Monday, 29 May 2017

Movie Money: Episode 18 (May 28, 2017)

Summer movie season continues this week, but not in a way that most might've expected. It wasn't a complete surprise. 'Pirates of the Caribbean' remains a box office contender, coming in at $62.6m, and $77m for the 4 day weekend. That's chump change compared to the film's international numbers, which came in at a staggering $208m, bringing its worldwide total to an already impressive $285m. Disney's good weekend continued with 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2' taking the #2 spot for the second weekend in a row, and earning a respectable $25m.

Yes Captain Jack, as surprising as it is, your franchise is still profitable.
The good times seem to stop there, as newcomer 'Baywatch' struggled to even make half its $69m budget, coming in at $27m. The adaptation based on the television show of the same name just couldn't hold its own against the juggernauts of 'Pirates' and 'Guardians'. #4 on the top 5 this week, 'Alien Covenant' took a bit of a nosedive this week, earning $13m, bringing its domestic total to a comfortable $60m. That's less than its production budget, but the worldwide total of $160m means 'Alien Covenant' might be underperforming, but is still a success. It seems to have been released at the perfect time, right before the competition was too stiff.

For a movie that tried to please everyone, 'Baywatch' will likely go mostly unseen this summer.
Finally, we have the little movie that could 'Everything Everything'. A stellar marketing campaign with an intriguing trailer you could not get away from giving this movie the momentum it needed to double its budget this weekend, earning $7.3m and bringing its total gross to $22m, with a budget of $10m.

That's all for this week and if you'd like you can listen to our discussion on the weekend box office below:

Saturday, 27 May 2017

'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' (2017) Review

Catch it on Cable: Not the worst 'Pirates' movie, but far from the best.
‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales', the fifth release in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise finally sees the return of Captain Jack Sparrow. This time, Jack has found himself caught up with another adventure involving the literal demons of his past. The deadly Capitan Salazar has emerged from the mystical Devil's Triangle, hell-bent on getting his revenge on Jack. Jack's only hope is the legendary Poseidon's Trident, the key to warding off all curses of the sea.

That's a very simplified version of the story in Dead Men Tell No Tales, and one I would've much preferred to follow. The actual film is bloated, as it harbours more storylines than it can bear to stomach. The first half almost entirely consists of gathering the cast into one location so the plot can get underway. Previously, these films have excelled in having a large cast, with multiple stories, and still remaining focused. This is not the case here as this movie fails to find its momentum like a ship without wind in its sail. Then again, according to Captain Jack, wind isn't necessary as long as you have rum.

Note to self: Do not attempt to watch a Pirates of the Caribbean movie unless as drunk as Jack Sparrow.
As the movie struggles to get all the pieces together, there are a few scenes that evoke the very best of this series. One particular scene involving a guillotine is perhaps one of the cleverest moments these films have ever had. Bright spots like these keep the film from being a complete misfire and are a welcome distraction from the film's plot holes, and strange character behaviours.

The characters in question are the ones you've come to know an love, the ones you sort of recognize, and the new ones you don't care about. At least, that's how I felt, particularly with the last film. Here it's a little different since I cared a little bit more about the female lead in this film Carina Smyth, played by Kaya Scodelario. She embodied the strong female archetype that most franchise these days strive for, but come off as pandering and underserved. Not much else can be said for Brenton Thwaites character, as the most compelling thing about him is his heritage. The idea of him is much more interesting that what he actually is.

He's the Virtual Boy of characters. 
The latter half of the film is much more entertaining. Here the issues that previously plagued the film go by the wayside and the movie is consistently enjoyable until the credits roll. Still, this felt less like a reward for the first half's issues and more of an apology. I should also mention I liked the performance of Javier Bardem as the villain, although the visual effects put on his and his ghost crew, was less frightening and more laughable.

The hallmark cleverness and visual fortitude of the Pirates of the Caribbean films have not been present for quite some time but creep back in with this film. It is far from the best this series has to offer, but it is also far from the worst. Jack Sparrow, though, has never been quite so obnoxious, as his charm seems to have dissipated with age. Fans of these films should opt to see it at a Half Price. Everyone else is better off Catching it on Cable.

Rating: Catch It On Cable.

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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

'The Fate of the Furious' (2017) Review: Just As Fast And As Furious As You'd Expect.

Reluctant Big Screen Watch: A Big Screen Watch I didn't want to give, but a big screen watch all the same.
For what is usually well past the expiration date, Fate of the Furious marks the 8th iteration in the Fast and the Furious Franchise. At this point, most movies turn to gimmicks. Putting their characters in space in a desperate attempt to catch the attention of viewers who checked out around movie 4 or 5. For this family though, there are no signs of slowing down. Once again the tight knit family of car enthusiasts turned super spies must come together. This time, it's to stop their biggest threat yet. Fearless leader gone bad, Dominic Toretto. 

That's a welcome new element in a series that for all the upping it does of the ante, has felt a bit stale. How many times can Dom's team be sent after a dangerous piece of technology, only to be outsmarted by a sophisticated adversary, but ultimately win the day with street smarts and a can of Nitrous Oxide? That's no different than what you see in this movie by the way, but despite being formulaic, 'Fate of the Furious' definitely delivers on what fans of the series want.

Rapid fire incomprehensible nonsense coming atcha face boiiiii

I don't go for world class acting. I don't go for intricate storytelling. What I do go for, is fast cars doing impossible things. Boy does 'Fate of the Furious' has a great number of vehicles doing massively impossible things. If you're a stickler for logic, reason, the observance of the laws of physics, or just a plain old acknowledgment that man is subject to harm, you shouldn't really watch this movie. If you can set all that aside, you'll be able to enjoy some genuinely thrilling and exciting sequences, in which director F. Gary Gray crafts moments that are classically fast and quintessentially furious. 

The series has never tried to be any more than what it is. Each of the characters does what's expected of them at this point. Diesel's Toretto might be playing for the other side, but he's still the same strong silent type that solves every problem with a street race. Ludacris' Tej spouts some ridiculous techno jargon, alongside Game of Thrones star Nathalie Emmanuel's Ramsey. Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs mugs his way through one liner after one liner, flexing all the way, and Tyrese Gibson, God bless him, earns every cent of his paycheck, making sure you hear every last syllable of Roman's dialogue.

A being of pure bliss.
Because the series regulars are so ingrained in their roles at this point, the real fun comes in the new cast members. Most notably is Charlize Theron playing the villainous Cipher. The Fast and Furious villains have always felt sort of like the rebellious kids of Bond villains. Desperate for their much more charismatic parents' approval. Each one gets a little better, but Cipher is a step in the wrong direction I feel. Theron plays her well, as she is wont to do, but the character takes herself so seriously, it can feel out of place in a movie that is essentially a live action Looney Tunes cartoon. 

L to R: Elmer Fudd, Tasmanian Devil, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester the Cat, Charlize Theron, Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Marvin the Martian, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn
If you like these movies, you're already planning on seeing this film. If you don't like these films, but wonder, maybe this time they'll change, they don't. It's everything that you've come to either love or hate the franchise for, cranked up to 11. For me, that made for a great time in the cinema, as I was transported to a world where up was down, left was right, and an orange Lamborghini raced across a frozen ocean. What else is cinema for. 

Rating: Reluctant Big Screen Watch

Here's a podcast episode we did talking about the entire Fast & Furious series, with two people who vehemently defended it:

Monday, 10 April 2017

Movie Money: Episode 16 (April 10, 2017)

There are no two ways about it, Disney is about to have another gargantuan year at the box office. The live-action remake of 'Beauty and the Beast' was not at the number one spot this week. That privilege went to 'Boss Baby', which gained $26.3m this week, bringing its domestic total to $89m, and its worldwide total to $200m. Already it's set to outpace 'The Lego Batman Movie', which has only just reached a total of $300m worldwide. But as the animated features duked it out for their piece of the lunch money pie, 'Beauty and the Beast' comfortable maintains its impressive run.

After just 4 weeks, the film has gone on to earn $976m worldwide and is set to be the years first billion dollar movie. The movie has enjoyed a steady dominance, with it's numbers only declining slightly since its release. For context, Marvel movies, and other of the ilk usually suffer the brunt of a drop off between 50% and 60%, every week of their release. Meaning, their numbers decrease by 60% of whatever they had the week before. 'Beauty and the Beast' has yet to decrease by less than 50% of the business they've done every week so far. That means they've made more than half of the money they've made the week before every week.

That's the most exciting thing about this week in my eyes. Exciting is probably the wrong word, considering this is a blog post about movies that make more money than I'll probably (definitely) ever see in my life, but that's kinda my thing here. For the rest of the Box Office, 'Power Rangers' dropped down to the number 6 spot, bringing in about $6m this weekend, but has made back its budget worldwide. There's no sequel confirmed yet but its safe to say there'll be more to come from the franchise in the future. 'Ghost In The Shell', had a similar fate this week as it clawed its way to a $31m domestic total. International markets are carrying this film, and brought it to $124m worldwide this week, saving this film from being both a critical and a commercial failure.

For the rest of the breakdown, as well as a discussion of the 'Thor Ragnarok' trailer, and a mini 'Get Out' review, check out the new Movie Money Podcast:

Friday, 7 April 2017

'Going In Style' (2017) Review: Old Dogs, Not So New Tricks

'Catch It On Cable': Definitely better than it has any right to be, but it never quite warrants a trip to the cinema.

Imagine at the end of your life, after working yourself down to the bone, the people you dedicated your life to suddenly turn around and put you out to pasture. That's the scenario for the heroes of 'Going In Style' Joe, played by Michael Caine, Albert, played by Alan Arkin, and Willie, played by Morgan Freeman. After 30 years at the same company, the trio is swindled out of their hard-earned pension. Down on their luck, at their wit's end, and not enough time to start over, they decide to do the only logical thing they can think of. Rob a bank.

Before reading any further, if the idea of 3 men in their late 70s planning and performing a bank heist is too much for you to swallow, this is not the film for you. I myself had to seriously suspend my disbelief just to suffer the premise. Once I did that though, I found myself seriously enjoying a movie that I did not expect to.

We'll call this the 'Sing' effect.
Most of that is due to the sheer level of class brought by the cast here. 'Going In Style' is not the first film to bring together a premier cast of actors of a certain age. Usually, those movies are less an embarrassment of riches, and just plain embarrassing. This time though, the performances of Caine, Arkin and Freeman actually feel wonderfully understated. They give these characters life and make their stories tremendously relatable. 

Not only are the characters easy to get behind, but the film has its fair share of laughs. It's not every day you see Morgan Freeman being pushed in a motorized shopping cart. There's the odd joke here and there that doesn't exactly land, but overall, there were far more hits than misses. It helps that the supporting cast is chock full of heavy hitters. Christopher Lloyd and Kenan Thompson are far from the bottom of the barrel. Funny considering Kenan Thompson used to live at the bottom of the barrel.

2004 was a weird time.
Even though it's a comedy, 'Going In Style' has a plentiful helping of pathos. It dives headfirst into the heartbreaking stories of the men that drive them to a life of crime. As emotional as it can get, the movie never forgets that it's a comedy. You'll get moments where it just about steps into the deep end but quickly does a backflip into the kiddie pool. 

Of course, this is a heist movie, and the entirety of this review has yet to mention the heist itself. That's because the movie doesn't dwell on it too much. Since its protagonists are knock knock knocking on heaven's door, you can't exactly have them pulling any over the top stunts. Plus, the best heist movies work with an element of tension. By the time the heist comes around, you pretty much knew how the movie was going to end, 20 minutes prior. It has as much tension as a loose ball of yarn.

But not as much tension as this gif of a puppy, trapped in a loose ball of yarn. 
The downside to 'Going In Style' is that it doesn't feel very fresh. It's certainly better than I anticipated, but ultimately, it's a movie that you wouldn't miss much by staying at home. While the actors certainly elevate their roles, it still remains the feel-good movie that lightly tugs at your heart strings, playing a safe inoffensive song. 

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Friday, 31 March 2017

'Ghost In The Shell' (2017) Review: Easy On The Eyes, Hard To Watch

Catch It On Cable: Dull and uninteresting on the inside, but very pretty on the outside.

'Ghost In The Shell' is the long awaited live action adaptation of the Manga of the same name. Set in the not too distant future, its world is refined and uninviting. Instead of clamouring for the latest and greatest smartphone, the inhabitants of the movie covet technology that shifts the makeup of their very being. Eyes are swapped for binoculars and fingers are multiplied. The crowning achievement of this techno evolution is Major. A cyborg with the mind of a human, who just happens to be the hero of this story.

Major is played by Scarlett Johannsen. A casting that has sparked controversy, since the role she's playing has always been a Japanese woman. For all the noise surrounding it though, nothing in 'Ghost In The Shell' really merits discussion. Johannsen plays a haunted soul, desperate to cling onto the humanity she has left in her cold unfeeling body. What comes through is her pain and anguish, but is delivered with as much engagement as a Kindergarten teacher at nap time.

Do bored audiences dream of entertaining sheep?
I was fighting sleep for a good chunk of 'Ghost In The Shell'. Time and time again the movie gave me situations to understand, but no characters to empathize with. Pity that the bland characterization, could not match the astounding visuals the movie offers. The world of 'Ghost In The Shell' is tonally bleak but aesthetically vibrant. In 1982, Blade Runner showed us the best depiction of a world transformed by technology, it's given a run for its money here. 

Except in the 'Ghost In The Shell' world, the billboard is a white woman's face.
There are interesting ideas within this movie. None of them original, but 'Ghost In The Shell' thankfully never sounds like it's trying to teach you something. It gives you a healthy offering of existential questions, but you're more than welcome to ignore its philosophy and just embrace the visuals. 

Because the movie is so bland and forgettable, I can't really recommend seeing it in the cinema. It's not bad enough for me to say you should miss it entirely, though. If you have a high-resolution television, catching 'Ghost In The Shell' on home video is actually a pretty good watch. Pop it on in the background when something more important has your full attention, with 'Ghost In The Shell' a mere pretty distraction.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Monday, 27 March 2017

Movie Money: Episode 15

It was a battle of nostalgia at the box office this week. However, the two new releases in the top 5, 'Power Rangers' and 'Life' couldn't match the tried and true formula that is a Disney re-release. 'Beauty and The Beast' remained victorious this week with a whopping $90m haul, with its worldwide total already at $693m. Surely the Disney classic will be one of the year's biggest releases, with a billion in sight. The tale as old as time still rings true.

The rest of the box office faired well considering so much money went towards 'Beauty and the Beast'. 'Power Rangers' had all the makings of a #1 movie, but couldn't scrape by against the competition. Still, a $40m opening at # 2 is nothing to sneeze at, and with a relatively low budget, Lionsgate should be able to produce at least one of the 6 sequels it has planned for the franchise. The other newcomer this week was 'Life' coming it at #4. The Alien-lite sci-fi thriller didn't prove to be a draw for audiences and only brought in $12.6m domestically. 

The rest of the box office went to 'Kong: Skull Island' at #3, and 'Logan clinging on for dear life at #5. Logan is now the 5th most successful X-Men movie with $537m, and should comfortable rack up a formidable run in the weeks to come.

There were more releases this week, but they didn't make it to the top 5, and well, you don't write reports on losers. 

Here's the audio discussion clocking in at 31 minutes:

Saturday, 25 March 2017

'Power Rangers' (2017) Review: Immensely Flawed, But Oh So Fun

Half Price: Absolutely not a perfect movie. Riddled with flaws, but a definite good time. 
When the 5 teenagers we’ve come to know and love finally don their armour, the evil Rita Repulsa remarks how cute it is that they finally have their super suits and dinosaur robots. She says this with an irony that is present all throughout the film. A movie that reveres its source material, just as much as it irreverently mocks it.

Now how in the world could you mock this art?
That source material is, of course, the ‘Power Rangers’ television show, in which 5 teenagers with attitude are given incredible abilities, and tasked with defending the Earth from alien attackers. The film follows the same basic formula, but with slightly better visuals than the low budget tv show it hails from. Still, there’s nothing here that you won’t find in the last Transformers movie.

Truly, ‘Power Rangers’ is less its own property but more an amalgam of films done better. It takes its cues from ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Chronicle’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and others. It wears its references on its sleeve but feels like a cheap copy in some instances. Despite not feeling wholly original, the movie manages to maintain an energy to it that keeps you engaged with its light tone and enjoyable moments.

This is just my personal preference. As obvious as that might be for a review based on my own opinion, I feel it should be emphasised in the case of this movie. Many times I saw something in the movie that would typically drive me mad. An unrealistic interaction between the characters, an enormous leap in logic, so many issues are found in 'Power Rangers', that are enough to condemn the film as the main contender for this years' Razzies. And yet, I actually quite enjoyed this movie.

This is my brain rioting at my contradictory thoughts. 
What works about ‘Power Rangers’ is, the rangers. The 5 actors pegged to play the young heroes are a cut above what you might expect. Perhaps because they’ve actually been given realised characters to dig into. For every logical inconsistency and so so bit of dialogue in ‘Power Rangers’, there are moments when the characters truly shine, with an ensemble cast that feels balanced and well utilised.

Even with all its disappointing issues, there are moments when 'Power Rangers' doesn't do what you expect. The story has a basic team adventure structure to it, but many of the most tired elements of that structure have been left on the cutting room floor. Instead, 'Power Rangers' feels slick, with all the fat trimmed, leaving behind the main dish ready for cinematic consumption. Of course, that could be the result of a script that had so much packed into it that certain scenes had to be cut out, but if that's the way Hollywood learns to omit scenes we've seen 100 times, then so be it.

For all our sakes.
It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the changes made in 'Power Rangers' for two of its characters. Billy, played by RJ Cyler, has been written as someone who is on the autism spectrum. Billy has a vulnerability to him and is played beautifully by Cyler with heart. Trini, played by Becky G, is now a member of the LGBTQ community and speaks in the film about her girlfriend troubles. What was most refreshing about these portrayals was how much they didn't lean on played stereotypes or clunky and awkward exposition. The characters felt real and normalised the people they were trying to represent.

Not the 1 step forward, 2 steps back that you tend to see.
‘Power Rangers’ is a movie riddled with flaws. There are moments that simply defy explanation, with zord sized gaps in the script. In fact, many of its problems are not dissimilar to the ones found in last year's travesty ‘Batman v Superman’. The difference is, ‘Power Rangers’ has such an endearing self-awareness, that it’s impossible to stay mad at it. I could see everything wrong with this movie, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.

Rating: Half-Price

Friday, 17 March 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' (2017) Review: Magic Brought To Life

Big Screen Watch: I got enough new material out of the new Beauty and the Beast that made it worth seeing on the big screen.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest animated classic to get the live action treatment. While some might see it as a soulless cash in on nostalgia, others will revel in the chance to see a new spin on the tale as old as time. Personally, I’m not offended by Disney’s live action remakes. I see them as cinematic stage plays, giving a story I once knew, new life.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is not the riskiest of remakes. Much of the film is a loving recreation of its source material. That love can be overbearing at times, as you sit in the theatre wondering what you’re getting that you couldn’t with the original picture. The places where it does make changes are a welcome break from its slavish adaptation, that is at best, a touching reminder of what you once knew, and at worst, an embarrassing imitation.

Embarrassing, and slightly unnerving.
The most consistent part of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, is how stunning it is to look at. Particularly the Beast’s enchanted castle, and all its inhabitants. The characters lose their animated charm, but what they gain is an impressive amount of heart. When the objects talk of the lives they led before they became furniture, it rings truer coming from what looks like a candlestick, than a cartoon.

The translation isn’t always effective. Most notably in the part of Gaston, played by Luke Evans, whose larger than life character is underserved by Evans’ humanity. That’s not the fault of Evans, it’s just, there’s no one quite like Gaston. Still, humanity is the key to this adaptation, as the film adds a touching connection to the characters that dare I say improved upon the original.

Yeah I said it. I'll be outside. Waiting. 
Kevin Kline's role as Belle's father Maurice is the chief example of this. A man who seemed insane even before his ramblings of a monstrous beast. Under Kline's care, he became a genuine character. One with heart, quirks, and identity. If only the same could be said for the depiction of Lefou.

Played by Josh Gad, Lefou is Disney's first depiction of an openly gay character in a major motion picture. Josh Gad is charming as Gaston's most loyal friend, and sidekick. He makes you laugh, and when seen in live action, the sheer abuse he takes has a certain dark humour to it. Unfortunately, his over the top performance is a faithful one, but considering the character's newly revealed identity, can be uncomfortable, bordering on stereotype at times.

Of course, the main attractions are the Beauty, played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, and the Beast, played by Legion’s Dan Stevens. Watson carries the frustration of her character’s plight beautifully and gives Belle an admirable strength. Stevens gives the Beast the one thing he’d been missing all along. A character to care about. The remake does one thing remarkably well and gives the somewhat questionable romance an air of legitimacy.

Less of the Stockholm Syndrome vibes. Way more Beastiality vibes. It's a trade off. 
Was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ worth the price of admission? I’m inclined to say yes. It’ll take you back to how you felt the first time you watched it, and pepper in a few new things to keep it feeling fresh. Watching Belle talk to her horse was charming in a cartoon, but laughable in this version. Still, gaffes like that are minor and don't take away from the overall joy of watching magic come to life.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Saturday, 11 March 2017

'Kong Skull Island' (2017) Review: The Bigger The Better

Half Price: Excellent for what it is, and it never aims higher than that. A fun summer movie before the summer.
The eighth wonder of the world is back in theatres this week. I can’t count the number of times King Kong has graced the silver screen, but ‘Kong Skull Island’ is his latest, but not the greatest. This modern take on the classic film is set in a post-Vietnam war 1973. The perfect time period to find military presence in the south pacific. The very same region of Skull Island. Scientist and opportunist Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, decides to make use of that presence, and charter a "research expedition" on Skull Island itself. Once they get there, they must survive the land of monsters, and chief of all, Kong himself.

Much like Godzilla in the 2014 film of the same name, Kong is more or less a force of nature in this film. His savagery is what comes across in this iteration. There are still hints of humanity to the giant ape, especially since Kong spends most of his time on two legs instead of four. However, even that is used to juxtapose Kong’s brutal nature against the very humans who fear him. There’s a running theme of “who are the real monsters?” running through the film. For those seeking a deep dissertation, search elsewhere. The film doesn't want to be anything more than a fun popcorn movie.

Introspective Kong is so 2005.

There are other ideas at play, even using the adventure as an allegory for the United States mentality after losing the Vietnam War. Samuel Jackson’s character ‘Preston Packard’ is the avatar for this idea, but it’s never developed organically. Instead, characters in ‘Kong Skull Island’ react to things like no human genuinely would. There’s no sense of genuine shock and awe when they’re made aware of giant monstrous creatures, and if there is it’s short lived. I was taken out of the movie several times by the characters, whose behaviour in the situation felt less probable than the 100-foot ape fighting lizard monsters.

Thankfully said fights are indeed epic and save the film from its less than compelling characters. I wouldn't say the entire cast is wasted, but the ones who we deal with for the majority of the film are the most grating. Tom Hiddleston plays a badass as boring as he is brutal, and Samuel L Jackson is a caricature. Every time I wanted to be done with them, the monsters would fight again. And all was well. A lesson is learned from 2014's 'Godzilla' as the monster v monster action is treated as the main course, rather than a side dish.

Let them fight....away from us so we can't see it.
Kong Skull Island grapples between just the right amount of cheese, to enough to make you wish you were lactose intolerant. It reminded me of Jurassic World. A sci-fi monster B movie, with a AAA budget. Which, if you ask me is a winning combination. Especially with a movie as artful as this one. Allegory aside, the film makes great use of scale and is content to let the camera do what it's supposed to. There aren't a lot of cuts to the action scenes, just sweeping shots and pans that give the film's most captivating moments a sense of fluidity.

Credit should also go to the film's cinematographer and sound team. The visuals are striking, with colour grading that makes the film pop, and uses the dense jungle and 70s aesthetic perfectly. The sound was also used creatively, with physical objects in the film synchronised with musical cues. At certain points, it was like an OK GO music video, which sounds like it would be out of place, but 'Kong Skull Island' makes it work.

Of course, this scene set the bar for it
Last night, within the first 20 minutes of the film, I saw a giant ape throw helicopters into each other, to a 1970s classic rock soundtrack. I also saw characters that made me laugh, both with them and at them. It is a monster movie with light scares, moments that thrill, and at its worst, it’s the type of bad that’s easy to have fun with. I can’t imagine a better way to watch this film, than at half price, with a huge crowd, cheering on as giant monsters fight each other.

Rating: Half-Price