Beatriz at Dinner – Movie Review

Beatriz at Dinner – Movie Review

As I continue to write this movie blog and get deeper into the world of movies, I find myself wanting to push past the level of mainstream, big Hollywood releases and get into the lesser known, art house, independent, smaller films that are out there.  Looking around at what was in theaters and what was getting good word of mouth, I settled on checking out Beatriz at Dinner, as it seemed like a very timely movie that presented a very topical conversation in a grounded and relatable way that, I hoped, would cut through all the posturing and elitism that drowns conversations about politics and socio-economic disparity today. What I got was a well made movie with some striking visuals that ultimately is a bit overwrought and falters a bit with its messaging.

Beatriz-at-Dinner-movie-poster

Beatriz at Dinner is the story of what happens when Beatriz, a massage therapist and practitioner of alternative medicine, played by Salma Hayek, stays for dinner at her wealthy client’s house after her car won’t start. The dinner is in honor of her client’s husband, Grant, who owns and operates a large scale construction company and has secured a deal to start work on a new development to be run by Doug Strutt, a thinly veiled stand in for Donald Trump played by John Lithgow, and with the help of an up and coming lawyer, Alex, played by Jay Duplass.

Over the course of the dinner, through various conversations, it is revealed the Beatriz is an immigrant to the United States and the city from whence she came was the victim of a hotel developer who came in and built a new hotel promising jobs and tourism but only delivered pain and suffering in the name of profits to the people of the city. You can clearly see that this dinner will not turn out to be the happy fun times in 3 courses that Beatriz’s client Cathy (Connie Britton) dreamed it would be.

Now, how do I feel about Beatriz at Dinner? I really, really, wanted to like it but I just don’t think I do.  There is a lot of good going on here but it never really gels into an over all enjoyable movie.

Let’s start off with things that I did like, most notably the director’s use of color and framing, the acting, and the gloriously awkward tension that permeates that film.  The use of color in the costuming and set dressing in Beatriz at Dinner is rather striking and serves to inform the audience on certain characters and how they will be treated by other characters.  For instance, the lawyer, Alex, and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) are wearing a beige blazer and a beige dress (respectively) and most of the walls in Grant and Kathy’s house are painted, you guessed it, beige.  To me this signifies that these two characters are largely unimportant and just might as well be a part of the walls, and I believe that is echoed in their interactions with the other at the dinner party. Their costuming is also similar to that of the staff at the house as well. The waiter, maid, and cook are all wearing neutral beige tones as if to just blend into their surroundings.

To contrast this, other main characters are wearing either dark blues for the male characters and bright sundresses for the female characters aside from Beatriz who is wearing a pair of light gray pants and a blue/gray shirt. Not only does this set her apart from the other women but there is a rather striking scene where Beatriz walks into a living room, looks around for a minute and then continues on.  In that room, all of the decorations, like a painting hanging up, the lamps, throw pillows, etc., all match the color scheme of what Beatriz is wearing.  So, while a few characters are wearing colors that show that they are on the same level as the walls in a room, Beatriz’s clothes, to me, indicate that while she is important to her client, ultimately she is just decoration, a person to bring color into your life but not much more.

All the actors deliver very solid performances.  Salma Hayek is great at delivering long speeches about her spirituality, connection with animals, and her own back story.  She always imbues her lines with a genuine earnestness and you truly feel for her when you see her hurting.  As for the rest of the cast, they do their part in being slightly taken aback by what Beatriz is saying as it is so far out of the norm for them that they usually, can’t come up with an appropriate response so they just redirect the conversation and, the few times that they do try to respond, they do so with dismissive humor showing just how little they care for this person that has intruded on their world.  The cast is great at creating an incredibly awkward tension between themselves on par with what we see in Get Out.

Now on to the things that I didn’t like, namely this thread of symbolism and metaphor that run through the entire film and culminates in a rather extreme action by a main character at the end of the film.  Throughout Beatriz at Dinner, Beatriz tells several stories involving animals, how they have impacted her life, and the connection she has with them.  In stark contrast, Doug Strutt is a big game hunter who is proud of his kills while on safari in Africa.  All this just further shows the ideological divide between Beatriz and the rest of the characters.  Aside from illustrating that divide, I never felt like I fully understood what the point of all of Beatriz’s stories were or how they related to each other and to the plot.  I really feel like there was something deeper at play in this movie that either went right over my head or was just executed poorly by the writer (Mike White) and/or director (Miguel Arteta).

As I said in my intro, I went into Beatriz at Dinner expecting a real, grounded, human conversation that would cover many of the socio-economic divides that affect our country today but present them free of the toxic rhetoric and tired talking points that we’ve all heard.  Walking out of Beatriz at Dinner, I don’t feel I got that.  While Beatriz felt like a real character, all of the other characters felt more like caricatures or slightly fleshed out stereotypes. I wanted Lithgow’s character to be more human, more relatable, and have more too him than he did.  Now that might be me getting let down by my own ill-founded expectations but I felt it’s still worth noting.

All in all, I think Beatriz at Dinner is a decent movie but a movie whose reach exceeds it’s grasp.  I mostly enjoyed my time watching this film but not nearly as much as I hoped I would but, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again.

What about you, have you seen Beatriz at Dinner? Do you want to?  Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, Thank You for reading and…

SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!!!

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Tuesday Trailer Roundup! (7/4/2017)

Tuesday Trailer Roundup! (7/4/2017)

Here we are again with another Tuesday Trailer Roundup – this time with 16 new trailers! Let’s get into it!

The Greatest Showman

Not many trailers hit on all cylinders but this trailer hit me hard – gave me goosebumps, made me smile, and made me a bit misty-eyed.  This film looks spectacular and this trailer is incredible.  The music, the bit of exposition at the beginning, the music, the montage of performers, the music, the end scene with Efron and Jackman, and did I mention the music?  From the spectacle shown, the story being told, and the cast involved, this looks like it could be the smash hit of December (2nd only to Star Wars)!

Logan Lucky (Trailer 2)

I was on board for this film from the first trailer and this one just makes me even more excited.  I recently rewatched the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy and I am ecstatic that Steven Soderbergh is directing yet another heist film.  I love the feel that this movie has and the type of humor it brings to the table.  Daniel Craig looks to be having a blast and the comedic pair of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver? Hell. Yes.

A Bad Mom’s Christmas

Bad Moms is one of the better comedies to come out in recent years and I was on board for a sequel even though comedy sequels rarely live up to their predecessors. With that being said, A Bad Mom’s Christmas looks to break that trend cause this looks damn funny.  Bringing in the Grandmas is a smart choice, similar to the Daddy’s Home sequel bringing in the grandparents, but the real stand out, sheer brilliance here is setting the movie at Christmas.  Doing that gives the writers so many more things to play with and opens up possible story routes they can take.  I think it will also help boost this movies box office take by having an R-Rated comedy out at Christmas to compete with more family friendly fare and the bigger blockbusters.

Everything, Everything

I have to be honest, this trailer doesn’t do anything for me.  I feel like I’ve seen this story before and seen it done better.  The production quality also feels like a Disney Channel original. Sorry guys, I’m not feeling this one.

Ingrid Goes West

This looks like the creepiest comedy I’ve seen in a while. I feel in love with Aubrey Place during while binge-watching Parks and Recreation but I felt she was an absolute stand out in FX’s Legion (you should watch it if you haven’t – Check out my review here). Elizabeth Olsen looks get in this as well, I’m excited to see her getting roles outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Overall, this looks like a good one.

My Little Pony

*Sigh*  I have the sinking feeling that I will end up seeing this one in theaters because I have a 3, almost 4, year old daughter that is all about the My Little Ponies right now. Seriously, she has a dozen or more of the toys and my wife and I can’t keep track of their names.  We’re at the point where we made a cheat sheet describing their colors and their names.   On the plus side this movie looks like it might actually be kind of fun (said the parent) or at least fun for my daughter which will make it fun for me and the wife.

Breathe

Oh man, this looks pretty good. In a post Amazing Spider-Man world, Andrew Garfield looks to be campaigning hard for some mantle pieces from the Academy. Claire Foy also looks like she’s going to bring an solid, if not amazing performance, to the film; I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with her as an actor so I don’t have anything to compare this to. What I’m really excited about here is seeing the directorial debut of Andy  Serkis. Serkis is all over Hollywood right now, from leading the resurgent Planet of the Apes franchise, to joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to playing Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars. Many have called for Serkis to win an Oscar for his work as Ceaser in the aforementioned Apes movies (myself included), but maybe, just maybe, he’ll win an Oscar for direction first.

Axcellerator

This looks like it could be ok….  It’s really hard to tell.  I don’t recognize anyone in the trailer and the production quality looks to be a bit subpar for a theater release.  The story could be what saves this movie though.  It seems like someone invented a teleportation device and now everyone wants it for themselves which could make for a good sci-fi action adventure, if it’s done right.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I love, love, love this trailer and I can’t wait to see this movie.  Whenever an old property is brought back for either a sequel or a reboot or a re-quel, I feel like there has to be a damn good reason for doing it and it looks like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has cracked that code.  Making the game a video game, where the players are sucked into the world of Jumanji versus the game spilling out into reality is brilliant or at least I think it is.  And having our A-list cast be avatars controlled by teenagers and having those teenage personalities come through actors like Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Kevin Hart looks like it will be amazing.

Death Note

I used to be a fan of anime, like 10-12 years ago back in high school, so the original Death Note series passed me by and thus, I have no real stake in the conversation of how the adaptation compares to the original or if this adaptation should have even been made. In general, anime to western made live action adaptations haven’t been received well (Dragon Ball: Evolution and Ghost in the Shell anyone?). However, since this is on Netflix, which I already pay for, the most I will lose by watching this is an hour and forty minutes, I think I’ll give it a shot, if for no other reason that to write a review on it and check out Willem DaFoe’s performance.

Cult of Chucky

If I’m being honest, the only reason I watched this trailer is because of this article series so you’re welcome.  If you haven’t already watched this trailer, you can skip it.  I’ve only ever seen the first two Child’s Play movies and I honestly have zero desire to watch through all of them to “get caught up”.  This movie is straight to Blu-ray/VOD so I have the feeling only hardcore horror fans will go out of their way to watch it. Moving on….

Armed Response

Well this looks like good ole fashioned Netflix fodder.  While this one looks like it might have some fun action, Wesley Snipes and Anne Heche are both well out of the Hollywood spotlight and this reeks of “paycheck film”.  I won’t be going out of my way to see this one but if it pops on my Netflix and I am appropriately drunk, I might give it a watch.

Polaroid

I usually don’t like horror movies. At all.  However, if one comes along that is getting good enough reviews or it looks like the concept is interesting enough for me to swallow my fear and go see it, then I will. Polaroid is on the edge of that interest over fear line for me.  The concept looks cool but I don’t know if the execution is good enough for me to stomach checking this one out.

Atomic Blonde (Trailer 3)

I’ve been on board for this movie for a while and this just keeps me excited for it.  We get a lot of the same scenes we’ve already seen before be we also get a better look at James McAvoy’s character and it seems like he’s got a bigger role than I previously thought.  We also see Charlize Theron kicking even more ass than before.  This movie has my money.

The Last Face

This is a hard trailer to watch and it looks like it will be an even harder movie to watch. Charlize Theron (showing some range as an actor compared to Atomic Blonde) and Javier Bardem look to be on their A-game here, bringing some very human and visceral drama to war torn areas as doctors helping refugees.  If this film is as good as the trailer suggests it will be, look for Theron, Bardem, and director Sean Penn to get plenty of buzz come awards season.

Borg vs. Mcenroe

Well between this one and Battle of the Sexes, tennis movies seem to be en vogue right now.  Although while Battle of the Sexes uses tennis to frame the struggle for women’s equality, Borg vs. Mcenroe seems to be using tennis to frame struggle between the classes.  The cast looks solid as do the performances.  This one might be worth checking out.

Baby Driver – Movie Review

Baby Driver – Movie Review

Normally after I see a movie that I plan on writing a review for, I sit on it for a day, just to let it marinate in my brain, to decide how I feel about it past any initial, knee-jerk reactions that I may have, to let my mind think back through the movie and remember all the scenes, good and bad.  Not this time.  I walked out of my local theater less than an hour ago and I sat down to write this as soon as I got home because I don’t need twenty-three more hours to decide how I feel about Baby Driver, I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to see it again.

baby-driver-poster

Baby Driver follows Baby, a getaway driver who has tinnitus as a result of a car wreck when he was a boy so he almost constantly listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears. Later on, at the diner he frequents, he falls for a waitress he meets there and, as he tries to leave his life of crime, he finds himself and his new love on the run from his former partners.

The above paragraph probably sounds at least vaguely similar to a handful of other movies, so you may be wondering what makes this movie special, what makes it pop, what separates it from the herd? Answer – Everything about it.  Seriously.  The cast, the action, the story, the characters, the music.  This is one of the best all around films I have seen in a while.  It may be trite or cliche to say but this movie does have it all – drama, comedy, romance, action, suspense.

The cast and the characters that they bring to life are all astounding.  Ansel Elgort, Baby, effortlessly makes you feel for him at every turn. As you find out about his past, you can see the emotion on his face and really connect with it. When he’s in danger, you actually are afraid for him and with the way this movie plays out (no spoilers) you never know what is about to happen. Elgort is a great actor that I haven’t run across before but I will definitely be watching for him in future movies.

Jon Hamm is back in a big way too.  The few things I’ve seen him in since Mad Men have all seemed beneath him in some way, not that those projects or roles were subpar, just that Hamm can bring so much to a character that he can dig into and sink into.  I can’t think of another actor that could bring the gravitas and weight to this role that he does here. Kevin Spacey is great as the leader of the heist crews, as he imbues the character with a soft menace, making him come off as someone that you wouldn’t think twice about cutting in front of in line at Starbucks but getting one look from him would tell you to get to the end of the line. Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal are also both great here, my only complaint about both of them, is that I think they both could have had more screen time and a bit more to do, but that’s on the writer, not them.

Lily James is also a joy to watch and her chemistry with Elgort is palpable. She brings an innocence to this movie that serves as a great foil for the hardened criminals we see Baby deal with so much. Conveying the feeling that two characters are truly in love enough to risk their lives for each other is something can be hard to make believable and not come off as cheesy.

One of the real standouts though is Jamie Foxx.  His character is an absolute wildcard and creates some amazing tension just because you have no idea what he is going to do and have already seen what he is capable of. I never really felt comfortable when Foxx’s character was an screen and that is something rare, especially from someone who is generally as lovable like Foxx is.

From the trailers, we knew we were in for some really cool car chases and some great action set pieces and Baby Driver definitely delivers on that promise.  The car chases are thrilling and beautifully crafted and are never over the top or get to the point where you have trouble suspending your sense of disbelief like some other car-centric movies I can think of (looking at you Fast & Furious franchise).  And while this film has plenty of action and car chases, it never relies on that to prop up weaker aspects of the overall film.  The action, the car chases, the heists, the smaller character moments, the love story, are all perfectly paced and effortlessly woven together.  For 115 minutes, I never thought about checking my watch or phone to see what time it was or figure out how much movie was left.

Lets talk about the music in this movie because honestly, the music isn’t so much of a thing used to help enhance a scene, the music is so on point, so well crafted, and enhances, not just scenes, but the whole movie so much that the soundtrack could be considered a character in the movie. I don’t believe that there is a misplaced song in the entire run time of Baby Driver. The music chosen always seems poignant to what is going on and the choice to time gunshots and action scenes to the soundtrack really elevates the movie.  The music is meant to stand out and, not run over top of, but run right along side the movie.  Music often seems to blend into the background and be something you hear but not notice and that’s not the case here.  Baby Driver’s soundtrack is noticeable in all the best ways.

Baby Driver did exactly what I want a movie to do – make me forget I’m watching a movie. Pull me out of the real world for two hours and grant me that escapism that I look to movies for. Make me forget that I have a half-eaten box of Sour Patch Kids in my hand and a half-drunk cherry ICEE in my cup holder. I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough so please, please go see it.  We need more original movies like this in our theaters so skip Transformers: Won’t Be The Last Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean: Johnny Depp’s Paycheck and go see an amazing, original film that is absolutely worthy of your dollars.

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Until next time, Thank You for reading and…

SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!

 

Re-Visit Review #2 – The Losers

Re-Visit Review #2 – The Losers

Wow, what a difference 7 years makes in Hollywood.

Back in 2010 when The Losers hit theaters:

  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan was coming off a 23 episode run on Grey’s Anatomy and had  starred in Watchmen, another ill-fated comic book adaptation
  • Zoe Saldana was just starting to make it big after her superb portrayal of Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and her mo-cap performance as a big blue alien in James Cameron’s Avatar
  • Chris Evans had yet to be a smash after his turn as the Human Torch in the failed Fantastic Four franchise and his role in Push (the best “X-Men but not” film we’ve ever gotten)
  • Idris Elba had made a name for himself on the small screen with HBO’s The Wire but was still a few years out from making a splash on the big screen

Now fast forward those aforementioned 7 years:

  • Morgan is the scariest villain on TV as the head bashing, baseball bat wielding Negan
  • Saldana is a major part of, not one but two, major science fiction franchises in Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Evans is has gone from rom-com goofball to the leader of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, staring as Steve Rogers/Captain America in arguably some of the best comic book movies ever committed to film
  • Elba has also joined the Marvel Cinematic universe as Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost in the Thor movies, cancelled the apocalypse in the sci-fi cult classic Pacific Rim, lent his distinctive voice to a number of Disney films, and is about to portray one of the greatest Stephen King characters ever, Roland Deschain in the upcoming The Dark Tower

Yes, what a difference a few years makes in Hollywood.

The_Losers_movie_poster

The Losers follows an elite CIA team after they’re betrayed by a mysterious man named Max and a helicopter full of 25 children are killed in the process.  While the team is hiding out in Bolivia, a woman approaches them with a plan to get their revenge on Max and get their lives back.  What follows is a pretty fun action adventure with more than enough humor to keep me in smiles the whole time.

Like I listed out in the intro, this film has an amazing cast of actors that were all on the cusp of greatness when The Losers was released and all of whom have now hit that big time.  Morgan, Saldana, Evans, and Elba are all fantastic here and that’s not to mention the other cast members Columbus Short and Oscar Jaenada who round out the cast.  This film really shines in the interactions of the characters and the humor, tension, and emotion that the cast brings to the table.  The well timed sarcasm and dry humor really makes this movie for me, especially when it’s Chris Evans delivering the lines.  I think it’s easy to forget just how funny he can be now that we’ve seen him as the straight laced Captain America for so many years and now that he’s doing smaller, more dramatic films like Snowpiercer. 

The action presented in The Losers is also pretty solid.  I wouldn’t say that there is anything stylistically unique about it but it never feels overly unrealistic or unbelievable. The action sequences are well paced and well placed throughout the movie, giving us a nice consistent feel throughout.

The most unfortunate thing about this film though is that we never got a follow up.  The ending is left wide open for a sequel, which I’m sure was planned but got scraped. Money makes sequels and sadly, The Losers barely broke even at the box office and probably lost money when factoring in theaters taking their cuts and the marketing budget.  Also, looking at the Rotten Tomatoes scores is a little disheartening, as it seems, at the time, The Losers was a swing and a miss with both critics and fans.

If there’s one big weakness in The Losers, it has to be the villain, Max.  While the mystery that surrounds him is intriguing at times, it’s never full explored or developed which may have be a deliberate choice if they were holding off for a sequel.  Also, the way Max is played by Jason Patric comes off a bit too “mustache twirly” and his motives are never completely explained.  Thinking about it, I can get that he wants to sell some nasty weapons of mass destruction to whoever will buy them and use them so the US government, and the CIA specifically, can continue to operate on bloated budgets and basically do whatever they want.  When that plan is challenged, he pivots to wanting to execute a false flag attack on US soil blaming terrorists so he can still accomplish the same goal. Like I said, this is never fully explored or explained but it makes sense and it is actually kind of a frightening prospect given the geo-political climate we live in today.

I remember seeing The Losers back when it first released in April of 2010 and I remember loving it. After watching it again, I still really, really enjoy it.  It’s far from a perfect movie, or the best comic book movie but it is also far from being the worst comic book adaptation ever made (cough cough Howard the Duck cough cough). The Losers is a solid action comedy that gets its laughs from true character moments rather than some of the tired version of slapstick that Hollywood churns out or from over wrought, predictable scripting and easy jokes.  In my humble opinion, The Losers is an unfairly forgotten film and often over looked when discussing comic book movies.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend tracking it down and giving it a chance and if you have seen it and liked it, give it another watch and tell some friends about it.  I’d love to see this film get the credit I feel it deserves.

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Until next time, Thank You for reading and…

SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!

Weekend Box Office Breakdown: June 16th – 18th

Weekend Box Office Breakdown: June 16th – 18th

Welcome back Beardlings to a new edition of the Weekend Box Office Breakdown!  I know it’s been awhile since we’ve discussed the weekend box office numbers but the results from this past weekend was interesting enough to warrant resurrecting this series (with a new format).  Without any further ado, lets get into it!

The Numbers:

  1. Cars 3 – $53,688,680 – New Release
  2. Wonder Woman – $41,268,850 – 29.5% Drop
  3. All Eyez On Me – $26,435,354 – New Release
  4. The Mummy (2017) – $14,510,960 – 54.2% Drop
  5. 47 Meters Down – $11,205,561 – New Release

There are a number of interesting things going on here but lets start at the top with Cars 3.  $53.7 million is a lot of money, like a LOT, but when looking at it in comparison with the rest of the Cars and Pixar films in general, one can’t help but draw the conclusion that the Cars 3 opening weekend numbers are a bit of a disappointment.  Back in 2006, Cars had an opening weekend gross of $60.1 million and then the follow up in 2011, Cars 2, grossed $66.1 million – a decent 10% improvement over the franchise’s first entry. But then we get to Cars 3 taking a 10%+ drop over the original and that’s just not good, studios usually want sequels to make more than the original because, well, duh… Aside from being the lowest opening of the Cars franchise, Cars 3 also has the lowest gross for a Pixar movie in the last 10 years, since Ratatouille (not counting The Good Dinosaur which, while being a Pixar film, never quite felt like a “Pixar film”).  Now, I’m not saying Pixar is in trouble due to a lackluster opening by Cars 3, just that maybe no one was really asking for Cars 3 and we’re all just waiting ever so patiently for that Incredibles sequel we’ve been promised (come on June 2018)!

Next up is Wonder Woman and oh my what a weekend for the Princess of Themyscira. Most big summer block busters drop around 50% or more week over week but not this one.  Wonder Woman dropped only 43.3% from its first to second week and now only 29.5% from its second to its third week?  That’s not just incredible, that’s down right Amazonian! (Yes, I like easy puns, leave me alone.) Just for the sake of comparison Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 dropped 55.5% from its first to second week in release and then 46.9% from its second to third week.  Wonder Woman is definitely showing that it has legs at the box office and on screen (HA! Easy puns….).

As for the rest of the weekend box office, All Eyez on Me pulling in $26.5 million is rather impressive in my eyes given the 22% Rotten rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes and that I saw next to no marketing for it.  Although I will readily admit that I am far from the target demographic for that particular film.  The Mummy (2017) continues to disappoint domestically while staying #1 in the foreign box office.  Actually, after this weekend, 80.6% of it’s $293.9 million gross box office take has been from the foreign markets.  Not sure what that means for the future of Universal’s Dark Universe (interconnected movie franchise featuring updated versions of all the old classic Universal monsters) but hopefully they stay the course and right the ship.

And lastly, we come to 47 Meters Down, which made me say “Aww hell no!” when watching the trailers.  $11.2 million might feel like a disappointing opening but given that it’s production budget was only $5 million this movie is probably close to breaking even as it stands, even when considering its marketing budget.  Going forward, most money this movie makes is just gravy which is good for the movie but also great for the distribution company, Entertainment Studios, as this is it’s first feature film.

All in all, seems like a great weekend at the box office with plenty of life left in the summer movie season and a handful of great summer movies yet to come!

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Until next time, Thank You for reading and…

SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!

Rakka – Oats Studios: Volume 1 – Review

Rakka – Oats Studios: Volume 1 – Review

Ok, Neill Blomkamp, as Leonardo Dicaprio said in Djano Unchained, “you had my curiosity but now you have my attention.”  Blomkamp burst on to the Hollywood scene back in 2009 when he shocked the world with his first feature film District 9 (which I have yet to see but plan on fixing that soon) and then followed that up with the somewhat divisive Elysium and then the rather disappointing Chappie (which I have also yet to see but don’t have any plans to remedy that) so it’s fair to say that, within the Hollywood system, Blomkamp has faltered a bit.  Well, he seems to be going for a change with his new initiative called Oats Studios where he and his team of 40 people have set out to make experimental short films free from the confines of the Hollywood studio system.  The one hitch is that Oats Studios and Blomkamp doesn’t have funding for this initiative, but are hoping that by giving away the finished product online for free and then hoping people will donate to the cause or purchase the films so they can get to extra content like 3D models and the raw footage from the films, they will be able to continue this project.  The only question is,  will the finished product be good enough for people to donate to the cause.  Having just finished watching Rakka, the first short film to be released, I can firmly answer not just yes, but Hell Yes.

Rakka is about 22 minutes long and drops the viewer into a world ravaged by alien invasion where humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction.  If you haven’t taken the time to watch it, I highly suggest you do so before reading any further, not because of spoilers or anything, but because it is well worth your time to do so.

WARNING – THIS IS PROBABLY BEST FOR VIEWING BY MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY. There is a lot of graphic and potentially disturbing imagery.

Did you watch it?  Good.

I really had no idea what to expect going into watching this but I am very pleasantly surprised.  I really, really enjoyed this and might even grow to love it.  Blomkamp manages to build a world and present characters that are so much more intriguing and deeper than two and half hour, $200 million blockbusters can in the span of 22 minutes. The opening voice over paints a crystal clear picture of the horror that has transpired and absolutely conveys the appropriate feeling of doom that the viewer needs to have to fully understand the character motivations and the world we are seeing.

Over the course of the film, we meet three main characters: Jasper, Nosh, and Amir. Amir appears to be a test subject that has managed to escape captivity or at least survive the experiments on him.  From what we get in the film, he seems like he will be a very important figure going forward (presuming that this short is just the beginning of a series of shorts set in this same world) as he seems to have the genetic predisposition required to survive being experimented on by the aliens and he also seems to have gained precognitive powers.  Next up is Nosh, who is honestly kind of scary.  Nosh is a man who is thriving in this post apocalyptic Earth as he is a pyromaniac and a savant at building things from junk and scraps, things like bombs and Brain Barriers which the resistance fighters use to block telepathic attacks by the aliens.  And lastly is Jasper, leader of the resistance, played quite adeptly by none other than Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is undoubtedly the stand out of the cast, not only because she is obviously a very recognizable actor with a long and storied career but because of the way she carries herself and the way that you just instinctively know that she is in charge. I said it in the opening paragraph and I’ll reiterate it here – this short has more character development in it that the majority of modern block busters.

The production design, set work, and costuming in Rakka is also astounding.  On the Oats Studios website, it states on their “support” page that “the creation of Volume 1 required immense resources” and I truly believe it.  All of the visual effects are stunning and of comparable quality to those aforementioned $200 million blockbuster movies if not better at times.  The world the designers have put together is gritty, war torn, and feels utterly real.  This is truly a feat for a short film designed to just put on YouTube.

Rakka is a fantastic piece of film making that deserves your attention and your time and, if you’re so inclined, maybe a few of your dollars. A venture such as this, is incredibly bold and daring and has the potential to further break the strangle hold that major Hollywood studios have on cinema and that streaming services are already loosening as they continue to general original content. I, for one, cannot wait to see what Neill Blomkamp and Oats Studios do going forward, for as I said above – they had my curiosity and now they certainly have my attention.

John Wick: Chapter 2 – Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 – Movie Review

A few years back when John Wick surprised the hell out of everyone as a groundbreaking action film and not just another paycheck movie for a Hollywood action star, I rented it and my wife and I sat down to watch it, my wife didn’t make it past the….. inciting incident of that movie.  After I finished watching it, I made sure to tell her that the rest of the movie helps alleviate that scene by thoroughly punishing all involved. Luckily I later got her to sit down and finish watching it with me and she agreed that the rest of the movie makes up for the beginning.  And it’s a good thing that I got her to watch it with me because it made sitting down to watch John Wick: Chapter 2 all the better as John Wick: Chapter 2 is a very worthy follow up to the movie that came before it.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up a little bit after the original film as we see John attempting to retrieve a personal item from the brother of the main mob boss from John Wick which gives us a fantastic opening action sequence, returning us to the unique style of action that we were introduced to a few years back.  After the opening sequence, John attempts to get back to his retirement but, of course, that is not in the cards for him.  He is approached by someone with whom he has had prior dealings and is forced back into the world he so desperately wants to leave behind.

This is probably where the movie is the weakest.  The story feels like it drags as it spends about 40 minutes setting up the second half of the film, which is important work but it maybe could have been paced a little bit better.  I liken it to riding a roller coaster and the 40 minutes after the opening scene being like that little bit of time you spend in the car as it gets cranked up to the top of first drop.  Its not why you stood in line or why you bought a ticket but its a necessity for the thrill ride that follows and when you crest that first hill, boy howdy does this movie go off.

The action in John Wick: Chapter 2 is just as delightfully choreographed and brutally realistic as it was in the first one.  The big set piece from John Wick in the nightclub is the crown jewel of that movie and John Wick: Chapter 2 ups the ante with two extended set piece, one in a series of ancient catacombs and one in a museum/modern art installation. While both are absolutely astounding examples of what we should expect from modern action movies, for me the catacombs sequence has a slight edge over the museum sequence and that really just comes down to personal preference.  Both are designed, choreographed, and executed with amazing precision and care for detail.

The last line in the previous paragraph leads me to something that the John Wick series does better than any other any other movie or TV show that I know of and that’s how it portrays the function and use of guns.  Full disclosure about me – I like guns, I have a few and thoroughly enjoy taking them to the range and engaging in some recreational shooting following all safety rules. So when I see firearms in movies or TV shows that I have personally handled or used, I notice it when things are portrayed incorrectly in media.  For instance, in both films John carries a Glock 26 as a back up pistol and that particular model has a standard capacity magazine that carries 10 rounds so as the movies progress through the action scenes, if the film makers are attempting to achieve as much realism as possible, it makes sense that we should see John reload after firing 10 rounds.  It seems like a simple task but from what little I know of making movies, it must be a giant pain in the ass to get that type of detail right in the finished product and I give every single accolade I can to the film makers for taking the time and paying attention to something like that.  Whenever I watch a show or movie where a character clearly uses a firearm well past what I know it’s round capacity is and I don’t seem them reload, it bugs me and in particularly egregious cases, it takes me out of the experience.  So again – Thank You, to the directors, editors, producers, whoever else for that attention to detail.

Next to the action sequences, the best thing about John Wick is the world of assassins that this film series has created.  Everything we fell in love with from the first film is brought back and amplified for John Wick: Chapter 2 – everything from the gold coins, to The Continental hotel, to the rules that everyone abides by.  That underground, unseen world is explored much more in this film and the rules of that world are what pushes the plot of the movie forward.  However the best part, is that those rules are only ever explained in detail when the audience absolutely needs to know.  Now that may seem counter intuitive, but what made the world building in the original John Wick so great is that it is merely presented to the audience as something that is and something that is not to be questioned.  I love, LOVE that is is mostly left a mystery, I don’t want to know how you earn a coin, I don’t want a list of the “house rules” at The Continental hotel, I don’t want to know about how and why things are the way they are because it’s the mystery that makes them amazing.  It makes you feel like you’re getting this special sneak peek behind the curtain of a world you could other wise never even get close to.  As this film series progress into a trilogy (or past that) and is spun off into a potential TV series centered on The Continental, I really hope all the creative forces behind this property retain that mystery.

As for the story presented in this film, I will say that it’s not quite as compelling as it was in John Wick but if I’m being completely honest, nothing will ever be as compelling as ripping your way though dozens of disposable gangsters to get to the guy who murdered your unbelievably cute puppy, the writers were definitely backed into a corner in that regard.  To get themselves out of that corner however, they very smartly rely on the aforementioned rules of the world they’ve built to give all the characters the proper motivation to get this movie rolling as hard as it needs to to live up to its predecessor. My only issue with the story, is that it is very apparent that the ending was written in such a way to leave the door explicitly open for a third movie. That didn’t necessarily hurt my enjoyment of the film at hand but when the credits rolled my wife and I said to each other “Well, I guess we know what the plot of the third one will be” versus “I hope they make a third one!”.  A small thing but a very noticeable thing in my opinion.

Just like the movie that came before it, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a fantastic action movie that relies on practical effects and real people doing real stunts versus the CGI heavy action movies that permeate Hollywood today.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out John Wick: Chapter 2 or even John Wick, do yourself a favor and pick them up.  They are both well worth watching numerous times.

Until next time, Thank You for reading and….

SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!