Friday, March 29, 2013


GI JOE: RETALIATION serves as both a sequel to GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009), and as a reboot to the overall franchise. By disposing of most of the original cast (off camera), RETALIATION starts anew while taking a few points ahead which were left over from the conclusion of the first film. All the pieces were in place for director Jon M. Chu to capitalize on.
Cobra’s master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) is posing as the President of the United States. In an effort to move Cobra’s master-plan forward, he orders a strike upon the GI Joes and frames them for an assassination plot. The strike leaves only four Joe’s alive; Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park).

GI JOE: RETALIATION starts off strong, as the Joe’s are left without a unit and without a country. The basis was there for a decent revenge-for-honor plot, but as the film gets deeper into Cobra’s plot to rule the world, things get messy. The villainous scheme to take over the world, or  perhaps destroy it completely (never made clear…there’s problem number one) doesn’t take any sort of shape and doesn’t make any sense in terms of real life, or worse, the good of the movie. With nothing but idiocy about for the heroes to fight against, RETALIATION quickly becomes a bore. Characters exist as placeholders just to shoot guns, and the action-scenes exist only to fill time. On top of it all, the main villain (antagonist) of the film is barely on screen at all…he is simply behind the scenes for nearly the entire film and is often forgotten about.
While director Jon M. Chu is pissing all over his story, he still makes time to craft a shitty-looking movie. Action scenes are poorly assembled; cuts come way too fast which takes away from any sort of sense of geography and makes it impossible to see what is going on and who is where. Scenes which are supposed to induce tension drag on for way too long with no sense of dead, energy, or pending doom. The film just doesn’t have a heartbeat and it’s easy to lose interest even during the loudest of scenes. Perhaps the best example of the shit-job here is when the filmmakers use the same exact sound-effect for a ninja-fight as they do for a jumping tank. Just imagine if STAR WARS used the same sound for lightsabers and Vader’s breathing. It’s stupid and lazy.

You know the acting is bad when the best performance comes from the actor playing a mute; Ray Park’s Snake Eyes is once again a joy to watch, even though the character feels underused. Dwayne Johnson suddenly becomes boring, and the others can’t even bring themselves to ham it up just a little. And don’t be fooled by Bruce Willis’ dominant figure in the poster. He is nothing more than a glorified cameo and his acting is as dull as the top of his head.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the film is that the pieces and parts look like they would be fun and interesting; characters look right at home in their military garb and the souped-up military hardware in the form of vehicles and weapons certainly look badass and intimidating. However, all of these things are underutilized and never make it past their first appearance. This movie needs to be treated like a bad case of the shits: flush it down the toilet and pretend it never happened.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Reel 40: THE GODFATHER Oscar Anniversary

In March of last year, THE GODFATHER marked the 40th anniversary of its release; an important event in film history which Reel Speak commemorated here. Because of the later Oscar season back in those days, it would not be until a full year later, forty years ago tonight, when the film would go to the Oscars and make history.
THE GODFATHER was the box office leader for the year which was 1972 (the income would have the film as the highest grossing ever for a time), and was also a juggernaut at the 45th Academy Awards. THE GODFATHER won three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), and was nominated in seven other categories. Those other nominations included a Best Director nod for Francis Coppola, and three nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category (Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall). THE GODFATHER would be the first film to land three nominations in that category since ON THE WATERFRONT in 1954; a film which ironically also starred Marlon Brando.

And it was Brando who made the biggest splash on that night…by not showing up. Brando, who had been involved in the American Indian Movement since the early seventies, boycotted the ceremony and in his place sent Sacheen Littlefeather to collect his Oscar. It was his way of protesting Hollywood and television’s portrayal of American Indians. The move would provoke the Academy to rule out any future proxy acceptances at the Oscars.
Besides Brando’s shenanigans, the ceremony was notable for the beginning of THE GODFATHER’s everlasting legacy. Although the film “only” won three Oscars, it would go on to place amongst the top of every Greatest Ever list, and securing its place in film history. The year that was 1972 may have been the very beginning, but it was this night in 1973 which provided the exclamation point.



Monday, March 25, 2013

A Reel 50: THE BIRDS

“It’s the end of the world.”
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.
In 1961, residents of a small town in California awoke to find a bird species by the name of the Sooty Shearwater slamming into their rooftops, and their streets littered with dead birds. This was a real event which Hitchcock, fresh off the success of PSYCHO (1960), was inspired by. For further inspiration, he adapted Daphne du Maurier’s novella The Birds, (1952) which also told a story of a community attacked by seabirds in suicide-like missions. This story was also based on a true event.

Hitchcock, known in circles as the Master of Suspense, put together a very strong cast including Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, a young Veronica Cartwright, and in her first role ever, Tippi Hedren. In typical Hitchcock fashion, the film was put together using new methods. The score was very sparse, using only an eerie, electronically-produced soundtrack. The special effects shots were done at Walt Disney Studios utilizing a new compositing process for blending several images in the bird-attack sequences.
The film was a success financially and critically, and was nominated for Oscar for Best Special Effects. Tippi Hedren (who would go on to star in Hitchcock’s next film, MARNIE in 1964), won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year. Today, THE BIRDS appears on several Top 100 lists by the American Film Institute.

THE BIRDS place in history would be the template for humans being attacked by insurmountable forces they cannot understand or fight back against. If you are looking to get educated on the influence of THE BIRDS, try watching Hitchcock’s film back-to-back with M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS (2002). The similarities are so many it’s nearly the same film. But the thing that separates THE BIRDS from any other invasion/attack film is that the threat is based on something real: birds. Birds which we see every day. Hitchcock clearly knew that he would be invoking fear into anyone strolling down the street or boardwalk where any common bird lurks about. That is part of his genius, and the lasting power of THE BIRDS.

"I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possbily hope to fight them?"






Friday, March 22, 2013

A Reel Review: STOKER

In 2005, South Korean director Park Chan-wook unleashed upon an unsuspecting world his chilling and shocking OLDBOY. Here in 2013, Chan-wook arrives to America with his new film, STOKER; a spooky and eerie family drama nothing short of fascinating.
Young schoolgirl India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has a gifted sense of hearing which allows her to hear the tiniest sounds. After her father (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in an apparent auto accident, India and her mother (Nicole Kidman) are visited by Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom India never knew existed. As Uncle Charlie and India’s mother begin to grow closer, India begins to dig around Charlie’s past…

The territory is somewhat familiar; two people (India and Charlie) spending the story trying to figure out what’s going on in each other’s head. In this setting it works, as director Park Chan-wook weaves and constructs a heavy and brilliant atmosphere which hangs over the film like an iron weight. As characters poke and prod each other with mind games, there is always a feeling of tension and dread going on…at all times you always feel like that iron weight is about to drop and smash everything. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. As India begins to dig around to figure out if Charlie really is who he says he is, the film is smart enough not to fall into a standard mystery-machine vehicle. It instead dives deeper into the character of India, as her journey winds up following Charlie’s closer than expected.
Park Chan-wook’s direction and camerawork are nothing short of stunning. The film is beautiful to look at and his camera takes us to some interesting and stunning places. The heavy amount of style keeps the film moving, and it isn’t until after the (backwards running) credits roll that you realize you just watched a coming-of-age story. With so much gothic chill going on, that basic tale literally slips right by.

Performances are memorizing throughout. The film belongs to Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode. Both of them give performances which will raise the hair on anyone’s arms. Nicole Kidman is very reserved here, but when she gets her big moment she cashes in perfectly.
The big secret that the film has been hiding from the beginning feels like it comes a little too early, but it does set up a nice finale which wraps everything up nice and tight with all questions answered. That reveal isn’t predictable at all because there are virtually no hints or clues given throughout the film. This isn’t a film meant to lay out a trail of bread crumbs for the audience, but to instead let the audience play the mind games with the characters. It really is masterful filmmaking. STOKER may not shock the world to its knees, but it will definitely make it stand up and take notice.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Next James Bond Film

FACT: Executives at MGM studios have stated that the next James Bond film, which would be a follow-up to last year’s SKYFALL, will hit screens within the next three years.
SKYFALL is the most lucrative film in 007’s history, having pulled in over a billion dollars world-wide. It is also the first Bond film to win an Oscar since THUNDERBALL in 1965.

OPINION: With all of its awards and monies earned, a strong argument can be made for SKYFALL as the best of the 23 James Bond films. With all that momentum (compounded by strong home video sales), it seems like MGM would want to capitalize on SKYFALL’s success while the iron is still hot. Three years feels like a long way off, and current Bond actor Daniel Craig will be 48 years old by that time.
MGM certainly wants to have Bond back as soon as possible, so they are certainly not dragging their feet here. From a filmmaking standpoint, it usually does take a few years to get a film put together; starting from the scripting stage, to casting, to filming. With such a loose schedule, MGM can take their time developing a good story and script, and also handle the minor matter of finding a new director (SKYFALL director Sam Mendes is not expected to return).

And no matter what, fans of 007 will come back to see their favorite martini-guzzling secret agent despite the long layoff. Four years passed between SKYFALL and its predecessor QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and the box-office numbers didn’t suffer a cent. Looking back, six years passed between LICENSE TO KILL (1989) and GOLDENEYE (1995), and when the fans returned they were pleased with an rejuventated franchise.
Other examples throughout film history are clear: seven years passed between ALIEN (1979) and ALIENS (1986), seven years passed between TERMINATOR (1984) and TERMINATOR 2 (1991), and nearly a decade passed before Peter Jackson made his return to Middle-Earth (RETURN OF THE KING was in 2003, THE HOBBIT came about in 2012). In every one of those cases, the fans came back.
If absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, then James Bond will certainly have a warm welcome awaiting him in 2015. Ish.

What say you?

Monday, March 18, 2013


"I'm the ghost with the most, babe."
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE, or for those of you no longer amongst the living…BETELGEUSE.
After the financial success of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985), Tim Burton was now considered a bankable director and was given the go-ahead to begin work on his vision for BATMAN. While his caped-crusader film struggled through development, Burton stumbled upon the script for BEETLEJUICE. The story was essentially THE EXORCIST in reverse; a recently deceased (not diseased) couple looking to “exorcise” a living family from their former home, with or without the help of a devious “bio-exorcist” named Betelgeuse.

Bringing the cast of dead folk to life involved some clever casting. Michael Keaton, who was unknown to Burton at the time, turned in a spectacular, if not iconic performance as the title character. The supporting cast of Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffery Jones, and Winona Ryder are still remembered for their BEETLEJUICE characters. The film’s visual effects, which involved stop motion, replacement animation, puppetry, and blue-screen, was an intentional throw-back to B-movies, and Danny Elfman’s memorable soundtrack was boosted by a few selections from Harry Belafonte’s catchy catalog.
BEETLEJUICE was a financial and critical success, winning an Oscar for Best Makeup and three Saturn Awards. The film gave Burton the leverage to finally get his vision for BATMAN on the screens; a vision which would inspire the Dark Knight in the movies for the next two decades.

Would you like to know the easiest way to scare your little sister out of the room screaming? Easy: say Beetlejuice three times! That was the sort of impact BEETLEJUICE had on this Blogger’s home two decades ago, and an example of the cultural stamp the film still has. Today, it is considered to be Tim Burton’s most memorable film, and possibly Michael Keaton’s finest hour. It is a clever mashup of horror and comedy, and underneath it all is a subtle message of the dead having a better understanding of life than the living. BEETLEJUICE is a film worth mentioning more than three times.

"It's showtime...!"




Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Reel Opinion: The Misinterpretation of THE MASTER

In September of 2012, Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER was released in theatres. The film was not a box office smash, but was praised by critics and earned three Oscar nominations.
Despite the high praise, the film was unfairly dismissed by general audiences as “that Scientology movie”. In the film, one of the main characters is a founder of a “new religion”; thinly veiled (or perhaps mistaken) as a re-take of Scientology. Audiences seemed to grasp on to that one aspect of the film and never got past it. With the film being seeing its home-video release this month, new audiences and old are back to talking about that “Scientology movie”.

This is unfair, as THE MASTER is a lot deeper than that. Much like Anderson did in his previous film THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), this is a film about a battle for a person’s soul. This is a film about one wanting control over another, and ultimately, this is a film about a master and his dog.
In the film, Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) is a meaningless drifter, who is taken in by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who is the leader of a philosophical movement. Lancaster takes in Freddie, feeds him, nurtures him, trains him, and develops a relationship with him much like a man and his dog. Lancaster takes him in as a stray, trains him by repetition, scolds him in public when he misbehaves, and eventually regrets taking him off the leash. In return, Freddie very much acts the part of the mutt. He initially rejects his training, eventually falls in line, misbehaves, defends his master when he is threatened…and eventually bites the hand that feeds before running away when the leash is removed.

Those are the broad strokes, but the film is loaded from head to tail with this parallel. Many of the inferences are subtle, and many are not; there is even a scene in which the master and his mutt roll around in the yard together. That is what THE MASTER is all about; those two characters in a tug-of-war over Freddie’s soul. Real questions over the relationship between those two characters are enough to develop a thesis; issues over just how much control a master has over his dog and how much freedom is enough have to be recognized and debated.
And what of the analogies with Scientology? There are similarities, but as far as the story and movie is concerned (which is the most important), the “new religion” is nothing more than a plot device. In this particular story, it is the bait with which the master reels in his mutt and keeps him at his side when he has nowhere else to go. The “new religion” angle is no more significant than the set dressing the characters are sitting in.

The knee-jerk reactions to the film have given it a bit of a bad reputation, maybe even enough to keep it from winning any Oscars (three nominations, zero wins). It’s unfortunate because THE MASTER really is a clever film. Perhaps too clever for the average mutt.


Friday, March 8, 2013


Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL takes after the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) in both style and substance. Stylistically, we have actors playing multiple roles, over-the-top flamboyant acting which was the way to go in 1939, shifting screen formats and color, and a magical land brought to life with the best wizardry movie-making can muster. Substance-wise, it takes the classic approach of a simple story in a high-concept setting, just like WIZARD did all those decades ago. The nostalgia of the Land of Oz is ever present, but it is the movie underneath the trip back which matters the most.
Oscar, or Oz (James Franco) is a woman-chasing, con-man of a magician who gets in hot water and makes his escape via hot-air balloon, and is then whisked away to the Land of Oz via a tornado. Once there, he is mistaken for The Wizard in a prophecy by three witches; Theodora (Mila Kunis), Glinda (Michelle Williams), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL sets itself up to be a true prequel to the WIZARD OF OZ as it puts the many pieces and parts in place for Dorothy to one day find. However, OZ makes a very wise choice of not making the huge task of setup its only mission in life. There are other things that director Sam Raimi needs to do, and that is, much like the original WIZARD, tell the story of the main character, Oscar. The territory that the Oscar character goes through is very familiar, as Raimi explores the selfish man turned reluctant hero to finding his true calling. It feels predictable at first, but here it works because the writing is just so darn good. Oscar has a lot to play off of as his character goes through his arc…including dealing with equally interesting characters and engaging situations. It’s a simple story, but we are on board with him from his first bow to the final curtain.
Sam Raimi’s directing is well-suited to the proceedings. The visuals, while striking, never get in the way of the storytelling as there is a lot more at work than just spectacle here. Humor and scares work perfectly because they come when it is least expected, and each character and surrounding is always put to good use. The visuals again range from very good to obvious; some environments and CG characters stick out like a sore thumb, while others work very well. The highlight of the visuals is the little China Doll character (voiced by Abigail Leigh Spencer), who is breathtakingly realistic and one of the most convincing CG characters ever. Just for good measure, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle references to WIZARD here and there…and they are all used in good taste and never distract from the main story.

Acting is not the greatest. James Franco hits the right notes more than he misses, but he just doesn’t have the charisma or energy to light up the screen. The three Witches are stunningly beautiful, with Michelle Williams standing out in both appearance and performance. Rachel Weisz doesn’t bring her best and seems to struggle acting against the green-screen. Mila Kunis, who stuns the camera with her gorgeous chestnut-eyes, gives an expected stock performance and also lacks the charisma and fire when more is asked of her.
The finale wraps up things nice and tight, and sets up situations and characters perfectly for what we know is to come. That final setup comes just as Oscar reaches his arc, and Raimi clearly accomplishes his task of two important stories at work. OZ isn’t perfect, but is wonderful to re-visit.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Return Trip to Oz

If you’ve ever wondered how the Wizard in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) came to be in Oz, or how the good and wicked witches became good and wicked, then you will have all your answers this week, when director Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD, SPIDER-MAN) brings his new film, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL to the big screens. Raimi’s film is an un-official prequel to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 film.
Raimi’s film is certainly not the first return to Oz since Judy Garland swooned her way into our hearts via glorious Technicolor all those years ago. Since 1939, there have been seven films serving as official and un-official sequels. These have ranged from animated versions, foreign films, musicals and even a Muppet version. Raimi’s version, which is not a musical, is CGI-heavy and looks to re-capture a lot of the whimsy that the 1939 film had. Nostalgia may be on the plate, but there may be a few things missing…

Various lawsuits and litigation over the ownership of OZ left Raimi with a few restrictions. Warner Bros. holds exclusive rights to certain “iconic elements” of the 1939 OZ which they are not letting go of. These elements include the Ruby Slippers and character likenesses such as the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man. The restrictions extended all the way to the mole on the Wicked Witch’s chin…and the shade of green to her skin. However, the restrictions do not seem to consider the Flying Monkeys to be an iconic element, for they feature prominently in the trailers. Weird.
With this film taking place (presumably) decades before Dorothy was even born, then it makes logical movie-sense for this story to exclude certain elements. However, Raimi may have a few clever tricks up his sleeve. His work-around for the Wicked Witch’s skin issue was to simply make it a different shade of green, and there is nothing stopping him from at least alluding to or making a sneaky reference to those pesky Ruby Slippers.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL seems to be offering a lot of answers to questions that people have never really been asking…how the Wizard wound up behind that curtain never really seemed to bother anyone; filmgoers seemed content with the light inferences made in the original film. Either way, a return trip is upon us, and considering the long and lasting legacy the magical land of Oz still holds, there has to be a lot of curiosity.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is directed by Sam Raimi and is being released by Walt Disney Pictures. It stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz. It opens Friday, March 8th.



Monday, March 4, 2013

A Reel Opinion: The SCHINDLER'S LIST Blu-ray Release

In December of this year, Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST will see its 20th anniversary. Right on cue, the film, widely considered to be one of the greatest ever made, will finally see high-definition with its blu-ray release this week.
SCHINDLER’S LIST was, and still is a landmark film. It is historically and culturally significant, and marked a major turning point in Spielberg’s career. Its long-awaited arrival in high-definition offers collectors a chance to round out their libraries. However, one has to often will that film be taken off the shelf for viewing?

SCHINDLER’S LIST, which told the story of a German businessman who saved the lives of thousands during the Holocaust, was a very difficult watch for many, if not for everyone who watched it 20 years ago. It was a powerful theatre experience, with pindrop-silence by movie’s end and lingering emotions for everyone. For many, one viewing of SCHINDLER’S LIST was enough for an entire lifetime. Despite the fact that it is Spielberg’s finest work, it is ironically the one film that no one wants to watch again…as it certainly does not have the fun of rouge sharks, the whimsy of swashbuckling archeologists, and the wonder that comes with dinosaurs.
So why would anyone want to bring such a bleak and hard-to-watch film home with them? As already mentioned, true fans of film always have that completist urge within them; they simply cannot claim to own the greatest films of all time without SCHINDLER’S LIST in their collection. Diehard fans of Spielberg, who is often regarded as this generation’s finest director, will also have a need to fill in that gap on their shelves; JAWS, RAIDERS, JURASSIC PARK, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN…and SCHINDLER’S LIST rounds out Steven Spielberg’s finest.

There is also the technology angle. Remastered from the original negative, the transfer is said to be stunning; the picture is beyond perfect and John Williams’ chilling and heartbreaking score sounds outstanding. High-definition presents us with our favorite films in the way they were supposed to be seen: flawless. Blu-ray is the glorious format which shows us SCHINDLER’S LIST like we’ve never seen before.
Above all else, watching or owning SCHINDLER’S LIST is a lot like that old saying: what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. No one ever looks forward to watching it, but by the time the credits roll things will certainly be different. SCHINDLER’S LIST deserves to be re-visited, even if it’s just once every 20 years.




Friday, March 1, 2013


JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is director Bryan Singer’s take on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. It is saturated in fairy tale lore with familiar characters, settings and themes, and brought to life with tons upon tons of CGI. On principle, there is not much wrong with a re-telling of an old story as long as you can keep it fresh and feeling new.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) comes into the possession of magic beans which sprout a beanstalk which leads to a kingdom populated by man-eating Giants. Jack accidently gets wrapped up in the dealings of Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who is running away from her father the King (Ian McShane). Jack must rescue the princess from the clutches of the Giants with the help of a knight, Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Isabelle’s suitor, Roderick (Stanley Tucci).

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is chock-full of every cliché character and theme ever written into a fairy tale; heroic day-dreaming farm-boys, a princess, a knight, a king, a magical land and a whole bunch of monsters. Unfortunately for this adventure, Bryan Singer never takes one single them and takes it past its face-value; there is nothing personal added, no new feelings or anything daring. It quickly becomes unbearably bland, and even if you were completely unfamiliar with the retreading, the film never engages you in a single character. It doesn’t take long to realize that JACK isn’t a whole lot of fun.
The CGI characters, in particular the Giants, fall with a gigantic thud. The Giants are lifeless and cartoony, and never once feel scary. Worse, they are portrayed as less of a threat and more like a bunch of lumbering dumbasses…and not very funny ones either. With a movie full of bland heroes, having a gaggle of bland villains just swirls up the shitter.

Acting is atrocious throughout. No one shows any energy or chemistry with each other, never shows any convincing fear, or gives a hint that they are having fun. Bryan Singer deserves extra demerits for sucking all the charisma out of Ewan McGregor. Bill Nighy turns in some decent voice-work as one of the leading Giants, but he is sadly under-used.
The ending tries for a clever, modern-day twist on things in an attempt to find some validation to the film and to push the power of storytelling angle a bit more. It works to an extent, but by that time it’s way too goddamn late. It’s absolutely mind-boggling how a film loaded with fantasy themes and characters set amongst giant spectacle can be so bland and boring.