Ep. 135 – Ad Astra, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, Fantastic Fest recap, and a weekend at Big Texas Comicon

September 25, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, the lads review AD ASTRA and BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE.

Cody also regales us about his time at Fantastic Fest, while Jerrod talks his weekend at Big Texas Comicon.

Click here to download the episode!

Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of Tigers Are Not Afraid and The Fanatic

September 6, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

The Fanatic

If you thought actor John Travolta was disturbingly bad in the 2000 sci-fi bomb Battlefield Earth, brace yourself for something just as awful – but with far fewer cheesy special effects. In The Fanatic, Travolta stars as Moose, an autistic man living in Los Angeles who spends his time tracking down celebrities to collect their autographs. His paparazzo friend Leah (Ana Golja) refers to it as his “freaky little hobby.” But when Moose meets his favorite action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) and is rejected, he develops an unhealthy obsession with the man and drives himself into full-blown stalker mode. Directed and co-written by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst (The Longshots), who actually drops a Limp Bizkit reference in the movie (seriously, he does), The Fanatic should be an embarrassment for everyone involved. Not only does Travolta deliver one of the most cringe-worthy performances in recent memory, his interpretation of an individual on the autism spectrum is stereotypical garbage and downright offensive. Even without Travolta’s laughable role, Durst and first-time co-writer Dave Bekerman pen a script that is more tasteless than the plaid shorts and Hawaiian shirt combo Moose wears throughout most of the movie. Every character is exaggerated to a level of annoyance that might be considered as cruel and unusual punishment. The absurd friendship between Moose and Leah amounts to a series of phony signs of affection – just enough to gaslight viewers into thinking that maybe Travolta’s character is simply misunderstood. Someone should start polishing up those Razzies for the Worst Film, Director, Screenplay and Actor of 2019. Grade: F

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Mexican writer/director Issa Lopez’s dramatic fantasy Tigers Are Not Afraid begins with some startling statistics. Since the beginning of the drug war in 2006, 160,000 people have been killed and 53,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. “There are no numbers for the children the dead and the missing have left behind.” We meet some of these orphans – Estrella (Paola Lara), Shine (Juan Ramón López), Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas), Pop (Rodrigo Cortes), and Morro (Nery Arredondo) – Lopez’s version of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys in her creative, heartbreaking and violent fairy tale. Unlike most fairy tales, however, there are no happy endings in Tigers. Kids in Mexico see dead bodies in the street every day and have become desensitized to the bloodshed. During a gun battle outside of her school, a teacher gives Estrella three pieces of chalk while they both lie face down on the floor and tells her that she now has three wishes. Her first wish is that her mother, who was kidnapped by a local cartel, returns to her. When Shine steals one of the cartel member’s cell phones containing incriminating evidence of the crimes they’ve committed, the ragtag group of kids become the target of the narcos who won’t stop until they’ve silenced everyone. Filled with beautiful magic realism throughout the film, Lopez’s Tigers is a powerful piece of cinematic art that will move audiences and allow them to see the hellish conditions presented through the eyes of the children who are suffering. Like Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, Tigers’ mix of horror and childlike imagination is something that you won’t soon forget. Grade: A-

Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, Ladyworld and Itsy Bitsy

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Itsy Bitsy

With a title like Itsy Bitsy, horror fans might anticipate a campy creature feature starring a cluster of eight-legged freaks, but visual effects producer and first-time writer/director Micah Gallo has something a little more sinister up his sleeve. The story follows Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts), a nurse and single mother who moves with her two children to a small town to take a job as a private caretaker to Walter Clark (Bruce Davidson), a world-traveler with an affinity for collecting tribal artifacts. When a cursed relic is brought to him by a friend of his deceased wife, it releases a dog-sized, venomous spider that takes up residence on Walter’s property. Surprisingly, the spider itself doesn’t play into the narrative much until the third act. Itsy Bitsy is more about Kara and her insecurities as a mother and the depression she has to confront because of the death of a third child. Despite Gallo’s ability to keep a consistently creepy vibe, the script, which is also co-written by special effects and makeup artist Jason Alvino (Sucker Punch) and writer Bryan Dick (911 Nightmare), doesn’t bring all the dramatic and horror elements together in a cohesive enough way. Gallo, however, builds some solid tension. Ironically, Itsy Bitsy might’ve worked better as a conventional and minimalist ghost story instead of a gooey monster movie. The arachnid is irrelevant. Itsy Bitsy hits VOD platforms August 30. Grade: C+

Ladyworld

One could argue that Ladyworld, an avant-garde thriller being labeled by some as the female version of the 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, is performance art, but don’t buy it. Co-writer/director Amanda Kramer and co-writer Benjamin Shearn pile a group of actresses into a house, turn on a camera and tell them to brood for 93 minutes. That is the emotional depth viewers can look forward to experiencing. Ladyworld is ambitious, but it’s the kind of ambition one might recognize in a second-year film major. The potential is there, but not the execution. The film follows eight teenage girls at a birthday party who become trapped inside the host’s house after an earthquake. With each passing hour, the teens slowly begin to descend into madness as they attempt to find a way out. They also form alliances between each other – like an experimental version of a TV reality show where the contestants live together and try to get under each other’s skin. Some of the girls swear there is a male stranger lurking inside the house, although the presence of the intruder is left up to audience interpretation. Between all the crying and cattiness and having to listen to one of the most grating musical scores in recent memory (electronic dissonance can be amazing – i.e. composer Mica Levi – but this is something else), Kramer and Shearn fail to create even one character who feels like an authentic human being. Instead, characters act odd without much direction and Kramer seems more interested in staging a scene with her cast rather than making one come alive. “This party would be a lot more fun if it were over,” a gloomy girl says at one point in the film. We couldn’t agree with you more. Ladyworld hit VOD platforms August 27. Grade: D+

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, featuring late pithy political columnist and Texas-raised rabble-rouser Molly Ivins, is the kind of documentary viewers will wish wasn’t made posthumously. Watching archive footage of the liberal-leaning writer breaking glass ceilings in the journalism world is wildly entertaining and inspiring, but imagine the impact a film like this would have with Ivins speaking not only on her entire career but on the current toxic political climate and the morally bankrupt occupant of the White House. Sadly, Ivins passed away in 2007 after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. What she left behind was a trove of respected work printed by numerous outlets across the country, direct words of wisdom and humor captured on video and a roadmap that can influence future journalists to always seek the truth and fight back against the establishment. “She got great joy in exposing the bastards,” one admirer says in the film. Although director Janice Engel treats Ivins with kid gloves at times, it’s Ivins who is throwing the biggest punches. Raise Hell is a high-spirited tribute to a consummate professional who could deliver a Texas-sized rattlesnake bite you’d never forget. Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins opens exclusively at Alamo Drafthouse Park North August 30. Grade: B+

Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of Ready or Not, The Peanut Butter Falcon, David Crosby and More

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

David Crosby: Remember My Name

It’s 2019 and, against all odds, singer-songwriter David Crosby is still alive. It’s a somber concept at the center of David Crosby: Remember My Name, a candid documentary on the unstable life and career of its title subject – one of the founding members of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. First-time director A.J. Eaton taps into Crosby’s mind as he contemplates the mistakes he’s made in his life, mortality, addiction, the friends and lovers he’s lost along the way and his contribution to the musical counterculture of the 1960s. Like the documentary Echo in the Canyon from earlier this year, the best footage comes when Crosby is front and center telling both funny and tragic stories about his past and exorcising his demons. “Every minute that you get is precious,” he says. “Time is the final currency.” As a documentarian, Eaton plays it straight – allowing Crosby’s words to direct the narrative and giving him a platform to speak from the heart. Most importantly, the film is not an exercise in hero worshiping. Crosby’s warts are visible for all to see. While it’s unknown if a project like Remember My Name can move some people to reconnect with Crosby (he’s burned a lot of bridges in the last half century) and make amends, the doc makes a good argument for why they should. In the end, Remember My Name feels a lot like the 2014 music documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me – a touching farewell to an exceptional talent. Grade: B

Luce

Anchored by a solid ensemble cast, the dramatic tension hits a few boiling points in Luce, a smartly-written and compelling story that challenges its audience to take a step back and consider the consequences of certain characters’ actions. Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Mudbound) stars as the title character, an exceptional high school senior with a supportive mother and father, Amy and Peter (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), and a bright future ahead of him. That wasn’t always the case. Ten years prior, Amy and Peter adopted Luce from a war-torn African country where he saw things no child should ever witness. Although his life has completely changed, one of Luce’s teachers, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), expresses concern when Luce turns in an assigned essay about the benefit of political violence. From here, Luce plays out like a suspenseful thriller – one that distorts the truth and questions the idea of trust between parents and children. Although filmmaker Julius Onah completely crashed and burned with Netflix’s The Cloverfield Paradox last year, there’s no remnants of that style of direction anywhere. Luce is an enlightening experience that pushes its uncomfortable narrative to some of the most thought-provoking places of any movie this year. Grade: B+

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The high school literature vibe is strong with first-time feature film writers/directors Tyler Nelson and Michael Schwartz’s adventure dramedy The Peanut Butter Falcon, an obvious homage to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While Nelson and Tyler don’t delve deep into the same themes of the classic novel (with the exception of the characters’ quest for freedom), Nelson and Schwartz create a sweet albeit sometimes sappy friendship between lead actors Shia LaBeouf (American Honey) and first-time actor Zack Gottsagen. Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, stars as Zak, a young man abandoned by his family, thus becoming a ward of the state. North Carolina officials aren’t sure where to place him, so they move him into a retirement home where he is befriended by social worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). After more than two years, however, Zak, doesn’t want to live there anymore. He wants to go to a wrestling school in Florida where his favorite pro-wrestler Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) coaches. After escaping the home and stowing away on a boat, he meets Tyler (LaBeouf), a crab fisherman on the run after he destroys the crab pots of some shady competitors. Going the same route down the East Coast, the two men form an authentic bond rooted on their shared loneliness and desire to live without limitations. The Peanut Butter Falcon might be a easygoing buddy road movie on paper, but the care that Nelson and Schwartz give these individual characters, especially Zak, is more endearing than most. Dramatically speaking, it’s a little lightweight, but the chemistry between Gottsagen and LaBeouf is pro-level rapport. Grade: B-

Ready or Not

Contrary to what a filmmaker like Jordan Peele has given audiences early in his career with Get Out and Us, not all horror-thrillers have to say something meaningful to prove their worthy of their celluloid. Sometimes all you really need are a few hacked-off appendages or someone’s head in a vice to get the heart pumping, amirite? Ready or Not is a strange hybrid of both approaches. It presents itself as another horror-comedy like You’re Next or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but then it pulls its punches as a social commentary. Ready or Not wants it both ways, but screenwriters Guy Busick (Urge) and first-timer Ryan Murphy just don’t have a strong enough script to keep the story consistently entertaining, funny and even a little provocative. The film follows Grace (Samara Weaving), a bride who has married into the affluent De Loma family. The De Lomas are an eccentric group of 1-percenters who aren’t sold on Grace fitting into their lifestyle. She may not even get the chance to try when, on her wedding night, she is forced to play a sadistic game of hide and seek where her family attempts to hunt her down inside their mansion before the sun rises. With crossbows, axes and old revolvers in hand, the De Lomas spread throughout the house as Grace does her best to stay hidden and counter their attacks, all while her husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) decides if he really wants to become a widow before his honeymoon. It’s evident Busick, Murphy and co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (V/H/S) and Tyler Gillett (Southbound) have a kernel of an idea ruminating in their heads about classism and the power of the elite, but they simply can’t find a way to develop it into a worthwhile narrative. The movie flirts with big concepts and then flakes out. Still, the buckets of blood might be enough for most horror fans to wash away any disappointment by the lack of insight it pretends to convey. Grade: C+

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Actress Cate Blanchett knows how to play neurotic characters well. She’s actually won two Oscars for doing so. From her role as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 biopic The Aviator to her role as a manic New York socialite in Woody Allen’s 2013’s Blue Jasmine, Blanchett can push herself to the edge without losing her grip on reality in the process. She does the same as the title character in Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, although to a less effective degree. Based on a 2012 novel of the same name by Maria Semple, Linklater’s film explores the life of title character Bernadette Fox, a wife, mother and former architect who loses her shit one day and escapes out of a bathroom window after her husband (Billy Crudup) sets up an intervention to confront her about her emotional problems. The first half of Bernadette, when she spirals out of control, is intriguing enough, especially with Blanchett playing a mom and trying to keep her family life from imploding. Once she goes AWOL, however, Bernadette loses its way. It’s ironic that the last half of the film maps out a concrete final destination (Bernadette wants to get to Antarctica), but is so thematically directionless. Linklater seems to want to say something about the creative process for an artist and how an artist needs it to feel alive, but once he lets the audience in on the concept, the end credits start to roll. Grade: C+

Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of Good Boys, Gwen and The Amazing Johnathan

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Unless you’re Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine), it’s usually never a good idea to insert yourself into the documentary you’re making – unless, of course, you’re part of the actual story. Or, in the case of director Benjamin Berman (TV’s Comedy Bang! Bang!), you’re forced to turn the camera on yourself to capture the insanely bizarre things that are affecting the production. It’s exactly what happens in The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, a project that seemed to start off as a respectful and heartfelt journey alongside “rebel magician” John Szeles (AKA The Amazing Johnathan) during his farewell tour. In 2014, Szeles was diagnosed with a terminal heart disease and given one year to live. Berman wanted to be there to film the entire thing. But, as viewers will learn as the narrative slowly unfolds, so did a lot of other people. It’s best to know as little as possible about The Amazing Johnathan Documentary before you hit play. And even if you don’t know too much about Szeles’ career, Berman does an incredible job keeping audiences in the loop with old footage of his TV performances and interviews with fellow comedians and his family. With his nothing-to-lose attitude, Szeles is a perfect subject for this stranger-than-fiction doc that is equal parts fascinating and odd. As a character study, Berman does his best to blast through the bullshit, even when that is all Szeles wants to offer. And while there are still a handful of questions left unanswered when the credits start to roll, viewers should realize they’ve experienced something profound and uniquely meta. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary hits Hulu August 16. Grade: B+

Good Boys

No movie with this many dick jokes has any business being this funny. That said, Good Boys is just that – an obscenity-laced comedy with just the right combination of audacious humor and heart that will win over adults who don’t mind hearing 6th graders drop F-bombs. Sure, you won’t see evangelicals get on board for the R-rated raunchfest, but without the script featuring the phrase, “Grab them by the pussy,” is that really a surprise? Taking a few pages from its most obvious cinematic inspiration, the 2007 comedy SuperbadGood Boys is just as side-splitting hilarious and a lot more adorable – like the Little Rascals if the Little Rascals wielded dildos and shot people in the face with paintballs. The film stars Jacob Tremblay (Room), Keith L. Williams (TV’s The Last Man on Earth) and Brady Noon (TV’s Boardwalk Empire) as best friends Max, Lucas and Thor. When Max gets invited to a “kissing party,” he makes it his mission to go, so he can kiss the girl of his dreams. But when the boys accidentally lose Max’s father’s expensive drone and then unknowingly steal a bunch of ecstasy pills from a couple of high school girls, their afternoon turns into a race to put everything back to normal before they get grounded for life. Co-written by Lee Eisenberg (Year One) and Gene Stupnitsky (Bad Teacher), who also makes his directorial debut, Good Boys works because of its incredibly likeable trio of tweens who are actually really sweet characters. If Max, Lucas and Thor were mean-spirited little punks, this would be an entirely different movie. Luckily for audiences, even with a few lowbrow jokes that don’t register as much as others, Good Boys earns high marks. Good Boys opens nationwide August 16. Grade: B+

Gwen

There’s only so much a filmmaker can do with a dark and brooding atmosphere. For every Hagazuusa or The Witch that gets it right, there are movies that depend too much on their murky cinematography to tell a story. It’s a simple distraction from the fact that the script itself isn’t very compelling. Gwen falls under that category – a gothic horror/drama with a menacing tone that allows its vagueness and lack of emotion to weigh it down. Set in the 19th century Welch countryside, the film follows a mother (Maxine Peake) and her two daughters, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and Mari (Jodie Innis), living on their farm and awaiting their father to come back from the war. Their livelihood is put in jeopardy when mom mysteriously falls ill and their entire flock of sheep are torn apart and strewn across their land. Is something supernatural affecting the family or is there a more logical explanation for their bad luck? First-time writer/director William McGregor fashions together some thought-provoking scenarios and grim imagery, but the folktale never finds its way out of the fog. What we’re left with is a well-directed first feature that struggles to find purpose. Gwen hits VOD platforms August 16. Grade: C

Aisling Franciosi – The Nightingale

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

In her two-episode turn as Lyanna Stark on Game of Thrones, it could be argued that Irish-Italian actress Aisling Franciosi’s role was both an integral and non-integral part of the award-winning HBO series. Without her, the narrative that captivated audiences for eight full seasons would’ve ceased to exist. She gave birth to Jon Snow, for Christ’s sake. Still, her actual contribution to the show as an actress was ancillary at best.

In her new film The Nightingale, there’s no doubting the immense impact Franciosi brings to the daunting role and to the disturbing story, which is set in early 19th century Australia. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Franciosi plays Clare Carroll, an Irishwoman seeking revenge against a British lieutenant (Sam Claflin) and the soldiers who raped her and killed her family. With help from an Aboriginal tracker, Clare ventures out into the deadly Australian wilderness to find the men and claim her pound of flesh.

During an interview with me last week, Franciosi talked about what drew her to the role, why the film is different from most revenge flicks and why she doesn’t feel like she has to defend the movie from detractors who are condemning it without seeing it.

What motivated you to want to take on the lead role of a film that is as dark and controversial as The Nightingale?

Jennifer [Kent’s] writing really struck a chord with me when I read the script. There is just something about the way she writes that is very authentic and truthful. It really resonated with me. The story is a very powerful one with a lot of big themes that I think she deals with intelligently. Also, from an actor’s point of view, I just thought, “Wow. This is a once-in-a-lifetime role.” In my career, I’ve played a lot of teenagers, which is great, but I really wanted to step up to the plate and prove that I could do more.

Most young actresses like yourself don’t get a chance to show their range in such a powerful, serious film. Honestly, it’s really amazing that you got to do that in a project like this so early in your film career and not in something like Halloween 12.

(Laughs) Honestly, I was lucky that this script came along. I did work my ass off to get it. I also wrote to Jen and told her that I would give her everything and that she could push me to the absolute limit if she gave me the role. But I can’t lie. I know that I’m lucky. I’m realizing more and more that these roles come maybe once or twice in a career. To have gotten one so early on feels like a real blessing, but also makes me realize I can’t compare every script to this one.

This story is set during a very particular time and location in history. Did you study what was happening in Australia during the early 19th century to get a better sense of what these characters were going through?

I did a lot of research. Between getting cast and filming, there were about nine months, so I used that time to devour every documentary and book I could find. I educated myself on the history of Australia and the Aboriginal history. I studied post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and violence against women and sexual violence in general.

The physical nature of your role must’ve taken a toll on you. What was the actual shoot like, especially since most of it is outdoors?

We were filming in pretty inhospitable locations. I knew it would be a grueling shoot. I think the shoot was for 54 days and I was in 52 of those. I was working 14-16 hours a day. A lot of prep went into it, but that’s a luxury that you don’t get on a lot of projects. I auditioned more than three years ago, so the wait seemed endless. It was torture.

Revenge films aren’t anything new, but why do you think this one feels different? The rage your character shows and the change she goes through during the film felt more urgent than most revenge films I’ve seen in the past.

I think one way it’s different is that you don’t get the payoff that you’re quite expecting. The film really looks at the cost of revenge. Things don’t get wrapped up neatly with a bow as they do frequently with films. Clare is going on a quest for revenge, but I, personally, don’t see it as a “rape-revenge” movie. She’s going after [the man] who stole everything from her. She had been enduring his abuse for a long, long time because she wanted to protect her family. When she goes for revenge, he has not only taken her sense of self and her body, but also her child and her husband and her future and her dreams.

What was your relationship like with Sam Claflin (the British lieutenant) when the cameras weren’t rolling? Did you try to steer clear of him to keep that intensity high on the set or was it a real working collaboration?

Sam and I had a discussion early on about whether we should hang out before and after the shoot. We thought it was an interesting idea if we kept some distance. But as soon as we started workshopping, we realized we had to do the opposite. I had to get as close to him as possible. It was important for us to feel like we were safe with one another. When you’re shooting the kinds of scenes you have to shoot together, personally, I can’t put myself in an emotionally fragile place to get an authentic performance without trusting the other actors completely. So, we really got to know each other very well. We got really close as a group. I was sobbing in between takes and they would comfort me and just hold me. Everyone was just so sensitive to what was going on and what we were trying to do with the performances.

I’m sure you know there will be people who dismiss the film without seeing it simply because of the violent aspects of it. As you talk about this film, do you feel like you have to defend it or would you rather it speak for itself?

I don’t feel I have to defend it, no. I think the nice thing about giving yourself wholeheartedly to a project is that we know that we did it for honest and honorable reasons. The reality is that these are realities of colonialism and war. We see it going on even today. You can’t tell an honest story and depict a time in history without showing the violence. If you’re going to do that, you need to show just how terrible it is. I’m really proud of how we’ve shown it because we really focus on not dehumanizing the victims. In our film, it’s really about looking at the human being and the emotional cost of violence. We’ve become so desensitized to violence and what it actually means to inflict pain on another human being. So, I absolutely stand by every frame of this film. I think it makes people angry because it makes people feel things they don’t want to feel. But I think art has a place in making us look at society and at ourselves.

Gregory Nava – El Norte (35th Anniversary)

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

The story of Gregory Nava’s grandfather was something his family never talked about. The director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter’s grandfather was one of two million people of Mexican heritage — many of them U.S. citizens — deported (or coerced to self-deport) during the Great Depression by local, and sometimes federal, authorities.

“My family was ripped apart,” Nava told me during an interview ahead of the rerelease of his 1984 drama El Norte. “It was a family secret. It took time for me to find out about it. People keep these kinds of secrets because they want to conform and assimilate.”

A one-night only screening of El Norte takes place in theaters nationwide September 15. Nava recognizes the film’s rerelease is a good chance for Latino parents to speak to their children about their family’s history — especially since U.S. history is repeating itself today with President Donald Trump enforcing, what Nava calls, “draconian policies.”

“We need to teach our children who we are and where we came from,” he said. “We need to stand strong and educate them to never forget their past.”

Some of the Trump administration’s cruel practices, Nava points out, include President’s family-separation policy introduced last year that removed thousands of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to deter migration; mass deportation of nonviolent undocumented immigrants; policies that punish immigrants for accepting government assistance and Trump vilifying Latinos and other immigrants — an action many of the President’s critics say is responsible for the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart earlier this month where 22 people were killed by a white nationalist targeting Mexicans.

“Our Latino community is in crisis,” Nava said. “All of us are under attack, not just immigrants. We are all in those cages with those children. All of us are in that Walmart in El Paso. We must rise to the occasion and get our message out about who we are, so that what’s happening in America right now can never happen again.”

Nava said it starts with compassion — the same compassion he wrote in his Oscar-nominated screenplay for El Norte. The film follows two indigenous teenagers who flee a Civil War in Central America to find a better life in the U.S. At that time, communist revolutions in countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala raged on, which inspired Nava to make his two protagonists Guatemalan.

“I was deeply moved by these true Americans — these Native Americans,” he said. “They had been ripped from their homes and suffering from genocide. I knew I had to tell their story, which is universal.”

In 1993, El Norte was selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. It celebrates the 35th anniversary of its theatrical release this year.

“[The rerelease of El Norte] is so bittersweet because 35 years later, the situation has not changed on the southern border,” Nava said. “In fact, it’s gotten worse. The message of El Norte is more relevant than when we originally made it. All Latinos need to get together again in a positive way. This should be a call for action.”

There is potential for a movement, Nava said. Today’s political climate reminds him of what took place after El Norte was originally released in the U.S. in 1984. Two years later, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which “legalized” most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Nava likes to think El Norte had a hand in motivating immigrants to demand the government recognize them as citizens.

“[El Norte] had a tremendous impact when it was first released,” he said. “The thing I’m most proud of is how the immigrant community picked up on the film and went to the government and got protective status. We thought, ‘We’re on the right track.’ Yet, it’s gotten derailed and now we’re worse than we were before. It’s tragic.”

The country is suffering, Nava said, because the Trump administration “has no humanity.”

“They don’t understand who we are as a nation,” he said. “They don’t know that immigrants are the ones who built the United States and who keep it young and vital. From all those immigrants comes our future.”

But can Hollywood help sustain a brighter future for America by simply making movies like El Norte, Sin Nombre, A Better Life and others? Do fiction films really wield that much power? Nava believes it’s vital that Latinos are portrayed on screen in positive ways, so that more people know that in real life we’re not all drug dealers and criminals — an identity Trump has tried to cast on the culture since announcing his run for presidency in 2015.

“It’s an important thing to do, and we need to do more of it,” Nava said. “Hollywood has a major part in this. They have to open up their pocketbooks to let more Latino filmmakers get their films made. People don’t see many of us on screen, and when they do see us, we’re narcos. That negative portrayal creates a negative effect.”

Getting more opportunities for Latinos is something Nava has been fighting for his entire career. He’s had to prove himself every time he wants to make a new movie that his last success — from El Norte to Mi Familia to Selena — wasn’t a fluke and that Latino stories are important enough to tell.

“It’s a sad commentary that Latinos have the worst representation of any group in our country,” he said. “But, I believe a sea change is coming. We have won our place at the table. Now, Hollywood has to respond. They need to see our heart and soul.”

This interview was initially published by Remezcla.com

Marc Maron – Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

Best known for his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron and for his role on Netflix’s GLOW, comedian Marc Maron has been branching out as an actor over the last couple of years.

In his newest film, Sword of Trust, Maron plays Mel, a pawn shop owner in Alabama who attempts to help a couple sell a sword to a group of conspiracy theorists who believe it proves the South actually won the Civil War.

Along with Sword of Trust, Maron stars in the stand-alone film Joker later this year, which features Joaquin Phoenix as the title clown. Maron also has roles in the crime-drama Wonderland, directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) and starring Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed), and in the U.K. drama Stardust about musician David Bowie’s first trip to the U.S. in 1971.

During an interview with me last month, Maron talked about expanding his horizons as an actor, the difference between film reviewers and film critics and why moviegoers who aren’t necessarily comic-book movie fans should be excited about Joker.

You’ve received acclaim for your role in GLOW and you do an amazing job in Sword of Trust. Was acting something that came second nature to you or did you have to hone it as much as you did with stand-up comedy?

Alongside comedy, I always wanted to do it. I did it a bit in high school and college. I would take classes here and there. I don’t know if it’s second nature, but I think I have the ability to be present and not notice there are cameras around me. I’ve been working kind of hard to learn more about it. I’m comfortable doing it, so it’s a mixture of natural ability and just learning on the job.

I’m sure as a stand-up comedian and as a podcast host, you have to be on your toes when it comes to what the audience or the guest might throw at you. Would you consider that practice for Sword of Trust since it’s a film that had more narrative freedom than most movies?

Sure. With most of my stand-up [comedy], I create it in real time on stage through talking. I can improvise like that. But that’s usually on my own. Certainly, the podcast has taught me how to listen better and engage my empathy with other people. As I act more, I went out of my way to have more actors on the podcast to get free acting lessons.

Well, the acting lessons seem to have paid off in your new film, especially the scene in the back of the moving truck. Where did that come from? Was that soliloquy you give all from your head? It was very touching.

Well, apparently this movie was all improvised, but there was an outline. There was a story in place. For that scene, the direction on the page was, “Get to know each other in the van.” [Director] Lynn Shelton had some backstory points that were somewhat similar to my life. Then there was this whole other element that I just had to create in the moment. But I’ve become pretty good at creating memories for the people I’m playing and locking into them and believing them. That was nine hours in a van. By the end of the day, I was at the end of my rope. It was hot and I was angry. The last shot of the day was that close up. I was really able to connect to the story emotionally.

Is there something specific you’re looking for when a script comes across your desk? Has that changed since you first started taking these acting gigs?

I really didn’t do much acting [before]. I didn’t really pursue it as a job. I was a comic. I really didn’t have an agent. I really didn’t like auditioning. It was too brutal. Acting is always something I wanted to do, and I’m grateful that I am able to do it, but I don’t have to do it. It’s not really my job. But I like to do it. In terms of projects, I want to take more risks as an actor. But until I feel really confident in doing that, I look at things to see if I can see myself in the part and whether it’s in my wheelhouse and how long it’s going to take and who I’d be working with and what are the chances of it actually happening or being finished. There’s a lot of little things that I look at. But I don’t have to do it, which is a nice place to be. The ability to say no and not worry about it is definitely a gift.

I know you don’t have to act, but I think you could definitely use Sword of Trust as a calling card moving forward if you want to show directors that you have range.

I hope so. I always wanted to do my own TV show and act as somebody who wasn’t really me in a TV show. Both of those dreams came true. The other thing I wanted was to have a solid, small part in a movie that would really showcase what I’m capable of. I thought it would be in a big movie, but it turns out to be in this nice, little movie that Lynn made. Yeah, I hope that it gets me some interesting opportunities to act. That would be exciting.

One of my favorite podcasts of yours – and I’m being biased because he’s my favorite director working today – was the one with Paul Thomas Anderson. Are there any directors working right now that if they called you up and offered you even a small part in a movie, you wouldn’t hesitate to say yes?

[Anderson] is definitely one of them. I think David O. Russell would be fun to work with. Obviously, [I’d like to work with] all the directors we’ve grown to know and love in our life, but there’s a lot of new people doing work that … I look at their movies and I think they do amazing stuff. I’m pretty open. As long as it’s collaborative and has big minds behind it and big creativity in it. I’m sort of excited about doing that kind of stuff.

Something I didn’t know about you until recently is that you minored in film criticism in college. How do you see that landscape today? Do you think it’s over-saturated?

There’s a difference between a review and real criticism. When you read thorough criticism that puts the conversation about the film into the context of art and film and literature and genre expectations, I like reading that stuff – if it has some depth to it. There are probably enough film reviewers around. I think real criticism is a different animal. I think there is always room for that.

How do you confront reviews of your own work? Do you read them? Ignore them? Do you take them to heart?

If someone is smart and they’re thinking about the film, then maybe I can learn something about myself and my performance from that. I’ll only take things to heart if they make me look at it in a different way. I’ve always learned stuff from smart people who have the ability to be honest and whose opinion is founded in something logical or intelligent. I don’t Google myself or anything. Certainly, I’ve been offended by things that are just mean or nasty or condescending. But if someone is smart and they have a point, I’ll take it to heart and think it through.

Well, you definitely have a lot of smart people as guests on your podcast. As engaging as I’m sure each of them are, is there a topic that might come up where you would immediately feel out of your element? Would you slink into your chair for 18th century Russian opera?

I don’t slink into my chair, but I certainly – at some point in my life – realized that it’s better to say, “I don’t know,” than to pretend like you do. Generally, I won’t slink into my chair. I’ll say something like, “I don’t know much about that. Can you tell me what I need to know so I can learn something?”

Do you still enjoy the podcast aspect of your career as much as you did when you started a decade ago? Or has it become a chore as most things do if you do them for a long time and aren’t loving it as much as when you first started?

It’s a job. We have a schedule to meet. We post two new shows every week. I find that anytime I get tired of it … I talk to new people and I never know what’s going to happen. I always get the same amount of anxiety and dread and nervousness behind every conversation. Every conversation is a new thing. Almost none of them have I not been completely engaged or interested to have. Talking about myself at the beginning, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to say. But we just keep doing it because there’s no reason to stop. No matter how much I get tired of it, I still love talking to the people that I talk to.

In the past, you’ve said you do limited research on your guests. Do you still work that way?

It depends on how interested I am and how much research I have to do. I like to be familiar with people. Sometimes I go out of my way to get a deeper handle on people than I used to. But I still don’t write a list of questions.

I’m not a big comic-book movie fan. I loved Logan, but I’m not going to die if I’m not the first one in line to see Avengers 12. That said, I am very much looking forward to Joker. Why is someone like me, who is not invested in comic-book movies, so excited about this particular one?

I think it’s because there’s a different approach to [Joker]. It’s not a cape and leotard movie. There are no flying people in it. I think it’s because of the way [director] Todd Phillips approached the character of the Joker – with a certain amount of license around an origin story movie. I think he took it on as a gritty character study of a mentally ill person whose journey through life molded him into this character who compromises his sense of morality and becomes this monstrous presence. I think there is a bit more intimacy and grit and humanity to it. I think it’s going to be an exciting movie.

Feliz Ramirez – Grand Hotel (TV)

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although her focus was on playing volleyball as a high school student at Antonian College Prep (c/o 2010), Feliz Ramirez never forgot how passionate she was as a child about becoming an actress.

With a father who worked in the advertising industry, Ramirez started auditioning for roles in the Spanish-language commercials he produced when she was only four years old.

“My first commercial was for Paragon Cable,” Ramirez told me during an interview a few weeks ago. “As soon as I got in front of the camera and they started putting a little bit of makeup on me, I was like, ‘OK, I like this!’”

Twenty-plus years later, Ramirez still enjoys how glamourous it feels to be in the spotlight. She said she gets to “play dress-up” just like when she was a kid living in San Antonio on her new ABC series Grand Hotel. Executive produced by Eva Longoria (TV’s Desperate Housewives), the new soapy drama follows the lives of the Mendoza family led by patriarch Santiago Mendoza (Oscar-nominated actor Demián Bichir), who owns the Riviera Grand Hotel in Miami Beach. The show is a remake of the Spanish soap opera Grand Hotel, which aired in Spain from 2011 to 2013.

Currently on the fourth episode of its debut season, Ramirez has been a standout as Santiago’s self-absorbed stepdaughter Carolina, who has already (in just the first three episodes) cheated on her fiancé with a celebrity rapper, backstabbed her sister and won’t stop desperately fawning over the new waiter hired at the hotel who has zero interest in her.

During an interview a few weeks ago, Ramirez talked about her time in San Antonio, what it has been like showing off her character’s “evil side” and the diversity on the show.

Grand Hotel airs Monday nights on ABC at 9 p.m. CT.

Before we get into the show, tell me about your life in San Antonio.

I grew up there my whole life. I was born in Santa Rosa Hospital downtown. I grew up on Woodlawn near San Pedro. Then I moved to the Medical Center and went to grade school at St. Paul’s Catholic School and went to high school at Antonian College Prep. I lived in San Antonio all through high school and then I moved out of state for college.

Where did you go to college?

I played volleyball, so I got a scholarship. My first year, I went to a school in North Carolina, Mount Olive College, to play volleyball. Then, I transferred to St. Francis College in Brooklyn. The reason I transferred is because I wanted to move to a place where I could pursue acting. I knew I needed to leave small town North Carolina and go to Los Angeles or New York. [St. Francis] offered me a full ride, so that’s how I got to New York. I lived there for eight years.

And now 20-something years later, you’re starring on an ABC drama executive produced by Eva Longoria. What attracted you to the role of Carolina? So far, she’s not a very nice person.

(Laughs) Carolina is such a fun character even though she’s not the nicest person. She can be ridiculous in an entertaining, funny way. A lot of people tell me, “You know, you’re nothing like Carolina in real life,” which I appreciate. I like challenging myself. She’s ridiculous, but she’s got this really strong personality that I love being able to take over. You’ll see a development in her throughout the season.

The relationship between Carolina and her sister Yoli (Justina Adorno), so far, has been the most enjoyable one to watch unfold. The evil stepsisters from Cinderella are referenced in the first episode, but Carolina seems to be the only one of the two who fits the bill.

Yeah, I think what they meant by that is that Carolina always feels like she needs her sidekick. They’re sisters, so they do depend on each other, but they fight all the time. Carolina throws her under the bus a few times. But, yeah, I think [Carolina] takes on more of the evil side. At times, I felt like the evil stepsister personality come out, but I think it’s a little different. I think when you see the rest of the season, the evil transforms. There are some heartfelt moments and some dynamics that you’ll be surprised come from the sisters. A lot of times, when you think of evil stepsisters, you think of these crazy, mean girls. But Carolina comes in just wanting to have a party.

As a Latina actress, what do you think about what your executive producer Eva Longoria has been able to do behind the scenes in the TV industry in the last few years? She’s been able to create content on shows like Telenovela, Devious Maids and now Grand Hotel for actresses of color who might not get the same opportunity on other shows?

I think it’s incredible and so important, especially during this time. I feel very honored to be a part of this project. I love the diversity in our show. We had such a variety of directors throughout the season (including Longoria) – a lot of women. Our DPs (director of photography) are female, too. It’s really nice to see that Eva is very passionate about diversity, not only Latinos, but all races.

Ari Aster – Midsommar

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

From Joni Mitchell to Taylor Swift, it’s no surprise when a musician writes a song about a breakup to help them find closure. Filmmakers, however, rarely get the opportunity to share their experiences of a failed relationship unless they are, well, actually making a movie that includes a failed relationship.

Such is the case for writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary) with his second feature film Midsommar, an abstract exploration of the end of a relationship he experienced five years ago. The horror film, which is much more symbolic in nature than an average “breakup movie,” follows a troubled couple (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) during a trip with friends to Sweden to attend a fabled mid-summer festival. The festival, which only occurs every 90 years, turns out to be operated by a pagan cult.

During an interview this past weekend, Aster and I talked about his intention in writing a breakup movie like Midsommar, his frustration with some mainstream horror and why he’d rather leave interpretation to the audience.

You’ve been open in recent weeks about how you wrote the script for Midsommar after experiencing a breakup. Was there something specific you wanted to say about the kind of pain you went through during that time?

Yeah, I went looking to do a breakup movie that felt as big as a breakup feels. From anyone else’s perspective, it’s a minor enough event. If it was a relationship with any real consequence, then a breakup can be cataclysmic and turn your life upside down and almost feel like a death. I wanted to make a big, operatic breakup movie that felt and played as consequential as the end of a relationship feels to the parties involved.

Without revealing too much information, does this person you experienced the breakup with know you’ve written a movie based on it?

I don’t know. I imagine they might have some idea. I can’t imagine they’d be happy about it. But it’s not about them or the relationship itself. It was written as I was piecing through the ruins of that relationship.

When you write something as twisted as Hereditary and Midsommar, do you find that people tend to think the person creating the stories must also be twisted? I’ve talked to horror directors in the past that think it’s difficult sometimes for people to separate the creator from the material?

Yeah, but that’s an occupational hazard. I’ve made peace with it.

Some of the imagery in both Hereditary and Midsommar stays with you long after the credits roll. Is that a goal as a horror director?

Yeah, if you make a horror movie, why not try to make an impression on people? I have my own taste. I’m not somebody who’s into jump scares. I feel like everything we see day to day is infused with dread. I enjoy building suspense and also creating a mood. I’m somebody who is more affected by images and ideas than I am by jolts.

That must be frustrating, especially since those are the kinds of horror movies mainstream audiences flock to the most.

They kind of irritate me. It’s just a matter of taste. I just don’t watch them. That kind of filmmaking is frustrating to me, but I also don’t do it or watch them. I watch all sorts of movies and I hope to make all sorts of movies. [Hereditary and Midsommar] are just my contribution to the horror genre.

Do you mind explaining to people what your movies are about or would you rather them come up with their own meanings and ideas?

I’m a pretty firm believer that what’s in the film is what you need to know. I’m happy to answer people’s questions to a point and I’m honored that people want to talk to me in the first place. I’m very fortunate to be making these films, but ultimately, I’d rather not explain anything. I’m more than happy to talk about influences and what drives certain things and give some insight into what inspired me to dive into this work, but I try not to be too insufferable in my explanations.

Looking to the future, what kinds of films would you like to make – if not horror?

I’d love to play in every genre. I love romantic comedies. I love Westerns. I love musicals. I love sci-fi. I try to come to everything from a place of character. That’s my way in. Genre filmmaking offers you a structure and a framework. From there, you can play around and find a way to add your signature.

The Nightingale

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

There are plenty of rage-driven “rape and revenge” films that strive to show how the human condition is affected when shaken to its core. Although most popular in the 1970s, the exploitative subgenre is still as controversial today as it was when films like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left were banned and censored to varying degrees 40 years ago.

The Nightingale won’t be immune to the same criticism from moviegoers who find the Australian film excessively cruel. During a screening at the Sydney Film Festival last month, dozens of people reportedly walked out of the theater because of the violent scenes depicting rape and murder. The Nightingale isn’t a comfortable watch to say the least, but it does strike a nerve in a visceral way.

Set in 1825 in Tasmania, off the south coast of Australia, The Nightingale tells the story of Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi), a convicted 21-year-old Irishwoman who lives at an outpost under the authority of a British lieutenant, Hawkins (Sam Claflin), during the empire’s colonization of the territory.

Even after completing her seven-year sentence, Hawkins refuses to release her from his control, even though she’s married and raising an infant while in his custody. The lieutenant and two of his soldiers, Ruse and Jago (Damon Herriman and Harry Greenwood), devastate her life during a nightmarish segment that’s likely to induce anger in viewers who are unable to fathom the evil acts on display. While difficult to watch, these particular scenes — warning: there are more than one — are necessary to tell the story.

The tragic event pushes Clare to a stage of blinding wrath, and she sets out to hunt down Hawkins, Ruse and Jago through the dangerous Australian wilderness after they leave for another post. To give herself a fighting chance of surviving the trek, she hires Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker who has also seen his fair share of death at the hands of the men he calls the “white devils.”

Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent, who terrorized parents worldwide with her 2014 debut film The Babadook, the gothic tale of revenge is devastatingly grim and emotionally jarring. Moviegoers anticipating some level of catharsis — frequently offered in similar vengeance films — might be disappointed with the script’s unpredictability and slow-burn storytelling. But as moviegoers witnessed in The Babadook, Kent isn’t interested in genre mechanics.

With The Nightingale, she has created something that dismisses archetypes and relies on brutal history lessons to expose man’s perpetually destructive nature.

After the Wedding

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

A remake of writer-director Susanne Bier’s 2006 Oscar-nominated Danish film of the same name, the American version of After the Wedding is repackaged and scrubbed of all emotional value. Despite earning nine career Oscar nominations and one win between them, actors Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice) are bogged down by the film’s lethargic storytelling, not to mention a narrative brimming with artificial family melodrama.

It’s difficult to discuss After the Wedding without giving away the major reveal in the script, so apologies for sounding vague in the description. Williams stars as Isabel Andersen, the head of an orphanage in India who’s doing everything in her power to make a good life for the children under her care. When rich New York media mogul Theresa Young (Moore) offers to donate $2 million to her cause if Isabel travels to America to meet in person, she makes the trip and, in turn, is invited to the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace (Abby Quinn), so they can “get to know each other better.”

Characters’ intentions begin to blur when Isabel shows up to the wedding and sees that Grace’s father Oscar (Billy Crudup) is a man from her past. Is the coincidence merely that, or was there something amiss with Theresa’s initial invitation? What’s the connection between Oscar and Isabel that makes her react like she was just socked in the stomach? Screenwriter and director Bart Freundlich (Wolves) doesn’t handle the mysterious nature of their relationship well. He drags out the inevitable twist to an unbearable degree, only to let it land with a thud.

Once the big announcement is made, Freundlich proceeds to unpack his screenplay in frustratingly short scenes, which fail to expand on anything that would realistically solve the issues the characters are thrown into. For example, in one scene, Grace shows up to Isabel’s hotel room to talk about their situation, but the conversation lasts just long enough for them to exchange numbers so they can talk later.

After the Wedding continues to flounder around like this for the rest of its run time. Freundlich tries to give the remake a reason to exist by swapping genders with the Danish film’s two leads, but the change-up creates plot problems rather than providing unique contrast.

Despite their satisfying performances, Williams and Moore aren’t given enough depth to explore their complex circumstances. Their conflict feels forced and underdeveloped. There’s talent in front of the camera, but very little in the firm rings true — even as a glorified soap opera.

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