Monday, May 31, 2010

Reel News: THE HOBBIT films in trouble (?)

Guillermo Del Toro has announced that he is no longer directing the two films based on JRR Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT, but will continue to develop and write the screenplays.
The move comes courtesy of the ongoing legal battles and financial problems with MGM. With no set date for shooting to begin, Del Toro was forced to step down due to mounting conflicting schedules and commitments.

The project has been in pre-production for nearly two years, and the first film is still slated for a December 2012 release.

Is this a disaster? Well, far-be-it for this blogger to question Peter Jackson’s No. 1 choice to helm these films, but I was never 100% convinced that Del Toro was the right guy for the job. He’s made some fantastic-looking films when he’s let off of the leash, but how would he perform when set inside the boundaries of Jackson’s beloved Middle-earth? With Jackson holding the producing duties, chances are things would have been fine. I just didn’t want to see some creature in Hobbiton with eyeballs in all the wrong places.

In a positive light, this may clear the way for Jackson to take the director’s chair after all. But the real concern here is that if these legal and financial issues of MGM’s don’t get resolved soon, other major participants of the project may wind up bailing out too. Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), just to name a few.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Famed movie/TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer has more buck$ than Buck Rogers. With endless amounts of moolah spilling from his pockets, the man should have enough pull to put together an epic period piece than can entertain and reach the upper-echelons good film. Instead of purchasing a decent script and spending time on characterization, ol’ Bruck and director Mike Newell instead spend too much time on CGI overload and cliché dialogue and characters. The end result is THE PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, just another big-budget shit squeezed out of the Hollywood sphincter.

Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhall), is the adapted son of a great king. He grows up with two brothers and his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), and becomes a great warrior. When he and his brothers, along with the Persian army raid a great city in search of weapons, they discover a mysterious princess (Tamina, played by Gemma Arterton), who guards a dagger which can turn back time. Dastan is eventually mixed up in a family plot to overthrow the king and is framed for murder. Dastan, along with the princess, then embark upon a series of adventures to clear his name and to bring the dagger back to where it belongs to prevent the end of their worlds.

PERSIA just comes across as air-headed for a lot of reasons. The main story revolves around Dastan and the dagger; He needs it to clear his name, and the princess needs it to keep things in the correct mystical order. Dastan’s predicament as a fugitive (hunted by his brothers) is meant to draw emotion, but it is barely brushed upon. Very little connection is felt with the hero of this film, as he is written poorly with lame lines and no depth. The dialogue is very Hollywood and sounds too contemporary.

To make up for things, PERSIA presents action sequences that are over-the-top and way off the world of reality. Things like gravity are thrown out the window, and there is little to believe in. This film was based upon a video game, and it feels like it. The sequences are so out there you can practically feel the controller in your hand. This is a video-game adaptation that was done too faithfully.

Acting: nothing to write home about. Gyllenhall is horribly miscast, and is not believable as an action hero or as a loving brother/ son. Arterton’s princess has the most potential, but she does little but recite prophecy and make googly eyes at Dastan. Kingsley is wasted here and is instantly forgettable. Alfred Molina shows up in a lame attempt at comic relief, and draws attention to the political undertones of the film (over taxation, searching for weapons that don’t exist), which becomes just annoying.

The technical work is poor as well. Fast and slow motion segments are thrown in to seemingly beef up the very-plainly shot landscape. Some problems in the editing room seem to have been present, as poor continuity and jump-scenes are present throughout. The score sounds like a re-hash from THE MUMMY.

PERSIA relies on a lot of CGI, and none of it is convincing. Director Newell (who did DONNIE BRASCO and HARRY POTTER 4), seems completely out of his element, as the amount of green-screen and CG landscapes are un-imaginative and dull.

Where the budget went to in this mess is a good question.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Reel Opinion: Why IRON MAN 2 may actually suck:

A few weeks ago, this blogger screened IRON MAN 2 and deemed it a “worthy sequel”. Said blogger considered it good enough to view more than once. However, since then I have not found the desire to see it again on the big screen, and have been wondering what it is about the film that has been bugging me since Day One.

The film is a neat little package, and wraps up everything with a nice happy ending. Maybe too happy. The storyline wraps with no residual effects; no cliffhanger, no main-character deaths, no game-changing events. The lives of the characters are not really altered forever in any way, and therein lays the rub.

What does every filmmaker want to do when they make their sequel? They want to make the audience WANT to see another. The tried-and-true method to do this is to craft a storyline that will forever alter the universe they are working with. The finale is the most important part. It should have that punch-in-the-gut that will make you stagger out of the theatre, wondering how in the hell they are going to resolve things in Part 3.

This method has been worked to near-perfection in the past. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, DEAD MAN’S CHEST, and THE DARK KNIGHT to name a few. Think about it. Would EMPIRE have had the humungous effect if not for the Han-kidnapping, and the is-he-really-Luke’s-father storyline? Would a third Batman film be as intriguing if KNIGHT did not end with Bats as a fugitive? Even BATMAN BEGINS got this right by teasing the existence of The Joker in the wrap. For the hell of it: Would STAR TREK II be as great if not for the death of Spock? What did all these films do right? They made you WANT to see another.

IRON MAN 2 fails to do this, and it’s really annoying. Annoying because the happy ending with no ripple effects makes the overall story nearly worthless. With the storyline diminished, the sole purpose of the film seems to be nothing more than a bridge/promotional vehicle for the upcoming AVENGER flicks.

That’s really a tragedy. I for one would have loved to see this Tony Stark character in a third film if he had to deal with the death of Pepper Potts. Or what if Stark became a drunken vigilante; wiping out crime without the approval of his country? The possibilities seemed to be in place for the filmmakers to take advantage of.

Without any outstanding storylines, I’d have to say WTF is the BFD with a third installment? And that makes me think of the second installment as kind of pointless. Entertaining, but weak.

What say you?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Reel Review: HARRY BROWN

Michael Caine turns in a mesmerizing and haunting performance in HARRY BROWN, a nearly-textbook tale of a gentle old man rolling up his sleeves and going kickass vigilante.

The quiet and reserved Harry Brown (Caine), lives in an area overrun with crime. The young thugs control the area by way of drugs, violence and rape. Having lost his daughter at a young age, and losing his wife due to a long and painful disease, Brown watches quietly as his neighborhood goes to shit. The turning point comes when his best friend Leonard (David Bradley, of HARRY POTTER fame) gets knifed to death by the thugs. Brown then puts his past-Marine training to good use, and goes about a path of righteous vengeance, gunning down scumbags left and right, while the helpless and clueless police scratch their heads trying to figure things out.

BROWN is sure to draw comparisons to past old-man-vigilante flicks such as DEATH WISH and GRAN TORINO, and rightfully so. What makes BROWN succeed is the hard realism and trudging pace. This is a real-time flick, as things happen slowly and deliberately. This is not so much Harry’s story as much as a tale of doing what is right. Attention is taken away from his plight often as things switch to the police side of things. The film suffers a bit when this happens, as Caine’s excellent portrayal is the film’s ongoing highlight. Where Caine makes the film excel, the writing lacks a bit of conflict. There is no attempt to make the thugs personable (other than being assholes), and when Brown does get his way, there is no reason to feel sympathy or emotion for them. There is a lack of development in the bad-guy category that hurts BROWN.

Filmmaking has never been better in BROWN. While the pacing may frustrate younger pinheads looking for a shootout every five seconds, realists will love it. Things happen slowly, and when the eventual gunfire and violence erupts, it is just as it should be: unexpected and intrusive. Director Daniel Barber takes lessons from Scorsese very well in the violence category. The look of the film is dark and devoid of color, and the half-lighting works exceptionally well. Caine has never looked more sinister, or sad.

A lot can be said of Caine’s performance. Where GRAN TORINO entertained courtesy of racial slurs, swearing and grumpy-old-man behavior, BROWN succeeds by way of quiet reserves. Caine’s character is stooped, beaten down by life and reserved; reserves that are ready to boil over. It’s fascinating to sit and watch wondering when the volcano will erupt.

A lot of BROWN has been seen before, but as a stand-alone vigilante film, it connects with a knockout more than it misses. This is shocking and damn-near brilliant filmmaking.


Monday, May 17, 2010

A Reel Debate: The greatest Robin Hood movie ever is:

The Robin Hood character just may be the most over told story in all history. With countless versions existing in live-action, comedy, and animation, it’s easy for moviegoers to latch onto a specific version and forever call it their favorite.
My top three (3) Hood films, from the bottom-up:

No. 3: ROBIN HOOD DAFFY. Go ahead, laugh. That’s the point! Technically it’s not a “film”, as it is only a cartoon-short, but it is classic and arguably the funniest of all Hood parodies. It is a faithful homage to the classic 1938 version (most notably the costumes), and the one-liners and physical comedy is that of legend and fine childhood memories. I was tempted to place Mel Brooks’ MEN IN TIGHTS over this, but one thing from DAFFY gave it the edge:

“Ho! Ha ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!”

This line of course precedes the staff recoiling and smacking his bill upwards. Classic.

No. 2: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). The only thing that kept this gem out of the top spot on my list is its age. It’s an old film with an old style of storytelling, and it shows. However the swashbuckling (of which there is a LOT, maybe even too much) and strong cast makes it classic and perhaps even the basis on which all Hood movies are judged. Errol Flynn was forever immortalized after this movie, and no other Robin actor has come close to that since.

No. 1: ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. Kevin Costners’ troublesome accent aside, this film gets my top spot on the account of a solid story, script and most of all: engaging characters. Each character is fleshed out nicely with strong emotional attachments, and the script/narrative rarely gets boring. Casting borders upon an ensemble, and who doesn’t love seeing Morgan Freeman swinging a big-ass sword? Sean Connery’s cameo is priceless and appropriate (he played Robin in ROBIN AND MARIAN 1976), and the whole trip is worth it just to hear Brian Blessed yell: “Gawd, and King Richard!”. This film is fun, engaging, serious and entertaining.

What say you (Friar)?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Reel Review: ROBIN HOOD

Famed director Ridley Scott throws the traditional Robin Hood script/storyline out the window in his version of the outlaw. And why not? From Errol Flynn to Sean Connery to Disney to Looney Tunes to Kevin Costner to Mel Brooks, the Robin Hood tale has been told more times than can be counted. To keep things fresh, and to avoid the label of “reboot” or “remake”, Scott and his go-to-guy Russell Crowe have put together a prequel of sorts, telling the tale of how Robin and his Merry Men made it to Sherwood forest in the form of outlaws.

Just after the death of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), Robin (Crowe) and his companions flee the army and make their way home. On the road back, they get mixed up in political warring and turmoil which puts Robin in the place of a dead husband, married to Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett). Aided by new companions Sir Walter (Max Von Sydow) and Marshal (William Hurt), Robin looks to uncover clues to his childhood while doing what is right for the deprived people of Nottingham.

The prequel-concept works, providing the viewer can throw out any preconceptions of the Robin Hood tale seen so many times. There are enough elements here to make it feel like a Robin Hood film (ambushes in the forest, archery, merry men, and a drunken friar), and the action and political backstabbing give it just enough movement and depth. What is lacking here is a reason to believe in the characters. Robin changes from let’s-get-rich-fellas, to let’s-save-the-poor-fellas seemingly overnight, and Marion’s detesting of Robin to beaming at him also happens too quickly. Robin’s Merry Men, including Little John and Will Scarlet (Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes), are perfectly cast and offer some great moments together, but they are also underdeveloped and a little underutilized. In the villain category, Mark Strong turns in a great performance as the treacherous Godfrey, and Oscar Isaac’s Prince John is also made to be despicable enough to warrant some hate from the audience.

With characterization lacking from the heroes of the film, ROBIN HOOD clunks and stutters quite often. The battle sequences and buildups and done nicely, and the dialogue is written well enough where the political chess-matches are kept interesting. The battles move well and the accompanying score is perfect. However the end-battle on the beach seems a little scattered, and the inclusion of Marion and the good Friar in the fighting comes off as just plain dumb and pointless.

Crowe does a fine job here, providing he can be accepted as a gruff and brooding Robin. Blanchett seems to borrow elements from the various strong-armed female characters from her resume, but still manages to be a joy to watch. Robin and Marion should have been the true heart of the film, and although the two have great chemistry together, and their scenes are backed by some great scoring, somehow the emotion is just not there. Robin’s “I love you” scene comes way out of left field, and is sure to roll some eyes.

ROBIN HOOD succeeds providing viewers can also throw out the traditional story and accept it for what it is: How they got there (Sherwood Forest is not seen until the last 30 seconds) and why. It lacks the charm and the heart of the 1938 and 1991 versions, as well as the iconic punch that Scott’s GLADIATOR had. It’s gritty and down-to-earth, as great strides were taken to re-create that medieval world and seperate it from Hollywood glitz. It’s flawed and imperfect, but still a good movie. Only Ridley Scott can pull that off.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Reel Speak: The Greatest Superhero Film of All-time is:

Now that IRON MAN 2 has been unleashed for the masses, the obligatory debate that comes with it can begin: What is the best superhero film of all time?

Clearly, the question that really exists is: what is YOUR favorite of all time? Top 3? Top 5? What sells it for you? The action? The character? A faithful adaptation from the comic pages?

Is BATMAN AND ROBIN your favorite superhero film? If it is, that’s okay. Let’s hear why.

For me, character and story makes any film, and that rule applies to dudes in capes and masks. So my Top 3 is as follows:

2. X-MEN 2

THE DARK KNIGHT is miles and miles above the rest, as the film is a character study and a serious crime drama that just happens to have a dude in a cape. It is grounded and sobering compared to every other “super” film made. X2 gets high points for strong writing, as it balances several storylines all at once and never lets the main plot get lost or sidetracked. IRON MAN makes the Top 3 on basis of pure entertainment from start to finish, and it manages to be grounded and realistic while still being fantastic and having strong characters.

If I had to expand to a Top 5, I’d sneak in BATMAN BEGINS and probably SUPERMAN. THE INCREDIBLES also deserves a mention.

How about the worst? I give low marks to any of the BATMAN films from the 90’s, and even lower marks to DAREDEVIL and SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE. All for being stupid movies.

What say you?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Reel Review: IRON MAN 2

Director Jon Favreau and megastar actor Robert Downey Jr. have picked up right where they left off, providing a superhero film that is entertaining, thrilling, engaging, and a worthy sequel. While not perfect and lacking some charm, IRON MAN 2 is still a fun and powerful punch.

Six months after the events of the first film, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has his hands full. He is a full-blown hero, having achieved world peace through his Iron Man suit/persona. Soon however, things start going downhill, as he must deal with the U.S. government looking to pilfer his weaponry, a supervillian in the form of Ruskie Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), a ruthless competitor in the form of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a feud with his best friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and meddling by Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) and his SHIELD organization. On top of that, the device in his chest which is keeping him alive is also releasing lethal toxins into his body, just as he finds himself in a love triangle with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natasha (Scarlett Johannson).

Sound like a lot? It is. However the writing keeps things moving and never lets the plot get too dense or lost amongst the shuffle. IRON MAN 2 is mostly Stark’s story, as he shoulders the burden of the world and his own problems. With the thrill of discovery (via origin tale) out of the way, the path is cleared to really focus on Starks character, his friends, and his enemies. A lot of attention is paid to Starks story, and the script/narrative is strong and clever enough where everyone around him gets a lot to do. Rhodes and Potts are put into difficult situations thanks to Stark’s behavior and decisions, and it’s a thrill to see the character deal with the consequences of his actions.

With so much attention given to Stark, some is lost on the two (2) villains of the story, Hammer and Vanko. Vanko is given some good attention and development early on, and his connection to Stark’s history is nicely done. However he eventually gets pushed to the back with little to do to show his malice or dread. Hammer feels like the real villain of the film, as he pulls the strings from behind the front lines with a nefarious plot of gaining power and fame as his motivation. Both villains feel a bit on the outside of Stark’s tale, and their lack of development is a major flaw.

Robert Downey Jr. once again has complete command of his character, with some excellent deliveries and fantastic body language. Paltrow feels a bit underused, as her new role in Stark Industries takes over her romantic role with Stark. Rockwell is the absolute scene-stealer of the film (as he always is), and Rourke does an excellent job when he does get to really flex his chops. The real disappointment is Cheadle’s Rhodes, who lacks the energy and passion of the previous installment of the character. It is a flat performance that will affect whether or not viewers will care about his character.

Action sequences are twice the fun the first film had, and they are preceded by excellent buildups. The final showdown with Vanko is a bit of a ho-hummer, and it’s the film’s own fault; the sequences prior to that are just too darn excellent and fun to top.

IRON MAN 2 seems to lack a little bit of the energy of its predecessor, but it still manages to have double of everything else: two villains, two Iron Men, two love interests, etc. The connections to the overall Marvel-verse are fun and are sure to bring smiles to every geeks’ face. There are many tie-ins to the upcoming AVENGER films, and the film almost becomes a bridge than its own story. Despite the flaws, this is still a must-see and a great ride.

BOTTOM LINE: See it. And stay for the end of the credits.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reel News: Hugo Weaving is the Red Skull

Just hours before the new Marvel universe is set to launch its pride and joy in IRON MAN 2, it seemed right to post this weeks announcement of the Red Skull casting.

Hugo Weaving has been cast as the Red Skull in Marvel's 2011 release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

Considering the mighty presence Weaving has brought to his characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE MATRIX, V FOR VENDETTA, and even THE WOLF(shit)MAN, this seems a huge step in the right direction for this film.

This movie also looks to expand even further on Marvel's new universe, by directly connecting to IRON MAN (how many of you saw the Captain's Shield on Tony Starks workbench?) and other films. Rumor has it Tony's father will also make a cameo.

CAPTAIN is slated for a 2011 release, with Chris Evans as the lead. It is being directed by Joe Johnston, whose credits include THE WOLFMAN, HIDALGO, JURASSIC PARK 3, and JUMANJI. The screenplay is primarily credited to Christopher Markus, who wrote the first three NARNIA films.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Reel Trailer: MACHETE

On the eve before Hollywood's "Iron" franchise is set to debut, Robert Rodriguez has chosen today (go figure) to release his "illegal" trailer for his Mexploitation film, MACHETE.

MACHETE stars Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, and Steven Seagal. It is the spinoff to the GRINDHOUSE character, also played by Trejo.

Considering the assorted shitstorms that are happening in Arizona right now, it's just a tad eerie that this film has been in production for well over a year. Either way, the trailer is blast. Enjoy:

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The idea of bringing horror-legend Freddy Krueger back to the big screen isn’t a horrible one at its core. After all, the gloved-one was (emphasis on was) one of the biggest slasher-icons in history, who has unfortunately been a tad forgotten due to a 20-year (ahem) sleep and a few silly sequels. To bring Fred back to life with true justice, director Samuel Bayer (music video director) had to keep the old fans happy via homages, and bring in new ones who do not scare easily. Finding that balance is difficult in any remake/reboot/re-imagining/re-whatever, and 2010’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET manages to fuck it up royally.

Something unexplained is killing teenagers in their sleep. For Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her friends, the dreams point to a badly burned man in a dirty hat and ugly sweater with daggers on his digits, knows as Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley). Nancy and her potential beau Quentin (Kyle Gallner) seek answers to Krueger’s torments, while their parents seem to be hiding the true story and identity of him.

The narrative of this NIGHTMARE seems torn between Freddy’s backstory and Nancy’s suffering. Fred’s story and past are fleshed out well, but it detracts attention from what should be the heart and emotion of the story: the children. This version of Freddy is humanized where he is not so much a murderer in his past life, but a pedophile instead. It works to an extent, as the filmmakers attempt to draw emotion by showing Freddy as a man who made a mistake and was a victim of vigilante justice. It’s a fresh take on the all-too-familiar NIGHTMARE tale, but it’s just not enough to carry things home. Attention is taken away from the poor kids who are too scared to sleep and must watch their friends get butchered after every dream sequence, which seems to happen every five minutes. The dream sequences are many, and they are always obvious with only a few strong visuals for support. With a light effort on Freddy, not enough emotion from the kids, and dreams that would put the viewer to sleep, NIGHTMARE’s main narrative is dull and lifeless.

Haley’s Krueger is arguably the way the devil himself was to be portrayed: mean, sick, twisted and sadistic. Gone are the humor and laughs, replaced with harsh language and sick innuendo. Haleys’ features are buried underneath gobs of makeup which take away any human aspect (he looks like an alien from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS), and the voice is the same pitch and tone he used in WATCHMEN. The character still seems to rip off a few cheesy one-liners towards the end, but by that point the humor is out of place in this dark and dank universe Bayer has created.

While Haley still has full and total command of his character, the others don’t seem to know what they are doing. Mara’s Nancy character has no emotion, and is played as a sulking depressant that no one is going to care about; it’s almost easy to wish Freddy would dice her up and put her out of her misery. Thomas Dekker (John Connor from THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES) does a fine job as he always does, but he is underutilized and meets his end way too early.

Lame attempts to become a classic horror film are present throughout, as Freddy is constantly photographed silhouette-style to emphasis the hat and knives. Bayer seems more concerned with neat lighting and visuals than he is of characterization and creating atmosphere, and the entire ride suffers for it.

The CGI work is absolute shit. Period.

This NIGHTMARE is a dull and joyless film, with little reason to care about anything. The scares come way via loud noises preceded by silence, and not one of them is unexpected. As a remake it tries really hard and fails. As something original it fails even harder. Horror films as a whole are on a real downslide these days. Flush this one along with the last ten SAW films.