Green Book is Engaging Must See Best Picture Experience

Regal Cinemas invited me to see Director Peter Farrelly’s film Green Book, the unveiling of the very talented piano virtuoso Don Shirley of whom I had never heard of prior to seeing this film. The audience was warned that the film was 2 1/2 hours long, but worth every minute of it, but prompted us for feedback once it was over.

I haven’t seen a very good drama in years. What I noticed first about this film was the crispness of the dialogue between its’ characters. The smoothness of the way in which this film addresses communication between all the people portrayed is part of the charm of this film. I found myself so engaged, not once did I ‘mentally exit’ the film experience because of some belief being asked to be suspended or something I noticed was out of place because of poor continuity.

2 1/2 hours later when the credits rolled, I was reminded, as I was told at the beginning of this film, that this was a true story. The film has many layers. It addresses Don Shirley’s struggles with who he is. “If I’m not black enough and I’m not white enough, then who am I?” he asks himself. It also addresses the relationship between Don and his associate Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, a bruiser who has a talent for being a master bullshitter and knows how to take care of himself, and others.

Incidentally, one of the writers of the film Nick Vallelonga is the son of the real life Tony. The film is executive produced by Octavia Spencer.

Mahershala on Piano

The film is so authentic, I could feel the racial tensions represented in this film in the south. I felt myself feeling appalled and saddened at the same time. The film handled racism in a way I have not seen before. Perhaps because I was so engaged and invested in the characters, it didn’t feel forced or ‘acted’ out.

There were a lot of funny moments in the film, even when serious topics were being dealt with. There was mystery regarding Don Shirley. He was truly a refined man who cared of morals and ethics and what is right. He was sheltered in some ways and enlightened in others. He was a man we all would benefit from knowing.

Don Shirley, Green Book

The real Don Shirley in his home above Carnegie Hall in 1979

The performances between Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are inspired and harmonious. There is real chemistry between these two. Linda Cardellini plays wife to Tony and never goes over the top though she had room to do it. And that’s a good thing here. The focus remained on Don Shirley and Tony Lip.

This, by far and away, is a film worth the Best Picture award, more-so than any other film I’ve seen this year. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to what real drama feels like. Director Peter Farrelly delivers the goods, without the crude humor, showing us he can be refined as well.

The film has a lot to say about how we can all stand to ‘do better’.

For more information on Don Shirley, click here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/02/movies/don-shirley-green-book.html

#greenbook @greenbookmovie #viggomortensen #experiencesundance #thesundanceexperience #onlyatsundance #filmyoda @filmyoda @leonardramirez

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Halloween 2018 Michael Myers John Carpenter Jamie Lee Curtis

Halloween (2018)

Halloween (2018) opens October 19th…Finally getting the sequel it deserves.

Written by comedy duo David Gordon Green And Danny McBride who have talked about bringing it back had some very serious intentions to give it the respect it deserves.

Make no mistake. This goes back to its’ roots. Simple and terrifying. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her role as Laurie Strode. ‘The Shape’, Michael Myers is played by the original David Gordon Green, AND John Carpenter was so blown away by the script, he came on as an Executive Producer.

Package that up and you’ve got the tone of the original. For Halloween enthusiasts, this will satisfy.

What this film says is this: Forget every sequel you’ve seen since the first Halloween. Everything after Michael falls off the balcony and disappears never happened. It picks up from there. Right there.

Halloween Laurie Strode

Danny McBride says “At the end of the day you’re dealing with a masked man who kills people and it’s crazy to see all the different sequels and what people tried to do, what might have been lost from the original in hopes of creating more story. So we’re just trying to learn from that, and I feel what happened with Michael Myers, unfortunately, is in those later sequels… he became this superhuman—nothing could really kill him. That doesn’t make him scary anymore. For us, we look at it, and it’s much scarier to just have that man who is hiding in the shadows as you’re taking the trash out to the backyard.”

Why post this on The Sundance Experience page? Because at the time, Halloween embodied true independent filmmaking. An extremely low budget, an extremely short amount of time to get it done, and a director in John Carpenter – The Master of Horror that simply wanted the freedom to make a film from his vision in his head, not someone else’s. Simple. Terrifying. Real.

Halloween 2018 Michael Myers John Carpenter Jamie Lee Curtis

Happy Halloween! 40 years later.

 

#Halloween2018 #Halloween #MichaelMyers #JohnCarpenter @MasterOfHorror #ExperienceSundance

The Hero – Everybody’s Hero

I love Sam Elliot. Everyone loves Sam Elliott. And yet, when it came time for Q&A with cast and crew after the film The Hero was over, nobody asked Sam a question until we burned halfway through our question period!! Does noone want to hear Sam’s voice? Is this not America? Oh, excuse me. I was having a For the Love of the Game moment.

But I get ahead of myself. For those of you unlucky enough to not get into a screening of The Hero, I feel bad. Really, I do. This was a @SundanceFest gem. Sure, everyone was fighting to get the tickets for the sold out shows, but it was most likely for the pure pleasure of seeing, and hearing, Mr. Elliott. What they didn’t know, was what a good film they were going to be treated to.

The tagline “An ailing movie star must come to terms with his past and mortality.” is quite succinct. That is exactly what the film is about.

The Hero, Sam Elliot, Catharine Ross, Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, Brett Haley

The Hero’s director and cast assemble onstage post-premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

After Nick Offerman came running onstage in circles with coffee in hand, arms extended out like an airplane, and making fluttering noises, the comedic character who plays Elliott’s neighbor and drug dealer was outstanding in his dramatic turn in the film. For those who are used to seeing him in Parks and Recreation on @NBC, he does a fine job in this film. I rather enjoyed seeing him in a serious, and humorously lighthearted, supporting role.

As for Laura Prepon’s role, playing love interest (and person interest) to Sam Elliott, I have to say that I was so pleased with how their relationship was treated. Very non-Hollywood. I felt Laura’s character was handled with such unusual grace, that had it been played the stereotypical way, this film could have been disappointing. Her role was quite pivotal. Without giving anything away (because I don’t do spoilers), this film introduces you to the idea that bitterness and joy can be found in the most unexpected places, even when you think doomsday is on the horizon.

The Hero, Sam Elliott, Katharine Ross, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Brett Haley

The Hero ensemble shares a laugh.

I loved the message of this film. It dealt with difficult subject matter, but in such a humanized way. The characters, their feelings, their philosophies, are all relatable.

The intercuts of images throughout leave you wondering what they represent. Are they flashbacks, flash-forwards, or simply representative of the wanderings of our hero’s mind.

The writers had Sam Elliott in mind when they wrote the script but were careful to say that not everything in the film is biographical.

The film’s U.S. rights were picked up by The Orchard for approximately $3M.

Director Brett Haley obviously had this in mind. Sometimes, journeys are not meant to be taken alone. See this film.

#experiencesundance @sundancefest #thehero #lauraprepon #samelliott #nickofferman @sundanceorg @sundancefestnow @firstlooktvfilm @filmindependent @scriptmag @variety

To The Bone – Heavy, but in a Good Way

When I went in to see To The Bone, I was thrilled we were able to score tickets, but was not sure what to expect from a film about a 20 year old anorexic girl who tries to get help from a doctor who runs a group home that is difficult to be accepted into.

Director/Writer Marti Noxon pulls it off in a surprisingly dramatic way with comedic tones throughout – and it works. Treating a serious matter with humor throughout gives the film a very real, no bullshit, realistic touch.

To The Bone, Keanu Reeves, Lily Collins, Marty Noxon, Sundance Film Festival

Ellen (Lily Collins) consults with Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves) in To The Bone

Lily Collins plays the 20 year old anorexic patient in search of her purpose, her future, and essentially herself and Keanu Reeves plays the doctor who runs the group home and meets daily with his patients trying to help them save themselves.

Other members of the cast in key roles included Alex Sharp (the optimist and love interest), Lily Taylor (Ellen’s mother), and Carrie Preston (Ellen’s annoying step-mother).

Sundance Film Festival, To The Bone, Keanu Reeves, Marti Noxon, Lily Collins,

To The Bone cast goofs around (left to right Lily Collins, Carrie Preston, Director/Writer Marti Noxon, and Keanu Reeves)

One of the most surprising things about To The Bone is that Keanu Reeves turns out one of his best roles showing a wide range of emotion. Sure, I loved John Wick just like anyone else because of the straight and ruthless way in which Keanu plays him, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from him all these years. This is a new Keanu. And I like him. His no-nonsense doctor has a somewhat sick sense of humor and he laughs at himself, perhaps to let his patients know he cares, but must keep that safe distance.

Sundance Film Festival, To The Bone, Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves – To The Bone

The emotional intensity is there throughout the entire movie and not once did I find myself leaving the film to analyze or question whether or not a moment was real or whether the limits had been pushed too far or not.

Director Marti Noxon was forthcoming in telling the audience after the film that the movie was somewhat auto-biographical and that writing about her experiences and then turning them into a film with others who had similar eating disorders was therapeutic. They were very careful during filming to not put those actors at risk by having them relive their experiences or fall into old patterns.

This film is definitely worth the watch. It’s a unique story told by those who have lived through it, but not without cost. It’s an imaginative and truthful, original story told in a way I have not seen before.

The film was picked up by Netflix for about $8M. One third of the films at the Sundance Film Festival this year were directed by women. This may not reflect what is happening in the rest of the filmmaking world yet, if Marti Noxon’s work is an indication of the kind of storytelling we can expect in the future, it will soon be the norm.

#experiencesundance @sundancefest #tothebone #keanureeves @sundanceorg @sundancefestnow @firstlooktvfilm @filmindependent @scriptmag @variety

 

Sundance Film Festival, Beatriz at Dinner, Salma Hayek, Connie Britton

Beatriz at Dinner Leaves Us Starving

Well, I went in looking for great things from Beatriz at Dinner. Unfortunately, I came out VERY disappointed. The production quality was good enough and the sound was crisp – something you come to expect from a film loaded with stars like this one.

The film stayed away from the stereotypical Hollywood characterizations of the rich in the beginning, but unfortunately fell right back into it as time rolled on. The big house, the multiple security gates, the stuffy conversations about getting richer, and the mistaking Beatriz for one of the ‘help’ at the house.

Without spoiling the ending of a film you’ll wish you only spent $1.25 on at Redbox, I can tell you this. When the credits rolled, I knew one thing and I knew nothing.

I knew Connie Britton was the only true non-stereotype in the film, bringing some goodness to an otherwise selfish cast of characters and John Lithgow played one hell of a rich asshole that kills rhinos.

What I didn’t know is what in the hell happened with the ending of this film. As the credits rolled, I looked into the abyss searching for something I missed, but alas, the ending was without hope.

So, I stayed around for the Q&A after the film and was even more dumb-founded when the audience was asking questions and Salma Hayek was going on and on, not making sense, and not answering the questions. John Lithgow was entertaining as was Connie Britton, but after someone asked Salma another question and she continued to ramble on about how she loves diving and it’s the only place she feels safe (underwater breathing barely any oxygen), it was time to leave.

Where’s the beef?

 

Sundance Film Festival, Bushwick, Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista

Bushwick is Ambitious, but…

I should preface this review by saying that I go to Midnight showings at the Sundance Film Festival, not because I love losing sleep, but because I am really looking forward to a solid film and I have high hopes for it. I’ve seen some really bad ones (The Signal) and some really good ones (Cold in July).

The first Midnight film this year was Bushwick. It took a lot to get to this film coming from another, racing across town to get to it in time, finding out I thought it was at the Egyptian Theater and finding out it was at The Library. But…I got there in time and was pleasantly surprised to see Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow had made it in time to see me as well along with Co-Directors Jonathan Millot and Cary Murnion.

Sundance Film Festival, Bushwick

Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista resist the secession forces attempting to take a suburb in NY

It’s not frequent that a film is co-directed, but…there are good reasons for it sometimes. In the case of Bushwick, after the film, cast and crew alike took to the stage again (except Dave Bautista who had to go catch a very early flight to get back in time to film Avengers 3) and it made sense that there were co-directors here.

The film was shot in very long continuous shots (most were 12-15 minutes long) where the cameraman follows the relentless action around on foot without pause.

Sundance Film Festival, Bushwick, Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista

Fire!

The concept is interesting, but…there is a reason it’s rarely done in films with much larger budgets than this one (i.e. Goodfellas). In this case, the story suffered in many aspects. I was not impressed with the shots of stairs and streets as the cameraman is following the actors across the city terrain. When the cameraman moves around the actors, I was sometimes treated to cyclone fences and walls for undetermined amounts of time. It was distracting and took me out of the action.

The character development was somewhat out of sequence and I didn’t feel like it was developed throughout the film enough for me to really care for the main character’s relationship. I think the filmmakers knew this because of an extended conversation between the two in a laundromat that felt hurried and forced.

brittany_snow

On the bright side, this film felt like sort of a coming out of sorts for Brittany Snow. Her character was really the primary arc of the story and she got to stretch her acting wings. Since the film was done in long shots, much of the dialogue was made up as they went along. Not an easy thing to do. Most of the time the actors did well with it, but…there were other times where the dialogue came across campy.

Sound was prevalent in this film. Much of the fear came from the noise outside and the explosions you didn’t see, but heard. Dust falling from the ceiling and lights flickering brought a sense of urgency. It definitely felt like the city was coming apart.

What bothered me most was the crowd’s reaction. They laughed at times during scenes that were not supposed to invoke laughter. And they didn’t at times they should have. When that happens, it’s not a good sign. The ending was confusing, but…and will not do the film any favors in the distribution department.

I love the ambitiousness of the film and the concept is interesting, but the extended shots (only shot once) caused the story to suffer. Granted, Midnight audiences are quite different and somewhat fickle. They want what they want. I just didn’t get what I was hoping for.

 

Colossal is Kind of a Big Deal

After scoring the only pair of tickets for this film in a contest from @SundanceTV, we rolled to the @SundanceFest premiere of the film at the Marc Theater. It was of course a full house and people were buzzing, but nobody really knew what they were in for.

After an introduction of the Director as simply ‘Nacho’ (Nacho Vigalondo from Spain), he came out and provided us with a very funny introduction of his film while informing us of his massive hangover from celebrating so late the night before. Nacho is a very charming and honest director who tells you straight out that both Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis’ team reached out to him after reading the script and is very ‘fake’ consideration of other actors that he might want to cast. He felt honored to have the two of them star in his film.

What starts out as a somewhat funny film about a girl who has been looking for a job for over a year who happens to be a raging alcoholic that never remembers anything she does, turns out to be a trip into a very surprising drama with a very unsuspected twist that is both clever and insane at the same time.

Colossal, Sundance Film Festival, Anne Hathaway, Nacho Vigalondo, Jason Sudeikis

Anne Hathaway discovers a future for herself even she never imagined.

The Director who likes being called ‘Nacho’ doubles as screenwriter and, if you’ve seen any of his other films, is a bit twisted, but in a very good way. His films are somewhat biographical as he writes what he knows.

The film starts out a bit slow as you get to know the characters, but when things begin to churn, things move faster and get dark fast.

The film is a departure more for Sudeikis than it is for Hathaway, but both performances are solid and both run their arcs. Fascinating enough that my mind never strayed from the film.

This movie is a trip. I enjoyed it very much and was taken on a trip I have not been taken on before. Original in film these days is not ordinary, but rather extraordinary. That makes this film ‘kind of a big deal’.

#experiencesundance @SundanceFest @SundanceOrg @SundanceTV @IndieWire @Variety @THR