Musings on TV Series Recently Watched: Howards End + Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)

Ok so before we close out the month, I thought I do another quick review/commentary of some shows I’ve been enjoying. As most of us in the Upper Midwest are forced to hibernate thanks to the darn Polar Vortex, well, here are shows well worth binging on. Yes I’m well aware most of the shows I’ve been watching are European shows… as you know I’m a self-proclaimed Anglophile, and at times Francophile 😉

HOWARDS END

If you read my blog, you’d also know there are few period dramas I do not like, esp. those set in Britain! But believe it or not, I actually have not seen the film version of Howards End, despite my longtime love & admiration for Emma Thompson.

Howards End examines “the changing landscape of social and class divisions in turn-of-the-century England through the prism of three families: the intellectual and idealistic Schlegels, the wealthy Wilcoxes from the world of business and the working-class Basts.”

Well in a way that is a good thing as I’m largely unfamiliar about the story, based on the much-revered book by E. M. Forster. What intrigues me about this series was that it’s adapted by American writer/playwright Kenneth Lonergan and one of my all time fave British actress Hayley Atwell.

Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen

Besides Atwell, the film is boasted by a strong cast of Philippa Coulthard, Matthew Macfadyen & Tracey Ullman. Julia Ormond also has a small but important role as Ruth Wilcox, a conventional woman who’s the matriarch of the Wilcox family. I love that the story is encompasses SO many social themes and is so expertly-written that almost every dialog is captivating. I am constantly in awe of Atwell as I’m watching this, and Hettie MacDonald‘s direction of Lonergan’s story structure is simply marvelous. People who love constant action on a show/film might argue that few things happen in this movie, but for me, I appreciate the intricate layers of complexity the key characters face. The sharp contrast between Atwell’s Margaret Schlegel and Macfadyen’s Henry Wilcox is palpable and often frustrating to watch,  but the character transformation/redemption in the end is quite heart-wrenching.

Philippa Coulthard & Hayley Atwell as the Schlegel sisters

If I had to nitpick however, I’m not too fond of Joe Bannister as Charles Wilcox. Yes I know the character is supposed to be unsympathetic but must the actor also be utterly loathsome to watch? I’d also like to see a stronger actor than Joseph Quinn as Leonard Bast, overall he’s not memorable given how crucial his role is.

Overall I think the cast is really strong however, esp. the mesmerizing Hayley Atwell. As much as I’m a big fan of romantic period dramas, I also appreciate the fact that they downplay the romance here. Instead it’s more of a character study and astute commentary of social themes of the time (beginning of the 20th century), which deals with women’s emancipation as well as economic prejudices, etc. that are still relatable to today’s climate. I also appreciate the ‘color blind casting’ as they employed actors of color in traditionally white roles. Overall it’s a gorgeous miniseries that’s well-written and beautifully-filmed. In fact I don’t even mind rewatching it at some point as I might’ve missed some of the nuances of this complex story.


Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)

Dix pour cent plunges us into the intense and madcap world of talent agents as we meet four colleagues who struggle to save their agency’s reputation after its founder’s death. With humor and wit, the agency partners juggle their chaotic personal lives with the needs of the demanding celebrities they represent.

I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles but you should get the gist. The Netflix show has subtitles of course.

I started watching this show late last year and we immediately binged on two seasons within a week. A feast of cameos, esp. if you enjoy French cinema. But even if you aren’t you’d likely recognize big names like Monica Belluci, Isabelle Adjani and Jean Dujardin, Oscar-winner for The Artist.

Super agent Gabriel and his client miss Belluci

The cameos are fun as they’re basically playing themselves, but even without them, the show itself is well worth a watch. The show is apparently produced by former agent-to-the-stars Dominique Besnehard so he’s got the insider knowledge of what it takes to manage the careers of some of the top French talents/filmmakers. The lives of these agents at ASK here seem ‘stranger than fiction,’ probably more over-the-top and hysterical than the movies their clients star in. Some of the storylines may seem absurd, well some are inherently absurd, i.e. the constantly-overbooked Isabelle Hupert. But many actually have genuine intrigue and emotional resonance. A method actor who can’t escape a role as a woodsman, an older actress fighting a director set on filming her nude, a wanna-be agent maneuvering his career and his desire to be loved… and perhaps the most dramatic of all, a pregnant agent trying to comfort her lover as their daughter’s biological dad want more control. There’s even a childbirth scene right in the office!

Never a boring day at the ASK office

Even from season 1, I have come to adore the main characters. We get to know them more in season 3 and it’s tough to pick a favorite. I’m always amused by the shenanigans of super-agents Andréa Martel (Camille Cottin) and Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert), but I really feel for the plight of Gabriel Sarda (Grégory Montel) and Mathias’ daughter Camille Valentini (Fanny Sidney) who’s getting a hang on becoming an agent. Arlette Azémar (Liliane Rovère) continues to surprise me, and hunky-boss-from-hell Hicham (Assaad Bouab) is perhaps not as bad as we think. This season, there’s also more drama involving the agents’ assistants Hervé (Nicolas Maury) and Noémie (Laure Calamy) who are just as neurotic as their bosses.

The assistants’ lives are just as complex as their bosses!

All of this drama, humor and bizarre scenarios are fun escapist stuff. At times it made me think how fun would it be to be agents to the stars, but they practically have no personal life as they’re on call 24/7 and these stars can be such babies! The setting is mostly in Paris which means the setting and fashion alone is fun to watch. This is such an addictive show that I hope there’ll be season 4 and more in the future!


Have you seen either one of these shows? I’d love to hear what you think!

sss

FlixChatter Review: STAN & OLLIE (2019)

guestpost

Review by Vitali Gueron

You don’t have to be a Laurel and Hardy expert to appreciate Jon S. Baird’s latest movie Stan & Ollie. The Laurel and Hardy biopic (released in late 2018 to qualify for OSCAR contention) is currently out at the Landmark Edina Theater in the Minneapolis area and further expanding in the coming weeks. The “picture” stars Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly) as their careers have started to fade, and are being overshadowed by other acts i.e. Abbott and Costello, they embark on a music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1953.

We first get a glimpse of Laurel and Hardy when they are making the 1937 Hal Roach picture Way Out West. Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) refuses to give a fair contract to Laurel while Hardy remains tied to the studio on a contract that the studio refuses to terminate, forcing Hardy to make “pictures” without Stan Laurel but rather with other actors/comedians. Laurel calls Roach a “parvenu” meaning a person who got rich off others and has no class. As Laurel tells Roach in the movie; “look it up in the dictionary, Hall. There’s a picture of you!” Oliver Hardy is made to shoot the “elephant” film Zenobia with another comedian and Stan Laurel signs a new contract with Fox Studios, but without Hardy’s signature, the contact becomes null and void and leaves Laurel feeling betrayed by Hardy. Their bitter feelings would linger for years.

When we next see Laurel and Hardy in 1953, they are back together but are struggling to shoot another film together. The promise of the new film – a comedic adaptation of the classic Robin Hood made by a director impossible to get on the phone or find in person – is what gets the comedic duo in contract with producer Bernard Delfont (played by Rufus Jones). But Delfont’s poor pre-publicity means that their tour begins in almost empty theaters, ones that surely weren’t meant for the likes of Laurel and Hardy. Bernard Delfont was preoccupied with the publicity of his up and coming star Norman Wisdom, which caused Laurel and Hardy to have to create their own publicity while on tour. They made serval public appearances, which included judging a beauty contest in the UK seaside resort of Worthing. It is at this public appearance that Hardy collapses from a heart attack and is forced into bed rest.

The duo, having recently been reunited with their respective wives, Ida (played by Nina Arianda) and Lucille (played by Shirley Henderson), are set back with Hardy’s bed rest and Laurel’s refusal to perform the act with any other comedian. With the exception of all of the Lauren and Hardy scenes, the movie’s scenes with Ida Laurel, Lucille Hardy and Bernard Delfont are some of the most comedic scenes, pitting Ida and Lucille against each other and then Ida against Delfont whom she refuses to sit next to during shows and has to remind; “no touching!”

With Ollie Hardy having gotten some much needed rest, he decides that he must do one last show with Stan Laurel and the duo, along with their wives and Delfont, set sail for Ireland. As they arrive at the Irish harbor, they are arrived to great cheers and thunderous applause. Their show in Ireland is completely is sold out and their show is met by great appreciation and hailed as a triumph. While their Robin Hood movie is not meant to be, Laurel continues working on its script, even after Hardy’s death in 1957. As the “picture” reminds us at during the end credits, Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy past Hardy’s death and also during the last eight years of his life.

The movie, even though a comedy, is full of bittersweet moments. They never get their happy ending by making one last “picture” and their lukewarm personal relationship is enough for the movie to end on a sorrowing note. While the acting of both Steve Coogan and especially John C. Reilly is masterful, the “what could have been” movements at the end of their careers make the movie much more dramatic than comedic. Both actors deserve to be recognized for their acting, but if there was any justice, Reilly should’ve been nominated for best actor by The Academy. Overall, this was a delightful “picture” of two comedic superstars in the sunset of their careers, filled with brilliant performances by the two leading actors.


Have you seen STAN & OLLIE? Well, what did you think? 

Short Film Spotlight: FORGET ME NOT + Q&A with director Nicholas Goulden & producer Angela Godfrey

As a film blogger, I’m so fortunate that I got to ‘meet’ filmmakers (whether virtually or in person) from all over the globe and help champion their work. I first learned about Forget Me Not in early 2017, right when I was I was in crazy pre-production mode working on my own short film Hearts Want. Thankfully I got in touch again with director Nicholas Goulden and producer Angela Godfrey earlier this year and got to see his wonderful, heartfelt short film set during the holiday season in London.

Alone and invisible to the world, a homeless man and the ghost of a little girl discover they are each other’s only hope of finding peace in time for Christmas.

The title of this film is most appropriate as it’s one of those films that will linger in your mind long after you watched it. It also has a very significant meaning given the story revolves around two people who are ‘forgotten’ by people, especially during the hustle bustle of Christmas at a busy London junction.

Renowned Scottish actor James Cosmo played the homeless man Benedict, with Ruby Royle as the little girl Isobel and John Heffernan as a working man who offers Benedict coffee daily. It takes a bit of time to figure out just who the little girl is and why she keeps approaching Benedict, and that’s the point. I feel like the deliberate measured pace is a contrast to the speed of how everything and everyone is moving every day, unaware of what’s happening around us as we’re so focused on ourselves.

There’s such a quiet grace in the way the story is told, with few words spoken. Yet it packs an emotional punch and the scene at the end got me all teared up. I’m not going to give anything away, as I hope one day the film would be available for public view.

The cinematography (by Chris Fergusson) and music (composed by Matthew Slater) is absolutely stunning and adds even more emotional resonance to the overall viewing experience. I adore the story that speaks about themes of hope and caring for those who are most in need around us. Kudos to filmmaker duo, director Nicholas Goulden & producer Angela Godfrey (both of them also wrote the screenplay) for creating such a beautiful film, both thematically and visually speaking.

Q. What’s your background in film? And what made you decide to make Forget Me Not a short film?

Nicholas – I started at the bottom, as a runner, and worked up. I came to the film industry in my mid-twenties with the intention of telling stories that interested me, but first of all I had to learn the craft – and stay alive! While directing, writing and producing independent material, I moved up through the AD department to 1st AD, primarily on films and commercials. This experience has given me a huge wealth of knowledge which I’m able to bring to my directing work.

Regarding making Forget Me Not a short film, I guess the simple answer is we planned it that way. The short film format was perfect for the story that we wanted to tell.

Q. Angela, you’ve been involved in huge studio productions costing hundreds of millions. What’s been the most gratifying thing for you in making something much smaller on a personal level for you?

Angela – I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been involved with lots of high budget film and tv productions and I still very much enjoy being a part of them, but as a Script Supervisor I tend to only be involved in a very small way. So for me, having the chance to build a story that is important to me personally and see it grow right from a tiny seed to where it is now has been incredible.

Q. Forget Me Not is such a beautiful, poignant story. What’s the inspiration for the story? Was there a personal connection for either one of you?

Nicholas – The inspiration really came from the desire to address themes that are not only important to both of us as people but also resonate with a contemporary audience. We all go through times when life is against us and we feel lost and alone – hopeless – so telling a story that addressed different facets of that felt very worthwhile.

Angela – In doing so, we wanted above all to make as well crafted and affecting film as we could that could strike a chord with everyone who watched it. It is also a very visual and sound heavy film with minimal dialogue which means it can be enjoyed by people around the world no matter their age or language.

Q. There’s a magical realism in the story, yet it still very much grounded in the day-to-day reality. Tell me how you balance out those elements in the film, esp. for Nicholas as a director.

Nicholas – Finding that balance was really important and something we worked a lot on. I looked at it very much from the point of view of a real world where magical things happen, rather than a magical world where real things happen, so the emphasis was on a naturalistic approach. It was conceived exactly as you’ve described – grounded in reality with a touch of magic.

A still of James Cosmo as Benedict

Q. Please tell us a bit about the casting for the project, particularly James Cosmo, who’s a pretty well-known character actor even here in the States. I’d also love to hear how John Heffernan come on board.

Angela – As relatively unknown filmmakers it’s very difficult to persuade an actor who is in high demand to come and work on a short film, in the freezing cold in the run up to Christmas, so we were very lucky to have a very talented Casting Director, Rachel Sheridan, on board, who knew both James and John would be perfect for the roles of Benedict and Jack. Having Rachel behind us, helped us approach James and Jack in a professional way so that we could be taken seriously.

Nicholas – For Isobel and Owen, we contacted agents all over the country, looking at hundreds of actors, dozens of submission tapes and ultimately auditioning about thirty actors. It was a long, time-consuming process but totally worth it, bringing us the fabulous Louis and, of course, Ruby.

Forget Me Not‘s John Heffernan gets his mic adjusted by Production Sound Mixer Malcolm Cromie before stepping onto set. Photo credit Daniel D. Moses (www.danielmoses.com)

Q. How many days did it take to shoot the film? Looks like there are mostly night shoots or was it in the wee hours of the morning?

Angela – We shot the film in 3 and a half days. We worked ‘split days’ which means our call time was later than a normal shooting day, allowing us a few hours of daylight at the start of each day and then the rest was shot after nightfall, and we’d wrap by 11pm. Having a child actor as a lead made life harder as we had very strict times that we had to adhere to, so everything was tightly scheduled.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the shoot? Conversely, any memorable on-set snafu you’d like to share?

Nicholas – My favourite part was shooting Benedict taking a bite of the cookie – his performance is delightful and still makes me chuckle. With so many emotion-laden scenes, the shoot was especially intense and that scene was always intended as a lovely moment of levity. James absolutely nailed it.

As for snafus, we had niggles but we were fortunate. Given the time restrictions everything went remarkably smoothly, which is a testament to the level of planning which went into it! But we had our moments – for example we had managed to hire the coffee cart but didn’t have transport to get it across London – the delivery costs would have blown a hole in the budget and we had no driver let alone usable van of our own. In the end, Jonathan, one of our floor runners who had come over by coach and ferry from Utrecht in Holland to be part of the shoot, cycled the thing across London through the freezing rain. It was titanic efforts like that which really held us together.

Q. The location in bustling Hammersmith is almost a character in itself. Tell us a bit about how you choose that location.

Nicholas – Angela and I were familiar with the location prior to the project. The architecture of the flyover has a brutalist beauty which really appealed to us. Also, there is a fascinating contradiction in the fact that it’s thronging with people and traffic practically 24-7 but only because people are trying to get from somewhere else to somewhere else. That makes it quite a lonely, isolating place, and the perfect mise-en-scene for our story.

Forget Me Not‘s DoP Chris Fergusson prepares with actor James Cosmo stand. Photo credit Tom Harberd.

Q. I LOVE the mood and tone of the film, brought to life by the gorgeous cinematography and score. Please tell me a bit about working with DP Chris Fergusson and composer Matthew Slater?

Nicholas – They were both fabulous to work with. We had a good run up as we waited for the right time of year, so we talked extensively with both Chris and Matthew about the mood and tone we wanted for the film to make sure we were on the same page.

Our budget didn’t allow us much shooting time given our ambitions, so with Chris we worked extensively to flesh out a tight shot list which would allow the vision to come to life despite the practical restrictions.

Angela – We spent lots of evenings inspecting the locations. Chris even made digital 3D mock-ups of the location so we could plot camera and actor positions and see what the shots would look like months in advance. This really helped when it came to the shoot because we didn’t have to waste any time on the basics, instead finessing already well thought out shots to tell the story in the most beautiful way possible.

Working with Composer Matthew Slater was incredible from start to finish. He really pushed the boundaries with the score capturing the emotion of the characters and the story perfectly. The recording took place at the infamous Studio One at Abbey Road Studios, conducted by Matthew and performed by the world renowned London Metropolitan Orchestra. We were extremely lucky to have this as it’s pretty much unheard of in the short film world and adds a whole new dimension to the finished film.

Forget Me Not Composer Matthew Slater Conducts the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Studio One Abbey Road. Photo credit Daniel D. Moses.

Both Matthew and Chris were an absolute dream to work with and both gave an incredible amount of time and expertise to the film. We hope Forget Me Not is the first of many!

Q. Lastly, what’s next for both of you? Any feature project that your prod company Keen City is working on?

Angela – We are currently developing a TV show called Lady of the Med which is about an ordinary expat mother, living on the coast of Spain who gets tied up with the local mafia and becomes a spy for the UK government, and a feature film called ‘Grace Escape’, a black comedy about an elderly grandma who wants to die her own way, so escapes her care home intending to jump off the cliff where her husband tragically died many years previous. Both very different to Forget Me Not, yet they deal with family relationships and will be very emotive and hopefully great watching!



Thank you so much Nicholas & Angela for the interview!

Musings on 2019 Oscars nominations

Well it’s one of those mornings that cinephiles always wait for year after year… the morning Oscar nominations are announced. I for one don’t go out of my way to wake up early to see it live, but when I woke up, of course I immediately tried to see who’s shortlisted.

Right away I noticed that it’s perhaps the most diverse lineup of nominees… though it’s by no means perfect. The Academy’s more-inclusive picks would likely keep those #OscarsSoWhite hashtags at bay… at least for now.

So here are some obligatory random comments (good & bad) about 2019 nominations:

• Not a single female directors nominated?? 😦

The UN Women twitter pic above is downright disheartening, especially since I think there are a bunch of worthy films from female directors… Josie Rourke with Mary, Queen of Scots and Debra Granik with Leave No Trace, among others. While you’re at it, check out my interview with Debra on making the film.

Granik directing Thomasin McKenzie in LEAVE NO TRACE

Netflix is becoming even more of a force to be reckoned with… rivaling big studios in raking in nominees. It’s got 15 nominations thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA leading with 10 nods, including the coveted Best Picture. How awesome that first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio got a nod in Best Actress, she’s apparently a preschool teacher who didn’t know much about the film industry and barely spoke any English at the time. [Note to self: gotta watch ROMA this weekend!]

Speaking of a Foreign Language film that’s highly-personal to the filmmaker AND set in black & white, glad to see COLD WAR getting recognition with 3 Oscars, including Best Director for Paweł Pawlikowski.


I LOVE this sultry, intensely-passionate romance drama, which was inspired by the love story of Pawel’s own parents!

Whoa! Sixth nominations!! I thought her performance as Lynne Cheney in VICE (once again co-starring with Christian Bale) was terrific. Sadly I don’t think this is Amy Adams‘ year yet, I’m convinced Regina King will take home the statuette.

Happy to see documentary filmmaker Bing Liu getting an Oscar nom on his first film Minding The Gap, wow! I got to meet him last year when he received an award from MSPIFF, here he is with Minnesota’s own film legend Al Milgrom. I actually missed his film at the fest, that’s one I gotta watch real soon!

I know there’ll be all kinds of people hating on Black Panther getting a nomination. But you won’t be hearing it from me. I think it’s well-deserved… a masterful work by director Ryan Coogler that made it so much more than a superhero movie. I highly doubt it’ll actually win Best Picture though, but it’s already made history for being nominated. Oh and with seven nods, I have a feeling it’ll win a couple forBest Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler). How awesome would it be if both black women win in those categories!!

It’s no surprise Bradley Cooper is an Academy’s favorite, but I thought he deserved a Best Director nod as much as his acting one. Can you believe it he’s been nominated for an Oscar four times?? Just like his former co-star Amy Adams though, I don’t think this is his year to win an acting Oscar.

Where’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for Best Documentary??? The Mister Rogers biopic seems poised to be shortlisted… it certainly one of the most moving films I’ve seen all year! I’d say that’s one of the biggest snubs this year.

I know some people are outraged that If Beale Street Could Talk and First Man didn’t get more love. Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle were each other’s biggest rival two years ago with Moonlight & La La Land, and I heavily championed Moonlight to win. But this year, I wasn’t as in love with If Beale Street Could Talk though I find it far more moving and memorable than First Man. So no, no complaints from me that neither one of those movies get a nod.

Now I haven’t even seen You Were Never Really Here but based on what I read so far, sounds like Joaquin Phoenix AND writer/director Lynne Ramsay are both snubbed this year.

I have to catch up on three Best Picture nominees… BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Roma. Of the five I have seen, my least favorite is actually The Favourite [gasp!] Now, I didn’t hate the movie [please don’t resort to hyperbole like the rest on social media], I just don’t think it was as great as the critics made it to be and I actually find it irritating at times. My friend Cindy just did a post about it which highlights some of the things that bothered me. I do think all three actresses are terrific playing such hard-to-root-for characters. I’m especially thrilled to see Olivia Colman finally getting the recognition she deserved!

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

My last comment is on a highly controversial movie Green Bookwell, I’m glad it got nominated! I’ve mentioned it on my Top 10 list post that I see this movie as a beautiful story of friendship set during the dark times in American South ripe with racial discrimination. I’m also thrilled to see Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali each get an acting nod! I’ll be torn between Viggo and Christian Bale in the Best Actor race… my gut says this will be Bale’s year to get another Oscar.

Well, there are more that could be said about this year’s nominees but if I continue, I’ll never post this thing.


The 91st Annual Academy Awards will air on Feb. 24 on ABC.


Well, everyone’s got an opinion. What are your thoughts on the Oscars nominations?

FlixChatter Review: GLASS (2018)

GuestPost_Vince

Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

I collected comic books as a kid during the late 70s through the 80s. As an introverted 8 year old, comics (from DC to Marvel, to Batman, X-Men, and eventually to graphic novels) provided a sense of wonder and mystery. Even in the post Star Wars 70s and 80s, the comic book medium elicited a kind of excitement that spurred the imagination. With all of the super powers and amazing impossibilities drawn in that wonderful half-tone of ink, words and colors, within those pages was an undeniable humanism to the drama of these characters.

As I grew older, I came to realize that the fantastic isn’t much without the human element. Comics had come to embrace a superhero based in the real-world with real-world problems (divorce, domestic issues, addiction, flawed motives, graphic violence, sex, questionable ethics and morality). M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) is a testament to this realization. Its subtle approach to the fantastic (and very human) superhero reflected the evolution of comics into the millennium.

Shyamalan used simple everyday conversation and situations for dramatic effect, all without the bombast of today’s super-hero CGI excesses that is proving fatiguing (at least to this particular moviegoer) to some of today’s audience. I admit, I still look forward to Avengers: Endgame (I need closure after watching all those other movies), Dark Phoenix (my favorite of all the humanistic superhero sagas of all time), and seeing Spider-Man:Into the Spiderverse proved that there were still creative bounds to achieve. Unbreakable went against the grain back then and still stands today as a great example of an alternate way to portray super-heroes on screen.

Which brings us to 2019’s GLASS: Unbreakable’s official follow-up and semi-continuation of 2016’s very fine SPLIT. Here we pick up where SPLIT left off and 19 years after the events of Unbreakable. David Dunn (Bruce Willis with an understated performance) is now in the private security business along with his son Joseph. Joseph knows of his abilities and assists his father in tracking down criminals. Infamously known as the vigilante “The Overseer”, David’s alter-ego tracks down Kevin Wendell Crumb aka The Horde (James McAvoy in another fine performance) who is still terrorizing the city. Meanwhile, Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass (played by the venerable Samuel Jackson) has spent the last couple of decades in a mental institution under the current care of Dr. Elle Staple (Sarah Paulson).

Shyamalan matches the feel of Unbreakable. There’s nothing flashy here. The actors move the scenes along with a mid-tempo pace that is a welcome change to today’s CGI heavy and music video editing styles we’ve expected in the genre. In the early scenes, it establishes itself “as not of that ilk” so to speak. Things starts out promising – Willis speaks very little, as we would expect David Dunn to be. Dialogue is succinct, albeit comic book like. It’s not Shakespeare – just simple language, avoiding pretense though self-consciously. The film reveals its plot slowly at first and quite entertainingly especially when Dunn finally confronts Crumb/The Horde for the first time. Then as the trailers would have it, Dunn, Crumb and Elijah Price are fated together under Dr. Staple’s care and control. Her sole purpose, to convince the three men they are not superheroes or super-villains, but merely suffering from delusions of grandeur.

And this is where GLASS starts to unravel. This preposterous scenario is handled leisurely and predictably, following the normal template of the Asylum horror flick, with orderlies snuffed out in orderly fashion (pardon the pun). 2 other major scenes detailing our characters escape (because we know they will somehow) made me scratch my head in a “Huh?” moment and not in a good way. Of course Glass wouldn’t be complete without that Shyamalan signature twist ending that was either too preposterous or too predictable. To say anymore would give it away. However, it ultimately left me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. But then again, that could very well be the point: that in this day and age of Marvel and DC motion pictures, we’ve come to expect the expected and in such spectacular fashion, particle explosions and all. Shyamalan has always leaned toward dialogue and images to make a point and it has served him well in his best films. GLASS may belong to the exception of the lot.

Shyamalan’s Hitchcockian cameo in the film seems to make a statement in itself. His line about hanging out with ‘shady types’ in his youth but now changed for the better, could be construed as a veiled letting go of the legacy of his earlier works (mostly the duds that followed The Village back in 2004), and perhaps even Unbreakable itself.

James McAvoy is terrific once again as Crumb but that is a singular positive in what feels like run of the mill performances from Willis and Jackson. In retrospect, McAvoy’s character is the most interesting and believable in the movie. It was enough to carry SPLIT. But GLASS’s fragility, shatters before us. But still I can’t help giving Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt; as if he’s done with the specter of Unbreakable’s success… That instead of that films legacy being a boon, it’s too much of a curse to live up to. That said, I’ll still look forward to what he does next…

Vince_review


So what do you think of M. Night’s GLASS? Let us know what you think!

MN Short Film Spotlight: 100,000 Miles A Second + Interview w/ filmmakers/cast

As I have mentioned on the TCFF page, it’s time for another Minnesota Shorts Showcase, sponsored by Twin Cities Film Fest! Last week I had the privilege of chatting with the writer, producer and leading lady of one of the short films screening this Saturday… the highly acclaimed 100,000 Miles A Second (which I think is a pretty darn cool title!)

A woman with multiple sclerosis has a conversation with a homeless street musician about how fast we travel through the universe, realizing her thoughts about herself are the real issue in her life.

Director: Jeremy Bandow
Writer: Patricia Fox
Producer: Kelly Lamphear-Dash
Cast: Erin Roberts, Sean Emery

Despite its brief running time (only 7 minutes long), this film packs a punch. Both narratively speaking as well as emotionally. For the most part we only see a woman (a terrific Erin Roberts) in the car, basically having a nervous breakdown. We get a glimpse of what she is going through but it’s never explicitly-said what she’s suffering from. And that’s the beauty of Fox’s script, that what the protagonist is going through is something we could all relate to. A lot of our frustration, anguish, rage, etc. are internal struggles, something we feel so intensely more so than something we physically experience.

I always admire stories that deals with heavy subject matter without making it too heavy-handed. There is a lightness to the way the story unfolds, especially in the key scene where the woman interacts with the homeless street musician (Sean Emery). Both actors are so great in their roles and were memorable in conveying the emotions of their respective characters. I love the music too, which adds so much to the uplifting tone of the movie. Director Jeremy Bandow did a wonderful job telling this story beautifully. The use of special effects to emphasize the theme of ‘speed’ gets the point across in a fun and efficient manner. Kudos to the filmmakers involved in making this a memorable short that’s both inspiring and entertaining.

Last Thursday I had the privilege of chatting with three of the women behind this wonderful short film.

Interview with screenwriter
Patricia Fox

1. When I watched the film, I felt like this is personal story that’s perhaps based on a real-life experience. Is that the case? Can you tell me what’s the inspiration behind this story?

​Yes, this really happened to me. It happened 10 or so years ago and I’ve told the story to people and it always gets a strong response from people, so I sure it had emotional power. When I received free classes at FilmNorth (formerly IFP), I took one in writing film short form and when we pitched our ideas for a short film in class, the instructor said THIS is a short and encouraged me to do it. I already knew I wanted to do it but this confirmed my instincts about it.

2. How did the short film come to be? Did you know the director, Jeremy Bandow, before you collaborated on this film? 

I actually went to graduate school with Jeremy and we’ve always had the same aesthetics, a similar taste, in film. As a finalist for a grant, I got to take this class in web series/short film at IFP for free. And since I had this idea for a while, because the story of this film actually happened to me word for word, I pitched this idea to the class. I got encouragement from that class that my idea is perfect for a short. The teacher said it’s the kind of stuff festival programmers are looking for, where there’s something at the end of it, it’s like a ‘punch to the stomach’ so to speak, that opens your mind to think of something in a different way.

3. I love that the film opens with John Milton’s quote ‘The mind is its own place.’ How did you come up with that quote that’s so perfect for this story?

​I’ve been sort of obsessed with that quote for years. I first encountered it in book of daily inspirational readings called Pocket Full of Miracles by Joan Boasanko. It is from Paradise Lost by John Milton. The quote completely encapsulates our protagonist’s issue in the film. The “problem” is merely how she’s choosing to “think” about it.

4. I’m also curious about the intriguing title ‘100,000 Miles a Second.’ What’s the significance of that title for you?

The homeless guy I had this encounter with said that’s how fast we are traveling in the universe. It turns out, that speed is about half the speed of light. I thought it was a powerful title that would get people’s attention.

5. Despite the serious subject matter, there’s a lightness to the way the film unfolds, and there’s such cheerfulness in the way the street musician interacts with the woman. Is that a deliberate tone that you and the director agree on?

​Yes, it was deliberate. I want the message to be positive and give people the room to make up their own minds about what it all means. A lot of it has to do with the actor we cast, he’s extremely engaging, he is a performer, and we wanted to use his strengths as an actor to help us spin this tale.

6. Tell me a little bit about the music in the film, which somehow fits perfectly and adds such richness to the story. 

The real street musician I encountered at the Co-op was playing a fiddle and he was playing Bluegrass music. So I knew I wanted the same type of sound for the film. Just so happen that the actor, Sean Emery, knows how to play the instrument and this type of music. It’s in the call sheet when we’re casting that it’d help if the actor has a musical sense and can play music. He actually performs at the State Fair and he had taken class with our casting director Cynthia Uhrich, so he turned up to audition for this role. He ended up writing the song in the end credits, apparently he wrote it a while ago and never did anything with it. He played it for us and we thought it’d be perfect for this movie.

7. Since you also produced this film, what’s the process like in finding the right producer and cast to bring your story to life?

Kelly asked to be part of the project, which I gratefully agreed. Once I asked Jeremy Bandow to direct, he brought the shooting crew with him. They work together a lot. We knew all all the extras personally. We found the other people we needed to bring in during post production, like the sound designer. Since we were working on a hot set in the form of a busy, urban store open for business, but we also wanted to play with sound during the speed up and slow down of motion sections in the film.

Interview with lead actress
Erin Roberts

1. How’s the experience making this film different from your theater experience and other acting jobs you’ve done in the past?

In my experience film is very different from theater because you don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. I kept checking in with writer Patricia and director Jeremey and reminding them that they needed to tell me if I wasn’t giving them what they needed on camera. It’s hard as an actor, (and as a control freak), to hand over that power to someone else therefore The trust level must be very high and I learned that quickly. Luckily I had such amazing collaborators. Specifically with film, after the shoot, the final product is completely out of our hands as actors. The film, the TV show, the video, is all made in post production. So the actor needs to Step back knowing,!and hoping, that they did their job, then let it go. It’s very very different work for me.

2. How did you prepare for the role of  The Woman who suffers from MS?

In prepping for this role playing Patricia, an actual person living with multiple sclerosis, I just wanted to talk to her… A lot. I wanted to hear her thoughts and feelings and experiences now, and during the onset of the disease, which is when this short film is set. The film is so relatable because it’s not just specifically about MS but about people going through personal and very difficult times in their lives. I was less worried about imitating Patricia and more focused on bringing the essence of her experience to the screen. As per the physicality, she struggled with issues in her left foot which caused her to feel uncomfortable on that side while she walked.

As an actor it’s important to me that I don’t pretend that something is bothering me- that will just show a “ quality”but not specific realism or reality. For me I needed something real to remind me that that left side was trouble. In preparing for the role I walked around with a rock in my shoe as a physical reminder that there was something that’s bothering me. Ironically on the day of the shoot I walked outside and saw one of my neighbors nephews Lego blocks on the street, a bright color red, which was a color Patricia and I had talked a lot about for this character, and I knew that would be My “rock”. I taped it to the ball of my foot and the rest of the day walked around with it sticking into my foot as I walked. It worked like a charm. It hurt like hell. And I think did the trick. I have that Lego block on my desk as a reminder.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set

 

Interview with Producer
Kelly Lamplear-Dash

1. How did you come across this project? Have you and Patricia collaborated before?

I’ve known Patricia for many years. We met in a screenwriting class and have been part of a writing group ever since. I had been encouraging her to produce something since she has so many wonderful scripts. This was actually a new script; however, it immediately had interest and momentum to being done. It made logical sense that this would be the one to get produced.

2. What have been the most challenging part in making this film?

Securing the location, finding the talent, getting the crew together all fell into place extremely easily. The challenging part was the weather on the day of the shoot, which was all outdoors. We had to cut it short. Then we had a time delay of a few weeks to be able to go back and re-shoot due to the talent’s schedule. It’s a challenge to make sure everything looks seamless. Added to that was the issue of the green screen for the little bit of special effects that were used. Again, in post trying to make it look seamless.

Oh and on the first day of the shoot, there was the major the solar eclipse! It was August 21st, and I remember we almost called it off. But I felt like, considering the storyline and themes on this film, astrologically, things had to get started that day! The weather did get the better of us that day, so we had to wrap things early, but yeah the first day of shoot was indeed when the solar eclipse happened!

3. I know you’ve produced several documentaries before. Is this the first narrative short you produced? How’s that different in terms of process with producing documentaries?

Yes, actually it was. The main differences are related to the size of the production. In documentary, you usually have a skeleton crew and a single or couple for the interview subject. In narrative, there is a much more detailed crew to handle all the various aspects, especially about lighting, plus tech for maneuvers like dolly shots, etc. For talent, you have to have makeup and wardrobe, plus set design, props, etc. Of course, you have the talent, which can be anywhere from one person to one hundred. Even though this story centers around the two main characters, there was still a fair amount of extras, plus we were at a real co-op that had customers coming in and out that we had to control. The biggest shift is that in documentary you have to capture what is interesting in the real world that applies to your story versus in narrative you are altering your surroundings to create the world of the story.


Check out a clip from 100, 000 Miles A Second:


 

Thanks so much Patricia, Erin and Kelly
for this fun interview! 

Musings on TV Series Recently Watched: Bodyguard & SS-GB

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (I think you can still say that until at least mid January, right?)

It’s a relatively mellow weekend for me and I realize I haven’t actually written a review in 2019 yet but I’ve been bingeing a ton of shows in the past month or so. I’ve blogged about Daredevil Season 3 in December, which I absolutely love!

So here’s my quick thoughts on these four series I saw in the past couple of months…

BODYGUARD (2018)

Right after Daredevil Season 3, my hubby and I actually binged on BBC’s Bodyguard which is the perfect show to watch after ending on such a fantastic series!

Police Sergeant David Budd, a heroic British Army war veteran suffering from PTSD, who is now working as a specialist protection officer for the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. He is assigned to protect the ambitious Home Secretary Julia Montague, whose politics stand for everything he despises.

Right from the first episode where Budd foils a female suicide bomber’s plot to blow up the train he’s riding on, the intensity of the show never lets up. I love that right away we see a flawed protagonist, as Budd is dealing with PTSD and is separated from his wife. Richard Madden just won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Budd and it’s a well-deserved win, perhaps a high in his relatively-young career. Yes I think there ought to be a category for ‘Best Jawline on TV’ as Budd oozes so much sex appeal even just standing there guarding his client (those secret agent earpiece never looked so sexy on a man).

Also kudos to Keeley Hawes as the conservative MP Julia Montague, torn between her high-profile political career and her undeniable attraction to Budd. Boy, the chemistry between these two is quite scorching!

Yet the series smartly plays on the ‘opposites attract’ theme and able to keep the tension high from one episode to the next, making this one of the most intriguing and addictive psychological thriller. I think the political plot is pretty absorbing, but it’s the character-driven storyline, portrayed wonderfully by the key cast, that makes this such a satisfying show to watch. Bring on season 2!!

 

P.S. I knew that as soon as I saw Madden on this show he’d go on to be the frontrunner for the next Bond. Heck, why not?? He’s definitely got the looks and can balance the sex appeal + grit for the role. Plus, I’d love to see another sexy Scotsman as 007!


SS-GB (2017)

Speaking of James Bond, SS-GB is written by British screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who co-wrote the six James Bond films from The World Is Not Enough to Spectre.

Set in a 1941 alternative timeline in which the United Kingdom is occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, of the London’s Metropolitan Police is called in to investigate a murder in a flat in Shepherd Market.

The series is based on Len Deighton‘s novel of the same name, which was a pretty intriguing read despite being overly too-detailed for my liking. I always love alternative universe, and this series share major similarities with Amazon’s Man In The High Castle except instead of US, it’s set in Britain. I’m also a huge fan of Sam Riley who I think is an underrated actor, so I’m convinced I’d LOVE this series.

Alas, despite its gripping premise, there’s something so lackluster in the way the show is written and directed (by German director Philipp Kadelbach). Yes I know London is mostly grey and perhaps even murky, but must everything be so drab and dour? And the pacing just lacks energy. At first I was intrigued by its quiet intensity and smoky atmosphere (literally, as Archer lights a cigarette every few seconds!), but after a while it just feels too sluggish with only a handful memorable moments that are too few and far between. Now, I love Riley’s gorgeous profile, but I feel like the close-up shots of him are way too indulgent that it starts to look like a photoshoots for Burberry coats and Fedora.

I expect a lot from the writers of Bond movies, but then again they’ve made duds like Quantum of Solace and Spectre. I have to say that the production design and set pieces made for a convincing look of alternative Britain under Nazi occupation, and everyone looked appropriately grim. Yet there’s no sense of real urgency to the whole thing, and there’s few heart-wrenching moments that make you care for the characters. I do like James Cosmo as Detective Sergeant Harry Woods, Archer’s friend and colleague, just wish there were more memorable scenes of these two.

My least favorite character is Barbara Barga, an American reporter played by Kate Bosworth. I think she is a bit miscast here, not to mention lacking chemistry with Riley. I think she’s actually a tad more convincing as Lois Lane in Superman Returns, though a far cry from the spunky Margot Kidder in the role. I was quite intrigued by Standartenführer Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), an SS officer newly-arrived in London who initially made Archer’s life a living hell. Eidinger is a brilliant actor that has some memorable moments, but I think he’s far more interesting in the book. The same with the entire series, I find Deighton’s novel far more engrossing by a long shot. Ultimately it’s a thriller that lacking any real thrills, which is a shame considering the talents involved and promising source material. That said, if you like these types of alternative WWII stories, it’s still worth renting.

 

 

P.S. Given the Bond connection, at one point people were talking about Sam Riley as a possible candidate for the next 007. Hey, I’d be down for that. At this point though, I think Madden certainly has more edge to play the role.


Have you seen either one of these series? I’d love to hear what you think!