Stronger

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“Joe”)
Written by: John Pollono (debut)

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is given the cinematic treatment for the second time in two years and done so, once again, with heart and sensitivity for everyone involved in the fateful day. While last year’s “Patriots’ Day” focused on the crime itself and what it took to bring a pair of terrorists to justice, the drama “Stronger” takes a more humanistic approach with the story of one man whose life was changed forever in the blink of an eye. It’s a touching look at a personal fight for survival and how the idea of heroism is viewed during a national tragedy to lift up those who have been broken.

Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”) stars as Jeff Bauman, an average Bostonian who was present at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 cheering for his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) when two bombs detonated in the crowd. When the smoke settled, it is revealed that Jeff has lost both his legs in one of the blasts. In an uphill physical and emotional battle, Jeff must learn how to live with his handicap all while reliving a day he would like to forget by reluctantly taking on the role of “hero” christened on him by a city in desperate need of inspiration.

Moviegoers are given that sense of hopefulness from Jeff’s story with Gyllenhaal’s subtle and vulnerable performance. Luckily, with director David Gordon Green (“Joe”) behind the camera, the storytelling strays from becoming too melodramatic or sappy. While Gyllenhaal doesn’t command the screen like in a lot of his previous work, the character feels meaningful and resonant. As Jeff’s supportive (ex)-girlfriend, Maslany from stands out with conviction in her most accessible film to date. It’s not a role that allows her much range like she has on her TV series “Orphan Black” where she plays a handful of different clones, but Maslany captures something beautiful in the way she exudes love and frustration as a sympathetic caretaker.

By confronting the more painful aspects of Jeff’s narrative, Green and first-time screenwriter John Pollono give audiences more than the cliché tropes that we would normally see in a film that could’ve easily been denigrated to Movie of the Week levels. Instead, “Stronger” is intimate, tender and heartbreaking in just the right amounts.

Mother!

September 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”)
Written by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”)

If you’ve ever had someone approach you and utter the words, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and your first instinct was not to automatically run in the other direction before the storyteller began to describe their incomprehensible nightmare in extreme detail, you might find filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s new thriller “Mother!” profound in a bat-shit crazy kind of way. Aronofsky has created the cinematic version of sleep paralysis. It’s vivid, uncomfortably terrifying and once you snap out of it, you’ll never want to experience it again. Ever.

Without attempting to plunge deep into the psychobabble metaphors Aronofsky amplifies to frustrating proportions (this coming from a critic who loves some good symbolism), “Mother!” follows an unnamed married couple, played by Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”), as they watch their quiet life get disrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests.

When a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their door and is invited to stay by Bardem’s famous writer character, the friendly gesture sets off a series of events that lead to the unraveling of Lawrence’s medicated character’s sanity as her mind and home fall apart piece by piece. Joining Harris’ character in overstaying his welcome is his boorish wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and later their two bickering sons, who turn the visit from discordant to destructive.

Is every insane thing happening around Lawrence simply a figment of her imagination or is Aronofsky making it a point to draw a faint line between reality and possible hallucinations. Like Natalie Portman’s ballerina character in “Black Swan,” the existence of Lawrence’s lucidness is left to the viewer to wrangle over, but what is obvious is that Aronofsky has embraced his sprawling, chaotic narrative without remorse.

Maybe that’s a sign of a groundbreaking director. Aronofsky has created a picture about obsession and, in turn, has become a manic of his own making. He’s much better telling human stories like in “The Wrestler” or even “Requiem for a Dream, which is still just as nerve-wracking as “Mother!” It’s a bold move and he should be commended for the original and ambitious albeit preposterous content. What we could use less of Aronofsky doing, however, is making a film that doesn’t add up to much more than two hours of navel-gazing and waxing philosophical. With “Mother!,” he can’t seem to check his ego at the front door.

Nat Wolff – Leap!

September 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Since breaking out on the Nickelodeon TV show “The Naked Brothers Band” in 2007 with his brother Alex, actor Nat Wolff has gone on to carve out a nice little career for himself over the last 10 years.

Most notably, Wolff starred opposite Cara Delevingne in the 2015 mystery/drama “Paper Towns” as a teenager who follows a series of clues to find his missing neighbor and love interest. Wolff also earned roles in “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Intern” and “Home Again.”

In the animated film “Leap!,” he lends his voice to Victor, a pre-teen inventor in the late 19th century who accompanies his friend Felicie (Elle Fanning) on a trip to Paris where she hopes to become a world-famous ballerina.

During a recent interview with Wolff, 22, we talked about why it was so fun playing a 12-year-old kid and what he hopes a film like “Leap!” says to young moviegoers.

Whether we’re talking about a movie like “Wonder Woman” or “The Hunger Games” or “Ghostbusters,” it seems like studios, little by little, are realizing that it’s important to tell these stories about female empowerment. Do you think these films are going to become more prolific or are we just seeing a trend?

I think these films are certainly going to become more prolific. I think girls and guys want to see these types of films. I think it’s silly that there is such a disparity between movies that star men and women.

What would you tell parents of little boys who might not want to go see “Leap!” because it is a story about a ballerina?

As a little kid I used to watch movies like “Toy Story” and “Monster’s Inc.” and was a huge animated film fan. It’s exciting to play a character like Victor who is such a wild one, an inventor. That’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid – use my Legos and invent things. I think guys are going to love it, too.

Your character is described as somewhat of a goofball. Can you explain how you connected to him on that level?

Well, it was really hard for me to connect to a goofball. (Laughs) Honestly, it was a breeze. I sort of gave up trying to tame myself in a way. I got to be my wild, 12-year-old self and go into a booth and scream and go crazy for a couple of days. I was a really strange thing.

What’s the message you would like kids to understand when they see a film like “Leap!”?

I think for me, one of the exciting things about this movie is that it’s hopeful and positive and not in a world that is cynical. I’m happy to be a part of the film. I think watching film was really important to my growth as a kid. I think if you’re watching movies that reflect some hope, hopefully that will go into their lives.

Your character participates in a dance off in the film. How do you think you’d fare in a dance off with someone? What are your skills like on the dance floor?

I pretty much think I can beat anyone. I think I could take anyone down. I’m not technically brilliant, but I lead with the heart. Send your best dancer and I’ll school them.

Lake Bell – I Do…Until I Don’t

September 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “I Do…Until I Don’t,” actress/writer/director Lake Bell introduces audiences to three couples as they maneuver their way through their messy and complex relationships in an attempt to find happiness.

Along with writing and directing the second film of her career (her 2013 comedy “In a World…” was a gem), Bell also stars as Alice, a woman who is struggling alongside her husband Noah (Ed Helms) to keep their small business afloat and trying to decide if having a baby is a good decision. All three couples’ lives are placed center stage when a jaded filmmaker asks them to participate in her documentary about marriage and the notion that all unions should be capped by a seven-year contract.

During an interview with me last week, Bell, 38, talked about the idea behind her script, why marriage is so hard, yet so worth it, and shares the best marriage advice she’s ever received.

Talk about the idea behind this script of the seven-year marriage contract. I’m assuming it’s playing off the idea of the seven-year itch.

The idea came from a German politician named Gabriele Pauli who proposed to her government that marriage was basically archaic and that we would be better suited socially to alter it to a seven-year contract. I’ve been married for four years, but have been with my husband for seven. There something about getting over the hump and push through the muddy, messy times. It’s so hard, but when you choose not to bail on each other, that’s where real evolution and growth happens in a relationship. The privilege of aging and evolving with someone is having the benefit of someone calling you out and vice versa. That was kind of the subject matter I wanted to investigate.

So, I’ve been married for eight years and have two kids. Are you telling me I don’t have to worry about any more mud?

(Laughs) Hey, I get it. I’m four years in and have two kids. I am with you, brother. I know that it’s hard and that shit can get real. That’s why this movie is so deeply personal to me. We’re all dealing with a barrage of very negative stuff in the news. There is a lot of tension in the air that trickles down into our personal lives. Commitment, in general, is hard. I want to be an advocate for relationships. When the steeple burns down to ash, out of ash grows flowers. The same with shit. You’re going to have flowers grow out of it. It is your duty – pun intended – and honor to trudge through the mess and come out the other side.

You do realize, however, that even though you are already committed to your marriage, you’re doubling down by making a movie like this, yes?

I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m not even at the seven-year mark yet. I made this movie so that I could make sure that…Let’s just say I would be such an asshole if I bailed out. So, now I have to stick to my guns. I believe in the institution [of marriage]. I didn’t when I first started writing the movie. I had a very cynical and jaded view. Then, I met my now husband during the process of writing it. That’s why, ultimately, without giving away any spoilers, I want the world to know you should go into this movie with the intention of wanting to make out with your wife at the end of it.

That could be the case, but I could also see arguments coming out of this if you went to the movies with your spouse, no?

Maybe, but I hope that it’s more of a date-night movie. I hope people feel at the end that marriage counts for a lot. Your partner is the only other person who has a shared experience of what you have gone through. That history and framework and tapestry of your lives together can’t be just built. It takes so much love and energy to build a relationship like that. It is worth working for.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about making marriage last?

Therapy, especially if you’ve gone through all the trouble to have a family with someone and get in front of all your friends and all your family and get married and buy a house together and entrench yourself together. I think therapy and self-reflection and coupled reflection is super noble and worth it to everybody. (Laughs) The point is, and we are really getting into it here because I’m passionate about the subject, if you think bailing is the easier route, it’s not.

How much of directing and writing your own projects was the simple fact that you weren’t getting offered the roles you wanted and wanted to create your own material?

I feel very lucky that I’ve had an awesome career thus far. It was more about the experience of writing and creating something from nothing. It was just a profound and creative privilege. It’s something I enjoy and find really fulfilling. As an added bonus, yes, I feel like I can cast myself in roles that are perhaps not the obvious roles people would cast me in. Certainly, Alice is not the kind of character I would have gotten offered in the past. But I really felt she was a character I needed to accept, so I gave myself that opportunity.

Patti Cake$

September 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty
Directed by: Geremy Jasper (debut)
Written by: Geremy Jasper (debut)

The underdog musician movie will never be as prolific as, say, the underdog sports flick, but if done right, the inspirational impact of the former might be enough to spur a regular visitor to the local karaoke bar to aspire to bigger and better things. The best examples in recent years include the 2013 Coen brothers’ drama “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the 2016 Irish charmer “Sing Street.” It helps when the soundtrack is memorable, too.

In “Patti Cake$,” first time writer/director and former indie rocker Geremy Jasper attempts to tap into his own autobiographical story as a frustrated musician in search of a break in the industry. He finds his muse in little-known Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, who portrays the title character, Patricia Dombroski (aka Patti Cake$, aka Killer P), a plus-sized white girl from New Jersey with dreams to make it as a rapper.

With an unsupportive mother (Bridget Everett of “Inside Amy Schumer”) whose life as a singer didn’t turn out the way she wanted after she got pregnant, Patti puts her own group of outcasts together to help her find a way to escape Jersey and reach a stage where riotous fans will chant her name as she spits rhymes. Included in her motley crew are her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), disabled grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) and mysterious pariah and anarchist Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), who has all the equipment to lay down Patti’s sick beats.

Like the main protagonists B-Rabbit (Eminem) in 2002’s “8 Mile” and Djay (Terrance Howard) in 2005’s “Hustle & Flow,” it’s easy to root for Patti because of the untapped talent she possesses and passion she has for the genre. Macdonald’s convincing performance as a rap artist (she’s far from it in real life) is impressive and effortless. The crowd-pleasing narrative, however, doesn’t raise itself above the clichés of other underdog pictures that have come before it. It’s a tough assignment for any coming-of-age film like this to find a unique angle to take, but very few of the themes that “Patti Cake$” tackles feel substantial.

Macdonald is the most consistent element of the drama and elevates the storytelling through her empowering and likable persona. If anything, Patti as an independent female character is noteworthy and important, especially since today’s hip-hop cultural landscape isn’t a burgeoning one for white female rappers (Kreayshawn, anyone?). For a first feature film, Jasper is best at creating a deprived setting and situation for Patti to revolt against through her music. Catchy original songs like “Patti $ea$on,” “PBNJ” and “mylifesfuckinawesome” add to some of the charming moments, but by not loosening its grip enough on the conventional formula and not fleshing out a lot of the relationships, “Patti Cake$” ends up being an exclusively solo show.

Danielle Macdonald – Patti Cake$

September 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “Patti Cake$,” Australian actress Danielle Macdonald stars in the lead role as aspiring New Jersey rap artist Patricia Dombroski (aka Patti Cake$) as she searches for a way to break into the industry despite lacking the support and resources she needs. During a recent interview with me, Macdonald talked about what drew her to the character and what it’s been like as a fairly new actress in Hollywood.

What resonated with you most when you read the script?

I understood that it was an underdog story and a story about finding who you are, but it was different than anything I had ever seen because someone with a musical background like [filmmaker] Geremy [Jasper] was behind it. I really related to Patti’s drive and passion. [The role] really terrified me and I knew it was going to be a challenge, which was also appealing to me in a way.

Patti has daydreams of becoming a famous rapper. When you came to Hollywood a few years ago, did you have those sorts of expectations of becoming a big movie star?

I tried to have zero expectations of what the industry would be like. When I was younger, I dreamed of being an actor and getting to play different characters. This industry has its own language, so just coming out and learning that was the first thing I did. Having no expectations is a great way to go into the industry because you never know what’s going to change from day to day. It’s very unpredictable. That’s what keeps it exciting. If you like stability, you should not be an actor.

Have you experienced the cutthroat nature of the industry yet?

I have in a sense because there is a lot of rejection. At the same time, I don’t necessarily see it as cutthroat. The reality is, I’m not going to be right for [every role]. Different people bring different things to a character. It’s nothing personal. It’s about the character and that’s OK. You learn to stretch yourself, especially when you play a role like this. I felt so different from Patti. I really had to learn to walk and talk differently. And I had to learn how to rap!

Now that this film has wrapped, if someone asked you to perform as Patti Cake$ on stage, is that an idea you would entertain?

(Laughs) I would never perform as myself, but if there was a specific reason why they wanted to see me as Patti, I think that might be fun. But it would still terrify the crap out of me because performing live in front of people is very scary.

Barry Corbin – The Margarita Man

September 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

If anyone knows what it’s like to film a movie in Texas, it’s actor Barry Corbin (“No Country for Old Men”). During his 40-year career in the film industry, the Lamesa, Texas-born thespian has shot all over the Lone Star State starting with Deer Park in 1980 for his role as Uncle Bob in “Urban Cowboy.”

In all that time, however, Corbin had never made a movie in San Antonio — until now.

This past Wednesday, Corbin was in the Alamo City to shoot scenes for director Daniel Ramos’ upcoming comedy “The Margarita Man.” The film follows Miguel Martinez (Anthony Guajardo), a young college student who is forced to sell margaritas to pay for school after his father cuts him off financially. Corbin plays Doyl, the head of security at Miguel’s college campus.

At 76, Corbin said he doesn’t have too many prerequisites when deciding on whether to make a certain movie or not. These days, a simple phone call might do the trick.

“They called and offered it to me,” Corbin told me during an interview at the Hotel Valencia when asked what drew him to his role in “The Margarita Man.” “That’s about the criteria I go on. If I’m able to do it, usually I do. I don’t do any dirty films. Other than that, we’re alright.”

The only time Corbin remembers turning down a movie was back in the 1980s when he went through a phase of rejecting roles “if the character’s first name was Sheriff” because he was being offered too many of them.

“You do too many of one thing and that’s all they start thinking of you for,” Corbin said. “So, I turned them down for about three years.”

Now, with San Antonio checked off his list of Texas cities where he’s made a movie, Corbin is urging more studios to give Texas an opportunity to host their next production. With the new Supplemental San Antonio Film Incentive Program (SSAI), which kicks in an extra 7.5 percent incentive on top of the 22.5 percent from the state, Corbin hopes it’s an attractive enough proposition for Hollywood to set up shop more often in Texas.

“’No Country for Old Men’ was supposed to take place in Texas but we only shot one week in Texas,” he said. “The rest of it they shot in New Mexico because of the tax incentives over there. We need the legislature to get behind it and give us some strong tax incentives. It’s important because it affects the bottom line of the picture.”

Corbin believes the Texas legislature hasn’t been more willing to expand incentives in the state because “they think we’re giving something away to all those Hollywood liberals out there.” Corbin does not agree.

“What we’re doing is cutting our own throats and losing money,” he said. “[Film production] brings money into the state, but they don’t look at it that way.”

Despite the shortcomings of Texas’ film incentives, Corbin is not letting it effect his love for making movies. He’s going to do it as much as he can for as long as he can. It’s who he is.

“It’s a habit, I guess,” he said. “It’s kind a like dope — you start doing it and you got to keep doing it.”

Brigsby Bear

August 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamil, Jane Adams
Directed by: Dave McCary (debut)
Written by: Kevin Costello (debut) and Kyle Mooney (debut)

Replace the main child character from the 2015 Oscar-winning drama “Room” with the cult classic character Napoleon Dynamite and you’ll start getting a rough idea of the darkly funny and quirky realm the comedy “Brigsby Bear” is floating around in. Genuine in its delivery of a unique and strange script, “Brigsby” is an off-beat and surprisingly moving first film starring and co-written by “Saturday Night Live” performer and scribe Kyle Mooney.

In “Brigsby,” Mooney stars as James Pope, a sheltered man living with his parents, whose only real pleasure in life comes from the love and obsession he has with an unusual children’s video series called “Brigsby Bear.” When James finds out the show and, moreover, his life are not what he always thought they were, he is forced to confront his past, build new relationships and create a semblance of normalcy without the comfort of his cute costumed companion.

“Brigsby” is the type of indie film peculiarity you’ll want to go into knowing as little as possible about the plot, which is much deeper and more compassionate that the above paragraph would lead you to believe. If it was a straight drama, it would also be more unsettling, which is why Mooney, first-time co-writer Kevin Costello and first-time director Dave McCary deserve heaps of credit for turning this warped genre mishmash into something as tender and meaningful as they have.

In the lead role, Mooney is incredibly believable and fully committed and is never degraded into a silly gimmick characterization despite his childlike qualities. He wears his heart on his sleeve and the earnestness he conveys is sweet and touching. Some of the secondary characters (Greg Kinnear plays a well-meaning police detective; Claire Danes plays a well-meaning counselor) are a bit too thin to add anything of importance to the narrative, but with Mooney at the helm, “Brigsby” is, as James would put it, dope as shit.

Detroit

August 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Written by: Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”)

As well directed and emotionally charged as Oscar-winning filmmaker Katheryn Bigelow’s true-life film “Detroit” is, it also plays as a one-note exercise in how to trigger outrage from an audience. “Detroit” is upsetting and disheartening and puts the ugliness of racism at the forefront, but it also needed to be a little more enlightening to capture the full essence of exactly what we’re witnessing in the harrowing drama. With “Detroit,” Bigelow and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal place us at the center of the civil unrest that took place in the Motor City in 1967, but do so in a way that sensationalizes the entire narrative. It would be like watching “Selma,” and the entire film was the Bloody Sunday scene on the Edmund Pettus Bridge stretched into a feature.

Luis Prieto – Kidnap

August 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

After turning some heads in 2012 with his U.K. remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish crime thriller “Pusher,” Spanish director Luis Prieto was given his first shot in the American film industry with “Kidnap.” The film stars Oscar winner Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) as Karla Dyson, a desperate mother who will do anything she can to find her kidnapped son.

During an interview with me last week, Prieto, 47, who studied film at the California Institute of the Arts in L.A., talked to me about why “Kidnap” is different from other thrillers centered on missing children, and what he feels he brings to Hollywood as a Spanish filmmaker.

When you came to the U.S. to study film a few years ago, did you have any expectations about where your career would take you? Did you imagine you’d be working with somebody like Oscar winner Halle Berry?

No, I don’t think so. I never thought I would shoot a movie with Halle Berry. I didn’t expect that. I’ve taken an interesting path to get to this point. It’s been a very rewarding experience making this movie.

Talk about the thriller genre. What does it takes to make a good one?

What I find fascinating about making movies is making movies that are going to move people. In addition to this movie being an action thriller, it’s very emotional, too. [The film] is about the relationship between a mother and her child. When [Karla’s] kid is taken, she would do anything to get him back. Usually, action thrillers don’t include normal people. They include people who specialize in whatever – professionals. This [film] is very simple. It’s about the emotions between a mother and her son. She becomes a mama bear. She becomes a hero. She’ll do anything to get her son back. Everyone can relate to that.

Talk a little more about bringing a mother into this story. Like you said, there have been other movies about kidnaps before – Liam Neeson in the “Taken” series, Mel Gibson and “Ransom” and Hugh Jackman in “Prisoners” come to mind – but we’ve never really seen a mother.

That’s correct. You could take the whole genre of these kinds of movies, and we never get to see a woman much less a mother. We never get to see a mother who drives a minivan. There is a reality to this movie that makes it special. In those other movies, you’ll always find a male character who is very strong and knows a lot about doing action. They are usually men of action. But, here, we have a regular mother – a regular woman become the real hero in this movie. She’s a superhero in some ways. This is a movie about empowerment.

Did you run into any challenges in the story because Halle is playing a regular mom? She might be a superhero in some respects as you just described her, but she’s not a former FBI agent or an assassin or someone with a killer instinct.

It was very interesting because from the very beginning – and from all the conversations between Halle and myself – we always thought, “What would a real mother do?” Halley is a mother, so she would always say, “Oh, I would’ve done this or that.” We would have these reality checks constantly. She knew what she was talking about. Halle is very athletic, so it was easy for her to do the scenes in the movie. All she would do was think, “Would I do this for my son?” She always said, “Yes! I would do this and more!” A mother would do anything for her son. You see that in the movie. You can connect with that. It is very powerful to be able to celebrate that empowerment.

There are some pretty physical scenes in the film. Did you push Halle very hard? Was she able to do everything you asked of her from a physical standpoint?

We both wanted to do everything for real. I didn’t want to use green screens. Halle is very athletic, so she wanted to do most of it herself. When there’s a car chase in the movie, sometimes she’s driving. She’s a good driver. The crashes are happening for real. It wasn’t the easiest way to do it, but we wanted to do it that way. She was completely for doing it herself and never had any doubts. She was up for the challenge. It almost feels like a movie from the 80s because everything is done for real.

And you were able to get that minivan to go as fast as you need it to?

(Laughs) I have to say, we were all surprised at that minivan. Even when cars crashed into that minivan, nothing would happen to it. It was very powerful. It was kind of a metaphor for the mother. You think the mother is going to be weak, but she’s not weak. She’s very strong. By the way, we picked that minivan because it was the most popular minivan in America. It wasn’t your average minivan. It was absolutely remarkable. Very powerful and safe.

We’re not doing any product placement here with the minivan, are we?

(Laughs) Oh, there’s no product placement at all, unfortunately. It’s just the reality of that minivan. We didn’t expect that from that minivan.

As a Spanish filmmaker, do you feel like you bring a new perspective to Hollywood?

You know, it’s interesting because in Europe, we’re always making films from the heart and with passion and emotion. When you come to Hollywood, there’s always great stories, but sometimes they’re lacking heart. Sometimes they will follow a formula. What I like to bring to those great stories is a European heart. I think that was my contribution to the film. I connected with the emotion of the film, which is why I pushed everything to the limit. While making this film, I thought about my own mother and the women I know. That was what was important to me.

What do you want out of a career in Hollywood as you move forward and take your experiences from this film to the next?

For me, I like to make films that I would watch myself. It is important when you make a film that you have an emotional reaction to it. You should be entertained, but you should also have an emotional experience. That’s something I like. That’s the beauty of going to the movies. I love all kinds of movies, but that’s something I personally love.

David Lowery – A Ghost Story

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his new paranormal indie drama “A Ghost Story,” Dallas-based filmmaker David Lowery takes audiences into the afterlife with an intricate, reserved and oftentimes beautiful approach to the narrative. The film stars Casey Affleck as a man who dies and returns to the home he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara) as a metaphysical being.

Trapped in some kind of limbo state – and covered with a single white bed sheet – Affleck’s character, only known as “C,” watches his wife intently as she goes through the motions of life before picking up and moving on. “C,” however, is confined to the home and witnesses different tenants move in and out over the years.

During a recent interview with me last week, Lowery, 36, talked to us about the idea of his ghost character being portrayed as a being hidden under a bed sheet and what existential plane he feels the character is actually inhabiting. We also talked to him about his thoughts on life after death and why he decided to re-team with Affleck and Mara after working with them on his 2013 crime drama “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”

I read a little bit about the inspiration behind this film and the discussion you had with your wife about not wanting to move out of the house where you lived together. Of course, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara’s characters are going through the same debate. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that specific home you shared and why it had so much sentimental value to you?

Basically, I sentimentalize every house I’ve ever lived in. That has been the case my entire life. That house was the first house my wife and I moved into after we got married. It was the first home we made our own. It really just felt like I had invested a lot of myself in that space. That house had that je ne sais quoi that certain places have – like you belonged there. Even though it wasn’t the nicest house, and it was sort of shabby and falling apart, it still felt like me. It had that quality that just made me feel like I was attached to it.

Were you at all worried about the way you wanted to portray the ghost in this movie – someone under a white bed sheet at all times? I’m assuming somebody came to you some time during the beginning of the process and said this might end up being too silly or even funny. What kept you committed to this specific idea?

That was sort of the central image on which the entire movie was based. If I had lost the nerve with that image and with that representation of a ghost, I just wouldn’t have had a movie to make anymore. I certainly was worried about it. I was worried about it being too silly or too funny or being too high concept. That was definitely keeping me up at night when we were shooting. But I had faith in that image and felt that if I could do justice to the image in my mind, this movie would work.

I didn’t find it silly or funny at all. I thought it was a very sweet representation. I kept thinking to myself that this film would be great as a really sad children’s book.

That’s exactly right. I’m glad you said that because it has this naiveté to it that feels almost childlike. It’s like a childlike image, not only because we’re used to seeing children dress up as a ghost with a bed sheet on Halloween, but the specifics of that figure and that form would lend itself well to a children’s book.

Would that be something you might want to do? It could be a children’s book about bereavement to help kids through the loss of a parent or someone close to them.

That’s a really interesting question. I’d worry that I’m not qualified to engage on that kind of therapeutic level, but just as a storyteller, I would love to make a version that was a children’s book. That would be fantastic. I might steal that idea.

Do you consider Casey Affleck’s ghost character in a state of limbo in this film? Describe to me what you wanted to convey with the idea of where he actually is at after he dies.

He is definitely in a limbo. It is a physical limbo he is stuck in. He is in a practical house, which he lived in as a human being, but he definitely is stuck between two worlds. When that door opens in the hospital early in the film, he has an opportunity to move on and chooses not to. Because he makes that choice, he is henceforth stuck in a purgatory of sorts – a purgatory of his own making, and one that he is familiar with because it is his own house. But that’s not where he belongs and he’s not meant to be there. His journey throughout the film is one which he is trying to get out of there.

What are your own thoughts about what happens after we die? Some people say everything goes black and that’s it. Other people think we go to heaven and dance with angels and ride white horses. Does it have to be one or the other?

No, I know that everyone has their own personal beliefs and personal faith or lack thereof. That is a wonderful thing. I personally have no expectations. If I die and it’s just blackness and my conscience is gone, I won’t know. So, I won’t have anything to be disappointed about. But if my soul or my conscience does live on in some other form, I can’t wait to find out what that is. But I don’t have any expectations about what might happen nor do I have any particular faith. I’m open to whatever comes my way when it comes my way.

I think I consider myself more of a hopeful agnostic. I mean, the idea of heaven seems amazing. I don’t know that it exists. It probably doesn’t. But it would be great if it did, right?

Yeah, it’s a very comforting idea and it’s not without merit. But I also think it’s important, to me at least, to acknowledge the flipside, which is there could be absolutely nothing. Maybe at the end, there is something between those two things. Maybe we keep going, but not in a form we currently understand. Who knows? That’s for us to find out in the future, or not.

I’ve always been the type of person that loves a really good, ambiguous ending to a film. With that said, this film is one of the very few that I can remember that ends ambiguously but still feels like there’s closure. Do you think that’s what you’re going for and how do you feel about ambiguous endings overall in film?

I love ambiguous endings if they feel earned and if they don’t feel ambiguous just because the director didn’t know how to wrap them up. That’s always frustrating. But if the ambiguity feels correct and appropriate, then I’m all for it. There is a lot of ambiguity in life. Not everything is always wrapped up in a neat, tiny box with a bow on top. With [“A Ghost Story”], I definitely wanted there to be closure. I did not want to leave people hanging. I wanted to put a period at the end of the sentence. But there were certain elements that did not need to be defined. I wanted the film to provide ambiguity, but also not get in the way of reaching closure.

I don’t know if you remember when Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” came out in 2003 and the end scene is Bill Murray whispering something into Scarlett Johansson’s ear and everybody wanted to know what he said. Somewhere down the line, someone messed with the volume levels of the film and was able to hear what he actually said and posted it online. Doesn’t that take something away from the film?

It does. I feel like that is a perfect example of a movie that leaves you with a burning question that is best left unanswered. Everyone wonders what he said to her and no one would actually be happy if they knew. I know people have gone in and done lip reading to see what Bill Murray said. I don’t want to know. I trust Sofia Coppola and trust she will give us the information we need to understand it. In that case, we don’t need it. The story doesn’t need it. I’m much happier that one little bit of information was removed because it just provides you with a feeling you can’t quantify. The same goes for the note in [“A Ghost Story”]. Everyone wants to know what the note says. I guarantee, if anyone saw what it said, it wouldn’t be as good or as meaningful as not knowing.

OK, so I don’t actually want you to tell me what the note said if it said anything, but was there something written on the note during production or was the paper blank?

Both. The note that Rooney wrote and put into the wall and painted over was something she actually wrote. I don’t know what it says. When the ghost pulls it out later on, that was a separate piece of paper that was blank. The truth is I don’t know what it says, but she did write something. I wanted her to write something that was personal to her and mattered to her and felt right for her character, but we never asked her what it was. It went down with the house.

Are you ready for someone on YouTube to shoot extra scenes for this movie and “reveal” what the note actually says?

We did that already just to make ourselves laugh. We had it say, “Boo.” We had a phone number on it. We had a lot of dirty jokes. As seriously as we took this movie, we had a lot of fun making it. We weren’t above poking fun of ourselves.

You had worked with Casey and Rooney together before in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” Was there a dynamic between them during that film that you saw that you thought would translate over well to this production? Why did you decide to cast them as a pair again for this one?

They just had some amazing chemistry and with “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” I knew they could bring that romanticism that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I wanted there to be a love story at the core of this film. I wanted the couple in this story to feel like a real couple who stay together and actually care for one another despite their differences. I knew that by casting Casey and Rooney I would be 90 percent of the way there already without even having to shoot a frame film because they just have such a wonderful dynamic.

When you made “Pete’s Dragon” in 2016, you became a member of this group of young male filmmakers who seem to have made one well-received indie film and then were given the opportunity to direct something on a really grand scale. Recent examples are like Colin Trevorrow doing “Safety Not Guaranteed” and then given “Jurassic World;” Jon Watts made “Cop Car” and was then given the newest “Spider-Man” film. Maybe I’m wrong, but this feels like a fairly new phenomenon. I don’t know if 10 years ago someone so green would be given something so big. Do you feel the same way?

It definitely feels like a phenomenon, and I hope that phenomenon becomes a lot more inclusive because I know lots of wonderful female filmmakers who would love that same opportunity and aren’t a bunch of white guys in their 30s. I think there’s a practical side of it because it keeps cost down. When it comes to movies of a certain scale, there is so much planning in advance – so much that goes into it – it’s not that big of a risk. It’s actually a wonderful opportunity for studios to get fresh perspective. If you hire Steven Spielberg or David Fincher, you’re going to be automatically out of pocket about $10 million. If you find a director right out of Sundance, you’re spending a lot less. It’s great to get a fresh perspective from a director who hasn’t been in the blockbuster world for 20 years. There are certainly cases where that doesn’t work out, but there have been lots of cases where I think it has. It’s proof that you don’t have to come from a world where you’re steeped in big-budget storytelling to make a big-budget film. What I found in my personal experience is that it doesn’t really change. The process of making a big studio movie is exactly the same as making a tiny indie – it just goes on for a lot longer.

Rebecca Pérez – The Emoji Movie

July 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the new animated film “The Emoji Movie,” senior animator Rebecca Pérez gets creative by giving life to the various emojis one would find in his or her cell phone. Actor T.J. Miller lends his voice to Gene, a “multi-expressive” emoji who sets off on an adventure to become a “Meh” emoji like his parents.

During an interview with me late last week, Pérez, who has also animated films like “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Turbo” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” talked about the challenging aspects of animating the digital images found in smartphones, and how creative she was able to get on a project like “The Emoji Movie.”

What was your initial thought when you found out someone wanted to make a film about emojis?

My first thought was, “How are we going to make a film about emojis?” But I think the way it turned out is very relevant. I think so many people use emojis on their phone to communicate and tell stories. They sort of created a whole film around the personalities that the emojis have. They make it relevant and heartwarming. By the end of the film, you really feel for these characters.

Were you part of the decision-making process on which emojis were going to be included in the film?

As an animator, we take the existing characters and designs [the studio] has chosen. My assumption is that they chose the characters that were most common and most popular that people use – for example, the Meh character and Poop and High Five. They made a story around the relevancy of those particular characters. It’s really humorous and funny. I think a lot of people are going to relate.

What specific characters did you animate for this film?

I worked on the main characters for this film, so High Five and Meh, the Gene character, and Jailbreak. I think my favorite character was High Five, who is voiced by James Corden. He is super funny and over the top. You’re going to laugh every time you see him on screen.

So, after you get the designs of these characters, what’s the next step as an animator? I mean, you’re not animating something like pandas or snails, so you can’t go study the movements of real-life pandas and snails, so what do you do?

Well, when you have a design of the character and he’s a circle and has a mouth and he has two legs and two arms, you think, “How does that character move?” Those are the discussions you have as an animator. You think, “OK, well, this is a character that is a hand (High Five) with two legs. How do you make that expressive?” So, you start looking at your own hand and creating the expressions and the emotions of the character. There’s a dancing scene in the film, so you have to think, “How would you do that with your hand?” High Five is so cartoony and over-the-top, it’s super fun as an animator to able to be able to do that with a character like him. It’s sort of once in a lifetime opportunity.

As you got into it, were you surprised at how much creativity you could have with these characters?

Yes! I think that’s the challenging part for an animator. It’s more fun and you get your juices flowing more when you have a limited character that you have to do more with. It gets you thinking outside the box. I had to make these characters walk and fight and dance. You have to think outside of the norm as an animator. These are the type of projects that make you creative as an animator.

Were their opportunities to use other emojis that weren’t the main characters?

There were a lot of those opportunities. Part of the story takes place inside a phone app where you can select your emojis. Think of “Hollywood Squares” where each square has its own emoji. You may have a scene primarily about two of the main characters, but in the background you have a variety of characters. They’re all emojis that you don’t necessarily use on a day-to-day basis, but they are in the background, so you have opportunities to jump in there and animate them. When you see the movie, look in the background and see where the animators throw in a joke or something fun.

You bring up a good point. I have hundreds of emojis in my phone, and I don’t think I’m ever going to use something like the flag of Norway anytime soon.

Yeah, they’ve added all these new emojis you wouldn’t even think you would ever use. They exist in the background of the film. So if you see it, you’ll be able to catch animations in the background that were driven by the animators to add an extra level of laughs and jokes.

Can you give us an example of something in the background audiences should look out for?

There’s one scene where the shot pans across and you can see in the background the devil character and the angel character having a moment together. They’re dancing, and you can tell there’s an attraction.

In your everyday life, which emoji do you wish you  used more?

I wish I could use the Meh emoji more. I rarely use it. I mostly use the laughing or winking emoji. I’m used to those two primarily because I’m always telling jokes.

I think some people use emojis too much – like they have a whole conversation with only emojis. Do you think were at that point in society where technology has taken over the way we communicate?

I don’t think technology has taken over, but I do think technology has made it easier to communicate. Say for instance, you’re busy running an errand or you’re in the middle of something, it’s much quicker just to show an emotion with an emoji then to type out a full conversation. Technology has made us all a little more lazy, but at the same time, it’s sort of fun to be able to show a picture to describe your feelings.

So, if my wife texts me today and asks if I liked last night’s dinner and I didn’t, would you advise me to use the vomit face emoji?

(Laughs) If it was your wife, I’d tell her that her meal was delicious and that you appreciate she cooks for you.

Are you ever going to be able to look at the emojis in your phone and not think about this movie?

No. I don’t think I will. Now, every time I look at an emoji, I remember what I did with this film. It’s funny because my girls, every time they see an emoji at the store or on my phone or wherever, they say, “Hey, you worked on that film!” I don’t think any of us will look at emojis ever the same again.

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