Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Essentials- "The Graduate" (1967)

The Essentials-#72

The Graduate

There are very few movies at there that have tried to investigate the American obsession with sex and our culture’s overall sexual identity. Not only that, but very few movies have approach this subject in a serious and significant way. There is a good reason why Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” was accepted for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1996. The movie does a good job of painting a portrait of a boy who is young and confused, a boy who is still piecing together his identity, a boy who wasted four years at college and still has no idea what to do with his life. When I graduated from college, my friends from home and my college buddies had a firm grasp of what they wanted to do with their lives, and I feel like I do too. Sure, everyone has set-backs, but overall we all have a plan of some kind, a power-play that will cement our mark in life.

I never knew anybody like Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a man who comes home from his college graduation with absolutely no plan for his future. It doesn’t seem any family or friends seem to care, they are just happy to have a college graduate in the house. It seems a little silly that somebody who has a B.A. would still be aimlessly drifting through life, but I don’t doubt it happens. In Macklemore’s recent album, there is a song where he discusses the “confusion before the suit and tie,” and I think that is a very real thing. I think some people do suffer from anxiety after graduating college. We fear that we will never live up to our potential, we fear that we will not become the people we studied to become and most of all we fear that we will remain unemployed for an uncertain amount of time. These are all relevant fears and I think Hoffman captures them very well within the first twenty minutes of the film. I think Hoffman has always been a talented guy, and this is just another iconic performance by an iconic actor.

On the night of his graduation party, Benjamin’s father’s law partner’s wife Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) needs a ride home. Benjamin agrees to drive her home and she swiftly invites him in for a drink and proceeds to seduce him. Benjamin is reluctant at first, but eventually gives into Mrs. Robinson’s seduction and they begin an affair. Bancroft was a very beautiful woman and she knew how to use that beauty well in this movie. Mrs. Robinson is a relentless temptress in this movie and Bancroft creates that persona well.

Not only is there an intriguing story of a lucrative affair, but a sub-plot emerges when Benjamin’s parents and Mrs. Robinson’s husband declare that Benjamin should date the Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Nobody knows about Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin’s affair and Mrs. Robinson is very much against Benjamin dating Elaine. Benjamin takes Elaine on a date, but purposefully acts like a jerk, but once he discovers he has a connection to Elaine, he decides he wants to date her. What ensues is one of the zaniest love triangles ever to appear in a motion picture. Yet, through the craziness of the movie, the acting work by Hoffman, Bancroft, Ross and the rest of the cast keep the audience invested in the characters. Not only does Hoffman do a good job of playing the drifting young man well, he is really good at playing an anti-hero. By the end of the movie, Benjamin is only after his own self-satisfaction, not the satisfaction of anyone else. He wants to be happy and he doesn’t care who he has to step on to get there. It is a bold move for a movie to create a lead that we are not necessarily supposed to root for and I give the movie credit for that decision. The character is further complimented by the good work done by Bancroft and Ross.

What really makes “The Graduate” worth-while is how sincere it treats its adult subjects. Sex is never an easy subject, whether it’s TV or movies or any other piece of media. I liked how the film approached the subject and took it seriously. I liked how Nichols successfully integrated the subject into a film with a meaning and purpose. It is not a movie that just discusses sex just to discuss it; the movie approaches the material in a meaningful way.

There is a lot to marvel at when it comes to “The Graduate,” and I don’t mean that with any pun whatsoever.

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Escape from Tomorrow" (2013)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#72

Escape from Tomorrow

Whether you heard about it or not, “Escape from Tomorrow” was met with an overflow of controversy. Director Randy Moore shot an entire movie in Walt Disney World without any permission. Yes, you read that right, Moore had absolutely no authorization to shoot his movie at Disney World, but he did anyway. He got shots on rides, he got shots of employees, he got shots of people in costumes, inside buildings, outside buildings, the whole bit. That type of work is taboo in this country. I remember my friends and I used to make movies when we were in high school, and I remember we decided to shoot a scene in a grocery store without permission. We only wanted to get about a minute of footage tops, and that took at least an hour because we were explaining ourselves to every employee we came across. That may not have been a shining moment for me, but it was a fun experience.

“Escape from Tomorrow” is a wicked little horror movie. Something that feels in the vein of David Lynch, Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick. What makes this movie so interesting is the location, first and foremost. Walt Disney World is a happy place, a wonderful vacation spot for kids, every kid in the world dreams of going there at some point. It is not the first place one would think to shoot a horror film at, which is precisely why it is so horrifying. The film is shot completely in black and white, which only ramps up the horror of the film. I think Randy Moore expertly uses his location to superb effect, making this very magical place the most frightening place on earth. That coupled with the black and white scenery makes everything scarier.

The film revolves around Jim (Roy Abramsohn) a middle-aged, repressed man who spending his final day of vacation at Disney World with his family. They are trying to make the most of their day when Jim begins to suffer from terrible hallucinations. These hallucinations include his son Elliot’s (Jack Dalton) eyes turning black, or seeing monstrous faces on people or seeing that all the Disney princesses are really members of a prostitution ring. These hallucinations make trouble with his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and he quickly finds out that something sinister is lurking within the confines of the Amusment Park.  The work by Abramsohn is the glue to the entire movie, and he really does a good job in the role. Abramsohn is very good at being fatherly and equally good at being mentally disturbed. The rest of the cast is also very good in this movie.

The film benefits from being subtle with its horror. The scares are not big and broad, they are small and scaled. If you blink, you could miss something. Sometimes these smaller scares are more effective then the big, gory scares. This movie put me on edge because I could not see anything coming and that left me uneasy. Even with the most subtle of horror films, I can at least see some scares coming, but there is no routine in this movie. There is no pattern to the scares, and it feels like anything can happen at any moment. If you like horror films where nothing can be predicted, you’ll love this movie.

Controversal, ambitious and crazy, “Escape from Tomorrow” is worth a look.


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Rover Review

The Rover Review

Post-apocalyptic futures are never pretty. Tonight, a watched a film called “The Rover” which starred Guy Pierce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy. I think “The Rover” is many things and pretty is not among them, nor should it be. Imagining a world where the government breaks down and there is nobody to protect us from ourselves is a very scary thought. It seems writer and director David Michod thought the exact same thing. “The Rover” is a hellish landscape, a world torn apart by economic collapse. The mood, atmosphere and backdrop of the film is a gritty one and it suits the film well. There is an incredible musical score by Antony Partos that became more and more addicting as the film went on. “The Rover” is a movie that certainly gets its theme’s right.

But “The Rover” is not just a dystopia of terror. “The Rover” also works as a modern-day Western. Although I will say that there are really not any heroes in the movie, the men we follow in this cruel world are all dangerous. These are men that fight for the smallest of supplies, because it is all they have left. Eric (Guy Pierce) is a loner, the exact type of personality we love in Western and Samurai movies. As the film begins, Eric has a very bad day once his car is stolen by a three men after a robbery gone wrong. Eric tales the robbers, but they make their escape. Eric begins to scourge the countryside for his car and he stumbles upon Rey (Robert Pattinson), one of the robber’s brothers who was left at the scene of the crime. Eric forces Rey to track down his brother and the other robbers to get his car back.

I can hear most of you ready to close this page and stop reading this review after reading the name Robert Pattinson. Let me just start by saying that you won’t believe this is Robert Pattinson. “The Rover” presence a very interesting moment in Pattinson’s career, because if he continues to receive roles like this, he will turn his career and reputation around quickly. Rey has several ticks and mannerisms to his character, sometimes it is kind of hard to decipher what he is saying in some scenes. Yet, every time Pattinson stumbles on the screen, it is hard to take your eyes off of him. This one role brings Pattinson a long way from the pretty control-freak from “Twilight” or the clichéd loner from “Remember Me.” This one role is a tremendous step forward and honestly, all I can say is good for him. I would much rather enjoy performances over not enjoying them. If Pattinson becomes the next Channing Tatum, then I will be a happy boy indeed.

Both Pierce and McNairy are both excellent, as to be expected. Pierce plays the word-less, Samurai-like figure of the movie. He has a very particular mission he wants to complete and when it’s accomplished, he is done. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the movie and he doesn’t possess a whole lot of emotion, but somehow Pierce makes it all worthwhile. Pierce can say a whole lot just by his stern face and cold demeanor. McNairy plays the older brother of Rey and he feels terrible about leaving his brother for dead. McNairy does not have lots of scenes in the movie, but when he’s onscreen, he makes it count.

I will say that “The Rover” is a slow-burn movie and it features a rather somber ending. If you prefer happy endings, you may want to skip “The Rover” completely. There is also not a ton of dialogue in the movie, and I know that would turn a lot of viewers off as well. Plus, the plot is just kind of lacking for a post-apocalyptic movie. Had the film had a stronger plot, I feel I would have been more engaged. But it is pretty thin and it doesn’t give a lot for the actors to do. What is presented for the actors feels like a thousand other movies I have already seen.

Despite the plot issues, there is a lot of cool scenery and there are many good performances to see in “The Rover.” For these reasons alone, this movie is well worth checking out.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Look at Pixar's New Film!


There was a time when it seemed Pixar was unbeatable as a studio. They felt like Midas in Hollywood form, and everything they touched turned to gold. It seemed everything they would make would become a hit, make tons of money and become another cultural sensation. Then after “Toy Story 3,” there seemed to be a decline in effort, and in story-telling. The studio went into sequel mode and they decided to stop taking risks with their story-telling. Their studio ever hurt, but they seemed to go creatively bankrupt. I mean watch “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Up” then watch “Monsters University,” and “Cars 2” the difference is pretty clear.

Next year could be a massive return to form. We have our first official image of Pixar’s “Inside Out.” The new film coming out next year. Apparently the film will take place inside the subconscious of a little girl and her emotions will be the characters in the film. It seems like a unique way to approach a film and it will certainly be unlike anything Pixar has made so far. I want to start believing in Pixar again, and this could be the film to do it.

Every studio has a few set-backs or a few bumps on the log. I don’t want to remember them because of how many mediocre films they made, I want to remember them by how they bounce back.


SOURCE:
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/68534



Who Played It Best? VITO CORLEONE

WHO PLAYED IT BEST?

VITO CORLEONE

I have already written hundreds and hundreds of words on “The Godfather” and it is one of those movies where I feel not much else needs to be said. The film is hailed as a classic, it always has been hailed as a classic and it will always be hailed as a classic. I have no problem with that, despite personaly feeling that there are better gangster movies out there. That doesn’t mean I can’t see how the film is cinematically important, or how it has shaped the way we make gangster films. Of course I can see why it is so popular and so culturally sound. Part of the reason why the series works is due to the journey Vito takes. In just two films we learn a lifetime about the guy, including that his infamous last name is not really is true last name. “The Godfather” would not be the memorable if it were not for Vito Corleone, and we saw young Vito Corleone played Robert De Niro and old Vito Corleone played by Marlon Brando. So I wonder who you liked better.

My Two Cents
This is a tough decision, when we meet both old and young Corelone in their respected films, they are at different points in their lives. The young Vito is ambitious, cunning and revenge-driven. The old Vito is relaxed, wise, and powerful. Each actor approaches the written characters in a much different way. This could sway your opinion one way or it can make it hard to even decide. I will say that I was impressed by how De Niro became a young Vito and I could definitely tell that there were even moments in Part II where I felt De Niro was channeling Brando. However, De Niro would have never had anything to channel if it weren’t for Brando. There is a way Brando elevates every scene in the film and he is hypnotic from start to finish. With such visual thunder, it is hard for me not to give the edge to Brando.

Please email me (bloggershawn@gmail.com) by next Wednesday to let me know your vote for your favorite Vito Corleone actor. Or you can sound off in the comment section.

LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? JOHN SHAFT
Last week, a rather cool cop was up for examination for our “Who Played It Best?” Here are the results for last week’s John Shaft.

Richard Roundtree

GET YOUR VOTES BY NEXT WEDNESDAY SO THAT WE CAN FIGURE OUT THE BEST VITO CORLEONE.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" Review

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" Review

When you sit down to make a movie, it seems that you have to strike while the iron is hot. History has proven that if an artist sits on an idea for a long, long, long time, that usually means trouble for the overall accomplishment. How many of you know that before Steven Spielberg, “A.I.” was going to be directed by Stanley Kubrick? Kubrick never got the movie made before his death, and he gave it to Spielberg to finish. The film that followed was a horrible representation of Kubrick’s ideas and a tedious miscalculation in general. Even great movies are not quite the same after so long. While I like Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” I understand that it is one of the only Scorsese movies that is not universally embraced. Had Scorsese made the film in the late 1970’s, I wonder if word on the film would have been different. In show-business, you can’t wait and once you have a hit and if you think you can make more money on it, and then by all means, indulge on it. Otherwise, somebody else might go ahead and cash-in on your brilliant idea.

“Sin City” came out in 2005 and it was a movie I dug quite a bit. I always love movies that feature a cast of characters that I love equally and I don’t necessarily have a favorite character. Such was the case with “Sin City.” Add a groovy homage to film noir, throw in an incredible ensemble of actors and featuring a host of delirious stories. “Sin City” may have been pieces of storytelling and style that we had seen before, but it director(s) Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller made it all feel original. It was a movie that screamed to be a franchise, and it was critically and commercially successful, which is a pretty big deal for a movie that received a hard R-rating. Rodriguez and Miller always wanted to make a sequel, but a bunch of hilariously buffoonish reasons kept a sequel from happening. First Rodriguez wanted Angelina Jolie for a specific role, so he wanted to wait for her to have her baby before starting. Then those plans fell through, and then some cast members died, and there were studio delays, and there were script re-writes, and then release dates were revised. All of this and more created delusion that a sequel would never come.

 Finally, in August 2014, nearly a decade after the first film’s initial release, “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” is finally here. There are a few things that I like about the sequel. Rodriguez and Miller have once again created a visually lush urban landscape. One of the main draws for this franchise has been the visuals and the visuals on this second time around are stunning. I also have noticed that Eva Green and Frank Miller may have some kind of secret connection with each other. I didn’t know what to expect earlier this year with “300: Rise of an Empire,” which came from another work by Frank Miller. But I will say the film blindsided me in a good way, and one of the reasons why it worked so well was because of Eva Green. Once again, Eva Green delivers a sexy, stylish and strong performance. Her Ava Lord is a hypnotic presence, and she is one of the highlights of the sequel. I also think the film benefited from casting Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Meloni and Christopher Lloyd. All of them delivering wonderful performances and adding to the pulpy flavor of the material.

Despite some good decisions, there seems to be something missing from the sequel. The film feels empty, lacking something essential for its success. Or maybe it has too much of something. While I liked Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Marv in the first film, he is drastically overused in the sequel. Part of the reason why I liked him so much in the first film was because he felt like a character I could identify with. Rodriguez and Miller gave Marv such a rich story with even richer writing that I fell in love with the character. In the sequel, Marv doesn’t have a good story, nor does have any type of personality. He is just a guy looking for a reason to beat the crap out of someone, and it gets old fast. Especially since it is Marv that connects every story in the sequel together. It is one of the oddest decisions Rodriguez and Miller made, and by this point, the film was just getting started with its underwhelming qualities.

It seems that Miller has lost his writing touch. The sequel is set up like the first film, with several stories taking place in Sin City interlocking with each other. These stories were based on a series of graphic novels written by Miller. In the first film, each story was based on a story from the comic series. In the sequel, there are two stories that Miller wrote specifically for the sequel, and they did not come from a story from the comic series. Funny, that these two stories are the most boring of the entire movie. One involves Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a smart-ass gambler who wins a poker game against Senator Roarke (Powers Booth) who takes the loss a little too personal. The writing for the story feels like Miller was writing a sequel, throwing jokes and stabs that those who saw the first film will get. I hate that kind of writing in a sequel, and this story was soaked in it. It also doesn't help that Johnny's story goes completely nowhere and features a horrendous non-ending. There is a “big reveal” in the middle of this storyline, but it is so sudden and so under-explored that it falls with a loud dud.  Another original storyline involves Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) plotting revenge on Senator Roarke for killing her lover, Hartigan (Bruce Willis). While this sounds like a cool set-up, it plays out like every other revenge movie, and it ends so anti-climatically, and so quickly that I didn’t care. Rodriguez and Miller did such a good job with making the audience care about each character and each story in the first film, but this time they surprisingly ignore several characters and their respected storylines.

The film opens with an adaptation of “Just Another Saturday Night,” which features Marv looking for someone to fight. While the first film opened with a cool, collected story, which really set-up the movie we were about to watch, “Just Another Saturday Night” felt very dull and I was already not excited for the sequel once the opening titles began. Easily the strongest story is “A Dame To Kill For,” which features Eva Green, Josh Brolin and Christopher Meloni. (as well as Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Juno Temple, Jamie King and Rosario Dawson.). Had the film just been a longer adaptation of this story, the film would have been much stronger overall. This segment features the best performances, and the richest writing. If Rodriguez and Miller wanted to keep the interlocking stories scheme, why not use some of the great stories from the “Sin City” lore? Miller is clearly not a strong writer anymore, so why not adapt some great stories from the mythology he created? Did he not want to play it safe? Whatever the reason, the film suffered heavily from it.

While I disagree that I completely hate “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” I can’t help but feel amazed by how disappointed I am by it. “Sin City” was my favorite film of 2005 and one of my favorite films of the decade, and I hoped a sequel could fulfill that film high again. Sadly, that is not the case, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is a frustrating mixed bag, with the cons nearly suffocating the pros. With so many bad ideas mixed with how poorly the production of this sequel was handled, I have a feeling this will be the last time we visit Basin City again, and that is just sad all around.

FINAL GRADE: C- 


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Essentials- "Bottle Rocket" (1996)

The Essentials-#71

Bottle Rocket

Wes Anderson has been delighting our souls with his unique comedy for over 10 years now. The best thing about Anderson is that he does not make comedy like we are used to. Everything he touches is uncannily original. If you were to watch “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” “Rushmore,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” you would experience a whirlwind of zany, comedic adventure. Trust me, it would all be well-worth the trip. Each film in Anderson’s filmography seem to come from a very deep depth of Anderson’s psyche, he’s not a director that churns a film out every year (say, similar to Woody Allen.), there always seem to be a calculated time and measure to his films, so when they come out, they are much more rewarding.

I’ll never forget the first film Wes Anderson ever made the film that put him on the radar in a very big way. In 1996, Anderson made a little movie called “Bottle Rocket.” This starred Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson and the little-known other brother Andrew Wilson. The rest of the cast included James Caan, Lumi Cavazos, Robert Musgrave and Kumar Pallana. It was a wonderful way for Anderson to introduce himself to the world.
“Bottle Rocket,” revolves around Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave) and they have decided to become thieves. Dignan is the leader, Bob is the getaway driver and Anthony is the enforcer. Dignan becomes wildly excited to become a criminal, thinking it will be just as exhilarating as it is on TV. Turns out, being a criminal is a lot harder than it seems, especially with someone like Anthony who has a very good heart, even Dignan himself is quite gullible next to his old ex-partner-in-crime (James Caan).

When you see Owen Wilson in this, it is tough to imagine how he got work like “Anaconda” and “The Haunting” all throughout the 1990’s. It seemed that nobody knew how to use him except Wes Anderson. Wilson is alive like he never is when he’s with Anderson and his performance in “Bottle Rocket” is among his career-best performances. Dignan is a masterful creation, easily one of the coolest movie characters ever created. Dignan is offbeat, silly, courageous and fearless and all of those emotions and more are completely heartfelt in Owen Wilson’s hands. I also have to give Robert Musgrave a special mention as Bob. Bob has some of the most humorous scenes in the film and he nails every, single one of them. I can’t believe Musgrave is a name that barely registers in comedy anymore and after to see him as Bob, you shall surely agree.

The film will feel like a typical Anderson film for most people who are familiar with his work. But, when has that ever been a bad thing? There is enough originality in this movie to keep your eyes on the screen. The performances by each Wilson brother will keep your big smile plastered on your face. This is a true telling of how Anderson came to power and how that power has never lessened since.

Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Intouchables" (2011)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#71

The Intouchables

True stories come in all shapes and sizes, and they come from many walks of life. There are so many experiences in the human life that trying to pinpoint the human journey seems impossible. Sometimes, a true story does not need to represent some kind of uplifting story that changes you. Sometimes it can be about where to go to find unsual relationships, sometimes it can be about finding friends in the oddest of places, sometimes it can be so familiar but so good because it’s completely human. Such is the case with “The Intouchables.”

The beginning of “The Intouchables” is one of the very best moments of the movie. We see Driss (Omar Sy), driving Philippe (Francois Cluzet) down the streets of Paris. Driss is driving blisteringly fast and Driss and Philippe have some kind of wager going. Driss is an African Frenchman wearing a hoodie and a leather coat while Philippe is wearing a nicer coat and has his beard grown out long. Driss’ driving begins to get police attention, and he eventually gets pulled over. The police immediately think that Driss is a criminal based on his appearance, and they plan to arrest him without much of detail. But soon, Philippe begins to foam at the mouth and Driss tells the cops that the reason he was driving fast was to get Philippe to the hospital, and he explains that Driss is his caregiver. Appalled, the cops leave and even go as far as to give Driss an escort to the hospital. Driss and Philippe get into the car and laugh, Driss wins because he called that the police would offer an escort.

“The Intouchables” is a comedy about finding friendship in the most strange of places. Philippe is a rich quadriplegic who has lived the high-life for awhile. Now he is hiring live-in caregivers to assist him with his life. He seems completely unsatisfied with each candidate until he meets Driss. Driss doesn’t seem to want the job, he just wants Philippe to sign a waiver saying he went there and was rejected to that he can continue to live off of welfare. Despite having no experience and no recommendations, Philippe sees something in Driss and decides to hire him. Although Driss has no qualifications and has a rather unorthodox style, Driss does well taking care of Philippe and soon a friendship emerges. They both begin to embrace each other’s cultures, styles and interests and the bonds run deep.

The work by Sy and Cluzet is absolutely stunning. Their relationship is the glue of the story and they work wonders on screen. Sadly, you would never have known how talented Sy was as an actor playing Bishop on “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” as he didn’t have as much screen-time in that film that I hoped. Here, Sy shows off why he got the interview for the role in the first place, giving a pivotal, human performance. He is both uncompromising and comedic as Driss and I also very much like the work done by Cluzet. He does very good work in the quadriplegic roles and plays the part very convincingly.

The movie is very funny, but it has a golden heart and soul. There is a reason why this film was nominated for best foreign film a couple years ago, it really is that good.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY 4

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY 4

Today was the final day of Chicago Comic-Con.

It’s over, and it is kind of hard to believe. It will be weird waking up tomorrow and not going to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. It is going to be weird not seeing all the detailed and delirious costumes the cosplayers have been putting together. It is going to be weird not walking through the autograph section of the center, looking to see which celebrities were there. It is going to be weird not waiting patiently and rigorously in line, waiting for a photo with some cool actors. Most of all, I think it will be weird coming home and not having sore feet, and I think a good night’s sleep will do me well tonight.

I had to get to Comic-Con tonight as early as possible because the Photo Ops for Norman Reedus were early this morning, as in they started right as the convention center opened its doors that day. So right when I found a place to park, I ran right into the center and got right up to the Photo Op room. The line was pretty long, and I figured it would be. This is Norman Reedus, the guy you plays Daryl Dixon on “The Walking Dead,” the most popular character in the entire series. I was a fan even before “The Walking Dead,” movies like “Blade II,” “Boondock Saints,” “American Gangser,” and “The Conspirator” were all prime examples that Reedus was someone special. The good thing about it was the line began to move five minutes before the alleged start time, so that was good. It wasn’t too long before I was in the photo room and ready to get my photo taken. Reedus was a cool guy, and I liked that everybody at the Con was really cool and approachable. I had a little question for Norman Reedus on the way out.

“Can we expect a Boondock Saints 3?” I asked

“They are writing it right now” Reedus responded.

He could have just been nice, he could be giving legitimate information, we shall see.

Once my Photo Op was done, I had to rush downstairs as I had an autograph with Bruce Campbell. Campbell is the star of the original “Evil Dead” trilogy of films and he and director Sam Raimi (the guy who made the “Evil Dead” trilogy) also collaborated on Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy, Campbell was the guy who had a cameo in each of the films. First, I had to trade in my Saturday autograph card for a Sunday card, as I forgot to get it yesterday. Then I ran right back to the autograph room. It was paramount that I get a good spot because Campbell’s autograph time intersected with Norman Reedus’ Photo Op time, just another reason why it was great that the Photo Op got started early. Once I got back in line for the autograph, we were told that the time had been changed from 11:00am to 1:00pm. So I did some running around for nothing.

It was okay, when the time came I ready to go. I brought my copy of “Army of Darkness” for Campbell to sign. I was happy to learn that the autograph line moved pretty quick and smooth. It was cool getting the opportunity to talk to Bruce. We discussed Spiderman and how he did for Sam and he doesn’t give a rats-ass about any of the other superhero antics. He is quite funny and charming and it was cool getting something signed by him.

I think I saved the best day for last. This will be an experience I will always treasure in my heart and I want to thank my Mom and Dad for giving me the opportunity to come to this convention. I hope I can go again another year, and perform the same kind of coverage like I did this year. Right now, I am beat and after four days off of work, I have to get ready to go back to reality. I hope you enjoyed reading all my coverage and if you have experienced any type of Comic-Con across the country this year, I hope you had as great a time as I did. I am exhausted though and I will save my “Overlooked Film of the Week” as well as my “Essential” reviews for tomorrow.




Saturday, August 23, 2014

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY THREE

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY THREE

This third day at Chicago Comic-Con was big. When I say big, I mean there were tons of people. Not just celebrities, but tons and tons of attendees were there. I figured it would be, it was Saturday, Saturday is the big day for this convention. Lots of one-day passes were sold today, bar none. None of it stopped me and my girlfriend from having a great time. Each day of this convention has been overwhelming in the best possible way.

The only thing that sucked about today was that I was exhausted. The combination of staying on your feet and constantly on the move for hours without sitting for three days straight was starting to catch up with me. I got home Thursday and Friday and felt I had no time to really unwind and relax. Sure, working at restaurants when I was younger and selling electronics at Wal-Mart two years ago put me on my feet, but at work I had an hour break. I never gave myself a break the last three days and I certainly haven’t been eating anything really resembling a meal. For these reasons, this was my shortest day of the convention. Not that I am complaining at all, I would have hated to duke out early on the last day (tomorrow), so I was more than happy to take it easy today and get home earlier.

Even though I was there a shorter time period, my girlfriend and I still made the most of it. When we were in the autograph area, we were seeing which celebrities were there at what time. Since it was Saturday, pretty much everybody invited to the convention was there today and we kept getting the tiniest glimpses of our favorite stars. As we were creeping, my girlfriend caught a glimpse of somebody and she told me not to turn around. When she said the coast was clear, I turned around and there was Shawn Ashmore, famous for playing Iceman in the “X-Men” franchise, walking to his table for autographs. We followed him to his table, but we never got to talk to him. We didn’t care; it was cool to see him.

The best part of the day was going to the Photo Op center, where my girlfriend and I got a photo with both Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie from “Captain America: The Winter Solider.” Stan has really had a good couple of years between the “Captain America” franchise and his brief stint on “Once Upon A Time.” And Mackie? Well what can I say? The guy has had a great career, between “8 Mile,” “Notorious,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Half Nelson,” the guy has been putting together a good resume for years. Getting a photo with one of these guys would have been awesome, having the opportunity to meet both of them was even better. The line was slightly longer than yesterday, but it was definitely worth the weight. My girlfriend loves both Stan and Mackie and she thinks Stan is really cute, so you could guess who I stood next to when we finally got our photo.

On the way out of the photo area I quickly asked Mackie if he was going to appear in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” to which he responded…”I hope so!” Let’s hope that his hope turns out to be more than hope! I also got a kick that he liked my T-shirt which showed Batman and Robin being photo-bombed by The Joker.

Tomorrow is the last day and I have a lot of cool stuff to cram into my last day, to be sure you check back here for my final report on the best weekend of my life
!


Friday, August 22, 2014

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY 2

Chicago Comic-Con: Day 2

Tonight marked my second night at Chicago Comic-Con. Once again, it was a day to remember.
Today was Friday and this day was slightly cooler than Thursday, simply because more people where there tonight. More celebrities, more Cosplayers and more attendees in general. I am continually amazed by how detailed and intricate some of these costumes are, and I really have to give it up to each of the men and women who dress up at the Con. Their dedication to their craft is instantly recognizable and I am continually impressed every time I go to Rosemont each day. I mean there was a little boy who had an Optimus Prime costume and this little kid could literally crouch and curl himself into a truck. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen, and it became one of the highlights of the day for me.

I was excited today because today was my first professional photo opportunity and it was a doozy. I got to meet and get a photo with Michael Jai White. Now, you know Mr. White whether you realize it or not. He was the title character in one of the most underrated superhero movies ever, Spawn. You may also remember him as Gambol, the gangster who has a rather brutal stand-off with The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He was hilarious in “Black Dynamite,” easily one of the best parody comedies of the last twenty years. He played Jax Briggs in the trailer for “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” as well as the web-series “Mortal Kombat: Legacy.” Say what you will about Legacy, but it leagues ahead of the two “Mortal Kombat” films we got in the 1990’s. Finally, if you like The CW’s “Arrow” on television, White had a reoccurring role as The Bronze Tiger. He is one of those guys who you know the face, but don’t necessarily know the name, but I have been a huge fan for many years now, so you can bet I was excited for this opportunity.

The Photo Ops were taken upstairs of the convention center and we had to arrive a half-hour before the Op. My Op was at 2:40 so I promptly got up there at around 2:10, at 2:15 they let me in. I was excited to see that I was going to be the second person in line. What kind of stunk was that White’s flight into town was delayed, so I didn’t get to finally get in there with him until almost an hour later. This bothered some people, but I didn’t mind. Stuff like this happens, and I was wildly excited and I didn’t care how long I had to wait. As I waited in line, I spoke with some of the people in line with me. I was lucky enough to talk flicks with some other movie-nerds. I love that I can have conversations that revolve around “What comic book would Stanley Kubrick direct if he were still alive” or “What superhero would Paul Walker had played” with total strangers, and I totally want to ask those two questions in an upcoming blog-post.

After my Op, I went to meet up with an old college buddy who decided to come out today. As we were walking through the aisles, I noticed somebody I knew. Right in front of us, so close we could tap his shoulder, was Michael Rooker, Merle Dixon from “The Walking Dead” and Yondu from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” We decided to tail him and we wanted so bad to say something to him, but he was surrounded by his entourage and we were afraid they would shoo us away. Finally my friend, John decided to say something.

“Guardians of the Galaxy was awesome” said John.

Rooker turned around, with a Cheshire Cat grin etched on his face.

“You liked that movie, did ya” he said.

We told him we did and it was cool to make quick small talk with Rooker without having to pay for an autograph or photo op and we also got to shake hands with the guy. It was a pretty stellar moment as both John and I have liked Rooker for a while. I was singing the praises for Rooker ever since I saw in “The Sixth Day” in 2000. Once I got a little older, he scared me senseless in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” The guy has real talent and he’s another guy that should be better known than he is, but I think “The Walking Dead” is helping him out there.

Those were the major highlights from today and with the Con already half-over, I can say that it has been a whirlwind of awesome so far, Saturday and Sunday are sure to be big days as well and I’ll be updating you on how things go this weekend, so keep your eyes open.

On another note, my friend John found a 4-day pass laying on the parking lot outside the convention center, now that is some real good luck right there!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

CHICAGO COMIC-CON: DAY ONE

Chicago Comic-Con: Day One

Tonight marked the first night of Chicago Comic-Con, and for the first time in my life, I was blessed with 4-day passes. So I have three more days of fun and madness over at the Con in Rosemont, Illinois. I will meet some cool actors and I see tons of cool people. I won’t get too close with everybody I wanted to see, but that because these events are expensive and I am sad to report that I am not made of money. But I am still having fun. I saw Michael Rooker and Josh Peck, and just being able to breathe the same air as those guys was worth the trip.

What I did do, was get an autographed photo of Lou Ferrigno with my best buddy Eric. The line was pretty small once we finally got over there. (Eric and I stood in a line for the first hour getting into the event and then paying for the autographs.) So Eric and I moved pretty quickly through the line. I have to admit, standing face-to-face with the guy was a little intimidating. He had a very serious look on his face, but once we finally made a little small talk, he was his typical friendly self. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet the man and get a photo with him. I had no idea how the autograph session would work, so getting a photo with Mr. Ferrigno was icing on an already delicious cake.

At the opening ceremony for Chicago-Comic Con, Eric and I saw Ferrigno again as well as Jason David Frank, the original Green Power Ranger from the 90’s incarnation of the show. I grew up watching the original Power Rangers. I loved the TV show and I recall liking the movies. It was pretty cool seeing Jason David Frank; it seems like a real fun guy. There was a moment during the ceremony where Frank put his arm around Ferrigno and said, “You can’t beat green, am I right?” Everybody had a great laugh afterward. It was cool seeing these guys together and interacting with each other.

The rest of the Con was…overwhelming, in the best possible way. There are two huge rooms, and these rooms are full of vendors. These vendors are selling art, toys, movies, games, book-bags, masks, costumes, and yes, lots and lots of comic books. Eric and I got ourselves some funny posters. We both got Colt 45 beer advertisement posters which featured Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, holding a Colt 45 beer, with Princess Leia over his shoulder, duded out in her Jabba’s Palace bikini. I also picked up a cool, slightly-humorous poster for “The Hunger Games.” There was so much to see and do that Eric and I walked through the same aisles a couple of times and we did not even realize it. There is so much to see and do and look through that it can make one’s head spin, in the very best possible way mind you. Yes, there were Cosplayers, people dressed up in the coolest of costumes, and you can bet that Eric and I got as many photos with them as possible. The detail and commitment to these costumes is unbelievable and these people make this convention even more fun.

This is the first night of four and I am already having a delightful time. I think you will notice that these days are going to get better and better and I have some surprises that I won’t tell you about until the day they happen. Keep tuning in each night over this weekend for more updates.



Heaven Is For Real Review

Heaven Is For Real Review

The Burpo family has really been getting traction from their book recently. A book about four-year-old Colton who was taken to the hospital due to a terrible illness (at least, that is what the movie says it was, I have never read the book). The doctors all kept telling Colton’s parents that he would not make it through the night and that Colton would be lucky if he did not die. The parents, Todd and Sonja, prayed for Colton to live, Todd went as far as to yell at God (not bad for a local preacher) and to their astonishment, Colton survived. Not only did Colton survive he had an apparent experience in Heaven and was discussed how he saw Angels, Jesus, God and relatives his family never told him about. Todd was so inspired by Colton’s tale that he wrote a book about Colton’s journey into Heaven and it became a New York Times bestseller and now a major motion picture.

I personally think the Burpo family is full of it, but I still curious to see the movie. I was curious to see what type of tone and style the film would take.  Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale are all actors I like and respect and despite my personal feelings about the story, I figured these actors saw something in the script special in the script and that I should check it out. I wanted to see if the film could challenge or confirm my beliefs, and hopefully give me something to debate about over the next few days or even weeks. That is what I hoped for when I sat down to watch this and that isn’t quite what I got.

Don’t let the star-power of this movie fool you. “Heaven is For Real” is not a movie out to enlighten, it is not out to debate with you, and it is definitely not out to entertain you. “Heaven is For Real” is Christian propaganda at the highest order, with few redeeming qualities. It is a laundry list of Christian movie cliché’s and each one tries to shove an agenda down your throat. Basically, it is a movie that pretty much says, “If you don’t believe this kid, you are wrong and ignorant.” I don’t know if that is how Todd Burpo wrote the book, but the way the film plays out feels like an enormous gospel service, with all sorts of odd choices made throughout. This movie does exactly what these movies usually do. There are several moments of family hardship, then Colton goes to the hospital, then he wakes up and starts talking about Heaven, there are bullies, there is denial, there is church gossip and it all leads to big happy ending. It’s all so ordinary and pedestrian that I didn’t care about the plot or the characters. Not only that, but the big villain of the movie is a person with science-based beliefs and they paint this character as evil. This is a movie that hates science and detests other beliefs and faiths. Director Randall Wallace could not have made that any clearer.

I can tell that Kinnear, Reilly, Church and Martindale try really hard to make this count and their performances range from pretty good to mediocre. Kinnear seems to be the only one trying to give this movie a pulse. Kinnear comes off like your typical, everyman and it is hard not to follow him through this journey. He takes this script seriously and I believe the audience would be drawn to his performance. Church and Martindale are not bad, they are just not given much to do except spout out typical clichéd dialogue. Reilly is also good and she is trying hard, but she’s a little too pretty for this role. I flat out couldn’t stand Connor Corum as Colton. The moment he wakes up and starts talking about Heaven, he acts and feels like he’s in a horror movie. He is a big, bleak blank in this movie. No piece of dialogue he has convinces me that this story is based on something true. Everything is so vague and so like other movies like this that it is hard to take anything in the film seriously and it is an odd choice to have Colton feel like Damien from “The Omen.”

I could have had more respect for this film and even believed more in this film if it tried for a better debate. I wish the film tried to convince me harder that this boy’s story is true. I wish the movie presented evidence that would have me shell-shocked with the movie and had me debating the possibilities it presented. But that is not what “Heaven is For Real” wanted to do, it wanted to be an overblown Sunday school class, it wanted to throw all of its ideas at you and make you feel silly for disagreeing. To put it bluntly, this is everything I hoped this film wouldn’t be and it sadly turned out to be. After so many people saying that they have seen Jesus or God or an Angel, I can't find any reason to why this boy's story is more precious to everyone else's. Judging from this movie, I can see why Todd Burpo is puzzled by the fact that not everybody believes his son’s story. Also, judging from this movie, it seems everything surrounding this story is extra-fishy and not genuine.

FINAL GRADE: D

Locke Review

Locke Review

“Locke” is a cool movie. We barely see any movies these days that take place completely in one setting, especially in such an enclosed setting like a car. But that’s what makes “Locke” cool, the entire movie takes place in a car and the only actor we see is Tom Hardy. The rest of the cast is heard through phone calls through the car. It has been awhile since I have seen anything remotely close to “Locke” and I am glad that director Steven Knight took the time to make it all worthwhile.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a man who works for a profitable construction company. Locke is a man that has worked hard for his company and he is dedicated to his life, which includes his wife and two kids. But Ivan Locke, everything is about to change. At the spur of a moment, Locke gets in his car and is prepared to drive an hour and a have because of a decision he has made. This decision will get him fired from his job and separated from his family, but his past is what is driving his decisions and he is trying to be a better man, no matter what.

It is amazing how good Tom Hardy is in this. Hardy’s career so far has been composed of mostly tough-guy roles, even in his independent stuff like “Bronson.” Here, he plays a normal guy caught in a sticky situation, and he nails it. He shows a range and a talent that I never knew had and never thought I’d ever see him possess. Hardy proves that could possibly win an Oscar sometime down the road and he makes us believe in everything his character does. The rest of the cast includes Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott, Bill Milner, Ben Daniels and Tom Holland. Like I said, the cast is only heard through phone calls. Locke is constantly talking to his family, his job and others on the phone and the voice-work by the rest of the cast is very good. It is incredible how this cast can create a compelling story line and strong characters only through the sounds of their voices.

The music by Dickon Hinchliffe sets the mood right and the brilliant cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos creates a powerful backdrop, even though the film is constantly on the road. I hope people really see and celebrate this movie and I hope Tom Hardy receives more roles just like this one. While the film feels like, even at a hour and nineteen minutes, this is a fun and ambitious film.

FINAL GRADE: B 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who Played It Best? John Shaft

WHO PLAYED IT BEST? JOHN SHAFT

John Shaft is a badass on film. One of those great action heroes on film that I wish was treated with more respect and memory. The first “Shaft” movie was in 1971, and it set the standard for the blaxploitation, a subgenre that emerged in the 1970’s that aimed for the urban black audience, but eventually moved past the ethnic lines and became popular in its time. It was accepted for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, a huge, huge honor. So why do we not talk about it that often? Because the 2000 remake was not as popular? Who knows. They made another “Shaft” movie in 2000, which starred Samuel L. Jackson (no surprise there) and the original 1971 film starred Richard Roundtree. So who played the character better?

My Two Cents
I love Mr. Samuel L. Jackson; I love him quite a bit. I love that he is willing to star in literally anything. I love how he seemingly loves his job and loves his fans. I love that he is the King of Cool in the Hollywood arena. I love that despite his popularity, he doesn’t necessarily have a gigantic price tag. With all that said I feel Roundtree did better in the role and I feel Roundtree’s “Shaft” movie was better. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Jackson’s performance; it just seemed like a forced remake instead of anything innovative or creative. Not only that, but Roundtree set the standard for the character and as good as Jackson is in the role, it just seem more like a publicity stunt than the making of a movie. For that reason, I give the edge to Richard Roundtree.

Who do you think played the best John Shaft? Please email me (bloggershawn@gmail.com) or simply state your vote in the comments section below. You have until next Wednesday to vote for your favorite performance.

LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? ALFRED PENNYWORTH
Last week, we had a showdown between the most popular butlers in popular culture. The results are in and here is how everything shook out.
Michael Caine voted best Alfred!

GET YOUR VOTES IN FOR YOUR FAVORITE JOHN SHAFT BY NEXT WEDNESDAY



Under The Skin Review

Under The Skin Review

I want to say the following with the utmost sincerity, Scarlett Johansson has really reshaped her career for the better over the last three or so years. She is finally becoming a talent to look for each year, and I never would have thought I’d ever put “raw acting talent” in the same sentence as “Scarlett Johansson.” Oh sure, she’s a pretty face, but there are tons of pretty faces in Hollywood. Just because there is plenty of pretty to go around doesn’t automatically mean an actress is talented. Recently, it seems Johansson is beginning to break the boundaries of her range, reinventing her career with ease. Go watch “Iron Man 2,” or “We Bought A Zoo,” or “The Avengers,” or “Don Jon,” or “Her” or “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” or “Chef.” There may be an aura of sex symbol tied to many of those roles, but there is no doubt that she trying different things. Even not everything lands (like “Lucy” or “Hitchcock”), but the fact that she’s trying makes every effort worth it.

This brings us to “Under the Skin” something I don’t know if I have fully processed yet. This is as experimental as Johansson has ever received and this film will end up being unlike anything else in her career. Heck, “Under the Skin” probably won’t be like any other film you see the rest of the year. I will flat-out say that “Under the Skin” will not be everybody’s cup of tie. It is a big, weird, science-fiction film. There are grand moments of absolutely no dialogue. The film’s music composed by Mica Levi is haunting and bone-chilling. Most of all, we are seeing Johansson behave onscreen in a way we have never seen, easily putting the audience on edge.

The film’s opening is one of the most striking images I have seen in a film recently. The screen is completely black, and in the middle of the screen, a small light becomes brighter and brighter. Levi’s effective music can be heard in the background and it seems a small dot of some kind is moving through some kind of metallic hole. Also in the background, we can hear a distinct voice muttering seemingly random words. As we finally see the formation of an eyeball, the screen turns white and reveals the film’s title. It is a scene that seems incredibly reminiscent of the science fiction films from the 1970’s. The slow-burn tactics used in the scene make it that much more effective. It was a great way to open a film, a weird way to open a film, and definitely a haunting way to open a film. But we are just getting started.

Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless woman and in the beginning of the film, we see a man on a motorcycle take a body out the ditch. Then he somehow transports the body to Johansson who strips the body of its clothes and puts them on. Again, the feeling of the imagery is very classic and very sci/fi. The rest of the film is Johansson driving around in a big truck, seducing men and capturing them for…well…there is no way to really complete that sentence. “Under the Skin” is a “depends on the viewer” movie. There is nothing that is set in stone; there is nothing that is explained in a complete or coherent manner. The film, directed by Jonathon Glazer, was based on a novel by Michel Faber. It seems you will probably learn more about what it is Johansson is up to if you read Faber’s book. There are no easy explanations for anything here, and I know that will frustrate some viewers. I know many people that want to understand every step of the journey through a movie, some people never want to be challenged, and they never want to play any sort of mind game. That is absolutely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. I will recommend skipping this, as it is a more adventurous movie.

Not only that, but there are moments in this film that are just plain bleak. Easily the most jetblack moment involves a baby on a beach, something I’ll have hard time getting out of my head. This is easily a different take on the “alien invasion” movie. If you like cool-looking aliens, city destruction and aerial fights, that isn’t what “Under the Skin” is doing, “Under the Skin” uses a far more disturbing backdrop, expertly making the landscape of Scotland to a horrific advantage. The performance by Johansson is indeed incredible. As I stated above, this is a real range-test she commits to and she does outstanding work. This role doesn’t even come close to anything she’s done in the past and you won’t believe it’s her.

If you like experimental movies and if you don’t mind watching a film a couple of times just to get it, then I highly recommend “Under the Skin.” I know I will be buying this movie as soon as possible, just to investigate every frame of every scene, trying to piece this movie together. If for any reason, check it out for Johansson, and relish in the fact that she is putting some serious stock in career choices now.

FINAL GRADE: A-