Thursday, May 29, 2014


James Gray’s THE IMMIGRANT is very much saturated in film lore. It is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, where melodramatic acting and grand settings were the centerpiece of the storytelling. Gray literally takes us back in time to tell his story about an immigrant in the early 1920’s by employing these old methods. That is the grand presentation of THE IMMIGRANT, but there is more to storytelling than that.
Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) emigrate from their native Poland to New York in search of a new life. When Magda is quarantined at Ellis Island for medical reasons, Ewa is left with nowhere to go and is taken in by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who turns her to a life of prostitution before she falls for a small-time magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner).

THE IMMIGRANT paints a very dismal picture for immigrants who came to America in the early 1920’s. This was an age where people arrived on a boat with all that they owned in one small bag, and were then easily confused, tricked, herded like cattle and made to bunk-up in deplorable conditions. Director James Gray goes through great lengths to push this point, and Ewa is always right in the middle of it. As bad as the immigration process is for Ewa, things get worse for her as she gets tricked into a life of prostitution by Bruno. Her situation is hopeless, with each glimmer of light she finds quickly extinguished. As if her story isn’t sad enough, things get tricky when she falls for Orlando and she finds herself in the middle of a tough choice; run away with Orlando to a life of prosperity or work for Bruno in an effort to one day be reunited with her sister. THE IMMIGRANT ultimately is all about family and the great lengths a person would go through to keep it together.
Director James Gray and famed cinematographer Darius Khondji have crafted a magnificent looking film. The movie looks like an old yellowed photograph, and it makes for an immersive look which instantly transports the viewer back to 1920. The setpieces are magnificent to look at; in particular the old Ellis Island halls and rooms and New York City before the coming of the skyscrapers. For as great as the film looks and embraces the older style of filmmaking, Gray doesn’t seem to put any sort of personal touch on THE IMMIGRANT; Gray is very much a cover-band here…not incredibly original but worth every cent.

Acting is very good across the board. Joaquin Phoenix is painted as the villain but ultimately is realized as not so much an evil man, but a lost soul who can’t quite make things work right. He goes from a friendly face to a hot-tempered bad guy in the blink of an eye, and Phoenix nails it perfectly. Jeremy Renner is the perfect Yin to Phoenix’s Yang as the white knight of the film looking to whisk Ewa away from all of the misery; he faces off against Phoenix’s powerful acting and matches his every stride, and as a stage-performer in the story has to pull off some impressive physical work as well. The star of the film is obviously Marion Cotillard and she shoulders the burden impressively. Her character is on an emotional cliffhanger throughout the film, and there is never a second that goes by where she doesn’t make us care for her.
The finale gives us a fair amount of emotional payoff and wraps things up nice and tight. It is only then that we realize that THE IMMIGRANT doesn’t really have a whole lot of plot to it, and is very much focused on the Journey over the Destination. But by staying heavy on character and grand in its presentation, THE IMMIGRANT is still a worthwhile voyage.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


“Fortune and glory…”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.
After the rousing success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in 1981, which introduced the world to Lucas and Spielberg’s swashbuckling archeologist, it was decided that a second film in the series would have to go darker. And darker it went; as Indy finds himself in an adventure surrounded by child slavery, black magic, and human sacrifice. If the whimsy of RAIDERS left you feeling drunk, then TEMPLE OF DOOM was the sober-up.
Taking the tone of the series in an opposite direction also meant giving Harrison Ford’s character some new sidekicks to deal with. Where RAIDERS featured a strong heroine (Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood), DOOM went in the other direction and gave Indy a perpetual damsel-in-distress. Where Marion was a whiskey-guzzler with a mean right-hook, DOOM gives us a pampered vocalist who is as out-of-place in a jungle as a fish out of water. The character, Willie Scott, was brought to life by Kate Capshaw, who was in her first major film role.
TEMPLE OF DOOM is indeed a dark film, but the whimsy of RAIDERS is still present due to some thrilling set-pieces including a mine-car chase, a fight in a swanky night club, and a breathtaking, climactic showdown on a suspended bridge. The action sequences kept the dark tones at bay, and just for good measure, Indy was given a young sidekick. Jonathan Ke Quan was cast as the 11-year old Short Round; a wisecracking orphan who followed Indy wherever he went.
The approach paid off for the INDIANA JONES franchise. TEMPLE OF DOOM went on to gross over $300 million worldwide, and was the third-highest grossing film in North America that year. It was the tenth highest grossing film of all time at the time of its release. Dennis Muren and Industrial Light and Magic’s visual effects department won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and John Williams’ magnificent score was also nominated. Jonathan Ke Quan would go onto a memorable role in THE GOONIES (1985), and Spielberg would marry Kate Capshaw in 1991.
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is a film that often gets a bad reaction. After all, its tone was a shock compared to RAIDERS, and its memorable scene of a heart getting ripped out of a live person’s chest caused problems with the MPAA’s Ratings Board (the film would be one of the major catalysts for the creation of the PG-13 rating). But what is often overlooked is the importance that this adventure plays in the life of Indiana Jones. Although it was the second film in the series, the adventure of DOOM actually takes place a few years before RAIDERS. And it is in this adventure where Dr. Jones makes a dramatic turn from a fortune-and-glory hunting archeologist to a man with a heart; a turn which is summed up in one iconic shot of Indy in the mines where kidnapped children are turned into slaves. 

It was an important turn for Indy the character and INDIANA JONES the franchise, for once the sobering up of DOOM was over, it would be time to get drunk on whimsy again in five years time with the arrival of the third film, THE LAST CRUSADE. TEMPLE OF DOOM set Dr. Jones on a new path, and on its own, is one hell of an adventure. 

“You call him Dr. Jones, doll!”


Friday, May 23, 2014


With DAYS OF FUTURE PAST being the seventh film in the series of mutant superheroes, it is a great help, if not a requirement…to be familiar with the prior movies and the events which led to this point. It serves as a grand finale to this series of super-powered heroes and villains, but thanks to some nifty time-travel, widens the potential for a bright future of X-Men.
In the near future, mutants and potentials are being wiped out by the Sentinals; giant robots capable of absorbing mutant powers which makes them indestructible. With the world in shambles, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), along with his life-long friend and occasional enemy Erik/Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the past to prevent an event happening which would trigger the creation of the Sentinals by Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage). Once arriving in 1973, Logan enlists the help of a young Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to prevent Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from causing the future war.

The stakes in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST are extremely high; higher than they have ever been in an X-MEN film. Once Logan arrives in the past, the events of the future continue to unfold…which gives the film a ticking-clock dimension and a great sense of urgency. Once Logan teams up with a young Xavier and Magneto, those familiar with the long-running series of films will take great joy in the role-reversal taking place. Logan, who was once the rogue of the team, finds himself in a parenting role overseeing a sparring Xavier and Magneto while the clock ticks towards the pending disaster. But just when the film feels like it’s going to hang its helmet on the hook of displaced heroes, things take a deeper and welcome turn. A few clever twists and turns (while keeping the characters true to their nature), transforms the film into a story about friendship. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is ultimately a film about long-time warring friends who differ in their approach to solving a massive problem, and that is the beating heart and soul that director Bryan Singer centers the film around. With every character, including Trask, having their goals well defined…it’s difficult to figure out who to really root for. This is a film without a real defined villain, and it doesn’t matter; this is all about the heroes and their differences.
Bryan Singer, while making a great character piece, has also crafted a fine-looking and fun action film. The large set-pieces are striking to look at, the action is easy to follow, and the battles are never extraneous as they all have consequences to the story. The introduction of a young mutant named Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a teenager who moves faster than the eye can see, allows Singer to play with some startling visual effects which adds thickness to the plot and some well-timed comedy. But Singer never lets the FX-heavy lights and sounds distract from the thick substance he is working with; the characters never get lost and everyone gets their due.

With most of the film taking place in the past, the screen-time of the great Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is somewhat diminished, but the two actors make the best of their time and induce some great, and tearful moments. Their younger selves, played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, really do own the film and seem to channel the chemistry that Stewart and McKellen have together. Hugh Jackman is one again a commanding screen presence in his Wolverine skin, and looks perfect in his 1970’s duds. The rest of the cast, which includes Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Evan Peters, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult are all spectacular.
The finale goes for a gut-punch in presenting a tremendous emotional payoff for those who have been on board the X-train from the start, but even newcomers would be able to feel the heart and soul. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST basically takes the greatest pieces and parts from the prior films and weaves them together magnificently, in a way that makes every film relevant but yet opens up the door for some fantastic possibilities. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a triumph for the series and the genre of superhero films; it is emotionally rewarding, socially relevant, and a great movie.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything you need to know about X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

One of the most anticipated films of the Summer Movie Season arrives this weekend in the form of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Here is everything you need to know about this mega-teamup film.
Another X-Men Movie? DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the seventh film to adapt Marvel’s famed comic-book property of mutated people since 2000. The series is the 15th highest-grossing film franchise, having pulled in over $2 billion worldwide. The complete list (in release order) is X-MEN (2000), X2 (2003), X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and THE WOLVERINE (2013).
What’s this about? Based on the comic-storyline of the same name…the characters from the first three X-MEN films join together with their younger selves from the past (the cast of FIRST CLASS) to change an historical event which affects the future of mutants and all mankind.
Who is in this? In what could be considered the best ensemble cast every assembled for a superhero film, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST stars Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Evan Peters, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, and Ellen Page.
Who is directing? Bryan Singer, who directed the first X-MEN and its magnificent sequel, is back behind the wheel. Singer’s other credits include THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), APT PUPIL (1998), SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), VALKYRIE (2008), and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).
What to expect: The franchise arguably hit its peak in 2003 with Singer’s last X-MEN film, so having him back in charge of things is certainly exciting. The original cast was always well-received, as was the cast of their younger selves from FIRST CLASS, and having them all share the screen at the same time has an automatic thrill-factor attached to it. Singer has always generated great performances from his actors, and his knack for superhero stories gives DAYS OF FUTURE PAST a lot of potential. 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST opens May 23rd.


Monday, May 19, 2014

A Reel Review: GODZILLA

The latest version of the famed Godzilla creature to stomp onto our shores is a movie made up of two distinct parts. The first being an old-school monster movie, and the second being the effects the presence of giant monsters appearing on our modern Earth has on human beings. How these two parts blend together ultimately decides the sinking or swimming of director Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA.
When the MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) appear on Earth and begin causing worldwide destruction, mankind’s only hope lies in Godzilla…an ancient creature who has been slumbering underground since the atomic age.

GODZILLA is first and foremost a monster movie. Godzilla himself is the star and hero of the film, as he becomes the only force on the planet capable of defeating the MUTO’s. The fights and showdowns are a beautiful spectacle to see; stunningly realized, well-executed, and full of eye-popping, jaw dropping moments as skin is gnawed, heads are ripped off, tails are swung and atomic-breath is unleashed. When its monster vs. monster, GODZILLA is breathtaking ride. However, where this monster begins to stumble is the buildup. Director Gareth Edwards latches onto the approach of not-showing-too-much too tightly. Godzilla is shown in flashes for the most of the film, and many of the fights cut away too quickly. There is a fine line between building suspense and denying the audience what they want to see, and GODZILLA leans towards the latter. The battles are a great payoff to all of the teasing and peek-a-boo-Godzilla, but getting there is the hard part and Godzilla himself almost feels like an afterthought.
The human side of the story does not fare much better, as every character serves as nothing more than a plot point and never gets past the basic archetype they are based on. You’ve got the solider (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) trying to get back to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen). We’re given the crazy father (Bryan Cranston) who is driven by the loss of his wife (Juliette Binoche). And for good measure we’ve got the military leader (David Strathairn) who seeks the advice of the only scientist in the whole wide world who knows what’s going on (Ken Watanabe). None of these characters develop past their names or occupations, which leaves very little to cheer for. For as much as their world should be affected by the presence of giant monsters, the humans don’t seem to matter much.

Despite the talent that director Gareth Edwards shows in conveying the size and scale of the monsters, he displays poor storytelling technique throughout the film. Pacing is a slog, and scenes are setup by characters standing around talking about what they’re about to do or explaining exactly what is going on. There is a lack of style in the film which leaves for a very dull time in-between monster fights.
Acting is a mixed bag as no one really seems to know what they should be doing. Aaron Taylor-Johnson displays very little charisma, and great actresses such as Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche never get to flex any of their talent. Bryan Cranston does fine but seems wasted in his little screentime. David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe suffer the most. Strathairn does little but announce to the audience what is going on, and Watanabe is given nothing to do but monologue away in a manner that makes him sound like a fortune cookie. The entire cast is really overqualified for GODZILLA.

In the end, GODZILLA feels like two different films as the monsters show up once in a while for a tussle and the humans stumble around searching for a story. It’s a shame because Godzilla the creature is remarkably realized, and is a fantastic version of the creature existing in a poorly constructed film. Magnificent for monsters and sloppy for storytelling makes for an even break.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


“Don’t call me Junior.”

This month marks the 25th anniversary of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.
The third installment of the INDIANA JONES franchise, which involved Indy and his father searching for the famed and legendary Holy Grail, was constructed to recapture the fun and whimsy of the first film, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK; elements which director Spielberg and creator Lucas felt were lost in the dark and gloomy second film, TEMPLE OF DOOM. After several abandoned story ideas (one of which involved a Monkey King), the duo settled on the Holy Grail, with Spielberg coming up with the idea to have Indy share the adventure with his father.
The decision to have Indy’s dad as his sidekick not only served as a great contrast to Indy’s character, but allowed for some long-awaited development for the main character. Indiana Jones, who up to that point was a bit of a one-dimensional character, suddenly had depth as his overall motivations were made clear. His life story, which was set in motion due to his strong contrast and differences with his father, was suddenly unspooled before us, and we got to know Indiana Jones better than ever.
Audiences welcomed Harrison Ford back as the swashbuckling archeologist, and equally welcomed Sean Connery in the role as Dr. Jones Sr. Old franchise favorites returned; Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies returned as Indy’s loyal friends, and newcomers Julian Glover (from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), Alison Doody (in her first major film role) played an important supporting cast. A  19 year-old River Phoenix appeared as a young Indiana Jones in a opening sequence which would eventually inspire the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES  on television.
Utilizing film locations in Spain, Italy, England, Turkey, and Jordan, the film was shot on a budget of $48 million, and would earn over $474 million; it was the highest grossing film worldwide in 1989, despite heavy competition from Tim Burton’s BATMAN. The film would win an Oscar for Best Sound Editing, and was also nominated for Best Sound and Best Score (John Williams).
By the time THE LAST CRUSADE reached theatres in 1989, the story of the search for the Holy Grail had been done in literally thousands of stories in TV, radio, film, and literature. The third cinematic adventure of Dr. Jones Jr. seemed like a clichéd one, but underneath that is an important story. The Holy Grail was really a metaphor for Indy’s search for his father, and consequently his father’s search for his son. There is a powerful and memorable theme of family underneath all of the action and adventure, which makes THE LAST CRUSADE the deepest out of all of Indy’s adventures. This Blogger fondly remembers wearing out the tape of THE LAST CRUSADE at home, as it was a family favorite then…and is to this day.
“The quest for the grail is not archeology…”


Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Reel Review: LOCKE

The concept behind director Steven Knight’s LOCKE feels like it would be more at home on a quaint stage in front of a small audience more than the big screen. It is a cast of one man in one setting, with that one man shouldering the burden of telling the story through his own dialogue. The idea is sound for the stage, and making that work cinematically was the challenge for Knight and his one brilliant actor.
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a master at concrete production and pouring for large-scale, billion-dollar construction projects. On the eve of the biggest pour of his career, he suddenly gets in his car and drives away from everything, and begins to make a series of phone calls while in transit to his wife, kids, co-workers, and one-time lover…all of which drastically change his life as the miles pass.

LOCKE is one of the most minimalistic films ever put together. Ivan Locke is the only person who physically appears, with the rest of the characters only being heard through his hands-free phone device. The reasons for Locke’s long drive are made clear through each phone call…with each one raising the stakes and presenting new challenges for him. These reasons are familiar yet sound, and through it all we get to know Locke with each phone call. It sounds dull on paper, but there is a mesmerizing quality to the film as Locke’s life and career begin to fall away from him. Story and character should always come first, and LOCKE lets both of those elements spill freely and it doesn’t take long to realize how engrossing it really is. Less of a thrill-ride and more of a tension-building character piece, LOCKE doesn’t involve any villains or high-speed chases, and is simply all about an ordinary man dealing with the consequences of his actions.
Director Seven Knight is presented with the challenge of making a man driving down the highway interesting to sit and watch for 90 minutes (the film nearly unfolds in real-time, by the way). Knight somehow makes the interior of Locke’s car seem incredibly cinematic. He makes excellent use of every inch of the car…dashboard lights, reflections, mirrors, glass; all of which are a marvel to look at and supports the strong storytelling. The one-man-in-a-car adds to the feeling of isolation that Locke is going through, and just for good measure Knight throws in a few metaphors in the dialogue and in the physical surroundings which work very well. Locke’s occasional rants against his long-dead father often threaten to derail the film, but are presented in small doses and add some diversity in what had the potential to be a redundant narrative.

What it makes it all work and work well is the fierce and committed performance by Tom Hardy. As an actor who has made impressions with his physical work over the past decade, the burden was on him to sell the film when being filmed from the chest-up…and he rises to the occasion and often surpasses it. His character is an eternal optimist no matter how stressful or dire the situation gets, and he plays the strong-on-the-outside yet suffering-on-the-inside beautifully. His face is always convincing and the outbursts of emotion are startling. This is a career-best for Tom Hardy.
The ending comes a little abruptly, but makes sense considering the situation. The power behind LOCKE is very subtle, and by the time the credits roll there is a total feeling of astonishment; not only because what could have been a gimmick worked so well, but because of the extraordinary performance of one man and one director. LOCKE is as gripping as it is brilliant.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Batman vs. Superman vs. Captain America; Good, Bad, or Ugly?

A few months back, we received news from the world of superheroes that Disney/Marvel’s third CAPTAIN AMERICA film and Warners/DC’s as-yet-untitled BATMAN/SUPERMAN team-up film were slated to open on the same weekend; May 6th, 2016.
Speculation has been running wild over which camp would blink first and move their movie away from that date. However, last month the top brass at Warner Bros. said that they had no intention of sliding BAT/SUPES off that date. And just this week, the masters of Disney said that they weren’t backing down either. So what we’ve got here is a potential epic showdown with three of the most popular and heralded superhero characters of all time. Movie geeks and comic-book guys are certainly salivating at the thought of spending an entire day at the theatre, while others will show their support and allegiance to whatever side (Marvel or DC) they swear to.

But is all this really good for the industry? There is no doubt that both films will make a ton of money and give the overall box office a nice boost for the year. Mr. Walt Disney had that famous quote that (paraphrase) they don’t make movies to make money, they make money so they could make more movies. Movies are certainly an art, but they are also a business. A business that makes money is a healthy one.
Aside from that, there is the possibility of a backlash. The genre of superheroes on the big screen has been very successful in the past decade; their super-charged films have broken box office records, won Oscars, and made relatively unknown actors household names overnight. Many in the press have taken to calling this the Golden Age of superhero movies. But despite all of this success, people have been wondering if and/or when the bottom may fall out. The Golden Age of cinema once came to end, as did the Golden Age of comics (1930’s through the 1940’s). This mega-matchup of Captain America vs. Batman vs. Superman could very well be too much, and the world could very well say enough already. After all, the battle between the two studios for your ticket(s) is sure to be an intense one with a flood of marketing ranging from print, TV, internet, and fast-food cups and bags. There is such a thing as oversaturating the market, and maybe the real movie to keep an eye on is the third film to have a release that weekend…as people look for an alternative to all the super-fights.

There seems to be a lot of ego powering this showdown. Marvel, with all of their mighty success with their ever-growing shared universe on the big and small screen, has all the momentum and the right to do what they want when they want; in fact, it doesn’t seem like they care what DC does. DC on the other hand, may have been sputtering around recently (their last Superman flick, MAN OF STEEL in 2013 was not warmly embraced), but they do have the right to claim ownership of the top two most-popular and well-known superheroes in all history…Batman and Superman. Both Marvel and DC are puffing out their chests and holding firm (for now), and fans of cinema have to hope that the showdown doesn’t bring the roof crashing down over everyone’s heads.

Marvel’s third CAPTAIN AMERICA solo-film (as yet no sub-title) will once again star Chris Evans in the title role, and will again be directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. DC’s untitled BATMAN/SUPERMAN flick is directed by Zack Snyder (MAN OF STEEL), and will star Ben Affleck as Batman, and Henry Cavill as Superman.



Monday, May 5, 2014


Jim Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is a take on the old vampire genre like no other. It embraces nearly every aspect of the bloodsucker mythos without hanging its fangs on them for too long to become cliché. In fact, the word “vampire” is never uttered once in the film. In the hands of a lesser mortal, such an approach could wind up rather messily. But this happens to be in the hands of a master filmmaker.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston), and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are two vampire lovers/soulmates who have been married for centuries; so long that they often have to spend decades apart. When Adam begins to lose his want to live on this world, Eve comes back to him…and their blissful reunion is interrupted by Eve’s irresponsible vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whose behavior threatens their secretive lives.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE doesn’t have much by way of plot, and instead embraces the week-in-the-life approach. A lot of time is spent (very successfully) setting up the world these vampires live in. Adam is living in an abandoned area of Detroit, surrounded by antique guitars and recording equipment…making a living by recording music but never showing his face in public. Eve is a book collector living in Tangier and a lover of knowledge. In their lifestyle, killing humans for blood (their nutrition) is out of the question (too many bodies, and they consider the human blood to be contaminated), so they rely on fellow vampires and unsuspecting humans to provide clean blood so they can survive. Director Jim Jarmusch goes out of his way to set up this world, which serves as the most realistic and down-to-earth vampire tale ever put together.
But it all works, and it works brilliantly. Their lifestyle and what they have to do to survive in the modern world is a major part of the story. All the classic elements of vampire-lore are there; consuming blood, awake during the day, sleeping at night…but underneath it all Jarmusch exposes a true love story. Adam and Eve have been lovers for untold centuries; inspiring famous authors and musicians while embracing every art form the world has to offer. Jarmusch offers a subtle commentary on love and life and what it means to be truly alive…so subtle you don’t realize it until it bites you from behind.

Jim Jarmusch has crafted an absolute hypnotic film. The music and set-pieces create a trance-like atmosphere, and it’s difficult to pull your eyes away from the screen. The home-dwellings of Adam and Eve are fascinating to look at as they are packed tight with antiques from every age. Aside from the great physical work being done, Jarmusch sneaks in plenty of allegory and metaphors…enough to fuel the longest of any late-night film debates.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfection together. They both embrace their roles and really do feel like they have been lovers for a thousand years. The supporting cast is also excellent; Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright play human characters who assist Adam with acquiring blood and antique instruments…unaware of his true nature. The great John Hurt is amazing as Eve’s fellow vampire and supplier, but the show is nearly stolen by Mia Wasikowska…who turns in a career-best as an old soul in a young body who has gone loose upstairs. She is a fascinating watch.

Aside from its approach, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE winds up being a very unique experience as it has that delicate balance between weird and fascinating, and despite being thin on the surface, there is ocean-deep meaning at every turn. This is a film which demands revisiting as there is a lot to take in one sitting, and that’s OK as it is always a joy to sink your teeth into exquisite filmmaking.

Friday, May 2, 2014


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is less of a sequel to its 2012 predecessor as much as it is a continuation; a continuation of the many loose web-threads which were never resolved but made for a promise for another film. In addition to wrapping up old business started two years ago, director Marc Webb and his friends also make an attempt to bring about new business for their web-slinging hero to juggle. Having many balls in the air is part of the charm, and part of the downfall of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) continues to protect the city from crime and danger while trying to keep his relationship together with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and his identity as a superhero away from his Aunt May (Sally Field). Meanwhile, Max (Jamie Foxx) accidently gets turned into an electricity-throwing villain, and then falls into the employ of Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), a young CEO of Oscorp; a company with dark secrets…including a tie to Peter’s long-missing parents.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 starts off strong, as Peter struggles with his search for his parents while struggling with his on-again, off-again relationship with Gwen. The stage is set for a decent character piece, but from there things get complicated. What seems like a thousand plots start to roll in from all directions; the mystery behind Peter’s parents, his cat-and-mouse games with Aunt May, origin stories for three different villains, Oscorp’s sinister secrets, and Aunt May’s struggle through life without her slain husband, Peter’s Uncle Ben (reprised briefly by Martin Sheen). There is so much plot going in the film that there is an overall lack of focus, and when a film tries to be about too many things, it ultimately becomes a film about nothing. Characters get completely lost in all the goings-on which takes away the heartbeat, and it doesn’t take long to realize that there isn’t much fun to be had.
Director Marc Webb often shows has that he has a great talent for telling a love story by letting characters react to each other; the intimate scenes between Peter, Gwen, and Aunt May are brilliant and pleasant to sit through. But the good work Webb does gets overshadowed by his shortcomings as an action director. While there are a few fun and crowd-pleasing set-pieces, Webb seems to rely way too much on the visual effects to do the work for him, and for the most part there isn’t much creativity behind all the cartoonish super-powered fights, and this makes for a very hollow film. On top of that, Webb commits deadly sins all around in basic storytelling technique. Characters talk way too goddamn much in weak attempts to let the audience know what is going on, friendships form out of the blue, the villains turn from good guys to bad guys in the wink of an eye, and worse of all…the many characters are powerless against the many plotlines; there is nothing they can do to change any outcome. As a result, there is very little to cheer for.

Andrew Garfield is terrific and lights up the screen every time he is in the suit or shares time with Emma Stone. Sally Field is her usual brilliant self, but she seems more Sally than she does May. Jamie Foxx is nothing more than a huge slice of cheese, while Dane DeHaan fares a little better…or at least until he takes his evil turn and turns into a Saturday morning cartoon. Paul Giamatti and Chris Cooper show up for worthless cameos and are too one-note to make any sort of impression.
The film doesn’t show any sort of power until towards the end, but at that point it’s much too late to care as the film feels much longer than its two hour, twenty-minute running time. The most aggravating sin that THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 commits is that it seems to exist for the sole purpose of setting up another film. While that technique has worked for many franchises in the past, this film does so at the expense of the work at hand. There is no purpose to the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 other than to sucker people back for a third outing with a promise to answer even more mysteries. This is as far from true cinema as you can get.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

This weekend, one of the biggest and heavily-promoted films of the year swings into theatres in the form of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Here is everything you need to know about Sony Pictures’ adaptation of the Marvel property.
Another Spider-man Movie? A certain amount of confusion is understandable at this point, as this is the fifth Spider-Man film by Sony Pictures since 2002. The first three films were directed by Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spidey. After a disappointing third film, Sony parted ways with Raimi and decided to wipe the slate clean. In what the industry now calls a “reboot”, Sony unleashed THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in 2012 with a new cast and a do-over on the character’s origins. This film, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, is a direct sequel to that 2012 version.

Who’s behind this? Marc Webb, who directed the first (rebooted) film, returns to direct. Prior to becoming a webslinger, Webb’s other directing credit is the acclaimed 500 DAYS OF SUMMER in 2009.
Who’s in this? Andrew Garfield (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) returns as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Emma Stone (ZOMBIELAND) returns as his love interest Gwen Stacy, and Sally Field returns as Peter’s Aunt May. New cast members fill out a slew of villains. Paul Giamatti appears as The Rhino, Jamie Foxx charges in as Electro, and young Dane DeHaan (THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES) creeps in as The Green Goblin.

Why are there so many villains? Call it a direct response to the uber-success of THE AVENGERS with its superhero-teamup selling point. Sony Pictures doesn’t own the rights to any other Marvel properties which Spidey can team up with like his Marvel Studio-owned AVENGERS cousins. So in an attempt to capitalize on the public’s apparent appetite for many super-beings in one film, Sony is essentially pulling a reverse-AVENGERS by stacking the film with baddies.
What to look forward to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN very much served as a set-up film for its sequel by introducing many storylines which were never concluded, so hopefully many of those loose ends can be tied up in a meaningful way which will justify the reboot. More importantly, this Blogger found that first film to be an intolerable bore; a joyless affair which slogged around in-between action sequences which went nowhere. A good sequel should always correct the mistakes made in the past, so hopefully Marc Webb and his friends have learned a few things and can put the amazing back in Spider-Man.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 lands in theatres May 2nd.