R.I.P. Elizabeth Peña

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elizaneth pena - rip

Another good one is gone. Elizabeth Peña, best known for her work in La Bamba, Jacob’s Ladder, Lone Star and most recently Modern Family has passed away at the young age of 55. What a total fucking bummer. She had an incredible presence onscreen and her loss to the film and TV community will be great. Her 30+ years in the business is testament to her abilities and her craft.

Her performances in Jacob’s Ladder as Jezzie and Lone Star as Pilar have remained with me since the first time I saw the films and I would rank them both among the best of 1990s. For these, I can’t thank her enough.

My thoughts are with Ms. Peña‘s husband, children and family. May you rest in peace, Elizabeth.

Since Halloween is upon us and Jacob’s Ladder is one the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, here is the famous party scene clip, one that is testament to Elizabeth Peña‘s allure and ability:

Sweet Christ – Threshold Entertainment announces plans to make a Tetris movie

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tetris

Unfuckingreal.

Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for Hollywood to create anything else as stupid as Battleship or the impending Stretch Armstrong movie, the news comes out that the dildos who adapted Mortal Kombat will be making a film adaptation of another hit video game in Tetris. SIGH. It’s hard to even react to shit like this anymore with surprise because the precedent has been set. Anything that any group of people loved at any one time in history, no matter how stupid or ridiculous, can have a movie made about it or based on it. Threshold CEO Larry Kasanoff says (via the Wall Street Journal), “It’s a very big, epic sci-fi movie…This isn’t a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page. We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes.”

What the fuck does that even mean?

Once again, I urge you, as I’ve done in the past – PLEASE avoid paying your hard earned money to see shit sandwiches like this. It only encourages more of it. Instead, go see films like Inherent Vice when it is released. Paying with your money to see films is like voting – if you don’t vote for it, Hollywood won’t fucking make it. Now, sally forth and watch good movies.

Rant over.

HOLY SHIT – The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is finally out and it looks totally BADASS.

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Inherent Vice poster

This is undoubtedly the most anticipated film of the year for me. Coming off 2012’s exquisite and perfect The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with Joaquin Phoenix for 70s California surfer hippie detective hijinks in Inherent Vice, based on the novel by literary giant Thomas Pynchon. It looks as fucking cool as it sounds. Can’t wait until this hits theaters in December. If this isn’t on your radar, you should stop going to the movies. With a cast to die for – Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Michael K. Williams, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Anders Holm of Workaholics fame, and even the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short and Eric Roberts – the latter two I can only assume will achieve a Burt Reynolds-like ascendance post Boogie Nights. Damn, I am chomping at the bit to get at this one.

Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Zero Theorem’ a Return to Glory

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zero theorem poster 1As a long-time fan of Terry Gilliam’s films, it’s been a while since one of them really resonated with me. It’s not that the films he’s directed haven’t been good, but they haven’t quite lived up to the early work with Monty Python or films like the stone-cold classic Brazil, The Fisher King or 12 Monkeys. The productions of his films are legendary for the mishaps that befall them – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the ill-fated production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (chronicled quite beautifully in Fulton & Pepe‘s Lost in La Mancha) and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus which was derailed by the death of Heath Ledger come quickly to mind. Fortunate for us all, The Zero Theorem hits familiar Gilliam themes and is a return to form of an old master.

Qohen at work.

Qohen at work.

As we found out in my interview with screenwriter Pat Rushin, Gilliam referred to this film as Brazil II on set, so if know anything about Brazil, it should give you a good idea of the look, feel and themes of The Zero Theorem. Taking place in a yearless time in the future, Qohen Leth (two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) is a number cruncher for the company Mancom and a damn good one. The thing is he hates it. He tries however he can to get out of working in the office as he has, over the years, become an agorophobe, withdrawing from society as it gets louder in noise and tone.

Qohen and Joby. All work and no play...

Qohen and Joby. All work and no play…

In the grip of an existential crisis, the one thing that keeps him going is a phone call he has been expecting for years. How could a phone call keep him going, you ask? Well, Qohen expects that this phone call will somehow explain to him why it all matters, what the meaning of his existence actually is. Racked with worry he might miss this call, all he wants is to be available should it come. So when a request to work from home is surprisingly granted by his boss Mr. Joby (the spot-on David Thewlis) and the Big Brother-like boss Management (an almost unrecognizable Matt Damon), there’s a catch. He is to prove the titular Zero Theorem (or Zip-T as it is commonly known) where 0=100%, or everything is nothing.

Bainsley in all her glory.

Bainsley in all her glory.

The task set forth for Qohen matches his disposition, glum and depressive which is in direct contrast with the bulk of the people surrounding him as well as the pastel, candy-colored landscape which looks like a dream playground fit for frolicking in rather than hiding from. Ensconced in his converted monastery, Leth dives headlong into the project unaware of what lies ahead. A longtime recluse, Qohen finds the company of a woman named Bainsley (the incredibly magnetic Mélanie Thierry) who momentarily cracks his exterior and alters his outlook. When he finds out that she is a call girl, paid to be in his company, things change thus hurtling him back into the abyss in which he had been. Does he receive his call? Is he able to reconcile his existence with any sort of meaning? These are questions you’ll have to find out for yourself.

zero theorem set

Having had access to the script well in advance of having seen the film, I built the film in my head waiting to see its construction on the screen. Knowing Gilliam‘s penchant for visuals, I was hopeful that they would live up to my expectations. It’s easy to say that the vision of Gilliam and production designer David Warren, art director Adrian Curelea, set decorators Jille Azis and Gina Stancu as well as costume designer Carlo Poggoli soared way over said expectations.  The photographic scheme of DP Nicola Pecorini‘s added quite a bit to Qohen’s paranoia about outside forces and his standing in society. I loved the switch of points of view between our perspective, the voyeuristic shaky handheld camera and the surveillance footage.Gilliam‘s direction and collaboration with the design team really elevated what is one of the best scripts I’ve ever read to even greater heights. Couple that with the incredible cast, including the wonderful little cameos of folks like Tilda Swintonwhose ubiquity these days pleases me to no end, as well as Robin Williams‘ which you have to be quite observant to notice, really add up to an incredible cinematic experience.

Robin Williams pimping the Church of Batman the Redeemer.

Robin Williams pimping the Church of Batman the Redeemer.

I think it’s fair to say that not too many films tackle the existential question, even though it is perhaps the most basic question we can ask – why the hell are we here and what is our purpose? If everything really does add up to nothing as The Zero Theorem is supposed to prove, then why do we do anything if it’s all for naught? I guess most people would rather go see giant transforming robots blowing tons of shit up than face a question as big and murky as that. It’s certainly an easier way to live. And while this isn’t exactly the most optimistic film out there, I think there is something in it for everyone who bothers to look for it.

Qohen and Bainsley's virtual reality.

Qohen and Bainsley’s virtual reality.

The Zero Theorem opens today in select theatres, expanding over the next couple of weeks, and is worth paying $10 or $12 to see. Sneak your own candy and perhaps a couple of cans of Hamm’s in with you and all should be right as rain.

Here’s the trailer:

Now I Know What I’m Doing on November 14 – New Poster for Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas

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I haven’t seen anything this funny or stupid in quite some time. It’s almost like the folks who made Sharknado are trolling us all. With a poster this fucking bad, you might think The Onion has entered the fray, but alas, this movie is really for real. And really all one needs to know about this is that Kirk Cameron is involved so it’s bound to be laughable.

His motivation for making this films is spot-on Cameron: “My hope for Saving Christmas is that families all across the country will join with my family in putting Christ back into Christmas.” He’s back to get us atheists out of his holiday armed with a big candy cane and a snow globe. That’s Kirk – always bringing the fire.

Sigh.

Here’s the awesome trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOSiZIgZ2JQ

And here is a funny clip of Kirk and his buddy-in-arms against evolution Ray Comfort discussing God’s design of the banana specifically for human comsumption…only to be refuted in a quick minute:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfucpGCm5hY

And who better to save, Christmas than Kirk Cameron? God dispatched his finest soldier, yeah?

RIP Richard Attenborough

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This past weekend, Lord Richard Attenborough passed away at the age of 90. Renowned for his stage and film acting as well as his directing, Attenborough leaves behind a legacy that looms quite large. An Oscar-winner for his direction and production of Gandhi, Attenborough dazzled audiences for over six decades on screen acting in classics such as Doctor Dolittle, The Great Escape, and Brighton Rock and behind the camera directing other classics such as A Bridge Too Far, Cry Freedom and Chaplin. Attenborough‘s charitable efforts were as immense as his record on stage and film. He had been a longtime supporter (50+ years) of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2004, he became the organization’s Honorary Life President and in 2012, the Richard Attenborough Fellowship Fund was established, “to honour his commitment to world-class research and offer Fellowships to enable clinical research and training at leading neuromuscular centres in the UK.”

I have to admit that most of the notices of his passing listed him as “Richard Attenborough, Jurassic Park actor…” – laughable to think that’s how he will mostly be remembered.

RIP, Lord Attenborough.

Here he is winning the two Oscars for Gandhi:

Interview with The Zero Theorem screenwriter Pat Rushin

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zero theorem poster 1

When Terry Gilliam makes a movie, there is a large swath of the filmgoing community that eagerly awaits its release. We are fortunate this year to have The Zero Theorem hitting the big screen in September although it’s already out on VOD and iTunes as of this week. I was tremendously lucky to have a chance to speak with screenwriter Pat Rushin back in February about the script.

Qohen Leth, a man on a mission.

Qohen Leth, a man on a mission.

What’s the film about you might ask? Well, it goes something like this: Qohen Leth (played by Christoph Waltz) is a master computer programmer who happens to be stuck in an existentialist crisis waiting for a call that will explain to him the meaning of life/existence/consciousness. While he waits, he is tasked with a project at Mancom, his place of employ, that makes 100%=0, or everything adds up to nothing. Already a recluse, Qohen accepts the challenge and it slowly eats away at him, compromising what little he had and what little he believed. Mixed in is a woman who reaches Qohen on a level he’s not quite allowed anyone before (Mélanie Thierry) and a mysterious boss that may or may not be real (Matt Damon).

Here’s what he had to say about his process, working with Gilliam and funny quips about production:

I know that you are a creative writing professor at University of Central Florida in Orlando with a focus on short stories. How did you come to write a screenplay?

I wrote a novella titled The Call in between semesters one year and I based the script off of it. I wrote it about ten years ago. It shows you how long this process takes.

And what was your process in adapting the script?

I’d never seen a screenplay before so I checked a bunch of them out of the library and read them so I knew how to structure it, one of which was Brazil. When I started writing the script I just sat and did it. I worked 12 hour days for about 15 days and it was finished.Writing the feature screenplay seemed to come easy. Rewriting was different. I would work for a half day on the rewrites, of which I did six complete Page 1 rewrites.

Do you think that writing short stories prepared you in any way for writing the script?

I think the economical nature of short story dialogue lends itself well to screenplay dialogue. So in that way, yes.

What was the length of your first draft?

The very first draft was145 pages. I got it down to 120, then 110. The shooting script ended up being 98. When Terry read it, he had some problems with it and wanted to see the first draft. He reinstated some of the older material. There are changes that he made – settings he played around with. He threw a better party than I did.

zero theorem - frustration

Did you do any research on the scientific/mathematical/computer lingo when writing the script? It all seems very legit to me, although I’m neither a math nor computer person.

I did do some research, but not a great amount. Some of what’s in the script is mumbo jumbo. As a kid I was a voracious sci-fi reader and was up to college so that influenced what I wrote. A lot of it I just kind of made up.

How did the script get to Gilliam?

I had initially entered the script in a contest at the Houston International Film Festival where it took first place in the science-fiction category. That got me a management deal. The script was optioned by The Zanuck Company under the guidance of the late Richard Zanuck. He courted Terry and that’s how Gilliam came aboard. The film was supposed to shoot in 2010 but then he had the troubles with Heath Ledger dying during production of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassas and he dropped out of the project. Lucky for us, he came back to it.

Was there any literature that you read during the time you wrote the script or anything that influenced you in anyway in writing The Zero Theorem?

I don’t know that I actually sat down and read anything when I was working on this…maybe some David Foster Wallace. The dialogue in Don DeLillo’s White Noise was certainly an inspiration.

(Side note here – Don Delillo happens to be my favorite writer and White Noise is the book that changed my life forever when I read it. It’s no wonder that I connected so much to the script.)

zero theorem - bainsley

After reading the script, it’s incredibly hard for me to fathom anyone else in the lead role of Qohen than Christoph Waltz. I know that roles are like revolving doors in Hollywood, so was there anyone else ever cast in that role?

Ewan McGregor was initially interested in the role and Billy Bob Thornton had accepted it afterwards. However, he dropped out when he found out we were going to shoot in London.

Any reason he dropped out?

Well…because he has a fear of antiques and there are so many old things in London.

You’ve got to be kidding me?

(laughs) Not kidding.

How did the rest of the casting get set?

That was all Terry. He called his up friends and that’s really how it was cast.

zero theorem - management

Were you on set for any of the shoot?

The shoot was 37 days and it was shot in Romania. I was there for a week when Matt Damon was there. He actually told me, “Great script, man!”. I was an extra, writing on a park bench.

How was working with Gilliam?

He is a man of immense talent who has created some really incredible films. I love that he considers this the third of his dystopian trilogy along with Brazil and 12 Monkeys. In fact, he referred to this film as Brazil II on set. That was a great source of pride.

Do you have any other projects going right now?

I have written two other scripts which were finalists in festival contests and I’m working on a book of short stories now. Also, my novella, The Call, that was the basis for the script is hopefully coming out soon and marketed as the inspiration for this film.

A big thanks to Pat Rushin for allowing me to talk to him about his process, the inception and evolution of the script and about the filming itself. At the time I conducted this interview, I had yet to see the movie, so it was hard to ask specifics about the film as I wasn’t sure what appeared in the actual film as opposed to the script that I was allowed to read. I’d love a chance to revisit with Pat now that I have seen the film.

My review of The Zero Theorem is forthcoming, so be on the lookout for it. Until then, check out the trailer and hit up iTunes to watch the film now or better yet, wait to see it on the big screen when it opens on September 19.

Interview with Bluebird writer-director Lance Edmands

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bluebird posterIf you followed my coverage of the Indy Film Fest, you might remember I was able to catch (full review here) the Grand Jury & American Spectrum Prize-Winning Bluebird, written and directed by Lance Edmands. You also might remember that it was my favorite of the films that I saw at the festival. I was curious to learn more about the film, its evolution and its journey to the screen so I reached out to Lance and he was kind of enough to give me 45 minutes of his time.

bluebird - lance

Here’s what he had to say…

I know you are from Maine originally. Did you grow up knowing people like Richard, Lesley, Paula and Marla?

Definitely. Particularly in the emotional sense, there was something that was unique to Northern Maine, a certain amount of stoicism. There is/was a great sense of don’t complain too much, fight through things. Keep your head down. In the film, it serves to alienate [Richard, Lesley and Paula] from each other in a way, in a sense of not admitting that there is a problem. I knew that sensibility, my family is like that. With regards to the logging and  bus driver aspects – I needed to do research. A logger helped introduce us to the people in that world, minutiae of the world. With the bus driver – I needed to know how does the day goes. I wanted to get those details right.

Did you start the project with one character in mind, writing from his or her point of view?

The film started as sketches, primarily centered around location. Mountains, remotely located – failing dying mill towns. I wanted to capture the feeling of being there, incredibly close presence to nature, cut off/isolated/economic depression. What characters inhabit this world? What about this place really resonates? I drew from stories of my own – my brother once  fell asleep on a bus and was left behind. There was a momentary panic and he was found later that day, but it’s simple events like that can which have such big repercussions, which is obvious in the film. All these different ideas spooled together to make up the story.

amy morton bluebird

Was there a particular character that was hard to nail down in the writing process?

As a writer, I have one life experience and I’m embodying these other experiences, the characters’ experiences. I was a a moody teenager, a young adult feeling self-centered and angry, but I’m not a father (I looked to my experience with own dad) and feeling powerless when you can’t do what you’ve always done, who am I? But the most challenging character to write was Lesley. I tried thinking of my own mother.  Also, digging into the psychology about what has gone  with this character, her feeling responsible for not seeing Owen and the state of his health afterwards…it can lead you down a wormhole.

I was curious about the title – a bluebird is typically associated with happiness and are the bearers of happiness in mythology in cultures ranging from the Chinese to Native Americans. Given the content of the film, it seems like an ironic title – why did you choose to use it?

The title comes from a lot of different things – the idea of the “bluebird of happiness”, this thing that you chase, but you can never reach, it flying away. To me it signifies that  happiness is elusive and fleeting. Is it real? It’s the personification of what [Lesley] is going through. The bluebird that lives in Maine is migratory, flies south for the winter. It’s not supposed to be there [in the bus]. It, too, was trapped on the bus, left behind like Owen. Another wrinkle is the most common type of school bus is one made by Chevrolet called the Bluebird.

You shot Bluebird on film – will you continue to make future projects on film especially in light of the announcement in recent weeks that Kodak, with urging by people like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan, will continue to make film stock?

YES. I would love to keep doing it. If you had talked to me three years ago, I would have gone on a rant about how great film is…but I’ve been beaten down lately about how depressing the (film) situation is. If budget and resources are there, I will always shoot on film. I like the way it looks better, I like the process better – when it comes back after being developed, it’s like magic. When I went to film school, it wasn’t comparable to the situation now with technology. It’s just a feeling that is impossible replicate. I do think it looks cooler. We really did want to exaggerate the look of it with Bluebird – very granny, left the dirt in, tactile analog nature we left in there.

bluebird - family

Did you and the actors rehearse at all? The dynamic between them was amazing, especially between John Slattery and Amy Morton. If so, how long did you have with them?

There was rehearsal, a week or two. I keep it pretty loose –readthroughs, having conversations about relationships and the characters. I try not to say too much and let the actors take hold of the characters. I told them to run with it – history of the characters. With John and Amy, they asked, “What is our marriage like?” It’s great if you can get your actors to agree with it. We would read script and talk about it so we could change lines if they weren’t organic enough.

Do you think that you’ll ever direct a film that you don’t write or do you think that the two processes go hand-in-hand?

I would direct something that I didn’t write. However, it would depend on the material. I’m working with other writers, adapting a novel right now. I don’t feel that I need to personally generate the material. Once I have it, I would take ownership of it, doing my best to make it my vision.

At the screening at the Indy Film Fest, you did a Skype Q&A. One of the questions that was asked was about the ending and I felt like I just wanted to punch the guy who asked it because he wanted you to defend why you ended the film the way you did. Any thoughts on that?

People are not used to ambiguity. We are seeing more and more independent movies starting to emulate big budget endings, wrapping up everything neatly and sometimes you just can’t do that. You have to trust your audience that they will do the work to figure out the direction these characters go after the credits roll.

And that’s that. I want to thank Lance Edmands for taking the time to talk with me about this film. Like I said in my review of Bluebird, this is one of the strongest debuts for a filmmaker I’ve seen in quite some time. I truly hope it gets the release it deserves and people flock to see it. I also look forward to Edmands‘ future projects as from this first film he appears to be a major talent.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

RIP Lauren Bacall

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lauren bacall

God damn, this is getting exhausting. Another day, another legend gone. Lauren Bacall passed away today at the age of 89. She will undoubtedly be remembered for that smoky voice and the most famous eyes of Hollywood’s Golden Age this side of Bette Davis which could melt you in a Nevada second. Her time onscreen with first husband Humphrey Bogart in noir staples like The Big Sleep and Key Largo, in classics like How to Marry a Millionaire (with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable) and Douglas Sirk‘s Written on the Wind as well as perfect turns in later films like Harper, Dogville and the wildly underrated Birth have long cemented her legacy. Lauren had been working up until the time of her death and was set to make her return to her noir roots with Trouble Is My Business. I don’t know the status of the film and I hope that we get to see it in a finished form. She was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2010 for “her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”

Bacall is one of the last of the old Hollywood icons. When each of these last legends die, the few remaining lights of the Studio System burn out. Will there ever be another Betty Bacall? You know there will not be. She was an important link to the past, able to bridge the decades with her flawless work. She will be missed.

Damn, the In Memoriam video at the Oscars just keeps getting longer. Let’s take a break for a while, okay?

Rest in peace, Lauren. You were a true pleasure to watch ply your craft.

RIP Robin Williams

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RW RIP

As I was getting ready to order something from Amazon for my oldest son this evening, I stumbled across the news that Robin Williams, comedy extraordinaire, had passed away by way of an apparent suicide. Williams had his demons in the past, had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and was currently battling depression. This is a sad loss for the film and comedy communities. Always colorful in his dress, behavior and language, Williams was always just that – himself. For better or worse. We saw plenty of better and lots of worse with him, but he still managed to carve out a great career for himself on film, excelling in both comedic and dramatic roles. His performances in The World According to Garp, The Birdcage, The Fisher King, Dead Poet’s Society, Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Academy Award) and his small but unbelievably memorable role in Deconstructing Harry will always remain with me. Of course he had other great roles and that’s what we had come to expect from him. I hate typing these words as I have done for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Harold Ramis in the not too distant past. His career spanned the bulk of my lifetime and I first got to know him through Mork & Mindy which is one of the first TV shows I can remember watching. He was talented, emotional and tortured and brought to life some really great characters.  In short, he was a winner.

May you rest in peace, Robin. Thanks for the memories.

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