Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Reel 40: CONAN THE BARBARIAN


“What is best in life?”




 

This month marks the 40th anniversary of John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN. 

 

Based on the writings of Robert E. Howard, and based on a screenplay by Milius and Oliver Stone, CONAN is an epic story of a barbarian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who seeks vengeance for the death of his parents, who were killed by cult leader Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). 

The film was put into production in the late 1970’s, when the success of STAR WARS (1977) had studios looking to capitalize on the new interest in heroic tales and adventures. After years of stops and starts, young filmmaker John Milius was chosen to helm the project. Milius was known in the film industry for his big-nuts, macho screenplays for DIRTY HARRY (1971), and MAGNUM FORCE (1973), and was a perfect fit for the tale of a muscle-bound warrior who settled everything with the might of his sword. 

Milius cast a young and virtual unknown (in cinema), bodybuilding star with the odd name of Schwarzenegger as the lead, who was eventually tutored on-set by James Earl Jones and co-star Max von Sydow. Arnold was joined by actress Sandahl Bergman, along with Gerry Lopez, Mako Iwamatsu, and Valerie Quennessen. The three main actors; Schwarzenegger, Bergman, and Lopez, underwent intense martial arts and sword fighting training prior to filming. Filming began in October of 1980 at England’s Shepperton Studios, and locations across Spain, and was completed the following May. Basil Poledouris provided the score. 

 

Despite mixed reviews, CONAN opened in first place at the box office in its opening weekend, and was a consistent earner to become a financial success. Sandahl Bergman was awarded a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year-Actress. Over the years, CONAN has become a pop culture icon and has earned placement on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years lists, including 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Years of Film Scores, and Top 10 Fantasy Film. 

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CONAN is often unfairly dismissed as a soul-less blood-and-guts flick. Although it does have plenty of bloodshed, its inspirations stretch back to classic films like KWAIDEN (1964) and SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). CONAN stuck with those themes and while it still kept true to the brutal slayings that the books were chock full of, it also had basic, human themes of spirituality, grand adventure, faith and love, and a little bit of sorcery thrown in for good measure. CONAN also employed some fantastic, sweeping cinematography; a gorgeous film that is not edited as much as it is composed; using the most-excellent music and towering, minimal dialogue to tell its story. It is a story of revenge that has inspired a generation of films from the Oscar-winning GLADIATOR (2000) to this year’s THE NORTHMAN, but at its heart is its message to truly find what is best for each one of our lives. 

 

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women…!”


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The year of 1982 was a landmark for cinema. Read Reel Speak's recap of the year HERE






Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Reel 20: SPIDER-MAN


“With great power…”



 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN. 

 

Based on the massively popular Marvel Comics superhero that was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, SPIDER-MAN was a box office smash, cultural hit, and kickstarted the superhero film genre into the era we are in today. The character’s swing on the big screen for the first time was a long one. After years of a TV presence in live-action and animated form, development on a feature film began in the 1980’s, with directors such as Tobe Hooper and James Cameron attached at various points. The project would stall many times due to licensing and financial issues, but was eventually picked up by Columbia Pictures in 1999. 

 

Action directors such as Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY), Michael Bay (ARMAGEDDON), and Tony Scott (TOP GUN), were considered, before the job would go to Sam Raimi…who had a reputation as a horror director after cultural hits such as THE EVIL DEAD (1981), and the kinda-sorta superhero film DARKMAN (1990). For the vital role of Peter Parker, the boy who would become Spider-Man, actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law, and Heath Ledger were considered. The role would go to Tobey Maguire, who was Raimi’s first choice after seeing him in the 1999 drama THE CIDER HOUSE RULES. The rest of the cast would be filled out with James Franco, Kristen Dunst, J.K. Simmons, Cliff Robertson, and Rosemary Harris. The role of the Big Bad in the story, the Green Goblin, would go to Willem Dafoe. 

 

Filming began in November of 2000 in New York City and Sony Pictures soundstages, with a release date set for a year later. That release date was later postponed to May of 2002 after an extended post-production schedule. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, some sequences and scenes were re-filmed, and early teasers and posters were later recalled which had images of the World Trade Center towers. Danny Elfman composed the score. 

 

Upon release, SPIDER-MAN became the first film to pass the $100 million mark in a single weekend, on its way to becoming the highest grossing superhero film of all time; a mark that it would hold until THE DARK KNIGHT arrived in 2008. SPIDER-MAN would finish as the third highest-grossing film of the year, behind THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS and HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. The film was praised by critics, and was nominated for two Oscars; Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. The film would spawn two sequels, released in 2004 and 2007. 

 

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After 20 years of superhero films, most of which dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it’s easy to overlook the impact that SPIDER-MAN had back in 2002. The superhero genre was a joke in cinematic circles for more than a decade before X-MEN arrived in 2000 and 2002 and got it going for real again, and then SPIDER-MAN kicked it into high gear; a gear that is still spinning strong today. Last year, Tobey Maguire’s version of Peter Parker and Spidey was invited and welcomed into the MCU, and it offered a long overdue closure for the character; ending a 20-year arc that fans had been waiting for. Spider-Man is arguably the most popular superhero of all time, and back then Sam Raimi seemed to know that he had the burden of doing the character justice, and justice he did. In the grand picture, SPIDER-MAN has its place, and on its own, it is a fun, super-adventure…and does everything that it is supposed to. 

 

“…comes great responsibility.”

 

 

 



Friday, May 6, 2022

A Reel Review: DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS




One of the many reasons why the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been so successful for the last 15 years is they have always acquired (and maintained), the right talent for the right jobs. This applies mostly for the casting, and in some cases, especially with DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, the director. 

 

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), travels through the multiverse in an effort to protect America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez), a teenager with the power to travel between universes, while Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), may have other ideas for use of such a power. 

 

Twenty years ago this month, director Sam Raimi, who had made a bloody splash with the hit horror franchise THE EVIL DEAD, kickstarted the superhero genre with SPIDER-MAN and its two sequels. Here with MADNESS, Raimi brings his experience in superhero work and horror films together in an exciting and sometimes horrifying mashup. In true superhero fashion, Strange’s first order of business is to protect; to keep young America from having her power stripped by an evil entity who could do unimaginable terrors with multiverse-travelling ability; it’s a movie of protecting one to save many, and it is an earnest superhero core that drives the film. 

 

Strange also has to deal with a traumatized Wanda, who is still reeling from events of her past and has other ideas of what to do with America’s powers. Wanda is a full-blown witch now, which gives Raimi the chance to play in his old (haunted) treehouse. Wanda puts Strange and America through all sorts of terrors including the walking dead, bodies being shredded, jump-scares, doppelgangers, and horrifying imagery. The MCU has made some classic superhero films in the past by crossbreeding superheroes with other genres, and this time we get Marvel’s first true horror film. 

 

The ability to travel through different universes introduces us to super-characters from the past that are stand-up-and-cheer worthy, and Raimi gives them all their due. Raimi puts his stamp all over the film with his horror roots, but also with his trademark non-traditional camera angles, zooms, and editing. There is an energy to the film that is electrifying, and there are no dull moments. Pacing is brisk, the visuals stunning, and the set-pieces breathtaking. Danny Elfman’s score is somewhat generic and lacks the international vibe that the previous DOCTOR STRANGE film score carried. And it is fair to say that MADNESS does require a fair amount of homework, as the film harks back to several past MCU films and the TV shows.

 

Acting is excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch has a full hold on his character and elevates him even after five appearances. Elizabeth Olsen steals the show and is a powerhouse. Xochiti Gomez is a delight. The rest of the cast, including Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are perfect. 

 

As with all MCU films, despite the spectacle and heavy lights and sounds in front of us, MADNESS still winds up as a character-driven piece, as every major action taken to launch the problems and resolve them are done as the characters need to do for their own personal stories and journeys. It’s perfectly balanced, just like Sam Raimi’s ideas for horror films and superheroes. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 





Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2022 - Episode V




Ever since JAWS (1975), and STAR WARS (1977), the month of May has become the official start of the Summer Movie Season, and for the first time in nearly three years, we’re getting a month that actually feels like it. Here are the notable releases for the month of May:

 

 

 

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS – The 28th film in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), has Doc Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Master of the Mystic Arts, travelling into alternate universes to protect a young girl from a wrathful Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). It is directed by Sam Raimi, who kick-started the superhero film genre with SPIDER-MAN (2002), and SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004). 

 

 

 

FIRESTARTER – Based on the Stephen King novel and the 1984 film adaptation of the same name, where a father (Zac Efron), tries to protect his powerful, fire-wielding daughter from a secret government agency. 

 

 

 

EMERGENCY – In this comedy-thriller, three college students return home after a night of partying to find an unconscious woman in their home. 

 

 

 

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA – A continuation of the massively popular TV series that ran from 2010 to 2015, and the 2019 film. This time, the Crawley family journeys to France to uncover a family mystery while a film is being shot in their home. Simon Curtis, who directed the acclaimed MY WEEK WITH MARILYN in 2011, directs. 

 

 

 

THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE – The first big-screen adventure for the popular BOB’S BURGERS TV series. This time, the Belcher family sees a sinkhole right in front of their shop, which threatens their hopes for a successful summer. 

 

 

 

TOP GUN: MAVERICK – The long-awaited sequel to the 1986 classic. Tom Cruise reprises his role as Maverick; one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time, who finds himself training graduates for a special mission…including the son of his long-dead best friend. The cast includes Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: LEGACY). 

 

 

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Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of June. 

 

 

 



Wednesday, May 4, 2022

A Reel 20: STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES


“Someday I will be the most powerful Jedi ever…”




This month marks the 20th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES. 

 

The second film in the Prequel Trilogy that started in 1999 with THE PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES continued the story of the rise and fall of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker; the young man destined to become Darth Vader, and the eventual fall of the noble Jedi Knights and the peaceful Republic. 

 

Written and directed by series creator George Lucas, the film was set 10 years after the events of THE PHANTOM MENACE, and had many goals of not only continuing the story of Anakin, the Jedi, and the Republic, but to set up various backstories including the popular bounty hunter Boba Fett, the origin of the famed Imperial Stormtroopers, and the eventual marriage of Anakin and Padme Amidala…parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. The script had a rushed process with Lucas doing the writing with help from Jonathan Hales, who had written several episodes of THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES. The screenplay was completed just one week before filming. 

 

For the role of Anakin Skywalker, Lucas cast 19-year-old Canadian Actor Hayden Christiansen. He was joined by the returning supporting cast of Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, and Samuel L. Jackson. Newcomers to the franchise included famed actor Christopher Lee, along with Temuera Morrison, Daniel Logan, Bonnie Piesse, and Joel Edgerton.

 

Filming began in June of 2000 across locations in Tunisia, Spain, London, China, and Italy. The production advanced technical development: discarding traditional 35mm film for digital, and often creating shots through filming and CGI using elements that were shot miles and years apart from each other. John Williams returned to provide the score. 

 

Upon release, ATTACK OF THE CLONES was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans. At the box office, it would become the second-fastest film to reach $100 million, but despite this, it would be the first STAR WARS film to be outgrossed in its year of release; placing third domestically and fourth worldwide. Despite this, it is still among the 100 highest-grossing films of all time. It was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 75th Academy Awards. 

 

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Today, ATTACK OF THE CLONES is not looked at favorably by STAR WARS fans, with many considering it to be among the worst in the franchise (this Blogger ranked it 10th out of 11 live-action films in his STAR WARS ranking HERE). The complaints are many, ranging from the dialogue, acting, humor, and slow-burning pacing. But there are still many things to appreciate in CLONES. The action sequences (they are sparse, admittingly), when they do come, are excellent…and the last 20 minutes, when the famed Clone Wars begins, is pure STAR WARS big-screen fun. And the crumbling of the Republic from within suddenly has a relevance in today’s world. The filming techniques used set a new standard in the industry; changing the way films would be conceptualized, shot, edited…and even projected. Story-wise, CLONES has several strong building-blocks that would inspire future STAR WARS TV projects: THE CLONE WARS (2008-2020), THE BAD BATCH (2021), and THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT (2022). Despite any flaws, ATTACK OF THE CLONES still stands as an important step in the larger world of STAR WARS. 

 

 

“Begun, the Clone War has…”

 

 



Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Best Revenge Films




The film to see in theatres right now is Robert Eggers’ Viking revenge flick THE NORTHMAN (read Reel Speak’s review HERE). The blood-for-blood tale of vengeance has entered the discussion of the best revenge movies of all time, which brings us to Reel Speak’s first crack at the topic. 


 

The dictionary tells us that revenge is a retaliation; to inflict injury or death in return, and the movies have told us that revenge is a dish best served cold.  Cinema has made careers out of revenge stories that have crossed every genre, including Westerns, sci-fi, superheroes, and crime. Classic films such as THE CROW (1994), and Martin Scorsese’s CAPE FEAR (1991), and GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002) have capitalized on it, horror flicks such as CARRIE (1976) have spilled more than once of blood in return, and Charles Bronson had a second career in his DEATH WISH franchise. STAR WARS had a film based around payback in REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005), and in recent years the JOHN WICK franchise has proved to be very popular. The best films about revenge are the ones that best use vengeance as a driving force in the plot, and takes the time to see how the thirst for blood effects the characters. Other factors to be considered is that the film must be good (of course), and have a fair amount of longevity.

 

 

So, let’s get some payback…

 

 

 

 

 

10. THE LADY EVE (1941)




Director Preston Sturges is one of the founders of the cinematic screwball comedy, and THE LADY EVE is one of his best. Barbara Stanwyck plays a con artist who falls in love with a man she’s trying to swindle (played by Henry Fonda), and tries to get back at him after he discovers her ruse. The film has several ups and downs as the two fall in and out love and get back at each other after one betrayal after another. It’s not nearly as dark or bloody as most revenge flicks that we’re used to, but it shows that payback can be fun, too. 

 

 

 

 

 



9.  KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (2004)





Quentin Tarantino’s two-part crusade is a masterstroke in understanding the need for revenge. VOLUME 1 from 2003 could easily have been selected here, but where the first film was a full-throttle bloodbath, the sequel hit the brakes and dug into the characters for a surprising character study…getting into the depths of those who do the killing. Uma Thurman as the vengeful Bride is electric, and her showdown with Bill (the late great David Carradine), turns the tables on how we expect final battles to play out. 



 

 


 

8. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)




Winner of Best Original Screenplay at the 93rd Academy Awards, this Emerald Fennell-directed drama sees Carey Mulligan (who earned a Best Actress nomination), playing the long-game as she gets revenge against predatory men. Full of twists and turns, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN makes darn sure that we are on the side of the wronged, topped off with a shocker of an ending. 




 

 

 

7. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)




Arguably the best Old West yarn from Sergio Leone, which sees a hired gun doing battle to gain control of a frontier town. Hollywood legends Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Claudia Cardinale lead the cast, and the best part about the film is that it isn’t revealed as a revenge story until the very end…making the slowly unfolding plot worth every one of its 166 minutes. 



 


 


6. THE NORTHMAN (2022)





The only reason this doesn’t rank higher is because it hasn’t had the test of time put to it yet, and the years may see it rise or even fall, but for now it deserves to be here. Robert Eggers, in only his third feature film, fashions a masterpiece which sees an exiled prince-turned-Viking (Alexander Skarsgard), seeking revenge against his own uncle. Brutal and bloody with fantasy elements that sends our heads spinning, THE NORTHMAN is surprisingly intimate and keeps close to our main character to make sure he doesn’t lose his humanity in his quest for blood. 



 

 

 

5. V FOR VENDETTA (2005)




The Wachowski Siblings produced, and James McTeigue directed this adaptation of the popular and iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Hugo Weaving dons the mask and hat of the mysterious “V”, who plays the long game in getting even with the fascist and authoritarian government who ruined a country and took away his life and many others. What makes it special is that V’s mission isn’t just for himself but for others, making this vengeance tale about more than just one man. Weaving is backed by excellent performances by Natalie Portman and a towering John Hurt in this film which has become a cult classic and a new symbol for resistance in today’s age. 


 


 

 

4. OLDBOY (2003)




This neo-nor thriller directed by Park Chan-wook sees a man (Choi Min-sik), seeking revenge against his captor of 15 years…a path that leads him into a deep tangle of conspiracy and violence topped off with one of the most shocking twists ever in cinema. Often regarded as one of the best films of the 2000’s, OLDBOY shows us that revenge can be the hardest on those seeking it.



 

 


 

3. GLADIATOR (2000)




Sir Ridley Scott’s Best Picture winner about the Roman general Maximus (Russell Crowe), who loses his rank and family and enters a life of slavery and gladiator-battles to get back at the Emperor (Joaquin Phoenix), who did the taking. Epic in scale and in the telling, Maximus also plays the long game in his quest for payback, and his chilling monologue of “I am Maximus…” is the essence of revenge. 





 

 

 

2. CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)




John Milius introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who donned the sword and muscle of Conan in this adaption of the literary hero. Conan is on a mission of revenge against Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the man who murdered his parents and razed his village. CONAN is not as deep as most revenge tales go, but its larger-than-life characters, dialogue, and battles make it iconic and towering over any film that swung a sword. 



 

 


 

1. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)




We’ve spent a lot of time with the heroes getting payback, but what happens when the bad guy gets a shot at it? For the second big-screen voyage of the Starship Enterprise, director Nicholas Meyer dove into STAR TREK’s rich TV history and dug up the superior intellectual and iron-strong Khan, reprised by the late great Ricardo Montalban. On mission of payback against Admiral James T. Kirk, Khan slits throats, hijacks Starships, puts creatures into crew members bodies, and most importantly, he inflicts a wound into Kirk that lasts throughout the rest of his life. In this tale of payback, the bad guy actually wins, and his actions would set a new standard that all STAR TREK, and nearly every cinematic villain, has been measured by since. This is cinematic revenge that is wide-reaching, brutal, bloody, and cold. And as Khan told us, revenge is a dish best served cold. 



Reel Speak's Top 10 Best Revenge Films

  1. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
  2. CONAN THE BARBARIAN
  3. GLADIATOR
  4. OLDBOY 
  5. V FOR VENDETTA
  6. THE NORTHMAN
  7. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
  8. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
  9. KILL BILL VOLUME 2
  10. THE LADY EVE




Friday, April 22, 2022

A Reel Review: THE NORTHMAN




The first two films from writer and director Robert Eggers are modern classics; starting with his Puritan-era horror flick THE WITCH (2015), followed up by his Oscar-nominated, imposing mind-twister THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019). Here in 2022, Eggers takes all that he has learned in his short career and put it into his Viking-era epic tale of revenge in THE NORTHMAN. 

 

The year is 895 BC. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke), is murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), who takes his queen Gudrin (Nicole Kidman), as his own wife. Left for dead, Aurvandill’s son and rightful heir Prince Amleth (Alexander Sgarsgard), enters a life of self-exile while plotting his revenge. 

 

Loosely based on the Scandinavian legend Amleth (which later inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet), THE NORTHMAN sets itself up as a basic revenge flick; avenge the father, save the mother, reclaim the kingdom. But this tale of bloody payback takes several twists and turns and smashes expectations by going to many unexpected places. While in exile, Amleth becomes a Viking plunderer, wrestling with his own humanity while raping and pillaging hapless villages. Once he discovers the location of his traitorous uncle, he disguises himself as a prisoner of war and manages to secretly infiltrate Fjolnir’s camp…where he lives out a life of slavery while befriending Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), and plotting his vengeance. 

 

In his past two films, Eggers found ways to dig deep into his characters and drag out their innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Here, Eggers saturates his film with Norse folklore, introducing Amleth to mystical visions and otherworldly characters; speaking to seers, battling a walking skeleton for the right to claim a special weapon, and chatting with the loose head of an old ally. These creepy moments can be jarring, but they provide the vital steps Amleth needs to achieve his goal while revealing character. While THE NORTHMAN is certainly all about getting revenge, the true question is if Amleth can hold on to his humanity while doing so. 

 

This is, after all, a Viking movie…and the expected battles with swords, axes, and spears deliver ten-fold. The large-scale battles and raids are stunningly executed on a grand scale with breathtaking, endless tracking shots. As he has done with his previous works, Eggers brings out a realism that immerses the theatre; every character and place-setting feels genuine. Shot on location in Ireland, the film looks gorgeous, and the haunting and tribal score by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough adds to the atmosphere. 

 

Acting is tremendous. Alexander Sgarsgard is a hulking figure who looks awesome while whipping around his sword, and his character’s inner-struggles are never in doubt. It’s a testosterone-filled film with many grunts and yelling, but despite that…the women steal the show as Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy are excellent. The supporting cast of Willem Dafoe and Bjork are perfect. 

 

After all the twists and turns, battles, and bloodshed…the film climaxes the only way possible; by two naked men sword fighting on the top of an active volcano. It’s a final stamp on a film that is epic in every way; in story, acting, cinematography, and fine attention to Viking lore and humanity. Robert Eggers has completed his trifecta, delivering another modern classic. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 




Wednesday, April 20, 2022

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




This week, one of the most anticipated films of 2022 arrives in the form of THE NORTHMAN. Here in this preview, is everything you need to know before voyaging to the theatre. 

 

 

What is this about – THE NORTHMAN is a Viking-epic starting in the year 895. It follows Prince Amieth, who sees his father murdered by his own uncle and his mother kidnapped. Amieth then sets out on a tale of revenge and destiny. 


 

 

Who is behind the camera – THE NORTHMAN is written and directed by visionary director Robert Eggers. Eggers has delivered two critically acclaimed films so far; the horror film THE WITCH in 2015, and the Oscar-nominated THE LIGHTHOUSE in 2019. 


 

 

Who is in front of the camera – The role of Prince Amieth is held down by Alexander Skarsgard (son of Stellan). Skarsgard has been seen in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016), and GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021). On TV, he earned several awards for his work in BIG LITTLE LIES, and has recently played the demon Randall Flagg in miniseries THE STAND. Skarsgard is joined in THE NORTHMAN by Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, and Willem Dafoe. 


 

 

Random Facts – Willem Dafoe appeared in Eggers' THE LIGHTHOUSE, and Anya Taylor-Joy appeared in THE WITCH * Filming of THE NORTHMAN went nearly five months across locations in Ireland * The film begins in the year 895, but then moves to the year 914, during an age of the early settlement of Iceland * This is Robert Eggers’ longest film to date, at 137 minutes * The story is loosely based on Amleth, a figure in medieval Scandinavian legend * Alexander Skarsgard’s father, Stellan, has appeared in two films based on Marvel Comics’ Thor, which has roots in Viking mythology * 



 

What to Expect – Looking at the stunning trailers released so far, THE NORTHMAN seems to channel elements from John Milius’ classic sword-and-guts flick CONAN THE BARBARIAN from 1982. Eggers has admitted in interviews that he has drawn inspiration from that film, so we could be looking at a next-generation CONAN…and that is a very good thing as we are long overdue for some epic, sword playing filmmaking. Behind the screen, Eggers has directed only two films so far, but both have been masterpieces in visuals and storytelling, and backed by tremendous acting. Add all that together, and we could be looking at the first great film of 2022.

 

THE NORTHMAN opens in limited release April 21st, with full showings April 22nd





Friday, April 15, 2022

A Reel Review - FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE




THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE is the mid-point of a planned five-movie series, spun off from the HARRY POTTER franchise that ran from 2001-2011. Set decades before Harry was born, the series got off to a charming start in 2016 with its quirky characters and magical creatures. The second film, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018), started to veer off in one too many directions, and set the stage for this new entry. 

 

Dark wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelson), is looking to take control of the Wizarding World. Standing in his way is his former friend and lover Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Unable to confront Grindelwald directly, Dumbledore recruits a group of wizards and non-wizards to thwart him; including magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and his muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). 

 

Directed by David Yates, THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE picks up plot threads from the previous films that are still hanging around, including the troubled young Credence (Ezra Miller), who lives with a dark magical parasite inside of him, and may (or may not be) a part of the Dumbledore family. Meanwhile, hapless Kowalski is heartbroken after his former fiancĂ©e Queenie (Alison Sudol), followed Grindelwald to the dark side. The bigger plot at hand is Grindelwald looking to hijack an upcoming election by using a bewitched creature…which would set him at the head of the Wizarding World. 

 

The stakes of the film don’t seem very high, as it all boils down to Grindelwald trying to steal an election. Grindelwald isn’t seen doing very many bad things, so it’s hard to care if he gets into office or not…and we just have to trust the many characters telling us over and over again how evil he is. The rest of the film suffers from the same issues the 2018 film did with too many characters and too many half-baked plots with flimsy resolutions. The use of a magical creature to “select” a worthy candidate seems to be there just to justify Newt’s involvement…who still seems ill-equipped to handle an upcoming wizarding war. The sub-plot of Kowalski and Queenie is useless in the grand scheme of things, and both characters could have been omitted from this film and it would not have affected anything.

 

There is still much to love in DUMBLEDORE for long-time fans of the Wizarding World. The magic and the fantastic beasts are wonderfully realized, and the trips back to beloved locations such as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade alone make it worth a trip to the theatre. The place-setting of late 1930’s (or early 1940’s, the film isn’t’ clear on that), is wonderfully realized, and plenty of easter-eggs for Potter fans are there for the finding. 

 

The cast does an admirable job with the slightly convoluted script, and although no one is terrible, no one seems to fully understand what they’re talking about. Eddie Redmayne is still excellent in his role, even though his character blends in here and doesn’t stand out. Dan Fogler is once again a blast and brightens the screen every time he appears. 

 

After all the wand-pointing, spell-casting, globe-trotting, and dealings with adorable and deadly magical creatures, DUMBLEDORE doesn’t resolve very much, and lives up to its assignment as a middle-chapter and simply sends a lot more down the line for more movies. This Wizarding World backstory is being stretched thin, and it’s exhausting to think there’s two more to go. THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE has its magical moments, but falls short of fantastic. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it 





Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A Reel Preview - Everything You Need to Know About FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE





The major theatrical release this week is FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE; the 11thfilm in the Wizarding World franchise, which began way back in 2001 with the first HARRY POTTER film. Here is everything you need to know about this magical movie. 

 

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT? – THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE is the third film in the FANTASTIC BEASTS series, which began in 2016. The second film, sub-titled THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, arrived in 2018. This third film continues the adventures of magical zoologist Newt Scamander (reprised by Eddie Redmayne), assisting Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), in an opposition against dark wizard Gellart Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). The time period is several years after the events of the second film. 

 

WHO ELSE IS IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA? – In addition to returning cast members Redmayne and Law, they are joined by Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Katherine Waterston, and Jessica Williams. Mads Mikkelson takes over the role of Grindelwald from Johnny Depp, who played the character in the first two films. 

 

WHO IS BEHIND THE CAMERA? – This third entry is directed by David Yates, who has directed every Wizarding World film since HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX in 2007. The script is written by HARRY POTTER founder J.K. Rowling, and Steve Kloves. Kloves has written all of the POTTER films.  

 

RANDOM FACTS – At 2 hours and 22 minutes, this will be the longest film in the Wizarding World franchise * Mads Mikkelson played Hannibal Lecter on TV’S HANNIBAL, making him the fourth actor from that franchise to appear in the Wizarding World. The others are Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, and Rhys Ifans * Katherine Waterston is the daughter of actor Sam Waterston, who gained fame in TV’S LAW AND ORDER * The film is set in the 1930’s, with the story leading up to the wizarding world’s involvement in WWII and exploring magical communities in Bhutan, Germany, and China * DUMBLEDORE is the third of a planned five films in the FANTASTIC BEASTS mini-franchise * 

 

WHAT TO EXPECT - The first thing we can expect is excellent performances by the cast; the casting on this mini-franchise has been excellent so far, in particular Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler, so our characters will be well-served. Behind the camera, David Yates has a long-standing relationship with creator J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros., and this has led to a pattern of correcting mistakes from previous movies. The second film, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, had many issues including way too much crammed in. If lessons are learned, we can hopefully expect some streamlining and back-to-basics storytelling. The FANTASTIC BEASTS series was originally announced as five films, but the amount of story crammed into GRINDELWALD gave the feeling that deal has been altered. If that be true, DUMBLEDORE just may serve as a trilogy-capper. The last two films have spent ages of time on the Obscurus storyline (a magical, deadly parasite), and it would be a step in the right direction (and a relief), to see that put to bed and onto other magical worlds. 

 

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FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE opens April 14th in limited showings, and full release on April 15th.