The Lego Movie 2

February 7, 2019 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Trolls, Shrek Forever After”)
Written by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”)

Dizzily upending the pre-release dread of a film based on a toy line that was bereft of its own characters—they’re BLOCKS, for crying out loud—2014’s “The LEGO Movie” was pure joy from start to finish. Firmly cementing the writing and directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller superstar creators, the film was an unexpected delight, a love letter to creativity from a toy line that long ago seemed to abandon that aspect in favor of building ships from “Star Wars” or castles from “Harry Potter.” And, unlike most non-Disney/Pixar animated fare, the script was peppered with whip-smart jokes and enough meta jokes (the reference to the short-lived LEGO NBA line from the early-2000s might have been directed squarely at me) for to make even the most aloof post-modernist laugh his ass off. Everything was awesome, as the song went.

It’s been five years and two spin-offs, “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” were fine and not good, respectively, but we’re finally back to the story of everyman Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and his friend/chief rescuer/master builder Lucy, a.k.a. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). After defeating Lord Business (Will Ferrell, who hilariously seems to be phoning in his voice acting this time), the town of Bricksburg was invaded by baby-talking Duplo creatures. We then flash forward half a decade, as the real-world implications of a little sister co-opting her big brother’s LEGO bricks are echoed in Bricksburg, which has transformed into the desolate Apocalypseburg.

Despite everyone else, even Jeff the cat, being hardened into “Mad Max”-style desert dwellers, Emmett remains upbeat and optimistic about moving into his dream house with Lucy. However, his dreams and home are destroyed when the leader of the Duplo army, on orders from Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), kidnaps Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and Benny (Charlie Day) and takes them to the Systar system. Now, it’s up to Emmett and mysterious adventurer Rex Dangervest to save them.

So, is “The LEGO Movie 2” a blast? Yes, it very much is. Is it as good as the first one? Not quite, it takes a while to get going. Is the magic of the reveal—that this is all happening at the whims of people in the real world—missing this time around? Yes. It’s not hard to put together what’s going on, with names like the Systar system, or the ominous warnings of Ar-mom-ageddon. And that’s the price we pay, unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is top notch, and ups the ante on laser-specific jokes. Do you know what it’s like feeling as if you’re the only person a vocal cameo from former Sonic/Laker Gary Payton is meant for? “The Second Part” doesn’t quite stack up to the original, but it’s still light years better than most animated films that most parents would rather step on a LEGO than watch with their kids.

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.

May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Directed by: Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio
Starring: Scott Avett, Seth Avett

Early on in “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers,” mega-producer Rick Rubin discusses how traditionally, when bands are comprised of siblings, they tend to hate each other. Obvious omission of Oasis aside, Rubin’s point remains that the closeness of working together and the struggle for creative control can break bonds as thick as blood. Throughout the film, however, we see what Rubin means firsthand, as the Avett Brothers are clearly the exception to the rule.

Directed by comedy producer/director extrodainnare, Judd Apatow as well as Michael Bonfiglio, “May It Last” chronicles the writing, production and release of the Avett Brothers’ 2016 album True Sadness.

As far as music documentaries go, there isn’t a lot of conflict. Band members aren’t screaming at each other or talking behind each others backs, nobody is getting kicked out, and there’s no debauchery to be found. Instead what we see is a peak behind the curtain of not only the Avett family, but the creation of a new album from the ground up. Some of the best studio footage shows the Avett’s working through new songs, suggesting lyrics to each other and organically creating. It’s a really interesting look at how songs are composed and evolve from an idea, to laying them down on the album, to performing them live.

From the get-go, it is clear that the Avett’s are the type who wear their hearts on their sleeves. For better or worse, what they are feeling is expressed through their music, and the band feeds off of catharsis. It is these moments, where the Avett’s open up, that are what makes the film truly special.

Seth, for example, explores the depths of heartache and despair following his divorce in a traditional sounding and extremely catchy song “Divorce Separation Blues.” The best sequence of the film, however, comes during the recording of the song “No Hard Feelings.” The entire take of the recording unfolds, with pure feeling oozing out of Seth and Scott. When the take ends, Seth in particular is emotionally drained as the brothers are complimented on how great the song is. What follows is a fascinating conversation between Seth, Scott, and the man behind the camera about the uncomfortable conflict with being congratulated for completing a song that was born of suffering. It’s an entirely new perspective on music in general that is worth the price of admission alone.

There are times that “May It Last” feels more like a behind-the-scenes companion piece that may be included with their new album. But as the film evolves, it is clear that audiences are getting a uniquer glimpse into the creative process of two immensely talented artists with a singular vision and a gift for expression. Existing fans of the Avett Brothers may get a bit more out of it, but “May It Last” stands on its own as a successful foray into why music, and especially deeply personal music, is so important.

SXSW 2016 Review – Sing Street

March 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Kelly Thornton, Jack Reynor
Directed by: John Carney (“Once”)
Written by: John Carney (“Once”)

With two fantastic and unique independent films centered around the world of music, director John Carney seems to have found his niche. With “Once” and “Begin Again,” Carney was able to craft love letters to music, the grind of the industry, and given a place for original songs that have won and been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song respectively. In his latest film, “Sing Street,” Carney returns to his Irish roots with his tribute to the music of the 1980’s.

Stuck in an unpleasant home life, teenager Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) needs an escape. Taking lessons about music from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), and trying to impress a model, Conor decides to start a band despite no musical background. After playing covers, Brendan talks Conor into start writing his own songs. Through inspirations of life, music, and love, Conor turns out to be better than expected.

As a story teller, Carney is clearly becoming more streamlined. “Sing Street” is by far the must structurally sound film he has been released thus far, as well as its simplest plot of boy trying to impress girl with music. Where Carney is clearly able to set himself apart is his ability to connect on a deeper, likeable level with catchy songs and connections and bonds though the medium of music.

The film is funny, with a lot of humor coming from the inherent hindsight ridiculousness of the 80’s. Conor goes through all the phases including 80’s hair styles, make up, and most importantly, the construction of the songs. Carney cleverly plays off of these music styles by having Conor listening to a band and being inspired to write similar music. It culminates with a huge fantastical song and dance number to an incredibly catchy song called “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which is straight from the Hall and Oates playbook. Good luck getting this one out of your head.

It’s imperfect and a little straightforward, but the relationships forged through the characters in the film (especially a surprisingly special brother relationship) really elevate “Sing Street” to something special. Music fans will be delighted with the original music, and fans of the 80’s will love to see elements of the culture poked fun at with the most loving of intentions. As a filmmaker, Carney has found his niche and will hopefully continue effectively combining music and film in ways that not many people can.

SXSW 2016 Review – Gleason

March 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Directed by: Clay Tweel

There is something about documentaries that chronicle, and in many cases, challenge the human spirit and push it to its brink that lead them to be the most affecting movie experiences possible. It’s visceral, emotional, and in the best cases, put you through the ringer leaving you a better person for having experienced and sat with it. This may sound hyperbolic, but one viewing of Clay Tweel’s documentary “Gleason” and you’ll understand that these descriptors and an understatement.

Shortly after retiring from the NFL, New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is diagnosed with ALS. Even more impactful is Steve’s wife has just found out that she is pregnant with their first Child. Unsure of when he will lose the ability to communicate (and trying to treat the disease itself), Gleason sets out to make videos for his son to teach him everything he can before he loses the ability to speak.

Make no mistake: “Gleason” is a tough watch. Him and his family go through a lot of intense emotions and grieve the life and person he experienced as used to be. It isn’t an easy road for Gleason either as he struggles to adjust to his faculties which he loses bits of daily. But beyond all of this, Steve’s purpose becomes renewed. His focus shifts to helping others in his situation and he becomes influential in ways he may not have imagined.

There’s an immense amount of footage here that is artfully and carefully strung together for a cohesive narrative. There are some awful things that maintain levity by the Gleason’s who are a funny bunch and will go for a laugh even in a dark, difficult moment. (Steve’s line when he is having a bathroom issue is laugh out loud hilarious). It’s a brave thing to let a camera crew into your life. It’s even braver when it is during the most trying time this family has likely ever had.

Tears are almost certain to be shed, and while It may not always be the easiest thing to watch, “Gleason” is one of the most profoundly moving film experiences of the year thus far. It shows a man faced with unbelievable tragedy, moving forward for the sake of his wife, his children, his family, and a population of people who see him as a role model. It’s one of the years first must watch films and one to look out for come award season.

SXSW 2016 Review – Tower

March 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Directed by: Keith Maitland (“The Eyes of Me”)

There are plenty of films at SXSW every year that have a distinct connection to Austin. Either touching on famous subjects, featuring local talent or being shot around famous locales, the culture of Austin is not only ingrained in the festival, but through its content. Very rarely, however, are films willing to show the darker, more upsetting sides of the towns history. Studying one of the deadliest days in the cities history, “Tower” tells the story of sniper in the tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.

One of the most effective things that a documentary can do is recount an event in recent history where its subjects and players are still alive to tell the story. Though 16 were killed that day in August, hundreds of students, faculty and residents were affected and unexpected heroes were born.

In one of the most creatively inspired decisions in any film this year, director Keith Maitland decided to use animation as a storytelling device. Through written voiceovers which provide anecdotal thoughts from some of the players there that day, Maitland is able to re-enact its events using animation and actors. It’s such a unique way to tell this story, and almost none of its effectiveness is blunted by that fact. In fact, Maitland’s grip as a storyteller is so firm that even things like visceral sound design lead to extreme intensity. Further, Maitland pulls off something incredibly impressive towards the end of the film that takes its impact and boosts it tenfold.

As a telling of the first mass-school shooting in US History, director Keith Maitland’s “Tower” is equal parts historic and relevant. At just 82 minutes, the film s’s brief, but expertly crafted by a talented documentarian. It’s an important part of Austin history, that is told in perhaps the most visceral, respectful manner possible. It’s also without question, one of the most affecting films this year thus far.


November 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace
Directed by: James Vanderbilt (debut)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“White House Down”)

In 2004, CBS aired a 60 Minutes report led by Dan Rather that investigated the military record of then president George W. Bush. When it was revealed that some of the facts may have not been entirely accurate, Rather and his producer Mary Mapes face a firestorm of criticism and are investigated journalistic political bias.

As an ensemble piece, performances are pretty solid across the board. As Mapes, Blanchett continues her streak of fiery performances with another dominant leading role. Since the film’s main focus is on Mapes, it gives Blanchett plenty of screentime to work with and create easily the most nuanced character in the film. Other supporting actors like Stacy Keach and perhaps most surprising, Topher Grace make fine contributions, with Keach especially adding a fantastic sense of vulnerability.

Any time you have a film that is based on “recent” history featuring people who are still in the consciousness of the general population, you run the risk of being thrown off by dissimilarities between the figure and the actor. Even though Robert Redford is solid as Rather, he strikes no physical resemblances to him, nor does he make an attempt to do a Rather impression, which can be distracting for those who are looking for that sort of thing.

The entire treatment of Rather, in fact, is a little odd. He’s essentially a background player, and mostly deified when he’s not on screen. It’s an interesting way to treat the character, especially considering his career was deeply affected by the investigation. It’s clear from the get-go that this is Mapes’ story, though one can’t help that Rather’s perspective may have been a more interesting one.

One of the main issues that plagues “Truth” is that it spends an enormous chunk of time in hero worship mode, almost as if it is trying to protect the legacy of Rather. While it isn’t doing that, it’s showing the investigation into Mapes, which somehow fails to strongly hammer the point that Mapes and her team (Rather included) are being investigated for allowing political bias to influence reporting, rather than just merely going to air too quickly.

“Truth” is at its best when it digs into the details, procedures and tough decisions that go into investigative TV journalism. The on-the-fly edits, the deal brokering, the mid-interview changes are all among the best moments of the film. Where the film falters, however, is keeping all of this interesting over the span of two hours. Losing much of its storytelling steam, “Truth” can’t quite make the grade, even with a very good Redford and Blanchett.

Ep. 66 – Bridge of Spies, Beasts of No Nation, Manson Family Vacation, Crimson Peak, Goosebumps, bonus episode recaps, our Tucker & Dale screening at Drafthouse, and Christopher Nolan talks more pretentious nonsense about shooting on film

October 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast, Uncategorized

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In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys give their takes on “Bridge of Spies,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Manson Family Vacation,” along with quick reviews of “Crimson Peak” and “Goosebumps.” They also recap bonus episodes 8 and 9 of the podcast, featuring comedian Jerry Rocha and actor/author Greg Sestero, respectively, tease their “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” screening at Alamo Drafthouse, and discuss the latest pretentious comments made by director Christopher Nolan about the movie-going experience and how it relates to shooting on film.

[0:00-25:33] Intro, Jerry Rocha and Greg Sestero episode teases, Tucker & Dale screening info
[25:33-48:09] Christopher Nolan has more pretentious stuff to say about film and the movie-going experience
[48:09-58:03] Bridge of Spies
[58:03-1:10:53] Beasts of No Nation
[1:10:53-1:17:52] Manson Family Vacation
[1:17:52-1:20:48] Quick hit: Crimson Peak
[1:20:48-1:24:28] Quick hit: Goosebumps
[1:24:28-1:30:20] Wrap up/tease for next week

Click here to download the episode!


March 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francisco Carnelutti
Directed by: Justin Benson (“Resolution”) and Aaron Moorhead (“Resolution”)
Written by: Justin Benson (“Resolution”)

In a genre where the Hollywood industry standard seems to be creating a landscape where things pop out of nowhere and sounds are cranked up to create jump scares that would catch even the most prepared person off guard, there is something to be said for a horror film that doesn’t need to rely on cheap sensory thrills to be effective. In “Spring,” co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead use romanticism and sharp dialogue to put a unique spin on the horror movie.

After losing his mother, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds himself without a job and without any living relatives. In an effort to get away from everything, he packs his bags and winds up on the Italian coast. There, Evan has a few chance run-ins with Louise (Nadia Hilker) and begins to spend more and more time with her. As they develop a quick and intense relationship, Louise’s shows signs of a secret that could keep the two apart.

There are a lot of moving narrative pieces with “Spring” that inform the characterization and the love story. When the two are introduced, they are both guarded, with Louise propositioning Evan for sex and Evan insisting on a date instead. For Evan, the loss of his parents has wounded him and served as a reminder of his isolation. Louise, in turn, is caught up in her schoolwork and plays coy to keep from getting close. As Evan slowly starts to let down his guard, ramp up his pursuit and fall for Louise, she is interested, yet continues to keep a distance, creating a sense that something is being hidden and breeding tension.

Benson and Moorhead decided to make the script the star of the film, which is an idea that serves them well. Plot-wise, it’s a pretty basic story of a character escaping their normal life and finding love in a foreign land. What Benson does with his screenplay is inject smart ideas, humor, and vulnerability to make it a wholly unique experience. The flirtation and growth of their relationship is sweet to watch as Pucci and Hilker give life to Benson’s words with a pair of strong performances.

When the big reveal of the film comes, it is accompanied by sometimes wordy, but never condescending bits of exposition, which serve a great purpose. Rather than leaving the whole thing a mystery, Benson and Moorhead lay it all out on the table and leave it to the viewer to take the ride with them. It is also, in other ways, Benson and Moorhead’s best decision of the film. Without spoiling it, the duo decided to root their explanations in a fashion that makes the material accessible and vastly easier to connect to.

There are a few issues to be had with the construction of “Spring,” mostly in its slow start and some repetitive elements of the screenplay. It is all easily overlooked, however, by the strength of its central romance and relationship development. It is also beautifully shot on location in Italy, displaying its beautiful landscapes and enhancing it further with gorgeous aerial shots through the city and coastline. With “Spring,” Benson and Moorhead have crafted a horror film that ascends expectations and limitations for the genre. They’ve created a dialogue-driven romantic drama with plenty of substance and kissed with bits of horror that serve a narrative purpose. Benson and Moorhead are a visionary duo to watch in the future.

SXSW 2015 Review – Night Owls

March 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Adam Pally, Rosa Salazar, Rob Huebel
Directed by: Charles Hood (“Freezer Burn”)
Written by: Charles Hood (“Freezer Burn”) and Seth Goldsmith (debut)

After being taken home for a drunken one-night-stand, college football video coordinator Kevin (Adam Pally) realizes that he isn’t in the home of a new stranger, but rather that of his boss and mentor, Coach Will Campbell. To make matters worse, the girl he has slept with, Madeline (Rosa Salazar), has taken an entire bottle of Xanax in a suicide attempt. After discovering that Madeline has been having an affair with Coach Campbell, Kevin must fight to keep Madeline from falling asleep in order to keep her alive until more help can arrive.

Taking place almost exclusively on a single set, “Night Owls” is minimalistic and dialogue heavy. The script from Seth Goldsmith and Charles Hood is free flowing and the banter between Pally and Salazar is the best feature of the film, building chemistry while increasing the complexity of their relationship with every scene that takes place. It is extremely naturalistic in its portrayal of two strangers getting to know each other, and often times delightful to see them test each others conversational limits.

If there’s a reason above all else to see “Night Owls,” it is for the performance of Salazar. As someone who is under the influence nearly the entire film, Salazar takes this acting challenge head on and delivers a fantastic performance filled with humor, vulnerability and nuance that is certain to turn heads. The way in which she is able to balance the abrasiveness of the character with her intense likeability is brilliant, with her character building eventually taking precedence over her intoxication. If there is any justice in the cinematic world, Salazar’s phone should be ringing off the hook for future roles. That isn’t to say that Pally isn’t impressive in his own right. He’s able to step aside and play the straight-man to Salazar’s frequently off-the-wall character while at the same time, balancing dramatic chops, physical comedy and one-liner flare when needed.

There are a lot of thematic elements at play here including hero-worshipping, and the need to protect those we admire through any circumstances. Above all else, however, “Night Owls” is about two people coming together and going through years worth of drama in a single night. It’s a symbiotic relationship that thrives as Kevin is fighting to keep Madeline awake, and Madeline trying to awaken something in him. The script tends to shrink a bit in the bigger moments, including an ending that isn’t 100% satisfying, but “Night Owls” is a small scale dramatic comedy that works on the sheer talent of its two leads and is boosted even further by an admirable performance from Salazar.

For more coverage of SXSW 2015, click here.

Colin Hanks and Sean Stuart – All Things Must Pass – SXSW 2015

March 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

As the age of digital media continues to reign supreme, music and film stores and physical media production begin to shrink in size. Along with that, many institutions have found themselves disappearing. In the world of music, nothing was bigger than Tower Records. With “All Things Must Pass,” actor Colin Hanks makes his directorial debut telling the story of founder Russ Solomon and the rise and fall of Tower Records. Along with producing partner Sean Stuart, Hanks sat down with at the SXSW Film Festival following their world premiere where they discussed their Kickstarter campaign, the personal connection people have to Tower Records, the future of physical media and much more.

You guys just came from your premiere and this is kind of the perfect place to show this particular film. How did everything go?

Colin Hanks: Great!

Sean Stuart: We were delightfully surprised at the reaction in some of the places in the movie where we weren’t expecting large laughs and audience excitement. It seemed to go really well.

CH: I think in one regard, I’m really surprised by just how much the audience enjoyed it, and that’s coming from the perspective of…we’ve been working on this movie so long and it’s so nice to hear that. Yet at the same time, the audiences here, they are film fanatics. They are into it. They really love films, love documentaries and they are vocal. It’s always a rowdy crowd. When you combine the music elements of our film it made for a very special moment for us.

I am always interested to hear people’s Kickstarter stories, especially because the Internet being what it is, there can be a lot of negativity surrounding it. People don’t always embrace it, especially when it’s coming from someone who is established in some way. Did you encounter any of that and why was Kickstarter the way to go for you on this project?

CH: Kickstarter was sort of our last option. We had filmed a small portion of the film, put together a sizzle reel, and went around in 2008 trying to get financiers through the normal route and every politely said “No, there are much more important companies that are going bankrupt right now.” Keep in mind, this is when the economy went down. Everyone sort of said, “I don’t think anyone is really going to care about a company that went bankrupt 2 years ago.” That was a hard thing to hear and the film was on the shelf for a while. Like a lot of things, when you make a film over the course of 7 years, landscapes change, technology changes and this thing called Kickstarter came around. I was doing the Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick and he said “What about Kickstarter?” and I said, “I’m thinking about it.” It ended up really saving our film. People have a lot of misconceptions as to what my reality is like and that’s fine to a degree. But really what I focused on was that Kickstarter proved our theory that there were a great many people that cared about Tower Records and would put money towards seeing a film. Initially I always thought they’d just pay for a ticket but now they helped make it. It saved our film. It is not the only source of financing we had. We secured initial funds afterwards, but it is definitely a huge component of our film. Without that experience, this probably would have been a different journey for us.

SS: I think we quickly realized after we got that money from Kickstarter and started to use it and started to dig further into the story, we immediately knew that what we had in hand wasn’t going to service such an important story that needed more resources put towards it. That was when we stopped after the first Kickstarter campaign and decided that we really needed to focus in on getting enough money to bring this story to life the way it needed to be told.

I grew up in San Antonio, where we didn’t have Tower Records. I’m curious to know what your personal experiences were with Tower Records before heading into the film and if you have that connection that so many people seem to. 

CH: I wouldn’t have made a documentary about it if I didn’t. I have very vivid memories of buying cassettes and CD’s at Tower and spending time in the store. I bought concert tickets at Tower Records, I hung out in the parking lot of Tower Records. It was very much part of growing up as a music fanatic but also as a kid in Sacramento. For me, it is personal insomuch as music is an incredibly personal thing to people and going into Tower Records and buying a record and meeting people there and connecting with people there, the residue of that is you then have a personal connection to the store. “I remember there I bought this record” or “I remember where I bought that one.”

SS: One of the really unifying things we grew to find out about this company was once we were in the public eye of making this movie, the majority of the people we bumped into would turn to us and go “Oh my god, my Tower Records story is this. My hometown store is this.” It became this unifying theme of most people have some connectivity to this store and it affected their lives in a positive way. It became pretty clear to us that there’s an audience out there and there’s an awareness and interest in this company and what it did and how it achieved it.

There was also connectivity within the people who worked there. Everyone started off as a clerk and moved up the ranks to being executives. Was that something you uncovered as you started filming or how much did you know about that kind of thing going in.

CH: I didn’t know that much about that going in. The initial seed was really just the journey. Once I found out about the drug store, I went “That’s a pretty incredibly journey from there until the end.” That got us to look into Russ (Solomon, founder of Tower Records) and to reach out to him, but as soon as we sat down with him, he said, “You guys gotta talk with this other people. These are the kids that came up and really helped make tower special.” At that point, as documentaries have the tendency to do, they morph. They change. They evolve. It wasn’t even at a film at that point, but the themes then ended up becoming family, coming together, doing something special, doing something unique, creating those bonds and then it having to end. All good times have to end. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” That kind of thing.

SS: It was funny too, there’s a moment in the movie where Russ talks about everyone thinking he is crazy for opening this store in San Francisco that’s going to be just records in this huge space. And the number of times that Russ turned to Colin and I in this process and said “You guys are crazy. What you’re trying to do is crazy.” There’s this funny parallel of him and his beginning and our beginning of this documentary. He was such a great, willing participant and gave us everyone we needed to talk to and told us who the people were who were most important.

One of the things I found so interesting was that there’s a lot of great stuff that is said about Russ, but also you’re showing some things that backfired or didn’t work so well. Was it important to you to be able to show two sides of that? To show that he was an amazing forward thinking guy, but occasionally that forward thinking could get him into trouble.

CH: Yeah, obviously there’s certain things he says in the film that you could take what he says and turn it around at him in the late 90’s and say, “You didn’t change. You didn’t come up with ideas. You didn’t grow. You didn’t do the very thing you had done prior.” I hope that audiences are able to make that connection. But really the main thing for us was we were wanted to be able to pop the public misconception that the Internet was killed Tower, because that really is not accurate. It was a part of it, for sure, but it wasn’t the factor. There were a lot of other factors involved. I think that combined with the family aspects and the rise of the store, we really wanted to tell the story that not many people know and that’s not just the history but also really why it ended.

SS: Robert Rodriguez, who spoke at the filmmakers opening day lunch of this festival talked a lot about not being afraid to fail and getting out there and trying things and learning from those mistakes. You often learn more from the mistakes than you learn from the victories. I think Russ is a great example of that as it relates to that conversation we all listened to on Friday afternoon. He really was a guy that was not afraid to put himself out there and just go for it. I think that’s part of what’s in the DNA of this company. I think the way that the end of the film unravels, for viewers will be very interesting to watch. Because there’s so much happening and there’s so many factors at play. I think it’s a pretty delightful thing to witness and informative as well.

You were talking about the many things that culminated in Tower Records ultimately going out of business. You’re seeing music stores altogether slowly disappear and even stores who got involved in price wars like the film mentions, like Best Buy is down to one rack of CD’s. Do you feel like there’s any hope left for physical media or is everyone going to fall into this thing that Tower went through?

CH: No, because Tower was simply too big. I think that’s the big thing. I think there will be room for physical media. There are a lot of really great, big record stores. There’s Waterloo here in Austin, there’s Amoeba in Los Angeles, Rough Trade in Brooklyn. Those big stores offer a similar that Tower did. But it can’t exist on that huge scale anymore. Everything’s gonna be niche cultures now. I think one big store, that’s a lot easier to run than 192. I think its just downsizing. Those interactions still happen it’s just not as prevalent as it once was because now there’s too many other things, too many other distractions.

Do you feel like everything that happened was a perfect storm for Tower after you conducted these interviews?

CH: Oh yeah.

Had things gone differently, could they have survived the advent of mp3’s or these stores who were engaging in price wars; all of the factors that led into them shutting down?

SS: We talk quiet often about how if Tower had somehow found a way to scale themselves back down to the Broadway store in New York, the Sunset store in Los Angeles, and the Columbus and Bay in San Francisco, and kept a smaller footprint of physical stores, that they could totally exist today. It’s just hard to go backwards like that now with what’s happened. One of the things that’s not lost on me is when they first started, they sold used records. That was the first thing that they did and at the end, they didn’t do that. That’s a tough place to be in. Places like Amoeba really do exist pretty heavily on the trading and selling and buying of used merchandise. That’s a little bit of what the music industry looks like that for the physical collector or the physical music lover.

CH: I met a guy who’s in the music industry now, in distribution. He came up to me because he used to work at the Watt Avenue store in Sacramento and he knew I was making the documentary. I was talking with him a few weeks ago and he says “Man, if Tower just hung around for 2 more years and just scaled back, they would still be here.” I think that’s the thing that sticks in my craw is that if they had obviously adapted a little bit, started selling used records, closed some stores but kept some big mainstays open, they could have maybe rode it out. But they refused to change and they tried to keep all the stores open and that’s what ended up doing it. Obviously, other people came in but it is most definitely a perfect storm.

SS: Yes. Absolutely. That’s a good way to put it.

The most powerful section of the film is towards the end when you see people starting to be laid off, often times fired by their close friends. Can you talk about the importance of those scenes and whether there was any difficulty in getting the subjects to open up about this really difficult thing?

CH: It’s never easy to talk about parts of your life that you don’t want to talk about. Everyone was very open to speaking with us in honor of Russ. Russ told them straight up “Tell them the truth. Tell them what you want. Don’t pull any punches.” Once we tapped in and once they realized that we understood what is was that they went through and how hard it was for them, I think they became a little bit more at ease with the idea of talking about it. There were reactions that I was not expecting, but that’s that heart of the film. If we can get people into their shoes of, you work with your friends for 30 years and then you all have to fire each other, that’s a big thing. Also, Jim Urie’s story sort of foreshadows what happens to everyone else. All those things are done with reason. Our editor Dan Roberts is fantastic. That was the real heart, for me, because that’s what the store closing meant to the people at Tower. That’s what they went through. That’s a huge chapter in their lives that came to an end.

SS: It’s very identifiable. I think when you look at the themes we explore in this film, you can strip the music away from what they were going through and there’s a real identifiable thing that I think every audience can watch this movie and take something away from it. Whether they are a music a fan or if they don’t know anything about music whatsoever. There’s a human element in what those people went through and what corporate America and the average person working in the world looks like.

There’s a really great and powerful final scene in the film and you have a lot of great interview subjects who speak to what Tower Records meant to them and speak of it very fondly. How do you think the music industry would be different had it not been for Tower Records?  

CH: That’s a good question, but a hard question to answer. It was so integral to the west coast music scene in the 60’s and 70’s. It really was. When (record executive) David Geffen says he would go there 3-4 times a week, everybody in the music industry went 3-4 times a week. It was truly the place. It’s hard to imagine a music industry without Tower. There would still be a music industry, it just would have been very different. Tower really represented the merchandising business very well and helped come up with certain things that were revolutionary. At the same time, they represented all of music. I like to think of them as some of the best aspects of the music merchandising business because there was something there for everybody.

SS: I don’t think that you could put your finger on any other corporations that were as big as Tower were and look at them and think of them as a worldwide “mom and pop.” Every story was a “mom and pop” and it’s almost counter-intuitive to say something like that, but they truly were and that was unique and special.

For more coverage of SXSW 2015, click here.

SXSW 2015 Review – One & Two

March 16, 2015 by  
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Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Timothée Chalamet, Elizabeth Reaser
Directed by: Andrew Droz Palmero (“Rich Hill”)
Written by: Andrew Droz Palmero (debut) and Neima Shahdadi (debut)

Around 20 minutes into Andrew Droz Palmero’s narrative feature length debut, the film hints towards something entirely different than its initial moments. The audience doesn’t know the cause, reasoning, or consequences behind it, but it is an intriguing mystery that brings up a lot of curiosity and an equal amount of questions. Unfortunately, like many other pieces of story throughout the film, it is never fully paid off, which is a common theme in the visually impressive and narratively frustrating “One & Two.”

Walled off from other civilization, siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Ava (Kiernan Shipka) find themselves with unexplainable special abilities. With an ailing mother who encourages these abilities and an overbearing father who forbids them, Zac and Ava feel trapped and isolated and begin to wonder about life outside the confines of their farm.

Palmero, who after spending years as a cinematographer burst onto the scene as a director with last year’s acclaimed documentary “Rich Hill,” makes his mark in his narrative feature film debut with a keen visual eye and a strong ability for tone. Evoking filmmakers such as Jeff Nichols, Palmero is able to cultivate a quiet and unsettling atmosphere, matching the teenage angst and family frustration of his characters. There is also some solid, albeit slightly repetitive usage of special effects, with which Palmero is able to show restraint, doling them out sparingly without sacrificing effectiveness.

The faults of “One & Two” come at the hands of its storytelling and its refusal to answer many of the questions that come up. Palmero keeps his mysteries close to the vest, which is not inherently a bad thing, but so little is divulged throughout the course of the film and as a result, the conclusion or any of the events leading up to it lack any true satisfaction. The difficulty of latching onto anything in the narrative also leads to a collateral effect of blunting the brother/sister relationship and some of the thematic elements.

There’s a lot to admire about “One & Two,” and more specifically, about Palmero’s future as a filmmaker. He has an incredible ability to develop mood and atmosphere that should give him a prosperous career and make him a unique voice. On a micro level, however, “One & Two” never delivers on the potential of its set up. Palmero is clearly more interested in the journey than the destination. Consequently, this makes for a an unbalanced cinematic experience. As the minutes tick by and little of consequence is happening, interest beings to wane and one can’t help but feel like there should be more to it all.

For more coverage of SXSW 2015, click here.

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