Monday, January 31, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: THE KING’S SPEECH continues to kick ass and take names in the awards season; over the weekend it took home the Best Ensemble Award at the 17th Annual Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, along with Best Actor (Colin Firth). Also worth noting is that Christian Bale and Natalie Portman also won Best Actor and Actress, respectively.

OPINION: The Best Ensemble Cast Award is the Best-pic equivalent for the SAG, and with the Academy having hard-ons for really good acting over all else, it looks like THE KING’S SPEECH is the favorite over THE SOCIAL NETWORK by a nose for the coveted Oscar in a few weeks. Bale and Portman’s wins also seems to clear the way for them to take home the little bald gold dude as well.

FACT: Speaking of THE KING’S SPEECH, there was a report last week that the Weinstein Company is looking to re-edit the R-rated film down to a PG13 or even a PG. The offending matter to hit the cutting room floor is the usage of the word “fuck” to broaden the film’s appeal.

OPINION: Fuck you Weinsteins. The swearing is a major part of the main character’s speech therapy, which happens to be the main point of the film. Didn’t you fat bastards see the film?

FACT: There are reports that Javier Bardem has been offered the villain role in the next Bond film. Bardem won an Oscar for his work in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN as the bad guy.

OPINION: Pardon this blogger if the doesn’t find Javier Boredom and his dull job in NO PLOT FOR OLD MEN exciting. If he does land the Bond-baddie role, it would be nice to see Daniel Craig punch him in the face.

FACT: Composer John Barry passed away over the weekend at 77.

OPINION: Barry was the genius behind incredible and timeless scores from SOMEWHERE IN TIME and DANCES WITH WOLVES. In the 1960's he re-arranged Monty Norman's theme from DR. NO, the first James Bond film, and the end result became one of the famous scores of all time. Our ears will never be the same.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


THE ILLUSIONIST is a traditional, hand-drawn animated film with nearly no dialogue that most American audiences haven’t seen yet, and probably won’t see until a home release. Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category for 2010, it is the creation of Sylvain Chomet, who also did the Oscar-darling THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE.

Nearing the end of his career, an outdated and aging magician travels from town to town, performing with his feisty rabbit it front of near-empty theatres and bars. In search of a permanent stage to perform his slight-of-hand routine, he encounters Alice, who is a young girl at the start of her life’s journey. She follows him in his travels, and the two begin a friendship where they learn from each other and begin a voyage of discovery.

THE ILLUSIONIST has a very simple story that’s been seen before; destinies of the young and old colliding with the contrast of their lives played out. What makes the simplicity work so well is the high-concept setting: a near-dialogue-less animated world. The story is played out not in monologues or major happenings; but rather in body language and real-world problems. The few spoken words that do pop up are no more than one-word sentences, with a few grunts, growls and laughs.

The animation is unique; hand-drawn in distinct, de-saturated style that is reminiscent of 1970’s classics such as WATERSHIP DOWN. The animated world has an incredible and constant depth-of-field that plays into the storytelling. The look avoids any sort of flatness and is nearly in 3D without the glasses. The deep landscape is augmented by wonderfully realized animated characters; each one is always doing something in the background. There is a level of detail at work here that always gives something to soak in.

The finale offers an emotional jab that isn’t seen coming, and carries an under-the-radar message of the passing of innocence and moving on to new stages of life. The overall film carries with it a sad melancholy of all things that must pass from this world; it is real and strong and important to see.


So, does it have enough to beat out TOY STORY 3 for Best Animated Feature? THE ILLUSIONIST will not sell (ahem) toys and it won’t be the film one would grab to keep the kids quiet. It requires more than a 10-year old brain to soak in. It does not have the star-power, color, or whimsical adventure that American audiences crave in an animated film. Since the Academy is mostly made up of Hollywood voters, this little charmer will easily be overlooked as a foreign film due to its artistic choices and prodding pace. Is it good enough to win? Yes. Will it? No. Hollywood is just too much in love with Woody and Buzz.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Nominations announced!

Nominations for the 2010 Oscars were announced this morning. Some interesting omissions to note:

BEST DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan did not get a nomination for his INCEPTION. INCEPTION is a film trademarked on visuals, and that overshadows any directing style the film has. Nolan may be a visionary, but aside from the FX and strong script, there wasn’t much to be seen in the on-the-ground realm. Besides, the 5 guys who beat him out all directed films with Oscar-nominated acting performances.

BEST SCORE: No nomination for the Daft Punk scoring of TRON: LEGACY. The oddball choice in the nominated films is HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. The initial reaction of this blogger is that the Academy just loves a talking animal, in any category. Recall the cartoonish-looking effects of THE GOLDEN COMPASS that beat out the favored and game-changing effects of TRANSFORMERS in 2007. If Optimus Prime was a talking rabbit, he would have won 50 awards. But, I digress…maybe the Academy just favors traditional scoring over the techno-blasting that TRON had, or maybe they’re just trying to tell us that the movie wasn’t that good in the first place.

BEST PICTURE: The nominations did nothing to clear up who is going to win this dogfight between THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE KING’S SPEECH. Both films got nods for Best Directing and Best Screenplay, which is always the pre-requisite for a win. This could go either way…

What say you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar time!

FACT: The Oscar Nominations for 2010 will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday 1/24), and just when the world thought things were all but wrapped up, those sneaky bastards threw us a high-hard one:

After the Golden Globes, most thought that THE SOCIAL NETWORK would prevail over THE KING’S SPEECH for the Best Picture category. And then came along the Producers Guild of America Awards late last week, who gave the nod to SPEECH.

OPINION: What a role reversal. Hollywood was expected to vote for the “American” film. Both films are strong and deserving of the Best gold, and it should be noted that the Producer’s Guild has a better track record at predicting the Oscars.

FACT: Most lean towards TOY STORY 3 to run away with the Best Animated Picture award. Not so fast…there is a little indie film floating around out there by the name of THE ILLUSIONIST making major waves. Created by the same team that created the (ahem) Oscar-winning THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, the film is a traditional hand-drawn charmer which has already taken home the Golden Globe for Best Animated.

OPINION: A lot to think about here. Pixar has been the most successful at the Oscars; out of the seven features they made between 2001 and 2009, all have been nominated, and only two have lost. All the others won. TOY STORY 3 is strong and emotional, but THE ILLUSIONIST has the old-fart mentality of the Academy on its side; would they lean towards the old-school (fart) style, or embrace the CGI new? It’s a great question. Of course, all of this could really get shaken up if TOY STORY 3 gets nominated for Best Picture…

What say you?

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Packed tight with past Oscar runners, THE COMPANY MEN is a concise little film about corporate giants whose lives are defined by their bank accounts, sports cars and mansions. Built upon strong characters in a simple setting, the film never bores and paints a common riches-to-rags story that is just strong enough to hold interest.

Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a 30-something sales executive for a corporate shipbuilding monster-company. Sent packing from his beloved $160K annual salary due to the recession by his bosses Sally (Maria Bello) and James (Craig T. Nelson), Bobby struggles to find work to support his lavish lifestyle and takes a charity job hanging sheetrock courtesy of his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). Meanwhile, Bobby’s co-workers Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil (Chris Cooper) are a pair of 60-somethings who are also let go due to downsizing, and must also face great loss and desperation.

MEN is mostly Bobby’s tale; he spends nearly the entire film in denial, as he refuses to consider selling his Porsche or quitting the country club. The story shifts a little towards Phil and Gene, and a nice contrast of the two old men and the one young man is played throughout. The film stays grounded at all times; bringing about real-world problems of huge mortgages and college tuitions. It’s real and frightening all at the same time.

Directed by writer/director John Wells (ER, THE WEST WING), MEN unfortunately has a small-screen feel to it. Despite being shot beautifully, it overall feels like a concise TV season, as it too often toys with real depth and emotion and then pulls back. The characters begin to develop nicely and then stop, and it always feels like the film should be more complex then what is shown.

Acting is okay, and it’s surprising that the star-studded cast has so many problems with the Boston accent. The entire group does nothing more than drop their R’s and say fuck a lot, which adds nothing to the credibility. Affleck gets the most screen time and is very good throughout. Cooper is also good, and Jones does little more than sulk for most of the ride.

The finale wraps up a little too much on the neat and tidy side, which adds to the small-screen vibe. It’s a tad frustrating as the characters so often suggest a stronger finale. Still, the film has a strong message of perseverance throughout, and is worth a look. Just not right away.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A press release from Warner Bros. confirmed two villians in Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Catwoman and Bane, to be played by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, respectively.

OPINION: This blogger predicted a year ago that there would be a female villian, that The Riddler was too similar to The Joker, and that Two-face was dead. Now on to business: Hathaway doesn't seem to have the badass chops to play a villian; maybe it's hard to get past THE PRINCESS DIARIES. But, in Nolan we trust, and the man must have seen something in her besides a body to squeeze into a tightass leather suit. Hardy has the chops to play anything, and Nolan knew what to do with him in INCEPTION. RISES is the finale to Nolan's monsterous Batman franchise, and he is sure to bring it to the tenth-power with actors who keep up.

What say you?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: Golden Globes Edition

The 68th Annual Golden Globes were handed out over the weekend. Often seen as a preview or a testing ground for the Oscars, the results of this year could hint at some surprises heading towards the big show in February:

FACT: As expected, Natalie Portman and Colin Firth took home Best Actress/Actor awards for their roles in BLACK SWAN and THE KING’S SPEECH, respectively. Christian Bale won Best Supporting Actor for his work in THE FIGHTER

OPINION: Hoorah for Natalie and Firth, who seriously deserve the gold. A lot of people have been scratching their heads over Bale’s win, but those who are probably haven’t seen THE FIGHTER. The drastic weight-loss and bizarre behavior done by Bale is shockingly good, and Oscar needs to take notice.

FACT: THE SOCIAL NETWORK won best picture, besting THE KING’S SPEECH which was considered the favorite.

OPINION: With the Globes being driven by the Hollywood Foreign Press, it was a surprise for them to give the nod to NETWORK, which is a major slice out of American history. Not to draw lines, but those guys usually do “vote for themselves”, and they basically gave their own countrymen a cold shoulder. Anyone remember when ATONEMENT cleaned house at the Globes (foreign press) and was then shutout at the (U.S. press) Oscars? It’s an interesting debate. Looking ahead, it may be possible that SPEECH will get mostly acting nods, with NETWORK taking the bulk of the filmmaking gold. Either way, both are excellent films and deserve everything they get.

What say you?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has the scoop of the year thus far; in the form of the first official (reel) look at Chris Evans in full Captain America costume:

OPINION: Dig it. It seems to blend right into the WWII setting and feels real-world. Can't wait to see it in motion.

FACT: Aretha Franklin says Halle Berry is her pick to play herself in the upcoming biopic.

OPINION: The filmmakers are still casting for an actress to play Aretha in her younger years, so Berry would be playing an older Aretha. Can't wait to see Halle in a fat suit.

What say you?

Friday, January 14, 2011


THE GREEN HORNET was never a film with high expectations; no one was looking for it to be a DARK KNIGHT-esque crime drama. It was intended for a 13-year old mind; nothing to be taken seriously packed with toilet humor. With that mission in mind, how did it do? Just fine.

Raised by his stone-hearted father and newspaper editor James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), Britt (Seth Rogen) grows up to a be lazy and playboy-ish good-for-nothing brat. When his father is killed by an (apparent) bee sting, Britt inherits his father’s newspaper while befriending Kato (Jay Chou), a skilled martial-artist with the ability to create cool weapons that go boom. The two accidentally stumble into the crime-fighting business, using Kato’s inventions to create The Green Hornet persona, while blindly foiling the plans of supervillian Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

HORNET suffers from a severe lack of development right away. The first act teaches us that Britt drinks too much, sleeps around, hates his dad, has no idea how to run a newspaper, and likes to hang out with Kato. All this happens in the first TEN minutes of the film. Things are rushed and fly by in a blink of an eye, and other than the constant barrage of juvenile language there is not much to latch on to. Too much time is spent on Rogen’s buffoonery dialogue and not enough on any depth of character or story. HORNET overall feels like a showcase for Rogen’s schtick more than a theater for a justice-seeking hero on a personal journey.

A paper-thin plot does pop up now and then, trying to add some legitimacy to the two heroes stumbling their way into danger. The lack of a substantive plot takes depth away from the villain, which leaves Waltz with nothing to do but shoot people to show how menacing he is. Yawn.

Director Michel Gondry brings very little to the party, but manages to make a lot of noise anyway. The fight scenes are loaded with intrusive MATRIX-like slo-mo, while the bigger action sequences offer very little but ridiculousness and lots of booms.

Seth Rogen is perfectly cast in the lead; all he had to was act like an idiot. Chou’s Kato is probably the most well played; he manages just enough charisma to keep the character interesting. Waltz leaves his Oscar at home in his turn as the villain; doing nothing but being campy and goofy and waste of a villain. Cameron Diaz turns in a typical cute role for herself, but feels wedged into the film and her presence is often a distraction.

HORNET offers lots of bangs and laughs; providing your brain is pea-sized. It’s immature and stupid, and it wants to be for the sake of offering an alternative to the typical superhero film. It’s paper-thin with a lot of flash, but easily forgettable.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Elijah Wood has been confirmed for an appearance in the big-screen, live-action adaptation of THE HOBBIT. Wood will reprise his role as Frodo, and will appear in the opening sequence reading from Bilbo’s handwritten accounts of his adventures. Also, Christopher Lee has been confirmed to reprise his Saruman role, depending on his health.

OPINION: While it may seem a bit cheesy on the surface, the appearance of Frodo literally and visually links THE HOBBIT with THE LORD OF THE RINGS films. You have to have hope that the obvious, many more dropins and references will be suttle, yet effective, and not overpower the storyline (like the way the AVENGERS hijacked IRON MAN 2). With Peter Jackson at the helm, there are little worries, unless Lee drops dead between now and then.

FACT: James Cameron has been quoted in saying that Universal’s planned $200 million dollar big-screen adaptation of the “Battleship” board-game is a sign of “pure desperation…this degrades the cinema…”.

OPINION: This blogger agrees. A few years ago the Writers' Guild strike crippled the industry with their greed, and now they justify the strike by bringing us CRAP. By the way, the “Missile Command” adaptation has also been recently announced, which means Pitfall Harry can’t be far away…

FACT: Financially-strapped MGM has finally put their affairs in order; enough to announce production of the 23rd James Bond film. Shooting begins in late 2011 for a November 2012 release, with Daniel Craig coming back for a third time in the lead role.

OPINION: It’s about time. Bring it.

What say you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Reel Review: 127 HOURS

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE director Danny Boyle returns to the big screen by way of shedding the zany glitz and glam for a near one-man show in 127 HOURS; a harrowing yet uplifting tale of survival and human spirit that is an emotional and squeamish ride with enough lessons to fill a college textbook.

Aron Ralston (James Franco) sets out by himself in the canyons of Utah for some outdoor isolation. After helping and bonding with some lost hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn), he falls into a crevice and has his arm pinned against the cave wall by a boulder. For five days, Aron endures a nightmare of isolation, pain, hallucinations and life-long regret before finally resorting to cutting off his arm with a dull blade to escape.

Aron is a walking contradiction of a man; he is a lover of life but wants to do it alone. He hikes alone, he bikes alone, he doesn’t return calls from mom. The strength of 127 HOURS lies in Aron’s character arc, as he realizes, after being trapped for 5 days with little food or water, that he is there because of his own doing. It is a psychological roller-coaster that he endures, as he has visions of his past leading to his predicament. The ordeal is nightmarish and fascinating to watch.

Boyle’s fearless direction is the second strength of 127 HOURS. Boyle gets us right into the head of Aron; using Franco’s tremendous acting and facial expression, along with some intimate camera work and sound design that makes the viewer squirm. Aron has with him a video camera, and he records his emotional goodbyes to his family as he assumes he is about to meet his death. The usage of the video camera is genius and an important plot device that adds great depth and interest.

And squirm the viewer will during the amputation scene. The effectiveness is not so much in the gore as it is in the buildup before and the sharp editing during. A particularly painful part (when he severs his own nerve) is brought to life by very effective guitar-feedback sounds that go right through the screen and into the viewers gut.

James Franco is absolutely stupendous in 127 HOURS. Pain, despair, regret…it is all convincing on his face in every moment. A performance of a lifetime indeed.

127 HOURS carries many lessons. Not so much in the vein of don’t-go-hiking-alone as much as be-careful-what-you-wish-for and life-is-made-up-of-your-own-choices. Aron commits the sin of isolation and anti-social behavior, and he pays for it. 127 HOURS is a hard film to sit through, but the rousing finale is worth the ride. 127 HOURS is a very important and special film.