Monday, July 31, 2017

Sam Shepard 1943 - 2017

Sam Shepard; actor, playwright, author, and director…has passed away at 73.

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III in Illinois, he worked on a ranch as a teenager, and briefly studied agriculture before pursuing an acting career. At just 21 years old he began writing plays Off-Broadway, and his early science-fiction play The Unseen Hand (1969) would influence the stage musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was named playwright-in-residence in 1975 at the Magic Theatre where he would create many of his memorable works.

He began his acting career in 1978 when he was cast as a land baron in Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN. This would lead to more film roles, including RESURRECTION (1980), and the film that he would be associated with for the rest of his career, THE RIGHT STUFF in 1983. Playing the famous pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, Shepard would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which was a feat considering the large ensemble cast in the film. Still keeping work in the theatre, his 1986 play Fool for Love would be adapted into a film, and he would play the lead.

With his striking good looks and country-boy demeanor with a touch of sophistication, Shepard would have memorable roles such as a general during a failed military operation in Ridley Scott’s BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001), and would play Frank James, the older brother of Jesse James in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD in 2007. He would return to the old west by playing Butch Cassidy in BLACKTHORN in 2011.

Other notable film roles include COUNTRY (1984), FOOL FOR LOVE (1985), CRIMES OF THE HEART (1986), BABY BOOM (1987), STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989), VOYAGER (1991), THUNDERHEART (1992), THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993), HAMLET (2000), THE NOTEBOOK (2004), KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012), MUD (2012), OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), and MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016). He would be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his work in television.

He received a PEN/Laura Pets International Foundation for Theatre Award as a Master American Dramatist in 2009. New York magazine called him the “greatest American playwright of his generation”.


This Blogger was introduced to Sam Shepard in the mid 1980’s, when a new cable-service called HBO ran THE RIGHT STUFF several times a week. As a fan of the early days of the space program, the film was an easy sell, and Shepard’s portrayal of Chuck Yeager was a performance that made him a hero. He was the guy who went boldly ahead, and above the call of duty, and although his Yeager never went into space, he paved the way for others to follow. Just like his character in THE RIGHT STUFF, Shepard has set an example for others; to be excellent at a craft but to never be boxed in, which was an achievement for him balancing life on-screen and on the stage. He was excellent and memorable in every film he was in, leaving an impression without really trying. He was a quiet legend and the best of the best.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Reel Review: A GHOST STORY

In the hands of a lesser director, the idea behind A GHOST STORY would turn into a laughable parody of a film. After all, the main character/lead actor spends 95% of his screen-time under a sheet, hardly ever speaks, and overall seems like a sketch for a late-night TV show. The trick to making this a treat is to give it meaning, and director David Lowery gives us much, much more than we can ever expect.

A young couple (un-named in the film, but credited as C and M, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, respectively), has their marriage cut short when C is killed in a car accident right outside of their home.  C rises from his morgue slab with his bedsheet, which becomes his shroud, and spends an eternity silently watching his wife at their home.

A GHOST STORY does not seem to have much by way of plot. There is no stated goal or endgame for C to strive for, as the idea of death is being treated just as it should be-a mystery. The majority of the film, in its unconventional structure, involves the spectral C quietly observing M as she struggles with her grief. Time passes in a blink for the audience, but for C there are years that pass as he his trapped in some sort of eternal limbo. Things advance greatly when M moves out of the house, and C is left to linger all on his own…unable to let go, and he eventually drives new home owners away by way of hauntings. It’s a story about not letting things go, and the sense of profound loneliness hangs over the film like a cloud.

Writer and director David Lowery has some big ideas going on here about eternity, and although the film never gets bogged down in rules, it clearly establishes its own concept of limbo. Decades pass and C has to watch his old home get demolished and an entire city built on its location, and he later finds a way to bring himself back to horse-and-buggy times, long before his home is built…where he sits and waits until time catches up with him and he finds himself again in present times. It’s a mind-bending concept at work, and although the idea of eternity is too big for the human mind to understand, A GHOST STORY somehow makes it tangible.

Lowery’s slow-paced style gives the film an atmosphere that is mesmerizing. There are many long, unbroken takes which are so gripping that we are jarred when the picture finally does cut away, and many shots linger on long after we expect them to end. The simple imagery of the ghost; a man under a sheet, awakens our inner and long-dormant idea of what a ghost looks like; that old image which was burned into our minds as children. Dialogue in the film is kept to an absolute minimum (there can’t be any more than 20 minutes of spoken words), and Daniel Hart’s score is powerful and moving. Lowery also shoots the film in an old 4:3 frame with rounded corners, giving the characters and their world a “boxed-in” feel. The photography is stunning, and the shots of the ghosts (there are more than one) are so convincing they are hard to forget.

With so little dialogue, the cast is required to get their point across in other ways besides speaking. Rooney Mara goes through many emotions and shows them all in her face and eyes. Casey Affleck’s eyes are never seen through the blackened (and un-nerving) eyeholes, so he uses some effective body language to give his death-shrouded character personality. It’s a miracle how well it works. When Affleck and Mara do share the screen together, the chemistry is definitely there; having both worked with Lowery before (AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS in 2013). Will Oldham drops in as a thirty-something drunken loudmouth who eventually buys the house and plays his part very well.

A GHOST STORY is less of a horror flick and more of a profound idea on what the afterlife is like (although there are some great scares and several creepy and uncomfortable moments), and David Lowery presents it so well, we have to wonder if he knows more about the other side than the average mortal. Pardon the pun, but A GHOST STORY is a film that will haunt us long after the credits are done, and will have us looking over our shoulders wondering if a departed loved one is still hanging around; waiting, watching, and wondering. This is an unforgettable experience.


Monday, July 24, 2017

A Reel Review: DUNKIRK

In 1940 during the Second World War, 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the shores of Dunkirk, France, and were unreachable by their own rescue efforts. Defenseless, they were bombarded from air and sea by German forces, and were eventually rescued by civilians in their own personal craft, simply because they cared. It was a disaster and a miracle in history, and often overlooked despite being ripe with themes of duty and bravery. The story now comes to the big screen, and is given the highest honor it deserves by writer/director Christopher Nolan and DUNKIRK.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private, races to escape the enemy with his fellow soldiers, while Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), sets out with his private yacht to rescue troops with his young son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his best friend (Barry Keoghan). Overhead, a pair of Royal Air Force pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), battle German air forces in an attempt to protect the rescue effort, despite running dangerously low on fuel.

DUNKIRK is a film which is shown through three different perspectives; land, sea, and air. Aware of the grand scale that he is working with, director Christopher Nolan uses three characters (Tommy, Dawson, and a pilot) to act as surrogates for the audience. Nolan literally drops us right in the middle of the battles and the desperate evacuation attempts, and tagging along with the characters injects a lot of humanity into the film, along with a shit-ton of anxiety in getting away from the hellish war. Dialogue is kept to an absolute minimum as Nolan embraces other methods of expression, making it almost seem like a silent film in places.

Time was the greatest enemy at Dunkirk; they had to get off the shores before the enemy arrived or just bombed them to bits from above. Nolan uses the concept of time to his advantage, and shows us the three perspectives in their own timelines (for example, Tom Hardy’s character defends a small ship, and later in the film we see who was on that ship and why it was so important). The method is used to have all of the storylines converge at a particular moment, and when they do, it is extremely impactful. Ever the detail-oriented director, Nolan uses placeholders such as vehicles, watches, and fuel-status to help the audience along and realize where they are in any given timeline. It is an ambitious and mind-wrecking method in both concept and execution.

After all the messing about with time and rescue efforts, DUNKIRK at its core is a war movie, and Nolan delivers. The film is extremely immersive as its surrounds us with the battles; from city streets to air raids…the attacks are absolutely harrowing. The aerial battles specifically are fantastic and dizzying, and Nolan even dips his toes into the horror-movie genre by showing us what it’s like to be below-deck on a sinking ship. The usage of practical effects; actual vehicles and stunts and zero CGI, adds to the tremendous sense of realism and the visuals are constantly breathtaking. The sound-mixing adds to the “holy shit” moments, and Hans Zimmer’s score is a pulse-pounder which makes the ticking-clock situation up front and in our faces.

Acting is superb. Mark Rylance gets the most lines in a film which barely has dialogue, and fully expresses the desperation of the situation along with his character’s own sense of duty to country. Cillian Murphy drops in as a rescued shell-shocked soldier, and gets a lot of heavy-lifting to do. Other roles held down by Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, and Harry Styles are done very well. The unsung hero in DUNKIRK is Tom Hardy. Hardy spends nearly all of his screentime under his pilot’s mask and goggles, which gives him the opportunity to act only with his eyes…and he delivers in amazing ways.

The situation during those days at Dunkirk in 1940 was desperate; if the evacuation failed, the war may have been lost a full year before the U.S. even got involved. This fact is never lost in the film, and by the time the rousing and haunting finale wraps up, the importance of its success is driven home with a well-placed salute by Nolan. In the modern era of lazy filmmaking, DUNKIRK is a miracle, and if movies are to educate and inspire us, this stands amongst the best of them. All it took to bring it home was a director who cared.



This Blogger highly recommends seeing DUNKIRK in an IMAX or 70mm presentation. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need to Know About DUNKIRK

One of the biggest films of the year arrives in theatres this weekend, in the form of Christopher Nolan’s WWII film, DUNKIRK. Here is everything you need to know about this highly anticipated film.

What is this all about? – In the late Spring of 1940, during World War II, thousands of Allied soldiers were stranded on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France. Surrounded the German army and virtually defenseless, the troops were bombarded and strafed by air while being rescued, with many being rescued by civilians who took their own boats into the battle. DUNKIRK tells the story of the evacuation.

Who is behind the camera? – DUNKIRK is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who is mostly known for his Batman series of films, THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (2005-2012). His other credits include THE PRESTIGE (2006), INTERSTELLAR (2014), INCEPTION (2010), and MEMENTO (2000).

Who is in front of the camera? – DUNKIRK is populated with a strong cast, including Tom Hardy (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD), Cillian Murphy (BATMAN BEGINS), Kenneth Branagh (VALKYRIE), Mark Rylance (BRIDGE OF SPIES), and James D’Arcy (TV’s AGENT CARTER). It also stars Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, and Barry Keoghan.

Random Items – Nolan came up with the idea for the film while visiting the factual Dunkirk with his wife 25 years ago * To preserve realism, DUNKIRK was filmed in the actual area of the evacuation, using ships and boats that were actually there * The story of the film is told from three perspectives; the air, land, and sea…using minimal dialogue * DUNKIRK was filmed using IMAX 65mm film, and will be presented in select locations using 70mm projection, and will be the widest 70mm release in 25 years * The score is provided by Hans Zimmer, who scored Nolan’s three Batman films * A portion of the Dunkirk evacuation was shown in the 2007 film ATONEMENT * Mark Rylance’s character bears resemblance to the real-life Charles Lightoller, who with his sons took his personal yacht into battle to rescue stranded soldiers at Dunkirk. He was also the Second Officer aboard Titanic.

What to expect? – As this Blogger has stated many times, the Second World War will never run out of stories to tell us, as it was just too big and changed too much in the world to ever run dry. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation has only been touched on in cinema, as it was an event that happened prior to the United States’ entry into the war which made it difficult for mainstream Hollywood to find a patriotic angle. The fact that the story is finally making it to the big screen is a feat within itself. And speaking of the big screen, this Blogger highly recommends the 70mm presentation. The amount of detail and richness in the picture is simply jawdropping. But after the presentation, it’s all about the movie…and director Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be one of the top directors in the game today. His films are visually and technically ambitious, and his handling of large-scale events is always impressive. Nolan has been waiting over two decades to tell us this story, and we can expect him to deliver. This has all the makings of not just a movie but an event.


DUNKIRK arrives on July 21st

Find out where to see it in 70mm HERE

Monday, July 17, 2017

George A. Romero and Martin Landau

Two screen legends with ties to the horror genre have passed away.

Director George A. Romero has left us at 77. Often referred to as the King of the Zombies or the Godfather of Horror, Romero scared the world silly with his horror-classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1968. With its creepy black-and-white presentation and creepier atmosphere and performances, the film re-invented the term “zombie”, and with his clever subtexts on social issues, brought the horror genre into the legitimate world of cinema; literally paving the way for future scare-films such as JAWS and THE EXORCIST to be taken seriously by critics and awards voters. The film would establish the “walking dead” so firmly that every future film, parody, and TV series would derive, tribute, or rip-off what Romero created to this day.

His other directing credits included DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), THE CRAZIES (1973), MARGIN (1978), CREEPSHOW (1982), MONKEY SHINES (1988), and LAND OF THE DEAD (2005).

Born George Andrew Romero in the Bronx, he attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. One of his earliest professional works was directing a segment for TV’s MISTER ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, in which Rogers received a tonsillectomy.

Also passing away; actor Martin Landau at 89. Landau was already enjoying a lucrative and award-worthy career in TV and film when he was cast to play the role of an aging, dying, and troubled horror icon Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD in 1994. Basically playing a cranky old man whose best days were behind him, Landau found a vulnerable side in the nail-tough character, and he would be awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year.

His Oscar for ED WOOD was not his first brush with the awards circuit. His first Academy nomination came for his role in TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), and his second would come in 1989 for his work in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. He also had Emmy Award nominations for his work in TV’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

Landau made his first film appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). Other notable film roles included CLEOPATRA (1963), CITY HALL (1996), ROUNDERS (1998), EDtv (1999), THE MAJESTIC (2001), and CITY OF EMBER (2008). He would re-unite with Tim Burton to provide voice-work in the stop-motion animated FRANKENWEENIE in 2012. He was also well-known for his work in the TV series SPACE: 1999.

Born in Brooklyn, Landau worked as a cartoonist before auditioning for the Actors Studio in 1955. He was the head of the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio until his death.


Romero and Landau may sit on the total opposite of each other in the horror genre; one created a new mythology behind the camera while the other portrayed a well-known actor, but they both have several things in common, beginning with adding extra layers of depth to the films they worked on. There is a neat irony to be had knowing that these two greats passed away within hours of each other, and that their two most-known and perhaps best works were presented in glorious black-and-white, even though they didn’t have to be. Perhaps somewhere in another place…Bela, George, and Martin are enjoying a scary laugh in shades of grey, while the rest of us enjoy the color they brought to cinema. 

Friday, July 14, 2017


Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the third and (likely) final chapter in a three-film arc which began in 2011; it is a capper to a trilogy, one that has progressed in its storytelling and technical wizardry to bring its walking and talking apes to life while steadily working its way up to the events of the 1968 classic.

It is fifteen years after the events of the second film, and humanity, faced with the progressing virus which is robbing them of their speech, is in their last stand against the growing population of sentient apes. The ape leader, Caesar (reprised via motion-capture and voiced by Andy Serkis) is looking for peace and preaching mercy when he suffers a deeply personal loss by the hands of the human resistance leader, known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar sends his large tribe off to a rumored safe haven, and sets out on a journey of revenge.

For a movie with War in the title, this is a flick which has very little warring going on. There is a terrific battle in the opening sequence (a chilling throwback to the Vietnam War), and an epic battle at the end (between two different human armies, fighting for scraps), and that’s it for the fighting. In-between the dustups is Caesar’s one-ape tale of vengeance, as he sets out across the devastated and barren landscape, picking up loyal companions here and there, and struggling with his decision for blood as he knows killing The Colonel will only make things worse for his beloved apes.

A movie must always be judged on its own merits, but it has to pointed out that Reeves is showing no shame in borrowing from many film genres. Caesar’s quest for blood-revenge harks back to an Old West film, and The Colonel is straight out of APOCALYPSE NOW in every way, including being a rogue with his own army. Eventually Caesar and his tribe are captured and held in a concentration camp, which lets the film slide into a standard prison-escape story…all while being peppered with elements from the Bible here and there and a modern political commentary. Not all of these old elements are a bad thing, as the environment and clever plotting by Reeves keeps it feeling fresh, and even though the story itself is very much A to Z with very few surprises, Caesar’s personal morality tale gives it a lot of heart and has a mythical feel to it.

Reeves and his team have filmed an amazing looking movie. Every shot is perfectly framed and the cinematography is breathtaking. The CGI wizardry in bringing the apes to life is a major step forward for the tech, as the apes have never looked better or more life-like. Every strand of fur and texture can be seen, and the actors’ performances underneath their digital skins can be fully appreciated. Reeves challenges the visual effects team by putting his CGI characters in various conditions from low lighting, snow, and waterfalls, and the challenge is met with stunning results. Michael Giacchino’s score is a primal beast.

Andy Serkis as Caesar brings the motion-capture tech to a new level, and his facial expressions and true acting ability really shines through, and this talented actor truly makes us care for his character. Woody Harrelson channels his best Marlon Brando and handles it very well. Amiah Miller plays Nova, a young mute girl who charms. The rest of the motion-capture actors, including Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, and Judy Greer are all excellent.

Over the last six years, Reeves and his team of filmmakers have built a bleak world while making his audience choose sides in the ape vs. human battle, but WAR doesn’t bother much with that as it becomes clear early on that the humans have already lost, and the ones we do see are pretty darn despicable and deserve to get speared. With the destination already known the journey becomes more important, and WAR has us spend that journey with Caesar…and by the time he reaches his promised land, we are behind him 100%. Matt Reeves has put together an epic sci-fi series here, with very satisfying results and strong ties to the beloved 1968 classic that started it all. It’s a prequel series that stands tall on its own, with the final chapter as the best entry.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Reel Opinion: THE BEGUILED Brouhaha

Everyone secretly loves a good controversy. Some of us look at it as an opportunity to get something off our chests or to prove a point, while others just like to sit back with a tub of popcorn and watch the show. There are always heroes on both sides, and arguments are everywhere. In movies, debates rage all over the internet, and on occasion in bars over cold beverages which fuels the fun. One controversy of the film world of 2017 has somewhat flown under the radar of mainstream movie debate, and it comes from the latest film by Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED.

Coppola’s film, which she also wrote, is a re-adaptation of the Civil War-era novel of the same name, which was made into a movie in 1971 starring Clint Eastwood. The film has been met with critical acclaim (read Reel Speak’s review HERE), and recently earned Coppola a Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival; making her only the second woman to do so. The film is less of a remake of the Eastwood version and more of a fresh take on the novel, as this version takes the perspective of the women in the film. It has been hailed as a clever, and refreshing approach to a story that explores old themes of gender, morality, and loyalty.  

But Coppola’s decisions have not all been met with high praise, with one particular move, done during the writing stage, earning a lot of ire from women’s and black-rights groups. The 1966 novel had a black female slave as a supporting character, which Coppola cut from the film. The term “whitewashing” quickly was tossed around in criticism of the omission of the character, with Coppola defending it by saying that was not the depiction of an African American character that she wanted to present to young girls.

This isn’t the first time that Coppola has done some altering with history in order to spend more time with her characters and plot. In her 2006 film MARIE ANTOINETTE, the French Revolution was kept far in the background while the main character’s rise and fall took over. The 1971 Eastwood version featured the perspective of this black female slave, but Coppola disposed of the character and explained it away in the film with one line; something about all the slaves leaving during war.

From a nuts-and-bolts filmmaking perspective, Coppola’s omission of the character can be easily explained. Sometimes brevity and simplicity work best, and a film packed with female characters and one injured male soldier already gave her enough to work with. And there’s also the issue of the black female slave being extremely overdone in cinema over the last 50 years; from GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) to FORREST GUMP (1994), the character has become so commonplace it’s almost become a tired, boilerplate addition to every Civil War era film; nearly to the point of becoming part of the scenery. Perhaps that’s exactly what Coppola was trying to avoid.

Directors always have it tough when adapting a novel or remaking an old film; everyone wants a fresh perspective on it to make it seem new, but making too many changes draws complaints as well. There’s a balance to be struck, and while that is possible, it’s impossible to please everyone. Coppola’s explanation of wanting to insulate young girls from the image of a black female slave is well-intentioned, but seems to be delaying the inevitable as her audience has to at least be aware of history, and the film itself goes into some dark and nasty territory at its end anyway. But what it all comes down to is what we see on the screen. When watching THE BEGUILED, there doesn’t seem to be a gaping hole in the story, and that’s what matters most. Movie comes first; that’s what Coppola was likely thinking, and that’s what all directors should think about. The debates will happen anyway, as all good film should spark discussion from both sides of the bar.

Friday, July 7, 2017


Many years ago, the creators and owners of the beloved Spider-Man character sold off the legal rights to make movies based on everyone’s favorite web-crawler, and the results have been a mixed bag of good-to-great-to-shit through six films. Here in 2017, after a web of legal haggling, Spidey has finally come back home to Marvel, where the character can now join their ongoing connected series of films. The end result is SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, and the best the web-slinger has ever been on the screen.

Fifteen year-old high school student Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggles to balance his teenage life with his superhero activities as Spider-Man, including keeping his identity away from his friends and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). But things get even more difficult when Peter stumbles upon the business of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), an underground arms-dealer manufacturing weapons from alien technology.

The best kind of superhero films are the ones that find a clever way to blend the genre with a familiar category of film; such as fantasy, war, detectives, and even horror. For the first time ever for Marvel, and maybe even the genre overall, HOMECOMING embraces the coming-of-age tale in the style of a 1980’s high school drama/comedy. Most of the film’s business has to do with Peter trying to get a date for the Homecoming dance, keeping up in class, and playing cat-and-mouse with his friends and aunt in keeping his identity secret…while trying to figure out who is making these deadly weapons. Marvel veteran Tony Stark/Iron Man (reprised by Robert Downey Jr.) comes in as a protective mentor for Peter, and that adds an enrichening father-son element to the film.

Although this is a new version of the character, HOMECOMING and director Jon Watts seem to be aware that audiences are about tired of seeing another origin tale…so exactly how Peter got his powers is explained here and there over the course of two or three lines. This gives Watts more time to spend with Peter, and it pays off. This is a story about a kid who just wants to be more and is constantly told by peers, mentors, and enemies that he can’t, and it’s easy to root for him because we’ve all been there.

When Toomes gets into his bad-guy identity known as The Vulture (a menacing, high-tech winged suit), things shift from an awkward teenager tale to a blast of an action movie. Spectacular set-pieces ranging from a simple car-chase to a river-ferry disaster, to a dizzying climb up the Washington Monument are breathtaking, and the sheer energy Watts pumps into the film makes for great amount of fun; not to mention a ton of gut-busting laughs. But despite the amount of action, Watts manages to keep the film very grounded; unlike most superhero tales with city-smashing consequences, the stakes here are much smaller and its more of personal tale.

Tom Holland is absolutely charming as Peter, nailing every beat as a cocky yet earnest kid, and his scenes with the veteran actors prove he can hold his own against anyone. Michael Keaton is superb and gives every bit of menace needed, along with an unexpected backstory that gives him great depth and a claim to one of the best Marvel villains put to screen. Marisa Tomei is also excellent, and Robert Downey Jr. impresses in what amounts to an extended cameo. Peter’s classmates are well-cast (Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, and Tony Revolori), and Donald Glover pops in here and there. There are also a few surprise and welcome cameos from established Marvel characters which add to the fun.

Getting into the third act, a whopper of a twist turns the entire film on its head, and sets up another spectacular set-piece which sends the film out on a high-note. Despite the spectacle, HOMECOMING never forgets to remind us that there is a kid mixed up in all of this, and that type of carefully planned and executed balance makes it a worthy entry in Marvel’s catalog and into the overall genre. The amount of heart and up-frontness makes it very likeable, and makes coming home the most comfortable feeling we know. That’s the way it should be.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

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

As the old smuggler once said, this is where the fun begins…as the 2017 Summer Movie Season hits its peak. Here are the notable releases for the month of July.

It all swings in with…

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – After a decade of shitty Spider-Man movies by Sony Pictures, the beloved neighborhood web-slinger comes home to Marvel Studios where he can rightfully take his place next to his Avengers brethren. Tom Holland, who debuted this new version of the character in 2016 in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR in an extended cameo, returns to the role, and he is joined by Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Donald Glover, and a few other surprises. Robert Downey Jr. also returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – The ninth film in the PLANET OF THE APES franchise since 1968 is the second sequel to the 2014 reboot/restart, where the fate of both apes and humans will finally be determined. Andy Serkis returns as ape-leader Caesar, and he is joined by Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, and Woody Harrelson. Matt Reeves, who directed the last two APES films, returns to direct.

DUNKIRK – Director Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, THE PRESTIGE), jumps into WWII with this true story about one of the biggest military disasters in history. The cast includes Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS – Director Luc Besson, who brought us the sci-fi cult favorite THE FIFTH ELEMENT in 1997, returns to the genre with this adaptation of the French comic series in which two young operatives are charged with protecting a metropolis. It stars Dane DeHaan (THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES), Cara Delevingne (SUICIDE SQUAD), and Clive Owen.

ATOMIC BLONDE – In this action thriller, adapted from a graphic novel, Charlize Theron plays a spy charged with finding a list of double agents. James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones co-star. It is helmed by David Leitch, who co-directed the shoot-em-up drama JOHN WICK in 2014.

THE EMOJI MOVIE – This animated film centers on an emoji who lives in a phone who sets out on a journey to discover himself. Stars the voice-talents of TJ Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Sofia Vergara, Christina Aguilera, and Sir Patrick Stewart.

LADY MACBETH – If a break is needed from all of the bangs and whizzes and exploding colors, this British indie films arrives just in time. Based on the novel by Nikolai Leskov, a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage to an older man begins an affair. Stars Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the final month of the 2017 Summer Movie Season.

Monday, July 3, 2017


Writer and director Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED is the second cinematic attempt at adapting the Civil War novel of the same name, with the first being the 1971 effort which starred Clint Eastwood. For this new version, Coppola clearly had the option of following the template set by the Eastwood film, or to dig deeper into the novel to find a fresh angle. The latter method is clearly the better option, which at the very least would avoid any “remake” comparisons and complaints, but the approach is one thing…and execution is another.

During the height of the Civil War, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), is seriously wounded and left behind in Southern State territory, where he finds refuge in an all-girls school, which is led by Martha (Nicole Kidman), and her top student Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Martha, Edwina, and their five remaining students of various age, are then captivated by the Union soldier…

THE BEGUILED is a slow-burning, extremely patient film which doesn’t have much by way of plot. The storyline doesn’t involve McBurney trying to escape back to Northern territory or any of the women and girls being held captive, and just spends its time exploring how the women of the school react to the situation. McBurney’s presence in the all-girls school, which doubles as their home, upsets the balance of the place as each woman and girl is fascinated by him; with the older ones beaming with lust and the younger girls set off into giggles.

Not content with just filming a story about oogling girls, writer and director Sofia Coppola digs a bit deeper into the mindsets of Civil War-era women. McBurney isn’t just a wounded soldier but a possible threat (he is the enemy, after all), and Martha and her girls grapple with the tough decision of letting him stay until his wounds are healed, or turning him over to the first Confederate patrol that passes by. Coppola also finds and develops a spiritual connection between McBurney and Edwina, with both characters coming from vastly different places but both looking for a way out of the war and into a better life. Taking the perspective of the women, the film thrives on characters poking and prodding each other for bits of information, and while THE BEGUILED holds very little by way of action, the tension in the room can be measured like southern heat in the summer.

The film’s setting of the isolated school works to Coppola’s advantage. The war is nearby but only heard of by way of distant cannons, and the feeling of being alone out in the backwoods of Virginia hangs heavy in the film’s atmosphere. Coppola is very patient in her editing, with scenes unfolding very slowly and characters getting to places in no rush at all. The estate is beautifully photographed, and the scenes at night with only candlelight showing the way allows for some stunning and spooky cinematography. A musical score is nearly absent, and adds to the un-nerving silence that hangs over the movie.

Acting is superb. Colin Farrell gets to use his Irish accent in full (appropriate, as many immigrants were put right into service back then), and his character goes through several stages which gives him a lot of meat to work with. Nicole Kidman is also excellent; hitting her southern twang just right. Kirsten Dunst gets the most to do and handles it well, and Elle Fanning makes a strong impression. The show is nearly stolen by young Oona Lawrence, who forms a bond with McBurney as the one who finds him in the woods, and she does very well for a child in an adult situation.

The third act, leading into the finale, goes into some horrific places as Coppola dips her toes into the horror genre and provides some spine-tingling moments as characters grapple with some moral and ethical decisions. There’s a bit of an abrupt stop towards the end, but it’s far from a dealbreaker as the journey to get there is well worth it. Coppola has put together a beautiful and tragic film here, one with a unique perspective that stands out amongst the vast library of Civil War stories.