Frank

September 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson (“What Richard Did”)
Written by: Jon Ronson (debut) and Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”)

After heavy career-defining roles in “Shame” and “12 Years A Slave,” a comedic side is just about the only thing we haven’t seen from Michael Fassbender. With Lenny Abrhamson’s musically-skewed dark comedy “Frank,” Fassbender gets a chance to shine in a completely new fashion.

Aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) doesn’t have much in the way of musical or songwriting talent, but stumbles across an opportunity to play in a band. The band is led by a strange, but kind-hearted man named Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wears a giant fake head at all times, with the reason and true identity not known by anyone. As the band retreats to write and record an album, Jon begins updating on their progress and videos of their retreat on social media. When the band gains notoriety from its videos, they are provided an opportunity they might not be ready for.

With how talented Fassbender is, it is no surprise that he is excellent at comedy. What is truly impressive is how adept he is at physical comedy. Often flailing, getting laughs from well-timed looks, or excitedly describing his facial expression from under the fake head, Fassbender is able to mine an incredible amount of infectious personality and humor despite having his head and face covered. Some of the funnier bits also come from the absurd props that Frank needs to get by with the fake head, like long stretching headphones or super long straws to drink from.

As a musical film, there isn’t much to write home about as the music is intentionally bad and can occasionally become grating. Still, as Jon builds the hype of the band through Twitter and YouTube, the elements of being in a band and going through the song-writing process is interesting to watch even if the music is often atonal noise.

Tone-wise, “Frank” isn’t completely funny, but rather has a hint of sadness present throughout. Overall, however, the film has a certain sweet streak running through its veins and is a frequently interesting look at mental illness and seeking fame in the digital age. It doesn’t work in every aspect. The film’s first half is far better than the second and there are some tonal shifts that are a little jarring as the film goes from dark to silly at the drop of a hat. There is also the major issue of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character being entirely off-putting, with every one of her scenes coming off as extremely annoying. Still, Fassbender carries “Frank” and gives it a lighthearted touch that makes the film easy enough to digest.

Richard Linklater & Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

While most people would call writer/director Richard Linklater’s new independent movie “Boyhood” one of the film industry’s most ambitious projects, the Austin-based, two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker describes it a bit differently.

“It was just such an impractical and crazy idea,” Linklater, 54, told me after “Boyhood” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March. “It sort of defies typical, organizational thinking.”

Linklater, best known for films such as “Dazed and Confused,” “School of Rock” and the Before trilogy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight”), shot “Boyhood” over the span of 12 years with the same cast. The approach allows audiences to witness the film’s lead character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow up right before their eyes. The film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents who try their best to create a stable upbringing for Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), despite life’s mad curveballs.

During an interview with Linklater and Coltrane, we talked about what it was like growing up in front of the camera over the last 12 years and how the film evolves when the maturation process kicks in during Ellar’s teenage years.

Richard, “Boyhood” is sort of in the same vein as your Before trilogy except that you didn’t make three films out of this story. Did you approach the projects the same way?

Richard Linklater: You know, they are two very long, time-based projects, but they’re very different. The Before trilogy had some gaps in time. “Boyhood” was a constant thing. It demanded to be told this way and required constant attention. With the Before films, I didn’t have to think about the next one for seven or eight years.

Ellar, you were only six years old when you started making this film. When did you realize how ambitious Richard’s idea actually was?

Ellar Coltrane: (Laughs) There definitely was a gradual realization about just how massive it was and how important of a part of my life it was. I’m really grateful that I was given the chance to work on a piece of art like that.

Richard, the script was completed prior to shooting, but it seems like you were open to adding to it. I mean, you include a scene referencing Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, which I’m sure you didn’t know would happen six years prior.

RL: Yeah, one year we were shooting in the fall during the Obama/McCain race and I thought the moment was worthy of adding in. Even if it didn’t end up being a huge cultural moment, it was real. We were just trying to be honest about that moment. The film wasn’t trying to reflect on too much pop culture. I wanted to reflect on what it’s like as a kid growing up and having everything coming at you—from the culture to the way you pick up on your parents’ politics. Everything is sort of in your face.

You know, most directors would’ve simply cast three or four actors to play Mason at different ages.

RL: I think I just have more patience. I thought there would be more beauty this way. I mean, it’s completely understandable to do it the other way. You cast an actor as a kid and then you cut to a new actor as an adult. It only makes sense.

Yeah, but then sometimes they don’t even look alike.

RL: They often don’t! I mean, I had to watch “Goodfellas” a few times to believe Henry and Tommy as kids grow up to be Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci since Pesci is older than Liotta in real life. But it doesn’t bother me. It’s all about the storytelling. But, yeah, “Boyhood” was just a whole different methodology. I was just trying to get in touch with that maturation process and make it feel very real and organic.

I really got a sense of that. It feels like it becomes more and more Mason’s story as the film moves forward year by year.

RL: Yeah, as the film goes on, it becomes less about Samantha and the parents. When you’re a kid, you’re just being dragged along by the family. You don’t have your own motor. I knew as they years went by, it would be his story and everyone else would become supporting characters.

The music you chose is such an important aspect of the film. Why did you decide to set “Boyhood” to a soundtrack rather than, say, a traditional score?

RL: I had to work through so many ideas to get this film where I wanted it to be. You couldn’t really impose anything on this film, so a score really didn’t work. I wanted songs that would evoke that period and make them from the characters’ point of view.

Ellar, watching the finished product for the first time, did you recognize all the songs Richard uses? I mean, you were only six years old when Coldplay’s “Yellow” came out, which is how the film opens.

EC: Not all of it. I think the music was chosen because it was popular and people resonate with it. It marks that time and might remind you of something. Later on, some of it is more of the things that I remember, but a lot of it is like, “Oh, that’s that song I heard on TV.”

Something that really struck me was how you capture how easily people come in and out of each other’s lives. One day they’re there, and the next day they’re gone.

RL: Yeah, I mean sometimes people move and you never see them again. I wanted this film to feel like a remembrance of the present. You mean to keep in touch, but you never really do.

Do you think that’s how things are going to be for you in real life, Ellar? I mean, people move on. Are you they type of person who signs friends’ yearbooks at the end of the year with things like “Keep in touch” and other phrases like that?

RL: Ellar is not the guy to ask about that.

EC: (Laughs) Yeah, my life has been very bizarre. Yeah, that definitely is the case. There are people who you spend all this time with and then suddenly you never see them again. It’s just how things are. It’s very different for me because I’ve lived in Austin my whole life and everyone I know lives here. Even if someone leaves my life in a direct sense, they’re still around.

Did you ever think as another summer rolled around, you didn’t want to work on the film anymore?

EC: I don’t remember ever not wanting to do it. As I got older, [Richard] made me more of a collaborator on the process. I just became more excited and less passive. I mean, when you’re young, even if you think something is cool, you really don’t know how to engage.

RL: Yeah, a film production is pretty overwhelming, especially for a kid. As you educate yourself and know what everyone else is doing, Ellar became more comfortable and a bigger part of it.

How does it feel watching yourself grow up on screen like that? It must be surreal.

EC: (Laughs) It’s unspeakably surreal.

RL: Yeah, not a lot of people have experienced this. People have been in documentaries like this, but not in [a feature film].

EC: Yeah, how does one witness one’s self aging? I get to do it to a certain extent.

RL: Ethan and Patricia have their own version of aging in the film. But you and Loreli have a full-on, growing-up, maturity thing that’s unique.

Ellar, do you see yourself in Mason. Is that you? Are you acting?

EC: It’s very much both. It goes back and forth a lot, especially as the character gets older. I’m more conscious and can craft my ideas. That’s the weird thing. There are moments that are very much me and moments that aren’t so much.

RL: Just like any actor, you’re creating a parallel character and finding your way emotionally into a character that is created that isn’t you. That’s what we wanted to do every year. Any good actor gives all of themselves to a role.

So, Richard, any chance you go into another 12-year production and return to SXSW 2026 and premiere “Manhood?”

RL: (Laughs) I don’t know about that. I was sort of on this grid for years 1-12 for this one – like first through 12th grade. I’m not sure what the next 12 years would look like.

Would you consider revisiting the Before series and making a fourth film somewhere down the line?

RL: You know, it would be cool to do something really conceptual and take 30 years off and then come back and do a fourth one. That just might be my fate.

Boyhood

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)
Written by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)

On paper, the idea of producing a film with the goal of shooting it over 12 years, following a child actor as he ages and telling the story of a boy’s growth from kindergarten to high school graduation might sound crazy, or at the very least daunting and difficult. In fact, it might even be considered the ultimate creative risk, in a world where people discuss and value risk-taking in Hollywood. Leave it to Austinite Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight,” “Bernie”) to not only attempt this project, but to produce such stunning results.

It is difficult to pin down a proper synopsis for “Boyhood,” as it is more of a longitudinal character study than anything else. That isn’t to say it is without plot. While people might assume the film is solely about the process of growing up, it is far more than that. The film is at its most fascinating when it explores family dynamics, especially with how parents and children deal with divorce and newly blended families. The film centers on Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who began filming when he was seven years old.

In the scenes or vignettes throughout the film, we see Coltrane slowly age and encounter new issues and experiences as he begins to mature. The growth is also seen in Coltrane’s talent. Audiences will get the opportunity to literally see an actor grow before their eyes. As his relationships with his parents become more nuanced, so does his performance and by the end of the film Coltrane is a veteran, commanding the screen with a wealth of personality.

The film also follows veteran actors such as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke and their characters growth through the course of 12 years. Hawke’s character is particularly fun to watch as he evolves from the young, cool dad into a mature middle-aged adult. There are so many details that Linklater brings to the table in “Boyhood,” none better than an incredibly smart use of music from the time period the film was shot to clue the audience in on the year. This serves as a gentle reminder that the film was shot over more than a decade without being aggressive about it.

What Linklater pulls off in “Boyhood” is nothing short of astonishing and it is easily one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. It is a fascinating meditation on growing up and is likely to strike a nerve with many audience members. Funny, moving, and oozing with personality, “Boyhood” is a film that is incredible beyond just its technical and logistical feats. It feels more like an experience and an epic journey as it instantly becomes a hallmark coming-of-age film. While there are a thousand reasons why “Boyhood” shouldn’t work, it excels in myriad ways.

G. Galdo, A. Macqueen & A. Hernández – The Legend of Shorty

May 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood

Two weeks before co-directors Angus Macqueen and Guillermo Galdos’ film ‘The Legend of Shorty,’ a documentary on Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, was supposed to make its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March, Galdos received some startling news.

“Somebody I knew very well said to me, ‘They captured Chapo,’” Galdos said. “So, I called to confirm it and then called Angus and then the panic attacks started.”

Macqueen and Galdos quickly began to edit what they thought was a finished project, a film about Guzmán’s rise in becoming Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin and being named Public Enemy No. 1 by the Chicago Crime Commission in 2013. In fact, ‘The Legend of Shorty’ had already been shipped to Austin, Texas for the festival. Both Macqueen and Galdos, however, felt including Guzmán’s arrest in the film was critical – even if they had to do it at the 11th hour.

During an interview with me at SXSW, Macqueen and Galdos, along with well-known Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, talked about how they felt when they heard about Guzmán’s arrest on February 22 and explained why they don’t believe the official story of his capture.

When you found out on February 22 that Chapo Guzmán had been captured by Mexican authorities, what was going on in your mind?

Angus Macqueen: There was a bit of a panic. Well, we held off as long as we could to deliver the film to the festival. The truth is that we were still potentially up for an interview with [Guzmán]. He never absolutely said no to us. We had made contact with him on two occasions and he sort of pulled out. Looking back, I don’t know if he knew what he should say. He left everything sort of open just in case.

But you ended up submitting the film, correct?

Yeah, we ended up delivering the film [to SXSW]. Two days later I got this phone call from Guillermo. We had made a film we thought was complete. We all agree the film is stronger now. Before, we had made a film about a guy who doesn’t exist. Not having a modern image of him at the end of the film left you slightly unsatisfied. Now, there he is. Seeing him and what he looks like today gives a finish to the film we hope works.

Does the idea of Guzmán being captured feel real to you? I mean, you’ve followed this man’s story for so long as he evaded authorities, and now it’s over.

AM: I think we were all quite surprised. I don’t think it’s completely clear why he’s no longer needed [by Mexican authorities]. I don’t think any of us believe the official version of how he was captured. He was at a beach resort with his wife and his two children and one guard. That just doesn’t add up in any coherent way.

Guillermo Galdos: Someone [like Guzmán] would have dozens of people around him with guns. It’s difficult to understand why he would be alone in a resort in Mazatlán when he knew [authorities] were looking for him. The safest place for him to be would’ve been up in the mountains. He knew that.

Anabel, how did you feel when you found out Guzmán had been arrested? You’ve been reporting on Mexican drug cartels your entire career. It must’ve felt a little surreal for you.

Anabel Hernández: I wasn’t surprised that he was in Mazatlán. He liked to be around the parties and in the scene and around all the beautiful women. But it’s absurd to believe that he was captured with only his wife and two little girls. It’s just impossible. Chapo always used to say that he would rather be dead than go to jail again. I think [Mexican authorities] made an arrangement with the U.S. government or with the Mexican government to capture him. When I saw him being arrested, it was shocking, but it felt like a movie. It felt fake.

Do you think his reign is over or will he be able to run the cartel from prison?

AH: He can still operate [the cartel] from jail. He did it the first time he was put in a maximum security prison. The jail is just going to be another office for him to work out of.

Angus, what were you hoping to ask Guzmán had he agreed to an interview?

AM: We wanted to ask him about how he ran his business. He clearly is an astute man and clearly knows how to talk to people and knows how to persuade them. He also understands markets and how they work. We were not going ask him, “How many people have you killed?” No, we wanted to talk to him about his business and how that worked. I would’ve also asked him why he wanted his wife, Emma, to deliver his two children in Los Angeles and why he wanted them to be American citizens.

 For more 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival coverage, click here.

Joe

April 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter
Directed by: David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche”)
Written by: Gary Hawkins (debut)

Though plenty of independent filmmakers shake things up with studio films and projects outside of their wheelhouse, few have taken the path of director David Gordon Green. After starting out with hard hitting independent films like “Snow Angels,” Green spent three years exclusively directing broad, studio comedies. Some of his work was well received, like 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and a dozen episodes of the brash HBO series “Eastbound & Down,” while others like “The Sitter” and “Your Highness” were critically panned and box office duds. After getting back to his independent roots with last year’s “Prince Avalanche,” Green continues down the small-scale path with “Joe.”

After bouncing from town to town with his family, Gary (Tye Sheridan) lands in a small Texas town looking for work. When he stumbles across some workers in a forest, Gary gets a job with Joe (Nicholas Cage) and the two quickly form a bond with one another. But when Gary’s alcoholic and abusive father puts Gary and his family in danger, Joe must decide if he should overstep his boundaries and help.

Despite the fact that he is one of the most frequently mocked A-list actors in Hollywood today, Cage is a former Oscar-winner and “Joe” is a reminder of how brilliant he can be. In Cage’s case, less is more, and by keeping things simple and understated, he is able to bring out a well-rounded and complex character. Joe is less of a role model and more of an occasionally belligerent, heavy drinker with a host of bad habits. The fact that Joe still comes across as a warm and caring paternal figure despite these character flaws is a testament to Cage’s performance and character design. Like last year’s “Mud” in which Sheridan held his own alongside a mammoth performance from Matthew McConnaughey, Sheridan never feels out matched in his scenes with Cage. There might be some typecasting issues down the line, but Sheridan is well on his way to being a very strong actor. When put together, especially in a segment of the film where the two go on the lookout for Joe’s dog, the two show dynamic chemistry.

Part of what makes “Joe” such a successful film is the atmosphere that Green is able to capture. Green often makes use of local “non-actors” in his films, which often give his projects a hint of realism. For this film, Green gave the huge role of Gary’s father to a homeless alcoholic man named Gary Poulter. Poulter, who actually passed away shortly after filming ended, gives a performance that is hilarious, extremely frightening and unsettling. It is simply astonishing that not only Poulter was able to pull this off, but that Green was able to coax such a brilliant performance out of a homeless stranger.

Story-wise, the film takes a few dark and heavy turns and certainly doesn’t shy away from displaying violence or grave subject matter. There is nothing glamorous about the world that Green has built, but the circumstances and stakes feel real and legitimate. As previously alluded to, “Joe” completely thrives on character design. Gary, while still being a minor, is a completely perseverant worker stuck in a terrible family situation. Joe, built from the same cloth, is tortured and nowhere near a good influence for Gary. Still, the two are drawn to each other. While many reasons point to this being a troublesome friendship, it is somehow mutually beneficial.

As good as “Joe” is, there are a few issues. The main villain in the film appears sparingly with very little context and mostly only to serve as a foil. There are also a few stretches, segments, and tone shifts in the film that feel haphazardly put together. Regardless “Joe” is a true and earnest film that features a mostly strong, albeit minimalistic script, a heaping handful of very strong performances and serves as a reminder that Cage is still very capable of a powerful performance.

Jason Bateman & Kathryn Hahn – Bad Words

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the obscenity-laden “Bad Words,” actor Jason Bateman (TV’s “Arrested Development”) takes on a dark comedy with a bit of a mean streak and chalks up his first feature film as a director. Seeking revenge for something audiences aren’t privy to until the end of the movie, grown man Guy Trilby (Bateman) finds a loophole in the national spelling bee rules and weasels his way into the competition where he grudgingly befriends a fellow speller (Rohan Chand) and teaches him that there just might be more to life that spelling 10-syllable words. Kathryn Hahn (TV’s “Parks and Recreation) plays Jenny Widgeon, a reporter trying to uncover what is actually motivating Guy to go through the trouble to beat a bunch of eight year olds in a spelling contest.

During an interview at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, we talked to Bateman about his foray into the directing chair, and asked Hahn how comfortable she is in real life dropping a few F-bombs every now and then.

Cody Villafana: Jason, did you find that working in TV for so long gave you an advantage to where you’re learning from different directors over the course of a season rather than one director over the course of a film shoot?

Jason Bateman: Yes. Certainly actors have a great advantage in that if they want to transition into directing we work with a ton of directors. Other directors don’t ever work another director so they have no idea whether their process on the set is slow, fast, inspiring or boring. So, we get to cherry pick all these things. The other advantage of working in television is that you usually have a pretty short schedule and you’ve got a high page count to shoot every day. You’ve got to be good, fast. With comedy, that sometimes is even more difficult because you’re trying to make it believable but heightened believable. So, you’ve got to make scenes work really quickly with the blocking, with the performance, with where the cameras are. So that’s really helpful with directing cause you’ve gotta be pretty nimble.

Kiko Martinez: Kathryn, this film, of course, got a rated a hard R for some rather salty dialogue. Some people might say the classier the woman, the less she curses. Would you agree?

Kathryn Hahn: No! I like a broad!

KM: What are some life situations you’d have to be in to start letting the expletives fly?

KH: (Laughs) Oh, I mean, anything! Name your poison! I love a swear word. I really do. But I have the two peanuts at home. I have to edit myself big time because they take it all in.

KM: Jason, your co-star in this film, Rohan Chand, seems like a very mature young man. With that said, was it challenging to curse with him around, especially when the expletives were aimed his way?

JB: Not really. The film wasn’t improvised. He and his parents knew everything that was coming. They were certainly prepped for it. I had extensive conversations with him and his parents about the kind of tone and spirit of all these prickly scenes and where it was coming from and what the deeper, slightly more sophisticated agenda was that was at play underneath, hopefully the whole movie and certainly Guy’s journey. I just asked them to trust me that I was going to build a film aesthetic that wasn’t going to feel gratuitous or arbitrary to the audience. This wasn’t going to be something embarrassing, hopefully. This was a drama to everyone inside the movie. This guy got his feelings hurt and he wasn’t properly equipped to deal with that. We, the sane audience, laugh at his inability to manage his life. But it is a drama to them. We hoped that would be the spine of the movie so those more prickly things would feel a little less sophomoric.

KM: Kathryn, you’re known the comedies you’ve made over the last 10 years, including “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman.” How funny were you actually allowed to be during your time in the school of drama at Yale University? I would’ve guessed it would be more classic theater training.

KH: Not funny at all. (Laughs) There’s nothing funny about Yale. (Laughs) No, we did a lot of comedy. We laughed a lot. We had an awesome class. I loved my class there. We had a clown teacher out there who was important to us. We did some commedia. We didn’t do a lot of improvising. That didn’t happen for me until after I graduated. I never took any improv classes or anything like that. I think being introduced to [director] Adam McKay and that group cracked that open for me. I will never forget that experience at Yale. It was such a rigorous, blessed three years. I didn’t have to worry about anything except the work that was in front of me. I mean, we were rehearsing plays at 1 a.m. It was heaven, heaven, heaven. I didn’t have a television. It was the best. I will hold that experience to my heart forever. I was just accruing loans. (Laughs)I knew I would eventually have to pay that off, but you didn’t really have to think about it while you were there. It was pure. But, yeah, comedy is hard. Really hard. But we had a ball.

CV: Kathryn, where do you feel like your character’s interests lied? Do you think she wanted to see him succeed or getting the story or do you think there was any growth with that throughout the film?

KH: That’s an interesting question. I think she starts off just trying to find out why and then I think she gets invested. I think she gets invested and when she finds out why he’s doing what he’s doing…I think she really, really wants him to bail. I think that’s what pushes her over at the end. They both moved into something deeper with each other at the end because she sees that he was able to move past it and grow up. I love a movie that is about the underdogs – the fringe. None of the people that you meet in this movie are at the cool kids’ table, which I love. It’s its own beautiful world that has its own power structure and dynamics and politics. It’s so complete. Guy and Jenny are really frozen adults. You see [Guy] on that stage and he’s a man-child. He is frozen in this petulant child. Now you know why, but that’s why I think some of the things he does to those children are bad. Obviously he’s smart enough, but I think he’s lashing out. We find out he is smart enough to get through that spelling bee on his own merit and yet he still does these reprehensible things to these kids, so there’s a lot operating. He doesn’t trust himself. What I love about the casting is that those kids really meet him as equals on that stage. It’s really strange he’s like a kid on that stage with them. That’s such a tricky thing to pull off.

“Bad Words” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Admire the charming and imaginative look and feel of director/writer Wes Anderson’s films over the last decade, but the Houston-born filmmaker wants everyone to know that when it comes to the projects he’s made over the years like “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” it’s the screenplay that is always the most important.

“Whatever the movie is going to be, it really comes from the writing,” Anderson told me during a roundtable interview at the SXSW Film Festival a couple weeks ago. “The actors invent their performances themselves, but they work with this script. A lot of it comes from what’s on the page.”

There’s plenty to work with from the pages of his new comedy caper, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which stars Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, a devoted hotel concierge accused of murdering a hotel guest who bequeaths to him a priceless painting. Her death sets in motion a splendid chase through the snowy backdrops of a war-torn Europe. For “Grand Budapest,” it began with writing Fiennes’ character first, although Anderson isn’t quite sure how all that creativity really comes together.

“This movie started with one character, played by Ralph, and figuring what that character was like and figuring out a story for [him] and then, eventually, having an idea for a setting,” Anderson said. “All the visual stuff came after the script was finished. It’s kind of a mystery how anybody writes.”

Along with Fiennes’ role in the 2008 dark comedy “In Bruges,” Anderson cast him based off a play he had seen him in called “God of Carnage” and a 2006 independent film he starred in called “Bernard and Doris” alongside Susan Sarandon.

“[Ralph] also knows the person, my friend, who [Gustave] is inspired by,” Anderson explained. “He had a sense of what the real guy is like. It was the combination and also being around him personally.”

As for killing off beloved pets in his movies (a dog meets its demise in both “Tenenbaums” and 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom”), Anderson quips. In “Grand Budapest,” he lets the pooch live, and instead proves that not all cats land on their feet when they hit the ground.

“Human actors often want to have a death scene to play,” he says. “So, in a way, it’s trying to share this opportunity with other animals. I’m just trying to write a good part for a cat.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

If filmmaker Wes Anderson simply isn’t your quirky cup of tea – the handmade look and feel of his sets, the subtle and oftentimes dry humor, the eccentric overall nature of his characters – not much is going to change your mind with his latest opus, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” For fans of his authentic and whimsical work who really don’t understand what everyone else is missing, a trip with Anderson to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka (because in Anderson’s world Hungary would be just too square) is like an inclusive tour of his 10-year-long career. From his 1994 film “Bottle Rocket” to his prior art-house success, 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson seems to have taken elements from his past work to fashion together another satisfying creation. It doesn’t top some personal favorites (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), but even Anderson’s middle-of-the-road entries should never be described as such.

In “Grand Budapest,” Anderson uses an assortment of flashbacks cutting from the 1980s to the 60s and again to the 30s to tell the story of how Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the hotel’s aging owner, came to take possession of his fine establishment after working as a lobby boy there decades ago. Under the tutelage of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes in a role unlike anything he’s ever done), a faithful concierge employed during the hotel’s glory days in the 30s, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) gets mixed up in family affair when Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of the wealthy female hotel guests Gustave takes special care of (wink), dies and bequeaths to him a priceless painting much to the chagrin of her extremely serious family (Adrien Brody plays her irate son). When Gustave is accused of actually murdering Madame D, he and Zero set out on a mission to prove his innocence, which includes evading an evil assassin (Willem Dafoe) and the local police (Edward Norton plays Inspector Henckles). It also features an outrageous jail break that could only be invented in Anderson’s head.

As silly as Anderson’s past films are, “Grand Budapest,” with its crime-caper narrative, feels even more madcap than, say, a group of stop-motion mammals digging underground escape tunnels in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The “Keystone Cops”- atmosphere, however, isn’t a bad thing to see in an Anderson film. If anything, it keeps the story moving swiftly and on edge. So, along with the pastel-colored designs, the dollhouse appearance, and detailed imagery, Anderson packs his film with kooky chases and vaudevillian-esque comedy.

Finding some of his vision from the work of German American director Ernst Lubitsch, Anderson can take the most random film references and styles and build on them to mold his own cinematic flair. It might feel typical to those who can’t differentiate between Anderson’s more entertaining albeit mature storytelling, but there are plenty of new nuances in “Grand Budapest” that continue to elevate his filmmaking charm and spark more artistic inspiration.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey & Nacho Vigalondo – Open Windows

March 19, 2014 by  
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Filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo and actors Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey know that someone is probably listening to their phone calls and watching what websites they visit online, but they don’t really mind. Actually, they might mind, but it’s not like they can do anything about it. All of them agree that if you want to be a functional citizen in this technology-centric world, you’re going to have to give up some of your privacy sooner or later. Vigalondo explores some of those timely themes in “Open Windows,” his new thriller that sets in motion a dangerous game between a mysterious computer hacker and a young man (Wood) whose evening turns extremely bizarre when he is given the opportunity to spy on his favorite actress (Grey) from his very own laptop.

During an interview at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, I got a chance to sit down with Vigalondo, Wood and Grey and talk about how having total privacy is a thing of the past, and what they dislike most about having an online presence today.

Some of the marketing materials I recently received for the movie call it the “‘Rear Window’ for the 21st Century.” Is that distinction something you’re comfortable with or would you rather this film stand on its own?

Nacho Vigalondo: Well, I’m a big [Alfred] Hitchcock fan, but I don’t consider him a big influence on this film. I mean, you can’t escape from Hitchcock.

Elijah Wood: Well, [Hitchcock] is so pervasive. He’s part of the fabric of cinema.

NV: Yeah, it’s like saying, “I breathe oxygen.” Well, of course you breathe oxygen. As a filmmaker, I think you are condemned to breathe Hitchcock. It’s part of your DNA from the very beginning. I don’t feel comfortable with “‘Rear Window’ for the 21st Century.” I get a little scared.

What about you Elijah? Is selling a movie like that something that is hard to live up to?

EW: Well, to a certain degree it’s to be expected. This happens with all media where something comes out, whether it’s a record or a film, and people try to contextualize it. What is the easiest way to reference it so people can understand it? It happens in all art forms. So, it’s one of those things that I sort of accept.

The film brings up a lot of interesting themes about technology and privacy and things of that nature. Would you like moviegoers to come out thinking about those more complex ideas, or do you want this film to be consumed solely for its entertainment value?

EW: I feel at its core, regardless of whether it’s on a computer screen or not, it’s a thriller. That’s something we can all relate to in terms of cinema and storytelling. I think if people walk out of the movie with a sense of our relationship with technology and what that is, that’s fine. But I don’t think that’s the intention of the film.

NV: I like the idea of making films that can work both ways. It’s your choice if you want to find something much more profound or interesting in the movie. I don’t care if someone thinks my movies are hollow or meaningful. I’m OK with both.

EW: I think both are definitely there – our relationship to technology and the way we communicate. I think one of the more interesting elements of the film is the moral ambiguity of having an online presence. I mean, we can be moral and innocent individuals and then do things online, that if we were faced with the same actions in real life with actual people, we may not do those things. My character ends up becoming complicit in his actions that he wouldn’t do in real life. But there is a distance that you have online that allows you not to be accountable for your actions. If there is any commentary to this movie, I find that element to be the most fascinating. I think we’re all guilty of doing or saying things online to people that we wouldn’t do or say in front of their face. Instead, we would write a fucking crazy comment about how much we hate them.

Elijah, as a young actor, do you feel like having that online presence is necessary? Nowadays, if someone doesn’t have a Facebook page, it’s almost like they don’t exist to a certain faction of people. Is it important to stay valid in that way?

EW: To be valid in it, no, not really. I mean, part of me wants to quit all of it.

NV: Yeah, I know what you mean.

EW: But there are certain elements of it that I love. There are elements of Twitter I think are very interesting. For me, I think Twitter is the easiest way to connect with someone without a middle man. You meet people who are of a similar mind, who you may not meet naturally. Also, Facebook is interesting because you can keep in contact with people you don’t see all the time. But I could also imagine quitting all of it. It’s a lot of noise.

Nacho, what about you? How much does social media play into your everyday life?

NV: I do have an active presence on Twitter. But you will never hear from me about things that are useful for my career or my image. It’s not helping me as a filmmaker. It might be helping me as a person, but there is no strategy behind it. I’m not promoting myself through Twitter. I’m just posting myself, which is not the same thing. Posting yourself can be appreciated by people. Sometimes people can see that you are a human being. Maybe they can find a connection. It’s not a tool. It’s almost a weapon – a weapon you can use against yourself.

Is the whole idea of privacy something you think about? I mean, when you get up in the morning, are you worried that the NSA is really listening to your phone calls?

EW: It’s just such an abstract idea. I think we understand this as a conceptual thing. It’s probably happening, but it’s so abstract. It’s not like there is someone peering through your window, which is a physical thing that would be very creepy. Yes, the implications are scary, but I also feel by having a presence in the online space you’re automatically giving away some kind of sense of privacy. I think we’re being naïve if we don’t recognize that. I think by having that understanding, we should have a greater responsibility for the fact that we are having public lives online. Mainly, I think the youth need to recognize that. I think people who are younger are sort of flippant about the shit they’ll share with the world. I think it’s important to have a sense of responsibility with who you are in that space.

NV: I think we have a schizophrenic relationship with privacy. If you see a science fiction movie from the 80s about a future dystopia, one of the big fears is being watched and losing your privacy. Now, we have shown that we really don’t care about privacy at all. We don’t give a fuck about it. We know big companies are selling our data to even bigger companies, but we’re OK with that because they’re giving us free stuff.

What about you Sasha? Do you get on your cell phone and worry if someone is listening to your calls?

Sasha Grey: I grew up really paranoid, so, yes, absolutely. (Laughs) But, honestly, I have a feeling that if you’re on the internet at all – if you shop online or use social networking – you’re sort of giving up your right to privacy. I don’t agree that it’s right. I think we have to accept that if we are going to be part of the online community.

EW: I totally agree.

SG: It is scary though.

NV: (Turns to Sasha and Elijah) I haven’t told you this. You know what happened to me two weeks ago? I met a girl who was having an online relationship with someone who was impersonating me through a fake email account for years.

EW: Stop it!

NV: It was so disturbing. I read all the emails. This guy was pretending to be me and asking for photos for a movie.

EW: No!

SG: Oh no!

NV: Yeah, I had to talk to the police and everything. That really freaked me out.

What do you feel is the most annoying thing about technology these days? For example, for me, if I look for a pair of khakis online, I’m buried in khaki advertisements for the next two weeks. Isn’t that something we could live without?

SG: (Laughs) That can be obnoxious, especially if somebody sends you and email and you open it and then you’re being targeted for ads for whatever that email is related to. You’re like, “I’m not even interested in that!”

EW: Yeah, or LinkedIn.

SG: LinkedIn! Oh, LinkedIn is the worst!

EW: I am tired of getting LinkedIn requests.

SG: Yeah, I don’t know you and I don’t want to be on LinkedIn!

EW: Yeah, I’ve got my own file to get in contact with people. I don’t need LinkedIn!

Sasha, you’ve been doing more mainstream films for a few years now. What are you looking to get out of this new career now that you’ve put the adult entertainment world behind you? Have you felt the cutthroat nature of this industry yet?

SG & EW: (Laugh wildly)

SG: I’ll answer the last part first: Yes I have, absolutely. But I have a pretty strong backbone. I’m used to putting up with bullshit. At the same time, there are always great people like Nacho and Elijah to work with. That’s what I look forward to. I look forward to cultivating relationships with people I admire. With [“Open Windows”], I was a fan of [Vigalondo’s last film] “Timecrimes,” so when I heard Nacho was making another film, I had my manager get in touch with his manager. It’s not always that easy, and it wasn’t along the way. It still took several months and I didn’t know if I was going to get the part. I always feel more comfortable when I get to meet with the filmmaker beforehand and develop some sort of communication because that’s what helps you along the way. Once you start filming, that relationship is already there even if you’ve only met a few times. Sometimes going in blindly to auditions, you’re just another person in the room. So, I want to keep acting and keep challenging myself. The hard part is to get those roles, but I’m down for the challenge.

EW: I see you as a filmmaker, too. You’re such a cinephile. You’re so motivated by your love of movies. I see you eventually moving beyond acting into something else in the realm of cinema.

NV: It should seem obvious that someone who works in movies would love movies, but it’s not like that. [Sasha and Elijah] really like movies. It’s really interesting to share opinions with them. I really hate meeting people who make movies but don’t really like watching movies.

EW: How could you be in this industry and not love movies?

SG: They love fame.

EW: I guess. I just couldn’t be satisfied with acting alone. So much of what motivates me as an actor is working with people like Nacho and being a part of cinema. That has more to do with what I’m doing than just filling a role.

“Open Windows” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Review – Silicon Valley (TV)

March 17, 2014 by  
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Starring: Thomas Middleditch, TJ Miller, Zach Woods
Created by: Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead”)

While reviews of TV are not something we typically cover at CineSnob, one of the most fun and worthwhile events of SXSW was the screening of Mike Judge’s (“Office Space,” “Beavis and Butthead,” “King of the Hill”) new HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley,” which explores the world of technology start-ups in California.

As a lowly worker at a tech company, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) has used his spare time developing a website that can match a users music to a database of published music to see if they are infringing on any copyrights. While the website has limited usage, Richard has developed a compression algorithm that has the potential to change the face of the Internet and become a billion dollar industry. When faced with offers from various companies to buy him out, Richard must decide if he will take the money and run or venture into self-running a massive company with no experience and only the help of his friends and roommates.

Very rarely do you see a pilot episode as polished and defined as the first episode of “Silicon Valley.” From the opening moments of the episode (which features a hilarious cameo), “Silicon Valley” is firing on all cylinders as the laughs come big and consistent and the characters don’t need much introduction to get a sense of who they are. As a lead, Middleditch is a great stroke of casting, able to be mild-mannered enough to be likable and really getting across the vulnerability and fear of a man who has stumbled across a potentially life changing idea. While the rest of the cast is filled with well-known improvisers and stand up comedians, the standouts are actor and improv veteran Zach Woods (“The Office”) and comedian TJ Miller (“She’s Out of My League” and “Cloverfield.”) Woods self-deprecating, eager to please character is a welcome addition to the ball busting roommates and Miller’s lazy character is probably the most consistent source of character humor in the beginning of the show. Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani deserve a little bit more screen time, and the second episode sees a slight dip in quality, but regardless the pilot stands as one of the best comedy pilots in recent memory.

As a source of laughs, it’s easy to see how anyone remotely interested in technology will devour “Silicon Valley.” For example, a passing 4-way bike with a table in the middle where a meeting is taken place is one of the best pieces of visual humor in the episodes screened. But beyond the tech world, Judge has laid down the foundation for a great underdog story with strong characters, gifted comedic actors and truly hilarious writing. Most of the humor is broad enough to resonate with anyone looking for a smart, character driven comedy. With his background working in technology serving him well, Judge’s first foray into live-action television hits the ground running fully formed and is wildly successful. If the first two episodes are any indication of how the rest of the first season of “Silicon Valley” will go, HBO has a massive hit on their hands.

“Silicon Valley” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Review – Soul Boys of the Western World

March 15, 2014 by  
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Starring: Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp, Steve Norman, John Keeble, Martin Kemp
Directed by: George Hencken (debut)

In the late ‘70s, a few lads from London came together to form Spandau Ballet as part of what I’m told is the “New Romantic” movement. Fashion icons of the early-‘80s (for better or worse), Spandau Ballet had huge singles in United States with “To Cut a Long Story Short” and “True.” And then, like all bands tend to do, they broke up at the dawn of the ‘90s, a consequence of internal friction. Follow that with a nasty lawsuit over royalties and the inevitable reunion, pepper in influences like David Bowie and contemporaries like Duran Duran, and you’ve got a slickly-packaged documentary ready to promote the band’s first US concert in nearly 30 years.

“Soul Boys of the Western World” is made up entirely of archival footage, benefiting mightily from the televised music revolution that paralleled Spandau Ballet’s rise to fame. Bu with all conflict currently in the past, there’s little drama on hand in the doc, and the knowledge that all the members of the band are currently kindly English gents in their 50s and not cutting edge fashion icons leaves everything feeling a little empty, like the liner notes for a greatest hits box set put to video.

“Soul Boys of the Western World” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Till Dawn (TV) – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
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During the SXSW Film Festival, I sat down with Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) to talk about his new TV network El Rey and its first original program “From Dusk Till Dawn.” The series is based from Rodriguez’s 1996 thriller of the same name, which starred George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as criminal brothers Seth and Richie Gecko. The small-screen version stars D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz in those same roles. The cast also features Robert Patrick (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), Don Johnson (“Django Unchained”) and Wilmer Valderrama (“From Prada to Nada”).

New episodes of “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” air Tuesdays at 7pm CT.

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