Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything Old is New Again





In June of this year, Reel Speak and movie fans who are not afraid to get back in the water will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. To help commemorate the birthday of what is widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, Fathom Events is teaming with Universal Pictures to re-release the film in a limited two-day run. 

JAWS, which tells the story of a great white shark that terrorizes a resort community, will be presented on June 21st and June 24th, at 2pm and 7pm each day. The screening will include an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. 

This is great news for fans of JAWS and in film in general. In today’s stubborn Hollywood, where remakes and reboots and sequels of older material takes priority, it is indeed a joy to revisit classic favorites the way they were meant to be seen; on the big screen. The picture looks better, the sound is incredible, things which were never noticed before or forgotten are seen, and it makes for a grand communal experience with fellow movie fans. This Blogger has taken advantage of re-releases in the past few years, revisiting TITANIC, JURASSIC PARK, GHOSTBUSTERS, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. There is a great feeling to be had when leaving the theatre surrounded by people buzzing with excitement over re-visiting an old friend again. 

Aside from JAWS, there is plenty of fun to be had this coming summer if you live near a Cinemark theatre. As part of their classic series this summer, the chain will be running re-releases of classics such as the James Bond adventure GOLDFINGER, James Cameron’s original THE TERMINATOR, Mel Brooks’ SPACEBALLS, Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and the 1980’s favorite…GREMLINS. For those of us who love these films and for those who need to discover them for the first time, there is no better venue to do so. 

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Cinemark’s Classic Series roster can be found here: 





Monday, May 25, 2015

A Reel Review: TOMORROWLAND





Brad Bird's TOMORROWLAND is a film which is saturated in Disney lore. Not only is it heavily inspired by Mr. Walt Disney's imaginative designs for the future, but its style embraces his famed studio's golden age of live-action/hybrids where adventure, whimsy, optimism, and a sense of wonder are always up-front-and-center. That is the gift-wrap Bird is giving us, but what lies beneath that is another matter...

Casey (Britt Robertson), is given a mysterious pin by the mysterious child Athena (Raffey Cassidy), which transports her to another dimension with a futuristic city called Tomorrowland. When Casey realizes that she was given the pin for a specific purpose, she seeks out the help of Frank (George Clooney), who once lived in Tomorrowland as a youth…which is now overseen by Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). 

After a wonderful prologue with a stunning recreation of the 1964 World's Fair which sets up Frank's backstory, TOMORROWLAND fast-forwards to the present day and shifts over to Casey and her journey to discover exactly why she was chosen. As her and Athena, and eventually Frank, make their way from one place to another, the film unravels as a series of mysteries to solve. One question leads to an answer which opens up even more. It's a little repetitive but for the most part it works. Director Brad Bird taps into a fun element of wonder as he uncovers and introduces more mysteries, aided by some fantastic set-pieces (including an antique toy shop and the Eiffel Tower), and a crowd-pleasing touch with a satisfying sense of nostalgia. 

Where TOMORROWLAND goes off the monorail is in the final half-hour. Great lengths are taken to establish that there is a great doom coming to our world, and only Casey's unique sense of imagination and optimism can save people from their demise...but then the film solves everything by a final battle which involves boxing robots, fistfights, and throwing bombs around with the intent of blowing shit up. It's a lazy way out, and is a direct contradiction to the overall message of the film which preaches intelligence and imagination to solve problems. On top of that, Casey winds up taking a back seat to Frank in the final act; hinting that the writers weren't quite sure who the main character was supposed to be. 

There is still a lot to enjoy in TOMORROWLAND. Director Brad Bird keeps the pacing tight, and the action/chase scenes are a thrill. The design of Tomorrowland itself (again, inspired by Walt's original plans) is a joy to see on the big screen. Bird taps into an old-fashioned vibe which includes robots, jet-packs, spaceships, and ray-guns...and there is a constant sense of comfortable familiarity. 

George Clooney brings his best to the table and musters up a surprising amount of emotion. The only hitch to his performance is his character is written as a bitter and grumpy old man, but Clooney’s natural charisma and charm make it a hard sell; it seems not even Clooney can overcome the Clooney Charm. The real revelation of the film is teen actress Britt Robertson, who displays every required bit of emotion and does a fine job in making us care about the character. Child actress Raffey Cassidy is also excellent, and Hugh Laurie is superb.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about TOMORROWLAND is despite the rocketship-ride atmosphere, there is a lot established with characters and places which are never brought back full-circle by movie's end; meaning, the film raises a thousand questions and only answers half of them. Couple that with the incredibly stupid final act which flies in the face of the movie’s overall message and TOMORROWLAND becomes a spaceship which lands with a splat after a roaring takeoff. This is a case where the gift-wrapping is nicer than the gift. 

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it






Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Reel Preview: TOMORROWLAND - Everything You Need To Know







This weekend, one of the most intriguing films of the year arrives in the form of TOMORROWLAND; intriguing because the plot details have been kept wrapped up tighter than a three-day clock. Here is everything you need to know about this mysterious movie…

What do we know about the plot? – Frank, a former boy-genius, and young Casey embark on a dangerous mission to a hidden world…where their actions affect everything in space and time. 

Who is in this? – George Clooney plays Frank, and Casey is played by Britt Robertson. Clooney, one of the most prolific Hollywood directors, actors, and producers, most recently starred in his very won THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) and GRAVITY (2013). Britt, or Brittany Robertson, is a teen actor who already has a long list of credits, including this year’s THE LONGEST RIDE with Scott Eastwood (son of Clint), SCREAM 4 (2011),  and TV appearances on LAW AND ORDER and CSI. Rounding out the cast are Hugh Laurie (TV’s HOUSE), Tim Mcgraw (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), Judy Greer, (THE DESCENDANTS), and Kathryn Hahn (STEP BROTHERS). 

Who is behind this? – Produced by Disney, TOMORROWLAND is directed by Brad Bird. Bird has spent most of his career in the animated-film genre; creating the Oscar-winning Pixar films THE INCREDIBLES (2004) and RATATOUILLE (2007). Bird was also behind the now-regarded classic THE IRON GIANT (1999). In the live-action arena, Bird transitioned over to humans with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL in 2011, which would become the highest-grossing in the series. Bird has co-written TOMORROWLAND with screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who after spending time on TV’s LOST, moved over to film where he wrote STAR TREK (2009) and its 2013 sequel, along with COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011), Sir Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012), and WORLD WAR Z (2013). 

Random Facts – The designs of TOMORROWLAND are heavily influenced by Walt Disney’s original vision for his futuristic EPCOT community, and the film looks to be saturated with Disney’s lore * Part of the film’s viral marketing campaign included a picture of a frayed cardboard box marked 1952, supposedly uncovered from the Disney archives. The box contained objects such as old photos of Walt, a vinyl record, a 1928 copy of Amazing Stories and an unidentified metal object * Michael Giacchino, who composed the soundtracks for THE INCREDIBLES and the two most recent STAR TREK films, provides the score * Brad Bird turned down an offer to direct the next STAR WARS film to do TOMORROWLAND * This is the first film George Clooney has appeared in without a director or producer credit since GRAVITY in 2013. 

What to expect? – It’s necessary to address the elephant-in-the-room regarding TOMORROWLAND, and that is screenwriter Damon Lindelof. Despite receiving acclaim and an ability to grab high-profile films, Lindelof’s name is much-maligned with movie and TV fans in recent years. His finale to TV’s LOST pissed off one-half of the world, and his work in Sir Ridley Scott’s science-fiction film PROMETHEUS managed to piss off the other half. His ambiguous style of writing is like a shell-game and can be very frustrating (he’s the type of writer where if you ask him what time it is, he’ll ask you what time do you think it is), and he does tend to take massive shortcuts to get his characters from A to B. But the bright side of the coin here is director Brad Bird. Bird has turned in three films which are regarded as classics, and his one venture into live-action is considered to be one of the best if not the best in the series (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE). Bird should have the ability to sniff out a troublesome script, and his knack for great characters and stunning action scenes should give TOMORROWLAND the boost it needs. Whatever mysteries are in store for us in this film, the ride to the revelations should be an enjoyable one. 

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TOMORROWLAND opens (ahem), tomorrow…May 22nd.  





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Reel 20: BRAVEHEART



 "Every man dies, not every man really lives."




This month marks the 20th anniversary of Mel Gibson's BRAVEHEART.

Based upon the life and deeds of William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior who led his countrymen in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England, this cinematic version was loosely based on the epic 1488 poem written by Blind Harry, and was adapted for the screen by Randall Wallace...who was writing his first screenplay.

The ambitious project, which would involve six weeks of shooting on location in Scotland, was taken on by actor and director Mel Gibson...who would also star as William. Gibson, who was an international star thanks to his roles in the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON franchises, had only directed one film prior; his 1993 intimate drama THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE. Inspired by the directors who had guided him in his early years such as George Miller and Richard Donner, Gibson set out to make a film which would echo back to the big screen epics he had grown up with; citing Stanley Kubrick's SPARTACUS (1960) and William Wyler's BIG COUNTRY (1958) as direct influences.

Armed with a strong cast which included Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfadyen, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox, Sean McGinley, David O' Hara, Alun Armstrong, James Cosmo, Catherine McCormack, and Tommy Flannagan...Gibson shot the major battle scenes in Ireland using members of the Irish Army Reserve; up to 1,600 at one time in certain scenes.

Although the film would be criticized as being historically inaccurate, no one outside of a classroom seemed to care. BRAVEHEART was the 13th highest grossing film of 1995 and earned praise from critics. At the 68th Academy Awards it would be nominated for ten Oscars, winning five; including Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson. Gibson would also win at the Golden Globes, and James Horner's soundtrack would also win big; taking home an Oscar, a Globe, Saturn, and BAFTA Award. His soundtrack would go on to become one of the most commercially successful soundtracks of all time. Long-term, BRAVEHEART would cause a boom in Scottish tourism, and authors and scholars have credited the film with playing a significant role in affecting the Scottish political landscape in the late 1990's.

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Throughout history, there have many films which have been more than happy to accept the label "epic"; some of them are very much deserving of that label, some are not. While many films give the appearance of being epic by staging huge battles, they often forget about the people who are the center of it...let alone give them a story of their own. While BRAVEHEART certainly has more than its share of massive bloody battles, at its heart and soul is the story of one person, and while that character's narrative may be a classic archetype, in the case of Gibson's film it would serve as a nice balance after all the bloodshed. Gibson knew the dangers of "battle fatigue" in war films, and knew enough to slow things down to bring the human element back into the story (years later, director Peter Jackson would use the same technique in his adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS), and that sort of dual-storytelling truly deserves the epic label. With that approach working for him, Gibson made a film which serves many purposes; a war film, a love story, a hero's journey, a tale of brotherhood and loss...along with a slice of history even though it does so in broad strokes.

BRAVEHEART is a film which was made at just the right time; it was put together just before the CG era would step in and replace thousands of extras on the battlefield with artificial soldiers, which not only made for a stunning spectacle on-screen, but would teach Gibson the lessons needed for him to eventually become a top-tier director in Hollywood. Gibson's classical influences are up-front and center in BRAVEHEART, and it may stand as one of the last great old-school Hollywood war films. This Blogger watches BRAVEHEART once a year...always during awards season; each time out savoring the journey of a hero and a rousing romantic film.

"They fought like warrior poets, they fought like Scotsmen...and won their freedom."




Friday, May 15, 2015

A Reel Review - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD





It has taken writer/director George Miller nearly 30 years to bring the 4th entry of his MAD MAX franchise to the big screen, and in that time mainstream filmmaking, with a few notable exceptions has changed a lot; studios run by corporate suits lazily greenlight remakes and reboots while lowballing the budget…forcing directors to over-rely on CGI graphics and artificial environments. Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a spit, slap, punch, middle-finger, and kick to the face of the current system and to the world as a whole…but even a rebel has to deliver a good film. 

In a post-apocalyptic world, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) escapes from the clutches of the ruling tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his army of bloodthirsty War Boys. Max escapes with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has betrayed Joe by smuggling his five wives out of his citadel…leading them all on a mad chase across the desert. 

Less of a reboot or remake and instead the 4th adventure of Max, FURY ROAD’s plot mostly consists of a two-hour chase scene across the desert wastelands. As Max and Furiosa thunder away with the helpless women in a bastardized tanker-truck, they are relentlessly pursued by Joe and his army; a chase which is composed of countless cars, trucks, and motorcycles turned war machines with metal spikes, machine guns, explosives, and blunt blades…which leads to sequence after endless sequence of smashing, dodging, colliding, shooting, punching, kicking, and mad fucking destruction all over the goddamn place…topped off with even more spikey vehicles, and a flame-throwing guitar backed by a thunderous and rhythmic sweeping soundtrack leading to some of the most fucked-up looking characters and scenes you’ll ever see on film.

So what does all that madness amount to besides an endless barrage of furious sights and sounds? Quite a lot, actually. This is a world devastated by nuclear war; food and water are scarce and what there is of it is controlled tightly by Immortan Joe, who is content with starving his followers and using them to breed his army. Max and Furiosa know they can’t save this world, nor is there anything out there that could save it, but in whisking the wives away from Joe, they can only bring them and the rest of the starving people…something that at least feels like hope. Amidst all the carnage and noise, director George Miller finds a very human element and sticks with it. 

FURY ROAD does not feel like a film made by a 70 year old man now in his fifth decade of filmmaking. The action is pedal-to-the-metal spectacle and there’s barely enough time to process what just happened before the film has moved onto the next event. Miller shows a great amount of energy and ambition here, and with minimal dialogue and a grand control of the vast landscapes that he is working with…FURY ROAD is mind-blowing from the first frame. The film is gorgeous to look at; the deserts of North Africa have never looked so beautiful and deadly. CGI is used sparingly and is never relied upon like a crutch, but instead enhances scenes where necessary. The massive amount of vehicles which look like they were cobbled together from whatever could be found in a scrapyard are awesome to see, and even more impressive considering they actually built the fucking things, and then drove and smashed and blew them up all over the desert. The commitment to practical effects and stuntwork is a joy to see, and is not only a throwback to the 1970’s or 1980’s, but is incredibly ambitious enough that it sets a new spectacular bar in filmmaking. 

Tom Hardy slips right into the role of Max with ease. With little dialogue to deal with, Hardy does most of his acting and communicating with his body, eyes, and face…and it is always effective. As a continuation of the series, Hardy’s Max has a tortured past and he carries it well. Charlize Theron is a great match for Hardy and has to do the most physical work she’s ever done. The show is nearly stolen by Nicholas Hoult, who plays a War Boy torn between helping Max and the seductive nature of Immortan Joe. Joe himself, as played by MAD MAX veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne, is a little one-note and spends all of his time behind a mask, but is an awesome sight to see. 

Considering the state of the today's film system, it is a miracle that FURY ROAD even exists, but even more of a miracle that it works so well. Despite all of the carnage and blood, there is an artful quality to it which is the mark of great balance. With so little words spoken, FURY ROAD unspools like a symphony where the sights and sounds drive the story, and it could be shown in a film class as a lesson in editing, pacing, and composition…which makes it a glorious triumph. 


BOTTOM LINE: See it




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Reel Preview - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD





In 1979, Australian director George Miller unleashed his wild vision of an untamed future in the form of the Mel Gibson-led MAD MAX, and then followed up the successful film with two sequels. This weekend, a new version of MAX roars into sight with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Here is everything you need to know about this highly anticipated film. 

What is this about? – In the year 2060, after the downfall of civilization, a loner named Max agrees to escort a small group of women across a desert landscape, while being pursued by a bloodthirsty band of savages and their souped-up killer war machines. 

Who stars? – Tom Hardy, who has thrilled audiences with his roles in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, WARRIOR, BRONSON, and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, plays the role of “Mad” Max Rockatansky…which was once inhabited by Mel Gibson. Hardy is joined by Charlize Theron (MONSTER), Nicholas Hoult (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny, also from FIRST CLASS), and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (TRANFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON). 

Who is directing? – George Miller, who just turned 70 this year, returns to helm the franchise that he created over 30 years ago. Miller’s recent output has been in animated family films as of late including the Oscar-winning HAPPY FEET (2006), and its 2011 sequel, along with BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998), and live-action films LORENZO’S OIL (1992), and the WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987). 

Random Facts – Miller has been trying to bring a fourth MAD MAX film to screens for the last 25 years with Mel Gibson set to return. They were all set to shoot in 2001, but it was postponed due to the 9/11 attacks. By 2003 they were set to restart, but security restrictions halted production again (they were to film in Namibia), and Gibson lost interest after the cancellation * Once production picked up in 2006, Heath Ledger (Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT), was considered for the role of Max * Miller designed the film through storyboarding, which resulted in over 3,500 panels * Filming finally began in 2012 and wrapped a year later * Miller claims that 90% of the effects and stunt work, involving hundreds of souped-up trucks, cars, and motorcycles, were all practical (non-CG.

What to expect? –Starting with the director, if you’re going to reboot or remake (or expand) a franchise, you can’t be in better hands than the guy who started it all in the first place. Miller may be 70 years old but he knows the material and how to make it work, and his time in the animated film genre should certainly have taught him some delicate sensibilities over the years. Mel Gibson may have created an iconic character for the ages in the original role and seem irreplaceable, but if the franchise is to move forward then new blood is certainly needed (besides, even the original Bond got recast)…and there is no better new Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy is an elemental force in every film he appears in, and has the imposing physique and intimidating demeanor needed for the character. Miller’s dedication to practical effects, and thousands of fire-breathing vehicles thundering across the desert landscape is a breath of fresh air to those of us tired of non-threatening-looking CGI noise, and is a throwback to an earlier, more ambitious age of filmmaking. We can expect visual mastery and on-screen chaos, and hopefully some fun madness. 

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD opens May 15th