Monday, March 27, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Life' and 'The Most Hated Woman in America'

The Breakdown offers up two new release reviews this week in the sci-fi alien thriller, Life and the Madalyn Murray O'Hair biopic, The Most Hated Woman in America. As well we discuss if Rotten Tomatoes is harming the film industry, and look at the recent "whitewashing" controversy over upcoming movies Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. As well we have plenty pf box office discussion for those that like the numbers talk. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word to other movie lovers.

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:

2:30 The Most Hated Woman in America review
19:05 Life review
34:40 Is Rotten Tomatoes the demise of movies?
47:11 Is there are a "whitification" problem in American remakes?
1:01:48 What made Beauty and the Beast, Get Out and Split "surprise" hits?
1:17:18 Box Analysis
1:27:28 Review Rundown

Movie Ratings:
The Most Hated Woman in America ** (CS & SM)
Life **½

Saturday, March 25, 2017

'Justice League' Trailer Doesn't Make My Hopes Soar

I'm not anti-DC Comics movies. Honest. One of my all-time favourite trilogies is Nolan's Dark Knight. I really enjoyed the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman flicks, and I have high praise for Tim Burton's Batman. And I so badly want to praise and love DC's offerings this years. I'm willing to just let Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad to be things of the past. Let this be a big fresh start with Wonder Woman and Justice League. But the big trailer for their super hero team-up extravaganza that Warner Brothers has been hyping all week, leaves me pretty flat and does little to get me excited for what is to come in November.

I still love Ben Affleck as Batman. I enjoyed him through the entire trailer and I love his deadpan delivery of his comebacks. There looks to be a pretty fun chemistry between him and the Flash. I like that the League aren't drinking buddies but the issues are handled in a more playful and comedic fashion. There are hints that this movie actually wants to be fun.

I also dig that Superman was left entirely out of the marketing this time. Every single movie goer knows he will be resurrecting and saving the day, but save that moment for the movie. Make us start to doubt that Superman is coming back to life (even though past marketing material spoiled it and well, they aren't doing this movie without Superman). I actually appreciate a trailer showing some restraint.

My biggest problem with this trailer is the visual aspects. What is Zack Snyder's obsession with this grey steely blue tinge that has to overwhelm the cinematography? There are a few scenes where actual colour sneaks through, but it is again a dark and grim appearance. It is a dated style and gives the movie a feeling of being sterile and cold. Where is the life and soul? Guardians of the Galaxy proved how a diverse colour palate can do much to increase the energy and feel of a movie.

The other thing is the special effects look like a work in progress. Cyborg is something from a Wii game and a few sequences are pretty clearly making heavy use of the blue screen. My criticism of this franchise has never been the special effects, so this must be an issue of unfinished scenes that needed to be rushed out for advertisement purposes. The special effects are not a deal breaker as there are still several months left for post-production work.

The big key for this to be the critical hit that Warner Brother's needs is Zack Snyder surprising us by not resorting to exploding everything without a story purpose. And making sure that story is intriguing, and more importantly, having some interesting characters in believable relationships. This is the kind of stuff they don't tend to show off in trailers, so we will have to wait until the big release day for that answer.

I can say that this trailer did get a smirk from me when Barry Allen asked Bruce Wayne what was his super power and the response was he was rich.

I Know, I am Not Supposed to be Excited About This

I may have surrender my "I Hate Remakes Club" membership, because even though I still stand by the belief most remakes are pointless or I'd just prefer an "original" movie that borrows liberally from a well-known property, I've been a fan or excited by quite a few lately. Disney has been rocking it with their live-action remakes with Beauty and the Beast being another great one. A while back, I got really excited to hear John Carpenter producing a new Halloween that is going to be helmed by David Gordon Green. Now, there is a potential director hire that has made me interested in a remake that I initially thought could only be an epic disaster, Robert Rodriguez is being target to be the man behind the Escape from New York remake.

He is probably the only director right now that I think has the passions and genre leanings to pull off a proper reimagining of Escape from New York. This is a guy who clearly grew up on a healthy diet of B-movie and schlock cinema. This is the man that gave us Planet Terror (from the Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino), Machete, Machete Kills, The Faculty, and From Dusk Till Dawn. Especially the Machete movies are heavily influenced and definite homages to 1970s low-budget schlockfests. 

If you look at the filmography of John Carpenter (the man who gave us Escape from New York), he has always been a high pedigreed and ultra-talent peddler of B-movie like stories that due to the top-notch directing and casting have never really been lumped into that category. Escape from New York is a classic because it rolls itself in cheese, never takes itself seriously, yet still delivers a fun action ride. Rodriguez is the director that I trust understands that the best.

If this is going to work then it needs to be a scaled back budget and a hard R-rating, and then the studios need to keep their hands off by trusting Rodriguez to run the whole show. Then the big deal is getting the proper casting, someone that has the charisma and charm of Kurt Russell from the early 1980s. Someone that has no fear of looking like as ass, can ham it to extreme levels, and wink at the camera without making it obvious that is what he is doing. Or she. This actually would be wonderfully awesome if Michelle Rodriguez type was giving the lead. I'm sure the bro-mans would cry and scream, but that is all they ever do no matter what happens anyway. The big kicker is that this needs to be director driven and it needs to channel classic B-movie roots.

That line actually made me think of The Shallows, which was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. While he would be another solid choice since he is great at pacing and building tension and not afraid to go over-the-top, but I don't think he is ready to delve as far into the ludicrous as Rodriguez has proven capable.

The other question is how close do you stick with the plot of the original? In the modern political climate, are we to believe if the president crashed on a prison island that anyone would hire a mercenary to rescue him? Or would people breathe a sigh of relief and move on with fixing the government. The president as the paragon of truth and virtue isn't really a thing, though in 1981, the public was just moving out of a decade where they had huge distrust of the government and authority as well. But we've never ever had a con artist and slobbering incompetent like Trump before.

Obviously, the president doesn't need to be a Trump type. Though a fun twist would be the president being a conniving egomaniac that is controlling the island and needs to be taken down. Maybe he is doing it to build some more complexes and towers, evilness for the sake of real states going his way. 

But the other issue is that New York today is not how people viewed New York in the early 1980s (and throughout the 1970s) It was considered crime-ridden and corrupted, and was the basis for pictures like Death Wish or Taxi Driver. The media helped create it into this terrifying place. A movie where Manhattan was turned into maximum security prison was believable, because it was what people assumed would have to happen eventually. But now New York is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and is considered a metropolitan wonderland. I haven't heard of anyone afraid of the city in years. It doesn't really dig into the current vibe and flow of the culture. Maybe Escape from Chicago would be more fitting based off how often it has been in the news. This by the way, comes from someone who love Chicago and holds the city up as one of my favourite places to visit.

John Carpenter remakes now seem to be the hot new thing with this one, Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China all being developed at this point. So, now it is time to predict what remake gets announced next: Christine, Starman, They Live or Dark Star?

Life Gets in the Way of 'Life'

The Spicer Compound got hit with the plague this week, with Everett standing as the lone survivor. It has meant for a symphony of hacking and some occasional gagging and plenty of garbage bins full of tissues. Despite the raging sickness, I was all set to watch the late screening of Life last night (no new release Thursday screenings this week) but as my foot was reaching out the open door, Danika exploded into a rage of tears and screams from her bedroom. As Emily was already down for the count, it was my duty to be the soother. The soothing took right into showtime and so here I am again with the movie to be reviewed remaining unwatched. If all goes well, will have a review up before noon tomorrow. As well, there should be a review up for The Most Hated Woman in America this weekend as well, as soon as I see it (been one of those weeks).

One Less Reason to Have a Netflix Subscription

Time to throw another log on the "movies suck now" fire stoked by pretentious and curmudgeon movie critics, because they have some damning evidence with Netflix doubling down with another four picture deal with Adam Sandler. Remember a time when Netflix originals were connected with the word "quality" and many believed Netflix was trying to push the envelope on high-quality and award-worthy entertainment. Movie fans were excited to see what Netflix would deliver on the movie front. The hope was we would get the thoughtful and complex movies that major studios have ignored for the sake of more tentpoles. Then we got stuff like Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over, and it became clear that Netflix was capable of producing stuff even worse than most of the lowest common denominator comedies in the multiplexes. 

The real kicker is that not only will the Sandler train keep on chugging, but it is happening because his last two awful movies were the highest watched Netflix original movies. Sure, Netflix gave us movies like Beasts of No Nation, Tallulah, and Burning Sands, but what the world really wants is jokes about the disabled, women or children being hit, and toilet humour that I stopped finding funny when I hit puberty. It is realities like this that make it hard to counter the argument that the mainstream audience like to gobble up toxic junk food entertainment rather than things that are hearty and nutritious.

Of course, who am I? I have seen both Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over, so I only exacerbated the problem. I will be watching Sandy Wexler and every other new Adam Sandler movie on Netflix. My defense is that I have only watched them for review purposes and for the reason The Breakdown podcast is devoted to reviewing every Netflix original movie (especially now that Scott is watching far less theatrical releases). When reviewing is one of your passions, you have to put up with the steaming garbage to get the cherished jewels.

Friday, March 24, 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' Review: Magic and Wonder for a New Generation

Four Star Rating: ***½

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Source Material: Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Beauty and the Beast (1991) movie
Cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler
Editor: Virginia Katz
Composer: Alan Menken
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rated: PG - violence, frightening scenes
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Run Time: 129 minutes

It is always risky trying to remake an iconic movie that is embedded into pop culture and a cherished jewel among countless people. It is even more dangerous when the movie is part of one's childhood where nostalgia is often seen as a sacred idol that cannot be touched or it is forever desecrated. This is why Disney's initiative to create live-action remakes of their many animated classics seemed like a misguided cash grab. But not only have most of them turned out very good, but they've worked well as respectful works of nostalgia balanced with fresh story reworkings. We ended up with movies like the excellent The Jungle Book that dazzles with ground-breaking special effect while adding in a much more progressive message about respect and acceptance; Maleficent dares to make the witch sympathetic and a powerful feminist hero; and Cinderella keeps much of the classic fairy tale intact but with a protagonist that is independent and proactive. Beauty and the Beast continues the streak of well-crafted and gorgeous Disney live-action remakes, even though it is the most faithful of the recent adaptations.

If you cherish the 1991 classic, you are going to know most of the story beats, and you'll be wrapped in a comfort blanket of nostalgia with many familiar characters, songs, and scenes. It is still a story of Belle yearning for more than her provincial life and the villagers thinking her strange for always having her nose in a book. Gaston still wants her hand in marriage, largely because he deems her the most beautiful thus the greatest catch. Belle does get away from the village but in a way she did not intend when she is forced to live her life in a castle with the Beast, but things turn out much more differently than they first appear.

Even though a fan will be able to bounce along with the story and even recite a few scenes verbatim, the movie does make some noteworthy changes from the 1991 classic. This time around Belle's father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned for taking a rose just like the in the original fairy tale, and this also helps make the Beast a bit more sympathetic early on as he has more justification. The Beast is also given a more thorough backstory that explains where some of his flaws came from and also shows why the servants were punished as well. On the backstory front, Belle's mom becomes a crucial figure to the narrative this time and you get the idea she defines much of Belle's personality even though she passed away when Belle was very young. Belle is also a much stronger  independent figure of feminisi, (though to be fair, she is one of the stronger-willed Disney princesses even before this version), as this time she is much more proactive in replacing her father and far more bold in standing up for herself -- Belle clearly decides her fate this time. We also get a few new songs including one sung by the Beast, and while this helps add some new flavour to the movie, it also probably ensures Disney a shot for a Best Original Song Oscar nomination. The movie cleans up a small plot holes from the original, explaining why the castle residents and the villagers don't seem to know about each other and thus creating a closer connection between the two. Though this final change along with the enchantress character are one of the more underdeveloped aspects of the movie and creates for some jarring moments at the climax.

One of the major things that really stands out is how well director Bill Condon and his special effects team capture the visual charm and magic of the animated original. I once believed the biggest advantage of an animated movie is the ability to create worlds and scenes that are impossible in reality, but Beauty and the Beast shows that cutting edge technology is defying that logic. The locations feel directly transported from a children's book or a fanciful dream, with the castle exuding a haunting and enchanting vibe while the village has a quaint but whimsical feel. There is a sense that they are both real but also from an alternate world where magic and wonder thrive. The team here is following the ground-breaking technology of Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book crew by proving CGI has gone to a level where it is a wrestling with wolves feat to discern what is a man-made construction and what has been done by team of special effect artists.

The inhabitants in the castle are even more astounding in their realism. The Beast has a wide range of facial expressions that convey his different emotions and internal battles. It is easy to relate to this Beast and understand why Belle is drawn to him, because you sense a true human under that fur and fangs. All the walking furniture and dishes look like real objects that just happen to be able to talk and walk. It is such a remarkable achievement that this exact movie  couldn't have even been made two years ago. There also has to be credit given to some great voice work with Dan Stevens creating a much more nuanced Beast this time, Ewan McGregor clearly having a ball as Lumiere, and Ian McKellan playing the great straight man as Cogsworth.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most gorgeous and meticulously constructed spectacles of the past several years. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler amplifies the special effects by shooting a crisp and captivating world with a vibrant colour palate. It is this top notch work that makes this one of the few movies where the 3D is more than an excuse to raise prices, but actually adds to the wonder and scope. Editor Virginia Katz also needs special mention as many of her edits and scene transitions help to tell the story and set the mood of the tale. Her professionally done cuts and edits raise the tension, and the big scenes have a sense of raised stakes. In a case of balancing between nostalgia and crafting something new, Alan Menken returns with not only the original score but also enchanting us with some fresh songs and instrumentals.

As much as I praise the amazing technical aspect, the real star of the production is Emma Watson who is magnetic and intoxicating as Belle who conveys a great inner strength but also creates a natural and authentic human being you care about. She has a grace and poise that makes it obvious how she became the centre of a love triangle between Beast and Gaston. You follow her through her emotional journey of despising the Beast to feeling empathy to being torn over the choices she faces, and like every great actor, you don't need expository dialogue to know what she is thinking, it is all in her facials and mannerisms. It is an award-worthy performance and a declaration she is one of the top notch performers in Hollywood. She brings a stronger and more invigorating Belle, and her work is enough to keep you engaged in a well-worn tale.

She also is given some top notch support. I already praised some of the voice work, but Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe all give voice work that creates distinct and relatable personalities. Kline makes for a very different Maurice who this time isn't a bumbling eccentric inventor but rather a thoughtful and kind-hearted craftsman, and he plays a much more significant roles in shaping Belle. Gaston is one of the great Disney villains, and I have often criticized Luke Evans in the past but this time he proves his talent. He completely embodies the cocky hunter and seems to be having a blast. He creates a much more sinister and manipulative villain while also providing some fun in his musical numbers and scenery chewing.

The message of Beauty and the Beast has always been about not allowing prejudice to get in the way of love and seeing people for more than their outside appearance. This time around they further that message by not only having a racially diverse cast, but having loving mixed couples in Lumiere with Plummette and Garderobe married to Cadenza. This is another example of Disney actively being one of the more progressive movie studios in the last few years, and based off their reputation from past decades, it is something they should be applauded (they've come a long way since the happy to be a slave days of Song of the South). If diversity is this paragraph's topic, then it is really important to bring up the recent controversy over Disney's first gay character as depicted by Josh Gad's Lefou. After seeing the movie, it is pretty clear that those who are frothing and bellowing and protesting did not actually see what they are complaining about. The handling of Lefou as gay is really subtle and in my screening, Gad was a fantastic crowd pleaser. I don't think most kids will even catch the disputed moment without being told, and I'm pretty confident even the most conservative viewer should not be offended by the portrayal. Disney and the marketing team just should not have said anything. Or you know, people need to stop crusading against things that they don't even know anything about.

While I was watching Beauty and the Beast during my packed screening, I could sense the children were transfixed by what was dancing on the screen. This is a gentle and uplifting story about love and friendship painted with a stroke of spectacle and majestic wonder. The story may be one the adults know well and the subplots are undercooked, but none of that stops the wonder flowing from the screen. Every child in that auditorium seemed captivated, and this will be one of those movies many will guard as a cherished treasure of their childhood. For many kids, this one is already a classic.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Probably Shouldn't Hold Our Breath for an "On Golden Pond" Remake Even if it Made More Money Than "Superman II" and "Clash of the Titans"

If you want any proof that what attracts people out to the movie theatres has drastically changed over the decades along with more evidence to add to The Breakdown discussion about the death of the box office star, then look at 1981 where On Golden Pond was the second highest grossing movie with a $119, 285, 432 (this is in 1981 dollars). For those that don't remember the smash hit, it is based on a play of the same name (both play and screenplay written by Ernest Thompson) about an elderly couple that goes on their yearly summer trip to their cottage and are confronted by their estranged daughter who needs to them to look after her boyfriend's son. Definitely not the type of story that would cause big studios to salivate today and the best hope for wide release would be Oscar season release from Focus Features or Fox Searchlight that gradually expands.

It was a pretty big deal in 1981 (where it got a limited run in December for Oscar consideration) and 1982 (where it would have hauled in the majority of its gross) due to its massive star power. Katharine Hepburn (plays Ethel Thayer) is movie royalty and is in the lead along with another movie legend Henry Fonda (plays Norman Thayer Jr) who was starring in his final theatrical feature. One of the big deals was Fonda would be sharing the screen with his big movie star daughter, Jane Fonda (who not only starred in the all-time camp classic Barbarella but in 1980 starred in the second highest grossing movie of the year, 9 to 5).

This drew in the masses because the general public cared about movie stars and was intrigued about real life father and daughter starring together. No matter what pairing you had today, a version of this movie wouldn't crack the top 20 and the producers would be doing cartwheels if it got 30 million domestic gross for its entire run.

The game has changed, to the point where there has never been talk of anyone wanting to remake this movie but movies from 1981 that made less are considered more appealing for being revisited such as The Cannonball Run, For Your Eyes Only (James Bond), Superman II, Clash of the Titans, Tarzan the Ape Man, Excalibur, The Great Muppet Caper, Endless Love, An American Werewolf in London, Halloween II, Escape from New York, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Final Conflict: Omen III, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and My Bloody Valentine.

One of the biggest changes is movies that are completely marketed on stars' name isn't enough for guaranteed box office like was largely the model for decades before. In 1981 movies were also largely considered entertainment for adults and appealing to them was where the big money lied, along with some occasional kiddie fare scattered through the calendar (this of course was changing with Raiders of the Lost Ark being the highest grossing of 1981, Empire Strikes Back on top in 1980 and Star Wars shocking the world by dominating the box office in 1977). Plays were much more well-known and popular in 1981 and so On Golden Pond even without star power would be far more recognizable than plays today (Fences was the 57th highest grossing movie last year).

I also think that the rise of Marvel and DC super hero extravaganzas and a general focus on special effects spectacles has made an entire groups of film goers to just throw up their hands and concede that their type of movies just aren't made anymore. The multiplexes have a reputation for catering to a certain demographic even if there are time where we have a Hidden Figures or La La Land (both that should be noted did above expectations). Plus those thoughtful and adult-driven stories are now plentiful on television and streaming services, which saves a trip and needing to buy over-priced popcorn.

One interesting question is that if studios backed and marketed a movie like On Golden Pond today like they would have in 1981, would it turn out to be a real box office contender? I also concede it is a pointless question because when there is a chance for another Fantastic Four reboot or a sequel to Transformers, they will only put minimal effort towards movies for the mature and thoughtful adult.

The Breakdown of 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Goon: Last of the Enforcers', 'Deidra & Laney Rob a Train' and 'Pandora'

The Breakdown has four reviews this week including Disney's latest live-action remake Beauty and the Beast. Then we look at the huge weekend success of Beauty and the Beast and analyze if a movie rating has anything to do with what makes a box office hit. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word to other movie lovers.

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:
1:08 Remembering Chuck Berry & Bernie Wrightson
5:35 Beauty and the Beast review
21:46 Deidra & Laney Rob a Train review
35:05 Goon: Last of the Enforcers review
47:33 Pandora review
1:02:04 Do movie ratings have any effect on box office?
1:12:52 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:
Beauty and the Beast ***½ (CS)
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train **½ (CS & SM)
Goon: Last of the Enforcers ** (CS)
Pandora *** (CS) & **½ (SM)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Even Some Professional Critics Don't Understand Rotten Tomatoes

A certain ornery film blogger and critic has recently devoted some time complaining that on Rotten Tomatoes Get Out is sitting at 99% and Baby Driver currently at 100% despite reviews mentioning some flaws in the movies. He is clinging to the theory there is some conspiracy in place to keep these movies percentages high when in his estimation they aren't near perfect movies. I won't be seeing Baby Driver until August, but he is right that the very good Get Out isn't a perfect movie. The problem with his whining is that the 99% doesn't even mean that the horror picture is neat perfect or that any critic is claiming as such. The Rotten Tomatoes percentage never has and never will represent the actual quality of a movie. All it is has ever meant is the score attributed to a movie is the percentage of critics that recommend the movie. All recommendation are rated the same, so a gushing high praise has the same value as a slight thumbs up.

This is why I have no problem with Kong: Skull Island's 79% despite the fact I only gave two and half stars out of four. The 79% doesn't mean it is one of the best mainstream movies of the year or that the site is claiming the movie is better than Split (currently at 76%). It isn't better than Split nor is Kong anywhere close to one of the beat mainstream movies of the year. It won't even be in the talks for being anywhere on the best of the mid-year lists. It is a grand special effects spectacle with some visual flair and fun monster throw downs, but is lacking in character and story. There are critic that had more fun with the creature feature aspect, so they recommended it. If they were to assign it a score, they would probably give it a mid to high 60s at best.

You can't ever look at the Rotten Tomatoes score and think it is an actual grade of a movie. It is just compiling all the trusted critics and letting you know how many recommended the movie. But it doesn't tell you if it was a half-hearted recommendation, and the expectation is still that if you really care what critics think than you actually read the reviews.

What baffles me is that a professional critic would get so hot and bothered over the percentages of movies that he probably didn't really love (or in the case of Baby Driver, assume he won't be praising because he isn't a huge Edgar Wright fan). His frothing and raving is no different than the DC and Marvel minions that go on witch hunts against all the critics that caused their beloved movies to have lower Rotten Tomatoes scores. Of course, Batman v. Superman totally deserves its 27%.

'The Beauty and the Beast' Review Will Be Late

The plan is always to catch the late night Thursday screenings, so I can get the review posted before the official opening night screening on Friday. This is harder to do when I lay down for a quick bit of rejuvenation and instead fall asleep. This now means I miss out on the joy of the smaller late night crowd and will likely now be watching it with a bunch of excited girls and boys dressed up in pretty blue or yellow dresses. I will likely just watch it in jeans and a sweater, because my pretty stuff is stuck at the cleaners. Hope to have the review up before Saturday makes its arrival. Until then, you can always go back and read my Kong: Skull Island review if you're hankering for my thoughts on features about large hairy beasts.

In other news, I am not down with Hollywood Reporters new trendy lay out. My old man eyes have a hard time finding all the breaking movie news. This likely says way more about me than the site's revamp.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Breakdown of' Kong: Skull Island' and 'Burning Sands'

This week The Breakdown has a review for one of the most anticipated movies of 2017 in the giant creature feature, Kong: Skull Island. Plus we have a review for the fraternity hazing drama in the latest Netflix original, Burning Sands. As well we have plenty of box office talk including if there are still movie stars whose names can draw out an audience and we also analyze what made Deadpool and Logan massive hits. One of the ways to help get a big return at the box office is to have a strong marketing campaign, so we discuss the viability of the movie short as a promotional tool that we've seen in both Deadpool 2 and Alien: Covenant. As always if you loved the show then please spread the word to other movie fans.

You can also check out my written review for Kong: Skull Island 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.

The Breakdown Outline:

01:52 Burning Sands review
19:19 Kong: Skull Island review
37:33 The death of the box office star
49:32 What can we learn from Deadpool and Logan?
59:40 The movie short as a marketing strategy
1:10:58 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:

Burning Sands *** (CS & SM)
Kong: Skull Island **½ (CS)

Friday, March 10, 2017

'Kong: Skull Island' Review: Lots of Awesome Ape; Very Little Good Story

Four Star Rating: **½

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins, John Goodman
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Story By: John Gatins
Source Material: King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Rated: 14A (Canada)/PG-13 (US) - violence, coarse language
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Run Time: 118 minutes

King Kong is one of the most iconic monsters in movie history. He first wowed audiences in the 1933 box office smash hit, and has gone on to beat his chest and smash all in his path in seven more movies (along with various comics, novels and cartoons). It was inevitable the gigantic ape would return to the big screen, especially in an era where studios are obsessed with spawning franchises based off recognizable characters and stories. This time Kong: Skull Island isn't a prequel or remake, but a completely different story about a monstrous ape that happens to the have the name Kong. He has that name because studio executives decided this movie would sell more tickets with the famous name rather than calling it The Island of the Monster Gorilla (though could Asylum please make that movie?). They also need the world's most famous ape to achieve the movies' major goal of connecting itself with Gareth Edwards' Godzilla to create a "giant monster cinematic universe", and the purpose is even more obvious with the post-credit scene that is designed to get people salivating for the eventual main event of the two titans clashing (along with a few other well-known big beasties).

There are some clear similarities between the two movies, including the idea man is messing with our environment, there are things in nature that are greater than man, and nature has its grand protectors to ensure its survival. Of course, the importance of caring for our environment and humans needing to show respect to the magnificence of our world has been a major theme in almost all big giant monster movies. But this movie only plays token service to it where it is just treated as an obligation that it quickly wants to get out of the way.

Kong: Skull Island is far more interested in being a big special effects spectacle with massive set pieces and big monster brawls. This would be the major difference between this movie and the Edwards' 2014 giant lizard flick. Godzilla is a slow-build to its eventual appearance and even then it is usually only a few seconds of screen time throughout. In this movie, we witness Kong's huge head in the prologue and then he is back in all his glory in less than 20 minutes, where he is smashing down helicopters and stomping on shocked soldiers. There is no doubt that Kong is the star of this movie and gets ample screen time.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a movie that will appeal to those itching for battles between Kong and giant monsters along with all sorts of carnage for the humans. Cinematographer Larry Fong captures a beautiful and exotic jungle that throws us right into the adventure. Vogt-Roberts and his special effects teams makes several spectacular looking giant beasts including an Eiffel Tower sized spider, enormous water-buffalo-like creatures, freaky-looking pterodactyls, and the real villains of the movie, humungous lizard atrocities known as Skullcrawlers (but you can call them whatever you like). Along with Kong, for the most they look like fully breathing creatures that we can touch and then be eaten by (there are a few scenes where some of the creatures clearly show they're CGI creations). You get cool looking scenes like Kong attacking and them slurping up a giant squid. The showdowns between Kong and Skullcrawlers are great popcorn spectacle. Vogt-Roberts channels the roots of B-Movies with several fun kills where poor humans get things like giant spider legs crammed down their throat or get torn apart by pterodactyls. If you came for the monster mayhem then this picture more than delivers.

The movie runs at one hour and fifty minutes, which is significantly shorter than Peter Jackson's excessive three hours and twenty minutes King Kong from 2005. Yet it is this shorter Kong that at times drags and comes off feeling a bit too long. This comes down to the screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly that may be crammed with cool monsters but lacks fully-fleshed out characters or any interesting story for them to be in. It seems they just hoped that if they stuffed the movie with a dozen human bodies that eventually they could stumble upon someone interesting.

Instead, we have characters who are largely defined by their profession and almost nothing else: Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad the tracker who is getting paid good money to take on this expedition, Brie Larson is anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (who has no purpose to this movie other than to have one tender moment with the big ape), John Goodman is Bill Randa the man who pushed for this expedition to prove monsters exist, Corey Hawkins gets points for playing against type as a geeky scientist (he is the star of the new 24: Legacy and was Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton) but he still lacks any depth, Tian Jing plays generic biologist San so that there is a star for the Asian market (she was also the not quite love interest in The Great Wall), Samuel L. Jackson has some actual layers as the Lieutenant Colonel Packard the squadron leader who has lost some meaning after the Vietnam War ends, and then several throwaway soldiers that mostly exist as fodder.

The one relatable character is also the movies expository dialogue giver and comic relief, in John C. Reilly's Hank Marlow a World War 2 fighter jet pilot that has been stranded on the island since 1944 (the movie is set in 1973). Reilly is having a blast with the role and brings the movie's laughs but also provides some of the humanity. Marlow has grown to have respect for the island, has a strong relationship with the island's tribe (a group that worships Kong as a god), but also misses the life he had almost 30 years ago. It is the lone emotional thrust of the story as a man conflicted with the leaving the family he has now because of the chance to see the family he once had. While no other character is given any kind of depth, I should mention that even though Larson's character really has no purpose that her incredible natural screen presence and her ability to nail a throwaway moment where she interacts with the natives, she still makes you care about her. She is a natural movie superstar, and it is a crime she wasn't given more to do.

The plot really isn't much, but it doesn't have to be. The crew is now stuck on the island because they angered Kong by dropping bombs and he showed is disapproval by swatting them like flies. They need to try to get to the rendezvous location so that they can get back home and prove to the world that monsters exist. There is also an anti-war message and Vogt-Roberts achieves this by creating images and using a classic rock soundtrack that reminds of memorable anti-Vietnam pictures like Apocalypse Now and Platoon (based off characters with names Marlow and Conrad, obvious some heavy Heart of Darkness influence).

There is also a pretty great scene where there is fire blazing in the jungle and Jackson's Packard has a hideous smirk as he has a stare down with Kong after the ape had just killed several of his men. He wants revenge on the ape, but in that moment, you also get the sense that the man who was just ordered to pull out of Vietnam now has a purpose again with his "Ahab chasing Moby Dick" like quest to kill the ape. Sure he really wants revenge, but he wants a war to drive him even more. That great image never really gets a proper follow-through, as the movie is less interested in exploring an anti-war allegory and more interested in having Kong rumble with the Skullcrawlers.

The action sequences prove that Vogt-Roberts, who was plucked from the indy scene with his coming of age movie The Kings of Summer, has the chops to provide the visual magic for the big budget extravaganzas. Though there are a few moments that leans a bit heavy on dated techniques like slo-mo action moments or heavily dollops of CGI when practical effects would have been better. Most of the style choices seem to be more because someone thought it would look cool or that it is what big budget movies do rather than it telling a story. That would be the biggest issue, there are thrills and awe here but it doesn't feel like it is ever really saying anything. This also seems to be a good time to mention that if you are going to see this movie that the 3D version follows the usual trend of adding absolutely nothing and it is better to save a few bucks if you have the option.

If you just want big monsters beating each other up, then this movie delivers and you'll be going home happy. As someone who was a child who gobbled up the classic monster movies (and not so classic), there were scenes where I was captivated and filled with joy. This is also yet another example of a big studio movie that lacks soul and heart, and is just a series of wonderful special effects and loud noise dancing on the screen. You may be entertained, but in the end it feels more like product than art. This is here to whet our appetite for the already scheduled King Kong vs. Godzilla, and there is something really annoying about that. You could spend money on a ticket for this, but there is also a strong chance that two truly director-driven and emotionally packed movies in Get Out and Logan are still playing near you, and so go see them first.