Friday, June 28, 2013


Throughout most of its storied existence, the films of Pixar Animation Studios have struck the perfect balance between adult and kid-friendly entertainment. Their latest effort, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, a prequel to their own MONSTERS INC (2001), leans more towards the younger minds, offering a fun, yet curious entry into their extensive catalog.
Set some years before MONSTERS INC., Mike (Billy Crystal) enrolls in Monsters U. with dreams of becoming a professional scarer. Once there, he crosses paths and forms a rivalry with Sully (John Goodman). When their rival boils over, the two must learn to work together with their new frat brothers in order to win a campus-wide scare-competition.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY starts off strong. It clearly defines characters, what they are after and why, and re-introduces us to the Monster-world we’ve been away from for so long. Mike and Sully’s younger selves are written very well: Mike is the studious, but untalented monster, and Sully is the slacker with the talent. They are total opposites of each other in every way, and it is a fun watch to see them interact.
Once things really get rolling however, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY settles into a very familiar setting on campus with themes of college segregation between jocks and geeks…with the latter out to prove themselves to the school, the world, and themselves. Thematically it works, but the film never breaks away from that and eventually borrows from nearly every college-set film from the past two decades. Plot points, situations, and characters become cliché and predictable, and the film never ventures out of that ol’ college mold. Even looking at it from the outside, exactly where characters and predicaments are headed can be seen from a mile away. There are no real risks taken to put a fresh spin on the territory, and the film seems content to entertain young minds only.

Rookie director Dan Scanlon has a blast playing in this universe and it shows. The character design along with their environment is excellent, and Scanlon always puts everything to good, practical use. The pacing is brisk, the humor well-timed, and the dramatic pauses come at just the right time. Scanlon keeps the overall tone light, and it isn’t until the much later goings that the film enters to slightly more mature territory. The new tone feels a bit tacked on, and the overall morality message is never made very clear. Scanlon also gets great performances out of his cast, with Billy Crystal and John Goodman seemingly full of life and energy. The rest of the cast is also perfect…Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, and Nathan Fillion are all a joy to listen to (and creepily look like their animated characters).
From a technical standpoint, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is a perfect film. It is visually stunning with a tried-and-true story populated by interesting, fun, and relatable characters. It’s only real sin is that it plays things much too safe, goes by the textbook only, and despite a few interesting turns towards the finale, never does anything bold. The low-risk approach makes one wonder if this is a peek into a new direction for Pixar; thematically light with nothing that might cost the kids any sleep. Overall it’s mid-level Pixar; fun enough for the kids, but older minds will be looking for more to latch onto.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Reel Review: WORLD WAR Z

The latest legion of zombies to invade our silver screens comes in the form of WORLD WAR Z, a loose adaptation of the novel of the same name. Large in scale and operating without limits, WWZ clearly seeks to put a new wrinkle on the forehead of the walking dead.
Former U.N. agent Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) must traverse around the world in a race to discover the source, and perhaps the cure to an epidemic which is sweeping the entire world, turning most of the population into zombies.

WWZ is more about the global effect of a large-scale epidemic than it is about zombies. Lane and his family are thrown in the middle of a collapse of society and a complete breakdown in all structures of humanity. The collapse of society makes the film one of the most realistic zombie films made. Once Gerry has to leave his family to seek out a cure, the film takes on another meaning as his story is twofold; save humanity before his family is put into danger.
The story is solid enough and worth staying awake for, but where this war begins to sputter is in the script, and in the editing. The film moves along at a breakneck pace, and while that is fine for the wonderfully realized chases and scares, the eventual quiet moments seem to exist just long enough for Gerry to get some new info before running off into the wild again. The chases are thrilling, the scares are well-timed and the stakes are high enough as we hop from location to location on a world tour, but there always seems like there is something left behind; things like emotion and a reason to care about what happens. The movie is in a big damn hurry to get places, and often makes large leaps to get from A to Z; certain plot points are rushed, some are forgotten about, while others come off as stupid with no logic and just exist to force things into place.

Director Marc Forster puts together some clever sequences (a third-act, hide-and-seek game with the zombies is excellent), but every clever moment he pulls off is derailed with overuse of his goddamn shaky-camera. The handheld work is literally all over the place, and the technique, while it does have its occasional place, seems to get used as a crutch to make action sequences tenser than they really are. The zombies themselves are impressive; ghoulish and creepy and certainly a formidable foe, and the large, wide-angle, FX-shots of the large hordes piling over walls and swarming down city streets is impressive. The film does however suffer from its bloodless PG-13 rating; the dread and peril of the situation that we are supposed to feel is always conveniently out-of-frame.
Brad Pitt does well for what he is given to work with. The problem here isn’t with Pitt, but that the material does not offer a challenge to him as an actor. Although the scenes with his family are sweet enough, Pitt is never put against anyone (or anything) to challenge him as an opposite, leading to a severe lack of human drama. The rest of the cast comes and goes too fast to leave an impression; James Badge-Dale and Matthew Fox turn in short and sweet performances. However, the show is nearly stolen by the great David Morse, who makes a brief appearance as a former CIA man who has lost his marbles.

The finale comes about after a very clever cat-and-mouse game with the zombies, and can only be described as “soft” as it sneaks up without much of a build-up, and leaves a lot to be desired in the emotion department. For all the world-wide destruction and loss of human life, by the movie’s end we really don’t feel like our characters actually went through very much, leaving this as a very flat zombie-film in the largely populated genre. WORLD WAR Z is light entertainment and occasionally fun, but nothing to lose your mind over.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: WTF, Jim Carrey?

FACT: In a surprise announcement, actor and kinda-sorta funnyman Jim Carrey has publicly denounced the violent content of his upcoming film, KICK-ASS 2.
KICK-ASS 2 is a follow-up to the successful KICK-ASS (2010, rated R), in which a teenager takes on a superhero persona and inspires others to do the same. In the sequel, Carrey plays a vigilante named Colonel Stars and Stripes who combats crime with a baseball bat. Carrey cites the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook as the reason behind his change of heart.

OPINION: Many people have a change of heart after tragic events, but Jim Carrey’s denouncing of his first major film role in a few years is a head-scratcher, and could possibly spell trouble for himself. When actors sign a contract to do a film, there are most likely clauses which obligate them to do promotional tours to help push people to go to the theatre to see it. Carrey seems unlikely to do this considering his new stance, and could be opening himself up to a lawsuit for breach of contract. From a legal perspective, he may get himself into trouble.
From a common-sense angle, even more question-marks pop up. The first KICK-ASS film was a violent one; chock-full of gunplay, fistfights, stabbings, and blood-splatter. You have to wonder if Carrey ever saw the first film, or was even aware of it. On top of that, he must have read the script before filming (one would hope), and was obviously on the set when the cameras were rolling. When did the violent aspect of his own movie suddenly come as a surprise? The whole thing is so out of left-field it almost feels like a publicity stunt.

Carrey’s denouncement just may wind up being a lot of hot-air as the release date gets closer and pressures start to mount. Of course, if he really believed in what he was doing and wanted no association with the film, he could always give back his paycheck.
What say you?

KICK-ASS 2 is slated for an August 16th release. It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Jim Carrey.

Friday, June 21, 2013


The latest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is clearly a passion project for writer/director Joss Whedon. Shot in secret over a period of 12 days at his own home, the drama that The Bard once scratched out in quill plays perfectly to Whedon’s talent for sharp dialogue, interesting characters, and character-drama.
Leonato (Clark Gregg), is visited by his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), his brother Don John (Sean Maher), Claudio (Fran Kranz), and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick verbally spars with Lenato’s niece Beatrice (Amy Acker). What follows are many tricks in deceptions to make one couple fall in love, and the other out of it, with the latter eventually investigated by Constable Dogberry (Nathon Fillion).

This version of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING feels like Joss Whedon invited all his old pals over to perform Shakespeare in the park, and that wouldn’t be far from the truth. Keeping the original text and shot with a fly-on-the-wall technique, the film feels very real and natural. Despite the usage of ye olde English, the characters are very accessible and it doesn’t take long to figure out who to pull for, and who to root against.
As the tricks of deception start to unfold, a great deal of charm and well-timed humor can be found everywhere. Characters play against each other nicely, and Whedon’s trademark of letting the characters be themselves, and allowing their actions drive the twisty plot matches Shakespeare’s narrative perfectly. It is a joy to see unfold and there is never a moment without fulfilling charm.

Shot in glorious black-and-white, Whedon exploits every last inch of his house, as his camera always gives us something interesting and unique to look at. The old English at first is a bit of a chore to get through, but it does manage to work its way into your brain, and by the time ten minutes have passed, you barely notice it. It works so well that you just may find yourself leaving the theatre speaking in that old prose.
The entire cast seems to be having a blast with their roles and it really shows. Everyone is solid, but what makes the film shine are the surprises each cast member reveals; they all show great range in going from dramatic heartbreak to knee-slapping comedy in the blink of an eye. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker are the true stars, showing great chemistry and are just a joy to watch. Nathan Fillion lights up the screen in his limited time, and Clark Gregg finally gets to flex his acting diversity with a show-stopping performance.

Long-time fans of Whedon will undoubtedly geek-out over seeing all these actors from his various TV and film projects share the screen. Shakespeare buffs will wrap themselves up in the film like a blanket, while those just looking for a good movie will be hard pressed to find one that is more charming, fun, and brilliant. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is everything a good movie should be: wonderful.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

James Gandolfini 1961-2013

Actor James Gandolfini has passed away at the age of 51.
Best known for his role as Tony Soprano in the TV series THE SOPRANOS, Gandolfini also had a very sporadic, yet productive film career. He was best known on the silver screen for his role as a mob henchman in Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE (2003), an enforcer and stuntman in GET SHORTY (1995), and the impulsive “wild thing”, Carol in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009).

A stocky and gruff man, he was often cast in big-bad-dude roles such as a pornographer in 8MM (1999), and a hard-nosed military man in THE LAST CASTLE (2001). He appeared as a hit-man in last year’s KILLING THEM SOFTLY, and showed his range as the CIA director in the Oscar-nominated ZERO DARK THIRTY.
It was on the small-screen where he found his most success. As the head of a crime family in THE SOPRANOS, Gandolfini showed his range in a difficult role which had him play not only a tough guy, but a dedicated family man. His work on the show earned him a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor three times. He was also an accomplished producer, having produced two documentaries on the Iraq War.

Playing a mob boss is hard work. Not only do you have to play tough and menacing, but you need to show the depth and dedication these guys have to their way of life, and to their families. Gandolfini’s work on the big and small screen has put him amongst the great names such as James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Robert DeNiro, and Marlon Brando. Like his mob characters, Gandolfini was dedicated to his craft, and just may have been one of the last, great tough guys to entertain us.




A Reel Opinion: The Top Five and one-half Reasons to get your Ass to the Theatre this Weekend

Believe it or not, the summer movie season roughly reaches its half-way point this weekend. What makes this weekend all the more unique is that there is a wide variety of films representing nearly every genre. In short, there is something for everyone to see. With that, here are the Top Five and one-half Reasons to get your Ass to the Theatre this weekend:
1. The Action Blockbuster – No summer is complete without an action blockbuster, and this weekend brings a large-scale actioneer with a splash of thrills and chills in the zombie-flick WORLD WAR Z. Based on the popular novel of the same name, the film stars Brad Pitt as a lone man out to prevent the world from turning into zombies. Directed by Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE), this film has endured many production problems and the scrutiny of fans of the book, but has still been received warmly by critics and has the potential for a lot of fun at the theatre.

2. The Independent Arthouse – If zombies and things that go boom aren’t your thing, then the world of independent film may be your next stop. At the top of the order is Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Whedon, whose last film turned out to be the Greatest Superhero Movie Ever (AVENGERS, like you needed to be told), filmed MUCH ADO in secret last year over a period of 21 days and keeps the original text.
3. The Other Independent Arthouse – If Shakespeare doesn’t quite blow your hair back, then the next best indie-flick offering comes from writer/director Sophia Coppola (LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003), in the form of her newest film, THE BLING RING. Based on a true story of teens who robbed from celebrities, the film stars a very grown up (and out) Emma Watson of HARRY POTTER fame.

4. The Kids’ Film – Summer is all about the young’uns, and with most schools being out for summer starting this week, Pixar’s well-timed release of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is sure to bring in the pitter-patter of little feet. A prequel to Pixar’s own MONSTERS INC. (2001), the film is loaded with fuzzy and cute characters, brought to life by some vibrant colors and stunning animation. And who is to say adults can’t enjoy a Pixar film, too?
5. The Superhero Film – No summer can be had without a superhero movie. Although this latest version of Superman in MAN OF STEEL has been divisive among fans and critics, the film still manages to pack a mighty wallop of spectacle, and it is without a doubt the most intimate, and unique look we’ve ever had at the character.

5 and 1/2. The Trailers – One-half of the fun of going to the movies is seeing the previews for upcoming features. This weekend there will be new trailers from ANCHORMAN 2, the next HOBBIT film, LEGO: THE MOVIE (don’t laugh), and perhaps a few other surprises…

See you at the movies…



Monday, June 17, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Future of the Film Industry

Movie titans Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted a grim future for the movies last week, predicting an “industry implosion”, which would seriously alter the way we see films.
The remarks came at a forum on the future of entertainment at the University of Southern California. Lucas, an industry pioneer (LucasFilm, THX, ILM), and the creator of the STAR WARS saga, says Hollywood will eventually adopt a Broadway model, in which films would stay in theatres much longer and command higher prices. Spielberg, Lucas’ best friend and frequent collaborator, (the two have combined for 7 of the top 10 highest-grossing films in the 1980’s), said that the implosion will happen after a half-dozen or so blockbusters flop at the box office, leading studios to re-evaluate their industry.

It would be fair to say that besides their box office success in their careers, the industry has been changed forever from the efforts of Lucas and Spielberg, so when they have something serious to say about the movies, the world would be wise to pay attention. With rising ticket prices combined with a lack of quality films a serious problem in Hollywood right now, along with technology bringing convenient ways to watch movies at home, it’s not much of a stretch to think that the industry just may suffer some sort of Wall Street-type crash one day. But will it really be that bad? Will movie theatres diminish to the point where only one or two films a month can be viewed on the big screen?
First of all, the two seem to be overlooking the success of the foreign film industry over the past decade (or even two); in other words…not all movies are made in the bloated Hollywood we have today. These foreign films have had excellent success (last year’s AMOUR was a Best Picture contender), and tend to focus more on storytelling than spectacle; a trait that audiences are starting to get wise to. There is also the growing popularity and success of the independent films. With the coming of digital filmmaking, it is now easier, quicker, and less expensive for movies to be made, and more importantly…distributed.

Spielberg’s comment about the industry changing after a few box office flops feels like an odd one, because flops have been happening in Hollywood since Day One. Movies flop for many reasons; bad marketing, no interest…or just a bad production. If taking a loss is a major concern in Hollywood, then the studios need to focus on quality and give us good goddamn movies. Big-budget spectacles like THE AVENGERS (2012), AVATAR (2009), and most recently, MAN OF STEEL have proven that quality, and giving audiences what they want to see often go hand-in-hand. However, studios can’t take audiences for granted in that they will flock to the theaters just because a name is attached; as Will Smith’s recent shit-pile AFTER EARTH flop has proven, you still have to bring the goods to go with your big name.
Another overlooked factor is that lovers of cinema are always going to go the theater because they love that big-screen experience. Is anyone looking forward to seeing a new STAR WARS or AVENGERS film debut on their laptop? Unlikely. Audiences will come; both casual and die-hard. It seems that if the industry is going to have any sort of crisis, it will come by way of a slow turn instead of an overnight crash.

But Lucas and Spielberg’s words should not go unheeded and do carry some truth. Perhaps a good scare is just what Hollywood could use right now, perhaps leading to fewer soul-less pictures and ushering in a new golden age of film.
What say you?



Friday, June 14, 2013

A Reel Review: MAN OF STEEL

There are several ways the latest Superman film, MAN OF STEEL, can be looked at. It can be compared to its comic-book origins, or it can be stacked side-by-side with previous super-films which have come before it. But the way MAN OF STEEL should be judged is how it fares as an overall movie on its own.
Superman (Henry Cavill) is rocketed away from his doomed home planet of Krypton by his father (Russell Crowe), and his pursued by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Once on Earth, Superman is raised as Clark Kent by the couple who found him (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and as he struggles with his super-powers and identity, is pursued by reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

MAN OF STEEL is loaded with science fiction elements; spaceships, space-warping, planet-changing-devices and fantastic technology are everywhere. But ultimately the film is about Superman’s ongoing identity crisis. He is constantly faced with moral choices throughout the film, seemingly stuck in-between conflicting messages from his two, very different fathers. MAN OF STEEL works very well here because Superman for the first time is very relatable as he struggles to find his place. This is ultimately Superman’s coming-out story; bolstered by a fathers-and-sons theme.
Even with the many sci-fi elements, the film is grounded in reality. The movie doesn’t bother to romance you off your feet, entertain you with kids stuff, or insert a lovable, pudgy-character for laughs. Even when the action picks up, nothing is taken for granted and virtually every element of Superman lore is given a reason to exist. Everything from the “S” on his chest, to his importance on Earth is given a lot of time to explain. The reality-based approach may turn off audiences looking for waves of nostalgia, but MAN OF STEEL manages to take the old familiar elements and give them a fresh spin. There is a lot of familiar territory, but with new dressings that Superman fans will recognize, and should appreciate.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film is never at a loss for pretty things to look at. Large-scale set pieces and intimate memories are wonderfully shot and executed, and the non-linear editing makes for a pleasant surprise. The large, city-devastating action pieces get a bit repetitive as the last 45 minutes goes non-stop with little room to catch your breath. A lot of shaky-cam is used and makes it difficult to keep track of the many fights Superman has with his Kryptonian enemies, and the in-flight sequences, while neat to look at, lacks a real “wow” factor.
MAN OF STEEL packs a lot into its running time, and the vast amount of material could have easily filled two films. A lot of scenes seem like they were cut short as just when they pick up some good traction, they abruptly end without a real resolution. It seems like a lot of the emotion we were meant to feel was left on the cutting-room floor as the film is just in a rush to get places. The dialogue as scripted has no cringe-worthy moments and gets the job done, but lacks any memorable lines or any wit. Hans Zimmer’s pounding-score sounds great when it is given room to flex, but it feels like it is underused as it is often buried under all the other sonic-booms.

Henry Cavill makes a very good Superman, and alter-ego, Clark Kent. He gets the inner-conflict just right, buries his British accent, and looks very much like he just fell out of the comic-pages. Amy Adams performs just fine, even though her character is very much underdeveloped. Michael Shannon shines as General Zod, not just because he’s the bad guy with a few screws loose, but because his character isn’t really inherently evil and his motivations can easily be defended. Russell Crowe gets all the best lines and commands the screen when he pops in, while Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring fair amounts of emotion to story. Laurence Fishburne is nearly reduced to an extended-cameo as Daily Planet Editor Perry White, but does well, as he always does.
One’s enjoyment of MAN OF STEEL can only go as far as their willingness to put aside pre-conceptions, and much like its main character, let it be its own identity. It has a few faults but many more strengths, and the overall experience is a positive one as the style never buries its substance. This is an ambitious Superman with the courage to leap over what we couldn’t see before.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Reel Opinion: A Trip Down Superhero Lane

This week, the latest version of Superman flies to the big screen with the arrival of MAN OF STEEL. Unlike the iconic comic-book hero the film is based on, this film did not drop out of the sky; it is a culmination of superhero movies over many years. Specifically, the landmark super-flicks which steered the genre in the right direction at the right time.  
The first successful big-screen adaptation of a superhero from the comics was Superman himself, when SUPERMAN THE MOVIE arrived in 1978. The film would spawn a very successful (and perhaps superior) sequel, before leveling off with a third film and then bottoming out in the fourth movie. Despite being a tad dated due to the time period, SUPERMAN remains as the high bar for all superhero adaptations to shoot for…courtesy of its excellent casting, acting, and film craftsmanship. By earning nominations in major award categories and attracting high-profile actors, SUPERMAN proved right out of the gate that the genre could, and should be taken seriously.

Superhero films would then remain quiet for a few years, but then made a big dent in pop culture when BATMAN arrived in 1989. The new look at the caped crusader forever distanced the character from the campy and colorful version the world had been used to from television; a look that would remain consistent through its eventual re-boot nearly two decades later. The film brought more legitimacy to the genre by earning acting nominations in the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s. Although it preferred style over substance it spawned a successful sequel, and similar to SUPERMAN, bottomed out with two more follow-ups.
The genre would turn an important corner with the arrival of X-MEN (2000), and again with X2 (2003). The X-MEN proved that a superhero film does not have to be all about good guys vs. bad guys. By inserting social issues such as the fear of those who are different, the world realized that sometimes the biggest enemy a superhero has to face is the very society they are trying to protect; a theme that many super-films would be inspired by to this day.

Batman saw resurgence with the arrival of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy starting in 2005. The new vision took a fresh approach at superheroes by making the caped crusader as realistic as possible; realism and practicality were the priorities and changed the way filmmakers would approach superhero adaptations. The second film earned more legitimacy to the genre by winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and remains the third-highest grossing film domestically.
Not to be outdone by their DC counterparts, Marvel’s THE AVENGERS (2012) went on to become the second-highest grossing film (domestically) of all time. The film was a culmination of Marvel’s unprecedented efforts to bring all of their properties (characters) under one consistent and connected universe; a series of connected movies which looks to last at least another decade.

With the box office numbers proving that people want to see superhero films, filmmakers realized that they were not limited to comic-book adaptations. M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE (2000) was an alternate look at super-beings and super-villains, but most importantly, kept the focus on the characters. Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES (2004) was an animated family-based film which served as a wake-up call to the genre by calling attention to the many clichés which had been embraced for years.

The accomplishments of these landmark films will all come together when MAN OF STEEL lands on Earth this weekend; realism, social issues, self-awareness, human stories and big-wow action. Whether or not the film flies away with the box office or is a hit with critics remains to be seen, but it will be fun to see the many years of superhero-film accomplishments all come together.


Monday, June 10, 2013


“I own an island…”
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK.

The year that was 1993 was a life-changing, one-two punch for Steven Spielberg. In November of that year, he would release his WWII holocaust-drama SCHINDLER’S LIST; a film which would earn him seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. But only a few months before he devastated people’s emotions in that stark, hard-to-watch, black-and-white film, he would thrill the world giddy with living, breathing dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK.
The film, in which a billionaire and his team of genetic scientists bring dinosaurs back to life, ignited the imaginations and awoke the kid in all of us. By using a combination of animatronics and a new, Lucasfilm-driven technology called CGI, it was suddenly possible to play with, run with, and run away from dinosaurs. The usage of the new technology was a landmark in filmmaking, and the movies have never been the same since. But JURASSIC PARK should not just be remembered for the technical achievements, because it’s what Spielberg did with the new tech that had audiences screaming and ducking. The chase scenes and cliffhangers had real terror and dread…and most of all, fun. Spielberg’s usage of the new technology was proof that the tool is only as good as the hand that wields it.

The results were spectacular, and the world reacted. JURASSIC PARK became the highest-grossing film of all time; a position it would hold for four years. To this day, it is the 15th highest-grossing film in North America, and the 18th highest-grossing worldwide. It is Spielberg’s biggest money-maker of his career. A 3D re-release in 2013 would make another strong box-office run, and the film would win three Oscars for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects.

The legacy of JURASSIC PARK is a large one; box office numbers, Oscars, and technical achievements only begin to scratch the surface. JURASSIC PARK would be the last of the summer-blockbuster designed films of Spielberg’s career, as his work in SCHINDLER’S LIST would then point him towards more serious works. But JURASSIC PARK’s true achievement was re-awakening the kid in all of us; the one that chased and played with imaginary dinosaurs in the back yard and over piled-up sofa-cushions. Spielberg himself once said, “I dream for a living”, and no other film in the past 20 years has dropped us into a dream like JURASSIC PARK.
“Life found a way…”



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Year in Film 2013: Episode V

This June offers a wide variety of films. While the traditional action-oriented blockbusters are present, there are also some smaller arthouse films which are usually left for the autumn months.
It all starts with:

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – Joss Whedon follows up his mighty AVENGERS by going back to basics: an adaptation of a William Shakespeare play. MUCH ADO was shot in secret over 21 days and keeps the original text for dialogue. It stars nearly every person Whedon has ever worked with…from Nathan Fillon (SERENITY) to Clark Gregg (AVENGERS).
THE EAST – Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard star in this eco-terrorist thriller.

WISH YOU WERE HERE – Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR) stars in this family-based, mystery/suspense drama centered around a family getaway.
THE INTERNSHIP – In what is basically a feature-length ad for Google (like they need to advertise), Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn star as two middle-aged interns. Directed by Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM).

THE PURGE – In one of the silliest plots ever written, a re-vamped America has one night every year where everyone can commit a crime without any consequences. Stars Ethan Hawke and is directed by James DeMonaco.
THIS IS THE END – James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson all star as themselves; six idiots dealing with the end of the world. Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen.

MAN OF STEEL – Superman returns to the big screen in what may be the most anticipated film of the year. Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT) produces and Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN, 300) directs. Henry Cavill stars as Supes and is joined by Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Shannon as General Zod.
THE BLING RING – Oscar-winning director Sofia Coppola directs this little flick about teenagers and their obsession with celebrity. Emma Watson (HARRY POTTER) stars.

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO – Toby Jones is a sound technician working on a horror film when his work gets the better of him.
WORLD WAR Z – This troubled adaptation of the novel of the same name has seen everything from massive re-writes to re-shooting major portions of the film. For better or for worse it’s finally here. Brad Pitt stars in this zombie war-flick directed by Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE).

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – Pixar unleashes their very first prequel. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their animated characters in this story of how Mike and Sully became friends.
MANIAC – Elijah Wood (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) stars in this psycho-thriller which is a 21st century spin on Jack the Ripper. Directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2).

WHITE HOUSE DOWN – The White House is taken over for the third time this year (time to beef up security, fellas), in this action-thriller which stars Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhall, and James Woods. Directed by Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY).

Next month: Episode VI ventures into July.



Monday, June 3, 2013

A Reel Review: NOW YOU SEE ME

A movie can be a lot like a magic trick; it isn’t enough to build up suspense and intrigue if you can’t make good at the end. Such is the task for director Louis Leterrier’s magical-mystery caper, NOW YOU SEE ME.
An FBI Agent (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol partner (Melanie Laurent) are hot on the trail of four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco) who pull off a series of magical heists against corrupt business leaders and companies, including their own financial backer (Michael Caine), and to the frustration of a magic-trick debunker/TV star (Morgan Freeman).

NOW YOU SEE ME chugs along briskly and joyfully as it goes through layers of twists and turns combined with spectacle and intrigue. The audience is dropped into the laps of the FBI Agents and their magic-debunker, and we see the film through their eyes as the magicians mysteriously get away with impossible robberies on a live stage. The film is plot-heavy, and the characters and their development take a back seat (or maybe even the trunk) to the story. The characters are merely players in the grand scheme of things, and it is nearly forgivable as the show is just too darn fun to care.
Director Louis Leterrier keeps the pacing quick, the humor well-timed, and the dialogue sharp as he guides us through a maze of mystery which winds up being more of a sleuth-film than a magical trip. The script he is working from has more than its share of flaws; major plot-holes and lapses in its very own logic are nearly everywhere. It’s storytelling in broad strokes; nitpickers will have a field day and the film can only be enjoyed as far as the audience is willing to not think about certain things. Leterrier shows his shortcomings as a director when the stakes have to be raised as his scenes involving “action” are boosted not by tension but by over-editing and way too much camera movement. His over-use and abuse of the 360-degree swooping camera move is neat at first but becomes nauseating after you see it for the 875th goddamn time.

The cast is overqualified for the plot, but it doesn’t matter because they are all a joy to watch. The film belongs to Mark Ruffalo as he gets to show a variety of emotions here. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson continue to have great chemistry together, while Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine bring sparks when they share the screen together. Faring a little worse is Dave Franco, who despite having a lot to do seems to be a carbon-copy of his older brother (James Franco). Melanie Laurent is insanely cute and adorable, but the French actress is difficult to understand at times.
After spending 90% of the story (magic trick) building up a massive amount of mystery and awe, the film collapses under its own weight courtesy of a clumsy and clunky twist-ending which raises more questions than it answers. Although the big reveal (and the film as a whole) follows the basic template for a magic trick, it’s just too far out there to be believed and goes right back to the swiss-cheese screenplay at work. The film never bothers to drop any clues along the way for the end to make sense, and it is so loose they would have been better off taking a page out of the CLUE book by offering alternate revelations.  The only real revelation in the finale is that NOW YOU SEE ME is not as smart as it thinks it is.