Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: An Oscar Disqualification, M. Night Reunites, and the Super Trailers

Fact: With just over a month to go before the Oscars, we already know which film will not be winning anything. In a rare occurrence, the Academy has rescinded the Best Original Song nomination from the film ALONE YET NOT ALONE. The yanking of the nomination comes after it was revealed that the song’s composer, Bruce Broughton, e-mailed members of the voting board. Broughton is a former member of the board and any perceived campaigning is considered to be a rules violation.

Opinion: With all the criticism the Academy receives, no one can say that they don’t stick to their own rules. Although Broughton has stated that he thought he was within the rules and didn’t intend to violate any, the Academy needed to stick to its guns and maintain precedence. The sad part is that ALONE YET NOT ALONE, an independently produced film which many people had never heard of until the nominations were announced, won’t have a chance to make an Oscar run. However, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and perhaps this incident will spark an interest in the little film.

Fact: Former award-contenders and current turkey-basters M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis will reunite for another film. Shyamalan, who directed Willis in his wildly successful THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and UNBREAKABLE (2000), has dusted off one of his screenplays from the early 1990’s entitled LABOR OF LOVE. Willis will play the main character; a widower who decides to walk across the country in honor of his deceased wife.

Opinion: The most important aspect of this story is the project is based on a script Shyamalan wrote in the 1990’s; an era in which he was great at character-driven films and before he lost all of his goddamn marbles. Shyamalan has been in desperate need of a hit for nearly a decade, so going back to his roots is a good place to start. Willis could also use a fresh start. The 58 year old had a great turn in Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM in 2012, but then snored his way through utter drek such as the fifth and worthless DIE HARD sequel, another dumbass EXPENDABLES movie, RED 2, and the intolerable G.I. JOE RETALIATION. This Blogger cannot think of another case where two filmmakers needed each other more.

Fact: The list of movies which will debut new trailers during the Super Bowl has been finalized; stop reading now if you want to be surprised. The trailers to be seen are:


Opinon: It feels a little ho-hum this year, as every film, with the exception of TRANSFORMERS, has already debuted at least a teaser…so at the very least we would be seeing little new footage from the rest. There are also noticeable absences from major releases such as Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, GODZILLA, and NINJA TURTLES. But the movies, just like the Super Bowl, can be full of surprises.

What say you?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Secrets and 'Suits and Shortness

Fact: J.J. Abrams, director of the still-untitled seventh STAR WARS film, has addressed the methods of secrecy he has used in the past with his own films (STAR TREK, SUPER 8), and how those methods may need to change heading to the upcoming filming dates. Abrams, who has been criticized by fans and media for his coy teases and denials in the weeks and months prior to his films, concurs that STAR WARS has always been an “open, fan engaged universe than I’ve been used to…”, but also says that “there’s a purity in not knowing every little thing”.

Opinion: As the internet gets bigger and faster and more accessible no matter where you are, so does the demand for information. That demand for information has led to an annoying sense of entitlement from fans, who suddenly feel that they should know the details before stepping into the theatre. Where is the fun in that? A major part of the experience of film is to be surprised, blown-away, shocked, and most of all, entertained. That experience is greatly lessened when all the details are known before-hand. This Blogger hopes that Abrams keeps everything a tight secret until the moment the curtain rises on EPISODE VII in December of 2015. Blast these spoiled brats.

Fact: Speaking of spoiling movies, as mentioned here last week, director/writer Quentin Tarantino had shelved his next planned film, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, because the first draft of the script had been leaked and found its way online. Now, the seemingly enraged Tarantino has filed a suit against the news website for providing a link to that leaked script.

Opinion: Quentin Tarantino has every right to sue the pants off of any website which is now peddling around his screenplay without his permission. The script for THE HATEFUL EIGHT is his intellectual property, and he is the one who says where it goes and when. If you struck oil in your backyard, would you give away free gallons? If QT is successful here, it could very well change a lot of things around the interwebs.
Fact: The National Association of Theater Owners has issued a new set of voluntary guidelines which ask for stricter rules concerning in-cinema promotions and marketing by the studios in the form of trailers and posters. Among the many rules are trailers (the movie previews we see before a feature film) cannot be more than two minutes in length, and no trailer should be shown earlier than 150 days of a film’s release.

Opinion: Addressing the length of the trailers first…this seems to be a move made towards what this Blogger calls the YouTube Generation, where undeveloped minds can’t handle moving images and sounds more than two minutes in length (and also can’t handle a two-hour movie). But at the same time, it does seem that trailers these days have been made longer and longer…as editors basically put together a Cliff’s Notes-version of the film and give away everything; this year’s JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT was a good example. So maybe a shorter running-time will make these lazy editors actually have to edit. The other issue, the 150-day window, can go either way; if you are an avid moviegoer it does get annoying to see the same trailer run every weekend for six months. However, some studios can really take advantage of an early trailer. The very first trailer for Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT was released a full year in advance, and put everyone on a Hobbit-watch which lasted the full 365 days. Hopefully these new guidelines (again, voluntary), will make studios work harder and smarter to get our attention.

What say you?

Friday, January 24, 2014


Making yet another version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein really shouldn’t be all that offensive. After all, the big lugnuts has been consistently recycled for the past 100 years in film, TV, cartoons, and breakfast cereals. Each time the monster has been recycled, one rule remains constant; it isn’t the idea behind the story that counts, it’s how that idea is executed. Such is the task of I, FRANKENSTEIN.
Two-hundred years after falling into a secret war between Gargoyles and Demons, Doctor Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) arrives in modern day London, where he discovers a plot by the Demon Prince (Bill Nighy) to re-animate corpses in an attempt to enslave mankind. The monster, named Adam, is assisted in thwarting the Demon horde by the Gargoyle Queen (Miranda Otto) and his new doctor lady-friend (Yvonne Strahovski).

Staying true to its literary roots, I, FRANKENSTEIN begins during the events of the original tale. The war which he falls into, between Gargoyles and Demons, sounds ridiculous at first, but feels like the beginnings of a fun, B-movie. From there, the film falls and suffers from the amateur-level filmmaking by director Stuart Beattie. I, FRANKENSTEIN settles into a never ending step-by-step pattern: (1) Characters stand around and over-explain everything that is happening; (2) Have a big CGI-driven fight where things blow up and creatures are killed, and (3) Go back to Step 1. It’s predictable and boring. Worse, the dialogue is third-grade level reading and the plot to re-animate the corpses is so convoluted you need a road-map to figure it out.
Director Stuart Beattie does his best to grind the film into the ground. Action scenes are overloaded with so much CGI it feels like watching someone else play Tomb Raider. Characters have no personal stories and don’t act with any sort of emotion or feeling. The film also struggles with its very own logic; the war between the creatures is supposed to be a big secret, and yet large-scale battles take place in the middle of the streets with cars blowing up and buildings collapsing…and no human ever notices.

Aaron Eckhart turns in the worst performance of his career. He simply cannot play tough and gruff. Yvonne Strahovski shows less emotion than the CGI creatures around her, and Jai Courtney shows up to stink up the screen even more with his wooden-plank deliveries. Bill Nighy and the lovely Miranda Otto do the best work and shine brightest amongst the ruins.
The finale arrives with a plop, which really doesn’t matter because at that point there was nothing to look forward to anyway. I, FRANKENSTEIN shows a shocking lack of brains, wit, or basic storytelling technique, making this monster an insufferable experience. Fuck this movie forever.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Many Partings

Fact: Film producer James Jacks has passed away at the age of 66. Although not a household name, Jacks had a part in many box office successes. He was an early supporter of The Coen Bros. and produced their 1987 hit RAISING ARIZONA. Jacks went on to produce many crowd-pleasing favorites such as TOMBSTONE, DAZED AND CONFUSED, MALLRATS, MICHAEL, JACKAL, A SIMPLE PLAN, THE MUMMY, THE GIFT, THE MUMMY RETURNS, and THE SCORPION KING. He served as vice-president of production at Universal Studios from the late 1980’s to the early 1990’s.
Opinion: There are many different moving pieces and parts in making a film, and the role of a producer is often a hidden and thankless one. No one really dreams about having the job of securing financing, locations, staffing, and food vendors…but they are tasks which need to be done to make the magic happen on the silver screen. James Jacks performed these duties for many popular films, and the result is there for us all to see long after his passing.

Fact: Also passing away is the role of actual film in the movie theatres. Paramount Pictures has officially become the first major studio to stop releasing movies on film in the United States. The 35mm film format, which has been the format of choice for theatres for over a hundred years, costs in the range of $2000 to produce and deliver per print. The move to digital not only drastically cuts those costs, but also eliminates the common defects that physical film was susceptible to, such as scratches, dirt, mechanical breakage and film damage.
Opinion: Having once worked in a projection booth for many years, this Blogger will always have a great amount of nostalgia for film. However, the end result here overcomes that by a long shot. Digital projection gives us a perfect presentation each time; a pristine picture with zero defects. That is how all movies need to be viewed, and it is difficult if not impossible to maintain film nostalgia and high quality at the same time. Paramount’s move was just a matter of time, and the rest of the major studios will likely be following soon.

Fact: Director/writer Quentin Tarantino has put his planned Old West film THE HATEFUL EIGHT on indefinite hold following a script leak. The script, which was in its first draft, was sent to select actors and it is believed one of their agency reps passed it around before it finally landed on the internet. Tarantino has said that he will shelve THE HATEFUL EIGHT and move on to another project.
Opinion: Raise your hand if you actively patrol the internet looking for the screenplay to a movie which hasn’t come out yet, and raise it again if you read these pirated scripts so you know exactly what is going to happen in the film. Pirated scripts has been an issue in filmmaking since the internet was born, but the number of people who like to spoil the movie for themselves has got to be small compared to the hordes of people who go to see Quentin Tarantino’s films. It does feel like Tarantino is taking his toys and going home, but he has a right to do so, just as he has a right to trust someone with his work. THE HATEFUL EIGHT just may go down in history as something great which never saw the light of day, which years from now may just be more fascinating than the film itself.

What say you?


Monday, January 20, 2014


The latest adventure concerning the late Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character/hero can very much be compared to an airport-novel; those short and sweet paperbacks packed tight with worldwide espionage and double-crosses and designed for the sole purpose of passing the time away. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is successful in that, and very little else.
Young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is recruited by CIA operative Agent Harper (Kevin Costner) to uncover and thwart a worldwide financial terrorist plot by the evil Russian Viktor (Kenneth Branagh). Ryan’s work leads him on a global trek, where he is joined by his fiancé Cathy (Keira Knightley).

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT offers all of the cliché elements of any given spy story written and filmed over the past fifty years; rich bad guys with immense power, global-decimation schemes, clandestine meetings in movie theatres, the sly passing of envelopes and high-tech surveillance inside disguised vans..etc. While the setup and execution of all of these elements is serviceable enough, the film never gets past any of these familiar pieces and parts and instead latches onto them. The plot is paper thin (save the world), and the characters have absolutely no personal obstacles or storylines to deal with; everyone is exactly the same as they were when the film started. The big-bad villain is also cliché and nothing new; just a rich man with an axe to grind who kills off his own people when they don’t get the job done for him.
Kenneth Branagh, who stars as the dull bad guy, also directs and feels completely out of his element. Although the interaction between characters is decent enough, the action scenes are shot way too tight with way too much goddamn shaky-cam. The buildups to big events have very little tension, and the characters, when faced with something emotional, seem to overcome things in the blink of an eye.

Chris Pine doesn’t stink up the joint, but he doesn’t invade any new territory either. He does everything that is asked of him, and doesn’t go any further. Keira Knightley feels lost amongst everything, and she has very little chemistry with Pine…leaving their romance tough to buy into. Kevin Costner is his usual brilliant Costner-self, and Branagh turns in the best performance even though his character is a disappointing snore.
The finale is bit predictable and can be seen from a mile away, as again, SHADOW RECRUIT closely follows an espionage-story template and seldom deviates. There is enough here to have a decent time, but lacks any sort of emotional punch or likeable characters to root for. SHADOW RECRUIT is very much like an airport-novel; a nice little time-waster which is forgotten about the minute you walk through the gate.


Friday, January 17, 2014

A Reel Review: HER

HER, the newest film from writer/director Spike Jonze, is a film which embraces the oldest axiom in storytelling and movie-making; the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be. HER embraces technology and artificial intelligence in a not-so-distant future, and tangles it with the easiest of all stories: Love.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely, divorced man and struggling writer who is in the pits when he purchases a highly advanced operating system (OS) for his computer. The OS is artificially intelligent, and has a female personality named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore and Samantha begin a romance which is met with encouragement from his best friend (Amy Adams) and disapproval by his ex-wife (Rooney Mara).

HER is very much another take on KING KONG; where two characters fall for each other even though it is impossible for them to be together on a physical level. What makes it work is the fact that Samantha has the ability to learn and advance every second, and that aspect gives Theodore something to latch onto as the both of them learn what it means to be lovers, and more importantly, human. Director Spike Jonze writes an intricate and thought-provoking script, giving both characters a lot of territory to explore in each other.
At its core, HER is a basic love story. Theodore and Samantha go through every stage of a romance; attraction, flirtation, falling in love, sex, jealousy, disagreements, and the eventual end. The simplicity of the romance works because of the two characters learning how to live like a human; Samantha because she is a machine, and Theodore because he lost everything, including himself, after his messy divorce. Spike Jonze keeps the characters advancing and exploring, while stopping to drop in some clever irony here and there. Jonze has also filmed a fantastic looking movie. It looks great, and the clothing and technology feels like it could be right around the corner of our near future.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an amazing performance. He is a hurt and vulnerable man who can be delighted and heartbroken by the littlest thing, and Phoenix nails it at every turn. He goes from elation to depression in the blink of an eye, and it is by far the deepest emotional work he has ever done. Scarlett Johansson, as the voice of Samantha, is perfect, and the rest of the cast including Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, and the always-stunning Olivia Wilde are excellent.
The film ends on an incredibly high note, and Jonze manages to tell not only an effective love story but gives a strong statement on where we are headed as a society as technology keeps getting bigger. For all the high-tech and as much as you have to buy into, HER tells a very human story which is strong and fulfilling. This is great sci-fi, and even better storytelling.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Nominations - The Good, The Bad, The Understandable, & The Glorious

The nominations for the 86th Academy Awards were announced this morning. AMERICAN HUSTLE and GRAVITY lead the pack with ten nominations each, with 12 YEARS A SLAVE close behind with nine. There were no super-shocking moments this year, but there are some Good, Bad, Understandable, and Glorious elements to talk about

The Good
-Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY, as expected, picked up nominations in every technical category. What was unexpected was its nomination for Best Cinematography; unexpected because the film was mostly shot on blue-screen with its artificial environment added later. This is a good sign because it shows the Academy is open to new techniques in filmmaking; they are recognizing the end result more than the tools and method to get there.

-Famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES was nominated for Best Animated Feature. Miyazaki had announced his retirement earlier this year, which makes this his final film.

The Bad

-Meryl Streep was nominated for the 568th year in a row. Although her work in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is just fine, you have to wonder if the voters are on auto-pilot when her name pops up every year.
-Heads may be rolling at Pixar. The famed animation studio did not secure nominations in Best Animated Feature, Short, or Original Song. It’s not good for them right now, but perhaps this can serve as a wake-up call and get them off the lazyboy.

-No major nominations for INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. Perhaps The Coen Bros. are losing their status as Oscar Darlings.

The Understandable

-Tom Hanks was not nominated for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Hanks’ work in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS was good, but didn’t reach greatness until the final five minutes.  

-No nominations for LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER. The highly-praised film was simply released way too early in the year to be considered, or more importantly…remembered.

The Glorious

-Nothing for THE BUTLER means no nomination for Oprah Winfrey, which means her gigantic head won’t be in the way of all the cameras this year.  

-Legendary composer John Williams was nominated for the 49th time; this year for his work in THE BOOK THIEF.

-Score one for the old folks: NEBRASKA stars Bruce Dern (77 years old) and June Squibb (84 years old) received acting nominations.

-Geek Alert: The God of Thunder himself (Chris Hemsworth of THOR) assisted in announcing the nominations…on a Thorsday.

-AMERICAN HUSTLE, GRAVITY, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE…three of the best films of the year, combines for 29 nominations. The right movies are in the hunt, and that’s the most important thing.


The Oscars will be awarded March 2nd.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2013, Part 2

The Year in Film 2013 will unfortunately be often remembered for the disappointments more than the triumphs, thanks to an underachieving summer season. Some high-profile films underperformed with the critics (PACIFIC RIM, MAN OF STEEL) and at the box office (THE LONE RANGER), while others made risky moves which divided their own fanbases (IRON MAN 3, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS). With the summer conking out, the door was open for the winds of autumn to storm in and save the year, and save it…it did. This was a great year for indie and arthouse flicks, with just enough room for some big-nuts studio releases to make some noise.
With only ten spots in a Top 10 Best List (what a concept), some excellent films will always be left out. This Blogger highly recommends Ron Howard’s RUSH, Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE, Alexander Payne’s NEBRASKA, LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, the double-whammy of Matthew McConaughey in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and MUD, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and the outstanding 3D conversion of JURASSIC PARK.
Now to business…
Director David O’ Russell was clearly inspired by Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS when he put together AMERICAN HUSTLE, and that’s okay. His new film is a very stylistic look at crime in the 1970’s, and while not the tightest narrative it is held together by some of the most committed performances of the year by the very strong cast.
Scorsese himself was not about to be outdone. His WOLF OF WALL STREET mirrors his own GOODFELLAS (along with many of his other works) with its unbridled and unabashed look at greed in America. It is rude and relentless in its presentation, and shows just how bold, fearless, and energetic Scorsese still is despite senior citizen Status. Leonardo DiCaprio was let off the leash, and the sonic assault made for one of the most exhilarating theatre experiences of 2013.
Set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas Hill Country, David Lowery’s AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is very much a romantic Old West tale, complete with great characters on both sides of the law…all of which you find yourself pulling for by the end. Thick with atmosphere and stunningly beautiful, it is well-acted by everyone (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Keith Carradine, Ben Foster), and it has an absolute timeless quality which hangs with you long after the lights rise.
Scott Cooper’s OUT OF THE FURNACE also sports the many romantic elements of an Old West fable. A deeply resonating family story revolving around two brothers, OUT OF THE FURNACE is bleak and beautiful, tragic and heartwarming, and ultimately an emotional ride. Performances by Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, and Zoe Saldana are full of fire and heart and it is very rewarding.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES stands tall as the most powerful family story of 2013. It is about fathers and sons…how the sons are aware of the sins of the fathers and yet follow the same path. It sprawls over a period of 15 years and becomes a multi-generational story not unlike THE GODFATHER films. Director Derek Cianfrance sets the film up in a literal three-act play, while never forgetting its one consistent theme of family.
The Coen Brothers’ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a film saturated in folk music and character, and despite having the thinnest plot of any good film in 2013, it somehow becomes the most rewarding. It is hung on the shoulders of Oscar Isaac, who acts (and sings) his heart out in a film which gets better with every passing thought.

Despite its high-concept backdrop and reliance upon technology, Spike Jonze’s HER is the most human story of the year. Centered on a broken man (a brilliant and vulnerable Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his highly-advanced, artificially intelligent computer, HER takes every element of romance and capitalizes on it, making for the most unique love story on the big screen since Kong fell for Ann.

There was only one way for Joss Whedon to follow-up his 2012 billion-dollar triumph THE AVENGERS, and that was a return to basics. Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a light and quiet look at love and the games which comes with it. Sticking with The Bard’s original text and assembling a perfect cast, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is charming, fun, full of heart, and nothing short of a wonderful time at the theatre. MUCH ADO is this Blogger’s personal favorite of 2013.

Of all the films this Blogger screened in 2013, there is only one which had him literally staggering out of the theatre: Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY. A simple survival tale set in space, Cuaron’s magnificent usage of 3D made for a stunning spectacle; never before has the vastness of outer space looked so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time, and more importantly…the visual effects played a role in the story-telling. A grand technical achievement it is, and has just enough character to latch on to in this hands-up roller-coaster.

And another grand achievement, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, is Reel Speak’s Best of 2013. Director Steve McQueen finally pulls back the curtain on slavery in America, giving us an unrelenting and unapologetic look at the things that happened and the people who were responsible for them. It is revolting and difficult to watch, but at the same we cannot take our eyes away from the screen. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an emotionally draining performance, and McQueen shows the filmmaking discipline that most people spend their entire careers chasing after. 12 YEARS A SLAVE has the boldness and the relevance to rise up alongside of Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST, but more importantly, it succeeds on its own merits of great acting and directing. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a result of masterful work by everyone involved.

Best Films of 2013
1.       12 YEARS A SLAVE
2.       GRAVITY
4.       HER

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2013, Part 1

The Year in Film 2013 was overall a very good year. Despite an underperforming summer season (more on that in Part 2), the year finished very strong with some memorable efforts. Unfortunately, 2013 still churned out some stinkers which either did not live up to expectations or were just flat out bad ideas with even worse execution. This Blogger was sober enough to avoid critically drubbed disasters and obvious turds such as THE GREAT GATSBY, THE HOST, PARANOIA, THE INTERNSHIP, R.I.P.D, or anything involving Tyler Perry or Adam Sandler. The following ten films are the ones which should have, or could have been equal or better than their collective parts…but came in woefully under.

It’s difficult to be too harsh on Rob Zombie’s creepy horror flick THE LORDS OF SALEM when the effort was so earnest. Zombie was clearly channeling his inner Kubrick with spooky sequences that would have been right at home in THE SHINING. But in the end it felt like he was making a film just for himself, which left the film very inaccessible to everyone else.

An earnest effort is also present in PRISONERS; with its well-rounded cast, beautiful cinematography, and decent plotline. However the film was sunk by awful dialogue, over-the-top acting, hack-job editing, and pacing that was slower than a nun in January. All that made for a very unpleasant and lifeless experience at the theatre.

Lifeless is a word that can also be applied to Sir Ridley Scott’s THE COUNSELOR, along with the words plot-less, smart-less, joy-less, and clue-less. There was literally nothing to latch onto and not even the stellar cast seemed to know what was going on.

The second installment of the G.I. JOE franchise, subtitled RETALIATION, was a frustrating film because the characters, vehicles, and set pieces looked like they belonged in a G.I. JOE film, but twerp-face director Jon M. Chu had no idea what to do with them, other than to place them in a story which made absolutely no sense even for a movie based on a toy line.

The meat of this year’s Worst is a gaggle of saggy and balding over-the-hill action stars still clinging to their past glory. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s THE LAST STAND would have worked fine as a zany comedy from the 1980’s…if this were 1980. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis continues his new found career as the most boring person in the world in RED 2, which was another pile of nonsense despite the strong cast. The once bankable Will Smith brought his son (who can’t act) into the steaming turd which was M. Night Shymalama-ding-dong’s AFTER EARTH, which was about as fun as watching someone else play Space Invaders. Not to be left out, Sylvester Stallone spent nearly the whole of BULLET TO THE HEAD driving around in the goddamn car, which was the least of his problems as he had no character to play and nothing to do anyway. Bruce Willis wasn’t done torpedoing his career by showing up in the shitfest which was the unasked for and unneeded fifth DIE HARD film, which lacked any sort of character or basic storytelling technique, and somehow made gunplay and explosions boring on film.

In 2008, this Blogger named director Ruben Fleischer’s ZOMBIELAND one of the very best of that year. In 2013, Fleischer and a host of past Oscar winners and nominees assembled together to stink up theatres in the horrible GANGSTER SQUAD. The approach to the film seemed to be very confused; Fleischer and his cast seemingly couldn’t decide if they were making a parody or a serious drama, and the result was a cartoonish melodramatic mess. The film never got past the many clichés of old gangster films and latched onto them; Ryan Gosling did nothing more than stand around with his crooked goddamn hat and dangling cigarette, Nick Nolte grumbled and mumbled his way around, Josh Brolin barely even showed up, and Sean Penn brought more cheese to the plate than Mighty Mouse could lift. The story was by-the-numbers and horribly predictable, which made for a very dull time at the theatre. No amount of talent was squandered or embarrassed more in 2013 than in GANGSTER SQUAD.

Worst Films of 2013
4.       AFTER EARTH
5.       RED 2
9.       PRISONERS


Wednesday: Part 2 rounds up the Best of 2013.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Superhero Films

Each year, this Blogger re-evalutates his list of Top 10 Superhero Films, and makes adjustments if neccessary. This past year made a valiant effort to crack the upper-echelon of Super-films, but unfortunately for the genre, could not do it. This list is almost a re-post of last year, however as time passes, your perspective changes as slowly as your beer see things a little differently and a movie or two from the past, prior to 2013, sneaks its way into the list.

To be clear, said Blogger judges superhero films the same way he judges any other movie; story, character, entertainment. And no, Reel Speak does not give a Catwoman’s ass if the film deviates from its comic-book origins. So here we go…
Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) is an automatic entry to any top 10 list. Full of heart and capitalizing on the characters and themes established in its predecessor, SPIDER-MAN 2 takes a kids’ comic concept and grows up while managing to be a ball of fun at the same time.

Bryan Singer’s X-MEN (2000) grounds its ridiculously powered characters by inserting real-world themes of racial and social divide; an area which not many films outside of the superhero genre have been willing to go. It was ballsy and ahead of its time, and very much relevant twelve years later.
M. Night Shyamalan's UNBREAKABLE (2000) was a stroke of genius for many reasons; it was the most mature and real-life Super-film ever made, it poked fun at the genre without becoming a parody, and most of was a Super-film in disguise. Not only did it have a fresh perspective at the genre, but it was also a finely crafted movie, with every single line of dialouge relevant and a slow-burning, deliberate pace which made for great and classic storytelling.

Not only is THE INCREDIBLES (2004) the only animated film to make this Blogger’s list, but it is also the one and only original film amongst the battalion of comic-hero adaptations. It is visually striking, hits all the right points in the superhero mythos, and has the right balance of feeling modern and classic at the same time.
Sometimes casting the right lead is all you need to succeed, and that is why IRON MAN (2008) is a great watch. Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect Tony Stark, and the film carries style and substance all the way through. It is clever and thick, and the blend of practical FX and CGI is outstanding.

Christopher Nolan’s first entry into his Batman trilogy, BATMAN BEGINS (2005), is by far the best superhero origin story this side of Krypton. It is easy to grow impatient watching those origin tales; it’s natural to want to see the hero put on the damn mask right away. BEGINS avoids any of that by focusing on the guy beneath said mask, who is really what the hero is all about.
All you need to know about the granddaddy of all superhero films is this: Christopher Reeve, John Williams, and Gene Hackman. That alone makes SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) a solid film which still feels relevant and modern despite its age. Since this movie, there has never been a more rousing rescue (who’s got me, who’s got you?), or a better soundtrack in a superhero film.

Bryan Singer’s mutant sequel, X2 (2003), capitalizes on the important themes established in the first film while dishing out enough screentime to its ensemble cast to care about each and every one of them. There is a gentle and magic touch in Magneto’s seduction-of-Pyro-scene, a compelling story in Wolverine, and again, the idea to make mutants a metaphor for social injustice ventures into frightening territory for many filmmakers.
It is fair to say that THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) is the equivalent of THE GODFATHER in the superhero movie-world. It is a character study and a crime drama, and would work just fine without a guy in a cape and a dude in white makeup. Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of the film is that the villain (The Joker, played by the late great Heath Ledger), seems to have a better understanding of the state of the world than the hero we’re supposed to be pulling for does. Nothing is more unnerving than a villain who makes more sense than the hero.

If KNIGHT is THE GODFATHER with its crime drama sprinkled with character study, then the adventurous nature of Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS (2012) is naturally THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of superhero films. It is whimsical while dancing around the dark side, and its multiple storylines are driven by character, character, character, character. The real triumph is not just its ability to juggle multiple character arcs, but it is the one superhero film with the ability to jolt the asses of audiences out of their seats to yell, clap, hoot, holler and shout at the moon. THE AVENGERS may not be as deep as some of its peers, but there are none which are as much fun.

The Top 10 Superhero Films
3. X2
9. X-MEN

What say you?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Judging Art

Next week, this Blogger will publish his annual, two-part Best & Worst Films of 2013 columns. Two common questions that arise every year are…why, and how? The why comes from the thought of judging art; how can you determine which piece of art does its job better than the other? The how comes from the methodology; do we pick the Best films of the year because they were our favorites, or because they met a higher criteria better than the others?
To begin with, every movie-critic and blogger tries to get their Best Lists published at this exact time of year. Not only because the New Year has begun, but to get their selections out before the Oscar nominations are announced (Jan 16th this year). Everyone wants to be ahead of the curve, and no one wants their lists to look like they were just copied off of the Nominations. There is always a mad rush to do this, as many limited-release films from the previous year don’t get their wide-releases until mid-January.

This Blogger saw nearly 60 films last year, and kept a running list of the Top Five Best posted on Reel Speak starting in June. Picking that list, and the eventual final list, is similar to picking a winner in a football game; do we pick with our hearts (who we want to win), or do we pick with our heads (who we think will win)? In the case of picking films, the answer for this Blogger…is both. The obvious, and foremost criteria is very black-and-white; did the film tell a good story, how was it told, how was the acting, how well were things put together and written, how did it look and sound? The nuts-and-bolts go a long way and eventually into the heart-part of it; was this film enjoyable, did it connect with me emotionally (make me cry, laugh), how did I feel walking out of the theatre? That is how this Blogger has always judged a film, and as far as making a list goes, some films did it better, or worse than others.
So why rank art? Because it’s fun. Making lists and ranking movies will eventually inspire debate and discussion, as this Blogger certainly doesn’t expect the world to see things his way (although they should), and the whole purpose of Reel Speak is to spark thought.

Part 1 of the Best & Worst of 2013 will be published January 13th. Part 2 will land on January 15th. The Oscar Nominations will be announced January 16th.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Year In Film 2014: Episode I

The first two months of any cinematic year can easily be described as Movie Siberia; a place where films not good enough for the summer or Oscar season are sent to languish and hopefully be forgotten. No one is expecting much critical or box office success from this time of year, but here are the more interesting ones for January and February…


THE LEGEND OF HERCULES – Renny Harlin (DIE HARD 2), directs this CGI-heavy take on the mythical Greek hero. Kellan Lutz (TWILIGHT), plays Herc.

I, FRANKENSTIEN – Aaron Eckhart (THE DARK KNIGHT), plays the monster in this modern-day take on the classic tale which adds battles with gargoyles and demons. Co-stars Miranda Otto (THE LORD OF THE RIGNS), and Bill Nighy.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT – Chris Pine (STAR TREK) is the latest actor to become Jack Ryan in this reboot of the franchise which has nothing to do with the Harrison Ford series, the Ben Affleck version, the Alec Baldwin effort, or anything that series creator Tom Clancy ever wrote. Co-stars Kevin Costner and Keira Knightly, and is directed by Kenneth Branagh (THOR).

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM – This indie flick is about a geeky group of medieval role-players who have to summon their inner-heroes when a magic spell actually works and causes havoc at a fair. Stars Peter Dinklage (GAME OF THRONES), Summer Glau (SERENITY), and Steve Zahn.


THE MONUMENTS MEN – This WWII comedy/drama was set to be released in December of 2013, but was delayed due to post-production problems (never a good sign). George Clooney stars and directs, and he is joined on-screen by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, and John Goodman.

THE LEGO MOVIE – The ever popular child’s (and let’s face it, adults too) toy finally gets its own action/adventure movie. Stars the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and Will Ferrell.

ROBOCOP – A remake of the 1987 hammy sci-fi film. Directed by Jose Padilha, it stars Joel Kinnaman (SAFE HOUSE) as the cop turned cyborg. He is joined by Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, and Michael Keaton.

POMPEII – Directed by Paul W.S. (worthless shit) Anderson (RESIDENT EVIL), this 79 B.C.-set tale concerns a slave turned gladiator who races to save his true love before Mount Vesuvius erupts. Stars Kit Harington (SILENT HILL), Emily Browning (SUCKER PUNCH), Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland.

3 DAYS TO KILL – Kevin Costner is an international spy who has to complete one last mission before he can retire. Directed by McG (TERMINATOR SALVATION) and co-stars Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT).
NON-STOP – Liam Neeson is a U.S. Air Marshal fighting a terrorist on a (non-stop) flight from New York to London. Co-stars Julianne Moore.


Next month, Episode II looks at the month of March.