Monday, 22 May 2017

Movie Money: Episode 17 (May 22, 2017)

This week at the box office was a myriad of almosts. Three newcomers graced the silver screen this week as 'Diary of Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul', 'Everything, Everything' and of course, the big release this week, 'Alien Covenant'. Unfortunately, only two of those new releases would break through the top 5, as Wimpy Kid just missed the mark by performing a $26,000 less than 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword', which continues to do miserable numbers, as its weekend gross of  $7.15m brought its worldwide total to a mere $94.5m. Like King Arthur, it's unlikely that Greg Heffley and the family will be back anytime soon, as their 3rd outing failed to meet even half of its $22 million budget, grossing a mere $7.12m on its opening weekend.

At least 'Everything, Everything' fared better, surpassing its budget of $10m, earning $12m. The romantic teen drama will no doubt garner a nice slice of the summer movie audiences, as it provides a less intense counter to the explosions and action of your typical blockbuster. Continuing to dominate not only the galaxy but also the box office, 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2' has earned $300m domestically this weekend, and $732m worldwide, as their weekend take was $34.6m. It is well on its way to surpassing its predecessor, which finished its run with a worldwide total of $773.3m.

The 'Guardians' lost the battle to one Alien this week, as 'Alien Covenant' just squeezed by with a $36.6m weekend. The Ridley Scott's return to the Alien franchise underperformed this weekend, as it made nearly $20m less than its direct predecessor 'Prometheus'. Still, the sci-fi horror picture will no doubt bring home enough bacon for sequels to be made into oblivion, as the worldwide total currently stands at $117m, blasting past its $97m budget.

That's all for the box office this week. Next week sees the double whammy of 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides', as well as 'Baywatch'. 'Pirates' has the franchise recognition to surely blast it to #1, but 'Baywatch' has Dwayne Johnson, which easily makes it a contender for Johnny Depp and his pirate antics.

For the audio discussion on the weekend box office, here's the episode this week:

Sunday, 21 May 2017

'Alien Covenant' Review (2017): The Best Alien Movie in Years

Half Price: The best Alien movie is years, works best when it's not trying to be an Alien movie. 
When 1979's Alien was first released, the world was introduced to one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. Now, 38 years later, that same monster is being reintroduced to audiences with 'Alien Covenant'. Set 10 years after the last installment in the franchise 'Prometheus', 'Alien Covenant' tells a somewhat familiar story. Much like the original and its sequels, this movie follows a crew of space explorers searching the vast echoes of space. A journey filled with wonder and excitement, that inevitably takes a grim turn.

At least it comes with a smile! or two.
Despite following beats that have been seen before, 'Alien Covenant' feels fresh in today's cinema landscape. It never quite eclipses its predecessor, 'Alien', but it does evoke the same sense of dread. Scott shows his true strengths in this film, as he crafts one tense sequence after another. The best type of horror is presented here, one which frightens you but compels you not to look away, as you warm the very edge of your seat.

Aside from the thrills, 'Alien Covenant' is a film with remarkable pacing. It takes its time to build its story and never felt dull or wanting for action. Then again, that won't be the same for all viewers. Most of the first act is watching scientists document their discoveries, which is not the most entertaining of pictures. The looming threat of death is what most viewers come for, but a couple of scientists taking samples and making observations? That's what I'm there for.

The "science" part of sci-fi. 
If there's one thing 'Alien Covenant' did lack, it was an understanding of its characters. I couldn't tell you much about any of them. The crew is made up of groups of married couples, perfectly suited for a colonization mission. It's designed so that each death will have an equal and opposite emotional reaction, as spouses mourn their loved ones, but the movie has so many characters to contend with, it never really establishes them. It was painfully obvious which characters existed for the sole purpose of their gruesome deaths. Then again, if the caveat for shallow characters is a wildly entertaining death sequence, that's a bargain I can deal with.

That said, the characters are not just shallow, but also incredibly stupid. The most egregious sin of 2012's 'Prometheus' are its scenes involving "scientists" exercising as much restraint as a toddler in a mud puddle. 'Alien Covenant' takes that method and runs with it, giving audiences plenty of opportunities to yell "DON'T GO IN THERE". The trouble is, they're so stupid, and you know so little about their characters, that when they meet their untimely ends, it feels not only deserved but devoid of emotion. The saving grace is Katherine Waterston, who voices the frustrations of the audience, as her crewmates make stupid decision after stupid decision.

Starting to think the face hugger is an elaborate facepalm in response to human stupidity.
Character issues aside, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts here. Scott takes the same stunning visual prowess he showed in 'The Martian' and applies it to his own sector of deep space. There are moments when 'Alien Covenant' feels like the film Scott would've made all those years ago, had the technology or the budget been available. That's when 'Alien Covenant' truly shines. 

While it's true that 'Alien Covenant' is a captivating and thrilling film, and the best 'Alien' movie in years, its biggest strength is also its greatest weakness. Seeing the Alien in full form is a reminder why it has yet to be topped as the perfect movie monster, but the film's connection to the rest of the franchise bogs it down, distracting from the good movie that exists beneath it. Still, it's worth a trip to the cinema.

Rating: Half Price

Monday, 15 May 2017

'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' (2017) Review: A Story Best Left Untold

Read A Book: Just skip this and go rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guy Ritchie seems to be a director who is his own worst enemy. His style no doubt marks him as one of the most distinctive directors alive, and his ability to frame dialogue like a well-crafted action sequence, is nothing short of mesmerizing. The 2009 'Sherlock Holmes' was taken as a sign that his filmmaking could be translated onto any property, however recently the English director has not been so fortunate. 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E' had all the telltale Ritchie quirks, but instead of an overall enjoyable picture, the film was decent with a few bright spots.

Sorry to say his latest picture is even worse than that, as 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' brings the summer movie season to a screeching halt. After the promising start of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2', this film serves as a harsh reminder of the worst a blockbuster can be. Director Guy Ritchie of 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' fame is at the helm of this retelling of the classic story. It follows Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, as he grapples with the responsibility of wielding the mighty Excalibur, the sword he pulled from stone.

Thor Arthur must wield the mighty weapon Mjolnir Excalibur to rule over Asgard Camelot.
On the face of it, 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' should be easier to watch than it is. The film takes Guy Ritchie's frenetic style and captivating dialogue, and mixes it with the stunning visuals and atmosphere of 'Game of Thrones' or 'Lord of the Rings'. Rather than being a match made in heaven, the film is a mess. Never before has a film felt so chaotic. The over reliance on quick cuts and slow motion effects make following the movie's plot a downright chore.

If you do manage to follow along with the film's narrative, your reward will be a horrible truth. The truth that underneath the stylized filmmaking and slick presentation lies a film as generic as they come. Even the strong cast can't save this film. Hunnam's Arthur is easy enough to follow, but the trouble comes with the character of Vortigern, played by Jude Law. Law plays the role with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer. Then again, with the dialogue he's given to work with, not much else could've been expected.

But is it any fun? Plenty of movies have all the bad elements that make up King Arthur, but they're still enjoyable enough. Sadly, the movie takes so few risks that it ends up feeling sanitized. It doesn't have the air of weirdness that might propel it to being so bad it's good. It's just a bad film. Utterly boring in some moments, as you're fed the same hero's journey that gets blasted on the silver screen every year. With nothing new or original distinguishing this from any other sword and shield epic, you're better off watching the surreal and truly memorable 'Excalibur'. Yes, this movie is bested by one that is 36 years old.

Knights of the Round Table watching this movie.
For a film intended to be the first in a series of 6, 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' is an alarmingly bad start. If this is the rock which a franchise is to be built on, it shall indeed crumble. At times, Ritchie shows the signs of what could have been, with a handful of scenes showcasing his abilities at their best. When a movie is this bad, it's hard to recommend it. Viewers should skip this one and read a book instead.

Rating: Read A Book

Saturday, 6 May 2017

'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' (2017) Review: Character First

'Big Screen Watch': A risk taking superhero movie that pays off.
In many ways ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is much like its predecessor. It follows a band of self-centred ne’er do wells, in the unexpected position of having to care about something other than themselves. Complete with yet another soundtrack chock full of 70s and 80s pop hits, and an even cuter talking tree, this bombastic sequel might seem like more of the same, but is a much different animal in its own right.

Like a cat.
Fear not. This still remains a series that gleefully includes a talking racoon with a violent penchant for destruction. The difference lies in Volume 2’s structure. The first film featured colourful characters that shined through a played and conventional storyline. This time around the story is left even more by the wayside, as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’, spends more time with the characters you originally fell in love with.

Immediately the movie immerses you with that loveable gang, with an opening sequence that hurt my face from the constant grin I was sporting. It was as if the Guardians never left. You're put in the centre of what seems to be all in a day's work for the group, as they make quick work of a no named alien monster, while 'Mr. Blue Sky' plays diegetically. There's not much context, but then again there doesn't really need to be.

Just bought my ticket for a second viewing.
There is a story to be told. Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, finally is reunited with his long-lost father and finds himself at a crossroads as he must choose between the family he never knew, and the family he chose. Even the basic conflict of the film, usually separated from the characters themselves, is extremely character driven.

Character work is where the film shines. The main story belongs to Star-Lord, but the rest of the cast gets a good amount of material to flesh out their personal problems. Not just the Guardians themselves, but side characters also, like Michael Rooker's Yondu and Karen Gillan's Nebula are given a fair share of development. Unfortunately, Dave Bautista's Drax gets the short shrift and is relegated to little more than comic relief. That doesn't amount to much for a movie that spends as much time being dour as a cat does in the water.

That is to say, not much.
The characters are engaging, and make an unconventional structure such as this work. Still, the film can feel uneven at times, as without a central motivating plot,  many moments are left lacking momentum. ‘Guardians of The Galaxy, Vol 2.’ has multiple scenes of characters exploring what makes them tick, but without much reason as to why they’re doing it.

I'd describe 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2' as emotionally chaotic. It's by no means tonally dissonant. The sardonic humour blends well with how guarded the characters are, masking their deeper turmoil. Rather the movie presents so much of what the characters are feeling, sometimes with nought but exposition, and loosely ties it with the rest of the film. I was very nearly lost by this approach.

Usually something I'm quite fine with. 
The second act particularly feels like snippets of a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' television show, that gave each of its characters an episode to flesh out their identity. For my own sake, I decided to take a wait and see approach. The movie had much more to go, and I'd seen films come back from worse. Thankfully, the film delivered, with a third act that reconciled all my qualms with the scenes prior. Every element that seemed out of place was now positioned perfectly. Methinks a second viewing would be all the more enjoyable.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’ is a refreshing superhero movie. It takes the spotlight and aims it squarely at its characters. While some shine a little brighter than others, the ensemble captivates still. Its humour is constant, and its strong character work makes the movies more emotional beats hit strong. It definitely deserves being seen on the big screen.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

P.S: Something that I feel gets overlooked in 'Guardians of the Galaxy', is the score by Tyler Bates. Since the soundtrack took the world by storm, the tones and pieces he put together on the first film don't get the attention they deserve. I was happy to hear he would return for the sequel since a familiar theme serves as a good way of connecting a franchise. His work here is just as good as it was the first time around. Here's hoping he comes back for Vol. 3.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

'Unforgettable' (2017) Review: So Bad It's Terrible'

Read A Book: Don't go see it. Seriously. Don't think to yourself "It can't be that bad". It is that bad.
It seems there's no such thing as a bad movie anymore. Everything from the live action cartoon of the modern 'Fast and Furious' movies, to the incredible true story of "coloured folk" sending a man into space, can find an audience. Gone are the days where creators had to painstakingly design their artistic vision to ensure mass appeal. If absolutely anything can be entertaining, what is the barometer of quality? That's the approach taken in the big budget lifetime original, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks style, of 'Unforgettable'.

Huh. Look at that. Makes a mess.
Perhaps refreshingly, albeit regrettably, 'Unforgettable' is a reminder that yes, bad movies do still exist. Although with one so aggressively bad as this one, it almost seems done out of spite. 'Unforgettable' is the story of Julia, played by Rosario Dawson, a woman with the perfect new life. She's about to marry the man of her dreams and become step-mother to a little girl she adores. The only problem is ex-wife Tessa, played by Katherin Heigl, who threatens Julia's perfect little life in ways she couldn't possibly imagine.

How fortunate for Julia, since Tessa's actions never shock or surprise the viewer. From the first 15 minutes of the film, the events of 'Unforgettable' aren't a question of "What?", they're a question of "When?". You see all the parts fall into place, as slowly as the film will allow. With the best thrillers, the viewer feels pride in being clever enough to figure out the plot. Here, you feel cheated that what the movie does is the best it has to offer.

Apologies to the films 'When The Bough Breaks' and 'The Perfect Guy', whose ratings have been increased in the wake of 'Unforgettable'
Even if the movie had an idea worth watching, the performances are so insincere, it renders the film's events inert. The characters make bafflingly bad decisions, even by horror movie standards. Made worse by the fact that the actors either decide or are directed to be as exaggerated as possible. Heigl's Tessa does not feel like a genuine character for a single moment in the film. Neither is Geoff Stults' David, as the husband who is charming as he is stupid. The script does nothing to help these characters, but the performances behind them only worsen what's there.

The one soul who seems as tortured as the audience is Dawson's, Julia. Julia is the only character who is somewhat relatable, simply for behaving like a functioning human being rather than a walking plot device. Rosario Dawson even plays her believably and is so remarkably normal compared to her co-stars, who feel 1/4 baked. You feel worse for Rosario Dawson than Julia for being in this film, and Julia gets a scar on her face!

Dawson when she read the script for the movie after she already signed on to do it. 
2/3 of the way into 'Unforgettable', I was done. Finished. The movie had nothing to offer me, except another 30 minutes of blank stares, both by me and the characters. Still, with a film like this, you at least want to wait for the stunning climax, where all the thrilling pieces come together. Even this, the simplest element that elevates a film of this ilk to the heralded tier of being "so bad it's good", the movie fails miserably at. Credit is to be given, for a final twist so shocking, it has yet to set in, days after the credits have rolled. Had the movie been filled with moments like this, it would have been the trashy thrill ride of my dreams. This movie is indeed unforgettable, but in the absolute worst way.

Rating: Read A Book