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


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.


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.


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 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?