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

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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, 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

Calm Before the Storm @SundanceFest

So this is what Park City looks like right now. It’s been snowing and windy, but today it looks peaceful. Sidewalks cleared of snow. Volunteers roaming the streets preparing for the real storm ahead. It’s called the Sundance Film Festival.

In one more day, this:

Sundance Film Festival, Snow, Robert Redford, ExperienceSundance

Main Street, Park City, UT

Will become this:

Sundance Film Festival, Snow, Robert Redford, ExperienceSundance

An evening at the Sundance Film Festival in Full Swing

Run almost entirely by hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, the festival has been growing the last 4 years. The mood has shifted each one of those years for various reasons. But, it’s still an incredibly fun and well done festival that I can’t help but go.

The Sundance Film Festival has the unusually good fortune of providing the festival-goer with a personal experience; allowing you to get close and connect to film crew, directors, actors. You’ll be exposed to new technologies and art forms you’ve never seen before – and in some cases you may never see again. Not because they suck, but because they are unique, one-of-a-kind experiences the artists chose to share at Sundance.

With any good storm, you’ve got your forecasters and your weather guides to help you navigate the turbulent events. In the case of the festival, your guides are your volunteers and they will all be wearing the same gear. The color of their gear and their uniform jackets change from year to year, but they’re not hard to spot and THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. If you need help of ANY kind, walk up to one of them and ask. They’re trained, knowledgeable, and I’ve never run into one in a bad mood.

Sundance Film Festival is funny, fries your brain, challenges what you think you know or believe, and is never short on bold style, crazy fashion choices, and colorful people!

Robert Redford’s commitment to staying the course and providing a venue where a unique voice can jump off of the page and onto the screen is endless. He’s witty, thoughtful, and smart. And for filmmakers and festival-goers alike, he’s considered an open-thinker, adventurer, and ground-breaker when it comes to promoting arts and artists alike with his ongoing @SundanceOrg workshops. The opportunities are endless.

Sundance Institute Workshops

Come to Sundance. Kick it with us. There’s so much to do you’ll forget about sleeping. And you’ll feel great doing it!

#experiencesundance #onlyatsundance @sundancefest @sundancefestuk @sundanceorg @sundancetv @sundancelive @sundancefestnow @firstlooktvfilm @filmindependent @scriptmag @cooperdance @variety @pamelaettlin @thr

The Girl on the Train Doesn’t Suck

I realize this blog title doesn’t indicate a glaringly positive review, but you shouldn’t be put off by other really misleadingly dumb reviews. For all of those film reviewers out there comparing this film to Gone Girl, I suggest you find another career. Just because this is a mystery thriller, doesn’t mean you just lump it in with the prior film. That’s ridiculous. This film did not have the same twist in common, as a matter of fact, I can’t say I found those things in common between both films that those reviewers said they saw. I suggest they are part of the squad of film reviewers I see at the premieres that leave 45 minutes into a film and then give their reviews on television and in the papers.

Let me tell you what I saw. I saw some really good performances in this film. Emily Blunt continues to amaze me. The emotional rollercoaster she was asked to step through in this film was incredible. She plays a character you might find you don’t particularly care for, an alcoholic ex-wife, which is hard to do because, well, she’s Emily Blunt. The story is complex, with timeline shifts and the number of suspects, and her character isn’t helping anyone. Including the film-goer.

haley-bennett

Haley Bennett is Megan

Other solid performances, though more suttle, were those of Hayley Bennett’s Megan and Allison Janney’s Detective Riley. Both were played with almost alarming, calm control. Hayley Bennett, as you might remember from my previous movie review of The Magnificent Seven, is on the scene, this time as a girl that goes missing. Allison plays the Detective who’s trying to put the pieces together without playing the over-the-top Hollywood detective cliche. Rebecca Ferguson was almost unrecognizable as the overwhelmed and tortured soul Anna.

lisa-janney

Allison Janney is Detective Riley

@GirlonTrainFilm is a complex thriller that confused me at first with timelines jumping and narration over the top of these timelines. Because of this, I was not fond of the direction of this film. Director Tate Taylor could learn a thing or two from M. Night Shyamalan’s string of failures. Stop holding your audience’s hand. If they can’t understand your film, they’re probably not the audience you want spreading word of mouth about your film anyhow. I did see many ways it could have been done better, HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. In fact, when the timelines and narration subsided, the film began to unfold for itself, allowing me to unwrap the mystery myself. The individual character’s storylines pulled me in and created that intensity that makes you want to know the answers to the questions who did it and why?

justin-luke-edgar

Luke Evans, Justin Theroux, and Edgar Ramirez

In addition to the talented cast, the film has a lot to say. It touches on many issues in society today. Some of the scars revealed with these characters are shockingly sad and rebecca-ferguson-and-justin-therouxsome were extremely upsetting.

Tragedy after tragedy unfolds in the characters lives. I felt the shame, the guilt, and the emotional luggage being packed and wondered how it was all going to unravel.

The Girl on the Train doesn’t have all the answers, but she’s definitely looking for them from the passenger car window. See it for yourself through her eyes.

 

@Sundance_2016 @BlogWriter365 @SundanceFestUK @FirstLookTVFilm @SundanceFest @Variety @Slamdance @SundanceFestNow @IndieWire @GirlonTrainMovie

What I Learned From The Magnificent Seven

One of the first things I learned from seeing Director Antoine Fuqua’s modern take of The Magnificent Seven is that the audience I saw it with drew quite the crowd. An older crowd, obviously coming out to see how it would compare to the 1960 classic, which itself was a remake of an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Another thing I learned is that some things never change. Even though the various characters in the film for employing the seven, the reason the crowd liked best was revenge. No matter how old you are, it’s always good to see a bad guy get his due.

denzel-pratt

Denzel and Pratt Kickin’ It

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got two of the hottest actors in Hollywood leading the fight. The cast is definitely loaded. Films with this many stars typically are overcast with too may egos fighting for attention, but Fuqua knows his stuff. Antoine, responsible for bringing you films like Shooter and Training Day gets the most out of his actors.

I had a flashback to Denzel’s award winning scene from Training Day when he elevates his voice and makes his demands known. The spark is there. Chris Pratt shines in this film. It’s clear you’re not going to typecast him in any one particular kind of role. The trademark wit and sarcasm sneaks through here and there, but he proves he’s not to be taken lightly.

There were some surprises as well. Remember Haley Bennett who played Cora Corman in Music and Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant back in 2007? Yes, that was 9 years ago! She puts in a strong performance as the only person in town with the ‘balls’ to do something about it. Yeah, that’s her. This is her second film with Denzel and Director Antoine Fuqua. The previous one being The Equalizer. Yeah, that was her too.

Ethan Hawke puts in a fairly subdued performance, but it serves his character well. Vincent D’Onofrio fans won’t be disappointed. This guy can morph into so many different characters with so many different faces, it’s crazy. As the seven are coming together, he definitely steals the show for a bit. Peter Sarsgaard surprised me a bit. I wasn’t so sure I could actually hate him, even after the first act was complete, but he puts in a solid performance as a first class asshole.

The score is solid, but not memorable, like the spaghetti westerns of old. However there is an interesting story here. It was crafted by James Horner, who died in 2015. He worked on Southpay with Antoine Fuqua, becoming fast friends with him. Horner’s team visited Fuqua on the film’s set in Baton Rouge, one month after Horner’s accidental death, to deliver the completed score. Horner had been so inspired after reading the script that he composed the entire score during pre-production. It was to be James Horner’s final composition. Pretty amazing.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Is there anything new you can say after seeing Denzel do his thing in so many films? I have some personal favorites, as I’m sure you do. Training Day and Deja Vu come to mind. But yeah, I’ve got something new to say. He pulls off some fancy horse riding and some great gun work as well. Everything about the 61 year old in this film is authentic. Denzel grew a moustache and sideburns, took horseriding lessons, and practice his gunwork endlessly. Everything you see him do with that nickel-plated Colt .45 and on that horse is all Denzel. And you thought you couldn’t love him anymore…

I can’t say this version was better than the earlier versions, but I can say that this one holds your attention and does have a large, cinematic, western look and feel to it. The characters are each driven by different reasons.

Denzel’s Sam Chisholm asks “So you seek revenge?”

Bennett’s Emma responds “I seek righteousness. But I’ll take revenge.”

The audience actually cheered briefly. With dialogue like that, it’s difficult to go wrong. Enjoy riding with the seven.

@Sundance_2016 @prattprattpratt @BlogWriter365 @SundanceFestUK @FirstLookTVFilm @SundanceFest @Variety @Slamdance @SundanceFestNow @IndieWire