Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: STAR WARS blu-ray

FACT: As reported and blogged about last week, it seems that the blu-ray release of STAR WARS in September will include even further tweaks to the original trilogy. Today, it was revealed that Vader’s effective silent turn back to the light side (in Episode VI) has been replaced with a “Noooo”, as he tosses his master into the chasm.

OPINION: As someone who once had the privilege of creating his own film, this blogger can understand filmmakers’ need and desire to make changes even years after the fact. Series creator George Lucas has been tweaking his films since nearly Day One in an effort to complete things he couldn’t do in the early days, and make what he considers to be improvements. It’s an effort to make things better, and whether or not the changes accomplish that is the real debate; not if the filmmaker has the right to do so, because they surely do.

Here is a reality check for all: Fans do not own the films. They like to think that they do, especially when they’re the ones shelling out the dough for special editions over and over again. The filmmaker owns it; it’s naïve to think otherwise. Fans (this blogger included), tend to sentimentalize certain films and want them preserved in their memories the same way forever. Lucas may have forgotten that, and that’s probably his biggest sin.

It’s worth mentioning that special editions and directors cuts can be hit-or-miss. Just look at the pieces-of-shit SUPERMAN II, THE ABYSS, and E.T. turned out to be when they were tweaked and changed. Then again, they can work fine; like the director’s cut of ALIENS, and the expansion of Bespin in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

This blogger won’t curse Lucas for making the changes. He owns it; he has to live with it. Whether or not he is making things better, or over-thinking things is the real question.

What say you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reel Posters & Opinions

A movie poster, much like a trailer, can sink or swim a film well before it sees time on the big screen. In the YouTube age, where video is everywhere, the poster may sadly become a dying art. Will light-boxes in movie theatres one day be replaced by HD LED’s, in (goddamn) 3D? Let’s hope not.

In this second edition of Reel Posters & Opinions, we’ll take a look at some recently released posters pushing films for the last quarter (or so) of 2011; all of these go for the Less Is More angle, and they all work:


Not only will the buff dudes in this design draw in the ladies (and some dudes), but the placement of the word "warrior" is a minor stroke of genius; the movie is about two brothers who wind up fighting each other for a UFC title.


The Brad Pitt driven drama is about a new owner trying to piece together a championship ballclub using unconventional methods. This poster tells us that he must feel very alone while trying to do so. And tiny.


Not much is known about this little creeper just yet, but the simplicity of this design is enough to sell this blogger.


Less Is More, and bonus points for simple creativity in an age where most designers just go for the numerous disembodied floating heads.

What say you?

Friday, August 26, 2011


One thing about DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is for absolute certain: there will never ever be any sympathy for the villainous little monsters that live under the basement and scurry about inside the walls. They are tiny, bloodthirsty and ugly little bastards who prey upon children for their teeth. They are a clever and interesting take on the tooth fairy and other fairy tales involving children being taken from their beds. Surviving them is the plot of DARK, and it’s just enough to keep this haunted house tale afloat.

Young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and her soon-to-be stepmother Kim (Katie Holmes). Alex and Kim are refurbishing an old home with a wicked past; a past known only to the groundskeeper. Soon after moving in, Sally manages to unleash the little demons that live in the basement, and must try to convince her family that there is pending danger in the house.

DARK isn’t really the most original horror film ever made; packed tight with classic clichés. There is the little girl who discovers the creatures, the doubting father who is more concerned with success, and the new mom who discovers her maternal instincts while being the only one who believes in the threat. Aside from that, the characters are thinly drawn and the plot is just as weak. Surviving the threat of the little monsters is the only storyline, with only a quick subplot of a decades-old cover-up for any serious meat.

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey, DARK still manages to entertain and offer a few well-timed scares. Keeping the creatures in the dark literally) for most of the film is the best choice made, as our imaginations run wild trying to figure out where the little bastards will come out from next. There is a great atmosphere of tension and buildup throughout, and the payoff is worth the wait.

The creatures are only spotted in glimpses for the most of the film, and they are at their strongest when only heard and peeked at. When the curtain is finally pulled back in the third act and they are revealed in all their CGI glory, their look, despite the creepy design, is a little disappointing. CGI in this day and age should be able to pull off a more convincing creature.

Bailee Madison shows off some really good acting chops in some places, and lousy ones in others. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes both fit their roles well, with Holmes proving that she still has a lot to offer in her career.

Overall DARK is a neat little haunted house tale. It’s not the most original film ever made, nor is it the scariest, but it’s worth a look and good fun.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: STAR WARS BLU-RAY

FACT: With the long-awaited release of the STAR WARS saga in (glorious) blu-ray just a few weeks away, some early screenings/pressers have revealed some interesting facts:

-The blu-ray transfer is nothing short of spectacular. For instance, the minuscule-detail in the models from the Original Trilogy can finally be seen.

-Issues with the audio in the 2004 DVD release have been corrected; most notably John Williams’ magnificent score in EPISODE IV, which was buried and often sounded muddy.

-The EPISODE I Muppet-Yoda has been replaced with a CGI-Yoda (not 100% confirmed, but still worth speculating).

OPINION: Let’s start with the 900 year-old Jedi Master issue. In EPISODE I, the Muppet-Yoda was met with a lot of jeers for looking too much like a muppet, and just not looking right overall. ILM responded with a heavy hand in EPISODE II, replacing latex with digi-bits and making him CGI. Fans groaned again. Not because he looked bad (he looked fine), but because they chose to follow some damn-fool idealistic crusade that it was blasphemy to have nothing but a muppet in that role. Ultimately, ILM and George Lucas made the right decision; having a muppet perform a swordfight would have looked like a scene from TEAM AMERICA.

Aside from that, there is a lot to get excited about concerning the look and sound of the films in (glorious) blu-ray. The reviews are reflecting that they have never looked better, and that likely means many, many repeat viewings.

What say you?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The success or failure of a film can often rely upon the decisions made prior to the cameras even arriving on set. Bad decisions in writing, casting and choice of director can doom a project early on. With that said, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, a remake of the 1982 cult-favorite, is a perfect film; it is perfect in getting absolutely everything wrong.

On a quest to recover an magic mask with the powers to raise the dead, the evil Zym (Stephen Lang), and his witch –daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) slaughters young Conan’s village, including his pop (Ron Perlman). Once grown, Conan (Jason Momoa), embarks on a quest to enact revenge on Zym, before he can summon the power of the magic mask and sacrifice a female monk (Rachel Nichols).

CONAN stumbles and bumbles right out of the gate. After a LORD OF THE RINGS-ripoff prologue, followed by a laughable Conan birth-scene, things delve into the motivations for the villain, which for undeveloped reasons, is something that we’re all supposed to be afraid of. The filmmakers, evidently worried that the film would be too simple by just being a story about a boy out for his father’s revenge, chose to beef things up with a zany and unthreatening evil plot. The mask, and the threat of raising the dead comes as off so stupid, that the audience nearly wants to root for the villain to succeed just to see what would happen. In the midst of all this, Conan is nearly left behind. His motivations for revenge, although present, get left in the dust as his scenes are rushed through faster than a stampede. Conan himself is underwritten; given little to do with no real character arc.

Development of any character is blasted through too fast, and along with that is any mythos of the world that they inhabit. The ancient world and its peoples seem to exist just to take up space on the screen; no time at all is given to explain what they believe in, how they live, or why we should care about them. Besides that, the villain’s only threat to them seems to come in his endless monologues about covering the world in “oceans of blood” over and over again.

Adding to the mess is the inadequate directing chops of Marcus Nispel; an absolute disastrous choice for a director of what should have been an epic sword-and-sorcery film. Nispel has no skill in directing action; scenes are shot up too close and edited too quickly. The cuts come too fast to keep up with anything, and the fighting is over before we know what’s happened. Another odd and ultimately bad choice is the usage of Morgan Freeman to offer some narration. Although everyone loves ol’ Morgan’s pipes, here he feels out of place; reciting dialogue that is too paper-thin and reeking of garbage for his talent. On top of that, the narration is vastly under-used. Overall the film feels very small, and ultimately insignificant.

Momoa looks like he could be a decent Conan; he has muscles everywhere, swings a mean sword and has a face only a jackhammer would love. His lines come in grunts of four words at a time, which seems to be his limit. Acting across the board is cheesy, although Rose McGowan’s witch seems to stand out.

Despite the amount of (CGI) blood and (real) tits, CONAN feels like a Saturday morning cartoon thanks to the absurdity of it all. It’s an automatic B-movie; never to be taken seriously by anyone older than 13 or with a pea-sized brain.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Pixar has announced two new films now in development set for release in 2013 and 2014. The first will explore a premise in which the plant-killing asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses the planet and the dinos survive into the modern age. A storyline of a boy and his pet dinosaur will be the focus. The second film takes place inside the human mind. Both are untitled as of yet.

OPINION: After two straight years of sequels (TOY STORY 3 and CARS 2), it’s refreshing to finally see Pixar get back into the original game. Although they still have the (sigh) MONSTERS INC. prequel on the way, these two newly announced films, along with next year’s fantasy/quest film BRAVE, sound really intriguing and can’t get here soon enough.

FACT: Just a day after the announcement concerning the long awaited USS Indianapolis film, Hannibal Classics announced they are producing a rival film, called USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE. The $30 million film looks to be an action-oriented homage to the crew of the famed ship.

OPINION: This blogger is just astounded at how the rights to these properties can get dispersed all over the world for any Tom, Dick, Harry & Clem to do what they want with. All this is on the heels of three different SNOW WHITE films in production. No wonder the average moviegoer gets confused and frustrated.

FACT: Writer Sean Hood, who did such a bang-up job with the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN movie (more on that later), has submitted his script for a 5th RAMBO film. Hood says the script is based on a treatment given to him by Sylvester Stallone, and will be a series-wrap with the tone of Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN.

OPINION: Groan. Fans of the ex-Green Beret have to be suddenly wishing that John J. never made it out of the mine in FIRST BLOOD. Remember the gag in SPACEBALLS: “full review of Rocky Five. Thousand.” Still, the prospect of the film taking on an UNFORGIVEN vibe is somewhat interesting, although chances are the project will turn into another brain-dead and soul-less shoot-em-up that the industry seems to be in love with these days.

What say you?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Ridley Scott will be producing and directing a new installment set in his BLADE RUNNER universe.

OPINION: While it is still unclear if this new BLADE RUNNER will be a sequel, prequel, or reboot, fans of the original film have already been in an uproar; with reactions like “NOOO” or “why mess with a good thing”. This blogger honestly doesn’t get the negative reaction. If another BLADE RUNNER film has to be made, then who else but the original creator would you want at the helm? Only Ridley knows what directions the story can, and should go. Only he knows what parts of that original world needs to be explored; what curtains could be drawn back. The possibilities of that world are endless, and only Ridley knows them. Now it’s fair to say that Ridley hasn’t been too magnificent in recent years, but as a good friend of REEL SPEAK likes to say; a mediocre Ridley is still better than the rest of the world.

FACT: Warner Bros., along with Robert Downey Jr., are teaming up to bring the story of the USS Indianapolis to the big screen. The film will follow the efforts of Hunter Scott, a student who in 1996 managed to exonerate the captain of the doomed ship, who was unjustly court-martialed and blamed for the sinking of the ship and the loss of over a hundred sailors.

OPINION: The story of the Indianapolis first captured the imagination of moviegoers in Steven Spielberg’s JAWS; told through the eyes of famed character Quint. To finally see the horror of what those sailors went through on the big screen is really exciting, even if it would (presumably) be told in flashbacks. It is this bloggers’ hope that they bring things full-circle, and include a character named Quint ;)

What say you?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Reel Opinion: THE WORLD WAR Z Uproar

This week, fans of the zombie-apocalypse novel WORLD WAR Z became irate enough to eat brains when they received some dismaying news concerning the now-filming movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt. The news, by way of a news release from Paramount, gave a short synopsis of the plot which, according to fans, is a major departure from the novel. The book, which is a collection of first-person accounts of the completed zombie-war, seems to be getting its unique narrative traded in for a typical Hollywood zombie-splatter flick.

It is naive to think that any book adapted to film will escape any sort of alterations or cuts; characters will go away, places will disappear, dialogue will be altered, and yes, plots will change. All this is done, of course, to make for a good film for wide audiences, and not just fans of the source material. In the past, this has been done with great success in GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS (all Oscar winners), which made several cuts of characters and plot. THERE WILL BE BLOOD bears nearly no resemblance whatsoever to its novel (OIL), and the classic JAWS also dropped sub-plots to tighten things up. Recently, the final HARRY POTTER film thankfully traded in long and tedious monologues in favor of more battles (action).

WORLD WAR Z is not set for release until 2012, so by far it’s too early for book nerds to get into an uproar. But if indeed the filmmakers made a major departure, they can be forgiven for just trying to make a film that will appease the masses. What they may have screwed up on however, is letting the project just become another run-of-the-mill zombie film that the world has been overrun with for decades. The novel has long been considered to be “unfilmable”, and it would be disappointing if the filmmakers decided to get around that by ignoring it. It’s damn difficult to view a film objectively when the surroundings are so familiar and tired.

It is also worth noting that Pitt tends to have a lot of creative control in the films he stars in. The near-literal adaptation of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (masterpiece) can be credited mostly to him. Director Marc Forster put together the balls-out-action Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE, but he also did the thoughtful and excellent FINDING NEVERLAND and MONSTERS BALL.

With over a year to go, there is certainly a lot of time for concerns to answered. This blogger just wants a good movie. Just don’t bore me; and that means keep it interesting.

Have faith. Zombies are coming.

What say you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Disney has halted production on Gore Verbinski’s big-budget LONE RANGER adaptation. The project was to star Armie Hammer (the twin from THE SOCIAL NETWORK) as the lead role, with Johnny Depp as sidekick Tonto. Reports are that the shutdown happened because the budget could not be brought down from $250 million to $200 million.

OPINION: The matchup of Verbinski, Depp, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer has meant mega-bucks for Disney for nearly a decade; the trio has made Disney nearly a billion dollars with the PIRATES franchise. So what is Disney so afraid of? There is certainly no such thing has a guaranteed hit, but considering the history Verbinski and his collaborators have, one has to wonder if there are some other money concerns going on in the house that the mouse built.

FACT: Mike Meyers has signed on for a fourth AUSTIN POWERS film.

OPINION: Meyers’ career has been producing nothing but turds lately, with THE CAT IN THE HAT, THE LOVE GURU, and a couple of lukewarm SHREK films. With things looking bleak, Meyers is doing what every fading star tends to do; resurrect their most successful character. Besides the franchise wearing out its welcome, what the world needs more of is original characters, and less recyclables.

What say you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: David Yates and Steve Kloves, the respective director and screenwriter of the last three HARRY POTTER films, will be re-teaming on the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND. The project will be a multi-film adaptation which is becoming a high-priority for Warner Bros.

OPINION: This blogger has no real loyalty to King’s novel, or the 1990’s TV series, but there cannot possibly be a worse choice for a director and writer for this material. Based on the three POTTER films that these guys collaborated on, neither one of them have any sense of pacing, development, or depth, and prefer to blast through the material faster than the speed of light; not really the guys you want in charge of such dense source material. Warner Bros. is taking a huge gamble in letting these two Red Bull-chuggers take charge of such a huge project; what would they do if the first film flops?

FACT: Eddie Murphy is set to provide the voice for the lead character in the upcoming HONG KONG PHOOEY live action/animation film adaptation, based on the 1970’s Hanna Barbera cartoon of the same name.

OPINION: Anyone else miss the R-rated Eddie Murphy?

What say you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Disney is moving ahead with a new spin on their SNOW WHITE property. THE ORDER OF THE SEVEN is a warrior-based version now in development, in which an English woman goes to Hong Kong for her father’s funeral and meets a group of seven international fighters, and eventually finds out that her stepmother is plotting her murder. This makes the third SNOW WHITE adaptation in the works; a still-untitled film with Julia Roberts as the evil queen is slated for a March 2012 release, and the Charlize Theron-led SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN project will be released June of 2012.

OPINION: In 1997, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill starred in a horror film based on SNOW WHITE. While it received mixed reviews, it was praised for keeping the dark tones that fairly tales tend to have; tones that usually get wiped clean by kid-friendly films. These new adaptations seem to be putting modern-day spins on the old tale in an effort to keep things fresh. Hopefully the central themes will still be present, but somebody PLEASE get a hold of the property; three films about the same character are just too much.

FACT: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS adaptation has been given a release date of May 11, 2012.

OPINION: Not long back, REEL SPEAK blogged about wrong release dates for the wrong films, and this is a classic example. Never mind the fact that SHADOWS, a dark and gothic horror film loaded with vampires would be better suited for October (duh), but a look at the month of May nearly spells doom for the film. SHADOWS is sandwiched in-between THE AVENGERS (May 4), and MEN IN BLACK III (May 25). With AVENGERS a lock for repeat business and MIB an established box office juggernaut, SHADOWS, an adaptation that most kids might not even be familiar with, may get lost in the shuffle in a hurry. Even if the film is great, it can and will be perceived as a failure if it doesn’t make the dough.

What say you?

Friday, August 5, 2011


Out of the 900 sequels and prequels we’ve been given to the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the one film that towers above all the rest; there is no confusing time-travel, conflicting storylines, over-the-top acting or rubber masks. What it does have is the most intelligent writing seen thus far in 2011, along with remarkably realized apes that will have the audience rooting against mankind.

Will (James Franco) is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, which happens to be the disease crippling the mind of his beloved father, Charles (John Lithgow). Will does his testing on captured apes, and after a failed test, brings home the newborn offspring of a gifted and intelligent ape. The newborn, named Caesar grows to be super-smart. After Caesar violently defends Charles, he is sent to a primate impound run by an animal-abusing father-and-son team (Brian Cox and Tom Felton). The abuse changes Caesar, who rallies his fellow apes to a revolution.

RISE is Caesar’s story. The humans, while finely casted and acted throughout, take a back seat to the trials, triumphs, and pain of Caesar and his fellow apes. His story is brought to life in a near silent-film fashion, using sign and body language in a strong fashion that would make Chaplin proud.

But what really brings us into Caesar’s head is the smart writing that lets us feel his pain. There is true compassion for the creature as he lives through human feelings. All this is compounded by the remarkable motion-capture work done by Andy Serkis. Serkis, who with effects-house WETA brought the likes of Gollum and King Kong to life, outdoes himself here. Serkis’ facial expressions and body language brings a heartfelt human side to Caesar; a warmness that keeps the audience close. The apes overall are very realistic and are a marvel to look at. WETA of course can’t help themselves but to bring out a greyback gorilla (the basis for Kong), and it’s great to see the big guy in action again.

The revolution, when it does come around, is executed perfectly. The violence and action scenes are never gratuitous and have a purpose other than smashing things. Director Rupert Wyatt makes some directing choices that are nothing short of genius. Probably the defining moment is when the apes use their own prison bars as spears; what once confined them now defends them. Gentle, yet effective touches like that sneak up throughout the entire film.

The film is loaded with subtle, and some not-so subtle references to the previous films, but none of which are vital to the point that newcomers would be lost. The question of how a labful of apes manages to take over the planet is woven throughout the film like a fine thread, and comes to full circle in a slap-the-forehead moment. RISE is a such a tight and intelligent prequel, that the only follow-up that can do it justice is the original PLANET OF THE APES. Somehow, a film about monkeys is the most intelligent offering of the year thus far.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


COWBOYS & ALIENS is a film that had to be made; in an era where movie after movie after TV series after TV series featuring aliens landing and attacking in modern times, we were overdue for a fresh take on the genre. After all, why couldn’t aliens attack in the 1800’s? C&A answers that question well, although it doesn’t quite offer a threat fearful enough to be taken seriously. It makes an honest and nearly-great effort to offer a fresh take, but instead feels like an odd mish-mash that feels light and somewhat empty.

Jake (Daniel Craig) wakes up alone in the desert with no memory and an alien weapon on his wrist. He stumbles into the town of Absolution (groan), where he crosses paths with Percy (Paul Dano), who is the spoiled brat son of cattle baron Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who rules the town. After being jailed by the town sheriff (Keith Carradine) and making friends with the mysterious Elle (Olivia Wilde) and barkeep Doc (Sam Rockwell), aliens attack the town and abduct several townsfolk, including Percy, and Doc’s wife. Jake joins Dolarhyde’s posse to hunt the aliens, recover the missing townsfolk, and discover the truth to his past.

C&A strikes a nice balance throughout in keeping Jake’s storyline and the alien-invasion story on an even keel. Director Jon Favreau spends a lot of time fleshing out the characters, all while keeping the alien line looming and constant. It is the characters, driven by the mighty-fine cast, that really keeps things afloat. We get to know the folk so very well, that it would seem heartbreaking to see them go up against, and lose to a vicious, frightening threat that is so much stronger and bigger than them. Unfortunately for this film, that type of heartbreak never really comes. While the aliens do have a clever purpose in being there other than blowing shit up, the threat never seems real and certainly nothing to be afraid of.

Despite the easy-going nature, C&A still manages a little fun and is neat to look at. The old west themes work very well; almost too well to the point that the sci-fi stuff feels like an intrusion. Probably the best effort is when the Cowboys team up with an Indian tribe to fight the aliens; the notion of two threatened races, which have forever been at odds, teaming up for a common cause is interesting and thought-provoking.

The cast plays along well. Daniel Craig seems born to play a cowboy. Favreau seems to know exactly what to do with Ford; letting him play a grumpy old man with a heart for the entire run, which is exactly what the world wants to see Ford do. Olivia Wilde plays off a bit wooden and lifeless, which is annoying at first, but makes sense later. Favreau knows what to do with her as well; letting her slink around in a bra-less dress and keeping the camera on those magnificent eyes of hers. Unfortunately for the world, her PG-rated nude scene is one hell of a disappointment. The show is nearly stolen by Rockwell and Dano (which is what those guys usually do), and their talents are very much underplayed here.

C&A is really two treats in one, with some excellent old-west nostalgia and sci-fi flash. But the lack of fear keeps things on the light side, and just makes it a good, but not great film. It gets by on effort, the great cast and some interesting premises; it just needed to take some risks to become the great film it could have been.