Thursday, February 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Shack

Faith-based books and movies have been a factor in the market for a number of years now. The bible has always been ripe material for storytelling and have scored huge box office and Oscars in decades past. At one point, it was part of an overall market but now it has become a targeted niche.

In 2007, Canadian writer William P. Young wrote a story mainly aimed for his six children. He self-published it. As a result of word of mouth in churches all over North America, the book would eventually reach the bestseller lists and 10 million books would be printed. It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling and Summit Entertainment eventually settled on Stuart Hazeldine to bring the movie to the screen. It was likely Hazeldine familiarity in adapting literary material for film such as Riverworld that sold the studio on hiring the British director. John Fusco (Marco Polo) was chosen as writer.

The plot start off as family tragedy when the young daughter of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) is kidnapped and presumed killed during a camping trip in Oregon. Following this, Mack falls into a deep depression until receiving a mysterious letter from a stranger called Papa. The letter asks him to travel to a shack near the camping site where the crime is thought to have occurred. Whatever doubts he has in regards to the letter, he is compelled to go and when he does, he finds a trio of people that shed light on himself and the tragedy of his daughter.

It is this journey that the Christian element drives the story. The trio turn out to be the Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Papa is played by both a woman (Octavia Spencer) and a man (Graham Greene) although it is the female persona that dominates the movie.

Understandably, Mack is skeptical in the extreme and quite angry at God. And so begins a conversation that asks pointed questions about why God lets bad things happen to good people. Worthington and Spencer are very accomplished in making you believe and it is why they do most of the heavy lifting in the story. The actors playing Jesus and the Holy Spirit have meaningful interactions. One particular scene of water walking illustrates this incredible world that Mack experiences.

 Jesus (Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) are largely unknown in North America. In fact, the young Canadian cast that plays Mack's kids have large resumes. It is the scenes with the children and Mack wife Nan (Radha Mitchell) that will likely make audiences reach for a hanky.

Still Mack's anger and the blame he carries for not being there for his daughter when she was kidnapped wracks him at every turn. His determination to judge and punish the man responsible brings him to Sophia (Alice Braga) who represents Wisdom. She offers him the position of judge and presents him with scenarios where he can not judge and will not.

The healing for Mack only begins when Papa shows him that his daughter is happy and safe in Heaven. It is Male Papa (Graham Greene) who leads him to the hidden place where her body is. They bring her back to be buried in a spot in the garden that was prepared as a resting place.

The ending differs from the book in that the man responsible for the death of Mack's child is never found. Forgiveness is given but justice is not talked about. The likely reason for this is that Mack himself has a death on his hands. It is revealed early on that Mack killed his father who was abusive to him and his mother. The central issue of selective justice is just too much for the film to hold up under. So it was not included. What was included was Mack meeting his father in Heaven and both men forgiving each other.

So how does The Shack stack up? It will probably play well to the niche audience it is aimed at. Truly, there will not be a dry eye in the house. The story is tragic and might be too much for young audiences. And yet it will probably bring many families to the theatre. The movie is a slow conversation about love and forgiveness, healing oneself and healing others. Some people will question the accuracy to scripture or attempting to portray God on film. However, the message of God as being all loving is ably played by the actors in the role.

One criticism is the voice-over narration at the beginning of the film by Tim McGraw who plays Willie, Mack's friend. It is an attempt to explain what is about to happen but is a poor tool in this regard. McGraw does fine in his other acting on the film. It was writer and director's choice to also use him to act as narrator.

The Christian message is very targeted and for this reason, it is probably not going to be understood by an audience not rooted in those teachings. It is difficult for even theologians to explain the Trinity. It is even harder for Hollywood. This weekend might reveal the power of the niche market.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Giant Tiger to Open at 1441 Main Street, former Co-Op

The long awaited answer about what is going up in the former Co-Op store is known today. Giant Tiger will be the new store and it opens November 18 of this year.

Co-Op was dumped from the location even after trying to re-new the lease or even buy the property. It was a bit mystifying why a grocery store would be re-buffed in such a way.

1441 Main Street was a long time Safeway before being sold to Co-Op to satisfy federal competition rules. It appeared that the store was doing well but then the announced closure came. It was speculated that Giant Tiger might be the new store coming in but the building sat empty for some time before today's announcement.

It remains to be seen whether Giant Tiger is a better fit for the area but they are a strong company with food and merchandise so this can't be seen as anything but good for local people in the area.

Sears Home Store on Ellice Closing

Sears on Ellice
Hot on the heels of Sears closing a store in Brandon, Manitoba, Sears has announced that the Sears Home store will close on March 12. The 33 employees can apply for jobs at the remaining Sears or take a separation package. Given the precarious position of the department store across Canada and with the former parent Sears in the U.S., it will be a tough decision for many.

The mall area north of Polo Park where Sears home is recently saw the opening of Jollibee's. The insane traffic though hasn't seem to have helped Sears in the least turn things around.

Sears Polo Park and three other city stores remain but the market continues to wonder how long the company will continue in such a decline.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick 2

The first John Wick movie was a neo-noir revenge movie made in 2014 from a script written in 2012 by Derek Kolstald. Thunder Road pictures emerged as the buyer and very quickly Keanu Reeves was attached to star. Not surprisingly, Reeves was able to suggest and have hired people that worked with him on The Matrix movies. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch shared director work on the film although Guild rules only allowed Stahelski to be listed as helmer with Leitch as producer.

It was this core of people that honed the script to suit Reeves. The character remained widowed but younger than the original story and the action was ramped up. Four months of intensive training in judo and jujitsu as well as close quarters combat was added to Reeve's extensive knowledge of martial arts. For the star, it was a return to form after some less well received films of the previous year or two like 47 Ronin.

The plot of John Wick is that he is retired assassin who only left the business when he found a woman that made him want to leave. His wife's untimely death due to illness and the cruel violence against him and the puppy he received from her to love following her death sets him back on a path of revenge. The only clue to his attackers is the muscle car they stole from him and the motivation behind their surprise assault in his home. By finding the car, he can find them and do what he does best.

The return to the criminal underworld sees him re-connect with old friends, acquaintances and enemies. Eventually, Wick discovers it is the son of former crime lord he worked for who was responsible for the attack in his house. The inevitable conclusion to this is a mix of western along with Hong Kong cinema and noir. A violent pastiche that serves Keanu Reeves well.

The catchphrase "I'm thinking I'm back" suggested a future for the John Wick franchise and the box office success of the first film guaranteed it. The plot for the new movie has the antihero once again coming out of retirement to fulfill a blood oath sworn to an associate intending on taking over the assassin's guild. The setting is Rome where deadly killers take on Wick at every turn.

So how is John Wick 2 compared to the first movie? In short: Fantastic. Easily better than the first in many ways which is saying a lot cause the first movie was very entertaining. It is action packed and world building. The brief glimpse of the world that Jonathan Wick occupies is opened up. The guild of assassins that call the Continental Hotel a sanctuary live by code and contract and are overseen by twelve called The High Table. When Wick returns to avenge the death of his dog in the first movie, he opens himself up to assassin Santino (Richard Scamarcio) asking him to honour a Marker for past services that led to his freedom in the first place.

The chance to return to retirement is denied and when he refuses the Marker, his house is blown up and burned down. Thankfully his new nameless dog survives and the two head to the sanctuary of the Continental where Winston (Ian McShane) says that his life will forfeit if he doesn't honour the blood oath to Santino. Grudgingly, he hears what Santino wants done to fulfill the Marker. It is then that he learns he has been asked to kill sister Giana Camorra (Claudia Gerini) of the High Table in the ultimate gambit of sibling rivalry.

As per actor Keanu Reeves wishes to take story international, the setting moves from New York to Rome where Giana head of the Camorra crime family is celebrating about taking a seat at the High Table. She is protected by Cassian (Common) along with a host of other trained killers. Suffice to say, John Wick is able to fulfill is oath but not quite in the way that he or the audience anticipated.

After accomplishing his task, Wick is double crossed by Santini who sets his top assassin Ares (Ruby Rose) after him. A price is set by Santini who unleashed every killer out there looking to cash in. Actors Common and Ruby Rose play their parts well. Rose as a deaf tattooed and androgynous is a particularly compelling villain.

The world building that takes place is almost like a Bond-like attention to tradecraft. In this case: the world of the assassin. At the Continental and its associated businesses, we see Wick pick his clothes, his weapons and his vehicles like fine wines. His character will converse in Russian, Italian or sign language according to he is associating with. He may be a reluctant returnee to the game but he does so with style. And the characters he meets are juicy parts for the actors and actresses playing the roles.

One inspired casting choice went to Lawrence Fisbburne as the Bowery King. It brought Reeves and Fishburne back together again after their Matrix days. Upon returning to New York, Wick is left with no options other than to turn to the crime lord of the streets to place close to Santini to end the life of the man who has placed a bounty on his head.

The rest of the movie rolls along with explosive action, a touch of humour and a few surprises including the mannequin challenge at one point. The choreography is as good as you will see in any fight scene and the gun play and car chases are exhilarating. What makes it work though is that Keanu Reeves at last once more has a role that could and should be as fun for him as it will be for the audience. Without doubt this movie is better than the first and because of that, it won't be the last.