John Lennon Lives Again in ‘And Now It’s All This!’

And Now Its All This

In March of 1966, John Lennon was quoted by Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave as saying The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” Looking back at this piece of history, I find it hard to disagree as, by then, the whole world seemed to have embraced those four lads from Liverpool as girls were screaming endlessly when they performed in concert and passed out in large numbers. At the same time, religious leaders, not to mention the Klu Klux Klan, came down hard on the band, particularly on John, once this comment was published, and it became one of the main reasons why the band stopped touring altogether.

The subject of whether or not The Beatles were more popular than God is the key point of “And Now It’s All This,” a play written by Trevor Boelter which is now being presented as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival through June 28, 2019. It should be noted that this play is actually the second act of a three-act play Boelter wrote called “Kenwood,” and this act follows Lennon during the years of 1965 to 1966 when The Beatles were at the height of their fame. It focuses on when Lennon made his infamous remark and of the reaction elicited, and we watch as this period in his life comes to inform the peace-loving musician and anti-war activist he eventually became.

When John Lennon (played by David Foy Bauer) first appears, he is reveling in the amazing success The Beatles are having as he gets up close and personal, and we are talking very personal, with Maureen Cleave (Stephanie Greer) during an interview. When he tells her how the band is more popular than Jesus, it really sounds like an offhand remark which he never intended for anyone to take seriously. In a sense, you cannot blame John for saying this as even he points out how we never see screaming teenage girls ripping the clothes off of the Pope. Nevertheless, once Maureen publishes her article, the damage is done and religious figures do nothing to hide their fury.

From there, the play moves ahead to July 1966 when The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein (Spencer Cantrell), is under tremendous stress to calm down the furor over John’s remarks which have resulted in many death threats even as the band is about to go on tour. As beloved as The Beatles were, and still are, there was a time when some despised them quite strongly as their allegiance to Jesus trumped everything else in their lives. Indeed, this makes the play seem timely as those same people continue to defend Jesus based on an all too literal meaning and even in the face of facts.

Anyone who knows Mr. Boelter knows he is as big a fan of The Beatles as I am of Eeyore. Even though “And Now It’s All This” is technically a work of fiction, there is no doubt of how thorough he was in his research of the band and, even more so, of John Lennon’s life. He has been studying the history of this band ever since he was 12, he hosted “Jasper’s Beatle Hour” while a student at Cal Poly, and he even interned on Chris Carter’s “Breakfast with the Beatles” radio show on 95.5 KLOS FM. At some point in the future, I expect him to have his own show on The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM.

What is especially interesting about this play is how it examines the effect his offhand remark had on his life and career as we watch him transition from being a spoiled brat to becoming the peace-loving individual he was destined to become. This transition is made all the more convincing thanks to Bauer’s terrific performance as he inhabits the iconic singer to where he can never be accused of doing just a mere impersonation of him. More importantly, the actor makes us see John as a man instead of as an icon who remains infinitely popular decades after his tragic death.

Directing this play is Matt Duggan, the same man who made the terrific science fiction film “Inverse” and who recently released his first novel called “Ostraca.” With it being part of The Hollywood Fringe Festival, Duggan has to make do with a small theatre with an even smaller stage and a handful of props as do the other shows being performed in this particular venue, so he keeps his focus on the actors and the connection they have together on stage. Not once does he let the energy drop as the action moves from one period of time to another as we listen to news reports of what was going in the world back then such as the Vietnam War. It is perfectly paced and never drags for a second.

Speaking of the actors, they are all outstanding. In addition to Bauer, Stephanie Greer is a standout as Maureen Cleave, a role she originated when this play made its world premiere in England. Greer is an infectious delight as she delivers her lines with precision timing and makes Maureen into an ever so clever character who refuses to be easily intimidated.

Spencer Cantrell is excellent as Brian Epstein as he could have easily played this role for laughs but never does. The actor captures Brian’s exasperated state quite vividly as he struggles to gain a foothold over the controversy which threatens to damage The Beatles’ reputation forever, and its hilarious at times to see him struggle with the most mundane of things. At the same time, he makes us see how tough his job is, and being a manager can at times be a thankless job even though it is an important one.

Even Boelter himself shows up here as Reverend Deluxe, a fire-breathing preacher bent on making John Lennon see that Jesus died for his sins. Heck, he almost steals the show with his inspired performance as he captures the zealous nature of someone so dedicated to God to where they are blissfully ignorant of their own hypocrisy. Just watch as he orders his parishioners to burn all the Beatles memorabilia they have on him even as he invites them to buy any of it left over.

“And Now It’s All This” has been selected as a “Pick of the Fringe” selection and rightfully so. It runs only 50 minutes but still manages to say a lot about John Lennon during its brief running time. It is full of laughs and heartbreaking moments, and I am eager to see where Boelter and Duggan will take the material from here. I caught up with Boelter following this performance, and he did say he is planning to stage the full three-act play in the near future, and I look forward to checking it out when he does. But while this play may act as a teaser for a bigger one, it is a must see even if you are not a fan of The Beatles.

By the way, if you are not a fan of The Beatles, why?

“And Now It’s All This” has its next and final performance on Friday, June 28, 2019 at The Complex Hollywood in The Dorie Theater off of Santa Monica Boulevard. Click here to find out how you can get tickets.

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Mia Wasikowska Fearlessly Dives Into the Dark Side in ‘Stoker’

Mia Wasikowska in Stoker

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

After watching her in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and seeing her portray the highly intelligent daughter of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in “The Kids are All Right,” Australian actress Mia Wasikowska goes from lightness to darkness in “Stoker.” In it she plays India, a mysterious, dark-haired teenager whose father has just been killed in a car accident on her 18th birthday. Throughout the movie we see India trying to deal with both her emotionally unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and her enigmatic uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has arrived to stay with them. Thanks in large part to Wasikowska, India is one of the most original and haunting teenage characters to appear in movies in quite some time.

It’s fascinating to watch Wasikowska’s transformation in “Stoker” as there is very little trace of the good-natured characters she has portrayed previously. Even her work in “Jane Eyre” felt like a fairy tale compared to the creepy nature of this film. Going into it, I wondered if Wasikowska was really looking to distance herself from the roles she has played in the past. It turns out she was, but in an interview with Helen Brown of The Telegraph, she also said it was because she was drawn to the character’s ambiguity.

“You don’t know if India’s a hero or a villain, the hunter or the hunted,” Wasikowska told Brown. “The film toys with your perception. It’s a weird love triangle between a mother, an uncle and a daughter. That feels very modern and very classic, at the same time.”

“It’s less about evil being in the bloodline than an idea of evil as contagious,” Wasikowska continued. “I think violence is something that catches on. I was interested in something India’s father says: ‘Sometimes you have to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.'”

I loved how Wasikowska avoided making India seem like the average sullen, anti-social or Goth-like teenager we’ve seen in so many movies and TV shows. There’s something about India which feels wholly original, and it is a wonderfully complex character you spend all of “Stoker” constantly trying to figure out. Wasikowska explained to Brown what she was aiming for when she decided to play India.

“Stereotypes are much more prominent in teen movies,” Wasikowska said. “As a teenager, it’s more attractive to watch something you don’t necessarily feel you are, to watch movies about pretty people in love. But it was always exciting for me to find roles that gave me an opportunity to express what I felt was the more realistic side of teenagers.”

The most memorable scene in “Stoker” comes when Uncle Charlie joins India on the piano for one of the most exhilarating duets ever filmed. The whole moment feels like a cross between the “Dueling Banjos” scene from “Deliverance” and David Helfgott playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s blisteringly difficult Concerto No. 3 in “Shine;” it’s a moment of harmony combined with a psychological unraveling which reaches a fever pitch. This is a movie scene I will be studying for a long time, and while talking with The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Ford, Wasikowska described what it was like filming it.

“That’s sort of one of the scenes that you’re always anticipating during the shoot,” Wasikowska told Ford. “It was almost my favorite one to film, because we had the music there, playing really loudly for us, and then, to a certain extent, I felt like I didn’t have to do anything because so much of the emotion and the feeling was in the music, and if I just sort of surrendered to that, it was all there.”

“Stoker” marks the English-language debut of South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook who is best known for his “Vengeance Trilogy” of movies which includes “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.” Both he and Wasikowska worked closely together on India to make sure they were on the same page throughout filming, and Wasikowska told Ford they kept sending each other pictures back and forth through email which helped to illustrate their thoughts on the character.

“Some of the images were from India’s perspective, so things that I thought would explain the way that she sees the world,” Wasikowska said. “And then the other images would be something that had an essence of her physicality or her emotionally, so that was really helpful.”

Now with a movie as dark and disturbing as “Stoker” is, you would think the atmosphere on set would be very serious as to not break the mood of the piece. But as we found out on this movie and many others before it, the dark nature of the script was counterbalanced by a lot of humor amongst the cast and crew. Wasikowska made this abundantly clear to contactmusic.com while at a press conference.

“I’ve often found on the films that have a more serious nature, the more light-hearted and silly and goofy it becomes in between the scenes out of necessity to counter the intensity of the scenes and material,” Wasikowska said. “I felt like we were pretty good at that!”

Watching Mia Wasikowska in “Stoker” gives you an idea of what great work lies ahead for her. Here she digs deep into a character she hasn’t previously portrayed, and she completely disappears into the part as a result. While India is still a hard character to figure out at the movie’s end, it is Wasikowska’s journey into the role which renders it all the more fascinating.

“The best way to explain it is when I’m filming, I have a definite story that I follow for her, but then when I finish and I let go of the project a bit, it’s sort of up to interpretation,” Wasikowska said. “So one of the interesting things has been seeing how people have interpreted her (India) and her character in the story. And the only thing that’s consistent is how different everybody’s opinion is of her.”

SOURCES:

Helen Brown, “Stoker’s Mia Wasikowska, interview: ‘It’s a weird love triangle between a mother, an uncle and a daughter…,'” The Telegraph, March 1, 2013.

Rebecca Ford, “‘Stoker’s’ Mia Wasikowska on Her Mysterious Character and Sexualized Piano Playing,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 28, 2013.

Mia Wasikowska: ‘Stoker’ shoot was fun,” contactmusic.com, February 28, 2013.

Juno Temple on Getting Seriously Greedy in ‘The Brass Teapot’

Juno Temple in The Brass Teapot

WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place in 2013.

The wonderful Juno Temple has left an indelible impression in movies like “Atonement,” the controversial “Killer Joe,” and as Selina Kyle’s BFF in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Now she gets to move up to a starring role in Ramaa Mosley’s “The Brass Teapot” in which she plays the happily married Alice. She and her husband John (Michael Angarano) are madly in love with each other but also seriously broke, and she is desperately looking for a job but is constantly turned down for other applicants who have more experience, usually in the form of a master’s degree. But one day she discovers a beautiful brass teapot at an antiques store which ends up spewing out money whenever she hurts herself, and from there Alice does everything she can to generate all the money she and her husband could ever need.

I got to catch up with Temple during a roundtable interview at “The Brass Teapot’s” press conference which was held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. She described Alice as being a “confused creature” because while she is not doing well financially, she does have a wonderful husband to lean on during tough times. Temple talked about the similarities and differences between her and Alice and how they each came to inform the way she played this character.

Juno Temple: It’s interesting for me because she’s someone that I find myself very different from, but that’s the challenge isn’t it? That’s the joy of being an actress. At the beginning she can’t see what is in front of her. She just can’t open her eyes and see that actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, she’s bloody lucky. She’s very ambitious and she expects a lot more for herself, and she’s frustrated that she is not where she thinks she should be at. So, her ego is kind of hurt and she’s almost embarrassed to be who she is which I understand, but it’s almost like c’mon, look at this amazing husband you have! Look at this person who adores you, and people can only dream of people that look at you that way sometimes.

Now once the brass teapot, which Temple described as being “magical, mythical and a devil,” comes into the picture, Alice undergoes a major switch as she and her husband acquire a wealth which has long been denied to them. She becomes insatiably greedy as they stand to make so much money through the pain and misery they willfully inflict on themselves and each other. As Temple continued to talk, I really came to admire the objectivity she had about Alice and how the character fits into the overall story.

JT: It’s interesting because she almost kind of deserves to go through what you go through to open her eyes to reality a little bit because I think she’s being a bit lazy with the teapot. The whole joy of booking a job as an actress, auditioning and then coming back and maybe doing a screen test and then actually getting cast and then getting to shoot the same for real, is you earn it. You earn that moment and it’s joyous. With Alice, she’s getting in a muddle that she thinks that this money is hers, but actually it’s the teapot’s and it’s feeding off some really, really important emotional nasty shit that is inside of this couple and giving them money. But actually, it’s destroying these people and give them what they think is awesome and useful and makes life like a good thing like a big house, posh dresses, nice dresses, etc. In the end, she really takes it too far.

The other great thing about Alice as a character is she does have an arc. In acting classes, teachers tell their students to map out the journey the character they are playing has in a play or script. Each character starts off at a certain point and ends becoming a different kind of person at the conclusion, and as an actor you need understand where your character is going from start to finish. This way it becomes not about the end result but more about the journey you take when you finally come to play your character on stage or screen. Temple took the time to describe the journey Alice has in “The Brass Teapot” and of where it eventually leads her to.

JT: I like the arc that she has because she really does learn about herself. It’s almost like she grows up from being a child to a grown-up, and I think it’s ultimately a story about love and about someone really, really loving someone else and helping someone through this crazy addiction, and love kind of conquering everything, I guess.

Speaking of addiction, Temple did quite a bit of research into drug addiction as she felt Alice was essentially an addict herself. The teapot of the movie’s title is an object of greed as well as a narcotic of the most inviting kind. Once it has a grasp on Alice, it almost completely consumes her and her husband in the process.

JT: What I learned about it was that you cannot control it. Your body becomes completely dependent on it that it almost hurts to get rid of it. So that was a really interesting thing for me of it almost being a painful process to sever the tie between her and the teapot. But the tie between her and her husband wasn’t as painful. Drug addiction destroys a lot of relationships, and sometimes it can create new relationships when people get it out of your lives. That was a major research thing for me and a major thought behind it.

But while “The Brass Teapot” deals with the dangers of an addiction, Temple is quick to stress the movie is really a comedy with a lot of humor. It’s a fable at its heart of how money can change you, but it can’t make you happy all the time. Temple is a joy to watch throughout as she takes Alice from being a frustrated and unemployed young woman to an endlessly greedy human being willing to do anything to keep those dollar bills flying in.

As the interview came to an end, she shared with us what keeps her going as an actress.

JT: We’re all in this business because we love it, because we’re passionate about it. If it’s a 20-hour day, tomorrow could be another one, but guess what? There’s a weekend coming. I think you’re in it for the right decisions if you’re willing to do a 20-hour day, and if you need a few extra tears are just going to ask them to wait for 15 minutes. I definitely want to be at giving actress and that’s something I really, really, really treasure.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I DID WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “THE BRASS TEAPOT,” RAMAA MOSLEY, WHICH I DID FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED.

Selena Gomez Reflects on ‘Spring Breakers’ and Ditching Her Good Girl Image

Spring Breakers Selena Gomez

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2013.

There comes a time in a young Disney star’s life when they are faced with the great challenge of transitioning from being a child actor to an adult one. Many are not able to make this switch because either their talent only goes so far, or their fans just don’t want to accept them as anything else. Anne Hathaway managed to go from playing a nerdy princess in “The Princess Diaries” to portraying a single mother forced into prostitution in “Les Miserables,” and she won an Oscar in the process. Now Selena Gomez gets to shed her good girl image in Harmony Korine’s controversial film “Spring Breakers.” After playing the outgoing Alex Russo on “Wizards of Waverly Place” for several years, she gets to join three other young actresses on a holiday of drunken debauchery.

Gomez plays Faith, an evangelical Christian who is encouraged by her three friends Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) to go with them to Florida for the spring break holiday. The fact her friends end up robbing a restaurant located near their college to get the money for this vacation doesn’t seem to faze Faith much as she looks forward to going wild and releasing all her inhibitions. Once there, the girls have the time of their lives as they party like there’s no tomorrow, and they never want the party to end.

It turns out it was Gomez’s mother, Amanda Dawn “Mandy” Cornett, who brought the script of “Spring Breakers” to her attention as she was already a big fan of Korine’s movies. From there, Gomez watched his movies “Gummo” and “Trash Humpers” as she traveled to Nashville to audition for him. In an interview with Justin Harp of Digital Spy, Gomez made it clear she had no reservations about working with the filmmaker who is known for shocking his audiences and pushing the envelope so to speak.

“I was excited and enticed to work with Harmony,” Gomez told Harp. “When I auditioned for Harmony, we talked about how he wanted to leave my lifestyle behind and have me go on this adventure with him. I knew it was going to be crazy, but I was comfortable with it. Harmony wanted an innocence because he thought it would be creepier. I agree with him.”

For any human being, be it an actor or otherwise, it is always scary to step outside of your comfort zone. One has to wonder what it was like for Gomez to step outside of entertainment geared towards children and to take on something far more risqué with “Spring Breakers.” But for an actress who started off her career with an episode of “Barney and Friends,” Gomez told Zorianna Kit of Yahoo! News she very much enjoyed the change of pace this role had to offer.

“It was completely liberating,” Gomez told Kit. “Up until this film, everything I’ve been a part of definitely has been a bit more processed, like how many pieces of jewelry I have on, what my hair looks like. With Harmony, I never wore makeup and he never cared about my hair.”

“I feel like I did grow up shooting this,” Gomez continued. “This was the first movie I shot by myself without my mom coming. It was the first time I got to improvise as much as I have.”

Korine ended up throwing Gomez and the other actresses into a real spring break holiday where everyone was getting obscenely drunk, going crazy and tearing up their hotel rooms without any remorse. This must have seemed incredibly terrifying for the cast and crew as they were dealing circumstances they could not easily control. But despite the majority of the participants being drunk beyond all repair, Gomez told Harp that things were actually pretty cool on set even as she wore little more than a bikini.

“When we did the spring break scenes, we were surrounded by hundreds of spring breakers in bikinis who wore even less, so that was okay,” Gomez said. “I was more uncomfortable in the scenes where I was getting arrested, in jail and in the pool hall with strangers. It added vulnerability and helped me feel grossed out, which was what my character is supposed to feel.”

But despite how crazy things got while filming “Spring Breakers,” Gomez still formed a very close-knit bond with her fellow co-stars. Now sometimes on a film like this, you would expect there to be a lot of catfights between actresses, but that was not the case on this one. Perhaps many just wish it was the case as it makes for press which generates a lot of page views, but Gomez made clear to Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast just how devoted she is to her fellow cast members.

“These girls have my back till death,” Gomez told Stern. “They’re so amazing, sweet, and protective. We did a lot of partying in the movie, so after we partied for 18 hours straight on set, we would like to go home, have great food, and watch movies. We’re not nearly as crazy as they are in the movie.”

Whether or not her role as Faith in “Spring Breakers” comes even close to gaining her any Oscar consideration, Selena Gomez has certainly picked the right project to make it known to the world she is in show business to stay. While she intends to spend more time in 2013 focusing on her music career, she is co-starring with Ethan Hawke in the upcoming action film “The Getaway.” The transition from child actor to adult actor may remain a very difficult one to make, but Gomez sounds intent on making it happen for her.

“The transition is a little weird, but I’m honored to be a part of things that allow me to grow,” she says. “I want to continue doing that, and if it works out and people like it, that’s awesome, and if not, I’m trying to do all I can. I’m just hoping for the best!”

SOURCES:

Justin Harp, “Selena Gomez on ‘Spring Breakers’: ‘I left my lifestyle behind,'” Digital Spy, March 25, 2013.

Zorianna Kit, “A Minute With: Selena Gomez about growing up with ‘Spring Breakers,'” Yahoo! News, March 20, 2013.

Marlow Stern, “Selena Gomez on Playing a Bikini-Clad Vigilante in ‘Spring Breakers,'” The Daily Beast, March 20, 2013.

‘Toy Story 3’ Concludes an Ever so Brilliant Pixar Trilogy

Toy Story 3 movie poster

I could never bear to give my stuffed animals away. They were a huge part of my childhood, and the thought of letting them go forever seemed so horrifying. Society expects you to give up on little dolls and stuff as you become an adult, and I honestly find that to be kind of bogus. Am I really supposed to stop playing with these plush friends of mine because society expects me to? Am I supposed to permanently kill off the childlike wonder inside of me so I look normal and hopelessly embittered like everybody else? Doesn’t this seem cruel?

In the end, I didn’t need to give my stuffed animals away. They got eviscerated by a rat that ended while they sat in a trash bag in the family garage. The rat wanted their stuffing, and he (or she) left behind a lot of rat poop which had to be disposed of carefully because it spreads disease. However, all the Eeyores I have collected over the years were fine as they continue to get preferential treatment ever since I got my first one back in the 1980’s.

It was inevitable these cuddly friends of mine would never get the same amount of attention as the years went by. The dilemma of what to do with these things we grew up with brings about strong emotions and uncertainty, and this is what Andy faces in “Toy Story 3.” Coming 11 years after its predecessor, young Andy who had given much love to these toys is now a young adult about to start college. His mother tells him he can either donate his toys to a nearby daycare center, or they can just go up in the attic. Despite Andy not having played with them in years, he is reluctant to let his toys go.

The majority of the toys from the first two “Toy Story” movies are back including Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Rex, Slinky Dog, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Bullseye and Hamm who has always been one of my favorites. Many, however, have since been donated or thrown out including Woody’s girl, Little Bo Peep. So, while Andy clearly has favorites among the toys he grew up with, it doesn’t make them feel anymore safe now that he is leaving home.

Woody (Tom Hanks) tries to keep the other toys’ spirits up even as he reminds them they knew this day was coming and that they might as well make the best of things while preparing for attic mode. However, an error occurs which has them getting donated to the nearby Sunnyside Daycare Center. At first, the toys don’t feel too bad because they are back in a position where they get to be played with on a regular basis. But despite the warm welcome from other toys, it quickly turns into their worst nightmare as they deal with kids who are not nearly old enough to take care of them. Instead of treating them with love, they get flung all over the place like they were frisbees, painted on, and contorted into positions which would make us cringe uncontrollably. Remember the scene from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” where one of Richard Dreyfuss’ children smashes a baby doll to smithereens? Jessie, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and others get it just as bad here.

Now the third movie in a franchise is typically where a series goes off the rails or “jumps the shark” as some would say. After bringing something fresh and original to audiences everywhere, filmmakers end up relying on the formula which made the previous two movies so good. As a result, number three can come across as a regurgitation of our favorite moments to where it rings hollow because, even if they presented the characters in a slightly different context, it’s still the same old thing. The realization of this is always disheartening and depressing.

I’ve got good news though; “Toy Story 3” manages to escape this unfortunate trap and it proves to be just as inventive, imaginative, funny and heartwarming as its brilliantly made predecessors. Once again, Pixar shows they are not willing to rest on their laurels, and they keep their focus on the story as always.

When I was young, I always loved to believe my stuffed animals had lives of their own and did things I was never a witness to. I could see them taking out the Chevy Suburban my family used to have while the rest of us slept at night. To think they would be comfortable for the rest of their existence just sitting in my room didn’t seem particularly fair, and they deserved a night on town and a few beers. The great thing about the “Toy Story” movies is they understand how far our imaginations can go with this belief, and they play upon it in ways which are hilarious and endlessly entertaining.

Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and the always dependable Pixar regular John Ratzenberger among others are back voicing their beloved characters. Slinky Dog, originally played by the late Jim Varney, is voiced here by Blake Clark, and he makes the transition almost perfectly seamless.

We also get to see Barbie (Jodi Benson) with her biggest role in any of the “Toy Story” movies to date as she finally gets to meet the man of her dreams, Ken (Michael). Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt have a lot of fun playing around with the Ken we think we know, and they love hinting at the kind of person we think he might be. It’s funny to think Mattel didn’t want anyone touching Barbie when the first movie was made, and now it is unthinkable not to include her.

One of the prominent new characters in “Toy Story 3” is a strawberry scented bear named Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, but he’s called Lotso for short. Pixar always makes ingenious casting decisions in regards to the actors they pick, and casting Ned Beatty as the voice of Lotso is further proof. This cuddly and stain resistant teddy bear looks warm and affectionate, and Beatty’s voice makes us feel at home when Lotso first appears onscreen. But Lotso soon turns out to be a deceptive toy who thinks nothing of sacrificing the stronger toys to toddlers who are quicker to destroy than love them. All of what Lotso does here is powered by his feeling of resentment over being forgotten and quickly replaced by his owner. Now he manipulates the daycare center so he can live in comfort while the other toys suffer helplessly.

In terms of movies this sequel satirizes, it combines elements of “The Great Escape” and “Mission: Impossible” to show how challenging it will be for Woody and the gang to break out of Sunnyside. All the various descriptions of how closely guarded like a fortress this seemingly harmless place is leads to one brilliant moment after another. The one toy which gets chosen to watch over the surveillance cameras is an act of genius.

Now if you have already seen the trailer, you know one of the big set pieces in “Toy Story 3” comes when Buzz Lightyear gets reset and goes into Spanish speaking mode. Seeing him woo Jessie with his smoldering dance moves as if he were Ricky Martin or Antonio Banderas had everyone in the audience young and old laughing uncontrollably. The Gypsy Kings also perform a very cool cover of Randy Newman’s song “You’ve Got A Friend in Me,” and this version alone makes me want to buy the soundtrack.

And yes, Randy Newman returns to do the music score for a Pixar movie for the first time since “Monsters, Inc.” Once again, he captures the innocence of childhood and the exciting world these toys inhabit while also capturing the bittersweet emotions which bring this movie to a very emotional climax.

Of all the “Toy Story” movies, this one is easily the darkest as we see these toys get subjected to places which they should not come out of unscathed. Plus, these toys are at the endgame stage as they will soon part with Andy in one way or another. The ending of this one will almost certainly bring tears to the eyes of many as Andy talks to a shy little girl about his toys and Woody in particular. We’ve all grown up with these characters since the 1990’s, so we cannot help but feel like Andy in how we end up leaving certain things behind even if it breaks our heart.

“Toy Story 3” does what every Pixar movie does best; it entertains and enthralls the audience no matter what age they are. With this tremendous sequel, Pixar has completed another trilogy which will stand as one of the best in cinematic history, and they come around full circle with this adventure of Woody and Buzz, the characters who started it all for this animation company. They continue to push creative boundaries with all they do, and their enviable track record both creatively and financially is more than deserved. More power to them!

When this movie is over, you will know what a Lincoln Log looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Knowing the difference is important if you want to keep yourself from gagging!

* * * * out of * * * *

 

 

‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ Anniversary Screening at New Beverly Cinema

Judgment at Nuremberg movie poster

Stanley Kramer’s classic movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” got a very special screening at New Beverly Cinema on October 1, 2012. At the time, the movie was celebrating its 51st anniversary, and introducing it was Stanley’s widow, Karen Kramer. She took the time to talk not just about “Judgment at Nuremberg,” but also of her husband’s other work and the impact his films have had overall.

Karen was actually at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood the night before where they were showing another of her husband Stanley’s best-known works, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

“That film was all about greed,” Karen said. “And of course, globally we thought that was bad in 1963 when that film was made. But of course, globally now it’s become a national pastime.”

“Judgment at Nuremberg” is a different film, Karen said, and one which audiences of all kinds owe it to themselves to see again and again. Like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” this movie is as important to watch today as it was when it first came out.

“I don’t think any of us thought that genocide would ever exist again after World War II,” Karen said. “We knew all the facts and we knew all the heinous crimes that had been committed, but genocide unfortunately is running rampant again. So, this film is unfortunately very relevant (to today’s world events).”

Stanley had made “Judgment at Nuremberg” 14 years after World War II ended, and back then no studio wanted to make it and he had a very difficult time raising the money for its production. But Karen said Stanley thought it was very interesting to explore what happened with the judicial system during that time. The movie was inspired by the trail of four German Judges at Nuremberg who were tried for crimes perpetrated by the Nazi party. The question, however, becomes one of whether or not these particular Judges were fully aware of what Adolf Hitler was doing to the Jews.

“This (trial) is the one he chose because the judicial system was supposed to represent globally men of honor, men with education, men who were supposed to be fair to humanity, and these men of the Third Reich sanctioned all those heinous crimes,” Karen said. “But then I wonder about this and I think, yes of course they’re guilty but then you think about their position which was also explored in this film; if you were a member of a judicial system of the Third Reich, what would happen if you said no, I’m not going to participate? Would you lose your life, your reputation, your financial security? I suppose there was pressure put upon these men, but it doesn’t make it right.”

Karen was correct in saying Stanley explored this subject very well in “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and Stanley himself got a Best Director nomination. It took home two Oscars, one for Maximilian Schell who won for Best Supporting Actor as defense attorney Hans Rolfe, and the other for Best Adapted Screenplay written by Abby Mann. Stanley made over thirty movies which were mostly socially conscious films, and they garnered over eighty Oscar nominations. Karen remarked how Stanley himself never got an Oscar, but that he did receive the Irving Thalberg Award which is the most important award anyone can get from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Karen went on to tell a story about Montgomery Cliff who gives an astonishing performance as Rudolph Peterson and of how he had trouble remembering his lines on the day his scene was shot.

“Stanley and Spencer Tracy (who played Chief Judge Dan Haywood) got together and they said look, I think we can handle this but a little bit differently,” said Karen. “So, Spencer went over to Montgomery and said look, I know you can’t remember the lines but you know what this scene is about. I’ll sit very close to the camera and just look into my eyes and just play from the heart, which of course he did.”

Karen also talked about Judy Garland whose performance as Irene Wallner garnered her an Oscar nomination. Clift did his performance on the stand first and then Garland did hers, and Clift came to watch Garland perform.

“I think he wanted to make sure she wasn’t better than he was, but that’s how actors were then,” Karen said. “So, he’s watching this and he’s crouching down in a corner someplace watching her perform, and he’s crying and she’s crying. He’s just undone and the minute she finished of course everyone applauded her, and he just went over to Stanley and he says, ‘you know Stanley, she played it all wrong!'”

Karen said “Judgment at Nuremberg” is one of her late husband’s better films and that he used film constantly as a tool or weapon to fight against discrimination, bigotry and man’s inhumanity. She also made it clear how Stanley didn’t make a movie unless it had something to say.

“He didn’t think of himself as a message filmmaker which is what interested him, and he took risks,” Karen said. “His life was threatened often, and when we made ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ our lives were threatened because interracial marriage was against the law in sixteen states when he made that movie. He was always questioning things like in ‘High Noon;’ he would question standing up even if you’re alone to do the right thing even if people don’t support you. He often risked his financial security and his reputation to tell his stories.”

A big thank you to Karen Kramer for taking the time to talk about her late husband Stanley Kramer and this movie of his which continues to stand the test of time. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is as riveting to watch today as it was when it first came out a half a century ago. Don’t let the black and white photography turn you off of seeing this classic film because the issues it ponders are the same ones we are forced to deal with today.

Music Review: ‘Music’ by Madonna

Madonna Music album cover

After the memorable introspection of “Ray of Light,” Madonna headed back to the dance floor with “Music.” It’s a throwback of sorts to her first few albums as she gets her listeners excited about her just like they did when she made her breakthrough into popular culture. While she works with her “Ray of Light” producer William Orbit on a few songs, Madonna’s chief collaborator here is Mirwais Ahmadzaï, a French producer, songwriter and one of the leaders in progressive electronica. Together, they create an album which stands on its own from what its predecessor, and it proved this queen of pop music has yet to run out of inspiration.

The title track has us hooked instantly as she celebrates the power of music and how it brings us all together. This is Madonna at her most upbeat, and the song’s tempo never lets up. She’s out to dance up a storm with her “baby”, which made sense since she became involved with film director Guy Ritchie whom she would later marry (and later divorce). Many out there will continue to scream out how Madonna’s music career is all but finished, but from the start of this album she lets you know this is not the case, and how dare you think otherwise.

With William Orbit, she worked on three of the album’s songs: “Runaway Lover,” “Amazing” and “Gone” (which was also produced by Mark “Spike” Stent). “Runaway Lover” is a dance tune fueled by a propulsive beat which sounds so different from anything on “Ray of Light.” Neither artist is focused on achieving musical perfection this time around, but are instead determined to let their emotions and passions flow out without any attempt to quell them for the benefit of the easily bothered.

On “Amazing,” both Madonna and Orbit get introspective as she becomes enraptured by a lover she can’t quite tear herself away from. Through the electronica, we go through the tumult of emotions we experience when we find that one person we feel is meant for us. With “Gone,” she sings with sheer conviction about how she will not compromise herself by selling out or abandoning what she was brought up to believe in.

With Mirwais, she finds a new musical direction, and two follow up the title track with “Impressive Instant.” This album could have easily peaked with the first song, but he and Madonna increase the tempo and get our adrenaline running even faster with this dance track. Still, not all of Mirwais’ contributions to Madonna are confined to the realm of electronica. He captures Madonna in a moment which feels purely honest with “I Deserve It.” However you perceive Madonna as an artist or a person, she makes us believe she deserves that one loving relationship which had long eluded her.

On “Nobody’s Perfect,” Madonna makes us see she is perfectly aware of her own flaws and that she’s just doing her best. Even with all the fame she has acquired through decades of work, there’s still a part of her which is never fully satisfied. Mirwais does even better with Madonna on “Don’t Tell Me” as she is pleasantly defiant against those who attempt to crush her desires. Madonna is determined to live life on her own terms regardless of what others think.

But the album’s best song is “What It Feels Like for a Girl” which deals frankly with the men’s shameful misperceptions of women. Whereas some feel a girl being a guy is no big thing, a guy being a girl just seems flat out wrong to so many and for no justified reason. Opening with dialogue spoken by “Antichrist” actress Charlotte Gainsbourg from the film “The Cement Garden,” Madonna confronts this senseless contradiction head on. But instead of being overly aggressive like the music video it inspired, she and Mirwais create a really beautiful song that gets to the issue by giving us a soothing melody which puts us in a euphoric state. Not once does she try to bang us over the head with how absurd our attitudes to sexual orientation are, but instead make us see those absurdities in a rather calm fashion.

With “Ray of Light,” Madonna set the bar very high for herself, and it felt like her next album would not even compare. But she has constantly surprised and enthralled us throughout her career, and “Music” proves to be a strong follow up containing memorable songs and strong introspection. It’s not better than its predecessor, but it remains one of her best albums from the first decade of the new millennium. Almost 20 years after its release, it remains as tuneful as ever.

Michael Chiklis Talks About His Acting Career and ‘Parker’

Michael Chiklis in Parker

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

Michael Chiklis has been a very busy actor lately. Ever since the transformation his career took when he played Vic Mackey on “The Shield,” he has gone on to appear in two “Fantastic Four” movies as the Thing, and he now stars alongside Dennis Quaid on the CBS television show “Vegas.” But now he’s back on the silver screen in “Parker” which stars Jason Statham and is directed by Taylor Hackford, and in it he plays the vicious bank robber Melander. Chiklis has become one of the few actors working today who can go from television to film and from playing a hero to portraying a villain with relative ease. Many actors get typecast to where audiences won’t allow themselves to see them as anything else, and this is why we admire Chiklis because he appears to have completely bypassed that hurdle.

I got to catch up with Chiklis when he was at the press conference for “Parker” which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. He told us he would soon be directing an episode of “Vegas,” but this is nothing new for him as he previously directed episodes of “The Shield.”

Michael Chiklis: I have fun with it. I deliberately boss everybody around… No, I’m kidding. I don’t make a big deal of it. It’s usually I take a lot of gut from my fellow actors because they want to give you a hard time. It’s to be expected and I just take it.

One of the reporters told Chiklis that Melander is “a real dick,” and he responded to this description with a big laugh. It was never lost on the actor how his character was a complete bastard, and he reveled in the opportunity to play a full out bad guy. While Vic Mackey from “The Shield” may have been an antihero, Melander has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

MC: This guy’s a malevolent prick and great. I can just sort of unabashedly get to be a dick which is fun. When you get to do that in real life? You don’t unless you want to be a pariah. One of the wonderful things about being an actor is you get to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, and the other great thing is that you get to step out of them and not be in the shoes anymore. It was wonderful to sort of step into a pair of shoes of a guy who’s all about himself; a narcissistic, sociopathic douche bag and just let that be.

Since he’s become known for playing such hard boiled or douche bag-like characters, it is tempting to think Chiklis is not much different from the ones he played on “The Shield,” “Vegas” or “Parker.” But he didn’t need to convince us he isn’t because if he was like Melander in “Parker,” he would be in jail or even on death row. Chiklis does get a kick out of how people can mistake him for the characters he has played, but it’s clear he’s not out to live up to this image we have of him either.

MC: I think Vic Mackey in particular had an effect on people. I’ve had grown men shake my hand like this (and he showed their handshakes to be full of nervous energy), and I’m like, oh dude it’s all right, I’m not gonna hurt you. That’s happened, but as the father of daughters that’s not such a horrible thing. There are benefits to that. Sometimes it’s scary though because some people really don’t have a capacity to separate truth from fiction. It is a movie and we’re actors playing parts, and I’m not fucking Vic Mackey, I’m not. I’m not a malevolent prick, I’m just not, but I have fun playing one and I’m sure I’ll play others in the future. I like to mix it up and play all kinds of people.

Like I said, Chiklis is one of those actors who can go from playing a good guy to playing a bad one, and we never doubt he will give a strong performance as either kind of character. All of us at this roundtable interview couldn’t help but wonder if he likes playing bad guys more than good ones, or if he likes playing both types of characters equally. But like any other actor, famous or not, Chiklis is not looking to play the same type of person over and over again.

MC: The reason why that’s true is because I don’t prefer to do one or the other. I like to all of that. I’m terrified of complacency and I do not like to be boxed in. I’ve always wanted be diverse, and the more diverse you are, the more of an opportunity you’ll have to play a wide variety of roles. Some people thrive in an area that they have their note in and their terrific at it, and they just sing the note all the way to the bank and good for them. That’s just not my way. I can’t do that.

Chiklis compared his interest in acting roles to his iPod which he said has music by The Tubes and Sergei Rachmaninoff on it. What he ended up saying made perfect sense as none of us like to listen to the same type of music all the time. We need variety, and it’s this same type of variety which Chiklis demands as an actor. Now most actors don’t get to indulge in any kind of variety, but he admits many give him strange looks when it comes to his taste in things.

MC: I have eclectic taste in film and television and musicals. People freak out because I went to see “Glengarry Glen Ross” when I was just in New York, and then the next night I was at “Newsies and they were like, what the? And I dig both because that’s life. I’d hate like hell to look at the same flower every day no matter how beautiful it was. It just makes to me a more interesting life and career, and I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to afford the opportunity to play these characters.

Now Chiklis didn’t always have this diversity in his career as for years he was known for being on the comedy-drama TV series “The Commish” which had him playing a suburban police commissioner in upstate New York named Tony Scali who worked through various problems with humor and creativity. This led to Chiklis to being typecast as a nice guy in film and television, and to him playing the same type of character in many projects like the ill-received television series “Daddio.” It took someone very close to make him realize what he had to do to change his future as an actor.

MC: A lot of the diversity in my career which I always desired, but I didn’t necessarily know how to attain, I credit to my wife because she made the statement to me years ago: it’s not incumbent upon the studios to reinvent you, it’s incumbent upon you to reinvent yourself. And I just looked at her and went that’s right, that’s correct and that’s brilliant. Actors become puzzle pieces in that he fits there, she’s fits there, and you can understand that. So, I was fitting in the rolly polly affable guy place for a lot of these people, and I couldn’t just expect them in osmosis to go like, oh yeah, Chiklis, bad ass mother fucker because they’ve never seen that from me. So, she simply pointed out, you want them to see you that way? You’ve got to show them that and you’ve got to demand that.

Demanded it he did, and Michael Chiklis’ acting career is now stronger than it has ever been. He plays a remorseless bank robber in “Parker,” and at the same time he portrays a Chicago mobster on “Vegas.” It doesn’t look like this actor will ever lack for a variety of roles at this point in his life, and this says a lot about his talent as well as his perseverance in an industry as fiercely competitive as this one is. More power to him!

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WHICH I DID WITH MICHAEL CHIKLIS FOR THE WEBSITE WE GOT THIS COVERED.

 

‘Doctor Sleep,’ Sequel to ‘The Shining,’ Gets Its First Trailer

Upon hearing that Stephen King’s 2013 novel “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel to “The Shining,” was going to be turned into a movie, many things ran through my head. Could a cinematic sequel be created out of this novel? If so, should it have the same visual style Stanley Kubrick gave to his film adaptation of it in 1980? Wouldn’t it be better to make a movie which stands on its own from its predecessor in the way “Hannibal” stood apart from “The Silence of the Lambs?” Will it be closer to King’s novel or Kubrick’s film? Would it acknowledge the 1997 miniseries which King very much preferred to Kubrick’s film to an infinite degree? Heck, would it even acknowledge the documentary “Room 237” which dealt with the many interpretations and perceived meanings people had of Kubrick’s classic horror film?

Well, several of these questions were answered when Warner Brothers released the first trailer for the cinematic adaptation of “Doctor Sleep” which stars Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance who is now grown up and still suffering from the trauma he endured from the events at the Overlook Hotel. At first, it looks like any other movie as McGregor keeps writing a word or two in chalk on the wall in his bedroom. But then one day this same wall erupts in a way which wakes him up quite violently, and he sees that it says “REDRUM.” From there, you know you are back in Stephen King territory, let alone the universe he created in “The Shining.”

At first, “Doctor Sleep” looks to have a different visual look from “The Shining” as Danny Torrance is now in a different place which is far removed from the Overlook Hotel. But then he meets a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) who has the same gift he has, and he becomes determined to save her from Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), head of the True Knot cult which feeds on the psychic powers of children.

But as things go on, we see images which appear to be strikingly accurate recreations of Kubrick’s film all the way to the carpet on the hotel floor. There’s even a moment where we see the blood rushing like a river out of those elevators, and another where the occupant of room 237 pushes away the shower curtain to see who is invading her private space. The trailer ends on McGregor looking through the same door Jack Nicholson once broke through with an axe and yelled at Shelley Duvall, “HERE’S JOHNNY!!!”

My thoughts on this “Doctor Sleep” trailer are a bit mixed as I feel it could have had more energy as it seems a little too quiet or subdued. At the same time, it shows the movie has a lot of promise as it dares to match the visual style Kubrick gave us years beforehand to where it invites us to compare it to his 1980 horror classic. It is also written and directed by Mike Flanagan who has already given us an excellent Stephen King adaptation with “Gerald’s Game,” and those who read that particular King novel were convinced it was unfilmable until he proved otherwise. Suffice to say, it feels like this movie is in very good hands.

Well, the ultimate comparisons between “Doctor Sleep” and “The Shining” will be made when “Doctor Sleep” arrives in theaters on November 8, 2019. Please check out the trailer above.

Doctor Sleep teaser poster

 

 

Olga Kurylenko on Playing a Lost Astronaut in ‘Oblivion’

Olga Kurylenko Oblivion photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

Ever since her breakthrough turn as Bond woman Camille Montes in “Quantum of Solace,” French actress Olga Kurylenko has left quite the impression on us. In her latest film, “Oblivion,” she stars opposite Tom Cruise as Julia Rusakova, an astronaut who literally drops out of the sky and reveals to him the truth of his existence which has long since been denied to him. It’s a movie with many twists and turns, and talking about is tricky because nobody wants to give any important plot points away, but Kurylenko did her best to talk about “Oblivion” without spoiling anything for us at the movie’s press conference held at the Universal Studios backlot.

I was lucky enough to attend this press conference, and Kurylenko proved to be as beautiful off screen as she is on it. The role of Julia was one she put a lot of thought into, and she explained how the character appears onscreen was the result of her own research as well as working with the movie’s director Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed “Tron: Legacy,” and Cruise. The way she sees it, the creation of Julia as a character was the result of a lot of team work.

Olga Kurylenko: Basically, I spoke a lot, with him (Kosinski) and with Tom. Also, the three of us would have meetings to discuss our characters and our characters’ backstory. We rehearsed. I watched videos of astronaut trainings. I watched some old romantic movies as a preparation and inspiration. It’s a work in process. You grow together.

One has to wonder how difficult it was for Kurylenko to play Julia because there is only so much she can reveal about this character in “Oblivion.” How does one go about playing a character without accidentally unlocking their secrets sooner than later? A simple look or a line of dialogue can easily unravel a character’s mystery because these days audiences are always trying to stay one step ahead of the filmmakers, and keeping secrets from them is damn near impossible. However, it was the secrets of Julia that really made Kurylenko want to do this movie.

OK: What I found very interesting was the fact that there was this mystery to Julia, that I couldn’t reveal everything right away about her after her very first appearance on screen, and that she had to unravel and uncover her story during the whole film. She’s a completely different thing in the end than what we see her as in the beginning. All that mystery was interesting to work on.

Of course, one question on all of our minds was of what it was like for her to work with Tom Cruise. So many things have been said about Cruise over the years, both good and bad, but Kurylenko had nothing but the kindest things to say about him. In fact, she even said how stunned she was at how much he was willing to give as an actor during filming.

OK: He’s a big star and he’s a wonderful actor. We know that, but only his partners and other actors know how much he gives to the other. He gives so much. He’s such a generous partner, and that’s not always the case. I’ve never seen him sit in his trailer. He’ll always be there. If the camera was on me, even if he was far away, just for my eye line, he would prefer to be there. He would never leave the set, even if I told him seriously, I don’t need you, he would still be there because he is involved one hundred percent. That’s a wonderful thing.

Kurylenko also described Cruise as being especially supportive in their scenes aboard the Bubbleship, a spaceship which Cruise’s character, Jack Harper, flies all over what’s left of planet Earth. Those scenes were shot in a gimbal on a soundstage, and there is some behind the scenes footage which shows the two of them spinning all over the place and going upside down which quickly reminded me of a certain amusement park ride I went on as a kid. Being that Cruise is also a licensed pilot, this allowed Kurylenko to put her complete trust in him.

OK: He talked me through it. He knows how it works. It’s very reassuring to have a partner like that. He’s not just an actor who’s there who has no idea. He technically knows how things work. You feel safe with him. I threw up in the beginning when I came out of the (gimbal), so that was done, but I don’t get sick from motion. Thank God. I don’t care. I can be on a boat and everything. It’s rather that I don’t like it psychologically, being thrown around. I don’t enjoy rollercoasters. That was like being in a rollercoaster and a washing machine at the same time because it was spinning all the time. I usually don’t like to go into washing machines when I have a choice, but here I didn’t have a choice. Tom looked at me and said, “You don’t have a choice.” In a way, it’s all these great memories. Today, they sound very funny, so it’s great to remember. It was funny how I slowly adjusted to that machine, because in the end, I was fine. But, in the beginning, it was tough.

Olga Kurylenko continues to give memorable performances which will eventually have you remembering her for a body of work instead of just one single performance. Other actresses like Jane Seymour, Famke Janssen and Diana Rigg have become known for more than being a Bond woman, and the same is certain for Kurylenko as she moves on to her next project which is Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.”