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.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of July.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


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.


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.


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


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 clich├ęs 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.


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.


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.


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.


Read Part 2 – An Empire Awakens (HERE)

Monday, May 8, 2017


One of the biggest mistakes that filmmakers can make when doing a sequel is to try and top the first film by going bigger, louder, and piling on more characters in an effort to make the sequel worthwhile. Sure, it is important to expand your universe, but at the same time characters have to go somewhere, or else the sequel is just noise. The best approach is not to go bigger but deeper, and that is the mission for James Gunn and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2.

Just months after the events of the first film, the Guardians of the Galaxy; Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), encounter the mysterious Ego (Kurt Russell), who is a celestial being who has created a living planet around himself, and claims to be Quill’s long-lost father. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker), has his crew of Ravagers rebel against him, while Nebula (Karen Gillan), seeks revenge against her sister Gamora.

VOL. 2 is a film which doesn’t have a ton of plot going on. After a thrilling prologue and chase sequence in which the Guardians betray, and are hunted down by a race of Sovereign beings (led by a brilliant performance by Elizabeth Debicki), the team is split up…with one half dealing with Yondu and his mutiny problems, and the other half spending time with Ego. A lot of the film is spent with the team trying to get back together, and unraveling the mystery around Ego and what he is really up to. There is a lot of talking and explaining, and any real plot doesn’t come around until late in the film when a lot of secrets are revealed.

But where VOL. 2 lacks in plot, it more-than makes for it in character. James Gunn, who also wrote the script, sets up his crew of galactic saviors-for-hire in a family dynamic; fathers and mothers, little brothers and big sisters, loud uncles, and even ugly cousins. And while that makes this zany outer space adventure relatable, Gunn takes it one step further by making sure every character in the film has some sort of arc or personal problem to overcome. It’s a massive amount of writing and development, and a ton of heart is poured into it, and the thin plot doesn’t really matter when we’re so invested in each character. The characters are the story, and that’s where GUARDIANS really soars.

The laughs and gags are non-stop and of the knee-slapping, gut-busting kind; be prepared to LOL at least 50 times. But at the same time, be prepped to cry as well, as Gunn manages to pull the heartstrings to great effect. The pacing is breakneck, save for the second act which could have been a little tighter, but the action beats and galactic fuckery is a blast. Gunn also does marvelous work behind the camera lens; every single frame is loaded with detail in endless perfectly framed shots, and the film basically demands more than one viewing just to make sure we’ve seen everything that he’s filling the frame with. The color palette is eye-popping, and the overall visual effects are stunning. Music selections vary from classic rock, soul, and folk and help drive the plot.

Acting is very good all around. Chris Pratt has basically mastered his character, and his chemistry with Zoe Saldana seems to be getting better. Dave Bautista, as the brutish and literal Drax, is once again a show-stealer, and Bradley Cooper gets even more time to make Rocket the biggest wise-ass in the galaxy. Another highlight is Pom Klementieff as Ego’s personal assistant Mantis, who is fascinating to watch. Kurt Russell is a blast, and Michael Rooker is equally fun. The film is packed tight with many cameos, including (but not limited to), Sylvester Stallone and Rob Zombie…and of course Stan Lee…whose many appearances in various Marvel movies is finally explained. But the movie probably belongs to the vastly adorable Baby Groot, who has trouble following simple instructions but still manages to be a hero in the most sickenly cutest ways possible.

Despite being firmly embedded in the ever-growing series of Marvel superhero films, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 firmly exists as a stand-alone adventure (keeping in mind it’s a direct sequel), and it smartly doesn’t punt various storylines down the road for other films to pick up…but it does plant seeds for its very own VOL. 3. James Gunn, along with his bosses in Disney and Marvel Studios, have put together a franchise within a franchise here, with VOL. 2 a true standout; one that will cause many laughs, cheers, and tears…and a vast amount of affection for every Guardian.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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

For most mortals, the beginning of summer is marked by Memorial Day weekend. But in the galaxy of cinema, the start to the Summer Movie Season tends to begin in the first week of May. Winter is dead, Spring is mercifully on the way out, and this is where the fun begins. Here are the notable releases for the month of May.

It all gets Groot with…

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – Marvel’s series of connected films continues with a sequel to their smash 2014 hit of galactic misfits fighting to save the galaxy. Director James Gunn returns to direct, as does his stellar cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and Kurt Russell.

CHUCK – In this autobiographical story, Liev Schreiber plays the real-life inspiration for the movie ROCKY. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Rapaport, and Ron Perlman.

THE DINNER – Richard Gere continues his new career as an arthouse film-actor in this adaptation of the novel of the same name in which couples at a restaurant bring their family issues to the table. Stars Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Chloe Sevigny.

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD – Director Guy Ritchie, who directed two consecutive intolerable SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, dips back into making period pieces with this fresh and hip take on King Arthur. Charlie Hunnam (TV’s SONS OF ANARCHY), stars as the would-be King, and he is joined by Djimon Hounsou (GLADIATOR),       Jude Law, Eric Bana, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey.

THE WALL – This has nothing to do with the Matt Damon film, the Pink Floyd album, or the thing in Mexico that will never get built. What it is about is a pair of American soldiers facing off against a sniper in Iraq. Stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (KICK-ASS), and former pro-wrestler John Cena. Directed by Doug Liman (THE BOURNE INDENTITY, EDGE OF TOMORROW).

ALIEN COVENANT – Sir Ridley Scott, who brought us the classic sci-fi film ALIEN in 1979, and the shit-sandwich prequel PROMETHEUS (2012), gives those nasty aliens one more shot. This year’s doomed crew of space explorers includes Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and James Franco.

WAKEFIELD – Bryan Cranston (TV’S BREAKING BAD), plays a New York City lawyer who hides out in his attic and only comes out when his family is gone. Co-stars Jennifer Garner.

BAYWATCH – The cheesy TV show from the 1990’s gets a cheesy shot at the movies. Stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – The fifth entry in Disney’s massive series of blockbusters sets sail for another billion. Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, and he is joined by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), and Geoffrey Rush.

WAR MACHINE – This has nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character or the song by KISS. What it is about is a military drama in which a U.S. Army general sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end. Brad Pitt stars as the general, and he is joined by Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Scoot McNairy, Alan Ruck, Meg Tilly, and Tilda Swinton.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of June.