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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.