Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Makes Your Head Spin (Part Two)

Last night I sat down to watch Paul Schrader's version of the Exorcist prequel, called Dominion, here now is part 2 of my thoughts on the dueling Exorcist prequels. To read Part One, just scroll down a bit, or you can just click here.

Dominion tells the same story that Renny Harlin's version did. We still follow Father Lankester Merrin's (Stellan Skarsgard) path, starting in 1949, and through the course of the film, we learn how he came to be the Catholic Church's chief exorcist. Having said that, I was struck by the fact that at just how different Dominion turned out to be.

Schrader's version makes a more compelling film, because it treats the subject matter in much the same way that the 1973 original did, as a true battle between good and evil, without being just a carbon copy--or a gore for the sake of gore film. The film has as much to with psychological "terror" as it does anything else. Perhaps the suits at Warner Brothers were skid dish about Dominion because it didn't fit the mold of today's horror film. The back story of Father Merrin takes on much more meaning now under Schrader's direction. What's even more baffling is the fact that had they not tampered with William Wisher Jr. and Caleb Carr's script and still insisted that Harlin direct it, Beginnings may have had better box office.

The Dominion DVD includes an audio commentary track from director Paul Schrader, and while I would have liked to hear more about the studio's issues with his version, the production information, he does pass along is generally insightful. The downside of the track is that there are far too many "gaps of silence" here. For a guy that was replaced outright, I would have thought that Schrader would have been a lot more chatty. A collection of six incidental deleted scenes and a small still gallery top off the bonus material.

It's my hope that anyone who reads this two part post will give Dominion a shot. I suppose we should be gratful that the studio released the Schrader's version at all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Makes Your Head Spin (Part One)

Like just about everyone else who has ever watched 1973's, The Exorcist, I consider it one of the best of its kind ever made. Since that time, there have been many imitators, as well as a direct sequel and then came the third film--both of which, never even come close to capturing the craftsmanship and quality of the original. When I first heard that Paul Schrader was going to make a prequel, I got pretty jazzed. After all, he's the man responsible for two of my favorite scripts: Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. I was intrigued by the possibilities. Schrader finished the film, and then was told by the studio that the film would be remade entirely from scratch, with a new director! At some point tonight, I will taking time to watch the DVD release of Schrader's version, and while I strongly feel that Warner Brothers should have given Schrader a better shake, I recently decided to give Exorcist: The Beginning a look just the same. Here now then is Part One of my thoughts on the dueling prequels.

"The Beginning" follows Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) in 1949, and through the course of the film, we learn how he came to be the Catholic Church's chief exorcist. As the movie opens, Merrin has lost his faith, and finds himself in Egypt. While there, he discovers that a church was erected over a pagan temple, which was built on the very spot where Lucifer fell to Earth after the war in heaven. The fallen angel has been imprisoned there ever since, until people come by occasionally and loose him on the world. Merrin is asked to recover a small but important artifact--am I watching an
Indiana Jones adventure?-from the church, which ends up meaning nothing to the plot...

The foremost problem with the movie though is that it's NOT SCARY AT ALL. The story by William Wisher Jr. (who collaborated with James Cameron on Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Caleb Carr, with the script penned by Alexi Hawley, is just a mess. It goes all over the place as an incoherent mess. For his part, director Renny Harlin (whose best film is still Die Hard 2) has subscribed to the formula that having blood and gore equals scary. It does not. When the film tries to grab you, it misses the point. As I always say, you don't need to be hit over the head for a film to work.

The DVD does have an audio commentary by Harlin. The track allows for him to make an attempt to explain his actions. While he sounds genuine, it's too little, too late to do any good. There's an 8 minute featurette on the making of the movie, that doesn't really delve in to much, except the usual fluff. Static cast and crew filmographies and the theatrical trailer top off the disc's bonus material.

What a big piece of pure bloated puff this film turned out to be. I was bored silly after just 20 minutes--but managed to somehow stay with it. Paul Schrader's version of the movie may be flawed, but I am hoping that his version of the film won't be worse than this garbage passed off as a horror film sure was.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Little B.O. And A Film Rated X

Weekend Box Office

According to Box Office Mojo's latest report: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' flew past $200 million despite a hefty drop, while the new movies, led by 'Yours, Mine and Ours' and 'Rent,' were relatively slim pickins..."

Read Brandon Gray's full report to get the complete long holiday weekend lowdown.

Triple X

BBC Radio's Chris Evans sat down with actor and former STAR TREK-THE NEXT GENERATION star Patrick Stewart to talk about the latest X-Men sequel and more. Meanwhile, Superhero Hype has even more rumors about the film posted as well.

It will be very interesting to see what new franchise director Brett Ratner comes up with...given his track record.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sending A Message

The December 2nd 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly, has for its cover story, an article by Benjamin Svetsky called "Hollywood Pulls The Trigger" In it he writes about a whole "slew" of new films that are taking on politics and American policy in a way that hasn't been done in quite a while. And in the process, posing the question, "Is that what viewers want?".

Personally, I have no problem with movies taking on any controversy, within the context of the film--whatever the subject matter. As long as the filmmakers remember that the film has to entertain as well.

Films like Syriana, Good Night And Good Luck, Jarhead, and The Constant Gardner do have their place...Their "message" need not hit the viewer over the head though, as was the case with Michael Moore's distorted documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Ultimately, the answer to Svetsky's question will be determined by the all mighty $$, and the movie going public. I really don't care for those in Hollywood who have an agenda all the time 24/7, but as long as they make good product, their message doesn't matter. The audience is smart enough to make up its own mind.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Every "Dog" Has His Day

Actor Al Pacino is one of the industry's best at what he does. Even if the movie he's in is sub-par, he manages to make it watchable, with his very presence. "My pal" Al has always been a favorite of mine and many of films are among my all time "Best Ever" list.

I just found out that his
Dog Day Afternoon, a classic from 1975, directed by the legendary Sydney Lumet (also a favorite of mine), is finally getting the "Special Edition" treatment on DVD on February 28th 2006. DVD Active has all of the details. It sounds like its going to be a very cool release. It's about time! The upgraded 2 disc DVD set is surely gonna be better than the "bare bones" initial release.

Whoo-Hoo! I can't wait!

Wax On Wax Off

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I still feel full. Having said that, I am very much looking forward to digging into those scrumptious leftovers, later on today. No matter how full I am after the BIG MEAL though, there's nothing quite like those yummy next day leftovers...

It's too bad that there's such sad news to report:

RIP Pat Morita (1932-2005)

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita passed away yesterday of natural causes in Las Vegas. He was 73 years old. He may be best remembered as Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid films. I had all but forgotten that he was even nominated for an Oscar for the role in the original film. As far as I'm concerned, he will also be equally be remembered as Arnold from TV's Happy Days, as well.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving Thanks

Before I head off to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family...and stuff myself silly in the process, I thought I'd do a quickie concerning my favorite movie that has theis day as its backdrop.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Writer/director John Hughes, known for his teen comedies of the 80's, gets comic gold by teaming Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Martin plays Neal Page, an advertising guru, who's just trying to make it home in time to carve the turkey and spend time with the family. When his flight gets rerouted, he is forced to accept the help of Candy's character, a well meaning but very obnoxious shower ring salesman named Dell. The two take one heck of a funny road trip together. The chemistry between this "dynamic duo" is undeniable and would do the road pictures with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope of the 1940's and 1950's proud. Planes, Trains & Automobiles may not be a perfect comedy but it is good for lots of giggles and fun. Enjoy!

A special shout out of thanks to our service men and women for doing such a great job in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. I appreciate your hard work and sacrifice Be well and come home safe.

Happy Thanksgiving 2005!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Crash" Course

Crash certainly got a fair amount of attention and praise among the critics during its theatrical run. And with good reason. It's a hard hitting realistic look at race relations in modern America today. Given that co-writer/director Paul Haggis also penned the script for the 2004 Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby, as well, you could say that he enjoys taking on social issues for his projects.

The film weaves together several stories and intersects many lives in the process: Jean Cabot (Sandra Bullock), wife of L.A. district attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) meet a pair of African American street thugs--Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate) as they travel across the city, indulging in car-jackings, all the while discussing the sorry state of their race; As for Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), he is having a busy day of his own-- attempting to pacify his mother (BeverlyTodd), while looking for his lost younger brother, solve a pair of puzzling murder cases, and even finds time for an affair with his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito) ; Sergeant Ryan (Matt Dillon) is a very bitter LAPD officer who has his hands full too...breaking in a new partner, Officer Hanson (Ryan Phillppe) and caring for his ailing father (Bruce Kirby) while fighting with an insurance company employee, Shaniqua Johnson (Loretta Devine); noted TV director Cameron (Terrence Howard) is dealing with the aftermath of a traffic stop and how its affected his wife, Christine (Thandie Newton); hard-working locksmith Daniel (Michael Pena) is confronted by an unhappy customer, a Persian convenience store owner Farhad (Shaun Toub).

Haggis and co-writer Robert Moresco use a realistic cross section of the LA population to tell the stories. Looking at the nature of the story though, I was not expecting there to be any humor, but there are some strategically placed lighter moments amid the intense drama. Everyone in the all star cast turns in very good performances. From Sandra Bullock right on down, each of the players yield some really nice moments. Special kudos must go to Matt Dillon though for his stark turn as a cop on the edge. I have heard some have complaints about how the film switches from one "story" to another. Considering the scope of the film, I think that it's pace is really handled quite well and not an issue at all.

The extras on the DVD begin with a rather meaningless 16 second introduction from Haggis. All he really does is welcome viewers to the bonus material. Big deal. Better realized is the audio commentary. Haggis ,co-writer/producer Moresco and actor/producer Cheadle make for an engaging trio, discussing the film in great detail, in both the practical and its genesis. There is a 10 minute EPK style behind the scenes featurette. A music video for Kansascali's "If I..." from the Crash soundtrack. Trailers for the soundtrack, as well as other studio releases round out the extras.

As far as I'm concerned, Crash is a must see, offering an interesting examination of the fabric of our society...Warts and all. It's a film that will make you think as well as entertain.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

World War One

As director Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War Of The Worlds makes its debut on DVD (review coming soon), I decided to share my thoughts on the original film from 52 years ago, and its recently released special collector's edition DVD .

The first time I saw film producer
George Pal's 1953 version of author H.G.Wells War Of The Worlds, I was in film school, studying the movies of the decade. While the acting in the film is certainly overwrought by today's standards, that it made it seem like a parody in some circles, even back then. Its visual style though remains stunning and relevant today, still influencing generations of filmmakers, including the man responsible for the 2005 remake.

As a tribute to Orson Welles legendary Halloween radio broadcast of 1938, the film opens as a mock newsreel narrated by Paul Frees. Director Byron Haskin then switches to a documentary style format. Actor Cedric Hardwicke takes over the narration, explaining the Martians' reasoning in choosing Earth as their invasion target though a series of animated matte paintings, before getting into the actual story. We follow the action as the first Martian cylinder lands - not in England as told in the novel, or New Jersey as depicted in the radio drama, but in California. Astronuclear physics professor Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is asked to examine the the cylinder meteor. Even as Forrester really concerns himself only with his square dancing partner, beautiful librarian Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), the cylinder unloads an elegant looking Martian war machine, which immediately begins incinerating locals with its high-powered heat ray. Soon after, we learn from military commander Major General Mann (Les Tremayne), the machines have landed all over the planet, and are destroying everything in their path.

As the director, Haskin had two things going for him, helping the film ensure classic status. Bold (for its time) imagery, enhanced by the Technicolor process, and brilliant sound mix. Even if you've never seen the film, once you hear the thrum of the martian weaponry, you'll recognize it. As I said, the film has had a lasting impact. From Independence Day, to Mars Attacks by director Tim Burton, and even the indie The Blair Witch Project, with its faux documentary style, all were inspired by this film. The film's pro-christian only message comes off as a bit contrived by today's standards, there's still lots to enjoy on a basic level, fluff and all.

With all the hoopla surrounding the remake, Paramount finally re-released the film on DVD, as a special edition. First up is a commentary by stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson (who both have cameos in 2005 version). I was delighted with this track--it's full of anecdotes and other behind-the-scenes details that give you a sense of filming must have like. A second commentary features director Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author of the great book
Keep Watching The Skies!, which examines sci-fi films of the 50's, Bill Warren. This is a more technical track, for film "geeks" like me, who get the lowdown on how the effects and miniatures were created. "The Sky Is Falling" is a newly produced 30 minute documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew members, as well as people familiar with the production. It provides for a fine look at the making of the film and its lasting impact. Next up, is a featurette on H.G. Wells that examines his life and work. As a fan of the the author, I enjoyed this extra feature a lot. The crown jewel of the bonus material though, is the aforementioned, Mercury Theater radio play of the story by Orson Welles. This is the original broadcast from Halloween of 1938 that sent many folks into a panic, as they believed that Earth was being invaded by martians. The radio drama is a real treat! The play is presented while still images featuring Welles at the microphone are on screen. The video and audio transfer has also been improved over the original DVD. The vintage theatrical trailer tops things off.

The DVD is a must have for fans of the film.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Harry's Gold

Big surprise. The latest Harry Potter flick,"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" cast quite a spell over moviegoers this past weekend and made all of its competition disappear with an estimated $101.4 million -- a new franchise high -- according to Box Office Mojo while the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line sang to the tune of a solid $22.4 million estimate.


I was very right with my assessment of the TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure that aired last night. It took forever to get going and still felt far too padded even during the good stunt sequences. The characters were nothing but empty shells, save for Adam Baldwin, who gave a great performance as Mike Rogo. Pretty silly dreck if you ask me.

"Mission" Ops

I came across these photos of the filming of Mission Impossible III due out next year. Despite having the creator of TV's Alias and Lost, (both of which I watch every week), J.J. Abrams behind the camera and co-writing the script, after looking at those pics, I don't know what to think. Sheesh!!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ship Shape

As far as film trends go, the 1970's could have easily been called, The Decade Of The Disaster. For my money, the crown jewel of the genre is 1972's The Poseidon Adventure. Produced by the king of "disaster film" Irwin Allen, Poseidon boasts an all star cast, led by Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelley Winters, great special effects (for its time at least), and lots of excitement.

When an earthquake at sea causes a cruise ship to capsize on New Year's Eve, a group of passengers must band together, overcome incredible obstacles and find a way to survive. The ship is now upside down, so that makes getting to the engine room imperative. For me, the fun of the film is watching Hackman and Borgnine butt heads, as the rest of the group looks for a leader to take them to safety. Hackman makes you believe the material, this despite, some unbelievable circumstances. Director
Ronald Neame created a peril at every turn fun-fest that pulls you in and you become invested in each of the character's fate. The current DVD of the movie has no extras on it, save for the vintage theatrical trailer.

While fans of the movie wait for a "special edition" release of the film a three hour made for TV remake airs tonight on NBC from 8-11 P.M. While I doubt it will hold a candle to the original, I have to admit that I will be checking out the tele-film at some point during the broadcast. Curiosity and all that... In the end, I have a feeling the remake will land somewhere far behind the'74 version, yet slightly ahead of the pointless 1979 sequel. Meanwhile, TV critic Tom Shales shares his thoughts on the TV remake.

In case you have any doubts about just how popular the '72 film is, one
click here should change your mind. Oh, before I forget, there's also a big screen remake called Poseidon set for May 12th 2006, directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

Friday, November 18, 2005

You Are Such A Tease(r)

Have you seen the teaser trailer for Superman Returns yet? I must admit, the first time I watched it during last night's Smallville, I was left rather unimpressed by it. And then I watched it again online...several times...slowly changing my mind about it...

It offers just enough to whet your appetite. Brief snippets of footage, accompanied by composer John Williams classic score from the first film, specifically The Theme From Krypton. There is no dialogue from the new film--rather lines spoken by the late Marlon Brando in the original film can be heard. To find out how Brando's Jor-El will be resurrected for the new film, read this.

The more I watched the 94 second trailer, the more excited I got...What can I say, it certainly grew on me.

In related news...director Bryan Singer talks about some super cameos for the film, by some well known members of the classic 50's television series cast.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lights Out

I first found out about the "thriller" Darkness while on a visit to a well known national retail chain a few months ago. Since the film got next to nothing in the way of a theatrical release, I decided to do a little research, via the internet, before taking a look. I was surprised to learn the film was really not "new" having a 2002 copyright! As regular readers of this blog can attest, horror is one of my favorite genres, this despite the fact that these films are replete with cliches even on a good day. Having watched the film, I can honestly say that Darkness is one of the worst horror films I have ever seen, of this, or any other year.

The film follows an ordinary American family as it moves into a large, creaky Victorian home located in the Spanish countryside that, unbeknownst to them, was the scene of some awful experiments on the night of a total eclipse 40 years before. Teenage daughter Regina (Anna Paquin) decides to investigate after unexplained bruises show up on her younger brother Paul(Stephen Enquist). This, as their father Mark (Iain Glen) displays some oddly enraged and erratic behavior. Although her mother Maria (Lena Olin) and her grandfather (Giancarlo Giannini) refuse to believe her, Regina is convinced that something within their new home is the cause of the trouble. As another eclipse looms, Regina enlists the help of her new boyfriend Carlos (Fele Martinez) and she begins to unravel the mysteries that threaten her family.

Believe me, the description of the film sounds way more exciting than the film itself. Spanish drector Jaume Balaguero, who also collaborated with Fernando de Felipe on the script, puts all sorts of visual imagery and quick cuts hoping to induce "terror" All this does though is occasionally take you out of a trance of boredom. The film creates no suspense and everything comes off flat and too dull for us too care or have fun watching. Plainly put I was bored stiff. Poor Paquin looks like really distracted here as the headliner. No wonder the film stayed under the radar for so long.

The only real extra on the DVD is a (thankfully) brief making of featurette with the film's director. The guy has a lot of really insightful things to say about film making, and heralds finding more creative ways to scare us. The problem here is that he doesn't speak English, and thus the volume of his words has been dialed down low, so that he can barely be heard over the flat translator for him in English. The passion for whatever it is that he's saying is completely lost. Given how the film turned out, it really doesn't matter in the end. Sneak peeks for other studio releases round out the disc.

Darkness, first and foremost isn't scary at all. I would even take it more in stride if it were a film of horror campy fun. Be afraid Be very afraid

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Working Parts

The Machinist is an excellent psychological thriller. Despite getting its premiere at a high profile event like the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, the film still got somewhat buried by the hype surrounding the fact that star Christian Bale was doing the more anticipatory Batman Begins . For those that aren't bothered by some rough imagery--the movie is a must see.

Trevor Reznick (Bale) is quite literally withering away to nothing. During the day, Trevor works in a colorless industrial factory, while at night he seeks refuge in the bed of a tender prostitute, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). For reasons unknown even to Trevor, he hasn't been able to sleep for an entire year. As a consequence, he has shed over sixty pounds, making him look like a walking skeleton. After an accident at the factory costs Trevor his job, he finds himself tracking a mysterious figure that may or may not be able to provide the answers he wants. Meanwhile, he begins to connect with a pretty airport waitress, Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), who shows Trevor some much-needed sympathy. As the film builds to its climax, it becomes all too clear--just what has been tormenting Trevor all along.

Once again Christian Bale delivers an amazing performance that is even more appreciated when you consider his physical transformation wasn't done with any CGI trickery at all. At great risk and sacrifice to his own health, he took on anything that director Brad Anderson and writer Scott Kosar (2003's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) would throw at him. The film is stylized yet very simple at the same time, allowing you to be drawn into this disturbing tale very easily. Be warned the film is quite bleak, even the way it portrays its nondescript American city locale. Unlike many of today's cookie-cutter thrillers, The Machinist actually holds a few surprising twists and turns that will keep you guessing till the end...

The DVD features a nice set of extras. I enjoyed listening to Anderson's informative audio commentary track. He offers some keen insights and backstage secrets about the film. The movie pushes the envelope and while he acknowledges that, he doesn't apologize for it. The film is perfectly paced as is, and wouldn't have benefited had the 8 deleted scenes made it into the final cut, they were still interesting to see. Heck, even "The Machinist: Breaking the Rules" featurette, goes a bit deeper than most usually do. The theatrical trailer tops off the bonus material.

Be Warned: I have seen a lot of disturbing stuff on film over the years and even I was taken aback at some of the imagery. Bale continues to prove just how good of an actor he is. From his first role in Spielberg's underated Empire Of The Sun, almost 20 years ago, through American Psycho as a serial killer, The Machinist, and Batman Begins, he finds a way to make it work. Bravo.

The Following Preview...

The November 18th 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly devotes the cover for its annual Holiday Movie Guide. Get the inside scoop for 31 films. As a regular reader of EW, almost since issue #1., there predictions and insight are usually spot on.


Around the same time that I discovered that movies could hold the key to a career in the future, I also discovered that reading comic books was a lot of fun. Heck, until 10 years ago, comics were a regular part of my reading "diet". It's rare then, that I don't know anything about those characters beforehand, that have made the leap onto the big screen. I have to admit though, such is the case with Constantine, as created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis, for the Hellblazer title. Other than what I could gather from the film's trailer, my knowledge of the back story was zero, which could be seen by some as a good thing. I have to say, coming at it with fresh eyes though, didn't affect my opinion about the film (one way or another) at all.

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a world-travelling, mage-like misfit who investigates supernatural mysteries and the like, walking that thin line between good and evil. For the story Constantine teams up with a female police detective, Angela (Rachel Weisz), who wants Constantine's help while investigating the suicide style death of her twin sister. Their investigation leads them to a mysterious group called "The First of the Fallen". And what is it about Constantine that puts him in a position where he is making deals with those that represent both heaven and hades for everyone's soul?

Having finally escaped the scifi--started off great then got muddled
Matrix Trilogy--My first thought was, I was a little surprised that Reeves would take on a supernatural effects heavy project so soon afterwards...I decided to read the enclosed comic book reprint of Hellblazer #41 (an exclusive for the "Deluxe Edition" 2-disc set), as a primer, before seeing the movie. The 50 page book makes a fun adult read does an OK job as a set up... As far as the film itself, the adaptation ends up as a middle of the road effort. Kevin Brodbin (who also provided the story) and Frank Cappello's script wanders a bit at times. But the film's major issues arise, thanks to an uninspired performance from Reeves, who seems to be on auto pilot. Not to mention the fact that director Francis Lawrence fell into the trap of tying too hard. Just because the source material is dark doesn't mean it can't be fun (see Sin City and Batman Begins and you'll discover that it can be done). Don't get me wrong I wasn't bored with Constantine, but, I wasn't all that wowed by it either.

The extras on the set break down this way: Disc One has an audio commentary track with Lawrence, co-producer Akiva Goldsman, and the screenwriters. Given my ho-hum feelings of the film, I still found the foursome to be quite informative and entertaining when they're kidding around. There's also a music video for the song, "Passive," by A Perfect Circle from the soundtrack. A teaser and the theatrical trailer top off the first disc.

Disc Two contains a wide array of making-of material, divided into a number of categories. it's too bad much of it is repetitive. It would have worked much better as a a single, longer documentary. In any case, things begin with a fifteen-minute featurette called "Conjuring Constantine: From Comic Book to Movie," which tells how the filmmakers tried to translate the spirit of the comic-book character to the screen. Judging by the comic book that I talked about, I'd say they went a bit left of that goal. "The Production from Hell," includes three segments: five minutes for a"Director's Confessional," "Collision with Evil," running four minutes and"Holy Relics," coming in at eight minutes. In the latter segment, director Francis Lawrence tells us he did not want the movie to feel like a comic book; he wanted it to seem more real. Um Francis, I hate to say this but even the best comic book films aren't real. Next up is a section called"Imagining the Underworld," which includes four segments: "Hellscape,"eleven minutes; "Visualizing Vermin," "Warrior Wings," and "Unholy Abduction". All of this stuff concentrates on the visual look of the film. The final section of extras is a hodgepodge. "Constantine Cosmology," is a five minute segment with with Phil Cousineau, author of "The Hero's Journey," explaining just how Constantine fits the mold of mythologist Joseph Campbell's traditional hero. Blah Blah. "Foresight: The Power of PreVisualization," is a CGI storyboard-to-screen comparison, with optional commentary by director Lawrence. There are no less than fourteen widescreen deleted scenes, including optional director's commentary. Most of this stuff is just filler folks. The alternate ending is intriguing though...An Easter egg tops off the set.

Constantine isn't a total loss. It's watchable indeed, but not as much fun as the 2 other recent dark comic book films I mentioned.

Friday, November 11, 2005

RIP Moustapha Akkad (1935-2005)

Today I found out that Moustapha Akkad, the man who helped finance John Carpenter's Halloween, was among the casualties in the recent terrorist attacks in Jordan. He was 72 years old. Any time I would see an interview with Akkad, he would come across as a man who loved life and what he did.

Thank you Mr. Akkad for helping to bring one of the greatest horror films ever made to movie theaters. More on the life and tragic death of this fine industry leader can be found here and here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sith Happens

Like most folks who grew up going nuts for The original Star Wars trilogy, from 1977-1983, as first presented by creator George Lucas before he decided to make all those changes not once but twice, I have been quite critical of the prequels. The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones may have been a technical feast for the eyes, but for me those two films in the series, were missing the magic of the the earlier films. Jar Jar Binks anyone? And while I do have a few issues with the way the six part saga wrapped up, Revenge Of The Sith, still satisfies in ways that the other two prequels did not.

As the film opens, three years have passed, the Repulic still finds itself in the grips of the Clone War. Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his aprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiamiad) from the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Upon their successful return to the capital, Palpatine begins to convince Anakin to turn to the dark side of the force and betray the Jedi, in an effort to prevent his beloved Padme (Natale Portman) from dying in childbirth as foretold in his dreams. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan must confront the cyborg General Grievous (Matthew Wood), to stop the war, while Yoda (Frank Oz) aids the Wookies of Kashyyyk.

While some of the problems that plagued Episodes I and II exist here: Groan inducing dialogue, particularly between lovers Padme and Anakin, "I love you","No I love you more", that type stuff. Some of the other dialogue is hampered by stiff direction from Lucas. And there is a few sequences that get weighed down by too much Jedi-candy (Sorry for that). It's thanks to strong performances by Mc Gregor McDiamiad, and Oz, that once again stand out. The way that Anakin becomes Darth Vader is a compelling journey, despite the fact that, we in the audience already know the ultimate outcome of the entire saga. I could totally "geek out" and nit-pick over the continuity goofs , existing between the two trilogies now, but I will not go that far. Suffice to say...any well trained Jedi knows they are there and what they are.

The DVD extras on the this 2 disc set are quite comprehensive, just as they were for every other film in the series, and include the following:

The audio commentary with writer-director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, animation director Rob Coleman, and ILM visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett is pretty solid and not as tech sounding as you might think. Having someone from the cast join the track would have made it even better. The "exclusive deleted scenes" with introductions by Lucas and McCallum are nice to see, as many involve the formation of the rebellion, but were wisely cut. "Within a Minute" is a 75 minute documentary tracing how every department came together to create the Mustafar battle. "The Chosen One" featurette has Lucas and others exploring the journey of Darth Vader through episodes 1-6. Another featurette called "It's All for Real looks at the stunts of Episode III--wow how cool is that! The set also includes a set of mini-documentaries first presented on the web. Look for a Star Wars Battlefront II trailer and Xbox game demo, as well as the Star Wars Empire at War PC game trailer, composer John Williams "A Hero Falls" music video, poster and print campaign concepts, the prerequisite trailers and TV spots, and a never-before-seen production photo gallery with some really nice pics. The package tops off with DVD-ROM content that includes a free trial of Hyperspace, the ultimate online Star Wars experience. "Easter Egg" hunters should find some hidden content among the menus.

All in all, not a bad way to wrap up the saga of a "galaxy far, far away".

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Coming Attractions

I have begun tinkering with the layout of The Last Reel in order to make things a bit more interactive for folks who visit. Things will be in a state of flux for a bit though

Now ANYONE can comment on any of my posts

I will be adding stuff to the sidebar soon...

The review of Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith is almost ready to be published as promised on Halloween--Patience is the Jedi way after all.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

While I'm sure that director Tim Burton's soon to be on DVD updated 2005 version of Roald Dahl's now classic 1965 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a feast for the senses, I resist seeing it though, because I know that no matter how good it may be, it will never hold a candle to the 1971 version and I want those special feelings to remain untouched. There are several films that helped to define my early childhood Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, The Muppet Movie, Star Wars ,Superman The Movie, and of course, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. In the Wonka case, it was a combination of Gene Wilder's sincere performance as the title character, those memorable songs, and its innovative look that made it work.

When Willy Wonka, (Wilder) a very reclusive candy man, decides to open his factory for the first time to the townsfolk, he turns the event into a game. Only five children who are lucky enough to find golden tickets hidden at random in his candy bars, will be allowed to enter the factory. Against all odds, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) is determined to find one of the tickets. The only problem is that his family is so poor that all they can afford to eat is cabbage water, candy bars are seen as nothing more than a rare luxury andfar too expensive. As fate would have it, Charlie finds a ticket and soon he and his Grandpa Joe (the late great Jack Albertson) enter the factory that had so long eluded their reach. Also along for this special trip: the glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), spoiled brat Veruca Salt, (JulieCole) world-record holder for gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, (DeniseNickerson) and the television-obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen). Everything in the factory, right down to the wallpaper, can be eaten and enjoyed. The eccentric, inventive candy man has some secret motives of his own for the special invitation. Soon, as everyone makes there way through the factory, not all is as it seems.

It has been quite awhile since I sat down to watch the film and even though my memories of it remained vivid, I had forgotten that the author had contributed to the film's script, while Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, and Walter Scharf took care of adapting songs for the film. As I stated at the top, Wilder made this work for me, as he is Wonka (sorry Johnny Depp). From his soft spoken, childlike delivery, to his interaction with the kids, he is just great. Director Mel Stuart did a super job bringing this version to life in such a vivid way. The film holds up quite well despite its age and is still lots of fun.

The DVD extras are headlined by an audio commentary track that reunites the Wonka children, marking the first time in decades that they'd all sat in the same room and watched the film .All of the participants reminiscence about the production but offer little in the way of technical stuff. Lots of fun. The half-hour retrospective documentary, "Pure Imagination", which features contributions from Wilder, Stuart, and producer David L. Wolper, and the kids as they are today, offers the more traditional insight. A four-minute featurette from the early '70s is included as well, allowing for some vintage behind-the-scenes footage. Rounding out the disc is the theatrical trailer, a follow the bouncing ball sing-along--that small kids will like, and a photo gallery.

I can't say enough good things about Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. What a timeless classic that works for those from 8 to 80.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

RIP Michael Piller (1948-2005)

This morning, I awoke to very sad news that television and movie producer Michael Piller has passed away, after losing his battle with cancer. He was just 57 years old.

His legacy includes :

He is credited as the major reason that Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek saga florished on TV in the 90's, when he took over the topsy-turvy "Writer's Room" of Star Trek-TNG in season 3 (hands down the series most creative year), and steadied its course. He brought on talented writers Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr and wrote the show's most popular episodes, the 2-parter The Best Of Both Worlds.

He also co-created the underrated spin-off Deep Space Nine and helped keep the saga's third series, Voyager afloat during its run, despite concept issues galore. He would go on to write Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth Trek feature film. After leaving Trek behind, he helped to create (along with his son Shawn) the successful cable TV series, The Dead Zone, based on a Stephen King novel of the same name, that was also turned into a 1983 film as well.

Piller was a very talented writer/producer who will be missed very much...More on Piller can be found here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On The March

One of my favorite summer rituals: I always spend an afternoon with my niece, before she heads back to college. Our time together consists of a midday movie and a late lunch. This year, I had suggested we see the thriller Red Eye as the movie and that was the plan--until we found out that we would have to drive 35 minutes out of our way to see it. Doing so would have conflicted with her late day commitments, she then suggested the documentary March Of The Penguins, I was not not all that jazzed, quite frankly...But I decided to forge ahead anyway. And I'm glad I did. Little did I know that a doc about the mating habits of Penguins would be so enjoyable.

Emperor penguins overcome overwhelming odds in order to return to their breeding grounds for mating season. This import from France, called LaMarche de l'empereur, follows one year in the life of a flock concentrating on one couple in particular--whom I personally nicknamed
Ralph and Alice-as they travel across the Antarctic on an annual journey that invokes almost every life cycle experience: from birth to death, from dating to mating, from comedy to tragedy, and from love to fighting for survival.

The American producers did a great service to the audience by enlisting actor
Morgan Freeman to narrate writer Jordan Roberts English translation. Freeman's storytelling technique keeps you engaged from almost the first moment you hear his recognizable inflection and cadence. The photography by Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison is just stunning. The beauty of the arctic shines, even in its harshness. Getting up close with these stellar creatures is a real treat. Director Luc Jacquet and his team are to be applauded for the way they made this film buck convention--that animal documentaries don't have a place for a mass audiences.

March of the Penguins is a funny and touching look at these classy critters. I only wish that all of those animal docs I was "forced" to watch in my High School Life Science classes were this good. March Of The Penguins is scheduled for release on
DVD November 29th 2005.