Monday, September 24, 2018

White Boy Rick Review

I'm slowly getting caught up on my September movie reviews. While August was a bit sparse in terms of quality, causing me to skip a lot of the in the second half of the month, September has at least provided a lot of interested titles that had my attention, even though the month hasn't exactly lit up the box office office after "The Nun" exploded with a $50 million debut. But I'm still working on this second weekend of September in terms of getting my reviews up. On said second weekend, "The Predator" won the weekend in terms of the numbers, but it certainly wasn't a win for the franchise as the movie set the record for the worst debut ever for a movie debuting in over 4,000 theaters, coming in a pathetic $24.6 million. I've never seen a Predator movie and I'm certainly not starting with that one, so don't expect a review from me. However, it's the other three movies that had my attention that weekend. I already gave you my review of "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" and now it's time to give you my reviews of "White Boy Rick" and "A Simple Favor." Then we can move on to this past weekend where we got the family friendly Halloween film "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" from director Eli Roth. First up in all of that is our yearly drug trafficking movie, "White Boy Rick."

This movie is based on a true story that happened in the 80's. Because, you know, we're a bit obsessed with the 80's right now and Hollywood likes these drug trafficking movies. So to continue both of these trends, someone dug up this story of Richard Wershe Jr., aka White Boy Rick, a young boy in Detroit who was caught up in the drug business at an all too early age. While perhaps not a drug kingpin like some of the trailers claim, even though the movie itself doesn't really do so, Rick was heavily involved in the drug business by the time he turned 17. I would say a big portion of the credit for this goes to a poor upbringing with divorced parents, who weren't exactly model citizens themselves, combined with being caught up in the wrong crowd. Living in Detroit certainly doesn't help matters there as the crime in the city over the years, and even today, is very well documented. So being "caught in the wrong crowd" wasn't a very hard thing to do. His sister got involved with a sketchy dude, which got him to be involved with sketchy friends. Pretty soon he knew his way around things fairly well in terms of petty crime and the drug business, which got him addicted to this lifestyle of drugs, money, girls and what not, which we all know never ends well.

The movie itself chronicles his story, which spans from 1983 or 1984 up until 1987, so we have a good chunk of about four or five years that they attempt to cover in just one movie, which is a bit of a daunting task. The other major element of his life that the movie focuses on, outside being involved in the drug business at an early age, is the fact that he became an FBI informant early on in the story, which was 100 percent illegal on their part. So yeah, sketchy police doing sketchy things to try to catch the sketchy criminals leads to all sorts of messy situations that poor Rick got caught in the middle of. And their using Rick as an illegal, underage FBI informant to try to catch all of his friends may or may not have planted ideas in his head of actually becoming a drug dealer. According to the movie, they recruited him to do minor drug deals so that he could tell them who was involved and where they were located. Later in the movie, in an effort to try to help out his family situation, he branches off on his own into the drug business because this thing called money is super attractive to him, and up to this point in his life, money is not a thing that him, his sister or his dad ever really had, thus we begin the downward spiral.

As far as the movie itself goes, I will give the movie all the credit for introducing me to this story. It's one of those movies where you immediately head over to the internet and Google the true story of White Boy Rick. Sometimes this causes the movie to be ruined in retrospect if you learn that the movie was inaccurate in telling this story. In certain instances, I can let that slide. But for the most part I think that if you are going to tell a true story via film, then your main objective should be to accurately tell that story. If that story doesn't lend itself to a Hollywood film, then find a different story that does and tell that one instead. If you can't find a true story that tells things the way you want it to be told, just come up with a fictional story to tell. I mean, people can watch things like "Breaking Bad" and be equally as affected by the themes of the series even though the characters and story itself are fictional. All that said, you may think that I'm leading you to believe I'm going to claim that "White Boy Rick" screws this up, but that's not the case. From what I can gather, "White Boy Rick" does a great job in accurately telling this story. Thus I commend the film for finding a fascinating story and telling it without twisting the facts of what really happened.

However, accurately telling a true story is not the only factor in making a good film based on a true story. That daunting task of covering a large time span is another major element that you need to get right and sadly "White Boy Rick" rather embarrassingly falls flat on its face when it comes to that. There's a lot of time to cover in this movie, but there's no sense of urgency in the pacing or the editing. The movie is filled with a lot of long, drawn out scenes that feel less important to the plot of the movie. In between all of those sequences are all of the more important scenes that are jumped over too quickly. Had the movie been paced properly, there would be potential for it to be similar to last year's "American Made," the drug movie with Tom Cruise, or perhaps a "Sicario." Maybe we can even look at the small screen to something like the aforementioned "Breaking Bad," which is an excellent series, or "Ozark," which I've just started, but is so far really good. In these movies or shows, the pacing properly allows for a story that leaves you on the edge of your seat given the subject matter at hand. But with "White Boy Rick," I found myself begging for the movie to get to the point. Then when it did, it ran right past the point, then slowed down again at the wrong spot.

The other major problem here is to get me to properly care about these characters and their situation. I think the movie's goal was to make you care for this kid who got stuck in an awful situation that he was unable to dig himself out of. The movie painted him as the victim of all of this. A victim of circumstance. A victim of a bad neighborhood. A victim of a poor upbringing. A victim of corrupt FBI agents who illegally used him as an underage informant and sparked the idea in his head to get into the drug industry. Yet I didn't really feel that bad for him. In any drug movie like this, being invested in the main character is essential to the enjoyment of the film, even if you disagree with the choices being made by said character. But I didn't really find myself super invested in Rick or his dad. There's nothing wrong with the acting in the movie. In fact, everyone does a great job in the roles they are given. I just don't know if the roles themselves were that interesting. Rick's dad just seemed like a guy who had an inability of getting his life together and Rick just seemed like a punk kid with no sense of moral direction who became obsessed with drugs and money. I think I was more invested in his sister's arc than his.

Even so, there was still potential with this film. The inherent problem with doing a movie like this is that there's only so many ways a story like this ends. Either the person somehow gets out and gets clean or they get thrown in prison or wind up dead. And very rarely do stories like this end up as the first option. Movies about people getting involved with the drug industry usually end up with them dead or in prison. So in telling a story like this, there's an added challenge of coming with something fresh and unique otherwise you just get another story of someone who ruined their lives doing drugs or selling drugs. But with proper execution, you can still manage to make an intense film that leaves you on the edge of your seat. "White Boy Rick" had an interesting enough story with the angle of this being a young kid who got involved in drugs, but it ended up being mostly a miss for me because the execution of the film felt like all of the emphasis was in all of the wrong places, leaving me mostly bored throughout instead of intensely invested. I'll give the movie credit for getting me interested in the real story, but the more I think about it, the more I lean towards the idea of this not being a story worthy of being invested in. So I'll give "White Boy Rick" a 6/10.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Unbroken: Path to Redemption Review

I'm guessing the casual viewer, when seeing news of an "Unbroken" sequel, may have been perplexed at its existence, especially since this is coming from a completely different production company than the people who made the first movie. It's a low budget team of Christian movie makers instead of a major Hollywood studio. That's why it made only $2.2 million this past weekend as opposed to the first "Unbroken," which made $30.6 million opening weekend, ending with $115.6 million total domestically. This prediction of how the casual viewer might look at this sequel accurately reflected it's critical score on Rotten Tomatoes as it currently stands at just 26 percent with just 19 reviews counted, with most of the negative reviews calling it boring and unnecessary, with nothing interesting to add to the first movie. I'm not surprised at that. Most critics are super critical of faith-based movies. A lot of my favorite faith-based movies have a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. In this case, the 86 percent score that "Path to Redemption" has on the audience section of Rotten Tomatoes might be more telling, as is the A grade it got on Cinemascore. People who were actually interested in this movie seem to have been mostly pleased with the outcome.

As far as my personal experience, I was one of the people who was rather upset with the first film. Yeah, sure, if you go in completely blind to the story of Louis Zamperini, you might have found the story rather uplifting and rewarding. Angelina Jolie directed the movie and she showed decent competency in her ability to make a film. It was well shot and well acted. It did a pretty good job at telling the first two-thirds of Zamperini's story. But therein lies the problem. In typical mainstream Hollywood fashion, the filmmakers took a very religious story and removed the religion from it, instead choosing to focus on the horrors of war and war-related action sequences. And even then, they sanitized the story quite a bit in order to get their family-friendly PG-13 rating, which in this instance didn't do Zamperini's experiences justice. What happened to him was a lot more brutal than what the movie chose to display. But even putting that aside, this specific story was a whole lot more than just a guy who became a prisoner of war in Japan. It's a story about a guy whose experiences in war completely destroyed him and nearly ruined his life, yet the movie summarized things by simply stating in the credits that he lived up to his promise to follow God.

I was shocked and stunned when I saw that in theaters. They took the heart and soul of the story and summarized it in the end credits with a line that doesn't even do justice to the term over-simplification. Zamperini got home from war, got married, and was doing alright, but his PTSD continued to get worse and worse as time went on. He became a drunken mess, he couldn't find a job that he was satisfied with taking, and his wife was extremely close to divorcing him because she couldn't handle it anymore. He even completely forgot about his promise that he made to God when he was on that raft one night, wherein he promised that if God saved him, he would spend the rest of his life serving him. This is an element of war that I don't think Hollywood spends enough time on. They focus so much on the war itself and what the soldiers went through during the war, but often completely ignore the post-war trauma that many soldiers went through when they got home. That's why I loved the book "Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand, because not only did it tell the story of what Louis went through during the war, but it also told the story of what he went through after war and how he was able to miraculously overcome it.

And that's where we get to this movie. After seeing "Unbroken" in theaters, I thought that was the end of things as far as movies based on Zamperini's life. But then I saw this trailer. A movie based on what happened next. Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt cheated after watching Angelina Jolie's movie. I was rather elated to see that a Christian studio set out to do Zamperini's story justice because the story of what happened to him when he got home was the best part of the story. So while the rest of the world was checking out Shane Black's latest addition the Predator franchise, simply titled "The Predator," a super creative title might I add, I went out to see "Path to Redemption." I considered that a pretty good decision. "The Predator" was getting panned, anyways. And I have never seen any of the Predator movies, so why would I be a good judge of that? But given how passionate I was about the book "Unbroken," and how disappointed I was about the first movie, I needed to see this movie. And the world needed my review because none of these other critics were going to give it a fair look. Except for maybe Josh Terry of the Deseret News. And yeah, he gave it a good review, so you can take that into account. He's someone I generally trust.

 All of that said, my level of excitement for this movie was officially set at cautiously optimistic. I loved the idea that this follow-up was happening. I didn't love the specific studio that it was coming from. Pure Flix. They have a very rocky record when it comes to Christian films. Yeah, "Woodlawn" was alright and I hear "The Case for Christ" was surprisingly good, but they also did "God's Not Dead 2" as well as "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness," the latter of which was so poorly received by all parties earlier this year that it didn't even expand far enough for me to see it. So yeah, Pure Flix is very well known for distributing the very preachy, Protestant films that make you feel like you walked into a Sunday sermon instead of a movie theater. Sometimes they work good enough, but more often than not they usually are severely lacking in cinematic quality, forgetting about things such as acting, directing and proper storytelling. Unfortunately that's exactly where "Path to Redemption" falters. It's not a very high quality film. For everything that "Unbroken" does wrong, I will give credit where credit is due and Angelina Jolie did a better directed job than Harold Cronk did in "Path to Redemption" and Jack O'Connell was a much better Zamperini than Samuel Hunt.

"Path to Redemption" completely skips over all the war sequences, choosing to tell that whole story in newspaper clippings at the very beginning of the movie. A big part of this is that they wanted to focus on the final section of the movie. But I think another reason is that they no desire to make a war film because I'm guessing this team didn't know how and also didn't have close to the proper budget to make it work. Director Harold Cronk, who directed the first two "God's Not Dead" films, doesn't ever seem to know what to do with his actors in any of his films, so I'm guessing that they're mostly always on their own when it comes to the script, which is probably why the acting is all over the place. Samuel Hunt does his best job with what he's given, but he doesn't have the appearance of someone who has just been traumatized from war. He'll be your perfectly normal average Joe one moment, then yelling at people and throwing things across the room the next. Instead of feeling like he's a broken man, it feels very jarring and out of place. Jack O'Connell could've done an amazing job at post-war Zamperini, but he was never given the opportunity. And bless her heart, but Merritt Patterson has no chemistry with Hunt as Zamperini's wife.

I think another major problem with this movie was that I believe it would've been extremely effective as the final 30 minutes of the first "Unbroken" rather than being a 90-minute movie on its own. I'll hold my ground that this portion of the book is what makes the story interesting, but it's the final third of the book as opposed to being a second book on its own. There's not enough content to fill an entire movie and make it perfectly engaging, especially when you don't have a very competent team of writers to begin with. The moments where Zamperini is having nightmares about the war or seeing hallucinations of the main Japanese guy who tortured him are extremely effective. There's a scene with him at a restaurant where the server gives him rice, but he flips out because his memories with rice consistent of it being full of bugs and worms, thus making that scene effective. But in between moments like this, there's a lot of moments with everyone living life in a very normal way and those moments weren't very engaging. They spent a long time on the love story between him and his wife and that love story wasn't very interesting, which in turn made the sequences at the end with their marriage falling apart less emotionally impactful given that I wasn't as invested.

That said, I walked out of this film having been much less offended at the final result than the first movie. Yes, Angelina Jolie made a better film on a technical scale than Harold Cronk did in this sequel. But whereas Jolie and company ripped the heart and soul out of Zamerini's story, Cronk and company actually had good intentions and stayed true to the full story. It's a lower quality film, but it's a more accurate film that does a better job at doing justice to the story and to the book that I have come to love. In a perfect world, perhaps we could combine the two films into one proper "Unbroken" film that tells the whole story of Zamperini as told in Hillenbrand's and does so with proper cinematic qualities, as in good acting, good directing, good cinematography and good storytelling abilities. And maybe the perfect person for that would be Mel Gibson, who has proven to be great with his war films in accurately capturing the horrors of war, but also being able to do justice to the religious side of things, like he did with "Hacksaw Ridge." Given that he also directed "The Passion of the Christ," I think he'd be the perfect director to make a proper "Unbroken" film. But alas, we'll just have to live with what we have. My grade for "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" is a 7/10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Searching Review

Late August is always a low period when it comes to movies. The reasoning there is that it's the beginning of the awkward phase between the height of the summer movie season and the holiday/awards season. Studios don't release their big titles in late August. Because of that, there was a period of of about nearly a month where I didn't get a review written from a movie I saw in theaters. The only movie I reviewed in between "Crazy Rich Asians" in mid-August and "The Nun" last week was "The Last Sharknado," and that was a TV movie. I suppose I could've gone and seen "Alpha," "Mile 22," "A.X.L.," "Kin" and/or "Operation Finale," but I didn't have enough motivation to see any of those. Some of those I might catch up on later. And I certainly wasn't going to give "The Happytime Murders" even one second of my time. But there are plenty of more titles from this month to look at as well as a full slate through the end of the year that should make it so that we're full speed ahead. However, there is one movie that was essentially the black sheep of late August. I say that because it's an indie thriller from Sundance that didn't belong in the late August lull. However, ScreenGems got their hands on it and put it there anyways, so here we are with the review.

"Searching" was released in nine theaters in August 24 and expanded nationwide the following week on August 31. I saw it somewhere around that nationwide expansion, I think on a Thursday night screening on August 30. I suppose ScreenGems put it in that date range because they had success with "Don't Breathe" in August 2016. Normally when I personally think of ScreenGems, I think lazy and awful, which is why I was strange seeing their logo in front of a good movie for a change. I think "Don't Breathe" and "Searching" are the only two good movies they've distributed. The rest include "No Good Deed," "The Perfect Guy," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," "When the Bough Breaks," "Proud Mary" and "Slender Man," so forgive me for normally not being excited about a ScreenGems thriller. But again, this was initially a Sundance film, so that's why I've had my eye on it for a while. After seeing it nearly three weeks ago, why am I just now getting around to writing my review? Honestly when I walked out of the theater, one of my first thoughts was, "How in the heck do I write this review?" Normally reviews are pretty basic, but when it comes to a twisty, mysterious thriller, anything I say could be considered a spoiler that ruins the experience, so I got stumped.

If any of you have seen the Studio C skit "Spoiler Alert," this is exactly how I feel right now and how I have felt since walking out of the theater. If you haven't seen that, search it right now on YouTube and you'll get me. So what do I say? I almost want to simply recommend you go see it if you enjoy a smart thriller that keeps you guessing throughout. It can get a bit dark, but it's only PG-13, so it's more user-friendly when compared to other thrillers that are similar. If that's good enough for you, then perhaps my job here is done. If I've already spoiled the whole movie for you based on me simply saying that I like it and that it's a smart thriller, then I sincerely apologize. I will continue to attempt a full review, but from here on out I'm going to give the warning that you may want to simply not read this review if you are excited about this movie until after you've seen it. From that, I suppose the next logical thing is to give you a premise. The general premise here is pretty basic. We have a father, mother and daughter living a seemingly normal life. A thing happens to the mother that transforms our happy family into a less happy family with just a father and daughter living together. Then the daughter goes missing, leaving the father all alone to figure out what happened to his life.

The first major theme I'll spoil here is what the trailer already gave away. The disconnect between parent and child that can happen without the parent realizing it. This is honestly a really sad story because the father honestly thought that he was doing a good job raising his daughter, all things considered, but then comes to the depressing realization that he didn't know his daughter at all. She really needed him, but he wasn't there for her. He thought he was. And he did his best. But he just didn't have the full knowledge or comprehension of how to be there for her and so she secretly drifted away into a different lifestyle without him knowing about them. Then when the world collapses from under her and she ends up missing, that lifestyle is brought to the forefront as the investigation team, along with her father, dig into the harsh realities of her past in order to figure out why she's gone missing. Sometimes the truth can hurt. Thus I think that this movie has the power to be very eye-opening to a lot of people, especially parents with kids of their own, and even more especially if said kids are in high school. You might think you know everything about your children, but do you really?

I think there's an especially deep connection to the idea of trying to be a single parent. A child often needs both parents in order to progress. A father and a mother bring very different things to the table that are critical to a child's development. But when one parent either leaves or passes away, the remaining parent can struggle to properly raise the child. That's why I think John Cho does an excellent job in this movie as a single father trying his best to raise a teenage daughter. He brings a lot of charm and charisma to the table here and you care for him. You fully believe that he's an excellent husband and father, but when he's forced to fly solo, he does an excellent job of acting like a normal human being. Parents are far from perfect even when they have each other to lean on. But when you lose your spouse and have to raise a child on your own, that's a difficult task. When he approaches certain people who bluntly tell him how much he's failed in raising his daughter, well, they're kinda right. He did a lot of things wrong that could've potentially prevented this situation. But at the same time, he's only human and was doing the best he could, yet has to face the harsh realities that his daughter might be gone and there's nothing he can do to fix that. He also makes plenty of mistakes during the investigation, but at the same time he acts in a way that many might act.

Thus these themes transformed this movie from your typical missing person mystery investigation to a surprisingly deep and thought-provoking film. Even in moments where you can say it's a bit by-the-numbers, it's a lot more than that due to the execution of the plot and the excellent performances from the cast. Now in speaking about taking a basic by-the-numbers premise and making it original, the style of this movie is rather fascinating as it's all told through computer screens and social media pages. Every time you see the father, or any character for that matter, it's from the viewpoint of a computer or phone, usually through face time. The movie also spends a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and various other social media platforms. And it's not discount versions of these in order to avoid copyright. It's the actual social media sites, meaning they probably paid a good premium in order to use all of them. And the way they used them in the movie are extremely clever in ways that I'll let you experience on your own. But there's a lot of attention spent on the details of each page and each site that manages to keep your attention for the entire time, thus the movie is able to avoid feeling like a gimmick and rather becomes extremely creative and clever.

I don't know exactly what to label this style as. It has been done before in the movie "Unfriended" and its sequel that came out this summer of which few people saw. But I like to call it a more modern take on the found footage genre. Social media found footage, if you will. Found footage is the style of movie where the main character carries around a camera for the whole time, usually with the intention of making a documentary or filming their lives, like "The Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity." But in 2018 that's outdated because no one carries a camera around all the time. So updating the genre with social media pages and other computer-related applications instead of a physical camera is a smart idea. If this idea catches on and lots of movies start using this idea, then the novelty might wear off. But at the moment, it feels fresh and new. And I think thematically it fits in because much of the movie is about the disconnect between a father and a daughter. Showing that disconnect by using social media and computers is really smart, because we get to see how the father isn't able to understand his daughter's generation with how he uses his computer and browses the internet rather than simply being told through dialogue.

My biggest problem with this style in "Searching" is the same problem I had with the movie "Chronicle" with its usage of found footage. For most of "Chronicle," the use of found footage was completely justified. But towards the end, the narrative didn't lend itself to found footage because there were certain instances where you simply would not be carrying around a camera and filming. Thus "Chronicle" had to take some shortcuts to finish the story by jumping from various street cameras and whatnot connect the dots. And that's the same thing with "Searching." Not only does the father spend an awful lot of time face timing the detective on his case because the narrative required it, but at times when they were out in the field searching without their computers and phones, the movie was pushed a corner a bit because they committed themselves to this style, so they taped things together with breaking news stories on the internet that filled in the gaps. And that was fine, but it was those points in the movie where the style no longer fit the narrative. I certainly commend them for their dedication, but it was pushing it a bit in these scenes, especially since the story of this daughter went a lot more viral than it probably would've in real life.

But these are more nitpicks than anything. I think this movie has a lot of poignant themes regarding parenthood and relationships in general. There's a strong sense of humanity to this movie that I think a lot of people are going to be able to connect with on a very personal level. I think it's going to cause people to look at all of the people in their lives, whether it be children, parents, friends, classmates, coworkers, siblings or associates and cause them to wonder how well they know the people around them and make them wonder if there's more that they could be doing to build these relationships that they might not be properly building at the present time. And in speaking about this, I've only scratched the surface with this movie. There's a lot more characters in this movie and a lot more plot to discuss that I am simply avoiding. In fact, this whole review has been mostly a deep dive into the first portion of this movie and I allowed myself to go deep into this initial section because I don't know how to discuss anything else without spoiling the movie. I want to tell you my reactions to the middle section of the movie and especially to the ending, but my hands are tied and I'm just going to have to leave you hanging. All that I'm going to say is that my grade is a 9/10.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Nun Review

It's been a while since I did a movie review. And even longer since I did a movie review of a movie that I saw in theaters. Prior to "The Last Sharknado," which was a TV movie released in late August, my previous review was "Crazy Rich Asians," which I saw back on August 15. Truth be told, there's movies I could've seen and reviewed. But outside a little indie thriller called "Searching," which I did see and plan on reviewing soon, there really wasn't anything that grabbed my attention, so I did other things with my life as I waited for more notable movies to come out. Based on reviews, both from audiences and critics, as well as box office totals ("Crazy Rich Asians" and "The Meg" have been in the top two since they were released, prior to this past weekend that is), it doesn't appear that there was much out there that any of my family or friends were begging me to review either. Typical late-August/early-September lull. It's a period of time that Hollywood has learned to avoid, thus most movies that do come out are more or less dumping ground fodder. But the rest of the year has plenty of movies to offer, thus it should be full speed ahead from now until the end of the year. And we start with what you can call the first movie of the Halloween season, "The Nun."

This movie comes to us via The Conjuring franchise. With this being the second spin-off of the main two movies, with a whole room full of potential other spin-offs waiting in the wings, many of started referring to this as The Conjuring Cinematic Universe, because, you know, ever since "The Avengers," we all have to have one of those. But we're now five films in and it's been a mostly enjoyable ride. The biggest issue I have with the main two films is that they spend way too much time trying to convince the audience that these are true stories that actually happened, using that as a main scare tactic. When you look up the actual events, it's quite obvious that it's all a bunch of hogwash and the main investigators have about as much real life credence as any of those other dumb ghost story investigators that you see on TV. Not to say that all demonic possession stuff is fictional, but these specific cases are fantasy that paranoid individuals blow out of proportion. If the movies would just accept that and focus on giving me a good horror movie without pushing the true story angle so hard, I wouldn't be complaining about that so much because both "The Conjuring" and "The Conjuring 2" are solidly crafted horror films with good stories and interesting themes

When it comes to the spin-offs, well, I haven't seen "Annabelle," but reaction across the board says that I didn't miss anything. But I did see and enjoy "Annabelle: Creation," so I was hoping to get some good "Annabelle: Creation" vibes out of the "The Nun," especially since it didn't take much convincing for me to be on board with this. The character of this demonic Nun showed up in "The Conjuring 2" and that brief moment of screen time was extremely effective. Shortly thereafter they announced they were doing a whole film based off of that and my immediate reaction was "Yes, please!" I wasn't expecting a whole lot going in. They just needed to come of with a decent enough mythology behind this and put together a well-crafted movie full of effective scares and proper set up and I think this would've been a home run. That's what "Annabelle: Creation" did. I mean, we've done the creepy doll story a thousand times, but the reason we have is because the idea is effective when properly executed. The story and the characters from "Annabelle: Creation" weren't anything to write home about, but the way the set up the horror sequences in the film had me on the edge of my seat. Surely they can do this again, right?

Yet that's the most frustrating thing about this. James Wan, who is a master at horror and the reason this whole Conjuring franchise exists, helped right this script. In three out of four of these movies, everyone involved has known exactly what needs to be done in order to make the movies work. So what went wrong this time around? Before I go into specifics in tearing this down, I will say on a positive note that on a technical scale, this movie is quite excellent. The set designs are quite excellent. This Nun place that we spend most of the movie in is a creepy place set in the middle of no where with dark passages and creepy hallways. The score of the movie is effective. The movie is wonderfully shot with great visual effects and near perfect cinematography. We even had excellent acting throughout as our main characters, a young Nun who hadn't quite taken her vows and a more experienced priest assigned to investigate this matter, were characters worth caring about. Sure, we had a comic relief character named Frenchie that was mildly annoying, although I don't think he was quite as bad as some have claimed and didn't detract from the movie at all. And we even had a solid opening sequence that made me believe I was going to enjoy this movie despite the reviews.

But outside all of that, there's just nothing here. It's like a fancy, shiny outer shell with nothing inside. I said earlier that all they had to do was come up with a decent enough mythology behind this and I would've been sold. But there is no mythology here. Not one that's worth anything, that is. The set up here is that we have a demon from Hell who is trying to escape, but throughout history the Nuns at this place have done a great job of keeping the demon at bay by keeping it locked in Hell thanks to the blood of Christ. That is until sometime about 20 years before "The Conjuring" an airstrike of sorts breaks the seal and causes the demon to escape. But the demon can't become fully realized until it possesses a human form, so it wanders around as a nameless, shapeless demon taking the form of a Nun in order to try to possess one of the Nuns in the place. And that's it. That's our demon Nun mythology. The movie begins when a Nun at this place commits suicide, which causes the Church in the area to send people out to investigate what's going on and see if that place is still holy. I just wanted more out of this premise. I wasn't expecting a lot. Just more than what I got. I've seen monster-of-the-week episodes in "Supernatural" that were more creative. 

On top of this premise being as thin as humanly possible, the movie is not scary at all. Granted, I'm not one of these people that requires a horror movie to scare me silly in order to be pleased with the final results. In fact, I often appreciate a good indie horror film that spends more time focusing on story and characters rather than making me jump at every turn. I can come out loving a horror movie, even if I wasn't that scared. But this movie didn't give me story. It didn't give me good character arcs. It didn't hardly give any mythology. AND it wasn't scary. In fact, this demon Nun barely showed up in its own movie. I honestly think it got just as much screen time as it did in "The Conjuring 2." Our characters spent more time wandering around this place, talking to each other, investigating the situation, thinking they saw something around the corner and praying that they make it out alive than they did confronting the demon itself. I can appreciate a solid setup if the movie wants to first make me feel uneasy about the situation, but there has to be a balance. And even then, I didn't feel uneasy with the setup. I was just bored with the movie and confused as to why all these random supernatural events were happened that had zero explanation or zero purpose to them in the end.

In summary, this whole situation felt like the writers and director of "The Conjuring 2" came up with an excellent idea of what could've made a great spin-off movie and teased that with the demon Nun in their movie, but then whoever got put in charge of turning that concept into a full movie, whether it being themselves or a new team, ended up coming up completely blank as to how to execute this. There's great set designs, great acting, and near perfection on a technical scale, but no substance. There's a paper thin, run-of-the-mill demon mythology, a non-existent story, confusing supernatural events that showed the filmmakers didn't even know the rules of their own movie or what this thing was capable of and why, and a whole lot of attempted cliche jump scares and loud noises. The demon itself barely showed up in its own movie and when it did, it just unintimidatingly growled at the characters, which almost made me roll over laughing instead of cowering in my seat. But hey, I hear that the first Annabelle had a lot of these same issues. Yet they turned around and came up with a good movie the second time around with "Annabelle: Creation." Maybe they can follow suit with a sequel here, given how much money its made. My grade for "The Nun" is a 5/10. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Movie Preview: September 2018

We're already one weekend into September with only four weekends to cover, so it's time to get this show on the road. We've hit the time of the year where things always slow down as Hollywood typically plans out their major releases in months not named August or September, thus making this the awkward spot in between the summer movie season and the holiday season. That said, Hollywood is learning more and more that big movies can be released in any month of the year as long as you have a well made film on your hands combined with an excellent marketing effort to get audiences excited. This past August was a good example of that as things looks very dreary heading into the month. Disney had "Christopher Robin," which was always going to play decently, but outside that and some July holdovers, it didn't seem like anything was set to break out. Yet "The Meg" and "Crazy Rich Asians" had other plans as both movies took August by storm, earning $112.3 million and $94.5 million respectively in August alone. Now the final tally of $848 million for August 2018 was nothing close to record-breaking, but it's a decent total considering how bleak things looked. September 2018 is already off to an excellent start, so let's not waste any time in jumping in.

September 7th - 9th-

Last year on this exact weekend, the horror phenomenon "IT" took the world by storm as it opened to $123.4 million, shattering all sorts of records, including the September opening weekend record, which was previously held by "Hotel Transylvania 2" with $48.5 million. This gave Warner Bros. an excellent idea as they set out to see if they could catch lightning in a bottle twice as they scheduled the latest in The Conjuring franchise, The Nun, for this post Labor Day weekend. Sure, "The Nun" didn't come anywhere close to "IT," but it was another major win for Warner Bros. as it opened to the second highest opening weekend of September with $53.8 million, which is also a total higher than any previous film in The Conjuring franchise, with the record previously belonging to the original film with $41.9 million. An extremely effective marketing campaign as well as good will from the franchise as a whole is what led to this monster opening. The movie tells the origins of the creepy Nun character that showed up in "The Conjuring 2," which turned out to be a good enough tease to support a solo movie adventure. With a reported production budget of just $22 million, the $53.8 million domestic opening is a huge win for Warner Bros.

The biggest question for "The Nun" will be its long-term potential. On one hand, you could point out the fact that this is the beginning of the Halloween season. A full two months in theaters leading up to Halloween could prove very fruitful, as was the case with "IT" last year. However, despite having excellent totals for its opening weekend, what "The Nun" doesn't have is positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, critics were brutal with the film, giving it a 26 percent score, the worst score in the franchise, below the first "Annabelle," which got a 29 percent score. Audiences weren't much better as they gave it a 49 percent on the audience side of Rotten Tomatoes as well as a C cinemascore from opening day audiences. This leads one to believe that a front loaded showing is probably in the cards. Looking at "Annabelle," that only had a 2.27 multiplier. If "The Nun" falls in line there, a final total of around $120 million domestically would be where it ends up, meaning it would fall short of the $137.4 million total of "The Conjuring," which remains the best domestic total in the franchise. But still, a $120 million total most likely means more Nun movies will be on the way.

The news wasn't quite as positive for our other two wide releases, led by Jennifer Garner's revenge-thriller Peppermint, which barely edged out "Crazy Rich Asians" for second place with $13.4 million when weekend actuals were released. The movie saw Garner back in an action role, which is the type of role where she made a name for herself in the early 2000's with the likes of "Alias" and "Elektra." In "Peppermint," Garner stars as a woman whose family gets killed and she eventually decides to take justice into her own hands when the police's work on the case doesn't satisfy her. In terms of reaction, critics were even harsher on this movie than "The Nun," giving it a 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Although, unlike "The Nun," audiences seemed more on board with this, giving it an 82 percent audience score as well as a respectable B+ cinemascore, so there's an outside chance that this holds on fairly decently. A comparable title might be last September's "American Assassin," which opened to $14.8 million and wound up with $36.2 million, a 2.45 multiplier. A similar multiplier for "Peppermint" would allow the movie to sneak past $30 million total and possibly come close to $40 million if word of mouth is decent enough to overcome the critical beating it's taking.

Debuting outside the top 10 this weekend was God Bless the Broken Road, which could only muster up $1.39 million from 1,272 theaters. This puts the movie in identical territory as, well, "The Identical," another movie from distributor Freestyle Releasing, which debuted to $1.59 million in September 2014. "The Identical" ended with just $2.8 million, which might be where "God Bless the Broken Road" will end up as there's a long list of smaller Christian films that opened in this million dollar range that quickly disappeared from theaters. "God Bless the Broken Road" comes from the director of "God's Not Dead" and "God's Not Dead 2" and is about a woman trying to get back on the road of faith after the passing of her husband put her on a bit of a rocky path. She also meets a race car driver to potentially help her out.

September 14th - 16th-

We now break away from analyzing the recent past in order to move forward with our usual business in previewing the near future and that will begin with one of Hollywood's current favorite things to do in bringing back an 80's franchise as The Predator debuts. Yes, it's true that only one movie from this franchise is from the 80's, but it could be argued that the 1987 "Predator" is really the only one most people care about. Critic-wise, "Predator" stands at a certified fresh 80 percent, "Predator 2" is at a dismal 28 percent, which seems good compared to the 20 percent and 11 percent of the two "Alien vs. Predator" movies. Then we have the 2010 reboot "Predators" which looks epic comparatively at 65 percent. So why does Hollywood keep trying? That's an excellent question, but they've been stubborn with both this and the Alien franchise even though they probably should've given up long ago. "The Predator" does have Shane Black attached to direct, which might excite some, but early reviews are mediocre, coming in like with 2010's "Predators" at the moment with 63 percent, thus warranting a potential box office comparison as well. On that note, "Predators" opened to $24.8 million. Or it could act more like "Alien: Covenant," which opened to $36.2 million.

The early to mid September thriller seems to be a popular thing recently and that will continue this month with A Simple Favor debuting in around 3,000 theaters. While there's no good comparison to last September, the previous three years all had at least one major thriller that will be in the same ball park as "A Simple Favor," with "No Good Deed" opening to $24.2 million in September 2014, "The Perfect Guy" opening to $25.9 million in September 2015, "The Visit" opening to $25.4 million also in September 2015, and "When the Bough Breaks" opening to $14.2 million in September 2016. "A Simple Favor" stars Anna Kendrick trying to uncover the truth about her best friend's disappearance, with said friend being played by Blake Lively. The movie is directed by Paul Feig, who usually is directing comedies like "Bridesmaids," "The Heat," "Spy" and "Ghostbusters" as opposed to thrillers, so looking at his filmography is probably not the best comparison here. In a perfect world for this film, this would hit the mid $20 million range like the aforementioned thrillers from 2014 and 2015, thus potentially trying to play spoiler if "The Predator" fails, but "When the Bough Breaks" is probably a better comparison as this will probably come in somewhere in the low teens.

Attempting to challenge "A Simple Favor" for what will most likely be the third spot, as "The Nun" will likely come in second with around $20 million, is our latest drug cartel movie White Boy Rick. This sort of premise has become quite popular recently, both on the big screen and the small screen. In the TV/Netflix series world, we have shows like "Breaking Bad," "Ozark" and "Narcos" that have done quite well. On the big screen, we have both "Sicario" movies as well as the best comparison to "White Boy Rick" in "American Made," which came out last September and was also a true story about a normal person who got involved in the drug business due to the potential of earning money. "White Boy Rick" tells the story of a teenage white boy named Rick who got heavily involved in the drug business before he turned 16. On that note, "American Made" opened to $16.8 million last September, a total which would win "White Boy Rick" third place if it accomplished that. However, the biggest difference between the two movies is the theater count as "White Boy Rick" will be debuting in around 2,400 theaters as opposed to 3,100. "American Made" also had the star power of Tom Cruise and a major studio in Universal pushing it, neither of which "White Boy Rick" has.

The final film opening this weekend is another smaller Christian film, Unbroken: Path to Redemption. This comes via Pure Flix, who distributed "Samson," "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" and "Death of a Nation" this year so far, all of which opened below $3 million. In fact, Pure Flix's biggest opening weekend is "God's Not Dead 2" with $7.6 million and "Woodlawn" with $4 million. "Path to Redemption" has the chance to be on the higher end of that spectrum given the "Unbroken" connection. While it may not be completely appropriate to call this a sequel to "Unbroken," given that this is a completely different cast and crew than the original movie, "Path to Redemption" tells the rest of the story that the original film left out. In regards to Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book based on the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian turned World War II prisoner, the book had three major sections: before the war, during the war, and after the war. "Unbroken" told the first two sections of that story, leaving the final third of the book to be summarized in a couple of sentences at the end. "Path to Redemption" attempts to do justice to that final act by focusing their movie on the events of Zamperini's life when he got home, which was a big reason for the book's success.

September 21st - 23rd-

The third weekend of September only has one major film that seems poised to top the box office and that is the family friendly Halloween flick The House with a Clock in Its Walls. This is based on the 1973 children's mystery novel of the same name by John Bellairs and is actually the first book in a 12-book series that features the lead character Lewis Barnavelt, the main kid in the series. The most recent book came out in 2008 and is titled "The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer." The Halloween season always provides adults and teens with plenty of options and this year is no different with "The Nun," "Hell Fest" and "Halloween," but the family audience doesn't always get proper attention at Halloween, which is why this movie has a decent advantage at the box office, although it will actually have direct competition come October with "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween," meaning families will have options to choose from this Halloween season, which is an even rarer case. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are set to star, giving this an even bigger advantage, with Owen Vaccaro set to play the main kid Lewis Barnavelt. The most curious element here is director Eli Roth, who has only done gruesome R-rated movies before this, so we'll see how he translates to doing a kids movie.

While "House with a Clock" is the only major film being released this week, there are two smaller films set for wide release and the most notable of those two is Fahrenheit 11/9, the latest political documentary from Michael Moore. Back in 2004, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was Michael Moore's radical political documentary that tried to show how awful President Bush was in hopes to get him to lose the election that year. It failed in that goal as President Bush won a second term. But in the process "Fahrenheit 9/11" made an astounding $119.2 million, which is the highest grossing documentary by a large margin. Now in 2018, 14 years after "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore has flipped around the title with his anti-Trump documentary, which is exactly what "Fahrenheit 11/9" is. In terms of the box office, ain't no way this is getting close to "Fahrenheit 9/11," which opened to $23.9 million on it's way to that $119.2 million. Rather, a look at fellow political radical Dinesh D'Souza could clue us in, even though D'Souza is literally on the exact opposite side of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, "2016: Obama's America" opened to $6.5 million in 2012 while "Hillary's America" opened to $3.9 million in 2016. Somewhere in that ball park would probably be where this lands.

And finally, Amazon Studios will be delivering Life Itself into theaters following its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. "Life Itself" is a multi-generational drama diving into all of the twists and turns that life throws at people as it follows Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde as a couple who go from college romance to marriage to the birth of their first child and potentially more. In addition to Isaac and Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Antonio Banderas, Samuel L. Jackson among others. The problem, though, with this type of movie is that in order to make a true dent in the box office coming out of TIFF, you need to have a lot of buzz following your premier and that's not something that "Life Itself" got at all. In fact, out of nine reviews out on Rotten Tomatoes, eight of them are rotten, giving this an early score of 11 percent. Yes, that's a very early sample size and it's possible that general audiences are a lot less bitter towards this, but that reaction comes as a bit of a red flag, meaning this movie might be the type of movie that flies under everyone's radars and makes little impact when it comes to the box office.

September 28th - 30th-

The final weekend of September might be a bit of a tossup when it comes to who is going to wind up on top, but for now I'll give the edge to Warner Animation Group's Smallfoot. This is a movie that attempts a bit of a comedic role reversal that aims to amuse the younger audience. Usually in real life we have the humans hunting out the mythical Big Foot creatures. But in this movie, it's the Big Foot creatures, or Yeti in this instance, who believe that the humans, the "Smallfoot" are the more mythical creatures. Most of the Yeti don't believe they exist, but one Yeti is out to prove that they actually do because he thinks he saw one. Get it? It's funny! Although in all seriousness, if this pleases the younger crowd, then it's done its job. Although the challenge here for WAG is that they're not quite on the level of a Disney or Pixar when it comes to their animated movies, especially not outside their "LEGO Movie" franchise. As mentioned in the previous weekend, we also have "House with a Clock" and "Goosebumps 2" coming out this Halloween season and given that "Smallfoot" doesn't really have the Halloween connection, it could be the one at the disadvantage here. Fellow WAG film "Storks" might be the best comparison as that opened to $21.3 million in September 2016.

The biggest competition for "Smallfoot" will be Night School, a movie that has been trending upwards. The movie stars Kevin Hart as someone who is forced to attend night school in hopes to pass the GED to finish high school. Tiffany Haddish, star of "Girls Trip," plays the role of his teacher that is working to whip him into shape. And of course all of them end up getting into some sort of trouble in order to up the ante for the comedy in the movie. Now there's plenty of comedies to look at from this year for comparison. We have "Blockers," which opened to $20.6 million, "Life of the Party" with $17.9 million, "Game Night" with $17 million, and "Tag" with $14.9 million. "Night School" could slip into that range in the mid- to upper-teens, but the star power of Hart and Haddish could prove explosive, especially if the movie connects with audiences. "Girl's Trip," starring Haddish, surprised last year with $31.2 million while Hart helped power "Central Intelligence" to a $35.5 million opening in 2016. "Night School" also has a lighter PG-13 rating, which means it could have an appeal with teens and adults alike, which is something that greatly helped "Central Intelligence." So don't be surprised if this ends up winning the weekend.

The Halloween season continues to roll on as we get closer to the holiday in October and that leads us to our second major adult horror film of the season, if we're counting "The Nun" as the first and that is Hell Fest. This will act as more of an original horror, which should put it at a disadvantage when compared to "The Nun" and "Halloween," both of which have a large built-in fan base going in, especially the 40-year run of the "Halloween" franchise. "Hell Fest" is going to try to start from scratch and gain its own fan base, which will largely be determined by the quality of the movie itself. The premise surrounds a Halloween theme park that has a costumed killer walking out picking park attendants off one by one as said park attendants are initially unsure of whether being chased by this killer is a part of the experience or is actually a deadly situation where their lives are in danger. The film is going for an 80's slasher vibe, which could work out well as 80's nostalgia is a huge thing in our society right now. But if reaction to the movie isn't very positive, horror fans will most likely choose to save their money for "Halloween." Chances are that the production budget with this wasn't very high, so either way it probably won't take a whole lot for this to turn out a profit.

The final film of the month is the, wait for it, seventh film adaptation of the classic novel Little Women. There were two silent films in 1917 and 1918 as well as major adaptations in 1933 by George Cukor, 1949 by Mervyn LeRoy, 1978 by David Lowell Rich and 1994 by Gillian Armstrong. There have been six television series made, four by BBC in 1950, 1958, 1970 and 2017 as well as two Japanese anime series in the 1980's. There was a Broadway musical that began in 2005 and an American Opera version that began in 1998. And if that's not enough, there's another film adaptation coming in December 2019 by Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig of "Lady Bird" fame, which is set to star Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern. This 2018 version, though, was made to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel and will be directed Clare Niederpruem in her feature-length directorial debut. The main star is Lea Thompson. The rest of the cast consists of a lot of people that general audiences probably don't know too well. And the distributor here is brand new. So there's all kinds of red flags here as a lot of people might now know this version even exists, which might lead to small box office returns.