Monday, August 24, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Episode 105 Podcast: 'American Ultra' Slacks in Originality but Burns it Up with the Leads

This week Scoot and I review the pot-smoking slacker turns Jason Bourne comedic actioner, American Ultra. Since it is the time of the year where studios dump their cinematic debris, we decided to open the vault for our second review with the original Sinister. From there we discuss topics like the future for Josh Trank, what will be the next big adult drama trend, and if film writers spend too much time on big blockbusters.

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

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 2:06 Intro
2:07 - 12:08 Everett's first adventure at Canada's Wonderland
12:09 - 21:13American Ultra review
21:14 - 32:50 Sinister (2012) review
32:51 - 41:13 Box Office Game Final Scores
41:14 - 54:02 Can Josh Trank's career recover?
54:03 - 1:00:19 Wanting diversity in blockbusters when independents are delivering
1:00:20 - 1:12:13 Predicting next trend in prestige pictures
1:12:14 - 1:15:34 Carol trailer
1:15:35 - 1:17:05 Victor Frankenstein trailer
1:17:06 - 1:21:33 The Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse trailer
1:21:34 - Review Rundown & Conclusion

Star Ratings:

American Ultra (2015) **½ (CS & SM)
Sinister (2012) *** (CS) & **½ (SM)

Monday, August 17, 2015

'Carol' Trailer Reveals a Major Multiple Oscars Contender

The LGBT community has been a central part of the news this year with Caitlyn Jenner and the huge Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage. Even though almost every movie released this year would have had to start filming long before those events, independent pictures like Jenny's Wedding, About Ray, and Stonewall are likely garnering more attention. If they prove to have box office success then it'll likely be the new adult-centric drama subject of choice for the next few years (along with pictures about rap groups).

I'm also pretty sure that this will be a "social issue" year at the Oscars with movies like The Danish Girl and Carol marked as heavy favourites to garner nominations and potential Best Picture shots. Carol has already screened at the Cannes Film Festival where it came out with a substantial amount of positive buzz and most Oscar pundits are betting it is a top thoroughbred in the race. It should be no surprise that both Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are also both considered sure things for actor nominations.

The political game is already being played as apparently the picture is actually about Mara's working class character and her budding romance with the married socialite, Carol. Since Blanchett is the more established name and already has a Best Actress win to her credit, Mara is being pegged for the Supporting Actress spot. That type of game playing can be tedious and reminds me of the August Osage County situation where Julia Roberts was the obvious lead of the picture but was campaigned as supporting due to Meryl Streep considered the stronger play.

Outside of Oscar ridiculousness, director Todd Hayne's film adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt, looks gorgeous and atmospheric and really captures the feel of the big city 1950s. I like the understated feel of the romance but also presents shots that reveal longing and happiness and sorrow. It looks like an emotional roller coaster and the performances are sure to be stunners. Hopefully, this turns into a well a deserved break-out for Mara who along with Carey Mulligan (set to star in Suffragette along with Streep) will hopefully have a huge fall when it comes to recognition for their amazing talents.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 104 Podcast: 'Straight Outta Compton' and 'The Gift' Make it a Wild and Great Time at the Cinemas

This week Scott and I finally get to see one of our most anticipated movies of the year, Straight Outta Compton. From there we review a very different picture in the thriller, The Gift. We also discuss a whole slew of news including The Hateful Eight trailer, Sesame Street on HBO, and Colin Trevorrow directing Star Wars. As always if you love the show then please spread the word.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 05:13 Intro and Scott talks about being a jerk
05:14 - 25:26 Straight Outta Compton review
25:27 - 37:00 The Gift review
37:01 - 40:40 Blumhouse is the place for mid-budget high concept pictures that big studios ignore
40:41 - 49:51 Box Office Game Update
49:51 - 55:51 Hateful Eight trailer
55:51 - 1:04:27 The failure of Fantastic Four is proof we need the return of mid-budget star-vehicles
1:04:28 - 1:13:45 Losing top talent and unique voices to big blockbusters
1:13:46 - 1:18:16 Sesame Street goes HBO and what that means about the state of TV
1:18:17 - 1:26:14 Trumbo and Burnt trailers
1:26:15 - Review rundown and closing

Star Ratings:

Straight Outta Compton **** (CS & SM)
The Gift *** (CS) & **** (SM)

Friday, August 14, 2015

'Sesame Street' Will Be Brought to You by the Letters HBO

If you want evidence that the way media is consumed and the direction of television is drastically changing then THR revealing that Sesame Street is entering into a 5 year deal with HBO should be enough to sway the jury. HBO has long been heralded as the channel that caters to the culturally sophisticated viewer that demands niche entertainment that is above broadly appealing network shows. I assumed just like diamonds and Highlanders that Sesame Street would live forever on PBS and it was just one of those series that was invincible to measly things like finances and production costs.

I was wrong. Well, not entirely wrong as the series will remain on PBS in essentially rerun form, but starting this fall the first-run episodes of Sesame Street will air on the premium cable channel. I don't know what this means for Canada though, because when I've watched episodes with Everett it has mostly been on Netflix.

That is the kicker right there. Assholes like me that haven't been willing to watch it the traditional way and perpetuated the problem of the younger generations expecting the viewing to be on-demand or available on multiple platforms has set my son on the path most networks dread. The younger generations aren't down with adhering to TV schedules or having to put up to advertisements. In the case of Sesame Street it has meant that PBS hasn't been able to be the same revenue stream it was in the past since not as many kids are watching it on that channel anymore. Plus the market place has changed in a way that the licensing revenue stream that has fed Sesame Street hasn't been as lucrative. People aren't getting the DVDs when there is so much of the content in their streaming packages.

It is the same proliferation of streaming that hurt Sesame Street that also turned it into an enticing property for premium cable. Up to this point, the notion was that HBO was too prestigious for such lowly things like network television and for the most part has created its premium content in-house. Suddenly, 'free' and broad entertainment has become a sought-after entity by HBO. The reality is that right now Netflix and similar streaming services are the major competitor to HBO. This is an obvious reason why they launched HBO Go as a stand-alone streaming service.

One of the biggest hits on the other streaming networks is children's programming. Netflix has spent millions on original children's shows in the past few years and it has been some of their highest watched shows. If HBO wants to enter that game then it makes sense to bolster its chances of success by landing the biggest brand name in children's programming. The biggest victory is not only getting a series that will grow an audience by its massive broad appeal but also a show that maintains their reputation of delivering the highest quality shows. When it comes to shows geared to the youngsters, I can say that with confidence as a father who has done his time in the trenches of fare aimed at the preschoolers that Sesame Street is the golden goose.

This deal also answers the big question of why Cookie Monster and Elmo are plastered on all things kid related. Big Bird and friends need to fund those high production values somehow, and apparently, those products haven't been enough since they have been cut down to 18 episodes a season the past few years. HBO deal not only brings it up to 35 but likely will even see a uptake in visual quality and a chance to be a bit more experimental in the presentation (from a style and presentation stand-point -- I'm not expecting gritty reboots of The Count and Snuffleupagus).

I'm sure there are some that lament this breaks the myth of Sesame Street being non-profit as it is now on premium channel that demands you to pay to see its wares. I don't see how this is really all that different from Sesame Street adorned toilet seats or DVD specials. We've always needed to pay for some product with the iconic characters or had exclusive content that came with a price tag. Sesame Street is still for free on PBS, we'll just need to wait 9 more months if we want the new stuff, and I'd guess it will still be hanging out at places like Netflix as well (though that may change since HBO Go is going to stream the older library).

The biggest benefit with HBO helping to pay the bills, is it will likely open up opportunities for different programming with our favourite furry buddies who love the alphabet and numbers. There is already a Sesame Street Muppets spin-off in the works. What I really want to know is if the 30 year long wait is over, and we'll finally be getting Follow That Bird 2. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sports Clichés Fit in All Careers When it Comes to Movies as 'Burnt' Trailer Proves

The Bradley Cooper starring Burnt so far looks like a pretty formula sports picture where the star athlete has fame and riches but crashes then must recover to reclaim former glory by winning the big game. The sport this time is fine-dining cooking and the big game is achieving a Michelin star restaurant.

We've had two other movies about super talented chefs in the past year and both of those definitely followed typical formula. One movie was the warm and full of energy Chef that made you smell, taste and salivate over the food, which turned it into a delightful and delicious summer relief to the bigger summer blockbusters. Unfortunately, the other movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, was weighted down by its tropes and predictability that never allowed its characters to shine or its cooking to dazzle.

Going along the sports path, Southpaw is another picture stuffed with clichés and tropes that are firmly planted to the formula, but it has riveting performances and directing that made the fights have the sweat flung upon you and transport you right into the ring for crushing blows. You felt the sport and were instilled with the passion

Even if Burnt turns out as typical as it seems, it can work if it throws us into that kitchen and makes us feel the passion that Adam Jones has for cooking. We need to taste and crave the food and get intoxicated with the world of fine-dining. It has the stellar cast to make this movie work with Bradley Cooper on a roll for becoming and breathing his characters. He is supported by rising talent like Lily James, Alicia Vikander and Daniel Bruhl, along with some more established names that have brought the goods lately with Matthew Rhys (holds his own with Keri Russell in the terrific The Americans series), Helen Mirren, Uma Thurman, and Sienna Miller.

Bryan Cranston Gets Blackballed in His Run for an Oscar in 'Trumbo' Trailer

Bryan Cranston has come a long way since being a naive and goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle. He solidified himself as an acting heavyweight in television with the highly revered Breaking Bad, but he is yet to burn his mark on cinema. Trumbo is clearly Cranston's big grab for a Best Actor Oscar nod and the early buzz amongst the "experts" is he at least has a bullseye-like shot at a nomination. The movie itself is almost custom made for the Academy by nailing all the criteria by being a movie about Hollywood, a biopic, a period piece, doesn't look to delve too painfully deep, and offers a chance for Hollywood to make amends (give an award to a Dalton Trumbo biopic after blackballing him over 60 years ago). If it is even half decent then I'd put it as an easy frontrunner for most years but after the neglect of Selma last year that caused much backlash, I see this as a "social issue" year with stuff like Suffragette, Carol or The Danish Girl being monstrous challengers. This might be a situation where those pictures take all the actor trophies while Trumbo pulls off a Birdman.

This looks pretty light on its feet and seems to be aiming for a comedic drama vibe, which shouldn't be a shock since director Jay Roach's credits include stuff like The Campaign, Dinner for Schmucks, and the Austin Powers franchise. I trust Cranston to do the heavy lifting for the dramatic moments and hopefully, bring some nuance to Trumbo, From what I know, the screenwriter was a larger than life character so the broad performing with the scenes in public is authentic and the depth of the film will rely on how the behind-closed-doors moments are handled.

Too many biopics are super-serious and yearning to be about something while stringently following a formula. This has a breezy energy that feels little more eccentric and going its own way. It also is clearly aiming to sell itself as bubble-gum, commercial entertainment that is easy for the masses to chew for two plus hours. I'm hoping that there is some jagged bite or at least edgy satire hidden under fluffiness, considering it is a rather dark period in Hollywood's history. Even if it remains fluffy, it is packed with an incredible cast like John Goodman, Elle Fanning (set to have a hell of a fall), Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Alan Tudyk, and Louis C.K. This should be lots of fun and a subject I'm surprised hasn't been tackled until now.

'Ride Along 2' Trailer Let Kevin Hart and Ice Cube Do What They Do

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube have established and expected characters when it comes to their movie roles. Hart is a wild limb waving, motor-mouthed man-boy who talks toughs and is largely inept at standing up for himself. Cube scowls and kills with his stare. One's anticipation for Ride Along 2 relies on how much those acts still excite and elicit laughter. If you entered the groan phase, then it's best you move on. I know the original got critically blasted, but the guys seems to have a fun dynamic and buddy action comedies almost completely rely on the chemistry of the two leads. It may not measure up to the standards of The Heat or 21 Jump Street, but a few of the gags in the trailer got an almost chuckle out of me that would always play better on the big screen with a packed house ready to laugh. The "using the turning signal during a high speed chase" gag is pretty brilliant that also goes a long way to establishing how much Hart's character is out of his element as police officer. I'd definitely prefer 90 minutes of these guys riffing off each other than another tedious Vince Vaughn or Adam Sandler mainstream comedy.

'Life' Trailer Shows a Beautiful and Atmospheric Take on the Standard Biopic Formula

Biopics are the superhero movies of the Oscar movie season and actually, the population may even be denser. So, it is understandably hard to stand out if you're not hitched to a major studio or one of its independent labels. Despite that fact, I'm still shocked at the absolute lack of buzz over a movie depicting one of the most iconic American movie stars of all time, James Dean. Just because the awards prognosticators aren't betting on Anton Corbijn's Life being a major contender, doesn't mean that it won't be that or more importantly, that it won't be any good, because they're often is a sleeper that slips in. If this movie did have any awards' hopes or that the distributors had ample faith in its quality then it should be entered in some of the major festivals of the fall.

This looks pretty standard biopic formula along with the annoying trend of a character having to tell us how much of a genius the picture's subject is rather than trusting the story to show us that. The cast here is fantastic with Ben Kingsley as Warner Brothers' studio head Jack Warner, Joel Edgerton as renowned Times picture editor John G. Morris, Robert Pattinson as the photographer who 'discovered' Dean, and Dane Dehaan as the legend himself.

Pattinson has broken away from the Twilight shadow and really proven himself to be a diverse actor and one who wants to take on challenging roles (he was really good in last year's The Rover). Dehaan is destined for an Academy Award some day and has been able to comfortably jump from down-to-earth relatable roles to creepy sinister types. The cool and cocky type is a little different for him but he looks to be nailing it.

Corbijn directed A Most Wanted Man last year, which was not only a slickly paced thriller that drew out some amazing performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright, but had a distinct visual style that set the mood and tone of the picture. His movies ooze style and emotions due to the careful crafting of the visuals on the screen. This looks like another picture where the cinematography and scenery are going to enrich the storytelling. There are enough intriguing parts here to elevate past what may be a standard biopic script.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

'The Hateful Eight' Trailer Promises Glorious Modern Quentin Tarantino and Some Classic Old-School Storytelling

I'll admit that I was completely and fully and inexcusably wrong. For a little while, The Hateful Eight was secretly the Quentin Tarantino picture that I had the least interest to see. It also needs to be established that Tarantino stands alongside Richard Linklater and Martin Scorsese as directors whose name attached to a project is enough to get me salivating. When the script for this picture was leaked online and Tarantino originally made the decision to opt for a live table reading rather than film it, I gave a sigh of relief. I was sure it would be irreverent and daring and one of the best movies of the year, but I wasn't all that eager for him to return to the Old West so soon.

Two major things that has made Tarantino become a brand name that can sell his movies on his own name is that one he perfected the act of pop culture infused, self-referential, fourth-wall breaking dialogue that seamlessly fits into an engrossing story with real stakes (something many other filmmakers have atrociously failed at trying to duplicate), and the second is that he has been able to maintain his distinct style while entering into a variety of genres. Django Unchained was not only my favourite Tarantino picture (or at least in a three-way tie with Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction) but what I deemed as the best movie of 2012. It also was clearly a Western and I felt done expertly enough that Tarantino should have been ready to move on.

Based on the trailer, it looks like I shortchanged an extremely tantalizing and unique feature. This sort of looks like a Reservoir Dogs mixed with Agatha's Christie's And Then There Were None thrown into the Old West. I'm guessing the majority of the movie will be confined to a closed room with eight untrustworthy and unsavoury types trying to manipulate and figure each other out. Most likely, will end up with bloody carnage and one or two people walking away alive right before the end credits. Tarantino has the writing chops to make for a really riveting, tight thriller set in one location that allows the secrets of each character to unravel. It is almost like his attempt to perfect what he tried back with Reservoir Dogs but on a bigger budget and with more working parts.

Or I could totally be misreading the fact that everything seems to be taking place in a cabin. The cast is marvelous with the usual Tarantino troopers like Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth (who looks to be having a blast with his over-the-top character), and Michael Madsen (whose main source of work seems to be Tarantino). I'm little bummed Christoph Waltz seems to have parted for the short term. I'm hoping that hole gets filled by a stellar performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh who always deserves more attention. Of course, you have Kurt Russell and his mustache, which are both glorious in this setting.

This has now flown right to the top of my most anticipated list. Sorry, Tarantino for doubting you.


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Tale of Two Births

About a week ago, I wrote a column with designs on it being a weekly piece for a parenting publication. Unfortunately, things fell through and I'm now left with an article without a home. So, since it is rare to pitch a fully-written article of this type to magazines/sites, I've decided to post it here to justify the time I spent on it. Enjoy.


Back in November of 2011 on a long drive to somewhere that I’ve long since forgotten but am sure had to do with buying baby furniture or gear of some kind, I suddenly was hit with pain in my chest and panic over my whole body that I feared had to be a heart attack. Was it all going to end on the highway? After all those prenatal classes, meticulous crib shopping, and intricate baby car seat instructions, was I checking out before I’d even see my firstborn enter this world?  I turned over to my wife with fear oozing from my eyes and needing her to be heroic during this moment of crisis as I notified her of what I thought was happening. My always loving and compassionate wife responded, “You’ll be fine, it is probably heartburn. I told you to have the salad instead of the fries.”

Shortly after it was clear that I wasn’t having a heart attack, but I did have chest pain and discomfort for the rest of the weekend. I turned to a family doctor in hopes to get more compassion and better answers than “stop eating fries.” This time I did get a diagnosis and it was called “becoming a father.”

Even though I was thrilled about becoming a father, my body felt the best way to respond to the impending life change was to erupt like a volcano. Every feeling and emotion inside me was going bumper cars and wanting to burst out Alien style. It probably didn’t help that my feelings of inadequacies as a new father and burning pressures to provide through my freelance writing career were fueled by my ever helpful friends and relatives warning me to cherish my free time and sleep now, because it would all blow away with the dust when the baby arrives. I was prepping my life to be left in shamble from a cute and adorable wrecking ball.

To achieve that long sought after super parent status and be truly ready for the baby, I followed my wife, Emily, to every possible store that sold baby stuff, all the prenatal classes available in our city, and almost every midwife appointment. As well I read over any material to harness the super powers to handle dirty diapers and 3 am scream-a-thons, and checked over the list of necessary home-birth prep a thousand and one times to make sure we had the right number of blankets. Of course, all that prep didn’t stop the fact that my son, Everett, decided 10 days early was a good time to be born and the home water-birth was going to be far more difficult since I hadn’t put the pool together yet. Plus all the books and classes didn’t stop me from imitating a chicken with its head cut off when Emily went into labor, and all that apparent knowledge was even more useless when we ended up needing to go to the hospital for the delivery anyway (luckily, one of the few times my son Everett decided to be difficult).

Everett’s birth will always be one of the most spiritual and greatest days of my life as I got to hold my precious son for the first time. Despite all the elation and joy, it didn’t mean the panic and worry went anywhere. The first few weeks, I held my son as if any potential movement meant he would detonate. I checked his bassinet countless times to make sure he was still on his back or that all blankets were safely secure in another time zone to avoid suffocation. A turned on television and a flashing camera were evil spirits that needed to be exorcised and expelled to another dimension. So, basically what I'm saying is that I was a first time parent.

Then suddenly I realized something, all the horror stories and crumbling of lifestyle that was supposed to follow with the arrival of my bundle of joy didn’t come to reality. Emily and I have long stuck to the belief that Everett was our “jackpot” baby, a newborn that was far easier to look after then we expected based off ominous warnings. He fooled everyone into believing we were stellar parents.

It also meant that when we made the amazing discovery that we were having a second child that my internal response was now, “we did this once, how hard can it be a second time.” I sort of forgot the whole fact that the first time we had the power of double teaming and now we would be forced into a person-on-person defense.

The fears from before were largely pushed away with cockiness and apathy. What will we do for baby furniture? Meh, I think I found some discarded wood in a field near our house. Am I ready to change all those diapers again? I’m pretty sure the baby can just roll into it. Can I keep the baby safe? They bounce when they’re that young.

Okay fine, it wasn’t that extreme, but I think I ended up only making one midwife visit, never picked up a baby book, and started thinking about names right before the due date. Part of that was that much of my attention was focused on the newly turned three year old adventurer, but also the idea of something new and scary was replaced by fond memories of the first time.

Of course, that still didn’t stop me from running around like a headless chicken again when our second child decided early was the way to go. And there was one thing that I was concerned about and focused on a daily basis. I’d whisper into Emily’s belly and tell the growing baby that she had to be a girl. We already had a boy and if she wanted to ensure chances to be spoiled and lavished attention then female was the way to go.

My beautiful princess Danika Lynn Spicer turned out to be just as a good listener and proved there was no need to worry as her big brother, Everett.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 103: 'Shaun the Sheep Movie' Charms with Beautiful Animation and 'Faults' Unsettles Between the Laughs

This week Scott and I review two 2015 pictures that are very different from each other. First I look at Aardman Animation's latest feature, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and then we both review the independent comic drama, Faults. From there we discuss some of the biggest news items of the week including Ben Affleck seemingly being tied down by Batman, Sony announced movie slate for the next two years, a new Dungeon & Dragon feature planned, and the potential movie about Pez dispensers. As always if you love the show then please spread the word.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 6:09 Intro and pet shenanigans
6:10 - 12:30 Shaun the Sheep Movie review
12:31 - 26:00 Faults review
26:00 - 39:35 Box Office Game Update
39:36 - 48:10 Sony releases upcoming film slate for 2016 & 2017
48:35 - 52:22 Ben Affleck's Batman roles pushes back his other projects
52:23 - 55:37 Hollywood won't let male love interests be damsel in distress
55:38 -1:01:40 Ronda Rousey starring in her own biopic
1:01:41 - 1:04:58 Deadpool trailer
1:04:59 - 1:10:40 About Ray trailer
1:10:41 -1:13:32 Stonewall trailer
1:13:33 - 1:16:14 By the Sea trailer
1:16:15 - 1:21:59 Dungeon & Dragons going to be a Warner Brothers movie
1:22:00 - 1:25:27 Pez the movie is set to be a horribly real thing
1:25:28 - 1:26:10 Review rundown
1:26:11 - Closing and contact info

Star Ratings:

Shaun the Sheep Movie *** (CS)
Faults ***½ (CS & SM)

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Podcast Episode 102: 'Mission Impossible' Proves Tom Cruise is Unbelievable and We Honour Wrestling Legend 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper

Scott and I opted against taking a vacation but still felt some globe-trotting was in order as we review one of the last big summer blockbusters of 2015, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. From there we pay tribute to wrestling legends "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. We also discuss "guilty pleasures" and Ronda Rousey as a movie star.

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

Star Rating Rundown:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation **** (CS & SM)