Control is a clunky psychological thriller that gets away with feeling realistic by the skin of its teeth thanks to four terrific actors who are so good that they somewhat cloak the incredibly silly narrative. Built around a high concept psychiatry experiment, Ray Liotta plays a vicious career criminal psychopath who is recruited into a secret government program by hotshot Doctor Willem Dafoe. Dodgy mood altering pharmacology is used to try and augment Liotta’s antisocial, violent behaviour and increase empathy levels, thus making him a productive and well adjusted member of society. It seems to work at first, he gets a steady job and meets a nice girl (Michelle Rodriguez cast wonderfully against type). But demons catch up with al of us, and the drugs start having side effects, which complicate the whole thing. Liotta is combustible in the role and gives it his all, he has few genuine lead roles but whenever they throw him one he always shines. Dafoe is incapable of a false note and makes his character work, while Irish veteran Stephen Rea makes creepy work of Dafoe’s sinister superior doctor. They’re all great, it’s just the story that falls into silly territory, especially with a huge WTF twist right at the end that takes the wind right out of the film’s sails and feels completely unwarranted. Come for the actors, stay awhile for the actors, make of the script what you will.
Those learning the craft of film-making nowadays shall have little to no experience with cutting film the old fashioned way. True – it was timing consuming, sometimes messy and fraught with peril – depending on your mastery. It was, however, also romantic. The trims at your feet, the smell of celluloid, the tactile nature of editing a movie . . . one splice at a time.
Mick’s a gentleman, aside from being and exceptional craftsman, and please do check out all the great work he is doing over at his family owned and operated venture Sprocket Rocket Soho. Mick is continuing to contribute, educate and bring together all those with a passion for telling stories via the moving image.
Anyone who dismisses The Fault In Our Stars as sentimental teen sap has just got their head in the wrong place. Although built around the same general formula as countless other flicks based on young adult novels, this one bucks the trend and actually tells a blunt, realistic love story that gets cut short by death, and doesn’t have the kind of garden variety storybook ending you can find anywhere else. This also isn’t the kind of sugar coated Walk To Remember type thing that doesn’t showcase how an illness or tragedy affects someone in favour of Hollywood gloss, either. In telling the story of Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Egort), director Josh Boone is lovingly dutiful to the details of the novel by John Green, and pretty much doesn’t change much of anything to pander our way. This is a story that could have happened to anyone: she’s sick, he’s sick, they both might not have long. Everyone around them behaves like they’re made of fine china and could break at any moment. All they really want is to live lives of some normalcy, and hold onto each other for as long as they can. Woodley is absolutely sensational and will break your heart with a performance that comes straight from the gut, while wearing her heart subtly on her sleeve with every glance and gesture. Egort displays the same glib facade he’d later use in Baby Driver, but carefully shows you the bruised soul underneath. There’s a truth to their journey, a willingness to focus on things like death and impermanence, which are often glanced over lightly in films that are geared towards younger audiences, as if such things are taboo. These two are faced with an impossible situation and it’s both fascinating and heartrending how they deal. They’re perfectly matched and when life gets in the way, it’s almost unbearable to see. Boone deliberately casts intense, committed cinema veterans to act alongside these brilliant newcomers including Laura Dern as Hazel’s soulful mother and Willem Dafoe as a cantankerous old fucker who’s hurting in his own way, and imparts some unconventional wisdom to her, when he’s not being a royal prick and listening to Dutch house music on full volume. Soundtrack choices include the likes of Charli XCX, Grouplove, Jake Bugg, The Radio Department and more, and are carefully woven into the tale to really bring it alive. It’s a hard, tragic thing to see unfold though, and the fact that it maintains such an unblinking, frank gaze at grief and loss makes it all the tougher, but it’s necessary to explore these things and put ourselves in the shoes of these people for a couple hours, if anything it’s like empathetic therapy for the viewer. Also, who doesn’t just love a raging tearjerker once in a while to flush the old ducts out.
I applaud anyone who makes their way on this crusade, some might say foolish crusade, to make a film. It can be a long, arduous, laborious. And thinking on that word laborious, now consider making a film that has to be stitched together using over 7 million photographs with animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. No CGI. And I know that sounds sacrilegious in this day and age where a film without CGI is like a day without sunshine.
However, the film that Stephen van Vuuren has, albeit laboriously, constructed In Saturn’s Rings, is a unique master-work that is as beautiful and immersive on the small screen I watched it on as I can imagine it being played in its large format form.
Sparked by Cassini‘s arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media’s lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two films. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.
While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn based on a pan-and-scan 2.5-D effect. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs.
After discussion with audiences at IMAX conferences, van Vuuren decided the film title Outside In (the title of the short version) was not a good match for the film’s sensibility. The Giant Film Cinema Association had been publicising the film and surveys it conducted supported this. It was during a discussion in 2012 about the film’s climax where he was describing Earth “in Saturn’s rings” that van Vuuren realized he had found his new title.
Although narration had originally been removed in 2009, by 2014 van Vuuren realized that a sparse narration was necessary for the film. This amounted to 5 pages and about 1200 words in total. After listening to many voice actors one stood out and he asked LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to be the narrator for the film.
The culmination of these elements, plus a lot of hard work, has resulted in something that is essentially more than a film. Like Kubrick’s 2001 which inspired him, van Vuuren has crafted an experience of what it may by like to drift through the far reaches of space to the planet that has always been the physical embodiment of his childhood fantasies. And I for one am grateful he stuck to his guns and made a movie that, even though it’s not a tale from a galaxy far, far away, it is the universe at its most wondrous…
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.
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.
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…
It’s time again for our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Frank and Tim recap Frank’s journey this year at the festival, including seeing Emilio Estevez’s new film, ‘the public’ and Susan Kucera’s LIVING IN FUTURE PAST which was presented and narrated by Santa Barbara’s own Jeff Bridges. This year, Frank’s red carpet interviews included on this podcast are with Executive Director of the festival Roger Durling, Gary Oldman, producer Doug Urbanski, Willem Dafoe, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Leonard Maltin, Academy Award-nominated editor of I, TONYA Tatiana Riegel, Academy Award-nominated VFX supervisor of BLADE RUNNER 2049 John Nelson, Academy Award-nominated sound editor of THE LAST JEDI Matthew Wood, GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan Peele, Guillermo del Toro, and lastly Frank talking to Ben Mendelsohn about Podcasting Them Softly’s namesake, KILLING THEM SOFTLY.
Willem Dafoe is an actor. He’s not a celebrity, he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. An actor’s actor like Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin. He arrived early in Santa Barbara where he was receiving the Cinema Vanguard Award with an hour and a half long Q&A moderated by Deadline’s Peter Hammond. Dafoe took his time with his fans lined up; taking photographs and signing autographs and then spending an ample amount of time speaking to the press.
Dafoe is currently on his third Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. He was first nominated for Oliver Stone’s PLATOON, then SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, and now for Sean Baker’s THE FLORIDA PROJECT where Dafoe plays a motel manager and surrogate grand father to a six year old daughter of an unruly tenant.
Inside the Arlington Theare, a highlight reel started and showed everything from STREETS OF RAGE to PLATOON to THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST to SPIDER-MAN and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Noticeably missing from Dafoe’s greatest hits and Hammond’s Q&A were the four (soon to be five) collaborations with Abel Ferrara and his three films with Lars von Trier. To be fair any one of Dafoe’s performances from any one of his films would be worthy of being in the reel; yet those seven films are incredibly seminal to the Dafoe canon.
He spoke about being fired from his first feature film, Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE for laughing out loud at a joke during a set break. He then went on to speak about how he was asked by Cimino to narrate a feature length documentary about the making (and unmaking) of HEAVEN’S GATE.
Dafoe spoke freely about his rich filmography. He stated the most physically demanding performance of his career had been when he played Jesus for Martin Scrosese. He talked about how taxing the crucifixion scene was, and how he could only stay in that pose for a maximum of twenty minutes before his body would start to give out.
Regarding MISSISSIPPI BURNING, Gene Hackman actually did hit him, they really smoked marijuana during the party scene in PLATOON, and how he was on three foot stilts doing motion capture work for JOHN CARTER ON MARS.
Dafoe is overly deserving for an Academy Award. Both on the account of his performance as Bobby Hicks in THE FLORIDA PROJECT and for one of those “lifetime achievement/we owe you one” Oscars. As Bobby Hicks, Dafoe is playing the guy, and for a career of playing that guy, he finally gets to shine and give one of his best performances as the guy.