Friday, August 30, 2013

A Reel Review: THE WORLD'S END

THE WORLD’S END is the third collaboration between writer/director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; a successful relationship which began with the zombie comedy SHUAN OF THE DEAD in 2004 and left off with HOT FUZZ in 2007. This time around, the three capitalize on familiar themes while bringing a few twists in an effort to put together their most funniest, well-rounded, and complete adventure yet.
Twenty years after failing to complete a pub crawl, Gary King (Simon Pegg) drags his reluctant childhood friends (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) back to the town they grew up in for another go at it. As pints are downed and old issues flare up, the five stumble upon a dark and sinister secret in their hometown which threatens the entire world.

Despite all the zany comedy and witty banter in THE WORLD’S END, this is a very grown-up film showcasing grown-up themes. There is a lot of heart in this film, as Edgar Wright and his team of drunks explore the literal and metaphorical end of the world; Gary and his pals face the world’s end just the same way they are facing the end of their youth when they hit 40. Characters are very real and full of metaphor; Gary is the screwup but still in love with life, while his friends are successful in the business world but bored with life. With so much contrast between characters, there is plenty of great territory for Wright and his actors to explore. When the sci-fi element eventually pops-in, it initially feels obtrusive to the strong first act of the film, but like everything else in THE WORLD’S END, it serves a purpose and actually gives the characters motivation to handle their issues and get on with life.
Edgar Wright keeps the pacing brisk and the humor well-timed while inserting just enough drama at just the right time. Action scenes are incredible to watch and are easy to keep track of what’s going on (they were coordinated by Jackie Chan’s old choreographer). Dialogue is lightning-fast and full of wit, and you often find yourself laughing at the one-liners five minutes after they have passed; it takes that long for your own mind to catch up. There is a tremendous amount of energy in THE WORLD’S END; it’s a laugh-a-minute and an ear-to-ear grin from the opening frame.

Acting is for the most part fantastic as the entire cast seems to be having a blast. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost chew up the scenery and are so much fun to watch together. Martin Freeman is his usual brilliant self, and Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine are also very good. Pierce Brosnan drops in for a decent extended cameo, while Rosamund Pike continues to be as wooden as a barstool.
The finale capitalizes on all the metaphorical goings-on, and may drag things out a little too much…but it makes sense because the film wants to live up to its title and leave the characters in their deserving places. Edgar Wright sets out to accomplish at lot in this film, and he succeeds brilliantly. THE WORLD’S END has never been more fun, or filling.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


“Your fugitive’s name is Doctor Richard Kimble…”
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Andrew Davis’ THE FUGITIVE

Loosely based on the 1960’s TV series of the same name, THE FUGITIVE, which told the story of a doctor wrongly accused of killing his wife, was led by a heavyweight cast in the form of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Although Ford would take the role of Doctor Kimble and immortalize it, he was not the first choice for the part; Alec Baldwin, Nick Nolte, Kevin Costner, and Michael Douglas were auditioned first. Tommy Lee Jones’ character of the U.S. Marshall assigned to chase down Dr. Kimble was also auditioned for by other actors; Gene Hackman and Jon Voight were considered.
The selection of Ford and Jones proved to be a masterstroke. The two veteran actors complimented each other perfectly, even though they would only share the screen together a handful of times. The casting paid off; THE FUGITIVE was nominated for seven Oscars that year, including Best Picture, and Tommy Lee Jones would take home Best Supporting Actor. Harrison Ford was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor. The film itself, which was a clever combination of mystery-solving and pulse-pounding action, was a box office smash, holding down the No. 1 spot for six weeks. The American Film Institute lists the film amongst its Top 100 Most Thrilling American Films.

In 1993, this Bloggers’ Uncle mentioned that his brother-in-law had said THE FUGITIVE wasn’t a good movie. Twenty minutes into the film, just after a thrilling escape from an oncoming freight train, this Blogger learned who to listen to and who not to when it came to movies. Aside from that, the legacy of THE FUGITIVE certainly centers around Harrison Ford. Although the popular actor had already taken steps in his career to separate himself from whip-carrying archeologists and scoundrely space smugglers, it was THE FUGITIVE which was a wake-up call and a reminder of his abilities. As a fugitive from the law, Ford displayed a new depth and heart which made us respect him and love him even more.

“I didn’t kill my wife!”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Next Batman - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Late last week, the partnership between Warner Bros. Studios and DC Comics announced that Oscar-winning director/writer and actor Ben Affleck has been selected to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in their 2015 Superman/Batman crossover/team-up movie. Affleck will be the fifth actor to play the Caped Crusader on the big screen since 1989, and will be joined by Henry Cavill who will be reprising Superman from this year’s MAN OF STEEL. 

The casting of Affleck and the project itself offers a lot to talk about; ranging from good, bad, and ugly.
The Good: Over the past decade, Ben Affleck has re-invented himself as an actor and as a filmmaker. His acting chops have proven that he can do dramatic and funny, and the opportunity to play Bruce Wayne/Batman will offer him the opportunity to stretch his abilities even further. Beyond that, what Affleck will be bringing to the set is the mind of a gifted and talented filmmaker. The three films that Affleck has directed have all been critical and Oscar success stories and you can bet your utility-belt that he will be bringing his experience to the set. Much like Christian Bale (THE DARK KNIGHT) and Robert Downey Jr. (IRON MAN) kept a close watch on things in their respective superhero roles, Affleck is sure to not let any poor decisions pass on his watch. 

The Bad: The casting of Affleck in the role presumably will be a long-term commitment, which may rob us of a great director putting together equally-great films. Affleck clearly enjoys directing, and he may very well have negotiated time to do his own thing, so this may be a non-issue. What sticks out even more is that this move seems to be a fresh take (reboot/restart) on the Batman character, which would come only three years after WB/DC’s very own successful DARK KNIGHT TRILIOGY, directed by Christopher Nolan. With the success of Nolan’s Bat-films so fresh in all of our minds, it will be difficult to accept a “new” version of the character so soon. The sudden restart on the character makes WB/DC seem a little shameless, as they are clearly don’t care about wiping out their own successful Batman legacy in favor of possible big-buck$. This leads us to…

The Ugly: In 2012, DC Comics’ rival Marvel Studios rocked the box-office and critical world with their massive superhero-team up film, THE AVENGERS. Minutes after AVENGERS made bank, WB/DC immediately set out to finally bring their properties under one film, which started with MAN OF STEEL this past summer. While fans of the comics and the movies have certainly been looking forward to a Batman/Superman flick for decades, WB/DC seems to be in a big damn hurry to get this done now that they’ve seen dollar signs. It took Marvel five years to build up worldwide interest for AVENGERS; interest that WB/DC may be taking for granted. Batman and Superman may be the most popular superheroes ever created, and the fans will certainly show up…but history has proven that nothing good comes out of a rush-job…or trying to copy your peers and rivals.

The casting of Affleck in the role has generated reactions ranging from great-to-dismal; reactions which are ironically (and hilariously) similar to the mixed-to-negative reactions to Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989, and to Heath Ledger’s casting as Batman’s enemy The Joker in 2008…casting decisions which worked out pretty well. A good friend of Reel Speak often says that Batman is a complex and interesting enough character that it can survive several versions and reboots. Since Keaton brought us the eccentric and Christian Bale brought us the mood, the stage is set for Affleck to take the big-screen Dark Knight into new territory. It’s obviously much too early to pass final judgment, but the Bat Signal is far from dim.

The Batman/Superman team-up is being directed by Zack Snyder (MAN OF STEEL, WATCHMEN, 300), and is slated for a July 2015 release date.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The idea behind director David Lowery’s AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is to make a film which feels like it fell out of the lyrics of an old folk ballad; the type you would sing around a campfire with a full moon overhead and coyotes howling in the distant dark. It is the type of ballad which tells a story of love vs. woe and life vs. death…designed to leave you with a sense of longing and fulfillment at the same time.
In 1970’s Texas, Bob (Casey Affleck) and his pregnant wife Ruth (Rooney Mara) are a husband-and-wife team of outlaws who are caught by the law. Bob goes to prison and breaks out four years later, and begins a dangerous trek across the country to see his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Ruth is looked over by Bob’s father (Keith Carradine) and Officer Patrick, a policeman she once shot (Ben Foster).

The plot of SAINTS is very simple; one desperate man trying to get back to his family. Underneath that is a slight web of deception, as Ruth hides the fact from Patrick that she was the one who shot him. For all its simplicity, SAINTS works remarkably well because of how raw and real it all feels. The performances are tempered to the point where they feel like a hidden camera did all the work; nothing is overblown with drama or excessive scoring and unfolds naturally. The film unfolds slowly, letting characters be themselves and the narrative go at its own pace. There is a silent tension that tightens throughout SAINTS, one that you don’t even notice until it is on top of you.
Director David Lowery has crafted a beautiful looking film. It can be a certain thing that no studio-type lighting was used during shooting. Everything and everyone are lit with natural or conventional household lights; sunlight by dawn or dusk, streetlights and ambient glows from tiny lamps. It adds an incredible lushness and natural beauty to the film and it is difficult to take your eyes away from it starting with the stunning opening shot. The great state of Texas has never looked better as Lowery exploits every ounce of beauty out of the skies and countryside. His camera always composes shots as if they were in a painting trying to capture Americana, giving the film a classic and timeless feel.

Acting is top-notch. Casey Affleck plays the love-sick criminal perfectly; nailing a delicate balance between a good man inside who does bad stuff on the outside. Rooney Mara is beautiful and tragic all in one glance, and continues her reputation as a chameleon of an actress; seamlessly blending into her character and disappearing into the story. Ben Foster is a tad underused but his performance is fine, as is the supporting cast of Keith Carradine and Nate Parker.
The finale, like any good ballad, ends on a tragic note and may be disappointing to some audiences, but considering where the film was headed throughout; it makes sense and works for the story. AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a film about a lot of things; love, loyalty, friendship…and it paints them all beautifully with a tender yet visible touch on a magnificent canvas. This is the fine art of filmmaking on full display.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Elmore Leonard: 1925-2013

American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard has died as the age of 87.
After specializing as an Old West novelist in the 1950’s, Leonard went on to be a master of crime and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into films.

Some of his best known works are GET SHORTY (1995), OUT OF SIGHT (1998), JACKIE BROWN (1997), 3:10 TO YUMA (1957 and 2007), and the current TV series on the FX Network, JUSTIFIED. Overall, twenty-six of his works have been adapted for the screen; 19 motion pictures and seven television programs.
With the movies having the power to have such a strong visual impact, it is easy to overlook the basis for all those visuals...the written word. Elmore Leonard was a master of the written word. He wrote thrilling stories with real characters, and his absence will be felt on the screen and the blank page.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Packing your film with a large ensemble cast can be a double-edged sword. Having strong actors to sell your story is a must, but at the same time you need to balance the storytelling so it just doesn’t look like a long line of celebrities playing historical figures. Such is the task for director Lee Daniels and his historical/biographical drama, THE BUTLER.
Based on a true story, Cecil (Forest Whitaker) witnesses the civil rights movement in America while serving as a White House butler over three decades, including the Presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Richard Nixon (John Cusack), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber), and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman).

THE BUTLER is seen through Cecil’s eyes, and through him we witness the turbulent and historical civil rights movement in America. Cecil is an observer as he watches President after President struggle with the racial strife in the country. The message of racism-is-bad hangs heavily over the film. Director Lee Daniels dances a fine line between heavy messaging and storytelling, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the racial problems in America are an important part of the story. Historical events are not re-created verbatim, but instead we are treated to the private and intimate aftermaths of the big events; one scene in particular, when Cecil is serving distraught Jackie Kennedy just moments after JFK’s assassination, is masterful and heart wrenching at the same time.
Beyond that, THE BUTLER also manages to evolve into a father-son story. Cecil’s son Louis (David Oyelowo) takes the opposite path of his father; while Cecil serves The (white) Man, Louis rebels against it by marching in protests and joining the Black Panthers. There is a strong contrast between father and son which makes for some explosive family drama. This is the heart and soul of THE BUTLER amidst all of the history and it works very well.

Lee Daniels direction offers a quiet and intimate look at every character in the large cast. The ensemble is never distracting, as Daniels uses every important character as a bookmark in the large amount of history the film has to get through. For as good as the editing is, Daniels still could have done some trimming; some scenes at Cecil’s home ramble on way too long with no point, and a wedged-in love affair sub-plot goes nowhere with no consequence.
Forest Whitaker is incredible throughout and has never been better. He is surprisingly matched well with Oprah Winfrey (who plays his wife); Winfrey is the real surprise of the film as she convincingly plays a character and not herself. The cast of the historical figures are tricky to judge because they can easily be divided into two groups. One group looks like the historical figures but sound nothing like them; Robin Williams’ Eisenhower and Alan Rickman’s Reagan fall into that category. The other group of actors sound a lot like their real-life characters but look nothing like them; John Cusack’s Nixon, James Marsden’s JFK, and Liev Schreiber’s LBJ fall into that lot. The division forces the audience to really use their imagination when watching them on-screen. Jane Fonda’s Nancy Reagan is probably the only one who gets the right balance, while Nelsan Ellis is horribly miscast as Martin Luther King Jr. The rest of the cast, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, and Vanessa Redgrave are all superb. Mariah Carey shows up for five seconds and thankfully doesn’t get to say any lines.

The finale beats you over the head with its pointed messaging and feels a little preachy, but in the grand scheme of things it works because it is a logical place for the story and characters to go. Overall Lee Daniels has crafted a fine balance between historical and human drama in THE BUTLER…one that will serve us well for many years to come.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Reel Review: KICK-ASS 2

Director Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the popular comic KICK-ASS was one of the pleasantly surprising hits of 2010. Telling the tale of a teenager who adapts a superhero-persona (without having any powers or skills at all), the film was a big ball of fun while poking fun at superhero clichés, and putting together a decent coming-of-age tale at the same time. Here in 2013, a new director (Jeff Wadlow) tackles the sequel/adaptation, KICK-ASS 2.
Set not long after the events of the first film, high school students Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his friend Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) continue to masquerade as costumed superheroes. They inspire others to do the same, including Col. Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). All is right with the world until their old classmate Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) takes on the persona of a super-villain with the intentions of taking revenge on Kick Ass.

KICK-ASS 2 sets up a strong stage of teenage problems mixed with superhero issues and takes the characters to logical places from the first film. Once the stage is set however, the film dives into familiar territory that has been seen millions of times before. Where the first film made fun of the superhero cliché, KICK-ASS 2 embraces them and becomes a predictable, by-the-numbers super-film with characters struggling with their dual identities. Fans of the genre may enjoy it, but anyone looking for a bit more originality will be instantly bored.
Director Jeff Wadlow directs some fun action scenes and capitalizes on a lot of superhero themes, but for the most part he directs a narrative mess. The film is all over the place as it bounces from one character to another with no real connective tissue. Wadlow shows a shocking lack of cinematic maturity; not just because of the swearing, teenage-shit jokes and bloodshed…but because he has shot a film which looks like it could have been done by a high schooler. The pacing is uneven, the editing is sluggish, and the dialogue blurts out character traits instead of letting them develop naturally.

Acting is the high point of the film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson continues to impress and does some pretty good physical work here too. The real stars of the film are Jim Carrey and Chloe Grace-Moretz. Carrey lights up the screen every time he appears, but he is sadly underutilized. Chloe Grace-Moretz literally steals the show. Her scenes are fun and her character is the only one who goes through any sort of arc; It takes about ten minutes to realize that KICK-ASS 2 would have been better off as a Hit-Girl solo film.
KICK-ASS 2 seems to be relying upon everyone to have a really good time from all the zany violence, gore, harsh language, and ridiculous action sequences. Despite the intentions of any movie to be silly, it still needs to do its job of being a good movie. You can be silly-fun and tell a good story at the same time, but KICK-ASS 2 fumbles every opportunity. Fans of the comic will lap this up, but other than that, reserve this one for the 15-year old skateboarders who have hit their heads too many times.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Messaging in the Movies

This past weekend, director Neill Blomkamp’s second feature film, ELYSIUM, was released in theaters. Despite mixed reviews, the film was good enough to win the weekend Box Office. Through all the film’s goodness, badness, and ugliness, audiences seemed to zero in on the themes that Blomkamp used as a backdrop for his film. Similar to his Oscar-nominated DISTRICT 9 (2009), the South African director used themes of social divide and apartheid to help tell his story. The usage of these themes was what people seemed to focus on; not so much the side Blomkamp took, but the fact that the themes were there to push a message.

Using movies to push a message goes back decades. Industry pioneer Samuel Goldwyn once remarked, “When I want to deliver a message, I’ll send for a Western Union boy”. His famous quote came not long after legendary director Frank Capra’s LADY FOR A DAY (1933) took a strong look at the still-fresh Great Depression. Goldwyn however, perhaps realizing the power the relatively-new medium of film held, would seemingly come around to a different way of thinking; his 1946 film THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was set in the framework of the important issue of WWII veterans returning home… thus kicking-off decades upon decades of films created not only to entertain, but to educate in some way about an idea, theme, propaganda, point-of-view, or social significance. Anti-Semitism was the centerpiece of GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT in 1947. In 1948 ALL MY SONS looked at war profiteering, and in that same year STATE OF THE UNION tackled political corruption. In 1962, the adaptation of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD looked at race relations, and the film went on to become one of the best of all time.

Despite all the precedent and success, audiences still seem to get polarized over themes and messages in their films. This Blogger would argue that every movie is centered on at least one theme or message, controversial or not. Consider THE GODFATHER (loyalty), STAR WARS (accepting destiny), TOY STORY (friendship), JAWS (fear), WALL STREET (greed), THERE WILL BE BLOOD (power)…it doesn’t matter if these themes are political or at the forefront of the news headlines, because they are still very human elements that every film needs.

Of course, some filmmakers set out with the strict intention of pushing agendas. Directors like Spike Lee and Michael Moore sacrifice a lot to get messages across. Whether or not they have been successful in their agenda-pushing is debatable, but they have certainly stirred up people’s emotions nearly every time out, and that is something every filmmaker should be striving to do.

The backlash against ELYSIUM, and messages-in-movies seems to get back to the original question Goldwyn seemed to wrestle with all those years ago; is the purpose of film to entertain, or educate? The question is the exact same issue TV broadcast pioneer Edward R. Murrow was entrenched in for years. When Murrow’s bosses at CBS wanted entertainment programming, he responded by giving hard-hitting, truth-telling shows with the intention to educate, inspire, and do some good. Television, like the movies, are powerful tools because of their usage of sights and sound. Both mediums can entertain and educate at the same time. It really isn’t too much to ask for, or to be accepting of both…just as long as the messaging doesn’t overshadow or derail the storytelling.

What say you?

Monday, August 12, 2013


Woody Allen’s films of the past decade have centered around romantic comedy with a sprinkle of self-professing philosophical views on life. In his latest offering, the 77-year old filmmaker shows that he still has the knack for the serious stuff by way of his dramatic and tragic BLUE JASMINE.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a rich socialite living a life of privilege in NYC. When her equally-rich husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to jail for tax evasion, she is forced to move to San Francisco penniless and on the verge of another nervous breakdown, and has to move in with her estranged middle-class sister (Sally Hawkins).

BLUE JASMINE starts off with a bit of a mystery, slowly and carefully setting up Jasmine’s predicament in a way that makes us eager to find out just how she got into the situation she’s in. The film then dives into a clever and well-executed non-linear narrative, using flashbacks to tell her story. The flashbacks are intercut very well; they come at just the right time and are written right into the present goings-on perfectly. It is a fascinating watch, and from minute one you are board with Jasmine as her story from the past unfolds and her present story moves in unexpected directions.
Perhaps the real magic in the film is that Woody Allen somehow makes Jasmine, who is really a spoiled and unlikeable character, very human. It’s rare that a scene takes place without her, and we can’t take our eyes off her as she tiptoes around a nervous breakdown. Allen keeps the pacing brisk and humor light, and for all its tragedy and explosive family drama, BLUE JASMINE is a very enjoyable watch. If the film has any flaw it’s when Allen veers away from his main character’s story to pay some attention to the other players. It’s an odd decision considering the weight the Jasmine character has in the film, and a little bit of trimming could have went a long way.

Cate Blanchett is nothing short of outstanding, and it just may be her best performance to date. She is asked to convey an incredible range of emotions throughout the film, and she is mesmerizing in every frame. Her character is constantly on a slow boil, and we just can’t wait to see what she will do next. Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin are faced with the task of keeping up with Cate, but manage not to get lost or forgotten in the film. Smaller roles held down by Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale, and a very surprisingly good Andrew Dice Clay make this one of the strongest casts Woody Allen has ever had the pleasure to direct.
The finale may frustrate few as many characters don’t quite come to a resolution to all of their problems (and they have a lot), but where we leave the story makes sense logically and thematically. Despite a few bumps, Woody Allen has crafted a fine character study and an important story, one that should be relevant for years to come.


Friday, August 9, 2013

A Reel Review: ELYSIUM

In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp blew audiences away with his sci-fi thriller DISTRICT 9, which also served as his statement on social divide and racism. Here in 2013, Blomkamp once again uses a similar backdrop to fuel his newest Earth-bound sci-fi film, ELYSIUM.
In the year 2154, the rich and famous live on a space station called Elysium, which is free from disease and poverty and can cure any ailment with its technology. The rest of civilization lives on the diseased and devastated planet Earth as third-class citizens. Max (Matt Damon) is a factory-worker/ex-con who gets infected with a deadly virus. He hooks up with his old prison mates to make a run at Elysium, which is protected by a power-hungry defense secretary (Jodie Foster) and her mad-dog bounty hunter (Sharlto Copley).

ELYSIUM spends a lot of time setting up Max’s back-story and character, which is mostly centered on his childhood friend (played as an adult by Alice Braga). Once things get rolling and the plot tries to escape the confines of Earth, ELYSIUM suddenly becomes sci-fi for dummies. Plot points and character motivations are spelled out bluntly and with a heavy-hand, and then repeated over and over as if the audience were a bunch of third-graders in need of repetition. With so much repetitiveness and blunt storytelling, the film loses its rhythm and flow, and ultimately its own heartbeat. It doesn’t take long before you realize ELYSIUM isn’t a very fun place to be.
There are still some good elements to enjoy from a sci-fi perspective. Director Neill Blomkamp has shot a visually stunning film; everything from the Earth-bound slums to the beauty of outer-space are presented in breathtaking visuals. The sci-fi tech is probably the real star of the show; everything from robots, aerial vehicles, weapons, bio-mechanical suits, to computers are impressive and put to good use. As impressive as the visuals are Blomkamp seems to forget to drive home the point of why Earth is such a terrible place to live; we are simply told and that makes things less desperate. Action scenes are decent to very good, although some suffer from way too much goddamn shaky-cam.

Acting is mixed bag. Matt Damon does for the most part OK, but he never seems to get it out of first gear. Sharlto Copley is the most entertaining out of it all; again showing great range as his savage character is a real force to be reckoned with. Copley however too often falls into a cartoon character and his monologues are border-line laughable. The real head-scratcher of the film belongs to Jodie Foster, whose stupid character could have been played by anybody considering how little of an impact she has. She also has a bizarre accent which is an odd combination of South African and French and also manages to disappear now and then.
The finale wraps things up nice and tight and suddenly turns what was a very personal story for Max into a much wider, global-impacting event. By then it is too late, because when the smoke clears you can’t help but to think that ELYSIUM is a missed opportunity to create an important, thinking-man’s sci-film. Its ambition shoots for the skies, but only makes it so far.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Reel Facts on ELYSIUM

Despite the fact that there are only a few weeks left in the Summer Movie Season, there is still enough time to squeeze in one more sci-fi thriller. This week, ELYSIUM makes earthfall, with Reel Speak setting the stage by way of the Frequently Asked Questions:

How the hell do you pronounce ELYSIUM? – It’s pronounced \i-li-zhe-um\. It comes from the Ancient Greek conception of the afterlife in which a realm (called Elysium), which is separate from Hades (hell) is a place reserved for mortals related to gods and other heroes. It eventually evolved to include those chosen by the gods, the righteous, and the heroic (remember that for the next question).

What in the Hades is this all about? – In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a high-tech space station called Elysium, which offers a utopian living for the super-rich with access to medicines which cure all disease, while everyone else lives on the overpopulated and disease-ridden ruined planet Earth. The main character in the film has a deadly virus and has only five days to find a way to get to Elysium for a cure.

Who is directing this? – ELYSIUM is directed by Neill Blomkamp, who last brought us the Oscar-nominated DISTRICT 9 in 2009.

Who are the actors? – ELYSIUM stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and DISTRICT 9 alum Sharlto Copley.

What’s the big deal? – ELYSIUM stands out amidst the typical Hollywood release due to its originality. It is not based on a book, comic book, graphic novel, or stone tablet. It is not a remake or reboot of an existing property. It is an original tale based on an original idea. Films based on original ideas offer more opportunity for debate, discussion, and inspiration for some original thought of our own. This is where the fun begins.


ELYSIUM opens on August 9th in 2D and 2D IMAX and is rated R.






Monday, August 5, 2013


The filmmakers behind the sci-fi exploration film EUROPA REPORT deserve major credit for putting forth such an earnest effort in their presentation. Working closely with NASA engineers, director Sebastian Cordero and his crew sought to put together one of the most realistic and accurate representations of deep-space travel. That is the backdrop for the story of EUROPA REPORT; a story which falls less than a light-year short of its presentation.
When unmanned probes suggest that an ocean underneath the surface of Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) may contain life, a privately funded space exploration company sends six astronauts out to discover the truth.

The framework of EUROPA REPORT is a post-mission report by the Earth-bound support team who guide us through the steps of the mission. They do so by presenting us footage from the seemingly millions of surveillance cameras and flight recorders all over the ship. It’s essentially BLAIR WITCH in space, and for the most part it works. Director Sebastian Cordero comes up with clever methods and reasons for cameras and recorders to be present, and there is never a moment when you are second-guessing why a camera would be there capturing everything. Cordero fills the lens with some stunning cinematography, and a few sequences including a harrowing spacewalk and a nail-biting landing are superb. Overall, the presentation of EUROPA REPORT is solid and never leaves any gaps.
However, the gaps that do appear are in the film’s overall story. With such a limited frame for our brave characters to explore, there is no room for any real drama or character development. Dialogue is limited to mission parameters or scientific jargon, and nobody is given the chance to engage each other to any sort of conflict or drama. We eventually find out that characters are feeling the pressure of a year-long voyage because they stare at the camera and tell us…revealing a very weak script and a paper-thin A to Z story with very little meat on the bone. The thin plot is familiar enough to become frustratingly predictable as things eventually go awry and crew members begin to bite the dust one-by-one.

Acting is a tad frustrating because everyone does very well with their limited material, and you can’t help to feel that you would have liked to have seen them do more. The cast is mostly unknown, with Sharlto Copley being the biggest name. Copley winds up criminally underused and might as well have stayed on Earth. The rest of the cast, including Christain Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, and Dan Fogler are all fine.
The finale wraps up the thin plot nice and tight and brings about a clever resolution to the overall mission. It unfortunately can be seen from a lunar mile away, and loses a lot of impact after the reveal. It’s difficult to be so harsh on EUROPA REPORT because of the effort put forth to stay real in this current age of spectacle-heavy filmmaking, but ultimately the film proves that your content has to live up to your presentation.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Year in Film 2013: Episode VII

Believe it or not, the Summer Movie Season of 2013 is entering its final month. For movie lovers August is looking mighty good; packed tight with films from nearly every genre.
Things get a’blazing with…

2 GUNS – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star as two undercover officers who unknowingly investigate the same crime together. Bill Paxton stars as the Big Bad in this crime thriller directed by Baltasar Kormakur (CONTRABAND)
EUROPA REPORT – This highly-anticipated sci-fi flick has been wildly praised for its scientific, space-bound accuracy. Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9, THE A-TEAM) leads a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons in this thriller directed by Sebastian Cordero.

ELYSIUM – Not to be outdone by missions to space, this sci-fi thriller directed by Neil Blomkamp (DISTRICT 9) is a futuristic Earth-bound thriller in which society is split in half; the poor folk live on Earth, the rich snobs live on a massive and luxurious space station. Stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and Sharlto Copley.
PLANES – Disney sets flight with a spin-off of a Pixar movie (CARS), without Pixar. This animated film involving talking aircraft stars the voices of Dane Cook, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Brad Garrett, and Stacy Keach.

LOVELACE – Amanda Seyfried (LES MISERABLES, MOMMA MIA) stars as 1970’s porn-queen Linda Lovelace in this story about the coming of the most famous porn film ever made…DEEP THROAT. Co-stars Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, James Franco, Eric Roberts, Chloe Sevigny, and Robert Patrick.
IN A WORLD… - You know those voices you hear narrating movie trailers and previews? Ever notice that they’re never done by a female? That is the premise of this indie film starring and directed by Lake Bell, who plays a struggling female voice-artist trying to break into a male-dominated craft.

KICK-ASS 2 – The sequel to the smash 2010 psuedo-superhero hit has arrived with a new director (Jeff Wadlow), but with most of the original cast including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse…and newcomer to the franchise, Jim Carrey.
PARANOIA – Shot in and around Philadelphia  (read about it here) this corporate-thriller stars Liam Hemsworth (brother of Thor) and Amber Heard…who are joined by Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfus.

jOBS – This oft-delayed biopic on Steve Jobs finally gets a release. Ashton Kutchner stars as Steve Jobs.
THE BUTLER – This ensemble piece stars Forest Whitaker as a White House butler who serves eight American Presidents over three decades. Whitaker is joined by Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, Lenny Kravitz, and Oprah Winfrey. It is directed by Lee Daniels, who last gave us the Oscar-nominated PRECIOUS in 2009.

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS – This 1970’s set film is a romantic story following three characters on various sides of the law. Stars Rooney Mara (SOCIAL NETWORK, GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster.
THE FROZEN GROUND – Nicolas Cage (remember him?) is an Alaskan State Trooper trying to stop the murderous rampage of a serial killer, played by John Cusack. Based on a true story.

THE WORLD’S END – This is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s trilogy of comedies starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, with the first two being SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. In this colorful yarn, five friends seek to complete a pub crawl before the pending Armageddon destroys the world. Co-stars Martin Freeman (THE HOBBIT), Bill Nighy, Pierce Brosnan, and Rosamund Pike.
I DECLARE WAR – This highly-regarded indie film has made waves in festivals all year long and finally sees the light of day in limited release. It tells the story of a group of 12-year olds engaged in a lively game of Capture the Flag.

YOU’RE NEXT – Being heralded as one of the most terrifying horror films in years, YOU’RE NEXT puts a fresh twist on the home-invasion genre. Directed by Adam Wingard (VHS, VHS2)

Next month, Reel Speak previews the first month of Oscar (!) season.