Sunday, 25 September 2016

'The Magnificent 7' Review (2016): Baddest Quips In The West

Big Screen Watch: More than enough here to justify checking out at the cinema.
After a more than disappointing summer movie season, I can't help but feel a little bit cheated. While bright spots like 'Captain America: Civil War' and 'Star Trek Beyond' both had moments that were joy inducing, but on the whole, my appetite for adventure has not been satiated. In a year where I was promised a movie starring villains who end up saving the world, all while cracking wise with Bohemian Rhapsody in the background, can you blame me for being mad I was stuck with what I got?
Wipe that shiny smirk off your unearned tattooed face.
Enter, 'The Magnificent 7'. A movie that is the perfect summer blockbuster, being released in the fall. Based on the 1960 original, which in turn was based on 1954s Seven Samurai, 'The Magnificent 7' tells the tale of a town brought to its knees by a greedy mining company. Haley Bennett's Emma Cullen sees her town so defenseless and is left with no choice but to seek out as many hardcore, death defying, gunslingers she can to save her home.  

Those gunslingers make up the titular 7. Leading the pack is Denzel Washington's 'Sam Chisolm'. He recruits the likes of Chris Pratt's 'Faraday' and the others. The actual assembly of the gang isn't the chore it usually is for ensemble films such as this one. That's because there's a sense of character for each of the 7. You enjoy getting to know what they're about before they even join the story.

Whereas here, I didn't care about half these characters even when the story was over.
Because of the grasp on these characters, their interactions feel organic. No one character feels unnecessary. On the flip side, there are those such as Denzel and Pratt that are given a tad more character than the rest, but not so much that the movie feels unbalanced. It should also be noted that the ensemble is more diverse than one might expect. There's not too much of a fuss made about the ethnicity of the characters, so don't expect a deep analysis of race in the old west, but it helps that they're not treated as token stereotypes.

Unlike these three, known as the Hispanic one, the Australian one, and the weird Asian one.
That said there's a lot to this movie that's been seen before. Western is a genre that revels in its old tired cliches. I for one will never tire of a scene where one man takes out an entire room full of guns pointed at him in less than 5 seconds. Despite not being wholly original, the film still manages to bring a delightful array of action scenes with stakes. Stakes that are not at all diminished by the films overall comedic tone.
Balance of tone not found.
I should also mention that the movie is sublimely nice to look at. The old west feel is more than accomplished by the realized set design and costumes. There are also a few very choice shots that make for a very attractive film. Shots that have a great balance of light, and manage to expertly utilize the frame to tell its narrative. 

What you get with 'Magnificent 7' is a movie that feels like it was made by people who just really wanted to make a western. It has a surprising amount of heart in it, as you grow to love and fear for its characters. Has it been seen before? Yes. But with a script that flows, and a cast that feels as in sync as this one, it's a pretty well done version of a story that you've already been told. 

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Thanks for reading and if you liked this you can check out a podcast I hosted on Westerns:

Monday, 19 September 2016

'When The Bough Breaks' Review (2016): Mild Suburban Nightmare.

Catch It On Cable: I had some fun with the movie, but it's nowhere near a cinema ride with a wild crowd
Sometimes, when reviewing a movie, you have to take into account its quality, versus how much it entertained you. Several times I'm sitting in the cinema and a movie that I know has paper thin characters, exposition a mile long, obvious motivations and a distinct lack of subtlety, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. So, even if a movie is technically bad, does it still deserve a good review if I enjoyed myself? I'm inclined to say yes. A review does judge a movie, but it does so for the purpose of relating the experience of watching it for the potential audience member.

John and Laura Taylor, played by Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall, have reached a point where most people would be satisfied. They have a big house, nice car, and the type of ‘ride or die’ relationship that makes most people say “goals”. Unfortunately, Laura can’t get pregnant, so the one thing they want is what they can’t have. But, whoever said money wasn’t the key to happiness, clearly had the wrong attitude, since the Taylors try and buy their paradise through a surrogate mother.  

Too bad that surrogate mother turns out to be a violent psychopath with tremendous boundaries issues.

Hate it when that happens.
Basically, ‘When The Bough Breaks’ is like a lifetime movie that starts out with the perfect life, only for something to go horribly wrong, bringing the idea of suburban paradise crashing down. The way it comes crashing down is usually cartoonish, unrealistic, but endlessly entertaining and this movie is no different. Its worst crime is being predictable, which sort of kills the suspense of it all.

On the one hand, the lead up has all the elements you need to establish the groundwork for a spectacular, bloody and amped up finale. However, if the finale is exactly what you expect, without the necessary twists and turns to keep you interested, it’ll just feel flat. Often times watching ‘When The Bough Breaks’ I was bored. Waiting for the wild shoe that never dropped.

See now if this shoe had dropped? That's a movie. That's a wild shoe. 
Performance wise, it's full of cheesy over the top acting, but it's so reserved. Regina Hall constantly has her traumatised face, like she's remembering something she did while off fighting the war, but she's otherwise not very engaging when she's on screen. Even Anna, the surrogate mother, played by Jaz Sinclair, who should have been the commanding presence in the movie, isn't dreadfully entertaining even when she goes full knife-wielding psycho.

Morris Chestnut is probably the most engaging character in this thing, and that's mostly because of his wardrobe. He wears these bold colourful suits that change scene to scene that are distracting, especially when there's an obvious break in continuity but still, at least it was fun to think about how on point this character's suit game was.

Never mind. Turns out Morris' suit game is even better in real life. 
Having said that, I did have fun with the movie. I expected it to be the sort of b movie melodrama that it was. I only wish it was more melodramatic. If you’re at home and you want to watch something with some mild thrills, maybe with a friend or two, then see ‘When The Bough Breaks’. You’ll probably get some laughs. I just don’t think it’s a movie I’ll think about a week from now.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Rating Since Watching Unforgettable: Half Price.

Friday, 2 September 2016

'Kubo And The Two Strings' Review (2016): Music To My Eyes

G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time): A movie that will stick with you and contains a near perfect dynamic between substance and style.
Sometimes, especially in the summer, film’s status as an art form tends to be forgotten. I guess it’s because when we think of art, we think of it as something that you have to “get” before you can relate to it. Movies though draw huge crowds of all ages, so no such threshold exists. Sure some movies need a little bit of analysis to get into, but by and large, it’s not difficult for John and Jane Q. Popcorn.

Everyone is welcome at the movies. 
Every now and then a movie comes along to remind me that movies are indeed, art, just the kind of art that doesn’t condescend. ‘Kubo And The Two Strings’ is one such movie. It follows the story of a young boy, Kubo. A musician/storyteller who uses his mother’s mystical shamisen (a three stringed Japanese instrument sounding not unlike a banjo) to bring his origami characters to life, regaling epic tales of samurai, monsters and evil spirits to his local village. Pretty soon though, Kubo realises that his stories are not just fiction, and he soon finds himself swept up in an adventure, that even he doesn’t know the end.

What stands out in 'Kubo and the Two Strings' is that for as much as it might throw at you at the beginning of the movie, you’ll never feel overwhelmed. Nothing is completely explained, but at the same time, it never feels like it has to be. You pick up the rules as the movie goes along, and as a result, it feels like a tighter film. There’s no time wasted with long winded exposition, and you get to have a feel for the characters instead of being bored. Last time I saw a movie take this approach, leaving you at the mercy of your own deductions, was 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

Weird that they'd want to emulate that...
The way magic works isn’t important to the movie, what’s important is the relationship Kubo has with his mother. She’s the only family he’s ever known, and the source of his fantastic stories. Their relationship is not the easiest, since Kubo’s mother is mostly nocturnal, reverting to a vegetative state in the daylight. The movie’s portrayal of a child caring for his disabled mother is moving, and you see everything that comes with it. Frustration, burdening, with immense love and compassion. It’s hard not to fall in love with Kubo.

Once you fall in love with him though, the movie will put him in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. It’s how the movie explores its underlying theme of fear. You fear for Kubo’s life, like a parent to a child, but you also want him to overcome his fears, and realise his true potential. The movie says “Growing up is scary, but not realising who you are is even scarier.” Just ask Jean Valjean.

The way the movie explores those complex themes is through some of the most visually stunning environments and designs I’ve seen this year. The animation is the same as in films like Coraline, everything looks to be made of paper. Amazingly though, you still get the sense of texture and depth, just in a completely unique way. It’s also wildly colourful, and of course, in a movie about a musician, music plays a big part. Even if the story wasn’t an existential spiritual journey, it would still be beautiful.

It's also a very funny movie. You won't feel bogged down by the deeper subjects. Humour is a very important part of how the movie wants to explore its story. A lot of that comes from Kubo's companions, a talking monkey, named Monkey and a giant talking beetle, named Beetle. Monkey is wise and no nonsense, Beetle can't remember what he did last week, and walks around without the burden of purpose, evidenced by the hapless smirk constantly on his face, much to the ire of Monkey.

No longer are monkeys beholden to outdated offensive stereotypes. Unless there's a banana.
There’s a lot more I could get into with ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’. It’s definitely a movie that warrants conversation. Ultimately I’ll just say that this was one of my favourite cinema experiences this year. Its story is very simple, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a pleasure to look at, and engages you with sequences that are nothing short of inspired. Weeks since my viewing of it and I’m still thinking about it often. For me, it might just be one of the greats.

Rating: G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time)

'Hell Or High Water' Review (2016): Old Fashioned Modern Western

Big Screen Watch: A movie that deserves immediate attention. A good palate cleanser for the end of a lackluster summer
The Western genre is classic in every sense of the word. Inherently their movies are love letters to a bygone era, not just in filmmaking, but life itself. They're designed to be extremely simple stories, that instantly resonate with audiences. The villain is usually dressed in black, and the hero wears a white hat. Sometimes though, the villains are the good guys. Cops and sheriffs trying to take down the hero outlaw, who we can't help but root for. Not to mention the dialogue is usually sharp, bordering on poetic. A really good western is probably one of my favourite things to watch.

That's what I found in 'Hell Or High Water', a movie that's being called the first major best picture contender of 2016. The story follows two brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard. Bank robbers with hearts of gold. Mostly. Instead of a life of crime for the hell of it, the Howard brothers are in it so their family can live without the crippling mortgage debt set upon them by the very soulless banks they seek to rob. It's like Breaking Bad except instead of Meth, it's bank robberies.

Minus a scene with Chris Pine in tighty whiteys. 
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the two brothers. Foster's Tanner is an ex-con helping out Pine's Toby with his foolproof plan. As much as Toby's intentions might be pure, Tanner is less so, enjoying the thrill of it, as his brother trembles at the thought of harming innocent people. The way Pine and Foster portray these characters is seemingly effortless. Their characters feel fully realized, giving the drama surrounding them palpable weight.

On the other side of things you have Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton. The humble lawman, two days from retirement, looking to go out in a blaze of glory, in one last case. His character is a cliche in a cowboy hat and a mustache but damn if Bridges isn't spectacular as usual. The cast is great, but they're made even better by the real star of this movie, the script. The dialogue in this movie feels entirely natural, but also fiendishly clever.

As much as the actors have a grasp on their characters, the script has a grasp on the tone. The moments that are meant to be light are light, but they don't at all detach from the tension. You see this a lot in the characters of the two brothers. Every time Ben Foster seems to revel in unconscionable violence, Chris Pine is mortified at it. It's even harder as a viewer because Foster really does make violence seem fun, but then Pine spoils it by reminding you of silly things like "ethics"

Pesky, bothersome things.
The movie reconciles its conflicting messages in the central theme of family. As much as Pine wants to do anything else, he has to do it because family. As much as Ben Foster loves being a criminal, the only thing giving him any pause, is family. Even Jeff Bridges' character is conflicted. The brothers are somewhat heroes of the people, robbing a bank not exactly well liked by the community, which is sort of like a big family, being a small town in the south where everyone knows everyone.

Hard to commit a crime when everybody knows your naaaame.
Since this movie is a western, it revels in a lot of western tropes. However, 'Hell Or High Water' uses your expectations to its advantage. What's presented as a cliche gets turned on its head, in an attempt to make it feel fresh. As someone familiar with these tropes, I appreciated this effort, but found it a little bit gimmicky. The way they present the cliches are so heavy handed that you sort of expect a twist, since the alternative is a movie that borders on parody the way it draws attention to the same old tropes. And a twist that you expect is no twist at all.

Overall, I liked this movie a lot. I was able to feel for the characters, and really understand their points of view. Its treatment of violence and the events that surround this film are equal parts fantastical and harrowing. Precisely how it should be in cinema. I don't think I'd peg it as a best picture winner, but it definitely deserves acclaim. Even if its ambition doesn't exactly match its potential.

Rating: Big Screen Watch