Monday, May 22, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Alien: Covenant', 'Before Sunset', 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides', 'Sin City' and 'In the Shadows of Iris'

The Breakdown explores far off planets and answers the question if anyone hears you when you scream in space with its review of the hotly anticipated sci-fi thriller, Alien: Covenant. We also got four other movies reviews including a look at Richard Linklater's classic romance, Before Sunset and as well the swash-buckling adventure feature, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tide. Plus actor Powers Boothe passed away this week so we review one of his movies in the comic book crime noir adaptation, Sin City. As always if you enjoy the show then spread the word to other movie lovers.

You can check out my written review of Alien: Covenant right here.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Review Rundown:

1:10 Before Sunset review
18:05 Alien: Covenant review
34:56 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides review
49:28 Sin City review
1:04:38 In the Shadows of Iris review
1:18:27 Trailer Reviews: Battle of the Sexes, The Emoji Movie, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Glass Castle, The House
1:30:14 Box Office Analysis
1:36:41 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:

Before Sunset **** (CS & SM)
Alien: Covenant **½ (CS)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ** (CS & SM)
Sin City *** (CS & SM)
In the Shadows of Iris ** (CS) & **½ (SM)

Summer Box Office Challenge:

Christopher's Picks:

1. Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2$145 049 000 
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
3. Wonder Woman
4. Transformers: The First Knight
5. War of the Planet of the Apes  
6. Baywatch
7. The Mummy
8. The House
9. Atomic Blonde
10. Captain Underpants
Total: $145 049 000 

Scott's Picks:

1. The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
2. Despicable Me 3
3. Alien: Covenant $36 000 000
4. Cars 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Annabelle: Creation
7. Snatched $17 500 000
8. All Eyez on Me
9. The Emoji Movie
10. The Hitman's Bodyguard
Total: $53 500 000

Friday, May 19, 2017

'Alien: Covenant' Review: Latest Example of Why Prequels Ruin Everything

Four Star Rating: **½
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: John Logan & Dante Harper
Story by: Jack Paglen & Michael Green
Based On Characters by: Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett
Composer: Jed Kurzel
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Editor: Pietro Scalia
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Rated: 18A (Canada)/R (US) - graphic violence, coarse language, disturbing scenes, nudity, sexual content.
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Run Time: 123 minutes

Around the time of Prometheus' release, director Ridley Scott revealed he had several more movies set in the Alien universe planned but he warned the focus would be on the Engineers while the iconic xenomorphs would remain absent. Then his Alien prequel was met with a mixed reception and still has a lingering bitter taste for fans of the franchise. Then Neill Blomkamp announced intentions to make his own Alien movie, which would be a reimagining of events proceeding Aliens. All these factors likely lead to Prometheus 2 being changed to Alien: Covenant and the images of the xenomorphs became a central part of the marketing. But this is definitely a sequel to Prometheus by furthering the story of the android David (Michael Fassbender) and continuing a sci-fi exploration of questions surrounding creation, while also trying to satiate fans of the franchise with more xenomorphs, blood and action.

The prologue takes place before the events of Prometheus, where David is with his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, this time without the old man make-up) in a bright white room that gives a heavenly vibe. In the scene, Weyland is trying to get David to show off his talents while also exerting his authority. The philosophical exploration of creation themes begins as Weyland expresses his fascination with discovering mankind's origins while David expresses some contempt towards a creator that he views an inferior to himself. This sets up some of the major ideas driving the movie and signals right away that John Logan and Dante Harper are more interested in the story of David than anything else.

Before we see David again, we are introduced to the latest ill-fated crew who this time are on a seven year journey to a planet that they will colonize. The crew includes Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), Tennessee (Danny McBride), Maggie Faris (Amy Seimetz), and a lot more fresh meat. Even before the nasty alien business, tragedy strikes the crew as the ship suffers a malfunction while they are in cryo sleep that results in their captain burning alive. Now the ill-prepared Oram has to take on the role of captain and immediately, clashes with expert terraformer Branson. There is a signal coming from a previously unknown planet that seems to have potential to be a good place for colonization. Oram thinks it is better to investigate the newly found planet that could be a new home rather than risk going into cryo sleep again while trying to reach their original destination. Daniels argues it is a risk going to a place they know nothing about. Since this is an Alien movie, Daniels turns out to be completely correct.

The landing on the planet turns out horrible for the crew but exemplifies the incredible visual strength of Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The first few shots on the new world are immersive with a lush environment that has a subtle unsettling feel. Scott really amps up the spine tingling when crewmembers start trampling on some alien spores that release nasty pathogens. There is a scene with chilling imagery of a particles that we follow floating right into a poor person's ear canal then watch as it absorbs into the skin. It is wincing body horror at its best and it is all build to some of the more gloriously grotesque death sequences. There are several inventive kills like the first ever back bursting and a campy but creepy scene where a couple regrets their decision to have sex in a shower.

Scott's ability to slow build to horror and set-up adrenaline pumping action sequences are both top notch big movie experiences. You get a sense of desperation as one character is trapped in a room with a rabid little baby xenomorph hybrid. Later in the movie, Waterston emerges as the kick-ass Ripley type as she needs to battle it out for her survival. The moments are punctuated by a top-notch score by Jed Kurzel that pays tribute to the classic theme music while putting on a new spin. There are a lot of moments that play on our nostalgia for the past movies but provide a twist to be brand new thrills. It takes place in interesting environments, especially David's cavernous lair that looks like something from a classic dark fantasy tale and sets the mood perfectly for what is to come.

As great as Scott is at building tension and creating captivating set pieces, there is little stakes due to the movie being populated by underwritten and dim-witted victims that do things like looking into mysterious open pods just because they were told. I'm reminded of the first two movies where in just a few scenes we know the motivation and personality of every crewmember, while this time I often had to fight to try to remember who was the person about to get slaughtered.

The story is also bogged down by long stretches of exploring themes handled better in past movies like asking what makes us human or the idea a creator could be malevolent, which was stuff far better explored in Scott's own Blade Runner. The film also suffers by believing David is far more interesting and complex than he actually is. His motives are pretty one dimensional and typical of certain big budget movie characters, but I'll leave it vague for those that want to explore this on their own. When David returns in the movie to rescue the crew from an alien attack, it leads to both the movie's greatest potential and biggest downfall.

But Fassbender does need to be applauded for his dual role as David and the crew members android, Walter, The Walter version had his emotions and independence dialed back after people were frightened by the David model. Fassbender does an excellent job at creating two completely different characters, and it is quite the sight when he shares scenes with himself. He does small little mannerism that make it clear the character that he is being at the moment and brings much needed depth to roles that aren't really intricately written.

The relationship between the two androids has the makings to be a special one with David acting like an older brother and mentor trying to encourage Walter to become his own being and teach him things like playing an instrument. The possibilities get spoiled when a key scene reverts into ridiculous melodrama that has a climax of the two French kissing

The movie is filled with interesting ideas that never get fully fleshed out. Oram is religious and early on it is clear that it is a defining aspect for him, this should open up some interesting possibilities when he confronts the creation obsessed David. At first there is a meaningful confrontation with some interesting dialogue but then it all gets ignored when the movie is ready to ramp up the action again. There is also a strong focus on familial bonds such as a crew that is filled with several romantic couples and of course, the android connection. There is an interesting direction when many of the leads have their loved ones killed off.  It allows for some emotional pull and adds a layer to some of these characters, but is never fully given weight when characters seem to move on for the sake of plot.

There is a lot of memorable moments and scenes here that will please the big Alien fans, but lack of engaging characters and dropping of story points makes it feel more like a best of compilation than a fully fleshed out movie. Even then, the final end battle is constructed in a thrilling fashion with the heroes running down maze-like corridors and eventually needing to battle a masterfully special effects created xenomorph that looks scarier than any previous instalment. Even then it gets hard to be fully engaged because the script calls for some twists that are so glaringly easy to figure out that the entire time you just keep waiting for the big reveal, but Scott stretches it out to a far too predictable conclusion. The fact anyone thought the reveal could shock is an insult to anyone who has seen more than four movies in their life-time.

The thing that ultimately defangs Alien: Covenant is its need to create an Alien mythos. Back in 1979 when people were first terrified by the xenomorphs, I don't think anyone thought they really needed to discover the creature's origin story. The xenomorphs work perfectly as these unknown monsters that have an obsession to procreate and kill everything in their path. Much like the Star Wars prequels or Rob Zombie's first half of Halloween, the more we learn about the dark, mysterious villain then the less interesting and scary it becomes. I'm left wishing to be put back in the dark.

Making Its Intentions Clear

The new Mummy trailer has a few new scenes but it is largely peddling the same wares we have been expecting for months now. It has the interesting concept of Cruise's character bonded with the evil mummy lady overwhelmed by big special effects action sequences. Though it does look like Cruise is doing some stunt work and some of the action here looks to have real choreography and geography. I did smirk in the scene when the female lead told tough-looking Cruise to kick ass but then he was thrown across the woods, so maybe it isn't taking itself as seriously as I feared.

But there is one thing that really stood out to me in this trailer and it was the blatant mention that this movie is all about launching a Universal Monsters Universe. Has any movie in the promotional campaign ever straight out declared that "yes, this movie is all about launching a big franchise"? This doesn't mean that this movie won't be good (though I have my concerns), but it does make you a little nervous that the bigger focus is setting the table for all the other monster movies as they build to their Avengers. Considering all the would-be franchise launcher flops lately, it would be better to just focus on making a thrilling movie and then figure out where to go after you have a hooked audience.

Who is recurring character here? The evil female mummy or super powered Cruise? I sort of get the sense that Cruise has so many projects and movies on the go that he really doesn't have the time to be committing to something as ambitious as this. Though if this flops in a few weeks, all this universe building was frivolous anyway.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Can 'Alien: Covenant" Burst Out to the Top of the Box Office?

It is a busy week at the box office with three new releases, but if you trust Scott, only one is going to make a major dent. Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox hopes May will have a second huge sci-fi hit with Alien: Covenant. There are also two smaller movie that are targeting very specific demographics and can get by on modest returns in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and Everything, Everything. Even though my interest is low on the two smaller movies (mostly due to being way outside their target demographic), I appreciate it when big studios are still willing to make smaller movies that aren't being designed to draw in massive crowds. A diverse slate that appeal to diverse crowds is what a healthy movie industry needs. Anyway, Scott is serving up his big prediction on what he thinks will be the big grosses so go check them out on his blog.

Scott Reviews a Movie!

A few years back and shortly after we started The Breakdown podcast, Scott started his site, The Movie a Day Blog. For a short time, he was really good at keeping up with daily reviews. Unfortunately, much like myself, Scott has some emotional demons that spike him down into the molten lava and for a time it has claimed victory. Also like myself, Scott is fighting to take back charge of his writing career and wants to return to daily movie reviews. To my great delight, Scott has posted a review to Before Sunrise, which you may remember was a movie we both raved about on this past podcast. Scott offers some more insight than just what we did on the podcast and also provides some of his unique flavour to the review. So please go check it out so that his ego can be boosted by solid page views and he will keep on giving us a daily review.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quick Takes on ABC's New Fall TV Series

The master plan was to post my quick thoughts on ABC's trailers for their new fall shows last night, but in something that has happened far too often, after a day of writing for clients (with blog posts squeezed in) and playing a dad in real life, my emotions crashed down a canyon and my energy was burnt toast. I have spent more time on here making excuses rather than writing about interesting things, but my ongoing internal battles is part of the reason why this site has become almost exclusively movie and trailer chatter when I keep promising more. I hope to get the site back to its peak of success just like ABC dreams of these shows doing the same for them.

The Gospel of Kevin

Selfish and arrogant jerk gets himself an angel and super powers to learn to care about others and make the world a better place. This looks like exactly the type of show that would be on the network owned by Disney. It actually feels like something that would have been a feature film in the early 1990s (starring John Travolta or Bruce Willis) under the Touchstone label. Considering Kevin has to start doing miraculous things each week, his loser persona will probably be shed pretty quickly and he'll just be a pretty decent guy making people's lives better. This feels like Touched by an Angel, except I don't really know what that show was about but I know my mom dug it while folding laundry.

The Mayor

The premise is a completely unprepared and politically unsavvy man run for political office as a publicity stunt but then wins. How unrealistic is that? No one would buy such a story. At least they kept it to mayor and didn't do something stupid like make him President. It is really great to see Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) back on TV and hopefully, she gets to do more than just be a bewildered mom.

The Crossing

"From the network that gave you Lost" shows you a pretty good idea of what ABC is trying to make the viewer feel about this series. It has an intriguing premise with a small town sheriff discovering several people washed up on shore who claim they turned up there to escape a war in the future. The trailer definitely is full of twists and turns, which at least promises for a crazy paced and jam-packed premiere. It also hints that maybe these people aren't totally innocent and as well, that there was someone else that has already come from the future. The thing that you really have to ask yourself before committing to this series is if the showrunners already have some answers waiting or will this really be like Lost where they keep on throwing crazy stuff on the screen without ever offering an explanation. I was at first nervous about Steve Zahn going serious but he looks to handle the drama well in this trailer. It will be interesting to see if there is an attempts at allegory to modern politics with the immigrants from another time fleeing a war and needing refuge from people who did not want them (or at least, know about them until it was too late).

For the People

It is a new fall season so there has to be a new Shonda Rhimes drama on ABC. It offers everything I'd expect with witty banter, trendy music, slick stylish edits, soapy romance, and feel-good speeches. Shondaland is a TV empire for a reason, because she appeals to a rather significant demographic. I will happily remain outside of it.


It's a magician who uses the power of illusion to fight crime. That must have been a failed late 1970s DC comic first. It is essentially Elementary or Scorpion or The Mentalist but with card tricks. Watch as my interest completely vanishes, but I can see this be a hit in order to spite me.

The Good Doctor

Detective and medical shows with a twist or idiot savant lead seem to be a premise that is destined to spawn two or three or eight new series every single year on the networks. I like the idea that they are making a lead character who has high functioning autism and it is one of the signs of television trying to be more progressive. The trailer seems to be more into making it a super power rather than something many people have to live with every day. I hope the series is willing to really tackle autism and make the lead into an authentic character. If you remove the autism part, this looks like a billion other shows that have come out over the last decade. This could be special if there is any attempt to really run with the concept.

Ten Days in the Valley

A TV screenwriter must us the power of her TV scripts to solve the kidnapping of her daughter. Or at least, that is what I got out of this trailer. And that Kyra Sedgwick gets to be the lead, which is the best thing about this series. It is also nice to be Adebisis from Oz has turned his life around and is now a detective. My guess is there will be lots of soapy and twisty turns, but each week a new suspect will be shown to be innocent until ABC gets tired of that formula, then the girl is rescued. Then the series turns into a straight prime time soap or she solves more crimes with the power of her word processor.

Alex, Inc.

Um ABC, telling us Zach Braff is the producer, director and star of the new series isn't the selling point that you think it is in 2017. I'm also not sure how we are supposed to cheer on a guy who abandoned what I assumed was a steady job for the very unsteady podcast company that from what I can tell doesn't do podcasts but rather catapults dolls into walls. Dropping your job for your dream is something that works real well when your 20 but makes you look like a bit of an ass when you're a father. I find that is always the problem with Braff, he makes unlikable characters without really knowing it. But despite things, I was excited to see Tiya Sircar who had a supporting role as Real Eleanor in the fantastic The Good Place (if I was with it, I would have reviewed the whole first season). But then I realize, her being a regular on this show may mean that I shouldn't expect her to return. To end this on a positive note, I really love that TV series (and movies) are allowing for way more mixed couples because it better reflects at least the world that I know real well.

Splitting Up Together

Just the other day, a little thought bug crawled into my ear and made me wonder, "What is Jenna Fischer doing now? I haven't seen her in anything for a little while, but she is so great." Well, she has been doing this, apparently. As a 90 minute romantic comedy feature, I think it could be a funny, sometimes insightful, feel-good piece of entertainment. I don't see how you drag this out into something that can have multiple seasons, let alone the 22 episodes expected (though nowadays, some networks smartly just order 13). This will likely end up being one of those series that will need to abandon their premise by the first season and then have a title that doesn't really make any sense anymore. I may still give this shot, because Fischer is awesome.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Final "War for the Planet of the Apes" Reveals More but Leaves Many Questions

Unless my memory has totally failed me, Caesar and the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were speaking just a few words at best. They are now communicating in full on English sentences and are completely upright in their walking while becoming talented horse riders. Either their advancement has been speedy or we are once again several years later again. This would make sense, since it looks like the human characters from the past movie have all died off again. Woody Harrelson brings forth the latest xenophobic villain who blames all hardships on the apes and gains leadership with the promise of the apes' extermination.

The apes' ability to talk has likely been made mandatory by the fact that the young speechless girl seems to be the only good human this time. The apes will have to do the heavy lifting of moving forward the plot. Like the previous, they look life-like and the special effects are amazing. There is a chance they are hiding away some good human characters, but I actually expect they're hiding the girls major story arch. If you stitch together this one with past trailers, she seems to have some type of relationship with the gorilla who betrays the other ape. My best guess is he sides with the humans based off something that happens to the young girl. But I could be way off, and it is the young girl that maybe convince the gorilla to sacrifice himself for the apes.

This trailer definitely reveals a lot more but it does its job by giving me more questions than answers. It builds up a lot of anticipation for what at this point is billed as the final chapter of a trilogy. A trilogy that I sense is not going to have a cheery and happy ending even if we're rooting for the apes. I sense some big losses here and Caesar either dead or torn apart after the war is done.

The Apes series has been successful at providing big spectacle while also being thoughtful and philosophical. It is dealing with obvious current social issues and challenging our perceptions of war and the way we are threatened by different cultures. This one looks like it will be just as smart but also provide even more boom for the buck. This one is on the top for most anticipated big summer tentpole.

The Downside of 'The Lego Movie' Success

When I took Everett to see The LEGO Batman Movie, there was a teaser for The Emoji Movie. The moment it ended, my 5 year old son (who loves all movie and gives his thumbs up as long as it is a cartoon and colourful) blurted out, "Why would you make a movie about emojis?" I should also mention he loves emojis and always asks to add in a smiley face or some other icon if he knows I am texting someone. Yet he even gets that this is a dumb idea. An idea that I am pretty sure exists because someone saw how much money The LEGO Movie made and thought that since emojis were popular it would equal box office gold. I really hope that person is wrong and it is shown you can't just turn everything recognizable into an animated feature that will draw out the children.

I will say that at least there was some attempts at creativity here. They created a magic land where emojis live inside each person's phone. As a two minute short, that isn't a bad concept. I also appreciate they are trying to squeeze out a positive message about being yourself and not following the crowd. I am sure by the end, 'Meh' emoji will be who he wants and finally find acceptance. But despite all that, this does not look like a good movie. The jokes fell flat and the "be yourself" message has been used in much better movies like Zootopia, Moana and Inside Out. Or I assume they will be much better movies, because if these are the best clips to get me excited then this will be a painful 90 minutes.

There have been so many awesome animated features in the past few years. They have been creative and distinct, and have crafted positive messages in unique ways without harming the storytelling. The message in The Emoji Movie is positive but it seems forced. In what I see as a golden age of animation where you have the previously mentioned movies along with other great stuff like Kubo and the Two String, Monsters University, Trolls, and The Little Prince, I just don't see The Emoji Movie being much more than disposable junk food. I hope to be proven very wrong, but for now, I am glad Everett is not excited to see this one.

There is More to Mainstream Cinema Than Big Franchises

As the cloud of big budget franchise pictures seems to encompass the entire landscape of big studio pictures, there are strong glimmers of light in the form of original movies that are breaking through. In a recent interview, Jordan Peele offered some of that sunshine when he revealed the main reason he turned down Warner Brother's offer for him to helm a big budget (and likely franchise launching) remake of Akira was due to him wanting to make his own original movies for now. That is exactly what he is doing, as his next project is another "social thriller" that he will be doing for Universal and Blumhouse again.

It is really awesome to see filmmakers who pass up the chance to do a massive budget picture so that they can have creative control to make more personal works. Peele's first effort, Get Out, was not only a huge critical darling but it made a shocking $214 million on a budget of $4.5 million. On top of that, there has been constant talk that Get Out will be a strong contender at the end of the year for a Best Picture nomination. No matter what happens, this means the movie will be remaining in the conversation for most of the year. All of this is great, because it means studios will have more faith in Peele and give him more freedom in the movies he wants to make. He both wrote and directed Get Out, and it was a massive success, so it is a formula that at least Universal will remain comfortable.

Peele isn't the only one who currently has strong control over their own movies. Quentin Tarantino has written and directed most of his movies (he did a screenplay of True Romance, which Tony Scott directed). You know if a movie has been directed by Tarantino you will be getting his style, dialogue and voice. M. Night Shyamalan has also written the script for almost everything he has directed. He has returned to his spot as a golden boy after the amazing success of Split. He is now allowed to play in the big studio sand box again and making exactly the movies he wants. Damien Chazelle also found great success in Whiplash and La La Land, which are both movies he wrote and directed. Since both did well in the box office and got nominated for Best Picture, studios will continue to trust him to make the movies that inspire and drive him.

These director being able to follow their vision is great news during a time that it often feels like the studios are creating the movies while the directors are just a pawn. We aren't ever going to return to the 1970s where New Wave directors were able to make whatever they want and often crafted irreverent and counter-culture works. But the success of movies like Deadpool and Logan, which are mainstream movies with very distinct voices, are a victory for those tired of an over-used mainstream formula.

It is great to see directors that are driven by the ability to create and tell their stories. It looks like for the next few years that even though we will needs to endure a stream of franchises and factory constructed movies, we are also going to get mainstream, wide-release pictures that have a strong and distinct vision. I had feared that director driven stories were going to be forced into the independent filmmaking scene but thanks to places like Blumhouse, we at least can get fresh stories in the realm of genre filmmaking.

Quick Takes on New FOX Fall TV Series

One thing that stands out about the Network Upfronts is that the networks seem to unveil far less new series for the fall, Part of that is that there is now the "year-round" TV model where they save up some big shows for the winter and summer time too (years ago, those times were just slotted for replacement shows that networks only resorted to when their big guns fizzled). The other reason for less new series is likely that most new efforts over the last few years have flopped, so networks seem to have smaller orders, so they can focus more on making what they have really shine. Here is the shows that FOX hopes brighten ups their schedule this fall.

The Gifted

It is a family drama with mutant. And bright flashy lights. And spider robots. And a resistance. And a nasty government agency on the hunt. And now the more that I think about it, not sure how much focus there will be on the family drama aspect, I appreciate that this feels like an  attempt to do something new with the comic book/superhero TV series resurgence. The focus seems to be mostly on the family rather than attempting for epic scale covering numerous mutants. Hopefully, this means for an intimate and character-driven series. The trailer didn't blow me away and this is fighting to avoid being generic, but the concept is interesting enough to give it a shot.

The Orville

This feels a lot like Galaxy Quest if the crew was actually in space rather than just actors in a second rate Star Trek series. Even if it reminds me of something else, it is a something else that was a pretty brilliant movie. A sci-fi space exploration comedy has a lot of potential. I like the little twist that the captain is forced to work alongside his ex-wife, which has a lot of potential for some humour. My biggest problem is that I have never been able to get into Seth MacFarlane. His delivery always feels detached and disconnected from the story that he is in. He never feels like a real character, but always dripping with condescension and cynicism. His success shows it works for some people, but it always draws me out. He seems to have toned it down some here and may allow some of the other actors to bring the jokes. This is definitely one of the series that has some great potential.

The Resident

Hey look, another medical drama. At times this trailer had me such as the doctor trying to cover up his mistake or how Conrad seemed to be ready to butt heads with that same doctor. It looks to be oozing with melodrama and trying to conjure up those "special moments." I also sense it is kind of struggling with what it wants to say in an attempt to look irreverent and controversial. This is one series where it is hard to judge it just based off this trailer, because it isn't clear if some of this stuff is going to be allowed to grow over the series or if it is all resolved in an overstuffed premiere episode.


It is Men in Black mashed up against the Ghostbusters. Stuff like this is a challenge on TV, because it requires strong special effects which need the time and budget that isn't often available for a weekly series. I hope they keep the episode order small so that they can make sure this looks good. I am a big fan of both Adam Scott and Craig Robinson, and they play off each other really well in the trailer. This has a lot of potential to be fresh and try some new kind of stories. With The Orville premiering around the same time, it looks like this fall's fad is sci-fi action comedies.

LA to Vegas

The positive is that the great TV actor Dylan McDermott has landed a new series. He seems to be having a lot of fun playing an incompetent airplane captain and reveling in doing comedy. The downside is that this doesn't seem very funny but rather very painful.

Quick Takes on the New NBC Fall TV Series

This week the TV networks reveal their new shows that will be premiered this fall. NBC kicked things off first. A network that with lucrative sports deals and the break-out hit This Is Us has returned as a prominent network again. Now, they are hoping to have another smash hit to keep them on top of the mountain.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

The 'true crime' genre has been incredibly popular the last few years. FX had a huge critical hit with last year's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. It was pretty clear a network would want to try to gobble up some of that success with their own series about a real life court case. The infamous case of Lyle and Eric Menendez murdering their parents in their Beverly Hills home was an event that became a national obsession in 1989 with it complicated and dark story. It is definitely a case that would be for some gripping TV and it has been removed by a few decades that it will be a fresh story for some viewers. It makes a lot of sense for NBC to increase its draw potential by using one of it most recognizable brands, Law & Order, to help draw attention. My only concern is that dark material like this tends to be better suited for a cable channel, because I don't think the O.J series would have been anywhere as compelling if it wasn't on FX where it was allowed for much creative leeway. This does have lots of potential, and there are no signs of 'true crime' fading yet.

The Brave

Okay, so that trailer was basically a Reader's Digest version of the series premiere. I don't really get the trend every year of using a trailer that essentially spoils the first episode. Though that may be partly because at this point they only have the pilot taped, so they can't just patched together clips of the first few episode. These trailers also are designed to entice sponsors more than they are to sell viewers, so they want to give as much sizzle as they can and really make it clear what the series is about. Anyway, as for this trailer, it is cool to see Ann Heche back. This is apparently about an elite undercover special op military team, but it kind of looks like a thousand other episodic TV dramas I have seen on networks for decades.

Will & Grace

I don't think I ever watched a full episode of Will & Grace, but I recognize it was a cultural phenomenon during its time and has its devoted fans. I liked that instead of just being a collection of clips of future episodes that this trailer used some creativity and has a pretty fun little musical number. It sets a nice light and energetic tone for the series, and the actors seems to be excited to be back in their old roles.

Wrestling That GLOWs

I don't think GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) was available in my area when it was running the second half of the 1980s, though I do remember seeing a GLOW VHS case at the Jansen's Video store. It was later that I found out it was a campy wrestling promotion that was filled with largely actors, musicians and stunt women with no wrestling experience trying to use the syndicated show as a way to break into show business. The storylines and gimmicks on the show would have made the very cartoonnish WWF seem progressive. It was campy and goofy and filled with awful wrestling, but it had a cult following. While I never saw GLOW, I did see David McClane's early 2000 attempt to launch a similar in style all-women's wrestling promotion with WOW (Women of Wrestling). I did see that promotion's very campy and ridiculous presentation (though admittedly had its trainwreck charms).

Netflix is launching a series about the 1980s GLOW, and it looks like it is being played for comedy. From what I know about the promotion, it also looks like this show is going to be heavily fictionalized while also still showcasing what it was all about. Hopefully, this isn't one of these shows that tries to make it look like it was more successful than it really turned out to be or that it was some kind of great achievement for women's wrestling (it probably actually reinforced stereotypes and harmed the perception in North America). The new trailer looks like it will be kind of fun, and the best part is it is a starring vehicle for the very great Alison Brie.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happiness is a Well-Written Column

Nathan Rabin is a pop culture writer who has been churning out top notch content for over 20 years. He has written for places like AV Club, The Dissolve (RIP), Rotten Tomatoes, and other places where in-depth discussion of 1986's Howard the Duck is celebrated. He was the writer who coined the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl and regretted it quickly after. He spawned classic columns like 'Forgotbusters' (a column about movies that were massive hits when they first came out but are longer remembered), 'My World of Flops' (analysis of a financial flop to see if it was actually a hidden gem worth tracking down) and 'Sub-Cult' (explores if a movie is worthy of being a cult classic). Rabin is a funny and colourful writer who is absent of any critical pretension and is willing to give in-depth analysis to works that are often dismissed. He has been one of my favourite writers of film for a long time. Recently, he has decided to launch his own site, Nathan Rabin's Happy Place, which is a collection of daily columns that analyze pop culture and detail the adventures of parenting. Kind of like what I attempt but he is far more successful and entertaining. Please check it out, because he deserves a huge readership, and if you like his stuff then consider donating on his Patreon.

Sharks are Hip Again

You know the power of a movie when over 40 years later the fear it instilled continues to simmer and it still has movies clearly inspired by it. Jaws turned sharks into monsters and even to this day they will play a nasty villain. I would have thought that evidence showing sharks aren't the man eaters we once feared would have slowed down the fear. Yet the legacy of Jaws remains, which is why we got The Shallows last year. The Shallows was a movie that shifted away from trying to be dramatic and instead revel into the B-Movie roots of animal attack horror that was largely inspired by Jaws success. The Shallows proved that sharks can still bring people out to the movies and is why we now have 47 Meters Down. It doesn't look as exciting as last year's Blake Lively starrer and the new trailer is full of frenetic cuts, but I am ready for another shark attack. I'm happy for a smaller and claustrophobic low-budget thriller that can be the palate cleanser to the summer of special effects spectacle. Though I hope this is a trend that is about to end, because lady swims away from shark can only be exciting for so long.

New Series Building Strategies are a Franchise Killer

Chris Hartwell over at the Hollywood Reporter wrote a column on a subject that Scott and I have discussed numerous times on The Breakdown podcast, how the need to lay the groundwork for cinematic universes full of sequels and spin-offs derails the movie being presented. The most classic modern example is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which felt more like an infomercial for Sinister Six and others rather than an actual movie. As well, the DC movies in a desperate attempt to play catch up to Marvel has suffered from dragging down their narratives to shoehorn cameos and teasers for future movies like in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The blatant place setting for sequels and spin-offs is not the only poisoning of these movies, but it is likely a major cause for the lack of focus on making that movie the best it could be and have the actual voice of the filmmaker shine through.

I have to admit that much of the apparent set-up for the proposed six movie King Arthur series went right over my head in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I was just battling trying to get to the end of a painful mangling of Guy Ritchie's street tough heist movie, grimy Games of Thrones visuals, magical infused adventure, historical epic-like retelling, and burst your ears rock show. I know the dream was for this was to be a mega-franchise with hopes for several spin-offs movies, but other than it being a blatant origin story by the end, the stink of advertising for future movies did not permeate off the screen like the other movies.

After reading the article, I did realized one lesser talked about franchise launching idea polluted the movie. When the Mage was introduced in the movie, I rustled out of my stupor to ponder where Merlin was chilling. His absence was notable enough that disappointed film-goers shuffled out at the end complaining the lack of Merlin. He did get referenced several times and the film does build him up as a significant figure in the world, but he never gets any screen time. Also during the viewing, I thought it was odd that a movie about King Arthur left out major characters like Guinevere and Lancelot. Their exclusions stood out because the reason for launching an Arthur franchise was due to it being a recognizable property, yet the most well-known non-Arthur characters were completely absent.

The reason for missing characters suddenly struck me while reading that article, the lack of recognizable characters was a way to build to future instalments. Somewhere some Warner Brothers studio executive had grand visions that the world would be rocking their King Arthur action figures and eagerly anticipating the follow-up to the epic after the title revelation of The Enchantment of Merlin.

The theory is likely that you can't deliver all the crowd-pleasing characters in the first movie, but rather draw it all out so there can be the big marketing hype for next instalment. We get no Merlin now, because it will stir up the crows for the eventual reveal. Over time we would finally get Lancelot and Guinevere, who likely would be played by major star roles by Chris Pratt and Scarlett Johansson. After that the hype would start for appearances for that sword forging dragon and an exciting spin-off devoted to those tree creatures.

I understand the idea of building anticipation and saving up some stuff for the future. The eventual reveal of Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi was a big moment because we had heard about him for two previous movies. The time he arrived was the natural moment for him to be involved in the story. There also was never a story reason for Jabba to show up in the first two movies. His role was so unnecessary in the original that it was initially cut and now its inclusions in the Special Edition elicits whines from the hardcores. The Star Wars franchise did have numerous characters that were referenced that were not seen until later movies, but their absence never harmed the narrative nor was there a feeling that their mention was some type of elaborate marketing campaign.

The goal every time is to focus on making the best possible picture now. A story should not be sacrificed in some misguided attempt to save things for some big epic sequel in the future, especially since a subpar movie means this may be all that gets crafted. There are times that a good story means some characters have no place and it is better to leave them off until a future story dictates it. More often it is being done so they can have the big debut in King Arthur: Lady Guinevere Battles the Mage Dancer.

Merlin, Guinevere and Lancelot may not have saved the disaster that was Legend of the Sword, but it would have opened up several more storyline possibilities. All three are major parts of the folk lore, and the exclusion did give the movie a feeling of being incomplete. Studios wanting to have a successful gold mining franchise has always existed but recently their obsession has meant more concern about future movies than current. The better strategy for long term health is doing everything possible to make the best movie now, which often means not holding back on cool story points or recognizable characters that are crucial to a recognizable properties. This means every movie should be loaded up to feel like a main course rather than an appetizer.

Breakdown of 'Aliens', 'Snatched', 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword', 'Before Sunrise' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End'

It is a week of franchises on the The Breakdown. We have the iconic sequel to the classic original in James Cameron's war picture featuring xenomorphs in Aliens. We also have the final chapter of a trilogy that turned out way better than what many may have assumed with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Then we have a franchise that is a classic among critics but not as well known in mainstream sequels with the original in Richard Linklater's romantic classic, Before Sunrise. Plus we have reviews for two new releases in Amy Schumer's latest comedy, Snatched, and the wannabe franchise launcher in Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word to other movie lovers or give us a five star review over on iTunes. We really appreciate you listening to us every week.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Breakdown Outline:

1:06 Snatched review
14:54 Aliens review
44:50 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword review
59:04 Before Sunrise review
1:16:06 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End review
1:29:19 Box Office Analysis
1:35:40 Trailer review: Blade Runner 2049, Wonder Woman, ItBaywatch, Girls Trip
1:45:22 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:

Snatched *** (CS)
Aliens **** (CS & SM)
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword * (CS)
Before Sunrise **** (CS & SM)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End *** (CS & SM)

Summer Box Office Challenge:

Christopher's Picks:

1. Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2$145 049 000 
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
3. Wonder Woman
4. Transformers: The First Knight
5. War of the Planet of the Apes  
6. Baywatch
7. The Mummy
8. The House
9. Atomic Blonde
10. Captain Underpants
Total Score: $145 049 000

Scott's Picks:

1. The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
2. Despicable Me 3
3. Alien: Covenant
4. Cars 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Annabelle: Creation
7. Snatched  $17 500 000
8. All Eyez on Me
9. The Emoji Movie
10. The Hitman's Bodyguard
Total Score: $17 500 000

Thursday, May 11, 2017

'Blade Runner 2049' Trailer Promises 2017 will be the Reinvigoration of Sci-Fi

If Ridley Scott is diving deep into Aliens, Denis Villeneuve is the very best auteur to be helming a return to the world of Blade Runner. The latest trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is visually captivating as is expected from the man who gave us Prisoners, Sicario and ArrivalThe best part is Villeneuve establishes his own unique visual style while maintaining the visual tone and look of the world in the 1982 original. It has advanced in technology and changed some architecture but still feels like the world we remember. It captures the noirish bleakness that defined the original. I also love that instead of reverting to the typical greys and steely blues that are over-used in tentpoles that try to convey a somber vibe that this goes for bright yellows and golds. The colour palate still gives feelings of hopelessness and despair, without feeling routine.

This trailer gives lots without really spoiling much of the plot. Jared Leto looks outright creepy, and I assume he is the villain here. Maybe Dave Bautista will play one of his toughs, because it does look like he attacks Ryan Gosling's lead character at some point. The real big story reveal is Gosling is out looking for Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, but it doesn't really tells us why. It isn't clear if this story is going to go the route of Deckard being a replicant or just one who was sympathetic to them at the end of the original movie. I also assume at some point they need to address the fate of Sean Young's character. To follow the mode of questioning humanity and reality, there are allusions that Gosling's character might even be a replicant or at least, his character is more than just a Blade Runner. This reaffirms that this fall is going to be a grand time for sci-fi adventures and we may be looking at one of the best movies of the year. Excitement reigns.