Tag Archives: Olivia Wilde

Deadfall

Deadfall is a dangerously sexy, offbeat snowbound thriller with a gorgeous cast, wintry photography and a hard boiled noir edge that feels almost mythical at times. Despite an ending that doesn’t come close to wrapping up its multifaceted, emotionally dense story (someone shit the bed in the editing room), I still love it, it’s wonderfully atmospheric, using character and story to transport you into the narrative, while violence and action comes second but with no less of an impact. Eric Bana gives one scary knockout performance as Addison, a charismatic sociopath on the run with his sultry, damaged goods sister (Olivia Wilde) following a casino robbery that ended in bloodshed and a statewide manhunt. After their car gets spectacularly destroyed, they’re forced through the wilderness to a small county and try to evade encroaching law enforcement. At the same time, a troubled ex-prizefighter (Charlie Hunnam) is en route to the same county to spend the holidays with his estranged parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson), and the paths of these ill fated characters inevitably collide in a blood soaked blizzard of cat and mouse games. Kate Mara is also fantastic as the daughter of an asshole local sheriff (Treat Williams) who thinks that women have no business carrying a badge. There’s a lot of plot threads and elements at play, most of which the film handles with adept fluidity, except for the very end where it seems like a scene or two is missing, I could have used a bit more resoluteness in Hunnam’s arc. The film overall is too good to nitpick, especially Eric Bana’s work, the dialogue written for him has a poetic, ponderous cadence. He really sinks into the role, casting a freaky, incestuous eye towards his sister and calmly, deliberately terrorizing anyone who gets in his way, including a mysterious First Nations man (Tom Jackson) who serves to represent the esoteric nature of the landscape clashing with the materialistic, hard edged criminal element trespassing on it, or at least that’s how I saw it. A near excellent film with more going on under the surface than the mounting blanket of snow suggests (I can’t resist the winter metaphors), plenty of thrills and conflict as well as a fine cast all doing great work.

-Nate Hill

Playing Cowboys and Aliens: An Interview with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg by Kent Hill

 

The dreams we have when we are children don’t often materialize into reality. We make-believe we are the heroes of the books, comic books, films that we hold dear. They inspire us to move forward; to go on and build new worlds. We stand on the shoulders of those giants so that we might become gods – the creators of fantastic realms and legendary heroes. That flame we carry within us during those early years, often falls prey to the winds of change. It is ever whipping across the fabric of our dreams, trying to collapse that once impenetrable shield of our imaginations.

 

Now, there are many who simply let that flame flicker in the wind until it finally sputters out. They put aside childhood wonder and move on. But, then there is the few, the happy few, the small band of us that for whom such a notion is not only unacceptable, but impossible. Our dreams are that which fuels us. Our dreams are our lives. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is one of these dreamers. His childhood games of cowboys and aliens have become so much more than fun and plastic ray-guns. He told me he ‘stumbled’ into the movie business, and the journey to bring Cowboys & Aliens to the big screen was not unlike pushing a boulder up a hill using only your nose.

 

Lucky for us his nose held up, otherwise he might not have been there for the gathering of such illustrious talent, both in front and behind the camera, that would merge to bring Scott’s graphic novel creation to life. With the likes of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steven Spielberg, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and John Favreau, it makes me think of the fabled Dream Team of ’92 that boasted Jordan, Bird and Magic. Combine those ingredients with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the new Bond (Daniel Craig) – along with an impressive supporting cast which featured Dano, Brown, Carradine, Rockwell and Wilde – the live-action treatment Cowboys & Aliens would receive is something of a marvel.

 

I told Scott that my initial viewing had been sullied by a bad day, but subsequently I was able to go back and re-watch it with fresh eyes. I admit that I prefer the extended cut to the theatrical release, but really,  when you break it down, I just really love Cowboys & Aliens and have done so since I read the comic when it first came out. It was a real thrill to finally sit down and chat with its creator, a great gentleman and I feel in some ways a kindred ‘creative’ spirit. For this movie speaks to those out there that of course (A), love a really cool movie but also (B), those creative few, those happy few, that band of dreamers still reaching for the stars. Let the journey of Scott Rosenberg be an example to you. Don’t quit, toughen up your nose and give that boulder hell!

Enjoy…

 

TRON: LEGACY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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It has been over 30 years since Tron (1982) was released in theaters. Made on the cusp of the home computer revolution, the film was a simple good vs. evil parable that saw a disgraced computer programmer hack into the network of the corporation that fired him only to be zapped into cyberspace where he got to see how the other half lived. Tron was a modest success at the box office and resoundly trashed by critics. It seemed destined to become merely a footnote in cinematic history as one of the earliest examples of computer graphics in a Hollywood film. Over the years, it developed a decent cult following who dreamed of a sequel some day. That time finally came.

Hoping for a lucrative franchise that doesn’t involve pirates, Disney ponied up a considerable amount of money so that the filmmakers of Tron: Legacy (2010) were able to utilize the same kind of 3D digital cameras that were used to make Avatar (2009) and the CGI technology used to age Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). And, in keeping with the original filmmakers hiring cutting edge composer Wendy Carlos, Tron: Legacy features an atmospheric score by hip electronica music duo Daft Punk. The end result is a stunning assault on the senses.

In 1989, hotshot programmer and CEO of Encom Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared, leaving his young son Sam with his grandparents and no indication as to why he left. Since the death of his wife four years before, Flynn’s behavior had become increasingly erratic and he had become obsessed about a brave new world, a digital frontier that he had experienced in Tron. Sam (Garrett Hedlund) grows up to become a rebellious chip off the old block as he breaks into Encom just so he can publicly embarrass the company’s current CEO. Since Flynn’s absence, Encom has returned to its old, soulless ways much to the chagrin of his long-time friend and current board member Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). He informs Sam that he got a page from his father at the office in his old arcade.

Long shuttered and collecting dust, it is a cemetery for classic arcade games. Sam uncovers his father’s personal computer and before he knows it, he’s zapped into the computer world. Flynn’s prized program Clu (also Bridges) has taken over and rules the computer world with a fascist, iron fist. Flynn has become a fugitive and it’s up to Sam, with the help of a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), to make things right again.

Rather fittingly, the real world footage is shot in 2D but once we enter cyberspace, the film comes vividly to life with cutting edge 3D technology. Much of the iconography from the first film is present – the disc battle, light cycles, etc. – but amped up with The Matrix-like action sequences and three-dimensionalized. If there was ever a film would that begged to be given the 3D treatment it is this one. However, these effects aren’t that apparent or as frequent as one would hope which begs the question why even do it in the first place? Short answer: money. The filmmakers have basically taken the imagery of Tron and cranked it up to 11 – pure, unadulterated eye candy with things like dialogue and characterization taking a backseat. The attention paid to production and art design is phenomenal with all kinds of neon-drenched landscapes full of ambient sounds that will keep architecture buffs busy for years. That being said, the CG to recreate a younger version of Jeff Bridges, circa 1982, is distracting with its waxy, stiff look and dead, lifeless eyes, which, I guess, is appropriate for what is basically an evil clone of the real deal within the film.

Say what you will about the original Tron and its flaws but at least it was anchored by a playful and charismatic performance by Jeff Bridges who acted as the audience surrogate into a strange, new world. This time around, Garrett Hedlund takes on that role with limited success. The uninspired screenplay doesn’t do him any favors and so he does the best with what he was to work with, which admittedly isn’t all that much. Bridges plays a grizzled, burnt out version of his original character and with his beard and long hair it almost seems like the Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998) was zapped into the computer world. As if sensing this, Bridges even lets out a few Dudeisms at certain key moments in the film, which at least livens up the forgettable script.

Noted British actor Michael Sheen even shows up channeling David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona as Castor, a preening, flamboyant host of a nightclub where Daft Punk have a cameo as DJs. Using these musicians to do the score for Tron: Legacy was a masterstroke and they seem like the logical evolutionary step from Wendy Carlos. However, those fans expecting them to recreate their trademark dance music might be disappointed as they opt for a more orchestral score that at times is reminiscent of early 1980s John Carpenter, in particular Escape from New York (1981), while also referencing Vangelis, Maurice Jarre and Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight (2008). Their finest moment comes during a battle at Castor’s club where Daft Punk gets to really show off their musical chops as they segue from ambient music to pulsating dance music to bombastic beats that accompany with the action. Along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network (2010), theirs was one of the best soundtracks of that year.

maxresdefaultTron: Legacy replaces the “information just wants to be free” message of its predecessor with a “sins of the father” theme as Flynn attempts to stop Clu, his Frankensteinian creation, and repair the damage done between him and Sam. Tron: Legacy manages to make this world and its characters accessible to those not familiar with the first film by basically rehashing its plot, blow-by-blow, which may disappoint fans. However, it does feel like a continuation of the first film with all kinds of references to things that happened in it. There is also a rather nifty cameo by a notable character actor that hints at a possible villain for the next film, if this one makes enough money. Of course, there is the usual criticism that the dialogue is weak, the story is formulaic and there is a real lack of characterization – all issues critics had with the original film. Tron: Legacy certainly lacks in these areas also, but like the first film, the visuals are so impressive, so captivating in the way they immerse you in the computer world, that you tend to ignore the flaws, relax and enjoy the ride.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Jon Favreau has certainly come a long way since his independent film roots with Swingers (1996), the film he wrote and starred in. Over the years, he’s increasing spent more time behind the camera than in front, directing Made in 2001. The modest success of that film saw him transition to studio films with larger budgets like Elf (2003) and Zathura (2005). Then came Iron Man (2008), his most ambitious effort up to that point, and he rolled the dice with the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as his leading man. The gamble paid off and the film was a massive success, paving the way for the inevitable sequel. Rushed into production, the end result was a commercial triumph but a critical failure, which upped the stakes for his next film, Cowboys & Aliens (2011), an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.

The premise is an intriguing hybrid of the science fiction and western genres with an alien invasion set in 1873 New Mexico. To hedge his bets, Favreau corralled Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford to headline his film, which caused epic seismic ripples through the fanboy community at the prospects of seeing the actors who played James Bond and Indiana Jones in the same film together. As a result, expectations were understandably high. Could Favreau and company deliver the goods or would this be another Wild Wild West (1999)?

A man wakes up in the middle of nowhere wounded and with a strange, futuristic device strapped to his wrist. He has no idea who he is or how he got there. Three men on horseback show up assuming he’s an escape convict and try to take him in. He quickly and brutally dispatches them, taking their gear and heading towards the nearest town – the former mining colony of Absolution. He eventually learns that his name is Jake Lonergan (Craig), a notorious outlaw wanted by the law for a variety of offences. One of which was robbing local cattle baron Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) of his gold. When he learns that Lonergan is in Absolution, Dolarhyde and him men intend to lynch the outlaw in retribution.

However, a strange light appears in the sky just as Dolarhyde arrives into town. The device on Lonergan’s wrist activates and the light turns out to be several alien spacecraft that proceed to blast the town to smithereens and kidnap several of its townsfolk. Lonergan discovers that his wrist device is a weapon, which he uses to take down one of the alien craft. The film sets up Dolarhyde as a mean son of a bitch while Lonergan is a no-nonsense criminal. They represent two unstoppable forces of nature and one of the pleasures of this film is when they have to put aside their differences, repel the alien invaders and rescue the kidnapped townsfolk.

For years, Harrison Ford has made bad choices in the films he’s decided to be in and phoned in one-note performances, playing the same gruff character, but with Cowboys & Aliens acting against someone like Daniel Craig has inspired him to bring his A-game this time around. Ford actually looks interested and engaged in the material and the role. It’s great to see him go up against Craig and their scenes together crackle with intensity and tension. Best of all, Ford has two scenes that expose his character’s gruff exterior and reveal a more vulnerable side. They are poignant and heartfelt because we’ve become invested in these characters by this point. This is the best Ford has been in years and reminds one of when he used to play characters we cared about.

Craig adds another man of action to his roster. He excels at playing edgy tough guys and is well cast as the enigmatic outlaw. The only drawback is that Lonergan is underwritten and there isn’t much for Craig to work with except for some standard motivation for his character revenging a lost one. As a result, the character comes across as a one-note Man with No Name, at times.

Favreau does a good job of surrounding Craig and Ford with a solid ensemble cast of character actors. You’ve got Clancy Brown as the upstanding town preacher Meachum, Sam Rockwell as Doc, the mild-mannered saloon owner, Keith Carradine as Sheriff John Taggart, the always watchable Adam Beach as Nat Colorado, Dolarhyde’s right-hand man, and Olivia Wilde as a mysterious woman named Ella whose exotic beauty gives her an almost otherworldly aura. Hell, Favreau even throws Walt Goggins in for good measure as a member of Lonergan’s gang.

Favreau has all the traditional western iconography down cold and the fun of Cowboys & Aliens is seeing these motifs clash with the science fiction elements. So, we see cowboys on horseback being chased by fast-moving alien spacecraft. This film doesn’t stray from the conventions of either genre or try to reinvent them but instead merges and fulfills them in a crowd-pleasing way. Cowboys & Aliens has impressive special effects, nasty-looking aliens, several exciting action sequences, and two cool heroes to root for. This may not be the classic that people were hoping for but it is a very entertaining film in its own right and sometimes that’s enough.

PTS Presents NICK AND FRANK’S BEST OF 2015

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We returned to form with our first new recording together since the newest addition to Nick’s family, and the STAR WARS overload that Frank has been overwhelmed by.  We go over our top ten films of the year, top five directors, actors, actresses, supporting actors, supporting actresses, screenplays, cinematographers, score, ensemble and television shows.  We were both very excited to do this, and we hope you enjoy!

PTS Presents DIRECTOR’S CHAIR with REED MORANO

MORANO POWERCAST

unnamed (1)Podcasting Them Softly is extremely excited to present our conversation with critically acclaimed filmmaker Reed Morano. Reed got her start as a cinematographer, having lensed the acclaimed indies Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings, The Skeleton Twins, and Little Birds, as well as shooting a number of episodes of the edgy and groundbreaking HBO series Looking. Currently, her emotionally powerful and visually stunning feature directorial debut, Meadowland, which stars Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Elizabeth Moss, Kevin Corrigan, and John Leguizamo, can be seen in theaters in select cities and on various streaming platforms including ITunes. In January 2016, her director of photography skills will be seen yet again on the small screen, with the explosive looking new HBO series Vinyl, from executive producers Martin Scorsese, Terrence Winter, and Mick Jagger. And in the spring of 2016, Reed will begin production on her next feature, the contemporary war drama Lioness, with star Ellen Page. Reed‘s work is always stylish, personal, and incredibly cinematic, and we were honored to get a chance to speak with her! We hope you enjoy this terrific chat!

REED MORANO’S MEADOWLAND — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Credit must be given to director Reed Morano with her feature film debut Meadowland – she’s taken incredibly dark and troubling material and turned it into an inherently compelling, extremely raw, and often times painful cinematic experience, one that’s wholly engrossing, but that will test the strength of most viewers. Given that the film is essentially a study of hopeless denial and deeply repressed anger during the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, this demanding (and draining) piece of work isn’t going to be for everyone. But for those of us interested in thought provoking, intensely modulated dramas that ask questions about ourselves as individuals, then this will be the perfect antidote to whatever CGI laden blockbuster is currently littering moving screens. Morano, an accomplished cinematographer on such films as The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River, and Kill Your Darlings, gets in close to her characters with her intimate cinematography, which is almost all hand-held, yet shot in 2.35:1 widescreen with an emphasis on off-kilter angles, extreme close-ups, and side of the head framing that evokes the introspective beats of a Michael Mann film.

Centering on a husband and wife (an excellent Luke Wilson playing a NYC cop and a never better Olivia Wilde as an inner city teacher) exactly one year after their son was abducted at a gas station, the film sticks very close to its two central performers, allowing peripheral characters to shake up the proceedings; the estimable supporting cast includes a recently busy Kevin Corrigan (funny and effective in this year’s romantic dramedy Results), Giovanni Ribisi (love seeing him!), John Leguizamo (always solid and edgy), Elisabeth Moss (quick but effective), and Juno Temple (always spunky and sexy). But the film belongs to Wilde and Wilson, who both cut all-too-convincing portraits of parents pushed to their emotional edge, with Wilde going especially deep all throughout this nervy, focused story of loss and potential acceptance. The final moments, from a directorial standpoint, are very bold, as it’s clear that Morano wants the audience to think for themselves and realistically accept the facts that have been presented for us.

There’s nothing “easy” about Meadowland, and in that sense, this film will likely challenge those who are looking for simple, digestible storytelling, which this is anything but. Meadowland aims to explore the awkward moments between friends and family members after a traumatic incident; nobody knows quite what to say, what the boundaries are in any given situation, or how the directly affected individuals are truly feeling inside. The thoughtful script by Chris Rossi might rely on some familiar storytelling tropes (support groups, personally-inflicted pain, children with learning disabilities) but it all feels organic to the environment and sadly, all too believable, considering that these are real struggles that people face every day. Not a film for the overly sensitive or for those who need their art spelled out for them, Morano has crafted a hard-hitting piece of cinema that has emotional resonance as well as arresting visual style. Available on Itunes and screening in limited release in theaters.

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