Friday, May 19, 2017


In 1979, when Sir Ridley Scott arrived with his horror/sci-fi classic ALIEN, in which a crew of space-truckers are terrorized by the menacing and bug-nuts scary “xenomorph”,he introduced us to what would become one of the most fear-inducing creatures in all of cinema history. Scott took a break from that universe for many years, and then returned in 2012 with PROMETHEUS, which looked to tell the backstory and origins of the xenomorph. That film only did a portion of the job, and now with ALIEN: COVENANT, Scott looks to finish what he began.

Ten years after the events of PROMETHEUS, the starship Covenant, (crewed by humans Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, a host of others …and their android Walter, played by Michael Fassbender,) is on its way to colonize a new planet when it is diverted off course to a mysterious planet. There, they find David (also played by Fassbender), the last surviving member of the starship Prometheus, and discover a new threat.

COVENANT only has one mission to accomplish; to wrap up the loose ends left dangling after PROMETHEUS, which includes the fate of David and Dr. Shaw (sort-of reprised here by Noomi Rapace), and the origin of the aliens. All this is taken care of in the film’s second act, which leaves our crew of colonists with little to do other than find aliens and run away from them. There is very little story here, and our thinly-drawn characters serve only the purpose of alien-food.

True to its predecessor, COVENANT chooses a round-about, convoluted way of revealing the origins of the aliens. The final result is, and will be very divisive for some long-time fans of these films, and flat-out outrageous for others. The explanation is unsatisfying and leaves many loops unclosed, and once again raises more questions than are answered.

Scott directs the film as if he’s going down a checklist of horror clich├ęs that we yell at characters for doing; actions like splitting up the group, wandering off alone, and reaching out to touch creepy things. It makes for predictable plotting, and the characters seem like total idiots. On that note, Scott gives us some incredibly daft crewmembers here; they’re supposed to be scientists and the founders of a new human colony but never are given a chance to show any sort of intellect or problem-solving skills, and just do stupid acts like step outside of moving aircraft or stand still to get slaughtered. Lazy screenwriting all-around. And worse, for a Ridley Scott film there is nothing very remarkable about it. The look is drab, the action dull, and despite some decent moments of blood and gore…feels like it could have been directed by anybody. The CGI versions of the aliens, which appear in several forms, are creepy in some scenes, and just plain-old not-scary-at-all in others.

Acting is mostly ho-hum. Billy Crudup gets the shaft the most as his character is supposed to be the most troubled, but is on-screen for so little it doesn’t matter. He also gives an odd line which points towards some of his backstory that we never see. Katherine Waterston is bland and just gives the same sad face she always gives. Danny McBride is a total surprise; stepping away from his typical village idiot role for some real drama and pulls it off nicely. Michael Fassbender is somewhat spectacular in his dual roles as the two androids. His scenes where he is acting against himself range from magical to silly, and he is also the victim of a lame twist which can be seen from five galaxies away. Guy Pearce makes a cameo and is his usual excellent self, and James Franco cameos for exactly ten seconds in one of the oddest appearances ever. The rest of the large crew basically serves as chow and never make an impression.

With disposable characters, no real plot, an aggravating origin of the aliens, and an ending which punts even more storylines down the road for another movie, COVENANT makes for one frustrating experience. If Scott put a steak-knife to this film and cut away the worthless fat in favor of the meat, he would wind up with a five-minute epilogue to PROMETHEUS, and that would have been good enough. The rest belongs in the garbage disposal.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 2: An Empire Awakens

This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. The first part explored The First Steps (HERE). This second part looks at the immediate impact in 1977 as an Empire Awakens.

It was May of 1977. Headlines during this time were dominated by news events such as an escalating Cold War between Cambodia and Vietnam, a Boeing cargo-plane crash which killed six, and the opening of the very first Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, California. But by the time the last week of the month rolled around, these news stories would be shifted from the minds of the world, and it all began in darkened theatres with a very simple introduction:

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

From its stunning, attention-getting opening sequence, to its breathtaking opening frame, George Lucas’ new space-fantasy, STAR WARS, literally dropped unsuspecting audiences into the thick of a galactic battle in which freedom fighters rebelled against tyranny. Imaginations were captured, hearts were touched, and the lives of theatre goers and filmmakers would forever be altered.

The film’s commitment to classic storytelling and archetypes lent something familiar to the fantasy world populated by laser guns, starships, droids, mystical knights, and space pirates, and there was nothing in this fantasy-land which would be a hard sell. For the film-world, STAR WARS offered an unabashed sense of fun and adventure, which was warmly welcomed after nearly a decade of dour, nihilistic films such as THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER, and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. George Lucas let his good guys win with a bell-ringing, arm-raising victory…complete with a medal ceremony and triumphant horns. Audiences left the theatre feeling like they could touch the stars.

The world responded. STAR WARS would be the top-grosser of the year on its way to be the top box office earner of all time, surpassing Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975), and would remain at the top until 1982 when Spielberg returned with E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTIAL. It was the best-reviewed film of the year, and at the 50th Academy Awards, STAR WARS would sweep the technical categories by winning 6 of its 10 nominations and a Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing.

Virtually overnight, STAR WARS had become a household name. Odd-sounding names and phrases were now on the lips of everyone, and the film’s heavy themes of good vs. evil gave political cartoonists a gold mine of metaphors. Everyone wanted a piece of STAR WARS, and in an age in which the internet and home video did not yet exist, this opened up the door to merchandising. Lucas took a personal interest in this, and personally approved a growing empire of toys, dolls, drinking-mugs, bedsheets, pajamas, storybook records, and toy laser-guns and lightsabers…as a starting point.

With a movie that was heavy on characters and spaceships, the modern action figure industry was immediately born. Although the original line of figures did not appear on shelves until early 1978, the demand was so great that Kenner Products decided to sell “Early Bird Certificate Packages”, which were literally empty boxes with a mail-in certificate/promise to deliver action figures within a few months. The radical idea worked and thousands of empty boxes were sold.

And with that, for the first time ever, a piece of the movie was available to take home. Kids were enthralled with the prospect of playing STAR WARS, and the phrase “let’s play STAR WARS” became a battle-cry for a generation. The film inspired imagination, and every backyard became a planet, every empty refrigerator box a spaceship, and every trash-can a droid. In the theatre, STAR WARS spoke to the youth in all of us, a youth that was suddenly awakened and let loose. In those early months of 1977, STAR WARS and the way it reached into people’s homes defined a generation, and today, as that very generation passes on what they had experienced to the next, renews an empire of imagination.


Next week: Part 2 – Beyond the Dune Sea  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Powers Boothe 1948-2017

Actor Powers Boothe has passed away at 68.

Powers Allen Boothe was born on a farm in Texas and was the youngest of three boys. After graduating from Southwest Texas University, he joined the repertory company of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with roles in Henry IV, Part 2. His New York stage debut came in 1974 in a production of Richard III, and his Broadway debut came five years later.

National attention came to him in 1980 when he played Jim Jones in the CBS-TV movie GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES, where his portrayal of a crazed cult leader earned him an Emmy; beating out veteran actors Henry Fonda and Jason Robards. Boothe crossed the picket line during a Screen Actors Guild strike that year to collect his Emmy.

With his deep and gruff voice and handsome exterior, Boothe enjoyed roles throughout his career ranging from villains to heroes. He played detective Phillip Marlowe in a TV series on HBO which elevated his name, and had memorable roles in SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981), A BREED APART (1984), RED DAWN (1984), and THE EMERALD FOREST (1985). His most memorable turn came in 1993 when he appeared in the Old West as the mustached outlaw Curly Bill Brocius in TOMBSTONE.

His later roles included Oliver Stone’s NIXON (1995), MEN OF HONOR (2000), FRAILTY (2001), SIN CITY (2005), MACGRUBER (2010), THE AVENGERS (2012), and the SIN CITY sequel, A DAME TO KILL FOR in 2014.

He made frequent transitions from the big screen to the small screen with ease. He took his character in THE AVENGERS to darker and sinister places in the Marvel spin-off show AGENTS OF SHIELD in 2015. He also appeared in TV’s DEADWOOD, NASHVILLE, 24, 24: REDEMPTION, and HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS. He provided voice-over work for the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED and SCOOBY DOO: MYSTERY INCORPORATED.


This Blogger’s first memories of Powers Boothe begins in the Spring of 1983, when he appeared as detective Phillip Marlowe in an 11-episode run on the then-young TV service known as HBO. This Blogger, and his father, who were both fans of Sherlock Holmes and classic detective tales, both took in the series together and enjoyed every minute. That year began a life-long admiration of the man, and he was always a joy to behold, and it didn’t matter if he was playing a cowboy, soldier, detective, crooked politician, or leader of a secret terrorist organization. Boothe was a man’s actor; playing the tough characters in ways that commanded our respect.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 1: First Steps

This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. This first part will explore the First Steps…

STAR WARS. Two simple words, one syllable each, both with elemental meaning…when put together and said or read today, sparks memories and feelings of thrilling adventures, iconic characters, and epic battles ranging from dogfighting to swordfighting…both of which recreated on playgrounds and backyards by children and parents everywhere. In 1977 it literally changed the world and altered the course of the film industry forever, and like any good story, it was a journey that began with first steps.

The roots of STAR WARS reach back as far as 1971, when USC graduate George Lucas had just completed his first feature film, THX-1138. A bleak science-fiction film, the experience of dealing with what Lucas perceived to be an oppressive studio system motivated him to found his own production company, which he would name Lucasfilm. It was the first step in his life-long journey to construct his career so he wouldn’t have to answer to anyone, and the first result was his nostalgia-fueled AMERICAN GRAFFITI in 1973.

Lucas then set his sights on producing and directing an adaptation of one of his favorite serials, FLASH GORDON. However, he was unable to acquire the rights, and once again, decided to answer to no one by creating his own space fantasy. At this time he was a self-motivated student and reader of philosophy and history, and was heavily inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively about myths and their constants through time and all cultures. Lucas latched onto the great themes in those many cultures; struggles between good and evil, heroes and villains, magical beings and monsters, and the passing down of things from fathers and sons. Through modern mythology, he created his own.

The writing process took nearly two years, and Lucas at first tried to cram into one screenplay the events that would become the first STAR WARS trilogy. He wound up with vast story lines for not one but three films and more general outlines for not one trilogy but three, and decided to make his first film, then titled THE STAR WARS, as the beginning of the middle chapter. Where THX-1138 had been bleak, his new grand space-fantasy would be hopeful.  His goal was to create a modern mythology to teach values; as seen through a hero’s journey.

His film would be driven by characters plucked right from modern myth; there was a farmboy, a wizard, a princess, a pirate, and a fallen knight, and the casting process would focus on those strong personalities. Harrison Ford, who had worked with Lucas on AMERICAN GRAFFITI, was cast, and he was joined by relative unknowns Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, and well-established actors Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. The role of the evil lord Darth Vader was filled by bodybuilder Dave Prowse on-set, while the voice would be provided in post-production by James Earl Jones. The seven-foot-plus tall Peter Mayhew would play the mighty Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker would fill the roles of the two important robots (or droids), C-3P0 and R2-D2. His production team would be rounded out by a talented group which included John Barry (production design), Ralph McQuarrie (illustrator), and Ben Burtt (sound design and editing). New production techniques and camera rigs were created and invented…which would send the film industry in a brand new direction.

Filming would take place over a period of a scheduled 13 weeks and an additional three weeks in the deserts of Tunisia and California, along with the now famed Elstree Studios in London. Originally slated for a Christmas 1976 release, the many production delays shifted the film, now titled STAR WARS, to May of 1977. The film underwent several cuts, and the production rushed to finish the many special effects shots of space battles. Lucas’ good friend Steven Spielberg recommended composer John Williams to create the score. Williams would record the score over a period of 12 days.

The production just made its deadline, and legend tells of film prints being delivered to movie theatres still “wet”, with their processing chemicals not yet dried. But the film did open on time on May 25th, 1977…and George Lucas’ vision of a space fantasy had taken its first steps into a larger world.


Next week: Part 2 – An Empire Awakens.

Monday, May 8, 2017


One of the biggest mistakes that filmmakers can make when doing a sequel is to try and top the first film by going bigger, louder, and piling on more characters in an effort to make the sequel worthwhile. Sure, it is important to expand your universe, but at the same time characters have to go somewhere, or else the sequel is just noise. The best approach is not to go bigger but deeper, and that is the mission for James Gunn and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2.

Just months after the events of the first film, the Guardians of the Galaxy; Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), encounter the mysterious Ego (Kurt Russell), who is a celestial being who has created a living planet around himself, and claims to be Quill’s long-lost father. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker), has his crew of Ravagers rebel against him, while Nebula (Karen Gillan), seeks revenge against her sister Gamora.

VOL. 2 is a film which doesn’t have a ton of plot going on. After a thrilling prologue and chase sequence in which the Guardians betray, and are hunted down by a race of Sovereign beings (led by a brilliant performance by Elizabeth Debicki), the team is split up…with one half dealing with Yondu and his mutiny problems, and the other half spending time with Ego. A lot of the film is spent with the team trying to get back together, and unraveling the mystery around Ego and what he is really up to. There is a lot of talking and explaining, and any real plot doesn’t come around until late in the film when a lot of secrets are revealed.

But where VOL. 2 lacks in plot, it more-than makes for it in character. James Gunn, who also wrote the script, sets up his crew of galactic saviors-for-hire in a family dynamic; fathers and mothers, little brothers and big sisters, loud uncles, and even ugly cousins. And while that makes this zany outer space adventure relatable, Gunn takes it one step further by making sure every character in the film has some sort of arc or personal problem to overcome. It’s a massive amount of writing and development, and a ton of heart is poured into it, and the thin plot doesn’t really matter when we’re so invested in each character. The characters are the story, and that’s where GUARDIANS really soars.

The laughs and gags are non-stop and of the knee-slapping, gut-busting kind; be prepared to LOL at least 50 times. But at the same time, be prepped to cry as well, as Gunn manages to pull the heartstrings to great effect. The pacing is breakneck, save for the second act which could have been a little tighter, but the action beats and galactic fuckery is a blast. Gunn also does marvelous work behind the camera lens; every single frame is loaded with detail in endless perfectly framed shots, and the film basically demands more than one viewing just to make sure we’ve seen everything that he’s filling the frame with. The color palette is eye-popping, and the overall visual effects are stunning. Music selections vary from classic rock, soul, and folk and help drive the plot.

Acting is very good all around. Chris Pratt has basically mastered his character, and his chemistry with Zoe Saldana seems to be getting better. Dave Bautista, as the brutish and literal Drax, is once again a show-stealer, and Bradley Cooper gets even more time to make Rocket the biggest wise-ass in the galaxy. Another highlight is Pom Klementieff as Ego’s personal assistant Mantis, who is fascinating to watch. Kurt Russell is a blast, and Michael Rooker is equally fun. The film is packed tight with many cameos, including (but not limited to), Sylvester Stallone and Rob Zombie…and of course Stan Lee…whose many appearances in various Marvel movies is finally explained. But the movie probably belongs to the vastly adorable Baby Groot, who has trouble following simple instructions but still manages to be a hero in the most sickenly cutest ways possible.

Despite being firmly embedded in the ever-growing series of Marvel superhero films, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 firmly exists as a stand-alone adventure (keeping in mind it’s a direct sequel), and it smartly doesn’t punt various storylines down the road for other films to pick up…but it does plant seeds for its very own VOL. 3. James Gunn, along with his bosses in Disney and Marvel Studios, have put together a franchise within a franchise here, with VOL. 2 a true standout; one that will cause many laughs, cheers, and tears…and a vast amount of affection for every Guardian.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2017-Episode V

For most mortals, the beginning of summer is marked by Memorial Day weekend. But in the galaxy of cinema, the start to the Summer Movie Season tends to begin in the first week of May. Winter is dead, Spring is mercifully on the way out, and this is where the fun begins. Here are the notable releases for the month of May.

It all gets Groot with…

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – Marvel’s series of connected films continues with a sequel to their smash 2014 hit of galactic misfits fighting to save the galaxy. Director James Gunn returns to direct, as does his stellar cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and Kurt Russell.

CHUCK – In this autobiographical story, Liev Schreiber plays the real-life inspiration for the movie ROCKY. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Rapaport, and Ron Perlman.

THE DINNER – Richard Gere continues his new career as an arthouse film-actor in this adaptation of the novel of the same name in which couples at a restaurant bring their family issues to the table. Stars Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Chloe Sevigny.

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD – Director Guy Ritchie, who directed two consecutive intolerable SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, dips back into making period pieces with this fresh and hip take on King Arthur. Charlie Hunnam (TV’s SONS OF ANARCHY), stars as the would-be King, and he is joined by Djimon Hounsou (GLADIATOR),       Jude Law, Eric Bana, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey.

THE WALL – This has nothing to do with the Matt Damon film, the Pink Floyd album, or the thing in Mexico that will never get built. What it is about is a pair of American soldiers facing off against a sniper in Iraq. Stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (KICK-ASS), and former pro-wrestler John Cena. Directed by Doug Liman (THE BOURNE INDENTITY, EDGE OF TOMORROW).

ALIEN COVENANT – Sir Ridley Scott, who brought us the classic sci-fi film ALIEN in 1979, and the shit-sandwich prequel PROMETHEUS (2012), gives those nasty aliens one more shot. This year’s doomed crew of space explorers includes Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and James Franco.

WAKEFIELD – Bryan Cranston (TV’S BREAKING BAD), plays a New York City lawyer who hides out in his attic and only comes out when his family is gone. Co-stars Jennifer Garner.

BAYWATCH – The cheesy TV show from the 1990’s gets a cheesy shot at the movies. Stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – The fifth entry in Disney’s massive series of blockbusters sets sail for another billion. Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, and he is joined by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), and Geoffrey Rush.

WAR MACHINE – This has nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character or the song by KISS. What it is about is a military drama in which a U.S. Army general sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end. Brad Pitt stars as the general, and he is joined by Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Scoot McNairy, Alan Ruck, Meg Tilly, and Tilda Swinton.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of June.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Reel Review: JURASSIC WORLD - The Exhibition

“Movie magic” is an old term that’s not used a lot these days, but that doesn’t mean the magic is gone from cinema. One of the most magical elements of the movies is that they transport us to worlds that we wish to live in; worlds that don’t exist either through the passage of time or the boundaries of reality. They give us worlds where a man can fly, laser-swords are common, planets can be visited as quickly as a trip to a gas station, and building walls usually means keeping out giant apes. Film gives us the impossible universe, and we are all more than happy to visit, even for a short while.

One of the most popular make-believe worlds generated by film has been the one of dinosaurs and modern man co-existing. Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 smash-hit JURASSIC PARK and its three sequels, our fascination with dinosaurs extended past children’s playthings and into our culture. Thanks to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, that world of make-believe was recently brought to life, and this Blogger and this Blogger’s Girlfriend were more than excited to take the tour.

This traveling show, which is heavily inspired by the film series (most especially the 2015 sequel JURASSIC WORLD), mixes the feel of a theme park with good old fashioned science and learning. Staged like a movie adventure, the early goings have us travelling to the park via ship, where a virtual tour-guide via flatscreens welcomes us and lets us know what’s coming next. The doors to the ship open, and we disembark and right into a tropical setting, with the iconic gates right before us.

The first stop on the tour was right out of that great scene in JURASSIC PARK when the tour sees dinosaurs for the first time. With John Williams’ magnificent score playing overhead, we were faced with a 24-foot tall animatronic (or auto-erotic) Brachiosaurus, which curiously looked over the crowd…grunting and swinging its neck. If putting us into the movie was the goal of the tour, mission accomplished right away.

From there, we encountered other species such as a Triceratops and her baby (along with their big pile of dung we were invited to stick our hands into, and yes, we washed before we ate), a Stegosaurus, and a full-motion horrifying Velociraptor brought to life by an impressive body-suit. Each stop on the tour was accompanied by educational material, keeping the spectacle from overcoming the science and fact of the tour. Even more learning was to be had when we were given a break from the tropics and brought into the lab, where we learned about the process of bringing dinosaurs to life.

And of course, this was a JURASSIC PARK experience, which means things have to wrong every time man and dinos get together. Alarms go off, flatscreens go on the fritz, and the next thing we knew were face-to-face with an angry Tyrannosaurus; roaring away and nearly flipping over a truck. The effects were outstanding, as one who wouldn’t know any better (such as the many little kids present), would truly believe this world and its creatures were real.

This Blogger and this Blogger’s girlfriend escaped the chaos of the island in one piece, and the final stop on the tour was a hands-on learning room with many graphs and dino-bones to manipulate and learn from. From there it was a visit to the dino-heavy gift shop… and a wrap to a thrilling experience. This was an exhibit which fully captured the fun, interest, and fascination that JURASSIC PARK first brought to us almost 25 years ago, and spared no expense in resurrecting a lost world.


Find out about The Franklin Institute’s upcoming events HERE

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Reel Review: COLOSSAL

The kaiju is a Japanese film genre which typically features giant monsters stomping around, smashing buildings, swatting aircraft, and fighting each other. The creatures, often referred to as kaiju themselves, have been exploited for decades upon decades by international and Hollywood filmmakers to the point where the genre has hit a wall despite recent attempts to reinvent the idea. In director Nacho Vigalondo’s COLOSSAL, things are not quite re-invented, but instead twisted and turned in a way that will make those all those decades of kaiju be seen in a new light.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway), is a hard-partying, talented yet unemployed writer, who after a night of binge-drinking is thrown out of her shared apartment by her (now ex) boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Returning to her childhood suburban home, she re-acquaints with former schoolmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and continues drinking. On the other side of the world in Korea, a giant monster appears and causes death and destruction…and Gloria suddenly realizes she has a connection to it during a certain time of the day.

The central idea behind COLOSSAL is high-concept and asks us to buy into a lot. The existence of giant monsters is just the start of it, and buying into the connection between Grace and the kaiju also takes some getting used to. The connection between them is nearly like a puppet show; as Grace goes, the monster goes, right down to moods and physical movement. Things take a turn when a second monster appears in the form of a giant robot which can be controlled by Jason. COLOSSAL then turns dark, as Jason turns controlling and physically abusive towards Grace, and as they fight…the monsters fight.

The powdered-keg relationship between Grace and Jason is where COLOSSAL finds its needed grounding. Many of us may find it difficult to watch, but watching Grace go through stages of helplessness from verbal and physical abuse becomes the emotional root of the film, and the monsters become secondary. Director Nacho Vigalondo may be playing with heavy-handed themes here (we get it, the kaiju represent the monsters in us all), but it works, to both dramatic and comedic effect.

Vigalondo has a great balance of comedy and drama going on, as the battles between the characters (drama) are copied by the monsters (comedy). This is made better by the design of the kaiju which is funny and terrifying at the same time. The connection between the humans and the monsters is made believable by some sharp editing and clever uses of social media, and there is a fascination that hangs over the film as we wait for Grace to pull herself out of what she’s under and for an explanation to the mystical connection.

Anne Hathaway is fantastic; playing a troubled drunk going through a mid-life crisis and displaying a gift for physical comedy. Jason Sudeikis is also great, and becomes an effective screen-villain right in front of our eyes. The rest of the cast, which includes Dan Stevens, Tim Blake-Nelson, and Austin Stowell are all very good.

The best character in COLOSSAL is the one that never shows up. Every goddamn kaiju film always seems to have one old guy who is the only character who knows what is going on while the rest of the dumbasses lumber around. That old trope is thankfully avoided here, which leaves the characters to figure things out for themselves and actually perform work to get there. That helps separate COLOSSAL from the large pack of giant monster films, and the idea of humans controlling kaiju will make us view all those old movies a little differently. Driven by character and creativity, COLOSSAL is a brilliant take on an old idea.


Friday, April 14, 2017

A Reel Opinion: THE LAST JEDI Trailer

Nothing seems to halt the cinematic world like the release of a new STAR WARS trailer, and today was one of those galactic days. At the semi-annual event  Star Wars Celebration held in Orlando, Florida, in front of a packed auditorium  at a panel which included director Rian Johnson, LucasFilm commander-in-chief Kathleen Kennedy, actors Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran…the very first footage of the 8th episode in the saga, entitled THE LAST JEDI, was finally unveiled. See it HERE.

At just over two minutes, the new footage was cut into an effective teaser, which didn’t reveal much story, showed no new characters, but still gave plenty to chew on. Right away, the overall tone is ominous with a feeling of pending doom, and the re-arranged versions of John Williams’ magnificent score adds to the dark atmosphere. The most noticeable aspect is how gorgeous the film looks, and already looks to be the most visually stunning STAR WARS film to date. The only dialogue present is spoken by Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, who recites some teaching techniques which echoes one of his old teachers…and Hamill himself ends it all with a jaw dropping line.

Some highlights include:

-Plenty of dogfighting space-battles are seen. Oscar Isaac’s character is seen running from an attack with new series favorite, droid BB-8, and a land battle with cool-looking speeders facing down a line of big walkers offers something different, yet familiar.

-Adam Driver’s evil character, Kylo Ren, is seen with his trademark red lightsaber, and there seems to be a shot of Darth Vader’s smashed helmet. Did Kylo lose his temper again?

-A few shots of a journal. Could this be the Journal of the Whills, an item mentioned in the original STAR WARS novelization and referenced again in last year’s ROGUE ONE? And if it is, are we seeing it in the original Jedi Temple Luke may have gone looking for, as referenced in THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)?

-A jaw-dropping shot of Luke and R2-D2 at the feet of a burning temple; presumably the destruction of Luke’s Jedi school as referenced in THE FORCE AWAKENS. This also seems to be the source of the now famed shot we’ve seen of Luke placing his hand on R2 in front of a fire.

-New series-favorite Rey, as played by Daisy Ridley, is seen learning the ways of the Force, and in the most beautiful shot of the teaser, is seen from a distance wielding a lightsaber (although there is some debate over the color of the saber).

-As mentioned, the trailer ends with the mother of all STAR WARS lines, with series hero Luke, the one we believe will bring balance back to the Force and the galaxy, saying “the Jedi must end”. Does this mean Luke is throwing in the towel? Or does he mean the Jedi as the galaxy has known it, must finally evolve into something new? Have the Jedi caused more harm than good all these years?

Lots of great questions raised, and that’s exactly what a good teaser does.

And check out the new poster:

* STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI arrives December 15th.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Reel Opinion: Force for Change

In its 40-year history, STAR WARS has been through many phases; from its magnificent cinematic debut which altered the industry and culture forever, to its period of inactivity, to its era of questionable decisions and fan backlash. Hope was rekindled when series creator George Lucas sold the STAR WARS empire to Disney in 2012, and a new era of the series began.

This new era, which has so far produced two new films since 2015, has Disney expanding STAR WARS past the silver screen. Although the true heart of STAR WARS beats in the movie theatre, from day one the franchise has taken advantage of merchandising opportunities in TV, toys, and publishing. Disney has done just that, and besides the money-making ideas, one of their best efforts ventures into charity…with Force for Change. Launched in 2014, the charity program collects donations to fund solutions for global problems and works closely with UNICEF. The organization sells sweepstakes which goes towards charitable causes, and offers lucky fans chances to win cameos in future STAR WARS films.

But STAR WARS fans can be a finicky and entitled lot. Earlier this week, ABC’s daytime news program Good Morning America (GMA), began promoting a huge announcement for Tuesday’s program, dubbed as “40 years in the making”. Speculation around the massive STAR WARS fanbase ranged from a peek at footage from this year’s upcoming THE LAST JEDI, to a re-release of the first film in theatres for its 40th anniversary next month. Neither turned out to be true, as the announcement was the unveiling of a new Force for Change sweepstakes, with winners having a chance to appear in the upcoming as-yet-untitled Han Solo film, to visit the famed Skywalker Ranch with star Daisy Ridley, and to attend the premiere of THE LAST JEDI.

By far, this announcement was not worthy of the title “40 years in the making” (this Blogger blames the GMA producers; classic TV dirty trick), but the backlash from fans was, as usual, over-the-top. The largest complaint was that the announcement provided “nothing for us”, which is a lot of hot air. Force for Change does great work in a troubled world, and it gives people who need help the most the one thing that STAR WARS has always provided; hope. Since 1977, STAR WARS has meant a lot to many people, and Force for Change widens that meaning. And for those lucky enough to win the sweepstakes; appearing in a STAR WARS movie, visiting Skywalker Ranch, and seeing THE LAST JEDI before all their friends are tremendous opportunities which any fan would love to do. STAR WARS is in a new era now, one which is providing something new as we look towards the horizon…and that’s the way it should be.


Learn more about Force for Change HERE.