Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Unshakeable Stink

There is that moment for every dog parent when you walk down your stairs and you catch that putrid whiff of threats and taunts that you now have an unplanned chore for the next ten minutes. The panic sets in and you hold to the optimism that tricks are being played, but then you turn into the family room. Before you is the nasty business of either the not-quite-house trained puppy or the old jealous dog rebelling against the current structure of the house. You quietly let out your expletive if the kids are home or allow it to raise a few decibels if you're alone for the moment, then you grab a plastic bag and move the business to a much better home. Then you go through the typical routine of vacuuming and wiping down the carpet, because even if you have very little carpet, they always find the one spot it still remains. Then you soap up the paper towel and scrub until the spot changes a shade.

During this little exercise, the odours snake their way into your nostrils, clings to the nose hairs, and camp out for the night. The smell then conspires with your paranoia, so no matter how much soap you gloop in that spot, how much Febreze gets sprayed, and how hard you scrub away, the stink still faintly taunts you. It now owns your nose and mocks you that it now rules this spot. And if this happens to be a day that you're having company over, then brain and nose work even harder to convince you there is a stink that now lives here. A stink that every single person coming into that house will smell and then leave to spread the word that today was the day they visited Poo Palace.

You may ask your spouse or kids if they smell anything, and when they say no, you jump and holler about how the stink is here if you smell hard enough. Your rant and raving is convincing enough that they now believe the stench has permeated the room and there is no escape. All because those little stink fiends are partying up in the nostrils and your brain likes to freak out every few days. This is the burden of having a dog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ranking 2017 Movies So Far Along with Star Rating and One Sentence Reviews

Consider this my back on the saddle post. Here is everything from 2017 I've seen with a ranking from the worst to the very best along with a sentence that best describes the viewing experience.

15. Clinical *: A story about a psychiatrist trying to recover from an attack from a patient by helping a new patient that falls apart due unbelievable characters and a far-fetched, silly final act twist that makes everything before it pointless.

14. Take the 10 *½: Many modern comedies seem to forget that no amount jokes about sex and drugs will work if the movie has unlikable leads, plus most sex and drug jokes have become tedious, predictable, and unfunny.

13. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter *½: One big long music video if it was edited by 3 year old that just downed seven bulk bags of Skittles.

12. iBoy **: A goofy premise that is undone by a super serious tone that often feels like a low-grade Guy Ritchie gangster movie knock-off.

11. XXX: Return of Xander Cage **: It shouts and screams how extreme it is, but outside of one or two scenes, it follows the formula and style of your generic actioner.

10. Underworld: Blood Wars **: Some really bold but campy scenes means this was way better than I expected, but I also expected one of the worst movies of the year.

9. Fist Fight **: A great cast (Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks) who play well to their strengths and an attempt to actually say something about the modern school system that lacks support of teachers isn't enough when the movies fails to be funny for the majority of the run time and does the annoying modern comedy movie habit of trying to undo 90 minutes of cynicism with 5 minutes of forced sentimentality and schmaltz.

8. David Brent: Life on the Road **: There was a reason why the really funny original Office series focused on several characters rather than entirely being about the unlikable David Brent.

7. The Great Wall **: It attempts to be a throwback to 1980s fantasy adventures, but the well-done action sequences don't cover for the stilted dialogue, lack of chemistry in the cast, a paper thin story, and Matt Damon's very distracting accent.

6. Cure for Wellness **: Gore Verbinski proves again to be a master of unique visuals, but this time it is more uncomfortable and dull rather than unsettling and intriguing.

5. Coin Heist **: It aspires to be Breakfast Club mixed with Ocean's Eleven but end up being Drive Me Crazy meets Tower Heist.

4. Journey to Greenland ***: A heartfelt, respectful, and funny buddy comedy about two guys who take an adventure to a remote village in Greenland; don't shy away from subtitles and check out this charming picture.

3. John Wick: Chapter 2 ***: It delivers exactly what is missing in most modern actioners with well-choreographed action sequences, a cool hero to cheer on, a sense of humor, and a unique, fully fleshed out world; if you loved the first then this is more of that goodness.

2. The LEGO Batman Movie ***: A beautifully, candy-coated animated universe with a voice cast that is clearly having a blast with a story that is funny but also has some emotional punch.

1. Split ***: An expertly-paced and atmospheric thriller that M. Night Shyamalan proved he was a master of over a decade ago along with award worthy performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Wow, only four recommendations for movies this year, so far. I am hoping now that the Oscars are upon us and that March has some big guns that things will get much better. I also vow that there will be full reviews (at least a few hundred words each) of new releases going forward starting with this weekend's Get Out.

Crushed by Ambition

Over the last few years, I've come across a few film bloggers who make their entire living from their one-writer sites by posting seven to eleven short 200ish words to long thousand-plus word pieces that largely are about movies but also contain some politics and personal anecdotes. It didn't take long for me to proclaim to myself, "I could do this," and form a vision that this site would become that. As is pretty clear to anyone looking at it, it has not become that at all. What I failed to clue in on, was that the majority of these successful professional movie bloggers had twenty to thirty plus years writing for major magazines and web sites where they could pluck a loyal readership for their site, which in turn gave them leverage to land some lucrative sponsorship for their sites. In my case, I've been in the game for only a few years and while I am appreciative of everyone I have written for, it hasn't snagged me the same size of audience.

I had a goal of trying to churn out seven quicker little movies news related pieces a day along with three or four movie reviews a week, every few days give a short recounting of my adventures with children, some occasional political or non-movie news thoughts, and three or so big think-pieces a week. This is ambitious if this was my one way of making a living, but it is emotional suicide when I am also trying to complete a novel, write several short stories, make my money providing several thousand words a day for paying clients, and stay at home with an rather mischievous but oh-so-cute 2 year old.

My biggest failure has been to forget my own emotional make-up that means when my lofty goals miss their mark that I tend to crash into a stew of anxiety and depression. This is obviously an issue that I should try to resolve, but it also means my swing-for-the-fences approach to this little blog (that to be fair, is what has landed me some of my best jobs) needs some major restructuring.

I do believe it is entirely fair to want something more out of this blog and have eyes on this being something I can monetize, but the reality is still that I need to write for other (paying) outlets as well. This means I only have a small amount of time a day to devote to this space. That may change some day, but if I am honest, I am not entirely sure if I want to eliminate writing for others, especially when it comes to my dreams of traditionally published books and novels. At the moment, I now need my every few months exercise of breathing, telling myself to calm down, and live in my current moment.

My current moment is being the father who is always alert that disaster strikes when the house gets quiet, has a long gestating novel that I hope to shop in the spring so it needs to be finished, make my living by producing thousands of words a day for clients, and has a little site where I can share my various thoughts on life along with my movie reviews. I do want to build an audience on here, but it is more likely to happen by staying consistent and letting the roaring lion of ambition to get locked in the zoo for a bit.

My new goal is to stick with my start of the year resolution of posting at least one thing on here a day, though length and value will depend on what else I need to write on that particular day. Be open to writing more than one thing on days where that works, but the victory comes from just keeping up a daily piece. For now see this as my personal outlet that may become something more depending on my ability to grow a following. Focus on making sure what I write for this site to be of high quality and return to making The Breakdown podcast a professional show. But also don't shy away from being creative and trying out some new stuff, which is why once I get my current transport truck of projects completed, I want to begin that serialized story that I talked about on here. Most importantly, I want to have fun on here, which I hope means it is a bowl of cherries for my readers as well. Or if you prefer, a nice cold, tasty bottle of pop.

Friday, February 17, 2017

'The House' Trailer Shows It is Time for Will Ferrell to Move On

Mainstream comedy is in a bit of a rut the last few years. There has been a few sparks like Sisters, Keanu, and Neighbors, but more than often it is unfunny stories that try to overcompensate with 'shocking' raunchy jokes that are just reworked from the last comedy before it. Will Ferrell is one of those comedian stuck deep in the ditch by playing the same sweet, oblivious doofus that worked in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby but has now become tedious. The House reminds me of a previous Ferrell misfire, Get Hard, by having a seemingly edgy premise but resorting to easy gags rather than exploiting its potential for something new. It seems like the powers to be decided that white guy being suckered into prison training before going to jail or dullard family opens a casino in basement to pay for kid's college are comic gold on their own and there is no need to actually come up with some fresh jokes. Hopefully, Amy Poehler can bring some laughs to elevate it, because she is the one with the more recent critical hit.

I Have Some Questions for 'Sandy Wexler'

The new Sandy Wexler trailer leaves me with some questions. How long will it take before I want to hit the mute button thanks to Adam Sandler doing his "funny voice"? How thankful am I that it being a Netflix movie means that I have that option? But then how much am I crushed realizing as a reviewer of the movie, I am expected to hear the dialogue? If this is set in 1994, why are we getting comments from less than hot 1994 commodities like Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, and Judd Apatow? Is the flat top haircut going to be the height of 1990 nostalgia humour? Will all 1990s mood setting be such obvious caricatures? Why did I have any optism for this movie? Will Jennifer Hudson get to do a full length original musical number? Will this graceful and beautiful woman actually add some class and quality to this movie? When Netflix made this deal with Sandler was there any notion that they would be getting funny movies?

All that said, I really hope that I am shocked and this becomes Sandler's best movie since 50 First Dates, because that movie is becoming more and more distant memory.

A 'Colossal' Return to the Star Powered B-Movie

I lamented on The Breakdown that the rise of studios putting out less movies in exchange for releasing a few big budget spectacles has meant the fall of the big studio B-movie. Last year we got the wonderful Blake Lively vs. a shark movie in The Shallows, but those odd ball and not quite mainstream friendly premises are becoming rarer. So, I am absolutely over the moon that this year we will be getting a movie that if it came out in the 1980s would have been released by either New Line or Cannon with glee in Colossal. It is a story about a down-on-her-luck slacker type who returns home because she has no money and to make matters worse, suddenly realizes she has a psychic connection with a giant kaiju that is destroying Seoul, South Korea. This premise is absolutely ridiculous, which is what makes it now one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The even great part is that is has some star power in Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, and Dan Stevens, and Hathaway is gloriously playing way against type as an alcoholic slacker. The marketing team deserves some praise too, as this movie has already been screened at a few festivals and the word is this trailer shows exactly what the movie is about but leaves out some significant plot and story details. I am guessing this is monster mashing with some dramatic heft, but I am happy someone realizes surprises are nice. Voltage Pictures isn't really a huge studio, but this one has enough star power that it may get decent theatrical distribution (Don Jon made it to Brantford in 2013) or should at least find its way on Netflix before year end.

Folksy Canadian Charm with Star Power

I remember as a kid if there was ever a low-budget movie with sub-par performances by unknown actors that my dad would mutter "must be Canadian" and then turn the channel. That kind of reputation for Canadian movies had stuck in the back of my mind for years and years until I saw movies like The Sweet Hereafter, Videodrome, Leolo, Black Christmas, Scanners, Black Robe, Ginger Snaps, Eastern Promises, Room, Meatballs, and The Grand Seduction. And no, I didn't just list every decent Canadian movie; despite those 1980s utterances, the list is long and proud. The above list shows that Canada has produced a pretty diverse slate of movies through the years and some of those are held up as classics.

Despite the fact that I know Eastern Promises boasted a Naomi Watts or Room has a Best Picture nomination, I still got a shiver down my spine from surprise and joy when I discovered a biopic of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis was going to star big heavyweights like Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Of course, both actors don't shy away from small independent fare and this will likely not be a huge deal even in Canada, but I have a small patriotic thrill to see a very Canadian figure get some star treatment.

If the biopic train needs to keep on chugging, I'm glad we're getting a movie with a folksy, small town vibe that is more about intimacy than life-changing genius with the feature Maudie. Maud Lewis was one of Canada's most popular folk artists with her depictions of outdoor scenes from her small town in Nova Scotia. This looks to have a nice and quiet charm, and with it being a Canadian production, it might even make its way near me before the year is out.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Remembering Stuart McLean: A Great Canadian Storyteller and Observer of Family Life

Stuart McLean was one of the great Canadian storytellers. The Vinyl Cafe was a one hour variety show on CBC Radio but I think most associate it with the short stories about his fictional characters Dave and Morley that McLean would read about each week. We actually have at least one of his short story anthology books that are a collection of those radio stories, and even though they aren't target towards kids, I've used as a bed time story for Everett in the past. There is a folksy warmth about the tales that made perfect for a young child to curl up in bed and be provided some comfort before drifting to sleep. McLean told stories that could resonate with a lot of people and felt like peeks into the average Canadian family. The stories were brimming with humour but also had a tenderness and a sincerity. They were close inspections and observations on what it was to be a North American (and especially Canadian) family.

A great writer and storyteller is one that has their ear to the ground and their eyes grasping every details. They examine and gobble up every conversation and daily action. They are intertwined with the heartbeats of society and have an intimacy with strangers. A writer looks at the mundane tasks of washing the dishes or taking the dog out for a walk and sees an inspirational, humorous, thought-provoking and valuable story. A storyteller knows everything can be entertaining or has some deeper message to share. This was what made McLean such an enduring storyteller that had captivated many about his tales of a fictional couple since 1994.

His stories were so authentic and astute, that for a while I had believe they were non-fiction. I am sure like every great storyteller, he has incorporate elements and experiences from his own life and those who he knew. A great storyteller is so connected to the world around them that they can turn their stories into something that is living and breathing and real. McLean was a humorist and an entertainer, but he also revealed the truths of everyday life.

My condolences to his friends and family, and my thank you for the many stories and inspiration he provided over the years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

'Dean' Trailer Shows Demetris Martin Going an Atypical Route for His First Starring Feature

I heard about Demetris Martin for a long time before ever seeing him. My brother-in-law made it a priority for most family-gatherings to let me know that Martin was his favourite comedian and he would then rattle off a few jokes to prove his point. I finally did get around to seeing his Netflix special, Demetris Martin: Live (which I have a sneaking suspicion was not when I got around to seeing it). His style is unique compared to many modern stand-up comedians, who usually tell stories and build up to the big punchline, because Martin instead just rattles off a series of one or two line jokes that are often funny observations on social and human behaviour. The fact he does it with a low level of enthusiasm and seems almost dead serious in his delivery makes it all the more funny.

Dean is Martin's first feature where he is the star, and it is interesting that he going for less non-stop laughfest and more of a dramedy. It is about an illustrator that is trying to cope with the loss of his mother and repair a fractured relationship with his father. The trailer definitely has some funny moments but it is coated with melancholy. The fact Martin also directed and wrote this feature shows he is passionate about the material and doesn't want his emergence on the big screen to be the typical comedian route. This is an independent comedy through and through, so it won't be any kind of box office monster like a Ride Along or Identity Thief, but it may earn him some critical credibility. He is also backed by pretty strong cast with Gillian Jacobs, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen.

This has potential to be a sleeper hit, and even if it doesn't reach its potential, Martin deserves respect for trying to make a comedy that actually has something to say and dares to mix in some drama and tears.

Might as Well Just Complete the Trilogy

Jemaine Clement is best known as one of the stars in the cult musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords and a decent selection of independent comedies after that. I actually wasn't as aware that he also has a pretty solid resume for voice work in children's features that include Rio, The BFG, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Despicable Me. His voice is most popular among the Spicer clan as the golden-backed crab, Tamatoa in Moana. Both Danika and Everett like to spend a few minutes a day pretending to be the giant crab and singing how shiny they are. For a one scene character, Tamatoa is one of the most memorable and lot of that is thanks to the humor and charm of Clement.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Shouldn't Need Valentine's Day But. . .

I should and I wish I could say that I let my wife, Emily, know that I love her every day. I think, I say, "I love you" almost every day and that is a fine start, but it isn't the same as letting her know that I absolutely adore and love her every single day. After almost nine years of marriage, I would still consider her the most beautiful, intoxicating, and interesting person that I know, and the person that I strive to be my best friend every single day. Kids kind of complicate things and my own mental quirks and insecurities complicate it even more, but I can say with great confidence that the best things in my life are due to Emily. Of all the things that I hope to achieve and accomplish this year, the two greatest successes will be to continue to raise my children to be amazing little people and to ensure my wife knows that I appreciate and love everything she has done.

I love you, Emily. I vow to try my hardest to prove that every single day for the rest of my life, even on those days that my tendency leans towards self-involved idiot, I still will be loving you. I am flawed and awkward and foolish and sometimes a little smelly, but I am a blessed man to have been in a relationship with you for over a decade. Thank you for our marriage, family, and friendship. I can't wait to see what comes next.

No Reason to Thank Me for Posting the Catchy "You're Welcome"

Disney had an amazing 2016, but I think one of their biggest achievements was the critical and box office success of Moana. Along with Zootopia, it showed a much more progressive Disney, but it was also able to keep many of the elements that worked in the past like a beautiful princess and catchy musical numbers. Disney did a great job returning to the animated musical and its soundtrack is one that won't stop bouncing in my head. I already declared my love for "How Far I'll Go", but I think the Dwayne Johnson sung "You're Welcome" has even more bounce, energy and charm. It's a classic Disney song that perfectly highlights and showcases the personality of Maui. It also shows that Dwayne Johnson is multi talented and can sing a dandy of a tune.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Your Story Idea Sucks

There is that moment for every writer where their pristine and golden idea becomes reality on paper or screen, and the once thought to be majestic treasure chest is revealed to be a plastic bag of the dog's business tied to a ceiling fan on the highest speed setting. Realizing the first draft is splattered pet feces is a flaming bowling ball to the gut that every writer experiences. In the head of the writer, the story is majestic and magical and destined to be a massive best seller that every movie studio will want the rights. Then the writer types out that idea and forms it into a story and the smell of decay seeps out. It sucks. It always sucks. Every single respected and successful writer tells you and promises you that the first draft of that masterpiece is roadkill on a golden platter rather than a lobster feast. Whatever greatness is in your head will never turn out exactly that way once you start to write it. It is something that I've read countless times and didn't start to believe until my own "epics" were given life and halfway through I wanted run them over with the lawn mower.

What I am learning and what those successful writers figured out, is that what you end up writing will never equal what you have in your head. But if you persevere and remember a manuscript goes through several drafts, you can shape that story into something special. It may even exceed whatever you had hoped when that idea first popped in your head. A writer learns that creating a story is a journey and the path always takes you somewhere unexpected. You just need to trust that journey and be willing to suffer through those haunted woods and blizzard covered mountains.

The first step is to realize you do not a fully formed and billion dollar story in your head. You just have an idea. An idea that has lots of work before it ever becomes something readable. But you got to pack those bags and embrace that hard journey.

'Ghost in the Shell' Trailer is Heralding a Visually Stunning Year for Sci-Fi

2017 is promising to be a golden year for sci-fi with a diverse slate of movies like Life, War of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Alien: Covenant, God Project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Blade Runner 2049. One sci-fi actioner that has the anime and manga fan's salivating is the Scarlett Johansson starring Ghost in the Shell. Director Rupert Sanders and his special effects team have crafted a visually stunning world that stirs up memories of the scale and gorgeous style of the original Blade Runner. The themes, stories, and styles are snatched and reconfigured from sci-fi favourites Total Recall, Moon, Matrix, and Minority Report where she is seeking her identity, discovering she may not be who she was led to believe, and forced to rise up against the malevolent corporation. Most of the elements are pretty typical and common sci-fi, but the key will be how the movie weaves all those story elements into its visuals and action sequences. Everything in the trailer looks spectacular, and the hope is it channels some John Wick with fully choreographed action sequences that have substance and can be easily soaked up rather than ripped to shreds by caffeinated editing.

The Breakdown of 'The LEGO Batman Movie', 'John Wick: Chapter Two', 'Lion', 'David Brent: Life on the Road' and 'Journey to Greenland'

This week on the Breakdown we review five movies, including two hotly anticipated sequels in the animated adventure, The LEGO Batman Movie, and the throwback to old school action, John Wick: Chapter Two. I also went with Everett to see the LEGO movie, so I recount some of the fun of seeing it with a very excited five year old. We also discuss a Best Picture nominee in the based on a true story, Lion. Scott and I have been huge fans of the original The Office, so we discuss if David Brent: Life on the Road lives up to our anticipation to the return of that world. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word to other movie lovers.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Breakdown Outline:

The LEGO Batman Movie 1:20
David Brent: Life on the Road 21:23
John Wick: Chapter 2 36:40
Journey to Greenland 58:36
Lion 1:11:34
Review Rundown 1:30:50

Review Rundown:

The LEGO Batman Movie *** (CS)
David Brent: Life on the Road ** (CS & SM)
John Wick: Chapter 2 *** (CS)
Journey to Greenland *** (CS) & ***½ (SM)
Lion *** (CS)

Technology Strikes Again in Delaying Breakdown

The Breakdown was recorded and formatted and ready for uploading last night. The site I use to host the podcast, Internet Archive, decided to do its ocassional reminder that you get what you pay for with a free service. The podcast missed my preferred 5:30 am posting and right now, it is up to the Archive stopping its temper tantrum and release my files from its dark grasp. I've had several issues with the site since using it from the start of the Breakdown, but at this stage, free still means more than the majority of those issues. If it ends up being another of those don't get it posted until Tuesday morning weeks, it may be worth shopping around again. My time definitely has some value, but it is hard to justify paying for a podcast host site when the Breakdown currently isn't putting any money back in the pocket. I hope the Breakdown will be up shortly but it is right now all up to the tempermental but free hosting site.