Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Review

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take a pre-existing, popular television series and adapt it to a film franchise. But that is not all. You must successfully please all fans of the original series you are adapting, while gaining many new ones, which will culminate in the general consensus that your film franchise is what people think of when this property is brought up. An added bonus will be awarded if there comes a point when some people don't realize an original television series exists. But this is also not all. Your film franchise must continue for 20+ years with no reboots, remakes or recasting the main star. Side characters may be shifted in and out as you see fit, but your lead character must be present in every movie and must be played by the same actor throughout the entire 20 years. It is also preferred that the actor you cast in your lead role be a popular actor in the prime of his career. Finally, your series needs to get better with time. You're not allowed to have an excellent start and fizzle out while only concluding when people get sick of mediocre sequels. Fans need to be excited for each and every sequel. In 20 years from now, you need to have the ability to put out your best film yet. This message will now self-destruct in five seconds.

Given the franchise we're discussing, I thought that would be a fun way to start this review. Said task on paper seems like an impossible mission, yet this is exactly what this franchise has accomplished. "Mission: Impossible" began in 1966 with the classic television series that was well liked. That means it celebrated its 50th anniversary back in 2016. After the initial series ended, there were several attempts to bring it back via film or a reboot series, but none were successful until the film adaptation, "Mission: Impossible," in 1996, which made $180 million that year domestically. That translates to $379 million with 2018 ticket prices and was the third highest grossing movie that year, behind "Independence Day" and "Twister." Fast forward 22 years, and yeah it's true we had a slip-up with "Mission: Impossible II," but outside that I personally think that every movie has only gotten better. "Mission: Impossible III" is better than "Mission: Impossible." "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is better than "Mission: Impossible III." "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" is better than "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." And now "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" tops them all. The entire ride the movie is led by the man, the myth, the legend. Mr. Tom Cruise.

The unique history of this franchise is a major portion of the reason why I love "Fallout" so much. It feels like they hit the pinnacle of cinematic success. The scope and the grandeur of this accomplishment is just so phenomenal that I feel like I'm witnessing something truly special. We live in a day where every successful movie gets a sequel. Every studio is attempting to set up a franchise with the goal to keep making money while continuing to make movies that their fan base enjoys. But how many of them succeed? But not just that, how many of them actually get better over time? It seems like what the "Mission: Impossible" franchise has now achieved is the ultimate goal. Tom Cruise and company are now standing on the Mt. Everest of the cinematic world watching as everyone tries to do what they have now done, but few have been able to accomplish this feat. In my brain right now I'm going through a lot of franchises and even among the great ones I'm able to find flaws where they don't quite match up to Mission: Impossible. Among the classic spy franchises, Bond has been going on forever, but they have been horribly inconsistent when it comes to quality. Bourne had three excellent movies to start off with, but more or less failed with the most recent two.

There's a lot of other franchises that have done well, but out of those franchises, how many of them have gone on for 20 years or more and maintained a high level of quality? And how many of them can say the later movies are the best ones? In regards to every franchise I think of, I can at least come with with an argument where Mission: Impossible is better. No, I'm not going to be so bold as to say this is the greatest franchise ever. But it may be the best spy franchise ever and, with what it has achieved, it should at least be in conversations when we discuss the all-time great franchises. To be able to witness this firsthand feels surreal to me. I honestly left the theater after seeing "Fallout" with a similar feeling as when  I saw "The Avengers" for the time. Not only was the individual movie fantastic, but the overall achievement here was incredible. This being the experience with both "Fallout" and "The Avengers." The second I walked out of the theater for "Fallout," I wanted to walk right back in and purchase a ticket to the very next showing. I felt the desire to go back and watch it every day for the next week, then buy it on DVD and watch it every night before I go to bed. Surprisingly, this feeling of adrenaline hasn't died down.

In regards to specifics with this individual movie, we begin with the plot, which we will quickly move past because, in typical Mission: Impossible fashion, this is a layered plot that is better when you go in knowing as little as possible. I'll just say it involves Ethan Hunt needing to intercept some plutonium from a group of individuals who call themselves The Apostles. They are the remnants of The Syndacite from the previous movie and they're trying to get said plutonium to a man by the name of John Lark for certain reasons. John Lark is a mystery because that is an alias. So we don't know who the real villain is or what he's really up to and why. That's all discovered as we go. Typical spy stuff, I suppose. On that note, I will admit that the movie is also full of typical spy movie tropes and cliches, but this is an instance where the movie fully embraces all of them, thus maintaining the element of fun throughout. In past movies with this franchise, I've sometimes had a hard time following the plot. It gets so twisty and turny that I blink for a second or two and suddenly I've missed a twist that effects the whole movie, which in turns causes me to get lost. "Fallout" was equally as twisty with its plot, but this time I was able to remain attentive the whole time.

Where this movie really excels is not necessarily in matters of specific plot details, but the execution of the whole film. This is where I confidently point to "Mad Max: Fury Road" as a comparison. What's the plot of that film? Well, the bad guys chase the good guys to a certain place. Good guys realize that said place is not what they thought, so they go back to the original place and get chased back. That's really it. But the action sequences themselves were so excellently crafted, the characters were so likable and the pacing was absolutely perfect that it made for a grand experience. "Fallout" mirrors this perfectly. Director Christopher McQuarrie has proven with this movie, "Jack Reacher" and "Rogue Nation" that he knows how to properly construct a masterpiece when it comes to action films. Mission: Impossible is a franchise that has become known for its excellent action sequences and crazy stunts and in no film is that presented more beautifully than in "Fallout." The movie goes from action sequence to action sequence to action sequence, yet the focus isn't lost with the bigger picture as each individual scene is handled with great care as to make sure no shortcuts are taken, thus each scene manages to take your breath away with the style, the craft and the intensity.

Implemented with all of the action sequences are endless amounts of crazy stunts that have you feeling uneasy in your chair. The thing that differentiates these stunts from other actions sequences is how real they feel. Yeah, I can have a lot of fun with a Fast and Furious movie as they also get crazier and crazier with the stunts, but when they have cars parachuting out of the skies and cars jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper, the element of realism is lost a bit because you know that it's all done with special effects and computers because the laws of physics get thrown out the window. Granted, if you're thinking about realism in those movies, you're missing the point, but with Tom Cruise and his crazy, daredevil personality, he makes the stunts feel real because many of them are. When you learn that he spent months learning how to fly a helicopter just so he could pull off the finale in the movie, your jaw drops. But you're not surprised because every movie is like that. In "Rogue Nation" he actually held onto that plane as it took flight. It wasn't fake or computer generated. Knowing this makes you nervous in every scene because you feel like Tom Cruise is actually going to die. He doesn't, but the movie squeezes every last bit of intensity possible, causing the audience to nearly pass out before recovering.

We've now discussed the endless string of perfectly constructed action sequences topped off with Tom Cruise's daredevil personality, making for some of the best overall action in any movie ever. What more do we need? Oh, how about characters and emotion with great arcs? Yeah, this movie also has those. Tom Cruise himself is much more than a crazy daredevil. He's also a dang good actor who is extremely likable. He has made his character of Ethan Hunt legendary. Returning with Ethan Hunt are his close nit group of friends in Ving Rhames' Luther Stickell and Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn. The three of them are essentially family at this point on the same level as the Fast and Furious gang. Alec Baldwin is also excellent as the boss character who is also essentially part of the team. The rest of the cast are very mysterious as you don't know what to think of Henry Cavill's August Walker or Rebecca Ferguson's Isla Faust. We also have Sean Harris' Solomon Lane lurking around and all the mystery surrounding The Apostles. I want to take about each one of them in more detail, but I'm not going to. Let's just say I loved them all. Their acting is fantastic and the level of complexity is fascinating. Henry Cavill's mustache heard round the world? Totally worth it. The man is a total boss.

Even if you were being introduced to this franchise for the first time with "Fallout," I think the level of craft with the action sequences, the crazy intense stunt work from Tom Cruise, the top-notch acting across the board and the beautifully complex characters with well-written arcs would be enough for you to be completely sold on this movie. But having a knowledge of the previous films makes the resolution of "Fallout" extremely satisfying, especially when it comes to "Rogue Nation." Given that Christopher McQuarrie directed both of them, he does a great job of interweaving both movies into one grand spectacle, meaning you should probably at least look up plot summaries of that film or watch Screen Junkies' Mission: Impossible cram it video on YouTube. I can't tell you why, but there was emotion in this film, both of extreme joy and moments of near tears. This feels like the grand finale to an epic franchise where every loose end from all the previous films are perfectly tied together. Yes, I expect there to be an M:I 7, but if "Fallout" was it, I'd be satisfied. Speaking of which, Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make M:I 7 even better. Personally I don't think that's possible as I gladly reward "Fallout" with a 10/10.

P.S. - I kinda feel bad for Jeremy Renner. He could've been in both this and "Avengers: Infinity War" this year as he had a side character who played a significant role in previous movies of both franchises. Yet he ended up in neither movie. I wonder what the cause of this was? Bad luck, possibly? All he did in 2018 was the movie "Tag." I hope he had fun with that one.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Review

It's been an interesting week for me as I journeyed into the world of "Mamma Mia!" for the very first time. I'm very well aware of the success of the original stage musical, which opened in 1999, then made its debut on Broadway in 2001 and ran through 2015. That run is the ninth longest run in Broadway history. It's still currently running at West End in London, which is where it actually premiered in 1999 and is the seventh longest running show in West End history. So yeah, it's quite the big deal. I've never seen the stage production of "Mamma Mia!" even though I'm sure it's fantastic. In fact, I've never gotten too deeply invested into theater productions in general, so there's a lot of those that I haven't seen, but we can discuss the reasons for that another time. It's not due to a lack of enjoyment, though, when I do go. As pertaining to the cinematic adaptation of "Mamma Mia!" in 2008, I never got around to watching that because I heard it wasn't a good adaptation due to the lack of musical talent from the cast among other things. But then a sequel was announced for this year and I knew that I would eventually have to bite the bullet and get this franchise out of the way. Last week I noticed that "Mamma Mia!" was on Netflix, so I dove in and began my journey.

I feel like it's very important for you to understand my opinion of the first "Mamma Mia!" before we dive into this sequel that I just saw, so allow me to describe to you my utter shock when I begrudgingly pressed play on my tablet, kinda put it aside and distractingly watched as I updated the box office numbers on my Excel chart. Again, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this movie, but I felt it necessary to educate myself before I see the sequel, which had started to get plenty of buzz. Yet in a strange turn of events, I found myself super invested in this silly little musical to the point where I actually started paying attention to the movie more than my Excel charts. It was silly and cheesy, but I found myself getting super invested into the plot itself. Amanda Seyfried is getting married and she wants to figure out who her real dad is, so in reading her mom's journals, she realizes there are three potential options, so she invites all three of them because she's sure that the second she lays eyes on them, she'll immediately be able to know who her real dad is. But when Pierce Brosnan, Bill Skarksgard and Collin Firth all show up, she has no idea who her real dad is and suddenly begins to panic as she realizes she has created quite the mess that leads to an emotional and funny romcom.

And, of course, in the midst of this genuinely enjoyable plot, we get loaded with the songs from ABBA, an extremely lovable Swedish pop group. Admittedly I can't call myself a genuine ABBA fan because I haven't explored their discography too much, but from a young age I have always loved the song "Dancing Queen." As a teenage boy it was more of a guilty pleasure because I saw it as more of a girly song and teenage boys aren't supposed to like girly songs. But now I will unashamedly blast that song because it's an extremely enjoyable pop song. Now said ABBA songs are where the bulk of the controversy surrounding the movie musical comes in. If you have a Broadway cast of trained singers who can do justice to ABBA's music, adding that along with a fun, creative plot must be why the stage version is so beloved. But the movie chose to cast non-singers to sing the songs in the movie and thus they become guilty of this underlying issue with movie musicals. Do you cast professionally trained singers so that the music sounds good or do you cast famous actors in order to draw in crowds to see the movie? "Mamma Mia!" chose the latter and thus the music itself is quite lacking, but I managed to mostly overlook that due to how good the story was.

Which brings us to the sequel. The biggest question here is... why? There's not a sequel to the stage musical. In fact, most movie musicals don't even get sequels, so why is "Mamma Mia!" leading the charge by throwing together a second one? Without even knowing much about it earlier this year, this just sounded like a dumb idea that was thrown together simply because musicals are a big thing in Hollywood thanks to the huge success of movies like "Les Mis," "Into the Woods," "La La Land" and last year's "The Greatest Showman." I was annoyed at the fact that it seemed like they were just cashing in on a trend rather than creating content that they felt needed to be shared. After seeing "Mamma Mia!" I was even more confused because there's no more story to tell in the universe of this movie. Without spoiling anything, "Mamma Mia!" wraps up quite beautifully. I was ready with my torch and pitchfork to burn this thing to the ground, which is something I'm not afraid to do when it comes to movie musicals. I'm not just going to ignorantly jam out because I'm in a movie theater and catchy music is playing. I demand quality. Yet adding to my confusion is that the same critics that trashed the original movie were praising this sequel.

Perhaps saying the critics were praising the movie is a bit deceiving. Sure, the Rotten Tomatoes score is significantly higher at now 79 percent compared to the original's 54 percent, but what some people don't fully realize is that there's actually an average rating that goes along with that. The Tomatometer is just the percentage of people who gave the movie a pass. A 79 percent doesn't mean a 7.9 average rating. It just means that 79 percent of critics gave the movie a pass, even if it's just barely. In fact, if a movie gets a 100 percent score, that doesn't mean that every critic is praising it as a masterpiece. You could have 100 percent of critics say a movie is simply OK and that would still get the 100 percent score. Thus with "Here We Go Again," while the score is 79 percent, the average rating is just 6.3 compared to the original's average rating of 5.5. That makes me feel a little bit better because "Here We Go Again" is not a good movie. Due to the positive reviews, I ended up going in with a sense of curiosity because maybe this was going to be another fun musical like the first. But no, it turns out that my original concerns about this movie were realized. This movie is nothing but a cash grab and has nothing to add to the original when it comes to plot.

Said plot is the biggest problem, so let's jump right to it. I liked the original because of the plot. And I fully imagine that the plot in the original is good because it is based on a popular play that is built in with an already enjoyable plot. So when they decided that they wanted to cash in on the growing trend of movie musicals by creating a sequel, I can imagine that there was much contention in initial meetings involving the screenplay that never fully got resolved because there's no way that the final result was a stroke of revelation that everyone agreed on. Due to the fact that they had to start from scratch this time around instead of simply adapting a popular source material, I feel like there was a lot of discussion pertaining what to due and it feels like they just settled. The original movie's plot involved a lot of mystery and intrigue involving who Amanda Seyfried's real father was which resulted in a hilariously messy web of relationships that managed to perfectly fall in place at the end. This sequel's plot is two-fold and half of that is literally a complete retread from the first movie, which I found extremely disappointing. The other half is actually quite boring and lifeless, so when there's literally no plot to grab onto, I'm left with the music to entertain me.

The two plot arcs are as follows. The plot that I said is a complete retread is where we dive into the past in order to show what happened with Amanda Seyfried's mother and her three lovers. In these flashbacks, the mother is played by Lily James. I knew that we were going to have flashbacks to the past, but I assumed that since we were going to do so that we were going to learn new information about the mother the the first movie didn't tell us. I kept waiting for this new information to be revealed, but it never came. So essentially this sequel spends half the movie, if not more actually, showing us the exact same story that the first movie spent about five minutes or less discussing. Her mother had three quick flings with three different guys, none of which worked out for different reasons. That's all we needed to know and the first movie did just fine explaining that, so I'm really confused as to why the sequel felt the need to spend half of the movie showing us what we already knew while revealing nothing new outside a few small details as to why her mother decided to settle in Greece. Lily James owns this role as she's one of my favorite current actresses, but it's a shame that her talents were wasted on such an insignificant part of the story.

The other half of the movie is Amanda Seyfried reopening her mother's hotel. That's actually kinda it. The drama doesn't come in a messy, fun, tangled web of romance and self-discovery. The drama comes in guessing who is going to attend this opening. Because that's exactly what I was hoping for out of my "Mamma Mia!" sequel. A cast reunion where I have to guess which cast members are going to show up. Are we going to see all three of Amanda Seyfried's dads, Pierce Brosnon, Bill Skarsgard and Collin Firth, or just one or two of them? Is her new husband/boyfriend thing played by Dominic Cooper going to come back or is he going to stay in New York? Is her super famous grandmother going to show up or remain a non-aspect of her life? I mean, talk about drama! Now, someone who doesn't really show up in this movie is her present-day mother, played by Meryl Streep. I'm actually not sure of her non-presence in the movie is common knowledge, so I won't reveal why she's mostly not in this movie. But there is a small side arc between the two of them that the movie could've focused on that would've made for something decently interesting, but it's just that. A side arc. Almost like Meryl Streep didn't have time for this movie, so they quickly came up with something.

That's our movie. Retelling the mother's backstory for half of the movie and waiting to see who shows up to the hotel reopening for the other half of the movie. Thus with no plot, we are left to rely solely on the music for our entertainment, which happened to be the weakest element of the original. Not the songs themselves. ABBA is great. I've been listening to the original recording of "Dancing Queen" on repeat while typing this review. But the performance of the songs aren't that great. I love the living heck out of Lily James, but her singing feels about on par with Emma Watson's singing in "Beauty and the Beast." Yet 10 of the movie's 18 songs on the Apple Music soundtrack are from Lily James. Amanda Seyfried gets a few songs and she's serviceable, but not excellent. The best performance probably comes from Cher, unsurprisingly, because she's the only actual singer in this movie. Some of the choreography in the scenes are pretty good, but the times that I was entertained the most come from the songs that were also in the original movie, like "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia," but were done better in the first movie. And they weren't that great in the first movie. Am I going to listen to this soundtrack? Of course! But the original ABBA songs. Not these covers.

I will admit that the movie has it's moments and that's because it has a fantastic cast of actors who are all extremely talented when it comes to acting. When they are acting and interacting in the movie, the movie is certainly tolerable and inoffensive. There's no moments in the movie that are outright awful and I didn't walk out of the theater hating life. I've learned recently that some of the most passionate fans out there are fans of musicals. If there's a musical that they love and you don't, they'll metaphorically drag you out of your house and crucify you. Some of the most intense debates I've had on this blog where I felt the most brutally attacked are a couple of musicals that I happened to not enjoy. I'm not going to bring those up, but you know exactly what I'm talking about if you've been around long enough. I'll just say that there's reasons those musicals made me upset and said reasons are absent from this "Mamma Mia!" sequel that make this the better movie musical. If you still want to hate me for not being impressed with "Here We Go Again," then fine. Whatever. Just know that I enjoyed the first movie. This sequel just didn't do it for me and I'm surprised by how many critics have given this one a pass. My grade for "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" is a 6/10.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Skyscraper Review

The world's most charismatic, lovable giant of a man is back in theaters. Once a professional wrestler, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is now one of Hollywood's most bankable stars as his list of movies he's helped power to impressive heights is quite large. Recent films in said category include "Rampage," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," the past four "Fast and the Furious" movies, "Moana," "Central Intelligence" and "San Andreas." In fact, out of all the movies he's done in the last five years, which is quite a bit, the only real dud has been "Baywatch." Everything else almost certainly would've done a whole lot worse with anyone else in the lead role, even if the rest of the movie was the exact same. I mean, take a movie like "San Andreas." Given the reviews and the type of disaster movie it was, without Dwayne Johnson it would've probably been closer to "Geostorm" at the box office, which ended with $33 million domestically. Throw in Dwayne Johnson and suddenly it made $155 million. In fact, I'm pretty sure Dwayne Johnson would've been able to push "Geostorm" to at least twice as much if he were the lead star instead of Gerard Butler. The man has an undeniable presence as he's just a joy to watch in pretty much everything he does.

Dwayne Johnson's latest gig here with "Skyscraper" sees him climbing the world's tallest building in order to save his family who is trapped inside. This fictional building in the universe of this movie, which is called The Pearl, is 3,500 feet tall, exceeding the height of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in today's real life world, by 783 feet as Burj Khalifa stands at 2,717 feet tall. The Pearl is also 2.8 times higher than the Empire State Building, the movie's other comparison in a brief scene. The idea of this made me wonder if we'd ever get a building that tall in real life. The answer is that it's quite possible. I say that because I was just on Wikipedia looking at the list of the current tallest buildings in the world and the current top 15 tallest buildings in the world as of this moment were all built within the last 15 years. In fact, 13 of them were built in 2010 or later. Six of them were completed this year or last year with four of those six being built in China. Taking this even further, Wikipedia has a list of 59 buildings with their source being the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH) and 28 of them come from China (that's 47 percent) with 21 of those having been built since 2010. So them Chinese people are quite busy building skyscrapers.

By no means am I an expert on skyscrapers. I just found all of that out right before I typed it because I was searching for the name and correct spelling of Burj Khalifa in Dubai and happened to stumble on this list, so I figured I'd share because I found it fascinating. Unsurprisingly, this movie takes place in China, Hong Kong specifically (where four of these 28 buildings are). So it's quite feasible that some Chinese developer would decide that they want to top Burj Khalifa in the near future. And that's probably the only feasible thing that this movie has in it because the entire run time is full of sheer ridiculousness that you either buy into or you don't. If you walk out of this movie thinking that was the dumbest movie you've seen in a long time, I won't blame you at all. You could list off all of your complaints to me and I would totally empathize with you. But then I would tell you I simply don't care because I had a blast with this movie. The most talked about scene is the infamous jump scene from the trailer that leaves you hanging and that scene has been memed quite a bit on the internet. In fact, I've seen multiple articles detailing all the math and physics behind that jump and if he would make it or not, yet they all make me laugh because who the fetch cares? Of course he makes the jump!

If you're one of those hardcore physics nerds that gets extremely upset every time a movie throws the laws of physics in the trash can, then you better avoid this like the plague because this movie will be your worst nightmare because that jump is far from the only thing that is completely unrealistic. Once we get into the meat of this film, this movie absolutely torches the laws of physics, then stands above them, laughing in their face as those laws writhe painfully on the ground. The movie just doesn't care and I found it as entertaining as heck. I was smiling like a giddy school boy for the whole run time. Yet you have to understand that I've become a bit of a sucker for these dumb Dwayne Johnson action flicks. I had a blast with "San Andreas" in 2015 and I also thoroughly enjoyed the finale of this year's "Rampage." All three movies have completely ridiculous premises, but Dwayne Johnson just owns it every time. He doesn't go in half-heartedly like Bruce Willis often does in all of his dumb action movies. He takes each role completely and gives 100 percent to the project. It doesn't matter if he's battling against a giant earthquake, a giant crocodile and wolf, or a terrorist organization trying to burn down a giant building. He takes his role and he owns. 

Regardless of what you think about this movie, what might go undisputed here are the visuals effects. Because it's Dwayne Johnson and, as I previously mentioned, he's quite the bankable star, Universal went big here and greenlit a budget of $125 million for "Skyscraper," so they had a lot of money to work with here and they certainly made great use of it. The design of the building itself is really neat and they had some pretty sweet rooms when they got to the very top. My favorite room was one with a whole bunch of mirrors in it. They had a lot of fun with various action sequences in that room that were pretty entertaining. There was a also a lot of scenes that gave me quite the adrenaline rush because I have a horrible fear of heights. The highest building I've been on is the Stratosphere in Vegas. I would walk up to one of those windows at the top and immediately walk away because just looking out the window was too much for me. How I ever managed to force myself to ride that roller coaster on the top of the Stratosphere is beyond me. That's probably the craziest thing I've ever done. When Dwayne Johnson was out climbing the building in this movie or doing his other various stunts, I was rather impressed by how the movie was able to replicate that adrenaline.

Now to address the elephant in the room that I've been avoiding up to this point and that is the "Die Hard" comparisons. When the trailers were released, the internet immediately cried out with said "Die Hard" comparisons because the premise of both movies are practically the same. With this, I think half the internet shouted blasphemies for this looking like a rip-off while the other half got excited, saying this could be 2018's "Die Hard." I was more neutral in terms of that as the "Die Hard" comparison didn't really effect me one way or the other. In fact, I just barely watched that movie for the very first time earlier this year after a friend gave it to me as a gift. While it's an extremely entertaining action flick, it also has a premise that I've seen a thousand times. It's a hostage movie. "Criminal Minds" does the hostage story arc practically once a season, as do most other crime shows. Perhaps the hostage premise with a husband saving his family in a giant building makes it fairly unique to "Die Hard," but I still don't mind that premise being reused as long as they do it well. I think "Skyscraper" pulled it off decently. To me it didn't seem like a blatant ripoff of anything. It just seemed like they were having a lot of fun.

Given that said hostage arc is done so often, I find myself paying very close attention to the perpetrator of said situation whenever it's brought up, paying specific attention to the motivations of the individuals. In this instance, who are these group of people that are behind this? What do they have against Dwayne Johnson, his family or any other targets of theirs? Why do they feel these specific actions are the appropriate actions to take? And this is where the movie fails miserably. But I won't tell you why because that would require spoilers. I will say that the actors who played the villains all had a fun time with their villainous roles, but the writing of their characters were pretty bad and the movie also got a bit too cute with all of the twists and turns as far as who was bad and who was good. Being more straight-forward with the villains would've been better because then you could spend at least a little bit of time diving more into their character so that you could effectively create the next Hans Gruber. But it's whatever. I'm not actually going to dock this movie very much for that due to my expectations going in. It's "Skyscraper" for crying out loud. Yeah, it's a dumb movie, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I had a lot of fun with this, so I'm giving it an 8/10.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Welcome back to the Hotel Transylvania! Because nothing says middle of July more than your six-year-old's favorite team of monsters. The first two movies opened in the end of September, which made perfect sense since they had all of October to play in theaters during Halloween season. But this third movie sees the gang going on a summer vacation, so Sony decided to release the movie in the middle of the summer. I suppose that makes sense. But I'm wondering now if they are regretting their decision just slightly given the strong performance of "Incredibles 2" that should hurt their business at least slightly since the animated behemoth is set to make another $15-20 million this weekend in its fifth weekend in theaters. Meanwhile the only family films to open in September and October are "The House with a Clock in Its Walls," "Smallfoot" and "Goosebumps 2." Sony could've bullied out "Smallfoot" to a different time and "Goosebumps 2" is their movie, so it seems like a September release may have worked out better, but it is what it is. Current weekend projections have the movie opening in the mid $40 million range, which is exactly where the first two movies opened, so I suppose this little experiment from Sony may work.

I've never actually reviewed a "Hotel Transylvania" movie on this blog. I thought I reviewed the first movie back in the day, but apparently my blog archives claim I didn't. And I know I didn't review the second one. I'll get to the reasoning there in a second. But I did see both in theaters, so allow me to quickly summarize. I'm not a fan. The first one was a fun idea, but I remember walking out feeling a bit empty. Pixar and Disney have been very good at making their animated movies appeal to both kids and adults, but I felt Sony only managed to hit the kids side of that with "Hotel Transylvania." Said demographic was very pleased and the film was harmless enough, so I wasn't bothered by its existence or success, but it just didn't grab me. The second one was a completely different story. The movie set up a beautiful metaphor for how to treat your child if he or she is different than you. Dracula was so excited to have a grandson, but since his daughter married a human, no one knew if said grandson was human or vampire. It appeared that he was pure human, but Dracula couldn't accept this, so he spent the whole movie trying to bring the monster out of his grandson because sometimes vampires are late-bloomers. On the surface Dracula pretended to be open and accepting, but wasn't until the very end of the movie where he finally decided to love and accept him regardless.

This I thought was a beautiful metaphor for all ages hidden in the sequel to a kid's movie. I especially thought it worked well for straight couples who learn their son or daughter is gay or lesbian. How do you react? Most people's first reactions might be similar to Dracula's reaction, but the movie taught us that the proper reaction was to love and accept your child like Dracula finally did for his grandson at the end of the movie. HOWEVER... the twist ending is that the grandson in the movie is a vampire after all, which I felt completely betrayed the whole film and what it taught and instead turned it into an utter rip-off of "The Incredibles" because the young kid's powers weren't revealed until the very end when the villain was about to win, in almost beat-for-beat fashion as Jack-Jack and Syndrome. I was floored by this in a very negative fashion. I struggled as to how I would approach this in my review and that inner struggle resulted in me never getting around to my review because it didn't seem like it mattered anyways because all of that went straight over the heads of the target audience of young kids. In fact, last year I remember my six-year-old niece being very excited when she saw "Hotel Transylvania 2" on Netflix, which caused me to resign in defeat. Kids loved it, so that was OK.

But again, that doesn't mean I personally have to love it, which is the conflict we again run into with "Summer Vacation." I almost don't want to talk about the plot of the movie because the second I start to describe the basic premise here, you'll know exactly what happens. But yet they added the subtitle of "Summer Vacation" instead of simply titling the movie "Hotel Transylvania 3" and that subtitle gives you the plot of the film, so there's no avoiding this. If you don't pick up the plot by looking at the title, you'll know the whole movie from the trailers. Yes, it could be a situation where we get mad at the trailers for spoiling the film, but the plot of this movie is so incredibly simple, thin and predictable that there's nothing Sony could do differently. You get 10 minutes into this movie and you have the whole movie figured out. Our opening montage sets of this nemesis of Dracula named Abraham Van Helsing who will stop and nothing to kill all monsters, but fails at every attempt. Fast forward to the present and we have Dracula in the Hotel being extremely busy and lonely. He wants to find love, but he thinks that there is no hope for him because monsters only zing once. Then his daughter takes him on a cruise ship where he meets the beautiful human ship captain.

That's our premise. You know how the romance angle is going to turn out the second you learn Dracula is lonely and wants to find a date. The second everyone steps foot on this cruise ship and the ship captain introduces herself, you can pretty easily connect the dots as to who she really is. And if you don't end up connecting those dots, the movie gives the big reveal to who she really is and what the master plan is for this cruise ship. And at that point I don't think we've even made it through 20 minutes of the run time. Thus I don't think me telling you straight up who the captain is and what her intentions are would be even spoiling the movie since it happens so early on. But for the sake of humoring everyone, I'll be silent and let you connect the dots on your own. I don't think you need to have seen "Despicable Me 2" to know how it'll play out with the double-crossing romance, even though it kinda follows that plot line beat for beat as well. Take out Gru and Lucy, insert Dracula Ericka, put the movie on a monster cruise ship, and boom! "Hotel Transylvania 3." Are you mad at me at this point? Have I said too much? Well I'm sorry, but maybe if Sony Animation had any ounce of creativity in their bones, I could write a review without spoiling the film by describing the premise.

Here's the other thing about the plot, though. It barely exists. The movie relies on gag after gag after gag. Most of said gags have absolutely nothing to do with the plot of Dracula and his romance with the ship captain. They're just there to make you laugh. And I suppose that's what the point of comedy is. To make you laugh. But the best comedies have the humor cleverly inserted into the plot of the movie, causing there to be an actual flow. "Hotel Transylvania 3" will spend five minutes progressing the plot forward, then 30 minutes with various tangents of jokes following all the different monsters on the cruise ship and what they're up to, a few more minutes on the plot, then another huge section with jokes, and so on and so forth. And it's the type of juvenile humor of the first movie that just did not connect with me. It was almost impressive to me how consistently every single joke missed the mark. I spent most of the movie trying to come up with some sort of philosophical reasoning as to why humor exists and what elements of a joke cause us to laugh so that I could give a deep analysis of why every joke in the movie completely missed for me. I failed to come up with anything, so instead I have to tell you that the jokes didn't make me laugh.

Thus in the end we have a movie that is nothing more than 97-minutes of jokes strung together while occasionally deviating to forward the paper thin plot that you can see coming before you've even hit the 20-minute mark or before you even walk in if you watched any of the trailers. This movie ended up being painful for me to watch because I started becoming uncomfortable in my chair. It was one of those moments where I felt like I had restless leg syndrome, but was confined into a chair and couldn't walk around, thus I was crying inside, begging the movie to end. When it finally did, I was shocked to see this was only 97 minutes long because it felt a lot longer. However, there is ONE sequence in the movie that surprisingly had me busting up laughing and this is actually kind of a spoiler because it's in the final, so that's your warning. But the final battle between the heroes and our villain was a DJ battle between Jim Gaffigan's Van Helsing and Andy Samberg's Johnny. I busted up laughing, nearly uncontrollably when Johnny played "Good Vibrations," followed by "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "Macarena." I don't know why that sequence made me laugh while literally nothing else did, but for that sequence and that sequence alone, I'm elevating this movie up to a 6/10.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Earlier this year the Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrating its 10th anniversary in mind-blowing fashion with the huge scope and success of "Avengers: Infinity War," which is still my favorite movie of the year. The movie broke the opening weekend record set by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015 and is now the highest-grossing superhero movie ever worldwide as its just the fourth movie ever to cross the $2 billion mark after "Avatar," "Titanic" and "The Force Awakens," although it's going to fall just short of "Black Panther" domestically. Even though I absolutely love "Avengers: Infinity War," I acknowledge that the movie was very emotionally heavy, which is why I think "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was perfectly timed. It allows us to take a bit of a breather from that emotional weight and relax in the theaters as we figure out where Ant-Man and The Wasp were while the rest of the Avengers were battling Thanos. Did they just not get invited to the party or did they have other things going on during that they had to deal with? Even though "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was designed to be smaller scale in terms of the box office, the movie does bring its own milestone with it. This is the 20th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's pretty crazy to think about.

I'm admittedly a bit late in getting this review out. I'm a huge fan of the MCU, like many others living on Earth, and thus I usually enjoy heading out opening weekend to see their latest film. This release, though, happened to land when I had family in town for the Independence Day weekend. For whatever reason, a trip to the movie theater wasn't on the schedule for us, so I waited for $5 Tuesday to see this. Then I didn't get around to writing my review earlier this week because I had to deal with Drake's album on my weekly Billboard Analysis segment over on my music blog. So you're getting this review a full week after the movie itself came. Because of that, I'm going to take a few liberties in discussing some plot details that I may have otherwise avoided if I had got this review out a week ago since most of you who were planning on seeing this have probably already done so. This won't be a full-out spoiler review, but if you were planning on seeing "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but just haven't gotten around to it and want everything regarding the plot to remain secret, then perhaps consider taking a rain check on reading this review. Just know that I really enjoyed the first "Ant-Man," and while this sequel doesn't quite hit those heights, it's still quite the blast.

Regarding that first movie, I remember that I had to participate in a lot of persuading while the market campaign was being rolled out. Everyone seemed to think the idea alone was really dumb and not a lot of said people were convinced otherwise when the trailers came out. I thought the trailers were quite genius, but outside that my big plug was that in Marvel we trust. Unlike the DCEU at the moment, the MCU has their formula down and they know how to please audiences. So why should we assume that a movie of theirs is going to be awful just because you don't like the premise? People seemed to forget that just a year before Marvel made a movie surrounding a talking tree and a raccoon into one of the most beloved Marvel movies. So can't we have more faith in Ant-Man, who happened to be one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics? Luckily when the movie itself rolled around, I was proven right and audiences bought in. Despite the movie having the second lowest opening weekend of any MCU film, ahead of only "The Incredible Hulk," reviews were strong and word of mouth spread fast, leading it to what still stands as the second highest multiplier in the MCU as it wound up with $180 million domestically following a $57 million start.

The movie itself still stands as one of the funniest movies in the MCU for me as the level of creativity was so high with what they were able to do with shrinking element of the movie. Sadly Edgar Wright left the project during production due to creative differences with Marvel stemming from the fact that the movie had been in production since "Iron Man." Seven years later, Marvel had different ideas as far as where they wanted to take the movie as they were wrapping up phase II. But I still think the Edgar Wright influence with the final product was very strong as it still felt like an Edgar Wright superhero movie. If you've ever seen any of Edgar Wright's movies, you'll know exactly what I mean because he has a very distinct style that is extremely entertaining. I think that influence was able to push "Ant-Man" even higher in terms of style and humor than Peyton Reed, the director who took over for Edgar Wright, would've been able to do on his own. And that leads into "Ant-Man and the Wasp," which saw Peyton Reed in charge from day one as he was able to create his own movie rather than playing clean-up after the departure of Edgar Wright. And with this follow-up, I think he proved himself to be a very capable director.

"Ant-Man" was a very small-scale movie, which perhaps made it subtly brilliant given the nature of the premise. While other Marvel movies seemed to be obsessed with going bigger and better than the previous films, "Ant-Man" was content to take a step back and give us a localized heist film that you may have forgotten was even part of the MCU had it not been for a few references here and there to the Avengers, who Mr. Hank Pym was not a huge of. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" does remain smaller in scale than some of our recent MCU films, but at the same time it feels larger in scope that "Ant-Man" did. The premise starts off by following up on Scott Lang's perspective following the events of "Civil War." As a reminder about that, he was on Captain America's side of the feud, and unlike some of his teammates, it turns out he wasn't as good at the whole fugitive game. He got caught and has thus spent the past two years on house arrest. On top of that, Hank Pym is mad at him for stealing his suit and joining the Avengers in a silly escapade while it's mostly implied that his new girlfriend Hope Van Dyne is mad at him because he didn't invite her to come along. All of these combine to essentially give us the reasoning behind where he was during "Infinty War."

While it's true that the timeline is not 100 percent clear during the movie itself as to how close the events of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" overlap with "Infinity War," we do know that it takes place right before. There's further discussion to be had on on that subject, but that's all I'm willing to give away in this review. We can talk details later if you want. But the specific mission that our crew has in this movie is searching for Janet Van Dyne, Hank's wife and Hope's mother, who is stuck in the Quantum Realm and, as we learned in the last movie, may not be as dead as Hank originally thought, which leads to new scientific ideas of Quantum Realm stuff that Hank is eager to explore and learn about, depending on how this search for Janet goes. Also as we learned in the last movie, the final end credits scene to be exact, Hank has finally allowed his daughter Hope to use The Wasp suit, or a new one that he has built for her. Thus leading us to the movie's title of "Ant-Man and THE WASP." Despite Marvel having plenty of female superheroes and characters, Evangeline Lilly has the honor of being the first one of them to be in the title of her film, barely beating out next year's "Captain Marvel." Thus gives this movie another significant achievement in the history of the MCU.

The dynamic between Ant-Man and The Wasp is the strongest element of this movie. Despite not being on the best terms to start the movie off, Hank and Hope quickly learn that they need the help of Scott to find Janet because there's a possibility that she might be communicating with Scott after he went to the Quantum Realm and came back in the previous movie. So they set their differences aside and move forward with their mission. During the whole process, Hope proves that her dad should've trusted her with the suit a long time ago rather than finding Scott because she is a master with this Wasp suit. All the best action in the movie involves her kicking some villain trash as a complete boss, immediately making her one of the most likable characters in the MCU. Evangeline Lilly sells this so well and I'm super happy that she's achieved this huge break because I've been a huge fan of her's since she played Kate in "LOST." Yeah, she was invited to play Tauriel in those disastrous Hobbit movies and some might remember that she showed up in a movie called "Real Steel" before that, but this is her huge cinematic break as she's now headlining a Marvel film. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie, you're going to walk out loving The Wasp because she's awesome.

Personally I also loved the dynamic of this whole team. The Wasp is the leader, but Scott Lang as Ant-Man has the most progression as he's spent the first two movies, as well as his gig in "Civil War," figuring out how to be a superhero because that's previously never been his thing whereas Hope has spent her whole life training for battle, but being held back after what happened to her mother. So it makes perfect sense that she's the battle-trained hero in the movie whereas Scott is still stumbling around, trying to get a hold of things. It makes for a well balanced dynamic. On top of that we have Michael Pena's character of Luis playing the comedic relief while also getting a bit more to do in this movie regarding the action sequences and of course Michael Douglas owns the character of the old Dr. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and the one acting as the mentor for Scott and Hope while also being the one who is the expertise regarding the scientific element. When he's rambling off all of his science stuff, Michael Douglas does a great job making it all seem interesting. Added into the mix we also have Laurence Fishburne, a former colleague of Hank Pym who was best known for being Goliath, a fun tid-bit for comic book fans, before the two of them had a falling out.

In terms of story, searching for Janet Van Dyne feels like the natural progression for this particular franchise and there's so much fun to be had along the way with all the set pieces and the creative use of the shrinking and enlarging abilities. It's fun seeing them shrink their building they've been working in into a suitcase size thing and it's also fun to see the use of things like a Pez dispenser and a salt shaker as a weapon after enlarging them. If we're getting nit-picky with things, there's no moment in this movie that is quite as epic as the first movie's battle on the toy train set and the first movie also did a better job of having fun with the characters being super small. But there's still a lot of fun to be had with what they did come up with. The biggest negative of the movie, though, which seems like a broken record at this point with the MCU, comes with the villains. I want to make it perfectly clear, though, that I'm not talking about Ghost, who we see in the trailers. I loved her character, her backstory, her motivations and what she was able to do. Hannah John-Kamen, who is quietly having a great year, played her excellently. What I wasn't a fan of was the idea that this movie essentially had three villains and that felt like a bit too much. We could've stuck with Ghost.

The two other villains I'm talking about are Walton Goggins' character of Sonny Burch and Randall Park's FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. Walton Goggins had a lot of fun playing his character, but he was the mustache-twirling style of villain who really had no reasons for what he did. He just wanted to steal the technology that Hank and Hope had. And the story arc of the FBI chasing down Scott during this whole thing was funny at times. Randall Park had me laughing quite a bit. But as a whole it added a bit of extra fluff to the plot that didn't need to be there. The plot for "Ant-Man" was simple and concise as a fun heist movie. The plot for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was a little too crowded and held the movie back from having even more fun that they already had. But overall this is another solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn't hit the heights of some of their recent movies, but it didn't need to. From day one this was supposed to be a fun, simple adventure to act as a place-holder while we wait for the Infinity War finale next year and it delivered on that. I don't know how it fits into my MCU rankings as a whole, but in terms of Phase III, it slides right in ahead of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Black Panther" while being behind the rest. My grade for it is an 8/10.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Movie Preview: July 2018

The box office is booming in 2018 as a record-breaking $1.269 billion June, which bested 2013's previous June record of $1.246 billion, led to a record-breaking second quarter for the box office with $3.328 billion. The previous record for a second quarter of the year was in 2015 with $3.086 billion. This means that 2018 is still on a record-breaking year-to-date pace with $6.264 billion as of July 2, just over 9 percent ahead of both 2017 and 2016. June itself was yet again propelled by a Disney-distributed film as "Incredibles 2" pulled in $425.5 million, which was followed by Universal's "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," which earned $245.9 million in June, and Warner Bros.' "Ocean's 8,"  which earned $112.3 million. Holdovers from previous months came in next with "Solo: A Star Wars Story," "Deadpool 2" and "Avengers: Infinity" followed by decent mid-sized totals from "Tag" ($39.2 million), "Hereditary" ($38.6 million) and "Adrift" ($30.0 million). Now we move forward to July, which is traditionally the biggest month of the summer for the box office. In fact, dating back to 1982, which is the earliest year Box Office Mojo has box office totals for, there's only been five years where July hasn't ruled the summer: 1983, 1984, 1987, 2014 and 2015. Can 2018 continue the trend?

July 4th - 8th-

With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday, it makes for a long five-day weekend at the box office, yet only one of our two new releases will be taking advantage of that and that movie is NOT Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, which will open on Friday, July 6. One of the biggest questions that fans had coming out of "Avengers: Infinity War" was where were Ant-Man and The Wasp? In fact, Marvel themselves posed this question with the cast of "Infinity War" in a teaser video advertising the release of the Official Trailer #2 back in May. This question will most likely be answered in this sequel to 2015's "Ant-Man," which sees Evangeline Lilly's character of The Wasp get an increased role after a post-credit scene in "Ant-Man" saw her father finally give her the suit his wife used back in the day. In 2015, "Ant-Man" was actually Marvel's second lowest opening weekend with just $57.2 million, ahead of only 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." However, strong reviews and positive word of mouth helped it hold on quite well as it ended up with Marvel's fourth highest multiplier. Chances are that this goodwill from the first movie will lead to a much higher opening weekend, potentially closer to the likes of the $85 million of both "Doctor Strange" and "Thor: The Dark World."

The movie that will open right on Wednesday July 4 is the fourth movie in The Purge franchise titled The First Purge. It's been a bit of a trendy thing with horror franchises to go back and tell the origins of said franchise, which is what "Ouija: Origin of Evil" and "Annabelle Creation" both did. The strategy worked out quite well for both of those movies in terms of audience reaction, so The Purge franchise will try its luck with this by telling how this purge began. The idea here is that for one day a year, for the span of 12 hours, all crime becomes legal, which basically becomes an excuse for everyone to go kill each other, providing a gore fest for audiences. Because, you know, murder is the first crime you would think of if all crime became legal. Anyways, this premise has turned out to be quite fruitful for this franchise as each of the previous three films have opened around $30 million, while finishing around $70 million. "The Purge: Election Year" was predicted to experience a drop-off in 2016, but it wound up as the highest grossing film with $79 million, so who knows what "The First Purge" will do. Opening weekend comparisons might be tough with this being the first movie in the franchise to open on a Wednesday, but anywhere from $50-75 million overall seems likely here.

July 13th - 15th-

After being under-served for the majority of 2018, family audiences got rewarded big time in June with the arrival of "Incredibles 2" and now they will be rewarded again in July with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. The biggest thing that "Hotel Transylvania 3" has going against it is opening in the shadow of "Incredibles 2," which will still be going strong in theaters at this point. However, there's enough of a gap there that the two movies will probably be able to survive on their own. Much like the title suggests, this third movie has the gang moving away from the hotel of monsters for the time being in order to go on a summer vacation, which they will be spending on a monster cruise ship. The drama in the film surrounds the ship's captain Ericka, who sparks a quick romance with Dracula that's most likely too good to be true. Also like the movie's premise, the franchise takes a break from it's typical September opening that has been rather fruitful in order to try their luck in the summer. Thus the comparisons to the first two films might be a bit difficult, but those two movies both opened in the $40 million range while finishing around $150-170 million. So a safe prediction would be that "Hotel Transylvania 3" follows suit by hitting those same ranges.

The biggest story in July will be the amount of action movies being released. Arguably we've already had two at this point as "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "The First Purge" both could be considered action films to a certain extent. But even in ignoring those two movies, we'll have three major action films opening in the final three weeks of July. The first of those three is Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper. There's been a lot of comparisons that people have brought up here to the 1988 classic action film "Die Hard," which saw Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer, trying to save his wife and others who were taken hostage by Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. "Skyscraper" sees Dwayne Johnson, a security guard, trying to save his family, who are trapped in a giant skyscraper in Hong Kong. The skyscraper is on fire and Dwayne Johnson has been framed for it. So he needs to escape capture in addition to trying to save his family. Thus the comparison to "Die Hard." In terms of the box office, it's a foolish thing to underestimate Dwyane Johnson. Recently he's led "Rampage," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Central Intelligence" all to $35 million openings, thus that seems like a fair range for "Skyscraper" to also hit.

July 20th - 22nd-

A potential dark horse hit this summer could come this weekend with the musical Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! Recent box office successes have proven that musicals are very much in fashion today. "Les Miserables" in 2012, "Into the Woods" in 2014, "La La Land" in 2016 and "The Greatest Showman" last year were all huge successes financially, earning over $125 million each at the domestic box office, with "The Greatest Showman" nearing $175 million, despite only opening to $8.8 million. That's a good sign for this "Mamma Mia!" sequel, meaning that it could be great counter-programming to all these giant blockbusters and action films. "Mamma Mia!" started out as a Broadway musical in 1999 and is a musical based on the songs of the popular group ABBA. The musical has been immensely popular as it had a 14-year run on Broadway and is still currently running in London's West End, making it one of the longest running musicals in both places. One could argue the movie adaptation in 2008 had more mixed reaction, but it still had an incredible box office run of $144 million after opening to $27 million. Musicals don't often get sequels, making "Here We Go Again!" a bit unique in that aspect, but a solid run of $100+ million should be expected.

Our second big action movie of the month is Denzel Washington's The Equalizer 2. Denzel has had a long, prestigious career in Hollywood with enormous box office success and lots of awards success, with eight acting nominations at the Oscars, which include two wins for his work in "Glory" and "Training Day." Despite all these accolades, "The Equalizer 2" will include a first for him. The first time he's ever done a sequel. That sounds strange, but if you glance over his filmography, it's true. And this sequel follows a very successful action film in 2014 in "The Equalizer," which surprised with a $34 million opening and $101 million overall. Both films are directed by Antoine Fuqua, who Denzel also teamed up with in "Training Day" and "The Magnificent Seven." In addition to being successful, "The Equalizer" was also a great crowd-pleaser and the type of action film where a sequel makes sense, with Denzel as an action star also making sense. Since 2000, Denzel has only had two wide releases that haven't hit at least $20 million on their opening weekend and that's out of a total of 18 movies. That suggests a lot of goodwill for this movie. The only thing working against this is the competition with "Skyscraper" the previous week and "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" the next week.

The final movie to talk about this weekend is the movie that might make the smallest dent out of the wide releases in July and that is Unfriended: Dark Web. This is a sequel to the 2015 movie "Unfriended," a movie you probably forgot existed. Even if you do remember it, it's probably not the movie you were expecting to get a sequel. However, it was actually decently received as it holds a positive 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and made $32 million domestically on a $1 million budget. That's an excellent profit for a movie its size and thus justifies the sequel. "Unfriended" is not to be confused with last year's "Friend Request," which was a horribly received movie that only made $3.8 million. The idea of "Unfriended" is that a group of online chat room friends found themselves haunted by a supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. "Unfriended: Dark Web" follows a similar premise with a teen coming into the possession of a new laptop with all sorts of dark videos present. Said teen and his group of friends start getting haunted by a force claiming to be the previous owner. An opening around the first movie's $15 million opening would be a success for this film. But even if it only opened to $5-10 million, that would still probably be good enough.

July 27th - 29th-

The final action movie of the month should be the biggest of the three major action movies and also could challenge "Ant-Man and the Wasp" for the biggest overall July release and that is Mission: Impossible - Fallout. The Mission: Impossible franchise began in 1966 with the original TV series that lasted seven seasons. It had a brief, yet unsuccessful revival for two seasons in the 1980's before finally being brought back to life in 1996 with this current film franchise starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. The first two movies had mixed reviews, but were major hits at the box office. The third movie also had lukewarm reviews, but was a bit of a dud at the box office as it's still the lowest grossing in the franchise, even when adjusted for ticket price inflation. It's the recent two movies that have really lit the franchise on fire as both "Ghost Protocol" and "Rogue Nation" did great at the box office and stand at an excellent 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Thus "Fallout" comes to theaters with a lot of excitement based on this goodwill from the previous two movies. "Fallout" also brings back "Rogue Nation" director Christopher McQuarrie, as well as most of the previous cast members while adding Henry Cavill to the mix, all of which should lead to the biggest opening yet for the franchise.

In case you thought there was only one superhero movie this month, we have a second one quietly sneaking in at the end of the month and that is the animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. The Teen Titans have been around in the comics since 1964 as they first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold #54." At that point, they comprised of Kid Flash, Robin, Aqualad and shortly thereafter Wonder Girl. There's been many iterations of the Teen Titans since then, but this animated movie, which is actually the first theatrically released Teen Titans movie, is based on the animated series "Teen Titans Go!," which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2013 and has had mixed reaction, but has nevertheless produced over 200 episodes as they recently began season 5, so they must be doing something right. This movie stars the original voice actors from the show voicing Beast Boy, Robin, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire, while adding Nicholas Cage as Superman (yes, that's finally happening), Will Arnett as Slade Wilson, Kristen Bell as Jade Wilson, Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, Halsey as Wonder Woman and Lil Yachty as Green Lantern. The plot is a bit meta as the Titans are trying to get their own movie made, but aren't taken seriously enough, so they find a nemesis in Slade Wilson to fight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Uncle Drew Review

When I first saw the advertising for this movie, I honestly thought it was a joke. I can't remember if it was a movie poster or a teaser trailer, but I looked at it and thought it was a fan-made joke. Because there's no way they'd actually turn that Kyrie Irving Pepsi campaign into a feature-length movie, right? I mean, it was a clever idea for a series of commercials. Kyrie Irving dresses up as an old man and goes out on the street ball court, shocking everyone around him that an old man is kicking their trash. That's all there is to it. No need to extend it to 100 minutes. But yet here we are. This isn't joke. Pepsi teamed up with an actual film production company in Temple Hill Productions, got Summit Entertainment, a subsidiary of Lionsgate, to distribute, and here we are. And in case you forgot this was a thing by Pepsi, we start by "Pepsi Productions presents..." And then just to make sure you remember that this is a Pepsi thing, Pepsi products are all over in this movie. The sheer volume of Pepsi product placement is ridiculous. I felt like I was watching a 100-minute long commercial for Pepsi that was made purely to sell Pepsi rather than to entertain audiences. Thus it's been a while since I've seen such an unashamed money grab, but it is what it is, so let's talk about it.

First and foremost, if you can look beyond the Pepsi advertising, this is a movie made for fans of the NBA. If you don't know who Kyrie Irving is or Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson, you're going to see the wrong movie. Shaq is in here, too, but everyone knows Shaq, so that's beside the point. Also, if you don't watch Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter every night and you don't know what an ESPN 30 for 30 is, you're also going to be a bit miffed by this movie. For that I give this movie full credit for knowing who their target audience is and pandering specifically to them. It's what made me love "Space Jam" so much growing up. All the basketball references and basketball ties shoved into one movie was glorious. That and the whole Looney Toons thing. But mostly the basketball. I loved 90's basketball and thus "Space Jam" was my movie because it combined everything I love about the 90's into one movie. I see critics today hating on "Space Jam" today. In fact, it's become a very trendy movie to tear to pieces among YouTube critics. But I say screw them all. I still love "Space Jam." And, well, I have to admit that "Uncle Drew" could be this generation's "Space Jam" with how well they pander to today's modern basketball audience.

But yet I'm going to be that grumpy old man for most of this review because I thought this was really stupid. And we start right with the plot. If you're trying to rack your brain in thinking about how to turn a 5-minute commercial into a 100-minute movie, yeah that's the problem I imagine the script writers had, too. Yes, we've seen time and again where creative writers take a simple idea that you wouldn't think would translate into a movie and somehow make it work. "The LEGO Movie" is a great example of that. A movie based on LEGOs? How do you make that work? Oh. That's how. So it's possible that with a good team of writers, a great basketball movie could've been made from these Uncle Drew commercials. But after seeing the movie, I'm envisioning the writing room for this movie and all I see is conflict and confusion as the team of writers are trying their best to come up with something clever, but just come up blank. Because this is one of the most poorly written sports comedies I've seen, with just about every basketball movie cliche in the book. It's so poorly written that I almost want to warn you of spoilers before I introduce the plot of the movie because the second the movie is set up, you can predict exactly where it's going and you won't be wrong.

If you want to turn away, then feel free to. But I'm going to do said introduction of the plot anyways. The movie starts by shoving a whole ton of exposition in your face by means of a fictional 30 for 30 about Uncle Drew and his glory days in the Rucker Classic, an actual street basketball tournament played at Rucker Park in New York City. But anyways, in this fictional setting, Uncle Drew and his team completely disappeared before the final game, hence the movie sets up the mystery of Uncle Drew. But despite the movie being called "Uncle Drew," the central character in the movie is not Uncle Drew. It's a man named Dax, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, best known for "Get Out." Dax's rival in this movie is Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. Well, Dax grew up watching Michael Jordan and being inspired by him to play basketball, like most kids from the 80's and 90's. But when Dax got into playing, he ended up quitting because Mookie blocked his shot in one tournament game and left him scarred. So fast forward to the present day, Dax works in a shoe store and coaches a team led by Aaron Gordon, who plays Casper in this movie. But Mookie walks in, steals his team, steals his girlfriend, and leaves him with nothing. So now Dax goes out searching for Uncle Drew.

Despite this being a basketball movie, a good portion of the movie is actually a road trip. Because of course Dax accidentally stumbles on Uncle Drew, watches him do his Uncle Drew things from the Pepsi commercials, then convinces Uncle Drew to play for him in this Rucker Classic so that he can beat Mookie and win the prize money in order to get his life back. And of course Uncle Drew agrees, but it has to be Uncle Drew's team with Uncle Drew's players. So one by one, we go on this road trip recruiting Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Shaq, all of whom are dressed up like old men like Uncle Drew. I didn't keep track of how long this road trip lasted, but this almost become more of a road trip movie than a basketball movie with a whole bunch of different jokes and gags along the way, all involving this group of five current and former NBA players dressed up like old men doing old people jokes. The movie tries to play out some drama with the recruiting process, but it ends up being really easy to get everyone to join, despite Reggie Miller being blind and Nate Robinson being in a wheelchair, while Chris Webber and Shaq haven't played basketball in years. Chris Webber is a preacher with a crazy wife, played by Lisa Leslie, and Shaq is a karate teacher.

Every step along the way, the plot is clunky. The humor sometimes works, but I wasn't laughing as much as I wanted to. Whenever the movie tries to drama, it blows up in the movie's face by being cringe-worthy. However, despite all of this, what does make the movie a bit endearing as how fun our cast of basketball players are having. They're not that great at acting, but Kyrie Irving, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Shaq and Lisa Leslie are having the time of their lives playing these old characters. I especially loved every moment with Chris Webber and Lisa Leslie. Eventually we do get to the tournament at the end and it's also a lot of fun watching this team play, especially our former players. I didn't care much for Kyrie Irving himself playing, but seeing Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Shaq on the court again was a lot of fun. Eventually Lisa Leslie steps in and she's fun to watch, too. The problem here is this plays into every basketball cliche. You know what's going to happen during the tournament. You know who they're going to face in the finale. And given the movie's setup, you know exactly how the final seconds of the game are going to play out, thus there's no actual moments of surprise or tension.

I actually think my biggest problem with the movie, outside the horribly written script, was the huge focus on this Dax vs. Mookie conflict. Lil Rel Howery and Nick Kroll did great with what they were given, but I didn't like how their characters were written and I had no investment in their story arc. I thought Tiffany Haddish, the original girlfriend who dumps Dax the second his life falls apart, was extremely annoying and way too over-the-top. Thus the only real actor in the movie I cared for was Dax's new girlfriend Maya, played by Erica Ash. What saves the movie is all the basketball players having a lot of fun with their roles. They were fun to watch when they got to play again and they did have fun being these old characters and making old man jokes the whole time. They weren't the best actors, but they didn't need to be. They had fun and I had fun watching them. There's also a lot of basketball references and jokes that made me laugh. All of that humor will go right over the heads of non-NBA fans, but being a fan of the NBA myself caused me to chuckle quite a bit at said references. I started this review by comparing this to "Space Jam," but I actually think a better comparison is the Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard." On that note, I'm going to give "Uncle Drew" a 6/10.