Archive for November, 2016

I Am Your Father

by on Nov.27, 2016, under Movie Reviews

i am your fatherEvery great story has a dark side. Star Wars is no exception. In this case however, I’m not referring to the storyline of the movie but to the making of it. When I first started watching I Am Your Father, I had this feeling that the documentary would both break my heart knowing what happened while helping to satiate a fascination I’ve had with Star Wars since it was first released in ’77.

The subject of this story is David Prowse, the actor who embodied the legendary Darth Vader in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Prowse’s backstory is laid out from his humble beginnings in the UK working as an actor doing commercials, TV shows here and there along with some B movies. His movie credits include a lot of monster roles as the man stands at 6 foot 7 and was in amazing shape that gave him a naturally imposing presence. I only later in life came to appreciate how he well he was actually able to convey emotion through the legendary mask he wore through the series…

And this ultimately, is the source for the dark side of the production. Happening at the last moment, David was replaced with another actor for the scene that finally revealed Vader’s face to Luke. This is the scene that was both the climax for his character but also a moment that would have imprinted his face on everyone’s memory as the fallen jedi. A legendary moment in cinematic history denied to the man that brought that character right up to the threshold, all because he looked “too young”. Funny that they had no problem creating aliens out of thin air but they couldn’t make Prowse look older? Seems like a huge ripoff to me and a shitty detail that I can’t un-know now. Jedi was always the least popular of the first 3; I think moments like this lend to those feelings of the film not being great on multiple levels.

The documentary includes Interesting factoids like that David Prowse didn’t find out about Vader being Luke’s father until he saw Empire in the theater. That plot point was kept secret until after the scene was shot and they went back and picked up some additional scenes and recorded new voice over work. The doc points out that there’s some debate about the origin of this particular detail in the story in terms of the relationship between Vader and Luke.

On the bright side – Prowse is being acknowledged at comic cons and sci-fi conventions with standing ovations and lines of fans waiting for an autograph. As an offer perhaps of catharsis, the director of the documentary offers David Prowse the chance to re-shoot the scene he was denied in Return. With regard to the outcome of the offer, like any great story, I won’t reveal the results of said offer here, you’ll have to watch the film on that one. He continues to be recognized at sci-fi conventions but as of yet has not been invited to any official Star Wars conventions; something this writer finds wildly un-fair and as it turns out, looks unfounded too.

Come on George! Step up and acknowledge this actor before the day comes when the opportunity passes. Life’s too short for this shit!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Dr. Strange

by on Nov.20, 2016, under Movie Reviews

doctor strangeI have yet to see a bad movie come out of Marvel Studios. They deliver consistently strong films with Dr. Strange being no exception. The latest installment from Marvel comes from one of their less prominent heroes but a compelling hero nonetheless which is one of the things that makes Dr. Strange very entertaining. This was among the comics I collected when I was a kid but I have to confess that I was surprised yet very excited when I heard they were taking this book to the big screen.

The story revolves around Dr. Stephen Strange who has to face the reality that due to an unfortunate car accident, he can no longer use his magic hands for surgery and instead has to find a different kind of magic to heal them. The path he takes on his quest leads him to a multi-dimensional world he never saw coming or even had a clue existed. Once he enters this world, he decides to embrace it completely and forego his ambitions of the past. Along his journey he discovers the potential of manipulating matter to reconstruct it as he wishes; he also discovers that there are dark forces at work trying to use that power for nefarious purposes…

I thought everything was great about this film. Really. I really felt that way when I saw it. I can usually pick out one or two kinks in the chain of a production, or the way a script is written, or in the minutiae of an actor’s performance. But this time, nada. The story was solid and compelling with the right dash of hubris at times and humor at others while maintaining the drama but without it being exhausting. The actors are at the top of their games as well with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the way playing the title role. I have to say his casting was perfect. He has very strong support as well with Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor providing an excellent backbone through professional and passionate deliveries alongside the rest of the cast.

The effects is one of the best things about the movie for me. Sometimes effects can hinder a film if they’re used as a crutch (i.e. almost every film from Michael Bay). In Dr. Strange they were crucial as these characters live in a place of supernatural dimensions and abilities. Fortunately, much effort went into the design and machinations of the effects and it paid off with a stunning display that is a must see on the big screen.

And yes, the film does drop some references to other branches of the Marvel universe including The Avengers tying the family all together neatly as usual. Sorry, no spoilers here but as always with a Marvel movie you’ll want to hang out all the way through the credits.

I would strongly recommend catching this one in theaters while you still can.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Mascots

by on Nov.13, 2016, under Movie Reviews

mascotsIf you’re a fan of Christopher Guest films like A Might Wind, Spinal Tap, and Best in Show, you’ll be happy to know of his latest offering through Netflix. That’s one of the great things about streaming outlets like Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc., they’ve all provided an outlet for filmmakers that may not be able to get their work into the corporate controlled theater chains reserved for the major studios that own them.

Luckily for us, Guest is still making movies and he’s always funny. Mascots is another in the mockumentary style of Guest’s work this time focusing on the world of sports mascots and the plights of the modern mascot performer. His formula for this film is the same as his earlier work in that there’s an introduction to each main character which includes a bit of a profile study along with what’s going on with them currently as they prepare for the big mascot competition. Many walks of life are represented including the son carrying on his father’s proud tradition of mascot performing to the failed actress who is trying to pay her bills with her “art”. There’s also plenty of background tension as each of the mascots brings their own specific dramatic twist to the story.

The writing and character development are fun as always, one of my favorites being former mascot now author Gabby Monkhouse (played by the amazing Jane Lynch). Monkhouse is snooty and full of her own success clashing humorously with her judge colleague portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. who lands more in the “has-been” category. Guest’s scripts for these films typically include many moments of improve in addition to a somewhat structured story. I found myself wondering how much was scripted and how much was invented on the spot as the actors drift seamlessly in and out of both states with great precision and effect.

Speaking of which, the cast includes some familiar actors with Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolige, alongside fresh faces like Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker. It was great to see a mixture of both new and familiar as they all played off each other well while exposing some talent that perhaps wasn’t as well known across the board. The film itself is not only fun and light-hearted to watch but it seemed like when they were making it, it looks like they had a blast. That kind of vibe usually translates to a fun viewing experience and who couldn’t use that right now?

If you’ve got Netflix and dig the genius of a Christopher Guest film, then be sure to give a cheer for Mascots!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Poltergeist (2015)

by on Nov.06, 2016, under Movie Reviews

poltergeistThere are certain things in art that you just leave alone. This list for me would include Led Zeppelin songs, paintings by Salvador Dali, and pretty much any film directed by Stephen Spielberg. Yet, every once in awhile someone’s ego gets all distorted and they think they can take something that’s a masterpiece and somehow make it better by throwing money at it. Unfortunately Sam Raimi and Sam Rockwell are both involved with this one and seemed to suffer that same delusion…

I’m not going to bother going over the story as that’s been long established since 1982. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty much the same, ridiculously so. Why cover a story beat for beat? What’s the point? What are you bringing to the table other than a lack of originality? This was true of the foreshadowing moments too, not only were they unoriginal but they provided an insultingly clear road map of what was coming which took all the surprise out of it. This whole film played itself out by about the mid point I would imagine even for those that never had the pleasure of seeing the original. It was like they just said screw it, let’s make everything the same but with nicer effects. The thing is, the effects actually cheapened the film for me as they relied on them to make the film “better” instead of trying to make their own, true vision of the script.

The actors are all ok but I’m not sure everyone was bringing their A-game here. I like Sam Rockwell typically but he’s put into such a stereotypical mold that his performance comes off as mostly generic parts inserted into the performance simply for the purpose of moving things along. I wasn’t really getting a feeling of passion through any of the actor’s portrayals, it seemed like everyone was playing their roles super safe to make sure they constructed the formula correctly. And that’s the way the whole film feels, formulaic, like a formulaic cover band playing a Beatles song in a hotel lounge.

If you’ve never seen the original and are interested in checking out either film, please, do yourself a favor and see the original and only see this one if you truly have nothing better to do. The remake is not even close to the original in terms of capturing the creepiness of the visuals, the intensity of the actor’s deliveries, and the originality of not knowing how the family will make it through their ordeal and who will be there on the other side.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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