Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Reel Review: LAWLESS

The balance between a movie’s screenplay and direction is much like the bonding between brick and mortar; if one element is faulty, the walls will simply come crumbling down. Enter John Hillcoat’s LAWLESS; his unbalanced look at the bootlegging business during the (goddamn) Prohibition years.
The Bondurant bothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke), and the youngest, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are at the heart of the bootlegging business in the hills of backwater Virginia. When Special Deputy Rakes (Guy Pearce) appears looking for a handout, Forrest sticks to his principles and refuses to pay the shakedown, which results in a bloody war between the brothers and Rakes. Meanwhile, Forrest encounters romance with city-transplant Maggie (Jessica Chastain), Jack courts the preacher’s daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), just when big-time Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) appears in town.

Based on a true story and remarkably brought to life by Hillcoat’s outstanding and beautiful direction, LAWLESS is at its strongest when it concentrates on the heroes of the story; the brothers. The film starts off strongly with a great family dynamic with the older brother acting as the patriarch, the middle brother a screwup, and the youngest trying to be older than he actually is. When the outside world begins to threaten their way of life, the brothers play off each other and fight against the odds and that is when LAWLESS it at its strongest and most compelling.
The film eventually shifts focus over to Jack, and becomes his coming-of-age story. While that is a natural progression for the film, it is Jack’s courting of the preacher’s daughter where things grind to a halt. The romantic storyline does not mesh well with the rest of the goings-on, and has little to no consequence in the grand scheme of things by movie’s end. It is intrusive and a massive momentum-killer, and worst of all, takes attention away from the brothers. The screenplay, adapted by Nick Cave, is the fatal flaw in LAWLESS; with so much time taken away from what should have been the centerpiece (the brothers and their plight), there is little reason to care about anything.

John Hillcoat’s direction has, however created a beautiful looking film. With stunning cinematography and remarkable set design, the back-country world of 1930’s Virginia is a marvel to look at. The film is also backed by an outstanding and moving soundtrack right out of the OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU universe.
Hillcoat also directs some incredible performances out his ensemble cast. Everyone pulls off their southern drawls very well while vanishing into their characters. Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce are elemental forces in the film, and Shia LaBeouf turns in his best performance ever. Jessica Chastain is lovely and convincing as always, and Gary Oldman is spectacular as the Chicago gangster, even though he is criminally under-used (he appears for a grand total of five minutes).

The finale tries to be an explosive one but ultimately feels empty as there is not much to get invested in at that point; there just isn’t very much to bring conclusion to. It ultimately makes for a frustrating watch; the acting and directing is superb, but that gets overshadowed by a bloated and clumsy script.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Reel Review: KILLER JOE

After winning Oscars with THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and scaring the pants off the world with THE EXORCIST (1973), it seems odd that the name of director William Friedkin is scarcely recalled in today’s circles of cinema discussion. Now at 76 years young, Friedkin inserts his name back amongst the living with KILLER JOE; a sadistic, NC-17-rated film which is as disturbing as it is entertaining.
Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who is in desperate need of money when he discovers that his estranged mother has a large insurance policy which names his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as the beneficiary. Chris talks his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) into helping him hire a hitman, Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother and collect the payout. With no money to pay Killer Joe’s advance, the family puts Dottie (who is a tad mentally unstable) up for collateral.

KILLER JOE slowly builds up an unsettling atmosphere as the plot moves forward. A series of twists and turns unfold as Joe seduces Dottie and things start to go wrong for Chris and his family. The movie has two stories running parallel; the plot to kill mom, and Joe’s eventual psycho-sexual games with Dottie. Both stories mesh together brilliantly, and Friedkin spends a lot of time playing the characters against each other to drive the story. Friedkin lays out a sinister plot very much in the style of a 1970’s thriller, all while keeping the characters up front and personal. The dialogue is sharp but plain, and again, there is an aura of uncomfortableness that builds throughout the film which can damage anyone’s calm.
Acting is stupendous all-around. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church are perfect as father-and-son, and fans of Gina Gershon since her SHOWGIRLS days will be happy to know that she can still bring the goods with her acting and her body. Matthew McConaughey gives an absolute chilling performace; cold, calculating, seductive and dangerous. As good as everyone is, the show is nearly stolen by Juno Temple; her mentally-unbalanced and innocent southern belle invokes sympathy and love, all while being afraid of what she might do next.

Despite the full-frontal nude shots and bloodletting through the movie, the NC-17 rating doesn’t really come around until the gag-inducing final scene, which proves Friedkin is certainly fearless when it comes to doing what’s necessary in front of the camera. But the real triumph of KILLER JOE is that no matter how un-ethical and un-likeable the family is as a whole, you can’t help but to hope that the characters as individuals manage to survive their bloody actions.


Friday, August 24, 2012

A Reel Review: ROBOT & FRANK

ROBOT & FRANK is a charming little number which has already earned a prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is a simple tale with many layers, brilliantly acted and directed, full of worthwhile surprises, and an outstanding performance by the centerpiece, Frank Langella.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired cat-burglar who is living alone and suffering from lapses in memory. Despite the protests of his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), his son Hunter (James Marsden) brings him a robot (brilliantly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to keep him in good health and help take care of the house. Despite his initial protests, Frank eventually warms up to his new mechanical friend; teaching him how to be a burglar while hoping to win the affections of the town librarian (Susan Sarandon).

In its first act or so, ROBOT & FRANK looks like it is shaping up to be a typical, man-versus-the-abominations-of-technology story. While that theme is an important part of the film, director Jake Schreier takes the film into many interesting and important directions. The movie moves into family drama territory; familiar and powerful themes of families coping with loved ones entering their vulnerable elderly years. It goes a lot deeper than its apparent odd-couple routine, and the end results are very rewarding.
There is great character study going on throughout, but it is the decision to keep this world in which the characters live in (stated as the ‘near future’) grounded which makes things easy to relate to. In this future with robots, there are no flying cars, holograms or mutated people. Aside from the robot himself, there are only bits and pieces of a near future scattered about the small town and Frank’s quaint, old-fashioned home.

Performances are very good all around, although the script seems to shortchange Frank’s grown kids (Tyler and Marsden). While the both of them do very well with what they have, they are never given the opportunity for scene-stealing. Susan Sarandon is very charming and fun, and her importance in the film grows as things move forward.
But the film belongs to Langella. Although the story and dialogue he is working with are simple, the script seems to find a lot of different layers for Langella to play with and excel at. Like the rest of the cast, Langella doesn’t get that big emotional blow-up scene, but he really doesn’t need to. The film, like Langella’s performance, is very tempered with great focus on plot and character, and Langella’s portrayal of a confused old man is heart-wrenching.

The finale comes about by way of a clever twist which the film doesn’t rely upon for success, but instead adds another emotional layer for the audience to deal with. ROBOT & FRANK winds up being a bittersweet tale; swimming in reality and gushing with the human side of things; and keeping things human is the best kind of science fiction.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Reel Story: How I Met Gary Oldman

Meeting a famous person is a rare thing. Even if one might know exactly where they are going to be and when, like at a convention or concert, the odds are still pretty steep. Meeting a famous person by chance is even rarer, especially when that person is one of your favorite performers of all time.

This is what happens…

I, this Blogger, was aware of the movie PARANOIA being filmed in downtown Philadelphia. On the early morning of Tuesday, August 21st 2012, I exited my apartment building to come face-to-face with a line of production trailers; parked overnight to apparently prepare for a day full of filming in the downtown. The trailers were marked with the character’s names. The trailer six feet from my front door was labeled, “Wyatt”.  Thanks to my trusty Droid, I quickly discovered who was playing the character Wyatt.

Fast-forward nine hours later, and there I was strolling (trudging) down Chestnut St. with a bag-full of Chinese (food), while inspecting the production trailers and equipment. As I bore to the right towards my front door, I glanced to my left, and there he was.

Six months before he was sitting at the Academy Awards; nominated for his 2011 role as George Smiley, and now he was standing in front of me, casually leaning against his trailer smoking a cigarette. He was a mustache away from Commissioner Gordon, and a magic-wand away from Sirius Black, and he was three feet away.

Just as he always disappears into his characters, he was hiding in plain sight; people hurried by not noticing him (uneducated wankers). Resisting the urge to become a schoolgirl screaming at the Beatles, I casually approached (stumbled) towards him. He turned his head at me and I gave him a small wave. He nodded.

I introduced myself (full name), called him Mister, and extended my hand. He shook it and gave back a very gracious and very British “thank you”. I welcomed him to Philadelphia (despite the wankers), and tried to explain that I had been a fan of his for many years (although I could have been speaking Jawa at this point).

He was elegant and graceful, appreciative of the admiration. I asked if I could get a picture (I wasn’t going to have him autograph my General Tso Chicken container), and he said yes with a royal-ish nod.

At that moment, one of my neighbors came out of the building, approached, and told him “I loved you in Harry Potter!”

Bloody muggle. If only she knew she was also speaking to Dracula, Sid Vicious, and Lee Harvey Oswald.

He again gave a very British “thank you”, and I immediately had the realization of how little I have ever heard him speak in his native accent. You see, he has never appeared in a film in which he used the same accent twice (excluding recurring characters), which is why it was so striking to hear his natural voice. If that’s not a sign of a great actor, I dare you to tell me what is.

I finally extracted my trusty Droid, and happily accepted an offer from Hermonie Granger to take the picture. The man who once played Beethoven put his arm on my shoulder, and we posed. Since Hermonie didn’t have her wand it took her a few tries to get the one-button-push thing right, which was really to my benefit; it meant more time standing next to the Russian who once hijacked Air Force One.

I approved the picture, thanked him, and wished him luck. He again said thank you, and then accepted a request for a photo from Hermonie and a few others who had now gathered. Like a true gentleman.

I went upstairs and puked.

Meeting a famous person is a rare thing, especially by chance. If someone had asked me 24 hours before which person in the world I would be the most excited to meet, I would have said Gary Oldman.

It was a pleasure to meet him.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tony Scott 1944-2012

Tony Scott, the director of mega-hits TOP GUN (1986) and DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) has died at the age of 68 from an apparent suicide. He was the brother of director Sir Ridley Scott, whom he collaborated with on various film and TV projects.
Tony Scott was a low-key Hollywood director who was as much known for his trademark red baseball hat as his directing style; which was noted for its rich visuals, stunning cinematography, and likeable characters. His most noteworthy directing credits include CRIMSON TIDE (1995), THE FAN (1996), REVENGE (1990), ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998), BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987), and SPY GAME (2001). His last directed film was UNSTOPPABLE (2010), which starred Denzel Washington, whom he frequently worked with.

He will likely be most remembered for making a super-duper-star out of a young Tom Cruise with DAYS OF THUNDER, and most of all, TOP GUN. With TOP GUN, he cemented his status as a talented action-director. In an age before CGI was around to create aerial combat with fighter jets, Scott earned the cooperation from the U.S. Navy and shot the film the old fashioned hard way. TOP GUN was a testosterone-fueled, chest-thumping film which proudly waved the stars and stripes; showing that Scott knew what audiences wanted to see.
This Blogger has always appreciated Scott’s talent for making characters out of things which could not speak. Just like the Millennium Falcon lived and breathed on the screen; Scott made characters out of jet fighters, race cars, submarines and freight trains; practically turning steel and rivets into flesh and bone. It was a special talent that not many directors have, and our silver screens are a lot dimmer without him.

Friday, August 17, 2012


THE EXPENDABLES 2 is the second go-around for a large cast of aging, 1980’s-era action film stars looking to give their fans the wet dream they’ve always wanted. On that basis alone, EX2 moderately succeeds, as the action is fun and the winks-and-nods to their older films are timed just right. The film works for as long as the action and homages are in play, and those moments only.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his band of mercenaries-for-hire, which includes Lee (Jason Satham), Yin (Jet Li), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Billy (Liam Hemsworth) are hired under blackmail by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and his mysterious partner Maggie (Nan Yu) for a dangerous mission. Barney and his crew are ambushed by Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who is up to something diabolical, and eventually team up with old friends Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Booker (Chuck Norris).

It should be noted right away that the absolute best aspect of THE EXPENDABLES 2 are the action pieces. They are packed tight with things that go boom and bang; explosions blow bodies all over the place, knives are wickedly thrown, characters carry oversized guns, and kung-fu is used exclusively. Our gang of 1980’s action-stars throw out hilarious and well-timed references to their past works, and seeing Stallone, Willis, and Arnie in the same frame blasting away is indeed a wet dream.
Unfortunately, the film has to slow down here and there in order to deal with the business of plot and character development, and that is where EX2 becomes a tedious snore. The awful dialogue grinds things to halt and only lightly develops the film. The large and bloated cast is only dealt with by characters dropping in and out so quickly it’s difficult to keep track of, or care about what they are all about. Massive leaps in logic are aplenty; usually that can be forgiven, but EX2 has enough of them that it’s enough to jar you out of the movie.

Acting is about what you would expect out of this cast of thugs. There are no real standouts, although it should be noted Dolph Lundgren must be trying to talk through poorly-seated dentures, as it is often difficult to understand what the hell he is saying. Directed by Simon West, the cast flips back and forth between acting in a serious movie and being aware that they are in one big throwback.
It’s difficult to decide just how to judge EXPENDABLES 2; as a homage it works sporadically, as a parody it works very well, as a serious movie it fails miserably. If the bottom-line mission of EX2 was to invoke memories of the films of the 1980’s, then the filmmakers should have studied the better ones before assembling these guys.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: IMAX or LIE-MAX?

FACT: In a move designed to promote the upcoming blu-ray release of THE ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES, Paramount Pictures will re-release RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in select IMAX theatres for a very limited run in September.
In a similar move, the Alamo Drafthouse theatre chain will also be running select films in the IMAX format for a limited run; select films such as INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, GHOSTBUSTERS, WEST SIDE STORY, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming THE MASTER.

The IMAX format has the ability to capture and display images of a greater size and resolution than conventional film systems.
Sounds great, eh? But not so fast…

OPINION:  Just a few years ago, the Industry realized it could make a few more buck$ by slapping (converting) the (goddamn) 3D format on nearly every movie under the sun. For decades prior to that realization, seeing a movie which was created with the third dimension in mind was a fun trip to the theatre. However, the Industry abused and exploited the format so badly; people got sick of it and eventually realized the gimmick of it. Now it seems the Industry is all set to abuse another cinematic format; IMAX.
Here’s the problem with re-releasing films like RAIDERS and GHOSTBUSTERS in IMAX; they were not filmed in the larger 65 or 70mm format and therefore do not benefit from an IMAX conversion. Real IMAX films, which are shot on the larger 65/70mm film stock, look fantastic because they were built to take advantage of that larger screen. When a filmmaker is shooting on 65/70mm, they know they have a larger canvas (frame) to work with, so they frame their shots accordingly; getting as much in the frame as possible.  With RAIDERS being shot in the conventional (and smaller) 35mm film format, the existing picture, with less in the frame, is only being made bigger. And whether or not bigger means better is up to you, the viewer to decide.

The bigger issue is if the Industry will now abuse IMAX the same way they did with (goddamn) 3D by releasing traditional 35mm films in the bigger format. If such abuse diminished the impact of very good-looking, made-for-3D films, then it could diminish films which actually contain IMAX-sized footage; films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, BEN HUR, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming THE MASTER. With so many films being released in IMAX, it would be difficult for the average moviegoer to sort the genuine from the fake.
Re-releasing older films in the theatres is a great, great thing, but the world knows that RAIDERS is a strong enough film to survive without any added feature. This Blogger lives and breathes for the big-screen experience, but let’s not make the glorious format of IMAX another laughing stock of the industry.

What say you?

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Reel Opinion: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Followup

Christopher Nolan’s finale to his Batman trilogy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, continued to bring in major moolah over the weekend. Its latest weekend box office haul brought its domestic take up to $390 million, good for 15th best all-time. Its worldwide total sits at an impressive $835 million.
Despite the impressive numbers, RISES has become a very divisive film amongst film buffs and superhero fans. Its total number of positive reviews come in under its vastly superior predecessor, THE DARK KNIGHT, with most complaints ranging from a complicated and clunky plot and many leaps in real-world logic. Comic-book purists (nerds) are upset over the villain, Bane, ultimately being diminished as a mere henchman. This Blogger’s Old Man expressed his dislike for the film by saying, “the movie was so bad even his butler walked out”.

The largest complaint, which is very legitimate, is that RISES is a much lesser film than its predecessor. Where THE DARK KNIGHT was very much a character study and crime drama, RISES forgoes any in-depth looks at the characters and instead piles on many layers of plot.
This Blogger sees many similarities between Nolan’s Batman trilogy of films and the original STAR WARS trilogy; First Movie: set the stage. Second Movie: all about character. Third Movie: big recap. The big recap for STAR WARS, RETURN OF THE JEDI, is often looked at as a letdown when compared to its two predecessors. But much like RISES, JEDI doesn’t need to delve into character and emotion because it’s already been done in the previous chapter. While RISES should be judged upon its own merits, it is only fair to also consider its place in the larger picture. RISES doesn’t match up to THE DARK KNIGHT because its purpose is to provide an ending; it is a film full of resolution. And as far as the comic-book purists (nerds) complaint over Bane goes; well, even Vader had a boss.

The other issues with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES involving too much plot, not enough Batman, and lack of real-world logic are legit, but certainly not enough to derail the entire movie. Nolan has always been the thinking-man’s director; never afraid to layer lots of story. There has always been a difference between real-world logic and movie-logic, and for the lack of screen time for the caped crusader; there are always two prior chapters to fall back on.
Trilogies are a tricky business. Again, the individual films should be able to stand on their own two feet, but the larger picture needs respect too.

What say you?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Concerning Hobbits, and AVENGERS 2

FACT: After a lukewarm response from this year’s Cinemacon, Warner Bros. is re-shaping its plans to run THE HOBBIT in its native 48 frames-per-second (fps). The film will run in 48fps in limited markets, (24fps in wide release) with the possibility of expanding if the feedback is good.
Frame rate is the number of frames, or images in one second. The industry standard has been 24fps for over a hundred years. Director Peter Jackson’s HOBBIT adaptation will be the first major feature to give the new 48fps a whirl, which is intended to provide better detail on the screen.

OPINION: This feels like a knee-jerk reaction from Warner Bros., all due to the feedback received from the 10-minute HOBBIT preview at Cinemacon, which a lot of people reacted negatively too. The first problem WB is going to have here is marketing; how will they market the new look to a general public who have no idea what fps even means? It’s certainly not as recognizable as 3D. The other factor is how the film will look when converted down to 24fps when it was created on the spot at 48fps; will it look weird, or slightly off? Warner Bros. must certainly know by now that faster frame rates are the future of cinema. The 24fps was chosen because that’s what the technology was limited to at the time, and it never changed. If WB wants to be at the front of the new tech, they need to go all out with it.

FACT: Writer/director Joss Whedon, who helmed THE AVENGERS to well over $1 billion worldwide and overwhelmingly positive reviews, has finally been confirmed to direct a second AVENGERS film.

OPINION: There is an old Vulcan proverb; only Nixon could go to China. The success of a film franchise often depends on having the right person doing the right job. Only Coppola could create the atmosphere for THE GODFATHER, only Ford could play Dr. Jones, and perhaps only Whedon can be in charge of the most successful superhero/comic franchise to date. Whedon’s unabashed geek nature and talent for fleshing out ensemble casts seem to make him perfect for the job. There are no details yet concerning what kind of deal Whedon has made (you know Marvel wanted him back badly), but chances are he made out well money-wise, and likely given the freedom to develop films he otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to make. The potential for more good movies is always a good thing.

What say you?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Woody Allen’s latest film, TO ROME WITH LOVE is a showcase for the filmmaking style he has made a career out of; simple storytelling centered around troubled characters swimming in themes of love, sex and marriage. The question going into this film, and in this late stage of Allen’s career, is if his unique and recognizable style and formula can be still be relevant after so very many years and movies.
TO ROME WITH LOVE tells five different stories in the city of (believe it or not), Rome. The film puts us into the lives of a famous American architect (Alec Baldwin) reliving his youth who sees himself in the lives of a young couple (Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwing) and their slutty friend (Ellen Page); an average middle-class Roman (Roberto Benigni) who becomes an overnight celebrity; a young newlywed couple (Isabella Ferrair and Sergio Rubini) who become mixed up with a prostitute (Penelope Cruz); and a retired music producer (Woody Allen) working to put a signing mortician on the opera stage.

The five different stories have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and it’s easy to feel like sitting through ROME is either like watching several different movies at once or just a very long soap-opera episode. Each story is sweet enough and developed enough to be charming and engaging in its own way, but the film tends to leave the characters behind. Each individual seems to only exist just to move the many plotlines forward, and by movie’s end there is no reason to care if they get hit by lightning or not. It’s a dialogue heavy film, and for as much as the characters have to speak, they go nowhere saying it.

Woody Allen of course can’t help but to have himself in the film, and while that often works for him, here it feels like he’s in front of the camera just for the sake of it. His usual zippy one-liners often fall flat, and the rest of the film’s dialogue just feels like whatever Allen needed to get off his chest at the time. From a technical standpoint, the film seems to suffer a little from the director not looking through the eyepiece; the shot-blocking often looks a little off and amateurish. Allen has never been known for being a wizard with the camera, but ROME often looks like it was shot by a Film 101 student; a shame, considering how beautiful the city of Rome should look in front of the camera.

The entire cast does well with what they have to work with; everyone is stellar and Allen clearly still has a knack for casting the right persons in the right role. Allen also knows what his male audiences (and some female audiences) are in the theatre to see; not one eyeball can be torn away from the screen when Penelope Cruz is putting her panties back on.

TO ROME WITH LOVE still explores Allen’s common themes of love and sex, but with much broader strokes than his past efforts. In some parts of the film it works, but overall feels like it could have benefitted from less plot and more character. No one feels like they reach any goal or arc, and that kills it. TO ROME WITH LOVE is sweet and is a pleasant time waster, but ultimately shallow.


Friday, August 3, 2012


Director Len Wiseman’s TOTAL RECALL is the latest version of Phillip K. Dick’s (author of BLADE RUNNER) short-story novel “We Will Remember It for You Wholesale”. It is designed as a science-fiction thriller set in a believable future centered around one man’s personal journey. The design and idea is solid, but as we all should know (Rekall or not), execution is everything.
Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a disgruntled factory worker in a futuristic Earth which is recovering from the effects of a massive biological war which has divided the planet in two halves; the worker-bee colonies and the rich folk. Despite being married to his hot wife (Kate Beckinsale), Quaid wanders to the Rekall facility to have adventurous memories implanted in order to break the boredom of his life. Things go wrong and hijinx occurs, with Quaid landing in the middle of an invasion led by the Chancellor (Bryan Cranston) and opposed by resistance fighters led by Melina (Jessica Biel) and Kuato (Bill Nighy).

TOTAL RECALL has a very good stage set for a decent flick; an outstanding-looking future (more on that later), decent actors and a large-scale, Armageddon-esque plot to raise the stakes to go along with Quaid’s journey to find out who the hell he is. Unfortunately for all involved, director Len Wiseman, while having a decent knack for action and visuals, cannot tell a story out of a nutsack. RECALL is a movie composed of action-scene after action-scene, with only brief interludes of dialogue to set up the next chase. A movie with so many chases, falls, and crashes would seem like a thrill-ride, but with so much of it the film becomes boring. You can nearly set a clock to the next chase scene.
The real star and achievement in TOTAL RECALL are the visuals and the design. The cityscapes are breathtaking, and the technology used in this futuristic world is not only very cool to see, but also feels like the next logical step in the tech we are using today. Nearly everything from mobile phones, touch-screens, weapons and vehicles (maybe not so much the flying cars) all feel like they are just a few years away.

Colin Farrell does an okay job with the little that he is given to work with. For a character that is supposed to be the center of all attention, it gets lost amongst the endless running about. Kate Beckinsale (whose career has been nearly destroyed by Wiseman himself), does the most work with having to switch accents (and character) from time to time, while Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, and the great Bill Nighy might as well be flashy touch-screens on the wall.
The finale comes about by way of several twists and turns to try and turn the film into a psychological mind-bender, but each twist never feels like it carries any weight and is quickly forgotten. The diabolical scheme Quaid is trying so hard to thwart amounts to a CLONE WARS ripoff, and despite how much the film tries to convince us of the gravity of the situation, it never feels like a shit should be given. TOTAL RECALL is visually stunning and packed with action, but still comes off as a bore.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012


BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a limited released, independent film which has been making waves this year, having won awards at the Cannes and Sundance film festival. It is a perfect blend of real-world grittiness, family values, and childhood imagination.
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a six year old girl who lives with her father (Dwight Henry) in a third-world community near large bodies of water. When her father falls deadly ill, her universe falls out of harmony; storms ensue, water rise, and the ice caps melt which thaw out a herd of prehistoric creatures. With her home nearly underwater, her father dying and the creatures approaching, Hushpuppy goes in search of her long-lost mother to restore balance.

BEASTS revolves around little Hushpuppy and her reactions to her world as it crumbles around her. Normally, films tend to get derailed by little-kid characters that are way too intelligent for their age, but BEASTS remains grounded and real by keeping Hushpuppy as a little kid. While there are a few scattered moments (mostly near the end) where she is made out to be smarter than the average adult, there is never a doubt that we are seeing this world through the eyes of a six-year old; even as the prehistoric creatures lumber towards her. The film has a perfect blend of reality and fairy tale which keeps the simple survival plot afloat.
And the realization of this world is what makes BEASTS seem so darn close. This is a third-world community where people sleep on moldy cardboard, catch fish with their bare hands, and float downstream in the back of pickup-truck beds. Director Benh Zeitlin does tremendous work in bringing this impoverished country to the screen, and you have to wonder if the crew ever bothered to hire a set director and just showed up at a slum on the outskirts of the woods.

The acting is superb and fits right in to the gritty and slimy world. Dwight Henry, as the tough-loving father, looks like he was a homeless person hired right off the street and vanishes into the character, as does the entire supporting cast. The film belongs to little Quvenzhane Wallis, who not only has to go through some serious physical work here, but also sells the part of a little girl in a tough situation with no problem.
The question of whether or not the prehistoric creatures are real or just a figment of Hushpuppy’s imagination is left up to the viewer. The answer to that question really doesn’t matter, as their existence on film serves a higher purpose other than just another plot point or device. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is unlike any other film seen before, and is unlikely to be imitated.