Monday, June 30, 2014

A Reel Review: THE ROVER

Director David Michod’s THE ROVER centers around two actors who are well-known for different reasons. On one hand we have 46 year-old Guy Pearce; one of the most respected method-actors in the business. On the other hand, we have 28 year-old Robert Pattinson; who has become everyone’s favorite punching bag after his shitty acting opposite a shittier actress in the shittiest of movie franchises. How these two actors work together on the big screen determines the fate of THE ROVER.
Ten years after the collapse of society, Eric (Pearce) is travelling through the remains of Australia when his car is stolen by Henry (Scoot McNairy) and his rag-tag group of thieves. Hell-bent on getting his car back, Eric forces Henry’s younger brother Rey (Pattinson) to assist him in hunting the thieves down.

THE ROVER does not have a whole of plot to it. There is no girl to rescue and no safe-haven for humanity in this barren wasteland of society. All the characters have to do is to find the car. What makes it work is that the two characters have different reasons for doing this. Eric’s reasons for getting his car back are very much personal, and are revealed in bits and pieces throughout the hunt (and driven home by the end, more on that later). Rey also has personal reasons; he was left behind by his older brother during a shootout/car theft…and he is out looking for some explanation and maybe even a little revenge. When you have two contrasting characters out on the same mission for different reasons, the stage is set for great storytelling, and director David Michod doesn’t waste a single opportunity to examine, and expose his characters during their hunt for the stolen car.
This car-quest of a movie is very much brought to life by Michod’s commitment to realism. Exactly how society has collapsed is never made clear, and it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. All that matters is that this part of the world that Eric and Rey travel through is like a third-world county, where people live in shacks with no water or power, and the contents of canned food are like gold. The film looks very real, and you can practically smell the filth and decay coming off the screen. The movie unfolds in an episodic manner; as the two characters travel from one setting to another…most of which end up in some sort of scrape. But each “episode” has a payoff which carries through the rest of the film.  Michod also makes the vast wasteland of Australia very beautiful and deadly to look at. This type of film just could not be shot anywhere else.

Guy Pearce vanishes inside his character as he rampages across the land, breaking necks and shooting people in the face as often as he can. As hell-bent and mean as he is, Pearce always lets us know that there is something else ticking underneath the unkempt beard, grime, and unbreakable mean-streak. Pearce goes deep without showing too much, and it is a stunning performance. As good as he is, this show is stolen by Robert Pattinson. His character is a lost soul; dim-witted and maybe even a little mentally challenged…and Pattinson nails it at every turn. He generates sympathy and disgust towards his character all at the same time, and it is a signal to the world that he is ready to shop in the grown-up section.
After all of the rampaging and pillaging and shooting, exactly why Eric was so determined to get his car back is finally revealed, and just how the ending plays out is dependent upon the personality of the viewer. The most cynical would say “that’s it?” and dismiss it, while those with a heart will understand it perfectly and respect the several layers that the film had going on the whole time. Beautifully put together and brilliantly acted, this ROVER is well worth looking for.


Friday, June 27, 2014


Director Michael Bay’s fourth film adaptation of the Hasbro line of toy robots can be summed up in one word; relentless. It never lets up in throwing everything but the kitchen-sink at you; many characters, various sub-plots, countless robots and aliens, and more battles and chases than can be remembered. But being relentless in your approach isn’t necessarily a sin; it’s how you use that approach to tell your story that really matters.
Taking place a few years after the events of the third film, the friendly Autobots and evil Decepticons are both on humanity’s hit-list for all of the destruction they have caused. The Autobot leader, Optimus Prime (once again voiced by Peter Cullen) goes into hiding only to be discovered by down-on-his-luck inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), before being discovered by a rouge CIA man (Kelsey Grammer) and a corporate leader (Stanley Tucci) who want Prime to build their own arsenal of weaponized robots.

AGE OF EXTINCTION is a film built around many ideas; family drama, man’s place in the universe, mankind meddling with technology they are not ready for, displaced values amongst leaders, good vs. evil and corporate and global espionage. There is a lot going on in this TRANSFORMERS, and that’s where the sputter is in this large vehicle. None of these many plotpoints gel together very well, and the film seems to change its endgame every half-hour or so. With so much going on being supported by way too many characters, it’s difficult to latch onto anything, and the word bloated comes to mind a lot. The payoff to the moving around of all the characters and sub-plots are the greatly realized battle and chase scenes, but it feels like it takes an unnecessarily long time to get there.
While director Michael Bay is struggling to find a focus, he succeeds in creating a gorgeous looking film. The setpieces, ranging from cities to the countryside to urban America, are stunning to look at. The fighting robots and their transformations into vehicles are once again greatly realized, and the battle and fight scenes keep the heart pounding at all times. All of Bay’s trademarks are present; hot cars, hotter women, in-your-face patriotism, over-the-top characters and some misplaced juvenile humor…most of which work but the misfires do miss badly. Steve Jablonsky’s score is very disappointing; it sounds very generic, lacks a signature, and only once does it bring back the familiar theme from the previous films.

Most of the characters are two-dimensional so it’s actually remarkable that the cast does as well as they do. Mark Wahlberg and Stanly Tucci are in top form, and Kelsey Grammer may have found a home as a ruthless villain. Young Nicola Peltz is a pleasant surprise, and she is joined by an annoying Jack Reynor who plays her boyfriend. Reynor doesn’t fare too well and the film easily could have done without him. Peter Cullen is once again magnificent behind the voice of Optimus, and Ken Watanabe and John Goodman (!) turn in spectacular voice-performances as well.
By the time the finale has rolled around, Bay has beaten us over the head with so much sound and fury that it’s easy to forget exactly what everyone is fighting for or even what continent things are taking place on. AGE OF EXTINCTION is bloated in its story, thin on character, but fantastic in its grand spectacle and execution of lights and sound. Refining the relentless approach would have been the best idea to have.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eli Wallach 1915-2014

Actor Eli Wallach as passed away at the age of 98. 

Born in Brooklyn in 1915, Eli Wallach’s acting talents were discovered during his time in World War II, when he was asked to perform a show for soldiers recovering in hospitals. Upon returning home he studied acting at the famed Actors Studio alongside future greats Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. In 1945 he made his Broadway debut, and in 1951 won a Tony Award for his performance in THE ROSE TATTOO. His first feature film was in BABY DOLL (1956), for which he won the BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer. 

Eli Wallach would live up to that award, as his career would span over six decades…appearing in classic films with Hollywood royalty. He appeared in THE MISFITS (1961) with Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, LORD JIM (1965) with Peter O’Toole, HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966) with Audrey Hepburn, and THE GODFATHER PART III (1990) with Al Pacino. He was the “ugly” in Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), in which he forged a life-long friendship with Clint Eastwood. Wallach would later appear in Eastwood’s own Oscar-darling MYSTIC RIVER (2003). He worked and acted well into his nineties; appearing in Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS and Roman Polanski’s THE GHOST WRITER, both in 2010. 

He was also an accomplished TV actor. He was one of three actors to play Mr. Freeze on the 1960’s BATMAN series, and won an Emmy for his role in the TV-film THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER in 1967. He also had appearances in NBC’s STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP and LAW AND ORDER. 

He received an Honorary Academy Award at the 2nd Annual Governors Awards in 2010. 


This Blogger first discovered Eli Wallach from his role in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND UGLY, in which he went up against the imposing figure of Clint Eastwood and held his own. Over the years, Wallach was able to blend into a film so well, you often had to remind yourself; hey…that’s the ugly guy!
But ugliness was the very last word you could use to describe the spectacular career the man had. His resume of films reads like a list of Movie Legends, written in stone tables by fire. The career of Eli Wallach should be required viewing for all. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Reel 30: Remembering 1984

Back in May, Reel Speak celebrated the 30th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM; the second installment of the INDIANA JONES franchise which also served as a prequel. The film would be the third highest domestic money-maker that year, behind GHOSTBUSTERS and BEVERLY HILLS COP. But a closer look at 1984 shows us that summer gave our favorite archeologist some very good and historic company.

At this very moment in 1984, this magnificent group of films were all in theatres; TEMPLE OF DOOM, GREMLINS, GHOSTBUSTERS, POLICE ACADEMY, THE NATURAL, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, and THE KARATE KID. If you walked into a theatre in June of 1984, all of these films would be your options.

And that was only the beginning. The Summer Movie Season of that year would eventually include a young Tom Hanks in BACHELOR PARTY, along with THE LAST STARFIGHTER, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, PURPLE RAIN, RED DAWN, eventual cult-favorite BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION, and Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

The packed Summer season was only a prelude to a Fall Season which would unspool A SOLDIER’S STORY, James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR, Freddy Krueger’s debut in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, DUNE, STARMAN, and the eventual Best Picture winner…AMADEUS.

To further the case of 1984’s place in history, the year also saw the film debuts of Jennifer Connelly, Johnny Depp, Colin Firth, Val Kilmer, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Lou Diamond Phillips, Tim Roth, Charlie Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Ken Watanbe.

But back to June 1984…that month was not only packed with big money makers, but with films which were destined to become pillars of pop culture. Thirty years later, their lines would be often quoted, their characters fondly remembered, and their cast members worshipped at nearly every convention they appear. It was a time where studios didn’t seem to be very fearful of releasing their movies up against the competition…a sure sign of confidence. Compare that to this year where the major blockbuster-tailored films like X-MEN and TRANSFORMERS are scheduled months apart, and the industry in general where studios circle each other like gunfighters…watching each other’s every move and waiting to see who flinches first.

What it all comes down to is that 1984 is a year which should not only be remembered for its boldness, but for its overall impact on our cinematic minds. A true movie buff probably doesn’t go a day without at least of one of these films emerging from the sub-conscious, and even the most casual movie-goer can recognize the titles, characters, and quotes. At this very moment in 1984 we were being introduced to Mogwai, slime, rookie cops, middle-aged baseball rookies, resurrected Vulcans, bonsai trees, and fortune and glory…and we haven’t been the same since.




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About JERSEY BOYS

Quietly being released this weekend is an adaptation of a Broadway smash by one of Hollywood’s living legends. Here is everything you need to know about JERSEY BOYS.

What is this about? – JERSEY BOYS is an adaptation of the jukebox musical which tells the story of the formation, success, and break-up of the 1960’s rock ‘n roll group The Four Seasons. The musical opened on Broadway in 2005, and in 2006 won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Who is directing? – One of Hollywood’s long-lasting icons, Clint Eastwood, is behind the wheel of JERSEY BOYS. This is Eastwood’s first directorial effort since J.EDGAR in 2011.

Who stars in this? –  A host of young newcomers will be bringing The Four Seasons to life; John Lloyd Young as Frankie Vallie, Erich Bergan as Bob Gaudio, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi. Christopher Walken is playing mobster Gyp DeCarlo, and Joey Russo will be playing a young Joe Pesci; who was acquainted with the group during their run.

What to expect? – The Broadway production presents its story in a unique format; it is structured as four “seasons” narrated by a different member of the band. It will be interesting to see if director Clint Eastwood takes this approach to film. Eastwood is certain to bring his gentle touch to the film; a touch which has served him very well in the past in crafting technically perfect films. However, in the past few years some cracks have begun to show in his craft. Recently, his films have ranged from dull (HEREAFTER in 2010), to pointless (GRAN TORINO in 2008), to downright awful (J. EDGAR in 2011). He’s become far and removed from his Oscar-days, and the world has to be pulling for him to bring us at least one more gem before he rides off into the sunset. Pass or fail, with JERSEY BOYS being Eastwood’s first venture into musicals, this will certainly be a curious entry in his long career.


JERSEY BOYS opens June 20th

Monday, June 16, 2014


“Hakuna Matata!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Disney’s THE LION KING. 

Development on THE LION KING began as far back as 1988, when Disney bosses Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney (son of Walt), and Peter Schneider began tossing around ideas of a story about a young lion born to succeed his father. Although THE LION KING was to be Disney’s first animated film based on an original idea, the storyline was heavily influenced by the biblical tales of Joseph and Moses, and William Shakespeare’s HAMLET. The film would attract Disney’s top animators, with many of them travelling to Kenya to research the animals and the place-setting. The script went through many authors and re-writes, with lyricist Tim Rice working closely with the writers…to ensure that his lyrics would work in the film’s narrative. 

The voice actors were chosen not for their big names, but for how they would fit into and add to the characters. James Earl Jones was cast because the directors (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff) felt his voice was similar to a lion’s roar. The rest of the casting was stellar; Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings all contributed to the success of THE LION KING. 

And succeed, it did. THE LION KING was the highest grossing film of 1994, and its 3D release in 2011 would elevate it to the highest-grossing hand-drawn film in history, and the 19th highest grossing film of all time. It would win an Oscar for Hans Zimmer’s original score, and Elton John and Tim Rice would also win for Best Original Song. THE LION KING would also win Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score at the Golden Globes that year. The American Film Institute ranks it fourth all-time in the animation genre. THE LION KING would have an enduring legacy; it would go on to inspire a Broadway adaptation, two direct-to-video follow-ups, a prequel, and an animated TV series. 


Years ago, this Blogger used to work with a very smart chap who would occasionally watch the opening sequence of THE LION KING before coming to work. The stunning and exhilarating opening sequence was a powerful and emotionally moving piece of filmmaking which could inspire anyone to awaken from a slumber. But what really makes THE LION KING work so well is that it has a familiar, yet fresh story. Characters are relatable; each one of them going through something that each and every one of us has lived through at one time or another. THE LION KING was very much in tune with life’s circle then, and it still is now. If the opening scene doesn’t inspire you to be who you really are, then the rest of the film will. 

“You are more than what you have become.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ruby Dee 1922-2014

Actress Ruby Dee has passed away at the age of 91.
Born Ruby Ann Wallace in 1922, Ruby Dee got her start on the stage in the 1940’s. It was the beginning of a full career which would span the next seven decades. Her long list of impressive screen credits include THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY (1950), NO WAY OUT (1950), A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961), DO THE RIGHT THING (1989), JUNGLE FEVER (1991), and AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007)…for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

She was the recipient of the Grammy, Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime awards, as well as the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. She crossed over into stage and TV effortlessly, and was also an accomplished poet, playwright, journalist, and activist. Her work in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s made her a formidable force. She was the Mistress of Ceremonies on the famed March on Washington in 1963, and was close with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

This Blogger’s lasting memory of Ruby Dee will always be her role in Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER in 2007; a role which would make her the second-oldest nominee for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 85. In that film, she was the strong and loving mother of a ruthless gangster, played by Denzel Washington. Denzel is a powerful performer, and it is not often that he gets upstaged or at the very least made to meet his match. But Ruby Dee was more than up to the challenge; so convincing that you have to wonder if she didn’t have Denzel scared of her off-set…in a good way. She played the mother of a gangster into Oscar history, but that was just a minor footnote in the long and incredibly prosperous life she led.




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Reel 25: BATMAN

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

This month marks the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s BATMAN.
Prior to 1989, people who lived outside of a comic book shop had very little exposure to the superhero known as the Dark Knight; a troubled, eccentric millionaire who dressed up as a bat every night and fought crime on his own. Most of the world’s exposure to the character had been the successful 1960’s TV show which was high on color, camp, and humor while aiming towards the kiddies. Tim Burton’s BATMAN changed all that. Drawing inspiration from the comic runs by Alan Moore and Frank Miller, Burton and his screenwriters went for a dark and gothic tone, while making the focus of the film two troubled individuals who served as an antithesis for each other; Batman and The Joker.
The early goings were not without controversy. The hiring of Tim Burton as director drew laughs from the cinema world, and the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman drew even more. After all, Burton was known for his quirky and colorful style from his prior works such as PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) and BEETLEJUICE (1988). In fact, Burton’s BATMAN would not receive the green light to proceed until after the financial success of BEETLEJUICE…which starred Michael Keaton. Keaton at the time had a reputation as a comedic actor from his work in MR. MOM (1983) and NIGHT SHIFT (1982). Keaton would win the role over Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, and Bill Murray. After the announcement, 50,000 protest letters were sent to the Warner Bros. offices.
But by the time the Bat Signal went up, it would be Keaton and Burton who would be laughing last. BATMAN would be the second-highest grossing film that year, second only to the third INDIANA JONES film. It was the first film to earn $100 million in its first ten days of release. The success didn’t just belong to Burton and Keaton. Jack Nicholson turned in a marvelous, if not campy performance as The Joker, and the supporting cast which included Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance were all in top form. Nicholson would earn a Golden Globe nomination, and the Art Direction would win an Oscar. Danny Elfman contributed a memorable score. BATMAN would inspire the successful animated series, and paved the way for DC Comic’s long-running DC Animated Universe.  
As a teen-bat, this Blogger had never been the biggest fan of Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Characters have little to do, the plot is paper-thin, and the Joker’s plan to rule Gotham was ridiculous and never made sense even then. The film has so many goddamn dance numbers it may as well be a musical, and the one-note, one-dimensional storytelling approach would get lambasted in a new film today. But…there is still a lot to admire in Tim Burton’s BATMAN. The film looks and sounds great, the cast is outstanding, and it certainly looks like it belongs in a comic book universe. But the long-lasting legacy of BATMAN is that to the wide-world, it put the colorful 1960’s TV version far away in the Batmobile’s rear-view mirror…and more importantly, it put the Dark back in the Knight.
“I’m Batman!”