Thursday, December 30, 2010

THE REEL BEST & WORST OF 2010: PART 2

If 2010 was a cloudy day for films, then the BEST list was the ray of sunshine that came out and stayed out; the back-half of the year was loaded with some special films that will go the distance. Unlike the WORST list, this rundown was a difficult one to put together. Some excellent films did not make the cut: GET LOW, THE TOWN, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT. 1, to name a few. This blogger agonized over this; but feels it has finally come together the right way.

Two excellent films based on heart, soul, and faith begin the list. THE FIGHTER deserves high marks due to excellent acting and a fresh take on the overdone underdog story. THE BOOK OF ELI was held together by remarkable photography and storyline that felt simple on the surface but then unfolded into a surprising finale.

A slice of our current generations’ history and state-of-mind was presented to us in the form of THE SOCIAL NETWORK; making what seemed to be a laughable plot (the history of Facebook) into a strong character drama of brother vs. brother. NETWORK is an important film that puts the state of our lives in today’s world up-front and center, and deserves multiple viewings.

Fun was the operative word for THE A-TEAM and TOY STORY 3. The former was the biggest blast to be had in the theatre while still maintaining intelligence, and the latter putting forth an emotional punch in a simple yet ingenious finale that only Pixar can deliver.

A trio of psychological mindfuckers occupy the top 5. Martin Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND was such a film that demanded to be watched a second and third time; once more to just to make sure of ourselves and the third to truly appreciate the genius of it all. Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN provided the most WTF moments than any film of the year; backed by excellent acting and mind-blowing sequences. Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION was the monster of the year, offering layers upon layers of plot that engaged the mind and banged the eyeballs into orgasm. Hands-down the most original film made in the past decade.

The Coen Bros. finally got around to making things happen in their TRUE GRIT remake. Jeff Bridges’ and his supporting cast gave an outstanding performance in a hardnosed tale of revenge that brought the old west back to life. It is a strong character drama/study backed by outstanding cinematography.

The biggest surprise of the year is also the most pleasant one.

The BEST spot goes to a little film that flew in under the radar and dropped a bomb. There are no A-list actors, no 3D, no larger-than-life egos present; just a strict, yet gentle focus on solid filmmaking backed by outstanding acting. It is a story about an obscure reference in world history that may have had world-changing implications, brought down to the level of personal relationships and struggles. The balance is perfect, and a lot can be learned from this movie. The BEST of 2010 belongs to THE KING’S SPEECH.

THE BEST:

10. The Fighter
9. The Book of Eli
8. The Social Network
7. The A-Team
6. Toy Story 3
5. Shutter Island
4. True Grit
3. Black Swan
2. Inception
1. The King’s Speech

What say you?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Reel Review: THE KING'S SPEECH



For any person who has felt that aching pang of anxiety before speaking in front of a group of people or has had an issue with stuttering, THE KING’S SPEECH may be a severely uncomfortable trip back down memory lane. The opening minutes of SPEECH brings all the pressure and anxiety of public speaking out front-and-center from the personal view of Royal Blood, slowly building up to an uncomfortable atmosphere that educes squirming from the audience. Even if said audience has never felt the anxiety of public speech, the pressures can and will still be felt. That is masterful filmmaking.

With a never-ending life in the public eye, the future King George VI, or Bertie (Colin Firth), is severely inhibited by a stuttering impairment that draws criticism from his royal family and ultimately holds him back as a man. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), an aspiring actor and professional speech therapist. While the future King progresses and regresses, a friendship is formed with Lionel, just as his playboy brother Edward (Guy Pearce), is made King and then booted, forcing the stuttering heir to rise above his problems.

Set in the backdrop of a looming war with Germany (the years before WWII), KING on the surface seems to be a story about Bertie’s personal mission to find his voice (physically and spiritually), and rally a country against insurmountable foes. While the pressures of Bertie’s situation build up, KING manages to sneak up on you. The film also becomes a story about the friendship between two men, and how their very different lives are very similar. With the balance of a nation in limbo, the movie manages to get into the personal side of things.

KING takes about two minutes to get connected with the main character, and even less for the supporting cast. The film is shot and put together in a very personal manner; not only focusing on the people, but on their surroundings as suttle allegories are sneaked in about the film. Also refreshing is the amount of humor that emerges from the story, which always has a feeling of desperation hanging about. The humor is intelligent and timed perfectly, and never uses Bertie’s stuttering as a punching bag. Idiots like Ben Stiller ought to take notice. Director Tom Hooper offers a gentle touch and remarkable eye that makes the overall experience incredibly enjoyable.

Personal performances are nothing short of outstanding. Firth is convincing to the max as he stutters and stammers his way through the film; almost to the point that one has to wonder if the poor man really does struggle with simple talk. Rush is superb as the very dynamic and unorthodox therapist, and provides a very good adversary to Firth. Nearly stealing the show is Bonham-Carter as the loving and supportive wife, who proves that she can do more than cartoonish Tim Burton films. Smaller roles, such as Guy Pearce’s asshole-older-brother character, Michael Gambon’s King George V, and Timothy (Wormtail) Spall’s Winston Churchill, are well cast and convincing.

The finale is a buildup of power and anxiety that can be felt right down in your bones, as Bertie addresses the empire over the (wireless) radio on the eve of war. Scored and edited beautifully, it is a rousing closure to a great and personal tale that every great leader, or lesser followers should be familiar with.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

THE REEL BEST & WORST OF 2010: PART 1

The Year in Film 2010 can easily be called a cloudy day with random rays of sunshine; the clouds were endless and left us cold, while the rays of sunshine cut through the darkness and kept us warm when they did peek out. Unfortunately for us all, there were a hell of a lot of clouds this year. For the BEST & WORST of 2010, it’s easy to start at the bottom for PART 1.

The summer “blockbuster” season took it on the chin the most. The year was loaded with supposed blockbusters that were devoid of any real density or thought. Last year, the WORST list done by this blogger did not make a total number of 10. This year, the list was overcrowded with stinkers.

Suprisingly making the list is Sylvester Stallone’s much heralded THE EXPENDABLES. Despite a top-heavy cast, the film was all style with no substance, and the action scenes nearly boring. The lack of substance in favor of style seemed to be contagious this year, as the same problem plagued the soulless CLASH OF THE TITANS, Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and the lifeless TRON: LEGACY.

Not making the WORST list (but not the BEST either) is IRON MAN 2, which was basically a long promo for the upcoming AVENGERS films. Nothing is more annoying than a film where nothing happens.

Some big-name fellas by the name of Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and M. Night Shyamalan make the WORST list this year; turning in some real turkeys far and removed from the talent they were once capable of. Smith’s COP OUT felt like a college production, and the Rodriguez-produced PREDATORS was little more than brain-dead boredom. We’ll get to M. Night Shymalama-dingdong in a bit.

Remakes and adaptations were aplenty this year; ranging from the lame THE WOLFMAN to the lamer NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. to the stupider-than-shit PRINCE OF PERSIA. The once heralded, and now laughing stock of Hollywood M. Night turned in a shockingly bad adaptation of THE LAST AIRBENDER; which was devoid of any of his once unique touch.

But nothing, nothing could prepare the world for the stinking pile of dung that came in the form of SAW 3D. The supposed “big wrap” to the neverending series failed to go out with a bang; offering a weak and predictable wrap that could have been done 6 movies ago. On top of it all, the 3D was a complete waste of time; offering no depth, trickery, or flash. Moviegoers were cheated both financially and artistically, and that is unforgivable. If this movie were Stink, even Shit would walk away from it.

The WORST of 2010:

10. The Expendables
9. Predators
8. Clash of the Titans
7. Alice in Wonderland
6. Cop Out
5. A Nightmare on Elm St.
4. The Prince of Persia
3. The Wolfman
2. The Last Airbender
1. Saw 3D

What say you?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Reel Review: TRUE GRIT



The Coen brothers in the past have been praised and criticized for the same things in the past: films that border upon weird with not much happening from start to finish. In TRUE GRIT, they manage to shed most of their trademark quirkiness and sleepy pacing, while remaining true to their talent for fine cinematography and excellent characterizations.

After the murder of her father by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14 year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) travels from home to seek revenge. The smart (too much for own good) teen enlists the help of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges); a shoot-first and don’t-bother-to-ask-questions-later Marshal who likes to pull the cork too much. Rooster reluctantly takes the job, with Mattie as his annoying shadow. Also on the trail of Chaney is Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), a very proud lawman looking to capture Cheney for another crime he had committed.

TRUE GRIT’s main plot is a simple one: capture Cheney. What keeps the simplicity afloat are the strong characters and their contrasting motivations. Rooster wants Cheney so he can get paid. Mattie wants Cheney so she can have revenge. La Boeuf wants him so he can uphold Texas law. Throw these various and very different characters together in the blender, and the result is a very fine character drama that never gets boring. GRIT is a very un-complex western; loaded with excellent dialogue that makes the entire ride succeed on banter rather than gunfights and mindless action.

Bridges is clearly the star of the film. His Rooster is an old man with little values, who somehow manages to stay upright in the saddle while the bottles drain empty. Seinfeld’s Mattie nearly steals the show from veteran Bridges, displaying the spitfire and intelligence that her character demands. Damon is excellent as the proud, yet arrogant Texas Ranger, and Brolin really shines as the vile, yet dumb-witted villain Chaney. Also a pleasant surprise is Barry Pepper’s turn as Ned Pepper (leader of the gang that Cheney falls into), and it’s a shame that he wasn’t in the picture more.

Speaking of being underutilized, one of GRIT’s few faults is the very limited screentime Brolin has as the main villain. He is the antagonist that we never see, and it wouldn’t be so annoying if Brolin wasn’t so damn good in the role. There are also early and strong references to “having grit”, a nice little theme that begins to travel under the current of the story, but is later left behind.

GRIT is beautifully shot and scored; it is a marvel to look at and is easy to get lost in. The old west might never have looked or sounded better. This is a gorgeous film, with unexpected humor and looming peril that makes gunslingers so endearing.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Reel Review: THE FIGHTER



THE FIGHTER is a film that never veers away from what it really is: an underdog sports story. But what keeps things fresh is the tremendous amount of real-world heart that is heavy throughout the film. It has a great spirit that sucker-punches you in the emotional gut and never once feels like an old and worn out story.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a pro boxer in his late 30’s trying to make a splash before his prime starts to fade. Trained by his crack-addict brother Dickie (Christian Bale), a former boxer himself still holding on to his past, Ward looks to revitalize his career by stepping away from Dickie and his overbearing family. Ward gets inspiration from his new gal Charlene (Amy Adams), as he looks to gently break the ties that have supported him for his entire career.

THE FIGHTER may be a film chock full of clichés, but director David O’ Russell manages to rework things into a very engaging tale. FIGHTER centers around the two brothers, Micky and Dickie (the only thing that makes that more funny is that this is based on a true story), each with broken lives trying to get back up on top. Dickie sees Micky has his way back to the spotlight. Micky eventually learns that he must break ties with him and his run-ins with the law in order to succeed. It is a painful journey for both men, who have barely let each other out of their sights over the years. The wrangling for Micky’s soul by Dickie and the overbearing family is hard to watch, and always keeps the audience engaged. This is a strong character drama that should serve as a template for future underdog films, with strong focus on the people and less on the sport.

Wahlberg does a great job with his role that is when he’s not being overshadowed by his co-stars. The show is nearly stolen by Bale, who radically altered his body for the role. Dropping a TON of weight, his character is a thin skeleton of a man with sunken eyes and cheeks. Dickie has a deep-fried brain from all the drugs, and his odd behavior, while mostly fun-loving and mostly harmless, is pulled off tremendously by Bale. By far the strongest work he has done so far. Also up front and center is Amy Adams’ Charlene character. Adams adds to the real-worldness of the picture with her tough chops and gentle, loving inspiration.

The finale is a blast and actually had people cheering in this blogger’s theatre. The fight scenes are shown as if watched on TV, and while the technique may seem obtrusive to the viewer at first, it makes things incredibly familiar and adds to the elation and drama. THE FIGHTER holds up to its promises of sneaking up and flooring you; it engages you hard and never lets go.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Reel Review: TRON: LEGACY



There is an age-old rule in filmmaking that can make or break your film: The higher your concept, the simpler your story must be. If you are going to create a film with dense surroundings, you have to bring the audience in with a simplistic story that they can relate to. Such a strategy has worked in past films such as AVATAR, CARS and THE WIZARD OF OZ. Despite the clarity of the rule, it is not always easy to achieve. There is a balance to be found; the story can’t be made TOO simple, and must have enough dressings around it to keep it afloat. With TRON: LEGACY, the nearly-direct follow-up to TRON (1982), the balance of this rule is exactly what must be found.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer wizard and head of an empire-like computer company. Sam is looking into the disappearance of this father 20 years before, when he gets zapped into the same computerized world that his father had created. Father and son reunite to find their way home with the assistance of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), all while keeping the big-baddie Clu (played by CGI-young Jeff Bridges) from realizing his plans.

LEGACY’s main storyline is a very simple one: find dad, get home. To beef things up, Sam is given the main stage with his issues. In the beginning, he is a rebel who wants nothing to do with his dad’s old company, other than to annoy the suits who now run it. His personal journey becomes obvious nearly right away, as the audience can easily figure out that by the end of the film he will have resolved his issues and embraced his responsibility within his dad’s legacy. While that’s not a horrible thing, and it usually can work, LEGACY just doesn’t have enough stuffing to keep the turkey from collapsing. The film is loaded with a lot of exposition speeches, some of which run consecutively. Things are broken up by some breathtaking action, but the overall feel is very shallow with not much underneath the surface. The main villain Clu, while unique, isn’t really that despicable for a baddie, nor are his ultimate plans. There just isn’t anything to care about here.

Still, there is a lot to like in LEGACY. The visuals are awesome, and the chases with the light-cycles and light-planes are good fun. The opening half-hour (or so ) of the film is a neat trip back in time full with nostalgia, and the actual sets that were built for the CGI-heavy environments are neat to look at.

Visual effects are really good. The overall world and characters’ outfits are eye-popping and convincing. The real achievement is the CGI work done to make Jeff Bridges 20 years young. The Benjamin-Button treatment works really well. However the real disappointment is the (mis) usage of 3D. The third dimension adds very little depth and throws nothing at you to make you duck for cover. What’s even more heartbreaking is that the dimness of the picture, along with the dark glasses, tends to dull the awesome effect of the ever-present neon glow that is all over the film.

The score by Daft Punk is awesome. End of analysis.

Jeff Bridges really shines in the role, although his newly-found Zen-master mannerisms may annoy some fans of the original film. Hedlund gives a very wooden performance, and most of his dialogue consists of lines that support the trailers. Olivia Wilde is not given much to do other than walk around looking sexy, so no complaints there.

The original TRON was made because the Disney dudes discovered a new way to make movies and needed a film to show it off. It was a visual effects show-and-tell in search of a story. LEGACY is much of the same. The balance fell short here, with too much going into style and not enough into substance. Fun? Yes. Interesting? No.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A slew of sneak-previews were unleashed upon the internets this week, including official trailers for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, and Terrence Malick's TREE OF LIFE. Not to mention the first official pic of John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe in the upcoming THE RAVEN:



OPINION: The PIRATES 4 trailer looks like a rip-roarin' time, and you gotta love the out-of-the-box thinking by having Sparrow speaking to the audience; very much in tune with the character. Hopefully they'll keep the established look and feel, along with the excellent score. As for the others, this blogger is still scratching his head on how THOR is going to blend into the new down-to-earth Marvel-verse, and will also be goddamned if he actually goes to see another Terrence Malick snorefest again. But ya'll should do yourselves a favor: Google a pic of the real-life Poe and compare it to the above pic. Shiver.

FACT: Speaking of Marvel, it seems Jon Favaeru will not be directing IRON MAN 3.

OPINION: So much for continuity.

FACT: The Golden Globes announced their nominations this week. A lot of sci-fi geeks are tickled pink over INCEPTION getting a Best Picture nod. A lot of other movie-goers are scratching their heads over the shunning of the upcoming TRUE GRIT.

OPINION: INCEPTION certainly deserves the credit; this blogger believes it deserves Best Pic on account of it's originality alone. As for TRUE GRIT, a lot of the world hasn't seen it yet, but don't the Globes voters get early screeners like the Oscar dudes do? If they do, then perhaps the Coen Bros. have put together another much-ado-about-nothing film. This blogger certainly hopes not.

What say you?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Reel Review: BLACK SWAN



Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN is the perfect follow-up to his Oscar-nominated THE WRESTLER from a year ago. Where THE WRESTLER explored the fragility of the human body, BLACK SWAN explores the fragile human mind. Backed by unique direction, great acting and some of the tightest intensity ever put to film, SWAN is possibly Aronofsky’s finest work in the form of a psychological horror trip.

Ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), having been raised by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), struggles to land the lead role in a major ballet directed by Thomas (Vincent Cassell). The role requires Nina to play the part of the White and Black Swan, with the latter requiring raw passion and unleashed emotion that Nina struggles to capture. Nina sort-of befriends rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), a party girl who inspires Nina’s darker side to emerge.

SWAN is Nina’s story as she delves into her darker half; a half that she experiences in hallucinations and fantasies. Aronofosky plays with the viewers mind throughout; as he constantly blurs the lines between reality and illusion. The film is a trip through Nina’s mind and psychosis, and not much should be taken literally; but that’s not clear until the very end. This is a mindfuck of a film that is not for the weak-minded.

Aronofsky’s direction and artistic choices match the story perfectly. Clever use of mirrors and shaky-cam add an unnerving feel throughout. There is also an air of tight intensity that may have never been seen on film before. Simple acts such as a bath and clipping fingernails are given a treatment that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. A hotass love scene between Nina and Lily is not only shot and cut beautifully, but makes a splash due to its importance in the grand scheme of things.

Portman really brings it in what is probably her most powerful performance of her career. She goes deep here, and Aronofsky really brings out the best and worst of her. Kunis is perfectly cast as the rebel-without-a-cause party girl, and the show is nearly stolen by Hershey’s performance of psycho-mom.

The finale is an onslaught of even more mindfucking, as the audience will be asking themselves “did that just happen?” leading up to the final moments. BLACK SWAN is loaded with twists and turns ranging from incredible to oh-my-god-cover-your-eyes moments. It is powerful and never dull.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Reel apology

This blogger would like to apologize for being absent for the last few weeks. Life intervened; as it tends to do.

Thanks to those who have stayed loyal. Good stuff is coming soon! Reviews for BLACK SWAN and NARNIA 3 are on the way, along with the BEST AND WORST OF 2010. And let us not forget the fact that Oscar season is upon us now.

Life intervening can and will remind us of why we love the movies in the first place. When all else fails, FILM can bring us back to the life that we can and will love.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Reel Tribute: Irvin Kershner



It is rare occurrence when this blogger attempts to offer an obit piece for the departed. Any attempts to sum up a life in so many words always seems so futile; almost like trying to wrap your arms around a cloud of smoke. However, in the case of Irvin Kershner, who passed on early this morning at the glorious age of 87, an exception will be made. It is the hope of this blogger that at least some capturing of the man can be done.

Kershner will forever be known as the man who directed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; the film which most of the world believes to be the strongest, deepest, and best STAR WARS film ever made. While the film was mostly fried in the brainpan of creator George Lucas, it was Kirshner who really brought the story to life. How he did that is difficult to nail down. Perhaps it was the convincing interaction between Mark Hamill and a muppet; or the usage of lighting on said muppet. Maybe it was the fleshing out and development of a strong backstory that would set the stage for four more films, or maybe just the simple way the film flows with the Imperial March score. It is a sad irony that he would pass in this year; 2010 is the 30th anniversary of EMPIRE. It is good to know that he lived to see it become a legendary and everlasting film.

Exactly what is it about EMPIRE that makes it so strong and re-watchable? The asteroids? The AT-AT’s? The introduction of different worlds based on climate? Is it the hopelessness that the beloved characters find themselves in? Again, the answer is as difficult as embracing smoke. Maybe only Irvin knows the answer; an answer that went with him as he departed Docking Bay 94, leaving only this quote for us to ponder:

"I like to fill up the frame with the characters' faces. There's nothing more interesting than the human face."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Reel Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. Part 1



Director David Yates has always struggled in the Potter-verse; seemingly unable to shed his TV background in turning in two consecutive boy-wizard films that rushed by in the blink of an eye. In Part 1 of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Yates overcomes most of, but not all of his bad habits while turning in the most moving and quite possibly strongest Harry Potter film adaptation yet.

Still reeling from the death of Dumbledore, boy-wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermonie (Emma Watson) set out on a quest to destroy the remaining Horcruxes; which is the only way to finally rid the world of the evil dark lord Voldemort.

HALLOWS main storylines (and there are many) revolve around Harry and his three friends. While their quest is a dense and difficult one, it is the way the dire situation effects their relationships that is the real power of the film. The predicaments make them bicker, fight, separate, and put the very nature of their powerful friendships at the edge of the abyss. Having the kids outside of Hogwarts into the big scary world on their own, away from the friendly confines of the world they grew up in was a bold move in the writing of the original story, and it translates very well on film.

Character development is the strongest in HALLOWS as it’s ever been. Everyone is fleshed out nicely; and the traits each character has showed for the past 6 (film) years reaches their peak. A large complaint from this blogger concerning Yates’ adaptation of THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE was the dehumanization of Dumbledore prior to his death. Audiences only shed tears over characters they can connect to on a human level; and in HALLOWS the characters are made human and we do feel the tears –a-comin’ when they bite the dust or lose an ear. Overall HALLOWS is real pull on the heart-strings.

Still, things are not perfect. Certain vital elements and events, such as the breaking of Harry’s wand, and the mystery of the mirror-shard could have benefitted from a bit more development. Explanations of Harry’s connection to Voldemort, along with the overall importance of the Horcruxes are blazed over quickly. The answers to the latter can be found in viewing prior films, but it does feel like Yates is still relying a bit too much on 100% of his audience being familiar with the book. But what if you weren’t? Another sin is the treatment of the wedding scene, which is devoid of any real fun or love. When the baddies show up to wreck the happy day, there isn’t much to get upset about.

All three kids really shine in HALLOWS. Radcliffe continues his mastery of the character, as does Grint. Watson turns in her best performance ever; most especially in the torture scene near the end, which is as convincing as it is heart-wrenching.

Visual effects are hit and miss. The early chase-scene and displays of magic are fun and a joy to watch. The CGI-rendered house-elves look great one minute and then awful the next; but they do get the eyes right, which is where the soul can be seen. Yates’ direction of the sets and camera-movement is worlds better than his past efforts, and the overall visual tone matches the dark nature of the film nicely. An animated section that tells the tale of the Deathly Hallows is beautifully done, and breaths some major life into the middle section of the film which does drag a little bit.

The finale goes for the jugular and gets most of it. It goes for a dark ending with the intention of putting everyone in the worst situation possible. It moderately succeeds, and wraps a bit abruptly and awkward. Still, HALLOWS feels like a real movie; complete with the emotional roller-coaster that the series deserves. There is a lot to be excited about when Part 2 unspools in 2011.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions



FACT: Two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis will play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic; based on the best-selling biography of Lincoln’s presidency, Team of Rivals.

OPINION: It seems like this film has been gestating for longer than Abe has been dead. Over three years ago Liam Neeson was attached to play the lead role before bailing. Waiting for Steven to get something of serious weight done seems to be an issue as of late; it’s arguable that he has not put out a heavyweight-classic since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in ’98. With Daniel Day in his corner for this one, we’re going to see “one hell of a goddamn show”.

What say you?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Fifteen films, repeat: FIFTEEN films have been accepted for consideration in the Best Animated Film (feature) category for the 83rd Academy Awards. The list: Alpha and Omega, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Despicable Me, The Dreams of Jinsha, How to Train Your Dragon, Idiots and Angels, The Illusionist, Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, MegaMind, My Dog Tulip, Shrek Forever After, Summer Wars, Tangled, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, and Toy Story 3.

OPINION: As far as this blogger is concerned, they can let 568 films in. Does anyone believe TOY STORY 3 won’t win?

FACT: Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming WOLVERINE film will be titled THE WOLVERINE, and will not be a sequel in a “traditional sense”.

OPINION: It’s about time someone took the Wolverine character seriously. It’ll be interesting down the road to see if Marvel can wrestle the rights to the character away from the idiots at Sony; which would open the door for Wolvie to appear in the new Marvel-verse. After all, depending on which canon you believe in, Captain America’s shield was made out of adamantium ;)

FACT: Deadline Hollywood has been reporting that the third Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, will have two female leads; one a love interest, and the other a villain.

OPINION: Told you guys this was coming. Every aspect of THE DARK KNIGHT went in an opposite direction as BATMAN BEGINS in both style and substance. We haven’t seen this version of Bats square off against a female protagonist yet, so why not? And this Blogger’s money is on Catwoman; as Nolan’s Bat-verse is just too grounded for Poison Ivy.

What say you?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Reel Review: MONSTERS



MONSTERS is a film that could not have been possible without the great success of DISTRICT 9. It is cut from the same cloth; taking a different take on a Humans vs. Aliens while adding a social statement and a love story.

NASA has discovered life on another planet, and sends a probe to collect samples. The probe then crash-lands in Mexico, unleashing menacing giant aliens. Mexico becomes a quarantined infected zone; walled-off by the U.S. and Mexican military. Six years after the crash, Andrew (Scoot McNairy) a cynical photojournalist must escort his bosses daughter Samantha (played by the cute-as-a-button Whitney Able) through the infected zone to get back home to the United States.

MONSTERS’ tale is mostly about Andrew and Sam’s relationship as they make their way across the Mexican jungles while avoiding the giant squid-like aliens. But the film is also loaded with metaphor, dealing with themes such as the cost of war, political results of disasters, and how countries react to them. It’s a little heavy-handed, but it serves as a nice backdrop to the narrative and never takes things over.

Where it does stumble a bit is the lack of any looming doom hanging over the characters’ heads. Despite their predicament, no real imminent danger is felt for most of the journey. The aliens are seen sparingly, and until the very end are never seen in whole. That’s a fine technique, as your creatures can be coy and still present a danger. MONSTERS spends a lot of time on their characters, but not on the danger. There is a scene near the end where Andrew is monolouge-ing about “all we’ve been through”; and the line is a bit of a groaner being that we really don’t feel like either character went through any kind of hell.

McNairy and Able carry both their characters well and fit the parts nicely. Andrew is a bit of a douche for most of the film, and it’s easy to hate him and not care whether he lives or dies (in the few moments he does get into any danger). Able, again is cute as a button. She doesn’t play the part as a damsel in distress as much as a damsel who just wants to survive a situation she doesn’t want to be in.

Visual effects are very good. The creatures only come out at night, and the lack of sunlight and direct illumination add to their mystery and unique design. Writer/director Gareth Edwards (this is his debut) does a remarkable job with the small budget (rumor has it he edited the film on his laptop), and the visual style and cinematography is unique and engaging.

The finale arrives with a whimper and not much of a bang, but it does draw some thoughtful comparisons between the humans and aliens. The question of who the real “monsters” are in the world sneaks up on you, and could have benefitted from being developed a bit more in the film. MONSTERS is a slow and prodding film with decent intelligence, but just could have benefitted from a bit more danger. Still, it’s good sci-fi.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For the Reel Heroes



Sometimes nothing can make a country feel better about their veterans than hearing their stories; and other than hearing the tales right from the men and woman themselves, nothing can do that better than film. The stories, whether they be true, fiction, or super-embellished, are the root of the persons that went to war to do impossible things and live to tell about it. So what film does it the best? And why?

For this blogger, an engaging story of course is the soul of a great war film. But there is also an important element: the camaraderie between the troops. In every platoon, unit, or squad, there is a milkshake of Americans from every walk of life. In every platoon, unit, or squad, there is a Yankee fan and a Red Sox fan; there is a city man and a country boy; there is a boxer and a poet; there is a catholic and a Jew. It is the way these characters mesh and put aside their differences to complete a mission and survive that is the heart and soul of every great war film.

For this blogger, Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN has done this the best. With the backdrop of the greatest (as in huge) war in history, a said-milkshake platoon is sent out on an impossible mission that not all of them believe in. Strong characterizations, with difficult situations one after another, along with some of the finest and realistic filmmaking ever done by Spielberg, make RYAN a worthy tale that all veterans can relate to.

Other films that click along these same lines are PLATOON, BLACK HAWK DOWN, APOCALYPSE NOW, FULL METAL JACKET, and KELLY’S HEROES.

These are the films that tell the stories. The stories that made a nation.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: The good folks over at Bleeding Cool.com have an unnamed source reporting that MARVEL studios is demanding that THE AVENGERS be brought in on a budget of $140 million. For what it’s worth, IRON MAN had the same budget, while THE DARK KNIGHT was made for $185, and SPIDER-MAN 3 done for $258m.

OPINION: Not really giving a lot of weight to unnamed sources, but for the sake of blogging: Does MARVEL really think that they won’t get their money back from THE AVENGERS; one of the most anticipated super-hero films of all time? The damn film will make back $200 million easy. But the real question is: is it the amount of money that you have that counts, or what you do with it? Director Joss Whedon (who is helming the project) did his SERENITY for a paltry $40 million; so no real worries here.

FACT: There are reports that Martin Sheen and Sally Field are in talks to play Uncle Ben and Aunt May (respectively) in Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot.
OPINION: Feels like a heavy-handed effort to give this film legitimacy. Sally and Martin will have to dig deep to top the heart and soul that May and Ben had in Sam Raimi’s Spidey movies.

FACT: Tim Burton’s adaptation of DARK SHADOWS is set to begin filming in April of next year, with Johnny Depp playing lead vampire Barnabas Collins.

OPINION: This seems like a good match for all involved. But then again, so did ALICE IN WONDERLAND. It’s a lock that the film will be visually stunning, and Depp as a lead blood-sucker is intriguing as well. But then again, similar factors were thought of prior to Burton’s (not so) WONDERLAND. Outside of all that, one has to wonder when Burton will actually make a film based on original material again. Tim has become the king of the adaptations; 3 of his last 4 efforts have been some sort of a remake or reimagination.

What say you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions



One of the most anticipated films of the 2011 summer is Marvel’s next adaptation of one of their most iconic characters, Captain America. The film looks to launch a new franchise while also expanding and tying in their previous films in the ongoing Marvel-verse. Interest in the film hit high-orbit with the release of some official pics via ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, including a long-awaiting photo of Chris Evans in the red, white and blue:



So what do we know and think about Captain America returning to the big screen? It’s still very early, but fun to speculate anyway:

FACT: The Cap’n is being played by Chris Evans, with his arch-enemy, the Red Skull, being played by Hugo Weaving. Other cast members include Sam Jackson (reprising Nick Fury), Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci.

OPINION: Lots of heavy hitters involved in this. Weaving tends to dominate any film that he’s in, and one has to be hopeful that the writers are smart enough to pen a great villain to match the actor. Evans has shown his diversity over the years; ranging from the heroic (THE FANTASTIC FOUR) to the zany (THE LOSERS). It seems to be a good match. Jones, Tucci and Jackson are just icing on the cake.

FACT: The film is being directed by Joe Johnston; the man responsible for screen-gems such as HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, THE ROCKETEER, and JUMANJI. But he’s also responsible for a few floaters such as THE WOLFMAN and JURASSIC PARK III.

OPINION: This blogger has to wonder who is really pulling the strings and calling the shots here. This is MARVEL’s project, and the film looks to be the last solo-avenger film prior to THE AVENGERS. The hope here is that they do CAPTAIN justice and put together a really strong character-driven film; and avoid the mistakes of their IRON MAN 2, which was nothing more than a setup piece for THE AVENGERS. But the hope is small. The full title of this project is CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

FACT: The film will involve a “man out of time” storyline, with the Captain going from his WWII days to present-day via some sort of frozen-sleep plot device.

OPINION: It’s a tired and old gimmick, but when done right it works. A story about a man from the 1940’s being whisked away to the 2000’s presents opportunities for a lot of laughs. Let’s hope they keep the chuckles in check and focus on the emotion of it.

FACT: Producers have been quoted that film will not be heavy on the patriotic flag-waving that the character was known for in his comics and less-than-stellar TV and film runs.

OPINION: There are subtle ways to wave the flag, and there are in-your-face ways. Chances are MARVEL will take the middle-of-the-road here. Hopefully they can do enough to do the Captain and the country that he loves justice.




What say you?

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Reel Review: SAW 3D



OPENING REMARKS: Despite the obvious encouragement of the studios, this blogger intended NOT to view this film in 3D. Every film should be able to be judged upon its own merits of content, entertainment, etc. Nothing should need a gimmick to make things complete. Unfortunately, the world is being taken over by Satan, and this Opus of Shit was made unavailable in 2D in this blogger’s market.

On to business:

SAW 3D (or VII) looks to carry on the tradition of its VI predecessors by offering gory man-traps which are supposed to provide meaning in a larger tale of humanity and retribution, weaved around a mystery of who-dun-it. It is a formula that has kept the die-hard fans of the series blindly coming back for more every year. VII tries really hard to get one element right, but forgets to pay attention to another in what is supposed to be the grand finale of the series.

As Jigsaws heir-apparent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) battles Jigsaw’s widow Jill (Betsy Russell) for the Jigsaw legacy, a group of Jigsaw survivors seek the help of self-proclaimed man-trap survivor Bobby (Sean Patrick Flannery). Bobby finds himself in another maze of traps to atone for his dark secrets, while Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) returns to explain his fate that we never saw at the end of I.

The series has always prided itself on the cleverness and horror of its man-traps, and VII is no different. But what makes things fall flat is the lack of a mystery. We know Bobby has to navigate/survive the traps, we know Hoffman is the bad guy who wants to kill Jill (not Bill), and after that there’s nothing of interest. Seeing Bobby go from trap to trap, led by an endless supply of no-longer-creepy puppets, becomes tedious, not to mention…somewhat boring. It’s hard not to watch trap-after-trap and say “I feel like I’ve seen this before”.

The Hoffman vs. Jill storyline becomes more of a cat-and-mouse game with an obvious inevitable showdown. There is no mystery behind it, and the way it plays out in the end is nothing that could not have been resolved IV movies ago. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is reduced to small cameos here and there, and his status as a prophet and genius is pushed way to the back of the room. His presence feels like an afterthought, and almost intrusive.

The traps are gory and bloody and offer some squeamish moments. However each one, especially the last one, pushes the realm of believability and is far and removed from the cleverness of the first and even second film. Lots of blood and hacked-up bodies are present; and while the gore is nicely done via CGI and practical effects, it’s not very scary and doesn’t help matters much in a “horror” film.

Director Kevin Greutert offers little to the mix and contributes to the mundane feel. What’s interesting here is that things look a lot more colorful than past attempts which were shot in flat tones. This may be because of the 3D (most 3D films suffer from being too dark), but the problem is the overuse of color makes things look fake and unconvincing. The uncharacteristic color and unrealistic scenarios make the entire run feel like a parody. The Third Dimension is shockingly under-used, and offers little other than a few pointy things and a handful of projectiles.

The grand finale is probably seen from 100 miles away by die-hards of the franchise, and feels like a tack-on more than a proper bookend that followers deserve. There is also a moment near the end that is such a Jump-the-Shark/Nuke-the-Fridge moment that it’s laughable and murders the credibility of everything. A shame, as followers of this storyline for 7 years should get more for their overpriced 3D ticket. Jigsaw has left the building; not with a bang, but with a quiet slip into nothingness.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A recent interview with Christopher Nolan posted on herocomplex.latimes.com states some Whopper-sized news: the title of Batman 3 will be THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
The interview also eliminated The Riddler as the villian.

OPINION: I told you guys you wouldn't see The Riddler.

FACT: The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, announced that THE HOBBIT will indeed be filmed in New Zealand. The Government will introduce legislation to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees as it relates to the film industry only. This was the sticking point that had Union actors being pressured to walk away from the $670 million dollar film.

OPINION: The good guys win.

FACT: Lucasfilm has announced that it will convert all of the Indiana Jones films to 3D for theatrical release.

OPINION: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is already a perfect film and needs no help; and not even 3D rendered by Jesus Christ can improve THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Reel Review: HEREAFTER



Clint Eastwood’s HEREAFTER is less about death and more about life. The film spends a short time dealing with death and the beyond, and that can either be the blessing or curse of the story. Eastwood doesn’t go for a SIXTH SENSE or POLTERGIEST tale, and instead weaves a deliberately slow-paced story about three people searching for answers.

HEREAFTER is about three separate storylines that have nothing to do with each other until the very end. The first involves George (Matt Damon), a former psychic with a legitimate gift of being able to communicate with the dead. The second involves twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren); with the latter dying in a horrific car accident. The third involves French TV anchor Marie (Cecile de France), who survives the Thailan tsunami, but not before clinically dying and seeing visions of the afterlife.

The 80-year old Eastwood seems less interested in the afterlife and more interested in dissecting the heads and souls of the three characters. Their situations are heartbreaking and grounded; always accessible by the audience. If HEREAFTER has one flaw it’s that the deliberate SLOW pacing makes the audience try to latch on something, and its George’s story that sticks out as the most interesting. The other two almost seem intrusive. The film trudges along at a pace that seems like its building up to something huge; and Eastwood makes the wise and mature choice of not offering a punch, but a gentle touch of humanity.

Eastwood’s gentle and caring touch is present throughout the film. Tedious pacing, sharp lighting accented by old-fashioned camera work make a grounded and believable atmosphere. The sequences involving the tsunami and the London bombing are perfectly executed; it makes one wonder if ol’ Clint could turn in a balls-to-the-wall action movie someday.

Matt Damon turns in one of his best performances here. The expressions of loneliness and inner turmoil on his face are always present and believable. His love interest (which lasts about 10 minutes), Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a great sub-plot (and perfectly played by Howard), and it’s almost a shame the little love tale got obliterated so quickly and early.

Eastwood doesn’t really seem to care about the afterlife in this film, and is focused instead on telling us how life events, no matter how chance-like they seem, always bring us to places that we need to be. Audiences looking for answers to the great beyond will walk away disappointed. Lovers of good film will walk away fulfilled.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: It was announced on Friday by the studios involved in THE HOBBIT film adaptation that the Green Light has finally been given. The film will begin shooting in February 2011 with Peter Jackson at the helm.

OPINION: We know the who and when, but not quite the where. The dispute with the actors’ unions is still unresolved; leaving a probable nightmare of no Sir Ian McKellen reprising Gandalf. We're not out of the woods yet.

FACT: The director of THE FIFTH ELEMENT (Luc Besson) has stated that his next film will be a massive sci-fi project that would be ELEMENT “to the power of ten”. Filming would take place in 2012 or 2013 for release the following year.

OPINION: Drool. Too bad we have to wait so damn long.

FACT: Betty White has reportedly been offered a role in the upcoming MEN IN BLACK 3; as a mother of one of the characters.

OPINION: Enough already.

FACT: A script is being peddled around Hollywood for a RISKY BUSINESS sequel.

OPINON: I said enough already!

What say you?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Reel Review: RED



RED is a film that uses the appeal of old people kicking younger people’s asses. The old folk are assembled from a cast of acting heavyweights, and the young folk aren’t too light either. Set in the backdrop of CIA and political espionage, the film seemed to have the perfect recipe for a hit. Unfortunately for anyone who actually goes to sample this concoction, the ingredients were seemingly slapped together and not left in the pot long enough.

Former CIA black-op Frank (Bruce Willis) is enjoying retirement until a squad of assassins comes knocking on his suburban door with machine guns. After surviving the attack, Frank abducts his squeeze Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker) to protect her, and then employs the help of former colleagues Joe (Morgan Freeman), loopy Marvin (John Malkovitch) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) to figure out why he and his pals are being targeted. Along the way he must dodge the efforts of CIA-meanie William (Karl Urban) and tiptoe around a web of political backstabbing.

RED is a classic case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. While the characters are somewhat-great and backed up by great casting, the backdrop is lame and un-engaging; devoid of any depth or interest. The story ultimately belongs to Frank, but his tale and character gets lost amongst the carnage of things blowing up and people getting shot. His pals help keep things afloat, but RED never bothers to come up with a story worthy of the characters. Things feel confused here, as RED can’t decide whether to be an engaging buddy-buddy drama or silly camp.

Director Robert Schwentke seems to be intimidated by the cast he assembled here. He offers nothing of value to the characters or the style of the film. The action sequences are silly and loaded with ho-hum CGI, and the attempted wit falls flatter than a pancake. Transitions are often done by cartoony post-cards, which would have been a clever touch if it didn’t feel so out of place. What's really alarming about the entire run is just how BORING things are. It's hard to place the "why" behind it; it just is.

The cast eats up and hams up their roles to an extent. Some scenes it’s clear that even the actors are bored as they phone it in. Malkovitch gets the most laughs (out of the very few that exist), and Freeman is sinfully underused. The real gems here go to Urban and Louise-Parker, who step into their roles and situations nicely. Smaller roles/cameos by Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox and Julian McMahon are nice touches but offer little in the grand scheme of things.

RED puts up a few moments that earn a chuckle and a few oohs and aahs, but overall it is an easily forgettable mess. It could have been either a clever character-comedy or an eye-popping actioneer. It tries to do both without much success. Note to future filmmakers: ensemble casts only work if each part contributes something.


BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Deadline's Mike Fleming is reporting that Tom Hardy (INCEPTION, ROCKNROLLA) has landed a "lead role" in Christopher Nolan's untitled third Batman movie. Lots of folks are already assuming he's been cast as Edward Nigma aka The Riddler, but at no time has Nolan or anyone connected to the film has indicated that this character will appear in the movie.

OPINION: This blogger still says having The Riddler in Batman 3 would be a long shot, and a mistake. The character is too close in style to The Joker; using humor to pretty up their crimes. Nolan is not one to re-track old territory; chances are the main villain will be quite the opposite of The Joker; just as The Joker was the opposite of the antagonists in the first film.

FACT: Various outlets are reporting that actor Rhys Ifans has been cast as The Lizard in Sony’s upcoming Spiderman reboot.

OPINION: While this blogger is not a fan of rebooting a franchise that’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, it will be nice to finally see The Lizard on the big screen, which is exactly what fans have been waiting for since the first film unspooled. The real challenge for director Marc Webb (no pun intended) and his gang of CGI nerds is to keep such a ridiculous character grounded and realistic. Not to mention scary and menacing.

FACT: Zack Snyder has been quoted in saying that General Zod is just a rumor for his upcoming Superman film.

OPINION: Probably a good move. Most moviegoers have no concept of how to view a film objectively these days, and will undoubtedly be judging a new Zod against Terrance Stamp’s iconic performance of the character. Maybe we’re better off never kneeling before Zod again.

What say you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A German software company has developed MovieReshape, a software that allows any actor to look either obese or incredibly ripped just by modifying various factors of their body in the computer.

OPINION: Robert DeNiro gained 30 pounds for his role in THE UNTOUCHABLES. Christian Bale lost 62 pounds for THE MACHINIST. While the health of dedicated actors has always been in question when it comes to extreme methods of gaining and losing weight, this new technology will certainly lessen the appreciation actors could/should have for their overweight or emaciated characters. That’s a bit of a drawback of this new tool. The good news is we may never have to see Eddie Murphy or John Travolta in a fat suit again.

FACT: 20th Century Fox and Walden Media have teamed up to purchase the film rights to Bil Keane's syndicated comic strip "The Family Circus”.

OPINION: The well of creativity in Hollywood continues to run dry, as the comics have now become the new area for studios to rape. With “Marmaduke” already done, chances are we’ll soon see “Hager the Horrible”, “Dagwood”, or maybe even “Andy Capp”.

What say you?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reels Facts & Opinions

FACT: Warner Bros. Pictures is developing a combination live-action/CG-animated movie featuring Pepe Le Pew, the lovesick French skunk and Looney Tunes character. Mike Myers will voice the amorous skunk who will be the sole CG character in this aside from Penelope Pussycat, the reluctant object of his affection. Everything else will be live-action.

OPINION: Perfect casting. Myers stinks up everything he does, so why not?

FACT: Peter Jackson may be taking his toys and leaving the sandbox. There are reports that THE HOBBIT producer (and most likely director) will be moving the entire production out of New Zealand to The Gold Coast, a city in the Australian state of Queensland. No reports on what would come of the rebuilt Shire set, which gardeners have been caretaking for over a year.

OPINION: This has good and bad points to it. A good thing is that this may be the move needed to finally get the production green lighted. As of this writing, the pesky actors’ union was still holding things up. The bad point is it’s a shame that we won’t see any familiar locations in THE HOBBIT, which would physically and visually bridge the gap with THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It’s worth noting that 10 years ago when LOTR went into production (yes, it’s been that long), people scoffed at the fact that the little country of New Zealand would be the home to Middle-earth. PJ showed ‘em, and he just may show us again.

FACT: A recent Warner Bros. release states that Part 1 of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS will NOT be released in 3D, as the film would not be converted in time. Part 2 is expected to get the 3D treatment.

OPINION: Perhaps Warner Bros. learned their lesson from the CLASH OF THE TITANS debacle, which was a visual disaster thanks to the rush to get it converted. Warner seems to have at least one person who understands that if they screw up these last two films, there will be hordes of angry wizards and witches storming the gates.

What say you?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions




FACTS: Some quick facts concerning the new SUPERMAN film slated for 2012: Christopher Nolan (BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT) is producing. The script is being written by David Goyer (he scripted both of Nolan’s Batman films). That much you knew, we’re sure. But here’s the new and wet stuff: Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN, 300)is going to direct, and the main villain will be none other than General Zod.

OPINION. Nolan and Snyder have both helmed superhero films that dip into the dark side of humanity; which feels like a bit of a mismatch for Superman, who has always been like the Jesus Superhero. Maybe the dark stuff will instead go to a real diabolical villain? The possibility of Zod as such villain is a huge step in the right direction. What’s more: a common complaint with the last Supes installment (SUPERMAN RETURNS, 2006), was that the Man of Steel really didn’t fight anyone or anything. People want to see Superman throw a goddamn punch. What’s also up for thought is who will play Superman? Brandon Routh is a lot of people’s favorites; the way he emulated the late Christopher Reeve’s super-mannerisms is alone enough to give him the nod. But here’s the question: SUPERMAN RETURNS (which starred Routh) was an un-official sequel to SUPERMAN I and II. With that said, is Zod being resurrected from the dead (he apparently died in II). If Routh is in this new film, doesn’t that affirm the older films? Or will he be recast and wipe the entire slate clean? Either way, it will be interesting to see who gets cast as Zod, or if he asks anyone to kneel.

What say you?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: If you haven't already, check out the new trailer for the remake of TRUE GRIT by the Coen Brothers, up at http://movies.yahoo.com/

OPINION: Only Jeff Bridges could step into the shoes of The Duke. This has got to be the most anticipated films of what's left of the year. Bring it.

GOOD FACT: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key injected himself into the battle between Peter Jackson and SAG concerning Hobbits, and the issue seemed to be heading towards a resolution. Reports also out of L.A. were leaning towards a resolution to MGM's financial woes, which could have axed the entire film. Reports of a "greenlight" were getting close for shooting in January.

BAD FACT: A fire broke out on Friday at Jackson's Portsmouth Minature studio in New Zealand, destroying one of the few specialist minature building facilities in the world.

OPINION: Can anything else go wrong with this? If anyone can pull this disaster together, it's Jackson. Hopefully, THE HOBBIT films will get made, and the end result on the screen will not reflect any of the woes this project has had from Day One. Maybe PJ shouldn't have waited so damn long to get the thing started. Stupid LOVELY BONES.

Whay say you?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Reel Review: THE SOCIAL NETWORK



From the acclaimed director of SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB comes…a movie about Facebook. The notion of David Fincher helming a film documenting the early days of the online phenomena was laughed at when first announced. Fincher however proves his worth as an upper-echelon director with THE SOCIAL NETWORK; wisely not allowing the backdrop of the website’s tale to overtake the characters, making this one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010.

Harvard nerd Adam Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), after proving his genius in writing online code, is recruited by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer, courtesy of some outstanding digital effects) to create on online Harvard social network. Adam, with the financial backing of his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), takes the concept a step further and creates what ultimately is the Facebook of today.

What follows, and keeps NETWORK afloat is a tale of legal wrangling and damaged friendships. The film intercuts between the creation of the site and the legal depositions that frame the story. The narrative revolves around Adam, and he could not be a more hated main character. He is a douche; lowballing his friends who made sacrifices to help him. With a lead character that is unlikeable, NETWORK feels like it would sink with no real sympathy. But it’s for his friends that we feel sympathy for, as Adam takes and takes without a regard for anyone or anything. Any person who has ever had a strong and special friendship dissolve will instantly connect.

Eisenberg really shines here; displaying a heartless anti-social demeanor that is convincing enough to make the audience hate him and root for him. The real surprise probably comes from Justin Timberlake, who plays Napster-founder Shawn Fleming. The casting is perfect (one dick playing another dick), and Fincher does a nifty lighting-from-beneath on him that sets him up as the devil in this creation story.
Fincher’s visual style, combined with the razor-sharp dialogue keeps things moving, and the film never drags. Trent Reznor brings in a very fitting and cool score and sets up a perfect atmosphere.

With a lot of focus on character, and a resistance to the urge of making a movie all about Facebook, Fincher has delivered a solid film that begs to be watched again and again. It is smart, funny, engaging, and worthy of a “Like” click.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions. Concerning Hobbits.

FACT: Seven major actor’s unions have told their members not to work on THE HOBBIT film adaptation, due to the refusal of producers of the production to sign a deal with New Zealand performers. Producer (and possibly director) Peter Jackson fought back with the gloves off, saying that such a move may be against New Zealand law.

OPINION: The Screen Actors Guild is certainly adding to the popular public opinion of unions as a whole being counterproductive. It may be interesting to see if the thousands of actors currently vying for roles would actually walk away from starring in THE HOBBIT; especially considering how the film’s predecessor, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, made mega-stars and household names of every actor involved. Does becoming famous win over unionized ideals? Either way, a delay like this may just be more damaging than the current financial crisis MGM having, which may also delay the scheduled start of filming in January 2011.

FACT: LORD OF THE RINGS stars Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) are rumored to be stepping down from THE HOBBIT production until the labor strife is is resolved.

OPINION: This blogger has the upmost respect for Sir Ian and the lovely/tremendously talented Cate. Sir Ian has been wanting to play Gandalf again since 5 minutes after THE RETURN OF THE KING ended, so it may be possible that the once-bearded one was stuck between a rock and hard place. This bloggers’ feeling is that SAG put the man in an uncomfortable position of having to set an example. Bastards.

FACT: EMPIRE magazine recently asked their readers to rank the Top Film Trilogies of all time, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS came out on top. The final score was: (1) LOTR (2) STAR WARS (3) BACK TO THE FUTURE (4) TOY STORY (5) THE GODFATHER.

OPINION: Too bad Coppola had to make that third movie.

What say you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Reel Review: WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS



Once-controversial director Oliver Stone nearly returns to the form that earned him his rep, with his first sequel in the form of WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (or WS2 for this lazy blogger). It can be argued that Stone has been in watered-down mode in recent years; absent has been the style of drawing back the curtain on worlds usually hidden from mainstream audiences. With WS2, Stone brings back an iconic character and sets him in the backdrop of the current U.S. financial crisis. Throw in a new young gunslinger and few other storylines, and WS2 has a prime recipe for success.

As the U.S. and global economy leans over the cliff of doom, Jake (Shia LaBeof), a young Wall Street trader, secretly partners with somewhat-disgraced and former Wall Street juggernaut Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Jake is looking to marry Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), while getting his up and coming green technology company up and running, and seek revenge upon Wall Street tycoon/raider Bretton James (Josh Brolin); whom he blames for running his old firm into the ground, and causing the death of his mentor Louis (Frank Langella).

Sound like a lot? It is. WS2 weaves a lot of storylines around each other, and while it seems like it would be messy, it’s not. Each storyline runs nicely along each other while not losing the overall focus of the story, which is the financial mess the world has found itself in. The backdrop is perfect for Gekko, who not only correctly predicts the looming disaster, but also manages to benefit from it (as only Gekko can). The storylines stay organized, engaging, and seldom let things get boring.

As with WS1, WS2 leans heavily on a lot of financial jargon that might as well be ancient Greek to the average movie-goer. Despite the thickne$$ of the dialogue, Stone still manages to create an atmosphere that the audience can identify with. Confusing dialogue or not, the viewer is always aware of when things are getting good, bad, or worse. Stone also returns to his talent of drawing back that aforementioned curtain. A lot of research obviously was done, as the film shows the closed-door meetings between the juggernaut banks debating the ins and outs of Government bailouts. Scary stuff all around.

Douglas steps right back into Gekko’s $900 shoes easily. He seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of the character, and it shows. Shia takes his game to another level, and nicely shows a young man under tremendous stress and pressure. The show is nearly stolen (again) by Brolin; who also seems to relish the thought of playing a diabolical character. Acting all around is solid, from young-uns like Carey to old vets in the form of Langella and Susan Sarandon.

The finale is a bit anti-climatic and predictable, although every character seems to get their due. The overall ending is a little bit too much on the happy side, which makes WS2 an almost-return-to-form for Stone, who still manages to knock it out of the park.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Australian engineers are building a deep sea vessel for director James Cameron who is preparing to dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world's oceans. The vessel will be fitted with 3D cameras designed by Cameron so he can take unprecedented footage of such depths, and possibly fill said footage with CGI creatures for his AVATAR sequel.

OPINION: James Cameron can do whatever the hell he wants, and the world will be a better place for it.

FACT: Christopher Nolan has expressed a wish to take his heist thriller INCEPTION (best of 2010 so far. Says me.)into the video game realm. His quote in VARIETY was that a video game adaptation would allow him to explore “ideas that you can’t fit into a feature film”.

OPINION: So Nolan has ideas for an INCEPTION-verse that he couldn’t fit into that monster of a film? How can we not shudder at the thought?

FACT: Comedian Sarah Silverman will do her first full-frontal nude scene in Sarah Polley's TAKE THIS WALTZ.

OPINION: Who gives a fuck.

What say you?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: With Harry Potter wrapping soon, Warner Bros. is looking to step up production of film adaptations of their DC Comics properties. CEO Barry Meyer said there will be an “organisational (sic) announcement” sometime this week.

OPINION: With rival Marvel getting ready to unleash THE AVENGERS films in the coming years, the time is ripe for WB to get serious with their crop of DC superheroes. What the looming announcement will be is anyone’s guess, but the money is on either Superman, The Flash, or maybe even Wonder Woman.

FACT: Casey Affleck has confirmed to The NY Times that the Joaquin Phoenix film I’M STILL HERE is fictional.

OPINON: Yes, Casey and Joaquin are assholes for fooling and trying to fool the entire world. But what’s worth noting is Phoenix’s 24/7 performance that lasted nearly two years; a performance that earned him ridicule and embarrassment that may not ever go away. He took BORAT to a new level; a level that may never be seen again.

FACT: Speaking of BORAT, Sacha Baron Cohen has signed on to play Freddie Mercury in an upcoming biopic.

OPINION: Whoever came up with this idea ought to be given a Lifetime Oscar right now. Not only does Cohen look the part, but he’s probably the only one in the world with the fearlessness needed to correctly portray the flamboyant frontman. Perfect casting.

FACT: Hot Toys has announced the pending release of a Col. Hans Landa Collectible Figure, as played by Christoph Waltz in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. They are boasting a strong likeness, a movie-accurate facial expression, German army uniform and detailed accessories.

OPINION: Am I the only one who thinks having a figure of a Nazi solider on display in your home is a bad idea?

What say you?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Reel Review: THE TOWN




Ben Affleck has taken the role of Hollywood-punching bag over the years, and rightfully so. His choices in movies and women have been the butt of late-night TV jokes, and he has often been overshadowed by his younger brother. Despite his problems, the man does know how to write and direct. His writing and directing credits include GONE BABY GONE and GOOD WILL HUNTING; two Oscar darlings now considered classics. With THE TOWN, Affleck goes back to his Boston roots to weave a gripping and interesting crime drama, not meant to compete with the likes of (fellow Boston-crime flick) THE DEPARTED, but to act as a clever companion piece.

Doug (Affleck), is the leader of a quartert of bank robbers, which includes loose-cannon and sans-ethics thug James (Jeremy Renner), in the Charlestown section of Boston. Doug begins a romance with Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager who gets caught in the middle of one of their heists. Doug plays cat-and-mouse, keeping his budding romance away from his crew, all while dodging the FBI and coming to grips with his present situation and his past.

THE TOWN is Doug’s story, as he is the antihero looking to pull one last job before getting out of the game. It is his romance with Claire that plants the seeds of change, and it is a subplot that often gets overshadowed by the rest of the goings-on. Doug’s interactions with James, his crew, the FBI, and his incarcerated dad (Chris Cooper) wind up being far more interesting than Doug courting Claire. The love storyline often seems to drag things down a bit and be instrusive, and it’s not until the near-end that it begins to blend with everything else.

Engaging is the operative word in Affleck’s writing and directing. The dialogue is blue-collar, real-world speak that keeps the audience in familiar and believable territory. The heist scenes are the highlights of the film, wrought with nice tension and loud gunfire (as all gunfire should be). The creepy masks the robbers wear manage to serve a few purposes other than to conceal identities; a nice touch indeed.

Affleck’s acting ranges from great to OK. His Boston accent feels forced at many times. The show is stolen by Renner (what else is new, eh?); his portrayal of a sans-morals, shoot-first-and-don’t-ask-later Boston tough-guy seems to be a role he was born to play. Chris Cooper’s turn as Doug’s pop is pitch-perfect, albeit short and is nearly nothing more than a cameo.

The finale is a shoot-em-up heist at Fenway Park which paints everyone into a seemingly inescapable corner. Somehow, the characters get out and meet their rightful conclusions in ways that are almost a little too neat and tidy. Despite the flaws, THE TOWN is a neat little crime drama, complete with redemption and romance dressings. It is an authentic ride worth taking.

BOTTOME LINE: See it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Reel Review: I'M STILL HERE




Oscar winner Casey Affleck makes his directorial debut with I’M STILL HERE, a “documentary” which serves as a video diary of now-retired actor (and Oscar nom) Joaquin Phoenix’s attempt to break into the hip-hop music business.

I’M STILL HERE is more about the man (Phoenix) than it is the music (thank you God). Affleck takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to the film; he just hides in a corner and lets the cameras roll. The film offers no narration to set things up, and instead lets the reality of the situations drive the story.

Affleck gets a lot of help to make this flick an engaging, albeit flawed experience. Casey needed only to show up and press record, as Phoenix’s head-scratching behavior unfolds in front of the lens. But Casey still manages to edit smartly, intercutting television clips and home-video of Phoenix to create a clever story. The film opens with a young (8 or 9 years old) Phoenix swimming in a gorge, and shows him nervously jumping off of a rockface into the water. The use of metaphor; the man standing on a precipice with the great unknown in front of him, is heavy in the film and happens often.

Phoenix gives Affleck (his brother in law, by the way) unlimited access, and this creates a feeling of intimacy that draws the viewer in and holds the attention. Phoenix finally opens up about his past misery as an actor; unable to be free to express creativity or show his true self (driven home by another clever metaphorical-shot of Phoenix letting go of a captured bird). Phoenix is seen as closely as can be, and despite his erratic and asshole-face behavior, compassion can be felt for the man looking to restart his life. We can feel his confusion as Edward James Olomos tries to talk sense into him, and feel his pain when P. Diddy tells him his music sucks.

Back to the asshole-face behavior. Affleck lets the cameras keep rolling as Phoenix treats his friends like crap, snorts coke, smokes weed, and bangs ugly hookers. For what its worth, any proponent of legalizing any drug need only to view the slurring, fat Phoenix with his shirt off to feel compelled to go home and re-think their lives.

The fly-on-the-wall treatment is very engaging, and it’s difficult to take your eyes away from the events unfolding. The only problem(s) the film has is that it has no real beginning, and no real end. Although Phoenix makes his reasons for quitting Hollywood clear, the cameras do not come into play until after the decision is made, so the defining moment (and there has to be one) of when he decided to become a fuckup is unclear. The film also feels unfinished; mostly because it is. The finale comes just as Phoenix has encountered yet another setback in his pursuit of a musical career, and leaves off with him seemingly contemplating his future.

So is it a documentary or a mockumentary? The question remains unanswered (which may frustrate some viewers). Certain scenes seem a bit too convenient, but if Phoenix is acting, then it is the most dedicated 24/7 performance the world has ever seen. If it is staged, then the film works as no one else seems to be in on the ruse (ala BORAT). The reality of his situations (like his dwindling bank account) is hard to fake. If it’s real, then even those who have no interest in seeing Phoenix lose his goddamn marbles will still find themselves sucked in and kept there.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Reel Review: GET LOW




Eleven years after his last Oscar nomination, Robert Duvall immerses himself into character in GET LOW. A film that is a finely crafted story of grief and absolution. It is a pleasantly entertaining film set in a cheerless and nearly depressing atmosphere, which draws career-best performances out of everyone involved.

Felix (Duvall) is a hermit in self-exile for the past 40 years. Being forced to face his past, he seeks to hold a living funeral for himself, where the townsfolk can tell all the stories they want about him in his presence. Felix employs funeral parlor partners Frank (Bill Murray) and Buddy (Lucas Black). Along the way, Felix comes around to face his past pains, involving his old friend and lover Mattie (Sissy Spacek).

GET LOW should be a sad film, as its centerpiece is a broken old man haunted by his past, living alone for 40 years to punish himself. It is Felix’s sad story, surrounded by grief and death…but a funny thing happens along the way to the funeral: the film is nearly a laugh a minute. The interactions between poor Felix and car-salesman-like Frank keep things light and extremely interesting. For good measure, Buddy’s character is thrown in as the young up-and-comer, the character with his life ahead of him, to provide balance to end-of-the-line Felix. The narrative never fails to dig into Felix’s character, revealing his past and soul in satisfying pieces.

Duvall turns in what should be considered to be one of his finest works. He clearly digs in deeply, and his facial expressions alone are convincing. Murray is perfectly cast as a funeral director just looking to make a buck, and it doesn’t take long for the viewer to forget that it’s Pete Venkman up there. Spacek and Black have the most interaction with Duvall, and it pays off for the both of them.

Set in the back woods of Tennessee in the 1920’s, the set direction and atmosphere is superb; it is a rich lived-in look with perfect lighting that makes the viewer nearly able to smell the wood fires and autumn leaves.

The finale is a powerful punch, perfectly executed by director Aaron Schneider by way of pitch-perfect editing coupled with Duvall’s painful and tearful performance. GET LOW not only stays afloat by way of great acting, but solid filmmaking all around.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Reel Review: MACHETE




Cult-favorite director Robert Rodriguez takes a literal stab at 1970’s exploitation film in the form of MACHETE, a violent romp filled with blood, guns, tits and a social undercurrent that tends to spill over the side and drown things.

Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a former federal agent who is double-crossed by his own government courtesy of villain Torrez (Steven Seagal). Years later, he is hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), to assassinate Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), a political heavyweight at the front and center of the illegal immigration debate. Machete is double-crossed again, and has to reluctantly employ the help of federal agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), and an underground-immigrant runner Luz (Michelle Rodriguez).

MACHETE begins as a standard revenge flick, as Machete is wronged early on while watching his family murdered. Things are somewhat flawed early on, as the Machete character is played gruff and hard right away. There is little reason to care for our (anti) hero right from the beginning of the film. With Machete played out as a hard man right from the beginning, there is really nowhere else for the character to go.

What also takes away from MACHETE is the backdrop. Taking place in the middle of a border-war in the illegal immigration issue, Machete’s storyline is often pushed to the rear in favor of on-screen debates which creates several dead-spots in the film.

Where MACHETE is thin and unfocused in the plot and writing, it is thick on the gore and boobs. Machete uses nearly every sharp object known to man to fight with, from surgical tools to garden tools to corkscrews. The gore and fight scenes are kinda ridiculous, and by the halfway point gets old. Rodriguez wastes no time in showing off the skin (including a nude Lindsay Lohan), and finally answers the question of exactly where a naked woman keeps her cell phone.

The performances are blatant and somewhat cartoonish, which just might have the point in the first place. The film is intended to be 70’s camp, but it doesn’t always work.

MACHETE is a confused film with a plot that doesn’t know where to go, and a lead character that is done developing after the first 5 minutes. The action, blood and skin keep it afloat, but just barely.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Reel Review: THE EXPENDABLES




Director Sylvester Stallone attempts to whip up a Granddaddy of an Action Milkshake in THE EXPENDABLES, a film chock full of guns, knives, choppers, tattoos, rock music, macho one-liners, explosions, and every action-star seen on the silver screen over the past 20 years. Despite the sausage-fest mentality, Stallone forgets to pack any meat into the recipe, along with any sort of heart, wit, or intelligence.

Barney (Stallone) and his team of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Coutre, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke) take on a job from the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), involving the overthrowing of a dictator in a little country/island in the Gulf. The mission gets screwy with the involvement of the dictators daughter (Giselle Itie), an American drug runner (Eric Roberts), and one of Barney’s former men (Dolph Lundgren).

EXPENDABLES is a men-on-a-mission flick laced with buddy-buddy chemistry, devoid of any serious character or plot development. Where it does shine in loudness and flash, it falls miserably flat beyond that. The characters and plot are written as thin as paper, and are really not that interesting. No tears can be shed for any tragedy our massive group of heroes may endure, as no time is spent going beyond the surface of anything. The film spends all of its time and efforts blowing shit up and flexing muscle, which relegates it to a 13-year old boy flick.

The action scenes nearly make for things. They are unfortunately un-inspired and un-imaginative, with little dread to be seen. The weak structure of the battles is made up for by inserting a LOT of noise, flash, and explosions blowing bodies all over the place.

Stallone does manage to assemble one hell of a cast, and that alone is nearly worth the price of admission. What he does with this ensemble pays off as well in a few fight scenes: Jet Li vs. Dolph Lundgren, Stallone vs. Steve Austin, for example. The big cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger is amusing, and serves as a wink-wink moment. An expected, and long-awaited showdown between Stallone and Lundgren never takes place, which nearly takes the air out of the entire thing.

The finale is as loud and booming than anything ever put on screen, and is followed up by an epilogue that is as cliché as it is head-scratching. Overall too much time is spent on muscle and flame, and not enough on the characters or story. EXPENDABLES (a very misleading title, by the way) is worth a look for the mega-casting and booms, but is forgettable right away.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Reel Review: AGORA



After reviewing the behemoth film INCEPTION, it was fitting to take a step back and view an independent film that most people have not even heard of yet. Indie film can be hit or miss, full of surprises good and bad. Either way, it can always offer more than what mainstream Hollywood tends to churn out this time of year.

Director Alejandro Amenabar returns to American screens for the first time since his supernatural tension-fest THE OTHERS (2001). In AGORA, Amenabar tries to balance historical drama with the story of a remarkable woman who was ahead of her time. Amenabar stumbles with the balance, and this winds up a see-saw with a fat guy on one end and an Ethiopian on the other.

AGORA is set in Roman Egypt, 391 A.D. A slave, Davus (Max Minghella), turns to the growing power of Christianity, while falling in love with his master, the famous female philosopher/athiest Hypathia of Alexandria, (Rachel Weisz), a woman who discovers modern astronomy 1200 years before anyone else.

AGORA is set during a time when Christianity is still somewhat new, and is quickly on the rise. Conversions are done via bloodshed and stoning, and they war frequently with Pagans and Jews. It is a violent time, and Amenabar portrays the time in all of its bloody glory. Getting lost in the fighting is the story of Hypathia. Where it is customary for historical pieces to focus on an individual with historical events as a backdrop, the opposite happens here. Although significant time is spent with Hypathia as she unravels the secrets of the universe, she tends to be just a small piece in a larger puzzle. Hypathia begins as interesting character, full of wisdom and grace, but she is sadly underdeveloped, lost in the bigger picture, and we never find out just why she is willing to die for what she believes in.

Where AGORA stumbles in its narrative, it dances everywhere else. The film is beautifully shot and scored, creating an atmosphere of dread and grace all at the same time. CGI is used sparingly, which is good news because it’s not very good. It sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the striking practical camera-work and exquisite set design.

Historical detail seems to be done very well. Old customs, costumes, lifestyles and environments are brought back to life with satisfying detail. The choice to dress the Christians (antagonists) in black works well on film, as it goes a long way to discern the differences between the many warring groups (otherwise it just looks like a million guys in black beards).

Weisz turns in a great turn as Hypathia. She is convincing as an intelligent and driven woman. The film shines when she is on screen, and suffers when it veers away from her.

AGORA is worth a look out of interest in the historical figure and the time she lived in. Again, the bulk of the attention is given to the events over the individual, and film then feels like a TV series.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Reel Series: Where have all the Great Directors Gone? Part 2

In this second part of a series, we’ll explore the recent achievements, or lack thereof, of a few directors who once dominated the celluloid landscape. Some of these big dogs have been active, while some have been content to sit on the porch.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: he was The Man for well over 30 years. The films he released in the summer were blockbusters. The films he released in the fall horded Oscars. Today, it can be argued that he has not delivered a bona-fide knockout since 1998’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Sure there have been neat little sci-fi flicks (A.I., MINORITY REPORT, WAR OF THE WORLDS), and a handful of star-studded romps (THE TERMINAL, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN), but nothing since ’98 has been labeled a must-see-now and must-watch-again-for-the-next-ten-years film. Even his last Indiana Jones film drew more WTF moments than any film in recent memory.

His next directed film will be an adaptation of TINTIN due next year, but Steven seems to be putting his energies not into directing, but into producing (his name is on 13 films for 2011). His familiar touch and themes seem to seep their way into his produced films, which just may be becoming a bit tired and too familiar.

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: the man who brought us THE GODFATHER I and II changed filmmaking forever, has been absent for what seems like forever. His last two films (2007’s YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH and 2009’s TETRO), were hardly seen by anybody and received mixed reviews. Prior to those two humdingers, FFC has only done THE RAINMAKER (1997), JACK (1996) and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) since the third GODFATHER installment.

FFC has also been putting on the producing hat in recent years, and while he does have a few good films under that section of the resume, he also has a few stinkers, including two JEEPERS CREEPERS films. He currently has no films in production for himself to direct. At 71 years old, it’s doubtful he would put himself through the rigors of helming another production, and seems content to pass the reins on to his daughter. Fans of the old man do have hope that he may have one more left in him before joining Don Vito in the garden.

OTHER NOTABLES:

RON HOWARD: His FROST/NIXON (2008) gained Oscar buzz, and then he followed it up with a clunky and messy ANGELS AND DEMONS (2009), which only compounded the issues THE DAVINCI CODE (2006) had. And let’s not talk about THE MISSING (2003).

JOHN McTIERNAN: His resume once glittered with action classics such as PREDATOR (1987), DIE HARD 1 and 3, and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990). Then he stunk up the place with ROLLERBALL (2002) and BASIC (2003).

ROBERT ZEMECKIS: Has not made a film outside of motion-capture animation since CAST AWAY (2000). That’s 10 years of creepy-looking characters from the director of BACK TO THE FUTURE and FORREST GUMP (1994). Those motion-capture films have gotten better, and they are entertaining, but please Robert, do something original; three adaptations in a row (including your upcoming YELLOW SUBMARINE remake) is too much.

It doesn’t seem fair to give these guys shit. They have more films on the AFI 100 list than anyone, and their work is forever embedded in film and popular culture. It can be argued that any bad film by these guys is still going to be better than the bulk of what’s coming out of Hollywood recently. Perhaps the one mistake they all made is that they got so damn good at what they do, that the expectations rose higher than the moon. Even still, the problems that their recent outings have had still exist. Is it fair to blame them for everything? What contributions have the ever-meddling studios ($) and whiny Writers Guild made to their demise? The debate must rage. Hopefully loud enough to rouse the dogs off the porch and into the fight, with fangs out.

What say you?

PS In Part 3: the new hope.