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‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

The hype meter was turned up pretty high for the latest film based on the life of Steve Jobs to deliver. The Apple co-founder, recently deceased has seen several works on his life make it to the big (and small) screen over the last few years, but none with as much talent behind it as Steve Jobs. The film is littered with Oscar level talent: penned by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and sprinlkled with Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels to boot. Still, the unique structure of the film (divided into three “scenes”) will likely divide viewers looking for a thriller.

Jobs covers three product launches, from the original Macintosh computer to the iMac. Therefore, the acts are similarly structured to the film’s detriment in my estimation. The locations overlap and thus become a bit stale, unlike last year’s brilliant Birdman, the visual flare is present but kept to a minimum and thus the play-like delivery for some reason failed to ultimately move me. The acting is very solid, and Jobs is constantly battling issues that linger over the length of the film – his daughter and her troubled mother, his relationship with Apple – the company and it’s players (Steve Wozniak to name one) and his own inner demons. Still, I think the repetitiveness of the setups wore a bit thin. Despite some showcase opportunities, the drama didn’t really hit home.

The film is loosely based on the biography of the man but was littered with trouble and controversy before it made it to the big screen. Jobs was formerly to be helmed by David Fincher and led by Christian Bale, two superstars who may have towered over the project before ultimately falling out. Leonardo DiCaprio was also once attached, so the picture definitely had the interest of  some A-level talent. Settling on the players involved was no real fallback, but one can’t help but wonder what might have been. Steve Jobs may not be a missed opportunity, it is a biopic with a unique structure after all, but not enough deep-rooted inherent drama to turn the wheels for me. I admit, my mood may have played a role in my take on the film, as I watched with a heavy heart due to personal circumstances, nevertheless, my takeaway for the time being is a good film that falls short of higher expectations.


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My Night with Anne Hathaway and “Song One”

My Night with Anne Hathaway and “Song One”

I should start with a disclaimer. Or maybe it’s a just a “claimer” as it’s not meant to cover my ass, but purely to reveal my biases. Unlike “Once,” which you might think is a Spanish drama about eleven people, it doesn’t require the intellect of Elon Musk to assume “Song One” is about music. It’s just diametrically different music than I’d normally listen to and enjoy. So you can completely understand where (“bust a nut inside your eye/ to show you where…”) I come from, the title “Song One,” brings to my mind this song, “One”: So, why the hell am I seeing such a thing? Anne Hathaway.

I’ve recently wondered if there were any performers which can guarantee I see a movie of theirs. Brad Pitt used to be one. Kate Winslet’s always been a favorite. Tom Hanks used to hit them out of the park each time he stepped to the plate. But ultimately, there’s no actor whose movie ticket is instantly sold to me by virtue of their presence. Hathaway, however, comes pretty close. Since “Brokeback Mountain,” I’ve only missed four movies in which she’s appeared (anyone who wants contend for this title, let me know when the first time was that you’d even heard of “Don Peyote.” I’m guessing it was when you checked IMDb to compare your list).

Though “Brokeback” seems like it’d spark the soon-to-be-explained lust-filled quest (for reason’s eloquently summarized by Jonah Hill in “Knocked Up”:, it was actually “Get Smart” where I became an Anne fan (or “FAnnes” as we as a non-existent group don’t call ourselves). There was a humor and willingness to be playful and sexualized on her part and I was enchanted (“Ella, Ella, Eh, Eh”). My girlfriend didn’t think so (and thus we’re no longer together), but at least she supported the idea by not deleting any of Hathaway’s “Ellen” appearances until after I was able to view them. My crush was complete.

When I noticed Hathaway was doing a Q&A after a showing of “Song One” at a local theater, it was a no brainer (“I mean a Cobainer”) that I buy a ticket for myself. All the typical Ed Grimley/”King of Comedy” ideas of meeting and becoming close ran through my head as I hyped the opportunity with my friends, indulging in my fantasy. The only true deterrent was that I’d have to sit through “Sone One” first. At least it was only 86 minutes.

My fears about the film seemed to be immediately founded when seeing the trailers they paired with it. Schmaltz is not a term I’ve used very often in my life. I don’t mind having a tear jerked from time to time, among other things (Jamaican chicken, that is), but never do I like to cry from wincing embarrassment due to a two-minute promotion. I don’t know who the preview for “Old Fashioned” is for, but I’d rather be shanked with a shiv in both eyes than expose them to the movie’s full runtime.

“Song One,” didn’t start any easier, but at least I knew what I was getting into. Hathaway plays Franny, a young woman studying to get her PhD in cultural anthropology. She’s summoned home by her mother (Mary Steenburgen), after Franny’s younger brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is hit by a car, tuning out the outside world with his headphones. I’ll make the assumption that Beats by Dre won’t by using this tactic for their next ad campaign, although it’d stand a better chance of enticing me than throwing them on Richard Sherman’s head.

Franny visits a comatose Henry in the hospital and since she can’t receive any communication from him in his fugue state, she attempts to reconcile with him through his journal of passions. Their previous communication was a fight over Henry deciding to drop out of college to pursue his dream of making music, which is ultimately what caused his current condition. Franny finds Henry’s bedroom back at their mother’s house adorned with paraphernalia pertaining to folk singer James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She finds a CD with a song Henry intended to send to Forester and a ticket to Forester’s show and she trudges forth in attempt to understand her brother’s obsession.

The precursor to the Jon Stewart interview.

The precursor to the Jon Stewart interview.

It’s about here where I started feeling the movie was attempting to speak to me. Franny goes to see a performer. (Just like me and Anne!) After Forester’s performance, Franny waits for the selfie-taking crowd to die down. (There are a lot more people to wait out at this screening, but I can do it.) She tells him that her brother is in a hospital after having a brain hemorrhage. (It’s like she’s giving me a script for how I should approach her.) Forester ends up showing up to Henry’s hospital room to play some music and Franny essentially asks him out. (Now I either need to find an already-injured fake sibling or hurt one of my own.) They develop a bond. They have sex. Franny’s mom invites him to dinner. She embarrassedly sings a song from her youth. It’s the day-dreamer’s handbook come to life. The only thing I need now is for life to imitate art.

Aside from the perceived parallels to my personal pursuit, the film was able to surprise me with how much I liked the music. The vast majority of the songs used in the film were written by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice (it’s no use for me to pretend I know who they are; you can see through me at this point) and performed by Flynn. As Hathaway noted in her Q&A afterward, as a producer, she didn’t want to find an actor who could play music a bit, but rather a musician who could act. While it’s apparent that acting is Flynn’s second hobby, his mastery of musical instruments was mesmerizing. Whatever good things he gets in his life is well-earned. When Forester whips out his violin during his first performance, even I melted a bit (I’m pretty sure someone spilled water on me).

The movie mainly functions as a celebration of music to the point which anything involving Franny and Henry’s relationship (not that there could be much of one while he’s in a coma) is pushed aside. There’s a beautifully cathartic moment when Franny and Forester dance to Dan Deacon’s “Crystal Cat” under a strobe light. For a second, I thought Gaspar Noe had taken his place behind the camera. Instead, that job belonged to writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, who Hathaway had previous interacted with on the set of “The Devil Wears Prada” and whose script was put into Hathaway’s hands by her “Rachel Getting Married” director, Jonathan Demme. Froyland’s movie is perfectly amiable and is kind of like “Crazy Heart” for “The Fault in Our Stars” crowd. Though I’m a member of neither film’s fan club, sometimes all it takes is the right star.

About that Q&A. Hathaway spoke for about 40 minutes. Her husband, Adam Shulman, a producer on the film alongside Hathaway, was mentioned in the first two. And multiple times afterward. My saliva bubble was burst. As one of her last “A”s to a “Q,” Hathaway mentioned the difference between promoting a movie she acted in versus one she produced is she’s a lot less shy about trying to get the word out for the latter. Damn. She got me. Hopefully the next time she does one of these, I’ll have kin in the hospital.

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Exclusive: Star-Studded Star Wars “The Empire Strikes Back” Live Read Awards

Exclusive: Star-Studded Star Wars “The Empire Strikes Back” Live Read Awards

Exclusive: Jason Reitman’s Star Wars “The Empire Strikes Back” Live Read Awards

Last night, Film Independent, the Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to helping grow the community of independent film (if you couldn’t surmise their mission based on their name), hosted a live reading of what’s widely renown as the “best ‘Star Wars’ film ever,” at least as curator Elvis “The Graying Predator” Mitchell, put it during his introduction.

These live reads have been taking place for the last few years and are the brainchild of Jason Reitman of “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and “Young Adult” fame. Luckily, the poor critical reception of his last couple of films, “Labor Day” and “Men, Women & Children,” haven’t hindered the array of acting talent he’s been able to gather for his live reads.

A very quick introduction to what a live read is. Reitman gathers a bunch of actors to read the dialogue for a classic script, which they perform on a stage. It’s not like a play, in which anyone is moving around, dressed in costumes or wielding props. They’re just seated in a chair next to one another with a script and a microphone before them.

We attended the Quentin Tarantino live read of his upcoming “The Hateful Eight,” back in April. To-date, that was the only non-Jason Reitman-directed live read hosted by Film Independent. Similar to “The Hateful Eight,” though, the live read of “The Empire Strikes Back” took place at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, in a space expansive enough to contain the swelling crowd.

After Mitchell’s brief introduction, Reitman walked on stage to take a seat and introduced the script as a “hybrid, early draft/shooting script” in which some scenes and dialogue would be unfamiliar to fans of the finished 1980 film. I suppose this is as good a place as any, where I admit I’m not actually a “Star Wars” fan. I’ve tried many times during my youth, attempting to enrapture myself with a similar fervor to almost every other human being I’ve ever met, but it’s something that’s never stuck. As such, I haven’t seen the movie in about 15 years, so if you’re looking for any descriptions of new scenes, you won’t find them here. However, in my defense, I don’t truly think there was much that’s been unseen, as the script played out almost exactly as my 15-year-old failed-obsessive memory could recall.

Reitman’s typical job is to read the script’s action lines, but announced he would also be playing a role for the first time, in the form of beep-speech droid, R2-D2. He then announced the rest of the cast and invited them on stage:

Stephen Merchant – C3PO

Dennis Haysbert – Lando Calrissian

Ellen Page – Han Solo

Jessica Alba – Princess Leia

Aaron Paul – Luke Skywalker

J.K. Simmons – Darth Vader

Kevin Pollak – Yoda

Prior to the reading, those were the only names Reitman had announced, but he had a few more surprises in store for the near-sell-out crowd. Rainn Wilson was to be Chewbacca and, as Reitman immediately made known, “… only Chewbacca,” committing to the comedy of bringing an actor to only growl at opportune times.

Then, Reitman announced a moment which made every “Star Wars” fan in the audience get a little damp in the crotch whether male or female, as Mr. Mark Hammill (notice the reverence even I paid him with the title? If Alec Guinness gets the “Sir” designation, the non-English Hammill deserves a “Mister”) leapt onto the stage to play the dual-role of Emperor Palpatine/Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Unlike “The Hateful Eight,” there’s no reason to recap the story at all (and lord knows I wouldn’t be the one to tell you anyway), as the attraction of the live read is the performances and the reinvention of established characters.


Who’d your dream cast be?

First, a breakdown, and then onto the awards promised in the title of this piece.

As you might expect from actors stepping into the roles of icons, mimicry and impersonation in attempt to emulate the characters’ 1980 inhabitants was a large part of how the actors performed last night. It would be impossible to say who I was most excited to see last night, but J.K. Simmons, coming off playing the threatening antagonist in “Whiplash,” was certainly one of them. It seemed like a perfect melding of actor to part after his recent stint, but Simmons largely gave Vader the same James Earl Jones-style voice the character has always had. Though movie-star karaoke may be fun for the players and almost certainly some audience members, it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

Enter Kevin Pollak. Pollak has made a nice career for himself doing celebrity impressions ,as well as impressing upon audiences a knack for playing original characters (he may not be the star of the scene here, but he sets up Stephen Baldwin magnificently: If there was only one role almost requiring a copy of speech style and cadence, it was Yoda. Pollak was brought on completely to give the audience what it craved. From the upper balcony, if I hadn’t known who was sitting in the chair with the Yoda sign attached to it, I could swear it was Frank Oz blessing us with a cameo. It should also be noted that the script called for Yoda to be a blue-skinned creature. Even this non-“Star Wars” nut picked up that tidbit of discrepancy.

Though I certainly wouldn’t say it was an especially comic cast in terms of the consistency of the roles they’ve played on screen, I imagine performing in front of a large audience was a fairly invigorating experience for all and the easiest way to know if we were paying attention is to get them to laugh. Even though nobody seemed to ever ad lib, as I’m sure is strictly prohibited (at least it was during “The Hateful Eight,” forcing Tarantino to admonish his cast for the straying too far from the written word a few times), anyone listening/watching “Empire” for the first time wouldn’t have been chastised for mistaking it as a comedy. With Wilson using his vocal talents for wookie roars, which sounded more like elongated grunts and an amped up audience primed to bask in any of their favorite lines being recited, perhaps an injection of laugher was inevitable. It certainly made for a fun evening to where I wouldn’t imagine Reitman is considering bringing “21 Grams” to his live read circuit anytime soon.

I’d like to take this paragraph to single out Mark Hammill. During my I-wanna-be-a-Star-Wars-fan-too phase, I remember being stunned to find out Hammill wasn’t the biggest star in the world. It seemed bizarre to me that the main protagonist the biggest movie ever (this may not be measurable in any current terms, but that’s the lens through which I viewed the “Star Wars” franchise at the time) wasn’t also the planet’s go-to A-lister. It’s not something I ever really dug into, but know he was in a car accident at one point and it certainly hurt whatever bankability he had, but it’s when I came to understand the film itself is bigger than the actor starring in it. However, Hammill has remade himself a vocal performance behemoth, whose IMDb credit page has no less than 266 entries in the “Actor” category. The immense talent filmmakers have failed to utilize properly since “Return of the Jedi” was on full display last night as Hammill bounced back and forth between the vile, oozing Palpatine and the virtuous Obi-Wan. He was a man in utter command of his craft, among the people whose lives he’s all helped shepherd to some degree, but yet was willing to not overshadow his fellow performers. I’d demand the man get more work, but at 266 and counting, I can’t imagine that’s possible.

Because I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about them, I ought to just point out Alba and Haysbert were unremarkable. It’s not meant to be a slam on their talent or their performances during the night, but more likely a lack of roles that are truly remarkable in and of themselves. While Page as Han Solo is the only real against-type casting of the night, it also didn’t generate much of a dynamic outside of dulling the heat between Solo and Leia. While the script called out Solo as a stud at almost every possible turn, the chemistry between Page and Alba was lackluster. Not disappointing, but nor was there anything much there.

Speaking of disappointment, it’s time for the awards themselves. Unlike our recent AFI Fest Awards, where I created 10 categories because I wanted to crown some things, I figured I’d only do two for last night’s show in honor of each side of “the force.”

Sith: Most Disappointing

Aaron Paul

The degree to which this pains me to say is immeasurable. I LOVE Aaron Paul. I was one of the early “Breaking Bad” adopters and immediately knew the guy was great. I’ve followed his career since and will continue to throw whatever weight I have (though I’m constantly trying to shed some pounds) behind supporting him. If I hadn’t purchased tickets before the cast was announced, Paul’s attachment would have driven my purchase. Playing the heart and soul of “Empire” seemed like a perfect place for the former Jesse Pinkman to finally find a sanction for no longer running away. Of course, you can’t have disappointment without expectations, which is why Paul finds himself in this category instead of others I wasn’t particularly enamored with. I wanted him to crush it. In contemplating it afterward, perhaps Luke is just another one of those uncrushable roles. Heck, maybe that’s why Hammill never had the starring career my young mind assumed he would. And maybe the cold read aspect (Reitman announced before the event the live reads are never rehearsed) hurt him. Perhaps he’s a performer who needs to build into the moment. However, he actually seemed just bad. It was the complete opposite of my assumed greatness. Paul possesses the goods, as any “Breaking Bad” fan knows, so it was just a shame to not be able to see it that night.

Jedi: Star-of-the-Show

Stephen Merchant

If Paul’s star faded just a bit, Merchant made like “Interstellar” and drove the whole vehicle to where he shines. With Merchant, I happen to have no feel for how the public-at-large views and acknowledges him. He’s another guy I happen to adore. Ever since seeing his name alongside Ricky Gervais’ and appearing as Ogg-Monster in BBC’s “The Office,” I’ve been an admirer as the more unsung member of the British comedy duo. On the surface, Merchant cast as 3CPO seems a tad uninspired. A “we need a guy with an English accent” tossed-off thought. And he does indeed fit the bill of bringing the Anglo-funk to the golden android. But he also brought so much more. I mentioned Rainn Wilson being a source of comedy for the reading, and he was, but Merchant owned the entire theater. He possesses Exacto-knife-sharp comedic timing (just watch this compilation from “Extras”: and the accent is certainly helpful. If “The Empire Strikes Back” live read were recorded or streamed or shown anywhere to a big enough audience that could clamor for such a thing, Merchant would have launched himself into the stratosphere with his rendition. If only someone knew Merchant would have been this great before “Episode VII” started filming, Anthony Daniels would have had a fight on his hands.

Although not everything was as amazing as it could be dreamed, rarely can you frown on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, it was such a good time, it made me want to try being a “Star Wars” fan again.

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The Film Nest 2014 AFI Fest Awards

The Film Nest 2014 AFI Fest Awards

Over the past two-plus weeks, we’ve had a new review for each movie we saw at the 2014 AFI Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in Hollywood. Over a span of six days, ten films were seen, a full 13.3% of the features screened at the festival. AFI produced their own awards, but only two of their winners crossed our path. With three titles almost guaranteed to make my personal Top Ten for the year, I figured I’d hand out some awards for the films I’d seen. They’re far less prestigious and won’t ever be placed on a trailer or poster advertising the film in question, but they’re “real to me, dammit.”

As a quick reminder, these are the films eligible: Leviathan, Red Army, The Tribe, Wild Tales, Happy Valley, Faults, The Wonders, A Hard Day, Fish & Cat and Haemoo.

Piece of Wardrobe I Most Covet

WINNER: The leather jacket worn by Lee Sun-kyun in “A Hard Day.”


It was lust at first sight. If I thought director Kim Seong-hoon knew the answer, I would have asked him what the label was during his Q&A afterward. I hunted down an iPhone app called ASAP54 which uses facial recognition software for clothes, in attempt to procure one for myself. No dice. I scoured eBay to find an equivalent and ended up with something that certainly isn’t the same and I know I’ll be disappointed with. While everyone is still clamoring about Ryan Gosling’s white satin scorpion bomber from “Drive,” I’ll be lamenting the loss of Lee’s outerwear.

Best Sports-Related Documentary

WINNER: “The Red Army”/”Happy Valley” (tie)


Like the eternal Most Valuable Player award debate, I wondered about the true definition of this category. Unfortunately, I created it and I still had difficultly coming up with what it is I wanted to award. The AFI Fest showed very few documentary features during the festival and I happened to see two of them, both related to sports in some way. Therefore, they needed to be pitted against each other. I gave both the same Nest-rating. It just comes down to what you want from a sports documentary, as they excel in different aspects. “Red Army” is the better movie about sports. “Happy Valley” is the better made documentary about its subject. Both are quality films.

Best Screenplay

WINNER: Kim Seong-hoon, “A Hard Day


The way Kim’s action-thriller weaves together the combination of comedy and tension is masterful. It provided the biggest laughs of both relief and anxiety of the festival, all while it roars back to make sure you start scooting up toward the edge of your seat again in the next scene. The infusion of humor was a welcome addition to the familiar Korean flawed cop drama, making it stand out against its brethren. Kim’s script manipulates the audience like a marionette, but unlike Pinocchio, you’re happy to be bound by strings.

Best Director

WINNER: Shahram Mokri, “Fish & Cat


After reading the review, you’d probably think this was a Cobainer – I mean, a no-brainer – and you’d be right. The preparation and risk of the one-shot technique Mokri uses to dazzle viewers in his mind-bending take on a subdued slasher film is jaw-dropping. I mean that in the literal sense. My jaw tends to fall down in times of awe and this reflexive action occurred multiple times throughout the screening. Aplomb is not as significant a word for how Mokri succeeds in his experiment, but yet it seems as perfectly fitting as his work behind the camera on “Fish & Cat.”

Best Experiment

WINNER: The dialogue-free, subtitle-less, all sign-language “The Tribe


While I wanted to avoid the “everyone gets a trophy disease” of these awards, I created this as a special shout-out to “The Tribe.” Mokri would rightfully win if he didn’t even more deservedly win my “Best Director” category. It’s why I put “Best Experiment” below it, so you’d have no doubt which was more significant and impactful. These are essentially my first words on “The Tribe” since my review was in pictures in honor of the film’s concept and it should be stated outright that writer-director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has crafted an excellent film around a beautiful idea. You are never bored and never lost while never knowing exactly what is being said between the characters on-screen. It proves that the context of the conversation is paramount to the details. It’s the first film of the emoji age.

Best Male Performance

WINNER: Leland Orser, “Faults


Out of ten films, I believe the only time I mentioned being truly taken with a performance was in the one movie from the festival I truly hated. Perhaps it was in search of trying to find something to praise, but Orser’s turn as a washed-up and broken down cult deprogrammer is certainly meritorious. His voice is reminiscent of Edward Norton’s and he uses it to elevate the material to the degree of almost making it watchable. After just bit parts in bigger movies, Orser’s time as a star should prove beneficial for his future. Casting directors just need to make it through “Faults” in order to hire him.

Best Female Performance

WINNER: Yana Novikova, “The Tribe


Even if I hadn’t chosen to use pictures for my review of “The Tribe,” I don’t believe Novikova’s performance was really hanging around in my mind immediately after the film. I originally figured this spot would belong to Orser’s “Faults” co-star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but when contemplating the deaf actress’ performance again, it shined just a little bit more than Winstead’s. All the actors in “The Tribe” have a difficult job to do by conveying wordless emotion, but Novikova has the largest arc and most dramatics to relay, as her character befalls the greatest tragedy. The emotions she’s able to express with her hands, sometimes with a forceful snap and slapping of flesh against flesh, is altogether heartbreaking and enthralling. Though the creative premise will draw eyes to the film, it’s Novikova who keeps them there.

Director Whose Next Movie I’m Most Anticipating

WINNER: Damian Szifron, “Wild Tales


Alongside “A Hard Day” and “Fish & Cat,” “Wild Tales” is the other AFI Fest film which will probably make its way onto my 2014 Top Ten list. What earmarks Szifron as this category’s champion is a little bit of the unknown. Whereas “A Hard Day” is Kim Seong-hun’s first feature, I have a feeling what he provides in the movie is probably the same kind of effort he’ll continue to bring. The film is expertly crafted, but not wholly unique. Mokri’s “Fish & Cat” is downright astounding, but even though I hinted I’m looking forward to his next movie in my review, it’s similar to expecting David Simon to top “The Wire” with “Treme.” It’s just too daunting. Szifron only hints at his potential prowess with “Wild Tales” because it’s not one full feature-length story. However, his gift is on full display with each six of the film’s segments. If he somehow traverses the same path as the debut of other Latin American filmmakers, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu or Fernando Meirelles, to whom I’d compared him, we’ll be in for a treat.

Blu-ray I Can’t Wait to Own

WINNER: “A Hard Day


This is my de facto “Best Picture” category. There were no two hours in the darkness during AFI Fest that I relished like the time spent with “A Hard Day.” I believe it can serve as the gateway drug for people to watch more Korean films and I hope my disc gets passed around and borrowed as much as a good non-Kindle book. In fact, I already pre-ordered it from International shipping can’t be fast enough.

Movie I Most Want People to See

WINNER: “Fish & Cat


This is the film which proves film festivals can be eminently rewarding. While I probably would have seen my other two favorite films from the Fest at some point, due to a “Wild Tales” recommendation (albeit from a previous festival) and “A Hard Day” being the type of Korean film I actively seek out, I’m guessing there’s no way I would have ever known “Fish & Cat” even exists. It was such a total surprise to me that when I had to leave to go to the bathroom early on, I debated as to whether I should go back into the theater. This is the type of movie that requires word-of-mouth, not the latest Marvel release based on an unsung property. While “A Hard Day” is the movie I can’t wait to own on blu-ray, “Fish & Cat” is the one I hope even gets a release. It’ll take a boutique label with the heft of Criterion to make sure the movie receives the number of eyeballs it deserves. Until then, I’ll pound the podium like Dennis Green to ensure its ass is properly crowned.

Can’t wait for 2015.

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AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

AFI Fest Film Review Preview: The American Film Institute Movie Screenings

I’ve discovered I have no use for free things. After recently standing in line for hours for a free music show with a friend and not getting in, I realized my time is far more valuable than my money. I’d much rather plunk down some hard-earned cash to ensure I get to do something I want to do, versus chance it purely because it wouldn’t cost anything. When IHOP offers free pancake day, you won’t see me with the fiends desperate to get something they’d normally have to pay for. If I need a pancake fix, I’ll happily go during a less trafficked time and pay my way. Money, I can earn back. Time, I can’t. Someone should write a movie about that (*occurs to me Andrew Niccol already made “In Time”*). Never mind, no they shouldn’t.

The American Film Institute holds an annual film festival in Hollywood featuring independent films, foreign cinema and premieres some upcoming Hollywood releases. It’s a pretty promising mix of movies that have made their rounds through the festival circuit, so it’s a little easier to determine which films may meet your tastes. However, the aspect which makes the festival stand out among its brethren is that it’s completely free. You still need to be ticketed, which of course makes the online system crazy upon availability, but it’s a headache worth enduring.

It just so happened that my first two films at the festival were heavily Russian-oriented. As every American is surely aware, our country, and hell, even most countries around the world, has had, and continues to have, wary feelings toward the vodka-fueled frozen hell-scape. Nevertheless, the political proclivities had little to do with the first film I saw, but weighed heavily in the second. Yet, that’s the one I preferred. In the coming days, you will read about these and many other films from the AFI Fest. Enjoy the journey with me. Take a look at the first film here.

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The Religious Experience of ‘Interstellar’

The Religious Experience of ‘Interstellar’

A Deeper Look At “The Religious Experience” of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

After being raised under the tenets of Catholicism and completing all the required sacraments leading one to becoming a “good Catholic,” I proclaimed myself an atheist a few years ago. Religious doubts had plagued my young mind for decades, with the institution never once truly interesting me. I went through the motions out of habit for the approval of my parents. I never asked them the big questions cycling through my head for fear of repercussion. They’re not zealots, but I knew they would feel personally attacked. One’s religion becomes a part of their personality, as do politics. It’s why those topics are taboo for dinner discussion and why they’re categories on every online dating site (save for the religion-specific ones, I assume, as you should know what you’re getting into). Movies were influential in pushing me toward this dark side (none of them being named “Star Wars,” though), as Ricky Gervais and “The Invention of Lying,” as well as Bill Maher’s “Religulous” showed me that I wasn’t alone in the doubts I’d had. Due to all of this, I figured I’d never have another thought about God or faith in a positive light for the rest of my life. And then I saw “Interstellar” and it was indeed a religious experience.

Admittedly, using the word “religious” to describe “Interstellar” is an odd choice, as not once in the film are the words “faith” or “God” muttered. This is a rare feat for an apocalyptic film whose narrative can ostensibly be summed up by an R.E.M. song. Movies asking big questions, such as the films of Terrance Malick or even “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” are usually seeking answers as to what God’s role is in our human existence. During the making of “Interstellar,” director Christopher Nolan apparently ruled in favor of the separation of church and slate.

The film is set sometime in the future. Not as recognizable and as near as being able to have a relationship with an operating system, nor as far-fetched and distant as being able to predict crimes before they occur. Unfortunately, it’s bleaker than the futuristic worlds of either “Her” or “Minority Report.” Earth is on the verge of inhabitability due to changes in the climate leading to drought, famine and frequent, swirling dust storms poisoning the lungs of each new generation. If John Steinbeck had been a futurist, this is a story he would’ve written. Farming has become the ultimate scientific job, as even mankind’s greatest space shuttle pilots have been reduced to the occupation.

On one of these farms is where we find Coop (Matthew McConaughey). He’s haunted by nightmares of piloting a crash of one of those space shuttles, but is still enamored with aeronautics. He lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his son, Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

Though expected as the baby of the family and the only girl, Coop shares a strong bond with Murph. However, their love is interconnected in ways neither of them truly know. It’s what devastates them both when they semi-haphazardly discover that NASA still exists in secret operation. The space agency is in search of hospitable planets outside of our solar system. They’ve sent numerous teams to relay signals of their findings back to Earth and plan to send one more. Coop is tapped to be that mission’s pilot. He is afforded two plans: “A” – find a sufficient world and come back to Earth to help transport the human race; or “B” – repopulate the human race on that acceptable planet. “A” would allow him to see his children again, but “B” is more likely.

The one faith-based decision Nolan asks the viewer to make with him is Coop stumbling upon NASA (that part has an explanation) and being immediately handed over the job as pilot because he’s the best they have (without ever being involved to this point; that’s the one you just have to go with). It seems like something out of “Armageddon” and is the type of thing Ben Affleck ridicules in the Criterion DVD commentary of that film (“How do these movies know he’s ‘the best?’ He’s the best oil driller in the world. What about the best espresso maker?” (this is a paraphrase from a decade-old memory)). But taking this leap with Nolan is the first step leading to the righteous path for which the viewer is eminently rewarded. And you’re not doing it blindly. Through the likes of “Memento,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.” Nolan has earned your trust.

McConaughey contemplates the wonders of space flight.

Going into this particular screening, my relationship with Hollywood was waning. Both Hollywood – The Movie Factory and Hollywood – The Location. My friend and I had tickets for the 70mm screening at the Arclight Cinerama dome in Hollywood. We had picked up some food prior to arrival and were hoping to consume it on one of the myriad tables just outside the theater. The tables happen to be patio seating for a restaurant inside. No one was using them, yet we sought approval from the staff. It was granted as long as we stayed outside, separate from everyone else. No sooner did we unpack our meal than were we accosted by the manager of the establishment stating we had to leave, approval be damned. We were unwanted.

During digestion, we strolled past a long line of people, evidently waiting for a test screening to let them in. Out of curiosity, my friend asked some of the people what they were there to see. He was met with stares, indignation and a feint “I don’t know,” as if the screening company’s non-disclosure agreement included the name of the film they hadn’t even seen. Again, who cares about us?

We were about to ostracize ourselves from Hollywood before we could be excommunicated, but “Interstellar” changed everything. As we sat in our seats, directly in front of us was The Jew Hunter. Christoph Waltz – sat next to a date – prepared to bask in Nolan’s latest vision along with the rest of the congregation. It’s the type of experience that is quintessentially Hollywood and though I wanted to give the man his deserved props, as an L.A. resident, you agree to be above such things the second you sign your lease. Either way, it assured an exceptional evening and by the end of the film, my love with Hollywood – The Location and most especially Hollywood – The Movie Factory, was back on.

It became cliché to compare “Interstellar” to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal “2001: A Space Odyssey” from the moment it was announced. However, it does have similar themes on its mind and doesn’t shy away from the comparisons, almost inviting them at times. Jarring cuts to the silence of space, reflections of space travel bouncing off our heroes’ helmets and even a shot that looks like the resurrection of the star-child. They all serve to remind the viewer of the 1968 masterpiece, but introduce a new generation perhaps baffled by Kubrick’s cold vision to the same grand questions asked through a slightly more straight-forward narrative.

A key component to the religious experience of “Interstellar” beyond the narrative is the score by Hans Zimmer. It’s reminiscent of 1980s John Carpenter music, but re-mastered for 2014. Instead of synthesizers, though, Zimmer employs a pipe organ as the main instrument of sound. The organ drives the epic nature of the film and provides a sensation of being in church, worshipping at the altar. It’s like being bathed in sonic holy water.

The film could not have come at a better time for me, as my adoration for the medium will be meeting its biggest test since I was in college, over the next week.  Mainly thanks to the AFI Film Festival, I’ll have seen 14 new films in an eight-day span. While I welcome the opportunity, it’s become increasingly difficult to find rewarding experiences on screen. Religious people have faith that in due time, they will be rewarded. I made the choice to abandon religion because I no longer believed in that concept. I believe whatever reward that awaits me will be in this life, on this planet, merited by the type of person I am. Not whom I choose to follow.

In addition to my spiritual faith, my faith in film had taken a hit. I no longer had faith a new film would reward me spurred by countless (although there are constant articles attempting to put a number on them) remakes, sequels and based-on-a-property movies being cranked out of the system. Instead it was a wish and a hope. Originality and uniqueness of vision are difficult to find.

“Interstellar” feels like a rebirth. As the characters go in search of another planet to rebuild civilization, the film provides a new direction as to where cinema can go. It’s not structurally unique, but it’s a visual, emotional and mental spectacle. If you doubt the path movies are on, “Interstellar” will steer you in the right direction. It’s a film that demands repeat viewings. Not because it’s incomprehensible otherwise, but because it instills moviegoers with a sense of purpose. I no longer believe in a higher power, but I do believe in Christopher Nolan. I can’t wait to revisit “Interstellar.” After all, you don’t go to church once and say, “All right. I got it.” You go for the promise of salvation.

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Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

Jake Gylenhaal’s ‘Nightcrawler’ Examined as a Superhero Origin Film

To the chagrin of many but the celebration of more, comic book films are not going away any time soon, as the recent DC and Marvel announcements of their superhero slates over the next half-decade-plus would suggest. Any fan of these announcements hearing the name “Nightcrawler,” immediately conjures up images in their mind of the blue-skinned, tri-fingered, betailed mutant also known as Kurt Wagner, from Marvel’s “X-Men” series. Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s recently released film has nothing to do with that character, but distributor Open Road Films certainly wishes it had after a meager $10.4 million opening weekend. The film deserves a much bigger audience than it’s received so far, so let’s pretend it’s just an elaborate origin film for the devilish teleporter and how that would even work.

The inarguable Greatest Superhero Origin Film of All-Time™ is “Unbreakable.” This is inarguable because it’s been typed out and can’t/won’t be deleted even if such a statement receives a written backlash. If Movie Moses handed out ten film commandments, “Thou shalt comprehend the brilliance of ‘Unbreakable’” would be one of the first three etched in stone. M. Night Shyamalan’s 2000 masterpiece towers over the other comic book movies introducing their heroes’ backstories because it dares to devote its entire runtime to developing the evolution of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) into the inverse persona of Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price. What most films spend their first act getting out of the way, Shyamalan relishes in for all three of his. This is the model for which “’Nightcrawler’ as Superhero Origin Film” should be viewed.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom and is a creep from frame one. He has a bit of a hunch only the mother of a Notre Dame bell-ringer could love. His hair hovers between being too short for a ponytail and too long to be groomed neatly, so he just gives himself a Graham Zusi. When we first meet him, he’s using bolt cutters to trim a wire fence so he can steal the metal and pawn it off on a construction site. He bashes the face of the security guard attempting to stop him and claims his victim’s watch for good measure.

Louis hasn’t found his calling yet, outside of not really wanting to work for anyone except himself. Of course, you quickly question how one can afford any type of shelter on the salary received by selling stolen metal. However, he has a gift for gab and an incredible bout of self-confidence/narcissism. This provides him with the fortitude/lack-of-self-awareness required when he decides to become the scum of the earth. Your first thought might be “paparazzi?” Worse. He captures tragedy of the innocent on camera and sells fear to local news stations.


After rubbernecking a freeway accident to the point of pulling over purely to observe the wreck, Louis is joined by a panel van carrying Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a freelance cameraman who records footage of the accident and hawks it to local news media for profit. Louis is instantly intrigued and finagles his way into some equipment to go into business for himself. Though less legal, stealing scrap metal was far more moral.

Nightcrawler pic

Jake Gylenhaal’s Nightcrawler teleports his way onto a TV set. Or does he?

Now, what do we know about Nightcrawler, the mutated Marvel character (or, what does Wikipedia state that can be regurgitated to support this thesis)? He has the ability to teleport, his vision at night is supreme, he blends into shadows and is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant.

All of these traits can easily be attributed to Louis. Hell, his hand-to-hand skills were already covered when he delivered a swift One-Punch Mickey-esque knockout to the security guard. His ability to blend into shadows and his night-vision are practically requirements of his chosen profession. Louis essentially goes to work when the sky and the city of Los Angeles are at their blackest. He hides behind his camera in order to capture the awfulness of whatever tragedy-of-the-night he picks up on his police scanner. He is obsessed with framing, at one point moving an injured and unconscious body for a better-looking shot. However, he is limited by the laws of physics. He can only be in one place at one time. He hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to help him navigate the streets. Then, he buys a better and quicker car. He treats red lights as suggestions, as if he’s in downtown Detroit. But, he’ll never be a match for Joe’s multiple-van service unless he evolves into having that most remarkable of Nightcrawler’s traits: teleportation.

Nightcrawler made his comic debut in 1975, around the time Joe Carnahan would have set his take on another Marvel superhero, “Daredevil” as seen in his pitch-reel from a couple of years ago ( That film appears it would have been both gritty and grimy, which is exactly how “Nightcrawler” is presented. However, Gilroy’s film and the character of Louis appear to be more of an 80s throwback. The film is set in the modern day, similar to “Drive,” but doesn’t retain the synthesizer-fused score to back it up. As it would happen, Nightcrawler was granted his own book in 1985.

Although none of Louis’ personality traits make him very superheroic at all – and he’s not – let’s recall Nightcrawler’s demonic physical features. He has the yellowed eyes of a drug addict and an elongated tail similar to all depictions of the devil. What stands out, however, are Nightcrawler’s fangs. He doesn’t use them to suck the blood from anyone’s neck, Edward Cullen-style. They’re ornamental. Louis is prone to bouts of rage, exposing his chompers and making him appear to be the deranged individual he certainly embodies. He’s just a lot more bark than (literal) bite.

Whereas David Dunn puts on his hooded rainjacket to fully embrace his superheroic persona and Kurt Wagner possesses his gifts whether he dons his Nightcrawler gear or not, Louis comes in costume. He perpetually sports a pair of Clubmaster Ray-Bans and the aforementioned ill-gotten and ill-fitting watch dangles off his wrist like what Borat would call “sleeve of wizard.” This may seem a little Lincoln-and-Kennedy, but it’s supposed to be.

Nightcrawler’s only appearance on film to date was in 2003’s “X2: X-Men United.” Three years after the franchise turned stale in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Fox attempted to reboot the franchise with an origin story of the series’ most popular character with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It was supposed to be followed up with an already in-development Magneto origin film, but due to the first film’s critical failings, the magnetic man with the helmet never got his turn in the spotlight.

The Marvel movie studio was not at the helm for any of these X-Men installments and perhaps never will be, as long as Fox continues to crank out the celluloid rights-retainers. Open Road is giving the chance to experience what neither Fox will nor Marvel can. Channing Tatum has recently been talking up a Gambit solo movie for Fox sometime in the future, but “Nightcrawler” is here right now.

Louis says toward the end of the film, “if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.” But, X-Men/Marvel/superhero fans, you should see him. Get your superhero fix before Marvel’s Phase Four announcement. If you view the film through your Marvel-ized ruby-quartz Cyclops goggles, Louis Bloom is just a sequel away from becoming Kurt Wagner. If you throw superhero-sized money at, you might be treated with two additional films, the likes of which Shyamalan was never able to deliver. It may just be a mind-game in order to get more butts in seats; a ruse to market the film in a way the distributor didn’t (and legally couldn’t), but no matter the spin, if “Nightcrawler” receives the attention it deserves, a job has been done. And no tragedies were preyed on in doing so (box-office performance aside).

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Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Watching More Movies: Leo DiCaprio’s Early Film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’

Since the release of “The Lone Ranger,” I’ve read a number of articles lamenting the choice of roles Johnny Depp has taken as of late. So many of them have been caked in make-up, from four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to “Alice in Wonderland” and of course “The Long Ranger.”  A large portion of those movies in that last decade span were directed by Tim Burton and their first collaboration in 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” appears to be where all the capital-A “acting” appears to stem from. However, he did many “regular” roles between that and the first “Pirates” movie. Although that wasn’t my reason for seeing it, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” is one of them.

Depp plays the titular character, who is the de facto patriarch of his rural family ever since his dad hung himself in the family’s basement. He has an older brother that escaped their dusty town of Endora, Illinois, but remains at home with two sisters (one the de facto matriarch; the other a teenager), a younger was-supposed-to-be-dead-already impaired brother, Arnie, and his mother who has ballooned so much she only leaves the couch in front of the TV to go to the bathroom (she sleeps in that spot and for meals, the kids drag the kitchen table over to her). Due to all this, Gilbert isn’t particularly pleased with his lot in life.

gil grape pic

It is not clear what is indeed eating Gil Grape here.

He’s tasked with looking out for Arnie, which is a job unto itself, as Arnie is prone to wondering off and climbing the town’s water tower. But, he also works at a Mom & Pop grocery store, which steadily loses business to a nearby chain, in order to bring in enough income to care for the family. The only real excitement in his life is delivering groceries to a lonely housewife, so she can cheat on her husband. This is all until Becky comes to town with her grandma and shows Gilbert how different a life can be were he not constrained by his responsibilities.

Though Depp and Gilbert are the eyes through which the story is told, Leonardo DiCaprio as Arnie, in his second major film role, is the main attraction. He’s fantastic in this pre-pretty-boy turn, it’s almost a shame his acting career took a detour into superstardom before he reigned in the plum acting showcases again. Director Lasse Hallstrom has been known for these smaller semi-quirky stories and in this there’s nothing showy other than creating a small world closed off from a large portion of civilization. He’d continue to do the same in “Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat” (also starring Depp) and this is a worthy inclusion in his filmography. Though Depp again would continue to play “regular” characters for a while, perhaps the show-stealing performance DiCaprio shows here is where Depp first got the idea to go bigger. At long last, perhaps it’s time he takes a cue from this film’s director instead of his co-star, and shrink down again.

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