Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mickey Rooney: The Golden Boy of a Golden Era

My mother asked me why I never posted about the loss of Shirley Temple.  I had my reasons: I wasn't familiar enough with her work, she appeared to have lived a healthy, happy life. AKA: No Drama!  Temple seemed to resist the scars and damage that comes with childhood movie stardom.  But Mickey Rooney was different: He never stopped being a movie star. Although Rooney's career peaked before World War II, Mickey permeated throughout the cinematic landscape for his entire life; even making a lovely cameo in 2011's The Muppets during  "Life's A Happy Song".  For many children, he was just a regular old man -- others were shocked to learn he was still alive!  But for those who recognized him, Rooney was a legend.

I'll always remember Mickey best from my first exposure to him in 1939's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  It was my introduction to Mark Twain's work and black-and-white cinema.  I just adored it. In retrospect, Rooney was an odd choice to play the mischievous Southern boy.  But I bought it.  Rooney was natural; exuding a genuine friendship between him and his former slave, Jim.  It was also the film that exposed me to the evils of slavery and racism.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Captain America 2--Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a tiny miracle.  Despite being a cog in the well-oiled Marvel/Disney machine,  The Winter Soldier avoids feeling like a piece of mechanization.  It succeeds as an independent, inventive and surprising suspenseful installment.  In fact, Captain America 2 is the first tie-in movie since the original Iron Man that feels like a self-sustaining entity rather than a commercial for a dozen tie-in films and a billion dollars in merchandising. (Don't worry folks, you still get two post-credit scenes that hint of more to come.)

Despite the success of prior films -- with the Avengers laying the new Hollywood gold standard for large universe tie-in features -- Marvel has been smart by letting each solo property reside within the confines of its own universe.  Captain America exists in a world that is surprisingly grounded in comparison to the fantastic Thor or the sci-fi driven Iron Man and Hulk.  This enables directors Anthony and Joe Russo to create film vastly different from any other Avenger film, even the original Captain America. 

This particular film plays more like Tom Clancy instead of Superman.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Noah--Review

Noah is a dazzling fantasy written with both a 2,000 year-old scripture and an added dash of 21st century mentality as its source material.  Director Darren Aronofsky is both a visual master and a philosopher.  With Noah, it's obvious that he's less enthralled with recreating a text word-for-word, but would rather explore its ideas and produce his share of questions.  The big one here is a planet on the brink of self-destruction in order to insure its simultaneous cleansing and rebirth.  What is the exact purpose of it?

Despite his creative diversions, Aronofsky remains true to the Bible: Noah is bleak and huge in scale, filled with genocide and death but eventually ends with a modicum of hope in humankind and morality.  In other words, this is true Old Testament stuff here.

Noah takes liberties with the Book of Genesis.  None of them hinder the teachings of Bible, but enhances them with modern sentiments such as the idea that Noah, a good descendant of Abel, wasn't all pure or that his evil human descendants of Cain, such as their fictitious leader, Tubal-cain (Ray Winston), were not without their share of innocent victims.  There's a contrast between the two factions, but the lines drawn between good and bad aren't as vivid.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

That Time Is Once Again Tapping: Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore!


Part of the reason I haven't blogged during the last month was because I was <GASP!> "movied out".  Thankfully, my movie obsession survived any long term depreciation.  It just happens when you overdose.  Hell, I could consume five gallon-size tubs of chocolate mint ice cream and become less enamored with that too.  But as a new year dawns, so ends my laborious review of countless horror film submissions for the 2014 Nevermore Film Festival, which officially opens this week!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Robocop--Film Review

The newest incantation of Robocop is one of the better remakes to come along in recent years.  But it still commits the cardinal sin of diluting the ingredients that made its fore-bearer so successful and attempts to make up for it with a consulted mess of subplots of half-hearted ideas.  Despite pushing the emotional core down our throat with heavier exposition and more screen time, Robocop 2014 still feels colder and cynical.

The plot is very similar: an honest cop is severely injured and reincarnated into prototype cyborg police officer, capable of performing exceptional feats at the expense of his humanity, identity and soul.  In the original, Offcer Alex Murphy appeared to have perished, which added some credibility when his human parts are salvaged for corporate greed.  In the 2014 installment, Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is never declared dead, but is severely handicapped.  His robotic persona retains all of Murphy's memories and feelings, which makes his subversion  into a corporate tool hard to swallow, even in a "dystopian" future.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolutions!


Never trust a trailer!  Well, duh!  But this seemingly universal guideline cut deep with 2013’s sheer number of overhyped tentpole features – all marketed very well – which crashed faster than Superman’s Metropolis or Kirk’s starship.  A touch of editing, sound and music enhancements have majestically condensed, reshaped and rescored feature-length tripe into 90-minute seductions, which inevitably spurned a vehement, crazed global frenzy that quickly dissipated,. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug--Film Review

I've now seen roughly 2/3rds of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit and can safely attest his prequel trilogy to his much-beloved LOTR matches the original in terms of special effects and scale. However, in crafting a fresh nine-hour epic, the comparisons -- and shortcomings -- become as transparent as the person who wears Sauron's ring.

Despite applauding Jackson's earlier installment, An Unexpected Journey, I've had no inkling to revisit it.  Those reservations ring (pun intended) even more true for the saga's mid-section.  Despite both films' dazzling new pathways through Tolkien's Middle-Earth, imbued with seemingly infinite resources; a dazzling and seamless concoction of practical and digital effects -- brought to life with skill and imagination, the whole thing feels forced and unnecessary.  The thrills are placed here not to add to the story but to justify its elongated running time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Paul Walker and Video Review of F&F6

Footnote: Paul Walker was a handsome leading man who seemed content to nestle quietly on the good graces of The Fast and Furious franchise.  He died while filming the seventh installment and his sixth turn as ex-cop-turned-heist-man, Brian O'Connor.

Walker never made a masterpiece nor would anyone consider him a great actor.  Yet, Walker was an actor dignified and assuring -- the best kind of leading man.  He went from a cocky, pretty boy, who once feigned a smile after a disastrous loss to Vin Diesel in the first F&F film.  It was bright and slightly smug.  It was enough to garner utter contempt from your truly.  It was in the moment when Walker reminded me of all the douche-bags I detested in high school; the kind of guy who got the woman, the respect, and winnings even in the face of defeat.

Yet, Walker began to rub off on me.  With each F&F film, I truly began to like the guy.  He exemplified the honorable, aw-shucks mentality that made the studly leads (Cary Grant, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise) likable to the average joes who are susceptible to jealousy.  Walker maintained a careful, relaxed demeanor.  He took roles that were utterly inane and molded them into some coherent sense of reality.

He was a natural in front of the camera -- shining pearly whites melted women's hearts, but his smiles always felt genuine.  He possessed a grace and tenderness.  Now, we are slowly hearing stories about Walker, which only suggest his limited acting range: the characters he played were decent and loyal because it was who he really was.   

Walker took us on a fun ride that ended much too fast. 

Review: How do you distinguish good stupid from bad stupid?   How can one abortion in logic become a guilty pleasure, whereas another remains merely an abortion?  When I last visited the continuously-growing stable of racers in Fast Five, I relished the insanity.  The film's final chase sequence remains one of the best action scenes in the last decade, even if not one second of it abides to the laws of physics.  With Fast Six, I didn't share the same level of enthusiasm. 

I suppose it stemmed from the lack of emotional "drive", that somehow seeped its way into the last installment.  For his fourth F&F film, Vin Diesel appears to be on "cruise control" (the puns will continue...deal with it!).  He looks like he's already prepared to step away from the gearboxes and garage, just as he did  (prematurely) after the original Fast and Furious became a hit back in 2001.  Vin remains the focus as we learn that his dead girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez, last seen in Part 4).  His reaction to her survival clues us in to Vin's dedication.  He looks more confused than surprised -- or delighted.  His voice registers at low murmur.  Slowly, Vin Diesel has become the David Caruso of the F&F.  When he, once again, opines of his limitless loyalty and the importance of family, his tone feels like that kind that comes out of a hospital patient awaking from the anesthesia. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Requiem for Rental Stores

Blockbuster Video's demise was inevitable.  The only surprise was how long it took the remaining stores -- under the ownership of DirectTV -- to finally toss in the white flag.  (Or was it actually blue-and-yellow?)  It had been years since I borrowed a physical disc or video cassette. I did, however, peruse the stores' vast quantities of used DVDs on sale; waiting patiently for those wonderous 4 for $20 deals to surface before my wallet attacked.  Occasionally I would eye and attempt to ignore the acne-ridden clerk-- his sad puppy-dog stares as he feigned enthusiasm all while wearing a funny apron (Why on earth did they wear those?) and, in a fit of desperation, boasted about the store's monthly membership deals.  In return, I politely feigned interest while I collected my receipt for the five dollar blurays. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Screams That Grow Faint

I recently read some disturbing news.  In celebration of the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter's ground-breaking horror classic, Halloween (1978), a number of younger viewers were exposed to the film for the first time.  The results were poor to mixed.  Some lauded the film's creepy atmosphere.  Others paid respect to its obvious cinematic influence.  Most, if not all, were simply not scared.  

I've seen Halloween over 30 times.  I know the dialog and the shot compositions by heart; every musical cue and hokey sound effect.  The film never terrified me, but remains an omnipresent experience -- a movie built on mood and great suspense.  In many ways, it's been elements have been recycled hundred of times.  But its primary success was never recreated, but only distilled to a series of cheap jump scares and cliches -- even in its own sequels that followed.  It remains a film that plays with our imagination.  We don't even witness an actual murder until the film's half-way point.  Instead, we're expecting danger mainly because our hero, Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is so adamant; constantly dispelling diatribes of doom and destruction like a death rattle.  "I spent eight years trying to reach and another trying to keep locked up because I realize that what was behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil."  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Based On A True Story? You Can't Handle the TRUTH!

There's a misnomer with Hollywood.  Whenever we hear the words "true story", we misconstrue the intent.  Movies have never been about telling us the truth.  There are stories that strive to invoke a sense of it -- to offer some glimmer of clairvoyance.  But the simple "truth" is a tagline that has been -- and always will be -- a marketing scheme.   

Captain Phillips, a film I plan on seeing soon, has incurred publicity for fictionalizing real-life accounts.  According to his former ship's crew, the real Phillips was careless and their ship, the MV Maersk Alabama too close to pirate waters in Somalia back in 2009.  The film version, according to sources, omits Phillip's negligence.  Instead, we have Tom Hanks playing hero.  And I'm fine with that.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity--Review

At the IMAX screening of Gravity, I counted at least six moments when a young audience member responded to the images on the towering screen in front  of him.  They were breathy utterances of "ooohhh...".  It's true, there's a lot to oogle in Alfonso Cuaron's (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) science fiction opus.  He provides a spectacle full of intricate, detailed images and wonder.  It is the most gratifying and engaging replication of space travel since 2001 -- complemented with some thrilling moments.  In other words, it's an amiable marriage of Hitchcock and Kubrick. 

Like his last film (Children), Cuaron shoots long sequences without any cuts.  The camera hovers, follows, probes and pans back with pitch-perfect timing.  The film's opening is at least ten minutes that demonstrates the brilliant amount of attention and craftsmenship involved.  It also creates the sensation of floating in the cosmos.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity...Another Avatar?


Gravity may be the Fall release I had to see in a theater.  It's surprising, considering this "little" sci-fi thriller was dumped in early October -- a month usually reserved for cheap (and crappy) releases deemed unfit for the prime Summer and Holiday release schedules.  But, Alfanso Cuaron's opus is the talk of the town.  For every hour that passes, its box office predictions grew exponentially.  Most important, however, it's a film you have to see!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Farewell Walt and Jesse: A TV Viewer's Epilogue to the Baddest and the Best

<SPOILER FREE> Like almost every episode in its final season, the conclusion to Breaking Bad was always about the journey rather than the destination.  Those expecting a grand scheme; a major twist or turn that would unhinge the preceding 61 episodes were destined to be go to bed feeling upset.  However, creator/writer/director/mastermind Vince Gilligan never promised to pull the carpet from underneath his vehement (and constantly expanding) viewing audience.  He set out to tell a story -- albeit a six-year, five season, opus.  We saw two characters slowly change, grow, and erode before our eyes.  Within its somewhat short run, there has never been a television show with so many quotable lines, so many memorable moments.  Breaking Bad has become to television what The Godfather had done to film: created a saga with a wealth of brilliant performances and stirring moments that will stick with us long after its over.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Makes A Classic?



“Classic – of the first or highest quality, class, or rank.”  Dictionary.com

What is a classic? 

Well, there was a time when the cable network, TNT, used to gloat about its “new classics” line-up.  This included movies like Back to the Future, Top Gun, Shawshank Redemption, even The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Movies released within the last decade were given an honor that’s usually afforded to the likes of Casablanca and Citizen Kane.  Was it safe to decree any of these actual classics?  Has enough time passed to which we can comfortably seat Humphry Bogart next to the likes of Gollum?  One could argue most of these films have earned the brand, although some critics and other aficionados (snobs) wouldn’t dare utter the names of Don Corleone and “Iceman” in the same breath. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

2015! Where We're Going We Don't Need...Those



It’s the year 2015!  Marty McFly, a teenage time-traveler arrives 30 years into the future and tours a strange version of his hometown of Hill Valley.  He spots flying cars, robot waiters, fax machines plugged into every room and a holographic preview for the upcoming film Jaws 19!  “The shark still looks fake,” Marty muses.  

Well, as we fast approach the actual 2015, promises of car flight are quickly being squandered -- nevermind any promises of hover boards or self-drying jackets.  The writers of Back to the Future Part II couldn’t even foresee the most viable form of telecommunication: cell phones!   Nor could they have predicted such devises would become the most coveted item in the known universe!  (How many people read the news on Syrian crisis?  Now how many people opened news media the moment Apple announced the Iphone 5c?  I rest my case!)  In fact, the future is so incorrect, it even shows a stupid teenager grabbing for fruit from a futuristic kitchen tray, when, in reality, the kid probably grab something way less healthy -- from a bowl.    

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Defying casting expectations!

Sometimes the customer is wrong.  At least that's what Hollywood wants us to believe with its most recent casting decisions -- even when they blatantly conflict with the imaginations of millions of readers of comic books and adult porn.  By choosing Ben Affleck and Dakota Johnson (I seriously thought it was Dakota Fanning!  I had consult IMDB Johnson because I don't know who the fuck she is!), studios and agents are basically lecturing to audiences in the same light as parents to their snooty teenagers. "We simply know better!"

Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer School: Lessons learned from failures and (a few) surprises

My posts have been spare this month because -- among many things -- I have been on a movie strike!

August releases like Elysium and The World's End showed promise.  However, the trailers really suggested a sense of faint entertainment.  I remain content to sit and ponder for films that might offer genuine "experiences".  In other words, neither was enticing enough to justify eight dollars.  Yes, I'm being prejuduce -- maybe even unfair, but I've reached displeasure breaking point where the only remedy would be to completely withdrawl from the multiplex.  By going cold-turkey, I will rekindle my desire to sit in a beige-colored room filled with wining toddlers, loud and bright smart phones and a bevy of spectators who have no clue have far their sly comments travel even in a room filled with barrage of noise and light coming from Man of Steel's frenetic conclusion.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Affleck Assumes The Cowl: It's NOT Horrible

The web is ablaze with nerdy discontent.  Today, Warner Bros. announced Ben Affleck would assume the role of Batman for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel.  While rummaging through the countless responses, I stumbled across dozens of criticisms that reference Affleck's original comic book fallout, Daredevil: a film produced a decade ago when Affleck's street cred was nill -- where he chased B-movie follies like Gigli, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas.  Affleck was a laughing stock and the idea of him donning spandex and cool gadgets was never reconsidered.

But Affleck has resurrected his career by working behind-the-scenes and clamoring for more challenging roles.  He lit up the screen in the otherwise underwhelming Hollywoodland, where he portrayed George Reeves, the TV actor most noted for portraying Superman and, ultimately, passing away under cryptic circumstances.  Immediately following his impressive acting turn, Affleck took to the director's chair, where he continues to grow with each pass.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Thoughts and Rants

A year-and-a-half!

That's right, for this length of time I've somehow managed to cough up written love-letters and tirades on all things film.   I strove to discipline myself -- to write something new each week.  Sometimes I would get on a roll and churn out more frequently.

But in the last two weeks, I have been unable to write -- or at least transcribe something coherent rather than something utterly embarrassing.  I rewatched Drive and, with a bought of frustration, tried to muster a written review; inducting it into my Great Movies category (seriously, I love that film!).  I could only find words for half an article.  The paragraphs remain unfinished and foggy, to say the least!  I started a two-part piece that recounts some of the greatest signature long-shots from my cinematic memory.  But I can't seem to finish writing anything.  I'm blocked (which entices me to revisit Adaptation or Shakespeare in Love where the writer's frustrated stare at a blank page speaks volumes to me at present)-- or merely disengaged with movies.