Friday 29 May 2020

The High Note (Movie Review)

As movie theaters around the world start revving up to reopen ahead of TENET this coming July, smaller titles affected by their current closure continue to find a home on video-on-demand (VOD). The High Note was originally slated for a May 8th release, but landed on VOD earlier today. I'll confess, I would have more than likely skipped this movie had it been released in theaters. But with the pickings being as slim as they are right now, I figured it was at least worth checking out.

The movie stars Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode, a personal assistant to an aging soul singer named Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). It is a job that she sort of excels in, even as she struggles to cater to the every demand of one of the music industry's biggest divas. But Maggie is also aspiring for more, through her overall love of music production, a love that drives her to secretly cobble together mixes of her boss's music during her off-work hours, much to her roommate's chagrin.

She is convinced that Grace needs to put out new music in order to stay relevant, a conviction that is not shared by Grace's long-time manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube). Jack believes that Grace is well past her prime, and is content with her continuing to live off the success of the music in her back catalogue. So when Grace is offered a residency at a Las Vegas nightclub, Jack sees it as the logical next step for a woman of her age, a sentiment that is also echoed by the executives at her record label.

But an opportunity would soon present itself for Maggie to realize her dream of becoming a producer, when she meets David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an upcoming R&B singer with whom she shares a love of music but who has no aspirations of taking his music to the next level. Maggie is determined to produce for both artists, except she would first have to convince each one to take that leap of faith with her, a risky venture as she could end up losing everything she'd worked for in the process.

The High Note is a comedy drama that sticks quite closely to the rom-com template. It is helped along by great performances across the board, but it never even attempts to thread new ground, and when it tries to throw a curveball, it takes the form of a twist that I feel required a little too much suspension of disbelief. I am not going to spoil what it was exactly here of course, but I found it a bit jarring (not to mention lazy) that the writers would actually go that route with the story.

But negatives aside, The High Note is a feel-good movie that doesn't offer much in the way of surprises. Is it entertaining enough to keep you occupied on a lazy weekend afternoon? Yes. Sure it is. But would it leave you with any kind of lasting impression afterwards? Nope. It didn't leave me with any. That's not to say that it isn't worth checking out though. At least until the TENETs start coming out once again.

Friday 22 May 2020

The Lovebirds (Movie Review)

Netflix continues to be one of the main beneficiaries of the ongoing coronavirus-induced closure of movie theaters, with several studios trying to find new homes for their unreleased movies and their platform looking like a pretty good alternative. Originally slated for a theatrical release early last month, distribution rights for The Lovebirds were subsequently sold to the streaming giant, and now here we are.

The Lovebirds is a romantic dark comedy in which Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play a couple who have arrived at the end of the road for their relationship. After being together for four years, the couple comes to realize that the spark that kept their relationship alive had all but flickered out. But they are forced to put their breakup on the backburner when they are both implicated in a hit-and-run murder.

Having fled the scene of the crime for fear of being arrested due to their ethnicity, they become convinced that the only way to exonerate themselves would be to find the real murderer. And so begins their wild night of misadventures, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery, even as things continue to spiral out of control and they start to develop newfound feelings for one another.

The Lovebirds is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that rests primarily on the shoulders of its two leads. And they carry the entire movie quite nicely, sharing great chemistry while generating the kind of racially-laced laughs that one would expect from such a pairing. But the overall film never attempts to be anything more, with a script that is largely unimaginative and a plot that never ceases to be predictable.

And sometimes that is okay. It is that very fact that makes it easy to recommend The Lovebirds to anyone looking to pass some time or catch something new while we are all relegated to Netflix. But to anyone expecting the next The Big Sick or Game Night, or something closer to the two stars' best work, you might be better served looking elsewhere or simply rewatching those aforementioned films instead.

Thursday 21 May 2020

The Justice League Snyder Cut is coming

After what has felt like a lifetime of lobbying and speculating, fans of the DCEU have finally received their first official confirmation of the impending release of the original cut of the 2017 superhero movie, Justice League. Popularly referred to as the Snyder Cut, this much-sought-after version of the movie is set to debut exclusively on HBO Max in 2021, the new streaming service by HBO which is itself set to debut next week.

The announcement was made by Zack Snyder himself, during a watch party for his 2013 movie, Man of Steel. This would not be the first time that the director would be releasing an additional cut of one of his films, as both Watchmen and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) had received extended cuts that fleshed out their stories. But this one stands out for the fact that unlike those movies, it would be representing his original vision for the movie.

A little history lesson is in order at this point then, to put that previous statement into perspective. Back when Warner Bros. had decided to put together its own superhero cinematic universe, Zack Snyder had been given the reins to that endeavor. But unlike Marvel Studios whose movies were considered fun, campy and a general delight to watch, the first two movies in the DCEU were accused by both fans and critics of being too dark and introspective.

This complaint was reflected in the box office performance of BvS, which despite opening to $166 million worldwide during its opening weekend, had only managed to gross $873 million total during its global theatrical run. So in a bid to avoid a similar fate for its sequel, Justice League, Warner Bros. had decided to lighten the tone of the movie, even though the film was already in production at the time.

This would result in rewrites and extensive reshoots, all of which contributed to the movie's troubled production. Zack Snyder was forced to step down from his position as director during post-production, following a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon, director of both Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, was brought in to finish the movie.

The theatrical version of Justice League was released in November of 2017, and it was met with a lukewarm reception, grossing only $657 million against a $300 million production budget. While I did enjoy the movie and appreciated its lighter tone, a subset of fans believed that this contributed to the release's uneven tone. And thus began their campaign to have the original Zack Snyder version of the movie released.

In the 3 or so years since its release, fans have employed various tactics to bring attention to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. This has included renting out signboards at Time Square during New York Comic-Con, as well as having a plane fly over San Diego Comic-Con with the Twitter hashtag. Well, their voices have finally been heard, but work on that particular cut of the movie isn't done yet apparently.

Current reports state that Warner Bros. would still need to spend between $20 to $30 million to complete the movie, as well as bring in some of the original cast to record additional lines of dialogue. But considering how much fans have proven they would like to see it, it is an expense the studio is hoping would pay off in the long run for its new streaming service. Here's hoping that the actual film lives up to expectations.

Friday 15 May 2020

Scoob! (Movie Review)

Till today, I still harbor fond memories of the first time I'd stumbled across Cartoon Network, a TV station that was devoted to showing nothing but cartoons. A first of its kind back in the day, the channel would show back-to-back classics from the Hanna-Barbera stable, shows likes The Flintstones, Tom and Jerry, and Looney Tunes, just to name a few. And of all the shows that was on heavy rotation during the station's inception, Scooby-Doo, Where are You! was easily one of my favorites.

So yeah, I was mildly intrigued when I'd learnt that Warner Animation Group, the studio behind The Lego Movie and its various spinoffs, was making a new Scooby-Doo movie. Originally slated for a theatrical release, the film joins the likes of Trolls World Tour as yet another animated film being put directly on video-on-demand (VOD) in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of movie theaters around the world.

Serving as both an origin story and a new chapter in their adventures, the movie finds the Scooby gang members (Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo) teaming up with the Blue Falcon and Dog Wonder in a bid to stop Dick Dastardly and his nefarious plot to unleash the ancient Egyptian guard dog, Cerberus, upon the world, with other classic Hanna-Barbera characters like Captain Caveman also making an appearance. Because, why not?

It's hard to imagine any scenario where Scoob! would have found any kind of success in theaters. This is a movie that seems almost tailored made for a direct-to-streaming and VOD release, with its uninspired screenplay and barely funny jokes. The voice acting isn't particularly great either, despite employing the voice talents of Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfriend and Jason Isaacs.

On the plus side, the animation is at least pleasing to look at, as it manages to replicate the look and feel of the original animated series, while still looking modern enough to not look out of place or dated beside the animated films being churned out by other animation studios. But without a worthwhile story or plot to keep audiences engaged, none of that matters.

The end result is a movie that is nothing more than a weak attempt to recapture some of the mystery and wonder that made the original Scooby-Doo cartoon show a hit back when it was still okay to go outside and play in the dirt. As such, it is hard to recommend Scoob! to anyone but the most diehard of fans looking to revisit their childhood in these uncertain days that we find ourselves in.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Capone (Movie Review)

Josh Trank makes his return to the director's chair with Capone, a biographical crime drama about the gangster also known as Scarface. This is following the director's previous effort, Fantastic Four, a movie that is universally considered one of the biggest disappointments in the realm of comic-book movies. The newer film is just the latest in a string of mid-tier movies to be receiving a premium VOD release, in lieu of movie theaters being closed, so of course I was going to check it out.

Tom Hardy stars as the titular gangster, a man that had spent the better part of his life building an empire through his involvement in the then-illegal liquor trade. But rather than set the film in his heydays of crime and violence, the film hones in on his final year of life. It was a time after which he had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax invasion. With his finances dwindling, and his health and mental state gradually deteriorating as he succumbed to dementia, Al Capone is released after just 7 years of incarceration and allowed to live out his days in the comfort of his estate.

Except he isn't exactly free though. He is not only being watched closely by the government, who are hoping that he would reveal the whereabouts of the $10 million he had stashed somewhere he can no longer remember, but he is also being haunted by the demons of his past. All this would feed into his paranoia and the movie explores his decent into madness in cringe-worthy detail.

Capone is a difficult film to watch, no doubt, but this has less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the muddled execution the overall film has received. In an attempt to mirror the troubled state of mind of its protagonist, the movie doesn't really make much effort in marking out what is real or merely imagined, making the film somewhat hard to follow by less discerning viewers. But at least it is anchored by a very impressive performance by Tom Hardy.

So then, the movie can be viewed as a character study, one that explores the plight of a cunning man struggling to keep his grasp of reality. Except it doesn't really offer any insight into that man's psyche, at least not in the same way that movies like The Theory of Everything managed to do. And unlike The Passion of Christ which also focused on the final moments of its main character, there really isn't much happening here to justify choosing that time period as focus for a character study.

Capone is far from the return to form by Josh Trank that many were hoping for. But with just three movies under his belt so far, including the beloved found-footage/superhero movie hybrid, Chronicle, there is still some hope that he would manage to score the kind of home run we all know he is capable of.