Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

“God wants you on the floor.” : Remembering Hoosiers with Angelo Pizzo by Kent Hill

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It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.

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Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.

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So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.

Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.

The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.

This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.

If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…

Joss Whedon’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

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This is going to sound absurd, coming from me and all, but AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON might just be my favorite Marvel movie. Sure, it is riddled with things I do not like about the cookie cutter template Marvel has perfected, along with a lot of the trite shtick from the mainstay characters, but there are aspects of this film that completely overrule my hangups with Marvel Studios.

What makes this film work so well is that this time they brought in a villain who you believe actually CAN destroy the Avengers. For as charming and cute Tom Hiddleston is, I found Loki to be incredibly inferior in the first film. But Ultron is great. From the design of the character to the motivation, and especially with the voice casting of James Spader. Ultron works incredibly well.

I love The Vision too. He’s such a great character and looks incredibly cinematic. Bravo for Paul Bettany, all those years of voicing Tony Stark’s computer finally paid off. Old boy finally gets some screen time!

The other aspect of the film that I absolutely love are the inclusions of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are two of the most interesting characters brought into the entire MCU. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson are terrific together, and their characters are so well written, their additions into the story comes off as organic as possible.

As a friend pointed out recently, a huge hangup in this film is the fact Quicksilver gets shot. I mean…really…?

While the film still stays comfortably within its own safe zone, Robert Downey, Jr’s same song and dance, the joke every three and a half minutes, I truly feel that Joss Whedon took some bold and legitimate chances with this film, just not enough to keep me vested and wanting more from Marvel. But hey, that’s just me. Regardless of how I personally feel about the MCU, it is clear they know exactly what they are doing and really don’t need to change a thing of their well-oiled machine.

Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes: A Review by Nate Hill 

JOSS WHEDON ALERT
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about In Your Eyes, a lovely little romantic/fantasy/drama written by the J Man, concerning a boy and girl who have shared a strange psychic bond over hundreds of miles since they were kids, despite never having met. 

  Its a slightly unconventional romance, a charming, breezy little piece that took me by surprise, having known nothing about it going in except Whedon’s involvment. It starts with his lovely script, laying down the bones for two adorable leads (Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David) to go to work. Dylan and Rebecca have never met. They live on opposite sides of the US, and lead considerably different lives. They would have nothing in common if it weren’t for an odd metaphysical connection. They can periodically (and often at inconvenient times) see into each others lives like a perceptive window, complete with senses like smell, taste and touch. When they are growing up its confusing and stunted, but I imagine it blossoms along with every other attribute, and suddenly they’ve discovered they’re not both crazy, and that there’s a real person on the other end of this bewitching mutual conduit. Soon they are communicating, much to the puzzlement of everyone else in their lives, who just observes them talking to themselves like loons. Romance isn’t far off, as we can well guess, and soon they are deeply in love in spite of their differences and the great gulf of distance between them. He’s a troubled fellow with a criminal past, a lenghthy RAP sheet and a nosy parole officer (Steve Harris). She’s a mild mannered, fragile girl married to a prissy control freak of a Doctor (Mark Fuerstein). Both of their lives are continuously disrupted by their relationship until they’re at the brink of crisis, and it seems the only way out is to find one a other in person. The almost supernatural aspect of their connection  is treated frankly, like more of a biological anomaly as opposed to ghostly gimmicks. It can be seen as Whedon exploring the nature of love in our world, finding “the one” who is always out there, somewhere, waiting. Or are they? The real hero is his incredibly down to earth script, an easy going, hilarious and poignant piece of writing. The cast is from all walks of Hollywood and includes Nikki Reed, Shameless’s Steve Howey, Richard Rhiele and a priceless cameo from Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, who is starting to look like a character from Desperate Housewives. Kazan and David are just the cutest, most earnest couple I’ve seen in a romantic film of late. She’s unsure, passionate and intuitive, he’s a scrappy patchwork teddy bear and together they’re perfect, capturing the essence of the relationship in a single very unique sex scene, nestled in with all of their “spiritual Skype” bonding, and eventual face to face meeting. Whedon loves his characters, right down to the bit parts and it shows. His writing is never short of sterling, and this one is another winner for him. 

Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes: A Review by Nate Hill 

JOSS WHEDON ALERT
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about In Your Eyes, a lovely little romantic/fantasy/drama written by the J Man, concerning a boy and girl who have shared a strange psychic bond over hundreds of miles since they were kids, despite never having met. 

  Its a slightly unconventional romance, a charming, breezy little piece that took me by surprise, having known nothing about it going in except Whedon’s involvment. It starts with his lovely script, laying down the bones for two adorable leads (Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David) to go to work. Dylan and Rebecca have never met. They live on opposite sides of the US, and lead considerably different lives. They would have nothing in common if it weren’t for an odd metaphysical connection. They can periodically (and often at inconvenient times) see into each others lives like a perceptive window, complete with senses like smell, taste and touch. When they are growing up its confusing and stunted, but I imagine it blossoms along with every other attribute, and suddenly they’ve discovered they’re not both crazy, and that there’s a real person on the other end of this bewitching mutual conduit. Soon they are communicating, much to the puzzlement of everyone else in their lives, who just observes them talking to themselves like loons. Romance isn’t far off, as we can well guess, and soon they are deeply in love in spite of their differences and the great gulf of distance between them. He’s a troubled fellow with a criminal past, a lenghthy RAP sheet and a nosy parole officer (Steve Harris). She’s a mild mannered, fragile girl married to a prissy control freak of a Doctor (Mark Fuerstein). Both of their lives are continuously disrupted by their relationship until they’re at the brink of crisis, and it seems the only way out is to find one a other in person. The almost supernatural aspect of their connection  is treated frankly, like more of a biological anomaly as opposed to ghostly gimmicks. It can be seen as Whedon exploring the nature of love in our world, finding “the one” who is always out there, somewhere, waiting. Or are they? The real hero is his incredibly down to earth script, an easy going, hilarious and poignant piece of writing. The cast is from all walks of Hollywood and includes Nikki Reed, Shameless’s Steve Howey, Richard Rhiele and a priceless cameo from Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, who is starting to look like a character from Desperate Housewives. Kazan and David are just the cutest, most earnest couple I’ve seen in a romantic film of late. She’s unsure, passionate and intuitive, he’s a scrappy patchwork teddy bear and together they’re perfect, capturing the essence of the relationship in a single very unique sex scene, nestled in with all of their “spiritual Skype” bonding, and eventual face to face meeting. Whedon loves his characters, right down to the bit parts and it shows. His writing is never short of sterling, and this one is another winner for him. 

MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The Avengers (2012) was the culmination of an ambitious project that was carefully planned by Marvel Studios over several years and spans several films utilizing characters, both major and minor, from each. While the notion of a shared universe with characters from one franchise appearing in another is a relatively novel idea in film, it is nothing new in comic books where costumed superheroes cross-pollinate all the time and even contribute to a larger story (see Secret Wars II). With Iron Man (2008), Marvel decided to do in film what they’ve been doing in comic books for decades. Its commercial success paved the way for subsequent adaptations of The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), each one featuring a scene that hinted at something bigger and it has finally arrived with The Avengers, which features heroes from all of these films banding together to form a super team of sorts.

The challenge that Marvel faced was to find a director that could successfully bring all of these wildly different heroes together and also handle the movie stars playing them. Up to that point, Marvel had employed journeymen studio directors like Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger). But with Kenneth Branagh directing Thor, it was the first time the company had hired someone with auteurist sensibilities since Ang Lee and his fascinatingly flawed yet ultimately ill-fated take on the Hulk in 2003. And so, the hiring of Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers surprised some. With only one feature film on his resume – the cult film darling Serenity (2005), and known mostly for his television work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and sci-fi western Firefly, there was some question if he could handle a $200+ million blockbluster populated with movie stars.

Whedon got his start as a screenwriter and honed his chops over the years on T.V. sitcoms and as a prolific and often uncredited script doctor (Speed, Twister, etc.), but more importantly were his hardcore comic book fan credentials, having actually written a brief run for The X-Men, so he knew how they worked in terms of dialogue, plotting and depicting visual action – perhaps the most important criteria for The Avengers gig. It was a calculated risk that paid off as the film amassed an impressive box office result and received strong critical response.

The Tesseract, a powerful energy source that was featured prominently in both Thor and Captain America, has activated itself and appears to be trying to open a portal to outer space. Sure enough, exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives with the intention of using it to take control of Earth and enslave its inhabitants. To this end, he brainwashes brilliant physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (a top secret government organization) operative Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to help him do his bidding. This doesn’t sit too well with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to enlist Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop Loki.

This includes Russian super spy Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) who quickly finishes her “interrogation” of Russian gangsters to approach Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a philanthropic scientist now staying “off the grid” by working in the slums of India and trying hard not to unleash his Hulk persona, a being with superhuman strength that is off the charts. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been thawed out since being trapped in ice at the end of World War II and is still trying to sort things out with Fury’s help. S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), interrupting his work on a clean energy source. Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Loki’s adoptive brother, is the wild card, arriving out of nowhere to intervene when Iron Man and Captain America attempt to capture him, resulting in an impressive skirmish. This all builds up to a spectacular climactic battle between Loki and an alien army that comes swarming out of the portal created by the Tesseract and the Avengers.

With the unfortunate exception of Jeremy Renner, the entire cast gets a chance to flex their acting chops the best they can between massive action set pieces. Mark Ruffalo, the third person to play Banner after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, really nails the human side of his character, playing him as slightly twitchy and paranoid drifter. He appears confident (because, hey, he can turn into the Hulk) yet distracted – a jumble of emotions. This is easily the best representation of the Hulk on film, both visually in terms of CGI and also how he’s portrayed – as a rampaging monster – the Mr. Hyde to Banner’s Dr. Jekyll.

Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. gets the lion’s share of the funny quips – he was born to spout Whedon’s witty dialogue. It is a nice return to form after the cluttered rush job that was Iron Man 2 (2010). Based on Whedon’s perchance for having prominent strong-willed female characters in his projects, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow gets a beefed up role and proves to be an integral part of the team. Not only does she show off a considerable physical prowess but she also holds her own against the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth carry on with their characters from their respective films without missing a beat, each adding their own unique flavor to the team. In particular, Evans does a good job when Captain America steps up and takes tactical control during the war in New York while Hemsworth has some nice moments with Tom Hiddleston as warring brothers who just happen to be gods.

The Avengers is chock full of eye candy for comic book fans, from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier to actually seeing superheroes fight each other – something, oddly enough, you don’t see in most films but that happens all the time in the comics. It is pretty cool to see the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America duke it out while engaging in playful superhero banter. Unlike the other Marvel films starting with and including Iron Man, Whedon creates a real sense of danger for our heroes. There’s a feeling that they might fail and this tension is thrilling because it is so rare in these kinds of films, except maybe The Dark Knight (2008). It also raises the stakes when Whedon’s film needs it because there is a real sense that the Avengers are fighting for something tangible. He gives them something personal to fight for than just the usual let’s save the world goal. This culminates in the climactic battle in New York City between Loki and his alien army and the Avengers in one thrilling sequence after another, each filled with large-scale slugfests. The choreography during this massive battle is top notch. There is never any confusion as to what is happening and where, which is quite refreshing. The end result is pure, unfiltered comic book geek nirvana.

avengers2The Avengers falls rather nicely within Whedon’s wheelhouse as it is all about a group of misfits that band together to save the world from a great evil, just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and so on. It doesn’t get any more disparate than a Norse god, a billionaire playboy, a World War II super soldier, a brilliant scientist, and two spies. Like much of the aforementioned work, the heroes in The Avengers bicker and fight amongst themselves but when the need to step up for the greater good arises, they put their differences aside and make a stand together. Loki continues in the tradition of eloquent Whedon villains who are incredibly confident because, well, in his case he wields great power and knows it. However, Loki isn’t just out to rule the world. For him, there is a personal component – he seeks vengeance for the slights he feels were incurred in Thor. This film was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season in 2012 and is a potent reminder of what a filmmaker who knows how comic book works can do if given the chance. The result is a smart, witty film that is a throwback to entertaining, crowd-pleasing comic book adaptations like Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989).

PTS Proudly Presents CINEMATOGRAPHERS CORNER with Seamus McGarvey

SEAMUS REEL

IMG_1947Podcasting Them Softly is extremely proud to present our first Special Edition CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER POWERCAST with two time Oscar nominated director of photography Seamus McGarvey. For the last 25 years, Seamus has been putting together an amazing and eclectic body of work that stretches all genres and styles, with just some of his credits including THE WAR ZONE for Tim Roth, HIGH FIDELITY for Stephen Frears, THE HOURS for Stephen Daldry, Oliver Stone’s THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, the unforgettable and chilling family drama WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN from director Lynn Ramsay, Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, last summer’s blockbuster GODZILLA, this past winter’s worldwide phenomenon 50 SHADES OF GREY, and four huge collaborations with director Joe Wright including ATONEMENT, ANNA KARENINA, THE SOLOIST, and this Fall’s extremely exciting looking PAN, which is a new spin on the classic tale of Peter Pan.  He two upcoming projects are Gavin O’Connor’s THE ACCOUNTANT staring Ben Affleck and Tom Ford’s next film NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.  He’s one of the most in demand cinematographers of his generation, and it was an honor to speak with him. Enjoy!