Feliz Ramirez – Grand Hotel (TV)

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did you go to college?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ari Aster – Midsommar

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightingale

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Wedding

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Them That Follow

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

The Bible verse Mark 16:18 reads, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” It’s scripture some isolated Pentecostal churches understand as literal directives for worship services designed to show their true conviction for Christ. In Them That Follow, screenwriters and first-time directors Britt Poulton and Daniel Savage explore the religious practice of snake handling, but they do so via a less-than-intriguing narrative featuring a backwoods love triangle.

Set deep in Appalachia, the story centers on the life of Mara Childs (Alice Englert), the daughter of a local pastor (Walton Goggins) who ministers to his devout followers with the gospel in one hand and a writhing rattlesnake in the other. Conflict doesn’t come in the form of Mara pushing back on her father’s serpentine sermons, however. She is a believer, which creates an interesting composition for the film’s lead character. While she is unconcerned with the venomous snakes, she does find herself at an impasse with two young men — Augie (Thomas Mann), her secret lover and spiritual dissenter, and Garret (Lewis Pullman), one of her father’s disciples the church has coerced her to marry.

With a cult leader and reptile enthusiast for a father, viewers might wonder why the sense of danger that should be pulsating through Them That Follow feels more like a stumbling block than it does a catastrophic event that could seal Mara’s fate. She’s a formidable female character, which is notable on its own, but when matched against weaker men, there is never really a moment in the film where she doesn’t appear in control — even when she’s following orders or simply sulking. Only in the final act are her stakes raised, but by then, Poulton and Savage don’t seem confident where to take the picture.

Academy Award winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) portrays Mara’s only real adversary, the unfortunately named Hope Slaughter, a loyal member of the church and Augie’s no-nonsense mother. She exudes authority throughout the film. Them That Follow also stars Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) as Dilly, a friend of Mara’s who comes to live with her after she is abandoned by her mother — and, ultimately, by Poulton and Savage’s script, which treats her character like an afterthought.

It’s evident Poulton and Savage wanted to delve into the concept of blind faith and how that affects someone like Mara who — like many people worldwide — has adopted the religious beliefs of her parents. The filmmakers are unable to find the emotional hook needed to express the extremely personal issues Mara is forced to confront. Poulton and Savage do a fine job setting the somber tone, but the melodrama lacks significant bite.

Light of My Life

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

In the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life, Oscar winner Casey Affleck (as an actor in Manchester by the Sea) steps behind the camera for the first time since teaming up with Joaquin Phoenix a decade ago to make the music mockumentary I’m Still Here. His second film is a minimalist take that hangs firmly on the natural connection of its two main characters and its effectively bleak atmosphere.

Reminiscent of director John Hillcoat’s depressing 2009 drama The Road — although it’s doubtful any scene can be as grim as watching a father teach his son how to commit suicide — and last year’s powerful and emotionally complex drama Leave No Trace, Light of My Life is a slow-burning film that packs a similar punch.

Affleck stars as Caleb, a father surviving in the solitude of the wilderness with his young daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky), whom he disguises as a boy. His actions come after a global plague has decimated the majority of the female population, including his wife (Elizabeth Moss), who dies when Rag is an infant. He refers to Rag as his son whenever they stumble across someone amid their directionless journey.

Hoping to stay invisible on the fringes of the dystopic society, Caleb is conscious of the danger Rag is in if anyone discovers her true identity, although Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, steers clear of spelling it out. While he navigates some familiar territory, that takes nothing away from the father-daughter rapport he and Pniowsky share — a bond viewers will likely feel invested in as the narrative moves forward and the risk that they will be discovered increases.

Light of My Life feels the most alive during the seemingly calm scenes where we understand the intense reality that Caleb and Rag face. He’s willing to do whatever he must to prevent anything bad from happening to his daughter. The sense of dread that permeates the film never lets up, much as in Hillcoat’s The Road. Affleck’s ability to keep the nervous, albeit silent, energy consistent is an impressive feat.

Along with Affleck’s compassionate performance, what Pniowsky delivers as a curious 11-year-old is just as incredible. Like actors Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace, Caleb and Rag’s loving relationship is one of the most convincing pairings to hit theaters this year. Affleck has created an intimate film — one that speak on parental responsibility and the great lengths to which a father would go to protect his child.

Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) was no stranger to actor, writer, stand-up comedian and podcast host Marc Maron when she cast him in her new film Sword of Trust. She had already directed him in a few projects, including a couple of episodes of his namesake TV series Maron and his 2017 Netflix comedy special Marc Maron: Too Real. She was also a guest on his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron two months prior from officially getting hired. It turned out to be the perfect choice to say the least.

Sword of Trust is a heavily improvised and sharply written dark dramedy that comes up short in the homestretch, but not before delivering a handful of funny and memorable moments. Maron stars as Mel, a pawn shop owner in Birmingham, Alabama, who makes a deal with some customers after they offer to sell him a peculiar relic. The “prover item,” as it’s referred to later in the film, is a sword said to be proof that the South won the Civil War. It has been bequeathed by a Confederate soldier to his granddaughter Cynthia (Jillian Bell).

Mel and his employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) think Cynthia and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) are a pair of kooks for the yarn they spin — the women don’t buy her grandfather’s story either but need to make the sale. However, a quick internet search reveals a fringe group of conspiracy theorists who would pay top dollar for the weapon. After locating a buyer, Mel and the ladies decide to team up and split the money. But when the potential customer insists that he meets the sellers, Mel, Nathaniel, Cynthia and Mary find themselves riding in the back of a moving truck to an undisclosed location to do business with a probable racist.

On its surface, Sword of Trust is a whip-smart comedy that pokes fun of people who believe the Earth is flat and the existence of a shadow U.S. government. While much of the snarky script is ad-libbed, Shelton and co-writer Michael O’Brien (TV’s A.P. Bio) create a structure for the narrative that is deeper and more meaningful than an average satire. The emotional load is lifted by Maron, who expresses some of the most heartfelt and natural dialogue in a movie this year with an anecdote concerning a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend (Shelton) and the life he watched pass him by years ago.

Shelton’s film might cover revisionist history, but it’s also about the struggle to believe in something — or someone — when conflicting evidence is too convincing to ignore. Still, in Sword of Trust, Maron shows audiences how a little faith can go a long way.

Gaspar Noé – Climax

April 25, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

Provocative French-Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) might be the first to admit that his new horror-dance movie Climax isn’t necessarily something audiences haven’t seen before, but you might beg to differ.

In Climax, Noé introduces moviegoers to a large group of dancers who are celebrating a successful day of rehearsals with an after-party at their studio. The evening begins with the dancers enjoying each other’s company – gossiping, drinking, and dancing – but spirals out of control when they realize the sangria they’ve been consuming all night long has been laced with LSD.

From there, Noé’s scriptless dance party transforms into a nightmarish scenario where the dancers slowly lose their minds and find themselves participating in some of the most deviant behavior imaginable, including extreme violence, self-mutilation, and sexual perversions.

During an interview with me last week, Noé discussed where the idea for Climax originated, how shooting without a script was a liberating experience and why he decided to flip the camera upside down for long stretches of the film.

Where did the idea for Climax come from?
I was thinking of a disaster movie or a zombie movie. Some of those movies look so realistic when they’re shot in documentary style. I was thinking about a community that builds up something and then everything goes wrong. It could be a cult movie or a disaster movie or a horror-zombie movie. I started watching videos online of dancers in Paris and decided to mix these stories together. Even if [Climax] starts as a sort of musical comedy, it turns into something like a realistic horror movie.

I really like the idea of creating something beautiful and then destroying it in a horror film.
Yeah, if you’ve seen the movie Shivers by David Cronenberg, it’s about a perfect building that has been constructed for all the richest people in town and then something goes wrong. It’s like The Towering Inferno where the fire starts in the middle of the building. Human creations take a long time to build up and then it can all be destroyed. In this case, there is a substance (LSD) that is put into the sangria and everyone turns crazy and paranoid and aggressive. It’s about a whole community turning into reptiles because of their fear.

How difficult is it as a director to make a film as demanding as this without a script?
I’m lucky because [Climax] is produced by the best producers in France. They like cinema and they wanted the movie to exist, so they invested their own money. Without them, this movie would never have happened. I heard that [legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc] Godard could get financing for his movies with just two pages of a script. I always dreamt of being as free as Godard could be at that time. He was allowed to do movies in a way that weren’t usually done.

As a filmmaker, is it important to you to make audiences feel like they’re watching something on screen that they’ve never seen before?
Yeah, but there’s nothing new in this movie. You’ve seen many movies with crane [camera shots] over dancers. You could look at movies like La La Land or Fame. There are movies about dancers in a school where things go wrong. There’s been disasters movies where rich people are dying. There’s nothing new in this movie. It’s just kind of different, but I did not invent anything. The only thing I hadn’t seen before that’s in this movie is an upside down title card. I liked that idea.

Well, you also turned the camera upside down for long stretches of the film, too, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.
For a long time, I wanted to see a movie with the camera upside down. There are some painters who exhibit their painting and portraits upside down, but I had never seen that in a movie. I always wanted to see a whole scene in a movie upside down, so in this movie I finally did it. As a director, you get bored, so if you can find any new idea that makes you feel like you’re not replaying your own movies or someone else’s movies, it’s very enjoyable. I also had never seen a movie with the main credits in the middle [of the movie], so I did that, too. You have to have fun and amuse yourself.

I have to admit, during the long upside down scene, I cheated and turned my head upside down to watch for a while until I realized it was going to go on for a while.
(Laughs) Did it look better? If you put it in the right sense, there is less going on than if you put it upside down. Upside down seems scarier because you can’t really read the images.

How else did you keep yourself from getting bored making Climax?
For the first time I used a drone! We improvised the opening scene. Probably now I’ll be addicted to drones.

Was it ever an idea to allow your cast to become method actors and actually drop acid to shoot this film?
Nah, because we had such a short time to shoot it – 15 days. I didn’t want anyone to be drunk or wasted in front or behind the camera. We were all being very professional. We couldn’t fail. And to tell you the truth, most of these dancers are between the ages of 18-23 and when I asked them about drugs, none of them really used or tried any. They were all clean by choice because when dancers are wasted or drunk, they turn into bad dancers.

Jason Drucker – Bumblebee (DVD)

April 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

In what most critics are calling the best film in the Hasbro “Transformers” franchise, “Bumblebee” follows the titular robot character, a member of the Autobots who finds refuge on Earth as the villainous Decepticons attempt to track him down.

While on Earth, Bumblebee (AKA B-127) meets Charlie (Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld), a 17-year-old outcast who pulls the broken-down robot (disguised as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle) from a scrapyard and makes it her new car. She soon realizes that Bumblebee is much more than just an old junker when the Decepticons land on Earth with plans to destroy him and the planet.

There to support Charlie and Bumblebee is her family, including Charlie’s younger brother Otis (Jason Drucker), a funny and sarcastic kid who knows how to annoy his older sister, but is there for her when she really needs him.

During an interview with Drucker, who is also known for the Nickelodeon series “Every Witch Way” and the 2017 comedy sequel “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” talked about how much he knew about “Transformers” before landing the role, working with Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld for the second time and revealed the actor he would most like to work with in the future.

“Bumblebee” was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 2.

I know you’re 13 years old now. How old were you when you shot “Bumblebee?”

I believe we began shooting in the summer of 2017, so I was 12. I think I turned 12 on set.

Does it feel like a lifetime ago?

It honestly does feel like a lifetime ago! I just remember waiting for the premiere. Waiting a year is pretty long. It might as well have been 10 years. We worked very hard on the film.

What was your initial reaction when you got the phone call that you booked the role of Otis?

I was in a complete state of shock. I got it on my first audition, so I thought that was already pretty impressive. And, I mean, it’s a “Transformers” film, so that is amazing. I never really imagined that I would be this fortunate in this industry. But I’m really grateful and thankful for all the things I’ve accomplished already.

You are way too young to have watched the original “Transformers” cartoon growing up, but did people tell you about it when you landed this role?

Yeah, my dad did. I’m pretty sure he watched them. He showed me a few episodes on YouTube. I just grew up with the 21st century cartoons and, of course, the films that already existed. I’ve seen the first, second and third ones. I was already a pretty big fan of [the franchise].

Well, personally, I think “Bumblebee” is easily the best “Transformers” movie of the franchise, and I’m not alone in that regard. How do you feel when people tell you it’s the best movie out of the bunch?

I feel really grateful because I am a part of a franchise that has been so successful. It seems like everyone is really liking [“Bumblebee”], including myself. It was such a blast to film. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it – that I’m in a “Transformers” film.

Your character, Otis, is a bit of a sarcastic kid. How close in real life are you to him?

(Laughs) Honestly, I think [Otis] has a big portion of my true personality. This is actually the third character I’ve played that almost resembles me – chatty and sarcastic half the time. Sometimes I can be a bit rude to my siblings like Otis is with Charlie. But, of course, like in the movie, I do become accepting of Charlie, so that resembles me, as well, in real life.

Something a young actor like yourself doesn’t always get a chance to do is work with an Oscar-nominated actress like Hailee Steinfeld. What was the experience like working with her?

Something a lot of people don’t know is that this is my second film with her. (Drucker and Steinfeld also starred together in the 2015 adventure-comedy “Barely Lethal”). Getting a second film with her was great. But like you said, she is very talented – acting and singing. She is very wise as well. A couple of times on set, she pulled me to the side and spoke to me about education and how my life was going. It’s always a blast to work with her.

What about someone like John Cena? Were you a wrestling fan at all?

I wasn’t a superfan like my friends were. It was actually my friends that got me into WWE and I watched it for a good half year. Of course, John Cena was my favorite wrestler. Now, he’s getting into movies as well. I’ve seen a couple of them. So, to be in a movie with him is just insane. Getting to meet him was awesome, too.

Can you give us any news on any sequel talk that might be out there?

For the most part, it’s all classified, but if there is a sequel, I would love to be in it.

Moving forward in your career, is there anyone you would like to work with specifically – and actor or a director?

Jim Carrey. He would definitely be an honor to work with. I’ve seen a bunch of his movies. I love his comedies. To be able to work with him or at least meet him would be an absolute dream.

What’s your favorite Jim Carrey movie?

“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” for sure. Actually, both of them. I just rewatched the second one (“Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”) two weeks ago. It’s even funnier the second time. Will Ferrell is also another one of my idols.

It’s too bad they already made an “Ace Ventura Jr.” movie a few years ago. You were too young to star in it back then.

Wait, they did?!

Yeah, it’s Ace Ventura, but he’s a kid.

Oh, dang! I’ve gotta watch that!

OK, so we know you’re definitely into comedy. Would you like to try another genre – maybe drama or horror?

Oh, a horror movie, for sure. I am a huge horror movie fanatic. I’ve seen every horror movie possible, so to be able to work on a horror movie would be insane.

Steve Carell & Robert Zemeckis – Welcome to Marwen

January 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

It’s seems like it has been a natural transition for actor Steve Carell to jump around genres—from comedy to drama and back—over the last few years. Best known in his early career for his role on the hit TV comedy series “The Office” and movies like “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Carell has also shown audiences his serious side in projects like “Beautiful Boy” and “Foxcatcher,” the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2014.

Combining comedy and drama, too, has been something Carell has been successful doing in films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Dan in Real Life” and “Vice” where he portrays former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in writer/director Adam McKay’s political satire on former VP Dick Cheney.

In his newest film, “Welcome to Marwen,” by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”), Carell is once again given the opportunity to mix comedy and drama (and some action sequences, too) with the true story of Mark Hogancamp, a New York man who, after a vicious attack leaves him brain damaged, finds comfort in interacting with a doll-sized, WWII-era town (and its action-figure residents) he builds in his backyard. Through this recreation, Mark is able to create a whole new world where he is the hero of his own story and uses the hobby as a way to heal.

During a sit-down interview with me, Carell and Zemeckis talked about what makes a film like “Welcome to Marwen” special and why Carell was the perfect actor for this touching story.

Steve, when you heard about Mark’s story, what resonated with you the most about what he had gone through and what he was doing with his life?

Steve Carell: What resonated with me the most was his sense of decency—the fact that he endured so much suffering and pain and that he was able to keep a sense of human kindness and generosity to his spirit. That, to me, was the sign of an exemplary human being. He’s like that in person. We went up and met him and I’ve stayed in touch with him since. He’s just a good, decent guy.

I know you had the chance to meet Mark. What was it like going into that backyard and seeing the town for yourself?

SC: Well, his whole house is very similar to the house that is depicted in the film. It’s a magical place. I won’t lie. He has such a fertile imagination. It’s all there. It’s surrounding him. It’s a world that he lives in and that he uses as a way of healing himself. At the same time, he is also very aware of how other people perceive it. It’s not like he’s just in this world and has no context for how odd it may seem to other people. He has a really good sense of humor about it.

Robert, what was it about Mark’s story did you feel lend itself to create this sort of hybrid live-action/animated film?

Robert Zemeckis: First of all, it was a heartwarming and heartfelt story about this guy who suffered this tragic incident and healed himself. That’s what appealed to me the most. There’s this whole story that goes on inside our hero’s mind where he’s got this adventure going on in this “doll world.” I thought it lent itself to being able to expand his story into something that could be a pretty interesting and compelling feature movie.

You hadn’t done an animation since “A Christmas Carol,” so did it feel good to go back to that?

RZ: Well, animation isn’t really the right word. Animation is where a bunch of artists create a character. We used performance capture. That means the actors who are playing the live-action characters and have a doll in the movie, their performance is what drives the doll. It’s a more sophisticated performance capture than what I did in the Polar Express days.

Has technology since “The Polar Express” blown you away?

RZ: Digital cinema is all based on computer power—horse power. So, it’s getting more and more sophisticated every moment.

SC: The two of us, actually, right now are performance captured.

RZ: We’re not really here.

SC: No, we’re not here. We’re still back in Los Angeles, but that’s how real this seems. It’s really good.

So, what was it like seeing your rendered character for the first time?

SC: How could you not love to see yourself depicted as a really studly doll? It was fantastic.

Robert, can you brag on Steve a little?

SC: Yeah, can you? Come on!

Why did you choose him for this role? What did he bring to the table?

RZ: Well, he brought a few things to the table.

SC: (Laughs)

RZ: He’s a magnificent comedy actor and a fantastic dramatic actor.

SC: Humanitarian. Kindness. I love animals.

RZ: And he’s got this kind of everyman quality. He fit the bill perfectly. I knew he could do both—the swagger and the fun of the doll and the empathy and bring the emotional power to the human character.

SC: It’s mostly about my swagger. I walk into a room and you just see the swagger.

Steve, everyone knew you for your comedic roles when you started off. Then, you came into drama and got an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher. Has that been a seamless transition? How did that work for you as an actor?

SC: I didn’t really have an agenda behind it. I just wanted to do good things and be a part of movies and TV shows that illicit a response—whether it’s making people laugh or making people feel something. It’s been fun. Seamless? I don’t know. I just roll with it. I’m just thankful every day that I get to do this stuff.

You’ve been an action figure before. You can go out and buy Gru (his character in the “Despicable Me” franchise). You can buy a Brick toy (his character in “Anchorman”).

SC: Yeah, I’m sure there is a bobble head out there.

Which of your other characters in your career would you like to see become an action figure? Do you think it would be fun to play with a Donald Rumsfeld doll?

SC: (Laughs) Yeah, or maybe my character from “Foxcatcher.” the “Foxcatcher” action figure. I doubt that’s going to be a big Christmas seller.

Or “Little Miss Sunshine.”

SC: Sure, you could do the whole cast and have the VW bus. [Mark] was definitely my favorite because I get to play this alter ego. From Mark’s perspective, it’s the idealized version of who he would be in the world, and that’s kind of exciting. I think a lot of people would love to see that—to visualize that. It’s something that everybody does—imagine themselves in this kind of heightened state. So, [Mark], by far, is my favorite.

The Upside

January 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Neil Burger (“Divergent”)
Written by: Joe Hartmere (debut)

American remakes of already wonderful foreign-language films can sometimes be a hard sell, especially when Hollywood’s take doesn’t live up to the original movie. For every Oscar-winning film like “The Departed” (a remake of the 2002 Chinese film “Infernal Affairs”) there is a badly-executed U.S. version of “Oldboy” (a remake of the 2003 South Korean film of the same name). It’s easy for things to get lost in translation when not enough attention is paid to the spirit of the preceding picture.

Such is the case in “The Upside,” a remake of the exceptionally charming 2011 French drama-comedy “The Intouchables,” one of the highest-grossing, non-English language films in cinematic history. The film is so beloved it has already been remade in India and Argentina, with a second remake in India in the works. Although “The Upside” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017, it became collateral damage when allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced. The film was shelved, then sold and finally dumped out in January — the month where most studios send movies to die.

“The Upside” isn’t dead on arrival, but it’s nowhere near memorable. Directed by Neil Burger (“Divergent”) and adapted by first-time screenwriter Jon Hartmere, the film follows Dell (Kevin Hart), an unmotivated, jobless ex-convict who inadvertently gets hired as a live-in caretaker for Phillip (Bryan Cranston), a widowed, quadriplegic billionaire.

Through their professional relationship, which is frowned upon by Phillip’s loyal associate Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), the men form a bond where each of them opens one another’s eyes about personal issues that are keeping them both from living fulfilled lives. For Dell, it’s rising above his bad habits as an absent father to care for his estranged teenage son. For Phillip, it’s allowing himself to take chances in finding happiness.

While Hart and Cranston produce a few sincere moments, Hartmere’s script fails to build a strong enough emotional tie between the two to make audiences believe their friendship means much to either of them. When it’s time for them to step up and fully support each other, their good deeds ring false. Even the scenes they share together as employer and employee feel forced and lack real humor. In one scene, Dell reluctantly replaces Phillip’s catheter and refuses to utter the word “penis.” He finally says it after Phillip involuntarily gets an erection.

Despite “The Upside”’s struggles, Cranston is still able to tap into his character’s mindset and pull off a passable performance with what little the screenplay gives him. It is also noteworthy to see Hart dial down his usually brash personality, although this specific dramedy obviously wasn’t the right project for him.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

January 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Badge Dale, Happy Anderson, Robert Aramayo
Directed by: Henry Dunham (debut)
Written by: Henry Dunham (debut)

Give some credit to first-time screenwriter and director Henry Dunham on his attempt to make a steadily paced thriller reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” without falling into some of the cliché trappings most novice filmmakers might deem enticing.

In “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek,” Dunham’s focus is on his characters and the interactions they have with one another throughout the film’s short, 88-minute runtime. Leading the all-male cast is actor James Badge Dale (“Shame”) as Gannon, an ex-cop who is now a member of a local militia group in rural Michigan that is not shy about their distaste for police.

Gannon and the rest of his fellow militiamen are called to meet one evening at their secret headquarters inside a lumber warehouse when they learn that a mass shooting has just taken place at a cop’s funeral. After slowly piecing together what occurred, the seven men realize that one of their assault rifles, grenades and other gear is missing from their arsenal. This, of course, leads everyone to believe a member of their own militia is responsible for the shooting.

With his law enforcement background, Gannon becomes the de facto investigator of his own crew and begins to interrogate each of the men to find out their alibis and whether they had anything to do with the killings. This includes Morris (Happy Anderson), an ex-Aryan Nation terrorist, and Keating (Robert Aramayo), a young recluse who never speaks.

As a writer, Dunham proves to have a way with words as he matches Gannon up against each of the men in different areas of the compound. In some cases, it’s a battle of the minds. In others, it’s all about which man can puff his chest out more. Either way, Dunham keeps the exchanges tense, although when the aforementioned Keating finally does open his mouth, his long-winded monologues are too clever for their own good. The dialogue-driven narrative stays grounded for the most part, but Keating’s ramblings are pretentious and overwritten.

Where “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” falters the most, however, is in its third act, which should have been the beneficiary of the strong buildup that came before. Unfortunately, the film veers off into a jumbled story with flashbacks and a litany of twists that aren’t nearly as interesting as Dunham would have audiences think.

Save for the impressive photography by first-time feature film cinematographer Jackson Hunt (he’s shot four Beyoncé music videos), any real consistency in “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is lacking from start to finish. There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration from the best, but someone needs to tell Dunham to quit when he’s ahead.

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