Saturday, 22 August 2015

CINEMA COSPLAY: Episode 1 (Hitman: Agent 47)

This past weekend the Take 4 crew started a new endeavor called Cinema Cosplay. A little backstory though. For the last few years or so I've been taking it upon myself to dress up for whatever movie I go to. Usually it's to match one of the characters on screen. For instance, if I'm going to see a Matrix movie? Black leather and cool sunglasses. Wolverine? Leather jacket and white wife beater. Superheroes are generally easier, because it's just a matter of wearing a Batman shirt, but this time I took it just one step further.

Yes, that is me, getting a bald cap put on my head. Since we wanted to do this whole web series thing, we decided 'Hitman: Agent 47 would be the best place to start. You can see the whole process below and the reactions from the unassuming theatre goers at Carib 5, Palace Amusement. Special thanks to the people who made this episode possible like my barber "Bunny" for making me look pretty and Kerry Spencer at Salon Innovations, for giving me the gift of temporary baldness, because once I told my girlfriend I was gonna shave my head...let's just say I might not have had a girlfriend to speak of.

You can always listen to our reviews and podcast episodes on itunes and podbean. This week we gave a review for 'Hitman: Agent 47' and we compared it to the Terminator series. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

'Hitman: Agent 47' Review (2015): Shoot to Thrill

Video game movies are plagued by mediocrity. Every attempt at producing a film based on the interactive art form has done nothing to appease those who say it simply can't be done. The end result is always a half assed attempt to cram every reference to the source material the writers can think of, which does nothing but alienate the fans they're trying to appease. Critics of video game movies will call them cursed for trying to adapt an inferior, juvenile form of entertainment. However, these same critics said the same about comic book movies not too long ago. Now you have 6 comic book movies being produced next year alone. The notion that adapting video games leads to nothing but ruin is as short sighted as it is dismissive. All the genre needs is a 'Dark Knight' or an 'Avengers' to beat the boss of sub par filmmaking so it can reach the next level.

Why yes, I am proud of that metaphor.

That being said, 'Hitman: Agent 47' doesn't break the mold on video game movies but it's definitely one of the better so far. The story that follows is simple enough. In the late 1960s, a secret organization known as The Agency tasks Dr. Litvenko, played by Ciaran Hinds, with human engineering, taking the strongest genes and combining them into super human assassins called hitman agents. Faster, stronger and smarter than regular humans, essentially the Indominous Rexes of the assassin world, with no fear or emotion. After realising that creating human killing machines is...bad, Litvenko, racked by his conscience,  decides to go AWOL so that he may never be forced to use his intellect for evil. When an obviously evil group known as 'Syndicate', and 'The Agency' itself discover that Litvenko left behind a daughter, Katia, both organisations attempt to pursue her in the hopes of capturing Litvenko and bringing a new breed of hitmen into the world.

All of that is explained in the first act of the film, and at quite a brisk pace. What isn't brisk, however, is the entire rest of the first act. The film explains its plot at multiple points and seems to forget that the audience has heard all of this already. Characters retell information to other characters and the audience is forced to sit through the same exposition twice. Exposition on its own is bad enough but when you double down on unnecessary exposition it becomes daunting. It makes the movie feel slow as all hell. Almost as if it's looking at you saying "Hey do you get it? Do you understand? I don't want to move on if all of this isn't clear?" Not to mention it says this with horribly unpolished dialogue, completely wooden and eye roll inducing. Yes movie, I understand your basic plot. You do realise you're based on the same game where this happens.

"I've got a secret recipe...of death"

The only saving grace of this segment is Rupert Friend as Agent 47. After a well shot and very well choreographed opening scene, you're very much looking forward to following this character. Every time he pops up in the first act you breath a sigh of relief, because there's something interesting going on. Rupert Friend captures both the slow methodical patience of an assassin whilst also conveying the fast paced quick thinking of a killer. Zachary Quinto's character John Smith is tasked with protecting Katia by the Syndicate and thus attracts the attention of Agent 47. Smith is generic and flavourless, and his scenes with Katia could've been taken straight out of any script where one character tries to protect another.  In these scenes 47 is played as the villain but he's definitely the audience favourite, simply because, and what a shocker this is, the character names John Smith is just absolutely dull.

The most interesting assassin in the world.

However, after that, the movie completely wakes up. Suddenly you stop watching a hollow action movie and start watching one that definitely does not care about general movie rules. Frankly, the latter is preferred. The characters are inconsistent, which is better than boring, and the dialogue is ridiculous, which is better than wooden. The perfect example of this is Zachary Quinto's character John Smith. It's revealed that his organization 'Syndicate' is actually evil, which, hello?, and once he no longer has to play the good guy protector, Quinto absolutely relishes in his material. He's an enhanced human much like 47 which gives him the ability to go toe to toe with our titular super man, but wheras 47's dialogue is very precise, John Smith is broad and bombastic. The only thing I would've loved for him to do that he didn't get a chance for, is give a big monologuing speech to Agent 47. There are snippets of it but because Quinto is more of a super powered henchman, rather than the head antagonist, it wouldn't really have worked. Which is a shame seeing as Smith's boss is an absentee overlord who's in the movie for all of 10 minutes and since Smith is the antagonist the audience gets to know, it's a missed opportunity on the movies part to make this character more important.

Yeeeeah more evil Quinto! Evil Quinto is my favourite Quinto

The through-line of this movie, is the action. The aforementioned opening action scene sets the stage for the way these scenes will go. 47 is able to predict any eventuality in whatever dangerous situation he's put in. This makes his movements very calculated and the movie puts some very intense work into choreographing these scenes, with gunplay akin to 'John Wick' or 'Equilibrium' with the weapon being an extension of 47's arm. Of course what works for these scenes is tension. 47 is the perfect killing machine, and you never lose a sense of his badassery, but when he has to handle a room full of opponents all aiming for his shiny bald head, you get the sense that he might not make it out alive. The balance between making your character formidable, whilst still creating stakes is fundamental in movies that are heavy on action and 'Hitman: Agent 47' strikes that balance with precision and gusto.

It's also just the way the movie is shot. The action uses shots that are interesting and definitely sell the scenes you're seeing. There are a few moments of hand to hand action where the movie isn't clear in the slightest. Everything is cut very quickly and with heavy emphasis on close ups, but these moments are brief and are surrounded by action scenes that do a good job of establishing scale but also space. Telling you where characters are in relation to each other and using that to create a better idea of the scene in the viewers mind. Not only is the movie cool to watch, it's also just cool to look at. 47 wears a crystal red tie set against a bright white dress shirt and the movie seems to dress that way as well. Colours pop amidst a vivid, almost saturated background and it's not overbearing. Even in scenes shot in the dark, the screen is filled with a greens and blues that make the movie beautiful at moments. 

The movie looks cool, plays cool, owns cool

What also picks up after the first act, is the comedy, but I don't think it's always intentional. 'Hitman' doesn't really handle drama well, unrealistic dialogue tends to do that. Therefore a lot of the scenes in which characters are supposed to be menacing, sincere or revered, come off as laughably so. Then there are scenes that are played for laughs that reeeeeaally work. This is especially due to the interplay between 47 and Katia. Katia is being trained how to survive throughout the film and 47 is a mentor of sorts. Thankfully their relationship never devolves into forced, trite romance and instead takes the road less traveled of the squabbling siblings. This is typically where I'd find an example to convey just how well the movie does it, but with comedy it's always better when you hear the joke from the source.

"I call shotgun!" "I have a firearm." "Your mom has a firearm"

The performances are good across the board, if not exaggerated, but since the movie makes that drastic turn around after the first act, the actors seemed to be playing two different roles.  Rather than choosing to give their character's arcs like most films, the film opts for the sudden right angle. Katia goes from a human deer in headlights to a hyper impatient psychopath, John Smith goes from honourable protector to sneering villain, and 47 goes from emotionless killer to stern teddy bear with a gun. Sure this makes them horribly inconsistent but it's definitely an entertaining technique. Plus, seeing as their motivations remain the same throughout the film, it's easier to swallow. 

As the movie made me laugh I felt like I was forced against my will to like the movie. Its charm was undeniable and it consistently felt as though it was wooing me to enjoy it. It's the same feeling you get when you're mad at someone and even though you want to stay mad, you can't help but crack a smile and say... "aaaah you're all right movie." Is it a great movie? No not by any stretch of the imagination. Its plot is thin, the development is stupid, and the characters are inconsistent. Not to mention that first act truly is a mess. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. It's one of those movies that I'll probably rewatch just because I enjoy myself when I'm watching it. I don't think you should rush out to the theatre to see it, but it's definitely something you can take the time out to watch down the road as the ones you missed of 2015, and you won't be disappointed. 

Arbritray Numerical Rating: 7.2/10

Be sure to check out the audio review and discussion of this movie where me and Nic discuss how 'Hitman: Agent 47' is the best terminator movie in the last 15 years.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

'The Man From U.N.C.L.E' Review (2015) Sleek, Stylish and so so

2015 seems to be the year of the spy. Just last month Ethan Hunt and co. returned to perform their rather difficult assignments, in one of my favourite films of the summer. In as little as 3 months Daniel Craig will don the 007 title for the 4th time, returning to battle the titular organization in 'Spectre'. Even the first major release of the year, way back in February was 'Kingsman: The Secret Service', a film which seemed to pay homage to the films it preceded. In situations like this, it's not unheard of for at least one of the films to suffer comparisons to another, and then be thought of unfavourably. The same happened in 2008 in which a whopping 5 films were superhero based and judged against their peers. As different as 'Hancock' is from 'The Dark Knight' the two would still be discussed under the superhero genre umbrella, despite being completely different. When surrounded by genre competition, a movie has to strive to stand out. Even if any other year it might've been outstanding.

Usually No Competition, Like, Ever

Unfortunately, while it's not terrible, 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E' doesn't quite do that. Based on the 1960's television show of the same name, the movie takes place in the very same swinging decade, and follows the adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Solo, played by Superman is a CIA agent, and Illya, played by Armie Hammer, is a KGB spy. Both are the best their country has to offer, so when an evil organisation threatens the very existence of those countries, the cold war combatants must set aside their differences for the greater good. Along for the ride is daughter of ex-nazi scientist Gaby Teller played by Alicia Vikander, who is the key to stopping worldwide destruction and is under the protection of the two leads.

With all that being said, the premise works as one of the best parts of the movie. The idea of Russia and America working together sounds, as the movie itself laments, like a bad joke, but 'U.N.C.L.E' finds a way to sell the idea to you within its slick sixties backdrop. However, this wouldn't work without the two lead salesmen. Both agents are physical embodiment of their nations ideology and values. Solo is smooth, charismatic and full of bravado, while Illya is stern, structured and short fused. The way they approach everything from women's fashion to espionage is so drastically different, that it helps to cement the sense that this is a far from ideal pairing. The two spend 95% of their screen time bickering and at odds with each other, so much so that they seem to forget the stakes of their mission. Instead of stopping nuclear annihilation, they more or less act as though they're roommates in a wacky sitcom trying to live without killing each other. 


Then again, maybe that's the point, seeing as 'Man from U.N.C.L.E' plays as a very highbrow slapstick comedy. While the film does have its moments, I found a lot of the jokes fell flat for me. It seemed as though a lot of the scenes could have used tightening, whether through the dialogue or just the structure of some of the scenes. As 'Mission Impossible' understands, there's comedy in tension, and in this regard 'Man from U.N.C.L.E' runs like a movie on auto pilot.  Every chase, every fight scene is dull and unexciting, save for a few exceptional moments. This makes the movie feel like a pseudo Tarantino film, that's missing the cleverness that would make this movie reach its utmost potential. 

The movie tries to play with your expectations by giving certain scenes a plot twist. It's not a new technique and it's one that's been used by director Guy Ritchie countless times before. You set up a scene, have it play out and just as it's about the end, one of the character's pulls a Columbo and has just one more thing to say that'll change the game. These moments are probably the film at its very best as it shows the cleverness of its characters. But even where this is concerned, the movie falls apart. The last two scenes that use this technique do a sloppy job that comes across as an editing flaw. Prior moments would play upon your predictions, but the most important of these scenes seem to forget how exactly these scenes work. All the information that would be used for the big twisted reveal is given to you early, and then given to you again in time for the twist. It's almost as if you were given cherry pie for dinner AND dessert. That's just too much cherry pie man. 

Nah you're right philosoraptor. Eat all the pie you want! You've earned it.

As much of a mess as I thought this was, it's a very well made mess. It doesn't take a film major to see that there was real work done on a production level. Everything from the set design, the costumes to the shots in the film, all of that works. Style definitely takes precedence over substance here. A perfect example is in the film's opening scene, which is a game of cat and mouse between Solo and Illya. You get a sense of character, action and smooth operation from the way the scene unfolds. This is actually the moment in which the film works very best, but it never reaches such heights again. That is until the very end of the third act, which has probably my favourite moment in the movie that I won't dare spoil.

As far as everything else, the characters are well constructed and there's a sense that you understand them as the film goes on, no doubt due to the performance by the cast. The villain of the film, played by Elizabeth Debicki is lackluster but serviceable, although her motivations weren't made clear, probably because there's not much for her to do than be a target. I have qualms about the fact that Illya, who is prone to violent outbursts, is the KGB's top man for covert operations, when 9 times out of 10, his temper is the cause of near death situations. Some of the accents come across as silly but that's fine for the tone the movie establishes.  Overall, 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E' comes across as...well your cool uncle. There's not much to him, he's not the most impressive member of the family...but damn does he look cool.

A.N.R = 6.2/10

Thanks for reading and if you want to hear a discussion about more movies based on t.v shows, you check out my podcast discussion on the topic here, and subscribe to the Take 4 podcast on itunes:

Saturday, 15 August 2015

'Straight Outta Compton' Review (2015): Need Watch Again

When it comes to biopics, they're kind of the perfect combination of film making. You take a character with a story interesting enough for a 120 minute run-time, and you imbue the legitimacy of being a true story. Suddenly your film has an immediate connection with its audience, being based in their reality. As with all things though, there's a balance to be struck. You have to take a larger than life character, bring them down to their most human level, while still maintaining what makes them special. '8 Mile' has a character, the most talented in his field, and uses the hardest parts of his life to showcase his relatable, crippling stage fright. On the other hand, 'Lincoln' takes one of the greatest presidents in America's history and turns him into a bumbling old man, telling too many stories. Aside from that, in the information age where you can look up someone's life story in an instant, justifying a biopic becomes more and more difficult.

That being said, 'Straight Outta Compton' establishes itself as the fourth film this year that defied my already high expectations. The story of course follows the N.W.A from their inception to their eventual dissolve, showcasing the true story of the rap group that ended up on the F.B.I watchlist. The movie actually opens up with a scene that is literally gangbusters. N.W.A member Eazy-E, played by Jason Mitchell, is entering into a drug deal about to go wrong at an unassuming house when suddenly, the police come 'round. The phrase "excessive force" doesn't even begin to describe what takes place, as a tank like vehicle with a smiley face battering ram, accompanied by droves of police officers, tears down the front door. Eazy-E makes his way out by breaking the bathroom window and bam, the title card comes up. The scene not only establishes the character of Eazy-E, but also the environment that created these Niggaz With Attitudes. 

The film follows the members, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren. While DJ Yella and MC Ren are in fact characters in the film, they're ancillary at best. The real characters in the film are Dre, Cube and E. We're able to experience the story of the N.W.A through three different perspectives. Each one with their own individual arc. The movie never feels as though it's selling any one characters story short. In fact, you could very well see three different films within 'Straight Outta Compton' each with its own themes and motivations. While this much character development causes the film to run at a seemingly daunting 147 minutes, it never feels as though there's a scene that's excessive. The length goes unnoticed, because like the tracks laid down by the N.W.A, the film has a nice...flow to it.

I'll be here all week.

That flow is provided by the absolutely mesmerizing music scenes in this movie. From the early scenes showing Ice Cube performing at the club Dr. Dre DJs, to the later ones following the group on tour, every time the beat starts pounding the movie exhilarates you. These scenes are not simply there as commercials for 25 year old rap songs, but they serve to showcase the groups talent as well as just how well received they were. This is most evident in the scene in which Ice Cube instigates a banned performance of 'Fuck Tha Police' in front of a crowd infiltrated by the police department. The way the crowd responds shows just how undeniably huge the group was. You feel as though you're definitely getting a view into the past from a very front row seat. What I particularly liked about this movie was how much the music was a part of it. Aside from the performances themselves, the score is essentially a series of beats like you'd find in any great rap track. This gives the feeling of 'Straight Outta Compton' feeling like one big music video from the 90s.

This is in no doubt thanks to director F. Gary Gray's work on music videos such as Ice Cube's very own "It Was a Good Day". He uses techniques you wouldn't expect from a typical film director. The camera pans, in one steady shot, with as many elements as can be crammed into the frame. In a music video, this is done because there's not a lot of time to tell as much as the story as you can visually. This style not only emphasizes the movie's musical sensibilities, but also cements it in the time setting. Why not make the movie set in the early 90s feel like you're looking into that very era? Not only is it effective for the narrative, but F. Gary Gray gets some beautiful shots, just by the simple decision to use the frame as much as he can to tell his story.

As with any biopic however, the film is lives or dies on whether or not the subject's story comes across as believable. No one suffers this burden more than the actors chosen to portray them. Essentially they have to emote as much as possible, while having to anticipate the audience's pre-existing idea of how their character is supposed to look and sound. That being said, 'Straight Outta Compton' is the best cast biopic I've ever seen. Every actor is not only absolutely on point for the person they're portraying, but the amount of talent that comes across from these folks is absolutely phenomenal. Especially impressive considering they're all unknowns. The main cast is excellent, but the casting must also be commended for every other role that portrayed a real life persona. This might sound purely cosmetic, but it helps to sell the story. Keith Stanfield sounds exactly like Snoop Dogg, R. Marcos Taylor has to be Suge Knight's relative, and Marcc Rose officially confirms that Tupac is in fact not dead and has been going by the name Marcc Rose.

Tupac is on the left. Nope, he's on the right. Or is he...

This doesn't even touch on the main cast. Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell and Ice Cube by O'Shea Jackson Jr. Everyone of these guys brings their A-game, but the real standout in my eyes was O'Shea Jackson Jr. I can't express just how convincing this casting was. Here you have the son of Ice Cube, playing a young Ice Cube as he grows to be the man who fathers the son of Ice Cube. If you had told me that halfway through the movie Ice Cube asked to play himself for the rest of the film, I couldn't outright say you were lying. Aside from suffering from the worst case of "You look JUST like your father" ever, Jackson Jr. was able to portray just what every scene was asking for him and more. His moments both on and off the mic are scene stealers to say the least.

F. Gary Gray harnessed Michael Douglas' time travelling abilities for good.

Of course, it's impossible to view the film outside of its social context. N.W.A of course were heavily influenced by the situation of police and gang violence in Compton. On the flip-side the film shows just how influential they were in helping the voice of their community be heard. N.W.A not only mattered because their songs were cool to listen to, they also made an impact on the lives of themselves and so many others. This is all the more evident when the film reaches the point of the Rodney King riots and of course the crowd chants the N.W.A anthem Fuck tha Police. Regrettably, these scenes don't feel like snapshots of 1990s violence but rather reflect the recent incidents of police violence that plague the news cycle today. As unfortunate as it is, this makes 'Straight Outta Compton' one of the most important films to come out in recent memory.

F. Gary Gray captures these moments phenomenally

Another interesting thing the films does, is present scenes of various tones. At one moment you'll have a scene that showcases a member of the group under the threat of violence from either the police or a gang or a police gang. (These are meant to incite your more rebellious side) Then the group will be enjoying their new-found fame with a 24-hour party, making you laugh and cheer. Not too long after, the film will take a step back and give a truly heart-breaking moment (I cried about 4 times). The film presents all of these but there's no point at which it feels tonally imbalanced. The underlying constant in each, and the real thing that makes the film work, is the camaraderie between the Niggaz With Attitudes. That's the real heart of the movie. Not the music, not the performances, but the interaction and chemistry between the characters. You never lose the sense that the bond they form as young, unsure artists from the streets continues on no matter how revered they might become.

'Straight Outta Compton'. Really a family film. Bring the kids!

As much as I loved this film, it's not without its flaws. While it's something I could see myself stopping to watch every time I happen upon it on cable, I do think that the second act of the film drags by just a hair. That hair is one of the tiny grey hairs that your mom tries to pretend isn't there and can be easily covered up by the more vibrant and lush parts of her- I'm getting lost in this metaphor. The point is, the movie from start to finish will leave you beyond satisfied and the middling issues of mine were easily overlooked. As far as biopics go, this is one of the best. Even though I already was excited for the film and interested in the subject matter, I can't help but feel as though this is a film that arrives as a well rounded piece of work that deserves to be seen.

A.N.R = 9.5/10

Here's an episode of my podcast where we talked about biopics like 'Straight Outta Compton' and what we like or dislike about them:

Thursday, 6 August 2015

'Fantastic Four' Review (2015): Fantastick a Needle in Both My Eyes

Superhero movies have come a long way in the last ten years, since the release of the original 'Fantastic Four'. Since then Batman has become the dark knight he was always meant to be and the galaxy is now sufficiently guarded. The genre has evolved past it's origin of cringe-worthy dialogue and now garners the attention of everyone from Robert Redford to Jeremy Irons. Aside from it's credibility, the genre has expanded it's storytelling horizons. Each one these days corners a different sub-genre. You have a conspiracy thriller in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier', a fantasy epic in 'Thor: The Dark World' and most recently, a heist film in 'Ant-Man'. If superheroes are going to be dominating the release schedules of the next decade or two, it's a comfort to know they'll at least be interesting.The most recent of superhero cinema, Fantastic Four, seems to completely ignore all that goodwill and innovation.

The sun behind Ben Grimm is a metaphor for a good movie being made far far away from where they are...

The movie starts out with Reed Richards, established as a misunderstood boy genius. While every other kid says they want to grow up to be firemen, he says he wants to instantaneously travel across space. A bit of an overachiever right? His teacher mocks him, his parents dismiss him. The only respite he can find is through his friend and partner Ben Grimm. Together the two work over the next 7 years to perfect Reed's plans of teleportation. Eventually, this perfection catches the eye of Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue. They offer him a chance to work on an already existing teleportation project, except instead of moving across the planet, he'll be moving across dimensions...

There's a bit more to the plot but essentially, Reed fixes the machine and rather than leave the glory to an astronaut with no idea how the thing works, one night, while drunk, he, Johnny Storm, and Victor Von Doom decide to take the machine for a spin. If that sounds like a pretty radical move for a scientist to make, that doesn't translate very well for the character that's because it is and it doesn't. Not to mention, the only one in the scene who has any reservations about the whole thing, is Johnny, the one who's been established, literally by Victor, as a guy who "has problems with authority". Yes the decision to go on the expedition which gave the Fantastic Four their powers, is made with the same amount of zeal and intelligence as when you and your friends decide to get 24 hour drive through at 3 in the morning in your dad's car without asking.

"*hiccup* psssh we'll be back before you can say double whopper..."

The dissonance of character is a major problem with this movie, especially with the case of Reed Richards. Reed is presented as a misunderstood kid with a penchant for arrogance like any major scientist. The problem is he never comes off as likable in any of his scenes. His dismissive condescension makes it impossible to understand why anyone would want to be around him. This makes it all the more difficult to buy into the relationships we see him form in the movie. Not to mention Miles Teller is completely dead in the role. After his performance in 'Whiplash' I can't say that he's a bad actor, he just wasn't doing much of anything in this film. In fact, the only one out of the main cast that wasn't doing a "speak in a low voice and emote as little as possible" was Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. Despite the controversy of his casting, I was grateful for his presence just so the movie didn't feel so monotonous.

Going back to the characters, not a lot of what happens in the movie makes sense. It's always clear what's going to happen because, I've seen a movie before, but the motivations behind the scenes are non-existent. There's a scene where Reed Richards has gone missing and needs to be tracked down. Sue Storm is an expert on finding patterns so she is the only one who can find him. She's currently angry at Richards for leaving the team behind, so naturally, she should want him found. However, when asked to do so, she exhibits reluctance, because she doesn't want Reed to be found for...reasons? There's no rhyme or reason to any one character's actions. Any semblance of anyone's arc in this film is shattered by nonsensical plot development. It never manifests itself in a way that is in any way organic. Everything feels half baked and put out to serve while the inside is still mush.


Aside from the characters, which are broken, and the acting, which is deplorable, 'Fant4stic' doesn't even follow the basics of film-making at times. Sue Storm is a bleach blonde with gold white hair in some scenes, and in others she's a dirty blonde. It's as if she went through the meticulous process of changing the hue of her hair constantly, sometimes in the same day! This no doubt stems from an irregular shooting schedule, but mistakes like that only serve to take you out of the movie. However, I'm not sure I mind that especially since the movie is so ugly to look at. With film being a visual medium, it's not wise to have your set design range between gray and silver lab environment, and brown and green space environment. There's a brief break between those two settings in the form of a panama forest, but it's so brief that it doesn't justify the prolonged sense of walking through what feels like the most drab psychiatric hospital in the world. I firmly believe that the reason this film is not in 3D is because it would be impossible to see with darkened 3D glasses.

Taking all this into consideration I suppose I should say something favorable about the film, and that's probably the effects. The scenes where the four show their abilities are handled well, especially in the case of the Thing. His rocky exterior detaches any sense of humanism to him and his design convey's not just the alien origin of his form, but also the pain inherent in being the Thing himself.
While these effects are good, they're put to little to no use. The film includes a total of two action sequences, both taking place in the second act. The first scene shows off a stretching effect for Mr. Fantastic that hasn't evolved much since the days of the 2005 version, the second is...the final battle. Yes the final battle for this film occurs at the end of the second act, as there is no third act to speak of in this 100 minute film. By the time the film is finished you're left with the same sensation one gets when they've eaten a meal too quickly, and they're still hungry. Except the meal is tasty. This isn't.

I'll let you decide which one represents this film, see if you've been paying attention

I wish I could find something else to tell you worth saying but the truth is this movie is nothing. It's 100 minutes of 100% pure, unadulterated mess that just keeps getting more and more complex as it meanders on. None of the dialogue is particularly gripping and in fact contains a good amount of gripes at the film's expense. That line I mentioned about Johnny having a problem with authority, is mocked in the film for sounding like something no one would say. Franklin Storm makes speeches about how the youth are there to save the planet ruined by an older generation, but this unintentionally comes off as a parody of inspiring speeches in movies. Despite everything that's been said I still get the sense that you're reading this and thinking "It can't be that bad", "There must be something worth seeing", "No one would spend time and money into making that", "Damian sure does use a lot of run on sentences". Listen very carefully: It is that bad, there is nothing worth seeing, a lot of money and but not a lot of time went into making this pile of fecal cinema.

No no, not this kind of fecal cinema...

Theeeere we go.

'Fant4stic', is the worst film to feature the titular team. While word of mouth had confirmed that this would be yet another waste of time and money, my dedication to this blog is so strong, I forced myself to sit through the trainwreck that was this moving picture. I say moving picture because technically that's what it was, however a movie is a term used for entertainment. Actually, no, I shouldn't go that far, because no matter how bad 'Fant4stic' was, I can't say I wasn't entertained. It's bad moments are hysterical with the right environment, like a bottle of jack and a few good friends, but it absolutely is not worth the price of admission.

Arbritrary Numerical Rating: 1.5/10

Be sure to listen to my new movie podcast Take 4, uploaded every Sunday 
In honour of Fantastic Four this weeks recording was about the terrible history of the Fantastic Four in film and above you can hear the entire crew give their thoughts on the most recent Fantastic debacle. You can send in any comments or questions about anything that you wish to be answered on the show at

'Ricki and the Flash' Review (2015) Rockin' Past Closing Time

Ever since chief Brody blew up Bruce the shark and Luke exploded the Death Star, the summer has been reserved for the less thoughtful productions. This is the time of year where Optimus Prime and company typically mull about with their ongoing cybertronian war. However, every now and then in the summer season, there is a release that counters that market entirely. Essentially, it provides a movie for people who aren't interested in Ultrons and Indominus Rexes. Minions gets released for kids too young to see PG-13 pictures, and films like 'Hope Springs' get released for older audiences looking for a story they can relate to.

Well...they won't SAY they relate to the one about needing a new sex life...

'Ricki and the Flash' falls into that secondary category and despite being about a 60 something year old failed rockstar, it surprisingly resonates very well. Meryl Streep plays the titular Ricki, real name Linda Brummel. Ricki is a never has been rock and roll star who plays in dive bars by night and works as a cashier by day. The story opens up on a day in Ricki's life and follows her until she gets an unwanted call from her ex-husband, played by Kevin Kline. Ricki's daughter is suffering a crisis, right after her divorce, so bad that her father is willing to call the woman who walked out on them to follow her dream of being a musician for aid. Ricki takes the next flight back home and what ensues is a family dramedy about the less explored archetype of the deadbeat mother.

The tension that follows Ricki's return is a major strong point in the film. It wouldn't really work if the character interactions felt forced. Ricki's daughter Julie, played by real life Streep child, Mamie Gummer, has a natural anti-chemistry with Ricki. The scenes which involve these two one on one are perhaps the best. Julie will swipe a few curt lines to her mother with every other sentence to shame her for leaving, and Ricki will take it in stride and laugh it off, as people like her are want to do. This is all a part of the healing process of course, which thankfully doesn't feel forced although it's not a surprise when certain plot points develop. It's by no means a film that breaks the mold, and it's predictability isn't a knock against it per se, it's just not high praise either. It does help when the performances across the board are so immersive, especially Streep.

Not every day you get to be a rockstar

Kevin Kline's performance was probably second best to Streep's. Although his role is simply to facilitate the bonding of his ex-wife and daughter, his reactions to Ricki's frustratingly difficult personality are perfect, just from his face alone. The other members of the family, Julie's two brothers played by Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate also join in for the most cringe worthy moments in the film. These scenes where the family gets re-acclimated with someone who has been so long out of their lives are helped by the dialogue. There are always references made to something that happened in the past but it's never fully explained, just enough to let the other character in the scene aware of what's being spoken of. This was an interesting technique as it made the family seem that much more of a real family, as they spoke in a way that was reminiscent of real world family interactions. As someone who isn't typically a fan of Diablo Cody's writing, I was indeed pleasantly surprised.

Because of this technique though, you never really feel the brunt of Ricki's irresponsible parenting. You get little hints at it but mostly it's just repeating her character description as a mother who was never there over and over. This is a problem for the scenes in which Ricki lets us in on her side of the story, designed to gain her character sympathy from the audience. The issue is, because we're not all in to hate Ricki, there is already an idea that Ricki is a little eccentric, but not bad enough to deserve the treatment her family gives her. That being said, the technique works more than it doesn't. Especially since it gives you the sense of being a fly on the wall to another family's squabbles, and the delightful discomfort that comes from relating to such a scene.

Going over is never the same again...

As the film goes along there are scenes devoted to seeing the band, Ricki and the Flash jamming out to covers of popular songs. It's a joy to see Meryl Streep on the stage with what I believe is her real voice. Of course these scenes would just feel like additional fluff had Streep's performance as Ricki not been so skillfull. Of all the character's Streep has portrayed in the past, Ricki might be her most well defined. From the amount of rings she has on in every scene, to her tattoo of the American flag with the 'Don't tread on me' snake on it, her character is completely thought out. The best way to describe her comes from the first song played in the opening scene 'American Girl' by Tom Petty. "Well she was an American girl, Raised on promises. She couldn't help thinkin' that there, Was a little more to life, somewhere else, after all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to". In a nutshell that is Ricki, a free spirit with a heart of gold who sometimes alienates the people she cares about.

By heart of gold logic, being a kind person essentially gives you heavy metal poisoning 

The most surprising thing in this film is the use of point of view shots. There are only a few but essentially, the scenes put you in the place of whichever character at the time and shows you just how the situation that the movie puts them in is handled by them. It's akin to a visual narration in this film The most effective use comes from a scene where Julie is walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid for her brother's wedding. Immediately you're given everything that could go through that character's head, as she sees an image that clearly would've mirrored the moment she walked down the aisle to begin her now dead marriage. It's also a useful narrative technique that the only two characters to have point of view shots, are Julie and her mother, since it's an overarching theme in the film that, much to Julie's dismay, she is a lot like her mother.

With films like this there's a tendency to not expect too much from it, which is part of it's charm. It's a film that reflects the life of a real family's issues which, in order to do that, you have to to be relatable. The more outlandish the story and plot development the less easy it is to see ourselves and our own families in the characters. 'Ricki and the Flash' gives a look at the story of the deadbeat mom that is not often seen in cinema. That said the film does have a message of sorts as there are a few scenes which affirm the injustice in placing the expectation on a woman to be so naturally supportive and selfless her family when men are expected to have to learn how to do that. All that being said, I enjoyed the movie, and it's worth going if only to find something to do with you mother for the day. Perhaps it isn't essential cinema viewing but, if caught on tv or online, the performances and the creativity in which the film was done are enough to leave you satisfied having watched it.

A.N.R = 8.0/10

Be sure to listen to my new movie podcast Take 4, uploaded every Sunday:
In honour of Fantastic Four this week's recording will be about the terrible history of the Fantastic Four in film. You can send in any comments or questions about anything that you wish to be answered on the show at

Monday, 3 August 2015

'Southpaw' Review (2015): Fall, Box, Grow, Repeat.

The sports movie is truly special. There is no other genre of cinema that has prospered despite having changed mostly nothing in the decades it's been around. The plot points are predictable, the characters are paint by numbers, and you can even pinpoint specifically what scenes will be in each movie. Any other genre has to evolve beyond it's tropes and cliches, but the sports movie seems to be the proverbial underdog of filmdom. The one genre that with all the odds stacked against it, still manages to come out on top. The sports movie is also a bit like the gangster movie, sharing both critical acclaim and popular success. The snobbiest of film fans can break bread with the general audience member over how great 'Rocky' is.

"Dude that scene when he's climbing the stairs?"
"Quite right, it was mad dope yo."

Southpaw doesn't break the mold but that's not to say it's not worth your time. This time around, the story is about Jake Gyllenhall's Billy "The Great" Hope, heavyweight champion of the world, with a 43-0 record. The film actually starts in the middle of that 43rd bout, and lets you know just what type of boxer he is. He's violent, cocky and favours a knockout. He also doesn't shy from a beating or two, much to the chagrin of his wife Maureen played by mean girl, Rachael McAdams. Together, Billy and Maureen have a little girl and thus a reason to get out the ring for good. Unfortunately, you can take the boxer out the ring but you can't take the ring out of the boxer. His temper gets the best of him when he's taunted outside a charity event, and the ensuing scuffle leaves his wife Mo shot by a stray bullet.

What surprised me about the movie is how much time is spent showing that set up. Whereas most films these days would quickly reveal the characters motivations in favour of dealing with the main conflict, 'Southpaw' has a tendency to linger with it. You spend a sizable amount of time discovering the relationship between Billy and the people around him. This makes it all the more heartbreaking to watch, as his destructive personality takes a toll on those very people. His daughter in particular suffers the brunt of Billy's inability to cope with his wife's passing. Losing his wife makes him unable to find a reason to keep fighting and thus loses the one thing he knew how to do.

The scenes that immediately follow the film's tragedy are wholly uncomfortable. Aided by the fact that the facial injuries Billy suffers in the opening fight remain there. These injuries serve as an indicator of the brisk period that Hope's life falls apart. Before the scars on his face can even heal he loses everything from his Maserati & mansion, to custody of his daughter. On a more thematic note however, the scars serve as an outward representation of just how much pain Billy feels for his loss. The film has a large amount of close ups on Billy during these sequences to really bring the point home. It's only when Billy makes some stride with his emotional development that his face starts to heal.

Visual storytelling is used in spades in this movie

Of course, the development isn't just shown by a few dabs of Neosporin, saying as much would be a disservice to the cast. Gyllenhaal carries the film, and actually gives my favourite performance this year. Granted, it's only July, but for about 120 minutes, I was given everything that could be said about this person and that was due to how excellently he was played. Next to him however, is the wickedly impressive Oona Laurence as Billy's daughter Leila. All that stuff about her dealing with her mothers death is not just quickly glossed over. Instead of seeing a few brief shots of her sitting by herself in the distance or just being distant to her father, Oona actually is given material to sell and sell she does. Billy and Leila join the ever expanding list of father daughter relationships that drive their narrative, just as Cooper and Murph from Interstellar.

One dad sends messages through space and time, the other punches a bit.

All of this is not what you typically see in a boxing movie. 'Southpaw' uses it's first hour or so to properly show a man on a journey to make some serious life changes for the sake of his daughter. When you apply that to the competitive world of sports and a volatile sportsman, you have the formula for a film that could've been an innovative character piece. One about a man who is defined by something but has to rebuild himself completely when he loses it. The third act of this movie betrays this message of rehabilitation by pushing it's character right off the proverbial wagon. While I would've loved to see Billy end up finishing his journey coming out a new man; having him train to win a comeback fight only seems to contradict the character development that preceded it.

The performances across the board are good, Forest Whitaker is another stand out. He plays the cliche owner of a broken down gym with the key technique to give Billy his return to greatness. On the flipside is a surprisingly decent 50 cent. He is the literal agent of Billy's demise, ditching him once he becomes a useless asset. Rachael McAdams is great as the wife who wants him to quit before he can't feed himself anymore, but that's all the character you get from this movie. It being a character piece, there's not much done for any character besides Billy. Everyone is just a carbon copy of character archetypes from other boxing films, albeit in a much grittier tone.

"You're gonna eat lightnin' and You're gonna crap thunder!"
"My wife was shot in cold blood."

That being said, something I did like about this film was just how the dialogue was crafted. It wasn't particularly clever, but that's what made it stand out. Everyone in the movie sounds like someone you know. They repeat themselves a little too much and they mumble every now and then. This naturalistic style makes the movie feel...well natural. 'Southpaw' is at it's best when it feels just like a guy who's run into hard times and the dialogue does nothing but help that.

'Southpaw' could've been a great film. What it is, is an all right one. The good does technically outweigh the bad. The first two thirds of the film genuinely does have a fantastic performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a great partial character development. Not to mention the emphasis on showing rather than telling is a welcome tactic in film-making. However, while the final fight is an impressive one, it ultimately is a betrayal of the narrative you're given and as such I can't say with confidence that I'll be seeing this film a second time. I would be hard pressed to recommend it as a theatre outing as it's not worth the price of admission, unless you really are that big of a Gyllenhaal fan. As it stands the movie would be a decent film to catch on cable as you don't find yourself wishing there was a way to get your money back.

Side note: As a film fan, it would be sacrilegious of me not to make note of the movie's score by recently deceased composer James Horner. The score is a great one to have as one of his last works and it's a definite example of his versatility. The man was able to bring as much meaning to something as literally epic as 'Titanic' as he was to this considerably smaller film.

Arbritrary Numerical Rating: 6.9/10

Be sure to listen to my new movie podcast Take 4, uploaded every Sunday:
In honour of Fantastic Four this weeks recording will be about the Fantastic Four history in film. You can send in any comments or questions about anything that you wish to be answered on the show at