Power Rangers

March 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Dean Israelite (“Earth to Echo”)
Written by: John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Flight”)

In this, the golden age of movies based on geek-friendly properties, there are still a few outliers that commit the cardinal sin of being ashamed of their source material. Captain America wears his red, white and blue costume on screen and will soon meet up with a talking raccoon and tree-person, for crying out loud. We’re through the looking glass, people, dance with the one that brought you! These comic book-adjacent properties are thriving in an environment that embraces all of the things we might have thought were too silly to put to film 20 years ago.

Nothing quite personifies ‘90s cheese TV as well as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” a show so earnest it makes “Saved By The Bell” look like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Even with it’s corny acting and repurposed Japanese special effects-filled monster battles, it became a sensation that’s still in production in some form today, nearly 25 years after premiering.

The new “Power Rangers,” seemingly borrows more from “Friday Night Lights,” “Chronicle” and even the “Star Trek” reboot. The film follows five bland teens as they meet in a “Breakfast Club” style detention, stumble across some color-coded power coins, gain superhuman strength, and plunge into an underground spaceship where they meet a very dickish Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who tells them they are now the Power Rangers. But before they get to don their helmeted battle armor (no spandex here) and ride in their giant robot dinosaurs, we have to suffer through a patience-testing hour and a half of plodding training montages, several horrible rollover car crashes, and a confusing sexting scandal that threatens to bring down one of the Rangers.

Why in Zordon’s name would anyone think a dour, deathly serious “Power Rangers” movie would be the way to go in 2017? Whatever the reason, it’s here, Morphin fans, so dance.


Louie Anderson – Baskets (TV)

March 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Although considered to be at one of the high points of his 30-year-career as a stand-up comedian, Louie Anderson wouldn’t mind if journalists scrapped the word “resurgence” for something a bit more poetic.

“This isn’t really a resurgence,” Anderson, 64, told the me during a phone interview earlier this month. “This is a brand new third act of my life. It’s like the window has opened and people can hear me. They have rediscovered me.”

What they have rediscovered is Anderson doing what he has been doing ever since he made his professional TV debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1984—making people laugh. The only difference this time is that he’s doing it while wearing colorful blouses.

In the hit FX comedy series “Baskets,” Anderson plays Christine Baskets, the mother of twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets (both played by Zach Galifianakis). The role earned Anderson an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series last September.

During our interview, Anderson, who is making a tour stop at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday, March 26 at 7pm, talked about his success on his new TV show, growing old, and why he doesn’t do political humor on stage.

Did you actually come to San Antonio to shoot your scene in “Cloak and Dagger” in 1984?

Um, I’d have to look that up. Was I in that movie?

Yes, you had a small role. You played a taxi cab driver.

Ah, OK. No, we were on a street at Universal Studios.

Oh, that’s too bad. Compared to other cities, San Antonio doesn’t have too many major films we can claim.

So, then, yes! Let’s say yes. Yes. That’s how you fix that. You can start the rumor.

You made your first appearance on national TV in 1984. A lot of what you did back then was self-deprecating humor, which I know you still do now. How much has your material changed?

I like to tell people I do all the F words—family, food, father, being fat, being over 50. All the clean F words, I guess. I do a lot of food stuff. Did I mention food? I have a lot of fun. Stand-up is my first love and the thing I would put at the top of my résumé.

You’re turning 64 on Friday (March 24). Do you plan to use the Beatles’ song as an intro to all your shows?

That’s really a great song, isn’t it?! I was at a birthday party recently for somebody who was turning 64 and they played that song when they walked in. It’s certainly a song of my era. But I’d rather be 46. It’s always better to be younger because parts wear out and you can’t just go out and get them like knees and the back. I’m in pretty good shape, but I think 64 might change it all—change the perspective. If you were to ask me if I feel 64, I would say no. I just did a Funny or Die and I felt very young.

When you go on stage now to do stand-up, does it feel like a job or is it still as fulfilling as it was early in your career?

Oh, yeah, if not more so because now there is a whole new group of people getting to see me. It’s like I have a whole new audience. That gives me a boost right there. I’ve always believed this: You have to get up for your show. You have to be there—be present. You have to do a great job. Don’t mail it in. If you’re there 100 percent, your audience will also be there.

You mentioned that you are a clean comedian. Do you think there was a time in your career where you could’ve made the decision to go the other way and become offensive or controversial?

I think I could’ve been a completely different comedian, yeah. But I think for me, it wouldn’t have worked. What’s innate for me and comfortable for me is what I’m doing. If the dirtier or edgier stuff became more important to me, I would do it. So, I think for me I wanted to reach the family. I wanted people to be able to bring their kids and their parents to my show. Also, you get a lot more jobs on TV when you’re clean. At least that’s how it was when I started out.

So, along with staying clean, something else I noticed, especially now that everyone is doing it, is that you don’t talk politics. Why don’t you go there?

Yeah, I don’t talk too much about politics. In real life, if you did a survey of your audience, you might be surprised who your fan base is. [Politics] is not my thing. I guess I could be very political. I think everyone is political with their own beliefs, but I want people to have the greatest time they can [at my shows]. I want them to be able to forget their troubles. I want them to leave behind the newscast and just relax.

But you’re active on Twitter, so all you have to do is tweet something to Donald Trump and you’d be in the headlines the next day if he tweeted you back.

Oh, yeah. I do do an impression of him in my act. People can come and see that. [Trump] looks a lot like my oldest brother, so whenever I see him I always think of my older brother. But [politics] really isn’t me. It’s not where I’m going. I have a lot of beliefs and I love this country, but I’m a stand-up comedian. I mean, so many people are doing the political stuff and I’m glad. I think there’s an appetite for it, but my appetite is for a taco shell made out of chicken.

I know you pulled your inspiration for your character Christine Baskets on “Baskets” from your mother. What would she think of your portrayal? Would she find it funny?

Yeah, I think she’d really like it, but then she’d try to correct me. She’d be like, “You know when you’re doing that one thing, Louie? It’s not the same way I would do it.” I get it, mom. It’s OK. I get it. So, she would love it. She would feel special because it’s definitely a homage to her. She’s be thrilled.

The second season of “Baskets” is coming to an end this week.


Do you hope the ride continues and FX says yes to a third season? What would that mean to you? (Editor’s Note: After this interview, Netflix renewed “Baskets” for a third season).

Well, what I love is what’s next for the family and what’s next for Christine. The writing is so good. The people are so terrific. There’s just so much great stuff going on. I just feel the ride is getting up on that big hill and getting ready to go on another season. Everybody, I’m sure, would be excited to do it. I try not to think about that too much. I try to be present. I miss working on it when I’m away and I love working on it when I’m there.

You’ve joked before that you’re the most successful Anderson child—you come from a family of 11 children. Can you give me an example of what your brothers and sisters do for a living?

Oh, yeah. I had one brother who was a locksmith and also spoke to police departments about crime. Two of my sisters were homemakers. Both had six kids, so they were full-time moms. My other sister was a hairdresser. My other sister owned a flower shop. So, they had small businesses. I have a brother who is a carpenter and another who worked for a pawn shop for years. My other brother was a high school janitor. He’s the brother that was much funnier than I was, actually.

What is an Uncle Louie like?

You know, I love all the kids. I’m doing a benefit for one of my nephews who is deaf to help raise money for his school in Minnesota. I try to give advice, but try not to tell people what to do with their lives. I try to be loving and caring and kind and understanding. I want them to know they can confide in me. I want the best for them. I have one nephew who is a stand-up comic. He’s doing really well. He doesn’t mention he is my nephew, which I really think was the smart way to go. He wanted to make his own way. I want them to be able to do things and try things and get the most out of their lives.

Jim Broadbent – The Sense of an Ending

March 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the independent drama “The Sense of an Ending,” Academy Award-winning actor Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) stars as Tony Webster, a man who must confront his past when the mother of a former lover dies and leaves him a mysterious journal that changes the course of his life. The film, which is directed by Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”), is adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by British author Julian Barnes.

During an interview with Broadbent, 67, who is known for such films as “Moulin Rouge!,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and the “Bridget Jones” franchise, we talked about the similarities of his newest film with the theater, and what message about confronting one’s past he would like people to take from the theater. Broadbent also spoke about his experience starring in Season 7 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which premieres this summer.

I know you have a fondness for the theater. Is a film like “The Sense of an Ending”—with its intimate scenes and smaller production—as close of a moviemaking experience you can get to working on the stage?

That never occurred to me. [The film] is very intimate and very quiet. It’s very contained, really. A lot of that is because my character Tony Webster is at home on his own. I think that would make for great theater, certainly in terms of having great one-to-one scenes.

Is there a specific message you would like audiences to take from this film about confronting their past and finding closure?

I love the whole theme of the film. It’s about history and about the stories we tell ourselves and how unreliable they are.  In a way, it invites us to think about and confront our past and learn from it. [Tony] is a character that is divorced and is living on his own, but he is quite pleased with himself—quite self-satisfied. He thinks he’s got it all sorted and then he gets this legacy from his first love’s mother. It throws all his memories of what he thought he was and how he behaved as a young man into turmoil. He has to readdress things. I think anyone watching the film—in some ways—will start thinking about their own past and how they’ve got to where they are. I think it’s quite a profound piece of writing.

You’ve worked in the film industry for almost 50 years. How do you choose projects these days? Do you look at somebody like director Ritesh Batra and decide you want to work with him because you like his past work, in this case “The Lunchbox?”

Very much, yes. I thought “The Lunchbox” was fantastic. It never occurred to me that I would get to work with him. Certainly, when I knew he was working on the film, I was absolutely delighted. He’s a wonderful director. Some people ask, “Are you happy to work with a director who has only made one film before?” You would never have guessed he’s only directed one other film. He so sure, competent, very quiet and very precise. He cares mentally about the filmmaking. He was a delight to work with. He is a very wise director.

You’re going to be in a very popular pop culture phenomenon soon when you star in Season 7 of “Game of Thrones.” How do you feel knowing you’re going to be a part of something that millions of people watch and invest their time in every week?

Yes, I’ve made my contribution and the next season is coming up. It was fascinating to work on such an extraordinary and iconic production. I suppose it’s similar in a way to coming in and doing what I did in “Harry Potter.” Every part of the production was so impressive. I was fascinated by how it all worked. I think it’s going to be very exciting. My contribution, I don’t know, but it certainly is looking great.

Since starting your career in the 1970s, what have you learned about yourself as an actor over the years?

I think from the word go I knew it would be good for me to spread my net very wide and try a lot of different things. I’m always looking for the job I haven’t done before—something new. That has served me well since I’m recognized for all sorts of different things. It’s always a learning experience. My lesson for myself: always look out for something where you’ll learn something you haven’t done before. It’s an ongoing process of learning something about myself inevitably along the line.

Beauty and the Beast

March 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”)

As impressive a pair of live-action adaptations Disney was able to churn out in the last two years with 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” it would’ve seemed like the studio figured out a surefire way to take a beloved classic film and enliven it for audiences who never owned a copy of the original on VHS. In “Beauty and the Beast,” however, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) doesn’t seem very interested in producing a fresh take of the 1991 animated movie. In fact, in this re-imagining starring Emma Watson (“Harry Potter” franchise), it looks as if the most important thing to do was adhere to the film’s “tale as old as time” adage and commitment to nostalgia. If anything, “Beauty and the Beast” is too faithful.

There are a few liberties screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) take in the narrative that don’t add much to the overall emotion of the story. The backstory of the Beast (Dan Stevens) get more screen time as we learn the fate of his mother before he is turned into a hideous castle-dwelling monster. Identity politics also come into play as this version of “B&B” introduces us to Disney’s fist gay character, LeFou (Josh Gad), who in the original Disney movie was Gaston’s buffoonish punching bag. In this one, he’s a lively flirt.

Waston is serviceable as the intelligent and innocent Belle, but her interaction with the Beast in the first half of the movie leaves much to be desired. Their relationship lacks because the Beast is missing all of the charm and charisma of his animated predecessor. Becoming computer generated has done no favors for the Beast and we’re left with a hollow shell of a character that used to feel genuine, emotionally complex and enchanting.

While the art direction is nearly flawless albeit a bit overly gaudy at times, scenes like the dance in the ballroom or the “Be Our Guest” performance don’t visually pop like they once did. And when it comes to the new music, none of the songs from “How Does a Moment Last Forever” to the quite lullaby-like melody “Days in the Sun” are not memorable.

Wonderful set pieces, costumes, and childhood memories aside, “Beauty and the Beast” is fairly unexceptional. If French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s traditional fairy tale has never crossed your radar before, it’s probably best to start with the one that came during Disney’s Renaissance period. It is, by far, the more romantic and entertaining of the two.

Claude Barras – My Life As a Zucchini

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Based on the 2002 French book “Autobiographie d’une courgette” (“Autobiography of a Zucchini”) by author Gilles Paris, Swiss director Claude Barras tells the story of the title character, Zucchini, a young boy who is sent to live at a foster home in hopes of finding a family to adopt him. While there, he makes friends (and foes) with the diverse kids living with him at the home. For his film,l Barras was up for an Academy Award late last month against some heavy competition, including “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” and eventual winner “Zootopia.”

I got a chance to speak to Barras before the awards ceremony. We talked about why the film’s darker elements work in an animation like this, his favorite character in the film, and the message he was trying to get across to audiences about overcoming fear.

What spoke to you most about Gilles Paris’ book that made you want to turn it into an animated film?

It’s the subject of the book, child abuse, and its point of view, which shows hope and forgiveness as the antidote, that made me want to translate it into film. “Autobiography of a Zucchini” is a rather amusing monologue that speaks of sad things while shedding light on them, but it is also a book that is read at age 15 and up, since it includes specific scenes of abuse and guns. [Screenwriter] Céline Sciamma and I tried to open up this story to children by stressing resilience rather than the details of the abuse the children have experienced. But it was no small matter to translate this cinematographically. Morgan Navarro, a friend who writes books for young people, and who has a very good sense of dialogue, helped me for a time, but it’s Céline who finally found how to mix humor and sadness with a great deal of tenderness and empathy. The key, she says, is to manage to think like a child and not to wonder how children speak.

How do you feel darker elements of a story like this lend themselves to animation, which is usually used for happier narratives for kids?

The children live in the same world as we do, a world that is sometimes cruel and violent. It’s important to speak to them about it frankly, but also with humor, tenderness and hope, so as not to leave them alone when faced with these subjects, out of fear of mentioning them. Childhood is both enormous hilarity and inconsolable sadness. The great success of the script is this jumble of childlike emotions. We laugh in the sad scenes and cry in the happy ones. It’s this contrast that gives rise to the deepest emotions and the darkness enables me to better expose them to them to the light.

Which of the children do you identify with the most and what makes him or her special to you?

I like Simon a lot, because he hides his sensitivity, he is modest, but deep down he has such a big heart that he is able to sacrifice his own happiness for that of others. He is, perhaps, the real hero of the film, the one who most learns to overcome his anger to show the feelings of love buried underneath. For this reason, my favorite moment, from reading the book, is when Simon overcomes his feeling of abandonment and encourages Zucchini to leave, to grow, but ends with a touch of humor, in order not to reveal his feelings too much, so as not to cry. The voice of Simon is very special, since [actor] Paulin [Jaccoud], who had recorded the short test for the voice of Zucchini in 2009 (the bonus casting in the final credits), had matured by the time of the casting in 2014. He was really sad that his voice no longer corresponded to the role, and we were, too. We then had the idea to have him test for the role of Simon. He immediately convinced us.

In the film, one of the orphans has been separated from her mother because of immigration laws. This is a timely subject in the United States because of the uncertainty of what a Donald Trump presidency will do on the topic of immigration. Was this a theme you wanted to come across to audiences? Did you think about that at all?

Yes, that was a motivator for me and for the film’s team, to tell this story to our children today. A story that teaches them not to be afraid, not to respond to violence with violence, to overcome anger while reaching out a hand when we encounter difficulties, and to break down the walls that prevent us from sharing…at the very time when, in our democracies, fear and the desire to build walls threaten our capacity to understand each other and to live together with our differences, which are our real wealth.

Personally, I felt most of the animated films released this year were incredible. As one of the smaller animation studios currently receiving accolades for their work–in comparison to big names like Disney, Pixar and a surging company like Laika–is there pressure for a studio like yours to be competitive with those that have more name recognition and money?

No, not pressure, just great pride in being here, for myself and for my entire team, which is more than 50% women, a fact sufficiently and unfortunately rare enough for me to take pleasure in mentioning it. What is happening to us today really thrills me because it makes it possible for the film to find its audience, far beyond my hopes, and that is what carries me through this long work of promotion which began in Cannes eight months ago and which is continuing in Los Angeles today. Compared with the studios, it must be noted that the smaller the budget, the greater the choice of subject and the director’s freedom, because there is minimal box-office risk with a budget of $8 million. I really prefer this. To return to your question, it is undeniable that this year was very strong with many films of good quality and with propositions very different from each other. This diversity in stories and audiences is certainly a good sign for the future of animation.

Norman Lear – One Day at a Time (Netflix)

March 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

The 2017 family sitcom “One Day at a Time,” a remake loosely based on the 70s and 80s TV show of the same name, was recently renewed for a second season by Netflix. The show follows the Alvarez family—single mother Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), grandmother Lydia (Rita Moreno), teenage daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez), and young son Alex (Marcel Ruiz), living in Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to speak to the show’s creators, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, and also executive producer and TV icon Norman Lear, who created the original show 42 years ago. Lear, 94, is also best known for producing the shows “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” and many other TV classics.

Norman, what was it about “One Day at a Time” that lent itself to a remake instead of any of the other TV series that you’ve created over the past few decades?

Norman Lear: Well, “One Day at a Time”…can’t be compared to another show. The first divorced woman on television with children—raising children alone. This show, as you’ve seen, is altogether unique and different from the original. It enjoys the same title because it was somebody’s notion [that], “Why don’t we make [them] a Latino family?” You’ve seen the show, so you know it’s utterly unique. [Creators] Mike [Royce] and Gloria [Calderon Kellett] didn’t look at any of the scripts from the old show. This started with an imagining of Gloria’s family. And she and Mike worked with that idea…100 percent of the time.

Every couple of years or so, TV audiences get a show that centers on a Latino family, but it rarely gains a lot of traction. The last one that was successful was “The George Lopez Show,” which ran for six seasons. Why haven’t we seen more sitcoms that focus on Latino families make it?

Gloria Calderon Kellett: I don’t know. I think we’re so interesting. I think that’s a great question.

Norman Lear: Well, I don’t know. I didn’t know “The [George] Lopez Show.” I know him, but I never knew his show. This show, what Mike and Gloria have rendered here, is gloriously warm. There is no family of any stripe or color or religion that can’t relate to it because of our common humanity. [The Alvarez family] is a great family. The performers are glorious.

GCK: I think that people have tried [to make sitcoms centered on a Latino family]. I know so many wonderful, talented people who have tried. I really have to credit Norman because without [him] and Mike, the show would not be happening. I am so happy to be lending myself for the specificity. If I had come and pitched a show about a Latino single mom, I don’t know that people would have paid attention as much as they would have paid attention with these two icons attached to it already. So, I feel really grateful that basically these two guys with incredible success in their own right have said, “Hey, maybe we should listen to this one over here.” That is why people listened—because these very talented men told them to.

Norman, I know you’ve probably heard the term “Netflix and chill.” I’m wondering if you’ve ever Netflixed and chilled before? (Note: I asked Mr. Lear this question not knowing what the term actually meant myself. At the time, I thought it meant for two people to just hang out and watch Netflix all day. I had no idea it mean to have sex with Netflix playing in the background).

NL: I’m sorry, have I what before?

Have you ever Netflixed and chilled?

NL: I’ve never Netflixed before, no. This is my first…

Oh, at all?

NL: You mean have I…

GCK: Norman, it means [to] stay at home and have sex with somebody. That’s what it means.

Mike Royce: Norman is older, as am I. We’re more Netflix and pills.

Would you sit down and binge watch all the episodes of “One Day at a Time” or do you think you’d watch them more sporadically?

NL: I don’t know. I haven’t binged yet. I did binge once. That was, I think, six or eight episodes of something. But I don’t know. If I sat down and watched this and had a long evening and got hooked as I think I would, I would likely binge. Although I have not yet had the experience. But, then again, I’m only 94.

GCK: That’s true. There’s still time.

Dolph Lundgren – Don’t Kill It

March 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

The term “B-movie” might be synonymous with campiness and low-production value, but director Mike Mendez doesn’t mind if you put his new horror movie, “Don’t Kill It,” into that category. He’s only cares if you have fun watching it.

During an interview with me last week, Mendez and “Don’t Kill It” star and all-around badass, Dolph Lundgren, talked about their new film, which follows Jebediah Woodley (Lundgren), a demon hunter who teams up with an FBI agent to eradicate an evil force plaguing Mississippi.

During our talk, Mendez and Lundgren shared their different opinions on the idea that “Don’t Kill It” is considered a “B-movie.”

Dolph, where did Jebediah get his look from—the trench coat, the hat, the vaporizer?

Dolph Lundgren: A lot of that was Mike and I talking. Originally, the film was set in Alaska, but we changed it to the south. But, yeah, Mike came up with a lot of those ideas. We had a great costume designer. He came up with some really good ideas. In the original script, the character smoked, but Mike thought the vaporizer would be kind of fun because it’s modern, but it’s still kind of cool and old-school. It’s quite visible on film as well. I thought it was a great idea. It was a collaboration.

Mike, what led you to casting Dolph in the lead role? What said “demon hunter” about him?

Mike Mendez: I’ve been a Dolph fan since I can remember—obviously from “Rocky IV,” but I love action movies, so I saw him “The Peacekeeper” and “Showdown in Little Tokyo” and [1989’s] “The Punisher.” He’s an icon. I think that’s what was exciting for me about the project. The character of Jebediah had the potential of being an iconic character. So, to have an actual icon don his coat and hat sort of lends itself to making something memorable. I think it is sort of awesome that we’re introducing Dolph to a whole new generation who can appreciate what I saw when I was a kid.

Dolph, you’ve always been a very physical actor. You’ll be turning 60 years old this year. How do you handle the physicality of your job now that you’re getting a bit older?

DL: You have to be real careful as you get older because you don’t want to get injured. It takes longer to heal. I’m a little more careful. I don’t do any more crazy stunts like I used to back in the 80s when they didn’t have CGI. Sometimes, you get a chance to do your own stunts like jump from a motorcycle to a car or jump out a window, but I don’t do that much anymore. I do try to do some of the fighting scenes. Audiences kind of expected to see the star [of the movie] doing some of those things. It’s also fun to stay in shape for it, so I try to do as much as I can.

Mike, how do you feel about the term “B-movie?” Some people connect that subgenre with movies that are campy and corny. How do you feel when people refer to your films as “B-movies?”

MM: Well, it’s kind of a funny thing. I don’t think of it that way. But, obviously, others do because I constantly see “B-movie filmmaker” or “trash cinema auteur” written about me. (Laughs) I kind of expect it now. But [my films are not “B-movies”] to me. I take this as serious as anything else. I think I just sort of revel in it. I love the horror genre and I am not above demons and vampires and zombies and werewolves. I love it. It’s just what I enjoy. [“B-movie”] is not a term I necessarily love, but I definitely understand it and I have to except it. A lot of the people I grew up admiring like West Craven and Sam Raimi, they all were labeled as “schlockmeisters,” so I’m in good company. Whatever people want call my movies is fine. Just as long as they’re having a good time, I feel we’re doing our jobs.

Dolph, what about you? Do you like the term?

DL: I don’t really like it. I think it’s different for me because most of the enjoyment of my job is to entertain people. I meet a lot of these people when I go on the road to do publicity. Some people just like action movies. Movies like [“Don’t Kill It”] have great fans who are very loyal and very thankful. They’re certainly just as good, if not better, as the critics who label a movie as an A-movie or B-movie or C-movie. I mean, when I did “Expendables 2,” Chuck Norris was in it. He’s done some B-movies before. But I tell you, when he came on set, he was the biggest star there. Everybody wanted his autograph more than [Sylvester] Stallone or anybody else. Even more than Mel Gibson when we had him in “Expendables 3.” You can look at [the term “B-movie”] sitting in an office labeling movies, or you can look at it when you’re on the ground with the regular people that you’re entertaining. I look at it that way. It makes me feel good to make a lot of the films I make. I try to see it in a positive light. I try to see life like that.

So, Dolph, what do you think Ivan Drago (his character in “Rocky IV”) would be doing now, 35 years after he lost to Rocky Balboa? Do you think he’d be working for Vladimir Putin?

DL: Yeah, maybe. Everybody’s asking about Ivan Drago, and I think he’s going to come back again. I have a feeling. We might get to see him one more time, which I never would have thought. But, yeah, he could be. He could’ve stayed in shape. He could be running a [Russian] hacking department for an Internet division. He could’ve turned the American elections around and gotten his boy [Donald Trump] in the White House, which he succeeded in doing. He could be holding some video footage of things that happened in Moscow, which could destroy [Trump].

MM: (Laughs)

DL: Yeah, that’s what could have happened. Drago could’ve changed the course of world history.

Marco Beltrami – Logan

March 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Two-time Academy Award-nominated composer Marco Beltrami (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Hurt Locker”) has written music for superhero movies before, but nothing like his latest, “Logan,” the tenth film in the X-Men film franchise in the last 17 years.

Set in 2029, the film follows James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), AKA Wolverine, who has moved on from his days at the leader of the X-Men and now lives in an abandoned plant near the Mexican border caring for his elderly patriarch Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When Logan and Professor X learn of a new child mutant, who possesses some very familiar abilities, they make it their mission to get her to safety before she is destroyed by the men who created her.

During our interview, Beltrami, 50, who has also scored such films as “Hellboy,” “World War Z” and all four films in the “Scream” franchise during his 23-year career, talked to me about the film references director James Mangold talked to him about as inspiration for the film, and why this “X-Men” film feels different from others. He also explained why he recused himself from voting for this year’s Academy Awards.

Congratulations on “Logan.” I have to say, it’s the best superhero film I have ever seen, especially since it doesn’t feel anything like a conventional superhero film.

It definitely does not fit into the strict superhero genre. It’s a lot of other movies.

Why do you think it was important to give this film a completely different tone than any of the other “X-Men” films before it?

I think [director James Mangold], when he made the previous Wolverine movie (“The Wolverine”), he started to make it a little bit different [than the past films]. It turned out the last act [in “Logan”] was made in the mold of other movies like “Seven Samurai.” I think he really wanted to play [Wolverine] as a real character rather than a superhero. [“Logan”] is a road picture and a father/daughter story. It’s about a man who has lost everything, even his desire to live. I think it has a lot of deeper, darker connotations.

What kind of conversations did you have with James about what you both wanted to achieve with the score?

[James] spoke to me about references and things that inspired him. “Taxi Driver” was a big influence. So was “Paper Moon,” although that film doesn’t have a score. He was talking in terms of the feel of the movie itself. Musically, he wanted to achieve some of the rawness and grittiness of some of those 70s scores. He wanted something not polished. Nowadays, movies are very polished. He wanted something more rough around the edges. Overall, I think the main concern for me as a composer was that the music didn’t get ahead of the picture. In many respects, [“Logan”] doesn’t have a thematic score. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get away with that because it is a big studio superhero movie, but a lot of people seem to be responding to it.

You’ve written scores for a handful of horror movies in your career. Did some of those elements find their way into the “Logan” score? I’m specifically thinking of the tracks “That’s Not A Choo-Choo” and “X-24.”

Oh, yeah. It’s always fun to explore that kind of stuff. I think the most horrific part of the film is the scene at the farmhouse. To me that’s very horrific. The sounds that we created for X-24—there’s some synthetic [sounds] because he is a synthetic character. There is this bending and processed and pitched-down cello sound we use. The sound is organically base, but also manipulated. That’s something I enjoy doing. Even if there’s no grandiose theme to it, hopefully the score has more of a sonic continuity. That was sort of the goal.

Another of my favorite tracks is called “El Limo-nator,” which I found reminiscent of parts of the score from the original “Terminator” film. I know you scored “Terminator 3.” Did you get inspiration from the original for that specific track?

You know, I guess everything is related somehow. It was sort of hard to pass up on the title. It’s always fun titling those things. Yeah, there is that relentless drive which is very similar to “The Terminator” in that respect. There is a sort of unstoppable feel to it.

You’ve worked with many directors in your career—Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow. Are your favorite directors those who are hands-on or hands-off with you as the composer?

It depends on how the director’s work inspires me. I think that’s the main thing. If I have the inspiration, it’s great. I’m into it. [James] is very hands-on. He likes being collaborative. I think it’s a collaborative business. Sometimes a director will hear what I’m doing and send me down another avenue that’s based on something else. That could be very enlightening. It can be challenging and often more work, but you can also come up with things you might not ever have thought of. I think that’s how you grow as a composer or in any field. [James] doesn’t say things just for the hell of it. He was very inspiring to work with on this movie.

Is it more fulfilling when you write the score for a film that becomes a critical success like “The Hurt” and “3:10 to Yuma” than a film that gets critically panned, or is it all work to you?

It’s always nice to have someone recognize the film or the score as an achievement when you put a lot of work into it. There have been films I’ve done that have not been well received that I still put a lot of work into and felt good about the score. It’s just the way it is. You can’t always predict these things. It’s the process that’s important. Everything else afterwards is something beyond your control. But, yeah, when you work your ass, it’s better if the movie does well.

“La La Land” just won the Oscar for Best Score of 2016. I know as a past Oscar nominee, you are part of the branch that votes in that category. What were some of your favorite scores of 2016?

Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t vote this year. I was working on a picture in Russia last year and when I got back at the beginning of November, I was so busy. I immediately started working on [“Logan”]. I only saw like two films. So, I really can’t say what I liked. It’s odd because I usually watch all the movies. I’m very involved in the Academy. I’m in the executive branch. It was tough. I took off Christmas Day, but other than that, I worked straight through the year.

Rosamund Pike – A United Kingdom

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the historical drama “A United Kingdom,” Academy Award-nominated actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) portrays Ruth Williams, a former WWII ambulance driver in London who marries Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, “Selma”) and would later serve as the inaugural First Lady of Botswana. Their interracial marriage was considered controversial by the apartheid government of South Africa and the tribal elders of Seretse’s homeland, which was known at the time as Bechuanaland.

During an interview with me last week, Pike, 38, discussed Ruth and Seretse’s relationship and the research she did to play the character. She also talked about the timeliness of the film and what she hopes audiences learn about the power of true love.

In your research on Seretse and Ruth’s relationship, what was something you learned about Ruth’s life that you found particularly interesting?

I think I learned from reading her own articles. She wrote a series of articles for something called the Sunday Dispatch, which was a newspaper in England during the time she was in Africa. Those articles are the most illuminating because she was not a journalist. She was not edited. You really got the flavor of her voice. She was really funny and witty. I was also really struck by how important her experiences in the war were to her. She mentioned it briefly in the film that she drove an ambulance. She was on the front lines. She was evacuated as a young woman and came back to London, but couldn’t bear the boredom.

Was Seretse and Ruth’s relationship something you learned about in school during in history class?

No, not at all. It was too embarrassing for the British government.

What spoke to you about this story that made you want to be a part of it?

David [Oyelowo] sent me the script, but I didn’t know anything about the story. Then I saw photos of [Seretse and Ruth] and got to look into their eyes. I thought that if still images could move me that much, who knows what a film could do. Also, the book (“Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation” by Susan Williams), which our film is based on, is wonderful. It’s fascinatingly detailed about the history, and [Williams] also uses a lot of original sources. She got to interview both Seretse’s sister and Ruth’s sister. You get a very keen impression of both of them.

Ruth passed away almost 15 years ago. If you had the opportunity to ask her a question, what is something you would have asked her that you didn’t get from your research?

I imagine you wouldn’t get to know her very well by asking her direct questions. I imagine she was the kind of woman who, although she lived through all these incredible experiences, was probably better at small talk. I think you would have to get to know her gently. You would probably have to start with what kind of music she likes and talk about her grandchildren and sort of get into it that way.

Did you talk to David and his wife, Jessica, about their own personal story of their interracial marriage and whether or not there were any parallels to Seretse and Ruth?

Yes, I was very interested in their story—not that they endured the kind of racism that Ruth and Seretse endured. David and Jessica had a couple of stories early on of things that I was able to try and create expression from, especially with some of the casual attacks they have experienced and Jessica’s complete anger, which sort of rose up. I found [her anger] very indicative of what Ruth felt.

Here in the U.S., interracial marriage has only been legal for 50 years. Doesn’t that strike you as not so long ago? Isn’t it crazy to think that it just happened?

Oh, I know! The principles of apartheid and separation and segregation do seem crazy. What’s interesting is to explore why people felt it. Then you can understand the danger of anything repeating itself—prejudice coming back in. It’s a large part of why I wanted to make this story. Yes, the story shows their love was able to overcome prejudice, but almost more importantly is that they conquered fear. They conquered fear in Botswana and fear among their families. They loved each other so truly and so passionately and so truthfully, people couldn’t help but be swayed by it. I think love can be a huge weapon in overcoming fear.

Do you consider it a timely film in the U.S. now that the political landscape has become so negative?

I think “A United Kingdom” is a weirdly, timely movie now. I always felt it would be timeless. And now we see that it’s quite timely. We’re living in this culture where we’re now being asked not to trust people, and this is a movie about the power of trust—trusting in yourself and trusting in others and asking people to put their trust in you. When you think about Ruth, it’s unusual in a movie to get the experience of a white person who is being excluded from a black world that they are craving to belong in. That was a very interesting perspective.

How has your life changed since 2014 when you earned your first Academy Award nomination for “Gone Girl?” Is it much easier to get your foot in the door? Are you getting more phone calls from filmmakers? Was there moment when you realized things were different?

It’s hugely much easier, but you’re always having to work. You can never slack off. There are millions of people who saw “Gone Girl,” but there are still plenty of people who never did. You still have to try to convince people. That never goes away.

Get Out

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Directed by: Jordan Peele (debut)
Written by: Jordan Peele (“Keanu”)

Dark comedy, sharp social satire and mainstream horror elements merge into the strange and, at times, smartly-written film “Get Out,” the first feature directed by Jordan Peele of the sketch comedy TV series “Key and Peele.” Tonally satisfying and provocative, the hybrid genre movie might overstay its welcome and miss out on driving its critique on cultural appropriate all the way home, but Peele has taken the somewhat unique idea (“Being John Malkovich” did it better) and modified it into his own clever, anti-racism statement.

Things get a little uncomfortable for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, African American college student, when his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), brings him home to meet her family. While Rose believes race isn’t going to be an issue for her progressive parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), the atmosphere surrounding the visit doesn’t sit well with Chris as soon as he gets there—from the unintentionally ignorant albeit inappropriate comments and questions that come his way to the bizarre interactions he has with the family’s black employees. Chris doesn’t know what’s up, but something is definitely not right. When Rose’s psychiatrist mother, Missy (Keener), decides to hypnotize Chris without his permission, supposedly to break him of his smoking habit, is when Chris’s short weekend trip with his girlfriend turns into a disturbing nightmare that he cannot awake from.

Borrowing themes from past films like the aforementioned “Malkovich,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives” (and possibly even director Johnathan Glazer’s trippy 2013 metaphysical drama “Under the Skin”), Peele’s exploration of current race relations in America and how casual racism has somehow become the norm, even among seemingly intelligent individuals, is the strongest reason to make your way to the theater for his promising directorial debut.

“Get Out” works much better as social commentary than it does when it regresses into mainstream horror in the third act, but by then Peele has audiences already hooked. If he had fleshed out some of the more complex ideas instead of actually cutting flesh, “Get Out” could’ve been something truly special.

Catalina Aguilar Mastretta – Everybody Loves Somebody

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the bilingual romantic comedy “Everybody Love Somebody,” director and screenwriter Catalina Aguilar Mastretta (“The Hours With You”) tells the story of Clara (Karla Souza), a successful Mexican-American doctor who find herself at a relationship impasse when she takes a date to her parents’ wedding in Mexico only to discover her ex-boyfriend has also been invited to the ceremony.

During an interview last week, Mastretta talked about the complexities of relationships, why romantic comedies have always been a genre she’s enjoyed, and what audiences can do to help get more Latina filmmakers like her behind the camera making more movies.

What inspired you to write a film like “Everybody Loves Somebody?”

I’ve always loved romantic comedies in general. They’re what I grew up watching. I wanted to write something that felt like a traditional romantic comedy, but I wanted to write something with characters and answer questions that I had about relationships. How do they happen? How do you meet a stranger and they become your family, and then you meet another stranger and they don’t? I think that is an interesting mystery.

Does the film parallel your own life in any way?

The only part that is kind of like my life is that my parents were together for almost 40 years before they got married. They only got married five years ago. I always thought that was funny. They didn’t have a huge, white wedding like we see in the film.

There’s a line in the film that the father says about how marriage is going to ruin their perfect relationship. I’m guessing your parents didn’t run into that problem.

(Laughs) No, they didn’t, but it was always a running gag in my family that they didn’t get married when I was younger because they didn’t want to ruin their love.

So, what are some of the romantic comedies you grew up watching?

My favorite has always been “When Harry Met Sally…” I think it was the first one I actually saw. Of course, I go back to old [films by] Woody Allen like “Annie Hall.” I think an exploration of relationships through a very specific point of view is always, to me, the most exciting. That’s what I was trying to make [with “Everybody Loves Somebody”].

What about more recent American romantic comedies? I could argue that a lot of them are pretty terrible.

(Laughs) I think there are a lot of reasons a lot of them don’t work. I think most of it is that the marketing departments have a hard time selling them. I can understand that. What you’re selling is complex relationships and emotions and complex things that are difficult to put on a [movie] poster. [The films] develop into these “hook” ideas—like, “Oh, they’re from the opposite sides of the aisle and they fall in love.” Everything is so very contrived. I think because we all experience love in our everyday lives, it’s very easy for everyone in the audience to see it and call bullshit.

What is your relationship status?

(Laughs) I’ve been married for three years, but I’ve been with my husband for almost seven.

Are you a hopeless romantic and did that affect the film in any way?

I always have been, maybe because I grew up watching a very, very solid and complex relationship with my parents that I always knew it was possible. Now that I’m married, I think that I have that. Mostly, I think [the film] is about larger feelings than that. I think it explores different definitions of what love is. The title, “Everybody Love Somebody,” comes from the idea that it’s not just about romantic relationships, it’s about relationships between a mother and a daughter and two sisters. It’s about how we relate to people. [The film] became more personal to me when we made it a bicultural and bilingual story. I think the barriers on who we fall in love with and why become more complex. Love is more complex and more difficult and more grey than [Clara] thought it was.

Earlier, you talked about how two strangers could meet and end up falling in love, while two other can meet and nothing happens. Having a soulmate is a romantic idea. Is it something you believe in?

I believe in soulmates, but I don’t believe we have just one. I think finding someone in the world that sees you and recognizes something in you is always a magical experience. It’s hard to communicate with people and show your true self to them. If you find someone in the world that shows you something about yourself that you never knew, then that is magical. It’s about a spiritual, human connection.

How do we get more Latina filmmakers like you behind the camera? It’s a complex subject I’m sure we don’t have time to get into too deep, but I always think of a Latina filmmaker like Patricia Cardoso (“Real Women Have Curves”) and wonder why a studio didn’t just hand over to her $1 million to make something else right after “Real Women Have Curves” in 2002.

I love that movie.

Right! And she hasn’t made a feature film since. We see this all the time. How do we remedy it?

I think it’s a complex problem, but I think the main thing you can do is watch those movies and demand those stories. I think the only way you’re going to get diversity in story if we get diversity behind the camera. In terms of women in film, I think there’s been a lot of controversy and talk about how—like you said—a newcomer who has a very good first film may never be able to get funding for a second one, while a male [filmmaker] who has very similar reviews [on his first film] can end up direct huge movies. Opportunities for women—and especially women of color—are harder to come by and I think we need to fight for them. At the same time, I don’t want to make movies that only Latinas see. I have seen movies that have been made by all kinds of people my entire life. I mean, “When Harry Met Sally…” was made by a Jewish man. That’s important. But it needs to work both ways. That’s the only way we’re going to get rid of this idea of “the other.” We have to have people telling all kinds of stories for all kinds of people. It starts with supporting stories that teach us about empathy, whatever those stories might be.

Roberto Sneider – You’re Killing Me Susana

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Mexican filmmaker Roberto Sneider (“Tear This Heart Out”) always wondered why he connected so strongly to renowned writer José Agustín’s 1982 novel Ciudades Desiertas as a young man. One day, it hit him: The story, which revolves around what Sneider describes as a “pretty mature relationship,” depicts—through truth and humor—a foreigner’s experience of coming to the U.S. for the first time.

Thirty-five years later, it’s one of the main reasons Sneider has adapted Agustín’s work into the third feature film of his career, “You’re Killing Me Susana” (“Me estás matando Susana”). In “Susana,” Sneider and co-writer Luis Cámara adapt Agustín’s story, which follows Eligio (Gael García Bernal), a cocky Mexican actor who wakes up one morning to find that his beautiful wife Susana (Verónica Echegui) has left him without a trace. Heartbroken, abandoned and embarrassed, Eligio ventures out to find his wife, who he learns has journeyed to the U.S. to attend a writing workshop, and bring her back home.

During an interview with Sneider, we talked about the timeliness of “You’re Killing Me Susana,” casting Gael García Bernal in the lead role, and what it means to exude machismo in this progressive day and age.

How do you think “You’re Killing Me Susana” parallels with the issues on race and culture we’re facing today?

When we were making the movie, I thought [issues on race and culture] had changed. I thought things had become much more modern. Then, after the [2016 U.S. Presidential] election I thought, “Wow! Things haven’t really changed much—at least not for the better!” I think in cities where there’s not so much diversity, there is still a lot of fear. There is also this [idea] that American culture has all the answers and that it’s the best way to live life. I don’t think there’s a lot of openness [in the U.S.] to discover what other cultures can bring.

Did you always have Gael García Bernal in mind for the lead role? How did you ultimately decide on him?

When I first decided I wanted to make this movie and I started thinking about who could play the role, I auditioned several people. Initially, I wanted someone who had dark skin and more Mexican features, but I felt his attitude was more important. Then I thought, “I need somebody like Gael!” Then I thought, “It should be Gael!” But back then, he was too young for the character. I didn’t think it would really be believable to have someone so young involved in such a complex relationship. Fortunately or unfortunately, it took years to put this film together. So, we had a few years for Gael to grow up. I did contact him back then and sent him the novel. I asked him how he felt about playing the character. His response was the same. He said, “I am too young but I love this character!” So, by the time we were able to put it together, it was perfect. He was exactly the right age. I think something that was crucial and that inevitably changed the character was casting Gael. I think he has the spirit of the character. Eligio has this incredible sense of humor. I felt that Gael could capture his vulnerability and his great zest for life.

What do you think Eligio’s overall idea of American culture is? Does he understand it?

It’s interesting because he is not interested in fitting in. He very much identifies with his Mexican culture. He has a defensive attitude towards Americans. He tries to share his view of the world and he’s not adapting well to the expectations of what the country is. I think that’s fun and refreshing.

Why do you think humor work so well with films that revolve around someone getting his or her heart broken?

I think humor adds a perspective to life that is essential. If you don’t have humor, then life is really pretty absurd—especially when talking about human contradictions. [“You’re Killing Me Susana”] is about a guy who is deeply insecure in relating to this very smart, independent, beautiful, sexy woman. He feels insecure as a man and, therefore, reacts with this macho attitude. It’s funny how rude we act as people when we’re trying to cover up our insecurities. I think humor is very natural. Sometimes people equate humor with not being able to speak about things truthfully or deeply or trying to avoiding things that are painful. I personally enjoy stories that have a lot of humor and talk about real things and are not afraid to go to emotional places or places where you can question certain things.

Are you trying to say anything about the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in this film? What would you like audiences to see?

It’s funny because we are humans and in that sense [Mexicans and Americans] connect naturally. But different cultures put us out of our element. Therefore, they are threatening from both sides. I think sometimes we react to that in different ways—sometimes by trying to please and sometimes by having this attitude of rejection. We can laugh at Eligio’s silly nationalism because he does bring that with him, but we also see the ridiculous attitude of some Americans who are very close-minded.

Have you ever heard of the word “ghosting?”

Actually, I’ve never heard [the term] before.

It’s what Susanna does to Eligio in this film. She leaves him without a trace. What do you think about the idea of someone “ghosting” someone else?

But I thought really hard about it. I think there are two things playing out with Susana. On one side, Eligio is not really a nice guy. He’s so charming and really attractive and she is very much in love with him, but he’s hurting her. I think she knows that whenever she confronts him, he ends up convincing her and she ends up staying. I think it’s an act of fear when she decides to just go. I also think there is the idea that she doesn’t want to finish things. If you truly want to finish things, you stay and say, “It’s over. Goodbye.” She’s not ready for that. By not confronting or closing anything, she’s also provoking him. She wants him to wake up. It’s very hurtful, but he hasn’t been so nice himself.

Is there a message about machismo that you hope plays into the film? How has the idea of machismo changed over the years?

[Eligio and Susana] were a very progressive couple back in the day when this was written. That’s how José Agustín wrote it. They were forward thinkers. Eligio wouldn’t say he was “macho.” He would ideologically be against that concept. But society was much more accepting of those macho attitudes back then. How much has that changed? Deep down I think a lot of us now think machismo is a really bad thing and we’re not like that anymore. Yet, there is a cultural thing still going on. That macho comes out in you because, socially, it’s very prevalent. I think that’s what José Agustín was exploring. At the same time, I think at the end-all Eligio wants is for Susana to tell him and demonstrate that she loves him. That’s kind of anti-macho in a way. But I don’t think she wants him to lose his manliness. So, it’s an exploration of that. How can you remain manly without being macho? How can you overcome those insecurities created by these macho expectations when you’re with a woman who is beautiful and smart and independent?

What’s the most macho thing about yourself?

(Laughs) I do think that every now and then I have this sense of entitlement of certain things in a relationship from my culture. I’m not going to say more than that. (Laughs) I try to keep it under control. You grow up with a certain culture, and it’s sometimes hard to get rid of it. To be honest, it’s sometimes in the way I see women. When I was a kid, I think we tended to see women objectified. As a kid, that was the culture in school. I think every now and then, I catch myself doing that more than it’s healthy. I think that’s one aspect of it.

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