Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Writer's Unshakeable Duty

There are no vacations, holidays, or days off if you're a writer. A writer might travel to warm locales and sip fruity beverages, and they'll definitely spend some time with the family and not forget to celebrate birthdays, Christmases, and Wednesdays. But a writer never really removes themselves from writing, because they're always researching, bouncing around ideas, jumping out of bed with the impulse to jot something down, formulating new stories to explore, and always drawn to the keyboard before the day is done. If they're a freelancer then they are trying to support themselves with their own sites, books, articles, sales copy and whatever else lets the money rain down, so they can't afford to have a day pass without something accomplished. But that is only small part of why a writer can't shake this act. Writing is a parasite that crawls its way into one's soul and sinks in its tendrils for control. The major side effect is an obsession over ideas and projects that dominate every thought at any possible hour until one finally listens to the call and unearths the treasure of a story. Even when depression overwhelms or the writer tries to ignore their true instincts, writing is that dark cloud that hovers and forbids any contentment until returning to the passion. There is always family to love and delicious food to savour and hobbies to embrace and moments that will supersede anything on the computer screen or paper, but for the writer, creating things with words will always be ingrained in the life.

Note: I was going to call this "The Writer's Burden" but that was even too melodramatic for me.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Time for Marvel to Gut It Out and Kill a Hero

One of the most annoying Marvel Studio trends is the "fake-out death" of key good characters. We've been suckered with Groot, Nick Fury, Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark and even freaking Pepper Potts. It is the old school Disney strategy of wanting the emotional punch of killing off a major character but also wanting the happy ending so there is the last act reveal that it was all a hoax. It has happened so often that you don't feel anything when a major character is supposed to bite the bullet because you just assume they will show up again in the next scene or in a TV series.

At this point, the only good character that I can remember staying dead is Quicksilver from Avenger: Age of Ultron and I have a sneaky feeling that may have been due to some right issues going on with Fox Studios that has their own version in the X-Men franchise. It is time for someone major to get killed and Captain America: Civil War promising mountain tumbling earthquakes to the Marvel Universe is the movie to do it.

Marvel senses the itch among the fans since the marketing is heavily pushing a fallen and down James Rhodes. Except the fact the trailer is a little less blatant than having a flashing message declaring Rhodes dead, which means he has a stronger chance of being in a second act coma and skipping back for shawarmas with Tony Stark in the stinger. I'm cool with this because I think Don Cheadle adds a lot to elevating the movies and he has a fun chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. But this means someone else has to go. It is time for Marvel to man up and off a hero. Almost all the other "geared towards kids and teens" franchises have killed at least one major good character, including the other big colossal moneymaker for Disney.

2010 Called and Wants Their Movie Back

Gods of Egypt's new trailer promises Gerard Butler rallying his chiseled troops with his muscular arms glistening in an armored tank top, slow-motion action shots for the sake of having slow-motion shots, Caucasian actors playing non-Caucasian Middle Eastern roles, very CGIed mystical and ridiculous creatures, and a typical mortals being pesky to the angry Gods story along with some sprinklings of convoluted mythological subplots that the writers hope you'll get distracted from trying to figure out by the flying golden birdmen. All this may have raised an eyebrow in 2010, but I'm baffled this got approved as an aspiring to be a blockbuster action adventure in 2016. Was there a loud contingent of film goers demanding a Clash of Titans and 300 knock-off that I completely missed? The pictures best bet for making any money seems to appeal to the "lets heckle at the trainwreck" crowd but I'm positive the budget wasn't geared towards the cult favourite types. I still appreciate them using King Leonidas as the vain villain, but they missed the boat by not matching him up against Sam Worthington.

The Breakdown of More Rising Stars Podcast

Daisy Ridley
It is a special episode this week called The Breakdown of More Rising Stars as we look at some of the filmmakers and actors that we believe are destined for greatness. We have some recognizable names like performers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Domhnall Gleeson and then some lesser known but already have proven greatness with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alex Garland. As always if you love the show then please spread the word.

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:

Ryan Coogler 1:00 
John Boyega  10:30
Britt Robertson 19:20
Will Poulter 26:24
Daisy Ridley  34:45
Domhnall Gleeson  43:14
Alex Garland  50:35
Maika Monroe  57:08
Gugu Mbatha-Raw 1:06:00
Taron Egerton  1:15:05

Sunday, February 07, 2016

My Yearly Foray with Sports

Sinking into the spectacle that is Super Bowl 50, then it hits me that this is the first start to finish football game that I've seen this season. Part of that can be blamed on the Chicago Bears being in an infamous "rebuilding phase" but the bigger reason is that I've just let watching sports slide into the category of "things I'd like to do but don't." This is a system shock for the guy who did his Grade 6 speech on the Toronto Blue Jays, had a subscription to three different sports magazines, played various in-depth sports simulations, had the complete brackets of the play-offs so I could record each team who advanced, and you know, spent time watching sports. My life is now in a spot where any free time that isn't focused on my family is spent on things that I can write about and be paid. I really miss actually knowing the names of current players or being able to tell you who won the Stanley Cup last year or not needing to listen to the commentators to know how the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers made it to the Super Bowl.

A few years ago, I almost landed a gig as a twice a week columnist for a fledgling sports web site that would have been my justification for catching lot of games on a regular basis. I even had my first few columns hammered out but was then informed by the editor that they'd need to alter the pay rate for my columns because funds dried up. This was where I informed them that we had a contract with a very specific rate and if that wasn't how we were playing this game then I was taking my ball and going home. So sadly, this has meant that football, hockey, basketball and baseball have been passed aside for scripted television and movies where I've established enough of a relationships with various editors that I can get paid to blabber my thoughts on those forms of entertainment. Super Bowl 50 may not have been the most exciting game in history, but it was enough to remind me that I sure would like to pay more visits to the old friend this year.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Battling for a Voice

It's been a taped fist, first blood, last man standing battle trying to write concise and quick pieces to nail my goal of getting several up a day on this site. Most one-writer movie blog sites that actually provide the owner with a living deliver between 5 to 10 pieces a day with word counts varying from hundred to over two thousand word posts. These profitable sites also all have the distinction of launching in 2004 or earlier, which means they stuck their sword in the land before the sea of armies kicked up the storm of war for everyone's attention. The best victory that I can declare over the next few years and most likely forever is the notorious "brand-building" and platform to promote various projects nearing existence. The rising sun ushers in my daily contemplation on if I try to scour for news bits to analyze or try to do longer personal pieces that may not be daily but could offer more substance. I'm sold on the content popping out throughout the day, but each one needs to have some value or insight or honesty to justify their existence, which can be a throwdown at a measly few hundred words. It is all the harder when I can only devote a minimum of time to the site since the bills are paid by other work and my life I'm told is even more than just fingers dancing on the keyboard. I sense the growing pains to continue as I slice away for a voice and personality for this place.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Hasbro and Paramount Deal Shows Studio Failure to Distinguish Recognizable from Beloved

(Editor Note: I wrote this for a site back in December when this was an actual news item They never posted it nor did they pay me, and now they aren't returning my emails or invoices. Since the piece is really dated and too late to sell elsewhere, I decided to post here.)

There has been grumbling over the last many years about the lack of ‘original ideas’ in Hollywood, though I think wonderful movies like Inside Out and Interstellar would take exception. Movie studios are definitely obsessed with grabbing anything that has a speck of popularity in the past and shine it up for a new generation of film goers. It is at the point now that I’m just waiting for a studio executive to sit down for lunch and suddenly squeal over the potential of a super-hero action trilogy about grilled cheese and its trusty sidekick tomato soup. THR last week reported the latest example of digging around in the attic for box office gold when Paramount and Hasbro announced a deal where they’ll be crafting a cinematic universe from five older toy lines in G.I. Joe, Visionaries, Mirconauts, ROM, and M.A.S.K (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand).

It doesn’t take Ethan Hunt to uncover the mystery of why this deal came about, considering Hasbro’s other toy line Transformers has become a box office juggernaut. The series has grossed over 3.8 million, which is impressive since I haven’t met a single person who’ll admit to liking any of the movies after the original. Transformers was a massive craze in the 1980s with every kid that I knew owning at least one and the daily animated series being must watch events that we’d recreate the next day. Its popularity waned in the 1990s but has always remained in the pop culture conscious with several reboots over the years and definitely strengthened even more with the 2007 live-action movie.

A studio executive over at Paramount saw a toy and cartoon series become a massive hit despite being critical disasters and came to the conclusion the magic formula is once popular action figures. G.I. Joe has been a popular action figure since 1964 and really jumped into prominence in the 1980s with a toy line that was backed by a cartoon series many children rushed home from school to see. I still remember the hot debates over who’d get to play Duke or Snake Eyes during recess, and its popularity rivaled Transformers for the “what do we play” sweepstakes. It already has a proven track record with two live-action movie box office successes for a combined 675 million worldwide. The problem that has been created is the expectation this series can share the screen and attract rabid fans with the other four former toy lines.

My prime toy playing and cartoon watching years took place in the 1980s, so I have experience on what was popular at the time. I do remember Visionaries and even owned one of the toys because my uncle bought it after all the He-Man: Masters of the Universe or Star Wars figures were sold out. Its big selling point was the holographic stickers that was on each character’s chest, so maybe Paramount is trying to cash-in on all the excitement over the Michael Jackson hologram. It also had a cartoon series that I remember watching at least once while I was waiting for my Nintendo Entertain System to cool down and be playable again. I also should be forgiven for foggy memories of the series as it only lasted 13 episodes in 1987. Apparently, this is the new criteria for a hot movie property in 2015.

M.A.S.K has a bit stronger bragging right as its animated TV series lasted two seasons, had four different toy lines that went from 1985 to 1988, spawned a short-lived comic book, and even landed a video game. I was well-aware of the toys and cartoons, and it was great for anyone who was hankering for a series that ripped off both G.I. Joe and Transformers but wasn’t as fun as either. I don’t remember anyone getting pumped about the latest M.A.S.K toy or a kid who dared to admit they watched the show.

Micronauts and ROM both burst on to the scene in the 1970s, but apparently they had short runs as comic book series in the 1980s. It appears my local comic book store made the big mistake of passing on those two sizzling titles so they could sell unknowns like Batman, X-Men, and Donald Duck. Micronauts are perfect for those that love Star Wars but wished all the characters would be tiny instead. The concept of ROM is that he is a cyborg that battles evil that humans can’t see, so I’d expect a great visual feast for the dogs attending the screenings.

It is pointless complaining about movie studios resurrecting recognizable brands and properties from the past. The entertainment space is crowded with TV with a new golden age, cinemas clogged with three new wide releases a week, and so many other ways for people to spend their leisure that there has to be a way to break through the clutter. A studio needs to present something recognizable and potentially play on that warm nostalgia feeling.

Just because someone can say, “Oh hey, I remember seeing that on toy shelves as a kid” doesn’t mean they’re suddenly rushing out to buy a ticket to a special-effect extravaganza based on that property. Most kids heard the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” and I’d say many people still remember the Lone Ranger, but the movie versions turned out to be massive explosive bombs for their studios that killed hopes for sequels.

The problem with this current Paramount and Hasbro deal is that it isn’t about a filmmaker or writer being passionate over a story they have on one of these properties. It is business people in a boardroom trying to shake the dust off something mildly recognizable and hoping someone out there can turn it into an eagerly anticipated movie. Features like The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street proved almost any property can be a surprise hit, but also proved you first need talented filmmakers with a great story.

'Demolition' Trailer Shows Typical Second Chance at Happiness Drama Beats but Jake Gyllenhaal Always Makes Things Better

Jake Gyllenhaal is firmly planted in the "if he is in it, then I want to see it" category, That isn't to say every movie he has been in has been good, but his performances elevated fare like Southpaw and Prisoners and make great movies even greater in Nightcrawler and Brokeback Mountain. Much of my interest for Demolition comes from Gyllenhaal being able to play alongside the diverse Naomi Watts. For those that saw this on the festival circuit, they say Judah Lewis has a breakout worthy performance as the rebel kid that warms Gyllenhaal's heart. Jean-Marc Vallee has established himself as a director of Oscar season prestige picture with stuff like Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, which does makes me a little nervous this has been moved into the wasteland of April. I get a kick out of the opening sequences in the trailer with Gyllenhaal's character writing four complaint letters to a vending company. It gives me some hope of quirky and eccentric turns to compliment what feels like a typical "broken man gets a second chance to be happy thanks to a smart-mouthed boy and his mom" drama. This second trailer also has pretty much the same beats and reveals as the first, which either is huge kudos to the marketing team keeping some of the good stuff under wraps or this is really all we're going to get.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

'Me Before You' Trailer Shows Sarah Connor Much Happier Without Cyborgs

Me Before You is a romantic picture but with wheelchairs. It also looks to be borrowing from the Nicholas Sparks guide of storytelling with running through hospital hallways and potentially one of the love interests getting a funeral before the run time is done. None of this is too eye-rolling, because Hollywood has shunned romance for the last several years and so this feels a little less derivative than usual. The real thing that makes this stand-out is the British infused wit in the dialogue that makes this seem much lighter and bouncy. I can survive these characters and may even like them because they're funny, smart, and don't take themselves too seriously. It also is nice to see Emilia Clarke show some more personality after her turn as Sarah Connor in the already not very well-aged Terminator Genysis

'Miles Ahead' Trailer Promises Another Up and Down Life Story of a Genius

I'm a huge fan of Don Cheadle and he is the type of talent that immediately elevates a picture. I am excited to see his feature-length directorial debut and I understand Miles Ahead is a passion project for him, but I've hit some major biopic fatigue. It seems to be the only genre a major studios will allow when trying to cater to an adult audience. This seems to be the usual major genius changes the world while his home life is a wreck and we go on a bumpy ride of his life until seeking some form of redemption plot. This isn't to say that Miles Davis isn't worthy of a biopic, because he is, but the genre really needs some fresh blood and new directions. Maybe this will be it and maybe Cheadle will be able to allow the music to capture and intoxicate and really immerse us into the artist's life. Cheadle does looks fantastic here and his performance alone will make the two hours plus an engaging experience.

'Green Room' Red Band Trailer Proves Typical Can Still Be Thrilling

Green Room is Jeremy Saulnier's next step in making incredible movies with color based titles, so that when he becomes one of the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood he can release a box set called "The Rainbow Anthology." Or so I assume. I was a huge fan of his 2013 revenge flick Blue Ruin about a mild mannered man who was completely out of his depths in seeking vengeance against those who killed his parents. It was a well-paced and atmospheric thriller that had ample amount of quirky and dark humour based on the fact that our protagonist didn't have a killer instinct or a clue what he was doing. It had all the beats of your typical revenge thriller, but revealed what would really happen if your average guy tried to be a violent avenger.

Green Room seems to have more typical thriller beats with a punk band seeing something they shouldn't have and now trying to stay alive while being hunted down by some nasty neo-Nazis. Okay, maybe that doesn't come out every other week in the cinemas, but my point is the trailer seems to suggest a more action oriented "heroes must rise above to survive" type plot. Of course, a trailer usually is designed to seem typical and save the twists for show time, and I trust Saulnier has something special here just based off the genius of Blue Ruin (have I stated enough how great that movie is?).

Even if I'm wrong about some surprises, this looks to have a really chilling atmosphere and could end being one that leaves fingernail marks in the armchair. The cast is terrific with Imogen Poots proving herself in the independent scene, I was a big fan of Marc Webber in the underseen 13 Sins, and Anton Yelchin is getting some deserved recognition from his performances in bigger movies like Star Trek and Fright Night (which he starred with Poots). Though the biggest selling point besides loving the director, is seeing the usually warm and lovable Patrick Stewart play the sadistic and violent leader of the gang hunting down the protagonists. Scheduled to be released on April 15th in North America, but I'm already assuming I'll be forced to wait for its Netflix debut later in the year (I hope).

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Boy (2016) Review: A Movie Better Left in the Attic

Four Star Rating:

Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle
Director: William Brent Bell
Screenplay: Stacey Menear
Genre: Horror
Rated: 14A - disturbing content, graphic violence
Release Date: January 22, 2016
Run Time: 1 hour and 38 minutes 

The Boy is a story about a woman who leaves her abusive boyfriend for a tender and intimate relationship with a porcelain doll. It's a plot that doesn't scream hot new horror feature, but is at least an attempt to do something different with the creepy doll subgenre that is much older than the scary clown doll from 1982's Poltergeist.

Director William Brent Bell is effective in making a dark and chilling atmosphere with the large Gothic mansion, long shots of creepy hallways, an ominous score that is edge-of-the seat worthy, and of course, that really freaky doll. The creepy mood is undone by a campy and at times outright ridiculous screenplay written by Stacey Menear. Lauren Cohan plays Greta who takes on a job of nanny for two creepy old folks who after losing their son Brahms to fire twenty years ago now have a porcelain doll as his substitute. For large portions of the picture, we get to see Greta comfort and bond with the doll. These scenes caused this horror to elicit more chuckles than the attended screams at my screening except for the guy sitting beside me who must get frightened every time he turns the crank of a jack-in-the-box.

It doesn't help that the movie is populated with character that are either morons or victims to the convenience of moving along the plot. Greta is alone in a creepy mansion but thinks it makes perfect sense to venture up the attic after the entrance is mysteriously open. After it becomes clear that Brahms is possessed and starts to terrorize her, she is convinced to stick around and play mom after a mere offering of a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle are appropriately disturbing as the elderly Heelshires, but their mannerisms drastically change from scene to scene that they must be victims of extensive rewrites. Then there is Greta's loving sister back in America that doesn't think anything of her 10 year old answering the door for a violent stalker and just kind of shrugs when the stalker gets Greta's address -- the person she moved to an entirely different country to get away from.

A collection of stupid people in a horror movie is pretty common and none of this would matter if The Boy was scary at any point. It isn't. Instead we suffer through the eye-rolling dream sequences or scenes obviously set up for the inconsequential jump scares. The story is weighed down by being derivative of movies like Child's Play or the countless haunted house pictures jamming into the cinemas over the last several years. It all builds to a rather unsatisfying twist ending that is derivative of an entirely other subgenre of horror picture that I can't reveal the movies or I'll spoil the ending. Though if revealing it then stops you from seeing it then that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Cohan is the best part, and her experience as a main cast member on The Walking Dead means she isn't above throwing herself entirely into this role. She brings an emotion and nuance that exceeds the requirements of the script. Even though Greta is one dimensional, Cohan gives her a strength and vulnerability that makes me almost care despite the absurdity on the screen. It left me begging that her great talents are allowed to shine in a much better movie.