Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Republicans tried to use a clip from 2010’s THE TOWN as a rally cry during debt-ceiling debates this week, playing a scene that has riled up Democrats. In the scene played, with Jeremy Renner and Ben Affleck, one tells the other that he needs his help to “hurt some people”.

OPINION: This Blogger just hates it when morons give good movies a bad name. It takes two to tango, and there are idiots on both sides here. Maybe they should have played DUMB AND DUMBER or JACKASS.

FACT: Ron Howard has bowed out of directing the film adaptation of author Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon novel, THE LOST SYMBOL, but may still produce. Howard directed the previous two films, THE DaVINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS.

OPINION: The series could probably use some new blood; while this Blogger enjoys CODE immensely, DEMONS came across as a soup sandwich. On top of that, SYMBOL is generally held to be the weakest in the series. This third film would need a strong shot in the arm, and this Blogger still says Viggo Mortensen would have been the perfect Langdon.

FACT: It was confirmed this week that four of the original cast members of the 1960’s gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS will make cameos in Tim Burton’s upcoming feature adaptation; this includes Jonathan Frid, who played the main character/vampire Barnabas.

OPINION: Newcomers to the DARK SHADOWS universe will likely have no idea who these old dudes are when they appear on screen, so Burton needs to hopefully give them something important to do other than serve a “wink wink” moment. But cameos are supposed to be fun (like Stan Lee popping up in the Marvel films), so it should be neat to see.

What say you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Reel Top 10 Superhero Films

With this year’s crop of superhero films about wrapped up, and a full year to go before the next season, now seemed to be the perfect time to revisit the Reel Top 10 Superhero Films of All Time

A person’s Top 10 list of anything can and will evolve over time. New releases, changing tastes, and the gift of hindsight that comes with old age and a beer gut can change perspectives. Either way, as with any other film, this Blogger judges a superhero film the same way he judges any other film; story, character, entertainment.

To be clear, this list focuses on films based on SUPERHEROS, and not comic books. Big difference. Now to business:

Friends of this blog may be surprised to find Tim Burton’s BATMAN crack the Top 10. Silly as it is with too many stupid dance routines and an asshat of a plot, it cleverly worked in an origin tale which didn’t take things over, and did away with the old images of TV Campy Batman forever by putting the darkness back in the Dark Knight’s universe.

Downright entertainment from head to tail is what CAPTAIN AMERICA, SPIDER-MAN 2, and SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE is all about. SUPERMAN especially; which for a 30 year old film, holds up extremely well against anything today.

Bryan Singer’s X-MEN rightfully makes the list, and nearly in the Top 5. Injecting elements of racism into the mix makes the film timeless; and the characters are ones we can connect with and watch over and over again.

THE INCREDIBLES makes the Top 5; don’t bother to argue that it shouldn’t just because it’s animated. The banished superhero subplot is a stronger angle than anything Marvel or DC has come up with in years. And that’s just the subplot!

The Top 5, with THE INCREDIBLES included, is all about character, character, character. Their stories are what drives each film. BATMAN BEGINS and IRON MAN are remarkably very similar films with distinct styles, and both make their heroes people that we want to hang out with and cheer for. There is a human side to both that a lot of filmmakers tend to leave behind.

Singer’s X2 is epic on many levels while capitalizing on important themes established in the first film.
X2 was No. 1 on this Blogger’s list for many years; right up until that pesky Caped Crusader came out with his second film in his new series. THE DARK KNIGHT is difficult to top, as it is not just a movie about a guy in a cape. It’s a crime drama and a character study; it can work with the guys in masks and makeup or without them. And speaking of makeup, KNIGHT capitalizes on the theory that your villain should be more interesting than your hero; KNIGHT’s Joker is a silver-screen Big Bad that ranks up there with Vader and the Corleones.


2. X2
6. X-MEN

What say you?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Fans who went to see CAPTAIN AMERICA this past weekend were treated to two early trailers for major superhero releases next year; THE AVENGERS (!) and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The Spidey trailer confirmed for what many had been fearing; that this is not a 3rd sequel to the Sam Raimi-directed films from the past decade, but an outright reboot that retells the story of the webslinger’s origins.

OPINION: Reboots have worked before. The Batman and Star Trek franchises have recently benefitted from the approach. But in this case, everything is against Spidey. First off, Raimi’s first SPIDER-MAN film, which also told the origins, was only nine years ago and still fresh in people’s minds. Fans are going to have a hard time sitting through the now familiar and nearly tired tale. The film, which has a top-heavy cast in the form of Andrew Garfield, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary and Emma Stone, will also have a struggle at the box office; THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES will likely bury it.

FACT: A recent article on offers the interesting argument that the downfall of the superhero film is well on its way. With the major players in DC Comics and Marvel nearly exhausting their talent pool with new films every year, soon or later they will run out of A-listers.

OPINION: It is true that there are only so many superheroes that can be poached for the big screen, but both Marvel and DC should be all right for a bit yet; THE AVENGERS will likely go at least three films over the next five years, as will their new Spider-man, and DC is working on rebooting Superman for 2013. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s answer to a depleted well is to just refill (reboot) it. Maybe letting the well run dry and stay dry is the right thing to do; even this Blogger can have too much to drink.

What say you?

Friday, July 22, 2011


Director Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER will easily go down in history as the most stylistic superhero film ever made. With every character, outfit, vehicle and setting looking like it just fell out of WWII comic or recruitment poster, the film sets an atmosphere that one can just sit back and get buried in. While most films fail when heavy on style and light on substance, CAP manages to embrace it and make it work.

It is WWII. Hitler is using his science-division by the name of Hydra, led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and Dr. Zola(Toby Jones) to advance his cause. The Skull acquires a mysterious object which he believes once belonged to (wink wink) the god Odin, and uses the massive power within to create weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 90-pound weakling who has dreams of serving his country. He is recruited by Dr. Abraham (Stanley Tucci), Col. Chester(Tommy Lee Jones) and British Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) to become the first in a breed of super soldiers. After a Hydra attack leaves Rogers as the lone recipient of the super-serum, he dons the USO-created persona of Captain America to battle Hydra and save the world.

CAP starts off slow. Excruciatingly slow as the film clunks through Cap’s origin tale. Nearly the entire first act is devoid of any energy and is seriously joyless. However, as it is with most origin tales, once the outfit is put on, things really take off. CAP becomes a blast as Cap battles evil across the world. The film embraces the WWII world and never lets go, and it’s that commitment that is the unyielding hook. Major credit goes to the designers, as they made a guy who is wearing a flag totally believable and right in place in the gritty war.

As with most Marvel films these days post-IRON MAN, the film is light on character and heavy on plot. Cap is the centerpiece and rightfully gets all of the attention, and his motivations take some interesting twists and turns that keep things engaging. But CAP is overall light on emotion, and the thinly-drawn supporting cast adds to that. The Red Skull, while remarkably realized visually, is as thin as a comic-book page and survives only on his menacing looks.

The action scenes seem to exist just to show off Cap in his threads, but that’s really okay as he is the star of the film. What does become frustrating is the insertion of CGI environments; while the film does use a lot of practical sets and stunts, the CGI geographies stick out like a sore thumb in this WWII universe. Along those same lines, the film could have used a bit less of the sci-fi, as the STAR WARS-esque elements tend to knock the 1940’s atmosphere out of whack; the film is at its best when Cap has his boots on the ground doing hand-to-hand combat.

Johnston doesn’t get a lot of great performances out of his actors. Evans and his love interest Atwell come off as wooden throughout, and it feels like their facial expressions don’t change very much at all. Weaving and Jones both ham up their roles like they’re being paid in bacon. The show is probably stolen by Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, who totally nails the mannerisms and flair of his future son Tony.

After several lousy attempts to bring Captain America justice in the moving medium, this CAP, despite the misgivings, is a very enjoyable movie. It easily ranks right behind IRON MAN in this new generation of Marvel films. The Avengers elements don’t intrude (finally), and instead help set up what is going to be one-hell-of-a-goddamn show next year. There are some awesome seeds planted in CAP, seeds that look great in the present and in the future.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Reel Opinion: Harry Potter and the Stupid Release Date

It can be argued that certain genres of movies should be released during certain times of the year; Christmas movies belong in December, horror movies in October, action/superhero flicks in the summer, etc. Taking it a step further, it can be argued that certain films belong in certain release dates; LORD OF THE RINGS/HOBBIT in December, STAR WARS in May, and HARRY POTTER in December.

THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, the 8th and final POTTER film, has already made squillons of dollars. Warner Bros. would like us to believe that they strategically picked July 15th to take advantage of a somewhat-pale summer season. Let’s not give them that much credit. After the success of HALLOWS PART 1 (released in, ahem, December of last year), Warner Bros. probably didn’t want to lose any momentum and keep the two movies (which are really one big film) fresh in people’s minds. Also, they may have been considering a packed December this year, with SHERLOCK HOLMES 2, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and Steven Spielberg’s TINTIN and WARHORSE all primed for holiday business. But lets face it, with the POTTER films having such a strong fanbase, did they really think no one would show up in December?

The truth likely is the greedy bastards saw massive summer dollar signs and jumped at it. Financially, they did the right thing. But what about the long term effects?
Let’s back up a sec and talk about why POTTER belongs in December in the first place. The first five films were released during December, and it became a comfort for people to know they would have Harry and his magical world to welcome them into the magic of the holiday season. Perfect match. Secondly, the films have many scenes that take place with snowfall and the holidays; kind of difficult to get wrapped up in the spirit of the films’ geography when you’re watching holiday visuals in the heat of the summer. And thirdly, the POTTER films have always had a “back to school” vibe running through them. Again, atmosphere better suited to colder times of the year. It is a psychological impression that runs deeper than many moviegoers

On top of all that, if Warner Bros. decides to push the film for any Oscar contention, they will have a massive hill to climb. Unfortunately for Harry, by the time the Academy members start filling out their ballots in January 2012, films released during the month of July 2011 will seem as far away as Mars. There are reasons why the serious Oscar contenders are released in November-December, and timing is the big one. Warner Bros. may be swimming in the buck$ right now, but they may have really blundered in targeting Harry for July.

What say you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: In the first bit of major-casting news concerning the Potter kids Post-Harry, it is being reported that Emma Watson has been cast as the female lead in Guillermo Del Toro’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST remake.

OPINION: Thurs far it is unclear if Del Toro will direct the project, as he is only listed as a producer. Either way, a BEAUTY AND THE BEAST film seems well fit to his visionary style, and no one has been better at humanizing fantasy creatures since Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS. This is also good news for Watson, who is a bundle of talent ready for the next phase of her career. It is this blogger’s hope that someone will soon do an ALICE IN WONDERLAND remake and cast Emma as Alice.

FACT: A preview of the numerous extras and bonus materials planned for the upcoming STAR WARS blu-ray release will be available this week via a free app for iPad only.

OPINION: It’s nice to see studios taking advantage of different media to promote their products, but DISLIKE for it being an iPad (and presumably, iPhone eventually too) exclusive. Consumers like options. If they don’t like iCrap, they shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

FACT: Kevin Costner seems set to join the cast of Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western DJANGO UNCHAINED. Costner would play Ace Woody, a sadistic trainer of fighting slaves and female prostitutes. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, and Samuel L. Jackson are set to star as well.

OPINION: Tarantino resurrected the careers of John Travolta and David Carradine, so maybe he can do the same for ol’ Cos. Costner hasn’t been doing too badly as of late (his recent roles in MR. BROOKS and THE COMPANY MEN were outstanding), but playing an asshole cowboy couldn’t hurt. Outside of that, let’s hope ol’ QT can inject some pure originality into this film; everything he’s done recently has been homage after homage after homage.

What say you?

Saturday, July 16, 2011


If the entire HARRY POTTER film franchise were a pyramid, then DEATHLY HALLOWS 2 would be the capstone; not a giant piece of the structure but the final and most important one. Not really its own movie, it serves instead as a feature-length wrap of events that began years ago; loose ends are tied up, secrets are revealed and closure is brought to all involved. This movie is the bottom of the 9th inning that we’ve all been waiting for…

Picking up right where HALLOWS PART 1 left off, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Ron and Hermonie (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), inch their way closer to finding the remaining Horcruxes; hidden items that the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has imbedded parts of his soul into to be immortal. The hunt leads them back to their beloved Hogwarts, where students and staff engage in a massive battle against Voldemort and his legions of followers.

The POTTER films have always been the story of Harry’s life, while allowing room for the many other characters and subplots. In HALLOWS 2, Harry takes center stage with the lone spotlight. This is his show now, with only room left for his enemy in the form of Voldemort. Where HALLOWS 1 served as a character drama, HALLOWS 2 puts the pedal to metal and drives straight ahead. It is a plot-heavy film that tends to leave characters behind while getting down to business.

But surrounding Harry’s movie is a powerful message of love and loss. It has been remarkable over the years to witness the look of the films change as the kids get older; much in the same way we all see the world differently as the years pass. In HALLOWS 2, the world not only changes, but literally crumbles around them. But keeping it all together are strong themes of love and friendship; themes that will have many reaching for the Kleenex.

Director David Yates still seems to have as much patience as a 16 year old boy tugging at a bra strap. Things still feel really rushed, and a lot of scenes feel like they could have benefitted greatly by being just a few well-spent minutes longer. For example, an early dramatic scene in a bank vault begins with all the makings of a STAR WARS-esque trash-compactor trap, but is pushed through so quickly it is over before the audience can process what happened. Also, the striking images of the Hogwarts castle being burned and blasted to the ground come and go without letting the devastation sink in. Such is Yates style, plowing through the field without stopping to smell the roses; characters are left behind and many happenings are zipped though. There also seems to be a heavy reliance on the audience being familiar with the source material; even with HALLOWS 1 as support, there are many items that could have benefitted with just a little more explanation.

Acting is superb all around. Radcliffe gets the most attention and the most work, and shows that he really does have the chops to expand his career. Watson and Grint also shine, despite how little they seem to be used. Fiennes nearly steals the show in his villainous role, and Alan Rickman’s command of the tragic Severus Snape reaches new emotional heights.

Despite some of the misgivings, HALLOWS 2 still offers a powerful emotional punch and satisfying wrap to the series. It is a hard film to judge on its own as it is built around everything that came before it, but gets high marks and a passing grade for bringing incredible smiles, cheers and tears from beginning to end.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Reel Opinion

It is December of 2001. The average price of gasoline is $1.47. Enron has just filed for bankruptcy, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were less than four months ago.

In early December of 2001, SHREK and MONSTERS, INC. were the highest-grossing films of the year. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING had yet to be seen by anyone.

Let all that serve as some perspective towards the HARRY POTTER film franchise; for in that December of 2001, the very first movie was released. It was the launching of a massive effort and commitment by studios, actors, filmmakers, and moviegoers. It was the beginning of a TEN year journey that had never been seen before, and unlikely to ever be seen again.

Atmosphere and emotion are what kept the films afloat year after year, and a lot of that can be credited to the directors that have brought that POTTER universe to life. Chris Columbus introduced us to that universe through the eyes of a child in Parts 1 and 2; full of color, wonder, and discovery. In Part 3, Alfonso Cuaron built upon those foundations, while making a slight turn into darker territory; territory that Mike Newell would drive home with a powerful emotional punch in Part 4. David Yates then came on board and completely fucked up Parts 5 and 6, before finally unwrapping his ass from around his head to create a remarkable two-part finale.

Lineups of actors, carrying current and eventual royalty, brought the characters to life. Names like Harris, Smith, Rickman, Gleeson, Oldman and Gambon became more than just faces on the silver screen. They were real; and we cared about them.

And the names of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint will forever be attached to their wizardly characters. No matter what this talented trio does in their future careers, they will never shake Harry, Hermonie and Ron. Hell, even Ron Howard still can’t shake Richie.

The ending of the HARRY POTTER films is significant largely because it just may have ended an era in Hollywood; an era where thousands of people made a ten-year commitment to make these movies happen. In a new age where sequels are pushed for no reason other than to make money, it is hard to believe that these movies would have stopped if just one installment flopped. The level of commitment is nearly beyond what most people put towards a relationship or a marriage, but also reflects a love of the source material; a love that never let go.

What say you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Reel (goddamn) 3D Review: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

The problem with (goddamn) 3D is twofold; first, many films are not created with the 3rd dimension in mind, and the prints are pushed through a conversion process that comes out like shit 9 times out of 10. The second problem is even when a film is made for GD 3D, it rests in the vision of the director to make it work. The last two films reviewed by this blog in the GD 3D format, SAW 3D and TRON: LEGACY, were made for it and still managed to fail miserably.

In the old days, GD 3D was a gimmick that had objects flying out of the screen at the audience. In this new generation, it is not about what comes at you, but away from you. What makes GD 3D work today is depth of field. James Cameron’s AVATAR nailed this perfectly; hallways and landscapes that reached back and beyond. AVATAR set a new bar for the format; showing that GD 3D is perfect for showing the vastness or hugeness of anything. The format in turn helps the story along by way of giving perspective and awareness of the geography.

Enter Michael Bay and his third TRANSFORMERS film. As the film opens, it takes about 1.5 seconds to realize that Bay understands what to do with the GD 3rd dimension. The opening shot of a starfield immediately gives an outstanding appreciation and understanding of the vastness of space; it is an effect that Kubrick would have loved for his SPACE ODYESSY film.

The 3rd dimension in this film does aid in the storytelling by showing just how BIG things are; buildings, ships, robots, heights, etc. It adds great perspective and dizzying spectacle as the camera teeters over the roofs of skyscrapers. The battle scenes benefit from it as well; the format allows for a real-time feel to being on the battlefield, peering through smoke and ducking from flying debris.

As awesome as it is for the big stuff, it is poor in the small stuff. Intimate scenes between humans have no use for the 3rd dimension, and it begins to feel like one of those older films where you only put the glasses on for certain parts. Screen brightness is okay (a quick peek under the glasses shows what looks like an over-brightened screen), but still feels murky in any darker scenes. As a sidenote, it is worth mentioning that with GD 3D being displayed by digital projectors, you are guaranteed to see a presentation devoid of any scratches, dust, or any other flaws.

This blogger can and will recommend seeing this film in (goddamn) 3D providing you don’t mind the heftier ticket price, annoying glasses, and scenes that don’t utilize the format. The visual effects are still pretty darn spectacular in good ol’ 2D, but those who spring for the 3rd will be rewarded with gang-banged eyeballs.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Reuters is reporting that Johnny Depp is close to signing on for a fifth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has stated that he has no plans to proceed with the franchise without him.

OPINION: Depp is smart enough to know that Disney will throw assloads of money at him to keep the ship afloat, but is he smart enough to hold off on signing the dotted line before a director is hired? Rob Marshall made an absolute mess out of the fourth film and should not be allowed anywhere near anything that involves action faster than a drunken snail. Hopefully Depp will be savvy enough to know this.

FACT: More of a rumor here, but it’s worth mentioning that action star Jason Statham is reportedly being looked at as a potential leading man for a possible fourth TRANSFORMERS film. With both Michael Bay and Shia LaBeouf leaving the series, the films would most definitely take a different turn.

OPINION: PLEASE NO! This blogger has seen enough of Jason Statham; the man has made the shittiest films and his over-the-top action shtick is getting real old real fast. Let him make CRANK 3.

FACT: An official press photo has been released of three dwarves from THE HOBBIT; Ori (Jed Brophy), Nori (Adam Brown), and Dori (Mark Hadlow).


What say you?