Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Reel Review: SONG TO SONG

When director Terrence Malick returned from his self-imposed 20-year hiatus, he brought with him the most unconventional, yet earnest style of filmmaking. Elemental things like scripts, dialogue, or point-to-point narrative structure were discarded in favor of an abstract style involving random images and meandering narration which never directly tells us what the movie is really about, leaving most of the work to the audience. Malick is an experimenter, and in SONG TO SONG pushes the limits more than ever.

Set in the modern-day Austin, Texas music festival scene, Faye (Rooney Mara), a struggling bass-player, gets stuck in a love triangle between BV (Ryan Gosling), an up-and-coming songwriter, and Cook (Michael Fassbender), a rich and successful musician and producer. When the triangle falls apart, the three go from lover-to-lover; Faye experiments with another woman, while BV has an affair with an older woman (Cate Blanchett), and Cook with a waitress (Natalie Portman).

From a storytelling perspective, SONG TO SONG has more of a shape than Malick’s past few films. The film follows the beginnings of the love triangle, and once that is broken, splits off into three stories following the characters as they go their separate ways…which eventually cross paths again. There are several sub-plots at work as well; ranging from Faye’s struggles as a musician, Cook’s vast wealth getting the best of him, RV’s mother (Linda Emond) managing to control who he dates, and a battle between RV and Cook over royalties. These are troubled characters who wander from one mess to another, with most of the messes of their own making.

Wandering around randomly sums up the style of the presentation. The film is assembled of casual visuals of characters dancing around or goofing around on beaches, empty apartments, backstage of a concert, or in a bedroom. Dialogue is at an absolute minimum, and there are only a handful of scenes with actual back-and-forth between actors. Most of the spoken words come by way of narration, in which characters wax philosophical about what they’re feeling or asking questions that have no answers. It’s Malick’s usual style, and requires a ton of patience and thought to plow through and dissect…but that’s assuming there actually is meaning behind the thick fog that he has built. Things get really confusing towards the back end, when the film either jumps ahead or back in time (good luck figuring out what direction), which is jarring and confusing with no hint to help us along. It’s as maddening as it is confounding.

On the technical side of things, SONG TO SONG is packed with some bizarre editing choices. The little dialogue that exists is barely audible and we find ourselves leaning forward in our chairs trying to hear what the hell characters are saying. Maybe Malick is going for feelings, but as the film plays out it’s an annoyance. There are also random cuts to black which happen at the oddest times which makes us think the projector bulb just went out, and a wacko black-and-white vintage film sequence is a head-shaker. Scenes bounce around to random locations without explanation or setup (there must be 50 empty apartments we visit), and the overall cutting is dizzying. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is gorgeous.

It's tough to judge the acting as no one really acts and instead flop around every location. Rooney Mara gets the most screentime and probably the most spoken words, while Michael Fassbender acts like an eccentric weirdo for most of the time. Fans of heartthrob Ryan Gosling will likely be disappointed in what they get (or don’t get) from him, and Natalie Portman gets the most heavy-lifting as the most emotionally unstable of the cast. Cate Blanchett doesn’t seem to speak more than six words. Other random (there’s that word again) cameos include Val Kilmer, Patti Smith, Holly Hunter, Iggy Pop, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a large assortment of musicians for three seconds at a time. Scenes were filmed with Christian Bale, Haley Bennett, and Benicio del Toro but were completely cut.

There’s not much that really happens in SONG TO SONG, and the unhurried pacing makes the 129-minute runtime feel like 600; don’t be surprised if the film picks up the nickname of SLOG TO SLOG. On top of everything else, followers of Malick will (and should) realize that this film flies very close, if not exactly the same flight pattern as his own KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015)…and it’s not much of a stretch to say he made the same movie again with a different setting. Malick gets points here for ambition and his refusal to blend in with mainstream Hollywood, but loses more for being confusing and distant. This is experimental film at its oddest, yet earnest.


Monday, March 27, 2017

A Reel Review: LIFE

Much like science-fiction and fantasy, horror is a genre of film which can get away with a lot. Fans of the genre are always willing to overlook the silliness of monsters, aliens, or guys with big knives who are impossible to kill, for as long as the scares, gore, and thrills keep coming. The “horror” of such a film is always priority, with things like character and story always coming second. This is the style for director Daniel Espinosa’s space-horror flick LIFE, for better and for worse.

On the International Space Station, a six-person crew (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya), receive a sample from Mars which contains the first evidence of life from another planet. The organism, nicknamed Calvin, grows and escapes, and begins killing crew members one at a time…

LIFE is a closed-quarters thriller which doesn’t have much by way of plot. Survival is the only thing our characters have to achieve while figuring out just what Calvin gets out of slaughtering people. Once Calvin gets unleashed and begins to grow, most of the film involves the crewmembers floating from one part of the station to the next, closing hatches and re-opening them again as they flee and try to find a strategy before they run out of people.

Much like any other horror flick, the people aboard this station are thinly drawn with only one dimension to each one of them. There’s the standard collection of archetypes; a logical scientist, a medical doctor who is love with space, a wisecracking smartass, a cosmonaut, and an overzealous scientist who just can’t help himself…and it’s that overzealous and dumb action which sets Calvin off on his rampage, and sums up the films fatal flaws. The crew in LIFE make idiotic decisions one after another such as petting the alien like a goddamn hamster, opening doors which should stay closed, and overall using no logic whatsoever to guide their actions. There’s also a mild twist in the second act which makes no sense at all, and Calvin always conveniently shows up at a part of the ship a character is trying to repair. Overall it seems like the screenwriters were more concerned with moving plot points than character actions making sense.

But if its horror that matters, then LIFE delivers. Calvin’s design resembles a sea creature which resembles a squid and jellyfish, topped off with a fuck-you monster head; it manages to be beautifully graceful and terrifying at the same time, especially as it grows bigger. The character deaths are fucking horrific to see, and the sound-editors did great work in delivering the horror as we hear every bone get crushed and blood gargle up close. The tension building is well done, and even when Calvin is small, there’s still terror to be had when we see the many places and cavities it can get into.

Calvin looks great as a CGI creature, and other visual effects from the space station to the views of Earth are stunning. The characters are in zero-gravity the entire time, and whatever method they used to make everyone float around is very well executed. The space station itself is a maze of narrow tube-like corridors which has no distinction from one area to the next, which leads to a poor sense of place as we seldom have any idea where we are in the station at any time. The score by Jon Ekstrand is fantastic.

Acting is pretty good even though every actor has zip to work with in character development, and are limited to one dimension only. Jake Gyllenhall and Rebecca Ferguson get the most work, and they do good work in selling the horror of the situation, even when they’re acting against a CGI creature which wasn’t present on set. The rest of the cast is fine, even though Ryan Reynolds seems saddled with playing a wiseass for the 867th time. And small credit is due to the screenwriters in not being afraid to kill off a top-billed actor in the first half-hour.

The finale delivers one hell of a twist which acts as an exclamation point to the horrific nature of the movie, most of which could have been avoided if the script didn’t rely on scientists who acted like idiots, and the aforementioned minor twist which felt like a major shortcut. As a horror-flick, LIFE certainly delivers the scares, but as a functional film it drops out of orbit…and that’s an imbalance that can’t be overlooked.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017


“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

This month marks the 45th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER.

In the late 1960’s, the movie industry was dying. Most of the major motion picture studios, including Paramount Pictures, were desperate for a big hit; a hit that would not only save their own assess, but re-install confidence in the American movie-going public. It was a stale environment for Hollywood, and frustrated by the stifling creative atmosphere, a group of experimental filmmakers, which included Francis Ford Coppola and his friend George Lucas, founded their own independent studio which would inspire creative and unconventional approaches to filmmaking.

Approached by Paramount to direct an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s crime novel, Coppola initially turned down the offer. With THE GODFATHER being a violent story of a family running a criminal empire, Coppola, an Italian-American himself, did not want to paint his heritage in a negative light. However, Coppola was convinced by Lucas to take the plunge. Desperate for a money-making hit, Paramount put immense pressure on Coppola during casting and filming, and the director was nearly fired many times. However, Coppola eventually won out on many important decisions; including the casting of Marlon Brando and setting the film in the correct time period, 1945 to 1955.

With a now historic ensemble cast which included Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale, and Abe Vigoda, THE GODFATHER was a hit and eventually became a milestone in movie history. With its brilliant acting, gentle yet percise direction and amazing cinematography, it was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning three, including Best Picture. It was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 1990, and is regarded as the second greatest film in American cinematic history; second only to CITIZEN KANE. THE GODFATHER brought greatness back into film, virtually saving the industry and serving as the model for all future crime dramas such as GOODFELLAS, THE DEPARTED, and TV series such as THE SOPRANOS and SONS OF ANARCHY…all of which can all trace their roots back to THE GODFATHER.


Having grown up in a whimsical movie world with thrilling adventures in the forms of STAR WARS and Indiana Jones, this Blogger did not catch up with THE GODFATHER until much later; the film always seemed too dark, too grown-up, and nearly too scary. It wasn’t until college and a Film 101 class where this Blogger was properly introduced to it, which then began a new appreciation for film and provided a method of film and story de-construction. Each year this Blogger revisits THE GODFATHER like an annual vigil around Thanksgiving, which is the time to embrace family; and family is what the film is all about.

“I believe in America.”

Monday, March 20, 2017


Cinematic remakes and adaptations always have an uphill battle. Filmmakers are always eager to put their personal touches on the material, but reluctant to inject too many changes that would divert from the original and cause uproar among a built-in fanbase, while flying too safe can make the effort pointless. Such is the challenge for director Bill Condon and Disney’s latest version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Belle (Emma Watson), is held prisoner by Beast (Dan Stevens), who was once a handsome prince before being transformed by an enchantress, along with his household staff who now inhabit the forms of candlesticks, clocks, teacups, wardrobes, and pianos (voiced by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, and Stanley Tucci). Beast must learn the meaning of true love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls, while Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and Gaston (Luke Evans), her possible suitor, seek to rescue her.

This version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is very much a faithful live-action version of Disney’s own 1991 animated film. Showing no shame, director Bill Condon and his team of writers passionately recreate nearly every familiar character, stitch, beat, and moment from that version, and the boundaries they are required to play in seem clear. But room to play is given; both Belle and Beast are given expanded backstories which venture into some dark and tragic territory, and they serve both characters well and makes their eventual connection more palpable. The story is all about this unlikely couple, and the work done to give them identities and meaning is there.

But what makes this version of the story stand out is the commitment to being a full-blown movie musical. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is presented like a big Broadway musical with its lavish and lush settings and characters belting their hearts out into the cheap-seats. The musical numbers are dazzling with exploding colors and wonderful choreography, and even the slower numbers have their own power. It’s a musical even more so than the 1991 version, and that gives the film its own identity. Old and familiar numbers are re-done and given new life, and new songs are put in which gives key characters more depth. The classic Be Our Guest is the showstopper; it’s a rousing number which goes on forever but is a lot of fun.

The film is a visual treat. Every set from Belle’s quaint village to the massive castle is stunning, and the design work to give the talking household objects their own personalities is very well done and makes what could have been ridiculous seem very real. The camera seems to love those talking objects a little too much, as they seem to eat up more screentime than they deserve when more time should have been given to the courtship of Belle and Beast. Beast is brought to life on-screen by a combination of a big body-suit and a CGI digital mask. For the most part it’s effective, and the eyes of Dan Stevens are always pushing sadness or rage, but the overall face of Beast comes across as very stiff and needed a lot more facial expression.

With such a commitment to being a musical, the film winds up with an emphasis on performances, and the cast is more-than up to the task. Emma Watson sings lovely and her acting against characters that aren’t really there on set is spot-on; she’s a charmer from the first few seconds we see her. Dan Stevens is magnificent as Beast and his singing is outstanding. Luke Evans nearly steals the show as a brutish hunter who wants Belle for his own, and Josh Gad turns in a hilarious performance as Gaston’s sidekick. The voiceover cast are all perfect in their roles, and Kevin Kline is excellent as always.

Despite flying very close to the 1991 animated version, this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is very much its own film, as its deeper look at characters and embracing the old movie musical gives it a cinematic quality that an 80-minute cartoon can’t quite match. It’s drenched in nostalgia, but feels fresh and new. Be its guest.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need To Know About BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

One of the most anticipated, yet curious releases of 2017 arrives this weekend, when Disney unfurls its latest adaptation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Here is everything you need to know about it…

What’s this all about? – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is inspired by Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name, which was an adaptation of the 1740 fairy tale. This version tells the story of Belle, a young girl who is taken prisoner by a fearsome beast in his enchanted castle.

Who is behind the camera? – This version is directed by Bill Condon, who has a long list of credits in Hollywood as a writer and director. He debuted as a screenwriter in 1998 for his own GODS AND MONSTERS, which earned him an Oscar, and he was nominated for his screenplay for the eventual Best Picture winner CHICAGO in 2002. He also directed KINSEY (2004), DREAMGIRLS (2006), THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 & 2 (2011, 2012), and MR. HOLMES in 2015. The screenplay for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is written by Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos…who has many credits in Disney’s direct-to-video catalog.

Who is in front of the camera? – Emma Watson, who grew up before our eyes as Hermonie Granger in eight HARRY POTTER films, plays Belle. The Beast is brought to life via body suit with a CGI-enhanced face, and behind the fur and horns is actor Dan Stevens, who played Lancelot in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (2014), and also appeared in A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014). Kevin Kline (DAVE) plays Belle’s father, Ewan McGregor (young Obi-Wan) plays the Beast’s butler who is turned into a candle, Ian McKellen (X-MEN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS), plays Cogsworth, another loyal servant who is turned into a clock, Stanley Tucci (SPOTLIGHT), as a harpsichord, and Emma Thompson (SAVING MR. BANKS), as Mrs. Potts; the head of the kitchen turned into a teapot. Luke Evans (Bard from THE HOBBIT) plays Gaston; an arrogant hunter who seeks to hunt down the Beast and marry Belle, and he is joined by Josh Gad in the role of a sidekick.

What else? – As in the 1991 version, this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be part musical. Celine Dion has signed on to perform a new song written for the film, and Ariana Grand and John Legend will remake the title track. Emma Thompson will also perform a version of the title track * Disney originally wasn't going to make the film a musical, but Bill Condon convinced them on the basis that the songs were just too good * Actor Ryan Gosling turned down the role of Beast to make LA LA LAND instead, and Emma Watson turned down the lead role in LA LA LAND to play Belle instead. Ian McKellen turned down the role of Cogsworth in 1991 * Composer Alan Menken, who scored the 1991 version, returns to make music for this version * Bill Condon had actors sing Hakuna Matata from THE LION KING (1994) at auditions to test their singing ability *

What to expect? – Fans of the 1991 version have been excited, yet skeptical about this film. After all, the animated version was an instant classic, and advanced animated films into the realm of legitimate cinema. People love that film, and Disney’s history may be working against them. However, Disney’s recent history may also help them. In recent years Disney has been successful in remaking their animated classics into live action, such as CINDERELLA, THE JUNGLE BOOK, and PETE’S DRAGON. In front of the camera, Emma Watson has always been a charmer, and the voice talent behind the talking cups and candles is very inspired. The talent behind the music is also very good, and the writing team has a long history of success with Disney. Director Bill Condon knows how to shoot a (ahem) beauty of a film, and he has that gentle touch in expressing his characters. We can expect a real charmer of a film here, and likely another tall feather in the Disney cap.


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST dances onto screens March 17th in standard, 3-D, and IMAX formats.

Monday, March 13, 2017


"I'm too old for this shit.."

This month marks the 30th anniversary of LETHAL WEAPON.

Directed by Richard Donner, LETHAL WEAPON became a benchmark and a new beginning for “buddy cop” films. Based on a screenplay by Shane Black, the film was a first-time out adventure with a veteran by-the-book cop (Danny Glover) paired with a troubled and suicidal, yet gifted-with-weapons cop (Mel Gibson). The contrast between the two gave the film instant chemistry. Donner and Black wisely saw the magic between the two actors and let the personal stories take center-stage and the action and policework serve as a secondary concern. For an action flick, it was and still is a fine character piece.

To counter the chemistry between Gibson and Glover, Donner cast Gary Busey as a villain. An established star since his Oscar-nominated performance in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978), this was the first time Busey had been cast to play a bad guy. The film is credited with reviving his acting career.

Released in March of 1987, the film remained at No.1 for three weeks before eventually grossing $120 million worldwide. It was nominated for two Oscars (Best Sound and Sound Effects Editing), and is considered to be the starting point for a long line of “buddy cop” film franchises that would follow for the next two decades; films like TANGO & CASH (1989), BAD BOYS (1995), and RUSH HOUR (1998) can trace their roots back to LETHAL WEAPON. Mel Gibson’s performance inspired Franco Zeffirelli to cast him as the lead role in HAMLET (1990), and in 2007 Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked the film #24 on their list of the greatest action movies of all time. The film would skyrocket Gibson’s popularity while establishing roots for his eventual directing career, and Shane Black would go on to a productive screenwriting career, along with directing credits ranging from KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005), and IRON MAN 3 (2013). A TV series based on LETHAL WEAPON and its sequels would premiere in the Fall of 2016.


This Blogger missed the opportunity to see LETHAL WEAPON on the big screen and had to experience it for the first time at home. But even on the small screen, the action was fun and the characters interesting. In viewing through older eyes it still holds up thanks to its timeless and important themes of friendship, family, old-age, and personal demons. The screenplay acts as a master-class in contrasting characters, and the action scenes rank amongst the best ever staged and filmed. Thirty years later, LETHAL WEAPON is not too old for this shit.

"When I was 19, I did a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out. It was a rifle shot in high wind. Maybe eight or even ten guys in the world could have made that shot. It's the only thing I was ever good at. Well, see ya tomorrow."

Friday, March 10, 2017


When it comes to bringing giant monsters to the big screen, we can all expect to turn off our brains to a certain extent. Hollywood has thrived on the big-dumb-and-fun adventure blockbuster for years, and they can be blast, but filmmakers have to be careful not to get too dumb or else all is lost. Such is the task for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and the newest version of King Kong; KONG: SKULL ISLAND.

In the waning days of the Vietnam War, a government agent (John Goodman) leads a team of scientists and soldiers on an expedition to the remote and un-seen Skull Island. Joining him are a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson), two scientists (Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian), and a platoon of soldiers led by a war-hungry colonel (Samuel L. Jackson). Upon arrival, the team encounters the giant ape Kong, and discovers that he is not the worst threat on the island.

This new version of King Kong is not a straight-up remake of the 1933 classic, and is instead its own little adventure on Skull Island and never sees the New York City skyline. It is very much inspired by the old monster movies of KING KONG’s era; where characters are drawn paper-thin, plot doesn’t matter, and the real movie is watching monsters fight each other. With that in mind, SKULL ISLAND works just fine as homage to monster movies of old.

Wearing its influences on its sleeve is no problem for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team of writers. The film rips off borrows heavily from APOCALYPSE NOW, right down to the rock anthems being played every five minutes and characters taking on the personas from that film. Things get interesting when the team is faced with the dilemma of killing Kong, which opens up the possibility of the island natives being wiped out by other threats on the island (Kong is the natives’ only defense), but this is a theme that is glossed over too quickly, along with what could have been better storylines involving character’s contrasting involvements in the Vietnam War.

The situation with a giant ape and other big monsters is certainly silly, but acceptable. But SKULL ISLAND goes dumber than monkey-shit in its telling. The script seems to be written on an elementary-school level, where characters basically announce to the audience what they’re doing and what’s going on; it’s cringe worthy right from the beginning. There are also breaks in continuity and logic as character’s outfits change from scene to scene and soldiers pull out big weapons out of nowhere. But the biggest insult to the intelligence of the audience happens in the early going. The trip to the island is mostly done via ship, which clearly, and often shows four helicopters on the deck…but once the choppers take flight, those four magically become twenty. It’s mind-boggling that the filmmakers expected us not to notice.

For an adventure film, the pacing is faster than a scalded ape, and there’s rarely a slow moment. It’s perhaps a little too quick as there is very little build-up and we’re into an action scene and almost out of it before we know what’s going on. Visual effects are maddening as they look great in some areas but terrible in others. Action scenes involving the chopper and Kong fighting them and other creatures are beautifully photographed and have some big-wow moments, but with characters being so thin...all the action is just empty noise.

Acting is all over the place as no one seems to know what they’re supposed to be doing. Samuel L. Jackson is perfectly cast as a military commander who is fresh out of ‘Nam and is looking for a war to win, and his turn into Captain Ahab-territory is probably the most interesting thing in the movie. John Goodman is just kind-of there, and Brie Larson fares pretty well in what is a very physical role for her. Tom Hiddleston is mistreated, as his character is barely one-dimensional, doesn’t get much to do, and seems to have been told to only strike a pose like an action figure. Corey Dawkins and Jing Tian are a waste. John C. Reilly shows up as a pilot who had been stranded on the island for almost 30 years, and adds some much needed humor even though he basically plays another version of all his characters.

Why exactly the team goes to the goddamn island in the first place isn’t really clear at all, and the entire venture seems pointless by the time the survivors get off the island. A post-credits scene teases the existence of other monsters that Kong will obviously be facing soon…ranging from big and green and scaly to another with really big wings. That, and the lack of any real content makes KONG: SKULL ISLAND just a stepping-stone of a film; one that treats its audience like ape-shit.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Reel Review: GET OUT

Trying to do much in one film can be a kiss of death for rookie and veteran filmmakers. When a movie tries to be about many things, it can often wind up being about nothing. This was the challenge for TV sketch artist Jordan Peele and his directorial debut in his horror-thriller, GET OUT.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) are an interracial couple going to meet Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) for the first time. Upon arrival, Chris experiences some odd happenings with Rose’s parents, the house-staff, and their rich friends.

To say more about the plot would be criminal, as GET OUT is a film that is loaded with secrets. There is a great deal of mystery going on here; ranging from the odd behavior by the groundskeeper and the maid, the rich and snooty old-money friends, to some creepy acts done by the parents. The big secret is revealed in small peeks, and when the curtain is finally pulled back it clicks together in a nice “ah-ha” moment which makes us want to see the film again to really appreciate the clues.

Jordan Peele, who also wrote the script, isn’t content to just let his film be a mystery thriller. He is playing with themes of race and social divide, as Chris is suspicious (with good reason) of Rose’s parents approval or disapproval of their relationship, and the encounters with the rich friends speaks greatly to how far apart society can divide people. The themes and storylines Peele is playing with are well balanced and never become preachy, and give us just enough to at least get our wheels turning.

GET OUT is at its core a horror movie, and the scares are perfectly executed. There are a handful of old-fashioned jumps with loud noises, and one in particular involving an outdoor scene at night is enough to make anyone have an accident. There are also some scenes involving hypnosis which are very un-nerving, and anyone who has a fear or sensitivity to being smothered will have trouble watching. The overall atmosphere of the film is creepy with the feeling that there is always something wrong, and it works beautifully. The pacing and off-ness going on is something Kubrick might have tried.

Acting is very good. Daniel Kaluuya does great work in showing a lot of tension and dread, and scenes where he is asked to not blink for long periods of time are uncomfortable to watch. Allison Williams, in her first feature film, is also impressive. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are excellent as always, and the show is stolen by Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ aloof best friend who gets suspicious of the trip.

With as much as GET OUT has going on, Jordan Peele seems to be trying very hard to avoid any clichés that any horror or socially-conscious film would hang their hat on, and for the most part he succeeds. Despite being fresh and new, the film still can’t help but to fall into the worst horror cliché in the book towards the end; characters resolving everything via fistfight and shotguns. It’s a minor glitch on a thrill of a film, and a breath of fresh air for the horror business.


Monday, March 6, 2017

A Reel Opinion: Superheroes vs. The Dark & Gritty

LOGAN, the final installment of Hugh Jackman’s role as Wolverine; the self-healing, metal-clawed and short-tempered mutant superhero, dominated the box office this past weekend with a haul of over $85 million domestically and overall $237 million worldwide…making it the best ever posted by an R-rated film in the month of March. The film, which more-than earned its R-rating with its bloodshed and swearing (and one very dark confession by Patrick Stewart’s Xavier, which gives serious chills), is a triumph for many reasons, with the primary being that a superhero movie can be successful while going dark and gritty.

Dark and gritty; two words that act like a lightning rod in the circles of comic-readers and movie fans. A persistent argument to be found everywhere these days is that the best superhero films are the ones that are fun and light, and the worst are the dark and gritty. How did we come to this divide? The answer may be found the days of past movies. Years ago, when the granddaddy of all superhero films arrived with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978), the tone of the film was light, whimsical, and colorful. In 1989, Tim Burton put the dark back in the Dark Knight with his BATMAN, which still kept a balance of fun and color. Later BATMAN sequels went ridiculously bad on the explosions of color with stupid humor and nearly killed the superhero genre forever. When Bryan Singer resurrected the genre in 2000 with X-MEN, he kept the fun while staying serious (while staying socially relevant), and Sam Raimi would do the same with his SPIDER-MAN adaptations (2002-2007). And two FANTASTIC FOUR films (2005-2007) would embrace the fun and cartoon style to a fault.

And then along came Christopher Nolan and his most-excellent DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, which ran from 2005-2012. His take on the DC Comics caped crusader was a grounded and realistic approach, and a far cry from the fun and cartoon-like atmospheres done by X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, and the eventual series of Marvel films. Today, the DC films are still embracing the dark and gritty approach Nolan started, but unlike the Nolan films, have been met with mixed to abysmal reviews. This has led to a mob-mentality opinion that a dark and gritty tone equals bad reviews from critics and poor reception from the general public and fans. Maybe the world is still hanging on to the light tone of SUPERMAN.

While it is true that people don’t go to the movies to be depressed, This Blogger has always maintained that tone doesn’t matter if you just make a good movie, and LOGAN proves that. LOGAN has been met with critical acclaim across the board (read Real Speak’s review HERE), and despite how bloody and vulgar and tragic it is, fans and the general public have embraced it. When Nolan was in the superhero business, he knew that he had to make a good movie first…and the world responded by not caring about the tone. If LOGAN is to inspire future super-movies to be dark and gritty, filmmakers and their studios would be well-advised to not be scared off by tone. Just make a good movie.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Reel Review: LOGAN

Ever since the first X-MEN film hit the silver screen way back in 2000, actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have owned their respective roles of the self-healing and metal-clawed Logan/Wolverine and the powerful mind of Charles Xavier/Professor X; turning both characters into household names and elevating them to icon status in cinema. After 17 of our years, the X-MEN franchise has seen many ups and downs, and with LOGAN, both Wolverine and the Professor say goodbye to their characters, and close a chapter on the first generation of the X-MEN in cinema.

The year is 2029. Mutants are on the verge of extinction. Scratching out a living, Logan (Jackman), cares for the bed-ridden and nearly insane Xavier (Stewart), when they cross paths with an 11 year-old girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who has abilities similar to Logan’s. The three set out on a road trip to take Laura to a rumored safe haven for mutants called Eden, while avoiding capture by hired enhanced goons led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who are working for a corporation in the business of creating their own race of mutants.

One of the best approaches to bringing a high-concept superhero from the thin comic pages to the medium of film is to crossbreed it with another genre. Director James Mangold, in his second outing in the X-MEN universe of films, makes his first step a good one in giving LOGAN the sensibilities of an Old West film. These are dangerous times these characters are living in, where travel is filled with peril, resources are thin, and the law is never around when needed. LOGAN is very much like a wagon-train adventure set out across the plains, with the simple plot of getting from one place to another in one piece.

At the center of it all, aside from the future of mutant-kind and the life of a kid, is the new uneasy relationship between Logan and Xavier, which is built like an estranged father and son dynamic. Here, Logan cares deeply for Xavier but is furious at him for some reason, and Xavier is wrought with guilt over some terrible thing he had done in the past. Both characters are in desperate need of forgiveness and redemption, even though they don’t actively seek it. It’s fine character work that gives the film a lot of weight, and its thick enough to resist the strongest of metal claws.

Adding an extra layer of depth to these familiar characters is the burden of old age. Gone is the invincible Wolverine, who is now healing very slowly, hobbles around with a severe limp, and is being internally poisoned by his metal skeleton. Also gone is the quiet and reserved thinking-man of Xavier, who now suffers from dementia and drifts in and out of cohesive thought…while having occasional bursts of mental explosions which threaten to kill anyone around him. To see these two characters suffer in such a way is startling, and in many ways, hard to watch. On top of that, LOGAN wears its hard R-rating proudly; gone are the cartoon-like effects of laser beams and flying characters, and instead we have Wolverine chopping off heads and arms and stabbing enemies in glorious crimson bloodshed. Both Logan and Xavier drop F-bombs and cuss like drunken sailors on a bad (and good) day, all making LOGAN a unique superhero film and not one for the kiddies. The action and fight sequences are outstanding, as is Marco Beltrami’s score.

Acting is superb. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Steward play off each other like the odd couple, and the depths they have to take their characters is jarring to see. As good as they are, the show is really stolen by young Dafne Keen, who displays amazing intensity and a surprising screen presence. And watch out for a cameo in the early goings to bring a few laughs.

As wonderful as LOGAN is, the final 10 minutes may prove to be frustrating for many. The way certain characters finish the film doesn’t feel quite right for them, which may be another nod towards the Western in which no one is guaranteed a proper ending…but there still feels like something was missing in the big wrap, and one has to wonder if a future director’s cut would solve that. There are also a few important plot-threads which are given a ton of time during the film which are not answered completely or at all. It’s a minor gripe, and not nearly enough to completely de-claw LOGAN, for this is a film which stands out from the massive crop of superhero films in style and substance, and a satisfying end to an era.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Reel Preview - The Year in Film 2017, Episode III

Awards season has ended which means the book on 2016 can mercifully be closed, and with our exit from the dead months of January and February, we now mark the beginning of a new cinematic year for real. Here are the notable releases for the packed month of March.

The evolution begins with…

LOGAN – Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles as everyone’s favorite mutants for the final time, in which an aging Wolverine (Jackman) and an even-more aging Professor X (Stewart), embark on a dangerous cross-country road trip to save the life of a young mutant. It is directed by James Mangold, who directed Jackman in THE WOLVERINE in 2013, and the Oscar-darling WALK THE LINE in 2005. It is the first R-rated X-MEN movie in the series.

THE SHACK – The best-selling novel by William P. Young finally makes it to the big screen. In this faith-based drama, a bereaved father (Sam Worthington), is mysteriously summoned to a shack in the woods where he is greeted by a trilogy of mystical beings…and they help him face his fears. Octavia Spencer co-stars.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND – This version of King Kong, which seems like the 987th one, serves as a reboot to the series and as a prequel to the 2014 GODZILLA film…which is setting up a future showdown. In this setup movie, an expedition to Skull Island goes wrong (of course it does). The overqualified cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and John C. Reilly.

RAW – In this French-Belgian horror film, a vegetarian college student suddenly develops a craving for raw meat.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – Walt Disney pictures remakes their own 1991 animated version. Emma Watson (HARRY POTTER), stars as Belle; a young woman taken prisoner by a Beast (Dan Stevens). It also stars Luke Evans (THE HOBBIT), Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, and Ian McKellen. It is directed by Bill Condon, who is known for directing and writing critically acclaimed films such as GODS AND MONSTERS, CHICAGO, KINSEY, and DREAMGIRLS. 

T2 TRAINSPOTTING – Danny Boyle directs this sequel to his very own 1996 cult-hit TRAINSPOTTING. Ewan McGregor reprises his original role.

SONG TO SONG – Maverick director Terrence Malick returns with a modern love story set in the Austin, Texas music scene. The impressive cast includes Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer, Benicio del Toro, Holly Hunter…and a few cameos from real-life famous musicians.

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT – James Gunn (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) wrote this horror-thriller in which 80 people are locked in a building and are ordered by an unknown voice to kill or be killed.

POWER RANGERS – The long-awaited reboot and reimagining of the once-popular superhero TV series. Bryan Cranston stars as Zordon, and Elizabeth Banks plays Rita Repulsa.

LIFE – In this science-fiction horror mashup, a crew aboard a space station retrieves a sample from Mars…which causes all sorts of horrific problems. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds.

CHiPS – The long-awaited film adaptation of the 1970’s TV series is finally here. Dax Shepard directs and plays Jon, and Michael Pena (ANT-MAN) is Ponch. Tagging along are Vincent D’Onofrio and Kristen Bell.

WILSON – Based on the graphic novel of the same name, a lonely middle-aged man reunites with his estranged wife. Stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern.

GHOST IN THE SHELL – The live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. Scarlett Johansson plays a cyborg tasked with thwarting cyber criminals. It is directed by Rupert Sanders (SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN).

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE – Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, this WWII drama tells the tale of a zookeeper couple who saved people during the war by hiding them in animal cages. Stars Jessica Chastain and Daniel Bruhl.


Next month, Episode IV explores the month of April.