Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A recent press release has confirmed the titles and release dates for Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT adaptation. The first film will be called THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, and will be released December 14, 2012. The second film will be called THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN, and will be let loose December 13, 2013.

OPINION: For a film that has been plagued with problems ranging from lawsuits to sets burning down, things are finally beginning to take shape. The sub-titles are a brilliant, yet simple move; they are right from the pages of the book, make references to THE LORD OF THE RINGS films, and most importantly, they avoid the now-tired method of a “Part 1” and “Part 2”.

FACT: Tim Burton has said that he has no plans to shoot his DARK SHADOWS film in (goddamn) 3D. He said; “…I think people should have a choice. I don’t think it should be forced on anybody”.

OPINION: It’s about time Burton has made a smart decision.

FACT: Disney Pictures has withdrawn its application to trademark the term “Seal Team 6”, the name of the military unit that took out that asshole Osama Bin Laden.

OPINION: Disney rushed to file the paperwork not long after the kill, obviously the first step in the race to develop a film. The Mouse managed to piss off the U.S. Navy (who also filed a trademark claim), and became the butt of jokes across the country as movie-goers cringed at the thought of an inevitable, stupid kids’ film about the mission that took out the world’s most wanted mass-murderer. This blogger maintains that a film of this magnitude needs to go to the most capable hands; hands with names like Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, and yes…Michael Bay.

What say you?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jeff Conaway 1950 - 2011

"A hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card, when you only care enough to send the very best!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Reel Review: THE BEAVER

Fifteen years ago, a drama directed by, and starring Jodie Foster with Mel Gibson would have been a very intriguing draw. These days, not so much; Foster has been hit-or-miss as of late, and Gibson has managed to torpedo his own career with his personal meltdowns. In THE BEAVER, Foster’s 4th directorial effort, both actors manage to prove that they both have life left in them. And all they had to do was add a sock puppet.

Edward Black (Mel Gibson), is a seriously depressed man who is sulking and sleeping his life away. On the day he is thrown out of his home by his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster), Edward finds a sock puppet-beaver in a dumpster. After a night of drinking, Edward finds The Beaver on his left hand, and projects his positive sides and emotions into his new friend, while distancing himself from his negative persona. The radical move angers his older son Porter (Anton Yelchin), who is already distancing himself from his father, and enthralls the imagination of his younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart)

THE BEAVER is Edward’s story, as he struggles to overcome his sickness and find his lost self. It’s a tired tale that is given new life courtesy of The Beaver. When Edward speaks through The Beaver, he switches to an Aussie accent, and he sinks back into his lifeless self when he cannot use the puppet. It’s a fascinating watch that entertains as much as it does concern the audience.

Foster’s direction is a curious study; she seems to be a hands-off director. There are no eye-popping camera moves or unique angles; everything is plainly shot and framed. It often feels like there could have been more creativity with The Beaver puppet. Taking a deeper look however, it’s clear that Foster intended Gibson to just do his thing in front of the camera. It’s not a one man show by far, as the strong script adds excellent support in the form of Porter’s side-story and struggles, and the dissolution of a once happy family.

Acting is superb all the way through. Foster fits the role of a struggling mother perfectly, and Yelchin’s brooding and tortured soul routine, while not a brand new shtick, feels fresh and original.

Gibson’s performance absolutely steals the show. Not only does he have to handle the puppet’s actions throughout, but he is smart enough to let his own face and body language mirror The Beaver. It is a remarkable and fascinating performance, and proof that Gibson may be ready for the third phase of his career.

The finale, while offering tragedy and hope at the same time, brings about plenty of shock and emotion. It is a smart finish to an already smart film, one that finds a way to bring a heavy seriousness to a very quirky premise. Jodie Foster’s BEAVER is worth seeing.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


Director Rob Marshall, a former Oscar-winner and current turkey-maker, is handed a heavy command in the form of Disney’s fourth entry in their monster-money-making PIRATES OF THE CARIBEAN franchise. In ON STRANGER TIDES, Marshall crams an uncountable number of (undeveloped) characters into a simple quest; a quest that is dry and devoid of any sort of connection to the heartstrings. Marshall manages the fun and laughs well, but never bothers to add meat to the bone.

After escaping the gallows in London, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), falls into a quest for the Fountain of Youth, led by his old love interest Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who is looking to save years for her father, famed pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Joining the hunt is Sparrow’s old rival Barbossa (Geoffery Rush), who is now employed by King George, while Phillip (Sam Claflin), a missionary, finds romance in the form the mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who holds the tears necessary to unlock the powers of the Fountain.

So the quest that all our characters must undertake is for the Fountain of Youth. Great MacGuffin, but what’s bothersome is that the audience is given no reason to care whether or not anyone finds the damn thing. Each character gives their reasons (courtesy of a ton of dull and unwitty dialogue), but these reasons are self-centered and emotionless. The attempt to add some heart into the mix comes by way of a man-loves-mermaid subplot, but both characters are so underwritten, the attempt feels more like an intrusion.

Marshall’s shortcomings as an action director are present throughout. Clearly not knowing what to do in a swordfight, Marshall avoids any wide-shots and just goes for the tits-up medium shot on the players. Artistic-license aside, it’s boring and dull. There is no scope and grandiose to be seen, nor is there any dread or danger to drop any jaws. The real-world, authentic grubbiness of the previous films is gone, as is any sort of signature special effects TIDES’ predecessors had; there are no sword-fighting skeletons, sea monsters, or crustacean-faced villains to wow or be afraid of. The familiar score is present throughout (and a tad overused), and seems to lack a new, signature theme significant to the film.

Performances are fair across the sea; with McShane, Cruz, and Rush hamming up their roles. Depp’s Captain Jack seems to get lost in the vast ocean of characters, and he seems to know it. While he does get the best lines and moments, Depp seems uninspired to charm and woo with a wink and a smile, as he once did so effortlessly. Sadly, Captain Jack is simply there to fill space and time, as are the rest of the characters.

TIDES is a film that talks a lot but doesn’t say much; it is a collection of so-so moments held together by the weakest of threads. The finale wraps things up almost too tight and neat; at the very end, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot happened, and that’s just it: there are no memorable moments, no timeless quotes to put in your back pocket, and no iconic images or memories to take home with you.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic is looking to lock down some big names. Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, Bruce McGill, Joseph Cross, David Costabile, Byron Jennings, Dakin Matthews, Boris McGiver, Gloria Reuben, Jeremy Strong and David Warshofsky are all in negotiations to join the film; which already has Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln.

OPINION: It is fair to say that the world has been without a definitive Lincoln movie, and Spielberg knows it and is taking this chance seriously. The top-heavy casting suggests that he is looking to avoid a one-man, DDL-show similar to THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

FACT: Speaking of THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Paul Thomas Anderson (director of BLOOD), has locked down his next film with the (fatass) Weinsteins. The untitled project has Phillip Seymour Hoffman returning from WWII and trying to rediscover his life. Joaquin Phoenix plays a 20-something who becomes his sidekick.

OPINION: Anderson knows how to get great performances out of his actors, and the return of Joaquin from Charlie Sheen-land is interesting. Hopefully the (fatass) Weinsteins won’t try to cut the nuts of this film like they did with the re-release of THE KING’S SPEECH.

FACT: And speaking of Abe Lincoln, a NY Times article has gone into some fine detail about the upcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. It seems that great effort is being taken to not disturb the historical aspect of Lincoln’s life. The production will use actual locations and historical costumes and props to add heavy authenticity. An Illinois state historian was consulted so the filmmakers could “slip vampires into Lincoln’s story with minimal damage to the historical record”.

OPINION: If you’re going to make a period piece set in an alternate universe, you’ve got to be respectful of the surroundings. So far this sounds better and better. Hopefully they’ll leave the (goddamn) 3D on the shelf.

What say you?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Reel Review: THOR

In the near-crowded room of superhero movies, THOR is the flick that stands out. Not because it is good (although it is), but because it is a superhero movie that doesn’t feel like a superhero move. It’s more of a sci-fi/fantasy flick; packed tight with epic battles, Norse mythology, Shakespearean-family battles, and just enough fish-out-of-water comedy gags.

THOR (Chris Hemsworth), is a warmongering, glory-seeking god and first son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Against the wishes of his father and the better judgment of his younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor commits an act of war against the rival Frost Giants, and is banished to Earth without his powers or his mighty hammer. On the ground, he befriends astro-physicist Jane (Natalie Portman), and her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings), makes trouble with SHIELD, and tries to recover his hammer in order to save his fathers’ kingdom from an enemy within.

THOR is the story of a hero in search of his identity. On the surface, that would seem like the basis of a strong character piece that would fall in line with some of Marvel’s better films (IRON MAN, X2). However, THOR is a bit of an oddball; characterizations are on the light side, and the storytelling is up front and center. Thor becomes just a thin element in his own story. It’s Weird, but effective. Things never get boring or tedious, and the sharp pacing and well-timed gags aims to entertain and hits the mark.

Also keeping things afloat is the Marvel-world that director Kenneth Branagh seemed obligated to have to include. The SHIELD elements, while obviously setting up bigger and better things, actually play a part in the overall story, and one has to wonder how the film would have survived without it. The action scenes, which play a large part, have some major-wow moments, but seem to suffer from CGI overload and a rather generic-sounding score.

Light scripting is evident throughout: The connection between the gods and science of Earth is briefly touched upon, but never developed enough. The Norse mythology gets most of, if not all of the attention, and maybe even a little too much; newcomers to the genre may feel like they are missing something.

Performances are so-so across the realm. Hemsworth sells what there is of his character, even when there is not much for him to go up against. Portman suffers the most from the scripting; not given much to do other than turn to mush in front of the muscular hunk that Hemsworth became for the role. Hopkins is the bona-fide real deal of the film; he gets to convey fatherly and kingly wisdom while barking and kicking Frost Giant arse at the same time.

THOR is very similar to its recent cousin HULK film; just plowing ahead in a business-like manner without stopping to smell anything. The finale is an obvious set-up piece to bigger things, but thanks to the source material, does have its own (light) agenda. It’s a fun and tight film, and certainly different from the standard hero flick; it just could have used a little more meat on the bone.


Monday, May 2, 2011

A Reel Opinion: The Inevitable Bin Laden Movie

The death of (goddamn) Osama Bin Laden already has writers and directors clambering for details. The apparent high-risk drama that unfolded in the operation to capture or kill the world’s most wanted asshole is a story that begs to be told; a story that took 10 years to come together.

Clearly, such a film is many years away. But it’s fun to speculate. The most important question is who should direct it? A few names come to mind right away:

KATHRYN BIGELOW: Bigelow already has an Oscar for a war-movie set in the middle east, and she was also into development of a film about a failed-attempt to assassinate Bin Laden. Chances are she will get the first shot (no pun intended).

RIDLEY SCOTT: The director of the Oscar-winning BLACK HAWK DOWN. What more can be said? Scott would be the choice if the film focused just on the two-day mission.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: His SAVING PRIVATE RYAN has proven that he can put together a palms-up military-mission film while keeping some heart. His eye for history would make him the perfect choice if the film focused on the ten-year ordeal the country went through.

PAUL GREENGRASS: He can do action (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY), and he was also the first director with enough nerve to make the first post-9/11 film (UNITED 93). The high-tension atmosphere he creates makes him a perfect fit.

MICHAEL BAY: Go ahead and laugh, but no other director has spent more time, or received more cooperation with the U.S. military in the last ten years, and he often films scenes that look like they fell out of a Normal Rockwell painting.

A few names come to mind to NOT direct the film:

QUENTIN TARANTINO: It would be a two-and-a-half hour film featuring people sitting around a diner talking about killing Bin Laden.

CLINT EASTWOOD: At the end of the film, we would feel like nothing happened.

TIM BURTON: Only because we don’t want to see Johnny Depp playing Bin Laden.

What say you?