Friday, June 29, 2012

A Reel Review: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER


As ridiculous as the title may sound, the concept of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is solid. Based on the best-selling novel, it is an imaginative and nearly clever fresh-take on an all-too familiar person and events in history. However, just like any good vampire-hunt, it is not the idea that counts; it’s the execution.
After witnessing his mother murdered by a vampire, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), swears revenge and begins a life-long hunt of the undead. After training and aid from his new friend Henry (Dominic Cooper), Lincoln discovers a deeper plot to destroy the country and chooses to fight evil through public service. After becoming President, he eventually comes face-to-face with Adam (Rufus Sewell), a lead-vampire who is secretly behind the Civil War.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is a film which is very true to its name. There is plenty of hunting and slaying of vampires, but after that…not much else. The film takes very little time to set up a story with meat on the bone, and characters are simply glossed over. Each scene of dialogue seems to exist only to set up an action sequence, and the film can’t even fall into a class of a comic-book style story; for even a comic can let you know what’s going on inside of a character’s head.
With such a high concept of one of the country’s most beloved Presidents being an axe-wielding vampire be-header, the film needed grounding to hold interest. This is where HUNTER gains a little bit of momentum. The vampire-infestation is weaved into historical events and actually make sense; good enough that many of Lincoln’s writings and speeches (including his Gettysburg Address) suddenly have a different meaning when thinking about vampires. The time-period of 1860 is remarkably brought back to life, and scenes such as Lincoln addressing Congress and Gettysburg are stunning. However, these efforts are very sparse and leaves you wanting more.  

Benjamin Walker fits the part of Lincoln very well. He looks GREAT as Lincoln, is fun to watch, holds the film together, and eerily looks like a young Liam Neeson (seriously…it’s creepy). Dominic Cooper puts in a very good effort, but other actors such as the main villain (Rufus Sewell) and Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are left to serve only as placeholders.
Director Timur Bekmambetov is known for his flashy action sequences, and here he doesn’t let the 1860’s hold his style back. Some of the action is over-the-top and in other places gory and gritty, and that is probably the film's greatest fault in that it doesn't take itself seriously for very long. Overall ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is fun and interesting, but forgets to bring a story to the party.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Reel 25

"God has a hard-on for Marines…”


This month marks the 25th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET.
An adaptation of the 1979 novel THE SHORT-TIMERS by Gustav Hasford, FULL METAL JACKET follows a platoon of U.S. Marines through recruit training, and the experiences of two Marines of the platoon during the Vietnam War.

Although often looked at as an anti-war film, Kubrick’s mission was to present a realistic picture of war. The film begins the way every soldier’s military career starts; in boot camp. Serving as an extended prologue, the boot camp storyline is powered by R. Lee Emery’s remarkable performance as the ruthless Drill Instructor. Emery, a former Marine himself, ad-libbed most of his lines, and his performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
Once the film graduates boot camp and shifts to the war, the story transforms. Where the boot camp sequence seemed to follow a focused storyline, the rest of the film tracks along with no real shape; there is no endgame, no mission, no ultimate goal for the heroes to reach. This was perhaps Kubrick’s idea of what war is; nonsensical killing with no endgame.

Using the Tet Offensive as a backdrop, Kubrick veered the film away from the traditional Hollywood ‘Nam film which always kept things in the jungle. With burnt-out husks of buildings serving as set-pieces, the film has a dismal look to it; perhaps another subtle message by Kubrick. And the photography stands as one of Kubrick’s best. His constant eye for depth-of-field is always present. If FULL METAL JACKET was ever converted to (goddamn) 3D, the depth of the film would look incredible.
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With two family members having served in the Vietnam War, this Blogger readily accepted FULL METAL JACKET into the upper echelon of ‘Nam films. The initial viewing was scary; the boot camp was enough to frighten anyone away from signing up, and the revelation of the sniper at the climax still remains a shocker. FULL METAL JACKET often gets overlooked because it is unfairly compared to Oliver Stone’s PLATOON, which won Best Picture the year before. But JACKET stands on a different world than PLATOON. It is a birds-eye view of the war; philosophical and moral, with just enough blood to make the grass grow.

“The dead only know one thing: it is better to be alive.”




Monday, June 25, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Concerning Hobbits



FACT: Those who went to see BRAVE on the big screen this past weekend were treated to a new trailer for the first film of Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT adaptation. However, as a pirate once said to a princess, don’t get excited. If you blinked, you probably missed it.
Although it is officially labeled as “trailer 2”, it is essentially the same exact thing we were given back in December, with a few edits. Some new and quick shots are inserted in place of others; scenes of Bilbo peering through some foliage, and a quick shot of Gandalf leading the company through the forest have replaced the shots of the troll attack and the Gandalf/Thrain confrontation. Also gone are some smoking scenes. Other than that, the narrative, music, and dialogue are identical to the original trailer. The revelation came as a bit of a letdown to insiders who had been seeing paperwork with “Hobbit Trailer 2” attached to the BRAVE release.

So why bother? It seems that the trailer cut-down was done for family-friendly audiences expected to be in the theatre for BRAVE. The shots which were replaced had scary imagery and smoking. The edits put the trailer into a PG rating for the PG rated BRAVE (the original trailer was PG13).
OPINION: Ratings aside, those who decided to do a cut-down on the trailer to make it kid-friendly must not have seen BRAVE, which despite its rating, is loaded with scary stuff; bear-attacks, a creepy witch, skeletons and threats of death are all over the film. THE HOBBIT footage actually comes across as tame compared to some of the scenes in BRAVE.

Softening up a trailer for the kiddies is nothing new; studios have been doing it for years. There is a fair amount of deception at work here, all in the name of getting more assess in the theatre seats. In an age of dwindling theatre-attendance, you can’t blame the studios too harshly for scheming to get the younglings in the doors, especially with the MPAA getting tougher and tougher with their ratings.
By all means let’s not shock the kiddies into therapy, and maybe this isn’t a debatable issue as much as a statement of how cautious the MPAA and the studios are now. This Blogger fondly remembers animated kids films such as THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982, rated G) and WATERSHIP DOWN (1978, rated PG), which featured cute talking animals who battled each other to the death; bloodshed and on-screen character deaths were everywhere. The MPAA would never let that type of film out with a PG or G rating today.  

But will THE HOBBIT film itself be family friendly? It’s predecessor, THE LORD OF THE RINGS (three films), were all rated PG13 for intense battles and frightening images. Providing Peter Jackson sticks closely to the source material (and we know he will), THE HOBBIT will be no different; the film will be packed with goblins, trolls, a pissed-off dragon, and a battle between five armies. You can certainly soften up a trailer, but you can’t soften up this type of film.
What say you?




Friday, June 22, 2012

A Reel Review: BRAVE



It took 13 films for Pixar to finally render out a story with a female main character. In BRAVE, directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman dive into the task with the bravery of any noble Scotsman (or lady) by charging straight towards the strongest of all lady-tales; the relationship between a mother and daughter. But fear not, wee-lads; BRAVE is still a film aimed at the masses with plenty to go around for everybody.
Set in the highlands of medieval Scotland, young Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a bit of a tomboy; unmatched in archery and unwilling to be a proper and prim princess. Her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) are required by tradition to marry her off to one of the sons of the neighboring clans. After a bitter battle with her mother, Merida runs away to the forest where she encounters a witch, who grants Merida a spell to change her overbearing mother.

While the focus of BRAVE seems to be the relationship between Merida and her mother, when looking a bit deeper it’s clear that the messages the film is trying to push has more to do with family and responsibility. There are conversations in the film that everyone has had with a parent at one time or another, or at least wish that they had. It is a very mature film, but one that stays vibrant with lots of adventure and magic.
When the magic does show up and do its thing, BRAVE goes through a major shift in tone; major enough that it nearly jars you of out the movie, and Merida’s own story nearly gets lost in it. Similar to JAWS (which turned from a horror flick to a men-on-mission movie), the shift, while distracting, still holds its course towards the film’s main goals. Backed by some clever writing and enough subtle allegory (which some folk may never catch), BRAVE still manages to bring all the important things back home.

The craftsmanship of BRAVE is comparable to any live-action film ever to earn gold. The highlands and forests of Scotland are beautifully realized; from lush rolling hills, thick forests and crystal-clear roaring brooks, BRAVE is a marvel to look at and possibly the best Pixar has ever rendered. The film is also saturated in Scottish lore; myths and legends and some good fun in the form of Scottish brawlin’ and warrin’. And the score is mag-fucking-nificent.
At a brisk 93 minutes, BRAVE doesn’t take a lot of time to dance around the forest, and Merida seems to reach an arc a little too quickly. The film doesn’t quite hit the emotional chords the way some of Pixar’s stronger efforts have, but it makes an honest and unabashed effort at it and it does seem to work. BRAVE is quick and brisk and feels like a small movie, but one that is very worthwhile.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Reel 30


“It is very cold in space, Kirk”

1982 was a banner year for movies, with many significant films in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. This month marks the 30th anniversary of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
After the lukewarm success of the first STAR TREK film, STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979), the filmmakers had a clear idea of what the sequel needed to do. Although first film had dazzling visuals and Kubrick-like themes and pacing, it lacked an adversary with a face; a villain to muck things up for the crew of heroes. With that in mind, the filmmakers dove into the original TV series with the intention of finding a Big Bad worthy of the big screen, and find a Big Bad they did.
Focusing on the open-ended episode SPACE SEED (1967), Director Nicholas Meyer and Producer Harve Bennet chose the iconic Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban. Having been marooned by Cpt. Kirk at the end of the original episode, it was clear that a simple motivating factor of vengeance was enough to sell the character, with some obsessive Cpt. Ahab sprinkled on for good measure. Montalban’s performance was, and is still considered to this day to be the best TREK villain ever on the big screen.

With every sci-fi film in need of human elements to keep the audience engaged, WRATH OF KHAN capitalized on strong themes of friendship, sacrifice, mortality, and old age; all themes which laid the groundwork for nearly every future TREK movie right up to this day. WRATH OF KHAN is a human story, possibly the most human sci-fi film ever put together.

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WRATH OF KHAN was a household favorite growing up; the first home-release we owned was on the glorious Betamax format, and that tape was likely watched about a billion times between this Blogger and this Blogger’s Dad. It was a space adventure and great TREK, taking the characters (literally) to places they had never been. Today, KHAN still remains very high up on anyone’s Best Sci-fi Films list, and its influences can be seen in countless films. THE MOTION PICTURE may have taken the franchise out of dry-dock, but it was KHAN who brought it home.

“I have been, and always shall be your friend”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Justice League


FACT: With Marvel’s superhero team-up film THE AVENGERS now sitting pretty with an impressive haul of $586 million domestically (good for second place all-time behind TITANIC and AVATAR), rival DC Comics (and Warner Bros.) are not about to be left in the super-dust. Last week it was reported that WB/DC are moving forward with a Justice League film, which would team-up their major characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) with their lesser heroes (Green Lantern, The Flash, and possibly  Aquaman and Hawkman/Hawkgirl).

OPINION: The timing of such a film could not be worse for WB/DC. Outside of the obvious issue of looking like an AVENGERS knock-off, WB/DC have painted themselves into a corner because of where they currently stand with their characters. Superman is about to go through an apparent reboot with Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL slated for late this year, the current Batman franchise is about to wrap (which means a Batman reboot would be likely for a Justice League run), Wonder Woman has never seen the big screen, and THE GREEN LANTERN (2011) was a disaster. With all the characters in some sort of transitional phase right now, it is likely that a Justice League film would serve as a launching point for a series of DC Comics solo-character movies.

There is kryptonite in the air with that approach. One of the reasons why AVENGERS worked so well is because the solo films, which came first, got us invested in the characters for four years prior to the big team-up. If WB/DC are planning on mashing their heroes up right away, there will have to be some careful, and massive scriptwriting done to develop all these characters.
DC Comics also has the burden of making their characters believable, which is something they failed miserably at in their GREEN LANTERN film. With their very own Batman franchise now the template for grounded superhero films, DC faces an enormous task in making ridiculous characters like Aquaman and Hawkman work on film. Not an impossible task (even AVENGERS made the Norse Gods seem plausible), but not one to be taken lightly either.

The good news is DC Comics is likely to try and retain the services of Christopher Nolan, who is not only behind the current Batman run, but is also serving as a producer for the upcoming MAN OF STEEL. Also, the idea of Wonder Woman on film may seem silly with her invisible jet and star-spangled panties, but think about how silly and campy Batman was perceived in the public eye before Tim Burton darkened things up; a transformation that is still paying off today. It can be done. All that, and DC Comics certainly has legions of fans eager to see the Justice League come to life. The fans have proven that they will come, and DC can ironically thank their rival Marvel for that.
What say you?



Friday, June 15, 2012

A Reel 30


“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

1982 was a banner year for movies, with many significant films in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. This month marks the 30th anniversary of Sir Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER
BLADE RUNNER was a loose adaptation of the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, by Philip K. Dick. It is a sci-fi tale set in the future, where genetically engineered humans (robots) called replicants are featured prominently. The replicants are banned from Earth and relegated to off-world duties. Those who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and “retired” by special police operatives known as “Blade Runners”. In Sir Scott’s film, the Blade Runner is Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is called out of retirement to hunt down a few rouge robots.

The film was a visual landmark at the time. Perhaps inspired by METROPOLIS (1927), BLADE RUNNER depicted a breathtaking vision of 2019 Los Angeles; where the wealthy lived in a built-up environment, miles above the workers while soaring around in flying cars. Outside of the visuals, Sir Scott injected a noir-like atmosphere; it was basically a 1920’s detective/gumshoe tale set in a fantastic world. The film also carried heavy themes of man vs. machine, and the consequences of man’s creations reaching a bit too far.
Harrison Ford, who was coming off of great success in STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was not the first choice for the lead role. A long list, including Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, and Burt Reynolds was at first considered. Although BLADE RUNNER had a much different atmosphere and pacing from STAR WARS, Ford’s presence brought in sci-fi fans who may have been looking for another take at Han Solo.

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This Blogger as never been the biggest fan of BLADE RUNNER. While nice to look at and full of strong ideas and concepts, the film has a trudging pace to it which tends to suck the energy off the screen. But outside of personal taste, BLADE RUNNER’s place in history is solid. Not only has it become a massive cult-favorite amongst sci-fi fans, but it has also been an inspiration to many films over the past 30 years which were looking to do something never seen before.

“Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life - anybody's life; my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Reel Opinion: Tarantino and his DJANGO



Fans of Quentin Tarantino were happier than a tumbleweed in the wind last week; the first trailer for DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino’s first undisguised venture into the old west, debuted. You can watch it here.
Although the trailer showcased an interesting cast and good photography, there doesn’t seem to be much of a “hook” other than wink-wink-Quentin-is-making-a-western. If any other name was attached to it, most people would barely give it a glance. It is the Quentin Tarantino name which is the selling point for this film. Not such a bad thing if it gets people into the theatres, but not a great thing, either.

Directors and artists putting their names up front of the marketing is nothing new. Tarantino has been doing it ever since his second film. In literature, the cover of the newest Stephen King novel usually has King’s name printed twice as large as the title of the book itself. The approach has worked well for both of them, but depending on who the name is, it can backfire. Michael Bay doesn’t need to put his name up front on any of his blow-em-up films, but he does, and people veer away.
Quentin Tarantino has very much become his own Franchise; when you see those Golden Arches on the horizon, you know exactly what you are going to get. You know this from past efforts and reputation, and those Arches will keep you coming back for more no matter what grade the meat is.

This Blogger takes issue with judging a film by way of who is in charge of it. It is the film’s merits; acting, directing, story, etc., which matter the most. A bad film should not get a pass just because of the director’s name, and a good film should not be drubbed for the same reasons. If DJANGO UNCHAINED gets high praise upon its release (December), it should not be because of the Name trying to be bigger than the Movie.
What say you?

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Reel Review: MOONRISE KINGDOM



You always know what you are going to get in a Wes Anderson film; quirky characters, deadpanned deliveries, unique sense of color, and a recurring cast which usually includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. His newest, MOONRISE KINGDOM, certainly has all of that and a little bit more. The question going into it is if Anderson’s trademarked style actually serves a purpose other than letting us know that this is a Wes Anderson film.
Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are two adolescent lovers who decide to run away together. They are pursued by Sam’s scoutmaster (Ed Norton), the police chief (Bruce Willis), Social Services (Tilda Swinton), and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), while in the meantime a hurricane bears down on the island.

MOONRISE KINGDOM is Wes Anderson’s take on the Romeo and Juliet story; it is the tale of two young lovers being pursued by other forces bent on keeping them apart. A bit familiar, yes. But here it really works. KINGDOM is written in such a way that the two main characters of Sam and Suzy are not just na├»ve children; they both come from troubled backgrounds which has given them an adult perspective on life. Through a series of clever flashbacks, their stories are very well fleshed out, and it is a simple and joyful thing to root for them both.
Anderson’s unique style is well suited for this type of story. There is a genuine feeling of heart and soul through it all, and even the characters which are in a villainous role are fun to get wrapped up in. There is a visual brilliance constantly at work; the film is a marvel to look at but at the same time it magically reveals Anderson’s (and his character’s) view at the world. MOONRISE KINGDOM is also Anderson’s most daring; the two 13-year old lovers perform a few things on camera which may shock and/or upset a few people. It’s innocent enough, but also new territory for Anderson.

The cast is outstanding not only in name, but in performance. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward somehow manage to have great chemistry together for a couple of sprats. The best part about the ensemble cast is that everyone really seems to embrace their roles. Bruce Willis disappears into a nerdy policeman, and Ed Norton has no problem wearing nut-hugger hiker shorts. Extended cameos by Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Jason Schwartzman are quite pleasant and never feel distracting.
The finale flirts with a true Romeo and Juliet tragedy, only to pull back and wrap things up happily. It’s a relief that the film does end on a happy note, for MOONRISE KINGDOM is a film that provokes smiles and charm from head to tail. Yes, you know it's a Wes Anderson movie, but one that feels fresh and fun. Fantastic film.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Reel Review: PROMETHEUS



In every magic act, it isn’t enough to make something vanish; you have to bring it back. In every juggling performance, it isn’t enough to juggle ten bowling pins; you have to catch them all. Such is life in the movie-making business. It isn’t enough to introduce plots, characters and mystery and keep the drama in the air; you have to reveal the mystery and catch everything that’s airborne. Perhaps no other film compares to that analogy as much as PROMETHEUS; Sir Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated return to the ALIEN mythology he created in 1979.
Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her lover/colleague Dr. Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are explorers who believe they have discovered clues to the origins of mankind on Earth. They hitch a ride on the Prometheus, a spacecraft owned by the Weyland Corporation and overseen by Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the artificial person David (Michael Fassbender).

PROMETHEUS sets itself up as a thinking-man’s science fiction film. It wisely, and effectively avoids the routine of humans arriving somewhere with monsters running around, and instead sets the stage with many, many questions; some philosophical, some scientific. As the plot progresses forward, the mysteries are revealed piece-by-piece, while opening up new ones.
And this is where PROMETHEUS begins to stumble. For every mystery solved, half-a-dozen new ones emerge, and not all of them are answered in full by the time the film wraps. The many mysteries the film poses in the beginning are addressed well, but it’s the new ones that are not fully developed. There are plenty of WTF moments that do not come full circle, and the film is very much an effective juggling act only for as long as the bowling pins remain in the air.

While Sir Ridley is weaving a narrative mess, he still manages to create a visual stunner. PROMETHEUS is a visual revelation, and proof that digital projection is here to stay (piss off, 35mm). There is exquisite detail in the awesome landscapes, and the heavy use of CGI is never intrusive. Sir Ridley’s has crafted a very good looking film with excellent pacing, good scares, and plenty of tension to make anyone squirm.
The somewhat-large cast gets whittled down in a hurry, with only a few scattered moments for any of them to develop. Noomi Rapace seems to get the most work, but never really sells the character. She is never given enough time to create chemistry with her lover, or tension between anyone else. The show is stolen by Michael Fassbender’s David android, who is very much a complete character and feels like Sir Ridley’s attempt at HAL.

The connection to ALIEN is a bit of a stretch and never fully gets to the finish line. The film only serves as one-half of a prequel to ALIEN, and it is unclear if we are to expect a sequel or to just fill in the blanks ourselves. It makes for a frustrating experience as it doesn’t fully answer the ALIEN questions, but more importantly, it does not address its own. PROMETHEUS hooks you early with the promise of a thoughtful mystery, one that we would have loved to have seen answered.
BOTTOM LINE: Rent it

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Reel Opinion: The Bradbury Rule


“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy.”


Ray Bradbury, often referred to as the master of modern science fiction, passed away this week at the age of 91.

With most of his work being short stories, Bradbury did not officially have very many credits in feature films. However his influence can be seen across new films nearly every year. It can be argued that his greatest influence over young screenwriters and filmmakers was his cavalier attitude towards scientific facts in his storytelling.
In Bradbury’s early days as a writer, science fiction had a very small audience. The material was mostly published in pulp magazines and loaded with technical jargon. Aiming for a larger audience, Bradbury threw most of the science out the window. His approach was successful, as his career wound up spanning 70 years and is credited with being the first to bring sci-fi to the masses.

By his own admission, Ray Bradbury limited his ideas and writings only to his imagination. Science-purists may scoff at the idea of a breathable atmosphere in his classic story "The Martian Chronicles", but everyone has to agree on one thing; without breaking that law of science, there would be no story.
Young filmmakers could learn a lot and accomplish more by letting their visions outstretch the accepted boundaries of science.  As a good friend of Reel Speak once said; where would any of our creative efforts be if the authors limited themselves to what was known at the time?



“The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance – the idea that anything is possible.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Reel 50 for D-Day


“You can’t give the enemy a break. Send him to hell.”


On this anniversary of D-Day, it is absolutely appropriate to give credit to the first effective major motion picture about the event. This year marks the 50th anniversary of THE LONGEST DAY.

Based upon the novel of the same name, THE LONGEST DAY was very unique for its time. Produced by both British and American film companies, the film had a massive cast which had French and German characters speaking their native languages with subtitles in English. Also setting it apart was the fact that it was filmed in black-and-white; a bold move considering the vibrancy of the color films made in that era.
The cast was an all-star team. Although many of the stars were relegated to just cameos, the list is very impressive: Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Peter Lawford, John Wayne, and Robert Wagner just scratch the surface of the long credit list. The film would also be Sean Connery’s last movie before being cast as James Bond.



The film was critically acclaimed. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two. Despite many liberties taken in the eye of history for dramatic effect, the film is regarded by many to be the definitive D-Day story.
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At three hours long with 1960’s era pacing, THE LONGEST DAY is a bit of a chore to sit through, and the many famous faces packed into it nearly overshadow everything else. Still, THE LONGEST DAY is a marvel to look at, as many films made today fail to capture the massive scope which this film did fifty years ago. Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) would eventually become the world-wide favorite in D-Day and WWII films, but THE LONGEST DAY did it first, and it did it well. If history is why we are here today, then THE LONGEST DAY is an important part which should not be forgotten.

“Remember every bit of it, ‘cause we are on the eve of a day that people are going to talk about long after we are dead and gone.”





Monday, June 4, 2012

A Reel 30


“Mom, remember the goblin?”


1982 was a banner year for movies, with many significant films in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. This month marks the 30th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL.
The inspiration for E.T. came from an imaginary friend Spielberg had created after his parents’ divorce in 1960. In the mid 1980’s, not long after wrapping RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Spielberg began playing around with the idea of a followup to his earlier alien-visitation film, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. The film was titled NIGHT SKIES, and was to tell the story of a malevolent race of aliens who terrorize a family.

As NIGHT SKIES went through early development, Spielberg found himself reaching back to his childhood more and more, and eventually latched onto the concept the imaginary friend; a friend which no one else could see and acted as a best friend and brother. Those themes of a broken family and childhood friendships are what eventually what made E.T. the worldwide, phenomenal success it was.

The film is a kid’s movie with themes that adults could relate to. Keeping the kids in mind at all times, Spielberg shot the film in chronological order to draw emotional responses from the young cast. He also shot the film at a child’s vantage point. Every, if not most of the camera angles are at waist-level; a fact that many viewers did not realize until many years later.

The film was a box office blockbuster and a darling among critics. It was nominated for nine Oscars, winning four. The American Film Institute holds it as the 24th greatest film of all time, and the sixth most-inspiring. The image of Elliot and E.T. flying past the moon is regarded as one of the most iconic images in film history.

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In 1982, this Blogger had a younger brother (and an eventual sister), which made watching E.T. easy to relate to. The film was packed with older-brother/younger brother moments; many of which had been experienced in this Blogger’s own house. E.T. fever struck the household well; from trading cards to videocassettes (Betamax!) to the stupidass (although it seemed great at the time) Atari 2600 video game. Today, this Blogger holds E.T. in high regard, and one of those films that you only settle into and rediscover once in a while, for good things do indeed come in small doses.

“Be good.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Reel Review: SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is one of those movies which will split everyone right down the middle. It is beautifully shot and composed in such a way that it’s a sin to look away from it. But underneath all that beauty, there lies a big dark pile of nothing.
The evil Queen (Charlize Theron) imprisons Snow White (Kristen Stewart) after murdering the king. The Queen is told by her magic (and unexplained) mirror that the only way she can become immortal is by consuming White’s heart. Snow White escapes the castle and into the Dark Forest. The Queen hires the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a drunken and depressed man to go out and find her.

HUNTSMAN is a visual marvel. Not only because of some great visual effects, but for the exquisite camerawork and cinematography. Director Rupert Sanders fills the frame with a lot to look at; every shot is composed like a work of art and it is nothing short of stunning.
But once you get beyond that, HUNTSMAN stumbles around blindly in the woods. The simple story blazes along quickly without taking much time for its characters or surroundings. The world the characters inhabit is not explained very well. A lot seems to be taken for granted; as if it is assumed that the audience already knows what things are made of and why. The character of Snow White and the Huntsman suffer the most from the big rush. With such a simple story, the film really needed something to latch onto, and the leading pair should have been it. But little to no time is given to them to develop any chemistry; it is a hero and a damsel-in-distress no one would care about. While they do have their moments (not many of them), HUNTSMAN lacks any real hook.

Kristen Stewart’s casting and performance as Snow White mirrors the film as a whole. While she is beautifully shot and great to look at, she is given very little room to act. Charlize Theron does well as the Evil Queen only for as long as she remains subtle and gives dirty looks. It’s when she screams her head off (which is often), that it becomes nearly laughable. Chris Hemsworth looks the part and is certainly fun to watch while swinging around a big battle-weapon (again), but suffers from a transparent effort to be Han Solo (I’ll save the princess for money). As fun as Hemsworth is, the show is nearly stolen by the dwarves. How the filmmakers were able to convincingly shrink the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan is a visual effects miracle which deserves some serious accolades.
For as little as the film needs to accomplish, it still feels like it’s too long; especially with its big battle scene at the finale which feels like it serves no other purpose but to provide action. There is a lot to love about SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN in the visual arts, but a lot to be frustrated with in the storytelling.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it