Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Cinematic Letdowns



Movies have that magic to inspire, educate, enlighten, sadden, and most of all…entertain. But they also can disappoint. Sometimes that happens due to unrealistic expectations, overhype, or the sum of the parts/talent involved not paying off. This year, Shane Black’s THE PREDATOR let a lot of fans down, and the disappointment of that latest entry into the 30-year old franchise has led to discussion of the biggest letdowns in cinema, and to Reel Speak’s very first Top 10 Cinematic Letdowns.

This list covers the last 40 years in film history, and uses criteria of critical and fan reception. Box office doesn’t matter on a list like this because even a very good movie can disappoint at the gate. About half of these selections come from this millennium, mostly because of Hollywood being stuck in franchise/sequel mode in the last 15 years…and franchises have the hardest task in creating good follow-ups. This is not a Worst Movie list, as all these films have at least some merit and their defenders; these are instead films that fell way short of expectations, broke hearts, and shattered dreams.

So prepare to re-live those disappointments all over again…

10. MAN OF STEEL (2013)


It may seem like low-hanging fruit to pick on Warner Bros’. continuing bungled attempts at adapting the DC Comics superheroes, but Zack Snyder’s take on Superman never met expectations. The trailers were magnificent; making the film seem like a transcendent, thoughtful work that nearly looked like an arthouse production or a Terrence Malick joint. What we got instead was a clunky and dour movie that never once felt like Superman, topped off with a finale that repeated itself to the point of nausea.

9. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)



Peter Jackson's follow-up/prequel trilogy to his historic and grand THE LORD OF THE RINGS got off to a shaky, but serviceable start with AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY in 2012, but the second film is where the bottom dropped out and the new trilogy never recovered. Way too many storylines, Bilbo was lost in the confusion, and a third act showdown with Smaug the dragon that seemed like it lasted a thousand years.

8. THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (2003)





The Wachowski’s THE MATRIX (1999), was a genre-bending, generation-defining film, and there can be a raging debate over which one of its two sequels, both released in 2003, disappointed the most. The first sequel, RELOADED, did not reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, but it was still a moderate hit with fans and critics. The third film, REVOLUTIONS, was where the real letdown happened because it did not achieve its goal as a trilogy-capper of wrapping up all the storylines. Besides that, it just wasn’t a good movie.
7. DARK SHADOWS (2012)


By the time Tim Burton got around to adapting the 1960’s horror-soap opera to the big screen, we already knew that he was capable of making a bad movie, but the marriage of his knack for the strange and unusual and the show’s collection of goth, vampires, and werewolves seemed perfect. What we got instead was a dull slog and messy plot, topped off with a ridiculous end-battle with characters pulling shotguns out of nowhere. Not to mention the much-hyped cameo of the original cast-members which lasted 1.5 seconds.

6. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009)


The trailers told us that we had never experienced war until we saw it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino, and even after seeing the movie…we still haven’t. The trailers promised us war and instead we got a grinding snail-paced film in which the overhyped squad of American, Nazi-hunting soldiers barely showed up. One of the biggest lies in movie marketing right here.

5. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)


The first film in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy has a lot to praise; excellent action, casting, production design, and a magnificent score by John Williams. But it’s faults, including acting, pacing, and a plot no one cared about dragged it down…and what was most disappointing is that it let STAR WARS fans know that their beloved, generation-defining franchise wasn’t always going to be perfect.

4. 1941 (1979)


By the time Steven Spielberg was making his WWII satire, he was the hottest kid in Hollywood; having made mega-hits JAWS (1974) and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). His 1941 may not be as bad as the internet says, but it’s still bad with its over-the-topness and isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. It’s a letdown because it let us know that Spielberg, like his buddy George Lucas, wasn’t always going to be hot.

3. THE GODFATHER PART III (1990)


When Francis Ford Coppola got around to making what he called the epilogue to his Best Picture-winning GODFATHER crime dramas, he did so only because of a dire financial situation; and that meant his heart probably wasn’t really into it and it shows. PART III on its own is a finely crafted film (it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture), but as a follow-up to its vastly superior predecessors it falls short. It suffered from lousy acting in places and a confusing plot that no one could understand.

2. PROMETHEUS (2012)


The return of Sir Ridley Scott to the ALIEN universe that he created was anticipated by everyone, with promises of an epic story involving human origins and galactic creation. What we got instead was a ridiculous and stupid movie with things happening for no reason, and the de-mystifying of the famed alien xenomorph creature clumsily handled. 

1. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)


There was no bigger heartbreak in cinema than what happened on a Spring night in 2008, when audiences left theatres shaking their heads, not sure what they had just witnessed. The return of everyone’s favorite hat-wearing, two-fisted, whip-swinging archeologist…along with principal players Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Karen Allen, was presented to us by way of a ridiculous storyline, stupid scenes, annoying characters and way too much cartoonish CGI and green-screen. It had no energy, no fun, and turned Indiana Jones into a dumbass. This wasn’t just a letdown, it was a nuking of everything that once made Indy so great. 
Reel Speak's Top 10 Cinematic Letdowns

  1. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
  2. PROMETHEUS
  3. THE GODFATHER PART III
  4. 1941
  5. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
  6. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
  7. DARK SHADOWS
  8. THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS
  9. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
  10. MAN OF STEEL




Friday, September 14, 2018

A Reel Review: THE PREDATOR



In 1987, director John McTiernan and bigger-than-life star Arnold Schwarzenegger brought us PREDATOR, a thrilling mash-up of sci-fi, action, and horror which is today considered to be one of the best representing all three genres. Since then, the iconic camouflaging killer from space has suffered from lousy redundant sequels that just keep rinsing and repeating. Now we have writer/director Shane Black, who starred in the original film in a supporting role, returning to the franchise with a slew of new ideas for THE PREDATOR.

Set years after the events of the previous films, Army Ranger Quinn (Boyd Holbrook), encounters a Predator on the run during a mission. Determined to reveal this to the world, Quinn mails pieces of the Predator’s armor home, which is intercepted and activated by his mentally handicapped son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). The activation draws a massive, 11-foot tall Predator to Earth, which has the attention of a secret government agency seeking the alien technology, led by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown). Quinn falls in with a group of military prisoners (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera), and a biologist (Olivia Munn), and set out to stop whatever the new giant Predator is up to.

One of the best, and classic forms of storytelling is the Man vs. Monster tale. The original PREDATOR and its sequels and spinoffs hung its helmet on that to the point of boredom. Aware of this, writer/director Shane Black tries to counter this by giving the Predators their own storyline to get through. The first Predator that arrives is revealed to be a rogue, who is being chased down by the super-big Predator. The reasons for the rogue are odd (he’s actually trying to help humanity, despite killing quite a few), and opens a door for a lot of convoluted de-mystifying of the creatures. The reasons for the Predators having an interest in our planet are mentioned, not quite explored enough, and seem to contradict what a Predator is all about. There are a lot of odd choices made in the plot, and while some of the ideas are interesting, they are never given a chance to grow.

But where THE PREDATOR falls apart is in the editing. Pieces of the film seem to be missing. Scenes begin abruptly, characters appear in places out of the blue and obtain weapons out of nowhere, and it overall has a very choppy feel. A lot of character work seems to have been left on the floor; Quinn’s reasons to mail home alien armor and weapons make no sense, and Olivia Munn’s scientist character somehow knows how to shoot machine guns and do Kung-Fu for no given reason.

When the action does start there’s some fun to be had. The Predators look great, and get to chop and hack bodies (and each other) into bloody messes; it’s by far the goriest of any PREDATOR film, and it earns its R-rating with plenty of blood-and-guts and swearing. Black has fun with his characters as his talent for witty dialogue is all over the film; the banter between everyone is a blast, and by far makes this the funniest PREDATOR film we’ve ever had. The group of misfits Quinn finds himself with earn their place in the film, although there are some choices with the mentally handicapped (Quinn’s son and Thomas Jane’s character who has Tourette’s) that come across as out of place. The practical effects are excellent, but the CGI is awful…the Predator dogs that travel with the big guy are like cartoons. Henry Jackman’s score is excellent; with some re-scoring on the original PREDATOR theme and his own stuff sounding like it came out of an action flick from the 1980’s.

The cast does well with what they have to work with. Boyd Holbrook is a bit of a plank but it fits his character, although some sort of emotion would have been nice. Olivia Munn is fine even though her character is all over the place. Young Jacob Tremblay is outstanding, and Sterling K. Brown steals the show as the ruthless government stooge. Thomas Jane is also very funny, providing audiences won’t get offended with his mentally-handicapped character providing laughs.

After all the messy editing and sloppy plotting, THE PREDATOR has a chance to redeem itself in the last act and sets itself up for an intriguing, end-of-film reveal. Instead, we get one of the dumbest and weirdest endings ever seen in a PREDATOR film or anywhere else. It’s so shockingly stupid and awkward it destroys any goodwill the film may have earned with its action and characters, and makes zero sense in the overall story. THE PREDATOR gives us something new all right, but it’s all bullshit. All of it.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need to Know About THE PREDATOR



In 1987, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led, John McTiernan-directed PREDATOR arrived on screens as a clever, and thrilling mash-up of sci-fi, horror, and men-on-a-mission genres. The film spawned one of the most iconic cinematic creatures of all time, and unfortunately, a handful of lousy sequels and spinoffs. Here in 2018, one of the former cast-members of the ’87 film returns to the franchise as director, and his new entry, titled THE PREDATOR, arrives in theatres this week. Here is a preview, and everything you need to know about it.

What is this about? – Set many years after the events of the first film, THE PREDATOR has a group of mercenaries defending a small town from an invading group of Predators, which are accidently summoned to Earth by a young boy.

Who is behind the camera? – THE PREDATOR is written and directed by Shane Black, who starred in the ’87 film as the doomed soldier Hawkins. Black has written films such as LETHAL WEAPON (1987), and LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989), and has written and directed KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005), IRON MAN 3 (2013), and THE NICE GUYS (2016).

Who is in front of the camera? – Arnie is long gone, and this cast is a young group of new and moderate stars. It includes Boyd Holbrook (LOGAN), Trevante Rhoses (MOONLIGHT), Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, and Sterling K. Brown.

Random Facts – THE PREDATOR takes place in the present day, following the events of PREDATOR, and PREDATOR 2 (1990), but before the events of the 2010 stinkbomb PREDATORS * Actor Jake Busey’s character is the son of the character played by his father Gary Busey, in PREDATOR 2. * This film is the sixth time the Predator creature has appeared in a theatrical release * Actor Edward James Olmos was cast, but his scenes were cut * This is the shortest movie in the PREDATOR franchise at 81 minutes *

What to expect – PREDATOR is a franchise that has the same problem as series such as JURASSIC PARK; one great movie followed by a bunch of duds that just re-tread the same ground. With that in mind, the first challenge for Shane Black is to come up with a storyline that justifies more Predators lurking around Earth and hacking up bodies…otherwise it’s same-old, same-old. Black has a solid reputation for witty dialogue and for injecting his films with a surprise or two, so we can expect some snappy character banter along with at least one good twist. Having a young kid in the film is an odd choice for an R-rated monster movie, but as Black proved in IRON MAN 3, he has a knack for not letting kid characters be annoying or superfluous. The lack of a real star in the lead is a concern, so this may have a focus towards a team-movie. There are a lot of questions, but at the very least it’ll be good to see the big killer on the screen again.

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THE PREDATOR opens in full on September 14th, with limited showings on the 13th. It is being released in standard and IMAX formats.


Reel Facts & Opinions: The Continuing Chaos of DC Films



The news dropped out of the sky today like a wounded superhero; an appropriate metaphor considering the state of DC Comics superheroes on film. Various media outlets have reported that actor Henry Cavill, who has held down the role of Superman/Clark Kent since 2013, is out of the picture. Parent company Warner Bros. (WB), had been trying to enlist Cavill for a Superman cameo in their upcoming SHAZAM! film, which is currently in production and slated for an April 2019 release. Reports said contract negotiations fell apart and Cavill was hanging up the cape. WB put out a vague statement later on which confirmed nothing.  

Is he in, is he out? Or just another PR fiasco from WB? Either way this has been the latest chapter in what has become the longest and largest trainwreck in cinematic history. Way back in 2013, director Christopher Nolan wrapped up his magnificent DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, and in a desperate attempt to catch up with rival super-studio Marvel, WB fastracked their collection of DC heroes…starting with MAN OF STEEL with Cavill in the lead and director Zack Snyder at the helm. MAN OF STEEL had a promising cast and a decent foundation, but fell into a dull slog with a nauseating, redundant last half-hour. This was followed up with the joyless, confusing, boring, overstuffed BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE in 2016, which gave us a new Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). DAWN OF JUSTICE, which was also directed by Snyder, had some of the dumbest moments and the worst villain in all of film, and ended with an un-earned and unneccesary death of Superman.

This was followed up by the messy and dysfunctional SUICIDE SQUAD in 2016, which idiotically gathered Batman’s greatest enemies together…with no Batman. And then came the oddity that was JUSTICE LEAGUE in 2017. Snyder left the film in the middle of production (some say he was fired, others say he left on his own), and Joss Whedon (THE AVENGERS) stepped in to complete it. Whedon re-shot and re-wrote half of the film, and the result was a choppy, disjointed movie which showed some promise but overall felt incomplete. Not to mention the lousy CGI work that was needed on Cavill’s face due to the reshooting, which made him look ridiculous.

WB’s problems with their DC brand extends past the screen. Their movies have not been embraced by critics and fans, and are far from the box office monsters they’re intended to be. They did strike gold with their most-excellent WONDER WOMAN in 2017, but for the most part their films are met with ho-hums. And behind the scenes it’s also been a shit show; the solo Batman film, titled THE BATMAN, is stuck in development hell with a change of directors, script, and likely a new Bat (Affleck is reported to be out as well), the solo FLASH film has had several changes in directors and seems to be on hold, and BATGIRL halted production and is also stuck in limbo.

And let’s not forget the heap of films that WB is throwing at us that no one cares about. This December brings AQUAMAN (not a great character), next year brings SHAZAM! (again, no one cares), and they also have two different JOKER movies in development, along with a BIRDS OF PREY film (more of Batman’s villains joining together…without Batman), and a teenage SUPERGIRL movie which also seems needless with the TV show performing well. With the exception of the WONDER WOMAN sequel slated for next year, their future lineup is a random pile that no one has asked for.

In the last five years many fans, critics, and bloggers who have been rough on the DC films have been criticized themselves for being too harsh. But how can they not be? The DC characters of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are the most iconic in comic book history…and they deserve much, much better than this. Their fans deserve it, and the 75 years of history these characters have demands it. Where they go from here is a mystery, as after the WONDER WOMAN sequel they’re basically rudderless. It’s a shame, because Cavill’s Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE was portrayed correctly; he was finally allowed to act as a beacon of hope, instead of the miserable sulk that Snyder made him do. There was much potential there, but it’s been fumbled, mishandled, dropped, and broken; perhaps beyond repair. Their messy films, lack of understanding of the classic DC characters, zero connection with audiences, and mishandling of their cast members make them what Nolan's Joker referred to as "an agent of chaos". And that is no way to make movies. 




Friday, September 7, 2018

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2018: Episode IX



The blasted heat of Summer may still be hanging around, but Oscar Season is underway with the arrival of September. Here are the notable releases for the month:

THE NUN – This creepy-looking horror flick which should be released in October is a spin-off to THE CONJURING 2 (2016), and the fifth film in the CONJURING franchise. This time the ghost-hunters uncover an unholy secret in 1952 Romania.

PEPPERMINT – Jennifer Garner (ELEKTRA), returns to the big screen in this action film, playing a vigilante seeking justice against those who murdered her family. Directed by Pierre Morel (TAKEN).

THE PREDATOR – Director Shane Black, who starred in the first PREDATOR film way back in 1987, directs the latest film in the sci-fi/horror franchise. This time, a young boy accidently triggers the arrival of several upgraded Predators to Earth.

A SIMPLE FAVOR – Director Paul Feig, who brought us the giant steaming turd GHOSTBUSTERS remake in 2016, tries his hand at a mystery thriller. Anna Kendrick plays a small-town blogger trying to solve the disappearance of her best friend. Blake Lively co-stars.

THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN THE WALLS – Based on the 1973 novel of the same name, this fantasy film has a young boy discovering secrets in his uncle’s creepy old house. The cast includes Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, and Kyle MacLachlan. Directed by Eli Roth (HOSTEL).

WHITE BOY RICK – Based on the true story of a boy who in the 1980’s became the FBI’s youngest informant at the age of 14. It stars Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie.

PATIENT ZERO – This action horror film involves a group of survivors looking for an antidote to a highly contagious virus which has turned mankind into a deadly species. It stars Matt Smith, Natalie Dormer, and Stanley Tucci.

I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW – Two unlikely companions, played by Elle Fanning (SUPER 8), and Peter Dinklage (TV’s GAME OF THRONES) find themselves alone after an apocalypse. Paul Giamatti and Charlotte Gainsbourg co-star.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS – Based on the novel of the same name, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play Old West assassin brothers who get caught up in the California Gold Rush. Jake Gyllenhall , Rutger Hauer, and Riz Ahmed (ROGUE ONE), co-star.

COLETTE – Keira Knightley plays legendary French novelist Colette in this biopic.

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN – In his final role, Robert Redford plays a career criminal and prison escape artist. It co-stars Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, and Sissy Spacek. It is directed by David Lowery, who brought us the outstanding films A GHOST STORY (2017), and AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013).

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Next month, Reel Speak previews October. 



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Burt Reynolds 1936-2018



Burt Reynolds, actor and sex symbol of the 1970’s, has passed away at 82.

Born Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. in Lansing, Michigan, Reynolds had early aspirations to be a professional football player, and attended Florida State University on a scholarship, playing halfback. After a serious injury ended his athletic aspirations, he turned to acting. He made his television debut in the 1950’s and his first film debut in ANGEL BABY in 1961.

He used his television work to secure leading roles in low-budget films, and landed the lead in the Spaghetti Western NAVAJO JOE in 1966. He would land his breakout role in 1972 when John Boorman cast him as the macho, de facto leader of a doomed group of vacationing men in DELIVERANCE. That same year, he would appear half-nude in a Cosmopolitan magazine spread which would cement his status as a 1970’s sex symbol.

Five years later, he would land his most iconic role…as the bootlegging Bandit in Hal Needham’s SMOKEY IN THE BANDIT. Reynolds’ charm and charisma, and all-American mustache made him look like he was born to drive a Trans-Am, and his chemistry with co-stars Sally Field, Jackie Gleeson, and Jerry Reed sizzled off the screen. BANDIT would spawn two sequels, with Reynolds only making a cameo in the third film. His on-screen reputation as a fast driver landed him in cross-country driving roles such as HOOPER (1978), STROKER ACE (1983), and THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981). He would return to his football roots in THE LONGEST YARD (1974).

Other notable roles included SHARKEY’S MACHINE (1981), THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982), STRIPTEASE (1996), and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005). He would appear in Paul Thomas Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS in 1997, and take home a Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actor, and an Oscar nomination.

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Burt Reynolds often said that he took roles just to have a good time, and that was something that could be seen on screen at all times. He always looked like he was having fun, and that made him and his characters easy to like. As a wee-lad in the 1970’s, one of this Blogger’s favorite Hot Wheels toys was a black Trans-Am, which I sent flying under the refrigerator many, many times…as my imagination, inspired by SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, had The Bandit in an endless chase from those pesky cops. As Reynolds drives off for the last time, myself and those from my generation will remember him in that way; having a laugh, and driving free with the top down.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Reel 20: RONIN


“What’s in the case?”


This month marks the 20th anniversary of John Frankenheimer’s RONIN.

A globe-trotting, espionage action-thriller in which a team of former special operatives are recruited by a secret organization to recover a mysterious case, RONIN was originally inspired by the novel Shogun. The novel by James Clavell was read by screenwriter John David Zeik when he was 15, and it gave him background on the ronin; a masterless samurai who wanders the country side as a mercenary to regain purpose. Zeik moved the concept from old Japan over to modern times, and gave the idea of a ronin to former special operatives without a country.

In the mid-1990’s, the RONIN screenplay came across the desk of director John Frankenheimer, who at the time had a reputation as the pioneer of the modern-day political thriller. His strong credits included BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), GRAND PRIX (1966), FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975, and BLACK SUNDAY (1977). Filming began in 1997 with an equally strong cast which included Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce, and Michael Lonsdale. Locations in France including Nice and Paris were used, providing some stunning visuals as the team of operatives hunt down, chase, battle, and shift loyalties in their mission.

Filmed years before CGI era took over visual effects, the film’s extensive and breathtaking car-chase scenes were shot for real with the actors in the vehicles…with Formula One driver Jean-Pierre Jarier at the wheel hitting speeds over 100mph. Frankenheimer used the same camera-mounts he had in GRAND PRIX. The film had a hyper-realistic aesthetic with no slow motion or overpowering music, to make it look and feel “realer than real”.

RONIN was a moderate hit, and finished 1998 as the 11th highest grossing R-rated film. Warmly received by critics, it was Frankenheimer’s last film to earn positive reviews.

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RONIN may not have won any Oscars or set box office records on fire, but after 20 years it has not aged a day…and stands as a thrilling, thinking-man’s picture. It’s a men-on-a-mission film, crossed with a heist flick, and gets turned on its head with a few twists and turns…topped off with a whopper of a twist near the end. Robert DeNiro is as good as he’s ever been, and Frankenheimer’s eye for framing a shot and editing for tension is perfection. When it comes to global espionage thrillers, this RONIN has no master.

“No questions. No answers. That’s the business we’re in.”


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Reel Review: CRAZY RICH ASIANS


Based on the novel of the same name, director Jon M. Chu’s CRAZY RICH ASIANS has so far been the surprise hit of 2018. Special guest writer Jessica Petro, this Blogger’s girlfriend, returns with this review. 





As humans, we are always curious about how our fellow humans live life and how they become the way they are. One’s family always tends to be high on that list of what makes a person who they are (or aren’t.) Movies revolving around family are always ones that peak out interest and Crazy Rich Asians is no different in that department. Wrap a Rom-Com love story and a family that is not only crazy rich but crazy and rich, and you’re bound to get some curious movie-goers. 



Set in the present day, Crazy Rich Asians is about Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) who attend a Chinese Wedding in Singapore. It’s a modern day love story of a Chinese-American girl and a Chinese man and how that small little difference is made VERY clear by his Chinese family. 



Nick, a business man born in Singapore, and Rachel, a Chinese-American economics professor, have been dating in NYC for over a year. He brings up his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding shortly taking place in Singapore in which he is the Best Man. In the short time it takes Nick to explain this, word has gotten to his mother that he is bringing his girlfriend (thanks to RadioAsia.) We first see how quickly news travels in this digital age of ours and only start to see juuuuust how rich and eligible of a bachelor Nick is in Singapore. Rachel is completely in the dark about Nick’s extravagant life in Singapore. 



Rachel is warned by her mother before leaving just how different she is from her boyfriend’s Chinese family. Worlds collide upon the meeting. The younger members of Nick’s family understand that she is different and find it fascinating, while his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) make it clear that Rachel will never be one of them. While Rachel feels isolated in an unfamiliar country, her former college roommate, Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her family lives in Singapore and assists her in managing Nick’s rich and crazy family. Peik Lin’s mother (Chieng Mun Koh), father (Ken Jeong) and the rest of her family are completely accepting and embracing of western culture. They are the complete contrast of Nick’s family.



As the story progresses and we see that Nick is quite literally the most eligible bachelor in Singapore, things get serious for Rachel at the bride’s bachelorette weekend, but takes refuge in Astrid. Rachel stays strong and still makes it to “the wedding of the century” for quite possibly one of the most beautiful wedding scenes that has ever been put to film. 



Henry Golding as Nick and Constance Wu as Rachel and cute and quirky together and works very well. Gemma Chan as Astrid is excellent as Nick’s cousin who is like his sister is super sophisticated and soft hearted, while Ronny Chieng and Remy Hii as his other cousins Eddie and Alistair respectively are perfectly executed slime balls. Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mother is downright terrifying. The one who absolutely steals the movie is Awkwafina as Peik Lin, Rachel’s former roommate and good friend. Every line from her is perfectly delivered and absolutely knee-slapping hilarious. 



Issues come to a head during Colin’s wedding reception which strays from the storyline a la MEET THE PARENTS (there was no lie detector test but there are private investigators involved.)



Crazy Rich Asians has everything you could want in a Rom-Com: travel, culture food and fashion (oh those make over scenes that we all love!) There are some turns that you do not see coming that only add to its charm and appeal.  This movie is a terrific insight into the Asian culture that desperately needs representation in today’s world, where we should be accepting of all cultures. 



BOTTOM LINE: See it







Friday, August 24, 2018

A Reel Review: THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS



In the last decade or so, the art and skill of puppetry has fallen by the wayside; replaced by the pixels and mouse-clicks of CGI characters. The old talking sock has fallen into the realm of nostalgia; bringing back memories of kids’ TV shows and ensemble musical films. The new film by Brian Henson (son of Jim), THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS, looks to capitalize on those old, fuzzy feelings while bringing the art into new territory.

In a world where humans and living puppets co-exist, puppet private investigator Phil Philips (Bill Baretta), reunites with his old partner, detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), to find a serial murderer who is knocking off former cast members of The Happytime Gang TV show.

It’s always an odd experience to see humans interacting with puppets. To keep things grounded, Henson and screenwriter Todd Berger hang the film’s hat on the peg of nostalgia. HAPPYTIME at its core is a classic, Los Angeles-based noir film, using all of the classic tropes on its way to find a killer. Familiar items such as narration, a down-on-his-luck P.I., an angry ex-partner, an angrier police lieutenant, a sexy and mysterious client, a string of murders, and the seedy underbelly of the city. In fact, HAPPYTIME sticks to these old tropes too close. The plot is paper-thin, and even the attempted twists and surprises can be seen from a mile away. Even if we put aside the fact that we’ve seen this old story old before, the story is laid out so plainly that it’s horribly predictable. Predictable leads to boring.

Seemingly aware that the story is so much like a waif, Henson goes for the shock factor to balance things out. His puppets swear all the time, have violent sex, film pornos with dogs, cows, and octopus, ejaculate with endless streams of silly string, and use insults and one-liners that only a 13 year-old boy would find funny. It’s crude for the sake of being crude, and isn’t very funny in the least. Most of the gags just come off as stupid.

The script starts to lay down decent foundations for the characters and their world, but fails to develop them any further than the first page. In this world, puppets are treated like minorities; a fine idea that is forgotten about too quickly. Edwards and Phil have a past that is an odd one; Edwards hates Philips despite owing her life to him. HAPPYTIME also plays it loose with the rules; the puppets don’t get hurt when they’re punched (according to Phil, it’s like fluffing a pillow), but a bullet to the head can kill them. It’s inconsistent and weird. The designs range from classic humanoid to large animals to a few that make no sense.

If it’s good puppet-work that audiences want, then HAPPYTIME does deliver. Using a combo of classic puppetry and digital trickery, the puppets walk freely (bizarre to see, but effective), soak in hot tubs, and smoke cigarettes convincingly (Henson seems to be proud of the smoking effect, Phil lights up for what seems like 900 times). The puppet-deaths are a bit of a hoot as they have their heads blown off with shotguns and torn apart by dogs which sends stuffing flying everywhere; one of few moments of earned laughter.

Convincing us that a puppet is real requires good acting from the humans, and HAPPYTIME doesn’t meet that bar. Melissa McCarthy is bland as ever, and her endless F-bombs are meaningless. Elizabeth Banks and Joel McHale pop in but it always looks like they are not enjoying their time with the talking socks; we half-expect them to not keep a straight face. Maya Rudolph shows up as Phil’s secretary, and is probably the only one that understands that she’s in a ridiculous movie; she acts like the film is a running joke and it works.

After a finale that (again), can be seen from a mile away, HAPPYTIME ends with a shrug, and it’s staggering that a film full of puppets can be so blah. It’s not funny, very stupid, and can’t even get juvenile crudeness to earn a laugh. If puppets are ever to make a comeback, this is the movie to act as the example of what not to do. There’s no happy time here.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Cinematic Deaths



Why does a character need to die? Without tragedy there can be no change, and without change, there can be no story, and no story equals no movie. As tough as it may be to see a favorite character bite the dust, departures are a necessity for a film to move forward. Earlier this year, Marvel Studios sent audiences staggering out of the theatre after a hefty amount of character deaths in their grand AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Now that the film has arrived in home streaming and glorious Blu-ray, discussions have progressed from superhero (and villain) deaths to the most memorable exits the silver screen has ever seen…which brings us to the birth of Reel Speak’s first Top 10 Cinematic Deaths. This list is comprised of the deaths that are the most memorable, the most impactful to its film and pop culture, and most importantly…the ones that shocked us or made us cry. Disqualifiers include meaningless body-count deaths, and the standard death of a villain at the end of a film.  

So let’s get out the shovels…

10. Mufasa from THE LION KING (1995)



Disney has always had a knack for bringing on the tears, and a pair of their best enter this list. There is no better drama than family drama, and Mufasa’s passing, (at the hands of his own brother, very Shakespearean), when relations with his son Simba were at their worst…sent the son on his journey to not only discover himself, but his father. Bringing this one home is James Earl Jones’ resonating voice-work which hits us in the heart and stays there.

9. Elle from UP (2009)



We only see Elle for a few short minutes in the opening sequence of Pixar’s UP, but we get to know her very well and how much she means to the film’s protagonist, Carl Fredricksen. She may be absent for most of the film’s events, but her spirit, and Carl’s love for her, keeps him and his journey going. Pixar entered real-world, adult territory with UP, and the opening sequence of Elle’s life with Carl and her eventual passing is one of the best tearjerkers ever put to film.

8. Tommy from GOODFELLAS (1990)



When wise-guy mobster Tommy DeVito, as played by Joe Pesci, whacked someone that he wasn’t allowed to whack, we knew what was coming for the loud-talking, brash Italian who was good for shooting first and not even bothering to ask later. But director Martin Scorsese also gave us a character who loved his mother and his friends, and his demise came as a shock…and the impact that his murder has on tough guys Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) and Henry (Ray Liotta) shows the bond of their friendships.

7. Kane from ALIEN (1979)


When poor Kane, as played by the late great John Hurt, became the first space-traveler to have an alien burst out of his chest, audiences were shocked out of their minds. When filming, not even the cast knew what was coming to generate a genuine reaction, and it worked. Hurt’s acting during Kane’s agonizing pain is some of his best, and even after almost 40 years of seeing aliens burst out of chests in endless sequels and spinoffs, this one still ranks as the hardest one to watch…as Kane was presented to us as an eager and enthusiastic space-explorer; just like all us kids once dreamed of.

6. Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi from STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (1977)



American professor Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about the steps that every hero must take on his journey, and the passing of a mentor, or father figure is one of the most important. Much like Simba and Mr. Fredrickson, Luke Skywalker needed his first mentor, the former Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), to pass on so he may grow into his destiny. Obi-Wan sacrificed himself to save his friends (much like Luke would eventually do years later), and his death at the hands of Darth Vader surprised young audiences in 1977 who looked at him as a grandfatherly figure. And even today, Luke’s scream of “no!” still stings.

5. Sonny Corleone from THE GODFATHER (1972)



Francis Ford Coppola’s epic drama of organized crime may have had a lot of bloodshed and deaths, but his central theme of family-first made us care about the Corleone’s. Sonny Corleone (James Caan), the oldest son of Don Vito, was shown as a hot-tempered fighter, but he was also a family man who would do anything for his father, mother, and siblings. He died on his way to protect his little sister, and his bloody end at a toll booth ambush stands today as one of the most memorable in all of cinema. And in the end, Sonny’s departure opened the door for his little brother Michael to rise to power.

4. Spock from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)



Played by the late great Leonard Nimoy, the character of Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan serving aboard the famed starship Enterprise, rarely smiled, hugged, or cracked jokes. But Nimoy gave the green-blooded character with pointed ears a warmness that no one else could pull off, and that made his death in the first STAR TREK sequel so hard to take. Spock died saving the ship and crew, and his closing scene with Kirk (William Shatner) is beautifully written, directed, and acted. It was an event in TREK that would send ripples across the franchise and have lasting effects beyond.

3. Sgt. Elias from PLATOON (1986)



Oliver Stone’s Best Picture-winning Vietnam War drama had three American soldiers at each other’s throats, and in the third act, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), was shot by an American M16 in an effort to cover up a war-crime. Left for dead, Elias got up and desperately ran for the choppers while being chased by the enemy, and his final moments not only became the poster, but one of the most iconic images ever in film; arms outstretched, pleading for his life. Pleading for all life. It resonates because Elias was the most righteous of the platoon and that’s what got him killed.

2. Gandalf from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)



Even if long-time fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece of a fantasy novel knew that Gandalf was to fall before a big demon of the ancient world, his death was still hard to watch. Warmly played by Ian McKellen, his wandering wizard was the character who danced with hobbits, set off fireworks for children, and proved to be human by bumping his head on a low door-frame; steps taken to make us love him. He died saving the Fellowship, but Peter Jackson took it one step further by showing us the reactions of that Fellowship; the images of crying hobbits and a shell-shocked Aragorn…backed by Howard Shore’s tearjerking score, makes the fall of Gandalf a heartbreaking experience.

1. Quint from JAWS (1975)



One of the greatest films ever made has the best demise of a character ever put to film. The shark-hunting fisherman Quint, as played by the late great Robert Shaw, was a tough man with a love for canned beer and letting his shipmates know who was captain of the ship. Despite being tough on the outside, Quint was also given to us as a man who had been through hell, and was still able to generate a smile as he sang songs of the sea. He was shown to us as a man who had a deep hatred for sharks, which made him the perfect man for the job of hunting and killing a great white who was terrorizing a beach community.  Quint was inspired by Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, and just like that famed captain of literature, Quint went to the depths battling his nemesis mano-a-mano. Of all the fallen characters on this list, Quint is the only one who goes out exactly the way he wanted to. 


REEL SPEAK’S TOP 10 CINEMATIC DEATHS

1. Quint from JAWS

2. Gandalf from THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

3. Sgt. Elias from PLATOON

4. Spock from STAR TREK II

5. Sonny from THE GODFATHER

6. Obi-Wan from STAR WARS

7. Kane from ALIEN

8. Tommy from GOODFELLAS

9. Elle from UP

10. Mufasa from THE LION KING




Monday, August 20, 2018

A Reel 25: THE FUGITIVE


“I didn’t kill my wife!”


This month marks the 25th anniversary of Andrew Davis’ THE FUGITIVE.

Loosely based on the 1960’s TV series of the same name, THE FUGITIVE was a surprise hit in 1993; earning seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and was the third-highest grossing film (domestically) of the year, behind MRS. DOUBTFIRE and Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK. It told the story of a Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), who is unjustly imprisoned for killing his wife, and through a series of fortunate accidents, manages to escape and goes on the run in an effort to clear his name. He is hunted by U.S. Marshal Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his team in a chase that goes through woods, rivers, waterfalls, cities, towns, farmhouses and henhouses.

Despite being an action film, THE FUGITIVE became a character piece thanks to its powerful cast. After years of playing whip-flinging archeologists and space smugglers, Harrison Ford was cast in the role as Dr. Kimble, after Alec Baldwin, Nick Nolte, Kevin Costner, and Michael Douglas were considered. Tommy Lee Jones took the role of the Top Cop in pursuit, besting contenders Gene Hackman and Jon Voight. Despite only sharing a few scenes together, the combo of Jones and Ford drove the film, with each character playing on the side of righteousness but in their own, different ways.

Filming took place in locations in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Chicago. The pulse-pounding scene in which Kimble’s prison-transport bus is struck by a freight train (shot in one take), was filmed along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in North Carolina. James Newton Howard, who was coming off an Oscar nomination for his score for THE PRINCE OF TIDES, composed the score.

Striking a balance of action and mystery-solving drama, THE FUGITIVE was a box office hit and critical darling. It’s seven Oscar nominations would include a Best Supporting Actor win for Tommy Lee Jones, and he would also win a Globe. Harrison Ford would earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

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Aside from awards and nominations, THE FUGITIVE has a legacy that has sneaked into our everyday lives. Dialogue from the film such as “I didn’t kill my wife” and “I don’t care” are quoted often and turned into internet memes, and blaming a “one-armed man” for problems is also commonplace. The site of the famed train wreck in North Carolina still has wreckage lying about, and the site has become a popular, although unofficial tourist stop for movie fans and the curious. As a film, THE FUGITIVE was a reminder for just how good Tommy Lee Jones could be, and that Harrison Ford had more to offer than the shallow characters he was known for. The film itself is a cat-and-mouse action flick mixed with a healthy dose of whodunit, and Dr. Kimble’s never-give-up attitude, driven by love, is something we can all relate to. Smart, relentless, and endlessly entertaining, THE FUGITIVE is a thinker’s action film that makes us all care.

“Your fugitive’s name is Doctor Richard Kimble. Go get him.”


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar and the Popular Film



One of the most surprising, if not the most bizarre bits of film news this summer came from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which announced a new Oscar category last week. The Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film will have its debut at the upcoming 91st Oscars. This is the first new category created since Best Animated Feature in 2001.

The announcement was one of several changes the Academy is making to the annual broadcast, aimed at increasing ratings which hit an all-time low this past year. Anytime a new category is created, there is a guaranteed blowback and analysis, and this new category overshadowed all the other changes. The announcement has been met with mostly negativity from journalists, fans, and even Academy members. Many view it as an attempt to pander to mainstream audiences, in the hope of boosting ratings. The Academy it seems, is damaging the integrity of the awards in place of ratings. The category has also been criticized for diminishing the chances that a blockbuster film might have at scoring a Best Picture nomination, even though the Academy has confirmed that films nominated for Best Popular will still be eligible for Best Picture. AMPAS wants those popular blockbuster films, which rarely seem to win Oscars, to have a place in the broadcast and bring new viewers in…and therein lies the rub.

The line between popular blockbuster films and Oscar winners has never been thicker. At one point in history, big money-makers such as TITANIC (1997), GLADIATOR (2000), and THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) were winning Best Picture. But in recent years, relatively small-budgeted (and small earners) such as MOONLIGHT (2016), SPOTLIGHT (2015), and last year’s THE SHAPE OF WATER have been the big winners…while big money films such as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) were banished to the technical categories. If all things are fair and equal, there is no reason why a big-budget, big-earner of a film can’t be considered for Best Picture, and there’s also no reason why a smaller film can’t be considered either. There shouldn’t be a line, but this new category seems to draw it even thicker.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time the Academy has changed things to include popular films. The decision in 2009 to expand the Best Picture category from five to a maximum of 10 nominees seemed to work, as the wider field allowed “popular” films such as AVATAR (2009), INCEPTION (2010), and FURY ROAD (2015) to earn Best Picture nods. But times seem to have changed again, and last year’s batch of nominees were the lowest-grossing since 2011. In the past 14 years, no box office top 10 movie has won Best Picture.

Time has yet to put the test to this new category, so at present day we can only assume that box office earnings and the contenders/winners of Best Popular will be closely tied together; after all, a film that earns a billion dollars worldwide can certainly be considered popular…if not, where does all that money come from? If this category was in existence in the last five years, the winners would have likely looked like this:

2017:  STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI

2016: ROGUE ONE

2015: STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS

2014: AMERICAN SNIPER

2013: THE HUNGER GAMES – CATCHING FIRE

Of those five films, it’s debatable which ones were the “best” at being popular, because being popular and being the best at something are two different things. And box office earners do not always equal quality; if this category had been around since 2007, the critically panned TRANSFORMERS movies would have won four Oscars by now. Here in 2018, the top-earner (so far) is Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER, which is probably a shoo-in for a nomination in Best Popular, and already fans are steaming because such a nod could possibly eliminate it from Best Picture contention (fair enough, but it’s a long shot anyway).

The Oscars have always reflected the industry, and times have certainly changed in Hollywood in the last decade…with studios taking less risks and facing stiff competition from home streaming services. With all these changes, audiences have changed. Gone are the days where deep dramas such as THE GODFATHER (1972) are the big earners; replaced by Jedi and capes and CGI spectacle. Audiences changed what they flock to, the Oscars did not change with that…until now. In the past decade the Academy has veered away from those spectacles in favor of smaller drama…and that’s fine as indie and arthouse films deserve love too. If Best Popular allows what the people love to sneak into the Best Picture race, then this could work.

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The Oscars for 2018 will be awarded February 24th, 2019.


Monday, August 13, 2018

A Reel Review: BLACKKKLANSMAN




In 1972, Ron Stallworth, the first African American undercover detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with a phone call. As a new member, he sent a fellow white (and Jewish) detective to take his place in the face-to-face meetings. It’s a tale that is stranger than fiction, and one that could easily be a barrel of laughs and a comedy of dominos. But to treat the material that way would be a travesty, as director Spike Lee finds a way to make this unbelievable true story one of the most profound cinematic statements America has ever seen.

Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel), overcomes racial prejudice at his own police precinct to become an undercover officer, and manages to become a card-carrying member of the local KKK. To gather more intelligence, Stallworth enlists the help of fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who attends the face-to-face meetings. The two draw closer to what this local chapter is up to while hiding their identities, and eventually wind up meeting clan leader David Duke (Topher Grace).

BLACKKKLANSMAN is a film that is a web of undercover work, with Stallworth pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and Flip pretending he’s Stallworth as he meets, greets, and plots with the group of racist yahoos who meet in living rooms…who come across as clowns but still with the potential for causing some serious damage. On the surface it’s a police procedural, and Lee checks off the boxes of good cops doing their jobs nicely.

Beefing things up in the meantime is Stallworth’s budding relationship with Patrice (Laura Harrier), who is the president of a black student union who happens to despise the police, and Flip avoiding the suspicions of a clan member (Felix Kendrickson) who is also the loose cannon of the group. There’s a lot of dodging and cat-and-mousing going on, and Lee plays the film like an intricate chess match.

Lee keeps his two main characters of Stallworth and Flip at arm’s reach in the early goings. Their backgrounds and motivations are never explored, and time is instead spent on how this undercover work is affecting the unlikely duo. Stallworth questions if this is just another job or a personal crusade, while Flip, who was never proud of his Jewish heritage, questions his own faith when he is forced to praise the Holocaust in front of his KKK colleagues. The characters come off as cold to us, but what they go through is the connecting thread for the audience.

Lee, never one to hold back, drops us right in the middle of the clan meetings and lets the ugliness of racism speak for itself. From the smugness of David Duke to the casual hate spewed by the chapter president’s housewife (Ashlie Atkinson). There’s some serious material to work with here, and it keeps the film from going into comedic territory. But what really makes BLACKKKLANSMAN soar is the direct line Lee draws from the film’s events in 1972 to today, and also reaches back as far as the Civil War while taking Hollywood to task as well. Throughout the film there are reminders of just how far America has not come in the area of civil rights, and by film’s end no one will see things the same again. It’s not preaching as much as it is revealing.

Acting is superb. John David Washington and Adam Driver make a tremendous team, and one wishes to see more of them together. Laura Harrier is a delight, and Topher Grace shows the ability to play a great villain. Corey Hawkins drops in as a civil rights leader and lights up the screen, and Alec Baldwin provides some real chills as a white racial superiority. The show is stolen by Harry Belafonte, who is at the center of an outstandingly edited sequence which recounts the story of a murdered black boy.

The finale is a thriller which includes a race to keep their identities a secret while trying to prevent a bombing, and while the outcome isn’t quite clear (the result of the final chase is a little muddy), Lee puts a massive exclamation point in the closing minutes to make BLACKKKLANSMAN a powerful statement on race in America. Lee has done this before in his previous films, but not ever like this…and dead silence from audience’s as the credits roll is guaranteed. Lee has delivered a masterpiece; one that thrills, tells the truth, and allows no one to walk away unchanged.

BOTTOM LINE: See it


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of Tim Burton


Last month, this Blogger’s girlfriend penned an excellent review about The Beetle House; a New York City restaurant inspired by the films of strange and unusual director Tim Burton (read that review HERE). One blog can often lead to another, and that review got this Blogger’s wheels turning towards the career of Burton. The quirky, visionary, imaginative, and frustratingly inconsistent filmmaker has one of the most distinct styles in Hollywood in the last 20 years, and his contributions have altered pop culture and continue to draw people with his name alone. This Blog is a look at his best and worst films in the Reel Speak tradition of a Top Five ranking; using criteria of story, character, visual impact, cultural impact, and personal likes and objective dislikes…along with the tiebreaker of whether or not I ever want to watch it again.
Since this is intended to be a celebration of Tim Burton, this Blogger will spend more time on the good than the bad. Any film that doesn’t appear here falls somewhere between the Best and Worst.
Now, it’s showtime…

THE WORST 


5. BATMAN (1989) 

More like BATMAN: THE MUSICAL with a ridiculous song and dance routine every five minutes; led by a beer-bellied, middle-aged, receding hairline Joker with the dumbest nefarious scheme of all time involving shampoo and makeup. It’s a frustrating film because the first 20 minutes are outstanding, only to fall into cartoonish, meandering, aimless nonsense. 

4. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) 

Messy and cliché with a story that can’t latch onto any one thing for more than two minutes. Johnny Depp mistakes eccentric for bizarre in his portrayal of Willie Wonka. 

3. ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) 

A soulless, joyless bore with a messy narrative and CGI looking like a Looney Tunes flick…topped off with a final battle/war that feels like it belongs in another movie. 

2. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016) 

Rushed, silly, and pointless. 

1. DARK SHADOWS (2012) 

A dull slog that drags on forever. It feels like 50 episodes of the classic TV series crammed into one feature, and it is capped off by a big stupid final battle with characters pulling shotguns out of nowhere. 

THE BEST 


5. A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) 

Even though the poster says otherwise, this is technically not a Tim Burton film as he did not direct it, but instead acted as a producer. Henry Sellick is the credited helmer, but the story, characters, and fantasy world are all Burton’s. It is a clever, and outright brilliant take on our holidays and where they come from, with the main character of Jack Skellington becoming one of the most significant entries in pop culture. 

4. BIG FISH (2003)

Burton’s best films are the ones that he has an emotional connection to, and BIG FISH is the one that he threw his heart into and it shows. A tale of a son searching for his father, BIG FISH combines elements of fantasy with the power of storytelling, and the charming performances from Ewan MacGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonmah Carter, and Marion Cotillard makes the film a joy to behold. It is one of Burton’s most critically acclaimed films with four Golden Globe nominations and one Oscar nod. 

3. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) 

Based on his own childhood, this mesmerizing story was Burton’s version of the classic FRANKENSTEIN. The first of eight (!) films Burton would make with Johnny Depp, ED was an exploration of what it is to be human, and was one of the first films where Burton would run with his love for characters who are outcast because they are different. It is a fairy tale reinvented. 

2. BEETLEJUICE (1988) 

This mashup of horror and comedy is the ultimate Tim Burton film and his biggest contribution to pop culture. It is an original twist on hauntings and poltergeists, with an electric performance by Michael Keaton and perhaps Winona Ryder’s most memorable role. When the conversation moves to Burton’s imagination, this is the first film that comes to mind. 

1. ED WOOD (1994) 

Where BETELGEUSE may be his most memorable, ED WOOD is the one film in Burton’s career that feels like genuine cinema. There are movies and there are films, and this is certainly the latter. Once again playing with his favorite themes of rejects and horror, this true-story biopic is a love letter to classic Hollywood while acting as an inspirational tale to any one of us who have been told that our creative works aren’t good enough. What is art, and who gets to say if it is or not is a battle every filmmaker, writer, painter, and sculptor faces…and ED WOOD has a lot to say about that. The cast is inspired, with Depp once again in front…but the towering, Oscar-winning performance by Martin Landau in his role as real-life horror icon Bela Lugosi is one for the ages. Those of us who have followed Tim Burton through his career have a clear love for film, and ED WOOD is an expression of just that. 

THE BEST AND WORST OF TIM BURTON
BEST
  1. ED WOOD
  2. BEETLEJUICE
  3. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
  4. BIG FISH
  5. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
WORST
  1. DARK SHADOWS
  2. MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
  3. ALICE IN WONDERLAND
  4. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
  5. BATMAN