Category Archives: Film Festivals

CITY OF INDUSTRY – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

CITY OF INDUSTRY is that seedy noir where men treat their own gunshot wounds with whisky and cigarettes in a rundown bathroom of a motel, talk in short and blunt alpha male code, and live by a code of honor and revenge. The film has a fantastic cast led by Harvey Keitel giving his archetypal tough guy performance. Supporting Keitel is Timothy Hutton, Famke Janssen, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Stephen Dorff, and Elliot Gould.

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The film’s premise is the Richard Stark esque caper/revenge story of four men robbing a jewelry store, and then one of them (Dorff) kills off two (including Keitel’s younger brother played by Hutton) and then Harvey Keitel spends the rest of the film tracking him down and killing anyone in his way.

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The film thrives on its minimalist approach. It knows exactly what it is, and it does not try to be anything more. Keitel commands the screen with his scowls and his pistol whipping anyone who stands between him and Dorff. Along the way, Keitel befriends the widow (the always great Janssen) of one of his slain crew members, and of course finds solace and redemption in helping her while tracking Dorff.

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The film is what it is. For those who enjoy the heavy B movie revenge genre, this film was made for you. Keitel’s stoic performance is solid as ever, Dorff and his blonde highlights is sleazy as ever, and Elliot Gould makes a brief yet groovy turn as a sweaty and smooth crime boss. CITY OF INDUSTRY is one of those gems that stand out among the best of the 1990’s straight to VHS crime films.

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BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel.”

Zack Snyder’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE is unlike any superhero film we’ve seen before. It is brazen and it is bold, it is disjointed and over packed with setting up the new DC Universe. When I say that this film is a complete mess, I mean it in the way of how APOCALYPSE NOW is a complete mess. BvS cannot be compared to any existing, non-universe, DC film that came prior, and it certainly cannot be compared to anything that Marvel has done. Marvel likes to follow a template. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they certainly do not take many risks at all. BvS takes risk after risk after risk, and by doing so Snyder has made a remarkable film.

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The casting of Ben Affleck as the fifty year old Bruce Wayne/Batman was a brilliant move by Snyder and Warner Brothers. We know who Batman is. We’ve seen Batman’s story countless times. There’s nothing more that can be said about him. Michael Keaton was perfect, Val Kilmer was admirable; George Clooney fully admits his turn almost killed Batman, and the Bale/Nolan trilogy was a godsend to the Batman’s onscreen presence. Now, we get to see the version of the Batman that some of us have always wanted, and a lot of people didn’t even know they wanted. We see what comes after everything we have seen prior. The Batman is older; he’s even more cynical and jaded. He’s given up on hope and resorted to his anger, his vengeance. He has become a killer.

Affleck’s take on Batman may just be the best one yet. He has resorted to his primal brutish instincts with one goal in mind. He doesn’t want to make Superman submit; he doesn’t want Superman to stand trial and have society serve justice for the atrocity he’s brought to the world. He wants to kill him, and if he can’t, he will die trying. Affleck transforms the Batman into a battle worn warrior. He is a man who doesn’t care about peace and justice, he is a man who has a blatant disregard for hope.

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Zack Snyder is the epitome of a polarizing filmmaker. He has a solid fanbase who are passionate about his films. Snyder has an equally loud echo chamber made up of people who strongly dislike him. Who refuse to give him credit for anything positive. There is not another filmmaker alive who could have made a Batman/Superman film that sets up not only the Justice League, but also an entire new universe to be explored. Zack Snyder, takes everything that was thrown at him: a follow up to MAN OF STEEL, introducing a new Batman without spending a film giving him an origin, introducing Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman. Snyder not only did all these things, but excelled in a remarkable way.

Yes, it’s another superhero film. Yes it’s another big budget blockbuster. Yes, it’s going to set up multiple franchises that we’ve already seen. But it has never been done in such a magnificent way. Affleck, along with Jeremy Irons as the new Alfred, and Jesse Eisenberg as the smoke screen for the real Lex Luthor, all bring pre-existing gravitas with them. Immediately adding validity to characters so we don’t need to spend a movie a piece building up backstory for them

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Film critics, whether professional or Facebookers/bloggers, who don’t like this film, who are relishing in the critical shitstorm this film received, already made their minds up that they were going to hate this film. Much like IndieWire and a few other websites tried their absolute hardest to sink TRUE DETECTIVE season 2 before it even aired, the way some critics approached the new Star Wars film in a highbrow, disregarding way – DAWN OF JUSTICE suffered much of the same fate, but none of that matters. The film is going to and already has broken box office records, and the dark and dreary foundation of the new DC Universe is set.

There is a striking moment in the film that was shown in the first trailer. The second Robins suit is displayed in the Batcave with spray paint on it: “The joke is on you, Batman!” Not only does this tell us, in part, of why the Batman is so angry and rage filled, but I can’t help but think that is also a way of Snyder saying that to his haters, those who rallied hard against this film: the joke is most certainly on you.

Episode 24: Coverage of the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Terrence Malick’s KNIGHT OF CUPS

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Our coverage of the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival is up!  This has been our first red carpet coverage, and included are interviews with actors James Morrison, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Carl Weathers,  film historian Leonard Maltin, filmmakers Benjamin Cox of STEREOTYPICALLY YOU and Tom McCarthy of SPOTLIGHT, producers Marcia Nasatir (THE BIG CHILL, COMING HOME, IRONWEED) and Sarah Green (THE NEW WORLD, THE TREE OF LIFE, TO THE WONDER, KNIGHT OF CUPS) and executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Roger Durling.  We then dive in, head first, into Terrence Malick’s new film KNIGHT OF CUPS which had it’s US Premiere, and was the Centerpiece film at this years fest.  We would like to thank Roger Durling and the staff of the SBIFF for accommodating Podcasting Them Softly at the festival this year.  To find out more about the SBIFF please click here.

31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival: Leonard Maltin Modern Master – Johnny Depp

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Everyone was waiting.  Leonard Maltin was waiting, Roger Durling was waiting, Scott Cooper was waiting, the press was waiting, and the giant mob of screaming fans were waiting.  Johnny Depp was running late, and nobody cared.  Depp arrived thirty minutes late.  He was set to receive the Leonard Maltin Modern Master Award from BLACK MASS director, Scott Cooper as well as participating in a much anticipated Q&A with Leonard Maltin.

He arrived in a black Cadillac SUV and once he exited he instantly disobeyed his handlers and went directly to the vast mob of his fans.  He took his time signing autographs, taking photographs, and shaking each hand he could.  Depp then moved to the red carpet, timidly keeping away from the press yet posing for a gracious amount of time for photos against the sleek SBIFF backdrop.  He posed with Scott Cooper and then he quickly was moved to the end of the press line, but I caught his attention:

“Mr. Depp, one quick question: DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, and SWEENEY TODD.  Which is your favorite role?”

He put his hand up to his mouth, held his chin, stared right at me through his blue Michael Mann tinted glasses and said,

“I don’t know.  That’s difficult, man.”

Depp was quickly moved into the Arlington Theatre and the floodgates opened and everyone rushed in.  Once the gorgeous Arlington Theatre settled down, the dapper Roger Durling took the stage and he spoke graciously, thanking everyone for being there and thanked Johnny Depp for coming.

Maltin then took the stage and he introduced Depp and an excellently edited highlight reel played.  Watching a brief highlight of Depp’s career doesn’t do it justice, yet you can’t help feeling overwhelmed by his truly epic career.

Depp walked out, and the theatre erupted with applause and screaming.  Depp shyly smiled.  To this day, Johnny Depp is the epitome of cool. He was wearing socks with hemp leaf patterns and for about the first hour and a half of the Q&A, he meticulously hand rolled a perfect cigarillo.  He then lit it and took the rest of the Q&A slowly smoking it.  In California, and pretty much anywhere else, it is illegal to smoke in a public venue, but who is going to tell Johnny Depp to stop smoking?

Depp is a very sweet guy, he’s incredibly humbled.  Whenever Maltin would bring up a film, whether it was one of Depp’s blockbusters or a seminal undercard performance, the audience would clap and Depp would smile and thank the audience.

The Q&A with Leonard Maltin was almost three hours long and it was wonderful.  I was able to ask Leonard Maltin two quick question on the red carpet, I asked him to pick between DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and SWEENEY TODD.  Maltin paused for a moment and said DONNIE BRASCO.  I then asked him what his favorite underrated performance of Depp’s was and he said, without hesitation, DON JUAN DEMARCO.

It took about an hour for Depp to warm up and get comfortable. He was incredibly candid about his career.  He spoke frankly about how he’s a musician, who happened to become an actor to pay the rent.  He spoke in depth about what a horror he was, and sometimes still is, on film sets.  Maltin asked him about his relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE.  Johnny Depp just started laughing.

“You know, I respect Leo a lot.  He did so much work and research and preparation for that role,” and a sly smile arose on his face, “and I tortured him.”

The audience started laughing, and Depp stopped, and looked at the audience,

“No, really, I did.  He liked video games.  No Leo, I won’t give you a drag of my cigarette while you hide from your Mom.”

Depp briefly spoke about his work with John Waters, saying how Waters was the only filmmaker he knew who made a film based on a title.  He said Waters came up with the idea of PECKER, solely for the fact that when it would be advertised it would be: John Waters’ PECKER Coming Soon.

When Depp was asked about his casting in EDWARD SCISSOR HANDS and his long and awesome collaboration with Tim Burton, Depp started laughing.  He spoke about how he didn’t want to even meet with Burton, he knew he wouldn’t get the part, but his agent Tiffany talked him into it.  Depp recalled walking into a diner to meet Burton.  He had no idea what he looked like.  He scanned the diner and saw a guy “whose hair looked like a hardware store exploded, and I knew I had to talk to him.  Even if he wasn’t Tim, I still had to talk to him.”  The man with the exploded hair was Tim Burton, and that was the beginning of one of the greatest collaborations in cinema history.

Leonard Maltin beamed as he showed a clip of DON JUAN DEMARCO and then asked him about that film, and working with Marlon Brando.  Depp settled back in his chair and smiled, and spoke about his abundant love and admiration for Brando.  He said he was a father, mentor, brother, essentially a gigantic blanket that meant the world to Depp.  When Maltin asked Depp to describe what he learned from Brando, he paused looked down, and then back up at Maltin and said: justice.

Maltin asked Depp about the only film he directed, THE BRAVE that premiered at Cannes in 1997 and featured Marlon Brando in a prominent role.  Maltin asked when we could see it.  Depp asked the audience who wanted to buy it.  He then went on to speak about the reason he shelved the film was because he didn’t want to play the distribution game, and he wanted to retain control over it.

In 2004, when Brando died, Depp was devastated and he was receiving offers about releasing THE BRAVE.  He was told it was a prime time to release the film, it was an unseen Brando performance, and now was the time to release it.  That’s the moment when Depp decided to put the film under lock and key.  He was returning justice back to Marlon Brando.  Maltin then said that releasing it now wouldn’t be an exploiting Brando’s death.  Depp then said he would show THE BRAVE at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival next year, and shook Maltin’s hand on it.

So in theory, next year, Johnny Depp will be premiering his unicorn of a film, THE BRAVE, at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival.  That remains to be seen, but seeing Depp speak, in depth, for three hours about his remarkable career was amazing.  After the Q&A was over, Depp went back outside to all his screaming fans and took more photographs and signed as many autographs as he could.  Johnny Depp is not only one of cinema’s best actors, but he’s truly a class act.

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Photo Credit: Podcasting Them Softly

 

31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Centerpiece Film: Terrence Malick’s KNIGHT OF CUPS

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“You don’t want love, you want a love experience.”

Despite the little we collectively know about Terrence Malick, it has become apparent since THE TREE OF LIFE that he has been telling us his own story through the guise of abstract filmmaking.  His new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS, was this year’s centerpiece film at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it is one of the best films I have ever experienced.

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Set in modern day Los Angeles, the camera follows a screenwriter, Rick (played by Christian Bale as a placeholder for the filmmaker), who hasn’t so much lost himself, because he doesn’t know who he is.  He has been wandering through his adult life, questing through money, drugs, and women.

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This cast is huge, it’s akin to THE THIN RED LINE.  Bale is the mainstay, but the abundance of recognizable actors in miniscule parts is awesome.  Malick’s producer, Sarah Green, was on the red carpet for the premiere and I asked her what it’s like casting a Malick film and what the actor’s responses are to Malick’s interest.  She told me that even though this film did not have an orthodox script, Malick has reached the point in his career where if there is interest shown in the actor, they immediately say yes.

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KNIGHT OF CUPS producer Sarah Green on the red carpet for its US premiere at the SBIFF

This film marks Green’s four collaboration with Malick, with an addition two more films pending release.  I asked her if there was something about KNIGHT OF CUPS that sets it apart from her other films with Malick, and she said that this film was set modern day (like TO THE WONDER) but was set and shot in LA.  And that this film was shot on a whim, run and gun style. 

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KNIGHT OF CUPS is a journey through Malick’s subconscious.  It is a remembering of faded memories.  Some are reconstructed, some a fantasy.  Rick is a placeholder for the camera, who rarely interacts with anyone or anything.  He watches, he broods, and most importantly he remembers.  When he does interact with others, maybe it is real, maybe it is what he thinks is real, or maybe it is what he thinks he should have done. The film chronicles life–his life, our life.  Success, fame, love, emotion, family, safety – that doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

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A Malick film is like Hemingway’s iceberg theory but reversed.  We are shown everything, yet we know nothing.  We piece it together through an overwhelming abundance of emotion captured on screen, and what’s beneath the water is Malick’s intent.  His answer, his reasoning, his life.  KNIGHT OF CUPS is a painfully beautiful and personal journey of escaping the darkness and finding the light.

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“You gave me peace.  You gave me what the world can’t give.  Mercy.  Love.  Joy.  All else is cloud.  Mist.  Be with me.  Always.”

31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Opening Night: THE LITTLE PRINCE

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Opening the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival was the new film by Mark Osborne, THE LITTLE PRINCE.  The film completely honored Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s legendary novella. SBIFF’s director, Roger Durling, introduced the film, spoke of how much the novella means to him, and then he joyfully introduced Santa Barbara’s favorite son, donning an incredibly glorious beard, Jeff Bridges.

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Jeff Bridges attending the SBIFF premiere of THE LITTLE PRINCE

The voice cast is one of the most eclectic and brilliant voice casts ever.  Bridges headlines as the Aviator, Rachel McAdams as the Mother, Paul Rudd as Mr. Prince, Marion Cotillard as the Rose, James Franco as the Fox, Benico Del Torro as the Snake, Bud Cort as the King, Paul Giamatti as the Academy Teacher, Riley Osborne as the Little Prince, Mackenzie Foy as the Little Girl, Ricky Gervais as the Conceited Man, and Albert Brooks as the Business Man.

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The film itself has a wonderfully unique animation style that was a merger of stop motion looking animation and clean and crisp animation that was masterfully fastened together by Osborne.

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The film was as funny as it was sweet and struck the perfect balance of the importance of child’s development of daring to be yourself and adult oriented entertainment.

A CONVERSATION WITH MILE HIGH HORROR FILM FESTIVAL FOUNDER TIMOTHY SCHULZ

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The Mile High Horror Film Festival in Littleton, CO is just over a week away, and I’ll be covering several of the biggest screenings over the course of that weekend for Podcasting Them Softly.  Starting as a small offshoot of the Denver Film Society in 2010, it has rapidly turned into a world class destination for horror fans and filmmakers and is gearing up for its biggest year yet.  I was fortunate to speak with MHHFF founder Tim Schulz, himself a successful filmmaker (“Chasing The Shadows,” a feature length documentary on the paranormal, as well as several celebrated shorts), about this year’s events:

I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Mile High Horror Film Festival, can you tell me a few basics such as how it started, how long you’ve been involved and how it’s grown?

I am a founding member.  We started in 2010, when there was nothing like this in Colorado.  I’d been to many other film festivals such as SxSW and Sundance and wanted to see something genre-focused like that happening here in Denver.  The size of the program and attendance has just snowballed every year since then.

You just announced Jack Black and Co. will be here to premiere Goosebumps next week, it’s one of the biggest studio horror releases of the fall.  How does this fit in with the rest of the more adult-oriented programming?

We really try to do diverse programming throughout the festival, hopefully we’re offering genre films for everyone.  We’re very excited to host the Colorado premiere with the cast in attendance, it is nice to have something screening that you can take the whole family to.

MHHFF started working with the Denver Film Society but now the festival is put on in partnership with Alamo Drafthouse, how is that relationship working out?

It’s worked out very well, we’ve been working with Alamo for the last two years now.  We had some great screenings at DFS venues for the first three years, but Alamo offers the food and drink experience during the film that’s special, and they also make a wonderful fit because they cater to film festivals and special events that are unique and creative, they always think outside the box to create something tailored to the film buff.  Take the special menus:  For the upcoming screening of The Shining, they’ve created a Red Rum cocktail.  In years past they’ve done amazing pre-show menus and events, such as having Doug Bradley (Pinhead from Hellraiser) tear a roasted pig hanging from a meat hook apart to make sandwiches for fans.  The following year, Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) did the same with his chainsaw!

Is it difficult to bring this level of talent and notoriety in the horror genre to Littleton?

Like I said, it’s snowballed every year and gains more respect and credibility around the world with each successive festival.  We are extremely grateful for this.

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I see you have an LGBT panel for this year’s festival, who’s involved and what can we expect?

We are glad to have writer Jeffrey Riddick, one of the creators of Final Destination and a longtime supporter of the Festival, he’s been a judge for many of the years we’ve been in business and he’ll be on the panel with plenty to say.  Bailey Jay is a transgender model and podcaster for Fangoria, she will be involved via Skype.  The panel will be moderated by Keith Garcia, a well-known fixture in the Denver film community who is currently working on a documentary called “The Heels Have Eyes.”  Discussion will be wide ranging based on some direction from Keith and audience questions, and should involve current trends in the industry, working in the genre, and plenty more.

Is the live music programming something new?

We’ve done music in the past but this is the first time we’ll have it running simultaneously with the film festival screenings.  We’ll have music running from the early screenings through to 2 a.m.  Ari Lehman (Jason Voorhees) will be there with his band First Jason, and there will be plenty of local metal bands in attendance too, like Arise in Chaos and Eye of Minerva.  We have Denvers’ Chimney Choir, more of a folk act, and Viretta, an indie rock band.  We’ll have hip hop represented with Wheelchair Sports Camp.  The Festival is really trying to provide a lot of variety for fans, and an experience that extends outside of the theaters.  We’ll have music, tarot card readings, autograph sessions, artists and other surprises.

Not to play favorites, but what are some of the events you’re most looking forward to?

I’m a huge fan of The Shining, and I’m really excited about our screening with Joseph Turkel (Lloyd the bartender) and Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Twins).  I believe this is the first time the three of them have been together since the original shoot, and Lisa and Louise rarely make it over from the U.K. so it will be a special night.

Even Lambs Have Teeth has its world premiere at the Festival on Thursday, have you seen it?

I have seen it, and really enjoyed it.  Excellent production values and some over the top gore…I don’t want to give any spoilers but it’s got some great twists and turns.  We’re very excited to have the lead performers, Tiera Skovbye and Kirsten Prout, as well as the filmmakers in attendance.

Finally—Freddie or Jason?

I have to go with Jason since we have two in attendance!

The Mile High Horror Film Festival runs from October 1-4 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton.  For ticketing information please visit http://milehighhorrorfestival.com/ or http://drafthouse.com/calendar/denver