The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

I realised when I posted my review for The Happytime Murders that there was one point I forgot to make; I no longer trust Melissa McCarthy in films anymore. I like her in some, but she has a tendency to ruin some films with dialogue seemingly improvised on the spot which serves no purpose and isn’t funny enough to justify its own existence, so just ends up being annoying (I call this the Kevin Hart effect). I was really annoyed about that, luckily this film makes the exact same mistake, so I can make here instead. I won’t, but I could. This film has too many moments where the scenes go on long past the natural stopping point, just to let the characters ramble on.

Tonally it’s kind of a mess too, it’s attempting to be about 5 different films, it would have been better if it picked a style and settled on it. It’s not quite clever enough to work as a spy film, there’s no amazing twists which catch you by surprise, or clever plotting which runs throughout the whole thing; it’s a comedy first, and a spy movie second, and there’s enough comedies already that this doesn’t seem to be adding anything new to that genre. There is room for a comedic spy movie, as you can see from Spy (both the film, and the television series). When this film has a choice between character-based logical decisions, and a throwaway joke, it always goes with the joke. This has the effect of making it look like the characters aren’t taking the situation entirely seriously, which means you don’t really buy into the central premise. I go on about this a lot but the reason Airplane worked (and it did), was because although it was a comedy, the characters in it took it seriously, so it had stakes, you were invested in the plot one hundred percent. This doesn’t do that, and it’s all the worse for it. I mean, it is very funny at times, but it’s incredibly disposable and wastes a promising premise. It mainly wastes it by having the main characters actually be effective spies, it would be funnier if it was all by luck, or if they were actually awful at it and made the situation a lot worse than it would be otherwise, and it escalated from something manageable into something catastrophic.

So in summary, it’s alright, but I’ll be very surprised if it gets a sequel. I feel I would like it more if it was a netflix film, or an extended skit on SNL, but as a full length feature? It manages to both not to do enough, whilst attempting way too much.

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The Happytime Murders (2018)

I was super excited about this. It’s a puppet movie aimed at adults made by the Henson company. I will go on record as saying that “Muppets Christmas Carol” is one of my favourite films ever made. The trailer was hysterical and looked like nothing else released this year, so yeah, hopes were high. Sadly it did not meet them. I expected to sing this film’s praises. To talk about how funny it was and how I can’t wait to see it again when I buy it immediately on DVD the day it’s released. After seeing this I can say with absolute certainty that I’m not going to be buying it on release day, or at all. I don’t need to buy it, I don’t even need to see it again. When it was funny, it was funny, but outside of the puppets it was incredibly mediocre. It relied on the puppets waaaaay too much. There was a period in the 90’s where films thought they hit a formula:

Old person + swearing/drug/sex references=COMEDY

Replace “old person” with “puppet” and you have at least 50% of the jokes in this film. It thinks that just making them swear and make sexual references count as jokes. The actual jokes often aren’t much better, it’s the only film I’ve seen in like forever which does the “amoronsayswhat?” joke sincerely, twice. The last one I can remember doing that is Waynes World. That’s the biggest issue with a lot of the jokes in this; they’re too easy. They’re “we need a joke, this will do” level. They’re the first jokes you’d think of, no actual thought seemed to go into it. It’s like they didn’t care about the quality of the jokes, they just wanted to put jokes in, it goes for quantity over quality, but the quantity isn’t even that high. This wouldn’t be as unforgivable if the story was compelling. But it’s not, not really. There’s two big reveals in this, one is revealed in the poster, and one is incredibly obvious to anybody who has seen a film before. There’s no compelling mystery to keep you emotionally invested in the story. There’s no exciting twists and turns, or clever plot developments.

It does have some funny moments though. And the fact that the puppets use sugar as drugs is great, as is the subtle parallels to racial tension and discrimination. The bad thing about it? Both of those have been done before, and done A LOT better in the short-lived series The Fuzz. And that show had Rachel Bloom of Crazy-Ex Girlfriend fame. Does this? Does it bollocks.

The Equalizer 2 (2018)

Yes, I deem it “The Sequalizer”. I know that’s incredibly obvious and lacks originality, but so does the film so…..

I mean, it’s not really a bad film, Denzel Washington is good in it and some of the action scenes are great and as weird as this seems, the sound editing is some of the best I’ve seen, well, heard. Sound editing is like drumming sometimes, you only notice it when it’s REALLY good, or REALLY bad. The first one had the same thing, it was bland but it sounded fucking fantastic. This is a theme that reoccurs throughout the film; the things you liked about the first film will be here, and the things you disliked about the first film will be here too. The weird pacing, the needless subplots that don’t go anywhere, the terrible characterisation. All of it returns in this film, and because they were all in the first film too you’re looking for them to see whether they fixed them this time.

This would have benefited from a good editor going through it and cutting a lot of the fluff. As it is there are quite a few really dull moments that almost seem like they’re specifically there for the audience to take a piss break. A good editor would have reduced those and made it so the film flowed naturally and made it so you felt like you couldn’t miss anything. As it is, outside of the action sequences the film is so dull you can almost feel the seconds go by. The action sequences themselves are really good though. Say what you want about Fuqua, he knows how to craft a great fight scene. That can’t be easy, because you need to make it believable that a 60 year old Denzel Washington can win a gun fight with these people. You need your suspension of disbelief, the worst thing to happen would be for that to break, for you to realise mid-scene “wait a minute, that only happened because the character has been written as overpowered”. This film is done well enough that that NEVER happens in the fight scenes. The rest of the film? Not so much. It spends far too much time convincing us of how great Denzel’s character is, how kind yet vengeful he is. There are multiple random scenes that show him shooting dickheads, and then helping someone who needs it. Shootouts are followed with him helping an elderly Holocaust survivor. Doing this kind of thing once would be okay, but for the entire film to be it? Nah, it’s too much and it really puts you off. It’s like “okay, he’s a great person, we get it, now move on to the actual point”. The other big story problem: it has a twist which is so obvious I’m not really sure it counts as a twist. Not quite “so the person called Doctor Doom turned evil? Oh no, this is a complete surprise” but it’s close.

So in summary; I’m hard pushed to find a reason to say you have to see this. Only watch it if the first one was one of your favourite films (in which case: what the hell is wrong with you?)

The Festival (2018)

I’m not proud of some of my reviews. Looking back at them,  y review of Darkest Minds said this:

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My review of The Meg said this:

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I really need to stop mentioning semen in these reviews, you don’t see Barry Norman or Roger Ebert talking about cumshots every review (maybe for their reviews of Basic Instinct I’m not sure). So I’m not going to reference it at all this review. Going to be completely clean and innocent.

So, this film. It’s very funny.  The opening scene shows the main character and his girlfriend having sex, he pulls out and ejaculates (DAMNIT, I lasted one sentence without mentioning it) over his graduation robe. When he’s at graduation his mum sees the stain, thinks it’s something else, so licks her finger to rub it off, then licks her finger again, an understated look of recognition and disgust on her face. THAT’s how this film starts, and it’s no false dawn in terms of vulgarity and general “eww”ness. Also in this film; the main character gets pissed on, his nipple ring gets torn off when it gets stuck on a fence post, and someone fucks a goat. This is not high-class cinema. It’s gross, vulgar, and very funny. That last one is subject to opinion, I mean, I found it funny, but I did spend a lot of it feeling like I should turn away as it was so cringe-ey, in a good way. The temptation as a director with this will be to cut away, quickly get to the next joke and move on, pack as many jokes as you possibly can into the short time, maximise the laughs. He does the opposite though; he holds, he keeps the scene going, wringing every drop of awkwardness past where it stops being funny, becoming incredibly awkward and hard to watch, in the best possible way. It’s a risky strategy but it pays off. This is a film definitely made by people who know what they’re doing, this isn’t shown just in the directing, but the writing too. Considering the level of humour in this it would be easy to just make it funny, but this has moments of genuine insight and pathos in it. One thing in particular came as a surprise; a piece of dialogue which was genuinely inspirational. In summary it was this:

“just because you’re a dick, doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Gandhi was racist yet still one of the greatest humans. Lance Armstrong was an abusive drug cheat yet raised millions for charity”. It’s an interesting piece of dialogue, and it really deserves to be in a more important film than this. Don’t get me wrong; it was a funny movie, and if it was on netflix I’d watch it. But I don’t need to get it on DVD. It just doesn’t do enough to stand out in a crowded field of similar movies. If somebody would ask “why should I see this film NOW?” it would be hard for me to think of a response. It’s a “I’ll watch it when I can” movie. It’s also got a dreadfully bland title which will be a bitch to search for in a few years time. Claudia O’Doherty was great in it though and I really want to see her in more stuff. And it is nice that the girl he meets and has sex with turns him down afterwards, and he accepts it. It shows the futility of placing all your hope on one person liking you, and also how to deal with it when it doesn’t work, which is an incredibly mature piece of film-making, and one I wish I saw more often.

The Meg (2018)

The opening scene to this did not fill me with hope; Statham’s accent was off, we saw an action scene that wasn’t that great, and the character dynamics were a bit meh. It was at this point I worried, that I’d watch something just dumb, instead of dumb fun. As the film went on, I warmed to it, even at some points being able to tolerate Statham’s accent (why they couldn’t let him do a natural one is beyond me). It isn’t anywhere near as dumb as I expected it to be. I mean, if you think about it for a few minutes there are numerous scientific inaccuracies throughout, but the point is you have to think about it. They don’t immediately jump out at you. It’s fun enough, and well-crafted enough, that you don’t really notice any flaws or problems with it. Yeah sure, once you’ve finished you will have lots of “wait a minute, that didn’t make sense”, but in the moment you don’t care as you’re too entertained. Jon Turteltaub (who also gave the world the best bobsled-themed movie of all time in Cool Runnings, and also gave us the pilot episode of Rush Hour, which I didn’t even realise had a TV show based on it) knows what to do; he is great at showing scale. It would be very easy to forget how big the titular Meg is, to just show a plain shot of it with nothing else in frame to give an indicator, he doesn’t do this; every time the shark is on screen, you’ve given a reminder of how absolutely massive it is. It’s spectacle cinema, but in a different way than Skyscraper was. Skyscraper was about set pieces, this is about creating something larger than life, and I haven’t seen it done this well since Kong: Skull Island. It helps that the CGI holds up REALLY well in this film, there’s not many moments where you sit there thinking “that looks fake as shit”, although you do wonder how a movie featuring a giant shark can look more real than a scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming where two characters have a conversation.

It’s also funny as hell. With the right kind of jokes. You don’t have people get brutally killed then characters making jokes about it, the jokes are contextual and relevant, which is a welcome change.

I’ve spent most of this film gushing over how likeable and fun I found this. I suppose to be balanced I should talk about the bad things. That cast……are actually good. Ruby Rose continues to be incredibly likeable in almost everything she does. Hmmm, okay so I can’t go for that as a negative. Okay, the obvious pandering to the Chinese market…..wasn’t that big an issue. They had good narrative reasons for a lot of it so it wasn’t as jarring as it was in Independence Day. Damn, have to go with something else. The romance….actually kind of worked. Jason Statham’s character is joined by his ex-wife on the trip, so I expected it to go the traditional way and have them get back together. But nope, he ends up with another character, (played by Li Bingbing) joining her and her child. Okay that’s it; the child actor……wasn’t terrible and provided the film with a lot of emotion and heart, wasn’t distractingly awful, and her decisions didn’t render her a useless load on the rest of the characters. This was helped by both her performance, and good writing. Gosh darn it! Going to have to go with something else. The restrictions placed upon it by the rating? Actually that would be a valid criticism. It keeps threatening to be gorier than it is, and it would be a lot more satisfying if we could see more blood. This needs gore, we need to see destruction and lots of people eaten and we don’t get that. There’s a scene in particular near the end where the shark heads towards a crowded beach. The film builds up a brilliant scene full of carnage and fantastic set pieces, which we then don’t get as it pulls away at the last second. The film gives the audience an over-the-pants handjob when it really needs to fuck us.

And that’s where I’m ending this. Next weeks reviews will be The Festival and The Equalizer 2, where I’ll spend most of the review trying not to call it “The Sequalizer”, and probably failing.

The Darkest Minds (2018)

I first became aware of this film a few weeks ago, I was at the cinema watching the trailers (controversial opinion; I actually LOVE watching the trailers at cinema) and saw the trailer for this. Now I had no idea this existed. I did, however, know of a film called The New Mutants, a teen drama/horror set in the X-men universe. As I was watching the trailer I thought “this new x-men doesn’t look as good as I thought it would” then I found out it wasn’t new X-men film. But whilst watching it; it REALLY wants to be. I haven’t seen a rip-off this poor since I released My C-men, described by critics as “a little hard to swallow”, “needs more substance”, and “a bit chewy”.

Okay, with that horrifying visual out of your brain I’ll get into more detail about this film. it doesn’t really work. It has many issues, the pacing, the story itself, and the underdeveloped characters. But the real issue; it’s a romance story where the romance at the heart of it doesn’t work. At no point do you buy them as a couple, I’m not sure whether it’s because of bad writing or just lack of chemistry, but it doesn’t really work.

The story itself also seemed to fall a little flat. There’s been A LOT of apocalyptic fiction aimed at young adults lately, so for one to stand out it has to do something different, something to make you think “okay, THAT’S why this is important”. For me, The 5th Wave did it through having an incredibly tight plot and astounding action scenes which really showed the brutality, but in a PG-13 way. This one attempts to do it by taking aspects of Hunger Games, the aforementioned X-Men, Maze Runner, Divergent, etc. As such, it never really seems to stand on its own two feet. There’s nothing about THIS film that marks itself as unique or special. Side note; how ripe is YA apocalyptic fiction for parody fodder? So yeah this film is just okay really. Not great enough to be remembered for years to come, not bad enough to make fun of that much. I mean, there’s nothing inherently BAD about this film, but there’s nothing really that made me sit up and take notice. The performances were good, but the characters are kind of meh so it balances out. Personally, I think the “oh, the person the audience assumes is bad turned out to be bad? quelle surprise”. One thing which is kind of unforgivable though; the trailer.

See the film establishes that she can wipe herself from memories, and when she does so we see the characters memories of her and she kind of Thanos’s away. (turns into dust and floats away). So, what scene is in the trailer:

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 14.36.54.png That’s her, wiping the memory of her from the male lead. This happens JUST before the end and is one of the last moments where if you went for a piss, you’d be confused when you came back. The film leads up to this; and they put it in the trailer? Yeah, that’s not good. But at least they don’t put the very last scene in the trailer, where she accepts her role as the leader of the uprising and makes a call to arms in front of a stadium of other young people, they’d have to be an idiot to put that in.

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God-fucking-damnit!

Ant-Man And The Wasp (2018)

Have you seen Infinity War? If the answer is no, avoid this, or just leave after the actual plot concludes. The final scene to this will make absolutely zero sense if you avoided Infinity War, and it seems like this film references Captain America: Civil War more than it does the first Ant-Man movie. It’s a shame as the first Ant-Man movie was a lot of fun and is severely underrated when people talk about the MCU. This one feels important, but in a way where it’s not going to be known how important it is until the next film, which is a problem with Marvel films lately, they’re not self-contained so the endings are usually the equivalent of “Tune in next time”.  You know what this reminds me of? When a massive video game has been released and a year later they release a few new levels as an expansion pack/DLC, it’s that. It doesn’t stand out on it’s own at all, it’s the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to Infinity War’s Hamlet (Or The Lion King 1 1/2 to The Lion King if you prefer). But the thing is; it doesn’t even do that that well. It would be good if it had a few subtle background references to it running throughout. But it doesn’t, it comes in at big points in the film, but not often enough. So it somehow fails at even that. Okay, “fails” is a very harsh word to use, because if it wasn’t for the Infinity War stuff, I would consider this a great film, it’s funny, looks fantastic, has INCREDIBLY inventive action set pieces, and the performances are good.

Now Marvel villains are either incredibly amazing (Thanos, Loki, Killmonger) or completely forgettable (that guy, the other one, the yellow one). This comes soooo close to being the first one. She has a tragic backstory which makes her sympathetic, her motives are logical but she’s also terrifying, and she’s not just “the good guy, but bad!” which seems to be the general template to make a villain in Marvel films. But she’s not used enough, and her ending is woefully unsatisfying and seems like it came because the writer needed to get home early so just wrote “and then MAGIC!”. It’s a shame as one thing this does very well is it gives a lot of the background characters moments to shine, even if a lot of their moments could be cut and nothing would be affected (particularly Bobby Cannavale and Judy Greer, which is a shame as I love both their characters, I just wish they had more to do). The star of the show is still Michael Pena though, who maintains one of the best side characters they’ve created, which of course means he’s probably going to be run into the ground through overuse in the next one, or killed.

So should you see this? I’d say yes, but not yet. Watch it as part of a MCU marathon, it lacks enough context to survive on its own.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (2018)

This film was weird, and I’m not entirely sure in a good way. It felt like it was written by people who never spoke to each other about what kind of film they wanted to make. About 30% of it is really good, meta as hell about superhero movies and the recent overabundance of them. But when it’s bad, it’s embarrassingly bad. The good moments make you laugh out loud, but the bad moments make you remember that what you are watching is fundamentally a kids movie; terrible accents and dialogue by “cool” characters, singing and dancing (although there is one song in it which is pretty cool actually), really juvenile humour (I know, childish humour in a kids movie, who’d have thunk it?), and just a general lack of substance. I suppose the is plot okay; the one they actually use anyway. The film goes through about 4 plots they could have used, one of which (when they travel back in time to stop superheroes trauma from happening, thus stopping them from becoming heroes. yet when they travel back to their timeline the world is overrun with supervillains) would have been a MUCH better film, but instead is used for a quick 4-minute sequence which is never referenced again. Usually, films which are adapted from television shows have bigger stories than usuals; ones they couldn’t fit into a standard episode. This film is just 88 minutes long and has A LOT of padding, you could easily condense the plot into a 30-minute episode. It seems like the only reason it’s a feature is because the plot revolves around them wanting a super-hero movie, so thematically it suits a feature-length film better. But whilst the story suits a feature, the way its told does not. I mean, I suppose the feature-length nature of it made it easier to get big names like Nicholas Cage and Stan Lee (and Greg Davies for some reason). And it meant the mid-credits reveal had more weight to it, if that was done in an episode it wouldn’t really be that notable, but it happened in a big event, so it’s talked about.

So that’s enough about the things I didn’t like. What about the good things? When the jokes land, they REALLY land. When it’s funny, it’s very very funny and will make you think it’s one of the funniest films you’ve seen all year, it’s a shame that doesn’t happen often enough though. The animation style has been criticised as being too basic, but to me, it works for the film. It’s aimed at a very young audience, and young people prefer bright colours that pop. It brings to mind spending weekends at home, waking up before everyone else in the house did, and using that time to watch cartoons. But my favourite memory of this film is something that wasn’t intentional; a few days later I was on my way to see another film and was sitting down eating food beforehand. Behind me there was a bloke and his son who had just left the cinema after seeing this. They were sitting there discussing comic book movies, breaking the fourth wall, and the history of British comics. It was such a lovely and touching moment, one of the most adorable things I’ve been witness to. That’s when it hit me; it’s okay if I didn’t love this film, I don’t have to, it’s not for me. It’s not for the cynical and jaded, it’s the cinematic equivalent of bubblegum and aimed at kids, and that’s okay.

Hotel Artemis (2018)

I really dug this. I mean, I won’t buy it on DVD or anything but it was a great watch. It’s better than the adverts make it seem. I thought it would be kind of a dumb action film but it’s SO much more. The satire in it is spot-on, and won’t date. That’s the trouble with satire sometimes, it can become irrelevant really quickly. This won’t. This will only become irrelevant when one of two things happen: when we reach the time the film is set in (2028), or when poor people start getting treated with respect and dignity. So really this film has ten years of relevance, being set in a society where there are riots because access to water is being denied to people without money (something which a lot of people predict will happen in the future), so the film hits home in terms of satire. The rest of it? The plot is actually really well paced, it builds and progresses at a steady pace, not showing too much too soon, but also not spending so long building up that you end up bored. It looks stunning, the future-dystopian aesthetic showing a great mix of slick and dreary (like a Nick Cave album). The performances? Dave Bautista continues doing what he does, being terrifyingly intimidating with conflicting thoughts in his head. Sterling K Brown somehow manages to feel underused despite being a main character, and Jodie Foster is still a fucking treasure. I was reminded how truly great she is during this film, she wasn’t just acting vocally, or with her face, her entire body was consumed by her character, the way she stood, the way she walked, everything about her was character driven, and shows the difference between a great performer, and one of the greatest performers.

Despite that; Jodie Foster wasn’t my favourite part of the film. My favourite part of the film was the sense that there were other stories in this world. The spin-off potential is huge, everything about the world and the characters seems developed, to the point where if somebody told me it was a comic book adaptation I’d believe them. Even the way characters interact suggest a huge backstory behind their relationship (Batista and Foster in particular.

Now for the negatives; it’s really hard to find negative things about this. Not in a “it’s so brilliant it’s almost perfect” way, but in a “not a lot of it stood out” way. What it does, it does well, but it very does better than that. The plot is simply an excuse for the action scenes at times. I mean, that’s fine, but it would be nice if it tried harder. Also the satire doesn’t go quite as hard as you feel it should, it very quickly becomes just the backdrop, it would be like if Robocop had the exact same setting and atmosphere, but was a movie about golf.

So in summary; very good, but continued the modern trend of “Jeff Goldblum turns up for only 5 minutes”, and makes me disappointed that Sofia Boutella still hasn’t had a film franchise built around her.

Skyscraper (2018)

This film knows what it is. It’s a popcorn movie. A film that demands being seen at the cinema as that’s its home. It needs to be seen on a big screen, and you can’t expect great cinema etiquette. Yeah if someone is on their phone then you should still legally be allowed to slap their wrist with a razor blade, but someone laughing loudly? That’s fine during this. Someone sitting there loudly eating popcorn? Also fine. It’s almost like it was made specifically for people to audibly react, it’s like the anti-Quiet Place. It’s an incredibly fun distraction. The kind of film you can imagine watching whilst drinking with your friends late at night. It’s not going to change the world, or be studied in film class by future directors, and if you say this is your favourite film, I will judge you.

So this film should be run of the mill guilty pleasure. There’s one thing that stops it from being that; the main character is an amputee. To say that again; the action hero is an amputee. It’s very rarely mentioned, he’s not defined by it and it only really comes up once every so often. It’s a small thing, but I love that action movie fans in a similar situation finally have representation on screen. Usually, when you see someone like that on screen it’s as the villain, it’s about damn time they were allowed to be the hero. Yeah, it’s a shame the character was played by someone with 2 legs but still, baby steps. Also, The Rock is just killing it lately. Jumanji, Rampage, and now this? He’s quickly becoming the go-to guy for popcorn flicks.

So we’ve established this film is fun. It’s entertaining shlock and you’ll enjoy it whilst watching it. There are some issues with it, of course, the CGI isn’t quite as clean as it needs to be in some areas, which occasionally makes it feel like you’re watching a video game cutscene. The majority of characters are underutilized, and, personally, I’m getting incredibly bored of “the bad guys are doing this so they can get hold of this USB stick” plots (seriously, it’s the MacGuffin for sooooo many movie characters lately). Also, it’s hard to feel any genuine tension as you can pretty much pinpoint how every scene will play out. I must commend them on the room of mirrors scene though, that was BEAUTIFULLY orchestrated and laid out, THAT’S the scene you need to see. You don’t need to see the rest, but I advise that you should, and watch it on a big screen. This film will lose so much of its potency if you watch it on a small screen. It’s spectacle cinema, and deserves to be treated as such. The action is some of the most jaw-dropping you’ll see. The bits which aren’t action-heavy? They’re…..look watch the action bits. The rest of it is difficult to recommend. The opening third, in particular, is exposition in a film that really doesn’t need that much exposition. People aren’t going to see this film for the brilliant camera work, they’re going to see it because “ooo things go boom”. It doesn’t need as many characters as it has, as it means most of them go to waste. Neve Campbell, in particular, seems incredibly underdeveloped for a performer of her calibre. I think Hannah Quinlivan is underwritten as well, but it’s hard to tell as her character flits in and out of the script like a drunken desire to commit suicide. She’s good when she’s in it, but she isn’t really in it enough to warrant a strong opinion on her either way, I’d like to see her in more so I can find out.

So yeah, go see it. You may not love it, but you will enjoy it