Monday, April 30, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Review (SPOILERS)

With "Iron Man" having been released on May 2, 2008, this week will officially mark the 10-year anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What initially started out as a risky venture in setting up a superhero cinematic universe has paid off as the most lucrative reward in movie history as this past weekend saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe cross $15 billion worldwide with no signs of slowing down, especially not after "Avengers: Infinity War" just broke the records for highest grossing opening weekend both domestically and internationally, passing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "The Fate of the Furious" respectively. Yet all previous 18 movies have built up to this point. The Infinity War. The first infinity stone, the Tesseract, showed up in the end credit scene of "Thor" in 2011, playing a key role two months later in "Captain America: The First Avenger." Thanos first showed up in the next movie in May 2012 in the end credits scene of "The Avengers." This tells me that the Infinity War story arc has been in the works from day one, or at least shortly thereafter. Now following 10 years of build up, the first half of this story is finally here and the only way to talk about it is to do so in a spoiler review. Turn away now if you don't want the secrets of this movie spoiled.

I technically can't say I've been with the MCU since day one. I was on a mission for my church from 2008 to 2010, meaning I never saw "Iron Man" or "The Incredible Hulk" in theaters. But I quickly caught up when I got home and starting with "Iron Man 2" in summer 2010, I have seen all of them in theaters, usually on opening weekend. I don't consider this that major of an accomplishment. When you're a fan of a franchise and it only takes two to three trips to the theater to keep up, it's a rather easy task to have seen all 19 movies. If you're a more casual fan or you never really venture out to the theater and thus you haven't seen every MCU movie, then that's where this gets a bit tricky because "Infinity War" is NOT a standalone film. Sure, you still might be able to enjoy the action sequences, laugh at the humor and appreciate the crazy finale, but there's a really good chance you might be completely lost in regards to the story if you've missed significant parts of this journey. Specifically, I'd say every Phase III movie is necessary to see in order to completely appreciate "Infinity War," those movies being "Captain America: Civil War," "Doctor Strange," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Black Panther."

From that point, there's even more back tracking, because most of those Phase III movies are fully appreciated only after seeing their Phase I and Phase II predecessors. What this means is that "Infinity War" is a movie for the fans. Usually I don't like using that phrase because "this is a movie for the fans" is often a cop-out used by people to condescend towards those who didn't like a movie that they did enjoy. I got that thrown at me by some DC fans when I gave "Batman v. Superman" a negative review, which I found really annoying because I AM a DC fan. In fact, I grew up with DC more than I did Marvel, so to say that I'm not a true fan because I didn't like that movie made me want to slap some people upside the face. But yet I say "Infinity War" is for the fans simply because it's best appreciated upon seeing every previous movie in the MCU and might fly right over the heads of those who aren't caught up. If you have seen every movie and you happen to not like "Infinity War" because of all the death and destruction or for other reasons, then don't take offense to my statement. I'm not saying you aren't a fan. You're allowed to not like this movie and still like everything else in the MCU. I just hope you take the time to understand why this is my new favorite movie in the MCU.

While I am a big fan of the MCU, I always hesitate to label myself as a Marvel fanboy. The term fanboy often comes with a negative connotation that infers said person refuses to say anything bad about the franchise and will thus blindly praise every movie in that franchise as the best thing since sliced bread. When it comes to Marvel fanboys, that often means also hating everything DC has done as if this is a sporting match where you have to pick one or the other because cheering for both teams doesn't often make sense. I've always hated this. Why can't we enjoy both? If DC figures out how to make more movies like "Wonder Woman" and less movies like everything else in the DCEU, then I will gladly ride both of these franchises. Thus you shouldn't see my high praises of "Infinity War" as me being a Marvel fanboy who always blindly praises everything they do. That's not true. In fact, it was "Wonder Woman" and "Logan" that made my top 10 last year, not "Thor: Ragnarok" or "Spider-Man: Homecoming," even though the latter two would've been worthy choices. And I was highly critical of both "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Black Panther." More than many, anyways. So I'm not just going to automatically praise everything from Marvel, despite what it may seem.

In fact, I had major questions going into "Infinity War." First and foremost, they had been spending all this time hyping up Thanos, yet all I saw was another random, powerful baddie who wanted to destroy the world just for the heck out it and had done nothing but sit on a throne in brief moments of screen time he actually got up to this point. I was done with that type of villain. I need depth. I need emotion. I need proper motivation. With Marvel's track record of villains, I wasn't sure that they were going to be able to deliver on this to the level that I wanted them to do. I was worried that Thanos would just become another Ultron, which would be especially disappointing this time around with how much they've been hyping this guy up. If Thanos wasn't Marvel's best villain, or at least in the top three, this might be a disappointing venture. Also, I wanted this movie to be dark and grim. Knowing that this was the first half of a two part story, I wanted this to be "The Empire Strikes Back" of the MCU. Not only did I want Thanos to potentially be on the level of Darth Vader in terms of villains, but I wanted him to win. I wanted him to get all six infinity stones and use that infinity gauntlet to wipe out the Avengers, leaving them broken, torn apart and hopeless.

I know that might sound sadistic, but I felt that this is what Marvel needed to do in order to give this movie the emotional impact needed to make this movie 10 years and 18 movies in the making worth the wait and the hype. Then we can get our happy ending in part two next year, which will be more satisfying of a victory in the process. One that the Avengers actually had to work harder than ever for. This is a high bargain to ask from a movie, especially one that has been mostly pleasant comfort food for a good majority of the previous 10 years. Demanding that out of a movie was setting myself up for failure, especially because I didn't believe that they could do it and I was ready to be super critical. I was excited. But not as excited as I should be with all this baggage I was taking into the movie theater. Yet this, my friends, is exactly why "Infinity War" is the best movie in the MCU and one of the best superhero movies ever made. Because they did it. I didn't think they could. But they did. I've been reeling all weekend. I've been emotionally traumatized. I feel like I got punched in the gut and beaten with a baseball bat. Yet in a weird, sick, twisted way, I've enjoyed it. It's resulted in one of the most unique and rewarding cinematic experiences of my life.

Yes, this is a spoiler review, but that doesn't mean I'm going to talk about every single aspect of this movie. This is a 149-minute long movie with perhaps more characters jammed in than I've ever seen, meaning I can talk about this for hours and practically write a book on this blog if I were to cover everything. But I'm not going to. What I will do is speak opening about the aspects of this movie that I felt need to be mentioned. Like the fact that we start this movie off with a bang in learning that Thanos has wiped out all of the Asgardians. Or, well, half of them as Thor later states in the movie. This was a phenomenal way to start off the movie. It does make the ending of "Thor: Ragnarok" a bit sad when you know what's coming next for them. But it sets the tone for this entire film. At the end credits scene of "Ragnarok," we saw them come face to face with Thanos' ship, likely because Loki stole the Tesseract before Asgard itself blew up and that Tesseract is exactly what Thanos is looking for. We learn immediately that Thanos is absolutely ruthless as he then boards their ship, kills half of them, including Heimdall and Loki, scares Hulk into hiding for the rest of the movie, steals the Tesseract, leaves Thor badly hurt, then leaves as if he's done something noble.

My biggest question there is WHERE'S VALKYRIE?!?!?!?! If she's among the dead Asgardians, that might be upsetting to me because I wanted a lot more from her in the MCU. But as we don't know her fate, I won't hold that against this specific movie. I do think it's a noble death for Loki. As the god of mischief, he's been wavering from day one and has caused a lot of pain and destruction. Yet in "Ragnarok" he finally seemed to come around and his arc is finished in a heroic way as he nearly kills Thanos right there, but his blade is stopped inches from Thanos' throat and then is choked to death by Thanos. I think this is a great way to finish off Loki's arc and sadly I hope they keep him dead, otherwise I feel that might compromise this moment. Yet along those lines of Loki nearly stopping Thanos, that ends up being the theme of this movie. Both the Avengers and the Guardians come so close on so many different occasions, yet Thanos ends up coming out on top in each situation, adding to the painful, emotional beat down that that movie gives the audience. The other thing that this opening scene accomplished was making me uneasy for the rest of the film. If they're willing to kill half the Asgardians, with Loki included, then no one is safe.

Thus for the first time ever, a movie in the MCU has stakes to it. I understand the reason behind Marvel not wanting to kill off major characters because that means any future story with said character can no longer be told. But at the same time, that's also why a lot of these films have becoming more lightweight entertainment. There may be danger, but you know that the heroes of the movie are going to overcome the danger, evil is going to perish and all the good guys will live happily ever after. Not so in "Infinity War." If they're willing to kill Loki right off the bat and potentially Valkyrie, too, then suddenly no one is safe. Instead of going into each battle with Thanos or his minions ready to be entertained by another action sequence, I went in really nervous because each give battle could be one characters final moment on screen. I figured people with movies coming up might end up being safe, like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther, but I felt like anything could be on the table with our original Avengers or any of the sidekicks to anyone, thus I was nervous, adding a ton of emotional weight to every battle sequence, especially the ones with Thanos actually involved. Could this be the end of Iron Man? Captain America? Thor? Hulk? Black Widow? I didn't know.

Interestingly enough, the way it turned out wound up being the exact opposite of what I was expecting with all the new members getting killed off and the old members surviving, but I'll get to that in a bit. Thanos needs to be discussed at this point. Now, I don't think we've learned everything about Thanos at this point. And I'm not sure why exactly he's made it his mission to obtain all the infinity stones and destroy half the universe. But so far I buy into it. One of the most fascinating things about him is that I think he genuinely believes that he is doing the right thing. Regardless of the reason, he feels like he needs to bring balance to the universe and he's going to do whatever it takes to get that done while not feeling any sort of guilt or remorse while also not feeling necessary to wipe out everyone. He almost kills Thor at the beginning, but when Loki agrees to give up the Tesseract, he lets Thor go free. He almost kills Iron Man at the end, but when Doctor Strange agrees to give up the Time Stone, he lets Iron Man go free. Even then, when he's about to kill Iron Man, he tells him that, "I hope they remember you." Yes, that line was in the trailer and I thought it was going to be done in a mocking tone, but it turned out to be a respectful gesture for a formidable opponent.

That whole mindset from Thanos really fascinated me and helped me buy into his motivations while also being scared of him due to the fact that he was willing to kill any of my favorite Avengers if they got in his way, more out of duty rather than power and vengeance. What officially put me over the top in regards to Thanos is the scene with him and Gamora. Darth Vader went from ominous presence in "A New Hope" to fascinating character in "The Empire Strikes Back" when you learn that he cares for his son Luke. Thus Thanos draws parallels to Darth Vader on that level because he became even more interesting once we learned how much he cared about Gamora. After Gamora takes Thanos to the soul stone following Peter Quill's failed attempt to kill his girlfriend on her request when Thanos uses the reality stone to turn Quill's bullets into bubbles, it is revealed via Red Skull, which was a shocking revelation that he was still alive, that in order to obtain the soul stone, you need to sacrifice someone you love. This is the point where Gamora starts laughing because she's convinced that Thanos is like Voldemort by being incapable of loving. OK, she doesn't reference Voldemort. But that's what I was thinking. And I was with her. Gamora is safe and Thanos' plan has failed.

Yet in one of the most powerful moments in the movie, we suddenly see Thanos shed a tear. I gasped in horror because I suddenly realized what is going to happen. Gamora, a character I really have come to love, is toast. Sure enough, Thanos apologizes to her and throws her off a cliff. And doing so destroyed him inside, which caused me to feel for him a bit because he just lost his daughter due to the fact that he felt it was his duty to collect all of the infinity stones. I didn't expect to empathize with Thanos in this moment, especially not after he just killed one of the best Guardians, who I don't think is coming back, but I did on a certain level. Suddenly this big baddie was more than just a crazy villain who wants to destroy half of the universe, but he actually has a heart. He didn't care for much. But he cared for Gamora. And that was proven over the fact that he was rewarded with the soul stone after this sacrifice, which he wouldn't have received if that was a fake sacrifice. After this moment in the movie, Thanos now had four infinity stones, the purple one that he got before the movie began, the Tesseract that he got from Loki after killing the Asgardians, the reality stones that he got by burning down the Collector's planet and the soul stone that he got by sacrificing Gamora.

Thus we are left with just two stones for him to collect, the time stone that Doctor Strange is protecting and the yellow stone that's in Vision's head. There's a lot of different story arcs that lead up to the point of Thanos obtaining these final two sequences and I'm going to breeze past all of it. There were a lot of characters to follow, a lot of humor that was cleverly implemented in and a lot of action sequences that I really enjoyed. What I will say about all of this is that it reminded me of a Star Wars movie in the way this whole story was told with various parties at different parts of the galaxy while we took turns bouncing around to all of them. Star Wars does this with a lot of fancy swipes and fades and although "Infinity War" didn't do any of that style of editing, it almost felt like it did. I was most impressed with how the Russo Brothers balanced all of this story telling. They risked the movie becoming overly bloated with too many characters and too many story arcs, but as they've shown previously with "The Winter Soldier" and "Civil War," they're pretty good at this storytelling and have continued to maintain a high level of quality with increasingly more characters to balance with each new project Marvel has put in their hands.

Long story short, we are left with two final battle sequences, one on Titan with Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Drax and Mantis taking the battle to Thanos and nearly manage to remove the Infinity Gauntlet until Star-Lord screws everything up when he learns that Thanos killed Gamora. I know a lot of people are giving Star-Lord a lot of crap for losing his temper like this, but I personally think it makes him one of the more human characters in all of this movie, making him extremely relatable. You definitely feel for Star-Lord and I'm sure everyone can relate to a moment where they acted irrationally upon learning something devastating. This also adds yet another moment in the movie where the heroes almost won, but then came up short. Later in this sequence, our other emotional moment is where Thanos nearly kills Iron Man. This moment nearly wrecked me because I honestly thought Iron Man was gone, but then Doctor Strange succumbs and gives up the time stone in order to save Iron Man. But does he succumb in a moment of weakness? I don't think so. Remember, Doctor Strange saw every possible outcome of this battle and I'm guessing he saw that Iron Man was necessary to beat Thanos and that the time stone needed to be given up.

This leaves us to our final battle. While everything in the previous paragraph is happening, we also jump around to everyone else gathered in Wakanda in what has to be one of the most epic battle sequences in any superhero movie and possibly any movie overall. While the other battle is very improv, this one is very strategic and organized, but involves so many different characters doing so many awesome things, After nearly countless epic moments in this battle, there are two moments where the Avengers almost win that again add to this emotional beat down when they come up short. The first is Scarlet Witch finally agreeing to sacrifice Vision in a super sad moment because I finally bought them as a couple. When Scarlet Witch successfully destroys the infinity stone in Vision, I thought that Vision wasn't going to get the final stone. But then he uses the time stone, making useless Scarlet Witch's sacrifice and kills Vision himself. Ouch. And finally, Thor soars in with Stormbreaker, his new awesome axe, and nails Thanos right in the chest. I thought Thanos was dead and suddenly panicked in trying to figure out what happens in the next movie. But nope. Thanos then says, "You should've gone for the head." Thanos then snaps his fingers and all is over.

And this leads me to my final point. This movie began with Thanos desiring to obtain all of the infinity stones, balance the universe by destroying half of everyone living in it, then relax on his own place after successfully completing his mission. And he succeeds. That final shot is a very somber moment that leaves everyone watching completely wrecked. But all the death coming before it is rather shocking as half of the people start to disintegrate. Victims of this disintegration include Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Bucky Barnes, Mantis, Drax, Star-Lord, Groot, Nick Fury and Maria Hill. None of these people are actually dead. The Avengers are going to find a way to reverse this. I don't know how, but they are. But still, even knowing that none of them are dead for good, this didn't diminish the sadness of the situation as each new person gone broke my heart, but none more than Spider-Man as he nervously hugged Tony, saying, "I don't want to go." Surviving members include Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, War Machine, Okoye, M'Baku, Rocket and Nebula. We don't know about Shuri because she was off screen and Ant-Man, Wasp or Hawkeye because they weren't in the movie.

I'm certainly excited to see how this all turns out. It pains me that we have to wait a whole year until the currently untitled "Avengers 4" will finish us off. There is a lot of pressure for them to complete this the right way without diminishing what they accomplished in "Infinity War." As such, as I expect everyone who disintegrated to come back, especially because some of them, like Spider-Man, have movies on the schedule, part of me hopes that those who died before the disintegration remain dead, thus meaning the stakes set up in this movie were real. In other words, Loki, Gamora and Vision I think are dead forever. But we shall see. However, even if the conclusion of this arc isn't as good, I don't think that diminishes what the Russo Brothers accomplished with this movie. Both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Dark Knight" are two penultimate films that are nearly perfect movies, and two of my all-time favorites. Even though "Return of the Jedi" and "The Dark Knight Rises" didn't live up to those movies (though both are solid films -- don't get me wrong), they didn't ruin the legacy of their predecessor. At the very worst, that's the case we're looking at here. As I am sticking to my guns that "Infinity War" is the best MCU film, I think it was a given that I'm giving it a 10/10.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Rampage Review

I heard word of a certain superhero movie opening last night that one or two of my friends are looking forward to. But you didn't really want to hear my thoughts on that, did you? Thus it makes perfect sense for me to now release my long-waited review of another superhero film in its own rfight from earlier this month, that of Dwayne Johnson saving Chicago from three mega-sized, blood-thirsty animals trying to destroy that city. Truth be told, I do have reasons for not seeing this one right away when it was released two weekends ago, despite me being a lot more excited for it than I probably should've been. But those reasons aren't important. I finally saw it this past Tuesday and I am getting my review out now so that my mind can be completely clear before going into "Avengers: Infinity War" right after posting. Thus if you're wondering and were wanting me to be honest, I did not see "Infinity War" last night because of the NFL Draft. But I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about it after seeing it in a bit, so you'll just have to be patient there. For now it's time to discuss giant monsters attacking Chicago and Dwayne Johnson trying to save them. This coming from the director of "San Andreas," a fellow guilty pleasure movie for me starring Dwayne Johnson, that time fighting an earthquake.

"Rampage" is based on an 80's arcade game, thus categorizing this as another attempt at a video game movie, a genre of film that really hasn't worked out too much. Either Hollywood has had an extremely atrocious run of horrible luck, or video games simply don't translate that well to the big screen. Personally I think it's a combination of the two. Sure, we should let video games be video games and movies be movies, but certain movies like "Assassin's Creed" and "Warcraft" SHOULD'VE worked out cinematically, but whoever was in charge of those projects simply showed a whole ton of incompetence in how to make a good film. There's plenty of other examples of that, but those are the two fairly recent examples that come to mind. I do feel like Hollywood should just move on from this and stop trying to make it work, but since they're not going to give up, we'll just have to take it one movie at a time. And quite frankly, 2018 hasn't been a bad year for video game movies thus far as "Tomb Raider" and now "Rampage" have been decently enjoyable films, as long as you know what you're getting into going in. Sure, neither of them are masterpieces, so don't expect that going in. But both films are the sort of movie where you can turn off your brain and enjoy.

The original premise for the "Rampage" arcade game was quite simple. You as the user control one of the three giant animals and you're goal is to destroy the city before the government comes in and stops you. That's it. No, I haven't actually ever played it, or even heard about it before this movie was announced, but I read up about the game and talked to friends who have played it. It seems like a rather enjoyable game that's good for killing time if you have nothing else to do. So how does this translate into a 107-minute long movie when there's hardly enough content to work with? That's an excellent question. One that the filmmakers didn't seem capable of cracking. They came up with about 20 minutes of quality film with the animals attacking the city while Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, the government and others stormed into stop them, giving us a fantastic finale. But it was rather obvious that they had no idea how to properly set this up as the final product showed signs of them completely giving up on doing something that was actually worthwhile to start things off. Either they wrote a quick first draft of the screenplay and went with it without reading through it a second time or were presented with a ton of ideas that were all bad, so they settled on one of them.

That's what it felt like, anyways. Thus I have to make things abundantly clear that this is a really bad movie. There's no mincing words there or trying to talk myself out of it. This is a bad movie. We'll get into more of why I am giving it a pass anyways, but let me tell you why this is bad. This is a movie based on a very simple arcade game. They could've made the premise of the movie simple, but this is anything but simple, so allow me to give you the cliff notes version of this setup. In the universe of this movie, a certain corporation back in the 1990's came up with some sort of genetic editing wherein they were able to combine genetics from several different animals to come up with a sort of serum to create super animals, but the government decided to ban it for good reasons, so they decided to take their experiments into space where in the present day we have a certain ship where most on board have been killed by a giant, mutated rat. The lone survivor scrambles to escape from this rat and successfully does so with three canisters of this serum, but her escape pod blows up in the atmosphere, sending the canisters, which are powerful enough to survive the atmosphere, shooting to earth like asteroids, where they land and end up infecting a gorilla, crocodile and wolf.

That seems like an unnecessarily complex way to set up this idea of three giant animals. I suppose the filmmakers felt they needed to come up with some sort of explanation to why the animals are giant and why they are attacking Chicago when in reality this movie would've been better with no explanation. If you paid money to see three giant animals attack a city, is it really going to be a huge dealbreaker if there's no explanation as to why this is happening? I don't think so. But speaking of unnecessarily complex, that explanation that I just gave you us just the beginning. Crammed into the first two-thirds of this movie are so many different subplots that becoming extremely distracting and annoying. I didn't care about any of it. I just wanted to see Dwayne Johnson fighting giant animals. But the movie tried to make me care about all these other characters and subplots and I just didn't buy the. The worst of which were the two villains of the movie, the brother and sister duo of this company who were responsible for the creation of the serum and thus came up with a plan to attract all three of them to where they were in Chicago so they could do something with them. What were their motivations? I don't know. What was their end goal and why? I also don't know. 

There was some really bad writing when it came to those two, yet they were the focus of a good portion of the movie. On top of the really bad writing, the acting from both of them were quite cringe-worthy. And speaking of cringe-worthy, we also had the government subplot. The lead dude of whatever branch of military this was that were on a mission to stop the creatures did a great job with his acting, but there was so much stupidity in what they were trying to do. They tried over and over to use military forces to stop them, but it wasn't working. Despite that, they kept going with the attack instead of trying to come up with a plan that would actually work. A certain plan they may have worked was to recruit Dwayne Johnson and his new girlfriend Naomie Harris. Dwayne Johnson being an animal expert who saved and raised the now giant albino gorilla and Naomie Harris who worked on this genetic editing stuff before getting fired for reasons I quickly forgot after the movie tried to explain. But no, instead of the government recruiting these two to help them, which is where I thought this was going, the government is out to get them. So Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris are flying solo in avoiding the government and saving Chicago.

There were flashes in the first two-thirds of the movie of awesomeness. Those flashes came when we actually focused on these three animals in their various parts of the country getting infected and fighting off whatever was in their way. And there was a good relationship with Dwayne Johnson and his gorilla that I bought into. Speaking of Dwayne Johnson, both him and Naomie Harris gave it their all in this movie, making every sequence with them enjoyable enough. But there were just too many subplots and too many annoying characters that bogged this experience down. However, if you are willing to wade through all of that, the movie does reward you by finally becoming the movie you thought you were getting yourself into when it started. The three giant animals converge into Chicago, Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris successfully avoid all the obstacles, and the military is in full out attack mode. From there on, the movie is a blast. And by that, I mean it's "Sharknado" levels of fantastic. The movie owns up to its ridiculous premise and has a lot of fun with incredibly stupid silliness that often had me rolling over in my chair in laughter and enjoyment. There's a lot of specifics that I want to mention, but I suppose I'll keep this review spoiler free.

A recommendation for this movie is fairly easy, I feel. This is probably a movie that should've debuted on the Syfy Channel instead of Warner Bros. spending over $100 million on putting it in theaters. There's a lot of sequences that are flat out cringe worthy and they take up a majority of the first two acts of the film. And sometimes the CGI is Syfy quality as well given that there were moments where it looked like Dwayne Johnson in front of a green screen or fighting with CGI animals that were put into the shot after the fact. Granted, that's what happens in every monster movie. But a monster movie like this needs to convince me that the monsters are actually there, which this movie only did sometimes, which is another comparison to Syfy movies. However, the recommendation is this. If you like dumb Syfy movies like "Sharknado," then I think there's potential that you might enjoy this quite a bit. If you haven't seen it in theaters yet, I wouldn't bother. Instead, I would recommend waiting till this comes to DVD or Netflix because then you have the power to fast forward and quickly get to the moments of the movie that really matter. A grade for this is tricky since I admit that it is a bad movie. But since the finale really entertained me, I'm going 7/10 for "Rampage."   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Isle of Dogs Review

All you have to do to get me into a seat to see a new Wes Anderson film is to simply inform me Wes Anderson has a new film coming out and I'll be stoked. You don't even need to show me a trailer or tell me what the movie is about. The man just has such a unique style and sense of humor that he's practically his own genre of film and all of the movies that I've seen from him have been enjoyably quirky and just a blast to experience. If you've never seen a Wes Anderson film, do yourself a favor and check out his filmography. You'll be glad you did. You can check out his nine-time Oscar nominated film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that gave Anderson his first nominations for best director and best picture, or you can check out some of his earlier films such as "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Or maybe you can just dive right into "Isle of Dogs," because this is very much a Wes Anderson film in about every way. If you have seen and loved Wes Anderson's previous films, then get to a theater as soon as possible to see "Isle of Dogs" as it shouldn't surprise you that he's conjured up yet another brilliant work of art. In fact, this is one of my favorite films in this still young 2018 and I imagine it will remain a bright highlight.

One thing I really appreciated about the marketing of this film is that they managed to not tell me much about what this was about. We were given some vague, yet intriguing trailers about a boy wandering around on Trash Island looking for his dog. So I wasn't even sure what I was getting myself into when I went into the theater. Certainly this had to be more than just a boy searching for his dog for 100 minutes, right? That didn't make me nervous at all because I have a lot of confidence in Wes Anderson. Curious would probably be the more appropriate word. Turns out my suspicious were correct. This is actually a fairly layered, complex film with a very deep story arc that they left a complete mystery in the marketing. I won't spoil the film, but I do have to talk about it in order to tell you why I loved this so much. If you already love Wes Anderson and you know nothing about "Isle of Dogs," feel free to close this review and go experience the complex, thought-provoking magic that Anderson has presented in this movie. Yes, the movie is about a boy searching for his dog. But the bigger, overarching plot involves a futuristic, fictional Japanese city where everyone loves cats while the leader has banned all dogs, exiling them to Trash Island. That's our plot here.

Thus on the surface we have a story that will have dog lovers in tears as all of these dogs have been sadly dumped on this island, left to fend for themselves while the humans don't care if they all die. After this sad introduction, said dog lovers will then be cheering for this young Japanese kid as he rebels against the government to go search for his own pet dog that has been dumped onto the island that he loves. This will then lead to quite the quirky, enjoyable adventure with this kid and the main group of dogs, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum. Then on top of that, one will also be rooting for the secret team of scientists on mainland Japan who are trying to come up with a cure to this dog flu, which is part of the reason why the dogs have been exiled. In addition to these scientists, there are other groups of secret dog lovers who are trying to start a revolution of sorts to stop this evil tyranny from the current regime. Yeah, that's a lot more than the trailers told you about this movie, but in case you weren't sold solely on the Wes Anderson card, hopefully that will convince you to give this a shot in showing you that this is a deliciously complex film with so much to absorb and take in.

I'm not going to talk about what actually transpires in this film after this initial setup, but there came a point early on in the film where it dawned on me that this is much more than just a film about cats and dogs. There are a lot of films out there that are simply movies about humans and their pets. As an animal lover myself, these simple stories often capture my heart and make me miss my old pets growing up. Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of "Old Yeller," "Homeward Bound" and "Air Bud" as examples. We even have last year's "A Dog's Purpose" that was decently enjoyable. If that's all "Isle of Dogs" was about, there would be a good chance that I would still enjoy it. In fact, there's certain heartwarming moments that I loved specifically because of the relationship between the boy and his dog. But rather than being strictly a movie about cats and dogs, "Isle of Dogs" is a movie that uses cats and dogs as more of a metaphor for government as a whole as well as various social issues. The first thought that came to my mind was that this could be Wes Anderson making a strong, yet subtle statement about our current regime here in the United States with the tyrannical Japanese leader representing everyone's current beloved president, Mr. Donald Trump.

As I began to think about that, my mind was immediately blown. I was like, "Whoa!" Yet as I thought about that even more, it also dawned on me that there probably isn't just one big political statement that is being driven home here. The oppressive, tyrannical government of Japan could probably be applied to a lot of different government regimes, past or present. Meanwhile, in terms of the dogs and the cats, they could apply to various social issues. Perhaps the dogs being oppressed could represent any race or sect of people in our day who are oppressed or maybe even various ideals or philosophies that are being rejected by the populous while the cats are the exact opposite. They could represent the various racist or sexist ideas or philosophies that society often clings onto while the small group of dog lovers in the movie represent the people pushing for change, acceptance and and an overall progressive society. Reject all of those evil cats and learn to accept the dogs in your life that you have discarded. Maybe this idea will make real cat lovers angry, but the movie isn't literally saying all cats are bad. The cats are just the metaphor as cats are generally the more self-centered pets while dogs are the more loyal and humble pets.

Thematically I think this movie is genius. It's a true work of art as we get deeper into the story and learn that this is almost an allegorical tale instead of just a cute movie about dogs. But in terms of said work of art, on a technical level this is an awe-inspiring masterpiece as this is all done in the stop motion animation style, meaning all of the characters and the scenery were literally built from hand while every small movement from each character or background object had to be done shot by shot. If you're unfamiliar with this stop motion animation process, do a quick YouTube search and it'll completely blow your mind how excruciatingly difficult this process is for even the smallest and simplest of scenes. Then you watch an entire film like "Isle of Dogs" that is so detailed with everything that your jaw might literally hit the floor as you think of what went into crafting this film. All of this had me mesmerized for the entire run time. Yet that wasn't the only thing that had me mesmerized. The score throughout the movie is brilliant. It almost felt like one continuous song that was quite progressive in the construction of it that started with simple drum beats and slowly kept adding various sounds and instruments throughout.

Combine these masterfully crafted technical aspects of the movie with a creatively deep themes and metaphors surrounding these lovable characters and the best way to describe "Isle of Dogs" is that it's a brilliant work of art. If you're one of the many that are constantly complaining that Hollywood has no original ideas, then make sure you expand your horizons from the typical big blockbuster affair and go see a movie like "Isle of Dogs" because there's actually a lot of filmmakers out there like Wes Anderson that do have their creative juices flowing and are constantly showcasing it in their films. "Isle of Dogs" is unique, it's creative, it's heartwarming, it's hilarious, it's shocking, it's a bit brutal and graphic at times, it's honest and it's very thought-provoking. Even though it may seem like I have covered a lot of this movie, there's a ton here that I haven't even touched. A lot of twists and surprises throughout. A lot of different story arcs that are beautifully woven together. A lot of classic Wes Anderson moments that will have you rolling around in your chair as he takes you on a wild ride that you didn't think a movie about a boy and his dog could take you. It's definitely a top-tier Wes Anderson film for me that's worth your time and money. I'm giving "Isle of Dogs" a 9/10.

P.S. - This is not a kid's movie. I'm not saying don't take your kids. That's up to you. I'm just going to say use caution. This is a PG-13 movie that earns its rating, thus I would say this is an animated film directed at adults and fans of Wes Anderson rather than kids, which I think we need more of rather than having the stereotype that animated movies are for kids only.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Trek: The Movie Review

Actual footage from my personal Pioneer Trek in 2004. Not footage from this movie
Pioneer Trek. It's a Mormon thing. That's the tagline of this movie, which is about the only thing the movie gets right when it comes to Trek. This is a by Mormons, for Mormons movie, as the filmmakers themselves have admitted, so I don't expect anyone who is a non-Mormon to even look at this review. Unless of course you thought by the title that this was some sort of Star Trek review. I mean, when I search this movie on Google or IMDb, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" is at the top of the list of things the internet thinks I'm searching for for. As fun as it would be to do a review of that movie, it's Pioneer Trek we're looking at here, not Star Trek. If you happen to be a non-Mormon and you are wondering what in the heck Pioneer Trek is, let me give a brief summary. In the early days of the Mormon church, which was organized in 1830, there was a lot of persecution. The early saints were driven from their homes on numerous occasions, causing them to cross the plains on foot, traveling from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and eventually to Utah over the course of about 15-20 years. A popular tradition today for Mormon youth is to do short reenactments of that where we dress up like pioneers and walk with handcarts for a few days. Pioneer Trek.

When I say brief summary, that's the extremely brief summary. Obviously the history of the Mormon church is a very long, complex history that I don't care to detail in this review, but the general idea is that they traveled west, often walking with handcarts carrying their stuff. I think in general it's a good idea to remember and honor your ancestors, regardless of what your current state of life is, so in the Mormon church, Pioneer Trek is one good way to remember the sacrifices that our ancestors made. Believe me, hiking in the mountains pulling a handcart behind you for just four days is tough work, even when your church leaders have everything meticulously planned out with plenty of food and water as well as ready medical attention if anyone needs it. You get to the end of that four days and you're ready to go back to your own house with your own family and live your normal life. But generally it's a very positive experience that makes you appreciate your ancestors who went through what they did over the course of several months or years. It was just a four-day reenactment for me. But for them it was life. If they ran out of food and water or got sick, there wasn't always a truck driving behind them ready to bail them out. They had to do their best and move forward.

I promise I'll get to this movie in a second, but the idea of this movie coming out sparked an interest in myself to go back and reflect on my personal experience with Pioneer Trek. The Trek that I went on with my stake was from June 29 - July 2 in 2004. I was 15 years old at the time. Don't be too impressed that I remembered those dates. All that means is that I saved my journal from that experience. I went back and read my thoughts at the time and watched the 55 minute DVD that they made of it, where someone took video footage of our Trek and added interviews of my peers talking about their experiences. I found it to be a really great experience to go back and read my thoughts and watch that DVD. I haven't done that in a long time, so doing so after so many years was pretty special. In fact, the pictures in this blog post are not of this movie that I'm reviewing. I took screenshots from my computer of said Trek DVD while I was watching, because I thought it would be fun to add those to this review. For me, this was a life-changing experience that I never forgot. Being only 15 years old at the time, it was a great way to shape my testimony. I especially loved listening to the testimonies of all my old friends from 14 years ago after this experience.

Actual footage from my Pioneer Trek. This is 15-year-old me
For sparking this desire to go back and reflect on my personal experiences, I really appreciate this movie. It also gives me a platform to talk about a personal experience that I had 14 years ago that I've not talked about much since. But if I'm being perfectly honest, a part of the reason why I immediately went back and watched my own Trek video and read my journal was to purge from my mind this awful movie that I had wasted $5 on. Normally I don't have a problem writing bad reviews, but in this instance I feel horrible doing so because these guys followed me on Twitter. I don't think it's because I'm a fancy movie person. I think it was because I was tweeting during General Conference and whoever was managing their Twitter page went about following people who were tweeting about Conference, which is a smart move on their part. Thus when they followed me, I tweeted to them that I was going to give this movie a shot and write a review of it. And they liked that tweet. So I decided to be a man of my word and fulfill my promise. Which means those people who made this movie could very well be reading this review right now. It's one thing to write a bad review that only your friends will read. But when the filmmakers themselves could be reading? Yikes. That is a bit intimidating to me.

All I can say if the filmmakers are reading this review is that I hope they appreciate honest feedback. I do keep in mind when it comes to locally made films that they're at an unfair disadvantage without the resources available to a normal big-budget Hollywood production. They often can't afford to hire major Hollywood actors or a professional Hollywood movie crew to make it look like a perfect Hollywood film, so it's unfair to judge in the same level. Even if said local filmmakers are rich and can afford to finance the whole thing, you can't spend $50 million making the movie because you're not going to make that much money in return. On the high on the things, "Meet the Mormons" made $6 million, while "The Saratov Approach" made $2.1 million and "Once I Was a Beehive" made $732,655. And those are movies that all had huge, positive buzz in the Mormon community. At the same time, though, all three of those movies were also made with the same handicaps as "Trek: The Movie" had. Or at least those last two were. "Meet the Mormons" is in a slightly different category with the Church itself making and financing it. But despite extremely low budgets, "The Saratov Approach" and "Once I Was a Beehive" were two quality films.

I think one of the biggest problems for "Trek: The Movie" was the idea itself. As you can tell, I loved my Trek experience. As do millions of other Mormon youth. But without even seeing any footage, how many of you would be intrigued at the idea of a Trek movie? I know I was concerned. That doesn't seem like a topic that translates well into an interesting big screen experience. I mean, most of Trek constitutes hours of walking while casually talking with your fellow handcart peers about life. How do you take that and transfer it into a traditional three-act movie structure that manages to keep the attention of the audience for an hour and half? I think the idea the filmmakers had was to take the idea and turn it into a Mormon version of a John Hughes-style high school drama. I suppose that sounds like an interesting idea in theory. But again. How do you translate that idea into an actual movie script that works? The correct answer is that you go talk to the people who put together "Once I Was a Beehive" and figure out how they did it. Because they talked the subject of Girl's Camp and somehow magically transformed that into an amazing Mormon film. In fact, that movie is one of the reasons why I had the confidence to purchase a ticket to this movie. Maybe it can work again?

Actual footage from my Pioneer Trek. I'm not in this picture
I suppose it could work with the right team in place. If you have an experienced Mormon filmmaker like T.C. Christensen who knows just the right strings to pull when it comes to pleasing his target audience, you could've made this work. But the director of this movie is a man by the name of Alan Peterson whose previous IMDb credits are highlighted by two extreme political documentaries called "Hillary: The Movie" and "Hype: The Obama Effect," both from 2008. So, political propaganda films to a Mormon teen movie? That's quite the transition. Not quite the experience I look for with films like this. And the screenplay was written by David Howard, the guy who wrote "Galaxy Quest"? Well that's an idea. Apparently he's done nothing since "Galaxy Quest," though, in terms of writing screenplays. And the other credited writer is a man by the name of Jongiorgi Enos, who acted in a few Mormon movies, such as "Brigham City" and "The Testaments," but this apparently is his first time writing a major screenplay. Now if this writing and directing team with no prior experience in this genre actually works out, then props to them. But when the entire screenplay is an outright disaster and the direction is awful, you look back at that and suddenly it all makes sense. They could've used a different writing crew on this one.

Now I don't know if any of the actors in this movie are going to find this review or even really care about the opinions of a random movie blogger. But they're the ones I'm actually going to compliment. Austin R. Grant, Joel Bishop, Stefania Barr, Clint Pulver, Ryan Mitchel Brown, Spencer Loftus, Avery Pizzuto and Spencer Marsh are the major players in this and they all did a fine job with what they were given. But it's that last part that's the problem. What they were given to work with. This is an awful representation of Trek from start to finish. It's so bad, that it's hard to come up with specific examples as to why, but I suppose we'll start at the top. This is supposed to be a Pioneer Trek for this whole stake. I know not all stakes are the same, but I imagine that if stake leadership made the decision to do a stake Pioneer Trek, there's going to be a lot of planning and preparation put into said Trek for months in advance. And if you have 100+ kids going, you're going to have more than five adult leaders going with them. And all the leaders are going to be well prepared as to what they are doing. Here we have the main leader who is written as an oblivious man to all of this, as if he was asked to lead a few days before, and the other leaders are exaggerated to the extreme.

So said leaders are taking this large group of kids up the mountains five minutes to a place where it looked like all the kids could walk home if they wanted to. Their handcarts are practically empty. And they aren't fed anything. Like, seriously. They walk for half the day and when it's time for lunch, they get a single orange. Then we have one of the drill sergeant leaders yelling at them every five minutes. This isn't Trek. Just look at the pictures I've provided of my real Trek. That's what Trek is. This Trek is just a joke. I don't know the personal backgrounds of these filmmakers who wrote this, but it looked like they had no idea what actual Pioneer Trek was like. At least I hope that's the case. If they ever volunteered as leaders on a real Pioneer Trek carefully organized for months in advance by stake leaders who wanted nothing more than to give the youth in the stake a life-changing experience, then that's even more embarrassing because at the very least this movie should've been able to capture what Pioneer Trek was actually like. I mean, maybe I just went on the most celestial Pioneer Trek ever, but I'd be willing to bet that anyone who loved Trek will watch this movie and be confused as to how off this is. It's the type of movie that could be watched for the sake of laughing at it for the wrong reasons, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.

Actual Footage of my Pioneer Trek. I'm at the back right
Then we have the curious case of the youth involved. Now again, I think the actors themselves did a good job at what they were given, even though most of them looked like they were at least in their mid-20's as if this were a college Singles Ward going on Trek instead of youth aged 12 to 18. But how they were written was embarrassing. Granted, I can't say everyone involved in going to Trek with me back in 2004 were jumping for joy, but I think for the most part we all had a good attitude about it. All of these kids, and I mean all of them, were written as snobby, annoying teenagers who were dreading this experience. We had a long sequences of the exaggerated, mean adults lining them up to check to see if they snuck stuff in that they weren't supposed to, and all of them had candy, food and electronic devices hidden everywhere and were completely brokenhearted that they had to give them up. And nearly all of them continued to be extremely annoying throughout the whole movie. I think the only "normal" teenager portrayed in the movie was the girl who was playing the non-member. The rest of them were written as a exaggerated Mormon teenagers who drove me crazy, with little realism and way too many romantic subplots.

So yeah, when the whole setup is bad, that's a problem. This is supposed to be a good movie about Pioneer Trek, but the leaders were incompetent, the setup of the Trek itself was way off in terms of accuracy and all of the teenagers that are leading the way in this movie are written as exaggerated Mormon teenagers who all hate the idea of this Pioneer Trek. But OK. Fine. Maybe this is just a really poor setup. Maybe I'll get used to the characters and get something out of this movie in the final two acts. Well, they tried. The major storyline involved our main kid who was lacking in faith because one of his friends died a year previously. There was potential there. But even that fell flat. And the final act of the movie involves them getting lost in the woods because one of the girls got sick since these incompetent leaders decided to starve everyone, so the only normal leader had to drive her home in the truck, while leaving our rebellious main kid in charge of everything. Logically that had me screaming inside, dramatically it all fell flat, spiritually it felt artificial instead tear-jerking, and comedically it was just cringe-worthy. I tried to be patient with this movie, but it was bad to begin with and just kept spiraling downward to the point where I wanted to walk out.

After I left the theater, I didn't want to write this review. I didn't get the impression that many people had even heard about it and I certainly wasn't hearing any buzz after it's first week in theaters. I think this is a Mormon movie that will disappear from theaters rather quickly, so I was thinking that I could get away with just keeping my miserable experience to myself and no one would know any different. But there's a few reasons why I decided to write this. First, I said I would on Twitter after this movie's Twitter page followed me. Second, I honestly had a great time looking back and remembering my personal Trek and I'm glad I had a platform to discuss that for a bit before diving into the actual review, which is why this post is longer than my normal reviews. Third, if any of my other Utah friends saw these previews and were curious about this movie, I'm here to rescue you. Don't waste your time and money on this movie. There's plenty of other good Mormon films that you can watch, with "The Saratov Approach" and "Once I Was a Beehive" being my two prime examples. Yeah, I know, it's an uphill battle making this low-budgeted Mormon films, but for every one of them that succeeds, there's movies like this that don't make it. My grade for the movie is a 3/10.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Quiet Place Review

This past weekend wasn't a very quiet one at the box office as "A Quiet Place" stormed in at $50.2 million. That's one of the best opening weekends ever for a horror film. The specific ranking might depend on what counts as a horror film as it's behind movies like "Van Helsing" ($51.7 million), "The Village" ($50.7) and "Hannibal" ($58.0 million), if those count as horror, but in terms of traditional horror, it's behind last year's phenom "IT" ($123.4 million) and narrowly behind "Paranormal Activity 3" ($52.6 million), but ahead of pretty much everything else, including all movies in "The Conjuring" franchise, "Insidious" franchise, everything else in the "Paranormal Activity" franchise and lots more. I don't normally just spout of numbers in my reviews themselves, but I wanted to point this out to let you know the gravity of how big this movie's opening weekend was. Usually if a horror film opens in the $20-30 million range, that's considered good, especially since these movies are pretty cheap to make. Just last weekend in my April movie preview, I threw out "Annabelle: Creation" ($35.0 million) and "Don't Breathe" ($26.4 million) as potential comparisons, and that's after knowing what it made Thursday night. So this opening is absolutely insane.

What this really speaks to in my mind is that people going out to see movies in the theaters isn't dying out. If you make a quality movie and put together a good marketing effort, people are still willing to make the trip to the theaters. And this is a movie that had a ton of momentum ever since the initial trailer dropped, which makes me happy because at first I was wondering if I was the only one excited for this when that trailer first came out. There's quite a few good, unique horror films that end up getting ignored by general audiences and I was ready to begin the fight to convince people to give this one a chance, like I have in the past with movies such as "The Witch," "The Babadook," "It Follows" or "It Comes at Night," but it makes me really happy inside that this is not a battle that I have to even start this time around. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. People have come to me in the last few days asking if I've seen the movie or telling me that they're excited to read my review. I even had to get a ticket later than I was planning on Saturday night because the initial showing I tried to buy a ticket for was sold out. And I totally didn't expect this to be a movie that would sell out. All this has been surprising for me, but this is a really fun movie that deserves the attention.

If you are one of the few people that are a fan of horror and haven't seen this movie yet, well, I'd recommend that you actually close this review and just go see it. I'm not going to spoil anything here, but I am going to talk about what this movie is and why I really enjoyed it. Given that I didn't know much about the premise outside the fact that our main characters had to be perfectly silent or else they were going to be in a lot of trouble, I also want to give you the opportunity to go in with a completely blank slate, because I think that enhances the experience in a film like this. Having seen the movie, I will say that I feel comfortable talking about the premise of the movie because John Krasinski did not make a mystery box horror film. It's not one of those situations where there's something out there and neither the characters nor the audience know what it is until the last half of the movie. Instead, we know rather early on exactly what the danger is. If you're still reading, this is your last chance to turn away because what we are dealing with here is a... monster movie. We don't know where they came from or much about anything how this all started, but John Krasinski's whiteboard and newspaper clippings early on reveal everything that he's learned about them.

I've got to say, in terms of the idea behind these creatures, this was a rather clever way of adding some spice into a genre that has been worn out quite a bit over the last few decades. Whether it's a monster, an alien, a dinosaur or a supernatural demon, a horror movie involving our main characters running away from some sort of scary thing is something we've seen quite a bit, so you have to do more than just give me a movie about a monster terrorizing the community to get me excited, thus is why, for a brief few minutes at the beginning, I was a bit let down that this is all this was. Just another monster movie. But that feeling went away rather quickly as we progressed because these monsters are rather creatively designed and written. While we've seen plenty of these types of movies before, this felt fresh because these monsters are completely blind, extremely fast and will almost instantly kill anyone who makes a sound. That's different. Different enough to get me on board with these creatures, anyways. We do see glimpses of them very early on, which made me immediately a bit terrified because these are scary looking things. Then when we see them close up, it gets even worse because this has to be one of the best creature designs since the Xenomorphs in "Alien."

What's even better than the creature design itself is the way this movie is set up. The idea here is that the characters in the movie have to be very quiet as any loud sound will cause these things to jump out at them, regardless of whether it's midday or in the middle of the night. Because of that, the movie itself is really silent for much of it, which in turn forces the audience to remain frozen in their seats. This was one of the quietest movie-going experiences ever for me because no one dared make a single sound. Thus if anyone coughed, walked down the isle, moved around in their chair or even made too much noise with their popcorn or candy, everyone in the theater would hear that as if it were happening right next to them. Normally small sounds like that aren't a big deal, but when the movie itself is so silent and the whole theater is invested in being perfectly still, those sounds are a big deal and no one wants to be the one to make one of those sounds, making the theater-going experience rather exciting. The best comparison I can come up with is listening to a performance of John Cage's 4'33." If you understand that reference, then we can be friends and you'll know exactly what this movie-going experience will be like. If not, then do a quick Google search.

The basic idea there with John Cage's song is that everything is completely silent. The whole orchestra follows along, the conductor still turns his pages and everyone involved in the performance takes this seriously, but no one has any notes. But there's still music being played. How? Well, John Cage was a very experimental musician and the idea here is that this gives you the opportunity to pay close attention to all the little sounds around you and have that be the music. Yes, there's humor if you're in on it in seeing the initial reaction from those who have never experienced this and are thus really confused as to why no music is being played, but there's also a lot of honest pleasure in taking the time during those four minutes to listen to all of those small noises happening around you that you would normally not pay attention to otherwise, thus making it a beautiful piece of music. That's what it felt like watching "A Quiet Place." It made me pay attention to the sound design in the movie. Sure, there was no score or no dialogue in much of the scenes, but there was a lot of effort put into the sound editing and sound mixing to portray the natural sounds of the world around them and I enjoyed paying close attention to that, both in the movie and in the theater around me.

Thus I went into the movie expecting some really good scares, but I quickly found that the movie was really beautiful. I was fully invested in paying attention to all the small things happening and the movie took a lot of time building these characters so that you actually care about every member of this family. I would say that perhaps the first third or first quarter of this movie wasn't scary at all and I appreciated that because the best horror films aren't the ones with the most scares or the most gruesome monster designs, but rather the best horror films are the ones that make you care about all of your characters and have the best story or themes. Thus when the scares do come, you are even more emotionally invested because you care about all of your characters and you want them to make it out safely. Monster movies like "Jurassic Park" or "Jaws" are extremely effective because there was so much care in the world-building of the movie as well as the character arcs that when the dinosaurs or the shark show up, things get really intense because the audience actually cares. It's not the dinosaurs or the shark that make those movies good. I mean, both movies got a bunch of sequels, yet none of the sequels were able to recapture the magic of the original despite the monster terror.

All of this makes John Krasinski's work in "A Quiet Place" really impressive, especially since he's mostly just a comedic actor with little directing experience, but you wouldn't know that by watching this film as this feels like it comes from someone with years of directing experience. He's said in interviews that he didn't even make this movie for the scares. He made this movie as a love letter to his kids with the idea of presenting a movie showing what he as a parent would do to protect his kids if they were put in some sort of danger like this. Thus in doing so he was able to craft a truly effective horror film. When the danger finally comes, the movie is relentless with its terror. Speaking of "Jurassic Park," most of this movie is like that scene with the velociraptors in the kitchen, but spread out through much of the run time. The movie lets you know when it's OK to relax for a moment, but then quickly reminds you of how dangerous of a situation this family is in so that you can't relax too much. For a majority of this movie, you are left cowering in your chair in complete silent terror. There's also a lot of foreshadowing in the movie as the audience is clued in on several things long before the characters themselves are, giving the audience a complete sense of dread for the future.

The only real complaint that I have about this movie is not really much of a complaint at all, but is rather more of a statement about what type of movie this is. This is not a horror film like "The Witch" or "The Babadook" that will stick with me long after I leave the theater. Both of those movies, as well as others like them, are movies with deep, thought-provoking themes that left me lost in thought right after my first viewing that gave me a desire to go back time and time again in order to explore those themes even more. I didn't have that feeling with "A Quiet Place." Rather, as I was walking to my car, instead of being lost in thought, it was like I just got off an intense rollercoaster ride that gave me quite the thrill, but after being finished my mind was ready to move onto the next ride. That's not to say there's no strong themes worth discussing because there certainly are. However, I'm not going to discuss them here because that would require me talking about spoilers. If you've seen the movie, you'll know exactly what moments I'm talking about. But for the most part, this is not some deep exploration of a certain subject matter, but is a simple, fun thrill ride well worth seeing if you haven't already. And that's perfectly OK. I'm going to award "A Quiet Place" a 9/10.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Preview: April 2018

Normally the month of March is considered early summer, especially the last couple of years with "Beauty and the Beast," "Logan" and "Kong: Skull Island" leading the way to a record-breaking March 2017 that earned a total of $1.17 billion at the domestic box office, while "Zootopia" and "Batman v. Superman" led March 2016 to a $948.7 million total. March 2018 came in significantly lower than both of those totals with just $890.8 million, and the only reason it even got that high was the continued historic run of "Black Panther," now the highest grossing superhero movie ever in the United States, which added $219 million in March. Take that away and this would be the lowest grossing March since 2009 with just $671.8 million as no new release was able to top $100 million and "Ready Player One" might be the only wide release to eventually hit that mark. Although it's worth noting that Hollywood tried to make it another big March. It's just that "Red Sparrow," "A Wrinkle in Time," "Tomb Raider" and "Pacific Rim Uprising" all fell flat on their faces. April 2018 will still probably continue to coast in mostly mediocrity, that is until "Avengers: Infinity War" will usher in the summer movie season a week early than normal. So let's explore what we have on the table this month!

April 6th - 8th-

Slowly building up a lot of steam in 2018 thanks to an excellent marketing effort and phenomenal early reviews is John Krasinski's new horror film A Quiet Place. Similar to Jordan Peele with "Get Out" last year, Krasinksi has typically been a comedy actor who is with little directing experience, so he's not someone you'd expect to step up and direct a horror film. Also like Peele, it appears that Krasinski stepping outside his comfort zone to try something new is going to work out big time. I mean, it might not result in a best original screenplay win at the Oscars, but its near perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and strong pre-release buzz seem to indicate a strong opening weekend and a very healthy run at the box office that could match recent horror films like "Annabelle: Creation," which opened to $35 million on its way to $102 million total, or "Just Breathe," which opened to $26 million on its way to $89 million total. In a Wired Autocomplete interview posted on YouTube on April 4, Krasinksi said this movie is a love letter to his kids as what got him into directing it was not the scares, but rather the idea of family and what would you do to protect your kids. Though scares is what this looks to bring as the characters in the movie have to remain perfectly silent to remain safe.

Also building up a lot of steam in recent weeks is the comedy Blockers, which currently holds a certified fresh score in the low-80's on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning this is looking to be a real crowd-pleaser. The movie stars John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz as a trio of parents who learn that their teenage daughters are planning to lose their virginity on prom night and thus go on a mission to try to stop them. Adult-targeted comedy has been a bit sparse recently, thus is why with solid reviews out of the South by Southwest film festival a few weeks ago, "Blockers" is looking to take advantage of the dried up market. So far in 2018, the only adult comedy that has been released has been February's "Game Night," which is wrapping up its release after opening up to $17 million on the weekend of February 23. "Blockers" is currently tracking a bit ahead of "Game Night," meaning other similar titles for opening weekend could be "Snatched" ($19.5 million), "Baywatch" ($18.5 million) or "Bad Moms" ($23.8 million). A best case scenario could be last year's "Girl's Trip" ($31.2 million).

Opening in around 1,700 theaters this weekend is the sports drama The Miracle Season. Speaking of a sparse genre, there really hasn't been many sports dramas at all to open recently as the last one to open in more than 1,000 theaters was "Eddie the Eagle" back in February 2016. "The Miracle Season" depicts the true story of Iowa City West High School's women's volleyball team, who were looking to repeat as state champions, after winning the previous season, when their team captain, Caroline "Line" Found tragically died. After this happened, the girls came together as a team to try to win the title for their teammate and friend. "The Miracle Season" is directed by Sean McNamara, the director of the 2011 film "Soul Surfer," and stars Helen Hunt, who also starred in "Soul Surfer," as the volleyball coach. Using "Soul Surfer" as a comparison, that movie opened to $10.6 million in 2,200 theaters. If "The Miracle Season" matched that per theater average, that would equate to a $8.2 million opening weekend, which might be a bit high. Looking at the aforementioned "Eddie the Eagle," following that movie's per theater average would give "The Miracle Season" $5.1 million. And finally, following the per theater average of "Woodlawn" would give it $4.4 million.

Opening up in around 1,500 theaters is the Entertainment Studios drama Chappaquiddick. This is a movie that tells the true story surrounding the mysterious events when Ted Kennedy drove his car off the Dike Bridge, resulting in the drowning of aspiring political strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. The movie is directed by John Curran and stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne as well as Ed Helms, Bruce Dern and Jim Gaffigan. It initially premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where is was purchased by Entertainment Studios for $4 million and was initially scheduled for a December release date last year, indicating that it was going to get an awards season push. However, Entertainment Studios then decided to reschedule for this weekend instead, perhaps indicating a lack of confidence that it could actually be a real player at the Oscars, which isn't a good sign for the movie's potential moving forward. It does have a decent Rotten Tomatoes score from the critics at 80 percent from 70 reviews, but the audience score is a less encouraging 63 percent, which matches up with the IMDb grade of 6.5. Thus with mixed reaction and no awards buzz, "Chappaquiddick" might struggle to find an audience.

April 13th - 15th-

Before Marvel rescheduled "Infinity War" to land in April, the previous major tentpole release for this month was Warner Bros.' Rampage. This is a movie based on the 80's arcade game where users control various giant monsters, including a giant gorilla named George, a giant Godzilla-like lizard/dinosaur named Lizzie and a giant werewolf named Ralph, with the goal of destroying the city, which includes knocking over the buildings and eating the people, before the government agency stops them. The movie has the same absurd premise with the same three giant animals attacking, except for the giant Godzilla-like lizard/dinosaur is a giant crocodile. Dwayne Johnson is in the lead role as he's trying stop the animals from destroying the city while figuring out who mutated them. Recent history has told us repeatedly that it's a bad idea to underestimate a Dwayne Johnson film at the box office, with this past Christmas' "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" being the most recent example. "Rampage" has Dwayne Johnson reuniting with "San Andreas" director Brad Peyton, a movie that surprised in a huge way with a $54.6 million opening, a number that pre-release tracking for "Rampage" is slowly sneaking up on. Don't be surprised if "Rampage" ends up coming close to that.

The second horror film being released this month is the teenage-targeted Truth or Dare. This is a movie directed by Jeff Wadlow, director of "Kick-A-- 2," and centers around the popular teen game truth or dare. The catch with this version of the game in this movie is that those who tell a lie or refuse to do the dare are punished by some supernatural occurrence. Starring in the movie are a bunch of potentially lesser-known, younger actors including Lucy Hale ("Pretty Little Liars"), Tyler Posey ("Teen Wolf") and Violett Beane ("The Flash"). Despite opening a weekend after "A Quiet Place," which could hurt it if word of mouth for the John Kransinski film is strong, "Truth or Dare" could still do well if the teenage crowd shows up as the two horror films are targeting slightly different audiences. Blumhouse Productions is the production company here, and although they've released a wide variety of different horrors and thrillers, a potential comparison could be their release of last year's "Happy Death Day," which attracted teens to the theaters during Halloween season to the tune of $26 million opening weekend. Another comparison if "Truth or Dare" doesn't breakout that high is the 2016 teen-targeted thriller "Nerve," which opened to $9.4 million.

There's two other smaller releases scheduled for this weekend, currently listed for wide release on Box Office Mojo, although neither movie has had much of a marketing effort, so the exact theater count is a mystery at this point. Nevertheless, those two movies are Borg vs. McEnroe, a movie about the famous tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in the 1980's, and Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an animated movie telling the true story of a stray Boston Terrier who wandered into a military camp during World War I and wound up becoming an American hero and the first dog to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the United States Army. "Borg vs. McEnroe" premiered during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to decent reviews and was purchased by Neon, a new distribution company who released "I, Tonya." Yet Neon has never opened a movie in wide release. "Sgt. Stubby" is being released by Fun Academy and this is their first ever theatrical release. Thus is why the theater count and box office potential for both is a current mystery.

Also, this weekend will see the nationwide expansion of Wes Anderson's latest stop motion film Isle of Dogs, which has experienced a very successful limited release run as it earned $1.6 million from just 27 theaters on its opening weekend on March 23-25 and nearly broke the top 10 in its second weekend with $2.9 million from 165 theaters. It expanded to around 550 theaters in its third weekend, April 6-8, before this scheduled nationwide expansion. Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" expanded into 2,033 theaters in its nationwide release while "The Grand Budapest Hotel" eventually hit 1,467 at its peak theater count. So that's what "Isle of Dogs" will probably experience. This movie was discussed in more detail in last month's movie preview, so head over there for more information. 

April 20th - 22nd- 

There was initially more movies scheduled for the final two weekends of April, but they smartly scattered when Marvel announced they were releasing "Infinity War" a week earlier than initially planned. Thus we are left with only one major wide release this weekend and two smaller releases hoping to provide some counter-programming to "Infinity War." That major wide release is the comedy I Feel Pretty. This is a movie starring Amy Schumer, who is perceived in this universe as being super ugly because she is "fat." Yet after bumping her head, she begins to think that she is super skinny and thus super pretty, giving her all sorts of confidence that baffles everyone around her. While intended on being a funny comedy, the internet didn't seem to get the joke after the initial trailer dropped as this movie rather instantly received a ton of most-likely well-deserved backlash that is detailed in a Cosmopolitan article that I just linked right there. Long story short, the movie is being accused of all sorts of fat-shaming, which is especially problematic considering Amy Schumer isn't a fat woman. Whether or not the casual audiences are aware of this backlash, or are bothered by it, is another story. Meaning this could still perform well if the release of "Blockers" earlier in the month doesn't steal all of its thunder.

The first of the two smaller releases that I mentioned previously is Super Troopers 2. And by smaller releases in this instance, I mean movies that will probably be getting a more moderate theater count somewhere around 1,000, maybe 2,000, theaters that are looking at a weekend that may end up less than $5 million. When it comes to "Super Troopers 2," this is a movie that is being released 16 years after its predecessor, which only earned $18.5 million domestically following a $6.2 million opening weekend back in 2002. It was mostly panned by critics, which may have led to its subpar box office total. Although it has gained enough of a cult following since its initial release to justify this eventual sequel, which many of the fans of the original have been waiting a long time for. However, comedy sequels arriving 10+ years after the initial movie have had a poor track record, as has been evidenced by the likes of "Anchorman 2," "Dumb and Dumber To, "Bad Santa 2" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," all of which were generally disliked by fans of the original movies. So that trend might be cause for concern for "Super Trooper" fans. Both movies are centered around the general premise of a team of officers more focused on pranks than real police work.

The second of the two smaller films is the thriller Traffik. This movie is directed by Deon Taylor, director of the 2016 comedy "Meet the Blacks" and stars Paula Patton and Omar Epps as a couple who initially just want a romantic getaway in the mountains. Yet their vacation is spoiled when they run into a motorcycle gang at a gas station and accidentally come into the possession of a phone that is important to a group of sex traffics. This motorcycle gang wants that phone back and will stop and nothing to get it from this couple. This seems like a potentially intense movie with a decent premise. However, the late-April release date doesn't speak a whole lot of confidence to the movie. Even super good reviews might not be enough to make much of a dent. If the reviews come in as negative, then this could be dead on arrival.

April 27th - 29th-

While there is some breakout potential with some of these titles this month, the obvious movie of the month, at least in terms of box office, is Avengers: Infinity War, which was initially scheduled to be Marvel's May opener, as it's tradition for Marvel to open up the official summer movie season on the first weekend of May, but they decided last minute to forgo that May spot and move this movie up a weekend, which caused everything else to scatter. The reason for the move was likely to add some additional breathing room between this movie and Disney's fellow release in late May of "Solo: A Star Wars Story." That and Fox decided to move "Deadpool 2" up to the weekend before "Solo" instead of the weekend after "Solo." So instead of there being just one weekend in between the two superhero movies, there is now two weekends in between. And even though it might seem strange for this to be released in April due to it usually being a quiet month at the box office, this isn't the first time Marvel has released a movie in April as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was an early April release. The "Fast and Furious" franchise has also enjoyed April as they released the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth movies in April. Disney also released "The Jungle Book" book in April.

It also almost goes without saying that this will be one of the biggest movie events of this decade as nearly everything Marvel has done thus far in the MCU has led up to this point as the Tesseract, which is the first infinity stone, was introduced back in "Captain America: The First Avenger" in 2011 with Thanos being teased at the end credits of "The Avengers" in 2012. The idea is that once Thanos gets all six infinity stones, he puts them in the infinity gauntlet and has all the power in the world. Since that first "Captain America" movie, the other infinity stones have been introduced throughout the MCU with only one left to discover, that being the Soul Stone. "Infinity War" is actually the first of a two part story arc involving Thanos and the infinity stones and was initially titled "Infinity War - Part I" before Marvel canned the Part I/Part II idea with the title and simply called this movie "Infinity War" while the conclusion, which is currently scheduled for May 2019, doesn't yet have a title. Or, rather, Marvel doesn't want to reveal the title yet because that could end up spoiling "Infinity War."

As far as how much money this will make opening weekend, a $200 million opening weekend seems like a foregone conclusion while the $247 million opening weekend record set by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" isn't out of the question as the pre-sales numbers right now are through the roof. Speaking of "Star Wars," though, a safer bet might be one closer to the $220 million opening weekend of "The Last Jedi." As far as what this movie's final domestic total will end up being, that will likely be determined by what the reaction to the movie is. If the movie is as good as everyone hopes it will be, then the reign of "Black Panther" as the highest grossing superhero movie domestically might be short lived, although it's worth noting that both "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" were both rather frontloaded, despite being mostly well-received films. So don't be surprised if this opens to $220 million, yet ends up with "only" $530 million total, which is what it would get if it followed the multiplier of "Age of Ultron." Nor should you make fun of the movie for being a "flop" if it fails to top "The Avengers" or "Black Panther." That would make you look quite silly.