Exclusive Interview with Cristobal Tapia Montt about ‘The Stranger’

Cristobal Tapia Montt in The Stranger

American audiences may not know who Cristobal Tapia Montt is, but they will not be able to forget him after watching him in Guillermo Amoedo’s horror thriller “The Stranger.” A Chilean actor who has spent much of his career acting in Spanish language movies and television, this Eli Roth production marks his first ever performance in an English language movie.

In “The Stranger,” Cristobal plays Martin, a mysterious man who arrives in a small town in the southern part of Canada to find his wife, Ana. The both of them are afflicted with a horrible disease which gives them a never ending thirst for human blood, and Martin is in town to kill her. But upon discovering that she died some time ago, he decides to commit suicide so he can eradicate this disease once and for all. However, after being brutally attacked by the town bullies, his presence in the town soon creates a snowball effect which will plunge its inhabitants into a bloodbath they have little chance of escaping.

It was a real pleasure talking with Cristobal about his performance in “The Stranger” as well as his other artistic works. Many have noted his unique approach to the characters he has played, and he has also been recognized for his work as an illustrator and musician. We talked about these things and a lot more, and I invite you to read our interview below.

The Stranger 2014 movie poster

Ben Kenber: Your performance in “The Stranger” is really good. I liked how you managed to hold the audiences’ attention with a single stare.

Cristobal Tapia Montt: Yeah, there is a lot of staring in the movie (laughs).

BK: How do you prepare for moments where you have a close-up and stare straight into the camera?

CTM: I don’t know if there’s much preparation for that. I didn’t have a lot of lines so I knew I was going to have to work on this face and attitude where you could actually understand what I was thinking or feeling, so I just jumped into it on set. Guillermo was directing me pretty well so he really knew what he wanted, so it wasn’t really hard at all. It was really easy and everything was pretty clear from the beginning.

BK: In the production notes it says you have a very unique approach to the characters you play. Could you tell us more about your approach?

CTM: Well actually I didn’t go to acting school, so every character I portray comes from a gut feeling. Whenever I try to imagine myself being that person, I see my characters as living beings as friends or people I’ve met. I just try to understand and have empathy on whatever they are going through or what they are going through and just understand them. It’s a really weird way I guess for me because I don’t know if anyone else does it that way, I try to picture living creatures and try to understand and be them for a while. It’s very intuitive and I just play it by my gut and whatever I feel. It sounds pretty scary, but I guess acting is kind of like that for me.

BK: Your character of Martin remains a very mysterious character in this movie. He’s not necessarily a vampire, but he’s also not entirely human. Did you have to create a whole backstory for this character?

CTM: Yeah of course. Actually I asked Guillermo to help me out with that because he had a backstory already, so he shared it with me and we discussed it and I kind of added my own backstory because there was a couple of years and a couple of gaps in between with his wife and what he had gone through. I just had to come up with this whole backstory and the 16 or 17 years that passed by because you don’t really know what happens. The moment that Martin appears in this northern city in Canada I just had to fill in the gap of all those years, so that’s essentially the backstory that had to come out with because no one really knew went on during those years.

BK: I’m guessing Martin has been on this planet for a lot longer than anyone realizes.

CTM: Yeah, exactly. That was the whole idea in the beginning. That was a really interesting transition because you never hear the word vampire in the movie, but you end up understanding that this movie has a lot to do with vampires. Vampires never grow old, but what we wanted to do… You can see a transition through the years. We just wanted him to have the longer beard and we wanted him to look actually beaten up a little bit just because emotionally he got beaten up so we wanted to reflect that physically. I think you see that in the movie as well because in the flashbacks we (Martin and Ana) both look not younger but fresher in a certain way and Martin looks lighter. We wanted to portray them with this burden 16 years after, and I think you can appreciate that in the movie.

BK: Speaking of emotion, this looks like a very emotionally draining part to play. How were you able to maintain such strong emotions throughout shooting?

CTM: I guess as an actor you get trained to get into it, and when you’re on set you do it and then you just disconnect. It’s kind of like a switch, you know? So in that sense it wasn’t really hard. It was just like getting into it and then stepping out of it. We were shooting at night because most of the movie was shot during the night, so whenever I went home to the cabin where we were staying in, I would just sleep so I didn’t really have any time to even think about it. I would get there at like seven in the morning and wake up at four and just go for it again. It’s exhausting as an actor to shoot at night, but emotionally I was doing pretty much okay. It was fine. It wasn’t really that draining.

BK: What was it like shooting in that small town where the movie takes place?

CTM: It was amazing. It’s this beautiful town down in the south of Chile and it’s amazing. It’s like super green, it’s way down south, it’s rainy, it’s gloomy and it sets the perfect mood for the movie as well. I think we were there for 12 or 14 days, and just to be there and to stay at a cabin that was right off the shore of the lake and wake up to that was very inspiring. It’s easier shooting a movie when you’re in such an amazing location.

BK: What interested you most in playing Martin in “The Stranger?”

CTM: Well the fact that it was in English. It was my first opportunity to play a character in English because I’m a Chilean actor so I’ve only played characters that speak Spanish. So it was a huge opportunity acting wise to try that out and see what it was like to act in English and if I could pull it off as well. The opportunity to be in a movie that is being shown in the (United) States was just very, very attractive, and that possibility existed since the beginning of the movie. I speak English and Spanish so I wouldn’t mind trying to act in English for a while because I’m a native speaker. The story was very interesting as well. I’m a horror fan and I’ve always liked vampire movies and science fiction, and it’s my kind of genre so that was pretty cool as well. It’s like, I get to play a vampire! It was a very interesting project so I was attracted to it from the beginning.

BK: What would you say are the differences between doing a movie in English and doing a movie in another language?

CTM: I thought it was going to be very, very different and maybe more difficult, but in the end it’s the same thing. It’s the same language film wise. You’re speaking a different language but you’re still telling the story. It’s very much the same, you know? I don’t think it’s different at all. But the main difference is that you will probably reach a larger audience because English is a universal language. A lot more people speak English than Spanish I’m assuming. I could be wrong, but I guess it’s easier to show in different countries if it’s in English, and I guess that’s the main difference from acting in Spanish.

BK: I also read that you are known for your music and illustrations as well as your acting. Can you tell us more about that?

CTM: Yeah sure. I’ve been drawing since I was very young. I’ve been drawn to the artistic world in all its forms. I started playing on the piano when I was 12, so I’ve been always been playing music and drawing since an early age. I dropped out of college. I was there for three years and I was interested in studying design. I just kept on drawing and playing. I’ve played a cello, I’ve played in different bands, and I have a music project that I’ve been a part of as well. I compose and sing and play instruments. I just really enjoy art as a channel of expression. Acting is just another form of that art and it just helps me get stuff out of my system. If I didn’t have that it would drive me nuts. It’s very personal though. I’ve never really gotten my music out there. At art shows I show my drawings and I’ve had two that sold, and I play live sometimes. But it’s not something that… I feel like it’s more personal. I really don’t have the urge to just like put it out there and make everyone listen to my music. It’s more about me expressing myself and putting myself out there.

I want to thank Cristobal for taking the time to talk to me. “The Stranger” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

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‘Let the Right One In’ is Not Your Average Vampire Movie

Let The Right One In movie poster

This is one of those movies which made me want to be a film critic. I love to tell you what movies I really like and flat out hate, and this is even though I never expect to change your mind over what you want to see. But there are certain movies which I really want to see get the audience they deserve, preferably in a movie theater. “Let the Right One In” is a Swedish movie which absolutely deserves a loyal following as it is one of the most beautifully atmospheric movies to be released in 2008.

“Let the Right One In” follows young Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) who is an overlooked kid bullied by kids at school that have somehow managed to recite lines of dialogue from “Deliverance.” This is a kid who clearly doesn’t have a lot of friends and, like many, is a child of divorce. One night, while he is in the snowy courtyard outside his home, he is met suddenly by a girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) who has just moved in to the same apartment complex he lives in. Eli quickly tells Oskar she cannot be his friend, but soon enough, they bond over a Rubik’s Cube. Their friendship builds throughout the film and serves to strengthen them as people to where they deal more effectively with the struggles they are forced to endure.

There is one catch though, and it is clear to the audience from the start: Eli is a vampire. An older man believed to be her father ends up blocking the windows with cardboard and other forms of paper to keep their apartment dark. We see this same man going out in the freezing dead of night to kill total strangers and drain them of their blood. Why? He’s got another mouth to feed. When he screws up and doesn’t come through, she shows just how vicious she can be in her displeasure. But despite who she is, you can see why she is cozy with Oskar. They are both outcasts in a world which does not appear to have much use for them.

What I really loved about “Let the Right One In” is how it takes the vampire genre and makes it fresh by combining it with the things we remember from our childhoods: bullies, sucking at sports, parents not understanding what we are going through, etc. We always hope for that one person who understands us and can relate to what we are going through. Some of us are lucky enough to have such a person in our lives, but others are not so fortunate. You could say Oskar becoming friends with a vampire would not be in his best interest, but these are two people who need each other at this fragile point in their lives.

We see Oskar getting whipped at school by the bullies who pick on those they feel are beneath them, and they call him piggy among other things. We later see Oskar fantasizing about getting revenge on those bullies as if he is Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” With Eli, he finally gains the confidence to get back at them. In turn, Eli’s growing friendship with Oskar provides her with an escape from her eternally lonely existence. The real question between them is, can Eli trust herself enough to keep herself from making Oskar another victim? And if she reveals herself to him as who she really is, will he still accept her as his friend? Despite the bloody acts we see Eli committing, deep down we don’t want to see these two separated.

“Let the Right One In” was directed by Tomas Alfredson, and he does a brilliant job of opening the movie in silence as he slowly introduces us to the snowy suburb these characters inhabit. The frozen landscape mirrors the dreary and repressed nature of everyone who lives there, and it feels as cold as upstate New York felt in “Frozen River.” Of course, were the movie to be sunnier, it would require certain characters to die a fiery death. The vampires here perish the way vampires do in other movies, and if you are a vampire, it should go without saying how you appreciate the nighttime more than others.

But the wonderfully surprising thing about “Let the Right One In” is how tender it is. While it looks to be marketed as a horror movie, it is really a love story. While it is at times a violent and bloody movie, what really wins out is the bond these Oskar and Eli share throughout. It is a chaste relationship (they are both 12 after all) built on need and loneliness. There is a moment where they both lie together in bed which is really lovely, and it reminds one of how lonely it can be to sleep by yourself.

There is not a weak performance to be found here, but the real credit goes to the two young kids who have to carry this movie almost entirely on their shoulders. Kare Hedebrant is exceptional as the young Oskar, and there is never a moment in his performance which feels fake or forced. Hedebrant is a natural in front of the camera, and he acts from the heart. This is not your typical nerdy school outcast we see in so many movies made in America, but instead an intelligent boy who never quite fits in the way we all wanted to when we were his age.

Lina Leandersson, who plays the vampire Eli, has the toughest role in as she has to portray different emotions without actually showing them. Throughout the movie, her face is a mask of coldness and detachment, but in her eyes, she shows how much she likes being in this unexpected relationship with Oskar. Leandersson’s performance is truly remarkable as she makes you care about this person even after she commits abhorrent acts against others. This is not your typical vampire drunk on power like Lestat in “Interview with The Vampire,” but one who was born into this life without any choice. Eli does not drink the blood of others because she wants to, but because she needs to in order to survive. Lina’s drive is one of survival, not dominance.

Looking back at 2008, there were a lot of really good movies released, but not many great ones. Maybe I hold things to a higher level than I should, but “Let the Right One In” is a true masterpiece in this or any other year. It is both frightening and tender at the same time, and I don’t know of many other movies which have managed this balance ever so effortlessly.

* * * * out of * * * *

The Best Movies of 1998

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Now it’s time to go to take a look back at the movies of 1998, the same year when California started the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. What else happened that year? John Glenn became the oldest astronaut to go into space, and it gave us a reason to watch the space shuttle launch on television for the first time in years. The Denver Broncos became the first AFC team in 14 years to win the Super Bowl when they beat the Green Bay Packers (I’m so glad I didn’t bet on that game). The whole controversy of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky exploded, which the President’s enemies seized upon like teenagers going through their dads’ Playboy magazine issues while he is out of town. And, most ironically, a court in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan ruled Osama Bin Laden was “a man without a sin” in regard to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Well, we knew better.

As for myself, I was in my second year at UC Irvine and my fourth year in college. I still had a dorm room all to myself, and I was busy with school work and appearing in plays like “Enrico IV,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “Twelfth Night.” Of course, I tried to get out to the movies as much as humanly possible. Many of the movies on this list were ones I actually didn’t get around to seeing until years later, so it’s probably best I am giving you this list now.

10) There’s Something About Mary

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Bobby and Peter Farrelly gave us one of the most gut bustlingly hilarious movies ever made with “There’s Something About Mary.” I was dying with laughter while watching this, and I wasn’t expecting to. In retrospect, I should have though since this came from the same directors who gave us “Dumb and Dumber” as well as “Kingpin.” On top of having so many funny moments, the movie also has a lot of heart in the way it portrays the two main characters played by Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Those of you who think Diaz can’t act need to revisit this one because she is so good at playing a teenager who we later see as a well-meaning adult with a few too many stalkers.

9) American History X

American History X poster

So much has been said about the making of “American History X” and the bitter disagreements between director Danny Kaye and actor Edward Norton. Regardless of whoever deserves the majority of the credit, there is no denying this is a powerful and unforgettable motion picture. Norton gave one of his very best performances as white supremacist Derek Vineyard, and the look he gives the camera after killing two people is a very chilling moment which is not easily erased from the conscious mind. Norton also gets great support from Edward Furlong who plays Danny, Derek’s brother, who threatens to tread down the same hateful path Derek has. Kaye, even if he didn’t get final cut, gives the movie an amazing look in black and white which captures the escalating tension of Derek’s journey from a world of hate to a place of compassion.

8) Dark City

Dark City movie poster

Alex Proyas followed up his brilliant adaptation of “The Crow” with this visionary sci-fi epic about a man who wakes up not knowing who he is, and of those who seek to capture him for their own twisted experiments. Like many great sci-fi movies “Dark City” was a box office flop upon its release, but it has since found an audience to where there’s no denying it is a cult classic. You’re along for the ride with Rufus Sewell as he tries to understand his place in a world ruled over by the Strangers. This movie remains suspenseful to the very end, and the look of the movie feels like no other I have ever seen. Jennifer Connelly also stars in the film and looks beautiful as always, and it is interesting to watch Kiefer Sutherland play a complete wimp after watching him for so long on “24.”

7) Out Of Sight

Out of Sight movie poster

Here’s the film which brought Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney together, and it also serves as one of the very best adaptations of an Elmore Leonard novel. With “Out of Sight,” Clooney proved without a doubt there was going to be life for him after “ER” with his performance as Jack Foley, the most successful bank robber in America. When Jack escapes from jail, he ends up sharing some trunk space with Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). “Out of Sight” also marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Soderbergh, and he got to work from a truly great screenplay written by Scott Frank. Also starring is the fantastic Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Isaiah Washington, and the always reliable Don Cheadle. This movie was a lot of fun, and Clooney and Lopez had such great chemistry together.

6) Rushmore

Rushmore movie poster

This was my introduction to the highly creative world of Wes Anderson. “Rushmore” is an instant comedy classic with more depth to it than many others of its genre at the time. Max Fischer is an original eccentric character; a young man involved in just about ever extra-curricular activity at school, all at the expense of his report card. Jason Schwartzman is great fun to watch as Max, and Bill Murray gives a performance which damn well should have earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With Anderson, his comedy is fueled by the sadness and isolation of his characters, and of the things they desperately want in life. “Rushmore” is filled with as much meaning as it does laughter as both Schwartzman and Murray battle over the same woman played by Olivia Williams. It also owes a lot to the late Mike Nichols’ enduring classic “The Graduate.”

5) Happiness

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Todd Solondz’s follow up to “Welcome To The Dollhouse” may very well be the most ironically titled film in cinema history. Controversy followed “Happiness” all the way to its release, and the MPAA of course just had to give it an NC-17 (it ended up being released unrated). One of the blackest of black comedies ever, it follows the lives of three sisters and the various people who are a part of their fragile lives. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a frighteningly memorable performance as an obscene phone caller, and it was one of the first real examples of the brilliant character actor we came to see him as. But the bravest performance comes from Dylan Baker who plays Bill Maplewood, a psychiatrist, husband and loving father who, unbeknownst to his family, is a pedophile. Baker ends up making you empathize, but not sympathize, with a man who we would instantly despise once we discovered his terrible secret. As unappealing as these characters may seem, Solondz makes us see ourselves in them and to where we cannot see we are not all that different.

4) The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski movie poster

I didn’t get to see this when it first came out in theaters, but my parents did eventually strap me down in a chair to watch it, and this should give you an idea of how much they love it. The Coen brothers follow up to “Fargo” did not get the same reception when originally released, but it has since built up an amazing cult following. Much of this is thanks to Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as Jeffrey Lebowski, aka “The Dude.” What could have been a performance built on stereotypes of the slackers we know in life turns out to be perhaps the most memorable character in Bridges’ long and underappreciated career. It’s an ingenious comedy with not so much a plot as a connected series of events which start with the theft of Lebowski’s carpet which he says “tied the whole room together.”

3) The Truman Show

The Truman Show movie poster

It still seems criminal how Peter Weir’s film was surprisingly, and infuriatingly, snubbed for a Best Picture nomination. Jim Carrey gives a truly astonishing and powerful performance as Truman Burbank, a man who slowly becomes aware he is the star of a reality show about his life. Yes, he should have been nominated for an Oscar alongside his co-star Ed Harris, but there will always be the unforgivable snubs. “The Truman Show” has become a prophetic movie of sorts as reality shows are the norm in today’s culture, and this obsession we have over them remains very strong to this day. Andrew Niccol’s screenplay was a brilliant examination of how we might view our own life if we found out it was based on a lie, and that everything we know is actually wrong. This stands as one of Weir’s best American movies in a long and justly acclaimed career.

2) Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare in Love movie poster

While it may have gotten overwhelmed by Miramax’s Oscar campaign, there’s no denying “Shakespeare In Love” is a brilliant and highly entertaining romantic comedy. The film tells the story of how Shakespeare goes about writing “Romeo & Ethel The Pirate’s Daughter” which eventually evolves into “Romeo & Juliet.” Gwyneth Paltrow gives a most entrancing performance, and I loved watching her every second she appeared onscreen. Joseph Fiennes is perfectly cast as Shakespeare himself, a passionate writer who is hopelessly enamored with Paltrow’s Viola. I also got a huge kick out of Geoffrey Rush’s performance as theater manager Philip Henslowe, a brilliant comic creation who steals every scene he is in. “Shakespeare In Love” serves as not just a great story of how Shakespeare may have written one of the most immortal plays ever, but also as a great satire of the film industry and how it deviously profits from unsuspecting participants.

And now, drum roll please…

1) Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan movie poster

It would be so easy to put this as my top choice thanks to some of the greatest and most vividly realistic depictions of war ever put on film. Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the landing on D-Day is nothing short of amazing, and it was one of the reasons why I saw this film five times before it came out on DVD. But moreover, it is a deeply respectful salute to those war veterans who served in the armed forces during World War II. “Saving Private Ryan” is filled with great performances from a great cast of actors including Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, and Barry Pepper among others. But it also has one of Tom Hanks’ best performances ever as Captain John Miller, a military man who leads his men to find Private Ryan and bring him back home to his grieving mother. Just when you thought Spielberg had peaked with “Schindler’s List,” he gives us yet another astonishing piece of filmmaking which shows him at the height of his powers.

Honorable Mentions:

Primary Colors – Great Mike Nichols movie based on the book by Joe Klein. It features great performances from John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates as well as an extraordinary cameo from Mykelti Williamson.

Bullworth – Warren Beatty’s scathing political satire may be a bit too broad, but it is a very effective indictment of how the Democratic Party let the American people down.

Elizabeth – Definitely worth mentioning for the brilliant breakthrough performance of Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s crazy novel is a true acid trip nightmare with Johnny Depp channeling the reporter all the way to what he was famous for wearing and smoking.

God Said, Ha! – Wonderful concert film of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show which deals with the time her brother got cancer, and of how she later got cancer herself.

Hurlyburly – Film adaptation of David Rabe’s play dealing with Hollywood players and their dysfunctional relationships with one another. Features a great cast which includes Sean Penn, Chazz Palminteri and Anna Paquin among others.

Affliction – Another emotionally bruising movie from Paul Schrader which is based on the novel by Russell Banks. Features career high performances from Nick Nolte and the late James Coburn who deservedly won an Oscar for his work.

Next Stop Wonderland – An eccentrically unusual kind of romantic comedy which helped introduce actress Hope Davis to a wider audience.

Ronin – One of the last films from the late John Frankenheimer which stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Jonathan Pryce among others. It also features some of the very best car chases of the 1990’s.

Run Lola Run – Kinetic German thriller with Franka Potente that views her attempts to save her boyfriend’s life in three different ways. This was a great teaser for what would come in 1999, when movies of different kinds proceeded to change the rules of where a story could go.

The Thin Red Line – Terrence Malick’s first movie in over 20 years threatened to be more meandering than anything else, but it is filled with such powerful imagery and to where many considered it more anti-war than “Saving Private Ryan” was.

John Carpenter’s Vampires – It was advertised as a horror movie, but it is really a more of a western and the closest John Carpenter has ever come to making one. James Woods’ performance alone is worth the price of admission as he plays the most badass of vampire hunters, Jack Crow.

Star Trek: Insurrection – Much better than its reputation may suggest, being an odd numbered Star Trek movie and all.

 

 

The Best Movies of 2008

2008 Year in Review

2008 was a year more memorable for those who died as opposed to the movies which were released. We lost Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro, George Carlin, and Paul Newman among many others, and their individual deaths spread through the news like an uncontrollable wildfire. Their passing left a big mark on us all. When we look back at this year, I think people will remember where they were upon learning of their deaths more than anything else. Many of us will remember where we were when we got the news that Ledger died, but they will not remember how much money they wasted on “Righteous Kill,” the second movie featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro sharing the screen at the same time.

2008 did pale in comparison to 2007 which saw a wealth of great movies released. Many said this was a horrible year for movies as high expectations ruined some of the big summer tent pole franchises, and that there were too many remakes being made. The way I see it, 2008 had a lot of really good movies, but not a lot of great ones. There was a big drought of good ones worth seeing at one point in this year, and I started to wonder if I would have enough of them to create a top ten list. If it were not for all those Oscar hopefuls released towards the year’s end, I am certain I would have come up short.

So, let us commence with this fine list, if I do say so myself, of the ten best movies of 2008:

  1. The Reader/Revolutionary Road

I had to put these two together for various reasons. Of course, the most obvious being Kate Winslet starred in both movies and was brilliant and devastating in her separate roles. Also, these were movies with stories about relationships laden with secrets, unbearable pressures, and deeply wounded feelings. Both were devoid of happy endings and of stories which were designed to be neatly wrapped up. Each one also dealt with the passing of time and how it destroys the characters’ hopes and dreams.

The Reader” looked at the secret relationship between Winslet’s character and a young man, and of the repercussions from it which end up lasting a lifetime. There is so much they want to say to one another but can’t, as it will doom them to punishments they cannot bear to endure.

Speaking of escape, it is what the characters in “Revolutionary Road” end up yearning for, and the movie is brilliant in how it shows us characters who think they know what they want but have no realistic way of getting it. Each movie deals with characters who are trapped in situations they want to be free from but can never be, and of feelings just beneath the surface but never verbalized until too late.

Both Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes direct their films with great confidence, and they don’t just get great performances from their entire cast, but they also capture the look and setting of the era their stories take place in perfectly. All the elements come together so strongly to where we are completely drawn in to the emotional state of each film, and we cannot leave either of them without being totally shaken at what we just witnessed.

 

Doubt movie poster

  1. Doubt

Looking back, I wondered if I was actually reviewing the play more than I was John Patrick Shanley’s movie of his Pulitzer Prize winning work. But the fact is Shanley brilliantly captures the mood and feel of the time this movie takes place in, and it contains one great performance after another. Meryl Streep personifies the teacher you hated so much in elementary school, Philip Seymour Hoffman perfectly captures the friendly priest we want to trust but are not sure we can, and Amy Adams illustrates the anxiety and confusion of the one person caught in the middle of everything. Don’t forget Viola Davis who, in less than 20 minutes, gives a galvanizing performance as a woman more worried about what her husband will do to their child more than the possibility of her child being molested by a priest who has been so kind to him. Long after its Broadway debut, “Doubt” still proves to be one of the most thought provoking plays ever, and it lost none of its power in its adaptation to the silver screen.

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona movie poster

  1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This is the best Woody Allen movie I have seen in a LONG time. Woody’s meditation on the ways of love could have gone over subjects he has long since pondered over to an exhausting extent, but this is not the case here. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a lovely and wonderfully character driven piece filled with many great performances, the best being Penelope Cruz’s as Javier Bardem’s ex-wife. Cruz is a firecracker every time she appears on screen, and she gives one of the most unpredictable performances I have seen in a while. Just when I was ready to write Allen off completely, he comes back to surprise me with something funny, lovely and deeply moving.

One day, I will be as sexy as Javier Bardem. Just you wait!

 

Slumdog Millionaire poster

  1. Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle, one of the most versatile film directors working today, gave us a most exhilarating movie which dealt with lives rooted in crime, poverty and desperation, and yet he made it all so uplifting. It is a love story like many we have seen before, but this one is done with such freshness and vitality to where I felt like I was seeing something new and utterly original. Boyle also reminds us of how “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” was so exciting before ABC pimped it out excessively on their prime-time schedule. “Slumdog Millionaire” was pure excitement from beginning to end, and it was a movie with a lot of heart.

 

 

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  1. Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard turns in one of the best directorial efforts of his career with this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s acclaimed stage play, “Frost/Nixon,” which dealt with the infamous interview between former President Richard Nixon and TV personality David Frost. Despite us all knowing the outcome of this interview, Howard still sustains a genuine tension between these two personalities, one being larger than life. Howard also has the fortune of working with the same two actors from the original stage production, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. Langella’s performance is utterly riveting in how he gets to the heart of Nixon without descending into some form of mimicry or impersonation. You may think a movie dealing with two people having an interview would be anything but exciting, but when Langella and Sheen are staring each other down, they both give us one of the most exciting moments to be found in any film in 2008. Just as he did with “Apollo 13,” Howard amazes you in how he can make something so familiar seem so incredibly exciting and intense.

 

Rachel Getting Married movie poster

  1. Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” had a huge effect on me with its raw emotion, and I loved how he made us feel like we were in the same room with all these characters. When the movie ended, it felt like we had shared some time with great friends, and Demme, from a screenplay written by Jenny Lumet, gives us a wealth of characters who are anything but typical clichés. Anne Hathaway is a revelation here as Kym, the problem child of the family who is taking a break from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. Kym is not the easiest person to like or trust, but Hathaway makes us completely empathize with her as she tries to move on from a tragic past which has long since defined her in the eyes of everyone. Great performances also come from Bill Irwin who is so wonderful as Kym’s father, Rosemarie DeWitt, and the seldom seen Debra Winger who shares a very intense scene with Hathaway towards the movie’s end. I really liked this one a lot, and it almost moved me to tears.

 

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  1. The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” has grown on me so much since I saw it. While it may be best known as the movie in which Mickey Rourke gave one hell of a comeback performance, this movie works brilliantly on so many levels. To limit its success to just Rourke’s performance would not be fair to what Aronofsky has accomplished as he surrounds all the characters in the bleakness of the urban environment they are stuck in, and he makes you feel their endless struggles to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. “The Wrestler” succeeds because Aronofsky’s vision in making it was so precise and focused, and he never sugarcoats the realities of its desperate characters. Rourke more than deserved the Oscar for Best Actor, which in the end went to Sean Penn for “Milk.” Furthermore, the movie has great performances from Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood as those closest to Rourke’s character, and who look past his faded fame to see the wounded man underneath. The more I look at “The Wrestler,” the more amazed and thrilled I am by it.

 

Let The Right One In movie poster

  1. Let the Right One In

Tomas Alfredson’s film of a friendship between a lonely boy and a vampire was so absorbing on an atmospheric level, and it surprised me to no end. What looks like an average horror movie turns out to actually be a sweet love story with a good deal of blood in it. Widely described as the “anti-Twilight,” “Let the Right One In” gives a strong sense of freshness to the vampire genre which back in the early 2000’s was overflowing with too many movies. The performances given by Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli are pitch perfect, and despite the circumstances surrounding their improbable relationship, I found myself not wanting to see them separated from one another.

 

Wall E poster

  1. Wall-E

Pixar does it once again and makes another cinematic masterpiece which puts so many other movies to shame. With “Wall-E,” director Andrew Stanton took some big risks by leaving a good portion of the movie free of dialogue, and this allowed us to take in the amazing visuals of planet Earth which has long since become completely inhospitable. Plus, it is also one of the best romantic movies to come out of Hollywood in ages. The relationship between Wall-E and his iPod-like crush Eve is so much fun to watch, and the two of them coming together gives the movie a strong sense of feeling which really draws us into the story. The fact these two are machines quickly becomes irrelevant, especially when you compare them to the humans they meet in a spaceship who have long since become imprisoned by their laziness and gluttony.

I gave the DVD of this movie to my mom as a Christmas present, and she said you could do an entire thesis on it. Nothing could be truer as it is such a brilliant achievement which dazzles us not just on a visual level, but also with its story which is the basis from which all Pixar movies originate. “Wall-E” is the kind of movie I want to see more often, a film which appeals equally to kids and adults as this is not always what Hollywood is quick to put out.

 

The Dark Knight poster

  1. The Dark Knight

The biggest movie of 2008 was also its best. I was blown away with not just what Christopher Nolan accomplished, but of what he got away with in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. “The Dark Knight” is not just an action movie, but a tragedy on such an epic scale. Many call it the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Batman series, and this is a very apt description. Many will point to this movie’s amazing success as the result of the untimely death of Heath Ledger whose performance as the Joker all but blows away what Jack Nicholson accomplished in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” but the sheer brilliance of the movie is not limited to the late actor’s insanely brilliant work. Each performance in the movie is excellent, and Christian Bale now effectively owns the role of the Caped Crusader in a way no one has before.

Aaron Eckhart also gives a great performance as Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, one which threatened to be the most underrated of 2008. The “white knight” becomes such a tragic figure of revenge, and we come to pity him more than we despise him. The movie is also aided greatly by the always reliable Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Everyone does excellent work here, and there is not a single weak performance to be found.

Whereas the other “Batman” movies, the Joel Schumacher ones in particular, were stories about the good guys against the bad guys, “The Dark Knight” is a fascinating look at how the line between right and wrong can be easily blurred. Harvey’s line of how you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain perfectly personifies the dilemmas for every character here. To capture the Joker, Bruce Wayne may end up becoming the very thing he is fighting against. I can’t think of many other summer blockbusters which would ask such questions or be as dark. “The Dark Knight” took a lot of risks, and it more than deserved its huge success. It set the bar very high for future comic book movies, and they will need all the luck they can get to top this one.

Sandy King Carpenter on the Failure of ‘Vampires: Los Muertos’

 

 

Vampires Los Muertos movie poster

While at New Beverly Cinema on November 19, 2011 to talk about her husband John Carpenter’s movie “Vampires,” producer Sandy King also took the time to discuss its sequel “Vampires: Los Muertos.” Not many know about this one, but this is largely because it went straight to video and features none of the cast from the original. King went into detail about its making, and she summed up Screen Gems handling of it by saying, “They fucked it up!”

The original storyline for “Vampires: Los Muertos” had all the original slayers dead which necessitated that a new team be put together. Tim Guinee was set to return as Father Adam as his character was intended to be the through line for both films. Sheryl Lee was also expected to return as Katrina who had since become queen of the vampires. King never mentioned if Daniel Baldwin would be back, but I’m assuming this was not a real possibility.

The problem with this sequel, King said, was the studio thought they got the movie, but really did not. This was quickly proved when they introduced some changes during the film’s production. Guinee ended up not being brought back, and we see Father Adam’s grave at the movie’s start. Instead, they ended up casting a Mexican soap opera star named Cristián de la Fuente as a completely different character named Father Rodrigo. King was also perplexed as to why they cast rocker Jon Bon Jovi as the lead vampire hunter, Derek Bliss. Granted, Jovi is not a bad actor, but King best described him as looking like a “New Jersey surfer.”

At one point, the studio called both King and Carpenter and asked them, “Can you tell us how to fix this?” To this, King replied quite bluntly, “No.”

In the end, King made clear how the studio’s interference is what messed everything up. She said if you don’t understand the myths and legends involved in the original “Vampires” movie, then “you’re going to fuck it up.” Also, if your main villain of a female vampire is not the hottest lady, then the story won’t make a lick of sense. All of this, in her opinion, showed a lack of respect not just for the audience, but also for the genre as well.

In all fairness, “Vampires: Los Muertos” is an okay movie if you expect nothing more than a decently entertaining B-movie. Even King said director Tommy Lee Wallace, who had directed another sequel to a John Carpenter movie with “Halloween III: Season of The Witch,” did a lot of neat things which were fun to watch. I myself loved the kick ass rock and roll score by Brian Tyler who has since gone on to compose the music for “Rambo” and several of the “Fast & Furious” movies. But when all is said and done, this sequel was a missed opportunity, and it serves as yet another example of why studio executives would do best not to interfere too much, if at all, in the moviemaking process.

Sandy King Revisits ‘John Carpenter’s Vampires’ at New Beverly Cinema

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Movie producer Sandy King dropped by New Beverly Cinema on November 19, 2011 to talk about her husband John Carpenter’s movie “Vampires.” The website Horror Movie a Day hosted the midnight screening which brought out a small but dedicated crowd who yearned to see it on the big screen again. Carpenter once said he originally became a filmmaker to make westerns, and this movie, based on the novel “Vampire$” by John Steakley, is the closest he has ever come to making one.

King said the project came to her and Carpenter after she bailed out a producer who was working on a Largo Entertainment show. Largo Entertainment was the sales engine behind this feature, and while she and Carpenter were used to putting their own projects together, King stated they were “more for hire” when it came to “Vampires.”

Casting “Vampires” was Reuben Cannon who brought actors from all over the world to his casting office. There were even midget actors, King said, who were about 4 feet tall. Many who did get cast as blood suckers were stunt people as they had to perform the movie’s most dangerous stunts. The scene where vampires climb out of the dirt proved to be the roughest stunt of them all.

Thomas Ian Griffith was cast as the imposing master vampire, Valek. King was standing outside Cannon’s office when she noticed a shadow looming over her. It turned out to be Griffith who is actually 6’ 6” tall, and his height gave her the strong impression of a vampire. King also said on top of Griffith being tall and athletic, he could also act which made him a perfect choice for the role.

When it came to describing James Woods, who plays Jack Crow in the film, King said bluntly, “He’s nuts!” It turned out King and Woods shared the same publicist, and Carpenter was looking for a really good actor to play Jack Crow. While Woods proved difficult to cast as the studio didn’t want him in the lead, Carpenter was intent on working with him despite the actor’s reputation of being difficult to work with. The role, however, turned out to be a real physical challenge for Woods as he was not really an athletic actor at the time, something which is hard to believe after watching “Vampires.” Stunt coordinator Jeff Imada ended up helping him look as tough as he does onscreen, but King stressed Wood’s role was really about acting more than anything else.

As for the rest of the cast, King described them as “great” and “really good people.” She said Sheryl Lee, who played the prostitute Katrina, is “the most unspoiled actress ever.” Daniel Baldwin, who played Montoya and is better known for his legal problems, was not a problem according to her. In fact, when a wave of bronchial flu ended up infecting the cast and crew, she said Baldwin ended up bringing soup for everyone.

While receiving a rather middling reception when it debuted domestically, “John Carpenter’s Vampires” is a better movie than people generally give it credit for. Like many of the “Halloween” director’s films, it has gained a strong cult following years after its release, and I still find it to be wildly entertaining to this very day.

Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein Look Back at Making ‘Near Dark’

It was a huge shock to learn Bill Paxton just passed away at the age of 61 due to complications following heart surgery. He was an actor who was always working and never seemed to be lacking for jobs in front of or behind the camera. His sudden passing sent shock waves through Hollywood and movie fans everywhere, and we are all mourning the actor who was unforgettable in “Aliens,” “Apollo 13,” and the HBO series “Big Love.” The following article is one I wrote after I attended a screening of vampire movie he was gleefully fantastic in, “Near Dark.”

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Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein stopped by New Beverly Cinema on Thursday, May 6, 2010, to introduce a screening of “Near Dark.” The cult classic was a vampire western horror hybrid made back in 1987 by Kathryn Bigelow, and it was being shown as a double feature with her Oscar-winning triumph, “The Hurt Locker.” It was not a sold-out screening, but this ended up making it all the more intimate for those who showed up. Paxton looked especially happy to be there as he was astonished there was actually a print of this movie still in existence.

When Paxton and Goldstein made “Near Dark,” they were just coming off of James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Paxton played Hudson, the soldier who thought he was so bad ass, and later turned into perhaps the single most annoying coward in cinematic history. Goldstein played Private Jenette Vasquez, one of the fiercest soldiers you could ever hope to meet and who, unlike Hudson, remained just as fierce when things got worse. Bigelow, who would later marry and divorce Cameron, called him to ask if it was okay to use some of his “Aliens” actors for “Near Dark.” Clearly, he said yes, so Paxton and Goldstein, along with Lance Henriksen, got parts in Bigelow’s movie. Paxton even said in one scene from “Near Dark,” the man who ends up sticking his hand out the car and giving him the finger was Cameron himself.

Having gone through what Paxton described as the “baptism of fire” with Cameron on “Aliens,” he, Goldstein and Henriksen formed a strong family unit as a result which made the making of “Near Dark” feel like a homecoming. When someone asked what the difference was in directing styles between Cameron and Bigelow, Paxton said bluntly, “No one else is like Cameron.”

 As for Bigelow, Paxton described her as the prettiest director he has ever worked with. According to him, she absolutely loves actors and encouraged them to come up with stuff for their characters throughout the shoot. Goldstein went on to talk about how the actors did an improvisation on how they would block out the sun in the car while driving around town in broad daylight. They came up with the idea of putting aluminum foil on the windows which blocked out the rays that would have immediately broiled their fragile skin and reflected them away so they could live on to do what they did best, suck the blood out of clueless human beings. The way Paxton saw it, most of “Near Dark” was improvised, and he said it was great to work with a director who was so excited to work with actors.

In regards to Henriksen, Paxton described him as “a guy you could never really read.” Back then, Henriksen had these intense finger nails which he had to cut off as Paxton described it, and Paxton even went on to talk about the time he and Henriksen were driving down the highway and got pulled over by the police. As the police officer was getting out of his patrol car, Paxton said Henriksen looked at him and said, “Should we take this guy out?”

Actually, that led to Paxton telling a story which Henriksen just loves to tell about “Near Dark.” During the times they were shooting at night, Paxton, who was made up in his gory vampire makeup as though half his face was chopped off, kept going up to people driving through town, telling them he had just been in a horrible car accident. This little prank always ended with Henriksen saying, “If you think he looks bad, you should see the other guy!”

Paxton said he saw “Near Dark” as a “Bonnie & Clyde” vampire movie. Tangerine Dream composed the movie’s score which is fantastic, and the movie is filled with other memorable musical selections. There was a great cover of “Fever” by The Cramps which was used in the pivotal bar scene where everything gets turned into a bloodbath. But Paxton said his favorite piece of music used was “Naughty, Naughty” by John Parr as it really sets the scene for when the vampires end up depriving a saloon in the middle of nowhere of its customers and employees. Apparently, Bigelow ended up paying for the rights to the song out of her own pocket.

One audience member asked Paxton and Goldstein if they had any Tim Thomerson stories to tell us. Thomerson played Caleb’s father in “Near Dark,” but he is best known for portraying Jack Deth in “Trancers” and its numerous sequels. Both actors said they had many great stories about Thomerson to tell us but basically summed him up as a great guy to hang out with who did so many great impersonations, his best being of John Wayne forcing himself on Walter Brennan.

In regards to character, Paxton saw his character of Severen as a Billy the Kid kind of vampire, wild and reckless in how he conducted business. He also said “Near Dark” owes a great debt to Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles which includes the books “Interview with A Vampire” and “Queen of The Damned.” To get into character, Paxton said he read Rice’s books throughout the shoot.

Goldstein said she saw her character of Diamondback as someone out of the Depression era or “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” someone who got by and survived any which way she could. She was perfectly cast in the role as very few actresses back then were allowed to play tough female characters who didn’t need a man to defend them at all.

Another audience member told Paxton he was a big fan of “Frailty,” his directorial debut from a few years back, and wanted to know if he was planning to direct again. Looking back on “Frailty,” Paxton said he had a great experience making it and would love to direct again if he can ever get out of “this damn show” he’s on (you may have heard of it – “Big Love” on HBO). Currently, he is looking over a few projects he is interested in helming and hopes to work behind the camera again really soon.

It was great to see Paxton and Goldstein come out and speak with the fans. Surprisingly, a large portion of the audience had never seen “Near Dark” before, so neither of them wanted to keep the audience waiting too long to see it on the big screen. “Near Dark” may not have been a big hit when first released, but it has more than earned its cult following especially in light of Bigelow’s deserved Oscar win, something which was a long time coming.

Actually, my favorite moment of the evening happened as Paxton and Goldstein were on their way out of the theater when an audience member brought up the subject of another HBO show, to which Bill replied, “Fuck ‘True Blood!’ We were doing this 20 years ago!”

This remark left us all in utter hysterics.

RIP Bill Paxton.