Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Big Peck's Cineflex Original List: The Top 5 Best Movie Franchises of All Time


So, let's talk movie franchises today.  What is a franchise?  In this case, to be considered as a franchise there must be three films in a series that are either direct sequels, prequels, or spin-offs.  Transformers would be a franchise because there are three of them.  They don't count for this list because they suck hard robot stick.  Another franchise would be X-Men.  But, it would also have to include X-Men: Origins, The Wolverine, First Class, and Days of Future Past because they all reside in the same franchise universe.  Spider-man and The Amazing Spider-Man do NOT count as a franchise because The Amazing Spider-man is a reboot and not a prequel, sequel, or spin-off.  You see?  So, I'm probably going to get some flack for this list, but I like to get the discussion going.

Movie franchises I didn't include in this list:
1. Star Wars.  Yes, it's true.  I couldn't.  Even though I know that Episodes 4-6 were cinematic brilliance... I still can't overlook Episode 2.  That film is unforgivably awful and therefore not good enough to make the top 5.
2. Lord of the Rings.  I know I may get some shit for this as well, but it's not that I don't appreciate the movies for what they were... they just weren't my cup of tea.  I enjoyed each one the single time I saw them, but they're nothing I am interested in watching again.  I take that into consideration when I talk about "best".
3. Die Hard.  This one hurts the most.  Before that wretched fifth movie came out, this could've been number two on the list.  But because A Good Day To Die Hard went and ruined the good Die Hard name... I'm unable to include it on my list.  It's the same as...
4. The Bourne Series.  Due to that slow and boring Jeremy Renner Bourne film... it doesn't make the list.

NOW!  Let's talk movies, internet!  Here are the top 5.

5. The Lethal Weapon series.

Taking the place of Die Hard is the nearly-as-good Lethal Weapon series.  I know I've already got a few groans in the house, but go back and watch them.  They're a lot of fun!  The first movie is one of the best action movies of all time.  Then, they add Joe Pesci to the sequel.  Then, they add a love interest for Riggs in the third movie (which, granted isn't the best selling point, but it's got more Pesci).  Then, they add Jet Li as the villain in the fourth movie.  They're fun, they're action-packed, they're funny, and there's not really a weak link in the quadrilogy.  They're best if watched back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

4. The Evil Dead Trilogy

I have either lost you completely right now or piqued your interest once more.  The Evil Dead trilogy is the best trilogy to watch in succession.  Pick a night, get some candy and soda and get ready to watch the three best comedy-horror movies you'll ever see in your life.  Yes, they're old and dated and some of the effects are a bit campy now, but that's all part of the fun.  The over the top acting from Bruce Campbell... the gallons and gallons of blood that is spilled... the hokey as hell claymation sequences that are supposed to scare the piss out of you... all add to the beauty that is The Evil Dead.  The first film was done by a bunch of college students, but well enough that it got a big budget to make a sequel.  The Evil Dead 2 introduced the world to the mixed genre of comedy and horror, a genre that is not easily accomplished and very rarely pulled off well.  Finally, the almost entirely comedic, yet still fairly violent third entry to the series, Army of Darkness closes the book to this wonderfully disgusting yet equally hilarious trilogy that any horror or comedy fan should own.

3. The Dark Knight Trilogy

I'm talking about Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series.  And since they constitute a reboot of the franchise instead of a universal extension, I don't have to include Tim Burton's films (which I wouldn't mind making the list) or Joel Schumaker's neon versions (which would've kept them all off if it connected).  Even with the overwhelming influx of superhero movies ever populating our movie theaters, there's no denying that what Christopher Nolan did with the superhero genre wasn't genius.  He was able to take superhero elements and make them as real-worldly and dark as possible.  They weren't superhero movies, they were crime and gangster films featuring a dude in a cape.  He was able to come up with three stellar villains that will live on forever as the best around.  Superhero films forever will try to duplicate the genius that was The Joker and the brilliance that was Bane.  There's not a weak film in the three and they're some of the most enjoyable films to watch.

2. The Back to the Future Trilogy

Is this even up for discussion?  Is anyone surprised or offended by this choice?  Was everyone going... "I swear to God, he better throw Back to the Future on the list"?  Yes.  These three movies, all directly related to one another are my number two pick.  I probably watch the first one at least once a year and normally if I'm doing that I have to follow it up with the other two.  The writing of the first movie is the most sound writing structurally in cinema.  I even got a review of it published in connotationpress.com.  The way that time travel is handled, with limited plot holes and maximum fun (wow... the gay 80s movie reviewer in me just came out) is what this trilogy is all about.  If you haven't seen them, then you don't even deserve and explanation.  Go buy them and then let's talk.

1. The Harry Potter Series

A month ago this definitely wouldn't have been number one.   I'm not even sure if this franchise would've even made the list.  I never have been an HP fantatic.  I only read the first four books.  I only saw the movies once, maybe a few of them twice, but only when the next one was coming out so that I could remind myself of what was happening thus far.  It always seemed to me like a teenage thing to enjoy and it was never really my thing.  However, recently I watched all of the movies in succession.  This is something I'd never done before... and I highly recommend it to everyone.  These movies have so much more going for them than a weird british kid who can do magic with a wand.  There is history here, origins, side plots, great characters, brilliant writing, amazing acting, british people, and house elves.  To say that this is the greatest franchise of all time with not one hiccup in eight films is no easy feat to accomplish.  But, since having watched them all, I can say with confidence that it is.  It has made me even want to finish reading the novels.  While Harry Potter may have started out as a kid's book, it evolved into something so revolutionary and mature and exciting that it deserves to be read and watched by anyone who enjoys art.  I wholeheartedly stand by this decision.

Draft Day: Moneyball-Light

Draft Day is the NFL's answer to the very successful Moneyball.  Obviously.  So, straight up, here's the deal... I like sports.  I love baseball.  Moneyball was a fantastic movie from a film lover's point of view.  Moneyball may have been one of the best baseball movies ever made from a baseball fan's point of view.  I think football is alright.  It's a dumb sport where dudes mash on each other over a ball.  It's a sport that pays thugs who get arrested for assaulting people, doing drugs, and all sorts of other idiot ideas these hard-hitting morons come up with.  I don't like that a man can be publicly ousted for being arrested or being a lawful "troublemaker" and make more money than I'll ever dream of making.  That's my gripe with football.  So, I don't follow the players closely like I do in baseball.  I don't care what round so-and-so was drafted in or where he went to college.  I don't watch the NFL Draft when it airs.  I watch my San Francisco 49ers year after year blue ball me into thinking they have another shot at a Super Bowl.  I make nachos and drink beer on the Sundays that they do this.  This is the extend of my relationship with football.  So, to say that I watched Draft Day more for my secret love of Kevin Costner and my general love of sports in general would be accurate.

Draft Day takes place over a twelve-hour span before the actual Draft.  Sonny Weaver (Costner) the GM of the Cleveland Browns has a decent amount of shit happening in his life the morning of the draft.  He's accidentally knocked up a co-worker (Jennifer Garner) whom he's tried to keep a secret.  He's reacted unfavorably to this news and has caused a bit of tension there.  He's constantly being questioned by the owner of the Browns (Frank Langella) and potential draft picks (Chadwick Boseman, Aryan Foster) as to who he's going to select as the seventh pick of the draft.  He's then offered the first pick in the first round of the draft if he trades away his first round picks for the next three years.  He agrees.  So, now he spends the rest of the film trying to figure out if the guy projected to go number one is worth it or not.

I feel as though I've probably already lost most non-sports fans here.  They've already skipped the rest of this and gone down to look at the letter grade.  But, that's kind of how the movie is also.  Non-sports fans, I don't personally believe are actually going to give half a shit about this movie.  They'll want to skip to the end to see who Sonny picks.  Then, once it happens, it'll be met with an "Oh.  Cool." And Draft Day will be instantly forgotten.  While I feel that Moneyball did have more of a wider appeal than just baseball fans, Draft Day isn't going to drag anyone else into the theater.

The writing of the movie is a bit sloppy.  Costner is great.  He was perfectly cast is able to weave the biggest decision of his career into the stress of trades, the stress of a girlfriend, the stress of a mother, the stress of an owner, the stress of an unhappy head coach, and the general stress of life into one solid character that I feel is generally cared about.  I've never been a Jennifer Garner fan, but she actually was able to not upset me with her plain performance this time.  In fact, every actor did their respective jobs very well, but Moneyball this movie was not.  Aaron Sorkin has a gift that just isn't transferable nor repeatable.

It's an enjoyable movie if you happen to be a sports fan or even a Costner fan.  There were sub-plots inserted in order to add a little more character to Sonny and give the non-sports film watchers something to care about, but they fell flat immediately.  The baby, the mother... all of it was cheesy, tacky, and very unnecessary.  It took away from the true matter at hand of the movie.  I've also been told by a semi-reliable source that the draft that occurs would probably never happen in real life and if it did might go down as one of the worst drafts in the history of football which took out all realism the film had going for it.  Not knowing that deeply about football... I thought it seemed a bit stupid as well, but at least the characters in the film were aware of this stupidity.

I was entertained.  I got to watch Costner.  What more was I looking for?


Oculus: Reflections of Mediocre Horror

It's upsetting.  I've written this review three times already.  The first two were supposed to be in the point of view of the "black guy who always shouts in the theater when he watches horror movies."  Then, when I was unsuccessful at not making it the most racist thing on the internet, I chuckled to myself quietly and erased the whole thing.  It's not like Oculus deserves a different review or a blatantly prejudice review because it was a bad movie... it's just that all these horror movie reviews I do seem to be the same.  A. Talk about previous horror movies that are good.  B.  Say that this movie could've been among them, but fell short.  C. Talk about horror movies that suck animal balls.  D. Say this movie is much better than them.  D. Give brief plot synopsis.  E. Talk about everything that was wrong with it.  F. Then, clear that up with a "don't get me wrong here..." moment where you explain that it actually was kinda decent even though it seems to contradict the last three paragraphs of the review.  G.  Give it a mediocre grade and move on to the next review.  Let's just skip to D.

Yeah... okay.  Oculus was a mediocre movie that should've been a hell of a lot better.  Not that it wasn't written well, but, in fact, it may have been written too well.  The movie actually may have been too clever for itself.  Siblings Kaylie and Tim Russell have seen some shit in their day.  Their father bought an antique mirror, hung it in his home office, slowly went crazy because there's some evil that got trapped in the mirror that apparently gets its jollies off by mind fucking people to death.  This makes their father go crazy, brutally kill their mother and essentially kill himself (kinda... I won't spoil it).  Fast forward eleven years, as Tim is released from the mental hospital, Kaylie picks him up giving him the news that she's reclaimed the mirror and plans to have the two of them destroy it that night all the while proving that it was the mirror that caused the murders and not their father.  Obviously, all does not go as planned.  The mirror has the propensity to get a little pissed off when it's threatened.  So, it changes the perceptions of all involved.  It intertwines past and present memories and images into the house.  Kaylie and Tim aren't sure what's real and what's not.  Until finally, it leads up to an ending that, I'm not going to lie, most will see coming.

Now, the concept and the build up in Oculus is great.  It's a clever twist on a haunted house sub-genre of horror.  It added a bit of mystery and tension to the horror.  I was involved the entire time.  I was trying to figure it all out in my head as I was watching, hoping that the resolve would give me something that I couldn't possibly fathom.  Unfortunately, I didn't get that resolve.  I was mind-fucked for a good hour and twenty minutes, until the last ten arrived and then I was just kinda left hanging with horror movie blue balls.  It reminded me a lot of the film Sinister where the mystery and the build up was so great that they weren't able to capitalize on their promise of a big finish and both films just kind of fizzled out.  The ending to Oculus wasn't entirely a cop out, but it was expected.  Very early in the film I called how the movie was going to end, hoping entirely that I wasn't right.  Alas, it ended almost exactly as I thought. And I'm no horror movie oracle, trust me.  You'll be able to do the same thing.

What the filmmakers do well is the build up.  They're able to interweave time so that the audience has to sit, and pay close attention to what is going on and where and when in time it is happening.  The cuts from past to present in the midst of pure tension is quite good.  However, when we finally become privy to the fact that nothing may be real in the first place, we kind of distance ourselves further from the narrative. If nothing is real, then we're unable to get afraid.  We're unable to get excited or shocked because it's always there in the back of the mind that it didn't actually happen.  Or did it?  Well, now this is too much of the guessing game that I'm going to give up, sit back and wait for an explanation at the end that won't actually provide any answers whatsoever.

The film is also not that scary.  Kudos to the filmmakers for not relying on cheap jump scares or gore, but because the mystery was so deep and answers were so sought after, I forgot to get scared.  I wanted to get scared.  There were moments where I was preparing myself for some awful shit to happen, but it never did.  I was interested for the most part, sure, but I never really had that heart-pounding fear that I was looking for when I purchased my ticket.

This may be a bit of a spoiler, so if you don't want anything spoiled for you skip to the next paragraph.  That being said, I'm having a hard time with this new trend in horror movies today where the ending of the film is not allowed to be happy.  Most horror movies today make you care about a character, follow them through their terrifying journey, give the illusion of a happy ending until one last fucked up thing happens and everyone is dead or about to be dead.  No one in horror movies anymore (save for The Conjuring) is allowed to have a happy ending anymore.  Can we just once let someone live?  Or can we just once not screw up someone's life so badly that there's no point in living?  Can we just once let our protagonists solve the mystery and live happily ever after??  Am I the only one here?  I'm not saying that everyone in Oculus is killed off and there's nothing good about the ending.  Because that doesn't happen.  But, to say it was a happy ending would be far from the truth.

Oculus is not a bad Redbox or Netflix find, once it's released.  But, it's not the terrifying take-your-girlfriend-and-watch-her-nearly-sob-with-fear-while-squeezing-your-hand-so-tight-a-blood-vessel-may-or-may-not-have-been-popped kind of horror movie in theaters.  It's a great premise, with a better build up, and a flat, unsatisfying, predictable, and disappointing ending.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sabotage: Arnold Gets Gritty

I am a bunch of different movie reviewers rolled into on.  I can be objective and look at a movie purely from an analytical point of view and point out all of it's strengths and flaws and accurately give it the appropriate grade.  I can be kind of a movie fanboy and go watch a movie I'm excited to see and give a few flaws the benefit of the doubt and my grade can be slightly on the biased side.  I can see a movie that I had no desire to see and it can totally change my opinion of the film and my grade would be slightly biased too because I was expecting it to be so bad that even though it probably wasn't that great of a movie... it was still better than what I envisioned it to be.  Then, finally, there is the 12-year-old, refuses to grow up, cream in the pants whenever I see his name Arnold Schwarzenegger fan who believes that Ah-nuld can do absolutely no wrong.  And therefore, I'm unable to give his films the proper review because it's an Arnold movie.  And the man gives me dude-boners.

Let me start with this... had Arnold not been attached to this film two things would've happened.  One, I probably wouldn't have liked it.  At all.  And two, I probably wouldn't know that I didn't like it... because I wouldn't have seen it.

Arnold movies always have a certain amount of cheese attached to them.  Most of them don't take themselves too seriously.  Look at his imdb and you'll see what I mean.  They're almost all fun because they know exactly what they are.  The Terminator films edged on the side of serious, but even then they still had fun with it.  True Lies is not only my favorite Arnold movie, but it's still one of the best action movies ever made and it's riddled with cheese and not taking itself seriously in the slightest.  So, when I saw that David Ayer (helmer of such gritty ass cop movies as End of Watch and Training Day) I wondered to myself how they were going to be able to merge the forces of grit with the forces of cheese.  The answer... very awkwardly.

Sabotage puts Arnold as a DEA task force leader with a group of DEA agents who successfully raid bad dude's homes, kill homies unashamedly, and wreck anyone who stand in their way.  Now, this time around they've decided to take a bit of the pie for themselves and wind up stealing nearly ten million dollars from the Mexican cartel they've so easily taken down.  They hide the money during the raid, but when they come back days later to retrieve said cash, it is missing.  No one gets paid.  A short while down the road, the team starts getting killed one by one.  The FBI becomes involved with the case assuming it's the cartel after them, but everyone in the group knows it's probably someone amongst them.

Now, that plot description by itself would probably sell me on the movie.  But, once you show me these psychos on the team that Arnold has recruited... it's a different story.  When you've got a team of (technically) cops that are getting offed one by one... chances are that you're going to want to give a shit about one or two of them, right?  Ayer has decided to make this untrue.  So, instead of giving Arnold this rag-tag team of law enforcing winners... he provides a team of racist, sexist, literally insane sociopaths.  I wouldn't trust a single one of these white-trash drunken brutes with a badge.  They all come off as criminals and not one of them really has a redeeming quality.  They are overly aggressive with women as well as each other.  And it's a little bothersome that Arnold just kind of stands back and watches this sociopathic behavior with a smirk and a cigar.  But, hey, if they're okay with Arnold (gulp) I guess they're okay with me?

It's true.  None of these guys are worth the film that's wasted on them.  None of them deserve to be living in the first place.  So, when they start getting killed... no one really cares.  Not really even Arnold.  "Monster" (Sam Worthington) is the only one who shows the slightest hint of a soul, but even then, if you look into his eyes too long you'll wind up wondering why there's a gun slowly rising to your temple.

So, it has to become the Arnold show for this movie to be redeemed.  And yes, Arnold fans, he does deliver.  It's a hard-R rated film.  Arnold curses and kills up a storm.  It is gratuitous in its violence... definitely the most violent Arnold film I've ever seen... but isn't that what we want out of an Arnold film?  Blood, guts, and body parts all at the hands of an Austrian killing machine?  That aspect of the film delivers more than any Arnold fan could ask for.  He's king badass and takes no shit from no one.  This is my Arnold fantasy.  Unfortunately, it's occupied by a bunch of sadistic hillbillies he calls friends.  Once you can get past that part... it's a gritty little fun ride.  Especially the last shot of the movie.  This is how I want to go.  I won't spoil it for the (maybe) one person who thinks they might be still interested in seeing it.  But, it's quite righteous.  I hope Arnold will take the best parts of Sabotage and learn from the weaker parts.  Because if we had the cheese we love so much from him mixed with the violence and grit of this film properly... we're looking at one hell of an Arnold return.


Arnold's scenes: A

Muppets Most Wanted: A Muppet Of A Man

Jason Segal did something special a few years ago.  He revitalized The Muppets.  His love of the old show as well as puppetry in general paired with his growing fame and popularity launched the reboot that he co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller.  Magic was created and a new era of Muppets was introduced.  Due to the success of the first film, a sequel was inevitable.  It's much like that of the success of Segal and Stoller's first major film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which, in my opinion, is one of the funniest and most well-written romantic comedies to have been released in the last decade or so.  It was so well received that a spin-off was apparently warranted and Get Him To The Greek was created.  Now, Segal did the smart thing and avoided influence with the spin-off and it wasn't nearly half as good as it's predecessor.  Sure, it had funny moments, but the heart and soul and magic of the first film was missing.  This is how I feel about Muppets Most Wanted.  They took Segal's ideas and expanded upon them, but without him to power up the writing, the film is missing most of the heart and soul and... magic that the first film possessed.  There are funny moments, and it's certainly not a bad film, it's just missing that great Segal charm.

The film begins the moment the first film ends with the fireworks spelling out "THE END" in the sky.  Then, because The Muppets can get away with it, the film turns a little meta on us and they all realize they have just made comedy gold.  So, obviously the next step is a sequel.  Right off the bat it is acknowledged that sequels are never as good as the first film (even though the first film was really the seventh Muppet film in existence).  So, to ostracize the movie for not having the charm of the first film would be pointless because all of the characters are already aware that this film won't be as good.  They even sing a song about it.  How can you hate a movie that already KNOWS it's not as good as the one before it and acknowledges it as such??  That's the fun that comes with the Muppets.

So, this time around the Muppets decide that they want to take their act on a world tour led by newly hired agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais).  What they don't know is that Badguy is really a bad guy who needs to use the Muppets as a diversion while he and Constantine (a jewel thief frog who bears a very striking resemblance to Kermit) plan to steal the Crown Jewels.  Of course, in order for this to work, Constantine needs to act as Kermit, so getting rid of Kermit involves locking him up in a Russian Gulag with terrifying inmates such as Prison King (Jemaine Clement), Big Papa (Ray Liotta), and Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo).  There, the evil Russian Guard Nadya (Tina Fey) forces Kermit to put on a musical show for her.  Finally, the Muppet FBI (headed by Sam the Eagle) and Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) team up to solve the mystery of the jewel heists.  It is, indeed, a lot of fun and even generates a lot of laughs, but it seems to lack the general sweetness that the first film employed so well.

While the first Muppets film was about growing up and realizing self-worth, this film seems to have ditched all that emotional and heartfelt nonsense in favor of a physical comedy caper.  Don't get me wrong, these films can be a lot of fun.  I could watch a Peter Sellers film as many times as I could watch Forrest Gump.  But, it doesn't mean that a sequel to The Shawshank Redemption should be about how Red and Andy decide to become masturbating ventriloquist detectives.  Sometimes it's best not to mess with the emotional tone that made the original film succeed.  Taking the movie for what it is at face value, there are definitely worse choices out there.  It's actually a fun little movie for both kids and adults.  Had it not had such a perfect predecessor, this might've actually been a decent revitalization of the Muppets, as well.  But, the fact still remains that The Muppets was a perfect film.  It was the perfect homage to the older shows.  It was able to bring back the Muppets as well as honor them.  This time around it felt a little too... lazy?  Convenient?  Even the songs were sub-par.  "Life's a Happy Song" and "Am I A Man or Am I A Muppet" were fantastic songs that would play over and over in your head after the film had ended.  I don't actually recall any of the lines from any of the songs of this film.  They were instantly forgettable and didn't illicit much emotion or any real reason for existing other than that the script called for a song.

It sounds like I'm bashing on the movie a little harshly.  I'm really not.  I did enjoy the movie.  And like I said, at face value, it's a great little family film that does nothing to tarnish the Muppet name.  But, when comparing it to the first film it seems to be like the little brother who tries his damndest to live up to his older brother's name, but fails to come even close.  You will enjoy this film.  This is guaranteed.  But it will not have the same lasting effect that the first film did.  Not by a long shot.