Tuesday, March 28, 2017

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Trailer Loses Some Coming of Age Charm for the Sake of Spectacle

The first Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer had a very John Hughes teen angst drama with super powers vibe. It established the winds of change were upon us as it blew far away from the marketing campaign disguised as a movie that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Plus it showed Marvel telling a very different story from their typical. Or at least, it teased us with the chance we were getting a more character-driven movie. Because now we got a trailer that seems to be saying, "Hey, don't be too afraid of that John Hughes stuff, because we're still delivering a big loud bang, boom, bash spectacle." I knew that the special effects laden climax was inevitable and there had to be big, giant action sequences, but the personality hinted in the first trailer has got shoved away by the special effects this time.

Though I still love Tom Holland in this role, and there are some hints at the character driven drama aspect. It seems to be trying to be a funnier and more energetic coming of age story mixed with the usual super hero formula. It also had lots of similarities to the past Spider-Man movies like Peter Parker questioning his ability to save those he loves and Peter learning about the responsibility he has with his new found powers.

The positive is he has a fun chemistry with Robert Downey Jr and there looks to be hints of a story that isn't just a retread of past Spider-Man movies. Plus Michael Keaton just may be one of the few interesting Marvel villains. He gets to play the villain that Sam Raimi wanted for Spider-Man 3 but was forced by studios to have Venom instead. It looks like Sony is finally willing to share some love for the Vulture.

From the Man Who Gave Us the "Pete's Dragon" Remake

A Ghost Story looks like one of the most drastically different follow-ups from a director that I've seen. Much kudos to David Lowery trying something quirky and unique right after a big family feature like Pete's Dragon. I really liked his ability to make a gentle and tender big summer movie last year, and I am very interested in seeing how he handles this movie. The story about a recently deceased husband returning to his wife as a white sheeted ghost is likely to be too odd to rake in the statuettes, but the festival praise and a stellar cast of Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck makes this a must see.

My One Summer Fear is Vanquished

In absolutely fantastic news that for most is absolutely pointless minutia, Sony has moved Edgar Wright's car chase action romance, Baby Driver from August 11 to June 28. This means it has got out of the month that studios tend to use as a dumping ground (much like January) with the idea that people are more interested in vacations and playing at the beach rather than being cooped up in a movie theatre. Actually, even though January has the reputation for being movie drudgery, I'd argue that after the first week of August you tend to be stuck with the bottom feeding mainstream fare of the year outside of a few family friendly gems (last year we got Kubo and the Two Strings and Pete's Dragon in the middle of August).

This relocation makes me think Sony actually has some faith in Baby Driver and will give it a solid marketing push. It also likely means that there are strong chances it will get a legitimate wide release. Wright's last two feature, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and World's End, were August releases and largely considered niche movies.

This likely means this may be the most broad-appealing of Wright's work or the studio just really has confidence in its quality. The action sequences we've seen look top notch and are stunt-driven rather than CGIed. It also has attitude and looks to be very funny.  Before this move. I had been saying this may be Wright's highest grossing movie, and now, that is exactly what Sony is expecting and there will be the work to grab an audience. Last year at the end of June, The Shallows proved to be a solid hit. It looks like that week is now being marked out as a good time to put out a smaller genre movie. Movies like The Shallows and Baby Driver can act as fun little palate cleansers to all the save the world special effect explosion fests that dominate the summer.

I am also personally excited by this move, because it is looking like my movie watching in August will be very minimal. Baby Driver was the one picture that I was really afraid that I will be missing out on its original release. Now, I can happily live with the fact that I will be able to see it. I can accept that I may not be able to have early reviews for August releases like The Emoji Movie, Annabelle 2, and The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. I am sure the blog and The Movie Breakdown will survive without their reviews. It also means that the only real potential bright spot I see in August now is possibly the small horror flick, Polaroid.

'Ferdinand' Trailer Sort Of Promotes Diversity

The animated realm has been the best place for promoting diversity in cinema. Last year you had the Japan set fantasy adventure Kubo and the Two Strings and the Polynesian sea-faring musical Moana. We will soon have two animated features based on traditions and folklore surrounding Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead with 2014's The Book of Life and Pixar's upcoming Coco. I think it speaks a lot to the open-mindedness and progressiveness of the younger generation that a lot of these movies were hits and that a "white" lead or "relatable" culture isn't needed to draw in a North American audience. It is something that studios can start learning about movies targeted to older audiences.

At the end of this year, we will actually have yet another Mexican set movie in Ferdinand, which is based on Munro Leaf's 1936 children's book, The Story of Ferdinand, about a bull that isn't interested in bullfights but would rather smell flowers. The first trailer of movie adaptation is really colourful and lively, and it seems to be trying to embrace elements of Mexican culture. Though I sort of wish they went with a Mexican voice actor rather than the very-not-Hispanic John Cena. But at least, this is one of the few times that I can see how the voice actor may appeal to the target audience and they will recognize the person.

This first trailer definitely looks pretty broad appealing and something more catered directly to children. I can also see my son finding out about this and begging to see the movie, so I mind as well stay optimistic about it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Life' and 'The Most Hated Woman in America'

The Breakdown offers up two new release reviews this week in the sci-fi alien thriller, Life and the Madalyn Murray O'Hair biopic, The Most Hated Woman in America. As well we discuss if Rotten Tomatoes is harming the film industry, and look at the recent "whitewashing" controversy over upcoming movies Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. As well we have plenty pf box office discussion for those that like the numbers talk. 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:

2:30 The Most Hated Woman in America review
19:05 Life review
34:40 Is Rotten Tomatoes the demise of movies?
47:11 Is there are a "whitification" problem in American remakes?
1:01:48 What made Beauty and the Beast, Get Out and Split "surprise" hits?
1:17:18 Box Analysis
1:27:28 Review Rundown

Movie Ratings:
The Most Hated Woman in America ** (CS & SM)
Life **½

Saturday, March 25, 2017

'Justice League' Trailer Doesn't Make My Hopes Soar

I'm not anti-DC Comics movies. Honest. One of my all-time favourite trilogies is Nolan's Dark Knight. I really enjoyed the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman flicks, and I have high praise for Tim Burton's Batman. And I so badly want to praise and love DC's offerings this years. I'm willing to just let Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad to be things of the past. Let this be a big fresh start with Wonder Woman and Justice League. But the big trailer for their super hero team-up extravaganza that Warner Brothers has been hyping all week, leaves me pretty flat and does little to get me excited for what is to come in November.

I still love Ben Affleck as Batman. I enjoyed him through the entire trailer and I love his deadpan delivery of his comebacks. There looks to be a pretty fun chemistry between him and the Flash. I like that the League aren't drinking buddies but the issues are handled in a more playful and comedic fashion. There are hints that this movie actually wants to be fun.

I also dig that Superman was left entirely out of the marketing this time. Every single movie goer knows he will be resurrecting and saving the day, but save that moment for the movie. Make us start to doubt that Superman is coming back to life (even though past marketing material spoiled it and well, they aren't doing this movie without Superman). I actually appreciate a trailer showing some restraint.

My biggest problem with this trailer is the visual aspects. What is Zack Snyder's obsession with this grey steely blue tinge that has to overwhelm the cinematography? There are a few scenes where actual colour sneaks through, but it is again a dark and grim appearance. It is a dated style and gives the movie a feeling of being sterile and cold. Where is the life and soul? Guardians of the Galaxy proved how a diverse colour palate can do much to increase the energy and feel of a movie.

The other thing is the special effects look like a work in progress. Cyborg is something from a Wii game and a few sequences are pretty clearly making heavy use of the blue screen. My criticism of this franchise has never been the special effects, so this must be an issue of unfinished scenes that needed to be rushed out for advertisement purposes. The special effects are not a deal breaker as there are still several months left for post-production work.

The big key for this to be the critical hit that Warner Brother's needs is Zack Snyder surprising us by not resorting to exploding everything without a story purpose. And making sure that story is intriguing, and more importantly, having some interesting characters in believable relationships. This is the kind of stuff they don't tend to show off in trailers, so we will have to wait until the big release day for that answer.

I can say that this trailer did get a smirk from me when Barry Allen asked Bruce Wayne what was his super power and the response was he was rich.

I Know, I am Not Supposed to be Excited About This

I may have surrender my "I Hate Remakes Club" membership, because even though I still stand by the belief most remakes are pointless or I'd just prefer an "original" movie that borrows liberally from a well-known property, I've been a fan or excited by quite a few lately. Disney has been rocking it with their live-action remakes with Beauty and the Beast being another great one. A while back, I got really excited to hear John Carpenter producing a new Halloween that is going to be helmed by David Gordon Green. Now, there is a potential director hire that has made me interested in a remake that I initially thought could only be an epic disaster, Robert Rodriguez is being target to be the man behind the Escape from New York remake.

He is probably the only director right now that I think has the passions and genre leanings to pull off a proper reimagining of Escape from New York. This is a guy who clearly grew up on a healthy diet of B-movie and schlock cinema. This is the man that gave us Planet Terror (from the Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino), Machete, Machete Kills, The Faculty, and From Dusk Till Dawn. Especially the Machete movies are heavily influenced and definite homages to 1970s low-budget schlockfests. 

If you look at the filmography of John Carpenter (the man who gave us Escape from New York), he has always been a high pedigreed and ultra-talent peddler of B-movie like stories that due to the top-notch directing and casting have never really been lumped into that category. Escape from New York is a classic because it rolls itself in cheese, never takes itself seriously, yet still delivers a fun action ride. Rodriguez is the director that I trust understands that the best.

If this is going to work then it needs to be a scaled back budget and a hard R-rating, and then the studios need to keep their hands off by trusting Rodriguez to run the whole show. Then the big deal is getting the proper casting, someone that has the charisma and charm of Kurt Russell from the early 1980s. Someone that has no fear of looking like as ass, can ham it to extreme levels, and wink at the camera without making it obvious that is what he is doing. Or she. This actually would be wonderfully awesome if Michelle Rodriguez type was giving the lead. I'm sure the bro-mans would cry and scream, but that is all they ever do no matter what happens anyway. The big kicker is that this needs to be director driven and it needs to channel classic B-movie roots.

That line actually made me think of The Shallows, which was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. While he would be another solid choice since he is great at pacing and building tension and not afraid to go over-the-top, but I don't think he is ready to delve as far into the ludicrous as Rodriguez has proven capable.

The other question is how close do you stick with the plot of the original? In the modern political climate, are we to believe if the president crashed on a prison island that anyone would hire a mercenary to rescue him? Or would people breathe a sigh of relief and move on with fixing the government. The president as the paragon of truth and virtue isn't really a thing, though in 1981, the public was just moving out of a decade where they had huge distrust of the government and authority as well. But we've never ever had a con artist and slobbering incompetent like Trump before.

Obviously, the president doesn't need to be a Trump type. Though a fun twist would be the president being a conniving egomaniac that is controlling the island and needs to be taken down. Maybe he is doing it to build some more complexes and towers, evilness for the sake of real states going his way. 

But the other issue is that New York today is not how people viewed New York in the early 1980s (and throughout the 1970s) It was considered crime-ridden and corrupted, and was the basis for pictures like Death Wish or Taxi Driver. The media helped create it into this terrifying place. A movie where Manhattan was turned into maximum security prison was believable, because it was what people assumed would have to happen eventually. But now New York is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and is considered a metropolitan wonderland. I haven't heard of anyone afraid of the city in years. It doesn't really dig into the current vibe and flow of the culture. Maybe Escape from Chicago would be more fitting based off how often it has been in the news. This by the way, comes from someone who love Chicago and holds the city up as one of my favourite places to visit.

John Carpenter remakes now seem to be the hot new thing with this one, Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China all being developed at this point. So, now it is time to predict what remake gets announced next: Christine, Starman, They Live or Dark Star?

Life Gets in the Way of 'Life'

The Spicer Compound got hit with the plague this week, with Everett standing as the lone survivor. It has meant for a symphony of hacking and some occasional gagging and plenty of garbage bins full of tissues. Despite the raging sickness, I was all set to watch the late screening of Life last night (no new release Thursday screenings this week) but as my foot was reaching out the open door, Danika exploded into a rage of tears and screams from her bedroom. As Emily was already down for the count, it was my duty to be the soother. The soothing took right into showtime and so here I am again with the movie to be reviewed remaining unwatched. If all goes well, will have a review up before noon tomorrow. As well, there should be a review up for The Most Hated Woman in America this weekend as well, as soon as I see it (been one of those weeks).

One Less Reason to Have a Netflix Subscription

Time to throw another log on the "movies suck now" fire stoked by pretentious and curmudgeon movie critics, because they have some damning evidence with Netflix doubling down with another four picture deal with Adam Sandler. Remember a time when Netflix originals were connected with the word "quality" and many believed Netflix was trying to push the envelope on high-quality and award-worthy entertainment. Movie fans were excited to see what Netflix would deliver on the movie front. The hope was we would get the thoughtful and complex movies that major studios have ignored for the sake of more tentpoles. Then we got stuff like Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over, and it became clear that Netflix was capable of producing stuff even worse than most of the lowest common denominator comedies in the multiplexes. 

The real kicker is that not only will the Sandler train keep on chugging, but it is happening because his last two awful movies were the highest watched Netflix original movies. Sure, Netflix gave us movies like Beasts of No Nation, Tallulah, and Burning Sands, but what the world really wants is jokes about the disabled, women or children being hit, and toilet humour that I stopped finding funny when I hit puberty. It is realities like this that make it hard to counter the argument that the mainstream audience like to gobble up toxic junk food entertainment rather than things that are hearty and nutritious.

Of course, who am I? I have seen both Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over, so I only exacerbated the problem. I will be watching Sandy Wexler and every other new Adam Sandler movie on Netflix. My defense is that I have only watched them for review purposes and for the reason The Breakdown podcast is devoted to reviewing every Netflix original movie (especially now that Scott is watching far less theatrical releases). When reviewing is one of your passions, you have to put up with the steaming garbage to get the cherished jewels.

Friday, March 24, 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' Review: Magic and Wonder for a New Generation

Four Star Rating: ***½

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Source Material: Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Beauty and the Beast (1991) movie
Cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler
Editor: Virginia Katz
Composer: Alan Menken
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rated: PG - violence, frightening scenes
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Run Time: 129 minutes

It is always risky trying to remake an iconic movie that is embedded into pop culture and a cherished jewel among countless people. It is even more dangerous when the movie is part of one's childhood where nostalgia is often seen as a sacred idol that cannot be touched or it is forever desecrated. This is why Disney's initiative to create live-action remakes of their many animated classics seemed like a misguided cash grab. But not only have most of them turned out very good, but they've worked well as respectful works of nostalgia balanced with fresh story reworkings. We ended up with movies like the excellent The Jungle Book that dazzles with ground-breaking special effect while adding in a much more progressive message about respect and acceptance; Maleficent dares to make the witch sympathetic and a powerful feminist hero; and Cinderella keeps much of the classic fairy tale intact but with a protagonist that is independent and proactive. Beauty and the Beast continues the streak of well-crafted and gorgeous Disney live-action remakes, even though it is the most faithful of the recent adaptations.

If you cherish the 1991 classic, you are going to know most of the story beats, and you'll be wrapped in a comfort blanket of nostalgia with many familiar characters, songs, and scenes. It is still a story of Belle yearning for more than her provincial life and the villagers thinking her strange for always having her nose in a book. Gaston still wants her hand in marriage, largely because he deems her the most beautiful thus the greatest catch. Belle does get away from the village but in a way she did not intend when she is forced to live her life in a castle with the Beast, but things turn out much more differently than they first appear.

Even though a fan will be able to bounce along with the story and even recite a few scenes verbatim, the movie does make some noteworthy changes from the 1991 classic. This time around Belle's father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned for taking a rose just like the in the original fairy tale, and this also helps make the Beast a bit more sympathetic early on as he has more justification. The Beast is also given a more thorough backstory that explains where some of his flaws came from and also shows why the servants were punished as well. On the backstory front, Belle's mom becomes a crucial figure to the narrative this time and you get the idea she defines much of Belle's personality even though she passed away when Belle was very young. Belle is also a much stronger  independent figure of feminisi, (though to be fair, she is one of the stronger-willed Disney princesses even before this version), as this time she is much more proactive in replacing her father and far more bold in standing up for herself -- Belle clearly decides her fate this time. We also get a few new songs including one sung by the Beast, and while this helps add some new flavour to the movie, it also probably ensures Disney a shot for a Best Original Song Oscar nomination. The movie cleans up a small plot holes from the original, explaining why the castle residents and the villagers don't seem to know about each other and thus creating a closer connection between the two. Though this final change along with the enchantress character are one of the more underdeveloped aspects of the movie and creates for some jarring moments at the climax.

One of the major things that really stands out is how well director Bill Condon and his special effects team capture the visual charm and magic of the animated original. I once believed the biggest advantage of an animated movie is the ability to create worlds and scenes that are impossible in reality, but Beauty and the Beast shows that cutting edge technology is defying that logic. The locations feel directly transported from a children's book or a fanciful dream, with the castle exuding a haunting and enchanting vibe while the village has a quaint but whimsical feel. There is a sense that they are both real but also from an alternate world where magic and wonder thrive. The team here is following the ground-breaking technology of Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book crew by proving CGI has gone to a level where it is a wrestling with wolves feat to discern what is a man-made construction and what has been done by team of special effect artists.

The inhabitants in the castle are even more astounding in their realism. The Beast has a wide range of facial expressions that convey his different emotions and internal battles. It is easy to relate to this Beast and understand why Belle is drawn to him, because you sense a true human under that fur and fangs. All the walking furniture and dishes look like real objects that just happen to be able to talk and walk. It is such a remarkable achievement that this exact movie  couldn't have even been made two years ago. There also has to be credit given to some great voice work with Dan Stevens creating a much more nuanced Beast this time, Ewan McGregor clearly having a ball as Lumiere, and Ian McKellan playing the great straight man as Cogsworth.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most gorgeous and meticulously constructed spectacles of the past several years. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler amplifies the special effects by shooting a crisp and captivating world with a vibrant colour palate. It is this top notch work that makes this one of the few movies where the 3D is more than an excuse to raise prices, but actually adds to the wonder and scope. Editor Virginia Katz also needs special mention as many of her edits and scene transitions help to tell the story and set the mood of the tale. Her professionally done cuts and edits raise the tension, and the big scenes have a sense of raised stakes. In a case of balancing between nostalgia and crafting something new, Alan Menken returns with not only the original score but also enchanting us with some fresh songs and instrumentals.

As much as I praise the amazing technical aspect, the real star of the production is Emma Watson who is magnetic and intoxicating as Belle who conveys a great inner strength but also creates a natural and authentic human being you care about. She has a grace and poise that makes it obvious how she became the centre of a love triangle between Beast and Gaston. You follow her through her emotional journey of despising the Beast to feeling empathy to being torn over the choices she faces, and like every great actor, you don't need expository dialogue to know what she is thinking, it is all in her facials and mannerisms. It is an award-worthy performance and a declaration she is one of the top notch performers in Hollywood. She brings a stronger and more invigorating Belle, and her work is enough to keep you engaged in a well-worn tale.

She also is given some top notch support. I already praised some of the voice work, but Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe all give voice work that creates distinct and relatable personalities. Kline makes for a very different Maurice who this time isn't a bumbling eccentric inventor but rather a thoughtful and kind-hearted craftsman, and he plays a much more significant roles in shaping Belle. Gaston is one of the great Disney villains, and I have often criticized Luke Evans in the past but this time he proves his talent. He completely embodies the cocky hunter and seems to be having a blast. He creates a much more sinister and manipulative villain while also providing some fun in his musical numbers and scenery chewing.

The message of Beauty and the Beast has always been about not allowing prejudice to get in the way of love and seeing people for more than their outside appearance. This time around they further that message by not only having a racially diverse cast, but having loving mixed couples in Lumiere with Plummette and Garderobe married to Cadenza. This is another example of Disney actively being one of the more progressive movie studios in the last few years, and based off their reputation from past decades, it is something they should be applauded (they've come a long way since the happy to be a slave days of Song of the South). If diversity is this paragraph's topic, then it is really important to bring up the recent controversy over Disney's first gay character as depicted by Josh Gad's Lefou. After seeing the movie, it is pretty clear that those who are frothing and bellowing and protesting did not actually see what they are complaining about. The handling of Lefou as gay is really subtle and in my screening, Gad was a fantastic crowd pleaser. I don't think most kids will even catch the disputed moment without being told, and I'm pretty confident even the most conservative viewer should not be offended by the portrayal. Disney and the marketing team just should not have said anything. Or you know, people need to stop crusading against things that they don't even know anything about.

While I was watching Beauty and the Beast during my packed screening, I could sense the children were transfixed by what was dancing on the screen. This is a gentle and uplifting story about love and friendship painted with a stroke of spectacle and majestic wonder. The story may be one the adults know well and the subplots are undercooked, but none of that stops the wonder flowing from the screen. Every child in that auditorium seemed captivated, and this will be one of those movies many will guard as a cherished treasure of their childhood. For many kids, this one is already a classic.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Probably Shouldn't Hold Our Breath for an "On Golden Pond" Remake Even if it Made More Money Than "Superman II" and "Clash of the Titans"

If you want any proof that what attracts people out to the movie theatres has drastically changed over the decades along with more evidence to add to The Breakdown discussion about the death of the box office star, then look at 1981 where On Golden Pond was the second highest grossing movie with a $119, 285, 432 (this is in 1981 dollars). For those that don't remember the smash hit, it is based on a play of the same name (both play and screenplay written by Ernest Thompson) about an elderly couple that goes on their yearly summer trip to their cottage and are confronted by their estranged daughter who needs to them to look after her boyfriend's son. Definitely not the type of story that would cause big studios to salivate today and the best hope for wide release would be Oscar season release from Focus Features or Fox Searchlight that gradually expands.

It was a pretty big deal in 1981 (where it got a limited run in December for Oscar consideration) and 1982 (where it would have hauled in the majority of its gross) due to its massive star power. Katharine Hepburn (plays Ethel Thayer) is movie royalty and is in the lead along with another movie legend Henry Fonda (plays Norman Thayer Jr) who was starring in his final theatrical feature. One of the big deals was Fonda would be sharing the screen with his big movie star daughter, Jane Fonda (who not only starred in the all-time camp classic Barbarella but in 1980 starred in the second highest grossing movie of the year, 9 to 5).

This drew in the masses because the general public cared about movie stars and was intrigued about real life father and daughter starring together. No matter what pairing you had today, a version of this movie wouldn't crack the top 20 and the producers would be doing cartwheels if it got 30 million domestic gross for its entire run.

The game has changed, to the point where there has never been talk of anyone wanting to remake this movie but movies from 1981 that made less are considered more appealing for being revisited such as The Cannonball Run, For Your Eyes Only (James Bond), Superman II, Clash of the Titans, Tarzan the Ape Man, Excalibur, The Great Muppet Caper, Endless Love, An American Werewolf in London, Halloween II, Escape from New York, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Final Conflict: Omen III, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and My Bloody Valentine.

One of the biggest changes is movies that are completely marketed on stars' name isn't enough for guaranteed box office like was largely the model for decades before. In 1981 movies were also largely considered entertainment for adults and appealing to them was where the big money lied, along with some occasional kiddie fare scattered through the calendar (this of course was changing with Raiders of the Lost Ark being the highest grossing of 1981, Empire Strikes Back on top in 1980 and Star Wars shocking the world by dominating the box office in 1977). Plays were much more well-known and popular in 1981 and so On Golden Pond even without star power would be far more recognizable than plays today (Fences was the 57th highest grossing movie last year).

I also think that the rise of Marvel and DC super hero extravaganzas and a general focus on special effects spectacles has made an entire groups of film goers to just throw up their hands and concede that their type of movies just aren't made anymore. The multiplexes have a reputation for catering to a certain demographic even if there are time where we have a Hidden Figures or La La Land (both that should be noted did above expectations). Plus those thoughtful and adult-driven stories are now plentiful on television and streaming services, which saves a trip and needing to buy over-priced popcorn.

One interesting question is that if studios backed and marketed a movie like On Golden Pond today like they would have in 1981, would it turn out to be a real box office contender? I also concede it is a pointless question because when there is a chance for another Fantastic Four reboot or a sequel to Transformers, they will only put minimal effort towards movies for the mature and thoughtful adult.

The Breakdown of 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Goon: Last of the Enforcers', 'Deidra & Laney Rob a Train' and 'Pandora'

The Breakdown has four reviews this week including Disney's latest live-action remake Beauty and the Beast. Then we look at the huge weekend success of Beauty and the Beast and analyze if a movie rating has anything to do with what makes a box office hit. 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:
1:08 Remembering Chuck Berry & Bernie Wrightson
5:35 Beauty and the Beast review
21:46 Deidra & Laney Rob a Train review
35:05 Goon: Last of the Enforcers review
47:33 Pandora review
1:02:04 Do movie ratings have any effect on box office?
1:12:52 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:
Beauty and the Beast ***½ (CS)
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train **½ (CS & SM)
Goon: Last of the Enforcers ** (CS)
Pandora *** (CS) & **½ (SM)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Even Some Professional Critics Don't Understand Rotten Tomatoes

A certain ornery film blogger and critic has recently devoted some time complaining that on Rotten Tomatoes Get Out is sitting at 99% and Baby Driver currently at 100% despite reviews mentioning some flaws in the movies. He is clinging to the theory there is some conspiracy in place to keep these movies percentages high when in his estimation they aren't near perfect movies. I won't be seeing Baby Driver until August, but he is right that the very good Get Out isn't a perfect movie. The problem with his whining is that the 99% doesn't even mean that the horror picture is neat perfect or that any critic is claiming as such. The Rotten Tomatoes percentage never has and never will represent the actual quality of a movie. All it is has ever meant is the score attributed to a movie is the percentage of critics that recommend the movie. All recommendation are rated the same, so a gushing high praise has the same value as a slight thumbs up.

This is why I have no problem with Kong: Skull Island's 79% despite the fact I only gave two and half stars out of four. The 79% doesn't mean it is one of the best mainstream movies of the year or that the site is claiming the movie is better than Split (currently at 76%). It isn't better than Split nor is Kong anywhere close to one of the beat mainstream movies of the year. It won't even be in the talks for being anywhere on the best of the mid-year lists. It is a grand special effects spectacle with some visual flair and fun monster throw downs, but is lacking in character and story. There are critic that had more fun with the creature feature aspect, so they recommended it. If they were to assign it a score, they would probably give it a mid to high 60s at best.

You can't ever look at the Rotten Tomatoes score and think it is an actual grade of a movie. It is just compiling all the trusted critics and letting you know how many recommended the movie. But it doesn't tell you if it was a half-hearted recommendation, and the expectation is still that if you really care what critics think than you actually read the reviews.

What baffles me is that a professional critic would get so hot and bothered over the percentages of movies that he probably didn't really love (or in the case of Baby Driver, assume he won't be praising because he isn't a huge Edgar Wright fan). His frothing and raving is no different than the DC and Marvel minions that go on witch hunts against all the critics that caused their beloved movies to have lower Rotten Tomatoes scores. Of course, Batman v. Superman totally deserves its 27%.

'The Beauty and the Beast' Review Will Be Late

The plan is always to catch the late night Thursday screenings, so I can get the review posted before the official opening night screening on Friday. This is harder to do when I lay down for a quick bit of rejuvenation and instead fall asleep. This now means I miss out on the joy of the smaller late night crowd and will likely now be watching it with a bunch of excited girls and boys dressed up in pretty blue or yellow dresses. I will likely just watch it in jeans and a sweater, because my pretty stuff is stuck at the cleaners. Hope to have the review up before Saturday makes its arrival. Until then, you can always go back and read my Kong: Skull Island review if you're hankering for my thoughts on features about large hairy beasts.

In other news, I am not down with Hollywood Reporters new trendy lay out. My old man eyes have a hard time finding all the breaking movie news. This likely says way more about me than the site's revamp.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Breakdown of' Kong: Skull Island' and 'Burning Sands'

This week The Breakdown has a review for one of the most anticipated movies of 2017 in the giant creature feature, Kong: Skull Island. Plus we have a review for the fraternity hazing drama in the latest Netflix original, Burning Sands. As well we have plenty of box office talk including if there are still movie stars whose names can draw out an audience and we also analyze what made Deadpool and Logan massive hits. One of the ways to help get a big return at the box office is to have a strong marketing campaign, so we discuss the viability of the movie short as a promotional tool that we've seen in both Deadpool 2 and Alien: Covenant. As always if you loved the show then please spread the word to other movie fans.

You can also check out my written review for Kong: Skull Island 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.

The Breakdown Outline:

01:52 Burning Sands review
19:19 Kong: Skull Island review
37:33 The death of the box office star
49:32 What can we learn from Deadpool and Logan?
59:40 The movie short as a marketing strategy
1:10:58 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:

Burning Sands *** (CS & SM)
Kong: Skull Island **½ (CS)

Friday, March 10, 2017

'Kong: Skull Island' Review: Lots of Awesome Ape; Very Little Good Story

Four Star Rating: **½

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins, John Goodman
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Story By: John Gatins
Source Material: King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Rated: 14A (Canada)/PG-13 (US) - violence, coarse language
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Run Time: 118 minutes

King Kong is one of the most iconic monsters in movie history. He first wowed audiences in the 1933 box office smash hit, and has gone on to beat his chest and smash all in his path in seven more movies (along with various comics, novels and cartoons). It was inevitable the gigantic ape would return to the big screen, especially in an era where studios are obsessed with spawning franchises based off recognizable characters and stories. This time Kong: Skull Island isn't a prequel or remake, but a completely different story about a monstrous ape that happens to the have the name Kong. He has that name because studio executives decided this movie would sell more tickets with the famous name rather than calling it The Island of the Monster Gorilla (though could Asylum please make that movie?). They also need the world's most famous ape to achieve the movies' major goal of connecting itself with Gareth Edwards' Godzilla to create a "giant monster cinematic universe", and the purpose is even more obvious with the post-credit scene that is designed to get people salivating for the eventual main event of the two titans clashing (along with a few other well-known big beasties).

There are some clear similarities between the two movies, including the idea man is messing with our environment, there are things in nature that are greater than man, and nature has its grand protectors to ensure its survival. Of course, the importance of caring for our environment and humans needing to show respect to the magnificence of our world has been a major theme in almost all big giant monster movies. But this movie only plays token service to it where it is just treated as an obligation that it quickly wants to get out of the way.

Kong: Skull Island is far more interested in being a big special effects spectacle with massive set pieces and big monster brawls. This would be the major difference between this movie and the Edwards' 2014 giant lizard flick. Godzilla is a slow-build to its eventual appearance and even then it is usually only a few seconds of screen time throughout. In this movie, we witness Kong's huge head in the prologue and then he is back in all his glory in less than 20 minutes, where he is smashing down helicopters and stomping on shocked soldiers. There is no doubt that Kong is the star of this movie and gets ample screen time.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a movie that will appeal to those itching for battles between Kong and giant monsters along with all sorts of carnage for the humans. Cinematographer Larry Fong captures a beautiful and exotic jungle that throws us right into the adventure. Vogt-Roberts and his special effects teams makes several spectacular looking giant beasts including an Eiffel Tower sized spider, enormous water-buffalo-like creatures, freaky-looking pterodactyls, and the real villains of the movie, humungous lizard atrocities known as Skullcrawlers (but you can call them whatever you like). Along with Kong, for the most they look like fully breathing creatures that we can touch and then be eaten by (there are a few scenes where some of the creatures clearly show they're CGI creations). You get cool looking scenes like Kong attacking and them slurping up a giant squid. The showdowns between Kong and Skullcrawlers are great popcorn spectacle. Vogt-Roberts channels the roots of B-Movies with several fun kills where poor humans get things like giant spider legs crammed down their throat or get torn apart by pterodactyls. If you came for the monster mayhem then this picture more than delivers.

The movie runs at one hour and fifty minutes, which is significantly shorter than Peter Jackson's excessive three hours and twenty minutes King Kong from 2005. Yet it is this shorter Kong that at times drags and comes off feeling a bit too long. This comes down to the screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly that may be crammed with cool monsters but lacks fully-fleshed out characters or any interesting story for them to be in. It seems they just hoped that if they stuffed the movie with a dozen human bodies that eventually they could stumble upon someone interesting.

Instead, we have characters who are largely defined by their profession and almost nothing else: Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad the tracker who is getting paid good money to take on this expedition, Brie Larson is anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (who has no purpose to this movie other than to have one tender moment with the big ape), John Goodman is Bill Randa the man who pushed for this expedition to prove monsters exist, Corey Hawkins gets points for playing against type as a geeky scientist (he is the star of the new 24: Legacy and was Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton) but he still lacks any depth, Tian Jing plays generic biologist San so that there is a star for the Asian market (she was also the not quite love interest in The Great Wall), Samuel L. Jackson has some actual layers as the Lieutenant Colonel Packard the squadron leader who has lost some meaning after the Vietnam War ends, and then several throwaway soldiers that mostly exist as fodder.

The one relatable character is also the movies expository dialogue giver and comic relief, in John C. Reilly's Hank Marlow a World War 2 fighter jet pilot that has been stranded on the island since 1944 (the movie is set in 1973). Reilly is having a blast with the role and brings the movie's laughs but also provides some of the humanity. Marlow has grown to have respect for the island, has a strong relationship with the island's tribe (a group that worships Kong as a god), but also misses the life he had almost 30 years ago. It is the lone emotional thrust of the story as a man conflicted with the leaving the family he has now because of the chance to see the family he once had. While no other character is given any kind of depth, I should mention that even though Larson's character really has no purpose that her incredible natural screen presence and her ability to nail a throwaway moment where she interacts with the natives, she still makes you care about her. She is a natural movie superstar, and it is a crime she wasn't given more to do.

The plot really isn't much, but it doesn't have to be. The crew is now stuck on the island because they angered Kong by dropping bombs and he showed is disapproval by swatting them like flies. They need to try to get to the rendezvous location so that they can get back home and prove to the world that monsters exist. There is also an anti-war message and Vogt-Roberts achieves this by creating images and using a classic rock soundtrack that reminds of memorable anti-Vietnam pictures like Apocalypse Now and Platoon (based off characters with names Marlow and Conrad, obvious some heavy Heart of Darkness influence).

There is also a pretty great scene where there is fire blazing in the jungle and Jackson's Packard has a hideous smirk as he has a stare down with Kong after the ape had just killed several of his men. He wants revenge on the ape, but in that moment, you also get the sense that the man who was just ordered to pull out of Vietnam now has a purpose again with his "Ahab chasing Moby Dick" like quest to kill the ape. Sure he really wants revenge, but he wants a war to drive him even more. That great image never really gets a proper follow-through, as the movie is less interested in exploring an anti-war allegory and more interested in having Kong rumble with the Skullcrawlers.

The action sequences prove that Vogt-Roberts, who was plucked from the indy scene with his coming of age movie The Kings of Summer, has the chops to provide the visual magic for the big budget extravaganzas. Though there are a few moments that leans a bit heavy on dated techniques like slo-mo action moments or heavy dollops of CGI when practical effects would have been better. Most of the style choices seem to be more because someone thought it would look cool or that it is what big budget movies do rather than it telling a story. That would be the biggest issue, there are thrills and awe here but it doesn't feel like it is ever really saying anything. This also seems to be a good time to mention that if you are going to see this movie that the 3D version follows the usual trend of adding absolutely nothing and it is better to save a few bucks if you have the option.

If you just want big monsters beating each other up, then this movie delivers and you'll be going home happy. As someone who was a child who gobbled up the classic monster movies (and not so classic), there were scenes where I was captivated and filled with joy. This is also yet another example of a big studio movie that lacks soul and heart, and is just a series of wonderful special effects and loud noise dancing on the screen. You may be entertained, but in the end it feels more like product than art. This is here to whet our appetite for the already scheduled King Kong vs. Godzilla, and there is something really annoying about that. You could spend money on a ticket for this, but there is also a strong chance that two truly director-driven and emotionally packed movies in Get Out and Logan are still playing near you, and so go see them first.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Dropping the Ball on Striking the Magic of 2017 Movies

At this time last year, I recommended five out of twelve movies that I had seen in the theatre. 2016 turned out to be the most disappointing year since I had started getting paid to review movies in 2012. This year I've seen thirteen movies at the theatre, and out of that number, I have so far given the thumbs up to 6. Based off comparing those numbers, 2017 looks to be mirroring 2016, which would give some reason for panic. Except it largely is accepted that the drudges of cinema seep into the big screen from the start of the year up until the Academy Awards, which means most years you should be expecting a 50% or even less hit rate at this time. The thing that really caused 2016 to take a hit was the bummer summer and a fall where some of the big anticipated flicks turned out to be disappointments, Though despite 2016 reputation, it is still important to note that it was the year that gave us great movies like Zootopia, La La Land, Arrival, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures, Deadpool, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book, and I could keep going with this list for a good bit.

I'm bit more optimistic for 2017 because March has some potential big hitters like Kong: Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast, and Life. The summer at least looks more ambitious with movies far above the cookie cutter formula like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Alien: Covenant, War of the Planet of the Apes, All Eyez on Me, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower, Atomic Blonde, and Baby Driver. There is some pretty tantalizing movies with top flight talent coming out of the big studios with fall fare (this doesn't include all the stuff that will come to light after the festivals) like It, American Made, Blade Runner 2049, Marshall, Snowman, God Particle, Red Sparrow, Coco, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Downsizing, and The Greatest Showman on Earth.

Despite all the early year wasteland talk that most critics like to spout, last year we had two classics in Deadpool that was a necessary injection into the super hero genre and Zootopia that was a colourful, energetic, and fun animated feature with more depth and layers than most live action movies. There isn't anything this year that I loved as much as those two movies, but I would say Logan, Get Out, and Split are masterfully crafted pictures that offered fresh takes on their particular genre. All three of those movies had intriguing characters in stories that had valuable things to say, and all three also had some incredible star-making performances (James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Daniel Kaluuya, Dafne Keen). All three of these movies are definitely worth more thorough investigations and there are many great articles on numerous sites.

I have discussed all three of the movies on The Breakdown, and I actually think, in the last few weeks Scott and I have recaptured our mojo. We've had some valuable and insightful conversation about all things movies. It has showed in our listenership that has seen a drastic spike this past month. I'm really proud that we're garnering a following, but the truth is, as much I love podcasting, it has always been designed to support my writing career. I admit my writing has hit a snag, especially with my reviews or in-depth movie analysis. With great shame, I have to admit that I have a small army of unfinished movie reviews scattered over the last year.

The problem has been I jump into the movie review writing shortly after seeing the movie and I usually hit a smooth groove. But then as happens with young children, an interruption comes and I'm pushed away from finishing the review. Then as the day rolls on I have work for clients and parenting duties to eat up the day, and next thing I know, there is this several paragraph piece that I no longer have any connection, and I convince myself it is now too late to finish.

I want to sink my tentacle back into pop culture and reveal the heartbeats of movies, What I need to do is shut out the dark voices and get over my obsession that a review must be posted hours after a movie's release, and just flow with the beats of the writing. At this point, just posting something is a victory and I need to trust the quality and the speed will poke its head around the corner.

I'm confident 2017 is going to still turn out to be a rocking year. My vow is write pieces on some of the great movies that have already been released. For the rest of the year, I'll aim to churn out reviews for all the new releases that I watch along with some deeper analysis of the big movies and events of the year.

Tuesday, March 07, 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 that I've seen with a ranking from the worst to the very best along with a sentence that best describes the viewing experience.

21. 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.

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. 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.

17. 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.

16. 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.

15. 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.

14. 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.

13. 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.

12. Girlfriend's Day **: The idea of greeting card writers being considered major celebrities is fun but the movie fails to do anything interesting with that concept and Bob Odenkirk's fun performance isn't enough to save the flat story.

11. 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.

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

9. Ballerina **½: The Canadian animated feature about two orphans that run away to Paris to realize their dreams has a lot of heart and is gorgeously animated especially during the dance sequences, but is bogged down by a very well-worn story of the lead finding a fallen superstar to train her to beat the rival along with many jokes that land with a thud.

8. 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.

7. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore ***: When the focus is on the odd relationship between Melanie Lynsky and Elijah Wood's characters then this quirky comedic thriller sizzles and it is also a solid first directorial effort from Macon Blair making him a filmmaker to watch.

6. Before I Fall ***: It is Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls, except this time it is dramatic, and despite material that we've seen before, the movie feels like an authentic exploration of the struggles of teenage life along with a star making performance by Zoey Deutch.

5. 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.

4. 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.

3. 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.

2. Get Out ***: Jordan Peele proves his diverse skill as the comedian makes an expertly paced and unsettling horror/thriller that is well-balance with social satire and some great laugh out loud moments; it also reveals the great performance skills of Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.

1. Logan ***½: It is more gritty Western in the vein of True Grit or Unforgiven than a traditional superhero flick; it earns its R-Rating by being dark and violent but also is tender and emotional especially with the terrific chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen (a surefire future Oscar winner).

Yes, I Know Everyone by Now Has Seen the 'Deadpool 2' Trailer Fifty Times But I'm Posting it Anyway

I mentioned in my riff on the Alien: Covenant teaser short, that small mini-movies that are done well are way more effective in generating excitement than a two minute and thirty second spoiler-filled trailer. The new (as in it came out after February at least) Deadpool 2 teaser nails my point exactly as it is irreverent, edgy, funny, and in-your-face enough to promise what made the first a massive hit is still going to be rocking in the sequel. You know exactly what to expect from the sequel by watching this teaser, and it is far more entertaining that what any trailer can offer. I am sure we will get thousands of trailers for this movie too, but I am perfectly happy with this being the lone piece of marketing that I encounter. It won't be, but I would have been happy if it could have been. This is also further proof that the Deadpool marketing time is way ahead on game, as I think the success of the initial campaign has a lot to do with the original being a box office titan the first time around.

This short played before Logan, unless you saw Logan on Thursday night, where apparently the fans eager enough to catch it a day before opening night aren't big enough fans to have been able to see it on the big screen. That is why we have the internet and thousands of web sites to post this video.

The Breakdown of 'Logan', 'Before I Fall' and 'Imperial Dreams'

The Breakdown has three big movie reviews this week including the gritty and dramatic take of the X-Men universe with Hugh Jackman's supposed final performance as Wolverine in Logan. You also may have heard there was a little awards show a week ago, and we discuss all the implication that last Sunday's Oscars will have on movies in the upcoming year. As always if you loved the show then please spread the word.

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:

1:02 Logan review
21:09 Imperial Dreams review
37:05 Before I Fall review
51:24 The major Oscar events and how they will shape movies going forward
73:58 Review Recap

Rating Rundown:

Logan ***½ (CS)
Imperial Dreams ***½ (CS) & *** (SM)
Before I Fall *** (CS)

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

2 Years

My kids refuse to stop growing up on me. On the positive side, they keep on getting more adorable and wonderful every day. But today I am especially thankful for my little princess, Danika, who is now two years old. It all seems to have gone by so fast, but at the same time, I can't imagine my life without her. Happy Birthday to my mischevious but very loving little girl.