Five for the Fifth: SEPTEMBER 2016 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Still can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already! For some reason I haven’t asked this before in the previous September editions. Most Americans will get a day off today in the first Monday of September to celebrate the creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.

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It made me think of films that’s filmed in a workplace, whether it’s a factory, restaurant, 9-5 office job, etc. Having just rewatched Working Girl a couple of months ago, as well as Equity just last week, there are definitely a ton of films made about Wall Street. But there are a lot of memorable films about less glamorous jobs, i.e. Waitress, High Fidelity, Extract, Office Space, The Good Girl, Up in the Air, just to name a few. I’d also include Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. that takes place inside a scream factory.

So which workplace movie(s) is your all time favorite? 

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2. Ok, for this month FFTF, I want to feature two trailers from films by female directors. The first one stars Marion Cotillard, whose film Allied I actually featured last month. Well, as I said before, anything with miss Cotillard gets my attention!

From The Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres) trailer doesn’t have a subtitle yet but here’s the synopsis per IMDb:

Adaptation of Milena Agus’ novel, set after WWII following Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard), a passionate, free-spirited woman who is in a loveless marriage and falls for another man.

The film is directed by French actress/filmmaker Nicole Garcia also stars Louis Garrel and Alex Brendemühl. I love WWII romances, so I’m automatically intrigued by this. Apparently Sundance Selects has picked up the U.S. rights to the film back in March, and the film opens in France in mid October, but the US release date hasn’t been announced yet.

Here’s a clip that does have English subtitles:

Now this one takes place closer to home for me in the US.

Certain Women focuses on the lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

I love the casting of the three main actresses: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart. I’m not familiar with filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, but I did remember her film Meek’s Cutoff (also starring Michelle Williams) was quite acclaimed. Certain Women is set for release on October 14th.

Thoughts about either one of these films? 

3. Well, now that the dust has sort of settled on the Summer blockbuster season, a bunch of articles are lamenting that 2016 is one of the worst Summer seasons. The New York Times lists over a dozen movies as financial disappointment (including The BFG, ID4 sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, etc. and perhaps the biggest dud of all, the Ben-Hur remake.

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But it seems that we’re only looking at big, tentpole movies. Seems that quite a few smaller movies like Lights Out, Bad Moms, The Purge: Election Year, Sausage Party, and this weekend’s box office winner for a second week in a row, Don’t Breathe have beaten industry expectations. Most of those movies’ budget are well below $20 mil, but have grossed at least twice its budget.

Which of the Summer sleeper hits are your favorite?
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4. It just dawned on me after I started watching Netflix’s Stranger Things that I’ve been watching two big 80s/90s stars making a comeback on TV. Winona Ryder is one of the stars of Stranger Things, and of course you all know Christian Slater has won acclaims for his performance in Mr. Robot.

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I don’t remember either one of those working steadily, apart from some small roles here and there. But there are some 80s/90s actors who have been working pretty steadily up until now, the likes of Robert Downey Jr. (since his comeback in Iron Man), Rob Lowe, Arnie, Sly, etc. It made me think of their peers a couple of decades ago who I haven’t seen in ages… Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Sherilyn Fenn, Molly Ringwald, and pretty much everyone in The Breakfast Club, boy those were big names when I was in high school!

So which of your favorite 80s/90s star would you like to see make a comeback on TV?

5. This month Five for the Fifth‘s guest is Mark from Marked Movies! I’ve talked about it a few times the topic here but it’s always a fun one to discuss.

What actors people take a disliking to? Not that they’re bad actors but there’s something about their style, or even appearance, that you just don’t take to.
Or alternatively, what actors people have previously disliked but over time began to appreciate them?

Well, I’m sure you have an answer for either one of Mark’s question. Let’s hear it!


Well, that’s it for the SEPTEMBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Mr Robot, ‘A Hologram for the King’ & The Wine Show

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s another glorious weekend weather-wise… Summer is so fleeting here in MN so we’ve got to make the most of our time being outside.

I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, trying to finish up Mr Robot Season 1 and we’ve got four more episodes to go. I’ll defer my final judgment until I finish all episodes of the first season, but I’m impressed w/ it so far. It keeps me guessing just what the heck is going on and it always ends on a suspenseful cliffhanger.

It’s certainly one of the most diverse cast of a TV series, with the lead Rami Malek himself of Egyptian descent. No shortage of interesting characters in this series, Mr Robot himself (played by Christian Slater) is definitely an enigma, but the Swedish-speaking Tyrell played by Martin Wallström is the one who gives me the creeps. He reminds me of American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman with his steely gaze and violent tendencies.

Looking forward to finishing Season 1 hopefully next week!


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Saturday night I watched the new Tom Hanks drama set in Saudi Arabia. At first it made me think of Lost In Translation mixed with Learning to Drive, though it’s quite different from either. Cross-cultural stories always appeal to me, though this film is more about a personal journey for the lead character. Alan Clay is a washout American sales rep who’s sent to Riyadh to do a major pitch for his company to a wealthy-yet-elusive monarch.

I have to say I’m not sure what to make of this movie. I was amused one second, discombobulated the next. The novel by Dave Eggers (which Hanks reportedly loved) might have been very interesting, but it feels like it might not have translated as well on screen. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t entertained, there are some amusing moments and Hanks was likable as always, I just felt that the humor felt a bit forced at times. They also hired another White guy (an American) to play an Arab. Alexander Black plays the taxi driver Yousef who predictably becomes friends with Alan. There’s a running joke about him checking the hood of his car for a bomb, not in a terroristic way he said, but from a jealous husband who suspects he’s having an affair with his wife. It was amusing the first time around, but it became repetitive. I feel there’s a lack of genuine rapport between the two actors, but it’s more because of the way they’re written.


There’s a budding romance between Hanks and his female doctor, Dr. Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) who treats him for the cyst on his back. I’m not really feeling the chemistry between them however, just like Alan and the taxi driver. Oh and the scene between the two towards the end is very um, unexpected. Let’s just say I didn’t expect to see a topless underwater scene in this movie, though I don’t think that alone warrants that the R-rating. Interesting that Choudhury was also in Learning To Drive, it seems like she’s got that ambiguous ethnicity where she could play an Arab, an Indian or Italian believably. I like that her character defies the stereotype of what we, in the Western world, think of an Arab woman. There’s another female character, a Danish woman working in the region who came on very strong to Alan, but her storyline seems grossly under-developed.

The pacing of the film seems off, though the story did manage to surprise me a few times. I can’t judge how accurate its portrayal of Arab culture as I’m not from that region, but I feel that the filmmakers did attempt to do it respectfully and not resorting to simple stereotypes. Filmed in Morroco with some exterior shots of Riyadh, it blends the traditional and very modern aspect of the Arab world.  The actual hologram presentation to King Abdullah itself is a non-event, apart from a rather odd cameo from Ben Whishaw playing a Q character of sort.

Once I finished the film, I found out that the film’s director is Tom Twyker. I love his German film Run Lola Run, but his last Hollywood movie is the even more puzzling Cloud Atlas. I did praise it for its valiant effort, though I honestly don’t know if I’m going to like it as much upon rewatch. Now, what I can say for this one is, give it a shot if you’re a huge fan of Hanks (as he’s in virtually every single scene). Overall it’s lacking a certain oomph to make it a memorable movie. But at only 138 minutes, at least it didn’t overstay its welcome.

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WineShow

I saw on Twitter there’s a new reality show called The Wine Show arriving on HULU. It’s got the two gorgeous Matthews, Matthew Goode & Matthew Rhys, who played Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley. The show was originally done for British ITV. Filmed in beautiful locations all over the world, The Wine Show is informative, entertaining, humorous and surprising, with something for everyone who enjoys a glass of wine. I love that the wine expert is called Obi Wine Kenobi, ha!

I love this, definitely will be watching all 13 episodes!

 


So that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

TCFF 2015: Review of ‘The Adderall Diaries’ + interview with writer/director Pamela Romanowsky

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It’s safe to assume that James Franco loves literary adaptations. The Adderall Diaries is based on a memoir of the same name by Stephen Elliot. Franco played Stephen, a writer who seems to be at the height of his career. His agent constantly calls him about various book deals and options. There’s even a new romance in the air, as he met a pretty reporter from the Times (Amber Heard) during a high-profile murder trial. Yet he’s still haunted by the ghost of his traumatic past, especially his *monster* dad who through a series of flashbacks seems like a beligerent and abusive father Neil who made his childhood a living hell. During a reading of his memoir, Neil suddenly turned up and confronted his son just as Stephen was reading from his memoir that he was deceased.

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Needless to say, Stephen’s life went on a downward spiral as the book deals quickly dried up. He descended into self-destructive behavior with substance abuse (with Adderall tablets being his drug of choice) and BDSM sessions with prostitutes, all the while his daddy-issues overwhelmed him to the point that he alieniated everyone close to him. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction in a blur of drug-induced haze Stephen constantly puts himself under. Therein lies the crux of the story: what is really fact and what is a product of his imagination? The film asks the question of what it means to tell the truth, and how we often choose to see things our own way. In the case of Stephen, all his life he incessantly sees himself as the *victim.*

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There are a lot going on in this film, but the father/son relationship is central to the story. There’s a facet of crime drama in the murder trial subplot, but it’s always seen through Stephen’s eyes and how those events bring out elements from his own past. I don’t always get what is going on in a particular scene, but the film’s pace and script remains engaging and some of the cryptic moments intrigue instead of frustrate me. Perhaps the fact that writer/diretor Pamela Romanowsky studied behavioral psychology at Macalester College in MN made her the right person to adapt this book.

The performances are ace all around. James Franco delivered a convincing performance as someone who’s totally lost and full of anger. Stephen isn’t exactly a likable character, yet there’s a layered vulnerability and real angst that made me sympathize with him. The always reliable Ed Harris is phenomenal here as Stephen’s estranged dad, the scenes between the two of them are the most intense and emotional parts of the film. The rest of the supporting cast, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon, Jim Parrack and Christian Slater are solid as well.

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This is a confident directorial debut from Romanowsky. There are quite a few flashback scenes in the film and at times they serve as scenes from the character’s memories. So it’s crucial that the transition isn’t jarring or become too hard to follow. I never felt lost watching the story and that’s a testament to a deft direction. Not only did the story translate well cinematically, she also brought out excellent performances from her actors.

I’m thrilled that Pamela’s next project will be writing and directing Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Based on this article, the novel is set in a dystopian future and involves people competing in a secret game of demolition derby, all while the world becomes an even worse place as time passes. James Franco is set to play the title role once again, it definitely sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to see what Pamela will do with that project.


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/29/2015  (7:10 PM)
10/31/2015  (3:00 PM)


I had the privilege of chatting with director Pamela Romanowsky about making the film, working with James Franco & Ed Harris, and the challenges being a female filmmaker in Hollywood.

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Q: How did you come on board this project?

I read The Adderall Diaries for the first time as a casual reader. It was in the window at my neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn (which is where James signs books in the opening scene of the film), and I finished it in a couple days. It really stuck with me, in particular his insights and admissions about how we edit our memories to fit a personal narrative. Some months later in Detroit, James and I were working together on The Color of Time, a multi-director adaptation of CK Williams’ brilliant poetry collection TAR. My vignette is an adaptation of the poem “Tar” and it’s also about how memory affects our experience of the present. James asked me if I would be interested in adapting a book he’d optioned called The Adderall Diaries. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Q: What was the challenges of adapting a novel/memoir into a screenplay?

AdderallDiaries_novelIt’s a different set of challenges for each project. In this case, it was figuring out how to translate the book’s foundational themes and ideas into cinematic language. The form and style of the book is very different from a movie- It’s about moments and impressions more than it is a traditional story with a plot and character arcs. The quote that opens the movie is one I had pinned up on my writing board, which I think is the beating heart and central idea of the book.

Stephen says, “We understand the world by how we retrieve memories. Re-order information into stories to justify how we feel.” I’m deeply moved by that thought, both the truthfulness of it and his willingness to expose it in himself. We all know memory is an emotionally charged and unreliable thing, and that’s easy to point out as a concept, even easier to point out in another person who has a different version of our story, but few of us have the balls to point to it in ourselves.

The central conflict in the movie is that Stephen and his father Neil have organized the facts of what happened between them into very different stories. Each man has cast himself as the victim, and so he needs the other to admit some culpability so he can be right. In the movie, it takes all these other satellite characters orbiting Stephen (his girlfriend, his best friend, his muse and his editor) to get into conflict with him at the same time, before it finally clicks that if everyone edits their memory to validate an emotional position, he’s doing it, too.

It took me two years to get from first draft to the first day on set, and I was re-writing the whole way. The biggest leaps and best insights came out of the work I did with the Sundance Institute, where I was a fellow at the screenwriting, directing and sound/music labs. My experiences there changed not only how I approached this project, but how I approach my job and my voice as a writer and director in general. Michelle Satter, founding director of the feature film program, and Robert Redford, who needs no introduction, were two of my most helpful and primary advocates throughout, reading scripts, watching cuts, and opening doors.

Q: Which do you enjoy most, writing or directing?

Directing. I didn’t know what the job meant until I was in it, and I feel really lucky to have stumbled upon my dream job. It’s the intersection of all of my interests, joys and skills, and it’s never ever the same thing twice. It keeps me constantly on my toes and learning, working with brilliant people. It’s about adjusting, trying to zero in on the thing you want from different approaches (I always think of a GPS saying “re-calculating” over and over again). I love the great leap of faith into intimacy everyone has to take, especially between actors and directors. You expose a lot of yourself working scenes out, whether you talk about it overtly or not. How do you lie? How do you flirt or chase respect? How do you experience regret or sex or losing your temper or ignoring the elephant in the room? It’s all in there, and you get to know and respect each other in really deep ways.

There’s deep beauty and satisfaction in writing, too, but for me it’s much less pleasurable than directing.

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Q: You had worked with James Franco before when you did ‘The Color of Time’ while at NYU. How did the rest of the cast come on board this project?

I met James in grad school at NYU where we both did the MFA film program. He’s always felt like a kindred spirit and we became friends right away, but we hadn’t worked together until The Color of Time. We got to bond in a deeper way as collaborators on that film and even more so on Adderall, and he’s become one of my closest and most treasured friends. He’s magnetic and inspiring, and works harder and more passionately than anyone.

Ed Harris was my mentor at the Sundance Director’s lab, which felt like some kind of crazy hand-of-god fate, because I’d written the part for him without ever knowing I’d get the chance to meet him or tell him so. He was advising me the day I shot the workshop version of Stephen and Neil’s climactic scene (with the fantastic actors Luke Kirby and Dennis Boutsikaris), and at one point Ed asked if he could jump in to offer a suggestion. He hugged Luke and then tossed him over the hood of a car, and I just stood there breathlessly, seeing the character I’d imagined for so long come vividly to life. Ed is electric and that’s so exciting to be around.

Jim Parrack (Roger) is one of James’ oldest friends in real life. Their rapport, in all its competitive, loving, intense glory, is very real. My favorite scene to shoot with them was the boxing scene, because they’re trained boxers and they both learned with the great Macka Foley, who was on set, too. That day was all-in and so intense.

Amber Heard (Lana), Christian Slater (Hans), Cynthia Nixon (Jen) and Timothee Chalamet (Teenage Stephen) all came through my friend Danie Streisand, a phenomenal talent agent who I call the secret casting director of this movie. She cared about and got the project like nobody else, and with each of those actors, it was the most obvious match in the world from the moment I got to meet with them. Each actor brings something different to set, and it’s fascinating to watch how those energies intersect and change each other.

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Q: Tell me what it’s like working with Franco and Ed Harris, both of whom are committed and versatile actors working today.

Joan Darling, my acting teacher at the Sundance labs, says that a great actor is like a high speed train- even the smallest adjustment at the beginning of a scene will take you in a very different direction by the end. James and Ed are certainly high-speed trains, and it was an absolute honor and joy to work with them. They’re game to experiment, they commit entirely, they’re emotionally rigorous and they’re fiercely allergic to bullshit. Watching how they communicated and reacted to each other within the scenes was stunning. It’s worth noting that Ed and James are both directors as well- They’re smart and generous people by nature, but I think they were particularly attuned to and patient with what I needed technically and camera-wise because they’re clocking my coverage and know to advocate for that last setup we don’t really have time for but will need in the editing room. And they’re both veterans. What they’ve seen on set and in the industry, as actors and directors, is precious insight for a young director to have.

Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

I’m glad that gender disparity in Hollywood is a hot topic. It should be. Four percent of the top one hundred box office films are directed by women. FOUR. Many years, that number has been lower, and the numbers are similar for people of color and other minorities. How can an industry that represents and creates culture not be affected and made toxic by that obvious, shameful degree of discrimination?

The thing is, the difference between my experience as a first time indie filmmaker and a women embarking on a career in Hollywood will be very different. I’m here talking to you, so obviously I’m one of the women who made a debut feature. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not because I’m a woman. I had the support and respect of everyone I worked with.

After this, my experience will likely change. Women who make good indie first features don’t get asked to make big studio movies like Spiderman or Jurassic Park. But men do get to take that massive leap. The same number of women and men attend prestigious film schools and write good, vetted screenplays. The first hurdle comes with financing and thus making that first feature. Only 25% of American directors at Sundance are women, skewed heavily toward documentaries. But 25% is a hell of a lot more than 4%. The real obstacle for female directors isn’t making the first indie feature, it’s the opportunity to launch from there into Hollywood. And that’s a very old and carefully guarded obstacle to move. I’m still gonna do my damndest to get there, obviously.

I’m one of the Sundance Institute’s Female Filmmaker Initiative fellows this year, and I’m eager to point to Sundance’s rigorous research and their initiatives for change, because it provides a much clearer and more detailed picture than I can. 


Thanks again Pamela for chatting w/ me last night
prior to the screening. Totally made my day!

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What are your thoughts of The Adderall Diaries? 

Rental Pick: Sylvester Stallone in Walter Hill’s ‘Bullet to the Head’

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Sly Stallone is reliving his glory days as an action hero here in the 21st century, as many of you know, Stallone was the king of box office back in the 80s. Many of his films, mostly Rocky and Rambo series earned hundreds of millions at the box office. After strings of box office failures in the 90s and early 2000s, he was able to climb back and churned a few box office hits in the last couple of years. In this movie he decided to team up with director, Walter Hill, whose career as an action director pretty much ended years ago. Unfortunately the film barely made a dent at the box office when it opened last winter, so Hill’s career is still stuck in limbo.

The film starts with an aging hit man James Bonomo (Stallone) and his young partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) assassinates a witness in a high profile case. After the job was done, both men were waiting for their contact at a bar somewhere in New Orleans to received their fees. Unfortunately their employers sent out another hit man, Keegan (Jason Momoa), to take them out. Bonomo survived the hit but his partner was not so fortunate. Feeling betrayed and upset that his partner was killed, Bonomo wowed to find his employers and get revenge.

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Later a Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), showed up at local police station and wants to take charge in the investigation of who put out a hit on the witness. He did some digging and was able to meet up with Bonomo. As it turned out the witness whom Bonomo took out was an ex-cop and Kwon’s former partner, he’s about to testify against some highly important people and Kwon wants to bring those people down. He asked Bonomo to help him but Bonomo was not interested. A few minutes later, Kwon was being chased by some hit men and was shot in the shoulder. Bonomo was able to come to his rescue and they both found out that the hit men were local cops. At this point Kwon realized he’s alone and no one will help him with the investigation and Bonomo still wants revenge so both of them decided to team up and find out who’s really behind this whole charade.

The rest of the film becomes the usual interracial buddy cop action/thriller that were quite popular in the 80s and 90s. We get the usual insults between the lead characters and of course shootouts and big fight scenes. The film sort of reminded me of 48 Hrs. which was also directed by Walter Hill. Having been out of the directing action pictures for a long time, I didn’t expect much from him. To my surprise, he actually did a pretty decent job with this film. The pacing of the movie is pretty smooth and he staged some really excellent fight scenes and shootouts. My only complaint is the film looked pretty dreadful, I don’t know what Hill and his cinematographer were trying to accomplish here. For a film that cost $55mil to produce, it looked like a straight to video action movies of the early 90s. Also, I have a hard time believing the film cost that much to make since it didn’t have any big car chases or huge shootouts that would require lots of visual effects. I don’t think Stallone is getting his usual fee of $20mil per picture anymore, so I don’t know where all those millions went, obviously it didn’t show it on the screen. Another big complaint, CGI blood, I hate it! I wish action directors would go back and use squibs again.

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As far as performance goes, I thought Stallone was pretty great in it. He plays the role perfectly, he’s not a good guy, just someone who’s doing this kind of work because he doesn’t know how to do any other kind. And for a man who’s in his late 60s, he still look great doing the action stuff. Sung Kang is not a strong actor and I’m glad they didn’t try to make him the lead, I’m pretty sure most people will only know him from the Fast & Furious franchise. The beautiful Sarah Shahi shows up as Bonomo’s daughter and she doesn’t really have much to do other than serves as the eye candy and of course, the damsel in distress. Jason Momoa is pretty much the usual one dimensional villain and even Christian Slater has a small role as one of the villains.

Despite it being a box office disappointment, I thought the film was quite entertaining that reminds me of buddy cop action flicks of the 80s. If you’re a fan of Stallone or Hill, you might enjoy it as well. Just keep your expectations low and don’t expect anything new from it, the film knows it’s an action picture and it didn’t try to be more than that.

3 out of 5 reels


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What do you think of this one folks? Do you think Sly still got it?