Wednesday, November 28, 2018
I know I'm late with this review, but I was busy with Thanksgiving this past week and had no time to type my review. So you're getting it a week late. In "Ralph Breaks the Internet" we again return to our beloved arcade, which is understandably becoming a bit run down as it's hard for arcades to compete with modern gaming. Just like it's been six years since the first movie came out, the events in this movie take place six years later in this fictional universe. Ralph is absolutely loving life. He gets to work at his game during the day and hang out with his best friend Vanellope all night. However, Vanellope is getting a bit restless because she's getting a bit bored with doing the same thing over and over in her game. When Ralph tries to help her out by spicing her track up a bit, it leads to the steering wheel in her game breaking. Because of the fact that the arcade just isn't making that much money, the arcade owner decides it's time to retire her game of Sugar Rush because the price it would cost to fix it is more than the game makes in a year. This leads to Vanellope feeling even more insecure about things. So in order to help his friend, Ralph comes up with a plan for them to head off to the internet via the new WiFi router that was just installed in order to find the new part.
What I really appreciate with this movie is the creativity with this idea. This feels like a sequel that was made because someone came up with a clever idea as to what they could do next rather than it being the other way around, that being Disney commissioning a sequel because the first made money, causing filmmakers to then figure out what to do next. Supporting this idea in my brain is the fact that in Disney's modern animation renaissance that began with "Tangled" in 2010, "Wreck-It Ralph" is actually their lowest grossing movie besides the 2011 "Winnie the Pooh," which wasn't pushed heavily as a tent-pole release. At the domestic box office, "Wreck-It Ralph" made $189 million, which is less than "Tangled" ($200 million), "Big Hero 6" ($222 million), "Moana" ($248 million), "Zootopia" ($341 million) and "Frozen" ($400 million). So on financial terms, it makes the least sense to do a "Wreck-It Ralph" sequel. But yet here we are. And as I said, I think that's because they came up with a great idea with Ralph and Vanellope heading off to the world of the internet, presenting a whole lot of fun avenues to go down. Because of this, the movie feels fresh and unique. I enjoyed the fact that this was a completely different movie than "Wreck-It Ralph."
In this manner, the movie is able to strike a good balance in a way that reminded me a bit of "Inside Out." Yes, a lot of the emotion characters are a lot of fun for the kids in that movie and it's one that they'll certainly enjoy. But there's a lot of clean humor in "Inside Out" catered directly towards adults that make the movie genius. Now if I'm going to address the giant elephant in the room, the other obvious comparison to "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is to "The Emoji Movie," the latter of which I still claim is a horrendous abomination. Yet both movies' premises are quite similar. What's the difference? Well, a lot. In fact, the only similarity in both movies is the idea of the internet. "The Emoji Movie" is loaded with characters you don't care about out, a stupid overall story arc, humor that just isn't funny at all, and themes that are actually bad for kids if you think about it. Nothing works in that movie and it is the epitome of everything wrong with Hollywood. Meanwhile, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" reunites us with lovely characters that we do care about, sends them on an incredible journey, has deep themes that make you tear up, and has a whole ton of fun with its internet-related humor that's actually clever and genius. It's a powerful movie for kids.
In regards to said journey and themes, this is where the movie caught me off guard. I expected to have fun with its internet-related humor. I relished at the opportunity of diving into the world of Oh My Disney because there was so many things that could be done there. But I had no idea what the story of the movie was going to be because the movie did a great job of not revealing that. At least not in the initial trailers. The story that remains hidden from the advertisement is one related to friendship. As the movie sets up at the beginning, Ralph is perfectly content with the life that he is living. Vanellope is not. She enjoys her game and she enjoys racing, but there's something missing in her life that she can't quite put her finger on. I don't want to dive into too many details on how this turns out, but the story here is one of self-discovery. Vanellope is trying to search for her dream and for what her place in the world is. She slowly starts to realize that her dreams and aspirations may be quite different than Ralph's, so the two of them have to reconcile their friendship to figure out what each of them wants to do. Sometimes life takes best friends in different directions and that's perfectly OK. I think that's a powerful message for kids as well as one that will connect with adults.
As far as negatives go, I hate to be a Debbie Downer is such a delightful movie, but the movie does take a while to get going. We spent a lot more time in the arcade at the beginning than I thought we were going to. It takes a while for them to get to the internet. And when we get to the internet, it also takes a while for me to figure out what the actual plot was outside them looking for a new part to Vanellope's game. There's a lot of emotion and a lot of power in this movie, but it requires a bit of patience to get there. I've actually seen the movie twice now, once with a friend on the night it debuted and once on Thanksgiving morning with a crowd of young people. Now if you ask a kid what they thought of the movie, they're not going to dive into some great analysis of what they thought. They're just going to say they loved it and call that good. But if you watch them watching the movie, you can get clues as to how much they are enjoying the movie and the first half of the movie had a lot of restless kids in the theater, so it wasn't just me. The theater got a bit noisy as the kids were running out of patience while watching the film. It's also worth noting that there are certain parts of the movie that are a bit scary for kids, so be aware of that if your kids get scared easily.
That aside, the movie as a whole is mostly a delight. With how powerful the second half of the movie is, you're going to walk out of the theater on a powerful emotional high, perhaps having forgotten about any flaws the movie has getting started. And your kids are going to have so much fun in the end that they'll forget that they were a little bored and restless with the beginning. Thus I have positive feelings towards this movie with a very high recommendation that makes me troubled in my mind in regards to whether I liked this movie or "Incredibles 2" more. But the picky critic in me has to point out that the movie as a whole isn't quite as sharp as the original and that's OK, so there's your answer as to which "Wreck-It Ralph" movie is better. When I put together my ranking of all the Disney animated movies, "Wreck-It Ralph" made it somewhere in the top 15. I have no idea where "Ralph Breaks the Internet" will be on that list, but it won't be nearly as high. That said, the two movies are quite different and can be enjoyed for different reasons. That also means if you didn't like "Wreck-It Ralph," there's a chance that this movie might win you over, but I might be the wrong person to ask there since I loved "Wreck-It Ralph." That said, I'm still going to give "Ralph Breaks the Internet" a 9/10.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
In regards to the plot of the film, there's not a whole you can do when you're on the eighth movie in a boxing franchise, yet somehow "Creed II" managed to strike gold with its premise, tying it directly into "Rocky IV." As a recap, "Rocky IV" is the movie where Dolph Lundgreen's Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed, Rocky's opponent in the first two movies and friend in the third movie, in a boxing match at the beginning of the film. Rocky then has to train hard to get revenge against Drago, which he does at the end of the film. "Creed" is a movie that follows the emergence of Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, as he tries to emerge out of the shadow of his legendary father to create his own legacy. With Adonis having grabbed the attention of the world at the end of "Creed," it felt like the natural progression of things to bring Ivan Drago back into the picture for "Creed II." Of course Ivan Drago is too old to fight on his own in this movie, but he has his son Victor Drago trained and ready to beat Adonis, bringing glory back to the Drago name after Rocky humiliated Ivan years later. So the moment Adonis is declared world champion, the Dragos come out of the woodwork to challenge him to a fight. Victor vs. Adonis. Drago vs. Creed. Now Adonis needs to make up his mind in regards to what to do.
Powering this movie forward are a whole string of brilliant performances, lead once again by Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed. Jordan has been on the scene for quite some time now with roles in the "Friday Night Lights" TV series and "Chronicle" in 2012 being some early examples. But "Fruitvale Station" in 2013 is where he really grabbed a lot of people's attention, which most certainly led to him being cast in the lead role in "Creed," given that both movies were directed by Ryan Coogler. And well, pun very much intended, but he delivered a knock-out performance in "Creed," one that should've given him an Oscar nomination. This year he's made an even bigger name for himself as gave what some have called a performance for the ages as he starred as Erik Killmonger in "Black Panther," a performance that could give him his first Oscar nomination depending on how much the Oscars love "Black Panther" this year. So yeah, the guy can definitely act. And he once again gives his all to this role, making me believe that he's a prolific boxer who deserves his spot next to Rocky Balboa in this franchise. When the movie did the sports movie trope of showing the Sports Center guys, I bought into the idea that I was legitimately watching Sports Center rather than it feeling forced.
Of course there's a lot of great supporting actors holding Michael B. Jordan up so that he's not carrying this movie by himself. The most obvious one here is Sylvester Stallone returning as Rocky, which is always good to see. In "Creed," Stallone gave potentially his best performance yet as the iconic character, which still makes me mad that the Oscars gave the best supporting actor award to Mark Rylance instead, despite Stallone practically sweeping the rest of the awards season in that category. In "Creed II," Stallone's role isn't quite as emotionally heavy, thus on Oscar nomination is probably not on his way and I'm fine with that. But he still owns it as this character. It's been 40 years since he first stepped into this role and it was once again great to see this legacy of his continue. Surprisingly, though, if there was one actor in this movie who deserves a supporting actor nomination, I would contend it's Dolph Lundgreen as Ivan Drago. He was one of Rocky's most cold-hearted opponents and you want to hate him, but they give him a ton of depth in this movie that actually causes you to feel for the guy. You kinda want his son to go get the win because of it, which makes this a very conflicted fight even though Victor still acts like a stuck-up jerk.
That said, the movie as a whole was still very enjoyable. Did it do anything particularly new? No. But in this case I don't think it needed to. Since I watched this the day after Thanksgiving, the comparison that I thought off was a Thanksgiving dinner. When I sit down for a Thanksgiving dinner, which is one of my favorite meals of the year, I don't need something new or different. In fact, I need my turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes on my plate or I'm going to feel underwhelmed. It's the same thing with a Rocky movie. I need the drama at the beginning to set up an end fight. I need the main character to fall a bit. I need him to find the motivation to fight. I need an epic training montage. I need an epic final battle with the classic soundtrack thrown somewhere in there. If the movie went away from any of that, I would be disappointed. So yeah, I knew exactly where this movie was going and I wasn't surprised by the final result, but that's what made me so happy. It included all the elements that I wanted. But not just that, it handled those elements with care and precision to deliver a well-crafted Rocky movie. There is a lot more specific details that I could dive into, but for now I'll let you discover those on your own. "Creed II" is a worthy successor and I'm going to give it an 8/10.
Saturday, November 17, 2018
The 40 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes? Yeah, I didn't care. That should've been a warning sign to me. But it wasn't. The 40-70 percent range is what I call mixed reviews. Even though the first "Fantastic Beasts" wound up as positive on the tomatometer, that one had very mixed reactions among fans and I wound up on the positive side there. In fact, I thought "Fantastic Beasts" was a clever way to get us all back into the franchise. Back in 2011, after seeing "The Deathly Hallows - Part 2" in theaters, I was emotionally crushed because I felt this part of my life was coming to a close. I didn't know how to react to the idea of not having something Harry Potter related to look forward to. Thus after a five year wait, I was relieved when said chapter wasn't actually ending. There was still more movies to look forward to. Granted, I was initially worried as to how they were going to turn a Harry Potter textbook into a movie, but it turns out the beasts themselves weren't the real focus here. The focus was on what was happening in the wizarding world when Newt Scamander, author of said textbook, was a young man. J.K. Rowling has said she's been attached to this character for a while and now she's been excited to finally tell his stories to the world. I was totally on board with this.
Sure, "Fantastic Beasts" was far from a perfect film. I think the biggest problem is that the storyline in the movie as a whole isn't super memorable and not all of the characters connected as well with me as our main Harry Potter saga. But it was an excellent introduction to this new generation of movies in the wizarding world. The most exciting thing that the movie brought to the table is the promise for the future by diving into the story of Grindelwald. I remember Johnny Depp as Grindelwald was rumored to show up eventually, which is why I was taken by surprise when Colin Farrell's character ended up being Depp's Grindelwald in disguise. Yeah, I just spoiled that first movie for you, but I kinda had to in order to talk about this sequel because this second movie is about the rise of Grindelwald, as the title suggests. Ever since the seventh book, I've found this story to be rather fascinating. Dumbledore and Grindelwald were childhood friends until a huge falling out turned them into enemies. Grindelwald then experiments in the dark arts and becomes a powerful dark wizard, second only to Voldemort in power, until he was defeated by Dumbledore in 1945. Well, we're in 1927 in this movie and I was excited to see the beginning of this rise to power.
Which is why I found this movie to be so disappointing. I was extremely excited for this movie and I was quite bullish when it came to the reaction. If "Fantastic Beasts" was a solid intro to this universe, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" had the potential to blossom into a grand and glorious chapter of the wizarding world, building on what that first movie set up. And, well, I still have hope that the future of this franchise will be great. But that's the thing. The potential has not yet been reached. Instead of blossoming into something beautiful, this second chapter sputtered out and dragged it's feet, making a lot of confusing and baffling choices along the way. Thus I've been greatly troubled in my mind over the last day or so as I have no idea what to do with this. To be fair, though, this is not a bad movie. In fact, there's a skeleton of something great with some phenomenal performances holding this up. Leading the way with these performances are the two big arch rivals, Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Jude Law plays a young Dumbledore and he really captures the spirit of what makes Dumbledore so great. Standing opposite of him, Johnny Depp genuinely does a great job as the sinister and cunning Grindelwald. This is the beginnings of something great that I hope really pays off.
Yet that's where the movie started to slip away from me. I was waiting for something to happen, but all I got was an overabundance of characters all doing things that I really wasn't invested in. And speaking of this overabundance of characters, the movie really tested my brain power on who they all were. Despite being a Potter fan for the majority of my life and being well-versed in the lore, I had the haunting feeling while watching that I forgot to do my homework. It's like going into a test, looking at the questions and being filled with dread because you didn't study hard enough or you studied the wrong material. I should've re-watched the first "Fantastic Beasts" movie because I quickly realized that I forgot about who most of the characters were in that movie. I knew Newt Scamander. I knew Jacob Kowalski. I vaguely remember Queenie and Tina Goldstein. And I obviously knew Grindelwald. That's about it as concerning returning characters. With all the other people, as they came on the screen, I was doing my best to remember who they were while keeping track of what they were doing in this movie. Plus there's a whole bunch of new characters I had to learn and several that I completely forgot existed. All of this unfortunately started to hurt my brain.
Then we have the actual plot. Or, well, the main plot that was scattered throughout all of the wandering side plots. What that boils down to is that everyone is searching for Credence, a character who I embarrassingly have to admit that I completely forgot about. The movie made it loud and clear that he was extremely important as Grindelwald was desperately searching for him while a lot of the others were I believe were trying to stop Grindelwald from finding him. Thus the title of this movie could've been called "Fantastic Beasts: The Search for Credence." Or better yet, since the fantastic beasts are even less important to this movie's plot than they were in the first movie, we might as well just call it "Newt Scamander and the Search for Credence." Yet despite the movie bashing over our heads that Credence was extremely important, the movie refused to tell us why. All we know on Credence's side of things is that he has no idea who he is and he really wants to know why. OK, so that means we're in for a big reveal of some sorts, but the movie decided to drag that on for as long as humanly possibly instead of simply revealing it towards the beginning or middle and spending the rest of the movie making said reveal make sense, thus giving us an actual story to care about.
Maybe it's because I've been watching too much of the Arrowverse, but this style of mystery box reveal where they string you along for way too long has really gotten under my nerves. In "The Flash" season 3, around 90 percent of the drama was the mystery of who the masked Savitar was. They didn't reveal the identity until the very end of the season because they apparently thought it was a fun game to play with viewers. I hated it. In "Arrow" season 4, the started out revealing that a main character was going to die this season, but it was apparent that the writers had no idea who it was when they started the season. They just wanted to play that game with their viewers. When it was finally revealed towards the end of the season, I felt like throwing my computer at a wall because I was upset that they played that game with me for so long and said reveal wasn't even worth it. My feelings here were similar. "The Crimes of Grindelwald," in essence, is a movie that straps you in like a donkey and dangles a carrot in front of you the whole film, forcing you to follow it, but not letting you eat it until the journey is over. Much like "Arrow" season 4, when said reveal finally happens, it winds up being extremely confusing as it makes absolutely no sense at all.
On top of that underwhelming structure to this movie, there is a huge laundry list of other questions that J.K. Rowling sparked in my brain. It was obvious that she relied heavily on Easter eggs from the Potterverse to please fans when a lot of those Easter eggs didn't provide anything worthwhile to the plot. And there's several of these that made me wonder if J.K. Rowling fact-checked her own books to make sure what she was doing made sense because it doesn't seem like she did. I can't dive into all of these due to spoilers, but one example that I think is safe to bring up is the inclusion of Professor McGonagall, who is indeed a professor at Hogwarts in this movie. What's the problem with that? Well, if you dive into her story, or look up her Wikia, it can solidly be determined that she was born in 1935. Yet this movie takes place in 1927. Not only that, she's also still a professor during flashbacks to the early 1900's. See the problem there? It sadly reminded me a lot of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels. In the original trilogy, Leia says she remembers her mother. But in the prequels, Padme dies giving birth to Luke and Leia. Whoops! You forgot about that detail Mr. Lucas. There's several examples like this in both the Star Wars prequels and "The Crimes of Grindelwald."
Then we have characters included here like Nagini and Nicholas Flamel. There's no continuity errors with them, but their inclusion in the movie is completely pointless. And no, I don't consider bringing up either character a spoiler because they are both in the trailer and are introduced fairly early in the movie. With Nagini, we learn that she was a human who was doomed to be permanently turned into a snake. I don't know why we needed to learn that. All that it accomplishes is making Nagini's story in the Potter books a bit disturbing when she eats a human being and kinda depressing when Neville decapitates her. What does she do in this movie? Nothing. She's pointless. Maybe she'll have use in the future, but at this point in time her inclusion in the story is solely to make fans of the books happy. Same goes with Nicholas Flamel. Yeah, it was kinda cool to see him on the big screen for the first time. But does his character do anything to progress the plot forward? No. He has absolutely no purpose in the film. J.K. Rowling simply decided to bring characters in for fan recognition rather than actually giving them something to do. This whole thing made me feel like she should've been attached to this movie as a consultant rather being the one who wrote the screenplay.
So how do I grade this? This isn't a question that I should be this troubled over because the grade shouldn't be what matters here. But yet it has been. Due to all of these complaints that I've had, there's a part of me that's wanted to completely rip into this movie, calling it the worst Harry Potter film in the whole franchise and one of the worst movies of 2018. But then there's the other part of me that has quietly called out, reminding me that there are a lot of elements that I enjoyed. Johnny Depp as Grindelwald was excellent. He gets a great scene at the beginning and an even better one at the end. Jude Law as Dumbledore was an inspired casting choice. The returning cast members from the previous film also gave it their all, especially Eddie Redmayne as Newt. He's an excellent character and he has some great support around him. And yes it is true that there's a chance that my opinion could improve if I go back and watch the first movie, then re-watch this one. There's also a possibility that some questions could be answered in future movies that will ease my troubled mind, causing this movie to get better in hindsight. But there's also the chance that the exact opposite happens, so I don't know what to do. For now I'll split the difference and give this a 6/10.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Before I tell you what this movie is all about, I first want to tell you what this movie is NOT. That's a bit of a unique route to take for a movie description, but in this case it makes sense. First and foremost, this is NOT a "Cloverfield" film. "10 Cloverfield Lane" wasn't initially a "Cloverfield" film until it became one later in production. "A Quiet Place" was ALMOST a "Cloverfield" before they smartly decided against it. Then we have Netflix's "The Cloverfield Paradox" which is a lit bit of a lot of things. So given all that history, and the general secrecy regarding the "Cloverfield" franchise, everyone assumed this was going to be another "Cloverfield" movie since it was a J.J. Abrams production with his Bad Robot company. People thought maybe this would tell more of the origins of the "Cloverfield" aliens since this was set in World War II. But no, J.J. specifically came out earlier in the year to clarify that this was it's own thing without having anything to do with the "Cloverfield" franchise. And no, that wasn't a smoke screen because this doesn't secretly become a "Cloverfield" movie at the end. Granted, at this point I wouldn't put that past the "Cloverfield" franchise, but that's not what happens. It's its own movie, which in this case I think is an excellent thing.
Obviously, as I've explained, the secret Nazi mission was them experimenting with the dead to bring them back to life. And yeah, they could've done a whole lot more with this if they were aiming to do a straight up B-film involving an army of Nazi zombies during World War II, but they decided to take a realistic approach to the idea and present it in a way that this could've been something that actually happened. I found that to be a clever approach and thus I found myself to be super invested in the story leading up to it rather than simply sitting and waiting for the movie to commit to an all-out B-movie. And I think if you go into the movie expecting a war film rather than a zombie, I think there's a lot that you can take in because this is a really intense movie right from the get go. The movie wastes no time introducing characters or giving you a detailed backstory on how they got to the point where they are. Rather, the movie begins with them all strapped in on their plane, flying through the mass hysteria that was the World War II sky at night. As they fly, we get some brief exposition on what it is they are planning on doing, but at this point you aren't even sure which characters you're supposed to be following and if you're not paying close enough attention, you might miss the whole thing with all the loud noise around them before their plane gets hit and causes them to crash.
I thought that introduction to the movie was a great way to set the tone for what we were about to get ourselves into, which was a rather intense war film. After their plane blows up, you begin to know who the main characters of the film are by who actually survives. It's at this point that the movie takes the time to slowly introduce you to who these people are by their interactions among themselves as they carefully weave their way through the battlefield in order to figure out how exactly they're going to finish their mission despite the fact that most of them just blew up. And I found myself to be surprisingly invested in all of these characters. They had a good team dynamic that slowly grew over time. At first they feel like a bunch of strangers who were forced into this situation and have to deal with each other. The glue that holds them together initially is the soldier who is the highest rank among that have survived. He's kinda leading them around in the dark, both literally and figuratively, while forcing them to stick together and keep focused on what it is they're supposed to be doing. Naturally there's a whole lot of tension and there's one or two of them that you wish would've been a war casualty, but such is not the case and they are forced to work together.
Unfortunately you already know the secret there because the movie's advertising forced me to discuss the movie's secrets. As the movie gets more and more intense, the movie also gets more and more gross, thus if you don't have a good stomach for violence and gore, you might want to stay away from this because nothing is held back. Specifically, all the experiments on the dead and the dying are quite the sight to behold, to put it lightly. It might get a bit gratuitous at times, but it also does a great job of setting the tone of the second half of the film. This was already set pretty well with the war aspect of the film. Their plane getting bombed down at the beginning was intense. Them wandering around in the dark was intense. As they were able to find a hiding spot thanks to certain new characters who are introduced, it gets intense as certain Nazis get closer to discovering them. And then to top it all off, we have these horrific experiments that make your stomach churn. This is quite the excellent build up that makes you brace for the absolute worst as you know the movie is not going to hold back once you finally get to the moments that most people were waiting for the second they walked into the theater. And without saying too much, that final act of the movie is insane.
In summary, this could be a mixed bag for people, depending on what you are expecting going in. If all you want is a Nazi zombie B-movie, you're going to spend most of the movie bored with the fact that this tries to be a real movie, then probably doesn't give you what you came for with the final act. However, if you go in expecting a war movie, I think you'll be rather pleased as this is a really intense war film right from the very beginning that successfully gives me everything that I usually want when I go into a war film. There's a lot of war action. A lot of intense battlefield moments. A lot of suspense with characters hiding from the enemy. There's a good team of characters who have to learn and grow together in order to successfully accomplish the mission that they were assigned from the beginning. And then we get rewarded with a clever twist at the end that the Nazis were doing a lot of crazy, underground experiments with the dead and dying soldiers from both sides. All of this builds up to a final act that is extremely rewarding. I left the theater on a huge high after being solidly entertained by this war thriller sprinkled with zombie horror. This is certainly the best film of November so far and could be one of the many great highlights of 2018. I'll give "Overlord" a 9/10.
Friday, November 9, 2018
That said, the main focus of this review will, of course, be on Illumination's latest adaptation of Dr. Seuss' story. But I do think some background here is important so you know where I'm coming from, thus I feel it's important to talk about the two previous adaptations before diving right into Illumination's movie. Obviously the most pure adaptation of the book, which was released by Dr. Seuss in 1957, is the 1966 T.V. special. This short, 26-minute version is the purest form because it's essentially Boris Karloff reading Dr. Seuss' book with some animation being added. To get it to the full 30-minute T.V. slot, they added a few songs ("Welcome Christmas," "Trim up the Tree" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch") as well as some extended animated sequences without dialogue. This version is perhaps the most effective adaptation because it's pretty much the same as reading the book to your kids, but they have some really good visuals to go along with it as well as some fun music, especially "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" as Thurl Ravenscroft's deep voice makes that a Christmas classic. Plus, the short length means that their attention span isn't going to run out and they can get the full impact of the story without having to spend too much time on it.
Adding that depth to the movie enhances the power of the story and we get real drama as the Mayor is trying his hardest to fight young Cindy Lou Who by keeping Whoville Grinchless. And he almost succeeds by purposely triggering some bad memories from the Grinch's childhood to push him away. I like the idea that this specific incident is what leads the Grinch to terrorize Whoville that night by stealing all of their decorations, which he thinks is going to ruin Christmas as he thinks all they care about the commercialism of the holiday. Then when they wake up in the morning, the Mayor confronts Cindy Lou Who and her family, trying to instill a strong feeling of guilt on the poor, little girl. But the power of the movie comes when Cindy's dad comes to her defense and teaches the town that his family is all he needs to have a good Christmas. That's what causes the whole city to then sing "Welcome Christmas" from the original T.V. special, which is what the Grinch hears from the mountain, causing him to realize that he's failed and feel truly guilty about what he's done. It's a hilarious, quotable and powerful film that I remember seeing in theaters and have watched just about every year since. It's on Netflix right now if you want to go give it another try.
Now we get to dive into Illumination's 2018 adaptation, a movie I was never excited about. I hated the idea when it was announced a few years back and I thought all of the trailers looked incredibly stupid. Combine that with the fact that I have a very spotty record when it comes to my enjoyment of Illumination's movies and I had every right to believe that this movie was going to be trash. And I was right. Yes, there's a few good elements scattered throughout the movie. But none of the elements that made the previous two versions so great are here in this movie. Young kids might be mildly entertained by the final result as the big focus is the childish slapstick humor and gags that you saw littered in the trailers. But the movie struggles mightily to figure out how to get to 86 minutes and also lacks the depth that a Grinch movie should have, thus the final result is an ultimately pointless venture done solely because Illumination wanted a quick cash grab given that they knew people would show up to a Grinch movie during Christmas, especially since it's been 18 years since the Jim Carrey version and 52 years since the T.V. special. Smart move on their part financially, but if you're looking for a quality movie to take your family to, I'd say skip this one.
I think the best compliment I can give to the movie is that the animation looked good. The design of Whoville was fantastic and all the inner workings of the city were well planned out. That's pretty much it. A lot of time was spent on the animation. Almost no time was spent on drafting a competent story. I don't even think the voice work was that good. I love Benedict Cumberbatch, but I don't think his voice was a very convincing Grinch. Our narrator was Pharrell Williams. While he wasn't particularly awful, when compared to the likes of Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins, he felt extremely weak when giving his narration. The music is also been a fun part of the previous movies. And the only good song was "Welcome Christmas," which they brought in from the T.V. special without changing much. That's it. The rest of the music is done by Tyler the Creator and his version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is quite frankly terrible. And included at the beginning of the movie instead of when he's scheming to steal Christmas. He also has a few original songs that made me want to gag. I think this choice was made so that Illumination could feel relevant with how popular hip-hop is today, but for me it did not work at all, which shouldn't surprise you.
So yeah, the voice work was off. The humor was such that would entertain a young child, but not an adult. At 86-minutes, the movie felt like a slog because the writers had no idea how to expand the story and thus settled by spending way too much time on two story arcs that were ultimately pointless or could've been done in five minutes. There was no drama in the film. Hardly any life. The Grinch wasn't even very Grinchy, just mostly lonely and bored. Yes, the movie does try to pull at your heartstrings by giving the classic Grinch themes, but the way they ended this movie actually felt more forced and awkward. While I've already complained Tyler the Creator's soundtrack, I was shocked at the end credits to learn that Danny Elfman did the actual score because the score didn't stand out at all. Thus I'm left with saying that the animation was done well and the design of this land was done with care. But given that we're in 2018, that should be a given with any major animation company. The movie isn't particularly offensive, but it's just lifeless and boring. Yes, you can take your kids and they'll probably enjoy it. Or you can save your money for "Ralph Breaks the Internet" instead. Or stay home and watch one of the other two versions. My grade for this Grinch is a 5/10.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
But what if I told you that I wasn't all that pumped about it? Would you charge my apartment with torches and pitchforks in hand and try to burn me at the stake? If so, then so be it. Because it's true. While it's true that I like the idea of a Queen biopic, especially since frontman Freddie Mercury is one of the most fascinating individuals in music history, I'm a bit weary of movies that went through development hell in order to get to the big screen. Because, yeah, they've been working on this since 2010. Initially it was supposed to star Sacha Baron as Freddie, but he left in 2013 due to creative differences and the project then sputtered out for a few years until Rami Malek jumped on in 2016. Even then, Brian Singer was brought on as the director, but got fired last December for multiple reasons. Dexter Fletcher was hired to finish the project and finally got it done, but I was getting the feeling that the movie might arrive feeling a bit bandaged up with all the different cooks in the kitchen fighting over it. On the Brian Singer note, if you saw the movie and are confused as to why he's still listed as the director in the credits, it's some sort of weird Directors Guild of America thing that helped him retain sole directing rights while Fletcher got an executive producer tag.
Yes, it's true that there's a lot of situations where movies had production issues, but the final product ended up being fantastic. "World War Z" is my favorite example of that. It still doesn't mean that I'm not allowed to be nervous when I hear all of this. That, and when the trailers dropped, I didn't think the trailers were edited together very well. Instead of picking just one Queen song to feature, they tried to cram in as many Queen songs as they could over some randomly thrown together footage of the band doing things. I was a bit confused as to what this movie was going to be or what the specific focus was, which is what I usually expect from a musical biopic, but we'll get to that in a bit. Finally, the critics reviews came in very mixed, which wasn't encouraging to me. On that note, let's take a quick Rotten Tomatoes 101 crash course. Many audience members have slammed the critics for hating this movie, yet the movie ended up with a 60 percent score. A score in the single digits or teens means the critics hated the movie. A 60 percent score means that 60 percent of critics, over half of them, enjoyed the movie. The best label there is to say they were mixed. In fact, I would say that any movie that gets 40 to 70 percent would qualify as mixed reviews.
Before we dive into all the movie's historical inaccuracies, allow me to first paint the timeline of what the movie attempted to portray. The movie starts out in the year 1970, right before the band was formed and continues all the way until 1985 when they performed at the Live Aid concert. That's a large chunk of time to cover in just two hours, thus a movie that attempts such a feat needs to have a good team of writers on board who can creatively keep my interest. Unfortunately, though, rather than the movie having a good, solid story arc, this is a movie that didn't really have a specific focus. They tried to tell everything about Queen from beginning to end, which resulted in them rather monotonously jumping forward on a straight timeline, moving from the creation of one big hit to the next. There didn't seem to be an end goal in mind or one theme that the movie wanted to focus on, thus the narrative of the film started to quickly bore me. On top of that, there wasn't a whole lot of drama in the movie. Freddie joining the band was pretty easy. The relationship with his girl happened without him really trying. They gained popularity right away without working too hard and just wrote songs and performed concerts. That was our movie for the first half and I was unimpressed.
Yes, it's true. I love Queen. Because of that, I thoroughly enjoyed the music in this movie. The individual scenes of them creating the songs was entertaining enough. I enjoyed it when they were creating "Bohemian Rhapsody." That was a fun sequence. When they came up with the ideas for "We Will Rock You" or "Another One Bites the Dust," that was fun to see and I certainly enjoyed it when the performed it on stage in front of a loud audience. In fact, I saw this movie in 2D IMAX, so the large screen and great sound did a great job of enhancing the experience. If all you're concerned with is having good music and good performances, then that very well might be enough to please you. You can turn off your brain and enjoy a bunch of Queen concerts strung together and be pleased with the final results. But if you care about story and narrative, then it's possible you might be a bit disappointed because the story here isn't as strong as a could've been and the narrative wanders off in a bit of a freestyle instead of being tight and focused. Yes, this is a common theme when it comes to music-related films for me, whether it be a musical biopic or a straight-up musical. A lot of people only care about the music itself. While that's important to me, I need the story to work.
The whole time I was watching this movie, there's one movie that jumped into my mind as a prime example of a musical biopic done right. That movie is the Beach Boys biopic "Love & Mercy." If you've never heard of that movie, I wouldn't be that surprised. It was a smaller, independent film released in the summer of 2015 that only made $12.6 million total and maxed out at 791 theaters. So it kind of flew in under the radar. But it's this exact style of movie, except the focus isn't on showcasing the entire career of the Beach Boys while making sure to cram in the creation of every major hit they had. The focus was on Brian Wilson and his personal struggles with psychosis that impacted everyone around him. It was a beautifully crafted character study with a brilliant story arc behind it that just so happened to feature some music from the Beach Boys. I feel "Bohemian Rhapsody" was the opposite. The goal seemed to be on the music and the band with Freddie Mercury's journey being more of a footnote. There's also plenty of other movies that came to my mind, but the most obvious one is last month's "A Star is Born." While the specific story is fictional, again the focus is on the story and the characters, not the music.
Again, even if the movie was perfectly historically accurate, I would've had troubles with the movie itself. It's not like I left the theater raving about how great it was, then came home, learned of its huge inaccuracies, then decided to write a negative review. Given that I'm not a huge Queen aficionado, I actually assumed that the basic outline of events was correct, especially since the surviving band members helped work on the movie, so I also am not one who was angered right away when the events became twisted. But it's really disappointing when I come home and find out the only times where the movie had a high level of drama were instances where said drama was completely fictionalized in order to make the movie interesting. And that's even more disappointing considering the fact that they didn't need to create a fictional story arc to create a great movie about Queen. The material was already there given how fascinating of a character Freddie Mercury was. Just tell that story. The most confusing part of this is that the band helped put this together, but I guess they were fine with the filmmakers changing their story in order to make a good movie? I suppose a similar thing happened with "Straight Outta Compton," so maybe they should've sat this one out.
All in all, the best word to describe "Bohemian Rhapsody" is frustrating. Here we have one of the greatest bands ever formed with some of the world's most iconic music, led by a fascinatingly complex human being in Freddie Mercury, yet the final result is a poor story structure that decides to focus mostly on uneventfully wandering from song to song with little to no drama behind it. When they do decide to make the movie dramatic in the second act, it turns out they scrambled the whole history of the band while flat-out inventing things that didn't happen in order to give us said drama when they could've simply told the real story of Freddie Mercury as is and the movie would've been excellent. There's been some people that have said that this movie needed to be rated R in order for them to do it right. I disagree. A few added f-bombs and some sex scenes wouldn't have inherently fixed the structure of the film. Regardless of rating, what they should've done is zero in on Freddie Mercury and create a great character piece around him. If that means cutting some of the early timeline and ignoring the creation of certain songs, then so be it. But that's not what was done and thus I left the theater feeling a bit underwhelmed. Sorry. My grade for the movie is a 6/10.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair with that statement. I certainly wasn't excited about a film version of "The Nutcracker," but if I'm being completely honest, all I've ever known is the music from "The Nutcracker." I think it goes without saying that Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" is one of the most iconic pieces of classic music there is, especially when it comes to Christmas music. "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" has especially been a personal favorite of mine, which is why I really liked the arrangement from the teaser. But the ballet and story behind it? Do people even remember that? I didn't. When they started advertising this movie, my ignorant brain immediately wondered what in the heck they are basing this off of, because I didn't know there was enough content behind this to make a full live action film. That's why when I did my November preview, I decided to educate myself about the history of all of this so I don't sound stupid when I go into the movie. That's when I reminded myself that "The Nutcracker" is a ballet. Duh. That's the ballet with all the mice and toy soldiers dancing around. I vaguely remember all of that as a kid, but never once did I think about the story or potential mythology behind those strange happenings. I just enjoyed the music.
That's especially important because, as it turns out, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is not an exact retelling of that original story. It's a sequel to that. Our main character is a girl named Clara who is the daughter of Marie. I made that connection in the film and the light bulb went off in my head. It made me glad that I had read the premise of the original story before seeing the movie, otherwise I think I would've been extremely lost as to what all was happening and why. In this movie, Marie, Clara's mother, has passed away. Clara, her sister, her brother and her father are all feeling pretty miserable because of that, yet the father insists that they celebrate Christmas Eve anyways because they need to celebrate Christmas. Clara becomes upset because the present that her mother left her is a fancy egg-shaped thing that she can't open because the key is missing. Later that night, Morgan Freeman, who plays the godfather from the original story, is giving everyone their presents, but they need to follow a trail of strings to learn where they are. Clara's string leads her to a mysterious room in the giant mansion where she finds Narnia... I mean, the Four Realms, which is the land that her mother got whisked away to. And from there all the fancy adventures begin.
By adventures, I mean that most of the movie has her chasing down this key. As she gets into Narnia, the key is by a Christmas tree, but before she can grab it, a mouse steals it away from her and she goes on a wild goose chase to find the mouse. She eventually runs into a soldier who helps her chase the mouse, but the mouse gets away. Eventually the soldier learns that she is the daughter of Marie, the former queen of their land and suddenly Clara is treated as the princess and taken to the headquarters. Surprisingly, all of this setup isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The filmmakers managed to create a rather visually spectacular world that is fun and pretty to look at. And I really liked the dynamic between Clara and her family, who were all struggling with the recent loss of their mother/wife. That gave the movie some potential for some strong family-related themes that could work well during the Christmas holiday. And Mackenzie Foy was absolutely adorable as our lead girl. She had a very lovable innocence to her and perfectly competent acting skills, making for a strong lead character. This combined with her playing young Murph in "Interstellar" means that she has a good career in front of her if she keeps to it and stays on the right path.
I imagine a situation here where Disney commissioned people to make a movie about "The Nutcracker," but said people really struggled with how to make it work. Again, I give them props for trying. This is not an inherently bad film. There's just not enough to work with. When I described the film's premise, I referenced the fact that it felt an awfully lot like Narnia when she disappeared into the Four Realms. I know that comparison had been given plenty of times before, but going in I was set on my "Alice in Wonderland" comparison. Yet she walked through the tunnel and I couldn't help myself. It was Narnia. Except it was a second-rate version of Narnia that was heavy on visual effects, but extremely lacking when it came to interesting characters and story inside the land. When strange, random things starting happening and eccentric characters showed up, that's when the "Alice in Wonderland" elements came to play. But sadly even "Alice in Wonderland" made it's characters and universe more interesting than what we got in the Four Realms. I think supporting cast members such as Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren were having fun with their roles, but there's just nothing to work with. There's not much more to even say.
Again to the movie's credit, when we hit the actual finale, the themes of family wrap up in a nice little bow, leaving you with a few feel goods, but it doesn't make up for a lack of content. I could dive in and spoil things that happen and no one would probably care, but I don't feel it's worth my time. You'll just have to trust me that the directions that this movie takes are a bit perplexing. The "villains" don't have solid motivation. There's no epic fantasy sequences to keep audiences entertained. The twists that the movie tries to throw your way are extremely underwhelming. The drama never really hits a good peak as everything seems to easy for Clara and the people that end up getting behind her. Pretty much everything that makes a land like Narnia, or Wonderland for some, are completely missing. Thus the movie ends up feeling like more of a second-rate copy of those other lands and movies, meaning that there's no reason to give this a chance. I'd say it might be harmless fun for families with young kids, but in a holiday season that is set to deliver "The Grinch," "Ralph Break the Internet" and "Mary Poppins Returns" among others, this is one where I recommend you stay home and save your money. But you were already planning on that, right? My grade here is a 5/10.
Friday, November 2, 2018
November 2nd - 4th-
Disney has been having a fantastic year this year so far, as they've earned $2.7 billion at the domestic box office alone. Although they could be in a bit of trouble with their latest release this weekend, that being The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" is arguably one of the most popular classical music pieces, especially when it comes Christmas time, with "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" being one of the most well-known selections from the suite. "The Nutcracker Suite" was extracted from "The Nutcracker" ballet, which had its initial two-act performance at Saint Petersberg in 1892. The ballet was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman's 1816 story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which is a story about a young girl witnessing a nutcracker coming to life on the night of Christmas Eve and leading the dolls into battle with the Mouse King and his army. Later the young girl is whisked away into the nutcracker's magical kingdom. Despite this long, storied history, this movie adaptation of "The Nutcracker" is not one that has really grabbed people's attention. The lack of excitement combined with poor reviews, wavering around 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, will probably make this Disney's lowest opening of the year at around $20 million.
If Disney's not careful, they could see a bit of competition for that runner up spot from Tyler Perry's Nobody's Fool. At best, "The Nutcracker" could see an opening around the $33.1 million opening of fellow Disney release this year of "A Wrinkle in Time" or their 2016 release "Alice Through the Looking Glass," which debuted to $26.9 million. However, if audiences are as unimpressed as critics, they could be looking at a total closer to the $21.5 million opening of "Pete's Dragon" or the $18.8 million opening of "The BFG." If that's the case, that's where "Nobody's Fool" could play spoiler because Tyler Perry fans have rather consistently come out in support of his films. While the Madea films are his most popular, and this movie is not one of those, Perry's 11 non-Madea films have averaged an opening weekend of $18.6 million, with his latest, that of "Acrimony," opening to $17.2 million earlier this year. And "Nobody's Fool" is opening in 400 more theaters than "Acrimony" (2,468 vs. 2,006). "Nobody's Fool" also has the advantage of starring Tiffany Haddish, who recently helped "Night School" open to $27.3 million. The movie is about a woman who recently is released from prison to discover her sister in a bit of a sketchy online relationship.
November 9th - 11th-
While we've had two Christmas releases thus far, heading into the actual holiday in November, that being Thanksgiving, the market looks to be really crowded, especially as Thanksgiving itself approaches. That doesn't bode super well for our next two releases, both of which will be fighting for the adult audiences. The first one will be The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, with the subtitle of said film being added on fairly recently in order to boost brand name recognition. On that note, "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" began as a trilogy of novels written by Stieg Larsson, with the first book being released in 2005 and the two sequels in each ensuing year. There have been two film adaptations, a Swedish version in 2009, with both film sequels also being released the same year, and a Hollywood version in 2011 directed by David Fincher, which has not yet had any sequels. While fans of the franchise were probably hoping for a sequel to David Fincher's film, they'll have to settle with this instead, which is based on the fourth book in the series, called the Millenium series, with "The Girl in the Spider's Web" being written by a different author as Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, before his three books were published.
If "The Girl in the Spider's Web" matched the opening of David Fincher's "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo," that means it's in line for an opening around $12 million. "Dragon Tattoo" held on very well and wound up with $102 million, something that "Spider's Web" probably won't accomplish. That said, a $12 million opening is probably good enough to place ahead of the other adult-targeted release, J.J. Abrams' Overlord. This movie was initially thought to be a fourth "Cloverfield" movie, but Abrams confirmed in April that it is not, but is its own film. While Abrams is on as producer, this is actually directed by Julius Avery and is a World War II drama where a team of soldiers gets caught behind enemy lines after their plane crashes on their way to destroy a German radio tower. With enough buzz, this could in theory match the $15.2 million opening of "Hacksaw Ridge" in November 2016. However, last month's "Bad Times at the El Royal" comes to mind as that was a well-received, adult-targeted film that simply got lost in the mix and could only manage an opening of $7.1 million. Last month also saw the submarine thriller "Hunter Killer" only open to $6.7 million. So barring a breakout performance, that's about the range that "Overlord" is looking at.
November 16th - 18th-
Providing a comedic option for the Thanksgiving holiday, and potentially on through the Christmas season, is Instant Family, which is a movie that re-teams Mark Wahlberg with director Sean Anders, who helmed both "Daddy's Home" movies. Like "Daddy's Home," this is a movie involving a non-typical family situation as Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play a couple who don't really want to have kids and are certainly not the best parents in the world, but happen to adopt three foster children into their family anyways and have to figure out how to make that family work. Given that this is the first comedy since "Night School" at the end of September and won't have any direct competition until "Holmes and Watson" on Christmas, the door is wide open for it to have a good run and the Mark Wahlberg star power will certainly help. Although without a fellow co-star on the level of Will Ferrell, this probably won't get quite as high as either "Daddy's Home" movies, which starred both Wahlberg and Ferrell, making $38.7 million and $28.7 million respectively on their opening weekends. Rather, we've had a long string of comedies in 2018, like "Tag," "Game Night" and "Life of the Party" all open in the mid- to upper-teens range, so that seems like a safe bet.
There's been plenty of Oscar contenders that have been released already and November will see a handful more. While I encourage you to constantly be on the lookout for the smaller releases that slowly expand, in this post I'm choosing to only cover the ones opening in wide release, just for the sake of simplicity. On this weekend that means talking about Widows. This movie is a big deal because it's Steve McQueen's first directorial effort since he won best picture with "12 Years a Slave," a 2013 release. "Widows" follows four women who team up together to pull off a heist after their husbands were all shot by police in an armed robbery attempt. The four widows are played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo, with a supporting cast that includes Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal and more. After early releases at various film festivals, the movie currently stands at a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising it for combining popcorn entertain with a strong message in a heist thriller. This means it could be the type of movie that pleases people across the board, from casual film-goers to Oscar voters, which could give it a good box office run.
November 21st - 25th -
Providing additional power to the Thanksgiving week will the eighth film in the "Rocky" franchise and second to specifically follow Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Creed, that of course being Creed 2. Those with an attachment to the "Rocky" franchise might take especial interest here with the connection to "Rocky IV," as Adonis Creed is determined to face off against Viktor Drago, whose father Ivan Drago killed Adonis' father Apollo Creed in a boxing match at the beginning of "Rocky IV." Dolph Lundgreen will be reprising his role of Ivan Drago in the movie while Florian Munteanu will be playing his son Viktor. Sylvester Stallone will of course also be coming back in his iconic role of Rocky Balboa with Tessa Thompson also returning as Adonis' love interest. Since "Creed," Tessa Thompson has seen her star power rise after wowing audiences as Valkyrie in "Thor: Ragnarok." The most notable person to not return to "Creed 2" is director Ryan Coogler, being replaced by Steven Caple Jr. That could be the main issue that hurts this sequel, but it still should be able to play well, despite the crowded market, as the first "Creed" opening to $29 million over the three-day weekend and $42 million over the five-day weekend during Thanksgiving 2015.
The third Thanksgiving week release is the one that very well might be dead on arrival and that is the umpteenth film iteration of Robin Hood. This version of "Robin Hood" stars Teron Edgerton in the lead role of Robin Hood, with Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn and Jamie Dornan also coming along for the ride in supporting roles. That's a decent cast there, especially with Edgerton as the lead, but that's about all the movie has going for it at the moment. The biggest issue here is convincing people to be excited for another version of this character. Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to the list of films and TV series featuring Robin Hood and I think I counted 78 entries on that list. Not to mention Wikipedia also claims the character has been around in folklore since the 15th century in various stories, songs, plays and other productions. So I'd probably wouldn't be exaggerating when I say the number of times Robin Hood has shown up is countless. With so many options this Thanksgiving, it's hard seeing too many people choosing "Robin Hood" over all the others. The perfect comparison is last year's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," which faced a similar problem of overexposure and tanked with an opening of $15.4 million. Word is "Robin Hood" is tracking behind that movie.
November 30th - December 2nd-