Friday, December 30, 2011

A Reel Review: THE ARTIST



For the current short-attention span movie audience who needs everything spelled out for them in five minutes or less, sitting through a black-and-white silent film would likely be torture equal to nails on a chalkboard, and cynical audiences may look at a silent film made in 2011 as a gimmick to gain attention. THE ARTIST is neither; it is a silent film telling the story of the death of silent film in the 1920’s. That is its hook, its magic, and its gift.

In 1927 Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie superstar. He meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a talented actress and dancer looking to break into the business, and the two fall for each other. George encourages her, inspires her, and gets the studio boss Mr. Zimmer (John Goodman) to give her a role. Peppy embraces the new technology of “talking film”, and her career skyrockets. George meanwhile sees the new “talkies” as a perversion of the art and turns his back on it, and his career plummets.

THE ARTIST occasionally flirts with making a statement about the art of filmmaking being lost due to new and evolving technology, but wisely lets it fall to the background to focus on the characters. George is a stubborn devotee to his art; Peppy is young and eager to embrace her new world. One falls, one rises, and yet their fates seem to be interlinked throughout. Peppy struggles to keep George from falling into a booze-fueled, self-destructive spiral as his career, money and success disappears, and that is the heart of the story in THE ARTIST; the old being helped by the new.

Director Michel Hazanavicius (gezhundite) executes the world of silent film so well you’d think he’d been doing it since the 1920’s. The absence of sound is never used as a gimmick, and is instead a major part of the storytelling. It is impossible to have the story of THE ARTIST told with sound, as its heart and soul lies in the art of silent film; the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is a sight to behold and love. The titlecards serve as dialogue and to move the plot forward in some very clever ways, and are augmented by a magnificent score that is true to the period and somehow sounds modern. Hazanavicius also employs some clever metaphors here and there; such as a powerful and emotional scene where George stares at a blank movie screen after his career ends.

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are perfect for the roles and also feel like they’ve been silent film stars for years. In a visual style where expressions and body language are so important, there is never a moment where we don’t know what the characters are feeling or thinking. It is perfect execution by the pair that is shared by the rest of cast, including John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller.

In a current Hollywood where loud noises seem to rule, THE ARTIST is an absolute breath of fresh air and a charmer of a story. The timing of it is also perfect as the current movie industry deals with another internal battle; film vs. digital. THE ARTIST uses an old style to sell the future, and that seems to be its genius. Outside of all that, THE ARTIST will charm your heart away.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Reel Review: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY



There is an early scene in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY that is quite the Tell; Benedict Cumberbatch’s young character gets agitated as he angrily and unsuccessfully swats at a fly while driving, and the problem is eventually solved when Gary Oldman’s elder character simply opens a window. The scene sums up the film in this way: TTSS is not a movie for the impatient young mind, but for the mature wisdom that comes with age. It is a dense and brooding international spy thriller requiring patience, making much of current Hollywood “thrillers” seem like child’s play.

In 1973 Cold War era, the Chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as Control (John Hurt), suspects one of the men closest to him at the top to be a Russian spy (mole). This includes his top lieutenant George Smiley (Gary Oldman), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), which he assigns unique codenames (hence the title of the movie). Control sends Agent Prideaux (Mark Strong) undercover to help extract the identity of the spy, but the mission ends badly, resulting in the resignations of Control and Smiley. After Control dies, Smiley is called out of retirement to secretly hunt for the spy again, this time with the help of disgraced agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) and new agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As long as that above plot summary may seem, it barely scratches the surface of the many maze-like layers TTSS has. The secret to the mole’s identity seems to lie in the undercover mission which ended badly; how it came about, the immediate aftermath, and the ripple effects that lasted years later. The film then unfolds through a series of flashbacks, not always in chronological order; spreading the pieces of the puzzle across the table for us to piece together.

But piecing together that puzzle is not easy. Even with strict attention, clarity seems to be lacking here. A second viewing may be required to see if there is a “a-ha!” moment which reveals the mole’s identity, but it’s possible that there isn’t one; for TTSS is dense enough that the puzzle only makes sense when all the pieces come together at the end. But even with the complex plot, the film is a great watch.

Director Tomas Alfredson creates a great atmosphere powered by terse and tense dialogue as powerful as any cinematic gunfight or explosion, and still makes time for the great characters to grow and develop before our eyes. This is also a perfectly-executed period-piece; a world full of cigarette smoking, whiskey flasks in the office with rotary phones flanked by trenchcoats. In this 1970’s world, the mystery cannot be solved by gadgets, but by the mind.

Acting is superb, and it should be considering the heavyweight-champion cast. The most credit goes to Oldman, Hurt and Firth, and the film really reminds us how great they really are, and always have been. Bringing up the rear and equally impressive are Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy, with Hardy being barely recognizable. Perhaps the one gripe about the acting is that there are very few scenes in which these great actors get to face off against each other in an adversarial way; the few that do are so darn good that we just want more of it.

The reveal of the mole’s identity isn’t done with an attempt at a clever twist with loud noises and over-orchestration, and is instead executed with the subtle intensity the film carries throughout. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is indeed a bit of a maddening labyrinth to trek through, but like any good labyrinth has a pleasant reward at the center for those hearty enough to make it.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Reel Review: WAR HORSE



It can be argued that Steven Spielberg has not put together a knockout of a film since his 1998 WWII tale SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Since then there have been noble efforts and outright disasters, all suffering some the same common problem of no real heart or emotion. A mediocre Spielberg can be better than most of the blockheads out there making movies these days, but the world has been missing the old Steven; the one that makes us laugh and cry all in one sitting. In his adaptation of WAR HORSE, Spielberg returns to the battlefronts of world war…and remembers to leave the Tin Man behind.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is a teen growing up in England just before the outbreak of WWI. His father Ted (Peter Mullan) and his mother Rose (Emily Watson) are about to lose their farm to their heartless landlord Lyons (David Thewlis). Ted purchases and young and spirited colt to help plow the fields and Albert forms an instant bond with the animal. The horse, named Joey, is eventually sold to the military when WWI breaks out. Albert enlists in the army himself, with the hopes of one day reuniting with his beloved horse.

WAR HORSE is an emotional journey right from the get-go. Joey and Albert’s bond is heartwarming and never feels corny or cliché. The early pressure of the family losing the farm and all that they have rest upon Joey and Albert’s belief in him, and it’s easy to get caught up in the drama and root for them both to succeed.

When the war arrives and separates the two, the film hits a whole new gear. The heartbreak Albert endures in losing his friend gut wrenching, but WAR HORSE is at its best when focusing on the adventures of Joey. Joey is eventually separated from his unit, and goes through a series of owners across the countryside throughout the war. The many people he meets feels episodic, but it works very well as the common thread of survival keeps things from becoming disjointed. Joey’s encounters bring him to both sides of the battle lines; at one point he is in the hands of the German army…the same unit that is firing upon Albert’s unit in the trenches.

Spielberg’s direction has not been this finely tuned in a long time. Every shot is composed beautifully; looking very much like a great work of art. WAR HORSE has a classic look and feel to it, and it overall feels timeless. The real triumph is the great “acting” that is done with Joey and the many other horses present; the actions and deeds the cast of horses must perform are amazing to see, (how do you get fifty horses to all look in the same direction at the same time?) and Spielberg finds ways to weave them into the story seamlessly; it never feels like a circus act.

Spielberg also manages to find ways for the audience to connect instantly with Joey; just one simple shot of the horse just makes wonder what he his thinking. All of this is brilliantly brought together by a GREAT score by John Williams.

There are great performances in WAR HORSE, with the bulk of the human credit going to Jeremy Irvine; His connection and emotion with Joey is very convincing. The supporting cast is also very good; from the many German and allied soldiers to the quaint villagers that Joey encounters.

WAR HORSE has many other storylines going other than Joey and Albert being separated by war, and each plotline comes together neatly and powerfully at the end. Spielberg has found a very good story in WAR HORSE, and he made it his own while giving us reasons to care; enough reasons to have us all reaching for the tissues more than once. WAR HORSE is a bittersweet tale; one of the best Steven has given us in a long time.

Welcome back, Steven.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Reel Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN



The movies of Steven Spielberg in the last 13 years or so have very much been like the Tin Man from Oz; nice and shiny with no heart. In his film adaptation of THE ADVENTURES OF TITIN, Spielberg ventures into the world of motion-capture animation in collaboration with Peter Jackson, and backed by his old pal John Williams the stage seemed set for a fine return to the heartfelt glory the Bearded One was once known for.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is an adventure-seeking reporter, who with his dog Snowy, comes across a model of the famed ship Unicorn; a famous ship in history which sank with a treasure. Tintin discovers that the model is one of three which contain clues to the treasure’s whereabouts. Tintin and Snowy are hunted by the diabolical Sakharine (Daniel Craig), and eventually run into Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis); who is the ancestor of the Unicorn’s captain on the night of her sinking.

So TINTN’s plot is not much more than a race-to-the-treasure tale. With a high-concept, mo-cap animation world, it was necessary to keep the main storyline simple for grounding. For the most part it works, although the many reveals are a bit clunky; one clue leads to another which leads to another, and in-between that are fantastic action sequences full of energy and wows. The action comes at you full-steam ahead, and only slows down to reveal another clue.

The hunt for the treasure and the big chase are just enough to keep TINTIN afloat, for in this adventure the characters are unfortunately left behind. Tintin the character is never explored; we never discover why he is the way he is or what his fascination is with adventure. With such a paper-thin main character, it’s difficult to really get caught up in the story. Younger audiences are likely to forgive this and see right past it, and it’s possible that older audiences will forgive it also…the film is just too damn fun to get grumpy over things like character development.

Spielberg is like a kid at Christmastime with his new technology. The worlds are rendered with astonishing detail; so lifelike they might as well just have shot it for real. As good as the world looks, it’s Spielberg’s talent to know what to do with it that makes TINTIN soar. His camera pulls off impossible real-world moves; ducking around corners, following our characters through city streets, and placing us dead-center into the action. The set-pieces are perfect for his imagination; pirate ships, cargo ships, deserts, airplanes, spooky houses and city streets are like a playground to him. John Williams gets to play too; providing a very fitting (albeit somewhat stock-sounding) whimsical score.

Motion Capture seems to have come a long way from the dead-eye look that the technology suffered through in its early days. The characters look great right down to the hairs on their arms. The astounding detail that went into the creation of the environments also goes into the characters; the faces of Haddock and Sakharine look just like Peter Jackson and Spielberg, respectively.

The voice talents are perfect throughout, with Daniel Craig and Andy Serkis stealing most of the show; what a treat it would be to see what those two actors looked like when they were recording their lines. Jamie Bell also does well with his lines, and smaller roles held by chums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are also perfectly cast and played.

TINTIN is very much a delight to look at and live through; it is great fun and never bores. Tintin the character unfortunately gets lost in the TINTIN adventure, and that keeps any sort of heart coming out. TINTIN is another Tin Man for Spielberg, but unlike his others in the last 13 years, is worth seeing.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Reel Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO



Director David Fincher’s adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a film that is saturated with the man’s prior works. It has the shock value of SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB, the whodunit-ness of ZODIAC, and the subtle character drama of THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It is a film that he couldn’t make until this stage in his career, when all that he has learned and accomplished in the past finally pays off in a magnificent, triumphant way.

Mikael (Daniel Craig) is a disgraced magazine journalist who gets into legal and financial trouble after a story he writes with his editor (Robin Wright) is proven in court to be false. Looking for some redemption, he accepts an offer from Henrik (Christopher Plummer), the head of a rich family who lives on their own private island to solve the 40-year old mystery of a missing niece. Mikael enlists the help of Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a freelance private investigator with a photographic memory and remarkable deductive reasoning skills.

To say much more about the plot of TATTOO would take up a lot of time and space, for the film is a dense story with several layers of mystery. Mikael and Lisbeth’s digging into the family history is a slow and prodding watch, but Fincher manages to keep things energetic and intriguing throughout; there is somehow always a foreboding feeling going on. The atmosphere that Fincher creates (thanks in part to Trent Reznor’s incredible score) hangs over everything so heavily you just may catch yourself looking over your shoulder while viewing.

TATTOO is not only successful in building a creepy and suspenseful mystery, but also in creating a great character drama in Mikael and Lisbeth’s stories. The two run parallel to each other for most of the film, but when they do finally meet, TATTOO really hits its groove. Mikael is an accomplished writer and gentleman who just wants to get something right. Lisbeth is a heavily tattooed, bisexual, chain-smoking punk-rock Goth girl whose crazy hair changes to suit her mood. She is a tragic character who has been shit upon her entire life and is desperate to find any sort of kindness and good in the world, which she does in the form of Mikael. The two cannot be more different on the surface, and more alike underneath.

Lisbeth owns the film; so much so that things seem to suffer whenever she is not in the frame. She is a super-sleuth, and very much a modern-day superhero. Her powers are her photographic memory, computer hacking-skills and modern gadgetry, and she’s not afraid to be bold when the situation gets deadly. TATTOO certainly sets a mighty stage for further Lisbeth adventures if they decide to forge ahead with the remaining two novels; she is a tremendous character.

Rooney Mara absolutely vanishes inside Lisbeth; it’s difficult to believe that this was the same cute girl from Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK. She nails the Swedish accent, along with the cold and detached look and feel that sells the character. She also convincingly pulls off the horror her character has to endure, when Lisbeth must go through what no woman should ever have to go through. Mara nearly upstages Daniel Craig, who is solid if not just a tad wooden.

The finale takes a long time to come around, as there are a ton of different storylines to wrap up. It does wrap up good and tight, and leaves a bit of an emotional cliffhanger that makes us want more. TATTOO is packed tight with a lot of story and character and is certainly not for the simple-minded, but those looking for the work of a refined and mature filmmaker with a talent for gripping storylines need not look further.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Reel Ten: Remembering The Fellowship

Ten years ago today, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING debuted in theatres.



The release of FELLOWSHIP, which was the first chapter in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Oscar-winning films, was a dream come true for us book and film geeks. Deemed as “un-filmable” for over fifty years, seeing the characters and fantastic environments come to life on the big screen was an unforgettable experience. But what happened on that night to myself and my companions…was quite unexpected.

On a cold night in December 2001, under a very Tolkien-esque sickle-moon, I and a group of close friends gathered together at the magnificent confines of Cinemark theatres in Northeast Pennsylvania to view FELLOWSHIP for the first time. We had all been friends and colleagues prior to that night, but what happened after walking out of that theatre was something that not even The Wise could have foreseen.

Our own Fellowship was born. It was a term that we all latched on to. As in the film, we all connected with the theme of “fellowship”; where several individuals out of several backgrounds and beliefs came together, and stayed together. We referred to ourselves as The Fellowship from that night on; it was a term built out of friendship, brotherhood, and love.

Over the next two years, the FELLOWSHIP film and the following two films played a major part in our geek-lives. The films stayed in the theatres until the spring, the summer brought along the first peeks of sneak-previews and trailers, and fall delivered the DVD’s and eventual next theatrical chapter. We scoured the internet for glimpses of the next film, collected memorabilia, re-read the books and lived the films throughout the course of the year. It was an experience we had not lived through since the early days of STAR WARS. And through it all, Our Fellowship grew stronger. What made it all the more special is that we all came back together each year, at the same place to see the next film; the same company, at the same place, for the same thing…three years in a row.



Our Fellowship proved to be strong outside of the ring of movies and geek-stuff; we gathered for libations, helped each other out through unexpected changes, and never let one another fall into shadow. Over the winding road of time there have many comings and goings, but the core of it endures.

This Blogger remembers his Fellowship in his own way every year; in a near-vigil like tribute, I watch the trilogy only once a year…always in December.



Today, as in the films, Our Fellowship stands separated by time and distance. And just like in those movies, stands strong and steadfast despite the passing years, increasing miles, and life-altering changes. It is something we were never able to wrap our minds around and define, which is perhaps the way it should be; for the most powerful and special things in life should not be answered easily. It is this Blogger’s hope, even if it is a fool’s hope, that Our Fellowship will be able to re-unite once again in December of 2012, when a long-expected film revisits Middle-earth once more. One stage of our journey is over; another is just beginning.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Reel Review: SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS



One thing can be deduced easily when watching Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movie adaptations; he must have been the kid who was bored out of his mind when watching the various TV adaptations that have been made based on the character. Those early works, whether it be a BBC production or Basil Rathbone feature, were admittedly chock full of old men sitting around talking, but still offered plenty of thinking-man’s drama. Ritchie’s final solution to the problem of making Holmes relevant to the current simple-minded YouTube generation is to pack the film tight with action, while occasionally stealing a page or two out of the source material. The end result in Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is a mish-mash of ideas that occasionally work.

Consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his best friend Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) embark on a world-wide chase of the notorious criminal mastermind Prof. Moriarty (Jared Harris), who has embarked on a scheme to bring about world-wide destruction.

SHADOWS starts off with a literal bang; there is a huge explosion in the first 60 seconds (don’t any of you lot dare to poke fun at Michael Bay again), and it’s clear right away that this is a film searching for an identity; not knowing whether to be a straight-up actioneer or a crime-solving mind-game. It tries to do both; SHADOWS spends a lot of it’s time focusing on Holmes trying to outthink Moriarty and his thugs, and for the most part is interesting to watch. But, just when things feel like they are taking a turn for the smarter, SHADOWS takes a left turn into DIE HARD land, with plenty of gunfights and booms and bangs and explosions; tons of action sequences that do little to move things forward. The few thinking-man’s elements are outnumbered by the loud noises, and leaves SHADOWS feeling unbalanced.

Ritchie is clearly not realizing that lots of action does not always equal good drama, and another fault of SHADOWS is a missed opportunity in the chemistry between Holmes and Watson, who are incidentally being played by massive amounts of talent in the forms of Downey and Law, respectively. The two characters are given few opportunities to clash and contrast, and while they are good, they are just too few to leave a lasting impact. The few personal moments between the old friends are very good; ranging from Holmes’ loneliness to Watson’s search for stability.
Unfortunately for SHADOWS, the moments are not capitalized upon and leaves untapped talent and opportunities in the dust of its many explosions.

In crafting the film, Ritchie does manage to do well. The landscapes of London and various locations across the world are brought to life vividly. The ten-thousand action sequences do manage to be of some fun; even the ones that are ho-hum CGI driven. The many looks inside the inner-workings of Holmes and Moriarty’s minds are well executed, although seldom. The score is fairly magnificent, but does lack a memorable theme.

Downey seems to suffer from the film’s confused state; he doesn’t know if he should play Holmes as a genius or an Indiana Jones, so he tries to do both with mixed results. Jude Law probably suffers the most from the lack of development; while he acts his part well, his poor character seems to exist only as an occasional counter to Holmes’ behavior. Jared Harris turns in a noble effort as the ultimate villain, but again suffers from an underwritten script; his character is paper-thin with absolutely no motivations hinted at.

The finale begins with a remarkable verbal-chess match showdown between Holmes and Moriarty; a battle of mental wits that is an absolute joy to watch. The final battle is nearly too good, and it becomes clear that the film could have, and should have embraced such psychological mind-games. SHADOWS is a fun ride, never really bores and is loaded with laughs, but anyone looking for something with smarts ought to search elsewhere.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: Who the hell is JCM?

A lot of people have been asking, “who the hell is this John Carter guy”, and “what is with this JCM business” ?



FACT: Disney pictures is producing an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novels, in which John Carter undertakes adventures on the planet Mars. The Carter character first appeared in A PRINCESS OF MARS in 1912, and followed up with seven other novels. The film will star Taylor Kitsch (Gambit in WOLVERINE) as Carter, and co-star Mark Strong and Willem DaFoe.



OPINION: Many Earth-dwellers have not caught on to fact that the upcoming film (set for a 2012 release) is an adaptation of one of (or many) of Burroughs’ novels, due in part to the marketing strategy the Mouse is taking. The trailers are pushing a title of JOHN CARTER, while many of the theatrical posters simply say JCM.

Why the departure? First off, Disney is likely avoiding reference to Mars to avoid any connection to the shitty films we’ve had in the past ten years dealing with the Red Planet (GHOSTS OF MARS, RED PLANET, or maybe even MARS ATTACKS!). The strategy will likely work; after all, all they really need to do is get people into the theatres. The flip side to this is any fans of the original novels might not even realize that the promotions they are seeing are for those early works. Disney clearly went with going for a broad appeal.

But what can be annoying is Disney taking an epic series like the Carter adventures and reducing it to the trendy acronym thing that’s everywhere now; the newest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film is MI:4, the next MEN IN BLACK film is MIB3, etc. Such is the world of the YouTube generation; where these young whipper-snappers have to have the entire message spelled out for them in five seconds or else they are lost. The scheme does work as people are getting their asses into the theatre; but eventually all these titles like MI:4, MIB3 and JCM are going to blend together like alphabet soup. What good will that do?

What say you?

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Reel Review: SHAME



German/Irish actor Michael Fassbender made a huge splash on American shores in 2011, enthralling most of us Yanks with his portrayal of a young and vengeful Magneto in X-MEN FIRST (CL)ASS. In director Steve McQueen’s sexual drama SHAME, Fassbender gets to flex his muscles (and his buttocks) in proving that he has the chops that transcends any or all comic flicks.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a sex addict living in NYC. Addicted to sex much like a druggie or alcoholic, Brandon has sex with a different women nearly every night; either charming them with a simple smile or his wallet. When he is alone, he relives his tensions by surfing porn on the web or masturbating in the bathrooms stalls at work. Things get complicated when his messed-up younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his doorstep with nowhere to go. Sissy begins an affair with Brandon’s boss David (James Badge Dale), and seeing himself reflected in the situation, tries to cleanse himself of his addiction; a move which may or may not be the best for him.

SHAME doesn’t have much of a plot other than watching Brandon embrace and/or struggle with his addiction. His addiction is the story; the way it runs his life and determines his every move. SHAME could have easily been about the addictions of booze and drugs, but since sex is more fun to watch on-screen, why not? But where SHAME seems to really shine is in the contrasting characters. Brandon, Sissy and David have different personalities and traits that are a joy to watch on screen as they clash and rotate around each other.

Director Steve McQueen displays a directing style that takes a while to get used to. There are many, many unsettling and uncomfortable LONG takes; static shots that don’t move for what seem like forever. It’s a great tension builder, and the challenge is really upon the actors to pull off the scene in one attempt. SHAME has to set a record for the fewest cuts in a feature film, and it often feels like a good stage drama. But McQueen also shows talent with some movement; there are some endless tracking shots that have to be seen to be believed. The numerous sex scenes are not gratuitous, and are all a means to an end. Some love-making is filmed very bluntly and exposed, while others are composed beautifully.

Fassbender nails the role in a subtly powerful performance. He is clearly filled with tension throughout the film, and if that wasn’t convincing enough he lets it out in explosive bursts. As good as he is, he is nearly upstaged by Carey Mulligan, who in the often-seen role of the screwed up family member, brings new life to it and is never un-convincing.

SHAME spends a lot of time on its characters, but oddly lacks any sort of backstory to any of them. How Brandon got so addicted and how Sissy got so messed up remains a bit of a mystery. McQueen keeps his characters at a distance, which is a bit of a ploy to keep the audience hooked. Still, SHAME manages to hang with you long after you leave the theatre; it is a sobering lesson to all in re-examining life even when things seem great.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Reel 25

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest war-films ever made, Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning PLATOON.



Stone created PLATOON based upon his own experiences in the Vietnam War, and intended to counter the vision of war that was portrayed in THE GREEN BERETS (1968). Although Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCOLYPSE NOW (1979) was a harder look at the war, BERETS was widely accepted as the definitive Vietnam film; mostly due to John Wayne’s star power. BERETS however was slammed by the critics for glorifying the war and for being dull and absurd. Still, The Duke’s star made it a financial success, and was widely considered to be The ‘Nam film. Stone set out to change that.

Again, by drawing from his own wartime experiences, Stone was able to strip the Hollywood from Vietnam; while making it real, gritty, and most importantly, human at the same time. The realities of guerilla warfare and the themes of moral choices made PLATOON strike a chord with veterans and non-veterans alike. Audiences were disturbed, yet accepting of the notion of America’s soldiers turning on each other in the depths of hellish war.

Stone put together an ensemble cast in the form of Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem DaFoe, Johnny Depp (!), Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn (RIP), John C. McGinley, Kevin Dillon, Corey Glover and Keith David. He put his actors through real-life boot camp to prepare them for their roles; adding heavy realism to the strong performances.

Powered by those strong performances and Stone’s excellent writing, PLATOON was a great success; it was nominated for eight Oscars (including two for acting), and won four (including Best Picture). The American Film Institute ranks it #83 in it’s AFI’S 100 YEARS…100 MOVIES.

This Blogger never had the opportunity to see PLATOON on the big screen (where’s that 4K big screen re-release, Oliver?), and only caught up with it years later on home video; the initial viewings cemented PLATOON in this mind as THE definitive ‘Nam movie. A recent viewing shows that the film has held up and aged very, very well; great characters and powerful themes tend to do that. And as a former U.S. Army Reservist, this Blogger consistently witnessed (one weekend a month) the characters Stone had created in real life; be assured that in every platoon, there is a Sgt. Barnes, an Elias, and a Chris Taylor.

The tag-line of PLATOON was, “The first casualty of war is innocence”, which was an adaptation of Senator Hiram Johnson’s 1917 quote, “The first casualty of war is truth”; both themes are heavy in the film, and perhaps no other war movie since 1986 has carried those messages better.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Producer Neal Moritz has announced that he is moving ahead with plans to remake STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997). The new take is intended to stick more closely with Robert Heinlein’s novel, from which the campy sci-fi film was based on.

OPINION: Now before you lot get your asses into an uproar over the lack of originality in Hollywood these days (which wouldn’t be a bad idea), consider this; a remake of TROOPERS that would follow the novel (which was published in 1959) might be the best thing ever to happen to the franchise (which consists of one feature film, two direct-to-videos, and a TV series). The film was seriously hated by sci-fi fans when it was originally released, which traded in the books’ heavy-handed themes of philosophical aspects of suffrage and civic virtue for campy over-the-top action decorated with teenage angst and sex. The approach has worked before; when the Coen Brothers set out to remake TRUE GRIT a few years back, they intended not to remake the John Wayne rendition, but to stick closely to the original source material. The results were Oscar gold. So don’t cry blasphemy over a new TROOPERS just yet.

Would you like to know more?

FACT: After years upon years of starts and stops, the big-screen adaptation of ENDER’S GAME seems finally ready to get going for real. Asa Butterfield (from HUGO) is set to star as the main character, and Gavin Hood (of WOLVERINE fame) is to direct, with a targeted release date of Spring 2013. Harrison Ford is also rumored to be involved. The plot which follows a gifted young gamer who is recruited by the government to help battle an insect-like race.

OPINION: Having never read the book, this Blogger has no reason to be super-excited over the casting or the long-awaited green-light. It should be noted that the alien-insect thing has been done a LOT lately (STARSHIP TROOPERS, DISTRICT 9), and even though the ENDER’S GAME novel was released a long time before those films (1985), general film audiences are likely to shrug this one off as just another bug-hunt. It’s a shame all those delays had to happen.

FACT: The big-screen adaptation of 24 also seems to be finally getting rolling. Fox is looking to have a script ready by the end of this year, which would open up the possibility of cameras beginning to roll by next Spring or Summer.
OPINION: The writers will really need to have the creative juices flowing to separate this feature length films (which has to be at least called 80) from the countless plots/races against time Bauer has already faced. If not, then it will blend in with the horde of counter-terrorism films and be lost.

What say you?