Friday, May 27, 2016


In today’s modern studio-driven superhero movie climate, there is a current strong focus on ensemble casts with super-powered people taking on a relevant social issue or two. The X-MEN franchise, now in its 16th year with eight films, was the very first to do so thanks to director Bryan Singer. The latest offering, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, takes a different approach that is very basic; so basic that it almost feels new.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first and most powerful mutant, awakens after thousands of years and begins to recruit more mutants to help him cleanse the world; including a heartbroken Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Standing in his way are Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), and his team of current and former students including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Havok (Lucas Till), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

For better or for worse, the X-MEN franchise has thrived on putting its super-powered characters into a civil rights battle; specifically, society rejecting those who are different. Those days are gone in APOCALYPSE, as director Bryan Singer dispatches the debating of rights and belonging for a simple good vs. evil story. The central villain, Apocalypse, is fascinating to watch as he manipulates mutant powers in a way we’ve never seen before on film; the things he does to people and mutants are downright horrifying, and he is a viable threat to our heroes.

APOCALYPSE however goes a little too simple with its villain. Despite the horrors he brings to living beings and the world-wide devastation he causes, he’s very undercooked with his motivations never really spelled out. It’s a one-note bad guy and whatever makes him tick is a bit of mystery. The film still works, as Singer, who has always had a strong hold on these characters, keeps the threat real and how it effects the principle players always up front, and the intimate and revealing moments with the principle characters are brilliantly handled.

The fights are spectacular, the visuals are stunning, and the large-scale set-pieces...realized with tons of CGI, increase the stakes dramatically. There is a great balance of tone going on; moments of tragedy are immediately followed up by a light or heavy laugh, which are then followed up by some sadness. It’s an emotional ride which never gets too heavy-handed or takes itself seriously. Singer takes full advantage of the period setting (early 1980’s), inserts some well-chosen bits of music and pop-culture references which adds to the enjoyment, and a sequence scored with Beethoven's 7th Symphony is masterfully done.

With such a large cast, many of the characters merely serve as set-pieces and get shoved to the back by the time the final battle happens. Faring the best are the principle players, specifically James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. This may be a film with costumed and caped heroes doing silly things, but don’t tell that to these two guys who treat their characters and their movie as serious drama at all times. Fassbender’s character goes through a surprising and heart-wrenching turn, and the actor carries it very well. Faring the worst are the lovely Rose Byrne, who in reprising her role as a CIA Agent, does little but offer a few laughs and stand around with her mouth open. Sophie Turner, who as the new and powerful Jean Grey, still needs to discover her facial muscles. Oscar Isaac is buried underneath mounds of makeup and costume which seems to hinder his usual wonderful acting ability, and newcomers Olivia Munn (as Psylocke) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are held to a dozen lines and a hundred grunts and growls. A huge cameo late in the film is handled brilliantly by both actor and director.

With no central social-theme to work with and what eventually amounts to a disposable villain (SPOILER: the good guys win), APOCALYPSE isn’t the type of film which gets the wheels turning and inspires discussion. Much like its misfit characters, the X-MEN franchise has always been the bold one, and the decision to stick with a stripped-down, naughty vs. nice plot actually makes it stand out amongst the current heavy-handedness of the modern superhero film genre. What it does offer is plenty of thrills and chills, and is arguably the most fun out of all of the X-MEN films in its 16-year history. It’s not enlightening, but it is entertaining.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reel Facts & Opinions: X-MEN - A Blog of Future Past

This weekend, 20th Century Fox offers its 8th film in its series of adaptations of Marvel Comics’ famed X-MEN franchise, in the form of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. The road to get here has been a long and twisty one, with several steps forward, backward, and sideways in its evolution. Here now is a look back at the X-MEN in film.

In the 1990’s, the superhero genre in film was a joke, thanks to several low-budget bombs and stinkers. No one took the genre seriously, but that all changed in 2000 when director Bryan Singer’s X-MEN arrived. X-MEN centered its universe around three main characters, played by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), and Ian McKellen (Magneto), and surprised everyone by inserting social issues into its narrative. By making super-powered people (called mutants) deal with civil rights issues, X-MEN vaulted itself and the genre into legit filmmaking. Today, there is a lot of focus on universe-building over several films, and Singer’s X-MEN established everything it needed to in a film that ran less than two hours.

As good as X-MEN was, it was topped by the superior X-MEN: UNITED in 2003. Commonly referenced as X2, Singer’s second film kept the civil rights issues in the crosshairs while adding some great character-work with his large cast of mutants. There are strong family themes at work, and despite the bigger stakes, operates firmly as a character piece. This Blogger holds X2 as one of the top five best superhero films ever made.

With such a high bar set by X2, it was difficult for the third entry, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND to come close. Trouble started early when Singer left the franchise and was replace by Brett Ratner, who shot the film in a de-saturated look which sucked the life out of it. The plotline involving a possible cure for mutant-powers was great on paper, but missed the obvious ethical grappling the characters should have had. X3 was met with critical drubbing, and long-time X-MEN fans revolted over some decisions made with the characters. It had its moments, but fell way short of the high bar set by X2.

At this point, Hugh Jackman had elevated his character to household name status, and was the obvious choice to be the first character to get his first shot at a solo career. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE arrived in 2009, and was to be the first in a series of origin films. Intending to tell Wolverine’s backstory before he received his famed metal-claws, the film suffered from some silly moments (even for a comic book film), and an overabundance of crappy CGI.

Plans for further origin-telling solo-shots were scrapped, and Fox instead went with a broad-strokes origin-tale with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS in 2011. Telling the story of a young Professor Xavier (now played by James McAvoy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), FIRST CLASS was directed by Matthew Vaughn with Singer as a producer. Although this Blogger considers this movie to be a step sideways; neither moving things forward or back…the film was met with critical praise, and for many, righted the ship.

Fox wasn’t done playing with the immense popularity of Jackman’s Wolverine, and in 2013 gave him another shot at a solo career with THE WOLVERINE in 2013. Directed by James Mangold, THE WOLVERINE explored more of the character’s backstory while taking him forward, and the film stands as the most visually stunning of them all. THE WOLVERINE was met with OK praise thanks to a hokey third-act, but the film was enjoyable, didn’t spark much outrage…and kept the mutant wheels turning.

In 2014, the existence of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was finally justified with the magnificent X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which saw Bryan Singer return to the director’s chair. The film brought the old and new cast together though some clever time-travel, had some of the most stunning sequences to be seen in an action film, and once again put society back on trial for the way it reacts to people who are different. The time-travel fuckery in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST actually corrected many wrongs by completely erasing the events of the less-than-favored X-MEN movies, which made a lot of fans happy.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST also served as a bit of a send-off for the original cast, which means the stage is now set for our new team of X-MEN to take over. And that they will in this year’s X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Once again helmed by Singer, APOCALYPSE brings McAvoy and Fassbender back in their roles, and adds Oscar darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Oscar Isaac, along with Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, and Olivia Munn. So what can we expect? The trailers and posters seem to be promising the biggest threat the X-MEN have ever faced, and even though they say that nearly every film, this time around seems to hold the promise of some epic setpieces. Singer has always had a confident hand in guiding these characters and the overall franchise, so it’s good to know that he’s there. However it turns out, the X-MEN on film have always been the characters who are a little different; an island of misfit toys who just happen to have super-powers. Anyone can relate to that, and find a little bit of themselves in a friendly, or even an un-friendly mutant.


X-MEN: APOCALYPSE opens May 27th.   

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Reel Review: THE NICE GUYS

In the late 1980’s, screenwriter Shane Black kickstarted the buddy-cop film genre when he wrote the first LETHAL WEAPON film. The genre lasted nearly 20 years with many sequels and rip-offs and parodies before fizzling, and here in 2016, Black returns to the genre that he practically invented. Only this time with a slight twist in THE NICE GUYS.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private eye who is hired to find a young girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who, before vanishing hires free-lance enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to get March off her trail. When March and Holland converge, they learn that even more dangerous people are looking for Amelia…

Set in the late 1970’s, THE NICE GUYS is a mystery film deeply saturated in old-school, L.A. film-noir. The mystery is a thick maze with many twists and turns, which includes (but not limited to) a dead adult-film star (Murielle Telio), a corrupt politician (Kim Basinger), two bumbling hit-men (Keith David and Beau Knapp), and just for good measure…a scandal involving the Detroit auto-industry. The trail that March and Holland have to follow and make sense of is thick with layer after layer of questions, and THE NICE GUYS becomes a film which is impossible to try and outsmart. If a filmmaker is better off confusing the audience than to let them get ahead… then director Shane Black has done a masterful job in keeping his film smarter than the audience.

But what makes it all work is the marvelous character work done with March and Holland. The chemistry that Black builds between the two characters is a joy to watch from the first minute thanks to the simple measure of making these two guys so different; March is a wimp who would rip-off his own client before solving a case, and Holland is a tough-guy thug who breaks arms for a living, but is still a straight-man with a high sense of honor. The contrast between the two is believable, keeps the film moving, and offer some hilarious moments. And just as an added bonus, the rail-thin March and the husky Holland evoke memories of LAUREL AND HARDY…in a good way. In THE NICE GUYS, it doesn’t matter if the mystery is impossible to figure out, because the film is just too damn fun to watch and explore with these two characters.

Black keeps the pacing brisk, the language harsh, the breasts bare, and the guns blasting in a very R-rated film which doesn’t once feel gratuitous. This is the 1970’s and Black knows it. The sense of style and music makes the film feel timeless, and Black also shows his love for old-school Hollywood filmmaking with no shame. This is a filmmaker’s film, and a film-lover’s dream.

Acting is a blast. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe show great chemistry together. Gosling finally steps away from his tired blank-stare act and Crowe shows some terrific comedic chops. As good as they are, they are often upstaged by young Angourie Rice, who as Holland’s 13 year-old daughter, does a great job and thankfully avoids the annoying-kid role. The rest of the impressive cast which includes Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Murielle Telio, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Ty Simpkins, and Gil Gerard (!) are all excellent.

The film wraps up nice and tight with all of the questions answered, and although some of the many bad guys get away with it, the film still ends with some nice resolution for all. What makes it stand out from the old buddy-cop genre isn’t just that the two leads aren’t cops, but that it’s done in a way that makes the old genre feel fresh and new. In THE NICE GUYS, Shane Black has crafted a fun, witty, raunchy, bloody, and totally re-watchable film that’s as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. THE NICE GUYS are a blast to hang out with.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Reel 30: TOP GUN

“I feel the need…the need…for speed!”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Tony Scott’s TOP GUN.

A showcase of masculine military might and 1980’s patriotic flag-waving, TOP GUN followed Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Nick “Goose” Bradshaw as they train at the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School and compete to earn the title of “Top Gun” as the best fighter-pilot in the Navy. With modern aerial combat and the larger-than-life personalities of fighter pilots at the center of the story, all the right elements were needed to make it fly.  

The film was inspired by an article published in California magazine in 1983.The article caught the attention of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who was coming off his hit film BEVERLY HILLS COP. The directing job went to the late Tony Scott, the younger brother of director Ridley Scott. Tony was coming of his coldly received horror film THE HUNGER, and was looking for a hit.

With an emphasis on a macho military, casting would be key. The lead role of Maverick went to heartthrob Tom Cruise, who already had a string of hits behind him such as RISKY BUSINESS (1983) and ALL THE RIGHT MOVES (1983). The rest of the cast read like a Hollywood Hunk List; Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Rick Rossovich, John Stockwell, and Whip Hubley filled the squad of brash and cocky fighter pilots. The rest of the cast was rounded out by Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, and Tim Robbins.

The Navy offered full cooperation, and made several of their own aircraft and pilots available. With TOP GUN being a full decade away from computer-generated imagery, dogfight and training sequences were done for real; with new camera housings invented which would allow film cameras to be mounted on different parts of the aircraft, providing for some stunning photography. TOP GUN would embrace the cool of the military, dressing their cast in stylish flight jackets, aviator sunglasses, and beach wear. And the now infamous code-names; Maverick, Goose, Iceman, Viper, Jester, Cougar, Wolfman, Slider, Merlin, Sundown, Hollywood, Chipper and Stinger…was icing on the cake. Rock musician Kenny Loggins contributed two songs for the soundtrack; Playing with the Boys and Danger Zone, and Berlin recorded the love ballad Take My Breath Away…which would win an Oscar for Best Original Song.

TOP GUN would be the highest grossing film of 1986, and would be nominated for four Oscars. It would win the People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Motion Picture, and the score would win a Grammy. After the film’s release, the Navy stated that the number of recruits jumped up by 500 percent, and in 2015, the U.S. Library of Congress selected TOP GUN for preservation in the National Film Registry.


TOP GUN is a film which embodied the spirit of the 1980’s; from a ballsy military, love ballads, and kicking the ass of Russia. Today, with the Cold War long gone and aerial combat now a thing of the past (for now), TOP GUN doesn’t feel like a very relevant film and certainly feels like it came out of the colorful era of the pop-video dominated 1980’s. But TOP GUN has made a mark that is still felt today. It is often quoted, parodied, and referenced (with love) as a significant entry into pop-culture, and Tom Cruise may never have completely shed his “Maverick” persona. As a film, it is thrilling and fun…and director Tony Scott was able to find a heart in all of the chest-beating, as TOP GUN still manages a love story and a father-son tale. There have certainly been more films that came out of the 1980’s that were deeper and more meaningful, but none that were so darn cool as TOP GUN.

“I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.”



Monday, May 16, 2016


In her short directing career, Jodie Foster has time well-spent in exploring the human condition; from depression to guilt to greed on the big and small screen. In her newest effort, MONEY MONSTER, the human condition comes second, as Foster takes to the business of the American financial world.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a TV-show host of a financial cable show dishing out stock tips, who is taken hostage while on the air by Kyle (Jack O’Connell), who is blames Lee for a bad stock investment which wiped out his savings. Kyle insists that they stay on the air while Patty (Julia Roberts), the show’s producer, tries to keep the live hostage situation from becoming a deadly one.

MONEY MONSTER sets itself up as a hostage thriller, with one determined man literally holding everyone at gunpoint just so his voice can be heard. Not content to just sit in the studio with the gun and hostages, Jodie Foster spins her film off into procedural land, looking into the bad investment which sent Kyle over the edge. There is a lot of corporate sneaking around going on, led by a too-rich-for-his-own-good CEO (Dominic West), who plays games with his company’s press officer (Caitriona Balfe) by keeping her in the dark from the truth. There’s a lot weaving in and out of the TV studio as Kyle’s bad investment and drama unfold for the world to see, and MONEY MONSTER also takes a bite out of journalistic integrity and ethics just for good measure.

MONEY MONSTER begins to lose its teeth as things unfold. Characters are always at the center of any drama, and Foster winds up with a band of idiots and jerks that no one would care if they win or lose. Kyle comes off as pouty and stupid more than dramatic, and Lee is just a large ego-head with no likeable qualities. Patty, who is meant to hold it all together and essentially has everyone’s lives in her hands, is just a grump who would rather be doing anything else. But the biggest sin Foster commits is that MONEY MONSTER is very dull; for a film which spends 90% of its time with a man pointing a gun at another’s head (complete with a lot of yelling and cussing), there is very little tension to be felt.

MONEY MONSTER plays out in real-time, so the script takes a lot of shortcuts with the technology available. Television cameras and the stock market do things that are impossible, the cops are portrayed as the Keystone kind, and many of the characters make idiotic decisions only because the script needs them too.

Acting isn’t terrible, but it isn’t wonderful either. George Clooney plays the part of an obnoxious TV host pretty well, but when he’s off-camera and needs to play a jerk, it seems that not even Clooney can overcome the Clooney charm. Jack O’Connell is fine but was asked to scream too much, and Julia Roberts is just kind of…there. The real standout is the lovely Caitriona Balfe, who does the most work and has to deal with the most emotion.

MONEY MONSTER seems to have an identity crisis as it can’t quite decide if it wants to be a satire on greed and journalism or a dramatic take. It isn’t until the final few minutes where Foster makes a real statement on how people react to real-life drama, but by then its way too late. MONEY MONSTER is dull, boring, silly at times…and a waste of all talent involved.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Reel Opinion: The Relevance of Captain America

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?”

This past weekend, Marvel Studio’s third film dedicated to their most iconic character, Captain America, sub-titled CIVIL WAR, dominated the box office and earned rave reviews from critics and fans (read Reel Speak’s review HERE). But the success of CIVIL WAR isn’t limited to the money or the fun to be had in the theatre, but the fact that a character which was born out of WWII propaganda has managed to stay relevant.

Cap, also known as Steve Rogers, made his debut in 1941 on the cover of a comic book, in which he is shown punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw. The comic, which became a best-seller, would go a long way in changing America’s popular opinion on joining the war (it was printed a year before Pearl Harbor), and Captain America would become a patriotic icon.

Here in 2016, Cap’s flag-waving may seem dated, but CIVIL WAR was able to bring the character into relevance in our culture once again. It seems that Marvel has been building towards this with Cap over his many appearances in their series of films (Cap has appearances in two AVENGERS films, and three solo shots), and CIVIL WAR felt like an exclamation point on the character. How did Captain America, a character born before America entered WWII, cement his relevance in 2016?

Political – In CIVIL WAR, the government decides to regulate superheroes, and this causes a rift between Cap and his super-friends; Cap doesn’t want the regulation, while the people he has fought alongside of and for, favor it. This causes a rift which rips apart Cap’s team and his friendships, and it is very similar to the violate political climate the United States seems to be in now. Every election is a war of words not just with politicians but with their supporters with social media acting as the battlefield. Political issues have driven people, political parties, and countries apart, and CIVIL WAR is a statement on that.

Civil War/Civil Rights – In Marvel’s films, Captain America is the one who fights for the little guy, and is the first one to stand up for those who can’t fight for themselves. Just as he was a symbol for resistance in 1941, he represents those who can’t fight in CIVIL WAR. People, super-powered or not, being registered and controlled by the government is an issue that Cap sees as a civil rights matter, and true to his nature, cannot take sitting down. It’s privacy vs. security, which is a battle that has gripped America for the past 15 years.

Broken Friendships – In CIVIL WAR, the strong beliefs dividing Cap and his friends leads to a fractured team, with neither side relenting an inch. The rift starts as political, but quickly turns personal (aren’t all political battles personal anyway?), and it is clear that even Captain America hurts when losing friends; especially when he didn’t have to. Today’s society, driven mad by social media, can take any single issue and make a mountain out of ant-hill, with verbal barbs being thrown around for everyone to see. CIVIL WAR knows that battles like this are relevant today, because everyone…you, Cap, and this Blogger, have lost friends we didn’t have to. The loss hurts, and can lead to even more bad decisions. It is said that human relations are at their absolute worse today, and CIVIL WAR carries that theme throughout its narrative.


CIVIL WAR is not the first superhero film to put social issues into its storylines, but it is unique because it uses a character from nearly two generations ago to carry the message, and most importantly, maybe show us the way out. Superheroes, and most especially Captain America, are designed to inspire and to show us what we could be. When placed in the middle of the type of turmoil that everyday America seems to enjoy, Cap once again becomes the character punching evil in the jaw, only this time the evil is represented by fear, apathy, intolerance, and hate. Captain America has always been a symbol of patriotism, and his current cinematic version is a renewed symbol of hope. Maybe “what would Cap do?” should be the new question to be asked when the enemy is closing in.

“People could use a little old-fashioned.”

Friday, May 6, 2016


From 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War raged across the United States and divided a nation in half. It was a conflict rooted deeply in ideals which split families and forced brothers to turn against brothers. In the 13th film in Marvel Studios’ series of films, their most iconic character, Captain America, is at the center of a similar conflict; a conflict which threatens to tear apart his “nation” of friends and fellow superheroes.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) seeks to redeem his brain-washed friend Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), with the help from Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). When things go horribly wrong, it is the last straw for the government, which wants to oversee the Avengers or force them to disband. The government oversight, favored by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Vision (Paul Bettany), tears the team in half, while the mysterious Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) secretly plots something from the shadows.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a film which is 100% true to its title. It establishes itself firmly as a unique superhero film as this time around there is no Big Bad out to destroy the world or acquire some sort of weapon. In CIVIL WAR, the biggest threat the heroes have is each other…and with 13 movies of history behind them, the directing team of Joe and Anthony Russo immediately have excellent material to work with. Marvel has spent a lot of money and time bringing these characters together on screen, so the Russos had to make their eventual fracturing believable…and they  do a remarkable job in making it so. Every character, including some new recruits, which includes (but not limited to), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are given well-established and legitimate reasons for choosing their sides. Like a true tragedy of war, the Russos set the Avengers up like a family; with everything from an overprotective father to a rebellious son…and when the division does happen, it is an emotional gut-punch which may take many fans off-guard.

When the punching does happen, the action-scenes are an absolute thrill which will have audiences ducking for cover. Some terrific set-pieces involving cars, planes, helicopters, motorcycles, are breathtaking, and the hand-to-hand combat bits leap off the screen. The action is incredibly well executed and is given an extra layer because it is all meaningful, and fans are sure to be saying “no, don’t do it!” when one of their favorites gets into some real peril or loses a fight.  There is a lot of old-school action-film work being done here, but the Russos are certainly not afraid to let their superheroes be super, and a major showdown at an airport, in which the two sides let it all hang out, is a chunk of cinematic joy for comic-book fans and for everyone else.

Acting is perfect. Long-time Marvel blokes such as Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. have been doing their roles for so long that they slip right into them easily. The extra-large cast, which also includes Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Frank Grillo, Martin Freeman, William Hurt, and Emily VanCamp, is handled extremely well by the Russos, as every actor and actress gets their own moments to shine. The show is nearly stolen by newcomers Chadwick Boseman and young Tom Holland, who fully embrace their characters and enter the Marvel universe with an outright bang.

The American Civil War tore things apart to the point where the same issues are still being debated and felt, and this CIVIL WAR is no different. There is a lot that happens in this film which will carry over into further Marvel adventures, and one has to wonder exactly how the Russos and their bosses will get their heroes out. But for as much that happens, it is very much a Captain America film, as the story truly revolves around him and he is never lost among the grand scale of things. This is a story about civil rights, which makes it perfect for Captain America (that’s what he always fought for), and turns the film into one of the most relevant entries in the genre. CIVIL WAR is executed perfectly on many levels; an action-flick, a superhero movie, and it is most certainly an emotional ride. It’s not just a great comic-book movie but a true film. Marvel Studios has used their most iconic character to throw his shield like a gauntlet; as a challenge to the world to meet a new standard.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2016- Episode V

This year, the Movie Gods scheduled the month of May in a nice bookend; with a massive superhero team-up film beginning the month and ending it. In-between those, there are plenty of intimate arthouse flicks and slick action thrillers. Here now is a complete preview for the notable films in the month of May…

It all gets marvelous with…

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – The latest installment in Marvel’s series of superhero films has Captain America (Chris Evans) and his fellow Avenger Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), at odds when the government decides to regulate super-powered people…all while another enemy rises. The massive and impressive cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Bruhl, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, and William Hurt. It is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who also directed CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

A BIGGER SPLASH – In this erotic thriller, Tilda Swinton plays a famous Bowie-like rock star whose time-off is interrupted by some old friends. Co-stars Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson (50 SHADES OF GREY).

MONEY MONSTER – Jodie Foster returns to the director’s chair. In this thriller, George Clooney plays a TV host who is taken hostage while on the air. Co-stars Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, and Dominic West.

HIGH-RISE – Based on the 1975 novel of the same name, Tom Hiddleston (Marvel’s Loki), plays a tenant in a London skyscraper where class warfare leads to anarchy. Co-stars Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, and James Purefoy.

LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT – Yet another shot at the last temptation of Christ. Ewan McGregor (young Obi-Wan from STAR WARS), plays Jesus Christ, and he is joined by Tye Sheridan (MUD), and Ciaran Hinds (THERE WILL BE BLOOD).

THE DARKNESS  - Kevin Bacon leads the way in this horror film about a family terrorized by a supernatural force.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP – This romantic comedy is loosely based on the Jane Austen novel Lady Susan, in which Lady Susan (played here by Kate Beckinsale), seeks refuge to avoid rumors. Co-stars Chloe Sevigny (ZODIAC).  

I AM WRATH – In this action thriller, John Travolta plays a husband who seeks revenge for the murder of his wife. Co-stars Christopher Meloni, Sam Trammel, and Rebecca De Mornay. Directed by Chuck Russell (THE MASK, ERASER, THE SCORPION KING).

THE NICE GUYS – Shane Black (IRON MAN 3, KISS KISS BANG BANG) directs this slick-looking stylish buddy cop/mystery comedy with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the buddies.

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE – It had to happen sooner or later.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS – The sequel to the 2010 ALICE IN WONDERLAND which was directed by Tim Burton. Burton steps aside and takes a producing role, and James Bobin, who directed the last two MUPPET movies, steps into the director’s chair. Mia Wasikowska reprises her role as Alice who returns to Wonderland, and she is joined by Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall…and the late, great Alan Rickman in his final role.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE – May closes out the month with another big-ass superhero epic. Bryan Singer (X-MEN, X2), returns to the world of mutants…this time under threat from the oldest and most powerful mutant of all time. The big ol’ cast includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, and Olivia Munn.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of June.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Reel Facts & Opinions: Reagan and the Justice League

Last week, as explored by Reel Speak HERE, the news came out that comedy actor Will Ferrell was set to play former President Ronald Reagan in what was being dubbed as the first “Alzheimer’s comedy”; in which Reagan, as President, falls into dementia and an intern is given the task of convincing him that he is an actor playing the President in a movie. Today, following outcry from the Reagan family and every other person on the internet with an opinion, it has been reported that Ferrell is stepping away from the project.

Despite the controversial take, the unproduced script, entitled REAGAN, has long been considered to be one of the top unproduced scripts in Hollywood. The outrage from the Reagan family is certainly understandable, but hopefully this isn’t a sign of Hollywood losing their balls. Controversy is nothing new to the film industry; as far back as 1915, D.W. Griffith’s A BIRTH OF A NATION caused uproar over its stereotypical depiction of African-Americans, and in 1932, FREAKS was criticized for casting real-life human oddities in its sideshow-performing story. And let’s not forget other controversial films in the past 50 years, such as THE EXORCIST (1973), FACES OF DEATH (1978), ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988), and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004).

Granted, Ferrell’s film was a comedy and probably far from reaching the classic status of THE EXORCIST or ROSEMARY’S BABY, but the one thing it does have in common is that it involves a sensitive issue. Hollywood has always given alternate takes on religion, race, politics, and like it or not…disease. Ferrell’s decision to walk away from REAGAN will probably kill the project, so in looking back at Hollywood’s long history, the question is…what is off-limits and what isn’t? Where is the line drawn? And when will filmmakers take a stand and make their movie no matter who gets offended? The debate will undoubtedly rage on.


In other news, the Zack Snyder-directed superhero battle royale BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is nearing the end of its theatrical run, and the film looks to finish up as the seventh highest grossing superhero film at the worldwide box office, with $829 million gross. The Warner Brothers produced adaptation of the two most famed DC Comics characters will finish as the 11th highest comic book film in the United States, and in this year, will not beat out the Fox production of the lesser-known comic character, DEADPOOL…which was released in February.

A figure like $829 million seems respectable, but Warner Brothers had their sights set a lot higher for what they were considering to be the ultimate superhero film. After all, the anticipation for DAWN OF JUSTICE had been building for years, well before it was officially announced, and the two most iconic characters of all time, Batman and Superman…were meeting on-screen for the very first time. The cold hard fact is the movie was not very good (read Reel Speak’s review HERE), and the public responded. If you want to do better, make a better goddamn movie.

But the hits just kept on coming for Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder, who are now into production on JUSTICE LEAGUE, a film which will reunite Bats and Supes…and bring along a host of other super-powered characters from the vast DC Comics lore. Over the weekend came a report that Snyder and Warners were banging heads over JUSTICE LEAGUE…and even worse, the director of THE FLASH movie, Seth Grahame-Smith, had quit.

There seems to be a solid state of chaos over at the Warner Brothers offices. Long-time fans of DC Comics would probably be happy to see Snyder get booted off JUSTICE LEAGUE and never let near another comic property again, but unfortunately, with JUSTICE LEAGUE already into filming, it seems that train has already left the station. Hopefully once all of the nonsense quiets down and the adults have a chance to talk, some compromise can be made and we all can have a good movie with the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.