Monday, December 30, 2013


The latest film from legendary director Martin Scorsese can easily be compared to a roller-coaster ride. It is an endless assault on the senses with thrills and laughs and a literal bombardment of lights and sounds while flipping and tossing the viewer in every conceivable direction with no mercy. Its presentation is a mirror for the world of over-the-top excess, and it is unlikely that there was any other way to tell the story of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Based on a true story, New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his business partner Donnie (Jonah Hill) strike it rich with their brokerage firm by trading corrupt stocks, which leads to a life of excessive drugs, hookers, mansions, and yachts. Their millions catch the attention of FBI Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler), who sets out to build a case against them.

The story of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a tough sell as there is very little plot involving main characters who are two of the most despicable human beings ever put to film. Jordan and Donnie make their millions by ripping off middle-class Americans, and they reward themselves by cheating on their wives and snorting cocaine off the naked asses of high-priced hookers. The film doesn’t bother to give the main characters any sort of arc; there is nothing for them to do or strive towards, and the eventual showdown with the antagonist of the film (FBI) is almost treated like an afterthought. 

The idea seems to be to teach us about the pitfalls of overabundance and greed, and for the most part…it works. Martin Scorsese takes us to school in a highly energetic film which doesn’t lag or get dull for one second. The editing is furious, the camera is always in neat places, the music is like a steroid and the performances are electric. We don’t really root for or connect with the scumbag characters, but we simply cannot get enough of them as they playground their way through the American and off-shore financial world.

Scorsese isn’t shy about teaching us the dangers of excess, as his picture is often filled with naked people who are always having sex or smoking or snorting or swallowing something. The full-frontals and what they do with them push the limits of an R-rated film, and Scorsese will be lucky if he doesn’t get a label as a dirty-old-man. But again, it’s a film about excess…and while all the boobs and butts we see may feel awkward after the 500th time, it’s part of a story that actually happened and Scorsese clearly isn’t about to shy away from it. As snappy as most of the editing is, the film feels like it could have been tighter. A lot of scenes ramble on for way too long and things start to feel redundant; as fun as roller-coasters are, there are reasons why they have time limits.

True to the nature of the film, performances are injected with enough rocket fuel to send everyone over the moon and back. Leonardo DiCaprio has never chewed the scenery like this before, so much that he often feels like a Muppet or a cartoon. DiCaprio does some serious physical work here too, a lot of which is hard to watch. Jonah Hill turns in his best performance ever and has a wow-factor every time he is on-screen. Matthew McConaughey’s involvement is great, but is basically an extended cameo, and Kyle Chandler is solid as always. The sexy and beautiful Margot Robbie does great work as Belfort’s wife and has great chemistry with DiCaprio, and Rob Reiner is dazzling and hilarious as his father.

Looking back on his storied career, Scorsese has probably never been this relentless or bold in his storytelling, and one’s enjoyment of the film depends on how tolerant they are of the unabashed approach. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET may be offensive with questionable morals, but it is immensely effective.


Monday, December 23, 2013


In the early 1960’s, the Greenwich Village area of New York City was a haven for up-and-coming folk singers, where a select few like Bob Dylan escaped into stardom, while others were left to languish playing for pennies in smoky coffee-houses. The newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, is a film about the latter.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is a young folk singer living day-to-day, who encounters many misadventures which include his ex-girlfriend (Carey Mulligan), his best friend (Justin Timberlake), a jazz musician (John Goodman), and his driver (Garrett Hedlund).

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS has very little plot to speak of. There is nothing for the main character to strive for, to achieve, or to get to. It is instead a snapshot of a typical week of life for the starving artist as they go from bar to bar, spending every night sleeping on a different coach under a different roof. Along the way, the Coen Brothers manage to slowly peel back the many layers of Llewyn, and film becomes all about the How and the Why he came to this place, and why he chooses to stay. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS feels like a middle chapter, as it begins after a lot has seemingly happened and it wraps with the main character right in the same place. It works and it is effective because it is really an examination of the starving artist and their craft; a portrait set inside of the framework of American music history.
The music plays an important part in the film on many levels. The performances, done by the actors themselves, are a collection of old and new material and are beautiful to listen to and see on the big screen. Each song is relevant to a situation or character in the film, and there is a constant awakening of appreciation of the poetry of the style. The film itself is full of life despite the grey and bleak color scheme. Set in a harsh winter-time period, the film is devoid of any real color…which adds to the bleakness of Llewyn’s situation. Despite the bleak look, the film is very funny with light and perfectly timed humor, and the color palette is tragically beautiful to look at.

Performances are spectacular. Oscar Isaac sings his heart out effectively and powerfully, and he acts the part of a lost soul perfectly. Carey Mulligan is full of fire as his scorned ex-girlfriend, and Justin Timberlake makes the transition to folk music perfectly. John Goodman is electric and nearly steals the show, and Garrett Hedlund is nearly unrecognizable in look and performance.
The film wraps with a clever bookend, leaving us right where the story and the main character started. All is not lost with such an ending, as it gives us insight into the Why of it all, and while our main character has not gone very far, he seems to be better armed for what will come in the next few days of his life. The lack of a real plot may polarize some viewers at first, but after a while, a greater appreciation will sink in like a great song. That is the mark of masterful filmmaking.


Friday, December 20, 2013


David O’Russell’s AMERICAN HUSTLE is a fictionalized look at the so-called Abscam scandal in the late 1970’s and late 1980’s, in which an FBI sting operation led to the arrest and conviction of several U.S. politicians for accepting bribes. With much of the operation still classified, O’Russell and his writing partner Eric Singer likely took a ton of liberties in writing the script to bring it to the big screen. But any or all historical liberties really don’t matter; AMERICAN HUSTLE has a lot more going than cops and robbers.
Brilliant con-man Irving (Christian Bale) and his equally brilliant con-woman/partner Sydney (Amy Adams) are forced to work for wild FBI Agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) to uncover a world of dirty politicians. Caught in the middle of it all is a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), and Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

AMERICAN HUSTLE sets itself up as a basic sting-operation film as cops and cons conspire together to take down the big fish through a series of deceptions. As the plot unfolds, the film becomes less interested in the politics and cons and the overall plot as the well-developed characters, which we spend a lot of time with, bounce off of each other with their traits, strengths, and faults. The steps towards the final sting operation come slow and are often in the back seat, and the overall story feels muddled and clunky…but what makes it work are great characters and the way they interact with each other. David O’Russell clearly wants AMERICAN HUSTLE to be more about the people than the surroundings, and the performances make it all tick.
Set in the late 1970’s, David O’Russell takes full advantage of the period clothing, music, and way of speaking. He clearly channels his inner-Scorsese in AMERICAN HUSTLE; using rock music, narration by different characters, a few freeze frames and plenty of slow-motion. There is a great amount of style in the film, which works perfectly since the 70’s were all about style anyway. Some scenes seem to drag on a bit too long, and a lot of the characters jabber on endlessly, and the film feels a lot longer than its two hours. But there are still a lot of great and important themes that O’Russell weaves into his narrative; love, marriage, friendship, the American Dream, doing the right thing…and it all blends together nicely.

Acting is tremendous. Christian Bale absolutely vanishes into the role and is nearly unrecognizable. His character is fat and balding with a terrible comb over. The physical transformation he pulls here, as shocking as it is, actually comes second to his great performance. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are more sexed up here than they have ever been, and both bring the (acting) goods. Adams, due to the nature of her con-woman character, seamlessly switches from a British accent back to American, and Lawrence hits a level she has not been to before. Jeremy Renner turns in his best work in quite some time.
The finale comes about by way of some incredibly clever twists and turns (and one magnificent cameo), while not forgetting to put the characters into a few moral dilemmas. AMERICAN HUSTLE has a lot to say about people, but not much about the history…and that’s OK.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013


“Hope is kindled.”

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING.
THE RETURN OF THE KING was Peter Jackson’s grand finale to his three-film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s famed series of books of the same name. The three films were released every December beginning in 2001, with KING being the most successful; at the time it was only the second film to gross $1 billion worldwide, and it won all eleven of the Oscars it was nominated for…and is still the only film in history to do so. The Oscar sweep was capped off with a Best Picture win, which was preceded by the Greatest Moment in Movie Geek History: Steven Spielberg announcing to the world, “it’s a clean sweep!”.

What made the film such a critical and box office success? THE RETURN OF THE KING was an epic fantasy film which was packed tight with wizards, warriors, swordplay, creepy creatures and massive battle scenes. Such a fantasy world always has appeal, but what made it work was the tremendous amount of heart Peter Jackson and his writing team managed to weave into the hugeness of the story. Of all the varying storylines KING had, the one common thread was the bond of fellowship; no matter how far apart the characters were, they still managed to be true to each other and were there for one another by way of their own deeds.

From 2001 to 2003, this Blogger and his own Fellowship of companions got together every December to see a new LORD OF THE RINGS film. It was a special and unique time, where nothing on (middle) Earth could keep us from gathering, and it is a feat that we have never matched again. On this day ten years ago, we gathered for the very last time to visit Middle-Earth, and walking out of the theatre was an experience full of tears and joyful triumph. Today, that Fellowship is scattered; divided by time and distance, but in a way, still true to each other and keeping the Fellowship from failing. This Blogger views the three LORD OF THE RINGS films just once a year, always in December, as a way of staying true; almost an annual vigil to remember what brought us together, and what was the greatest cinematic night in this Blogger’s history.

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter O'Toole 1932-2013

“I cannot fiddle but I can make a great state of a small city.”
Screen legend Peter O’Toole has passed away at the age of 81.

Peter O’Toole was already an accomplished star of the English stage when he burst onto the silver screen in David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 1962. His piercing blue eyes, heartthrob looks, charming energy, and effortless acting made him an instant star. His work in ARABIA earned him his first Oscar nomination…the first of eight throughout his career.
O’Toole sadly never won an Oscar aside from an honorary one he received at the age of 70. His most recent and last nomination came in 2006 for his role in VENUS. He holds the record for the most nominations without a win, but does hold four Golden Globes, a BAFTA, and an Emmy. He received nominations for playing King Henry II twice; for BECKET in 1964 and THE LION IN WINTER in 1968. Other notable films include GOODBYE MR. CHIPS (1969), THE RULING CLASS (1972), STUNT MAN (1980), and MY FAVORITE YEAR (1982). In his later years he had a bit of fun appearing in the whimsical fairytale STARDUST (2007), and providing voicework for the animated Pixar film 

Peter O’Toole was not a direct influence on this Blogger as a wee-lad, as the man had already been around for a long time. However as time passed and a deeper appreciation for the world of film grew, the name Peter O’Toole always came up. Today, this Blogger considers LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to be one of, if not the greatest film ever made; it’s achievements as a film have yet to be matched today, and O’Toole’s acting has a lot to do with that. O’Toole made the movies what they are today, and perhaps there is no better way to sum it up than to quote the poster which hangs proudly in this Blogger’s dwelling:

“I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time. We shall never see his like again. His name will live in history. It will live in the annals of war…It will live in the legends of Arabia!”

Friday, December 13, 2013


The second part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s famed novel THE HOBBIT, subtitled THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, is a film which looks to accomplish many things; to continue the story of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he aids his dwarven companions on a quest, to further bring to the big screen Tolkien’s many writings, and to further explore the territory and peoples of Middle-Earth. How well all these goals are executed and blend together for a coherent film is the burning question.
Sixty years before the events of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his companion of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain on a quest to conquer the mighty dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) investigates a growing evil which is stirring in Middle-Earth.

THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG packs a lot into one film. As Bilbo and the dwarves journey to the mountain and fall into one pickle after another, Gandalf goes off on his own to see just what is causing all the evil things (including the dragon) to cause trouble for everyone in Middle-Earth. As the film goes on and explores new territory, even more sub-plots emerge…most concerning the many peoples of this world, and it often feels like several different films are going on at once. But as things progress, Peter Jackson manages to funnel everything towards one endgame and a purpose to all of the plot becomes clear. Bilbo the character often becomes lost in all of the goings-on, and we often have to remember that he is there. The film may have been better off being titled THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH rather than THE HOBBIT. Fans of Tolkien will eat up the all of the lore, while those unfamiliar with the territory may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The many storylines Jackson is weaving together makes for a film which plods along slowly. With the exception of a few brilliant sequences (a thrilling river-chase in barrels, a creepy-as-hell spider nest, and the buildup to the showdown with Smaug), the film has a lack of zip and you are often waiting for Jackson to step on the gas. Those familiar with the main story will notice that it takes a long time for characters to go from A to B as they often get detoured, and detoured again, and detoured again.

But fear not, there is still a lot to enjoy in this DESOLATION. For the first time since RETURN OF THE KING in 2003, Jackson has brand new territory to explore in Middle-Earth and he takes his characters to every nook and cranny. Dwarven halls, spider nests, Elven kingdoms, and a town built on a lake (Laketown) are brilliantly realized and lush with detail and wonder. The touchy relationship between elves and dwarves is explored further, even going into some surprising places. The story may not soar a lot, but Middle-Earth has never looked better and felt so vast. Howard Shore's score is a bit of a letdown; other than the familiar themes from previous films and a magnificent Laketown theme, there is a disturbing lack of a signature tune.
Every time Peter Jackson has brought us a Middle-Earth based film, there has always been at least one CGI character or creature which is a sight to behold and elevates the special effects industry. Enter the magnificent dragon Smaug. He is a sight to behold on the big screen; incredibly detailed and lifelike and terrible and beautiful. Aside from being a visual stunner, the dragon is fleshed out as a character well enough to become a true screen villain, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice work is as chilling as it is awesome. Smaug is jawdropping and worth the wait to see him.

Martin Freeman is once again brilliant as Bilbo, as is Ian McKellen in his second-to-last appearance as Gandalf. Richard Armitage still very much owns the role of Thorin. Orlando Bloom returns as the elven prince Legolas, who is younger and much meaner than the lovable, pointy-eared friend we knew in the LORD OF THE RINGS. Newcomer Evangeline Lilly turns in a great role as an elven princess, and Luke Evans makes a great Middle-Earth debut as Bard of Laketown.
The finale comes about after a long action/chase sequence with Smaug which is not as thrilling as it wants to be, and it doesn’t quite have an emotional beat to close out on. The film goes for a cliffhanger ending, which makes total sense storywise since this is a middle-chapter with the responsibility of bridging the opening and final act. It works, and very much sets up some great storylines for the eventual finale. THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG has many ups and downs, and its enjoyment seems to depend upon one’s love and enjoyment of Tolkien’s creations.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

This week, one of the most anticipated films of the year roars to the big screens in the form of THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Here is everything you need to know by way of the frequently asked questions:
What is this all about? THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Smaug with the au pronounced as an ow), is the second part of three films covering famed author JRR Tolkien’s beloved book, THE HOBBIT. This second film continues the adventure of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his companions, consisting of vengeful dwarves and a wandering wizard, to rid the dwarven homeland of the wicked dragon Smaug.

Who is behind this? Director/writer Peter Jackson, who made Oscar and box office history with his adaptation of Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001-2003), returns for his fifth trip into Middle-Earth. Composer Howard Shore also returns for his fifth trip.
Who is in this? Martin Freeman, who recently starred in this year’s AT WORLD’S END, reprises a young Bilbo Baggins, a role which was originated by Ian Holm in THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the first HOBBIT film. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the wizard, and Richard Armitage returns as the leader of the dwarven company, Thorin. The voice of Smaug is provided by the talented Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch, who appeared in this year’s STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, and Oscar-nominated films such as ATONEMENT and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, also provided motion-capture for the dragon’s movements.

How is this being presented? As explained here on Reel Speak, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG will be presented in several formats; including but not limited to 2D, 3D, 3D IMAX, and the divisive High Frame Rate (HFR) format. Be careful which tickets you buy.
Why three movies for such a small book? In addition to the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, Peter Jackson and his writing partner Phillipa Boyens (who co-wrote THE LORD OF THE RINGS with Jackson), dove into JRR Tolkien’s expansive writings on the history of Middle-Earth; further fleshing out the lore of the world these characters live in and telling the many side-stories which take place during the time of the original HOBBIT story. This makes THE HOBBIT not only the adventure of Bilbo Baggins and his companions, but a true prequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. More Middle-Earth is always a good thing.

THE HOBBIT opens wide December 13th.              

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Nelson Mandela on Film

Late last week, Nelson Mandela, South African revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist passed away at the age of 95.
Mandela was a larger-than-life man whose story could never be told in full in one single sitting. The film industry has made its attempts over the years; to varying degrees of success. Here now for your reading, and eventual viewing pleasure, are the most notable, fictionalized films made on Nelson Mandela to see the silver screen.

GOODBYE BAFANA (2007) – Directed by the famed Danish, Oscar-winning director Billie August, GOODBYE BAFANA told the story of the relationship between Mandela and his prison guard. Mandela was played by Dennis Haysbert (MAJOR LEAGUE, HEAT, the guy from the Allstate commercials), and the guard by Joseph Fiennes.
INVICTUS (2009) – This sports-drama, directed by Clint Eastwood, starred Morgan Freeman as Mandela. The film told the story of the events in South Africa during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was held in the country for the first time since apartheid ended. Matt Damon co-starred as the captain of the Rugby team. The film earned Oscar nominations for both Freeman and Damon.

WINNIE MANDEA (2011) – Stars Oscar-winning actor Terence Howard as Mandela, with another Oscar winner, Jennifer Hudson, as Winnie, Mandela’s wife. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2011, but only just saw a limited-to-wide release this past fall. Critically drubbed, the film has been met with negative reactions from the Mandela family.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013) – Directed by Justin Chadwick (THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL) and starring Idris Elba (THOR, PACIFIC RIM) as Mandela, the most recent film about the man chronicles his early life, education, and 27 years in prison before becoming President and rebuilding South African society. Naomi Harris (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, SKYFALL) stars as Winnie. Having debuted at the TIFF this fall, it has been met with mixed to positive reviews and will see a wide release soon. Famed rock band U2 has written a new song specifically for the film.

Again, it’s impossible for any one film to completely capture the amazing story Nelson Mandela lived. But through each frame of film, maybe we can try to catch up with him.



Friday, December 6, 2013


Director/writer Scott cooper’s OUT OF THE FURNACE is a film which takes place in the so-called Rust Belt of Western Pennsylvania; an area of declining steel-industry towns where good natured blue-collar folk scratch out a day-to-day living, while inbred hillbillies live off-the-grid in the mountains and run illegal fight clubs to fund their drug running. Such a backdrop is worth mentioning right away because it is large enough to be its own character, and no other setting could be used for the many themes in OUT OF THE FURNACE.
Russell (Christian Bale), a steel worker, and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraqi war veteran, scratch out a living in an economically depressed area while caring for their dying father. When Rodney gets into debt with a local loan shark (Willem Dafoe), he enters a bare-knuckle fight club run by the ruthless Harlan (Woody Harrelson). When things go wrong for Rodney, Russell and his uncle (Sam Shepard) decide to take matters in their own hands despite the disapproval of his ex girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), and the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker).

OUT OF THE FURNACE is a film with a lot going on despite the simplicity of the plot. This is a morality tale about how dark of a place people will go, underscored with a lesson of how this country treats its veterans when they return home from war. The themes work well throughout mostly because of the great work Scott Cooper does in fleshing out not only the characters, but the environment they populate. The area they live in paints a bleak picture of life, and because of that the characters have little to hold onto but each other. Ultimately this is a story about family, centered around two brothers, and it consistently pays off through every twist and turn OUT OF THE FURNACE takes. This is a film that is all heart.
Director Scott Cooper paints his frame in drab colors which adds to the hopelessness of the backdrop. There is a certain beauty about it, and you simply cannot take your eyes away from it. Pacing is very even and the music is tremendous. Cooper seems to be hands-off with his excellent cast; seemingly letting them all do their thing without much direction.

And that excellent cast lives up to its reputation. Christian Bale is the moral center of the film and he carries the burden perfectly; never once going over the top and conveying every emotion in the book with a single, brooding glance. Casey Affleck is equally effective, and Zoe Saldana turns in a surprise performance of emotion. Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard are their usual brilliant selves, while Forest Whitaker, while effective, sounds like he was taking voice lessons from Bale’s BATMAN character. The show is nearly stolen by Woody Harrelson, who as the villain of the film turns in an off-the-chain performance. He is intimidating and polarizing, and you simply don’t want to blink when he is on screen.
The finale is proper for all the characters involved, and it isn’t until then when you realize just how invested you are in everybody. There is nothing shocking in the ending, or in the film overall, but the road it took to get there is very effective, and good enough to strike the heartstrings.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About OUT OF THE FURNACE

This week, one of the most anticipated films of the year rolls around in the form of OUT OF THE FURNACE; the second film from writer/director Scott Cooper. Here is everything you need to know by way of the frequently asked questions:
Who is this Scott Cooper bloke? – Scott Cooper’s first film was CRAZY HEART in 2009, which was nominated for three Oscars…winning two. The film also won two Golden Globes.

Who stars in this? – OUT OF THE FURNACE is packed with past Oscar contenders and winners. Christian Bale (THE FIGHTER, THE DARK KNIGHT), Casey Affleck (GONE BABY GONE, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD), Woody Harrelson (THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLINT), Forest Whitaker (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), Willem Dafoe (PLATOON), Sam Shepard (THE RIGHT STUFF), and Zoe Saldana (STAR TREK, AVATAR).
What’s it all about? – Bale and Affleck play two brothers living in the Rust Belt. When the youngest brother returns home from military service and gets himself into a pickle, older brother takes matters into his own hands when he gets no help from the local police.

What is this based on? – OUT OF THE FURNACE is an original screenplay, although it is inspired by an article that Cooper read about the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania…a declining steel industry town outside of Pittsburgh. The story has no relation to the 1941 novel Out of this Furnace (Thomas Bell), which also takes place in Braddock.
Any other interesting pieces and parts? – The film is produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott. It was filmed around the Pittsburgh area…with some locations near the actual Braddock. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder recorded a new song for the soundtrack, while Dickon Hinchliffe, who composed the score for WINTER’S BONE in 2010, will provide the rest of the score.

What to expect? – Since we’ve only seen one film from Cooper so far it’s a small sample to look at, but it’s a noteworthy one. Powerful performances are what to expect from OUT OF THE FURNACE. Scott Cooper’s work in CRAZY HEART earned memorable and fantastic performances out of his cast; Jeff Bridges took home his first Oscar while Maggie Gyllenhaal got her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Cooper also seems to have an ear for music, as CRAZY HEART also won Best Original Song that year (The Weary Kind). On a personal note, this Blogger has been predicting all Fall that Christian Bale will be nominated for two Oscars this year. That campaign begins this weekend.


OUT OF THE FURNACE opens wide December 6th.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Reel Preview - The Year in Film 2013: Final Episode

Believe it or not, the final month of the year is upon us, and with it comes an onslaught of Oscar hopefuls. Reel Speak’s final Episode previewing the year in the film 2013 hits the ground running with:
OUT OF THE FURNACE – Writer/director Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART) directs an all-star cast in this tale about two brothers in the Rust Belt. Stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, and Zoe Saldana.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Joel and Ethan Coen (FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) return for another Oscar run with this brooding look at a folk singer trying to make his way. Stars Oscar Isaac (DRIVE), Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, and Justin Timberlake.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG – Peter Jackson’s second part to his adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s famed novel finally unleashes the magnificence of the dragon Smaug. Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo Baggins, while Ian McKellen reprises Gandalf the wizard for a fifth time.

SAVING MR. BANKS – Tom Hanks stars as Mr. Walt Disney in this story of how MARY POPPINS was brought to the big screen. Co-stars Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, and Bradley Whitford.
AMERICAN HUSTLE – Oscar darling David O’Russell (THE FIGHTER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), directs another all-star cast in this flick which fictionalizes one of the biggest scandals the nation has ever seen. Stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner.

HOURS – One of the final films of the late Paul Walker.
TRICKED – In what may be one of the most unique documentary films ever made, Paul Verhoeven (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL), directs a film composed of seven different stories; based upon scripts submitted by seven different competitors to put together one of the first user-generated films.

HER – Spike Jonze (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, ADAPTATION), directs this quirky yet heartful film about a withdrawn writer (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls in love with his new computer’s highly advanced artificial intelligence. Scarlett Johansson provides the voice of the computer, while Amy Adams and Rooney Mara (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) tag along.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES – The long-awaited followup to ANCHORMAN finally gets to show its classiness. Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, and Christina Applegate reprise their roles in this sequel directed by Adam McKay (ANCHORMAN, STEP BROTHERS).

47 RONIN – Keanu Reeves joins a group of 47 outcast Samurai on a mission of revenge.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – Famed director Martin Scorsese (GOODFELLAS, THE DEPARTED) is back; this time with an adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoir concerning a crooked banker in the 1990’s. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughy, Jonah Hill, and Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST).

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY – Ben Stiller directs and stars in this visual stunner about a daydreaming man who escapes his real life by disappearing into a fantasy world. Co-stars Patton Oswalt, Kristen Wiig, and Shirley MacLaine.
GRUDGE MATCH – Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro star as two retired boxers who renew their decades-old rivalry in a rematch.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – John Wells (of TV’s ER fame) directs this dark comedy about a dysfunctional family who reunites after decades apart. Stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, and Abigal Breslin.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN – Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Charles Dickens in this love story. Co-stars Kristin Scott-Thomas.

In a few weeks: The Year in Film 2014…Episode I.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Paul Walker 1973-2013

Actor Paul Walker has passed away at the age of 40.
Paul Walker’s career on the small and big screen began as a toddler starring in commercials for Pampers. He would later land roles on TV shows such as HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, WHO’S THE BOSS?, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (for which he won an Outstanding Lead Actor Award in the Youth Film Awards), and TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.

His feature film career began in 1998 in the comedy MEET THE DEEDLES, and he would go on to have successful roles in PLEASANTVILLE (1998), VARSITY BLUES (1999), SHE’S ALL THAT (1999), and THE SKULLS (2000). In 2001 he had his breakthrough role in the first film in the ongoing THE FAST AND FURIOUS franchise playing Brain O’Conner; a role that he would reprise five times, including a seventh installment which was filming when he died. In-between those FURIOUS films, he found time to star in Clint Eastwood’s FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS in 2006, Disney’s EIGHT BELOW, and RUNNING SCARED...all in the same year.

Paul Walker was one of those guys who seemed to be born to be a movie star; charming looks, charismatic personality…the type of guy you would always see with a starlet on his arm. This Blogger had always been impressed with Walker’s acting talent, and there was always the feeling that he had bigger and better things in his future because he always seemed to get better. Unfortunately, Walker has driven off before seeing those bigger and better things, but we are fortunate to have been along with him for his short, yet fulfilling ride.



Friday, November 22, 2013

A Reel Review: NEBRASKA

The latest film from  Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA, is the director’s latest chapter in his ever-growing bible of human frailty stories; a bible which in recent years has produced the Oscar-darlings SIDEWAYS (2004) and last year’s THE DESCENDANTS. In this chapter, Payne teams up with an oft-forgotten screen legend for a road trip through the heartland of America and the heart of an old man.
Woody (Bruce Dern) is an 80-something, confused and crotchety old man who is convinced that he has won a million dollars in a Publishers Clearing House-type sweepstakes. Unable to drive he begins the long hike on foot from Montana to Nebraska, despite the objections of his youngest son David (Will Forte) and his wife Kate (June Squibb).

NEBRRAKSA sets itself up as a run-of-the-mill road trip flick coupled with a father-and-son bonding story. Once David and Woody hit the road and get detoured to the small town where Woody grew up, things take a different and welcome turn. As word gets out over Woody’s imminent yet unlikely fortune, family members and old friends begin to show up with their hands out, and through all this Woody’s life story begins to unfold. David gets to know his father by seeing and hearing his past, and NEBRASKA becomes more about life in general than one man’s desperate attempt to claim his winnings. There are no grand statements or definitive answers given about how we should be living our lives; NEBRASKA is simply one intimate look at the way one person has lived his.
Director Alexander Payne does remarkable work with his main character. Woody is unlikeable at first; he is mean and miserable, answers questions in one word answers, and can’t understand any person’s feelings of love and/or attachment. But what makes Woody so loveable is Payne basically turning him into a little kid. Woody is so sincere in his want to travel to Nebraska that you can’t help but to hope that there just may be a pot of gold for him. Woody may be an angry old fart, but his sincerity is as genuine as a little kid who has just been promised a trip to the toy store; they don’t forget and they don’t let go.

Payne has put together a beautiful looking film. Shot in glorious black and white during a time of year when the trees are leaf-less and the farmlands are bare, the film presents a stark and stunning look at the landscape. Payne also pays close attention to, without being distracting, the simple lives that inhabit the small towns in the farmlands which are one street long.
Bruce Dern proves his acting chops are still as sharp as ever. Dern, who turned 77 this year, is an actor who has worked alongside the likes of John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock, and here he turns in a performance which makes you believe that his old friends are still there on set with him. Dern is funny and miserable, but at the same time pulls your heart out with a single, tragic-looking glance. It’s a performance that he has been working up to his entire career. Will Forte shows his inexperience through the film; never really coming close to matching Dern or giving enough to make us care. June Squibb (who turned 84 this year) turns in a fantastic performance as the equally cantankerous wife, and Stacy Keach turns in a great peformance as Woody’s old partner/villain looking to cash in on the supposed fortune. A lot of the cast is composed of real-life locals, which adds to the great sense of realism to the film.

The finale doesn’t go for any bombastic speeches or teary-eyed embraces, but instead takes things slow and easy just as it would have played out in real life. There is still a great amount of heart to be had, making NEBRASKA a nice place to visit, and a pleasure to live in.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Re-mixing of NOSFERATU

This week, the classic German expressionist film NOSFERATU, often regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema, will finally see its debut in the glorious blu-ray format. The silent film from 1922, which was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, has been remixed with its original score in modern-day 5.1 surround sound.

Movie fans can easily be offended when their favorite films get a home release which has been altered from the version they fell in love with on the big-screen; just ask fans of STAR WARS, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, SNOW WHITE, or even BLADE RUNNER. While there are reasons for making changes from the theatrical run to the home release, such as artistic license, directors cuts, and technical reasons, purists would be quick to point out that in the case of NOSFERATU, a film that was made in 1922 has no business being mixed in the modern-day 5.1 surround sound format. It does seem silly that a silent film would receive such an upgrade, but by looking back at NOSFERATU’s rich history, it’s easy to understand the Why behind this move.

The glorious format of 5.1 is the most commonly used layout in theatres and home systems. It employs five full bandwidth channels and one low-frequency channel. The most common misconception about the format is that its sole purpose in life is to make everything as loud as possible. Not true. Surround sound is not about volume, it’s about presence. Surround sound seeks to replicate any given environment as close to reality as possible. Think about where you hear sounds from in a crowded room or busy city street…you hear it in all directions. That is what surround sound replicates and filmmakers today edit their films with that in mind.
It’s worth pointing out that many films which were made prior to the 5.1 era have been released on blu-ray in their native-sound format. The blu-ray release of KING KONG (1933) presents its sound in the front speakers only, just as it would have sounded in 1933. But the history of NOSFERATU points towards surround sound since its debut. As a silent film, it was intended to have a live orchestra performing the score live during the projection. A good orchestra, a really good  orchestra, should be able to wrap up the listener in a four-walled room of sound; literally enveloping a person in its music. With the glorious blu-ray format presenting NOSFERATU’s visuals in its originally intended pristine glory, it seems only right that its orchestration be given proper treatment as well. Today’s tech has taken NOSFERATU back to its intention; a perfect marriage of sights and music. After all, the original, full name for the film, when translated to English, is NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR.

What say you?

Monday, November 18, 2013


“You’ll shoot your eye out kid!”
Today marks the 30th anniversary of Bob Clark’s A CHRISTMAS STORY.

Loosely based upon the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, with some elements derived from Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, A CHRISTMAS STORY is a simple tale of a little boy who wants nothing for Christmas except for an official Red Ryder, carbine-action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time), and must overcome many obstacles to get it.
Ambiguously set in the time frame of the late 1930/1940’s, A CHRISTMAS STORY takes place in a fictionalized version of the hometown of author Jean Shepherd…who would provide the narration in the form of an adult version of the main character, Ralphie. That main character was played by a then 12-year old Peter Billingsley, and he was joined by veteran actor Darren McGavin (as the Old Man, Ralphie’s father), and Melinda Dillon (as Ralphie’s mom)…who landed role thanks in part to her performance in Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Inspired by Shepherd’s great collection of short stories based in part on his own childhood, the film marvelously unspools many sub-plots and situations, all with the connecting thread of kids and the spirit of Christmas.

The film had moderate success at the Box Office and gained lukewarm reviews upon its initial release. In years since, A CHRISTMAS STORY became wildly popular due to television airings and home release; becoming cemented in pop-culture and a holiday foundation. Its reputation has grown and is now considered to be one of the best films of 1983. In 2007, AOL ranked the film as the No. 1 Christmas movie of all time. IGN ranked it as the top holiday-themed film of all time. The American Film Institute (AFI) has the film on several Top 100 lists including 100 Laughs, 100 Movie Quotes, and 100 Movies. In 2012 the National Film Registry selected the film for preservation in the Library of Congress for its significance. Fans of the film gobble up merchandise in the form of clothing, toys, decorations, and lamp-replicas, and the house which served as Ralphie’s childhood home has been lovingly and faithfully restored down to the finest detail and is now a major tourist attraction
As a wee-lad, who like Ralphie, received his first BB-gun on a Christmas morning, and who had a younger brother as his best friend, A CHRISTMAS STORY was a film which this Blogger instantly connected with in the early 1980’s and still does do this day. With the film being played on cable TV in a 24 hour marathon, it is standard viewing during the holidays, and no matter how many times it is seen during that 24 hours, you cannot help but to watch it each time. It is a perfect film; packed with many great quotes and full of heart-and-soul, and despite being set in the 1930’s, has a story which is undoubtedly played out in real life every Christmas. That makes it timeless, and that makes it this Blogger’s No. 1 Christmas movie, ever.

"Next to me in the blackness lay my oiled blue steel beauty. The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive. Gradually, I drifted off to sleep, pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots."




Friday, November 15, 2013


After languishing in stupid romantic-comedy films for a decade, actor Matthew McConaughy has been on a meteoric rise back to respectability; from his fun role in MAGIC MIKE (2012), to his sadistic hit-man character in last year’s KILLER JOE, and his mysterious drifter character in this past summer’s MUD. Here in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, McConaughy continues his ascension by shedding 90 pounds to play an AIDS patient, and gives a performance to match the visual shock of a sick and dying man.
Ron Woodroof (McConaughy), is hard-partying cowboy whose freewheeling lifestyle of sex, booze and drugs is brought to a screeching halt when he is diagnosed with HIV, which eventually leads to AIDS. Unable to find help through conventional FDA-approved treatments, Ron strikes out on his own selling un-approved drugs and treatments to dying AIDS patients, aided by his new gay crossdressing friend (Jared Leto) and against the wishes of his conventional medical doctor (Jennifer Garner).

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB sets itself up as a conventional mortality tale. It’s a tale of a hard-partying, self-centered man who dramatically changes when he finds purpose. Its classic storytelling of finding life when facing death, but what makes it work is the dramatic turn the film makes around the half-way point. In the early goings, Ron is a self-centered racist homophobic prick who rips off his friends and cares for little but himself. Even after he is diagnosed with HIV, it is difficult to feel sorry for the character.
However, once Ron goes into business for himself, the film, and the character take on a different meaning. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is based on a true story, and takes place during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in America; an America which was divided over how to combat the virus. Ron becomes an advocate for dying patients by throwing the finger (literally) to the FDA by selling un-approved drugs. More than just a drug dealer, Ron becomes a 1980’s Robin Hood, and the new purpose he has in life sells the film and the character. Director Jean-Marc Vallee keeps a brisk pace with the humor well-timed, and he creates some of the most realistic and believable characters ever seen on screen.

Matthew McConaughy turns in the performance of a lifetime. The 90-pound weight-loss is shocking to see, and he literally vanishes into the character as he is often difficult to recognize. McConaughy matches the look with a strong, tragic performance; knocking every emotion out of the park each second he is on screen…and as difficult as it is to watch, you simply cannot take your eyes off him. As good as he is, the show is nearly stolen by a crossdressed Jared Leto, and the rest of the cast which includes Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, and Dallas Roberts are also excellent.
The finale doesn’t quite go for an emotional gut-punch but instead uses a matter-of-fact ending which is proper justice for the film. By the time the credits appear we have been on a roller-coaster ride with McConaughy’s character, making DALLAS BUYERS CLUB worth joining.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Ain't So Bad Movies

Since the dawn of the mighty cinema, mankind has been writing about movies; in newspapers, magazines, blogs (ahem), websites and in books. In the world of publishing books, there have been countless releases celebrating the all-time great films in history...but how many have been written about the greatest bad movies of all time?
There have probably been many, most of if not all taking the approach of ripping and thrashing cinematic disasters and flops. But a new book by Film Threat critic Phil Hall, entitled The 50 Greatest Bad Movies of All Time, chooses not to hack up and bury those bad films, but to celebrate them.

We all see bad movies. They’re everywhere, and some of them don’t even know that they are bad. And what exactly does make a bad film? Personal taste goes a long way. People who have built-in dislike for Westerns, gunplay, or anything with Adam Sandler would (or should) know enough to say far away from those types of films. No one wants to sit through an intolerable experience, so choosing wisely goes a long way. There are however, films out there which show a great amount of potential because of the included actors, directors, writers, etc…but then fall dreadfully short of expectations. Going in with an open mind certainly goes a long way, but no one wants to see a steaming turd on the screen with their favorite actors or directors being the cause of the stink. This Blogger has always had one simple rule: Don’t bore me. The biggest sin a movie can make is to be a bore-fest, and the cause of that can come from any aspect of the film; writing, acting, pacing, editing, directing, overall execution…or just a weak or absent story. If anything can be learned about a bad movie, it’s what not to do.
And then there are the films which are so outrageously awful they just have to be seen to believed, and in that awfulness, a good time can be had. Fun is a key element of enjoying film, and being amazed at a a bad film which thinks it is good can be as fun as a barrel of drunken muppets. Consider how director Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE from 1959, considered to be the worst movie ever made, constantly gets airplay on TV, re-releases on the big-screen, and consistent home-video sales. The film is so bad it’s great to sit through.

Other films which are celebrated in Phil Hall’s book (prepare yourself for the outrageousness of these films), are THE CONQUEROR (1956), in which John Wayne plays Genghis Khan. CHE! (1969), in which Jack Palance played Fidel Castro, and VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960) which had Jerry Lewis playing an alien. All titles which are so unbelievable to read about in print they nearly demand to be viewed. The book takes a look at these films, along with the stinkers made by notable Hollywood names such as Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood.
A good film can be found anywhere, as can a bad one. One of the best things about the movies is that they unite people, and discussions about shitty movies can often be more productive than the talks over a good one.

What say you?

Friday, November 8, 2013


THOR: THE DARK WORLD, the first sequel to the God of Thunder’s own franchise, is a film which has a lot in common with its predecessor. Both films serve several purposes; to tell Thor’s story, to expand the ever-growing Marvel Movie Universe, and to serve as a small piece in the slowly building overall story of superheroes and supervillians. The difference between the two is that the sequel seeks to strike a better balance of small and large-scale storytelling. Enter THE DARK WORLD.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) re-unites with his true love Jane (Natalie Portman) and his estranged brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to combat the dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston)…who seeks to unleash a terrible power which was taken from him by Odin’s (Sir Anthony Hopkins) father thousands of years before.

THE DARK WORLD is a film with a lot going on. Director Alan Taylor (TV’s GAME OF THRONES) really shows his TV background as he spends a lot of time weaving many storylines around the backdrop of a potential universe-shattering threat. THE DARK WORLD is a story about sons and fathers and their fathers before them; a story about family and betrayal with a few love triangles and several battles which are the culmination of every large-scale science-fiction and fantasy film ever made. It seems like a lot, and it is, but this where Taylor’s TV chops come through. It works because every scene is very well written and constructed. Each character in the fairly large cast gets his or her moment and gets just enough of development. As the story evolves and the universe the characters inhabit keeps getting bigger (literally), Thor himself gets a little lost in it all and he loses a lot of his own arc, but it’s a minor gripe as the film is just too enjoyable. On top of it all, THE DARK WORLD is loaded with many twists and turns; perhaps the most unpredictable superhero film ever made.  
The film seems to be specially tailored for those who have been along for the Marvel ride since 2008; it literally is built upon the foundation laid down by the many films before it. Actions from characters in previous Marvel adventures play heavily in THE DARK WORLD, but they are never a distraction and serve a purpose in motivating and developing characters. Hoever, the main villain is very underdeveloped and is more of a plot point than a character.

Alan Taylor has put together a fine looking film, with brisk pacing and eye-popping battle and action scenes. CGI is obvious and at times a little cartoony, but for every bad render there are 20 or so better ones. Humor is aplenty and well-timed, including a gut-busting cameo which will bring down any theatre house.
There may not be two actors who enjoy playing their characters more than Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. Both seem to have a blast in their roles, and together have perfect chemistry; the banter between them by way of bickering and fighting is tremendous and always lights up the screen. Natalie Portman, despite her beauty, still seems out of place in all the goings on, but her acting never suffers and her character actually has things to do this time. Christopher Eccleston is wasted by way of a weak villain, and his acting is buried underneath too much makeup. The rest of the large cast is excellent; Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard…whose character is still suffering from his experiences with Loki. Thor’s best buddy-warrior pals are all in their prime form, played beautifully by Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano.

There are two post-credit scenes; one of which draws the curtain back on an even larger universe and is a peek into just how insanely huge of a plan Marvel still has in store for us. THE DARK WORLD finishes on a spectacular note, opening up a great many things to come while sending the theatre home with a galaxy-sized grin. This is the movie the God of Thunder deserves.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Invincible Wolverine

Earlier this week, it became known that 20th Century Fox has begun talks with director James Mangold for a direct sequel to THE WOLVERINE, which came out this past summer. Mangold, who also has the Oscar-darling WALK THE LINE (2005) on his resume, will presumably be teamed up again with actor Hugh Jackman, who has owned the role of the clawed, self-healing mutant since 2000.
THE WOLVERINE was one of this past summer’s pleasant surprises. The film earned decent reviews from critics, and its worldwide box-office haul of $413 million was enough to earn its money back and get a sequel greenlit. Providing everything stays on schedule, this proposed sequel will be the eighth time Jackman has appeared on the big-screen as Wolverine; X-MEN, X2, X3, X-MEN ORIGINS, a brief cameo in X-MEN FIRST CLASS, this years THE WOLVERINE, next year’s X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and the following years proposed sequel (presumably 2015).

Providing this sequel happens, eight appearances as one character will put Jackman into the history books. Why so many times out as the same character? Well, the box-office numbers show that people love to see him there, and sales of his likeness on posters and action figures take the point further. His take on character has even inspired the comics to re-adapt Wolverine based on Jackman’s likeness. He’s been effective, iconic, and most of all; popular.
And it’s in that popularity where Jackman’s eight appearances makes a little obscure history. Consider that Harrison Ford only played his ever-popular Indiana Jones four times, and Sean Connery, who is widely considered to be the definitive James Bond, appeared as 007 seven times.

Other popular, and repeat performers include:
-Leonard Nimoy as Spock: 8 appearances (only counting movies)
-Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger: 8 appearances
-Roger Moore as James Bond: 7 appearances
-Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa: 6 appearances
-The HARRY POTTER kids (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint): 8 times as their respective characters.
-Reaching further back in time, Charlie Chaplin played The Tramp in over 30 films, and long-running casts from The Three Stooges and Blondie brought their actors back for tens and dozens of appearances.

It’s an obscure footnote in movie history, but still worth noting. It’s very possible that Jackman could appear a dozen times before he turns 50, which would clearly be the most appearances ever for an actor as one single character. The refreshing sidebar to all this is that Jackman has been spreading his wings (or claws?) enough to avoid being typecast; his turn in LES MISERABLES (2012) earned him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win. Let’s also not forget that he is a talented singer and dancer, and has a Tony Award on his shelf. As he gets older and better at what he does, so will his Wolverine.

What say you?





Monday, November 4, 2013


Despite having won the top prize at this year’s famed Cannes Film Festival, the French-speaking film BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR has not been without controversy. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film has been singled out for its long, graphic sex scenes between two lesbian lovers, which has earned it the dreaded NC-17 rating here in the United States; a rating which has unfortunately taken attention away from the movie behind it.
Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is a 15 year old student, who after a breakup with her boyfriend, falls for Emma (Lea Seydoux), a lesbian, blue-haired girl she randomly encounters in the street. Adele and Emma begin a romance which lasts several years before encountering bumps in the road.

At its core, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is a true love story. Beginning with the initial attractions, to the first date, to the first time of intimacy, to the first signs of trouble to the heartbreaking breakup and aftermath. It’s a simple story that has been done before, but here it works because French director Abdel Kechiche never takes focus away from his characters, especially Adele. The film never has a scene without Adele, who is experiencing love for the very first time and takes us along with her every step of the way. Halfway through the film, things jump ahead several years to show Adele and Emma’s relationship suddenly on the rocks, and the sudden change in shift is not only painful to Adele, but to us as well since we have been with her the whole way. It’s a great love story executed greatly, and the fact that it is about lesbian lovers is nearly irrelevant.
Director Abdel Kechiche has shot and edited a very plain-looking, yet effective film. There is very little artistry being done behind the camera, as everything is shot naturally and the dialogue is empty of any melodrama or brevity. The film has a very natural feel to it, has virtually no scoring, and often feels like voyeurism. Kechiche constantly fills the frame with the characters faces, and thanks to some remarkable performances by his two young actresses, every bit of emotional bliss and pain is up front and center, and felt right down to the core. A few scenes feel like they run on a bit long, and a few are redundant, which makes you feel every bit of the three-plus hour running time.

Like the rest of the film, the sex-scenes (three in total; the characters actually spend more time talking around the dinner table than they do in bed) are very plainly shot. Where most filmmakers will hide and obstruct things with dim lighting and shadows, Kechiche and his fearless actors let it all hang out in very well-lit surroundings; nothing to hide here at all. Despite a few glances of genitalia this is a soft NC-17, and it never distracts or derails the bigger story that is going on. The very first sex encounter between Adele and Emma goes on for seven minutes, and although it feels a bit gratuitous at first, by film’s end a purpose behind it is revealed.
By the time the climax rolls around it suddenly becomes clear that BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is not only a love story, but a well-hidden and well-executed coming-of-age tale. This was Adele’s first venture into true love and heartbreak, and although we have seen her come a long way through the film, when she walks off into the sunset it’s clear that she still has a long way to go…and we would love to join her again as she forges ahead. That’s the mark of a well-developed character in a well-developed story. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR has all the elements of a great film and knows just where to put them.