Sunday, November 26, 2017

Opinion: The Case For Cavill- Why Superman Should Have A Chance To Stand On His Own

Source: Warner Bros. Studios

At the time I am writing this piece there is a great deal of concern stemming from Warner Bros. Studios regarding the future of the DC Comics Cinematic Universe. Beginning a story arc with 2013's Man of Steel, followed by 2016's Batman v. Superman, and most recently Justice League, the DC films have not lived up to expectations (Note:Even though 2017's Wonder Woman is a DC film it is not considered a direct sequel to the films mentioned so I am not including that in the string of films being discussed here). From a box office perspective, the first two films performed well in terms of earnings but well under the numbers projected for them (Batman v. Superman suffered one of the most precipitous drops in earnings from week one to week two in recent memory). Justice League, currently in the second week of release, performed a disturbingly low $93.4 million in its opening week (projections estimated an opening total of $110 million). In a time when most superhero films bring in totals of $120-$160 million on opening weekends, the totals for Justice League indicate to the studio that they should prepare for another disappointment- a term that makes studios decide that things need to change moving forward.
 In all three of these DC entries we have had the lead characters of Superman and Batman played by Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck respectively. While there has been plenty of speculation and skepticism about Affleck's desire to continue to play Batman, the future is yet unknown for Henry Cavill as Superman. According to reports Cavill is still under contract with the studio to play Superman one more time (a total of four films), but if there is a true need for change to get the DC film universe back on track then Warner Bros. maybe inclined to alter the terms of that agreement and look to recast the part. In my humble opinion this would be a big mistake.
 Divisive is certainly a most appropriate word to describe the DC film universe. Some of the die hard fans defend the films to the core, then there are others who think that the films are an unending pile of problems that continue to build on top of each other. A portion of the people who do not like the films lay some of the blame on Director Zack Snyder who was hired to be the point man for the DC universe. Snyder's success with 2007's 300 and 2009's Watchmen (both DC stories adapted to film by Snyder) was enough for Warner Bros. to believe that he was the perfect choice to spearhead the birth of a new DC universe that could compete with the phenomenal success of the Disney/Marvel series of films. While the plan seemed good in lieu of his previous success, the final results did not align with the original vision. Man of Steel under performed in ticket grosses and received mixed reactions from critics and fans, so Snyder suggested that Batman be added to the mix as a means to create unbelievable excitement for the next chapter. Warner Bros. was so sure that Batman v. Superman would be a box office monster they swiftly green lit production on Justice League before BvS was even released in theaters. Sadly, the reactions and ticket sales were once again below what was envisioned but by then it was not conducive to pull the plug on the current production. Justice League was delayed and ultimately faced script rewrites and re-shoots to try and change the tone and aesthetic from the last film. So far even those sweeping changes have not mustered the improvement in public reaction to the films that were hoped for.
Source : Warner Bros. Studios

 Now we are left with a future of uncertainty and more questions than answers. Only two things have been confirmed so far which were announced as plans to improve the state of the DC universe- 1) DC Comics writer/guru Geoff Johns was promoted to DC Entertainment's President and Chief Creative Officer 2) Warner Bros. has announced that the upcoming DC films will be more focused as independent, stand alone films for their heroes instead of emphasizing the need for a "shared universe", meaning the inclusion of multiple heroes in each film (Wonder Woman was the first step in this new direction which, again, is why I did not include it in this discussion with the other films). With Aquaman and Batman already set to have their standalone films made in the same manner as Wonder Woman, Superman has been left in a stasis of sorts. His only stand alone film thus far was Man of Steel which was a solid origin story for the character but it's underlying intention was to really be a springboard to build on for Snyder's intended universe. What Henry Cavill needs- and quite frankly deserves- is a solid, well written, well directed Superman film that can not only let him shine in the role but also represent the true embodiment of Superman as we have come to know him over the 75 plus years he has been in our culture.
As I previously stated, Man of Steel was a film I really enjoyed but it's concept was to offer a view of Superman in a modern, more "realistic" setting where people would show greater concern if Superman really existed among us, past iterations (particularly the Christopher Reeves films) offered the point of view that people were quicker to accept him as a hero than as a potential threat to humanity. While I feel that was fine within the framework of one film, that concept compounded in BvS and ultimately led to him sacrificing his life for the safety of many. The point here is that this version of Superman has had to spend most of his time defending himself from people's perceptions, not displaying himself as a hero to humanity. I firmly believe that Henry Cavill could give an epic performance in the right setting, if given the chance.
 The largest obstacle that Cavill faces is the audiences association of his Superman to the previous films. Most fans agree that his portrayal of Superman is spot on, even if the film as whole is lacking. What we need to hope is that the top brass at Warner Bros. feels the same way. It would be easy for someone to say "well he has been Superman in three films and none of them did well so we should change everything", and they would be justified in thinking that way. But what would be equally gratifying is if these same people were willing enough to see that a few structural changes could improve what is already in place as opposed to breaking it up. This scenario reminds me of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the time the film was produced it was made on a budget of $46 million dollars, which was an astronomical sum in that time. The film went on to gross $139 million dollars which, while profitable, was underwhelming in comparison to the projections Paramount Studios had for the film. While disappointed, they did not abandon the idea of continuing the franchise, they in fact decided to make another entry that had a new director, a more limited budget, and an overall new approach. Do you think that Paramount considered replacing William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy just because The Motion Picture was not as revered by fans and moviegoers as expected? Fortunately they did not and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan went on to not only be wonderfully successful, it is considered by many as the very best of all Star Trek films. It is my belief that a similar result can be nurtured for Superman- make changes in the approach and direction for Superman and you can take this iteration of the character from good to great. The core pieces are there, there just needs to be enough faith from the decision makers to see things the same way.

Let's hope for the fans, and Henry Cavill's sake, they see things the way we do.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: A Worthy Successor To A Sci-Fi Classic

Source: Warner Bros.

                                                        *MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*

Blade Runner is a masterpiece of science fiction. Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi thriller was a groundbreaking piece of cinematic history which initially received a mediocre reception but in subsequent decades has come to be regarded as a cult classic. A classic which I was ever so fortunate to have seen thanks to my Dad's impeccable taste in movies (one of the many things he did for which I am eternally grateful). For many years there was talk of a possible sequel with no fruition- until now. Director Denis Villanueve, one of the big names in directing right now, has brought us the long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, which is also produced by Ridley Scott. Their collaboration on this piece has yielded an outstanding follow up that not only a worthy successor to its predecessor but is a great film in its own right.

Our story brings us into the futuristic Los Angeles we saw in the first film, but a lot has changed in the 30 years that have passed. The Tyrell Corporation, who had been responsible for the creation of the humanoid replicant machines used as a labor force, has since gone bankrupt and has been taken over by the brilliant Niander Wallace (wittingly played by Jared Leto). Wallace is regarded as the creator of the vital technology that helps humanity continue to survive. He has improved on the development of replicants which has increased their life spans (previously limited to four years) and reduced their potential violent outbursts which became a problem over the years. As was the case before, the police force keeps a special unit designated to hunt rogue, and now outdated replicants, and "retire", or terminate, them- these individuals are known as Blade Runners. One of the best Blade Runners in the unit, simply referred to as "K" (superbly played by Ryan Gosling), is sent out to a barren farmland to retire a known replicant who has remained in hiding named Sappor Morton (played by Dave Bautista). After his confrontation with Morton, K searches the property and discovers evidence of what could be major advancement in the development of replicant evolution. This discovery eventually comes to the attention of Wallace who knows this valuable information will help him create the ultimate replicant. K's path to the answers to this new mysterious development eventually take him on a search to find the retired, and now reclusive, Rick Deckard, who holds the answers to this most important, and potentially deadly, discovery. K must use all of his resources to not only survive, but to protect the lives of the people who are close to him.  

I went into this film somewhat reluctant. The trailers looked good, the cast was stacked with talent, and confirmation of the return of Harrison Ford as Deckard were all good signs that this would be a good film.However, for me this was a sequel to one of my all time favorite films, one that has been held very dear to me for many years. I was concerned that this new film would merely serve as a soft reboot in an effort to capitalize on a potential series of sequels, which in today's Hollywood is the norm. It was by far my biggest fear going into the theater opening night. Much to my delight, my fears were laid to rest. This was not only a worthy successor to the original, it was an outstanding story in its own right. Ryan Gosling was simply superb as the protagonist in the story and his performance is outstanding considering the many moving parts that his character entails. The supporting cast is also a strength of the film and each actor/actress delivers powerful performances in their respective roles. Another big question for me going into this was how effective Harrsion Ford would be reprising this role after so many years. While I feel that some of the attitude that he so wonderfully exuded in the original is not present in this chapter his presence in his scenes were decent- a few good moments but nowhere near the scale of his earlier effort. It is also clear that Director Denis Villanueve has a passion for this project and it shows throughout. The tone and aesthetic of this film is on point with the original, the story flows at steady pace, and the visuals are stunning. The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch doesn't have the same impact that the Vangelis score had on the original but it is still good and effective within the film.  

I am curious to see how this film will be received by audiences now that it has been 35 years since the first film captured audiences. Unlike Star Wars or Indiana Jones, Blade Runner is not the resurgence of a once fledgling franchise of which Harrison Ford was a part- this is a sci-fi classic that has survived the ages on its own merits which thankfully had Harrsion Ford as its lead. I hope that audiences will embrace in the same way that I loved Blade Runner when I first encountered it in 1982. 

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four:


Monday, September 18, 2017

Stephen King's It: A Rare Gem From The Horror Genre

Source: Warner Bros. Studios

                                                     *This Review May Contain Spoilers*

Stephen King is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror writers of all time. His seemingly endless list of best selling novels have always attracted Hollywood studios to make feature films of some of the classic stories- some were successful adaptations, others...not so much. The latest adaptation is "It" from Warner Bros. Studios, directed by Andy Muschietti. Early this year we had another King adaptation with The Dark Tower, released by Columbia Pictures, which was good but overall underwhelming (you can see my review of the film on the main page). It however is a film that hits on all cylinders and maybe one of the best film adaptations of Stephen King's library.

It tells the story of a group of young kids in the summer of 1989 who live in the small town of Derry, Maine. One of the kids, named Billy Denbrough (played by Jaeden Lieberher), had a younger brother named Georgie who went missing a year earlier (the circumstances of Georgie's disappearance are disturbingly described in the film's opening). Billy hangs out with his friends Richy (hilariously played by Finn Wolfhard), Stan (played by Wyatt Oleff ), Eddie (played by Jack Dylan Grazer), along with the summer's new additions to the group- Mike (played by Chosen Jacobs), Ben (played by Jeremy Ray Taylor), and the only girl of the group- Beverly (played by Sophia Lillis). Since Ben is new to the town of Derry, and initially has no friends when he first arrives, he hangs out in the library and reads up on the history of his new town. He discovers that there are many cases of missing people in the town, most particularly missing children , a fact that he shares with his new friends. Since Ben's brother is one of the missing children he decides that the gang (known as "The Loser's Group) should look into the mystery of the missing people, mostly with the hope of finding Georgie. Their journey leads them into many eerie places situations which include all of them running into the terrifyingly evil clown named Pennywise (masterfully played by Bill Skarsgard). The Loser's Group must stick together to try and defeat this horrific evil that is gripping their town and taking innocent lives.

This movie is a refreshing improvement from what you would usually expect from horror films. The characters are very engaging and this version of Pennywise the clown is truly maniacal and evil- just his presence in each scene makes the hairs on your neck stand upright (Tim Curry was good in the 1990 TV movie but this version takes it to a whole new level). Another commendable quality, for me, was how well the sequences depicting endangerment of children is handled. I have always been disturbed by scenes in films where children are tortured or brutally harmed (as I'm sure most people are as well). The content and scenes set in this movie could have very easily gone into the grotesque however they were handled extremely well by the director and editor Jason Ballantine (I will still make note of the exception of the aforementioned opening sequence). Even still, the intensity of the scenes where the kids are in true danger are never sacrificed. The film flows smoothly, the story develops itself well without jumping all over the place, and there are plenty of scenes that will make you jump out of your seat. For someone of my age group this film has a heart warming appeal to it because the main characters are, for the most part, the same age I was during the time the film takes place (summer of 1989). There was a concerted effort to authenticate the time and setting of the film and the people behind the scenes did a great job of bringing the essence of the 1980's into the movie. This was another wonderful aspect that added to the joy of seeing this movie (it is almost strange to make that statement considering it's a horror film). I would normally not associate the word "likable" with a horror film, but in this case it's an accurate term that applies.

I have never been the biggest fan of most films of the horror genre (notable exceptions such 1978's Halloween or 1980's The Shining have transcended the genre and are classics)  but this is one time where the final product excels over most films of its kind. This was truly an engaging, engrossing, entertaining film that is packed with a solid balance of fun moments and gripping suspense. This will certainly be a rare occasion when I offer this much praise to a horror film and on that basis alone I highly recommend giving this movie a watch. Hopefully other horror films will borrow off of this entry and keep a good thing going.

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Dark Tower- The Latest Stephen King Novel Brought To The Big Screen, But In A Small Way

Source: Sony Pictures

                                                         *This Review May Contain Spoilers*

The Dark Tower is a long awaited adaptation of the famous book series from author Stephen King. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as "The Man in Black and Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, a.k.a. "The Gunslinger". The film is a fun and somewhat entertaining take on the book series but certainly limits its self due to its rating and intended target audience. 

 The story tells of an immense, dark tower that serves a barrier between our world and another parallel world that is a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland where people fight to survive and fear The Man in Black, an evil person who is on a never ending mission to destroy the tower so that the forces of evil take control of our world in addition to the wasteland he knows rules over. Set out among the wasteland are The Gunslingers, a group of brave men who have sworn to protect the innocent citizens of the land. As the battle of good and evil continues we learn that there are children in our world who have the ability to "shine", or to have visions of the alternate world that lies on the other side of the tower. If the Man in Black can find one child whose abilities are so powerful than he can use those abilities to destroy the tower and succeed with this deadly quest. For years he searches high and low with no success until one day a boy with tremendous abilities finds a way to enter the alternate world that he has envisioned in his mind for so many years. He suddenly finds himself in the land where the Man in Black rules supreme- and the only person who maybe able to save him is one of the only remaining Gunslingers left alive. Can Roland save the boy, and our world, from utter destruction or will the Man in Black finally be free to conquer with unlimited power? (You'll need to check it out to find the answers) 

 This film presents a fun take on the classic adage of good versus evil but is shockingly tame for a tale told by Stephen King. Even though King has famously given us some moving, uplifting, and heartwarming stories (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, & Hearts in Atlantis stand out), his real strength has always delivered stories that are intense, suspenseful, and thrilling. With the exception of a few sequences that highlight the villainy of The Man in Black the film did not bring any real suspense that a viewer may have expected. Most of the events unfolded as you would expect them to and there really is never a point where our protagonist, the gifted boy named Jake Chambers (played by young Tom Taylor), or The Gunslinger are in a moment of true peril. The overall feel of the film is monotone which is a shame since there are a few good qualities that the movie has to offer.

First and foremost is the great casting. Elba and McConaughey are both great in their respective roles and it's disappointing to see that their talents are shockingly limited by what they are given to work with. The films musical score, composed by Tom Holkenborg, also deserves honorable mention. The other very appealing gem in this film is Director Nikolaj Arcel's clever choice to add little nods to other Stephen King tales throughout the film. Right out of the gate we know that the children's' ability to "shine" is a reference to King's classic "The Shining" and at one point in the film we see Jake with some the toys in his room, most notably a die cast 1958 Plymouth Fury car, an exact replica of "Christine", another King classic. These little nods were not only clever but well placed in the film so that they did not become a distraction to the scene. These small pieces definitely help keep your interest to watch in spite of the lack of drive that the movie is missing.

If I were to summarize The Dark Tower as simply as I could, I would say it was "ok". It was not a terrible movie by any stretch, but also was not very memorable- I would even say that this movie serves as a prime example of what some choose to call "popcorn fare". The movie has some good action scenes, some flashy special effects, and some good acting from the leading actors as previously mentioned. But that is about all this film has to offer on the plus side. It is a film that was entertaining to see once but not a film I would have interest in catching when its released digitally or on DVD. I cannot help but suspect that there was potential to do a lot more with this film, and this story, considering that the original novels were an eight part series which means there was a lot of material to work with. Sadly it feels like there was a greater onus to make this more family friendly with a PG-13 rating and a tone that is tame in comparison to other films adapted from Stephen King novels. There is an old expression that says "too much of anything can sometimes be no good for you"- that seems to be the case here when it comes to dialing down the intensity of the story and the concern of making it light enough for family viewing. In closing I would say this- if you are intrigued by the previews for this film and you take the time to see it, I'm sure you will at least enjoy it. But if you don't decide to invest the time, it would not be the worst choice. Middle of the road for me with this one.

Reel Rating (Out of A Possible Four):


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Miami Vice (The Movie): My Summertime Guilty Pleasure

Source: Universal Studios

I decided to break the trend of my usual anniversary year film reviews and indulge in a guilty summer movie classic as we go through the midpoint of the summer of 2017. One of my favorite movies to reflect on in the summertime is the 2006 thriller Miami Vice directed by Michael Mann. The film is an modern adaptation of the 1980's television classic that originally starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as the main characters James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. In the series, Crockett and Tubbs are vice-police officers who were sent after high profile drug dealers from various places who all centralized their activities within (or through) the Miami Dade County area of Florida in each episode. The show was known for its flashy photography, cutting edge set designs, fast cars, cigarette boats, and top Billboard chart music. The movie, starring Collin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, would follow a similar path to the series but in a way that was much unexpected to audiences when it was first released. 

Our story begins when Crockett & Tubbs, on assignment in a ritzy nightclub, receive a phone call from a former criminal informant who tells them he was compromised and discovered to be an informant for the police. Fearing for his life the informant reaches out to Crockett for help. When Crockett and Tubbs try to help their informant they learn that he was connected to a group working with a big-time drug trafficker named Jose Yero.  Yero operates out of Haiti and transports drugs into the United States via speed boats (also called "go-fast boats). Our heroes place themselves undercover in an effort to bring down Yero and his drug empire, but they find out early on that Yero is only a small part of a much larger, more menacing drug ring that must be stopped. Things also take a complicated turn when Crockett slowly becomes interested in Isabella, a sophisticated, intelligent woman who is a key player in the drug ring that he must bring down. Crockett and Tubbs must be at their best to try and stop one of the biggest cartels from invading the shores of Miami. 

Miami Vice received a very mixed reaction upon its release in the summer of 2006. In the early 2000's it became trendy for studios to start creating movie adaptations of television series as a way to reinvigorate interest with audiences (presumably to also create interest in sales of DVD box sets of the original shows which started flooding stores everywhere). However, most movie adaptations of television shows being released at that time were more of a spoof or comedic take of the of the original show- for example refer to 2004's Starsky & Hutch or 2005's The Dukes of Hazzard. Miami Vice, while still being an adaptation of the show, was not a comedic spoof or mock of the original show in anyway. In fact it is a very modern, up-to-date, more intense version, strongly depicting the world of narcotics law-enforcement in a way that the show would not have been able to do on network television. It would seem that most people were anticipating a lot of white linen suits, pastel shirts, 1980's pop songs, and a few comedic characters to laugh at interlaced with jokey references to the old show. With this film they receive none of those things, nor does it apologize for being what it is. What audiences instead received was an in-your-face, at times jarring, point of view style story that proceeds at break neck speed with little time to explain what has just happened or what is coming next. It can be argued that the filmmakers were a little presumptuous in assuming general audiences would know and understand some of the fast spoken lingo and and law enforcement references used in a lot of the scenes in the movie, but that just adds to its non-apologetic appeal.

Director Michael Mann had served as Executive Producer for the television series so it was only fitting that he served as a writer, producer, and director for the feature film. Mann has always had a distinctive style with his film making, particularly with epic crime dramas (who can forget 1995's Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro), and he is at the top of his game with this entry. The heavy use of the High-Def camera technology for filming at night mixed with highly stylized sets and locations place Mann's trademarks all over this film and we, as the audience, are given a visual delight. Editors William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell also bring their hard edged, slightly "Bourne Identity"  style of editing which is very effective for the context of this story and the action that comes with it. The musical score pieces for the film were mostly composed by John Murphy who cleverly infuses little nods of music from the Jan Hammer soundtrack of the TV series. There is also a cover of the famous Phil Collins hit "In The Air Tonight"  (performed by Nonpoint) which was very closely associated to the series thanks to a timeless sequence in the show's pilot episode.

As you can tell by my commentary so far I am a big fan of this movie. I remember going into the theater opening night somewhat unsure of how I would react to it; I had mostly lukewarm reactions to these modernized versions of shows that I had loved in my childhood years, but here was one time where the final result exceeded my expectations. Collin Farrell & Jamie Foxx have great chemistry together as the lead characters, the villains are seethingly evil, and honorable mention must be made about Gong Li's wonderful performance as Isabella, the woman who is torn in the middle of this war between right and wrong. I must admit that, in spite of my desire to not compare the movie to the original, it was a tough adjustment to get used to Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo over the unforgettable performance given by Edward James Olmos in the series. In defense of Mr. Henley, the role was given much more to work with in the series, but it is still the only aspect of the movie that I thought was a big setback in comparison to the show. The other members of the Vice team, with the exception of Trudy (wonderfully played by Naomi Harris), are also given menial parts in comparison to the series but that is where one must remember that this a modern take on the story and as such is not required to follow the show step for step. 

In the end Miami Vice was summarily written off as a disappointment in terms of the box office- the film earned a total of $163.8 million worldwide on a budget of $135 million which is not good in Hollywood numbers. Interestingly, the foreign box office numbers were much stronger than the final figures to come out of the U.S., but maybe other countries had not been exposed to the series as much in the past (just speculation). This is a tragic result for a very underrated film in my humble opinion. I do hope that as time passes the movie eventually gains a stronger following that respects and enjoys the movie more than audiences did in the summer of 2006. I have loved this film from the first time I saw right through the other week when I went back to watch it in preparation for this review. When the movie was released on home video in December of 2006 it was released as a "Director's Cut" which included scenes not originally shown in theaters. I did not find the Director's Cut adding much to what I already thought was a solid movie but it also did not take away from the final product either. 

I strongly recommend giving this movie a chance or, if you have let some time pass since you last saw it, giving it a look with fresh eyes. I assure you that you will be highly entertained. 

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Opinion: Adam West & Roger Moore: Two Icons Whose Admiration Developed With Age

Source: Twentieth Century Fox
Source: MGM Studios

For many fans of 1960's & 70's TV and movies, the summer of 2017 will be remembered as a somber time. Within the scope of a few short weeks we lost two great icons, Adam West and Sir Roger Moore. Both were icons of the of their time and the impressions they left on fans will remain forever.  While I reflected on the loss of these two stars of mine and many others' childhood, I was amazed to discover the similar paths their took as reflected by how the people loved them in the highlight of their careers as well as the years that followed.

Adam West exploded onto the TV scene in 1966 when he was cast as Batman on the popular Twentieth Century Fox series. "Batman" was an instant hit with audiences thanks to it's nearly perfect blend of camp humor, slapstick action, and daring-do that appealed to both children and adults. The show was the epitome of the old expression "the candle that burns twice a bright burns twice as fast"- while being insanely popular in it's release, the show only lasted three seasons before the luster wore off with viewers (honorable mention must be made of the fact that the short lived show also included a moderately successful full length feature film during it's run). One of the great secrets to the show's success was Adam West's exceptional ability to play the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman immensely dead-pan and quite serious in contrast to the absurdity of the plots and villains of each episode. Reflecting back on the show as an adult (I, like many others, not only loved the show in reruns as a small child but I swore whole heartily that the show was to be taken very serious) you can see where the creators and West himself were genius to let the Batman remain serious and dead pan as a means to let the guest villains shine through.
Adam West at the height of Batman's popularity gracing the cover of Life Magazine.
Source: Life-Time Magazine

West was in fact, so suave and debonair as millionaire Bruce Wayne that following the end of the show's run West was briefly considered as a potential replacement for the role of James Bond following Sean Connery's departure. This however did not pan out and West himself admitted that he would not have accepted the role of 007 since he felt the role belonged to someone who was genuinely British. This brings us to Sir Roger Moore, the man who would in fact take the mantle of 007 into the 1970's after Connery did a one-off return to the role in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever (honorable mention must also be made to George Lazenby's one time effort as James Bond in 1969).  Whereas Adam West was not as well known prior to his being cast in Batman (he mostly had bit roles in TV and movies), Roger Moore had been pretty well established thanks to some success he had on a few different television series through the 1950's-1960's. Moore was most notably known as Simon Templar in the series "The Saint" which ran from 1962-1969. Moore's portrayal of Simon Templar most likely played a big part in the Bond film producers considering him for the role of Bond. Be that as it may, the announcement of Moore's casting as 007 brought a lot of excitement as well as intrigue to fans of the series. Would Moore play 007 differently than he played Simon Templar or would he just be The Saint walking around calling himself James Bond?- How will Moore compare to Sean Connery, largely considered the best actor to play James Bond? What fans soon discovered was that Roger Moore would in fact play James Bond the best way possible- with his own style.
Roger Moore- Working "tirelessly" to maintain his James Bond image
Source: MGM Studios
This is where I began to find things intriguing about these two actors. Both, while immensely popular during their time in their respective roles (based on successful ratings and box office returns), seemed to be frequently frowned upon by large masses in conversation. During my childhood years most people would say "Oh I don't watch Roger Moore as Bond- he's too goofy compared to Sean Connery". When Tim Burton's Batman came out in 1989 it became common for people to write off the Batman TV series because it wasn't the dark, brooding, more serious version of the character that was widely accepted by the die hard fans of the modern day. It was almost as if people felt the need to belittle the 1960's show just to be accepted by the new wave of Batman fans. Around this same time (1987 specifically) Timothy Dalton took over the role of 007 after Roger Moore had finished his 12 year run as the character. Then the negativity was even more rampant because Dalton's take on the character of Bond was deadly serious with no time for gags and jokes (the tag line for Dalton's first Bond film was "The Most Dangerous Bond- Ever").  Being just a teen during these years I was left scratching my head at these sentiments. Sure, at the time I would freely admit that I loved Timothy Dalton's Bond over Roger Moore's version, and I easily loved Michael Keaton's version of Batman over Adam West's, but that never meant that I didn't have a great affection the latter two. Roger Moore was the first Bond I was exposed to both on TV and in the cinema, and Adam West was the first Batman. Just for the fact that they were the first actors to bring Batman and Bond to life meant that they would always have a special place in my heart for what they did to instill my love for the characters. For years these general reactions seem to persist and I remained puzzled- I believed that there had to be a loyal fan base for these two legends. Thankfully the "information age" took hold of the world and the ability people had to express themselves to a larger audience allowed some voices to be heard to people in places that previously would not have been reached. As the years progressed and the world changed the shift in perception slowly began to evolve, but the tragedy was that it took so many years to finally hear people be more in the positive when discussing Ward or Moore.

Now in reflection of their passing I am left with a sense of added joy, knowing that my love for them never wavered from the beginning to the end. Even after all of the great Batman films that have been made, Adam West's 1966 Batman: The Movie remains one of my favorite Batman films because of how it captured me as a child.  When discussing the subject of James Bond I have stated that Pierce Brosnan is my favorite actor to play the role because he was a solid balance of the qualities I liked in Connery as well as the qualities I liked in Roger Moore. In spite of this fact one would swear that Roger Moore was my favorite Bond after seeing my 007 collection because the majority of what I have and hold dear are things connected to Sir Roger. I certainly am not trying to portray an image that no one liked these two but at the same time it felt important to me to express my appreciation for what they have meant to me and always will. It was so heartwarming and humbling to hear so much love and admiration expressed by people following their passing. I hope that they were overwhelmed too as they look down from the heavens with the same joy and appreciation they gave to us for so many years before.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me: A 40th Anniversary Look At One Of the Biggest James Bond Adventures

Source: MGM Studios
*Editor's Note: It is with a humble heart that this review is lovingly dedicated to the late Roger Moore who left us on May 23rd, 2017. He was a great James Bond and an even greater human being. 

In the minds and hearts of most James Bond fans, the tenth entry in the series, 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, is regarded as the pinnacle of the Roger Moore era, and with good reason. This was the film that truly established Roger Moore as James Bond and did so at just at the right time. The previous film, 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun, did not garner the critical or box office reception that most of the previous entries had received so there was a lot of expectation for this film to put 007 back to his winning ways. After a three year hiatus, Roger Moore and the Bond team delivered what they always promised audiences-"...the biggest, the best, It's Bond- and Beyond".**

 1975 was a difficult year for James Bond and the series' production company, EON Productions. Co-producer Harry Saltzman found himself in financial difficulties and was forced to sell his stake in Eon Productions to their parent studio, United Artists. This left Albert "Cubby" Broccoli to carry on the franchise as the sole producer. With the last entry in the series receiving a very lukewarm reception many fans and critics began to question if the series still had relevance with moviegoers. This put a lot of pressure on Cubby Broccoli to produce something that would bring audiences back to loving 007 the way they had just a decade before. Cubby was a producer who had always taken great pride in providing audiences with the best he could offer and there was no way he would sit by idly and watch his series fade into obscurity. Whenever things looked to be in doubt Cubby would always revert back to the people who had always delivered for him in the past. This time around Cubby reached out to director Guy Hamilton, the director who had made 1964's Goldfinger, a film that was considered the standard by which other Bond films were judged. Hamilton initially agreed but when delays caused the project to begin at a later date Hamilton had to bow out to pursue other projects he wanted to make. The next choice was Lewis Gilbert, who had previously directed 1967's You Only Live Twice starring Sean Connery. When Lewis agreed to return he had discussions with the producer about what he felt was the biggest error they had made with Roger Moore's first two entries- too much emphasis to try and have Moore emulate Connery's version of the character. It's possible that the producers had felt they needed to go in that direction initially for two reasons; one, Roger Moore had already been established in two successful television series, The Saint and The Persuaders, prior to playing Bond. Second, there may have been a concern that the character needed to establish continuity since there had been three different actors playing the role in the last four films (Connery in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, George Lazenby in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and then Roger Moore in 1973's Live & Let Die and the aforementioned The Man With The Golden Gun).  Gilbert felt that Roger Moore's portrayal should be more humorous, lighthearted, and fun- all qualities that Roger Moore had successfully exhibited in earlier roles. Gilbert suggested that screenwriter Christopher Wood be brought in to help with this change in approach and ultimately Cubby agreed. Another notable change behind the scenes for this film was the change of music composer- John Barry had been the predominant composer for most of the Bond films however he would not be available for this entry so the production team reached out to Marvin Hamlisch. Hamlisch decided to bring Bond into the 1970's with a very disco influenced style of composition, citing that he was inspired to follow the sound of the music group The Bee-Gees who were "the hottest band in the world at that time" according to Hamlisch. With the story and production ready to go the crew set out on location to being production. It was time for 007 to reclaim his blockbuster status.

 The plot of The Spy Who Loved Me is strikingly similar to You Only Live Twice (Gilbert's previous entry in the series). Megalomaniac Carl Stromberg (played fiendishly by Curd Jurgens)has an obsession with underwater life and decides the best way to correct the world is by destroying it and re-creating a new, Utopian society beneath the sea. To accomplish this quest he decides to kidnap nuclear submarines from competing world powers in order to intentionally trigger a nuclear war. Because the Russians and the British have both been victims of this scheme they both send out their best agents, 007 of the British Secret Service and Agent XXX of the KGB (played by Barbara Bach) to find out what happened to their missing subs. The two forces must work together to stop Stromberg and prevent World War III before it's too late. 

The concept of rehashing a previous plot may have been a clever idea considering the situation the series was in at the time this film was made. Using a simpler plot line would allow more time to be spent on the style, panache, and action sequences that could be incorporated into the film. All three aspects were perfectly executed in the final product. Right out of the gate there is the absolutely breath-taking ski jump stunt in the film's pre-title sequence; Bond must escape his pursuers in Austria so he skis off of a sheer cliff, parachuting to safety. The stunt is unquestionably one of the greatest stunts ever performed, on film or otherwise. One of Stromberg's henchman, Jaws (played by Richard Keil), is a menacing mountain of a man standing over 7 feet in height and armed with steel teeth that are razor sharp. Bond is equipped with gadgets by MI-6's equipment mastermind "Q", most notably a Lotus Esprit car that has the ability to become a two-man submarine. To top everything else off the film is packed with magnificent set pieces by designer Ken Adam (A regular in the Bond series through most of the films). The inside of Stromberg's sub-swallowing tanker ,The Liparus, was built to scale in the 007 Sound Stage at Pinewood Studios (the stage had been built new for this film)  in addition to many other eye-popping set pieces displayed throughout. When combined together these elements make this entry one of the most vibrant and exciting of the whole series. 

In the case of most James Bond films the audience does not walk into the theater expecting to be baffled by a complex mystery that they will need to try and unfold as the story develops. They know that there will be a villain that will threaten the safety of the free world and that Bond will be the only one who can stop him. So it's never the "why' of the stories that intrigue audiences into going to see one after the other, it's the "how". What gadgets will Bond have in his arsenal? What amazing feats will Bond go to in order to save the day? It is these points that make the audiences shell out their hard earned dollars to see how the next entry will be different, or in some cases, beat the last. This is where "Spy" shines- it delivers on the "how" so well that no moment is wasted. The story and setting was perfectly fit for Roger Moore's take on 007 and the results show. You can easily see how relaxed and in command he is in each scene and the other actors and actresses fit their roles just as well. Barbara Bach is absolutely stunning as Agent XXX and her character also bespoke a profound statement at the time the film was released. The mid-to-late 1970's was a time of outcry for Women's Liberation (see films such as 1976's Norma Rae as an example) and for the first time in the Bond series we were introduced to a female character that was on the same level of our hero. Most women of the series, with a few exceptions, were more or less the "damsel in distress", waiting for James Bond to defeat the villain and rescue them by the end. Agent XXX is fully capable and at times early on in the story she finds herself a step ahead of our suave secret agent. This is an angle that I do not think would have worked as effectively with Sean Connery's version of 007, he was more of "the man's man" who might find it difficult to accept a woman being step for step with him. Roger Moore's lighter touch made it seem perfectly plausible that Bond could accept a woman with capabilities similar to his own and the film benefits from that greatly. I think it is also important to applaud the producers and writers for making such a bold statement at a time when studios may not have been as confident in taking such steps with blockbuster hits like James Bond. 

There is no doubt that Spy is one of the best of the series. It has a wonderful blend of all of the elements that we love in James Bond films- action, humor, excitement, and exotic locations. Honorable mention should also be made of the spectacular theme tune, "Nobody Does It Better", performed by Carly Simon. The song was an homage to the character and was also nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.  Everything just seemed to click this time around and audiences approved. The box office totals reached an astounding $185.4 million dollars on a budget of $14 million, firmly establishing that Bond was back and better than ever.  Cubby Broccoli had delivered what he had promised to Bond fans around the world and reassured everyone that James Bond was here to stay.

 For someone who is new or unfamiliar with the Bond films this is one that should be one of the first to be seen to establish just how great the series is. For me this definitely ranks in the higher end and as mentioned in the beginning is one of the best of Roger Moore's films (Octopussy is still my favorite). Highly recommended and endlessly fun.

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):


THE INCREDIBLE WORLD OF 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond [Nov 01, 1995] Pfeiffer, Lee & Lisa, Phil

**Excerpt used was from the marketing campaign for The Spy Who Loved Me, copyright 1977 EON Productions, United Artists, MGM Studios

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alien: Covenant - Ridley Scott's Second Prequel Alien Film Gives Us What We Were Hoping For

Source: Twentieth Century Fox
                     *WARNING: Since This Is A New Release Parts Of This Review Could Contain Spoilers*

Acclaimed Director Ridley Scott has returned for his third time to the Alien franchise with his newest feature, Alien: Covenant. This film picks up after his first Alien prequel effort, 2012's Prometheus, both of which are meant to build up to the events of his original entry, 1979's Alien. While I found Prometheus to be visually spectacular but overall underwhelming, this film was pleasantly in tune with my expectations and delivered very well.

Our story tells us the tale of the space ship Covenant, destined to reach the planet Origae-6 with the intention of colonizing the planet for future generations to live. In the midst of their long journey the ship is damaged by the space equivalent of a rogue wave which damages some of the systems. When the crew members are awakened by the ship's android, Walter (played by Michael Fassbender) the ship captain's hyper-sleep chamber ignites in an electrical fire which kills him, leaving the crew distraught and scrambling to gather the composure needed to continue with their mission in lieu of this tragedy. While the members of the crew are repairing the ships damage they intercept what they believe to be an interplanetary transmission for help from a unknown planet close to their location. Since the planet seems habitable and is much closer than the original destination the acting Captain, Christopher Oram (played by Billy Crudup), makes the decision that they will set course for the planet to investigate the transmission and entertain the idea of colonization there (as we would expect they would do in a movie of this kind). Soon after landing on the planet they discover the remains of the Engineer shuttle craft which had been all that remained from the spaceship Prometheus, a ship that was destroyed years before under the command of Elizabeth Shaw (featured in the film of the same name). While none of the crew of the Prometheus have survived, their android unit, named David (also played by Michael Fassbender), has survived and is living in seclusion under the remains of the ship. Unbeknownst to the crew there is also a small parasitic organism living on the planet's surface that is waiting for a living host to infect and eventually spread. The parasite, once co-joined with the host, rapidly grows and becomes the creatures we have come to know and fear. Will the crew survive the encounter? Can Walter help the crew get off the planet safely by offering his knowledge and experience of living on the planet after the Prometheus crash? These questions are best answered by experiencing the film for yourself. 

Most people who will go out to see this film are pretty familiar with the Alien films since there have been four initial films (all starring Sigorney Weaver as Ripley) and now two prequel films. After a while these films lend themselves to a basic setting and story line which changes the viewer's motive to see the movie- it's not what is going to happen that most interests them, but it is how it is done. Fortunately for those viewers, Alien: Covenant delivers in a big way. As fan of Ridley Scott's work it is an absolute treat to see him continue the franchise with his visual style and amazing sense of spectacle. The suspense is genuine in spite of the viewer being well aware of what is about to happen and the writers, as well as the director, have done a wonderful job of showing the continuing evolution of the alien creature into what we know it will eventually become.It should also be noted that in keeping with the time the gruesomeness (and gore) of some sequences are tough to watch but for those who know what to expect that is all part of the experience. The characters used within the story are well developed and the viewer can easily relate to their fears and emotions as the events of the story unfold. While much praise can be given to Katherine Waterson for a wonderful performance as Daniels Branson, the Covenant's first officer, but the standout performance of the piece for me was Michael Fassbender. While Fassbender is already a great actor in his own right, his ability to be both android characters (David & Walther) and the various degrees of emotion, intelligence, and autonomy they bring as a new and older version of the same machine was truly impressive. Even though you know subconsciously you are seeing the same actor portraying two roles you can easily forget that fact by his masterful performances. His contribution to the film, and really to the two prequel films collectively, has really been the backbone to their credibility. I sincerely believe this film would have truly suffered if he was not cast to play the part(s). 

As previously mentioned, Ridley Scott's direction and style are once again top notch in this film, and his supporting members have also done an admirable job. Screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper drastically improved the story line and development for this entry on the heels of the first prequel entry (did I mention that I was not a big fan of Prometheus?).  Cinematographer Dariuz Walski gives us sweeping visuals and impressively makes huge ships and underground caverns seem claustrophobic in the scenes when the alien is on the attack. Editor Pietro Scalia does a fantastic job of creating suspense with an effective balance of slow and fast paced editing when both are called for respectively. Finally, musical composer Jed Kurzel provides a decent score that is effective for the film but it is tough to compare his efforts to some of the scores previously offered in the series, most notably the original film scored by Jerry Goldsmith and 1986's Aliens scored by James Horner. 

Bottom line- I thoroughly enjoyed Alien: Covenant. Although 2012's Prometheus was Ridley Scott's actual return to the alien franchise, it is truly this film that delivers the movie we wanted to see. By the time the lights came up after this movie ended I was even more disappointed in Prometheus than I was when I first saw it. Fortunately this second film connects nicely to the first movie which may offer some more credibility than the movie has on its own, whereas Covenant could easily stand on it's own without Prometheus. It could even be debatable that the majority of the first films' story line could have been encapsulated by flashback sequences in this movie, but that spawns the discussion about studios trying to get the most out of their film franchises even at the expensive of quality (clearly a discussion for another time). 

In the scheme of the entire franchise the second entry, James Cameron's Aliens, remains my favorite, but this entry is not far behind. If you are a fan of the Alien films than this is a must see. If you are not familiar with the series than I begrudgingly suggest you watch Prometheus to have a better understanding of the story, but if you choose to take the chance that you can figure it out on your own I wouldn't blame you. Either way, make a point to catch this movie. Twentieth Century Fox was smart enough to release this movie before some of this year's other big blockbusters get released so hopefully moviegoers will make the most of this time and catch Covenant.

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Opinion Topic: Indiana Jones 5- An Exciting Announcement or a Worrisome One?

Source: Paramount Pictures
Earlier this month Disney (current owner of Lucasfilm Ltd) announced that the fifth installment in the Indiana Jones series will be released July 10, 2020. This will be the fifth time that our favorite fedora wearing adventurer will be played by Harrison Ford, the only actor who has ever played him on film (referring to the feature films, no disrespect to the under appreciated "Young Indiana Jones" TV series that ran in the 1990's). Indiana Jones has legions of fans and his last film grossed close to $800 million dollars so the idea of another film being made in the series seems automatic. But, after the lackluster fourth film, 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the question I can't help but ask is- should we be excited for Indy 5?

 If you've ever reviewed one of my earliest posts where I listed some of my all time favorite films you will see that the first Indy film, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark is a top 3 all time great. I equally loved the sequels that followed, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom & 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The fourth film (previously mentioned) was released in 2008 after a 19 year hiatus. During the years in between there were always blurbs in various magazines and later on various websites stating that a primary reason for the delays was dissatisfaction with a good, solid script that would motivate Director Steven Spielberg, Producer George Lucas, and star Harrison Ford to want to bring Indy back into theaters. When the announcement was finally made that a script was written and the project was going in front of the camera, fans worldwide (including myself) were ecstatic. Just the thought of seeing Indy in a new adventure was a dream quickly becoming a reality. Sadly, when the final product was released, those same legions of fans left theaters asking themselves the same question- "you waited all of those years for a great script and this is what you came up with??" I'm sure that there are fans that enjoyed "Crystal Skull" but most die hard Indy fans were disappointed. To be honest, since 2008 I have only seen the movie twice- once when it was released in theaters and one other time when it was released on home video. 

 When word first started circulating that Disney/Lucasfilm wanted to get serious with making another installment in the Indy film series a lot of people speculated that the series would go through a reboot to allow a new, younger actor to take over the role. Considering that Harrison Ford is 74 years of age and the amount of action that is typically infused in an Indiana Jones movie it did not seem too outlandish of an idea. However, following the studios announcement that a new Indy film was on the horizon Director Steven Spielberg confirmed in an interview that he had no intention of recasting Indiana Jones and that Harrison Ford would absolutely be returning to play the role again in the newest installment. Time to don our skepticism caps.

 There is no question that Harrison Ford will ALWAYS be the one and only Indiana Jones. I would never pretend to say that replacing him would be an easy task and to think that another actor would just slip on the leather jacket, fedora hat and bullwhip, and prance around as Indiana Jones is a foolish sentiment. But, I do believe there is a feasible solution to keep things going into the future. The James Bond series was always fortunate in the sense that another actor could slip into the role and just plug along successfully. That would not apply here but a page from Indy's history could be the answer to a future for Indiana Jones.

 In one episode of TV's "The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones" (Mystery of the Blues-1992) Harrison Ford did make a cameo appearance as the adult version Indiana Jones to provide an introduction into that episodes story. Additionally, the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade began with River Phoenix as a teenage Indiana Jones whose one-off adventure comes to an end years later when he is an adult who runs into the same villain that foiled him in his teenage years. In a similar fashion there could be a story line where Indy, in his later years, reflects on an artifact that eluded his grasp years before. This would allow the backstory to take us back to a younger Indy (played by a younger actor). The story could end in the "present" years where the older Indy finally catches up to the culprit of the story and saves the treasured piece he had lost years before. 

 Obviously my scenario is pretty basic and could be played out in much better detail but the point is there are options that could lend itself to Harrison Ford playing a part in the story without having to be totally dependent on him in the same fashion as Crystal Skull. I feel my greater concern is to see Spielberg and crew give us another chapter that was as underwhelming as the last. Indy is a beloved character and film series whose last film was a letdown after the first three entries. We could be headed to dangerous territory going back for another chapter that gives audiences the same result as the last. 

 The reality is that Disney now owns Lucasfilm of which Indy is a huge part. They certainly would not let the franchise sit idle when they know it could be a prosperous endeavor to keep it going. But in order to keep it going there must come a point where some new blood is injected. What better way to make the transition but than to have the original, and greatest, Indiana Jones bridge the gap. 

 Whatever the decision, we will be there raring to see our hero save the world and preserve history one more time, I just hope that it is done with an ending that will allow a prosperous ending for future generations.
Source: Paramount Pictures