Tag Archives: Thriller

13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director)

26 Apr

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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…

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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!  

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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…

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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!)

Trance

28 Apr

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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-

Safe Haven (“My Take On Nicholas Sparks Movie Adaptations”)

14 Feb

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Synopsis: “A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 55 minutes)

I saw a chick flick on Valentine’s Day! What did Adi think of it you might ask? That’s a fair question, seeing as we just got engaged 4 days ago and it’s V-Day. But no, not only was she busy tonight, but she had absolutely zero interest in seeing another dramatic, run-of-the-mill Nicholas Sparks movie adaptation. I’m like an encyclopedia when it comes to movies, but even I have trouble remembering which is which! No, I went with Matti and continued our fun tradition of seeing mediocre chick flicks together, although to call this one mediocre may be kind.

To discuss this movie I first need to reiterate just how typical and formulaic Nicholas Sparks novels are. (To be fair, I haven’t read a single one, so technically all I can be sure of is how formulaic the movie adaptations of his novels tend to be.) I’d like to share a website with you that makes me laugh as it shows the posters for all of the ones that have been made. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but perhaps posters are the exception to that rule:

http://www.nicholassparks.com/movies

Seeing any lazy patterns? I sure am! Four of the previous six movies have posters which are simply closeups with one character nearly kissing another, his or her hand sexily embraces the other one’s face. This is what makes it fun for me to watch, it’s almost like a drinking game where you can go and set up the rules:

-Take a shot when you find out the main character has a dark backstory which gets revealed as the movie progresses (Safe Haven, The Lucky One etc.).

-Take another shot when they first clash but eventually start something romantic (Safe HavenThe Lucky One etc.).

-Continue to take shots as one character meets the adorable child of the other (Safe HavenThe Lucky One etc.).

-What? There’s a dangerous ex who you have to contend with at some point? Take another shot (Safe HavenThe Lucky One etc.)!

Actually, come to think of it, the most similar of all of his movie adaptations seems to be this latest entry and The Lucky One, which starred Zac Efron as a rugged loner – if you can believe that description of the High School Musical star.

They seem to only be getting more formulaic (and more like a Lifetime movie) as each new one comes out. Glaring plot points make no sense. I mean at one point in this movie, someone is stabbed in his side with a knife, and within the hour he is running around as if nothing happened…what?! Guys might make fun of The Notebook, but it was actually kind of an awesome, dramatic chick flick. Ryan Gosling is simply a really good actor, Rachel McAdams was delightful, James Garner and Gena Rowlands as old versions of Gosling & McAdams were fantastic, and the movie hit every emotional note necessary to make most grown men cry (at least that’s what I tell myself to justify how much it made ME cry)! But whatever was original or at least done really well there, has mostly been beaten over the head by Sparks and the filmmakers, and there’s basically nothing subtle or original left. What’s left is taking the pieces of what worked in previous ones, and patching them together like a quilt and hoping that the audience will swoon and laugh and cry at all the right moments: Adorable child gives the laughs and the “awwwww” moments? Check. Lead actor gives the “oh my God he’s SO hot” money shots? Check. Moment where they inevitably kiss passionately in the rain gives every girl in the audience, “why can’t my boyfriend be like that” thoughts? Check! All of these things and so many more will happen, few if any will be original, and people will be excited to see how it ends because they’ve been emotionally manipulated to do so. But hey, that’s film-making.  I don’t mind being manipulated into caring about characters in crappy movies; I’m a sucker for a bad movie, I just kind of hope that people who watch can realize how bad they are along the way.

Lest I get away from what’s specific to this movie…in the role of the dark, sexy drifter played by Zac Efron in The Lucky One, this time around it’s the female character played by Julianne Hough being all gloomy and mysterious (and sexy). The role of the hard-working, trusted member of the town with kids who the drifter falls in love with? That would be Josh Duhamel this time around. And let me just tell you that within the first minute of meeting his adorable daughter you will be melting – absolutely melting – because she is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in all of its cheese-whiz glory.

What baffles me is that the director is Lasse Hallström, who made Chocolat as well as Cider House Rules. When his name first came up on the screen I laughed and exclaimed, “WHAT?!” He always made pretty, emotional, and slightly overrated movies, but they were still far better than Nicholas Sparks trash. This isn’t even his second one, he also directed Channing Tatum in Dear John it turns out. I’m not sure why he’s slumming it lately, but so be it. (I will give a small shout-out to a straight to DVD movie he made a few years ago which was actually REALLY GOOD. It’s called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. It stars Richard Gere and is about him and his loyal dog, and everything about it should make it crap, but it’s ADORABLE, and the best tearjerker you’ve seen in a long time….I actually recommend that one.)

Finally, I won’t get into detail since I refuse to give spoilers in my reviews, but let me tell you that there is a twist at the end which I didn’t quite see coming, and it was crazy. I mean absolutely, bat-shit nuts, it makes no sense within its own genre, and makes me want to find Nicholas Sparks and just shake him and ask what the heck he is smoking when writing this stuff.

The movie was better than…geez, it may be the worst of his movie adaptations. I remember thinking that Message In A Bottle was terrible and boring, so let’s go with that one. And it’s worse than Dear John, which I found at least somewhat more interesting, and with two more captivating stars (Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried).

Quality Rating: C- (It gets some points since it’s still doing its job in a basic way to create this romance, however unoriginal)

Boaz Rating: C+ (Yes I still enjoyed watching it, and making fun of it throughout)