Matthew Modine Shares Stories About the Making of ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Full Metal Jacket Matthew Modine

While moderating a Q&A session with Leon Vitali and Tony Zierra about “Filmworker” at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, actor Matthew Modine shared some stories about the making of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” In the 1987 war film, Modine plays Private Joker, one of a dozen soldiers who endure Marine Corp basic training under the brutal and abrasive instruction of their drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (the late R. Lee Ermey). Following graduation, he heads to South Vietnam to work as a war correspondent for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, and it is there he witnesses the atrocities of war up close. The question is, how much of his humanity can hold onto in the face of death and destruction?

The stories of Kubrick’s behavior and work ethic have long since become legendary in regards to the methods he used to get an actor into a specific emotional state and the number of takes he puts his cast through. The first story Modine shared with us about Kubrick, however, proved to be a bit unexpected.

Stanley liked to carry a walkie talkie because he wanted to be a part of every aspect of the filmmaking,” Modine said. “Why shouldn’t he have a walkie talkie and know what the assistant directors were saying and what kind of movements were happening? We broke for lunch and the assistant director, Terry Needham, got a call from Stanley, and Stanley asked Terry to come over here. Terry said, ‘Okay, but where is here?’ He said, ‘I’m over here,’ and Terry said come out of the tent where we were having lunch. Terry didn’t want to say on the radio that he was stuck in the portapotty. He couldn’t get the door open. So that’s just a little window into a different part of Stanley that doesn’t appear in the documentary.”

During the Q&A, we learned how the crew on a Kubrick film was actually very small, and the one on “Full Metal Jacket” totaled about 15 people. Vitali even said there was only one electrician, and his job was simly operate the lights on a dimmer. Modine ended up adding a nice bit of trivia to this story.

The one electrician that we had working on the film, because of the union, he would come in and turn the lights on, and then Stanley would tell him to fuck off to his house because there was some wiring problem in his house,” Modine said. “He had to pay him for the day so he said go wire my house.”

Perhaps the most bizarre and hilarious story Modine shared with us was when he talked about Dorian Harewood who played Eightball, the soldier who experiences an especially brutal and bloody death which is captured in slow motion. The way this scene was shot, however, makes sense when Modine discussed what Harewood demanded from Kubrick.

Dorian Harewood is a wonderful actor,” Modine said. “We were originally contracted for about six months I think, and the contracts were coming to an end. So they wanted to renegotiate the contracts, and it wasn’t a renegotiation. It was just a reupping to continue the contracts for a longer period of time, and Dorian came to Stanley and said, ‘I want to renegotiate. I want more money,” and Stanley couldn’t believe the audacity of this young guy. He’s like, ‘You’re working for Stanley Kubrick and you are asking me to pay you more money?’ And he (Harewood) said, ‘Well yeah, I have to go back to Los Angeles. I have a singing career, I have an acting career, there’s other jobs, and if you want me to stay here, you’re gonna have to pay for it.’ Stanley couldn’t believe it, and I remember him stumbling around for hours furious with that crazy look on his face, and then he turned and he said, ‘I’m gonna kill him!’ I really thought, oh fuck, Stanley’s gonna commit murder. He’s going to kill Dorian Harewood. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘I’m going to kill him.’ Remember when Dorian gets shot all over the body? It was because however number of days were left upon Dorian Harewood’s contract, Stanley was going to put in all the bullet hits he could. It was really cold. You could see Stanley wearing that hat and two coats, and we were wearing Vietnam khakis. It was freezing cold and snowing in London, and we were dressed up for North Vietnam. He killed him for as many days left that he had on the contract, and he had five days left lying on the cold earth with bullet hits. He (Stanley) would say, ‘Nah, we have to do it again. Put more bullet hits on him.’ And they were full loads full of exploding blood and everything.”

It was great to hear Matthew Modine share his stories about “Full Metal Jacket” as it remains one of Kubrick’s most memorable films. Many critics have called it the best war film ever made, and it features images which are impossible to forget. The actor also left us with something he wanted to share with all the directors in the audience.

My favorite direction from a director ever was from Stanley Kubrick,” Modine said. “He would clear his throat and pull on his beard and say, ‘Matthew, you’re not going to do it that way, are you?’ It’s my favorite direction because it’s so specific.”

In 2005, Modine published “Full Metal Jacket Diary,” a collection of photographs he took and of diary entries of his experiences which he kept during filming. Please click here to get more information about it.

Full Metal Jacket movie poster

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Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren Join Forces in ‘Black Water’ Trailer

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For many, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are still a match made in action movie heaven. They first appeared as soldiers on opposite sides in Roland Emmerich’s 1992 film “Universal Soldier,” and they returned to this franchise years later for two sequels, “Regeneration” and “Day of Reckoning.” And, of course, they had to make at least one appearance in “The Expendables” franchise to show they were not worse for the wear, and they did so together in “The Expendables 2.” Now, Van Damme and Lundgren share the screen in their fifth film collaboration, the action thriller “Black Water.” But this time, they are on the same side.

The first image we see in this trailer is of a submarine diving underwater, and from there we are introduced to deep cover operative Wheeler once the hood over his head is removed. Wheeler has been imprisoned on the submarine which serves as a CIA black site, those places we are not supposed to know about but do anyway, and his interrogator, Patrick Ferris (Patrick Kilpatrick), tells him he is an enemy combatant and will not be granted any rights. Upon giving Wheeler the old action cliché of “welcome to hell,” Patrick orders an agent to prepare to insert a hypodermic needle into Wheeler’s eye in the same way Michael Myers did to an unsuspecting nurse in “Halloween II.” But as you can expect, Wheeler breaks free of his captors and escapes, and from there he does what he can to clear his name.

This just released trailer for “Black Water” is of the “what you see is what you get” variety as the movie’s plot points come from a dozen other action flicks of the past like “The Fugitive” and “Air Force One.” Clearly, no one here is trying to present us with something original, and this one is designed to show us the kind of story we all grew up on to where it makes us interested to see it done once again. Having the story take place in a submarine underwater is clever as the claustrophobic nature of such an environment will make the action more intense. I also imagine it is a way for the filmmakers to keep costs down as they won’t have to build too many sets.

Van Damme’s face is beginning to look a bit like Danny Trejo’s these days as it shows a life lived hard, perhaps too hard. Perhaps these hardened looks of his will help add to his role here. At the very least, we know he can still perform the perfect split.

Having interviewed Lundgren in the past, I know what a great sense of humor he has and seeing him in this trailer makes me hope he will bring some of it to this movie. Furthermore, he looks to have loosened up a lot over the years, and I hope Van Damme can loosen up to the same degree as well. But even though these two stars are headlining this underwater adventure, I get the feeling one will have more screen time than the other.

Kilpatrick looks to give “Black Water” the typical CIA agent who obsesses over controlling the uncontrollable, but I couldn’t help but be amused when he talks about how Wheeler is a “highly trained officer and a trained killer,” so it makes me wonder if he put enough thought into how he would handle this operative to where he would not be a problem (my guess is he did not).

We are also meet Cassie Taylor, a rookie agent played by Jasmine Waltz who, like any other rookie, wants to know what the hell is going on here. She also shows a bit of skin here which suggests there will be a sex scene at some point. The question is, can such a scene take place between her and another character (I am guessing Wheeler) when they are busy avoiding detection in the most claustrophobic of environments? In space no one can hear you scream, but in a submarine, you should be able to hear an orgasm let alone gunshots.

Black Water” is set to be released on the Dish Network on May 25th, and it will premiere in theaters and on demand starting June 29th. Please feel free to check out the trailer below.

Leon Vitali Talks About Stanley Kubrick and ‘Filmworker’ at Nuart Theatre

Leon Vitali on set with Kubrick

Leon Vitali was the guest of honor at the Nuart Theatre on Friday, May 18, 2018 where the documentary “Filmworker” was being shown. Directed by Tony Zierra, it chronicles how Vitali went from being a successful British actor to becoming Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant after starring in “Barry Lyndon,” and of the intense dedication he gave to the filmmaker’s work from “The Shining” to “Eyes Wide Shut.” Vitali was greeted with a much-deserved standing ovation as he made his way to the stage for a Q&A. Joining him were Zierra and actor Matthew Modine who played Joker in “Full Metal Jacket.”

Modine remarked about a scene which was cut out of “Filmworker” where he said “Stanley stood on Leon’s shoulders” and how much of a marriage Leon and Stanley’s working relationship was, and he described it as being “at times dysfunctional” and “lovely in a British way.” Zierra was actually working on another documentary about Kubrick called “SK13” when he met Vitali, and he said talking with Vitali was a must as it was well-known how he was one of Kubrick’s closest associates. Zierra managed to track him down in Culver City and met with him, and what resulted was this documentary which was filmed over three and a half years.

Tony Zierra photo

“This is the worst nightmare for a filmmaker that when you are really super independent you pick up another documentary and you can’t even finish one,” Zierra said. “I went back and told my producer and partner, Elizabeth Yoffe, this is the most amazing story and I have to do a documentary about this guy, but I’m not sure if I really want to take on another project. But then I remember she said to me you are going to regret it if you don’t do it, so I went back and I asked him, and he said no. And I realized that Leon is just not used to talking about himself. He can talk about Kubrick forever, so it was quite difficult.”

Zierra then remarked how he and Vitali eventually “broke the ice” when he volunteered to organize the heaps of notebooks and materials Vitali had kept over the years while working for Kubrick. As we see in “Filmworker,” Vitali has a huge collection which really does deserve an exhibit of its own.

Modine talked about the overall crew numbers on a Kubrick film and illustrated just how important Vitali was to the famed filmmaker. In the process, he revealed something very surprising as Kubrick’s movies have such an epic look about them to where it looked like hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people worked for him. But as life often teaches us, looks can be deceiving.

Full Metal Jacket Matthew Modine

“(People) imagine the enormity of Stanley Kubrick’s legend is that he was a filmmaker who must’ve had hundreds of people working for him, and it was quite the contrary,” Modine said. “Leon really did wear 100 different hats because when you went to work there was sometimes, when we were filming on the stage, maybe it felt like 15 people working on the film. What I feel is that Stanley Kubrick created an environment for himself to be able to keep production costs down to the minimum so that he could have the ability to work for an extended period of time to do as many takes as were necessary. But in fact, he was probably the most independent filmmaker I’ve ever worked with.”

“That’s absolutely true,” Vitali responded. “The crew on ‘Full Metal Jacket’ ended up looking like a well-crewed student film, you know? We had one electrician, that was it, because he shot so much of it in natural light. And any light he did have, it was a bank of lights like in the barracks for instance that just went up and down on a dimmer. So, he was always conscious about getting every single dollar on the screen. It was the most important thing to him.”

Leon Vitali in Filmworker

Vitali did share stories about Kubrick which involved him calling Vitali a certain word which has a broader meaning in England and Scotland but a simpler one in America as many find it extremely offensive (hint: it begins wit a c and ends with a t), and he also talked about the pie fight scene which was taken out of “Dr. Strangeglove” because they just felt it would have been a terrible way to end the movie. In terms of filmmakers today who Vitali considers in Kubrick’s league, he said he really admires Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo Del Toro because he gets back to the fairy tale part of the storytelling, and Sean Baker who directed “The Florida Project.” In terms of his favorite Kubrick movie, he said if you put a gun to his head he would have to say it is “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

One of the most interesting moments of the evening, however, came when Modine asked Vitali what an artist is and what value art and movies have.

“Artist has become a word like love or hate, and it’s used so loosely I think” Vitali said. “To me, anyone can be an artist. In my vacation time from drama school, I used to work with a brick layer, and I eventually saw the way he worked with the bricks. He was an artist at what he did. I’ve seen car mechanics who find their way around because it’s all a process of elimination. I think an artist’s work is a process of elimination because the hardest thing to do is to get back to simplicity of whatever it is you are trying to tell or the story you are trying to tell, and how often things come in which seem like good ideas but they are big distractions. So, you are all the time working to get rid of the junk, however appealing it might seem at the time. Composers and musicians and actors or any of those, they are all artists because that’s what they do. It’s getting everything down to the simplest that you can make it to make the story resonate and have a point. That’s what I think anyway.”

Filmworker” is an absolute must see for Stanley Kubrick fans, and it is now playing at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles through May 24th.

Filmworker poster

Photos, poster and trailer courtesy of Kino Lorber.

‘Filmworker’ Serves as a Love Letter to Stanley Kubrick’s Right-Hand Man

Filmworker poster

It has been almost 20 years since Stanley Kubrick passed away, but his presence is still deeply felt among cinephiles. Some may say this is because “2001: A Space Odyssey” is being re-released in honor of its 50th anniversary, but it goes much further than that. Kubrick had a singular vision, and stories of his directorial methods, such as getting an actor to do dozens upon dozens of takes of a single scene, remain legendary as only a handful of filmmakers could have gotten away with this. And as the documentary “Room 237” showed, people continue to share their interpretations of “The Shining” and of the meanings they believe certain images in it have. Indeed, Kubrick’s films had a large degree of ambiguity in them, and watching them just once is never enough.

But just when you thought you had heard every story about Kubrick, along comes Tony Zierra’s documentary “Filmworker” which looks at the life and times of Kubrick’s right-hand man, Leon Vitali. As an actor, he worked a lot in British television, but after appearing in Kubrick’s film “Barry Lyndon,” he dedicated his life to helping the famed director any which way he could. What results is a movie about working with such a meticulous human being, and of the overall effects it had on Vitali to where it is shocking to see he is still above ground.

“Filmworker” starts with a look at Vitali’s early life as an actor, and it shows how o often he worked in British television and movies to where he was never ever lacking for a job, a position I and my actor friends get to enjoy at some point in this lifetime. Then he got the role of Lord Bullingdon in “Barry Lyndon,” and this introduced the actor to the Kubrick life he was quick to embrace. In a scene where Ryan O’Neal ends up punching Vitali in the back, O’Neal says Kubrick told him, “You’re not hitting him hard enough.” From there, they did the scene 30 more times, and it served as Vitali’s introduction to Kubrick’s obsessive nature in getting things just right down to the smallest of details.

It is very easy to see why Vitali became such a die-hard Kubrick fan after he watched “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange.” Both films reflected a singular vision no other director could have conjured, and Vitali remarked how “2001” dared to have no dialogue in its first 20 minutes, something which seems unthinkable in this day and age. Following their collaboration on “Barry Lyndon,” Kubrick sent him a copy of Stephen King’s “The Shining” to see if it would be worth turning into a movie. Once Vitali told Kubrick it was, the director brought him on so he could search for the perfect child actor to play Danny Torrance. From there, he abandoned his acting career and dedicated his life to Kubrick all the way through his last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Vitali ended up doing just about every kind of job for Kubrick including casting director, acting coach, location scout, sound engineer and color corrector to name a few. Upon Kubrick’s passing, he became the only person to restore his films. To say he dedicated his life to Kubrick’s work would be the understatement of the millennium. We watch as he works tirelessly to get all the details right, and we see the toll it takes on him and his body. He speaks of how he worked two 36-hour shifts on one project and of how he slept on the floor to catch a two-hour nap while fully dressed so that, when he woke up, he could get right back to work.

Watching “Filmworker,” I wasn’t always sure if I should thank Vitali for all the work he has done or pity him. Some describe him as Igor to Kubrick’s Dr. Frankenstein. I prefer to see him as Waylon Smithers to Kubrick’s Mr. Burns. This man gave up a thriving acting career to work for the director of “Dr. Strangeglove,” and their relationship certainly had a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to it. Vitali shows us the note Kubrick wrote to him in thanks for his work on “Barry Lyndon,” and he remarks at how his first handshake with the filmmaker proved to be “very warm.” But once they began working on “Full Metal Jacket,” Vitali admitted he came to see another side of Kubrick, one which few others got to see up close.

Many like to talk about the Stanley Kubrick they met and of how he was so different compared to all the rumors which were circulating throughout Hollywood about him, but Vitali makes it abundantly clear how he knew Kubrick in a way no one else could. At one point, he even describes Kubrick as the film industry’s equivalent to Gordon Ramsey, the chef from “Hell’s Kitchen” and a man who is always in serious need of anger management classes. People keep asking Vitali how he handled Kubrick, but he responds to this by saying he never handled him but instead handled himself so that he could exist in Kubrick’s world.

Actors like Matthew Modine, Danny Lloyd and the late R. Lee Ermey are interviewed at length here, and they have great stories to share about both Kubrick and Vitali. Lloyd and Ermey credit Vitali for helping them with their performances in a way no one else could, and Modine remarks at how selfless Vitali is when it comes to his work for Kubrick. Modine is just one of several individuals who freely admit they are too selfish to dedicate their lives to Kubrick the way Vitali did. O’Neal goes out of his way to say he “fled” the set of “Barry Lyndon” once his work there was done as he was terrified of being subjected to reshoots.

Indeed, the level of dedication Vitali gives Kubrick is both commendable and scary. You also have to feel for him as he suffers under the heavy hand of Warner Brothers while working to give Kubrick’s films the attention they deserved. I remember when the first DVD’s of his work came out and how bad they were, and Vitali spent his precious time getting the color just right. Hearing how Kubrick got incensed if the green was off reminded me of Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo” when his character of Sy went off at a repairman for not taking a difference of three points in color all that seriously. If you are passionate enough about something, you will see it through to the very last detail.

As you can imagine, there is a good deal of trivia about Kubrick on display here. Among the most interesting bits come from Ermey who played Gunnery Sargent Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket” as he discusses how he went about getting actors for the movie, and it is eerie to see him describe what the movie did for his career and of how he has led a great life as it was only a few weeks ago he died due to complications from pneumonia. We also get to hear from Tim Colceri who was originally cast as Hartman before being replaced by Ermey. He ended up playing the doorgunner who shoots away at any and every Vietnamese individual regardless of whether or not they are the “enemy.” Watching Colceri’s face as he reflects on the role he could have had is heartbreaking as his disappointment looks to last a lifetime.

In a lot of ways, “Filmworker” serves as a love letter to Vitali as his work on Kubrick’s films is extraordinary, and we should be thankful for what he has done as this documentary shows how no one else could have preserved the iconic director’s work the way he has. But beyond that, it also acts as a love letter to those who work tirelessly behind the scenes on film sets as they often do not get the respect they deserve. To many, they simply appear as names on a movie’s end credits, and some of those credits move at lightning speed when those movies are shown on the Sundance Channel. But after watching this documentary, we have every reason to thank Vitali for his devotion to Kubrick as, without him, no one could have been able to give “Eyes Wide Shut” the release it deserved. But more importantly, it provides Vitali with the happy ending he has long since earned.

While watching “Filmworker,” I was reminded of what Homer Simpson told his family while they watched the end credits for “The Simpsons Movie:”

“A lot of people worked hard on this film, and all they ask is for you to memorize their names!”

This is, of course, completely unrealistic, but when it comes to “Filmworker,” I want to believe such a thing could be possible.

* * * * out of * * * *

Shane Black Unleashes the First Trailer for ‘The Predator’

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It has now been 30 years since John McTiernan’s “Predator” was unleased on audiences everywhere, and the action classic still holds up. Since then, we have been exposed to sequels and those horrid “Alien vs Predator” movies, both of which we would love to erase from cinematic history. But now comes the first trailer for the latest in the franchise, “The Predator,” and it is co-written and directed by Shane Black who also co-starred in the 1987 original as Rich Hawkins. With this sequel, Black said he promises to give us an event film which he hopes will “event-ise” the Predator once again and make it “more mysterious.” He has also remarked how “The Predator” will return the franchise to the intimate scale of the original, and judging from this teaser trailer, it looks like he will deliver on those promises.

The first thing I should point out is how little we see of the Predator here. From “Predator 2” and beyond, 20th Century Fox has put this particular cinematic alien front and center to where little is left to our collective imaginations as to what it looks like. But this time, we only see bits and pieces of the creature as the attention is focused more on the human characters. By leaving this iconic creature in the shadows, the Predator suddenly seems as threatening as when he battled Arnold Schwarzenegger all those years ago.

The Predator image 1

What wrecked the previous “Predator” movies were how they paid too much attention to their human characters who resembled little more than stock characters who were nothing more than clichés. Not only that, they acted so stupidly at times to where you couldn’t wait to see them killed in some brutal fashion. But considering “The Predator” is coming from the man who wrote the screenplay for “Lethal Weapon” and directed “Iron Man 3” and the criminally underseen “The Nice Guys,” I feel confident Black will give us characters who are down to earth and have memorable lines of dialogue at their disposal.

Boyd Holbrook, who gave us a wonderfully slimy antagonist in “Logan,” stars as Quinn McKenna, a Marine and Special Forces commando who we see being interrogated about a mission he was on. The interrogator asks Quinn if he saw anything “unusual,” and I love how he responds not just with words, but also with his eyes. It’s as if Quinn is saying cut the crap and let’s get to the point, and I imagine this is Black’s way of telling us how the characters in this film are going to be smarter and more interesting than the typical schmuck that has inhabited the average “Predator” movie once too often. I also loved how Quinn, when asked if he poses a threat, responds by saying, “We’re assassins. Isn’t posing a threat kind of the point?” Exactly! Why dance around the issue?

The Predator image 2

Olivia Munn also shows up here as Casey Bracket, a disgruntled science teacher who provides us with information about what this particular Predator and its ilk are up to. She says they are attempting “hybridization” as they are “upgrading on every planet they visit.” This harkens back to the ending of “Predator 2” in which we learned how far back these creatures have been to Earth and of how many lifeforms they have encountered. This helps to make the Predator all the more mysterious as he looks ready to attack in ways we cannot see coming.

I also enjoyed the opening part of the trailer in which Jacob Tremblay (the amazing young actor from “Room”) opens up a package with contains some kind of alien object. Tremblay ends up detaching a small part from it which lights up, and he treats it like a spaceship as he flies it around his room and crashes it into his Jenga set. Forget for a moment how he unknowingly has signaled the Predator’s spaceship to Earth where its occupant will surely lay waste to every and any human foolish enough to be in its path. Black captures the wondrous imagination of a child, and it reminds us of the worlds we create inside our minds as life seemed full of possibilities when we were young. Hence, this sequel does not look to be lacking in imagination.

“The Predator” is said to take place between the events of “Predator 2” and “Predators,” but watching this trailer makes me feel this sequel will blow those two out of the water. It is set to be released on September 14, 2018. Please feel free to check out the teaser trailer below.

The Predator logo

 

IFC Debuts First Trailer for Lars Von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built’

The House That Jack Built poster

For years Lars Von Trier was considered persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival, but in 2018 he returned to it with a vengeance. His latest film, “The House That Jack Built,” premiered there recently, and it was reported that a hundred people walked out of the screening in utter disgust. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Von Trier film if it didn’t cause some strong visceral reaction, let alone polarize the first audience to witness it. Now, those of us who were not lucky to go to Cannes this year get to watch the first trailer for “The House That Jack Built,” and it is made clear right away how this film is not at all for the faint of heart.

The trailer opens with Jack (Matt Dillon), an unrepentant serial killer, talking with Verge (Bruno Ganz) who I can only assume is a therapist of some kind. In their conversation, Jack assumes there are rules he must follow, but Verge assures him this is not the case but also says “don’t believe you’re going to tell me something I haven’t heard before.” But after I watched this trailer, I wondered if this would be the case. Many of us have grown up on serial killer movies like “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven” and “Copycat,” but this one seems a bit different and far more visceral than any I have seen in the past.

We see Jack pick up a lady played by Uma Thurman whose car has broken down. She holds a broken car jack in her hands, and she puts it down beside Jack once she gets in his car. From there, she talks openly about how she might have made a mistake getting into Jack’s car as he may very well be a serial killer. This reminded me of when a friend of mine shared his experience of watching “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” and of a particular female character who was there for the audience to utterly hate. When it looked like Jason was ready to kill her, my friend told me the audience started a chant of “kill the bitch, kill the bitch, kill the bitch,” and it looks like Von Trier is going for the same thing here as Thurman is just asking for Dillon to bash her head in with that car jack.

This trailer is filled with enough snippets to inform you “The House That Jack Built” will be an especially grisly adventure as Jack drags Thurman’s corpse into what looks like his secret lair, tortures another lady played by Riley Keough to where she screams helplessly, and takes aim at a pair of children and their mother. It should be clear before even watching this trailer that Von Trier is a filmmaker who never plays it safe, but those who are unware of this will be made very aware long before the last image.

For myself, there a couple of moments which stand out unforgettably. One is when Jack looks out the window of an apartment and yells how “nobody wants to help,” and the camera zooms out to where it looks like not a human being is in sight. The other comes when Jack says the following:

“Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they are expressed instead through our art. I don’t agree. I believe heaven and hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to heaven and the body to hell.”

The way I see it, everyone has a dark side, and the world of art allows us to exorcise our most shameful desires. With “The House That Jack Built,” Von Trier gives us an individual who cannot separate the line between what is real and what is not, let alone fact and fiction. I have been a big admirer of this filmmaker since being introduced to his work through “Breaking the Waves,” and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us here.

Please feel free to check out the trailer below at your own risk.

 

‘Deadpool 2’ Ups the Ante and Leaves You Begging for More

Deadpool 2 poster

I want to say that when “Deadpool” was released, it was a breath of fresh air in a time of endless comic book/superhero movies, but this description doesn’t do it justice. The air coming from the 2016 box office hit was filthy, and we loved how Ryan Reynolds, Tim Miller and company refused to play it safe with this Marvel Comics character to where a PG-13 rating just wasn’t going to do it for them. But in addition to being so gleefully profane, the movie also had a big heart as it ended with a message of loving someone inside and out instead of just admiring what is on the surface. If there ever was an R-rated movie for today’s teenagers to sneak into, “Deadpool” was it.

Now we finally have its long-awaited sequel, “Deadpool 2,” which was preceded for the longest time by a pair of jokey trailers which didn’t have much in the way of new footage, but instead put its wisecracking hero in situations which didn’t always put him in the best light, and we laughed our asses off all the same. Surely this sequel couldn’t match the inventiveness and comedic genius of the original, right?

Well, I am very happy to report that “Deadpool 2” proves to be just as funny and entertaining as its predecessor, and in some ways, I thought it was even better. While this one looked as though it would suffer from overkill as the recent “Kingsman” sequel did, everyone in front of and behind the camera keeps the energy level high and the laughs coming in rapid succession. With Reynolds constantly breaking the fourth wall and a plot which refuses to make clear right away of where this sequel is heading, I was never sure of what would come next. As a result, I could never take my eyes off the screen.

So, what has Wade Wilson/Deadpool been up to since his last expletive-laden adventure? Quite a bit actually, and it has thrust him into a realm of despair he doesn’t see himself escaping from. What ends up giving him a reason to live is helping to protect Russell Collins (“Hunt for the Wilder people’s” Julian Dennison), a young mutant who goes by the name of Firefist for reasons which become immediately clear to where Pyro’s penchant for lighting everything up pales in comparison. But in the process, they are both met by Nathan Summers/Cable (Josh Brolin), a time-traveling cybernetic mutant soldier who is looking to right a terrible wrong, and his main target might not be who you think.

The amount of pop culture references is countless in “Deadpool 2,” and you may need to watch this sequel twice to catch all of them. Right from the start, Wade wastes no time in skewering popular icons like Wolverine who made his swan song in last year’s “Logan.” From there, we watch as this particular comic book character lays waste to gangsters to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” gleefully provides a spoof of the James Bond opening titles which include such classics as “directed by one of the guys who killed the dog in ‘John Wick,’” and he makes you look at Barbara Streisand’s song “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from “Yentil” in a very unnerving way. Also, he is quick to call you out on obvious references such as a line from “Robocop,” and by that, I mean the original, not the remake. Whether it’s a good or bad guy you are talking about here, at least they have great taste in movies.

However, the laughs and action come at us so quickly in “Deadpool 2” to where it takes longer than usual to figure out what the movie’s main plot is. At times, it seems like the filmmakers are geared towards throwing jokes, action scenes and filthy jokes and the expense of an actual story, and it looks as though we won’t find a story until the third act. Even Wade at one point says if he and his newly-appointed X-Force achieve their goals, there won’t even need to be a third act. Of course, I was having too much with this sequel to criticize this point all that much, and a story does indeed emerge.

Reynolds has come a long way from his “Van Wilder” days to get to this point. He’s given memorable performances in “Buried” and “The Proposal,” but his career has been overshadowed by having starred in one of the worst comic book movies ever, “Green Lantern.” “Deadpool” served as his redemption for that cinematic misfire, and his dedication to staying true to Wade Wilson and his alter-ego has been commendable considering the ill-fated debut he made as this character in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Watching Reynolds here is a reminder of what a gifted comedic actor he can be when given the right material, and it is impossible to picture anyone else in this role instead of him.

Tim Miller stepped out of the director’s chair for “Deadpool 2,” and in his place is David Leitch who assisted Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron in their path to ass-kicking glory in “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde.” I was impressed at how he managed to keep this sequel’s energy and laugh quotient up and running throughout as I kept waiting for the whole thing to burst at the seams. It’s no surprise “Deadpool 2” lacks the freshness of the original, but it does have the same level of insane energy and even more to spare beyond it.

And there’s Josh Brolin who appears in his second Marvel movie in two months as Cable. Just as he did in “Avengers: Infinity War,” he gives this iconic comic book character a wounded humanity which makes especially complex and threatening throughout. Even when Cable undergoes a change of alliances which is almost as unbelievable as any in “The Fate of the Furious,” Brolin keeps a straight face throughout the proceedings which become increasingly over the top. It’s also great to see how Brolin has a good sense of humor about himself as he endures barbs relating to “The Goonies,” and looking at his scared face here made me want to say, “Who do you think you are, Thanos?”

It’s also nice to see a variety of new and familiar characters here like Karan Soni whose character of taxi driver Dopinder has developed a bit of a blood lust which Wade is not quick to take all that seriously. Stefan Kapičić gets a bit more to do as Colossus in this sequel as this character does what he can to make Wade a better person. The character of Peter, a regular person with no superpowers, is an inspired addition to this series, and I would love to have seen Rob Delaney play him in more scenes here. T.J. Miller also returns as bar owner and Wade’s best friend, Weasel, but considering his penchant for making fake bomb threats, I believe this will be the last time we see him in this role.

Deadpool 2” could have been too much of a good thing, but I had so much fun with it to where it didn’t matter if it was. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a movie, and it is nice to watch a movie where the jokes hit far more often than they miss. Reynolds, like Ben Affleck, have a strong sense of humor about his past mistakes in the world of cinema, and its fun seeing a movie star crack a few laughs at their own expense However, I am curious as to why he did not lay waste to “Blade: Trinity.” That misbegotten sequel was every bit as bad as “Green Lantern.”

And as always, be prepared for a post-credit sequence which is by the funniest of its kind since “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It is too damn hilarious to spoil here, and you have got to see it for yourself.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Young Adult’ Deals With a Serious Case of Arrested Development

Young Adult movie poster

Young Adult” comes to us from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody who gave us “Juno,” but this is a very different movie. This collaboration of theirs is a bruise-black comedy starring Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a writer of young adult novels which resemble those “Sweet Valley High” books many read years ago (I did not). She finds out her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has become a dad, and she travels back to her hometown in a mission to steal Buddy away from his wife and rekindle their long-lost romance.

Both Reitman and Cody dare us to share some time with a most unlikable character. Mavis is a recent divorcee who spends her mornings chugging down Diet Coke, her nights getting drunk on premium whiskey (Maker’s Mark should see an increase in sales from this movie), and she can barely hide her contempt for the town she grew up in. That she writes young adult books is a metaphor for her arrested development as her best years were in high school, and she has never gotten past them.

Theron is one of the best actresses working in movies right now, and her performance as Mavis Gary is one of her bravest. This is not a likable character, but Theron finds the humanity within Mavis, and this makes us want to follow her journey. While we despise Mavis’ desperation in reclaiming a past which has long since passed her by, Theron digs deep into the pain and depression which has long since engulfed this character, and she succeeds in making “Young Adult” more unforgettable than it already is.

But as great as Theron is, she is almost outdone by comedian Patton Oswalt who plays Mavis’ former classmate, Matt Freehauf. His character got beaten up very badly in high school, and his injuries have kept him from moving forward in life. Oswalt inhabits his character fully and never allows Matt to turn into a caricature. His sense of humor acts as a defense against the hurt he can quickly be reminded of, and he too finds the humanity in a character who could have easily turned into a cliché.

Cody’s script is excellent in mining the humor out of incredibly awkward and pitiful situations. This is a cathartic story which perfectly captures the dynamic between those who have moved on from high school and those who have not. This feels like a very personal script for her as it ponders those formative years which define us more than we want them to. While we would love to see those popular kids suffer tremendously, we can’t get past the sadness of Mavis’ current situation.

Reitman bravely moves out of his safety zone with this movie. As with his other movies, he succeeds in making all the characters seem as real as those we know in real life. While the beginning may seem slow and unnecessarily cold, he brilliantly highlights the sad state of Mavis’ life as much of it has been stolen from her.

Whether or not you think “Young Adult” reaches out to all those who loved “Juno,” it does show off the tremendous talents of Reitman and Cody. What results is a movie which dares to go down roads we would rather not revisit, and it finds a humor and humanity many will not see coming. Some will strongly dislike this movie as its main character is far from likable, but you don’t need likable characters to make a good movie, let alone a great one.

* * * * out of * * * *

 

William Zabka on Portraying a Non-Bully Character in ‘Where Hope Grows’

Where Hope Grows William Zabka

Ever since he played Johnny Lawrence in 1984’s “The Karate Kid,” actor William Zabka has forever burned himself into our collective memories as the quintessential school bully. From there he went on to play characters who were equally antagonistic in movies like “Back to School,” “Just One of the Guys” and “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” in which he does the unthinkable when he dumps Audrey Griswold as his girlfriend. All these movies serve to make you completely forget that Zabka started off his career acting in commercials which portrayed him as the all-American nice guy.

But the truth is there is more to Zabka than just playing the bully we all love to hate. Ever since “The Karate Kid,” he has gone on, unlike many of his co-stars, to earn a black belt in Tang Soo Do. On top of that, he speaks Czech fluently and is also an accomplished musician. Furthermore, he has gone on to become a noted filmmaker, and his short film “Most” earned numerous awards as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short Film.

All these years later, we catch up with Zabka in “Where Hope Grows,” a film written and directed by Chris Dowling, which has him playing Milton Malcolm. Milton looks like a successful businessman, but we come to see his life is falling apart very quickly. He descends into alcoholism with his best friend Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a former major league baseball player whose career was undone by panic attacks. But when Calvin finds a way to sobriety thanks to his newfound friendship with a simple-minded supermarket employee with Down syndrome who is known by his nickname of Produce (David DeSanctis), Milton ends up feeling more isolated than ever, and this sends his life into an even deeper downward spiral.

Looking at this, it becomes clear Zabka has a more complex role than any other actor in “Where Hope Grows,” and I told so during a roundtable interview held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Unlike his most famous characters, Milton cannot be easily labeled as a good or bad guy in this movie. I asked him what the challenges were for him in playing such a complex character, and he liked that I found this to be the case with Milton.

Where Hope Grows movie poster

William Zabka: This character is very complex. He has it all or appears to have it all. He’s got a beautiful wife and kids but he’s in trouble at work, he’s in the bottle, neglecting his wife, there are all kinds of stuff going on. To live in the moment of that and to feel the pain of that… The one scene where I almost come off really brazen in the scene at the golf course, I was saying to Chris, “Give me another line.” We were banned from saying the “R” word on the set. It was like no “R” words and here I am delivering it. I said, “Can’t we just find something softer? Can we be ignorant but not so brazen?” Chris really wanted that contrast for the ending and payoff. That’s a vulnerable place to go as an actor because as an actor you want to be liked or at least relatable. I’m glad you said that you could see the complexities because he wasn’t a good guy and he wasn’t a bad guy. He was misinformed. Produce’s story is kind of a second story to him. He is struggling with his own stuff, and it’s later when they come face to face and this kid gives him a gift. So, hanging onto that was the key to allow me to go down to some of those darker places.

It was a real honor to be in the presence of Zabka whose performance in “The Karate Kid” remains forever burned into my memory. But while many remember him best for playing such a hateful bully, there’s certainly much more to him than we realize.

Where Hope Grows” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. And of course, you can see him on the YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai” as Johnny Lawrence.

 

‘Tully’ Finds Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody Creating Unforgettable Cinema Once Again

Tully movie poster

Okay, as I write this review for “Tully,” the latest collaboration between filmmaker Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, I have to confess I am not a parent. I have not experienced restless nights with a crying newborn who constantly needs a bottle of milk or a quick diaper change, and if I ever do become a parent, I am certain I will deal with it as well as my friends with kids have (which is to say, not at all). But after watching “Tully,” I feel confident in saying it is one of the more honest depictions of what a mother goes through before, during and after she gives birth. Whereas most movies conclude with the birth of a child, this one starts with one and goes from there.

Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a mother of two and with a third on the way. Her belly is so big to where she looks ready to burst at any second, and we also see how overwhelmed she is with everything and anything. Her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is an overly-sensitive boy who freaks out loud noises he is exposed to, and she is forced to give him more attention at the expense of her daughter Mia (Lia Frankland). When Marlo visits the principal at Jonah’s school and tells her this third child is “such a blessing,” you can tell she doesn’t fully believe it.

When Marlo does give birth to a girl she names Mia, it is one of the more unique birth scenes in movies. Most filmmakers treat the arrival of a newborn with unfettered joy, but “Tully” treats it dispassionately as Marlo is too wiped out and depressed to be happy about anything. For a moment, I feared this movie would venture into “We Need to Talk about Kevin” territory, but neither Reitman or Cody are out to make this story about a sociopathic child.

From there, Reitman presents us with a furious montage of Marlo constantly getting up in the middle of the night to take care of her crying baby, feed her, change her diapers (always an unappealing task), and pump milk out of her breasts. Sure, Marlo does have a loving husband in Drew (Ron Livingston), but he has yet to fully see the heavy toll motherhood is taking on her. It’s an unnerving montage as we keep waiting for Marlo to explode in frustration, and when she eventually does, you cannot blame her.

Marlo’s brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), comes to her rescue by offering to hire a night nanny. Marlo is at first very hesitant to let Craig do this as the thought of anyone else raising her children is terrifying, but one day after she is unable to stop Mia’s crying, she relents. The night nanny comes in the form of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a youthful woman who quickly proves to be wise beyond her years. Once she comes into Marlo’s life, things begin to change for the better, but as the movie goes on, you wonder more about who Tully is and if she is too good to be true.

Watching “Tully” reminded me of many scenes in movies and television where I witnessed a mother losing her patience. We watched Marge Simpson roar like a lion at anyone who couldn’t possibly understand her frustrations, we were taken aback when Dee Wallace yelled at her son “alright I’ll get your daddy!” while being stalked by a rabid St. Bernard in “Cujo,” and we watched helplessly as Brie Larson tried to explain to her son what is really going with them in “Room.” Mothers will often explode in frustration, and many of the best movies about parenting portray this. As we see Marlo get upset with her kids, it is highly likely we will be reminded of the agony we put our own mothers through to where a long overdue apology may be required from us. “Tully” has several moments like these, and they are fully earned throughout.

Theron has long since proven to us what a phenomenal actress she can be. As Marlo, she gives a fully realized performance as a mother who looks like the joy she has for life has been completely sucked out of her. The Oscar-winning actress makes you feel the pain of Marlo’s situation as the character has long since reached her breaking point to where she seems like she cannot take another challenge thrown in her general direction. As the movie goes on, we see Marlo rise out of her depressed state to where she experiences happiness for what seems like the first time in ages. Theron makes us feel every note of Marlo’s anguishes and triumphs to where we cannot come out of this motion picture saying we were not the least bit moved.

As the night nanny, Mackenzie Davis proves to be such a luminous presence as Tully to where we realize this movie doesn’t just need her, it deserves her. A modern-day Mary Poppins, Tully predicts Marlo’s every move and need and gives her just what she needs to make it to the next stage in her life. Davis is best known for her work on “Halt and Catch Fire” and for appearing in one of my favorite movies of 2017, “Blade Runner 2049.” She gives off such a warm glow in “Tully” to where you just want to hug here and never let her go.

I also have to give credit to Ron Livingston who plays Marlo’s husband, Drew. It could have been a thankless role of a husband and father completely ignorant of his wife’s suffering, but the “Office Space” actor makes him more than the average movie dad. Even as Drew loses himself in video games which have him battling and killing zombies, Livingston makes us see he is a man with a good heart even with all his flaws. In his penultimate scene, Livingston doesn’t make Drew into a total schmuck who berates his wife when things go haywire, but instead into a spouse eager to admit he doesn’t know everything his wife is going through and is desperate to hear her out. I love it when Livingston says “I love us” instead of “I love you” as it shows the perspective and honesty Reitman and Cody are committed to giving this particular parental adventure, and it makes this moment between these two characters all the more special.

If I have any problems with “Tully,” they come in the second half when revelations are made to where we have no choice but to question everything we just saw I would tell you which movies these revelations reminded me of, but this would be giving away way too much. But while these revelations could have wrecked any other motion picture, they do little to take away from this one.

“Tully” marks a big comeback for Reitman and Cody after a few years of cinematic misfires. “Labor Day” and “Men, Women & Children” put a few dents in Reitman’s resume as a director, and Cody’s directorial debut “Paradise” and screenplay for “Ricki and the Flash” (0ne of Jonathan Demme’s last films before his death) were ill-received to put it mildly. But when these two artists come together, they create something which is never easily forgotten.

Reitman makes the struggles these parents go through all the more vivid without making them seem the least bit glamorous. “Tully” does not have the look of a motion picture to where you feel like you are watching one, but instead of a real life setting with all its messiness and imperfections on display. At times, I felt like I was watching a home movie, and this made everything I saw feel all the more powerful.

As a writer, Cody still comes up with some classic zingers like “abandoned trash barge” or describing someone as a “book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders,” but her screenplay also shows her rising to another level of thoughtfulness and maturity. Being the mother of three children herself, Cody clearly understands the journey such a person ends takes to where the mother/newborn connection is not forged right away. There has been some controversy over “Tully’s” portrayal of mental illness, and it is never made clear if Marlo is suffering from post-partum depression or something similar. Cody, however, is not out to make Marlo a special case study, but instead to share the challenges she was forced to overcome to be the mom she is today.

I think it is more than appropriate that “Tully” has arrived in theaters just in time for Mother’s Day. Lord knows we owe our mothers a great deal of gratitude for all they have done for us, let alone all they have gone through to get us to where we are today. Sure, dads deserve a lot of credit too, but being a mother comes with a lot more challenges and obstacles to overcome. If this Reitman/Cody film cannot make you see this, then what will?

* * * ½ out of * * * *