The concierge arrived with gifts and he turned out to be a huge movie fan. He checked out the films in town for us (in case it rains again) and made reservations for us at El Conquistador, Ruth Chris’ Steak House and Captain’s Cove.
Author: Connie Wilson (Page 1 of 81)
Quite frankly, with the news that Donald J. Trump has just gone and done yet another dumb thing (i.e., bombed Syria), I’m seriously thinking of claiming to be Canadian while in the sunny land down under.
It sounds like our departure from Austin (TX) will come just before the rain moves in, and the weather in Cancun is projected to be sunny and beautiful, with highs in the eighties. I spent an hour or so packing tonight, and tomorrow I will pack the cosmetic(s) bag, which carries our shampoo, toiletries, et. al.
I’m debating about whether or not to post a review of “Wilson,” the movie that starred Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, which I recently saw. We went because, after all, when your name IS “Wilson”…..(finish that thought)
If I have time, I may post about it tomorrow. It’s a slight film and unlikely to get wide distribution.
Meanwhile, an interesting anecdote. Because we will need cash while in our neighbor to the South, and they always enjoy the use of U.S. dollars, as opposed to credit cards—and, also, because my credit card numbers were stolen in Mexico one year, which caused someone to run up a $25,000 bill on my card, we went to the Bank of America on Slaughter Lane. I had written my spouse a check for $200 to pay him back for cash he had loaned me when I was in Chicago for a week and forgot to take any cash. (My bad).
He presented the check, written on the Triumph Bank of East Moline, and, of course, they wouldn’t cash it at all.
I was present, doing battle with a machine that was going to give me cash, I hoped, using my debit card from BOA, but I couldn’t figure out how to get more than $80. My husband suggested that I write my check for $400 (rather than the $200 I owed him) and he’d give me half of it for my cash. I would write this check on my Bank of America checkbook.
That seemed a good idea, so, in full view of the 2 cashiers, I wrote this check and he stepped up to cash it.
The cashier demanded that he be fingerprinted before she would cash the relatively small check. They had just watched me (the account holder) write the check in the first place, and we explained why we were writing it (need cash for vacation). Still, some flunky raced out with an inky thing and he had to put his fingerprint on the bottom of this Bank of America check before they would cash it.
Now, what occurs to me is this: what good is my husband’s fingerprint on this check? It isn’t like he has done major time in a correctional institute or anything! He isn’t in any “data banks” of fingerprints. And that is all assuming that the Powers-that-Be thought this 72-year-old man looked like a really guilty character.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy Thriller
Length: 110 minutes
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens
Reviewer: Connie Wilson
It’s too bad Hathaway and Vigalondo didn’t take this homage to Japanese kaiju movies and Godzilla one step further and have the two main characters (Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as Gloria and Oscar) represent the symbolic influence that the United States has in the world, for good or bad on a colossal scale. Now would have been a particularly good time in history for that approach.But that didn’t happen in this improbable film about a young girl who drinks and parties too much and, as a result, is kicked out of cozy Manhattan digs by her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and returns to her small-town America hometown roots to lick her wounds and try to figure her life out. While there, Gloria (Hathaway) learns that she controls a Godzilla-like monster that is terrorizing South Korea. Vigalondo, during the Q&A after the film, acknowledged that, to a certain extent, he identified with the character Hathaway portrays, who makes it out of the small town she grew up in and seems to be making it in the Big City. She doesn’t want to go back home with her tail between her legs, a failure. Vigalondo found himself in the same position after his birth in Cabezon de la Sal, Spain, a small town, in regards to his move to the Big City of Madrid, Spain. He also cautioned against making the film into too much of an anti-alcohol polemic, laughing about his own fondness for hoisting a drink now and then.
Hathaway has seemingly made it in the Big Apple as far as most of her classmates back home know. Until she hasn’t. Her drinking is out of control and her boyfriend (Dan Stevens as Tim) wants her to rein it in. He packs her stuff in Manhattan and tells her to clear out.
Gloria goes back to a conveniently empty house—presumably her old home— in her small hometown, where old classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) owns a bar and offers her employment. The signs all point to Sudeikis having carried the torch for Hathaway’s character of Gloria, keeping tabs on her and following her progress for 25 years.One cool thing that the filmmakers did to promote the film at SXSW was to have Sudeikis fly in and bartend one weekend night at the Highball Lounge, connected to the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar Boulevard. Sudeikis makes a very good “boy-who-still-has-a-crush-on-girl” in this film, although the character arc written for him is not completely logical. (One minute Sudeikis is the good guy helping out his girlfriend. The next, he is her worst nightmare.)
When Gloria (Hathaway) accidentally discovers that her presence in a certain park at an early hour of the morning causes a huge Godzilla-like monster to go on a rampage in Seoul, South Korea, the movie veers from reality to sci fi fantasy. The premise (I’d like to have heard THIS pitch) is that anything Hathaway does remotely controls the monster, as long as she is in her local park at the bewitching hour. The monster mimics her actions, whether it is dancing, holding its arms up in the air, or killing hundreds of innocent locals under his giant feet.Later, Sudeikis learns from Gloria that he, too, can wield super power as a robot, if he shows up at the same exact moment in the small local park, so we are treated to many scenes of the robot and the Godzilla-like creature squaring off while the hapless residents of Seoul scream and run for their lives. Funny or terrifying?
The movie has been dubbed a “fascinating misfire” and “idiosyncratic and eccentric, with reviews that cite ““diminishing humor from an inherently absurd conceit” (Dennis Harvey in the September 21, 2016 “Variety”) it has been compared to Hathaway’s previous role as “Rachel Getting Married” meets “Godzilla.”
The cast does a good job with this implausible premise. Sudeikis, in particular, is asked to suddenly morph from hero to villain with very little rational motivation for changing so completely. He pulls it off, but is much more convincing as the likeable character in the first half of the film.
The feeling I got while I tried to decide whether I liked this film or not was that Hathaway was desperate to have a film portraying a female heroine who displayed empowerment, one who triumphs over the bad guy(s) and would sacrifice a plausible plot to get that opportunity. Hathaway’s actions resonated with one abused woman in the theater, who spoke to the issue and described herself as being “moved to tears.” That seemed a bit much, since the film is predominantly comic, with serious underlying issues that are never fully addressed. It was a bold choice to make this film, if not a totally successful one.
There is little focus on what steps Gloria is going to take to overcome her apparent addiction to drinking and the party life, but, as Bill Murray’s shrink in “What About Bob?” (Richard Dreyfuss) would say, “baby steps.”
The supporting performers, (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell as Garth and Joel) playing cronies of Oscar (Sudeikis) are also good, although underused. There is a puzzling romantic encounter between Joel and Gloria that seems superfluous and unnecessary—almost as though it were an after-thought or a plot line that the director introduced and then dropped.
On the bright side, Jason Sudeikis comes to the fore as a player who can provide convincing acting as the leading man/love interest in future films.
THE BAD:The plot is a flimsy premise for a movie under the best of circumstances, whether borrowing from Japenese takusatsu cinema, or an homage to films like “Godzilla.” It could have been a comic drama about people coping with normal problems— alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or domestic abuse— but it does little but scratch the surface of those weighty issues. Cast members are either not used to shed any light on same or are barely seen at all. Sudeikis’ character arc was particularly troublesome, (although it apparently rang true for at least one member of the audience).
I’m wondering whether people who shelled out up $40 minimum for a night out on the town (dinner, parking fees, movie ticket) are going to feel this slight film was worth the price of admission? During the post-film Q&A, the Director urged all of us to post a 3-word Twitter review with the hashtag #Colossal. This would enter all of us into a contest.
What should I write? “#Colossal: weird & odd. #Colossal: Inventive but slight. #Colossal: creative fail. #Colossal: fantastical concept. #Colossal: amusing failed premise. #Colossal: thin, sometimes funny.
I ddn’t enter.
The man behind me wrote: “Colossal: colossal fail.
Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched – World Premiere and Q&A
Length: 65 minutes
Cast: Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta, Frank Oz
Reviewer: Connie Wilson
In 1955, creative genius Jim Henson created a troop of puppets known as The Muppets. By 1978 The Muppets” was the most-watched television show in history, with 235 million viewers in 102 countries, according to “Time” magazine. Henson’s untimely death at age 53 in 1990 left right-hand man Frank Oz (real last name: Oznowicz) more-or-less in charge of the troop, which came to fame on “Sesame Street.”
The world premiere of the documentary “Muppet Guys Talkiing” was on Sunday, March 12, at SXSW’s Paramount Theater. The film has been worked on for at least 5 years.Frank Oz worked with the Muppets from 1963 until roughly 2000. After helping Hansen film “Labyrinth” (1986) he directed “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986) with Steve Martin, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988), “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss in 1991, “In & Out” with Kevin Kline in 1997, “Bowfinger” with Eddie Murphy in 1999, “The Score” in 2001 and “Death & a Funeral” in 2007. He also signed on to voice Yoda in the “Star Wars” movies and, initially, to perform puppeteer functions for the character (before Yoda was digitalized). Yoda’s distinctive speaking style is credited to Oz, with Lucas giving him creative license to create the character.
Frank Oz’s second wife, Producer Victoria Labalme, suggested that the main puppeteers from Henson’s hey-day get together and talk about Henson’s influence on their lives and on the world. The five appearing in the film were the now-deceased Jerry Nelson, Dave Goetz, “new guy” Bill Barretta, Oz himself and only female puppeteer, Fran Brill.
The project, germinating since 2011, morphed into this short documentary “Muppet Guys Talking,” dedicated to original puppeteer, Jerry Nelson, (“the Count” on “Sesame Street,”) who died August 23, 2012. Labalme suggested the project to her spouse shortly after their marriage on July 17, 2011.
Onscreen, we were treated to vignettes of the most famous of the Muppets and were given behind-the-scenes stories of how each member of the cast came to join as well as the details of some of the difficulties of shooting certain famous Muppet scenes. All agreed that Henson would not ask anyone else to do something that he, himself, would not undertake. His stints in a sunken metal container with breathing apparatus, underwater, for hours (sometimes they worked all night) to make it appear that Kermit the Frog was sitting on a log in the water was diagrammed. Another scene involving shooting an apple off the head of a Muppet character was mentioned (the hired archer was a 17-year-old girl who had only 9 inches between success and disaster), and one particular scene in one of the Muppet movies where the characters appear to be scampering up a pole to escape marauding wolves was explained for the interested and appreciative audience.Fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk to Dawn,” ’96; “El Mariachi,” ’92; “Sin City,” 2005), an Austin resident, handled the Q&A onstage following the short film and the seasoned puppeteers explained that they often would find a personal flaw, isolate it, amplify it and try to make it lovable to distill their individual characters. All lauded “the sense of abandon and lunacy that Jim taught us” and one said: “I miss the sense of play that comes from a company owned by a person. Jim created a safe environment, but you felt you could be as free as you wished.” Puppeteer Dave Goetz said, “We all learned commitment from him. He was the hardest working person I’ve ever met.”
Among other accolades to the deceased Henson (who was raised a Christian Scientist) were: “He never threw his weight around. He never yelled; if he was mad, he’d get quieter. He was self-effacing.” The cast reminisced that Henson even wore a costume in the opening television scenes until others talked him out of it and handed the duty to others. Said the cast, “He was a harvester of people. He appreciated all sorts of people and brought them all together. He took a chance on sweetness. Disenfranchised people feel accepted in the Muppet world. He was promoting the oneness of the world and was generous and kind.”Individual quote: From Bill Barretta (“the new guy” even after decades) when asked about his job with the Muppets: “It’s a dream come true. To think that this is something that could happen. Unbelievable. It was an opportunity to do what I love.”
Fran Brill: “All of our lives were changed in such a way because we all met Jim Henson. He had more effect on me and my life than my parents. He treated everyone the same. This movie was made to champion what he did.”Dave Goelz (who was working at Dell computers in Silicon Valley at the time): “I was unemployable in Silicon Valley. I think they were sick of me poking my home-made puppets over the cubicle dividers. I was just too crazy. On top of that, Jim dragged us all over the world. It is important to have diversity—something that we need right now.” The crowd present at the Paramount reacted positively to his statement. Frank Oz: “I worked with Henson since the age of 19. He was just himself and we followed. Then he helped you with his kindness He wasn’t caustic. It was a collaborative effort and he was incredibly supportive.”
Reports of the lavish funeral ceremony that also lauded Henson’s basic human decency (Henson died of a virulent form of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome on May 16, 1990, 20 hours after experiencing a medical emergency).
We should all be remembered so fondly by our friends, family and colleagues.
Genre: Documentary Feature
Length: 95 minutes
Writer/Director: Brian Knappenberger
Principal Cast: Nick Denton, A.J. Daulario, John Cook, David Folkenflick, Floyd Abrams, Peter Sterne, David Houston, Margaret Sullivan, Jay Rosen, John L. Smith
The trial between wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, but ended up as a case study in how big money can silence media using legal means. This examination of the free press in an age of inequality echoes the “Vanity Fair” issue with an article by David Margolick entitled “V.C. for Vendetta.”
From that article, we learn that, outed as gay (“Peter Thiels Is Totally Gay”) by one of Gawker’s web sites in 2007, Silicon billionaire Peter Thiel ($2.7 billion as a co-founder of PayPal, and an early investor in Facebook) laid low until 2016, when he seized the opportunity to financially back Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy suit over a sex tape to bankrupt the entire organization.
In this documentary that interviews all the principals except Thiel (who is seen speaking at other venues), we learn that “what he’s done is to legitimize the idea that an uninvolved party can fund an effort by someone else in order to destroy a news organization. If billionaires and multi-millionaires can be behind the scenes doing this, that is conspiratorial and underhanded completely.” As Gawker founder Nick Denton, who was personally bankrupted, said, “We were outgunned here.”
Knappenberger dubs it, “abusing the justice system to go after journalists.” All these efforts have taken back a lot of 1st Amendment rights. Many others are mentioned in the piece: the Chandler family, the Salzburger family of New York, Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the “Washington Post” and, in greater detail, Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
John L. Smith, the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote a book about early investors in Las Vegas’ history entitled “Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and the Current Sharks.” There was one line mentioning Sheldon Adelson. Adelson sued Smith for the one line in the book, and lodged the $15 million dollar suit at a time when Smith was bedside in a local hospital with his young daughter Amelia, who was suffering from a brain tumor.
Smith was offered all sorts of financial inducements not to publish articles about Adelson, but resisted. He was blackmailed regarding the one line in his book, and, as he said: “Bullies always act the same.”
Then, unexpectedly, the entire staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was brought in to a meeting cold and told the newspaper had been sold. They were not allowed to know who had bought them.
Rather than take this without investigating, the entire staff, including one employee who had been with the paper for 39 and ½ years, dug in to find out if Adelson was behind the purchase in the face of overwhelming obfuscation.
Smith said, “”Everybody came in and everybody stayed. For us, it was preserving whatever integrity we had. We knew it was a career-ending move. Some stories are worth losing your job over.” As Smith asserted, “Journalism is a calling for a lot of us.”
As a Journalism Major (Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship recipient at the University of Iowa), this documentary spoke to me. I characterize myself as “”Old School” because my stint with 5 “real” newspapers began at the age of 10 and continues today, 6 decades later. I am of the generation that grew up with only 3 television channels trusting the voice of Walter Cronkite to tell us the truth. There was no Internet. There was no cable television, and we believed in presenting both sides of the story so that readers could draw fair conclusions with all the facts at their disposal.
The idea of “hacking” Internet accounts (there was no Internet) and Wiki Leaks style dissemination of documents from the e-mail of others was decades away. I find it personally offensive that anyone in a position of authority can level wholesale charges of bias and dishonesty against the hardworking men and women of the press. One of the least honest politicians (or human beings) of all time has underscored just how important a free and independent press is from his podium in the White House. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson talked about the importance of a free press to keep the checks and balances of this country working properly.
This documentary was depressing in that it showed the extent to which being rich means being able to destroy the very institutions we all thought were inviolate. As we watch money corrupting the very fabric of society, we are simultaneously experiencing the intentional undermining of the free press and I, for one, view it as one of the biggest tragedies our Republic has experienced since its inception.
A very informative, relevant and concerning documentary. Reading the “Vanity Fair” article by David Margolick explained much of the Peter Thiel/Nick Denton Gawker sex tape dispute in far greater detail, which added to my understanding of the film’s rehash of the trial, (which was surreal in so many ways). The revelations about the Las Vegas Review-Journal were new to me, but explained a lot.
Worth watching, if you care about remaining free and being part of an informed populace in a working democracy.
Length: 91 minutes
Writer/Directors: Ian and Eshom Nelms
Cast: John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Anderson, Robert Forster, Daniel Sunjata, Michael Vartan
Reviewer: Connie Wilson
When you come out of the new John Hawkes film “Small Town Crime” you know you’ve seen a special movie that has the potential to become a huge hit. Maybe even a franchise for P.I. “Jack Winter” (John Hawkes)? Written and directed by Ian and Eshom Nelms and embodying a “Dirty Harry” very sarcastic, sardonic tone, the movie follows alcoholic ex-cop John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) as he attempts to solve a crime in the hope that it will provide redemption for his past sins, especially the death of his partner when he was a police Sergeant.
Initially, Hawkes is even hopeful that he might get his job as a cop back. However, that doesn’t stop him from interviewing for other positions. One interviewer asks him why he’d be good for a security guard post. He replies, “I don’t take any shit.” Asked to assess his life’s accomplishments in the work world on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is high, Hawkes responds, “2 on a 10 point scale.”
At the outset, Hawkes is shown riding with veteran partner, Officer Bill Burke (Michael Flynn), but Hawkes’ Sergeant Mike Kendall is drunk while on the job. They pull over a car and Officer Burke tells Hawkes to stay in the car, after commenting earlier that he “smells like a brewery.”
The unprovoked shooting of Hawkes’ partner that happens next brings Hawkes from the squad car to return fire and kill the attacker (and, also, unfortunately, as collateral damage, a girl tied up in the trunk).
The police department is unforgiving when Hawkes blows drunk on the breathalyzer. The suits feel that Hawkes’ dissolute drinking and behavior has gotten his partner killed. This is made clear by the attitude(s) of fellow policemen who interview him, played by Michael Vartan (“Alias”) and Daniel Sunjata (“Rescue Me”).
Mike Kelly’s career as a cop is over. Or on ice. Enter the nom de plume of Private Investigator Jack Winter, Hawkes’ new identity.
Scenes after his partner’s death involve Hawkes overdoing his drinking in places with names like the Dead Dog Saloon. He is often drinking with his brother-in-law Teddy (Anthony Anderson). We learn that Hawkes was raised with Octavia Spencer as his adopted sister and Anthony Anderson is his brother-in-law.
After one blotto night, he wakes up in a field, gets in his hot car (a loud, black stripped-down Nova that he drives like a bat out of hell) and, on his way home, the now-sober Hawkes discovers a young girl by the side of the road, badly beaten.
Hawkes rushes the young hooker to the hospital, where, later that night, she dies. His car’s interior is bloody. He takes it to the car wash (where he is told that this job will cost him extra). The carwash workers find the dead girl’s phone and Hawkes’ policeman instincts kick in as he begins to investigate this small town crime.
One thing leads to another and Hawkes is soon passing out hastily-made business cards that say “Jack Winter, Private Eye.” He contacts the dead girl’s family and, eventually, ends up with a commission from her wealthy grandfather (Robert Forster, as Steve, whom the filmmakers termed “a gentleman and a half”), a gruff and wealthy grandfather to the dead girl. He is also a crack shot with a rifle and scope.
The Q&A following the film with the film-makers brought the story that Octavia (Spencer), who is also an executive producer on the film, “was the guiding light in getting John Hawkes. She wrote Hawkes, who once lived in Austin, a letter and said, ‘We’ve been in 2 films together, but we’ve never had a scene together. All I’m going to say is we play brother and sister in this film.’”Writer-Directors Ian and Eshom Nelms, Producer Brad Johnson and Director of Photography Johnny Derango (a Columbia, Chicago college grad), with whom I spoke at the showing also shared the story of trying to find a purple low-rider Camaro in Utah, where the film was shot, for Clifton Collins, Jr.’s character Mood to drive.
Mood is a pimp with style and Collins plays him like John Leguizamo on steroids. I was reminded of Leguizamo’s turn with Bryan Cranston in “The Infiltrator.” Collins, a former member of the Crips in Venice in his youth, took it much farther, procuring exactly the right brand of cigarettes for his character to smoke and modeling his hair after consulting with some current gang members.
Said the filmmakers, “It was amazing. We skyped and Clifton shared that he had been a Crip in Venice in his younger days. We asked him if he could handle a gun, and he said, ‘I’m sponsored by Glock’ and pulled out a Tech 9 and a Mossberg. We borrowed him from ‘WestWorld’ where he was working. They told us not to mess with his hair, but that didn’t happen. Clifton brought a lot of authenticity to the role of Mood.” He certainly did, and, like Leguizamo before him, made a good run at stealing every scene he’s in. As for his ride, the purple low-rider Camaro, the Writer/Directors laughed that “It’s surprisingly difficult to find one in Utah.” Car clubs came to the rescue.
Other actors in the piece who deserve special mention are Dale Dickey, playing a hardened female bartender at the Dead Dog Saloon. The filmmakers have done previous films with the actress, who has a Melissa Leo vibe, and hope for more. The hit man in what turns out to be a story about snuffing out greedy hookers, (known as Orthopedic in the credits), was also an interesting character, with a gray beard and a hearing aid. Jeremy Ratchford does the part justice.
There are also hookers (see above), such as the first girl killed, Kristy (Stefanie Barr), Heidi (Caity Lotz) and Ivy (Stefanie Scott), great sound for the muscle cars, and wonderful cinematography by Johnny Derango (“Lost on Purpose”), [who, as the filmmakers said to the audience, “has the greatest name on the planet.”]
I foresee another film for Hawkes’ character, to whom adopted sister Octavia Spencer says in the script, “All we do is help you, and all you do is ruin people’s lives.” He’s got the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” vibe down, with some Jack Reacher thrown in. The ending of the film (which I won’t reveal) leaves room for hope that we’ll see much more of this interesting character and this writing team. One great line involves Robert Forster asking Mood, “Do we have to listen to this?” in the souped-up Camaro on the way to a very well-done shoot-out scene set at a deserted railroad site.
I blew off 2 other scheduled SXSW offerings this day to see the final showing of “Small Town Crime” after nearly every single person in every single line I waited in (minimum one hour wait per film) said it was their favorite feature film at the festival. It certainly is mine.
Academy Award® Nominee John Hawkes (THE SESSIONS, WINTER’S BONE, Eastbound and Down)
Academy Award® Nominee Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN, THE DESCENDANTS, MEDIUM COOL)
Academy Award® Winner Octavia Spencer (also an EP on film) (HIDDEN FIGURES, THE HELP, FRUITVALE STATION)
Emmy Award® Nominee Anthony Anderson (Black-ish, Treme)
Emmy Award® Nominee Clifton Collins, Jr. (STAR TREK, Westworld)
Michael Vartan (Alias, Bates Motel, NEVER BEEN KISSED)
Daniel Sunjata (Graceland, Smashed, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA)
James Lafferty (One Tree Hill, LOST ON PURPOSE, WAFFLE STREET)
Caity Lotz (Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, Mad Men)
Don Harvey (Luck, The Black List, Blue Bloods)
Dale Dickey (Vice Principals, Justified, True Blood)
Stefanie Scott (INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, A.N.T. Farm)
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Length: 103 minutes
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihvichnaya
Reviewer: Connie Wilson
Sony’s new sci-fi film (being heavily advertised on television recently), “Life,” with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal headlining a cast from all over the globe closed the SXSW Film Festival in Austin Saturday night at the Zach Theater. Director Daniel Espinosa, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on March 23rd, typifies the international aura: he was born in Sweden of Chilean parents and attended the National Film School of Denmark. [His 2010 film “Easy Money” was Sweden’s biggest box office success that year.]
The rest of the cast supporting Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in this Alien-esque film about a deadly monster that gets loose aboard the International Space Station while the crew is conducting the Mars Pilgrim Space Mission are accomplished actors whose very names scream “international”: Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (Swedish and raised in Britain); Olga Dinvichnaya as Katerina Golovkina (Russian); Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry (British); and Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Kendo (Japanese).
If you’ve seen the trailer on television, you know that Hugh Derry, the science expert aboard the ship (Ariyon Bakare), should never have poked his gloved finger into the new organism the crew has discovered and is bringing back from Mars. As Ryan Reynolds’ character, Rory Adams, says: “You’re playing around with that thing like it’s your buddy. It’s not your buddy. I’m your buddy.”
Derry, who (in the plot) is partially paralyzed since childhood, thinks that perhaps the organism, named Calvin (through a national competition amongst elementary school children), will yield medical breakthroughs, since—much like Ridley Scott’s “Alien”—-the crew has re-animated the dormant creature, using electrical shock, glucose, variations of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and other tinkering.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the medical officer. He’s been up in space for 473 days, longer than anyone previously. When asked why he doesn’t want to return to Earth, he reminisces about time spent in Syria and says, “I can’t stand what we do to each other down there.” He also says, “It’s hard to watch people die, isn’t it?” and that becomes a large part of our viewing experience after Calvin escapes from the lab and, as the script says, “It could be anywhere.”
The music by Jon Ekstrand is good. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography was as impressive as “Gravity” or any other recent sci-fi opus. The sets and visual effects are great. The acting is spot on, and it was very nice to see the writers, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, receive credit from the director and cast as “brilliant.”
In the Q&A afterwards, the director hedged on whether sequels will be in the works, but the ending suggests that to be highly likely if the film is as successful as it should be.
As to the origin of the plot idea, Director Espinosa mentioned “the usual suspects” like “Alien” and “Gravity” and even paid homage to John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” He also called “Life” a tribute to film noir and “The Twilight Zone.” I can think of other films going all the way back to Bruce Dern’s 1972 film “Silent Running” or Kubrick’s iconic “2001: A Space Odyssey” that might have been mentioned, and “The Martian” (Matt Damon) came up during the Q&A.
Jonas Rasmussen gets credit for the horrible look of the creature named Calvin, equal in awfulness to “Alien’s” monster. One interesting difference, pointed out during the Q&A, is that this creature is completely silent. Director Espinosa said it was scripted that way by the “brilliant”writers, (who were then called up onstage).
Director Daniel Espinosa shared that the first long prolonged shot involved the set rotating around the actors and took a month to film. We were also told that each one of the cast was simulating zero gravity, while actually rigged up with wires. Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Miranda North, shared that their movement coach, Alexander Reynolds, worked with the cast. She said, “One day I was floating so brilliantly that I forgot my lines.”
Asked what struck them as “memorable” about the shoot, Jake Gyllenhaal said, “Being able to wear socks with no shoes was my memorable moment. This might be the first shoeless zero gravity movie.” Reynolds, who was the more light-hearted of the two, in the manner of his character in “Deadpool,” when asked if the cast had worked weightlessly in zero gravity, said, jokingly, “We were given limited permission to go into space because they weren’t doing anything important in the space station that month.”
Ryan Reynolds’ most memorable moment? “We spent so much time joking around that one day one of the producers said to me, ‘Quit joking around and get to work. You’ve wasted $100,000.’ And I said, ‘We’ve wasted $100,000 on this film, so far?’ and she said, ‘No. You’ve wasted $100,000 today.’”
One questioner in the audience asked facetiously why Matt Damon wasn’t hired for Reynolds’ part, since he’d already been to Mars,( referencing Damon’s recent film “The Martian.”) Reynolds, laughing, said, “F***** Matt Damon.” And added, “The fact is, he didn’t want to die in the first act.”
This is a professionally done, well-acted film. There are very few things to criticize. At different times, looking at the beautiful actresses onscreen, I was struck by their resemblance to a young Ingrid Bergman, (even with severe pulled-back hairstyles that would be appropriate for life in space). And a more dependable actor than Jake Gyllenhaal does not exist, with Ryan Reynolds easy on the eyes in the smart aleck-y role and manner that suits him.
Because of the international nature of the cast, it was sometimes difficult to understand some of their dialogue. If I had been watching this at home on television, much as with Thomas Hardy’s series “Taboo,” I would have had the subtitles turned on. My only other criticism would be that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” so we’re seeing many things that are derivative of other science fiction films that have gone before, but they are still enjoyable, when done well. And the film is done well.
It’s an engrossing film that will suck you in and keep you on the edge of your seat despite the nagging feeling that you have been down this cinematic road before.
Genre: Coming-of-age drama
Length: 120 minutes
Director: Elijah Bynum
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, Thomas Jane, William Fichtner
Review: Connie Wilson
writer/director Elijah Bynum’s coming-of-age film “Hot Summer Nights.” It played to a packed
house at the Paramount Theater at SXSW with all major stars in attendance.
Set in 1991 Cape Cod (really filmed in Atlanta, Georgia) , “Hot Summer Nights” stars Timothée
Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name, “Interstellar”), Maika Monroe (“It Follows,” Independence Day
2”), Alex Roe (“The 5th Wave,” “Rings”) and Maia Mitchell (“The Fosters”), with appearances by
Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”), Thomas Jane (“Hung,” “The Punisher”)
and William Fichtner (“The Dark Knight,” “Armageddon”).
Daniel’s mother sends him away to his Aunt’s to spend the summer of 1991 in Cape
Cod. Young Daniel at first finds himself friendless in Hyannis, Massachusetts..
Daniel’s not really a “townie” and he’s not one of the rich kids visiting for the summer. According to the voice-over, “Something changed inside of Daniel Middleton that summer he turned 13.” Thirteen seemed too young for what happens in the rest of the film. If Daniel is only there for the summer, how is he able to drive a hot car throughout the film, including in an opening scene car crash during a hurricane?
Daniel drifts into a friendship with the classic James Dean style bad boy in town,
a blonde hunk with the unfortunate character name Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). Hunter is
the stereotypical screw-up. He has been kicked out of high school and also has been kicked out of
the house by his widowed father. Now he sells marijuana to tourists and locals. Daniel throws in
with him with a vengeance, despite Hunter’s uncontrollable anger issues. Hunter’s sister Michaela (Maika Monroe) is angry with Hunter for not giving up selling pot;
it was their mother’s one request of her son during her final illness, when Michaela was eleven.
Daniel becomes allied with cool-stud-in-town Hunter when he helps him out by hiding some weed
Hunter has on his person while he is being stalked by the local cop, Sergeant Frank Calhoun.
Hunter takes up romantically with Frank’s daughter, Amy Calhoun. This liaison is certain to
cause problems for Amy at home, if her parents find out.
Meanwhile, Daniel unwisely finds himself irresistibly drawn to the brooding Michaela.
Hunter makes it clear that he is overly protective of his younger sibling and forbids Daniel (whom he
calls “Danny”) to date her. That, of course, soon goes out the window, setting up romantic
scenes between Daniel and Michaela. Director Bynum shared with the audience, after the film, that the plot was one he heard while in college.
Said Bynum, “I’m from Massachusetts, but from a different part of the state. The story came
from a couple of kids I knew in college. They talked about two drug dealers who, as their business
grew, their friendship also grew, and then both disappeared. I was always intrigued by that.”
The principal actors all did a good job in their roles, especially the two male leads. The
cinematography by Javier Julia was fine. He also worked in actual film footage from Hurricane
Bob, which was a key element in the plot. Those in charge of the music (Will Bates and Liz
Gallagher) also did a good job, including David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “All the Young Dudes,”
among others from the era.
The plot has some problems. For one thing, early on the lead character’s age (Daniel) is set at
thirteen. If Daniel is only thirteen, how can he spend most of the movie driving and doing a number of other things more appropriate for older teens)? And, when Daniel is driving, he is driving a car so hot that it would draw unwanted attention to a drug dealer trying to operate without being apprehended. Not only would the cops be a problem, what about Michaela Strawberry? Doesn’t she wonder where Daniel, who lives with his Aunt Bar (who is poor) has gotten the money for these wheels? And how could the young couple possibly hide their romance from her brother Or, conversely, how could Michaela not know that Daniel was her brother’s new accomplice in the drug trade? Also, given Hunter’s explosive temper, which we see unleashed with a fury when Daniel is threatened, what would the conversation with Amy’s policeman father (Thomas Jane) really have been like? It seemed unusually tame on both sides I also had problems with the way the writer/director has chosen to end the film.
I was never sure who the young person at the window was (supposedly doing the voice over)
and the ending is almost as bad and as big a trope as the themes that my junior high school students used to turn in
where the ending was always, “And then he woke up and it was all a dream.” It almost seemed as though no one had Beta read Writer/Director Elijah Bynum’s script before it got to the big screen. Each of the principal actors talked about the script as their reason for buying into the first-time director’s project, but, for me, the script had holes wide enough to drive a Mack truck through and an unsatisfying ending.
On the positive side, it’s a good first directorial effort, with good music, fine cinematography and
some promising newcomers in the cast. For me, Alex Roe was the break-out star, but all four of
the main characters are promising.
I’d give the film, overall, an “A” for effort and a low “B-/C+” for execution. However, I’ll be interested in watching the budding careers of the four principal characters as they are cast in other projects.
Genre: Drama with Western roots
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Brett Haley
Actors: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross
The mythic spirit of the western, our American archetype, is alive and well at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival. I’ve seen two westerns in two days at the Festival. “The Hero,” which showed at the Zach Theater on Friday, March 10th, was the better of the two.
“The Hero” was an unusual picture because it focuses on a 71-year-old actor (Elliot) who has been playing western parts for most of his career. Now, he is in the twilight of that career, and most of his work seems to be voice-over work (primarily for a BBQ sauce). He’d like to get a feature like “The Hero” that catapulted him to fame back in the day, and he’s phoning his agent, looking for more work. And then he is derailed by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
There are parallels here between “The Wrestler” that featured Mickey Rourke and this plot. Both men find they have a potentially terminal illness and are dealing with that knowledge the same way. Both are initially in denial and tell no one. Both have a daughter from a failed relationship (real-life wife Katharine Ross plays the ex) and both men want to make peace with their only child before it’s too late. But the daughters aren’t cooperating much in moving towards reconciliation.
I wanted to see Katharine Ross (“The Graduate,” “The Cincinnati Kid”) after all this time, if only to see how she has aged alongside her silver-maned real-life husband, Elliott, whom we have seen in the TV series “Justified” and, earlier, as the narrator in the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski.” There is no doubt that Elliott has the best hair of anyone his age in pictures. (Robert Redford might be a close second.) Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross were in “The Cincinnati Kid” together, way back in 1969, but did not officially meet and begin dating until 1978, ultimately marrying in 1984, 33 years ago. (They have one daughter born that year)
The love interest in this film is not Elliott’s true-life wife, but Laura Prepon, who played Donna on “That 70s Show” (“The Girl on the Train.”) (Prepon announced that she is pregnant by fiancé Ben Foster in January.)
The two meet cute through their mutual drug dealer Jeremiah, played by Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman. A budding romance erupts, although Laura’s character (Charlotte Douglas) nearly kills the romance at the outset by making fun of romancing older men during her stand-up comedy routine.
In the film, western star Lee Hayden is going to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by an organization known as The Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild. Since he also has just learned he has pancreatic cancer, he is struggling with the thought that his only chance at prolonging his life slightly may be a grim procedure known as the Whipple Procedure, which would remove part of his pancreas, his gall bladder and part of his small intestine. Even then, his odds don’t sound that great. And Laura actually seems interested in getting to know him better and agrees to be his date for the awards ceremony (after Lee’s estranged daughter turns him down).
Elliott does some truly fine acting in the scenes where he is auditioning for a part in a film and must speak lines as though to his daughter. Real life impinges on fictional life as he is overcome with emotion. When Lee’s new female friend Charlotte reads Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music” to him, Elliott’s reaction is also spot on.
All the characters play their parts well, although it was difficult to understand how Elliott’s character of Lee Hayden was so forgiving of Charlotte, after her cruelty towards him onstage during her comedy act. The elderly: one of the few remaining groups under fire; it seems it is just fine to make fun of someone for being old. That is exactly what Laura Prepon’s character does, without mercy, in her act. Yet Elliott’s character, Lee Hayden, is quite forgiving.
During the Q&A, Director Brett Haley was asked why he has made more than one film about old age. (His 2015 film “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott, was also about an older woman facing old age, death, and being alone.) Haley first responded that this film was built around Elliott’s persona, but went on to say, “This film is about legacy…about looking back on one’s achievements. There’s something very interesting to me about older people who are toting up their achievements in life and trying to cope with the end of it all. Ageism is a problem in film and it’s a problem in society. That’s just something I’m drawn to.”
There are many beach scenes in the film which cinematographer Rob Givens photographed beautifully. Haley shared with the audience that the crew shot all the beach scenes in one day but when they went back to film they had to find a cliff for the principal actors to stand on (Elliott and his daughter Lucy, played by Krysten Ritter) because 6 to 8 foot swells had covered the beach.
One very big positive about the film, for me, was the use of Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music.” I asked Haley whether they had to pay the poet’s estate to use the film, and he said, ”They were very nice, and they let us use the poem for free. Her estate said, ‘Any time we can get the word out about her work, we’re happy.’” The director went on to say that, in his experience, “I think it is through music and poetry and film that we communicate. That’s what we all do. It’s why I have a recurring theme in the movie involving the Buster Keaton film clips. If I were dying and wanted to talk about death, that’s what I’d do. To me, it felt like a real thing that real people would do, and Milay is one of my favorite poets.”
Asked about Sam Elliott’s ability to roll a real joint for key plot scenes, Haley made it clear that Sam Elliott does not smoke marijuana, but knew exactly how to roll a doobie. Nick Offerman (“Parks & Recreation”) playing his drug dealer and friend Jeremiah from co-starring in a television series, was very complimentary about Elliott’s work ethic and what an honor and education it was to work with the old pro.
Said Offernan: “On the set of Parks & Recreation (Elliott had a recurring role as Nick’s doppelganger), I always tried to show up early. So, to work with a giant like Sam Elliott, I wasn’t going to show up less than thirty minutes early or not knowing my lines. It’s the same way I felt working with Michael Keaton. These guys are legends. So, one morning we’re shooting at 4:30 a.m. and I show up half an hour early, and there’s Sam, already leaning against the truck.” (laughs)
Director Haley shared that the film was originally supposed to be called “Iceberg,” which had to do with a metaphor in the film and the image of an iceberg on the drug dealer Jeremiah’s computer, but, just before shooting began, the title was changed because, “’The Hero’ is a closer portrayal of what the film is about. The title came to me right before we shot, and some of the early producers weren’t as keen on it, but I think it works.”
There are some random scenes meant to show Lee Hayden’s career in movies. In one, Elliott emerges from a small pup tent, wearing a cowboy hat. When you see him in the scene, it is unclear whether this is a flashback, a flash forward, or simply present history. Likewise, a scene where Lee (apparently dreaming?) sees a man hanging from a tree is in the film, but the message it is supposed to be sending is unclear.
OVERALL: It was nice to see a film that acknowledges that some people do live into their 7th decade of life and are not necessarily total fossils. An examination of any woman’s magazine “beautiful at any age” issue would convince you that there is no woman (or man, for that matter) who lives past 60 and could be considered handsome or beautiful. The fact that Lee is also obviously still virile (there are numerous love scenes, chastely shot) is also a gift to the AARP generation. That was unexpected and nice. Only a few films of the past decade have focused on characters in their golden years and done so sensitively. This is one of them.