Mike Leigh Transports Us to Another Time in ‘Mr. Turner’

Mike Leigh on set of Mr. Turner

English filmmaker Mike Leigh, the man behind such masterpieces as “Secrets & Lies” and “Naked,” takes a stroll back in time with “Mr. Turner.” It stars Timothy Spall who gives one of the very best performances of 2014 as J. M. W. Turner, the landscape painter who became famous for his work in the 1800’s during the Romantic period. But as brilliant an artist as Turner was, he was also a controversial figure due to his eccentric behavior. He was full of great passion and could be very generous, but he was also quite selfish and anarchic. Leigh’s movie looks at the different aspects of Turner’s personality and how it came to inform the paintings which he became remembered for.

One of the things which really struck me about “Mr. Turner” was how fully Leigh sucked us into the time period of the 1800’s to where it felt like we were really there. From start to finish, it never felt like I was watching a movie but experiencing something very unique. Now there have been many period movies in the past few years but watching “Mr. Turner” made me realize how artificial many of them have been. They take you back in time, but there’s something very modern about their presentation which reminds you that you’re just watching a movie. This made me wonder how Leigh had succeeded in taking us back in time so effectively with this film.

Mr. Turner movie poster

I got the chance to ask Leigh about that while he was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California. In describing how he perfectly captured the period “Mr. Turner” takes place in, he pointed out why authenticity is missing in so many other movies these days.

Mike Leigh: Well to be honest with you, apart from anything else, this is a function of strong views I have about period films. You get any number of period films where they say, let’s not have period language. The audience can’t deal with that. Let’s make it contemporary then the audience can access it. Let’s not make the women wear corsets because it’s not sexy, etc., etc., etc. Now the principle here with this film and with “Topsy-Turvy” and with “Vera Drake” which was also period but here not least is we said okay, let’s do everything we can in every aspect from the performance to the language to the frocks, to the props, to the places, to everything and to make it really possible for the audience to feel they have got into a time machine and have gone back and experienced it. Okay, there’ll be things people say that’s strange and you don’t quite get (what they’re saying), but that doesn’t stop people getting what that means. In fact, that smell of antiquity in some way makes it all the more plausible. I can imagine Hollywood executives being pretty twitchy about the pig’s head being eaten, but that’s what they did.

I keep thinking about “L.A. Confidential” which took place 1950’s Los Angeles but of how its director, Curtis Hanson, didn’t let the actors be governed by the period it took place in. Granted, the contemporary feel didn’t take away from that movie, but that’s the exception. With “Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh shows us we don’t have to give every period movie a contemporary feel, and this is what makes it such a brilliantly vivid movie to watch. You come out of it feeling like you lived through part of the 19th century, and very few filmmakers can pull off such a feat these days even with the biggest of budgets.

“Mr. Turner” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.


‘The Imitation Game’ Presents Alan Turing to a New Generation

The Imitation Game poster

Movies “based on a true story” keep coming at us like Election Day fliers in the mail, but “The Imitation Game” is one of the few that actually deserves our full attention. It portrays the life and work of Alan Turing, one of Britain’s most extraordinary heroes, whose efforts and accomplishments remained unsung for far too long. At the same time, it is a movie about secrets; how we keep them, the importance of keeping them and of the damage they can do when uncovered by others. What starts off as a typical biopic becomes something much more as we watch how Turing and his crew of code breakers helped bring an end to World War II, and of how his life came to a tragic end through needless and unwarranted intolerance.

When it came to finding the right actor to portray Alan Turing, the filmmakers could not have found one better than Benedict Cumberbatch. While other actors would have made the mistake of portraying Turing as some kind of Dr. House clone, Cumberbatch turns him into a fascinatingly complex human being who is brilliant, socially awkward, and very vulnerable in a time where being vulnerable could be a huge liability.

For those who don’t know, Turing was a brilliant mathematician and cryptanalyst who worked at Bletchley Park, the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School during World War II, where he created a machine which succeeded in breaking Germany’s seemingly unbreakable Enigma machine. Cumberbatch makes it clear just how incredibly smart Turing is during his first meeting with naval commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) as he turns a hopelessly bad job interview into an unforgettable demonstration of his deduction skills.

What I loved about Cumberbatch’s performance is how he makes Turing curt with people in a way which is arrogant but not necessarily mean. It’s no surprise his fellow co-workers have a tough time warming up to him as he is determined to do things his way and has little time for anybody who doesn’t think as fast as he does. But part of the fun is watching Cumberbatch take Turing from being an anti-social human being to one who is genuinely eager to involve the rest of his crew in breaking Enigma.

One of the colleagues who came to be a big help to Turing is Joan Clarke, a Cambridge mathematics graduate played by Keira Knightley. Her entrance in the movie is great as the other men consider her to be in town only to apply for secretarial work, but Knightley makes Clarke into a very confident character who is more than ready to prove her worth in a male dominated environment. She also becomes one of Turing’s best friends through thick and thin as she helps ease him into social gatherings and become one of the guys instead of such an isolated individual. Even as Turing’s life heads down the tubes, Clarke is still there for him as she understands him in a way few others do.

I figured “The Imitation Game” would climax with Turing’s machine breaking Enigma, and the sequence where Turing and the others succeed in doing so is intensely exciting. But in a sense, it marks the beginning of the end for this group as they come to discover how the secrets they have uncovered lead to other secrets being made and kept for the good of the people. There’s even a scene where Turing’s crew discovers when a cargo ship is going to be attacked, and they debate on whether or not they will stop it as doing so risks undoing all the work they have accomplished. I love it when dramatic movies provide characters with such difficult dilemmas to solve, and this film comes with some of the most agonizing.

Again, this is a movie about secrets, and it becomes fascinating to see how the keeping of these secrets comes to deeply affect each character. True identities are revealed and compromised, and while certain secrets are kept in the dark to give England an advantage in the war, others secrets come to destroy those who had the misfortune of living in a time where certain behaviors and orientations were criminalized. Turing is the one who suffers the most as his private life is revealed to the world which forces him to face an utterly cruel and unnecessary punishment.

“The Imitation Game” was directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum whose previous works include “Headhunters,” “Fallen Angels” and “Buddy,” and he also directed “Passengers” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Tyldum has done an excellent job in transporting us back to the days of World War II in a way which feels unique and not overly familiar. His emphasis is on the characters just as it should be, and he succeeds in making this not just another traditional biopic. He pays great respect to Turing throughout as this is a man who made a huge difference not just in World War II but also in the development of future technologies we have become far too dependent on these days.

Cumberbatch has long since proved how great an actor he is with his work on the London Stage and on “Sherlock,” and he was prominently featured in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “Star Trek into Darkness.” In “The Imitation Game,” he takes us on quite the emotional ride as we see him triumph in what he does best and suffer horribly in a time where he doesn’t quite belong. He makes you feel Turing’s pain as it is reduced to a shell of what he once was, and the scene where he is unable to even start a crossword puzzle is devastating to witness.

But Cumberbatch isn’t the whole show here as he is surrounded by a wonderful group of actors who are every bit as good. Keira Knightley does some of her best work yet as Joan Clarke, the woman who comes to understand Turing the best. Matthew Goode, so unnerving a presence in “Stoker,” is the epitome of perfect casting as Hugh Alexander; the chess champion and man about town we would all like to be in our everyday lives. Mark Strong makes Major General Stewart Menzies a deeply enigmatic (no pun intended) character who knows far more than he ever lets on. And then there’s Rory Kinnear who portrays Detective Robert Nock, the man who investigates Turing and becomes very eager to keep his life from being ruined. Kinnear is very strong as he shows us the detective’s inner conflict in convicting a man who is truly responsible for saving many lives.

Turing ended up taking his own life at the young age of 43, and it is only in recent years that he has people have acknowledged the terrible treatment he received. In August 2009, John Graham-Cumming started a petition urging the British Government to apologize for Turing’s prosecution, and then Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged and described Turing’s treatment as “appalling.” A few years later, Turing received a pardon from the Queen under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, but many are still waiting for an apology over the way he was treated chemically. This man was responsible for helping to end the Second World War, and while he was alive he was treated with derision more than respect by many. Thanks to “The Imitation Game,” people will now see the kind of person Turing really was and why he deserves to be seen and celebrated as a hero. Believe it or not, his creation of his machine became the prototype for what we today call computers.

This is a terrific film.

* * * * out of * * * *


‘Inverse’ is an Infinitely Thoughtful and Riveting Sci-Fi Movie

Inverse movie poster

When it comes to mind-bending science fiction movies, I have gotten into the habit of trying to stay ahead of the filmmakers to see if I can guess where the story is heading and how it’s going to end. “The Sixth Sense” among other movies got me good, but now I want to beat directors at their own game. I don’t know, maybe I’m just sick of people playing with my head. But with Matt Duggan’s “Inverse,” it really helps not to second guess the filmmaker or attempt to stay ahead of him. Just when you think you know where this movie is heading, it becomes something else and goes out of its way to defy your expectations. What I thought was going to be something along the lines of “Starman” or maybe even “The Terminator” proved to be quite different, and it was in my best interest to just watch it and take everything in.

“Inverse” opens on a small picturesque house in a suburban neighborhood where we see a naked man (played by Josh Wingate) emerging from a swimming pool with no idea of who he is. Once he steps inside the house, he finds pictures of himself and discovers his name is Max, a man who actually died some time ago. His appearance causes quite a shock for his wife and other relatives who come into contact with him, but he can’t seem to remember who they are. Then Max is met by a man named Batter (Morlan Higgins) who informs him he is actually from a parallel universe and has been travelling back and forth between universes to where his brain has been almost completely fried. As Max begins to realize who he really is, he comes face to face with people who want to learn all they can about the universe he is from, and this ends up putting him in grave danger.

Like I said, “Inverse” is not a movie you want to try to get ahead of. Duggan unveils the different layers of the movie’s story to where it truly helps to pay close attention. It invites repeat viewings so you can get deeper into the story and discover new things. The first time you watch it will give you a visceral feeling as Duggan puts you right into Max’s shoes as he desperately tries to discover why he’s here, and you feel his insatiable need to get to the truth before he reaches an unfortunate end.

The other thing which intrigued me about “Inverse” is it’s not your typical good guy/bad guy story. There are no heroes to be found here as everyone has a price to pay for the actions they end up committing. Not even Max is safe as he comes to discover the damage he has incurred during his various travels, and there is really only one person here who hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet this person still gets harmed inadvertently. I leave it to you, the viewer, to figure out who this character is.

“Inverse” meditates on what it might be like to live in a universe where the level of intelligence is much higher than our own. It would certainly be nice to use more than 20% of our brains, so the appeal of certain characters wanting to discover the secrets of this other universe is very understandable. The movie also shows how the quest for higher intelligence can be an obsessive one, and it gets to where we realize there is only so much we should be allowed to discover as it may lead to our undoing.

The cast is all around excellent, and hopefully we will get to see more from them in the future. Wingate carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders as we stay with him from the first scene to the last. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as he is forced to exhibit a wide range of emotions, and he succeeds in making you feel all of them.

There’s also a great supporting performance from Morlan Higgins as Batter, a character who serves as Max’s conscience throughout the film. We watch as Batter explains to Max how he got to where he is now, and in the process of trying to do the right thing, Batter ends up imprisoning himself into a mental cage which offers no easy escape. Higgins is actually one of the most well-known actors on the Los Angeles theatre scene, and he proves to be the kind who inhabits a character more than he plays one. You never catch him acting, and this is one of the joys of watching his performance here.

In addition, you have strong turns from John Burish as Tommy, Max’s brother, who is put in a difficult situation of putting a close family member in harm’s way in order to get at the truth of what’s going on. There’s also Alanna Priere and Michele Lawrence who play the women in Max’s life who are not all they appear to be. To say more about their characters would be giving too much away, so I’ll leave you to see how they fit into this story.

But the best performance in “Inverse” belongs to Chris Pauley who ends up playing two roles here. The most notable role of the two is Bert, a man who knows who Max really is and where he’s from. Pauley is utterly riveting every moment he appears onscreen as he interrogates Max through various methods, one of which includes him rocking out to some techno music for no easily discernable reason. You never know what Pauley is going to do next, and you can’t take your eyes off him for a single second.

“Inverse” was made on a very low budget, and Duggan makes the most of it. In the end, this is a sci-fi movie which thrives more on ideas than on spectacle. Even if the pace drags a little, Duggan holds your attention throughout as the effects of Max’s actions become all the clearer toward the movie’s conclusion. Credit should also be given to the movie’s producers, Stephanie Bell and Trevor Boelter, for seeing it all the way to its completion. Like a lot of low budget movies, this one had a very long journey to the silver screen, and it proves to be worth the wait.

Rumor has it Duggan wants to make a trilogy of movies starting with “Inverse,” and it would be very interesting to see where Max’s adventures will go from here. This is a movie which is coming way, way, way beneath the radar, and it deserves a big audience. Here’s hoping we eventually see a sequel to it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

“Inverse” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. If you are already a member, you can stream it for free.


‘The Theory of Everything’ Gives Us the Stephen Hawking We Never Got to Know Until Now

The Theory of Everything movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2014. I am posting it here out of respect for Stephen Hawking who just passed away in March 2018 at the age of 76. Once diagnosed with ALS, he was expected to live only a few years more, but he succeeded in living on despite what the disease did to his body, and he lived one hell of a life. RIP Stephen.

It is shocking to see Stephen Hawking, as played by Eddie Redmayne, riding around recklessly on his bicycle at the beginning of “The Theory of Everything.” We have long since gotten used to seeing him in his motorized wheelchair as ALS robbed him years ago of the ability to move around on his own, and we all know the sound of his computerized voice which has provided us with an insight to his brilliant mind and allowed him to provide lyrics to Pink Floyd songs. But this movie reminds us he was not always like this, and that there was someone in particular who saved his life in more ways than one.

“The Theory of Everything” is based on the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” which was written by his first wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, and it focuses on their courtship which took place during their time as students at Cambridge University. Stephen looks like a perfectly dressed nerd who has the appearance of someone destined never to have any luck with women, and yet he still manages to catch the eye of the beautiful Jane (may we all be this lucky). At first it looks like an ill-suited coupling as Stephen is a student of physics while Jane’s main studies are in romantic languages. She believes in God, but Stephen’s love of science appears to imply he does not. We watch as they come to love and understand how the other thinks, and the way it is presented to us is both lovely and very believable.

But of course, we all know what will happen to Stephen eventually, and it is shown here in excruciating detail as he suddenly trips and falls down right on his head (ouch). Upon discovering he has ALS and told he has only a couple of years to live, Stephen finds himself shying away from everyone around him including fellow students, professors and even Jane as he desperately doesn’t want to be a pity case for anyone. But Jane has fallen deeply in love with Stephen, and she is not about to give up on him because there is too much to lose.

It’s hard not to think of movies like “A Beautiful Mind” while watching “The Theory of Everything” as both feature strong female characters determined to save their afflicted husbands from the diseases which appear all but fatal. For a time, it looks like this film will be no different in the way it portrays the strained relationship Stephen and Jane as they sacrifice so much to make things work between them. But as the movie goes on, it defies conventions and shows us a relationship which does suffer, but any impediments thrown into their path do nothing to tear apart the infinite respect they have for one another.

The eyes of the world are on Eddie Redmayne right now who as his performance here is utterly astonishing. I would love to ask about how he went about portraying Stephen’s bodily deterioration because he achieves doing so in a way which feels painfully real, and it’s amazing what he’s able to convey when Stephen is no longer able to communicate vocally (at least, until he gets that computerized voice). We always talk about how certain performances are more about imitation when it comes to playing characters based on real people, but Redmayne inhabits Stephen to such an amazing effect to where I found it impossible to label his performance as being one of mere imitation. Even as ALS continues to ravage his body, Redmayne makes the case for why Stephen remains such a respected individual to this very day as well as one who continues to fight the odds.

And let’s not forget the fantastic performance by Felicity Jones who portrays Jane Hawking as the lovely and strong-willed woman she is. While it may look like she has the easier role to play, Jones has an equally challenging role as she shows the unending struggles and sacrifices Jane went through to keep Stephen alive. It’s painful to watch Jane as she uses an alphabet sign to communicate with Stephen after his tracheotomy, and Jones makes you feel her pain as she wonders if she has suddenly taken too much away from him.

“The Theory of Everything” was directed by James Marsh who previously made “Man on Wire,” the Oscar-winning documentary about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center buildings in New York. Marsh does excellent work in keeping all his actors in check to where they never go for scene-hogging moments of an embarrassingly dramatic nature. Truthfully, it is the ordinary moments of these characters lives which are the most fascinating to watch, and Marsh succeeds in taking us back in time to a most romantic period in these couple’s lives.

The other great thing is how Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who spent ten years trying to get this movie made, refused to let the audience look at Stephen Hawking as if he’s a complete invalid. Despite the damage ALS has done to his body, Stephen still managed to live a full life which has included two wives and three children, and it didn’t stop him from doing his work which eventually led to the publication of his novel “A Brief History of Time.” Heck, he even got to guest star opposite Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” What more could someone ask for?

“The Theory of Everything,” is by no means a movie which falls victim to conventions or clichés. It presents us with a marvelous story about two people who come to love one another for their thoughts and minds, and of how their love helped them through various struggles which would have worn anyone else out in less than a year. It also contains some of the best performances of 2014 from Redmayne and Jones who are as brave as they are daring. Portraying real-life people onscreen is always a challenge, but they both took roles based on very well-known individuals and succeeded in making them their own.

Seriously, “The Theory of Everything” is one of the best movies of 2014 that I have seen and it is deserving of many of the accolades it has received.

* * * * out of * * * *


One Last Pablove Run, and One Last Hill

Ben Kenber finishing 23 miles in Feb 2017

It’s been an interesting time for us Pablove Foundation runners. Having conquered 23 miles throughout the treacherous streets of Burbank, Glendale and parts of North Hollywood we haven’t gone through previously, we now had to ease up on our weekly mileage as recovery runs became a much-needed necessity. As the Los Angeles Marathon is now only a few days away, the last thing we needed, or wanted, to do was overdo anything. But with this run being our last for the training season, the coaches still had us running up the dreaded hill in the back of Griffith Park.

We were supposed to run 10 miles last week, but the threat of a major rainstorm forced the coaches to cancel it as they didn’t want to risk us getting sick before the big day. As a result, we had to run those 10 miles on our own. But when it came to this week’s run of eight miles, the threat of a major rainstorm in California was still in the air to where it was reported that it was actually snowing in Sacramento, something which rarely, if ever, happens Still, we needed to get one last run in before traveling 26.2 miles from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica, and had to be both easy and challenging.

The coaches begged us to wear clothing which would keep us dry as heaven forbid we would develop pneumonia or some sinus infection which would make breathing more of chore than it should ever be. So instead of wearing my black Nike jacket like I always do, I wore this red poncho I still possess which in addition to keeping me dry also keeps me feeling very warm to where I become a beacon for humidity. I left my cell phone and iPod in my car as getting either of them wet was out of the question. Plus, we were running only eight miles, and that distance is a walk in the park for us marathon veterans.

Coach James was suffering from a nasty chest cold which he said had him coughing non-stop the night before. Still, he was usual enthusiastic and smiling self as he congratulated us for completing another marathon training season. The course he had in store for us kept us inside Griffith Park as we would be doing a loop around the park and up the dreaded hill one last time. Of course, my interpretation of these directions got a little confused, but more on that later.

We all went to the starting line and Coach James said, “Okay I want all my 14 and 15-minute runners to start first.” I repeated these instructions to everyone to make sure they heard him and, yes, it was my way of briefly deflecting the fact of me being the runner he was talking about. Coach James instructed us to run at a conversational pace and at the same pace we should be expecting to run on race day. I got off to an easy start and kept it up throughout. I was especially surprised at how well I was doing as fitting maintenance runs into my busy work schedule this past week proved to be more challenging than usual. Hey, I got bills to pay!

I kept waiting for the rain to come hammering down on me, and it was already pretty misty. While those clouds didn’t look like they were impatiently waiting to burst all over Los Angeles, the weather in Southern California has been especially bi-polar this past month. More often than not, the days are unseasonably warm, but recently the temperature has been surprisingly frigid, and these cold temperatures are coming to us just as we are about to see the beginning of spring. The weather gods must be having a great time messing with our heads as we are not sure what to expect from one day to the next. Here’s hoping this means the day of the marathon is cooler than it has been in the past few years. Running in the heat is overrated among other things.

I reached the turnaround point which was just pass the pony rides and made my way back. While running through Griffith Park, I came across dozens upon dozens of other runners whom I could only assume were training for the LA Marathon as well. Why did I assume so? Well, a number of them were wearing LA Marathon t-shirts from previous years, and why else would they be running on a rainy Saturday morning, let alone at such an ungodly hour? Many smiled as I passed by them, and some even said “great job” to which I returned the compliment. This proved to be a nice preview of what you can expect on marathon day as the city of Los Angeles comes together in a way it usually doesn’t as complete strangers cheer you on to the finish line.

You can rest assured I was equipped with all the energy gels and electrolyte tablets I could ever need for this run. I also have to acknowledge just how much Pedialyte has been for me this past training season, let alone after a night of heavy drinking. If you are ever lacking for electrolytes, be sure to have a bottle of it handy. It comes in different flavors, and it is a lifesaver if you are dealing with dehydration and diarrhea at the same time. It also has far less sugar than your average bottle of Gatorade.

As I approached the finish line at Griffith Park, I felt the same level of confidence I experienced a few weeks ago when I arrived where we started at what felt like lightning speed. When I am only a few minutes behind the runner who finishes before me, it always feels like an enormous accomplishment. I’m always the last Pablove runner to finish, and it’s always nice to know I haven’t finished an hour and a half later than everyone else.

Coach James did not see me making it to the end, but this is because he expected me to arrive on the other side of Zoo Drive. This is when I realized why I finished with such an astonishing level of confidence: I forgot to run up the hill. How did this happen? Didn’t I hear him say we were going up that hill like he told everyone else? How could I have forgotten about this? Perhaps I was expecting a sign which said “turn left here.” Or maybe I thought he didn’t mean… Upon realizing I forgot to run up the back of Griffith Park, I really started to beat myself up. What a stupid mistake I made! Coach James, however, was still all smiles and told me not to worry about it. Besides, he said, he had tortured us more than enough this past season, and me being a hardened marathon veteran more than spelled out for him how ready I was for the big day. I got in my car and drove off, feeling someone reassured.

But as I filled up my gas tank for $3.19 a gallon at Costco (the fact this is the best bargain for gas right now is depressing), I found myself lost in thought as the demons in my head would not stop beating me up over forgetting the hill. These demons also started taking the form of people from my past who left my ego in tatters during my time at high school, college, jobs, etc. This made my shame at not running up that hill all the more distressing, and I started to believe I would be reminded of this on many, many, many occasions. It was at that point I got back in my car and made the decision to go back to Griffith Park and run up that hill. It may have started to rain a little harder, but I had to do this for me and to shut up those voices in my head.

This time I brought my soundtrack iPod with me as some tunes were required this time out. Keeping in mind how we needed to run at conversation pace, I started off with a few tracks from the soundtrack to “The Color of Money,” a Martin Scorsese film. Don Henley’s “Who Owns This Place” had a nice rhythm to it, and Eric Clapton’s “It’s in The Way That You Use It” kept me from going too fast. And then came the hill, and I suddenly realized why I finished today’s run with such confidence: I didn’t run up the hill.

If there was one thing I wanted to improve this time out it was to go up the hill without running out of breath too soon. Once I begin my ascent, I am immediately ready to give up and walk. I relied on Peter Gabriel’s “The Heat,” the instrumental version of his song “The Rhythm of the Heat,” to get me up there faster than usual. But as soon as the song was finished, I had to admit to myself I was running way too fast. As a result, I took a longer than usual walk break in order to catch my breath. Ultimately, I feel like I have come a long way from when I started this season as I got up to the top a lot quicker than I usually do. And knowing there will be a few hills to conquer during the LA Marathon, it’s good to know I am improving.

I made it back to Griffith Park in one piece and reveled in my success to where. I even found myself smiling. Looking back, running up the hill felt a lot longer than the run itself. You can sure bet my legs were achy breaky (thank goodness my heart wasn’t), and while I wanted to celebrate with a big breakfast burrito, I instead drove back to my apartment and crashed in bed.

It’s hard to believe we have come to the end of another marathon training season. I always expect the last run to come with a strong feeling of finality, but it never feels like an ending. Even though I know we won’t be meeting up at Griffith Park next Saturday, it still seems I am going to be there. This training has been a significant part of my life these past few months and being without it always feels strange. Or maybe this is just a subtle way of someone telling me, “What makes you think you are going to stop training after the marathon?”

So here we go. Onward to another Los Angeles Marathon. Best of luck to us all, and here’s hoping and praying the weather will be much, much kinder to us than it has been in the last few years. As much as I may need a suntan, I don’t want the sun to shine too brightly on us.

LA Marathon 2018

Scott Boliver tree 2014

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: With the funds raised on my personal page and various Facebook fundraisers, I raised a total of $1,011 this season for The Pablove Foundation. As a group, we Pablove runners raised over $48,000. There is still time to make a tax-deductible donation if you would like. Doing this marathon for Pablove has been an honor, and I am proud to continue the fight against pediatric cancer.




Exclusive Interview with Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait about ‘Call Me Lucky’

It was very sad to learn Barry Crimmins passed away on February 28, 2018 at the age of 64. Crimmins was diagnosed with cancer only a month earlier, but the disease spread through his body very rapidly. He was an American stand-up comedian, a political activist and satirist, a writer and a comedy club owner, and his comedy predated that of the late Bill Hicks. He brought the comedy scene in Boston to a new level of prominence after forming the city’s two clubs, The Ding Ho and Stitches. He has long since earned the respect of fellow comics like Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Kevin Meaney and many, many others who continue to sing his praises, But the thing is, I was only just getting to know him just a few years ago.

Call Me Lucky poster

Despite Crimmins having done so much work, many people today, myself included, had never heard of him before. This changed in 2015 with Goldthwait’s acclaimed documentary “Call Me Lucky” which chronicled Crimmins’ beginnings as a comic in New York to his work in the present as a political activist. The documentary also reveals how Crimmins was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and we even see him revisit the scene of his abuse in an effort to come to terms with what he went through. For years, he was an anti-pedophilia activist, and he went out of his way to expose pedophiles on the internet in the 1990’s before turning his evidence over to the FBI. In 1995, he testified before Congress about the need to enforce child pornography laws more than ever before.

In 2017, Crimmins married Helen Lysen, a photographer and font designer, and she was with him when he passed away peacefully. She shared the news of his death and wrote, “He would want everyone to know that he cared deeply about mankind and wants you to carry on the good fight. Peace.” Indeed, his death is a real loss as we need voices like his as the political climate we are currently dealing with in America continues to grow more volatile as days go by.

I was fortunate to talk with Crimmins and Goldthwait while they were doing press for “Call Me Lucky” a few years ago. To this interview, I wore one of my “They Live” t-shirts as I figured Crimmins was a fan of John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic which remains one of the most politically subversive movies ever made. It turns out he had not seen it, but Goldthwait certainly did, and I hope he got Crimmins to check it out before he passed away. I am certain he would have enjoyed it immensely.

They Live Obey t-shirt

Please check out my exclusive interview with Crimmins and Goldthwait above. “Call Me Lucky” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Rest in Peace Barry.


‘Love, Simon’ Digs Deep Enough Beneath the Surface

Love Simon movie poster

When it comes to teen movies, I live for those which take the adolescence seriously. Those years can be rough and tumble ones, filled of strong emotions which can overwhelm our small little worlds to an unbearable degree, and this is reflected in “The Breakfast Club,” “Pump Up the Volume” and “The Spectacular Now.” However, most teen movies deal with those years in a shallow manner to where they do nothing more than magnify the fears we have, or had, of being seen as unpopular or horribly isolated from our peers. Going into “Love, Simon,” which is based on the book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, I figured it would be one of the shallower motion pictures involving teen life as its poster features the cast in all their clear-skinned glory. Surely some of these stars had to deal with acne, right?

“Love, Simon” ends up falling into the middle space of realistic and shallow teen movies. Some parts of it feel forced to where they belong more in a network sitcom, but others strike at the truth of growing up in a way few other movies have recently. In fact, this may be the first movie in which we eagerly await to see two guys kiss. Many were revolted by such a sight in the past, but these days we accept it because love is far more an attractive thing than hate. Realizing this, it makes me believe we have evolved as a society even more than we already have.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is your average teenager who comes from a good home with loving parents and a sister who looks to become a world class chef in record time. He also has a great group of friends he can confide in any time, and this made me very envious of his life as it didn’t feel like I always had that when I was his age. But Simon does have a big secret, and he doesn’t need to spell it out for us. He is gay and has yet to tell his family and friends, and the only way he can discuss his sexual orientation dilemma is with his email pen pal who is also contemplating how he can come out to his own family and friends.

Right from the start, I realized “Love, Simon” is a groundbreaking movie as the filmmakers were not about to paint the majority of the characters in such broad or obvious strokes. I was constantly reminded of the scene from “Clueless” in which Murray tells Cher that the boy she wants to have sex with is in fact a “disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy.” While homosexuals might, and I strongly stress the word might, have been easier to spot in the past, such stereotypes we are now largely irrelevant as we have no business judging anyone as what we say about others speaks far more about who we are.

“Love, Simon” also takes place in a time where our lives have long since become dominated by social media and cell phones. In the past, we could leave our school lives behind once we went home, but kids today cannot do the same as their friends and enemies continue to exert a strong hold over them via the internet, and nobody these days can live without it let alone a cell phone.

Simon is able to keep his sexual orientation a secret even as he reaches out online to another young man who is considering coming out to his parents. Things, however, become complicated when the annoying class nerd, Martin Addison (Logan Miller), discovers Simon’s secret and threatens to blackmail him unless he can set him up with one of his very pretty friends, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). From there, Simon’s life heads into a spiral of sorts as he is forced to lie to his closest friends and comprise their relationships, all in an effort to keep his secret even more secret than ever before.

One of the key elements of “Love, Simon” is how our main protagonist is always trying to find out the true identity of his email pen-pal, Blue. The filmmakers tantalize us with the possibilities of it being this or that person, Director Greg Berlanti teases us with what could be obvious answers, but he instead invites us to see past what we thought we saw and see the bigger picture we have no business denying ourselves. Movies in the past have played on what we think homosexuals look, how they act and dress like, but this one makes how nothing is ever clear cut as it seems.

The only character who you could say exhibits such stereotypes is Ethan, an out-and-proud teenager played by Clark Moore. Ethan doesn’t try to hide who he really is from anyone, nor should he, but he does have a key scene with Simon where he explains how his coming out was not as easy as it seemed. In retrospect, I wished the filmmakers had dug a little deeper into Ethan’s character, but to their credit, they do give him some of the movie’s best one-liners (the “gangbanged by TJ Maxx” line is classic).

I also really enjoyed the camaraderie Simon has with his best friends played by Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Miles Heizer, and Katherine Langford, whose character fares much better here than the one she played on “13 Reasons Why.” Seeing these friends have a great time with one another reminded me of the friendships I had during my high school years. It’s those friendships who help us get through the worst of times, and being a teenager can really suck more often than not. When Simon’s friendships become threatened, it’s painful to watch because losing a friend can seem so infinitely painful to where the heartache seems impossible to cure.

As for the character of Martin, he reminds of the kind of guy I never wanted to be seen as in high school. You know, the guy completely unaware of how annoying he is to others and who thinks so highly of himself that he cannot see the truth of what’s going on around him. The scene where he professes his affection to Abby at a football game is one of those horrifically cringe-inducing moments we all hope and pray never to get caught in, and Miller sells the moment for all the humiliation it is worth.

Simon’s parents are played wonderfully by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, and they present the typical loving couple and parents we always hope to see in movies like these. Garner in particular has a wonderful scene with Robinson as she professes how proud she is of him for coming out. Duhamel, however, has a scene with Robinson where he accepts his son for who he is, and it feels like laughable for reasons I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t intend. Still, it’s fun to see Duhamel come to see how the music he loved in the past is no longer cool.

“Love, Simon” also features a pair of sublime supporting performances from Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell, both who look like they are having the time of their lives. Hale plays Mr. Worth, the high school’s vice-principal who tries much too hard to fit in with a youthful demographic who will never see him as cool, especially when he is so busy taking away their cell phones at any given opportunity.

As for Rothwell, she plays Ms. Albright, the school’s drama teacher who is directing a production of the musical “Cabaret.” Her reactions to her students’ talent, or lack thereof, are priceless as she wonders how she went from doing “The Lion King” on Broadway to ending up here. Just watch Rothwell as she reprimands a pair of immature students who make fun of others for being different. The way she handles them could have been cliched, but it leads to one of the biggest laughs “Love, Simon” has in store for its audience.

In some ways I wish “Love, Simon” had dug even deeper into its subject manner. Many scenes ring true in the ways teenager act and live their lives, but it only gives so far beneath the surface of things to where this comes close to seeming like a missed opportunity. All the same, to have a movie like this one which the life of an adolescent seriously is always a wonderful gift, and this one definitely qualifies.

In the past, gay-themed or LGBT movies were treated with latex gloves as studios feared general audiences would not be quick to accept homosexuals in love. But with movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Kids Are All Right,” we were not given gay love stories, but love stories as passionate as any we had ever watched before. The audience I saw “Love, Simon” with cheered loudly at the sight of two boys kissing each other, and I like to think this shows how far we have come in accepting things which never should have been quicker to accept in the past. Besides, we should agree seeing two boys kiss is a far more pleasing sight than seeing teenagers gunned down by a madman with an assault weapon, wouldn’t you say?

* * * out of * * * *


Eli Roth Talks with Rie Rasmussen about ‘Human Zoo’

Human Zoo movie poster

Director Eli Roth came to New Beverly Cinema on November 15, 2011 to do a Q&A with Rie Rasmussen about her film “Human Zoo.” He credited Rasmussen for giving a “ballsy performance” in her directorial debut and thanked the audience for “taking a chance on a new film and a new director.” It is only now making its American debut thanks to Quentin Tarantino, and Roth made it clear he is among this movie’s biggest fans.

Roth described “Human Zoo” as having a European sensibility in that you don’t know where it’s going, and he really liked how it gives you time to figure things out. When he asked Rasmussen where the story came from, she said it started with life and how it is a human zoo which puts us behind bars. The movie was also inspired by her stepsister Lin and the American citizenship she finally attained. Lin managed to escape the sex slave trade in Moscow which her mother was tragically sold into, and she was dropped off in Copenhagen. Rasmussen talked about how those born in America won the “ovarian lottery” and of how Lin won the second one by making it to Copenhagen.

Rasmussen also described “Human Zoo” as being a prison of the mind. Her character of Adria Shala puts herself into a mental prison when she is taken in by a sociopath named Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko). Rasmussen based this on when she moved to New York where she was “let loose on a pack of wild animals.” Having run into the “alpha male attitude” in America, Rasmussen came to see the “violent aspect of males” which made her learn how to defend herself. She also added how the sociopath Srdjan was based on a real guy, and that the moment when Shawn (Nick Corey) takes off all his clothes during a fight happened in real life.

In terms of resources, Rasmussen said she was given a budget of $4 million. However, after all the union payouts for hotel accommodations and travel among other things were taken care of, she only had a million dollars left to work with. She managed to shoot for eight weeks in France while the interiors were shot in Serbia. Whereas most directors have 10 to 16 weeks to edit their movie, Rasmussen only had five as “Transporter 3” was coming in right afterwards. This is extraordinary as those who’ve seen “Human Zoo” can confirm how the movie looks like it cost much more to make.

When it came to directing the violence, Rasmussen said she was allowed to shoot it by those who survived the atrocities in Bosnia. “Human Zoo” opens with a rape sequence, but she succeeded in making it the least sexual it could ever be. She said when it comes to real life rape, no one ever gets an arousing response. Looking back, the audiences she saw the film with reacted very strongly to what they saw.

Rasmussen has had the opportunity to work with filmmakers like Brian De Palma and Luc Besson, and their influence can be seen throughout “Human Zoo.” While it has yet to receive a full blown theatrical release in America due to it being considered an NC-17 rated movie by the MPAA, those who saw it at New Beverly Cinema can attest to its astonishing brilliance. Here’s hoping that it reaches a wider audience sooner rather than later.


Rie Rasmussen Talks about ‘Human Zoo’ at New Beverly Cinema

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most astonishing directorial debuts ever as it exhilarates and shocks the audience in a way few movies do these days. Its director is Rie Rasmussen who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the film as Adria Shala, an illegal immigrant who is traumatized by a past she is still trying to escape. The fact she performed all these duties on one movie makes her accomplishment all the more profound as it would drive most people in the same position crazy.

Made in 2009, “Human Zoo” finally got its American theatrical premiere in November 2011 courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week-long engagement at New Beverly Cinema. Rasmussen has been at every screening to do a Q&A after the film, and on November 13, 2001, she talked with Julie Marchese who asked the question which needed to be asked most:

“How did you get to be so awesome?”

“Its natural baby, totally natural,” Rasmussen replied.

Rasmussen said “Human Zoo” was inspired by her adopted sister who came out of Vietnam and lost her mother who was sold into slavery in Moscow. Rasmussen’s family spent six years trying to adopt her, and it led her to wonder why our borders and nationalities end up “being our bars.” She talked of how we as a whole “trap ourselves with notions of insecurity” which eventually lead to senseless violence in society. This all fed into the script she wrote which uses the horrific war in Serbia as one of its backdrops.

Born in Denmark, Rasmussen described living in Northern Europe as being “not that fuckin’ fun,” and she even said Inglewood is nice in comparison to it. She got drawn to movies as it provided a much-needed escape from her environment, and because there wasn’t much else to do. The interest of what life had to offer fascinated her, and she found herself looking outside the norm and inspired by what she called the “not so obvious.” She also talked of being attracted to the black and destructive energy in the world and had discovered “Jackass” long before the show made its debut on MTV.

Speaking of that black and destructive energy, it is personified in the character of Srdjan who is an unbalanced psychopath who acts in the wrong ways. In talking about venturing through what she called the “darker alleys of life,” Rasmussen talked about how “the guy who can’t see right from wrong is really interesting.” This is made infinitely clear through Nikola Djuricko’s brilliant performance as Srdjan who gleefully plans to rob houses while the city is being bombed and everyone is hiding in the shelters. We see Shala drawn into this life to where no moral sense is applied to anything, and she gets more deeply involved to where she ends up “going to the dark side.”

Marchese remarked at how “Human Zoo” was sold at movie festivals as a woman’s picture, but she was correct in saying to reduce it to a certain label doesn’t do it justice. Rasmussen’s first movie as a director is so incredible in its accomplishment that it deserves to reach a wider audience than people realize. Boiling it down to a woman’s picture is unfairly misleading, and Rasmussen said it best:

“I have tits, but I’m a person, and that doesn’t take my humanity away.”

Nor should it.







‘Human Zoo’ is a Thrilling Directorial Debut from Rie Rasmussen

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most exhilarating directorial debuts I’ve seen in some time. It’s even more astonishing to learn its director, Rie Rasmussen, also wrote the screenplay, co-produced the movie and stars in it as well. This got me to thinking about what Robin Williams said when he was presenting at the Oscars:

“There’s the writer, producer, director; one of the few people in the world who can blow smoke up their own ass!”

But having worked with Brian De Palma on “Femme Fatale” and Luc Besson on “Angel-A,” Rasmussen has learned from some of the best and shows a confidence few others have exhibited on their first feature. Released in France back in 2009, “Human Zoo” made its American theatrical debut a few years later courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week at New Beverly Cinema.

Rasmussen stars as Adria Shala, a Serbian-Albanian illegal immigrant who, at the movie’s start, is living in Marseille. We soon learn how she is still deeply traumatized by her past, and the story shifts back and forth in time as we see her trying to survive in the war-torn Kosovo. Adria gets captured by soldiers and almost raped when one of them, Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko), saves and takes her with him as he decides to desert the Serbian army. From there, the two of them move to Belgrade where Srdjan becomes a gangster and deals out dozens of weapons to the highest bidder. Adria soon learns the ropes of how he does things and stays with him even as things get increasingly nasty (emphasis on the word nasty). It’s this past which threatens to tear apart her present as she finds a new love while helping a friend of hers obtain the citizenship that will help her find a better life.

“Human Zoo” is at times a shockingly violent movie, but never in a flashy way. The violence is an integral part of the lives of these characters, and it is portrayed in all its foul ugliness. It is never glamorized as Rasmussen is reflecting the real-life tragedy of what happened in Kosovo during the war. There is also a rape scene which is one of the most realistic ever featured in movies as Rasmussen never ever tries to make it look the least bit arousing as other directors might have.

Watching this movie twice in the same week, I was blown away at how many long shots Rasmussen pulled off. We’re in a time where movies seem to be about quick cuts and shaking the camera all over the place more than anything else. But she makes each scene flow naturally even as they seem incredibly complicated to put together. There’s one sex scene which looks astonishingly realistic as it lasts two or three minutes, and it’s this kind of directing that sucks you completely into the story and its characters.

Rasmussen also succeeds in staging a brilliant overhead shot in a gunfight sequence which has her character going down a hall as we see what’s going on in the rooms surrounding it. DePalma, among other movie directors, have pulled off scenes like this many times, but Rasmussen makes it all her own to where it feels very fresh.

“Human Zoo” could have been utterly confusing as it constantly jumps back and forth in time, but Rasmussen manages to separate the timelines to where they are easily identifiable. She uses a cold blue color when presenting the past in the same way Steven Soderbergh used different colors in “Traffic.” The color suits this part of the story as it starts in war torn Kosovo and continues on into a world which looks every bit as cold it seems. Watching Adria’s journey into an abyss where the difference between right and wrong becomes seriously blurred is one we cannot turn away from. Her friendship with Srdjan keeps growing into something else even as he maintains a detached mindset on human nature in general.

Rasmussen also gets away with tackling different issues like immigration, slavery, war, and others, and yet this film never feels overstuffed. They are all issues very important to her, and she gives time to explore them without spelling everything out to the audience.

As an actress, Rasmussen gives a ballsy performance as Adria as she takes her character from a naïve young girl to a very self-sufficient one. It’s a great role for any actress because there are so many levels to play with, and she never misses a beat. In interviews, she has talked about seeing the darker side of life which taught her how to defend herself, and this life experience certainly bleeds through into her portrayal of Adria.

Another terrific performance comes from Nick Corey who plays Adria’s American boyfriend, Shawn Reagan. At first, it looks like Corey will coast on the surfer dude stereotype when Nick bumps into Adria by accident. But Corey imbues Nick with a love for life as we learn how he has traveled from one country to another, and he gets a great scene where he prepares to fight in a bar by stripping off all his clothes. Corey makes the scene believable and funny, and it also helps how Rasmussen said she saw a guy do this in real life.

But the best performance by far in “Human Zoo” comes from Nikola Djuricko who gives us one of cinema’s most enthralling and seductive sociopaths as Srdjan Vasiljevic. We should despise Srdjan for what he does, but Djuricko makes him too entertaining to be around. For the majority of this film, his eyes never tell us if he’s a good or bad guy. In watching the delight he takes in his bad deeds and his bleak perception of humanity in general, Djuricko pulls the audience in with a tight grasp to where we can’t take our eyes off him. It’s a fearless performance as he believably portrays a person with qualities we want to believe are not a part of us, and this actor makes an infinitely appealing character out of a certified monster.

I hope “Human Zoo” eventually finds a wider audience than it has already received. The movie more than succeeds in breaking through all borders in its path, and it deserves to be taken a chance on. We are still stuck in a cycle of endless (not to mention needless) remakes and movies “based on a true story,” but this movie has a life force about it which commands your attention and exhilarates you from start to finish. I can’t say that about many movies which come out these days.

* * * * out of * * * *