Thursday, September 19, 2019
Earlier in the summer when I reviewed "The Other Side of Heaven 2," I had no idea what the theater count was and thus I wrongly assumed it was only a Utah release. Turns out the movie opened in 205 theaters, which was a much wider release than I was expecting. After 12 weeks in theaters, "The Other Side of Heaven 2" has made $1.7 million, which is pretty good for a one of these smaller, local-ish Christian films. "Out of Liberty," though, only opened in 35 theaters, so this one does seem like it's actually a local film here in Utah only. Maybe a few locations outside. I do know from looking at my showtimes on IMDb that 22 of the 35 locations are here on the Wasatch Front. Where the other 13 locations are, I'm not sure. They're most likely in places like Idaho or Arizona that have a higher population of Latter-day Saints. In late July, Purdie also released "The Fighting Preacher," which started in 28 theaters and expanded into 37 theaters in its second weekend. So if you got that movie at your local theater this summer, I'm willing to bet that you also have "Out of Liberty" right now. If you don't have either, I'm guessing you'll have to wait until it comes to DVD, unless the movie catches on like wildfire. But based on early returns from this past weekend, I don't think that will be the case.
For better or for worse, "Out of Liberty" is a movie that assumes you know all about Joseph Smith and are curious in seeing a deeper dive of what he experienced in Liberty Jail. Some of these Latter-day Saint films at least make an attempt to appeal to a non-member audience. Whether or not that effort is successful is a different story, but at least there's an attempt. "Out of Liberty" makes no attempt. If you're not an active member of the Church and/or you don't care about Joseph Smith, this is not your movie. That's my disclaimer right now. And that's a bit of an interesting choice given that Garrett Batty is the director here. His previous two films, "The Saratov Approach" and "Freetown" were movies that had at least some sort of appeal to the general public. I think it was Larry King who said that "The Saratov Approach" was a great little independent film. Now I don't think "Out of Liberty" going a different approach is a bad thing by any means. It's just a different approach. And in many cases, having a very specific, niche audience can be a great thing. You don't have to worry about pandering to people outside your target audience. You can simply give them exactly what they want. If they're pleased with the result, then you did your job.
If you want to go into this movie completely blind as to what it's all about, feel free to exit this review and come back after you watch. If you don't mind a bit of an exploration of this, then proceed. With that out of the way, the specific angle here is, simply put, Liberty Jail. All of it. Nothing more, nothing less. We don't get a recap of who Joseph Smith is. There's also very little information given about the Saints' situation in Missouri. We don't even get to see why Joseph Smith and company got put in Liberty Jail. There's a few words of text that briefly describe the situation, but no visuals. After said text, the movie starts with them two months into their jail sentence, the month being December 1838. The introductory scene is of them formulating a plan to escape because they feel like that's their only way out. That plan fails. Because, you know, they ending up being there for six months. Following that, the movie goes in a very straight-lined narrative, giving highlights of their time in jail in four different sections: January, February, March and April. No, the movie doesn't have a nice and pretty three-act structure, thus this ends up as quite the tricky undertaking. Most of the time that Joseph and company were in Liberty Jail, it was cold, dark and lonely with nothing happening.
That's why I felt conflicted here. While there was a lot going on during this time period, if the decision is made to have the point of view strictly from Liberty Jail only, what do you do to make that story interesting? Yeah, they did a great job of setting the scene for Liberty Jail. It was cold and chilling. There were definitely some great individual moments. But when I had to stay in jail with them for the whole movie, I started to get claustrophobic a bit. It felt like I got thrown in jail for two hours with them and it began to be uncomfortable. It's just hard to maintain a great flow when you decide to handcuff yourself to just one point of view. And given that I'm well familiar with the story, I think it would've added to the emotion to see what the saints were going through while Joseph was stuck in prison. The events right before Joseph got thrown in Liberty Jail were emotional and heart-wrenching. The continued extermination order while Joseph was in prison was tragic. Pair all these events up and you have an excellent movie. With what we got instead, we feel bad for Joseph because he's cold and miserable. In reality, he was mostly sad about what the saints were going through and the fact that he could do nothing to help them given that he was stuck in this jail all winter.
Yet we don't get to see any of that. Instead, we get loaded with constant exposition the entire movie and that's just not as effective as seeing what's going on. That's why whenever these events have been portrayed in various movies, we do get to witness the full scope of what's happening from every angle. And I don't think this decision was made due to budget constraints. Batty's previous two movies have been fairly successful. I just think he wanted to tell a more constrained, personal story with this, thus giving us a different look at this then what we've had in the past. And I will say that does make this unique in the large library of movies based on Church history, so I give him points there. I just don't know if unique is always the best. I mean, when Liberty Jail is portrayed, it's never the focus point of the entire film and I think there's a good reason for that. It's just a bit exhausting when we zoom in and spend the whole movie there. It gets the point across just fine in 20-30 minutes as a part of something bigger in scope. And if I'm being honest, if I'm ever in the mood to dive into some Church history via film, I don't know how often I'm going to turn to this one when something like "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration" is available instead.
The movie's soundtrack is also quite excellent. When moments of tension happened, I was successfully on the edge of my seat. Even though I know that they all stayed in Liberty Jail until April, their attempted escapes were framed and executed quite well. And all of the acting was solid. Now if we're going back to the nitpicky side of things, I do have to say that the actor who played Joseph Smith looked nothing like him. It made me laugh when the whole group stood up and Joseph Smith was short and chubby. I don't know how tall Brandon Ray Oliver is, but he looked like he was only 5'6" or 5'7" while I think Joseph was closer to 6'2" or something like that. So if we're going to get a random, non-member actor to play Joseph, why not cast someone who looks more like him? That said, he did a great job of portraying Joseph in the most honest and respectful way, so I appreciated that. And we also had a lot of other great supporting cast members, including Garrett Batty bringing back Corbin Allred from "The Saratov Approach" to play Porter Rockwell. Corbin Allred always gets into his roles and it's fun to watch him. And without saying more than I should, if you've been to the temple recently, you'll know exactly who Corbin Allred is when you see him.
Some other quick final thoughts. Again, if you are unfamiliar with Church history, some of the drama that happens won't have as strong of an effect. The main antagonist in the film is a mob member who is very angry about certain events that happened at the Battle of Crooked River. If that battle rings no bells, you're going to be at a disadvantage. Also, Alexander Doniphan plays a significant role in this. And if that name doesn't ring a bell, then you're also at a disadvantage because the movie assumes you already know him and doesn't bother explaining. If you're watching this at your home, you have the advantage of being able to pause and go over that. But if you're watching it in theaters, the movie has the potential to lose you. That's why I said earlier that if you're not an active member of the Church, this movie is probably not for you. Given that I am in the target audience, I personally wasn't bothered, but again it's worth noting. All in all, this movie does have plenty of great moments. It's not preachy, but it does leave you with enough of a spiritual high that I imagine most people won't even think of all things that I brought up here. I don't think it's a movie you need to rush out to see in theaters, but I do think it's worth a watch at some point. My grade here is a 7/10.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Sure, it might be unfair to expect "Chapter Two" to perform as high as the first one, but given that the first one was only budgeted at $35 million, it's not necessary for it to do as well, even though it does appear that they doubled the production budget to $60-70 million, which it's certainly guaranteed to make back in its upcoming opening weekend as it's on pace for somewhere between $80-100 million. In the meantime, Warner Bros. is probably trying to figure out a way to bring Pennywise back for a third outing, but I hope they can manage to restrain themselves and just keep it as these two movies because, with both movies combined, this is a solid five hour epic that has a perfect beginning, middle and end. We don't need more. As far as my feelings on this second half going in, I would label myself as being cautiously optimistic. I really enjoyed the first movie and I loved the idea of having the same director and team come for this second movie. I also loved the new cast they had for the adult versions of the losers club, highlighted by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader. But if we're being real, the first half of the movie was the part that was easy to get right whereas they had their work cut out for them as the second half is the lesser half of the story.
I don't want to get too deep into my issues with this second half, in terms of the book and the 1990 TV miniseries, because most of that has to do with how this ends. It's not a good ending. Granted, I haven't physically read the 100,000 page book by Stephen King (OK, that's a slight exaggeration in terms of that length), but I've read and heard a lot about it, especially since I have seen the miniseries and when that ending came, I was like, "Wait, what? That's it?" A friend of mine once told me that, while Stephen King does an excellent job setting up his horror, mystery and suspense, he's not very good at his resolutions. I can't claim that as my personal opinion of his work since I haven't actually read most of his stuff, but in terms of the ending of "IT," I'd say that most certainly holds true. The other non-spoilery reason why I'm not as big of a fan of the second half of the story is that having Pennywise terrorize a group of teenage kids is a much more intriguing setup that simply works better for a horror film as compared to Pennywise terrorizing a group of adults. With the 2017 movie version, the fact that they made it take place in 80's was a perfect marriage as it felt like a classic 80's horror. And we all know how popular and fun 80's nostalgia vomit is right now.
On top of there being six great performances in the movie, I also liked the focus of this being a character piece. A lot of horror films out there are focused first and foremost on the scares and the imagery, with story and characters being afterthoughts. Depending on how well said scares are set up, that can work as mindless entertainment, but where the horror genre really shines is when there's more depth. When the horror sequences are secondary in focus to the themes, characters and story. That's one thing that the first "IT" excelled at. You really cared about this group of young outcasts and what they were going through. Having them all bind together to face their fears and thus become stronger was quite touching and inspirational. It was a lot more than just a killer clown chasing kids around. I loved how "Chapter Two" built on that. Sometimes we make promises as kids, but life happens and we forget. In the movie, they literally forgot due to supernatural elements of the town, but I think it was very metaphorical. They had to remember who they were, come together again, and conquer their fears once and for all. For most of them, the struggles they had when they were younger carried over into their adult lives and all of that got forced to the surface when they reunited in Derry.
I found myself really enjoying watching all of them grow and progress as characters. I don't want to specifically single out one or two of them as having superior arcs because I liked all six of them. I also liked how the movie chose not to rush to a finale. There's a lot of story to tell here and they gave themselves plenty of time to tell it. It was a gamble to make the movie nearly three hours long (2 hours 49 minutes), but I think it payed off as nothing felt rushed or compromised. This could've easily been one of those 10-episode Netflix shows with how much material there is to work with, but I liked having this as a movie and I liked how well it has done because it's given them the financial freedom to do this story justice with high budget effects and top notch actors to go along with 2019 technology. It's allowed us to experience the "IT" story that we all deserve. And I think it's highly amusing that people will binge a whole season of "The Haunting of Hill House" in one weekend with zero complaints (that's nearly 10 hours worth of content), yet at the same time will walk out and complain that "IT: Chapter Two" was too long at just three hours. Yes, this movie is a bit of time investment, but if you're just going to watch Netflix all night anyways, you might as well invest that time, right?
With that does come a bit of a caution. If you don't have the stomach for graphic horror films, but yet you were considering maybe give "IT" and "IT: Chapter Two" a chance due to how culturally relevant and popular the movies are becoming, you might want to reconsider. Perhaps you can check out the first movie, I own it if you are a good friend of mine who lives close. And if that's too much for you, then steer clear of "Chapter Two" because they turn up intensity quite a bit. If you've only seen the 1990 miniseries, know that these two movies make that one look cheesy, childish and tame. But if you do have the stomach for these types of horror films, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Now "Chapter Two" is not being as widely acclaimed as the first movie, thus I think I might end up being one who is higher on the movie than most. As such, I was going to counter a lot of the common complaints that I didn't have an issue with, but there's an interesting psychological phenomenon with movies that once you hear a complaint about a movie you haven't seen, you often go in with that complaint in mind, thinking that you might also have the same complaint. So I'm not even going to put those negative thoughts about this movie into your brain. Maybe it'll give you more of a clean slate.
As far as a final grade, I think I've handcuffed myself a bit. I really enjoyed last month's "Scary Stories" and gave it a really high score. And even though I liked "IT: Chapter Two" for very different reasons, I'm not quite sure which one I like more and I'm not ready to make that determination quite yet. So I feel obligated to give it the same score just to make my life easier. But at the same time, I will freely admit that the first "IT" is a more polished, refined, and scarier movie that "Chapter Two" simply because it was easier to get right, thus I was going to give "Chapter Two" a slightly lower grade than that one. But yet my score for "Scary Stories" and "IT" is the same exact score, so I'm in a bit of a bind. That's why I hope you don't put too much weight into the grades I give in my reviews. I like giving them because it's a good summation of how I feel. But yeah, what I say means a lot more than the number I give and this is a good example of why. I suppose this is deserving of the same score as the first simply because they had a bigger uphill battle to climb and they did an excellent job with the task that they were given. And without spoiling the ending, I left the movie with a huge smile on my face thanks to certain things they changed. So, sure. I'll give "IT: Chapter Two" a 9/10.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
September 6th - 8th-
Just how much will "IT: Chapter Two" make in its opening weekend? We'll find out pretty quickly here, but given how well received "IT" was, historical logic says people will turn up in droves to catch the next chapter, especially with said chapter being advertised as the final chapter. Not only did "IT" open with $123.4 million, but it also held fairly well for a horror film, earning $327.5 million overall domestically, which is the highest total ever for an R-rated horror film, not adjusted for ticket price inflation (1973's "The Exorcist" easily wins out when you do adjust as it's one of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time adjusted for ticket price inflation). Can "IT: Chapter Two" top that opening, while possibly capturing the opening weekend record for an R-rated film, currently held by "Deadpool" with $132.4 million? Given that no one expected "IT" to open as high as it did, that's certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. However, it should be noted that the second half of this story is typically seen as the lesser half, both with the book and the 1990 mini-series. If that trend continues, "IT: Chapter Two" could be in for a slight dip in performance. What also can't be ignored is the movie's 169 minute run time, which could be a bit daunting for casual horror audiences.
September 13th - 15th-
The second wide release of the weekend is one that doesn't have quite as much buzz, but is hoping to build said buzz with it's premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8 and that is The Goldfinch. This movie is a collaborative effort between Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios wherein Warner Bros. will control the theatrical release while Amazon gets the exclusive streaming rights later on. Both studios helped finance the film. The movie is about a boy in New York who gets taken in by a wealthy family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The big draw here is that this is from director John Crowley, whose previous film is the 2015 drama "Brooklyn," which got a best picture nomination at the Oscars as well as as nominations for best lead actress for Saoirse Ronan and best adapted screenplay. Whether or not "The Goldfinch" follows suit will largely depend on how critics and audiences react to the film, which is why its debut at TIFF will be key. The movie does boast a cast that includes Ansel Elgort, Oaks Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman. I'm sure a few of them would love awards season consideration if the movie does play well.
September 20th - 22nd-
Fighting for a fairly similar target audience as "Rambo: Last Blood" will be the Brad Pitt space drama Ad Astra. Traveling to space is something that we've done a lot of recently in Hollywood with the likes of "Gravity" (2013), "Interstellar" (2014), "The Martian" (2015), "Passengers" (2016), "Life" (2017), and "First Man" (2018). So, yeah, we've had at least one of these types of movies every year since 2013. We're even going to go back again in October with "Lucy in the Sky." With "Ad Astra," Brad Pitt is heading to space in order to figure out what happened with his father, who went on some sort of expedition 30 years prior that now jeopardizes the universe. The movie has a reported production budget of around $80 million, which means Disney would love it if it opened to the $45+ million that "Gravity," "Interstellar" and "The Martian" all did, but that might be wishful thinking. Rather, last year's "First Man" opened just over $16 million, which might be more around the range that "Ad Astra" hits. The movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 29 to positive reviews and will also have the benefit of IMAX theaters. But looking at that budget, this might be another one of these Disney-distributed Fox films that falls short of its financial expectations.
The biggest wild card of the weekend will be the release of Downton Abbey, which is a continuation of the popular British TV series that ran for six seasons from 2010 to 2015. This movie is written by show creator and co-writer Julian Fellowes and is directed by Michael Engler, who directed four episodes of the show during the final seasons. So that information, combined with the return of much of the original cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, has a lot of the fan base of the show excited to return for another experience. The general premise of this film involves King George V and Queen Mary visiting Downton Abbey in 1927. The question here, though, is how much of the fan base will make the trip to the theaters to see this? Given that they originally watched the show in the comfort of their own homes, will many of them chose to wait to see this until they can also watch this in their own homes instead of paying for a ticket to see it? There's not a whole lot of exact historical precedent to compare this to, in terms of completed shows continuing later via movie by the original creative team, but perhaps the 2015 film "Entourage" is one? That opened to $10.3 million in June 2015.
September 27th - 29th-
If this is the range that "Abominable" hits, that will actually be on the low end of the spectrum for a DreamWorks animated film. If you remove the three Aardman films they helped distribute in the early 2000s ("Chicken Run," "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Flushed Away"), the average opening weekend for DreamWorks is $44.3 million, while the average final domestic total is $162.7 million. Given that these movies have now spanned over 20 years, if you take things a bit further and adjust for ticket price inflation for each film, the average opening weekend number goes up to $54.8 million, while the average final domestic total going up to $204.7 million. So if "Abominable" only hits the numbers of "Smallfoot," that will be a major disappointment for the studio. They're probably hoping for numbers similar to what the first two "Hotel Transylvania" movies did, that being $42.5 million and $48.4 million, respectively. And it wouldn't be unheard of for a DreamWorks film to drastically overperform and hit those levels. "Home" in 2015 and "The Boss Baby" in 2017 were only expected to open around $30 million, but yet both opened over $50 million. So it's possible that the DreamWorks brand could push "Abominable" higher than expected.
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Expanding on the premise here, newly introduced actor Zack Gottsagen plays a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome named Zak who lives in a retirement home because he has no family and that's where he ended up. His dream, though, is to become a professional wrestler and attend the wrestling school that is led by his hero, the Salt Water Redneck. Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson, does her best job at being his caretaker, but ultimately he escapes with the help of his older roommate Carl, played by Bruce Dern. Zak then wanders by himself until he comes upon Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf, who himself is on the run since he lit a fire to $12,000 worth of fishing equipment after being angry that a local crab shack wouldn't buy all the crabs that he stole. Tyler initially resists Zak and tries to abandon him, but quickly his heart softens and the two of them form an unbreakable bond as the two outlaws of sorts go on a fun adventure to Salt Water Redneck's school while Eleanor independently is trying to hunt down Zak after her boss is understandably upset that he escaped. This is very much a modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn, or at least takes heavy inspiration from that, thus giving this a classic feel to it, but with a very heartwarming spin to it that is certain to win you over.
Getting that background to the movie really elevates this as being something special. I give a lot of props to the two directors, Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, for making the effort to get this done. And this is their feature-length directorial debuts, so it's not like it was something that was easy for them. They've directed a few shorts before this and had a few small acting roles, but it's not like they had the power to write a script for Zack and immediately make it happen. I imagine there was a lot of persistence and patience involved, but it paid. And now we have this unique film where an actor with Down syndrome gets to be the lead star. A lot of things that happened in the movie were things that Zack was passionate about in real life, like wrestling, swimming and partying. So the directors really wrote this film around him, which is awesome. In watching more interviews, Shia, Dakota and Zack consistently emphasize that the filmmaking process was a very special one where they became an immediate family. That definitely translates onto the screen as there's this special bond between the three of them in the film, especially with Shia and Zack who are going on this adventure together with Shia essentially letting Zack lead the way, treating him as an equal.
That last part is also what makes this special. There's a lot of movies where two people or more are going on an adventure. As I mentioned earlier, said premise goes all the way back to classic literature. So it's not like the premise itself is super unique. But it carries with it a powerful message as to how to treat people with disabilities. A lot of said people are looked down upon as a lesser species of human beings. Even if we're not explicitly referring to them as "retarded" or other direct insults, how we act when we're around them can mean the same thing. Do we act like they're a lesser human who needs to be watched over and taken care of as if they are a little child? Do we look at them funny and refuse to talk or interact with them? Doing so can be quite damaging and can be equal to or even worse than if we walked up to them and insulted them. This movie teaches a strong message that we should treat someone with Down syndrome as equals, both in the words we use around them as well as the actions. And if we do that, we can come to learn how truly fantastic and amazing they are. I personally haven't had a ton of interaction with Down syndrome people in my life, but when I have truly gotten to know them, those types of relationships are honestly some of the best I've had.
I could nitpick elements of this movie if I wanted to. It's a very simple and straightforward plot. Some of the character development happens rather quickly instead of taking time to evolve. And you pretty much know exactly where it's going to go. But I don't really feel like diving too deep into all of that because I think the most powerful element of this is the subtlety of it all with how these messages I spoke of are incorporated. It doesn't bash you over the head with a ton of bricks, but rather it quietly sticks with you. You don't walk out of the theater with your mind having been absolutely blown, but it's a movie that will always remain with you in the back of your head. And oftentimes it's those types of movies that make a bigger impression in the long run. Thus I was rather captivated by the simple adventures these three went on in this movie. I didn't need any huge plot twist or a crazy emotional moment. I was perfectly content with watching them float down the river on a raft and other things like that. And I really liked how much it showed how strongly everyone cared about this project, from the directors on top all the way down to the small, nearly cameo moments from people like Bruce Dern or Jon Bernthal. It's a special movie and I'm going to give it an 8/10.
And that is only introducing the basic message. The quality of the filmmaking is a whole different story. Their early two films, "Flywheel" and "Facing the Giants" are harmless enough on their own, and not terrible films. But they seem to have gotten worse over time. "Fireproof" is one that I barely remember. The only thing that sticks out to me is that the movie seems to think that bashing your computer with a baseball bat is a good way to overcome a pornography addiction. That aside, it's full of overacting and a bunch of nonsense. "Courageous" was as boring as tar with way too many story arcs and a run time that felt an hour too long. And "War Room" was so bad that I was laughing hysterically at several points, while also being a bit disturbed that the movie thinks that all your legal troubles are going to magically disappear if you have faith in God. The main actor should've been in prison at the end of the movie, but they didn't think too hard about that one. And "Overcomer"? Well, it has a few redeeming elements that make it not quite as bad as the previous three, but when it comes to pure filmmaking, this is a pure disaster. The movie has no idea what it really wants to be and comes with the most generic title that I've seen in a Christian movie.
That's what our movie is like for the first portion of it. There's not even a mention of "faith" or "God" until much later on. We're just a cross-country movie. So I decided to judge it on it being a sports movie. Granted, sports movies can be formulaic and predictable because there's not a whole lot of avenues you can go with them, but this movie doesn't commit to anything here. As a sports fan, if you at least put some sort of effort into following the sports movie formula, I can be entertained. But in this movie, they just run. The lone student of the bunch is a girl named Hannah. There's not really much progression with her and her running abilities. There's just a bunch of disconnected sequences with her running and magically getting better even though Mr. Kendrick doesn't do much coaching. In between Hannah's runs, he's complaining about basketball, being dragged into drama class stuff, talking with his wife, complaining about how rough life is at the moment, then we'll randomly cut back to a scene of Hannah running. So this is a kind of a sports movie. But they really just use the cross-country stuff as a backdrop to everything else. They don't commit to it. If you want a good cross-country drama, go watch "McFarland, USA" with Kevin Costner. It's pretty good.
After only half committing to the cross-country angle of the movie, our first mention of religion comes when Mr. Kendrick's wife tells him he has a visiting assignment with the pastor at the hospital. In the midst of that, he literally accidentally stumbles into a different patient's room. That patient just so happens to be Hannah's dad, who Hannah was told by her grandmother of whom she lives with was dead. Mr. Kendrick actually only goes back because Hannah's dad is also a runner and gives him tips as to how to coach, which he doesn't do a good job of implementing. But eventually he figures out who he is and then the next portion of the movie becomes a drama where Mr. Kendrick and his wife try to figure out how to break the news to Hannah that her dad is still alive, despite the fact that grandma is adamantly against it. They decide to go around her, which seems dumb, but whatever, and the movie then becomes a father/daughter drama that lacks in interesting drama. It wasn't all that interesting and things just sort of happen. Apparently after being a horrible person much of his life, Hannah's dad came to Jesus and transformed his life around while suffering in the hospital and whatnot. Now Hannah has to figure out how to deal with all this since he's never been in her life.
The only reason why this kinda works to some degree is that the actress who plays Hannah is a very likable girl. You naturally cheer for her to do well in cross-country, even though the movie itself doesn't do a very good job at being a sports movie. You hope that things work out with her and her family, even though the movie doesn't do a good job of setting up that drama and only half commits to about two minutes of grandmother being extremely upset that they went behind her back. You are inspired by Hannah's speech of who she is after she reads the Bible, even though it didn't make sense for her to randomly walk into the drama class room and give the speech to the whole class, nor did it feel natural for that religious conversation to happen in the first place. And you cheer for her in her final race for the state championship in cross-country, even though by that time the movie had completely forgotten it was a cross-country movie and thus lazily, and rather hilariously threw in a plot device that made it for the stupidest ending I may have ever seen in a sports movie. I wasn't even angry at that, though. I was highly amused and nearing the point of laughter. It wasn't as unintentionally funny as "War Room," but it got pretty close at points, which isn't a good sign.
In summing all this up, this movie fails at being a cohesive movie. Going in, I decided I was going to judge it based on three aspects: how well the filmmaking elements are, how good of a sports movie it is, and how inspiring are the religious messages. It completely fails in all three categories. Yeah, sure, the Kendrick Brothers have done well enough financially to have enough of a budget for the technical aspects of the film to look just fine, but the writing is all over the place, the film has zero direction, and the young girl who plays Hannah is really the only actress who I think did a good job. In regards to it being a sports movie, it's terrible. There's just a bunch of disconnected sequences of Hannah running while Mr. Kendrick and family complain about how awful cross-country is. Then there's a state championship race at the end that comes long after the movie abandoned the whole sports movie thing for some predictable and boring family drama. And as far as the religious stuff in the movie, it just felt forced. If Hannah giving a speech in the drama class causes you to jump out of your chair and shout, "HALLELUJAH!" then maybe you'll like this. It did get an A+ on Cinemascore, so what do I know. Personally I just need more substance and thus I'm giving "Overcomer" a 5/10.
Thursday, August 22, 2019
I think the most amusing thing to me is that this is a Fox Searchlight picture. Usually when you get a late August horror film, Screen Gems or Blumhouse is the responsible party. Both of those studios are good at finding the right weekend to sneak in a quick horror film that was dirt cheap to make and get a decent profit off of it based off of the almost non-existent production budgets. The quality can be hit and miss for them, but every once in a while you get a fun one, like "Don't Breathe" (Screen Gems) or "Happy Death Day" (Blumhouse). "Don't Breathe" is one that I was especially thinking of when it came to "Ready or Not" as both are movies where our protagonists are trapped in a house, trying to escape, and both movies were released in late August. But no, "Ready or Not" doesn't come from Screen Gems or Blumhouse. It comes from Fox Searchlight, a studio best known for their mastering the awards season as three of their films this decade have won best picture. So they're usually releasing a bunch of high-profile independent films, not late August thrillers. It gets even funnier when you realize Fox Searchlight's parent company is now Disney. So from Disney and Fox Searchlight comes a rather darkly comedic, gruesome, late-August thriller.
This movie is an absolute blast, though. It's sure to become a cult classic as it's not looking to make a whole lot at the box office. Despite being positioned well in late August, a good spot for breakout horror films, and having Fox Searchlight's widest ever release with 2,855 theaters, it has the unfortunate challenge of following in the footsteps of "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and "47 Meters Down: Uncaged," two horror films this month that already took advantage of the prime positioning. Then we have the elephant in the room that "IT: Chapter Two" comes out in two weeks. So the horror fans have been well served this month, which can lead to lower box office. But I say this has cult classic potential because, not only have critics enjoyed this, but audiences seem to be enjoying it, too, as it has a solid 82 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes audience section to go along with a B+ Cinemascore, both of which are pretty high for a horror film. Oftentimes the horror films that get critically praised see the general audiences spit in their face. So the fact that everyone seems to be enjoying this means the word is eventually going to get out, even if it means people are still discovering it in a year or two instead of rushing out to see it in theaters in the next month or so.
If you don't want to just trust me and go see this, then let's proceed with what this movie actually is. It stars discount Margot Robbie as a girl who has just married into a crazy family. I say discount Margot Robbie because that's who the whole internet either thinks she is or thinks she looks like. And I agree. She looks practically identical and is only two years younger. In reality her name is Samara Weaving and she's the niece of actor Hugo Weaving. She hasn't been in a whole lot. She played a small role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and starred in the Netflix film "The Babysitter." But I wouldn't be surprised if suddenly Hollywood now takes a huge interest in her because she is fantastic in this role. In the movie, what should be the best night of her life with this marriage instead turns into her worst nightmare. Her husband's family has a tradition where every time a new person comes into the family, they have to play a game at midnight. The game is selected at random, but if the choice ends up being hide and seek, they feel that they have to kill you before down because they're superstitious due to reasons that they will all die if they don't. And of course Grace, our lead character, selects hide and seek. So the family locks down the house and tries to kill her.
That's the basic premise. The movie is actually fairly simple in plot, but fantastic in execution. What makes it such a blast is this crazy family dynamic. First and foremost, you really care about Grace. She's a very strong female character who has a pure innocence to her. Given that it's her wedding night, she looks drop dead gorgeous as she's all fancied up with her hair, makeup, and beautiful dress. But now she is doomed to die as everyone is trying to kill her and she's the least deserving human being to be designated this fate, thus you are desperately cheering that she someone makes it through a whole night with all of these psychopaths chasing her down. The other element that made this really fun was that all the family members chasing her down had unique personalities that made for an interesting dynamic. And they lived in an old-fashioned home in the middle of the woods with a lot of more ancient weapons that they really didn't know how to use. Given that it had been a while since someone drew hide and seek, they're also out of practice. So it's not your typical home invasion where the villains are trained killers. It's a group of bumbling idiots chasing down a poor, innocent girl who had no idea any of this was going to happen.
On top of all this, I really liked a lot of the character development. It's not a movie that's just going for a bunch of cheap scares, like is the case with some home invasion movies. But in addition to all the crazy absurdity, there's a layer of emotional depth to it. You can understand where everyone is coming from and you buy into the conflict of a lot of the family members who don't want to do this, but are so terrified of this family curse that they feel they have no choice and thus decide that they would rather kill an innocent girl than face whatever might happen if they get to dawn and she's still alive. But they're all on different levels of commitment. Some are wondering if perhaps this whole thing is bogus and others don't care as much and would rather save the girl. I'm specifically talking about the new husband with the last part as he kinda likes his new wife and is not sure he wants to kill her just because the game says so. The husband's brother is in between all of this and has a great arc. But then we have some of them who have submitted to the darkness and are completely honed in on killing the girl in whatever way they can. Hence you go on a very wild ride that is very satisfying, especially because they totally stick the landing with how the film ends.
So yeah, this is a late August movie that comes highly recommended from me. I always enjoy it when a movie comes out of nowhere to become one that I really like. While it's always fun to look forward to and enjoy the latest Marvel or Star Wars movie, sometimes it can be even better to go into a movie that wasn't even on your radar and be completely blown away. It makes each movie going year quite the adventure that is fun to look back on. "Ready or Not" is obviously not going to be for everyone, but if you're in the mood for a crazy, intense, over-the-top horror adventure that also has a surprising amount of depth and character development, I think "Ready or Not" is well worth the price of admission. And if you're one who finds this movie later in life, in a way I'm a bit jealous for you because that means you weren't aware of all the advertising and had a lot more surprises come your way in the first half of the movie. But I'm not going to be too jealous because I do like the experience of finding a hidden gem early on in its movie life while doing my best to help get the word out. And if no one else reads or finds this review, then that's OK, too, because I enjoyed my escape into the world of this movie. It was quite the enjoyable boost of adrenaline. My grade for "Ready or Not" is a 9/10.
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
But first, before I dive into the movie, I want to talk box office because, you know, numbers are my thing. Out of all the three recent shark movies we've had, you might be wondering why "47 Meters Down" is the one that first got a sequel when "The Shallows" made $55 million domestically and $119 million worldwide while "The Meg" made $145 million domestically and $530 million worldwide, yet "47 Meters" down made only $44.3 million domestically and didn't have a worldwide release. Now I suppose that $44.3 million is fairly close to "The Shallows," and is more impressive when you consider it opened to just $11.2 million compared to the $16.8 million of "The Shallows." But the answer to this is budget. "The Meg" made a crapton of money, but also cost $130 million. "The Shallows" was pretty well off as it cost only $17 million, but "47 Meters Down" cost a mere $5 million, which for Hollywood standards is chump change. With a budget that low, justifying a sequel is a lot easier. That's also why "47 Meters Down: Uncaged" wasn't a failure this past weekend, despite only opening to $8.4 million. Sure, they were probably hoping for a bit more after boosting the budget all the way up $12 million, but they will still end up getting a return on their investment.
The other reason why it was easier to make a "47 Meters Down" sequel is that of the three of them, that's the one that more easily lent itself to a sequel because it wasn't tied down to characters or premise. "The Shallows" was specifically tied down to Blake Lively's character and what she went through while "The Meg" was about Jason Statham fighting a megaladon. A sequel to either would have to include those characters and find a way to at least attempt a logical next step with them. "47 Meters Down" was just about two girls trapped in the ocean while getting surrounded by sharks. Even if we ignore spoilers of how that movie turned out, bringing back the same characters for a sequel isn't necessary because those characters aren't really what made the movie interesting and fun. It was the sharks. So the idea of them getting a bunch of nobodies together for a quick sequel that has zero connection to the first is something they can get away with. And that's exactly what they've done. "Uncaged," as I will now refer to it, has nothing to do with "47 Meters Down." In fact, it also has nothing to do with the specific distance of 47 meters, which is why naming this "48 Meters Down" would've been a bit silly because "47 Meters Down" is pure branding at this point.
Thus as we got going in this movie, I was getting the feeling that perhaps I was a little too overly excited for this movie. Perhaps I was also forcing myself to like this movie because I tried to get pumped, but it was all superficial excitement. I didn't know if I really cared about any of the characters. I certainly didn't care about any of the drama. Then when the shark first showed up, I tried to be excited, but I wasn't. The only bit of emotion that came to me was the four girls went to this ancient Mayan underwater ruins and accidentally destroyed the whole thing. It was rather heartbreaking that such a cool historical site was all ruined and I was sad. Maybe at this point it would've been appropriate for our shark to be a vengeful Mayan guardian who decided to hunt and kill all these girls as a punishment for destroying the ruins. Or maybe the spirit of the Mayans themselves should've possessed all the sharks and chased after these girls. That would've been exciting. But no, that's not what happens. Instead, these girls are trapped and their oxygen tanks are running out, so they're trying to figure out how exactly they're going to get out of this since their exit is now blocked off, which isn't helped by the fact that they now know a shark is lurking around, causing panic levels to rise.
It was at this point when I was trying to force myself to be interested in this thing that the movie became comparable to an actual shark attack. You're casually swimming around the ocean, minding your own business, when all of a sudden... BOOM! A shark grabs you and pulls you under. That's how I felt, anyways. Because this movie came out of nowhere to suddenly become extremely intense. There was a jump scare that actually got me. I felt rather embarrassed and thus a bit relieved that I was watching this by myself so that my friends wouldn't laugh at me because I'm usually quite thick-skinned when it comes to jump scares. But this one got me. The shark snapped out of nowhere and had me on edge. From that point on, Johannes Roberts has a lot of fun with this movie. The acting budget may not have been very high and the screenplay probably went through nothing more than a quickly thrown together first draft, but it felt like they put over 90 percent of their $12 million budget all on these sharks and shark sequences. That's certainly where all the directing effort when into. The sharks here that are terrorizing these girls are blind cave sharks and they looked menacing. They're also given plenty of red coats to chow down on beforehand.
I wasn't going to mention the cast of this movie because none of them really stand out, but then I learned after the fact that Sylvester Stallone's daughter is in the movie, as is Jamie Foxx's daughter. That's Sistine Stallone and Corinne Foxx. Both of them were in their feature film debuts. That was fun to learn. Do they have a future in film following this movie? Well, I don't know. Maybe. They probably have the pedigrees to get a good jump start on their acting careers, but eventually they need to bring a bit more to the table. Sistine Stallone played one of the annoying friends always making the dumb decisions. If that's what they told her to do, then she did her job effectively. But she wasn't a very good character. Corinne Foxx, on the other hand, plays one of our main two sisters, that of Sasha. And she does a good enough job to make me believe that she could have a good career if she was put in better movies where story and characters meant something. I hope she doesn't get relegated to entertaining B-movies. However, the real star of this is Sophie Nélisse, who plays our main character of Mia. She does a good job in this and it shows that she's the one with the acting background, having starred in "The Book Thief" and "Pawn Sacrifice," two really good indie films.
Ultimately, though, your enjoyment of this movie will rely on two things. First, did you like the first movie? That has like a 55 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, so it was split right down the middle in terms of critics reaction and audience reaction was about the same. I really enjoyed the first movie, so I found myself enjoying this one. Second, can you sit back and enjoy a dumb shark movie? Does your shark movie need to be on the level of "Jaws," with great characters, great themes, and great development along with well set-up shark moments? Or can you also enjoy a "Sharknado" style of film where the acting is bad, the story is subpar, nothing makes sense, but the shark sequences are absurdly entertaining and thus enough to make for a fun film? If the latter is the case, then I suggest you give "Uncaged" a chance. I'm not saying you have to run out to see it in theaters, although with quantity superseding quality at the moment with our August and September release schedule, it's certainly not a bad option for a $5 Tuesday or something like that. But when this comes to a streaming platform or you're at a Redbox trying to figure out what to rent, this is a great option. I can't say this is a great movie, or even a good one, but I was entertained, so I'm giving it a 7/10.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Truth be told, "The Angry Birds Movie" has almost completely left my mind. I remember being one of the few people that watched the initial trailer and thought it could be a fun movie. But then the movie itself came out and I got burned pretty hard as it turns out the rest of the world was right when they thought it was a bad idea. I remember the movie being a really dirty kids movie that bored the tar out of me, but I don't remember much about it. I went back and read my review and learned that I spent most of the review complaining about the lack of an interesting plot, which makes sense because the game is a mindless app game where you launch birds at pigs. It's not the type of thing that was meant to be adapted into a full-length movie. Also in reading that review, let's just be glad that movie adaptations of "Temple Run," "Tetris," "Fruit Ninja," "Monopoly" and "Settlers of Catan" ended up not being a thing, because I mentioned there in that review that said movies had been announced. Maybe Hollywood learned their lesson that games without plots shouldn't be turned into movies. Although not everyone in Hollywood has learned their lesson as Sony Pictures Animation went onto make "The Emoji Movie" in 2017 and now have released this movie in 2019.
The plot? Yeah, if 2016 me had an issue with the plot of the first movie, 2019 me is in for a world of fun because this movie is completely bonkers. I mean, to heck with an "Angry Birds" movie doing "Angry Birds" things. Instead of having evil, raunchy pigs running around, causing the birds to launch themselves at the pigs' base, they all decide to be friends because an angry purple eagle, upset at the fact that her fiance stood her up at their wedding, and tired of the fact that she lives on a frozen island, decides that she's going to destroy both the pigs' and the birds' island so that she can take over and use it as her summer paradise. Instead of, you know, flying somewhere else. Maybe in this universe these are just the only two islands in existence, giving purple eagle nowhere else to fly. I don't know. Logic isn't this movie's strong suit. I suppose that's not completely necessary in a kids movie, but it would've been nice if the filmmakers showed that they actually cared. They just simply opened the box of "What to do in a generic kids movie" and rolled with it, using the first idea suggested to them from one of their five-year-olds as a loose plot structure, while taking lots of inspiration from that awful first movie, in hopes to make their bosses at Sony happy.
The movie didn't have much character development. We just gathered together our main characters from the first movie, added a few more for style, teamed them up with their pig enemies, and sent them all on a random adventure. OK, sure, I'll back track a little bit. Red, our main bird, has a bit of development. He's so obsessed with his newly found fame as a hero of bird island that he is dead set on doing everything himself instead of working as a team to find a solution. And the movie's big lesson is that he learns how to work as a team player instead of having to do everything himself. But that's it. Yet even that feels like generic kid movie stuff and his arc wasn't even as interesting as in the first movie. The rest of the movie is just all of the characters doing things. The movie doesn't feel like it has a connected plot. It's just a thousand smaller sequences all strung together, each of them hoping to spark a reaction from the kids in the audience. In fact, most of the things that happen in the movie don't even serve a purpose to the overall plot. There's even a huge subplot involving a trio of young birds searching for some lost bird eggs that's completely pointless and only loosely connects to the main plot at the end. Even most of what our main characters do serves little purpose.
To close this review off, I'm going to use an obscure football reference. One of the more well-known press conference blow-ups was with the Cardinals coach after a loss to the Bears where he yelled "They are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook!" If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up. That was going through my head because I tricked myself into thinking that maybe this movie could surprise me. I didn't like the first movie. I didn't like the idea of them doing a sequel. I didn't like any of the trailers. Yet I saw the positive score on Rotten Tomatoes (currently a 72 percent with 61 reviews counted) and thought that this maybe could be a surprise. It wasn't. It is what I thought it was going to be. And I let it off the hook by giving it a chance. I have no idea how it has that high of a score. I also don't know how so many big name actors got conned into joining this sequel. I don't even know how or why this movie exists in the first place outside the fact that Sony Animation is stupid enough to think this will make just as much money as the first movie. I don't know what the final prognosis will be, but I hope it fails miserably because I don't want there to ever be an "Angry Birds 3." Because this movie annoyed me even more than the first, I'm giving it a 4/10.