Pole dancing has long been associated with strip clubs, but it has since expanded from that realm to dance studios where it is taught as a form of aerobic exercise. Still, there is a strong stigma to this form of dancing as it most people refuse to see it as anything other than pornographic and debasing. But with the new documentary “Strip Down, Rise Up,” female instructors use pole dancing as a way to help women deal with traumas and body-image issues which have plagued people for far too long. Through sensual movement, the participants find themselves transforming to where they succeed in reclaiming their self-esteem and sexuality, and they find a power within themselves which can never be lost.
The director of “Strip Down, Rise Up” is Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michèle Ohayon, and her cameras capture a diverse group of women from various walks of life. Among them are Evelyn who has lost her husband and trying to deal with her grief, the successful businesswoman Patricia who is uncomfortable in her own skin, and the very brave Megan who was sexually abused and ended up testifying against her abuser. We also get to see instructors like Sheila Kelley, Amy Bond and Jenyne Butterfly whose methods differ from one another in fascinating ways.
Ohayon hails from North Africa, and she has said her films are largely about transformations. In addition to “Strip Down, Rise Up,” her work includes “Colors Straight Up” which is about at-risk youth in Los Angeles who turn their lives around through the performing arts, the hidden homeless women documentary “It Was a Wonderful Life” which had the privilege of being narrated by Jodie Foster, and the docu-comedy “Cowboy del Amor” about a cowboy who becomes a matchmaker. Her inspiration for “Strip Down, Rise Up” came about when she and her daughter attended a pole dancing class as a way to explore a new form of exercise.
I got to speak with Ohayon recently, and this marks my first ever video interview done via Zoom, so please bear with me as the video quality is a bit different from what we are all used to.
“Strip Down, Rise Up” debuts on Netflix on Friday, February 5, 2021. Please check out the interview above and be sure to check this documentary out when it drops.
There’s a movie coming out this weekend which is coming in under the radar which is worth your time. Once you have gotten through “Shazam” and the “Pet Sematary” remake, be sure to check out “The Wind,” a horror western which turns many of the clichés of scary movies on their heads. It also features some of the strongest female characters you could hope to see in a horror film in this day and age, and they are not your typical last girls or scream queens.
We are introduced to Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), a plains-woman living in the untamed western frontier of the 1800’s who is forced to fend for herself when her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), leaves her alone to the needs of a close friend. From there, we watch Lizzy dealing with the elements which include a pair of fierce coyotes and a sheep that won’t stay dead. But when the wind of the movie’s title comes around, she is driven to near madness as forces beyond her control mess with her head, and she is forced to hold on to what is left of her sanity to live another day above ground.
I had the great opportunity to talk with “The Wind’s” director Emma Tammi and actress Caitlin Gerard recently. Tammi is known for her documentaries “Election Day” and “Fair Chase,” and “The Wind” marks her directorial debut of a narrative feature. Gerard portrayed Imogen Rainier in “Insidious: The Last Key,” and she is known for her work on the television series “When We Rise” and “American Crime.”
I want to thank Gerard and Tammi for taking the time to talk with me about “The Wind,” and I would also like to thank Rama Tampubolon of Rama’s Screen for being my cameraman on this interview. His help and tripod were very much appreciated.
Please check out the interview above, and be sure to check out “The Wind” when it arrives in theaters and VOD on April 5, 2019.
Before they co-wrote the screenplay for “A Quiet Place” along with John Krasinski, filmmakers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck spent some time in the found footage genre with “Nightlight.” This movie takes place in Covington forest, a place believed to be haunted as many troubled youths have gone there and committed suicide. This, however, doesn’t stop a group of five teenagers from venturing out there for an evening of flashlight games and blood curdling ghost stories. But of course, it doesn’t take long for the fun to come to a screeching halt as they end up awakening a demonic presence, an unseen evil wastes no time in preying upon their deepest fears. From there, the five friends struggle to help each other to escape the forest before they are forever plunged into the most terrifying of nightmares.
From the outset, “Nightlight” looks to be your typical found footage horror movie a la “The Blair Witch Project,” but there is one thing which helps set it apart. It is one of the recent films in this genre which deals seriously with issues teens go through. We come to discover how these kids lost a friend of theirs named Ethan to suicide, and he ended up taking his life in the same forest they are spending the night in. While trying to evade the demonic force hunting them down, they also try to make peace with Ethan’s death and of the part they feel they played in it. While a lot of horror movies are filled with dumb teenage characters, these ones in “Nightlight” feel relatable, and their problems may end up reminding you of what you felt like at their age.
I got to speak with Woods and Beck back in 2015 while they were in Los Angeles to promote “Nightlight,” and it turns out they have known each other since the sixth grade. Their early years of making movies with action figures has gotten them to where they can confidently helm their own feature films, and their careers would soon hit an even bigger peak with “A Quiet Place.” They were full of details on the making of “Nightlight” such as how they found the forest featured prominently in this movie, how they wanted to make this particular found footage stand out from so many others like it, and why they decided to cast unknown actors. In addition, they also had some interesting stories to tell about animal wranglers and the importance of sound design in a horror movie.
Please check out the interview above. “Nightlight” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” is a beautiful movie from top to bottom as everyone involved in its making did an expert job of transporting us back to the 1950’s and 60’s. Based on a, yes, true story, it introduces us to Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) who are deeply in love with one another. They eventually get married, but with Richard being white and Ruth being black, they are arrested and put in jail as their interracial marriage violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. As punishment, they are banned from returning to Virginia for 25 years and forced to live in Washington D.C., but they soon sue the state and their case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court where it was ruled banning interracial marriage is unconstitutional.
I recently got to speak with two artists who worked on “Loving” behind the scenes: Kenneth Walker and Julie Lallas. Walker was the head of the hair department, and his previous credits include “Jimi: All is By My Side,” “Munich” and Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” which he described as the hardest film he ever worked on. Lallas headed up the makeup department and worked with Nichols previously on “Take Shelter,” and she has also worked on the set of “Enchanted,” “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Talking with them both was very illuminating in terms of how they went about their jobs, and it also allowed me to ask them if they want their work to be showy or to instead just disappear into the framework of the movie.
Check out the interview above, and also included below is a trailer for “Loving.” Nichols’ movie is now playing in Los Angeles and New York, and it is definitely worth checking out.
2016 has been a superb year for documentaries, and the latest example of this is “Cameraperson.” Directed by documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, it is a series of images taken from her 20-plus year filmmaking career which she treats as a memoir of her life behind the camera. Among the visuals we get to see are of Brooklyn, a boxing match, postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Nigerian midwife delivering babies as well as moments taken from Johnson’s own life as well. There is even a moment where she shoots footage of the entrance to an Iraqi prison which has a “you are there” feel to it, and it gets to where you are as eager to escape the area as they are. She presents these images to us in a movie without any narration as all these pictures tell a story all their own, and it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. “Cameraperson” allows us to step into Johnson’s worldview as she takes us on a personal journey, and she acknowledges how complex it is to film and be filmed.
It was a real pleasure talking with Johnson while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Cameraperson,” and it resulted in one of the most fascinating interviews I have conducted this year. I was very eager to learn about how she went about constructing her documentary and of how it evolved from start to finish. This could have just been a movie with a bunch of images thrown together randomly, but there was clearly a lot of thought put into this one. Johnson also explained how she resisted the urge to put narration in her documentary, and she even shared some behind the scenes stories about “Citizenfour” which she was one of the camera people on.
Please check out the interview above, and be sure to watch “Cameraperson” which is now playing in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal thru September 29th.
Of the plethora of excellent documentaries to come out in 2016, one of the most fascinating to watch is “Author: The JT Leroy Story.” Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, it chronicles the rise and fall of literary sensation JT Leroy whose rough and tumble childhood crafted him into a writer of such books as “Sarah” and “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” the latter of which was adapted into a film by Asia Argento. However, it was eventually revealed that JT Leroy did not in fact exist and was actually an avatar for former phone sex worker turned housewife, Laura Albert. Following this revelation, Albert was considered a fraud and many believed she concocted nothing more than an elaborate hoax. But with this documentary, Albert seeks to set the record straight over how JT Leroy came into existence for her, and she makes it clear that what happened was in no way a hoax.
The beauty of “Author: The JT Leroy Story” is it never judges Albert for a second. The documentary simply lets her tell her side of the story which proves to be more complex than we could ever have imagined. Considering her dysfunctional childhood, it is understandable she needed an outlet of some kind to vent her pain and frustration with life, and with JT Leroy she found a way to express things she was unable to as herself.
It was a real pleasure to talk with Feuerzeig and Albert while they were in Los Angeles, and the two of them talked at length about what possessed them to take on this project and of what went into its making. Albert’s insights into her writing process were especially fascinating as she actually found herself predicting the future through her books.
Check out the interview above, and be sure to catch “Author: The JT Leroy Story” when it arrives in theaters in Los Angeles on September 9. You can also check out a trailer for the documentary below.
Actor Jeremy Sisto co-wrote, co-produced and stars in “Break Point” as Jimmy Price, an over the hill and unapologetically brash doubles tennis star who realizes his days in the sport are numbered. The sports comedy starts with his latest partner dropping out on him, and it doesn’t take long to see just how many bridges he has burned while on the pro circuit. His last and only chance to make it to a grand slam tournament is to partner up with his estranged brother Darren (David Walton) who used to play doubles tennis with him until they had a falling out. The question is, can they move past their deep-seated resentments of each other to work together effectively as a team? With the help of 11-year-old Barry (Joshua Rush), they just might have a chance.
Sisto has been acting since he was a kid, and he made his film debut in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon.” Since then we have seen him grow up before our eyes in movies like “Clueless,” “Thirteen,” and he even got to play Jesus in the television miniseries “Jesus.” Many know him best from his role as William Chenowith on the HBO series “Six Feet Under” where he played an artist suffering from bipolar disorder and occasional bouts of mania. In 2008 he joined the cast of NBC’s long-running “Law & Order” as Detective Cyrus Lupo, and he stayed with the show through its final three seasons during which he acted opposite Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Anderson.
Sisto sat down with me for an interview at the “Break Point” press day held in Los Angeles, California, and he talked about how he and the filmmakers wanted this sports movie to stand out from others like it. Sisto also discussed how he managed to make the difficult transition from child actor to adult actor, the challenges of getting “Break Point” made, and he shared his experience of working on “Grand Canyon” and of how special the making of it was for him.
Check out the interview above and enjoy! To find out how you can watch “Break Point,” please sure to visit the movie’s website for more information (www.thebreakpointfilm.com).
It’s been a very busy time for J.K. Simmons ever since he won an Oscar for his truly frightening performance in “Whiplash” as he has not been lacking for work in the slightest. We watched him steal scenes from Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator Genisys,” and now he steals the show yet again in the sports comedy “Break Point.” In it he plays Jack Price, a veterinarian, widow and father of two boys who were once a great tennis team but have long since become estranged from one another. When the boys decide to re-team to take one last shot at winning the grand slam tournament, Jack is pleased to see his sons playing together again. But will Jack be able to keep the peace when his sons inevitably clash over who’s the better player?
Now whereas many actors would take the father role and either overplay it or underplay it, Simmons finds a middle ground to where he makes Jack a believably down to earth guy who is relatable and someone you would really like to hang out with. He is such a wonderful presence in “Break Point” to where you want his onscreen sons to thank the lord they have such a wonderful father in their lives. The actor also brings his trademark deadpan humor to the role which is always a welcome addition.
Simmons sat down with me for an interview at the “Break Point” press day held in Los Angeles, California. He talked about his approach to playing Jack Price and how making the movie helped change his view on the game of tennis. He also talked about his experience making “Terminator Genisys” which allowed him to play the kind of character he usually doesn’t get cast as: a good guy.
Check out the interview above. “Break Point” is now available to watch on various formats. To find out how you can watch it, be sure to visit the movie’s website at www.thebreakpointfilm.com.
Few movie going experiences in 2016 will be as hopeful or as emotionally draining as the documentary “Gleason.” It takes a good long look at the life of former NFL player Steve Gleason, a defensive back for the New Orleans Saints, who was best known for blocking a punt from the Atlanta Falcons on September 25, 2006. This game marked the first time the Saints had been back to their home stadium since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, so it made their welcome back celebration all the more thrilling.
In 2011, Steve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gerig’s Disease, an incurable disease which slowly robs the body of all its motor functions and eventually leads to death. It was around that time that he also discovered his wife Michel was pregnant with their son, and this led him to start a video diary for their unborn child so that he could leave as much of who he is as a person to him before the disease takes its toll. While his situation is bleak, Steve still lives life to the fullest and is determined to be there for his wife and son no matter what.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with the director of “Gleason,” Clay Tweel, while he was in Los Angeles. Tweel previously directed “Make Believe,” a documentary which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 LA Film Festival, and “Finders Keepers” which premiered to rave reviews at Sundance in 2015. For “Gleason,” Tweel had to go through 1,500 hours of footage to give us the documentary that is now arriving in theatres everywhere. He explained how he managed to whittle down that footage, how “Gleason” compares to the film “The Theory of Everything” which also deals with ALS, and of how the health struggles of a family member and the late, great Muhammad Ali inspired him to get the director’s job for this.
Please check out the interview above, and please be sure to see “Gleason” when it arrives in theatres on July 29, 2016. You can also watch the trailer below and visit the website at www.gleasonmovie.com.
Jessika Van returns to the silver screen in “Seoul Searching,” a comedy by Benson Lee which follows a group of Korean teens from all over the world who are sent to a cultural heritage school in Seoul during the summer of 1986. Van plays Grace Park, a pastor’s daughter from Cherry Hill, New Jersey who worships Madonna the way her father worships God. Grace doesn’t even need to point that Madonna is her favorite singer as she dresses exactly like the Material Girl and even performs an acapella version of “Like a Virgin.” She also excels at teasing all the young boys who lust after her constantly, but she soon meets her match when an especially rebellious teenager catches her eye.
Van started her career in music where she was a classically-trained pianist and singer, and she won various awards and even performed for the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. She made her breakthrough as an actress playing Becca, Queen of the Asian Mafia, on MTV’s critically acclaimed comedy “Awkward,” and she trained in weapons and martial arts for her role in the first-person shooter game “Battlefield 4.” Videos of her work can be found on her YouTube page.
I spoke with Van while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Seoul Searching.” She talked about the research she did into the 1980’s and Madonna to prepare for her role, what she learned about Korea while filming there, and of how she managed to peel back Grace’s emotional armor to reveal the person hiding underneath. She also spoke of how “Seoul Searching” is much more than just an Asian American film as it touches on issues that are universal to everybody and anybody.