Friday, 30 June 2017

'Baby Driver' (2017) Review: The Best in the Business

G.O.A.T: Edgar Wright's most recent movie is one of the year's best.

In a world where every weekend the Baby Driver' is perhaps the most unique film to come out this summer. It's a nice respite for those of us sick of the usual mega blockbuster that often defies logic, and wears the viewer down with its exhausting runtime. It follows Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, a getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers, led by the incorrigible Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. Baby is the best in the business, but even though his hands are magic behind the wheel, his heart isn't in it. Baby would like nothing more than to ride off into the sunset, free to drive his own way. Like the cowboys of old.

Using something with a little more horsepower.
'Baby Driver' is a familiar story. We've seen the tale of the criminal with a heart of gold before. Despite that, the movie feels infinitely fresh with every moment that passes. A large part of that is due to the absolutely stellar car stunts on display. 'Baby Driver' makes the Fast and Furious films look like child's play. The stunts themselves are intricately designed and a thrill to watch, as Baby maneuvers a car like it's an extension of himself.

Watching it is one thing, but listening to it is another. Baby suffers tinnitus and is often overburdened by the everyday noises of life. To drown out the confusion, he constantly has a pair of earbuds playing everything from smooth jazz to classic rock. Baby's music is at times the centerpiece of a scene, with a gunfight perfectly synced up to the beat of a drum. Everything in 'Baby Driver' makes it feel like it's constantly moving forward, with an expert level of pacing, as Edgar Wright delivers another gem that's absolutely brimming with creativity.

The last of the long-haired weirdos who made it.

That constant momentum doesn't mean the movie moves at a breakneck speed. Yes, there are times when Baby is traveling that quickly, but 'Baby Driver' knows when to take it slow as well. Meaningful character moments are spliced in to offset the intense action. Most come from Baby's interactions with Lily James' Deborah. James plays a waitress who shares Baby's love of music. The two were at times more engaging than the car chases and gunfights, and the true heart of the movie.

I have much disdain for Ansel Elgort. The first movie I was unfortunate to see him in was 'The Fault in Our Stars'. He's not been in much else, outside of the 'Divergent' series, and a few other young adult novel adaptations. So while I don't have much to go off of, walking out of 'The Fault in Our Stars', I was entirely put off by his constant smug expression and general smarmy demeanour. I knew that a large part of that was his character in that movie was intentionally obnoxious, but I digress.

The most punchable face in Hollywood.

For a long time, I've been unable to disassociate Ansel Elgort from Agustus Waters. That is until Baby Driver, where Elgort comes into his own. He's charming, sympathetic and the type of character you root for. He's haunted but whimsical, and I was invested in his story, mostly based on Elgort's truly human, multi-faceted portrayal of him. It's clear Elgort put a lot into his performance, as he completely embodied who Baby was, right down to how certain songs make him feel.

'Baby Driver is a film that is a master class in many things. It excels in directing, sound editing, sound mixing, even simple story progression. So many of what 'Baby Driver' does well, it does better than most films at their best. There are moments in 'Baby Driver' that elicit genuine awe. Ones that take the viewer by surprise, and defies their expectations. In a perfect world, this film makes all the money possible and is seen by audiences everywhere. Unfortunately, it'll be yet another film that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it truly deserves.

Rating: G.O.A.T

Thanks for reading. We also did an audio review of this movie, where I go into the different characters that pop up in the movie, and how 'Baby Driver' matches up against other heist crews

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Monday, 26 June 2017

Movie Money: Episode 20 (June 26, 2017)

Summer 2017 continues to be an eventful one, in that, most of the event tentpole movies are faring to be quite uneventful. The biggest case of that this week was the number one movie 'Transformers: The Last Knight' gaining a mere $45m on its opening weekend. That's less than the $70m of the first Transformers film, and a severe drop from the film's immediate predecessor 'Transformers: Age of Extinction', which opened to $100m. The film benefited from its Wednesday release date with a cumulative domestic gross of $69m, but it's far from the series best. Still, international markets will grant the movie its success, as the movie grossed $265m worldwide, but with stiff competition in the rest of June, and July, the film is not guaranteed the billion most expected it to make.

A series low shows diminishing returns for the 'Transformers' franchise

The number 2 spot went to both 'Cars 3' and 'Wonder Woman' as both films made out with $25,175,000 precisely. That's an expected, and respectable drop for 'Cars 3', but an astonishing take for 'Wonder Woman', a movie which is enjoying one of the best consistent runs in recent memory. To date, the film has not dropped to more than 50% of its previous gross and has enjoyed a steady decline, which has put the film well on its way to being the highest-grossing DCEU film in domestic markets. 

Continuing with the top 5, small time films like 47 Meters Down and All Eyez on Me made small time money, with both earning under $10m, $7.4m and $5.8m respectively. 'All Eyez on Me' took the #5 spot by just a hair though, as 'The Mummy' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' were both in the $5m range, with 'The Mummy' only being beaten out by a mere $14,000.

For the podcast discussion on the Top 5, here's the episode of Movie Money:

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Take 4 Episode 58: Cinematic Universes, Crossovers and Tie-ins

This week on the Take 4 podcast, we return to a glorious discussion on Cinematic Universes. Simply put, making a straightforward, multi-picture series that tells the same story over the course of multiple movies, isn't enough right now. It's the age of the multi-franchise, crossover heavy, television series in movie form. We talk about the history of shared fictional universes outside of movies, and we discuss cinematic universes in development, or those currently in existence, and talk about if they're worth devoting a seemingly endless amount of time to.

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Friday, 23 June 2017

Take 4 Newscast: 23/06/17

This week in movie news had one big story and a few not so big ones. The Star Wars Han Solo solo movie lost its directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Creative differences? Maybe. The rest of the news included an update on the Bumblebee solo film, the Sony Spider-Man universe, and, the release of the new title for the sequel to Jurassic World. Hit play on the podcast below, or download it for later, to hear the Take 4 podcast discuss these news stories and more:

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

'Transformers: The Last Knight' (2017) Review: Exhaustingly Epic.

Catch it on Cable: The only way to watch this film. Seeing it in the cinema is too much for any sane person to handle.

It’s been 10 years since the first Transformers film was released in theaters. Since then we’ve watched the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons wage on, getting grander and grander with each film. With ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ I do believe the series has finally reached its breaking point with its most incoherent entry yet. The war of the Transformers once again threatens planet Earth, except this time, the Autoboots face their greatest enemy yet. Leader of the Autobots gone rogue: Optimus Prime.

That summarization of the plot is extremely lacking, but to include the 1 trillion plot points this film sees fit to hurl at the viewer would be a fool’s errand. Most of them are inconsequential, go nowhere, and contradict the plot as the film goes on. If that wasn’t bad enough, the way the film presents it to you is in a manner consistent with director Michael Bay’s style, with everything in the film shot and edited like it’s the most important moment of the movie. The problem with that is, when everything’s supposed to be special, suddenly nothing is.

2017 and Syndrome still isn't being listened to.
None of this is new to the ‘Transformers’ franchise, but previously, the average movie goer could at least expect a fully finished product. Specifically, there are shots in the movie which fill the entire frame, seemingly taking up most of the screen, and then there are shots which use significantly less space, with black bars appearing at the top and bottom of the screen. The switch between the two is often rapid, forcing the viewer to constantly adjust their focus. It’s menacingly distracting, and not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.

Perhaps just as distracting is the movie's severe tonal dissonance. The Transformers films have always been full of humour. Some of it is stupid, some of it is racist, most of it is both. At the very least, even when being forced to sit through the worst jokes possible, the film's felt somewhat balanced against the save the world plot of the main story line. Here, there's constant talk of impending Armageddon, with the world at large reacting to the threat of assured destruction, but it's hard to stick with that when the next scene is a tiny robot looking through a car magazine like it's Playboy.

Of course, there's no way to talk about the movie without mentioning its incredibly memorable characters. There's small child with cute robot friend whose go get em attitude and skill with all things mechanical shows just how influential Rey and BB-8 really were. There's old wise British man, played by Anthony Hopkins, who ranges from completely checking out of the movie, to overacting the hell out of it. There's green Australian robot, bearded gun robot, and of course Asian stereotype robot, who has gone through the immense character development of a new paint job, ditching his electric blue for a sweet black and red. All of these characters were engaging and fun to watch and in no way annoying.

Sarcasm aside, the film has 4 characters worth possibly thinking about. The rest pop in and out of the movie at such an infrequent rate you forget they were there when you see them again. Mark Wahlberg's Cade Yaeger drives the plot enough to the point where you don't fall asleep, but there's nothing remarkable about him beyond that. The female lead in this Vivian, played by Laura Haddock, is portrayed as gratuitous eye candy, but also treated like a plot device. If the movie couldn't feel any more overstuffed, the plot is focused on the journey of both these characters, with each of them concerned with their own MacGuffin and end goal. Following either is just as boring and predictable as the other. It's equal opportunity boring. 

The crux of this movie, as pitched to potential audiences everywhere, is the infamous fight between Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. The matchup of the decade. The fight to end all fights. The student must best the master in order to keep the world from falling into despair and chaos. I will admit, the idea is an intriguing one, but in a movie this long, it's an insult to the audience that the fight only lasts for about 5 minutes, isn't particularly impressive, and ends as disappointingly, but not nearly as insulting, as the Martha scene from 'Batman v Superman'.

I really need to let this go.
‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is a technical marvel of the worst kind. It’s the very definition of all over the place. At times the movie is dark and contemplative, but then it will switch to being as goofy as a Saturday morning cartoon. When I ask myself though, did I enjoy watching ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, the answer is regrettably yes. Much like the way one enjoys watching a series of car wrecks on YouTube. I cannot in good conscience, however, recommend that anyone, man, woman or child pay money to see this film, as being forced to sit in a cinema for the film’s 2 hours and 30-minute runtime was devastatingly exhausting.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

'Transformers: The Last Knight' is not just the start of a new cinematic universe, but it's also the return of audio reviews! Click here to listen to our discussion on Transformers 5:
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Sunday, 18 June 2017

'All Eyez On Me' (2017) Review: Citation Needed

Catch It On Cable: A fitting rating for what feels like a made for tv biopic

When thinking about 'All Eyez On Me', there's almost no way to separate it from 2015's 'Straight Outta Compton'. The two films tell stories of similar conjectures, the rags to riches story of young black men in America with a dream, that became cultural icons. They even make use of the same locales and go so far as having the same characters loitering around the background of the main story. For the uninitiated, it's easy to think 'All Eyez On Me' is a part of the 90's Hip Hop Revolution Cinematic Universe.

Waiting for the Yo! Mtv Raps crossover movie

The comparison, unfortunately, works against the untold story of Tupac Shakur, as 'All Eyez On Me' is a dull portrayal of an otherwise fascinating persona. The film follows the infamous rappers life from his childhood, all the way up to his untimely death in 1996. The movie decides to tell this story, like many biopics, in a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks are prompted by an interview being given by Shakur while in prison. This makes the flashbacks feel like dramatizations one sees in a documentary, rather than scenes in a film with compelling characters. The film also introduces its flashbacks by bafflingly displaying the dates of certain events right down to the day. I understand the film was going for authenticity, but it feels like the narrative version of Tupac Shakur trivia night.

The details of the story are fascinating, but the way they are told is messy. It felt as though someone sat down with Microsoft word opposite Tupac's Wikipedia page, and jotted down the basic highlights. You're told countless times about what a revolutionary Tupac was, but not once do you feel the effect he had. It's a shame. Not just because there was a complex identity to be explored, but Demetrius Shipp Jr. is delivering a performance that would have been great, had there been material to work with.

The moments when you're to be moved by Tupac's sheer force of will, his tenacity, and his poetry, are the moments that are the flattest. There's a far greater presentation to the supporting characters in this story. Jamal Woolard reprises his role as Biggie, and has the best musical moment in the film, quite literally upstaging the main attraction. Watching 'All Eyez On Me' is like hearing a huge Tupac fan tell you how great he is, but that you wouldn't get it cause you just had to be there.

The worst kind of way to tell a story

It's no help that 'All Eyez On Me' is extremely unfocused. It feels the need to tell every single facet of the Tupac story, but with no narrative thread between the scenes. The scenes themselves are good, with actors like Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett giving genuine pathos in every scene. The trouble is they're so disconnected it feels like you're being dragged from one storyline to the next, and then back to the original one, without having a moment to reconcile the moment.

'All Eyez On Me' is saved by two things. The exceptional performances of its actors, and the beautiful way in which it's shot. It's a good looking film, safe for a few inexcusably lazy moments, where newspaper articles fly to the screen like the movie was made in Microsoft Publisher. Much of the movie is like the cliff notes of Tupac's life. I'm sure that means a lot to the die hard Tupac fan, but since they're already familiar with "the untold story", I'm not quite sure who the movie is for.

Rating: Catch It On Cable.

Friday, 16 June 2017

'Cars 3' (2017) Review: Just What I Needed

Half Price: A true successor to the first Cars film
The notorious Cars franchise races back into cinemas this time. After the spy-themed fever dream that was 'Cars 2' the series has taken a cue from other trilogies before it and returned to its underdog story roots. The focus switches back to Lightning McQueen this time around. The movie opens with Lightning on top of his game. Winning races, but without the ego that made him so unlikable in the first film. Along comes Jackson Storm, a new breed of racecar. The faster, stronger new hotness, to Lightning's old and busted make and model. After a car accident leaves Lightning worse for wear, he has to rediscover his inner racer or leave the racing to the new kids on the track.

The Cars films have always been the black sheep of the Pixar family. The decency of the first film was undercut by the second film's inadequacy. This film, however, builds upon the best elements of the series, providing perhaps the most heartfelt of the films. It entirely disregards the events of the second film, and can be seen as a direct sequel to the first, much like the way 2016's 'Star Trek: Beyond' was better suited as a direct sequel to 2009's 'Star Trek'. Most of that is due to Lightning McQueen's introspective journey, as he comes to terms with his legacy and the life of a racer well past his prime.

If you want to feel as old as Lightning does in the movie, remember that the first 'Cars' movie came out over a decade ago.
If any of this sounds familiar, that's because it's par for the course with any long-running sports film franchise. The Rocky films are a good example. 'Cars 3' hits all the hallmarks of a sports film starring a long-established performer. It explores the mentor-mentee relationship, the challenges of an athlete growing old, and of course the passing of the torch. For advent film fans, much of this will seem like old hat, but for the target audience, it tells its story with a pathos and resonance that far exceeded my expectations. It hasn't been released that, but I'm betting it'll be better for them than 'Despicable Me 3: Revenge of the Minion'

I'm willing to bet the reactions will be the same either way.

 After the noisy rapid expansion that was the globetrotting 'Cars 2', its a comfort to know that 'Cars 3' is severely limited in scope. You get glimpses of the larger ensemble cast, but the majority of the story focuses on the characters of Lightning McQueen and newcomer Cruz Ramirez, played by Cristela Alonzo. Limiting the story gives the movie an opportunity to delve into the characters it has to work with, and gives them a treatment that keeps you interested. 

The character of Cruz is especially interesting. I feel as though I'm harping on this, but her character brings a level of sophistication you do not expect from a 'Cars' film, as she essentially tells her story of a being limited in a world run by men. The same series that gave a feature film to Larry the Cable Guy playing a tow truck.

Yes, he does say Git R Done in this movie. It's only one time and yes I did laugh when he did it. 
The downside is, often times 'Cars 3' feels repetitive. The story takes place over about a weeks time, and is chiefly concerned with the training of Lightning McQueen. To further the Rocky comparison, 'Cars 3' has a variable cavalcade of montages. There's nothing inherently wrong with montages, but since the movie takes place over such a short period of time, when the film tries to convey the passage of time so often, it feels oddly paced to see the least.

There are of course the humorous moments of the movie. My favourite being any pun to be made in a world of living vehicles. 'Cars 3' is not a non-stop laugh machine. Many of the jokes won't get raucous laughs from the older audience members, though the kids will be entertained. The characters though are charming and give the movie an endearing quality, with an ending that deviates from expectation. Parents won’t suffer through this one like most other kids films and would do well to see this film at half price.

Rating: Half-Price

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

An Infamous Practice: Diversity In Video Games

Right now the biggest event in the gaming world, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), is coming to a close. It's the event where game companies and tech developers announce the projects they've been working on for the public. Everything from new hardware I'll never be able to afford, to games I'll never have time to play. Still, despite mostly being my own personal version of window shopping, I do enjoy seeing the new and innovative elements at play in the gaming industry. However, every year, I'm frustrated. Disappointed. The one thing the gaming world could use is the thing that never comes.

Spot the difference.

Back in 2009, one of my favourite games to come out was 'Infamous'. You played as every man Cole Mcgrath, a courier with a gruff demeanour that depending on how you played, became more "Good" and more "Evil" as the game progressed. When a package that Cole delivers explodes, it causes mass destruction to his home, Empire City, a fictional stand-in for New York City. The explosion grants him incredible electrical superpowers as well, and you play you can restore the city to its former glory, and keep it from falling siege to gangs taking advantage of the time of crisis. At the time I praised the game for its unique gameplay style, that emphasized fluidity, something that would only improve as the series went on. 'inFamous' was also an open world that catered to the player's individual experience. What I didn't realize at the time, was that beneath the surface, 'inFamous' had more to say than your typical superhero adventure.

The clip above takes place after it gets revealed to the people of Empire City, that the bomb that destroyed the lives of so many people was, in fact, a package being delivered by Cole. Of course, Cole has nothing to do with the packages he delivers. He takes them from his office and escorts them around the city being none the wiser as to what the package entails. Still, in a time of pain and suffering, the people around him look to him for blame. Since she lost her sister in the explosion, his girlfriend, Trish, even has a hard time dealing with the news.

The missed opportunity here is that Cole, like so many video game protagonists, is white. This is not to say that the story of 'inFamous' is not compelling because of the colour of his skin. Cole still remains a well-crafted character, as do the other characters in the game. But just imagine how much more potent that scene would play out if Cole were middle eastern, or even if he were a Muslim. Suddenly, it becomes a commentary on the prevailing Islamophobia that becomes more overt in the wake of a public attack. When Cole asks the player if they've ever been called a terrorist, it's supposed to be something to which that we the audience say "No of course not, I can't even imagine that." but for many people, the answer could very well be "Yes I have, and it was horrible."

It would bring a deeper level to the interactions of Cole with the other characters, as well as how you play the game. When the game asks you to choose between a good or evil act, at the back of your mind, you would take into account the resentment that comes with waking up brown in a city that isn't. When his best friend Zeke starts to look at him questioningly, it puts a strain on their relationship, because the two are such close friends. If Cole were a darker skin tone, it would be even more uncomfortable, as it would show the experience of a person of colour even with people they thought to be their friends. This would only be worsened by the fact that Zeke is a gun-toting Elvis enthusiast with a southern accent, whose middle name is Jedediah.

Not the typical picture of racial tolerance. 

The subtext gets even more powerful when the second game rolls around. In it, Cole and Zeke travel to New Marais, another fictional stand-in, this time for New Orleans. New Marais is a place that is overrun by swamp monsters, soldiers with ice abilities, and a privatized military force known as The Militia. The Militia is a gang of Chrisitan extremists who vow to rid their city of the people that cause trouble, coded here as 'deviants' of which Cole Mcgrath is the main danger. To do this, there's a strict immigration ban that's been placed on the city, even refusing refugees from the crisis in Empire City, so Cole has to sneak into the city on a fishing boat.

Again, this is just an added difficulty to Cole's adventure that's meant to serve as a challenge to the player, but it takes on a new meaning if Cole were to look like the people who normally have to suffer extraneous circumstances to travel from one place to another. The people who get accused of being the poisonous M & M's hidden in a bag of candy. The Militia essentially is presented as the worst case scenario of an Alt-Right group, right down to the leader who looks like a hybrid of Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer.

This is his good side.
All of this requires no other changes to the story, the gameplay, and anything else that goes into making 'inFamous' the game that it is. Everything in the games can stay exactly the way it is, but the events and how you play the game would change dramatically if Cole were a different colour. It would make scenes like the one's where Cole is called 'The Demon of Empire City' chilling, and it would create a much more conscious atmosphere, that affected how certain decisions were made. As it stands, the morality system in 'inFamous' is a less nuanced than it could be and as I said, while Cole is a compelling character, his struggle would ring truer were he wearing a less represented face. It's a missed opportunity for a story that could have been truly reflective of the times we live in today.

The most intriguing choice I came across in the games was in 'inFamous 2'. In the game, you're introduced to two new characters, Lucy Kuo, an NSA agent tasked with helping Cole save the world, and Nix, a New Marais citizen out to get revenge for her city besieged. They become more or less avatars for the games good and bad paths and influence Cole like the devil and angel on his electric shoulders. There's a point in the game where you're set to rescue Kuo from being imprisoned by the Militia. Zeke suggests freeing the police who have been rounded up and jailed by the Militia, give them weapons, so they can aid you in the rescue. This sparks an intense reaction from Nix. She instead suggests filling up a van with explosives and ramming it into the base where Kuo is being held, possibly injuring innocents in the process. Zeke is considered "Good" Nix is labeled "Bad"

At the time that I first played it back in the olden days of 2011, the choice was clear. Free the police, arm them up, and you have an army to help you in your quest. Now? The idea of putting a gun in the hands of a cop is far less inviting. It's much easier to understand Nix's vehement disapproval of Zeke's plan, especially considering she looks like this:

You choose Zeke's plan, Cole will remark at how crazy Nix is. How her destructive nature is completely out of the realm of reasonability. Cole says this because he would have had a different experience with the police than Nix. It's not hard to imagine why she's so opposed to the idea.

That right there is a small example of how important it is for characters in video games, movies, television shows, and all mediums of narrative to be diverse. The stories that are told can be drastically different if the perspectives are changed. They can become richer, more compelling, and important as they'd be giving a voice to those who are so often silenced. Not to mention, 'inFamous' has a character whose perspective has been explored ad nauseam. The idea is not that 'inFamous' would be a better game were Cole a person of colour. Rather that 'inFamous' would take on a much deeper, more complex role, sticking with you with a story that stands out amidst the crowd of generic white protagonists.

It's not all bad. Much has changed since Cole's last adventure in 2011. The 'inFamous' series itself continued on without him and embraced the path of inclusiveness when 'inFamous Second Son' featured a Native American protagonist. The game didn't just throw in that backstory for nothing either. It was instrumental to his character's motivations and was reflected in how his arc developed. He was played by Troy Baker who is very much not Native American but, baby steps. 

At E3 this year alone, 'Wolfenstein: The New Colossus' features a black female character, and 'Marvel's Spider-Man' teases the inclusion of Miles Morales. Even 'Beyond Good and Evil 2' featured a black female character. The throughline though, is none of these characters seem to take the centre stage. There's nothing wrong with a story that features a white protagonist, there's just extremely untapped potential at telling a story from an unexplored perspective, that also might just mean the world to a player that's less represented. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

King Character: Why Nothing Else Matters When The Curtains Are Drawn

A lot of times I wonder how movies get made. They're tremendous undertakings. A movie with a budget of about $100 million dollars takes about a year to get made, give or take a few months. In that time you have to work out actor schedules, filming locations. Just a myriad of dates and figures that need to be ironed out, and that's not even taking into account quality. All that work could go into making an abysmal film. Granted, it can feel hollow critiquing products that have such an immense workforce behind them, but what are you gonna do.

I did not like this one part of this immense process with a thousand moving parts, therefore movie is bad!
So that's movies. Millions of dollars go into them. Sometimes they're as entertaining as watching someone watch grass grow. That said, of all the elements movies need to perfect, there is one which I feel is the most important. In my mind, a movie can have stunning visuals, an incredible story, rich quip-filled dialogue, and the most impressive stunt work this side of the tallest city in Dubai.

None of that means jack if it doesn't have character.

Now I should preface by saying I'm not writing this from any sort of objective standpoint. I'm not talking about how successful a movie will be critically or commercially once it gets this one element right. Plenty of times a movie has really strong characters, but the movie gets torn to shreds because of an otherwise poorly developed element. For me personally, I'm more than willing to forgive a movie for what it drops the ball on as long as its characters feel fleshed out and relatable.

So why character? Well, if I think about my favourite movies, the thing I go back to is how I related to the character. 'Scent of A Woman' is a story of a blind miserable old man who decides to take a tour of life's pleasures, enjoying each and every one of them, until finally, he'll take his own life. That's a great story, but it's secondary to the character of Frank Slade. When the pivotal moment of that movie comes, and you're wondering if he'll actually go through with it, the tension can't exist unless you care about Frank. You have to feel how the events of the movie have affected him. Also it doesn't hurt to have Al Pacino play the guy.

He is just as ridiculous as this photo in the movie. 
This applies to modern movies as well. This year alone my favourite cinema experiences have relied on character more than anything else. 'Logan' is a sublime experience. It's a crushing look at the end of the life of an immortal man. Everything that works in that movie is an extension of that character study. The action is propelled by Logan's increased frustration, and every time Dafne Keen's Laura takes a life, the toll of that is felt tremendously. Bodies are disposed of in Logan en masse, but with a weight and resonance unlike any superhero film before it.

Without character, a movie loses me. 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' is a beautiful film. It's sharp and vivid, and a fantastic exercise in cinematography. What it also has is an overly convoluted plot, and gaps in logic that the viewer has to take building size bounds to try and figure out. It definitely has a messy story and seems to operate solely to get its title characters to duke out their aggressions. There's no why to it, and as a viewer, you're left frustrated.

Caring about the character as more than live action toys slammed against each other keeps the viewer from bemoaning the nitpicks. 
All of that gets fixed if you understand the characters of Batman and Superman. If you understand who they are, what defines them, then their actions have a sense of purpose, and then the events of the movie unfold organically. 'Power Rangers' was a movie that had a lot of the same issues as Batman v Superman, but because so much of the movie was spent developing and understanding what made their characters tick, I could forgive so many of the things that were wrong with it. I was given people to root for, with individual stories to follow.

Another big example comes with the recent 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie. In it, Captain Jack Sparrow galavants his way from one mishap to the next, all in the name of his own self-preservation. Often times wasted. As entertaining as that was 14 years ago, the good Captain has suffered a distinct lack of any growth, rendering his actions kind of inert. What do I care if Captain Jack lives or dies if there's nothing there to care about?

The idea of another batch of Pirates movies severely exhausts me.
Mad Max Fury Road is a simple story, but I cared about Furiosa's journey. Godzilla was a tremendous sight to behold, yet every single human character is so banal, that I fall asleep when I try to watch it. The Force Awakens felt like a safe, retread of the same story for the third time, but the characters had were memorable. Every Marvel movie has its flaws and they're almost beat for beat the same movie at times, but you remember Captain America jumping onto a grenade as a scrawny kid, Iron Man driving the missile up into space with no hope of return. Each of those moments is borne out of the filmmakers having a good sense of who their characters are and what makes them tick. 

Just this past week, 'Wonder Woman' has enthralled audiences around the world. It's being heralded as one of the best superhero films to come out in recent memory. A breath of fresh air. It also has dodgy special effects, an overly convoluted ending, and takes no risks when it comes to how it presents its story. Absolutely none of that matters to the majority of audiences because the character of Wonder Woman was so well developed, and presented with an earnestness that often gets lost in the process.

More like this, pretty please.
I could list off examples all the live long day, but the point is, without characters to care about, a movie loses me very quickly. Even better, if a movie has nothing else going for it, if it has character, I might end up loving it. The reason I watch movies is to be transported to another world and experience a story that explores things I can't fathom. That's useless unless I can relate to it, and I can't do that without a character. 

'The Mummy' (2017) Review: Dead On Arrival

Catch It On Cable: If I saw this on tv or Netflix, I wouldn't really mind it. No need to buy a ticket though.
There are action comedies, there are horror comedies. ‘The Mummy’ is unique in being a full on action horror comedy. The fourth film in the franchise disregards the ones that came before it. Fraser is out, Cruise is in, and he’s bringing a shroud of darkness with him. ‘The Mummy’ follows thief, liar and general scoundrel Nick Morton played by Tom Cruise. The less honourable Indiana Jones gets into trouble when his latest find ends up releasing the evil princess Ahmanet, a 5,000 year old Egyptian princess with a penchant for destruction, particularly sand related.

No relation
What ‘The Mummy’ does right is that mix of tones. It’s a delicate balance that Cruise and company handle deftly. The movie will fill you with dread, with creepy atmospheres punctuated by jump scares. Then it will deliver a decent quality action scene, all the while bringing humour that doesn’t take away from the tension. The issue is, so much of ‘The Mummy’ feels inconsequential. While you’re enjoying the ride, it never feels as though it’s going anywhere.

I hesitate to give a synopsis of this movie since the film will repeat back the same information to you over and over again. Viewers might just be better off jumping in after the first twenty minutes, just to avoid the sense of deja vu. What’s worse is, no matter how many times ‘The Mummy’ explains it’s plot to you, it still makes less and less sense as the movie goes on. Everything you’re told only raises more head-scratching questions, distracting you from the movie itself. It's Tom Cruise has a bewildered expression on his face for the whole movie.

Like looking in a frustratingly handsome mirror.
When they weren't being exposition robots, the cast has a good chemistry. Cruise is perhaps his most unlikable he's ever been, but it's done with a purpose. He plays second fiddle to Russel Crowe though, whose brief appearance as Dr. Jekyll consists of scene larceny, as Crowe imbues the movie with an energy it sorely needed. Sofia Boutella is creepy enough as Princess Ahmanet, and actually gave her more character than I expected her to. Outside of those few though, the rest of the characters I found utterly banal and had to fight the urge to check my watch when they were the main focus of a scene.

I was actually shocked to hear 'The Mummy' was all of two hours. I intended to praise the film for being a relatively short blockbuster, that came in, told its so so story, and got out. I can say it felt short, and the movie flew by without me feeling the runtime, but then again, it feels like there was not much content here to deserve 2 whole hours. Especially since the movie's natural progression of the plot feels like the film grinding to a halt when it comes to putting in place the foundation of this brand spanking new cinematic universe.

In other words, it's just shy of a full-on train wreck.
The first film in Universal Studios’ ‘Dark Universe’ franchise is something of a non-starter. It has the right idea of how to present horror in a way that’s accessible enough, without feeling too sanitized. However, an overly convoluted plot with characters so bland you don’t care if they live or die makes this movie one that you don’t need to rush to the cinema to see.

Rating: Catch It On Cable.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Movie Money: Episode 19 (June 05, 2017)

It's the first weekend of June, and with June comes the true beginning of summer. Really, summer movie season begins earlier and earlier every year, but June is truly the beginning of summer. New entry at the number 1 spot went of course to 'Wonder Woman'. The female-led superhero movie grossed $100m domestically, exceeding expectations that pegged a modest $75m for the Amazon Warrior's solo outing. It marks the largest opening for a film directed by a woman. Worldwide 'Wonder Woman', has already surpassed its $149m budget and grossed a grand $225m. Most likely the film will end it's run with a comfortable $700m-$800m total, par for the course for first-time superhero adventures, but 'Wonder Woman' is a definite hit with audiences.

Patty Jenkins helmed the success story.
Another new face in the box office this week was 'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie'. The Dreamworks animated feature brought in $23.5m this weekend, shy of its modest $38m budget. Not a runaway hit. It's likely the film will make just enough to cover its production budget but with the stiff competition of June ahead, it doesn't look good for the childhood superhero. Coming in at number 3 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' suffered a 66% drop this weekend, making its domestic gross only $114.6m. The real money is in the international market, where 'Pirates' is currently laughing its mediocre self to the bank with $507m in tow. A sequel is all but inevitable for what was touted as the final adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow.

In a world of remakes and sequels, Captain Jack will always be there. Whether we like it or not.
Finally, 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.' once again in the top 5, but seemingly on its last legs. The Marvel space adventure raked in $9.7m this weekend domestically. Chances are it'll be out the top 5 as of next week, but it continues to do well overseas, with a total of $817m worldwide. 'Baywatch' rounds out the 5, and has come to a worldwide cume of $67m, shy of a $69m budget. Safe to say 'Baywatch' is a bomb.

Here's the episode this week with Shawna and myself making our predictions for next week:

Friday, 2 June 2017

'Wonder Woman' (2017) Review: Finally.

Big Screen Watch: Do yourself a favour and check it out before it's gone.
About an hour into 'Wonder Woman', Princess Diana of Themyscira awakens on a ship pulling into London in 1918, at the height of the Great War. Her companion, Steve Trevor, gleefully welcomes her to jolly old London, but the smoke and concrete of the industrial centre of the world are nothing but revolting to the Amazonian Princess, whose home is brimming with colour and life. "It's not for everyone" Steve retorts. In that moment, the two might as well be talking about the recent slate of DC films, which have been criticized for being overly gritty, to the point of being completely inaccessible. Thankfully, 'Wonder Woman' is a breath of fresh air, and gives this cinematic universe its very best film. I realise that doesn't mean much but trust me, it's good.

I'm not crazy.
Tonal shifts aside, 'Wonder Woman' is also groundbreaking in a much more important way. Perhaps ceiling shattering is more appropriate, as 'Wonder Woman' bucks the trend of superhero films, and gives a serious treatment to a female superhero. Who would have thought that maybe, just maybe, audiences might be interested in seeing a different perspective, than that of the male hero? 'Wonder Woman' shows that a woman can be more than a mere damsel in distress.

For all it does for the current cinematic landscape, 'Wonder Woman' is a superhero movie that is pretty paint by numbers. It follows the same basic structure we've come to expect from these films. The real treasure is in the cast and their interactions. Mainly the two leads, Wonder Woman herself, played by Gal Gadot, and Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine. The two have a chemistry that keeps the film feeling engaging, even if nothing particularly exciting is going on.

It takes a good while for the titular heroine to actually do anything heroic. I myself appreciated the slow burn the movie practiced. It gave the characters the development necessary to make its more flashy moment have any sense of substance. For all those anxious to see Wonder Woman deliver the true strength of a goddess, she's right there with you. Diana spends most of the film eager to become the hero the world knows her to be. When she finally gets the chance, the wait and anticipation pays off beautifully, as 'Wonder Woman' gives a scene that is not just riveting, but also massively inspiring. It's the most awe-inspiring superhero film, since Richard Donner's Superman.

Superheroes can be uplifting and still be relatable. 
For many, Donner's Superman is the gold standard of superhero films. For others, it stands as a relic of a bygone era, out of touch with our modern times. 'Wonder Woman' magically fuses the two viewpoints, with a story that accepts the world as it is, but imagines what it could be. The closest I can compare it to is 'Captain America: The First Avenger'. The difference is, whereas that film felt much like an Indiana Jones type adventure film, 'Wonder Woman' grounds its story, making it feel more relatable. I realise it's a movie about Greek Gods living among us mortals, but hey, the tone is the tone.

When it's not busy being a fantasy war period piece that contemplates the true nature of man, it's also a pretty damn good fish out of water story. Diana gives you everything you'd want from a stranger in a strange land. She's naive enough to be adorable, but not enough to be frustratingly ignorant. She never comes off as stupid, and instead gives the movie some of its best social commentary, as Diana points out the archaic practices that are as foreign to us today as they are to her.

Wonder Woman: "Um, duh?"
To touch on the look of the film, it refreshingly gives a break to the drab and bleak aesthetic that so many blockbusters employ. Any desaturation is strictly for story purposes. Wonder Woman stands out in the grim exterior of the battleground, as the beacon of hope that she is. It's not the Crayola box explosion fever dream that is 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2', but it's got a good grasp of its colour palette.

I promise this is the last time I'll mention GOTG V2 in a review BUT IT'S JUST SO PRETTY
The action scenes are filmed spectacularly, the dialogue is rewarding, but most notably, the characters are well developed and relatable. Although her origin story may seem a little more than familiar, Diana's story is inspiring and it gives the uplifting feeling one looks for when going into a superhero film. In a summer like this one, it’s nigh impossible to see everything before they leave the cinema. This is definitely a film worth seeing on the big screen while you can.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Who is Damian Michael Movies?

Who am I? You sure you want to know?

That's a line from 'Spider-Man' (2002). The very first movie I cried in. (Uncle Ben dying was rough man.) Ever since then I've thought about movies, tv shows, and all manner of entertainment way too much.

Anyway, this blog is dedicated to my reviews and musings about those things. Jamaican born and located squarely in the heart of Kingston, (two minutes from Sovereign), Damian Michael Levy is the writer behind the posts seen here at You can also find me at any of these lovely places:

Email: Where you can contact me for freelance work, and writing in any capacity.
Facebook: Where I share these blog posts and all the other film discussion projects I'm involved in, such as podcasts and other writings.
Instagram: Where I share smaller, easily digestible versions of these blog posts.
Twitter: Where I blurt out the teeny tiny ideas that aren't big enough to be blog posts.