Why “Collateral Beauty” is a Perfect Holiday Watch


Every holiday season, it seems, there’s at least one movie that perfectly captures the meaning and spirit of the season, turning it into a must-see holiday film for the whole family. This year’s pick is likely going to be “Collateral Beauty,” which stars Will Smith and a host of other big-name Hollywood stars in a sentimental holiday drama. There are six big reasons why “Collateral Beauty” will be a perfect holiday watch.

Reason #1: The A-list cast

It’s hard to say no to a movie that includes two Oscar winners (Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren) and three Oscar nominees (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton). This is the biggest A-list cast of the holiday season. And we all know that Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood right now, so if you’re a fan of great acting, this film is for you.

In many ways, this choice of casting is reminiscent of another winter holiday favorite – “Love Actually,” which also features a number of big-time actors and actresses including, you guessed it, the same absolutely wonderful Keira Knightley who also appears in “Collateral Beauty.” So there’s something very promising about having such a great big-name ensemble cast.

Reason #2: The New York holiday setting

In much the same way that the London setting of “Love Actually” was one of the “unofficial” stars of the movie, it looks like the New York setting of “Collateral Beauty” is also going to have a huge starring role in the movie. There are the classic New York street scenes from the holidays – beautiful brownstone buildings with snow piled up outside, twinkly Christmas lights everywhere, and the energy and emotion of the holidays of “the city that never sleeps.”

As an added bonus, it looks like Will Smith rides his bicycle over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge on a regular basis – so get ready for some sweeping panoramic views of the city!


Reason #3: A feel-good story with a holiday message

“Collateral Beauty” is the story of redemption, about a man (Howard Inlet, played by Will Smith) who had everything – a family, a career as a successful New York advertising agency owner – and then lost it when his young daughter died. So Howard Inlet searches for meaning in his life – what he refers to as “What is your why?”

As Inlet sees it, there are only three eternal forces at work in the world – Love, Time and Death – and it’s his job to understand how these forces interact to drive meaning in our lives. He soon starts writing messages to Love, Death and Time, trying to figure out how his life fell apart with the death of his child.

But it’s not a weepy movie – it’s a feel-good story with an upbeat holiday message. Howard Inlet begins to understand how all the forces of the universe – especially Love, Death and Time – interact, and how every loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty. In short, instead of “collateral damage,” there is “collateral beauty.”

Reason #4: A movie you can take the whole family to

During the holiday season, it’s sometimes hard to find a movie that the whole family will enjoy. Some will prefer dramas, and others will prefer romantic comedies. This film appears to have it all.

The youngest members of the family will see “Collateral Beauty” as a type of Charles Dickens-inspired “A Christmas Carol,” in which people find out the true meaning of Christmas. Others will focus on the acting skills of this uniquely talented ensemble cast, and still others will hone in on the New York storyline. In short, this film has something for everyone.


Reason #5: The timeless and eternal themes

The fact is, we’ve all experienced a loss of some kind, and we’ve all struggled to make sense of the conflicting feelings of pain, loss and suffering. So, in many ways, this film could be wonderfully cathartic – a way to get over this loss by seeing the big picture of how the world works, and what “meaning” in life really is all about.

The fact that Will Smith’s character focuses so much on Love, Time and Death is the biggest clue that this film is going to help us ponder the meaning of life and what our role is in this life. This may be a sentimental holiday drama, but it’s also one that gets to the heart of timeless and eternal themes. If you were developing a script for a holiday film, it’s hard to think of three themes that are more apt than the ones in “Collateral Beauty.”

Reason #6: The humorous plot twists

Every great movie that considers the big issues in life also needs some moments of comedic relief. This is a plot device that dates back all the way to Shakespeare, who knew how to intersperse jesters and figures of comic relief within tales of deep tragedy and woe. This is not to say that “Collateral Beauty” is going to remind you of Shakespeare, but it does have a potentially very funny plot device – an attempt by the members of Howard Inlet’s advertising agency to convince Howard that he is actually interacting with real-life personifications of Love, Time and Death.

This, of course, is where the remarkably talented Helen Mirren really shines. She plays “Death,” trying to convince Howard Inlet that he is actually talking to the personification of Death. And, as Howard Inlet is heard saying in the film trailer, “I met death, and she’s an elderly white woman.” The director of the film, David Frankel, also directed “The Devil Wears Prada,” so you can get an idea of the type of humor to expect from “Collateral Beauty.”

It looks like New Line Cinema has a real holiday hit on its hands. While some of the initial reviews have not been as ecstatic as originally anticipated, it looks like the combination of all these factors – the A-list ensemble acting list, the New York holiday setting, the feel-good holiday story, the eternal themes like love, and the light comic moments – will turn this into the must-see holiday film of 2016. If you subscribe to a Comcast cable TV package, you can check out Collateral Beauty when it airs on TV.


Why “Love” is the Greatest Underrated Netflix Show


The way audiences have come to know and love Judd Apatow is via his Hollywood comedies like “Knocked Up,” “This is 40,” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” But what happens when you take a classic Apatow comic trope – nice, lonely guy meets beautiful wild child woman – and extend it over a period of more than 10 hours? You get something like “Love,” a 10-episode romantic comedy web TV series directed by Apatow.

If the series has flown somewhat under the radar after being launched in February 2016, it’s because it’s not exactly where you’d expect to find an Apatow comedy – headed straight to Netflix. And while many of the characters and plot devices seem borrowed from his films, there’s just something very unique going on here that has already been noticed by highbrow critics writing in The New Yorker and The Atlantic – Apatow and his co-creators, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust (who also starts in “Love” as the single guy Gus), seem to be blowing apart the very stereotypes and ideas that he created in his earlier films.

First of all, whatever happened to the “nice guy”? One of the hallmarks of any Apatow comedy is the mild-mannered nice guy who’s lovably adorable and gets the total babe at the end. In other words, the Apatow “nice guy” is the 40-year-old virgin (i.e. Steve Carell) who finally gets to hook up despite holding down a crappy job without any real prospects.

In “Love,” that role at first appears to be played by Gus. He’s recently broken up with girlfriend when he meets up with Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs) totally by chance at a convenience store. Yes, romance at the local 7-11 still happens these days, and this is what it looks like – a “nice guy” covering the cost of a pack of smokes for a beautiful, if damaged, woman.

But as more and more of “Love” plays out over a period of 10 episodes, we learn that Gus is not really as “nice” as he appears to be. In fact, some critics have likened his behavior to that of a seven-year-old. When he’s not happy, he whines, curses, and makes the life of everyone around him miserable. And he doesn’t particularly act nice to Mickey, even when she shows him her vulnerable side.

As Apatow pointed out, “Love” is what happens if “Knocked Up” was actually a TV series, and not a Hollywood comedy. And that’s where the show gets really interesting, because all of a sudden, you’re questioning everything you thought you knew about Apatow’s characters.

Wait, maybe they’re not so nice after all?

And, as for Mickey, she’s not exactly who we think she is, either. But you have to watch more of this original Netflix series to understand why. The way most people start off viewing her is as a “manic pixie dream girl” – a beautiful girl who acts out of control, but who mainly acts in a way that will liven up the life of a boring loser or proverbial nice guy.

But as the show progresses, we find out that this girl has real issues. She’s in therapy for both alcohol addiction and sex addiction, and she has a real desire to curse like a sailor at times. She’s a wild child, yes, but one with a real story behind her. She somehow wants to understand what love is, but can’t quite bring herself to get into a real relationship.


In short, “Love” may seem like a romantic comedy, but it’s more about exploding apart that clichéd genre in search of a new one. For one, even on his best days, Gus can hardly qualify as a “leading man” or even someone that women would find remotely attractive, even after a few drinks. He has a bad job, dresses badly, acts badly, and seems to be more mean and vindictive than nice and sweet. Oh, and he walks funny, too. Unlike other “lovable losers” who somehow find love in the Hollywood movies, this guy seems like someone who’s not made for anyone.

And that’s exactly the way the writers wanted it to be. The writing team of Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust are actually husband and wife in real life, and they’ve said that part of their inspiration was infusing the characters of Mickey and Gus with the traits, feelings, and thoughts that they’ve actually had about being in a relationship.

In other words, we’re led to believe, you won’t learn about love from a typical Hollywood romantic comedy with two beautiful people living beautiful lives with a happy ending at the end. Life is way too complex for that. Instead, life is messy. We sometimes hook up with people we shouldn’t. And we get into relationships with people for all the wrong reasons, and only a few of the right reasons.

That’s why “Love” is such a great, underrated Netflix show – it’s all about the flawed dynamics of real relationships. It’s all about redefining what makes someone attractive to another person, and how it may take more than 90 minutes, or even 10 episodes, to find out the real character of a person.

There’s a reason that the critical response to “Love” has been so enthusiastic online. On IMDb, the web TV series has a score of 7.8/10. And, on Rotten Tomatoes, “Love” has an 87% approval rating.

The show, really, is all about figuring out what “Love” is. But it first requires understanding what love is not. And it also requires re-thinking whether “nice guys finish first” or if “nice guys finish last.” The tricky thing here is that nice guys may finish last – but it’s because they want to. That’s what makes them so damaged and, potentially, so attractive to women.

As Mickey tells Gus during one of the episodes of the show: “You’re really a mean person who pretends to be nice.” That one line alone tells you all you need to know about “Love” and why people may be underrating it. This is not the standard story of a nice guy who somehow finds love (sort of) with a beautiful woman – it’s about two very flawed people who aren’t what they seem, trying to figure it all out together. And that’s what has made the show such a hit with Netflix viewers, similar to other originals like The Crown and Marco Polo. If you don’t have a Netflix account, you can still check out shows similar to “Love” when you purchase a cable package from a local provider.


How Some Video Rental Stores are Still in Business


It is no secret that video rental stores have been on the decline all across the world. In the age of Netflix, DVD-by-mail, video on demand, and the likes, the old brick and mortar stores have lost their appeal. Blockbuster, the most popular mascot of video rental stores, used to command such popularity that it had 8,000 stores spread across the US in 2004. When it filed for bankruptcy in 2010, hardly anyone was surprised. The digital revolution had claimed one of its biggest casualties yet. But, what is really confounding is that there are still a surprising number of video rental stores in the US. How did they manage to stay afloat when the likes of Blockbuster bit the dust? Let’s check it out.

Exclusive Titles

The VHS and CD-DVD revolutions were spurred by the sense of choice that people were suddenly presented with. Prior to them, the only way anyone could watch movies was when they hit the theaters, or when they were being aired on cable TV. The advent of VHS and CD-DVDs put the decision in the hands of the people. They could now watch anything they like, anytime they want. In the beginning, streaming services built on this video rental system, and improved upon the convenience factor by making it further easier to enjoy movies at home. Now, that has changed.

Netflix, which has the biggest content library among the streaming services, is steadily reducing the size of its third-party content library. This way, streaming services have gone regressive in the sense that instead of the customers, they are deciding what movies the customers get to watch on their services.

Scarecrow Video, the largest independent video store in the US, is seeking to change that. They have a library of curated 120,000 titles. A large number of them are not found anywhere else. Taking a cue from Scarecrow, other video rentals too are starting to stock some exclusive, or difficult-to-find titles in their collection.


Profit is Not Everything

Some of the video rentals have realized that it is simply impossible to match the streaming services when it comes to the pricing. While video rental stores charge a fixed fee, usually about $0.5 to $2 a day, customers can sign up for streaming services for as low as $8.99 per month, and enjoy unlimited number of movies. Naturally, customers find it sensible to sign up for a monthly package that saves them a lot of money.

To combat this, some video rentals are taking the route of non-profits. Vidiots, a video rental store in Santa Monica, is the brainchild of ardent cinema fans and childhood friends, Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber. When their decades old business was facing the end, they went completely nonprofit. Thanks to some of the high profile cinephiles that the store had amassed, such as Oscar nominee David O. Russell, Vidiots soon got some corporate sponsors to support their venture. Scarecrow Video, on the other hand, went to Kickstarter asking their fan community to support them. There they raised $100,000 in just a week.

It should be noted that both Vidiots and Scarecrow are completely dedicated to celebrating the various genres of cinema.

However, not all video rentals can do this. Vidiots had decades’ long history of offering independent, documentary, cult, and foreign movies. This had won it a huge number of fans, including Oscar-winning moviemakers. Scarecrow regularly hosts book signings, screenings, parties, and guest visitors. Naturally, these businesses enjoy a powerful fan following that keeps them afloat.


Finding the Right Customers

Darwinian evolution has always proclaimed the “survival of the fittest” mantra. Those who adapt to the challenges, posed by their environment, the best are most likely to survive. This rule applies to everything, including video rentals. Some video rentals have decided to fight the digital revolution through diversification. Family Video, the last surviving ‘big video rental’ chain, with 775 stores, has reinvented itself in some truly ingenious ways. Its stores work with other businesses such as pizza joints to attract the customers. The managers at every store create an aura of mom-and-pop-store, which certainly works its magic. It is one of the few chains that continues to survive everything that streaming industry is throwing at it.

Some other video rentals are choosing their customers more carefully, and reinventing themselves to meet their customer needs. For instance, Facets from Chicago, a four-decade old video rental store, has transformed itself into film conservator, film educator, and even hosts children’s festival. Similarly, Net York City’s oldest video store, Video Room, addresses the needs of a mature fan base, and provides a surprisingly pleasant delivery service.

The internet has forced video rental stores to rethink their business strategies. While a lot of them have disappeared from the scene, some are putting up a brave fight, and it appears that they are still loved by their fans. If there are no video rental stores in your area, you can still watch movies when you subscribe to a Comcast XFINITY television package.

Movie Review: ‘Allied’


It’s hard not to think of the all-time Hollywood classic “Casablanca” when watching “Allied,” and that’s exactly the intention of the film’s director, Robert Zemeckis. Similar to “Casablanca,” it’s a film set during World War II that features action sequences in North Africa, as well as specific scenes that echo the earlier film – such as a climactic scene at the airport and a singing of “Le Marseillaise.” And, of course, there’s the Hollywood star power of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – this generation’s Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

This is now Brad Pitt’s third World War II era film, and it’s clear that he has the look and feel of what it means to be a dashing British officer, Max Vatan, down pat. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that he has the suave and sophistication of a Humphrey Bogart and the dashing allure of a classic Hollywood film great.

But some could just as easily argue that Marion Cotillard (who received an Oscar for her role in “La Vie en Rose”) is the real star of the show. She plays Marianne Beausejour, a French resistance fighter living in North Africa in 1942. At the time, the Nazis are making their way across North Africa, and her goal is to stop the German war machine in its tracks.

And that’s where the film really gets interesting. She meets up with Max in North Africa, where he has a deadly mission to carry out: assassinate the German ambassador. As a member of the British intelligence service, though, he can’t get close enough to the ambassador without going deep under cover, and that’s where he needs Marianne. They pretend to be a husband and wife, and eventually carry out the plan – but not without first sparking some genuine passion and love.

But is this true love? Or just another layer of deception? At the outset, Max has nothing to worry about. He sees in Marianne a brave and beautiful woman who is passionate about her ideals. He longs to bring her back with him to London, and eventually, they are in fact reunited in London.

But under what circumstances? It’s here that the filmmaking prowess of Zemeckis makes itself felt. His stylish and dramatic filmmaking has a way of building tension and offering just enough clues, before taking them all away again. The dramatic tension rises. We’re reminded why Zemeckis was the creative force behind “Back to the Future,” “Cast Away” and “Forrest Gump.”

And, in this case, Max receives official word from the British intelligence that Marianne is not who she says she is. The “real” Marianne, he is told, has been dead for some time. And that means nobody really knows who this woman really is. The prevailing suspicion within the British intelligence services is that this woman is actually a German spy.

Remember – we’re still in wartime, and the Germans are desperate to break the will of the Allied forces. Britain has thus far been indomitable in its defense against the Nazis, so it’s not out of the question that the Germans are attempting to defeat Britain from the inside out – by corrupting and compromising the nation’s intelligence services. By having a Germany spy on the inside – thanks to Marianne’s access to Max Vatan – the Germans would have a way of knowing everything the Allied forces planned to do to defeat Hitler.


And so the big game begins. The British intelligence forces give Max a limited window of time to figure out if his wife is actually a German spy. The goal is to plant top secret British intelligence briefings within her sight and trap her into revealing these briefings to the Germans. If information from these reports makes its ways into the intercepted German radio communications at the time, it’s a sure sign that Marianne is, indeed, a German spy.

By now, of course, the same audience that once rooted for a wartime romance between Max and Marianne is now torn. What happens if Marianne is really a spy after all? And how will Max react? War has a way of interfering with even the most passionate romance.

It’s this dramatic tension that Zemeckis masterfully heightens throughout the film. He elevates the film into a truly epic wartime romance. Until the very end, it is not clear which way the film is going to turn.

What’s so impressive about the film is that it eschews many of the most recent conventions of what makes a great World War II film – gratuitous violence, the “band of brothers” approach, a deeper and unflinching look at the horrors of war and the psychological damage it causes in soldiers – and replaces it with a retro look at war that evokes the spirit of “Casablanca.”

And, after so many films with dramatic action sequences and bloody scenes of war, “Allied” feels strangely refreshing rather than retro or vintage. The film harkens back to the glory days of Hollywood, when the emphasis was on great acting, stylish drama and a larger-than-life experience.

It’s easy to call “Allied” Oscar bait, and in some ways, that criticism is well-placed. It’s clear that Zemeckis is thinking big here. But something else is happening in the film, and that’s great acting. It’s hard not to see Brad Pitt or Marion Cotillard picking up real considerations by the Academy when it comes time to dole out Oscar awards for “Best Actor” or “Best Actress.”

Maybe Pitt is not Bogart, but he’s our generation’s version of Bogart. And that’s what gives the film such a dramatic feel to it – the sense that you are watching one of the real A-list actors in Hollywood acting in a film that could have been made 50 years ago.

If you enjoy wartime flicks, it’s hard not to enjoy “Allied.” It offers the wartime romance angle, the drama and suspense angle, all in a stylish coating that only Zemeckis could offer. It may not be the best film about World War II ever made, but it is emblematic about a certain type of war film that will always be popular.

War is ultimately the story of people, not nations, and it’s impossible to tell at times where passions and ideals will lead these individuals when placed under the pressure of war. Allied will air on television soon, so check it out when you subscribe to a cable television plan.


Why is Candy Crush Becoming a Game Show?


Honestly, we have come to terms with the fact that Candy Crush is here to stay, at least for a while. It grew to be a sensational hit, played by nearly a billion of us. Now, it is a game that only your grandma, who has recently started learning about smartphones, plays. Her, and those annoying people on Facebook who keep sending Candy Crush requests and call themselves hardcore gamers. Humor apart, Candy Crush is among the top ten highest grossing mobile games in the US. But its days of flying high are over, and the revenues are on the decline. And like any business that is facing the downhill, the game’s maker King Ltd. is also looking to diversify and survive. The Candy Crush TV Game Show is a step in this direction. The show will be produced by Lionsgate TV and King Ltd. It will be aired by CBS in the US, and distributed by Lionsgate internationally.

For one, this is not the first time we are seeing popular game crossovers. We have already seen cases of some blockbuster hit games being transformed into nonsensical drones that cost us our money and about two hours of our time that we’ll never get back. Case in point being The Angry Birds Movie. But this is possibly the first time that a game, which is actually not targeted at children, is making a leap to the television in the form of a game show. This is what you get when you complain too much about Hollywood’s lack of creativity or obsession with reboots. Now, like a great man once said on another CBS show, “Suffer in Silence.”

For what it’s worth, the producers are making a great effort to make the show creative, fun, and engaging. The show will feature 2-people teams who will use their wits and physical agility to compete in the game. The game itself will be played on enormous interactive game boards that will be designed using next-gen technology. Perhaps, the best news yet about this show is that it will be executive produced by Matt Kunitz. For all of you who don’t know who he is, he is the guy behind the hits like Fear Factor and Wipeout. Kunitz says that Candy Crush “lends itself to the kind of larger-than-life, physical game shows” that he loves to produce. He is planning to include a lot of action and visuals in the game. With Kunitz at the helm of things, we have to say things do appear bright for this game show.


Despite the developments, there is no word yet on who will host the show. In fact, the production team has been quite guarded in releasing information. For instance, they have not disclosed anything specific like what the teams will get when they win. Whether there will be prizes, cash, vacations, etc.

What we do know for sure is that the show is targeting the older generation audience. Candy Crush is increasingly popular among the older generations. CBS channel gives the game show just that. The median age of CBS audience was 56 years in 2013, so the game will feel right at home at CBS. In its statement, CBS has said that they are excited to adapt one of the world’s most popular game franchises to television.

There has always been a sizeable audience for live game shows, and surely, Candy Crush will gather a decent audience for CBS. Going by the game’s popularity, CBS should be able to attract a lot of audience during the initial days of the show’s premiere. Then on, it will be upon the showmakers to ensure that the audience does not change channels. The audience craves creativity and novelty. Even in the case of mobile games, the sequels of Candy Crush – Candy Crush Saga and Candy Crush Soda Saga – have not been as popular as the original. Further, all of them are losing their steam. Despite the slowdown, 18 billion rounds of Candy Crush Saga are played in a month alone. That’s an incredible number right there. The showmakers have a ready audience waiting for them to deliver them a live action adaptation of their favorite game. All they need to do now is not eff it up. Stay tuned for the Candy Crush game show when it airs on CBS if you have a reliable cable television provider.