Directors

Interview with SHORT TERM 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton

People expect differently from films these days.

At some point (when did it happen?) films became an extension of the amusement park experience – with audiences wanting each consecutive film to be even bigger, capable of instilling more awe, more spectacle. Something to take them by the shoulders and shake them; a visceral physical experience. This is of course one thing film can be.

But we have stopped expecting what earlier generations did from films. We have stopped expecting a film to be a fully rounded emotional experience. One that makes us simultaneously reflect on the inequities of life and be happy with our own condition. I mean the sort of experience filmgoers must have had when they went to the cinemas to watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or CASABLANCA or SINGING IN THE RAIN or CITYLIGHTS. That emotional purity has gone entirely missing from modern cinema. Sentimentality has become a pejorative cinematic ideal. But sentimentality when well-earned and done with authenticity can make for the most potent of film experiences. And this is what makes SHORT TERM 12 an exceptional achievement.  It is the rare film that can claim possession of that emotionally purity. Set in a facility for foster care adolescents and the young employees who work there, this film could have wallowed in pious sanctimony at every step. Instead it takes every one of those tricky situations and makes them honest and grounded as the film builds to great power.

Unknown-2So there was understandale apprehension when Rashmi and I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of SHORT TERM 12; how does one maintain objectivity when meeting with the creator of a film you admire so much? We tried.

Below are excerpts from the interview with Destin Daniel Cretton and Ron Najor a producer of the film.

Destin: So (amongst the three Moviewallas) who didn’t like our movie and who did?

Rashmi: This is the problem because we all loved it. And we are not just saying that. So we do want to say congratulations. Yazdi’s so moved he can’t even speak at the minute.

Yazdi: Let me try. We always mention that the best movies for us are the ones which have that perfect trifecta of great writing, great directing and great acting. And very often you have two but not all three of those (components) and this film….oh man.

Destin: thanks.

Rashmi: I want to start by saying that we watched the short (on which this film is based). Can you talk about going from a short to a feature

Director Destin Daniel Cretton and Actor John Gallagher Jr. at the Los Angeles Film Festival

Director Destin Daniel Cretton and Actor John Gallagher Jr. at the 2103 Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF)

Destin: Initially when I started writing the feature I was keeping all the same characters from the short. But I couldn’t even start; I couldn’t even put a sentence down. It just felt…it felt uninspired. And it also just felt boring to me, because I felt like I was retelling the same thing. And as soon as I decided to change the main character to a female supervisor, it became a whole new challenge and a whole new story; everything kind of opened up. For me it’s like the difference between going from writing something the way that I thought it’s supposed to be done and writing something that felt fun and felt fresh and real and new. Because I never wrote the short planning to turn it into a feature. Everything that I have done so far has been a way to try something I haven’t tried before. And so this was totally that. It was to stretch myself and explore other parts of this world that I wasn’t able to do in the short.

Rashmi: And Ron, did you have any involvement in the short or did you come into the feature?

Ron: I came into this feature but we had done a previous feature called I’M NOT A HIPSTER. So we sort of had a working relationship and they asked me to be a part of the feature version of SHORT TERM 12.

Rashmi: What were some of the challenges you faced in producing this movie

Ron: The casting part for us was one of the most challenging. It’s partially because with independent filmmaking, it’s a sort of tedious thing (where) once you get financed you then have this really short timeline for finding all the right people. So that was kind of nerve-wracking on our end. And just a bunch of different obvious things (including) the basic budgetary things. But overall it was a pretty lovely shoot; we had just all the right people. It was a lot of people from our I’M NOT A HIPSTER shoot. So there was a wonderful short-hand..

Rashmi: Which is probably comforting I guess.

Destin: I think it was necessary for my sanity to have good friends around.

short-term-12-posterYazdi: Can we talk about the casting for a minute? Because for me much of the movie stands on the particular characteristics of the Grace character. It’s all about her. And until I saw the movie I didn’t realize how many people I knew like her who are so open and communicative and just phenomenal at their jobs but then they go home, and they are completely closed off and they are not communicative. Was she written with somebody in mind? And then how did you go about finding the right fit (for Grace)?

Destin: Grace is a combination of a lot of inspirations. Two of my supervisors when I was working at a similar place were young female supervisors who the few times that I saw them outside of work, were very shy. One of them was very small in frame, she was just a petite girl and did not seem like she could be the supervisor of anything (laughter). But when she stepped on to that floor, it was like she just went into character. It was so bizarre, she was one of the best supervisors that I have worked with. She really demanded respect from the kids, but also respected the kids. And was an enforcer of rules. But also didn’t treat the kids like they were lesser human beings. And there was something that was just so impressive to me. But also made me wonder: what is she like outside…because I did not know her personally, but it made me wonder, what is she like in other parts of her life?

Grace is inspired too by other people that I know. But also Grace is inspired by me. I have that tendency. There are certain situations when it is so easy for me to be open and honest and allow myself to be vulnerable and then there are other situations where I am like….I am not telling now, and nobody gets in. And she is definitely a way for me to explore things that I wrestle with as well.

Rashmi: And how long did it take you to write the feature?

Destin: 2009 was when I started writing the feature. And I got through one draft. And then was introduced to Asher Goldstein; he has kind of been a producer on this project from Day One. He is with a company called Traction Media and he came on board and read that draft and was the first person to say I want to do this with you. And so together we started reworking. He (started) giving me notes on that draft. There was one pretty drastic rewrite from that point; most of that rewrite was just simplifications, it was trying to combine characters so there weren’t so many story lines going on. And that was at the end of 2009. We finished another draft over the course of a few months and in 2010 that new draft won the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship which was a huge stamp of approval for the movie. I don’t know if you are familiar with that. Once a year they give out five fellowships based on screenplay submissions to writers.

Yazdi: And it’s nationwide?

Destin: Yeah, its worldwide. But it is given out by the Academy Of Motion Pictures. And then two things happen. One you get money. At that time it was 30,000 dollars, now it is 35,000 dollars. But you are also accepted into this community of just wonderful people. All these writers, the list of past Nicholl winners is pretty wonderful and it’s a very inspiring thing to happen. It’s just crazy that that happened, I still can’t believe it . But (after) that fellowship we still weren’t able to get funding for SHORT TERM 12. But that fellowship allowed me to write another screenplay which ended up being I’M NOT A HIPSTER. And I wrote that specifically to be able to do it on our own if we couldn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. And…..we didn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. So we shot I’M NOT A HIPSTER and I used a lot of the money that they gave me and put that into the pot along with Ron who put money in the pot. And Ron’s uncle put money in the pot. And then that premiered at Sundance and then that was a huge reason we ended up getting funding for SHORT TERM 12.

Yazdi: I’m sorry I keep coming back to the cast, because I just can’t get past it. I think that if there is any justice in the world, Brie Larson will get end-of-year awards recognition.

Destin: I’m with you.

Unknown-5Rashmi : She is phenomenal.

Yazdi: She is devastating. How did you find her? Of course she has been doing a lot of television, and you mentioned there was a very narrow period of time to look for somebody – and even John Gallagher Jr, who plays Mason – they are perfect for their roles. Did you look for long or did you happen to get lucky? And how did you know you had found them?

Destin: There was a lot of luck, but we didn’t just pick somebody.

There were specific things about Brie that initially excited me. Just from looking at her reel. Her ability to transform from character to character even when she is playing little bit roles, she’s just like a completely different person. Whether she’s doing comedy or drama, she is always acting from her gut. She’s performing from this thing that is just happening in the moment. So many times she will be reading lines that I know were scripted, but it just doesn’t feel scripted. So that was very exciting to me. And then what sealed the deal was that we did a Skype call. It wasn’t an audition, it was just a conversation and she was actually on the set of THE SPECTACULAR NOW (at the time). And she had read the script. She had told me that she had signed up to volunteer at some group homes already because she was so excited about the idea. And I was obviously really impressed by that. Later she told me that she had been denied by all those people (laughter). So she actually did not get to volunteer but it was still impressive that she was that passionate about it. And in a good way she can be very obsessive, and she goes for it. And she started researching as much as she could about the subject. As a director you cannot ask for anything more than an actor who loves the project and the character so much that they become the expert on that character. And also she is just smart, she got the character. And then there’s something just intrinsically about her that felt like Grace. When she would stop and I could watch her brain ticking behind her eyes as she is thinking about something, and it felt like Grace.

Rashmi: She is a great actress and she has done great work, but I think the range that you were able to get from her – and the depth – to affect an audience so deeply that we feel that we know this character. That’s not easy. What do you do to really pull that out of them?

Yazdi: It’s the script.

Destin:  It’s everything, It’s the environment that everyone helps create on set.  A lot of the scenes that people really connect with Grace on, we shot later. It took a little time to create an environment where everyone felt really safe. Safe to be themselves and safe to mess up. And know that no one’s going to jump on them. So then that makes them more daring, makes them try things that they have never tried before. And I think the moments when everybody started to thrive more and more were just a few days – when they realized this is a safe place to play. So I think that had a lot to do with it. I don’t know… the wonderful thing about Brie is that she is kind of fearless. Nobody is a hundred percent but the best thing you can ask from an actor is to just like go for it and mess up really bad. And not care and do it again as opposed to just trying safe things that they know that they can do really well. And Brie was just going for it, and it was great.

Rashmi: And the kids, some of the kids are younger. Was it the first performance for some of them?

Destin: Close to. Alex Calloway had acted before….but this was his first film. Keith Stanfield, it’s his first feature too.

 Unknown-4Yazdi: Ah, I loved that Marcus character

Ron: He was the only one who came from the original short film.

Yazdi: I love his character. Different people communicate differently and that’s how he finds his way to communicate. We talk abstractly about art helping us. And here is an example of art literally helping him speak his mind. This kind of stuff is very hard to do. It can come off inauthentic. It is a fine line to walk and stay on the right side.

Destin: It was a frightening movie to direct. Because there are probably like 30 scenes in this movie that could have just thrown the train off the rails if something was too melodramatic, or pushed too far in that direction.

Rashmi: And you are flirting with some interesting issues as well. You are kind of saying I am showing you what the situation is but I am not going to say whether I am for this or against this. I think the film does a nice job of not manipulating the audience. How much did you have to pull back with the pen?

Destin: We had to pull back a lot with everything. I mean we pulled…I overshot. I shot a lot of things that I knew was not going to make the cut.

Rashmi: DVD special!

Destin: Yeah, there’s actually going to be half an hour’s worth of material. But I think everything about this movie was trying to see how much we can take away from it. In terms of  stripping down the music. In the editing. See how much we can take away from it and…still allow audiences to feel.

It’s still a movie. I wanted it to be a movie. It’s not supposed to just be emulating non-fiction. It’s a story that has things that happen that I wanted to happen. Like I wanted to watch Grace just beat the shit out of a car.  I wanted her to have that.

Rashmi: I was (thinking I) want to do that.

Destin: That’s obviously fiction mixed in…there’s definitely an emotional ride that’s happening. So I wanted people to enjoy this ride. But we also didn’t want to be yanking people around. We found the more we took out the better the experience it was for people. By taking, I mean taking out our blatant fingerprints, if that makes sense.

images-6Yazdi: I wanted to ask about the Mason character. He seemed to me a very realistic embodiment of stability. The kind of rock that everybody wishes they had to lean on. It’s very easy in movies to have characters which are mean or have an obvious motivation to behave poorly, but to have a character who displays decency and who is well intentioned, that calls for skill.

Some of my favorite scenes are the ones with his family. Was his family specifically written to be different? He is obviously from a different heritage, but yet they are so accepting. And I loved that little part of the movie.

Destin: I do too. I do too.

I see the Grace character as kind of the thing that I struggle with. And I see Mason as the person that I want to be more like.

Mason was created out of trying to figure out who Grace would allow to be in her life. Because she throws everyone away. Mason is persistent but he is also very non-threatening. He is really supportive, like annoyingly supporting. But he is also just so goofy and not cool that it makes sense that Grace would feel safe around him.

And it was very important for me to show that scene; it’s a small scene but I think it is one of the most important scenes in the movie. Where he gives that speech when his parents come out. We see an example of the system working extremely well. Which has nothing to do with the system; it has to do with those people, because there are good people working in every system figuring out a way to do it. To me that scene just represents so much of what I know is possible in the world. The good things that humans are capable of doing happen in that scene. Just like color doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is or what your traditions are. Its just acceptance of human beings having fun together.

 

Girl Most Likely | Review

What lengths would you go to in order to get a boyfriend/girlfriend back?  This is one of the central questions faced by thirty-something Imogene (Kristen Wiig), who was once a promising young New York playwright but whose promise has fizzled, thanks to a crisis of confidence in the comedy Girl Most Likely. 

Heavily in denial about being dumped by her society boyfriend, Imogene uses her skill for drama to stage an elaborate fake suicide as an appeal for his sympathy. However when her attempt backfires, she is put into the custody of Zelda, her estranged gambling addict mother (Annette Bening), and must return home with her to the Jersey shore. Desperate to get back to her Manhattan circle of so- called friends, Imogene must finally deal with her family, including her unique crab obsessed brother (Christopher Fitzgerald), Zelda’s new shady CIA boyfriend The Bousche (Matt Dillon) and a cute young lodger and wannabe singer (Darren Criss), who together help Imogene sort out her place in the world.

Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“The Nanny Diaries”), Girl most likely also attempts to explore the mother-and-child relationship and the length that parents go to in order to protect their children.

girl-most-likely-international-poster

This is a frothy sweet and rather light movie that leaves you wishing it had a little more depth and flavor. Wiig’s demonstration yet again of her impeccable comedic timing and her portrayal of a desperate imploding woman, which is more than adequate, was enjoyable to watch, however it felt like this character was another version of the one she played in her breakout hit from last year Bridesmaids.

 The story is a little too implausible and lacked consistency in tone.  The film seems to have trouble deciding whether it wants to be an all out family comedy or tender drama about the trials and tribulations of class, single parenting and ambition.

Even with a great cast in Benning, Dhillon and Fitzgerald, this movie didn’t convince me to join it on it’s journey and so I ended up not quite caring for our main protagonist.  That’s not to say that there aren’t a few really funny and tender moments which make this movie an easy watch.

Overall, despite another great performance from Kristen Wiig, a complicated back-story and a few too many quirky characters made this otherwise potentially interesting character story come across a little over-cooked.

Girl Most Likely by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions is released this Friday July 19th. Check local listings for showtimes

 

Wadjda | LAFF 2013

In a country where cinemas are banned and women cannot drive or vote, WADJDA is a movie of firsts. The first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first film to be written and directed by a Saudi woman Haifaa Al-Mansour.  Al Mansour has broken many barriers with her new film and no doubt as it did for me, this film will remain with you long after the closing credits have rolled.

Wadjda_Poster_1_640x920

At a high level the story is simple, Wadjda tells the story of a young girl living in a suburb of Riyadh determined to raise enough money to buy a bike in a nation that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. However, at it’s core, this movie does a wonderful job of exploring what it’s like to be different and want other things to those around you.  It plays with our expectation of “normal” in a complex culture and one that is often hidden to us; yet, does it manages to do this in a rich and meaningful way.  A story about mothers and daughters, relationships in a society where men are allowed to take more than one wife and expectations whilst maintaining humor, this is a movie that will lift your spirit and make it soar

The great story is elevated by brilliant acting and great direction. Waad Mohammed who plays the delightful Wadjda is mesmerizing, funny and extremely likable whilst the beautiful Reem Abdullah who plays her mother is

amusing and perfectly poised as she portrays what it is like to be a modern woman in a not so modern place

So, if you’re asking yourself whether a movie about a girl wanting a bike is worth rushing out to go and see, I say RUN, This movie made me laugh and cry and educated me.   Welcome to one of my favorite movies of the year. I have fallen in love with this movie and it won’t leave me

Wadjda Trailer


A Hijacking | Review

How many times have you asked yourself the question “How much is a Life worth” and have you ever considered how that would change if you had to pay for it?  Tobias Lindholm’s movie A Hijacking elegantly captures the process of negotiation between a large Danish corporation with much on the line and Somali pirates who seem to have nothing to lose.

a-hijacking-poster

 When the cargo ship MV Rozen is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean as it is heading for harbor the ship’s cook Mikkel and the engineer Jan who, along with the rest of the seamen, are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars, a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company and the Somali pirates.

The movie stars Søren Malling (“Borgen,” Talenttyven, A Royal Affair), Johan Philip Asbæk (Spies & Gilstrup, “Borgen,” A Family, ), Dar Salim (“Game of Thrones,” “Borgen,” The Devil’s Double, Submarino ), and Roland Møller (Northwest, R)

Lindholm (“Borgen,” The Hunt, Submarino, R) creates tension and raises the stakes without overdoing the action.  This is as much psychological thriller as it is a narrative of the perils faced by cargo ships on the open seas.  As the film unfolds slowly, tension builds to unbearable levels as we become totally enthralled and invested in what will happen to the crew.   Lindholm manages to keep us on the edge of our seats as we hope and pray that they will see their families again.  This film is gritty and realistic and whilst we experience the wonder of being on the open seas on a cargo ship to start with, we quickly get a sense of the claustrophobia experienced not only by the hostages as they are locked in a small space but also by those negotiating for their lives who also become hostages themselves.  Good acting and direction allow us to witness the journey of a smart business man who quickly learns that the same tricks that help you win in the business world do not help when you are trying to negotiate with psychopathic sociopathic hijackers

This film is a fascinating look at the things that bond people together and the relationship that hijackers and hostages often build with each other.

A HIJACKING be opening in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, Irvine (in Orange County) and San Francisco on Friday, June 21, 2013.  Check link below and local listings for play times

 

http://www.magpictures.com/dates.aspx?id=e0b17d74-6d43-44f7-8c91-802ed0d7e7a4

 

2012 Toronto Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Venice Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Tokyo International Film Festival (Official Selection)

2013 New Directors/New Films (Official Selection)

2013 Palm Springs International Film Festival (WON- Director to Watch)

2013 Robert Festival (WON- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Editor, Best Screenplay, Best Sound)

2013 AFI Fest (WON- Audience Award)

2012 Thessaloniki Film Festival (WON- FIPRESCI Prize, Golden Alexander Award)

Sightseers I Review

Being a child of the Eighties, any film that opens with the classic Soft Cell song “Tainted Love” is one to get my attention immediately and I’m happy to say that this movie not only got my attention but managed to keep it throughout the entire duration.

 Sightseers tells the story of Chris (Steve Oram) who wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that separates these wonders in his life. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way

over a very jagged edge.

Sightseers_Poster_4_4_13

This is a strange and rather unexpected English movie that goes to a place that you just don’t expect it to by turning the seemingly quiet and sometimes rather boring countryside on its head.  Competently directed by Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace, Kill List), this is sweet, horrific and enjoyable all at the same time and that’s not an easy feat to pull off in my mind.  This movie will have you laughing and grimacing within seconds of each other and if you are a fan of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg movies, this will definitely appeal to you.

As all good movies teach us, it is often not the subject matter itself but the relationship between those involved that pulls us in and keeps us throughout the journey, Sightseers showcases two delightful actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram who play the central characters of Tina and Chris.  Both at times are sweet and endearing and you can’t help but like them and their ever stranger behavior as the movie progresses.  The chemistry between the two is a joy to watch and it feels like the characters have been fully developed and realized

Anyone who is English or an Englishphile will really enjoy this movie and even if you are not, you will enjoy the great 80s score (even though it’s not set in that time).   A modern day English country side Bonny and Clyde Horror love story (well sort of)

http://blog.sightseersmovie.com/

Sightseers opens on  Friday, May 10, 2013 at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema in New York and at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West L.A.  Check local Listing for screen times in other cities

 

 **OFFICIAL SELECTION – Directors’ Fortnight: CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2012**

**OFFICIAL SELECTION: SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013**

**OFFICIAL SELECTION: TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012**

** LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE FILM AWARDS 2013 (WON- BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH FILMMAKER) **

 **EVENING STANDARD BRITISH FILM AWARDS 2013 (WON- PETER SELLERS AWARD FOR COMEDY)**

  **BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS 2012 (WON- BEST SCREENPLAY)**

  **MAR DEL PLATA FILM FESTIVAL 2012 (WON- BEST SCREENPLAY) **

 **STIGES- CATALONIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012

 (WON- BEST ACTRESS, BEST SCREENPLAY)**

Downloaded | SXSW 2013

Back in the year 2000, when the rest of the world for worrying about the Y2K bug, we were making the decision to get a broadband connection to enable us faster access to the worldwide web.  A big driver of this decision was a new service we had discovered called Napster which enabled us to share music that we had purchased with our friends.  More importantly it gave us access to a world of music we had never been exposed to.  Imagine my delight then when at this year’s SXSW, the movie Downloaded was playing.   Welcome to one of my favorite films of the SXSW 2013 Film festival.

downloaded

Downloaded written and directed by Alex Winter (yes, that Alex Winter of Bill S Preston fame – Bill and Ted) focuses on the advent of digital media sharing, including the rise of game-changing company Napster and controversial pioneers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The digital revolution ultimately created a technology paradigm shift and upended the music industry.   This great documentary has insights from well known music artists and figures within the music industry including: The Beastie Boys’ Mike D, Noel Gallagher, Henry Rollins, former Sony Music Chairman, Don Ienner, former record producer and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Alex Winter masterfully documents an account of a time and events that in my mind changed history.  More importantly he has shared the profile of a young Sean Fanning who has previously been portrayed as an anarchist as a thoughtful and rather lonely young boy who just wanted to push and understand the boundaries of the technology of the time.  In addition, we see a very different Sean Parker to the one portrayed in last years hit The Social Network.  What particularly resonated with me through the entire movie was the story of the genius young minds behind Napster and what motivated them and it’s not always what you may think it was.

Watching a group of brilliant young minds come together and create something that not only changed the public perception of what they were willing to pay for and which ultimately brought the music industry as it had been for years to it’s knees but also how these young men defend themselves against corporations is fascinating.  This is a David vs. Goliath story that is definitely worth a watch.

fanning and parker

The biggest treat for me came during the Q and A after the movie when we got to meet Alex, Winter and both the Seans in person.  The interaction between the three and especially the Seans just solidified how brilliantly Winter had captured the essence of these incredibly talented young men.  If you have any interest in music, entrepreneurialism, dot com or milestones in history, this is a must see documentary

 

 

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN: all about Viggo

My most surreal experience at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival occurred during the screening of EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN.

Everybody Has A Plan

Everybody Has A Plan

At one point in this movie, there are two Viggo Mortensens on the screen; he plays twin brothers. And the actual Viggo Mortensen, who was attending the Toronto premiere of the movie, was in the seat directly behind me. There were literally Viggo Mortensens everywhere I looked. Two full-screen Viggos in front of me, and the real-life one behind me. Mortensen is somebody I have long respected as an actor, from his The Indian Runner days in the early nineties, through his remarkable run of David Cronenberg films (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method) and of course his most visible turn in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Is there such a thing as too much Viggo? Based on that surreal moment at the Toronto screening, I am happy to report, the answer is ‘no’.

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN (Todos Tenemos Un Plan),  an Argentinian film, takes film noir and carries it through its fullest possibilities.

Mortensen plays the dual roles of Agustin, a well to do Buenos Aires pediatrician who is coming untethered from his wife, and Pedro, the far less fortunate twin brother living in the impoverished water-logged islands of El Tigre delta who has his hands dirty with involvement with the local crime leader. The swampy islands in the movie bear a striking resemblance to the setting of the recent Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

Throw into this story Pedro’s younger lover, hard-scrabble criminals who will stop at nothing to recover lost money, switched identities, and bee-keeping as a metaphor for the perils of getting too close to something dangerous – and you have a viscous, steaming brew of film noir set in South America. To reveal too much more about the plot is to take away from its pleasures. Suffice it to say that after one brother is forced to take on the identity of the other, he momentously fails to appreciate the nightmare he is walking into. The film has a brooding slow burn that makes the sporadic, sudden bursts of brutal violence that much more effective when they occur. Rigidly realistic with the look of the region where the story is set, the cinematography of the scenes in the El Tigre islands in particular are effective; the film has a very definite sense of geography. There is also a studied realism to the emotional connections between the main characters – who are complex, irrational and damaged, and all the more believable because of that; this film is miles away from the traditional movie experience. All of which is surprising considering that this is only the first film from the young director Ana Piterbarg.

Mortensen has to do much of the heavy-lifting here, being in practically every scene, and in this Spanish-language movie he demonstrates that he is just as compelling an actor in any language. Just like in the film, during the Q and A session after the screening, Mortensen performed double-duty. While on stage he translated audience questions into Spanish for his director. And then translated what she had to say back into English for the audience. Lets see some other actors who claim versatility match that.

Using the familiar premise of mixed-identity as only the springboard to tell a complex, violent, obsessive crime story, this film will particularly resonate for those seeking respite from the bland Hollywood fare. EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN opens in New York City and Los Angeles this Friday, March 22, 2013 with wider national release in the following weeks.

Much Ado About Nothing | SXSW 2013

Is it already time for yet another rendition of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing I hear you ask?  Well, when that version is a slick and stylish black and white contemporary one directed by Joss Whedon (yes, the same JW who just directed last year’s blockbuster The Avengers), one should take note and take note we did on day 2 of SXSW 2013. The lines were long for this one and despite the fact that there was a torrential downpour in Austin; we waited patiently in a line that wrapped multiple times outside the building and around a long corner.

MV5BMTgxNjQ0MjAwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI1NDEyOQ@@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_

I wasn’t disappointed by this exquisitely directed light and frothy, bubbly and joyful movie, which at its core remains a romantic comedy that explores barriers that stand in the way of love.  Shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own house that was designed by his architect wife and co producer Kai Cole, (whilst he should have been on vacation with his family following the wrap of Avengers), I was drawn into the modern day world where Beatrice and Benedick hate, question and then fall in love with each other.

William Shakespeare’s words from yonder year come alive quickly and although I think one could be easily distracted by Ye Olde English and some may even find the juxtaposition between non-relevant language (anachronisms to the hilt) a little jarring and non believable, once you allow yourself to be immersed into the story and the great acting by a terrific cast, you will quickly see that this latest edition of Much Ado is a testament to the fact that the human condition stays the same even though time and technology move on.

My only criticism of the movie (and I had to dig deep for this mind you) is that at times, some scenes (especially those at the “Police station”) came across a little too much like an SNL skit and at times the movie felt a little precious and over stylized.

IMG_1575

Much ado About Nothing Panel at SXSW2013

Following the movie, we were treated to a Q and A with a panel of 13 of the cast members and Mr. Whedon himself.  As you can imagine, most of the audience were die hard Whedonites who asked questions about how the movie was cast and shot and how much they love his work and so on, but it was most touching when a young lady stood up and nervously stated that she had promised herself that if she ever got to talk to the man himself, she would tell him how thankful she was for all his work through the years and how much watching his movies through some hard times had helped and inspired her personally.  She really tried to hold it together but was extremely emotional and remarkably, even though I rolled my eyes to start with, I along with most of the room felt a little lump in my throat as she sat down having shared a very heartfelt and very personal outpouring; aahh, the power of film.  Yes, Joss Whedon, I too am thankful that a new generation of moviegoers will get to experience Shakespeare albeit in a non-conventional way and even if one of them is inspired to pick up an original version of this wonderful play, that would be an achievement.  PS I loved the women’s wardrobe so if you are reading this Joss, please let me know where it came from.

Much Ado About Nothing stars the talented Amy Acker and the very charming Alex Denisof in the lead roles with a superb supporting cast.  Release is planned for June 2013

Visit the official movie site  to watch the trailer

 

Greedy Lying Bastards | Review

I am sure that there is nothing more frightening than looking outside your car window and watching a fire coming towards you.  When that fire is engulfing yours and your neighbor’s homes as it does so is a nightmare that I cannot even begin to fathom.

The movie Greedy Lying Bastards sets out to inform us that climate change is no longer a prediction for the future, but a startling reality of today by citing examples such as wildfires in the west, Hurricane Sandy, “Brown-Outs” in the east and farmers losing crops to the worst drought since the Dust Bowl.  By effectively showing us a very human face of such tragedies and the incredible loss that these families have had to face, the movie challenges us to no longer ignore what is happening to our environment.

image002-2

 

We are told that even the U.S. Pentagon believes it to be a matter of national and international security. Yet, as the evidence of our changing climate mounts and the scientific consensus proves a human causation, there continues to be no political action to thwart the warming of our planet.

“Greedy Lying Bastards” investigates the reason behind stalled efforts to tackle climate change despite consensus in the scientific community that it is not only a reality but also a growing problem that is placing us on the brink of disaster. The film details the people and organizations casting doubt on climate science. Filmmaker and political activist Craig Rosebraugh, in association with Executive Producer Daryl Hannah, documents the impact of an industry that has continually put profits before people, waged a campaign of lies designed to thwart measures to combat climate change, used its clout to minimize infringing regulations and undermined the political process in the U.S. and abroad.

Some of the arguments made in the movie are effective and compelling; indeed, when we are presented with graphics and archival footage that show the millions that are spent each year by oil and related interests to fund the think tanks, groups, scientists and politicians waging what the film deems a campaign of deceit regarding the science of climate change and its dire impact on the planet, it will make you question how these conglomerates get away with it all and may even make you feel like you may want to do something about it; I certainly felt emotion and a call to action by the filmmakers.

In my opinion however, the movie fell short of great for the following reasons: firstly it was a little one sided apportioning most of the blame at one or two doorsteps i.e. not ours.  The movie seemed a little blinkered when it came to how obsessed the man on the street has become with consumerism and how much our desire to accumulate as much as we can materially may be contributing to the overall problem and hence the need for fossil fuels in the first place.  Secondly, although it legitimately draws parallels between the tobacco and energy industries in their denials of issues squarely aimed at them, it felt like it meandered off at times making the movie feel a little unfocused.  Lastly, it felt a tad dull overall.

In summary, this is an admirable endeavor with an important message which we need to take note of.  Unfortunately the fact that the movie proposed no solutions (other than for us to wage war on Corporations especially those in the energy sector) left me feeling a little unsatiated.  Better pacing and attention to some potential solutions may have made this a little more entertaining and less like a public service message

GREEDY LYING BASTARDS opens nationwide on March 8th.  Check local listings for show times

A Place at The Table | Review

A good documentary should both educate and entertain and Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush fulfill both of these criteria in their newest movie A Place at The Table.

poster

If Participant Media’s exceptional 2008 documentary Food Inc. asked us to take a closer look at where our food comes from then their new documentary A Place at the Table, takes a look at the issues that face an estimated 50 million men, women, and children — described by policy makers and advocates as “food insecure.”  Hunger is not just a third world problem. One in four children in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  This issue is examined through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her kids; Rosie, a fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. In addition, we have the benefits of insights from sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author Raj Patel and nutrition policy leader Marion Nestle and activists such as Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges.

This documentary manages to infuriate the viewer at the lack of action being taken and ask the larger question about how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation.  More importantly it makes one wonder how this can be happening in 2013 in a first world country.  Although not a highly political movie, this does make you question politics and the use of hungry people as pawns in a complicated chess game.

The movie is well constructed and well paced and manages to stay focused on the hunger issue versus opening up the larger can of worms around why poverty even exists in this century in the US.  Any movie that can succeed at making a crowd want to take action is one worth watching and I certainly felt roused enough to at least check out the website and find out more at www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table

 

A Place at the Table opens in theaters 1st March 2013.  Check local listings for showtimes