Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nothing to Lose Sleep Over but I'll Still Dream of the Past

After talking about it for over a year, the Spicer household (meaning: Emily) made the monumental decision of moving the crib out of Everett's bedroom and replace it with a big boy bed. Well, actually a big boy mattress that originally belonged to his big girl aunt with the promise that if Everett doesn't find himself suddenly on the floor every night over the next month then it upgrades to something bigger and higher.

Everett is ecstatic about this turn of events because it now means he can run over to his book shelf and get something to read whenever he wants. I'm sure he envisions never sleeping again. The dangling carrot of the bed becoming taller in a month is worthy of constant song and dance in his little world. For now, sleeping on the bed is probably right up on the list of movie nights and "Grandma Day" as greatest things ever. He celebrated this momentous occasion by singing "Happy Birthday" at a level all the neighbours could celebrate when he woke up this morning.


Now, some may be a little shocked that we waited a month before he is heading off to school to make the transition to a bed. I know many that leaped into change once their child turned 2. The actual decision to make the change had less to do with Everett and more due to the fact Danika refuses to stop growing and is becoming too big for her bassinet.

I'd also like to argue the molasses movement towards sleeping arrangement change was due to me being a parent who prioritized safety and wanted to avoid late night crashes to the floor. It also had the practical effect of knowing exactly where he was at night and early morning, and we got lucky that Everett's one less than successful attempt at climbing out of his crib gave him enough motivation to never try that again. We knew he'd stay put and he was happy entertaining himself in there (he used it to fly to Japan many times over the last several months).


Except those weren't really the reasons. I was dragging out transition from the crib (despite Everett for the last few weeks singing countless songs about how he wanted a bed now) for the same reason that I still willingly carry him down the stairs in the morning, it prevented yet another milestone marking that my boy could no longer be called baby or even toddler.

It shouldn't be such a surprise that moving out of the crib was a bigger deal for me, since I am the guy that got sentimental about a cardboard box. It is a lot less about where Everett is sleeping but rather another reminder that he is getting painfully close to heading off to school. The days of Everett distracting me from writing and encompassing the majority of my time is coming to an end. While I guess I can accept that children grow up and that my son is ready for school, it doesn't mean I won't be a gooey and drenched mess for the first week or month or year.


Everett is well aware of my aversion to his growth, which is why he gleefully declares that he is going to become a teenager. He doesn't really have a clue what that is other than I don't want one and it means he'll be tall enough to reach the top shelf of the pantry where we keep his treats. 

The mattress on that bed doesn't mean I suddenly have a teenager but it does mean Everett is ignoring my pleas that he stops getting older. It also means that some traditions become ancient history. Ever since Everett started talking, the morning routine involves him calling out my name when he is ready to get up and the volume will increase until either glass shatters or I get him. Depending the week, he'll also call for "Giant Pickle," "Winnie the Pooh," "Baloo" or whatever other character he has decided that I've become for that day or second. To be honest, some days it was really annoying to get his immediate call to action when I was in the middle trying to finish the last few sentences of an article, but this morning, the day just didn't feel right when my little man could just come running out of the room himself.


The Great Bed Change of 2015 is the first heartbreak before the emotional shattering event that erupts this September. Like in almost all these cases, Everett will bounce around in excitement and I'll be inspired to pull out the photo album from 2012.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Haunting Voices of Inner Fear

There is a mystical forest near my home. For years it has been sparkling and lush during the day but became foreboding and mist-strewn at night. In the last two years that has started to change, and an ominous dark blanket encompasses it for 24 hours. I still deeply desire to enter it and often come right to the narrow entrance provided by a break in the packed trees. The closer that I get then the more clear the ghostly voices start to pick up. "You're not worthy." "You can't come here." "We will crush and destroy you."

I built a shed to hold my dreams and protect my hopes. It was two years ago that it was shattered and scattered across my backyard. The voices claim victory and take responsibility. I want to repair it, but feel it is futile until I enter that forest. Yet the voices that have always followed me for as long as I can remember are picking up now. Their words are spikes and battering rams that cause me to stagger and fall and cry before I can get to that entrance. That entrance that I must enter.

These voices are likely the same ones that have made me fear digging up the gems peaking from the field. That is a place that keeps a modicum of faith and confidence if I leave untoiled even if that is more due to delusion. The forest is different because I've been there. The shed is something I truly crafted, but now it is destroyed. The haunting voices have achieved their destruction and proven their point.

But the entrance remains open. The broken shed is sturdy enough to be repaired. The voices may be strong, but I'm starting to trust that they may just be the wind. 

The Movie Breakdown Episode 101: Formula and Tropes Can Still Make Good Movies as We Review 'Paper Towns' and 'Southpaw'

Despite defending Adam Sandler earlier last week, I still avoided Pixels and instead caught the other two wide releases of the week in Southpaw and Paper Towns. Scott and I review those movies along with the documentary The Search for General Tso and the 1991 John Candy starring comedy, Only the Lonely. As well we look at the movies aimed at teens and how they've changed over the years.

As always if you love the show then please spread the word.



The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 02:04 Intro
02:05 - 16:05 Paper Towns review
16:06 - 25:48 Southpaw review
25:49 - 35:16 Only the Lonely review
35:17 - 45:50 The Search for General Tso review
45:51 - 51:32 Sharknado: Oh Hell No review based off what Scott's dad said
51:33 - 57:04 Box Office Game Update
57:05 - 1:11:08 The evolutions of teenage geared movies and how to make smaller movies hits
1:11:09 - 1:17:30 Spoiler adverse culture obsessed with trailers, clips, and stills
1:17:31 - 1:19:28 Review rundown
1:19:29 - Closing

Star Ratings:
Paper Towns *** (CS & SM)
Southpaw *** (CS)
Only the Lonely ** (CS & SM)
The Search for General Tso ***½ (CS & SM)


Monday, July 20, 2015

'Sword in the Stone' Could be One of the Disney Animated Movies in Need of a Live-Action Adaptation

I'm actually really surprise it has taken this long for the announcement of Disney approving a live-action remake of Sword in the Stone, as reported by THR. It is inevitable every Disney animated property will be turned into a CGIed live-action spectacle, but this one clearly taps into entertainment that is really hot at the moment like Game of Thrones. It helps this is being penned by Bryan Cogman who is a writer of several episodes from the popular series.

Plus this one would actually fit into what I'd assume would be the actual strategy of adapting their older animated properties into live-action, which is play on nostalgia while targeting demographics that wouldn't be giddy for a family animated feature. This adaptation is likely one of the best bets to lure the teenage boys from their caves and give a Disney feature a shot, since it has a tough-action sounding name and will likely a have a trailer that will conjure up memories of Lord of the Rings and big epic sword battles.

I still think Mulan is a strong choice for a big summer epic actioner, but the title will draw upon memories of the popular animated musical that may make certain crowds shy. While Sword in the Stone isn't really embedded in the cultural zeitgeist and thus has the flexibility to veer away from the original and become something darker and grittier (some favourite PG-13 buzzwords). Now, how many days are we away from finally getting The Black Cauldron remake announcement, which would be another movie that fits into the current fantasy and swords craze but even less remembered or at least more in need of a reworking (it was less of a critical darling than most Disney features).


Sword in the Stone is also following in the footsteps of the upcoming Jungle Book adaptation or past summer blockbusters like Armageddon or Volcano, where there is another version ready to come out. Next summer we're already heading to Camelot with Guy Ritchie's King Arthur that is intended to launch a trilogy (because every movie must do that now). I'd complain about not needing two version so close together, but at least it isn't one of the fifty billion Robin Hood movies that are threatening to head to the cinemas over the next several years

If Jason Bourne Had the Munchies In-between the Ass-Kicking

American Ultra, based off the two trailers so far, is the stoner comedy take on The Bourne Identity, and considering popularity of comedies like Pineapple Express or Knocked Up or anything starring Seth Rogen, I'm surprised this concept hasn't been tried before. Jesse Eisenberg wouldn't be my first pick as the stoner turned kick-ass government agent now on the run, but he looks to be having fun and throws himself into the role. Of all the (unfair) criticisms of Kristen Stewart lacking emotion and passion, it does make her a great choice as the stoner girlfriend. Plus they were both great together in Adventureland so it is a couple I want to see and believe. Part of the humour is that Eisenberg is such a non-action star and that same reason is why That '70s Show Topher Grace works as a big bad who barks orders and commands respect since it so against type. I just assume the big final battle ends with Grace cowered in the corner and trying to keep Eisenberg distracted with a bag of Doritos. This looks like a Matthew Vaughn-style action-comedy that is pop culture obsessed, very self-aware and over-the-top violent. So of course, we have the guy who brought us Project X directing it instead.


'Pixels' May Not Turn Out to be Good but It is Definitely Original

I am never shocked and can mostly understand the pre-release contempt many critics have for most Adam Sandler pictures, because this is the man that over the last few years has served us up That's My Boy, Blended, and Jack and Jill. It can be rather hard to win an argument claiming Sandler stills cares about more than just collecting a pay cheque while taking his vacation (his locales usually have no purpose other than Sandler likely wanted to tan and relax there in-between filming scenes).

What I don't get is the latest onslaught that Pixels looks lazy, unimaginative, and a quick cash grab. Sure, if it turns out to be jammed with the typical deep into the toilet bowl humour that has been slopped on the actor's last several wide releases then it can be retroactively declared that the old-school video game characters coming to destroy the Earth was a pure marketing effort to draw in the 1980s nostalgic crowd and their kids. When it comes to high-concept sci-fi comedy for the popcorn munching crowd, this is actually pretty brilliant and I've had a cautious excitement for this picture since it was announced.

It is a movie starring Sandler but the man has made good movies before and maybe this is his attempt to actually deviate from his most recent work and reclaim some box office glory. Special effects focused action-comedies tend to allow the sizzle and visuals to overwhelm the jokes and stories, but again, the premise of this movie is far more original and compelling than most past attempts. The gold standard for this genre is Gremlins and Ghostbusters, and the former was actually written by Pixels director, Chris Columbus.

My point being, I can understand not gushing over this movie or being incredibly hesitant about its quality. If I could make a killing on betting Rotten Tomatoes scores, I'd wager this will score in the basement. But the whole idea that this story is lazy and stupid seems to be more of a case of who is the star rather than the actual idea that hardcore 1980s arcade gamers are assembled to battle aliens who took the form of the iconic figures like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Even those that are writing this off as typical Sandler are ignoring the fact that Columbus isn't from the usual Happy Madison crew and so this isn't even really being approached as "that type of movie."

I'm just not convinced that the early contempt and passing it off as a disaster would exist if this movie was starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I'd actually prefer that cast, as long as Peter Dinklage was still attached as well, but it is rather pretentious to assume Sandler, Kevin James and Josh Gad's involvement is suddenly enough to make the movie rancid. It will be interesting to see if the crushing reviews end up being about the actual movie or more what certain critics feel like they're expected to grade it because well, this is what you do with Sandler.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 100: 'Ant-Man' Proves Smaller Can be Better and 'Trainwreck' Shows Amy Schumer is the Next Great Comedic Actor

Scott and I have hit the big 100 with our number of The Movie Breakdown episodes. Over that time we've changed the format and style, but it has always been about reviewing and discussing movies. This week we look at the two big new releases in Trainwreck and Ant-Man. We also review 2002 thriller Changing Lanes and one of us doesn't think it holds up. From there we look at the modern state of the blockbuster and discuss if they've really become stupider and have dipped in quality.

As always if you love the show then please spread the word.



The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 4:45 Intro (why we didn't do anything special and the legacy of Teen Wolf)
4:46 - 20:42 Trainwreck review
20:43 - 28:51 Ant-Man review
28:52 - 34:14 "Judy Greer Effect" of talented women stuck in useless roles
34:15 - 43:12 Changing Lanes (2002) review
43:13 - 49:29 Box Office Game Update
49:30 - 1:06:52 Are blockbusters getting dumber and do they make movies like they used to?
1:06:53 - 1:26:19 Trailers Reviews (Joy, The Revenant, Suicide Squad, Batman vs. Superman, Sisters. The Gift)
1:26:20 - 1:27:23 Review rundown
1:27:24 - Closing (Scott whines about reviewing Paper Towns next week)

Star Rating:

Trainwreck ***½ (CS & SM)
Ant-Man *** (CS)
Changing Lanes ** (CS) & ***½ (SM)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Flying Birds and Monster Crocs Aren't Enough in the 'Pan' Trailer to Make Me Forgot I Don't Like Prequels

The CGI looks terrific and Neverland is brimming with imagination and colour. There is a zillion points towards a blockbuster that has a large portion of the scenes done during the day and allows the images to be vibrant with all the colours of the rainbow rather than resort to bleak greys and metallic yellows that dominate many movies now. But this is still a prequel and if J.M. Barrie was the least bit interested in how Peter Pan came to be then he'd have written that. I still have rather grim memories of the last prequel set in an imaginative candy coated world where the protagonist was a chosen one and one of his main allies turned into the villain we all know and jeer. Oz the Great and Powerful was a pretty crushing disappointment for most who saw it.


Fears Over the Wonderful and Shiny Fictional Story Idea

Ideas are the easiest part of writing. In the realm of fiction writing, I've discovered they're scattered all over the long expansive fields and they're always available to impress people with the shininess that peeks out of the dirt. The hard part is actually grabbing the chisel and trowel to unearth that idea and reveal the story underneath. As long as it stays buried, you can claim it is a gem or special treasure. You can impress people with its magnificence and its potential. The promise for wonder fades away and is exposed once all that dirt comes off and the idea is fully formed into a story. I know I need to get into that field and prove those ideas are more than shiny little things poking from the ground. I'm afraid that there is no treasure there and it will just be revealed to be a discarded McDonald's collector's cup.

As a writer, I've got used to some great ideas turning into rather shitty work. It happens. It is part of the game. The scary part is when that idea has been with you for years and over time has grown in value. It has become less an object but rather a companion. Something you believe can transform into something wonderful. But what if through my own shoddy work that I mangle and mutate it, and it doesn't become what I have in my mind. The finished story is never ever going to be as great or magical as the idea that inspired the work, but what if my own tools are what makes it an abomination that could have been pristine. The even scarier part is what if that idea is the best that I'll ever have and I'm just stuck trying to hammer off the deformities and try to make it some battered version of my dreams.

But you never know any of that until you start digging. I think it is about time.

Looking at Modern Criticism Where Television Flourishes and Cinema Crumbles

Last week was a flaming cannonball to the gut with the news that the best and most in-depth movie site, The Dissolve, was closing down. Some took this as a sign that "specialization" was dead in pop culture writing, which has the sad consequence that smaller independent and foreign films are going to get less and less words because there is only so much space and so many writers to cover cinema when the hand is being forced to pay attention to television as well.

And in a "wow, my timing is almost near perfect" moment for my career, many movie critics and writers are lamenting the state of film criticism and analysis as the medium no longer tracks the audience necessary to make it profitable (though my disappearing clients already was telling me that). There are those that disagree and sites like RogerEbert.com seem to have grown a loyal and strong audience. Basing on broad appeal across the internet, film criticism has tumbled down the mountain and may have stabbed its pick axe into the rocks but it is still dangling.

While this is happening, television criticism is soaring into the heavens and sprinkling its magical fairy dust across the nations. It is popular. A big example is TV critic Alan Sepinwall's daily columns and TV reviews, What's Alan Watching, is one of the most popular sections on the major pop culture site, HitFix, and is also the only writer that gets a permanent and easy to find link on the front page. Their film critics need some navigation to be found but Sepinwall is trotted out like fine China to impress the guests. He deserves it, because he is considered the writer that has elevated the form and made writing and reviewing TV into the hot commodty it has become on most entertainment websites (even most movie websites are now covering some television).

Why is one form of criticism struggling while another thrives? Now, it is likely in both cases to be hard to make a living on just criticism unless you have an established name or have incriminating photos of a major magazines editor-in-chief. But one medium has several new writers emerging and is gaining loyal readers while another is collecting dust. Why exactly is that happening?

TV is at a Golden Age with not only works like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones with rabid audiences that are eager to discuss and dissect each episode but also challenging, compelling and complex series like The Americans or Fargo. They're telling the kind of stories that movies once did 40 years ago with a similar counter-culture and subversive tone. TV is on a creative roll and maybe that is flattening out the thrills for the more stagnant movie industry. An industry that is becoming more and more devoted to one kind of story.

But there are still movie sites with eager and frothing fans that want to see every trailer and clip and on-set still that can be offered. It isn't like all fans have died off or the industry is in the toilet. To be fair, despite my above paragraph, there are quite a few great to amazing movies being released not just at the independent level but as this summer has proven at the mainstream level with instant classics like Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out.

TV is hot, but I wouldn't say movies are cold. Yet film criticism is light years behind in popularity compared to TV. It is even proven on this site where more often my TV reviews garner a way larger audience than my movie reviews (with some exceptions). I think it is something about the form and style that makes one review more popular than the other.

A traditional movie review is written like a sneak preview where there is a short summary that describes the main set-up and then in a spoiler-free fashion tries to work out some of the themes, describes the aesthetic quality, the value of performances, and generally lets the viewers know if they should see it. It is like a consumer guide. Usually a critic will need to analyze and reveal a few scenes in order to back up their views and points. There are attempts to explore the depth of the movie and create provocative discussion, but in the end, it is often written for readers that haven't seen the movie.

While TV show reviews and recaps are often written right before or shortly after the episode has been aired. There is largely an assumption the reader has seen the episode or understands the risk that it will be spoiled when reading. Plot points are deeply analyzed and discussed, and often the entire episode is recapped. A good review though is more than just a regurgitation of what happened, but still explores the themes and does the analysis that exists in movie reviews but now the entire plot and several scenes are used to bring depth and back up points. There also are usually predictions of what the events will mean for future episodes and working through the motivation of the characters. The TV reviews simply provide a lot more meat and substance.

The TV review is a conversation starter. It triggers debates on social media. It gives readers a new perspective on the episode. It breeds excitement over future episodes' potential stories. The key here though is likely how it encourages and brings life through interaction. The modern reader wants to engage and be part of the conversation. A movie review can't do that until after it has been seen by the masses.

I also think spoilers are highly overrated. I do believe that for a new movie that the major twists and turns should be left alone. A good writer can dig deep into the guts of a picture without spoiling the experience for the reader. I also think that a film review needs to have depth and be a lot more than a recap of the first 20 minutes and then a recommendation to see or avoid. There needs to be complex analysis not just of the acting and cinematography and if the screenwriting worked but rather explore what the movie means and how all the elements came together to create emotion and an experience for the viewers. This means discussing and analyzing actual scenes even if it has to be in vaguer terms than a television review. A good review is something that should add more value and thought for a reader after one returns from seeing the movie. It should be way more than just a thumbs up or down.

It is ironic I use that term, because Roger Ebert was probably the best film critic to do all the things I described. He also probably was the most bullish when it came to revealing spoilers (especially if he didn't like a movie). He realized that movie reviews needed to be conversation starters. His reviews were companion pieces to movies that added to the experience.

Film criticism isn't dead but it can't be exactly like TV criticism. Mainly because they are very different mediums. One is supposed to be a standalone story (thought Marvel and company are making that less the case) and the other is long form storytelling that opens itself up to more hypothesizing. In both cases, it should be more than just deciding if something is good or bad.

Criticism of art is valuable. It is valuable if it offers insight and new perspectives. It shoulder be used to compare against today's major social issues and look at how society has influenced it or what the art means to us. It should dig into how the past has influenced it. It should look at what the technical aspects say about the story telling and how those elements amplify the message and art. Art means something and is valuable to our culture. Film and TV criticism can play a big part in adding to that value and bring forth important discussion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ranking Movies I Reviewed in 2015 So Far

I've seen thirty-four 2015 pictures so far, which isn't that impressive compared to most professional critics but it does give me a decent barometer of what the year is like at a mainstream level. While at bottom to top level it hasn't been a blow-away year, we have three instant-classic movies that have redefined their genres and will be strong candidates for the best of the decade, which is enough to make 2015 a pretty amazing year even at just the halfway point. Even without those three movies, the major positive has been the wide variety of genres and type of movies we've got at the wide release level. As a launching point for the second half of the movie year, I'm ranking all the movies I've seen and reviewed so far, from least to greatest.

 34. Chappie *

33. Aloha * 

32. Hot Pursuit *½ 

31. The Gunman *½

30. Strange Magic **

29. Get Hard **

28. Home **

27. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death **

26. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ** 

25. Furious 7 **

24. Magic Mike XXL ** 

23.  These Final Hours **½

22. The Age of Adaline **½

21. Insurgent *** 

20. Terminator Genisys ***

19. Pitch Perfect 2 *** 

18  Minions ***

17. Monkey Kingdom *** 

16. Jurassic World ***

15. Run All Night ***

14. The Avengers: Age of Ultron *** 

13.  San Andreas *** 

12. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water *** 

11. Kingsman: The Secret Service ***

10. Tomorrowland ***

9. Paddington *** 

8. Insidious Chapter 3 *** 

7. The DUFF ***

6. Cinderella *** 

5. Focus ***

4. Spy ***½ 

3. It Follows ****

2. Mad Max: Fury Road **** 

1. Inside Out ****

A Live-Action 'Aladdin' Prequel Delivers Two Annoying Hollywood Trends in One Movie

If Disney gets their way we'll end up with about 475 live-action adaptations from their past animated properties. We've already got the straight adaptations of their classic features with scheduled productions like Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo. The Night on Bald Mountain is Disney's foray into taking a scene and stretching it into a full-length live-action adaptation (at least it is from an anthology rather than making a full length movie from Todd and Copper playing tag and being best of friends). Since that just isn't enough in truly clogging up the cinemas with live-action remakes of movies that were perfectly fine without an update, we also got a rebooting or remaking or whatever of a character that we didn't even know existed with a story about the famous prince's little brother in Prince Charming.

If you're getting a less than thrilled tone from me, then I got a double dose of crushing joy with the news that not only do we have another live-action adaptation lined up but this time it is a prequel. You can sense the squeals of joy coming from my office as I learned not only do we get a great animated movie redone with CGI and live-action, but it isn't even that movie but rather all the boring stuff that was left out from the original movie for a reason. We now get an Aladdin prequel in the form of Genies according to Hollywood Reporter. This is apparently a story about how the lovable blue Genie (who sadly can't be played by Robin Williams, so what is the point since that character fully embodied the actor's personality) got trapped in the lamp. This is apparently an action comedy, because forced enslavement is such a gut buster. Is it a typo or are we going to get to see a whole slew of people thrown into an internment camp and forced to make other people's dream come true? I can just see the non-stop laughs coming.

To make this all the more groan worthy, this isn't even going to be a one-off. The plan is for this to be a launcher into the live-action version of Aladdin. I'm left wondering what is the point of the prequel if they're going to redo the original movie anyway? Well, I know the reason -- it is money. I want to cling to hope for there to be a creative and artistic reason.

Maybe I'll be eating my words. Maybe I'll be wrong about this, just like I was wrong about thinking a third Insidious (that also turned out to be a prequel) was an awful idea. I like being proven wrong. I really wish to be wrong here.

The 'Joy' Teaser Shows Us Exactly What We Want

We've now had biopics of every famous person who has positively shaped humanity, so now in order to have movies released for the end of the year we must turn to inventors of household cleaning items. If anyone is going to make the story about the Miracle Mop inventor into a slick, stylized, and provocative movie then David O. Russell seems like a solid choice. For all the talk that he is a hard to work for director, he has proven to get results when it comes to garnering Oscar nominations for his performers, which is probably why Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence are returning for a third go around with him for Joy.



I actually like these quirky movies about not obvious choices for big screen character adaptations. Joy Mangano's life is a true rags to riches type story that not only promises to be inspirational, but will feature a strong but complicated female lead. A thing that actually looks set to happen more than once this fall with movies like Carol, Suffragette, Brooklyn, and By the Sea. Lawrence has proven to be a great character actor that can convey both resounding strength but also sprinkle in some comedy, which I'm sure this movie will demand.

Hopefully, the Russell magic sprinkles on talents like Diane Lane, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini who all deserve some award recognition. The narrative seems pretty rich and expansive and a bumpy emotional journey. If Russell stays focused and figured out the tone he wants, then this could definitely be a can't miss for the fall (I'm sure Scott would say it is a must-see as the resident Russell champion on our podcast).

My only complaint is that this is being labelled a teaser. How is almost two minutes of footage a teaser? I can guess the narrative fairly well from what is shown, and you get both Lawrence's fall and rise. It is pretty clear she gets an epiphany over the mop and that it then brings in several new characters into her life. Do we really need to know more? I'm afraid the actual trailer is going to spell out the entire movie for us, because if we don't know the entire plot with every major twist then how can we ever be convinced to pay to see it?

'Sisters' Trailer Reminds Me Why I Love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are the "you just have to love and adore them" type stars in Hollywood. They're beautiful, smart, and funny, but they also always feel sincere and relatable. They also have the talent to jump into characters that in real life you'd avoid their phone calls and take the long way to work to miss but make them into someone you want to cheer. That seems to be the case with Sisters, a movie where their characters try to throw one huge 1980s college movie style party in the house that their parents just sold. It looks really broad and goofy, but the leads' charm pulls through and I have hope some of the real laughs are being saved up for the movie (what a novel concept).



Even though both women have been able to tackle diverse roles, Tina Fey usually plays the more straight and narrow type while Poehler will be the ditzy and dorky comic relief. This was the dynamic for Baby Mama. It looks to be a switch here and both seem to be happily embracing their roles.

The cast is really promising here, with Maya Rudolph always an asset to any movie she is in and I like that Ike Barinholtz seems to be playing a very different character than his one on The Mindy Project. John Cena's non-wrestling thing now is to play the cameo love interest in female-led comedies as he appears in this and this weekend's Trainwreck. Obviously this trailer got dropped now, because it will be premiering on the big screen before Amy Schumer's movie.

The release date of this actual movie is rather intriguing as it shares opening with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. At first glance seems like a major miscalculations since Star Wars is the event movie of the year and likely to make an obscene amount of money. Except there is a history of smaller counter-programming movies to do really well sharing the weekend against the monster blockbuster. Sisters should be the soothing and tantalizing lotion to those not interested in a journey to a galaxy far, far away.

The Problem isn't the Studios if You're Tired of Comic Book Movies

There is a good chance you don't spend time scrolling through my comments section on the site (though if you did, lately it would probably only take you a minute or so to finish), I wanted to bring to the blog proper a bit of discussion that was sparked between me and my fellow The Movie Breakdown host, Scott Martin. He essentially lamented that there have been many really great movies in the past year that his friends haven't even heard about. He didn't put the blame on the studios, but I'm sure there is a jab there against how they prioritize their marketing and what gets the wide-release slots.

In my response, I fully admitted the studio system is broken as they're obsessed with making big budget franchisable tentpoles (to the point there is no room for anything else as the tent has become rod and pole storage) or in the fall, they focus on Oscar award winners, which sadly isn't the same as making thoughtful and challenging or even high quality movies (it mostly means countless biopics about geniuses). Diversity at the wide release level has become very scarce with almost everything being about recognizable brands and spectacular special effects. There are exceptions but the "something for everyone" strategy has eroded unless everyone wants to see superheroes.

But Scott mourned that all his friends haven't seen Nightcrawler or even heard of A Most Wanted Man and hinted Inside Llewyn Davis went largely ignored amongst his crowd too. While I feel his pain, I'm less willing to throw the blame at the studios and say his friends not knowing or seeing these movies has less to do about the studios and more a reflection upon them and the ignorance is their own fault.

Nightcrawler made its way to Brantford screens, which based on it being a smaller city, means the picture probably made it out to most Cineplexes in the country. A Most Wanted Man and Inside Llewyn Davis was closer to limited but I saw pretty extensive marketing for both on television (my non-movie buff wife was aware of both movies thanks to countless ads). It wasn't like these were closely guarded secrets or the studios actively hid them. If someone really wanted to watch mature focused movies that were more than special effects and have a strong focus on complex characters then they could have found these movies. These were movies we praised and discussed on our own podcasts, and they also got many essays and articles on film sites and magazines.

I don't want this to sound like some kind of attack against the company Scott keeps, because movie watching habits don't reflect the value of a person and also this problem is much larger than his crowd. I know a person who whined about the state of cinema but when I brought up movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel or Boyhood or A Most Wanted Man as pictures he should check out, he opted for Expendables 3.

That is the real and big problem here. Yes, studios aren't offering the same variety and cinema is very focused on a specific kind of movie. But there are alternatives and options and really great movies, but the consumer who is eulogizing cinema is picking the popcorn munchers over the higher quality movies. Often when both movies are in the same movie theatre or when someone actually laid out the movies they could go see, it is the shinier and louder one that they were complaining about that gets the nod. The things is that complaining is the past time of many and deep down they want to embrace the movies that are non-demanding and go down easy with their tub of popcorn.

Nightcrawler or Boyhood or A Most Wanted Man weren't box office giants, but they aren't obscure movies either. It isn't like the experimental science fiction movie Under the Skin or a foreign picture like Gloria or We Are the Best! These are movies that got a lot less advertising and only made it into the cinemas of major cities. Even in all three of those cases, there are pictures that got far less attention, considering Under the Skin has a bona fide movie star in Scarlett Johansson in the lead.

My point being that if you've been whining or complaining about there not being any original or adult-focused movies to see then it really is your fault. There are countless websites promoting these movies and they do get TV ad time. We live in a time where it is easier to see them than ever before with streaming services and on-demand. Actually, if you have Netflix in Canada then you can watch right now The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, Inside Llewyn Davis, Boyhood, Gloria, and We Are the Best! On the American Netflix, they have A Most Wanted Man, so none of these movies take wrestling a bear and walking a creaky bridge to watch. All of them were promoted when they came on the services as well.

The answer is to stop the whining and get to the watching. Unless of course you'd rather see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Maze Runner, which just means you're reaffirming and encouraging those big, evil movie studios.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

They Kind of Still Do "Make Them Like They Used To"

On this week's The Movie Breakdown, Scott mentioned The Silence of the Lambs as the type of movie that doesn't get made by major movie studios anymore. I didn't agree with him exactly, but he is far from the only movie writer to peg that thriller as a "they don't make them like they used to" type picture. I got thinking about the movie and realized it actually has a good deal in common with a popular wide release thriller from last year, Gone Girl.

Both pictures are adaptations of incredibly popular best-sellers that had a decent foothold on popular culture even before the movie came out. The big difference is that Gone Girl is the even less commercial picture with non-traditional, labyrinthine plot that is populated by largely unlikable characters with a purposeful downer of an ending. While Lambs is closer to a more traditional but slickly paced, page turner of a thriller that has a straightforward narrative with a very likable and relatable lead (one of Jodie Foster's best roles, which looking at her portfolio is a huge thing to claim). It is a great movie that earned its Best Picture win and has complex characters and major dramatic depth, but I'd also say those things mostly describe Gone Girl too. Though saying all that, Gone Girl was such a refreshing movie, because it is rare and original. There is enough evidence to believe those kind of movies do still arrive to the multiplexes as long as you can wait until the Fall.

A much rarer breed in the modern landscape are pictures like Taxi Driver or All the President's Men. Thrillers that have a counter-culture and subversive edge to them that are less focused on action and more immersed in the internal struggle of the characters. In the case of All the President's Men, it has a very strong anti-government vibe and one that isn't scared to force up self-reflection and questions. It is the type of material and provocative storytelling that seems to be eternally trapped in 1970s cinema. The only real modern movie that jumped out at me that followed a similar tone was A Most Wanted Man. It is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's last movies and one of the most neglected and underrated movies of last year. A really great old-school thriller that isn't about the twists or hotly paced action, but rather about the questions it plants inside you and the internal struggle that Hoffman has while discovering the truths of his case. It also isn't scared to be prickly in its depiction of the American government.

No matter if you agree with me or not, every movie mentioned here is worth checking out in case you've let them pass you by. They aren't standard films but have something very special.

'Fantastic Four' Trailer Officially Has Me at 'Meh'

I'm a sucker for stories about the creative and optimistic kid defying the realities and going against the doubters to make something great, but sadly, Fantastic Four isn't that kind of story and brief bits conveying that in the trailer are close to the exact length (with likely an extra scene of the dad telling his son to stop fooling around and go play sports) devoted to it in the movie.




Actually, this trailer seems to be promising a whole lot of stuff we've seen in countless other super hero movies and has lost much of the distinctiveness promised in some of the first few trailers. The intrigue over if the Fantastic Four where going to be trapped in another dimension for half the movie or my wondering if the father scientist wanting his children back meant literally from another place or more feeling disconnected now they have powers are things brushed aside in this trailer. The super hero team seems rather spunky and thrilled over their new powers and ready to kick some Dr. Doom butt. The father does question the military about turning his kids into weapons but even that seems secondary to the group uniting as a team to save the world.

I'm left wondering what exactly makes this movie different than all the other super power team up movies like X-Men or Avengers? Sure they may not be friends at first or they still need to work out their powers, but half way through all is cheery because there is a greater evil. I'm not sensing the character driven elements or dramatic depth that the teaser from way back hinted. This just seems like a factory ready special effects popcorn muncher that may be entertaining but has been seen many times before. It also has the annoying non-Marvel Studios trend of being really dark and greyish, because it is hip to squint your eyes when trying to watch something on a mammoth screen.

I am also not really sure why we need yet another origin story, especially since we got it a decade or so ago. Just once I'd like a first installment to skip the 90 minutes of origin and just throw us right into the fresh story. Rather they could have a throw away moment in the middle of the movie where the hero addresses a group of schoolkids about the importance of not playing with plutonium because the risk is too great to hope they'd also be able to fart out radioactive dinosaurs.

Still Not Convinced on 'Suicide Squad' but Love Margot Robbie and Will Smith Together Again

The Warner Brothers apparent mandate of all comic book movies must now look grey, drab, and dark continues with Suicide Squad. There also seems to be a need for every movie to be extra-super-serious to separate itself from Marvel movies and that along with macho talk is guaranteed with David Ayer helming. The premise of the Suicide Squad where super-villains are forced to work together and fight for good is pretty brilliant, but I'm not entirely convinced on the timing of this. Warner Brothers is still in re-introduction mode of their cast of characters, and I'd have assumed they'd save the antagonists for their respective super-hero movies before branching into spin-offs. Unless the idea is that Joker won't even be the big baddie of pure evil in an upcoming Batman feature. Of course, Batman is in this one too as he is shown hanging from a car in a clip and that seems to follow another studio mandate that the one character that has proven to be a box office draw now must be in every DC Comics movie ever. I'm sure his inclusion is meant to add layers and remind us the heroes are actually villains, but I think it continues the overstuffed plague that was also glaringly exposed in the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer.



Will Smith is almost always likable, and he has a burning chemistry with Margot Robbie in Focus. She has become one of my favourite new people for big studio movies because she has a great charisma to go with her incredible beauty. Hopefully, their inclusion and likely being the central characters makes up for things like Jai Courtney in yet another major movie or maybe this is the one where he'll win me over. I love Viola Davis being included because she should be in everything, and being the mastermind with unknown goals is terrific casting since you want to cheer for her even if she turns out to have dubious motives.

I think this should be a one-off, as a trilogy with super-villains saving the day is going to muddy up the cinematic universe, This of course means there will end up being 6 of these movies, along with each of these villains being the evil we must boo in other movies.

One more thing, I mentioned it on the podcast but not sure if I mentioned it here, I love Jared Leto's take on the Joker. If we're going to have yet another version of the character, it is time for him to look drastically different and also feel like something new. Besides he still is obviously a psychopath, and that is the most important part of being true to the character anyway.

'The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Trailer Reveals the Filmmakers May Be Aware They Went a Little Overboard in 'Man of Steel'

The new trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that was released at the San Diego Comic-Con looks a lot better and gives me way more hope than the teaser from a few months back. It still reveals some of Zach Snyder's worst directorial instincts like shrouding everything in greys or metallic yellows that makes the movie look dark and grim with the only ounces of colours coming from the ridiculous cavalcade of explosions. At least this movie seems well aware of the wanton destruction that took place on Metropolis in Man of Steel and how Superman was responsible for the death of thousands of lives. It might be a bit of actual awareness from the director, writers, and studios that they got a little carried away the first time and rather than just try to ignore it, turn in into the central part of the storytelling with the public and the government justifiably untrusting of the alien that left behind rumble and ruin. 



Good ol' Bruce Wayne seemed to going for a pleasant stroll on the tragic day and he is even less impressed with Superman's people protecting skills. I guess, Superman is rather annoyed that he no longer is the only hero that can make glowing eyes and even more annoyed the thief didn't choose a snazzy shade of red, so both now decide to rumble. Batman doubting an outsider and seeing a vigilante that is doing more harm than good is a pretty intriguing premise that promises some good dramatic tension. Tension that I trust can be pulled off by the screenwriter for Argo, Chris Terrio, even if I'm less enthused by Snyder helming again.

The big problem though is there really isn't much mystery over the outcome and I don't think there is a single person doubting that this will all end in a hearty handshake and they'll unite to take down Lex Luthor and his flowing locks. This is the problem with a studio revealing all their movies for the next million decades, because we're all well-aware the two need to be buddies for the upcoming Justice League movie. Luthor likely will emerge as the real villain in Act 3, and I do love the little sneak peeks into Jesse Eisenberg's character and he is appropriately over the top and carried a wonderful villainous charisma. It looks like he might be championing a X-Men-like law where super-powered heroes may need to be restricted or monitored, or at least that is the vibe I got with his schmoozing of Holly Hunter's Senator character (really awesome to see her and it is a pretty top notch cast.). Speaking of performances, Ben Affleck looks awesome here as a beat-down and weary Wayne that feel forced to return to the persona he thought he could abandon. Even if this movie turns out to be a mess. Affleck looks to be joining Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger as actors who disproved their doubters.

My anticipation has definitely increased here and I love the story direction that is coming along. I'm still hesitant not just because it will likely still all be super serious to the point of comedy but this looks painfully overstuffed. The Wonder Woman sequences feel like something from another movie. We still haven't seen Aquaman, Flash or Cyborg. I really don't think they have a place in this story other than Warner Brothers wants to cram in as many characters as possible to hype up the upcoming Justice League. Hopefully, the hype scenes are kept to a minimum and the story is given proper time to breathe in-between all the explosions and marketing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Episode 99: 'Minions' Review, Birthday Celebration for Summit, and Good-Byes to Omar Sharif and 'The Dissolve'

It is a crammed episode as Scott and I have a buffet of topics to discuss and not all movie related, as Scott reveals his "brave new hero" and I reflect upon my trusty 95 pound lap dog who turned 6 years old, Summit. In the movie realm we have reviews for the big animated release Minions and a 1980s high school comedy considered a classic, Can't Buy Me Love. We also eulogize screen legend Omar Sharif, 1980s film star Amanda Peterson and the great movie site, The Dissolve.

If you love the show then please spread the word.



The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 1:17 Intro
1:18 - 10:57 Go several minutes talking about how we won't talk about San Diego Comic-Con
10:58 - 14:37 Celebrating 6 years of my dog, Summit
14:38 - 28:26 Scott's latest "hero" for the Breakdown
28:27 - 39:36 Minions review
39:36 - 51:57 Can't Buy Me Love review
51:57 - 55:54 Summer Box Office Game Update
55:55 - 1:00:55 Remembering Omar Sharif
1:00:56 - 1:09:15 Saying good-bye to The Dissolve and what it means for film journalism
1:09:16 - 1:22:33 The future of the big movie studios' non-stop blockbuster creation strategy
1:22:34 - Review rundown and closing

Star Ratings:

Minions *** (CS) & **½ (SM)
Can't Buy Me Love *½ (CS) & * (SM)