Monday, July 30, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Concerning Hobbits

FACT: Director Peter Jackson has announced that his movie adaptation of THE HOBBIT will now be spread out over three films; the first being released in December 2012, the second in December 2013, and the third (reportedly) in the summer of 2014. Jackson, whose LORD OF THE RINGS adaptations were all released in December (2001-2003), originally planned to tell THE HOBBIT story over two movies.
OPINION: Let’s get out in front of one negative misconception already being advertised around the internets by the blockheaded troglodytes out there; this is not a shameless cash grab. Sure, all the involved parties are interested in making coin (they are, after all, in a business), but Jackson’s room-full of Oscars demands that we give him the benefit of the doubt. The man certainly has something else up his sleeve other than moolah…

First off, the 300-page book of THE HOBBIT is not being stretched too thin (like butter over too much bread) over the course of three films. Jackson and his army of filmmakers will be going through the Appendices of THE LORD OF THE RINGS books, which offer a massive amount of material concerning the happenings in Middle-Earth during the events of THE HOBBIT. It’s less of a cash-grab and more of an opportunity to film more of JRR Tolkien’s peoples and places. The material in the Appendices, while very large and substantial, likely would not hold up as their own film, so putting the material around THE HOBBIT (again, which is when these events take place in the timeline) makes perfect sense. We’ve all seen movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima, but were there other things going on in the War at the same time? Most certainly. The only real concern is if all the new material will take attention away from the main story of THE HOBBIT; but again, in Jackson we trust.
This Blogger holds Jackson’s RINGS films very close and dear to his heart, so there is a lot of cautious excitement to be had. Three big movies do seem like a lot, and the decision to release the finale in the summertime is just goddamn stupid. Middle-Earth films belong in December; that’s where they first made their home ten years ago and reaped all their golden success. But overall there is nothing wrong with seeing a bit more of Middle-Earth, as long as the right person is pulling the strings.

What say you?

Friday, July 27, 2012


This Blogger was pleased to attend an advance screening of THE BARNES COLLECTION, a new 60 minute documentary on the Barnes Foundation.
BARNES tells the life story of Dr. Albert Barnes and his large priceless art collection, considered to be among the worlds greatest. It chronicles his life and reveals his intimate thoughts, while detailing the Foundation’s past and present galleries in Philadelphia.

BARNES is a technically proficient documentary and a visual marvel. With excellent access to personal letters, historic documents, and Foundation staff, Dr. Barnes’ life practically re-emerges from the grave.  The film smartly intercuts between past and present seamlessly, and with the help of handy-dandy timeline, it is never difficult to keep up. BARNES is crafted very well; shot beautifully, edited with grace and precision, and held together by David Morse’s exquisite narration.
However every documentary, whether it realizes it or not, needs to tell a story. BARNES, while very informative and educational, has no arc; there is no journey, no build-up, and no climax. It is difficult to believe that such a storied man and foundation has no story to tell in the traditional sense, so with no conflict to overcome and no resolution of said conflict, the film’s final moments/ending feels abrupt and empty. BARNES never gets into the controversies the Foundation has faced over years, which robs it of any drama. The decision to exclude such conflicts was likely done out of time constraints, and it would be interesting to see an extended cut of this film down the road.

Despite the flaws, the film accomplishes its goal in educating an Art Dummy (this Blogger) on Dr. Barnes and his skill as a collector. Art-buffs may get a lot more out of it, but the average schmuck can still take away an appreciation of the art of collecting. There is a lot to admire in THE BARNES COLLECTION, and tells just enough of a large story to get someone interested in going to the art gallery.
THE BARNES COLLECTION will air on PBS in early August.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: More Colorado Shooting Fallout

FACT: In a direct reaction to the Colorado movie theatre shooting, Warner Bros., whose own THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was being screened during the attack, has decided make some serious edits to its upcoming GANGSTER SQUAD film. The film, which takes place in 1949 and stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, will undergo edits and reshoots to remove a key scene in which a shootout takes place in a movie theatre. Trailers for the film were also pulled from rotation the day after the shooting. The changes will move the film from its September (Oscar season) release date to early January (shit season)

OPINION: The situation is a familiar one. In the fall of 2001, Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002) had its trailers removed which had shots of the World Trade Center. In 2003, just days after the Shuttle Columbia disaster, trailers for THE CORE, which included a shuttle crash scene, were pulled. Warner Bros. is certainly trying to be sensitive here, but the question of where the line must be drawn has to be asked; do studios radically change their product just because of one asshole? And GANGSTER SQUAD was also a finished film and ready to screen, so the removal of an apparent key scene just may derail the entire story. If the film will miss the September 7th release, why not just shelve the film until enough time passes? Early March or May could work. Delayed films can, and have done well in the past. Either way, they’re letting the Bad Guys win.
FACT: Actor Christian Bale, star of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, visited victims of the shooting at the hospital this week, speaking with the moviegoers and the medical staff. Bale then attended a makeshift memorial where he left flowers.

OPINION: He is an Oscar winner and the star of the biggest movie trilogy this side of Middle-Earth. Now we can put him on the list of the Good Guys. Let those Good Guys win.

What say you?

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Reel Opinion: The Colorado Movie Theatre Shooting

As all of you fine readers know by now, 12 people were killed and 58 were injured when a gunman (asshole) opened fire in a crowded theatre during a midnight showing of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in Aurora, Colorado.

There is a point to be made in that the senseless shooting which occurred over the weekend had nothing to do with the movies. As far as we know, it really didn’t. But it did happen in a movie theatre. Why a movie theatre, a place of fun, was chosen we may never know…but it does bring ugliness into our world of cinema, and that is bothersome.
People as a whole are completely unpredictable and incomprehensible. No matter how well, or how long we know a person, there are always unrevealed corners of a person’s soul and mind. This Blogger once had a dear friend of ten years who transformed before his very eyes towards the end, and it was not an easy thing to witness. Now what drove this asshole to open fire in a movie theatre will never be known, so trying to analyze the motivations is a useless effort and will at least not be done here. As the character of Alfred Pennyworth now ironically stated in THE DARK KNIGHT; some men just want to watch the world burn.

All it takes is one asshole to ruin everything for everybody, and these events could very well leave a lasting stain on our silver screens. It gives validation to thieving folk who have already downloaded a pirated (and hopefully shitty looking) copy of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Theatre attendance could very well drop like a rock, and that is not good for the business of making movies.
Everyone has a favorite movie. If you are a movie-geek like this Blogger or at least have a little bit of love for the cinema, then this one act of stupidity by one asshole should not stop us from going to the movies. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t let the events of 9/11 stop us from boarding planes to visit loved ones. We don’t stop doing what we love. By all means grieve for those who lost their lives, but let’s pay them a tribute by doing what they loved they do.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Christopher Nolan’s third and final chapter in his Batman vision is a movie with massive scale, almost too big for the average filmgoer to comprehend. It is a natural progression; in the first film our hero found his calling, in the second he dealt with the escalation thanks to his actions. In the third act, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Batman/Bruce Wayne deals with the consequences of every action taken since act one. With so many pieces and parts finally coming together, RISES had to be a massive film; almost too big for its own good.
Eight years after Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) takes the blame for the death and crimes of Harvey Dent, the city of Gotham is flourishing thanks to the cover-up, aided by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). But the time of peace will come crashing down with the arrival of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who is looking to bring Gotham back to the stone ages. Batman must return with aid of his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), gadget-maker Lucius (Morgan Freeman), and rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), while also dealing with the mysterious cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and corporate executive Miranda (Marion Cotillard).

RISES is a plot-heavy film with a lot going on. Nolan gives himself a lot to cut through. Most of it is thrilling; enough to give anyone cramps while gripping the theatre-chair, while other long segments take a lot of time to cut through all the plot. Some may find all the characters and storylines frustrating, but if they have enough patience and smarts to hang around to the end, they see that there is a payoff for everything. RISES is a slow, intense build with an excellent payoff.
Nolan seems to be paying more attention to the situation than his characters, and many, if not all of them are left behind amongst the carnage. There are some excellent character moments scattered throughout (most belonging to Alfred), but most of the emotion is lost. While the filmmaking on the technical side has never been stronger (it is shot and scored beautifully), there are some unfortunate, massive leaps of logic made for the sake of convenience. Still, RISES has enough action and drama to make anyone feel like they were hit by a ten-ton hammer by film’s end. There is a lot to love.

Christian Bale spends more time as Wayne than he does under the cape (Batman vanishes for a long period of time), but it is an important element of the film and Bale has never been better. Michael Caine’s Alfred has always been the emotional element of the films, and here he really shines. Anne Hathaway is perfect as Selina Kyle (never referred to as Catwoman), as is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman… they’re always awesome.
There is a lot to be said of Tom Hardy’s Bane. Bane is a brute force of a villain. He’s is Batman’s first physical match; he’s not the villain who will sit across the table with you and discuss the ethics of good vs. evil; he’s the villain who will break the table over your head. Hardy, whose face is half-covered by a creepy mask, sells the character with his even creepier eyes. It is a great physical performance. Nolan’s Bat-films have always been grounded in reality, and this one hits even closer to home with themes of class-warfare and urban terrorism hanging heavy over all the proceedings. The realism is nearly frightening, and Bane is the perfect character to drive it all. RISES is a film that could not have been made until this age.

The finale is not only breathtaking, but offers more twists and turns than a pretzel factory gone amuck. It is a rousing wrap worthy of applause and a perfect ending to this three-act Batman story. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES often gets weighted down by a bloated plot, but it is absolutely the finale we needed, and deserved.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Marvel Phase 2

Now that their very own AVENGERS film has made a ka-zillion dollars worldwide, Marvel Studios is not about to rest on their laurels, and is launching a new campaign officially titled Phase 2, which will carry on the solo adventures of their established core while digging deep into their catalog to introduce some new, albeit questionable characters.
FACT: Recently announced is the green-light for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, an adaptation of a Marvel comic which will coincide with the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Guardians are a superhero team consisting of Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon. In the comics, the Guardians shared a common villain with the Avengers in Thanos, who made a cameo at the very end of THE AVENGERS.

Marvel’s core base will continue to plod along, with IRON MAN 3 due for next year along with THOR 2 (subtitled: THE DARK WORLD). Also on the horizon is a second CAPTAIN AMERICA film, with a subtitle of THE WINTER SOLDIER. Marvel is currently casting for the role of Falcon, Cap’s ally/superhero pal who has a winged suit which makes him fly, and is able to communicate telepathically with birds.

Bringing up the rear is another new (movie) character in the form of Ant-Man. Ant-Man, a Marvel character who would be a part of The Avengers, is a superhero who can change his size. The film adaptation is on the way with Edgar Wright (director of SHUAN OF THE DEAD) helming.

OPINION: Raise your hand if you think all these new characters are way too kooky for the big screen.

Every superhero film requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. They are, after all, extraordinary beings with extraordinary abilities. Even Christopher Nolan’s gritty and grounded BATMAN films manage to defy real-world logic and physics. Marvel thus far has done a tremendous job in making their core characters believable; people in the form of Norse Gods, raging monsters, and those who wear spangled outfits. A lot of credit goes to the actors, but even more goes to the great writing which has humanized every extraordinary hero. But that was Phase 1. With Phase 2, they really have their work cut out for them.

Phase 2 looks to push just how much we can suspend our disbelief, for we will be dealing with a bird-man, an ant-guy, and a goddamn talking raccoon. Such characters seem better off in animated movies, but Marvel, with all their confidence (and maybe a touch of arrogance), feel they can pull this off the same way they triumphantly and historically established their current consistent movie-verse. But they have to realize the tough task at hand…these characters are not very well-known (this Blogger had never heard of the GUARDIANS) and their abilities (and existence) really push believable science fiction.

The good news is Marvel seems to know what they are doing. They have thus far knocked it out of the park with every casting choice, and every character has been humanized into our hearts. Again, no one has done before what Marvel Studios has, and the feat is likely not to be repeated (DC Comics is in deep shit post-Nolan’s BATMAN). Marvel is at the tippity-top of superhero films, but all it takes is one misstep to make it all come crumbling down.

Or even a raccoon.

What say you?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Reel 30

“Now for some real user power.”

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 Disney’s TRON
TRON was a film ahead of its time in 1982, and remains one of Disney’s most underrated and underappreciated films. Inspired by the video game Pong as early as 1976, the film was the very first to include live-action elements with computer animation. This made TRON the first computer-generated film long before CGI became so common, and before computers become so commonplace in our everyday lives.

TRON began as a special-effects reel in search of a story. With such a high concept, director Steven Lisberger went with the simplest and most relate-able stores; Get Dorothy Home. Settling on a simple plot of a computer programmer who gets zapped into a digital world and must fight his way out, the simplicity of it all grounded the film and kept the then-dazzling visuals from taking things over. The cast, which included Jeff Bridges and David Warner, brought even more believeabiltiy to the fantastic world by successfully acting against things and environments that did not exist on set. Today’s directors and actors could learn a lot from TRON before diving into their virtual environments.
TRON went on to receive critical acclaim and would eventually become a cult favorite. John Lasseter of Pixar fame would often say that without TRON, there would not have a TOY STORY. The film would go on to inspire its own franchise in the form of books, animated TV series, and of course…video games. But the lasting legacy of TRON is not what it did in 1982, but what it didn’t do…

In the year it was released, the Motion Picture Academy refused to nominate TRON for Best Special Effects, because the thought was the filmmakers “cheated” by using computers. Thirty years later, the same battle rages on today in the same Visual Effects arena. As more and more films utilize motion-capture technology (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, AVATAR, THE HOBBIT), the argument over actors who are wearing “digital masks” deserving Oscars for acting comes up nearly every year, with the Academy not yet coming around to the concept. Those voting for the Oscars could stand to learn a thing or two from that little Disney movie that was inspired by the simplest of all games.

"How are you going to run the universe if you can't answer a few unsolvable problems?"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Fass-assin's Creed

FACT: Earlier this week, it was announced that critically-acclaimed actor Michael Fassbender will star in and co-produce the big-screen adaptation of ASSASSIN’S CREED, Ubisoft’s popular video game franchise. The game is an award-winning historical-fiction action-adventure series spanning across several games, comic books and novels.
OPINION: Not so long ago, when it was announced that Andrew Garfield had been cast as the new Peter Parker/Spider-man, this Blogger let out an “ugh”. Although Garfield is a terrific actor, it just seemed like the kid’s future was much too bright to be messing around with the utter drek which passes off as a decent SPIDER-MAN movie these days. The same sort of “ugh” can be said over Fassbender taking on this project. Although Fassbender has already successfully dabbled in sci-fi/fantasy (his turns in last year’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS and this year’s PROMETHEUS were stunningly good), it just seems that he is just too good of an actor with limitless potential to be playing around with video game movies. The man seems destined for Oscar gold (his role in last year’s SHAME earned him a total of 29 acting nominations with 13 wins), and rumors are strong that he may be the next 007.

Such an acclaimed actor should be doing better things than stepping into the black void which is the world of video game adaptations. It can be argued that there has never been a good adaptation, with every film since 1993 receiving mixed to dismal reviews. All those failures can be blamed on a lot of things; bad directing, casting, writing, or even the studios not taking the material seriously. Now Fassbender certainly has the chops to add seriousness and weight to a fantasy film, but the odds, and history are against him.
What say you?

Monday, July 9, 2012

RIP Ernest Borgnine 1917-2012

“…Dogs like us, we ain’t such dogs as we think we are.”

Academy Award winning actor Ernest Borgnine has died at the age of 95.

A Hollywood legend, Borgnine appeared in over 200 films, with his performance in MARTY (1955) earning him a well-deserved Oscar. A was a very diverse actor, his role in MARTY was that of a tough, but kind man… while his role in EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) was that of a madman; two shining examples of the great range he had.
He was one of those guys who seemed to show up everywhere, and his list of credits is beyond impressive. Consider the greatness of his films; FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965), THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), and THE POSIEDON ADVENTURE (1972). He also moved freely and successfully into the TV world, appearing in MCHALE’S NAVY and AIRWOLF.

As a wee-lad growing up in the 80’s, Ernie was one of those guys who was like a comfort; you were ready to settle into any movie that he was in. This Blogger first encountered the man’s talents in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE (1979) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). He had seamless transitions  between tragic films like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and cheesy comedies like SUPER FUZZ (1980). His diversity seemed to have no limits, and the movies are a little emptier without him.

“You don’t get to be good-hearted by accident.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Every superhero movie (or any movie), needs to do only one thing: Don’t be boring. It doesn’t necessarily need to have balls-to-the-wall action, and it doesn’t matter if it is telling a story that we’ve seen a billion times over; you just have to keep it interesting. For that reason alone, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN goes splat.
After his parents mysteriously vanish, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Despite being a science nerd and wimp, he gains the attention of fellow science-enthusiast Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who also happens to work at the Oscorp Corporation, where Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is conducting genetic experiments, and may or may not be connected to the Parker family mystery.

The tone of SPIDER-MAN is very grounded and dark. Parker is a boy dealing with abandonment issues, wimp issues, and girl issues. His desire to seek out the truth behind his parents’ disappearance is supposed to be his ultimate motivation, but the emotional connection just never hits home. Even when the tragedy of Uncle Ben occurs, an essential happening in Parker’s life, it feels clumsy and intrusive, and the whole desire to seek out the Parker family secret is left behind (and not answered…evidently saved for a sequel).
A few sparks tend to flare up when Parker and Gwen Stacy begin their teenage romance. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is very good, and the film is nearly enjoyable when the two of them are on the screen together, even if it is a bit rushed.  Eventually the run-of-the-mill story of Spider-man needs to come back around, and the eventual happenings of The Lizard and Gwen’s police-chief dad (Denis Leary) feel very paint-by-numbers. Again, it’s no great sin for an old story to be re-told, but the dressing needs to make it feel fresh. Here, the dressing is stale and ultimately boring.

Director Marc Webb might as well have been absent during the film’s production, as it is clear that Sony was pulling all the strings here. The battles between Spidey and The Lizard are visually stunning, but they don’t give you anything more than what you would expect from such a fight. The first-person perspective of Spidey as he flies around the city adds nothing to the story and just comes off as a gimmick. All this is backed by a very unremarkable score.
Concerning The Lizard; it’s neat to see the big green lug finally get his due, and the design of the creature works and is cool to look at. However, with so many efforts established to make this SPIDER-MAN a grounded piece, the presence of a man-lizard sticks out like a sore thumb. And Spidey loses his goddamn mask so many times it’s laughable. It’s a studio-decision; they think we’re all too dumb to remember who is under the mask.  

Garfield and Stone really have the bulk of the film on their shoulders and are very good together; good enough that you almost find yourself wishing you weren’t watching them in a SPIDER-MAN film. It doesn’t take long to buy into Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, or Sally Field as Aunt May, even if Ben doesn’t do much other than yell at Peter while May stands around and cries. Rhys Ifans’ villainous turn is about as interesting as a doorknob.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is clearly a studio-influenced production from head to tail, as it has no real artistic quality and doesn’t give a fresh spin on the story. It’s a movie designed only make money off the name, and worst of all, it’s a joyless ride. Spider-man should never be boring.