Exclusive Interview with Yana Novikova about ‘The Tribe’

The Tribe Yana photo

Yana Novikova is one of the stars of the critically acclaimed Ukrainian drama “The Tribe” which was written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy. It opens up on a shy young boy named Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) who has just arrived at a boarding school for the deaf, and he soon finds himself being initiated into the school’s gang which deals heavily in robbery, bribery and prostitution. But just as he becomes like any other member, he falls in love with one of his female classmates, Anna (Yana Novikova), and this triggers a series of events which in turn leads to an unnerving and unforgettable conclusion.

The cast of “The Tribe” is made up of deaf, non-professional actors, and it contains no subtitles and no narration. Yana has one of the movie’s most challenging roles as her character works after school as a prostitute in order to save up money for a visa. She dives into her role fearlessly, and it’s a role which required a lot from her in terms of nudity and raw emotions. That’s not even to mention the scene where Anna gets an abortion, a subject which remains taboo in many societies.

It was a great pleasure for me to talk with Yana back in 2014 while she was in Los Angeles, and she was joined by two sign language interpreters who helped bring her beautifully long answers to light. For a first time actress, she gives an exceptionally brave performance.

The Tribe movie poster 1

Ben Kenber: How were you cast in “The Tribe?”

Yana Novikova: During my time in Belarus, which was my hometown, I was going to college and was studying engineering, tailoring and was busy with my studies. There was an acting program nearby. I was not involved with that, but I was called by a friend of mine about the fact that in Kiev, Ukraine they had a college for the deaf. So the Ukrainian friend of mine was telling me about how they had acting classes and you could learn about dance and movement and things like that. My friend told me that there was an audition taking place in Kiev, Ukraine, and it was in two weeks. So, I had two weeks to prepare for this audition before I flew out to Kiev. To start my preparation of my rehearsal I had to tell my parents about the audition, and at first my mom said no, absolutely not. She was shocked this was my plan that I wanted to do. She said, “You don’t have friends out there in Kiev. Do you even know the city?” So mom was very concerned. “You can’t drop out of college, you know? You are working on getting your degree” at the college I was attending at Belarus. I had to strongly express to her that, even though I was involved in my studies at college, I really wanted to get into acting. My mom told me repeatedly no and I had to calm her down and convince her, so I changed my story a little bit and told my mom that I was going to be visiting friends in Kiev. So, I had to lie a little bit and I did everything secretive. But I made my preparations, I flew to Kiev and stayed with a group of deaf friends and there was a group of writers there. I didn’t know who the writer was, I didn’t know who the director was, but that director was looking at who had auditioned. He was just sort of incognito. We didn’t know that he was there and he was watching all this. I got completely involved and completely absorbed in rehearsing in preparing for the audition. They tell me that, after the audition, they were going to be selecting three people and I was like, “Three people? That’s it, out of this whole group of 10?” They said there’s just not enough scholarship money to audition for this program. There’s only enough scholarship money to accept three deaf people for this acting program. I was so upset when I wasn’t chosen. I cried and I asked them questions about why I wasn’t selected, “What were you looking for? Were you more concerned about my logistical issues about living so far away? Was that an issue; would I be able to pay for the dorm or not or things like that? What were the selections based on?” And they said, “Well you’re better off staying in Belarus and continuing on with your college and your studies.” And I said, “No, my heart is not in engineering. My heart is not in sewing and tailoring. I really want to get into acting.” So we went back and forth and back and forth, and they repeatedly told me no and that they were not selecting me. But the director, who was present, made time and came up to me and said “Well perhaps if you’re willing to fly to Kiev for the next production and try out for that audition, we have an audition for another project coming up called The Tribe.” So, I ultimately did that. I flew back to Kiev and auditioned. There were about 300 people who auditioned for the film, a long line of people all deaf. They took photographs of us as part of the audition process, they got our profiles and everything, they got information, and after the audition they told us to check the Internet to look and see if your name shows up on the list to see if you were selected. So, for about a week I kept my close eye on the casting list, and when I finally saw my name on that list and that I was chosen I was thrilled. During that process there was actually another very small film project that was going on that I was given a very, very small role in. It gave me an opportunity to do some rehearsal and do some practice in the role as a boy actually, a little rebellious boy character. So I had this real short, small role in this other project, so while I was filming and preparing for that, the director really took a hard look at me and evaluated me during that whole process, and then in September I was already chosen for my role in The Tribe. I was so happy. I completely dropped out of college and I told one of my professors and he was like, “Why are you quitting? You don’t like college? You don’t like what you’re doing?” And I said, “No. I’m actually an actress and I’m getting into acting.” And I let the professor know that I got a job and the professor was like, “Are you joking?” I said, “No I’m actually going to be acting in a film.” So, once I did that I went home and packed, and still my mom didn’t know at that time what had taken place and that I was chosen for this film. So I was in the middle of my packing process and mom came in and said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Well I was chosen to be an actress in a film.” My mom said, “Are you joking? You dropped out of college and you are completely shifting your plan?” I said yeah and my mom obviously got very, very upset and told me no I don’t want you to do this. So I ignored what she told me and I flew to the Ukraine and started filming The Tribe, and I actually didn’t see my parents for the whole month of September. I did stay in contact with my parents, but I didn’t see them in person. Once the production was done, I found out that it was chosen to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival and won some awards and things like that. Finally, through that process and learning about that on the Internet, my parents finally started to believe in me and that’s when the nudity issue came up and that I had to be nude in the film. I said, “Well mom and dad, that’s part of the acting work and life.” So I was so happy that finally I was actually a real actress and that I was a real thing.”

BK: Speaking of the nudity, you were asked to do some things that are not easy for any actor to do. How did you manage to get comfortable with the actors and the crew during the scenes where you had to be nude?

YN: The very first scene, I was just nude from the top up when the boy pushed the new student into our dorm room. But the script actually said that I was just going to be wearing a small little bra type thing, so that was what I was expecting at first during the filming of the first scene. And the director said, “Well actually, do you mind… Let’s time out for a second. I think the scene would do better with nude from the top up without the bra.” So I was like whoa, really? That was really overwhelming. I was upset at that point. I considered myself an actress and I wanted to get into my role, but I wasn’t expecting that. The director and his wife, they talked me down and calmed me down and said this was part of acting, “You don’t need to feel uncomfortable. Just focus on the beauty of the film in its entirety.” They gave me some different films to watch and to help get myself more into my preparation and into the role to help give me some ideas, and there is one specific French film called “Blue is the Warmest Color.” That specific film I watched and it had a significant impact on me. That really, really got me to change my point of view. The director decided to tell me more about the film itself which also went to the Cannes Film Festival and explained the process it had gone through, and I was full of questions about it. So, after seeing and learning more about that movie, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” I started to ask Myroslav, “So is it possible that ‘The Tribe’ could be that successful? Could it make it to Cannes and have the same level of success that the French film for that?” At that point in the whole process I hadn’t been finally selected for that full role, so we were just in rehearsals in that part of the process. So then when it was suggested to me that I watch that other film and started asking Myroslav those questions, it was at that point in time that my point of view completely changed. I got completely into the role during the rehearsals and everything, and I decided at that point I was fine with going with Miroslav’s direction of going full nude, and I wanted to prove to him that I could do it and that I was capable and that the film could make it to Cannes. So, it was a change in my point of view and my focus. During the scene where Sergey and I had to practice nudity, what we did to rehearse for that part was that we got into the nudity slowly so day by day by day we would remove more and more clothing as we rehearsed that scene. So we did all the rehearsal and then the actual filming took place, and finally everything just came together. Everything just melded so we filmed, and little by little by little by little the clothes came off as part of the filming process of that scene, and after we had done that scene it was no problem for me. We just completely filmed the whole thing, and then the next scene was the sex scene where we were in the 69 position. Our characters really grew. We became closer with one another and love developed. Our characters started to love one another, and love requires so many different ingredients and all these small and different elements being in tune with one another and showing that connection to the camera. Both myself and Sergey, it was our very, very first experience doing that type of thing and we were able to connect, and the rest is history.

BK: Another big scene for your character is when she has the abortion, and it’s a very brave scene in the movie. Myroslav explained to me that it was all an illusion, but your acting and the nurse there made it seem very real. How did you go about preparing for that particular scene?

YN: Thank you for that complement on that scene. When I learned that the abortion scene was part of the film, I didn’t have a problem doing it. I knew that it was part of the movie, but the challenge for me was that I didn’t have any real life experience with an abortion. So I had to do my research. I checked on the Internet, I interviewed and spoken to other women who had been through that experience and I tried to incorporate all those different elements into myself and then actually put those into that very scene. The other girl who was active in the film, she and I were in the same boat. She had never had that personal experience, so she and I and a director went to an actual medical clinic where they do those types of things, and the doctor there shared with us everything we needed to know about the abortion process. So, when the filming began the very next morning, it was a very long day. There were many, many takes and many retakes. We had to start from the beginning of the scene, walk-in and take off my clothing and go through the emotional part of it; the crying and the whole thing. And then we had to cut many, many times. We had to stop. Filming that scene went from morning until night. We went through a lot of tissues. I went through a lot of tissues that day. I was completely exhausted. I had to really try my best to conserve my energy before filming and then film the scene, be completely exhausted and then try and find that energy again and film the emotional parts again. It was exhausting and at that time I was trying to connect with the character and going through that abortion experience, and as a woman I tried to really reflect what it was really like and really tried to show it accurately. The director really worked with me to really draw out my genuine emotions to reflect that character. The goal was so that the audience could connect with that character and really connect with what she was really going through, and that scene was very, very important. It had a big impact in the movie. It actually was showing the beauty of what that person was going through. That’s how I would describe it. It was very, very hard work, and it was something I wanted to share.

BK: Were you aware from the get-go that this movie was going to be shown without subtitles or any narration, and how did you feel about that?

YN: I definitely was aware of that fact and I thought it was cool. I liked it because, for myself, when I watch a film I don’t like to look at the action and then have to look down and read. It’s work to do that to watch a film. It’s almost impossible sometimes to get everything all at once. I thought it was cooler because then the audience could really focus on the actual character and all the different elements of the character and really get into that, and so I absolutely completely supported Myroslav in his position to make the film without subtitles.

BK: It’s great because, even if you don’t know sign language, you still get the gist of what’s going on in the movie from scene to scene.

YN: Yes, absolutely. You get the gist, you get the story, you get the emotion, you see the facial expressions and all of that is obvious. It’s impossible to not understand from the beginning to the very, very end. It’s a very colorful film. It’s easy to understand. Everything is right there and presented visually for you. It’s like a person kind of going through and really experiencing that life and gives them that idea of getting into that story.

BK: In the end this is not a movie about deaf people but about people trapped in a situation that does not offer them an easy escape, and that’s what’s great about it. It’s not about one kind of people because it’s really universal in its themes.

YN: Yes, it is universal, absolutely. It’s both. It incorporates the deaf world and there was no interpreting needed actually. You understand the concepts and it’s beautiful. There’s no interpretation of language and it applies to all walks of life and the emotional parts of it as well. It applies to everyone. The emotions are universal. Everyone feels the same emotions. It’s very explicit.

I want to thank Yana very much for taking the time to talk with me. “The Tribe” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. For those movie buffs who are very interested in having a unique cinematic experience, this is a must see.

 

Exclusive Interview with Dragan Bjelogrlic about ‘See You in Montevideo’

Dragan Bjelogrlic photo

See You in Montevideo” was the Serbian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film for the 87th Academy Awards, and it is a sequel to “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream.” It takes us back in time to the first World Cup which was held in Montevideo, Uruguay and follows the national soccer team of Yugoslavia. These players have never been outside of their home country before, and everyone else views them as outsiders to where many of their competitors treat them with utter disdain. However, they eventually win people over thanks to their youthful enthusiasm and their love of soccer. But as the games go on, we see how their love of soccer threatens to be crushed by corrupt forces beyond their control.

Both “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream” and “See You in Montevideo” were directed by the same director, Dragan Bjelogrlic. In addition to being a filmmaker, he is also an actor who is considered by many in his country to be a “Serbian Robert Redford” as he is typically cast in roles where he plays a charismatic criminal like Čika Kure in “The Wounds.”

Bjelogrlic was in Los Angeles for a screening of “See You in Montevideo” at the Landmark Theatres back in 2015, and I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with him afterwards to talk about it.

See You in Montevideo poster

Ben Kenber: This was a wonderful movie. I have to apologize because I haven’t seen the first movie yet.

Dragan Bjelogrlic: Oh no, no. I prefer people who have not watched the first movie because my whole idea was to make a totally independent second movie and totally independent story which is the global story. When we decided to make two movies about the same subject, I organized all of that and I said to my producer, “What do you think? Maybe I’ll make the first movie and then get something else to make the second movie.” But after the success of the first movie he said, “No, no! You must! Just forget about the first movie and try to make something else.” So I like spectators who didn’t watch the first movie (laughs). No really! And you’re right, (if you have) watched the first movie you will feel more comfortable.

BK: That’s a good point because this movie does feel like it stands on its own. I also found it fascinating how the movie chronicles the love of the sport and how it gets corrupted by greed and politics towards the end. How did you go about researching all this project?

DB: I read a lot of articles and a lot of books which were made about soccer. It’s the most popular sport. And there were a lot of journalists that wrote about it, and people didn’t read it back then. There were some people who were aware of what things were going on. There was the enthusiastic period where they were pioneers, and the people who created it first were very enthusiastic and it was good. The first World Cup was very good, but when 100,000 people come it’s some big plan. Okay let’s make some compromise, but it’s really very sad. We are witnesses now.

BK: Regarding the actors who played the soccer players, did you want real soccer players cast or were you just comfortable casting actors whether they had soccer experience or not?

DB: They are actors. At the beginning some of them were students and some of them were actors, but I try to combine actors and athletes. Thanks to God, we Serbs are good at both (laughs). We had a lot to choose from so it was not a difficult choice. That’s something which was not such a big problem. The only problem was the bind. Like somebody said, “Oh people in Uruguay, they will not like this.” It was a problem for me, but they find this fact that the policeman gave back the ball and somebody covered that. I said aha, this could be a subject. Who knows in which kind of sports football will be developed? That’s something which was my idea.

BK: In the process of turning this true story into a movie, did you have to take any dramatic license with the facts at any time?

DB: No. We just followed the facts and we tried to be precise with all facts especially with the match between Yugoslavia and Uruguay. What has happened? Who got the first goal? Who was the referee who canceled the first goal? It’s all the facts you can find in articles. There is my concession that the facts are facts.

BK: What’s up next for you?

DB: I don’t know. I have a lot of opportunities. My main job is as an actor, that’s my main profession. I like to act a little. This may be comfortable for me, but it’s not necessary for me to direct. If I find something which I feel (strongly about), I will direct.

Big thanks to Dragan Bjelogrlic for taking the time to talk with me. “See You in Montevideo” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Exclusive Interview with Toby Regbo about ‘U Want Me 2 Kill Him?’

Toby Regbo in U Want Me 2 Kill Him

In “U Want Me 2 Kill Him?,” Toby Regbo gets one of his biggest and most memorable roles yet. The movie is based on a true story which was chronicled in Vanity Fair about a 16-year old schoolboy who gets arrested for attempted murder. His explanation was he was working under orders from an MI5 agent, but the truth of the matter ends up revealing something far more shocking.

Regbo plays John, a lonely boy who gets picked on at school and is later befriended by one of the most popular students there, Mark (Jamie Blackley). The friendship comes about because John’s sister Rachel (Jaime Winstone), whom Mark has developed an online relationship with, asked him to look out for John. But when Rachel is found murdered, both John and Mark in their devastation vow revenge against the person who took her life. What happens from there is not worth giving away, but it resulted in one of England’s most shocking crimes and showed us all how much of a threat the internet can be.

I got to speak with Regbo over the phone about his role back in 2013. During our conversation we talked about how his role reminded him of his years as a teenager, how much time he spends on the internet, the challenges of playing a character based on a real life person, and he even gave me an update on “Maleficent” which he was cast in.

U Want Me 2 Kill Him poster

Ben Kenber: Were you aware of the Vanity Fair article or the true-life story this film was based on before you got the script for it?

Toby Regbo: Not before I got the script. I read originally for Mark, the other character that Jamie Blackley ended up playing which is a good thing the roles ended up that way. But no, I didn’t know anything about it until I auditioned for it, and then once I got close to getting the part then I started looking further into it. I read the article and I also had some information that wasn’t in the article. I met the journalist who wrote the Vanity Fair Article (Judy Bachrach). In fact, she came to the set. But once you know the story, you want to know as much as possible about the case. It’s so mental that this happened.

BK: What appealed to you most about the role you ended up playing in the film?

TR: It’s hard to talk about the film without giving too much away.

BK: Yes, that’s true.

TR: I guess the interesting thing for me was trying to play the scenes in the movie without giving any tells to the ending. That was the key for me, trying to create something that was believable enough that you don’t see it coming I guess, at least for not a long way away.

BK: Yes, that must have been tricky because you read the script and wonder how you can keep from revealing everything. That must have been a challenge for everybody involved.

TR: We did a lot of rehearsals which is great. It’s the most rehearsal I’ve ever done before starting a film. Andrew Douglas, the director, and his wife Lenore sort of coached us (me and Jamie) through the movie. We did three or four weeks of rehearsals beforehand and working everything out. It was about just trying to keep them real, trying to find out exactly what motivated them. We did a whole bunch of work with sort of character objectives. We used this book called Ivana Chubbuck’s “The Power of the Actor” and we worked out what motivated our characters.

BK: Do you prefer to do a lot of rehearsal before you shoot a movie or does it depend on what movie you’re working on?

TR: It just depends on the whole vibe. I do like rehearsals, but at the same time the best stuff that ever happens is stuff that you don’t plan for. You can do things to death, but you just got to get out and do it for real. I’m doing this TV show and we’ve been shooting for like ten months now, and I’ve never shot that long before. It’s like a different process. You shoot like 8 pages a day, you get scripts like a couple of days beforehand, there’s not much preparation time and you just got to sort of go with it. It’s great training as an actor.

BK: I agree. The chemistry you have with Jamie Blackley onscreen is terrific and you two come across as very down to earth and really good friends. This makes the eventual unraveling of their friendship all the more painful to witness. How did you two develop that chemistry?

TR: It came to us naturally. Jamie is one of the easiest people to get along with that I ever met in my life. And also at the same time, when we started filming we both had fallen in love with girls at the same time, so we had that camaraderie on set. We were always talking about how long we should wait until we say I love you to a girl, so we both had that commonality. It worked out for Jamie, it worked out for me.

BK: Before you made this movie, did you spend a lot of time on the internet and in chat rooms?

TR: I’ve never been in a chat room before. There was a time where we used to go on MSN Hotmail a lot when I was like 14 which was a fucking nightmare. More than anything else, the social media revolution has helped kids talk shit about each other at an exponential rate. It’s been a lot of fun on there talking about who kissed who and what boy did what, and that was a great fucking waste of time for a couple of years. I’ve sort of grown away from it now. I thought I go and do a lot of other things than just waste all this time online.

BK: Were you able to do a lot of research on the person your character was based on? We find out at the end of the movie that a lot of information can’t be revealed due to certain laws in England.

TR: Yes, and I think that’s for the best. The character that I play, I based it on the script which was based on the Vanity Fair article. But I felt very distant from whoever this unknown boy, now a man, is. I don’t know the name, I don’t know who he is, I have no connection with him at all and I think that’s the way that it should be. On Demand on my TV earlier today I saw the trailer for the “Diana” movie. The story is about Diana and how the press ruined her life and how they like ended it. However you want to look at it, it was this terrible event that happened and now she’s dead, but they’ve made a fucking movie about it. I mean the hypocrisy of like saying oh look how terrible it is that the media ruined her life, and then they’ve made a movie about it. That doesn’t seem to make any sense. But I did feel a responsibility playing someone who is real. Although they did a very terrible thing, they shouldn’t have to have this film on their shoulders for the rest of their lives. It based on a true story, but there is this creative license in it.

BK: It’s interesting because with certain movies that are based on true stories, many actors feel the need to learn as much as they can about the real person they are playing to the point where they fall into the trap of impersonating them. I guess knowing less about the person your character was based on was probably more freeing for you because you weren’t shackled to that.

TR: Yeah, I mean I think for some actors they love that. They really want to get inside the heads of the real person, but I find it very, very strange to try sort of mesh this other person over the top of you especially when it comes to your voice and like doing an accent and that sort of thing. I think its dangerous territory where it can become an impersonation. I would always approach playing a real person with extreme trepidation, but in this case I felt like I was playing the character that was written on the page rather than this actual boy who is out there in the real world.

BK: I imagine you’re not far from the age of the character you play in this film. Did playing this role bring back any memories of being a teenager for you?

TR: I was 19 when we filmed it and I’m 22 now. Bringing back memories of a teenager would’ve only been one year. To be honest, being a teenager is fucking shit most of the time. Kids are really, really horrible, and I totally understand escapism that both of these boys are sort of trying to pursue through the power of the mundane inanity being a teenager growing up in the suburbs trying to have the “mad life” as Mark would put it.

BK: I see that you were cast in Disney’s “Maleficent” as the young Stefan. Can you tell us anything about that movie?

TR: Well I can tell you that I’m not in it (laughs). I worked two weeks on that and there was some studio nonsense. Basically they wanted the character that I was playing to be younger, much younger. We were doing this prologue to the film and they wanted 10 rather than 16, but they waited two weeks into filming before making that decision. I’m still glad that I got to be on that set. I’ve never done anything like that before, and I hope that it turns out well. It’s amazing what they are doing there, and I never been in something with such a big budget. Just the level of detail… There were these chests on the set, these like fairy chests or whatever, and you open them and they are like filled with all these intricate gilded swords and beautiful linens and stuff. The level of detail was amazing. I’m sad I’m not a part of it.

I want to thank Toby Regbo for taking the time to talk with me. “U Want Me 2 Kill Him?” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

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 * * * *

If You Liked ‘Captain Phillips,’ Then Check Out ‘Fishing Without Nets’

Fishing Without Nets movie poster

Fishing Without Nets” is the third movie in recent years to deal with Somali Pirates hijacking a ship at sea, and it comes on the heels of “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking.” The scenario may be the same, but the perspective is different this time around. While “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking” observed the pirates from a certain distance, “Fishing Without Nets” is told from their point of view. While no one is in a position to condone their actions, director Cutter Hodierne gives us an empathetic view of their struggles which have led them to take such drastic actions to ensure their own survival.

The movie opens on Abdi (Abdikani Muktar), a Somali fisherman, loving husband and father, walking through the village he lives in. The place is an utter mess and you get the sense it has been a mess for quite some time to where it doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of opportunities. Abdi has no interest in joining the pirates on their hijacking missions as he prefers to make an honest living through fishing, but he becomes increasingly desperate as his last few times out at sea resulted in no fish being caught. In the process of trying to get his wife and son out of Somalia to a better place, he discovers he needs a whole lot more money to make that happen, so he relents and joins the pirates on their latest hijacking mission with the promise of a huge reward. But once the pirates take over an oil tanker, Abdi finds himself wanting to escape the situation even before it descends into paranoia and chaos.

Watching “Fishing Without Nets” reminded me of movies like “Frozen River,” “Maria Full of Grace” and “Alive” which feature characters resorting to life-threatening methods as the bottom constantly threatens to fall out from beneath them. “Frozen River” in particular was about a mother (played by Melissa Leo) whose husband ran out on her with their life savings, and she is barely making ends meet at a minimum wage job. As a result, she resorts to smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the United States which nets her enough money to keep her big screen TV from getting repossessed as well as for the down payment on her family’s new home. In any other instance she would not resort to this law-breaking activity, but when a mother’s livelihood and her family’s are at stake, you know she will do anything to keep them safe.

This is certainly the case for Abdi when he resorts to piracy to keep his family safe, and he even says at one point, “a man is not a man until he can feed his family.” When it comes down to it, “Fishing Without Nets” is about the will to survive, and this remains a universal story all around the world. When pushed to extremes, you can bet no one is going to just lie down, give up and die. No, they are going to fight for their loved ones even if it means breaking the law, so you cannot help but be empathetic to Abdi’s choices even as they put his life in serious danger.

Hodierne went out of his way to cast non-actors for this movie instead of putting known names in it, and this helps to give “Fishing Without Nets” a truly authentic feel which puts you right into the action. While some of the situations are familiar from “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking,” he makes this film stand out with its unique point of view, and he generates some serious tension when infighting breaks out among the pirates. Scenes where a gun is pointed at a character’s head are a dime a dozen in movies, but here those same scenes have an intensity which really shakes you up.

Also, Hodierne and his director of photography, Alex Disenhof, capture some amazingly beautiful shots on the ocean which help illustrate just how isolated all these characters are out there. The last shot pulls away from a boat drifting in the ocean, and it’s truly one of the most memorable moments of any film I saw in 2014. Considering how small of a budget Hodierne had to work with, this makes what he accomplished all the more impressive.

“Fishing Without Nets” may not be on the same level as “Captain Phillips” or “A Hijacking,” but it is an action packed and intense movie which would make for a perfect triple feature with those two. After it was over, I could see why the Sundance Film Festival decided to give Hodierne a directing award because it is a truly impressive debut which invites you into a world that is not the least bit safe to be in. Furthermore, it also allows us to understand why Somalis have been resorting to such methods in order to survive, but then again, anyone else might be forced to do the same when it comes to surviving in an endlessly harsh and cruel world. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s a truth which hopefully none of us will ever have to face like these men do.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Cutter Hodierne about ‘Fishing Without Nets’

Cutter Hodierne photo

2013 brought us two movies about Somali pirates hijacking ships at sea: “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking.” Both were more focused on the hostages and their ordeal while the pirates themselves were observed from a relative distance. Then in 2014, we got Cutter Hodierne’s “Fishing Without Nets” which is another movie about Somali pirates, but this one is told from their point of view. It follows fisherman and father Abdi (Abdikani Muktar) who, in desperation and for his family’s safety, joins up with a group of pirates to hijack an oil tanker with the promise of a lot of money. But as soon as the hijacking begins, Abdi tries to remove himself from the situation as it descends into increasing chaos and paranoia.

I got to speak with Cutter about “Fishing Without Nets” which originally started out as a short film which received the Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. This led to Vice Films financing the feature length version which picked up the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance. The movie takes place in Somalia but was shot in Kenya, and Cutter discussed the challenges he faced as well as the discoveries he made during its filming.

Fishing Without Nets movie poster

Ben Kenber: “Fishing Without Nets” started out as a short film. How would you say it evolved from a short to a feature length movie?

Cutter Hodierne: Well, the hope always was to make a feature, and so the short was kind of made in support of that idea. So we wanted to make the short as a way of sort of researching and developing a concept for a feature, and in the process of making a short film we always hope to use it as a tool to raise the money to make a feature film.

BK: That seems to be more of the case these days. You and the makers of “Whiplash” really had a lot of success with that.

CH: Yeah, I think it’s a really natural model if you can end up pulling off the short film because you kind of work out a lot of things with your concept early on that you test things out, and then if you do a good job you can also have a really powerful tool to get the attention to make a feature as well. I think it’s good in every direction.

BK: I have always heard that filming on water is always very challenging. What were the biggest challenges that you had in filming this movie on the ocean?

CH: Shooting on the ocean is a really, really difficult thing. The ground that you’re walking on, it’s not ground but the surface underneath you is undulating all the time, and for the weather to just kind of change out of nowhere suddenly… You’re kind of at the mercy of all those things. It’s really difficult, and if you get seasick at all that kind of gets in the way. The ocean would just turn in a moment and you would have to cancel the entire day’s shoot. It’s really tricky. It’s kind of like outer space. The ocean is not so far from the idea of being in space. You’re way out in the middle of nowhere and it’s endless in every direction and it’s really tricky.

BK: You also went out of your way to use non-actors for this movie. What made you decide to go in that direction?

CH: I think that it was just kind of the only way. The way to do this movie in an authentic way involved non-actors. It was probably also our only option when we were making a short film. I don’t think this movie, our version of it, would have made sense with anybody really recognizable because it would take something away from the story, and I think you get such a great sense of reality from having people you are not accustomed to seeing and who also just inhabit the role in a really natural way. I don’t think there’s any other way to go about it.

BK: I also heard that you set up scenes for them but that you let them come up with their own dialogue. What discoveries did you make along the way with the process?

CH: Well, I discovered that Somalis talk a lot (laughs). You give a couple of these guys a license to talk and make their own lines, so they will go and talk and talk and talk and talk. So what I really learned was that the most important thing that they all needed to have, if they are going to give themselves their own lines, is knowing where the scene needs to end. They have their own lines but they have a very, very structured scene they were playing within. They knew kind of the beginning, middle and end of the scene and I think what we learned as we went along with the cast and myself and the translator was having an ending to the scene was really crucial. Having a defined place where the dialogue would end was really important. I wouldn’t understand the words but I would understand roughly kind of where we were in a scene even though I can understand the language. It’s amazing what you end up starting to recognize in that setting.

BK: You did a lot of research why you were in Kenya where the movie was shot. What surprised you most about your time over there?

CH: What surprised me most? Everything was always surprising (laughs), but I always felt like I was learning something new about how to operate over there. There’s something around the corner that I wasn’t going to be prepared for, and I think what surprised me the most was probably that I never really completely got the hang of it despite how much time I had spent there. You really feel foreign there even when you know your way around and you think you can talk the talk and this is that. Something will happen that will just remind you that you’re not completely at home no matter how immersed you feel. That was probably the most surprising thing. I was always learning something new.

BK: Other movies that have featured Somali pirates, we don’t always get to know them as individuals but in this movie, we do. Their mission in getting a hefty ransom is doomed once the infighting gets more heated, and at its heart this is a movie about survival. Was that what you were trying to get across as a director that people will do anything to survive?

CH: Yeah, absolutely. This is definitely a story of someone’s hope and quest for survival. Even with the new stuff I’m working on now I sort of realize that’s something I’m definitely interested in; how survival as a mentality informs so many other new things that we do in a more complex society today. Just the desire to survive is like a driving force in a lot of things we do, but in this case with Abdikani (Muktar, who plays Khadir) in the story, this was absolutely a show of when desperate times call for extremely desperate measures. The extreme that is piracy is a really clear show of how extreme the situation in Somalia is; that where you end up in desperation is with four or five guys in a speedboat in the middle of the ocean attempting to capture a ship that is 10 times as big or more, and everyone’s life is at risk trying to climb aboard the ship. The situation is so preposterous that to me the question always begged is, what is the preposterous situation that would lead somebody to that point? It’s a really extreme reaction so we wanted to tell the real extreme cause.

BK: One movie “Fishing Without Nets” reminded me of was “Frozen River” which starred Melissa Leo as a mother who resorts to smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the United States. She wouldn’t be doing this kind of work otherwise, but her main priority is her kids and that overrides everything else. Looking at that, the story of survival is a very universal one and not specific to one culture.

CH: Yeah, and I also wanted this movie to have a little bit of a feeling like you’re in an action adventure film that is just completely inverted. You’re not accustomed to seeing all these action adventure film elements playing out in a setting that you would normally not be in. I wanted to work in a specific genre, so I think that’s about as an exciting thing to do with it as well.

BK: The opening scenes of the movie show the characters living in this decimated area that doesn’t offer them a lot in the way of opportunities terms of making an honest living or raise a family in. Did you see a lot of that in Kenya?

CH: Yeah definitely, and even in Somalia it’s really much worse. I think everybody like walks through a slum for the first time in their life and are kind of like, “Holy shit this is real. This isn’t just something in pictures.” It’s pretty affecting. It’s hard not to be moved by something like that and I think we really wanted to show, what if you woke up and this is what it looked like every day and this is your situation every day? How far will you get pushed before this doesn’t seem like a good option to go out and try to get rich? Yeah it was definitely intentional to show where he (Abdi) lived and where he came from.

I want to thank Cutter Hodierne for taking the time to talk with me. “Fishing Without Nets” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Forgets What Makes Tom Clancy’s Hero Stand Out

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit movie poster

While watching “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” it didn’t take long to realize like the CIA analyst hero of the late Tom Clancy’s novels has been rebooted one too many times. After being portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, Jack Ryan got his clock turned backwards when Ben Affleck played him in “The Sum of All Fears.” I have no problem admitting I liked that film, but casting a younger actor as Ryan ended up screwing with the franchise’s equilibrium. Things were going smoothly beforehand, so why throw a younger actor, any young actor, into this role and take the audience back in time? Why not bring Baldwin back? When is all said and done, Baldwin is still the best actor to inhabit this character.

Well, now we have Pine taking over the role of the brilliant Jack Ryan, and this time the franchise goes right back to the beginning of Ryan’s career. What results is by no means a bad movie as it is well made, features a number of strong performances and some exciting action scenes. Regardless, there’s a feeling of emptiness at this film’s core. The problem it’s not much different from the many spy movies I have seen over the years and, as a result, feels largely forgettable.

For those who remember Fred Dalton Thompson’s character of Rear Admiral Joshua Painter from “The Hunt for Red October,” he gave a speech in which he talked about how Ryan was severely injured in a helicopter crash back in the 70’s and spent the following year learning to walk again. This is the Ryan we meet here when this film begins as he is compelled to enlist in the military after the events of September 11, 2001. From there, we watch him recovering from a helicopter crash, and he recuperates over time with the help of Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the woman we know will eventually become his wife.

During his lengthy recovery, Ryan is paid a visit by CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who recruits him to work for the agency. We then move forward ten years later to when Ryan is working on Wall Street as a compliance officer at a stock brokerage, but this job is of course a cover for his real work as a covert CIA analyst as he keeps an eye out for financial transactions which are suspect and may indicate terrorist activity. Upon discovering trillions of dollars held by Russian organizations have gone missing, the trail of criminality leads him to Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Ryan travels to Russia and, from there, things go bang, bang, bang like you would expect.

I think one of the big mistakes made with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was that the filmmakers decided not to base it on any of Clancy’s novels. I know Clancy was always highly critical of the way Hollywood treated his books and I’m pretty sure he would have had many things to say about this installment had he lived to see it. At the same time, his stories were always intricate and fascinating, and the screenplay here by Adam Cozad and David Koepp is both confusing and hard in comparison. As a result, it feels a surprisingly lightweight compared to the complex stories Clancy came up with.

In addition to playing Jack Ryan’s chief nemesis, Branagh also directed the movie and has come to show a real panache for filming exciting action scenes. There’s also a crazy car chase near the end which really did have me on the edge of my seat, and he has come a long way from directing big budget movies like “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” and “Thor.” Granted, you can’t go into this expecting something on the level of his Shakespeare cinematic adaptations, but he does provide the audience with a fun time. The problem is the story of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is very routine, and it was hard to get excited about what unfolded once I made this realization.

In all fairness, Pine does make for a good Jack Ryan in the way the character was written here. As tired as I am of movie studios making all these origin movies, Pine brings the same kind of energy to this role as he did to “Star Trek” as James Kirk. While this Ryan is not as interesting here as he was in the previous films, Pine does the best that he can with a somewhat underwritten part.

One performance in particular I want to point out is Costner’s as Thomas Harper. It’s fascinating to watch him here after having seen him as the heroic young soldier in movies like “No Way Out,” and he is aging nicely into the role of the elder statesmen who imparts his wisdom and advice to newbies. Part of the fun in watching Costner here is how mysterious he makes Harper. Ryan is not sure he can trust him fully, and Costner’s constant poker face throws not only him off, but the audience as well.

But despite all the good things about “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” the whole package feels far too ordinary for it to work effectively. We’ve seen this kind of story before, and not much was done to elevate it above the usual fare this genre has to offer. In the process of trying to make Jack Ryan young again in the hopes of jump starting this long-running franchise, they have robbed the character of what made him unique. In this film, he’s like any other young CIA recruit who has yet to understand what he’s getting himself into, and I have seen this scenario played out far too many times before.

For me, Jack Ryan was always the accidental action hero. He has a brilliant mind and always gets to the truth of the matter because he takes the time to study the individual at the center of the story. Like John McClane, he’s not out to be the hero and is always looking to avoid life threatening situations, but he eventually steps up to the plate because no one else can, and no else knows what he knows. If they ever do make another Jack Ryan, they need to make him the analyst he’s always been and not just start from scratch with an origin story. We know all about Ryan’s past, now let’s deal with his present and future. Is this too much to ask?

* * ½ out of * * * *