Ep. 150 – Birds of Prey, Jose, and a recap of the 92nd Oscars

February 11, 2020 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod take a look back at the 92nd Oscars and what the Academy got right and what they didn’t. Also, they review “Birds of Prey” and “Jose.”

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 138 – Gemini Man, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Disney+ catalog, and Jerrod’s getting married!

October 16, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review GEMINI MAN and gush over EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE. They also talk odds and ends, like the massive catalog Disney+ is launching with, the unwanted ZOMBIELAND sequel, and their low expectations for Kevin Smith.

Oh, and Jerrod’s getting married!

Click here to download the episode!

10 Cloverfield Lane

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg (debut)
Written by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) Josh Campbell (“4 Minute Mile”), Matthew Stuecken (debut),

Back in 2007, a trailer was attached to the first “Transformers” movie that caught the attention and curiosity of moviegoers everywhere. It featured a party filmed handheld style that was violently interrupted with giant explosions and terror. It ended with the head of the statue of liberty rolling down a New York street. It also ended with no title card, and only a release date for when it would come to theaters. It became one of the top searched trends on the internet and eventually, more details would come to light on the JJ Abrams-produced “Cloverfield,” an inventive found-footage monster movie that helped kickstart a style that has, for better or worse, become a major trend in Hollywood.

Abrams, being a lover of all things mysterious, pulled another trick when another Michael Bay movie (“13 Hours”) had a mysterious trailer attached to it. This time, it had a title: “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Absent from anyone’s radar, the movie was set to come out in mere months. With few plot details known, the time has finally come to see if first, the movie has anything to do with its name sake and second, if its any good.

After being involved in a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up chained in an underground bunker. Brought back by doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), she is told that the air is contaminated and nobody above is alive. As she becomes closer to another person in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), they begin to realize that Howard may be more dangerous and crazy than they think. As they band together to try to find a way out, Howard does whatever necessary to keep them there.

The biggest draw to “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the performance of Goodman. It’s a little hammy and on the nose at times, but it’s still an unsettling and weird performance. Winstead is good for her part, getting to show some physical prowess as well as acting chops. The screenplay, however, does not allow for any meaty character moments to happen. We find Winstead’s Michelle on the run, but we don’t know and never find out why. We see Howard has a checkered family past but we don’t know and never find out why.

In fact, as the proceedings move along, it becomes abundantly clear that direct Dan Trachtenberg and company have no intention of answering any of the questions that they posed. Beyond the narrative, it becomes really difficult for any character study to be done when the audience is only aware of very surface level things. The film flirts with taking its most interesting character in Howard and shedding some light on his truth. It pulls the rug, however, and nothing becomes resolved. The result feels like a complete bait and switch, and perhaps worse, the creation of tension only for the sake of tone and not serving any narrative purpose.

That doesn’t mean the film is totally devoid of tension. There’s actually a lot of intense scenes of near escape or trying to figure out one another. It’s almost a prolonged chess game, only, at times, slow moving and filled with annoying red herrings. Without divulging spoilers, the plot takes a twist in its final act that is completely inexplicable. It feels pasted on, as if we are watching the beginning of an entirely new movie. It’s a shame that instead of exploring characters further and adding nuance to the story, the film decides to go in an even bigger “wtf” direction than what we have seen so far.

Fans of “Cloverfield” may find themselves let down that “10 Cloverfield Lane” has virtually nothing to do with the 2008 film. But after you crack through the potential disappointment of expectations vs. reality, “10 Cloverfield Lane” boils down to a lot of manufactured mood, repetitive MacGyver’ing from Winstead’s character, and an unsatisfying narrative.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser & Riley Stearns – Faults – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

For his debut feature film, director Riley Stearns didn’t have to look far to find his leading lady. As a starring vehicle for character actor Leland Orser and co-starring Stearns’ wife, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Faults” tells the story of a cult expert who, at a cost to her concerned parents, kidnaps a woman who has enlisted in a cult and attempted to “deprogram” her. In a sit down in Austin where “Faults” made its world premiere at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, the trio and I discussed the recent onslaught of cult films, how the film found its tone, and the one scene in the film everyone was intimidated by.

Riley, at the premiere last night you said that you had written the script about a year ago, which is a rather quick turnaround. I wanted to start off by asking what the process has been like, starting with a script a year ago moving through and having your premiere last night.

Riley Stearns: It’s surreal, in the best possible way. When something happens that fast, you almost don’t have time to process it, which is kind of nice too when its your first feature. It’s not knowing what to expect and trying not to have expectations period. When it happens that fast and when you get into South by Southwest, you’re just along for the ride and its really nice. Honestly, it’s a little bit of an out of body experience. Last night, I didn’t even know what I was saying during the intro. It was better than when I introed my short at Sundance. I was scared out of my mind at Sundance. Because I had gone through it with the short, I was a little better last night.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: You don’t have time to overthink it, which is a good thing.

RS: Overthinking. Exactly. You don’t do that.

I want to start off with the script. I know the script was on the Black List and for both Mary and Leland, as actors, what attracted you most about the script?

MEW: For me, it was reading the script as it was being written and, of course, I was along for the ride before it even started. Once I read the first few pages I was like, “Oh my god.” [Riley] had done these short films and they were all great and it was so clear from the first page of the script that he had found his voice and he had found what he was meant to be doing and the tone he was meant to be doing. I was so excited that he found that and couldn’t wait to read the rest of it. When I read the whole thing I was really excited and really scared to play this part. I really wanted to be right for him and for this script that was so incredible. I could not have been more proud and excited that we were going to go on this adventure together.

Leland Orser: It’s one of the best scripts I’ve read, period, and it’s one of the great characters. To me, it’s the classic tragic hero and there was no question in my mind it’s the kind of thing you’d give your right arm for. A script like this doesn’t come across your desk every day. I kept looking over my shoulder and wandering if I was being punk’d. “Who’s fuckin’ with me here?” you know?

RS: Not a lot of stuff, I’d say, is from one character’s perspective the entire time. For better or for worse, we’re with Ansel the entire time.

LO: There’s 69 scenes in the film and he’s in 68 of them.

As far as the subject matter goes, I’ve noticed lately that we’ve seen a lot more movies about cults. We’ve had “Sound Of My Voice” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” What exactly drew you to the subject of diving into cults and the people in them?

RS: There have been a lot of films in the past few years that do have that subject matter but even though they had done it, I knew the way that I wanted to do it and the tone and the world that I wanted to live in. I had something else to say about it and I love both “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Sound Of My Voice” and “The Master,” but I knew that there were other deprogramming films like “Holy Smoke” and “Split Image” and both are really great, but I didn’t watch those before I wrote the script. I was aware that they were out there but I didn’t want to be influenced by them or say I can’t do this because they already kind of did it. That’s something that you get in your head and say “I have to be different.” Instead, I let it live and do its own thing and I think that there’s more than enough room in the world of cult films for another cult film. I think people enjoy it and I think people are innately fascinated by cults. That’s how you get involved with groups like that. There’s a mystique about it that is weird and creepy and interesting. There’s so much stuff there to work with.

I want to talk about the tone of the film, especially with Leland. A lot of the funnier scenes in the film are with your character but you almost play them pretty straight. What did you think of the tone and implementing comedic elements and finding the right balance?

LO: It was very challenging. We talked a lot about what influences, what inspirations, what characters, what films to reference. We had those in place. We’d watch them. We’d talk about them. We talked about what we wanted to be influenced by from particular sources. I knew all along that humor was important. You can do a film humorless and go for virtual hardcore stripped down drama. As an actor, to play humor or comedy, you have to play truth. It’s only funny because it’s true. It was a fine line to walk. I had in the back of my mind Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I didn’t want to, like, do a funny walk but it was something silent about the pathos of Ansel. They were out there somehow in my sphere of consciousness. If you can establish the tone in the beginning, you can take the audience anywhere. If you can get them laughing, which means that they are feeling for the character, you can do whatever you need to do with them for the rest of the ride.

So you all felt that the opening scene was pretty essential for developing the tone?

RS: The first 10 pages I ever wrote of this movie was that scene and it didn’t change at all. That was always the movie to me. That opening scene tells you exactly what you’re in for. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s a little violent at the end. It’s also a deliberate shot. We want to tell you there are going to be a lot of long takes, and it’s performance driven. It kind of said everything I wanted to say. But when you’re writing it, you’re not thinking about it that way. You’re just like, “This is how you set up like Ansel.” When something like that just happens it’s nice and it definitely influences the rest of the film.

LO: When we shot it, we knew we were going to do it in one take. We knew there was a zoom. We knew there were certain foods and condiments that needed to be consumed. You know, you just sort of go, “Okay, let’s try it and see what’s gonna happen.” And it’s a long sequence. At the end of it, when it was finished and Riley yelled, “Cut,” everybody burst out, including myself, laughing because it was so fuckin’ funny.

RS: People we’re applauding. There were crew members who were applauding. It was just raucous. I posted an Instagram with you from that but with you blurred recently and one of our crew members posted “that was my favorite scene that I’ve ever shot in a film.” So we had fun with that. We shot pretty much chronologically so it was near the beginning of the shoot so it set a good tone from the crew.

LO: And it made us laugh.

RS: Yes. Which is good. And very important. And you didn’t have to eat too much that day. You can be the first person we tell that Leland ate 30 vegan pancakes in the diner scene and…

LO: …and didn’t hurl.

That’s impressive.

RS: And I felt terrible. But it was him! I kept saying “On this shot, you’re not actually on screen.” And hes like “I’ll eat anyway.”

Everyone: (Laughs)

LO: They were good!

Mary, in your performance, you get to show a lot of sides and a lot of different emotions. What was it like playing a character where you could change from scene to scene?

MEW: It was really great. It was simultaneously really exciting for me and really scary for me because I just didn’t know if I would get it right or not when we were working on it. It seemed really daunting to me to get all that right without going into some sort of culty territory. I was really afraid of it coming across as spacey or cliché. But as soon as everything came together and the cast came together and the costumes and the sets…as soon as I walked into that environment I was like, “Oh. This is just what it’s supposed to be.” And the rest of it was so stress free and fun. I enjoyed every moment of it and got to revel in this character. It was one of the best set experiences, acting experiences that I’ve ever had.

What about the shoot? Most of it takes place in a hotel room or around the complex. Was it a fast and quick shoot?

RS: It was an 18-day shoot, pretty much. It moved fast. We had to know what we were going to do. We had to be prepared. Everyone knew their lines. You show up, you do the work and that’s how I like to work. If we’re going to do it, let’s just do it.

Leland, when we meet your character he’s kind of in a bad spot, so to speak. Did you feel at any point he was in control and the cult expert he claims to be?

LO: The thing with Ansel is that just when you think he hits his bottom, he finds another bottom and another bottom that goes lower and lower and lower. When we meet him, his life is out of control and yet he is in his own way controlling all the things that he can control. We slowly watch him really completely lose control. But at a certain point in the film, he’s 100 percent in control. When he meets Claire, he’s 100 percent in control. But we find him at a very low point in his life. Ten years past the loss of his career and his wife but then he meets her parents and recaptures control.

RS: So he thinks.

Were there any particular moments from the script that you really looked forward to shooting and one that you saw that might be difficult to shoot?

RS: I think we all know what the most difficult scene was.

MEW: The most daunting scene.

LO: There’s one scene in the film, [the bathroom scene], that is 12 pages long and it loomed.

MEW: It was towards the end of the shoot.

LO: It was in the pit of my stomach the entire time. Like, “It’s fine, it’s not until next week.”

MEW: And we had always talked about rehearsing it too and we were like, “We have to rehearse that scene. We gotta get that scene down.” We just never got around to rehearsing it. Then we got to the day and said, “Okay. We’ve never said these lines out loud to each other. Let’s just get out here and do it.”

LO: I dreaded it. I was scared of it.

RS: You guys did it. And it works because you guys were afraid of it, I think, and you gave it that respect that it needed.

LO: It’s an entire movie in 12 pages. It’s an entire narrative arc within the film. So many things happen in that scene and again, the responsibility…you just want to get it right. When the camera is on and images are being captured, you want to be where you’re supposed to be when that’s happening. All of you, together. All the technical aspects. The performances of both actors. It’s very, very, very intense.

RS: My scene that I was looking forward to shooting the most was this scene. (Laughs) Because as a director when you get to sit there and watch two people perform, you don’t have to do anything. I mean, you do. But when they’re getting it and you get to sit back and watch things work, it couldn’t be any cooler. It’s the best thing. When they surprise you, it’s the best.

“Faults” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

The Thing

October 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen (debut)
Written by: Eric Heisserer (“Final Destination 5”)

The continuing epidemic of remaking and rebooting films has overtaken Hollywood and shows no signs of slowing down.  That many of the films selected for a modern treatment have been dormant for decades and aren’t crying out to be re-told seems to be of no concern. Coming nearly 30 years after John Carpenter’s version (a remake itself), “The Thing” serves as a prequel to the cult classic and tries to turn the original’s lasting appeal into box-office success. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a cheap imitation of the original, leaving out much of what made the 1982 version effective and failing to add anything to the mythology.

When a Norwegian scientific team stumbles across a creature frozen in the ice of Antarctica, leader Dr. Sander Halverson (Ulrich Thomson) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) seek the help from paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to excavate it. The team is flown in by helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) and awakens the frozen alien, which they soon find out has the ability to replicate DNA and take the form of a human. Paranoia and terror set in as the team tries to figure out who among them is not who they appear to be.

Winstead is solid as the flame-thrower wielding Kate. Her character, who is thrust into a role of leader when no other options arise, is really the only one who shows depth and growth as she is transformed into a strong and unforgiving leader when her life and the livelihood of others is threatened. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting characters are underdeveloped and don’t add much to the overall story. Even the second-billed Edgerton isn’t given a strong character to work with, as he is off screen for significant portion of the movie and becomes just another pawn trying to survive when he finally finds his way back to the narrative. Part of the reason that no characters have the chance to develop is that they are picked off before the audience can muster any sort of feeling on them.

In contrast to the original installment, “The Thing” makes use modern CGI technology for its creatures, attack scenes, and effects. Strangely enough, the tired and bland special effects aren’t anywhere nearly as effective as the primitive makeup seen in Carpenter’s version. Groundbreaking at the time, Carpenter’s usage of makeup was perfectly disgusting, oozing with slime and finding that perfect mix of grotesque and creepy. In fact, because the aliens sometimes looked primitive and moved awkwardly, it was perhaps even more unsettling. With this 2011 version, the effects do little to separate themselves from anything else seen in any other science fiction or horror film. Simply put: the new creatures aren’t nearly as disturbing as their predecessors.

There is an underlying feeling of redundancy that goes along with “The Thing.” Although touted as a prequel, and not a remake, it is only so in a chronological sense. The premises, tones, and character arcs are extremely similar, and even borrows a few plot points from the original. The third act of the film very briefly toys with the idea of delving deeper into the origin, but quickly abandons it in a confusing and unnecessary scene. Sure, there are a few cheap jump scares and plenty of action and kills, but the film never makes the audience tense enough to create a true sense of dread.

While there is a post-credits treat that ties this film with the 1982 version quite nicely, fans of Carpenter’s version are given something they’ve seen before. The slick, computer-generated effects are no improvement on the grisly classic, and the film’s odd placement between a remake and a prequel makes it an unimaginative and forgettable.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

August 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) and Michael Bacall (“Bookies”)
While it might be easy enough to dismiss a movie adapted from a comic book or video game in some cases as too cartoony or CGI-heavy, the liveliness radiating from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – even when beyond ridiculous – is exactly the type of fanboy flair director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) was born to create. It’s unfortunate, however, that “Scott Pilgrim” substitutes a sensible script with scattershot scenes of hyper-unrealistic imagery set in an alternate universe void of any real emotion.

In the film, adapted from the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera in a very familiar, geeky role) spends his time making due with his cute, high school-aged girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and rocking out in his band Sex Bom-omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference for those keeping score).
When Scott meets hipster Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he doesn’t want anything else out of life except to make her his girlfriend. The problem is that Ramona has more than her fair share of baggage. Waiting in the wings as her and Scott’s relationship begins to blossom is Ramona’s seven evil, superhuman exes (six boys, one girl) that Scott must battle and defeat if he wants to date her.

But who really wants to see six separate fights (one is a 2-on-1 against twin brothers) when neither the hero nor the villains are very likeable? Why should “Scott Pilgrim” get a pass when so many other movies (even ones based on video games) are criticized for taking the video-game style too literal?

“Scott Pilgrim” feels suffocated. It’s a movie that is well aware of the gimmick it’s selling, but one with aspirations for something with more substance and character development. Part of that problem is, of course, that the entire “Scott Pilgrim” comic book series has been shrunk to fit into a single feature. It’s a valiant attempt by Wright and Universal Pictures, but one that ultimately can’t carry the load as everyone wears out their welcome.

As Scott fights the exes one by one (Spoiler: He kills the vegan ex-boyfriend with half-and-half…sigh), you sort of forget what he’s fighting for in the first place. Sure, it’s a clever idea if you’re into the whole save-the-princess storyline, but ultimately you’ll wish “Scott Pilgrim” would find one of those portals that’ll transport him to the final level so he can just get it over with already.