Thursday, June 30, 2011


There is a moment in DARK OF THE MOON, the now third installment in the action-figure based TRANSFORMERS films, that lets viewers know that they are getting the serious robot-war movie that they have been waiting for; when the rusted and disfigured Megatron blows up the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and sits in his chair. It is one of many ballsy scenes that delivers a message; there will be little to no pussyfooting around this time. That scene sets a serious tone and the eventual stage for the most massive action/war spectacle ever to grace a movie screen.

In a rewrite of history, President John F. Kennedy initiates the space race in the 1960’s after astronomers discover a crashed spacecraft on the Moon. The craft carries important Autobot technology, and the dormant body of Sentinel Prime (voiced brilliantly by Leonard Nimoy). Flash-forward to modern times, where Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is now out of college and struggling with his mundane office-job/life when he’d rather be out kicking metal arse with his Autobot friends. Sam stumbles upon a Decepticon plot, who through a series of double-crosses and shocking betrayals, plan to capture the Autobot technology and unleash a deadly invasion of Earth.

Where the second film was bogged down with an overburdened plot, MOON sheds a lot of that and just goes for the jugular in the form of a straight-up alien invasion film. The one thing that director Michael Bay is good at (besides blowing shit up) is putting his characters in deadly situations and making them claw their way out, and in MOON he lets the massive, looming threat drive the story. The way the humans and Autobots react to the pending doom is what drives things, and it drives it well. The story, while simple, works because the threat is real; when the Decepticons aren’t employing humans to their cause, they are slaughtering women and children in their own homes.

With this film being shot for (goddamn) 3D, Bay was forced to alter his directing and editing style; shaky-cams and whip-pans are gone, leaving a more steady landscape for his mayhem. There is a better sense of geography and perspective, and the giant fighting robots have plenty of battlefield to bash each other.

And when that bashing comes, hold on to your potatoes. The city of Chicago is blasted to smithereens, and that’s even before the real fight begins. It is a full 60 minutes of killer CGI combined with practical stunts and effects that are as jaw-dropping as they are convincing; there are a few building-collapse sequences that will bring flashbacks to any 9/11 survivors. Nothing like this has ever been seen before on a movie screen.

Characterization of the robots is a marked improvement over both preceding films. Optimus Prime (once again voiced brilliantly by Peter Cullen), gets to really flex his muscle here, and is actually given a decent storyline to deal with. The Autobots are felt for this time, and there a couple of scenes with Bumblebee that will have plenty of hearts pounding.

Bay can’t help but to pull a Tarantino and inject a lot of himself into the film. Juvenile humor, sexy women, and his love for a mighty and willful U.S. military are prevalent throughout. The humor works in some places, and doesn’t in many others.

LaBeouf does the most acting and really seems to have a hold on his character. In her first movie role, Rosie Huntinton-Whiteley, Sam’s girlfriend, is fine in some scenes, but stiff in others. John Turturro is magnificent as always, and bit parts by Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and Patrick Dempsey are all handled fine.

MOON clocks in at over two hours, but doesn’t really drag and is aided by the massive action. It could have benefitted by a small diet; certain comedy routines and excess characters could have been done away with, but that doesn’t stop this from being the best damn thing to ever have a TRANSFORMERS title on it. This is the sci-fi war film that franchises like TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, and ALIENS have been trying to make for 20 years.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Reel Opinion: Science and the Movies

There is a theory (and not necessarily an axiom), in storytelling concerning science fiction that can either enhance a movie experience or ruin it. The theory that all good science fiction is based upon good science. If the movie (or book) is based upon good science, then the science-FICTION elements can and will be believable on some level. It can be argued that if a film is built on a foundation of faulty science, then that film is forfeit.

One of the fine gents over at recently penned an article challenging the science of J.J. Abrams’ recent STAR TREK film. The writer, who is an actual scientist, knows his craft very well and seems dead-on in poking holes all over the film; using scientific principles to prove that a lot of occurrences should not have happened the way they did. The article was not meant to be a slam on Abrams or the film (the author claims to love the film), but to rather point out that the film was not based upon good science.

So the question that comes to this Blogger’s warped little mind is, if the science around a film is faulty, do we, or should we really give a shit?

STAR TREK in the 1960’s introduced this thing dealing with matter colliding with anti-matter. It was a theory that would take nearly 50 years to become reality. Suppose it never did become reality, would that make the entire TV series, the spinoffs, and all the movies a bunch of unwatchable bollocks?

Scientists today, while well-intentioned, will laugh their asses off watching Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON, as the notion of landing space shuttles on an asteroid to them is totally ridiculous. They’re probably right, but so what? The crash-landing scenes were pretty spectacular and made for good cinema. In INDEPENDENCE DAY, the massive city-sized saucers hovered above Earth with no apparent suspension or lift. Scientifically impossible, but who’s complaining?

It seems that the uncompromising rules of science would make movies boring. What would the opening scene of STAR WARS (1977) be like if they decided to not have sounds travel through space?

What it probably comes down to is scientists not liking movies infringing upon their territory and pissing on their pocket-protectors. At the same time, movie-fans don’t like nerds ruining their movie experiences. This Blogger believes that while science should be respected, it’s stringent rules should not take away from the entertainment/enjoyment/integrity of a film; just don’t make the damn thing boring.

Now, every individual can obviously choose for themselves how they want to view their sci-fi (by the rules of science, or not), but whatever rule they choose should apply to all; if walking on an asteroid is stupid in ARMAGEDDON, then it’s stupid in STAR WARS too. Two sets of rules can be more annoying than the most powerful math-nerd.

What say you?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: With just a couple days to go before the third TRANSFORMERS film is released, series director Michael Bay has been calling upon the chief executives of major theatre chains to make sure his new film is played out with brighter projection so the (goddamn) 3D looks it’s best. The idea is that shoddy projection is one of the reasons fans have been opting for the 2D versions of films lately.

OPINION: Bay deserves props for wanting his film to look its best. Let’s face it; all moviegoers have experienced shitty film projection more than once in their film watching careers. Outside of that, Bay and his new pal James Cameron need to remember that a film needs to stand on its own, and not rely on the gimmick of the third dimension to carry it. It could be Bay is on to something; early screenings of the new TRANSFORMERS film have generated very positive feedback on the (goddamn) 3D, saying it even surpasses the execution of AVATAR’s third dimension.

FACT: The latest issue of EMPIRE magazine features a great new shot of Ian McKellen in his Gandalf the Grey garb, shot on the set of the now-filming THE HOBBIT

OPINION: Ian, you haven’t aged a day. The next 18 months are going to be one long wait.

What say you?

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Reel Review: CARS 2

In making a CARS sequel, Pixar knew that they had to do a few things to avoid repeating themselves; they had to beef up the story, raise the stakes, and move things outside of the confines of Radiator Springs. In CARS 2, all three of those things are done, and done with a lot of enthusiasm. Just to be safe, director John Lasseter and his staff also shifts the main focus from Lightning McQueen to Tow Mater, a move that shakes up the original formula and creates a very jumbled film.

After winning his 4th Piston Cup (which is posthumously renamed after the now deceased Hudson Hornet), Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is challenged by arrogant Italian race car Francesco (John Turturro), to compete in the new World Grand Prix, a series of races across the world where the cars are powered by a new alternative fuel. Now part of the pit crew, Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), falls into an international-spy espionage (mis)adventure with secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are investigating a group of “lemon” automobiles and a mysterious villain who are threatening the existence of cars across the world.

So this film is CARS meets James Bond, right down to a monocled professor, a villain who appears only via TV screens, and a plot to take over the world. While executed with a lot of enthusiasm, the center of the plot goes to Mater. Mater, who doesn’t realize the peril he’s in until very late in the film, becomes Bill Murray in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE. The bumbling buffoon gets most of the screen time and focus, and this is where CARS 2 stumbles. Mater has made a career out of being the comic relief of the original film and a host of shorts, but as the centerpiece, the gags just get old really quick. The entire film feels like an extended short.

With Mater getting all the action, Wilson’s McQueen becomes an extended cameo more than a supporting character. Also pushed to the back are the supporting Cars from Radiator Springs, who pop in and out of the film. In place of them are a gaggle of new characters, who fail to touch upon any sort of emotional draw.

Where the original film was a quaint and warm look at smalltown America looking to teach a nice lesson, CARS 2 shifts into a straight-out action flick. The film is loaded with gunplay, fist (tire) fighting, explosions and character deaths. The sudden change in atmosphere may come as jarring to some parents who are taking the intended core-audience to see it.

Since this is a Pixar film, there is never a shortage of things to look at. The cityscapes of Tokyo, London and Italy are awesome, and the creativity that has gone into the expanding of the universe is equally impressive. Some touches are subtle, and some aren’t; with the Queen Mum and Pope-mobile Cars offering head-shaking giggles.

CARS 2 makes a small attempt to offer a life-lesson in the value of friendship, but it is nearly, if not totally lost in all the chases, booms and bangs. The emotions never produce, leaving things very empty. CARS 2 gets a lot of points for imagination, but little for execution. There is just little to learn from a spy comedy.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Reel Axiom: Concept and Story


1. a self-evident truth that requires no proof.
2. a universally accepted principle or rule.

There is an old, if not ancient axiom in movies that can be traced back to the very beginnings of storytelling; the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be. If the concept of your movie is very high, featuring things and places never before seen, then the story must be simple to draw the audience back in; to bring them back down to earth and give them something to relate to.

Perhaps the most perfect example of this axiom is THE WIZARD OF OZ adaptation. OZ took place in a fantastic world, inhabited by fantastic creatures capable of doing fantastic things. It was a world that audiences had never seen before, and therefore unable to connect with. To bring things back to reality, the story is made simple; get Dorothy home. High concept, simple story. This axiom is inescapable, and has survived into films today. At its core base, THE WIZARD OF OZ is no different than current films such as AVATAR and INCEPTION.

No other group of filmmakers has embraced this as much as Pixar has over the years. Pixar films take place in worlds nearly off the grid, featuring things that should not be talking. To balance this, the stories are as simple as can be. CARS and FINDING NEMO stand out here. While audiences may groan that they’ve seen the storylines before, if said storylines were made to be complicated in a complicated setting, the results would have been a disastrous mess.

This axiom can also be reversed; a low concept coupled with a complicated story. THE DARK KNIGHT, THE GODFATHER PARTS 1 and 2, and GONE WITH THE WIND stand out as perfect examples.

Literature, which came before film, has always kept this close. Variations of it can be found in Tolkien, Shakespeare, and even the ancient Greek myths.

High concept, simple story. It is an absolute that has gone on for thousands of years, and will continue for a few more thousand.

What say you?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Last week, Lucasfilm producer Rick McCallum announced that plans to re-lease all six STAR WARS films in (goddamn) 3D have been revised; the scheme now is to release one a year, and if it works (make money back), there will be more. If not, there won’t. The films are being released in chronological order, making EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE the only guaranteed show.

OPINION: With EPISODE I sitting as the least-popular of the Saga, and overall interest in (goddamn) 3D circling the drain, this entire project may wind up being a disaster. Lucasfilms needs to realize that the films are good enough on their own to do just fine in good ol’ 2D. Prequels or not, the fans will come. As a sidenote, this Blogger was present at CELEBRATION III in Indianapolis, when George Lucas himself announced plans to re-release the films in the 3rd dimension. That was in 2005. It’s a shame it’s taken this long for it to come to fruition, because now Lucasfilms looks like it’s late to their own party. Can we really feel sorry for them?

FACT: Just two years after the Academy expanded the Best Picture category from five to ten films, the rules have been altered again. Now the category will allow for anywhere from five to ten nominees rather than a fixed number. Films after the top five nominees will have to get at least 5% of votes to be given one of the added slots.

OPINION: Oh for Christ’s sake…why do these knuckleheads keep having knee-jerk reactions to the mess of their own making? Expanding the category to ten was a direct reaction to THE DARK KNIGHT getting left out, and now they are reacting to weaker films getting into the dance last year. This new rule is actually a good idea, as sometimes there really are ten good films, and sometimes there is not. It’s too bad they didn’t think of this in the first place.

FACT: Pixar is putting together their schedule for the next two years, with BRAVE coming out next summer, and MONSTERS UNIVERSITY in June 2013. After that, a release date for an as-yet untitled project has been set at November 27, 2013. The film will be an original, non-sequel effort and described as a “mystery” film.

OPINION: It’s about time Pixar put the O back in Original. The last few years have been way too packed with sequels from these guys. BRAVE seems to be a step in the right direction; or at least it seems to be before we get BRAVE 2 in (goddamn) 3D.

What say you?

Friday, June 17, 2011


So everyone likes to ask: by what criteria or rules do you use to judge a good superhero movie? The answer, as elusive as it is to some, and debatable as it is to others, is really simple; you use the same goddamn criteria or rules that apply to any other film that has conflict and/or good vs. evil. That translates to (1) A good story, (2) An interesting villain, and (3) a hero that we really give a shit about. On top of all that, it’s always a good idea to make a movie for everybody, and not just the comic-book fans. Alienation can sink things in a hurry.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky fighter jet pilot who tests jets for a large aeronautic company. At the helm of the company is Hal’s gal Carol (Blake Lively). Meanwhile, across the far reaches of space, The Green Lanterns, the guardians of peace and justice across the galaxy, face a vicious threat in the form of the Parallax, a big skull with tentacles that can destroy planets. After facing the Parallax, a dying Lantern sends his ring to Earth, where it chooses Jordan to become the guardian of his own planet. Along the way, Dr. Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) becomes infected with some fucking thing that is never defined, and gains super brain-power.

THE GREEN LANTERN pulls no punches in setting up, and living in its universe. A lot of it seems ridiculous, and it is, but that is something that comes with the territory in a GREEN LANTERN movie adaptation (we guess). The answer to counter the super-high concept is to ground it with something the audience can relate to, and LANTERN stumbles with that. Jordan not only comes off as unlikeable, but the attempts to make him human by way of a father-son backstory come off as forced and cliché.

For a superhero film, LANTERN has slower-than-shit pacing that sucks the energy out of the room; scene after scene of talktalktalktalktalktalk. When the action does come, it’s done by way of CGI overload, and it often feels like we’re watching a cartoon. The film comes off as boring, and that’s a sin for any movie, let alone a super one.

Reynolds does okay with what he’s given to work with, and his range seems to be exposed as he struggles to be convincing when acting against CGI characters. Sarsgaard works the most, but ultimately comes off as cartoonish as everything else. Blake Lively’s love-interest character is just a generic pair of legs.

As a film, it doesn’t work as the characters are shallow and the threat is a bore. As a superhero film, it also stumbles as it fails to do anything fresh with the new hero struggling with his new responsibilities. Comic-fans may be pleased at the way Jordan materializes random objects with his ring to use as weapons, but newcomers may feel like they are watching a remake of THE MASK.

THE GREEN LANTERN seems to be very faithful to its comic origins, which makes it a hard sell to anyone outside of the hardcore fanbase. Any person who never wore Green Lantern underoos is not going to find much to latch onto.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: The International Licensing Expo opened in Las Vegas today, at which Warner Bros. debuted promo material for the highly anticipated THE DARK KNIGHT RISES:

OPINION: Now before ya'll get your panties in a knot, NO they did not get the title wrong. Remember this is just part of a marketing campaign. Chances are this artwork won't see public distribution, but it's cool to look at anyway, and it also hints at Batman wearing the same armor from THE DARK KNIGHT in the next film.

What say you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Terrence Malick is a director/writer whose films are not for everybody; his fragmented, non-linear style often rejects any coherent plot, and serves instead as some sort of opus to the world. In THE TREE OF LIFE, Malick not only stays consistent with his beautiful photography, minimal dialogue, and endless philosophical narration, he takes it to whole new level.

THE TREE OF LIFE opens with a quote from The Book of Job, and then cuts to a mysterious wave of light (the first of many appearances). Things then cut to 1950’s Waco, Texas, when Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) receives a telegram reporting the death of her 19 year old son. Fast forward to modern day, when Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) is moving blindly through life, still numb from the loss of his brother. Jack begins reminiscing of his life growing up. The film then rewinds in a major way, taking the timeline right back to the Big Bang, showing the formation and the cooling of the Earth, the (painfully) slow formation of amoebas, and eventual coming of the dinosaurs. After two dinosaurs have a brief encounter (this is really in the film), things cut back to 1950 as Jack remembers his struggles with his near-abusive and strict father Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt). Jack remembers Dad as being strict and scary, while Mom is the passive one. Things eventually end with a glimpse of a remarkable-looking afterlife, as adult Jack is reunited with his brother and family.

So there is no real story here; the lack of which can and will send many viewers to the exit doors 20 minutes in. There is no place to go, nothing to achieve, no real defined endgame. While that may frustrate the majority of viewers, it becomes clear that this is a film that cannot be taken at face-value. There is a purpose behind the lack of a story; perhaps Malick is trying to tell us through this film, that life doesn’t have a destination as much as a journey. Most of the film feels like a prayer, as it is heavy with us humans trying to talk to God, looking for answers.

Carrying things along through the painfully slow and tedious pacing, is the outstanding and intimate way the kids are filmed. The camera is always eye-level with the children, and the viewer is instantly transported back to the days of their youth; when entertainment was found in playing with their hands, when frogs and grasshoppers were magical, and darkened stairways were spooky. Malick somehow makes the viewer not a viewer, but smack dab in the middle of the children’s’ world. It is remarkable.

Again, this is not a film that can be taken at face-value. The fragmented editing style can make anyone believe that Malick has finally lost his marbles. The film cuts from 1950 to the present day, then to a shot of a waterfall, then to a nebula, back to 1950, and then to a salamander, and then to Sean Penn in the a desert. A lot of it makes no sense, especially when the narration offers no answers and lots of questions. There are editing choices here that might not sink in until years after.

The score is fucking outstanding.

It’s difficult to gage the acting as the players don’t do a whole lot of it; they instead fill Malick’s beautifully composed frame as part of the scenery. However, when acting does come about, it is very, very good. Pitt gets the most screentime, and it is so easy for anyone to relate the character to their childhood experiences; like the moment when Dad stopped being a hero and became human. Powerful. It just may strike a lot of people right in the bottom of the cockles.

This blogger purposefully waited two days after viewing TREE OF LIFE before writing about it, as the gut-reaction was to say Malick is a goddamn nutball. However it is clear that there is a deeper message to be felt, more than seen with this film. That and the technical qualities make it one of the most gorgeous films ever made. TREE OF LIFE is a film that needs to be seen, just don’t be surprised if it takes you ten years to understand it.


Friday, June 10, 2011

A Reel Review: SUPER 8

SUPER 8 is a film that feels like the Steven Spielberg of the 1980’s threw up, and landing in the bucket are all of the elements that made him a career; home-made movies, childhood chums, broken families and adventure packed into a coming-of-age tale. To bring it all together, Spielberg dons his producer hat and hires current sci-fi wiz director J.J. Abrams, who adds his own personal touches in the form of alien monsters, mystery, and eye-popping mass destruction.

After the death of his wife in a factory accident, small town Deputy Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and his son Joe (Joel Courtney) struggle to come to terms with life without mom. To preoccupy his mind and time over the summer months, Joe serves as the makeup department for his friend’s attempt to make a zombie movie. While out filming one night, a spectacular train crash results in the release of an alien creature, which begins a mysterious heist of people and machines throughout town. The military shows up in an attempt to cover things up, and Joe and his friends (Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths and Elle Fanning) find themselves in the middle of it all when they discover they accidentally filmed the creature’s escape.

This is a film about a suburban family and childhood chums dealing with loss, and coming together thanks to the arrival of a mysterious horror. But SUPER 8 winds up being a movie torn in two; a sci-fi movie and a coming-of-age tale. Both angles rise and fall throughout the course of the film. The kids performances are very good (Elle Fanning steals the show in the seemingly only female role), and the kids are allowed to act like kids. Scripting issues rise to the surface around the middle point, as the kids seem to have a forced chemistry and friendships that aren’t very convincing.

The sci-fi angle also rises and falls. The mystery of the alien is at first intriguing as it plays hide-and-seek through the town. The alien is only seen in glimpses for 90 percent of the film, and while that technique can and will work (think JAWS and ALIEN), here it loses its appeal as the creature’s presence doesn’t invoke much fear or dread.

Abrams direction saves the ship from sinking all the way to the bottom. From several scenes reminiscent of old horror films, to the awe-of-discovery performances that he gets out of the kids. Abrams absolutely nails the look and feel of a small town in 1979; this is an age where kids communicate with walkie-talkies instead of cell phones, and it’s a three-day wait to get your film developed. Abrams uses these ’79 elements not just as window dressing, but plot devices that really work well. The action sequences, and most especially the train crash, are beautifully realized and brought to life with some excellent sound mixing and editing. The creature, when finally revealed, is a bit disappointing in the CGI execution and the design.

SUPER 8 is a film with excellent technical qualities and loaded with nostalgia; it feels like THE GOONIES/STAND BY ME with less emotion, coupled with Abrams’ second shot at CLOVERFIELD. It doesn’t seem very original, but it’s fun and never boring.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: On June 14th of this year, an Academy committee will meet to once again decide if a new Oscar category will be created for Best Stunt Coordinator. The Academy has been lobbied by stuntmen, stunt-coordinators, and actors for years for the creation of the category.

OPINION: The Academy gives awards for the behind-the-scenes folk who do makeup, create costumes, and mix and create sound. Their hands-on work behind the curtain is always seen up-front-and-center on the movie screen, so why not the stunt coordinators? Their work is often overlooked and underappreciated (even the mo-cap CGI AVATAR had one ), and the coordinators have the heavy job of making sure their stuntmen and women don’t get killed driving cars or jumping off of cliffs.
The downside of adding another category is that the televised ceremony would obviously be longer. Cry me a river. One more category isn’t going to sink the ship, and they could always cut back on the 8,763 commercials to save time.

FACT: Several properties are being lined up for a (goddamn) reboot: KONG, POLTERGEIST, and THE WOLFMAN. Fox Animation is planning an animated KONG tale; told from the perspective of the ape. MGM, now freed from its debt, is putting together POLTERGEIST, and Universal Pictures has scrapped plans for a WOLFMAN sequel and has decided to start all over. All three films are in the scripting stages.

OPINION: If it wasn’t for (goddamn) 3D, this would be the worst trend in Hollywood; starting a franchise over. Most moviegoers aren’t aware of the concept of a reboot, and often go into one of them thinking they are paying to see a sequel or a continuation. The end result is a confused and disgruntled general public. For the movie lovers, it is equally frustrating. If you’re a product of the 1980’s, chances are you have a sentimental soft-spot for the original POLTERGEIST. If you go back even further and still love the original KONG, then you have to wonder why they won’t leave the big guy alone already. While Peter Jackson’s KONG was faithful, it was the 3rd time we’ve seen the tale, and the new “ape perspective” feels like a gimmick. As for THE WOLFMAN, the original was a classic, although dated film. The remake was a diarrhea-like mess, so maybe, just maybe they can improve on it.

What say you?

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Reel Opinion: The X-Confusion

The release of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS this past weekend has fueled debate over the internets over just what the film is supposed to be; A Prequel, or a Reboot?

Both approaches have become more and more common, and overused in the recent decade. In nearly (ahem) all cases, it’s very clear what every film is trying to do. A Prequel looks to set the backstory to an already established film (George Lucas’ STAR WARS films, for example), while a Reboot wipes the slate clean by completely ignoring the established films (like Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN films).

In 2009, J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK film managed to serve as both a Prequel AND a Reboot. By using a clever time-travel plot-device, Abrams managed to set a new stage while keeping the storylines of the original films intact.

With no time-travel in the X-MEN world (at least not yet), most of, if not all X-fans went into the film thinking they were in for a Prequel. Well, they kinda got that, along with a lot of confusion.

The film did a lot of things that screamed Prequel; A scene from X1, a character (played by the same actor) from all four previous films makes a cameo, and a major setting from all four films is utilized heavily.

And then things got messy. Many happenings directly contradict the established films; facts are changed, and two major characters reach their arcs seemingly way too early. Aside from the continuity breaks, with those two characters reaching those points so early, it’s got to be difficult for future entries in this “new” franchise to find anywhere to go.

This blogger has no answers as to what FIRST CLASS is supposed to be (other than a shittin’ mess), but can only offer this point: FIRST CLASS feels like the filmmakers (producer Bryan Singer and director Matthew Vaughn) wanted to make one movie, and the studio wanted to make another. The end result is an off-balanced compromise. Studios interfering with the directors and producers is nothing new, and it is the arrogance of said studios that is the real problem. They obviously feel that that with the right names, the public will eat up any crap that they churn out.
People who care about their movies certainly deserve better.

What say you?

Friday, June 3, 2011


Ever since director Bryan Singer left the Mutants behind, the X-MEN franchise has been coughing up blood. His outstanding X2 was followed up by the decent-but-joyless X3, followed by the dismal WOLVERINE spinoff. In X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, Singer dons the producer hat and brings the franchise back to its literal roots. With a young and eager director in the form of Matthew Vaughn, and an equally young and eager cast, FIRST CLASS gets at least an A for effort.

After watching his mother get shot dead by Nazi opportunist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), young Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) goes on a lifelong path of vengeance. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and his adapted sister Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are leading a life of privilege before being recruited by CIA agent Moira (Rose Byrne) to help prevent WWIII courtesy of Shaw’s wheeling and dealing with the U.S. and USSR militaries. Xavier and Lensherr cross paths, and despite their different ideals, join forces to prevent Shaw’s orchestration of the Cuban Missile Crisis while recruiting other mutants to their cause.

FIRST CLASS begins strongly; utilizing Singer’s powerful Nazi-occupied Poland sequence from X1 to set the stage for Erik/Magneto’s lifelong vengeance mission. Xavier’s origins are a little less defined, but his character eventually develops. In the early goings, the film strives upon the parallel courses the two men take before their paths collide, and when the two of them are together, lightly clashing their ideals, the film is at its best.

Where things stumble a bit is the massive amount of juxtaposition. Once scene sets up another, which sets up another, which sets up another. By the midway point one has to begin praying for someone to punch someone in the face already. Things get bogged down by the many, many, many subplots concerning the kid-mutant characters. It’s a noble effort, as the kids can’t just be there to fill space, but it feels disappointing when the focus goes away from the Xavier/Magneto story. With that lack of focus, along with some clunky dialogue, there is a major disconnect.

Matthew Vaughn, who made magic happen in his whimsical STARDUST, feels absent here. While he gets great performances out of his actors, whatever direction he did with the camera is insignificant. Everything is plainly shot and cut, with little to pop the eyes out. The action scenes are CGI heavy, and the lack of practical effects and actual stunts is noticeable as there is no real feeling of pending doom.

Acting is actually pretty terrific. Fassbender is the real star of the show. His tortured soul is nailed with the just the right depth. McAvoy comes across with just the right amount of wisdom balanced by youthful arrogance. Both men seem to separate their performances from their predecessors, and it’s a bit unclear if that was done to push their youthful age or to separate FIRST CLASS from the other X films. Bacon, while doing a workman-like job as always, feels badly miscast as the villain; but then again, his Bond-esque “soon I will take over the world” evil plot carries absolutely no weight or threat. Even X3 offered something for people to be scared of for Christ’s sake.

The film is loaded with mutants from the X-MEN comic universe, and there seems to be a lot of winks-and-nods that only fans of the source material would get. Newcomers to the franchise may feel a bit lost, as the true roots of the mutation is merely touched upon. Just like the STAR WARS prequels, there are lot of strong seeds planted in FIRST CLASS that eventually sprout up in X1 and X2.

And the one cameo is the greatest scene ever filmed in an X-MEN movie.

The finale, while very good and powerful, flies in the face of and breaks continuity with the established X-MEN films and their universe. Certain characters seem to hit points in their development way too early; events that feel like they would have been better off reserved for future films. However, with no such thing as a guaranteed sequel, it’s understandable that Vaughn/Singer would cram everything into one film. What’s not understandable is whether or not FIRST CLASS is to serve as a true prequel or an outright reboot to wipe the slate clean; certain things fit, others don’t. That sort of imbalance, along with a lack of focus, messes up the vibe. Singer’s return and touch is present, and just enough to be buoyant. This “class” gets a passing grade, if a C+ is considered good.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Rutger Hauer jumps head-first into a 1970’s Grindhouse-style bloodbath in the form of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN; a throwback to the old vigilante flicks that made names like Bronson famous. Heavy on blood and cheese, HOBO is far from winning any Oscars, but close to earning a reputation as the film that names like Tarantino and Rodriguez have been trying to make for years.

The Hobo (Hauer) arrives at a crime-ridden town via boxcar (of course), looking to earn money to start his lawn-mowing business. He witnesses a beheading courtesy of crime-lord Drake (Brian Downey), and his thug sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). The Hobo saves a young prostitute Abby (Molly Dunsworth) from the clutches of Ivan, and manages to acquire a shotgun on his way to blasting crime away from the city, one shell at a time.

HOBO is a film that is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Chock full of gore and cheesy lines, with decapitations and vulgarity throughout, it is a hard throwback to the B and C-movies of the 70’s. As such a film, it works. The film is shot in oversaturated colors and grain that makes it look 1970’s authentic, right down to the “filmed in Technicolor” opening credit.

As a standalone film, it’s a tough watch. Newcomers to the genre might not “get it”, and walk away after the first 10 minutes. The storyline is thin, and centers only upon The Hobo and his will to survive. Character development comes in bit and pieces, but nothing to really latch on to. It cannot be called a story of revenge, as there is nothing to gain vengeance on. It cannot be called a vigilante story, as there is nothing to gain revenge on. This is a movie all about blasting people away. Period.

What really puts the film over the top is Hauer’s ferocious performance. He fits the part perfectly and adds a bit of legitimacy to the zany ridiculousness of it all. His character finds himself in some pretty ugly and sickening situations, and one often has to wonder how/why Hauer agreed to pimp himself out to such low crap. Acting across the whole is awful, and it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s done purposefully to push across the B-movie message.

HOBO is a great watch for lovers of the genre. For newcomers, it would be an appalling piece of shit. It manages to be serious and mocking at the same time (figure that one out), and never fails to entertain. As a homage, it works beautifully. As a movie, it’s crap. Figure that one out too.