Sunday, 26 February 2017

Most Snubbed: 7 Movies I Thought Deserved Oscars (2017 Edition)

It's time once again for the Oscars! In a historic year too. 'La La Land' has a whopping 14 nominations. Dev Patel is making genuinely great movies again. Amy Adams...wasn't nominated? Well one thing that's not historic is there are a few movies that didn't get the attention they deserved. Granted, this list was harder to curate this year because I actually think the nominations are pretty solid. Still, there are a few that I'd like to see get that golden statue. Most of these are long shots but hey, a kid can dream.

Like many people, I had no idea who Chris Pine was before Kirk. Back then, he seemed like a perfectly good actor. Maybe he'd get a superhero role, and that'd be the end of it. In the years since I didn't exactly see him breaking that mold, but he was always solid. He always seemed like he could maybe do something great. Then Hell or High Water happened. By far, his best performance and a real show of his strengths. I was hoping he'd at least get a nomination this year.

It's also the dirtiest this pretty boy has ever looked, but that's an achievement for costume design.

I think I've been in love with Amy Adams since 'Enchanted'. How could I not be. She played a real life princess. That love has only grown since then as Adams has delivered again and again with several incredible performances. I loved her in 'The Fighter', 'American Hustle', 'Doubt', 'Julie & Julia'. The list goes on and on. I also loved her in one of my favourites of last year, 'Arrival'. This year is a tough category for actresses, but I'd like to see Amy Adams immortalized for her work, and finally get the award she deserves.

I can't think of anyone better suited to be the ambassador of earth. 

You can tell I kinda liked this movie right? As with Chris Pine, I thought Ben Foster could've easily snagged this award. In fact, in making this list I realized I couldn't put up one without the other. They play off each other so well. Foster plays a raw volatile force of nature, that his brother, played by Chris Pine, must keep in check. Their roles are so dependent on that relationship, and they both deliver in spades. To see them both accept awards for that would've been perfect in my eyes.

If there were an award for best onscreen duo it'd be these two. 

I wish Queen of Katwe hadn't been so forgotten. It sort of came and went. It's solid, moving, and features yet another fantastic performance by Lupita. A nomination would've solidified the movies place in history, and maybe garnered it the attention it deserved. Beyond that, N'yongo's role as the mother of a chess wiz is an important one. One that doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of living in poverty as a woman. For all the movies that came out last year, Queen of Katwe stuck with me, because it not only showed powerful women but also powerful women of colour. Breaking perceptions of themselves, without the aid of a white saviour.

One of the greatest living actresses. 

This was probably the most pleasant surprise of 2016. I absolutely adore 10 Cloverfield Lane. A movie that is delightfully tense, grimy and severely unnerving. Its one of the only times I would use the term Hitchcockian. It has all the classic suspense elements. It's claustrophobic. Mysterious. Damn if the cast isn't pitch perfect as well. Not for nothing but Damian Chazelle, director of 'La La Land' worked on the script for this film which was brought together by Dan Trachtenberg. Watching '10 Cloverfield Lane' in a dark theatre by myself was absolutely one of my favourite experiences of 2016. Definitely worth a nomination.

I was very much afraid of John Goodman after watching this movie.

Again, one of my favourite movie-going experiences last year. The Nice Guys is just a complete thrill. Shane Black delivers on his classic style of irreverent humour with enough profanity to make Tony Montana blush. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are excellent and playing almost parodies of themselves. It wasn't just another action movie. The movie felt fresh. It dispenses with so many tropes that bog down movies of this type. It was brimming with creativity. I never expected it to get an award, but damn that would have made me smile.

Shane Black has yet to disappoint me. Even his worst movies have moments of brilliance. 

Not one of my favourite movie-going experiences last year. My absolute favourite. 'Kubo and the Two Strings' is an absolutely astonishing movie. It's a story of a young boy caring for his disabled mother. Told through an epic adventure story, as Kubo comes to terms with the responsibility that rests on his young shoulders. It's about growing up and the difficulties that come with it. I wish more movies were like Kubo. Movies that felt like they came from a place of truth. It's easy to be cynical about film. Show business is a business after all. Watching Kubo was a reminder of what movies were for. Aside from all that, it looks phenomenal. It's an incredibly beautiful film which isn't afraid of colour, and the best stop-motion animation I've ever seen. If I could see one movie win the best picture award this year, it would be 'Kubo and the Two Strings'.

If you must blink, do it now. 
As I said, it wasn't a bad selection for this year's Academy Awards. This was a year where I actually saw plenty of the movies that were nominated. Denzel will probably get another one for Fences, but Dev Patel's turn in Lion is nothing to sneeze at. If it goes to Gosling, they should burn the building to the ground. Same goes for if Viola Davis doesn't get her trophy. Unlike last year, I'm more concerned with the ones that were nominated that the ones that weren't. That's a good sign.

Monday, 20 February 2017

'The Lego Batman Movie' (2017) Review: The Best Batman Movie In Years

Very High Half Price: Still very much worth your time, but probably better if you view it at a discount.
From the swinging 60s to the 2000s, Batman has lingered on throughout cinema. As a brand, it's one of the most successful and versatile I can think of. Movies, video games, television, even music. Batman is one of those properties that doesn't only stand the test of time but just happens to be the best of whatever it touches. 'The Dark Knight' remains the pinnacle of superhero filmmaking, and 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' revolutionized the way video games are played, with a combat system that's become the new standard.

So naturally, when it came time to develop another Lego movie to supersede the 2014 surprise hit, 'The Lego Batman Movie' was the obvious choice. Will Arnett was the breakout performance of that film and of course, everybody loves Batman. That's the central premise of this movie and an integral part of what makes it work. It assumes that after spending 78 years watching Batman films, Batman tv shows, playing Batman video games and reading Batman comics, that you know a thing or two about the Caped Crusader.

Unless of course, you've been living here. 
In fact, it depends on it. 'The Lego Batman Movie' features many a moment where the crux of the joke is a play on Batman's storied history cinematic or otherwise. Moments that to me were glee-inducing but would fall flat to someone a little less versed in the Batman mythos. There are other laughs in the movie. Some playing off of action movie tropes and referencing other non-Batman movies, but none as big as those played at The Dark Knight's expense. 

'The Lego Batman Movie' then is a movie that both seems to revere Batman, but also hold him in contempt. In the same breath, the movie will espouse praise for Batman's skills, but then knock him down a peg for being a drama queen. Batman is treated similarly to the titular character in 'Archer'. He's arrogant, brash and thinks the world of himself. He's also right most of the time, which makes him all the more insufferable. It works if you're a big fan of Batman, or if you think he's overrated.

There's a lot of Batman to be made fun of. 
Of all the iterations of Batman, I'd say 'The Lego Batman Movie' is the most truthful about the character. It delved a lot deeper into what makes Batman tick than I expected. There's a clearly defined arc that's the fuel for the film's most heartfelt moments. It didn't make me cry, but there's a surprising amount of pathos in the movie. Will Arnett's Batman voice is great for the over the top moments played for laughs, but it's the moments of solace that his take on the character shines through.

It's actually a pretty perfect performance. 
The rest of the cast are similar. Each has a grasp on the perfect voice for each character. Michael Cera's Robin is a delightful contrast to Arnett's brooding Batman, as he is quite literally bouncing off the walls at times. Ralph Fiennes as Alfred is superb as well, but that's just by nature of being British. The other big performance of note comes from Zach Galifianakis as The Joker. He's far from the worst to play the character, but I can't say I'd mind a recast should there be another Lego Joker in the future.

For all that 'The Lego Batman Movie' does right, I didn't love it. It's mostly good. It's extremely clever, and it never wants to stop trying to make you laugh. Except when it takes a break to make you feel. All of this is well balanced, but for a movie that's only an hour and 46 minutes, it feels a lot longer. The lego format has a sort of anything is possible atmosphere about it. After about an hour into it, I had seen what Lego Batman had to offer. I didn't need much more of it.

Rating: Very High Half Price

Thursday, 16 February 2017

'John Wick Chapter 2' (2017) Review: John Wick and the Terrible, Murderous, No Good, Very Bloody Day

Big Screen Watch: Every bit as enjoyable as the first film, with more to the world of John Wick to explore. 
It’s easy to think that originality in Hollywood is dead. Case in point: Lego Batman. A movie based on a line of toys, based on a comic book character. The cynic in me wants to give up on cinema altogether. Then a movie like 2014’s 'John Wick' comes around. The brainchild of long time stunt coordinators and first-time directors. With its captivating style and intriguing world, John Wick was a sleeper hit that thankfully, has been granted a sequel.

Blessed are we the meek, who have been granted by the Gods of film, this bountiful gift. 
Compared to the first film, John Wick Chapter 2 is a definite upping of the ante. Everything that made its predecessor an exhilarating thrill, is present in this sequel. It’s never going to be as impressive as that first instance, but John Wick Chapter 2 does enough to keep the film feeling fresh, despite stepping over familiar ground.

Then again, avid viewers of the first film might be slightly disappointed at how familiar this movie is. Many of the same beats are hit. Sometimes exactly. For my money, I was happy to get a mix of new interesting characters, and dimensions to John Wick’s world of coordinated assassins. There’s an air of immense playfulness and creativity to the film, a quality that runs from its world expansion, t the many many ways John Wick knows how to inflict punishment. It's a good thing he's an assassin and not a primary school teacher.

I once saw Mr. Wick discipline 3 kids, at his desk, with a pencil. A f*****n'. Pencil.
It's not just inflicting punishment. John Wick is one of those rare instances of action hero who despite his tremendous skill, takes quite a bit of pain. Physically and otherwise. Keanu Reeves is somber enough to give Batman a run for his grieving money. The entire cast does well to sell you on their intriguing additions to the John Wick world. Hardly anyone is wasted. Especially in the case of Ruby Rose. She plays an assassin who communicates only via sign language but is arguably the most charismatic of the lot.

To be honest, I'm not sure which is the case. Either the characters are so well performed by their actors, or the film is just that good at building the atmosphere that surrounds them. I'm inclined to think the latter, considering Common. The raptor is a bit of a distraction when you first see him, but as it goes on, he feels as organic with the rest of the movie as John Wick himself. There are a number of performances though that benefit from the notoriety of the actors that play them. Who could find fault with pairing Neo back with Morpheus?

I'll be honest, I would've cheered if it turned out the world of John Wick was just a construct of the Matrix.
A staple of the first film is the way the action felt as focused as John Wick himself. That’s not changed and remains the best element of this film. John Wick moves like a force of nature. The way he dispatches violence is swift, merciless and also, immensely creative. It shows an immense skill on the part of the directors. The kind of skill it takes to choreograph extended action sequences the way most scripts craft dialogue.

Of course, I couldn't end this review without mentioning how refreshing it is to have a film willing to use colour. So many big budget releases are devoid of a sense of colour palette. Looking drab and grey. Blues in John Wick pop, as do pinks, oranges and of course black. Black never looks as good as when it's amongst a symphony of colour. The movie isn't particularly gorey, so it's the gorgeous envrionments that stand out in John Wick's playground of murder.

John Wick Chapter 2 is an example of what makes a satisfying sequel. Its stakes are greater, and while a little bit too familiar at times, has more than enough new material in it to warrant the attention of fans of the first film. That said if you watched that film and found it wasn’t for you, stay home. This is not going to change any hearts, nor any minds. For me, I was happy to see Mr. Wick back in business.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Monday, 13 February 2017

"Chick Flick" Is A Stupid Name.

Today is Valentine's Day. Unless you read this on a day which is not Valentine's Day. Such is the trouble with holiday related productions. Sort of loses its relevance after a 24 hour period. Regardless, every Valentine's Day inevitably is met with movie releases that intend to capitalize on the day of love. Every couple looking for something to do will flock to the cinema. Guys will be dragged by their girlfriends, and sit through 90 minutes of the mushy stuff that they actively avoid since they'd much rather be watching an action movie.

Just wait for the moment where there's a conflict that could be solved by 5 minutes of talking. Not much left to go after that.

Except that's a complete fiction.

Movie studios green light projects based on who they think it'll appeal to. Different demographics get different movies. In the eyes of executives, women get Romantic Comedies, men get Superhero movies. It's the kind of thinking that kept Black Widow toys from being made for Age Of Ultron. As far as Disney's concerned, they already have enough princesses to sell, so leave the capes for the boys. But using Superhero movies as the example, there's one thing that ties each of those things together. They're almost all love stories.

Superman loves Lois Lane. Wolverine loves Jean Grey. The most compelling part of the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films is the magnetic relationship between Peter and Gwen. Captain America spends most of his first film going gaga over Peggy Carter, and the last moment of the film is the man out of time with all the pain and sorrow in the world saying "I had a date." But sure, movies about love are just for girls.

Tell me you didn't bawl your eyes out when that plane went in the ice.
You're a goddamn liar.

Pretty much every movie that's aimed towards men has some form of a love story in it. John Wick is a man solely motivated by how much he loves his wife. You don't shoot your way through a nightclub unless it's for a good reason. As much as these movies feature love stories, they have to hide it. Obviously, everyone loves, love, but any movie that wears its heart on its sleeve is for women. Men's love stories are hidden beneath a barrage of explosions and cheap plots.

Now, I'm sure no one goes to those films for the love stories, but it's definitely a part of what makes them resonate. Maybe it is just something thrown in by the studio in a misguided attempt to attract female viewership, but it ends up being more than that. These stories give characters dimension and make them feel like real people. Reason being, everyone can relate to a love story, because even the most cynical of us wants to believe in love.

I know this doesn't exactly fit but I've got a girlfriend who likes Ed Sheeran. Look I'm not above pandering to an audience okay?
That's why "Chick Flick" is a stupid name. It's because delegating a type of story to one part of society is myopic. The world would be better off if we didn't have to uphold these artificial fences. Men shouldn't be ashamed to admit they like watching movies where two people meet, they laugh, they love, and then break up because of a lack of communication, only to get back together right before the credits. Why yes that is the plot of 'Deadpool'.

Possibly the most disgusting proposal in a movie.
Studios think they understand what people want to see. It's about time there was a change in that. Stereotyping may be good for business, but it's not good for us. We should have women in superhero movies. We shouldn't be ashamed to admit when we like something. When we do that we're taking cues from the people who wanted to make Sam Worthington a major star.

So this Valentine's Day, let's drop the pretenses and the outdated sectionalism. Let's throw on whatever we want to watch, and suggest the movies that aren't "supposed" to be for us. Once we let go of all that baggage, we can actually enjoy the movies we want to watch, without pressure or shame. If that ain't love then I don't know what is.

That's my article, and this is my podcast. Both are about love:

Movie Money: Episode 13

Well talk about a nice change of pace. After weeks of a top 5 book-ended by 'Split', 'Hidden Figures' and 'La La Land', the box office finally got some new blood this week. Mind you, 'Split' and 'Hidden figures still clung on for dear life, with 'Split' in the #4 spot, and 'Hidden Figures' at #5, but this has to be the last stand for them. M. Night Shyamalan is having one of his best runs in years. 'Split' is his 6th highest grossing film, and even after 4 weeks it's still making decent bank. I'd reckon it beats out 'The Last Airbender', which is the last movie of his to crack $100m. At least I hope it does for humanity's sake.

As for the newbies, they all took a decent chunk of a $130m pie. 'Lego Batman' was the top dog either proving that the 'Lego' brand is strong, or that 'Batman' still is. '50 Shades Darker' was at number 2, which made significantly less than its predecessor on opening weekend, but will no doubt reap the rewards of the Valentine's Day Weekend. 'John Wick: Chapter 2' on the other hand came out the gates swinging and will definitely surpass the original. Or it'll die trying.

Here's the show for this week:

Download here 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

'Split' (2017) Review: Half and Half.

Half Price: The movie falls apart in the third act, but MacAvoy saves it from irrelevance. 

After you've been called the Spielberg of a new generation, it's hard not to fall below expectations. Still, M. Night Shyamalan fell pretty far. 'Split' aims to be a return to form for the once celebrated director. A genuinely interesting concept. It's about a killer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Inside one body contains 23 distinct personalities. All played by Professor X himself, James MacAvoy.

Who is one of two personalities trapped inside Professor X. 

That's what the movie promises, but really you only meet about 4 or 5. Each of which MacAvoy plays with an enormous amount of giddiness. Truly he seems to be having the time of his life. Because what more could you ask for as an actor. He gets to play with distinctly different characters, each with their own accents and mannerisms. No way does this film work without MacAvoy's charisma and skill.

The part that doesn't work is the film's science. The best horror movies tread this line carefully. It wants to tap into a kind of general fear that people have, and expound on it. Still, the film has to have some semblance of credibility. Otherwise, nothing resonates. It becomes so mired in fantasy that it's as scary as the big bad wolf. The film raised interesting questions about what was real or not. Then it turned into a cartoon.

Me in the last 20 minutes of 'Split'
The third act takes a film that skirted the line carefully and knocks it over with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. So much so that scenes intended to frighten evoked jeers and jokes. It’s impossible to take it seriously. That’s only a problem because the movie doesn’t seem to be in on its own joke. ‘Split’ insults its audience's intelligence by masking its stupidity as cleverness.

It's so frustrating because I know there's a director that cares behind the camera. One scene involves a parody level stack of boxes. All unopened. All seemingly recently delivered. It's not a key part of the film, but it's something that stands out, if only as a distraction. In the same scene, a character is shown to be an impulsive home shopper, giving satisfaction to my gnawing curiosity about the mountainous pile of unopened packages sitting by the front door. This is just one of multiple moments in the film where Shyamalan rewards a keen attention to detail.

This is a good metaphor. It's a reward, but at the end of the day I still got Rick Rolled. 
Even throughout the frustration, 'Split' is a fun movie. MacAvoy's unpredictability lends itself to the movie's most chilling moments. While I wouldn't call it a return to greatness, 'Split' is definitely one of the better in Shyamalan's repertoire. It's especially rewarding for people who have stuck with Shyamalan throughout the good and the bad. In fact, I would say, if you've seen Shyamalan's work, the movie is exponentially better as a result.

I did enjoy ‘Split’ in its first two acts, and the third act, while a departure from the movie it could’ve been had an unintentional humour to it. I suppose that salvaged it for me. Still, I wish I could’ve seen a film of this subject matter taken a bit more seriously. It’s not the 80s anymore. Movies should be smarter than this.

Rating: Half Price

Speaking of M.Night, a trademark of his is to always include a twist of some sort at the very end. With that, here's a podcast episode we did a while back that looked at twist endings.

Monday, 6 February 2017

'Hidden Figures' (2016) Review: Could've Been Darker

Half Price: It had the potential to be great but it's mostly just fine.
I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but everything I’ve seen from the time period confirms two things. It was a great time for NASA, but a bad time for black people. Worse if you were a black woman. Never do you get a film that combines the two stories. That’s what you find with ‘Hidden Figures’. A story that prominently features not one, not two, but three black women. Scientists working on the problem of getting a man into space.

"There's no crying in Space!" - A line from this movie as a comedy.
Like many films of this type, ‘Hidden Figures’ is ripe with embellishment. Ways to make the movie less like real life, and more like a story. The trouble with this film is, it takes it a tad bit too far. Often the harsh realities of living in a society where you’re thought of as lesser are played down. Take for instance the numerous times Taraji P. Henson’s character must run back and forth to the only bathroom designated for “coloured folk”. It’s gallingly portrayed as comedic, and may as well have been set to ‘Yakety Sax’

For the moments that do take the time period to task, it's a harmful revisioning. In the world of 'Hidden Figures', all that needed to happen to solve racism, is a temper tantrum in an office full of white men, appalled and astounded at the way black people are treated. It's especially unsettling when the film reminds you of real life events that occurred around the time period. The film wants to say that when face to face with the oppressed, the oppressors would see the error of their ways. Light the fire. Sing Kumbaya. Roll credits. 

Yes. Totally reasonable. Just picture perfect rationality.
That’s not to say that there aren’t gut-punching moments in the film, but they’re very easy to recover from. The best parts of the movie are in fact the 3 main characters. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are each captivating by themselves. Combined they’re mesmerizing. They interact naturally, and they give the movie authenticity. They sell the film’s best moments and elevate it to be the feel good, inspirational, Sunday afternoon movie that it is.

I particularly liked the way the characters interacted with their own worlds. The way they battled against "the way things are" in their own homes had the best moments of the film. Watching Octavia Spencer teach her sons the difference between "right" and "right now" is a hard scene to screw up. There's not much to say about the male actors of the film, which is a point in the film's favour. If Hidden Figures were a Superhero movie, Mahershala Ali would be the crying damsel in distress.

Mahershala finds that very funny because even in a dress he'd be 10 times more "masculine" than I.
There’s an unfortunate safety to ‘Hidden Figures’. The film is never as bold as the stories it’s telling. Thus, it feels a little hollow. There are moments when it seems to perfectly grasp the tone, but those moments are far too few. I almost wish those moments didn’t exist. Because they do, I saw inklings of the great movie ‘Hidden Figures’ could have been, rather than the decent one that it is. Then again, I suppose I should be happy I got the movie at all.

Rating: Half Price

Movie Money: Episode 12

No this is not a review. Nor is it an article. This is the podcast I've been doing for the past few months, which has reached a nice groove where I think it's worth exposing to people. Basically, the podcast is a discussion of the weekly box office. Every week me, and Shawna, the other voice you're hearing, discuss the movies that made the most money. Why are we doing this? Because sometimes it's fun when a movie that costs $180 million dollars, makes $20. Not $20 million. Just $20. That hasn't happened yet. But when it does, we'll be there.

 So without further ado, here's the rundown for this week's episode:

Last week the Top 5 consisted of 'La La Land', 'Hidden Figures', 'Split', and 'A Dog's Purpose' took the top 5 along with 'Resident Evil..I'm gonna say 7?' Anyway, this week was pretty much exactly the same, with Split holding the #1 spot, 'La La Land' cling on for dear life at #5, and 'Hidden Figures' and 'A Dog's Purpose' only dropping one notch down, making room for 'Rings' at #2. Not a bad weekend for the horror threequel, but it's definitely not going to have the run that 'Split' is having. Especially since 'Rings' costs a whopping $25m, to 'Split's mere $9m.

Oscar contenders are doing particularly well this year with La La Land and Hidden Figures. But the real surprise this week comes in 'A Dog's Purpose'. Seems like it's the little movie that could and has resonated somewhat with an audience. It's more than made back its budget, despite not being received favourably by critics. Then again, its success may just be a result of a lack of competition, which is no doubt going to change with 'Lego Batman', '50 Shades Darker' and 'John Wick Chapter 2' on the horizon.

You can listen to the breakdown by Shawna and myself here:
Download here: