Seventh Son

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov (“Nomad: The Warrior”)
Written by:  Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond”) and Steven Knight (“Locke”)

Since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came along 14 years ago, followed a decade later by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” popular culture has had all of its swords and sorcery needs met with high-end product, media that blends imaginative storytelling with committed performances and cutting-edge special effects. But that hasn’t stopped rival studios from attempting to make a quick buck riding the fad’s coattails. Now, it’s easier than ever to throw some actors in suits of armor and cloaks, ship them off to a Canadian forest, and film them swinging swords in the air while some special effects studio digitally renders a dragon or giant or whatever it is months down the road in a cramped Burbank office park. The latest knock-off is the dismal “Seventh Son,” and the only surprise in the film is how they managed to land both Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore for what has to be the worst-ever reunion of “The Big Lebowski” cast members committed to film.

Starting, as these things do, with a mysterious evil once thought banished returning to threaten the entire world, “Seventh Son” opens with a witch named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) transforming into a dragon in order to escape her mountaintop prison. You see, the Blood Moon is coming up, and when witches do something on the Blood Moon, they can rule the world or whatever. But she needs something? Or she’s just waiting for the days to pass until the Blood Moon rises? Frankly this plan is thinly sketched. Anyway, Mother Malkin calls upon her “Mortal Kombat” reject family of witches and warlocks to prepare for the inevitable attack led by Sir Gregory (Jeff Bridges with an accent like a bad Sean Connery impression performed through a mouth full of peanut butter), an unfortunately-named Spook, a breed of knight who specializes in hunting down supernatural creatures. Along for the ride is his new apprentice Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a seventh son of a seventh son, supposedly seven times stronger than the average man but really just sort of okay. And his mom is a witch too, so he’s got that. Ugh, this thing is a mess. Rest assured there’s a fight between the Spooks and the witches and it is all very boring.

While Barnes and his half-witch love interest Alice (Alicia Vikander) look pretty enough, absolutely no effort is made by either one to fit into the time frame, forgoing the genre standard British accents and speaking with flat American dialects and with the speech patterns and sarcasm of modern 20-somethings. At least they fare much better than whatever the hell it is Jeff Bridges is doing with his voice, chewing every single word like a piece of bubble gum and spitting them out through a sub-Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones” over-enunciated squawk. This aggression will not stand, man.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

August 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Safe Haven”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Locke”)

With the prominence and widespread popularity of cooking shows, cooking competitions and the Food Network, culinary-based entertainment has taken major strides in permeating popular culture. As such, works of fiction blended with stylized gorgeous looking plates of perfectly positioned food have been seen with more frequency. In a very successful example, Jon Favreau’s “Chef” was a seamless blend of great story and mouthwatering food porn that still stands out as a one of the top films of the year thus far.  As an adaptation of a novel from 2010, producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg bring together the cultural culinary clash in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”

After becoming displaced from their home in India, a family finds themselves in France looking to open a restaurant. With family recipes from his father (Om Puri) and mother in hand, the up-and-coming and talented Hassan (Manish Dayal) appears ready to take the reins and make his mark on the culinary world. But when they open their restaurant across from a world-renowned one owned by the ruthless and traditional Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the family must try to keep up with the competition.

In the film’s more light-hearted moments, Puri is able to display some moments of humor than stand out, especially in his interactions with Mirren. While it is definitely not her best performance, Mirren takes the weak material she is given and carries the film handily. Perhaps the most surprising performance is that of Dayal, who really displays a passion for cooking throughout the film. His romantic scenes (and the whole relationship plot altogether) are a bit flimsy, but it’s overall a pretty solid performance.

As the film moves away from the initial battle between the restaurants, screenwriter Steven Knight incorporates multiple plots, unraveling the focus of the film and leaving a mess. It becomes clear in the back half of the movie that it doesn’t have a true grasp on what it wants to be. Is it a love story? Is it a film about the old guard being lowered and a new one taking over? Is it a story about merging cultures? Is it a rags to riches story? All of these are themes that appear in the second half of the film, and the general direction of movie seemingly changes on a scene-to-scene basis.

As a film about a rivalry between restaurants and cultures, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is mostly harmless, if not a tad dull. But as the film continues and the aforementioned thematic confusion sets in, its major lack of cohesiveness becomes obvious.  Even further, only a fraction of the plots seem to be successful. When combined with an overlong running time, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” feels, on the whole, a bit superfluous.

Locke

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
Director: Steven Knight (“Redemption”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”)

If the only things you know actor Tom Hardy for are his growly role as Batman’s masked nemesis Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” or when he slummed it in the painful-to-watch romantic comedy “This Means War,” then you might not think Hardy is one of the best actors of his generation working today. Simply put: he is. From his frightening and under-seen lead role in the 2008 crime drama “Bronson” to his emotionally-charged and underappreciated role in the 2011 sports drama “Warrior,” it’s no surprise Hardy’s stock is rising fast. Another highpoint in the burgeoning British actor’s career comes by way of a film practically set up as a one-man show – and what a show Hardy gives audiences.

In “Locke,” a film written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”), Hardy commands the screen single-handedly as Ivan Locke, a construction foreman who is facing a life-changing decision on the eve of the biggest day of his professional career. Only hours before what is considered one of the biggest cement pours in European history, Ivan gets into his car and drives away from the construction site and towards London where a woman he had an affair with is giving birth to his child. Ivan may be the only indispensable employee for this massive task his construction company about to undertake, but he’s decide he’s not going to be there. His decision kicks in to gear a series of phone calls that ultimately make up the whole of the movie and give Hardy an incredibly diverse scale of emotions to work from.

From making calls to his anxious co-worker who can’t believe what Ivan is doing to his phone confession to his distraught wife who is at home with their two sons watching a big soccer match on TV, Hardy takes on a collection of genuine personalities with each conversation. Some of the most compelling dialogue Hardy delivers is when he looks into his rearview mirror and speaks to his imaginary father, which gives audiences a sense of the deeper reasons Ivan has decided to abandon one responsibility for the other. It’s a tough choice and Knight sets up the conversational narrative effortlessly. While the 85-minute film takes place entirely in one car and in one position, the intense nature of the exchanges between Ivan and each person in his life feel like they are always surging forward. Not only is this real-time film experiment suspenseful, especially for a storyline that has its main actor sitting in the same spot for the duration, the more complex themes and metaphors Knight uses to explain how fragile life really is never feel overworked or superficial.

While there are a few spots where “Locke” may feel a bit tedious to some moviegoers (if you can sit through Robert Redford doing absolutely nothing in “All is Lost,” however, you can sit through this), Hardy’s wonderful portrayal of a logical man who is about to lose everything that is important to him is the reason stay for the entire car ride. It’s easily one of the best performances of his career.

Steven Knight – Locke

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

When it comes to people talking on their cell phones in today’s modern world, director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”) finds the task all too fascinating.

“I think it’s a reflection of how we all live now,” Knight told me during a phone interview last week to discuss his new film “Locke,” which stars actor Tom Hardy. “Someone talking on the phone is in one place geographically, but their mind is somewhere else. There is an almost disembodied nature in the way people are now. Reality to them is what’s coming down the phone line.”

That’s definitely true for the title character in “Locke.” In the film, Ivan Locke (Hardy), a construction foreman, attempts to manage a series of calls coming into his hands-free car phone that will affect the rest of his life. While Ivan drives to his destination to “do the right thing,” the life he is leaving behind begins to come crashing down around him.

During our interview, Knight talked to me about writing the character of Ivan with Hardy in mind, his personal cell phone protocol while driving, and explain how exactly the production worked to get this film made. He also talked about his next screenplay about intriguing chess champion Bobby Fischer.

As a screenwriter and second-time feature film director, what kind of challenges did you face directing something you’ve written? Does taking on both roles automatically make you too close to your own work?

Yeah, it’s a danger you have to be aware of. The reason I wanted to do it is because whenever you write a film – even if you’re going to give it to another director – you have that film in your head written and edited and performed perfectly. Then you have to try and bring it out to the world. That’s when the trouble begins. You want to get as close as you possibly can to the film in your head and put that on the screen. To do that, you have to direct it yourself, especially with something like “Locke,” which is quite controlled. It’s as close as I’ve gotten to achieving that. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty close.

What did you find specifically different about writing “Locke” than you didn’t with past scripts you’ve written for other directors?

Well, the process is different. It’s unlike a normal process where I would write for a studio and I would get notes and different people would have their opinions. With “Locke,” what we did was sit around in a circle for five days with the script and the [voice] actors and Tom and we just read it and read it and read it to see how it felt. At the end of that process, it’s in a shape where you know how it feels and sounds. So, we went on the road and shot it. You try and set the pace before you turn the cameras on.

You’ve written some strong leading male characters in your career, especially for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character in “Dirty Pretty Things” and Viggo Mortensen’s character in “Eastern Promises.” Where do you start in the writing process to create someone like Ivan Locke?

There is always a basic idea about the character and then you just start fleshing him out. For this particular character, I wanted him to be the most ordinary man in Britain. I wanted him to be completely in the middle. I wanted him to be a man who was married and had two kids and works in concrete, the least glamorous profession you could imagine. I wanted to take that person and give him a problem that could happen to anyone. It’s not a kidnapping or a murder or a drug deal. It’s a mistake he’s made. Then I wanted to point the camera at what happens next. What happens isn’t going to make the local news, but for the people who are involved, it’s the end of the world. I wanted to try and do justice to the drama of what some people might think is an ordinary tragedy.

When does someone like actor Tom Hardy come into the picture for you? Is it during the writing process? Was he someone you were always thinking about?

There was something serendipitous about the making of this because I had the idea for the film and knew to pull it off we were going to need an actor who was extraordinary. I think Tom Hardy is the best actor that Britain has. By chance, I had a meeting with him about a completely different project, which he wanted me to write. While we were talking about that, I got to talking about [“Locke”]. When I wrote it, I was pretty certain he would do it, so I wrote it with him in mind.

Over his career, we’ve really seen the extent of Tom’s range as an actor. What specifically did you see from him that resonated with you the most? Was it something like “Bronson?”

“Bronson,” yes, but also “Inception.” Even when he’s on screen with other great actors, it’s him you’re looking at. He has that quality, which I don’t think can be learned or taught. There are certain people – for reasons I don’t think anyone understands – that other people want to look at. There is just something about them that people watch. I don’t think you can invent that. Also, he can transform himself entirely. Even though Ivan Locke is an ordinary man, it still requires a total transformation. That’s what is so convincing about him.

What were the most difficult logistical aspects of shooting a film like “Locke?” I mean, how did you pull something like this off?

We sort of had to break most of the rules of filmmaking. Normally when you make a film, there’s usually a logical reason not to do the most obvious thing. But with this, because of the level of control we had, I wanted to approach it in almost a naïve way. So, we got the car. We put it onto a low-loader truck and put three cameras in the car. Tom had a teleprompt, so he had the script in front of him on the back of the truck. We put the other actors in a conference room in a hotel near the motorway and opened the phone line between that room and the car. I would say, “Action” and we would set off. I would cue the other actors on when to make their calls in sequence. We would shoot the whole film from beginning to end and then take a break and shoot it again. In total, we shot it 16 times. We had 16 complete movies. Then, we took it to the editing room and cut it together.

You make it sound so easy.

Well, at the beginning, there was all this talk about sound stages and green screens, but in the end none of that really mattered. I think what people are looking at is [Tom’s] performance. The background and the [traffic] lights are meant to represent the chaos. Ivan is there in his bubble of light trying to create order. So, I didn’t think we needed to be strict on certain things the way other films are. Delivering a performance to the screen was the main task, I thought.

I love how Ivan sort of changes his personality depending on who is calling him and vice versa. Do you find that to be true for most people?

Everyone becomes an actor when they look at the phone when it rings and see the name of the person calling you. You become the person that deals with that certain person. When the next call comes in, you’re a different person. You can be the boss, the employee, the partner, the father. All of us have to crunch the gears because we don’t know what part of our life is about to come through. I thought it would be interesting to see, instead of a man going through his life, a life going through a man – a man in a situation of duress. This film wouldn’t have been feasible 10 years ago. That’s not how [we communicated] then, but that’s how it is now. I think that really lends itself to drama.

How did we ever live without caller ID, I wonder?

Yeah, I know. Now, you adapt accordingly.

Do you answer your phone when you’re driving?

I don’t. I try to keep that moment of driving sacred. It’s another aspect of Ivan’s story. Whenever you drive on your own, you’re alone in a particular way. Your body is doing the driving and your mind is free to think about the future and the past. I think people become very odd when they drive alone. They talk to themselves. They sing. They do all sorts of strange things. It was one of the reasons I wanted to write this story in the first place.

I think we’re in a cinematic age where most mainstream audiences just want their monthly dose of superhero movie and not have to really invest in something or someone on screen. Do you feel “Locke” is the type of film that expects a lot from its audience?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with those other films. That’s why they’re popular. People like them. But I do think people should have a choice. With this film, one of the things I’ve heard people say is that they forget they haven’t seen the other characters. So, some people actually invent those characters for themselves. I think that gives people a persona stake in the film. They are doing some of the work. They are using their imagination. With a lot of the films that have special effects and big budgets, the imagination is put on the screen for you and you just absorb it. With something like “Locke,” you’re invited to create. People relate this story to their own lives. I think it’s partly because they’re engaged in the process of making the film themselves.

You’re next film as a screenwriter is “Pawn Sacrifice” starring Toby Maguire as chess champion Bobby Fischer. How immersed did you have to become in the life of Bobby Fischer to capture this specific part of his story, which is his legendary match against Russian chess player Boris Spassky?

I read a lot of other people’s accounts about him. Most important to me was seeing footage of him being interviewed. I think that’s a great way of capturing the way someone is – the way they talk and move and act. He was an incredibly troubled individual. There are a lot of hooks into the character. I find his story fascinating, in particular the chess match in 1972, which was effectively during the Cold War.