Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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

 The current movie industry loves to move the goalposts around, as studios release Summertime fare in the Spring and possible awards contenders in the Summer. This July is an example of that way of thinking; as it is packed with light-hearted action, comedy, along with a few possible peeks into Oscar-land. Here are the notable films for the month of July. 

It all travels back with…

TERMINATOR GENISYS – The fifth entry in the sci-fi franchise with the bizarre sub-title features Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his role as the killer cyborg from the future. This time around, the role of Sarah Connor is held down by Emilia Clarke (GAME OF THRONES), with the human doorknob, Jai Courtney (A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD) playing Kyle Reese. Co-stars J.K. Simmons (WHIPLASH) and Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY). Directed by Alan Taylor (THOR: THE DARK WORLD). 

MAGIC MIKE XXL – The sequel to the male-stripper comedy-drama from 2012 arrives with Channing Tatum (FOXCATCHER) returning in the buff. Co-stars Joe Manganiello, Andie MacDowell, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Elizabeth Banks. 

MINIONS – Those funny little yellow bastards from the DESPICABLE ME films get their own spinoff. This computer-animated romp features the voice talents of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, and Michael Keaton. 

SELF/LESS – In this mind-messer-upper sci-fi flick, Ben Kingsley (IRON MAN 3) is a dying wealthy man who transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man (Ryan Reynolds). 

BOULEVARD – The late Robin Williams, in his final screen role, plays a man in search of himself in this drama. Directed by Dito Montiel (EMPIRE STATE). 

ANT-MAN – Marvel Studios wraps up Phase 2 of their ongoing series of connected films and kicks off the third with one of their more obscure characters from their catalog. Paul Rudd (ANCHORMAN) plays the shrinking hero, and he is joined by Michael Douglas (!), Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, John Slattery, Hayley Atwell, and Evangeline Lilly (THE HOBBIT). 

TRAINWRECK – This screwball comedy has Amy Schumer playing a career-minded woman finding true love. Co-stars Tilda Swinton, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Ezra Miller, Marisa Tomei, and Daniel Radcliffe (HARRY POTTER). Directed by Judd Apatow (THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN). 

MR. HOLMES – In what may an early Oscar contender, Ian McKellen (X-MEN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS), plays a 93 year-old Sherlock Holmes who is called out of retirement to solve an old case of his. Co-stars Laura Linney and is directed by Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, DREAMGIRLS). 

IRRATIONAL MAN – Another possible awards-contender, Woody Allen writes and directs this mystery drama in which a philosophy professor finds himself in an existential crisis. Joaquin Phoenix (HER), plays the professor, and he is joined by Emma Stone and Parker Posey. 

PIXELS – Based on the most-excellent short-film of the same name, classic video-game characters from the 1980’s come to life and attack the Earth. Stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. 

SOUTHPAW – Another early hopeful-contender. Jake Gyllenhaal (NIGHTCRAWLER), plays a boxer trying to keep his family together. Co-stars Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, Victor Ortiz, and Tyrese Gibson. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY), and written by Kurt Sutter (SONS OF ANARCHY). 

AMERICAN HEIST – Loosely based on the 1959 film THE GREAT ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY, this heist film has two brothers pulling off a major score. Stars Adrien Brody (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL), Hayden Christensen (STAR WARS), and Jordana Brewster. 

VACATION – In the fifth installment of the NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION series, Ed Helms (THE HANGOVER), plays a grown-up Rusty Griswold taking his family on vacation. Co-stars Christina Applegate, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, and Chris Hemsworth (THOR). 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION – The fifth installment of this franchise has Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hawke. Co-stars Jeremy Renner (THE AVENGERS), Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (JACK REACHER). 


Next month, Reel Speak previews the final month of the Summer Movie Season. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Reel 40: JAWS - Part 4: On The Big Screen

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, Reel Speak celebrates this game-changing film with a blog each week for the month of June. Part 1 (HERE) explored The Beginnings, Part 2 (HERE) examined Why It Worked, Part 3 (HERE) dove into The Legacy…and this fourth and final part is a review of the film’s return to the big screen. 

Based upon Peter Benchely’s novel in which a killer shark terrorizes a fictional resort town, Steven Spielberg’s JAWS was not just the film which wrote the book on today’s current summer blockbuster model; it was the movie that created the pages that book was written on. It was an instant smash on its way to becoming the No. 1 box office hit of all time (before being overtaken by STAR WARS just two years later), and one of the most endearing, respected, and beloved films ever. Forty years later, a true example of the film’s ongoing appeal was witnessed at the film’s limited re-release on the big screen; courtesy of Fathom Events and Cinemark’s Classic Series. 

The most cynical may ask why they should shell out cash to watch a movie they could easily view at home via DVD, Blu-ray, or even on any given cable or satellite channel. If the big-screening of JAWS which this Blogger attended this week is any indication, the most cynical can go swim with the sharks. This particular screening was not just a packed sold-out show, it was clearly attended by old fans along with a host of newcomers (more on that in a bit). The variation in age was all over the map; very young, very old, and everything in-between. 

The presentation of JAWS was nothing short of spectacular. From the deep blue of the ocean to the bloody reds, JAWS practically leapt off the screen and into the auditorium. It looked clear and crisp and rich…and the largeness of the screen allows so many little details to be seen on the sets; from the wood-grains of the boats to the labels on bottles of wine…the big screen treatment made the fun and horror of JAWS an immersive experience. Spielberg’s eye for filling a frame with all of the vital elements is on full display; offering a clinic for anyone who has ever picked up a camera. 

How a movie sounds is just as important as how it looks, and this is why JAWS belongs in a theatre. The audio is not just amplified, but more importantly, it sounds so very clear with the littlest dubbed-in sounds now audible. Background chatter can finally be heard, the screams of the shark’s victims are bone-shaking, the groaning of the sinking boat feels dreadful…and of course, John Williams’ iconic soundtrack has all of the low-end bass rumble strong enough to loosen the hardest of bowels. In the theatre, it's a new movie to take in and it has never looked or sounded better.

The audience this Blogger viewed the film with were 100% on-board with the experience. The many newcomers jumped and screamed and sent popcorn flying at all the right jump-scares and laughed in all the right places. Their reactions points towards Spielberg’s perfect balance of terror and humor in the film. The old vets, this Blogger included, sat back with a huge grin and took it all in…and still chuckled at the jokes and witty one-liners. Perhaps the best part about the screening was towards the end; when people gasped at the bloody demise of Quint, cheered at the bloodier demise of the shark, and applauded without shame when the credits rolled over the shot of Chief Brody and Hooper arriving at the beach. For a brief but wonderful two hours, that theatre was in 1975 again; when sharks and the men who hunted them were something new, and the names of Spielberg and Williams were just being etched into the pillars of filmmaking. 


As a wee-lad in the 1970’s, this Blogger was much too young to see JAWS on the big screen in 1975, and it wasn’t until the later part of the decade when a new thing called HBO played the film in the family room; causing jumps, scares, cigarettes flying, and plenty of hiding underneath blankets. Since then, JAWS has been a constant favorite, and as the years have passed, an inspiration for filmmaking and storytelling. This Blogger has taken great pleasure in these JAWS blogs celebrating the 40th anniversary, as it has served a way to rediscover the film and its impact across generations. Seeing it on the big screen for the first time felt like coming full circle, and one day a new circle will begin when JAWS is introduced to new wee-lads in the family room. The film is timeless, and that is perhaps the greatest compliment it can receive. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

James Horner 1953-2015

Academy Award winning composer James Horner has passed away at 61. 

Born in Los Angeles and educated in London where he was schooled at the Royal College of Music, James Roy Horner was already an accomplished concert hall composer before he moved into composing music for film, with his first works being heard in THE LADY IN RED (1979), and later dipped his baton into the science-fiction genre for the first time with BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). His breakthrough came in 1982, when he scored the second STAR TREK feature film, THE WRATH OF KHAN; often considered to be the signature theme for the original STAR TREK run. 

His success with STAR TREK enabled him to score for many high-profile releases through the 1980’s, including 48 Hrs. (1982), KRULL (1983), the third STAR TREK film subtitled THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984), COMMANDO (1985), COCOON (1985), ALIENS (1986), BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987), WILLOW (1988), and in 1989…GLORY and FIELD OF DREAMS. His work with James Cameron in the sci-fi thriller ALIENS earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, and his Somewhere Out There from AN AMERICAN TAIL was also nominated that year for Best Original Song. After spending time in sci-fi, Horner moved over to children and family films, composing for THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988), THE ROCKETEER (1991), and THE PAGEMASTER (1994). Other works in the early 1990’s included SNEAKERS (1992), PATRIOT GAMES (1992), and LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1994). 

It was in the year 1995 where Horner had one of the most successful years ever for a composer. In addition to his work in the light-hearted children’s adventures CASPER, JUMANJI, and BALTO, he would have a one-two punch with his acclaimed work in Ron Howard’s APOLLO 13, and Mel Gibson’s eventual Best Picture winner, BRAVEHEART; both of which would earn him Oscar nominations. Not to rest on his laurels, Horner would re-team with James Cameron for TITANIC in 1997, which would earn him Oscar wins for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for My Heart Will Go On. The soundtrack for TITANIC became one of the best-selling albums of all time, and the highest-selling orchestral soundtrack in history. 

He would continue working through the new millennium; scoring for notable films such as THE PERFECT STORM, ENEMY AT THE GATES, THE MASK OF ZORRO, and BICENTENNIAL MAN. He would receive Oscar nominations for A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), and HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003). He would re-team with James Cameron again in 2009 for the sci-fi epic AVATAR and would earn his 10th and final Oscar nomination, along with nominations in the Golden Globes, British Academy Film Awards, and Grammy Awards. He would compose the theme music for the CBS Evening News which was used from 2006-2011, which was introduced as part of Katie Couric’s debut as anchor. Other works in the 2000’s included TROY (2004), THE NEW WORLD (2005), and a reunion with Mel Gibson for APOCALYPTO (2006). His final work will be heard in this year’s SOUTHPAW in July. 


This Blogger has grown up with the music of James Horner; from the adventurous tunes of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS to the magnificence of his work in STAR TREK, Horner was able to churn out fun and emotional power with the simplest arrangement of notes. But it didn’t end there. If the job of a great film composer is to elevate a hard-sell, high-concept sci-fi story into true cinema, then Horner’s name belongs in the upper echelon of history. His work in GLORY, BRAVEHEART, APOLLO 13, and TITANIC is iconic and everlasting, and this Blogger cannot listen to those soundtracks with dry eyes. From the far reaches of space to the battlefields of Scotland and the deep South, James Horner tapped into the soul of it all. We have lost one of the greatest ever, but his music will never fade. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Reel Review: INSIDE OUT

When it comes to creating a film which works for both kids and adults, Pixar has been the leader from their beginnings. It’s a delicate balance to strike; dumb it down too much and the adults will be bored, make it too complex and the kids will be bored. In the case of Pixar’s newest, INSIDE OUT, that fine line is not only walked on…but moved. 

Riley (Kaitlyn Davis), is an 11-year old girl who has just moved to a new town with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). Her actions are controlled by her emotions; Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)…all of whom battle for control in her mind. 

INSIDE OUT is a high-concept film which takes great care to establish its universe; a universe where every element of human behavior is given a physical manifestation. Riley’s emotions are characters who reside in her brain (referred to as headquarters), memories are represented as orbs (a different color for each memory; sad, happy, etc), personality traits are seen as islands (family, friends), dreams are created in a Hollywood-like production, imagination gets its own land, and long-term memories are disposed of once no longer needed. It is a fascinating examination of how human beings work; represented on-screen as a large factory complete with (physical) trains of thought and an old imaginary friend who lives in the sub-conscious.
But building a world is one thing; knowing what to do with it is another…and this is where INSIDE OUT excels. Director Peter Docter and co-director Ronnie del Carmen utilize every inch of this world. As Riley struggles to adapt to her new home and school, Sadness “corrupts” her happy memories, which leads to Joy and Sadness getting lost in her sub-conscious area…which leaves Anger, Fear, and Disgust in charge of her behavior. As Joy and Sadness head off on a mission to return to Riley’s thoughts, the film shifts to one metaphor after another, making for a engaging storyline that fascinates by the minute. It’s a literal emotional journey. 

The design of the characters and the way they behave should be an easy sell for the kids, and the adventure they take on should be equally entertaining for young minds. The high level of sophistication of the film will likely sail over their heads, and adults will eat up the ongoing metaphors. It’s almost too high-level for the wee-lads as they likely won’t fully appreciate the film until years to come, which makes INSIDE OUT the type of film that lasts a very long time. 

From a technical standpoint, Pixar has never done better. The animation is stunning, the pacing is quick and humor is never stupid-level. Michael Giacchino’s score is perfect; sweeping when it needs to be and emotionally rewarding at all times. The voice-cast is perfect for every character, with Lewis Black’s Anger and Amy Poehler’s Joy getting the most and best work. The show is nearly stolen by the imaginary friend who lingers in Riley’s sub-conscious (voiced by Richard Kind). 

There is a lot to take in when viewing INSIDE OUT, and as time goes by both child and adult will find something new about it. The physical forms of the emotions could be used as a teaching tool to kids by teachers and parents, which gives INSIDE OUT even more staying power. Perhaps the best part about it is the (ahem), emotionally rewarding ending and the message it carries…which will have everyone’s inner-gears turning long after the film wraps. INSIDE OUT is not only a great kids’ flick, but an example of true cinema and its power. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need To Know About INSIDE OUT

Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios makes their long-awaited return to the big screen this weekend with their newest adventure, INSIDE OUT. Here is everything you need to know about the 15th film from the famed animation studio. 

What is this about? – The little voices inside our heads become actual characters. Set in the mind of a young girl, her five emotions; Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness…try to lead her through her life. 

Who is behind this? – INSIDE OUT is directed and co-written by Peter Doctor, who is a veteran of Pixar. Doctor has directed MONSTERS INC. (2001), the short-film MIKE’S NEW CAR (2002), UP (2009), and is credited with the story for WALL-E (2008), TOY STORY 2 (1999), and as a writer for MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013). 

Who are the actors? – Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling provide the voices. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan provide the voices of the young girl’s parents. 

Random Items – The basic storyline of INSIDE OUT came from a period of director Peter Doctor’s life, when as a child he went through a similar experience that the film’s main character goes through * INSIDE OUT is the first Pixar film without input from co-founder and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who passed away in 2011 * The art design of the film is intended to reflect 1950’s broadway musicals * The music is scored by Michael Giacchino, who has scored four previous Pixar films (THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE, UP, and CARS 2), and has also scored STAR TREK (2009), and this year’s JURASSIC WORLD * The personalities of the different emotions are inspired by the dwarfs from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937).

What to expect? – This is Pixar’s first feature in over two years, so there is a great amount of comfort having them back on the big screen. Prior to the break, they had released one film each year since 2006, and it is fair to assume that they have used the time wisely. Having Pete Doctor at the brain is a huge positive, as Doctor has put together the most emotionally rewarding Pixar film yet (UP), and with this being a film about childhood…that sort of special touch is needed. Despite being favorited by the wee-lads, Pixar’s films have always operated on several layers of storytelling; making them suitable for adults just as much as children, and with INSIDE OUT seemingly taking place in two different arenas (inside and out of the girl’s head), there is ripe potential for multi-layered storytelling; a true thinking-man’s adventure. Overall, all the pieces seem to be in place for a strong effort from Pixar. 


INSIDE OUT arrives in wide-release June 19th. It will be preceded by the animated short, LAVA.