Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Picks, Part 2

The 86th Academy Awards are fast approaching, and in this 2nd Part of Oscar Picks, this Blogger will look at the elemental categories of filmmaking. This is a very interesting year which should prove the theory that you don’t have to dominate every category to be a Best Picture, you just have to dominate the right ones.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Starting with the least-favored to win, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS was a palms-up action film with not much going on underneath, while WOLF OF WALL STREET had too much happening. PHILOMENA and BEFORE MIDNIGHT are dialogue-heavy films and worthy of a look, but 12 YEARS A SLAVE has the most human story. Plus, for an adaptation going through known history, it never ceases to surprise or amaze.

Winner: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Original Screenplay

AMERICAN HUSTLE is the least original of this category; based on true events the writers had less to create. NEBRASKA is wonderfully written but could have used a better ending/climax. BLUE JASMINE and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB are both very strong character pieces, but HER shines above all here. It lives and succeeds around the most difficult aspect of screenwriting: dialogue…and HER has the best spoken words of the year; powerful and memorable.

Winner: HER

Best Editing

This is an often overlooked category when it should receive the most attention. Two-thirds of the 85 Best Picture winners have won this category, which includes six of the last ten. AMERICAN HUSTLE had a unique style, but this Blogger had a tough time finding its rhythm. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS required less work as an action flick, and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB was more about its performances. GRAVITY did the best job of creating tension, but 12 YEARS A SLAVE displayed the mature discipline that many filmmakers spend their entire lives trying to capture. Many films tend to over-cut, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE was smart enough to know when not to cut and let things evolve naturally.

Winner: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Director

David O’Russell (AMERICAN HUSTLE) directed four people to acting nominations, which is impressive, but he did the same thing last year and could not take a win in this category…it seems his cast does most of the work for him. Alexander Payne did a wonderful job in NEBRASKA, but again, could have done better with the finale. Martin Scorsese’s WOLF OF WALL STREET is a great ride, but lacks the finesse this category tends to look for. Steve McQueen displayed the aforementioned filmmaking maturity which is an important point, but the grand vision of Alfonso Cuaron cannot be ignored. It is one thing to have a great idea and vision, but to actually pull it off with effect…that’s another. GRAVITY broke new ground, and it all came from one man’s mind. Also look for GRAVITY to clean house in the technical categories.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron

Best Picture

If you don’t get recognized for Best Editing, you’re highly unlikely to win the big tamale. That puts WOLF OF WALL STREET, PHILOMENA, HER, and NEBRASKA out of the upper-tier.  Looking at the rest…CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is too straightforward, and while AMERICAN HUSTLE and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB have a presence in all the right categories and will win some acting awards, they are both up against two superior films which stand at the top. Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY is a grand technical achievement; a visual masterpiece which will change a lot of filmmaking techniques moving forward, but its light story is its one chink. That leaves the magnificent and moving 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Even if you don’t hold to the process-of-elimination approach, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is historically significant and required viewing despite its harsh content. Similar to Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLERS LIST, this film boldly and effectively pulls back the curtain on an era the world would rather forget, but never forgets the human side of it.

Winner: 12 YEARS A SLAVE


The Oscars will be awarded March 2nd.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Picks, Part 1

In this first part of Oscar Picks for the upcoming 86th Academy Awards, this Blogger will make selections in the acting categories.
Best Actress

For the second year in a row, director David O’Russell has directed actors to nominations in all four acting categories. His AMERICAN HUSTLE is an acting powerhouse, which makes Amy Adams a visible favorite. Adams however has plenty of company; Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, and Meryl Streep are all veterans of the screen with plenty of Oscar experience. Bullock has the disadvantage of a light script to work with, although her role required a lot of physical work. It feels like Dench and Streep’s nominations were obligatory, which leaves Adams vs. Blanchett. Both actresses had accents to work with, but Blanchett’s character constantly teetered upon a nervous breakdown which was unsettling for the viewer to see, and she clearly had to dig deeper.
Winner: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actress
Simply put, Jennifer’s Lawrence’s performance in AMERICAN HUSTLE stands tall above her competition in this category. Lawrence had to work with an accent, play a half-insane character, and had to find a way to stand out in a film populated with veteran acting heavyweights; she had the most work to do out of everyone in this category. And looking at the big picture, AMERICAN HUSTLE, despite its many nominations, is unlikely to win in any other acting category. A movie powered by so much good acting has to win at least one, and this is the most likely.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor

What exactly is acting? It’s difficult to define, but perhaps the best work is done when a person plays a character which is their total opposite in real life. This is where Jared Leto’s performance as a transgendered woman in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB steps in. Leto not only had to be a man playing a woman, but he had to play a character with a terminal disease with a constant hopelessness. There was an aura of sadness around the character which is hard to forget, and he had the most layered character of the year to inhabit.
Winner: Jared Leto

Best Actor
If Oscar history has proven one thing, it’s that the Academy loves actors who drastically change their bodies for their art. That puts Christian Bale of AMERICAN HUSTLE and Matthew McConaughey of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB in the front seat of this category. Bale removed his Bruce Wayne muscles and perfect hair for a blob of a beer-gutted belly and a balding head hidden by the worst combover in history, while McConaughey dropped the pounds to turn himself into a diseased waif. Bale hid his accent well and McConaughey hit the southern twang just right. Bale had the more interesting character, while McConaughey’s was the one we felt the most sorry for and he had to work harder to sell his plight. Aside from the physical transformation, McConaughey seemed to vanish inside his role a little bit more, and his scene inside of a car when he has an emotional breakdown is clearly the acting highlight of the year. McConaughey by a nose.

Winner: Matthew McConaughey

In Part 2, it’s all about the movies. The Oscars will be awarded March 2nd.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis 1944-2014

Harold Ramis; actor, writer, director, ghostbuster…has passed away at the age of 69.
For more than 40 years, Harold Ramis was a leader in comedy. A veteran of the Second City Troupe in Chicago, he was a writer for SCTV and wrote or co-wrote comedy classics such as ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), MEATBALLS (1979), CADDYSHACK (1980), STRIPES (1981), GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), and ANALYZE THIS (1999). He was a frequent collaborator with director Ivan Reitman, and actors Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

When he wasn’t writing, Ramis was an accomplished director. His directing credits include CADDYSHACK, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983), GROUNDHOG DAY, ANALYZE THIS, and THE ICE HARVEST (2005). He occasionally stepped in front of the camera to act, most notably playing Bill Murray’s opposite in STRIPES and two GHOSTBUSTERS films.
His work earned him a BAFTA Award in 1994 for Best Original Screenplay (GROUNDHOG DAY) and he was inducted into the American Screenwriters Association Hall of Fame in 2001.

As a writer, Harold Ramis had that talent for making us laugh while telling a story at the same time; a rare gift that is seldom seen today. As an actor, it was always a joy to see him play opposite Bill Murray in STRIPES and GHOSTBUSTERS; not only because he was funny, but because he was the perfect yin to Murray’s, and Dan Aykroyd’s yang. In STRIPES, where Murray was irresponsible and off-the-wall, Ramis was the straight-one. And in GHOSTBUSTERS, he was the scientific logic-minded one opposite the craziness of Murray and the child-like innocence of Aykroyd. Character opposites make for great drama and even better storytelling, and Ramis did it perfectly every time. This Blogger and his friends grew up watching GHOSTBUSTERS and STRIPES; instantly recognizing them as their importance as memorable and infinitely quotable films. Ramis was a big part of their successes, and an even bigger part in hearts of people who remember the laughs he brought to our lives. Perhaps what stings the most is that GHOSTBUSTERS and STRIPES were films that we always equated with fun, and now we'll see them with just a hint of sadness. We’ll see him on the other side. 


Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films

Making a short-film can be a tougher challenge than putting together a feature-length. Not only do you have to tell an effective story in a short amount of time, but you also have to find time for your characters. After all, characters make the stories matter. This year’s batch of Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts embraces that concept and embraces it well.
JUST BEFORE LOSING EVERYTHING – A wife and her kids tries to make their escape from an abusive husband. 

Serious in tone, this quick tale takes place in the wife’s place of work…a Wal-Mart type superstore where she and her kids must play a tense game of cat-and-mouse while the husband lurks about. There is a constant building up of tension throughout this film, with subtle yet effective hints to the background of the characters and how they got to their dangerous predicament. No abuse is ever shown, but the effect can be seen right away on the characters.
THE VOORMAN PROBLEM – Martin Freeman (THE HOBBIT) plays a psychiatrist who visits and parlays with an asylum inmate who claims that he’s God (Tom Hollander, of THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN).

There is probably no better plot than a well-to-do person trying to get through the complex skull of a lunatic…especially when the lunatic understands things better than the good doctor, and that is the heart and soul of THE VOORMAN PROBLEM. The face-offs between Freeman and Hollander are a marvel to sit through, as they are well acted and directed and slowly builds up to a mind-blowing conclusion. Great potential for a feature film here.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING? – A traditional family of four faces one disaster after another trying to make a family wedding on time. 

The plot for this fun little romp is paper-thin, but what makes it tick is how the personalities of the characters shine through so quickly. The pitfalls and roadblocks the family goes through in trying to get out of the house and make a bus on time are hilarious because every family in the real world has probably faced them at one time or another. It feels a lot like a TV sitcom episode, and that’s OK.
THAT WASN’T ME – A Spanish couple on a peacekeeping/medical mission to South Africa gets hijacked by child soldiers. 

This is an intense and brutal look at ten-year old kids who are being trained to kill in cold-blood with machine guns. We don’t feel too much for the characters as none of them last very long through all the bloodshed, but what makes this film work is the situation the kids are in; it is tough to hate them for being cold-blood killers when we see the upbringing and environment they were brought up in…they never really had a choice. For all the brutality it has, the ending is very heart-warming.
HELIUM – A hospital janitor befriends a young, dying boy. As their friendship grows, the janitor must complete a story before the boy’s time runs out. 

A visual stunner, HELIUM is all about the power of imagination and storytelling, and how those things can free your mind from the pain and suffering in the real world. As the child’s mind goes to fantastic places, the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred, and the ending is a magical one which will make the heart soar. Best potential for a feature.


The Oscars will be awarded March 2nd.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

As usual, this year’s nominees for Best Animated Short Film are a great variety of animation styles and storytelling. This very strong category has films with eye-popping visuals to support some excellent storytelling.
MR. HUBLOT – A withdrawn, half-robot character with OCD qualities has his life of routine upset when he adopts a robot-dog as a pet. 

The real star of MR. HUBLOT is the world the characters inhabit. Created by CGI, the mechanical world seems cobbled together from odds and ends and it is a pleasure to spend some time there. Despite the thin plot, MR. HUBLOT finishes strong with a heartwarming finale…giving great irony of finding a heartbeat in a mechanical world.
ROOM ON THE BROOM – Based on a children’s book, this CGI animated film is about a witch who takes on companions (dog, cat, bird, frog) as she flies around on her broom. 

Narrated by Simon Pegg in prose, BROOM is a real charmer and the type of story you would share with younglings in teaching them the value of friendship and sharing. Although it has the least potential to be a feature film, it is the most memorable.
FERAL – This rough-texture film is about a boy who was raised in the woods by wolves being taken in by a city man. 

Done with no dialogue and a monochromatic, sketch-style of animation, FERAL is a creepy romp which haunts more than it entertains.
POSSESSION – This Japanese film is about an 18th century traveler who enters a shack in the woods and finds it to contain more than meets the eye.

This ambiguous tale is packed with a whole-lot of weirdness; complete with dancing frogs and psychedelic walls. Done in traditional, 3D hand-drawn animation, the visuals are outstanding and more than make up for the thin plot.
GET A HORSE! – In a clever mesh of two different styles of animation, Disney’s Mickey Mouse battles an old enemy to rescue his love, Minnie. 

This gem begins as a homage to Disney’s very first black-and-white era of cartoons, before the characters literally bust out of the screen and into a colored, 3D world. It is an absolute delight; full of charm, wit, and the most fun to be had in a short amount of time.

The Oscars will be awarded March 2nd.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Reel Review: ROBOCOP

A science-fiction film can take on many forms, but in the end, it must always come back to the human side of things. No matter how far-out the technology, or how fantastical the environment may be, a good sci-fi flick must never forget about the human face and heart in the story. Such is the task of Jose Padilha’s ROBOCOP.

After getting blown to bits by a drug dealer, street cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is given a robot-body by a military-drone corporation led by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and is cared for by genius prosthetic-limb doctor, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman).

ROBOCOP at its core is essentially another shot at FRANKENSTEIN; a human being cobbled together to become something not-so human. It’s always good territory to explore, but director Jose Padilha takes that element and surrounds it with a whole-lotta movie; subplots involving corporate greed, family matters, medicinal ethics, global politics, crooked cops, and a murder mystery…and that’s just for starters. With so much going on it often feels like several different movies are going on at once. When a film tries to be about too many things, it can often wind up being about nothing. There’s a lack of focus in ROBOCOP and this is where the human element of the story gets lost.

The many plots that Padilha is working with are serviceable in broad strokes only. The film never gets boring and holds interest, but the many good ideas are never explored past face-value. We’re told and shown one thing and then move on, and it often feels like the filmmakers shot the first draft-summary of the script. The pacing is brisk and the humor is well-timed, but the film keeps screeching to a halt when Padilha inserts these annoying TV-show segments which serve a purpose of re-capping the events that are going on. It’s fine at first, but eventually becomes redundant and takes you out of the movie.

Padilha shows great talent in directing action sequences. There is no over-use of the goddamn shaky-cam technique and you can always clearly see what is going on. There is always a great sense of place and geography and they never lose any sense of fun. Some great creativity is inserted into some battle scenes…a shootout in a pitch-black hallway using only muzzle-flares for lighting is nothing short of outstanding. Visual effects are awesome; the robot-drones are eye-popping, and a few sequences which show Robocop’s innards are horrifying and stunning to see.

Acting is very good. Joel Kinnaman has to spend most of the film in a metal suit which requires him to do most of the work with his face and eyes…and he hits every beat of horror and torment perfectly. Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are their usual brilliant selves, and the scenes between them generate cinematic fireworks every time. Samuel L. Jackson is also great, but as the TV personality of those intrusive re-cap segments, he could have easily stayed home. The rest of the cast which includes Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, and Jackie Earle Haley are all fine.

After dancing around so many plotlines and themes, the film throws its hands up in the air for the finale and turns into a standard action-flick with resolutions which can be seen coming from a mile away, and oddly enough, with everything the film has going on, by the time the credits roll it doesn’t feel like very much happened. ROBOCOP is a serviceable and entertaining sci-fi flick; it’s just too bad more time wasn’t spent polishing the confused and un-focused script.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Reel Birthday

This month marks the 4th anniversary of Reel Speak.

Reel Speak was created on a foundation of love for the movies; a torrid and heated love affair which began in a darkened theatre in the spring or summer of 1977. In 2010, this Blogger decided to share that passion for film with friends, family, fellow-moviegoers, newcomers, and whoever else happened to come along. Sharing that passion has always been a driving force behind Reel Speaks’ creed of Movies, Opinions, Education.

Although somewhat self-serving, this birthday is once again the perfect time to share this Blogger’s 20 reasons for loving the movies. This list of direct and indirect film references changes and evolves every year, but will always be the mechanism for what makes this humble Blogger tick; both online and off.


20. Because the trick is not minding that it hurts.
19. Because as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster.
18. Because a Jaguar Shark ate my best friend.
17. Because we will not walk in fear of one another.

16. Because of John Williams.
15. Because I have been, and always shall be your friend.
14. Because in space, no one can hear you scream.
13. Because Red October was hunted.
12. Because the only Virtue is Vengeance. A Vendetta.
11. Because Crom laughs at your four winds!

10. Because it’s a wonderful night for Oscar.
9. Because they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
8. Because Claire once wore angel wings.
7. Because no matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.

6. Because I will drink your milkshake.
5. Because if someone asks me if I’m a god, I say yes.
4. Because they needed a bigger boat.
3. Because there had to be snakes.
2. Because the Fellowship will not fail.
1. Because of what happened on May 25, 1977.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple: 1928-2014

Shirley Temple…film icon, movie pioneer, and former child star, has passed away at 85.

After taking singing and dancing lessons at the age of three, Shirley Temple made her debut in the short film BABY BURLESKS in 1933, in which she astounded the film world by accurately impersonating established stars such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. One year later she stole the heart of the world in BRIGHT EYES, with her tap-dancing and singing performance of Good Ship Lollipop. The performance set an internal image of herself which would last for eight decades. She would earn a special Oscar in 1934 and then go on to star in tailor-made vehicles such as CURLY TOP (1935), THE LITTLE COLONEL (1935), DIMPLES (1936), and HEIDI (1937).

At the age of eight she was a number-one box office attraction, and one of the first, if not the youngest to ever be marketed via dolls, toys, and coloring books. Her popularity inspired rival studios to develop their own child stars. She would continue acting into her teens, with her most memorable role coming in John Ford’s FORT APACHE in 1947, alongside John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Her final film would be MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE (1949), before entering a short career in television. She would eventually move into politics; a move which would see her be appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.   

As a wee-lad growing up in the 1970’s, Shirley Temple was this Blogger’s first cinematic crush. Not only because she was dazzling, but because for this Blogger she was the first indication that not all movie stars were adults. Such an impression was made, that this Blogger always had to drink a (non-alc) Shirley Temple beverage (complete with cherries and a plastic sword), at the family’s favorite restaurant. Shirley Temple danced her way into every heart in the world, and it is no bad thing that her innocent smile and tiny dance-steps will forever be our lasting memory of her.

Monday, February 10, 2014


The Second World War is a point in time which will never, ever run out of stories to tell; the event was just too big which affected too many lives. Most of those stories we already now, some we don’t, and some are still yet to be discovered. Director George Clooney’s newest film, THE MONUMENTS MEN, seeks to detail and uncover one of the more obscure footnotes in WWII history; the recovery and rescue of stolen art from the Nazi’s.

In the waning days of WWII, the Nazi’s are under orders to steal and hide artwork; mostly valuable paintings and sculptures, for the purpose of Hitler’s planned art museum. As the war comes to a close, the German armies are under orders to torch that stolen art, and in a race against time, art professor Frank Stokes (George Clooney) assembles a team of fellow art historians and experts (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville) to rescue and return the art to the rightful owners. Disguised as American troops, the team is assisted by Claire (Cate Blanchett), an art curator once employed by the German army.

THE MONUMENTS MEN has a great start and shows promise as it hits on why it is so important to risk lives to save paintings and statues; saving the art means saving the culture and therefore preserving the future. The basic idea is great, but the film seems to rely on it way too much. The film does no work whatsoever in fleshing out the people who are saving, and dying for the art. The narrative is by-the-numbers, predictable, and insufferably dull. Characters say what they have to do and they go, while never once stopping to bring the audience in. It’s as hollow as a flower vase.

Every great war film succeeds on the strength of the characters, for every war throws together people from all walks of life into a horrible situation. Here, George Clooney fails miserably as not one character is developed past their name and occupation. There is no personality or heart to any one character; each one of them nothing more than a statue in an exhibit as they are nice to look at only.  We don’t care if they succeed or get blown up trying.

The style of the film is an odd balance of drama and comedy. It tries to do both with little success and the film leaves us with no real identity. It tries to be funny and dramatic and adventurous, but the characters and story are so flat it doesn’t succeed anywhere. Clooney also tries to adapt 1940’s styled-filmmaking…where everything from dialogue, delivery, music and pacing comes from a long-forgotten era of filmmaking where things are over-pronounced and heavy-handed. The look of the film is also dull; although it looks crisp and clean (maybe too clean), its cinematography does nothing eye-popping and like everything else, has no real signature.

Acting is a mixed bag as everyone does decently with the little that they have to work with. Cate Blanchett fares the best out of everyone; once again showing her great talent for accents. The biggest problem with the overall acting is that no one’s talent is capitalized on. John Goodman’s comic-timing, Matt Damon’s intensity, even Clooney’s own charisma is never tapped into. And worst of all, the great Bill Murray becomes the most boring person in the world.

THE MONUMENTS MEN doesn’t bother to raise the stakes or hit any sort of a pulse until the final 15 minutes…which by that time is way too late as the audience would have long-since checked out. THE MONUMENTS MEN may be effective in a 12th grade history class, but as a movie it deserves to be on the hot end of a flame-thrower.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Reel Review: KIDS FOR CASH

Making documentary films can be a tricky business. The first and foremost task of any doc is, obviously, to tell a story using the facts available, and preferably, without an ax to grind or an agenda to push. In telling that story, you still need to find a beginning, middle, end, a hero, and a villain. Considering the subject matter at hand in KIDS FOR CASH, this is a story which could practically tell itself…but director Robert May had other plans.
KIDS FOR CASH tells the story of two Pennsylvania judges who were accused, and convicted of accepting bribes and kickbacks for the jailing of juveniles for minor crimes.

KIDS FOR CASH begins as a standard doc. Its beginnings are humble as it shows the two judges rise to power thanks to their hard stance on juvenile crime. From there, it becomes clear that director Robert May wasn’t just interested in telling a standard A to B story. The film uses no narration, and instead relies on archival news footage and intimate interviews with the once-incarcerated kids, their families, lawyers, advocates, and the judges themselves. May uncovers the stories behind the story we already we knew, and the intimate interviews are never short of surprises or emotion. For as large as the story is, there are deeply personal stories to be told here which are gripping and heart-wrenching.
Every good story needs a villain, and here is where the two judges come in. Although the film takes no sides, the two judges seem to damn themselves with their own words as neither one shows any remorse for their actions. There is nothing more dangerous or fascinating than a villain who believes they are on the side of the right, and both former judges fit the bill perfectly. Considering the ramifications their actions had on young kids and their families, their defiant nature is enough to make an audience want to leap through the screen.

While director Robert May shows great skill in telling an emotional roller-coaster of a story, his craftsmanship stumbles a little bit. The story of the scandal’s beginnings and eventual uncovering is interspersed with the stories from the victims, and while those personal stories are vital, the film jumps all over the place in the timeline without leaving any placeholders for us to keep track of things; people not familiar with the scandal may be very confused as the film unfolds. But still, May has put together a beautiful looking film with excellent cinematography and a moving soundtrack. And by movie’s end, May manages to reveal a nation-wide problem without ever leaving the backyard of the film. It’s a clever bit of filmmaking as it stays factual without preaching.  
KIDS FOR CASH hits an emotional arc at the back end of the former judges’ trial, as the mother of one of the victims confronts them face-to-face in a near Old West-standoff; it’s a perfect climax which is built-up nicely. By the time the somber finale rolls in, tears will be shed and outrage will be felt…a mark of great storytelling.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About THE MONUMENTS MEN

The first two months of the year are never expected to showcase anything great, but every once in a while you get a unique situation like THE MONUMENTS MEN; a film which was originally slated for a December 2013 release before being delayed, or perhaps exiled to Movie Siberia. Here is everything you need to know about the film:
Who is behind this? THE MONUMENTS MEN is directed by George Clooney, whose past directing efforts include the Oscar-darling GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, and the acclaimed THE IDES OF MARCH. It is being produced by Clooney’s frequent collaborator Grant Heslov, who produced last year’s Best Picture, ARGO, and this year’s acclaimed AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.

What’s it all about? Based on a true story, THE MONUMENTS MEN is about a WWII platoon who is cobbled together to rescue art masterpieces from the Nazi’s and return them to their rightful owners.
Who is in this? THE MONUMENTS MEN has an ensemble cast of Oscar winners and contenders; George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST), and veteran actor Bob Balaban (MOONRISE KINGDOM, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND).

What’s the catch? As stated, THE MONUMENTS MEN was slated for a December release with the intention of making a serious run at the Oscars. George Clooney then asked for more time for post-production due to the special effects not being ready.
Outlook: Clooney has assembled a great cast and dropped them into a backdrop which will never run out of stories, the Second World War. Everyone loves a good war film, and the unique mission of finding art pieces brings new territory we haven’t seen before. The move to the early months is a concern, as one has to wonder if there was more going on behind the scenes than just late visual-effects work. However, you have to hand it to Clooney and Heslov for putting their Oscar-egos and asking for the rare delay. The move to the early months of the year makes it highly unlikely to receive any awards attention when the voters begin filling out their ballots later on in the Fall. But It all makes THE MONUMENTS MEN the most interesting film in this early year.

THE MONUMENTS MEN opens February 7th.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Super Bowl Movie Trailers - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

With squillions of eyes on the small-screen for the event which is the Super Bowl, the Gods of the big-screen have an opportunity to showcase and tease their big releases for the upcoming year. With short(er) time limitations, the studios have their work cut out for them in achieving their ultimate goal, which is to sell their product. The ones who did it best are the ones who showed-off their product the most while debuting something new. Here are the good, the bad, and the glorious of Super Sunday’s movie trailers…
The Good

NEED FOR SPEED – This film, based on a video game, seems to be banking on the popularity of the FAST AND THE FURIOUS long-running franchise, so racing cars is all it wants to sell. What made this trailer work is that there was no music, and the editors used the revving of the car engines to create a great, energetic, and rhythmic sequence. Great editing here.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED – Who doesn’t love The Muppets?

The Bad
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 – Aside from the beginning and the end, this Spider-spot was mostly recycled material from the previous trailer. You would think that a big-nuts studio like Sony would show off their main superhero a little more. Lazy effort which had more explosions than content.

NO-SHOWS – You get negative points for not showing up. There were no trailers for the highly-anticipated X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, or GODZILLA.
The Glorious

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – By using the National Anthem as its music, the trailer for our favorite star-spangled hero aired just before the singing of said National Anthem, which makes it the most perfectly-timed effort of the night. There is a fair amount of mystery still surrounding the film’s plot, and the trailer managed to show off a lot without giving away too much.
TRANSORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION – If the task of a trailer is to sell its product by showing off and giving us new footage, then the trailer for the 4th robots-in-disguise movie nailed it. We were given a sizzle reel of special effects featuring fan-favorite robots doing (and riding) awesome things while making time for the human faces. It was fast, eye-popping, and gave the fans exactly what they want to see.

KURT RUSSELL LIVES – Not movie-trailer related at all, but the Broadcast Gods found a way to un-earth the great Kurt Russell from his semi-retirement. Russell provided the voiceover and on-camera work for the Official Open to the big game. He was perfectly cast and his delivery was able to make a few references to his own movies without bringing the cheese. Hopefully more Movie Gods can entice Jack Burton/Snake Plissken/Wyatt Earp to appear more often in the coming years.
What say you?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has passed away at the age of 46.
Thirteen years before winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his transformative performance in CAPOTE (2005), Philip Seymour Hoffman was making early impressions for his work in the acclaimed SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992), and later as a tornado-chaser in TWISTER (1996). In 1997 he would make even bigger impressions in BOOGIE NIGHTS, the first of four collaborations with director Paul Thomas Anderson which would include MAGNOLIA (1999), PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002), and THE MASTER (2012), for which he would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

His list of notable performances includes THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999), ALMOST FAMOUS (2000), RED DRAGON (2002), COLD MOUNTAIN (2003), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006), BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007), THE SAVAGES (2007), CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007), SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008), DOUBT (2008), PIRATE RADIO (2009), MONEYBALL (2011), THE IDES OF MARCH (2011),  and A LATE QUARTET (2012).
Off the silver screen, he was also an acclaimed theater actor and director, earning three Tony Award nominations. He was a strong supporter of local theatres in New York City.

This Blogger is gutted. Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most consistent pillars of the film world; every year when there was a good film, he was there. When awards season rolled around, he was always there. We may have become spoiled by just how good he was at his craft, for we were always used to him being there and being great. Every death is sad, but this one feels like a robbery; for every robbery leaves an empty space.