Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Last Sharknado: It's About Time Review

Ha ha, get it? Because it's about time they finished this silly franchise. Six movies is plenty, especially since most people jumped off board after the first or second one, if they even bought into the idea in the first place. Oh, but wait! In addition to the subtitle "It's About Time" being a reflection of this franchise finally ending, this last Sharknado is literally about time. As in time travel. See? They're so funny! OK, you probably all caught that double meaning the second you saw the title, but I think half of the fun with these Sharknado films are those subtitles. "Sharkado 2: The Second One." "Sharkando 3: Oh He-- No!" "Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens" (which was released the year after "The Force Awakens"). "Sharknado 5: Global Swarming" (released during the same summer as Al Gore's second global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power"). And finally we have our sixth one that we're talking about today, "The Last Sharknado: It's About Time." Now this is a franchise where you're either in or you're out. And you probably know exactly where you stand the second you watch 5-10 minutes of any of the movies, but since I haven't yet talked about this franchise on this blog, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to get my thoughts out.

Sharknado was a franchise that began back in 2013 and became quite the phenomenon. Dare I say... it took the world by storm? Because, yeah, making an purposely bad movie that ends up being so bad that it's good is a tricky thing to do. There's probably hundreds, if not thousands, of movies where the filmmakers tried to make an enjoyably bad movie, but failed miserably and wound up with a movie that's simply really bad, resulting in something that was forgotten about shortly after release and only is remembered briefly when it shows up in one of those 10-movie packs in the $5 bin at your local Walmart because that's literally the only way anyone might be tricked into buying it as no sane person would do so otherwise. There's also plenty of examples of movies where a person honestly tried to make a good movie, but failed so miserably that the final result ended up being hilarious for reasons unintentional to the original filmmakers. "The Room" by Tommy Wiseau is a classic example of that and has hit such a high cult status that a movie called "The Disaster Artist" was made last year about the making of that movie. "Sharknado" is neither of these. It's an example of an attempt at a purposely bad movie that was hilariously awesome. And it worked.

In fact, it worked so well that the first movie has become cemented into our culture to the point where it basically stands side by side with "Jaws" in terms of how iconic it is in shark cinema, but for completely opposite reasons. "Jaws" is a perfect example of a GOOD shark movie while "Sharknado" is a perfect example of a BAD shark movie. Love it or hate it, you've definitely heard about it. Which proves my point of its iconic status. If we were to do a "Family Feud" style of survey where we asked people to name a shark movie, "Jaws" and "Sharknado" would most assuredly be the top two answers on the board. When it comes to a critical standpoint, I can't in good conscience give any of these six Sharknado movies a pass because the acting is horrible, the story is horrible, the movie has no sense of logic or common sense, the effort of including science in the movies is always embarrassing, and the special effects are literally some of the worst you'll ever see when it comes to a movie made post-2010. These are literally horrendously awful movies. But that's kinda the point. If you want a serious shark movie that actually tries, go re-watch "Jaws" or check out recent shark movies "The Shallows," "47 Meters Down" or "The Meg." "Sharknado" is for turning off your brain and enjoying.

I never actually watched any of these movies live on TV until now, but I'm one of those people who was immediately on board the second I heard of it, even though I think it took me a while before I actually watched it. I may not have even seen it until the second one came out a year later in 2014. But I loved it. In fact, I remember really loving both of the first two movies. Even though the production quality was pure garbage, I was highly entertained from start to finish at the pure absurdity of it all. I mean, who wouldn't be entertained at a tornado full of sharks flying everywhere with exaggerated deaths left and right while our heroes, led almost single-handedly by Ian Ziering's character of Fin Shepard, use pretty much anything and everything as weapons to stop these sharks? For crying out loud, the man jumped through a shark with a chainsaw at one point. The first time I saw that, I was practically dying from laughter. And when a movie makes you laugh that hard, and consistently does so throughout the first two movies, there has to be a lot of credit given, despite the previously acknowledged flaws. There's a reason why the first movie has an 82 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes while the second one isn't too far behind at 59 percent.

But then there's the case of the rest of the movies. Because, yes, they kept on doing this once a year, even though the novelty of it wore off pretty quickly and many people don't even realize the sequels exist. I personally admit to being one of said individuals who just didn't care that much after the first two. I never even watched any of them past the second one until this summer. Back in April I excitedly showed a group of my friends "2001: A Space Odyssey" in honor of its 50th anniversary. Sadly most of them hated it, which made me upset a bit since it's my all-time favorite sci-fi film. But it sparked this idea to go watch a different type of sci-fi film. This Sharknado franchise. So over the course of the summer, we watched all six of these Sharknado films, ending with the sixth one last night, which initially debuted on the Syfy Channel on Sunday evening. And yes, we all thoroughly enjoyed all of them. In fact, this group setting is important to note because a big part of the reason why we enjoyed them is the camaraderie among us friends. This franchise is designed to gather a group of friends together and laugh at the absurdity of it all. If you watch the movies by yourself at night on Netflix (the first five are there), I don't think it's going to be the same.

On the flip side of that, the biggest problem I have with the Sharknado sequels, like an actual problem that was detrimental to my entertainment, because at this point I don't care how poorly made they are, is that it's really hard to remember which events happened in which movie. And it's not like I had a year in between to forget the specific events. They're all fresh on my mind. When we watched the fourth and fifth movies, we had new people join us and I honestly had a really hard time giving a basic outline of what happened chronologically in the previous movies that, in some cases, we had watched the week before. A new character would show up, requiring a quick explanation of who they are and which movie they're from, and I struggled. I had to turn to IMDb to remind myself which side characters were in which movie while looking up a Wikipedia summary of who the characters actually were, even though the faces looked familiar. Thus each of the movies were all extremely enjoyable in the moment, making for some excellent summer memories of 2018 in going through all of them, but now that it's been a month since we watched the fifth and when this sixth one debuted on TV, all the Sharknado sequels blend together to make one giant cluster of Sharknadoism.

All of that leads us into the specifics with this final movie that I have listed here in my review title. At this point I feel I should re-title this review to read "Franchise Review: Sharknado" or something like that since this has been more of a review of the whole franchise, but eh. You get the point. Quite honestly, this final movie is one where I have very mixed feelings with. On one hand, whereas the first five movies all clump together, making me think that the original "Sharknado" is really the only one that needs to be watched, this final movie is one where it's definitely easy to separate from the rest because it's the first movie where they added a bit of creativity to the plot instead of simply trying to one-up themselves with bigger and more disastrous Sharknados. This is the movie where they went back in time, giving us a non-stop stream of "Back to the Future" references the whole movie. And not only did they go back in time, they went through a whole bunch of different time periods, beginning with the dinosaurs and progressively going forward until the year 20013. And no, that's not a type. They go 18,000 years into the future before finally ending in 2013, where this all began. And for that I give this movie a lot of props instead of rinsing, washing and repeating the previous movies.

On the other hand, the movie ended up being a Sharknado highlight reel. I was super excited for Sharknados and dinosaurs to come together. And while those moments were glorious, especially since it was a Megalodon Sharknado, it lasted only 10-15 minutes before we were onto the next time period. For the first half of the movie, the individual time periods were a lot of fun with some hilarious sequences, but they felt like more of a series of Sharknado short films instead of a fully realized idea. Each of the individual time periods could've been expanded into a full Sharknado movie and the individual movies would've been much better that the small sequences crammed into one movie. At the very least, what they could've done is edit things down into two or three main sequences instead of the total of eight different time periods that they ended up with. I would've probably gone for dinosaurs, Merlin, and the Wild West because those were the three best segments of the movie that they could've done the most with if they had more time in each segment. Then after going through all three of those time periods, we could've nicely wrapped things back up in 2013 like they did, because that was a nice send-off to this franchise.

The other major problem with this crammed plot that I speak of is that those three best sequences are all towards the first half of the movie. They do go to the Revolutionary War in between Merlin and the Wild West, but that part comes off as unhilariously awkward. The second half of the movie is actually kinda boring. When we went to the 70's, the 90's and 20013, I found myself not really caring for the movie. I think a part of that was because the opening title sequence was animated and included brief sequences of Abraham Lincoln Shark Hunter and Nazi Sharks. That had me excited because I thought those were going to be in the REAL movie, so I spent the whole movie excitedly anticipating them, only to feel robbed that they weren't in the movie, but were just in that opening title sequence. As if they ran out of budget with the first half of production, so they decided to go even more low-budget by hanging out in the 70's and 90's because that was easier to accomplish rather than delivering on what they initially planned on. That and their rules for time travel made no sense and there was a story between Fin Shepard and his son Gil that was really hard to follow, but because this was a Sharknado movie, I found myself not being too bothered by those last two points.

When push comes to shove, I've decided that I'll simply stick to "Legends of Tomorrow" when it comes to time traveling shows because "The Last Sharknado" followed a similar formula as "Legends" by jumping through time. In fact, every sequence in "The Last Sharknado" is a time period that "Legends" has spent a significant time in. But "Legends" is way more thought out, has much better writing and acting, and is more cohesive and organized rather than just being a whole ton of small segments crammed into one 90-minute movie just because they can. Given that we watched this movie on TV with commercials, the commercial breaks ended up derailing the movie quite a bit and the second half of the movie wasn't interesting enough to completely grab our attention back. We got lost in conversation during the commercials and the movie felt like it was interrupting our conversations when it came back on. So perhaps wait until this shows up on Netflix to watch it? As far as a grade goes, I can't realistically give any of these movies higher than a 5/10 because of how bad they are, so that's why I'm creating my own specialized Sharnado scale. A 10 Shark score equals laugh out loud hilarious while a 1 Shark score equals bored to tears. This final Sharnado gets a 6 Shark score.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians Review

Summer season is winding down and mid- to late-August is often more of a dumping ground than anything as studios typically save their more anticipated releases for earlier summer months or holiday/awards seasons at the end of the year, leaving general audiences in a bit of an awkward position in searching for quality movie trips during this in between phase. When I was preparing my August movie preview at the beginning of the month, I wasn't exactly sure what I personally was wanting to go see. I even considered taking this weekend off since I wasn't super interested in seeing a romance film in "Crazy Rich Asians," nor was I super interested in "Mile 22," which seems like a generic action film, or "Alpha," which has bounced around the schedule for a long time and seems destined to fail. With "Crazy Rich Asians" specifically, I knew the book had a huge following and so I was content to let said fan base run out to see their romance movie, which I assumed would be good enough to satisfy them, but to me it didn't look like anything super special. A been there, done that romance movie that didn't seem like it would bring anything new to the table, so why bother when I'm not really a part of the target audience? I mean, romance films aren't exactly my cup of tea.

Yet here I am reviewing "Crazy Rich Asians" anyways after seeing it on opening night, which in this case was Wednesday, August 15, instead of Friday, August 17. Why the change of heart? Easy. The reviews. This movie was standing at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after the initial reviews came in. As I'm currently typing this, it's officially certified fresh at 93 percent with 115 views counted. That could fluctuate a bit as the weekend moves on, but that number of reviews is enough to make me confident that it'll remain in that region when the dust completely settles. So that moved me from uninterested to curious. This is still a genre that I'm extremely harsh on, so I wasn't fully convinced that I would love it, but I do try to maintain an open mind. If the reaction to a movie is positive, I try not to be the type of person who ignorantly skips a movie anyways just because I didn't like the idea or the trailers didn't grab me. It's good to give movies a chance and formulate your own opinion after having seen the movie rather than before. So with nothing else interesting on the schedule, especially since "Mile 22" and "Alpha" don't even open until Friday, anyways, I thought, what the heck. I'll give this a shot. And I'm glad I did because this is the new gold standard for romance films.

The first thing that I have to say about this film is that it is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The plot, which I'll get to more in a second, revolves around a super fancy, high-class Chinese family living in Singapore who are celebrating a wedding that's essentially the event of the decade there. It's akin to a son or daughter of the Queen getting married, like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in real life earlier this summer. Because of this, I feel that director Jon M. Chu had the desire to make this movie look as high class and fancy as possible in order to set the stage for the story. If this was the goal, then mission accomplished. Once we get over to Singapore, where I'd say around 95 percent of this movie takes place, I was bedazzled. There was sheer brilliance in every single set design as it felt that every single set piece of this movie was carefully crafted in order to look absolutely perfect. Along with that, I'd say the costume designs, the makeup and the hairstyling were also crafted to perfection when it came to each individual person, whether they were the main star or simply an extra who was in the background for a second or two. The attention to detail was very noticeable as it had me awestruck the whole film, which helped me become more invested in the story itself.

On top of that, the brilliant design of the film was matched by beautiful cinematography and visual effects to the point where I'd say every single shot of the film was perfect on a technical standpoint. If it were up to me, I'd say this makes the film immediately worthy for five Oscar nominations: production design, cinematography, costume design, makeup and hairstyling, and visual effects. Actually getting Oscar nominations requires a lot of campaigning and awards seasons politics, so I don't know if the movie will get any of those nominations, but it's certainly deserving of them. And finally, the icing on the cake for this is that every Asian actor cast in this movie is extremely attractive. Granted, said makeup, hairstyling and costume design certainly helped with this, but I felt that there was a lot of natural beauty that made for a lot of eye candy for both males and females watching the movie. This also set the stage for this movie because perfection in terms of physical appearance also seemed to be required or expected as a part of this family, especially those joining the family through marriage, so that the family could maintain their high class status and appearance for the rest of the world.

Then of course we have the plot of the film. With the stage set perfectly, I felt like it became easy for the plot to just fall in place. Given that I'm not well-versed in Asian drama, nor do I follow romance movies to closely, my mind instead reverted to Disney's "Aladdin" as a plot comparison. In "Aladdin," we have Jasmine living as a part of the royal family, but she's kinda tired of that life, so she disappears into the village, dressing up as a common woman, and sparks a relationship with Aladdin, a street rat. Drama ensues when Jasmine is finally forced to reveal that she is in fact a princess. This is how "Crazy Rich Asians" unfolds, but with a bit of role-reversal as it's Nick Young, the male in the relationship, who essentially belongs to this royal family, but he doesn't really like that life, so he goes off to New York and lives a normal life where he falls in love with Rachel Chu, an Econ professor at New York University. After their relationship builds strongly over the course of the year, with her having no idea who he really is, something that he personally enjoys because it makes him feel normal, he decides it's finally time to take her home and show her off to his family just in time for the big wedding. This means Rachel is in for quite the culture shock when they arrive.

I suppose this plot is a fairly common one with a romance involving one partner from an upper class background and one partner from a lower class background. You might call me crazy for thinking of "Aladdin" first, but so be it. I also thought of fellow Disney movie "Cinderella," but specifically the 1997 Rogers and Hammerstein's version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston because that one has a heavy focus on the Asian prince who is not super stoked about this palace life gig. And the third movie I thought of was the relationship between Jack and Rose in "Titanic," with Jack coming from rags and Rose coming from riches. In fact, I'll just concede and say this specific story probably has heavy origins from "Romeo & Juliet," a story of forbidden love between two lovers from two different families and classes. So yeah, this plot has probably been done a thousand times and the movie doesn't steer very far from your classic romance film formula. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall madly in love. Drama happens that almost permanently separates boy and girl. Boy and girl somehow reconcile their differences and live happily ever after. Unless you're Jack and Rose and you stubbornly decide that two people can't fit on the floating door, so you decide to let one freeze to death.

Yet despite the familiar formula, "Crazy Rich Asians" proves that you can take a familiar idea and still craft an excellent movie if your execution is done to perfection. There's a reason why this formula is used so often and that's because it works. Yet on the flip side of things, the fact that this formula is used so often is a big part of the reason why I'm so picky with this genre. There's a lot of lazy Nicholas Sparks style of teenage romance films that seem like they wrote the screenplay in an hour or two, then lazily threw together a quick film in order to please the target demographic of teenage girls who will swoon and scream at the mere sight of an attractive male lead. But again, "Crazy Rich Asians" proves to me that I'm perfectly allowed to be super picky because you CAN do this right. There's a lot of things going in this movie's favor regarding the plot, but a big thing propelling it forward is that the two leads are just oozing in chemistry. It's much more than two attractive human beings put together on screen. The way their characters are written make you feel like these two belong together and the strong performances from Henry Golding and Constance Wu are able to make your heart melt every time they look at each other because they're simply perfect.

These strong performances leads into a lot of genuinely powerful emotion as they get to Singapore and Rachel feels like a fish out of water. She confidently tries to act like she belongs, but she simply doesn't. And none of this has anything to do with Nick himself as he's the most charming and loving partner, but the culture is too different. The family ideals are completely opposite to her's. This leads to a lot of pain and suffering on her end, especially as she's thousands of miles from home in Singapore with few people to lean on for comfort and support. When Nick's mother flat-out says to her face that she's not good enough for Nick and never will be, I felt like I got stabbed in the heart. As she ran of in tears, I was practically in tears myself because I felt the heavy weight of all this emotion. I wanted to hate Nick's mother as much as she did as she felt like the Wicked Witch of the West or like Cinderella's step-mother. Although at the same time, I couldn't hate her too much because it was a mere clash of two opposing cultures rather than someone being evil and mean just because the story needed drama. Thus when push came to shove, it all felt real. I was fully invested in every story arc and every piece of drama as I became attached to every character.

Speaking of other characters, there's a lot of excellent supporting cast here, but none better than Rachel's one friend in all of this, Peik Lin Goh, played by Awkwafina, who is quietly having a great acting year after both this and "Ocean's 8." Peik Lin is the main source of comedy in this movie and she is on point as the crazy, blunt friend who is just what Rachel needs. There's a point in the movie where she randomly disappears without the movie telling us exactly where she went, but whenever she shows up in the movie she is comedic gold. The other side character I liked most was Nico Santos' character of Oliver. It's Oliver and Peik Lin that help Rachel the most when she decides to move forward with a certain idea of her's and the three of them together just cracked me up. I could keep name dropping here as there were a lot of great side characters, but I think it's sufficient to say that I was super impressed with the entire cast. Everyone who was in this movie came in and played their role to perfection, whether that role was minor role for just a scene or two, or was a major role that greatly impacted the plot. I can't think of a single weak link in the entire movie when it comes to the cast. They all came in and gave 100 percent to this project, so a round of applause is due.

So yeah, this movie really got to me in ways that I didn't expect it to. I'm extremely impressed and shocked that a movie that I wasn't even planning on going to before seeing the reviews ended up being one of the most pleasant and emotional films I've seen this year. This coming from someone who is often hard to please when it comes to these romance films. And yeah, I don't know if you've noticed until now, but I've specifically made an effort to classify this is a romance film rather than saying chick flick or even romantic comedy. I've learned to avoid the term chick flick because everyone has a different idea of what that is. And I've also avoided romantic comedy because there's a lot of romcoms that I realize I've enjoyed specifically because of the comedy element, with "Hitch" being a classic example of that. The movie itself is hilarious. The romance element is a bit generic. But "Crazy Rich Asians" is good specifically because of the romance story itself, all of the characters involved, and the emotional journey that they all went through. The comedy was simply the icing on the cake. Thus when you ask me what my favorite romantic movie is, honestly "Crazy Rich Asians" might be one of my go-to responses. I'm going to reward the movie with a very strong 9/10.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Meg Review

It's time now for our annual summer shark blockbuster, which is a tradition I'm totally on board for as I really love my shark movies. Now shark movies have been consistently popular ever since "Jaws" helped invent the summer blockbuster in 1975, but we've had a bit of a renaissance in the last couple of years thanks to "The Shallows" in 2016 and "47 Meters Down" in 2017, both of which made around $50 million total at the domestic box office, which is a solid total for a shark movie given that the highest grossing shark movie outside Jaws, which made $260 million, is "Jaws 2" with $81.8 million followed by "Deep Blue Sea" with  $73.6 million, those number not being adjusted for ticket price inflation. The big story for "The Meg" is that it's going to swim right passed those numbers and rather easily take that second spot behind "Jaws," which is crazy because heading into August I was thinking it was going to open around $15 million, the range that both "The Shallows" and "47 Meters Down" opened in. Heading into the weekend, official projections had it pegged at around $20 million with the most generous saying $25 million. I don't think anyone expected it to hit the $45 million that it actually opened to, giving it the highest opening weekend for any live-action shark movie.

This all means that I wasn't the only one excited for this movie. From the moment I heard of this movie's premise, I had a huge childish grin on my face. Jason Statham starring in a movie about a Megalodon? That just sounded like pure gold. There's a reason why Jason Statham vs. Dwayne Johnson in the recent Fast and the Furious movies was so great. That was two of Hollywood's current best action stars. Earlier this year I found much pleasure watching Dwayne Johnson fight a giant crocodile in "Rampage" followed by him climbing the world's tallest building to save his family in "Skyscraper." Even though both of those movies were extremely dumb movies, the fact that they were so dumb was kinda the point and Dwayne Johnson totally owned both roles. And now I get to top the summer off by watching Jason Statham fight a Megalodon? A prehistoric shark that experts say was probably around 40 to 60 feet long? Sign me up. Usually our villains in these movies are the great white sharks, which average around 15 to 20 feet long. And that's scary enough. The fact that this movie exaggerated the total a bit to make this Megalodon 70 to 90 feet long is even better. I mean, who cares about logic and science in this movie? The bigger the shark, the better!

If you happened to check out the reviews for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes and got a bit nervous that "The Meg" stands around the 50 percent mark, feel free to take a sigh of relief because some critics are too overly critical when it comes to these dumb action movies. They were nice to "The Shallows," giving it a 78 percent score, but "47 Meters Down" is rotten at 55 percent, as is "Rampage" at 52 percent and "Skyscraper" at 48 percent. I think all four of those movies are enjoyably dumb movies. In terms of our trifecta of shark movies, I think "The Shallows" is still the best of the three, but "47 Meters" down was quite the pleasant surprise and "The Meg" fits nicely along with these two, giving me mostly what I was looking for when I went in. I'll quantify what I mean by "mostly" here in a bit, but if you go into "The Meg" expecting to have fun with a giant shark terrorizing the protagonists of the film, that's exactly what you're going to get and you should walk out pleased. If you're one of those people that are reading this and are thinking that I'm crazy for enjoying all these dumb movies and you specifically hated both "The Shallows" and "47 Meters Down," well I'm not sure what to say to you other than "The Meg" isn't going to be the one to change your heart.

When it comes to shark movies, there are two very different styles of shark movies that come with two very different ways to critique them. The gold standard for each style is "Jaws" and "Sharknado." Taking on "Jaws" first, "Jaws" is a movie that takes itself very seriously. The movie is focused heavily on building up the characters in the movie and relies a lot on the acting and the story. The movie does this rather beautifully with lots of great characters who experience fascinating character arcs woven together to make a beautiful film that almost stands on its own without the shark. The shark itself is teased early, but doesn't make very many appearances early on and you don't actually see the shark til much later in the film. Yeah, sure, you can credit some of that to the lack of proper technology in the 70's, but this is also a classic monster movie trope that works quite well. If you make the audience care about the story and the characters, then the terror will be even greater when the monster shows up. On the flip side of things, you have "Sharknado," which doesn't give one iota about story, characters or acting. Their goal was to create the most absurd thing possible, throwing crazy shark moments at you early and often, which just so happens to laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Given that the "final" Sharknado film gets released on the Syfy Channel this month, I'll have plenty more to say about this franchise later on. I put final in quotation marks because it's hard to believe Hollywood when they say something is the final chapter, especially when it's so easy to throw together a Sharknado film. But given that this sixth movie is titled "The Last Sharknado: It's About Time," we'll take them on their word for now and wrap things up when the time comes around. But for now put that thought in your back pocket because "The Meg" does not attempt to emulate "Sharknado," but rather it goes for the more riskier route by trying to be the next "Jaws," which means I am obligated to be slightly more critical than I was wanting to due to the fact that replicating "Jaws" is a more difficult task to nail down. If you're looking for a movie where the Megalodon terrorizes people early and often, leaving story and characters behind to focus on this shark, you're going to be out of luck. What the movie instead tries to do is spend almost the first half of the movie justifying why a prehistoric shark thought to be extinct at least 2.6 million of years ago is actually alive and breathing. I didn't care about any of that, but the movie thought I would, hence the problem.

We start off by a crew ship discovering a secret area of the ocean that no one knew existed, which I thought was a subtle, yet clever way of introducing a potential franchise, if they make enough money, rather than including some post credits scene showing that there are more Megalodons out there. Which, by the way, there are no post credit scenes, so feel free to leave when the credits start rolling. But anyways, I did facepalm a bit at this beginning when the movie tried to be mysterious with what was out there. Something big damages the little explorer ship, which the movie's opening scene suggests also happened five years previously, yet we're left in the dark as to what this could be. This causes them to need to go on a rescue mission, which they decide they need to recruit Jason Statham, because he's the only living survivor from the past mission. I was sitting in my chair thinking, "Spoiler alert, movie! Said creature is a Megalodon!" Because, surprise, I actually knew what the title of this movie was. I even knew the premise and watched the trailer when they started advertising this. No reason to be mysterious. They could've shown the Megalodon early on, then stepped away to build the story, rather than setting up a mystery.

After said mysterious beginning, we finally get a glimpse of the Megalodon and I was in awe because this thing looked awesome. But that was just a tease as we proceeded to spend a lot more time with the Megalodon hidden from the crew. I was fine with this approach, but it meant that there was a lot of weight thrown on these characters and I wasn't necessarily sold on all of them. The idea was to make you care about all of them so that the terror would be greater later on, which as I've said earlier is a great approach so long as you succeed in making people care. Luckily the movie had Jason Statham and he has a lot of charisma and energy. He managed to put the whole movie on his back and make you care, which was good because I don't know if I would've cared otherwise. There is a long list of supporting characters which includes Bingbing Li, Rain Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka and adorable young Sophia Cai. All of them are decent in the movie, but I have to admit that without Jason Statham acting as the glue holding them all together, I may have just seen them all as shark fodder rather than useful characters. Even so, when the movie focused too much on them, I got bored.

When we finally got to the part of the movie where the Megalodon was out in the open and actively hunting down the crew while wandering dangerously close to the Chinese coast, I believe it was, this is where the movie really picked up and became the movie I wanted it to be. But it did take longer to get to that point than I wanted. And even when we did get to this point, the movie still managed to be a bit choppy at points in terms of plot (shark pun not intended there). Thus it's not until the actual finale of the film that the movie becomes extremely entertaining. There's plenty of good moments leading up to this point, but I do think the movie as a whole could've benefited from being polished up a bit and perhaps even been 20 minutes shorter as it did clock in at 113 minutes. That's not an inherently long movie, but it is when the movie doesn't always know how to fill the time. But if you manage to make it through the first two acts, the final act is well worth the wait. Even though there's way too much of it in the trailers, I still had an absolute blast. Is this is a movie where you could watch on Netflix and fast forward to the end? Perhaps. But if you like shark movies, I still think it's worth heading out to see this Megalodon on the big screen. My grade for "The Meg" is a 7/10.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

BlacKkKlansman Review

The summer movie season is winding down, which means Awards season is right around the corner. Come September we'll see all the major festivals take place where we'll get a good idea what our real contenders are before they start showing up in theaters towards the end of the year. Occasionally we'll get a major contender jumping the gun by hitting theaters in August right before the festival season and that can be some cause for concern when it comes to Awards season politics. All the old geezers in the Academy usually forget that movies get released before November, which is annoying for those of us normal people who care about the other 10 months, too. But in the case of "BlacKkKlansman," this is going to be a hard one to forget even though Focus Features jumped the gun a bit after the movie won big at Cannes back in May, taking home the Grand Prix award, the second most prestigious award behind the Palm d'Or. I say this is going to be a hard movie to forget because this is a Spike Lee film with a strong political message about racism in today's society, a subject matter that nearly won "Get Out" best picture at this year's Oscars despite being a February release from last year. So forewarning, if you don't want to dive into politics, then leave now.

What probably jumps out to you most when you see this title is the stylization that specifically highlights "KkK" right in the middle. Because, yeah, this is a movie about the KKK. Klu Klux Klan. Specifically this is a crazy true story about a man named Ron Stallworth, who in 1972 became the first black officer to be hired onto the Colorado Springs police force. Now when I say "crazy true story," that sounds like some sort of marketing gimmick that some trailers use to grab your attention, but in this case I mean it quite literally. The most simple version of this story is that shortly after being hired onto the police force, Stallworth finds an ad in the paper to join the KKK, so he calls up the local chapter, pretending to be a white man who hates black people, and gets his foot in the door. How he manages to accomplish this is with the help of fellow white officer Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, who goes to all the face-to-face meetings with the Klan while Stallworth handles everything over the phone. Along the way are his interactions with a local Black Panther organization, or at least a black power organization similar to the Black Panthers, and his phone calls with David Duke, the KKK Grand Wizard, who helps expedite Stallworth's membership.

So yeah, this is some very heavy stuff here. The idea that Stallworth has here is to infiltrate the KKK, acting as an undercover officer to figure out what they're up to in hopes to stop them in case they have something drastic planned or perhaps simply to learn all about their inner workings. There's a lot of really fascinating side arcs woven throughout the movie that help keep you engaged for the entire run time. The first side arc is Stallworth's interactions with the local black power group. Before his interactions with the KKK, Stallworth is assigned to go undercover to a local rally where Stokely Carmichael, then going by the name Kwame Ture, gives a speech about black power. At the rally, Stallworth meets Patrice Dumas, who is the president of the black student union at Colorado College. The two of them have a lot of interactions throughout the movie which adds a lot of drama as she is 100 percent against the police, as their organization sees them as the enemies due to their long history of mistreatment of black people. Stallworth doesn't reveal to her at first that he's a black police officer trying to make a difference from within. Thus the two of them have the same goal of stopping racism, but very opposing means of getting it done.

The main arc is, of course, the infiltration of the KKK. I went into this movie expecting this to be intense on the level of last August's "Detroit," which has a lot of brutal violence with the racist cops holding the group of people hostage in the hotel. "BlacKkKlansman" is actually not a very violent film, but it's a real heavy film when the scenes are focused on the KKK meetings because the movie doesn't hold back in showcasing how vile and disgusting these people are with their everyday conversations. I have a hard time with people being racist and intolerant, so being forced to listen to such brutal language makes me want to stand up and rebuke them and somehow beat it into their thick skulls that these are normal, good people they're talking about who are being judged based on their skin color, race, nationality, upbringing and so forth. The idea of white supremacy is such an awful way of thinking. But as an onlooker to this whole ordeal, there's nothing someone like me can do while watching this film but to sit and watch. I personally have an optimistic outlook towards human beings. I like to think people are genuinely good. But then I watch movies like this and it saddens me to learn of how awful many people are.

What makes this movie so great is that you can sense these same feelings from Adam Driver's character and Ron Stalloworth, who is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington. One of the other interesting arcs inside this is that Driver's character is Jewish, a group who is also hated by the KKK. Yet he has to sit there and deny that he's Jewish and pretend that he hates Jewish people and black people. He holds his ground really well because he knows they're attempting to accomplish some great things in the long run, so he needs to persevere and keep the act going. Yet when he's back in his normal life, you can feel the honest pain. This is some dang good acting by Adam Driver, who is an actor I've gained a lot of respect and appreciation for long before the world came to know him as Kylo Ren. He's a great character actor and has proven time and time again that he is quite diverse with both comedy and drama. He's really good at being broken and evil while also being able to perfectly pull off being a hero. Personally I think Kylo Ren is a fascinating character due to how well Driver is able to act like he's broken and hurt. But then we see him in something like this where he's perfect at pulling off one of the most respectable and likable cops on this force.

And then we have John David Washington, who is a revelation in this film. Like the rest of the world, I've loved his father Denzel for a very long time as I'd say Denzel is one of the greatest actors to ever work. And it now seems apparent that acting comes in the genes because John David is so good at being calm, cool and collected, although you know he's about to explode within. His girl that I mentioned earlier, played brilliantly by "Spider-Man: Homecoming" actress Laura Harrier, is more of the fiery, loose cannon variety, but he knows exactly what to say to her. And it's those moments that made me glad that the movie chose not to make the police the villains. There are good police officers in the world. At the same time, though, Laura Harrier's character is sexually harassed by a certain police officer early on, the same officer who also harasses Ron Stallworth, so you can also see where she's coming from. The other great interactions that John David pulls off excellently is when he's talking to David Duke, the national KKK leader. He manages to sweet talk him into making him believe that he is genuinely racist and deserving of being in the KKK. Speaking of David Duke, that must've been a really difficult role for Topher Grace to pull off, so major props to him.

Overall, the feeling that you get from this movie is a feeling of disgust. Disgust that these people existed and acted in such an awful way. But the interesting thing about their specific portrayal is that the movie makes the KKK members look and act very normal. They aren't portrayed as maniacal demons who were born without a heart and soul. They are portrayed as average Joes, like your neighbor down the street with normal lives and normal personalities, who just happen to also be extremely racist when they get together among themselves. Often we think that racism and civil rights was a thing of the past. We say America was awful back in the 1800's when slavery was allowed. America was awful back in the 50's and 60's when blacks were treated so poorly. America was awful back in the 1970's when these KKK people were prevalent. But today in 2018 we've got it all figured out. We're past all that. A lot of times these historical movies about slavery and civil rights can leave us with that mindset. But "BlacKkKlansman" gives us a glimpse of how and why people can still be racist today. Perhaps good ole average Joe across the street who is goofy and fun to hang out with has some deep, secret feelings of hatred and anger that you never knew of.

And I honestly think the movie does a great job of accomplishing all of this before the major stinger at the end, which I have to talk about. There's a way the movie could've resolved which would've made you angry at society for being so awful and certain elements of the police force for letting people this awful get away with what they're doing. That would've been a solid ending. But then there's more. And this does get into spoiler territory, so beware of that. But again, I can't leave this review without talking about it. Attached onto the end of the film, after our story in the past resolves, is the footage of Charlottesville. We see the KKK and Neo Nazi rallies last year with groups of people chanting, "Jews will not replace us!" We see the violence in the street with the car driving into the group of people, killing one innocent human being. We see footage of Donald Trump responding to all of this, saying that there's good and bad people on both sides, refusing to condemn the Nazis and the KKK. We see footage of David Duke in 2017 praising the actions of Donald Trump, stating that he's excited to get America back to where it should be. That's me paraphrasing because I can't remember David Duke's exact quote. And suddenly the reality of it all hits you like a ton of bricks.

When the end credits of this movie finally started rolling by, my whole theater was stunned silent. No one wanted to make a move or a sound. There's no round of applause. Just silence as we're all taking in what we just witnessed. Here we just watched a movie about the KKK and how awful they were back in the day, but then we realize that Spike Lee wasn't interested in showcasing how awful the past was. He's interested in showcasing how awful today is. And he very cleverly uses the past to show us a story where we are all on the same page with how awful the KKK was, but then informs us that today is no better than the 1970's. In doing so, Spike Lee throws all the subtlety out of the window and forces the conversation to happen. Everyone is going to be walking out of the theater talking about Donald Trump, David Duke, the KKK and everything else related to racism in 2018. Thus this is a movie that is so powerful and poignant to today's issues that it almost supersedes a number grade. I might have slight issues with the length of the movie and the narrative pacing at points, but that almost seems irrelevant. It's a guaranteed conversation starter and is thus one of the more important movies of the year. Yet I will give it a grade anyways and that grade is a 9/10.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Christopher Robin Review

Disney is at it again with yet another one of their live-action remakes of one of their classic animated property. This time it's off to the Hundred Acre Wood to give Winnie the Pooh and gang the live-action treatment. The spin this time around is that Christopher Robin is all grown up and has become a boring, dull adult who is obsessed with work to the point where he even neglects his wife and daughter. In other words, it's "Hook" but with Christopher Robin instead of Peter Pan, with touches of the forgotten toys arc of "Toy Story 3" and the CGI bear wandering through London arc of "Paddington." In other words, Disney was running real low on the creative juices when it came to the plot of this film, but hey it's Winnie the Pooh and none of us will care since we all love Winnie the Pooh, right? Well, yes actually. And we'll get to all of that in this review because this is an adorable movie that hits all the right notes with our beloved characters, thus doing justice to the Winnie the Pooh lore. I think this is a perfect late summer film for the whole family to enjoy. The young kids are going to love all of the characters while not caring about the derivative storyline while parents are going to be given a heavy dose of nostalgia as they return to the land that blessed their childhood.

First of all, let's talk about Winnie the Pooh because I haven't had a whole lot of opportunities to do so on this blog. The history of Winnie the Pooh began in 1924 with the original A.A. Milne book "Winnie-the-Pooh." Since then there have been many books, stories, animated shorts, movies, TV shows, TV specials and even video games with all of the characters. I honestly don't know if I have any specific allegiance to any of these individual stories, but I've always been a huge fan of these characters. In terms of theatrically released films, Disney's main branch of animation has produced the 1977 movie "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and the 2011 movie simply titled "Winnie the Pooh." In my ranking, these two movies are No. 29 and No. 30 respectively among the now 56 animated movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios. If you think that's way too low, I'm sorry. Don't hurt me. I think that's a good spot for two movies that are both a short collection of fun Winnie the Pooh shorts. And yes, there's three other theatrically released Winnie the Pooh movies, that being "The Tigger Movie," "Piglet's Big Movie" and "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," but those were all DisneyToon, so I didn't include them in my main Disney rankings when I created that list a couple years back.

"Christopher Robin" is now the sixth theatrical released feature length film in the Winnie the Pooh franchise from one of Disney's branches. I don't know exactly where I would rank it among those since it's been a while since I've watched the three DisneyToon movies, but if I'm being honest right off the bat, I don't think I would ever turn to "Christopher Robin" over the 1977 or 2011 animated movies if I was in the mood for a Winnie the Pooh movie night, unless I was wanting to showcase the movie to Winnie the Pooh fans who haven't seen it because they chose to ignore this recommendation to do so, but at the same time I found myself very easily pleased by the experience, which is probably the case with most Winnie the Pooh stuff. I find myself very easily charmed by all of these characters because they're so innocent and lovable. Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and Owl all have their own charm and personality as they're a very diverse group of characters. Whatever adventures they're all on, I'm on board to following them. While all of them are in this movie, the focus of "Christopher Robin" is Pooh and, of course, Christopher Robin. Pooh hasn't seen Christopher in a long time so he's out to find him.

I was curious to find out how much time this movie spent in the Hundred Acre Wood versus how much time it spent in London and the answer is that it's a decent balance of both. We start out in Hundred Acre Wood as all of the characters are saying goodbye to Christopher Robin as his parents are sending him off to boarding school. Then we get a montage of his life told in classic story book fashion showing brief sequences of each major milestone leading up to the point where Christopher Robin has now transformed into Ewan McGregor and has become completely obsessed with his work as an efficiency expert at a luggage company. He has a planned getaway weekend with his wife, played by Hayley Atwell, and their adorable little daughter, but he has to cancel the plans because his grumpy boss demands that he find a way to decrease expenditures by 20 percent before Monday, preferably by deciding who to lay off. So Christopher Robin has to cancel the weekend plans, but he sends his wife and daughter off to the countryside cottage anyways while he then plans to spend the entire weekend by himself figuring all this out. Which naturally makes for the perfect time for Pooh to wander back into his life after Pooh wakes up to find that all of his friends are missing.

I actually really enjoyed all the banter between Pooh and angry Christopher Robin. You would think that Christopher would be happy to see his old friend after all this time, but he really finds him to be more of an inconvenience. Pooh wants Christopher to come with him back to the Hundred Acre Wood to help him find his friends, but Christopher wants to focus on his work. So he comprises in that Christopher agrees that he'll help Pooh find his way back to the Hundred Acre Wood, which leads the two on an adventure through London. Pooh is his innocent, adorable, youthful self as he becomes fascinated with all of the sites, wants to talk to all of the people, is in a constant search for honey, begs Christopher to buy him a balloon. Meanwhile Christopher is always in a hurry, constantly is trying to get Pooh to be quieter, and is often embarrassed walking around with a stuffed teddy bear that he really doesn't want people to learn has the ability to talk. Pooh remains mostly unphased by all of this while he's constantly churning out a string of internet wisdom quote memes in response to Christopher's less than stellar reactions to everything. Said quotes got to be a little much at times as the movie tried too hard to be quotable, but I was mostly amused by all of it.

There are a lot of critics acting like Woozles when it comes to this movie, this phrase coming from later in this movie where the grumpy adults are referred to by our happier characters as Woozles after Christopher Robin himself is initially mistaken as a Heffalump by some of our characters who don't recognize the adult version of him when he finally makes his way to the Hundred Acre Wood. So yeah, since Heffalumps and Woozles have been a major part of Winnie the Pooh since early on, this movie takes full advantage of using them in both literal and figurative ways. I usually like referring to people as Grinches, but I kinda became amused with the idea of calling people Woozles instead. Anyways, the score on Rotten Tomatoes for "Christopher Robin" is currently at 71 percent, that being up from what it was initially when reviews started coming out. Hence me saying the critics are acting like Woozles. General audiences seem more on board with this as it has an 89 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes audience score, a 7.9 on IMDb and an A on Cinemascore. I think this can be a telling story. If you put on your critical hat and analyze this movie, there's plenty to complain about. But if you relax and enjoy the latest Winnie the Pooh adventure, you're going to have a good time.

If I were to put on my own Woozle hat, I'll admit that said comparisons that I brought up early in this review do hurt the experience when I think about it. All this story of Christopher and Pooh wandering through London reminded me a lot of both Paddington movies. And I have to admit that both Paddington movies are way better as they are able to incorporate an actual story that you become really invested in. The writing in the Paddington movies is sharp, refined and well thought out while "Christopher Robin" was more lazy and by the numbers, relying heavily on the nostalgia factor to entertain you rather than coming up with a story for you to care about. And speaking of nostalgia, Pixar used a heavy dose of it in "Toy Story 3," but implemented it perfectly as they made you think back on your own childhood and all your toys, thus becoming the golden standard for nostalgia. "Christopher Robin" does perfectly fine in this category as the characters sound and act as they should, but it's nowhere near the gold standard level of "Toy Story 3." Thus "Christopher Robin" ends up feeling a lot more derivative than it should rather than feeling fresh and rewarding. The movies it replicates, as well as the original animated content, all end up being better and that's a big problem.

Thus I can see why a lot of critics are acting like Woozles when it comes to this movie. If you see this movie and you end up being among the crowd of Woozles, I'm not going to stand up and boldly defend the movie is a timeless masterpiece. I'll totally empathize with you and all of your frustrations, especially when you can easily predict the entire plot of the movie the second it's announced. This isn't a situation where "the trailer spoiled the movie," even though it kinda does. The movie is spoiled the second Disney announced they're doing a live-action Winnie the Pooh movie with an adult Christopher Robin who has lost his youthful energy. And it's kinda frustrating when you see it played out as by the numbers as they come, making you think that Disney really just made this for the sake of money rather than a filmmaker coming up with the idea of a story that needed to be told. Disney thinking with dollar bills alone is extremely nerve-wracking because it makes you wonder why we're getting "Dumbo," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" next year in addition to wondering why "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" or "Mary Poppins Returns" from later on this year are necessary. And that's not even mentioning all the Star Wars or Marvel films they are going to make.

But do you know what? If it was Disney's goal to con me out of money by giving me a nostalgia-filled Winnie the Pooh adventure, when push comes to shove, they won. Disney seems to be working on a complete monopoly of the film industry, but if they continue to make movies that I enjoy, I'm not going to ignorantly fight the giant corporation just for the sake of doing so. You can be a Woozle about this movie, but deep down I'm going to be taking the Woozle hat off with "Christopher Robin." The story may be as generic as it comes, but I loved the way they used Winnie the Pooh and I loved Ewan McGregor's portrayal of Christopher Robin. The moments where they were sitting on the log, staring into the sunset while gladly doing nothing together were genuinely beautiful as said scenes were very reflective of this experience as a whole with the movie. Perhaps I could've used a bit more of the other characters. Eeyore was the second-most used character while Piglet and Tigger were mostly sidelined and Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and Owl were mostly cameos. And the look of the old-fashioned stuffed animals took a bit of getting used to, but didn't really bother me too much. Overall this was an enjoyable experience. I'll give "Christopher Robin" a strong 7/10.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Eighth Grade Review

Eight grade was a strange period of my life. A time that I didn't necessarily hate, but at the same time it was a year of school that just kind of happened. I liked my school. I liked my classes. I had great teachers. I had enough friends. I wasn't the popular kid by any means, but nor was I the awkward kid sitting in the corner with no friends and no one to talk to. I also feel I had a great relationship with my parents and siblings, so home life was pretty good. Millcreek Jr. High School in Bountiful, Utah was a fantastic place with lots of nostalgic memories. At the same time, though, eighth grade was that weird period of time in the middle of everything. That's why most places call it Middle School. In Utah we go with Junior High School instead and we put seventh through ninth grade in one building. But yeah, Elementary School was when everyone was still perfectly innocent while High School most kids had idea of who they wanted to be. Junior High or Middle School was that time of discovery. Lest you think growing up in Mormonville, Utah would mean all the young kids were all beautiful angels, you try being in school with hundreds of early teenagers, many of whom aren't yet sure if they want to do this whole religious thing. So yeah, I heard and saw unpleasant things, too.

All that said, I'm not here to review my personal eighth grade experience, though it's fun to reminisce. Eighth grade was actually the year I got hit by a car walking home from school, so that was definitely a year that I learned a lot of people cared for me. There's a lot of potential stories on that front. But no, I'm here to talk about a movie titled "Eighth Grade," which is one of those films that you may have no idea even existed if you're a more casual movie fan, but these are the types of movies that I live for. Yeah, I can have plenty fun with all the big blockbusters and this year has been a great year for them with the likes of "Avengers: Infinity War," "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" and "Incredibles 2," but the smaller, independent films are the ones that have earned a special place in my heart because it feels like real, genuine filmmaking that cinema was invented for. If I lived in a city where more independent films came to and I had enough time and money for them, that's all I'd be doing with my life. Thus when one like this gets enough attention that it expands to my current city, I'm all over it. Something like "Christopher Robin" can wait. I need to see my buzzy independent films. And man, when it comes to buzz, "Eighth Grade" has been on fire, so I was rather excited for it.

Even with my high level of excitement, I didn't have much of an idea of what this film was about. I knew it was a movie that premiered at Sundance this year and was purchased by A24. Generally speaking, an A24 film from Sundance is all I need in order to be excited, so I didn't need to do more research. I was in. The near unanimous praise was also exciting as the movie currently stands at 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 156 reviews counted. Only three Grinches decided that they didn't like this movie. The other 153 gave it at least a pass. Yet the 156 reviews combined for an 8.8/10 average, because that number exists, too, on Rotten Tomatoes in case you didn't know. And an 8.8 is really high from Rotten Tomatoes critics. What I also knew about this movie was that it was written and directed by a guy named Bo Burnham, who got his start as a YouTuber before gaining traction as a popular comedian. And now he's directed his first feature-length film that is doing really well at the box office. I think this is a rather fascinating story, especially since he was born in August 1990, meaning he's a year and a half younger than me. Crazy to think about that. If all of that doesn't get you excited to see this movie, I don't know what will.

Oh yeah, you probably want plot. This is the one element that I didn't know much about when I saw this. I vaguely remember the trailer and I figured it had something to do with eighth grade, because, you know, the title. And yeah, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but that's exactly what this is. It's your typical coming of age story that you've seen a thousand times, but instead of this being your upteenth high school drama that's made, this is a movie about a girl trying to make it through her last little bit of Middle School. That really awkward time of life that I spoke of. That fact that this is a Middle School drama instead of a High School drama does make it unique and it also takes on unique challenges not explored too often in film. This girl is an only child who is raised by her single dad, because her mom left the picture when she was super young. She does her best to try to fit in, but she doesn't have very many social skills, she's super quiet, her teachers don't seem to be too helpful, she doesn't have any friends, and not many of the bratty teenagers in the school seem to even acknowledge her existence. But by goodness she's not going to let any of that hold her back. She's going to live life to the fullest, which makes her extremely likable.

Yet what this all equated to when everything was said and done was a whole lot of awkwardness. This is not a movie that attempts to sugar-coat anything, but rather is out to fully display the awkwardness of eighth grade and it squeezes out every last drop to the point where I felt super uncomfortable for nearly the whole film. Now when I say awkward, I don't mean on the level of the peach scene from "Call Me by Your Name" sort of awkward. In fact, content-wise this is fairly mild for its rating. Take out the occasional teenage cursing and I'm confident that this would be PG-13. Perhaps a bit of a heavy PG-13 thematically, like "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," as I don't know if taking your eighth grader with you to see this is the best idea, but PG-13 nonetheless. So when I say awkward, I don't mean gross. I mean the type of awkward that we've all felt when you go to an activity, party or an event of some sort and you know no one there, so you immediately feel uncomfortable and your brain starts yelling at you to leave. Yeah, that's the type of awkward that happens to me all the time, so this felt so real to me. I was rooting for this girl to succeed, but every situation she put herself in turned into an awkward situation that made me uncomfortable.

I don't mean this as a negative. In fact, I think this is exactly what the movie was going for. The point was to display the awkwardness of eighth grade and it excelled at that. The girl gets invited to a party by the mother of the most popular girl in the school and she eventually goes. And when she makes that decision, I was super happy for her because she was overcoming a major obstacle and thus it was a great moment for her. But then she gets to the party and I'm suddenly reminded of the brutal honest of the movie because it goes down about like almost every party that I've been to where I didn't actually have strong relationships with people there. It's times like those where I desperately search for someone I do know and when I don't find someone, my mind is on how in the frack do I exit this party without making a scene. In her case, there really isn't an exit because her dad dropped her off. Thus the result was me personally cowering in my theater chair like a wimp unable to watch an intense movie moment. Like someone watching a horror film despite not liking horror films. That's what I felt like, not just during this specific scene, but for the whole movie as scene after scene was this girl trying her hardest to fit in and accomplish her goals, but awkwardly stumbling through the whole time.

Movies like that are brutally honest about life are interesting cinematic experiences. If done well, they can be rather challenging to get through, but super rewarding when you do. Thus is the case with "Eighth Grade." It challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting and if there were people in the theater watching it with me, said people may have thought I hated the experience. But I didn't. I was cringing the whole time, but it was a good cringe. And when I got through, I was left with an overall message that was rather beautiful. Without diving too deep, the basic message I pulled from this is that you're better human being than you often give yourself credit. That could sound cliche on paper, but with how honest this movie was from beginning to end, the final message ended up being quite genuine and touching, with a speech in the final act that reminded me of the final speech from "Call Me by Your Name" in terms of the emotional weight it left. I think the only negatives that I have are that everything bad that could've happened to this girl did happen, thus making it feel it little more heavy-handed than it needed to. Certainly no one's eighth grade experience was quite that exaggerated. And if your's was, I hope you made it through OK.

Yet on the flip side of things with that most recent argument, every time I try to really hone in on this element of the movie and attack it for this, my mind comes with about a hundred arguments as to why I'm over-thinking it or being too picky. Maybe a lot of people did feel this alienated in eighth grade. Maybe I just had things really good in comparison and am thus not able to fully relate. And even if I'm right in my criticism, it could also mean that everyone who watches this will be able to relate to at least part of this story. I certainly was able to, even though I consider myself lucky when it comes to my upbringing. And hey, better this way than to give some sort of half-hearted, cliche coming of age film, right? So when I argue it out in my head, I don't know if I really have many negatives about the movie, outside maybe the fact that it won't be my favorite movie of this year, like "Lady Bird" and "Boyhood" were in their respective years, those movies being similar coming of age movies. But that's an unfair bar to judge things by considering both of those movies were practically perfect. Not every movie needs to be the best movie of the year in order for me to be impressed, right? No need for this black or white nonsense. On that note, I'm going to comfortably give "Eighth Grade" a 9/10.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Movie Preview: August 2018

Typically July has been the biggest month of the summer, but for only the sixth time since 1982, that ended up not being the case as this July's total of $1.187 billion came in behind the $1.269 billion June total. That $1.187 billion total also came well behind the 2011 record of $1.395 billion and was even ninth place overall since 2000. With constantly increasing ticket prices over the years, this could be seen as a disappointment. On the contrary, it could also be seen as a sign that the year as a whole has been more balanced rather than all the big films being crammed into a few months as July is the fifth month in 2018 to cross the $1 billion mark, which is a record through July. In fact, no other year has had more than five months in the whole year cross $1 billion. The year as a whole is still 7.9 percent ahead of 2017 and 5.8 percent ahead of 2016 at this same point. July was led by "Ant-Man and the Wasp" ($186.7 million), June holdovers "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" ($153.8 million) and "Incredibles 2" ($150.2 million), and "Hotel Transylvania 3" ($122.8 million). And now we head into the final month of the summer season, where things typically wind down at the box office. Yet there's still plenty of releases to talk about, even though none are set to be huge, so let's dive in.

August 3rd - 5th-

Leading the way in August is, yet again, Disney. This time around they have their latest live-action adaptation of one of their animated properties, with Winnie the Pooh and gang getting the treatment in Christopher Robin, a movie that follows an adult Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, as all of his favorite animal friends from his childhood come back to visit him in order to rekindle his sense of joy and adventure, a premise similar to that of Steven Spielberg's 1991 film "Hook." It's been quite the year for Disney as films they've distributed have accounted for a massive 35 percent of the overall box office total with a $2.95 billion total. And they're far from done as they also have "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," "Ralph Breaks the Internet" and "Mary Poppins Returns" later in the year. As pertaining to their live-action adaptations, "Christopher Robin" is not going to come anywhere near the likes of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Jungle Book," yet this was never the expectation here. A better comparison might be fellow August release of "Pete's Dragon," which made $76.2 million in 2016 after opening to $21.5 million. Other potential comparisons might include "Tomorrowland" ($93.4 million) or "A Wrinkle in Time" ($100.4 million).

While family audiences and Winnie the Pooh fans flock out to see "Christopher Robin," Lionsgate will be attempting some counter-programming with The Spy Who Dumped Me, an action comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon whose title is an obvious play on the 1977 Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." This is certainly not the first time that Hollywood has had a bit of fun with this title, with perhaps the most notable parody being the 1999 Austin Powers sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me." In "The Spy Who Dumped Me," Mila Kunis is initially feeling down on her luck after her boyfriend dumped her in a text, but soon learns that her boyfriend dumped her because he's secretly a spy for the CIA and both of their lives are in danger. Before much can happen, suddenly Mila Kunis and her best friend, played by Kate McKinnon, are dragged into this intense scenario and are forced to fight for their lives. This adds yet another action movie to the mix after a crowded July for actions films, yet the comedy will be the biggest draw here, meaning this is probably headed for an opening in the teens like several of our other 2018 comedies such as "Tag" and "Game Night."

The third wide release of the weekend is one that may be dead on arrival and that is Fox's The Darkest Minds. What exactly is this movie? Well, yeah, that's the big problem here as Fox dropped the trailer back in March, yet have done almost nothing since to advertise it, thus awareness here is extremely low. The answer to what exact is this movie is that it's another dystopian-esque movie based on a young adult novel, meaning that this is about three or four years too late to be relevant as the genre has kinda died out. Even The Hunger Games series struggled at the very end comparatively and the Divergent series crashed so hard that they never even made their final film. Occasionally another movie like this shows up, but nothing has been able to catch fire as audiences don't seem to care anymore. But the plot here surrounds an epidemic where 98 percent of children under 20 have died while the remaining children have developed super powers and are on the run as they've been declared a threat by the government. Despite all the previously mentioned issues, Fox is still opening this in over 3,000 theaters, making it a candidate for one of the worst opening weekends for a movie playing in 3,000 theaters. The current record holder is 2006's "Hoot" with $3.4 million.

The final film sneaking into theaters is Dinesh D'Souza's latest political documentary Death of a Nation. The previous three documentaries that D'Souza has put out, each being two years apart and released just ahead of election season, are "2016: Obama's America" in 2012, the 2014 follow-up "America: Imagine the World Without Her" where he brags about how right he was in the previous documentary, even though said legitimacy is extremely debatable, and finally "Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party," which was released in 2016, ahead of the extremely controversial election. "Death of a Nation" sees D'Souza compare Trump's presidency to Abraham Lincoln's presidency ahead of this year's midterm elections. The documentary currently holds a 0 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 1 on Metacritic, which has a 0 to 100 scale. Of course fans of D'Souza's work won't be bothered by this as they'll label said critics as liberal scams and go out to support D'Souza anyways. The previous three documentaries, in their first weekend of wide release, made $6.5 million, $2.7 million and $3.9 million respectively. Given that this year is mid-year elections and not a presidential election, "Death of a Nation" will probably finish on the low end of that.

August 10th - 12th-

The race to No. 1 at the box office could be rather intense in the second weekend of August as "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" and "Christopher Robin" will both probably be headed towards $15-18 million, which is exactly the range our two new major releases will be looking at. My personal early bet will be on the new horror release Slender Man winning out, although "Fallout" could easily take it. Either way, "Slender Man" looks like it'll beat out "The Meg," our other new release, so we'll talk about it first. If you're unfamiliar with Slender Man, he's a modern internet horror legend created in 2009 that quickly went viral among the teen crowd. The most notable event regarding Slender Man came in 2014 when two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin stabbed a classmate 19 times, essentially claiming that they did it for Slender Man. Both girls are now locked up in a mental institution, but the viral nature of this character, along with all the controversy, means it's ripe for a PG-13 teen horror film adaptation, putting this into essentially the same ball park of "Ouija," all things considered. "Ouija" opened to $19.8 million in October 2014, which seems right for "Slender Man." It could also open close to "Don't Breathe" ($26.4 million) or "Lights Out" ($21.7 million) from summer 2016.

The other major that I mentioned that will be in competition for the top spot is our latest shark movie, The Meg. Shark movies have been a consistently popular thing since "Jaws" came out in 1975 and helped revolution the modern-day blockbuster. So this is certainly nothing new, but recently there's been a bit of a spark in the shark movie sub genre of horror thanks to "The Shallows" in 2016 and "47 Meters Down" in 2017, both earning around a total of $50 million at the domestic box office. So why not continue this trend and attempt to go three for three? That's what's Hollywood is asking, anyways. And it's time to raise the stakes this time around as not only do the people of this movie have a giant shark terrorizing them, but said giant shark is actually a megalodon, an extinct species of shark estimated have been anywhere from 43 to 82 feet long, depending on which shark expert you talk to. For comparison, most great white sharks are around 15 feet long. Adding to the appeal of the movie is that leading the way is Jason Statham, one of today's more popular action stars. If we stick to the previous two movies for comparison, "The Shallows" opened to $16.8 million while "47 Meters Down" opened to $11.2 million. That seems like a reasonable range.

While "Slender Man" and "The Meg" are the two major releases this weekend that have a shot at the top spot, there are two more smaller movies released this weekend sneaking into a wide release, the first of which is Dog Days, which actually opens on Wednesday August 8. This will be the third dog movie to come out this year so far after "Isle of Dogs" and "Show Dogs," and the first of two dog movies in August. We'll get to the other one, "A.X.L.," later on in this post. "Dog Days" stars Vanessa Hudgens and Finn Wolfhard as our two most recognizable actors in the film, but doesn't seem to really have a solid story to go along with it. It's the tale of a whole bunch of people in Los Angeles who become connected due to their dogs, perhaps in a "Valentine's Day" style of story telling, but with dogs instead of romance. The movie is distributed by LD Entertainment, who have only released three movies theatrically, and none since 2013. Of those three, they've only opened one nationwide and that was "The Collection" in 2012, which opened to $3.1 million. If we look at "Show Dogs," that movie opened to $6 million back in May while "Isle of Dogs" got $5.5 million when it expanded nationwide. Again, this does open on Wednesday, so that will soften its three-day weekend total.

The final movie of the weekend that's currently scheduled to open in around 1,500 theaters is the return of director Spike Lee as he delivers his film BlacKkKlansman. Unless a movie like "Black Panther" or "A Quiet Place" can break through in the awards race this season, "BlacKkKlansman" represents our first big awards contender as it tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer from Colorado who managed to infiltrate the KKK in the 1970's and become the head of the local chapter, sending a white officer in his place when face-to-face meetings were required. The movie stars John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, as Ron Stallworth, with Adam Driver as his white officer counter part and Topher Grace is Klan leader David Duke. Given the premise, one can naturally expect a bit of an intense experience with this movie, although probably not quite on the level of last August's "Detriot" given that "BlacKkKlansman" does have at least a touch of a comedic edge to it. As pertaining to the awards race, the August release date does give it a bit of a disadvantage as that's a touch too early when it comes to awards season politics, but given the racial undertones, this definitely seems like a potential contender if it plays its cards right.

August 17th - 19th- 

After what could be an intense second weekend when it comes to the race for the No. 1 spot, the third weekend will be a bit more cut and dry as it will be a race between the two big new releases. Currently it seems like Mile 22 is the one with the edge, mostly due to the fact that "Crazy Rich Asians" opens on Wednesday, which will soften it's three-day opening weekend total. Thus we talk about "Mile 22" first. This will be the fourth movie directed by Peter Berg that stars Mark Wahlberg, with the first three being "Lone Survivor," "Deepwater Horizon" and "Patriots Day," all of which were intense movies based on true stories where Wahlberg plays some sort of heroic character caught in a bad situation who needs to help save others. "Mile 22" is not exactly that variety of story, but is more of your typical late August action thriller. Wahlberg stars as a CIA operative charged with the task of transporting a dangerous "asset" 22 miles while being chased by a whole bunch of terrorists. Said asset is a human being played by Iko Uwais, star of the Raid movies. Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich and Lauren Cohan also co-star. An opening close to last August's "The Hitman's Bodyguard" might be in play here as that opened to $21.4 on this exact weekend.

Now we shift our focus to the other major release of the weekend, that being the previously mentioned Crazy Rich Asians. If "Mile 22" fails to deliver, this movie seems poised to step up. This here is a romantic comedy based on the best-selling novel of the same name that centers around a Chinese American woman from New York who accompanies her boyfriend to his best friend's wedding in Singapore where she learns that said boyfriend comes from a family who is one of the richest families in Singapore. The drama with this romance is that she learns he is a very desirable male, making her feel a bit insignificant and out of place. The movie is directed by Jon M. Chu, who has quite the variety of film his directorial filmography, ranging from the Justin Bieber documentaries, the second and third Step Up movies, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "Jem and the Holograms" and "Now You See Me 2." Now he'll add this romantic comedy to his resume. As far as box office comparisons go, there's a plethora of romance films, both from the comedy and drama variety, to come out in the last couple of years and most of them manage to open somewhere in the teens. So it seems like this will be a matter of where in the teens will it debut rather than if it will.

The third wide release on the docket is the very troubled production of Alpha. Earlier when I talked about "Dog Days" I mentioned that there were two dog movies this month. Well, technically this would make three if we count it because a wolf is a dog and "Alpha" is a survival story set 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age wherein a young hunter befriends an injured wolf. A sort of man's best friend origin sort of thing. The biggest problem with this movie is that it's bounced around the schedule like a ping pong ball as it was initially supposed to come out September 2017, before being pushed back to March 2018, then again to September 2018 and finally moved up to this spot in August. A movie having been moved around so much is never a great sign when it comes to the studio's confidence in said film and with the final release date coming in mid-August, it seems like Sony just settled when it came to "Alpha." Or maybe they resigned to the fact that this wasn't going to be a big money maker like they probably wanted it to be when they had the September or March release dates and dumped it in mid August to get it over with. As such, it doesn't seem like it will be able to find much of an audience as some projections have it opening in single digits.

August 24th - 27th-

The fourth weekend of August sees the return of the Muppets as Brian Hensen, director of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Muppet Treasure Island," now presents The Happytime Murders. Although this version is not your childhood version of the Muppets. In fact, calling it THE Muppets is also wrong as this is not Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang. It's more of an off-brand version of the Muppets brought together for the sake of extreme shock value in a raunchy, adult version of the Muppets. It's probably best to just call them puppets. Anyways, the story follows an 80's puppets TV show where the puppets cast start getting killed one by one, so a puppet detective takes on the case and things get wild from there. In fact, this is sure to offend the fans of the real Muppets, but that might be the point. Shock value. Thus the best comparison here "Sausage Party," which was an animated movie that was purposely as raunchy as possible just for the sake of shock value. The movie opened to $34.3 million in August 2016, which would be a fantastic number for "The Happytime Murders." Given that a human Melissa McCarthy also stars, her recent film "Life of the Party" should also be considered as that opened to $17.9 million back in May.

The rest of the month's releases will most likely follow the typical late August trend of having a hard time making this thing called money, but a potential sleeper comes with the Screen Gems thriller Searching. This is a thriller shot from the point of view of smartphones and computer screens, much like the movie "Unfriended" and it's sequel from last month, "Unfriended: Dark Web." The story involves a father trying to find clues to the disappearance of his 16-year-old daughter. In doing so, he dives through all her social media accounts and the like, discovering that she had a lot of secrets that he never knew about. Screen Gems has a pretty good history with thrillers at the box office with the likes of "No Good Deed," "The Perfect Guy," "Don't Breathe" and "When the Bough Breaks," but what makes "Searching" unique is that it's a film that comes from Sundance. Sundance films don't always translate to success with general audiences, but "Searching" is a film that the Sundance crowd gave good praise to, so if it does click with general audiences, there's potential here, but the late August release date makes it hard to predict because there's a lot of smaller films that have completely disappeared in this spot. A $10 million debut would probably be a win.

The final movie from this weekend is one that I've referenced a few times in this post already and that is our final dog movie A.X.L. This particular dog movie involves a robotic dog. Or, rather, an artificial intelligence dog whose code name A.X.L. stands for Attack, Exploration, Logistics. A.X.L. is discovered by a kid named Miles, played by Alex Neustaedter, who befriends him as he seems abandoned. After the two become friends, the scientists who created A.X.L. make an effort to get him back, which Miles is determined to stop, fearing what might happen if they do succeed and recapturing him. Miles gets assistance in this effort from his female friend Sara, who is played by pop star Becky G. The benefit of "A.X.L." is that it gives family audiences an additional option as "Christopher Robin" is really the only other choice for the month, but the previous single-digit numbers discussed early in the "Dog Days" paragraph also probably apply here. Specifically "A.X.L." is from distributor Global Roads, who also distributed "Show Dogs" from earlier in the summer, which as a reminder opened to $6 million. The other two films that Global Roads has distributed are "Midnight Sun," which opened to $4 million, and "Hotel Artemis," which opened to $3.2 million.

August 31st - September 3rd-

The final weekend of the month is Labor Day weekend. I'm including it here because I go by what month the weekend started here in these monthly previews, thus Labor Day weekend sneaks into the August preview with August 31 being a Friday. Labor Day weekend is never a strong one at the box office as only three movies have ever opened above $20 million, thus Hollywood rarely opens any notable movies here, making it a bit of a self-fulling prophesy that should continue this year as none of these three releases this weekend are likely to do much. Although last year saw all the holdover films get a solid uptick from the previous weekend, which bodes well for "The Happytime Murders" to sneak in a second win, assuming of course that it beats out "Searching" and "A.X.L." in the previous weekend like I'm expecting it to.

Given that it's possible for all three new releases to open below $5 million and potentially struggle to hit the top 10, I'll clump all three of them here in this paragraph. Starting things off on Wednesday August 29, we have Operation Finale, which is a historical drama starring Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley and is about a team of secret agents who come together 15 years after World War II to hunt down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust. Given the cast and the subject matter, this is the movie with perhaps the best potential of the newcomers. The next best challenger is Kin, which is an action sci-fi starring James Franco, Zoe Kravitz, Dennis Quaid, Carrie Coon and Jack Reynor. The movie sees a 12-year-old boy named Eli discover an alien weapon near a local junkyard. He goes home to his older brother and quickly the two of them find themselves on the run from a crime lord, the FBI and some alien soldiers, making for a bit of a bizarre sci-fi flik. Finally, Pantelion will be releasing the Spanish-language film Ya Veremos, a drama about a child named Santi who is losing his sight amidst his parents separating and has a wish list for them to do before he goes into his surgery. Pantelion does have a history of box office surprises, so look out for this one, too.