Archive | Thriller/Suspense RSS feed for this section

13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director)

26 Apr

13-sins-movie-poster-ron-perlman-mark-webber-2014

Synopsis: “A cryptic phone call sets off a dangerous game of risks for Elliot, a down-on-his luck salesman. The game promises increasing rewards for completing 13 tasks, each more sinister than the last.”  (Rated R; 1 hour, 32 minutes)

(NOTE: If you haven’t already read my previous interview with Daniel Stamm, I would strongly recommend it as it is one of my all-time favorite blog-posts, linked here for you to read before or after my latest one below.)

On Thursday night I had the massively cool and enjoyable experience of gathering a group of friends to see a movie directed (and co-written) by a good friend of mine. It came out exactly one week ago, and the only problem is – you can’t find it in theaters as of today even if you tried. How can this be?

Video On Demand is a service that has been around for years which allows people to watch movies from the comforts of their home. In the past, people would pay to see movies once they were gone from theaters, sometimes before they were even officially released on DVD; but the movies certainly had their primary run in theaters before that became the backup method to see them later. There seems to have been a shift in the movie industry which has made it common for movies to be made with the complete intention of releasing them “on demand”, and at most giving the movie a token theatrical run.

To clarify, there have always been movies made with the direct intention of being “straight to video”, but what seems to be happening now is different. You have filmmakers – often successful theatrical writers and directors – who go into the process with the intention of making their movie for cinema audiences, but are then told along the way that it isn’t the intention at all.

The following are pieces of a 90 minute “interview” (let’s be honest, it was a conversation) with my talented friend Daniel Stamm (second from the left in the photo below), who also co-wrote and directed 13 Sins, NOT playing in a theater near you…

danielstamm13sinsredcarpetarrivals2014drdpbio3oxul

Boaz – We just came back from seeing your movie, and had a great night out. Some of my friends now think I’m “sick” for having so much fun watching some of the more sadistic scenes from the movie, but I couldn’t help it! Where are you calling me from right now?

Daniel – I’m in Canada filming episodes of Intruders for BBC America, and will be back in a few months. So let me ask YOU Boaz, was anyone else in the theater actually watching the movie other than your friends?

Boaz – Yes, I counted and there were SEVEN other people (in addition to the seven of us). And when the next showtime started I counted THREE others entering, so that’s another whopping 238 dollars for the movie last night alone! Remind me, what was the budget?

Daniel – 4 million dollars. We’re on our way! Boaz, you’re better at math than I am, what’s the tally so far?

Boaz – Well I don’t know about the last few days, but on its opening weekend it was released on an astounding 45 screens, with a total of $9,261, giving it a per screen average of $206. I can fairly say that if there was ever an antithesis to Avatar  and Titanic, this might be it. 

Daniel – You may be right, but the movie was actually profitable, in spite of this.

Boaz – Seriously? HOW?!

Daniel – Our production company and the financiers made their money back before the movie was even made, by selling the international rights to it. Places like Japan and Germany come up with prices and pay it, and then it’s up to them if they release it in theaters or not, but the people who put up the money here lose nothing. As a filmmaker though, it still hurts to go from a movie that had a theatrical release in America, made a lot of money, and then have the next basically go straight to VOD (Video On Demand) where nobody has heard of it. 

Boaz – Why would they do this though? It just doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have your previous movie The Last Exorcism do so well, so why put nothing into this one?

Daniel – I really don’t know, these days it is becoming more and more common for studios to make movies that are either huge budget tent-poles like Iron Man and Captain they put hundreds of millions of dollars into making and promoting them, whereas more and more of the movies that cost a few million like ours aren’t worth the time or risk to promote, so they just put them out on VOD. We’re actually lucky, I was shocked when I saw we were released on 45 screens, many are on 2 or 3, and I personally didn’t see a single poster or ad for it, so I don’t think they put any money into marketing it. It was all about VOD. As I said, they already made their money on foreign presales, anything else from iTunes and (Time Warner Cable) On Demand is a bonus.

Boaz – I just don’t get it, it’s not as if you have a spotty track record, you made one movie in film school which did amazingly well in film festivals (A Necessary Death), you then were paid to make your first movie (The Last Exorcism) and made it for how much money?

Daniel – 1.5 million dollars.

Boaz – And it made how much money?

Daniel – Almost 70 million dollars.

Boaz – Right! It made over 20 million dollars OPENING WEEKEND, how do they go from that to hiring you to make something that doesn’t get a single billboard or commercial or any marketing, and has the intent of being seen on VOD only? It seems ludicrous. Do legitimate filmmakers have absolutely no safety when they sign a contract that it will actually go to theaters? Can’t you sign a contract that ensures it will get a full theatrical release?

Daniel – You could do that, sure, but it usually won’t make a difference. There are huge producers who commonly pay for movies which are “supposed” to go to theaters, but then they go VOD. If the filmmaker threatens lawsuit, then they usually lose. And even if those power-house producers lose, the amount they have to pay in penalties for breaching the contract is nothing compared to the amount of money they’d have to pay to promote and release a movie in theaters, so they accept that as a part of the business.

Boaz – This happens to people I’ve heard of?

Daniel – Absolutely, you’d be shocked how many never see the light of day; good movies that for one reason or another they decided to not release. I’ve heard that (NAME EDITED OUT TO PROTECT DANIEL’S CAREER) for example makes about 10 movies a year from successful writers and directors, but only releases a few. Some don’t even end up as VOD, they just collect dust on his shelf, so-to-speak. I don’t know why, but that’s what he does. I assume he releases less because it may maintain the success of the brand. But why make all of the extras in the first place? I honestly don’t know.

Boaz – How does the marketing work with VOD in the first place? Your movie was released in theaters last week briefly and immediately can be found on iTunes and VOD, does that mean they’re spending money to market it online for streaming at least?

Daniel – I don’t think so. They seem to just put it out there, and if enough people start to watch it, then they’ll start to put some money into marketing it. The idea of VOD seems to be that they just make the movies, throw it out there, and if people don’t see it, then they don’t put any money into marketing it. That’s how it works now.

Boaz – So this is now backwards marketing? Instead of spending money to market something and tell audiences where to catch it, now you’re supposed to catch it on your own, and only if you do will they start telling others to catch it?

Daniel – Yes, I believe so.

Boaz – That’s insane.

Daniel – They had 13 Sins in the “New Arrivals” section of iTunes, they tell me it didn’t do anything, so they won’t be marketing it… that’s just how it is. Actually, Ron Perlman (supporting actor in the movie, and pictured on the very left of the photo above) said he’d be happy to promote it, he believed in the project, but nobody reached out to him whatsoever. 

Boaz – You’re making me so upset here, as a movie-lover, and as your friend and fan.

Daniel – There’s a huge positive side you’re not seeing. Independent filmmakers who would have never been able to make movies are finally being given the chance to make something that people can see. In the past if you wanted to make a movie you needed lots of money, you needed so many different departments to back you and put time and energy into you. Now small people who have a passion for movies but no track record can make something and release it themselves for free on the internet. Those movies can get you noticed, and make it into film festivals. It’s quite incredible, and is making the entire industry more accessible to the world.

Boaz – Okay, so it’s great for people who are just starting out, but how is it good for someone who already has had success, like yourself?!

Daniel – Oh, no question that it sucks for me, because I’m coming from The Last Exorcism’s theatrical release, but for independent filmmakers there is now nothing standing in their way from making a movie for a few thousand dollars, which used to be unthinkable.

Boaz – You continue to be the world’s most positive person, I think I’m angrier about this than you are!

Daniel – (Laughs). To be fair, it’s been so long since making the movie that I’m not as much in the moment. We were shooting it in Halloween of 2012, now it’s April 2014. It’s just not as fresh or immediate as it would be if it was immediate, so that helps cushion the blow.

Boaz – What are you taking out of this experience then, mister positive?

Daniel – Listen, its not a money issue… nobody lost money on this movie… nobody put a dollar into marketing, it’s just a different movie model now. It’s crappy as a filmmaker because the public doesn’t know the movie exists, and VOD is basically a dumping ground for movies, but from a pure business standpoint it’s still profitable for everyone.

Boaz – How will this affect your future in the business?

Daniel –  I’ve benefited from making this movie, because it’s a different style, I got to use some great name-actors, and we had a great experience putting it together. But career-wise it wasn’t good; it was 3 years of me basically treading water in the same spot. It can be quite hard not to think of that way. If you’ve made a movie that didn’t make money but is a critical success, then at least you can point to that… some people will hire you for for that at least. This one is getting less good reviews and far less money than the last one. In this industry you’re only as good as your last movie. One consolation I’ve been told is that it’s not as bad as if it was released wide and bombed, then you’re considered box office poison, at least this still made people money… but it’s still not good overall.

Boaz – What’s with those reviews, anyway? I thought it was a really great idea and enjoyed it from start to finish.

Daniel – It’s frustrating actually, many of the negative reviews kept comparing it to another VOD movie that was released last year, Cheap Thrills, which got great reviews. It shares a lot of the same plot, and many critics thought we were just copying it. That’s a completely unfair comparison, because we were already making our movie before theirs had even come out. Not only that, but ours is an official remake of the Thai movie 13: Game Of Death from 2006. So it’s ludicrous to say we’re copying this other movie when we’re actually legitimately making an American remake of a 2006 movie. It’s very frustrating…

Boaz – Okay, I think we’ve beaten all of that like a dead horse, let’s get a bit more fluffy. How were the actors to work with?

Daniel – Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) was perfect in the role, and such a great guy. And you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity), he was amazing.

Boaz – What was Ron Perlman like? You got to work with Hellboy!

Daniel – He was very much making his own movie. Most of his scenes were separate from the rest of the cast, looking at crime scenes. So while the rest of the crew had a very close-knit family feel, he kind of filmed everything separately and did his own thing. That being said, he turned out to be absolutely the nicest, most unpretentious and supportive man I could have asked for.

Boaz – Where did you film it?

Daniel – Most of it was actually shot in New Orleans; that was awesome.

Boaz – I couldn’t find anywhere on IMDB who played the “voice” on the phone throughout the movie? Who the heck was that?

Daniel – He’s not listed? Interesting. That’s George Coe, from Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Boaz – Oh my God, I know him, and he’s the voice of Woodhouse on Archer, that’s probably the funniest show on television!

Daniel – I haven’t seen it.

Boaz – You should! Anyway, it’s been an hour and a half of talking on the phone and you’re filming more in the morning, so I really really appreciate you taking the time for this interview, and to catch up. Zoltán (Honti) did another great job as your cinematographer as usual. Is he with you working on the BBC America show you’re doing over there now?

Daniel – No, they have their own crews set-up here for this show I’m doing, so I couldn’t bring him along. We love working together as you know!  

4-24-14 - 13 Sins (1)

Boaz – I do know, and he’s a lovely guy who I haven’t seen in years! Adi and I were so excited to see your name on the poster outside the theater, and when it came up on the screen we screamed like lunatics. The other seven people in the theater probably thought we were nuts!

Daniel – Well I certainly appreciate it! Great catching up with you Boaz, see you for some movies when I get back in June!

Thanks to the great fun I had going to see the movie with Adi, Leah, Jason, Shira, Avish and Cindy, the night was a blast. We saw it at the beautiful Sundance Sunset Cinema, which has a full bar and lounge, and at least a few of my friends wanted to kill me afterwards because they didn’t realize it was going to be a bit of a horror movie. Mwa ha ha…

4-24-14 - 13 Sins (5)

To be fair, it wasn’t a horror movie, but rather a suspenseful thriller which had some horror movie imagery. I told Daniel that it was like a cross between Hostel and Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Thankfully, he loved the comparison, though I’m sure what it was most like was the Thai movie it was remaking which I haven’t actually seen. As with The Last Exorcism, the movie didn’t end with us going our separate ways, but rather a group of friends discussing and arguing about the “what would you do” quandaries of the movie. Would you start to play the anonymous game-show that proves to give thousands of dollars for increasingly bad behavior, or would you not participate in the first place? No matter what your answer is, it’s not every movie that gets you to keep thinking about it the rest of the night.

The movie wasn’t as GREAT as Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, which felt like an entirely original and almost flawless film. It was however much better and far more interesting than the Hostel franchise which involved sadistic behavior with no point other than to tantalize sadistic viewers. This movie was entirely about human morality, and how easily we might slip.

Quality Rating: A- (There were some technical/continuity problems which I mentioned to Daniel, and he admitted that there’s not much you can do when you have a limited budget, even when you catch the problems at the time you have to sometimes just let it go and move on because you can’t afford to re-shoot the scene!)

Boaz Rating: A+ (Was there ever any question that I was going to love the entire experience of seeing my friend’s movie with a group of other friends, and then interviewing him immediately thereafter? Of course not!)

Disconnect (My Favorite Movie You Haven’t Heard Of From 2013)

3 Apr

Image

Synopsis: “A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 55 minutes)

Was the title of this latest blog entry a dead-giveaway? Yes I enjoyed the movie. A lot. Well, enjoyed may not quite be the right word for it… “affected” perhaps.

Do you remember how good everyone said Crash was, but how there was something inherently heavy-handed and manipulative about the movie that just kept it from actually BEING great? Well those were certainly my feelings from the 2004 Academy Award winner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a very easy movie-audience to please, and I loved watching Crash, with its intense multi-layered story-lines, and great actors playing against type all over the place. In fact it was thanks to Crash that the world started to see that Sandra Bullock really COULD act after all. But it was just a bit too schmaltzy to actually be great (in my humble opinion).

Disconnect is basically Crash without the schmaltz. It has a handful of different story-lines that come together in some bizarre way at the end, but more importantly it is deep, with compelling plots, great acting, and almost a year later I still think it was fantastic. It probably contains the best Jason Bateman performance to date, as well as a “Catfish” type subplot that absolutely broke my heart. I recall the lights going down and being so overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I couldn’t even get up right away. I will not give away more of the story, because I hope you’ll be renting/streaming it soon, and letting me know what you think.

The movie was better than Crash – as I’ve made crystal clear – and it’s not as good as…my bachelor party in Las Vegas. What, I HAVE to pick a movie that I liked more that’s also multilinear? Sorry, it was better than Crash, Babel, Short Cuts and Syriana. I’ve never seen Nashville, so perhaps that was a greater movie of its genre.

Quality Rating: A+ (This isn’t a guilty pleasure type movie where I enjoyed it more than its worth, it actually was great.)

Boaz Rating: A+

The Place Beyond The Pines

9 May

Image

Synopsis: “A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.” (Rated R; 2 hours, 20 minutes)

I knew this was supposed to be a good movie, but I still prepared myself to see something that I’d find slow and boring. Why? Because it’s an indie, it’s a drama, and it’s 2 hours and 20 minutes. I added that up in my mind and assumed it would be a major drag, but knew I had to see it anyway. This took place last week, as a part of my celebratory three-movie day for passing the nursing boards. (Some people have fancy dinner celebrations, my fiancée knows me well enough to award me a triple-movie feature!) The Place Beyond The Pines had the unfortunate timing of following Jurassic Park; anything would feel slow after that exciting one.

I’m happy to report that in spite of the many reasons it could have been a solid, but boring experience, I thought it was fantastic, and anything BUT boring. It’s honestly such a well made movie, that it’s hard for me to find any flaws. Let me analyze it piece by piece:

The Acting

Everyone was great in it. Ryan Gosling may truly be one of the best working actors today. He was so believable as a suave lady’s man in Crazy, Stupid, Love. He was utterly convincing as a sweet person with mental illness in Lars And The Real Girl. And in The Place Beyond The Pines he fits the part of a white trash guy desperate to win back his baby mama like a glove. Is there any role he can’t do well? The movie was broken up into three sequential stories. The first starred Gosling, the second was led by a fantastic Bradley Cooper, and the third followed an intriguing Dane DeHaan. Cooper previously surprised people when he was great in Limitless and especially Silver Linings Playbook. The difference here was that he got to play the part of a normal person, without relying on the eccentricities of an offbeat character. Not that it’s easy to act eccentrically, but it can be even tougher to give a powerful performance when you’re acting somewhat…normal. Dane DeHaan was most notably in the sci-fi flick Chronicle, a movie I highly recommend for its inventiveness. He had a quiet intensity that made you feel for him, while at the same time you were nervous that he could explode at any moment. Last year Ben Mendelsohn played a scummy low-level criminal so well in Killing Them Softly, I was thrilled to see him here in a variation of that role that was kind and sweet, but still a lowlife. Eva Mendes played one of her least glamorous roles I’ve seen, and was totally believable in spite of her obvious beauty. Rose Byrne was good as Cooper’s wife, but didn’t have very long to make a mark. But anyone who’s seen her in the excellent show Damages knows she’s more than proven her acting worth. And Emory Cohen is quite new to the acting scene (he is on the show Smash which I’ve never seen) but he was so believable as a self-entitled rich punk that I wanted to wring his neck. All of the actors truly felt raw, realistic and gritty, without an ounce of schmaltz in their performances.

The Direction

Derek Cianfrance wrote and directed this epic drama, and seems to create characters on screen that feel so realistic, that it takes you a few minutes to walk out when the lights turn on. His previous movie was Blue Valentine, an extremely depressing look at the love-life of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. That movie was such a downer to sit through, that when we later watched Amour, Adi compared her gut-wrenching feeling to how she felt with Blue Valentine. Once again in The Place Beyond The Pines, Cianfrance did such a fantastic job that it was hard to get up afterwards. The movie Cianfrance created hits you emotionally like a ton of bricks, and when you’re finished you want to just go home and decompress. It’s not even a downer like those other two movies I described, but it makes you feel like you’ve been watching the dramatic lives of real people, spanning many years, and it’s just a lot to take in when all’s said and done. What an amazing thing to accomplish two movies in a row. Clearly Cianfrance has a gift for creating reality on the screen, and so far he’s left me unsettled…twice. Well done.

I realize it may seem funny comparing his movies to Amour, but what they have in common is the feeling that you’re watching absolutely real characters, and then getting to know them a little bit too well. As a result, when horrible things gradually occur, it becomes tougher and tougher to watch. Again, this is no easy task for a film-maker to accomplish. And I’m GLAD most directors don’t know how to pull this off, because I prefer to let loose and relax most of the times I’m watching a movie. I want to enjoy my silly popcorn flicks! He creates a story on the screen that’s like a bucket of ice water on your face; it wakes you up and keeps you captivated, but I can only handle it once in a while.

In spite of this being a 2 hour and 20 minute indie, I was riveted from start to finish. Whether it was a fast-paced scene with Gosling robbing a bank, or a quiet moment with Bradley Cooper talking to his wife in bed, it was electrifying. The movie was done with such a sense of taut suspense that each and every word and moment created a sense of vital importance. I would love to see what the director would do with a comedy, because at this point there can be no doubts left as to his ability to make a hell of a drama. My wonderful fiancée had already sat through the marvelous Jurassic Park, and now the heavy movie that was The Place Beyond The Pines. She loved both films, but was ready to go home. Yet a third one was still in store…

The movie was better than Drive, the critically-acclaimed Ryan Gosling drama that was interesting, but never had the heart that affected me throughout The Place Beyond The Pines. It was however on par with Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s other major release with Ryan Gosling. The two movies may have been equally well-made, but this one was certainly more interesting and less depressing to sit through.

Quality Rating: A+

Boaz Rating: A+ (This was the rare movie I expected to think was good but also slow and boring, and thus give it a lower Boaz Rating…it wasn’t so, it may have been very slow-paced, but I wasn’t bored for a second)

The Company You Keep (“My Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Movies”)

7 May

Image

Synopsis: “A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 41 minutes)

Character development, exciting scenes, intriguing mystery, slow but satisfying pacing…this movie was basically a star-studded old-school drama, in the best of ways.

What makes a movie feel “old-fashioned” these days? Well, first and foremost having long conversations and actual character development doesn’t hurt. If you go back and watch some of the classics from the  60’s and 70’s, you will undoubtedly find some great films that modern day audiences find “too slow” or “boring”. Why? Because we’ve been trained to see so many fast-paced action movies, that even the award movie dramas like Argo are downright fast-paced compared to older flicks. For every slow-paced Amour there are ten faster-moving vehicles like LooperEnd Of Watch and The Hunger Games, and I’m only naming movies that I thought were excellent by the way, no criticism on any of them. And it’s not as if I can say I preferred the old movies that I’m referencing from decades ago. For every fantastic slow-paced one like The French Connection and Jaws, there were movies like Bullitt and The Conversation which are classics but could put you to sleep if you’re not careful. In the 1980’s, an example of a Vietnam movie was the action-packed and fast-paced Oliver Stone film Platoon, in the 1970’s it was made sloooowly with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. I’m not saying one must be better than the other, it’s just a reality that the pacing was different back then, and you have to usually be in the mood (and wide awake) to watch the older movies, since our brains have become so accustomed to the ADD generation that we live in. (Yes of course there are exceptions to my point, as there were plenty of fast-paced movies back then, and more than a few slower ones now. I am writing about the big-picture of how the medium has changed over the years.)

Thankfully, The Company You Keep has the pacing of an older film, but an endless barrage of cameos of that should keep most people in the ADD generation both entertained and riveted. It plays as a thriller with an unraveling mystery, and both Josh and I really enjoyed it from start to finish.

Keep in mind that this was the second movie in a double-feature at the Landmark that we were enjoying on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The first had been Trance, a fast-paced movie I reviewed recently that somewhat let us down; so we were happily surprised that this “standard” looking thriller was damn solid, and it finished our fun-day together off on a high note.

Who does it turn out wrote the movie? Lem Dobbs adapted the book by Neil Gordon, but what has Dobbs done in the past? One of my favorite underrated sci-fi movies, Dark City, came from his clever mind. Released in 1998, Dark City was a really smart little sci-fi flick that screwed with the world in a really neat way, and was overshadowed a year later by a little movie called The Matrix. I’m not trying to say that it was better than the epic awesomeness that was The Matrix, but it certainly deserved to be seen by far more people; and I recommend seeing it if you haven’t already. It even boasts Kiefer Sutherland in arguably his quirkiest role to date. Dobbs continued to make really good slower-paced dramas with the smart indie The Limey and the good heist drama The Score. In fact the only thing I dislike that I’ve seen by him is his previous film, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, which suffered from being slow, with no interesting character development, which led to my simply being bored (in spite of its many decent reviews).

As for the cast, it got to be that there were so many recognizable actors that Josh and I were surprised when a new face was NOT familiar. In the lead role was Robert Redford, who still has the swagger and charisma of a younger man, albeit weathered and wiser. He continues to make a great leading man, and it ALMOST didn’t bother me that at 78 years old he played a man with a young daughter. Almost…that element admittedly still distracted me a bit, because every time I saw them together I felt like he was playing his grandfather, until the movie would remind me that she was his own kid. Along with Redford, the only other lead actor was Shia LaBeouf, trying to combine the Woodward & Bernstein personalities from All The President’s Men into one nerdy-Jewish but also slick-charismatic reporter. (Of course you should recall that Robert Redford himself famously played Bob Woodward in that 1970’s slow-paced, but exciting classic!)

So if Redford and LaBeouf played the only two leading roles, who played all of the numerous supporting roles? Do you have a minute?
Julie Christie played a mysterious older woman from Redford’s past. Sam Elliott was keeping her company in amusing fashion. Susan Sarandon was also from his past, and helped open the movie intriguingly. Nick Nolte and his uniquely gruff voice came on halfway through. Chris Cooper played Redford’s equally weathered brother. Terrence Howard was an FBI agent chasing Redford throughout. Anna Kendrick was the one silly role that may have been too vapid (considering she was FBI as well). Stanley Tucci was LaBeouf’s amusing boss. Richard Jenkins was also someone Redford had history with, but managed to be pretty darn good in such little time. Brendan Gleeson was really interesting as another piece to the puzzle, and even Steven Root made a memorable cameo appearance. There were another few actors I recognized, but that should give you an idea of just how many friends Redford must have in the business, or otherwise how much they loved the script.

He did another solid job as the director, and certainly has nothing to prove in that department considering his debut film Ordinary People won him an Oscar as Best Director. Probably his most popular movie was Quiz Show, the fascinating story about the scandal of Charles Van Doren as the rigged winner of the popular game show Twenty One. Most recently he made a little-seen movie about the trial of some of the people accused of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, in the solid film The Conspirator. So once again Redford proves here that he can direct good dramas with the best of them.

I got a kick out of the constant incorporation of old photographs of the actors from the 60’s and 70’s. Since these guys have all been around in the public eye since then, you were immediately aware that you were looking at actual pictures of them. I’m not sure why, but it added an element of familiar realism to the otherwise mostly-fictitious story. That plus the fact that people such as Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford are famously outspoken liberals, so having them play people who used to be Vietnam-protesting activists didn’t feel like a stretch; it added subconscious authenticity.

If you’re in the mood for a good little suspenseful drama, have a good time seeing this old-fashioned throwback. Older doesn’t have to mean better or worse, but it’s certainly refreshing when you see it, and works well.

The movie was better than Lions For Lambs, a hit-you-over-the-head liberal drama that Redford directed in 2007 as a direct response to his George W. Bush frustration. It’s not as if that movie was boring, but boy was it full of over-the-top self-righteous liberalism to bang home some obvious points. The Company You Keep was not however as great as Quiz Show, which still holds up as a fantastic movie with some superb performances by Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro.

Movie Rating: B+ (Nothing was particularly new or amazing about it, but it was a piece of well-crafted, solid film-making, from beginning to end)

Boaz Rating: A-

Jurassic Park (3D) (“My Research & Adulation About The Masterpiece”)

30 Apr

Image

Synopsis: “During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Steven Spielberg is a God. Is that too sacrilegious a statement for an observant Jew to make? Fine, I’ll clarify it and say he’s just a god among men. How else to describe the fantasy that he has helped bring to life SO many times over the years with movie spectacle after movie spectacle.

It’s not just his budgets that create wondrous blockbusters, because numerous directors get hundreds of millions of dollars to play with, and their movies may be cool and fun, but they sure aren’t magical (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay). And he certainly doesn’t exclusively choose Oscar-bait material, because many of his movies would have been second-rate in other peoples’ hands. Imagine Jaws directed by anyone else. What are the chances  that the LACK of seeing the shark would be what scares the bejesus out of us. (I was one of countless kids who for years still had lingering twinges of fear when I’d dip my toes into a swimming pool!) How about Saving Private Ryan; do you think anyone else would have given you the terrifying sense of “being there” that you had during its initial 20 minute D-Day scene? In my opinion that scene escalates the film so much, that I consider it to be the greatest war movie ever made. I could honestly go on and on about my all-time favorite director, but let’s focus my attention on the brilliant blockbuster at hand, Jurassic Park. Oh what an awesome movie it was. And I’m happy to report that it stands the test of time. Seeing it on the big screen once again was exhilarating;  it was as scary, thrilling and (yes) funny as ever.

I need to mention the fact that Adi went with me to see the movie in 3D. For anyone who is unaware, I am incredibly critical of the 3D experience in movies, and my feelings generally range from hatred to mild apathy. Whether it’s about the distractions of the glasses constantly slipping off my nose, or how they feel pressed against my own glasses underneath, or the dulled tones and colors that result from the 3D effect…I despise the format. But for the sake of this particular blog post, I will write about the movie and not mention the 3D aspect again; one of these days I will revisit the topic and address/attack it as its own article.

Unlike most of my posts, the vast majority of people reading this blog will have seen the movie in the past, so I don’t need to convince anyone that it’s worth checking out. What I would like to do is remind people about some of the more brilliant aspects of the movie, and possibly offer some new information I’ve compiled from my research.

The Music

As soon as you saw the poster above, didn’t you start playing the music inside your head (or out loud for that matter)? If not, I welcome you to get in the mood and listen to it right here (at the start of the YouTube clip as well as the 2:25 minute mark). John Williams composed the score for all of Spielbergs’ movies, and has thus created some of the most memorable melodies in film history. He managed to somehow make 2 notes absolutely terrifying with his Jaws theme. He gave a platform to world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was forever immortalized in the beautifully haunting Schindler’s List theme. As Spielberg created another piece of cinematic history, so often John Williams followed. The melody for Jurassic Park was an instant-classic, and you would hear people singing it as soon as they’d leave the theater. To say it set the mood for the wonders on the screen would be a glaring example of understatement.

The Special Effects

It’s been 20 years since the movie came out. There have been so many advances in technology, computers and special effects, and nobody would even try to contest that statement. Then why on earth do these effects hold up as better and more “real” than the majority of big budget movies today? The amount of thought, care and dedication that went into the visual arts of this movie are astonishing. As fantastic as some of the CGI (computer-generated imagery) movies have gotten, so many film-makers have abused it to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear “CGI-heavy” as a descriptor for a movie – and it’s rarely meant as a compliment. (I’m looking at you Transformers!) Although Jurassic Park had plenty of CGI (and essentially revolutionized it), some of their key moments and characters were mechanical, touchable, animatronic dinosaurs – amazingly REAL ones I might add. When Sam Neill hugged the sick Triceretops? He wasn’t hugging a blue screen, the creature was created for the movie, and it was as if dinosaurs were alive and real…you can’t replace that realism! What about the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex that moved around snapping and snarling and darting rapidly? It was usually a robot. Holy cow-eating dinosaur! In fact it was SUCH a feat of brilliance creating the T. Rex that I invite you to watch these videos that were recently released here; they show the thought and genius that went into it, led by the world-famous special effects pioneer Stan Winston. There are 3 segments at 4 minutes apiece, and you may not understand all of the technical terms they’re using, but you will be amazed by their inventiveness! Are you curious to read a fun National Geographic piece about how the T. Rex from the movie compares to what we actually know about the monstrous creature? I am happy to provide you with a fun piece of reading material here!

Spielberg had originally hired Phil Tippett to use his go-motion animation technology to move the dinosaurs around. Tippett had previously created numerous famous go-motion effects, including the Imperial Walkers during The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg wasn’t happy with the end-result’s lack of realism in Jurassic Park, and when they saw initial CGI footage of the T. Rex running around and hunting the stampede of other dinosaurs, he famously said to Tippett, “You’re out of a job”, to which the go-motion wizard responded, “Don’t you mean extinct?”. That witty exchange of course made it into the movie itself! As for the shots when the dinosaurs WERE computer generated? I have no explanation as to why they still seem more real than most modern day effects. They just do.

The Script

It sure doesn’t hurt when the author is also one of the screenwriters, and that’s what happened here. Michael Crichton was hired to adapt his own screenplay, and David Koepp came in later and made some very clever changes to its final product. For example, there had been a lot of exposition in the book (and Crichton’s screenplay) about the backstory of HOW it was scientifically possible to bring dinosaurs back to life. Koepp solved this by creating the cute cartoon that was shown to the characters that explains it all. This and other changes took the meat of the clever story, and made it flow so darn well in a 2 plus hour movie. He also took Richard Attenborough’s owner-of-the-island character and made him a sweet, misguided, well-meaning old man instead of a ruthless billionaire. Trust me, when you watch the movie again you’ll realize just how many lines are now classic, and the comic timing is hilarious, especially when Jeff Goldblum speaks. Although I must admit I was rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the script where Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm asks Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) if she’s heard of chaos theory, and then later the butterfly effect. In both cases neither she nor anyone else is even familiar with the concepts. Seriously?! What the hell sort of schools did these other scientists go to? I was a lazy student in high school but even I had heard of both, c’mon! In spite of that slight lapse in judgment, the script was fun, memorable and well written by the author himself and Koepp. Other notable movies that Koepp has written include Mission: Impossible,  Spider-Man, and last year’s underrated popcorn flick Premium Rush.

The Actors

I would have never thought Sam Neill could be such a great hero, but he really pulled it off. It’s funny, because I don’t associate him with roles like this, as he’s usually a bit stodgy or serious, but here he fit the hat of an Indiana Jones-type perfectly. And it’s ironic, because Harrison Ford was actually Spielberg’s first choice. As the director once reported, “My first choice was Harrison. I went to the art department and I had them do a photo-realistic painting of the T-Rex chasing Harrison… and I put Harrison’s face on the character of the archaeologist, and sent the script, the book, and the picture to Harrison. The next day I got a call and he said, ‘This is not for me, pal.'” So as often seems to occur with famous roles, it could have gone to someone else and now we can’t really imagine it any other way. (William Hurt was also considered for the role before Sam Neill turned up.) Laura Dern was an interesting choice to make since she was mostly doing indie flicks at the time. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, she got the script while working on Wild At Heart, and only accepted the role when Nicolas Cage told her that it was his dream to work on a dinosaur movie and she’d be CRAZY to turn it down. And don’t get me started on Jeff Goldblum, his unique delivery is an acting class in itself.

Did You Know?

Pieces of information I wasn’t aware of until yesterday include:

-At the start of their automated tour of Jurassic Park, Richard Attenborough’s character tells everyone, “”The voice you’re now hearing is Richard Kiley. We’ve spared no expense.” I assumed Richard Kiley must have been a well-known actor from the days of yore, but there’s more to it. In the book, Chrichton wrote that Kiley was the narrator of the tour, so fittingly Spielberg was able to get him to actually do it for the movie.

-When they showed dinosaurs entire bodies moving around, or more distant shots, it was usually CGI. Most close-ups of them were animatronic though, including the majority of the climactic velociraptor-kitchen scene, which most people falsely believe was CGI. In fact during that scene Joseph Mazzello at one point ran into one of them and got injured. The seamless blend of computers with fleshy animatronics works so darn well, and that scene was terrifying!

-During filming a massive hurricane hit Kauai, causing the entire crew to flee. The pilot who took them off the island was Fred Sorenson. Who’s that? He was the same pilot who flew Indiana Jones away during the opening scene of Spielberg’s own Raiders Of The Lost Ark!

The Director

This brings us full circle back to the genius himself, Steven Spielberg. Seeing the movie on the big screen after all these years, I was able to see countless details and moments that demonstrate his mastery of the film-making craft. I will give some examples of this from just one famous scene in the movie, the T. Rex encounter: The cup of water rippling each time the T. Rex took a step…iconic. The rear-view mirror vibrating out-of-focus during that same thunderous sequence…brilliant. The close-up of the side-mirror showing the T. Rex chasing their vehicle, and almost caught up, with a funny focus on the words, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”!

There were truly endless moments of masterful film-making throughout the film, and as Adi said to me, it did two things that most movies never achieve: It scared her, and it made her care. The animatronics and CGI were able to make these dinosaurs more real than it had seemed imaginable, and the script was able to provide a hell of a fun story; but it’s only thanks to Steven Spielberg that each moment was actually suspenseful, touching and highly effective. The movie fires on all cylinders, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the next chapter of his illustrious career.

The movie was better than its sequels, including the Spielberg directed The Lost World. That one was certainly entertaining, but never as brilliantly innovative as the original. It wasn’t as good as…geez, do I really have to pick a better movie than a classic? Sure, okay, technically it wasn’t as fantastic as his own Schindler’s List. Are you happy now? I need to go wash my hands after that dirty, dirty comparison…

Quality Rating: A+(After everything I’ve written here, was there ever any doubt?)

Boaz Rating: A+

Trance

28 Apr

Image

Synopsis: “An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 41 minutes)

Talk about being stuck between two realities. Trance was really disappointing for a Danny Boyle flick, but interesting enough for a no-name director. It was either a really bad A-lister movie, or a really decent B-movie. On the one hand it was something you’d see in the theater and think of as a “rental”, or alternatively you’d see it late at night on cable and think it was a surprisingly good movie. Basically, it was an intriguing flick that tried to be clever and tricky, but mostly was using recycled gimmicks.

Let’s start by examining the man behind-the-scenes, Danny Boyle. As an exciting English director, he has been worth following for about 20 years. His first feature film was the clever dark comedy Shallow Grave, and he really broke out with his next one, the inventively filmed Trainspotting. I can still picture the disgusting scene where Ewan McGregor fishes through a FILTHY toilet to find his drugs, before literally climbing into it. Years later he energized the zombie genre by giving a sense of urgency and speed to the typically-slow corpses in his great movie 28 Days Later... His last two movies were deserving Oscar-bait material, first the wonderful Slumdog Millionaire, and then 127 Hours, which managed to make two hours of James Franco drinking his own pee an interesting passage of time, a true feat! A dossier like that makes me expect so much more than a decent B or C movie.

The basic premise of Trance was that James McAvoy’s character got involved with a bad crowd, stole some art, got hit in the head, got amnesia, and couldn’t remember what he did with the art. Thus hypnotherapy plays the title role. There are twists and turns, and sometimes you aren’t sure if a character is awake or in a hypnotized state. But none of it was as clever as it wanted to be, and that’s just plain disappointing. It wanted to be the same caliber as other movies that screw with your brain, including Inception, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Stranger Than Fiction,  but instead it came across as second-rate twisty entertainment that’s intriguing to watch but feels more like…late night cable. Even the music sounded like an 80’s electronica score, and not in a good Wendy Carlos kind-of-way. It just helped set the mood for a really good straight-to-video movie.

Another problem was with lead actor James McAvoy, whom I usually love. While I understand that it’s refreshing to have people play different ranges of roles, I didn’t enjoy following a character who was whiny, sniveling and ultimately an unlikable  guy, all while supposedly being the protagonist. There are plenty of movies in which the main character is an anti-hero, but if you get to the point where you don’t care if they live or die, that’s simply a badly written screenplay.

I will point out the Rated R elephant in the room. There was a depiction of nudity from Rosario Dawson in Trance that I have NEVER seen in any previous movie, and comes out of the blue when it does. In fact, when it suddenly happened, Josh and I both looked at each other in disbelief, and I’m actually shocked that the hyper-critical (and often hypocritical) MPAA didn’t stick the movie with an NC-17 as a result. It was also a bizarre bit of nudity, because it played such a key role in the plot, it ALMOST felt like Danny Boyle got an idea for a nudity-related plot device and then wrote an entire movie around it!

Truthfully the acting was all pretty good (Vincent Cassel was interesting to watch), and the  story was continuously intriguing. It’s just hard to take a movie seriously when it thinks it’s being more clever than it is, and you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

The movie was better than A Life Less Ordinary, an early Danny Boyle movie misfire that some people seemed to like; but it was a bizarre love story that never held my interest in spite of a promising cast. It was however not nearly as good as Trainspotting nor any of the examples of clever movies that mess with your brain I had mentioned earlier.

Quality Rating: C+

Boaz Rating: B-

The Call (“My Rant About Previews”)

27 Mar

Image

Synopsis: “When a veteran 911 operator takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 35 minutes)

Previews. What are they actually good for? In the best of times they whet your appetite for a movie without giving much away – some form of a teaser. In the worst of times, when you finish watching an ad you may turn to your friend and exclaim, “We just saw the entire movie!” Sadly, The Call is a prime example of this latter model.

We audiences are such confused beings. On the one hand we’ll sit there excited to watch each one, but at the same time every one of us has left a movie wishing we hadn’t seen the previews that clearly gave away too much. My friend Jared recently told me that he’d actually prefer to not know anything about a movie going into it because it seems to be much more fun not knowing what’s going to happen, or even what it’s about.

To help give you an idea, here is a breakdown of the movies I see each year, and how much I knew about them based on previews:

80% I’d seen enough from the previews to know the main plot, and the FUNNIEST jokes in the movie were given away (if a comedy); or the main developments of “what happens” was plotted out in advance if it’s a drama.

10% The previews showed so much, that it felt like watching the CliffsNotes version of the movie, leaving you to wonder if there was any reason to have actually seen it (The Call being a perfect example).

5% Like a breath of fresh air, the “coming attractions” were left either as teasers, or showed only montages of images which gave away nothing…variations of this can be previews that showed an entire long scene from the movie, but spoiled nothing else.

-5% Somehow I’d managed to not see a single preview for the movie before it came out, and it was completely new to me.

I can easily tell you that the last two that I listed above are far and away the most refreshing the rare times I experience them. How awesome it is that I get to actually see a movie and NOT know what’s going to happen next! I read an article at one point where a studio was being attacked for choosing to market a movie giving away major spoilers, and  their reaction both surprised and disappointed me: “It has been tested and proven that those ads that give away too much information work to pack people into the seats more than anything else”. So they’d rather ruin the movie if it sells more tickets. I can’t even blame them since it’s obviously all about making the most money; but how incredibly disappointing if that’s true, and people really want to see things more when all surprises have been removed from their movie-going experience!

Here is my experience watching The Call earlier tonight:

(Please note I do not consider this to be a spoiler because I will only repeat what the previews ALREADY showed. If you somehow haven’t seen a preview and plan to see the movie, feel free to skip this next part so you have a shot at actually seeing something with an element of surprise!)

Opening scene, a girl is kidnapped while on the phone with 911 operator Halle Berry. Yep, I knew this was gonna happen, now waiting for Halle Berry to get the girl killed by calling her back and the bad guy obviously hearing the phone ring (bonehead move when you see the preview, and still a bonehead move by Halle Berry when she does it in the movie). Okay, opening scene complete, now can we please move onto something I didn’t KNOW was about to happen?

Next girl, Abigail Breslin (aka Little Miss Sunshine all grown up); oh yeah, time for her to get kidnapped by the same guy. I saw that in the preview too. Okay, this is still acceptable I suppose because it’s only about 15-20 minutes into the movie. Let’s see something unexpected. Wait, right, I remember now. She’s going to call Halle Berry from the trunk of the kidnapper’s car, and be told to stick out her arm from the car to attract traffic. Got it, c’mon Abigail Breslin, show us something we didn’t know was going to happen…Oh look, there’s Michael Imperioli (aka Christopher from The Sopranos)…oh no, I remember, in the preview he’s sideswiped by a car or something that hits him and looks deadly. Right, guess he’s not around for long. Bummer. I remember, the bad guy lights up another guy at a gas station, and look, they’re stopping at a gas station now, maybe this is a different scene? Nope, same scene, guess the guy will get lit on fire like I saw in the previews.

Okay, 3/4 of the movie has happened, that MUST be all I know from the previews, right? Nope, I remember very clear images of Halle Berry taking the investigation into her own hands, and even though she’s “just a 911 operator” in the movie, she snoops around and finds the kidnapper. Yep, guess what, that brings us to the LAST TEN MINUTES OF THE MOVIE!

Seriously…I just told you absolutely nothing that wasn’t in the preview S-P-E-L-L-E-D out, and it included the start, middle and END of the movie, it’s out of control! To clarify, there are times that scenes and images from the start, middle and end of the movie are in the preview but they are glimpses, shown out of order, and you end up knowing NOTHING going into the movie. This is different from a preview like this where it’s in chronological sequence and told like an abridged version of the movie itself. If the market research really proves that this is what gets people into seats more than just teasers, then I simply don’t understand the mindset of the typical movie-goer, because it sure as heck annoyed me, Adi and Jared when we saw the movie together.

And here’s the thing that you probably didn’t see coming after all of this frustration I’m spouting: It was an exciting movie! Really. An adrenaline rush. Somehow in the midst of knowing every bloody scene that was about to happen, the director Brad Anderson did a great job of creating suspense and excitement that sustains itself for most of the movie. At face value this looks like it will be a movie only fit for 3 A.M. on Cinemax, but it actually worked. The acting was nothing special, but served its purpose. Abigail Breslin was endlessly terrified, and that was effective enough. Halle Berry didn’t do much to write home about, I was more impressed by her roles in the underrated (and confusing) Cloud Atlas. Morris Chestnut simply takes over the same boring role as a cop that he just played in the comedy Identity Thief. The bad guy though – played by Michael Eklund – was VERY creepy, in a super-tormented psychopath kind-of-way. I was so surprised by the taut excitement that Brad Anderson created, I went to look him up as soon as I got home. It turns out he was the indie director who made that incredible performance-piece movie The Machinist, where Christian Bale famously turned his buff physique into a disgustingly emaciated body. Interesting to see the journey this director has taken since then, going very mainstream here, but still making a very exciting movie as I said.

I need to clarify though: the ending of the movie, with Halle Berry finding the bad guy herself (as the previews showed), was crazy. And not in a good way, but in a “you’ll be yelling at the screen for its being so ridiculous”. The audience had been quietly watching the movie up until then, and yet suddenly during the absurd ending you could hear tons of laughter and incredulous “what the hell?!” exclamations from everyone. So basically a good movie was given a ridiculous ending, and was spoiled by tons of previews. Yuck. What a shame…because it really was fun.

The scariest thing when all is said and done? I know I’d be better off never watching another “coming attraction”, but if I have to be honest, I’m still going to try my best to get to the movies early; because gosh darn it, I just REALLY enjoy watching those darn previews!

The movie was better than Phone Booth, an entertaining but stupid movie where Colin Farell was trapped in a phone booth talking the entire time, much like Halle Berry & Abigail Breslin here. It wasn’t as good as Buried, where Ryan Reynolds is buried underground with nothing but a cell phone to call for help. Very exciting little movie!

Quality Rating – B (Good suspense, okay acting. Just can’t give a higher grade with such a ludicrous ending. I’m trying not to let the spoiler-filled previews affect my grade)

Boaz Rating – A- (Everything that I said positively about the movie, as well as everything I complained about was equally entertaining to watch; just not all of them were for the right reasons)