Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy; actor, director, poet, singer, and photographer…has passed away at 83. 

Born in Boston in 1931, Leonard Nimoy began acting at the age of eight in a children’s theater. His first major role on stage was at 17 in an amateur production of AWAKE AND SING. After drama classes at Boston College (in which he failed to complete his studies), he served in the U.S. Army from 1953-1955. 

His acting had actually begun to take off before his military service. He received the title role in the 1952 film KID MONK BARONI, and would go on to play more than 50 small parts in B-movies and television series such as PERRY MASON, DRAGNET, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, WAGON TRAIN, BONANZA, THE UNTOUCHABLES, GET SMART, OUTER LIMITS, GUNSMOKE, and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE from 1969-1971. 

His greatest prominence would come from his role as Spock on the original STAR TREK TV series, which aired from 1966 to 1969. Embracing the role of a half-Vulcan (alien) and half-human serving as a science officer aboard an exploration vessel, Nimoy would play Spock for 79 episodes of the original series; earning Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor for a drama series each year. 

He would take Mr. Spock to the big screen with ease, bringing him to life again in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE in 1979. He would allow Spock to meet an unfortunate end in the pinnacle of the TREK franchise in THE WRATH OF KHAN, and accept a resurrection in THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. Nimoy would play Spock for five more films, including J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot and eventual sequel. The character was a constant thread in the STAR TREK universe, as he would reprise the role again on TV in the spin-off series THE NEXT GENERATION, and THE ANIMATED SERIES. 

His other film credits included INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE (1986), THE PAGEMASTER (1994), and TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011). He would step behind the camera as director; helming the third and fourth entries in the TREK film series. He would also direct the smash hit THREE MEN AND A BABY in 1987. He was an accomplished photographer with his work being displayed in galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts. He would author two volumes of autobiography, and during and after TREK…he released five albums of musical vocal recordings; which would include a version of Johnny Cash’s I WALK THE LINE, and the now notorious BALLAD OF BILBO BAGGINS. 


This Blogger cannot remember a time before Spock; having been introduced to STAR TREK in the late 1970’s…with Dad on every weekend afternoon when the Original Series was run on WPIX and the local PBS affiliate. Besides the space adventure filled with aliens and ships and planets and phaser-guns, there was obviously something different about TREK…and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was truly at the center of it all. Even though he played a character who shunned emotion and clinged to cold logic, it was no difficult task to enjoy the character; a tribute to Nimoy’s careful acting balance of human and alien. Through the years, Nimoy and Spock became the true pillars of sci-fi entertainment through film, TV, books, video games, graphic novels, toys, and the internet…and the genre has certainly lost one of its pioneers and necessary components. Nimoy’s Spock had a customary farewell of “live long and prosper”, and that was something that he did to the letter. He opened up the universe for us on and off the screen, and that is his true legacy. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2015, Episode III

The Oscars are over, 2014 is officially put to rest, and the desolate days of Movie Siberia (January and February) are waning…which means it’s time for The Year in Film 2015 to warm up. Here is a preview for the notable releases for the month of March. 

It all gets technical with….

CHAPPIE – Director Neil Blomkamp (DISTRICT 9) brings us another grim look at the future; this time through the eyes of a self-aware robot. This sci-fi flick stars Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, and Dev Patel (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). Sharlto Copley provides the voice of the robot. 

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL – The long awaited sequel to the 2012 surprise hit. Stars Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, David Strathairn and Richard Gere. 

CINDERELLA – Director Kenneth Branagh, who has helmed Shakespeare’s HENRY V and Marvel’s THOR, brings us a live-action adaptation of the Disney classic. Lily James stars as the title role, Helena Bonham Carter is the Fairy Godmother, and Cate Blanchett (ELIZABETH) is the Wicked Stepmother. Hayley Atwell (Marvel’s AGENT CARTER) rounds out the cast as Cinderella’s mother. 

RUN ALL NIGHT – Liam Neeson in yet another shoot-em-up flick. He is joined by Joel Kinnaman (ROBOCOP 2014), and Ed Harris (APOLLO 13). 

THE COBBLER – Adam Sandler in another comedic goldmine.

ANARCHY – A gritty film about a war between dirty cops and a biker gang. Stars Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, and Ethan Hawke (BOYHOOD).

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT – Another set of teen-novels gets adapted for the big screen; this second film in the series involves a futuristic Chicago in which fugitives hunt for allies while on the run. Stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, and the human doorknob….Jai Courtney.

THE GUNMAN – Seemingly looking to ride the coattails of Liam Neeson’s success as an aging action star, Sean Penn stars as a retired assassin pulled back into action. Stars Idris Elba (THOR), Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), and Ray Winstone (THE DEPARTED). Directed by Pierre Morel (TAKEN).

ACCIDENTAL LOVE – Director David O’ Russell, who has been nominated for multiple Oscars in recent years for THE FIGHTER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, and AMERICAN HUSTLE…directs this quirky comedy in which a freak accident leaves a woman with a nail lodged in her head. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal (NIGHTCRAWLER), Jessica Biel, James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Tracy Morgan, James Brolin, and Kirstie Alley. 

SERENA – This troubled film, which has been in production for what seems like a thousand years, gets a quiet release. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence unite once again...this time as a couple heading up a logging business in the 1920’s. Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans co-star. 


Next month, Episode IV of The Year in Film 2015 previews the month of April. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Night - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

The cinematic year of 2014 officially came to a close last night, marked by the 87th Academy Awards. True to form, there was plenty to cheer and gripe about. Here are the highlights and lowlights: 


-Neil Patrick Harris first time hosting was a roller coaster of peaks and valleys. His opening number was spectacular and was the best we’ve seen in several years. The lyrics were catchy and clever, and the renderings of Harris in the settings of classic movies was very well done…and funny. The opening number was probably a little too good, as he never hit that stride again for the rest of the show. Many of his jokes fell flat, and his interactions out in the audience were lifeless. His magic-trick near the end of the show was clever, but didn’t have much of an impact as they seemingly were hoping for. 
-Great production values on the graphics package and the stage. The deep, rich colors worked very well in HDTV. 


-Best Actor nominee Michael Keaton chewing gum with his mouth open. Come on, man. 

-The In Memoriam was moving as always, but the graphics/portraits did not do anyone justice. They are always at their best when showing moving pictures (ahem…the theme of the opening number), so the decision to use comic-art stills was an odd one. Also, the exclusion of the late Joan Rivers was in bad form, considering how much of herself she gave to the Academy and elevated the Red Carpet to where it is today. 

-Sean Penn’s green-card joke pointed at Best Director winner Alejandro Inarritu seemed in poor taste. The two had worked together before in the film 21 GRAMS in 2003, so it was clearly an inside joke that the rest of the universe wasn’t in on. 

-Acceptance speeches from the winners of the smaller categories like Short Film and Short Documentary were amateur-hour terrible. If you get nominated, please rehearse a goddamn speech so you don’t embarrass yourself. 


-Acceptance speeches from Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons, Julianne Moore, John Legend & Common, and screenwriter Graham Moore were full of heart and had something important to say; a welcome relief from the standard endless thank-yous. 

-This Blogger usually hates the musical numbers, but this year they were worthwhile. Lada Gaga’s tribute to THE SOUND OF MUSIC was excellent; not only because she was great but because the Academy often seems to forget about their rich history every year. Embrace it. 

-The audience was visibly moved by the performance of “Glory” from SELMA. Very well done.  

-Director Wes Anderson has developed a style of his own over the years which is unique and apart from anything else that’s being done. His film THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL won multiple Oscars last night, showing that he doesn’t need to change his style to be recognized. 

-Eddie Redmayne besting fan-favorite Michael Keaton for Best Actor. Cheers to the Academy for seeing the difference between a sentimental favorite and a realistic one. 

-It all comes down to one thing; what movie is deemed best. Alejandro Inarritu’s BIRDMAN bested Richard Linklater’s 12-year project BOYHOOD for Best Picture, and although this Blogger still has THE IMITATION GAME as the best of the year, this is a good selection by the Academy. BOYHOOD was ambitious and a monumental feat, but in the end it comes down to what you see on the screen…and that’s where it came up short. BIRDMAN by far was the more complete film of the two, and that means the right film won.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reel Opinions: Oscar Picks, Part 2

The 87th Academy Awards are fast approaching, and in this final part of Oscar picks, this Blogger will make selections in the elemental categories of filmmaking; the categories that pave the road towards the ultimate prize…the Best Picture of 2014. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Movie-making begins with the written word, which makes the Best Screenplay categories vital. This Blogger’s personal favorite of 2014, THE IMITATION GAME, is also the logical pick to win this category. It is a very human story set in an important backdrop, and it is a dialogue-heavy film which is the type that always does well. THE IMITATION GAME is nominated for eight Oscars and is unlikely to win many…and it’s too good of a movie to walk away empty-handed which makes this a win for the WWII thriller.


Best Original Screenplay

The battle for Best Picture begins here, with the two top contenders, BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD…battling it out. However there is a third party lurking about ready to make the steal; Wes Anderson and his magnificent THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. His script is complex yet focused, with witty dialogue and constant forward motion. The film has tremendous momentum by winning big in the BAFTA’s and Golden Globes, and the Academy has shown him love in the past with nominations in this category. Time for a win. 


Best Film Editing

If a film begins with the written word, then it ends with the cutting. This often-overlooked category is key as six of the last 11 Best Picture winners have won this category.  Starting from the bottom-up, AMERICAN SNIPER had minimal editing choices to make, as did WHIPLASH. THE IMITATION GAME belongs in the conversation for having some excellent relevant flashbacks, and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was snappy and made many great choices. The favorite and likely winner is BOYHOOD, which had the monumental task of editing 12 years worth of footage into a single movie.


Best Director

This is the most difficult category of the year, with Richard Linklater’s massive achievement in BOYHOOD going up against Alejandro G. Inarritu’s technically proficient BIRDMAN. Both men are deserving, and it’s possible that voters will split Best Director and Best Picture; this has happened 24 times out of the Academy’s 87-year history…including last year. Linklater showed tremendous perserverence in tackling a huge project in BOYHOOD and has won the Golden Globe along with critics’ awards, but Inarritu won the Director’s Guild prize…which is usually the strongest indicator. This Blogger was honestly a little underwhelmed by BOYHOOD, and BIRDMAN deserves to win something big. 

Winner: Alejandro G. Inarritu, BIRDMAN

Best Picture

It’s BOYHOOD vs. BIRDMAN for the Big Tamale in a very close call. Filmed over a period of 12 years, BOYHOOD is certainly a grand achievement, but this Blogger just wasn’t overly impressed; once you got past the amazement of the time-jumps and aging of the kids…it was difficult to find the movie. Still, BOYHOOD has swept critics’ awards and won the Golden Globe…but BIRDMAN swooped in and won at the SAG Awards, and in the Producers and Directors’ Guilds. BIRDMAN was a movie about Hollywood, and the Hollywood-voters tend to vote for themselves (see ARGO or THE ARTIST), but the thing is, BIRDMAN didn’t quite put those Hollywood-types in a very favorable light, so it could be very off-putting for those folk. On top of all this, if BOYHOOD and BIRDMAN split the vote, there could be enough room for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL to steal it. But it still feels like HOTEL will be the odd-one out, so here’s the deal-breaker: Every Best Picture winner since 1981 has been nominated for Best Editing. BIRDMAN did not receive a nomination in that category, which is a clear pre-requisite for a Best Picture. The absence of that key nomination gives BOYHOOD the edge. 



The Oscars will be awarded February 22nd

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reel Opinions: Oscar Picks, Part 1

In this first part of Reel Speak’s Oscar Picks, this Blogger will make selections in the Acting categories. 

This year’s categories are all alike in that they are all a one-or-two person race, while also giving hints towards which film will take home the Big Tamale. Here are Reel Speak’s picks: 

Best Supporting Actress

Simply put, Patricia Arquette is the clear frontrunner. Filming her role for BOYHOOD in a period of 12 years, her performance as a loving mother required the deepest commitment. The Academy loves real stories from real characters with real problems, and Arquette’s role as a single mom facing real-world problems is the type of material voters tend to eat up. Arquette has already cleaned house in critics’ awards, Golden Globes, and the all-important Screen Actors’ Guild. It’s hers by a mile.

Winner: Patricia Arquette

Best Supporting Actor

Actor J.K. Simmons has been around so long in so many different things that it’s easy to take him for granted. That all changes this week as Simmons is the one to beat for Best Supporting Actor. His role in WHIPLASH as a music-instructor with the edge of a drill sergeant has earned him wins in critics’ awards, Globes, and SAG…and his fiery performance stands tall over his ho-hum fellow competitors. His closest competition is probably Robert Duvall from THE JUDGE, as everyone seems to love a grumpy old man on film…but the Academy should know better. 

Winner: J.K. Simmons 

Best Actress

This category is a two-person race between Julianne Moore for STILL ALICE and Rosamund Pike for GONE GIRL. Both roles have the material that voters tend to gravitate towards; characters going up against incredible odds...which is really the best kind of story to be told. While both actresses had characters very grounded in reality, Moore’s role as a professor battling Alzheimer’s hits very close to home and can remind anyone of a situation they may have faced in their lifetimes. Moore has cleaned house this awards season, and this Blogger found Pike’s performance in GONE GIRL to be very underwhelming. 

Winner: Julianne Moore 

Best Actor

Another two-horse race in which Michael Keaton for BIRDMAN goes head-to-head with Eddie Redmayne for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Keaton is getting a lot of attention, but he seems to be more of a sentimental favorite because (a) he’s been out of the spotlight for so long, and (b) he’s Batman. Redmayne is the realistic favorite because (a) his role as a debilitated Stephen Hawking required a lot more work, and (b) portraying a real-life character well-known to the world leaves very little room for error; error that Redmayne did not commit. Redmayne has the advantage of playing the character going up against incredible odds (again, the stuff that voters love), and he has that all-important SAG win. After all, the SAG, which accounts for the largest chunk of Academy voters, has correctly predicted every Best Actor winner in the past 10 years. Make it 11. 

Winner: Eddie Redmayne


In Part 2, Reel Speak will make picks in the key categories leading to Best Picture. 

The Oscars will be awarded February 22nd