Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Year in Film 2014: Episode VII

Hard to believe, but the Summer Movie Season of 2014 is entering its final month…but the good news is it is not going away quietly. In addition to a few big-time spectacles of sound and fury, August is also bringing in some good-looking dramas…making for a nice transition into the glorious Autumn Winds.
The adventure begins with…

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Marvel Studios’ universe of connected characters and movies gets even bigger with this space-bound , galaxy-hopping, visual-effects heavy adventure. Chris Pratt (MONEYBALL, THE LEGO MOVIE) stars as the leader of a gang of galactic outlaws who must band together to battle a growing evil. Co-stars Zoe Saldana (STAR TREK), WWE wrestler David Bautista, DR. WHO’s Karen Gillan, Lee Pace (THE HOBBIT), Michael Rooker, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reily, Glenn Close, and the voice talents of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. Directed by James Gunn (SLITHER).
GET ON UP – Chadwick Boseman, who only a year ago played Jackie Robinson in 42, gets another shot at an historical figure; this time playing James Brown. Co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, and is directed by Tate Taylor (THE HELP).

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT – The newest film from Woody Allen gets a wide release this month. In this period-piece, Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH) plays a skeptic who seeks to debunk a spiritualist, played by Emma Stone (ZOMBIELAND).
CALVARY – Brendan Gleeson (GANGS OF NEW YORK, BRAVEHEART), stars as a priest in Ireland whose life is threatened in the confessional.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – This latest version of the heroes in half-shells is directed by Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES) and stars Megan Fox (TRANSFORMERS, JENNIFER’S BODY).
WHAT IF – Daniel Radcliffe (HARRY POTTER) stars as a medical school dropout who gets caught in a love triangle. Co-stars Adam Driver (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS).

THE EXPENDABLES 3 – Sylvester Stallone and his fellow band of geriatrics get back together for another shoot-em-up. Co-stars Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Davi, and Harrison Ford.
THE GIVER – Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep star in this adaptation of the popular children’s novel.

FRANK – Inspired by the true story of a British musician who never appeared without a giant mask over his face. Stars Michael Fassbender (12 YEARS A SLAVE) as Frank, and he is joined by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, and Domhnall Gleeson.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR – Robert Rodriguez finally unleashes the long awaited sequel to his 2005 adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel. It stars Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, and Ray Liotta.

IF I STAY – Based on the best-selling novel, Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS) stars as a young girl literally caught between life and death.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL – Based on a true story, Jim Caviezel (PASSION OF THE CHRIST) stars as the coach of a high school football team whose 151-game winning streak comes to end, which greatly affects his hometown. Co-stars Laura Dern and Michael Chiklis (THE SHIELD).

LOVE IS STRANGE – John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star as a couple, who after forty-years together are allowed to marry…which leads to drastic changes in their careers and lives. Co-stars Marisa Tomei.
THE PRINCE – In what may be the most over-used plot in the past decade, a retired assassin is drawn back into his old life when his daughter is kidnapped. Stars Bruce Willis, Jason Patric, and John Cusack.

THE NOVEMBER MAN – In what may be the most over-used plot in the past decade (see above), Pierce Brosnan stars as a CIA killer who is called out of retirement. Co-stars Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) and is directed by Roger Donaldson (THE BANK JOB, THIRTEEN DAYS).
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW – In what may be the most over-used plot in horror-films in the past 40 years, a group of teens explore territory they have no business being in; this time, the endless catacombs beneath Paris, France.

THE CONGRESS – Robin Wright (FORREST GUMP, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), stars as an aging actress who decides to preserve herself digitally for a future Hollywood. Co-stars Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, and Paul Giamatti.

Next month, Episode VIII looks at the first month of Oscar Season.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Reel Review: BOYHOOD

Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a film which was shot over a period of 12 years with the same cast. What this ultimately boils down to is that the main character, played by Ellar Coltrane, is literally six years old when the movie begins, and 18 years old when it ends…and we get to see him in various stages of growth and maturation in-between those two points. It is a unique and ambitious approach to storytelling which could easily become a gimmick if not handled correctly. Such is the challenge for BOYHOOD.
BOYHOOD covers 12 years of the life of Mason (Coltrane), as he grows up with his big sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke).

Classic at its core, BOYHOOD is the story of one person’s journey. Specifically, the journey from boy to man. Everything in a young man’s life before being considered an adult is covered; from dealing with warring parents, first loves, first heartbreaks, important father-to-son talks, learning to let things go and everything else. The storytelling is a little episodic in nature, but it is effective because as time (literally) passes, we can see threads from Mason’s earlier years rise up again as he gets older. This is certainly Mason’s story, and by the third act of the film we can certainly understand why he is the person that he has become, because we have followed him along the way. As far as one character’s story goes, BOYHOOD offers the most developed character we may have ever seen. There is a tremendous sense of realism at all times…as the little things that kids and teens do are perfectly captured. There is certainly a lot that everyone can relate to in this film.
Richard Linklater doesn’t seem to intrude much on the proceedings. Things have a very natural flow, and it is often easy to forget that we’re watching a scripted movie and not a reality TV shot. It helps that the cast is very talented and seemingly committed to their works. The leaps-ahead in time are handled very naturally; there are no placecards or titles that popup to tell us what year we’re in for reference…characters just leave a room and walk back in with longer hair, a deeper voice, and a few inches to their height. It works, because Linklater keeps many threads connected without breaking…and the characters up-front over any plotting. Some obvious clues are placed here and there in the form of music, current movies, and current events just to keep everyone up to speed on the timeline. Some scenes ramble on for an eternity, which may be a message within itself (don’t all kids think adult conversations go on forever?), and the film feels very much its hefty running time. If there is one possible flaw, it is near the end of the film when the kids are asked to clean out their rooms of old toys for a garage sale, and an opportunity to bookend the film with a heap of emotion seems to present itself. The scene never happens on-camera, and it seems like an omission, but maybe that was the too-obvious thing to do.

Acting is superb. Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, in their very first acting roles, are very convincing and we never doubt their characters for a second. Ethan Hawke is also very good. As the divorced father who only sees the kids every now and then, we see the kids’ growth through his eyes when he pops back into the story (you got so big since last time!). Patricia Arquette is a little rough in the early goings, but improves greatly as the movie (and the years) passes by.  
The finale doesn’t go for an intentional wallop of emotion and instead lets things flow naturally for a very strong, and effective wrap. As long as the film feels, we do feel like we want more…to see where Mason will end up in another 12 years. BOYHOOD is a film not only about growing up, but about life itself…nearly told in real-time as it unfolds before our eyes. BOYHOOD is an example of the true power and magic in cinematic storytelling.


Friday, July 25, 2014


Although the work of British spy novelist John le Carre has been adapted for the screen many times (most recently, TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY in 2011), it can often be difficult to access. His stories after all are often a complex and tangled web of multi-layered plots and twisting deception. The task of director Anton Corbijn in A MOST WANTED MAN was to find a balance between a complex spy-story and movie-brevity, and to make a film befitting of one actor’s committed performance.
When a Russian/Chechen immigrant arrives in Germany to collect his father’s large inheritance, he catches the attention of the German government’s secret anti-terrorism unit, led by Gunter (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the American CIA, led by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). The immigrant, Karpov, (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is aided in collecting his millions by radical lawyer Annabelle (Rachel McAdams), and corporate banker Brue (Willem Dafoe).

The point of A MOST WANTED MAN is summed up late in the film by Gunter when he uses an old fishing metaphor; it takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, and it takes a barracuda to catch a shark. The simplicity of Karpov looking to collect a multi-million dollar inheritance is only the beginning, for as the film unfolds we see that these monies and where they may go have bigger implications involving global security. All of this comes about through a maze of deception and many turns, as characters are pitted against each other and plot-points change by the minute. There is a constant game of chess going on, and it is never quite clear what the true intentions of the characters are. A MOST WANTED man is not only a guessing game for the characters, but for the audience as well.
Director Anton Corbijn keeps the pacing at a slow, but steady burn. It is a dialogue-heavy film with very little action, and certainly sells itself as a patient and mature thinking-man’s film; the young and impatient need not apply here. Corbijn keeps the characters at an arms-length; we don’t really get to know them all that well, which actually helps the film as we really don’t know who to trust ourselves. The film is beautiful to look at and takes full advantage of its German (Hamburg) surroundings.

Rachel McAdams is the surprise of the film. She nails her accent perfectly and sends a signal out to the world that she is ready to wear adult clothing. Willem Dafoe is brilliant and does some serious work as a conflicted man; possibly the best he’s done in a supporting role in a long time. Everyone seems to be elevated by the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in his final role as a leading man, turns in an astounding performance. Hoffman nails his accent and disguises his voice in a way that we would never guess it was him if our eyes were closed. Hoffman is a fascinating chameleon here, and from the first time he appears to the final frame when he walks out of the picture, there is a constant feeling of melancholy knowing that we will never see this brilliance again. But there is much to celebrate, as there could not be a better film for him to bow out on.
All the many pieces and parts begin to come together nicely towards the end, but just when we have things figured out,  A MOST WANTED MAN wraps with a mind-blowing shock of an ending which will have folk staggering out of the theatre, with a full understanding of just how the spy and espionage game works. A MOST WANTED MAN will be remembered in time as a great actor’s curtain call, but it should also be heralded as exquisite filmmaking.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Four Good Reasons to See a Movie this Weekend

The Summer Movie Season may be dwindling, but it is not leaving quietly. While most weekends give us one or two choices at most, this coming weekend offers four choices in four different movie-genres; action, sci-fi, fantasy, and drama…making for the most unique weekend of the year so far. Here are the four good reasons to hit the theatre this weekend and what to expect.
LUCY -  Scarlett Johansson (HER, THE AVENGERS), is injected with a serum which allows her to access parts of her mind which no other human can…making her a living weapon. Morgan Freeman co-stars in this Luc Besson film.

Expectation: LUCY sounds a lot like the Bradley Cooper vehicle LIMITLESS from 2010, which basically used the same plot device. It’s an interesting idea in a new setting, although this is certainly not the first time we’ve seen Scarlett play a sexed-up asskicker. However, Luc Besson has proven that he can bring complexity to his work (LEON THE PROFESSIONAL) and the fun (THE FIFTH ELEMENT).
HERCULES – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as the mythical, muscle-bound hero. Directed by Brett Ratner, it also stars Joseph Fiennes, Ian McShane, and John Hurt.

Expectation: The work of director Brett Ratner has been all over the place. His work has ranged from good (RED DRAGON) to just-OK (X3: THE LAST STAND) to downright terrible (RUSH HOUR), so it’s tough to predict which Ratner will show up this time. It’s worth noting that this version of Ol’ Herc is based on the Radical Comics version by Steve Moore…and this does seem like the role The Rock was born to play.  
BOYHOOD – Director Richard Linklater filmed this movie over a period of 12 years with the same cast; an approach which allows us to see newcomer Ellar Coltrane as a six-year-old in the beginning of the film, and an 18-year old at the end. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette co-star.

Expectation: The idea of making a movie over a dozen years is mind-blowing, and literally seeing a boy become a man on-screen is fascinating. The trick is, if you’re going to use a filming technique that no one has ever done before, then the movie has to show us something we’ve never seen before; otherwise it’s just a gimmick to get us through the gate. Richard Linklater has been successful in bringing the drama (BEFORE MIDNIGHT, BEFORE SUNSET), and has proven he can get good performances out of a younger cast (SCHOOL OF ROCK), so there is a lot to look forward to in this tale about growing up.
A MOST WANTED MAN – The late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman stars in this drama about a  half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who arrives in Hamburg’s Islamic community to lay claim to his father’s fortune, which draws the attention of many interested governments. Anton Corbijn directs this suspenseful thriller which co-stars Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Nina Hoss.

Expectation: Director Anton Corbijn had decent success with his George Clooney vehicle THE AMERICAN in 2010, which showed his knack for international espionage stories. But this all comes down to the role held down by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Not only is this our last chance to see him in a legitimate film role before he has his last bow in the stupid-assed HUNGER GAMES franchise next year, but this is also his first time in the lead role since THE MASTER in 2012. Hoffman has proven that he can shoulder the burden of the center of a movie’s universe, and it is usually an amazing thing to see. This Blogger’s Big Bold Prediction: Hoffman will earn a posthumous Oscar nomination for this film.

LUCY, HERCULES, BOYHOOD, and A MOST WANTED MAN reach wide-release July 25th.

Monday, July 21, 2014

James Garner: 1928-2014

Actor James Garner has passed away at the age of 86.

A veteran of the Korean War and recipient of the Purple Heart, the Oklahoma-born James Garner used his Golden-age-of-Hollywood good looks and distinctive voice to help empower a career which would span over five decades on television and in film.

In television, Garner starred in two very successful series, starting with ABC’s Old West-set MAVERICK (1957-1960), and later in NBC’s detective drama THE ROCKFORD FILES (1974-1980). He was able to make the usually difficult transition from the tube to celluloid with great success. His talent would earn him roles opposite Marlon Brando in SAYONARA (1957), opposite Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), and opposite Julie Andrews in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964). He earned an Oscar nomination for his work in MURPHY’S ROMANCE in 1985.

Other notable roles include THE NOTEBOOK (2004), SPACE COWBOYS (2000), MY FELLOW AMERICANS (1996), MAVERICK (1994), BARBARIANS AT THE GATE (1993), FIRE IN THE SKY (1993), TANK (1984), MARLOWE (1969), and HOUR OF THE GUN (1967).

Stunt drivers would nickname the J-turn the "Rockford", inspired by an often-used move by Garner's ROCKFORD FILES character. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and the Western Performers Hall of Fame in 1990, and received the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. When he lost the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor to Morgan Freeman in 2004, Freeman accepted the award by leading the audience in a sing-along of the original MAVERICK TV theme.


As a wee-lad growing up, James Garner seemed to be the favorite of every grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, and old(er) folk…and as the years passed it was clear why. Garner had an irresistible charm which overtook his tough-guy exterior, and he was versatile enough where he could slip into the roles of cowboy, detective, soldier, astronaut, politician, cop, corporate-man, father, and husband with the greatest of ease. He seemed to get better as he got older, and earned a reputation as the rock from which every movie he was in was built around, and that makes his career, and life…timeless.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Top 10 Moon Movies

This weekend will mark the 45th anniversary of history’s first manned Moon landing; a monumental event which was the culmination of a nation-wide American effort. But even before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic landing and eventual moonwalk, our nearest celestial neighbor had been capturing the imaginations of filmmakers and storytellers for thousands of years. To help mark this occasion, here are Reel Speak’s Top 10 films to feature our Moon.
10. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2007) – Leave it to the British to put together what may be the definitive documentary feature about the United States’ manned Moon missions. This doc utilizes footage available at the time of the missions, along with NASA films and materials which had been unseen for 30 years prior to the film’s release. The old material was remastered in HD for a stunning presentation.

9. MOONWALK ONE (1970) – Another documentary feature, this NASA-produced film was rejected for a wide-release at the time as no studio would pick it up; fearing the American public and world had been over-saturated with Moon stuff (the Space Race began in 1955). The doc was lost for decades before being remastered and re-released in 2007. The film places the first Moon landing into historical context, and it is the very first documentary film to have been made on the subject.
8. TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK OF THE MOON (2011) – The story of the first manned Moon landing has never been told in a non-documentary film (somebody fix that, please), and although Michael Bay’s third film of alien robots doesn’t either, it’s opening prologue consists of a magnificent re-telling of the landing. It is beautifully shot, gracefully composed, and backed by a moving score. If the story of Apollo 11 is ever to be told in a blockbuster film, this prologue is an excellent starting point.

7. LA LUNA (2011) – Pixar’s animated short-film is a multi-generational father-son story in which the family is charged with sweeping fallen stars off the surface of the Moon. Charming and touching, it carries its influence from The Little Prince heavy on its sleeves, and that’s alright. LA LUNA is this Blogger’s personal favorite of Pixar’s long list of shorts.
6. A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) – The granddaddy of all Moon movies deserves credit not only for starting it all, but for capturing the imagination of all moonwatchers and aspiring voyagers. It is believed to be the first science-fiction film ever made, and is often regarded as one of the Top 100 films in the 20th century thanks to its subject matter and innovative visual effects.

5. MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION (2005) – This documentary film borrows its title from Buzz Aldrin’s initial description of the surface of the Moon. The film includes historical footage as well as re-enactments, and was originaly released in a stunning IMAX 3D format.
4. MOON (2009) – Sam Rockwell’s one-man show involves a single man caretaking a mining-station on the Moon when things go awry and then get weird. What makes MOON so great is that the technology and situation feels like it’s only a few years away; making it the most palatable science fiction film made in the past decade.

3. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) – Famed director Stanley Kubrick’s spacebound opus is widely regarded as one of the finest films ever made; transcendent in its story, execution, and technical wizardry. The Moon plays a small, yet vital part in the film…and its re-created surfaces are considered to be very realistic; a massive feat considering it was released a full year before Armstrong and Aldrin made their landing.
2. THE RIGHT STUFF (1984) – To be certain, man would have never set foot on the moon if not for the unprecedented bravery and commitment from America’s first group of astronauts…and THE RIGHT STUFF tells their stories. Epic in nature, the film combines several genres of film into one long effective narrative…and sums up what it takes to boldly go where no one has gone before.

1. APOLLO 13 (1995) – In 1970, NASA’s second manned mission to the Moon nearly ended in disaster when their spacecraft, Apollo 13, suffered an explosion which crippled the craft and nearly ended the lives of the three astronauts aboard. Ron Howard’s thriller-in-space captures the human drama and tension suffered by the three voyagers, their families, and the thousands of people on Earth who worked to get them back home alive. Travelling into outer space is a hazardous venture, and APOLLO 13 manages to tell us about the hazard inside the hazard…and doesn’t waste a second of our attentions. The Moon in APOLLO 13 acts as divine inspiration for the players, and perhaps it all can be summed up by Tom Hanks’ closing monologue; when will we be going back, and who will that person be.

1. APOLLO 13


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


South Korean writer-director Joon-ho Bong’s SNOWPIERCER is a film which borrows many familiar elements from the science-fiction world; a dystopian society, class distinctions, a post-apocalyptic world, and a reluctant hero who shoulders the burden of salvation. But recycling old ideas shouldn’t really matter; its how those old ideas are used which really counts.
Seventeen years after a new ice age has wiped out the Earth, a few thousand survivors live aboard a massive, self-sustaining train which endlessly circles the globe. The rear of the train is occupied by the poor and destitute, while the front is controlled by the rich and powerful. With tensions boiling over, Curtis (Chris Evans) and his loyal friends (John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer), lead a charge towards the front of the train, where they are opposed by the train’s middle-manager (Tilda Swinton), and the master of it all (Ed Harris).

The story of SNOWPIERCER is a simple one; get to the front of the train. Its simplicity is beefed up by the characters having some very good reasons to do so. The poor, as they live in the rear of the train, are fed just enough to stay alive and live in filth with no comforts. On top of that, their children are constantly taken from them to the front of the train for unknown reasons. A lot of time is spent establishing these strong points, so it isn’t much of a stretch to root for our characters as they charge towards the front.
The backstory behind each character grows as they progress from car-to-car, with each door they open leading to a more lavish one than the car before. The situation is a little on the bizarre side, but as they make progress towards the front, the way the train works and sustains itself is explained in bits and pieces, and offers some solid grounding to the silly concept of a train circling the Earth. The journey is very much inspired by Dante’s Inferno as the characters seek to travel from Hell to Paradise, and the classic feel keeps the film’s forward momentum going.

Director  Joon-ho Bong keeps the pacing brisk and films a beautiful looking movie. The claustrophobic nature of the train cars and their worn-out, futuristic design goes a long way in telling the story, and Bong explores every inch of it. Fight scenes between Curtis’ people and the soldiers guarding the front are beautifully realized; some of which are shot in complete blackness with only firelight to illuminate things. Some of the battles feel like they could use another pass in the editing room, as they feel like they go on for way too long, and the film feels longer than two hours. The narrative rarely looks outside of the train, which is a blessing because the decimated city-landscapes suffer from poor CGI rendering.
Acting is top-notch all around. Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer are all spectacular and are developed just enough; which is a good thing because their director doesn’t think twice about knocking them off. Tilda Swinton absolutely vanishes behind her character, and you often have to remind yourself that she’s there. South Korean actors Ko A-Sung and Kang-ho Song are also excellent, but the movie is owned by Chris Evans. For most of the film he is his usual heroic and strong self, but towards the end when he shows some vulnerability and lets the emotions come out…well, get ready for the surprise of a lifetime.

The finale comes about after a series of shocking twists and turns which border on the gruesome side; so much that they may not leave your head for a long time. When all is said and done there is a lot to think about, as SNOWPIERCER offers a ton to handle on its wild, yet thoughtful ride.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Much like its 2011 predecessor, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a sequel with a tall order to fill. After all, the title alone suggests how the film is going to end, which means the filmmakers have to make the journey to that end worthwhile. Telling a good story is always a good place to start.
Ten years after a man-made virus has wiped out most of the humans and mutated the apes into talkers and thinkers, a small band of human survivors led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) venture into the territory controlled by the dominant apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), where a fragile truce is reached between humans and apes.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is very much like an old Cowboys & Indians movie. It is about two distinct groups trying to survive in a harsh territory, with both knowing that nothing good can come of an all-out war; handshakes are made, agreements are spoken, friends are made, and gestures of trust are forged. But like every good Cowboys & Indians adventure, eventual distrust of the other side takes over…leading to confusion, broken promises, betrayal, and eventually a minor dustup which leads to war. It’s a simple, and effective way to ground a very high-concept backdrop of walking and talking apes dominating a crumbling society of humans. What makes it all work is that director Matt Reeves weaves in human elements on both sides. Both sides have families and have lost much in the past decade, and both have a lot left worth fighting for. Perhaps the best part of the film is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to figure out which side to root for, as both are worth caring about.
Building a story of many layers dealing with family, love, loss, and eventually greed doesn’t distract Matt Reeves from giving us a gorgeous looking film. The deep forests and ruins of San Francisco are breathtaking to see, and Reeves’ camera explores every nook of the territory. Action scenes are steady and well-realized, and Michael Giacchino kicks in a very classic-sounding score. The CGI work is awesome, with each ape rendered beautifully and given distinctions so it’s easy to tell the great many of them apart. Andy Serkis once again does masterful work in bringing Caesar to life via motion-capture, but this time he is not alone as Judy Greer and Toby Kebbell are also called upon to provide life to their respective apes. They all do great work; making the film proof that CGI creations can be actual characters.

On the human side of things, Jason Clarke gets most of the heavy lifting and handles his burdens perfectly. Gary Oldman feels a little underused and amounts to an extended cameo, but he is given one powerful emotional scene which he really brings home. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Kirk Acevedo are all excellent.
By the time the film wraps, it feels like a lot has happened, but oddly enough the humans, apes, and the planet are more-or-less in the same situation they were in when the film started. We knew that was going to happen, but how the DAWN happened is very much worth the ride. Action, adventure, family, love, and romance always make for a good story.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: Everything You Need to Know About DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

This weekend, one of the most anticipated films of the Summer Season swings into mankind in the form of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Here is all the monkey-business you need to know…
Another PLANET OF THE APES MOVIE? – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a sequel to the well-received and well-reviewed RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES from 2011. RISE was intended as a reboot, or restart of the series, which first began in 1968 with PLANET OF THE APES which starred Charlton Heston. However, thanks to many hints which were dropped in RISE, many fans have begun to speculate that this new series isn’t quite a re-start, but an actual prequel, or prelude to the original 1968 film. In the timeline, DAWN moves the story a little closer to that, and is the 8th overall film in the franchise.

What is this APES about? -  Ten years after the events of DAWN, a massive nation of mutated apes led by Caeser are threatened by a small band of human survivors; survivors which were immune to the virus which wiped out most of mankind and advanced the apes.
Who is in this? – Andy Serkis, who provided the outstanding motion-capture work for Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003), THE HOBBIT (2012), and KING KONG (2005), returns for his second film as Caeser. His human counterparts include Gary Oldman (THE DARK KNIGHT, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA), Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY), Judy Greer (THE DESCENDANTS), Keri Russell (WAITRESS and TV’s THE AMERICANS), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (LET ME IN).

The Director? – This sequel of Monkey Wars has a new director in command. DAWN is directed by Matt Reeves, who gave us the well-reviewed dramatic horror film LET ME IN (2010) and the big sci-fi monster-spectacle CLOVERFIELD in 2008.
What to expect? – Director Matt Reeves has proven that he can handle the sound and fury on a large scale, and that he can pull great performances out of his actors…and this time around he has a solid cast that most filmmakers would go ape for. The special effects in RISE were excellent, and with Serkis being involved, the bar is certainly high for convincing CGI work…and most importantly, the attempt to make humanistic characters out of the apes. But the vital task for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is to be a film that is worth our time. After all, the title suggests that we already know how the movie is going to end, which means Matt Reeves and his company of actors and CGI apes need to give us a story that matters. The last thing this long-running franchise wants to do is to adapt a soap-opera style like those scumbags who are running SPIDER-MAN right now; where the promise of an important story is made but put off until the next film. Out of the eight APES films, DAWN has the mightiest task of them all.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES opens July 11th in 2D, 3D, and IMAX.

Monday, July 7, 2014


“Life is like a box of chocolates…”
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis’ FORREST GUMP.

Fresh off the success of his immensely popular BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy of films, director Robert Zemeckis FORREST GUMP was loosely based on Winston Groom’s novel. The story unfolds several decades in the life of Forrest Gump, a dim-witted and somewhat slow native of Alabama, who witnesses and sometimes accidently influences some of the defining moments in the latter half of the 20th century.
The role of Forrest, who despite a slow IQ was athletically superior and fiercely loyal to the people he loved, was first considered to be filled by John Travolta and Bill Murray. The role went to Tom Hanks, who at the time of the film’s release was the reigning Oscar winner for Best Actor; having won the previous year for his role in PHILADELPHIA. The rest of the excellent cast was rounded out by Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Mykelti Williamson, and a very young Haley Joel Osment.

Director Robert Zemeckis shot the film in and around authentic locations, and by using the most-excellent services of Industrial Light and Magic, was able to create the eye-popping and landmark visuals of Hanks’ character interacting with famous figures in history. A comprehensive soundtrack of pop and rock hits helped to pinpoint specific time periods throughout the film, and Alan Silvestri added a touching score.
The film was a major success. FORREST GUMP would earn over $677 million worldwide during its theatrical run, and would eventually win Best Picture at the Oscars…along with Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. As icing on the cake, Tom Hanks would win his second consecutive Best Actor award; becoming only the second actor at the time to accomplish the feat. The film would be selected by the Library of Congress in 2011 for preservation in the United States Film Registry, and it appears on many of the American Film Institutes’ Top Lists. As a film saturated in American culture of the past, FORREST GUMP would ironically become a part of pop culture…eventually inspiring a themed restaurant (Bubba Gump Shrimp Company) which would eventually expand to multiple worldwide locations. The soundtrack of rock and pop hits would eventually become one of the top selling albums in the United States.

There are a lot of elements to admire about FORREST GUMP; so many to choose from that it is no wonder that the film is able to reach so many people. The look at history, the music, the technological innovations…for starters. But what really makes the film succeed is that the life story of Forrest Gump, as told on film, unspools like a folk hero out of legend; the type of stories that you tell your children to learn them a lesson or two about life. FORREST GUMP is heavy on the nostalgia, but it is also heavy on heart, which brings us one of the most endearing characters in cinema history.

“…You never know what you’re gonna get”.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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

Believe it or not, the Summer Movie Season of 2014 is nearing its halfway point. Here are the notable films for the month of July.

 It all arrives with…

EARTH TO ECHO – In what looks like E.T. meets THE GOONIES with a sprinkle of BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED, a trio of pre-teens befriend a small alien and work to get him home. Presented in a “found-footage” format.

 DELIVER US FROM EVIL- A horror movie released in the summer is usually not a good sign, but this Eric Bana-led creeper is directed by Scott Derrickson; who brought us SINISTER (2012) and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005).

 TAMMY – If you enjoy seeing Melissa McCarthy make a fool of herself, this movie is for you. Co-stars Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Dan Aykroyd.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – The sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES continues the story of genetically evolved apes led by Caeser (motion-captured by Andy Serkis). Co-stars Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY), Gary Oldman, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Directed by Matt Reeves (LET ME IN).
BOYHOOD – In what may be the film of the year…Richard Linklater (BEFORE MIDNIGHT), shot this film with the same cast over a period of 12 years, telling a story through the eyes of a child who literally grows up on screen. Stars Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, with Ellar Coltrane as the boy who grows into a man.

RAGE – Nic Cage stars as a businessman with a dark past. Co-stars Peter Stormare, Rachel Nichols, and Danny Glover.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY – The sequel to THE PURGE in which society lifts all laws one day a year and everyone goes nuts for no reason. Stars Frank Grillo (WARRIOR, THE GREY).

SEX TAPE – If you enjoy seeing Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz make fools of themselves, this movie is for you.

PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE – This is a sequel to Disney’s PLANES (2013), which was a spinoff to Pixar’s CARS (2006). Features the voices of Dane Cook and Ed Harris.

HERCULES – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as the muscled-out mythological hero. Directed by Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR, RED DRAGON), and co-stars Joseph Fiennes, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and John Hurt.

LUCY – Scarlett Johansson (HER, THE AVENGERS) stars as a young woman whose physical and mental abilities are enhanced, making her a human weapon. Co-stars Morgan Freeman, and is directed by Luc Besson (THE PROFESSIONAL, THE FIFTH ELEMENT).

A MOST WANTED MAN – This will be your last chance to see the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a serious role before he appears in another dumbassed HUNGER GAMES movie. Centered on an immigration scandal, it co-stars Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, and Daniel Bruhl (RUSH). Directed by Anton Corbijn (THE AMERICAN).


Next month, Episode VII looks at the final month of the Summer Movie Season.