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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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

Much like the weather it delivers, the month of April can be an unpredictable mixed bag of cinema. It is stuck between the dead months of the year and the kick-off to the Summer Movie Season, and not even studios seem to know what to do with it. Here are the notable releases for the month…

April roars in with…

COLOSSAL – Director Nacho Vigalondo, who brought us the horror thrillers OPEN WINDOWS (2014), and V/H/S: VIRAL (2014) helms this science-fiction/comedy in which a woman returns to her hometown and discovers she has a connection to a Kaiju monster attack. Stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, and Simon Pegg.

THEIR FINEST – In this WWII-based British comedy based on the novel of the same name, the British government hires a team to produce a propaganda film about the Battle of Dunkirk. Stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, and Eddie Marsan.

GIFTED – Chris Evans (CAPTAIN AMERICA) plays an uncle who is protective of his genius niece. Octavia Spencer co-stars. It is directed by Marc Webb, who gave us the most excellent 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (2009), and the last two shitty SPIDER-MAN movies (2012, 2014).

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE – In this animated reboot of the series (already?), the Smurfs seek out a hidden village. Stars the voices of Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Mandy Patinki, Julia Roberts, and Michelle Rodriguez.

AFTERMATH – He’s back! Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man who loses his wife and child in an air-disaster and demands answers. It is based on the real-life Uberlingen mid-air collision in 2002.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS – The eighth (or is it the ninth) installment of the vehicular-warfare series. Stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Charlize Theron, and Helen Mirren.

THE LOST CITY OF Z – Based on the book of the same name, this auto-biographical adventure tells the true story of Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 with his son searching for a lost city in the Amazon. Stars Charlie Hunnman (TV’s SONS OF ANARCHY), Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Ian McDiarmid. It is directed by James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT).

UNFORGETTABLE – Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson are caught in a love triangle in this romantic thriller.

THE PROMISE – Another love triangle, this one set in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Stars Oscar Isaac (THE FORCE AWAKENS), Christian Bale (THE DARK KNIGHT), and Charlotte Le Bon (THE WALK). It is directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Terry George.

THE CIRCLE – Emma Watson (HARRY POTTER) plays an up-and-coming tech worker who discovers that her new company is doing questionable business. Co-stars Tom Hanks and John Boyega (THE FORCE AWAKENS).

FREE FIRE – This British action-comedy has a packed cast of Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Jack Reynor…with criminals and IRA members mixing together.


In a few weeks, Reel Speak previews the first month of the Summer Movie Season.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Reel Opinion: Why ALIEN, PREDATOR, and JURASSIC PARK Need to Change or Die

In storytelling, it has been widely accepted that there are only seven basic plots to choose from. In cinema, the most popular choice for the last 100 years has been the Overcoming the Monster plot. From KING KONG to DRACULA to GODZILLA, mainstream and independent Hollywood has embraced stories of human beings being chased down by fantastic beasts in ways that only the silver screen could deliver. In the 1980’s, the horror genre experienced a surge of popularity with franchises such as HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET…in which masked or scarred ghouls with hatchets and knives hunted characters down in the darkness in one sequel after another.

Eventually, audiences seemed to catch onto the fact that all these annoyingly endless sequels were all ending in the same way; with people being chased down by monsters. Sure, the sequels worked on beefing up the mythology and mixing up the settings and characters with stunt-casting, but the last half-hour would always end up the same way; running from the monster who wants to kill. This sub-genre of horror, often called the slasher-genre, went stale and eventually died.

But filmmakers have more than one way to scramble an egg. Outside of the slashers, there were three franchises which experienced immense popularity and critical love. It started in 1979 with Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, which is now deemed as a classic horror and sci-fi film. ALIEN was followed up by an excellent sequel in 1986, and two miserable sequels in 1992 and 1997. Running right alongside of ALIEN was another sci-fi horror creature in PREDATOR, which wowed audiences in 1987 before sputtering with two shitty sequels. Later, both ALIEN and PREDATOR would share the screen in two crappy showdowns. Also in the mix was Steven Spielberg’s magnificent dinosaur flick JURASSIC PARK in 1993, which was a game-changer for the industry and is also considered a classic, but also fell victim to one too many sequels which never quite recaptured the original magic.

Today, the franchises of ALIEN, PREDATOR, and JURASSIC PARK are dangerously close to suffering the same fate as the dead-and-buried slasher-genre. The ALIEN series introduced a prequel film in 2012 with more on the way in an attempt to build the mythology which leads to the events in the first film, while PREDATOR will see a new film in 2018 which serves as a sequel and a fresh start. For JURASSIC PARK, Steven Spielberg has stepped away from the chair, but the third sequel,  JURASSIC WORLD, was a smash-hit in 2015 and will see a direct sequel in 2018. But guess what…these movies still have a hard ceiling to get through…because they will inevitably end up in the same place; characters running from the monster. Audiences will love it, but just like the slashers, will eventually catch on to the same old thing happening.  After all, when an egg is thrown into a hot pan, only one thing happens. It cooks. It is then up the chef to decide what happens to it next. If the iconic names of ALIEN, PREDATOR, and JURASSIC PARK want to live on or at least preserve some dignity, they need to change…or quietly go away.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Reel Review: SONG TO SONG

When director Terrence Malick returned from his self-imposed 20-year hiatus, he brought with him the most unconventional, yet earnest style of filmmaking. Elemental things like scripts, dialogue, or point-to-point narrative structure were discarded in favor of an abstract style involving random images and meandering narration which never directly tells us what the movie is really about, leaving most of the work to the audience. Malick is an experimenter, and in SONG TO SONG pushes the limits more than ever.

Set in the modern-day Austin, Texas music festival scene, Faye (Rooney Mara), a struggling bass-player, gets stuck in a love triangle between BV (Ryan Gosling), an up-and-coming songwriter, and Cook (Michael Fassbender), a rich and successful musician and producer. When the triangle falls apart, the three go from lover-to-lover; Faye experiments with another woman, while BV has an affair with an older woman (Cate Blanchett), and Cook with a waitress (Natalie Portman).

From a storytelling perspective, SONG TO SONG has more of a shape than Malick’s past few films. The film follows the beginnings of the love triangle, and once that is broken, splits off into three stories following the characters as they go their separate ways…which eventually cross paths again. There are several sub-plots at work as well; ranging from Faye’s struggles as a musician, Cook’s vast wealth getting the best of him, RV’s mother (Linda Emond) managing to control who he dates, and a battle between RV and Cook over royalties. These are troubled characters who wander from one mess to another, with most of the messes of their own making.

Wandering around randomly sums up the style of the presentation. The film is assembled of casual visuals of characters dancing around or goofing around on beaches, empty apartments, backstage of a concert, or in a bedroom. Dialogue is at an absolute minimum, and there are only a handful of scenes with actual back-and-forth between actors. Most of the spoken words come by way of narration, in which characters wax philosophical about what they’re feeling or asking questions that have no answers. It’s Malick’s usual style, and requires a ton of patience and thought to plow through and dissect…but that’s assuming there actually is meaning behind the thick fog that he has built. Things get really confusing towards the back end, when the film either jumps ahead or back in time (good luck figuring out what direction), which is jarring and confusing with no hint to help us along. It’s as maddening as it is confounding.

On the technical side of things, SONG TO SONG is packed with some bizarre editing choices. The little dialogue that exists is barely audible and we find ourselves leaning forward in our chairs trying to hear what the hell characters are saying. Maybe Malick is going for feelings, but as the film plays out it’s an annoyance. There are also random cuts to black which happen at the oddest times which makes us think the projector bulb just went out, and a wacko black-and-white vintage film sequence is a head-shaker. Scenes bounce around to random locations without explanation or setup (there must be 50 empty apartments we visit), and the overall cutting is dizzying. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is gorgeous.

It's tough to judge the acting as no one really acts and instead flop around every location. Rooney Mara gets the most screentime and probably the most spoken words, while Michael Fassbender acts like an eccentric weirdo for most of the time. Fans of heartthrob Ryan Gosling will likely be disappointed in what they get (or don’t get) from him, and Natalie Portman gets the most heavy-lifting as the most emotionally unstable of the cast. Cate Blanchett doesn’t seem to speak more than six words. Other random (there’s that word again) cameos include Val Kilmer, Patti Smith, Holly Hunter, Iggy Pop, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a large assortment of musicians for three seconds at a time. Scenes were filmed with Christian Bale, Haley Bennett, and Benicio del Toro but were completely cut.

There’s not much that really happens in SONG TO SONG, and the unhurried pacing makes the 129-minute runtime feel like 600; don’t be surprised if the film picks up the nickname of SLOG TO SLOG. On top of everything else, followers of Malick will (and should) realize that this film flies very close, if not exactly the same flight pattern as his own KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015)…and it’s not much of a stretch to say he made the same movie again with a different setting. Malick gets points here for ambition and his refusal to blend in with mainstream Hollywood, but loses more for being confusing and distant. This is experimental film at its oddest, yet earnest.


Monday, March 27, 2017

A Reel Review: LIFE

Much like science-fiction and fantasy, horror is a genre of film which can get away with a lot. Fans of the genre are always willing to overlook the silliness of monsters, aliens, or guys with big knives who are impossible to kill, for as long as the scares, gore, and thrills keep coming. The “horror” of such a film is always priority, with things like character and story always coming second. This is the style for director Daniel Espinosa’s space-horror flick LIFE, for better and for worse.

On the International Space Station, a six-person crew (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya), receive a sample from Mars which contains the first evidence of life from another planet. The organism, nicknamed Calvin, grows and escapes, and begins killing crew members one at a time…

LIFE is a closed-quarters thriller which doesn’t have much by way of plot. Survival is the only thing our characters have to achieve while figuring out just what Calvin gets out of slaughtering people. Once Calvin gets unleashed and begins to grow, most of the film involves the crewmembers floating from one part of the station to the next, closing hatches and re-opening them again as they flee and try to find a strategy before they run out of people.

Much like any other horror flick, the people aboard this station are thinly drawn with only one dimension to each one of them. There’s the standard collection of archetypes; a logical scientist, a medical doctor who is love with space, a wisecracking smartass, a cosmonaut, and an overzealous scientist who just can’t help himself…and it’s that overzealous and dumb action which sets Calvin off on his rampage, and sums up the films fatal flaws. The crew in LIFE make idiotic decisions one after another such as petting the alien like a goddamn hamster, opening doors which should stay closed, and overall using no logic whatsoever to guide their actions. There’s also a mild twist in the second act which makes no sense at all, and Calvin always conveniently shows up at a part of the ship a character is trying to repair. Overall it seems like the screenwriters were more concerned with moving plot points than character actions making sense.

But if its horror that matters, then LIFE delivers. Calvin’s design resembles a sea creature which resembles a squid and jellyfish, topped off with a fuck-you monster head; it manages to be beautifully graceful and terrifying at the same time, especially as it grows bigger. The character deaths are fucking horrific to see, and the sound-editors did great work in delivering the horror as we hear every bone get crushed and blood gargle up close. The tension building is well done, and even when Calvin is small, there’s still terror to be had when we see the many places and cavities it can get into.

Calvin looks great as a CGI creature, and other visual effects from the space station to the views of Earth are stunning. The characters are in zero-gravity the entire time, and whatever method they used to make everyone float around is very well executed. The space station itself is a maze of narrow tube-like corridors which has no distinction from one area to the next, which leads to a poor sense of place as we seldom have any idea where we are in the station at any time. The score by Jon Ekstrand is fantastic.

Acting is pretty good even though every actor has zip to work with in character development, and are limited to one dimension only. Jake Gyllenhall and Rebecca Ferguson get the most work, and they do good work in selling the horror of the situation, even when they’re acting against a CGI creature which wasn’t present on set. The rest of the cast is fine, even though Ryan Reynolds seems saddled with playing a wiseass for the 867th time. And small credit is due to the screenwriters in not being afraid to kill off a top-billed actor in the first half-hour.

The finale delivers one hell of a twist which acts as an exclamation point to the horrific nature of the movie, most of which could have been avoided if the script didn’t rely on scientists who acted like idiots, and the aforementioned minor twist which felt like a major shortcut. As a horror-flick, LIFE certainly delivers the scares, but as a functional film it drops out of orbit…and that’s an imbalance that can’t be overlooked.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017


“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

This month marks the 45th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER.

In the late 1960’s, the movie industry was dying. Most of the major motion picture studios, including Paramount Pictures, were desperate for a big hit; a hit that would not only save their own assess, but re-install confidence in the American movie-going public. It was a stale environment for Hollywood, and frustrated by the stifling creative atmosphere, a group of experimental filmmakers, which included Francis Ford Coppola and his friend George Lucas, founded their own independent studio which would inspire creative and unconventional approaches to filmmaking.

Approached by Paramount to direct an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s crime novel, Coppola initially turned down the offer. With THE GODFATHER being a violent story of a family running a criminal empire, Coppola, an Italian-American himself, did not want to paint his heritage in a negative light. However, Coppola was convinced by Lucas to take the plunge. Desperate for a money-making hit, Paramount put immense pressure on Coppola during casting and filming, and the director was nearly fired many times. However, Coppola eventually won out on many important decisions; including the casting of Marlon Brando and setting the film in the correct time period, 1945 to 1955.

With a now historic ensemble cast which included Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale, and Abe Vigoda, THE GODFATHER was a hit and eventually became a milestone in movie history. With its brilliant acting, gentle yet percise direction and amazing cinematography, it was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning three, including Best Picture. It was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 1990, and is regarded as the second greatest film in American cinematic history; second only to CITIZEN KANE. THE GODFATHER brought greatness back into film, virtually saving the industry and serving as the model for all future crime dramas such as GOODFELLAS, THE DEPARTED, and TV series such as THE SOPRANOS and SONS OF ANARCHY…all of which can all trace their roots back to THE GODFATHER.


Having grown up in a whimsical movie world with thrilling adventures in the forms of STAR WARS and Indiana Jones, this Blogger did not catch up with THE GODFATHER until much later; the film always seemed too dark, too grown-up, and nearly too scary. It wasn’t until college and a Film 101 class where this Blogger was properly introduced to it, which then began a new appreciation for film and provided a method of film and story de-construction. Each year this Blogger revisits THE GODFATHER like an annual vigil around Thanksgiving, which is the time to embrace family; and family is what the film is all about.

“I believe in America.”

Monday, March 20, 2017


Cinematic remakes and adaptations always have an uphill battle. Filmmakers are always eager to put their personal touches on the material, but reluctant to inject too many changes that would divert from the original and cause uproar among a built-in fanbase, while flying too safe can make the effort pointless. Such is the challenge for director Bill Condon and Disney’s latest version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Belle (Emma Watson), is held prisoner by Beast (Dan Stevens), who was once a handsome prince before being transformed by an enchantress, along with his household staff who now inhabit the forms of candlesticks, clocks, teacups, wardrobes, and pianos (voiced by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, and Stanley Tucci). Beast must learn the meaning of true love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls, while Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and Gaston (Luke Evans), her possible suitor, seek to rescue her.

This version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is very much a faithful live-action version of Disney’s own 1991 animated film. Showing no shame, director Bill Condon and his team of writers passionately recreate nearly every familiar character, stitch, beat, and moment from that version, and the boundaries they are required to play in seem clear. But room to play is given; both Belle and Beast are given expanded backstories which venture into some dark and tragic territory, and they serve both characters well and makes their eventual connection more palpable. The story is all about this unlikely couple, and the work done to give them identities and meaning is there.

But what makes this version of the story stand out is the commitment to being a full-blown movie musical. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is presented like a big Broadway musical with its lavish and lush settings and characters belting their hearts out into the cheap-seats. The musical numbers are dazzling with exploding colors and wonderful choreography, and even the slower numbers have their own power. It’s a musical even more so than the 1991 version, and that gives the film its own identity. Old and familiar numbers are re-done and given new life, and new songs are put in which gives key characters more depth. The classic Be Our Guest is the showstopper; it’s a rousing number which goes on forever but is a lot of fun.

The film is a visual treat. Every set from Belle’s quaint village to the massive castle is stunning, and the design work to give the talking household objects their own personalities is very well done and makes what could have been ridiculous seem very real. The camera seems to love those talking objects a little too much, as they seem to eat up more screentime than they deserve when more time should have been given to the courtship of Belle and Beast. Beast is brought to life on-screen by a combination of a big body-suit and a CGI digital mask. For the most part it’s effective, and the eyes of Dan Stevens are always pushing sadness or rage, but the overall face of Beast comes across as very stiff and needed a lot more facial expression.

With such a commitment to being a musical, the film winds up with an emphasis on performances, and the cast is more-than up to the task. Emma Watson sings lovely and her acting against characters that aren’t really there on set is spot-on; she’s a charmer from the first few seconds we see her. Dan Stevens is magnificent as Beast and his singing is outstanding. Luke Evans nearly steals the show as a brutish hunter who wants Belle for his own, and Josh Gad turns in a hilarious performance as Gaston’s sidekick. The voiceover cast are all perfect in their roles, and Kevin Kline is excellent as always.

Despite flying very close to the 1991 animated version, this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is very much its own film, as its deeper look at characters and embracing the old movie musical gives it a cinematic quality that an 80-minute cartoon can’t quite match. It’s drenched in nostalgia, but feels fresh and new. Be its guest.