Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel Review

We're only a month and a half into 2019, but already it's been a bit of an interesting year. In terms of the box office, the year has come up completely empty. There seems to be duds left and right, which have been led by "Glass" and "The LEGO Movie 2" vastly underperforming when compared to expectations. And those are the two movies that seemed to be surefire hits in the first two months of the year. All of this means that this most recent Presidents Day weekend was the worst Presidents Day weekend in the last 15 years. And quality also seems to be all over the place. You can go take a look at my yearly preview that I posted at the beginning of the year and already you can probably laugh at some of the choices I made on that. Leading the pack there is this current movie we are about to dive into, the curious case of "Alita: Battle Angel." I was confident that this movie was going to be a disaster. Not only did it look super generic and unoriginal, but it didn't seem Fox had any confidence in it as they kept postponing the movie until eventually settling for a February release. They seemed ready to cut their losses and get this disaster over with. So if that was the case, why should I be excited for a movie that the studio distributing it seemed to have no hope for?

The answer to that question is that, despite Fox's seemingly lack of interest, audiences are gravitating towards the film. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is at a shockingly high 93 percent with the movie also earning an A- Cinemascore. This has led to another strong wave of "don't trust the critics on this one," which has given me a big headache. Sure, the movie's 60 percent score with the critics is a lot lower than the 93 percent from audiences. But a 60 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't mean that the critics hated it. In fact, that literally means that 60 percent of critics gave the movie a passing grade. That's the majority of critics claiming they liked the movie. I hate this black and white world we live in where every critic has to praise a movie to the high heavens or else it means they all hated it. I mean, to heck with a middle ground or a gray area, right? A movie can't have mixed reviews. It's only good reviews or bad reviews. And how about the hypocrisy of hating on the critics when you happen to be on the opposite side of their consensus, then praising them to the high heavens when you do agree? "The critics suck," people say... but only when they disagree with you. If you liked a movie they all liked, then the critics suddenly become your first line of defense.

Anyways, with that tangent out of the way, how about we talk about this movie? The movie that audiences seem to be loving, while critics are MIXED on. Because of all this, I wasn't sure what to think going in, which refreshingly left me with a blank slate. I was open to being pleased, but I also had my initial worries in the back of my mind, so things kinda cancelled themselves. What I will say is that I purposely waited until $5 Tuesday for this one because that's when IMAX is only $5 instead of $15-20. Even with various reactions, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the special effects on this are great, so why not go see an IMAX showing for just $5? And right off the bat, I can tell you that that was a great choice on my part. Sure, I could've had my review out four or five days earlier, but I would've missed out on a rather special treat. I want to talk about the budget of this movie here in a bit, but for now I'll just say it was large and the crew of this movie took full advantage of that massive budget to craft quite the visual spectacle. I was rather impressed at how much care was put into making this movie look as good as they could get it. I'm trying to think of the best comparisons here and honestly I think that this movie might be the most visually stunning film I've seen since "Blade Runner 2049" and that was an October 2017 release.

This is something that I don't want to just brush over because it's the type of theatrical experience that can make for a good escapism movie. Sometimes movies are very much social events, but they can also be very good at helping you escape the real world by diving into a completely new universe. "Alita" absolutely succeeds at that. For reasons that I'll completely avoid, I felt a strong desire to disappear from the world for a few hours and "Alita" provided me that opportunity. The year is somewhere in the 26th century. That was easy to remember because the Fox logo at the beginning switched to 26th Century Fox right before the movie started, which was clever. Apparently we're 300 years after "The Fall." Whatever that is. But it puts us into a very futuristic society and the world had a very sleek design that again reminded me of "Blade Runner 2049." Also like "2049," there's a lot of half-human, half-cyborg things running around, while our main character, much like "Ghost in the Shell," is mostly cyborg female without a strong knowledge of who she is. But with this setup, there's a lot of fancy cyborg designs that I found to be awesome. And give that Alita is secretly a super soldier, there's a lot of action sequences between all of them.

These action sequences were easily the best part of these films. I wasn't always sure why they were happening, but every time one of these fights broke out, I was completely immersed. First of all, Alita was a very charming, charismatic character brilliantly played by Rosa Salazar, so I became emotionally invested in her journey. When such an innocent looking girl all of sudden started kicking the trash out of these giant, scary, evil cyborgs that were brilliantly designed, I was richly rewarded. And the IMAX experience made it even better. It was a world with stunning visual effects, great character designs and beautiful fight choreography that was elevated with a brilliant score that fit IMAX so well that I could feel the movie at certain points. And I mean that literally because there were times that the theater shook. It reminded me of one of those Hans Zimmer scores that fits the action sequences so perfectly that the theater rumbles. And every time we got some blade on blade action, the sound design felt so sharp that I almost felt like the action was happening around me, like I needed to go hide around the corner while Alita takes care of these random baddies. In this case, the IMAX experience also came with 3D, which didn't add anything. But the IMAX was well used.

So yeah, I have to give this movie some legitimate top-notch praise for what they were able to pull off. It was one of those experiences that stunned me with how entertained and immersed I was. However, you may have picked up on my vague descriptions on whatever the heck was going on with the plot, because yeah, I don't know. There's a lot of exposition and a lot of context thrown at you and I had a hard time keeping track of it all. Bad things happened 300 years ago. Scary people are running around. We have a big baddie hiding in the shadows somewhere, using people on the ground as his puppets. Alita was trying to figure out who she was and I was just about as lost as she was. The movie is based on the Japanese manga titled "Gunnm" that began in 1990 and I think I was at a disadvantage at knowing absolutely nothing about that. I think James Cameron got a little ahead of himself while writing the screenplay as I think he assumed that everyone watching would be familiar with the manga and thus not need any explanation. Given the fact fact that this isn't just one story, but a manga series, I think that maybe James Cameron shoved a bit too much of the series into one movie. There's a lot of movie here with a lot of plot shoved into two hours.

Maybe this next point might sound a bit contradictory, but I also think James Cameron got a little ahead of himself by assuming this movie would be such a huge hit that he didn't need to explain everything that he shoved into this movie because he could include that in the three or four sequels that I'm sure he wanted to get done. It seemed like a huge portion of this plot was setting up this world and setting up the sequel, with not enough focus on making one individually great movie. Given that James Cameron is the director of the world's two highest grossing movies, "Avatar" and "Titanic," I think he was somehow able to con Fox into giving him a ginormous budget for this. The initial price tag for the production budget stands at $170 million. Add in all of the marketing costs that have been going on for the last two years and whatever other troubles or costs they've had, and Fox is reporting that the break-even point for this movie is a global total of $350-400 million. Other reports online are claiming that it could be even higher with a break-even point that is as high as $500-550 million. Yeah, sure, you make $2.7 billion like "Avatar" and that's nothing. But that ain't happen. Early reports say that Fox might take a $200 million loss on this film.

That's where things get frustrating. I think everyone is looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and are rushing into making their own cinematic universes or major franchises. What they forget is that the MCU is so successful because of the fact that they made several individually solid movies with character we cared about. We all cared about Iron Man, Thor and Captain America as characters before they all got together in "The Avengers." That's why "The Avengers" was such a special event. The universe built itself naturally. When you try to rush into starting a franchise, there's a legit chance of failing if you don't slow down and try to simply make a good first movie. Dumping all of that money into a first film is also a dumb idea because there's no guarantee for success. "Alita" actually over-performed based on expectations, earning $28.5 million on the three-day weekend when it was thought it would only get $15-17 million. In its first five days, it's gotten all the way to $42.2 million domestically as it enjoyed a Valentine's Day release on Thursday as well as the additional Presidents Day boost on Monday. But with "Captain Marvel" about to obliterate it come early March, it might be lucky to even cross $100 million domestically, which is unfortunate.

Knowing all of that going in, it was frustrating for me to watch the movie try so hard to set up a sequel when I knew that a sequel probably wasn't going to happen. Then things get worse when the movie leaves you on a cliffhanger, making me go crazy that I now have to live the rest of my life with this unresolved story in my head that wasn't completed because James Cameron got a serious case of overconfidence. It's like diving into a TV show after knowing that it already got canceled. That makes the finale really frustrating. Sure, in this case I have the option of going and checking out the original manga, but I don't know if I really care enough to do so. I haven't read a lot of Japanese mangas in my life and if I ever decide to change that, I'm not sure this is the one I'd start with. I'm hoping that this is a situation where James Cameron can learn from. But I'm afraid it may be too late as he's spent the last decade doing nothing but "Avatar" sequels. FOUR of them to be exact. They all have dates right now. "Avatar 2" is December 2020. "Avatar 3" is December 2021. "Avatar 4" is December 2024. "Avatar 5" is December 2025. Yet there's no guarantee that "Avatar 2" will even make any money because I don't think enough people even care about that franchise.

Now I've been giving a lot of credit to James Cameron for "Alita: Battle Angel" as if he's the one who directed the movie. He didn't. Robert Rodriguez is the director here. But this is James Cameron's movie. He's been wanting to make this since 2002, but never got around to it because he's been doing nothing but "Avatar" for the last 20 years as it took him forever to get the first "Avatar" out as well. So eventually he gave "Avatar" over to Robert Rodriguez, but Cameron still wrote the script and stayed on as producer. Robert Rodriguez has had an interesting career as he's directed everything from "Spy Kids" to "Sin City." It seems like this was a project where he dedicated himself to fulfilling James Cameron's vision. And on that level he did a great job. But that fact almost emphasizes the fact that this is still James Cameron's movie and so I'm giving the blame on this one to James Cameron for getting too overly confident. If this movie wasn't so focused on setting up the next movie, I think this movie could've legitimately been great. But that's where it falls short. And that same over-confidence led to a way-too-huge production budget that will result in now "Alita" sequels. But this is still a visual masterpiece and based on those merits, I'm going to give "Alita" a 7/10.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U Review

It's the week of Valentine's Day. Depending on when you're reading this, it might even be Valentine's Day. Thus there's nothing more romantic than watching Jessica Rothe get stuck yet another time loop, where she has to face off against another baby face killer, right? OK, I tease. But "Happy Death Day" was a surprise hit in October 2017 that I rather enjoyed. Yeah, sure, if you did an in depth analysis of it, it's kind of a dumb movie with a lot of plot holes that doesn't necessarily make sense. And if you're looking for an actual horror movie, it's not particularly scary. But I found it to be a lot of fun because it's a very self-aware film that doesn't take itself seriously at all, so I was able to kick back, relax, and enjoy a silly time loop horror film. I'm not sure if "Groundhog Day" was the movie that started the time loop thing, but at the very least it certainly popularized it and now it's a trope that's been copied time and time again. By this point, you would think it was a trope that I was sick of. But for some strange reason that hasn't happened to me yet. Thus when "Happy Death Day 2U" was announcement, instead of rolling my eyes at another horror sequel done for a quick cash grab, I was totally down for this. It may be another dumb movie, but that was OK with me.

Describing this as a movie where Jessica Rothe getting stuck in another time loop is a bit of an oversimplification. They actually do set up more of a lore for this phenomenon. A simple way of explaining why this is happening. However, I don't know if I want to get too deep into that, even though said explanation takes place within the first 20 minutes of the movie. So I'll just say for now that the time loop phenomenon, instead of completely going away, gets passed onto their friend Ryan. When Ryan explains this to Tree (Jessica Rothe's character), she can immediately relate and they set out to figure out how to get Ryan out. Well, one thing leads to another and certain things go kaboom, and suddenly the time loop gets passed back to Tree, who completely loses her mind when she wakes up on her birthday again. Given that she's already cracked the code on how to solve this, she immediately approaches the perpetrator... only to realize that she hasn't just been sent back into the previous time loop. She's been sent back into an alternate dimension where everything's different and things have happened that she doesn't even remember. So now the challenge of this film is for her to figure out how to get back to her proper dimension where she belongs.

The first thing that comes to my mind as to why this movie worked for me is the performance of Jessica Rothe. She totally owns this role. I think the thing that some of these cheaply-made horror films forget is that if you're going to make an effective horror film, you need to have characters for the audience to care about. Being chased around by a serial killer or being haunted by an evil demon ultimately has no effect on me personally if I have no emotional investment in the main characters who are in trouble. It's even worse when some horror movies are so bad that you start cheering for the villain to quickly kill everyone off so you don't have to worry about these annoying main characters anymore. Luckily this movie doesn't have this problem and that's because of Jessica Rothe. She just has so much fun with this role that you can't help but cheer for her. And she has a surprisingly good character arc over the course of both of these films. In the first movie she goes from being confused at what's going on to putting on her detective hat to figure things out. In this movie she's flat out angry, thus making it a bad idea to get in her way. But then she runs into some surprising obstacles that forces her to show some emotion, and she does great at that, too.

Because of this, the movie went from being a silly horror film to a surprisingly emotional drama that had me caring quite a bit. There were some decisions that had to be made that caused me to feel for this girl. And, yeah, there's also plenty of fun to be had on top of all this. The movie becomes a bit sciency in parts, which was a major departure from the first film. I thought that was an interesting choice, but I ended up being fine with that. Because of that, instead of Tree deciding to get killed by the new baby face killer every night to figure things out, she comes up with some clever ways to kill herself when a reset is needed for reasons that I won't get too deep into. That leads us to our mandatory time loop montage that the trailers focused heavily on with Tree doing things like jumping off a plane in a bikini to drinking some sort of poisonous fluid in an auto parts store and a whole bunch of stuff like that. It might sound a bit morbid to be entertained by that, but this movie is meant to be a lot of fun. In fact, it goes to the point where the movie often forgets that it's a horror film. There's a large portion of this movie where the baby face killer is missing in action. I'm not sure if some will have a problem with that or not, but I didn't care. 

The other thing that I really appreciated about this movie is that the filmmakers here made an honest effort to separate this movie from the first film while also keeping the heart and soul in tact. There's a lot of horror franchises out there that get really lazy with their sequels. They manage to come up with a creative idea that a lot of people gravitate towards with their first film, but when they crack the code and make a lot of money, all the creativity gets thrown out the window in favor of a cash grab. Given that horror films are often the cheapest genre of movie to make, it's really easy to make a quick profit. Point in case, "Happy Death Day" was made on a budget of just $4.8 million. Thus a $55.7 million domestic total was a huge return on their investment that got even better when they ended with $125.5 million worldwide. If all they wanted to do was to make money, they didn't need to put much effort into this sequel all. They doubled their production budget to $9 million with "Happy Death Day 2U," thus a phoned-in, poorly-written retread would've easily given them a quick profit. But instead of doing that, it honestly felt like they cared about this property enough to build on the first movie and create a fun franchise rather than just scamming a bunch of teenagers.

Because of that, I look forward to more "Happy Death Day" movies. And yes, that's going to happen. The movie is currently projected to earn about $25 million through its first six days of release over this extended Valentine's Day and Presidents Day weekend. That right there is already makes this movie a success given the aforementioned $9 million production budget. Compare that to "Alita: Battle Angel," which is looking to take in around the same total this weekend, but is instead in a lot of trouble thanks to a $170 million production budget. That's why the business of the box office is a fascinating one to explore, in my opinion. Two movies can make the exact same total, but said total will make one studio throw a celebration while making the other studio spend the weekend hiding in their corners crying. Barring a Chinese miracle, don't expect an "Alita" sequel. But do expect a "Happy Death Day 3." They even have a mid-credits scene that sets it up. And you better believe I'm on board. Had "Happy Death Day 2U" been a lazy retread that bored me, I may have felt differently, but because they made a real effort to build on the first movie, giving us a fun follow-up that still feels fresh, I'm open to getting more out of this franchise as long as they maintain their creativity.

Yes, there's a lot that could be nitpicked about this movie. Same thing goes with the first one. Said first movie ended up with a 71 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes with a 65 percent audience score. I listened to a lot of the complaints and I totally understood the negativity. It was by no means a masterpiece of a film. But I didn't really care. I had fun with it. It was one of those movies where I was able to turn off my brain and enjoy. "Happy Death Day 2U" seems to be about on the same level. At the time of me typing this, there's still a lot of reviews yet to come in as they held those back until last night. But with 81 reviews counted, the score was at a 65 percent with the critics. Although it surprisingly has a much higher audience score compared to its predecessor with 83 percent right now, which is encouraging for me. But nevertheless, I've read through a lot of the negative reaction and I understand. In fact, I'm not going to rush to this movie's defense because I think there's a lot of solid points from the people not liking this. But ultimately said complaints didn't bother me. I just wanted to go have fun and I did. If you're on board with me in regards to the first film, then go check this sequel out. I'm going to give "Happy Death Day 2U" an 8/10.   

Friday, February 8, 2019

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Review

Can you believe it's been five years since "The LEGO Movie" hit theaters? To this day, I still think that "The LEGO Movie" is one of the most genius animated movies ever made. Not only was it a really fun adventure with laugh-out-loud humor and great character development, but the twist at the end that the whole movie was just a kid playing with LEGOs completely blew my mind. It was one of those twists that completely changed the viewing experience the second time around. It's also a movie that totally holds up five years later as a movie that's simply a blast to watch and re-watch on whatever the occasion. If you haven't seen it, sorry for spoiling the ending, but I don't feel too bad because if you haven't seen "The LEGO Movie" yet, were you really planning on doing so anytime soon? Plus, I need to talk about this idea of the movie being about kids playing with LEGOs because that's this whole second movie. They don't even hide it. They flip back and forth to live action all the time. In fact, they start with live action as the ending of last movie is the intro to this movie. So yeah, sorry, not sorry. But we'll get to all of that. Given how much I loved the first movie, of course I was excited to see this sequel. I think there's a lot of potential with this LEGO franchise moving forward.

However, I will say that my official excitement level walking into the theater was cautiously optimistic. It's one of those movies where I wanted to be super excited based on goodwill from the first one, but I watched the trailers and just wasn't able to get myself there. And as far as the LEGO franchise goes, while "The LEGO Batman Movie" was equally as fun and genius as "The LEGO Movie," there is this thing called "The LEGO Ninjago Movie," which was a complete dud in my opinion. So it hasn't been all rainbows and butterflies thus far. Topping this all off, Lord and Miller aren't back as directors for this movie. That job went to Mike Mitchell, director of "Shrek Forever After," "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" and "Trolls." Neither of those are particularly bad, but nor are they particularly great. So that didn't inspire a ton of confidence in me. I know, fans of "Trolls" are going to now come after me with their torches and pitchforks. But so be it. What did inspire a little confidence is that Lord and Miller did write the screenplay for "The LEGO Movie 2" and were also on board as one of the 5,000 producers of the film. So they still had their stamp on the movie, even if they didn't have quite as much control as they did in the first movie.

And yeah, I'll say right off the bat that this doesn't have the magic of the first movie, so if you're like me and are still madly in love with "The LEGO Movie," I'd recommend going into this one with slightly tempered expectations. That said, this is also not bad at all. If I had to describe this movie in one word, I'd go with "cute." As far as the plot goes, it kinda does exactly what you expected it to do. At the end of the first movie, Will Ferrell tells his boy that if he's going to play with all of daddy's LEGOs, then his sister gets to play, too. The movie ends with some LEGO monsters designed by a very young girl invading the town. As I said before, that's exactly where this movie begins. It's that exact ending, but extended a bit before we then lead into the opening title. After that intro, we then jump five years into the future where Bricksburg has become transformed into a Mad Max style wasteland that you saw advertised in all of the trailers, which they now call Apocalypseburg. Occasionally the little aliens from the young girl still still come and invade the area, destroying any signs of life. In one of these instances, Lucy, Batman and a few other main characters from the first movie get captured, causing Emmet to go on a rescue mission to save them.

When watching the first movie, it took me until the very end of the movie to figure out what was going on. This time around, I caught on right away. And I don't feel the movie made any attempt to hide what was happening. They took the philosophy that since the cat is now out of the bag, let's just take it and run with it rather than try to be secretive about it. And it works just fine. The general idea here is that the young boy, named Finn, has all of his stuff downstairs and his sister Bianca has her stuff in her room upstairs. They both love LEGOs, but like a typical brother and sister, they don't always get along or play well with each other. The movie cleverly incorporates this into the animated universe as it jumps back and forth from live action to animation. Lucy and the gang getting captured and taken to the unknown is equal to the little sister taking the toys and running up to her room. Then you can see the conflict represented in the sister's room being the "evil lair." But is it evil or is it just a stubborn older brother not wanting to play along? I'm not exactly sure how old the kids in the movie are supposed to be, but the child actors who play them are 15 years old and 8 years old respectively. That's Jadon Sand as Finn and Brooklyn Prince as Bianca, both of whom do great.

So there are a lot of clever themes in the movie and a strong message about getting along with your siblings, but I couldn't help but think that this is a movie that is specifically targeted at kids, which is slightly disappointing considering how clever and funny the first movie was. It managed to hit the Pixar balance of being perfectly enjoyable and fun for younger kids while being equally as entertaining and memorable for adults. A group of college students can sit down and watch "The LEGO Movie" as a movie night and no one will even bat an eye or question why a kids movie was decided on for them to watch. "The LEGO Movie 2," on the other hand, doesn't seem interested in finding this balance. They just made a movie for kids. Yes, there are plenty of jokes that I laughed at, but there were a lot more chuckles than laugh-out-loud moments. And the movie didn't try very hard to be clever and witty with all the Warner Bros. references. In fact, as I think about it, "The LEGO Movie" seemed determined to throw in as many Warner Bros. references as they could, with several references from other properties as well. This movie abandoned that. There's a few cameos from characters we saw in the last movie, but they seemed like more of an afterthought.

At the same time, though, while I was disappointed on a personal level that the movie was as clever and as deep for adults as the first movie was, I couldn't get too mad because it was really adorable and cute. If their goal was to make this a movie for kids, they did a really good job at it. I may have not laughed as hard at the jokes as I wanted and I may have been disappointed at the lack of endless movie references, but I can envision this as the type of movie that kids of all ages are going to be super invested in. I almost wish that I had waited to see this at a matinee showing instead of going to the late night preview so I could see the reaction from the target audience, but I have no doubt that the young kids are going to be laughing like crazy the whole movie and will be singing the songs so much that it might drive their parents mad. Because, yeah, this movie is practically a musical. The first movie had "Everything is Awesome" and everyone loves that song. Right? Well this movie has a few different versions of that song while also having a whole lot more. They're all pretty dumb, but are also extremely amusing. There's a specific song that I'll let you discover that I spent the whole night singing, for better or for worse. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. The end credits song is also hilarious, so make sure you stick around.

Also in regards to this being primarily a kids movie, I really appreciated the fact that the humor is clean and appropriate. There's so many kids movies that will resort to poop and fart jokes to make kids laugh. This movie completely avoids that trope, providing humor that will make your kids laugh equally as hard without resorting to all that juvenile toilet humor. It's legitimately cute and charming. And it terms of the message, it drives home the idea of playing nicely with your siblings to the point where I think that message will stick into kids' heads and thus make parents really happy. So I can't be too mad or grumpy at this. Do I personally have a desire to buy this and watch it over and over, like I have done with "The LEGO Movie" and "The LEGO Batman Movie"? No, I don't. This one viewing is probably perfectly satisfactory. Granted, if someone else decides to watch it and I happen to be in the room, I'm not going to run away and hide. But I'm also not going to be the one to seek it out or suggest it for a movie night, if that makes sense. It's not a must see. Unless you're a parent with young kids. In which case, see it asap. It's perfect. And it might be the type of movie that becomes a timeless classic for your kids. And I appreciate it for that. So I'll give "The LEGO Movie 2" an 8/10. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Glass Review (SPOILERS)

Here's something strange. I didn't write a movie review in January. I wrote my January movie preview, then my 2019 yearly preview, then my best and worst of 2018 lists, and that was it. Truth be told, I did watch movies in January. Just not a lot of the new releases. Mostly I caught up on a lot of Oscar movies that expanded that I gave some quick thoughts on Facebook to. And then there was "Glass," one of my more highly anticipated movies of the year. M. Night Shyamalan has had a bit of a wild career as he was on top of the world for a bit, but then fell hard and became the butt of every joke. However, he had a resurgence with "The Visit" in September 2015, a solid found-footage thriller that he followed up in a big way with "Split" in January 2017, which might be my favorite Shyamalan movie if I'm being honest. I've watched "Split" so many times in the last two years that I've lost track. And I've loved it every time. So obviously I was excited for what comes next, especially after we learned that "Split" was a sidequel to "Unbreakable." Two very different movies that ended up being in the same universe. "Unbreakable" was a superhero origin story while "Split" was a supervillain origin story. "Glass" is the sequel to both that brings them together.

On that note, it is of utmost importance that you watch BOTH "Unbreakable" AND "Split" before you see "Glass." If you skip one or the other, you're going to be confused and you'll walk out not liking the movie. I know this specifically because the three guys I saw this with hadn't seen "Unbreakable." They either thought it was a sequel to "Split" or they thought "Unbreakable" wasn't necessary viewing. I didn't learn this until after the fact when all three were talking about how stupid the movie was. I asked them if they've seen "Unbreakable" and the answer was a unanimous "no." Had I known that going in, I wouldn't have let them see it with me until they fixed that. So don't make the same mistake as my three friends. See both movies first. If you end up loving "Split," but not liking "Unbreakable," you're in for a rough trip because if I were to pick which movie "Glass" is more like, I'm going with "Unbreakable." In fact, they easily could've titled this "Unbreakble 2" and it may have made even more sense than "Glass." Yes, the title of "Glass" makes sense, even though Mr. Glass doesn't get a speaking part until over an hour into the film, but we'll get to that. But why would you jump into a sequel without seeing the first movie? Don't do it. See "Unbreakable."

My opinion on "Glass" is a bit complex. I did see the movie exactly two weeks ago, shortly after it was released. Normally I'd try to get my review out as soon as possible afterwards, but this movie stumped me. I didn't know what to think of the movie going in because "Unbreakable" and "Split" are two separate genres. I wasn't sure exactly how they were going to combine them, what tone the movie was going to take, or what the specific story was going to be. But whatever it was that I was expecting in the back of my mind, the final outcome completely blindsided me. It went the exact opposite direction and I frankly didn't know if I loved it or hated it. I was actually leaning towards anger and disappointment initially, but I couldn't get myself to sit down and type that review. I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps the shock value of it being a movie I wasn't expecting was causing me to be too harsh on it. But yet, there were still things that I knew that I didn't like, so how was I supposed to reconcile this? The answer is that I gave it two weeks, then saw it again. I still don't feel like I'm all the way there with this movie. But with two viewings in, I have enough of a grasp to sit down and write a review. But doing so requires me to spoil the daylights out of this, so beware.

When I analyze my own thoughts, I honestly think that I was wanting this to be more like a "Split 2." I love James McAvoy's character in "Split." My all-time favorite thriller is Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," mostly because the dive into Norman Bates' Dissociative Identity Disorder makes for an absolutely fascinating character. The idea of an extremely mentally troubled individual who breaks down and becomes a serial killer when his other identity takes over is the most genius idea ever for a villain. The execution of that idea in "Psycho" is crafted to perfection by Hitchcock. The reason why I liked "Split" so much is because that's what it is. It's a modern-day "Psycho," but on steroids because McAvoy's Kevin Wendell Crumb has 23 different personalities protecting him, that all take turns with the light as they prepare for the inhuman 24th identity they call "the Beast" to take over. That's a basic overview, anyways. It's more complex because there's three personalities in favor of the Beast while the others aren't. But the three in favor, Patricia, Dennis, and Hedwig, are in total control. I wanted to see more of this. I wanted another dark thriller that ends with our hero David Dunn coming in and figuring out a way to stop the Beast. How Mr. Glass figured into this was beyond me.

But yet it's called "Glass" because this is Mr. Glass's movie. He's the mastermind pulling all the strings here. In "Unbreakable," he's the one obsessed with this idea of comic book characters being based on reality. He's sees David Dunn as a superhero in the making while also seeing himself as the perfect arch-nemesis. And he's super obsessed with seeing this comic book world come to fruition that he's going to do everything in his power to make it come to pass. And again, spoiler alert if you didn't get that message enough already, but that master plan goes beyond what we saw in "Unbreakable" and is fully realized in "Glass." Not only did he crash the train that caused David Dunn to realize who he was, but he also turned Kevin Wendell Crumb into who he was as well by killing Kevin's father on the same exact train David Dunn was on. Kevin's father dying turned Kevin's mother into a crazy, abusive mother, which in turn caused Kevin to be so damaged that he developed this severe form of DID that eventually created the Beast, who was the perfect arch-rival for David Dunn. The Beast believed that the broken are the pure and no one is more unbroken than David Dunn, who doesn't even experience pain. Seeing this plan come to pass was brilliant. 

However, it's not without its major bumps along the way. And the thing that makes this a complicated movie is that I'm not sure how severe all of these bumps really are. Are they small nitpicks that will resolve themselves over time or are they major flaws that will forever tamper the film, causing there to be some severe missed opportunities here? I don't know. But we're going to plow through them anyways. First off, though, we get to start off with the positive. The first 20-25 minutes of this movie are complete genius. This is because the movie actually does what I subconsciously wanted it to do. It was "Split 2." The Hoard, as is the nickname of the personalities in favor of the Beast, have now kidnapped three different sets of girls, and it these kidnappings are getting some legit press in the local news. Their latest victims are four cheerleaders and we get to again see Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig work their plan as they prepare the cheerleaders to be sacrifices for the Beast. But before the final plan is put into place, David Dunn ends up bumping into Hedwig on the street, which causes him to see the vision of what they are doing and he comes to the rescue. The Hoard then unleash the Beast as we get to see David Dunn vs. the Beast in a rather glorious battle.

But then the battle is immediately interrupted by our secret anti-superhero clan. Both David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb are captured and thrown into a mental institution where they are interrogated by Sarah Paulson's character, the leader of this clan, who is determined to convince them that their superhero powers aren't real, but are rather a mental thing that they have created. If I'm being honest, I was not really a fan of this plot twist. I knew it was coming because that's where all the trailers were focusing their advertising, but I thought it would be a quick 10-20 minute thing at the beginning. But no. After our first 20-25 minutes of intro, this is where we spend the next hour of the film. The momentum of the movie slams to a halt and my adrenaline got completely derailed. I really didn't care for Sarah Paulson's character and I was bothered with the idea of over half of the movie being spent on her scheme. Now there are some positives here. Namely its a James McAvoy showcase as they learn that flashing a blinding light will force a different personality out of him. McAvoy has so much fun playing all of these different characters and I had a blast watching them all shuffle through. We also got to see a lot of new characters, which was a lot of fun.

I think the biggest problem with this whole hour-long segment in the mental institution is that it was just so boring. I don't mind slow if the build-up is done properly and the script is written nicely, but this movie just dragged its feet for an hour. And in the process, it completely sidelined David Dunn. Bruce Willis is an actor who often gets accused of not caring in his roles. With this movie, I think he did care. They just didn't give him much to do. He got to sit in his prison cell while the movie focused primarily on James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson. When those two first met and started scheming, things starting heating up. But it took a while. I looked I my clock the second time around and we were about an hour and 15 minutes before Samuel L. Jackson first spoke. And they were captured at around the 25 minute mark. And it was an hour and half before they finally escaped. I think a big part of the reason why I was so bored is that this premise is one that's been done a whole lot. It's the vigilante story arc. Shortly after the heroes learn of their powers, the government, the people, or in the case, a secret organization, start to oppose it and there has to be a period of reconciliation before we can move forward with the plot. It happens in every superhero story at one point.

Given that "Unbreakable" was released in 2000, perhaps this is a storyline that Shyamalan felt needed to be explored next with this characters. If this plot had been incorporated in an "Unbreakable" sequel that came out in 2002 or 2003, maybe it would've been a more compelling arc. But now that we've had 20 movies in the MCU to go along with competing movies from Sony, Fox, and Warner Bros., as well as a whole bunch of superhero TV shows, I'm done with this arc. If someone is going to do it again, they're going to need to find a way to make it seem fresh and new. And I'm fair across all platforms with this. In fact, I heavily dinged "Captain America: Civil War" for the same exact thing. So overall, I think I was ready to get out of the mental institution. Both times I watched the movie I dozed off at different parts. Perhaps next time I try this out, I need to figure out a way to stay awake for the whole time, but I still contend that there's an inherent issue with this section of the movie that's going to make it a difficult thing to pay attention to because it takes up so much time of the movie. But eventually we do see a plan get put into place by Mr. Glass as he uses Kevin Crumb and David Dunn to help them all escape, which is what leads into the final portion of this movie.

Given my affinity towards "Split," this is where I have to talk about some well-done character progression with our "Split" characters that left some good finality. Namely I'm talking about Casey, Anya Taylor-Joy's character. At the end of "Split" she was left at a bit of a predicament. She escaped the Beast because the Beast realized she was equally as broken. When she was rescued, it was an "out of the frying pan, into the fire" sort of situation as she went back to her abusive uncle. Well, as it turns out, she is a completely changed individual. She got her uncle arrested. She's working at the zoo that she was held hostage at. She's dressing and acting more confidently. And she has a new foster family that she really loves. This might be a bit abrupt, especially since it hasn't been that long since the events of "Split," but I liked the change. I also liked her interactions with Kevin Wendell Crumb in this movie, especially at the end. The movie almost hinted at a bit of a romance, which had me uncomfortable since there's a 17-year difference between the two actors, but that aside, she saw him as a broken individual and knew that he needed someone there for him. That affection is what helped him change as he learned that there's someone there who cares about him. He started to realize that having the light wasn't such a bad thing.

Intermixed with that was a final duel that was spectacular. We have Mr. Glass watching on the sidelines as his master plan is coming to fruition. We have the anti-superhero clan coming after them to recapture them, some of whom are acting as police. We have the Beast in all-out fury mode trying to bring down this army of police that's attacking him. And we have David Dunn in hero mode trying to save the day. It was quite the beautiful spectacle. But then as Casey is able to convince the Beast to let Kevin take the light, BOOM. He gets sniped and shot. As he is dying in Casey's arms, he sifts through all his personalities once again as we get to say goodbye to all of them, ending with Kevin taking the light for the remainder of the time, with his final words being what I just mentioned, that having the light wasn't such a bad thing. As this is going on, David Dunn as detained by a police grunt and is being drowned in a street puddle. And Mr. Glass, after being attacked by the Beast, who turned on him after a speech from one of the heroes (either David Dunn or his son), is also dying after being fatally wounded. And I was sitting her in shock and disbelief. M. Night Shyamalan's way to wrap up these three character's arcs was to kill all three of them? I felt cheated.

This is the thing that I don't know if I'm going to be able to get over. Even if I eventually accept the boring second act or find the themes of the movie to be even deeper than I initially thought, I have to live with the idea that M. Night Shyamalan created three amazing characters, then decided to kill them all off in his final movie. Sure, I guess it might make sense to kill the two villains. But David Dunn drowning to death in a street puddle by a random police grunt might go down in history as one of the most useless, unnecessary, and upsetting deaths in cinema history. This after Shyamalan mostly sidelined him the whole movie to showcase Kevin Wendell Crumb and Mr. Glass. But, sure. The final finale is decent enough. The clan thinks they've won. They admit that the three of them did have superpowers and they're about to move onto the next city, but PSYCH! Mr. Glass secretly recorded all of this and sent videos to Casey, Joseph Dunn and Mr. Glass's mother, who upload the videos and release all of this footage to the world. Now Mr. Glass's plan is finally complete as everyone else with superpowers will be able to see this and have the courage to come out of hiding and the world will be full of superheroes, just like in all the comics that Mr. Glass has been obsessed with.

In other words, Shyamalan just recreated "X-Men." Except he killed his Professor X, so who are all these new people supposed to go to? Since the first "X-Men" movie was released a couple months before "Unbreakable" in 2000, perhaps that gave Shyamalan an idea as to what to do with an "Unbreakble" sequel. It just took 19 years for his vision to be completed. And in those 19 years, we've had so many superhero movies and TV shows, that Shyamalan feels late to the party with his ideas, which his unfortunate. No, this movie is not as bad as some critics have made it to be. But this had the potential to be the movie event of the year. The "Unbreakable" sequel that fans have been waiting years for, combined with the "Split" characters, giving us a legitimate villain for David Dunn. But instead of a grand spectacle, he locks them all in a cage for an hour of the movie, repeats some story arcs that have been done a thousand times in superhero movies, then kills them all in the end. Yes, there's a lot of good themes and story arcs interwoven. And it does get better a second time. Who knows what will happen a third time. But after typing up all of these thoughts, I'm still not ready to go super high with my score. I'll go positive, but for now I'm only going 7/10 for "Glass."

Monday, February 4, 2019

Movie Preview: February 2019

It was an especially weak January this year as the total gross of the month came in at just $812 million domestically. For context, the last two Januarys both topped $950 million while the two years before that crossed $1 billion. This January was the lowest grossing January since 2011, which grossed $753 million. It didn't help that "Glass," the month's only expected blockbuster, suffered from a bad case of mixed reviews and poor word of mouth, leading it to only making $79 million through its first two weeks, which is what some thought it would make in one weekend before the reviews started trickling in. The only bright side of the month was "The Upside," which challenged "Glass" with $66 million on the month. Nearly every other release was dead on arrival as 2018 holdovers dominated the month. "Aquaman" actually won the month as it added another $119 million to its total. This February isn't going to come anywhere close to last February when "Black Panther" scored a $200 million opening weekend, but it should at least kick start 2019 in gear with several big titles on the schedule, especially when it comes to the animated department, as we prepare for what should be a huge Spring come March and April. So let's dive in and see what the month has to offer.

February 1st - 3rd-

The first weekend of February is one where Hollywood always rightfully avoids as Super Bowl weekend is a bad time to release a movie. Occasionally we'll get some counter-programming that does well, but even then the record for Super Bowl weekend is "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," which opened to $31.1 million in 2008, followed by "Dear John" with $30.4 million in 2010. Outside those two, no other movie has been able to crack $30 million on Super Bowl weekend. The only studio that even tried this year was Sony as they out Miss Bala to the wolves, where it was destroyed with an opening weekend of just $6.7 million. That allowed "Glass" to capture a third weekend win, despite only making $9.5 million, with "The Upside" right behind it at $8.9 million. "Miss Bala" wasn't helped by its reviews as it was awarded a miserable 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience score not a whole lot better at 65 percent. The movie stars Gina Rodriguez, a girl on a mission to rescue her friend, who was kidnapped by a drug cartel that shot down the club they were in. Perhaps it would've been best if Sony released this a few weekends earlier as a mindless January action film. But alas, an action film doesn't counter-program the Super Bowl very well.

February 8th - 10th- 

With the box office nearly completely dried up at this point, the second weekend of February will bring four new releases to the table in an effort to revive the box office. Leading the way will be Warner Animation Group's The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part." Believe it or not, it's now been five years since "The LEGO Movie" blew audiences away in 2014 as a surprise mega hit. The movie opened to $69.1 million that month and fed off excellent reviews to a leggy $257.8 million domestic total. Since then, it hasn't quite been all rainbows and butterflies when it comes to the LEGO franchise. "The LEGO Batman Movie" was well-received, but could only manage $175.8 million at the box office, while it was much worse for the poorly received "The LEGO Ninjago Movie," which could only muster up $59.2 million overall. Heading back to the main franchise should get things back on track when it comes to LEGO movies. The movie also has an encouraging 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, which means fans of the first should at least be in for a pleasant return to the LEGO universe. While the sequel probably won't hit the heights of the first, an opening around the $53 million debut of "The LEGO Batman Movie" is probably what should be expected here. 

Getting a head start on the Valentine's Day week will be the adult-targeted comedy What Men Want. This is a remake of sorts of the popular romantic comedy "What Women Want," which starred Mel Gibson as a man who gains the ability to hear women's thoughts. This helps him realize that most women don't like him, which in turn helps him work to repair those relationships. "What Men Want" flips the script on that by starring Taraji P. Henson as a sports agent who gains the ability to hear men's thoughts, which helps her know how to gain an advantage in her male-dominated field. While "What Women Want" is your traditional PG-13 romantic comedy, and was a huge success in the year 2000, "What Men Want" does seem to be leaning heavier on the comedy aspect of things, even though it does have a romance side arc, and also carries with it an stronger R rating. This could work out, though, given that we haven't had too many adult-themed comedies recently. While comedies are hard to predict at the box office, producer Will Packer has an excellent track record, thus this does have potential to match the opening weekend totals of fellow Will Packer produced comedies "Night School" ($27.3 million) in 2018 and "Girl's Trip" ($31.2 million) in 2017.

The third movie of the weekend sees Liam Neeson once again searching for revenge in his new movie "Taken 4"... I mean Cold Pursuit. I joke around with that, but tell me if this premise sounds familiar. Liam Neeson is minding his own business until a group of people do a misdeed to one of his children, causing Neeson to find who did it and get revenge. In "Taken," the people kidnapped his daughter. In "Cold Pursuit," the people killed his son. So "Cold Pursuit" hits a bit darker, but it's a similar idea. Neeson's method of revenge in the movie primarily involves him discreetly getting revenge using his snowplow that he drives around with. Neeson has been rather regular with these gritty action movies, so it's easy to point out a range here as to what this might make. Without the benefit of the "Taken" brand name, said comparisons point this one to the low teens for its opening. The best comparisons are 2018's "The Commuter" ($13.7 million), " 2015's "Run All Night" ($11.0 million) and 2014's "A Walk Among the Tombstones" ($12.8 million). If the R-rating here catches enough people's attention, 2011's "The Grey" ($19.7 million) could be a comparison, but "Run All Night" and "A Walk Among the Tombstones" were also R, so it all depends on the reaction.

Most likely to get left in the dust this weekend is the horror film The Prodigy. This is a movie distributed by Orion Pictures, a studio trying desperately to make a comeback. Back in the day, Orion released movies such as "Dances with Wolves," "Platoon" and "Silence of the Lambs." But then they went bankrupt and shut down, with their final release being in 1997. They were officially revitalized by MGM in September 2017, with their first release being 2018's "Every Day,"  a moderate release that only made $6.1 million overall. They tried again with "Anna and the Apocalypse," but that barely hit 100 theaters, so the comparison isn't good. With "The Prodigy" they are going big with a 2,500 theater release, but the interest level or awareness doesn't seem to be super high. The plot centers around a young boy who is a genius kid, but starts to show disturbing behavior, which causes his mother to suspect that he's being possessed. The budget on this type of film is never too high, so the bar of success is most likely quite low, but nevertheless a good comparison might be to November's "The Possession of Hannah Grace," which opened to $6.4 million. If it gets really lucky, it could even hit the $9.3 million that last February's "Winchester" opened up to. 

February 13th - 18th-

Before I get into this weekend's four new releases, allow me to quickly explain this date range. Valentine's Day is on Thursday this year, so there's two movies that have decided to release on Wednesday, February 13, with the other two opening right on Valentine's Day. Combined with Valentine's Day, we have President's Day on Monday, February 18, which extends the weekend even more, giving this slate of releases a 5- or 6-day weekend. Hence is why I listed this as "February 13th - 18th" instead of "February 15th - 17th." Now onto the new releases.

Despite the slate of new releases, the winner of this weekend looks to be "The LEGO Movie 2." If it follows the trajectory of "The LEGO Batman Movie," that would mean a $32.7 million second weekend. "The LEGO Movie" itself scored $49.8 million in weekend two. Somewhere in that range is where the sequel will hit. Meanwhile, the top new release is looking like it will be Happy Death Day 2U. This is a follow-up to the surprise teen horror flick "Happy Death Day," which was a surprise hit in October 2017, opening to $26.0 million. The movie revolved around a college girl who got stuck on a Groundhog Day style time loop, where she had to relive the day of her murder over and over until she was able to figure out who her killer was. As it turns out, her time loop adventures with death aren't over as she gets stuck in it again, this time with the Baby-face killer seemingly also going after all of her friends. The original film was very self-aware if its silly premise, which is why it was able to entertain its target audience so well. Predicting how a horror sequel does is also quite tricky. Sometimes they explode. Sometimes they are DOA. But the reaction to the trailers seems positive, so there's a good chance this opens in the same general range as the original.

After a very long journey to get to theaters, it appears that Alita: Battle Angel will finally be arriving. This is based on the Japanese cyberpunk manga series titled "Battle Angel Alita" or "Gunnm," which began in 1990 and has produced several volumes or chapters since. James Cameron, director of "Avatar," "Titanic," "The Terminator," "The Terminator 2" and "Aliens" has stated in interviews that he's been trying  to get this made for a long time, since at least the early 2000's, but has been too busy with "Avatar" and all of its sequels to get it done. Eventually he settled in as simply being producer, while Robert Rodriguez, director of "Sin City" was hired as director. Even after being finished, the movie has bounced around on the release schedule quite a bit. The movie stars Rosa Salazar as Alita, a human-like robot girl who is very good at her fighting skills. Thus the movie is yet another one of these human vs. technology films that we've seen a hundred times, which is why the initial reviews here are mediocre. It's being praised for its visuals, but it was a huge uphill battle with this premise, and it looks like its a battle that it'll lose. The very similar live action "Ghost in the Shell" movie opened to $18.7 million in 2017, a total that looks like it'll be on the high end of the range for "Alita."

Battling for positioning in the top five with "Happy Death Day 2U" and "Alita" will be our big Valentine's Day movie, Isn't It Romantic. This stars Rebel Wilson as a girl who has always thought that what happens in romcoms is all fantasy and never realistic to life. One day she is mugged in a train station and knocked out, which somehow puts her into a PG-13 romantic comedy fantasy world where everything is perfect and she's the only one who realizes what's going on. Thus if this movie hits the notes right, it could be the type of self-aware comedy that has entertains those who are well aware of the romcom cliches as the movie spends its time making fun of all of them, while also potentially being a decent romcom itself. With the "Fifty Shades of Grey" franchise being officially complete, there's a bit of a void this February in terms of Valentine's Day box office that this movie and last weekend's "What Men Want" will attempt to fill. For "Isn't It Romantic," the most obvious comparison is Rebel Wilson's own "How to Be Single," which hit theaters at this exact time in 2016, opening to $17.9 million. The biggest difference with these two is that "How to Be Single" was R, while "Isn't It Romantic" remains PG-13, but the totals should still be similar.

The final film of this extended weekend will be the wrestling drama Fighting with My Family. This is based on the 2012 documentary "The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family," and tells the story of Saraya "Paige" Bevis, who grew up in a family of professional wrestlers and eventually went onto be a two-time WWE Divas Champion. The movie follows the drama behind her getting into the WWE, especially in regards to her making it in while her brother didn't. Florence Pugh plays Paige in the movie while Jack Lowden plays her brother Zak. Their parents are played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is an executive producer of the film and also makes a brief appearance, playing himself in the movie. The exact theater count on this one hasn't exactly been revealed, making it a bit tricky to project its total, but it did have its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, which just recently finished up. It came out of there with positive reviews from the Sundance crowd. It has an 8.0 on IMDb and a 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after 22 reviews. Potential comparisons that I came up with for its opening weekend are "McFarland, USA" ($11.0 million), "Eddie the Eagle" ($6.1 million) and "The Miracle Season" ($3.9 million). But again, theater count will be huge.

February 22nd - 24th- 

Because February only has 28 day this year and February 28 falls on a Thursday, that means this weekend is the final one of February. And there's only one new release, but it's a big one with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. When it comes to Dreamworks Animation, they've experienced a bit of a nightmare in the last eight years or so. They were pumping out so many films at one point that quality started to lose them, which caused audiences to not care, resulting in them losing a whole ton of money and self-imploding. They ended up shelving a lot of planned movies as they tried to slow things down and recover. Last year they didn't even release anything. This is all probably why it's taken five years to finally release the final chapter of this "How to Train Your Dragon" trilogy. Much like the advertising for the second film, it appears that Dreamworks has included the entire film in the trailers. After successfully creating a Viking/Dragon Utopia, Hiccup and Toothless discover that there's another Night Fury. A female one. Astrid calls it a "Light Fury." They also find out that an evil dude named Grimmel has a goal to hunt every Night Fury, putting them in danger. So they need to go find the Hidden World of dragons before Grimmel does, so they can all be safe.

Since there's no other movie this weekend, allow me to take some time to discuss this movie's box office potential. The first "How to Train Your Dragon" opened to $43.7 million in 2010. It quickly became a well loved film, thus word of mouth pushed it to $217.6 million. Based on good will from the first one, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was expected to hit $250-300 million domestically. Yet despite great reviews of its own, it only opened to $49.5 million in 2014 and fell harder than the first, ending up with $177.0 million. That's certainly not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a surprising underperformance. That leaves "The Hidden World" at an interesting spot. It's already had several early screenings and is soaring high at an incredible 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with over 50 reviews counted. But what does that mean for its box office? Despite doing better with its recent films, Dreamworks still hasn't had a $200 million film since "Madagascar 3" in 2012 and great reviews didn't help the second movie either. One also has to consider the direct competition from "The LEGO Movie 2" and next month's "Dumbo." So it makes sense to peg this movie at about $45-50 million for its opening and a final total that finishes around $150-175 million.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

DrogeMiester's Top 10 WORST Movies of 2018

Just recently I revealed my list of my personal favorite movies of 2018. And now to officially close off the year, it's time to dive into my least favorite movies. As I briefly mentioned in my best of 2018 list, I saw fewer movies in 2018 than I have in previous years. I could dive into the reasons for that. It was a bit of a strange year for me. But nevertheless, I do not use this blog as a personal journal, so the specifics of that aren't important. However, I detail that a little more here because the consequences are more prevalent in this worst of the year list. Despite me not seeing as many movies, I tried to catch as many positive highlights as I could, which is why I feel quite comfortable with what I came up with, even if there still might be some gems that I missed that could've made the list. However, the movies I sacrificed most often were the bad movies. Yes, I do like doing my due diligence by informing my friends of why movies were bad. Those can be fun reviews, even if they weren't fun movie-watching experiences. But there was a lot of them this year where I saw all of the reaction and simply decided to pass. Some of them I meant to catch up on later, but I just never did. And that makes this specific list a bit tricky, so I'm going to do something slightly different.

Before I give you the final results of my worst movies of the year, here is a long list of "dishonorable mentions." Movies that would've been strong candidates for this list, but didn't make the cut because I chose not to see them. I have them listed in alphabetical order:

- "The 15:17 to Paris"
- "Action Point"
- "The Darkest Minds"
- "Fifty Shades Freed"
- "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness"
- "Gotti"
- "The Happytime Murders"
- "Holmes & Watson"
- "Mortal Engines"
- "Peter Rabbit"
- "The Possession of Hannah Grace"
- "The Predator"
- "Red Sparrow"
- "Robin Hood"
- "Sherlock Gnomes"
- "Show Dogs"
- "Slender Man"
- "Strangers: Prey at Night"
- "Truth or Dare"
- "Welcome to Marwen"
- "Winchester"

Yeah, that's some pretty awful trash there, based on what I've heard from critics and audiences alike. It seems like most of those are the bottom of the barrel films from 2018. So with none of those making this list, what does that turn this list into? Well, essentially this is more or less a list of the most disappointing movies of 2018. I could have that reflected in the title of this blog, but for the sake of branding, I'm going to keep the title the same as I've had it since 2013. Just know that the movies that made this list are those that I chose to give a chance to for one reason or another, but they ended up breaking my heart. And oftentimes that can be a worse experience than knowing a movie is bad going into it.

10- "Ocean's 8"

I'm coming out swinging with this one, sure to already offend half of my friends with just the first entry on this list. So let me make this clear. I love the idea of more female representation in Hollywood. But I'm not going to give a movie an automatic pass just because it was progressive, especially when this was such a lazy attempt to cash in on progressive trends. You can't just copy and paste the screenplay for "Ocean's Eleven," with the only real difference being female characters instead of male characters, and expect me to be pleased just because there were females on the screen. Yeah, sure, our ladies were having a lot of fun with the movie, but I was somewhat bored to tears because there was no substance. The heist genre is one that's been done a lot and I can enjoy a good heist movie, but you've gotta at least try to be unique and original. Give me good characters. Give me solid motivation. Give me suspense. Make me believe that they might not pull this off. Throw in some twists and turns that I didn't see coming. In other words, give me the movie "Widows." Because, yes, that was a female-led heist movie from 2018 that was fantastic, yet sadly didn't get nearly enough attention. It made me completely justify throwing "Ocean's 8" out to the dogs where it belongs.

9- "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms"

Sometimes I think Disney comes up with good ideas as to what will make a great movie. Other times I think they're just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. If they turn everything they can get their hands on into a live-action movie, some of them are going to work, giving Disney things to ride with. "The Nutcracker" was not one of those things that stuck. No one asked for this movie. No one wanted it to happen. No one was excited when the trailers were released. No one saw it when it came out. I find it interesting to note that "The Nutcracker" ballet was not an initial success, but it ended up catching on because the music that went with it was a huge success. And I think that kinda holds true to today. Sure, there are exceptions, but if you asked a random person on the street to sing "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," I'm sure they could do it without thinking too hard. But if you asked that same person to then recount the story behind the song, could they do it? Probably not. Because no one cares. And would it really mean anything if you were to tell people that Disney was making a sequel to the original "Nutcracker" story? Nope. Especially when it comes off as a crossover between "Chronicles of Narnia" meets "Alice in Wonderland," but significantly worse than both.

8- "Maze Runner: The Death Cure"

Here's of the winner of the "Wait.... THAT came out this year?" award. Because, seriously, does anyone even remember that they finished off the "Maze Runner" franchise in 2018? I didn't. For some reason it felt like this movie came out two or three years ago, but then when I saw it on my list from this year, I was like, REALLY? I had to go back and read my initial review to remember what I even thought about this movie and I was rather amused by the fact that I predicted in said review that I would completely forget about this movie. There's one prediction that I actually got right. Apparently I claimed in said review that there were entertaining moments scattered throughout the movie, but the fact that we're now about a year later and nearly the whole movie is just gone from my memory I think is quite telling. I remember enjoying "The Maze Runner," too. Or at least the first two-thirds of it. But then the ending of it was super disappointing and it was followed up by two sequels that just do not stick in my brain at all. Because, yeah, does anyone remember the "Scorch Trials," either? I don't. There's a reason why this dystopian genre has died off. No one was able to figure out how to make fresh content and thus the world simply stopped caring.

7- "Bird Box"

I read a story in my local news where a Utah girl crashed her car because she was participating in the "Bird Box" challenge. Because there are apparently real people all over Earth who think driving blindfolded is a good idea in order to get their 10 seconds of internet fame. This is worse than the Tide Pod challenge in my book because at least when you eat Tide Pods, the only person you are putting in danger is yourself as opposed to you and everyone around you. So yeah, this story just did it for me. The whole "Bird Box" phenomenon is one of the worst things to happen to 2018. Granted, I can't blame Netflix themselves for the challenge or the non-stop internet memes, but I can blame them for distributing a really stupid horror movie. The movie sets up a lot of bizarre scenarios, but I don't think the filmmakers even knew how to answer them. So they didn't. This movie leaves just about every story thread unresolved because I don't think there ever was a resolution. I left the movie feeling super confused as to what the whole point was. It was also not scary at all, so I don't even think it qualifies for the horror genre. And there are zero thrills, so I can't call it a thriller either. It's just a festering piece of garbage that exists and is causing teens to potentially kill themselves.

6- "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch"

I bet you all knew this was coming. The second I heard that Illumination was making an animated Grinch movie, my heart immediately sunk. And this was several years ago. Never once did I even think this was going to be a good idea. Then the trailers came out and all I saw was a bunch of childish slapstick humor that didn't make me laugh. As it turns out, said humor is the funniest and most creative elements of the movie. And they weren't the least bit funny and creative. Personally I'm a huge fan of the Jim Carrey Grinch movie. They took a short story and brilliantly expanded it into a feature length film with great characters, lots of humor, tons of emotion and a huge shot of Christmas spirit. Illuminations Grinch takes a short story and drags their feet for the entire run time as it was apparent that they had no idea how to convert this into a full length movie. So half the movie is Cindy Lue Who scheming to trap Santa Claus so she can tell him in person about how great her mother is. The other half is the Grinch scheming to steal Christmas. You know, the sequence that is told in a three-minute montage in the other ones? This is the most boring, pointless piece of Christmas garbage out there. Let's please not let this become a holiday classic.

5- "The Ritual"

In case you didn't notice, I included a Netflix original in this list with "Bird Box." Given that streaming is the future of cinema, Netflix counts in my book for either of these lists. I try not to get too carried away with including them on here, but I had to include a second one on this list because this one was a really confusing experience for me. And it was a movie from TIFF that was released theatrically in the U.K. in 2017 before Netflix put it out in the U.S. in February 2018. So that totally counts, right? I like myself a well-made horror film and this one had a lot of positive buzz coming with it from people who are legitimate fans of horror. So I rather excitedly checked it out because I was expecting this to be a hidden gem that I could brag about to my friends who are also horror fans. But I got nothing. Four friends go on a hike because a fifth friend recently got shot and killed and he had suggested they go on a hike. So they go on this hike to honor his memory. And what we're given is four people all making cliche, horror movie mistakes as they wander into a dark forest in order to take a "shortcut." We've seen this a thousand times before, executed much better in many of those instances. To top it off, the ending was really stupid, which is something everyone seems to agree on.

4- "The Nun"

"The Conjuring" franchise is one that I have slightly mixed feelings on. The two movies in the main saga are excellently crafted horror films, but annoy me slightly because they try way too hard to shove the true story angle down my throat when in reality the whole thing is hogwash. but despite that, I still mostly enjoyed both movies. Although I skipped "Annabelle" because no one on Earth claimed it was worth seeing, the prequel "Annabelle: Creation" was a lot of fun. So I expected a decent horror film out of "The Nun," especially since the demon Nun character was one of the best parts of "The Conjuring 2." I don't know what went wrong, though, because nothing about this movie worked. Said demon Nun barely shows up in her own movie and when she did, she made me laugh instead of being scared. The rest of the movie is boring demon mythology that shows less creativity than a filler episode of "Supernatural," topped with unexplained occurrences that hinted that the filmmakers didn't know the rules of the own movie and lots of pathetic jump scares or loud noises. It's a hollow movie with a great setup, but no substance whatsoever. It made me sad that a movie in "The Conjuring" franchise would be this lazy and dull, forgetting everything that made "The Conjuring" movies good. 

3- "Pacific Rim Uprising"

When it comes to action films, I feel that this movie was the easiest to get right. "Pacific Rim" is undoubtedly a really stupid movie. But it's also extremely self-aware and thus becomes one of the best bad movies because Guillermo del Toro knows how to harness your inner 9-year-old as you enjoy watching giant robots fight giant monsters all movie. All I wanted with the sequel was more giant robots fighting giant monsters. But since Guillermo del Toro was too busy winning best picture with "The Shape of Water," they hired Steven DeKnight, who had never worked on a feature length film, to take the reigns and he showed complete incompetence. The Kaiju don't even show up in this movie until 1 hour 20 minutes into the movie and the run time is only 1 hour 51 minutes to begin with. Said final battle is not that interesting and most of it was shown in the trailers, anyways. The rest of this movie is over an hour of horrendously awful characters and terrible plot. Poor John Boyega was trapped in a movie where no one else seemed to care and not even he was able to do anything to save it. All I wanted with this movie was an enjoyably dumb experience. But there was nothing was nothing enjoyable about this. Just a really dumb movie that left me sad. 

2- "A Wrinkle in Time"

I almost feel really bad putting "A Wrinkle in Time" at No. 2 on this list. When I first put this together, I sat and looked at "A Wrinkle in Time" almost being my least favorite movie of the year and I didn't seem right at first glance. But then I did my best to recall my viewing experience, I re-read my review on it, and I examined all the movies around it on the list. And yeah, it's strange, but this is exactly where this belongs. "A Wrinkle in Time" doesn't make me angry when I think about it. It's not offensive at all. It just has no soul and no life. The setup is as basic as you can get. The journey we went on was part boring, part weird. There was a lot of things that just happened for the sake of them happening and it didn't seem like the writers or director really kept track of the rules of this universe because a lot of it was rather inconsistent. The visual effects were good at times. But then there were times where it looked like a weather man standing in front of a green screen And on top of all this, young Storm Reid and Chris Pine are the only two actors that seemed to care. This is a perplexing disaster because with the cast and crew on board, this should've at least been passable. But it's just an all around mess that makes me think that no one involved even cared about this.

1- "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

Or as I like to call it, "Jurassic World: A Fallen Franchise." As I've made rather well known in this post, there's a lot of bad movies that I skipped. However, despite all of that, I am rather confident that even if I had seen every movie that came out in 2018, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" would still remain my least favorite movie of the year. Are there movies out there that might be more poorly made on a technical scale with worse acting and what not? Perhaps. But "Fallen Kingdom" is a movie that made me completely give up on a franchise that I once called a personal favorite of mine. After seeing this, I threw in the towel and I now hereby publicly renounce my fandom from the "Jurassic" franchise. Saying that hurts me. I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel my blood boiling when I think of this movie and what it did to me. Colin Trevorow took something that was so near and dear to my heart, spit in its face, crumbled it up and threw it in the trash with his two "Jurassic World" movies and I'm left standing here feeling like I got stabbed in the back. And for that I feel that this is well worth the worst of the year honor. "But Adam... DINOSAURS!!!!!!" Do you know what? I don't care. The novelty of seeing a dinosaur on screen has worn off. I need some substance to go with it. "Fallen Kingdom" takes a once glorious franchise and transforms it into a complete joke.

Monday, January 28, 2019

DrogeMiester's Top 10 BEST Movies of 2018

It's time for my favorite time of year on this blog. The big reveal of my personal favorite movies of 2018! Compiling this list was pretty fun this year because I spent very little time in 2018 thinking about what my top 10 list would look like. That means if you've been curious as to what my list would look like, so have I. Sure, I had a general idea of what movies might be on there, but I had no idea how it was going to end up. As it turns out, the final results here make for quite the killer list. I saw my final results and I was quite proud, so I'm excited to finally share this with you. I did mean to get this out a bit earlier in the month, but life got busy. Better late than never, though, right? And that gave me a bit of extra time to think about things, so all is well? A few quick items of business. No, I did not see every movie this year. In fact, I saw a lot less this year than in the past. But that will effect the worst of list more than this one. And when it comes to grades I give to movies, I completely ignore them when making this list. So if you're one who pays attention to what grade I give to each movie, don't be too confused. Could this list be different in the future? Sure. But I like to view these lists as a snapshot in time. So as of this moment, here's my favorite movies of 2018.

10- Paddington 2

If you haven't jumped on board with the "Paddington" movies yet, then my question to you is what are you waiting for? I absolutely adored the first "Paddington" movie, even without having a deep knowledge of the original British source material. Paddington himself has such a lovable innocence to him, which will make your heart explode with how charming he is as well as make you roll around with laughter with all the good-natured humor that comes with an anthropomorphic bear who has no idea how everything works in the human world of London. Despite how much I loved the original movie, "Paddington 2" somehow managed to be even better. All Paddington wanted to do in this movie was get a gift for his aunt's 100th birthday. Yet this ends up leading him to prison as he's convicted of a crime he didn't commit. So what does he do? He makes the best out of whatever situation he's put in, leading to some absolutely hilarious prison sequences, some shockingly incredible action scenes, all topped off with the charm Paddington brings to the table. It's the perfect family film. And if you don't believe me, it got a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes with 220 reviews counted, making it arguably the best reviewed film EVER on Rotten Tomatoes.

9- Crazy Rich Asians

Surprised that a romance film made my top 10 list? Don't be. "Crazy Rich Asians" is the new gold standard when it comes to romance films. These sappy love stories are the type of movie that I'm often the most harsh on. They're usually just so stupid and formulaic. Yet "Crazy Rich Asians" proves to me that I'm justified in doing so because you CAN do it right. And whenever a movie does it wrong, I will now point directly to this movie to show why they failed. Not only is this a gorgeous film in every sense of that word, but I fell head over heels for our main couple. Constance Wu and Henry Goulding give phenomenal performances. The look they gave each other when Kina Grannis' version of "Can't Help Falling in Love" was playing at the cousin's wedding melted my heart and nearly made me bawl my eyes out. BOTH times I watched. The second time being within the last month. I just loved them and I felt their pain when cultural differences threatened to keep them apart. The comedy in the movie was good icing on the cake, especially with Awkwafina cracking me up constantly, but it was the love story here that I fell madly in love with. Praise does have to be given for this being a progressive film, but even more praise has to be given for this being a great film.

8- A Star is Born

It was a wildly emotional journey for me as I dove into the world of "A Star is Born." I made sure to catch up on all three previous versions before diving into this new one. I'm glad I did because, even though the 70's version was pure trash, both the 1937 and the 1954 versions were absolute masterpieces in my eyes. If you haven't seen those movies and you loved this year's version of "A Star is Born," I'm begging you to check those two out. While on a technical scale, this 2018 version is the most complete and well-made film, it doesn't quite hit the emotional heights of those two predecessors, especially Judy Garland's sadly biographical take in the 1954 movie. That's why this movie isn't slightly higher on this list. But even so, it still belongs here. It's almost unfair how talented Bradly Cooper is as he directed, co-wrote, starred in, and even sang in the movie. And he doesn't just regurgitate a story we've seen three previous times. He manages to craft a film that takes the story and implements a lot of modern themes, especially in regards to today's music industry. Lady Gaga also shines in this movie, proving that she has an acting career ahead of her if she wants it. But make no mistake, this is Bradley Cooper's film and I give him a resounding applause.

7- Isle of Dogs

This is the point in the list where things get tricky. Each end of year list has a unique challenge in putting it together. This year's list was very challenging with the middle section. The top two spots were locked in months ago, but each of the five movies that wound up from No. 3 to No. 7 are films that I seriously considered for the No. 3 spot. Half of the reason why I took so long to get this out is because I couldn't decide what the proper order should be. With no real fault of its own, "Isle of Dogs" ended up in the caboose of all that. The reasoning there has more to do with the strength of the movies ahead of it rather than "Isle of Dogs" falling short. This is Wes Anderson at his greatest with my personal favorite movie of his that I've seen thus far. Not only am I astounded with the amount of work that went into constructing this stop motion film, but Wes Anderson managed to take advantage of his cooky style to give us one of the more thought-provoking films of the year. This is not just a cute movie about cats vs. dogs. This is a deeply metaphorical film that has a lot to say about the current state of our society, especially in regards to the political travesty that is the United States at this current moment. It also gets kudos for being my favorite title of the year.

6- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

From the studio that brought us "The Emoji Movie," comes one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made? Yeah, that surprises me, too. Especially because I've been a huge Spider-Man fan since I was a kid and am also one of the few that will adamantly defend both "Amazing Spider-Man" films. Yet if it wasn't for "Spider-Man 2," this would completely take the cake. Even though I know a lot about Spider-Man, I'm most knowledgeable when it comes to Peter Parker. I didn't know much about Miles Morales. Like with "Crazy Rich Asians," I didn't love this solely because it's progressive, but because it was a progressive idea done well. I was completely captivated with this Miles Morales origin story. It was so packed with emotion that made for such a beautiful arc for a lot of characters, but especially Miles. Combine that with a brilliant plot that implements the multiverse, a comic book idea that I think is genius, and this is one heck of a movie that's quite the ride. Topping it all off is some of the best animation that I've seen as it seamlessly combines several different animation styles with each of the various Spider-Characters that are introduced. It's truly a marvel to behold that opens up so many different doors for Sony that I'm genuinely excited to explore.

5- Hereditary

Out of all of the movies on this list, "Hereditary" was the most difficult one to place. On repeat viewings, this is not a horror film that holds up quite as well as movies like "The Witch" and "The Babadook," two movies that I have watched almost countless times now as they get better with time. Once the shock value has worn off, there's legitimate things to nit-pick here. However, I still have to give this movie massive amounts of praise for being a horror film that completely messed me up. I've become pretty thick-skinned when it comes to horror. A monster jumping out of the corner or a sudden loud sound out of nowhere doesn't effect me at all. But the shock value of "Hereditary" is so strong that it made me cower in my seat for the whole run time, making for quite the theatrical experience. It's one of those movies that's tricky to talk about because I don't want to ruin the experience for those who haven't seen it, but the chemistry between all the members of this family is incredible, making this a devastating ride as their past comes back to haunt them, slowly tearing them apart. Toni Collette as the mother gives one of my favorite performances of the year, especially for an actress. Because of that, I'm legitimately upset that she got robbed of an Oscar nomination.

4- BlacKkKlansman

This movie is here because it is perhaps the most important movie of the year. It's the "Spotlight" of 2018, so to speak. It's not what you would call entertaining necessarily. But it's extremely informative. There were a lot of movies that addressed racism in 2018, but none of them did things as effectively as "BlacKkKlansman." Despite all the various political opinions around right now, I think we can all agree that the KKK is an evil organization. It was horrific to see a first person glance at just how despicable they were in the 70's, even though under their cowardly masks they were regular people like me and you. And it was fun seeing John David Washington and Adam Driver play this duo who pretended to be one man, resulting in a black police officer infiltrating the KKK and exposing them. But the kicker was the very end wherein Spike Lee held back no punches in showcasing that today's political atmosphere is no different than what it was back then. And that's when my jaw dropped so hard that it got close to hitting the floor. In fact, this movie is so brutally honest that I walked out of the theater thinking that Trump supporters are probably going to hate this movie. As an unashamedly loud Trump hater myself, that made me super happy. I hope the country paid attention.

3- Annihilation

Director Alex Garland is now two for two with his movies. His directorial debut, "Ex Machina," completely floored me. Even though the premise of man vs. technology had been done a thousand times, the way Garland constructed that film made it feel mesmerizing and fresh. And now with "Annihilation," he's given us a thinking man's sci-fi film that grabbed my attention from the very first scene and never let go. The movie leans very heavily on the visual effects and the score to keep you reeled in, which is an extremely effective tactic. The visual effects are some of the best of the year and the score is something that I've listened to so many times this year that it might be impossible to keep track. But those aren't the only things going in this movie's favor. This is a very layered film with so many themes to it that make this the type of film you can discuss with your friends for hours. In my extremely vague review that I wrote for the film back in February, I had a hard time giving it a score because I felt like I needed to give it time to marinate. Well, it's been nearly a year now and the movie still hasn't left my mind. So I feel like I can now comfortably call this movie a masterpiece. I own the movie and its going to be one that I will watch repeatedly for years to come.

2- Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Now that we've made it through the crazy web that was No. 3 through No. 7, all of which are very much interchangeable, it's time for the big two. The one-two punch that has been my runaway favorites to top this list since July. Obviously I kept my mind open for potential spoilers, but this year none came. "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" is a movie that gave me such a powerful kick of adrenaline. In my mind, it's a perfectly constructed action film that can be watched over and over and never get old. Like "Mad Max: Fury Road," this is an action film that I'm going to be turning to many times over the years and I have a feeling that I'm going to be thoroughly entertained every single time. But the success of this individual film isn't the only reason why I loved this movie so much. I walked out of the theater with the feeling that I had witnessed something truly special as the "Mission: Impossible" franchise has achieved the pinnacle of cinematic success. The first movie debuted in 1996 and since then the franchise has only gotten better. And now 22 years later, the sixth movie in the franchise is the best one yet. And they didn't even have to reboot or recast since Tom Cruise found the fountain of youth. Thus this has to be considered one of the all-time great franchises.

1- Avengers: Infinity War

This might be the easiest No. 1 I've come up with on this blog as this has been practically pre-determined since April. And no, I'm not one of those comic book fans that still drools all over himself when he sees a superhero on the big screen. The novelty has worn off and I consistently am searching for an increase in quality. But "Infinity War" is the exact moment that the MCU has been building towards ever since they began. Thanos first appeared in the end credits scene of the original "Avengers" movie in 2012. Because of that, I went into this movie feeling that Marvel needed to do something different here. This movie needed stakes. It needed to be dark. It needed to be the "Empire Strikes Back" of the MCU. And Thanos needed to be the Darth Vader of this franchise. I wanted him to mop the floor with the Avengers because I knew this was only part one of this story. Quite frankly, I didn't think they could do it. I went in expecting to be disappointed. But instead I was beyond stunned by this film. Because they did it. And all I can do is sit back and marvel at this grand achievement. With all the build-up leading to a fantastic pre-finale, Marvel has made one of the best superhero films ever made. One that's probably only topped by "The Dark Knight."