Fifty Shades Freed

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
Directed by: James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”)
Written by: Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”)

The shackles (or fuzzy handcuffs – who knows what you people are into) finally come off viewers who have tortured themselves senseless by watching the first two installments of the “Fifty Shades” franchise with “Fifty Shades Freed,” the last chapter of the titillating, trashy trilogy adapted from the bestselling softcore erotica series by author E.L. James. Much like the prior two films, “Freed” is only as good as the script allows, which doesn’t say much for screenwriter Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”) or James and her writing prowess. With stagnant dialogue, uncreative sex scenes and a plot fit for an episode of “Days of Our Lives,” “Freed” is another unmemorable romp between the sheets.

Picking up where “Darker” left off with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) getting engaged, the kinky lovers start the film by tying the knot (“You may now flog the bride,” would’ve been a welcomed line during the ceremony) and beginning their new lives together as creepy husband and doting wife. Once again, Christian’s unlikeable character continues to be a major problem in the series as he controls every aspect of Anastasia’s life without much pushback from his submissive new spouse.

Since literally tripping into Christian’s life in the original film as a shy journalist writing a profile piece on the billionaire, Anastasia has grown somewhat of a backbone and isn’t quite as naïve as she once was. Still, she is portrayed as the pawn in the couple’s relationship. Christian is placed on a pedestal like a king. Everything he says goes and everything Anastasia does that he doesn’t like is quickly dealt with by “punishing” her sexually. In “Freed,” there’s even a scene where she rolls her eyes at Christian and ends up chained by her wrists and ankles.

Forget the sadomasochistic sex, which seems to be the only thing the two share an interest in, if a male character in a blockbuster franchise can get a pass for creating a toxic marriage just because he has washboard abs and his own airplane, then romance truly is dead – at least in the movies.

That’s probably not the case, fortunately. Christian is simply a sorry excuse for a leading man. It doesn’t help that Dornan doesn’t seem to be having much fun with the bland and narcissistic role. The script takes all the nonsensical drama too seriously and doesn’t leave any room for any lighthearted moments or even a little self-parody, something the franchise should’ve taken under consideration since the prior two films were universally panned.

Nevertheless, director James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”) and screenwriter Leonard don’t seem to be in the mood for more than the usual soap opera-worthy narrative, which features a second-rate villain returning for revenge and Anastasia pathetically attempting to retain her identity before she’s relegated to just another sex object in Christian’s playroom. Sadly, Johnson doesn’t get to break character or explore any ideas outside of dropping her panties.

In a time where audiences are looking for more women to take on female-empowered roles – whether it’s Daisy Ridley’s Rey or Wonder Woman or Lady Bird – it’s not enough to claim sexual freedom and call it a day. Anastasia might have a safe word to stop the pain, but “Freed” doesn’t give audiences the same luxury.

Jess Weixler – Entanglement

February 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

Breaking into the Hollywood scene in 2007 with the dark comedy and coming-of-age cautionary tale “Teeth,” actress Jess Weixler has embraced her place in the independent film scene for the last decade, but has also shown her talent on more accessible projects like CBS’s “The Good Wife” and AMC’s “The Son.”

In her newest indie film “Entanglement,” Weixler, 36, stars as Hanna, an assertive and beautiful woman, who finds herself sharing her time with Ben (Thomas Middleditch), an insecure and suicidal man who is on a journey to find a sister he never knew existed. When Hanna and Ben connect, sparks fly and the couple being to explore the idea that their lives are on a destined path with one another and that fate has brought them together for a reason.

During an interview with Weixler, we discussed the metaphors baked into a film like “Entanglement,” if fate or “quantum entanglement” (as the characters refer to it) is something she believes in, and how the more absurd elements of the movie fit in with the narrative.

As an actress, do you usually find yourself attracted to weird, eccentric love stories like “Entanglement?”

(Laughs) I really think this one takes you by surprise. I don’t think the romantic comedy genre always does justice to what real love is. I kind of like that [“Entanglement”] turns the romantic comedy on its head. I like that [Ben’s character] finds this ideal person who is exciting and fun and playful and makes him feel all the feels, even though that’s still a bit of a trope.

Well, I don’t think you ever want a romantic comedy to hit too many clichés. In “Entanglement,” love is portrayed as this very complicated thing. Is love really that complicated?

I sort of see this whole movie as a bit of a metaphor. It’s about somebody going through so much pain. He is suicidal and really has to do backflips to find love. If this movie has a message – and I’m not sure that it does – it would be that you have to be able to see the people who love you for who you are – for all your sadness. You have to find more of who you are in order to feel like a whole person. You’re not looking for somebody else to complete you. You have to find wholeness for yourself.

I had never heard the term “quantum entanglement” before. Is that something you believe in – this idea that two people can be bonded forever through time and space?

Quantum entanglement is something that I became fascinated with in college. My husband actually studied physics in university. There is such a poetry to physics. You start to wonder how these things relate to us and our lives. Quantum entanglement is a very real thing. It’s not made up. These particles, once they bond, will still react to each other even if they are separated across infinite amounts of space and time. That is true, and it’s nuts! This is happening in the world and we don’t know exactly how it’s happening. [Hanna] is like a piece of [Ben] that he’s lost. That brings into question if you’re bonded to something, are you always connected to it? I think yes, in many ways. I like that this movie is not about finding somebody to complete you. It’s not about finding somebody else that’s going to make you happy.

What about the Butterfly Effect? Do you think talking to me right now has the possibility of making something in your life change that wouldn’t have if you didn’t do this interview?

Yeah! I mean, I’ll leave the house at a different time. I guess every single thing that happens affects everything else. It’s way too much to possibly think about. I suppose it gives us comfort to think things are just going to happen the way they happen and to think we can’t try to control our lives too much. In doing so, hopefully will see the mistakes we’ve made in life and can make those things better for ourselves down the road.

Prior to filming, had you met Thomas? Did you want to build a dynamic with him beforehand or did you go into this project cold turkey?

I got to know him when I got [on set]. I knew I needed to be what [his character] wanted and needed me to be. I needed to be what he felt was missing from his life. Somehow, my character is supposed to be filling those holes and waking up parts of himself that haven’t been awake.

There’s some interesting magical realism in the film. Talk about how this relates to the narrative as a whole.

I think it adds to the feeling that this is all too good to be true. I think it’s lovely and wonderful. I think [Ben] thinks it’s too much – this world of make-believe. But he’s glad that he is feeling it. It’s hard for me to talk about it from the outside, but from the inside I was studying Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and these iconic figures that you sort of put on a pedestal. I think it adds to the Disney effect of things being put on pedestals. [In “Entanglement,”] you see this [animated] little deer in the forest that is so Disney. The fireworks are so Disney. [The film] is about idealizing things but then eventually settling down and realizing what is beautiful and what is real.

How much of the absurdity of the story helps with the message that it’s trying to deliver? For example, in real life there is no way Ben gets those adoption records for $50.

There’s definitely a suspense of believe. I had to look at a lot of it as a metaphor. The whole movie kind of works as a fable. I don’t actually think [Ben is] schizophrenic. There are a few things that just happen because that helps the fable move forward. I think those things are done in a very playful manner because they’re obviously ridiculous.

As a movie watcher are you into those types of films where it’s all one big metaphor for something? For example, last year “Mother!” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” were two very polarizing movies for audiences in terms of being metaphors.

Yeah, I do! I actually just watched “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” recently. I was like, “What am I watching? This is so bizarre.” It was so interesting to see it and think, “Yeah, surgeons kill people.” I mean, certainly not on purpose, but what would metaphorically be the flip side of that? I’m into those kind of thought experiments. “The Lobster” was a really cool thought experiment, too.

Since you broke out onto the scene in 2007 with “Teeth,” is there something specific you’ve learned about yourself as an actress that you didn’t know a decade ago?

That’s such a great question and so hard to answer. I think everybody, as they get older, they get better. I think overall, I am more of a whole person. I not trying to just present one part of myself for people to see. I hope as I go forward in my career, I can be more translucent and give away more of who I am as a whole, for better or worse.

Odeya Rush – Lady Bird

January 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated drama/comedy “Lady Bird,” actress Odeya Rush (“Goosebumps”) plays Jenna Walton, a pretty albeit slightly arrogant student who attends the same private Catholic high school as Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), but isn’t very interested in anything outside of her social circle. In an attempt to change her social status, Lady Bird decides to snub her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) to hang out with Jenna and her popular crew.

During an interview with Rush, who also starred in 2014’s “The Giver” with Meryl Streep and 2015’s “Goosebumps” with Jack Black, the 20-year-old actress talked about working with filmmaker Greta Gerwig on her first film as a director, what kind of student she was in high school and what she ultimately wants out of a career in Hollywood.

Greta Gerwig was already a really great actress and screenwriter, but now she’s added directing to her repertoire. What did you see from her on set in this new role?

Being a great creator and awesome person makes her a great director. I think she is an artist and such a talented writer. I’ve really loved all the movies she’s written and acted in. I think she’s very intelligent. You can tell by the acting choices she’s made. She directed [“Lady Bird”] at a perfect time. We had this incredible script and nothing really had to be changed.

What message do you think “Lady Bird” is trying to convey when it comes to fitting in as a teenager?

I think what is amazing about Lady Bird is that you don’t just see her in one place. You don’t see her in this one clique that defines who she is. I think in high school you go through different phases. Some people have the same friends their entire life and others like to try out different things. You hang out with different people or join different clubs. I think Lady Bird is so driven and has this badass mentality and doesn’t let any group define her. What’s cool is that you can’t put Lady Bird in a specific place in high school.

Were people able to put you in a specific place in high school? What kind of teenager were you?

My high school was in a small town in New Jersey, so our high school actually started in the seventh grade. We didn’t have a ton of kids, but I feel like I was pretty much friends with everyone. I hung out with a group of good girls. But I think we all got to a place where we didn’t have cliques, especially since the school was small. I think we all just got to a point and said, “You know, I think we should just all be friends.” The more the merrier!

What specifically attracted you to your character Jenna?

I think Greta’s writing is so great. When I read the first line in the script, I already knew how to say it. I felt this girl’s essence through the page. It was really smart dialogue. I could really understand her as a person just from reading it. She gave every character their own storyline and struggles and pain.

I know you said you hung out with everyone in high school, but would that have included Jenna?

I’m always nice to everyone. I have a lot of acquaintances, but I wouldn’t be close to her. Probably not, because I think that energy rubs off whether you want it to or not. It can really affect you. I think I would be friends with someone like Beanie’s [Feldstein] character (Julie). She is a really joyful spirit and not judgmental. I think those are the type of people I’m attracted to more.

Do you think independent films like “Lady Bird” are more attractive to you at this stage of your career, or are you hoping a huge $100-million franchise comes knocking at your door?

I just like movies that have good scripts and good people attached to it. I think that’s what ultimately makes your experience good. The movie “Goosebumps” had a big budget, but the director, Rob Letterman, was a really awesome person, too. That always trickles down to the rest of the crew when you have someone great directing the movie or if your co-stars are really great. For me, it goes back to the intention of the script and what kind of message it’s sending out and if I’d be working with someone I’ve been a fan of for years like Greta.

The relationship in “Lady Bird” that everyone loves, of course, is the complex one between Lady Bird and her mother. What do you hope audiences take away from the dynamic between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf’s characters?

I think this movie shows that these relationships aren’t perfect. They don’t follow the same pattern all the time. A lot of times with family you can get into a huge fight and two seconds later you’re sharing a laugh or a hug. I think with family, you show each other more of those colors. A lot of times when you’re at that age when you want to battle and you get into fights with your family or your mom, it shouldn’t be viewed as super heavy. I think it’s really about that age where you want to feel free and your parents are really scared to let you go because all they want to do is protect you. I look back to that age and it’s not super heavy. It’s just all this tension bottled up. I think you have to go through that tension to see that sometimes you just need time away from each other.

You’re fairly new to Hollywood. What would you say you’ve learned about yourself in the short time you’ve been in this industry?

I think I’m just really grateful that I had a normal upbringing and that I always surrounded myself with genuine people. This industry is so up and down and you never really know what’s going to happen. When you have a movie that’s doing really well, everyone is really super nice to you. When nothing is going on and you’re a hungry actor auditioning, which is what I was a few months ago, it’s different. I think it’s about surrounding yourself with people who are constantly there for you. I think it’s about constantly loving yourself and knowing that you’re self-worth isn’t measured by how many people see your movie or how many movies you’ve done.

Michael Peña – 12 Strong

January 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the action-drama “12 Strong,” actor Michael Peña plays Sgt. Sam Diller, a member of a Special Forces military unit that is secretly sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban a month after 9/11. Adapted from Doug Stanton’s non-fictional book “Horse Soldiers,” the 12 men journey on horseback through the rough Middle East terrain as they search for the insurgency who are steadfast on destroying America and its ideals.

During an interview with Peña, 42, we talked about how each military and police office role he’s played throughout his career is different, what he thinks about his character poster and what it was like riding a horse during production.

Back when I interviewed you in 2006 for “World Trade Center,” you said, you felt you had a “huge sense of duty for this country and the world to do right by this story.” Is that how you felt going into this “12 Strong,” too?

Honestly, I think that feeling did start off with “World Trade Center” where I played a port authority police officer from New York. That really opened my eyes to everything the men and women of the Armed Forces and all these police officers do for us. They’re a real contribution to our society. Right now, cops are getting a lot of flak, but let’s not forget that a majority of them are good cops – like my brothers. After “World Trade Center,” I did “End of Watch” and I did “Fury” and now I’m doing this movie. I definitely love these kinds of movies. Now, I’m researching the history of the United States and why wars actually happen. There’s always people that want power and to push an agenda. They want people to follow along with their agenda and if you don’t follow, you’re the enemy. That’s always a recipe for disaster.

Do you approach all these military or police roles the same or is each one different?

The stories aren’t the same, so they have to be different. It’s funny, but the only thing that’s the same is the uniform. My characters in “The War on Everyone” and “End of Watch” are completely different characters. Honestly, I like action movies – like when you see Bruce Willis or one of these action guys playing someone from the military or a police officer or an undercover CIA. All those action sequences are badass, whether it’s a war movie or a Marvel superhero movie.

Speaking of badass. What did you think about your character poster for this film?

(Laughs) Dude, I look way more badass than I really am. Dude, I golf for fun. I play chess. That’s about as cool as I get being on the poster.

Yeah, you’re standing in front of this explosion locked and loaded…

Yeah, it’s like there’s this explosion around me and I don’t give a shit. (Laughs) I’m like, “Screw that explosion! I’m going to stand here and hold my gun!”

Did you get to meet Sgt. Diller before or during production?

I didn’t meet Diller, but I got to meet a couple of the other guys whose names were changed. The stories they would tell us were invaluable. That’s what makes moviemaking so cool. Even if you do a war movie every year, the stories you’re privilege to hear… you can’t believe these things happened. You can’t believe these guys did what they did. It’s amazing to hear about what these guys did to protect our country. I mean, if I don’t go without water for a day, I’ll go crazy. These guys went without nourishment for longer than that. It makes all my complaints feel like nothing.

How do you think you’d fare in the military in real life? Do you think you could handle it?

I don’t know. At one point in my life I wanted to join the military, but I became an actor instead. I was in JROTC in high school and I wore my suit and that’s what I wanted to end up doing. But my life just took a different path.

Talk to me about these horses you worked with in this film. Are you an expert rider now?

I rode a real horse, but it’s not like I acquired any major skills. The only skill I acquired is that I learned how to get on a horse.

So, what was the experience like riding this animal for the entire production?

I had this one horse, man. His name was Scratchy or some shit. This horse, I would kick it, and he’d be like, “Man, fuck this. I’m going to stay right here.” I would kick it, and kick it, and kick it, and they would tell me, “You have to kick it harder, man!” So, I would kick it harder, and it would go from zero to 60 in no time flat. There was an actual Navy Seal on the set with us. His name was Kenny Sheard. He was a real soft-spoken, tough dude. He was having a tough time with his horse. I think his name was Itchy. All these horses have different personalities. I ended up really liking Scratchy a lot. But Kenny never got along with Itchy.

I’m always impressed with the way you’re able to transform yourself physically in a lot of your roles. It seems like you’re doing it again for your upcoming film “A Wrinkle in Time.” What is it about transforming yourself that you like so much?

I don’t know, but now that I have a kid, I feel like people become much more expressive. Think it’s a byproduct of experience where you take the most conservative person and all of a sudden you put them around a kid and they start acting differently than they ever would. They start making these dumb faces and things like that. I’m that person. I’ll do anything to make my kid laugh. He makes me laugh, too. He’s a smart kid. He reads a lot. Characters like that bring out the kid in me. I do this for a living, so I’m really fortunate to be able to do this stuff.

You worked with Oprah on “A Wrinkle in Time.” So, Oprah 2020?

Her speech at the Golden Globes was pretty inspiring. Hey, if Trump was a reality star and he became president and Ronald Reagan was an actor and he was president, they maybe Oprah can be president in 2020, too.

Phantom Thread

January 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Daniel-Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”)
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”)

As elegant and stunning as the couture dresses three-time Oscar winner Daniel-Day Lewis’ character designs in the film, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s period piece is a work of art. In what he is calling his final acting performance, Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned and pedantic English dressmaker whose life is upended when he meets a young muse who is far more strong-willed than he anticipated. Anderson expands his exploration on relationship dynamics (he touches on it in “The Master” with Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters), to reveal a wickedly humorous newfound romance that is both suffocating and Machiavellian. Watching that play out for 130 glorious minutes with a remarkable score by Johnny Greenwood hovering above it is sensuous and sublime.

Shaul Schwarz & Christina Clusiau – Trophy

January 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the documentary film “Trophy,” filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau turn their cameras on the hunting industry and take an in-depth look at why hunters and environmentalists are at odds when it comes to finding the best way to conserve wildlife species. One of these hunters featured in the film, Philip Glass, is on a personal journey to hunt the Big Five (buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion and rhino). Glass considers himself a conversationalist because he says the money he spends on hunting goes back to local communities to help conserve the wild animals. It might sound like an insane theory to some anti-hunting activists, if it weren’t true. Many times, the hundreds of thousands of dollars hunters spend on hunting big game is spent on protect the same animals being hunted for sport.

During an interview with me last year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Schwarz, Clusiau and Glass talked to me about the controversial subject and how hunting elephants and rhino is actually helping conserve their species.

As documentarians, I’m sure you followed the story wherever it led you, but how did the it evolve for you on a personal level? Did you notice your own opinions changing?

Christina Clusiau: When you start making a documentary, it’s really about what you’re interested in, what you’re curious about and how it affects you. But as time goes on, it becomes about the characters and the lives that are involved. It also becomes about the viewer. It’s interesting to go through that process and hand the film off and let it have legs. In turn, you’re changed not only from your own perspective, but it also changes you in how other people are receiving the film.

Something loved about this film is how balanced it is. When it comes to documentaries, especially ones about the environment, they can be very one sided in my opinion. Was that a goal from the very beginning – to present a case for both sides and let the viewers decide?

Shaul Schwarz: I love stories that challenge me. I think I was always taught as a journalist to be very open to the other side. It seems so basic, but we are living in strange days where everybody likes to scream their own thing and not listen to anybody else’s voice. I think in this film, we prove that we need to give the viewer a chance to listen and to see what different sides think, especially with “environmental docs.” Not to mock them because there have been some great ones out there that have won the Oscar, but they’re usually very one sided. That’s the honest truth. We made it a point to make you question things and look deeper and not tell you how to solve things.

Are you worried that some viewers might find it frustrating that you’re not giving them the answers? You see a documentary like “The Cove” and by the end of that film viewers understand what the filmmakers are trying to say without question. With “Trophy,” you leave it up to the viewer to do the work.

SS: I’m not worried. I’ll be happy if they [see the film] and are challenged. I think [the film provides] some solutions to each problem. We try to guide you to make up your own mind. I think if you come into the film one way, you’re not necessarily going to come out of the film the same way. I think that goes for both sides. I think some hunters will come in and they’ll leave scratching their heads and think about what they just saw.

CC: There’s not one simple solution. It’s much more complex than that. I think we really learned about the complexity that is within these worlds. We went in with one notion and left with another. I think it’s important to show that it’s not so simple.

SS: If someone told me three years ago that they were going to propose that the way to save rhinos is to cut their horns off and legalize the trade [of rhino horn], I would’ve thought they were nuts. But I don’t think that now. If we can get away from the idea that only one side has all the answers and talk about solutions, then we’re taking huge step forward.

CC: It’s such a polarizing subject for many people, so to get these two side to talk is most important. Maybe through these conversations, there will be some creative solutions that come out of it – solutions that maybe people didn’t think were viable before talking about them. Maybe there is a way to bridge the sides.

What about you, Philip? As a hunter, did you come out of this film with more of an understanding about the other side and their concerns about big game hunting?

Philip Glass: I really enjoyed hearing from the ecologist in the documentary, who is a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I know my side, the hunting side, and I know the anti-hunting side, so hearing that middle-ground figure was interesting. That opened my eyes. I think what Shaul and Christina were trying to do with this story was to create this conversation among these different groups of people. That was very cool to me to see that happen.

This issue is complex enough, but during the film you decided to start quoting Bible scripture to support the reasons why you hunt, and I almost screamed at the screen like, “No! Why do you want to make this more complicated by adding religion to the conversation!?”

PG: (Laughs)

I bring this up because, as the film shows, there are people who believe that rhino horn can cure many ailments and diseases. Do you believe that?

PG: I don’t think rhino horn has any medicinal qualities at all, but if what is going to save their species is to cut off their horns and sell them, then we have to come to terms with that. But, no, I think [that belief] is crazy, but it’s been around for three or four thousand years, so we’re not going to change their minds.

Right, so what I’m getting at is that some people might think you’re crazy when you paraphrase scripture and say that “man has dominion over animal.”

PG: Sure. Some people don’t believe that. Some people say any hunting is abusive and wrong. But that’s simply just not the case.

After all this, do you still plan on killing a rhino?

PG: Yes, certainly.

So, where does it end for you? I know you’re passing these interests on to your son, so if he came to you and said he wanted to hunt big game, too, would you be in favor of that?

PG: I’d be for it, but I don’t know if I would pay for it. (Laughs) But that is going to be up to him and what he wants his personal journey to be. My personal journey is not just hunting the Big Five, but also hunting in the wildest places in the world – hunting in the most remote places in Africa and Asia. What is my end game? As long as I’m able physically and financially, I want to go all around the world.

SS: I think it’s important for people to go into this film to not get too caught up on how their feelings are different from whoever else. Let’s say all these hunters are completely crazy, out of their mind, barbaric. They should be asking, “How can I use that to help conserve animals?” That’s an interesting question. If you rule that out completely, I think you’re wrong. If you buy into it completely, I think you’re wrong, too.

So, Philip, for people that don’t understand, how does killing that elephant we see you kill in the film help conservation?

PG: That elephant was not a trophy. I paid all that money and went over there and did that hunt and just took a picture. I didn’t take anything home. That’s always the argument used again us: You want that trophy for your wall. But I didn’t do that. I gave them all the money and the meat and the tusks because it was their property. I didn’t even get to choose the [elephant]. I think that is the greatest example of conservation because I didn’t get anything out of it. I gave them the money and [hunted] the animal they requested according to their biologists.

CC: I think it’s really utopian from a Western perspective to think that if we just left these animals alone, they’re just going to exist and exist and exist. I think in today’s world, it doesn’t work like that. There’s so much loss of habitat and so much human encroachment, so the solution to conserve may not be in your mind to kill something to conserve it. It may not be the way you want to think about the world. But in reality, in certain areas and certain places, the wildlife itself is their only source of revenue. If there is not an economic value on an animal, no one is going to want to look after it. If you’re in one of these places and a lion comes in and eats your goats and that’s your only source of revenue, you’re going to want to kill that lion. In some of these remote areas, that could really be their only source of livelihood. So, they have a hunter come in to hunt that lion. The money that the hunter brings in actually provides a lot more than just the trophy itself. In the Western world, we have this perspective that the lion is Simba, the elephant is Dumbo. Maybe that’s not the way we should be thinking about these things.

SS: To be clear, we’re not advocating that hunting is the only solution. We’re not saying that. I don’t think most hunters would claim that. It’s a complex effort, specifically in Africa. This idea of, “Just leave it alone,” is uneducated.

Q’orianka Kilcher – Hostiles

January 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Native American actress Q’orianka Kilcher was only 14 years old when she made her breakout performance as Pocahontas in Terrence Malik’s 2005 historical drama “The New World.” Since then, Kilcher has starred in a number of films and TV shows, including “Sons of Anarchy,” “Longmire” and “The Power of Few.” Later this month, she can be seen in TNT’s new period drama “The Alienist” opposite Dakota Fanning and Daniel Brühl.

Along with her new role on TV, Kilcher, whose father is a descendant of the Quechua-Huachipaeri people of Peru, stars in the Western drama “Hostiles.” Directed by Scott Cooper (“Black Mass”), the film features Oscar winner Christian Bale as Joseph Blocker, an Army captain who is ordered to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family back to their tribal lands to ensure their safe return. In the film, Kilcher plays Elk Woman, the chief’s daughter-in-law, who is making the journey with her husband Black Hawk (Adam Beach), young son Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief) and sister-in-law Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty). Along the way, she encounters a grieving mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), with whom she shares some of the film’s most emotionally resonant scenes.

During an interview with me last month, Kilcher, 27, talked about how “Hostiles” speaks to the issues facing a divided country, how disappointing it is when studios cast non-Native actors in Native roles and why today’s society needs to stay positive, especially during this turbulent time across the political landscape.

“Hostiles” is in limited release and expands nationwide January 19.

Was there anything specific about the script that resonated with you?

One of the things that stood out to me was the title. We all have the capability of being hostile. [But] if you look at somebody that you deem as your enemy, and then put yourself in that person’s shoes under the same circumstances, would you react any differently? That was an interesting moral thought. When I read the script, it made me think, “How do we need to be to see the world that we want to see?”

How do you feel your character fits in to the narrative on a deeper level?

My character specifically has this relationship with Rosamund Pike’s [character]. We start off as enemies and are brought together because we’re [both] trying to survive. Because of the environment we’re in, we’re thrown together and forced to see one another within that state of chaos. Banding together, we see the similarities we share. We see each other as mothers. We see things in each other that reflect one another. It comes down to just being a human being and recognizing another human being in front of you.

How do you think “Hostiles” speaks to the current state of the U.S. and how we are so divided as a nation politically?

There are underlying notes throughout the film that are very relevant today. We need to start focusing on the things that bring us together rather than the things that divide us. We need to realize at the end of the day we’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all related. We all live on this beautiful, blue planet. [“Hostiles”] shows the beauty of nature, but also the destruction done by man. When bad things happen, too often people will turn their cheek the other way or try to find a way to justify it to make themselves feel better. But we need to realize that to have a clear understanding of your future and where you’re going, you must have a clear understanding of your past and where you come from. By looking at your history, you can learn from your mistakes.

Most of the roles you’ve played in your career have been for indigenous characters. When you land a role that has not been written for a Native actress, is that something you wish would come along more often?

I’m proud to be indigenous. I’m proud whenever I can represent an indigenous woman in a film. I feel as an artist, it’s my responsibility to continuously help pave the way and push the boundaries and break down those barriers within society and within Hollywood of how indigenous people are portrayed on film. I’m very appreciative of any of those roles I get. However, I am very thankful when I am cast in other roles, too, and I don’t have to wear dreamcatcher earrings or a little feather in my hair to tell people that I’m Native. When I’m cast in a non-Native role, those decisions move our community forward because we’re not being cast just for our race. You start to get cast because your work is good and speaks for itself. It becomes more inclusive. I am happy that Hollywood is becoming more open to inclusivity. We still have a long way to go, but we’re taking little steps in the right direction.

So, how can Hollywood and actor like get studios to take even bigger steps?

There are a lot of voices starting to rise. I think it’s starting to get so loud that [studios] can no longer not listen and not hear us. There’s becoming a demand for [diversity]. The power goes back to the people. We have all the power and control if we come together as a community. I believe one small action a day multiplied by millions is what truly changes the world. It’s our responsibility as a society to push those changes we want forward, otherwise we’ll stay where we are.

How do you feel when a non-Native actor is cast in a Native Role? For example, when Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily in “Pan” a few years ago?

You know, it’s a fine line. I respect Rooney Mara and I think she’s a fantastic actress. But sometimes it is upsetting because there aren’t that many roles to begin with for Native American actors. If those are the only roles you get to go out for and they’re once in a blue moon, then a lot of Native actors get disillusioned and disappointed. You’re like, “There isn’t a lot to begin with and now you’re taking the few opportunities we have away from us.” It’s a complicated thing. At the end of the day as artists and filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to make the right choices and to think about how we want our industry to change and how the choices we make ourselves affect that change.

I have to ask you this since you actually played Pocahontas in a film. How do you react when President Trump continuously calls Senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. Do you think using that name is akin to a racial slur?

I almost have no comment for that because I don’t want to give it power. It’s quite sad to see what’s been happening. But at same time, I’m very hopeful as a young person because I see a bunch of young warriors being raised in the time we are living in right now. I see young superheroes and young environmental activists. Things have gone so wrong in so many ways, people can no longer ignore it. I feel like even though some of the things that are going on are quite horrendous, in a way, it’s also waking up the world.

What do you hope the current administrations realizes about indigenous people that you don’t think they understand right now?

Indigenous communities have a lot to offer because we’ve been living in harmony with Mother Earth for thousands of years. We think about our future generations and are not shortsighted and just think about the here and now. We think about tomorrow and what we’re going to be leaving behind for our children. Indigenous communities should not be seen as an obstacle to progress, but rather a necessity to progress. We are all in this together. All the issues facing the world today are not confined within borders. They affect all of us. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we acknowledge it now or later on when it’s too late. I think there are many things that need to be addressed, but right now it is a time for hopeful awakening for a lot of people who have been sleeping for far too long.

Top Ten Films of 2017

January 2, 2018 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Here’s a look at the Top 10 Films of 2017 from film critics Jerrod Kingery, Cody Villafana and Kiko Martinez:



10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The more I sit with the eighth chapter of the Skywalker saga, the more I appreciate the deconstruction writer/director Rian Johnson brought to the Star Wars saga–a film series I had written off as safe and predictable since Disney bought Lucasfilm and brought it back to life with J.J. Abrams, a fine director who nevertheless remains a better mimic than a storyteller. What Johnson did to subvert expectations has caused a million fanboy tears to be shed, but it was just what the franchise needed–even though the next two Star Wars movies, a troubled Han Solo prequel and another Abrams-directed film, might undo all that goodwill. Either way, “The Last Jedi” was a refreshing change of pace, lumps and all.

9. Get Out

Director Jordan Peele’s wickedly funny horror/thriller steeped in racial tension was one of the biggest surprises of the year, filled with clever details and some of the darkest yet brilliant jokes put to film in a while. Hopefully this is only the beginning for Peele as a director, already on his way to becoming a solid genre-defying storyteller.

8. Wonder Woman

While “Justice League” was already too far gone to be properly salvaged, this summer’s “Wonder Woman” scored the beleaguered DC Extended Universe film series a rare critical and box office win. While no one would mistake Gal Gadot for a great actress, she commands the screen as Diana, and director Patty Jenkins doesn’t pull any punches–Wonder Woman is THE hero of the film, and doesn’t need any help from any men (though Chris Pine is very good here as well).

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A dark movie about a dark subject that daringly paints its protagonist, the mother of a teen (Frances McDormand) raped and murdered who is looking for answers after the police have yet to make an arrest, as unreasonably angry and borderline unsympathetic nearly immediately. Writer/director Martin McDonagh peppers the film with more surprisingly complex and broken people, from Woody Harrelson’s good-hearted yet tragic police chief and Sam Rockwell’s bigoted, violent mama’s boy cop. “Three Billboards,” like too many Americans, wears its rage on its sleeve.

6. Molly’s Game

Trashy and Sorkin-y, “Molly’s Game” delivers the goods the same way “The Social Network” did 7 years ago: through the overly-talkative mouths of too-smart characters that have the perfect quippy response to every situation to go along with having apparently memorized “The Crucible.” Still, it works like gangbusters, and accomplishes something amazing that a few movies and a dozen TV shows have tried and failed at–making Texas Hold ‘Em poker seem interesting and thrilling.

5. Lady Bird

A small movie about a big deal, adolescence. Well, a big deal to the person experiencing it anyway. Saorise Ronan embodies an early-2000s teenager with ease, and Laurie Metcalf has never been better as her put-upon mother. The love-hate relationship they share is brutally honest, and you can’t help but wonder how those two would regard one another today, 15 years later.

4. Coco

Pixar has built its fame and fortune by knowing how to perfectly manipulate the heartstrings of both kids and adults in most of their animated movies, “Cars” and its sequels not included. In the last decade or so, though, the emotional machinations have been somewhat nakedly obvious (see: Bing Bong from “Inside Out” and that adorable baby Dory from “Finding Dory”). “Coco” avoids any such traps, happily, delivering a colorful, fun, and heartfelt story about remembering our loved ones that nonetheless turns on the waterworks in the last act, and earns every tear it jerks from you.

3. Logan

Simply put, one of the best comic book movies of all time. After more than a decade and a half playing the career-making Wolverine/Logan, Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold send the character off in a brutal, emotional, and intimate comic book film that doesn’t need to involve saving the world. And, if there were any justice, Patrick Stewart would earn a best supporting actor nomination for his final turn as a dementia-addled, deteriorating Professor Charles Xavier.

2. The Florida Project

A bleak look at the lives of people living on the outskirts of a manufactured paradise, Walt Disney World, and the way children are able to find a certain kind of magic even as the adults are falling apart. Marked by wonderful performances from the child actors and veteran Willem Defoe, “The Florida Project” does the unthinkable: makes you feel empathy for people making terrible life choices while wondering if you’re overlooking the very same thing happening in your own backyard.

1. The Disaster Artist

As a fan of bad cinema’s crown jewel “The Room,” getting to see the story told in “The Disaster Artist” on screen is like coming to the end of a long journey. James Franco’s career-best turn as Tommy Wiseau is hauntingly good, turning a guy who can come across as a standoff-ish weirdo at first glance (I’ve interviewed him in person, and this is an accurate first impression) into a sympathetic guy just looking for friendship and acceptance. Littered with a who’s who of comic ringers, “The Disaster Artist” is simply the most fun I’ve had seeing a movie in years.



Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this was a really disappointing year in film. It’s a sentence I should maybe retire, considering as each year ends, I find myself wishing that film was as good as it was the year before. But alas, every year needs a top 10, so strap in cause this is a weird one.

10. Marjorie Prime

I love intimate sci-fi films, and even though Marjorie Prime is about the least amount of sci-fi in the genre, I’m still going to claim it. It’s a high brow concept told through 99% dialogue in a well-constructed three act structure, which is fitting considering its adapted from a play. The dialogue is very well-written, but the highlights of Marjorie Prime lie in its performances, especially from Lois Smith and Tim Robbins.

9. Step

A documentary sighting! Step is essentially a slightly lesser version of a documentary film that was high up on my list a few years ago, “Undefeated.” It takes stories of an all girls school who is dead set on all of its attendees attending college, the step dancing team that they are a part of and complicated family dynamics all while deftly weaving in the context of socioeconomic and political undertones. Highly moving and powerful stuff.

8. Coco

As the best Pixar film since “Toy Story 3,” “Coco” is unapologetically Latino and shows a side of culture not seen in film nearly enough. It wears its love of music on its sleeve, and has plenty of family-based emotional pull. Its themes of honoring the dead might seem heavy, but it has the perfect amount of light touch and sweet comedy to make the film joyous, despite its main themes.

7. The Work

As the second documentary to make the list, “The Work” documents a multi-day program of regular citizens looking for some direction in their life joining up with inmates at maximum security Folsom Prison for group therapy sessions. “The Work” features some of the most raw, emotionally powerful, and human material of any film this year, with nearly every scene containing a flood of emotional breakthroughs and the surprising juxtaposition of immense support and love coming from men in prison for murder. Do not miss this one.

6. The Big Sick

As a film that wasn’t anywhere close to the top 10 after first watch, “The Big Sick” made a big climb with a couple of subsequent watches. The script, by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and wife/writing partner Emily V. Gordon manages to perfectly balance serious dramatic heft, hilarious comedy, and cultural clashing and complexities while never losing sight of its tone. Nanjiani is great in a performance that proves that he can hold his own as the lead in any film, but the real standout here is Ray Romano.

5. Molly’s Game

Writer Aaron Sorkin is often a mixed bag for me. While he is unquestionably fantastic at quick witted, sharp dialogue, pretentiousness can often get in the way. “Molly’s Game” is the perfect example of Sorkin at his best, with a really great script that allows for its characters to show their strength without getting bogged down with trying to seem like the smartest person in the room. It’s got great performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, but watch it for its fascinating true to life story and one of the best screenplays of the year.

4. Dunkirk

Though it may lack a big emotional pull, Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is hands down the best-directed and most well made film of the year. It’s a visual spectacle, gloriously shot and pieced together, and its non-linear structure creates tension that is held throughout the film. It feels like even more growth from an already talented director, who manages to completely contain some of his self-indulgent qualities. Watch this one on the biggest screen and with the loudest sound system possible.

3. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Featuring the best script of 2017, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” manages to strike the perfect balance between drama and comedy. It’s screenplay is darkly hilarious and sharp, and elevated by its fantastic performances, none better than Frances McDormand who gives the best acting performance of the year. The subject matter is heavy, and it may have just a little bit too much going on in the narrative, but the its drawbacks are greatly outweighed by its successes.

2. The Florida Project

Visceral and often times heartbreaking, “The Florida Project” is slice-of-life look into poverty that feels authentic, without being exploitive. Films anchored by children are always a mixed bag, but newcomer Brooklynn Prince and her rag-tag group of friends are really solid and play their roles perfectly. It toys with a lot of themes, but none more fascinating than the idea of resilient, almost oblivious child-like resiliency in the wake of dire circumstances. It isn’t always an easy watch, but “The Florida Project” feels like perhaps the most essential film of the year.

1. Logan

I’m just as surprised at this one as anyone else. As the earliest release of the year on this list, no other film was able to top the farewell to one of the most iconic comic book characters in cinematic history, “Logan.” For a superhero movie, the film feels just as grounded as anything else this year, touching themes of regret and mortality in mature ways. Hugh Jackman and especially Patrick Stewart give career best performances, and the film reinforces the point that there is a massive market for dark, adult comic-book fare. But beyond just being the best comic-book movie ever made (which it is), it transcends the genre entirely as an unapologetically dark, brutal, and pure display of fantastic filmmaking.

Honorable Mentions: Brigsby Bear, Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I Tonya, Patti CakeS, The Shape of Water



After all the blood, sweat and tears (thank Mama Coco for the latter) I experienced screening 222 movies this year, here is a look at my favorites. This article was updated on 1/11/18 to include Phantom Thread, which the studio did not screen before deadline.

10. Good Time (dirs. Ben and Josh Safdie)
An unconventional crime thriller that feels like it was plucked straight from the 1980s, filmmaking duo the Safdie brothers pump the adrenaline up to full capacity as we watch small-time criminal Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) desperately try to get his mentally disabled brother Nick (Ben Safdie) out of prison before something bad happens to him. Set up almost like a modern-day version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men — if all the characters in the classic novel were tripping on acid — the Safdies know exactly what they are going for when it comes to style and tone and succeed enough to anticipate what’s next for them.

9. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Dark comedy, sharp social satire and mainstream horror elements merge into the strange and smartly written first feature by filmmaker Jordan Peele, who drives his critique of cultural appropriation into a clever, anti-racism statement and offers a disturbing and nightmarish exploration of current race relations in America. Things get unnerving for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, black college student, when his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), brings him home to meet her seemingly normal family. Call it “Guess Who’s Coming to Say WTF at Dinner.”

8. War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves)
If 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” wasn’t evidence enough that director/writer Matt Reeves had produced something exceptional, this sequel should have you campaigning for him to get his hands on every action tentpole project for the foreseeable future. Once again, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as ape leader Caesar is stunning as he leads the charge against the humans who are still hell-bent on destroying them, this time with vengeance as his main motivation. Visually gratifying and epic in scope, it’s a memorable conclusion to a brilliant, reimagined trilogy.

7. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
While there were a handful of well-made superhero movies this year that were, well, just plain ol’ fun — “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — the best comic-book-inspired offering this year — and maybe ever — was the weighty, somber, ultra-violent final chapter in the X-Men’s Wolverine saga (at least with actor Hugh Jackman wielding the retractable claws). Jackman says goodbye to the role that made him a star by delivering depth and grit the character has never displayed before. As Charles Xavier (Professor X), actor Patrick Stewart, too, expands on his longtime mutant role with vulnerability, while newcomer Dafne Keen blazes across the screen with visceral energy.

6. The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)
A fascinating newspaper drama set in the early 1970s during the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, documents that proved the U.S. government was lying to the American public and Congress about the Vietnam War for years, director Steven Spielberg makes the newspaper industry come to life in a film that is necessary viewing for anyone concerned about how certain First Amendment rights seem to be viewed as optional by the current administration. Aside from its timeliness, Spielberg’s opus on the Freedom of the Press is also an effective narrative on female empowerment anchored by a contemplative performance by living legend Meryl Streep. Who else can make a scene where a decision has to be made over the telephone so transfixing?

5. Molly’s Game (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) makes his directorial debut from a script he adapted from the memoir of real-life main character Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a high-stakes, underground “poker princess,” and her experiences running poker games for the world’s elite before she was busted by the FBI. Much like his other cinematic work, Sorkin’s sometimes-too-perfect dialogue springs from the page and from the mouths of his characters with spitfire sharpness, intellect, and wit. It’s especially true for Chastain who gives her best performance since 2015’s under-appreciated “A Most Violent Year.” Narration throughout an entire film can be a tough sell, but with Sorkin’s style, it’s easy to hang on to every word.

4. Coco (dirs. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina)
Pixar’s take on the traditional Mexican celebration Día de Muertos gives audiences a film that will become the standard-bearer of what a positive Latino experience can look like on the big screen for years to come. The story of Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a young, ambitious musician who crosses over to the Land of the Dead to find his purpose in life, is a beautiful, heartwarming and visually exceptional achievement about the appreciation of family, the acceptance of loss and the aspiration to become what you were born to be. From the vibrant and imaginative papel picado-inspired opening sequence to the extraordinarily moving final act, it’s a cinematic gift to Latinos worldwide and easily the best animated film of the year.

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)
The fusion of blistering drama and dark comedy rises to the levels of Martin McDonaugh’s first feature film, 2008’s “In Bruges.” There’s no denying the intensity brimming from both genres, which injects the picture with a strong dose of anger, especially in Frances McDormand’s main character Mildred, a mother whose outrage incites her to pick a fight with local law enforcement for failing to find the man who raped and murdered her daughter. As Mildred, McDormand carries the film effortlessly through determination and a tinge of ruthlessness, although her supporting cast, which includes Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, are worthy foils who are also more interesting because of their multilayered characterizations. At this point in his career, McDonaugh could become the third Coen brother if he wanted.

2. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
As elegant and stunning as the couture dresses three-time Oscar winner Daniel-Day Lewis’ character designs in the film, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s period piece is a work of art. In what he is calling his final acting performance, Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned and pedantic English dressmaker whose life is upended when he meets a young muse who is far more strong-willed than he anticipated. Anderson expands his exploration on relationship dynamics (he touches on it in “The Master” with Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters), to reveal a wickedly humorous newfound romance that is both suffocating and Machiavellian. Watching that play out for 130 glorious minutes with a remarkable score by Johnny Greenwood hovering above it is sensuous and sublime.

1. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Compassionately told through the eyes of a child, like in recent films “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the story of 6-year-old Moonee (a breakout performance by Brooklyn Prince) and her irresponsible mother (Bria Vinaite) living in an off-the-highway Orlando motel in the shadows of Disney World, is a captivating observational drama filled with moments of incredible sadness, wide-eyed innocence and pure joy. The insular environment director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) has created for these marginalized characters to live in is extremely convincing and actor Willem Dafoe, who plays the motel’s kindhearted manager, gives the film its authentic core. Knowing the “Happiest Place on Earth” is a destination far from reality, despite its close proximity, makes the narrative all the more emotionally resonant, regardless of how one interprets the film’s final hopeful/heartbreaking moments.



  1. The Florida Project
  2. Logan
  3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Coco
  5. Molly’s Game
  6. The Disaster Artist
  7. Phantom Thread
  8. Dunkirk
  9. Lady Bird
  10. The Big Sick & The Post (tie)

Coral Peña – The Post

December 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews, Uncategorized

Imagine working in an industry and landing a job where you’re placed in the same space as someone who is the best at what they do. If you’re an artist, imagine sharing a studio with Gerhard Richter. If you’re a writer, imagine looking over Cormac McCarthy’s shoulder as he completes a short story. If you’re a musician, imagine recording an album or jamming out with Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

While very few people will ever get the opportunity to do something that amazing, it’s a scenario Dominican-American actress Coral Peña found herself in earlier this year when she was cast in director Steven Spielberg’s new political drama “The Post” and given a role where she would act alongside three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, who is considered by many as the greatest actress of her generation.

“The Post” tells the story of the Washington Post’s decision to publish information from the Pentagon Papers in 1971 after courts ruled that the New York Times stop publishing the leaked documents. The film is told from the viewpoint of country’s first female newspaper publisher, Kate Graham (Streep), and Post editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). In the film, Peña plays Nancy, a young government employee with the U.S. Department of Justice, who meets Graham at a U.S. Supreme Court hearing where the publishing of the top-secret files and freedom of the press were to be debated.

In her scene, Peña absolutely holds her own with living legend Streep. The scene starts with Nancy accidentally bumping into Graham who is waiting in line to get into the court. Nancy lets her know there is another entrance she can use to get in. Although Nancy is working for, as Streep’s Graham describes, “the other team,” she voices her approval of Graham’s decision to publish the papers, which revealed that the U.S. government had lied to the public and Congress for years about the reasons the country entered into the Vietnam War.

“My brother, he’s still over here,” Nancy sadly tells Graham as they walk down the hall to the court. “I hope you win. Besides, I like someone telling these guys what’s what.”

In the following scene, Nancy is seen getting berated by her boss for showing up late to court, although her tardiness is not her fault. The two scenes work wonderfully together as audiences see Nancy recognizing the courage of a powerful woman in an industry run by men, followed by an indication of the fight that still needs to be had for women to be given the respect they deserve in the workplace.

During an interview with me, Peña, who was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated with her family to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood when she was a baby, talked about landing a role in a Spielberg film, how she was able to stay calm for her scene with Streep, and what she thought about having the only speaking role in the film by a person of color.

“The Post” has a limited release December 22 and opens wide January 12.

Talk a bit about the audition process for a film like this and how you booked the role.

[The audition] was pretty standard for such a big film, which was surprising. I went in once and met with the casting director. We did the scene a couple of times and she asked me a few questions about myself and then I walked out. Then we found out [the role] was down to two people. They kept asking me, “What is your availability?” I was technically under contract with the [Fox] show 24: Legacy. I think they were freaking out about my availability. I kind of knew leading up that there was a possibility that they would choose me. Then I got the call. I don’t think anyone really knows how to react when someone tells you you’re going to be in a Steven Spielberg movie.

When did you meet Steven Spielberg on the set and what was that experience like for you?

I was on set the day before I had my scene [with Streep]. I saw someone bee-lining towards me. I turned and it was Steven Spielberg walking in my direction. I was like, “Oh my gosh, he’s walking right to me!” He comes up to me and he goes, “Hey Coral! I’m so excited you’re here. It’s going to be a great day tomorrow. I just wanted to introduce myself.” I thought, “You don’t need to introduce yourself, you’re Steven Spielberg.” Then, I saw him talking to Meryl in the corner and he turns and starts to wave me over. He was like, “Come over here!” So, I go over and he’s like, “You guys have a scene together. I wanted to introduce you to each other.”

So, were you nervous the next day when it was time to shoot your scene with Meryl?

I wasn’t nervous because in my head I kept thinking, “If I make this really normal, I won’t mess up.” I was so calm and everyone else on the set was freaking out. I would do my scene and go back to my chair and eat a snack and everyone was like, “What the heck?!” [Actor] Zach Woods (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”), who is in the movie, asked me if I was a child actor because I was so calm. But, yeah, everyone hung out and treated me like I was part of the main cast. Everyone that was working on this movie was so passionate about it. You have these really big names and incredible actors who were there to make art and do a job. There was not one person that had any sort of ego. From the beginning, there was this tone that we were here to make something great, and also to have some fun.

How did you feel being the only person of color with a speaking role in the film? Were you conscious of that fact?

This is something I knew very early on, especially since we were doing a movie based on real events. Every person is based off a real person. And surprise! This is what America looked like during that time. A lot of these high-profile positions were white people. This is really the only fictional character [in the film]. It was kind of amazing they had room for this character.

Since your character is fictional, how did you go about creating her from what you were given on the page? Did you have conversations with anyone before shooting?

I was able to talk to [co-writer] Liz [Hannah], and [co-writer] Josh [Singer] and Steven [Spielberg] a little about the role. They were all open to talking. Liz told me that my character was in the original script. She’s named after Liz’s mom. Steven felt like she was an important character in an important scene because above all else, this is a feminist movie. It’s about women supporting women and not always having the opportunity, but seeing how they are the powerhouses behind so many events. He felt Nancy and Kate’s conversation meant that no matter what side you’re on, you should be happy that there is a woman on one of those sides. It was really exciting to play that out.

When did you become a U.S. citizen? How did that decision come to fruition?

I got the opportunity to study abroad in London. I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). I got a Visa to go. When I was there, I didn’t really have the chance to travel so much. It bummed me out because I saved all summer to explore. When I came back the U.S. after studying, it was time for me to renew my permanent residency. It’s about the same price to renew your permanent residency as it is to get your citizenship. Then, I got really lucky because I was still a student at the time, so I was able to apply for a program that allowed me to get my citizenship for free as long as I was a full-time student. The fact that I could now afford to be a citizen on top of realizing that it’s hard to have a Dominican passport to travel brought me to the conclusion that I should become a citizen.

What do you embrace the most from your Dominican background?

The music. I think when you grow up as a Dominican-American and you wake every Sunday morning and your mom is blasting some bachata or merengue and you’re just trying to sleep, you ending up saying, “Ugh, I hate this music!” Then, when you get older, you realize, as much as you try to listen to other music, you always go back to [Dominican music] because it brings you joy. Now I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m turning into my mom!”

What do your parents think about your early success in Hollywood?

I grew up with my mother, but I do know my father. I think my father is really proud of me working so hard. My mom is happy as long as I’m happy. She doesn’t know anyone [in Hollywood]. I told her, “I’m going to be in a movie and Steven Spielberg is directing it and Meryl Streep is in it,” and she had no idea who anyone was. Even my grandmother knew who they were. My mom was like, “Well, it’s because your grandmother watches more TV than I do!” But I think for my mom, it’s all the same just as long as I’m happy, which is really great.

You’ve only been in the industry for a short time, but have you learned anything yet about diversity in Hollywood and what being Latina means going forward?

I started working professionally only about two years ago. In college, I got so nervous because of my last name, which is clearly Latin. I thought I might change my last name for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to be more ambiguous. Upon graduation, I found out it was really great to have a Latin last name. I think we’re getting so many Latin writers and producers and people behind the scenes now. They’re allowing [actors] to be Latin, but not constantly defined by their Latinness. I can see that [diversity] has gotten better, but there’s obviously a long way to go.

Do you anticipate any challenges as a Latina actress in this business?

It’s hard for me to imagine with the way the industry is going that I would get any backlash for my last name. But I feel lucky that we’re in an age where if I did, I could speak out about it and not be punished for it. I actually talked to a professor about changing my name. He told me that now is actually the time to be an individual. He said people are really excited about individuality and that I shouldn’t change it. I don’t think I would’ve anyway because I know I would’ve been a lot happier representing my true self instead of having to hide behind ethnic ambiguity.

So, what do you ultimately want out of this industry?

As an actor, I think the main goal is to always have the opportunity to tell amazing stories. One of the things I took away from working on “The Post” is now I know that when I finish a project, I want people to go, “Oh, I really liked working with her.” I want people to see me and think, “She is going to do her job well.” Hopefully, that’s how people view me.

This interview was first published at on December 21, 2017.

Chrissie Fit – Pitch Perfect 3

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

When she joined the “Pitch Perfect” franchise for its first sequel in 2015, Cuban-American actress Chrissie Fit was just happy to be there. Not only was she being added to a cast, who three years prior starred in the original surprise hit ($115 million at the box office on a $17 million budget), she also became the first Latina to be recruited by the Barden Bellas, a competitive a cappella group at the fictional Barden University where the first movie is set.

In “Pitch Perfect 2,” Fit was cast as Florencia “Flo” Fuentes, a foreign exchange student from Guatemala and one of the newest member of the Bellas. Although it was a big step to write a Latina character into the script, the role didn’t come without criticism. In a few questionable scenes, Flo makes an insensitive joke about deportation and dying at sea, explains to the other girls that she had diarrhea for seven years (presumably from the water quality in Central America) and reveals that when she was nine years old, her brother tried to sell her for a chicken. Right.

Now, in “Pitch Perfect 3,” which reunites the Bellas after graduating from college on a USO tour in Europe, audiences learn that Flo has become a successful entrepreneur, opening a franchise of mobile organic juice trucks. As an actress with some “Pitch Perfect” experience under her belt, Fit said she felt more comfortable to sit down with producers and the screenwriter and director to talk about the development of her character and her desire for those stereotypical scenes to not be a part of the new film.

During an interview with me last week, Fit, 33, spoke about making her character a more natural part of the singing group, how she feels now that the trilogy is over and what big Hollywood sequel she currently has her sights set on. We’re looking at you, Tom Cruise.

“Pitch Perfect 3” opens nationwide December 22.

Now that the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy has ended, does it feel more bitter or sweet?

It’s a little more bitter than sweet. Although, I do feel like people are hopeful that there will be more [movies]. Who knows? We would do these movies forever because we love working together. We have become a family in the last couple of years. [This franchise] isn’t like a typical Hollywood movie. Here, you have 10 strong, diverse women at the center. It’s been a joy for me to do these films.

Do you think Flo Fuentes could carry her own spin-off movie?

Maybe. There is so little information that people know about Flo. In this film, you get to see a little more of her business savvy ways. I think there are a lot of possibilities to expand and grow. I think audiences would be interested in knowing her backstory a little more. It would kind of be cool to get a prequel to all of this – to see where the girls were before they were Bellas and how they eventually became the group. I mean, they’re doing it for “Star Wars.” Now, we’re getting a Han Solo origin story, so why not, right?

What was it like being the lone Latina singer in the group? Were you conscious of it?

I was definitely conscious of it. Representation is the most important thing. The more you see Latinas on the big screen or small screen the better. Being able to be someone young girls can look to and relate to and see themselves in is so important. It’s an honor. Since the beginning, I was very proud to be a part of this strong group of women.

Your role received some criticism in the last film for some of the stereotypical elements to your character. Does the film stray away from those types of jokes now?

In the second film, I saw her in the center of all these white girl problems. In this film, before we started shooting, I sat down with the director and talked to the producers and writers about it. I knew it was a risk that maybe I wasn’t going to get as many jokes, but I let them know that I wasn’t comfortable doing any of those [stereotypical] jokes. I think the longer you’re on the set, the more power you have. I was very grateful that everyone was as conscious of it as I was. [In “Pitch Perfect 3”], we wanted to make Flo a more natural and organic part of the group. We don’t have to point out their differences at every turn. I think you see that in this film. It’s a positive image that I want people to see of Latinos in Hollywood because that’s my reality.

Were there specific jokes in the script that you didn’t want to do or are you speaking more generally?

I’m speaking more generally. There was already evidence that [the production] had gone in a different direction. Also, we had already made those jokes, so we needed newer material. Flo is actually the one character that is the most together from the Bellas after college. That was very cool to see. So, as far as deportation [jokes] or “in my country” [jokes], we definitely had time to improvise and change those [jokes] if they were there. Flor is an entrepreneur in this movie. I thought that was a cool thing for the character – to represent the hard-working communities that I’m a part of.

See she that you also have a solo on the soundtrack.

I sing “Feliz Navidad!” It was so fun. I do it a cappella. I was trying to get them to singing a Spanish song in the movie. But we do have a Spanish song on the soundtrack, so that’s really cool. I also get to sing a lot more in [“Pitch Perfect 3”] than I did in the second film. On the soundtrack, you can hear me sing a lot more, too, which is awesome. I sang most of the bass line in the second movie, but I got more singing parts in this one.

I saw some video of you and cast members running around to the song “Danger Zone” in front of some military airplanes. Do you have a pitch to get cast in the upcoming “Top Gun” sequel?

We were just at a military base doing “The Today Show.” I just posted a video of me walking in slow motion in front of a helicopter. It’s pretty legit. I think I should at least be considered [for the “Top Gun” sequel]. I think Tom Cruise’s character (Maverick) should’ve fallen in love with a Latina and had a daughter who is trying to get into flight school. I’m as reckless as he was. Then my dad has to be my Goose up in the air at one point, but not die. Doesn’t that sound like a great film?!

Stephanie Andujar – Marjorie Prime

December 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Breaking out in the Academy Award-winning film “Precious” in 2009, actress Stephanie Andujar continues to hustle in an industry she loves and is always on the lookout for opportunities to branch out in different directions.

In her latest film, “Marjorie Prime,” a sci-fi drama that stars Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, Andujar, 31, plays Julie, a caretaker for the title character Marjorie (Smith), an octogenarian who finds comfort in conversing with a virtual image of her late husband Walter when he was a younger man (Hamm).

During one emotionally-resonant scene, Julie, a character who is not seen in the original play from which the film is adapted, confides in virtual Walter about conversations she and Marjorie have about growing old and even communicates with him in Spanish.

A few weeks ago, Andujar jumped on the phone with me to talk about her role in “Marjorie Prime,” what helped her develop the character and how she’s still grinding it out in Hollywood after eight years. She also talked about a few new enterprises she has been working on and how it all fits together under the new Andujar label.

How did you come upon this role in “Marjorie Prime?”

Billy Hopkins was the casting director for the film. He also did “Precious” and some other projects that I’ve been in. I guess he thought, “You know, maybe Steph will fit this role. Let me bring her in.” So, I had an audition. I read a few lines for the character. In the play, they only mention my character Julie. You never see her on stage. [Marjorie Prime director] Michael Almereyda, actually wanted to develop her and give her more of a heartbeat and include her in the family dynamic. That’s when my character evolved. Thank goodness he wanted to add another element to the role.

Talk more about that family dynamic. Julie seems like she’s very close to the family, but Geena Davis’ character, Tess, doesn’t seem completely sold on her. How did you see how she fits in that dynamic?

Yeah, I think I’m seen in [Tess’] eyes as a daughter, but then she is also the daughter of Marjorie, too. For me it was like I was trying to gain the love and the attention from a mom that we all want. But then [Tess’] father is there in this way that is artificial, but comforting. I think it’s interesting how our human emotions interact with technology. You can’t help but feel it’s real in some ways.

Since Julie isn’t physically in the original play, how do you go about developing a character like her for the film version? Did you have conversations with Michael about who she is?

Yeah, Michael had this vision for her background where [Julie’s] father passed away. Her Bible and beliefs have been comforting and soothing for her. It’s how she handles her loss and how she copes with it, yet she is trying to share it with Marjorie, but [the family] is not really having that. The director wanted to build on that. I added to her story a little bit, too. I felt she should approach them, but not try to overpower [Marjorie] with her beliefs. It was really interesting, especially [the scene] where she confides in Jon Hamm’s character, Walter. You get to hear a bit more of her backstory and what she’s dealt with.

When I interviewed you for “Precious” back in 2008, you talked to me a little about your own father, who had just passed away. Did you use your own experience to influence your character in any way?

I always think of my father, no matter what – every day of my life. I miss him so much. There were times on set that I was thinking of him. I’m always thinking of him as a guiding force in my life and my family’s life. I always have him in my heart. [Julie’s background] was something I could relate to. I was taking it all in because it was also sad, too, with what was happening with Marjorie’s character. All those dynamics added up to making it emotional for me. Normally, I’m a happy person. With this film, you can have those interjections because it’s normal, but there was this constant feeling like, “This is some heavy material. What we’re dealing with here is pretty deep.”

Now that you’ve been the industry for a few years, does it still feel like a hustle?

(Laughs) Every day is like a hustle! (Singing) Hustlin’, hustlin’. (Laughs) Yeah, man, I feel like it’s always a constant grind. It’s always a constant hustle. You always want to elevate and grow with what you’re doing. That’s why I created a one-woman show on my digital platform (“StephA: One Woman Show”). It’s on YouTube. I went there creatively so I could spread my wings and show my comedic range as well. A lot of the projects I’ve done have been on the dramatic side. So, this [one-woman show] is to show people that I can be funny, too. I wanted to give a little fragment of what my life is like when you see my show.

Do you think creating your own material like you’ve done with “StephA: One Woman Show” is something a lot of young actors need to do to get themselves out there?

Yeah, I’m a firm believer that you should create what you want and do what you want. The resources are there. It’s like the Golden Age of Social Media – of YouTube and of streaming sites. It’s there for us, so do it! It’s a great outlet. It lets you put out content that you hope is received well and people enjoy. I have fans that’ll tell me, “Yo, Steph, I didn’t know you could do this.” Fans are always looking for something, so you never know if something you create is something they would like. Hopefully, it will pop off from there.

Do you want to use the show as a calling card?

Yeah, exactly. It’s a reference for anyone who wants to see my work, including my family. It’s a family effort. It’s under my Andujar Productions, which I created with my family about two years ago. Now, we have a TV show and my brother is helping me produce music videos. My mother and sister are producers, too. Your family is your most honest critics. They’ll give it to you straight. You can always take their word. My mom is my manager now because she’s my biggest fan.

What else do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

I sew. My grandmother gave me a sewing machine, so I’ve been sewing away! I’ve been making garments. I like to dress up and feel a little fancy. I actually sewed a dress for the “Marjorie Prime” premiere that was in August. My sister has a fashion design background, so I guess it’s in our blood that we know how to sew. My sister helped with the pattern and design for the dress and I sewed it myself. We pulled it together for the premiere. It came out great. [Sewing] is something I want to keep on developing. It’s a lot of fun.

So, if you’re on the red carpet wearing something you made and a reporter asked you, “Who are you wearing?” do you say, “Stephanie Andujar?”

Yeah, it’s actually Andujar Couture because it’s by me and my sister. The tops that I make are more just me, so that would be part of the StephA Collection. But for the dresses, Andujar Couture is going to be the moniker for it.

What celebrities would you like to dress in the future?

Everybody! I’m happy if anybody wears my stuff. I would be so honored. I make my dog clothes, too! I would be so excited. It’s for everybody and anybody.

Oscar nominations are coming in a few weeks. If not enough minorities are nominated, do you think we’re going to get another #OscarsSoWhite backlash?

I just hope the right people are represented no matter what background you come from. I base it on talent and the best performance. It shouldn’t be about anything else. I do want more Latinos and minorities to come and shine and bring their projects to the table, so that way they can help the next generation. If you’ve got the talent and you can perform, shine, no matter where you come from. If one day I can be there to rep Latinos, I’d be happy. It would be an honor. I may not win, but I’m here for my people.


Aimee Garcia – Lucifer (TV)

December 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

We’re 10 episodes into the third season of “Lucifer,” Fox’s drama-fantasy-comedy series featuring the Devil (Tom Ellis) working as a police consultant and nightclub owner, and one of the highlights of the show has been the performance of Mexican-Puerto Rican actress Aimee Garcia and the development of her character Ella López, a forensic scientist for the LAPD.

Since joining the cast as a regular last season, Garcia’s role as Ella has expanded into her biggest since her three-season turn on the hit Showtime series “Dexter” where she played the title character’s nanny Jamie Batista. In the nine episodes that have aired so far this season, audiences have learned (spoiler alert) that she is a geeky fangirl, has been banned by a casino in Las Vegas for counting cards and hears voices in her head. Garcia’s role will continue to grow this season and feature her in what she calls an “Ella-heavy episode” in late January.

“I can’t think of another character in any sort of media who is like her,” Garcia, 39, told me during an interview last week.

In what many TV critics are calling Garcia’s best episode this season (Episode 6, “Vegas with Some Radish”), Ella goes to Las Vegas with Lucifer to find his missing ex-wife. While there, she “busts out the bling” while helping Lucifer look for a murderer, but also finds time to play a little Blackjack and dress up like a Vegas showgirl in purple sequin and dance to Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady.”

During our interview with Garcia, who also had TV roles on “George Lopez” and “Trauma,” we talked about finding a steady gig on TV again, how she felt seeing Latina fans of the show dress up like her character at comic cons and about an extremely interesting meeting she had with other Latinas in Hollywood in Eva Longoria’s living room.

“Lucifer” airs Mondays at 8pm on Fox.

What has it been like watching yourself in Season 3?

The writer of the episode usually hosts a viewing party. If we’re not shooting anything, we all try to get together and support each other and watch it. I love watching my fellow cast members. They’re great and funny and heartbreaking. I love watching them do their thing. I try to be pretty objective [on myself]. I’ll watch myself and be like, “Ah, that could’ve landed a little better.” Or I’ll watch and be like, “Ah, that was funny!” I’m not a tortured artist.

How does it feel now that you’ve found a home on TV like you’ve had in the past?

It’s nice. We have such a fervent fan base. We always hold steady. We beat higher profile shows. It’s nice to have a family. I’ve been at Warner Bros. since “George Lopez.” It’s been a home away from home for me. I feel super lucky to work in L.A. [The “Lucifer” cast] get along so authentically. I hope it radiates through the screen. Because we have that chemistry and camaraderie, we really want each other to shine. It’s a complete joy to come to work.

What is it like portraying a Latina scientist on TV?

When I signed on [in Season 2], I knew [Ella] was a woman of faith and of science. That was enough of a nugget for me to dig into. She a scientist and I love representing Latina scientists. Someone mentioned to me that Ella López is the only Latina scientist on TV right now. For me, she should be one of hundreds. But that was special to me – to be a professional Latina scientist who is a woman of faith and science and working with the Devil. That was enough for me to jump on board. Since then, we’ve learned so much more about her. Every time I open up a script, I’m learning something different about Ella. She’s really fun and smart, but she can also get ghetto. She’s full of surprises. That’s what makes her so fun to play. I think, by far, Ella has been one of my favorite characters ever.

Is there something specific that makes your character special?

I love that she doesn’t lead with her sexuality. She doesn’t even have a love interest. How many female characters on TV don’t have a love interest? She’s in her own lane. That’s why I think the fans really latch onto her, especially the Latina fans. One of the most touching things I experienced at comic con was seeing young Latinas and dress up like Ella. They could’ve dressed up like Harley Quinn or Wonder Woman or other superheroes who can stop planes or plunge into oceans, but they decided to wear glasses and a top knot and carry a scientific toolbox. They were dressing up like Ella López because they thought she was that cool and interesting. That completely warmed my heart. People are very affected by what they see. If what they see on TV is a professional Latina scientist who is not self-conscious and not defined by a man, then sign me up!

What other Latinas in the industry inspire you? Who is doing good work right now?

America Ferrera’s [NBC sitcom] “Superstore” is funny. She is a producer of the show. Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”) is winning awards left and right. Gloria Calderón is creating shows like “One Day at a Time.” We actually all got together recently as Latinas. [The meeting] was spearheaded by Eva Longoria (“Telenovela”) and America and Gina. They got us all together – Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”), Zoe Saldana (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Gloria [Calderón], Justina Machado (“One Day at a Time”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”). It was 25 Latinas in Eva Longoria’s living room talking about how we as Latinas have so much power to create content and to change the landscape.

So what happened? What came out of that meeting? Do you all have a plan now to change the landscape?

We thought, “Oh my God, with all of our Instagrams and Twitters combined, we could reach 100 million people! That is a lot of power!” It was such an inspiring group to be a part of. We heard each other’s stories and I thought, “Wow, if we all go to each other’s movies and promote each other’s films, there’s nothing we can’t do.” I feel like I’m part of a growing movement of strong Latinas. It’s a new era and a very exciting one. I think it’s one that is not going to be just a chapter, but a permanent change. They brought up a good point during the first meeting that if anyone has any content, they can take it to the various women in that room who have production companies. Gloria [Calderón] said that anyone who has a story to tell should become a content creator. If something is successful and headlined by a Latina, then they’re going to want to make more. We want to help mobilize that and move it forward.

What’s the next step? Is this going to be something you do every month?

We’re going to get together once a month, which I think is important so we know who is working on what projects. We’ve started building a network. It was the first step in a bigger plan to create more support and start to have influence on what Hollywood understands, which is box-office success and ratings. You do that by doing the simple things. For example, if you’re on a TV show, ask if you can direct an episode. Eva said, “Ask if you can direct. You’ll have a director’s credit and you’ll have experience behind the camera.” It didn’t even occur to me to ask! Because I went to that meeting, I thought, “Oh, maybe I can and should direct an episode of “Lucifer” in Season 4.” It was so inspiring. It’s really a positive, pro-active movement. It showed me that I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only Latina carrying the flag for the entire Latina community. We all have each other’s backs. It was such a heartfelt, long overdue powwow. I thought, “Wow, this is the beginning of creating a Latina mafia and it’s pretty dope.”

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