Life Itself

September 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening
Directed by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)

Dan Fogelman, creator and executive producer of the hit NBC series “This is Us,” seems to have the television drama formula worked out better than most — a little yank at the heartstrings here, a heartwarming relationship there, a dash of solid character development and throw in some nonlinear storylines. After only two seasons, viewers and critics are eating it up.

As the writer and director behind the feature film “Life Itself,” however, using a similar template is a disastrous exercise in emotional manipulation and pretentious storytelling. It’s the kind of screenplay that needed a few more rounds of workshopping. As is, it should’ve been tossed into a bin of scripts destined to never be seen again.

It’s regrettable since Fogelman, whose first foray into filmmaking was 2015’s Al Pacino vehicle “Danny Collins,” assembles a more-than-capable cast led by Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Olivia Wilde (“Drinking Buddies”). Broken into five muddled and overwritten chapters, the film starts with an introduction to Will (Isaac), a sad sack of a man we see during his happier times when he’s courting the love of his life, Abby (Wilde), but also during his court-mandated counseling sessions with his therapist, Dr. Morris (Annette Bening).

In this chapter, Fogelman pulls out all the stops and crams the melodrama with so many unnecessary and contrived components, one may wonder if he thought he would even get to finish the last four segments. This part of the film includes a nod to the 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Will goes back in time to see random moments in the past that will likely shape his future. It’s one of the many times Fogelman needlessly reminds the audience that fate will catch up to everyone eventually.

Fogelman mucks up his clichéd screenplay even more by employing the storytelling technique known as the “unreliable narrator,” a term coined by literary critic Wayne C. Booth in 1961, which argues that a narrator of a story can’t be trusted because he or she is telling it from a single perspective. Fogelman essentially suggests that the storytellers he’s chosen to recollect their own memories might be remembering incorrectly. The decision to include this narrative device is a lazy choice that allows Fogelman to offer moviegoers various interpretations or perspectives of the same scene — scenes that ultimately fall flat.

As the film stumbles into the other chapters, Fogelman abandons most of his filmmaking gimmickry to connect Will and Abby to a host of other characters — their adult daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) and a family living in Spain — but by then it’s fairly evident where everything will end up. Unfortunately, wallowing in a cinematic abyss of tragedy, pain and victimization is better suited for fans of the “Saw” franchise.

Ready Player One

March 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) & Ernest Cline (“Fanboys”)

One could fairly say I’m an easy mark for what “Ready Player One” brings to the table, at least on a surface level. A quick look at how I, a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, live my day-to-day life would certainly lead you to believe I’d be all the way down for a movie with references to “Back to the Future,” the Bigfoot monster truck, Pizza Hut’s old logo, “Jurassic Park,” and even its ill-fated summer of 1993 competition “Last Action Hero,” for crying out loud.

Yes, I have inflatable “Star Wars: Episode I” promotional Pepsi cans in my living room to go with several McDonald’s Happy Meal displays, so I clearly love bathing in consumerist nostalgia. But I still like a good, fun story to go with my warm fuzzies, and thankfully Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” delivers.

Set in 2045 Columbus, Ohio after some unknown near-apocalyptic event (something called “The Corn Syrup Riots” is mentioned), the population spends its free time inside the Oasis, a virtual world that doubles as a giant online multiplayer game and sort of the next evolution of social media. One of those is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen who goes by the name Parzival while in the Oasis, his avatar a wispy, elven humanoid who drives a modified version of Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine. He and best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), a giant, tech-savvy ogre, are “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters,” which means they’re looking for a treasure left behind in the virtual world by its late creator, James Halliday (Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Mark Rylance). Whoever find’s Halliday’s Easter Egg gets control of the Oasis, which is why Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his company IOI are eager to find it for themselves in order to infinitely monetize the user experience. It’s up to Parzival, Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and their other Gunter friends to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Based on the best-selling (and highly divisive among nerds) novel by Ernest Cline (also a co-writer here), “Ready Player One” wisely broadens its horizons under Spielberg’s direction. Gone are the inside-baseball challenges that faced the characters in the book, esoterica like completing a level of “Dungeons & Dragons” or reenacting a scene from “WarGames,” instead replaced with huge race littered with recognizable vehicles from movies and video games and sequence inside a very famous haunted hotel where blood takes the elevator. Spielberg recognizes the appeal that filling the screen with pop culture artifacts brings, and even gets to play with some of the toys he first unleashed decades ago, like a ravenous T-rex that chomps at racers. But it’s far from the empty nostalgia that can make some recoil, instead a mondo-Spielbergian adventure in a future that it opines may not be as unlikely as it seems. Now, where can I get a Mayor Goldie Wilson re-election poster?

Ouija

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darn Kagasoff
Directed by: Stiles White (debut)
Written by: Juliet Snowden (“The Possession”) and Stiles White (“Boogeyman”)

It might be based on a board game found in any local toy store, but moviegoers will be hard-pressed to find anything remotely entertaining about the horror movie “Ouija,” a dull and completely apathetic cash-grab for game maker Hasbro and Universal Pictures. Just in time for Halloween, terrible horror movies like “Ouija” might be enough for an indiscriminate 13 year old to enjoy, but teenagers are bound to get more scares walking through a high school haunted house run by the band booster.

After the mysterious death of their friend, a group of five high school students attempt to contact her via the Ouija board she apparently played before committing suicide. Best friend Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke), leads the group through the ritual, which ultimately awakens an evil spirit who begins to kill each teen one by one. It’s a hokey story with forgettable characters and situations seen countless time before in other shockingly bland contributions to the horror genre. In the case of “Ouija,” it is so generic, the actual Ouija board could’ve been replaced with just about anything (a demonic cell phone, a possessed antique heirloom, a pair of dirty underwear, perhaps) and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the narrative. Add an wise, old Latina maid who know exactly what is happening to the teens because, well, she’s a wise old Latina maid, and just about every other horror movie cliché you can possibly think of (“Come on you guys, who’s doing that?” a character asks when the Ouija board planchette starts moving), and “Ouija” is about as brainless as you can get.

Written by the duo that brought audiences a handful of other unwatchable horror movies like “The Possession” and “Boogeyman,” it really shouldn’t be a surprise how awful “Ouija” turned out to be. It’s more disappointing that this movie is actually going to make people money. In doing so, remember to look out for “Chutes and Ladders: Path to Hell” next October.

Jared Harris & Olivia Cooke – The Quiet Ones

April 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Continuing the “revival” of horror films released by Hammer Film Productions, a company known most for its contribution to the horror genre between the 1950s and 1970s, “The Quiet Ones” is only the third film to get a full theatrical release since the studio resurrected in 2007 (the first two were “Let Me In,” the remake of the 2004 Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In,” and “The Woman in Black,” a gothic horror film starring Daniel Radcliffe).

In “The Quiet Ones,” actor Jared Harris plays Dr. Joseph Coupland, a university professor who carries out a series of unconventional experiments on a young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), to prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural.

During our interview, Harris and Cooke talked to me about their experience with the horror genre, what they personally believe when it comes to supernatural occurrences and what they know about the true story that inspired their new film. Harris and Cooke also discussed the other horror film each of them will be in this year, Harris in the remake of “Poltergeist” and Cooke in the Hasbro board-game inspired “Ouija.”

Being that your both British, how familiar were you with Hammer horror films? Where those films you grew up watching?

Jared Harris: Yeah, there is a fantastic library of Hammer horror films. They did Frankenstein films and Dracula movies and they even did a Jekyll and Hyde story. They did one of my favorite versions called “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” (1971) where the guy turns into a woman. They were really, good entertaining movies. They were sort of in the same spirit of the great [filmmaker] Roger Corman, but the British version. We watched them growing up as a kid. My father had a 16 mm projector and we used to rent them. He loved westerns and we loved horror movies.

Olivia Cooke: I wasn’t really that familiar. My mom and dad were. My mom was very excited when I told her I was going to be doing a Hammer film because she used to watch them and loved them as a kid. I’ve seen revivals like “Let Me In” and “The Woman in Black,” but I wasn’t familiar with the original ones.

Do you remember the first horror movie you saw when you were little, Olivia?

OC: Yeah, I remember walking into a friend’s house and her older brother was watching “The Ring.” It scared me so much! I had a TV in my room that was on this dresser and I had to keep the top drawer open in case Samara [the evil entity in “The Ring”] fell out of my TV so I would have time to run away.  Now, horror movies are spoiled for me forever because I know how they work.

So, Jared, stylistically, how is a horror story like this different from another movie you’re going to be in later this year, the remake of “Poltergeist?”

JH: They’re only similar in the sense that they’re in the horror genre. [“The Quiet Ones’] is the kind of film that has certain kinds of themes where you have to commit 150 percent or it won’t work. You have to leave your inhibitions in the trailer and prepared to step off the diving board and trust that it’s all going to work.

What about you, Olivia? You’re going to be in another horror film, too, later this year called “Ouija.” How is something like “The Quiet Ones” different from that?

OC: “The Quiet Ones” is definitely more of a psychological horror. It’s from a scientific point of view. I think the old-fashioned element makes it feel very authentic and feel like there is more at stake because you can’t blame what is happening on modern technology.

I know you watched Hammer horror films growing up, Jared, but is the horror genre something you followed as you made a name for yourself in this industry?

JH: I mean, “Jaws” is one of my favorite movies of all time. I think it’s a fantastic genre. In a way, it’s sort of similar to comedy because you know right away if it worked or not since you get a very visceral reaction from the audience.

Right, with a horror film you’re either scared or you’re not scared.

JH: Right, you’re either gripped in that way and have this instant visceral reaction or you don’t. It’s the same with comedy. You tell a joke and it’s either funny or it isn’t.

When you watch “Jaws” for the hundredth time, do you still get that visceral feeling you’re talking about?

JH: Definitely. But I watch that and admire the filmmaking also. I admire the construction. It’s fascinating to watch the way [director Steven Spielberg] constructed those scenes. They are often in three or four setups, which is astounding. He’s an absolute genius.

What about the first time you saw “The Quiet Ones?”

JH: I was rung out like an old sponge! I was drained by the end of it and I knew exactly what was going to happen!

Do either of you believe in the paranormal? Have you experienced it yourself, maybe?

OC: I’m always opened to it, but it’s never happened to me. Until it does, I can’t really believe fully.

JH: I haven’t experienced it myself, but I’m open-minded about it. (Laughs) I feel a bit left out, like they’re avoiding me or something. I have several family members who have experienced something and I’ve quizzed them on it rigorously to find out what it was or what they think it was. It’s fascinating. It’s baffling.

Care to share a story a family member told you?

JH: My brother told me a story of waking up one night and seeing a woman sitting at the end of his bed. He thought he had an intruder in his house. He was terrified. He woke his girlfriend up and she saw the person sitting on the bed. He called out to her, “What are you doing here?!” The woman stood up and leaned over them. He started waving his arms for her to get away and she disappeared instantly. I don’t have an explanation. That’s what is so fascinating about these types of stories. The human mind always wants to come up with an answer. Even without complete information, we’ll still try to come up with a theory.

So, I’m assuming the first question you asked your brother was about what medication he was currently taking, right?

JH: (Laughed) I asked all those questions!

Would either of you want to see a ghost in your hallway at 3 a.m.?

OC: (Laughs) Sure! Why not!? (Laughs) I’d love to experience that! I’d hope the ghost would think I was worth scaring!

JH: I would say yes, but with a caveat. I hope I wouldn’t turn into a complete coward and run out of the room screaming. You never know how you’d react to something like that.

I’m sure ya’ll know there is a lot of skepticism when it comes to horror movies like “The Quiet Ones” that market themselves as a film that is “based on a true story.” What do you know about the “true story” this film is based on and why people should believe this actually happened?

JH: Well, it’s based on a real experiment. That experiment was the sort of spark that fired up the writer’s imagination. All movies are a “what if” scenario, so that story set him off. The basic premise behind the experiment and the movie are the same. What is the supernatural? Does it exist? Where does it come from? Once they started constructing the story, they pulled in a lot of different sources. The biggest difference between the original experiment and this movie is that in the original experiment, the person in charge was a responsible and descent human being. When the sessions started getting sinister, he ended the experiment and sent everybody home. In the movie, of course, for dramatic effect, they put someone completely irresponsible in charge who says, “Keep going! Go deeper!” when bad stuff starts to happen.

OC: Yeah, Jared’s character is the one that goes to extremes. Nothing can really stop him. You have to take artistic license with that. But these experiments did happen in the 1970s. Scientists were experimenting on people to see if they could purge negative energy out of them. It’s quite scary. Obviously, it’s unethical. We wouldn’t dream of such a thing today.

Olivia, is it challenging on a physical level to play someone who is presumably possessed? The role itself must’ve taken some energy to complete if it called for screaming and contorting and things of that nature.

OC: There’s one contorting scene where I sort of flip and something comes out of my mouth. Apart from that, the demonic possession was more in the performance. The character was like five characters in one. For some reason, it was very easy for me to tap into all those different emotions inside. It was such a feast for an actress.

Jared, I wanted to get back to “Poltergeist” for a bit. It’s such a classic horror movie. Some people would say a movie like that doesn’t need to be remade. What would you say to them?

JH: I love the original. I remember it fondly when it came out. It sets a high bar. The remake definitely has a lot to live up to. I saw [the remake] recently and it definitely holds up. I tend to agree, but we’ll see.

Olivia, did you play with a real Ouija board for your role in “Ouija,” which we’ll see later this year? Isn’t that something most people are usually afraid to do in real life?

OC: Yeah, we played with a real Ouija board. I was always told not to mess with things like that. I often left the set wondering if I attracted some sort of energy I shouldn’t be messing with. Hasbro [Toy and Board Game Company] got me a Ouija board for the Wrap Party. I was like, “Oh. Thanks.” (Laughs) I really didn’t want to take it home with me. I think I left it in my hotel room.

Jared, you mentioned “Jaws” earlier. You got to work with director Steven Spielberg in “Lincoln” a couple of years ago. As an actor, what do you try to get out of an experience like that going in?

JH: First of all you’re privileged to be there. When you’re working with someone like Steven Spielberg, you’re trying to absorb as much of his knowledge as you can. You’re trying to learn about filmmaking. His knowledge of films is encyclopedic. His understanding of what works within a frame and what conveys momentum is completely instinctual. You’re in the hands of a master.

Olivia, you’ve been picked up for a third season of “Bates Motel.” What can we expect from your relationship with Norman as this second season wraps up and we get ready for a third one? How do you hope that friendship grows?

OC: I think their friendship will just get deeper and deeper. As Norman switches into this psychosis, I think Emma will play secondary to his mother. Emma is the closest girl he’s got besides his mother. As Emma tries and taps more and more into his life, I think it’ll effect Norman, especially if something ever happens to her.