Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Breakdown of 2016 Summer Movie Season Podcast


The moans of school returning are echoing through the halls, so it must mean it is the end of the summer. It is time for the Breakdown of the 2016 Summer Movie Season. It was a rough summer for the big budget studio tentpoles but a great one for mid-budget comedies, thrillers and horrors. We analyze the last four months to see what worked, what failed and what it all says about the future of big studio tentpoles. As well, in our news bite segment we discuss the controversy surrounding Nate Parker and his movie The Birth of a Nation. 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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' has the Feel and Beats of 'Whiplash'


La La Land feels exactly like the type of movie director/writer Damien Chazelle would helm. On the surface this musical about a jazz pianist (played Ryan Gosling) falling in love with an aspiring actress (played by Emma Stone) set in Los Angeles looks to be entirely different than his debut movie, Whiplash. Even though the dark movie about a talented drummer (played by Miles Teller) who allows his obsessions with greatness tear apart his life as he does everything to impress his abusive and harsh instructor (played by J.K. Simmons) was not a musical or a love story, you can see some commonality with that movie and this trailer. Every shot, plot progression, bit of dialogue, and editing felt like music and had the beats and poetry of a professional drummer. It was a non-tradition musical that didn't have people break out into song but had the flow, beats and groove of one extended song. La La Land is a love story and has bright scenes and moments of pure fantasy, but there looks to be a darkness and the theme of obsession is peaking out the seams. I expect a bounce and a sense of wonder, but it also will deliver an emotional punch. No matter what is the direction or themes, Chazelle is a filmmaker that has already earned the cred to make all his work worthy of anticipation, and Stone and Gosling are amazing talents that have also proven in the past to have a sizzling chemistry.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Moment You Thought Hollywood's Creative Bankruptcy Couldn't Be Worse, a 'Cops' Movie is Announced


I thought I was at the point where I could accept the fact that studios were going to adapt every single intellectual property into a movie. We live in a world where upcoming features will include an animated adventure based on emojis, an actioner based on a talking toy robot from the 1970s, a comedy inspired by the app where you slice fruit with your fingers, and a sci-fi adventure about building blocks. Yet somehow I still got floored today when Deadline reported that the director of Zombieland and Gangster Squad, Ruben Fleischer, has been signed on to helm "an edgy narrative feature with a buddy comedy bent on the order of a Lethal Weapon" adaptation of the FOX reality series, Cops. Yes, that show. The one about police officers driving around at night and arresting angry drunks who have blurry faces. A show that is best remembered for its theme song, "Bad Boys". A show that nobody except some dullard executive ever thought "now this is a movie franchise we can build an entire empire upon." Cops was a pretty awful show that existed because FOX had space to fill on Saturday nights and considering modern tension with police, may not exactly be the type of content hordes are ready to embrace. More importantly, there isn't really any original narrative from that show that would make for an enticing movie, especially since it is being pitched as a buddy cop flick (a subgenre that has been overdone for decades). Essentially they announced another Ride Along except with a horrible generic title and potentially a pretty cool theme song (I'd assume they realize the song is the only personality of the entire franchise). For the sake the long term health of the Boies/Schiller Film Group, I hope they at least have the brains know this needs the Blumhouse type budget. We better get prepared for an onslaught of action adaptations of TV shows that no one cares about since CHiPs, Baywatch. Power Rangers, Equalizer 2 and The Six Billion Dollar Man are all coming next year. What a time to be alive.

'Kidnap' Trailer is Catharsis for the Worried Parent


The first trailer for Kidnap dropped today, which means Relativity will actually release a movie this year as this one is scheduled for December 2. This seems to be avoiding the typical kidnapping drama formula where a mother sits panicked by the police bugged phone and a cop tries to trace the call to find the hidden baddie. Instead, this movie seems less interested in reality but rather be a visceral and cathartic experience for parents. Every parent deep down has a fear that they may not be strong enough to protect their child from the evils of the world. There is a hope pushing hard against that fear that if something horrible happens that they would be able to hang off the car of the kidnapper, be focused enough to avoid the dropped phone, and be brave enough to drive backwards on a highways. The coolest moment of the trailer that sent a chill down my spine was Halle Berry channeling a 1980s action star with the line, "You took the wrong kid." Right there epitomizes what a parent hopes they can spout if trouble ever came towards their child; it declares to the intruder that they are messing with the wrong family and nobody is going to harm their child. We are parent and hear us roar.


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The Breakdown of 'Kubo and the Two Strings', 'War Dogs', 'Ben-Hur', and 'Punk's Dead: SLC Punk 2'


Mid-August is supposed to be the time big studios unload their giant disasters but the Breakdown reviews some movies that are worth making the trek to cinemas (and a few disasters too). We review four 2016 releases this week including Laika Studio's latest animated feature, Kubo and the Two Strings and the 'based on a true story' dramatic comedy, War Dogs. As well, we review episode five of Stranger Things and look at the life and career of director Arthur Hiller. If you love the show then please spread the word to other movies fans looking for a fun movie review and discussion show.

Read my written War Dogs review here.

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.



Ratings Rundown:

Kubo and the Two Strings **** (CS) & ***½ (SM)
War Dogs *** (CS & SM)
Ben-Hur * (CS)
Punk's Dead: SLC Punk 2 ½* (CS) & * (SM)

Friday, August 19, 2016

'War Dogs' Review: A Fun Time with Very Unlikable Idiots


Four Star Rating: ***

Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Barry Livingston, Bradley Cooper
Director: Todd Phillips
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin
Source Material: Rolling Stone article "Arms and the Dudes" by Guy Lawson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, War
Rated: 14A (Canada)/R (US) - course language, violence, substance abuse, sexual references
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Run Time: 114 minutes

Many film critics were shocked last year when Adam McKay (who previously helmed the Anchorman movies, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys) brought the stylized, dramatic but still comedic The Big Short that explored the financial crisis of 2008 and how some guys got rich off it. Reviews compared its feel, style and tone to a Martin Scorsese motion picture and felt it proved McKay had the skills to make more than just broad comedies.

Todd Phillips (who gave us such comedies as The Hangover series, Road Trip, Old School and Starsky and Hutch) does an even better job of channelling the spirit and storytelling style of many Scorsese classics with his latest feature, War Dogs. The Big Short had a clear message and was out to show the evils of the big banking system, but War Dogs is much more similar to Scorsese movies like Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street by exploring shady individuals who get rich by illegal acts but eventually tumble hard but present it without any judgement or obvious message. The great Scorsese movies trust the audience to figure out what is right and wrong, and doesn't bog down the narrative with redemptive acts or a need for condemnation. War Dogs isn't at the caliber of the previously mentioned masterpieces but it is a bold, confident and entertaining movie that allows its leads to be reprehensible and doesn't waste time with an obvious critique on how the American government conducts its arm dealing business. It leaves us with unlikable idiots for two hours but keeps us gripped with its style, brashness and humour.

There is a tone and editing structure that is often imitated in dramatic and comedic "based on true stories" of a person who throws away his values for riches but then is floored by his own greed or incompetence. It usually kicks off with the protagonist already deep in the muck but then the action pauses for some witty narration by that same protagonist and then the rewind button is hit so we see how the character got to that downfall. War Dogs starts with Miles Teller's David Packouz being roughed up in a grey and decrepit street before having a gun pointed at his head, but he then narrates to us the type of gun it is and then we jump back a year to explain how it all led to this point. It is a standard formula the movie maintains to the end, but Phillips has a brisk pacing and a comedic timing that keeps the movie compelling even if it at times it feels like Scorsese-lite.

David starts out as an average nobody living his life like a schnook who does massage therapy for rich and lecherous old men and is stuck with half an apartment full of fine bedsheets that the penny-pinching retirement homes refuse to buy from him. He has the added pressure of his girlfriend Iz (played by Ana de Armas) announcing she is pregnant that puts the heat on trying make enough to support his growing family. He then reconnects with his high school best friend Efraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) when both are attending a funeral of a high school friend. David learns Efraim is making a lot of money with his company AEY Inc. that sells weapons to the U.S. military. David is uneasy about the business and is even an objector of the war in Iraq but the lure of money finds him working for his friend.

The story is a distorted and dark take of the American Dream where two way out of their league twenty years olds are able to land a huge 300 million dollar contract with the Pentagon and become wealthy businessmen in less than a year. David in an attempt to provide for his family almost destroys it by his constant lies and trying to cover up his actions like going to Iraq or hiding some of the money he makes. Both guys dig into the dark side of the business by dealing with Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) an arms dealer that can't work with the U.S. military due to being on a terrorist watch list. When they're stuck with ammunition that was from the Cold War and manufactured by China (a country that the US military can't buy from due to an embargo), the two friends go further down the path of illegal activity. Money is what drives them and almost every scene shows the erosion of their ethics and morals.

There will be viewers that have a difficult time with this material and feel like the corrupted dealings are being glorified and made to look exciting and alluring. It is a slick and superbly paced movie that shows colourful scenes in night clubs and lavish homes bought by questionable business. There is a fun and blood pumping scene of the two being chased by Iraqi militants that ends with the American military coming to the rescue and our leads cheering about their lives being saved. They encounter many obstacles and tough situations but use their underhanded tactics to get out of the situation. But at no point does it ever feel like Phillips is directing a story that approves of these actions nor is there that moment we're supposed to feel sympathy. These are reprehensible people doing horrible things and we aren't meant to want them to overcome. We are just meant to watch. We are to see the curtain pull back and observe how the government's obsession with the war allowed for things like this to happen. It exposes flaws in the system and reveals the dangerous side of striving for a view of success that means financial riches. It just does it with humour and flair that makes it a fun descent into corruption, deceit and lies.

The real stand out in this movie is Jonah Hill. Hill for years had a reputation as a foul mouthed sidekick in raunchy comedies, which led to some being surprised with his performances in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street. He has now nailed another Best Supporting Actor worthy showcase here. Efraim is the most enjoyable part of the movie despite being a detestable human being. He is the stereotypical ugly American who has a delusional self-entitlement that is both racist and misogynistic. He sees everyone as objects that he can play for his own gain. He spouts out politically incorrect language at every opportunity and is willing to fire a guy for questioning the meaning of his business initials. You never trust that he clearly cares about David and at no point seems to feel guilty about the actions he takes to become rich. He believes Brian De Palma's Scarface is a how-to-guide to success and even has the same giant landscape picture in his office that Tony Montana had. But you still get drawn to him and find yourself laughing at his antics and caring about what he does due to the massive charisma and charm oozing out of him. You believe that David could have been suckered in and you see how he was able to make these million dollar deals even though he has no credibility. Hill embodies this character and brings the energy to this entire picture.

Phillips still makes a comedy here just like all his past works. It is still full of popcorn munching fun and breezy dialogue full of wit. It also uses some raunchy comedy and foul language to set the tone of being an irreverent comedy. He proves to have grown as a filmmaker and pulled off the type of story that few could do successfully. Most would want to make it too didactic and drag it down with a clearer message. This is a bold picture that trusts its audience and handles challenging material while still feeling light, silly and fun. Phillips also uses set pieces and various shots to create atmosphere. The colours and backgrounds often convey the emotions of the scenes and can bring about dread like when things fall apart in Albania or a sense of adventure as they race down the road in Iraq.

War Dogs is a major achievement because it proves that following a formula doesn't mean a movie has to feel routine and tired. It is a riotous two hours in a summer that has mostly been filled with dull and predictable blockbusters. More importantly, it gets me excited about what Phillips has planned next as a director and if he will continue to tackle more challenging material.

One more thing before I wrap up here. This is based on a Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson called "Arms and the Dudes" but it is better to say it was inspired. The two leads are real people and they were 22 year old arms dealer, so that is factual. This has been heavily dramatized with more fiction than truth crammed into it. It is more real than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Fargo, but I still wouldn't use it as a source for your next college paper.

Monday, August 15, 2016

'Hidden Figures' the Latest Appealing to the Wanting to be Diverse Oscars


20th Century Fox has Hidden Figures slated to go wide on January 13th, 2017, but it would be a pretty big misstep if there isn't also a limited release in major markets during the last few weeks of December. Along with movies like Fences and Loving, this movie is set to capitalize on an Academy that is out to prove their recent initiative to diversify is a success and it won't be just a parade of whiteness come nomination time.  It has the material that would look good for a Best Picture nomination and at least three talented black women that could join Ruth Negga on the performance ballot. Taraji P. Henson gained a lot of recognition with her great performance on Empire and she not only looks really good in this but is playing an entirely different character while still maintaining the strength and confidence that makes for a positive figure in the black community. The trailer itself has that Oscar baity feel where it is more telling us about the genius than showing and going the typical underdog story route with Kevin Costner likely playing a doubter that then goes to bat for the woman like we saw in The Imitation Game. It deals with real issues but it all feels very safe. I hope there is a bit more bite and digging in this movie that allows for real issues and characters rather than the sanitized and feel-good vibe in this trailer. The cast is magnificent with stars like Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner continuing their comeback in supporting roles, and Octavia Spencer, and Henson are worthy leads. I like what I see from Janelle Monae. I hope the movie has the awareness that a story about African woman having to fight harder and be smarter to prove themselves in a white male world still has way too much relevance in 2016 even though this is set in the early '60s.

The Breakdown of 'Sausage Party', 'Pete's Dragon' and 'Tallulah'

We have a jam-packed Breakdown this week that includes reviews of three 2016 releases that include the raunchy animated comedy Sausage Party and the latest Disney animated family adventure Pete's Dragon. As well we continue the reviews of the Netflix series Stranger Things by discussing episode 4. From there we look at the latest craze of gender swapping roles for remakes and we also discuss the recently deceased Kenny Baker who is best known for playing R2-D2. Finally, I officially declare myself the winner fo the Summer Box Office Challenge game and I reveal the three movies Scott has to write a review. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word to help grow that audience so we can keep improving and expanding this show.

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.



Rating Rundown:

Sausage Party *** (CS & SM)
Pete's Dragon *** (CS)
Tallulah *** (CS) ***½  (SM)


Monday, August 08, 2016

Breakdown of 'The Suicide Squad', 'Tony Robbins: I'm Not Your Guru' and 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'


The Breakdown has three movie reviews this week including the latest big DC Comic picture in the villains turned heroes actioner, Suicide Squad. We're also continuing our review of Stranger Things with our review of episode 3. As well we look at the trend of big studios releasing a franchise movie every year and how that affects the filmmaker. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word through social media. We can grow and continue to put out great shows with the help of a supportive audience.

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.



Rating Rundown:

Suicide Squad ** (CS & SM)
Tony Robbins: I'm Not Your Guru **½ (CS & SM)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World *** (CS) & **½ (SM)

Box Office Challenge Game:

Christopher - Winner

1. Captain America: Civil War $181 790 000.00
2. X-Men: Apocalypse $65 000 000.00
3. Ghostbusters $46 0000 0000.00

4. Ice Age: Collision Course $21 000 000.00
5. Suicide Squad $135 105 000.00
6. Central Intelligence $35 535 250.00
7. BFG 
$19 584 969. 00
8. The Secret Life of Pets 
$103 170 000.00
9. Warcraft $24, 356, 000.00 
10. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates 
$16 600 000.00
Total: $648 141 219

Scott: 

1. Finding Dory $135 060 273.00
2. Star Trek Beyond $59 6000 000.00
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows $35 250 000.00
4. Alice in the Looking Glass $28 112 000.00
5. Independence Day: Resurgence $41, 600 000.00
6. The Conjuring 2 $40, 350, 000.00
7. Angry Birds $39 000 000.00
8. Jason Bourne $60 0000 000.00
9. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rises 
$21 790 000.00
10. The Purge: Election Day 
$30 870 000.00
Total: $492 032 273.00

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

There is No Grand Marvel and Rotten Tomatoes Conspiracy to Destroy DC Comic Movies


A new DC Comics movie is coming out this weekend, which of course means it is time again for a small subset of slobbering fans to sharpen their knives and go hunt for critics that dare to insinuate that their beloved treasure doesn't turn farts unto strawberries. The latest craze that really picked up during the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was the ridiculous conspiracy that Marvel was out to sabotage DC success by paying off critics to write negative reviews. Because as the Transformers franchise has proven that if critics don't like something then it automatically leads to the box office failure of a motion picture. The latest chapter in fan crazy took place this week as a petition has started to shut down Rotten Tomatoes due to the negative percentage given to DC movies because a low percentage means the site has an agenda to destroy DC Comics' cinematic universe so that only Marvel can rule the multiplexes.

It also proves that there is a load of people that don't have a clue how Rotten Tomatoes works. The site doesn't have an army of their own critics that get together and decide what grade they will bestow upon a movie. The percentage isn't even a grade being given to a movie. The site is a compilation of several reviews that then is either considered fresh (a recommendation) or rotten (not a recommendation). The famous score that causes backlash is the percentage of critics who are recommending the movie. It isn't saying how passionately they are recommending the movie when fresh or how much a critic is panning a movie when labelled rotten. It is a flawed a system, as is any form of movie rating. It doesn't take into account critics who saw a lot of positives or was mostly ambivalent but for the sake of a definitive answer leaned to a not recommendation. It is either fresh or rotten with no middle ground.

This is less a criticism of Rotten Tomatoes and more a problem with how people have decide to read the site. They look at the percentage and make their decision based on that. When the point should be to actually try reading some of those reviews and understand why it got a positive or negative score. This is the reason that for my first year of reviewing movies for Collective Publishing that I stayed away from star ratings, because I wanted readers to focus on what I had to say rather than a subjective rating. A star rating or percentage doesn't really tell you the true feelings the reviewer has of a movie.

Suicide Squad is swimming in the scummy territory of 36%, but before one looks to lop off heads or declare a grand conspiracy, one should read some reviews to see why the movie didn't work for that specific critic. That is the key, a movie didn't work for that specific critic.

We live in a rather annoying period where fans seems to forget movie criticism is subjective and yes, even their own love for a work is subjective. Criticism has never been about declaring the definitive value of a work, but rather has always been about starting a conversation. A good critic knows what they are about to write is nothing more than an opinion, but hopefully an opinion that is informed and can bring some new perspective and analysis into a work. A good movie review should be way more than just a "watch it": or "don't watch it" but rather be an entertaining companion piece to the movie. Actually, the whole recommendation part should be secondary to the inspection and discussion of the movie.

But the fans out for the heads of the critics and want to see the destruction of an entire site, aren't really interested in real criticism or reading about different views on the same movie. They want a universal view that also just so happens to be the same as their own. They want reviews to be a reaffirmation of their opinion and a giant pat on the back for being so smart for liking movies that have the power to cure cancer and make Skittles out of thin air. It is the epitome of insecurity and leads to this obnoxious and toxic backlash against talented writers from mouth-breathing trolls better suited to just play with their superhero dolls in their grandma's basement.

Even some less Neanderthalic fans seem deluded into thinking that critics are out to get DC, which is also just as ridiculous. I talked to one fan of Batman v. Superman who explained to me that critics don't understand DC and want it to be just like Marvel movies. Critics are bashing it because DC movies aren't light and cheery and colourful.

I guess like that light, and cheery and colourful Marvel movie with the 94% known as The Dark Knight. Or its just as happy-go-lucky follow-up The Dark Knight Rises that landed a 87%. If only DC got the high scores like those Marvel classics Batman Begins (84%), 1978's Superman (93%), Superman II (89%), 1989's Batman (72%), Batman Returns (80%). Superman Returns (76%), and Watchmen (65%).  .

The counter argument is the great DC hatred didn't happen until 2013 when Man of Steel scored a 55%. Then Marvel's plan to get all critics to destroy DC really took off this year with 27% for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and current rotten score for Suicide Squad (as I write this sitting at 36% and dropping).

I have a little different theory for why the recent DC movies have had a low score. It is a little wacky, but here it is. The movies just weren't that good. Sure they had their fans and those fans are allowed to snuggle and caress their movies all they want, but speaking as a guy who collected both Superman and Batman comics in my teens, I didn't enjoy Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (I can't speak into Suicide Squad until I see it Thursday night). It isn't because they were too dark or gritty because I loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and enjoyed most of The Dark Knight Rises. My problem was it was all drab and serious in presentation, but then had ridiculous over-the-top actions sequences and some goofball performances causing it to be a tonal mess. If you're going to wipe out half a city without flinching then you should at least be aware enough that you're peddling a bit of camp. Maybe a blockbuster doesn't have to be fun, but there should be some level of enjoyment in the experience or an attempt at saying something profound.

I get it, that there are people that did enjoy those movies and they have their strong defenders. I respect that as long as they don't spend their entire week attacking critics and not grasping the concept of differing opinions. And this isn't a movie goer versus critic thing either. I was so kindly told back in March that I was just a wannabe film critic and my negative review was some warped initiation into the secret club of movie reviewers where we spend all day harshing the DC fun buzz. But the social media attack that critics are clueless and all real fans loved Batman v. Superman then stopped when the second weekend had a 70% drop in domestic grosses. Obviously, word of mouth wasn't all gold plated kitten and fuzzy Ferraris.

The last few months point to DC Comics being aware of their quality issues. Suicide Squad went into extensive reshoots after March. The writing teams were shaken up and corporate structures underwent some reshuffling in an attempt to refocus directions. The first Justice League trailer felt a lot more like Marvel's Avengers than the last two Zack Snyder movies with its infusion of humour and witty characters. And I hope their attempts at going in a different direction and their rewrites and reshoots lead to much better movies. I am rooting for DC. After this summer, I want more entertaining and creative blockbusters.  I know they can do it. But I am also ready to write negative reviews if they miss the mark just like every other unbiased critic.