Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A few words on Ballet Boys (2014) New York International Children's Film Festival 2015

This is the story of three friends Lukas, Syvert, and Torgier over four years as they train to dance and hopefully get into a prestigious ballet academy.

I have to be honest here this film was not my cup of tea. I kind of knew about five minutes in  that this wasn't going to float my boat. I am not a ballet person and as such this was a tough go for me.

This isn't to say that the film is bad, it's not. The film does present the lives of the three young men wonderfully, and the dance sequences are great to see, but it never pulled it all together for me in a package I could really get behind.

On the other hand if you are a dance and ballet fan this is a must see. All others will have to decide for themselves.

The film runs at the New York International Children's Film Festival  Saturday March 14th. For more information and tickets go here.

MY FRIEND VICTORIA (2014) Rendez--Vous With French Cinema 2015

Love it or  hate film concerning Victoria, a young black woman in Paris who skates over life but never really is part of it. As young girl she meets a rich white family who take her in for a night. Years later she has a one night stand with the son of the family and becomes pregnant. She doesn't reveal this to the family until several years later at which point the family offer to take Victoriaa's daughter in.

Told from the point of view of Victoria's friend who is a writer the film feels more like an illustrated story than a proper film. thanks to the constant narration. For me the fact that we are told so much defeats the purpose of this being a motion picture since to me everything seemed to be revealed in the narration. Twenty minutes in I wanted to get up and go find the Doris Lessing story upon which its based and read that.

For me the problem is Victoria herself. She is much too passive and a cipher. Everything we know about her is told to us int he narration. She is the embodiment of the line from Brian DePalma's HOME MOVIES where the main character is called an extra in his own life.  I think that fits Victoria perfectly since she drifts from job to job and thing to thing and just sort of lets things happen to her.

I know some other reviewers have talked about the discussion of race the film kicks up, and have like how its matter of fact attitude,I never connected enough and got really bored really fast. While it's well made, well acted and all of that I never cared enough about Victoria to care about the film. Yea I stayed to the end but it was time I could have spent rearranging my sock drawer.

The film plays at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema For information and tickets go here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Secrets of War (2014) New York International Children's Film Festival 2015

Two friends in the Netherlands deal with the German occupation . Where one follows German rules and regulations, the other sides with the resistance- though to be completely honest neither completely understands what the war and taking sides is all about. Things are complicated when a new girl comes to town and takes one of the boys in her confidence but not the other. As time goes on the tension between the boys increases and all of the secrets one must keep during wartime begin to take their toll.

Good but not great look at life during war time some how just misses being truly compelling. I suspect the fact that the film feels a bit to nostalgic,  or if not nostalgic perhaps a tad too safe. I never completely felt any danger for anyone because the film followed some of the well worn paths for WW2 movies hitting all of the typical tropes of the resistance, Hitler Youth, Jews, refugees. This isn't any place we haven't been before.

I also suspect that the film being decidedly aimed at a younger audience doesn't help either. While this makes it a really good introductory film for parents wanting to teach their kids about war and it's costs, its nothing anyone over say 15 or so hasn't seen before.

The film plays this Saturday and next Sunday at the New York International Children's Film Festival. For more information and tickets go to the NYICFF web page.

WIld Life (2014) Rendezvous With French Cinema 2015

a cult with two members is a family- Paco

Fleeing the wandering nomadic life she had lead with her husband Paco and their three sons, Nora bolts to her parents house with her children hoping to live a normal life. Paco finds them and and after a court proceeding it's determined that he may see the children at certain times. During one visit he takes two of his sons (the third decides to stay with his mother) and bolts for the wilderness. What follows is a decade plus existence for the trio on the fringes of society.

I'm torn about this film.

In many ways the films insistence on not being judgmental, of not providing answers  and not going for cheap emotion is commendable (even if the emotion occasionally creeps in). Here is a film that shows us its story and lets us make up our own minds. its lovely to be trusted by a filmmaker. We're not lectured, we're not told that what Paco has done is wrong or that this alternative life style is bad, rather we simply watch and see how things play out. I like that the film doesn't seem to have all the answers and shows that once the boys  approach 18 they begin to butt heads with their father.

The trouble is that this based on a true story is not giving us the whole story. And even if this were wholly fiction it would be clear that something is missing. For me the two biggest problems is that in many ways the life on the run is a little too idyllic. Yea they are running from the police and living on the fringes of society  but the filmmakers are almost a little too in love with life on the edges. Watching the film I really couldn't see what Nora was running from other than having stuff. The other problem is that the jump in time seems to have left something out. What happened in the intervening years? We don't really need to know what happened  but to me there really isn't a sense of a life lived. Its as if we moved from then to now. The jump occurring more because we have to get to the preordained conclusion.

As I frequently say the film is far from bad, it's just it's trying to jump into the great category but ends up falling short which makes it seem less than it is.

I liked WILD LIFE, the trouble is I wanted to love it. From the thriller-esque opening where Nora flees with her kids, I thought I was going to love the film and instead I just liked it.

Is it worth seeing? Oh most definitely, just brace yourself for being disappointed that the glorious parts don't add up to a glorious whole.

WILD LIFE screens as part o Rendezvous With French Cinema. For details and Tickets go here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

These Final Hours (2013)

THESE FINAL HOURS  is a dark troubling film that’s not for the faint of heart. If you don’t want to be thoroughly depressed don’t see it.

If on the other hand you want to see a deeply affecting and extremely well made film about the end of the world do see it.

A spoiler at the top is unavoidable – forget there being a reprieve everyone dies at the end of the film. As for there being any hope or light its all a matter of degrees

The film is the story of James who is spending the last hours of the world with his girlfriend. It’s the end because a meteor strike in the North Atlantic is sending a fire storm across the globe. It’s all going to be over in 12 hours when the fire reaches Australia. As the couple finishes making love James‘s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant. Unable to handle it he leaves to go to an end of the world party. Along the way he ends up stopping two guys from raping a little girl. Deciding to help the girl find her family before he heads off to the party he finds his plans getting side tracked by the death, destruction and hedonism around him.

I think this is a great film-but I never ever ever want to see it again. It’s too bleak to contemplate. I don’t want to be in its head space. While it casts some much needed new light on notions of love, longing and existence the story is just too horribly sad and it left me wondering what’s the point- yes love conquers all except for a cosmic firestorm but if this is how we end what’s the point? Having someone to hold on to before we're incinerated alive?

Don’t get me wrong if the film wasn’t as good as it is I wouldn’t want to play in traffic, but I didn’t need this in my head. I still don’t.

The film had me making favorable comparisons between a couple of other recent end of the world films- Seeking A Friend for The End of the World with it’s quest for companionship and Before the Fall about trying to stop a serial killer in the hours before the end. I also liked it how it was the polar opposite of Abel Ferrara’s 444 Last Day on Earth which posits a very long wait to die in a less spectacular event that life kind of just goes on until it doesn’t. I liked how this film fit into this wonderful grouping of different takes on the how we might face the end.

In all seriousness this is a great film but its emotional punch is such it is not for all audiences. If you don’t mind the examination of serious subjects in a dark and down beat story by all means see THESE FINAL HOURS. If not stay away.

The film hits US theaters and VOD Friday

Hippocrates (2014) Rendezvous With French Cinema 2015

Hippocrates is the story of an young doctor as he starts his internship in a hospital. We watch as the young man who is thrown in the deep end copes with the staff, a partner who he’s not sure of and a father who is the big cheese at the hospital.

Based upon director Thomas Lilti's  own experiences Hippocrates has the feel of being a fly on the wall as our hero goes through his paces. This is clearly a story that was lived. Its full of the life that only a master storyteller can get from relating the story of his own life. If full of humor, drama and tragedy. As a slice of medical life this film is really good.

My feelings for the film are tempered slightly by the inclusion of the father who is a big cheese at the hospital. While the scenes aren’t bad, hell nothing in the film is bad, they feel like they are there more to move the plot then let the narrative just flow. It’s an unnecessary plot device rather than something that is wholly organic. For me those scenes kept me feeling this was a movie and not “real life”.

This is a really good little film and worth your time.

The film plays at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema for tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Day three of the New York International Children's Film festival was an all day affair for me. I saw both Shorts programs and a wonderfully wicked animated feature from Korea.

First up was SHORTS ONE a collection of 11 films, all containing some form of animation.

IMAGINATION had a young girl first fall into one of her drawing and become two dimensional but after rectifying that she became trapped in a world made of Plasticine. Its a good little film.

5.8 METERS has a bunch of giraffes going through their high dicing paces. Wickedly cool and damn near perfect- only a cartoony movement in some of the high dives detracted from an otherwise photo realistic perfection.

EYES has a brother and sister pondering who has the eyes in the darkness. If it didn't look so much like Chuck Jones it would have been perfect (come on you make a wonderful original film was riff Jones?)

LITTLE COUSTEAU is about a little kid who wants to be Jacques Cousteau. A neat little film.

ANATOLE'S SAUCE PAN is about a kid who has to drag a sauce pan around. Allegory about our baggage isn't bad until it gets a bit too overt at the end.

SUBMARINE SANDWICH- New Pes film is, like everyone of his other films a joy.

MY BIG BROTHER-Truly great film for anyone with a sibling. Deeply deeply moving film about a boy and his brother who's a giant. I loved it.

WAYNE THE STEGOSAURUS-an illustrated poem. Its okay.

THE TRUMETER is probably the worst film in the set about an army bugeler who wants to play jazz.

LEAVING HOME- is about a young man who keeps trying to leave (his father pushes him out) who can't leave. The people around me were not happy with the bittersweet ending.

ME AND MY MOULTON was nominated for an Oscar and I have no idea why. A memory tale bout a girl and her parents and the quest to get a bike, Its amusing and I probably would have liked it more with out the Oscar nomination.

SHORTS 2 has some winners but also two of the weakest films of the festival.

JOHNNY EXPRESS-has a lazy delivery man try and make a delivery man and cause apocalyptic destruction on the tiny inhabitants of a planet. Its one of the funniest films of the fest especially if you love giant monster movies.

A SINGLE LIFE- Oscar nominated short about a woman and a record single. Its a very funny blackout. that doesn't really work on repeated viewings.

BALLOONA LAGUNA-The worst film of the festival so far. I hated it. Whats worse I have no idea what its about.

I'LL STOP CRYING IF YOU STOP CRYING a young boy from Eritrea recounts his flight from his homeland to England. A touching slice of life.

MYTHOPOLIS- one of the best of the festival films concerns life in an apartment block where creatures from mythology live, in particular a Minotaur child and his mother-Medusa who's looking for love. It will warm you heart.

BY THE STREAM- The life of a newsseller over the course of his life. Its nice

EYES ON THE STARS-Bill Wray animates the story of Ronald McNair as told by his brother. It will make you tear up.

RAYS BIG IDEA-New Aardman story has a primordial fish climb out of the much and mire...

LAR-GAR-TO a young boy learning Spanish goes to Nicaragua and is menaced by lizards. Really weak

ELECTRIC SOUL- Life in a city presented through various electronic parts. I loved it. it just looked cool. Some people hated it.

TIGERS TIED UP IN ONE ROPE- a lazy kid comes up with a way to get enough money to remain lazy. Visually amazing film is really neat.

GIOVANNI AND THE WATER BALLET- wonderful documentary about a young boy who wants to do water ballet. We watch him practice, hang out with his "girlfriend" and just be. Charming and it has the line "Karate is not my thing unless it's murder"

After meeting up with Joe Bendel in the snow it was back into the darkness for SATELLITE GIRL AND MILK COW

Joe Bendel said it's very much like other Korean romances- perhaps but it doesn't have a collection of characters like this.

The film has a failed satellite  coming to earth after hearing a song by an unknown young man. Because o circumstances the satellite ends up changing into the form of a young girl (think ASTRO BOY) while the object of her search has been changed into a milk cow by weird forces that are turning people with broken hearts into animals. Meanwhile a giant incinerator is going around trying to devour the animal-people and a magician is trying to steal the animal people's livers. (It makes sense in context-sort of). Add in a some other weirdness including a wizard turned into a toilet paper roll ((again it makes sense in context)  and you have one of the most original films I've seen...ever.

This film is a gem. Yes you've seen some of this before, but most of this is it's own riff on romance and it's wonderful as a result. What I absolutely love about the film is that it sets up a completely believable world. Strange things happen? Why not? It all works on its own terms and we're so much better for it.

This film breaks every rule in the book and it doesn't matter it just grand story telling.

I know that sounds like gibberish but frankly there is no way to explain the film because to explain it strips it of the magic and internal logic. this is real. The best review would be to just hand you the film and have you watch because I can't explain it.

This is a great film and a perfect example of what happens when a man with a vision is allowed to go for it.

This is a treasured gem of a film.. Its one of those films that will delight anyone who can get on its wavelength and confuse the hell out of the rest. This is the sort of tale that the movies were invented to tell.

If you want to see a great romance or a film unlike any other see this film.
And with that the first week of NYICFF is done. I have next week off but look for reviews of BALLET BOYS, SECRETS OF WAR and write ups of WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE from me and SHAUN THE SHEEP from Hubert.

3/1/15 Nightcap: Rendez-Vous With French Cinema opens this week, Leonard Nimoy passes and Randi's links

Rendez-vous with French film starts this week . This is the annual survey of French Cinema that explodes across New York City and gets everyone jonesing for a trip to the city of light or Cannes or somewhere with great food and good wine.

The festival really is a city wide event with screenings happening at Lincoln Center, the IFC Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music plus there are a wide variety of related events.

This year we waded into the series a tad heavier than in years past and saw 8 of the films. I liked pretty much everything I saw, the exception being one of the shorts which is very weak, however don’t let that stop you since the others screening are excellent. Our coverage starts tomorrow and will run all week. I’m hoping to pick up a few more titles at the public screenings.

For tickets and more information go here.
Leonard Nimoy passed Friday and I have no words.
I'm old enough to have memories of watching Star Trek while in diapers during it's original run.
I loved In Search Of...
I loved the movies he was in and the ones he directed.
I met him when I was young enough to have had the experience blow my mind.
He was now and always will be part of my psyche and being.
He will be missed
Sadly I don't have much more to share this week- the interview with Julian Richings that ran yesterday coupled with French Cinema press screenings and NYICFF public screenings I haven't done much.
And Now Randi's Links

Zelda WIlliams talks about her dad
Benedict Cumberbatch writes a letter to the parents of a young fan who died
Japanese ads for beer, smokes and sake
Tarkovsky on Open Culture
What AMADEUS got wrong
Jackie Chan saves Zodiac Heads
John Boorman's viewing list
FROZEN arrest warrant

This week look for a whole lot of films from Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, some new releases, films  from NYICFF and perhaps some other stuff

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Catching up with Edge of Tomorrow on cable I’m truly at a loss to explain why the film didn’t find an audience in theaters. The best reviewed of Tom Cruises recent films it got glowing reviews and was largely ignored at the box office.

What the hell happened? I have no idea but it’s out on home video and on cable where I have no doubt the film will find an audience.

The film tells the story of Cruise’s Major Cage. A PR whizz he’s ordered to join combat troops making a grand assault on the aliens invading earth. He balks, is branded a traitor and forcibly thrown into the battle- where he dies-but not before taking in some of the alien blood. Since the aliens can reset time Cruise is given the ability to reset time himself and relive the day over and over again in the hope of finding a way to defeat the enemy.

Action packed and extremely well written this film sucks you in and pulls you along. It’s just a great popcorn film.

What I like about the film is that it makes you feel like you’ve gone all the permutations of events without going through all the permutations. We know with each action that many variations have happened thanks to a line or gesture. Its brilliantly handled and should serve as a blueprint as to how to do this sort of thing right.

If I have anything bad to say about the film it would be a minor quibble about the ending. Personally I would have ended it a tad earlier than it does- though I can’t say what point that is since it would give everything away.

This is a must see- it’s big budget film that fits the Unseen Films mandate perfectly- it’s a truly great science fiction actioner that got completely ignored when it was released.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Talking to Julian Richings "That guy in that movie"

Julian Richings in SUPERNATURAL

By way of introduction:
Hailed as Canada’s Greatest Actor by people more prestigious then myself, Julian Richings may very well be exactly that. Actually if you look back on his huge body of work it could be argued that he is simply one of the greatest actors working today anywhere. On the other hand he will be the first to tell you he is probably best known as "that guy who was in that movie"

It is not hyperbole to call Richings great, it’s the truth. All you need do is watch several of his films or TV appearances in close order and you’ll realize how good he is since he disappears into his roles so completely you don’t realize that it’s the same guy. That’s what happened when I saw PATCH TOWN and EJECTA last year back to back at Fantasia. Two of the earth shaking roles of the festival were played by Richings and I didn’t realize it until I looked at IMDB.

With the release of EJECTA to American theaters and on VOD I was gifted with a chance with the actor via phone. The interview was supposed to run about 15 minutes and instead it ran just under three times that length. Actually It wasn’t so much an interview but a glorious talk where one of the most charming people I’ve ever spoken to talked about his life as an actor. I said very little, stumbling through a few questions, preferring just listen as the great man simply talked. I was bowled over by his intelligence and warmth.  It was the sort of thing that I didn’t want to end and as the supposed end time approached came I hoped that it wouldn’t stop, and it didn’t for another 25 minutes. When it ended, as I knew it would, I was both sad that the conversation ended and thrilled at having talked to an amazing individual.

If you're coming into this interview for a long discussion of  EJECTA you will be disappointed since we only spoke a little about the film However if you are a fan of Julian Richings work you should be delighted at a chance to peer behind the mask of a man who usually ends up playing in horror movies. This is not a typical interview where the actor talks about his roles in detail, rather its the hows and whys of what he does.

What follows is probably 95% of our conversation. I removed some of the stuff at the beginning and end that didn't relate to our talk, a line or two of repetition and about three comments/questions I made. There was nothing in the material removed that you'd want to read.

I want to thank Ted Geoghegan for setting this up, John DiBello for proof reading my transcription and of course Julian Richings for taking the time and then some to do this (and all photos other than the EJECTA still are courtesy of Mr Richings.)

The Interview

STEVE (S): How are you?

JULIAN (J): Fine. Thank you. How are you? (laughs) I hope you can hear me okay. I have a pair of headphones but I'm not going to put them in cause it will probably collapse or something will go wrong —but can you hear me okay?

S: I can hear you fine; can you hear me?

J: Yeah, yeah.

S: The reason I'm asking is the thing I have to record is not for this phone, so I have you on speaker.

J: That’s fine. I have you on speaker. Nobody can hear you, but you're on speaker too.

It's one of the ironies, I'm in a lot of sci-fi and stuff and I often play crazy scientists and I'm the worlds worst person for this kind of thing so I have to come get my daughter to help me from time to time. "Plug this in," "Can you do that?"

S: Yeah? “How does this work?” I know how that goes. I can't do anything myself.

J: Yeah.

S: I have to thank you for blowing my mind last year, between EJECTA and PATCH TOWN.

J:: Oh wow, great! You saw them both?

Julian Richings in PATCH TOWN

S: I had seen you in PATCH TOWN and I had fallen in love with the film. And then I saw EJECTA, and I was like, what else was he in? I went to IMDB and was like "Oh my god he was the Child Catcher in PATCH TOWN!” and then I'm going through all your stuff and I'm like "Oh my God."

J: Yeah. I get around. I do a lot. I mean, that's the thing. I'm an ongoing working actor, and I'm lucky enough to have done a lot of stuff and theater and diverse amount of things too. Because I'm weird looking, I get pigeonholed into specific genres, but I have fun doing it, and I try to push the envelope as much as I can.

S: I can't understand how you haven't been carried off somewhere because you're so good. When you look at your body of work its amazing.

J: Part of it is I do a lot of independent film. I'm also here in Canada; we have a much smaller demographic here. Now you're down in the States, so it's not as if its not available to folks down in the states. Our market reach is smaller here and it keeps us independent. Unless you're going to go the LA route...

Speaking personally, I work with a lot of interesting emerging independent filmmakers here, and there's theater, and a whole bunch of different stuff, so I'm pretty happy. I'm originally from the UK so I've already kind of moved and settled, and the prospect of settling again into a bigger film center is not so appealing at the moment.

S: You'd go for a role or something but you wouldn't necessarily...

J: Yeah, not go down on the off chance of something happening. You know I just follow the work around and I'm happy, honestly.

S: I'm just amazed at everything you've done. The first thing that comes up when you look at your IMDB is MAN OF STEEL, then you go through all the TV shows and the films and everything else. Its like “WOW.”

J: I've enjoyed working with a lot of directors and writers and actors. Some famous, some not so famous. My thing is that's what I do. I'm proud being an actor, a working actor. I take every project seriously. I mean shooting EJECTA on a budget that's a fraction of MAN OF STEEL — I still take it absolutely the same. I pour everything I can into it. And by the same token, I don't have an inverted snobbery to some bigger pictures X-MEN 3, or stuff like that.

You basically go in and embrace the beast. You try and figure out what it’s about, and that to me is the joy of being an actor — you can actually parachute into things and have a very different challenge. I take each one seriously, and whether it’s film or theater or TV or whatever, I don't have a kind of hierarchy of values if you like.

I'm an actor and that's what I am. I think a lot of people confuse the business of acting, the work of acting, with fame. And its an interesting thing. I think some of my best work isn't my most famous work or my most far reaching work. For something to be effective if you reach ten people in an audience, maybe that's as important as reaching millions who could just take it or leave it.

I always talk about The Velvet Underground, early Velvet Underground — nobody ever bought their first album, but there was probably a hundred people in the room that saw them but they influenced the future of rock and roll.

I sort of challenge the notion of fame and fortune.

S: You challenge it and manage to make a living as an actor...

On set shooting "The Rainbow Kid" with Dylan Harman (left) and director Kire Paputts. Feature film to be released in 2015..

J: I'm lucky I found a way of finding my niche.

One of the things as I've gotten older and more mature, I guess younger filmmakers are aware of my work and I've made a point of working with a lot of young filmmakers. These guys at Foresight Features and Craig Goodwill with PATCH TOWN are good examples of people who are incredibly ambitious and whose vision isn't compromised by budget. They have extraordinary reserves of faith and ideas, and that rubs off on me too. I don't ever want to be a jaded kind of guy who goes "Oh yes, another one of these."

Another example is I've done a couple of movies with a young director his name is Kire Paputts. I guess he's in his early 30s. I did a short feature  that was accepted at TIFF — The Toronto International Film Festival — and it got a bit of play. Because of that now he's done a feature and the main character is a young man with Down Syndrome. Its a fabulous, uncompromising movie that's totally from the perspective of our hero who has Down Syndrome. It doesn't patronize, it doesn't have a token "isn't he cute, isn't he noble" type of approach. Nor does it feature an able-bodied actor getting accolades for being a disable-bodied actor.

You know what I mean? This is a movie with specific disabilities, a whole spectrum of autism. That to me is thrilling: that kind of vision and courage to explore the medium of film. That's what we should be doing.

That just feeds me and that takes me into other stuff, and I can kind of do traditional entertainment and be quite happy about it, and try and figure out what is needed in that kind of formula. But also inject a little bit different: a little bit new that I've learned from guys like Kire.

S: I love the stuff that's not typical. The idea that someone with Down Syndrome, you don't see that...

J: Exactly. We tend to put them in this small compartment and make them noble or make them sad or make them victimized. This guy is a very real complex guy on a difficult journey. That's very exciting.

Now it's also got the courage — when you work on smaller productions they have courage and bravery, but they can also fail, and that’s what makes great work. You know if you start out knowing it might be a failure but it’s going to be a magnificent failure — then it’s great for the actor because the actor can do the same thing and really make brave choices and true choices, rather than think of "God, the producers here and they are watching the clock, and they've already invested thousands and thousands of dollars, so I better get this right."

So there is a freedom born of economy. I think all of the movies I've worked on could use a few more dollars, but there is a kind of liberation of thought

Coming back to EJECTA, that's something I experienced with that. I don't know how much you know about the making of that. We started one summer and we did all the found footage material. You know seeing the alien stuff, myself, the Adam Seybold character, talking on the porch and talking about things, running through the woods. All of that was done and achieved and we felt pretty good about ourselves. And we were pretty ingenious: we saved ourselves money by having the camera hand held. We avoided the need to have really slick special effects for the alien — we just embraced that and went with it.
With "Ejecta" writer Tony Burgess at a  screening in Montreal

And when all that was done, Tony Burgess, the writer – to his credit wasn't just left as some anonymous writer in the background, but was very active and participating in the process — looked at what we were doing and said it needed another dimension. And he went away and he created a whole second layer to the film, which is the interrogation side of the film.

And to me, what's great is that it's a film that's grown organically, and realized its need for a different take. And because of the budget we couldn't film until a year later, so it's a film that was shot in two different segments. But we used that to our advantage and each section had a very different feel. It was the realization of the storytelling and the kind of collaboration where you have a small nucleus of people who are on the same page.


S: Did you have a problem going back to the character a year later?

J: Not really, because it was pretty clear.I had been part of the evolution of my character to begin with, and I sat through a lot of sessions with Tony and Matt and Chad, and we kind of figured out who this guy was…and what was kind of cool about it in many ways a year later, he was the same guy in a different context, so it didn't matter. So there was a gulf and a separation between one set of experiences and another, and it goes to the heart of the film, too. It’s like a guy that is invaded by a hostile ideology, so it kind of — or hostile presence, I should say — so, no I really didn't find it difficult.

And I'm a theater actor too. I've done a lot of shows where I'll rehearse a show, put it on and then do a remount one year or two years later. As long as you've gone through the ABCs of the creation in the first place, you're okay.

S: Let's go back slightly: how much input do you have into your roles? With Cassidy you developed it with the writer...


J: It depends on the project. MAN OF STEEL, Superman, obviously I'm going to be a very specific character and it's mapped out for me. I'm gonna go and give it all I can, but there is not a lot of room for exploration. Although even there it's an actors job to bring as much to the table so that the director can say "Wow, I like the idea, let's go with that."

Obviously with shows like EJECTA, with PATCH TOWN, I have a lot more input and I feel comfortable making suggestions that I know the director is going to listen to. We've already evolved an understanding through rehearsal or discussion so it's going to be an appropriate suggestion. It’s not coming out of left field. That’s another reason I'm quite excited by doing a lot of independent work.

And I feel that young emerging directors can learn from an actor too. I'm not being egotistical about it — there are certain ways of executing a scene or shooting a particular angle I know are going to work. Or I know, using the dimensions of my face, what is going to look scarier in a particular way if you're going to shoot me with the light from a particular direction, or the camera placed in a particular angle. It’s all part of the vocabulary.

S: I know you do all the genre stuff, but do you watch it? Do you like....

J: No!

Actually I will watch it but it's not my first choice. I like good scary movies....but I'll give you an example — I think probably my all time favorite film…or its hard to say all time, but it's up there…is NIGHT OF THE HUNTER by Charles Laughton. [It] embodies what I like, there's a darkness and stylization and it's an actor’s movie with great performances… but it has this incredible film noir element to it, and it's difficult to classify as a particular genre because it’s terrifying and it’s psychological and it's visual. It’s almost like a fairy tale. That kind of movie to me is exciting.

So I guess I'm kind of eclectic in my tastes but if I had an option of going to see a whole bunch of films, I wouldn't necessarily go to a horror film first. But it’s part of the palate.

And now it's become interesting for me because I've become identified with particular characters as I've gotten older and more recognizable, I guess, or I have a higher profile — people do approach me with certain things...

...SUPERNATURAL was a pretty big turning point for me, because here you have a mainstream TV show which has got very well developed story line or narrative world, with a massive fan base which is now part of the show. The fan base and the conventions — the audience is as important as the product. That's a kind of fascinating development in our industry over the last five years.

S: Do you go to conventions?

J: I was horrified the first time I got invited to one in Toronto. I was kind of a late fill in, so I thought "Oh my God, I can't do this. What's this all about?" But I went to it.

It was an extraordinary opportunity to meet fans and not just fans of SUPERNATURAL per se. but genre fans. And it blew my mind at how knowledgeable they were, and how opinionated they were about the script on a really intelligent level.

So my appetite for this started — I did a bunch of movies with special effects. I did CUBE, I did WRONG TURN with Stan Winston — and these movies require that I was in makeup for four hours. So I'm there and I'm the actor in the special effects truck and guys are prodding and poking me for four hours, so I had an opportunity to see it from a practitioner’s level, from guys who are special effects animators who will see the same movie over and over again for one segment that has a really cool effect, and it kind of introduced me to a whole way of looking at film and realizing that it means different things to different people.

And SUPERNATURAL, going to these conventions made me realize that wow, here is an opportunity to actually talk to people about the show, about choices that were made from an intelligent place.

You know, I know, that there is all kinds of fangirl and fanboy stuff that goes on, but the basic relationship between audience and actor is really kind of democratic and it's really interesting.

S: One of the things I love when I cover a convention is that I get to talk to fans of various films and you get to see thing you never thought of.

J: Absolutely. Absolutely.

So with SUPERNATURAL, you get moms bringing daughters to a convention for a weekend. So you have a double generational reason for watching the show. There's a kind of safety — Mom's thinking it's kind of cool but a little bit edgy, a little bit sexualized but not too much — but they were both coming from very different positions.

There was one instance where a mom said "I really like you in HARD CORE LOGO."

"Really, you saw me in HARD CORE LOGO?" That’s where I play an aging rock and roll star, and that was made before her daughter was even born.

There's a kind of carrying on, a recognition of a television and film culture out there, and it’s become more democratized in a way. There is a way of accessing directly the people involved in the process with Twitter. I said at the beginning of our talk that I'm the world's least-connected guy, but I have figured out through meeting a lot of SUPERNATURAL followers that Twitter is one of the primary places where there is a huge interchange of opinion, or knowledge, critiquing, blogging. It’s remarkable.

S: Twitter is one of the reasons that people started reading Unseen Films. Everybody connected.

J: It's remarkable. I'm a guy with his head in the sand. I'm slowly coming around. I'm kind of understanding it, trying to embrace it and enjoy it. Right now, it allows me a particular persona and it's not a lie; it becomes an extension of who I am. There is a dialog between a creative person and this very massive audience out there. And that's very exciting. Exciting for guys like Foresight Features. They do not have big development budgets, publicity budgets. They are dependent on Twitter and social media.

S: I've been reviewing films for five or six years now and it’s amazing that when you use social media you can get word out about your film projects.

J: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

S: How much interaction besides Twitter and the occasional convention with the public?

J: Well, just because of the way I look, and because of the span of stuff I've done... I've done kids movies or kids TV shows, for instance ,and kids recognize me — that particular context — so I can't go out without a discussion of some show that I'm in or a role that I've done.

But I really like it. I mean, I'm not Brad Pitt, or I'm being followed by the paparazzi — it's just this very polite interchange with people that kind of goes "you're that gut on so and so," and some people know my name but a lot of people go "I really like that show," and you know if it's not cool to stand around, people pick that up pretty fast.

Folks out there are paying my bills. I have an obligation as a face to at least be courteous, and the years in the theater have taught me to be very grateful for your audience. I mean, I've slogged away in the theater for many years. I've done some good work there, but I know how hard it is to pull people into the light theater, and I'm so grateful that I can do something on a TV show and constantly get recognition for it. It means people are watching my work, which is what everyone wants at the end of the day.

S: It was a little strange: when I mentioned I was going to be speaking with you, people were like "I know him he's in...." and I'd get a laundry list of everything. I feel like I'm coming in late but also realize how much I've seen of your work.
With Kayla Lorette as drag king double in "She Stoops to Conquer". Short film To be released in 2015

J: (laughs) I've been told that by a lot of people.

But the industry is full of character actors. Sometimes they get their break and some times they don't. Harry Dean Stanton, for instance, was in I don't know how many recognizable small parts, and then he did PARIS, TEXAS and suddenly became a house hold name.

And Steve Buscemi...I'm using these actors because other people have compared me to them. I don't see it, necessarily, but I understand why they use them as examples. It just depends on whether what you do catches fire and you get recognized as someone in your own right, or someone like myself who's "Oh that's the guy that's in such and such and such and such."

I mean it’s necessary. I mean if you have a sports team, you need the grinders. It’s not all about the superstars and the massive contracts; you need the team players. I think...from the public's point of view, it's the guys farther down the ranks…that are very important. They give a kind of credibility or familiarity to a movie or a TV show and you go "its that guy". There is a recognition of the everyman.

S: If the secondary or supporting characters aren't good, the lead actors have nothing to act against. In some ways they are more important, because they create the world.

J: I totally agree with you.

It’s been interesting for me. I sit on a lot of juries evaluating performances and stuff for actors awards, and it’s been very interesting for me to watch TV series and watch performances. You realize the leads of a series are playing the brand. They have a journey; they have to take the audience on — its a narrative journey, and they can't go through too many revelations on that journey. The character arc has to remain constant, but each week they depend on people to come in and introduce a primary color and have a mini arc that people can grab hold of. So its true its those secondary and guest actors that give a particular show its color, whereas the labors, the hard work, is done by the characters who go in week in and week out. They have to play the same notes often.

S: I have to ask: when you do a play, what sort of play do you do?

J: Same as film and television, new work, contemporary work. I like mix media work. I'm a physical actor. I trained in Britain, but I trained in a very unusual way. I trained with [Jerzy] Grotowski in Poland, who is a physical actor who emphasizes imagery and the body over the brain over the way people talk. So when I do theater, I tend to get drawn to projects that may be mixed, visual projections and movement and voice. So not necessarily traditional narratives. I mean, I've done many. I've worked on a lot of new Canadian plays and new British plays. So yeah, recently I did a play about John Berger, the art critic who wrote Ways of Seeing. I played Berger, and I read letters he had written to another artist, and I was accompanied by a string quartet and back projections by a visual artist. It was preceded by two dancers. It was an amazing mix of material. To me it was great because it pushed the envelope.

S: I was curious because I saw something where you played a ranting Shakespeare.

J: I do Shakespeare and I think he's terrific. I think, unfortunately, society has a set idea how it should be done, and there is often a kind of preciousness about the production of Shakespeare. But I think some places get it bang-on. The Stratford festival here in Ontario, Canada is fine…they hit the ball out of the park quite often. Yeah, I like Shakespeare but I don't want to be restricted to doing classical work. I feel like I'd like to bring classic training and classic discipline to contemporary works and contemporary ideas.

We tend to forget that the greats now, the literary greats were once provocateurs and out there on a limb. What’s happened is, we've made them safe. We've made them objects of education, of literature, where in fact we've robbed them of the vitality. So when people come along and inject life into those texts, I find it very exciting.

It’s like when you see a movie that goes back in time. It’s more a reflection of the current period. Its like THE GREAT GATSBY, the one with Robert Redford, is more about the 1970s then it was about the time of the Great Gatsby, and the one that Baz Luhrman did is more about twenty whatever — it is 2010? — than it is about the past.

We forget when we look backwards, we should never try to reproduce things as they were because it won't be, it will be through a modern lens — it's how we've come to assume it should be done.

Julian Richings can be seen currently in EJECTA which is in US theaters and on VOD.

NYICFF Day 2 in brief

Eric Beckman explains the ballot cards Opening Night 2015
I will write more soon- I've got seven NYICFF films to review this weekend- but I just wanted to say I'm back from the low key second day of NYICFF.

I saw two movies today:

HOCUS POCUS ALFIE ATKINS is a sweet little film. Its about young Alfie who wants a dog but kind of has to prove to his dad he can handle it. Along the way he deals with friends who think they are pirates and friends of the family one of which is a magician. Its a light weight and thoroughly enjoyable film that's a perfect distraction.

MUNE in 3D Opens with a giant living temple pulling the sun across the sky and it is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.. Actually there are several things that blew me away visually....

...sadly the plot isn't anything we haven't seen before, the characters are stock and worst of all it all takes place in a world that makes no sense logically even on its own anemic terms. Yes there are wonderful sequences and moments but nothing hangs together but largely this is a film that left me wondering why I was watching it.

I won't get into the the 3D which is erratic at best. Its one of NYICFF rare misfires.

More details will be coming soon.

Under the Skin (2013)

Scarlet Johansson is an alien who uses her feminine wile to collect men for food. Driving around Scotland she goes about her appointed rounds until her curiosity about humanity begins to change her.

Loosely based on the novel by Michel Faber UNDER THE SKIN has won great critical acclaim around the world with it’s largely wordless look oat the human condition as viewed through alien eyes. Going into the film roughly since the film first started making the festival rounds in 2013 it had a great deal of baggage attached to it. Could it live up to the hype?

Yes and no.

There is no doubt that there is a great deal of good stuff here but at some point the film kind of runs out of steam and just rambles on to a conclusion.

The early portion of the film where the alien comes to earth is  wonderful. The trippy visuals mixed with the evocative score makes for a series of fantastic sequences that show Scarlet’s world and view of ours in a gripping fashion. We are sucked into the tale and carried along without a single word. The images are wall quality and you’ll want to add them to that large screen TV we all need that just cycles through playing beautiful movie images. And the sequences of Scarlet capturing her prey are truly unlike anything you’ve seen before.

The trouble is that the film’s lyric beauty begins to crack when we get the hidden camera sequences of Scarlet driving around and talking to men on the street. The sequences are jarring because of the raw way they are shot - single person shots instead of carefully composed wide shots, quick hard cuts between Scarlet and the men in reality TV style instead of fluid transitioning.

Additionally the film kind of begins to spin its wheels after a bit as Scarlet begins to become obsessed with a motorbike rider and takes a greater and greater interest in the human condition, letting one victim get away and trying human food. Its moody landscapes and longing looks and ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before. We have been here before any number of times-just think about any story where an observer gets into trouble by getting too close to the thing it is watching-or a society it is interacting with.

For me half of this film is truly great. The form over content stylings of the film carries things along for most of the first half hour and then off and on through the rest of the film. The trouble is once the spell is broken the film doesn’t do anything. It’s not boring, but it’s not as rapturous as it was at the start. While I freely admit that if you see the film in the dark on the big screen it’s going to play better than if you see it on TV in a lighted room, I still don’t see why so many critics have fallen all over themselves about it.

Its good, great in pieces, but its not the best of the year.

NYICFF Opening Night

NYICFF has started- do the happy dance

Its after 1am and I have only been home for about half an hour so no report (I was seeing French films in the morning and afternoon)

What you need to know:

SHAUN THE SHEEP is great- it will require multiple viewing just to catch the riffs.

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is a deeply moving film that improves once you get to the end and see where it was going.

Most important Eric Beckman of the festival and Ghibli's US distributor said Ghibli will return to film production after a short break.

More happy dancing.

More movies plus pictures and such tomorrow- I have to be out of the house in six hours

Friday, February 27, 2015

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Notes on a Scandal is a really good, very over looked film starring Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett. Its a film that has powerhouse performances across the board but is the sort of unpleasant potboiler that you can admire but which you really don’t ever want to revisit.

The film is set at a public school. Judy Dench befriends new teacher Cate Blanchett. As the friendship between the women grows, Dench becomes aware that Blanchett is having an affair with one of her students, this of course will not do, not so much because of the taboo teacher student relationship, rather it’s because Dench wants Blanchett for herself. Knowing that she can’t have her friend she then sets about destroying her.

A beautifully made, perfectly acted film, but it’s so downbeat I don’t know anyone who has ever seen it twice. I know many people who have seen it and will wax poetic about it, but no one who wants to go to the headspace it creates a second time. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I mean Richard Eyre has essentially made a perfect film that no one wants to view.

I know there are films I don’t want to see again. I love and hate the doomed romance of Map of the Human Heart but I find it’s ending so heart breaking I never want to go there again. Frankly I turn it off before the ending. But that’s the ending. That’s not the whole film. I don’t ever want to see a frame of the film again…

And at this point you’re going Steve, why are you recommending the film- because it’s a great film. Its that simple, Notes on a Scandal is a great film-depressing as all hell, but great. Remember just because I point a film out to you doesn’t mean you should see it, it simply means it maybe a possibility . If you want to see great acting and a depressing potboiler see Notes on a Scandal- otherwise stay away.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tons of stuff opens this week-here's links to what we've seen

This is a killer week for film releases. Tons of stuff is hitting theaters and VOD and with a number of them we had a chance to see them earlier at festivals.Instead of reposting everything I’m going to say a little bit and then link to the posts.

The two must see films are:
DELI MAN- which premiered at the New York Jewish Film Festival. This is one of the best films of 2015 so far.  A wonderful look at the history of deli food through a portrait of one man. Not only should you see it but you should also have dinner plans for after it since you’ll want a knosh afterward

71- fantastic thriller about a British soldier in Northern Ireland. Its fantastic edge of your seat actioner  that kicks ass on the big screen go see it.

Films you can miss are
MAPS TO THE STARS- funny for all the wrong reasons David Cronenberg's look at Hollywood is a mess. Hubert took a look at the film when it played the NYFFand his review can be found here. I also saw it and my thoughts are here

BLUE BIRD-well acted film about a child left overnight in freezing temps on a school bus is earnest but requires too much suspension of disbelief to work and seemed to be missing something. This was on my worst of the year list in 2013

YOUNG BODIES HEAL QUICKLY- split Mondo and me. Mondo  liked it more than I did but had reservations about its oddness.(His review is here) My thought this might have worked had something been explained in the film instead of in the press notes. For me it was another crappy movie that makes little sense on its own terms (My review is here).

And if thats not enough I should remind you that EJECTA and MY WAY also are opening this week, and KUNG FU ELLIOT is going wider