Saturday, June 30, 2018
The sequels to "Jurassic Park"? Yeah, not so much. It's really sad to see how far off the deep end this franchise has fallen and I'm going to dive into spoilerific details as to why this fifth installment, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is perhaps the worst of the bunch. The short version of this is that they've completely abandoned what made "Jurassic Park" so great. As I very purposely stated in my intro, "Jurassic Park" is so brilliant because it is a philosophical horror film involving dinosaurs. Now I've seen plenty of my friends walk out of "Fallen Kingdom" and say that they've enjoyed it. Well, to each his own, I suppose. But the common theme I've heard from those who've liked it is that they enjoy watching dinosaurs eat evil people. For me personally, there's an inherent problem with that. These sequels, especially our two "Jurassic World" movies, are neither philosophical nor horror. They're full of dumb people doing dumb things so that the audience can watch dinosaurs run around eating people. In other words, they're brainless action films. And when you start the franchise off as a high-class philosophical horror film, then digress to a Sharknado-level brainless action film, but with a huge budget, that spits in the face of one of the greatest movies of all time.
In terms of "Sharknado," we have the sixth one coming out this summer and I might take that opportunity to discuss the franchise on my blog, but the reason why that franchise works is that they start off by being a really stupid, absurd action movie, with the idea of purposely making a really bad film just so you can kick back and relax with a group of friends and just have a ball. And that's totally fine in that scenario. But when your franchise starts off with high class, then digresses into "Sharknado" territory, that's bad. That's really bad. Now for the record, I actually still enjoy "The Lost World." Yes, there are plenty of problems with it, but it still has plenty of likable characters who use logic and it does hang onto the horror element in several sequences. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that when Michael Crichton finished his novel in 1995 and handed it over to Steven Spielberg for the movie adaptation, Spielberg read it over and essentially tossed it to the side and went in a completely different direction while only using the ideas of a second island and a scene with two T-Rexes terrorizing people. Outside that, they're very different. Perhaps Spielberg could've made a truly great sequel had he committed more to Crichton's novel than he did.
In fact, I was so unexcited, that when I did my yearly preview this January of the movies of 2018, I included "Fallen Kingdom" in my bad section. When the first trailer came out, I was unphased. I wish I was excited. And it wasn't me being blindly arrogant and hateful. I honestly felt zero excitement. Literally the only piece of hope that I clung onto was that it was directed by J.A. Bayona, who is a great director responsible for such movies as "The Impossible" or "A Monster Calls." But the footage didn't do anything for me. When further trailers came out, I ended up being confused more than anything because each new trailer seemed to be advertising a different movie. So what WAS this movie? Luckily I was so uninterested by the time the final trailer rolled around that I didn't pay much attention to it. I remember the line from Ian Malcolm about the dinosaurs outliving us and a raptor running around in the house, but that was it. It's good that I forgot because the whole movie is in that final trailer when I went back and re-watched it afterwards. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered if I remembered because the shock value of what this movie was actually about stunned me. It stunned me so badly that I had to write a spoiler review simply because these elements have to be discussed.
First off, the movie begins where we all knew it would begin based on the very first teaser. As it turns out, the original island is a volcano. That teaser showed Chris Pratt running down the island, shouting "RUN!!!" as all the dinosaurs chased after him as they were all running from the volcano that was exploding. That's what I expected the first part of the movie to be and that's what it was. But the meat of that lies in a debate that starts the movie. The world has figured out that the island is an active volcano and there's a debate in Congress or in court, or whatever, as to whether or not the dinosaurs should be saved. This is one of Ian Malcolm's two scenes in this movie. Yeah, remember the hype of him being back? He's not. It's an advertising ploy to get you into theaters. They didn't actually know how to work him into the movie, but they new the return of Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm would sell tickets. So they gave him 30 seconds in the beginning and 30 seconds in the end, giving a monologue to the court, both of which were included in trailers, and called it good. Pathetic. But anyways, Ian Malcolm's opinion is that we should let the dinosaurs go extinct. The volcano was nature's way of correcting humanity's mistake. I agree. Case closed. End of movie. Right?
Oh wait, we're going to continue? For some reason, the movie thought they were bringing up some sort of philosophical debate when they really weren't. Creating dinosaurs in the first movie was a totally plausible idea. If, in pure theory, there was technology available to clone dinosaurs and bring them back, I could see a scientist being so preoccupied with the possibility of making it happen that they weren't thinking of the consequences. But as Ian Malcolm says in the first movie, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Thus underlies the debate with technology as a whole. We often get so caught up in thinking about the possibilities of something that we forget about consequences, which was one of the great theological messages of the first film. But if you try something and it turns out to be a complete disaster, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the four previous movies, you would think at some point the characters would start to realize that having dinosaurs around is a bad idea. More people would be on Ian Malcolm's side of the debate. But the first insufferable element of this movie is that none of our main characters get it. They ALL think saving the dinosaurs is the right idea.
Well, it did go somewhere. But that somewhere is where the movie completely derailed and stunned me into near pure hatred of the film. Turns out the save the dinosaurs escapade they were on was not a save the dinosaurs escapade. Not in the way our main characters were thinking, anyways. It was a capture the dinosaurs escapade so that our team of villains could sell them as a part of their elaborate dino trafficking scheme. Now if I were to have one major complaint about the original "Jurassic Park" it was the fact that the whole operation was screwed over because of one guy who had no brain in his head that led to all the dinosaurs escaping. I think they could've come up with a more believable way for the dinosaurs to break out rather than just having a dumb guy do a dumb thing. But fine. Whatever. One guy does one dumb thing that screws over everything. OK. I can tolerate that. But to use that trope in every ensuing movie got really old. Be creative in how things mess. In our fifth movie, not only can I simply not tolerate one dumb guy doing one dumb thing anymore, but the problem is literally exponentially worse as we have hundreds of guys doing dumb things so that everything can go wrong. A team of people screwed things over to feed into a major scheme.
My jaw hit the floor so hard at this reveal that I officially quit. I threw in the towel on this franchise and officially cataloged it with Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise. A lot of reviews that have commented on this called them cartoon characters. I don't want to simply copy everyone else, but this is a good description because they're all fake. Bad guys doing bad things just for the sake of being bad is not acceptable in my brain. I like my villains to make sense. I like them to have good motivations. I want to understand where they are coming from and why they do what they do. But not only is every single villain evil for the sake of being evil, every single one of them is extremely stupid, never once using logic or making a good decision. But here we are for the rest of the film. The dinos are all captured. Well, 11 different species of them, and in an evil Noah's ark sort of way are transported in cages to this giant residence in California where they are to be auctioned off to all of these evil cartoon characters who will use them for poaching, hunting or selling their parts for money. Meanwhile, our team of unlikable protagonists who also don't use logic have snuck into this mansion with them and are trying to find a way to stop them. That's our movie.
Once we get into all of this, you know what's going to happen. Someone is going to make a dumb mistake and the dinosaurs are going to escape and start eating all of these people. That's essentially what happens. And this is where a lot of my Facebook friends apparently delighted in this movie because they got to watch dinosaurs eating evil people. For me this was actually not satisfying. Had we had real villains in this movie, it may have been satisfying watching them all die. But as they were all really stupid, horrible villains that I didn't care about, I was just bored to tears watching them all get eaten. But no, it's not actually dinosaurs, as in plural, that escape. It's dinosaur. Singular. Thus leading to my next point that I didn't care about. We have ourselves another hybrid dinosaur running around. Something we call an Indoraptor. Because we didn't learn from the last movie that the Indominus Rex was a stupid idea. We had to create another one. I don't know, maybe I'm alone on this, but one thing that made the first movie, and perhaps moments in the second movie, was the real dinosaurs that I've grown up studying. The T-Rex. The Velociraptor. There's plenty other real dinosaurs to choose from. Pick one. I don't care about fake dinosaurs who have never lived.
Even in the brief moments at the end, I never feared for the lives of our main characters. The most nerve-wracking scene was when they were in the truck with the T-Rex in the first half of the movie trying to take its blood so they could save the life of Blue, their pet Velociraptor. When Indoraptor was hunting them down and had them cornered, I basically counted in my head. In 3... 2... 1... BOOM! On queue comes Blue to save the day and fight Indoraptor. Because, you know, that's what these Jurassic movies do. At the very last moment, another dinosaur comes in to save the day. It worked with the first movie. But now it's become so calculated that I think it's lazy writing that they use the same tropes in each movie. So Indoraptor dies. But then we have one final moment of stupidity. All the dinosaurs left in the cages are being poisoned and the option is to let them die or free them into the wild of California. Easy choice. But since our characters are stupid, this becomes a hard choice, which eventually leads to Bryce Dallas Howard NOT pressing the button to release them. But the little girl they found does. Because, oh yeah, she's a human clone. And if she gets to live, then so do the dinosaurs. Because there's a piece of logic that totally makes sense.
I'd say introducing human clones crossed a line, but this movie had already sprinted past the line a long time ago at this point. Just another sign that the writers just didn't care. And guess what? They basically admitted that they didn't. The writer here is Colin Trevorrow, who directed "Jurassic World." He admitted that he had always dreamed of a Jurassic movie where the dinosaurs were running free throughout the world. But he knew it would take two movies to get there. In other words, this whole movie was filler and he knew it. Now I don't think the idea of a filler movie is an inherently bad idea. But when the writer literally doesn't care about this film and thus he puts together something as lazy as this movie just so it could be a stepping stone to the next, that's when filler becomes an atrocious mess. If the writer didn't care, then why should I? Now I don't actually blame our director, J.A. Bayona. He did the best he could with the ugly script he was given. Who I do put all of the blame here is on Colin Trevorrow for officially ruining a great franchise. After both Jurassic World movies and "The Book of Henry," aren't we all glad he got fired from Star Wars: Episode IX? As for my grade for "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," I'm going 4/10. And even that feels nice at this point.
Friday, June 29, 2018
I have very fond memories growing up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." My parents were often selective with what they let us watch on TV, which is why the show was one of our go-to shows. We loved it as kids and my parents loved the messages taught. Dare I say it was the perfect kids show? At the time I suppose I didn't fully understand the scope of the show of how many other kids also loved the show, nor do I think I realized that this was a show that had been going since 1968. So not only did I not realize that millions of other kids were watching at the same time as me, but also this is a show that had effected several generations of children dating back to the late-60's. The reason I probably didn't realize this when I was young was that Mr. Rogers didn't ever seem like he was talking to an audience of millions of people. It seemed like he was talking specifically to me, making me feel special and important as an individual while teaching me lessons on how to be a good person. Thus is why I was able to connect with the show on such a personal level because it felt like Mr. Rogers really cared. He was like a third parent or a second school teacher who had my best interests in mind and wanted me to learn and grow. He was an integral part of my childhood.
Now as an adult, I look back on these experiences in hindsight and am totally blown away by this show because everyone was able to feel this way. Mr. Rogers was able to connect with millions, if not billions of young children in the 33 years that his show was on the air and the impact is still felt today, both with reruns of the original show as well as the with the new animated spin-off "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," which began in 2012 and takes place in the Land of Make-Believe with the original characters being all grown up with preschool-aged children of their own. Recently I spent a week at my brother's house tending his kids and when it was just me and my young nephew at home, "Daniel Tiger" was the show we watched on repeat during the afternoon because he loved it and my brother and his wife loved the messages that he learned from it. I thought it was a rather charming show that got all the songs stuck in my head during the whole week. It also again helped me show the power and influence Mr. Rogers had as his legacy continues even though it's been 15 years since he passed away back in 2003. Yet even though Mr. Rogers has been able to impact so many people, his focus was always on the one as he wanted to make each child feel important.
The reason why this Mr. Rogers documentary is so believable is that the people they interviewed are all his close friends and family who knew him best. His wife, the people on the show with him, biographers who know everything about his life, cameramen who worked on the set and parents of certain kids that he personally interacted with. Hearing those people tell the story of who Fred Rogers was is certainly much more believable than the tabloids you see, memes flying around social media, fake news outlets reporting bogus stories just for the sake of attention or outsiders giving their opinion despite not even ever having talked to the man. The picture we get from the accounts of those who knew him best are that he really was a genuinely fantastic individual. He was a very spiritual, religious man who was even an ordained minister. Yet instead of going into the ministry, he decided he wanted to do his best to reach out to children through the means of television, a medium he wasn't even a big fan of because all the children-focused entertainment was the pie-in-the-face sort of humor. He saw an opportunity to fill a need for children entertainment wherein he could make a real difference and the reason he was able to do so was that he genuinely cared.
There's a lot of details that this documentary dives into about the details of this show's beginning, the progression it went through over the time in being able to gain funding or the responses to various controversies that I'll let you discover on your own as you watch it, but there's so much packed in here that leaves you with such an emotional feeling throughout. I really loved how Mr. Rogers dealt with real word issues going on at the time and was honest about these issues with his audience. Kids live in the real world and instead of trying to hide them from the real world, Mr. Rogers did his best to help them know how to deal with certain issues, which included the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy right from the get go. He talked to kids about the hardships of life and how to properly deal with such things as the loss of a loved one or the divorce of their parents, which are conversations that parents are understandably unsure of how to talk about. Through it all, Mr. Rogers wanted to be someone who was there for the children and let them all know that they were special as they are. Social status, environment circumstance or what accomplishments in life you have don't define your value. You are special just the way you are.
If you're a religious person like myself, I think this is a documentary you will connect to on a very strong, spiritual level as Mr. Rogers himself was a very spiritual man and thus it's like watching a documentary about a prominent religious leader such as the prophet of the church or the pope. That's what I got from this. If you're not a religious person, I also think this is a documentary that you will be able to connect with because Mr. Rogers cared about everyone, regardless of who they were or how different they were. I believe that everyone will walk out of the documentary with an increased sense of self-worth. Loving yourself is a very important aspect of having a truly happy life and that's the core of this documentary and the core of who Mr. Rogers was and what he taught. The only real negative that I have here is that this is PG-13. One of the cameramen that they interviewed uses a bit of language and shares a story of a prank Mr. Rogers played on him that causes the documentary to earn its rating, thus meaning I couldn't call my Mom and recommend that she go see this when I really wanted to before that scene happened. As she would say, just a little bit of rat poison in your Mr. Rogers documentary. I found that aspect just slightly disappointing.
The justification there is that this is a documentary geared towards adults. Regardless of how good the documentary is, you're not going to take your kids to it as they'll find it boring. You'll show them episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" or "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," but not a documentary with people talking about Mr. Rogers. Thus for the targeted adult audience is not going to be bothered by a bit of language or one photograph shown, but I still think they could've made it PG and been just as good. The idea that we can't have adult-targeted material that's PG is something that really bothers me and I think that stigma is the only reason for this sequence so that the filmmakers could get their PG-13 rating. This is also not a documentary that will send shock waves through your soul or leave you with your jaw dropped to the ground like "Icarus" or "CITIZENFOUR." It's just a simple documentary chronicling the life of one of my personal favorite human beings in Mr. Rogers, showing how amazing he was, but also leaving each viewer with a strong sense of self-worth, regardless of who you are or what hand you were dealt in life and I think that's very important. As far as a grade goes, I almost abstained from that, but I suppose I'll say that a 9/10 is fair.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
My thoughts on "The Incredibles" is simple. I love that movie. In fact, when I ranked my Pixar movies on this blog a while back, I listed that as my third favorite Pixar movie, behind only "Toy Story 3" and "Toy Story." I released my updated rankings on my personal Facebook page before going to see "Incredibles 2" and that ranking holds up for the original film. I still think it's the third best Pixar film. Given that we now have 20 Pixar films and 15 of them range from good to great, claiming "The Incredibles" as No. 3 on the list is extremely high praise. And yeah, I've been on the bandwagon for a long time that we need a sequel. I don't often demand sequels, but "The Incredibles" is the type of superhero film where you want to see more. There's so much more room to grow with this family dynamic, especially after learning Jack-Jack has powers. You want to see them as a crime fighting superhero team because we only got a taste of that in "The Incredibles" given that superheroes are illegal in this universe. Heck, the movie ends with them about to fight the Underminer, a battle that you want to see play out. And speaking of superheroes being illegal, that's the big issue that was left unresolved at the end of the movie. So what took them so long?
With all that said, despite having wanted this movie for such a long time, I found myself oddly unsatisfied when the trailers came out. I wanted to fanboy uncontrollably at the footage I saw and then go in with crazy, blind optimism that this was going to be the best thing ever. But every time I tried to get to that level of excitement, I realized that said excitement was forced and I eventually began to accept the fact that I had reservations about this sequel. The biggest issue for me came with the idea that Hollywood has become oversaturated with superhero films. "The Incredibles" came out in 2004, four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008 with "Iron Man" and one year before Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy began in 2005 with "Batman Begins." We had just recently experienced "X-Men" and "Spider-Man," so this modern boom of superhero movies was in its infancy, thus helping "The Incredibles" feel fresh. But now "Incredibles 2" comes out in a day where I've lost count of how many superhero movies we've had. How is Pixar going to make it feel relevant. What are they going to do to help it stand out from the crowd? Also, in picking up right where the first movie left off, how are they going to help it stand out from the original?
This past weekend, "Incredibles 2" opened to a whopping $182 million here in the United States alone. That opening weekend is the eighth largest opening weekend out of all movies, just ahead of "Captain America: Civil War," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Iron Man" and behind only three Avengers movies, two Star Wars movies, "Black Panther" and "Jurassic World." It obliterated the record for biggest opening for an animated movie, which was set by Pixar just two years ago with "Finding Dory" at $135 million. Given that animated movies typically have excellent staying power, the final total for "Incredibles 2" could go to infinite and beyond. "Finding Dory" translated that $135 million into $486 million total, meaning that $500 million for "Incredibles 2" now seems like the low bar for what it could earn. The major reason for me mentioning these facts in this review, outside the fact that I like numbers and wanted to share, is that a lot of you have already seen this movie. Thus I'm going to take a few liberties to talk about some plot points that are key to my thoughts on the movie. No, this won't be a spoiler review, but if you haven't seen the movie and you want to know nothing going in, then close this review and come back later so we can discuss openly.
In terms of said plot points, this movie picks up exactly where "The Incredibles" left off. If you forgot, Violet gets asked out on a date, then the Underminer shows up and the family gears up to go to battle. Insert credits. "Incredibles 2" first begins with a message from some key cast members talking about the difficulties of making an animated movie and thanking everyone for their patience with this sequel, then delivers a phenomenal animated short film after which the movie begins and we recap Violet getting asked out on a date and immediately jump into this fight with the Underminer, which was an absolute blast. Now I mentioned that the trailers didn't get me as excited as I wanted to be, but when I sat down in the theater, the excitement hit me and I was overcome with complete joy at the fact that I was finally watching "Incredibles 2." I appreciated the message from the cast, nearly bawled during that short, then the opening fight happens and I was immediately overcome with excitement while I watched this family team up to face this villain. Belated sequels to classics don't always work out, but in this instance I knew I was in good hands with Pixar as it was obvious that they finally came up with a sequel idea that everyone agreed on and worked hard to bring to us.
What I mean when I say they are approached by Saul Goodman is that they are approached by a character named Winston Deavor, who is voiced by Bob Odenkirk. If you've never seen "Breaking Bad" or "Better Call Saul," then the reference will be lost on you. But I found it extremely entertaining that Bob Odenkirk's character in "Incredibles 2" was almost to a "t" the exact same character he plays on "Breaking Bad." Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" is a bit of a sketchy character, but he's the type of guy with so much passion and enthusiasm that he's able to sell you on just about anything, thus when he comes to them with a perfect plan on how to make superheroes legal again, there's absolutely no question in the minds of our two parents as to exactly what they should do. And the idea that Elastagirl is front and center this time is much more than just a nod to feminism in 2018. It makes perfect sense to the plot as her elastic abilities and high IQ are exactly what the city needs, better so than Mr. Incredible's immense strength and overzealous personality. Thus we have what I call feminism done right. A strong female character leading our movie in a way that makes perfect sense to the plot rather than being forced in the name of attempted proggresivism.
At the same time, though, the movie doesn't throw shade at all on Mr. Incredible himself. It's not a situation where they are saying that girls are awesome and guys suck. Both partners have a key role to play in the movie. Elastagirl doesn't do what she does until she has the support from her husband. Mr. Incredible being at home also puts him out of his comfort zone, allowing a ton of room for progression as he has no idea how to raise the kids, especially not this new super baby in Jack-Jack, who has all of these super powerful abilities with zero control. Thus this bit of role reversal helps the family grow closer together as Elastagirl learns the importance of using their abilities instead of hiding out the whole time while Mr. Incredible learns how to stay at home and be a dad. When push comes to shove, the thing that separates "The Incredibles" from the rest of the superhero movies is the family dynamic and that is stronger than ever in "Incredibles 2." In fact, as fun as it was to see Elastagirl out fighting crime and saving the day, I was actually more drawn to Mr. Incredible's moments at home as he was trying to help Violet with her boy problems, Dash with his math homework, and raising Jack-Jack, who completely steals this movie with his untamed baby powers.
The other thing I have to bring up is the villain. I tread very lightly here, but what they do is they go the route of the mysterious villain with an ominous voice and cool-looking outfit, while attempting to play the bait-and-switch game with us. Instead of spending time building up a well thought out villain, like with Syndrome in "The Incredibles," they instead spend half of the movie making the audience guess who is the person behind the mask. This guessing game can be fun, but this is what I nit-pick at with "Arrow" and "The Flash" all the time. I'd much rather know who the villain is from day one instead of spending the whole season guessing who it is. Both TV shows go back and forth between the two philosophies and when I look back at which villains ended up being best, almost without fail it's the villains who had more time to progress as characters rather than the villains whose true identity was hidden for some time. Thus we have this same case with this franchise. The first villain was given time to progress while this second villain was hidden. And I knew exactly who it was going to be, which made the reveal not as exciting as it could've been. That said, I did buy into the motivations of said villain, but we can talk about that in private later rather than publicly on this blog.
These final two issues is what I was worried about most going in and I do think I would've had less problems with them 11 years ago than I do know, but ultimately I was still left pleased after leaving this movie as said issues were more of major nitpicks than serious problems that bogged the movie down. Thus the movie ended up being remarkably similar to a number of MCU films that are still highly entertaining despite underlying issues. I mean, Marvel has a habit of introducing underwhelming villains with cliche motivations, yet still manage to make the movie as a whole highly entertaining, thus dispelling the idea that a movie is only as good as your villain. And the vigilante story arc? Yeah, that's all of "Captain America: Civil War" and I had the exact same nitpicks with that movie, yet still managed to be thoroughly entertained with everything happening around it. I'd say putting "Incredibles 2" on the same level as "Civil War" is pretty good company, wouldn't you? Where does "Incredibles 2" place in my Pixar rankings? I have no idea. I don't think it's top five, but that's near impossible to break into at this point. But I do think it's somewhere in the top 10, which at this point is a huge compliment given Pixar's filmography. I'm giving "Incredibles 2" a 9/10.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
So the Ocean's franchise. That's a funny story. I've now seen two of them. I was planning on doing a quick marathon just to make myself sound all educated, but I've not seen "Ocean's Twelve," "Ocean's Thirteen" or the original "Ocean's 11." Only the 2001 "Ocean's Eleven" remake and now the female reboot/sequel/remake titled "Ocean's 8." Yeah, I know the official word is that this is a sequel to the remake trilogy, although in the future it'll be really confusing trying to explain to someone why "Ocean's 8" comes after "Ocean's Eleven" and why the grammar in the titles are all backwards. But "Ocean's 8," in addition to being a sequel, also successfully reboots the franchise with a new cast and also has to be called a remake of "Ocean's Eleven" since the only thing differences between the two movies are that it's a female cast where they're stealing female things such as fancy jewelry. Outside that, same exact movie. Almost to a "t." And I found the whole experience to be extremely lazy, which is an absolute shame because we have a phenomenal cast who all relish in their individual roles, having a blast with the film, but the writers and director apparently had zero passion behind this project as they went for a lazily-written carbon copy of something better.
It's been over 10 years since we've done one of these Ocean's movies. If someone in Hollywood had a genius idea of bringing this franchise back with a fresh cast of characters and a fresh heist to pull off, I would've been all down for this. And that's what I thought we were getting. A fun, unique heist film with a star-studded cast of ladies having a blast pulling off a unique heist. And I was excited. So I re-watched "Ocean's Eleven" in preparation, then went into "Ocean's 8" the next day and was shocked to see the same exact movie. A lazy, politically correct Ocean's movie made to fill a quota and hopefully cash in on a popular trend. But let's take a step back real quick. "Ocean's Eleven." I know some people that will claim that this movie is a classic and one of the best movies ever made. If that is you, I'm sorry. You might want to turn away because I might hurt your feelings. It's not a masterpiece. It's never blown my mind. But what it is, is a really fun, simple heist film that's the golden standard of heist films. There's been heist films before and after this movie in 2001, but "Ocean's Eleven" is now the textbook example of exactly how to do a heist film. It's a lot fun. And I think it's just fine to have a movie that's simply a lot of fun, but is not anything masterfully special.
Again, I haven't seen the other three, but I hear "Twelve" isn't worth watching and that "Thirteen" is enjoyable, but not close to the level of "Eleven." And I hear very mixed things about the original "Ocean's 11," most people agreeing that the remake was an improvement and a lot of people not even realizing that there is a 1960 version. If you have "Ocean's Eleven" in your mind, quickly let me go over "Ocean's 8," without spoilers, of course. Even though you already know how it's going to end simply because it's a heist film. We start with Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock, getting out of prison. She gives a speech to the parole board, I think, about how much she's changed and is nothing like her family, who are all known for their con-artist ways. Yet she gets out and immediately goes to Lou, Cate Blanchett's character, and describes her plan of pulling off an impossible heist that'll net them upwards of $160 million. But they need a team to pull it off, which in this case is seven of them. So we spend the first major portion of this movie recruiting the perfect team, all of whom are easily convinced and before we know it we are in the planning phase where they are going to pull off the perfect heist without any troubles, despite it being impossible to do.
When we get to the heist itself, I did find myself having a lot of fun with the heist, mostly because all the ladies were having a blast playing their individual roles in the heist. There is a few minor surprises that veer away from "Eleven" that I won't spoil, but the heist itself is sadly cut short a bit in order to fit room for the biggest surprise of the movie, a fourth act following our three-act structure, which unfortunately derailed any fun I was having during the moments of the heist itself. I walked out of the movie not completely offended at what was in front of me, but also really annoyed with the laziness of the movie itself. Granted, doing a heist film in 2018 is a bit of a tricky endeavor because it's hard to bring something completely new to the table that hasn't been done before. But I would've liked them to at least try, which it didn't appear like they did. "Logan Lucky" from last year proved that you still can do something fresh in the heist genre, so it's no excuse. Come up with something fresh or leave the ideas in the drawing room. As far as my final score goes, based on everything I've said, it may seem like I'm being a bit forgiving because I could go real low with this, but the ladies themselves owned this movie despite everything, so I'm giving "Ocean's 8" a 6/10.
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Fast forward to 2018 and we have another man with the same vision as Gary Rogers. This man's name is Darin Southam. On March 15, 2018, our second try at a "Book of Mormon" movie premiered in theaters. Well, kinda. This time around, it was just a 10-minute concept short film, not a full-length feature. The short film has slowly been taking the rounds across the globe to show to members and at the moment it's right in the middle of a limited two-week run in seven different Megaplex theaters across Utah (The Gateway, Geneva, The District, Thanksgiving Point, Jordan Commons, Pineview and Providence) for just $5. I can't remember when I first saw this idea posted, but it's been quite a while. This journey began back in 2014 according to their Facebook, and I'm pretty sure I stumbled upon it around that time. I don't want to spend too much time on the history of this short film, but the gist of it is that Darin also wants to bring "The Book of Mormon" to the big screen, but he wants to do it right by making a quality production that people will enjoy. So he began a Kickstarter fund to raise money for a concept short film with the idea that said concept short film would be able to fund the feature-length movie. I recently saw the concept short film and this is my review.
This review is a fairly unique opportunity for me because normally I'm reviewing a final product and the point of the review is to let my friends know if they should see it or not. In this case, I'm reviewing a concept short that's very much a work in progress. I can give my opinion on what I liked and what I didn't like and there's a chance that my opinions can be taken into account when it's time to move forward with the feature-length movie. I have had friends in the film program and I've sat in script readings, thus I know that writers and other filmmakers in situations like this want honest feedback because it helps them know how to proceed moving forward. They might have an idea of what they want done, and I'm sure the actors and other members of the crew gave plenty of suggestions along the way, but the most important group of people are the audience of your film because they're the ones paying to see it. This is a great opportunity as a casual audience member to give feedback on this film. To make this situation even more unique, there's a chance that Darin Southam might actually read this as he sent me a message on facebook to my blog's facebook page back in August. I don't know how he found me, but he did. So this is my letter to him.
Then the short film itself started and I instantly put my critical hat on, ready to analyze this thing. In talking about specifics, I'm going to warn you of spoilers. If Darin Southam is actually reading this, I want him to know if specific emotions that I felt. Even if he doesn't, I want to look back on this review when the full movie comes out to compare notes. If you don't want a 10-minute short film spoiled, then go see this. You have four days left to find your nearest Megaplex if you live in Utah to watch this. Then come back and read over my thoughts. With that out of the way, after our introductory title sequence, we immediately jump to Moroni. No, not Captain Moroni who will probably be the focus of the feature-length movie. Son of Mormon, Moroni. The guy who buried the plates and showed up to Joseph Smith 1,400 years later. That's the subject of this short film. But we don't have the cliche sequence of him burying the plates, appearing to Joseph or wandering in the wilderness. We have him on the run from a group of Lamanites, who finally catch up to him and confront him. Old man Moroni then takes out his sword and participates in a duel with the three main Lamanite soldiers. Yeah, this is a short film that takes place after "The Book of Mormon."
Personally I found this choice to be curious. Not necessarily bad or good, but curious. If the idea with this concept short film was to raise funds for a feature-length film, I was thinking they would do a scene from the war chapters, like Teancum sneaking in to kill Amalickiah, Captain Moroni cornering the armies of Zerahemnah or, dare I say, a sequence involving the Title of Liberty? Portraying Moroni, son of Mormon, in his final moments was a cool sequence, but I'm not sure how that showcases what our feature-length movie portraying the war chapters is going to be like. The other curious thing was taking creative liberties about what Moroni's final moments were actually like. I know there's one story of a person in the late-1800's who said at some stake conference that Joseph Smith told them a vision of Moroni's final moments. Or something to that effect. But I'm not convinced we actually know. For all I know, he could've wandered in the wilderness for the rest of his days without the Lamanites finding him or maybe he got translated shortly after burying the plates because his work was finished. So shouldn't we be portraying an actual sequence from "The Book of Mormon" rather than a fictionalized interpretation of what could've taken place?
On that note, while I praise the effort of getting bigger name actors (Ben Cross was in the 2009 "Star Trek," Eugene Brave Rock was in "Wonder Woman" and Karina Lombard was in "Legends of the Fall"), I would be careful with the casting moving forward. I think Ben Cross did excellent and it was fun to see him and Darin Southam, who stepped in as Moroni, banter back and forth. But I was a bit confused as to why a white British guy was king of the Lamanites. I don't know if you need to have a strict Native American cast when it comes to the Lamanites, but I would say they need to look like Lamanites so we can easily make a distinction that they are Lamanites and not just assume they are based on makeup and costumes. Casting white people to play non-white roles is called white-washing. We don't need any of that in this movie. If we are assuming the king of the Lamanites is a former-Nephite like Amalickiah, then that needs to be clear. Also, the camera work had me a bit nervous. There was a lot of "Hunger Games" style shaky cam during this short duel. If there was too much of that during the feature-length movie, which will be heavily set around war and action sequences, that needs to be ironed out because that has the possibility of ruining the movie.
When all is said and done, though, this short film had me very encouraged about the future of this project. The worst part of this whole thing was that it ended too quickly, which is a good thing. As I sat down in the theater, I was ready to be there for the whole two hours, thus when the credits came up after 10 minutes, I was really disappointed. I knew that's what I was getting in for, but still. I wanted more. And I think that was the point of this. So well done, Darin Southam. Yes, there's a lot of work to be done here and I think Darin would be the first one to tell you that. Shooting a 10-minute short film is one thing. Transforming that into a two-hour feature film is a whole different ball game. Casting and shaky cam is what has me most nervous, but this can work. And I want it to work. I hope Darin gets funding to make his film and I hope that film does well enough to warrant him making the whole trilogy, because I love this idea and to see it played out would be the real dream come true. I also hope that the Church themselves don't steal Darin's thunder with their upcoming "Book of Mormon" videos akin to their "Bible" videos. The two separate projects can work in harmony together, right? My grade for this "Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty" concept short film is an 8/10.
Note: Darin Southam did read through this and had this to respond to a couple of my points that I made, showing why he's the director and I'm simply a casual movie blogger:
"Good review. King Aaron was a defecting Nephite and so we portrayed him with fairer skin as per Nephi's vision seeing the Gentiles settle America and saying they looked "like unto my people before they were slain". Yes the opening sequence is based on the vision Joseph Smith had of the death of Moroni "At a meeting at Spanish Fork, Utah Co., in the winter of 1896, Brother Higginson stated in my presence that Thomas B. Marsh told him that the Prophet Joseph Smith told him (Thomas B. Marsh, he being then President of the Twelve), that he became very anxious to know something of the fate of Moroni, and in answer to prayer the Lord gave Joseph a vision, in which appeared a wild country and on the scene was Moroni after whom were six Indians in pursuit; he stopped and one of the Indians stepped forward and measured swords with him. Moroni smote him and he fell dead; another Indian advanced and contended with him; this Indian also fell by his sowrd; a third Indian then stepped forth and met the same fate; a fourth afterwards contended with him, but in the struggle with the fourth, Moroni, being exhaused, was killed. Thus ended the life of Moroni. (Evans)"
The idea of King Aaron being a defecting Nephite is what I was guessing. That vision of Moroni is something that I've heard, but it's still a bit of a grapevine story. Bro. Higginson said that Bro. Marsh said that Joseph said that this vision took place. If you know what I mean. It's believable. But I'm still not 100 percent convinced of its authenticity as opposed to being something that's more of a direct source from Joseph himself in Church history.
Saturday, June 9, 2018
As far as what "Hereditary" is about, yeah that's a bit tricky to talk about, especially with how amazing the marketing has been. A24 focused heavily on the buzz from Sundance to sell this film. That certainly worked for me and should be enough for others like me who appreciate the more unconventional or indie horror. I looked at the premise of the film and all I got was something about the grandma dying, which causes all these secrets from the past to be unleashed. That didn't tell me a lot. Neither did the trailer, which just compiled a whole bunch of disturbing, creepy imagery along with a lot of clicking and creepy music. So I had no idea what this movie was when I went into it, which actually had me excited going in because I was ready to be completely surprised by whatever the movie had in store for me. And surprised I was. Yet surprised might be a bit of an understatement because, when I wasn't expecting it, the movie snuck up behind me and metaphorically drilled me with a baseball bat in the back of the head. Then almost as if the movie was a crazy psychopath standing above me and laughing. After hitting me once, the movie drilled me again. And again. And again. The moment I thought my beating was over, yup, you guessed it, I got drilled again.
Fear is certainly an interesting thing and everyone is affected by something different, so I'll try not to talk this movie up too much in case you walk out not feeling scared and thus get mad at me because I promised a terrifying experience and you ended up being bored for the full two hours. I mean, I can have a friend share a picture or video of a bee with the explanation that they think it's the cutest thing ever, yet all my brain does is enter a genuine panic. In other words, don't hate me if you walk into this movie and don't get scared by it because maybe there's something specific about this movie that successfully got under my skin. It would be interesting to do a psychological analysis of all the specific behind that with this movie, but that's certainly not happening here because I don't even want to tell you what the premise of this movie is. All that I suppose I'll say is that it involves a family. A rather messed up family with an even more broken history. The husband and wife seem to have a great relationship, but the wife's mother, passes away before the movie even really starts and the wife feels zero remorse. The father seems to be the one grounded in reality to try to hold everyone together, but the older son is a druggie while the younger daughter is a creepy demon child.
Then things start happening. Specifically there's "a moment" in the film. A sort of trigger that spawns the rest of the movie. I'm not even going to hint at what it is, but I'll just say that the whole theater was stunned to silence. After a brief few moments, someone on the opposite side of the theater cried out, "Holy (expletive)!" And we all kinda laughed because that was the perfect expression about how we all felt. It was the shock value of the moment. The initial scene where I said the movie snuck up behind me and metaphorically drilled me with a baseball bat. Shock value is quite common in horror films. That's what most of them go for. But there's a difference between shock value just for the sake of shock value and nothing else and shock value that has a specific purpose to it. Oftentimes the difference is one comes from a studio-mandated horror film where the purpose is cheap scares randomly strung together on a cheap budget made specifically to earn a few quick bucks while the other comes from someone who has a specific idea of something greater and deeper. The scares for the latter are often not the specific purpose of the movie, but are there to serve the greater whole, and thus end up making the individual scares have more of a heavy impact.
Thankfully, though, my patience with the movie was rewarded with a second half that was absolutely insane, led heavily by Toni Collette as the mom and Alex Wolff is the older son. The progression of those two characters specifically were so fascinating, especially the mom. In terms of moms in horror films, Toni Collette's performance matches or exceeds that of Essie Davis in "The Babadook." That's the level of sheer brilliance that she pulls off. Horror movies usually don't get Oscar nominations, unless you're "Get Out" and you have a social commentary that hits the whole country on a personal level. But outside that, horror movies get ignored. Thus I'm not expecting Toni Collette to get her second Oscar nomination, but this would be a situation where it would be absolutely deserved. When we have the discussion when the year as over and Oscar nominations get dished out as to who should've deserved an Oscar, you can plan on me bringing up Toni Collette. She certainly gives the best performance from the first half of the year. I think in general, the family dynamic in this movie was so fascinating and the movie was gut-wretching and heavy because of what kept happening with this family. And that's as close to the line as I'm going to get in revealing this movie's secrets.
I suppose when you write this entire movie's premise down on a piece of paper and read it, it's possible that you could conclude that we've seen this before, but the execution of this movie was so flawless that said familiarity didn't even bother me. That may point to the idea that you don't have to be perfectly unique to be impressive. If you tread on the line of familiar, but you execute in the perfect way, then the movie still comes out feeling fresh. When it comes to checking boxes that I want from a horror film, this essentially checks all of them. It doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. It's story-driven. The acting is phenomenal. The movie makes you care deeply about all of the main characters. The score is absolutely perfect. The movie is genuinely creepy, but creepy isn't necessarily the main point of the film. I could go on. But when it comes to indie horror films, especially ones released by A24, this does exactly what I want it to do in terms of concept, yet had genuinely shocking turns as I had no idea what to expect. Giving a score to this is difficult because this is the type of movie where I need time to let it marinate over the months ahead to know exactly how I feel. But based on my initial traumatizing experience, I'm going to be bold and give "Hereditary" a 10/10.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
June 1st - 3rd-
You may have noticed that I skipped third place in that previous paragraph, and that's because that spot went to the first of three newcomers this weekend, which was Adrift that floated ahead of the competition when it came to the previously mentioned new releases as it took in $11.6 million. Heading into the weekend, tracking reports suggested it could come close to the $18.7 million of "Me Before You," which opened on this same exact weekend in 2016. However, weekend results instead saw it get a nearly identical total to May 2017's "Everything, Everything," which opened to $11.7 million. That suggests "Adrift" most likely will end up super close to that movie's $34.1 million, depending on how it holds. That will also mean it ends up in the same ballpark as other fellow romantic dramas "Paper Towns" ($32.0 million) and "The Mountain Between Us" ($30.3 million). The best case scenario would be a total closer to "The Longest Ride" ($37.4 million) or "The Age of Adaline" ($42.6 million). "Adrift" stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as a couple who get stranded out on the ocean together after their small boat heading from Tahiti to San Diego gets caught in a huge storm.
There were two other movies that opened in wide release this past weekend, although neither made much of a dent at the box office, yet based on expectations of both, it was a major surprise that Upgrade came in ahead, debuting in sixth place with $4.7 million. The reported budget for the movie was between $3-5 million, so this opening weekend was a win for the movie. "Upgrade" was boosted by strong reviews coming out of the South by Southwest Film Festival in March that helped with the movie's buzz, leading it to the second highest opening weekend for distributor BH Tilt, behind only the $4.9 million of 2016's "The Darkness." The movie is a sci-fi action thriller about a previously paralyzed man who gets a chip that controls his movements, helping him get revenge.
And finally, dead on arrival this weekend was Johnny Knoxville's Action Point, opening in ninth place with just $2.4 million. While not officially a part of the Jacka-- franchise (yes, I censor movies with curse words in their title), "Action Point" was a similar style of movie, involving crazy, daredevil stunts from a group of people led by Johnny Knoxville who may have all been drunk or high while doing said stunts, or certainly acting like it. This time "Action Point" involved stunts in a broken down water park. Thus with the Jacka-- connection and Knoxville starring, a $19 million budget seemed perfectly feasible as all four actual Jacka-- movies opened above $20 million, with "Jacka--: The Movie" earning the least overall with $64.2 million in 2002, which adjusts to just over $100 million when considering ticket price inflation. Thus "Action Point" potentially earning less than $5 million overall when all is said and done makes it one of the colossal failures of 2018 thus far.
June 8th - 10th-
Opening alongside "Ocean's 8" are two smaller films, though the one getting the most buzz of the two is Hereditary. This is a horror movie from distributor A24, a studio that has developed a fairly loyal fan base after a long string of well received independent films. A24 got the distribution rights to "Hereditary" following its release at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it received very strong reviews. Thus the comparison to "The Witch" might be a good one as "The Witch" was also an indie horror film from Sundance released by A24. "The Witch" opened to $8.8 million and made $25.1 million overall when it got its theatrical release. In general, indie horror always seems to have a bit of a mixed reaction as "The Witch," "It Comes at Night" and "The Babadook" all are examples of indie horror films that have had strong praise from critics and festival goers, but low praise from general audiences as they don't quite hit the cliche horror tropes that general horror fans come to expect from their mainstream horror flicks. Thus is why "Hereditary" probably won't break out with mainstream crowds like "A Quiet Place" did earlier this year, but the indie horror fans should gravitate towards it as the movie unravels the mysterious secrets of a certain family's ancestry.
The other small release this weekend is Hotel Artemis, which is an action thriller starring Jodie Foster as a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals in a dystopian future. Starring alongside Jodie Foster in this movie is Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day and Dave Bautista, giving this indie action thriller quite the large cast. The obvious challenge that this movie faces, though, is the high amount of competition. While "Hereditary" has a bit of an advantage there in being the only horror movie to be released since "A Quiet Place," as an action film "Hotel Artemis" will not only be dealing with the major blockbuster in the market, both the holdovers from May and the upcoming ones in June, but it also has fellow indie action thriller "Upgrade" from the previous week, which has grabbed people's attention already. So there's a lot of action films to choose from, thus "Hotel Artemis" might be the type of movie that people slowly discover over time on various streaming platforms in the future rather than being a movie that everyone rushes to see in theaters. For comparison, new distributor Global Roads' previous two movies, "Midnight Sun" and "Show Dogs," opened to $4 million and $6 million respectively.
June 15th - 17th-
Providing an adult alternative for the small portion of people who for some reason aren't interested in the latest Pixar movie will be the comedy Tag. It's actually been a decent year for comedies in 2018. While nothing has necessarily broke the bank, unless you count "Deadpool 2," there's been quite a few mid-range comedies that have kept comedy fans rather busy and mostly satisfied with the likes of "Game Night," "Blockers," "Super Troopers 2" and "Life of the Party" all opening in the $15-20 million range. "Tag" looks to fit right into that group as it's a movie based on the true story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for nearly 30 years. This game started in the 80's with a group of high school friends from Washington state and moved onto their college years and beyond. The rules have evolved to the point where every February, for the entire month, the game starts and the friends travel across the country to tag one of their competitors. Whoever is "it" at the end of the month remains "it" until the next February roles around. Their story got the attention of a Wall Street Journal reporter in January 2013 and has now become a Hollywood film starring Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner as the group of friends.
Sneaking in on Wednesday, June 13, is the crime thriller Superfly. This is a remake of the 1972 film "Super Fly," which is described as a blaxploitation film, a subgenre of exploitation film that emerged in the early 1970's focusing on black characters and communities being the main characters and subjects of the film, helping people at the time rethink race relations at the time. "Super Fly" specifically was the story of a drug dealer named Youngblood Priest, showing his daily routine as he wants to score one more super deal and then retire. This remake stars Trevor Jackson as Youngblood Priest as well as Jason Mitchell, Jennifer Morrison, Lex Scott Davis and Michael Kenneth Williams and is set in modern-day Atlanta, which is booming with culture, style and music, but also has a dark side, especially when it comes to the lives of black people involved in certain businesses. Just like in the original, Priest is attempted to pull off one last major drug deal before retiring, which of course is much easier said than done. This is a movie that might have a hard time connecting with a general audience in the middle of a busy summer, but it will certainly hit its targeted niche crowd.
June 22nd - 24th-
The tricky thing here is predicting exactly how "Fallen Kingdom" is going to perform. With "Jurassic World" being an event film, it's not expected that "Fallen Kingdom" gets close to that $652 million total or even the $208 million opening weekend. Looking at the original "Jurassic Park" compared to its sequel, "The Lost World," the latter fell 35 percent from the original. If "Fallen Kingdom" experiences the same exact fall as "The Lost World" did, that would mean it earns $418 million domestically. If we apply the same opening weekend to final total multiplier as "Jurassic World," that would mean an opening weekend around $133 million. The caveat to that is "Jurassic Park" is a well-beloved film while "Jurassic World" isn't. So the fall off might be a bit steeper, especially considering early reviews for "Fallen Kingdom" aren't encouraging as it is currently in the high 60 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes. Thus it seems like a realistic possibility that "Fallen Kingdom" could experience a similar fate as last month's "Solo," which vastly under-performed compared to previous Star Wars films after mediocre reviews. "Solo" will end up with around $200-220 million total, which could potentially be where "Fallen Kingdom" ends up if audiences decide that they're not that interested.
June 29th - July 1st --
The final movie of the month also might be the most unique film of the month and that is Uncle Drew. Occasionally you'll see current athletes show up in films, but it's usually in smaller roles or cameos as they typically choose to stick to playing their sport. Rarely do you see a current athlete take the lead role in a major comedy film, but that's exactly what Kyrie Irving, now a member of the Boston Celtics, has done as he's dressed up as title character of Uncle Drew, a former basketball legend who is now an old man and is coming back to form his own street ball team after being invited to join a street ball tournament. Also dressing up as old men to join Kyrie in this film are former NBA players Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson. Actual actors, such as Tiffany Haddish and Nick Kroll are also a part of the cast. The other thing that makes "Uncle Drew" extremely unique is that it's a movie based on a series of commercials that starred Kyrie Irving as Uncle Drew. It's not often that an ad campaign gets a film adaptation, if it ever has happened. If this unique idea for a sports comedy connects with its target audience, this could join the decently long list of mid-range comedy successes in 2018. It's certainly unique enough to grab people's attention.