Monday, April 30, 2012

Reel Awesome: The Hunt for The Batman

"They’ll hunt you…”

This resourceful Blogger was geek-ally pleased to hunt for, and find one of the thousands of elusive Bat-symbols spread out across the world; all part of Warner Bros. new viral marketing campaign for the upcoming THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Over at the official site (link provided), the Gotham Police Dept. is asking for help in capturing the vigilante known as the Batman. The site provides a complete dossier and arrest warrant for the Caped Crusader, along with a massive list of addresses worldwide where graffiti supporting Batman’s return is believed to exist. Tweeting or emailing photographic evidence of the marks will help Gotham’s Finest suppress support for the vigilante, but more importantly; for every photo sent, a new frame of the next trailer for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES will be revealed. When all the evidence is found, the full trailer will be revealed (it is not set to debut fully until May 4).
This is the type of stuff that movie-geeks should be eating up. It’s cool, it’s fun, and brings a sense of real-ness to the movie. This is how you market a film!

Join the hunt:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Innovators

FACT: Up to 10 minutes of Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY has been screened during a Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon, the annual theatre-owners summit in Las Vegas. What makes this screening special is that the film will be shown at its native 48 frames per second, which may be a new industry standard if Jackson, James Cameron, and Douglas Trumbull (visual effects pioneer) get their way.
Frame rate is the number of images displayed by a projector within one second. The cinema standard has long been 24 fps. The new 48 fps is believed to give audiences a crisper experience in scenes involving a lot of motion, provide more detail, and a sense of mass to CGI creations. With James Cameron planning on shooting his next two AVATAR films at 60 fps, theatres across the country are expected to be outfitted with the digital projectors capable of keeping up.

Meanwhile, at the Batcave…

It has been learned that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman finale, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, will contain the most IMAX footage ever for a Hollywood feature, more than an hour’s worth. While other films this year (THE AVENGERS, DARK SHADOWS, PROMETHEUS 3D) will also be shown in IMAX theatres, Nolan’s film is the only one actually shot with IMAX cameras; the others were converted over.

IMAX increases the resolution of the image by using a much larger frame than standard film; IMAX is 65-70mm, standard film is 35mm. Nolan shot and used 40 minutes of IMAX in his last Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT. The IMAX footage in KNIGHT stands out in the Blu-ray release; the widescreen vanishes and the picture fills the frame (no black bars).
OPINION: A long time ago, a young filmmaker by the name of George Lucas had to invent new technologies in order for his vision of STAR WARS to come to life, and the technical side of movie-making was changed forever. Now, we have Cameron, Jackson, and Nolan following in ol’ George’s footsteps.

Nolan might not be re-inventing any wheels in his usage of IMAX (the format was first introduced in 1929), but he is using the format the right way; making big things look big. The wide-shot landscapes of Gotham (actual location: Chicago) in THE DARK KNIGHT were stunning; pulling the audience in whether they liked it or not. It’s Nolan’s creative eye that seems well-suited to the giant IMAX screens, and he will seemingly continue to improve upon the format in the years to come.
Peter Jackson has a bit of a bigger sell to make with his new-found love for the 48 fps. The higher frame-rate takes some getting used to; the sharpness of the image and lack of blur in the motions is nearly unnerving for people to watch, as their eyes and brains struggle to keep up with the overflow of visual information. It is said that 48 fps loses that “cinema filter” which has always separated audiences from the movie, making the realism a little too real. Jackson and Cameron may very well spark a new war amongst audiences which will make 2D vs. 3D look like a schoolyard scuffle. But the 24 fps was likely overdue for an upgrade; it was chosen 100 years ago only because that’s what technology dictated at the time, and the industry stuck with it despite the eventual opportunities to progress forward (Roger Ebert has been pushing 48 fps for years).

The 48 fps debate has already kicked up a shitstorm of controversy, but aside from that, a lot of credit has to be given to Jackson, Nolan, and Cameron. These guys know that the industry that they love is on the cusp of a technological revolution, and have no fear in stepping over it. What they are experimenting with and creating today will undoubtedly affect the films our children will be watching as adults.

What say you?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The JOHN CARTER Fallout

FACT: Rich Ross, the chairman of Walt Disney Co.’s film unit, has resigned following the company’s $200 million dollar loss on their recent sci-fi movie, JOHN CARTER. The loss is believed to be the biggest ever for a major motion picture.

OPINION: You know the universe is in a sad state when an adaptation of a classic science fiction story is an outright financial disaster, and watered-down tweeny-bopper films like TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES make billions. Ross has officially resigned, but the writing was on the wall for the man who was responsible for another flop (MARS NEEDS MOMS), and failed miserably at making ol’ JC the next Luke Skywalker.

So how did he do it?

1. Bad Marketing

From as far back as January (if not sooner), general audiences were confused over what this JOHN CARTER film was all about. The marketing was cryptic and showed little to no reference to the classic books the character came from. The shortening of the title, while a decent idea in theory (audiences seem to be reacting better to shorter titles, damn YouTube generation), seemed to backfire as people were given little to nothing to go on. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if your movie is good or not as long as you get people to buy tickets.

2. Money not spent wisely.

In watching JOHN CARTER, you have to wonder where that big budget ($250 million) went to. Granted, nearly every shot in the film involved a CGI character or some sort of CGI enhancement, but there was never really anything that pushed the limits of what the world has been seeing out of CGI for the past 15 years. Take for example the sci-fi film DISTRICT 9 (2009), which was made with a teeny-weeny budget of $30 million. The film had eye-popping visual effects and was eventually nominated for Oscars. While DISTRICT 9 had a small, independent-film vibe (the cast was virtually unknown to American audiences), it made back its budget and is well-regarded among sci-fi fans. JOHN CARTER was shooting too high; maybe trying to become the next AVATAR when they should have been trying to become the next DISTRICT 9.

3. Release Date

As dense as general audiences may sometimes be, give them some credit; they know that movies released in the first quarter of the year are usually bantha-fodder, even though some of them aren’t. The general consensus is that the real movie-year doesn’t begin until the first week of May; the official start of the summer-blockbuster season. In Disney’s defense, they probably didn’t want their new (and virtually unknown) property going up against the established heavyweights over the summer months (AVENGERS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), but they could have made a decent run in the month of August, when the coast is usually a little more clear.


Ross likely deserves to be sent packing because of the mess he made, and the effects will be long-lasting. Studio execs will be veering away from new projects out of the fear of another JOHN CARTER money-loser, which means even more re-makes and re-boots of already established properties. Stand by for Tim Burton’s live-action re-make of THE LITTLE MERMAID.

What say you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Levon Helm 1940-2012

“Then they built a small plane, the X-1.”

Musician and actor Levon Helm has passed away at the age 71.

A legendary musician who saw the birth of rock n’ roll, Helm had a short yet memorable film career. His notable credits include the Oscar-darling COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (1980), MAN OUTSIDE (1989), and SHOOTER (2007). His music found its way into film as well; his weary, southern-tenor voice in “The Weight” found its way into EASY RIDER (1969).

But movie geeks will undoubtedly remember him forever as Jack Ridley in THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), the definitive film documenting America’s early days in space exploration. Helm’s character was Chuck Yeager’s best bud and confidant who loaned him gum and bailed him out when in troube. And his southern-friendly voice, saturated in an American good-old-boy vibe, was chosen to narrate the film. Helm stood out in a massive cast which included Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright, and Lance Henriksen; he wasn’t just the glue that held Chuck Yeager together, he was what held the entire film together.


As a space-nut since a wee-lad, this Blogger always held THE RIGHT STUFF in very high regard. Levon Helm’s character was a vital one outside of the memorable narration; without Ridley’s assistance, Yeager would have never broken the sound barrier, and American space flight may not have arrived for several more years. Jack Ridley was a man that could be trusted, and Helm was trusted with that character. Thanks to Levon Helm, we know that for every Yeager out there, there is a Ridley right behind him; loaning him gum and keeping his ass straight in the saddle.

“Put the spurs to her, Chuck!”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jonathan Frid 1924-2012

"The Madonnas rest high above, the lion’s head watches the dove, and in the womb beneath the hill – a blazing light glows bright and still"

Jonathan Frid, the man known to the world as the vampire Barnabas Collins, has died at the age of 87. The Canadian actor died in his hometown of Hamilton this past Friday, the 13th.

Frid was the lead role in the cult hit soap opera DARK SHADOWS, which first aired in 1966. Although he was mostly a small-screen and stage actor, he did spend some time on the silver screen, including his final role; a cameo in Tim Burton’s upcoming big-screen adaptation of DARK SHADOWS. Frid’s film career also included the spin-off film HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), and a role in Oliver Stone’s horror-flick SEIZURE (1974).

Frid’s tragic Barnabas character was only meant to be a brief one, but the popularity of the character led to him becoming the star of the show and eventually the film; a testament to the man’s deep interpretation of the love-sick vampire.


In the 1980’s, DARK SHADOWS the TV show went through a second life courtesy of many PBS stations across the country. This Blogger’s Mom introduced her son to the show, and it was clear that it was a show unlike any other; a soap opera loaded with vampires, witches, and werewolves. It was big-screen thinking on TV, and that was something special. Frid’s movie career may have been small, but in watching today’s vampire films, it is clear that there is a little bit of Barnabas in every bloodsucker we see today.

"I'm beginning to wonder, cousin Barnabas, if I shall ever know you at all. There's so much about you... that I'm dying to know."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: All Hail James Cameron

FACT: Just over a week ago, Reel Speak commented on the Box Office take for James Cameron’s re-issue of TITANIC in (goddamn) 3D, which took in just $17 million; just short of the cost to convert the 15-year old film to the third dimension. While not quite a disaster or a shipwreck of a situation, it still led to speculation of the future of older films being re-released in theatres.

Leave it to Cameron to wind up on top again and prove that he knows what he’s doing. The decision to re-release the film on the 100th anniversary of the sinking (as opposed to re-releasing it on the film’s 15 year anniversary in December) paid off. TITANIC 3D pulled in a total of $100 million this past weekend; roughly $11 million domestically and an impressive $88 million in 69 overseas markets. The new haul has pushed TITANIC’s total gross to $2.03 billion worldwide.

OPINION: What does all that mean...

1. Cameron rules the Box Office.

Only one other film has topped that $2 billion mark, and it’s also one of Cameron’s; his 2009 sci-fi epic AVATAR earned $2.8 billion; surpassing TITANIC’s all-time domestic numbers. Now, it’s easy to point the finger at overpriced ticket sales for AVATAR’s mega-numbers, but it would be dismissive to do so. Keep in mind TITANIC sat at the top of the list for 12 years before AVATAR came along. If ticket prices are such a factor, then why did it take so long? It’s not easy for just any old film to make those hundreds of millions leading to billions.

2. If it’s not easy, then why is Cameron able to do it nearly every time he makes a film?

The simple answer: Simplicity. Cameron has a fantastic imagination for his films, so in order to ground the movie, he makes the stories simple. TITANIC was essentially Romeo & Juliet in the setting of one of the largest disasters in history. AVATAR was essentially a re-telling of A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) in the setting of a fantastic world and futuristic universe that doesn’t exist. Simple stories, yet important ones that this world needs to see. There is also the matter of Cameron’s imagination being too large for the existing world. AVATAR was conceived just a few years after TITANIC, but he had to wait nearly ten years for the tech to catch up to his vision. And in the early 1990’s, he had to invent new underwater photography equipment before beginning filming on TITANIC; two-and-a-half miles underneath the North Atlantic Ocean. That’s the type of stuff that captures people’s imaginations and guarantees a movie-ticket purchase.

3. What does all this mean for the future of re-issues?

The impressive haul of TITANIC 3D can be attributed to the film’s overall popularity (see above #2), and to the world’s continuing, romantic fascination with Titanic; which was at an all-time high during this past weekend’s 100th anniversary. It is difficult to believe that any other film, re-issued in 3D near a significant anniversary, would fare as well. Would a re-issue of GONE WITH THE WIND in 3D on the anniversary of the end of the Civil War (whenever that is) pull in $100 million? It’s doubtful.

Critics of TITANIC in 1997 called the film “lightning in a bottle”; it seems James Cameron has now captured that lightning three times. Let’s just call him Zeus.

What say you?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Reel 100: Titanic and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

“People first, things second.”

On the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the famed ocean liner Titanic, this Blogger was pleased to attend a showing of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) on the big screen.

Based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord, NIGHT was a landmark film for its time; with breathtaking visual effects and the first film to accurately depict the sinking. The film benefitted from Titanic’s fourth officer, Joseph Boxhall, who served as a technical advisor. The film’s leading man was Kenneth More, who played second officer Charles Lightoller. Bernard Fox, who played the lookout Fredrick Fleet (the man who saw the iceberg), would also appear as Colonel Archibald Gracie IV in James Cameron’s 1997 TITANIC, making him the only cast member in two films about the sinking. As a sidenote, the film also has a young and uncredited Sean Connery…five years before his first turn as James Bond.

Where Cameron’s ’97 version was essentially a retelling of Romeo & Juliet, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER steams away from the human elements and focuses mostly on the facts known at the time. It is a docudrama, perhaps one of the most effective ones ever made. For the most part it gets the facts correct; an astounding feat considering the film was made 28 years before the revealing discovery of the wreck. With no real heart for audiences to connect to, NIGHT turns to Kenneth More’s Lightoller as the main character; a smart choice considering the dutiful, and oft-forgotten heroics Officer Lightoller played during the catastrophic events of that night.

Despite trading in heart-felt stories for 1950’s-era melodrama, NIGHT still manages to be effective. The visual effects, which may feel a tad dated today, still pack a powerful punch and it is interesting to see the many elements that Cameron would eventually borrow for his own historic film nearly 40 years later. NIGHT also makes it a point to drive home the massive differential between first and third class people; a social statement that rings true to this day. NIGHT is a look at the disaster through 1950’s eyes, but it still feels incredibly relevant; a rare accomplishment for a film from that era. And on top of it all, the black-and-white delivers a hovering eeriness that you cannot help to be aware of.


As a history-buff and Titanic-nerd, this Blogger/movie-geek has always had an interest in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, but only experienced it in increments over the years on TV. On the big screen in a digital presentation, it really gets the justice it deserves. It looks and sounds incredible; a testament to the great effort of the filmmakers nearly 54 years ago. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER may not be a tearjerker, but it remains an important part of the undying legacy of Titanic and the many, many lives she has touched.

Friday, April 13, 2012


From creatures to ghouls to zombies, from bloody gore to found-footage to twist endings, it feels like the horror film genre has tried everything over the past one hundred years to scare us. With all these cliché methods now feeling old and tired, the genre has felt doomed. Enter writer/producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard; whose CABIN IN THE WOODS doesn’t shun those old cliché’s, but embraces them with a fresh original spin that changes everything.

Five college friends; Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Dana (Kristen Connolly), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz), head to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, only to be picked off one by one by a mysterious terror; a terror which seems to be controlled by another undefined force.

To reveal any more of the plot would be criminal, for CABIN IN THE WOODS relies a lot on its secrets. Those secrets are not revealed in a big-boffo punch-in-the-face at the end, but is slowly unfolded throughout the course of the film. During that time, CABIN takes the cliché horror-film characters of the jock, the slut, the nerd, the stoner, the virgin, and even the creepy gas-station attendant and re-defines their purpose. It doesn’t come off as a spoof or a parody at all, and instead finds a clever and original way to define the familiar pieces and parts that we have seen throughout every horror film ever made. To be clear, CABIN will force us all to look at all those old horror films in a new light; it gets at the story underneath, and the reasons why films of this genre unfold the way they do.

Filmed just over three years ago, it’s neat to see Chris Hemsworth prior to his THOR bulk, and you can see just how far he has grown as an actor. The cast is overall great, with the show being stolen by Fran Kranz (Topher from Whedon’s DOLLHOUSE), whose comedic stoner-humor keeps things light. Fans of Whedon and his prior work will likely get a thrill out of the many cameos and smaller roles by his alumni, all of which are never mishandled.

CABIN has a few good scares here and there, but it is far from the scariest or creepiest film ever made. Where it lacks in scares it makes up for in sheer entertainment; it is a thrill ride which grabs your attention early and never lets go. It’s sheer stroke of originality is almost too good in that there will likely never be any imitators or even sequels. It is a one-of-a-kind special movie that the horror-film genre has needed for a long time.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: THE HUNGER GAMES needs a director, and TITANIC's haul.

FACT: After weeks of back-and-forth, director Gary Ross has bowed out of taking the helm to the sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE. Ross, whose first installment was No. 1 at the Box Office for a third straight week (total haul: $302 million) is taking a pass on the follow-up citing an already fixed schedule that he couldn’t work with.

OPINION: As someone who was completely underwhelmed by THE HUNGER GAMES, this Blogger finds this to be a bit of good news. Ross, who has turned in some impressive films in the past in the form of SEABISCUIT and PLEASANTVILLE, just seemed unsuited to THE HUNGER GAMES film adaptation, which seemed to pander to the book-crowd and segregate itself from the outsiders. It felt like more chances needed to be taken; chances that may have angered the hordes of tweens, but pleased the average movie-goer unfamiliar with the GAMES universe. While there is no word on who will take over the next film, this Blogger submits that the producers would be well-served poaching a director from the HARRY POTTER films; Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, and Mike Newell have proven they can fare well in an alternate universe with young actors. Just keep that wanker David Yates away from it.

FACT: The (goddamn) 3D release of TITANIC did not sink, but didn’t quite make its port either. The re-release on the big screen drew in $17.3 million this past weekend (good for third place), just shy of the $18 million spent to convert the 15-year old film into the third dimension.

OPINION: To be fair, TITANIC went up against a juggernaut in the form of THE HUNGER GAMES, and an established franchise in the form of AMERICAN REUNION (which finished second). Aside from the cynical dickheads who brush off the film because they know the boat sinks, audiences seem to be drifting away from these (goddamn) 3D re-releases. With other avenues of less-expensive viewing such as DVD, cable, Netflix, and (glorious) blu-ray, smart folk are veering away from having to deal with stupid clunky glasses and overpriced tickets. While those audiences may have been cheating themselves a little (the conversion was outstanding), they can make a good argument that TITANIC is good enough to be viewed without the added dimension; despite the fact that the film still has yet to see a blu-ray release (get on that, Jim).

What say you?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Reel Review: TITANIC 3D

There are two types of 3D films in this age. The first type are the ones which are shot for the format in the first place (AVATAR, TRANSFORMERS 3), and generally are the most successful in not looking like shit. The second type, and less successful, are the films that are converted into 3D only after they are shot and edited (STAR WARS EPISODE I, CLASH OF THE TITANS). The 3D conversion of the now 15-year old TITANIC was a curious one, especially with the technology-wizard, director James Cameron on board.

Good 3D depends on a lot of factors, with the most important one being depth of field; which is something that all directors should be shooting for in the first place. With that said, TITANIC is by far the best post-converted 3D movie to date. The depth of field is outstanding; long hallways, deep dining rooms, and sweeping exteriors of the ship are jawdropping. And what is really impressive is that the 3D even works in intimate scenes where the actor’s faces and/or torsos take up most of the frame. There is always a sense of depth present and it looks very real. The film hits you right away in the early underwater scenes around the wreckage; the overhead look down the black chasm into the bowels of the ship is as eye-popping as it is frightening. The effectiveness of this release is a testament to the way the film was put together 15 years go. To be fair, the dimness is still a bit of a factor, and things get a little blurry when fast things are happening.

The re-mix of the soundtrack adds some mighty weight. The clarity is awesome; from the soft clicks of doorknobs to the deep groaning of the ship as she takes on water. The remastered sound, along with the new deep visuals adds a lot to the experience; the final moments of the sinking of the upended stern are enough for anyone to crap their pants.

And TITANIC on the big screen is still a worthwhile experience. The laughs and tears still work, and it’s neat to see Leo and Kate as young pups. This Blogger’s theatre seemed to be full of folk experiencing the film for the first time, and they seemed to be engulfed in every moment. TITANIC is a timeless film which doesn’t need 3D to be enjoyed, but it is well-suited for the format since it was shot correctly in the first place.

P.S. The new shot of the starfield towards the end is actually quite beautiful. But what it is curious is that the film has probably a hundred other shots containing stars which remain unaltered. Either Cameron got those stars right the first time, or Professor Honeydew is full of shit (see Reel Speak 4/3).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: James Cameron Fixes TITANIC

FACT: The release of TITANIC in (goddamn) 3D in theatres this week will come with one subtle alteration: director James Cameron has altered the stars at the time of the sinking.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson realized upon his first viewing of TITANIC (15 years ago), that the starfield that Rose stares at while floating in the debris, was completely wrong. According to Tyson, the left half the sky was nothing more than a mirror image of the right side of the sky.

Tyson contacted Cameron via email (described as “snarky”), and Cameron, a noted perfectionist, obliged his science critic and corrected the shot for the new release to reflect exactly what the sky looked like in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

OPINION: The absolute worst thing James Cameron could have done (besides messing with this 3D bullshit) was to oblige this astro-nerd, who despite his long-list of PhD’s has nothing better to do with his time.

Some credit can be given to Cameron for not letting his pride get in the way, and admitting that he made an error when he just made up his own starfield during TITANIC’s production. For the sake of a film which serves as an historical piece as much as a drama, it’s worth getting the facts correct. There’s also the minor (ha) issue of people wanting to see the original, unaltered versions of their favorite movies. Just ask ten different people what versions of STAR WARS and BLADE RUNNER they prefer and you’re promised a headache.

The debate of Scientific Accuracy vs. The Movies has been explored here on Reel Speak before, but that was focused on science-fiction films (where the sky is the limit, so there). But the danger here is giving the science nerds power. Cameron’s relenting has opened the door for more astro-nerds to nitpick films for not having the stars right and eventually get their way. In the long run maybe some good will come of it. Perhaps filmmakers, out of fear of being embarrassed by guys who look and sound like Professor Honeydew, will pay more attention to their accuracy and get it right the first time.

What say you?