Monday, June 26, 2017

A Reel Opinion: The Han Solo Saga



Ever since his spectacular debut in 1977, one of the most popular and controversial characters in all of cinema has been Han Solo of STAR WARS fame. Originally portrayed by Harrison Ford for four films, the dashing young space pirate who was challenged to think about more than himself and money captured the hearts of women and gave the guys an idol to mimic. Han was a rebel within the famed Rebel Alliance; the type that would shoot first and take a payday, but also the type you would want fighting by your side.

Controversy seemed to match the character’s popularity. Twenty years after his debut, a galactic-sized shitstorm erupted around the character when a minor edit to a shootout appeared in the 20th anniversary edition of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE; an edit which has angry fans fuming to this day. Harrison Ford would reprise the role for the final time in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), and would bring Solo to an end which was embraced by many, but hated by others. And just to fan the flames a bit more, in 2015 Disney and Lucasfilm announced an upcoming STAR WARS spinoff film which would center around a young version of Han Solo, this time played by Alden Ehrenreich.


Not all fans were quick to embrace the idea of the role of Han Solo being played by a new actor (maybe they need to watch a few James Bond films), but such a beloved character does need to be treated with tender loving care. The fear that fans have had grew exponentially just last week, when the directors of the yet-untitled film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were dismissed from the ongoing production. And within days, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced that Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (APOLLO 13, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, WILLOW) would be taking over.

The reasons for Lord and Miller’s sudden exit have been trickling out over the past week, with “creative differences” between the directing duo, Kennedy, and long-time STAR WARS screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan being the most quoted. Recent stories have emerged pointing towards Ehrenreich approaching Kennedy concerning Lord and Miller shooting Han Solo as a screwball comedy which was along the lines of Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura character, along with reports of the duo not being able to keep up with the shooting schedule. It seems that Lord and Miller, who wowed audiences in 2014 with their animated THE LEGO MOVIE, were not prepared for the size and scope of a STAR WARS movie, and another report of crewmembers breaking out into applause when Howard was hired seems to point towards just that.

The concerns over the current state over the Solo solo film are many, and justified. Sources say that Lord and Miller had shot nearly 90 percent of the film, and that Howard would be re-filming scenes deemed unusable. The pressure is certainly on, but Howard is no rookie, and Disney has shown great care and affection for STAR WARS since taking over the franchise. If the reports of Lord and Miller filming a STAR WARS movie like a goofy comedy are accurate, then this Blogger says good goddamn riddance, and perhaps in the future more care will be taken towards hiring directors for more STAR WARS; not to mention a cautionary tale for rebellious young directors.

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The untitled HAN SOLO film will be released on May 25th, 2018. Along with Alden Ehrenreich, it also stars Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, and Thandie Newton.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Reel Review: TRANSFORMERS - THE LAST KNGHT



One of the oldest axioms in storytelling and filmmaking is that the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be. This is done to keep the audience engaged, interested, and grounded when the elements are not of this earth. In the universe of the TRANSFORMERS, where giant alien robots who turn into vehicles are battling for supremacy or freedom of the human race, simplicity is key. But don’t tell that to director Michael Bay and his team of writers in the 5th entry in the adaptation of the Hasbro toy line, sub-titled THE LAST KNIGHT.

Humans are at war with the Transformers; both the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. The Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), is in deep space searching for his maker, while the remaining robots on Earth remain in hiding. Helping the Autobots along is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who finds a talisman from the dark ages which can lead to Merlin’s Staff, which can unlock a terrible power underneath the Earth which can wipe out humanity. In a race to the Staff, Yeager is joined by an old professor (Anthony Hopkins), a young professor (Laura Haddock), an orphaned girl (Isabela Moner), and the military leader against the aliens (Josh Duhamel).

Find the staff, save the world. The story could not be simpler in this sci-fi fantasy flick where robots from space battle among us with historical ties to the Knights of the Round Table, World Wars, Stonehenge, and the Super Continent which eventually formed our planet. The concept is as far out there as another galaxy; Merlin (played by Stanley Tucci), was a real guy who received his staff (mistaken for magic back then), by ancient Decepticons, and the Transformers have been among us for decades assisting in WWII and other global conflicts. It borders on ridiculous at times, and steps are taken to make it believable, and THE LAST KNIGHT sets itself up as a grand, sci-fi and fantasy war tale.

There’s a lot going in the film, including Yeager and his new companions having ancient blood-line ties to everything (a bit contrived), and THE LAST KNIGHT gets bogged down in a hurry. There’s way too much plot, and the film has to get through it all with endless explanations after explanations when we’d rather see robots punching each other. The narrative eventually gets so confusing a road map is needed, and things get so plot-heavy that even characters are shoved aside; too many are introduced and forgotten about too quickly.

While Bay is dishing out a soup sandwich of a story, he’s filming one gorgeous looking movie. Every frame is filled and stunning, and the battles are a lot of fun, with the scenes in the dark ages a real highlight. But there are still a lot of head-scratching decisions happening. Hero-bot Optimus Prime vanishes from the story way too often, and even though he gets some huge moments worthy of applause, it doesn’t seem like he was well utilized and it’s easy to feel cheated. On the technical side, the film is an editing disaster. There are many odd cuts, breaks in continuity (Yeager acquires an ancient weapon which vanishes and never spoken of again), and sections of the film feel like they’re missing. But worse of all is the goddamn screen format. THE LAST KNIGHT was shot in two different screen formats; widescreen and IMAX. We’ve seen this before with many films going from one sequence to another, but Bay switches formats between cuts within a scene. It’s distracting and jarring and absolutely bizarre to witness, and very odd for a Bay film which at the very least is technically proficient.

With such a large cast, there are no real standouts. Mark Wahlberg is fine, as is the always-great Anthony Hopkins. Young Isabella Moner is a true find, and Josh Duhamel continues to play a great military man. John Turturro shows up in a pointless cameo. The voices of the many robots are provided by John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Gemma Chan, and Jean Dujardin, to name a few…and all are perfect.

Similar to its predecessors, the final battle is eye-popping and done on a grand, magnificent scale, and then halts abruptly and we’re in the closing credits before we can process what the hell just happened. There are so many issues to speak of it’s hard to blame any one thing; the overstuffed script points towards indecision (not to mention seven credited contributors to the script and story), and the editing issues makes one wonder what was going on during shooting and in the editing room. The ambition behind the history-altering story is admirable, but the presentation is messy and confusing, and brevity is sorely lacking. Save this one for the car-crusher.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it


Monday, June 19, 2017

John G. Avildsen 1935 - 2017



Oscar winning director John G. Avildsen, the man behind the camera for two of the most popular films in pop-culture, has passed away at 81.

John Guilbert Avildsen was born in Illinois and educated at New York State University. He began his film career as an assistant director on films by Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger. His first bit of success came in 1970 with his first low budget film, JOE; in which actor Peter Boyle received critical acclaim. His next successful film would be SAVE THE TIGER in 1973, which was nominated for three Oscars, and would win Best Actor for Jack Lemmon.

His biggest film would come in 1976, when he took a script written by then-unknown Sylvester Stallone about a down-and-out boxer with a never-say-die attitude and turn it into the definitive sports film of all time; ROCKY. With an earnest and on-the-street approach, ROCKY endeared itself to everyone and not just sports and boxing fans. ROCKY would be the highest grossing film of 1976 and earn ten Oscar nominations; including Best Picture and Best Director for Avildsen.

In 1984 he would take a few pages out of Stallone’s spirited script and make THE KARATE KID; starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. Another underdog film which audiences instantly related to, THE KARATE KID would be a quick entry into pop culture, and that year would earn Morita a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Avildsen’s later films would include NEIGHBORS (1981), THE KARATE KID PART II (1986), LEAN ON ME (1989), THE KARATE KID PART III (1989), ROCKY V (1990), 8 SECONDS (1994), and INFERNO (1999).

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As a wee-lad, there were a handful of films that this Blogger and his brother would latch onto; often quoting and re-enacting fight scenes (often with bad results), and those two of those films were ROCKY and THE KARATE KID. The spirit behind both of those films, which had more to do with character than the actual fighting, was something that we as kids, and now as adults can truly appreciate. Avildsen took two simple concepts and made them speak to us all, to keep on fighting when the odds were not in our favor, and to get back up no matter how many times knocked down; two qualities that could take adults and kids a very long way.



Friday, June 16, 2017

A Reel Review: CARS 3



Since day one, the films of Pixar Animation Studios have had that hard-to-sustain balance of adult-themes wrapped up in kid-friendly storytelling. With CARS 3, the second sequel to their 2006 world of talking vehicles, the adult themes have never been meatier, or more relevant. This is a film about growing old, about leaving something behind for the next generation, and remembering our roots. It’s heavy stuff, but how would that travel with those who travel with pedals?

Famous race-car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is nearing the end of his prime. In an attempt to compete with high-tech rookie sensation Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), McQueen wrecks and is facing an unwelcome retirement. Determined to give it one last shot, McQueen picks up a new sponsor, led by Sterling (Nathon Fillion) who assigns him a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). When the new, high-tech training methods don’t work for McQueen, he sets out to find Smokey (Chris Cooper); the old crew chief of his first mentor.

Films set in a sports or competition world often have that rise, fall, rise again method of storytelling, but so few want to deal with a competitor who is aging out of their profession. It’s understandable why no one wants to often tell that story, because it is, and should be hard to watch. In CARS 3, director Brian Fee and the Pixar team bravely drive down that road, as this is one brutally honest animated film. It’s never easy watching our heroes grow old, fall, and struggle to adapt to a new changing world, and that’s exactly the story Lighting McQueen is going through here. His old friends and sponsors are retiring and leaving him, and the sport that he had excelled at seems to be passing him by.

The bulk of CARS 3 is spent with McQueen trying to stay in the fast lane, mostly with his new trainer, Cruz. Cruz has her own story to tell; a female car with racing dreams who was once told that girls can’t race…and through each other McQueen and Cruz find a way. The film really takes off when it shifts into a road-trip (of course) to find the mentor of McQueen’s teacher Doc Hudson (magically reprised by the late great Paul Newman), and CARS 3 finds a brilliant story to tell by embracing past, present, and future.

This is still a G-rated animated film, and for kids the issues may be too weighty to lift. But the story is done in enough broad-strokes for them to latch onto. They would certainly be able to tell that their hero McQueen is struggling (his big wreck is horrific to see), and most of the humor is done via physical comedy. However, for adults the lack of witty one-liners in the script is noticeable, although there are some very good knee-slappers here and there. The action scenes, especially the racing and a second-act trip to a backwoods demolition derby are spectacular and will keep the attention of the old and the new easily. The Pixar animation is at its best, and certain scenes, such as a beach training scene, the demo-derby, and old film reels have a photo-realism that is breathtaking; it nearly looks like Pixar filmed Hot Wheels toys on a playground. The pop-music cues are perfect and add to the fun, and Randy Newman’s score is quite wonderful.

Owen Wilson is still perfect as McQueen, and his chemistry with Cristela Alonzo really helps drive the film. McQueen’s old friends from Radiator Springs are back (wonderfully reprised by Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, and yes…Larry the Cable Guy), but are reduced to extended cameos, although the little screentime they have is put to very good use. The late great Paul Newman returns through some clever, and tasteful use of unused audio from the first film. Chris Cooper and Kerry Washington make welcome additions. The only real gripe with the cast is that Michael Keaton isn’t back to reprise his character, and the recast new guy (Bob Peterson) sounds nothing like Keaton.

By the time the checkered flag drops on this lap, a few tears are sure to be rolled as CARS 3 wraps with a satisfying punch; reminding us the importance of accepting age, passing on what we’ve learned, and the true meaning of the word “legacy”. And despite the talking cars and trucks with cartoon eyes, this is a very human story. But the true brilliance of CARS 3 is that it feels like Pixar is reminding us of the state of things; after all, the famed animation house is now well over 20 years old, with its original founders and filmmakers reaching their own twilights, and fans from day-one reaching the point of passing down their own torches. Pixar understands us, just as they always have, and films like CARS 3 will make them the best driver to take us down the road.

BOTTOM LINE: See it


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Reel 30: June of 1987



In today’s Hollywood, major studios tend to put a lot of thought into the release dates for their films; dates and weekends are analyzed, over-analyzed, scrutinized and stressed over, with each studio watching the other closely in a virtual arms-race to see who blinks first. What this means for us is only a few worthwhile films per month, but in the glorious month of June in 1987, we were treated to an avalanche of movies which today, 30 years later, are looked back upon very fondly. Here is a look back at those movies which came to us in June of ’87.

The month started off with a bang, with Brain DePalma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES. Based on the true story of top-cop Eliot Ness’ efforts to bring down top-gangster Al Capone in 1930’s prohibition-era Chicago. With some brilliant editing and shooting to amp-up the tension, and an ensemble cast of Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, Patricia Clarkson, and Charles Martin Smith, THE UNTOUCHABLES was another feather in the cap of DePalma’s storied directing career, and it renewed America’s interest and fascination with gangster stories and movies. The film was nominated for six Oscars, with Connery winning for Best Supporting Actor.

Audiences were still abuzz with DePalma’s shoot-em-up drama when their attentions were shifted from cops and robbers to soldiers and aliens, when John McTiernan grabbed us by the spine with PREDATOR. Mega-star Arnold Schwarzenegger led the cast of rescue-team soldiers being hunted in the jungle by an alien with camoflauge abilities which rendered it invisible, and McTiernan had an instant entry to pop-culture. Arnold was joined by an ensemble cast of Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, and future IRON MAN 3 director Shane Black, and the chemistry between them all gave it an identity beyond a sci-fi/horror shoot-em-up bloodbath. PREDATOR would be the third-highest box office draw of 1987, and the visual effects work would pave the way for future films.

PREDATOR gave fans of science fiction something to hang their helmets on, but the month wasn’t done with outer-space folk just yet, as comedy legend Mel Brooks would release his parody film SPACEBALLS just two weeks later. Taking inspiration from STAR WARS, ALIEN, STAR TREK, and PLANET OF THE APES, Brooks’ film was loaded with his zippy one-liners which are still quoted today. With another great cast which included Brooks, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, John Candy, Joan Rivers, Dick Van Patten, Dom DeLuise, and a cameo by John Hurt, SPACEBALLS became an instant comedy classic.

After three weeks of aliens, robots, cops and gangsters, about the only thing June had yet to deliver was a strong war movie, and no one was better suited to deliver such a film than master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who arrived with FULL METAL JACKET in the last weekend of the month. Based on a novel which followed U.S. Marines through their training and experiences during the Vietnam War, FULL METAL JACKET boasted a solid cast which included Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Emery, Arliss Howard, and Adam Baldwin…and featured some of Kubrick’s most tempered, disciplined, and exquisite directing. Set during the Tet Offensive, Kubrick’s film stepped away from the typical jungles of Vietnam that Hollywood had been focusing on for decades, and the character-work gave it a strong identity which still leaves impressions today.

Ensemble casting was the one thing that the films of June 1987 seemed to have in common, and other notable heavy-hitters included the mighty cast of Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Veronica Cartwright, and Cher in THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, and the adaptation/continuation of the TV series DRAGNET which starred Tom Hanks, Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Plummer, and Harry Morgan. And not to be lost at all in the shuffle were two family favorite films; the Bigfoot-family comedy HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, and the animated THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER. And just to top things off, Steve Martin directed and starred in his adaptation of ROXANNE; a film which he would win a Golden Globe for Best Actor.


By the time July rolled into the timeline, audiences had been thrilled with the offerings of June. It was a month with something for everyone; cops and robbers, aliens and soldiers, families and monsters, comedies and drama, spectacular shoot-em-ups and Oscar contenders. It was a month where no analyzing was needed, and the only goal was to entertain.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Reel Facts & Opinions: WONDER WOMAN Wins Again



One of the most satisfying elements to the success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN film isn’t just that we finally have a very good adaptation of a DC Comics hero, or that the film may have single-handedly rescued the sputtering Warner Bros. franchise, but that its impressive box office haul thus far ($205 million domestically over two weeks) has earned a bragging right that no other superhero film since 2000 can lay claim to; WONDER WOMAN has the lowest 1st to 2nd week domestic drop (only 45%) of any superhero film in the modern era.



Typically, a blockbuster-designed film will open big and then see a significant drop in its numbers, either because of stiff competition or bad word-of-mouth; but with very good reviews and good word-on-the-street, WONDER WOMAN looks like it’ll continue to be a strong performer. What is very interesting about WONDER WOMAN’s consistent performance from week 1 to week 2 is that the highest drop belongs to its predecessor, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), which dropped almost 70% (!) in its second week. This can be mind-boggling as DAWN OF JUSTICE not only featured two of the most iconic characters of all time (Batman and Superman), but it also had this very version of Wonder Woman in a supporting role.



How is it that DAWN OF JUSTICE and WONDER WOMAN can be on total opposite sides of the grid? The answer is simple; WONDER WOMAN is a good movie, and DAWN OF JUSTICE was not. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 93% of WONDER WOMAN’s reviews are marked positive, while DAWN OF JUSTICE sits at a lowly 27% approval rating. Even outside of professional critic circles, fans were unhappy with DAWN OF JUSTICE in the way it treated its characters and the muddled storytelling. It’s fair to say that fans, and critics have spoken and had a huge part to play in the massive drop for DAWN OF JUSTICE.

Meanwhile, WONDER WOMAN soars thanks to a faithful adaptation of the character which fans have embraced, and a commitment to simple, yet tried-and-true classic storytelling. Yes, WONDER WOMAN is the first female-fronted superhero film in 12 years which has brought in plenty of moms and daughters to the theatre who may not have shown up to see Batman and Superman play punch-out, and that does play a factor into the numbers, but is hard to believe that if WONDER WOMAN wasn’t any good, that it would perform this consistently. This Blogger has always said that if you want good reviews (and consequently, good box office), then make a good movie. Good, and great filmmaking can and will be rewarded, and just like a true hero should, WONDER WOMAN should inspire others to do better.

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Read Reel Speak’s review on WONDER WOMAN (HERE), and the impact the film has had outside of the theatre (HERE).




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Reel 35 - STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN


“It is very cold in space, Kirk”

This month marks the 35th anniversary of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
After the lukewarm success of the first STAR TREK film, STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979), the filmmakers had a clear idea of what the sequel needed to do. Although first film had dazzling visuals and Kubrick-like themes and pacing, it lacked an adversary with a face; a villain to muck things up for the crew of heroes. With that in mind, the filmmakers dove into the original TV series with the intention of finding a Big Bad worthy of the big screen, and find a Big Bad they did.
Focusing on the open-ended episode SPACE SEED (1967), Director Nicholas Meyer and Producer Harve Bennet chose the iconic Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban. Having been marooned by Capt. Kirk at the end of the original episode, it was clear that a simple motivating factor of vengeance was enough to sell the character, with some obsessive Capt. Ahab sprinkled on for good measure. Montalban’s performance was, and is still considered to this day to be the best TREK villain ever on the big screen.

With every sci-fi film in need of human elements to keep the audience engaged, WRATH OF KHAN capitalized on strong themes of friendship, sacrifice, mortality, and old age; all themes which laid the groundwork for nearly every future TREK movie right up to this day. These were the issues that the three main characters, Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) grappled with throughout the film. Through them, the audience experienced the meatiest of all TREK, and the characters had never been portrayed better on the big screen. WRATH OF KHAN, despite being set in a far future in outers space populated by fascinating aliens and dazzling technology, was very much a human story, possibly the most human sci-fi film ever put together.


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WRATH OF KHAN was a household favorite growing up; the first home-release we owned was on the glorious Betamax format, and that tape was likely watched about a billion times between this Blogger and this Blogger’s Dad. It was a space adventure and great TREK which literally took the characters  to places they had never been. Today, KHAN still remains very high up on anyone’s Best Sci-fi Films list, and its influences can be seen in countless films. THE MOTION PICTURE may have taken the franchise out of dry-dock, but it was KHAN who brought it home.


“I have been, and always shall be your friend”

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Read Reel Speak's ranking of the Top 5 STAR TREK films HERE







Monday, June 5, 2017

A Reel Opinion: The Triumph of WONDER WOMAN



In today’s ultra-sensitive, super-critical world, it’s hard to find a true triumph in the movies, and even harder to find one that transcends the silver screen. But this past weekend’s long-awaited arrival of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN can, and should be one of those rare victories. The 4th entry in the series of films based on DC Comics characters soared to a domestic opening of $100 million, with an additional $122 million overseas. It is the highest opening in history for a female director, and it beat the openings of rival Marvel Studios solo-hero films, including the now past record holder, IRON MAN ($98.6 million in 2008). And with excellent reviews all around (read Reel Speak’s review HERE), it seems poised to make a long run in theatres.

How does this qualify as a triumph? Right away, the success of WONDER WOMAN could not have come at a better time for the DC Comics films and their parent company Warner Bros. On the screen, the previous three entries in the series, which adapted classic characters such as Superman, Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, were not met with a lot of joy from critics and fans. Odd decisions with characters, convoluted storytelling, joyless atmospheres, bland cinematography and weird casting decisions were just the tip of the iceberg. Off the screen, WB seemed to struggle even more, with directors bailing off high-profile projects such as THE BATMAN and THE FLASH, and long-time DC Comics director Zack Snyder having to leave the upcoming high-stakes JUSTICE LEAGUE due to a family tragedy. Warners and DC were plagued by bad decisions and bad luck, and frustrated fans got to the point where they didn’t care and were planning on showing up at the theatre just to witness a good train wreck.

But then along came director Patty Jenkins and WONDER WOMAN, which arrives as the first female-led superhero film in 12 years. Gone were the messy and convoluted narratives and joyless slogs, and in their place was an embracing of classic storytelling and an infusion of energy and optimism. Where the past three DC movies were packed full of miserable superheroes, WONDER WOMAN was a sincere hero who believed in love and hope; finally offering goodness for fans to latch onto. With one cinematic punch, DC fans have a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time.

On the screen, Jenkins turned leading-lady Gal Gadot into a star and role model nearly overnight, and outside the theatre, the character of Wonder Woman became relevant for the first time since she was on the TV screen in the 1970’s. And Relevance is where WONDER WOMAN finds its biggest victory; young girls have a new role model to look up to, and Jenkins’ success at the box office should open doors for more female directors, and hopefully make huge strides in gender-equality in Hollywood (a huge issue, especially with pay).

WONDER WOMAN is a good, perhaps even great movie which has earned its stellar reviews, and perhaps its most important victory is that it removes itself far from the leftover stink from last year’s ill-thought-out crappy GHOSTBUSTERS remake; another female-led film which was crude and vulgar and had uneasy critics afraid to pull the trigger and the braver ones being accused of misogyny. WONDER WOMAN proves that a good movie can overcome any hyper-sensitive political-correctness, and that solid filmmaking solves a lot of problems and puts the hush on the brainless loudmouths. Patty Jenkins and aspiring women filmmakers and writers can now bravely step forward with confidence that their work and efforts will be treated fairly, and that is a triumph for us all.


Friday, June 2, 2017

A Reel Review: WONDER WOMAN



WONDER WOMAN, the official 4th entry in the series of connected films based on DC Comics characters, is a movie that has many firsts; it is the first film in its home-series to be set in a different time period (WWI), the first to feature a female superhero as its lead (a first for its overall genre), and perhaps most importantly, the first of the DC Comics films in over a decade to fully embrace the journey of a hero.

Raised on a hidden island by Amazon warriors, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home when she encounters Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier fighting in WWI. Convinced that the war is being caused by Ares, the God of War, Diana sets out into the world to end the conflict, going up against General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and his deadly gas-maker Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya).

Showing no shame, director Patty Jenkins’ version of WONDER WOMAN proudly wears its classic influences on its armor. WONDER WOMAN is a true origin story, beginning with her early years and her upbringing by her mother and aunt (brilliantly played by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright), and taking us through her call-to-destiny and purpose. All the familiar steps are there, and it’s effective for many reasons; the excellent blending of the real world and Diana’s fantastical home, the often-ignored setting of the First World War, and the period setting of the early 1920’s, where women have a place (they can’t even vote yet), and they are told about it constantly. Diana finds herself not only up against war, but by the men who make it happen…and through a subtle and steady hand, Jenkins guides through it without ever becoming preachy.

What really makes WONDER WOMAN work is Diana’s full commitment to being a hero, and the eventual consequences she faces for pursuing Ares. True to the nature of a hero, and a far cry from the miserable super-beings in the genre, Diana embraces her strengths with a wonderful spirit of optimism and good-natured motivation. She is a treat to watch on and off the battle field, and her somewhat naïve nature (she truly believes that finding and killing Ares will automatically end the war) helps us root for her.

On the battlefield, WONDER WOMAN is an absolute blast. Gal Gadot’s athleticism is put to good use, and the buildup to her big reveal to the world is a crowd-pleasing moment worthy of a standing ovation. There are moments where a little too much CGI fireworks is used to drive the battles and fights, but for the most part don’t derail the film. Aside from a few early moments of grinding exposition while Jenkins is getting characters where they need to go, pacing is brisk, the moments of humor are perfect and laugh-out-loud worthy, and the somewhat large cast (Diana and Steve recruit a team of commandos) is balanced nicely; every character gets something to do and serves a purpose. The film is shot beautifully, and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is outstanding.

Acting is very good. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman; showing great range from a sweet smile that will melt hearts and a piercing gaze that will crush bladders. She is just as amazing to watch in quiet moments just as she is in the big bombastic ones. She has great chemistry with Chris Pine, who gets some real moments to shine. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are excellent and look awesome in their Amazonian battle-gear, and they smartly match Gadot’s accent for consistency. The team of commandos (Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock) are a hoot, and the lovely Elena Anaya vanishes into her role. Danny Huston is a little hammy and has a weird sub-plot involving steroid-gas which goes nowhere. The rest of the cast, including David Thewlis and Lucy Davis, are excellent.

The finale relies too much on wild CGI in its final fight, and Ares as a villain winds up being a little thin (although he is helped along by a surprising and clever twist), but before the credits roll WONDER WOMAN wraps up with a very satisfying and rousing punch. And as a bonus, the film doesn’t lean on its predecessors and easily stands on its own with only one slight nod to another character. Patty Jenkins has crafted one fine film of firsts here; it is wildly entertaining, stunning to look at, refreshingly sincere, and despite being set in a long-dead time period, feels very relevant. The character of Diana was first written over 70 years ago, and thanks to this film, she has never been better for us all to be inspired by. That’s what heroes do.

BOTTOM LINE: See it





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2017 - Episode VI



The calendar in the real world may still have us in the wretched season of Spring, but in the film world the passing of Memorial Day puts us into the Summer Movie Season. Here is a preview for the notable releases for the first full month of the season.

It all gets wonderful with…

WONDER WOMAN – One of the most iconic heroes in comic history finally gets her own movie. Gal Gadot, who debuted this new version of the character in a supporting role in last year’s BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, returns as the Amazon warrior who finds herself mixed up in the First World War. Co-stars Chris Pine (STAR TREK), Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, and Elena Anaya. It is directed by Patty Jenkins, who last brought us the Oscar-nominated MONSTER in 2004.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE – Dreamworks Animation presents the first adaptation of the popular children’s books of the same name in which two students hypnotize their teacher into thinking he’s a superhero. Features the voices of Kevin Hart and Ed Helms.

CHURCHILL – Brian Cox transforms into Winston Churchill in this historical war drama. Co-stars Miranda Richardson and John Slattery.

THE MUMMY – Tom Cruise headlines this new version of a vengeful mummy back from the grave, which is also serving as the first film in Universal’s new series of connected monster movies. Co-stars Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, and Russell Crowe. Directed by Alex Kurtzman.

IT COMES AT NIGHT – This closed-quarters paranoia horror flick has a family isolated from an unnatural threat. Stars Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR).

CARS 3 – The latest offering from Pixar is also the third film in the CARS franchise, in which Lightning McQueen may be facing the end of his racing career. Stars the voice talents of Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Kerry Washington, Chris Cooper, and Nathan Fillion.

ROUGH NIGHT – The laziest title in film history fronts this black comedy where a group of women get into trouble at a bachelorette party in Miami. Stars Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, and Zoe Kravitz.

47 METERS DOWN – Matthew Modine and Mandy Moore star in this horror thriller in which a cage-diving trip goes wrong…surrounded by sharks.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT – Michael Bay is back for this fifth outing in the billion-dollar fighting robots from space franchise, in which the war with humans and the Transformers has escalated. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, and Anthony Hopkins.

THE BEGUILED – Sofia Coppola writes and directs this adaptation of the novel of the same where a girls’ boarding school during the Civil War takes in an injured soldier. Stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kristen Dunst.

BABY DRIVER – Edgar Wright (SHUAN OF THE DEAD) directs this action comedy where a young getaway driver is hired by a veteran thief for one last job. Stars Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, and Kevin Spacey.

DESPICABLE ME 3 – Those adorable goddamn minions are back for their third (or is it the fourth?) film, this time supporting Gru (once again voiced by Steve Carrell) who is challenged by a former child star.

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING – The second reboot of the horror franchise.

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Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of July.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Reel Review - PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES



Franchise filmmaking always has dangerous waters to tread. Every movie in a series needs to serve as a chapter in moving the overall story forward, but at the same time, stand on its own as its own story and worthwhile film experience. The fifth entry in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, sub-titled DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, is a film that grasps tightly to one approach while throwing the other over the side.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) enlists the help of the famed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), and astronomer Carina (Kaya Scodelario), to search for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, in an attempt to free his father Will (Orlando Bloom) from his curse. Meanwhile, Sparrow is hunted across the seas by the spectral Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who aligns himself with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

True to the series that it belongs to, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES runs off like a checklist of things that are expected; a supernatural enemy, an object to destroy said supernatural enemy, bombastic chase and action scenes, cannon battles at sea, betraying pirates, and a saturation of old sea lore. There’s a feeling of been-there, done-that going on, but directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have enough new material to work with to keep fans of these PIRATES films satisfied for a time. At the center of all the swordfighting and ghost-shipping are newcomers Henry and Carina, with Captain Jack literally tagging along. The film sets itself up as a parental-absolution story, with both characters seeking to resolve one family issue or another.

The plot unfolds through an unnecessarily complex maze involving stars, maps, diaries, crystals, and convoluted riddles…all of which confuses more than engages, and things feel like they could have been a lot simpler. But where TALES really hits the reef is just how much it relies on the films that have come before it. The film’s stepping-off point has to do with nearly every major plot point from the previous movies, and it makes it nearly impossible to watch without revisiting every entry prior. But what’s baffling is that despite how much TALES asks us to remember the previous films, the directors seem to have forgotten to do that themselves. There are two massive breaks in continuity that were established in previous PIRATES films, starting with the origins of Jack’s compass and the curse that Will Turner is under. The latter is the most troubling, as the need to get Will out of his current situation makes zero sense when considering what the third film in the franchise has told us.

The co-directors don’t bring anything special or unique to the film, and they just seem to trying to keep the ship and its many moving parts on course. There’s a fair amount of energy and forward momentum going on, and two set-pieces involving a bank heist and an execution-rescue are a blast to behold. However the later scenes which take place at night have an intolerable murkiness to them which makes it impossible to see what the blazes is going on. Unforgivable. Visual effects look cartoony, especially with Salazar’s crew of ghost sailors; the effects looked better in the first PIRATES movie 14 years ago.

Acting is all over the place as no one really is given the chance to shine. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario have zero chemistry together and are as bland as carp, and Johnny Depp’s famed Captain Jack Sparrow is buried underneath all the plot, has nothing of his own to do or offer to the story, and has officially become boring. Javier Bardem’s big-bad is a thin, one-note dull revenge-seeking villain, and he is buried underneath way too much CGI. Geoffery Rush is fine, and his character is given an unexpected arc which feels tacked-on and isn’t nearly as powerful as it thinks it is. David Wenham shows up as a British officer in chase of the Trident and is disposed of just as quickly as he shows up.

After all the noise, TALES goes for an emotional finale that nearly makes the entire film worthwhile by closing some loops from the first three movies, and it’s clear that this fifth entry only existed for that end scene. But again, the film leans so heavily on its predecessors that it’s easy to wonder if the “loose ends” were really loose at all. It doesn’t work on its own, and as another chapter it’s needless. This is a tale better left dead.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 3: Beyond the Dune Sea


This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. The first part explored The First Steps (HERE), the second part looked at the immediate impact in 1977 as an Empire Awakened (HERE), and this third and final part looks Beyond.



Perhaps the most pivotal, memorable and iconic moment in all of STAR WARS happens when Luke Skywalker walks out alone to face the setting twins suns on his home desert planet of Tatooine. At this moment, he is a boy on the threshold of being a man, feeling stuck in a place he does not want to be, and facing an uncertain future as he looks away to the future and the horizon. The music of John Williams swells, and for the first time in STAR WARS, audiences could recognize something within themselves in this new space-fantasy.


Forty years later, one has to wonder if creator George Lucas was putting himself in the film at that point. After all, when Lucas was writing and imagining what would become his empire of films, merchandising, and decades of advancing film technology, he was indeed a young man who had not reached his potential, who was feeling uncertain about what he where he was and what he was doing, and no doubt feeling alone as he looked away across the sea of dunes on that desert planet. After all, on the film’s production notes, Lucas quoted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s non-Holmes novel The Lost World:

I have wrought my simple plan

If I give one hour of joy

To the boy who’s half a man

Or the man who’s half a boy.

But in the film, that boy travelled across that dune sea to find his destiny, and as fate would have it, so did Lucas. STAR WARS was an instant success which changed the film industry and the world overnight. Never before had a movie drawn so many to the theatres, been marketed so aggressively through media and sold through toy merchandise. STAR WARS had found a home in every household; every school had a lunchbox with an X-Wing fighter, every playground a lightsaber fight, and every boy a Luke, every girl a Leia, and every dog a Wookie. Adults found something classical in the film; an old story made anew, and in that they rediscovered a youth long gone. In the adult world, STAR WARS found its way into local news, political satire, and late-night parodies. Quotes from the film rolled off of everyone’s tongue, and families had something to bond over which was fun, wholesome, and taught important lessons of family and loyalty.

 It was everywhere, and it was only in its infancy. STAR WARS had laid down such a rich and powerful groundwork that it would plant the seeds for two sequels in the 1980’s, and not long after its 20th anniversary, a set of prequels…which would be followed by a third trilogy of films and spin-offs as the saga entered its fourth decade and a new generation of fans. The stories seemed endless; reaching into television, comic books, video games, and novels…and every last one had roots in Lucas’ 1977 film.

Four decades on, STAR WARS still shows its influence in today’s cinema. The new technologies in filming and special effects, developed on the spot, ushered in the current era of visual effects wizardry, and Lucas’ companies, founded nearly as the same time as STAR WARS; Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, and Skywalker Sound, are still at the top of food chain. Overnight, Hollywood shifted from dark personal films to crowd-pleasers with eye-popping visuals; embracing the classic style that the Golden Age of Hollywood once did. The film has inspired nearly every modern filmmaker working today; from James Cameron to Christopher Nolan to Peter Jackson…they all can cite their beginnings on the day they saw their first Star Destroyer pass overhead.

STAR WARS changed a lot in the film industry and the world, but perhaps its lasting legacy is its cross-generational impact. Kids who experienced it in the 1970’s are grown now, and they happily pass on what they have learned to their own kids. For them, it is now a source of great emotion, where joy and adventure can be found in the stars and furry creatures with funny names. For this Blogger, STAR WARS was the beginning of all memory, the opening crawl to a career, a daily inspiration to write and create, and an emotional lightning rod…especially when sharing with young padawans and those who are deeply loved. For this Blogger, and many others over the last 40 years, STAR WARS is a deep-rooted connection to family, a trigger for strong memories, and has the ability to leap beyond what we can see on the horizon.  No other film in history has found that ability, and the wait for the next one to do so will take a long, long time.







Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roger Moore 1927-2017



Roger Moore; actor, ambassador, and knight…has passed away at 89.

Born Roger George Moore in Stockwell, London, he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic  Art, and was a classmate of Lois Maxwell, who would later join him in the greatest role of his life. He left the Academy after six months to pursue the career of a paid actor, and at the age of 17 appeared as an extra in CAESER AND CLEOPATRA in 1945. At the age of 18, shortly after WWII, he was conscripted for National Service and commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps. In the 1950’s, he appeared in print advertisements for knitwear and earned the nickname “The Big Knit”.

Pursuing his acting career, he appeared in several non-hits such as THE KING’S THIEF (1955), and DIANE (1956). He eventually moved to television, where he put in memorable performances in series such as IVANHOE (1958-59), THE ALASKANS (1959-60), MAVERICK (1960-61), and found great success in THE SAINT (1962-69).

His biggest impact in the film world came in 1972, when he accepted the role of Ian Fleming’s secret agent James Bond, when he took over the role from Sean Connery. Moore would appear as Agent 007 from 1973 to 1985 over seven feature films, including his debut LIVE AND LET DIE in 1973, followed by THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), MOONRAKER (1979), FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981), OCTOPUSSY (1983), and A VIEW TO A KILL (1985).In those films he would be re-united with his old classmate Lois Maxwell, who played the original Miss Moneypenny. He was the oldest to play Bond; he was 45 his first time out and 58 when he announced his retirement from the role. He was the longest serving Bond to date, and he is the first of the official Bonds to pass away.

His take on Bond shifted from trying to emulate Sean Connery to a more campy and fun version, and his good natured humor and willingness to have fun not only gave him his own identity in the role, but opened the door for later comedic roles in THE WILD GEESE (1978), THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981), and CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1983). His acting became less of a priority for him after Bond, and had few screen appearances which included THE QUEST (1996), SPICE WORLD (1997), and BOAT TRIP (2002).

Off the screen he gave back, and became a UNICEF Ambassador in 1991. He worked for PETA, wrote several books, and was knighted in 2003.

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Roger Moore was this Blogger’s first introduction to James Bond, having been introduced to the secret agent in the late 1970’s by dad during Sunday afternoon matinees on TV. When the name of Bond is mentioned, the face of Roger Moore is the first to come to mind for this Blogger. Today, many of Moore’s films are not looked back on too fondly, as by today’s standards they border on silly. But there was something perfect about the way he played Bond; where his predecessor played the role as a playboy, and those after him ranged from brutes to suave…Moore played the secret agent as a true gentlemen, just as an Englishman should. Perhaps his gentle approach to the secret agent should serve as a template for future Bonds, and that would be his true legacy.





Friday, May 19, 2017

A Reel Review - ALIEN: COVENANT



In 1979, when Sir Ridley Scott arrived with his horror/sci-fi classic ALIEN, in which a crew of space-truckers are terrorized by the menacing and bug-nuts scary “xenomorph”,he introduced us to what would become one of the most fear-inducing creatures in all of cinema history. Scott took a break from that universe for many years, and then returned in 2012 with PROMETHEUS, which looked to tell the backstory and origins of the xenomorph. That film only did a portion of the job, and now with ALIEN: COVENANT, Scott looks to finish what he began.

Ten years after the events of PROMETHEUS, the starship Covenant, (crewed by humans Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, a host of others …and their android Walter, played by Michael Fassbender,) is on its way to colonize a new planet when it is diverted off course to a mysterious planet. There, they find David (also played by Fassbender), the last surviving member of the starship Prometheus, and discover a new threat.

COVENANT only has one mission to accomplish; to wrap up the loose ends left dangling after PROMETHEUS, which includes the fate of David and Dr. Shaw (sort-of reprised here by Noomi Rapace), and the origin of the aliens. All this is taken care of in the film’s second act, which leaves our crew of colonists with little to do other than find aliens and run away from them. There is very little story here, and our thinly-drawn characters serve only the purpose of alien-food.

True to its predecessor, COVENANT chooses a round-about, convoluted way of revealing the origins of the aliens. The final result is, and will be very divisive for some long-time fans of these films, and flat-out outrageous for others. The explanation is unsatisfying and leaves many loops unclosed, and once again raises more questions than are answered.

Scott directs the film as if he’s going down a checklist of horror clichés that we yell at characters for doing; actions like splitting up the group, wandering off alone, and reaching out to touch creepy things. It makes for predictable plotting, and the characters seem like total idiots. On that note, Scott gives us some incredibly daft crewmembers here; they’re supposed to be scientists and the founders of a new human colony but never are given a chance to show any sort of intellect or problem-solving skills, and just do stupid acts like step outside of moving aircraft or stand still to get slaughtered. Lazy screenwriting all-around. And worse, for a Ridley Scott film there is nothing very remarkable about it. The look is drab, the action dull, and despite some decent moments of blood and gore…feels like it could have been directed by anybody. The CGI versions of the aliens, which appear in several forms, are creepy in some scenes, and just plain-old not-scary-at-all in others.

Acting is mostly ho-hum. Billy Crudup gets the shaft the most as his character is supposed to be the most troubled, but is on-screen for so little it doesn’t matter. He also gives an odd line which points towards some of his backstory that we never see. Katherine Waterston is bland and just gives the same sad face she always gives. Danny McBride is a total surprise; stepping away from his typical village idiot role for some real drama and pulls it off nicely. Michael Fassbender is somewhat spectacular in his dual roles as the two androids. His scenes where he is acting against himself range from magical to silly, and he is also the victim of a lame twist which can be seen from five galaxies away. Guy Pearce makes a cameo and is his usual excellent self, and James Franco cameos for exactly ten seconds in one of the oddest appearances ever. The rest of the large crew basically serves as chow and never make an impression.

With disposable characters, no real plot, an aggravating origin of the aliens, and an ending which punts even more storylines down the road for another movie, COVENANT makes for one frustrating experience. If Scott put a steak-knife to this film and cut away the worthless fat in favor of the meat, he would wind up with a five-minute epilogue to PROMETHEUS, and that would have been good enough. The rest belongs in the garbage disposal.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 2: An Empire Awakens


This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. The first part explored The First Steps (HERE). This second part looks at the immediate impact in 1977 as an Empire Awakens.


It was May of 1977. Headlines during this time were dominated by news events such as an escalating Cold War between Cambodia and Vietnam, a Boeing cargo-plane crash which killed six, and the opening of the very first Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, California. But by the time the last week of the month rolled around, these news stories would be shifted from the minds of the world, and it all began in darkened theatres with a very simple introduction:

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

From its stunning, attention-getting opening sequence, to its breathtaking opening frame, George Lucas’ new space-fantasy, STAR WARS, literally dropped unsuspecting audiences into the thick of a galactic battle in which freedom fighters rebelled against tyranny. Imaginations were captured, hearts were touched, and the lives of theatre goers and filmmakers would forever be altered.


The film’s commitment to classic storytelling and archetypes lent something familiar to the fantasy world populated by laser guns, starships, droids, mystical knights, and space pirates, and there was nothing in this fantasy-land which would be a hard sell. For the film-world, STAR WARS offered an unabashed sense of fun and adventure, which was warmly welcomed after nearly a decade of dour, nihilistic films such as THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER, and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. George Lucas let his good guys win with a bell-ringing, arm-raising victory…complete with a medal ceremony and triumphant horns. Audiences left the theatre feeling like they could touch the stars.

The world responded. STAR WARS would be the top-grosser of the year on its way to be the top box office earner of all time, surpassing Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975), and would remain at the top until 1982 when Spielberg returned with E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTIAL. It was the best-reviewed film of the year, and at the 50th Academy Awards, STAR WARS would sweep the technical categories by winning 6 of its 10 nominations and a Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing.

Virtually overnight, STAR WARS had become a household name. Odd-sounding names and phrases were now on the lips of everyone, and the film’s heavy themes of good vs. evil gave political cartoonists a gold mine of metaphors. Everyone wanted a piece of STAR WARS, and in an age in which the internet and home video did not yet exist, this opened up the door to merchandising. Lucas took a personal interest in this, and personally approved a growing empire of toys, dolls, drinking-mugs, bedsheets, pajamas, storybook records, and toy laser-guns and lightsabers…as a starting point.

With a movie that was heavy on characters and spaceships, the modern action figure industry was immediately born. Although the original line of figures did not appear on shelves until early 1978, the demand was so great that Kenner Products decided to sell “Early Bird Certificate Packages”, which were literally empty boxes with a mail-in certificate/promise to deliver action figures within a few months. The radical idea worked and thousands of empty boxes were sold.


And with that, for the first time ever, a piece of the movie was available to take home. Kids were enthralled with the prospect of playing STAR WARS, and the phrase “let’s play STAR WARS” became a battle-cry for a generation. The film inspired imagination, and every backyard became a planet, every empty refrigerator box a spaceship, and every trash-can a droid. In the theatre, STAR WARS spoke to the youth in all of us, a youth that was suddenly awakened and let loose. In those early months of 1977, STAR WARS and the way it reached into people’s homes defined a generation, and today, as that very generation passes on what they had experienced to the next, renews an empire of imagination.

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Read Part 3: Beyond the Dune Sea (HERE)




Monday, May 15, 2017

Powers Boothe 1948-2017



Actor Powers Boothe has passed away at 68.

Powers Allen Boothe was born on a farm in Texas and was the youngest of three boys. After graduating from Southwest Texas University, he joined the repertory company of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with roles in Henry IV, Part 2. His New York stage debut came in 1974 in a production of Richard III, and his Broadway debut came five years later.

National attention came to him in 1980 when he played Jim Jones in the CBS-TV movie GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES, where his portrayal of a crazed cult leader earned him an Emmy; beating out veteran actors Henry Fonda and Jason Robards. Boothe crossed the picket line during a Screen Actors Guild strike that year to collect his Emmy.

With his deep and gruff voice and handsome exterior, Boothe enjoyed roles throughout his career ranging from villains to heroes. He played detective Phillip Marlowe in a TV series on HBO which elevated his name, and had memorable roles in SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981), A BREED APART (1984), RED DAWN (1984), and THE EMERALD FOREST (1985). His most memorable turn came in 1993 when he appeared in the Old West as the mustached outlaw Curly Bill Brocius in TOMBSTONE.

His later roles included Oliver Stone’s NIXON (1995), MEN OF HONOR (2000), FRAILTY (2001), SIN CITY (2005), MACGRUBER (2010), THE AVENGERS (2012), and the SIN CITY sequel, A DAME TO KILL FOR in 2014.

He made frequent transitions from the big screen to the small screen with ease. He took his character in THE AVENGERS to darker and sinister places in the Marvel spin-off show AGENTS OF SHIELD in 2015. He also appeared in TV’s DEADWOOD, NASHVILLE, 24, 24: REDEMPTION, and HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS. He provided voice-over work for the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED and SCOOBY DOO: MYSTERY INCORPORATED.

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This Blogger’s first memories of Powers Boothe begins in the Spring of 1983, when he appeared as detective Phillip Marlowe in an 11-episode run on the then-young TV service known as HBO. This Blogger, and his father, who were both fans of Sherlock Holmes and classic detective tales, both took in the series together and enjoyed every minute. That year began a life-long admiration of the man, and he was always a joy to behold, and it didn’t matter if he was playing a cowboy, soldier, detective, crooked politician, or leader of a secret terrorist organization. Boothe was a man’s actor; playing the tough characters in ways that commanded our respect.  







Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 1: First Steps


This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. This first part will explore the First Steps…


STAR WARS. Two simple words, one syllable each, both with elemental meaning…when put together and said or read today, sparks memories and feelings of thrilling adventures, iconic characters, and epic battles ranging from dogfighting to swordfighting…both of which recreated on playgrounds and backyards by children and parents everywhere. In 1977 it literally changed the world and altered the course of the film industry forever, and like any good story, it was a journey that began with first steps.

The roots of STAR WARS reach back as far as 1971, when USC graduate George Lucas had just completed his first feature film, THX-1138. A bleak science-fiction film, the experience of dealing with what Lucas perceived to be an oppressive studio system motivated him to found his own production company, which he would name Lucasfilm. It was the first step in his life-long journey to construct his career so he wouldn’t have to answer to anyone, and the first result was his nostalgia-fueled AMERICAN GRAFFITI in 1973.

Lucas then set his sights on producing and directing an adaptation of one of his favorite serials, FLASH GORDON. However, he was unable to acquire the rights, and once again, decided to answer to no one by creating his own space fantasy. At this time he was a self-motivated student and reader of philosophy and history, and was heavily inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively about myths and their constants through time and all cultures. Lucas latched onto the great themes in those many cultures; struggles between good and evil, heroes and villains, magical beings and monsters, and the passing down of things from fathers and sons. Through modern mythology, he created his own.

The writing process took nearly two years, and Lucas at first tried to cram into one screenplay the events that would become the first STAR WARS trilogy. He wound up with vast story lines for not one but three films and more general outlines for not one trilogy but three, and decided to make his first film, then titled THE STAR WARS, as the beginning of the middle chapter. Where THX-1138 had been bleak, his new grand space-fantasy would be hopeful.  His goal was to create a modern mythology to teach values; as seen through a hero’s journey.


His film would be driven by characters plucked right from modern myth; there was a farmboy, a wizard, a princess, a pirate, and a fallen knight, and the casting process would focus on those strong personalities. Harrison Ford, who had worked with Lucas on AMERICAN GRAFFITI, was cast, and he was joined by relative unknowns Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, and well-established actors Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. The role of the evil lord Darth Vader was filled by bodybuilder Dave Prowse on-set, while the voice would be provided in post-production by James Earl Jones. The seven-foot-plus tall Peter Mayhew would play the mighty Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker would fill the roles of the two important robots (or droids), C-3P0 and R2-D2. His production team would be rounded out by a talented group which included John Barry (production design), Ralph McQuarrie (illustrator), and Ben Burtt (sound design and editing). New production techniques and camera rigs were created and invented…which would send the film industry in a brand new direction.

Filming would take place over a period of a scheduled 13 weeks and an additional three weeks in the deserts of Tunisia and California, along with the now famed Elstree Studios in London. Originally slated for a Christmas 1976 release, the many production delays shifted the film, now titled STAR WARS, to May of 1977. The film underwent several cuts, and the production rushed to finish the many special effects shots of space battles. Lucas’ good friend Steven Spielberg recommended composer John Williams to create the score. Williams would record the score over a period of 12 days.

The production just made its deadline, and legend tells of film prints being delivered to movie theatres still “wet”, with their processing chemicals not yet dried. But the film did open on time on May 25th, 1977…and George Lucas’ vision of a space fantasy had taken its first steps into a larger world.

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Read Part 2 – An Empire Awakens (HERE)