Friday, September 28, 2012

A Reel Review: LOOPER

LOOPER is an action-packed, time-travelling film with shades of THE TERMINATOR and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Despite a familiar backdrop, LOOPER comes away as one of the freshest bits of science fiction to hit the screens in long time.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hitman (or Looper) who whacks guys who are sent back in time by the future mob. Joe is getting rich and looking to get out when he is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis). The elder Joe escapes and goes on a killing spree looking to right things in the future; a spree which may or may not involve Sara (Emily Blunt) and her ten-year old son.

To reveal any more of the plot would be sinful, as LOOPER is packed with clever twists and turns; all centered around Young Joe and Old Joe. The two Joe’s have excellent motivations which are nicely fleshed out, and it is easy to root for either one of them. The time-travel logic is spelled out quickly and is never confusing, and is used in very clever ways to keep the characters linked; whatever happens to young Joe effects the elder Joe, both in body and in mind. Despite the time-travel paradoxes and tricks, the film still feels very grounded and realistic, which is attributed to director Rian Johnson’s focus on the characters, and his knack for some meat-and-potatoes gunfights.
The film invests good time into the two Joes, however they only share the screen a handful of times together, and it doesn’t feel like enough. LOOPER has other business to take care of, and doesn’t spend any time on the Joes playing psychological mind-games with each other. The film also undergoes a small shift when things change focus to Sara and her son, and the Joes almost seem forgotten about. The shift doesn’t jar you out of the movie, but you do find yourself looking for more Joe.

Rian Johnson and his production team do some excellent work in bringing the future to life. Veering away from a BLADE RUNNER-type future with towering buildings and flying cars, LOOPER instead brings us a futuristic world which feels like it is just days away from tomorrow. It is executed nicely and keeps the film grounded.

Bruce Willis acts like we expect Bruce Willis to act, and the film also features some phoned-in, albeit good performances by Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is given some great prosthetics to look like a young Willis, also captures the little knicks and knacks which Willis has used to make a career out of. As good as Gordon-Levitt is, the film is nearly stolen by the beautiful Emily Blunt, who buries her British accent in favor of a slight southern twang in her transformative role as an axe-swinging, shotgun-carrying country girl.
The time-travel logic and formula could likely be picked apart, but the film is so darn entertaining there is no reason to care. LOOPER is great sci-fi not only because it engages the mind and the senses, but because it never leaves its characters behind.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Reel Fall Preview: Episode II

First of last week’s Episode I, Reel Speak erroneously had KILLING THEM SOFTLY as an October release. The film is slated for November. This Blogger regrets the Reel Screwup. Now to business…
In Episode I, Reel Speak explored the first two months of the fall movie season. This week, it’s the monstrous month of November…

WRECK-IT RALPH – In this animated film, John C. Reily voices the main (video game) character who is tired of playing the role of the villain in his own video game. WRECK-IT RALPH looks to invoke a ton of early video-game arcade nostalgia by packing the film with cameos from classic characters such as Q*Bert and Lord Bowser.
FLIGHT – Director Robert Zemeckis (FORREST GUMP, BACK TO THE FUTURE) finally steps away from the world of motion-capture (BEOWULF, THE POLAR EXPRESS), and brings us a live-action film. Denzel Washington stars.

SKYFALL – Bond, James Bond is all you need to know about SKYFALL.
LINCOLN – Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln in a Steven Spielberg film is all you need to know about LINCOLN.

GRAVITY- Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN) continues to dabble in the world of science fiction; much to the benefit of all mankind. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as two astronauts stranded in space.
LIFE OF PI- Ang Lee (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) adapts Yann Martel’s adventure novel in which looks to be a visual stunner.

HITCHCOCK – Anthony Hopkins is a dead-ringer for Alfred Hitchcock in this film which tells the story of the making of PSYCHO. Scarlett Johannson stars as Janet Leigh, along with Helen Mirren, Danny Huston, and Toni Colette.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – In what may be an Oscar sleeper, director David O’ Russell (THE FIGHTER) brings us a story of a depressed and down-on-his-luck man who must move back in with his parents. Stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, and Julia Stiles.

Next week, Episode III explores the month of December.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Iran Movie Controversy

FACT: Iranian official Javad Shamaghdari said today his country should boycott the 2013 Oscars and not submit a candidate for the Best Foreign Film category. His call was a direct response to the controversial anti-Islam film, INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS; which was made in the United States, denigrates the prophet Muhammad, and has caused worldwide violent, fatal protests.
The film was written and produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, under the pseudonym of “Sam Bacile”. While the director initially denied to have been behind the film, further investigation established Nakoula to be the same person as Bacile. Further, the actors and crew on set were under the impression they were making a film about life in Egypt 2,000 years ago; however the film went through major changes and overdubs in post-production (unbeknowingist to the cast and crew) which drastically changed the film to an anti-Islamic story.

OPINION: Only seven months ago at the Oscars, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for his film A SEPARATION – the first such prize for Iran. The call to boycott not only this year’s Oscars, but all future awards based in the West, would deprive the Academy, and the rest of the world of some very good films. This Blogger has a gut reaction to say no to any type of censorship, and feels maybe the rest of the world should be able to decide if the film really does push an anti-Islamic message.
However, the way this film has come together is just too darn shady to ignore. The writer/director put the film together under a fake name, and then denied doing so. He also did the filming under the guise of another story, which put the entire cast and crew in the dark (the lead actress is considering a lawsuit against the director). It is reasonable to assume that the director knew what sort of film he wanted to make in the first place, and knew that he would never get it made by being forthcoming about his intentions to the cast and crew prior to filming. So he cooks up a phony narrative, films it under the pretense of a nice story, and then overdubs everything later on. Who can trust a filmmaker like that?

Further, a bit of research has revealed that the movie does indeed carry a heavy-handed anti-Islamic message. This is not like THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) where issues of faith are left up to interpretation. This is an egregious attack on a religion, which means it has no artistic or entertainment value. That sort of film has no place in this world; let alone the Oscars.
This Blogger says bury it, and never let this guy near a camera again.

What say you?


Friday, September 21, 2012

A Reel Review: THE MASTER

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER, his first film since THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), may be his most difficult work to analyze, dissect, and make heads-or-tails out of. It is thematic with many layers, not always clear on its message, lesson, and more importantly, its story. Upon viewing, audiences will either walk out hailing Anderson’s genius or scratching their heads wondering what they just witnessed.
Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II Navy veteran, returns home from the war unsettled and violent. Turning into an alcoholic and a sex-maniac, he stumbles into the life of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), who are at the head of their own “religion”, referred to as The Cause.

THE MASTER is ultimately Freddie’s story as he tries to find inner peace after his trails during the war. His search for peace gets more complex as he falls into the eager and waiting arms of Dodd, and here it becomes a battle for Freddie’s soul. Dodd greedily wants to save Freddie’s soul for the benefit of himself and The Cause, while Freddie just wants to be himself; even though he has no idea who or what that person really is. Dodd’s “religion”, while very much a part of the film, doesn’t take things over and instead serves as an overall antagonist for the characters to react with and against.
THE MASTER excels when things focus on the relationship between Freddie and Dodd, a relationship which evolves into a Master and his Dog. Dodd takes Freddie in as stray, trains him with repetition, scolds him when he misbehaves, and calls after him when he runs off. Freddie in turn very much plays the role of the canine; he loyally defends his master, runs away when off the leash, and even bites the hand that feeds him. It is a powerful theme that runs the course of the film.

As fascinating as it is to watch the characters play a mental and spiritual chess game with each other, THE MASTER can be a frustrating watch for many. While it is beautifully shot (stunningly amazing. The best you’ll ever see), the story feels like it takes a long time to unravel, with many sequences and scenes feeling cut short and incomplete. It’s not until long after the credits roll that you can being putting all the pieces together. By far, this is not a film for the non-thinker.
The acting in THE MASTER is nothing short of outstanding. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a fiery performance and Amy Adams is downright captivating. As good as they are the film absolutely belongs to a resurrected Joaquin Phoenix, who gives the performance of his lifetime and quite possibly the decade. He vanishes into the role with his acting; physically contorting his face in ways that doesn’t even look like him, and when he is in frame you cannot peel your eyes away. It is memorizing and powerful, and in the scenes where Phoenix faces-off with Hoffman, it might as well be Brando vs. Brando.

In the end THE MASTER probably stands as Paul Thomas Anderson’s least accessible work, as it almost feels more thematic than a narrative, and again, takes some thought to put all the pieces and events together. There is still a lot to love and adore about THE MASTER with its astounding acting and breathtaking cinematography. This is a unique film with a classic and timeless feel, although most of the world probably won’t give it that credit until decades pass.



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Reel Fall Preview: Episode I

The Autumn Wind carries a time for great film. The summer months may have brought us the flash and fun in the form of blow-em-ups, shoot-em-alls, caped crusaders and avenging heroes, but the time for cooler breezes carries with it the deeper and thicker dramas in film. As we enter the final months of the year, here are the films to look forward to, Episode I.


THE MASTER – Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) enters wide release this week. Filmed with the same 70mm cameras Stanley Kubrick used on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), Anderson’s post-WWII character-drama features remarkable performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix (!).

LOOPER –Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hit-man who whacks guys after they are sent back in time. Hijinx ensue when Joe’s future-self (Bruce Willis) becomes the next target. LOOPER is a time-travel thriller which has already blown minds at various film festivals this year.


FRANKENWEENIE – Tim Burton, the king of the remake, is now remaking his own material; FRANKENWEENIE is a remake of his own short film of the same name. What makes this interesting is that it is Burton’s return to stop-motion puppetry, which he has done before with success (A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, CORPSE BRIDE).

ARGO – Ben Affleck directs and stars in this inspired-by-true-events film about rescuing American diplomats out of Iran. ARGO is picking up tremendous buzz and looks to be an Oscar heavyweight.

KILLNG THEM SOFTLY – The last time Brad Pitt teamed up with director Andrew Dominik, the result was THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007); one of the most beautifully shot and well-acted westerns ever made. SOFTLY is a mob/hit-man film which seems to dance between the light and dark side with ease.

CLOUD ATLAS – This film looks to bang your brain with a story of how actions and consequences of individuals affect each other through the past, present and future. The film takes place over centuries with each member of the cast (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving) appearing in multiple roles as the stories (each with a different director) move through time.

Next Week: Episode II explores November.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Reel 20

“You stay alive! No matter what occurs!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Mann’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.
Based upon the novel by James Fenimore Cooper and a 1936 film adaptation, MOHICANS was Michael Mann’s first film which received much critical acclaim; earning several nominations and wins at the Oscars, BAFTA’s, and Golden Globes. It is powered by remarkable performances, a moving score, and a fine attention to detail which brought the history of the French and Indian War to life.
The film is mostly known for the fiery performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, who played the Indian-trapper/hunter Hawkeye. Although DDL had already earned an Oscar for the little-seen MY LEFT FOOT (1989), it was his iconic performance as a strong and intense American Indian which brought him to the attention of the world. A dedicated method actor known for going to extremes to prepare for his roles, DDL lived in the wilderness prior to filming; hunting and fishing off the land just the way Hawkeye might have.

THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS is a great film, and one of this Blogger’s favorites. It is a complete and moving experience. But it will be remembered always as the first film this Blogger was introduced to the intensity and grace of Daniel Day-Lewis; a first impression that still lasts to this day. His work and awards for MY LEFT FOOT may have paved the way for his Hawkeye, but it was MOHICANS and Michael Mann which paved the way for his future outings as an oil-man and an American President.

“A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun…”


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: Why a Joe Paterno Movie is a Bad Idea

FACT: Plans are in the works to adapt Joe Posnanski’s best-selling autobiographical novel, Paterno, into either a feature film or a television project. Al Pacino is interested in playing Joe Paterno. No screenplay has been written yet and no director is currently attached.

Joe Paterno coached the Penn State University football team for 45 years before being dismissed for his involvement in a child-abuse sex-scandal in 2011. Paterno died in 2012.

OPINON: The Joe Paterno story has been, and continues to be a source of heated debates and controversy. Having not read the novel, there can only be speculation as to what angle a feature film would take to tell the man’s story. On the surface, it seems there are only three ways to go; none of which feel like a good idea.

 1. The movie glorifies Joe Paterno. Long-time loyal fans of the coach and face of Penn St. University would be thrilled to see him made a hero on the big screen in a RUDY or HOOSIERS fashion. While this approach could work very well on film, it is difficult to believe that a complete story on the man’s entire life would either gloss over or omit the troubles he faced in his later days. Such an omission would certainly anger opponents of the late coach, not to mention families of the victims who still hold him responsible. If this film is to tell his entire life story, then everything needs to get in there; after all, you can’t make a Richard Nixon movie without mentioning Watergate.

 2. The movie destroys Joe Paterno. Those who hold Paterno responsible for everything that happened on-and-off campus would love to see him portrayed in a negative light, but it would literally be beating a dead horse. Considering how powerful a medium the movies can be, the Paterno family and the reputation of the University could have permanent damage. No good can come out of such an approach.

3.  The movie is neutral. In 2008, Oliver Stone directed W., a biopic which followed President George W. Bush’s rise to power and Presidency. The film didn’t take any sides and was very a neutral and evenly-keeled presentation. The result was dead-nuts boring. With no conflict or obstacles to overcome, the centerpiece of the story is given little to do or act upon. An approach like that in a Joe Paterno film may keep both sides relatively quiet, but as a film it may fall flat on its face.

So if a Joe Paterno movie can’t be made for the Right, the Left, or the Middle, then what to do? This Blogger suggests this: Do nothing. Let the book, which is an authorized biography, stand on its own; let everyone read it and make their own judgments. Let the University heal, let the obsessed fans obsess; let all the families move forward. If a movie has to be made, then wait a while; maybe let ten years pass for the wreckage to cool and the smoke to clear. Unfortunately, Hollywood hasn’t shown a lot of patience in recent years in capitalizing on what people are talking about now. Hopefully, they won’t be able to find anyone willing to play the role of the now-jailed villain and the whole thing will quietly slip into history.

What say you?


Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Superhero Films

As the summer movie season heads towards the exit, out goes with it its contribution to the massive slew of superhero films. That means the time is right for this Blogger to ponder over Reel Speak’s Top 10 best films of said slew. To be clear, said Blogger judges superhero films the same way he judges any other movie; story, character, entertainment. And no, Reel Speak does not give a Catwoman’s ass if the film deviates from its comic-book origins. So here we go…
Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) is an automatic entry to any top 10 list. Full of heart and capitalizing on the characters and themes established in its predecessor, SPIDER-MAN 2 takes a kids’ comic concept and grows up while managing to be a ball of fun at the same time.

Bryan Singer’s X-MEN (2000) grounds it’s ridiculously powered characters by inserting real-world themes of racial and social divide; an area which not many films outside of the superhero genre have been willing to go. It was ballsy and ahead of its time, and very much relevant twelve years later.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) is a fitting and triumphant finale to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy of films, and it makes good use out of real-world themes and issues which haunt us to this day. The scenario which unfolds in RISES is likely the first diabolical villain-plot on the silver screen which very well could happen today.

Not only is THE INCREDIBLES (2004) the only animated film to make this Blogger’s list, but it is also the one and only original film amongst the battalion of comic-hero adaptations. It is visually striking, hits all the right points in the superhero mythos, and has the right balance of feeling modern and classic at the same time.
Sometimes casting the right lead is all you need to succeed, and that is why IRON MAN (2008) is a great watch. Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect Tony Stark, and the film carries style and substance all the way through. It is clever and thick, and the blend of practical FX and CGI is outstanding.

Christopher Nolan’s first entry into his Batman trilogy, BATMAN BEGINS (2005), is by far the best superhero origin story this side of Krypton. It is easy to grow impatient watching those origin tales; it’s natural to want to see the hero put on the damn mask right away. BEGINS avoids any of that by focusing on the guy beneath said mask, who is really what the hero is all about.
All you need to know about the granddaddy of all superhero films is this: Christopher Reeve, John Williams, and Gene Hackman. That alone makes SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) a solid film which still feels relevant and modern today despite its age. Since this movie, there has never been a more rousing rescue (who’s got me, who’s got you?), or a better soundtrack in a superhero film.

Bryan Singer’s mutant sequel, X2 (2003), capitalizes on the important themes established in the first film while dishing out enough screentime to its ensemble cast to care about each and every one of them. There is a gentle and magic touch in Magneto’s seduction-of-Pyro-scene, a compelling story in Wolverine, and again, the idea to make mutants a metaphor for social injustice ventures into frightening territory for many filmmakers.
This Blogger has been agonizing over his top two films, both of which are outstanding movies and have permanent places on the (glorious) blu-ray shelf at home for multiple viewings. They have two distinct styles which can only be broken down by looking back at past films which they resemble:

This is what happens…

It is fair to say that THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2008) is the equivalent of THE GODFATHER in the superhero movie-world. It is a character study and a crime drama, and would work just fine without a guy in a cape and a dude in white makeup. Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of the film is that the villain (The Joker, played by the late great Heath Ledger), seems to have a better understanding of the state of the world than the hero we’re supposed to be pulling for does. Nothing is more unnerving than a villain who makes more sense than the hero.
If KNIGHT is THE GODFATHER with its crime drama sprinkled with character study, then the adventurous nature of Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS (2012) is naturally THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of superhero films. It is whimsical while dancing around the dark side, and its multiple storylines are driven by character, character, character, character. The real triumph is not just its ability to juggle multiple character arcs, but it is the one superhero film with the ability to jolt the asses of audiences out of their seats to yell, clap, hoot, holler and shout at the moon. THE AVENGERS may not be as deep as some of its peers, but there are none which are as much fun.

 9. X-MEN
 3. X2

What say you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Michael Clarke Duncan 1957-2012

“Leaving on a jet plane…”
Michael Clarke Duncan, nominated for an Oscar for his role in THE GREEN MILE (1999), has died at the age of 54.

A hulk of a man with an iron-bottomed voice and a heart of gold, Duncan first made a splash on the big screen in Michael Bay’s sci-fi thriller ARMAGEDDON (1998), in which his aptly named character Bear was a roughneck but a sweetie at heart. It was a persona that he would embrace for many other roles, but proved versatile enough to flip to a villain with ease. His other notable roles include PLANET OF THE APES (2001), THE SCORPION KING (2002), DAREDEVIL (2003), BROTHER BEAR (2003), SIN CITY (2005), and KUNG FU PANDA (2008).
His mighty rise to fame and Oscar nomination for THE GREEN MILE did nothing to derail his humbleness. He was known for awarding five dollars to anyone who recognized him on the street.

This Blogger will always remember Duncan in his brief role in THE ISLAND (2005), in which he plays a doomed clone who is about to have his organs harvested. There is a chilling scene in which he is captured and dragged through the hallway (via spears shot into his legs), and he cries and yells and pleas for his will to live. It is a short, but remarkable performance in which he really proves how well and deep he could act. In an age where so many aging muscle-bound actors are still trying to act young by making things go boom, Duncan proved that it can be done better by acting from the heart. He was a big man who is leaving a big hole in the movies.

“You can’t hide what’s in your heart.”