Chaz Bono – American Horror Story: Cult

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

It was always a dream of actor Chaz Bono to star in the hit FX Network anthology “American Horror Story.” A fan of the series since season one debuted in 2011, Bono, transgender activist and son of singer/actress Cher and the late singer/politician Sonny Bono, wanted to take his promising acting career to the next level.

After he starred as a hoarder/junkie in the 2016 independent film “Dirty,” Bono visualized somehow getting the footage of that performance to “AHS” creator Ryan Murphy. He thought if Murphy saw him playing an unusual character like the one in “Dirty,” he would give him a shot in an upcoming season of “AHS.”

Although it took a couple of years to get his tapes to Murphy, Bono’s plan worked and he was cast in the show’s sixth season, “American Horror Story: Roanoke,” as Brian Wells, an actor who portrays an inbred cannibal for a made-for-TV documentary.

Bono was then invited back for season seven, “American Horror Story: Cult.” In the current season, which wrapped up November 14, Bono plays Gary Longstreet, a grocery store cashier, Trump supporter and cult member who is kidnapped early in the season and forced to cut off his own hand so that he can make it to the polls to vote for Trump. Spoiler alert: Gary doesn’t make it to the final episode of the show. In Episode 10, he is disemboweled outside an abortion clinic.

Bono, 48, recently spoke to me about his role on the show, his decision not to play trans characters, and which horror film director he hopes to work with in the future.

“American Horror Story,” of course, is known for bringing actors back to play different roles when a new season comes around. When they asked you back for season seven, was there any role you would’ve said no to?

I would’ve been happy to do anything. The only thing I don’t do at this point in my career is play trans characters. That’s the only thing that would be really difficult for me to do. But they knew that. When I found out they were bringing me back I was thrilled. It sounded like a lot of fun and challenging and different, so I was excited.

Talk about your decision not to play trans characters at this point in your career. Could that change in the future?

I consider myself a character actor. That’s what I love about acting — to disappear into a character who is very different from myself. That’s the type of career I would like to have. I would never want to get pigeonholed into playing trans characters, so I’ve just stayed away from that. In the future, if a trans character came up that was an amazing character, I would have to think about it at that point. But at this point, it’s not something I want to do.

Speaking of characters who are different than you in real life, Gary seems to fit the bill. Is that what was most interesting about the role?

Actually, of all the characters I’ve played in my career, Gary is probably, in a lot of ways, the closest to me — at least he was at the beginning. I mean, [in season seven] I look like myself and sound like myself and wasn’t hiding behind any kind of makeup. At the beginning, I wanted to portray him as a regular guy — a white, working-class guy, not some horrific person or monster or anything like that. I wanted people to get to know him like that so his transformation [into a cult member] would have an impact. The character was a lot more subtle than what I did in “Roanoke.” I got that from the page, but I also wanted it to be bold.

Have you heard from any Trump supporters about the role?

(Laughs) I haven’t specifically heard from Trump supporters. Nobody has identified themselves to me as a Trump supporter. There’s a lot of people who really like Gary a lot, so I’m going to guess they voted for Trump. But I haven’t had anybody specifically say to me, “Hey, I’m a Trump supporter and I think your portrayal of Gary is really good.”

What did your mom think about you playing a Trump supporter since everyone knows she’s not fan of his?

She thought it sounded great. We talked about it a lot. I always like to document everything with pictures and stuff, so once I started working on the show, I had a lot of cool, behind-the-scenes pictures to show her. She’s been so supportive of my acting career from the beginning, even when I was doing smaller stuff here in LA. So, she was really excited.

“AHS” has been renewed through 2019. What is it about the show that has kept it on TV for so long?

“American Horror Story” has depth to it. There’s isn’t anything like it on TV. When it came along, it was this weird, crazy, interesting show with great actors. I think that’s why fans of the show love it so much. As an actor, I love working on it because there isn’t another show where I would get to do this kind of stuff. I get to work with such talented actors and such a phenomenal crew. In both seasons, I’ve spent a lot of time around the makeup trailer. What those guys are able to do with makeup is just insane. When I was a kid, I was into all of those old, classic horror movies like “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man.” I thought maybe I wanted to do monster makeup when I got older.

Is there anyone in the horror genre you’d like to work with in the future? Do you like more classic horror or are you into the gory kind of stuff?

Blood doesn’t freak me out and it doesn’t draw me in. For me, it’s always about interesting stories. I loved [filmmaker Rob Zombie’s 2016 film] “31.” I never saw a lot of Rob Zombie’s stuff before, but I watched that movie and I just loved. I wanted to play every one of the bad guys. Even the victims were good. The concept of it was just weird.

Is he someone you’re going to send your footage to next?

I’ve actually told my manager several times to please get my stuff to him. I know he’s a little controversial, but “31” is great.

How do you feel about non-trans actors playing trans roles? Actor Jeffrey Tambor always gets accolades for his role in “Transparent.” How do you feel about roles like that?

On one hand, seeing somebody transition can make sense and be appropriate, but I think it’s time that we get away from this idea of men playing trans women. I think it gives people the wrong idea. I don’t think people have a good idea of what a trans person really is or what a trans person looks like. On the other hand, I know that I don’t want to be stuck playing trans parts. If I wasn’t trans, I probably would love to play a trans person because it would give me the opportunity to play something different. As an actor, I have a totally different feeling about it than I do as a trans activist. I can see both sides.

Lady Bird

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Directed by: Gerta Gerwig (debut)
Written by: Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”)

It may not push past all the tropes of coming-of-age films that came before it, but “Lady Bird,” the directorial debut of indie-darling actress Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”), is a wonderful testament on how not everything has to be exceptionally groundbreaking to be an intelligent and insightful contribution to a subgenre. With “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has created a tender, engaging and clever script that any first-time filmmaker would love to claim as his or her introduction to the cinematic world from behind the camera. Gerwig has a distinctive voice – although there are hints of directors like Noam Baumbach, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers sprinkled into it – that should be interesting to watch as she grows into her own.

In “Lady Bird,” two-time Academy Award nominated actress Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, a teenager living unhappily in Sacramento with her sympathetic father (Tracy Letts) and overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) and attending a Catholic high school with her best friend Jules (Beanie Feldstein). As a somewhat autobiographical take on her own life, Gerwig maneuvers through the narrative with compassion and humor as Lady Bird plans her escape from her hometown and hopes to attend college in New York City, although her grades are mediocre and her family can only afford community college.

Lady Bird’s teenage angst takes over most of the picture, but Gerwig doesn’t allow her main character to ever become unlikeable. Sure, she’s a bit of a spoiled brat with her mom, but her overall personality makes up for it and audiences are able to root for her as she tries to “find herself” and find a way out. The film mostly hinges on the tempestuous relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. The multifaceted dynamic between the two is deep, and Ronan and Metcalf are sharp when they share the screen.

While the storytelling is fairly ordinary, there is life behind the universal themes Gerwig explores with her own sense of satisfaction, frustration and wide-eyed wonderment. This definitely feels like a “first film,” but not all first films feel this rich with potential.

Julio Macat – Daddy’s Home 2

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

When it comes to awards for the best cinematography in Hollywood, directors of photography working in the comedy genre rarely get a glance their way when it comes to end-of-the-year recognition. That doesn’t bother Argentinean cinematographer Julio Macat, however. He lives for the work itself and doesn’t see awards as something that has eluded him during his 30-year career in Hollywood.

Over the last three decades, Macat has been the man behind the camera in a handful of popular comedies, including “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Wedding Crashers.” His most recent film is “Daddy’s Home 2,” the sequel to the 2015 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy, which he also photographed.

During our interview, Macat, 58, talked to me about working with director Sean Anders for the third time, what Mel Gibson was like on the set and if he thinks cinematographers working in the comedy genre should get more respect in the industry.

How did you get involved with “Daddy’s Home 2?” I know you’ve worked with director Sean Anders before, including on the original film.

Yeah, this is our third time working together. We also did “Horrible Bosses.” I thought the original “Daddy’s Home” was a really nice comedy that doesn’t go for the grotesque or have swear words. It elevates the acting performances of people like Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. I love the movie to begin with. It was fun and it was so well received by the audience. It was fun that we could do it all over again in a sequel.

But the old adage is that sequels are never as good as the original. Did you worry about that?

You always worry that a sequel could fall flat or won’t be as good as the first. With this movie it was the opposite. The additions of John Lithgow and Mel Gibson elevated the movie to another level. It’s like you’re driving along and all of a sudden, here you go again. They had to find somebody tough enough to play Mark Wahlberg’s dad. I think the casting was good. You could not work with better, more talented actors. These guys are incredible. They brought their A game. We all had a good relationship as director and cinematographer and crew. Everybody set the right mode for comedy to happen. Comedy is not an easy thing to do.

Is having a longstanding, working relationship with a specific director the dream of all cinematographers?

It is. It’s really good because you have a short hand. I’ve worked with other directors on more than one occasion before like with Tom Shadyak (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”) and with Adam Shankman (“The Wedding Planner”). It’s nice to be able to cut to the chase. There is a trust that already exists, especially on this film because it was a Christmas movie. We wanted to set that feeling for the holidays. It was a perfect setup for some really fun comedy. What makes every comedy great is the heart involved. Will Ferrell makes it even better. But it’s the heartwarming moments that make this film.

We’re at the end of the year, which means it’s awards season. Not many cinematographer who do work on comedies like you get recognition at this time of the year. Do you think the industry gives enough credit to cinematographers who work in the comedy genre?

You know, it’s an interesting question. I’ve learned through the years not to read your own press. I’ve learn how at end, you just have to please yourself. I don’t approach photographing this movie any different than I would a drama. The beautiful Christmas setting would still be beautiful. The moments that are supposed to be more dramatic aren’t going to be lit less dramatically. So, I wish there was more recognition for the comedy genre, but we don’t do this for awards. We’re trying to do the very best job we can do as cinematographers, make the actors look great and shoot scenes that are proper for the story. This is what we live for. In the end, we’re our own worst critics. For me, the award is that people will see it and feel it.

I’m a big Mel Gibson fan. I was glad he was able to get the recognition he deserved last year when he was nominated for directing “Hacksaw Ridge.” Do you think the industry has forgiven him for his past indiscretions?

I believe so. He is very professional. One of my favorite moments was at the end of the movie, he came up to me and everybody and wanted to take pictures with everybody. He said he didn’t know what to expect when he came on the set of something that was more on the light side, but he immediately felt everyone had their act together and that there was no ego. He did a tremendous job. He’s really good in the movie. It’s not for me to say [if the industry has forgiven him], but all I can tell you is that he was super professional.

You’re colleague Roger Deakins is 0-13 at the Oscars. Do you think this year is finally his year?

If I can vote twice for “Blade Runner [2049]” I would. I think Roger, who is a friend, deserves the Oscar. I thought he did a tremendous job of taking what was originally super tricky – all of those wonderful things that were done on the original – to the next level. I think it’s exquisite work. I have no doubts that he’s going to win the Oscar.

Pekka Strang – Tom of Finland

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the biographical drama “Tom of Finland,” Finnish actor Pekka Strang stars as Touko Valio Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), a revolutionary and controversial Finnish artist known for his homoerotic fetish art and the influence it had on 20th century gay culture. Many of his illustrations featured naked or scantily-clad gay men in uniforms or tight outfits (police officers, sailors, bikers, leathermen) engaging in explicit sex acts or placed in homoerotic scenes.

During his career, Tom of Finland’s work was published in a handful of magazines around the world. His work hit the mainstream in the early 1970s when gay pornography wasn’t considered as taboo anymore. In 1979, he and his friend Durk Dehner co-founded the Tom of Finland Company, and later the Tom of Finland Foundation, which preserves, collects and exhibits homoerotic art.

Today, a number of permanent art collections across the globe retain work by Tom of Finland, who passed away in 1991, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

During an interview with me late last month, Strang talked about the research he did to play the role of such an influential artist, what he feels Tom’s art gave to the gay community and how a film like this might be able to help more LGBT films hit the mainstream in the future.

“Tom of Finland” was selected as Finland’s official submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2018 Academy Awards.

How much did you know about Tom before you were cast in the film?

I knew the basic stuff, but not that much, actually. I knew about his drawings and his art. When I got the call from casting, I started to Google everything I could find on him. He led a tremendous and really exciting life.

Was there something specific that drew you to this project?

He was a visionary that grew up in Finland in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The world wasn’t like it is today. This man was from a small town in Finland and created this universe that didn’t exist before. That was something that was really exciting to me. He was successful in everything he did. He was a successful officer in the war. He was a boss at his ad agency. I wanted to find out what really made him tick.

Besides Googling him, what kind of research did you?

I did quite a lot. We have a great library system in Finland. The first thing I did was get a hold of every book that was written about him. I also met up with some of his friends that knew him.

I read that you also met with Durk Dehner in Los Angeles, yes?

Yes, Durk was such an important part of Tom’s life. I got to hang out in the same places Tom did in Los Angeles. I had my morning coffee where he had his morning coffee. I’m from Finland, so I knew where he came from, but where he came to was different. That’s what gave me the most for this film – being able to hang out with the guys from the foundation and being in that house.

As an actor, did you try to inhabit Tom as a character or did you want to delve deeper than that?

Everybody works in different ways. It’s all about the end result for me. I’m more of a technical actor. I try to get as much information as possible. I feel like I got to know my interpretation of Tom. We opened the film really close to his hometown in Finland and I got to meet [Tom’s] nephew and I saw that he was crying. For me, that was one of the most important moments because I realized we got something right. We captured something true about Tom.

What do you think it was about Tom’s art that spoke to people?

I can’t speak from an inner perspective, but I’ve heard the stories about when he came to L.A. for the first time and how there were long lines of people coming to say thank you because they felt they were getting the recognition that they’re not alone. It didn’t only have an impact on the gay scene, but in people’s lives all over the world. I can understand because when you look at his artwork, there is so much joy and pride in the work. [The men in his artwork] are openly happy about having sex with each other. I think that was something revolutionary. He helped so many men all around the world.

It brought the lifestyle out of the shadows and into the mainstream, right?

Yes, so many of those pictures became almost like public property. It’s wasn’t a niche anymore. It became a symbol for sexual freedom. When the movie open in Finland, people started to discuss these things in a different manner thanks to his artwork.

Hollywood has become more and more accepting over the last few years about LGBT cinema. Do you think a foreign film like “Tom of Finland” can help that progression even more?

I hope so. This might sound stupid, but I actually forgot we were making a gay movie. I felt like we were just making a movie. In Finland, I’ve seen a lot of people outside of the gay community come to see the movie. I hope it does the same in the U.S. Politics are changing and it seems like they want to go back to a more conservative time. I hope this film helps people be open-minded and look to the future. We can’t go backward. I hope there is more diversity in movies and stories. I hope “Tom of Finland” is part of that.

John Carroll Lynch – Lucky

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

For actor John Carroll Lynch, stepping behind the camera as a director for the first time in his 25-year career was an aspirational move. He’s always been attracted to storytelling, but storytelling from a filmmaker’s perspective was something that intrigued him on another level.

“As a director, you’re no longer attached to telling stories just with the physical body that you’ve been assigned,” Lynch, 54, told me during an interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. “It frees you from those bodily constraints.”

In “Lucky,” his debut film as a director, Lynch, who has starred in a number of high-profile films in his career, including “Fargo,” “Zodiac” and “Shutter Island,” takes that ambition and proves himself to be a talent to watch as he evolves in his career. “Lucky” stars the late Harry Dean Stanton in his final film role as the title character, a 90-year-old atheist taking a final spiritual journey in the small dirt town he lives. It’s a perfect farewell for Stanton, who passed away in September at the age of 91.

During my interview with Lynch in March (Stanton was scheduled to also be at the interview, but had to cancel), we talked about his time with Stanton on the set and what he learned from other directors going into his first film project.

Was making a movie something you’ve always wanted to do?

I am an ambitious man and I have to deal with that in some way. I felt for a long time that I wanted to try this. This opportunity came in a way that was unexpected. In a miraculous way, it came together in such a fast period of time. There were such an amazing amount of yeses based on Harry Dean’s participation. I will always be grateful for that.

When you’re 90 years old, do you want to be like Lucky?

Well, I’d like to be 90. There’s a famous story I heard about Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrating his 80th birthday. Somebody told him, “Maybe you’ll live to be 100.” Then somebody said, “Who would want to live to be 100?” Without missing a beat, Eisenhower said, “The man who is 99.”

Talk about Harry in this film. He is a revelation.

The story is based on his life. It’s a fictional story but it’s inspired by his life. What I love about the script is that Lucky is not thinking about his mortality for the first time. He’s thinking about it for the last time. He also finds a certain sense of community he never thought he had before. He’s been in this little town and supported by this little town, but then suddenly he realizes there are people that care. I love that about the script. Harry Dean has such a presence. He requires from everybody a level of truth and honesty when they act with him. That’s aspirational for most people.

How do you direct something like that?

It was particularly challenging in this circumstance because this was his life. He had a personal stake in it. So, he had strong opinions because he had a strong personal connection to the material. One had to say to him, “Yes, this is a story in your life but this is Lucky saying it, so let’s create the construct of Lucky.” That was a tricky conversation to have because Harry doesn’t believe in acting at all. It’s an ironic thing because he is one of the best actors around. It’s kind of like not believing in music when you can play the guitar so well.

So, acting comes naturally to him at this point of his life?

I don’t know that it comes naturally to him. I just think that he forgot that he learned it. He’s done 236 films. I imagine that any master artist at the level that he’s at and at the age that he’s at knows what he knows. It’s like breathing.

So, it’s not Lucky you aspire to be, it’s Harry Dean.

I would like to be like Harry Dean. That I would like. I’d like to be as peaceful in my heart as Harry Dean is in his heart. He’s fiery in every other way, but in his heart, he is peaceful.

Is Lucky alone or lonely in your opinion?

I think at the beginning of the script he’s alone and suddenly realizes his loneliness. I feel some of that is a construct of the character. I think he sees himself as OK with the loneliness. It’s the American ideal of rugged individualism. I live on my terms the way I want to live. Those are small terms for Lucky. He doesn’t need a lot.

In the film, we learn a little bit about Lucky’s background, but not much. Did you have more of a sense of who he was in the past or was his life meant to be a mystery?

I think the strength of the script is in the specificity of the present. Lucky lives within these stories. There are foundational stories that make up what we perceive ourselves to be. The rest is intimated. Who did he love? Who are those kids? They’re not his kids, but he keeps a picture of them. Those are the mysteries of his personality. The audience is left with a really specific feeling, but not any information. I think that’s how I kind of lived in the story. I was never curious about what the script didn’t say.

You’ve worked with some great directors over the course of your career. Did you borrow anything from them as a first-time director?

Well, first, I spoke a lot to close friends of mine who are directors. Miguel Arteta (“Beatriz at Dinner”) was incredibly supportive and helpful. He was very inspiring. He gave me great advice to read Jerry Lewis’s book on directing. As for those people that I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the course of my career, I took what I appreciate about each of them. Every director who I think is a master who I’ve worked with has these things in common: they are extraordinarily good hosts. They host a set very well. They make sure the set is run smoothly and that the boat is pointed in the right direction. The other thing is that they bring clarity and purpose to what they’re after. They know what they’re interested in. They know what things will get in the way and easily discard them. Those are the things I wanted to aspire to during this process.

Talk to me about the day on the set when the song happens. Was that in the script? (Note: In the film, Harry Dean Stanton sings a mariachi song)

It was absolutely in the script. One of the things that people may not know about Harry Dean is that he’s a musician. Harry Dean also adores mariachi music. There were times when Harry Dean was acting and I’d tell him, “We need another [take]” and he’d say, “What was wrong with that one?” He really didn’t want to do another one. But when he’s playing the harmonica, we would get through three versions of [a scene] and we’d stop and say, “That was great!” and he’d go, “Do you want another?” It was the same with the mariachi. Actually, with the harmonic it was, “Do you want another?” and with the mariachi it was, “Can I have another?” He worked all that day on that scene. It all comes from him.

Noël Wells – Mr. Roosevelt

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Actress and comedian Noël Wells, 30, has never been the type of person to wait for something to fall into her lap. Instead, she’d rather create her own material and make something happen for herself.

After gaining an online following by developing her own sketch and parody videos for her YouTube channel and performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, Wells did just that when she was hired as a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in 2013. Although her time on “SNL” lasted only one season, she went on to co-star in the first season of the critically acclaimed Netflix comedy “Master of None” alongside Aziz Ansari.

Now, Wells, who was born in San Antonio in 1986, attended Memorial High School in Victoria, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, is debuting her first feature film as a director and screenwriter. In “Mr. Roosevelt,” she plays Emily Martin, a down-on-her-luck comedian who returns home to Austin when she gets some sad news. During her visit, she stays with her ex and his seemingly perfect new girlfriend and is forced to come to terms with the fact that her life is not going as planned.

I caught up with Wells in Austin this past March at the South by Southwest Film Festival where she hosted the world premiere of “Mr. Roosevelt,” which opens in San Antonio October 27.

Where did the inspiration for “Mr. Roosevelt” come from?

From little anecdotes of my life that have happened over time that I’ve been collecting. Everything in the movie has happened to me in some sense, but everything in the movie is completely fictionalized.

What are the similarities between you and your character?

She’s an amalgamation of these little quirks and ticks [I have], but she’s not me. When I was writing [the script], maybe she was a little more like me, but as you start doing the character it becomes something else. I do think I have a little bit of her combativeness when people cross her and she jumps down their throat.

Were you trying to do something unique with the genre and avoid clichés?

This whole movie was me taking the indie film trope of coming home after being away for a little bit and finding ways to flip it on its head and making it a little more absurd. I think comedically, you want to push back on whatever came before.

Is part of the reason you wrote your own movie to star in because it just makes more sense to create the content yourself?

Yeah, I think that’s how my whole career has worked. You don’t see all the things I’ve made before, but the only reason I have any career is because any time I’m not working, I am making my own things. You can’t just sit around hoping it’ll fall into your lap. It’s inevitable that I would make things. I find that the most satisfying.

What did you take from an experience like “Saturday Night Live” since you were on for only one season?

It was a definite goal to be on that show. It was really sad [when SNL didn’t renew my contract]. The second that I found out, I had all this grief. But there was something in the back of my mind that said, “It’s going to be fine.” I got there because I make things and have a voice. The whole world thinks I just lost a job and what a loser I am, but they just don’t understand who I am or what I’m going to do.

Do you find the industry oversaturated today since there are so many more platforms for comedians to show off their material?

Kind of. I don’t want to put a judgement on it, but I think whatever comedy is right now, it’s a cool kids’ club. It’s very in vogue and has become a trend. I think comedy is an underdog endeavor. It’s supposed to elevate people out of something darker. I think the idea of being cool right now is actually the opposite of what is funny.

How has “Master of None” helped you with your career and going to the next level?

“Master of None” was so good and now people are like, “Oh, Noël can do that!” So, it just makes it a little easier. You get called into more rooms. People are willing to collaborate with you a little more. They’re just more receptive to hearing what you have to say or looking at the projects you’re working on. I was so nervous when I got hired [for “Master of None”]. I was so anxious that I was going to do it wrong or that I was going to get fired. But working with Aziz [Ansari] and having it be so collaborative and seeing how good it came out made me realize I am on the right track. You just have to find the people that work the same way you do. It was very rewarding. I was able to take that and funnel it into this movie.

Thank You For Your Service

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Haley Bennett
Directed by: Jason Hall (debut)
Written by: Jason Hall (“American Sniper”)

While war movies have been a part of the cinematic landscape for the last century, there are far fewer examples of post-war films that explore the harrowing issues of life after military service.
Post-Vietnam films like Oliver Stone’s critically-acclaimed 1989 classic “Born On the Fourth of July” and Emilio Esteves’ lesser-known 1996 drama “The War at Home” made an impact in their respective ways at the time, but civilian life after wartime has never really been looked at during more recent conflicts on foreign soil, specifically soldiers suffering from a mental diagnosis like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jason Hall (“American Sniper”) makes his directorial debut with “Thank You for Your Service,” one of the first feature films in recent memory to confront the trauma of PTSD. Hall, who touched on the issue in 2014’s “American Sniper” with the story of late Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle, expands on the topic with heart, compassion and sensitivity, but also refuses to take it head on with kid gloves. It’s an effective portrayal of men fighting even in their weakest state, and each performance brims with authenticity and emotion.

In the film, which is based on a true story, Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) plays Adam Schumann, one of three U.S. soldiers the film follows as they return home after serving their country in Iraq. Finding it difficult to integrate back into civilian life, Adam, along with fellow soldiers Solo (Beulah Koale) and Billy (Joe Cole), try to put the horrors of war behind them and forget what they saw on the battlefield. Faced with their own personal demons, each man is forced to come to terms with their depression, all while doing the best they can to maneuver through a broken health care system that doesn’t seem to be working in their best interest.

“TYFYS” is a tough film to witness and process, specifically if you are one of the estimated 460,000 U.S. veterans currently with PTSD or a friend or family member of a vet who has seen first-hand how debilitating the disorder can become if not treated. Still, “TYFYS” is essential and inspirational cinema. It cuts to the core of the crisis and should be a wake-up call for anyone in a position of power who can make decisions on the post-war lives of these men and women.

Hall has presented a problem and almost seems to be challenging those in power to come up with a solution. We’ll have to see if “TYFYS” can actually create some kind of meaningful change. As a far as making a case for itself on a cinematic level, however, it makes a lasting impression.

Claudio Miranda – Only the Brave

October 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Academy Award-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) transforms acres of forest engulfed in flames into something both frightening and beautiful in “Only the Brave,” the true-life story of a group of firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

In 2013, 19 members of these Arizonan firefighters lost their lives when battling a massive wildfire near the town of Yarnell. “Only the Brave” tells the stories of these brave men and the risks they took to save the lives of hundreds of people in the area.

During an interview last week, Miranda, 52, spoke to me about working with filmmaker Joseph Kosinski for the third time, the challenges of shooting in the mountains, and how he was able to give the fires in “Only the Brave” a distinct beauty.

This is the third time you’ve worked with filmmaker Joseph Kosinski. What is it about your relationship with him on set that has worked so well?

We started working together a long time ago and saw eye to eye on everything. We always got excited about new ideas and trying new projects and new things together. It’s kind of gone from there. “Tron” was a big challenge in itself that required a lot of LED lighting. We worked together and balanced each other’s ideas. We have a long history together. We do tons of homework and spend a lot of time going over art designs and how the camera can move and how big or small we need to make a certain processes.

Talk about the physical challenges of shooting this movie since much of it is shot in the mountains. What were the conditions like and how did they affect your work?

It was hot and we were in high altitude. It affected a lot of people having to acclimate to the elevation and situations. For camera movement, it was a little trickier because we have mountains to deal with and not flat land. Laying dolly tracks and things like that were not possible. We relied a lot on drone work to get us to places we couldn’t really get to. That was new to us. A lot of people are using that nowadays. Then we had the fire and had to camera test to see how each camera reacted to it, since [the fire] was a main player in the film. That was a big part of the decisions we made on camera.

So, how do you make something as destructive as fire beautiful?

Well, it was important we maintained the details of the fire and its beauty. I wanted to make sure the fire had character. Fire can be extremely bright. It could be brighter than the sun. It was hard to grapple with that detail. It’s tricky to shoot in some ways because you can make the fire as big as you want, but the bigger you make it, the further the action has to be just because no one can be close to it. With a 10-foot fire, people are 50 feet away. With a 20-foot fire, people are 100 feet away. Visual effects did have to step in to a certain extent. You can only image what it’s like to have 50-foot trees on fire around you.

The environments of many of your past films including “Life of Pi” were created with computer generated graphics. How much does this film rely on special effects and which way do you prefer working – with more or less CGI?

On all our sets, we try to ground base all our stuff as much as possible. We try to make it as real as possible for everyone’s sake—for actors and my own lighting’s sake. For this one, the fires could only get so big, so we had to rely on some digital effects. We did have large fires around, so we did get real reactions from actors when they would cower because of the heat. We had these machines that could make 40-foot flames. We were burning three gallons of propane a day. If we wanted to do it accurately, we would’ve been using 20,000 gallons of propane a day. The scale is ridiculous. The fire really envelopes people.

The two times you’ve been nominated for an Oscar, so has cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s been nominated 13 times and there’s a good chance it could happen again with his work on the “Blade Runner” sequel this year. Do you think it’s about time he comes out on top?

Oh, yeah. No one stands a chance. He’s gonna win. (Laughs) I’m probably going to vote for him. (Laughs) I think he’s awesome. I would be honored to be in the running, but I totally think that it’s Deakins’ year.

Blade Runner 2049

October 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)
Written by: Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Logan”)

Depending on how invested you are in filmmaker Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi/film noir classic “Blade Runner,” its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” by Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), will either surpass your expectations or be, at least, a worthy companion piece that adds to the original’s expanding mythos.

Clocked at a hefty 163 minutes, “2049” revisits a dystopian world where androids known as “replicants” are hunted down and destroyed by cops known as blade runners. Two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) stars as “K,” a blade runner who is searching for the original blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get some answers he needs to solve a case. Jarred Leto slightly hams up the screen as a corporate villain who wants to create more replicants to do as he pleases.

First, Villeneuve, along with 13-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who should pick up his first win ever this year if the Academy feels he has suffered long enough, creates a futuristic setting brimming with brilliance and style. Visually speaking, this is Villeneuve’s best work, which speaks volumes since every one of his prior films is memorable for the tone and look he gives the picture.

With “2049,” Villeneuve has more storytelling devices and tools at his disposal and the extra resources are evident in the way he and Deakins layer each scene to perfection through color and structure. This is especially true with the technology featured. While many of the ideas don’t necessarily feel groundbreaking (Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” felt more ahead of its time when it was released in 2002), Villeneuve’s vision is one of the filmmaker’s best assets.

Gosling’s laid-back demeanor can, at times, feel a bit canned, but when the script allows him to show some range, he owns his leading-man status fairly seamlessly, especially when playing opposite his hologram domestic partner Joi (Ana de Armas), whose AI-inspired character is breathtaking to behold. The love scene between Joi and K is depicted beautifully.

Still, despite its flawless atmosphere, “2049” doesn’t tighten up its convoluted script enough to make the storytelling as intriguing as it is picturesque. Questions arise about what makes someone human – emotions, memories, an actual body – but there is little room for an in-depth exploration of these interesting themes. If you consider the original film the mold from which every other sci-fi movie since has blossomed from, “2049” will have you hooked from the start. For everyone else, it’ll probably be an improvement from the first but still too familiar to leave the same kind of lasting impression the original has earned over the years.

Natalie Morales – Battle of the Sexes

September 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

The year was 1970 when nine female tennis stars took a stand for women’s equality in the sport they loved and said enough was enough. Although pay discrepancy between male and female tennis players had always been an issue in the tennis world, the nine brave women, led by tennis icon Billie Jean King, decided to boycott an upcoming tournament when they learned the men’s championship match would pay the winner 12 times more prize money than the women’s final.

Known as the Original 9, the women decided to start their own tennis circuit, which would later become the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Through the WTA, the Original 9 laid the groundwork for female tennis players to start getting compensated equal winnings to their male counterparts.

Earlier this month at the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens won the championship in their respected bracket. Both received the same exact prize money for their victories – $3.7 million. Without the Original 9, one could only imagine where equal rights for women in professional tennis would be today.

While the original nine women are only part of the narrative of the new sports drama “Battle of the Sexes” (most of the film focuses on the build up to the exhibition tennis match between King and Bobby Riggs in 1973), it really is the most interesting part of the story. In the movie, Academy Award winner Emma Stone (“La La Land”) portrays King opposite Academy Award nominee Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) who plays Riggs. Amidst the storied rivalry between the two main characters in the movie, the other eight women are also given screen time as they join King to take on the rampant misogyny displayed inside the men’s circuit.

Natalie Morales (TV’s “The Grinder”) plays one of those tennis players, lone Latina athlete Rosie Casals, a multiple Grand Slam champion who was ranked No. 3 in the world in 1970. During the 1973 match between King and Riggs, Casals was given the opportunity to do the live TV commentary alongside late sports announcer Howard Cosell. With a little movie magic in “Battle of the Sexes,” Casals’ image is replaced with Morales’ in the original footage so it looks as if Morales herself is interacting with Cosell during the match (think of the scenes in “Forrest Gump” when Forrest meets John F. Kennedy and John Lennon).

During an interview with me, Morales talked about playing Casals, how the film speaks to pay inequality in many industries today, and why she winced at some of the archive footage she saw to prepare for her role.

What kind of research did you do to on Rosie Casals to get ready for the role?

I kind of went the same route Emma [Stone] did [to play King]. I really wanted to concentrate on Rosie back in 1973. I wanted to get her vibe and her style. She commentated on [The Battle of the Sexes] match, so I was able to watch that footage and listen to her voice. That really helped me get her accent down. She is from Northern California, so she has this surfer voice. It was fun to be able to imitate that and bring it to life again.

Did you get to meet Rosie before or during production?

I met her for the first time this past weekend at the premiere [of “Battle of the Sexes”]. She is an incredible person. She said [my portrayal] was really good, and so did Billie Jean, which made my day. There were some of the [Original 9] there at the premiere and they said the same thing. All her friends were telling me, “Oh, you got her so good!” It was a good compliment when they told me I nailed the character.

What does it mean to you as a Latina actress to portray someone of film that was a talented Latina who made a difference in tennis?

It was really special to me to play somebody like her. It was huge. There weren’t a ton of [Latinas] in the 70s who were visible in this way. She defied a lot of odds. Tennis was not a poor person’s sport and she didn’t have money growing up. White people playing tennis – their shoes were new and their rackets were new. [Rosie] came in at 5’2 with less money and rose to that status. She worked really hard for it. Not only that, she worked with Billy Jean to fight for women’s rights and equality.

What do you think a film about Rosie Casals would look like? She had quite a life of her own. A child of immigrant parents from El Salvador, the fact that she was Latina and tennis was considered a white upper-class sport. Is that a film that deserves an audience?

I think a movie about Rosie would definitely be interesting. She has her own coming-of-age story and what her relationship with Billie Jean was like and what her life was like and how everything affected her. She has a whole universe of her own.

How do you think a film like “Battle of the Sexes” speaks to the issues in Hollywood on pay discrepancy between men and women today? Do you see any parallels?

Women are fighting that battle everywhere, not just in Hollywood. Women aren’t paid equally anywhere. Women get paid the same prize money in tennis today because of Billy Jean not because of any other reason. Maybe it gets publicized a little more in Hollywood because the people talking about it are famous. To make the same amount of money that a man makes in a year, a woman has to work until April of the following year. And that’s a white woman! Latina women and black women make far less.

So, how can things change?

It takes more than just the women to do something about it. If men want to help us out, it’s important for them to do their part and go, “Hey, I just want to make sure you’re getting paid as much as me. This is how much I’m getting.” I think that would be a really great thing for men to do. And again, it’s not just in film. It’s in every job. It’s going to take everybody to say, “Hey, this is unfair. We need to pay everyone equal.” I know that’s hard, but it’s what’s fair.

Talk about your CGI scenes with Howard Cosell. How was that accomplished and what did you think of the finished product?

I think the finished product was so good that a lot of younger people thought [Howard] was just another actor. They didn’t realize I was on a split-screen. It was difficult. I had to match all of Rosie’s words and intonation and every single move she made perfectly so it would look seamless – like I was really talking to him. I was acting with nobody next to me, but it was really fun to do.

What did you think when you first saw the original footage of Rosie and Howard commentating on the King-Riggs match?

When you watch the footage today, it makes you recoil as a woman. This man is grabbing this woman by the neck who he is commentating with. She is a multiple Grand Slam champion and a huge tennis star. Cosell, up to that point, had only done boxing [commentary] and was nowhere near as qualified to comment on the match as Rosie. When he introduces her, he says something like, “Oh, look who it is helping us commentate today – little Rosie Casals.” I feel like if anybody introduced me like that today, I’d be like, “What’s your problem? Get your hand off my neck!

Do you think it is easier today to call misogyny out like than it was in the 70s?

I have the ability to [call someone out] because of women like Rosie. She knew that wasn’t possible for her to do back then. What was possible was for her to slyly wink at all the other women watching on TV. There was this silent communication [with women] through her facial expressions and comedy and jabs at [Cosell]. She was saying, “This is ridiculous!” I think that solidarity was felt by a lot of women who couldn’t do at the time what we are able to do today.

The last time I interviewed you, the industry was going through the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which has trickled into other awards shows too like the Emmys. We are starting to see a lot more diversity on that front with African Americans getting more love, but it hasn’t crossed over to Latinos. More Latino actors have been given a place in the Academy, but I don’t know if that’s going to translate over to recognition. What do you think?

To have [more Latinos] included in the [Academy] is inclusion in itself. But there is another part of that, which is that the Oscars are so white because the movies are so white. So, studios and people making movies need to include people of all kinds in their films and then maybe the nominated pictures might not be so white. I mean, we’ve done better, but most of the Oscar films are still about white people, which is fine, but there are stories about other people as well and those stories need to be told.

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.

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