate general favorability.

I think the biggest problem with certain groups of people came thanks to the marketing. I can't blame Paramount for wanting to earn money with this movie instead of honing in on the art house crowd. They leaned heavily on the goodwill that Alex Garland gave audiences with "Ex Machina," then advertised the movie as a horror film with a monster lurking around, immediately releasing it in 2,000 theaters on its first weekend, which in turn attracted a bit of a different crowd then "Ex Machina" did when A24 opened it in just four theaters, then slowly expanded it after strong reviews. Paramount's tactics attracted the mainstream audiences who were expecting a generic horror film, thus earning it a C cinemascore when they were treated to something quite different. A24's tactics attracted the correct audience who appreciates these unconventional films, which explains why it's nearly universally praised by those who actually saw it. Because those who actually saw it knew what they were getting going into it and thus appreciated the high quality product. So let that be a message to you right off the bat with "Annihilation." If you wanted a jump-scare riddled horror film or a brainless monster movie, do us all a favor and just skip this movie.

Personally this movie grabbed my attention from the opening scene and never let go. I don't want to give away too many plot details, but the extremely basic plot here is that Natalie Portman plays a biology professor at a university whose husband, played by Oscar Isaac, has gone missing on a certain military mission for about a year now. When her husband randomly shows up again one day, but is extremely messed up, she decides that she owes it to him to go investigate this thing they call the shimmer with a group of other girls with various other levels of expertise. The shimmer has just showed up and is slowly expanding, but no one knows what it's all about because, while lots of things go in, nothing comes out. Except for maybe Natalie Portman's husband, but he's all kinds of messed up. And that's all I'm going to give you. The real plot of this movie is way more complex, but I don't want to talk about it. And you shouldn't go searching it out. Don't jump on wikipedia to read the plot synopsis. Don't watch the trailer for the movie if you haven't seen it as in hindsight it gives away too much. Don't go listen to the soundtrack because the track titles reveal certain details about the film. Go in knowing as little as possible about this movie.

If you give yourself that opportunity of not knowing much about this, the movie will take you on a crazy journey. For clarification purposes, this is not a horror movie. The trailer insinuates a monster lurking around that they are chasing, and even throws in a few jump scares. That's not what this movie is. This is also not an action movie. Sure, it's a group of girls walking in armed with military guns and the trailer also shows them using said guns, but that's not what this movie is. This is a sci-fi movie. And it's a very unique sci-fi movie with a premise that I don't think I've seen much at all. Yes, with "Ex Machina," Alex Garland took a used and abused sci-fi premise and turned it into a fascinatingly refreshing film. But in this movie, Alex Garland takes a best-selling novel that does something completely different and adapts into a beautiful, captivating. Two things that the movie relies rather heavily on, that even haters of the film will agree are amazing, are the stunning visual effects and the mesmerizing score. Instead of letting you wander aimlessly, the movie gives you something great to look it in this very unique area and the score leaves you unsettled so that you are not allowed to be bored, even when on the surface it appears little is happening.

The best comparisons I have for this movie are a few other mildly obscure, unconventional films. The first one to come to my mind was "Under the Skin," a movie that if I were to describe to you would sound gross and wrong, but when you experience it, and do your absolute best to turn on your thinking cap to analyze what's going on, you'll hopefully discover a very layered sci-fi film with a ton to unpack and a lot of fascinating themes that the movie chooses to let you discover on your own rather than shoving them down your throat. Another movie that came to my mind was "The Neon Demon." Although this little film isn't quite the same genre, it's more drama with a touch of horror rather than sci-fi, the way that "The Neon Demon" chooses to use visuals and sound to set the stage for the movie is rather similar to "Annihilation." "The Neon Demon" uses a captivating color palate that makes the film gorgeous to look at and has a mesmerizing score that makes even the most basic moment of the film very captivating. Like "Under the Skin," the themes in "The Neon Demon" are also quite strong, yet aren't shoved down your throat, thus making you have to spend some time thinking about what you just watched, thus continuing to reward you long after the fact.

If me bringing up "Under the Skin" and "The Neon Demon" gets you excited to see "Annihilation," then me and you can now become best friends because these are the types of movies that I really love. "Under the Skin" is from 2013 while "The Neon Demon" is from 2016. Yet despite being five and two years old respectively, neither movie has left my mind since me watching them, giving me the illusion that I watched both for the first time a few weeks ago. I have the feeling that "Annihilation" will be the same way, but that's more of a prediction than anything as we'll see where I stand in two years from now. If instead of being excited with these comparisons, you are instead looking at the screen with a blank stare, then allow me to give a couple of mainstream comparisons that aren't the best comparisons, but will get the point across well enough. First is Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival." That's a sci-fi movie from the other year that had me hooked from the start thanks to it's captivating score and mysterious angle. While the movies are very different in premise, there's a lot of parallels to both. The other comparison is to be taken very lightly. They're nothing alike, but in terms of the mental challenge, I'm throwing out Christopher Nolan's "Inception."

Given that "Inception" is one of my favorite films of all-time, don't take this comparison to mean that I think "Annihilation" is just as good. But if you go to "Inception" hoping for a relaxing, summer popcorn flick, you'll quickly be thrown off guard as "Inception" requires you to focus and pay attention. If you turn away or leave to go to the bathroom without pausing it, you're going to be extremely lost and may never recover if you don't go back and re-watch what you missed. With "Inception," Nolan decides not to just spell everything out for his audience when all is said and done, but would rather have them figure it out on your own. It's the type of movie that will force you to sit down with your friends and spend hours discussing what the heck you just saw, which will then cause you to go back and revisit it, causing you to then go back and re-watch it, which causes you to pick up more details with each new visit. Again, it's not the perfect comparison because "Annihilation" is not even close to being the same type of movie in terms of genre or premise, which is why I especially like my "Under the Skin" comparison better, but both "Inception" and "Annihilation" are mentally challenging films that require much thought and a lot of discussion to figure out.

With that, I'm going to finish up this review. If this felt extremely vague, then I was successful in my approach. There's a lot to discuss here, but this is the type of film where I really want people to go in knowing nothing about this, which is why I spent most of my time talking about other movies that are similar in style instead of giving details about this one. And I don't want to touch the ending of this movie, but I do want to vaguely throw out there that this is based off a best-selling novel by Jeff VanderMeer and that novel is the first book in a trilogy called the Southern Reach Trilogy. If you pick up on what I'm getting at there, then good. If not, then so be it. I'll explain later. And after you've seen this movie, ask me about the two sequences in the film that I don't think I'll ever forget for various reasons. Then give me your theory on what this all means. I'd love to hear it. As far as a grade for this movie, that's kinda tricky. Numbers don't mean anything and there isn't a number that will really do this justice, so I almost want to throw a wrench into this and not give you a number, especially since I feel like letting this marinate for a few months and getting back to you. But for the sake of me liking "Ex Machina" a bit more, I'll play things safe and award "Annihilation" a 9/10.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther Review

It's time again to review yet another entry in the illustrious Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 18th entry. Can you believe it? This is the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Talk about a successful franchise! And not only is this the 18th movie in this franchise, but this going to be the 18th successful movie in the franchise and might become one of Marvel's biggest hits yet. The previous 17 movies have combined for a whopping $5.3 billion at the domestic box office and $13.6 billion at the worldwide box office. These are franchise numbers that the world hasn't seen. Like, literally. It's the highest grossing franchise ever at the worldwide box office. Next up is Star Wars with $9.1 billion, Harry Potter with $7.7 billion, James Bond with $7.1 billion and Lord of the Rings (including The Hobbit movies) with $5.9 billion. And the crazy thing is that it doesn't appear that we're even close to slowing down. Last night "Black Panther" earned $25.2 million in Thursday night previews, the second highest ever for the MCU, and is looking for a four-day President's Day weekend around $200 million. And that's in the non-summer month of February that has only seen one other movie ("Deadpool" in 2016) even top $100 million for opening weekend.

Before I dive into my thoughts on the movie, I want to discuss this crazy phenomenon that "Black Panther" is about to become at the box office. Up to this point in the MCU, the solo introduction movies haven't exactly been the money makers. "The Incredible Hulk" opened to $55.4, "Ant-Man" opened to $57.2 million, "Captain America: The First Avenger" opened to $65.1 million, "Thor" opened to $65.7 million, Doctor Strange opened to $85.1 million, "Guardians of the Galaxy" opened to $94.3 million and "Iron Man" opened to $98.6 million. Those are all of our solo introduction movies in the MCU. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is more of a unique situation because that was the sixth Spider-Man movie since 2002, but even that was only $117.0 million. All of the others that opened higher were sequels or Avengers movies. So it's rather incredible that "Black Panther" will essentially be doing Avengers numbers. There's only a handful of non-sequels that have even topped $100 million on opening weekend and "Black Panther" could be the highest grossing of them all if it can manage to top last year's "Beauty and the Beast" ($174.8 million). Next up is "The Hunger Games" ($152.5 million), "Suicide Squad" ($133.7 million) and "Deadpool" ($132.4 million).

So why is "Black Panther" opening that high? Well, you could definitely point to his very successful introduction in "Captain America: Civil War" as at least one factor. Without that, I'm not so sure the awareness for the character would be as high given that he's a slightly obscure comic book character, at least when compared to your Batman, Superman and Spider-Mans of the world. And of course, Disney and Marvel being confident enough to give it a worldwide premier at the end of January helped a lot with the enormously positive buzz over the last few weeks as it's received nearly unanimous praise since that release. A well-received Marvel movie will capture a lot of people's attention. But there's something more significant here that's helped this movie achieve the ultimate sweet spot with audiences and that is the cultural significance of this movie. This is a high-budgeted superhero movie led by a black superhero with a mostly black cast being released in black history month in 2018. I hesitate to call this revolutionary. He's not the first black superhero. He's not the first black superhero with his own movie. And this isn't the first movie with a mostly black cast and black director. But much like "Wonder Woman" last year, this is a defining movie for the genre.

I don't think that this is something that should be lost on us. Sure, characters like Falcon and War Machine exist in the MCU itself. But they are mainly side character and aren't popular enough characters to warrant their own movie. And yes, fans of the Blade trilogy will be quick to remind you that calling "Black Panther" the first black superhero movie is not accurate. But yet there's something special about "Black Panther." The size the production. The accessibility to mainstream audiences. The timing of the release in a very progressive modern era. The superhero genre for so many years has been dominated by these white, male superheroes that certain minorities, ethnic groups and genders have been left in the dust. That's why "Wonder Woman" was such a big hit last year. We finally got a female-led superhero movie that was actually worth watching. Girls around the world, young and old, but especially young, now have a superhero for them to look up to. The number of girls who went dressed as Wonder Woman at Halloween was astronomical compared to previous years because of how culturally significant the movie was, especially with the "Me Too" movement going strong. Women can be strong and powerful. They can make a difference in the world. That was a powerful notion.

Following on the heels of "Moonlight" and "Get Out," which were other culturally significant movies for the black community in their own ways, "Black Panther" now gives the black community their own superhero to look up to. And not just one fighting as a sidekick to Captain America and Iron Man. But one who is leading the charge. Even though I myself am a white, male American who has been spoiled for so many years and thus really don't know how it feels to be oppressed, I have all the respect in the world for "Black Panther" being the superhero movie that millions of people around the world can now connect with on a different level that I can't fully comprehend. Thus I want to tread lightly here with this review because I totally understand how culturally significant this movie is for many people. But I have to give you my personal opinion of this movie that I watched last night. You can choose to praise me for my honesty or stone me for being "insensitive," but as my own personal rule, a movie has to be more than just culturally significant for me to enjoy it. The movie itself has to be good. I praised "Wonder Woman" to the high heavens, not just because it was a female-led superhero movie, but because it also felt like classic DC. And I grew up loving DC.

If I'm being honest, "Black Panther" as a movie didn't quite hit the sweet spot for me like previous Marvel movies have. You can blame it on me being a white, male American if you'd like. And I'm not going to argue with you. But I like to blame on me being extra picky after watching 17 of these MCU movies before going in. And that's not to mention all of the other superhero movies from the other studios that are trying to replicate Marvel's success. The market has been oversaturated with superhero movies in the last 10 years. Even though it's not difficult for me to enjoy the genre, I've also come to the point where the novelty of seeing a superhero movie on screen has worn off and I've thus become a lot more picky. You can get mad at me for being super picky if you'd like. Tell me that I should stop being so critical and just enjoy the movie. But the advantages of being picky is that occasionally a movie will come around that will do everything I want it to do. Thus I feel I'm rewarded for being picky when movies like "Logan," "Wonder Woman" or even "Thor: Ragnarok" roll around because I enjoy those a lot more than I may have otherwise if I had just blindly enjoyed every superhero movie that graced my eyes as if they're all flawless masterpieces.

Carefully setting aside the color of Black Panther's skin, his arc in "Civil War" was phenomenal. That's what engaged me. That's what I was excited to see. His father, the king of Wakanda, was killed in an explosion and because of that, he spent the movie on a revenge plot, seeking out the killer. And in the end he could've had his revenge, but he realized that he was bigger than that. That was beautiful. I loved who he was and what he stood for. It was one of my favorite parts of "Civil War." Thus I was excited to see the next part in his story as he went back home to Wakanda and now had to take over as king. I immediately became immersed in this country of Wakanda. The development thanks to the vibranium was fascinating and the visuals were breathtaking. But for the first half of the movie, we didn't do a whole lot. We hung out in Wakanda. We officially made T'Challa the new king. We set up Ulysses Klaue and Erik Killmonger, the two main villains, as being up to no good. We set up a few other story arcs, teasing us that something was going to happen with them. Eventually. Then we went on a bit of a goose chase and through it all, I found myself not being quite as interested as I wanted to be. My brain was deciding that this super comfortable seat was worthy of taking a nap in.

Eventually the movie did find its groove for me, but it took its sweet time getting there and that was a bit disappointing for me, especially when most of the other Marvel movies hooked me right from the opening scene and kept me engaged throughout. Even when the movie finally did hook me, in pondering over what we ended up getting, I'm not so sure the final result was super revolutionary. I hate to use the word predictable, but we kinda wandered into that territory a bit. I walked out thinking that this was Marvel's version of "The Lion King" as a lot of the story elements connected rather well. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison than comparing this to an animated Disney movie would be to branch out further and say that "Black Panther" seems to gain a lot of inspiration from "Hamlet" as this is a movie centered around a conflict over the throne after the previous king has passed away. I don't want to dive too deep into the comparisons because I want to avoid spoilers, but we have implemented themes of self-discovery, our main character taking a bit of a side journey into the wilderness, visions from the former king, and a bit of an inner revolution as the people of Wakanda tried to figure out what was best for the country.

I will say the standout in all of this was Michael B. Jordan's villainous role of Erik Killmonger. I do kinda chuckle when people so daringly say that he's the best Marvel villain since Loki as if claiming that is some sort of bold statement. I mean, what competition is there for that runner up spot? I think a more bold statement coming from me is that he's NOT the best villain since Loki. But that sounds a bit more harsh than it actually is. I would just like us to not forget about Michael Keaton's Vulture from last year. Killmonger is third place for me. Good villains are something that Marvel has really struggled with and it makes me happy that they finally got it right. He's not just evil for the sake of being evil. There's things that happened in the past that make him legitimately have a grudge against Wakanda as a whole. The movie gets fascinatingly political when Killmonger points out major flaws with the current philosophy of Wakanda that make you stop and realize that he's actually kinda right in being upset with them. It made me wish that the movie had a bit more focus because outside being in a few opening scenes, he doesn't really show up until the second half of the movie. But when he did, he owns the screen and nearly overshadows Black Panther in his own movie.

There's a lot more that I could dive into, but this review is long enough as it is, plus diving in deeper would cause me to fall into spoiler territory. Just know that I do really have a high amount of respect for this movie for what it's accomplished culturally, even though the movie on a personal level didn't connect with me as much in terms of story and characters. I think we got a better Black Panther movie brilliantly weaved into "Civil War" than we got with this actual full-length movie. The movie is a lot more serious in nature, thus reminding me more of a DC movie than a Marvel movie. In fact, it felt like it was following the formula of a Batman movie more than anything Marvel's done. And I actually enjoyed that minor diversion from their formula. It means their more willing to take risks and let the directors have more creative freedom rather than having specific studio mandates. But I suppose when push comes to shove, I think the movie had a lot of pacing issues. It wasn't as sharp and focused as I would've liked it, especially in the first hour of the movie. But the second half of the movie gave us a lot of political intrigue and some good character development from T'Challa and Killmonger. Assigning a grade is hard in this instance, but I think for now I will settle with an 8/10.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

Remember that time when everyone was raving about this Maze Runner franchise and how everyone was dying of anticipation for this final chapter given how much praise the previous two movies received? Yeah, neither did I. Because no one cares. I actually kinda feel bad for this franchise because it had such a great cast and amazing potential... for the first two-thirds of the first movie. Then they revealed the ending and that completely deflated everything with how boring and cliche it became. The the second movie came out and I don't think anyone remembers that boring piece of cinema. The this final movie was supposed to come a year ago, but Dylan O'Brien got seriously injured on set, forcing them to postpone the movie for an entire year while he recovered, which had the unfortunate side effects of creating enough space to cause everyone to completely forget this franchise existed until trailers started showing up a few months ago. Now "The Death Cure" is officially like that facebook friend who discovers the old trends a year or two late. We all moved on with life, but they're still posting Harlem Shake videos, if you know what I mean. Needless to say I wasn't interested in this at all, but sometimes I can be a completionist, so here we go with a review.

This all started with Harry Potter and Twilight becoming huge things. Since those movies were a success, Hollywood desperately kept searching for the next big YA book series to adapt into movies. We specifically began to hone in on the dystopian subgenre of this thanks to the discovery of The Hunger Games. Then we quickly found out that there's not a whole lot you can do with this genre, but Hollywood kept trying until finally audiences got bored. The finale of The Hunger Games severely underperformed compared to the previous movies in the franchise, but that was nothing compared to the embarrassing death of the Divergent series. "Allegiant," the third of four planned movies, was such a huge box office bomb and critical disaster that the finale was straight up cancelled. They were initially planning to finish it off on TV and attempt a new series, but I highly doubt that is ever going to happen. I feel that this was the nail in the coffin for this genre. But here we are with "The Death Cure" in early 2018. Perhaps this would've been more successful if it wasn't so late to the party, but as is, "The Death Cure" is bombing hard. After finally seeing it following its second weekend in release, I don't feel that bad. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Maze Runner franchise.

If I'm being honest, I didn't expect much from this franchise to begin with, but when "The Maze Runner" debuted in September 2014, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first two acts. I thought the movie had a great cast and there was a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding this maze that they were thrown in which also provided a lot of genuinely intense action sequences with whatever the heck was chasing them in the maze. The camaraderie among the group at home base just outside the maze was pretty great. But then they decided to reveal the mystery behind all of this and it turned out to be really lazy. Just another dystopian movie with zero creativity and zero originality. Given that I actually enjoyed a good portion of that movie, though, I went into "The Scorch Trials" a year later with the slight hope that maybe they could get back on track. But man. I don't even fully remember why I hated that movie. But that might prove a point. Despite being let down by "The Maze Runner," I at least remember it vividly. "The Scorch Trails," though... no. It's mostly gone from my memory. I just remember having zero interest in it while watching. I thought about going back and reading my review or reading a wiki synopsis before going to see "The Death Cure." But that didn't happen.

I will say that I don't think "The Death Cure" is an inherently bad movie. When compared to "The Scorch Trials," any movie in the Divergent series (all three were bad) and "Mockingjay Part 2," which broke my heart by being terrible, this is a mostly watchable film. There were a lot of well shot action sequences and everyone in the cast was giving it their all. And the basic premise of the movie had potential. But when push comes to shove, the writers of this finale just had no idea how to finish this off. I haven't read the books and have zero desire to, so I can't say for sure if the root of the problem lies within the novel itself or if it's just a crappy, unfocused adaptation, but my initial prediction is that it could be a bit of both. Yet I can only judge based on what I saw on the screen, so that's my focus here. The basic premise is that most of Earth has been infected by a virus that has turned the population into zombies, even though they refuse to say the word zombie, which is silly to me. Anyways, the arrogant rich people are trying to figure out a cure, but show a lack of respect of humanity with their inhumane experiments on the lower classes. All this has led to just one city left on Earth that is in jeopardy of being destroyed if they don't succeed.

Through all this, our main group of kids has escaped all these shenanigans and are ready to repopulate at a safe heaven across the ocean along with a bunch of other rebels of various ages. But there's a few friends of this group that got recaptured and are being taken back to the city for more experiments. So our lead character Thomas, played by Dylan O'Brien, is dead set on leaving the ninety and nine, so to speak, to rescue the one. Thus we are going back to the city that they spent the last two movies escaping. At it's core, that premise could work. It almost felt like a heist of sorts with a small group of individuals sneaking into a giant building with a master plan on how to steal something. In this case, their friend. Had this movie had any sense of focus, this could've worked. Sneak into the city. Find a way into the building. Rescue their friend as well as any others trapped. Get the heck out of there. Travel to the promised land. Throw in a few moments where the plan fails, causing panic as well as major confrontations with our big baddies and we'd have a solid movie on our hands. But that's definitely not what we did here. We successfully made it through that first step: sneak into the city. But after that, the movie exploded into this big confusing mess.

I should start by pointing out that this movie actually started by making me think I was watching a Fast and Furious sequel. I had a lot of fun with that, despite it being completely ridiculous. I mean, they were stealing a train cart full of people. Not just the people. But the full cart while the people were in it. It was extremely absurd. But a lot of fun. When they realized the person they were looking for was not on that cart, that's when the plan was made to go back to the city. That was all fine and dandy, I suppose. But I bring up the Fast and Furious comparison because every time danger arose, they got out of it in Fast and Furious manner, which got to be a bit silly, especially considering the fact that they were actually trying to make a serious movie as opposed to a purposely absurd action thriller like the actual Fast and Furious movies. Thus there were a lot of lazy plot conveniences with certain people being in the right place at the right time. There were also a lot of crazy action sequences that shouldn't have worked considering the context of the movie and the abilities of the characters. But the writers didn't know how else to write these characters out of these situations, so instead they settled with these insane stunts that didn't make sense.

Yet this isn't even the major problem with "The Death Cure." Given the context of this being a rescue/heist mission sort of movie, the run time should've been 90-110 minutes long. Instead it was 140 minutes long, meaning this movie was quite literally anywhere from 30-50 minutes too long. This felt even longer considering when we got to the city around the end of the first act, the plot became as coherent and focused as a giant plate of spaghetti. There were so many twists and turns in this movie, but not the good kind. Plot just happened. It wandered in directions it shouldn't have or didn't need to. And it kept going. And going. And going. And going. I didn't check the time on my phone at any point in this movie, but there came a point in the movie where my brain told me that we were probably setting up our final action sequence, but instead this played out like a Transformers film in that said "final action sequence" was just the first of many confusing and unnecessary action sequences that weren't needed. I just wanted them to rescue their friend and leave the city. But that was impossible because apparently this movie needed to be as long as a Harry Potter film, despite not even having as close to as much content to justify such a lengthy run time.

When the movie finally decided that it was going to actually end, I spent to reflecting back on a lot of the plot points that happened in the movie and realized that a lot of them were in fact completely pointless. There were a lot of character motivations that I simply didn't understand, especially when it came to our evil masterminds. Decisions were made that I felt betrayed some of the characters or simply didn't need to happen. I think certain sequences were setup to try to make me feel emotion by pulling on my heartstrings. But instead I confusingly said to myself, "Well that was stupid." For posterity's sake I really want to reveal which specific plot points in the movie actually made me physically angry because I feel like this movie will play out like "The Scorch Trials" by making me completely forget about it, but I won't. Just know that there were several moments where instead of feeling the emotion that the movie wanted me to feel, I instead looked at the screen and nearly verbalized the word, "Why?" My conclusions to each of these questions all tied into the general thought that the writing in this movie was horrendous. They had a decent premise and good characters with committed actors, but a writing team that didn't know how to wrap this up.

In concluding this review, I want to repeat that I don't find this to be a straight-up bad movie. The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Rosa Salazar (Brenda), Aidan Gillen (Janson) and another individual who I had no idea was in this movie, so I'll leave the identity a secret for those who actually care and don't want the movie spoiled. Those six actors especially gave it their all. And if we turn off our brain and ignore the incoherent, unfocused plot of the movie that was unnecessarily extended 30-50 minutes, the individual action sequences were extremely entertaining, even if they were also a bit absurd. The visual effects are all fantastic and the cinematography is very well done. So there's a lot of elements in this movie that really worked. But when push comes to shove, this dystopian genre is a worn-out genre with nothing else to give, so I don't think there is a way this movie could've ended that would've completely pleased me, but the writing was so incompetent that it ended up sticking out like a sore thumb and caused me storm out of the theater in a frustrated rage. I could go really low with this score, but I'm feeling nice, so I'm giving this a 6/10.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox Review

Yeah that's right. I'm reviewing a new "Cloverfield" movie right now. Totally not something I thought I would be doing at this moment, but it happened. And for that, this movie is absolutely genius. Or at least the extremely unique marketing campaign is. If we add a bit of context to this, the "Cloverfield" franchise is one that has always been shrouded in secrecy. I didn't watch the original "Cloverfield" in theaters back in 2008, so I'm not perfectly up to par on exactly how that movie's marketing went about, but I'm pretty sure it's a movie that just showed up with a trailer a month or two before it actually came out with people wondering what the heck this movie is. A lot of people enjoyed it. A lot of people didn't. Call it an acquired taste, I suppose. I jumped on the bandwagon several years later. Let's call it 2012. Give or take a year or two because I don't know exactly when I saw it. But I bought it on DVD in a $5 bin from Wal-Mart one day and loved it. Then in January 2016, "10 Cloverfield Lane" starts trending on Facebook and I thought that meant a sequel was announced. And it was. But the announcement was that the sequel had already been made and here's the trailer for this sequel that's coming in two months. Say what? So I saw that one and loved it, too!

Fast forward to yesterday. Super Bowl LII. During the first half of the game, the trailer for the long-awaited third "Cloverfield" finally debuted. Some thought it would be called "God Particle." Turns out the trailer reveals that this movie is called "The Cloverfield Paradox." And the previous rumors that it had been sold to Netflix from Paramount turned out to be true. But that first trailer didn't inform us when the movie would come out. So I assumed April because that was the most recently scheduled release date. See, unlike the first two movies, we've known about this one for a while, but it kept bouncing around on the schedule quite a bit, making me quite antsy, especially when the release dates were approaching and we still had no trailer. So I was really happy to be satisfied with that trailer finally showing up during the Super Bowl. I was planning on giving my thoughts on the trailer along with the other trailers we got, but then we were surprised with a second trailer towards the end of the game, which ended with the statement that the movie was available to be streamed right now. SAY WHAT?!?! But yeah. It was true. I opened my Netflix app and there it was. So once the game ended, I went home and watched it with my roommates. Now I'm writing my review.

I'm still kinda blown away by this. Just two days ago I was a bit flustered that we still hadn't seen a trailer, so I wasn't even sure when this thing was coming out. And now I'm writing my review of it because within hours it was confirmed to be heading to Netflix, the trailer showed up and now the movie is here. That's such a "Cloverfield" thing to do with the marketing and I love it. So maybe it's a bad idea to write this review when I'm still hyped up over the fact that I just watched a new "Cloverfield" movie that I wasn't expecting for another two months, but the other part of me wants to surprise my friends who payed no attention to the Super Bowl with a review on Monday of a new "Cloverfield" movie that they may be unaware even exists. Obviously the latter won out. If I managed to shock even one of you, then mission accomplished. Now for the most recommended movie-watching experience, I recommend closing this review, opening up your Netflix and watching the movie. This is not a spoiler review, but I am going to give you my thoughts on this and in doing so I have to reveal some plot details. If you want to go in completely blind like I did, then turn away and read the rest later. Just make sure you find the biggest screen possible for the best experience.

Full disclosure here. I am predicting right now that if you aren't sold by this franchise as of yet, "The Cloverfield Paradox" is not the movie that's going to convert you. I can even understand you still not being sold by this specific movie even if you did like the previous two. But if you're a "Cloverfield" fan, you need to at least give this one a shot because I think what they've done with this franchise is rather fascinating. The first one is a found footage horror film. If you don't like the found footage style, then I can totally understand why you may hate "Cloverfield." It's not worth watching a movie that literally makes you sick. But I thought it was a clever way of telling an alien invasion horror flick. Some kids are at a party and a monster shows up and now they have to run away. That's our movie. Also don't watch if you don't like horrors. But if found footage and/or monster movie horror films aren't your thing, "10 Cloverfield Lane" might be worth checking out if you happen to like intense mystery thrillers. Most of that movie takes place in an underground bunker with this girl trapped by a crazy John Goodman. One of the best modern thrillers, in my opinion. If you hated the ending, well, I'll just kindly remind you what franchise this is and hopefully that will make sense.

Enter "The Cloverfield Paradox." This one is not found footage. Neither was "10 Cloverfield Lane" for that matter. So no need to worry about the movie giving you motion sickness. What this movie does do is successfully switch up the genre again, giving us three "Cloverfield" movies that are all different genres. We go from found footage horror to thriller to sci-fi. Yes, "The Cloverfield Paradox" is best described as a sci-fi movie. A sci-fi movie that is heavily sprinkled with the "Cloverfield" magic. And just like "10 Cloverfield Lane" was not really a sequel to "Cloverfield," "The Cloverfield Paradox" is also not really a sequel to either. They're all like sidequels. They're happening side by side in the same universe, but neither picks up on the exact same story arc as others. And if that doesn't make sense, maybe a better way to describe it is this whole franchise is a giant puzzle. Because J.J. Abrams, who is producer for all three, loves his mystery box films, him and his team have now given us three pieces to this "Cloverfield" puzzle. Each piece stands on its own as a decent film, but if you look at all three of them together, we're formulating this rather fascinating picture of this creative story that's enhanced by this unconventional reveal of this puzzle.

It's possible that some might finish this movie and consider it to be a tired premise that they're sick of seeing, especially if they watched it on a tiny screen instead of finding a bigger TV to watch it on. I'm kinda bummed that this never made it to theaters because seeing this on the big screen would've been awesome. But oh well. Netflix is changing the game with movies like this and "Bright," so I'm cool with it, I suppose. But I say this might be a tired premise for some because this is a lot like the movie "Alien." A crew is on a ship and crazy things start happening, with some sort of monster potentially involved. In addition to all the other "Alien" sequels, most of which aren't that good when compared to "Alien" and "Aliens," we also had the movie "Life" last year that half-heartedly did a similar thing. Throw in a touch of "Gravity," "Interstellar," "The Martian" and others and we have ourselves a movie in "The Cloverfield Paradox" that feels very similar to others. But it had a unique enough spin to it to have me completely fascinated the whole way through as it also borrows a lot of classic sci-fi ideas when it comes to interdimensional travel, multiverses, parallel universes and what not. And as the title suggests, there's a clash that happens that creates a certain paradox that this movie explores.

Movies like this are naturally divisive. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was a hated movie by many when it first came out 50 years ago and Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" impressively had every opinion imaginable, with myself winding up on the more negative side of the spectrum. At the moment, the IMDb score is quite high, but looking at the reviews submitted sees quite a range of opinions. No critic score on Rotten Tomatoes exists when I'm typing this as Rotten Tomatoes is barely aware this movies even exists, although there are audience opinions submitted that seem to be nicer to the movie than the user reviews on IMDb. So I don't know what the consensus for this movie will be, if there ever is one as I'm guessing there won't be, and as such I feel a little insecure with not knowing if I'm in the majority or the minority, but I was fascinated by this ride. I had the edge-of-your-seat sensation for the whole time and I had a giant smile on my face when it wrapped up. I think a major part of this is that I'm completely sold on this franchise and I thought this movie did a great job of expanding the lore of this universe while filling in some of the gaps that the previous two films left wide open. I had several "Ah ha!" moments that made me smile like a little school boy.

Just like with "Cloverfield" and "10 Cloverfield Lane," the ending of "The Cloverfield Paradox" left me wanting more. Luckily we might not have to wait for too much longer as news came out within the last week or two that the fourth film is already done filming and has the working title "Overlord." Or perhaps that's the secret title they've been using. Either way, a movie called "Overlord" from Paramount is currently on the schedule for October 26 of this year. But as we just learned from "The Cloverfield Paradox," the fourth movie will come to us whenever the heck J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot team decide to give it to us. Maybe that's tomorrow. Maybe that's October. Maybe that's in 2019. But apparently it'll be a World War II film, which is interesting. It feels like we're building to a certain point, like this is the Cloverfield Cinematic Universe and they have their version of "The Avengers" in the works, but these are all the individual solo films building up to that. "The Cloverfield Paradox" is a solid entry in this saga of "Cloverfield" films. It's hard to rank these movies because they're so different, but I still think "10 Cloverfield Lane" is my favorite. Yet "The Cloverfield Paradox" isn't too far behind. And if I'm the only one that thinks so, then so be it. My grade for it is a 9/10.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Movie Preview: February 2018

The first month of 2018 is now in the books and things went mostly as expected. January box office is usually always ruled by the holiday holdovers and that was again the case with "Jumanji," "The Last Jedi" and "The Greatest Showman" earning the top three spots. The biggest surprise there was how well "Jumanji" and "The Greatest Showman" held on  while how quickly "The Last Jedi" has fallen off compared to the past two Star Wars movies. Although with $1.3 billion in the bank worldwide, no one at LucasFilm is shedding too many tears. "The Last Jedi" just happened to be more frontloaded than usual and its percentage falloff from "The Force Awakens" domestically will end up nearly perfectly matching the falloff that both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Attack of the Clones" experienced. Anyways, "Jumanji" easily won the month with $171 million in January alone and a total over $300 million thus far. None of the new releases did much as "Insidious: The Last Key" was the best newcomer with $64 million. The best picture nominees didn't make a huge dent either, although the later than usual announcement had an effect there. February should pick things up, though, with several big titles on the schedule, so let's dive right in!

February 2nd - 4th-

Sunday, February 4 will be Super Bowl LII with the Patriots and Eagles facing off, so this is a weekend that Hollywood rightfully avoids as movies opening essentially only have two days instead of three unless they can successfully counter-program the game. The highest opening weekend ever on Super Bowl weekend is "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" with $31.7 million back in 2008. Only six other titles have even opened higher than $20 million. The only movie daring enough to attempt the feat this year is Winchester. No, not Sam and Dean Winchester from "Supernatural." Although these characters could probably use the brothers' help as this is a ghost movie loosely based on the infamous Winchester Mansion, which would lead itself to a decent horror movie under the right directors. Unfortunately it's the directors of the recent horror sequel "Jigsaw" that got their hands on this one and thus the studio has such low expectations that they didn't even screen the movie at all for critics. Best case scenario for this movie would be the $13 million that last year's "Rings" did on Super Bowl weekend, although the $5.3 million that "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" did the year before might be more realistic.

February 9th - 11th-

With the Super Bowl out of the way and most of the market being completely dead at this point, it's time for some life to be given to the box office and that'll be kicked off with the final movie in the Fifty Shades trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed. This has become a Valentine's Day tradition for certain audiences over the last few years and the box office has been fairly solid, especially for the type of movies these are. Fans of the books or the first two movies will most certainly be interested in seeing the Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele romance wrap up. As far as crunching the numbers for this final movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey" opened to $85.2 million and made $166.2 million total while "Fifty Shades Darker" opened to $46.6 million and made $114.6 million total. That's a 31 percent drop off when it comes to the final domestic total. If "Fifty Shades Freed" continued that same pattern, that would equate to $79.1 million total. And if "Freed" had the same multiplier as "Darker," that would mean it gets a $32.1 million opening weekend. Although it's safe to say that the fan base that stuck around for "Darker" don't care what others think about it, so it wouldn't be surprising to see "Freed" equal the numbers of "Darker" or even improve on them a bit as finales often do.

While "Fifty Shades Freed" will certainly be an adults only affair, the pre-Valentine's Day weekend also has a family option available as well with Sony's adaptation of Peter Rabbit. While this is a live action movie, the specific studio in charge here is Sony Pictures Animation, who were responsible for the critically acclaimed, cinematic masterpieces of 2017 in "Smurfs: The Lost Village," "The Emoji Movie" and "The Star." Yes, that's a sprinkle of sarcasm there. After successfully pleasing family audiences in the past with such franchises as "Hotel Transylvania" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," 2017 clearly wasn't the best year for this studio, so they'll look to get back on track in 2018 with four movies. Proceeding "Peter Rabbit" will be "Hotel Transylvania 3" in July, "Goosebumps 2" in October and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" in December. "Goosebumps" might actually be the best comparison here as both movies are live action films with Sony Pictures Animation doing the CGI creatures. "Goosebumps" made $80 million in 2015, which is a number that "Peter Rabbit" is capable of hitting, despite the fact that fans of the source material might be scratching their heads as to what Sony is doing to their beloved Peter Rabbit.

The final movie of the weekend is the Clint Eastwood film The 15:17 to Paris. While "Peter Rabbit" is targeting families and "Fifty Shades Freed" is targeting adult females, "The 15:17 to Paris" will be targeting a separate adult audience who are looking for a drama rather than a romance, meaning all three of these movies could do good business this weekend. "The 15:17 to Paris" is the story of the August 2015 attempted terrorist attack on a Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The 25-year-old gunman Ayoub El Khazzani from Morocco attempted to open fire on the train when his assault rifle jammed and he was then tackled and subdued by three American friends, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, two of whom were off-duty U.S. Armed Forces members. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone wrote a book about their experience that this movie is based off of. Usually in a movie like this, actors are cast to play the main characters, but what makes this movie unique is that Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone will be playing themselves in the movie, which is something that the studio can get away with since the events were less than three years ago. They'll bring the unique element of knowing exactly what they did to stop this gunman.

February 16th - 18th-

A little later this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be celebrating their 10th anniversary as "Iron Man" was released May 2, 2008. "Avengers: Infinity War" will be released two days after that anniversary on May 4. Before we get to that movie, though, we have the huge movie of February, Black Panther, the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Amazingly, the 17 previous movies have averaged $310 million domestically for Marvel, with all three movies from 2017 eclipsing that $300 million mark. "Black Panther" will almost certainly be their fourth straight movie to hit that mark as the hype for this movie is currently through the roof after the worldwide premier at the end of January led to unanimous praise for the film, calling it one of Marvel's best yet, with especially strong praise being given to Michael B. Jordan's villain. This has led pre-sales to skyrocket and the movie is currently outpacing "Deadpool" at the same point in pre-release. "Deadpool" opened to $132 million in February 2016, so those are the numbers we're looking at. And not only does it look like we have another great Marvel film on our hands, this will also be a culturally significant with a predominately black cast and black director in Ryan Coogler opening in black history month.

No major movie will be challenging "Black Panther" this weekend, which is a smart move for obvious reasons, but there will be two smaller movies hoping to provide a bit of counter programming, the first of which being Aardman Animation's Early Man. For some reason, the stop-motion animation genre is a tough sell here in the United States as no stop-motion film has ever hit $20 million on opening weekend and only one has hit the $100 million domestic mark. Luckily for Aardman, that one $100 million movie belongs to them, but that was back in 2000 with "Chicken Run." Their most recent film "Shaun the Sheep Movie" only opened to $5 million in 2015 and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" opened to $11.1 million before that in 2012. Luckily Aardman does have more of a foreign audience as both previously mentioned movies earned over 70 percent of their total overseas, a big portion coming in their home country of the U.K. So if "Early Man" fails in the U.S., it may still have an audience. Aardman is going caveman-themed with this movie, which stars Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams and Timothy Spall. It's already been released in the U.K. and reaction is a bit mixed, but leaning positive, which is a decent sign, but not an incredibly great one.

The final movie is an attempt at a biblical epic from Pure Flix and that is Samson. This popular biblical tale with Samson and Delilah has been portrayed on the big screen at least five times before. There was a 2009 Australian film, a couple of T.V. movies in the 80's and 90's, and a 1922 Australian silent film. But the most notable one is Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah," which is the highest grossing movie that was released in 1949 as it was one of the major movies from the glory days of the biblical epics, which most notably included DeMille's other biblical epic "The Ten Commandments" in 1956 and "Ben-Hur" in 1959. Modern-day biblical movies have had a bit of a rocky track record, with the highest grossing ones being the bigger Hollywood productions, of which this is not. Pure Flix themselves have released nine movies in theaters beginning in 2015, which have averaged $8.6 million total domestically. Their last five movies have all opened below $5 million with their highest opening weekend being "God's Not Dead 2" with $7.6 million. With Samson being a well-known biblical figure, this could end up on the high end of Pure Flix's releases, but this is the wrong weekend to attempt to attract a more general audience outside their typical Christian fan base.

February 23 - 25th-

The final weekend of February will see the first major comedy of 2018 with Game Night. This is a movie that has vibes of "The Man Who Knew Too Little" as the main characters think they're participating in a simple game night without even realizing something much more drastic is happening around them. The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been rather successful leading this genre in the past with efforts such as "Horrible Bosses" ($117.5 million), "Identity Thief" ($134.5 million), "Horrible Bosses 2" ($54.4 million) and "Office Christmas Party" ($54.7 million). Those later two could be around where "Game Night" lands as they also both opened around the $15 million mark. Directing this movie is the directing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein who almost directed "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and are the latest to be attached to DC's "Flashpoint" in 2020. What they have directed is the 2015 comedy "Vacation," which also opened around $15 million and made $58.9 million, another sign that this is the range "Game Night" could land. The last comedy in theaters was "Father Figures," which disappointed majorly, so we really haven't had a hit comedy since "Daddy's Home 2" in November, meaning the time could be right for our next comedic hit.

The movie that could become the sleeper hit is Alex Garland's Annihilation. Garland has worked as a screenwriter since the early 2000's, but his directorial debut came in 2015 with the movie "Ex Machina," which received very high praise and nearly got into the best picture race at the Oscars, despite being released in April. What it did end up getting was a surprise win for best visual effects and a best original screenplay nomination. Lead star Alicia Vikander nearly got nominated as she got in at the Globes, but the Oscars instead gave her a nomination for "The Danish Girl," which she won. Needless to say, fans of "Ex Machina" are eager to see what Garland is bringing to the table with his second directorial effort. "Annihilation" is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy and is a sci-fi, fantasy, horror film where a group of scientists, researches and other volunteers discover a mysterious zone that seems to be cut off from the rest of the world. The movie stars Natalie Portman as a biologist, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a psychologist, Tessa Thompson as a surveyor, Gina Rodriguez as an anthropologist, Tuva Novotny as a linguist and Oscar Isaac as Portman's injured soldier husband.

The final film of the month is the romantic drama Every Day. This stars Angourie Rice, who played roles in "The Nice Guys," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "The Beguiled," so she's been experiencing quite a bit of success as an up and coming young actress. The now 17-year-old Angourie plays a teen girl named Rhiannon who falls in love with a boy who wakes up in a different body, living a different life, each day. The movie is based off of the book by David Levithan and is directed by Michael Sucsy who previously directed "The Vow," which opened in February 2012 and wound up making $125 million domestically. Orion Pictures would certainly be ecstatic if this came anywhere close to that. The studio was very successful in the 80's and 90's, releasing movies such as "Dances with Wolves," "Platoon" and "Silence of the Lambs," but shut down in the late 90's. "Every Day" is their first film after being officially revitalized by MGM. Perhaps a better comparison than "The Vow" might be last month's "Forever My Girl," which had a pretty good opening of $4.2 million from just 1,114 theaters, Roadside Attraction's biggest opening ever. "Forever My Girl" fell just 16 percent in weekend two, meaning it could have a decent run that "Every Day" could match.