Interview with CRISIS film’s writer/director Nicholas Jarecki

Hello all! Welcome to another interview edition featuring the award-winning writer/director of the critically acclaimed Arbitrage Nicholas Jarecki. His sophomore film CRISIS has just been released in select theaters and VOD. Check out my review of the film if you haven’t already. It stars Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Luke Evans and Michelle Rodriguez.

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Synopsis: A drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation. An architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s disappearance. A university professor battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a pharmaceutical company bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.

Set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, their stories collide in this dramatic thriller from writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.

In his acclaimed feature debut, Arbitrage (starring Richard Gere, which I gave a high rating in my review), the NYU graduate Jarecki set a suspense-thriller about love and loyalty against a backdrop of fraud and murder in the world of high finance. With Crisis, the writer-director now turns his attention to the opioid epidemic.

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I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicholas (Nick) Jarecki over Zoom to talk about his film, from the process of making CRISIS, casting, acting in his own film, and the personal crisis of Armie Hammer and how it affected his film’s release. Read on:

Q: Why did it take you so long from making Arbitrage (released in 2012) to this one? It’s almost a decade long.

A: Yeah, it was two years ago now. Because of the pandemic. We had to wait to bring it out. Yeah. I suppose, you know, making these films, these kinds of serious drama type films that ask questions, provocative questions, there isn’t as much support for that as you might expect.

But you know, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. So you’ve got to get it done. But it just requires a lot of tenacity.

Q: I learned that you had lost some people who are important to you, to this epidemic, to this opioid crisis. So is that the driving factor for you to make this, or was there any other inspiration for you to make this film?

A: Well, you know, I mean, look, you always want to make a good film that’s entertaining. First and foremost, it’s my job to entertain you. Write me your seven dollars and you want to have a good time to see something interesting, most dramatically interesting. But you know, what I would say is with this film, I had lost a friend many years ago to opioid abuse, gotten into pain pills and then went to heroin.

And we didn’t understand anything because he was such a nice, bright young man. Good family and all that. So I filed it away in the back of my mind. And then about five years ago, I think there were some reporters from the Los Angeles Times I teamed up with. And and they started to look into the role of opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies in this issue.

What did they know or what didn’t they know? You know, was the product perhaps more dangerous? People had been led to believe, because now you see we’ve had this terrible epidemic in the country. You have these regular, normal people who are getting addicted in record numbers, hundreds of thousands dead. You know, they took a pain pill that was prescribed to them. But the way their body reacted, the way they developed independence, those are things I thought that was worth exploring.

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Q: The way these big pharmaceutical companies were being portrayed in the film, it’s as if there’s so much at stake in terms of profit that they even didn’t care when they’re told their product were not ready to hit market. All they cared about was the bottom line. Is that based on your research?

A: I mean, I think we wanted to look at that. You know, this film is very based on real events, real and very heavily-researched. So that is how drugs are developed and tested on mice. And, you know, it’s a fascinating world. And obviously, you know, I don’t think anyone set out to make a harmful product. So that’s not the issue here. The issue is, you know, were these pills overprescribed? Were they over-marketed? Were questions about their safety ignored? And so I wanted to put that into a thriller context, really see what Gary Oldman’s [character] eventually did, Armie Hammer’s and the rest of the great supporting cast… Michelle Rodriguez, you know, all these people. How do these drugs interact with our society? And, you know, looking at it from these different perspectives of the user, the criminal criminal smuggler, and the manufacturer inside.

Q: So it was originally called Dreamland, is that correct? And then it was re titled to to Crisis. What was the significance of that first title?

A: It was a working title. There was another film called Dreamland, so we couldn’t use that one. But, you know, we don’t want it to be confusing. But I might I just kind of like the idea that, you know, we were all sort of living in a fantasy. I think that’s a very American thing. I actually like that title, but I do love CRISIS. I think it’s very strong. And I like these one word titles like. I believe there hasn’t been a film with that same title since Cary Grant’s crime thriller in 1950.

Q: Now, in terms of timeline… how long did it take from, when you were writing the script, like, how long did it take you to work on this film, as there was a lot of research that you had to do. So how long is that process?

A: I wrote this pretty quickly. I wrote it over the course of about six months in 2017. So about a little over three and a half years ago. And then, you know, I had met Gary Oldman and I took him the script and and he liked it right away. He said, OK, let me let me come on as a producer and help you put the film together.

And then the film came together pretty quickly and took, you know, maybe six months to to get the other actors together, and then we started shooting in 2019.

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Q: And then so that was kind of that’s a good segue to talk about casting. Since you met Gary Oldman when you already finished with the script, are you one of those writers who have somebody in mind when you were writing the script? Because I feel like he’s so perfect in the role of Tyrone. So did you have someone in mind when you were writing this?

A: So I met Gary and then I was writing the script at the same time. This is kind of how this happened with Arbitrage. And so the character started to take shape a little bit in my mind. When I’m writing, it’s sort of like you only just see shapes, black, black box, you know, kind of shadow figures because you need the actors to bring it to life. So it’s kind of you know, it’s a strange process.

It’s a bit of an alchemical process, I would say. And but then, you know, once I have finished the draft and I gave it to him, then I really could see only him. And we worked together on this quite a bit, to tailor it. And I like to do that with all the actors. I like to rehearse for a few weeks, really get their perspectives on the character, get kind of deep into the research with them, go to labs, you know, with Veronica Ferres playing the [Pharma company] CEO, Armie and I also went with the undercover cop to go look at these pill mills, etc.

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Q: OK, so how did the Evangeline Lily came about? Did you you know her before making this film?

A: No, I didn’t know her. I sent her the script. I had been a fan of hers since I had watched all of Lost. I was obsessed, just like everyone else, with that show. And what I saw in her was she was an actress with a great range. She had really showed so many different sides of the persona, and I think she gives a tremendous performance in this film though she hadn’t really done dramatic work in a while.

You know, she had done she had a little part in The Hurt Locker, but she then kind of got into this Marvel world. Yeah. And I think she said that she really wanted to stretch her dramatic muscles again. She really came came hard on the film, and she went very deep into the characters, kind of method and, you know, she had to go to some very dark places to give you that performance.

Q: I didn’t even know that was you who played Stanley the DEA agent (Armie Hammer’s partner) until I looked up my IMDb. So what makes you want to be involved in front of the camera? Because I’m not sure that’s hard to be directing and acting at the same time.

A: Well, you know, it’s all you have to blame. Lenny Kravitz, the musician. Four years ago, he was making a music video in California and he wanted to cast a director, a real life director, to play a director directing him and going crazy. Yeah. So he cast me and and then we did it. And I had such a great time. People were saying to me, like, hey, you were really good.

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Jarecki as a DEA agent with Director of Photography Nicolas Bolduc

And and I thought, oh, my God, it’s like maybe that could be something fun to do. So we’re doing this film and I didn’t have anyone for that part. It’s kind of a comic relief type part. And so then somebody said like, well, how are we doing with that casting? And I said, you know what? And I thought, here’s my big moment. And, you know, I said, well, maybe I would do it. Well, there’s one less person to cast anyway, so you save some money. And then they were like, okay, great.

Q: I have to kind of bring up this elephant in the room. Surely you know about the personal crisis in regards to Armie Hammer. Did his involvement affect the reception of your film? How do you feel about the whole issue?

A: The thing is, you know, in terms of the audience, I think the film has been extremely well received. We’ve been number one rented movie in America when it was iTunes for two weeks. We opened up in 216 theaters. We were the number one independent film, the country, the number two per screen, second to Tom and Jerry. The number one film in limited release on less than a thousand screens. So audiences really sought out the film and continue to seek out the film that were opening around the world. We were doing, I think 900 theaters in the Middle East, we do a couple hundred in Australia this week, Canada. So, and audiences have rated the film very highly, we’ve had some very nice reviews, but we did take some heat from a lot of critics.

And it was, it was frustrating because I think you can look at something through lenses and you can say, okay, well, I appreciate where this is coming from. And you know, no film is perfect, it’s got its issues, whatever, but you can also really rip into something. And I think, unfortunately the timing of Armie’s personal problems, which I really know nothing about, I mean, he’s not my brother, he’s an actor that I hired to do a role and he did a great job. But you know, I think that [his involvement] may be colored some of the media. It’s frustrating, but I think, you know, all things have their moment. But I think people are starting to discover the film audiences are discovering the film and film writers are discovering the film and have been reacting more positively to the film.

That’s really the goal with this film. We just, we wanted to make an entertaining movie, uh, thrilling movie that you feel and captivate to with some great performances. And I think we did that, but then secondly, we really wanted to get this issue out to the public and get people talking about what are the responsibilities of these pharmaceutical manufacturers? How should law enforcement be done? How do we treat addicts? Do we treat addicts as the enemy, or do we treat them as our brother and sister our, you know, and understand that this is crossing all walks of life. It’s like a category five hurricane. And what we really need to do is to have some understanding, put some money towards treatment and to de-stigmatize and take away the, ‘oh, they’re bad people’ mindset.

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Q: Now, in regards to the multiple narratives. I feel like all these different three different distinct story, but yet related could be its own film. What was the biggest challenge for you to try to tell their stories in just two hours and make sure the story is coherent?

A: And it was, uh, it was a very interesting question that, I mean, I asked myself all these questions, you know, two of the stories, me, one story doesn’t mean, but in a way it does, because you understand that Gary’s up here, you know, it’s like almost like he’s fighting with the gods on Mount Olympus and whatever decisions are made in that room, in that board room or in the lab, then they come down and they touch these other lives. So for me, you know, it was, it was valid to have a metaphorical connection or an allegorical connection as opposed to ‘Oh, they’re students in his class or whatever, something that would have felt totally unrealistic.’

I liked the idea, you know, that the characters are struggling and then they can all help each other in some way. Gary helped them by the fight that he gets into, they help each other. So, certainly editorially putting all that together, a lot of time and effort went into that because you need to see, well, how do these stories inform each other, how do they touch each other? You know, how do we make a connection? That’s both for image based, story-based, you know, we move scenes around and, you know, take the script and I take some scenes and montage them and use these kinds of pre-lab dialogue. Like Robert Altman used to do or later Steven Soderbergh, they’re kind of the masters. So, some of it is trial and error, some of it is your instinct… it’s a kind of dance. And then also what is the footage and what are the actors, what are they giving you? Sometimes they can do things you don’t expect that are very beautiful.

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Gary Oldman, Luke Evans on set with Nicholas Jarecki

Q: My last question relates to the theme in your films. It seems your previous film deals with the wealthy, powerful people, and that’s also the case here both in the Pharma company and also the privileged school trying to maintain their place in society. I notice that power is kind of a running theme in your stories, so is that something that you like to explore more in your films? I was wondering maybe there is a third film that you’re doing, that its almost like a trilogy with these kind of similar theme going on.

A: Well, I think you pick up on that very well. Um, I mean, I think I’m interested in looking at, you know, there’s, there’s certain moral questions in here, right? And then there’s also like a balance of hearts. So Greg Kinnear, who’s been a friend of mine for many years, I asked him to play this role and he plays the dean of the university. And he’s obviously in conflict with Gary Oldman’s character, because he has discovered what he thinks is damaging information about this product and he wants to go public with it. But then he’s agreed not to do that. And this could really hurt the university because the pharmaceutical company provides the university endowment. So you can really see his point of view… and I said, we got to have Kinnear because he’s such a sympathetic person.

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So to see the dean in this conflicted situation, you know, I like those moral gray areas. It’s a balance of and saying, okay, are you sure you’re right about this thing? You know, maybe it’s science who knows, maybe you’re not right. Uh, you know, maybe it’s that experiment translates here on the, on the animals, but it doesn’t work for the humans. I mean, these are all complicated questions, but what you are going to do is you’re going to endanger the university and the university is serving its community of students. And it’s got tens of thousands of students that I’m looking out for. And I have responsibility to those people. So in the balance of harms, this may not be the one to do. And by the way, I don’t think you can win. And then, you know, whether or not (Gary’s character) Tyrone does win or not in the end, we have to leave for, for your viewers.

I like exploring the corrupting role that capitalism plays in the American society because it has, it’s so great and it encourages innovation and all that, but you know, when we go too far away, when we get to free market and we do whatever you want, well sometimes that encourages bad behavior, you know, safeguards. It’s like, you know, you have a runaway train, right? You’re supposed to have some circuit breakers, make sure the train doesn’t go off the tracks. And I think that’s the role of us, the public. So that’s part of why we make the film is to say, Hey, take a look at what’s going on. You know, maybe you don’t want to do anything about it, but at least you should be aware of it.


Check out the trailer:


CRISIS is now available on Video On Demand.
It’ll be released on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA on Tuesday April 20th


Thanks Nicholas Jarecki for chatting with me!

….

FlixChatter Review: CRISIS (2021)

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I have to admit that though I’ve heard news about the opioid crisis, I’m not really that familiar with the subject. In fact, prior to watching this film I didn’t even know what Fentanyl was, which is apparently a powerful synthetic pain killers that’s similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s certainly an important subject matter, and even a timely one had our attention been completely absorbed by the Covid pandemic as this epidemic also kills people at an alarming rate.

The film features three main storylines that’s seemingly random at first, but you know they’d converge in the end. There’s Jake (Armie Hammer), an undercover DEA officer working to broker deal involving the lucrative Fentanyl between a Canadian supplier (code-named Mother) and some Armenian drug lords. This operation is a personal one for Jake as his own sister (Lily Rose-Depp) is addicted to OxyContin. Claire, an architect (Evangeline Lily) who’s a former addict tries to figure out the truth about what happened to her lost teenage son. Lastly, there’s Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) in a David vs Goliath story battling a pharmaceutical giant Northlight when his research of their new “non-addictive” painkiller finds that the drug is even more dangerous than its predecessor.

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The multiple narratives naturally reminds you of Steven Soderbergh’s highly-acclaimed war-on-drugs drama Traffic, but I don’t think it’s fair to immediately brush this one off as this one is a pretty solid film in its own right. The opening chase sequence of a boy with a backpack full of pills in a wintry Canadian landscape is a good way to propels the story. It immediately intrigues me to find out what’s at stake for the characters we’re about to meet. Jake, Claire and Tyrone may be fighting against different types of people, but essentially they’re in the same battle, that is the war on opioids. The script is written by Nicholas Jarecki whose 2012 debut feature Arbitrage is an excellent film that also deals with power and corruption. Jarecki ups the ante here by not only adding multiple-layers to the story, but also by acting in it as Jake’s partner at the DEA.

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Out of the three narratives, I find Oldman’s scenario between the professor + big Pharma (with Luke Evans & Veronica Ferres as the faces representing the corporate giant) to be the most intriguing. Obviously the stake is high for each character, but Tyrone is fighting the big guns who puts this dangerous drugs on the market in the first place at the risk of not only his job but his reputation. Of course the university dean (Greg Kinnear) wants Tyrone to just look the other way as big Pharma is the school’s big donor. There’s a tense exchange between the two actors where Oldman yells that this is the worst medical crisis since tobacco. Some of the dialog like this one might be too on the nose, even clichéd, but the actors’ committed performances still able to make them work. I also appreciate that Jarecki don’t paint the protagonists as saints… they’re all flawed people who have made errors in the past but want to do the right thing and find the truth.

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Performance-wise, Oldman is excellent in a layered performance that allows him to be both intense and vulnerable. While he’s a well-respected professor, he’s also a husband and would-be father who fears he won’t be able to provide for his wife (Indira Varma) and family if his reputation is tarnished. His inner struggle feels believable and real and his charismatic screen presence always elevates any film. It’s interesting to see his character against drug addiction here, given the first role I remember him play is a pill-popping detective in Léon: The Professional.

I think Evangeline Lily is quite strong here despite some of the overly-melodramatic moments. I think I’d be fine with the extended scenes of her mourning her son, but it provides such a stark contrast when she suddenly becomes a vigilante. Her storyline stretches incredulity in parts, especially as she crosses paths with Jake as they suddenly have a common enemy. At the same time, the short interactions between them help ground her character.

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As for Armie Hammer, who at the time of this film’s release was undergoing a personal crisis on his own, plays a pretty run-of-the-mill cop here. Whether or not his involvement in this film impacts its reception is debatable, but it certainly seem to have taken over the discussion. Most of the commentaries on social media about this movie usually centered on his fall from grace. I think Hammer is generally a decent but not overly charismatic actor. Despite his good looks, somehow he never really lights up the screen, and that’s the case here. He’s either morose or angry for the entire film, where more capable actors could’ve added more nuance to this integral role. There are so many familiar faces in this film, Michelle Rodriguez and Kid Cudi also made a brief, but memorable appearance.

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Overall CRISIS is an engaging thriller that’s pretty easy to follow. The script might seem overstuffed with strings being pulled in several directions, but it didn’t become a tangled mess when they all converge. There are parts that are predictable that I saw a mile away, but there are still moments that surprise me as well. This one isn’t as stellar as Arbitrage but still a worthy sophomore effort from the talented writer/director. I’d be interested to see what else Jarecki will tackle next, hopefully it wouldn’t take him nearly a decade to come up with his next project.


Have you seen CRISIS? Well, what did you think?

2018 Golden Globe Awards: Commentary on winners, #TimesUp movement, highlights of the night

Can’t believe award season is officially in full swing! Honestly I didn’t even realize Golden Globes was this weekend until I heard something in the car as I was driving around. Fortunately I did have time to actually sit down and watch (and live tweeted) the event, though I tuned in late as I usually avoid the red carpet stuff.

Well this year’s ceremony is different than in recent memory… what with the #TimesUp movement and everyone banding together to support women who’ve been sexually-harassed/abused by wearing all-black at the red carpet.

More on that later… as I do want to introduce a friend of mine, Shivani Yadav, blogger extraordinaire of Critic-Corner which offers reviews and fun celeb fashion, as we tag team on Golden Globes commentary this year! I thought that since the Golden Globes was all about women supporting each other, it’s the perfect time to collaborate. Shivani – it’s an honor to have you guest blog on FlixChatter!

Now, to start things off, here’s the video of Seth Meyers’ opening montage in case you missed it…

Glad he captured the #TimesUp movement in his monologue and rightly blasting the biggest sexual harassment perpetrators Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen. I think overall Seth did a good job as host. He didn’t irk me like some previous hosts and he certainly wasn’t as mean-spirited as Ricky Gervais.


Red Carpet

Shivani:

This was probably the best Golden Globes ceremony, in recent memory. So many amazing moments took place and great speeches were made. My day could not have started in a better way (it was 4:30 AM when it started here in India).

On the fashion front, with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement going on, celebs opted for black ensembles and I was all up for it. I know the point here was of solidarity and trying to get a message out but at the end of the day, it was through fashion. And a person who writes fashion reviews daily, at first I was a bit skeptical about to decision but after tonight, I can confidently say that this was one of the best red carpets I have seen since I started writing. With the help of one color, the message came out much more clearly – of equality, sisterhood and not taking anybody’s sh*t!

I just wish more men were speaking out about the issue. Red carpet hosts could have done a better job in making them a part of the conversation by asking them how things can be better and in general, voicing out their opinions. Hopefully, we’ll see improvement on that side in the more coming award shows.

As for my fashion favorites, this is probably the first time I don’t have any. Sure, I have opinions about every look (and for that you can read my blog), but generally as a whole, I’m so pleased and overwhelmed with everyone, fashion-wise, that my conscience is not allowing me to pick favorites.

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The #TimesUp and #MeeToo movement was quite unprecedented. As a woman of color, the message of solidarity in the spirit of equality and representation is one that’s dear to my heart. Of course it remains to be seen if this movement will actually make a real lasting impact in Hollywood and beyond… I sure hope women don’t just get heard because it’s part of a zeitgeist… that it’s more than just a ‘trend’ but something that would bring out real change.

I skipped the red carpet stuff, but I did read some comments how the hosts didn’t seem to be grasping the movement seriously and still make it all about the fashion instead of having meaningful conversations. If that’s the case, it’s truly a missed opportunity, especially since many celebs brought activists with them to the event.

Now, out of a sea of all-black ensembles, there are still truly stunning outfits. I think limiting the color made designers more creative with the style. For me though, the queen who slayed them all has got to be Viola Davis… #ibowtothee


Main Event Highlights

Shivani

The first highlight for me was obviously Oprah‘s speech. I’m not even kidding, tears were literally pouring down my eyes by the sheer power of it. Breathtaking!

Love the fact that Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand pointed out the all-made director’s category. Somebody had to do it and HFPA wasn’t exactly listening so doing it to their faces was kind of important!

And seeing Kirk Douglas with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta Jones was quite a delight too.

Ruth

I so agreed that Oprah‘s speech is definitely a highlight. It was such powerful, definitive, empowering and inspiring. Now, I’m not one of those who worships on the altar of Oprah, but y’know what, it’s undeniable she is a powerful self-made woman and last night she used her power for good like nobody’s business.

I feel for anyone who had to follow THAT speech to deliver the Best Director award, and that ‘honor’ went to Natalie Portman and Ron Howard. But y’know what, Portman seized the moment by cheekily quipping ‘and here are the ALL MALE nominees!’

I know some people have issues with the timing of that comment that seemed to undermine the accomplishments of the nominated filmmakers. But I don’t think she meant it that way, and y’know what, she too was caught up in the moment after Oprah’s speech and she seized it. It was a spot-on comment and I felt that it needed to be said. I thought Howard’s expression was priceless, and at least he was a big enough man to realize it wasn’t a slap against male directors, but the male-dominated filmmaking club that wasn’t conducive for women to be a part of.

There are many powerful speeches last night by women, but the one I was really taken by was Laura Dern‘s. I love how sincere her delivery was, empowering but delivered with a dose of humility and grace.

I LOVE the spirit of female solidarity displayed all night, especially by the female-led show Big Little Lies that won big last night, including Best Miniseries or TV Film.

Well, since I live-tweeted the event, I might as well just post some of my tweets here…

Case in point…

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actor Chris Hemsworth (L) and director Taika Waititi arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Thoughts on Winners/Losers

Neither Shivani and I barely watch any TV shows this year, so we only post comments on the film winners. Ironically, the year I became a filmmaker last year also meant I had little time to watch films so there are a ton of films nominated here that I had missed.

In any case, here’s our comments on the the nominees and winners (listed in bold) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker

Shivani: I’m sure most people expected [Ronan] to win. Not a surprise! I like how her mom was on face-time. That was cute!

Ruth: I’ve been such a huge fan of Ronan that despite not having seen Lady Bird yet (I know, I know, hopefully soon!), I’m thrilled she won. I think she’s deserved awards for so many of her past performances (Atonement, Hanna, Brooklyn, etc.)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Shivani: Same here. No surprise!

Ruth: Again, haven’t seen Franco’s performance but I was kinda rooting for Kaluuya’s just based on what I’ve read on Get Out. I like the brotherly love Franco displayed when he won though the whole thing w/ Tommy Wiseau was just so odd. Plus I think it’s rude to shove him away like that, even if they were good friends now.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Shivani: I was rooting for him so much. I know Timothée is awesome and everything, but Gary literally never gets his due. It’s his time!

Ruth: Indeed it’s a well-deserved win!

Glad that Oldman gave props to his co-stars. I thought Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn were both absolutely terrific in the film. Good enough even for a Best Supporting nod!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Shivani: God this lady is fierce. There’s literally no match for her!

Ruth: I love how effortless and no-nonsense McDormand was. I love that she doesn’t seem like someone who loves to schmooze (unlike most in Hollywood) and doesn’t take any bullsh*t from anyone either. Three Billboards is yet another film I’ve missed but hope to see that soon!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Shivani: In my opinion, the actual competition here was between Allison and Laurie. I’m happy either way, I love all of the nominees!

Ruth: I loooove Octavia Spencer and The Shape of Water, so naturally I was rooting for her. But that’s not fair as I haven’t seen the other performances. Janney is a force so I have no problem w/ her winning. Plus, I love the diversity on this category.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: No one could really tell here who would win, so I would have been happy for anyone. But yeah, Sam is extremely underrated and I’m happy he got some recognition.

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
The Greatest Showman
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Shivani: I’m just happy for the crew. Greta Gerwig is so adorable!

Ruth: I probably am in the minority here the fact that I have not seen Lady Bird nor have I seen any of Greta Gerwig‘s films, either. Not sure why, just haven’t gotten around to it. But hey, always happy to see a female filmmaker getting accolades, so yay!

Best Motion Picture — Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: This was quite a surprise. I thought The Shape of Water would have won, but nevertheless, I’m happy that they recognized the film!

Ruth: Having only seen Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, I have no idea which one would win in this category but I thought Call Me By Your Name would win.

Best Animated Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Coco
Loving Vincent

Shivani: I don’t think anybody was surprised with this win!

Ruth: Yep, not surprised at all though this is the first year where I hadn’t seen any of the animated features! I did blog about Loving Vincent a while ago, that looks absolutely astounding.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Molly’s Game

Shivani: I was quite positive that Lady Bird would win, and was surprised once again. It’s just that Three Billboards isn’t a type of movie that would normally get recognized by award shows. I’m happy that it is!

Ruth: Can’t really comment here as I have only seenThe Shape of Water, but sounds like a really strong category here with solid picks. I wanna see every single one of these I’ve missed!

Best Director – Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, All The Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Shivani: Another underrated director (by the voters)! I loved it when he asked them to lower the music. “It’s taken 25 years. Give me a minute” Awesome!

Ruth: Happy for del Toro’s win, too! The Shape of Water was a singular and extremely creative original film. I love filmmakers who truly gave his all for his creation and del Toro spent a lot of his own money and considerable time even just to design the sea creature! Still, I was flabbergasted and saddened that Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins were snubbed, esp. Gerwig considering the critical rave Lady Bird received.

Best Original Score
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
Phantom Thread
The Post
Dunkirk

Ruth: I adore Desplat’s score for The Shape of Water. It’s as magical, ethereal, romantic and mysterious as the film. Absolutely beautiful stuff that sweeps me off my feet.

Best Original Song
“Home,” Ferdinand — Nick Jonas, Justin Tranter, Nick Monson
“Mighty River,” Mudbound — Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson
“Remember Me,” Coco — Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Star,” The Star — Mariah Carey, Marc Shaiman
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman — Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Shivani: I was really disappointed with the fact that they did not nominate Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon from Call Me By Your Name so I’m kinda mad at them for that. This Is Me is a good enough song, but if it were up to me, it would not have gotten my vote.

Ruth: I had to look up the two songs that Shivani mentioned. Both of those songs are lovely, I totally understand why she loved them. I think This Is Me  is a rousing song though, definitely more of a crowd pleaser.


Let me end the post with this article that offers an astute observation of the night… it’s as if the #TimesUp movement weren’t really a thing for most of the men, aside from what Seth Meyers said in his opening monologue “Good Evening, Ladies & Remaining Gentlemen.” The silence is deafening and frankly, disheartening.


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the 2018 winners & favorite moments of the night?


FlixChatter Review: Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

Happy Eclipse Day folks! Did you get outside and view it? It’s only partial eclipse where I live, but still pretty cool. Well, at least there’s something fun to do on a Monday. Well, as Summer season is almost coming to a close, I have to say it has been kind of a ho-hum Summer at the movies. There’s nothing that truly wowed me… even Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk which I was impressed with, didn’t really linger in my memory that much after all.

Well, this past week was unusual because I actually saw two new releases that were pretty similar, as in both are action comedies targeted to a similar audience. Well, here’s my quick thoughts on one of them…

I gotta say that in when the trailer of this came on w/ the famous Whitney Houston’s song spoofing The Bodyguard movie, I knew I had to see this. I knew it’ll probably be silly but I also couldn’t resist the pairing of Samuel L. Jackson (Kincaid) with post-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds (Bryce). So Reynolds plays the world’s top bodyguard who reluctantly takes a new client, a hit man (Jackson) who must testify at the International Court of Justice. So in the spirit of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and other countless road comedies genre, they must put their differences aside and work together to make it to their destination on time.

Despite the rather simple and yes, unoriginal premise, the movie did make me laugh… a lot. I always prefer Reynolds in comedies anyway and he’s pretty hilarious here against the more gregarious Jackson as they constantly hurl insults at each other. The pair have a good chemistry together and look like they had a blast making this. It’s not exactly a fresh buddy cop flick, but it’s got enough humor and fun action scenes for an entertaining escape at the movies. Salma Hayek though, is quite the scene-stealer as Jackson’s sexy-but-deadly wife Sonia.

The journey from London to Hague is marred with shenanigans as a bunch of cops and bad guys are hot on their trail. I thought director Patrick Hughes is pretty decent in filming the action scenes and car chases all over Europe. I especially enjoyed the Amsterdam car/boat/motorcycle chase that’s slightly reminiscent of a Bond/Bourne flick. Sadly, veteran actors in supporting roles (such as Gary Oldman and Richard E. Grant) are always criminally wasted in a film like this. Boy, Oldman’s been cashing out a lot lately, eh?

Given the R-rating, this film is quite violent and foul mouthed. There’s practically F-bombs in every dialog, which is excessive in my book. The plot is familiar but not completely silly. There is an amusing twist as to what happened to Bryce’s high-flying client, as well some philosophical themes to ponder, as Kincaid asked Bryce who’s more evil “…he who kills evil motherf******, or he who protects them?” Obviously each think one is more righteous than the other. I’d say this movie is still pretty fun to watch despite the usual clichés and inherent silliness, but not exactly one to rush to the theater to see.


Have you seen Hitman’s Bodyguard? Well, what did you think?

Guest Review: The Space Between Us (2017)

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Directed By: Peter Chelsom
Written By: Allan Loeb (screenplay), Stewart Schill (story by)
Runtime: 2 hrs

The Space Between Us is a fun, sweet coming of age comedy that spoils its own success by trying to be a drama. The story follows Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a boy born and raised on Mars on his first trip to Earth. Worried that he might not be allowed to stay on Earth, Gardner escapes the NASA compound and journeys across the country to find Tulsa (Britt Robertson) – a girl he met on the internet. Hijinks ensue. Teenage love is kindled. A road trip is had. It’s adorable. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It doesn’t work.

The Space Between Us suffers from dramatic shifts in tone from one scene to the next. The teenagers are in coming of age romantic comedy and the adults are in a family drama. The crossover between the two narratives falls flat constantly. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a wealthy Silicon Valley type, spends most of his time yelling unnecessarily and Kendra (Carla Gugino) was incessantly on the verge of tears or worrying in a motherly fashion. Obvious comedic moments were played detrimentally straight, like when the grownups think they’ve caught up with Tulsa and Gardner but it’s actually two completely different teenagers. That should be a funny moment, but girl (credited very accurately as “screaming girl”) is so terrified when Shepherd accosts her, that any humor is lost.

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The script itself was sloppy and full of contradictions with both itself and reality. For instance, we’re told multiple times that Tulsa cannot fly a plane but she can and does. Gardner, whose body is full of metal and magnets, makes it through an MRI unscathed. (I mean, technically this is at least sixteen years in the future, so suspension of disbelief or whatever, but it irked me because science fiction that ignores basic science is bad science fiction. Speaking of which, live-streaming video was viable from Mars to Earth from the moment the first mission touched down, which, yeah right.) There is a completely unnecessary reveal regarding Gardner’s father at the end of the movie. There is an explosion that only exists to use up leftover budget dollars. And so on.

Additionally, The Space Between Us does not deal with race or gender well. The cast leans very heavily in the white and male direction. The shaman character (played by Gil Birmingham) teeters on the edge of a racist stereotype. If the random, stoned white lady who introduces the kids to the shaman is any indication, that scene was probably even more problematic in a previous draft.

As far as gender goes, the movie had an annoying, if average, patriarchal lean. Women are mothers first and foremost. Gardner’s biological mother is only around long enough to give birth and die. Before she dies, though, the audience gets to hear a room of men talk amongst themselves about how “irresponsible” she was and then they decide, without ever looping her in on the conversation, what to do about her pregnancy. Kendra, an astronaut whose primary role is raising Gardner, winds up falling neatly into the stereotype of a woman who regrets putting career first. She and Gardner have a painfully bad conversation about motherhood and marriage.

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The strength of this movie is inarguably in the moments between Robertson and Butterfield. Robertson’s performance as a tenderhearted teenager who has learned to be guarded is emotionally charged, relatable, and funny. Butterfield struggles with a script that cannot quite decide if he has social skills or not. Ultimately he prevails as a charming, if kind of weird, kid. The flaws in his character (for example, a tendency to overreact to minor set-backs and an inconsistent level of social skills) are ultimately flaws with the script, not with Butterfield. Both actors breathe life into a below average script.

The movie is also redeemed in its cinematography. In many ways the movie can be seen as a love letter to the natural beauty of earth and the color with which humans surround themselves. Unfortunately, the editing did not live up to the cinematography, which sometimes minimized the visual impact of the movie.

The Space Between Us could have been great. It is beautifully shot, features lovely performances by Robertson and Butterfield, and is a ultimately a feel-good adventure story. It’s just too bad that not everyone who was signed onto the project got that memo.

hollyp


Have you seen ‘The Space Between Us’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: CRIMINAL (2016)

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For the last couple of years, Hollywood is giving Kevin Costner another shot at being a box office draw. Unfortunately all the films he starred in as the lead mustered very little box office returns and looks like that trend will continue with his new action thriller.

After a botched mission, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) was killed and his boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) needs to know what happened. Pope was going to bring in a hacker named Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt) who has the possession of a very powerful technology that can destroy the world. In order to find out what happened and locate Stroop, Wells contacted Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who’s an expert at transferring memory cells from one being to another. Dr. Franks decided to choose a very dangerous criminal named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) to receive Pope’s memory.

After the brain operation, Stewart told Wells and Franks that he doesn’t have Pope’s memory inside him, this of course was a lie since Stewart has own agenda after seeing flashes of what happened to Pope before he died. Wells was furious and told his men to take Stewart back to prison. But Stewart was able to escape and he’s on the run not only from CIA agents but a very powerful man named Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Spanish actor Jordi Mollà) and his assassins.

With the successes of the Jason Bourne films, seems like many spy action films have tried to copy those films. And this one is no exception, we get the usual CIA folks tracking our hero through surveillance cameras, car chases and hand to hand combat. I did like the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, they tried to bring some new ideas to a familiar genre. Unfortunately the pacing of the movie is a bit uneven and I think the blame should go to director Ariel Vromen. He doesn’t seem to know if he wants to make a gritty action thriller or dramatic thriller. Also, this may not be his fault because of the movie’s very low budget but the action sequences were poorly staged and ended way too quickly. I did appreciate that he didn’t shy away from making the violent scenes very bloody, I miss seeing R-rated action films.

Performances wise, the movie belongs to Costner and he’s quite good here. At first his character starts out as a very despicable person but of course he becomes the hero and saves the world as the movie progresses. Oldman and Jones didn’t have much to do and same can be said of Gal Gadot.

This is the kind of action movie that probably best-suited for a TV movie of the week or straight to home video. It’s too bad though, with a cast like this, you’d think the final product would be something special.

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Have you seen CRIMINAL? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Let me preface this review by saying that I haven’t seen any of the classic Apes movies in the 60s. I did see the 2001 reboot but I can barely remember any of it. But the 2011 version won me over that I’m intrigued to see what’s going to happen next.

The story takes place about a decade after the first film. The opening sequence swiftly tells us a Simian flu and incessant civil wars have wiped out most of humanity. On the brink of extinction, the remaining survivors in pockets all over the world is now living back in a *primal* state. It’s the search of power that connects the two species, as the dam the humans need to restore power resides so dangerously close to the Apes village.

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I love that the film takes its time in the character development of the apes, which are actually more crucial than the human characters. We get a glimpse of the apes’ community that Caesar & his fellow lab objects has built in the hills outside San Francisco.  The little apes go to *school* taught by a big, gentle orangutan, the female apes take care of the household, whilst the males hunt to provide food and protect the community. It’s akin to a tribal village where all the apes live peacefully under the leadership of the strong and wise Caesar. Not long after a small group of humans encounter some of the apes in the woods, thanks to a moron with an itchy trigger-finger, the fragile peace between the humans and the apes is about to be shattered.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) creates a suspenseful and atmospheric piece here that immediately sucks you in. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film. Aided by Michael Giacchino‘s haunting score, it’s a truly immersive experience. There is genuine terror when one of the human group leaders Malcolm tries to reason with Caesar, having witnessed that he’s clearly more than just a regular ape. Jason Clarke is solid here as Malcolm, he’s not overly charismatic but he’s effortlessly sympathetic and likable. To be fair, none of the human characters are nearly as charismatic as Caesar whose screen presence is undeniable. He commands your attention and even your allegiance, as I find myself rooting for him more than for the humans.

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Right from the start, this story keeps me engrossed whilst I marvel at the amazing CGI that looks and feels realistic. Mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me with his motion-capture performance as Caesar. I really think his performance deserves an acting award as he truly embodies the role in the same way as a live-action actor would. The craftsmanship in the digital recreation of the apes is nothing short of amazing. Every detail and all the subtle nuances of the apes’ expression are so seamless and organic, you’d think these are actual apes who’ve been amazingly-trained! The apes all have distinct facial characteristics, just like the humans do. The production design is absolutely mesmerizing. The ape village, as well as the human compound in a rundown tower looks realistically gritty and bleak. There is a very cool scene in a wrecked gas station that sticks in the mind, not just visually but emotionally as well.

The emotional gratification is what makes a big impact here. Whilst all the special effects are incredible (what with $170 production cost), it’s the characters and their conflicts that make all the difference. And we certainly get that here with Caesar and Malcolm, both of them are essentially on the same page. Both have a family and a community they care about, yet they have to contend with those in their circle who simply don’t see things as they do. In Caesar’s camp, we’ve got Koba (Toby Kebell), his right hand man ape whose hatred for humans stems from being tortured in the lab and he’s got the ugly scars to prove it. “Koba only sees the bad side of humans,” Caesar says at one point, and honestly, at times I do feel sorry for Koba. Malcolms’ cohorts are more one-dimensional. You’ve got the hot-headed jerk Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the paranoid group leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who doesn’t really have much to do here than scream and shout. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell fare better as Clarke’s son and girlfriend, respectively, though again, most of the human characters are simply not as memorable as the apes.

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I know it’s only July, but I have a strong feeling this would end up in my Top 10 of 2014 list. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating that this stands as perhaps one of the best sequels of all time, whilst at the same time it’d work fine as a standalone film. There’s a scene that allude to Caesar’s past in the first film, a poignant moment that truly tugs my heartstrings. I don’t think people need to see the 2011 film in order to get this film, but of course it makes you appreciate Caesar’s journey more. Kudos to Matt Reeves and his team of writers (five of them to be exact) for making this film a Caesar-focused story, it’s a taut thriller that’s as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. Now, the narrative is actually quite predictable, but this is not the kind of film that relies on twists so it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment for the film. Given the present conflicts all over the world, the bloodshed and social discord depicted here resonate even more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. The technical achievements never overshadow the story, even during the action-heavy battle scenes in the third act, it doesn’t become so bombastic that we lose sight of what’s really at stake. The 3D is just okay, which is consistent with my sentiment that 2D format is always sufficient. The powerful last shot lends itself nicely to another sequel, and you know what, I for one can’t wait to see more the continuation of Caesar’s journey.

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What do you think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?